Open Thread 111.25

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

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936 Responses to Open Thread 111.25

  1. meh says:

    So can someone explain to me what Swetnick’s allegations actually are?
    I read item 13 here
    and it sure seems like she is saying MJ/BK were part of the gang; but then I see claims that she is not alleging that… and anyone who says she is is lying.

    Is this a legalese thing, or is it intentionally confusing?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      There’s the claim in item #12, that Judge and Kavanaugh caused girls to become inebriated so they could be raped, she witnessed lines of boys ready to take their turn at raping, and that Judge and Kavanaugh were among the boys lined up for their rape turn. So yes, she definitely alleges both Judge and Kavanaugh were part of the rape gang.

      In #13, she alleges Judge and Kavanaugh were at the party where she was raped, but she does not specifically say they raped her.

      So, if one were to say “Swetnick says MJ/BK raped her,” that would be incorrect, as she does not say they raped her, just that they were there when she was raped and that she witnessed them raping at other times.

      • meh says:

        What I’m saying is #13 casually read gives the impression they were part of it… ‘i was the victim of a crime by a group of people, these 2 were present’
        To me it is not immediately clear they are not being included in the group.

        My question is, is this a normal legalese way of describing things, or is it atypically confusing?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I don’t know whether it’s atypical or not, but it is slightly confusing. I mean, slightly confusing in the wording. The allegation itself is extremely confusing, because I don’t understand how a woman goes to a party, witnesses the drugging and gang raping of women, and then keeps going back to these parties at least 9 more times.

          “Hey, remember that party we had last weekend?”

          “The one with the constant, horrific rape?”

          “Yeah that one! We’re having another this weekend, wanna come?”

          “I can’t imagine why not!”

          “Just make sure to drink plenty of the punch this time!” *wink*

          “Oh, you!”

          • meh says:

            I don’t understand how a woman goes to a party, witnesses the drugging and gang raping of women, and then keeps going back to these parties at least 9 more times.

            That’s fine, irrelevant here. I don’t care if the allegation is not believable, I just want to know precisely what it is saying. I assume you understood precisely what she is claiming, however you find those claims to reflect on her or reality.

            I really just wanted to know if that wording is typical. Lets go into implications/interpretations in a different thread, ok?

          • Aapje says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            The most logical explanation for me is that she experienced a bunch of fairly regular teenage parties with boys bringing the alcohol and drugs & handing them out to impress the girls, as they are won’t to do. Then she got wasted at one such party and perhaps got raped by someone. Or perhaps it was sex between two very drunk people. Or perhaps she got groped.

            Then later, perhaps due to #metoo, she came to believe that she was raped by multiple people and started reinterpreting the rest of her memory in an extreme way, far beyond what she actually saw.

            For example:

            Swetnick said in the written statement that “I have a firm recollection of seeing boys” — including Kavanaugh and Judge — “lined up outside rooms at many of these parties waiting for their ‘turn’ with a girl inside the room.”

            But then in an interview she said:

            In the NBC interview, Swetnick said that boys at these parties were not “lined up” but “huddled by the doors.”

            She said that she only came to recognize the purpose of these groups when she herself became the victim of an alleged gang rape.

            So it seems that the only thing she actually witnessed was boys hanging around in groups, which is absolutely normal for parties with many people.

        • Nick says:

          Given the rest of 13, it seems she wouldn’t be able to remember who precisely raped her on that occasion. But the implication of 11 and 12 is that Kavanaugh and Judge were part of the rape gang, and so may or may not have raped her. So it’s a confusing way to put it, but I guess it’s consistent and more precise this way.

          • meh says:

            Wouldn’t it have been more precise to say ‘a separate gang’, or something like that? It seems needlessly confusing, but that’s just how lawyers talk/write?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Also, to add to the list of things that are confusing, in item 11 she says she “became aware of efforts” by MJ/BK to spike/drug punch at these parties. I interpreted this to mean that she saw them add these substances to the punch. I do not know in what other way one can exhibit “efforts” to spike punch besides…spiking punch. But in her NBC interview she claims she never saw them do this, just that they were near the punch bowl.

      • meh says:

        I think they are going with the ‘made aware’ part is not from a first hand account. But the statement seems needlessly confusing, and then they claim people are ‘lying’ about what the claims are… well, maybe having a clearer statement would have helped that!

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Oh and there’s another walk-back in her testimony. She now claims she doesn’t know for sure that when she saw Kavanaugh and Judge outside of rooms at parties that there was gang raping going on. She didn’t suspect that’s what it was until she was raped.

          SWETNICK: Well, until what happened to me happened to me, I didn’t put two and two together. But I would see boys standing outside of rooms, congregated together. Sort of like a gauntlet. And I didn’t know what was occurring. But I would see them laughing, a lot of laughing.

          REPORTER: Standing in lines outside of rooms?

          SWETNICK: Not lines, but huddled by the doors, and I didn’t understand what it could be.

          REPORTER: And you describe Brett Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, standing outside a door?

          SWETNICK: Yes. With other boys.

          REPORTER: So you’re suggesting that, in hindsight —

          SWETNICK: Yes.

          REPORTER: — you think he was involved in this behavior?

          SWETNICK: I would say yes. It’s just too coincidental.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m shocked — shocked! — to discover that people are standing around and laughing at this party.

  2. BBA says:

    Is it just me, or is there a strange echo of the Hillarybots’ “Most Qualified Candidate Ever” refrain in Brett Kavanaugh insisting to his questioners “I went to Yale and I worked my butt off”?

    • Nick says:

      One guess I’ve heard for why he kept saying that is that he was trying to say “I couldn’t have been that kind of a drinker and be doing everything else I was.” But I’m not sure that that implication is true.

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, my interpretation of the intent, also, was not, “I went to Yale and worked real hard, therefore I’m qualified to be on the SCOTUS,” but rather, “could my drinking really have been that problematic, given I was at the top of my class in high school, studying at one of the most demanding law schools in the country, and a serious athlete throughout?” It’s not inconceivable to be a problem drinker and still graduate at the top of your class and be a successful athlete all at the same time, but one’s priors are against it. The calendar thing also tries to send a similar message: “would the kind of high school kid who’s so organized he keeps a detailed calendar like this be a problem drinker and sexual predator?”

        • BBA says:

          I was getting a strong undercurrent of thinking the process was beneath him, that this ought to be a coronation given his flawless credentials, and how dare you question his right to what’s his?

          And, well, the Clintons went to Yale too.

          • onyomi says:

            I didn’t perceive that undercurrent, but then, we’ve got different priors and tribal sentiments.

          • Nick says:

            I think this is kind of a ridiculous read. There’s no question that he’s well qualified, and we all know the questioning by the judiciary committee is a farce. Setting aside whether you think he’s perjured himself, which I grant would be very important—there may not be reason to think the process is “beneath him,” but there’s plenty of reason to think it’s a joke.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I was getting a strong undercurrent of thinking the process was beneath him, that this ought to be a coronation given his flawless credentials, and how dare you question his right to what’s his?

            Yes, how arrogant of him to assume that he has a right not to be called a serial rapist.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            My priors, informed by Bill Clinton lying under oath during a politically-driven witch-hunt. (And I would have had these exact answers last year, too.)

            1. You are allowed to call the process bullshit.

            2. You are allowed to refuse to answer questions.

            3. You are not allowed to lie under oath. If you think the process is bullshit, see points 1 and 2. And you pay the political cost for doing so. But you don’t get to lie under oath just because the process is bullshit.

            I’m not convinced, yet, that Kavanaugh committed perjury, but I’ve seen some conservative defenses that even if he did, it’s okay to perjure yourself if the process is a farce. Nope, strong disagree.

          • Nick says:

            Edward Scizorhands, I agree. I have a serious problem with the idea that it’s fine or justified-in-this-case to lie under oath. (Or lie at all, but I don’t expect people to agree with me on that one.)

          • Matt M says:

            If it’s legal for Congress to lie to any particular citizen, I don’t see why it isn’t legal for any particular citizen to lie to Congress.

            Rephrased – If there’s one single body on Earth who has no legitimacy in prosecuting someone for things that can kind-of, maybe, technically, be sort of white lies, depending on the chosen definition, it’s the freaking US Congress.

          • Nick says:

            It’s not a matter of whether Congress has legitimacy to prosecute it. It’s still wrong, Matt.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I agree with Nick and Edward. Lying under oath is not okay. However it’s also not okay to take a statement that is ambiguous or non-falsifiable and insist it’s a deliberate lie, and therefore one should be prosecuted for perjury. I think the current candidates for “he perjured himself” are the definitions of “boof,” “devil’s triangle,” and that he did not get blackout drunk.

            Re: “boof.” This is silly. In context what else could it be?

            Re: “Devil’s triangle.” Keep in mind even in 2018 with the flattening effect of the internet, slang is still different in different places at different times. The name I heard for a 3-way with 2 dudes was “devil’s threeway” and not “devil’s triangle.” I find it far more likely that “devil’s triangle” refers to quarters played with 3 cups so you have a greater likelihood of scoring and getting everyone drunk faster than that high school boys were tag-teaming chicks on the reg in 1982.

            Re: Blackout drunk. No, just stumbling and falling over or drinking heavily does not mean you got blackout drunk. I have drank heavily in my life, and have never been blackout drunk. I can remember times I was too drunk to stand, literally crawling through a hotel corridor back to my room. But I still remember them. I do not think “I never got blackout drunk” is a falsifiable statement, and it is certainly not implausible for it to be true.

            But yes we’re in mega-farce territory when we’ve shifted the goalposts from “you’re a serial rape gang leader” to “you’re lying about your high school fart jokes.”

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I do not think “I never got blackout drunk” is a falsifiable statement

            I wouldn’t go that far. But falsification by witness testimony would have to be something like, “The next day we all started giving Brett a hard time about all the crazy shit he did the night before, and it became clear that he didn’t remember any of it.*” Just observing that he was really drunk wouldn’t suffice.

            *(“So naturally we decided to torture him by making up even crazier shit and telling him he did that too.”)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Re: “Devil’s triangle.” Keep in mind even in 2018 with the flattening effect of the internet, slang is still different in different places at different times. The name I heard for a 3-way with 2 dudes was “devil’s threeway” and not “devil’s triangle.” I find it far more likely that “devil’s triangle” refers to quarters played with 3 cups so you have a greater likelihood of scoring and getting everyone drunk faster than that high school boys were tag-teaming chicks on the reg in 1982.

            Huh, the expression I always heard was “devil’s threesome”.

            In addition to what you said, it’s not unheard-of for groups of friends to have their own private nicknames for things. So even if you could somehow prove that “devil’s triangle” was 1980s Maryland slang for a threesome, that still wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Kavanaugh and his friends also used the term for a drinking game they’d made up.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think the current candidates for “he perjured himself” are the definitions of “boof,” “devil’s triangle,” and that he did not get blackout drunk.

            There’s also “the alleged witnesses all contradict her story”, but that objection just seems to be splitting hairs. In ordinary speech, “I did no such thing” and “I don’t remember doing any such thing” are pretty much interchangeable.

    • BBA says:

      [breaking out of nested thread because [EXPLETIVE DELETED]]

      Can we take a half step away from the object level? I was remarking on the similarity between Clinton and Kavanaugh, both of whom when faced with allegations they didn’t consider worth refuting, fought back in part by insisting, “I don’t have to take this, I’M QUALIFIED!” Now I thought that said something about the insularity and impunity of our bipartisan elite class. Clearly I’m alone in that. Sorry to waste your precious time.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        I didn’t detect that sort of fight out of Kavanaugh (and I’m assuming you are referring to Bengahzi + Mrs. Clinton not Bill). While the Mrs. did seem like she didn’t consider the allegations worth her time, Kav looked like how a fellow student looked when he was accused of stealing chemicals from UG labs by a person I suspected was the thief myself. The accusation was never proven against anyone, but the person who was first accused was angry about that incident until after graduation, that is for sure.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        The allegations against Kavanaugh aren’t worth refuting. Even the most plausible have no corroboration and contradict everything we know about Kavanaugh’s behaviour over the last thirty years, and the least plausible are so OTT I half-suspect the person making them is literally just trolling the media.

        Clinton has faced so many allegations over the years that I’m not sure which ones you’re referring to, and hence I couldn’t say how worth refuting they were. I doubt they were less worth refuting, however, because such a thing hardly seems possible.

        • meh says:

          why do they have no corroboration?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Because everybody whom Ford claimed at the party has denied any knowledge of the events.

          • meh says:

            Does ‘the events’ mean the assault only, or that there was actually a party attended by said people?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            None of the people remember the party; one even denied remembering ever having met Kavanaugh.

          • meh says:

            Isn’t the party corroborated by his 7/1 calendar entry?

          • The Nybbler says:

            The 7/1 entry is

            “Go to Timmy’s for Skis w/Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie, Squi”. These are all guys, and neither Ford (Blasey) nor Leland Keyser (Ingham) is mentioned. Ford said 4 boys and 2 girls. Ford said she went out with Squi before this happened but she didn’t remember the fourth boy at the party. “Timmy’s” is in Rockville, Ford said the party was in Bethesda/Chevy Chase near the Columbia Country Club. Rockville is not only a considerable distance from the country club, it’s on the other side of the Beltway.

            So basically the only points of congruence are a summer event with beer, Judge, and PJ. Since Judge and PJ were Kavanaugh’s friends and teammates, and beer was pretty much ubiquitous, this is not corroboration.

          • meh says:

            The 3 boys she named at the party and her boyfriend are shown to attend parties together. I don’t think this comes close to passing a ‘reasonable doubt’, but it is still corroborating evidence (both in a legal and Bayesian sense).

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s really not corroboration, except in some extremely technical Bayesian sense which would be lost in roundoff error on any reasonable computer. Suppose someone accused you and two of your co-workers of running out on a bill on a restaurant in Berkeley. And it turned out that you and those co-workers and a few other people had lunch at a restaurant in downtown SF. Would anyone say the fact that you and those co-workers were known to eat together was “corroboration”? No, that argument would be laughed out of court, as it should be.

            Squi’s presence (Ford did not term him her “boyfriend”, nor even that they were “dating”) adds nothing, BTW, because Ford didn’t mention it.

          • meh says:

            adds nothing, BTW, because Ford didn’t mention it

            I don’t see how evidence is reduced to zero because someone doesn’t mention it? You could say it shows how they were socially connected at might thus plausibly be at the same house.

            That’s really not corroboration, except in some extremely technical Bayesian sense which would be lost in roundoff error…. Would anyone say the fact that you and those co-workers were known to eat together was “corroboration”?

            I think I need more information to decide this. I could construct situations where it would be insignificant and ones where it would be significant. For example ‘tells therapist about event’. If Ford had done that last week, it would probably be pretty much zero. Done 12 years ago, it moves the bayesian needle a bit more.

            However significant, at least we agree on the direction the evidence changes the probabilities. From a directional point, there are probably tens of items corroborating her story. I don’t think this brings the probability to reasonable doubt level, but it is corroborating. Obviously eye-witness is not the only way to corroborate an assault, since the witnesses are typically only those involved. And also obviously, evidence can be tampered with or falsified.

            Judge K also has evidence, and it should be considered. But OP was claiming ‘no corroboration’, which does not ring true. It is not a completely random story thrown to the wind; there is some evidence that supports it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t see how evidence is reduced to zero because someone doesn’t mention it? You could say it shows how they were socially connected at might thus plausibly be at the same house.

            Squi’s presence isn’t corroboration of Ford’s testimony. You could say all sorts of things, but Ford put five people at that party: herself, Kavanaugh, Judge, Smyth, and Ingham. She said there was a sixth but didn’t remember who it was. So Squi’s presence at a party (not the one Ford claims happened) with Kavanaugh isn’t corroboration of anything.

          • meh says:

            That’s using a reasonable doubt proof standard. At the very least it corroborates her testimony about knowing BK. But we can discount that particular item, there are others. It is not accurate to say ‘no corroboration’

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Actually its anti-Corroboration because among the males potentially at the party Squi would be the one she would remember, having allegedly dated him (which is the alleged plausible connection).

            The idea that the incident occurred at Squi’s party and yet that is not a detail she remembered, and indeed she didn’t even name Squi (the person she obviously would have immediately gone to so he could fike BK) as at the party means that claiming it was that party (particularly in light of the other 3 anti-confirming witnesses) shows that this theory is not just second-shooter dumb, its 3rd, 4th, and 5th shooter dumb.

            There is a reason Ford didn’t even claim that was the party, its because such a claim would easily be debunked if Squi said it was a dudes night, or it actually at Squi’s aunt’s cabin.

            A huge problem with Ford is that her story is constantly shifting and this is a post-Ford hypothetical dredged up by 4chan’s less intelligent cousins.

          • engleberg says:

            Re: a huge problem with Ford is that her story is constantly shifting-

            Spiteful confused girls are more likely to get into a confused grudge-fuck of the kind feminism conflates with rape, with some propriety.

          • J Mann says:

            It does strike me as fairly astonishing that Ford is absolutely convinced that she and Keyser were at the party and that she left by herself on foot but:

            1) She doesn’t remember how she got home – any of the plausible locations are an hour or longer walk to her house, and pre-cell phone she would have had to ask a neighbor to use their phone, call from the party house, or walk to a pay phone.

            2) No one remembers giving her a ride under what seems like unusual circumstances.

            3) Keyser doesn’t remember being at the party, despite the unusual detail that Ford ditched her, and doesn’t remember ever meeting Kavanaugh.

            I guess you could argue that it’s weak corroboration that everyone she named plausibly could have attended a party. (However, since she was going out with “Squi” at around that time, she would know and have memories of the social circle around that time.)

          • meh says:

            A lawyer would argue points for or against each corroborating item, sure. I don’t want to try to be her lawyer for each item here, but there is a lot of corroboration. How do you explain each of them is not corroborating?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t understand how you can say there’s any corroboration at all here.

            Alice: “Bob, Carol, Dan, Eugene and I all saw Bigfoot.”

            Bob, Dan, Eugene: “We have no idea what you’re talking about.”

            Carol: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I don’t know these people.”

            Alice: “See, they all corroborate my story! Bigfoot confirmed real.”

          • J Mann says:

            @Meh – probably it comes down to what people mean by corroboration.

            I think the “no corroboration” people mean “significant evidence external to the original piece of evidence that increases its likelihood of being true.”

            And the “corroboration” people probably mean “any evidence that increases the likelihood by any amount”

            So in this case, the “weak corroboration” would be:

            – Ford did live in the area at a time when it was possible for her to attend a party with Kavenaugh.

            – Three of the people Ford named – Smyth, Judge, and Kavenaugh – did in fact party together from time to time.

            – The place Ford named as being near the house – the such in such Country Club – does in fact exist. Keyser is a real person who exists.

            Those facts are consistent with the two hypotheses – (1) that Ford knew of the identities of Smyth, Judge and Kavenaugh because they were in her extended social circle (especially if it’s true that she dated their friend Tim) or (2) that she knew of them because she met them at the party that she described.

            As I said, whether that’s “corroboration” probably tells you more about how someone interprets the word – IMHO, it’s better to just see what underlying facts we can all agree on.

          • meh says:

            @J Mann

            I agree on the confusion, but isn’t that what corroboration means? There is no evidence that gives a time, date, location, guest list. Such evidence would be proof beyond a reasonable doubt maybe. But there is a lot corroboration.

            I agree in your story there is none. What about this one?

            Alice: “I saw bigfoot”
            Bob: “here is my sworn statement I also saw bigooft”
            Carol: “Is Bob credible?”
            Bob: “here is support of my credibility that 100% of courts in the country would accept”

            Conrad, in this case Bob corroborates Alice. The only reason to say Bob does not corroborate Alice would be YOUR PRIOR BELIEF THAT BIGFOOT DOES NOT EXIST

          • J Mann says:

            @Meh – what do you see as corroboration of Ford’s account?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Okay, but the Kavanaugh situation is more like mine than yours. If Keyser had submitted a sworn statement that yes, she was at such a party with Ford, Kavanaugh, Judge, PJ, and another person she would have corroborated Ford. Instead she swears she has no recollection of such an event and did not know Kavanaugh. This does not corroborate her account and instead contradicts it as best as one can. Not only that she does not remember this social event, but that the social event as described is contrary to her memory of her social life.

            Also, yes, I should not have chosen something we know to be incredible, like Bigfoot as the thing being attested to. Change it to something neutral, like that Fred’s car is red. When all the rest of the people state they have no idea what she’s talking about with Fred’s car, that does not corroborate Alice’s statement that Fred’s car is red. It doesn’t necessarily mean Fred’s car is not red, but it certainly does not corroborate Alice’s claim.

          • meh says:

            @J Mann
            A 2012 telling to the therapist is *corroboration*. A lie detector test is *corroboration* (…etc.)
            NONE OF THESE IS DEFINITIVE PROOF. None of these is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I am not confusing it with that.

            Sworn statement was in reference to Swetnick. Ford alleges BK tried to forcibly remove her clothes while drunk. Swetnick gives a sworn testimony that alleges BK tries to forcibly remove clothes while drunk. It’s fine to think she is lying, and perhaps that will bear out (afaik there has not yet been follow up investigation to Swetnick). But what we have at the moment is a sworn statement from a witness that has to be considered credible (via security clearance) corroborating parts of Ford. (I like to think ‘most but not all’ disclaimers go without saying on this blog, but yes it is possible for a credible person to lie. Until proven a lie though, it is corroborating, and would be admitted in court as such)

            Again, I think you can say all of the corroboration adds up to a pile of ‘not proof’, but there still is corroboration.

          • J Mann says:

            @Meh – thanks, I hadn’t actually thought of those, but agreed.

          • meh says:

            @J Mann
            thanks. I did not list every item, since i did not want to be asked to litigate every one of them. But anything supporting her claim is corroborative. It does not need to be conclusive proof to be corroborative.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The telling to the therapist is not corroboration, for several reasons

            1) She didn’t name Kavanaugh

            2) We have only her account of her therapists notes

            3) It doesn’t even match her later account on some details (number of people attacking her)

            4) Most importantly, it’s still just her account. You can’t corroborate your claims by repeating them.

            What the therapist’s notes are, are a defense against recent fabrication. And a weak one, because she didn’t name Kavanaugh.

          • Nick says:

            A lie detector is awfully weak corroboration, is it not? I’ve never looked into it, but my impression is that it’s long been regarded as junk.

          • Randy M says:

            4) Most importantly, it’s still just her account. You can’t corroborate your claims by repeating them.

            I’m surprised people are pushing these notes so hard. Yes, it would be disqualifying to a degree if her story changed; but no, this is not any outside evidence of truth beyond that.

            It’s a counter-counter claim, I guess. People may say she’s only saying this to stop the nominations; then the counter is that she told somebody previous to the nomination. But that doesn’t make it evidence beyond her word that it actually happened.

          • meh says:

            Perhaps I can make a final post to the thread:

            1. “Corroboration does not need to be conclusive proof”
            2. “This item is not conclusive proof, therefore it is not corroboration”
            3. goto 1

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            corroborating parts of Ford.

            I don’t think Swetnick alleges the gang-rape events she frequently attended included the gathering described by Ford. They’re separate accusations which have nothing to do with each other.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Corroboration does not need to be conclusive proof. But it’s not just anything that has a Bayesian effect on the probability. Here’s a definition from a law dictionary

            To support or enhance the believability of a fact or assertion by the presentation of additional information that confirms the truthfulness of the item.

            The testimony of a witness is corroborated if subsequent evidence, such as a coroner’s report or the testimony of other witnesses, substantiates it.

            West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

            So the therapist’s notes are not corroboration of what she said (though they would be corroboration _that she said it_), because they’re just the same story repeated. A lie detector provides no additional information; it’s not corroboration at all. The information that Squi was at a different party with Kavanaugh is not corroboration because it’s irrelevant; she never testified to Squi’s presence or absence anywhere. On the other hand, if someone would testify to Ford being a frequent swimmer at the Columbia Country Club, that would be corroboration of that part of the story (but useless, as no one disputes it)

            Ford’s testimony is uncorroborated; neither any other witness, nor any document, has confirmed any part of her story.

          • meh says:


            4) Most importantly, it’s still just her account. You can’t corroborate your claims by repeating them.

            anyone want to attempt to steelman why this may not be true?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No, I’m not saying it’s not proof. I’m saying it’s in no way corroboration because she’s not talking about the same event. Someone swearing that John Wilkes Booth murdered Abraham Lincoln does not corroborate my statement that John Wilkes Booth murdered Nicole Brown Simpson. These are orthogonal claims.

            “Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape me at a party” is neither corroborated nor refuted by “Brett Kavanaugh raped someone else at a different party.”

            There is no corroboration to Ford’s statement that Brett tried to rape her at a party because no one has concurred that Brett tried to rape Ford or that the party ever happened.

          • Randy M says:

            anyone want to attempt to steelman why this may not be true?

            It’s true by definition, so I don’t want to try to prove it wrong, no.
            One piece of evidence can’t be two pieces of evidence that reinforce each other.

            However, as I mentioned, keeping a consistent story since before the current nomination is a point in her favor–we can discount the counter explanation that she is just now bringing this up as part of counter Trump resistance (of course, it would help to actually have the notes, rather than sympathetic second hand accounts of the notes). But it is still just one piece of evidence–her testimony–no matter how many times or to whom she repeats it.

            We could try to discern if the manner of her retelling is consistent with this or that narrative of how a survivor would act. But I’d want to see actual evidence that that is so.

            “Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape me at a party” is neither corroborated nor refuted by “Brett Kavanaugh raped someone else at a different party.”

            This is a different matter. If one rape is not in some measure corroboration for another rape, then all character witness should be discounted. I think, to the extent that the gang-rape-party claims are plausible, they corroborate bad actions toward Ford. But that story seems very implausible, bordering on absurd. This changes if we can point to evidence. But I don’t believe 10+ underaged gang rapes could go unnoticed even in the benighted 1980s.

          • meh says:

            Ok, I will have a lot to walk back if you are correct.

            Say Alice robs your house, and goes to trial. Bob says she also robbed his house. Would you not have Bob testify, since Alice robbing your house “is neither corroborated nor refuted” by Bob? I would have thought that your claim that Alice is a house robber is corroborated by Bob.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Randy M

            Her story has not been consistent. Here’s the memo from Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor brought in by the SJC Republicans sent to the Senate Republicans. She outlines all the ways in which Ford’s account of the events (years, her age, participants, etc) has changed in different accounts of the story.

          • Nick says:

            Conrad, meh is right that those are not orthogonal. Given that it’s not going to be possible to prove or disprove the claims, the question is how much credence we attach to them. If Kavanaugh had Trump’s track record with women, say, I think we’d attach a bit higher credence to them. Likewise, if another accuser came forward and her claims were proved, I think we’d attach a bit higher credence. The events aren’t independent when Kavanaugh, and his character and behavior, is a common factor.

          • Randy M says:

            @Conrad Honcho
            Hmm, that may be true, but even if her account were consistent it is still just her story.

            If her story is inconsistent–in a way that normal memory isn’t (and that can be a big caveat)–then instead of one piece of uncorroborated evidence, you have zero.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Maybe an actual lawyer can chime in on this (Brad? You usually hand my ass to me on stuff like this) but I think this is covered (at least at the federal level, which would not cover house robbing or sexual assault but we’re kind of talking generally, and not about specific rules of evidence in Maryland) by Rule 404. Generally no, you can’t use evidence (or testimony) that someone did [Crime] to person A to insinuate they may have done [Crime] to person B in a completely unrelated incident. Doing so is prejudicial.

            Now, you can use it in the negative sense. If Kavanaugh says “I couldn’t have raped Ford, I was a virgin until college,” the prosecutor could bring in Swetnick to say “this is a lie, here’s someone who swears she saw Brett conducting the rape train.”

            Rules of evidence vary by state. But also this isn’t a criminal trial.

            ETA: Nick, the only way I think that could be true is if the statement we’re talking about is “Brett Kavanaugh is a rapist” and we’ve “corroborated” that with multiple allegations of rape. As far as the specific events Ford alleges (attempting to rape her, the party happening), I don’t think Swetnick’s statement corroborates any of the specific events alleged by Ford.

          • meh says:

            @Randy M

            If she had reported it immediately in 1982, it would have more power, and not just be ‘someone’s story’ told again. Clearly time and context of disclosure are not meaningless, this is obvious.

            the gang-rape-party claims are plausible, they corroborate bad actions toward Ford. But that story seems very implausible, bordering on absurd. This changes if we can point to evidence.

            So you are saying it does corroborate, but is not evidence?
            A sworn statement is evidence.

            But I don’t believe 10+ underaged gang rapes could go unnoticed even in the benighted 1980s.

            Sure, I agree. I don’t think this belief would cause evidence to be inadmissible.

          • meh says:

            +1 on having a lawyer chime in on rule 401, patterns of behavior, character evidence, corroboration, etc.

            …any lawyers?

          • Randy M says:

            So you are saying it does corroborate, but is not evidence?
            A sworn statement is evidence.

            I am saying it is corroboration of his character, but to a minute amount since it too lacks any other verification and seems very unlikely.

            If she had reported it immediately in 1982, it would have more power, and not just be ‘someone’s story’ told again.

            True, it would be a stronger piece of evidence, but still just one piece of evidence. corroboration means another source of independent evidence.

            The fact that this is not always at hand is why these sorts of crimes are very difficult to prosecute.

            But if she had made the claim in 1982, then there would likely have been some sort of investigation which turned up other evidence that we could now use to support or refute it.

          • Matt M says:

            Why do we need a lawyer?


          • meh says:

            @Matt M
            I think you are following a different conversation. In this one we are determining the meaning of the word ‘corroboration’. The legal meaning would add to this conversation. A lawyer would have the best understanding of the legal meaning.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, Matt, of course, I already said it wasn’t a trial. We’re just arguing what “corroboration” means.

          • meh says:

            @Randy M
            So are you saying it is corroborative, and that it’s evidence?

            True, it would be a stronger piece of evidence, but still just one piece of evidence.

            The time and circumstance is the evidence. They also need not be 100% overlapping statements. I’m not sure how your definitions would work in this case?

            But if she had made the claim in 1982, then there would likely have been some sort of investigation which turned up other evidence that we could now use to support or refute it.

            I’m not sure what function this statement is serving?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think he means if there had been a police report in 1982 she would have better been able to name the date and location, and the witnesses could have been interviewed about the recent party they remember. This record would have corroborated that there was a party, attended by these people, at this date and this location, even if she were not at the time able to prove Kavanaugh assaulted her. That would have made her allegations today vastly more credible.

            I would very much like the lesson of these controversies to be, “if you are a victim of sexual assault, please come forward and report it as soon after the assault as physically possible so we can establish the strongest chain of evidence. Even if it cannot be proven now, it can help establish facts that could demonstrate a pattern of behavior later. Do this if not for yourself, then for the sake of future victims.”

          • Randy M says:

            So are you saying it is corroborative, and that it’s evidence?

            Evidence can vary in strength. If you don’t allow me to include quantities in my answer, I will say no it isn’t evidence; if you allow me to include quantities, I will say yes it is, just very very weak corroborating evidence.

            The time and circumstance is the evidence.

            You are saying that when an accusation is made is independent evidence of it’s veracity? I guess that is an assertion one can make.

            I’m not sure what function this statement is serving?

            It is demonstrating why it would have been preferable for her to make the accusation immediately after the alleged crime took place; not because that itself signifies anything, but because then it allows the authorities to gather evidence to support the case, such as observations of her appearance and demeanor, accounts of potential witnesses, and so on.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Sworn statement was in reference to Swetnick. Ford alleges BK tried to forcibly remove her clothes while drunk. Swetnick gives a sworn testimony that alleges BK tries to forcibly remove clothes while drunk.

            Swetnick’s allegation only came out after Ford’s had been dominating the news cycle for several days, so she could have just been basing her accusation on Ford’s. Even discounting that, if you were trying to imagine somebody trying to rape you, “Attempted to forcibly remove my clothes” is probably the first thing you’d think of, so I don’t see how Swetnick’s claims increase the probability of Kavanaugh being a rapist by anything more than a rounding error, if that.

          • meh says:

            @The original Mr. X
            Typically people are allowed to give testimony after someone else.

          • lvlln says:

            Sworn statement was in reference to Swetnick. Ford alleges BK tried to forcibly remove her clothes while drunk. Swetnick gives a sworn testimony that alleges BK tries to forcibly remove clothes while drunk.

            By the standard by which this is considered “corroborating” evidence, it seems that it would follow that if Alice accuses Bob of raping her while Bob claims that it was consensual and Charlie gives a sworn testimony that alleges that Alice had consensual sex with Charlie, David, and Ephraim, this would be “corroborating” evidence that Alice had consensual sex with Bob.

            Sure, from a statistical perspective, assuming that Charlie is telling the truth, someone having had consensual sex a few times is far more likely to have had consensual sex another time than someone who’s never known to have had any consensual sex. But such general blunt considerations are so completely dominated by actual specifics of the case that to call them “corroborations” would be a perversion of the term as it’s normally used.

          • meh says:

            This depends on your probabilities for the traits in question, which in this case are not equal.

            And according to the rule offered by Conrad (

            a defendant may offer evidence of the defendant’s pertinent trait

            So yeah I guess Charlie could give such evidence.

            I mean, go to a trial.. serve on a jury, or something. Is there one piece of evidence that gives conclusive proof?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Typically people are allowed to give testimony after someone else.

            I don’t know how it works in the US, but here in the UK, witnesses in trials aren’t generally allowed to hear the testimony of the witnesses who go before them, precisely because the risks of contamination/falsification are deemed so high

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            From an attorney’s POV on witness coordination:

            Yes it is generally considered abnormal to have additional accounts be admitted that only recite publicly available information. This is why, for instance, a serial killer’s MO is kept secret (often even the existence of one is for a while) because it prevents copycats (or at least you can determine if its a copycat) and it prevents a “reporting panic” where concerned people start calling in about every person they don’t know in the neighborhood.

            As to admitting character evidence: The general rule is that patterns of behavior (i.e. he committed robbery twice before in a robbery case) are inadmissible, but habits (he buys coffee at this store every M-F between 8:55 and 9:05) are admissible. As with all rules of evidence this is a general rule full of exceptions.

            Lastly, on the question of “what does corroboration mean”? I think this is where an attorney and a Bayesian really would split on definitions, and IMO the attorney definition is more close to the colloquial one. While the Bayesian might treat a .1% increase in likelihood as corroboration, an attorney would generally say that something is only corroborating if it is consistent with the alleged illegal (or tortious) conduct, and not consistent with other normal conduct. So a weak alibi such as, “I was alone at home” is not treated as corroboration that one was involved in a crime even though it is technically more likely than if you had a receipt that you were on an airplane at the time.

            To the attorney (and IMO the layperson), the Bayseian is eliminating possibilities that no one cared about when they are saying it is corroborating. To return to the alibi example, before a person is asked for an alibi by investigators they can have any of a near infinite number of alibis, some of them weak, some very strong (like the airplane ticket), when a weak alibi is given that eliminates all the strong alibis, thus significantly increasing the chances that the person did the crime, but the weak alibi does not corroborate that the person committed the crime, it merely fails to refute it as well as a thousand other possibilities could have.

          • hls2003 says:

            In typical lawyerly fashion, my opinion is that both sides are partly right and partly wrong.

            On the issue of “corroboration,” that is essentially a semantic dispute. I believe that @meh is using the word incorrectly, and that those arguing against that usage are more correct than not. Black’s Law Dictionary’s definition of “corroborating evidence” comports with my understanding:
            “Evidence supplementary to that already given and tending to strengthen or confirm it; additional evidence of a different character to the same point.” Similarly, to “corroborate” is to strengthen by additional facts or evidence, thus testimony “is said to be corroborated when it is shown to correspond with the representation of some other witness, or to comport with some facts otherwise known or established.” The key insight here is that “corroborating evidence” has to be something other than the evidence being corroborated – independent lines both pointing to the same conclusion. Typical legal usage would say that a witness’ testimony would be corroborated by another independent witness’ agreement with the fact asserted, or by circumstantial evidence separately confirming the fact asserted. Note that this has nothing to do with the “reasonable doubt” standard; the same usage would appear in a civil case which uses a preponderance standard.

            Under this definition, some evidence in the case is contradictory; some is non-corroborating; some is corroborating; but it depends on which factual assertions one is assessing. For example, the assertion “I was assaulted at a beer party by Brett Kavanaugh in the 1980’s which I attended with Leland Keyser and X number of other boys including Mark Judge” contains many, many sub-assertions of fact. A few: (1) I was at a beer party in the 1980’s; (2) Brett Kavanaugh was at a beer party in the 1980’s; (3) we were both at the same beer party in the 1980’s; (4) I was assaulted at a beer party; (5) Brett Kavanaugh is the one who assaulted me; (6) Leland Keyser was at the party in question; (7) Mark Judge was at the party in question; (8) Mark Judge observed the assault; etc. There are many other subfacts, but you get the point. Some of those are contradicted by various testimony; some are non-corroborated; others are corroborated by certain evidence.

            To take a few, Kavanaugh’s testimony and, e.g., his 7/1/82 calendar corroborates the sub-facts that Brett Kavanaugh was at a beer party in the 1980’s, and that he was at a beer party with Mark Judge in the ‘80’s. It does not corroborate Ford’s testimony that he was at a party with her, or that the 7/1 party was the party in question. It does not corroborate that Ford was assaulted at a party, or by whom. Leland Keyser’s statements are definitely non-corroborative and somewhat contradictory to the factual assertion that Leland Keyser was at the party Ford is describing, or that Kavanaugh was there, as Keyser does not recall meeting Kavanaugh or the party in question. (In contrast, Kavanaugh’s testimony that he did not do this ever is directly contradictory – not just non-corroborating – to multiple Ford assertions). Furthermore, Ford’s other recitations of her story – e.g. to her therapist – do not corroborate her factual assertions about the party or the assault, because they are not independent from her own testimony. Corroboration requires independent evidence separate from the evidence already presented. Evidence of telling the therapist might partially corroborate a separate, implicit factual assertion (such as “I did not invent this story after the nomination in 2018”) but it does not corroborate Ford’s testimony, because Ford cannot corroborate Ford.

            That is how I would use “corroboration” in a legal context; some elements of Ford’s story are corroborated (e.g. “Kavanaugh attended beer parties with Judge in high school”) and some others are not corroborated (e.g. “I was at a party with Kavanaugh,” “I was assaulted by Kavanaugh”). Uncorroborated does not necessarily mean untrue; but I think @meh is using the definition too broadly.

