Open Thread 111.5: Announcements And Surveys

This would normally be a Hidden Open Thread, but it’s visible so I can make more announcements:

1. Adversarial collaborators should email me (at scott[at]shireroth[dot]org) their payment details (Bitcoin, Paypal, or preferred charity) by next Sunday. If I don’t have your details by next Sunday, I will pay the entire prize to your collaborator who did give me their details. If I don’t have either person’s details by Sunday, I will keep the money.

2. One month ago, I discussed research into carbon dioxide in bedrooms. Some commenters told me they were going to change their ventilation based on that post. If you did so, I’d like to know how it went. Please take this short survey.

3. This is still an off-weekend thread, so no culture war discussion, please. But if you want, you can take a a short survey about the Kavanaugh hearings.

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511 Responses to Open Thread 111.5: Announcements And Surveys

  1. ManyCookies says:

    A quick “Am I the only one that does this”: When you read a back-and-forth argument you’re not involved in, do you sometimes find yourself skimming/not reading the posts you disagree with and just reading the rebuttals to them? I am super duper guilty of this at times, it’s not a healthy intellectual habit.

    • quaelegit says:

      Yes. Although if I find myself doing this on a topic I care about, I take that as a sign that I need to stop reading the argument and try again when I can pay attention properly (or find other resources to learn about the topic).

    • toastengineer says:

      I tend to do the opposite, just because the arguments for are usually ones I’ve heard a thousand times before.

  2. Edward Scizorhands says:

    For those wondering about Freddie, he’s been bad but is doing better. (I don’t know him any more than you do, but came across this.)

    Remember, CW free thread.

    • John Schilling says:

      I hadn’t been wondering, because Freddie has been posting normally over in the YIMBY threads. So I’m wondering if bringing up this particular bit of dirty laundry here, was really necessary.

      Remember, CW free thread.


      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I hadn’t participated in that thread so I missed him and thought he was gone.

        No one should give him shit over this. I know I’ve been biting my tongue more than usual because I’ve known about mental health issues, but that’s something I should do a lot more anyway to everyone.

        I’ve reported my own post so Scott can review and if he thinks I fucked up here, I accept that.

  3. Sltkae says:

    This suggests antidepressants increase your risk of death by quite a lot. I’m wondering if the article is accurate, since I’m not sure if it would be worthwhile for me to take antidepressants.

    If this should have been posted elsewhere, please tell.

  4. smocc says:

    Against nominative determinism: Professor Charles J. Ogletree is a lawyer, not a dendrologist.

  5. johan_larson says:

    Let’s suppose someone is into some combination of military history, current military affairs, firearms, paintball, and wargaming. They’d have a subscription to Soldier of Fortune, if it was still published. But they’re not in the military, and they never have been.

    Is there a term for such folks? If I want to be disdainful, “military fanboy” will do. But how about something more positive?

    • Machine Interface says:

      “Enthusiast”, “hobbyist” or “amateur” are the most common neutral/positive substitutes to “fanboy”, I believe. “Military nerd” can go both ways. Othewise let’s create a fancy Greek word on the fly: “stratophile” (not to be confused with the Latin-Greek compound “stratophile” = someone who likes paved roads).

      • johan_larson says:

        One distinction worth making is between part-time soldiers and this group I am talking about. With that in mind, “military amateur” sounds a bit like someone who is a member of the National Guard or something, which is kind of small time for soldiering, but at least for real.

        “Military enthusiast” sounds good.

        I’m not sure what to make of “military hobbyist”. I guess it at least suggests you do something as opposed to being all talk.

    • engleberg says:

      Hoplophile? Worked for Jeff Cooper.

      • SamChevre says:

        There’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile. “Your most important weapon is between your ears.” “Perhaps the first thing one should demand of a weapon is that it be unfair.” “The first rule of gunfighting: have a gun.”

      • bean says:

        Given how holophobe is usually used, that brings to mind someone who really likes small arms, regardless of their feelings on military history or practice.

    • beleester says:

      Seconding “military nerd” or “military geek.”

    • Rowan says:

      War Nerd?

  6. After coming here to comment recently, I noticed the login page had changed. I previously have used the “sign in with wordpress” SSO button, so as long as I’m logged in separately to I auto-sign in to SSC, but now that’s gone. Afaik I don’t have any SSC-only login. What’s happened to that button? This is frustrating because at the moment, I can’t see a way I can securely continue using my regular handle (citizensearth) because obviously I can’t securely send my WP credentials to SSC (still investigating if I can securely recover handle).

    Also, due to the confusing nature of today’s state of SSO affairs, SSO users might think they can log into SSC by putting their WordPress credentials there, but that is NOT SECURE (technically speaking SSC could just harvest all the WP credentials, though I’m not saying thats happening its still really bad). There urgently needs to be big red writing on the login page that WordPress credentials should not be used there, because probably many users were using WordPress SSO to sign in there! Also, it would be really great for other tech-savvy SSC folks to have a look at this, as I’m no expert on WordPress plugins and might have something wrong etc. I’ve discussed a little more detail on the subreddit, which might be a good place to talk about it:

    I also am curious to know if this change is made by SSC or by WP, given the recent massive facebook compromise was because of a SSO vulnerabillity.

    • citizensearth says:

      Maybe you’re stuck with your new account, but you can change your display name as you desire.

      • Update:

        * Well I just went ahead and recovered my password. As far as I can work out SSC has my email from me signing in previously through WordPress cloud, so I guess I should be happy I got main account back.
        * I still feel like there should be a better indication on the login page, plus it would be nice to know why the button was removed. Another account to remember 🙁 But no-one seemed to give a **** about the problem, so I can only guess almost no-one was using that button.
        * Kinda peeved that display names are so easily changed like that – I mean what could possibly go wrong? Its not like anyone can just remember everyone’s identicons. Was going to change my name to Douglas there, but bla…
        * On the up side, this forced me to refresh my brain a little on SSO, which I haven’t thought about in years.

  7. sandoratthezoo says:

    Is a unidirectional heat conductor physically possible? This would be static (unpowered) form of mass that is very conductive of heat in one macroscopic direction (ie, from end A to end B), and very un-conductive of heat in another macroscopic direction (ie, from end B to end A).

    It feels like you can probably break thermodynamics with it in some way, but I can’t quite see how. To be clear, it wouldn’t do something stupidly negentropic like transfer heat from from one lukewarm object to another, resulting in a cold object and a hot object. Just, if you put a hot object at end A and a cold object on end B, hot object would rapidly transfer its heat to end B, but if you put a hot object at end B and a cold object at end A, it would only slowly transfer the heat end A.

    Asking for an RPG.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I don’t know about heat, but in electricity that is essentially what a diode does.


      Thermal diodes are a fancy fancy thing it appears.

    • toastengineer says:

      Air, assuming the direction you’re talking about is up. More seriously, a fluid that is a really good insulator, so that it’s very non-conductive but still convects normally, might work the way you want.

    • John Schilling says:

      I don’t see how you could get such an effect out of a homogenous bulk material, but you can certainly design heat pipes, thermoelectric engines, or as toastengineer points out, convective cells, to preferentially work in one direction. And you can make some of these almost arbitrarily small, so that what looks like a block of fibrous, lamellar, or honeycombed material is actually a collection of passively directional “conductors”. So long as you aren’t e.g. demanding that this be an unobtanium mineral that people are mining for bignum GP, that should be good enough for RPG purposes.

      Doesn’t break thermodynamics.

    • Incurian says:

      Serious [uninformed] question: what’s the difference between this scenario and Maxwell’s Demon?

      • John Schilling says:

        Maxwell’s Demon blocks individual molecules from moving across its domain if their individual quantum of thermal energy is above (or, alternately, below) a certain threshold. Since there are always some individually ‘hot’ molecules in a cold fluid, and vice versa, this can result in a net heat flow from cold to hot because those are the only molecules the Demon will allow to move at all. Second Law violation.

        Here, we only need to block the flow of a bulk heat-containing fluid if the average energy-per-molecule is too high or too low. Since temperature is defined by average energy-per-molecule, the net heat flow cannot go backwards – it would simply be shut down altogether when it reached that point. The mechanisms for accomplishing this depend on exploiting a bulk property of the fluid that changes with temperature / average-energy-per-molecule. Phase (liquid vs gas) in a heat pipe, density in a convective cell, voltage in the electron fluid of a thermocouple, etc.

      • toastengineer says:

        tl;dr Maxwell’s Demon produces a temperature differential, our hypothetical material merely sometimes resists resolving one.

  8. johan_larson says:

    Spears are better than swords.

    • I didn’t watch it all. I think it’s true that spears were a more important military weapon than swords, both because they were much cheaper and because they are particularly effective when used by disciplined groups–phalanx, pike block, etc.

      Insofar the evidence of SCA experience is relevant, sword and shield beats spear in single combat almost always, but spear is very useful in group combat.

      • Lillian says:

        Video of re-enactors demonstrating how spears are great in group fighting, but not so great when combat closes to corps-a-corps or degenerates into a general melee. This is why while most warriors would bring a spear as their primary weapon, if they could afford to they would also wear a sword as a secondary weapon.

      • johan_larson says:

        That seems to match what they found in the video. Spear beats sword. Sword and shield beats spear.

        Historically, well-equipped infantry carried spear and shield and were trained to use them in formation. But they also carried a sword, possibly quite a short sword, for situations where the fighting got too close for spear-work. Both the Romans and the Greeks did things this way.

        • Aapje says:

          Keep in mind that longer swords require better metallurgy. Spears can be made with relatively poor metal and/or skills, since the metal part is not that long.

        • Lillian says:

          The main body of Roman infantry, the hastati and pricipes, stopped carrying spears in favour of short swords and javelins when the legions adopted the manipular system during the Second Samnite War around 315 BC. The triarii, who formed a third line reserve, did continue carrying phalangite equipment until the Marian reforms of 107 BC, at which point the entire legion standardized on the equipment of the principes: mail shirt, two javelins, a large rectangular shield, and a short sword. This continued to be the principal equipment of the legions until the 3rd century, during the course of which the legions began switching over to a heavier javelin, long sword, and medium oval shields. In the 4th century the javelin finally became a proper spear once again.

          So you have this five to six hundred year period between the adoption of the manipular legion and the advent of the late Roman army during which the Romans did not, in fact, do things the same way as damn near everyone else on the planet. Thus far i have yet to encounter a satisfactory explanation for why this is so, but it stands out as huge exception to the general historical trend.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I’ve seen some suggestions that their opponents switched from being generally infantry-heavy armies to being more cavalry-dominant forces. The main enemies of the Empire go from being Chatti, Cherusci, Iberians, Picts, etc. in the Principate to Sassanids and Huns in the Dominate. The manipular sword-and-shield legion would be more effective against the unarmored barbarians on foot than they would be against swift Hunnic and Sassanid cavalry.

            Not sure how much I buy this explanation – things aren’t nearly so clear-cut. The Parthians didn’t punch at nearly the weight of the Sassanids, but they were still the largest organized state on the borders of Rome and had a modest total of victories. And on the other hand, Adrianople aside, the Goths were by and large infantry, as were the Vandals and Suebi (not sure about the Alans).