            As to how much of the various stuff – other accusations, other beer parties, etc. – would be admissible in court, that would be a much longer post even than this behemoth. It would depend on the rules of the jurisdiction hearing the case. To try to give a very shortened version, I think that in this instance @Conrad et al. are probably at least somewhat wrong if they are asserting it would never be admissible. There are probably circumstances where, e.g., the calendar references, or the “rape train” stuff, might be proffered and allowed by a court. Assuming for ease of reference that the Federal Rules of Evidence would apply, the most applicable rules would be FRE 401, 403, 404, 405, 413, and 608. 401-415, Rule 608. Let me just say that this is one of the more complicated areas of evidence law, and lawyers and judges routinely struggle to make sense of it, and often get it wrong. I’ll try to give a simplified Cliff’s Notes version of the various rules.

            To paraphrase, FRE 401 defines relevant evidence as anything that makes a consequential fact any more or less probable. This is very close to the “any Bayesian evidence” standard that @meh was arguing for (but in my view improperly using the word “corroborate”). Under that standard, most (perhaps not all, but most) of what has been raised would potentially be relevant evidence. However, the big “but” to that statement would come under FRE 403 and 404. FRE 403 says, in essence, that marginally relevant evidence has to be weighed against potential prejudice and excluded if the prejudice outweighs the evidentiary value. FRE 404 says that, in general, you cannot use evidence about the character of a defendant to prove that he acted in conformity with that character trait. So you cannot use character evidence to say “Kavanaugh is a violent person, thus he probably assaulted the victim in this case.” For example, some Yale guy I heard about is saying that Kavanaugh was a violent drunk. That is his opinion, but it would be improper character evidence and thus almost certainly not admissible. It is also generally improper to use alleged prior bad actions to prove this bad action. “Joe robbed a store once, thus he probably robbed this one too” should be inadmissible under FRE 404(b)(1). However, there are multiple exceptions that would interact here depending on other provisions of FRE 404, 405, 413, and 608 which are too fact-specific to detail. For example, if a defendant is permitted to put his character in evidence, then the character can be attacked – but only after the defendant has opened the door. Arguably Kavanaugh might have done that by presenting character witness letters and such, which would then allow negative character evidence; but then in court he would not have done that, so you run up against the limits of comparing this to a court proceeding. Or FRE 413 specifically allows prior sexual assault in evidence in a sexual assault case, but without more detailed analysis and case law research I don’t know whether any of the other proposed evidence (or even Ford’s own account) would meet the “sexual assault” definition in FRE 413. And then there is “character for truthfulness” and impeachment thereof, which interact in FRE 608 (and partly 609 but that deals with criminal convictions which Kavanaugh doesn’t have), which sometimes allows testimony that “he/she is a known liar” even though that is clearly character evidence. Honestly, it’s kind of a mess.

            My best personal guess is that, if Kavanaugh were actually on trial for assaulting Ford, very likely none of the other stuff that has come out (the Yale stuff, the “rape train” stuff, etc.) would be admissible, at least initially. But if Kavanaugh defended himself at a trial the same way he has in the hearings, he might put enough of his character, and his credibility, and certain other facts at issue to allow some evidence about his drinking habits, his yearbook, his prior parties, stuff like that. I think overall the probative value of the other accusations is too low to be admissible under FRE 403 even if the thicket of 404/405/413/608 might allow it. But others could disagree on the final conclusion.

          • meh says:

            Appreciate the lengthy response, thank you. Awesome comment.

          • onyomi says:

            So what kind of prison sentence can we expect for Swetnick if it turns out her accusation of a felony turns out to have been entirely manufactured for attention? /s

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @hls thank you, that was enlightening.


            Below, meh comments on the vagueness of Swetnick’s statement. I now think this is intentional. She made statements that, when first read, make one think she’s saying she saw BK/MJ spike/drug punch, engage in gang rape, and gang rape her. Then in her TV interview she says she saw them near the punch bowls. Then you go back to the initial statement and she never actually says she saw them drugging the punch, just that she “became aware of efforts” by them to do this. If she didn’t see it, how did she “become aware of the efforts?” What does that even mean? And she does not say she was raped by BK/MJ and instead that they were there at the party where she was raped.

            So, I think the goal is maximum weaselness. Make it seem like she’s saying the worst things and get those amplified by the media, but when you start parsing each sentence, no she’s not actually saying those things.

            Also for Dr. Ford, her statement is essentially unfalsifiable without her naming a date, time and place. If she did that, perhaps the alleged witnesses could say “no, this is false, I was at Aunt Irma’s funeral that day and here’s a picture.” She won’t say who drove her home, because that person can say “no, I’ve driven this person anywhere, and on that date I was at my Aunt Irma’s funeral (not related).”

            On top of that, the political optics of charging Ford with lying to Congress are very, very bad.

            So even if she entirely fabricated the story, unless she comes out and admits that she fabricated the story she is in no danger.

            ETA: Wow, I post that, check the news and find this. So Ford testifies to Congress that she has not received training on taking a polygraph, and has never coached anyone else on taking a polygraph:

            MITCHELL: Have you ever had discussions with anyone, beside your attorneys, on how to take a polygraph?

            FORD: Never.

            MITCHELL: And I don’t just mean countermeasures, but I mean just any sort of tips, or anything like that.

            FORD: No. I was scared of the test itself, but was comfortable that I could tell the information, and the test would reveal whatever it was going to reveal. I didn’t expect it to be as long as it was going to be, so it was a little bit stressful.

            MITCHELL: Had — have you ever given tips or advice to somebody who was looking to take a polygraph test?

            FORD: Never.

            But her ex-boyfriend says he witnessed her coaching her life-long friend Monica McLean, who was applying for jobs with the FBI. And McLean is one of the people who signed a statement supporting Ford. And McLean’s LinkedIn profile says she lives in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. And Ford testified she was in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with her “beach friends” while composing the letter to DiFi.

            MITCHELL: The second is the letter that you wrote to Senator Feinstein, dated the — July 30th of this year.

            MITCHELL: Did you write the letter yourself?

            FORD: I did.

            MITCHELL: And I — since it’s dated July 30th, did you write it on that date?

            FORD: I believe so. I — it sounds right. I was in Rehoboth, Delaware, at the time. I could look into my calendar and try to figure that out. It seemed…

            MITCHELL: Was it written on or about that date?

            FORD: Yes, yes. I traveled, I think, the 26th of July to Rehoboth, Delaware. So that makes sense, because I wrote it from there.

            Curiouser and curiouser.

          • Matt M says:

            Also for Dr. Ford, her statement is essentially unfalsifiable without her naming a date, time and place.

            A remarkably convenient coincidence for her, I’m sure.

          • Nick says:

            I saw that this morning, Conrad. It’s bad news for the Ford allegations, to be sure. Odds are fair that the person is lying or that Dr. Ford doesn’t remember coaching her friend on the polygraph—it was 20 years ago, after all! On the other hand….

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            This is the most bizarre spectacle I’ve ever seen. It’s like a John Grisham novel.

            Here’s the letter Grassley just sent to the SJC Dems. Look at the last item on September 26th, the day before the hearing:

            Senate investigators speak to a man with personal knowledge of Ford, says Ford assisted her friend in passing a polygragh exam.

            Same guy? That’s why they had Mitchell ask that question. Huh. Perjury trap? I’d like to hear from Ms. McLean. Maybe Ford will get busted after all.

            Oh, and McLean was apparently a spokesperson (Public Information Officer) for the FBI’s New York office.

            And I can’t find it in the testimony right now, so maybe my memory fails me, but I thought she had said she contacted her representative because she didn’t know how to contact the senate or the White House to let the President know about Kavanaugh. But she’s there, on the beach, composing the letter with her FBI friend. A Public Information Officer for the FBI doesn’t know how to contact the Senate Judiciary Committee or the White House? This defies credulity.


            Dr. Ford doesn’t remember coaching her friend on the polygraph—it was 20 years ago, after all! On the other hand….

            Impossible, with the delibles in the hippo camps.

          • Nick says:

            This is the most bizarre spectacle I’ve ever seen. It’s like a John Grisham novel.

            I favor the theory that God has asked Tom Wolfe to write this one.

          • Matt M says:

            Odds are fair that the person is lying or that Dr. Ford doesn’t remember coaching her friend on the polygraph—it was 20 years ago, after all! On the other hand….

            Gonna be hilarious to watch CNN shout about how it’s unreasonable to expect Ford to recall every little event from 20 years in the past…

          • J Mann says:

            @Conrad Honcho – you write:

            And I can’t find it in the testimony right now, so maybe my memory fails me, but I thought she had said she contacted her representative because she didn’t know how to contact the senate or the White House to let the President know about Kavanaugh.

            I think the people saying that are referring to this portion of Ford’s testimony. I’m not sure it says exactly that, but it’s a bit weird. If I were Ford’s lawyer, I would argue that she meant she contacted her Rep’s office for assistance in contacting the Senate. (None of that explains why she contacted the Post, of course).

            On July 6th, I had a sense of urgency to relay the information to the Senate and the president as soon as possible, before a nominee was selected. I did not know how, specifically, to do this.

            I called my congressional representative and let her receptionist know that someone on the president’s shortlist had attacked me. I also sent a message to the encrypted Washington Post confidential tip line. I did not use my name, but I provided the names of Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge. I stated that Mr. Kavanaugh had assaulted me in the 1980s in Maryland.

            This was an extremely hard thing for me to do, but I felt that I couldn’t not do it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The ex-boyfriend letter is interesting, but also unsupported. It’s another he-said she-said, and I’m not sure how much it discounts her testimony. It’s also entirely reasonable that she simply doesn’t remember giving her friend some common-sense tips on polygraphs. (Adding in that Ford cheated on him seems like a needless swipe, but I can see the need to disclose it sooner rather than later.)

            But the current media circus seems to treat every yahoo from Kavanaugh’s past as newly found dead sea scrolls, so I get why conservatives have been fooled into thinking that some yahoo from Ford’s past should be treated the same way.

            This looks like it will follow the same pattern of each Kavanaugh revelation (“look, new information about Brett”, “oh, this totally sinks Kavanaugh!” “no one can defend him now” “well, axxxshually…” “never mind that, we’re move onto the new shiny thing”) with the polarities reversed.

            The fact that the media hasn’t wall-to-wall’d this anti-Ford anecdote like they have with anti-Kavanaugh anecdotes is strong evidence about how biased the media is, but it doesn’t tell us much about the truth of Kavanaugh’s (or Ford’s) character.

          • Nick says:

            Avenatti has another sworn statement. This one has several passages that echo Swetnick’s testimony, including the mention of Quaaludes and of using that or grain alcohol in the punch so girls could not say no. Slightly different date range and no mention of where she went to school. No name given either.

          • Nick says:

            Last one, I promise: their lawyers have confirmed that Tim Gaudette and Squi have both been interviewed by the FBI. They’ve also interviewed Judge and Deborah Ramirez.

            Interviewing Squi allays my greatest concern with this investigation, which is establishing whether there’s even a connection between Ford and Kavanaugh’s friends or not. If Squi says he doesn’t know her, that severely reduces her credibility. If he does, it hardly verifies her story, but it comes back to the realm of the possible.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Is there anywhere to read the letter from McLean? I tried Fox and CNN also and they just had the same quotes as the WSJ article. I’d like to know if she refutes anything else, like having lived with Ford. At least the author of this letter provides many facts which could be corroborated.

            After the hearing last week I posted upthread that my opinion of Ford had gone from “innocently mistaken” to “intentionally lying” based on her facial expressions and body language during the testimony. This whole polygraph thing pushes me further in that direction. The denial doesn’t mean much when you’re concocting an intentionally false political smear campaign.

          • Nick says:

            I haven’t seen a full statement from McLean; they all keep quoting that bit saying it was “in a statement,” but maybe that’s the whole thing? I don’t know. Reporters have been surprisingly good about simply embedding the documents in question lately, so I think that may be it.

            The New York Times has a pretty full article, if you can get past the headline. They’ve identified the boyfriend and reached out to him; they got a couple more statements from him:

            She was “sweet, cute and with a good attitude,” he told the newspaper.

            He added that she never told him about a violent encounter with Judge Kavanaugh. “It strikes me as odd it never came up in our relationship,” Mr. Merrick told the newspaper. “But I would never try to discredit what she says or what she believes.”

            You can bet that since, like Leland Keyser, he added “I would never try to discredit what she says or what she believes,” we’re soon going to see a torrent of “he didn’t refute what she said and you’re A LIAR if you say otherwise!!” hot takes.

          • meh says:

            Can you give alawyer interpretation of Virginia Rule of Evidence: 2:803(23) ( ?

            (23) Recent complaint of sexual assault. In any prosecution for criminal sexual assault under
            Article 7 (§ 18.2-61 et seq.) of Chapter 4 of Title 18.2, a violation of §§ 18.2-361, 18.2-366,
            18.2-370 or § 18.2-370.1, the fact that the person injured made complaint of the offense recently
            after commission of the offense is admissible, not as independent evidence of the offense, but for
            the purpose of corroborating the testimony of the complaining witness.

            I’m not saying this applies to this case (to start, it didn’t happen in Virginia, but I don’t know it meets the other requirements as well), but it does seem to say something can be corroborating without it being independent evidence. Perhaps this varies by jurisdiction, or is only true in a small subset of crimes; but you had previously said ‘Corroboration requires independent evidence’.

          • meh says:

            For example, it seems that some jurisdictions have exceptions for certain crimes, such as Virginia

            Rule 2:413. Evidence of similar crimes in child sexual offense cases

          • Conrad Honcho says:


            Not a lawyer, but I looked at the first link from Forbes.

            Then there’s the no-corroboration reason. This is just simply wrong. Please remember, corroboration means evidence in support. It does not mean unassailable proof. Facts can corroborate a version of events without being anything like the proverbial smoking gun.

            Yes, but you need evidence of factual claims for them to corroborate the story. “Alice says Bob touched her on August 4th when they were working the night shift at Dairy Queen” can be corroborated by the payroll records showing Alice and Bob were both working at that Dairy Queen that night. It doesn’t corroborate the touching, but it does corroborate the assertion that they were in the same place at the same time. There is nothing that corroborates the narrative that Kavanaugh and Ford were ever at a party together, nor this specific party.

            And when you look you find lots of corroboration. Her telling people as early as 2012 about the attack corroborates her testimony.

            But she didn’t mention Kavanaugh’s name.

            The available facts about her biography corroborates her testimony,

            Only that they were in the same city during the year in question.

            as does her volunteering for and passing a polygraph.

            No, this is completely irrelevant.

            Judge Kavanuagh’s self-described fondness for beer, his speeches referencing hard-drinking, and the memories of his classmates all corroborate her story, including Mark Judge’s memoir of blackout drinking.

            I guess? But given that this was public knowledge this also corroborates the narrative “she made it up by reading Judge’s book.” Or simply hearing from her boyfriend in high school Squi that Kavanaugh, Judge, and PJ partied together.

            Other allegations, themselves with varying degrees of corroboration also provide support.

            “Support” is not the same as “corroborate.”

            Finally, Judge Kavanuagh’s high school calendar actually corroborates Dr. Blasey Ford’s timeline.

            No, it does not in any way do that. If anything it refutes her allegation because the only gathering featuring some of the people she named is listed as having taken place in a different town than the one she says the assault happened.

            There is absolutely nothing that corroborates her story of a specific party and the events that she alleges happened there.

          • The Nybbler says:


            As @hls2003 says, her testimony “contains many, many sub-assertions of fact”. Some of these are simply background which is neither disputed nor damning to Kavanaugh, and those are the only ones that the July 1 calendar entry corroborates. No one disputes that Kavanaugh, Judge, and PJ were friends. Similarly, no one disputes that she swam at the Columbia Country Club, or indeed that her name was Christine Blasey.

          • meh says:

            Theres multiple news organizations using the word. There are lawyers using the word. There are states rules of evidence using the word, saying it is not the same as ‘independent evidence’. I think, *at best*, you can say the word has different uses (would explain a lot of people thinking each other is nuts).

            For example, upthread Nybbler gives a definition that begins

            To support or enhance …

            and then Conrad says

            “Support” is not the same as “corroborate.”

            and these were both supporting the zero corroboration claim.

          • hls2003 says:


            I don’t practice in Virginia, so I don’t claim familiarity with their specific rules of evidence. That being said, I suspect this would fall under the rubric of what I said earlier:

            Evidence of telling the therapist might partially corroborate a separate, implicit factual assertion (such as “I did not invent this story after the nomination in 2018”)

            Virginia’s statute appears to be using “corroboration” in that sense – the early reporting can be used to add some weight to the assertion that it is not fabricated after the fact. However, since normally such an account would be hearsay, its overall admissibility in Virginia might also allow one to claim it as a “prior consistent statement” which most of the time is barred from evidence. Without researching the interpretive caselaw I couldn’t tell you for sure. If they do, in that sense, I think it’s probably fair to say that Virginia would be using the term slightly differently than I would. I would maintain it is non-standard usage outside the “corroborates that something triggered a complaint that night rather than being manufactured later” sub-factual context.

            What I suspect is at work in Virginia is a strong public policy to encourage early reporting in sexual assault cases, and they have thus relaxed normal rules for such instances. In that sense, it is rather like “rape shield” laws, which also modify the normal rules of procedure in favor of the alleged victim.

            In none of these instances would I modify my opinion of the nature of Blasey-Ford’s meat-of-the-matter claims, which appear uncorroborated (again, not disproven, but uncorroborated) on disputed key factual assertions.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, there are partisans using the word because it sounds good. Assertion and repetition does not make it so. See also, “debunked.”

            Perhaps I should say “supporting is necessary but not sufficient for corroboration.” For an additional piece of information to be corroborating, it needs to support the narrative by independently verifying facts in the narrative. None of the facts in the narrative of the party and the assault have any independent verification. Therefore, the narrative of the assault at the party is uncorroborated. That there is also publicly available background information, like Kavanaugh’s drinking and the names of his friends, do not corroborate any of the asserted facts that he was drinking on a specific night, with these friends, and with Ford.

            If I were to assert “When he was the 44th President of the United States, Barrack Obama murdered a hobo in a D.C. park,” would you say this statement has been corroborated, because Obama was the 44th president and resided often in D.C.? I’ll even name his accomplice, one “Joe Biden.” I can offer solid proof that Obama and Biden are acquaintances.

          • albatross11 says:

            Atlantic piece by Ben Wittes. No new information, just a person who honestly seems to be trying to come to terms with the right decision in an ambiguous situation. I’ve come to value such people a lot more, after having seen so many people assert absolute certainty about allegations on which there’s no solid evidence in either direction.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            “We falsely smeared you as a gang rapist in front of the entire world, your wife, your daughters, your church, everyone who’s ever respected you for naked partisan political power but y u mad tho?”

          • albatross11 says:

            That’s basically the argument against one part of Wittes’ position.

            More broadly, I think it’s entirely plausible that Kavenaugh will, for the next decade or two, be unable to be fair in cases involving the Democratic party or many mainstream news sources, because they have treated him abominably. That’s a very bad thing for a supreme court justice. How would you like to be before the SC with Kavenaugh on it, arguing a libeling-a-public-figure/free speech case on behalf of The New Yorker?

            And yet, the leadership of the Democratic party and lots of mainstream news sources chose to act abominably toward him. If we say “once you’ve treated a nominee so unfairly that it’s clear he would pay his last dollar for the chance to kick you in the nuts, then he’s disqualified as a SC justice,” we’re creating an incentive for everyone to treat nominees as badly as possible. This doesn’t lead anywhere we want to go.

            One of the things I’ve found most disturbing in watching this case is the large number of people who appear to be 100% rock-solid certain of Kavenaugh’s guilt or innocence. This includes public media figures and political operatives (who are basically whores, so of course they’ll say what they’re supposed to say), but also people I know in person and online.

            The other thing is the way that it seems to me that almost everyone’s political/social beliefs, tribal affiliations, and moral intuitions about believing women or presumption of innocence are influencing their consideration of narrow questions of fact.

            It’s like a demonstration of how people mindkill themselves.

          • Nick says:

            Re Kavanaugh’s anger, I think it was entirely justified and indeed effective in his opening statement, but as I said above, he was flustered afterwards, and throwing questions back at the senators, especially Klobuchar, was bad. He was right to apologize to her. I think evasion because flustered is excusable too (though it looks bad on TV, of course)—the evasion/minimizing later is what’s genuinely problematic.

            He’s definitely going to have a serious grudge against Democrats and the mainstream media for this, as he should! But he would just recuse on those cases, and I don’t think that would even be very many cases.

          • hls2003 says:


            More broadly, I think it’s entirely plausible that Kavenaugh will, for the next decade or two, be unable to be fair in cases involving the Democratic party or many mainstream news sources, because they have treated him abominably.

            Doesn’t Wittes see that this – which seems to be a fair paraphrase of his position – is simply a more meta version of the same process he has deplored?

            Wittes acknowledges that “[t]he allegations against him remain unproven. They arose publicly late in the process and, by their nature, are not amenable to decisive factual rebuttal.” He then notes the negative incentives this creates in favor of late, nearly-unfalsifiable accusations in the judicial process. But these exact factors are just as present in the “judicial temperament” argument. They posit specific negative behavior, essentially impossible to falsify, based primarily on alleged plausibility, which plausibility arises from unrelated prior conduct. There is no allegation that Kavanaugh has ever been unfair to a litigant before, that he is unable to act judicially. In fact, Wittes notes the opposite based on 20 years’ experience. Yet Wittes pre-judges him guilty of it, with less evidence than the Ford accusation.

            Former Allegation: Kavanaugh assaulted Ford at a high school beer party sometime in the 1980’s.
            Status: Basically unfalsifiable because too much time has passed.
            Support: Plausible, though unproven, because of Ford’s testimony, and because Kavanaugh was known to drink beer at high school parties.
            Reaction: Wittes thinks this is “not within 100 yards of adequate to convict” and sets a bad precedent for judicial nominations (though he also construes testimony negatively against Kavanaugh).

            New Allegation: Kavanaugh will be unfair to Democratic or media litigants, biased by his anger at them for this process.
            Status: Completely unfalsifiable because it is entirely hypothetical in the future.
            Support: Plausible, but unproven, based on Kavanaugh getting emotional in a Senate hearing. Opposite to many years of judicial record and personal interaction.
            Reaction: Wittes thinks this is conclusive.

            Wittes is merely trading one unfalsifiable allegation he doesn’t particularly like for another one he likes better, because he invented it.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            With regards to people not entertaining the prospect of guilt, or the prospect of innocence, that is true, but I’m also annoyed at how so many on the right bend over backwards to express their desire to believe Ford is innocently mistaken.

            There are so many political actors here. Her lawyer Bromwich also led Andrew McCabe’s legal team. Probably got a taste of his GoFundMe money, too. Her “beach friend” was a career FBI agent who worked with Preet Bharara, who worked with Schumer.

            The Resistance has opened fire on a Republican baseball practice attempting to murder Congressmen. They’ve rioted. They’ve threatened. They’ve hounded Republicans out of restaurants and airports and elevators. This week one mailed ricin to the Secretary of Defense and the President. But make up a rape smear?!?! Never!

            Uh, no. Making up a rape smear wouldn’t be the worst thing The Resistance has even done this week.

          • albatross11 says:

            “The Resistance” shot up a Congressional baseball game in exactly the sense that “The Alt-Right” shot up that black church a few years back–one whackjob with some tenuous connection to a broad political movement did it. That’s wildly different from making up false accusations.

            And the argument for thinking Ford didn’t make up the accusations has to do with (claimed) evidence that they were made quite awhile ago, along with the fact that she could have made up much more damning behavior for him with no witnesses, if she’d wanted to. Equally unfalsifiable. Just say they were alone in the room and he raped her.

            Neither of those are rock-solid–it’s certainly plausible that someone might make up a totally false accusation for some mix of partisan fervor, being convinced that the ends justify the means, and being crazy. It’s possible Ford is that woman, though there seem to be some reasons not to think so.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            You acknowledge there is a broad political movement to oppose whatever Trump does by whatever means available. Some of these people do small things like harangue their friends on FaceBook. Some harass Republicans and Trump officials at restaurants. Some shoot up Republican baseball team practices.

            There also has existed within the FBI a small group of pre-resistors, including Peter Strozk, who set up an “insurance policy” against the Trump presidency. There are many career bureaucrats who oppose the “draining of the swamp” or, as Steve Bannon put it, “the dismantlement of the administrative state.” Perhaps for ideological reasons, or simply because of their own financial interest.

            Now we have a WSJ article that the FBI has text messages showing that Ford’s “beach friend,” Monica McLean, pressured Leland Keyser to change her story to something more favorable to Ford. McLean is far more than a “beach friend.” She also appeared with Ford at her SJC hearing.

            McLean denies the allegations, through her attorney, David Laufman. David Laufman was a DOJ National Security official who resigned earlier this year. David Laufman was present with Peter Strozk when they did their sham interview of Hillary Clinton.

            This looks mildly fishy. McLean is running in the circles of the “lawfare” part of The Resistance. So perhaps it goes something like this.

            Laufman: “Oh shit, Kennedy’s retiring. We have to do something to Resist whoever Trump puts up to the SC long enough for the Blue Wave to retake congress and impeach and execute Trump. Does anybody know anybody on the short list we can accuse of rape?”

            McLean: “Yes, I went to high school in the same time and area as Brett Kavanaugh. If he’s nominated I’ll lie and say he raped me.”

            Laufman: “No, you’re too close to D.C., plus you’re hideously ugly and no one would believe he raped you.”

            McLean: “Those are true statements. I know, I’ll ask my lifelong friend Christine Ford to do it. She’s less ugly, and was a drunken slattern at the time, well acquainted with the social scene.”

            Laufman: “Excellent. To make it worth her while, in addition to the fame and fawning praise she’ll receive from the useful idiots, we’ll also funnel her over a million dollars, laundered through GoFundMe. Now get with her and craft a believable but entirely unfalsifiable rape allegation for Kavanaugh. Now anybody know anybody else on the short list..?”

            Combine with all the rest of the lies Ford told (fear of flying, needs two front doors to escape rapists, doesn’t know anything about polygraphs, etc), this seems far more likely than that Brett Kavanaugh raped someone.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:


            An anti-Trump, anti-Kavanaugh conservative describes the rage that is driving the conservatives in the past few weeks. Tom Nichols, a different conservative who has advocated earlier this year that everyone vote across-the-board Democrat because the Republicans won’t fix themselves without such a signal, seems to have come back into the fold simply for self-preservation.

            A recently as last month, I was looking forward to Democrats retaking the House as a check against Trump, but now I have no sympathy for the Democrats at all. There was a strong anti-Kav movement among the Republicans, and Feinstein could have spared everyone a lot of grief had she done what it looks like Ford expected, and told her colleagues she has someone ready to come forward.

            Ever since the rise of Donald Trump, the conservative movement has oriented itself as a circular firing squad. The attacks on Kavanaugh broke that formation.

            One of the tragedies in all this is that leftists have identified those on the right who have been and are prepared to be their allies—Never Trumpers and others—and prioritized such people for destruction.

            This may end up being as stupid a play as Harry Reid getting rid of the filibuster.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Conrad Honcho

        • engleberg says:

          I thought if I ran D party rape accusations, I’d go with Never Trump accusers. But where you gain R and independents, you lose D party loyalists who think rape is too good for R women. The Bernie Sanders fan who shot up the R softball game didn’t care most of them were Never Trump.

  3. Sltkae says:

    This suggests antidepressants increase your risk of death by quite a lot, and I’m wondering what you all think of this.

    If this should have been posted elsewhere, please tell.

  4. Deiseach says:

    For all the people on here who say they couldn’t manage without Uber/Lyft/the likes, now you can not alone have convenient transport, you can get saved to boot! 🙂

  5. LesHapablap says:

    Why couldn’t the allies use Catalina PBYs or other seaplanes to bomb Japan earlier in the war? Couldn’t they have loaded and fueled up from ships fairly close to Japan, or even done a Falklands Vulcan raid type refueling operation on the water?

    • cassander says:

      the doolittle raid happens about 4 months into the war, that’s pretty early.

    • Protagoras says:

      Seaplanes are pretty slow; I expect that Japan’s air defenses, unspectacular though they were early on, would have been able to inflict heavy losses on a seaplane attack force.

    • bean says:

      There wouldn’t be much point. That kind of long-range bombing mission generally does fairly little material damage, and is most useful for either boosting morale or forcing the enemy to spend a bunch on defenses. The Japanese actually did something similar to Pearl, with a notable lack of effectiveness.

      There’s a couple of major issues. First, as Protagoras pointed out, the PBY is not a particularly good bomber in the face of opposition. Second, operating airplanes from the water is harder than it looks. Even something like a PBY isn’t really designed to fly from the open ocean. They did it occasionally, particularly during rescue missions, but they would usually operate from somewhere sheltered, with the tender anchored nearby. When flying seaplanes, ships would usually turn to create a calm area for them to land in, but that was really annoying. Third, you have to bring ships near Japan. There is a pretty desolate stretch of the North Pacific that the Doolittle Raid used on approach, but the Japanese had some impressive flying boats, so I wouldn’t count on getting in undetected if you make this a regular thing. That means the air defenses are alerted and you have to deal with a bunch of Bettys and Nells, which are properly dangerous. Halsey only barely got away with the run-in to the Doolittle Raid, and I don’t like the odds a second time.

      Black Buck is a bad model for anything. It was magnificent, but it was also insane.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        …ships would usually turn to create a calm area for them to land in, but that was really annoying.

        How did that work? I know very little about the day-to-day realities of a lot of the less sexy aspects of WWII. Would the ship turn a circle, creating a calm area in the middle? The physics don’t seem quite right to me, but I’m a total lubber here. Would they simply turn broadside to the general direction of the waves and create a sort of “shadow” for the plane to land in?

        • bean says:

          Not exactly either. They’d make a turn across the waves, and this would somehow interact with the waves to make a calmer area to land in. Not circling, but I think it was 45-90 deg. I don’t know the details, and my intuition for the behavior of waves around ships isn’t great.

          Edit: There’s some good discussion here, including a diagram.

  6. onyomi says:

    I wonder if America isn’t currently trying to be two different kinds of nation-state: on the one hand, many of us still have the idea of a nation as place/people united by some combination of shared ancestry, history, culture, language, and/or values. At the same time, there is a very big contingent, perhaps even the majority, who conceive of the US as something fundamentally different: as a kind of “global commons” where anyone can come from anywhere to work, trade, interact, learn from one another, etc. In other words, private property:public space::traditional nation states:21st c. US.

    The traditional way of getting around this contradiction is by saying that Americans are united by our shared commitment to being this new kind of nation. But we’re not really united in that goal, and, even if we were, it would be an open question as to whether it would be enough to entirely replace ancestry, history, language, culture, and other values.

    As an American myself, I feel conflicted about this: sort of like, I would like for such a place as 21st c. America to exist, but would rather myself be a citizen of e.g. Sweden or Japan. I can always visit the commons to travel, work, trade, or learn, but at the end of the day I also have my home to come back to where people look, think, talk like me. Having one’s home turned into the public space for the world, therefore, feels very violating on some level, and I think that’s where a lot of the impetus behind e.g. Trump and Brexit comes from: almost a kind of global-scale NIMBYism.

    Also, paradoxically enough, I think maybe turning a nation into a global commons paradoxically damages the quality of the public space within it, because you can’t go out into it with the comfortable expectation of largely running into people who are culturally legible to you.

  7. konshtok says:

    You are asking for the wrong answer
    If you want to know what it means for american people to be an american it’s more important to understand what “being” means in this context

  8. What does “credible” mean?

    The term comes up a good deal in the confirmation conflict. To my ear, it means “something I’m not confident is false, probability significantly greater than zero.” By that definition, both Ford’s account and Kavanaugh’s are credible. But a lot of people seem to be using it in a stronger sense than that, something like “more likely true than false.” In that sense, the two accounts cannot both be credible, since they are inconsistent with each other.

    • Brad says:

      I would use plausible, as in “plausible testimony” to mean ‘something I’m not confident is false, probability significantly greater than zero’ whereas I would use credible as in “credible testimony” to mean ‘something I think is likely true and am willing to accept as such until and unless I see even stronger evidence’.

      • Deiseach says:

        That is a large part of the problem here, people are using “credible” in different ways. For instance, I consider Ford’s story credible and Swetnick’s incredible, but that does not mean I believe things happened exactly as Ford said (there are several holes in her account that do need to be explained). It’s credible because it’s “could have happened, is not implausible or impossible, is the kind of story that makes sense” whereas Swetnick’s “I attended several drug-rape parties, told nobody in authority what was going on, nobody else seems to have said anything, and I kept attending until I was raped myself” is not credible.

        So under Brad’s usage, I’d consider Ford’s story plausible, if you asked me “do you think something happened to her along those lines?” I would say it’s credible (by Brad’s usage) but if you asked me “so you accept it was Kavanaugh?” I’d have to say “no, I don’t know and the evidence – such as it is – so far is in Kavanaugh’s favour”, which I suppose for this particular accusation means I find Ford’s story non-credible.

        Other people are using “credible” as “is a believable story therefore it must be believed” and get very upset at any demurral from this. And of course any attempt to clarify definitions is met with cries of rape apologist and supporting a known rapist. I don’t know what the solution is there.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Part of the issue is that an account gains or loses credibility over time. Is this a credible accusation can be a different question from was this a credible accusation at the time that it was made.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        I really dont think its actually that. IMO its just a random talking point that has been applied to this situation that doesn’t really carry any weight normally. However because people are discussing the abstract version of “credible” when most people usually discuss “credibility” they have been conflated. The colloquial version of “credibility” is usually Jurors or Judges evaluating whether a witness’s account of things comports with the rest of the evidence (along with evaluating whether they think body language indicates lying).

        I know several judges and people who work with judges. Only in the nerdiest of scenarios (aka many lawyers with no non-lawyers present) would they say a witness was “credible” or “incredible”. Sometimes they will evaluate “the credibility” of a witness or say the witness was “not credible”. The “not credible” evaluation, however, is much more about surrounding evidence and the witness’s difficulty in explaining it than whether something could have happened.

        When a judge or clerk tells me a person was “not credible” they mean that their explanations for things that happened are significantly less believable than the other evidence. For instance, a real estate agent who says that he didn’t know what a quitclaim deed is; or a driver who rear ended another guy when 3 other witnesses say the light was red.

        I rarely hear “credible” “incredible” and “not credible” used outside of legal circles, except for “incredible” used to describe something that is outstanding.

    • onyomi says:

      I think there is a bit of, perhaps mostly subconscious, motte and bailey here: the motte is “credible=likely enough to be true as to merit not dismissing out-of-hand,” while the bailey is “credible=more likely than not to be true.”

      • dick says:

        You can’t accuse someone else of using a word’s definition as a motte and bailey unless you can read minds. I think the way to deal with someone using a word that could be viewed as a motte and bailey is a) principle of charity – assume they meant whichever definition makes them less dumb, and b) ask.

        • onyomi says:

          There is always ambiguity in every utterance. This leaves room for motte and bailey even in the use of a single word, since every listener must, necessarily, do some interpretive work each time he listens; he can’t just keep asking for clarification over and over.

          Of course, trying to be charitable is a good practice, but I don’t see why it can’t be described as “motte and bailey” if someone uses one word in what seem to be two or more different ways depending on context.

          • dick says:

            Well, you could call it a motte and bailey when one person does it both ways – “A is credible because there’s nothing unbelievable about her claim, B is not credible because he didn’t produce enough evidence” – but that’s got nothing to do with the word credible itself, and did not seem to be what you were describing.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The motte-and-bailey or equivocation here is the syllogism

            Major premise: Anyone with credible allegations of sexual assault against them should be disqualified from a Supreme Court seat

            Minor premise: Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh are credible

            Conclusion: Kavanaugh should be disqualified from a Supreme Court seat.

            Put that way it’s only equivocation; it becomes a motte-and-bailey if you argue that Ford’s accusations are not “credible” in the stronger sense, and your opponent retreats to the weaker sense.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Well, you could call it a motte and bailey when one person does it both ways

            Part of the motte-and-bailey problem is that you have two different allied groups using the word in different ways.

            Group A1 says “credible threats just means must be believed.”

            Group A2 says “credible means he know he did it.”

            A1 fights to get the accusations labelled as credible, which by their definition is obviously correct. A2 fights to say the accusations, which we know are obviously correct, means he did it.

            Group B is stuck.

            You don’t even need coordination between A1 and A2 for this to happen. It will occur naturally.

    • keranih says:

      Googling ‘define credible’ gets me a definition that includes, as synonyms, both “possible” and “probable”. If those two things are floating around in people’s heads, and sometimes we mean one and sometimes the other, we’ve got problems baked into the discussion.

      Also, ‘incredible’ doesn’t mean ‘not true’, either, – see: the current situation, and a defecting legislator with the last name ‘Flake’.

    • rlms says:

      In this context I would use your definition, i.e. it covers probabilities greater than ~1%. In the context of “a credible threat”, the bar is a bit higher.

  9. johan_larson says:

    Getting drafted into the Finnish armed forces? This video (available with English subtitles, oddly enough) explains what you need to know.

    • CatCube says:

      That was interesting. Though I was surprised by how short the term of enlistment was. If I understood the timeline correctly, you spend 8 weeks in basic, plus 9 or so in job-specific training. That seems to consume a huge fraction of the 8.5 months of the term. Considering how much on-the-job training I observed in the US military to truly achieve proficiency, there’ll be a lot of additional training required if the balloon does go up and people get called back.

  10. dndnrsn says:

    Hello, and welcome to the tenth installment of my Biblical scholarship effortpost series. We continue to look at prophecy; so far we’ve covered Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. This time we’re going to look at one of the most significant prophetic books, Jeremiah. It dates, in its original core, to the late seventh and early sixth century, and it deals with the disaster that finally befell Judah: the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the second, more comprehensive exile. We’re going to take a general overview, with a focus on its format(s) and the scholarly theories as to its composition.

    The usual caveats: this series focuses on secular Biblical scholarship. I am not an expert in this field, though I did study it in university. The level of complexity I’m shooting for is around a 100/200 level. If anyone has any questions, just let me know, and I’ll dip into my library to see if I can answer them.

    While we’ve covered the historical background before, a little refresher, focusing on the parts of importance for reading Jeremiah: at the end of the seventh century and the beginning of the sixth, Judah unfortunately found itself in the middle of conflict between Babylon and Egypt. Attempts to play both sides failed terribly. In 597, the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem. During the siege, King Jehoiakim died, and was replaced by his son, Jehoiachin. The city shortly fell, and the Babylonians took Jehoiachin into exile along with other members of the Jerusalem leadership. His uncle, Zedekiah, took his place. Over the next decade, Judah tried to cast off Babylonian rule, but this led only to worse disaster: a final revolt by Zedekiah, predicated on promised help from Egypt which never materialized, led to a second siege by the Babylonians. When the city fell, it was destroyed, and Zedekiah was taken into exile in Babylon along with the rest of the elites of the city.

    Based on the document itself, according to the opening introduction, Jeremiah began prophesying (“The word of the LORD came to him”) in the thirteenth year of King Josiah’s reign, and his prophetic career ended when the second exile from Jerusalem occurred, during the eleventh year of the reign of King Zedekiah. This would cover the span from 627 until 586 BCE. However, the absence of references to Josiah’s reforms in places one would expect them puzzles many scholars, leading to an attempt to square the circle by reading 627 as Jeremiah’s date of birth, rather than the date he began his prophetic career.

    Scholars mostly agree that the book contains material original to Jeremiah – at a minimum, some of the prophetic oracles are original – but in its present form it also includes later additions and edits. There are two different versions of the book that seem to have circulated simultaneously for a while. The Hebrew text that has been preserved is longer and arranged differently from the Greek version in the Septuagint. Hebrew fragments from Qumran agree with the Greek, though, which suggests the current Hebrew text may be an expansion of the Greek, rather than the Greek an abridgment of the Hebrew, as previously thought.

    While Jeremiah is too long to summarize here adequately, its format is important for our purposes. It is a mixture of prophetic oracles in poetic form against Jerusalem and Judah, narratives concerning the prophetic career of Jeremiah, prose sections that appear to be intended as sermons, and oracles against the nations. Jeremiah is notable for the degree to which he expresses the awful nature of the things to come, and how horrible it is to be a victim in war; the book also, more than any other prophetic book, provides information as to the life and character of the prophet. The tone of Jeremiah can be seen in the word coined from the name, “jeremiad.”

    Jeremiah’s oracles against Jerusalem and Judah cover familiar themes. The worship of gods other than God is excoriated, and political alliances with Egypt and Assyria are condemned. Social injustice is a cause for concern. The leadership is criticized, as are the professional prophets (whom Jeremiah accuses of prophesying peace, thus helping those whose actions will in fact lead to punishment). This is all going to lead to terrible consequences for Judah and for Jerusalem, but they will be restored in the future. Scholars tend to think that these hopeful oracles are to some extent the product of editing (as they often do where positive oracles are concerned) but some of the hopeful oracles most likely go back to the prophet himself.

    The first point – the condemnation of worship of foreign gods – is what leads scholars to question the dates of Jeremiah’s career. Josiah’s reforms – aimed in large part at stamping out the worship of other gods – might be expected to be mentioned in the oracles. After all, these reforms would presumably meet with the prophet’s approval. However, the only references to Josiah’s reforms are in the prose sections, which at a minimum have been edited, likely by Deuteronomistic editors. Some scholars, then, take this disjunction to indicate that Jeremiah wasn’t an active prophet yet at the time when when Josiah’s reforms took place.

    The narratives concern Jeremiah’s life and actions. Based on the text, it’s conceivable that the narratives are the work of a scribe named Baruch who was Jeremiah’s secretary. However, this is unprovable. Relevant to examining the provenance of the narrative sections is that throughout the accounts of his reaction to the unfolding crisis, Jeremiah advises submission to the Babylonians, even to the point of surrender.

    While it is possible that Jeremiah counselled surrender and submission to the Babylonians, the picture in the narratives may be an exaggeration. Chapters 50 and 51 have oracles against Babylon; while these oracles are anonymous and may not date back to Jeremiah, one narrative account has Jeremiah prophesying disaster upon Babylon. Thus, one strong scholarly position is that the narratives – whatever original material they may contain – have been edited by exiles backing a policy of continued submission to Babylon, in order to provide a prophet’s sanction for their position.

    The writing style of the narratives, and the view of the relationship between God and Israel expressed in them, resembles the book of Kings. Some scholars thus link the narrative material to the Deuteronomistic History, but this doesn’t seem to account for the issue of the Hebrew versus Greek version of Jeremiah. A weaker variant of this position, namely that the narratives involve Deuteronomistic editing, is more widely held.

    Interestingly, however, some clues may indicate that, while Jeremiah would presumably have approved of the reforms and general stance we associate with Deuteronomy, he did not approve of the recording of God’s law in document form. Some scholars point to the oracle in 8:4-12, pointing specifically at 8:8 (‘How can you say, “We are wise, And we possess the Instruction of the LORD”? Assuredly, for naught has the pen labored, For naught the scribes!”) as showing that the originator of this oracle (whether Jeremiah or someone later) had an animosity to scribes, and did not like the idea of identifying God’s law with a book associated with scribes. Having a book as the canonical, normative version of God’s will would elevate scribes over prophets. It would be a bit much to think that this passage (if interpreted correctly) indicates the presence of a sort of prototype of today’s scholarship (with the author viewing the scribes as having added to and edited the text). It is more likely that it indicates that the objection was to the text being defined in such a way, which would lead to overconfidence. For our purposes, the retention of this passage indicates that Deuteronomistic editing (carried out, after all, by scribes who were big into writing God’s law down) did not remove everything that would potentially undermine them.

    The prose sermons, meanwhile, very strongly resemble the Deuteronomistic style. While this material may contain material dating back to the prophet (at, a minimum, second hand) a lot of the material could be the work of editors in the Deuteronomistic tradition; however, there isn’t much of a scholarly consensus on this point.

    The oracles against the nations are somewhat anonymous compared to the rest of Jeremiah. Similarities between oracles against the nations from prophetic book to prophetic book are taken by some scholars to indicate that prophets or editors borrowed or adapted oracles from elsewhere. In Jeremiah, as in some other books, the oracles against the nations appear to be intended to show that the God of Israel is the God of all creation, who will judge all the nations – whether they recognize God or not.

    To conclude: Jeremiah is a prophetic book at a very important time, which saw rising Babylonian power and the eventual destruction of Jerusalem. Scholars think that at least some of the material dates back to the prophet, but there’s likely evidence of additions and editing. The nature and amount of these, however, is disputed.

    (If I’ve made any mistakes, let me know, ideally within 55 minutes of posting so I have time to edit)

    • Evan Þ says:

      I wasn’t aware that the Dead Sea Scrolls agreed with the Septuagint text against the Masoretic! I’d previously agreed with the pro-Masoretic consensus, but this makes me want to actually look into it. Could you give a brief overview of the differences? Are there any notable passages or features that’re in one but not the other?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Let me clarify, since I’m not saying that in general stuff from Qumran corresponds better with the Septuagint than the Masoretic text. The Jeremiah fragments found at Qumran (all in Hebrew) show two different versions, one which lines up better with the LXX, and the other with the MT.

        Scholars have taken this, along with the difference in location of the oracles against the nations in the LXX Jeremiah vs the MT (in the LXX version, the oracles against the nations are in the middle of the book, similar to Isaiah and Ezekiel; the MT version puts them at the end of Jeremiah), to indicate that with regard to Jeremiah specifically the LXX preserves an earlier version than the MT. The differences, beyond the location of those oracles, is that the Greek version is missing some individual verses, and a few longer passages. It seems to reflect developments in, for lack of a better word, theology, but fairly minor ones.

        If you’d like I can go through my fanciest-pants book on the topic and write up a little bit; it’s kinda inside-baseball but it is cool.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Yes, I should’ve clarified that I was talking about Jeremiah too. Thanks for the summary; if you have the time, I’d be very interested in that longer writeup on the topic.

          • dndnrsn says:

            OK, a bit of brief reading, and while this isn’t exhaustive, some differences not already mentioned:

            1. There’s more identification of Jeremiah as a nabi’ (some accents missing here, but whatever). This lines up with expansion of the use of the word and when it applies.
            2. There’s a bit in 33:14-26 about a righteous Davidic king supported by Levitical priests. It’s not in the LXX. It seems to comment on 23:5-6, which mentions the former, but not the latter. It also echoes ideas found in Haggai and Zechariah (both later than Jeremiah) and non canonical stuff from the late 2nd century.
            3. The likely shuffling of the oracles against the nations creates a juxtaposition in the 25th chapter, with some extra sayings about judgment on the nations, which seems to explain after the fact disasters foretold by Jeremiah. This seems to be intended to create additional hope for the future.

    • marshwiggle says:

      I’ve not the time for an in depth response, but one thing struck me as I was reading your post. The Jeremiah scholars seem to have a serious case of overconfidence with respect to what Jeremiah or his editors would have done in various cases, combined with the assumption that what they think the text is saying is how Jeremiah or his editors would have seen it.

      I’ve not read the scholarship on Jeremiah myself. For that matter, I’ve not read through the passages that differ in the MT and Sept.

      • dndnrsn says:

        There definitely is some scholarly overconfidence. But hey, nobody wants to publish someone who’s not confident!

        • marshwiggle says:

          I guess I’m hoping for a higher standard out of scholars. Plus, if the Jeremiah scholarship is anything like similar scholarship, you get these weird chains where one guy basically makes stuff up (sometimes with some evidence, but sometimes just with a plausible what if) and sounds confident, then people cite him, then people cite them, and it gets more and more unquestionable as the chain goes. Which has always struck me as a horrible way of arriving at truth. I mean, yes, the system incentivizes it, but that just means we’ve got to be extra careful not to be misled by it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Honestly, textual criticism and all that jazz seems a lot easier for New Testament scholars: they’ve got fragmentary copies, and complete copies, much closer to the originals. That’s not the only factor, either – for similar reasons, we’ve got better knowledge of the historical context (is context the right word) of the New Testament than the Hebrew Bible. Scholarly overconfidence with regard to the New Testament is mostly found in discussion of the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth (especially those who downplay the apocalypticism).

            It would probably be nice to see a bit more “well, we don’t know” but scholars gotta eat. If the truth is unknowable, that’s more potential scholarly stances, which means more books get published, which means poor unloved junior professors won’t freeze to death in the gutter.

    • S_J says:

      I’ve noticed that some of the prophet writings mentioned so far have some sort of narrative helping define the prophet as special, or as authorized.

      (I think Amos openly declares that he is a not from the usual social/family background of a prophet, but that he was ‘on a mission from God.’ Isaiah opens his book with a few chapters of prophetic utterance, but then narrates a vision he has of God, seated on/above the Temple. In that vision, Isaiah receives a special commission from God.)

      Jeremiah opens with a personal conversation between Jeremiah and God. There is also an element of ‘special vision’ in this, but it doesn’t have nearly as much visionary-detail as Isaiah had. However, it contains a commissioning-statement for Jeremiah.

      Jeremiah’s narratives contain some contention between Jeremiah and other prophets in the city of Jerusalem at that time. It’s possible that when the narrative section of Jeremiah was written, the commissioning-ceremony was written to help give Jeremiah precedence over these competing prophets.

      Whether or not that is true, I find it very interesting that Jeremiah mentions prophets he disagreed with, and makes a point of telling the reader who those prophets are, and how those prophets were wrong. One of them is noted to have died within a year, after he had tried to take the symbolic yoke off of Jeremiah and prophesy that Jeremiah was wrong about Judah being under the yoke of Babylon.

      In another section of the narrative, Jeremiah has his scribe write up a scroll. He sends the scribe to the Temple to read it, because he himself has been banned from the Temple. Some of the Officials who hear the scroll read out like it, but some do not like it. They warn Jeremiah to go into hiding, but take the scroll to the King Jehoiakim. The King burns the scroll after it is read, and sends a Prince and an army official to arrest Jeremiah. But they were unable to find Jeremiah, who is “hidden by the LORD”.

      This narrative section is full of names of the important people involved, and adds details like the “the King was at his winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him”, before describing the King cutting off sections of the the scroll and tossing those sections into the fire pot.

      This short story, by itself, does a good job of outlining the situation Jeremiah was in. Some people listened to him, some did not. But the powerful people who did not listen to him caused doom and destruction to fall on everyone.

      And it ends with Jeremiah and his scribe writing down the same prophecies, and adding more to the written book.

  11. Brad says:

    Meta to the Kavanaugh stuff—

    There’s probably something analogous on the left, but the usual reasons I’ve noticed it on the right. That is, a very strong convergence of arguments and tone. Big tent politics means that the bottom line will converge but I would have expected a devout Christian and a secular libertarian-ish techie to *sound* more different than they have in my observation given that we are dealing with issues of e.g. premarital sex.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Personally, as a devout Christian: Kavanaugh isn’t being nominated for a seat on the church elder board, but for the Supreme Court.

      To isolate the premarital sex from the other allegations, let’s pretend we’re instead dealing with Judge Xninanhtu who’s accused of having completely consensual sex with his girlfriend and flatly denies the allegation. If he’s named for the church elder board, I’m going to take a close look at that and hear testimony to determine whether he’s covering up some secret sin. But if he’s being named for the secular Supreme Court, I don’t care one bit. He could be a Satanist having orgies every weekend, and I wouldn’t care, because (as the liberals have correctly reminded us many times) we have a government of laws not of religious morality.

      Yes, a lot of Christians were saying otherwise during the Bush administration. I wasn’t among them. When I try to model their response, I get “Well, if you’re choosing among equally qualified people, it’s really nice to have someone who’s trying to follow God. But we don’t have that luxury anymore.”

      • Brad says:

        Like I said, I’m expecting the same bottom line. I understand coalition politics and I’m not trying to impose unreasonable expectations of purity. But I would have expected more divergence in arguments, body language, etc. The argument you just gave for example.

        I think there was less of the type of convergence I’m describing, though still plenty, two years ago with Trump. I don’t know if that has something particular to do with the Supreme Court or Kavanaugh or instead if there’s a general effect at play that is getting stronger over time.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Alternatively, the things you are noticing in common are things a lot of difference groups are getting fed up about about specific beliefs, and the most effective arguments are shared in common.

    • Nick says:

      If Ford’s allegation is true and Kavanaugh has been lying about it and/or other things, then he does not belong on the Supreme Court.

      • keranih says:

        As an anti-Democrat non-Trump-partisan who is not a lawyer…

        …I agree with this.

        The problem is that -based on what we got – there doesn’t appear to be any way to prove this, and it is unconscionable to set a norm where we accept this sort of charge unproven.

        • Nick says:

          I agree, keranih. We’re in limbo—an allegation credible enough to take seriously, but not credible enough to justly ask Kavanaugh to step aside, not with the whole thing in public. I blame Sen. Feinstein for this, and I want Democrats slaughtered at the polls for it—as I said above, I mailed my voter registration this morning. But that November resolution does nothing for us in the here and now.

          I expect a lot of nonsense surrounding the FBI investigation this week, but I hope that 1) it’s genuinely probative, 2) it heals some of the rift this has created, and 3) it gives grounds for a 53-47-ish vote instead. And if the allegations are further substantiated—so be it, and we push for Coney Barrett.

          • keranih says:

            >>>”an allegation credible enough to take seriously”

            I disagree. Quibble. Whatever. Ford’s accusation is not credible – it has no support and no evidence. What it is, is *serious*. This is a charge of a serious, significant act of misconduct.

            Part of what I want, going forward, is an insistence on the part of everyone that serious charges need to be supported by evidence, not emotion, in order to be considered credible.

            Otherwise, we are still on this merry-go-round of “who can be most angry” – and that’s not a game any of us can win.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There are lots of different meanings of “credible” but its most basic is “can be believed” and Ford’s allegation can be believed. If you have a different definition, that’s fine, but it means we’re arguing over definitions.

            *EDIT* Paul Zrimsek’s reply below is good and I co-sign.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I like “plausible” better here: it doesn’t have a motte-and-bailey built into it.

          • keranih says:

            Hmmm. I was going to say that I would buy ‘plausible – but I’m not sure that I do.

            I am thinking of this in terms of a hypothesis, if you would, that lends itself to being examined for supporting evidence to see if we can reject the null.

            As I see it, the question is not yet constructed well enough to test, so I still reject the weight assigned.

            (Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me how we can reject the null here.)

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            To me, a plausible hypothesis isn’t necessarily one that’s yet been whipped into any sort of testable shape. I see it as something like rational-basis review in conlaw: Is there some possible constellation of facts which don’t contradict the story, each other, or common sense?

            I’ll admit, though, that this isn’t the very best moment to be delving into the idea of plausibility– it’s really more at home in the opening stages of an investigation than in its ending stages. At this point, you’d hope we’d have something more to go on than, “Well, it might be true.”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I disagree re: plausible. I do not find it plausible that she does not remember how she got home, as I would think that would have been a harrowing experience for her following the attack. By her own account, she fled the house immediately after the assault without speaking to the other attendees (note, also, leaving her female friend in a house with drunken gang rapists).

            So none of the other attendees drove her home. She also did not make a phone call from the house.

            Did the walk home after the attack? The country club she says she was near was 6-8 miles from her home. She does not remember the terror of being attacked and then having to walk many miles home, alone in the dark?

            This was before cell phones, so did she go to the neighbors and beg to use their phone? Wait there terrified until someone came and got her?

            Well she can’t say this because then we could attempt to find that person and corroborate the events. Also perhaps find the home where the gathering occurred.

            Also, did she have any bags or a purse she left behind? Would she remember needing to recover those later?

            I find it implausible that she does not remember the immediate aftermath of the attack, as I would think trying to find your way home after such an event would also be traumatic enough to be “indelible in the hippocampus.”

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I disagree re: plausible. I do not find it plausible that she does not remember how she got home, as I would think that would have been a harrowing experience for her following the attack.

            yeah, after Mitchell’s memo this is really what stood out to me as well

            Basically like Conrad says, the supposed site of the incident was 6-8 miles away from her house. The memo also noted that cell phones weren’t out yet and she was 15. So…she walked home, over 6 miles, and doesn’t remember it? It’s one thing to be so traumatised that you walk a few blocks and forget all about it, but 6 miles seems beyond the realm of belief. Honestly, it seems wild for her to even walk 6 miles to begin with. Maybe that’s just coming from a pampered city boy.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s a long walk. I feel like walking a single mile, at a fairly brisk pace, takes 10-15 minutes.

            We’re talking about well over an hours worth of walking (probably closer to 2+), presumably in the dark and in an unfamiliar location.

          • Nick says:

            I walk home from church each week, and that’s 2 miles in about 35-40 minutes at a good pace. So yeah, that walk home would have been at least 2 hours.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            For what it’s worth, a 10:00 mile is a steady jog. A 12:00 mile is a slower jog.

            A typical leisurely walking pace is probably ~17-20 minutes per mile.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I recall reading that the average adult walks at around 3.3 miles per hour. So 6-8 miles would be two hours or so.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Matt M

            Not at night; it was early in the evening in the summer, so probably still light out. We also don’t know where the house was; she says that it was “not far” from the country club and that it was in the Bethesda/Chevy Chase area. I’m not sure how she got around, I don’t think she ever answered that. She claims to have been 15, too young to drive (while driving without a license at a young age was not uncommon in the area, it was more a rural kid thing than a rich kid thing). I can’t see a prep school kid taking the Metrobus, but I suppose it’s possible.

        • Randy M says:

          it is unconscionable to set a norm where we accept this sort of charge unproven.

          This is almost the entirety of the reason I very much want Kavanaugh confirmed. This won’t stay isolated to Supreme Court nominees.

  12. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Posted on Marginal Revolution:

    tl;dr Chicago demolished some public housing and gave the residents vouchers for private housing. Kids displaced by this did better as adults than kids in similar public housing that wasn’t demolished. Oddly, a previous lottery experiment giving public housing residents vouchers to move out did not find that lottery winners did any better than lottery losers.

    At face value, this means the people who don’t want to leave public housing are the ones who need to?

    • Plumber says:

      That’s interesting!

      As a wild guess, folks ambitious to escape public housing are more likely to leave “a culture of poverty” regardless, and the folks made to leave become socialized into other norms that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to?

  13. Darick Kowalski says:

    The following quote is from Allen Stoekl, commenting on “The Pineal Eye”, an early parodic essay by Georges Bataille:

    “And behind Darwin lurks Hegel: the temporal movement toward erect, properly adjusted, rational man is one with the dialectical movement toward Absolute Spirit. But what happens when this movement is not simply denied – as Breton would have Bataille deny, as contradictory, his own ability to reason – but pushed as far as it can go? The answer is that at the end of reason, at the end of man, at the end of the Cartesian pineal gland (the supposed seat of consciousness) there is only orgasm and a simultaneous fall, a simultaneous death. Death and perversion do not take place in splendid isolation; instead, they are at the endpoint of the human.
    The energy of obscene, anal sexuality may be temporarily brought to a higher level in the elevated mind, in the ramrod-straight military man, in spirit – but when spirit reaches its full elevation, it sees the light of
    night, it becomes the ejaculation that idealist religious and philosophical systems – Breton’s as well as Hegel’s – had merely temporarily forgotten and not done away with. At the furthest point of evolution, of absolute
    knowledge, elevation is the fall; humanity is animality; insight is blindness; health is terminal pathology; God, when he knows, is a pig.” (xii-xiii)

    I have been trying to understand Bataille’s insights into Hegel, but my knowledge of Hegel is very limited. I have tried reading Hegel before and my brain just can’t handle his writing, so I have been trying to find secondary sources while asking around in various forums.

    Basically, I think Bataille (and Stoekl via his interpretation) is trying to say something profound about how Hegel’s system of philosophy culminates and resolves itself. Perhaps something about how this Absolute Idea comes to realize itself outside of itself through a process of negation, but when this full realization happens, i.e. when there is some kind of ultimate synthesis of subject and object in that can theologically be called “God”, this God becomes blind to everything – particularly to the escalating progression of understanding leading up to God’s blindness, and all of the negated trash that it had expelled from itself is actually reincorporated. I don’t know if I am getting this right at all or if I am doing much more than spouting nonsense. What do you guys think? Any and all responses are much appreciated. Thanks!

    • Tarpitz says:

      Back when I studied Bataille as an undergrad, my pretty strong impression was that he was talking 100% nonsense 100% of the time, except when he was just writing weird gore/porn for the lols. My strong prior is that any and all attempts to express Bataille’s views on philosophy are inevitably either mischaracterizatons or nonsense.

  14. johan_larson says:

    All this furious talk about US Supreme Court politics has me wishing we had two CW-free posts per cycle rather than one.

    • Nornagest says:


    • Nick says:

      You’re Canadian, right? Would you prefer we talk about your Supreme Court?

      • Evan Þ says:

        As an American, I know absolutely nothing about the Canadian Supreme Court outside Reference re Secession of Quebec, and I’d be interested in learning more.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Federal judges in Canada, SCC included, have mandatory retirement at 75. That’s a big difference. I don’t know whether they’re technically more or less powerful than the US Supreme Court; there’s no counterpart to the notwithstanding clause but it doesn’t get used very much. At a minimum, the courts here seem to be less polarized/polarizing, but politics here in general is like that, compared to the US.

      • arlie says:

        It would be interesting. I’m badly out of touch, and it would be fun to have the kind of virtual conversation I’d expect from similar people back home.

    • disposablecat says:

      -1 for this. CW threads are why I follow SSC – it’s the only place left on the internet where people from both filter bubbles discuss the divisions of our society in a coherent way that doesn’t immediately devolve into “YOU’RE A RACIST NAZI” / “NO, YOU’RE A FILTHY COMMIE”.

      • Lambert says:

        Agreed. I find the ‘did he do it or not’ discussion to be pretty boring, as is kind of inevitable in this sort of case, but the discussion of the broader implications regarding the future of SCOTUS have a decent signal:noise ratio.
        Though I’d like it if in future, all Kevenaugh discussions (and other CW discussions that get to that size) be kept to one top-level thread per Open Thread.

      • Incurian says:

        Maybe he could put up one of each type for every OT.. and the CW is completely unadvertised with a harder to find link.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          It’s interesting to me that the general tenor here is “suppression of speech is horrible and should not be tolerated”…

          but, as the speech starts to become uncomfortable for people here, they want to segregate it somewhere they don’t need to see it.

          I would hope this prompts some self-reflection on how speech can be corrosive.

          • Nick says:

            but, as the speech starts to become uncomfortable for people here, they want to segregate it somewhere they don’t need to see it.

            “They” who? By my count, four people have agreed, with two (beleester and dick) only suggesting a Kavanaugh moratorium.

            I think you’ll also find folks have long expressed sentiments like “SSC has had higher standards of discourse than other places online, and I think we should stick to that,” which, based on last thread, seems to be the gist of dick’s position here.

            I don’t know that that has anything to do with feeling uncomfortable or with a corrosive power of speech.

            ETA: Actually, in fairness, dick’s statements last thread would probably be better read as a statement of Matt M’s speech having a corrosive effect on the discussion. So if I understand him correctly, that is one person who feels that way. I did respond to dick; you can decide who had the stronger position there.

          • dick says:

            but, as the speech starts to become uncomfortable for people here, they want to segregate it somewhere they don’t need to see it.

            That is definitely not what I want. I’m explicitly here to be uncomfortable, to be challenged, to see strong other-side views I would not have come up with on my own. What I want to avoid is the dumb ones. I’d say a solid half of the discussion here has been “Some unnamed liberal on TV said we should uncritically believe Ford, let’s talk about how awful that is!” That’s echo-chamber stuff.

          • johan_larson says:

            Well, I’m the OP, and “corrosive” isn’t the word I would use. It’s more like “tiresome”. I feel like I’m at a family function and my uncles are, again, getting into an hours-long argument about baseball, a subject where I can’t rouse myself to care about anything less than the World Series. It’s fine that they are talking about it, but I kind of wish they’d take it to another room, or maybe a sports bar.

            At this point I’m seeing way too much stuff in these threads that I’m not interested in, particularly about American politics both micro- and macro-. I’m seriously considering reducing my participation to just the fortnightly non-CW threads. But maybe that’s just me.

          • albatross11 says:


            I don’t think there’s anyone who disagrees with the notion that it’s reasonable to restrict speech in particular contexts in a privately-owned forum. As far as I know, none of us who are concerned with free-speech restrictions have complained about Scott limiting CW topics to certain threads, or banning John Sidles. We all agree that it’s legitimate to limit the time and place of particular kinds of speech.

            That doesn’t seem too connected to concerns about, say, people getting fired from their jobs for off-the-clock political speech, or public meetings where a speaker wants to give a talk and a bunch of people want to hear him, but an angry mob shows up and makes the speech impossible.

            If you want to forbid Jordan Peterson from showing up during the graduate seminar on literary criticism and telling all the postmodernists to stop talking nonsense and go clean their goddamn rooms, I’m with you 100%. That’s entirely distinct from wanting to forbid Jordan Peterson from speaking to an auditorium full of people who want to hear him, because his ideas are offensive to some folks who aren’t required to hear him.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Suppression and segregation are two different things. If my family cannot talk politics at the dinner table because we all yell at each other, okay let’s ban politics. But I don’t want either my left-wing or right-wing family members to get free passes because “it’s not politics, it’s just being a decent human being.”

            Definitely true that speech can be corrosive, though. Obviously true. Just take the filter off and watch how quickly your marriage crumbles because you say whatever pops into your head. :/

          • quanta413 says:

            It’s not a complicated distinction to make. Large practically common carriers of speech should suppress very little speech. Small subcommunities can (and often must to be productive) have stricter standards. And people shouldn’t be fired from their jobs for saying the wrong things outside of work or when solicited for feedback.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            This too shall pass.

            I think johan_larson has a point; I routinely skip past about half of the top level OT threads, not because they’re horrible, but because they’re simply not as interesting to me (questions about specific drug treatments, local SF stuff, psychiatric discussions, deep dives into D&D5E vs. 3E, etc.).

            As heated as the political and CW discussions get here, even they are a welcome refuge compared to my FB feed – with one or two exceptions, it’s a gauntlet of ill-considered yet earnestly shared memes, complete with an implied threat of condemnation if one dares to discuss, leading in turn to affirmation that no counter argument exists against such righteous outrage.

            I’ll certainly grant that some SSC commenters get into a repetitive rut, and I think we’d do well to point it out. And yet I would so much rather have the speech here – indeed, to have it in more forums – that I strain to find the words to describe it.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I’ll go even further. This is an important debate WITHIN THIS COMMUNITY (or this type of community) where we have to settle on ways of adjudicating claims. Things like:

            Should we treat sex crimes differently than other crimes in civil and criminal proceedings?

            What is a standard of evidence that is acceptable to banish someone from the public square?

            What are the acceptable interrogation techniques in civil disputes? Should we allow for aggressive interrogation of accusers and suspects to “break them” like we see in all sorts of criminal procedurals? Would it be acceptable to waterboard both the accuser and accused to determine the truth? Would that get us closer to the truth than written statements? Closer than a showtrial? Closer than a normal cross examination? What is the proper truth seeking method in such cases?

          • Incurian says:

            Meh. I just find it tiresome most of the time, but I’d still want it to be there when I’m in the right mood. I was thinking of this as more of an organization issue than a speech issue.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I feel like I’m at a family function and my uncles are, again, getting into an hours-long argument about baseball, a subject where I can’t rouse myself to care about anything less than the World Series.

            For me it’s “any social gathering where at least one cat fancier is present”, but… yeah. This is very much an international group, and we should be willing to take devious pains to keep it that way. The hard part is coming up with a constructive suggestion. I thought of “one US politics subthread per OT”, but a subthread that ends up sidetracked into US politics won’t necessarily have started that way.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Is there actually furious talk?

    • dick says:

      +1. I like CW arguments, including some of the ones here, the Kavanaugh stuff has been a train wreck.

      • albatross11 says:

        Any guesses about why? My first cut:

        a. The whole situation is maximally ambiguous, allowing for many different interpretations of the whole matter. Remember Scott’s example (in Toxoplasma of Rage) about how Eric Garner’s pretty unambiguously awful killing by police got less coverage and discussion than Michael Brown’s killing by police whose rightness or wrongness was quite muddy.

        b. The ambiguity splits nicely along party and CW lines, and thus also along news-bubble lines. People who read mostly liberal sources and people who read mostly conservative sources can very easily maintain their (our?) existing views. The breakdown of any expectation of neutral mainstream media is really hurting us here.

        c. Outrage is what a hell of a lot of the online economy runs on and is optimized for. There are lots of media outlets and personalities who have a big incentive to amp up the outrage here, and few or none who have an incentive to step back, take a deep breath, and try to assess things neutrally and fairly. And the outrage-centric folks react to anyone trying to do that with (as you might guess) *more* outrage.

        d. Both parties are heavily divided. They both probably see outrage against the other side as a good way to keep their own coalitions together.

        (a) and (b) work together to ensure that conditions for fire are optimal, whereas (c) and (d) work together to guarantee that everyone is pumping as much gasoline as possible on the fire. And that spills over here, inevitably.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Add on that the Supreme Court is now ultra-high stakes. Let my imagination run wild for just a few seconds, and I see a future leftist court ruling that (say) any company employing someone with WrongThink views is creating a hostile work environment. Meanwhile, the Other Party lets their imagination run wild just a few seconds, and they see a future rightist court outlawing abortion and overturning hostile work environment laws completely.

          Sure, go ahead and dispute the hypotheticals – I didn’t make any effort to make them really plausible – but both parties are now thinking along those lines.

          This makes a Supreme Court nomination into an implicit referendum on your hopes and dreams v. your worst nightmares. Of course it’s going to be a trainwreck.

          • albatross11 says:


            Since Trump’s election, it seemed like the apocalyptic rhetoric had been turned up to maximum. But somehow, with this SC choice, we’ve managed to turn it up even further.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            The court may be, but Kavanaugh is not. If the republicans find they do not have the votes to confirm him, they can just reach into their hat and pick another name from the federalist society list, who will have pretty much the same effect on the court. This holds even if they get crushed in the midterms – the lame duck senate can still confirm.

            … Actually, worst possible outcome for the Republicans is that they *do* confirm him, and then the democrats manage to dig up unambiguous enough evidence that they can impeach him.

            For example, 200000 in baseball tickets? That seems like the sort of trail that might have some very damning skeletons buried at the end of it.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The craziest thing that we can’t even blame any of this escalation on Trump. His only contribution was a nomination which any Republican would have made.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Uhm. No, you can totally blame Trump. He was warned to pick someone else from the list, because it was predictable that his confirmation would be at least somewhat of a shitshow, just due to his finances. Trump insisted. Because, while not any more hardline than the average federalist society on most of the R wish-list, he was very hardline indeed on executive privilege.

          • Nick says:

            Does anyone else on the Court even share Kavanaugh’s view about executive privilege? Or is the worry that they might vote on partisan lines if the opportunity arises, and then have Kavanaugh write the opinion as intellectual cover?

          • baconbits9 says:

            The Republicans need to finish this nomination, you can’t just withdraw the name and put another in its place, the opposition has made it clear that they will take any accusation against seriously and push it as far as they can go. Withdrawing here says to the next nominee “Hey, we are about to expose you to horrific publicity and at the end we might give up on you even if there is no substantive evidence against”. Its one thing to go through embarrassment and end up a supreme court justice, an other to go through it and then return to your day job.

          • albatross11 says:

            So, what predictions make sense for the next SC fight?

            Assuming Kavenaugh is not confirmed, I expect as big a circus and as many vague accusations as possible for any replacement. Financial allegations, sexual innuendoes, vague allegations of Russian ties, whatever it takes. Because now both sides see the other side as having defected, and there’s no obvious way back to a cooperate/cooperate play in terms of SC nominations, so there’s nothing preventing endless nastiness except if it pisses off the voters, which I don’t think it has so far. (But we’ll have some data on that come the midterms.)

            And further, the stakes are extremely high. Liberals have won a whole bunch of policy victories by getting them imposed by the SC. Many of those, maybe most, I think were good policy, but they were absolutely imposed by the SC when they couldn’t be won by putting them to the voters. A lot of those policy victories are potentially up for grabs now. If Kavenaugh gets voted down and Trump nominates a super-conservative Catholic, why aren’t the Ds going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at her? If they succeed at stopping another nominee, maybe they save the day; if they fail, well, the Rs have already defected once and now they have, too, so it’s not like they’re risking anything in future nominations. At least some activist core of their voters will cheer for anything that stops, say, Roe v Wade being overturned, fair or unfair.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You are making a HUGE assumption, which is that accusations are being manufactured from thin air.

            Even for completely non-things like Benghazi or “Fast and Furious” something had to actually happen before it could spun into a fairy tale. You had to have actual people, in the actual situation, make allegations. The reason Gorsuch wasn’t accused of sexual assault is because no one came forward to do so. Ford wasn’t manufactured by Democrats, she made a credible allegation of assault completely on her own.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Kavanaughs stance on executive privilege is kind of.. Nuts. So even as far as that goes, I do not think he effectively makes a difference from anyone else on the list. Too likely to end up a dissenter in any case that is relevant.

            Trump basically scored an own-goal here for no real gain, which is very much of a piece with the rest of his presidency, so..

            RE: Next nomination. Wrong. The obvious fall back choice is pretty unassailable on any grounds other than “We do not much care for your politics”.
            Which might result in a perfectly party-line vote, but the republicans win that. As I said, the only way R loses this court majority is if they stick K in, and it then turns out that they shouldnt have because the shit-storm ends up unearthing the kind of rock solid evidence of wrongdoing that lets the democrats kick him off the court.

          • Ford wasn’t manufactured by Democrats, she made a credible allegation of assault completely on her own.

            That might be true, but how can you know it?

            Suppose Kavanaugh is entirely innocent. Do you really find it implausible that, among all the Democratic women who see him as harbinger of the Handmaid’s Tale, there wouldn’t be one in a position to make a plausible accusation without evidence and willing to do it?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That might be true, but how can you know it?

            The plot would have to go back to 2012, or it would have to be a conspiracy involving a practicing therapist, Ford, and her husband.

            I can’t know that Rusell’s teapot ain’t out there either, but I can take a guess.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Kavanaugh’s name was brought up as a possibility for the Supreme Court in 2012. Her therapist has not confirmed that the person she described in 2012 was Kavanaugh (and she refuses to waive privilege). Her husband can be expected to back her up.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I think, given that she went to her therapist within two months of Kavanaugh being named as a likely candidate, and that she and Kavanaugh shared some social contacts, that she was describing Kavanaugh. With, like, 99% confidence here.

          • and that she and Kavanaugh shared some social contacts


            I thought the only connection was supposed to be the party or parties which she says happened thirty-some years ago.

          • The Nybbler says:


            She apparently went out with “Squi” (Chris Garrett), but she wouldn’t say “dated” him. Garrett was a close friend of Kavanaugh.

          • Does Garrett say she went out with him or does only Ford say that? If she went out with him for several months and he was a friend of Kavanaugh’s, he ought to be a relevant witness for what her attitude was to Kavanaugh after the event.

          • The Nybbler says:

            As far as I know, Garrett has not been asked about “going out with” Ford. Maybe the FBI will ask him this week, though if he has any sense he’ll say nothing and refer them to his lawyer. But it was before the incident, and they didn’t see each other often after they stopped going out.

            I believe Kavanaugh has said he didn’t know Ford. That Kavanaugh woudn’t know someone his close friend was “going out with” would have been rather unlikely in my coed public high school, but it seems more likely when talking about single-sex schools. (And I don’t know the timeline of when Kavanaugh became friends with Garrett)

        • dick says:

          I agree those are all good reasons why the national discourse has been such a shitshow, but what I mean was, if SSC threads on the topic aren’t any better or more rational or insightful or constructive than that, we should stick to other stuff that sets SSC apart.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Thinking about this, is there a more perfect toxoplasma candidate than Kavagnorok? You’ve got maximum ambiguity, channeling into long-running culture war strains, with just about the highest political stakes possible (long-term control of the USSC). What would a more toxoplasmic fight look like?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The conversation has mostly been pro-Kavanaugh, anti-Dem, anti “SJW” ping-ponging. Me and BBA seem to be the only ones who have taken the opposite side, and in relatively anodyne terms. I suppose if that’s what you mean be train wreck, sure, it’s a train wreck, but not for the reasons you seem to be alleging.

        • keranih says:


          Ok, a serious question. What is your take on what Senator Feisenstein did, wrt the timing of presenting the Ford charges? Serious question, looking for a perspective from a different point of view.