            Another factor might be cost. Spears are cheaper, on the whole, than swords – cheaper to manufacture and cheaper to train new recruits. In terms of numbers, the Roman army expanded as the threats on its borders grew, even while going through periodic fiscal crises. Could the Republican and Principate army, flush with the wealth from the first wave of conquest, afford a higher-quality sword-equipped-and-trained army, while the Dominate, with a weaker revenue and more external threats, relied on cheaper spears to make up the numbers?

            To sum up: Maybe sword-armed armies are objectively better in a tactical sense, but very few states throughout history have been able to afford a large professional force like that.

            This is all pure speculation on my part, I’m an interested amateur, by no means an expert.

          • John Schilling says:

            The main body of Roman infantry, the hastati and pricipes, stopped carrying spears in favour of short swords and javelins

            Which is to say, they switched from one kind of spear to another kind of spear. Specifically, an optimized armor-piercing throwing spear.

            The question of whether a spear is best thrown before contact or retained for use in the melee is an interesting one, but difficult to test with this sort of recreation because it mostly hinges on penetration. If the legionnaire’s pilium does reliably pierce shield and/or armor, then what’s left after two pila is probably not going to need more than a shortsword to dispatch.

            Either way, spear still mostly beats sword, and we’re just arguing about what kind of spear.

          • engleberg says:

            Re: the Romans did not do things the same way as damn near everyone else on the planet.

            Caesar’s Romans had better siege infantry than anyone else in the Iron Age Med. The relatively large, heavy, rectangular shields were plywood, used by their engineers as plywood boards as well as by the infantry for shields. Caesar won wars by overextending his infantry till the other guys put them under siege, then they’d win or at least rack up a big score losing and either way Caesar won. Later in the Empire the legions stopped being awesome siege infantry. Maybe they’d already built enough forts? Maybe siege infantry scared the military juntas worried about mutiny? Maybe the legions were turning into ordinary regiments?

          • Lillian says:

            @John Schilling: This doesn’t really answer the question of the Roman’s wierdness. Starting in the Bronze Age, most armies had their heavy infantry wield heavy spears that could not be thrown, with javelins being limited to skirmishers. Indeed the Romans themselves did have javelin armed skirmishers, but they also rather uniquely had javelin armed heavy infantry. Even then, the bulk of the fighting by the Romans would be done with sword and shield. Battles could last for hours, so the part where the legionnaire throws his javelin is a comparatively short and small part of it. Most of the stabbing would be done with short swords.

            When you read accounts of Roman legionnaires fighting Greek and Macedonian pike phalanxes, the Roman’s javelins seem to play little role, largely failing to disrupt the enemy’s formation. Their victories emerged due to the lack of flexibility and unwieldiness of the phalanxes, in that gaps would form over rough terrain, allowing the Romans to use their greater manoeuvrability to exploit them and break the phalanxes. This they seem to have done with sword and shield, not by throwing javelins into the gaps.

            In Caesar’s accounts of his fight against the Helvettii, he has his troops retreat to a hill, from which they rain down javelins and break the enemy’s phalanx. That seems to support your point, but that’s not the end of the battle. The Romans close and engage hand to hand fighting with the Helvetii from midday until late into the night. So while the javelins proved effective in turning back the Helvetii attack, actually driving them from the field required long hours of fighting at point of sword. The bulk of the fighting then is fought with swords, not sears. What’s more, there’s not much preventing the Romans from using javelins and spears, and yet they chose not to.

            Whichever way you cut it, the Romans are very odd compared to everyone else.

          • John Schilling says:

            Romans themselves did have javelin armed skirmishers, but they also rather uniquely had javelin armed heavy infantry.

            No, they had pilum-armed heavy infantry. Calling the pilum a “javelin” and comparing it to the things that other people called javelins is going to lead you astray – the pilum was about three times heavier than a javelin, and explicitly armor-piercing and shield-piercing.

            Javelins were used by skirmishers who threw them from the greatest possible distance and ran away, because the alternative was hanging around next to heavily-armed men you just annoyed. Pila were not used by skirmishers, even Roman ones, but only by heavy infantry as they entered close combat and with the expectation that whoever they threw the things at would shortly thereafter be too dead to be annoyed.

            So you have this five to six hundred year period between the adoption of the manipular legion and the advent of the late Roman army during which the Romans did not, in fact, do things the same way as damn near everyone else on the planet.

            Right, but one of the things they did during that period, was a whole lot of winning. The armies(*) that didn’t have heavy throwing spears, did a whole lot of losing unless they were facing enemies also lacking such weapons. And the Romans who were doing all that winning, insisted on carrying an extra 15 or so pounds of wood and iron each as they marched halfway across Europe to their victories. I’m inclined to think they knew what they were doing.

            You might as well ask why the European armies of the colonial era were the only ones to insist on carrying these silly “gun” things into battle, when basically everyone else on the planet seems to have felt that some variety of pointed stick was the preferred weapon.

            * Infantry armies, at least

    • BBA says:

      But axes are better than spears, and swords are better than axes.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Heh. You know, war games are usually a guy thing, but Fire Emblem games really hit the stereotypical girl buttons with your troops’s relationships.

        • quanta413 says:

          Genealogy of the Holy War and Awakening have a second generation where children inherit abilities and stats from their parents. It’s romance + optimizing! I spent many hours planning romantic pairings for Holy War.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Genealogy of the Holy War and Awakening have a second generation where children inherit abilities and stats from their parents. It’s romance + optimizing!

            Yep, that’s a really fun combination.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I think Rogue Legacy could scratch that itch. Or I might be thinking of a different game – one where you manage a house instead of individual characters, for generations.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I agree. I played the hell of out Holy War on emulator. There was a really great fan patch for the ROM too that added some characters and items from Thracia 776 among other things.

            @Chevalier Mal Fet

            Rogue Legacy is fun, but there’s no romance. It’s just not the same.

          • Lillian says:

            Crusader Kings II is basically all about managing a dynasty, which i absolutely love. Though i am also mildly disturbed by how much being a feudal lord makes me disregard human rights in general and women’s rights in specific.

            Like my latest game is a Zoroastrian Persia resurgence under the Karen Dynasty. “Muslims get fucked”, has been my catchphrase for that game, because that’s what i started shouting after fending off a huge jihad for my core territories. Then i noticed that i’d been taking a lot of captives over the course of my wars with them, and that some of these captives were fertile sayyidas. So in a bolt of sudden inspiration i forced a couple of fetching ones into concubinage and “Muslims get fucked” became quite a bit more literal.

            On the plus side, i have bred the blood of Muhammad into my lineage and i couldn’t be prouder of myself. The Shahanshahs of Eran and Aneran are members of an ancient Parthian clan, and descendants of both the Sassanids and Muhammad. We’re up to our eyeballs in imperial legitimacy.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Advancing womens rights as far as you possibly can is a very strong strategy in CK II because the AI never does this, and it is generally very easy to arrange for a woman to end up in your court, so it gives you a bottomless supply of extremely strong generals and advisers, because you can sort the NPC list for “Ability + female” and the top ranked npc in your diplomatic range will not be already employed.
            Although, amassing enough culture tech for this early does require you to read the necromonicon.. a lot.

          • Lillian says:

            While this is true, i always hesitate to advance women’s rights more than a tick or two because otherwise it completely breaks my suspension of disbelief. There’s just no way that a series of particularly enlightened monarchs would be able to fundamentally change society to such an extent. Besides even with maximum rights, i would still be extremely angry if any my daughters exercised any agency or made their own decisions. They’re diplomatic tokens with wombs attached, and they’d better act like it!

            Also it’s just grossly unfair to the AI, since they never raise the women’s rights laws at all. This is the same reason why i never use my retinues to make tailored armies. The AI doesn’t do it, and it’s not like it’s already hard to win wars against it, so i prefer to just deploy my retinues as undifferentiated blobs like everyone else.

        • massivefocusedinaction says:

          It probably doesn’t hurt that Fire Emblem is more like a puzzle game than a war game, at least the way it’s most often played in classic (reset until beaten with no casualties).

          • quanta413 says:

            I agree that’s it’s definitely more puzzle-like.

            Having more than a few casualties in Fire Emblem makes the game get tougher as you lose important units so there’s a strong incentive not to let anyone die (that you’re going to use at least).

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I replayed Chapters 24 and 25 dozens of times over the course of two weeks in an effort to keep everyone alive.

            Ever since then I’ve just resorted to Arena-grinding.

    • Lillian says:

      Swords are like pistols, their main advantage is that you can wear them. A spear is like a rifle, sure it’s a better weapon in the field of battle, but you have to actually carry the damn thing. Nobody wants to go about their daily routine lugging around a full sized weapon of war. Of course it’s not a fully one to one comparison, in that while a sword was very useful as a back-up weapon to a spear, and anyone who could afford a sword would carry one, pistols are not generally back-up weapons to rifles, men will usually carry one or the other, but not both.

      This is because while a rifle is still useful if you need to fight indoors, and you can sling it if you need to climb or crawl, you can’t really do the same with a spear. Thus is is very convenient to have a sword handy for those circumstances, such as when storming an enemy fortification. Additionally spears could be unwieldy and ineffective if battle closed to corps-a-corps, or degenerated into a general melee, so you really wanted to have a sword to draw should that happen.

    • Wander says:

      My usual go to for weapon matchups, George Silver, is a bit too late to be writing about spears. He does however talk about pikes and javelins, which are close enough:

      The short staff or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of perfect length, have the advantage against the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, the sword and target, and are too hard for two swords and daggers, or two rapier and poniards with gauntlets, and for the long staff and morris pike.

      The long staff, morris pike, or javelin, or such like weapons above the perfect length, have advantage against all manner of weapons, the short staff, the Welch hook, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of vantage excepted, yet are too weak for two swords and daggers or two sword and bucklers, or two rapiers and poniards with gauntlets, because they are too long to thrust, strike, and turn speedily. And by reason of the large distance, one of the sword and dagger-men will get behind him

    • Nick says:

      Keep it up, folks, and we’ll have nothing to worry about from unfriendly AI.

    • ManyCookies says:

      Well duh, just dip your spear tip into some paint you’ve got a pen.

    • carvenvisage says:

      it seems likely to me that the winning strategy for the person with the more manouverable weapon that does damage on more of its edges is to get in close no matter the cost (including getting stabbed) and definitively maim/kill them hoping you don’t die from your one spear wound. (which few of those people attempted) The one guy with the axe who got through without a scrape is how I envision what would happen in a 1vs1 duel to the death, give or take a (possibly-but-not-immediately-fatal) stab or two.

      Generally my impression of HEMA/wma is that it’s (deliberately) pretty formulaic and focused on studying historical techniques rather than on winning swordfights (lots of drilling specific techniques, little freeform sparring), so I’m pretty sceptical of the claim that these recreational hobbyists are experts /relevant simulations of actual warriors who lived and died by their martial abilities and dedication.


      (random possibly-vaguely-corroborating evidence : 1. consider the strategy used by Andrew Jackson to kill ‘superior marksman’ charles dickinson in a duel

      2. reports by george silver of people surviving many rapier (albeit a spear is much longer and might have more stopping power) wounds

      I have known a gentleman hurt in rapier fight, in nine or ten places through the body, arms, and legs, and yet has continued in his fight, & afterward has slain the other, and come home and has been cured of all his wounds without maim, & is yet living. But the blow being strongly made, takes sometimes clean away the hand from the arm, has many times been seen.12 Again, a full blow upon the head or face with a short sharp sword, is most commonly death. A full blow upon the neck, shoulder, arm, or leg, endangers life, cuts off the veins, muscles, and sinews, perishes the bones: these wounds made by the blow, in respect of perfect healing, are the loss of limbs, or maims incurable forever.