          • dick says:

            It seems pretty unconscionable but probably more in an incompetent way than a conniving way. The steelman of her behavior would seem to be something like, Ford says to Feinstein “I have this recollection that I feel should be investigated, but I know it wouldn’t stick by itself so I only want to come forward if you also have other similar accusations from other women” and then Feinstein went about trying to find other accusations in a ham-handed way that resulted in Ford’s name becoming an open secret, which caused Ford to have to deal with all of the downsides of having gone public with none of the advantages, causing her to go public. The weakman would be more or less the same, except with Feinstein outing Ford intentionally and with her timing being calculated.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            I think it’s pretty clear to me Feinstein sat on the info until it would be maximally inconvenient for the GOP to have it released.

            I think the ship on cooperating in iterated PD has long sailed here. The most recent relevant thing was the GOP refusing to confirm a candidate for the SCOTUS, “because fuck you, that’s why.”

          • quanta413 says:

            It doesn’t look like an iterated prisoner’s dilemma to me. Maybe that was true at some point a few decades ago.

            The main goal of any congressman or senator is reelection. What is the reward supposed to be for cooperate-cooperate? It’s not a zero-sum game, but it looks close to it.

            Defect-defect looks just as rewarding (or not rewarding depending how you look at it) as cooperate-cooperate for both players. Both parties can do ok if both cooperate, both can do ok if both defect. But playing opposite strategies leads to the cooperating party being obliterated in elections as their base walks away in disgust. So it’s individually always better to defect just like the prisoner’s dilemma, but it’s not a prisoner’s dilemma from a politician’s point of view because they don’t pay the social cost of defect-defect.

            Senators don’t look worse for wear for playing defect repeatedly like I would expect from an iterated prisoner’s dilemma. Bad for others maybe.

            *EDIT: for clarity

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Absent some evidence to the contrary, I am inclined to believe that what Ford says is true, that she contacted her congress person before Kavanaugh was nominated, when he was announced as being on the short list. She wanted to simply confidentially report that this was her experience and thereby potentially dissuade people from nominating him. In fact, there is further reporting that many in the WH did not want to nominate Kavanaugh (for other reasons), so it is certainly the kind of thing that could have worked.

            Past that, I am inclined to believe that she actually did not want to go public, but was eventually persuaded to do so.

            The fact that she reported to her congressperson means that the information that someone was accusing Kavanaugh of this was going to circulate. That this eventually lead to reporters starting to get close to Ford isn’t surprising.

            But, what was Feinstein supposed to do with this information once Kavanaugh was nominated given Ford did not want to make a public statement and wished to remain anonymous? If she simply accused him people would have been shouting to the rafters about that.

            The entire committee process has been fubar from the beginning, with plenty of gamesmanship from the Republicans (including an unprecedented partisan review of his documents for release), so if there was some of that regarding the timing of the release of info, I hardly think it matters.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            But, what was Feinstein supposed to do with this information once Kavanaugh was nominated given Ford did not want to make a public statement and wished to remain anonymous?

            Feinstein could have brought it up in closed chambers, while Kavanaugh was still under oath but the media wasn’t there.

            Feinstein could have told the Republicans on the SJC about it months earlier, and they could have quietly told Trump that it wasn’t going to happen, and Kavanaugh had withdrawn his nomination over “concern for his family.”

            Those would not have been politically convenient, but it wouldn’t have put Ford and Kavanaugh through the meat grinder.

          • Past that, I am inclined to believe that she actually did not want to go public, but was eventually persuaded to do so.

            That’s the part of the story I find least convincing. The expectation from the beginning was that he would probably be confirmed, given that the Republicans had a majority of senators. Given how strongly she says she felt about it, I don’t think it is plausible that she was unwilling to go public initially, suddenly became willing at the last minute.

            Especially when there is the much more plausible alternative explanation that this was a tactical decision by Feinstein to push the whole thing as close to the election as possible.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Given how strongly she says she felt about it, I don’t think it is plausible that she was unwilling to go public initially

            I don’t have any problem believing it, really. One possibility that comes to mind is if Ford works in a sufficiently woke milieu, it may never have occurred to her that her anonymous word might not get taken for fact; once that failed, whether or not to come forward publicly would have presented itself as a new question. Or, she may have been aware from the start that it might come to that, but decided (or, was persuaded by Feinstein or someone else to decide): What the hell, let’s try the whispering campaign first. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll see; I’m still not committed.

          • keranih says:

            HBC –

            Thank you for your response.

            But, what was Feinstein supposed to do with this information once Kavanaugh was nominated given Ford did not want to make a public statement and wished to remain anonymous? If she simply accused him people would have been shouting to the rafters about that.

            Others have already covered the things I would say – that the timing of this allegation (in Feinstein’s hands) was horrifically bad, in terms of lack of confidentiality for Ford, for trust among Senators, and for the smooth functioning of the process.

            I also hold that without any sort of proof, this allegation is unactionable. And Feinstein knew that. And acted anyway.

            For what it’s worth, contrary to the narrative I am seeing among my left-leaning friends, the general tone on the right has been incandescent fury at the Senate democrats and the me-too activists, and very little directed at Ford herself. Most doubt her version, next to none question her right to believe or speak her version. Make of that what you will.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “incandescent fury”

            How very dare you defect?

            If you think there’s very little fury directed at Ford herself, you haven’t been reading enough from the Trump-o-sphere. I mean, it’s all right there, you know where the subreddit is.

            It would, indeed, be better for everyone if these people weren’t “on the right,” (or “on the left”, or “anywhere”) but that’s not the realities of coalition politics in the US today.

          • keranih says:

            Oh, absolutely there are people who are blaming Ford and using abusive language. But it’s my experience, among my lot, that these are less than 1 in ten of the conservatives.

            I don’t doubt that more concentrated pockets exist. I also don’t doubt that the percentage of abusive behavior is higher on the left, in my lot – probably better than 50% of the left-of-center lot.

          • albatross11 says:

            There are terrible people on the internet, but I think part of the source of endless outrage fests is this process by which my side:

            a. Searches for the worst comments by the worst people on the other side.

            b. Forwards that to everyone on my side while pointing out that this is what the other side is like.

            A lot of people who are really mad about the Kavenaugh hearings are especially mad because of this dynamic. It’s how we all find out how awful the other side is and how they’re nothing but scum who deserve only misery. It’s great for keeping people mad at each other, and coincidentally engaged in various social media platforms. It’s also like some kind of huge machine whose goal is to mindkill everyone all the time.

          • Nick says:

            Ilya and keranih, following on albatross11’s observation, I’d caution that we not engage in “who is worse” or “who has more bad people” comparisons. I can scarcely think of a topic with a higher heat to light ratio.

          • keranih says:

            @ Nick –

            Very good point. I retract any comment about assholes on the other side, and stand by my observation – in terms of promoting the possibility of common ground – that most of the angry right-wing comments I’ve seen have been furious at the Senate democrats, and not at Ford herself.

          • quanta413 says:

            No one want to discuss whether the court confirmation situation (including lower courts) does or doesn’t map to an iterated prisoner’s dilemma?

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Right, I agree that this is bad. I was addressing the narrower “I have seen very little” comment. That sort of comment mostly is about internet browsing habits of a particular person than the real distribution of opinion.

            If one wanted to do a careful study, one would try to do a “histogram” rather than “opinions of the worst.” But this is fairly hard to do impartially.

            I have my own opinions of what such a histogram looks like for the left and for the right these days, but I am going to keep it to myself.

            I will say that the choice between losing political power or playing coalition politics with “awful people who support Trump” (and hence getting viewed accordingly by the general population) is a problem uniquely for the right at the moment.

            Does the left have awful people? Absolutely, I can recommend some subreddits for them also. The difference is numbers and how mainstream those people are. The left can easily choose to not play coalition politics with these people, and lose essentially nothing. And, indeed, this is precisely what the left is doing. The “worst” the left has to worry about, politically, is people like Ocasio-Cortez.

            The best the right can do is the sort of meaningless gestures recently made by Ted Cruz, whereby he bravely took to twitter to advise republicans not to vote for the actual neo-Nazi in Illinois (because he had zero chance of winning anyways).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Right, I agree that this is bad. I was addressing the narrower “I have seen very little” comment. That sort of comment mostly is about internet browsing habits of a particular person than the real distribution of opinion.

            Maybe we could try coming up with a definition of what counts as a prominent politician/columnist/newspaper/etc., and seeing what sort of opinions they offer. This would have the advantage of filtering out crazy fringe people with big mouths but no real influence, and provide a reasonably like-with-like comparison.

            Does the left have awful people? Absolutely, I can recommend some subreddits for them also. The difference is numbers and how mainstream those people are. The left can easily choose to not play coalition politics with these people, and lose essentially nothing. And, indeed, this is precisely what the left is doing. The “worst” the left has to worry about, politically, is people like Ocasio-Cortez.

            Eh, from my perspective, what the Dems and liberal media are currently doing to Kavanaugh seems both awful and entirely mainstream on the left. And I don’t really think the playing field is even. For example, here in the UK, the Leader of the Opposition recently received praise from a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Now, it’s difficult to see just how much more mainstream you can get than the head of the Labour Party, but did you hear anything about this? I’m guessing not, because only a few news outlets covered it, and the story largely fizzled out after a few days. But if he’d instead endorsed the leader of a right-wing party, can anybody doubt that the story would be all over the front pages, the party would face calls to get rid of their leader, and anybody who voted for them would be accused of being complicit in racism? Whilst it may be true that, in terms of public perception, the left doesn’t have to worry about being tarred by association with extremists, I think this is mostly because the media is much less likely to highlight such associations on the left, rather than because extremists are any less influential on the left than on the right. (If anything, I’d expect them to be more influential, because the left doesn’t have to face much in the way of bad press if they listen to them.)

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            I think receiving praise from a former grand wizard of the Ku-Klux-Klan is not a very good example of the media playing down associations between the mainstream left and the fringe left. You know, because the KKK is not on the fringe left at all.

            You are also talking about something else than I am. You are talking about the “homefield advantage” the left has in terms in the mainstream media. Which I agree probably exists. And also exists in academia. And the silicon valley. And the entertainment industry, the spies, the government bureaucrats, etc. Really, MAGA folks have surprisingly little support from _any_ of the “estates” in the US. Indeed, they appear to be going out of their way to antagonize them all. Which makes me wonder what the long term game plan is, or if there is one at all. It’s sort of an iron law of history that you can’t govern without consent and support of the “estates.” Not unless you are willing to kill a _lot_ of people.

            But that’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about the fact that the awful, mouthy people on the right are a crucial part of their political coalition, are wielding influence, and as a result are pushing the mainstream GOP way to the right.

            If one is a member of “the reasonable right,” I could understand wanting to minimize this fact, or trying to encouraging people not to talk about it so much. Because those people who are pushing the GOP way to the right really are quite awful. But — too bad, they are in your boat.

            The former grand wizard of the KKK is doing nothing of the sort to the left. If anything, if he’s playing any game at all, he’s trying to hurt people by praising/trying to associate with them.

            The kernel of truth in this whole “deep state” stupidity percolating around in the Trumposphere is that you can’t govern without support of the “estates.” It’s not a conspiracy so much as it’s the way governance works. What people are seeing is what the “estates” being unhappy with how one governs looks like.

          • Lambert says:

            @Original Mr. X: That’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.
            Nobody is accusing Corbyn of having connections to the far right in the same way that they would accuse a conservative because it’s not plausible.
            His statements regarding Hamas and Hezbollah, OTOH, have got him into hot water, because it’s much more reasonable to suspect Labour of having sympathies with them than with the KKK.
            i.e. the prior on ‘Labour leadership is secretly full of white supremacists’ is so low that weak evidence supporting it doesn’t mean an awful lot.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @The original Mr. X:

            Alarm over the ease with which anti-Zionist sentiment blends into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is not hard to find on the mainstream left.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            The “worst” the left has to worry about, politically, is people like Ocasio-Cortez.

            The best the right can do is the sort of meaningless gestures recently made by Ted Cruz, whereby he bravely took to twitter to advise republicans not to vote for the actual neo-Nazi in Illinois (because he had zero chance of winning anyways).

            The worst the left has to worry about is candidates who actually win, whereas the worst the Right has to worry about is uhhh a guy who had zero chance of winning anyways

            really makes u think

            I think receiving praise from a former grand wizard of the Ku-Klux-Klan is not a very good example of the media playing down associations between the mainstream left and the fringe left. You know, because the KKK is not on the fringe left at all.

            that reminds me of the time stormfront endorsed Jeremy Corbyn and everyone was like “oh yeah he’s doing it to hurt Corbyn” and then I clicked the link to see if it were really true or not and the article basically said “i’m not kidding, he’s preferable to May”

            about the only thing super right wing about these people is some type of hatred for “degeneracy” and Stalin’s boys had that too, OK it was back in the day but they were still far behind regular liberals in that regard if I’m not mistaken

            so why refer to them as the fringe right instead of the fringe left? this is kind of a catch-22 since the only way to answer the question is to spend a lot of the time on Stormfront or with KKK members but you get the idea

          • quanta413 says:

            You are also talking about something else than I am. You are talking about the “homefield advantage” the left has in terms in the mainstream media. Which I agree probably exists. And also exists in academia. And the silicon valley. And the entertainment industry, the spies, the government bureaucrats, etc.

            I don’t think this distinguishes MAGA that much from Republicans in general. Republicans are rare in the mainstream media, and they’re all but extinct in academia, silicon valley, and Hollywood. So Republicans have some spies and bureaucrats. I don’t think that difference explains why more mainstream Republican ideas can be implemented and the Republicans control a lot of government (cut taxes! again!), but the MAGA agenda hasn’t gone anywhere.

            I think the Trump agenda (as distinct from what some other random Republican would have done) doesn’t go anywhere because a large number of Republicans are actively opposed to its goals. A few believe it, and a larger number will say the right phrases to placate some voters. But cutting immigration is a huge no for the business and libertarian wings of the Republican party, and they like current trade agreements just fine too. Once you remove those, there’s nothing substantive left to the MAGA agenda. You’re just left with old Republican standbys in a new style.

            Really, MAGA folks have surprisingly little support from _any_ of the “estates” in the US. Indeed, they appear to be going out of their way to antagonize them all. Which makes me wonder what the long term game plan is, or if there is one at all. It’s sort of an iron law of history that you can’t govern without consent and support of the “estates.” Not unless you are willing to kill a _lot_ of people.

            Obviously there is no game plan because there’s no real unity. There’s no institutional structure unlike the estates.

            Outside of tightening immigration and signaling, what sort of ideas even set the populist right apart? They seem less bothered about things like moral issues or LGBT issues than the religious right. Hating trade and globalisation? There’s are left wing groups who hate that too. Academia and journalists are at least vaguely sympathetic to leftists protesting the WTO or globalization. The effect has been minimal.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            But that’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about the fact that the awful, mouthy people on the right are a crucial part of their political coalition, are wielding influence, and as a result are pushing the mainstream GOP way to the right.

            And what about the senior Democratic Senators who are currently whipping up an angry mob in order to try and stop the opposing party from filling a Supreme Court seat? Are they not “awful, mouthy people” as well? Are they not “a crucial part” of the left-wing political coalition?It seems to me that the reason people don’t think the left has an awful person problem has nothing to do with the left having fewer or less influential awful people, and everything to do with left-wing awfulness being so normalised that nobody even notices it any more.

            The former grand wizard of the KKK is doing nothing of the sort to the left. If anything, if he’s playing any game at all, he’s trying to hurt people by praising/trying to associate with them.

            I think it far more likely that his reasoning is what he says it is — namely, that he approves of Labour’s anti-Semitism and thinks it’s a sign that his own views are becoming mainstream.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “Are they not “awful, mouthy people” as well?”

            No, you are confusing a fired up extreme base that politicians have to pander to (or possibly lose their reelection bids if they are from a deep red area), with the politicians themselves.

            What you are talking about is DNC career politicians defecting in response to GOP career politicians not confirming Obama’s SCOTUS candidate for a year. “Because fuck you, that’s why.”

            This is not the mainstream DNC being pushed “way to the left” by a fired up base, it’s the mainstream DNC playing dirty political tricks in response to the mainstream GOP playing dirty political tricks. I am happy to provide some fun historical reading on dirty tricks related to the SCOTUS. Didn’t Andrew Jackson straight up ignore a SCOTUS ruling at one point?

            In addition, not only is the initiative here coming from the top, rather than from the grassroots, the goal here isn’t even to push the US further to the left. The goal is defensive action to try to avoid a SCOTUS that will push the country further to the right for a generation or two.

            In other words, the situations the DNC and the GOP are finding themselves in are very different, and asymmetric. And your attempt to try to equate them just sort of sounds like whataboutism to me.

            DNC has their own problems and dysfunction, to be sure (for one thing, they are bad at winning elections; for another, increasing urbanisation is working against them; finally, their org. is pretty sclerotic in a number of ways, which leads to poor candidate quality). But their problems are very very different from GOP problems.

            We can talk about DNC problems once they are actually in power and it matters. Right now the GOP controls all branches of the government, and it is their unique dysfunctions that matter for the Republic.

          • cassander says:


            The goal is defensive action to try to avoid a SCOTUS that will push the country further to the right for a generation or two.

            The country has been galloping to the left for decades. Other than gun control, not a single issue has seen meaningful rightward movement for at least 20 years. The attitude on the left that they’re desperately holding back the right when the opposite is the case is one of its least attractive features.

          • johan_larson says:

            not a single issue has seen meaningful rightward movement for at least 20 years.

            Really large-scale incarceration is a right-wing thing, isn’t it? That’s been a big thing since the seventies.


          • cassander says:

            @johan_larson says:

            Really large-scale incarceration is a right-wing thing, isn’t it? That’s been a big thing since the seventies.

            Mass incarceration was a movement that started in the 80s at the latest and which had run its course by the early to mid 90s, which is more than 20 years ago.

            If we’re going to look at the last 50 or so years, there are a few right wing shifts. Monetary policy went monetarist, welfare reform, mass incarceration, the de-regulation of a few industries, but they’re dwarfed by the left wing shifts in everything else. In 1970 there was no EPA (it would be created at the end of the year), no OSHA, a much less generous welfare system. It was a country that spent 10% of GDP on the military, and which had absolutely no problem carpet bombing its enemies.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            What you are talking about is DNC career politicians defecting in response to GOP career politicians not confirming Obama’s SCOTUS candidate for a year. “Because fuck you, that’s why.”

            hey we defected in response to your defection to punish you for your defection so it’s OK

            said the GOP career politicians

            anyways that takes care of that, so let’s talk about how the head of the DNC used to fuck heavy with Farrakhan and top Democrats have absolutely been upping the rhetoric on “Abolish ICE”, “go socialism”, etc. They are getting pushed to the left, absolutely, don’t deny it now.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “so why refer to them as the fringe right instead of the fringe left?”

            Yeah, good luck with that.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No, you are confusing a fired up extreme base that politicians have to pander to (or possibly lose their reelection bids if they are from a deep red area), with the politicians themselves.

            If the Democratic politicians “have to pander to” their base by siccing an angry mob on the current embodiment of Male Privilege, doesn’t that count as the Democrats being “dragged to the left” by awful people in their base?

            What you are talking about is DNC career politicians defecting in response to GOP career politicians not confirming Obama’s SCOTUS candidate for a year. “Because fuck you, that’s why.”

            The Republicans didn’t want to confirm Garland, so they refused to vote on the matter until after an election. The Democrats didn’t want to confirm Kavanaugh, so they orchestrated a massive smear campaign and accused him of being a serial rapist. And you want me to believe that it’s the Republican party which has an awful-people problem?

            In addition, not only is the initiative here coming from the top, rather than from the grassroots, the goal here isn’t even to push the US further to the left. The goal is defensive action to try to avoid a SCOTUS that will push the country further to the right for a generation or two.

            What Cassander said. And I don’t think you even need to back fifty years to see the difference: a mere decade ago, gay marriage, #believeallwomen, forcing nuns to pay for contraceptives, #shoutyourabortion, and so on, would all have been fringe positions on the American left. Now they’re either mainstream or actively required to be regarded as an OK human being.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            “My party has been losing more than the other party, we need to panic” is one of those unfalsifiable things, and it perfectly strokes our lizard brains into a frenzy. I’ve never seen a good answer to it.

            I will say that over the past two generations, the left has gotten a lot of important wins, and the right has gotten a lot of important wins, such that both parties have adopted what were once talking points of just one side. There is a lot of fear of losing those gains. To give an example from each side, anti-racism is nominally strong in both parties, but the left is continuously afraid that the right will revert back. And the correctness of capitalism is nominally strong in both parties, but the right is afraid that the left is going to snap away from it. You can debate how accurate or justified those fears are, and I have opinions on that, but we’re already deep into mind-killer territory so I’ll let it be.

          • cassander says:

            @Edward Scizorhands says:

            “My party has been losing more than the other party, we need to panic” is one of those unfalsifiable things, and it perfectly strokes our lizard brains into a frenzy. I’ve never seen a good answer to it.

            It definitely strokes the lizard brain, but it’s very falsifiable. Just go look at what the parties were advocating 10/20/30 years ago and compare them to what they’re advocating today, marking major legislation between then and now.

            and the right has gotten a lot of important wins,

            Such as?

            such that both parties have adopted what were once talking points of just one side.

            Again, give me an example of the left adopting right wing talking points. By my reckoning, the last time that happened was the “era of big government is over”, which was then followed up by multiple presidents who expanded government.

            To give an example from each side, anti-racism is nominally strong in both parties, but the left is continuously afraid that the right will revert back.

            They’re not afraid of that, they accuse the right of being actively racist every day.

            And the correctness of capitalism is nominally strong in both parties, but the right is afraid that the left is going to snap away from it.

            I don’t see a democratic party that believes this, even in talking points. THey might not openly advocate socialism, but they repeatedly and loudly talk about how capitalism is a problem to be solved, not a solution.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “meaningful rightward movement for at least 20 years”

            To borrow a saying from poker, if you can’t tell who the extremist at the table is, it’s you.

            The fact is, the GOP had quite a bit of control of the government over the last 20 years, and if you think they have nothing to show for it, you know what that means?

            It doesn’t mean they were inexplicably “cucked”, as you folks say, by liberals. It means they have a very different idea of what good conservative policy is from you.

            If you find yourself in a position where you are happy with what Trump is doing, but artists aren’t, scientists aren’t, bureaucrats aren’t, spies aren’t, large sectors of the industry aren’t, college educated folks in cities aren’t, hell, folks in his own damn administration aren’t, etc. etc. you know what that means?

            It means it is you who is the extremist, it is your views which are outside the mainstream in America. But you don’t have to take my word for it, a referendum on Trump and his policies you are so fond of is coming soon enough.

          • cassander says:


            It doesn’t mean they were inexplicably “cucked”, as you folks say, by liberals. It means they have a very different idea of what good conservative policy is from you.

            Or it means that there are structural factors that make moving the needle rightward harder. Or that republican politicians aren’t as right wing as they claim. Or that they’ve merely been inept. There are lots of possible explanations for this phenomenon.

            If you find yourself in a position where you are happy with what Trump is doing, but artists aren’t, scientists aren’t, bureaucrats aren’t, spies aren’t, large sectors of the industry aren’t, college educated folks in cities aren’t, hell, folks in his own damn administration aren’t, etc. etc. you know what that means?

            Putting aside that this is a terrible argument, how the hell did we get to trump? We were talking about the last 30 years of policymaking.

            But you don’t have to take my word for it, a referendum on Trump and his policies you are so fond of is coming soon enough.

            The only one talking about Trump here is you.

          • quanta413 says:

            But you don’t have to take my word for it, a referendum on Trump and his policies you are so fond of is coming soon enough.

            I don’t care much if the Republicans get replaced or not. But if Trump himself was ruled unfit due to alzheimers or dropped dead of old age and was replaced by Mike Pence, that might be fortunate in that maybe I’d read fewer histrionics when scanning the news, but I’m not holding my breath.

            I’ve got to wait at least two years even if I’m lucky.

          • Matt M says:

            Trump himself was the referendum on the artists, actors, spies, and bureaucrats. The unwashed masses told all of those people to go get F’ed.

            I see no particular reason to say “this half of the country are extremists, while this half of the country are good, decent, moderate people.” And the insistence of that narrative by the mainstream press drew people to Trump even more. That is the core of Hillary’s “deporables” comment. An identity that Trump supporters then rallied behind.

            The latest RCP average suggests that 44% of the country approves of Trump’s job performance. Are they all extremists just because the other 56% have better jobs and more power?

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “Trump himself was the referendum on the artists, actors, spies, and bureaucrats. The unwashed masses told all of those people to go get F’ed.”

            The only reason _that_ referendum was successful is deep red votes count for more per capita, because the US system is insane.

            I noticed you strategically excluded scientists from your list to try to make your rhetoric seem stronger — but no, they don’t support this either. We had “the science march” and everything. Good luck having a functioning government/society without the support of these people.

            And to repeat the poker adage above, if all strata of society but you seem out of touch, it is you who is out of touch.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            The only thing a functioning government/society requires of its scientists is that they keep on doing science. No sensible person attaches any special importance to their political opinions.

          • onyomi says:

            Could there be a more pointless debate than whether the city people or the country people represent the “true” spirit of “the people”?

          • Randy M says:

            Could there be a more pointless debate than whether the city people or the country people represent the “true” spirit of “the people”?

            Given that this pretty much mirrors the political divide in the country, it seems both important and inevitable.

          • quanta413 says:


            Nothing you say about what groups likes Trump distinguishes Trump from other Republicans who also aren’t liked by any of these groups. Except spies. Who are so rare as to be an irrelevancy unless you really do buy into deep state theories.

            Despite all the groups you talk about hating Republicans for decades, Republicans are still roughly half the country and haven’t yet managed to drive it into the ground when they’ve held political control. Not for lack of trying, Iraq and Afghanistan were terrible decisions. But the plausible path of the economy hardly differs depending on who “rules” the country.

            Scientists’ political judgements and beliefs are irrelevant to government. Almost all scientists will continue consuming funding from whoever is dishing it out and do the same science either way. And as a voting bloc, there aren’t many of them.

            @onyomi and Randy M

            There’s: no it’s pointless because there is no “true spirit” of the people. This is a bizarre romantic anthropomorphization of a political unit.

            And there’s: yes, it matters a lot because by “true spirit” we mean “which groups will get more of what they want from politics.” And there’s a lot to be gained and lost in power over others, so it’s pretty important who wins what.

          • onyomi says:

            @Randy M

            The country people are always more conservative than the city people and some variant of conservatism vs. liberalism is the crux of most, if not, on some level, nearly all (non-military) political struggles.

            So if older=the true spirit of the people, then the country people win every time, hands down. If newer=the true spirit of the people, then the city people win every time, hands down. But since Hegel and Francis Fukuyama were wrong, it’s an open question, at any given time and place, whether conservatism (or reaction) or liberalism (or revolution), is the best course of action, depending on what we’re progressing toward or away from.

            I’m just saying that identifying either group as “more in touch” on an abstract level is pointless without indicating “more in touch with what?” If it’s “the spirit of the age,” the city people win, if it’s “the spirit of our forefathers,” the country people win. But that doesn’t tell you about which spirit is more in need of getting in touch with at this particular moment.

          • Randy M says:

            What quanta413 said (hmm… were all the other quanta’s also 413, or is it incrementing? Or counting down? I need to start paying attention to this…)

            Read “spirit of the people” as “give us spoils” and that’s most of it, or maybe all of it when you understand spoils to be favorable policies making their way of life easier when the two conflict.

          • Matt M says:

            And to repeat the poker adage above, if all strata of society but you seem out of touch, it is you who is out of touch.

            Not all strata.

            Men supported Trump 52 to 41.

            Whites supported Trump 57 to 37.

            People over Age 45 supported Trump 52 to 44.

            The fact that nearly 100% of journalists and academics and entertainers hate Trump is not evidence that Trump is an extremist. It’s evidence that these particular institutions are extremists. That they are wildly and disproportionately non-representative of public sentiment. So wildly disproportionately non-representative that intentional discrimination is the only plausible explanation.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s hard to remember how popular Communism was 50 years ago. Nixon signed laws instituting wage and price controls. Truman tried to nationalize the steel industries. These days, it’s assumed that capitalism is right. (The Bernie Sanders wing keeps on trying to re-litigate this, which is worrying.)

          • albatross11 says:

            Trump represents a challenge to the consensus views that have decided politics over the last 20-30 years. That consensus view is very pro-free-trade, mostly free-market, broadly pro-immigration, inclined to bailing out politically important industries in times of trouble, very inclined to invade or bomb foreign countries for a variety of reasons, very deferential to spies and police, etc. The consensus views were overwhelmingly supported by mainstream journalists and news outlets.

            It’s not shocking that those folks hate Trump and the movement around him. That doesn’t tell you that Trump is wrong or right–just that he’s inclined to change direction away from what a lot of powerful people like, and that will reliably get those powerful people to complain.

            Now, there’s plenty of stuff Trump has done and will do that’s pretty awful, and it’s reasonable to push back on that. But the fact that (say) lots of folks in the intelligence agencies dislike Trump isn’t disqualifying–that’s what you’d expect if he’s actually changing direction away from policies they prefer, right or wrong.

          • cassander says:

            @Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s hard to remember how popular Communism was 50 years ago.

            The collapse of the USSR helped to reduce the number of out and out communists, but not, I think, the number of socialists and fellow travelers. The neo-liberal wave helped with them somewhat, but that exhausted itself more than a decade ago and I don’t think it’s coming back any time soon.

            Nixon signed laws instituting wage and price controls.

            The right unquestionably had a big win on monetary policy in the 70s and 80s.

            Truman tried to nationalize the steel industries.

            In the 50s, the left wanted to nationalize the commanding heights of the economy, like the steel, chemical, and automotive industries. Today, they want to nationalize finance, healthcare, education, and increasingly tech. Those are the commanding heights today. the impulse hasn’t change, just which targets are considered valuable.

            These days, it’s assumed that capitalism is right. (The Bernie Sanders wing keeps on trying to re-litigate this, which is worrying.)

            I don’t think it is the case at all. Capitalism on the left is, at best, a problem to be solved not a solution. And I think it’s decreasingly that. And on the right, capitalism is something to be praised, but rarely implemented.

          • Matt M says:

            very deferential to spies and police, etc

            Minor nitpick – but Trump (and his supporters) are VERY deferential to the actual military and the actual police.

            They are disdainful of the ever-expanding federal acronym-soup agencies that spring up and run around acting like military and police, but aren’t.

          • The original Mr. X says:


            To give an example from each side, anti-racism is nominally strong in both parties, but the left is continuously afraid that the right will revert back.

            I’m not sure I’d say that anti-racism is even nominally strong on the left any more, given that it’s now possible on the left to fantasise about white men getting murdered, mutilated, and fed to animals without suffering any consequences.

          • Matt M says:

            They handwave that one away all the time. The definition of racism has been changed to exclude anything in which whites would be the target.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “Nothing you say about what groups likes Trump distinguishes Trump from other Republicans who also aren’t liked by any of these groups.”

            Some folks posit the existence of something called “the Trump derangement syndrome”, which would imply that folks seem to have it out for Trump over and above [nameless Republican president.] I happen to think they do, in fact. Because Trump is uniquely awful.

            re: “scientist political opinions not mattering.” I am not talking about scientists, specifically. I am saying that political opinions of “the estates” taken as a whole matter a great deal, in the sense that you cannot have a functional government without the support of “the estates.” The estates are what makes the country run, the only way around them is to kill them, e.g. go the Stalin/NK route.

            Note: I am not even going into whether Trump is “wrong” or not (that’s a separate discussion, but I happen to think Trump is not capable of being “right or wrong,” being an entirely transactional person.) The point is, independently of rightness or wrongness, you either have estate support, or you have problems. It’s part of the art of successful governance to get the estates on board.

          • cassander says:

            @Ilya Shpitser says:

            Some folks posit the existence of something called “the Trump derangement syndrome”, which would imply that folks seem to have it out for Trump over and above [nameless Republican president.] I happen to think they do, in fact. Because Trump is uniquely awful.

            This would be a much more convincing argument if I didn’t remember 8 years of the exact same argument being made about bush. And I’m sure the older posters can remember the same argument getting made about his dad and Reagan.

            I am saying that political opinions of “the estates” taken as a whole matter a great deal, in the sense that you cannot have a functional government without the support of “the estates.” The estates are what makes the country run, the only way around them is to kill them, e.g. go the Stalin/NK route.

            It’s supposed to be a democracy, where the only estates that matters are the voters. and while that’s not really the case, you can hardly blame people for acting like it is when they’ve been told that that’s how it’s supposed to work their whole lives.

            It’s part of the art of successful governance to get the estates on board.

            To get them on board, or circumvent them. Trump can’t get them on board, so he’s trying to work around. I don’t expect it to succeed much, but it’s the only option he has.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “It’s supposed to be a democracy, where the only estates that matters are the voters.”

            Democracy has to do with how leaders are elected. Democracy does not get one out of the fundamental mechanics of how a society or government operates. Wishing these mechanics away is doomed, just like Bolsheviks trying to wish away laws of economics was doomed. Stupid, too.

          • quanta413 says:


            re: “scientist political opinions not mattering.” I am not talking about scientists, specifically. I am saying that political opinions of “the estates” taken as a whole matter a great deal, in the sense that you cannot have a functional government without the support of “the estates.” The estates are what makes the country run, the only way around them is to kill them, e.g. go the Stalin/NK route.

            Note: I am not even going into whether Trump is “wrong” or not (that’s a separate discussion, but I happen to think Trump is not capable of being “right or wrong,” being an entirely transactional person.) The point is, independently of rightness or wrongness, you either have estate support, or you have problems. It’s part of the art of successful governance to get the estates on board.

            Republicans haven’t had any of the estates on their side for decades, and yet Republicans win roughly half the time on average and in some places much more often than that. Republican controlled states seem fine for the vast majority of the population. Apparently they’re able to govern without the support of the estates. Arguably, they do more damage to certain groups by successful governing from the Republican point of view than by other means.

            Although there are differences between Republican controlled times and areas and Democratic ones a lot of the differences appear to be due to other factors than the parties. So I’m unconvinced having the support of the estates is crucial. Republicans seem to get along fine without it.

            You really don’t need the mainstream media’s political support or scientists’ political support to govern. Republicans keep feeding scientists dollars even when they’re in control, and scientists continue producing science with those dollars even though the average political position of scientists is significantly left of the average Republican.

            The feelings of the average engineer in Silicon Valley are similarly mostly not relevant except as much as they vote. The tech sector has many customers and users on the right, so even if they wanted to act as an arm of the democratic party they could only interfere so much without badly hurting themselves.

            I could go on and on. But my most charitable interpretation of your claim would be that “if all the estates decided to engage in active sabotage that would also hurt themselves, governing would become impossible.”

            But the estates aren’t in rebellion. They’re just irritated. They’re always irritated when Republicans have more power. But if they actually tried to throw a spanner in the works, they’d be screwing themselves too. Trump is contained by the giant lumbering institutions around him just like most Presidents. He just won’t shut the fuck up on Twitter.

            The danger of estates making Republican governing impossible is about as relevant as the possibility of a military coup during a Democratic Presidency. Is the military very right leaning? Sure. Will it complain more with a Democratic President? Signs point to yes. Will it actually do anything differently? No, it will follow orders even though it might be irritated.

      • Plumber says:

        I was dubious that the “culture war” existed much outside of professional pundits and internet comments, but since the Ford accusations against Kavaugh have been released, my wife talks of little else, and the guys at work have stopped talking about sports, movies, and where good buffets are.

        My Republican boss says he’s been arguing with his wife abour it, and has been in a foul mood all week, and the rest of my co-workers have been suddenly talking more politics than I remember hearing for a decade (the last time discussions were this heated was when many Americans were dying in Iraq).

        It’s scary.

        • Nick says:

          Welcome to our world.


        • engleberg says:

          I’ve heard about it at work too, and always as ‘I hate this stuff’.

        • onyomi says:

          It’s a practically made-to-order toxoplasma issue, which, as I understand it, Scott meant as an issue that acts as an attention-grabbing tribal shibboleth because of its ambiguity. Precisely because there is so much at stake yet so few solid facts to work with it makes a great inflection point for any priors one has about Republicans, Democrats, men, women, sexual assault, frat boy culture…

          Personally, I’m glad if it radicalizes people because I have a lot of problems with the status quo in the US. That said, it does also worry me, since increased radicalization opens up more high-variability futures, some maybe better, but some surely worse.

    • beleester says:

      I’ve only noticed this on the Kavanaugh thing in particular – for some reason it’s spilled out across multiple threads and become really hard to avoid by just collapsing the thread. Same deal on the CW thread on the subreddit. Something about this has made everyone not only talk about it but keep talking.

      If, god help us, it’s still an issue in the next OT, I support a moratorium on Kavanaugh posts, but I don’t think I want to change the frequency of CW OTs in general.

    • dodrian says:

      An idea that has been floated a couple of times to moderate approval is moving (or copying) the ‘hide’ button to the top of the post.

      The easiest way to do this might be submitting a pull request to bakkot’s comment script, and convincing bakkot to accept.

      The better way would be to edit the site templates to be edited (bakkot’s script, though great, I believe is the source of slow loading times sometimes).

      A third way would be a custom userscript (possibly via browser extension), which could make quite a few nice UI changes (including ‘permanently hide a comment thread’).

      I feel a bit guilty merely suggesting these things, as I definitely don’t have the time to work on them at the moment.

      • arlie says:

        Please do that – on a whole site basis. From an earlier thread, I got the impression that this was something Scott could do just by configuring the sftware difefrently.

        Some of these threads are maximally tiresome. On some topics, many posters – and the tenor of the resulting thread – seem completely predictable, as is my own likely reaction.

        I sometimes wish this technology was up to the 1990s Usenet standard, of supporting kill files, both for threads and for individuals ;-(

        • arlie says:

          Self-correction: hide is now working on the thread *below*, as stated in the post immediately following. I’d been so used to the way it used to work that I hadn’t tried it recently. Yay!

    • fion says:

      I’ve been finding it really easy to ignore. Just hide the top-level comment on each thread every time you load the webpage. I have no idea what’s going on, and had no idea it had got furious.

  15. Well... says:

    I went to the thrift store to make sure I had more than two long pairs of pants to wear for the coming cold seasons. When I got home and hung my new pants up in my closet alongside the others, I realized that all my non-work pants, as well as shorts, are camo print with cargo pockets.