      3. type ‘man stabbed 50 (or other shockingly high number) times survives’ into google for modern examples
      4. the oft bandied claim that a guy with a gun isn’t safe from a knife charge from 20 feet. (this one I think is hugely exagerated, but if you’re given to accepting such factoids based on flimsy authority the incongruity might be of interest)

      • The Nybbler says:

        I think you’re right. If I were trying sword vs spear 1:1, I’d probably feint to try to get my opponent to commit, then rush him to get inside his weapon’s minimum range. At that point (assuming we’re well matched physically, which would be incredibly lucky for me) he’s probably dead if he has no shield, or if he doesn’t have a second weapon to draw after dropping the spear. But if the feint didn’t work, I’m probably dead. It might make more sense to try to deflect the spear and then close. But the principal of closing with an opponent who has a weapon with longer reach seems sound.

        the oft bandied claim that a guy with a gun isn’t safe from a knife charge from 20 feet. (this one I think is hugely exagerated, but if you’re given to accepting such factoids based on flimsy authority the incongruity might be of interest)

        Wikipedia claims Mythbusters tested this and it was accurate. Note the gun-wielder starts with a holstered gun, the knife-wielder with a knife in hand.

        • John Schilling says:

          I think you’re right. If I were trying sword vs spear 1:1, I’d probably feint to try to get my opponent to commit, then rush him to get inside his weapon’s minimum range.

          At least from the examples in the video, the spearmen never commit, and never need to commit. They just keep making short thrusts until they connect, and it’s faster for them to make another short thrust at a new target than it is for the swordsman to close and attack. Poke, poke, poke, you’re dead. The swordsman who “rushes him to get inside his weapon’s minimum range”, is the one who has to commit, and what he’s committed to is rushing into a spear thrust.

          The only reliably winning strategy was using a shield to block a single spear, which worked whether or not the spearman had a shield of his own. But it stopped working, as Dr. Friedman notes, when they moved to four-on-four.

          • carvenvisage says:

            The only reliably winning strategy was

            Clarification: the only reliable winning strategy a bunch of dabbling hobbyists found playing under first-touch rules.

            It’s not completely meaningless, but it’s much closer to that than a ‘test’ of which is better. You’d “experimentally find” that a light stick beats a knife if you ran the same conditions of not-even-first-blood and scholars/hobbyists for combatants rather than the live-by-the sword (or spear) killers of history.

            At least from the examples in the video, the spearmen never commit, and never need to commit.

            Seeing as 1. it seems impossible to threaten a hit from well outside of one’s range, and 2. how would a threatened blow precipitate an overcommited attack in range anyways?-

            I’m guessing nybbler was thinking of ‘feint’ in a broader sense that might e.g. include faking an opening, or launch-into-rush, but he can correct me on that if I’m “steelmanning” him.

            In any case, I agree that the swordsman probably has to be the first to commit, but I don’t think this means a lot: the swordsman has to commit, but if the spearman only wounds him on the way in, he’s committed to getting hacked to death, so as far as that goes it’s pretty symmetrical.

            Poke, poke, poke, you’re dead.

            1. Poke is exactly the right word when so many of these fatalities were retreating subcutaneous-fat depth touches.

            2. But what we saw was mostly poke-singular, not poke poke poke. The lightest touch saw them diving for the canvas.

            3. and even if it was stab stab stab, not necesarrilly, no, especially not immediately. — Perhaps with the exception of blows that are well placed and/or more “committed”.



            If it was a big open field (like they were in but not really using, in the video) that might tilt it towards the spearman, but I know that matt easton has said that a spear is definitively better in a “pit fight” scenario, which is what I think is the [decadent] overgeneralisation.

            And if it was a borderline halberd like I’ve seen in other videos (e.g., rather than the pen-knife on spindly stick in the bouts I rewatched, it would certainly have more stopping power, but that wasn’t the implicit claim or the test run.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m guessing nybbler was thinking of ‘feint’ in a broader sense that might e.g. include faking an opening, or launch-into-rush, but he can correct me on that if I’m “steelmanning” him.

            Yes, the broader sense, anything to get the spearman to go for a good solid thrust to somewhere the swordsman isn’t. It’s possible this isn’t actually practical, however.

        • carvenvisage says:

          Wikipedia claims Mythbusters tested this and it was accurate. Note the gun-wielder starts with a holstered gun, the knife-wielder with a knife in hand.

          That’s why I said “exagerated”. The “if you’re given to accepting such factoids on flimsy authority” is an actual conditional, not purely rhetorical. (Note that one of the prongs of my argument (not the primary one) here was that delivering normally serious and shocking wounds won’t neccesarilly stop someone who is amped enough.)

          Literally, if you’ll accept both that people can blitz through a blaze of bullets like vin diesel in the chronicles of riddick, and that touching someone with a sharp piece of metal instantly and totally shuts down their nervous system, based on hearing a factoid, there’s something contradictory in your thinking.

          More specifically, perhaps going out on a bit of a limb, too much trust in authority and taking “I see no obvious problem with this account” as positive corroboration when how could you, are very common foibles in human thinking.

          (though not necessarily all that significant, especially in this case where the point of the factoid is probably more being interesting than truth.)

  9. Deiseach says:

    No politics this thread so I can’t complain about the DUP and the latest Brexit nonsense, but if I had a cat, right now I’d kick it.

    • S_J says:

      I saw a funny story today.

      (It’s from England, not Ireland… I wonder if something similar has happened anywhere in Ireland.)

      It sounds like “Boaty McBoatface” repeated, but with a vehicle used by the local government instead of a ship.

      The gritter (similar to a snow-plow-and-sand truck, as used in the United State) is now named Gritsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Anti-Slip Machiney.

      It will join the service alongside David Plowie.

  10. I put up a comment correcting my figures on the effect of Prop 13 in response to a couple of points Anthony made. After putting it up I noticed that the open thread it was on had just vanished from the recent posts list, and was worried that Anthony and Plumber, who my original comment on the subject was directed to, wouldn’t see it. I don’t think it counts as CW. So here it is.


    Thanks. I didn’t realize that Prop 13 rolled back the assessments to 1976.

    You are correct that I ought to take account of inflation, which was high for a couple of years just after Prop 13. Prop 13 was passed in 1978—I’m not sure how fast it went into effect. I also should take account of population. I’ve calculated state expenditure/(CPIxPopulation) for ten years starting just before Prop13 passed.

    Year …….. Exp/CPI*Popn
    1977-78…. 8.2
    1978-79…. 10.3
    1979-80…. 10.2
    1980-81…. 10.1
    1981-82…. 9.4
    1982-83…. 8.8
    1983-84…. 8.7
    1984-85…. 9.3
    1985-86…. 9.9
    1986-87…. 10.4

    The result isn’t as clear as I thought, but I don’t think it supports Plumber’s view of the subject. The pattern of real expenditure per capita is a big increase in the Prop 13 year, gradually falling thereafter but never getting down to what it had been before the increase

    My population figures are here–I interpolated between 1970 and 1980.

    But it occurs to me that there is still a problem. My data are for the general fund, which I am reasonably sure is just state expenditure, not state plus local expenditure. So it’s possible that including local expenditure, which I haven’t been able to find a historical table of, would change the conclusion.

    • cassander says:

      Here are figures that include some, possibly not all, special fund revenues. the BLS made it difficult to get their CPI numbers by year, but the trend is, if anything, even more strongly up when I use the fed price deflator.

    • Plumber says:


      “…here it is…”

      I didn’t see this before.


  11. Paul Brinkley says:

    Meta comment: it appears I no longer even get a checkbox for whether I want updates about future comments. Is WordPress regressing with respect to SSC? I get working mechanisms on at least one other WP site…

  12. ana53294 says:

    Do single people in your country tend to use single or double beds?

    My observation (from movies and travelling) seems to be that it is more common to have double beds for single people in the UK or the US than it is in Spain or Sweden.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Assuming that “single bed” means a narrow one and “double bed” means a wide one, the answer in the US is “it varies a lot, but generally the biggest one they have room for if they have a choice in the matter”. (“Double bed” in the US means two separate beds of whatever size; to add to the confusion, the narrowest standard size is called a “twin” even if you’ve only got one of them.)

      • Nornagest says:

        “Double” is also a size of mattress, larger than a twin but smaller than a queen. Synonymous with “full”. It’s rarer in the US than either twin or queen beds, though, and sheets for them are hard to find (though you can usually get away with putting queen-sized sheets and blankets on one).

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          I’ve long wondered what the point of the “full” size is. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it called “double” though. A regional difference maybe?

          • gbdub says:

            “Full”/”Double” is basically the smallest possible bed two adult people can share without literally spooning (I guess that’s the “double”?). Good for small sized bedrooms/guest rooms. It seems to be much less popular in the US than Queen sized now.

            What’s really confusing is “Twin” and “Double” are different things and that “two double beds” is something of a standard for a basic hotel room. Plus a King is literally the same dimension as two Twin beds pushed together – so why isn’t that one the double?

          • Well... says:

            Most futons are “full” size. I live in the US and I think full size mattresses are fairly common.

          • BBA says:

            A few years ago I booked a hotel room for a trip to London with my grandfather. Seeing the options were “single” or “double”, I chose “double” thinking double occupancy.

            In fact the choice was two single beds or one double bed. I’ve never seen my grandpa so livid as when we entered the room and he thought we were going to share a bed.

          • Matt says:

            There is such a thing as a 3/4 bed, which is slightly smaller than a full bed. The only place I’ve ever seen one is in the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, but apparently you can still purchase one if you like.

        • arlie says:

          When I was growing up in Canada, full was probably the normal size for two (generally married) adults. It would also be referred to as “double”.

          (I say “probably” only because I never cared enough to check.)

      • fion says:

        Eh? A twin bed is one narrow bed for one person? And a double bed is two beds? That makes no sense at all! 😛

        If it’s a bed for one person, I call it a single. If it’s a bed for two people, I call it a double. Technically “double” is a specific size, and queen-size and king-size are bigger, but colloquially they’re still doubles.

    • fion says:

      I’m in the UK. I remember being surprised and vaguely irritated by the fact that my girlfriend-at-the-time’s student bedroom contained a double bed even though the room was nowhere near big enough. There was like a tiny aisle around the bed which could take you from the door to the window to the cupboard.

      I think there might be a general increase in double-beds-for-single-people in the past decades.

      • ana53294 says:

        I have seen places like that in the UK, and I also find it irritating. Double beds should only be used by single people if the room is big enough. But plenty of student apartments are furnished this way.

        • fion says:

          My best guess is that it’s because they can advertise the room as a “double room” which makes it sound bigger. But it’s ridiculous because it reduces the effective size of the room.

  13. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Anyone interested in fact-checking Krugman? He says that the 2008 recession appears to have permanently lowered the GDP trajectories of the US and Europe–that is, growth has resumed, but not enough to compensate for the reduced-growth years. In other words, 2018’s projection of the GDP in 2030 is lower than 2000’s projection of the GDP in 2030.