    Now, the cargo pockets bit I don’t think I need to defend: I use my cargo pockets every day, and I avoid buying pants that don’t have them. Even my work khakis all have cargo pockets, because with my employer’s corporate-casual dress code I can get away with it.

    But I was a bit surprised about the camo, which was not a conscious choice. So I started asking myself why I kept buying camo print pants and shorts. When I came up with reasons, I realized they actually combined into a pretty good case in favor of wearing camo pants:

    – Camo prints aren’t one color but a smattering of similarly-hued colors. This makes camo pants very easy to pair with plain shirts, such as the plain t-shirts I wear every day.
    – Camo hides stains well.
    – Camo continues to look fine even after it’s faded.
    – Camo is masculine and vaguely militaristic, which suits my center-right Midwestern cultural baseline nicely. (In other words, nobody is going to confuse me with a millennial hipster when I’m wearing my camo cargo pants!)
    – For whatever reason, Wrangler’s camo print cargo pants and shorts come in a slightly more comfortable cut than their non-camo pants and shorts.
    – And last but not least, camo is currently popular and widely available, which means the same is true for second-hand. That’s important when you’re pretty much opposed to spending more than about $5 on an article of clothing that you expect to last at least a few years of >weekly wear.

    • Nick says:

      Around the time I was graduating college, so mid-2017, a friend of mine remarked that his right-wing friends were looking a little dirtier, a little more bearded, and a little more camo every year. I knew the friend he had in mind, for whom it was true (and no, it wasn’t me; I’m not dirty, bearded, nor own anything camo), but I don’t know that there was any kind of general trend.

    • Matt M says:

      Glad to see SSC is doing well in the “people who buy camo shorts from thrift stores” demographic!

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I loathe the loathing for cargo pants. Those pockets are incredibly useful, particularly during summer months when you are not wearing a jacket. “Oh I hate we have no pockets in girl pants” + “You shouldn’t wear cargo shorts” strikes me a ROFLMAO position.

      The camo part…err….interesting stylistic choice. This might be a case of the tribal differences, because I just don’t see camo anywhere besides my old high school clothes, and that includes the thrift shops. I do see it occasionally when I am going to a WalMart or something in Indiana or Wisconsin.

      Though I probably look like a millennial hipster or at least yuppie. I’ve got the standard plaid shirts and blue jeans, though I’m now moving towards crisp, solid white or solid blue shirts. Wouldn’t mind a sports coat for fall, but haven’t found anything I really like yet.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’ve seen cargo pants that looked good, although not when the pockets were stuffed full of crap. I’ve never seen cargo shorts that looked good, though.

        Sometimes you don’t care about looking good, and that’s fine. But they make you look like you’re smuggling potatoes, and you just have to accept that.

        The last time I saw much camo outside actual military uniforms was when I was hanging out in rural Idaho this summer. Usually on teenage boys with big old hunting knives hanging from their belts (I gather this is the substitute for boys that want to open-carry pistols but are too young to).

      • Plumber says:

        “….Though I probably look like a millennial hipster or at least yuppie…..”

        @A Definite Beta Guy,

        I think my wife would be very pleased if I could look “millenial” or “Y” anything.

        Any tips short of surgery?

        • Nornagest says:

          You’ve said you’re around fifty, which is a little out of the yuppie age range, but the boring finance look is easy, if kinda expensive. Go to Suit Supply and ask them for shoes, slacks, and a dress shirt tailored to your measurements. Then buy a Patagonia puffer vest and wear it over that. Hang out in front of overpriced coffee houses in Nob Hill or the Financial District and mumble about IPOs.

          Hipster is trickier — the whole point of being a hipster is to come up with your own aesthetic, even if ninety percent of those aesthetics end up looking kind of samey in the end — but you can’t go wrong with a vintage T-shirt worn one size too small and elaborate facial hair, the stupider-looking the better. Accessorize with visible tattoos, birth-control glasses, and anything you could imagine a lumberjack wearing. Go vegan, or, better yet, don’t and just tell everyone you’re going to. If you’re really feeling ambitious, pretend you’re a Victorian time traveler that just got dragged feet-first through a Seventies consignment shop.

          • Well... says:

            I was thinking systematically about what I’d recommend to someone who wanted to dress like a millennial hipster, but I think I probably wouldn’t be able to top your description of the look.

            I’ll only add that I’m not sure the “vintage” stuff necessarily needs to be authentic, bought from a consignment shop, etc. You can easily find similarly styled items all over department stores’ and even big-box stores’ men’s departments.

        • dick says:

          My wife has put a lot of effort in to the same project, and the most successful intervention was getting me to wear pants one size tighter than I’d prefer.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          My recommendation is honestly to just get a pinterest account and look at the kind of styles your wife likes. You can then copy from there.

          The standard is just slim-fit jeans or khakis with a tailored dressed shirt and a vest to cover, which is your Midtown Uniform:

          Don’t forget your peacoat, although I think you’re in Cali and that might not be as much of an issue…

          We’re still way behind the times here, so something more like this still works fine:

    • arlie says:

      I noticed when shopping for cargo pants a couple of months ago that the % of cargo pants in camo colours/patterns is notably higher than the % of ordinary pants in camo colours/patterns. I wanted solid colours, and excluding non-solids reduced my selection noticeably… and most of those excluded for that reason were camo.

      The other thing I noticed was that dark solids were especially hard to find, but that might have been something to do with the time of year.

      And in that vein, can anyone suggest a good source for cargo pants in dark, solid colours? Preferably not waterproofed or similar – I intend to wear them mostly indoors.

      • littskad says:

        Duluth Trading Company has a bunch of different solid color cargo pants. Most are waterproofed, but I think their Dry on the Fly ones might work for you.

      • Well... says:

        Depends how much you’re willing to pay. At thrift stores (at least where I’ve lived) it’s easy to find cargo pants in khaki colors and black. Same with Walmart, since those are colors Wrangler makes them in. Also gray and brown.

        If you’re willing to pay more, military surplus stores often have cargo pants in various green shades.

  16. jhertzlinger says:

    The Kavanaugh hearings are clear evidence that Thamiel is at work.

    That’s the only explanation.

  17. Matt M says:

    In today’s “adventures in tech company bias,” I give you Google News.

    Yesterday, as you may have heard, was a pretty big news day with a pretty big event. I kept refreshing Google News throughout the day, mainly to get a read on how things were being covered. I expected a bit of bias here, but honestly, I was a bit surprised at how open and brazen it was. Note that this was done on a work computer, not logged into a google account, with cookies disabled (so it should be the “default” page, not something specifically targeted towards me)

    Throughout my work day, there were two “lead” stories, located in the very top-left in the largest print, catching your eye. Throughout the morning, the story that Google deemed most important for people to see was a ThinkProgress “fact check” entitled “Republicans spread disinformation in advance of Kavanaugh hearings.” Sometime after lunch, they managed to do just a little bit better, and the lead switched to a CNN story entitled “How FOX News is covering the Kavanaugh hearings.”

    So there it is. That’s what “sure everyone we hire just happens to be a partisan democrat, but there’s just no way that would ever affect our commitment to providing a neutral and bias-free user experience!” gets you. On one of the biggest news days in months, the lead stories all day weren’t about the actual events at all, but were editorials specifically attacking the few voices who dare to dissent from the established narrative.

    • Garrett says:

      This kind of thing was common inside Google when I worked there. Point out that something is problematic and you are just “enabling hate” or some such thing. Though in most cases feedback just hit the bit bucket and nothing got changed. It took a lot of effort to get something acted upon unless it was a left-wing cause.

    • dick says:

      a) Google News is targeted. If it shows you a lot of ads for adult diapers, that’s because it thinks you’re incontinent, not because it thinks Americans are

      b) Google News prioritizes recency very highly (too highly IMO). If the moon explodes at noon, “Moon explodes! Holy shit!” will be in the top headline for only a few hours before it’s replaced by “What the lunar explosion means for your commute” and so forth.

      c) If someone who is in the top 10% for hating squirrels looks at a website and says it’s too pro-squirrel, that is not evidence that it’s pro-squirrel

      • albatross11 says:

        Google talks about social justice, but their actual business is in tracking you and selling advertisers your attention. I think 99 times out of 100, the best explanation is “This is an attempt to optimize for engagement/ad clicking” rather than “This is an attempt to optimize for SJW ideology.”

        Probably, the more the story is likely to piss you[1] off, the more likely you are to click on it, and Google’s algorithm is showing you stories that are likely to get your attention so they can sell advertisers a slice of your attention.

        [1] Generic you, not you personally.

    • arlie says:

      Apple News seems to have been less bad, at least in the variant it sent me. But not good. OTOH, I didn’t click through *any* of the relevant stories. (Meanwhile, a bunch of my coworkers were streaming the hearing live.)

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Your efforts to avoid being targeted don’t mean that you got the prototypical default Google News page, just that you got something a little different from your normal targeting.

    • Matt M says:

      Today’s entry: A Georgetown professor has wished death on “entitled white men” who support Kavanaugh, including mutilating and desecrating their corpses.

      One might suspect this would violate Twitter’s “hateful conduct policy” but alas, they haven’t seemed to have found a violation here.

      Meanwhile, her employer, Georgetown University, sees this as an obvious protected display of a “private opinion” and they aren’t going to get involved at all. Contrast this with James Damore…

      • meh says:

        Twitter seems to have done as you suspected.

      • Nick says:

        Her account has since been suspended.

        • Matt M says:

          My mistake then. It was still there when last I checked yesterday, despite having been in the news for several hours at that point.

        • Nick says:

          Oh for the love of God, it’s back up.

          It’s completely outrageous, to be sure, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to be linking it here. If there’s one thing we don’t need right now, it’s more outrage-bait.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            This is not the first time Christine Fair has been in the news. She’s also the professor who confronted Richard Spencer at his gym last year and got him booted out. Remember this?

            But yeah. I am echoing Nick here. She’s a professional agitator, basically. As grating as Georgetown and Twitter’s insistence that her behavior “doesn’t violate our standards” is, I think it’s best that she be ignored.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Suspended again. I wonder if there’s a ban/unban war going on inside Twitter.

          • Matt M says:

            I think it’s best that she be ignored.

            How well has surrender been working as a strategy for the right in the culture war so far?

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            How well has surrender been working as a strategy for the right in the culture war so far?

            Woah there, pump the brakes, General Patton. I’m just saying that I agree with Nick – more outrage bait here, on this thread, isn’t all that productive. Don’t feed the trolls, etc. I’m not counselling surrender in the wider culture war, as far as I know the Conservative General Staff doesn’t invite me to their meetings.

          • Matt M says:

            My only point is that “don’t feed the trolls” seems to work only one way.

            If one of us made a comment like that about one of their people, they’d hound us mercilessly until we were banned from all social media, fired from our jobs, etc.

            “Just ignore them” would not be on the table.

  18. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Evo-Devo, a song that I expect will delight rationalists.

    Found at this discussion of what might be missing from current sf.

    • albertborrow says:

      …what might be missing from current sf.

      A lot of really good work in this kind of “ensemble/civilization cast” genre is being done in fanfiction nowadays, ostensibly inspired by Asimov’s Foundation novels (which were themselves inspired by histories like The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). But I think it’s the wrong way to go about writing these kinds of stories – it’s much harder to write the cog in a well-oiled machine than it is to write the spanner in the works. Place the protagonist in some kind of barely-stable inadequate equilibria (like an easily resolvable tragedy of commons) and have them fix things up. Or, if you’re feeling subversive, make it so that civilization is collapsing, but slowly, and the protagonist is just along for the ride. It will still be about society, but for those who don’t care about worldbuilding, the evolution of the main character with respect to their circumstances will be interesting enough to maintain focus. I think Worm is my favorite example of the latter.

      • AG says:

        Wait, really? I feel like that most of adult genre is like this. Or rather, they pretend to be about a protagonist who will make a difference, but turn out to be a deconstruction of the idea, with the theme and resolution of the story being that Society Goes On, and all we can do is just muddle along. “make it so that civilization is collapsing, but slowly, and the protagonist is just along for the ride” is the plot of John Barnes’ “Earth Made of Glass,” and does this exact model.

        Even the core concept of The Hunger Games is that the savior figure, Katniss, ultimately is only a cog.

    • Jugemu says:

      Crikey, what a post. Not only is his problem apparently that sci-fi isn’t social-justicey *enough*, he implies that he believes that women are smaller than men because they’re starved by the patriarchy – never mind the high prevalence of childhood obesity in both genders.

  19. Deiseach says:

    The power of a really good PR campaign means that the influence and effect lasts for years.

    In 2012 the Susan G. Komen Foundation withdrew funding from Planned Parenthood for providing mammogram services. PP swung into action and in 2014 the Komen Foundation, after two years of being denounced, said it was re-instituting the funding.

    Today, in 2018, I’ve just had yet another round of anti-Komen Foundation ranting on Tumblr. Direct quote: “It’s almost October, which these monsters have deemed their month, so please keep this in mind, too.”

    The irony? The original comment in that particular thread was a literal TIL about the 2012. No nuance, of course, but six years on from the original event, these kids – who probably weren’t even aware of what happened in 2012 – are trotting out the line that the Komen Foundation is uniquely terrible. They may not even know that it was all to do with Planned Parenthood – I’ve seen a long reblogging thread where it was all criticism of the Komen Foundation but nothing mentioned about PP.

    Now, maybe the Komen Foundation is uniquely terrible, I have no idea. From what I can see, it seems to be the ordinary professional charity where, because it’s run by employed people not volunteers, they need to pay their bosses ‘comparable to private industry’ salaries so of course a ton of the donations go to overhead not actual research or whatever. The very reason organisations like GiveWell and Effective Altruism exist, in other words.

    But if I didn’t know the original casus belli, I’d think that they were indeed monsters, listening to the party line trotted out by these kids. I’m in a snarly mood because I’m sick as a dog right now (TIL you can indeed strain your abdominal muscles by coughing too much, ouch!) and I growled a bit in the comments, but I don’t expect it to have any effect.

    What I do expect is next year at this time the same list of “Komen is terrible, grrr argggh!” to appear. Bravo, PP! Your campaign worked excellently – six years on, it’s still painting your former enemies as black-hearted villains!

    • Brad says:

      Now, maybe the Komen Foundation is uniquely terrible, I have no idea. From what I can see, it seems to be the ordinary professional charity where, because it’s run by employed people not volunteers, they need to pay their bosses ‘comparable to private industry’ salaries so of course a ton of the donations go to overhead not actual research or whatever. The very reason organisations like GiveWell and Effective Altruism exist, in other words.

      I don’t know about uniquely terrible, but they are one of the very bad ones. Even if you look at their “program spending”, which is not a great percentage, most of it is for things like “raising awareness” or education.

      The raise huge amounts of money off “the cure” branding and then spend a small percentage of it on trying to find a cure. All while drawing lavish compensation. That makes them pretty terrible in my book, and I’m not sure why you’d want to go out of your way to defend them.

      • Chalid says:

        This. Also they absurdly claim the rights to the phrase “for a cure,” so if you try selling “toys for a cure” or the like you can expect to hear from their lawyers. They’ll also go after you if you’re a cancer charity and you use pink in your marketing materials.

        • gbdub says:

          That’s the part that really bothers me. “Raising awareness” as their primary goal would be almost defensible if they let more directly effective charities free-ride off their branding. But instead they ruthlessly protect their trademarks against even the smallest and most innocuous defendants.

          • Chalid says:

            There is already plenty of awareness of breast cancer. Given that it seems to widely agreed that we massively overscreen for it, we would probably all be better off with somewhat reduced awareness.

          • gbdub says:

            I tend to agree. But “we create an effective and recognizable brand for cancer charities to unite behind” would at least make them sound less like a money grubbing organization obsessed with personal fame.

      • Matt M says:

        1. But they aren’t being attacked/criticized for having a high overhead. Tons of charities have high overhead and still get nothing but lavish praise and positive PR. They are attacked for having insufficiently progressive values.

        2. That said, yes, high overhead charities suck. I’m having to sit through a corporate-inspired United Way fundraiser at work that lasts several months and it makes me want to jump up on a ledge in a common space and start giving a polemic about effective altruism…

        • gbdub says:

          United Way serves a valuable function of being (as a charity aggregator essentially) a perfectly inoffensive, basically apolitical organization that lets big companies be gung ho about “giving back to the community” without actually appearing to take a stand on anything more potentially controversial than “poverty bad”.

          AZ has a one-for-one tax credit for charitable donations to vetted charities for specific goals (working poor and foster kids) so I max out the credit and direct United Way to direct my entire donation to one of those charities. Not perfect effective altruism, but basically free to me and probably more effective than the incremental cash in the AZ general fund.

          • arlie says:

            *sigh* I dumped United Way when I found out that their policies make it effectively impossible for me to direct my money away from specific charities they support, whatever I think of them, even though they claim otherwise. If some local United Way supports 10 charities, 9 good ones and the 10th so bad that 90% of their donors specify “nothing for the Greedy Celebrity’s Buy Me a Third Yacht fund,” and United Way’s intent had been to give 10% to each charity, *all* the no-specific-instructions money will go to Greedy Celebrity, so as to make up the intended 10%.

            Later I also became aware of several, generally localized, embezzlement and similar scandals, and was happy not to have contributed. But they aren’t why I still won’t contribute to United Way, and advise coworkers to also avoid participation.

          • Lillian says:

            Money is fungible. This is also why earmarking your donation to a charity so that it goes directly “to the needy” is useless, they will simply allocate all non-earmarked money to their overhead.

            Also it’s important not to get too focused on overhead anyway, since there is really no standardized way to account for overhead. At the same level of funding, a charity that reports 40% overhead may very well be accomplishing more than a charity that reports 20% overhead, simply due to differences in their accounting practices. Indeed at times it is precisely the more ethical and scrupulous charity that reports the higher overhead. While less ethical charities that are more concerned with their public image than helping the needy, are more likely to do everything short of breaking the law to make the books look good.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            And some charities really need that “overhead.” It might be a office copier or a cell phone plan for their guy out in the field.

            Evaluating charities is hard. If I am buying widgets, I just care that the $N of value I get from the widget is greater than the $M I spent on it. The producer can optimize, or not, as they see fit. But with a charity, my money disappears.

            GiveWell tries to measure the good charities do, especially the value of the marginal dollar. That’s great, but a lot of good work cannot be measured very well, or can only be measured expensively.

            There are a lot of bogus charities out there, in the sense that they provide no social benefit for the dollars they get. It’s tough to tell which is which from the outside. And each new charity is another puzzle to solve.

        • Brad says:

          But they aren’t being attacked/criticized for having a high overhead. Tons of charities have high overhead and still get nothing but lavish praise and positive PR. They are attacked for having insufficiently progressive values.

          My post serves as existence disproof of your hypothesis.

          Not everything is about the giant chips on your and Deiseach‘s shoulders.

      • BBA says:

        There’s no way to get anyone to care about simple grift. Make them the political enemy and you won’t hear the end of it.

        I once called the SPLC the Komen Foundation of civil rights, in reference to their primary focus on self-promotion and lack of any real accomplishments in the last few decades. The reaction I got was “how dare you compare the good, moral SPLC to those right-wing scum?”

        • gbdub says:

          Wait the SPLC are grifters too? And here I thought they were mostly bad for squandering their good will to lead the charge of wolf-crying for naked political gain.

          • BBA says:

            Ever since they sued the KKK into oblivion (a genuinely impressive accomplishment!), their primary output has been scary fundraising newsletters. They have an endowment that could last them a century. And yet “give to the SPLC” is just conventional wisdom about how to fight President Evil.

          • gbdub says:

            “We came here to fight racists and raise money… and we’re all outta racists!”

          • Brad says:

            There is a curse of success when it comes to charities. In similar circumstances the ACLU didn’t fall to the grifter failure mode but instead to the loss of focus failure mode.

          • quanta413 says:

            Well, obviously it’s not a curse from the point of view of people at the SPLC.

          • Matt M says:

            “We came here to fight racists and raise money… and we’re all outta racists!”

            It’s okay, they can always make (up) more.

        • Randy M says:

          There’s no way to get anyone to care about simple grift. Make them the political enemy and you won’t hear the end of it.

          Heh. I almost commented “I think being a grifter doesn’t quite reduce them to monsters” but Brad just said very bad, and for all I know that’s perfectly justified on operational grounds. Gross inefficiency (to be charitable) is very slimy, but doesn’t incite any rage or inspire activism as you point out.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m not defending them as such, if they are uniquely terrible that’s good to know. But their unique terribleness was not made known until after they defunded PP which then went after them, and once they reinstituted funding PP was all cosy with them once more.

        My interest is how effective a negative campaign can be, even outliving its original purpose to keep going. The 2012 PR push that triggered off “see how awful they are” seems to still be going today, even though the initial impetus has been forgotten.

        • BBA says:

          The 2012 controversy happened to coincide with the release of a documentary on the hollowness of Komen and related “breast cancer awareness” campaigns, based on a 2006 book. So there’d been a backlash brewing for some time before the PP scuffle put it on top of everyone’s social media feeds.

    • brmic says:

      I may fail at parsing, but:
      1) Where do you establish that the 2012 controversy is responsible for a comment in 2018?
      2) Where do you establish that the comment in 2018 is anything close to representative?
      3) Where do you establish that ‘PP’ as per your last paragraph is responsible for the bad rep the Komen foundation got in 2012 and later? The wikipedia page suggests it was everyone but PP denouncing Komen, but maybe there’s more information.
      4) Do you not consider ‘I’ve seen a long reblogging thread where it was all criticism of the Komen Foundation but nothing mentioned about PP’ disconfirming evidence?
      5) What exactly did PP actually _do_ that you think is wrong?

      From a cursory read, it seems there’s a couple of reasons not to be particularly keen on the Komen foundation. It also seems the decision to no longer fund PP was reversed after 4 days, which does not match your statement of 2012-2014, so maybe your factual knowledge has some gaps. I also see how some people on Tumblr are indicative of anything. But I do get the impression that you ascribe a fair bit of malice and some magical power to PP.

      • Deiseach says:

        The decision was reversed four days later, but I was misled by the date on this this statement issued by Planned Parenthood – it reads “For Immediate Release: Oct. 14, 2014” but refers to February 2012. You got me there.

        As for the rest of it, I remember the original kerfuffle kicking off in 2012 and I’m reading the annual October “Susan G. Komen Foundation are monsters” posts right now. I don’t know what more I can say for you?

    • dick says:

      I’ve never heard about the PP funding thing, or heard anyone complaining that the Komen foundation was insufficiently progressive. I’ve heard many people complain about them being too litigious and not spending enough money on cancer research. Seems like either you’re wrong (their bad reputation has much less to do with PP than you think) or you’re right in a sense, but PP’s PR campaign only worked because it was bringing to light true allegations that people care about, which then took on a life of its own.

  20. fion says:

    Against heavy use of initialisms in online forums.

    I often read comments on here which employ initialisms such as TIL, ETA, ISTM, YMMV, FWIW, IIRC, ISTR and so on. I have always assumed that the purpose of these is to save time. If this is the case then I think they have the opposite effect, essentially because they take longer to read than the words they represent. Most of the time I can figure them out, but it probably takes me a second or two. Occasionally I have to google it, taking about five seconds. If we assume fifty readers read your comment and, say, a quarter of them are at least as slow as I am to recall what these initialisms stand for, then that’s between twelve seconds and a minute spent reading each initialism. The time you save when writing it, however, is tiny. Even if we assume you’re a very slow typist with 20wpm, you’re saving maybe three words, which takes you a grand total of nine seconds. And if you’re spending enough times on online forums that you find these initialisms natural then you’re probably a lot faster than 20wpm. If you were 60wpm you’d save only three seconds, which is about the time I alone take to read it.

    This argument does of course depend on how well-known the particular initialism is. FWIW is one that I am actually so fluent in that I read it at the same speed as I would read “for what it’s worth”. But even after spending several years reading SSC comments I still sometimes see new ones. I saw ISTM only today and puzzled over it for a good three seconds before guessing what it might mean.

    So is it a misguided attempt to save time? Is it a well-guided attempt to save time and I’m just typical-minding? Do you consider your time ten times as important as each person who reads your comment?

    Or is the purpose something completely different from saving time?

    • ana53294 says:

      Acronyms, except for those that can be pronounced as a word (ASAP, NATO, LOL) or are limited to two letters (EU, UN), tend to be annoying, because I either have to spend time thinking each word, or see a mishmash of letters that don’t sound good.

      I think that the nice thing would be to only use acronyms you would use in speech.

      • fion says:

        I think that the nice thing would be to only use acronyms you would use in speech.

        This seems like a good rule of thumb to me. Incidentally, I’m interested that you pronounce ASAP. I say all the letters. I guess this is a bit silly when three of the words are only one syllable, but that’s just how my brain interprets it.

      • keranih says:

        ….so, you’ll be saying “Department of Defense” and “United States of America” from here on out?

        • John Schilling says:

          Hey, the Oosans have a perfectly good dodd to handle their military affairs!

          The bit where the Kavanaugh confirmation thread is full of talk about fuhbee background investigations is a bit strained, however.

        • ana53294 says:

          Maybe two letters is a bit extreme, but three would be a reasonable limit.

          When it comes to really long acronyms, only those that can be used as a word (NIMBY, RuBisCO) survive.

          What long acronyms do you know that are not used in common speech?

    • keranih says:

      The standard I was taught was that the first use of an acronym in a document/message was to be spelled out – so that I Seem To Recall (ISTR) would look like this. This rule would not apply to commonly accepted acronyms, which would be spelled out in an appendix. (I work in a couple of fields with conflicting meanings of the same three letter acronyms, and while context generally serves well, it doesn’t always.)

      IMO this is an excellent rule for documents that are intended to be precise and long standing, but it’s a bit oppressive on the free flow of natural conversation.

      Perhaps a good rule is that messages or statements with unspecified acronyms are meant to be imprecise, need to be clarified, and should be taken less seriously.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, I do this in formal writing, too, for any but the most common and widely known acronyms.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        IMO this is an excellent rule for documents that are intended to be precise and long standing, but it’s a bit oppressive on the free flow of natural conversation.

        I read this in my head as “eye-mo this is an excellent…”

        “IMO” is now a word for me, and it has the same connotation as “in my opinion,” but I’ve shortened both the word in print and in my head.

        Your mileage may vary.

        • fion says:

          Your mileage may vary.

          Ahhh, so *that’s* what that stands for! It’s one of the ones that I never got around to googling, although i picked up its meaning from context.

      • arlie says:

        I learned the same standard. It’s not used at my current employer, unfortunately. And extremely commonly accepted acronymns (IBM, USA, etc.) would not have been in the appendix. But well known terms of art within the subject field would have been.

        Personally, I find that spelling out acronymns is a good idea if you want to communicate with people who might not know them. If I have to google and annotate your resume, you’re starting on the wrong foot at the interview; and if I had been the person skimming the slush pile, it would just have been binned.

        Oddly, unfamiliar words get you a pass with me; I like learning words, and I’m impressed with people who know words I don’t know. But I’ve learned that people reading my writing mostly don’t react the same way, and taught myself to limit vocabulary I use based on my intended audience.

    • James says:

      I’m pretty net-savvy, but I feel like I’ve only ever seen ISTM here. Is it something that’s new enough that I haven’t spotted it yet, or some Usenet-y thing that’s too old for me to have come across it?

      I think most of the ones you mentioned are pretty bland and intended to save time, but sometimes things like this also have an ingroup-gluing effect. On a forum I used to be on we had lots of very obscure, made-up acronyms and it was just part of our culture, what made us us.

    • Matt M says:

      They are meant to save time for the person typing the message, not the person reading it. Turns out people are a little selfish, IMO 🙂

    • Matt says:

      For what it’s worth, I agree. Actually, there was an acronym or initialism above that I didn’t even bother to try to figure out. I was reading a reply, hit an string of capital letters I didn’t understand, and just moved on to the next.

      Because I value my time, too.

    • Nick says:

      The only one that trips me up around here is ISTR, because I always want to read it as ISTM.

      I’m a very fast typist (120-140 words per minute), and I don’t like to use these, generally, because typing all caps words is really annoying. I feel the same about snake_case, because my finger never lands properly on the underscore.

    • 10240 says:

      Acronyms save time for some of the readers who are familiar with them, too. (They do for me, if I’m familiar with an acronym, I read it with the same speed as a word.) It’s not only saving on the time required to read the words, but in long paragraphs, my eyes sometimes “get lost”, not remembering where I left off. Making the paragraph shorter by using acronyms makes this slightly less likely, and capitalized acronyms also make good reference points for my eyes (as do bold or italic words, numbers etc.).

      That said, while I like common acronyms, as you say, some acronyms used here I’m not used to and they take me time to figure out.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Those are all super-common, not unique to SSC. The cost of learning them is amortized over multiple communities.

      I wrote “SSC” to save time and divide in-group from out-group, but the examples you gave probably have a different function. They are all meta commentary. All but the first two are disclaimers. If you delete them, the meaning stands, so the cost of not understanding is low. Maybe people are supposed to read the lower case words first and then fill in the disclaimers second.

    • mustacheion says:

      I generally don’t like acronyms. One that I am extremely familiar with like USA or EU I parse easily and instantaneously, but I generally cannot learn and remember their meaning when they are introduced in the standard – spell it out once – style. It definitely takes me longer to read a document that makes use of many new acronyms. Like, when I started on this thread, I didn’t know what ISTM meant. I specifically remember reading through the thread, finding where somebody spelled it out, and then not remembering what it said. Wasn’t worth bothering to look back through and find the definition, so I just parse that cluster of letters as blank meaningless garbage. But then as I was writing this comment, I randomly scrolled back to the top of the thread, randomly saw the definition of ISTM again, read it and thought, oh, that is what it means again. And now that I am down here typing I no longer remember what it means.

  21. CatCube says:

    Structural Engineering Post Series

    Continued from here:

    Building Codes

    I’m going to cover building codes, and I know that a lot of people have been awaiting this one (I have too, but figured some basics had to be got out of the way.)

    There will be some limitations to this topic:
    (1) It’s going to be extremely US-centric; I just don’t know a whole lot about either the history or current requirements in other countries. If there’s somebody from another country with experience, I’d appreciate it if you could chime in with information about your local codes.

    (2) It’s going to cover more ground on the structural requirements of the standard building code used in the US, which is less than a third of the code (and half of that is wood framing, which I don’t do much with; also, wood is half of the structural sections because it’s heavily prescriptive so it doesn’t require the attention of a structural engineer, e.g., it just tells a carpenter the size and spacing he needs between floor joists). Most of the rest is handled by architects and other consultants that work for them. There won’t be nothing on those, but it’ll be thinner.

    (3) I don’t work much on buildings. As I stated in the first post, I work for the federal government on things like dams and navigation locks, which are not governed as a matter of law by regular building codes. I also do some work with bridges, which have their own code. We do make heavy use of building codes, since they represent state-of-the-art for analysis and design, but swaths of the code get disregarded in my day job (for example, the codes that governs structural steel buildings, AISC 360, has requirements for frame stability that simply have no meaning if you were to try to apply them to a lock gate, but calculating the capacity of a steel section is going to be pretty much the same if it’s in a building or in a miter gate.) Because of this, I don’t know much about the permitting and approval process, since I’ve never dealt with it.

    So, that out of the way, here we go!

    What Does “Building Code” Mean?
    I’ve been using the term “building code” throughout this post, but it’s actually can be a pretty imprecise term by itself. In the US, building codes are written by private organizations. These are referred to as “model codes.” These model codes are then passed into law by the state or city government, usually with some modifications. AIUI, this is similar to the process used for the Uniform Commercial Code and some other commercial law. As used formally in the law, “building code” generally means the base code enacted into law.

    However, the term is also used informally to mean other documents that are incorporated by reference, or are associated in some way. For example, the International Building Code (IBC) is the most-used model code in the US, written by the International Code Council. The IBC has a chapter on structural steel (Chapter 22), but that chapter is three pages long and more or less is just telling you to design structural steel in accordance with AISC 360, steel joists in accordance with the requirements of the Steel Joist Institute, cold-formed steel in accordance with AISI S100, and light steel framing in accordance with AISI S200.

    I realize that the acronyms in there mean nothing to you; I’ll discuss them in more detail below and in their own posts. However, what’s important for this discussion is that AISC 360 is a publication by the American Institute of Steel Construction, the trade group for structural steel producers, and is titled “Specification for Structural Steel Buildings.” This will often be referred to as the “Steel Code” by structural engineers, and if we are discussing a steel structure and ask the question, “What does the code say?” we’re referring to this document, and not what a Google search for “building code” would probably turn up. If we’re talking about concrete, the “Concrete Code” is ACI 318, and would be the referent for “code” in that question. Note that all of these are model documents of their own, and may be modified by either the model code (IBC), and further modifications may have been made by the legislature enacting the model code into law.

    Other building systems are handled similarly. Plumbing, electrical, and mechanical all have their own codes, which are separate documents referenced by the main code.

    I will continue to use the term “building code” as a generic term to refer to the basic building code as it has been enacted into law, and generally try to refer to specific model codes where applicable. It’s important to realize that in my discussion, I will usually refer to the requirements of the model codes, which may have been modified in your jurisdiction. So I probably can’t answer questions of the form “Why wasn’t [x, y, or z] allowed in my city?” I can try to answer questions about what the model code says, but your state might have changed it when enacting it into law.

    So to cycle back to the original question, what is a building code? It is a law that governs the requirements for the design and construction of buildings to ensure that the completed structure is safe, sanitary, habitable, accessible, and environmentally sound. This definition is admittedly circular, since the legal definition of a building that is all of these things is one that complies with the code. However, ensuring these goals are generally what the code writers are striving for.

    The building code will specify things as varied as the number of exits required and their locations, the number of toilets, the requirements for partitions between toilets and bathrooms, sprinklers, minimum sizes for rooms, the minimum loads for which a building will be designed, and thousands of other things. Some things that are not in the building code are requirements about where a particular kind of building can be built (possibly aside from some minimum distances to lot lines); that’s zoning. Nor are aesthetics covered.

    I specifically said “design and construction” in that definition, because the building code doesn’t cover keeping its requirements maintained. That will be the responsibility of the fire code. For example, it’s generally the fire marshal and not the building inspector that will hem you up if you chain a fire exit closed.

    • CatCube says:

      History of US Building Codes
      The primary driver of building codes in the US has been fire. Even today, the majority of the requirements in the basic building code are intended to prevent fires from starting, suppress them when they occur, prevent them from spreading, and allow the occupants to escape. The vast majority of deaths in buildings were and still are due to fire. In the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, fires started by the earthquake killed far more people than seismically-induced collapse. The primary cause of collapse of the World Trade Center was ultimately fire. Damage from the planes was critical, of course, but not sufficient by itself to cause collapse (at least not until another unusual load event, like a windstorm); burning building contents continued to progressively weaken structural members until global collapse occurred. More recently, we have the Grenville Tower and Ghost Ship fires as examples. However, most deaths occur in ones and twos that never make more than local news. 3,400 people died in structure fires last year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

      Prior to comprehensive building codes, private organizations–driven by insurance costs–began implementing standards for individual building components. The NFPA was founded in 1896 by fire insurance companies to write unified standards for sprinkler systems (invented in their modern form some twenty years prior); as an official history of the organization tells of, “…the existence in a hundred mile radius of Boston of nine radically different standards for the size of piping and spacing of sprinklers.” Another major change to buildings at that time was the spread of electricity. Deficient construction or incompetent installation of electrical wiring, equipment, and appliances were becoming a major cause of fires. Underwriters Laboratory was founded by insurance underwriters at the same time, with a focus on testing electrical equipment and building components. Finally, the National Board of Fire Underwriters published the National Electrical Code, to unify what had been five disparate electrical codes. A few years later, the NFPA took over the NEC, and publishes it to this day, as NFPA 70.

      Developments in requirements for plumbing and mechanical systems started occurring in the 1920s, with plumbers in LA starting to develop uniform standards. This resulted in model codes in the ’40s, the Uniform Plumbing Code and Uniform Mechanical Code by the Western Plumbing Officials Association, which is now the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.

      I’ve not found much in the way of references for earlier than 1927 for comprehensive legal building codes. Prior to that time, most codes were written and adopted by local municipalities, with little coordination. In that year, the International Conference of Building Officials began publishing the Uniform Building Code. This was, in its own words, intended to “[develop]…better building construction and greater safety to the public, though the elimination of needless red tape, favoritism and local politics by uniformity in building laws…” The UBC was used in western states, and the ICBO held copyright to its model code to prevent the use by other municipalities who hadn’t contributed to its development. The Southern Building Code Congress International began publishing the Standard Building Code used by states in the South in 1946. Finally, the East and Midwest had the Building Officials Code Administrators, who published the National Building Code. The earliest edition of that that I can find is 1975. These three regional codes held sway for decades.

      Fire codes were also developed during this time, with the NFPA developing standards for building exits in the ’20s, and after some major fires in the ’40s (Coaconut Grove being the biggest), rejiggered some of its language to allow these standards to be adopted as legal documents, rather than the guidance for builders they had been up to that point. This was the forerunner of the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code still used today.

      By the ’90s, having different requirements in different regions was becoming a source of inefficiency and error. I haven’t stumbled across anything online that gives fuller explanation, but I speculate that as the codes became more detailed, it became more difficult for manufacturers to make products work across the three major code groups and more onerous for architects designing buildings in many jurisdictions. To use an example I made up to illustrate, when you’re simply requiring fire exits to have hardware that opens when pushed and not much more detail, a wide variety of products will comply with all three model codes easily. After further research shows that you need to have further requirements, like particular distances above the floor, certain dimensions of panic hardware are easier for building occupants to deal with, etc., it starts to become critical exactly what the code requirements are. The research might show that it’s important for hardware to be between X and Y inches above the walking surface, and it should be consistent. If one organization decides that panic hardware should be mounted at X and the other at Y, now you have products that are legal in one area but illegal in another, fragmenting the market. Similarly, it becomes more difficult for design professionals to track requirements across jurisdictions, resulting in mistakes–crap, does this state require 50 pounds per square foot in offices, or 40? Worse yet, forgetting that there is a difference and going with what you’re used to. Similarly, contractors and tradesmen working in different regions were more prone to construction errors.

      This resulted in the BOCA, ICBO, and SBCCI unifying to become the International Code Council. The ICC published the first edition of the International Building Code in 1997, and the retirement of the regional codes with the publishing of the 2000 version of the IBC. The IBC is part of a family of model codes written by the ICC, which also has the International Existing Building Code (IEBC) for modifications to existing structures, the International Residental Code (IRC) for prescriptive design of dwellings, the International Mechanical Code (IMC) which governs systems such as heating and cooling, the International Plumbing Code (IPC) for plumbing systems, and the International Fire Code (IFC) for fire safety in completed structures. There are so many documents in this code family that I’m going to stop there.

      The NFPA was supposed to be heavily involved in the ICC process, but for reasons I haven’t found fully explained, backed out. The National Electrical Code (NFPA 70) is still used nationwide and is referenced by the ICC family of model codes, and many of the NFPAs standards are used for certification of building components. However, the NFPA elected to continue its own code writing efforts, the most successful of which is NFPA 101, in competition with the IFC. This was and is used as a fire code in many jurisdictions, and compliance to it is required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for any medical facility receiving federal money. The NFPA has written its own model base building code, NFPA 5000, but I’m not aware of any jurisdiction that has adopted it. Similarly, the IAPMO still writes the Uniform Plumbing Code and Uniform Mechanical Code. This has resulted in competing model codes that allow jurisdictions a menu of options. That’s where we stand today.

      One hazard of the menu of options is that while NFPA/IAPMO and the ICC take care to ensure that their respective families of model codes are consistent within themselves, there are no guarantees between families. This does place a burden on a jurisdiction to sort out differences, which doesn’t always happen. One example worth recounting is from a blog by a handrail manufacturer. One detail that is in all model codes are the required dimensions of handrails. Common to all is the requirement that handrails have a continuous top surface (the brackets supporting the rail must come in from the bottom), and that the handrails be proud of the wall so occupants can wrap their hand around the whole rail. However, the IBC requires 1½” clearance from the wall, while NFPA 101 requires 2¼” clearance. If the legislature adopting these codes doesn’t notice this, you can have the spectacle of the building inspector checking compliance with the building code, signing off on the permit and issuing a certificate of occupancy, then the fire marshal coming through checking compliance with the fire code and requiring all of the handrails to be replaced before allowing the building to open!

      Apparently, there was some research that showed that 2¼” of clearance made it easier for people to catch themselves if falling in a stairwell. The ICC didn’t find the research compelling enough to justify imposing additional costs on building owners for the more substantial brackets this requires, while the NFPA was convinced. After this requirement was in the wild for a while, it seems that the ICCs skepticism about it being easier for people to catch themselves in falls was justified; however, firefighters discovered that the larger distance made it much easier to grasp the handrails while wearing their gloves when ascending stairwells. While there have been arguments to reduce the clearance in NFPA 101, since firefighters are a powerful constituency within the organization it’s not likely to happen at the model code level. This leaves either action by local governments to harmonize the requirements, or attention by architects and specifiers to ensure that all code requirements are met.

      Since this has gotten a lot longer than originally intended, I’ll stop here with the history, and discuss actual requirements found in the code next time. Since the IBC is used in almost every US jurisdiction, I’ll talk about that in more detail. However, I’m going to confine myself to the model code; as a reminder, your jurisdiction may have made changes!

      • SamChevre says:

        An additional note: the codes are dated, and in most cases are adopted by date.

        I’m most familiar with the electrical codes. All but three states use some version of the NEC; however, there are four versions currently in place (2008, 2011, 2014, 2017). The most-visible difference to homeowners is that the newer code requires arc-fault breakers on almost every household circuit, while pre-2008 they were required for bedrooms only (this increases the cost for wiring a house by $500 or so). Until this year, Connecticut and Massachusetts had different code versions; I live near the border, and electrical contractors either refused to work across the border, or were very familiar with the differences.

        • CatCube says:

          Yes, the code update cycle seems to have settled in to a 3-year pattern. The IBC is 2000, 2003, 2006…, the concrete code (ACI 318) is 1999, 2002, 2005… We’ve had 2010 and 2016 for the last updates to AISC 360 which seems to be 6 years, but that’s not quite enough for a pattern yet…the last before that was 2005

          To expand on this, when discussing specific documents you’ll usually prepend the last two digits of the year. So ACI 318-11, ACI 318-14, AISC 360-10, AISC 360-16.

          I’ll mostly discuss the 2012 IBC here, because that’s what was used on my PE, so I have a printed copy, and that’s still current for the state I work in (Oregon). I don’t use the code often, but when I do need it this is the one that’s relevant.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The most-visible difference to homeowners is that the newer code requires arc-fault breakers on almost every household circuit, while pre-2008 they were required for bedrooms only

          Insert grumble about gold-plating the code because they’re code-writers and have nothing better to do.

          • CatCube says:

            One of my coworkers is heavily involved in the authorship of one of our internal design codes (one that sometimes gets used by outside companies and organizations), and he once told me “Never forget that building codes are written by the kind of people who volunteer to write building codes.” It’s worth noting that they’re not “volunteer” in the sense of not being paid, since most are paid by the organization they represent, but that most aren’t doing it because their boss is forcing them, but because their boss asked a room full of people, “Who’d like to represent us on [X] Committee?” and they put their hand up.

            To be a little more fair, I know one of the guys who is involved in writing a public code (though as a non-voting member, since he’s a federal employee and the organization requirements only permit state-level officials to vote), and he’s certainly not looking for things to do. I don’t think the guy is home more than one week of every four, since he’s running around doing inspections on our facilities nationwide, and teaching others.

            In terms of how to think about the culture and interaction of the code-writing committee, I don’t know that it’s going to be any different than, say, the people who write standards for programming languages. You’ll have heavy involvement by a few people, and support from their companies, but probably very few people (if any) doing it as their full-time job.

          • Garrett says:

            Although I’m generally annoyed by yet-another-government-mandate, there seems to be some amount of evidence that it is the low-hanging fruit left to go after.

          • SamChevre says:

            Arc-fault breakers are amazingly effective at identifying and forcing you to fix cracked insulation on old wires that is sparking intermittently. This is probably a good thing. (We had our house rewired to get rid of the old knob-and-tube wiring, and code required replacing the breakers with arc-faults. I spent the next 6 months fixing outlets that faulted out, and they universally had cracked insulation where the wires were bent in the box.)

      • bean says:

        Actually, I do have a question about this. How international are these bodies really? Do they just call themselves that because previously one was “national”, and they needed to escalate, or are the same codes used in Canada?

        • CatCube says:

          Well, if you look closely, two of the three previous bodies (ICBO and SBCCI) had styled themselves as “International” so not using it would have been a step “backwards”. This is something I hadn’t realized until pulling this post together–I had thought the ICC had come up with that innovation, indulging in some grandeur in the hopes of possible expansion into Canada (or, well, same thinking as “World Series”), but the original 1927 copy of the UBC has “International Conference of Building Officials” stamped on the title page.

          As an aside: I stripped out the link because it refused to post last night, but old copies of the UBC though 1964 are here:

          While I remember discussion when I was in college–right as the IBC was coming on line–of hopes that Canada might be amenable, the primary overseas users of US building codes are in the Caribbean. There are also apparently a few in South America and Southeast Asia. Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia have adopted the IBC, while Afghanistan uses it for lack of anything better. Georgia is the only country in Europe that uses it. There’s a page on adoptions here:

    • CatCube says:

      For whatever reason, I couldn’t post without stripping the links from the second half. I’ll repost the link to the blog about the handrail clearances, since I found it interesting and if you’re interested in that story it’s worth the extra few minutes to read yourself:

    • johan_larson says:

      AISC 360 is a publication by the American Institute of Steel Construction, the trade group for structural steel producers…

      What’s your sense of how self-interested these codes are, serving the interests of industry insiders rather than consumers? Are there multiple parties with real pull in the writing of these codes, some whose interests would be served by more regulation and some by less?

      • CatCube says:

        It’s hard for me to say. It depends somewhat on what code you’re referring to…as discussed above by SamChevre, there’s a requirement in the newer versions of the NEC to use more expensive arc-fault breakers, which sure works well for the people who sell electrical equipment, but it certainly does also reduce the risk of fire. Deaths due to fire have dropped by half since the ’70s in the US, and a lot of that is probably due to more emphasis in building codes.

        Another place to look at is the requirements for egress in schools. There’s been a fight in code-development and legislative circles regarding securing doors for lockdown in active shooter incidents. The standard for building and fire codes has always been free egress (since fire was a huge driver of the existence of the codes in the first place), and the current requirements are that “The unlatching of any door or leaf shall not require more than one operation.”* and “…egress doors shall be readily openable from the egress side without the use of a key or special knowledge or effort.” There have been a bunch of products to facilitate a lockdown that basically boil down to barring the door, a surface bolt, or other blocking device that will require either two operations or knowing how to operate the device.

        These have generally been fended off by fire marshals and code development organizations, but these do have input from the makers of locksets (it’d be stupid for them not to have input, since you probably don’t want to require something they can’t make economically)…and it does jump out at me that classroom-function locksets can price from about $500 to over $1000 per opening if you’re looking at electronic sets that can be locked down with a signal from a central station. There are new standards for classroom locksets that add some requirements; that the door can be secured without going outside, and that there is a way for authorized individuals to still get in, so that first responders aren’t locked out if the shooter does get into one of the classrooms. Now, it should be noted that commercial locksets have always been very expensive relative to what you’d get at a home-improvement store–doors and locksets in public buildings take a surprising amount of abuse–but the code-compliant sets do add a pretty penny to the cost of upgrading a school for a lockdown.

        There are some very good reasons for this. As we’ve noted here many times, active shooter incidents at schools are very rare statistically, probably rare enough to not justify increasing the fire danger. Also, barricade devices have been used to secure the door to commit assaults, both on the teacher and other students. That’s part of the reason to still allow some form of access. I think these reasons are good enough to justify keeping the “one action to open” standard, but it does add a substantial cost.

        To address structural codes, the original topic in your question, I think there’s less room for chicanery there, but it’s probably not impossible. I didn’t find anything on the exact formal requirements for how AISC picks its committee members, but I do know they and the American Concrete Institute (for concrete) keep a mix of industry insiders, design engineers, and academic engineers on the committee. IIRC, the last huge revision to AISC 360 was written under the supervision of Dr. Theodore Galambos, who was a professor (now retired), though it was with a grant from AISC.

        But the structural codes do have some considerations that other parts of the code may not. One is that the design equations do have substantial ties to physics–I mean, the equations for the bending capacity for a steel member can be developed from first principles. Another is that the materials are in competition with each other. A requirement in the steel code that may increase the weight of steel needed may result in a concrete structure being more economic. However, things that affect all equally (say, requirements for wind loading) will not have this pressure.

        There has been some drama in the structural engineering community about overcomplexity in requirements resulting in more engineering effort required, possibly without adding actual safety. I’ll probably discuss that in a different post, though.

        Overall, though, my sense is that while overall the economics of adding a requirement aren’t disregarded, they are less important than chasing improvements to zero. The trend I notice is that if a requirement has some articulable benefit to the purposes I listed above (safe, sanitary, habitable, accessible, and environmentally sound), people writing the requirements don’t seem to get too fussed about requiring owners to pay more money. For example, it’s good that we require those handicapped buttons to open doors! Buuuut, they cost $3000 each. This probably contributes to the cost disease discussed by Scott, where everything just seems to cost more these days, but no clear reason why. In construction, it’s death by a thousand cuts.

        * There are several exceptions but one that most people here have seen is the one permits a night latch or security chain in hotel rooms in addition to the regular lockset, but the chain must be “…openable from the inside without the use of a key or tool.”

        • I don’t know if this comes within your category of building codes, but my impression was that the shift from copper to plastic pipes for plumbing was hindered by building requirements pushed by the plumbers’ unions. Do you know if that is correct?

          • CatCube says:

            That would technically fall within the category of building codes. Plumbing codes are adopted just like any other. However, it’s one I know very little about, other than its existence. Without knowing the details of the debate to which you refer, I can only speculate, but I can at least give some background to my own area that might be relevant.

            The structural codes have a bunch of language that describes how to do something, and provides equations to check compliance. However, whenever you have some innovation, before equations and guidance to use it will appear in the model codes, two things must be true: 1) there must be sufficient research to justify the guidance, so that any designer or installer that uses it can trust that it will work as long as the code is followed, and 2) the product must not be proprietary.

            An example that comes to mind is the development of reinforcement in concrete. I’ll go into more detail later, but rebar has to be embedded a certain depth into concrete. One assumption for designing the bars is that you fully develop their strength, that is, a bar that is 1 in² with a material strength of 60,000 psi should be able to carry 60,000 lbs. As you can imagine, if you were to embed that bar only, say, ½”, you’re going to yank the bar out of the concrete well before then. Anyway, there’s a pile of equations in the concrete code (ACI 318) that tells you how to calculate that for a particular bar.

            One method for shortening this length has been to hook the bar ends, a method with a very long history, and there are requirements for a “standard hook” with the accompanying pile of equations for those, so that if you specify a standard hook, all the fabricators know how to bend those, there are presumptively-correct methods to design for them, etc.

            However, this doesn’t mean that other methods of developing reinforcement are forbidden. There is an “escape clause” of sorts, in “Any mechanical attachment or device capable of developing [the strength] of deformed bars shall be permitted, provided it is approved by the building official in accordance with 1.10.” The commentary goes on to explain that the intent is to permit other devices that don’t meet the previous code requirements, so long as there are tests that justify their use, and the local building code official is satisfied with them.

            There’s now a third method detailed in the code, which are headed bars. They were included in the latest revision in 2014 (ACI 318-14) because they finally came off-patent. However, they did see a lot of use before then, as they had been justified by the language above. But they were in use for many years before they showed up in the code itself, along with the pile of equations for calculating embedment.

            I note that there seems to be a similar clause in the plumbing code. In section 3 of the UPC (used in OR and CA), there is a section (301.3) that permits “alternate materials and methods” if the building official is OK with it. Unless that is a relatively new innovation (and I don’t know if it is, @Plumber may have more), it’s likely that PVC was permitted under that clause well before it showed up as a separately-permitted item.

            It is a high hill to climb for a vendor that doesn’t have their product in the code, since now you have to convince both the designers and the local building inspector that your product is good, which can be a tough sell. If I use the code equations, and they’re wrong there are a lot of people at fault there. If I use a new product, and it fails, well, I’m the idiot that let myself get snookered by a salesman. The low-effort path is to not use new stuff without its own code section unless your back is against the wall somehow. That’s how some of these products get into fights about what is included or not, once they fall off patent.

            From a plumber’s perspective, remember the common dictum of working on somebody else’s computer: “You were the last one to touch it, so anything that goes wrong is your fault.” So until there’s enough research and experience, they may be reluctant to allow something presumptively. After all, if the new-fangled system starts leaking and does tens of thousands of dollars in damage due to flaws in the product, the manufacturer is damn sure going to try to blame the plumber for installing it incorrectly. It’s not hard to see how that could result in reluctance to go along with a new code inclusion before the system is well-attested.

    • bean says:

      Very interesting. Don’t have much to say beyond that, but I’m looking forward to the next part.

      • albatross11 says:


        There’s no CW argument to be had here, so you’re not getting a hundred comments after each post, but I’m reading and enjoying this. Thanks!

  22. arlie says:

    Personally, I think you’ve put your finger on a very real difference, but it’s one that’s been inherent to the concept of “nation” from at least when “nationalism” began.

    Let’s consider the differences between a German and an Austrian, or a German and a German-speaking Swiss. While we’re at it, let’s compare also the differences between a Northern German and a Southern German – ignoring Bavarians as Southern Germans because they were somewhat late to join Germany.

    They all speak much the same language, as does a Dutch person, except that the Dutch person’s written language is rather more different. The Northen German is of Protestant origin, matching the overall German stereotype, as is the Dutch person. The Southern German is of Catholic origin, like the Austrian. Etc. etc. In cultural ways, it’s hard to see the differences between the people of Germany and their German-speaking neighbours as all that much more significant than those between people of different German Lander (= states).

    What they’ve had historically is enthusiastic nation state that usually treated each group as different, complete with conscription, national educational systems, and a whole lot of government propaganda, that converted them from seeing themselves primarily as Berliners, or Prussians, or other small scale identities, to this one particular level – neither larger (all German Speakers) nor smaller.

    Thee was a period in (European) history when nationalism was the in thing, and while it started as being about “peoples” – which would be more like “all German speakers” – and led to areas like Germany and Italy actually generating states containing large proportions of those linguistically German/Italian, instead of a job lot of tiny states – it then got co-opted by governments to mean in effect a-sense-of-being-part-of-this-political-unit and loyalty to that unit, the latter even when drafted into its military. (Mass conscript armies were also just beginning around this time.)

    At any rate, that’s why the OP probably thinks of themself as American, rather than a Californian, or a Bostonian, or for that matter as belonging to wherever their ancestors came from.

    It may be that this social current is waning, and people are heading towards getting their primary identities elsewhere. Certainly plenty of countries that originated as lines-drawn-on-a-map by occuppiers haven’t done very well at engendering attachment and loyalty to those nations, among people whose primary loyalty was already elsewhere (e.g. their tribe). But the US came through the same development phase. (OTOH, they had to resort to several years of war to keep their country from splitting in two, which suggests that the nation-building process hadn’t worked all that well, compared to e.g. Germany.)

    That would certainly fit well with hand wringing and anti-immigration political parties in all these countries, distressed about newcomers. Maybe none of these countries have the ability to assimilate newcomers any longer. But personally I doubt it.

    Now from where I sit, loyalty to an arbitrary nation state makes precious little sense, unless my membership in this state is a good deal for me – and even then, it might be rational to freeload, taking the benefits without paying for them, especially if the payment involved e.g. being sent off to fight some war in SouthEast Asia (I came of age right after the Vietnam war.) But I’m not good at loyalty to and identification with sports teams, or my current employer, or most other popular groups people identify with and root for. So I’m thinking that’s just me. (And even in my case, decades as an expat, and cut off from internal poltical conflicts, has moved my position on this dial to one more identified with my nation.)

    I think people are still happy to identify with groups, and if nation states continued to encourage that identification in the ways that were effective in forming many modern “western” natiions, the system would go on working just as well as any other. And the US and Australia farther demonstrate that common ethnic origins are not required – all that’s needed is immigrants being welcome in the local melting pot. (And they need not be very welcome, as with the Irish after the potato famine.)

    • Aapje says:

      They all speak much the same language, as does a Dutch person


      • Lambert says:

        Even North and South German are said to be mutually unintelligible.
        The West Germanic languages are on a continuum, from the Hochtest of Hochdeutsch in the Alps, to Dutch and Frisian on the North Sea.

        • Creutzer says:

          This is correct if you look only at the regional dialects. But take into account that almost everyone in Germany and Austria also speaks more or less strongly coloured, but mutually intelligible varieties of Standard German. Not so in the Netherlands.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Some nuance to add to this narrative though is that nationalism didn’t start in Germany, but in Britain, the US and France, countries which on the wake of the 19th century lacked any kind of cultural, linguistic, or even religious (for Britain and the US) or ethnic unity (for the US). The nationalism that formed in these countries was thus necessarily a *cultural* nationalism — the nation was a cultural group one assimilates into regardless of their ethnic origin.

      It’s then in Germany that the view of an ethnic-based nationalism developed and eventually prevailed, but this wasn’t without debate nor difficulty, the cultural position also had its German proponents, supported by fact that at the time both the German and Austrian Empire included millions of non-germanic citizens.

      The ethnic view eventually prevailed in Germany, but even then the process of nation-building required some serious cultural leveling among the German-speaking people: as other have mentionned above me, Low German (spoken in Northern Germany) is quite different from High German (spoken in Central and Southern Germany).

      Because Standard German is based on High German dialects, the use of dialects remained acceptable in the South, as it was felt to be no big impediment to literacy in Standard German (and to this day, the High German dialects indeed still have millions of speakers, for whom Standard German is effectively a second language). Low German however, because it was too different, had to go, and was then thoroughtly stomped out in favor of Standard German as the sole acceptable language in all situations (in spite of its cultural heritage as the language of the Hanseatic League), and today is all but moribund.

      On the other hand, Austria pushed a soft cultural view of nationalism until its last years, as a desperate attempt to counter the growing ethnic-based nationalism of its increasingly restless minorities.

      Italian nationalism was relatively late, but it was also always cultural, even in the days of mussolinian fascism, because Italy didn’t have much of claim for any pre-existing unity either, and in fact the boundary of the Italian nations were almost entirely based on the accidents of geography — what not many realise with Italy is that the cultural, linguistic and even ethnic gap between the North, the South and Sardinia is huge, it is bigger than the similar gap between France and Spain.

      Even though the peninsula is dominated by Romance languages, they belong to three very distinct sub-branches of Romance (in fact Sardinian is so divergent that some linguists consider that the primary division within Romance is between Sardinian on one hand, and every other Romance language on the other). The description of many of these languages as “Italian dialects” is misleading and more a tool of propaganda than anything (Italian fascists went as far as calling *Maltese* an Italian dialect — Maltese is a divergent dialect of North African *Arabic*, which just happens to be written in the Latin alphabet and have a lot of loanwords from Italian).

      Like in France and Germany, the “unity” of Italy was achieved by the imposition of a single standardized language which already had quite a footing among educated elites due to its use as a local lingua-franca.

      Ethnic-based nationalism had a much better field trip in the Balkan states, which indeed often achieved fairly homogenous, united population — at the coast of decades of ethnic cleansing to “rectify” population distributions that used to be much more fragmented and patchworky (and even there the imposition of a single rigid standard language at the expense of local dialects played a significant role).

      In a reverse image of the above, Turkey really strived for a cultural rather than ethnic-based nationalism, but ended up resorting to ethnic cleansing and genocide anyway, as the only way they deemed sufficiant to extirpate Armenian nationalism from their territory.

      Russia oscilated between cultural and ethnic-based nationalism depending on the period, and sometimes with policy varying geographically from one region to the next, though the general tendency has often been “cultural in theory, in practice if you’re not ethnic Russian kindly stay in your designated reservation”.

      • Lambert says:

        I find the whole concept of nationalism and its relation to the state fascinating.
        People seem not to examine too deeply the fact that the state of France, for example, is populated by Frenchmen who speak French etc. when this state of affairs is actually governed by the whims of history and deliberate cultural engineering.

        The idea that had the 19th c. gone a little differently, Germany might have included Austria, with all the implications on the balance of power with Prussia.
        Or that India is in some ways supranational (One writer described it as an empire), with its many ethnolinguistic groups.
        Or the border areas, like South Tyrol and Alsace-Lorraine, where nationality is torn between two groups.

        • arlie says:

          Yes. I avoided using France as my example, because of its long history of imposing uniformity, particularly in language. I’m Canadian, and our French developed from the same set of French variants (more or less) but without the same push for homogeneity from the government.

          Germany and Italy at least had strongish movements for unity of a “people”, before they had a state capable of imposing unity of culture.

          It may be that the way to create nationalism is in fact to push for uniformity, probably forcibly. Of course you also have to make assimilation possible – it doesn’t work for those who remain permanent out groups within the ‘national’ culture.

          That would certainly make most modern liberals unhappy about the whole project. We don’t like punishing children for speaking their birth language, let alone e.g. enforcing particpation in the rituals of the culturally appropriate religion. We’re unhappy about any cultural particulars that assign social roles based on what we see as accidents of birth. etc. etc.

          OTOH, we seem to be massively tolerant of e.g. advertising. The US is weak on enforcement of Christianity currently – but really really strong on pressure to participate in “consuming” advertisements, carrying tracking devices, and publishing minutiae on social media, while constantly checking for favorable reactions. This conveys a culture – though one of movies, sports figures, and advertising jingles – that’s pretty well shared. It conveys values and aspirations too.

          Social reactions remain important enough to drive people, particularly children and teens, to suicide. We manage to make and enforce major cultural changes, like the current idea that children (up to 18?) should essentially never act independently, or be outside of the presence of adults – “normal parenting” has become “child abuse” within my lifetime. People share a lot of culture. Maybe the biggest difference is that it mostly isn’t government pushing uniformity, and it doesn’t stop at most national boundaries.

        • Aapje says:


          I think that you are too easily equating ‘pushing for uniformity’ with punishment.

          There are many ways to increase uniformity without punishment. For example, one way in which many countries push for uniformity is to demand that every kid is taught (in) the national language in school.

          This results in the rather obvious unifying element that is a shared language, so everyone can talk to each other (while allowing people to also speak other languages).

          Interestingly, the Dutch globalists are increasingly giving up on this, although not in a immigrant vs native way, but rather in globalist/elite vs localists/commoner way. They do this by voluntarily and forcibly making English the official language for their schools and for most universities.

          They see this as making their kids more able to connect with other cultures, ignoring the rift they are creating with many within their own country. They see themselves as benevolent do-gooders, but are seen by many localists as the Romanovs: an elite so divorced from the common people that they don’t even care to speak the same language.

          The risk of globalism is that the adherents confuse their selfish and elitists tendencies that harm others for behavior that aids others, resulting in an unwillingness to address the needs of the downtrodden. In Russia, this led to the execution of the Romanovs and so strong a desire for change that there was enough support for disastrous revolutionary change.

          Maybe the biggest difference is that it mostly isn’t government pushing uniformity, and it doesn’t stop at most national boundaries.

          The ease of travel greatly outstrips the level of uniformity, though. There are many places with very different uniformity than in the West, for example, they may mostly condemn gay people harshly.

          What happens then if those people migrate to the West, perhaps in groups that they mostly interact with each other and perhaps even define their identity as being different from the locals?

          IMO, one of the greatest faults of the globalists is the idea that the culture that is so attractive to them, is equally attractive to everyone else. Most of them seem to continuously be surprised (and not learn) by how migrants can cling to their culture for a very long time and sometimes in ways that are very harmful to the locals.

        • Machine Interface says:

          @ Aapje

          “an elite so divorced from the common people that they don’t even care to speak the same language”

          It’s an interesting trait of the nationalist era that today such a situation is seen as an absurd anomaly, when in fact, for 95% of human history and outside of very small polities like city states, this used to be the norm.

          Granted, that kind of situation often “rectified” itself organically, with the language of the elite progressively trickling down to the peope, or the elite progressively adopting the language of the people — until the next language replacement event brought about by the next wave of conquest or the next appearance of a hot new lingua franca.

          I’ll grant too that the nationalist equation “1 country = 1 people = 1 language” (there are a few successful violators of this principle, but I’ll conceide they seem to be the exception more than the rule) is a source of stability at least in the middle run, but a look at history makes it unclear that such an equation can be maintained for very long — all the while it primes people to see the “intrusion” of a “foreign” language as a bad, dangerous thing, whereas in fact it might just be part of the normal flow of history.

          It also pushes to conflict in countries that have been multilingual from day one, by making people see pre-existing linguistic minorities as intruders that should switch to speaking the majority language only or leave — you can see this even in functional liberal democracies like Finland, where the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of the Swedish-speaking minority are increasingly being chipped at under the pressure of Finnish nationalist parties (some of which call for an outright ban of the Swedish language).

          (It’s worth noting that Fenno-Swedes don’t see themselves as “Swedes in Finland”, but as “Finns who speak Swedish”; they share more culturally with the rest of Finland than with Sweden, they learn Finnish in school along with Swedish, and their Swedish is a specific dialect that is actually not well understood when they travel to Sweden anyway).

  23. Le Maistre Chat says:

    As I mentioned last OT, I’m offering to run a game of Dungeons & Dragons for people here. I want to run an Old School campaign, where combat is resolved quickly even with minions and we get back to the story, PCs can die but not from the rocket tag of 3.5, and leveling up requires gold and training.

    There are two settings I could do:
    1) The Known World of the Basic/Expert line, running you through a hex map sandbox with the low-level B modules on it before moving on to more dangerous adventures. Your motivation to loot adventure sites in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos (a Byzantine-flavored country but with a feudal system – “So Russia?” – quiet, you.) Would explicitly be to fund your studies (or piously donate, for a Cleric).
    2) Historical fantasy in the real world’s late Bronze or early Iron Age. This possibility would have to be further broken down into a choice of early (1525-1475 BC) or late (After the Collapse) and several starting countries (Egypt, Greece, Cappadocia…)

    Also, I would appreciate any advice from anyone who’s done this before on what software to use and things to do to make an online campaign run smoothly rather than be bumpy and die.

    • Nornagest says:

      I vote for historical fantasy. No preference for starting time or location.

      I don’t have any advice off the top of my head for software, but I’ll hit up my network and see who’s done stuff like this before. Watch this space.

    • Erusian says:

      Are you aware of Glorantha and Runequest? It’s an old but still updated/ongoing RPG world that is set in a bronze age world with a unique take on magic. There’s also the heroquesting mechanic where heroes ritually act out myths to gain certain benefits, which is a super interesting and unique mechanic imo. And it’s complicated because the myths don’t agree with each other! I’ve been trying to find a Glorantha campaign for a while and it seems like it’s up your alley.

      Anyway, I’d be up for it regardless. I’d choose historical fantasy. Personally I’d like that we’re a Mycenean Palace on a decent sized island. A new anax has come to power (maybe a PC?) and we begin by engaging in standard low-level heroic warfare a la the Illiad. Then the Sea People start coming, local powers start acting erratically as they react to the disaster, the giants begin lashing out against smaller powers to increase their own security, and ruins start popping up all over the place to be dungeon crawls. Maybe this is when magic starts popping up: the rational world coming apart as the previous order does too.

      We have to both protect our own society from raids and seek out power to protect ourselves, all while dealing with the entire world collapsing.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Are you aware of Glorantha and Runequest? It’s an old but still updated/ongoing RPG world that is set in a bronze age world with a unique take on magic. There’s also the heroquesting mechanic where heroes ritually act out myths to gain certain benefits, which is a super interesting and unique mechanic imo. And it’s complicated because the myths don’t agree with each other!

        I am aware of it but have never played in it. I’ve also read Mircea Eliade, so I know exactly where the designer was coming from.
        (Mircea Eliade was a professor of religions whose unified theory was that the purpose of rituals is to take us out of profane, worthless linear time and into the “real” time when gods acted. This can be seen in everything from Australian Aborigine ceremonies to Catholic Mass, and he further clarifies purported belief changes of world-historical import between foragers, primitive civilizations, and the Hindu tradition on the one hand and the Judaic on the other.)

        Glad you’re in! You, Nornagest, other interested parties: please send me a message at lamaistrechatte at yahoo dot commie so I have your emails.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I’m not particularly interested, but I can give some advice on interface, which is primarily dependent on your preferred method for traversal/combat. If you really want to hexcrawl, roll20 is not great. Maptool will work, but requires investment of time. So will Vassal, but that’s like… even more maptool than maptool. I wouldn’t know, I’ve grown to hate grids.

      Things to do for an online campaign – set a meeting time and be ready to dump players if they don’t show up. Playing OSR/other little-known systems gives you a leg up, since your game can now be a game that other people *have wanted* to play.

      Make a GM screen equivalent – you won’t realize how hard it is to refer to notes on a computer until you try it.

      HAVE A SESSION ZERO AND SET EXPECTATIONS. IF YOU AGREE ON EXPECTATIONS (like reading the rules, rolling up a character, etc), EXPLICITLY ASK YOUR PLAYERS IF THEY HAVE FOLLOWED THROUGH. BECAUSE THERE IS LITTLE SOCIAL CONTACT OUTSIDE THE GAME, PLAYERS WHO DO NOT FOLLOW THROUGH ON THINGS THEY HAVE AGREED TO WITHOUT GOOD REASON OR PRIOR NOTICE SHOULD NOT BE TRUSTED. In normal games, people will continue to attend out of inertia sometimes, even if the game doesn’t exactly meet their expectations. Online, inertia is in the direction of attrition, not retention. Players who are not engaged can, for this reason, kill your game before it starts. On a similar note, check in with players individually regularly; you can’t easily tell if people are getting bored/unhappy online compared to in real life.

      Encourage someone to take notes on what’s happening and share the document with other players; this lets you know what they think is happening and provides continuity.

      Finally, most OSR content is, as I understand it, amenable to Open Table format gaming. If this is something that interests you, I encourage you to consider it.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Thanks a bunch!

        I figured I could put a DM screen panel-standy thing next to the laptop while running and possibly even roll physical dice for secrecy. And the hex map doesn’t need to be in the program, I wouldn’t think: just ask the PCs which of the 6 directions they want to travel in and read what’s of interest there off my map key.
        Session Zero and individual follow-up: got it.
        Encourage a note-taker: got it.
        I am amenable to Open Table format and want to run Session One with a minimum of four players so we can survive dropping someone who doesn’t stay committed to Two.

        • Skivverus says:

          On the hex map front, having it in the program lets the PCs look to see (or refresh their memories) of where they want to go, rather than you (re)describing it every time, and maybe leaving things out from the directions they didn’t realize they might want to go.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          FWIW, I have a discord server I have set up for the game; I roll private dice in the GM channel the players don’t have access to or PM RPBot. Because I play BRP, which has no modifiers, this works quite well. Roll20 also allows rolls only visible to specific players.

          I’d encourage Discord overall, actually, IFF you don’t need a grid-map; channels are really good for segregating in-game and out-of-game talk, handouts, private messages, party splits, and the like. Maptools can be used in conjunction, but at that point roll20 is probably better.

    • DeWitt says:

      I would enjoy playing, and can offer advice of a few years as well. Timezones might be an issue, though; at what time, roughly, did you think to run this?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        We’ve been discussing this in email, and we’re homing in on either Saturday afternoons (starting before 5 PM EST) or Friday evenings PST but early enough to accommodate EST players, if that needle can be threaded.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        @DeWitt, Dack: join the email group by messaging lamaistrechatte loopy-a yahoo period com if you’re in.

    • Dack says:

      1st edition?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Actually the streamlined Basic/Expert/etc line made in parallel to 1st Edition. All-in-one book would be the Rules Cyclopedia (free retroclone is called Dark Dungeons) or its retroclone Adventurer, Conqueror, King.

  24. TotallyNotElonMusk says:

    Has Elon Musk really gone off the deep end or is there some kind of 8-dimensional chess strategy where appearing to have gone off the deep end has a positive end-game for him ?

    • Nick says:

      You forgot to say “Asking for a friend.”

    • Douglas Knight says:

      By being banned from running a public company, he will achieve his goal of taking Tesla private.

      When the dust settles, he’ll probably just have spent a hundred million to find out whether the SEC still exists. That’s pretty valuable information, so that was a cheap purchase, even if it looks bad ex post.

      The future belongs to those who know how to wield twitter. Expect to see lots of public figures appear to have meltdowns as they test-drive it. Some of them will drive it off a cliff.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I haven’t followed that closely, but I did listen to parts of the Joe Rogan interview and know about the SEC tweets: It doesn’t look like he is going off the deep end so much as he has dropped his filter, which happens when people are running themselves ragged. He does have some natural issues that this is exacerbating, he seems to have a bit of the savior complex, and with that comes a natural paranoia about persecution and that will get him in trouble with a public company.

    • TotallyNotElonMusk says:

      How does calling the British cave diver a pedophile and getting sued for it work into that ?

      • Matt M says:

        I feel like this was kind of a “defensive” move, in the sense that he was being publicly attacked and ridiculed for the “crime” of offering to design some machine to aid in the rescue – when some cave diver managed to do the job just fine.

        So he countered with “lol fine just trust a pedo to do it then.” Which is childish and immature and in poor taste, sure. But it’s not like it came out of nowhere.

        • CatCube says:

          So he countered with “lol fine just trust a pedo to do it then.” Which is childish and immature and in poor taste, sure. But it’s not like it came out of nowhere.

          I dunno. If you were to use an example to define an “attack out of nowhere” the same way you use one to define “chutzpah” you’d be hard-pressed to do better than this. “Your idea is bad and technically infeasible, and you’re stupid for suggesting it!” “Yeah, well, you must diddle little boys!”

          • Tarpitz says:

            It’s not exactly out of nowhere: it’s a generic slur to levy at Anglophone expats in Southeast Asia. It’s like accusing a Welshman of interfering with sheep, or a Cornishman of incest. Baseless, but not out of nowhere.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      May I postulate an alternative: He has been in over his head for a long time and is more qualified as a hypeman than as CEO of America’s most valuable car company.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think Musk is great for generating ideas, great for having “hey, suppose we dug a transatlantic tunnel” type blue-sky ideas, and great for whipping up enthusiasm and selling those crazy notions.

        Where he is not so great is sticking with it; after a while he gets bored of the dull, routine nitty-gritty that you have to slog through to be a successful business (and not just a Thomas Edison-style genius inventor churning out new amazing gadgets in your garage) and he goes on to the next Big Idea. Tesla, however, is past the crazy-notion stage and is now in the dull routine stage of gearing up to be an actual automotive production plant on a mass-market scale, not small-scale limited-edition/kit car style production, and that’s something he’s not cut out for. For something like that, you need the safe pair of hands, bean counter, business suit type, not the maverick genius Space Jesus Gonna Save Us All (as I’ve seen the reddit mockery say) type.

        Hence the getting bored, getting anxious because you’re insisting on remaining in tight control and now your feet are being held to the fire over getting the damn thing up and running, getting into a new social circle with mid-life crisis girlfriend, getting off your face on the fun party substances that running with her gang introduced you to and getting into ridiculous stunts on Twitter.

        • CatCube says:

          Even Edison is famous for the dictum “Invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Yea Edison is a great example of how ideas are only small parts of real company success. Google wasnt the only search engine.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Edison was in fact an expert at the dull, routine, nitty-gritty (or at least was an expert at hiring people to handle it for him). He had factories producing the entire electrical vertical from power generation to light bulbs, and did it so well some of his companies survive to this day.

          Musk, apparently not so much, though better than the original Tesla.

    • Well... says:

      What’s the basis of the question? I don’t really see anything all that radical about the way Musk behaves*, unless your baseline comparison is TV cliches about how boring white guys who run companies are supposed to act.

      I’ve known a few super-intelligent, highly energetic and motivated people, some of whom have started multiple companies, and they all kind of talk and act in some variation of the way Musk does.

      *Nor, by the way, am I convinced that he inhaled.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        He had a deal going with the SEC, and blew it apart at the last minute, and now the SEC is suing him.

        The SEC has a lot of power here. It’s a stupid move. Even though he’s high-status and unlikely to go to jail, why pick fights you cannot win? Does he think the world will be better off once he puts the SEC in its place? (I can imagine, in the abstract, that the SEC is too powerful and the world would be better off if it had less power, but surely this ranks way below things like colonizing Mars or ending greenhouse gas emissions.)

        As I said on other threads, I’m a fan of Musk’s, but he brought all this trouble on himself.