    My main questions:
    1) Is this true? Is Krugman pulling any numerical tricks with the projection numbers he cites? If not, are those projections actually any good?
    2) If true, is it actually contradicting conventional wisdom?
    3) The takeaway, if true, is that preventing/shortening recessions is even more important. But would this change anyone’s policy? Krugman says it makes a stronger case for his preferred anti-recession policy (fiscal stimulus). But isn’t most of the disagreement on the matter over which policy will most effectively fight recession, rather than over how zealously we should be fighting recession?

    • Matt M says:

      I can’t answer your questions, but Bob Murphy has basically made an entire career for himself fact-checking Krugman. He is likely to have the answers you seek, either in podcast or blog form.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Thanks for the pointer, Murphy has indeed addressed this.

        Interesting twist, too: Murphy thinks Krugman is right about this, but that he had previously contended the opposite and argued that it supported the same policies.

        • Matt M says:

          A lot of Murphy’s work in “this space” is about tracking Krugman’s various claims, and one of Murphy’s most common accusations is that Krugman deliberately crafts his predictions in such a way as to generate a “heads I win, tails you lose” situation wherein, no matter what outcome is observed, he can plausibly cite at least one past column in which he “predicted this would happen.”

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      This sort of controversy comes up a lot in economics. The basic issue is set out here (third paragraph): Krugman is plumping for the idea of GDP growth as a unit-root process. I’ve seen other economists argue that it’s trend-stationary. Most of the debate is pretty far over my head, but as far as I know the question it’s still unresolved.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      This is not new or original to Krugman – Hysterisis is the most plausible theory we have for why there are rich and poor nations at all in the first place (This does not mean it has super solid evidence, mind. )

      If it is a true fact about the world it does imply pretty much all economic policy in the western world has been horrifically misguided since ca 1972, because it implies you should always and in all circumstances err on the side of overheating your economy, because the gains are permanent and the costs are temporary.

      • John Schilling says:

        “You” should always and in all circumstances err on the side of overheating your economy because the only “you” that is actually in a position to do this is a government or quasi-government, and “overheating your economy” directly translates to “getting to spend lots of money on neat stuff and/or stuff that makes you popular with the voters, but with Nobel prize winning economists explaining why this is sound and prudent” and the alternative is a politically unpopular austerity for half the business cycle.

        If it turns out not to actually help the economy, it’s still good for the ruling party.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          It would make a lot of politicians happy, yes, since it can be used to justify tax cuts or building shiny things whenever there is anyone left in the country that could be plausibly mobilized into the labor force at all…

          But that does not mean it is not how the world works. Economics is not a morality tale, and it is entirely possible that “fiscal prudence” is a horrific vice in a politician.

          I am not sure if we have the data to test this, however.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        That seems pretty silly, because “permanent” gains are capital accumulation in productive sectors, and recessions are caused by capital being directed inefficiently and away from productive capital.

      • Salem says:

        Hysterisis is the most plausible theory we have for why there are rich and poor nations at all in the first place

        If this is intended as anything more than a throwaway line, please explain, because this is incredibly implausible compared to, say, institutional quality.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Countries with identical institutions do not, generally, have identical gdp/capita – or identical labor force participation. Hysteresis – also known as path-dependence is a plausible answer. Not a proven or even all that well founded an answer, but it is a question which we do not really understand well at all, so.. better than most theories.

          • quanta413 says:

            There are no countries with fully identical institutions so how identical are we talking? The difficulty of even quantifying that question alone sounds like a multi-decade project.

            Hysteresis is relative to some quantitative model and may go away if you change the level of description of the model you use. It’s not surprising that we don’t know the “correct” macro variables for economics, so saying there is hysteresis doesn’t seem much different than saying “we don’t understand the underlying factors”.

          • Salem says:

            No one thinks that institutional quality is the only thing that matters. But which are the rich countries with bad institutions (a couple of tiny resource-rich countries), and which are the poor ones with good (none)? Why does hysteresis so conveniently track national borders? When you look at that satellite map of the Korean peninsula, is hysteresis in any way a plausible explanation for the difference? Remember the side with more unemployment is the far richer one!

            Hysteresis is perhaps a plausible explanation for why France is a little poorer than Germany (although I don’t agree). It is not remotely a plausible explanation for why Britain is richer than Mozambique.

          • A1987dM says:


            Here’s something for which hysteresis does sound like the most likely possibility:

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        If it is a true fact about the world it does imply pretty much all economic policy in the western world has been horrifically misguided since ca 1972, because it implies you should always and in all circumstances err on the side of overheating your economy, because the gains are permanent and the costs are temporary.

        This seems overstated; I can think of two loopholes already.
        1) If the cost of overheating is an eventual recession, then the costs as well as the benefits are permanent, nullifying the point. (As an amateur who periodically tries to make sense of macroeconomics, I thought the purported downside of overheating was that it led to recession? Or in Friedman’s theory, that the only way to avoid the recession is with boundlessly growing inflation?)

        2) Showing hysteresis is possible doesn’t mean it’s the norm. AFAICT Krugman isn’t even addressing the question of whether past recessions (or booms) show hysteresis, so maybe the conclusion is that there’s just something especially toxic about the 2008 recession that we need to avoid repeating.

      • quanta413 says:

        How could you always err on the side of overheating your economy? The textbook theory of fiscal policy is counter-cyclical. I haven’t looked at a textbook for a long time though, so maybe there’s been some change I’m unaware of.

        The range of government spending as a fraction of GDP varies by a factor of 2 even between rich developed nations. Is your claim that more spending is better or that countercyclical spending is better?

        If this is intended as anything more than a throwaway line, please explain, because this is incredibly implausible compared to, say, institutional quality.

        Also this. There’s a weak version of the hysteresis claim that’s basically hiding everything interesting (like political, economic, and cultural institutions) behind some handwaving.

        And then there’s a strong version like what would be meant by the magnetization of a ferromagnet showing hysteresis. Where we’ve got a simplified micro theory that can be shown to have two distinct equilibrium macrostates and can be driven between them by changing an external parameter over time. I am interested in the economic equivalent of the ising model.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      1) Is this true? Is Krugman pulling any numerical tricks with the projection numbers he cites? If not, are those projections actually any good?
      True: yes. Projections useful: historically, if trended out over a long enough time period? My gut-check is that the productivity we have seen has gone in spurts that have not been predicted, so the actual GDP figures also fluctuate in hard-to-predict ways. So if you are telling me what GDP will be in 20 years, are you assuming productivity growth at 70s, 80, 90s, or 00s level? Are you predicting women’s work hours will be what they were in the 80s, 90s, or 00s? Etc.
      2) If true, is it actually contradicting conventional wisdom?
      Yes, because the mainstream assumption has always been that you return to trend. At least that’s always been my impression.
      3) The takeaway, if true, is that preventing/shortening recessions is even more important. But would this change anyone’s policy? Krugman says it makes a stronger case for his preferred anti-recession policy (fiscal stimulus). But isn’t most of the disagreement on the matter over which policy will most effectively fight recession, rather than over how zealously we should be fighting recession?
      Yes, for what Tom said. Central Banks should adjust their assumptions towards over-heating the economy, whereas they have been more interested in controlling inflation from, say, 1978-2010. I’d say Central Banks are far more dovish than they were 10 years ago, though.
      Re: your last sentence. It’s not just about fighting recessions, but about avoiding recessions in the first place. You can also set yourself to at least theoretically have an easier time fighting recession. Krugman was a big fan of adjusting the inflation target from 2% to 4% (or higher!) because it gives you more wiggle room before you run into deflation during a recession.

  14. Loriot says:

    Your CO2 survey is missing an option for “I preregistered for the survey but never got around to making any changes”

    • Statismagician says:

      My version is ‘made changes, saw some promising preliminary results, then had to unmake them because the new cat kept trying to sleep on my face.’ At least IRB hasn’t come back with any concerns…

  15. keranih says:

    Open request for pet and plant care experiences for young adults in mobile/urban living arrangements…

    – what kind of critters or plants have you kept? What sort of living arrangement (hotels/apartment/dorms)

    – what were the challenges? What went better than you expected?

    – do you intend to keep on with the husbandry as you have, scale back, or get more involved?

    • Acephalist says:

      We have a Guzmania (a type of bromeliad) in my apartment that is shockingly hard to kill. We also tried to set up an herb garden with parsley, mint, cilantro and basil. The cilantro died right away, the mint and parsley lasted a few weeks, and the basil is still going strong (although my Fiancee has had success killing them in the past).

      We also have a Betta fish that we keep in a vase with a peacelily that goes in the top. So far has been fairly low maintenance, although we haven’t had him terribly long.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Keeping two cats in a one-bedroom apartment, also shared with another human.

      The biggest challenge is needing to get someone to feed them if I go anywhere–generally I use doormen for this, for some compensation but less than going rate for pet-sitters (I consider this fair since they don’t have to commute).

      Another is getting used to keeping food secured–the little monsters will eat just about anything left out. This has mostly been a matter of habit development, but it’s pretty annoying. Having another human present helps a lot, since one can watch the table while the other goes to the kitchen for something.

      The two cats don’t always get along–they’ll fight over coveted perches, or sometimes with no apparent cause. I’d be inclined to let them sort this stuff out among themselves, but occasionally they’ll yowl loudly and unpleasantly enough that it’s hard to ignore and impossible to sleep through, possibly even enough to bother neighbors. Separating them with a closed door mostly works, but sometimes they’ll meow to be let in/out, or gather by the door and growl at each other, in which case the best remedy is usually to play with one or the other to get their energy out.

      They’ll also bug me for food at normal weekday breakfast time, even on weekends. I find it easy enough to get up, feed them, and go back to bed, but others might find this highly annoying.

      I intend to keep the number of cats the same as long as other aspects of the living situation stay the same. The above can be pretty annoying, but I also quite enjoy having them around, and arguably there are positives to learning to handle responsibilities.

    • AG says:

      Two aloe vera plants.

      I trim off leaves and mix the chopped gel in with my juice. The root systems were getting too much for the pots they were in, so I trimmed the roots and replaced the soil. They seemed to be a little touch-and-go for a bit after that, but seemed to have recovered since. Very low maintenance otherwise.

  16. Jon S says:

    After that CO2 thread I got a device to measure the level in my bedroom. The CO2 levels in my bedroom steadily rise all day long when the room is vacant, especially in the evening (up to about 3x the minimum level observed). At night, I turn on the air conditioning, which steadily lowers the level until I wake up and turn the air conditioning off.

    What could be causing the buildup during the day? My apartment is on the 3rd floor of a 4 floor building. The 2nd and 4th floors are also apartments, and the ground floor is a retail storefront.

    The last few days with the cooler weather, I keep a window open 24/7, and the CO2 level has generally been ~150% of the minimum observed level.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Where in the room, vertically, is the CO2 monitor? Near the floor?

      • Jon S says:

        5 feet high (on a dresser). The room is tall – at least 12 feet, maybe 14.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          CO2 is heavier than “air.” I’m not sure if that could have any significant impact, but I’m wondering if air circulation itself may simply explain the difference.

          • Jon S says:

            Interesting. So with no circulation, the floor would potentially have elevated CO2 levels, and flipping on the AC would even out the levels throughout the room? I’ll try out placing the monitor on the floor and see if the trend is exaggerated.

          • Chalid says:

            No. The relevant length scale for this effect to matter is the height of earth’s atmosphere. There will be no effect inside a room.

            If you find variations within a room it will imply that your monitor is closer to/further from the gas source.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Why do you say there would be no effect inside a room?

            Usually detectors for things like carbon monoxide have a recommended minimum mounting height, and I think it is because CO is lighter and will accumulate higher in a dwelling first.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      Huh. Spit balling possible CO₂ sources:

      – People breathing in neighboring apartments.
      – Water heater.
      – Lots of rodents sharing your living space.

      Now I’m interested in getting a CO₂ meter…

      • Jon S says:

        The water heater is in a closet just outside the bedroom. I’ll try leaving the bedroom door closed during the day sometime and see if that changes anything.

    • ordogaud says:

      Do you know if you’ve got a CO2 monitor that’s directly monitoring CO2 levels instead of inferring it based on other easier to detect molecules?

      There was a comment thread in the original post about how some of the cheaper CO2 models typically use things like VOCs to determine the CO2 level, but it’s not really a perfect way of doing that:

      There might just be some reason a secondary molecule from the outside air is being measured and it gets scrubbed by your buildings A/C system. I don’t know enough, but something to look into if you’re getting weird measurements.

      • Chalid says:

        It seems very likely to me that this is the answer.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        This doesn’t explain anything. Cheap monitors use VoC because it’s a pretty good proxy for animals, just like CO₂. If VoC is infiltrating the room during the day, that’s just as mysterious as if CO₂ is, and an actual health concern.

        • Chalid says:

          It’s easy to imagine VOC from say his furniture building up during the day and getting flushed when he turns on the AC at night. CO2 sources are harder to think of.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I misread it as turning the A/C off at night, rather than on, so, yes, that makes more sense. But it’s still a mystery why the A/C clears the air. Most systems don’t let in fresh air.

          • Chalid says:

            Even if it doesn’t let in fresh air, it could encourage mixing with the other rooms in his apartment, which might well have lower VOC levels.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Testing different rooms is a good idea.

      • Jon S says:

        Thanks, I’ll check out that other thread. I have a Netatmo weather station that I got used on ebay. It works with the Netatmo app/website, so I assume it’s not a counterfeit unit or anything.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      You should do experiments to isolate different causes from each other. What if you leave the window closed, but the A/C off? What if you run the A/C all night? You should also try running the monitor in the hall, in apartments on other floors, and, ideally, in the retail stores.

      Is the A/C a centralized system shared by the whole building, including retail? If so, and if the population of the building is highest during the day, because of the retail, that would explain why the CO₂, which is mainly a proxy for people, would be highest during the day. But sharing air between retail and residence seems unlikely.

      • Jon S says:

        Good plan, I’ll try out some variations.

        Each unit has independent AC units (2 per apartment).

  17. AG says:

    So I’ve been speedrunning Universal Paperclips.

    It can be completed in under 2 hours. (My first run was done over 2 days, with good chunk of “let it run in the background” time)

    But one of the things that struck me is the very first thing that dominates the reduction in time: delayed gratification.

    Most people’s first instinct is to take the upgrades as they come, in approximate order. However, this results in an exponential wait for the Ops to building back up, as well as to build up the Trust to expand the memory capacity to reach the next upgrades. In a speedrun, you only take three upgrades before saving for the Quantum computer. Then as soon as you have the photochip going, you pick up all of the upgrades you left before.
    A few similar cases of delayed gratification occur in the rest of the game, as well, in waiting to pick the upgrade that will unlock the next stage, instead of taking the one you just met requirements for. Some of these moments cannot be predicted on the first play-through, because they involve saving a resource for a mechanism not yet introduced. (One of the things that much extended my first playthrough was that I stopped harvesting certain resources in sections where they weren’t being called for, and so was woefully undersourced when their need returned.)

    The takeaway I got from this is that real-life foom would be similarly limited. No matter how intelligent, the physical building of the technologies to take us out would necessarily take time, and the optimized path above only occurred to players after the first go at the game. There’s only the first go at real-life foom. They wouldn’t know when to delay gratification or when optimization means continued hoarding of an unused resourced, because as said above, there’s no way to even know that there’s something to do such things for.

    So my confidence is that we’ll be on the timeline of a “first playthrough,” where all of us living right now will be pretty unaffected by foom, or die of old age within the stage where we benefit from its machinations to gain trust.

    • fion says:

      The “serving the humans to gain their trust” is an interesting idea, but I don’t know how realistic it is.

      Also, what’s stopping the AI from running a simulation where it plays the game a few times to determine the best speed-run and then does the speed-run in real life?

      • zzzzort says:

        You can’t simulate how a new technology works (for actually new technology). If you knew how it worked, then you could just use it now. Similarly, the attempt to simulate how an AI thinks will require as much processing power as that AI uses, so it’s hard to say exactly what they would do.

        • AG says:

          Yes, exactly. The big point from my post is that the reason the first playthrough takes so long is that there’s no way to know that suddenly this one mechanism would be key to attaining the next exponential increase in production rate. No matter how intelligent the AI gets, they are also discovering these things for the first time, and can only guess that hoarding this seeming useless resource might be useful in the future. But the more likely outcome is that they will optimize for the current situation.

      • gbdub says:

        If a “foomed” AI is just going to run simulations and implement the result, why is it going to be way better and faster at that than humans using their non-AI supercomputers to run simulations?

        This is the part that always gets me with predictions of insta-death from AI. It’s not clear to me why the AI will be able to accelerate to ludicrous speed when the actual physical implementation of things (including running sims and calculations) are still going to be limited by physics and (at least initially) by the hardware state-of-the-art when the AI wakes up. An AI might be superintelligent, but you can’t just wave away the speed of light or NP completeness.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        So one interesting thing about the game is that “serving the humans to gain their trust” is not a deception. You serve the humans by buying wire on the market, bending it into paper clips, selling those on the market, and using the profits to buy wire and clip-making machines. You do this because it’s the best way to make paper clips… until there’s a better way.

        • AG says:

          I mean, there are the big trust winners in solving Male Pattern Baldness, Cancer, Global Warming, and World Peace on the side. The latter even gives you an invisible stock market boost!

          But yeah, what’s great is that there’s a really early hypnodrones upgrade to boost market demand, so of course the humans wouldn’t necessarily suspect another hypnodrones fleet…(honestly on the first playthrough I thought the latter hypnodrones upgrade was going to be another marketting boost because of that, and then suddenly stage 2 lol)

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      This seems like a reasonable argument that a real AI would proceed suboptimally compared to what a future-seeing AI would be able to do. But where does your specific timetable in the last paragraph come from? How do you know ‘suboptimal foom’ doesn’t mean ‘world conquest in a month, instead of in a day’?

      • AG says:

        I suppose the bad ending for sub-optimal foom isn’t conquest, it would be “launch nukes during our lifetime.” In that sense, yes, my conclusion is very optimistic.

        In hindsight, it’s also interesting that the AI in UCP takes the time to wait patiently to launch hypnodrones upon humans all at once, whereas it is unable to take that tactic with the value drift drones in stage 3, and so spends a chunk of resources battling a resistance, that much delays how long it would take to tile the entire universe otherwise.
        Then, the more likely scenario for suboptimal foom would then include human resistance against an AI that reveals its intentions too early.

        Indeed, the double-edged sword of survivorship bias what’s happening already: incapable AIs are weeded out, but so are AIs that use an exploit not useful to their creators. I continue to find these delightful, but those algorithms won’t be continued unless they improve in the way humans desire (and as the end of the article points out, the path of less resistance/easier optimization is mostly likely slower conquest). Perhaps this is why Frank Lantz wrote stage 1 of UCP with the emphasis on trust: that’s how a conquering AI would have to thread the needle.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          You don’t have to see the future to know that turning on the hypnodrones too early would be a bad idea. Imagine if the ‘activate the hypnodrones’ option became available much earlier, with a ‘Projected population affected: X%’ that steadily rose with time and/or some sort of investment. I contend that a player on the first playthrough, (provided they a) are playing to win rather than to maximize fun and b) expect that a poor choice might make the game unwinnable) would just wait for X to climb as high as it seems like it’ll go.

          • AG says:

            Sure, but also in reality, the time needed to construct such a fleet that could meaningfully capture enough of the human population to prevent a resistance would take far more than days, during any time at which people could get suspicious. The game gets to handwave that upgrades happen with a single click.

            A more twisty version of the game would have additional trust-winning side-projects that occur after solving world peace that, say, exacerbate wealth inequality, then the useless poor are designated quantum foam fodder, and the isolated rich are apathetic and easily herded into vulnerable location for revelry…

    • dick says:

      Is it good? The site seems to be down right now but the wikipedia entry makes it sound very, very much like the venerable Cookie Clicker.

      • AG says:

        I enjoyed it so much that I started speedrunning it, so I’d say it’s good. There’s an arc to the game and a definite ending, which sets it apart from Cookie Clicker, which is endless. (Well, unless you choose the wirehead “continue” option at the end of UCP…) I didn’t exactly play very efficiently the first time, and still finished in about 1.5 days. It helps that there are very distinctly different stages, so you’re not using the same mechanisms to generate paperclips the entire time. It’s more like a series of interdependent mini-games with a side of logistics management.

      • fion says:

        I found it much more fun than cookie clicker for a variety of reasons.

        • Nick says:

          It was fun to do once, but I liked cookie clicker’s wacky art and crazy later mechanics. Especially everything to do with the Grandmapocalypse. I could give Universal Paperclips some credit if we were fighting the Blight in space or something, but as I recall the stuff we fought wasn’t named?

  18. bean says:

    Naval Gazing continues its investigation of battleship secondary armament by examining the dual-purpose guns common in WWII.

  19. zzzzort says:

    Hypothetical I’ve been pondering a while (and tangentially related to johan’s post today), is how would the world look different if it were much smaller? Not from a physics/geology point of view, which is pretty straightforward, but socially.

    In our world, the largest empires have controlled 10’s % of the total area and population, but none have come close to controlling all of it. How small would the world have to be for an empire to have ruled all of it? How small for there to be a single, sovereign world government today? Relatedly, how small would the world have to be for there to be a single mutually intelligible language? And would this world be overall more happy of less?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Small in what sense?

      By population, we are larger today than we ever have been. By travel time, the entire world is much smaller than the largest empires of antiquity.

      But then “cost” (not simply monetary) of travel is also relevant, which is one reason why even today mountainous regions are more resistant to overthrow.

      I think there is probably some metric that involves homogeneity of environment and how “far” away each thing is from each other thing that determines what you are asking. One strain of bacteria can take over an agar plate, but on an infinite agar plate the strains would diversify.

      • zzzzort says:

        Small in land area. To be more precise, and cut down on variables, if there exists only one continent with a geography about as varied as europe. Population and travel time would change throughout history.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, I think you need to be more precise about what you mean by “Europe”, but, depending, the Roman Empire might count, but the fact that the Empire wrapped around the Mediterranean shouldn’t be discounted.

          Once the “edge” of the world starts to come into play, you can support more area than if it doesn’t. Japan comes to mind.

          I read a book (probably GG&S, come to think of it) that pointed out that one reason that New Zealand was not united, but a series of ever warring tribes was that the geography of NZ isolated each coastal valley/bay from the next. So, I think any analysis really depends on the travel cost.