        • Well... says:

          I do not count myself as one of his fans, but I do find him rather fascinating. He gives me strong “plays 8-dimensional chess and is good at it” vibes.

      • John Schilling says:

        What’s the basis of the question? I don’t really see anything all that radical about the way Musk behaves

        Getting into public pissing matches with your stockholders, really is kind of radical for the CEOs of publicly-traded companies even if you don’t do it in a way that incites the wrath of the SEC. Ridiculing “stupid” questions at shareholder meetings, calling out short-sellers as treasonous scoundrels, almost nobody does this sort of thing, almost nobody ever profits from doing this sort of thing, and I don’t see how it can further any goal Musk might have beyond feeling good at the moment.

        I’ve known a few super-intelligent, highly energetic and motivated people, some of whom have started multiple companies

        Publicly traded companies? Because that’s a completely different environment, and it’s not actually very intelligent to ignore the blowback that you’ll get from the stockholders and the SEC if you treat them as annoying insects distracting you from your grand vision.

        Also, I’m pretty sure every entrepreneur in Silicon Valley could have come up with some sort of lame-ass cave rescue techno-gadget concept if they’d wanted, and then started insulting the actual rescuers of telegenic stranded children when they wouldn’t stand down and wait for you to do it your way. But Elon was the only one fool enough to go and do it.

        And, as ES notes, throwing away a deal with the SEC.

        This really does look like poor impulse control, coming into view under high stress.

        • Matt M says:

          Ridiculing “stupid” questions at shareholder meetings, calling out short-sellers as treasonous scoundrels, almost nobody does this sort of thing

          Enron used to do this all the time! Weird how we haven’t heard much about them lately!

        • Tarpitz says:

          It looks like an argument over doughnuts with Neal McBeal the Navy Seal, is what it looks like.

  25. Aapje says:

    What if English was phonetically consistent? (4 minute video with a proper pronunciation of English).

    • johan_larson says:

      English really could use more vowels. The Swedes had the wisdom to add three to their supply; they just tacked them on to the end of the alphabet. But English seems content to trudge along with five or six.

    • TotallyNotElonMusk says:

      “Hold our Bordeaux” – The French.

      • Machine Interface says:

        French spelling is more consistent than English at least when it comes to spelling vowels. There are relatively few exceptions and digraphs and diacritics make up for the higher number phonemic vowels than avalaible orthographic vowel signs.

        The killer is when it comes to final-consonants-that-are-often-but-not-always-mute-and-you-can’t-know-in-advance-before-seeing-the-sentence, but that would be a lot quicker and simpler to fix than whatever English spelling is doing with its vowels.

    • johan_larson says:

      Anyone who values simple, clear spelling enough to emigrate over could always move to Finland. Dead simple spelling.

      Any other options? Korean usually comes up. How does Dutch do?

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        In Spanish, every word is pronounced exactly how it’s spelled, without exception. Latin & Greek, too, since they invented their own orthography. In all three languages, if you can pronounce a word, you can spell it, and vice-versa. I don’t know any other languages well enough to comment.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          In Spanish… if you can pronounce a word, you can spell it

          Not quite. The correspondence is much tighter than in English, but there are often multiple ways to spell a Spanish word. For example, soft c makes the same sound as s, and hard c makes the same sound as k. So even if you know how to pronounce the word “casa” (house), you don’t necessarily know not to spell it “kasa” instead. Likewise, h is (usually) silent, so if you spell “hablar” (talk) the obvious way (“ablar”), you spell it wrong; you just have to memorize that the verb for talking has a silent h at the beginning for no apparent reason. This caused me no end of trouble when I was in elementary school in Peru.

          • Nick says:

            you just have to memorize that the verb for talking has a silent h at the beginning for no apparent reason.

            A lot of tough words/spellings are easier to remember when you know an adjacent language; Latin’s often helpful here. I don’t think it would much help with hablar, which apparently comes from fabulare, though.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            So even if you know how to pronounce the word “casa” (house), you don’t necessarily know not to spell it “kasa” instead.

            Does Peruvian Spanish have the letter “k”? I speak Spanish as a second language, so I’m by no means an expert, but the only times I encounter k in Spanish is in foreign loanwords. Otherwise I thought it was hard c all the time.

            I had totally forgotten about the silent initial h, though.

          • albatross11 says:

            cero, ser
            burro, vaca
            llama, ya
            hora, oro

            So not perfect, but still way, way better than English.

          • Lillian says:

            Note that in official Spanish b and v as well as ll and y have different sounds. In particular, ll is a consonant sound while y is a vowel sound. However most Spanish speakers usually default to using the b sound for v, and either the ll or the y sound for both ll and y.

          • A1987dM says:

            Also, b and v.

            OTOH, AFAICT the reverse is not the case: given a spelling you can always deduce the pronunciation. (Is this right?)

            (In Italian, there are a few pronunciation distinctions which are not reflected in spelling, but they all have very low functional load.)

            soft c makes the same sound as s

            In northern and central Spain they are different (but soft c is still the same as z).

          • A1987dM says:

            @Chevalier: dunno about Peru, but off the top of my head in Argentina for some reason usually it’s “kiosco” rather than “quiosco”.

          • A1987dM says:

            @Lillian: You’re right about LL and Y, but even in Castile B and V are both pronounced as stop at the beginning of a sentence or after a consonant and both pronounced as a fricative after a vowel.

          • Lillian says:

            In the Spanish i know, some people do distinguish between v and b according to how it’s written. So they will generally pronounce vuelo, viento, vela, and voz labiodentally, while pronouncing bomba, bueno, and bien bilabially. The tendency seems strongest amongst well read educated people, rather than part of any specific dialect. It seems to me that the most common usage is indeed to not distinguish between b and v, but educated people are more likely to be aware that there is supposed to be a distinction, and so alter their pronunciation accordingly.

            Hell as a child i knew someone named Valenetina, and there was some mild argument as to what the correct pronunciation was. Her own mother, who named her, never showed any preference in that she would randomly switch between the two. While her father and Valentina herself always used bilabial, neither minded if others used the labiodental pronunciation. Teachers almost always used labiodental, but didn’t put much effort into correcting Valentina’s own pronunciation. As for myself, i almost always called her Balentina, but sometimes would switch to Valentina because it felt more correct.

      • albatross11 says:

        Spelling in Spanish is very simple. I can pretty reliably hear an unfamiliar word on the radio and find it with my first guess of how it should be spelled. Accents can be a little tricky, and it’s not a perfect 1:1 mapping between sounds and letters (h is silent, ll and y sound alike, r and rr aren’t always clear to me from listening), but it’s enormously better than English.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          In addition to those complications, there’s the interchangeability of b and v, and the way that, when one word ends with a vowel and the next begins with one, they get merged into a single, slightly lengthened vowel or a diphthong as the case may be. I’ve found that the spelling gives you the sound almost infallibly, but getting from the sound to the spelling can be surprisingly difficult.

      • Aapje says:

        I found this interesting article which discusses this issue and some of the complexity. For example, you can have the issue in two directions:
        – one clear pronunciation of a word/sentence
        – one clear spelling of a sound

        Italian and Spanish seems to be good in both directions, while French seems to have a clear pronunciation, but no clear spelling of a sound. English is poor in both directions.

        I think that a major reason is the anarchist nature of the English-speaking world in this regard, as many other languages have had serious spelling reforms, but English not so much.

        There is also this forum thread where people discuss the consistency of Germanic languages. Dutch seems to rank quite high and English low.

        • beleester says:

          Hebrew does really well in one direction (if you see an unfamiliar word written, you can sound it out with almost no trouble), but not in the other (silent letters, a few letters with identical sounds, and a lot of vowels with identical sounds).

          The one exception to “if you see it, you can read it” is the kamatz katan, where a kamatz is pronounced “oh” instead of “ah,” but more recent prayer books will print the two differently to make it clear.

          • 10240 says:

            Hebrew does really well in one direction (if you see an unfamiliar word written, you can sound it out with almost no trouble),

            That’s only true if niqqud is used, isn’t it?

      • Well... says:

        German is pretty consistent.

      • Matt M says:

        I’ve noticed some young English people on twitter have started using “a” instead of “I” when describing themselves, which is delightful to me as I can now read an English accent…

    • fion says:

      Is English atypical in this regard? I would have assumed you could make a similarly nonsensical video for other languages, but not knowing any other languages I’m speaking from a place of ignorance.

      Weirdly, I thought that pronunciation of English sounded a bit like a cross between a Jamaican English accent and a Swedish English accent.

      • Machine Interface says:

        @fion & johan_larson

        There’s quite a wide variation in spelling complexity among the world’s languages. Here’s an attempt at a quick ad hoc classicassion (excluding Japanese and Chinese for reasons I’ll explain further ahead)

        1) Transparent or almost completely transparent spelling, both writing and reading can be learned in 10 minutes (for someone who’s already literate in another language). This usually language that have not been written for a long time, didn’t have (or still do not have) a literary standard until recently, have recently been through an ambitious spelling reform, or even a complete change of writing system, or generally had quite flexible spelling that readily adapted to pronunciation changes until recently.

        The majority of the world written languages are actually in this category, *but* most of these languages will be minor languages with only national or even sub-national importance only (although there are exceptions). Examples include Finnish, Hungarian, Basque, Turkish, Albanian, Armenian, Georgian, Hindi, Vietnamese, Indonesian/Malay, Zulu…

        2) Spelling system that are often not straightforward, but in a way that nonetheless is relatively easy to learn and doesn’t suffer many exceptions. Here we start to find languages with long literary traditions that have had significant spelling reforms in their history, have generally had a tradition to keep spelling simple, or simply have not been through really important phonetic changes that would damage the sound/signs correspondences too much. This also includes language where the spelling is not that standardized and thus where the choice between different graphies is more a matter of personal preferences, thus “proper spelling” is a much looser concept

        Here we start to find more major languages, although there’s still many minor ones in that category too: examples include Italian, Spanish, Romanian, German, Swedish, Icelandic, Scots, Czech, Polish, Korean…

        3) Spelling system with significant quirks, which can be due to hapharzardous standardization (all the ways to write a given sound weren’t fully united), idiosyncracies of the writing system or language itself that make transparent spelling impossible from the get go, or a language whose spelling hasn’t been reformed in quite a while (but was relatively well behaved originally).

        There a lot less language here, and they all have long written traditions, even if they’re not necessarily major languages. Examples include Dutch, Irish, Russian, Arabic, Persian, Greek, Bengali, Occitan, Khmer…

        4) Spelling system where neither reading nor writing is remotely transparent, with both a lot of rules and a lot of exceptions. This is usually languages with long literary traditions, that already had fairly complex system to begin with, often with a writing system inadequate to write down all the sounds they possess, and then either haven’t had a spelling reform for centuries or what spelling reforms they have had where shy and far behind the changes in the spoken language, often having entire sections of spelling dedicated to grammatical rules that are no longer extant in the spoken language but must still be written.

        This is actually relatively rare, but it just so happens that two of the languages concerned have between themselves ruled over 3/4 of the world for a brief period of time. Examples include English, French, Thai, Tibetan…

        Then there are a logograms. The way I see it, logograms are kind of a separate axis to spelling itself. This was more evident in the Bronze Age and Iron Age, where writing systems that used logograms were a lot more common, and so you would have gotten more of a continuum between languages that used few logograms and and languages that used a lot.

        Today that continuum is largely gone, as the only major languages that use significant amount of logograms are Chinese and Japanese, whereas most other language use almost none (but not zero — symbols such as the numerals 0 to 9, arithmetic symbols, &, $, @, # in fact qualify as logograms).

        That said, just comparing Chinese and Japanese is enough to show that even with closely related writing system, logographic languages can vary just as widely in orthographic complexity as non-logographic ones.

        Chinese writing, once you get past the “I have to learn hundreds of hanzi to be able to read at all” mental block, is actually surprisingly straightforward. Each symbol represents one syllable, and crucially, each individual symbol always represent the same individual syllable — if you know a symbol, you know how it’s pronounced. And if you don’t know a symbol, it’s not like the correspondence between symbols and underlying syllable is arbitrary — most symbols are made of two parts, one that gives you a clue about the symbol’s semantic, and another which tells with which other more common symbols it rhymes, so it is actually sometimes possible to guess the meaning and pronunciation of an unknown symbol (provided one is sufficiently advanced in the spoken language).

        This is the result both of the rather specific linguistic structure of Chinese (where virtually all morphemes are morphosyllabic) and various reforms occuring at different points of the history of Chinese, which generally aimed to strongly standardize writing and eliminate variant forms where possible.

        Japanese, on the other hand, in spite of deriving its writing system directly from Chinese, is a completely different story. The problem is that the linguistic structure is completely different from that of Chinese. Whereas in Chinese morphemes are monosyllabics and there are almost no inflections, Japanese is rich both in multisyllabic morphemes and in verbal and nominal inflections, which meant that adapting Chinese writing to Japanese was going to require significant modifications.

        Japanese borrowed Chinese characters in three distinct ways:

        1) As phonic symbols, used to spell out Japanese words regardless of the original meaning of the Chinese hanzi. Overtime, the graphic shape of these symbols considerably simplified, and after a number of reforms, it eventually resulted in a parellel system of two syllabic alphabets, one used mostly to write native Japanese inflections and a number of common native words, and the other used to transcribe onomatopoeia and foreign words of non-Chinese origin.

        2) As semantic symbol, used to write Japanese words with a similar meaning, but regardless of the original pronunciation of the Chinese Hanzi. This means that many symbols find themself writing words of 2, 3 or more syllables, breaking the “one symbol = one syllable” principe of Chinese. To complicate thing, the same symbol could often be used for different Japanese words with completely distinct pronunciations but closely related meanings.

        3) As loans, preserving both the Chinese meaning and pronunciation (mangled through Japanese phonology, which is quite different from Chinese as well). This was further complicated in that the same symbol was often borrowed several times with different pronunciation, corresponding to different Chinese languages/dialects or different historical period of the Chinese language as the source.

        The result of this, in spite of a number of symplifying reforms, is an extremely complex system where each single character can have half a dozen pronunciations and meanings, or more, in addition to the concurent use of two syllabic alphabets for specific sub-sections of the language.

        It’s interesting to note though that this kind of complexity is actually fairly typical of what used to be found in Bronze Age and Iron Age writing systems — as far as logographic systems are concerned, it’s actually Chinese which constitutes an anomaly for how uncharacteristically straightforward it is; the writing systems used by the Maya, the Sumerians or the Egyptians worked in many ways like Japanese (although they are all unrelated to it).

        • bean says:

          That was very interesting. Thanks.

        • fion says:

          Wow! Thanks for your reply. I found it very interesting indeed. 🙂

        • Lillian says:

          The result of this, in spite of a number of symplifying reforms, is an extremely complex system where each single character can have half a dozen pronunciations and meanings, or more, in addition to the concurent use of two syllabic alphabets for specific sub-sections of the language.

          This does, however, allow the Japanese to pack a hell of a lot of meaning into a single word of phrase. Manga authors are frequently fond of this, to the point of making multi-level, and occasionally multi-lingual puns. Yagami Light’s name, from Death Note, is one example.

          Bleach has a ludicrous amount of these. A few examples: There’s a group of beings called the Vaizādo which sounds like the English word “Visored”, and it means “Masked Army” in Japanese. Another group, who are basically the thematic inverse of the Visored, are called Arankaru, which sounds like the Spanish “Arrancar” meaning “To tear off”, and in Japanese it means “Ripped Mask”. The Arrancar use a power called Iero, which sounds like the Spanish “Hierro” meaning “Iron”, and in Japanese it means “Steel Skin”, it makes them super tough. They can travel between dimensions using portals called Garuganta, which sounds like the Spanish “Garganta” meaning “Throat”, and in Japanese it means “Black Cavity”. There’s a lot more but you get the picture.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        [Edit: Ninja’d substantially by Machine interface, but original comment is as follows:]

        Is English atypical in this regard?

        Apparently it’s not the literal worst, but I understand it is still pretty bad – most languages that I know a bit of have at least somewhat more predictable spelling rules. Some are well-behaved in both directions (i.e. if you hear a word spoken, you can generally predict how to spell it and vice-versa) – Finnish is very well-behaved, and I think Italian too, though I’m less familiar with that. Some are well-behaved in one direction only, e.g. Polish or Portuguese, where if you see a word written, you can pretty much be sure of how to pronounce it, but if you hear it spoken, there could still be several possible options for how to spell it – and Polish at least has an extremely consistent stress pattern (and Portuguese is at least helpful enough to explicitly mark with an accent if the word does not follow the usual stress pattern). Bulgarian has very phonetic spelling once you know where the stress falls in a word, but the stress is something you can’t predict and just have to know. But it’s still better than English.

      • 10240 says:

        Others have mentioned a few languages where there is an almost 1:1 correspondence between spelling and pronunciation; I’ll add Hungarian and Italian.

        Can anyone add a language as bad as English in this regard? French is quite bad but still a bit more regular in the spelling -> pronunciation direction; in the other direction it’s utterly unpredictable what silent letter(s), if any, a word has at the end.

      • John Schilling says:

        Is English atypical in this regard?

        English suffers in this regard from having looted vocabulary from pretty much every other language on Earth. Each of those languages may have simple, consistent spelling rules, but they don’t all have the same rules. To spell a word properly in English, you need to know which language we stole it from in the first place and you need to know that language’s spelling rules. Or you just need to memorize it.

        • SamChevre says:

          To add to the chaos, English tends to adopt foreign words with their foreign spelling, then slowly move the English pronunciation. French does the opposite: it adopts the foreign pronunciation, but re-spleels it in French.

          Don Quixote is pronounced as in Spanish (kee-hoe-tay), but quixotic has kept the spelling and shifted the pronunciation (kwiks-ott-ik). Coyote is in the process of changing; the coy is still kie, but I’m as likely to hear kie-oat as the Spanish kie-oh-tee.

          The capital of Poland is Warsawa (var-sah-vuh) in Polish. In English, it’s spelled almost the same, but pronounced very differently. In French, it’s pronounced similarly, but spelled very differently (Varsovie).

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Having heard quixotic spoken aloud only a few times, I assumed that the people pronouncing it kwiksottik were mispronouncing it and that it was properly keehoetic – I still read it that way in my head.

          • Randy M says:

            The various pronunciations of V and W between, say, English and German make me strongly suspect dyslexia among some key translators in the past.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            The capital of Poland is Warsawa (var-sah-vuh) in Polish
            Actually, Warszawa (var-shav-ah) – it’s pronounced even more differently than you thought.

            Also, wow, I have been getting ‘coyote’ wrong my whole life – I’ve always thought the first syllable was pronounced ‘coy’, that the ‘t’ was unvoiced, and that the ‘e’ was universally pronounced, but literally all the English speakers on Forvo pronounce it ‘ca-yo-die’ or, even more surprisingly, ‘ca-yoat’. Spelling pronunciation is a powerful force.

          • Machine Interface says:

            Randy M >

            From what I can gather, originally neither English nor German had a [v] sound, they both had [w] sound variously written as uu, w or ƿ (Old English only).

            English developed a [v] sound as a variant of [f] (cf Old English “wulfas” modern “wolves”), and mostly went along with the French usage of writing that sound as “u/v” (originally variant of the same letter).

            In German it is the [w] sound that turned into a [v] (with [w] itself disappearing), some time after the mid-14th century. Since the change was more thorought, “w” was kept as spelling.

            This is further complicated in that concurently to that, in some German dialects, initial [f] turned to [v], but this change was largely reverted in the *spoken* standard language, but not always in the written ones, hence you get spellings like “vier”, (Old High German “fior” = four), pronounced with an [f].

            Languages that subsequently were significantly influenced by German tended to have the “w” = [v] spelling (as in Polish) as well.

            The troubles start when English borrows words from German, because here depending on when and who made the borrowing, you can either get a pronunciation that artificially reflects the spelling (“it’s spelt ‘w’ so it’s pronounced [w]) or on the contrary a pronunciation that tries to stick closer to the German prononciation and ignore the spelling discrepancy (“it’s pronounced [v] as in German, even if it’s spelt ‘w'”).

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Winter Shaker

            “Coyote” in the northeastern and midatlantic US (and probably also the midwest) is ca-yo-die or ca-yo-tie or ki-o-die or ki-o-tie (hard to distinguish; there’s really a glide between the first two syllables and who knows if the flap is voiced or not). Definitely not “coy” anything. The two-syllable pronunciation is stereotypically Southwestern, and there’s more cay-otes out there.

          • Deiseach says:

            In French, it’s pronounced similarly, but spelled very differently (Varsovie).

            Oh! Hence the dance, the Varsovienne?

        • Winter Shaker says:

          In case anyone hasn’t seen this, you may enjoy it: an algorithm that derives the pronunciation of English words from their spelling, apparently with about 85% accuracy.

        • 10240 says:

          Another problem (I think) is that in the last few centuries, for the most part English hasn’t changed its spelling to keep up with changes in pronunciation — and the spelling of the same letter( group)s hasn’t quite shifted in the same way in every word.

  26. Matt M says:

    Has anyone else noticed that despite this being OT 111.25, the URL for the page is 110-25-2?

    What is Scott trying to pull on us here?

    • CatCube says:

      That’s been happening a lot recently. I’m wondering if there’s a script in the background creating pages wrong somehow, and a new one needs to be created with a new URL to avoid clashes.

    • Nick says:

      It likely comes from copying the 110.25 thread, with WordPress attaching “-2” to the url.

  27. Urstoff says:

    Some works of fiction repay repeated readings and even reading various critical commentaries on them (Moby-Dick, the Iliad, certain plays of Shakespeare, and various other “canonical” books). Are there any novels written in the 21st century that warrant such attention? This question is partly inspired by a recent list of what might be the “new canon“, but also by my suspicion that MFA programs have decreased the variance in the quality of literature (while perhaps increasing the average quality). Melville would likely have been drummed out of an MFA, at any rate.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Well, modern works will necessarily require much less critical commentary than ancient works, as long as they are read by their contemporaries, who are familiar with all the prerequisite zeitgest by virtue of living in the same time period. There’s no reason to expend much energy on a critical commentary of say, “The Road”, because the themes are already transparent to most prospective readers *now*.

      250 years from now, who knows.

      • Urstoff says:

        Plenty of the critical commentary on the classical canon isn’t historical/cultural contextualization. But perhaps being in the same cultural milieu does prevent a certain kind of criticism because works seem more transparent (though in actuality they might not be). Plus different eras value different things. These days, I’d say “David Copperfield” or “Bleak House” is considered to be the most important Dickens works, although in the late 19th / early 20th century, “The Pickwick Papers” seemed to hold that place.

      • Nick says:

        This is something I’ve thought about for a while—whether or how much we overrate the cleverness of a work because of the cleverness and diligence required today to figure out what would then have been more obvious.

    • J.R. says:

      I don’t have one. 2666 came to mind, since it’s big and dark, like some in the canon, but it’s a masochistic ride for a reader, with 350 pages dedicated to matter-of-fact descriptions of women’s murders. It is almost anti-entertainment.

      Late Roth will probably receive the most study: The Human Stain and Nemesis are both great, with the former also capturing the rise of the culture war. Though I really enjoyed The Corrections, I don’t think it will stand the test of time.

      1997 is just before the new millennium, but it was a great year for American literary fiction: DeLillo’s Underworld and Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon were released, and are in my opinion the best work either of those two produced. Infinite Jest was released in ’96.

    • gbdub says:

      What characteristics, in your mind, make a work of fiction worth repeated readings? Worthy of critical commentary?

      I’ve reread multiple Neal Stephenson novels, but mostly because they are entertaining and dense enough that I don’t remember every detail years later. But I don’t really feel like Stephenson should be “canon’.

      I’m not sure “new canon” can be emphatically declared for anything reasonably contemporary. The real trick of “canon” is to remain relevant/impactful decades or centuries after the fact, and that’s obviously not something that can be judged in the moment.

      • Urstoff says:

        To me it’s a completely informal criterion: that a work can support critical elaboration. Can many interesting things be said about the work over and above a straight reading of the text? I think we have pretty clear examples of works that qualify (Homer, Shakespeare, Moby-Dick) and works that don’t (random, low-quality pulp/genre paperbacks); there is also a huge grey area of works that we don’t know whether they can bear critical elaboration simply because no one has bothered to try (for any number of social/economic/cultural reasons).

        • Machine Interface says:

          I don’t know that this is a really solid criteria. There are several people that have produced really elaborate critical analysis of the Twilight Saga, for instance. Even a book almost universally regarded as disposable trash can still provide the raw material for a commentary on the values and culture that produced such a book.

          • AG says:

            Exactly as Machine Interface says.

            “works that don’t (random, low-quality pulp/genre paperbacks)” is doing a hell of a lot of work here, as well as a huge underlying assumption of what comprises “critical elaboration”.

            The likes of Harry Potter and Naruto have spawned infinite transformative works and fandom meta, some of which have been compiled and published. HPMOR itself is a whole lot of HP critical elaboration re-jiggered back into a fictional form. This kind of thing is rooted in Buffy Studies, or exactly extending critical elaboration to pulp material:

            And there is the theory that the quantity of fanfiction and fandom meta and such produced for a particular source material isn’t based on the tightness of the material, but the opposite correlation. Source material that leaves a lot of holes (character, plot, theme, world-building) for people to fill in produce the corresponding amount of material addressing them. Similarly source material that is less specific applies to a wider range of “universal themes” that can be elaborated on.

            Nowhere is this made most apparent by the fact that someone made a Youtube series investigating the Bays Transformers through most film studies interpretive lenses. That the films are messy and of dubious quality only makes them even riper for analysis from all sorts of angles.

            In particular, I’ve hypothesized that a certain amount of mediocrity is actually critical to longevity. Doctor Who’s dubious quality has been key to how long it has run, allowing for a higher rate of production, having some really memorable blunders, offering a starting point for improvement, moderating expectations so that they’re less likely to be disappointed, and avoiding other factors that have sunk other more critically acclaimed shows. Once a certain inertia has been achieved, then the fandom self-sustains through the good and the bad, confident that another golden age will occur. (See also comics)

          • J.R. says:

            @Machine Interface and AG:

            You are absolutely correct that any cultural work can support critical elaboration. What separates those that are canonical – or works that are worthy of study as such — is the aesthetic quality of the work itself. The work has to reward the reader’s investment of time and careful attention. My favorite part of reading a novel is the thrill of reading a well-crafted sentence, where precise meaning is evoked by a beautiful turn of phrase.

            I’d also like to add that the fanfiction market exists also because replicating the writing style of the original (usually YA fiction) is quite easy for the layperson. Gravity’s Rainbow has a ton of holes, but there are very few out there that could do a credible Pynchon imitation.[1]

            [1]: I’m aware that there are exponentially more people who have read Harry Potter than have even opened Gravity’s Rainbow, but my point still stands.

          • AG says:

            Unreproduceability is an orthogonal standard to quality. In contrast, the best narrative innovations are invisible or at the least lose uniqueness because they are so effective that they are widely adopted. At one time, zippy prose that evokes the pacing of visual media was novel. Young people liked that, so YA fiction is full of that kind of prose, these days. Some may believe that the best prose is the one so evocative of experience that it renders itself invisible, with only the experience remaining. Zippy YA prose can accomplish that. Indeed, the enduring strength of the Harry Potter fandom seems to indicate that, for many, J.K Rowling’s prose accomplished that.

            But, also, aesthetic quality is actually subordinated to popularity. Even in the case of canon works that were un-appreciated in their time, they only eventually became canon because at some point later in history, someone championed the work until it attained a level of popularity around the literary circuit. Plenty of works of equivalent aesthetic quality from the same period languish, just because they didn’t have that one dogged advocate.

            And that popularity matters to the quality of the critical elaboration, in rolling effects. Sturgeon’s law applies to analysis, so the works with the most inertia and greatest hits inevitably stem from the works with the greatest engagement. As my previous comment argued, the presence of lacuna are actually necessary to provoke the greatest amount of engagement.
            Shakespeare’s works continue to provide endless commentary partially because there’s so much previous analysis to springboard from, refract through. The social butterfly effect indicates that there may indeed be other plays with the same level of aesthetic quality content, but that the critical quality of Shakespeare’s plays was ensured by their popularity.

            Basically, I’m not convinced that canon works are ever actually special in their quality. But I take this in the poptimist direction: that there are actually way more works that are just as good for me to enjoy.

            (But also, you’ll find plenty of disagreement on the quality of canonical works by plenty of aesthetic standards. Lots of them are slogs to read. One man’s “beautiful turn of phrase” is another man’s “things that should be removed from The Brick in all adaptations.”)

            Why has the concept of the Canon only caught on with certain mediums, and not others? Do we really need more “Top 100 X” lists, when tastes are as diversified as they are today?

    • Well... says:

      I suspect a lot of people would nominate books like 1984 and Brave New World. Maybe Ayn Rand’s two famous novels.

      I reread Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and its sequel, Lila, every few years, and always find doing so rewarding. Each time I reread them a new cluster of thoughts opens up that occupies me for months or longer. Though I’m not sure they can be confidently classified as fiction…they’re more sort of…fictionesque.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Are you asking for literature that’s likely to echo through centuries or through millennia? Shakespeare or Poe or David Foster Wallace?

      If the latter, Kafka on the Shore is likely to be a book that’s remembered for a long time, as is much of Murakami’s work. Cormac McCarthy has been writing well, and is also likely to be remembered. But no, I don’t think we’ve had a Big Culture-Defining Deal yet, and I also don’t think that’s likely to be a result of how writers are educated; they just don’t seem to occur often enough.

    • AG says:

      I feel that extra-fictional elements are far more influential on a piece’s rereadability that most think. Shakespeare provides new gems again and again because of the way his words and phrases infiltrated the language and history happened with historical people who were influenced by his works. The tail continues to propagate itself, further increasing the things a reading of the text can relate to.

      I talked about Buffy Studies above. But new readings of Buffy can continue to emerge precisely because the show’s success drove the careers of everyone involved (and I mean everyone, from actors to crew to fans alike), building an infinite six-degrees web of further analysis fodder (including Whedon and his favored actors’ affinitiy for Shakespeare, heyo!). The same quantity of readings and repeat consummability simply cannot be made for a text with a smaller historical footprint, such as Winner of Best Picture Oscar No One Cares About Any More.

      Ironically, one of the most rewatchable things ever came from stripping meaning out of a story and replacing it with sheer sincerity of the surface elements: The Wizard of Oz. Pretty much all new derivative works of it choose to work off of the MGM film, with no pesky political allegories.

      As such, the most rereadable piece of writing in the 21st century is probably the Navy Seal Copypasta. That, or the opening paragraph of My Immortal.

    • AG says:

      Worthy 21st century Discworld novels include Thief of Time, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, all of the Tiffany Aching novels, Night Watch, Monstrous Regiment, Going Postal, and Making Money.

      (Others would probably include Thud!, as well. The Truth was published in 2000, so depending on your definition of 21st century it might also make the cut.)

    • Tarpitz says:

      Of the linked list, I wholeheartedly endorse The Goldfinch and The Amber Spyglass as worthy of re-reading and critical analysis. Wolf Hall I enjoyed hugely, but I’m less certain it has the right qualities to support serious study.

      Among plays, Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem is the clear standout of the century so far.

  28. Nornagest says:

    Most of the fandom for it seems to hang out on mailing lists, for some reason. The best way to get a feel for it is to go to and poke around in the archives at random for a while. (You might find some posts by our very own Gwern — he’s a big-name fan there.)

  29. SamChevre says:

    Congratulations, Your Study Went Nowhere: an interesting article on issues related to publications, significance, and replication, by Aaron Carroll at The Incidental Economist. Seems like an SSC-ish article to me. For bonus points, the example he uses is anti-depressants.

    Only half of the research was positive. Almost no one would know that. Even thorough reviews of the literature would find that nearly all studies were positive

  30. John Schilling says:

    Being an American means being committed to the well-being of the greatest nation in history; the nation which defends all that is good and decent in the Free World and which is the world’s last, best hope for a better future. And, at a more personal level, it means counting on the United States Government and the American people for their support in one’s efforts to make a better future for one’s friends, family, and self.

    I think this works for pretty much everyone who is a US citizen and/or calls themselves an “American”. It’s just that there are some increasingly hostile disagreements over what constitutes “great” and “better”.

    • Guy in TN says:

      I think this works for pretty much everyone who is a US citizen and/or calls themselves an “American”. It’s just that there are some increasingly hostile disagreements over what constitutes “great” and “better”.

      I’m an American, and I disagree with your statements so strongly, that I initially mistook them for sarcasm. You might want to reevaluate.

  31. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Suppose that at some point in the future, Roe v. Wade has been overturned, allowing states to ban abortion. The court that did so is still sitting, but progressives control the presidency and the legislature. Would there be a viable Constitutional objection to a federally-run network of abortion clinics, justified under the FDR-broadened Commerce Clause and exempt from State restrictions due to the Supremacy clause? What if this were implemented as part of a federally-run public healthcare system?

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I think there would be ways to structure such a system, yes. Likely you would use facilities located next to VA hospitals or the like.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      If the courts follow precedent and the Constitution, it should be perfectly fine.

      Have you ever noticed that federal vehicles driving on the highway often don’t have license plates? The drivers don’t even need to have driver licenses. That’s the supremacy clause at work.

      But my first sentence is a big “if.” What if the Supreme Court were to hold that the Constitution forbids the federal government from offering abortions in states where it is banned? Or what if the Supreme Court were to hold that the Constitution forbids the state and federal governments from offering abortion? This would be a break with precedent and an example of judicial activism, but so was Roe v. Wade in the first place.

      • CatCube says:

        Have you ever noticed that federal vehicles driving on the highway often don’t have license plates? The drivers don’t even need to have driver licenses. That’s the supremacy clause at work.

        As a matter of fact, I have not noticed that. All the non-military GOVs I’ve seen have GSA plates. Military vehicles will have bumper numbers to identify them, though they aren’t plates as such. To drive off the installation, you need a state-issued drivers license as either a military or civilian, though I’ll admit that I don’t know if that’s legislative law or military policy.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          You almost certainly have seen non-military federal vehicles without license plates.

          Operated by the US Postal Service.

          • CatCube says:

            Fair enough. The last time I saw postal service vehicles on a regular basis was when I was living in the sticks, where the mail carrier used their POV. I’ve not noticed the plates or lack thereof on the little USPS-specific vehicles.

    • BBA says:

      Expansion of the Hobby Lobby doctrine maybe? Spending public funds on activities that are against an individual taxpayer’s religious beliefs is a violation of either the Establishment Clause or the Free Exercise Clause, or both. Note that Hobby Lobby itself was limited to nice normal religions like Catholicism and crackpots like the Jehovah’s Witnesses couldn’t take advantage of it.

      (As I’ve said before, I think most constitutional law is invented on the spot, and nobody has any coherent principles at all.)

      • BBA says:

        …oh, and obviously if the decision that overturns Casey relies on “life begins at conception” as a rationale, that means no abortions anywhere in the country regardless of what Congress does. I consider this a very remote possibility.

        • albatross11 says:

          Federally funded abortion clinics is like the fondest dream of every Republican fundraiser in the country. You might as well give them printing presses and let them print up their *own* hundred dollar bills.

        • TotallyNotElonMusk says:

          Regardless of what Congress does ? – Wouldn’t a constitutional amendment saying ‘life begins at birth’ take precedence ?

          • Deiseach says:

            Wouldn’t a constitutional amendment saying ‘life begins at birth’ take precedence?

            Then you’d get arguments over what constitutes “birth” – is it merely when delivery begins, when the foetus (not yet a baby, remember!) is all the way out of the birth canal or three-quarters out or nearly out except for the head, or is it when the umbilical cord has been cut and the baby is now a baby and independent of the mother? When the first breath has been taken?

            And if you think that wouldn’t happen, remember: when arguing for its legalisation, contraception was never, ever going to be used by unmarried couples and abortion was never, ever going to be used as birth control.

          • Nornagest says:

            Wouldn’t a constitutional amendment saying ‘life begins at birth’ take precedence ?

            You need a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress and ratification by 38 states for that, and you’re not going to get it.

            Or a constitutional convention, which I actually think is slightly more likely at present, but I doubt you’d get an amendment on abortion out of it.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I can’t see a merely definitional law such as a “life begins at birth” amendment having much of an impact, since nearly all of the laws having to do with the taking of life are state laws. The amendment would need to positively assert a Constitutional right to life, and to be incorporated against the states.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          An interesting sidenote to that: Robert Bork arguing against constitutional protection of the unborn (preceded by someone arguing the pro side, ctrl-f Bork to get to his reply)

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Hobby Lobby was based not on the First Amendment but on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would (ETA: probably) no longer exist in the scenario given.

        • BBA says:

          Couldn’t the court just reverse Employment Division v. Smith (as applied to nice normal religions anyway) and read the provisions of RFRA into the First Amendment?

          • Evan Þ says:

            as applied to nice normal religions anyway

            Or “as applied to religions which were present in the US at the time of ratification of the Constitution (and let’s ignore the Native Americans’ belief systems because they don’t count.)” Yes, I’ve really heard people argue that those’re the only religions that’re covered by the First Amendment at all.

  32. Thegnskald says:

    A thought I have been bouncing around for a while:

    Could the prehistoric release of substantial carbon dioxide have been a necessary precursor to further life on Earth? That is, if that had not happened, would carbon dioxide levels have fallen to the point that the ecosystems of the world collapsed and resulted in a barren world? Certainly it appears the long-term trends have been towards ever-decreasing atmospheric CO2.

  33. JPNunez says:

    Ok guys, who wants to predict whether The Hague court decides on monday for Chile or Bolivia on Bolivia’s demand over Chile’s promises to negotiate an exit to the sea.

    Basically Bolivia says that Chile has promised to negotiate an exit to the sea several times, and hasn’t actually done so, Chile says that Bolivia has left the negotiation table the last few times it has come up and that they cannot be forced to negotiate if the end of the negotiation is decided beforehand.

    biases: I am Chilean, tho I’d be open to negotiate an exit, given Bolivia pays up.

    e: a small summary

    • John Schilling says:

      The Hague and what army?

      How many battalions has the Hague got?

      Because Chile does have an army, with sixty-one battalions, and transfers of significant sovereign territory between nations by any means other than armed conflict are I think basically unheard of in the modern (post-WWII) era. The UN and its subsidiaries like the ICJ basically don’t do that sort of thing, when they try it comes to shooting anyway, and I can’t imagine they are going to want to risk war between Chile and Bolivia and whatever suckers they can get to represent ICJ authority in this.