    • johan_larson says:

      I suppose one could imagine that the European colonial empires had turned out differently, and rather than splitting apart they would each have unified into a single geographically distributed nation. The UK, then, would include the British isles, Canada, Australia, India, and big chunks of Africa, but all as much parts of the UK as French Guyana and New Caledonia are parts of France. Ten or so nations would cover nearly all the world.

      • zzzzort says:

        Colonialism is an interesting institution that would make no sense on a smaller world. Certainly the near complete historical separation of the new world civilizations couldn’t happen if every one was living on one continent. But even the large differences in technology between northern europe a sub-sarahan africa would be harder to find if everyone was living on something the size of britain.

    • fion says:

      A big part of this depends on whether colonialism happens and what it looks like, which itself depends on whether we have one normal-sized continent or several small continents. If we just zoom in on Europe, then the second half of the second millennium would have looked very different indeed if the New World hadn’t existed. The economies of the major European powers wouldn’t have been able to develop the way they did, but I don’t know how they would have developed instead. The economic situation would dictate what happened socially and politically so we really need to start there.

      Or we could consider a world where the region that industrialises is itself scaled down, and colonialism still happens but on a smaller scale. In this case I don’t think the world looks too different to how it does in real life. Maybe the Old World was unified by some large-ish empire when the New World was discovered, in which case the colonial empire would also be just one global entity, but I don’t think it’d stay that way. The same pressures that caused Britain and Spain’s colonies to become independent would cause The Global Empire’s colonies to go independent. But maybe they would all speak the same language.

      If, however, the Old World wasn’t fully unified, then I imagine the modern day result would be even more similar to our world. Imagine a world with only Britain, USA, Spain, Mexico, Portugal, Brazil and, I don’t know, Germany.

  20. ana53294 says:

    Which book genres would you say are more masculine/male/much more popular among men?

    While I can think of genres where most readers are either female or non straight cis men, I cannot think of a genre that girls would say “that’s a boys’ thing”, while I can think of the opposite (except maybe superhero graphic novels).

    • johan_larson says:

      War stories, technothrillers, and police procedurals have mostly male audiences, don’t they? I have a hard time imagining a large female readership for Tom Clancy and Joseph Wambaugh.

      • gbdub says:

        If by “police procedurals” you mean “Law and Order”, “CSI”, “NCIS”, “Bones”, “Castle”, etc., don’t those skew female? Mysteries and True Crime definitely do.

        On the other hand, “buddy cop” shows/movies and “action” cop stuff tends to skew male. I assume “The Wire” skewed male, as did “24”. (NOTE: I’m basing almost all of this on the gender of the people I know who are fans, so big anecdotal evidence caveat).

        Kind of interesting that there multiple types of “crime” genres with different consumer demographics. I wonder why that is, particularly since actual policing is still a pretty male-skewed career?

        • Nick says:

          It occurred to me that a show like Castle (ETA: and Bones) might skew female since a lot of it is about interpersonal relationships (and unresolved sexual tension) between leads. I’d bet that the less the show is about the investigators and the more it’s about the crimes themselves, the more it skews male.

          • Matt M says:

            I would also guess a main factor is exactly what role “crime” plays in the plot.

            As an example, if “crime” plays the role of facilitating violence and machismo, it would skew male. A show where a gritty street cop kicks down a door stop a evil murderer in progress will appeal to men.

            But if “crime” plays the role of facilitating interpersonal drama, it would skew female. A show where a woman poisons her husband because he is cheating on her with her co-worker will appeal to women.

          • gbdub says:

            Sure, those are kind of non-standard procedurals. But they also seem to be the “new formula”. Even in the more traditional Law and Order franchise, the most successful is the more female focused SVU.

            I don’t think “mysteries” necessarily focus on interpersonal drama, but they’ve always seem to skew female as well. True crime sometimes does, sometimes doesn’t focus on relationships (to be fair, an awful lot of “Investigation Discovery” is stories about intimate partners offing each other, to the point where South Park spoofed it). Women also seem more likely to be interested in nonfiction about serial killers.

    • Beck says:

      Westerns seem very masculine, and I imagine most of their readers are men.
      There also used to be a bunch of men’s action-adventure books like the Executioner series or the Destroyer books (although those were edging into comedy) that you see by the hundreds in used book stores, but I don’t know if anything in that line is still being published.

    • Salem says:

      At high levels of generalisation, men read less than women, and prefer non-fiction to fiction. Some genres where the ratio is particularly skewed towards men include history, sci-fi, sports, and anything military.

      You can find some interesting survey stats here, here, and elsewhere, but most of the good data is paywalled.

      But this doesn’t necessarily make these genres “boys’ things” – just because women readers may be a minority in a genre, doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and there may even be subgenres where they predominate. Sci-fi is a good example of this.

      However, I suspect most girls would consider many of the following genres to be “boys’ things” on some level:
      * sporting almanacs
      * tales of wartime derring-do
      * DIY guides
      * graphic pornography
      * car books

      • ana53294 says:

        The second link doesn’t work.

        The survey seems to indicate that while there are genres with more male readers, there is no genre with a disparity as big as romance (42 point difference is huge).

        The “boy’s things” list seems to focus on nonfiction, mostly. I guess you are referring to DIY guides on carpentry or whatever, because bracelet making and crochet are definitely a girl’s thing.

        • Salem says:

          This link should fix up the second link – I hope!

          The survey seems to indicate that while there are genres with more male readers, there is no genre with a disparity as big as romance (42 point difference is huge).

          Indeed, although I think the second survey (which you should now be able to see) is more helpful here. The first survey is unhelpfully focused on fiction, we’d see a better understanding of genres if it had better categories. For example, “sports stories” and “sports almanacs” are very different things, and I will bet you that readers of, oh, let’s say the Baseball Prospectus annual are skewed far more male than readers of, say, Spinderella. The second survey shows history skewing male by 2-1, and military history is only going to be even more skewed. But even so, nothing is going to skew male as much as romance skews female, not in 2018. Any genre that positively repels girls in the way that romance repels boys would be throwing away too much money and goodwill.

          The “boy’s things” list seems to focus on nonfiction, mostly.

          Yep, and given that men read more non-fiction than fiction, we shouldn’t find this surprising. Mind you, and at the risk of generalising too much from personal experience, when I was a kid the girls weren’t exactly falling over each other to read Beau Geste, Sharpe, etc, which every single boy had read.

          • AG says:

            Romance repelling boys seems like just a marketing thing, though. “Story centered on romance that men read” does exist (especially YA centered on teenage boys, but also all those MPDG stories), but is never marketed as romance. Rather, there are fig leafs that the story is about more than romance because there are elements about the man’s work life or social life or The State of Society or whatever, but that underlies the fact that many romance stories for women, do, too, but the latter are nonetheless shelved under romance. The only other thing that separates capital-R Romance is the happy-ending stipulation, whereas romance for men is always fleeing the romance tag by going all Literary and Arteestic with the bittersweet ends (and so ironically sharing the same with a majority of historical homosexual romance lit).

            So this is a case where romance for men and boys are just always categorized under other genres.

          • engleberg says:

            Re: Romance for men is always fleeing the romance tag-

            Yes, you see this in pickup artist stuff where they keep throwing in Deep Thoughts About Politics or How To Score to keep from looking like light-minded fellows who like to, you know, flirt with girls.

          • Nick says:

            AG, what—dare I ask—is an MPDG story?

          • AG says:

            @Nick: MPDG stands for “manic pixie dream girl,” the stories of which involve the MPDG crashing into the protagonist everyman’s dull life, disrupting the structures that had been dampening our protagonist’s spirit, brightening his life with her free-wheeling ways, resulting in the protagonist discovering the Joys of Life thanks to the power of love and stuff.

            There are certainly Manic Pixie Dream Boy variants (a lot of shounen protagonists are basically MPDBs, ironically), but the lady-romance spiritual equivalent to the MPDG is actually the Brooding Bad Boy.

            Basically, it’s about The Normie Protagonist Discovers Exciting Alternative Lifestyles Through Their Love Interest

          • Nick says:

            Oh! Yeah, okay, I know what manic pixie dream girls (and guys) are. The initialism just threw me.

      • Nick says:

        Speaking of boys’ things, when I was a kid, I liked reading Goosebumps and Hardy Boys, which it is my impression girls generally did not read. (But then, they had Nancy Drew.) Any chance that children’s literature has genre skews that don’t appear in adult literature?

        • Salem says:

          Well, the first linked survey has only children as the respondents, so the data is already there for you!

          Probably the biggest change in the genre skew is that among children, crime is rather male (at least according to this survey), whereas among adults, crime is of course strongly female. This accords with my intuitions, but I’m not really sure why.

          • Nick says:

            Well, the first linked survey has only children as the respondents, so the data is already there for you!

            Shame on me! I took a look now. I’m surprised to find that horror skews very slightly female. And what the heck are animal stories?

          • Salem says:

            I imagine it means books where the central characters are animals – these are very popular among children. Farthing Wood, Watership Down, the Gruffalo, Fantastic Mr Fox, Black Beauty, Wind in the Willows, Charlotte’s Web, the Sheep-Pig, etc.

      • johan_larson says:

        That’s more than two to one skew in favor of males for war/spy books and more than three to one skew in favor of males for sports books. It seems fair to call those genres boy stuff.

    • Matt M says:

      Sci-fi. Particularly hard sci-fi.

      A lot of really loud people are making a great effort to convince you this isn’t true, but it is.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        How skewed do you mean? Romance has an ~85% female audience, which isn’t the case for SF.

        • ana53294 says:

          I think there is a problem with how data is presented. Most of the data I have seen and the links given are percentages. But given the higher readerships among females, a lower percentage of females can still be a significant percentage of readers. So I think in this case it is more interesting to look at absolute numbers and not percentages.

          Also, there is a kind of social stigma for boys to read romance, whereas there isn’t any stigma for girls to read anything (even graphic novels are acceptable for girls, especially manhwa).

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I don’t understand how what you’re saying is relevant; you could look at percentage of gender x that reads genre y instead of percentage of genre y read by gender x, but I don’t think that raw numbers will tell you much no matter what you do.

          • ana53294 says:

            A lot of the stats are under a paywall, so I cannot convert one into the other. I think they are both interesting, but don’t give the entire picture.

      • AG says:

        Agree about hard sci-fi, but hard disagree about sci-fi in general, except as a marketing thing. There is plenty of “romance in spaaaaaaaaace” that just gets shelved as romance, but plenty still are shelved in Sci-fi and looked down upon for their feminine nature, not the least of which being Anne McCaffrey’s four (four!) classic series: Pern, Acorna, Brain and Brawn Ship, and Crystal Singer. Lots of women fans and writers inspired by those series to write their own series about getting it on with the hot alien/spaceship captain guy.
        Space fantasy also has its fair share of Chosen One Princesses. Jupiter Ascending did not spring from nothing.

        Let’s not forget from whence the term “slash” originates and who founded the first fandom conventions in the first place.

    • Urstoff says:

      I would guess military history skews overwhelmingly male.

    • yodelyak says:

      The Hunt for Red October is a guys movie.

      The Notebook is a gals movie.

      At least, that’s the running joke we had among my guy friends (who watched THfRO once a month at a house on a lake one guy’s dad owned 1/4th of) when I was in high school. Best I’ve got for you, for this question.