      Formalization of the arrangement where Bolivia gets tax-free access to the Chilean port of Arica, and an admonition to go back and negotiate some more until this goes away (i.e. stops being reported in the newspapers because nobody even pretends the negotiations are going to change anything), is the most I would expect. The ICJ saying “give Arica to Bolivia” and Chile saying “OK, sure”, I do not expect will happen.

      • JPNunez says:

        I think the Hague does not give as much of a fuck about Chile/Bolivia as it does for Israel/Palestine.

      • Salem says:

        Yes, examples are rare as hens’ teeth. France was told to leave Saar, Iraq and Saudi Arabia partitioned the neutral zone, and that’s about it. There’s probably a couple I’m forgetting, but even so.

      • Machine Interface says:

        “transfers of significant sovereign territory between nations by any means other than armed conflict are I think basically unheard of in the modern (post-WWII) era”

        Depends on exactly what you mean by “significant”. Saudi Arabia and Jordan did exchange 6,000 square kilometers (2,317 square miles) of land in 1965 — it was mostly desert territory, but Jordan initiated the exchange specifically to gain 12 kilometers (7 miles) of additional coastline on the Red Sea.

        But the rarity of such an event only furthers your point.

      • Aapje says:

        @John Schilling

        The ICJ requires consent by all parties involved before the court will judge on the case. So nations accept being judged by the ICJ in advance.

        If a state then refuses to implement the judgement, it violates article 94 of the United Nations Charter, which the UN Security Council can enforce. So the ICJ has to thread carefully, staying within the bounds of what the Security Council considers legitimate and being fair enough so countries are willing to consent to having the ICJ judge their dispute.

        You seem to be confused about how (parts of) the UN work. This institute happens to be hosted in The Hague, but it is not an institution that is run by the city of The Hague. So it’s not about the power that The Hague can project, but rather what the Security Council can do.

        • John Schilling says:

          You seem to be confused about how (parts of) the UN work. This institute happens to be hosted in The Hague, but it is not an institution that is run by the city of The Hague. So it’s not about the power that The Hague can project, but rather what the Security Council can do.

          OK, this is just plain insulting. Do you really think that I am stupid enough to believe that the metropolitan government of a minor city in Holland is the relevant enforcement authority here? “The Hague” is a common shorthand for the nexus of power and authority centered on the International Court of Justice, it was introduced to this discussion in that context by JPNunez, and I was mirroring his usage.

          I understand quite well how the United Nations works. I’m not clear how your thought processes are working in this matter. But, to clarify:

          How many battalions does the United Nations Security Council have available for the purpose of supporting ICJ judgements?

          • Aapje says:

            My issue was that your comment doesn’t make much sense under any good faith reading that assumes a decent understanding of how things work. The Security Council has the countries with the largest militaries as permanent members, as well as a huge amount of soft power (if they actually agree on something and are willing to put the effort in to make it happen). For small things like border disputes between two relatively insignificant nations, they are more likely to employ (very) soft power or ignore it, rather than send an army.

            However, if the Security Council cared enough and accepted the consequences, they could send a huge army, just like the US could send a huge number of troops to get China to lower their tariffs, subsidies and the value of the yuan. Of course the US won’t do that, even though they can, just like the UN could send an army to enforce ICJ rulings, but won’t (because they are typically relatively minor cases, because the truly major ones escalate to the Security Council right away).

            It is not sensible for Xi Jinping to respond to US trade demands with an insinuation or claim that the US has a lack of military power. Doing so would entirely miss the point because the trade conflict is not fought with armies and in fact cannot be fought that way without enormous consequences. The US could have ten times or a hundred times as many battalions as they do now and they still couldn’t get their way in the trade conflict by sending those battalions to China (because of the massive undesired consequences).

            Similarly, your insinuations and claims that the ICJ is powerless due to a lack of military backing is nonsensical. When taken literally, the ICJ does have armies behind it. When looked at realistically, it’s beside the point, just like for the US-China trade conflict.

            Your focus on the lack of direct control over a military by the ICJ is like arguing that the American police is powerless against serious resistance by citizens because of their limited weaponry and training. Yet when shit hits the fan, they can get help. If you taunt the US police from within your armored compound for being weak, they may feel bad. If the US government feels sorry for them, M1A1 Abrams tanks may show up and make you feel bad. As a whole, the US government can wield huge military power if they choose so, just like the UN can.

            Of course you can question how willing the UN is to employ (military) power to enforce ICJ judgments and argue that they aren’t taken seriously because they are very reticent. However, it’s not because the UN doesn’t have the battalions or other means of enforcement. The issue is willingness to enforce.

            By arguing that the ICJ/UN is unable to enforce, rather than unwilling, your response was either intentional demagoguery, exploiting the biases and/or lack of understanding by your readers (many of whom probably confuse the ICJ with the ICC even though they are quite different); or you yourself are confused in a major way.

            I chose to give you the benefit of the doubt to assume you were being ignorant, rather than demagogic, but you now seem to insist that I must see you as deceitful.

          • John Schilling says:

            but you now seem to insist that I must see you as deceitful.

            OK, we’re done here. And, I think, everywhere else.

          • Incurian says:

            Be nice, you two.

          • Aapje says:


            That didn’t go very well. Let me explain why I disliked your comment in a different, hopefully clearer way:

            I think that most people are very uninformed or misinformed about the various courts in The Hague, including most people who read these comments on SSC. I agree with you that “The Hague” is a common shorthand, but I would argue that it is a short-hand that leads to categorization errors.

            For example, it is/was very common to refer to both the ICC and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as “The Hague,” which already causes confusion because these are independent courts that are different in very significant ways (for example, ICTY was established and granted jurisdiction by the UN, while the ICC was established by treaty and has to be granted jurisdiction by individual nations). By also using the term “The Hague” for the ICJ, this problem becomes worse still, because now three very different and independent tribunals get labeled the same (note that there is at least one more court in The Hague (PAC), which is significantly different again from the other courts mentioned).

            My second problem is that the accusation that “The Hague” lacks an army and similar accusations are commonly made for the ICJ (including by various American politicians, who threatened to invade). This accusation makes some sense in that the ICJ is established by treaty and thus lacks backing by a ‘world government’ in the form of the UN. Of course, one can argue that the ICJ decisions are often not enforced, but unlike the ICC, the ICJ does have an enforcer, which is a separate entity to the ICJ. So their choice when to enforce is not something that you can blame on the ICJ (or ‘The Hague’), but rather on the security council (or ‘New York’).

            Yet I’ve never seen anyone say “with what army” when talking about the security council or ‘New York.’ So apparently people tend to recognize the difference between having an army and being reluctant to use it. This led me to the conclusion that you were almost certainly misinformed, because your claim seemed to me to strongly imply a claim that there is no (single) enforcer at all, rather than the existence of a reluctant enforcer.

            Anyway, even if you know exactly what the differences are and you intentionally chose to make an irregular kind of accusation, I would argue that this is a communicative error in the sense that it will be interpreted incorrectly by most readers. If a reader doesn’t already know how the ICC and ICJ differ and knows to interpret your attack on the ICJ differently from the common attacks on the ICC, that person is most likely going to draw false conclusions and/or believe that you are confirming their false beliefs.

            Finally, I want to point out that JPNunez did not in fact introduce “The Hague” as a shorthand into this discussion. JPNunez said “The Hague court,” which is not the same thing. You changed this to “The Hague,” which JPNunez then copied from you later on. So IMO you introduced this shorthand, although JPNunez used broken English in his first comment about this, which may have thrown you off or such.

            Anyway, I apologize for being a bit aggressive and impolite & for probably typical minding too much.

          • cassander says:


            Yet I’ve never seen anyone say “with what army” when talking about the security council or ‘New York.’

            When people talk about security council action, they almost invariably mean “the US acting in the name of the security council.” the security council doesn’t have an army, it isn’t really an independent entity, it’s a creature of the membership. Because of this, one really shouldn’t talk of the security council enforcing things, especially when it comes to something like a century+ border dispute in latin america, where there is zero chance that the US is going to get involved militarily on either side.

            , because your claim seemed to me to strongly imply a claim that there is no (single) enforcer at all, rather than the existence of a reluctant enforcer.

            There isn’t one, unless you’re counting the US as a reluctant enforcer.

      • Aapje says:

        @John Schilling

        “An exit to the sea” doesn’t have to involve transfer of territory. In both domestic and international law, the right of passage is a solution to allow passage without requiring ownership of the land that one travels over.

        Similarly, one could lease land for a long period or indefinitely, like the 1903 Lease for Guantanamo.

        • John Schilling says:

          That’s the agreement Chile and Bolivia have had. Since 1904. Bolivia, deeming this insufficient, is now seeking the actual transfer of a strip of land along Chile’s northern border, allegedly pursuant to a 1975 agreement with Chile.

  34. gbdub says:

    So this is obviously inspired by the Kavanaugh / Ford case but I don’t mean to cover the specifics of that case, which is already being discussed elsewhere in the thread.

    Hoping to get some thoughts from SlateStarTherapists (or patients) on how modern therapy deals with past trauma, and if you think it does so in a way that makes memories you shared with a therapist as part of a psychological intervention fundamentally unreliable. Or are they just as (un)reliable as other memories?

    Obviously on the extreme you’ve got the controversial “recovered memory therapies”, but it is my admittedly pop culture influenced understanding is that mainstream therapies still contain some element of “find old trauma, blame it for current psychological issues, address relationship with old trauma to mitigate current problems”.

    My concern is that, since recontextualizing the old trauma is kind of the whole point, it’s impossible to do this without altering the memory itself. Furthermore, since the patient is being encouraged and “rewarded” to find sufficiently juicy past trauma to explain their current issues, there is a strong incentive to exaggerate both the memories themselves and their impact on the patient.

    Is this a reasonable concern? How does this usually play out in the legal system if it comes to that?

    EDIT: to clarify a bit, I’m not talking about therapy specifically targeted at a recent trauma and its direct fallout. Not e.g. “I was just in a plane crash help me stop having nightmares”. Rather, I’m interested in past trauma brought up as explanatory for not-obviously-directly-related current issues. E.g. “My marriage sucks” “could it be you can’t be intimate because someone abused you as a child?”

    • albatross11 says:


      I’m also very interested in this question.

      Is there good research on how well people remember things (traumatic or otherwise) that occurred long ago?

      Is there good research on how reliable memories recovered (or maybe refined) during therapy are?

    • Well... says:

      IANAT, but after listening to interviews with people who’ve been through trauma and discussed the therapy they received afterwards, it seems common to avoid pathologizing the trauma. One example was a guy who was held hostage by Somali pirates: his therapist did not call what he was experiencing “PTSD”; rather, it was more like “OK, so you’re nervous about being in crowds now [or whatever the symptom was; I forget]. Let’s address that as what it is: you feel nervous in crowds.” Etc.

      I don’t know, but I would guess the effect on memories is they’re just as unreliable as otherwise.

      • gbdub says:

        I think that falls into the first example of my “EDIT” though… it might make sense to minimize trauma when trauma is clearly what you’re hung up on. Your trauma is already pathological, and you (usually) know it – it’s what prompted you to visit the therapist in the first place.

        But what about cases where past trauma might be having a subconscious impact on your current self? It seems like in that case therapists might first encourage “pathologizing” the trauma (in the sense of assigning blame to it) so you can “cure” it, with the presumption that resolving that past trauma will improve your current ills.

        Or is that a Hollywood trope that never actually happens?

        • Well... says:

          Oh, I see what you’re saying. Yeah, I wonder if/how much that actually goes on too, and if so, whether it’s one of those “cure worse than the disease” things.

  35. Well... says:

    During especially warm periods in the Earth’s climate (e.g. during the PETM, 55 mya), it is said there were forests in the polar regions.

    What I don’t understand is this: what kind of forests can exist in places where it’s dark half the year? What mental picture should I get when I envision one of these polar forests?

    Was it just sort of like the northernmost forests we have now (from what I can tell from DDG searches, these look like some stubby pine trees sticking out of tall meadow grasses and shrubs), but lusher?

    • Another Throw says:

      Taiga extends into the arctic circle and so demonstrates that polar forests are still possible, after a fashion. But more to the point, the arctic tree line is mostly a function of temperature and the associated lack of moisture . Something-Something-Global-Warming and the tree line will inevitably move north as the pole warms.

      Consider: The temperate forest you are (probably*) most aware of shuts down photosynthesis and hibernates half the year already due to temperature. There’s no compelling reason it couldn’t (or doesn’t already?) do the same from lack of light.

      It’ll look almost exactly like a temperate forest. Because that’s what it was.

      [*] Okay, only half the US is part of the temperate forest range, and only half of that has a winter worth talking about. If you’re one of those California weirdos you’re in the wrong corner of the country to live in it, but you’ve seen it on TV all the times. ETA.

      • Chalid says:

        A temperate forest with dinosaurs!

        • pontifex says:

          A temperate forest with dinosaurs!

          We spared no expense!

          Well, I mean, aside from the cost of avoiding global warming. We did spare that expense.

      • Well... says:

        Does that mean when a deciduous forest in, say, Kentucky loses its leaves in the fall, its trees and plants cease to derive any critical amount of energy from the sun — even indirectly via other sunlight-dependent organisms/ecological processes — until all the leaves grow back in the spring?

    • ana53294 says:

      Actually, there are big problems in winter when there is a combination of sub-zero temperatures and big amounts of light energy.

      Photosystem II absorbs light photons, but it needs the downstream photosynthesis machinery to work to get rid of excess excitation. There is no respiration at sub-zero temperatures, no CO2 is absorbed, so photosynthesis is not working. Photosystem II gets deactivated, and some of the excess excitation energy turns into free radicals, that destroy other proteins present in the cytosol.

    • James says:

      Ooh, I’d like to read a story set there, especially in the dark season. Or some sort of sci-fi or fantasy analogue.

  36. bean says:

    Naval Gazing continues looking at battleship secondary armament, this time investigating early AA weaponry.

  37. disposablecat says:

    Trying to subscribe to comments again…

  38. ana53294 says:

    Tunisia is trying to implement a law so women get equal inheritance rights to men. Now, Islamic law seems to say that women should only get half as much as men. The proposed law allows families who choose to do so to give daughters a lesser share according to religious tradition, but seems to change the default so that all kids receive an equal share.

    I think whether they manage to pass this law or no will say many things about whether Islam is compatible with Western ideas of democracy and property rights. If a man only has daughters, why should he give what he rightfully earned to his brother upon his death, instead of his daughters? If he loves his daughter and son equally, why shouldn’t he give each of them an equal share? I think that property rights should also mean a freedom to gift, sell or bequeath your property to whomever you want.

    • Salem says:

      Very many Western countries do not allow the testator free control of how he wills his property. In France, for example, you are obliged to leave 50-75% of your assets to your children, depending on how many you have. In fact, forced heirship is the norm in civil law jurisdictions – Anglo-Saxon countries, with their common law tradition and free heirship, are the exception, nor the rule, in the developed world.

      It is therefore a bit much to talk about “Western ideas” of property rights here. If Tunisia continues to follow France, its former colonial master, in having forced heirship, this isn’t a rejection of Western ideas. It’s just a rejection of Anglo-Saxon ideas of property rights in favour of the (yes, inferior) civil law model.

      I am intrigued by your use of the word democracy here, but that’s a question for another day.

      • sentientbeings says:

        Along those same lines…

        The Islamic inheritance laws have been around for a long time, and could be described as being, at one point, more egalitarian than laws and customs of some European countries, which included primogeniture. IIRC, Timur Kuran suggests in The Long Divergence that primogeniture facilitated (and Islamic inheritance practices impeded) certain aspects of economic development by allowing for the concentration of capital by private interests.

        I think there are two interesting points we might learn from that. One, relevant to the discussion of compatibility, is that if Islamic countries scored higher in some category of “Western ideas” than “the West” in the not-too-distant past, the contention that they are incompatible – at least in the strong formulation – seems inuitively weak. The second point is that historical trajectories are odd things, and that the (shortest? best? likely?) path to a specific outcome (e.g. economic growth, development of market institutions, new business structures, a liberal political or social paradigm) might include some ostensibly contradictory intermediate steps.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        Just as a side note, in many English-speaking jurisdictions, a spouse has a right to 1/3 of a deceased spouse’s estate.

  39. johan_larson says:

    The NTSB recently released the findings of its investigation into a near-miss at SFO last year, where an Air Canada Airbus A320 was almost landed on a taxiway when one of two parallel runways was shut down.

    • johan_larson says:

      Some of the recommendations are a tad ambitious.

      1. Work with air carriers conducting operations under Title 14 Code of Federal
      Regulations Part 121 to (1) assess all charted visual approaches with a required backup
      frequency to determine the flight management system autotuning capability within an
      air carrier’s fleet, (2) identify those approaches that require an unusual or abnormal
      manual frequency input, and (3) either develop an autotune solution or ensure that the
      manual tune entry has sufficient salience on approach charts.

      2. Establish a group of human factors experts to review existing methods for presenting
      flight operations information to pilots, including flight releases and general aviation
      flight planning services (preflight) and aircraft communication addressing and
      reporting system messages and other in-flight information; create and publish guidance
      on best practices to organize, prioritize, and present this information in a manner that
      optimizes pilot review and retention of relevant information; and work with air carriers
      and service providers to implement solutions that are aligned with the guidance.

      3. Establish a requirement for airplanes landing at primary airports within class B and
      class C airspace to be equipped with a system that alerts pilots when an airplane is not
      aligned with a runway surface.

      4. Collaborate with aircraft and avionics manufacturers and software developers to
      develop the technology for a cockpit system that provides an alert to pilots when an
      airplane is not aligned with the intended runway surface and, once such technology is
      available, establish a requirement for the technology to be installed on airplanes landing
      at primary airports within class B and class C airspace.

      5. Modify airport surface detection equipment (ASDE) systems (ASDE-3, ASDE-X, and
      airport surface surveillance capability) at those locations where the system could detect
      potential taxiway landings and provide alerts to air traffic controllers about potential
      collision risks.

      6. Conduct human factors research to determine how to make a closed runway more
      conspicuous to pilots when at least one parallel runway remains in use, and implement
      a method to more effectively signal a runway closure to pilots during ground and flight
      operations at night.

      I wonder what the FAA will actually do about this. I suppose saying that flying is already plenty safe enough, and any extra funding would be better spent elsewhere, is really not the way to prosper in a bureaucracy.

      • The Nybbler says:

        They’re getting a bit too specific. This sort of thing has happened before with parallel runways. Number 3 is probably technically do-able, navigation is precise enough today and you could make it so that when a runway was out of service, lining up with it would also alert. But is it worth the cost?

        Number 6 seems probably the most bang for the buck. A closed runway or a taxiway should be easily distinguishable from an open runway to an approaching aircraft, even at night.

        • johan_larson says:

          Yes, 6 looks pretty good. 2 might be worthwhile also, since it might address a broad range of problems that are mentioned in NOTAMs but often get missed by working pilots.

      • LesHapablap says:

        3/4 (cockpit runway off-centerline alerts) would be much easier to implement in the control tower. An alarm chime if an aircraft is in a certain area but not lined up with the runway could be done with a software update, and ATC could notify the pilots that they aren’t lined up. This could be done with ADS-B instead of whatever they are talking about in 5.

        Changing or adding avionics to many different aircraft types is a huge hassle and expense for something that rarely happens.

        • John Schilling says:

          (FAA after forcing an avionics upgrade on fifty thousand aircraft): D’Oh!

          Seriously, this sort of thing is a big part of the reason federal agencies make their rulemaking open to public comment before changing regulations. I’m not clear on whether this is still in the NTSB’s court or over on the FAA side of the net, but do you want to tell them or should I?

        • LesHapablap says:

          My impression is that NTSB recommendations are routinely ignored by the FAA unless they are practical, and if FAA wanted to implement then FAA would be the ones to do industry consultation.

          Looking again number 2 (human factors in presenting flight planning information to the pilots) is something the major airlines already do very well. IANAAP however.

  40. johan_larson says:

    The most distant human-made object is the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is currently some 20 billion kilometers away. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to retrieve Voyager 1 within 10 years. How will you do this?

    • baconbits9 says:

      As in get it back to earth in 10 years, or catch up to it withing 10 years, or catch up to it with a vessel that can return it to earth in 10 years?

      • johan_larson says:

        Get it back to earth in ten years.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Put me in the “I don’t think you can do this” camp. Voyager was launched 5 years after Pioneer 10 and it took 21 years to overtake it. Just to catch up to Voyager in 5 years would require traveling at almost 10 times it speed, which Wikipedia has at about 17 km/s, so around 170 km/s if we launch today, and that only gets us halfway, then we have to turn around.

          So I guess the only way would be if voyager had some maneuverability left in it and we could communicate and tell it to change course and put it in line with the orbit of a comet that will eventually be close enough to earth that we can land a probe on it and send some fragments back, totally failing at the intent of the mission and probably not working even within the limited scope either (are there any fragments even left? Are their any comets we could get in the way of?).

    • JPNunez says:

      Is this even physically possible? Even matching its speed AND THEN reversing it would require massive ammounts of fuel to do it in 10 years

      I am gonna to throw my hands up in the air and invest all my budget into:

      -a replica of Voyager 1
      -A few satelites and probes that can I can position into blocking communication with Voyager 1
      -Some v good PR guys, and some money to fake a mission
      -Putting the replica onto space and then bringing it back


      • JPNunez says:

        If you really wanted to do this, you’d have to fill up some heavy thrusters in space. You could check if Elon Musk actually has the tech for this ready.

        You cannot really trust into slingshot maneuvers cause it took Voyager 1 like 4 years to do it that way.

    • Lambert says:

      Does it have to be all of Voyager 1, in a single piece?
      Rendezvous maneuvers are an awful lot of effort.

      Edit: I’m leaving the relevant orbital elements from the JPL website here for safekeeping.
      Epoch = 1/1/91 00:00:00 ET
      a = -480,926,000
      e = 3.724716
      i = 35.762854
      OM = 178.197845
      o = -21.671355
      M = 688.967795

    • fion says:

      The guy who writes xkcd considered this task a few years ago (I think he was writing in 2013 but I can’t be sure).

      He didn’t have the “within ten years” constraint, though.

      To do it in ten years we need to catch it in five years. At that point it’ll have gone another couple of billion kilometres. Call it 24 billion km. To go that distance in five years we need to go at 153km/s. Normally we’d use gravitational slingshots to get something going fast, but we are starting now and we’ve only got ten years. I’m not going to check, but I suspect our chances of Jupiter or Saturn being in the right place at the right time are small. (EDIT: this turns out not to be a significant problem. See below.)

      After we’d caught up with and matched speeds with Voyager 1 we would attach our rockets to it to bring it back. In order to turn it around and get it up to our “5 year speed”, we’d need about 2*10^21kg of fuel, just using the rocket equation and assuming 4km/s exhaust velocity. (EDIT: this assumption came from here and it’s really the killer. If we hand-waved some future tech with higher exhaust velocity we might be able to make the mission conceivable, if not plausible.)

      Trying to slow down our small-moon-sized rocket to match speeds is much worse, though, because we need to slow down 2*10^21kg of fuel ready for the turnaround. This takes about 10^36kg of fuel, which is a million suns.

      And we need to speed this all up in the first place. (I was about to say, “not to mention escape Earth’s gravity” but our “rocket” is a trillion times bigger than Earth already…) This takes 5*10^52kg of fuel. This isn’t far off estimates for the mass of the observable universe. Needless to say, the “ideal rocket equation” that I’ve been using broke down some time ago.

      I think this might be the most difficult “mission” you’ve proposed. Does anybody fancy checking my numbers? They’re so stupendous that it feels as though I must have done something dumb. Then again, exponentials are a bitch, and if you want to bring back a 20 billion km distant object in ten years you’re inevitably going to be exponentiating some pretty big numbers.

      • bean says:

        Normally we’d use gravitational slingshots to get something going fast, but we are starting now and we’ve only got ten years.

        Actually, we wouldn’t. Gravitational slingshots are less and less effective at higher speeds. They work best when the spacecraft isn’t going much above escape velocity, and do essentially nothing when it’s going 10 times that fast.

        • fion says:

          Fair enough. I guess my intuition for “fast human-made objects in the solar system” doesn’t extend to the truly ridiculous speeds we’re considering here.

      • beleester says:

        Your numbers look good, but we can definitely do better than chemical rockets.

        According to Atomic Rockets, an Orion drive using 1kt bombs (they list even bigger planned designs, but let’s not get too crazy) has an exhaust velocity of 25.8 km/s. Plugging that into the rocket equation, slowing down Voyager and accelerating it to 153 km/s will take 604,000 kg of fuel (600 metric tons). So our return stage is “only” about the weight of three locomotives.

        Unfortunately, matching speeds with Voyager means we need to slow that stage down from 153 km/s to 17 km/s. That’s another 118,000,000 kg of fuel. And accelerating that in the first place will take 44.7 billion kg.

        The good news is, we’ve gone from a rocket the mass of the universe to a rocket the mass of a few skyscrapers. The bad news is our fuel is now made out of atomic bombs. (Is there even enough plutonium on the planet to fuel this thing?)

        The thing that makes this a killer is that it’s a three-stage mission. Each stage needs to accelerate all the propellant for the next step of the mission, so the fuel needs grow exponentially with each step.

    • bean says:

      Not possible with current tech. To catch it in 5 years, assuming instantaneous acceleration, you’d need to make about 156 km/s in flat space, and the same to come back. Flat space isn’t a terrible assumption at that velocity, but you’d need to have something like Project Orion ready to go today. You’re looking at a total delta-V in the 600 km/s range. To keep the mass ratio even vaguely reasonable (arbitrarily did the math with R=10), that means a Ve of 260 km/s. Which is beyond what even Orion can do. On things we could even reasonably hope to build today (excluding fusion, essentially), there are a few systems with enough Ve, but thrust/weight is so low that they’re also not going to work. At 1 G, you’ll reach 156 km/s in 4.4 hours. At the thrust levels typical of these systems, you’d be lucky to reach 156 km/s before the 10 years expires.

      • johan_larson says:

        Hmm, that’s a pity. Feel free to discuss either how much time you’d need with present-day tech assuming truly lavish budgets or what sort of skiffy woo it would take to make it work under the original constraint.

        • johan_larson says:

          Seems like you could use lasers and lightsails for the acceleration away from earth and the deceleration getting back, but you’ll need fuel for the deceleration and acceleration on the other end of the trip.

        • bean says:

          For the second, give me a decent magnetic-confinement fusion drive, and it’s pretty trivial. Back in high school, I designed one that would make a Ve of 340 km/s wide open, and fractional-G acceleration, too. Yes, it was like 300 GW. 5 years is a long time to chase down something like that, but it’s doable.

          For the first, a medusa orion is the only system I know of that doesn’t require silly tech, and would have a high-enough Ve to pull the mission off in a reasonable timeframe. It might be able to even do the 10-year mission, although I’d want a lot of development first before we tried it.

          Re lightsails, those have pretty low acceleration. You’re back into the territory of “yes, it will get there, but not in time”. And I don’t want to have to design one to stand up to rocket acceleration, either.

          • beleester says:

            If the 490 km/sec figure for Medusa Orion is correct, then the total mass of fuel for the 10-year mission is a little over 5,000 kg. That’s tiny. You could fit that on the Space Shuttle with room to spare.

            Granted, this is fuel-only calculations, without the shock absorbers and shielding you need to make it a real spacecraft, but still. That’s some insane Ve. How does moving the drive from the back of the ship to the front make Orion like 20 times more powerful?

          • Lambert says:

            What about advanced fission designs?
            Things like nuclear lightbulbs, pulsed reactors and fission fragment engines that allow a much higher exhaust velocity than traditional nuclear thermal engines.
            Or do they not have the necessary TWR?

          • Nornagest says:

            Fission fragment engines have crazy high specific impulse but very low thrust, so they won’t give you the accelerations you need. Compare to ion engines.

            The nuclear thermal designs that’ve actually been tested, on the other hand, have only got ~twice the specific impulse of a good rocket engine, so the rocket equation ends up screwing you for this problem. You can beat nuclear thermal pretty handily with nuclear lightbulbs and similar designs, but not by enough. Orion’s potentially orders of magnitude higher than that.

          • bean says:


            Longer shock absorbers. That’s the real limiter on the conventional Orion design. That basically limits how much delta-V you can get out of a pulse, and then you’re trying to find the lightest pulse units you can. A normal Orion has, what, 10-20 m shocks? The Medusa could easily have a stroke of a kilometer or two, although probably at a somewhat lower acceleration.

            Some of it may be that Medusa isn’t as well-studied, and the Ve of these systems usually goes down with study. But in theory, it’s a much more efficient design.


            There’s a big difference between “better than NERVA” and “good enough for this”. None of those except fission fragment are within an order of magnitude of having enough Ve. And fission fragment doesn’t have the thrust for the job.

          • Lambert says:

            So nothing has both the specific thrust and the ISP for the job.
            Which, AFAICT essentially means that the limiting factor is the specific power of the engine. (being directly proportional to both Ve and specific thrust)

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          The budget is not too bad, actually. Build the fission fragment rocket, which has truly ridiculous ISP, send that. That gets your total mission weight way, way down (couple ariane fives to get the whole thing into orbit) so now your dominant cost is building a novel reactor, which.. billion dollars? There about. Going to take its sweet time, though, because while a fission fragment rocket has an isp measured in “Percentages of lightspeed” it does not have a whole lot of trust. So years of burning plutonium to get up to speed, more years to match speed, and more years still to come back.

      • Nornagest says:

        …I was going to take a whack at working out the delta-V budget for this, but I see you’ve already done it. Yeah, everything here.

    • dodrian says:

      I’m with others in the “not possible” camp.

      Under the no-timeline infinite-resources constraint, I’d accelerate the SLS program, LightSail tests, and Ion Thruster developments. We’d also need a as lightweight as possible nuclear reactor.

      I suspect we could launch in five years – the SLS should be able to bring us up to the speed of Voyager, maybe a little faster. Use the LightSail to continue accelerating until catching up, slowing down and matching speeds with the nuclear powered ion thrusters. At a wild guess we’d do than in about 50 years? Slowing down and returning to Earth would take much-much longer, even more so if we need to return to Earth in one piece (rather than just burning it up in the atmosphere – it’d be one hell of a firework show though!).

      That’s what I’d do in Kerbal Space Program at least 🙂

    • John Schilling says:

      This one is a long shot in both literal and figurative terms; bean has already explained why it’s not going to happen.

      But let’s try anyway.

      As usual, when the odds are stacked against you, you want to put everything on a single roll of the dice. In this case, I’m going to pay Vladimir Putin for a chunk of Siberia in which I can do nuclear engineering to my heart’s content, with the full support of Russia’s nuclear industry. Including about forty tonnes of highly enriched uranium. And free passage to American and European engineers to round out Russia’s expertise in this are. Objective: To design and produce a nuclear reactor of 85 megawatts electric power output for seven months continuous, weighing no more than 1,800 kg including power conversion equipment and radiators, in no more than five years.

      I have a reference from 1985 suggesting that such a power system would weigh about ninety tons with 1985 technology, or a bit over twenty tons with expected 2005 technology. A simple log-linear extrapolation suggests that we could expect 6050 kg five years from now, so 1800 kg is going to be quite unlikely. Particularly since the years since 1985 have seen precious little advancement in the state of space nuclear power systems, the field having been largely abandoned. So we’re hoping that advances in other areas of e.g. materials science and power engineering, carried over to space nuclear power, will produce gains three times greater than what we were expecting from dedicated research in this area and with only five years of focused effort.

      But this is what we will need, so we’re going to gamble on it.

      Oh, I’m also going to need a ten-megawatt ion thruster with a specific impulse of 82,500 seconds and a mass of 70 kg. That’s an order of magnitude higher Isp than any ion engine ever demonstrated, but the basic physics actually scale better at high Isp; there just hasn’t been much call for it (because of the shortage of ginormous nuclear reactors in space). So I count this a lesser miracle. Well, except for getting it to last for seven months. Also, there’s no possible way to test it on Earth, but we’ll get to that.

      In parallel, I’m going to need to put in an order with Elon Musk for sixty-six Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, one per month starting six months from now. Also some Falcon 9s with manned Dragon capsules. We’ll start with launching just big filament-wound composite tanks full of Krypton. Xenon would be better, but there isn’t that much to be had. And in about a year or two we’re going to need to put up a small space station, initially for ion thruster development and test, eventually to serve as an on-orbit assembly facility.

      As the design for the reactor and ion thruster firm up, I start ordering long-lead parts for 534 reactors and 5,340 ion thrusters. And launching truss elements, etc, for an almost 4000-ton spacecraft.

      In 2023, we go to surge mode and start launching reactors and thrusters, the fuel for which is already waiting.

      By late 2024, we should have assembled the UnVoyager I.

      The first stage, with 465 modularized reactors, has a mass of 3,445 metric tons. 46.5 gigawatts of electric power; enough to power the United Kingdom and Ireland combined (or 336 DeLorean motorcars with the flux capacitor option). 91.4 kilonewtons of thrust; enough for a CRJ-200 regional jet. Roughly 1,150 tonnes of power and propulsion equipment, 170 tonnes of miscellaneous hardware, a 12.5-tonne payload attachment fitting, and a bit over 2,110 tonnes of krypton propellant. Also, it’s going to be huge, hundreds of meters long with broad radiators and standoff booms for the reactors.

      The 507.5 metric tons of payload consist of the second, third, and fourth stages of UnVoyager I, including in the fourth stage a 250 kg avionics package and 825 kilograms of hardware for rendezvous and capture of Voyager I.

      Target launch date is 27 September 2014. Orbital mechanics really aren’t going to matter for this mission, except at the very start and finish. With an initial acceleration of 2.3 milligees, it will take perhaps three days to depart Earth orbit. A week to reach heliocentric escape velocity.

      In just over seven months, it will be five billion kilometers from Earth, travelling at 618 kilometers per second. We can jettison the first stage, and coast for ten more months to a distance of twenty-one billion kilometers

      Then we turn around and start the second stage, just like the first but scaled for sixty reactors. Another seven months, September 27, 2026, and we rendezvous with Voyager I, twenty-six billion kilometers from Earth. Once we’ve captured it and bolted it to the fourth stage, we jettison the now-useless rendezvous and capture systems – which I have conveniently budgeted to weigh the same as Voyager I itself, simplifying the math.

      Stage three, with eight reactors, boosts us back towards Earth. Another seven months, back to a “mere” twenty-one billion kilometers and coasting inbound at 618 km/s.

      Ten months’ coasting, five billion kilometers from home, and we flip to light off the fourth stage. Nowe we’re down to one reactor, a little over eight tonnes total mass, half of that propellant.

      September 27, 2028, UnVoyager I decelerates into Low Earth Orbit to rendezvous with a SpaceX Dragon carrying the recovery crew. Well, not so much “rendezvous” as drop off its payload and scoot off to a safe distance for its now-very-radioactive self. The payload, Voyager I, shouldn’t be too hot, and we can package it into a reentry capsule for delivery to the Smithsonian.

      Assuming the Smithsonian still exists, that the United States hasn’t been conquered by a Russia in which Vladimir Putin made more pragmatic and militaristic use of the ubernuclear technlogy we left behind.

      • Nornagest says:

        That was beautiful.

        Future Star Trek premises about abandoned space probes returning to haunt us would get a lot more interesting, too.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        No need for a seperate thruster system. Just make your rocket exhaust be halves of split atoms *directly* ISP; 3-5 percent lightspeed, total system power limited by your ability to radiate away ten percent of your reactors power as waste heat. Trust… not very high, but cannot have everything..

        • John Schilling says:

          Unfortunately, with a strict time limit on this mission, thrust sufficient for several milligees of acceleration is the one thing we absolutely must have. That’s about an order of magnitude better than the most optimistic fission-fragment proposals I have seen. Isp is negotiable, and we don’t need more than 0.3% of lightspeed or so (exact value will depend on how fast Gwynne Shotwell can build Falcon Heavies).

      • johan_larson says:

        Impressive work. Thank you.

        But why thrust for seven months and coast for ten each time? Why not thrust continuously each way all the way to the halfway point? You could use a somewhat lower-thrust engine, and a lower-power nuclear reactor, yielding a smaller and lighter system overall.

        • John Schilling says:

          The fuel you would burn(*) one second before the halfway point produces a velocity increment that you enjoy for a whole two seconds out of a two-year mission, making it effectively dead weight. Having to carry dead weight across twelve billion kilometers, and accelerate it to 0.2% of lightspeed, make the power problem worse, not better. This is also approximately true for the fuel you’d burn two seconds before turnover, three seconds before turnover, etc.

          Meanwhile, the fuel you burn one second after departure is essentially free, and provides a velocity increment you enjoy for the whole mission.

          If you have an SF-style inertialess thruster or magic torchship or anything else that ignores propellant limits, yes, you do continuous acceleration the whole way. Otherwise, it’s an optimization problem. With the reactor being the hardest part of the problem, I optimized for minimum power density, and came up with a ten-month coast between two seven-month burns.

          (*) Yes, “fuel” and “burn” are pedantically wrong here…

    • Lambert says:

      I think we can avoid the tyranny of the rocket equation for the final deceleration of the craft by exploiting our ability to launch things from the Earth.

      For some generic non-orion nuclear ship, what you do is launch the retrieval craft to go and fetch Voyager as normal, but with the wherewithal to dock with another vessel. While that’s happening, you build a second craft and launch it much more slowly in the direction from which the retrieval craft will return. The second craft then accelerates to catch up with the retrieval craft as it returns. They dock and either transfer fuel, or use the second craft’s engines to decelerate. This means the fuel needed to stop at Earth only has to accelerate to 600 km/s and decelerate back once, rather than twice.
      Caveat: This technically fails the Oberth-Kuiper Test, but only as a proof-of-concept so far.

      For Project Orion, you can go one better and directly launch the H-bombs into the path of the returning craft using either a mass driver or more conventional methods. It’s worth noting that at 600km/s, random matter has almost as much specific energy as low-enriched nuclear fuel. It might be viable to fire a load of space rock at the returning vessel and vaporise it with a nuke just before impact to exploit this energy. It’s uncertain whether or not this would count as lithobraking.

      I’d considered the possibility of using electromagnetic fields to slow the returning craft, using some kind of linear generator like a mass driver in reverse, but I doubt it would be possible to avoid dumping so much energy into the ship that it melts.