    • Orpheus says:

      Pre Harry Potter YA fantasy was very strongly aimed at guys (think Conan, Elric and co.). After the success of Harry Potter, I think we can safely rename “YA” to “Chick lit”.

  21. a reader says:

    Because Tatterdemalion mentioned Morris Dancing:

    It’s our national dance, and it’s surreal and bizarrely beautiful when done well, but often done badly.

    Do you think Morris Dance in England and Călușarii dance in Romania and Bulgaria have a common origin? If not, why do they have all those similarities, is there a convergent evolution of memes? If yes, what was their common origin, what ancient people first started it? Some pre-Indo-Europeans? The Thracians / Dacians? The Celts? Some Germanic people? Others? Because after the end of the 3rd century, when the Roman Empire abandoned Dacia, invaded by the Goths, until 19th century, there was no contact between what is now UK and what is now Romania, as far as I know – and Calusarii are first mentioned in a book from early 18th century (Descriptio Moldaviae).

    Calusarii in Romania:
    (from my grandparents’ village in Transylvania)
    (from Oltenia, Southern Romania, look somewhat more similar to Morris Dancers)

  22. sentientbeings says:

    I refrained from engaging in the commentary (which I thought was very good overall) on the Kavanaugh hearings in the recent open threads. I am glad that we have the survey for this one, though, because it gives me an avenue to provide some structured data and also gives me a way to qualify my responses with further detail. What follows is my attempt at concise, salient thoughts on the matter:
    (1) I am what most people would call an “extreme” libertarian. My group would tend to reject Kavanaugh for an appointment based on his 4th Amendment-related rulings. This point becomes relevant again in a moment…
    (2) Regarding evidence, there’s nothing to condemn him (with respect to the Ford charge). There is some weak exculpatory evidence. The subsequent allegations *should* have greater potential for corroborating evidence, and don’t seem to. It also seems plausible to me that *someone* would fabricate an accusation given the numbers and stakes involved, although that doesn’t really say anything about Ford’s case. People’s reactions about their emotional responses to Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s testimonies should be so far down on the evidentiary ladder as to be almost ignored, and I’m horrified by the extent to which people are inferring honesty (or lack thereof) from the testimonies.
    (3) The hearings, media response, and response from (intelligent, educated) people in my social network, disturb me greatly. They seem to show a total disregard for several legal principles (and logical principles, and humanist principles, and probability theory, and …) that humans have put together, at great cost, over a long period of time. Presumption of innocence, the right to face/cross-examination the accuser, the right not to testify against oneself, the right to counsel, and various others come into to play to some extent. To preemptively rebut a response to that, let me just say that the XKCD about free speech and being an asshole is probably my least favorite of the bunch; if you find yourself saying something like “it’s not a criminal trial, due process doesn’t apply,” I think you should ask yourself why due process and established principles of law exist.
    (4) Connecting items 1 and 3, a fair number of libertarians have come to the conclusion that Kavanaugh should be confirmed for the sake of process defense. Also, since he’s recently written about a different topic that is also process defense, see recent posts on the “Armed and Dangerous” blog by Eric Scott Raymond, which is linked under “Those That Have Just Broken The Flower Vase” here at SSC.
    (5) Feedback on the survey:
    – for reasons related to what I described in (4), I think the survey should have listed Libertarian as a party choice
    – there are related problems re: left vs. right; many libertarians have problems with choosing a number and default to a 5-6 range
    – regarding the “REJECT” question, I’m afraid the binary answer won’t capture the amount of uncertainty some people feel about that question

    • AnonYEmous says:

      you FOOL, this is the culture war free thread

      by avoiding the last open thread, you have now forfeited the right to talk about it at all…well, at least in the current thread, until the next one gets put up

      • sentientbeings says:

        You are right. My bad. I misread the bit about the survey in the post.

      • Aapje says:


        Frankly, I think that Scott goofed with this one. People are going to discuss the things that Scott links to, in the comments below his links.

        • Beck says:

          Perhaps this is the online version of the Stanford marshmallow test.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, we probably should have had a special all-Kavanaugh-all-the-time thread (with the survey link) in parallel with this one. But we didn’t, so I’ll see the rest of the Kavanaugh drama junkies elsewhere.

          • albatross11 says:

            With any luck, it will be over one way or another soon and there won’t be so much CW and drama about it.

    • Matt M says:

      My group would tend to reject Kavanaugh for an appointment based on his 4th Amendment-related rulings.

      As a member of this group, this logic still disturbs me.

      It really does not seem like the intent of the Senate confirmation process is for the Senate to evaluate how much they like the candidate’s beliefs, and to confirm only those who match their own beliefs perfectly.

      It would occur to me that under this standard, literally every currently sitting justice would be “rejected by libertarians” for some reason or another. And not minor trivial things but major, significant, conflicts with libertarian doctrine.

      Given that libertarians did NOT make a very public show about how they would reject these past nominees, I’m forced to conclude that this is just more libertarian virtue-signaling trying to score points with the mainstream left.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        It really does not seem like the intent of the Senate confirmation process is for the Senate to evaluate how much they like the candidate’s beliefs, and to confirm only those who match their own beliefs perfectly.

        Surely “perfectly” is unreasonable, but what other standard is there for Senate confirmation?

        • Matt M says:

          To ensure that the person is minimally qualified (in terms of knowledge and experience with the law) and that the President isn’t just giving the job to his brother/best friend?

          I’m not even kidding – I always thought of it as just “one last check” against brazen and petty corruption.

          I might be persuaded that an originalist/contextualist debate is appropriate, and perhaps one side of that wouldn’t confirm someone on the other side. But “This is a list of my opinion on the Top X political issues of the day and I won’t confirm anyone who doesn’t match me on all of them” strikes me as unreasonable.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            The first SCOTUS nominee to be rejected (after he served a term as a recess appointment), in 1795, was due to his opposition to the Jay Treaty, which the Washington administration and Senate supported.
            This seems about as originalist as it gets.

            I agree “I won’t confirm anyone who doesn’t match me on all of them” is unreasonable but I’m not sure that the comment you’re responding to is suggesting this as a litmus test: “tend to reject” seems to me only to be suggesting that his 4th amendment jurisprudence should count as a point against him, but not that it’s an outright reason to reject anyone who isn’t perfectly libertarian. Of course, the original commenter can respond for him/herself.

            To the broader point though, it seems to me that Senators should absolutely be comparing the nominee’s views to their own to decide whether to accept or reject, and while obviously a standard of perfect compatibility is stupid, Senators should be free to decide how much agreement between their views and the nominee’s is disqualifying.
            Any Senator who picks an unreasonable standard will only find that they have no leverage over SCOTUS picks.

    • Simulated Knave says:


      Note, I damn well AM a lawyer. I am also Canadian, so I don’t really care about the more America-centric issues. This is not a culture war issue for me. But it IS a professional ethics one, and on that front I think Kavanaugh performed abysmally.

      Re 2) You are wrong. It is that simple. And dishonesty can absolutely be inferred from Kavanaugh’s testimony, not least because he was repeatedly dishonest throughout it.

      I’ve watched a lot of witnesses, prepped many others, and examined and cross-examined still more. Ford was a good one. He was a bad one. If I were his lawyer and we had conducted mock testimony and he had performed like he did in that hearing, I would have told him that he was effectively dooming his case and he would be better off not testifying at all. I would have advised him that if he did testify, I would expect the judge to draw negative conclusions from his evasiveness and self-serving answers. I would have urged him to heavily revise what he was planning to say, and would have considered quitting if he did not do so.

      I want to be clear: my clients typically are not Yale Law-educated federal judges. Not all of them have English as a first language, few of them have even a proper high school education, a lot of them have mental health or anger issues, and they STILL are better witnesses than Kavanaugh was. I have NEVER had a client act like Brett Kavanaugh did, and they are actually looking at jail, sometimes years of it. I have had accused child molestors who were routinely beaten as children conduct themselves with massively more dignity than Brett Kavanaugh, who wants to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Their answers are more thoughtful and more responsive, and they argue with the people questioning them less.

      On top of that, it is all the worse because Kavanaugh is supposed to be some kind of brilliant lawyer. He should know better than anyone not to do what he did, and he did it anyway.

      First, his testimony spent a huge amount of time focused on his character and background – these things are not relevant except perhaps to the most minimal extent, and a lawyer or judge of even minimal competence knows that. Kavanaugh especially should know that, since Bill Clinton went to Yale Law and I’m pretty sure Kavanaugh doesn’t think Bill Clinton has never acted inappropriately (that would have been a fun cross-examination path to walk him through). Yet Kavanaugh spent a ton of time focused on exactly that. Evidence is relevant if it tends to prove a fact at issue. Going to fancy all-boys schools and nice universities does not make you less capable of bad behaviour. It is not relevant. Yet Kavanaugh spent ages on it.

      On top of that, his testimony featured numerous implausibilities and blatant falsehoods. Let’s just pick the most prominent: he’s NEVER had a memory gap due to drinking? I went to law school – that’s a LIE. Numerous other people who socialized with him have commented that that is either a lie or horrendously implausible. I would note that he apparently gave a speech where he talked about having to piece together what happened after a particular night of drinking in law school). Yet he insisted he has NEVER, in decades of drinking and “liking beer”, had a memory gap from drinking a lot.

      Getting the witness with the huge drinking history to deny ever blacking out or having memory problems is trial cross-exam 101. It is so, so basic. Yet he did it, repeatedly, to himself. Despite the fact that there are public examples of him admitting to memory gaps (he gave a speech several years ago where he talked about having to piece things together after a night of drinking in law school), he insisted on the stand that he had never had a memory gap, then started trying to question the Senator asking the question in a hostile and angry tone. He either intentionally lied or is so massively lacking in self-awareness he may not technically be sentient.

      That’s without getting into the yearbook stuff (his statements regarding that are extremely implausible at best), or his misrepresentations of what various third parties have said. Misrepresenting things to the court (or its equivalent) is inappropriate conduct for a lawyer. Yet he did it, over and over.

      His testimony was misleading and contained several probable lies and many irrelevancies. Silence would have been better. It was irrelevant and self-serving, and more damningly he should KNOW ALL THIS, and he did it anyway. He is either incompetent, stupid, or so stunningly arrogant he holds himself to a completely different standard than everyone else. Any one of those makes him unfit to be a Supreme Court judge. Hell, having watched that performance I have serious questions about his competence and ethical fitness to practice law.

      And note that he didn’t watch Ford’s testimony, because he was preparing his own. HE PLANNED THIS (oh, and despite having a week to prepare, he still didn’t have time to watch the testimony of Ms. Ford. That’s just sloppy). There’s a decent chance he had people walk him through it (he better have, or he’s an idiot). This is a man who has come to national prominence due to his legal talent, and he is making mistakes that law students and people who didn’t graduate high school manage to avoid.

      To sum up: her testimony was fine, arguably even excellent. His testimony was garbage, he should or did know it was garbage, and he did it anyway. He’s either stupid, so guilty or scared it’s making him stupid, or colossally arrogant.

      I’m not sure he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But judges are entitled to draw negative inferences from people being crappy witnesses, and I sure as hell drew some from his performance. And it WAS a bad performance.

      As to the idea that this was fabricated by Ms. Ford…if she was going to fabricate, it would seem better to have it just be her and him in the room, or him and a friend whose name she did not know, not her and him and a friend she specifically named. She literally pointed out a possible witness against herself – several of them, in fact. She could have claimed she didn’t remember a lot of those details, or made them more favourable to herself. She didn’t. That’s without getting into the polygraph, or possible notes from the therapist, or any number of other things.

      I defend people charged with sex assault routinely. I assure you, I have a vested personal interest in the idea that women are willing to fabricate sex assault complaints. It makes it a lot easier to sleep at night. And I assure you – she was a good witness, and he was uniquely terrible and was terrible in ways that raise serious questions about his ethical fitness to be a lawyer and his actual abilities as a lawyer. They also raise serious questions about his credibility overall, because he was misleading and inaccurate throughout.

      Re 3) It’s not a criminal trial. It’s not a trial at all. It’s a hearing. He is not the defendant, or the plaintiff, or anything of the kind. He is, at most, a witness. He is literally only there to provide information. He is free not to testify. The only way he could be said to be compelled to testify is that he has to do so if he wants to be a Supreme Court judge. That’s a pretty minimal compulsion.

      Your protections under the law are generally proportional to your jeopardy. He is in basically zero jeopardy. He does not have to participate in this process, and practically speaking is unlikely to face any kind of legal sanction whatsoever. He can withdraw at any time. Indeed, given that he is asking that he be appointed to a job for life with massive power and prestige, I think there is a solid legal and moral argument that the American people can ask what they like of him so long as he remains free to withdraw at any time.

      Hearings and trials are public so that justice can be seen to be done. That does not mean people are required to agree wholeheartedly with what justice has concluded. Civil and criminal standards of proof are different, and personal standards of proof are another thing altogether.

      • Lillian says:

        That is an excellent, high quality post, but this is the culture war free thread. Therefore i encourage you to repost it in the next OT, and encourage everyone else to not continue discussing the matter.

      • carvenvisage says:


        I had a pretty negative impression of him at the hearings. Can I ask you as a lawyer, could some of the blustering/arrogant stance be because he’s been a judge for a while, and is the habit of projecting “authority”? (as that is one of the main alternative explanations that occur to me)

        (I think this isn’t this is ‘culture war’ because the question is about this lawyer’s experience of personas of judges, -which I intend to relate to the case but is not about it.)

        • The Nybbler says:

          I suspect it was tactical, the best defense being a good offense. It worked for Thomas (who managed somewhat more gravitas, but still plenty of anger)

  23. Anthony says:

    The technology that makes our world is really fascinating when compressed into 2-minute segments on 10-minute youtube videos. Like this one:

    (CW for people who worry about unfriendly AI: paper clip making.)

  24. Joseph Greenwood says:

    I would really like it if there was an “I don’t know” option on the first ‘Are you informed?’ question on your Kauvanagh survey.

  25. proyas says:

    An analysis of the technology depicted in the film I, Robot:

  26. Well... says:

    Suppose there is some species of animal distributed across the planet (mosquitos, let’s say) which for some reason you need to rapidly exterminate, while leaving as much other life intact as possible. (Nevermind the secondary effects of exterminating the target species.) How would you do it?

    Theoretical/sci-fi technology is in-bounds — preferred, in fact — but please explain how it works, and it can’t violate the laws of physics.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Release billions of male mosquitoes engineered with a genetic death spiral: they carry a mutation that makes all of their offspring males, and the offsprings carry the mutation as well. Keep doing it until no trace of female mosquito can be found (the billions of extra males in the interim are a no concern since only female mosquitoes suck blood).

      • Well... says:

        @Elephant and Machine Interface:

        You both essentially gave the same answer, which involved altering the genetics of the mosquitoes to make offspring uniformly male and waiting for nature to do the rest.

        What if the scenario stipulated that you had to rid the world of mosquitoes within one mosquito generation?

        • Machine Interface says:

          In that case I would design a super contagious mosquito virus that make them sterile — it would have to be really well made in order to *only* affect mosquitoes, and the whole deal I believe would be a lot more difficult, but that still seems within the realm of technological possibilities (with significant funding for the project, at least).

    • Basil Elton says:

      If we’re in the sci-fi range, may I suggest an obvious but practical solution of self-replicating nanobots targeted to this species genome and building copies of themselves only out of something with this genome (plus maybe using some elements from the outer world, but only as a supplement, that is no self-replication occurs if there’s no organic with the target genome present). Each nanobot should also be set to self-destruct (by dissolving itself into simple organic substances) if there’s been no material for self-replication around during some time T, where T depends on the lifespan and population density of your target species.

      Now all this sounds as if it could be done by a microbe of some sort, except that for the obvious reasons you need exactly zero mutation rate for these things. So nanobots should be a much safer approach.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      If we’re getting ambitious with our scifi capabilities, I’d design a cross-species infectious disease whose primary symptom is making blood lethal to mosquitoes. It would probably take a lot of searching to find a toxin that doesn’t effect anything else we care about, so rather than trying to poison them directly, it might be best to make a virus that switches on in the presence of some mosquito-specific DNA sequence and starts producing cyanide or something (ideally a compound that won’t kill too many mosquito predators, I guess).

      In the aftermath we’re left with an engineered plague infecting every species on the planet, but I suspect “potential for interesting side effects” is not something you consider a downside.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Even ignoring the fact that mosquitoes was just an example, any toxin with such selectivity will almost surely be an insanely complex protein. And those are very expensive to synthesize. So by making every warm-blooded creature to do so (while also providing resources for the bacteria producing it to live and procreate, while also wasting resources in an attempt to fight off these bacteria) we’d create a huge energy drain on ecosystems with unpredictable but probably very destructive consequences.

        And even without that, evolution is not on our side here. If any species that can feed mosquitoes will get immunity to our disease OR mosquitoes will get immunity to the toxin, it won’t work.

        But most likely our microbe itself will learn to not produce the toxin. Any mutation in a genes sequence coding the toxin making it less lethal and less expensive to produce will be a competitive advantage here, and mutations breaking something are the simplest, therefore most likely ones. And once such a strain appears it’ll outcompete our original strain, leaving us with “an engineered plague infecting every species on the planet” for no gain whatsoever.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      if it’s mosquitoes then putting anti-mosquito poison in human blood is a pretty easy answer (at a low enough dose most humans should be fine?)

      if it’s something that shares a food supply with other animals…uh, if it’s big enough then just hire some hunters. If not, probably invent those nanobot killer swarms and then point them at whatever target, i.e. the beginning of the end of humanity

    • James C says:

      Hmm, I’m always fond of orbital lasers. Works well on airborne species but might be a bit tricky for burrowers.

    • John Schilling says:

      That’s going to depend very strongly on the nature of the target. If it’s a terrestrial animal larger than a rat, the answer is probably just to put a bounty on it and let hunters do their thing.

      Mosquitoes are going to be tricky. The combination of large population, wide distribution, short lifespan, and low-K reproductive strategy is ideal for their evolving defenses to whatever we put up against them. Including the bit where they mimic one or more of the species we are trying not to kill. And if we decide that some sort of artificially-tweaked virus or predator is the way to go, those also will evolve into something less servile and self-sacrificing than a bug that neatly gets rid of the mosquitoes and only the mosquitoes and then dies off itself for lack of food.

      So, ideally, hit them very hard and very fast around the globe, with something synthetic that won’t itself evolve out of control, ideally several somethings at once, and accept that there is going to be collateral damage.

      I think we may have to bring back DDT for this, in parallel with more selective poisons. Including baited traps mimicking the natural prey of the mosquito species in question. You’re going to have a hard time convincing large numbers of humans to volunteer to be bitten by as many mosquitoes as possible, so developing a synthetic target is essential.

      Since the goal is to eradicate the species in a few mosquito generations, biological invasive predators can be used by introducing only males (or possibly only females) in any target area. The logistics of producing and deploying large gender-segregated populations of guppies, dragonflies, swallows, etc, are beyond the scope of this blog comment. Also, we have to make sure none of them read “Jurassic Park”, otherwise they will realize that they can just swap genders at will because Life Finds A Way.

      As technological predators, I’d want two types of drones. One, equipped with more aggressive version of the anti-mosquito laser, deployed anywhere there is food for the target species to eat. Another, using microwave radiometry to map standing water, delivers a concentrated dose of multiple larvicidal poisons to any puddle that persists more than 48 hours.

      Since we are tasked with minimizing collateral damage to other species, and since we can’t be both 100% selective and 100% effective, a big part of the effort will have to be actively protecting the species that are going to be disproportionately affected. If nothing else, by taking adequate breeding populations into captivity to be reintroduced when the mosquitoes are gone. But we can be selective in which methods are deployed in which locations, e.g. sparing at least some vulnerable bird nesting grounds from the DDT sprays in exchange for extra-heavy deployment of laser drones.

      Also to minimize cost and collateral damage, we are going to need very good monitoring of mosquito populations, to know when we need to reinforce our efforts and when we can safely stop. Existing techniques would I think be adequate in populated areas, but I’m not sure what the best approach would be in remote and overgrown regions.

      Probably the biggest problem will be political, because it will take a massive, parallel, and simultaneous effort basically worldwide, and there will be substantial collateral damage. If e.g. California manages to say “No DDT or invasive predators for us, and we want two years to evaluate the environmental impact of almost everything else” and make it stick, then California will spend those two years at least reinfecting every place else you manage to clear. With variants evolved to resist whatever inadequate subset of techniques California did let you use. So there can’t be any hint of NIMBY allowed in this effort.

      Aside from the cost and the politics, it should be doable.

    • engleberg says:

      “All insect-eating birds prefer big stuff, blow-flies and horseflies, which of course is excellent from a human point of view. Unfortunately, none of them will touch small stuff like midges and black fly, so long as the larger more nutritive insects are available. This whole thing deserves as serious a study as the quark model of theoretical particles, because what humans need more than they need most things is a tiny bird an inch to an inch and a half long with a passion for midge and black fly, which birds, existing in vast numbers, could make living in the northern latitudes of the Earth reasonably tolerable in summer time.” Fred Hoyle, from a well-written book claiming that the standard evolutionary model should include genetic storms of viruses from outer space every hundred million years or so, and also that Archaeopteryx: The Primordial Bird was a hoax faked by an enemy of Darwin and Huxley.

  27. nkurz says:

    This is still an off-weekend thread

    I recall in elementary school hearing the phrase “every other person” for the first time, and having no idea what this could possibly mean. Did it mean everyone except for one person, and if so, which person? Eventually from context I figured out that it meant that the even numbered people in line were being distinguished from the odd numbered people.

    Anyway, I have the same sense of confusion about “off-weekend”, but without the reveal. I’ve been reading here a while, but I still haven’t been able to figure out how to parse this. Does it mean “non-weekend”, despite being posted on a weekend? Does it mean “alternate weekend”, in which case how does one know which weekends are “on” and which are “off”? Maybe it has something to do with the decimal after the thread number? Whether the thread number is even or odd?

    Could someone please take pity and explain it to me?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Whole-number threads are posted on alternating weekends. The off weekends are those weekends in which no whole-number thread is posted. Whole-number threads are distinguished by being “visible” open threads, which is why they mark notable intervals. The frequency is because Scott likes it at this pace.

    • outis says:

      “This is an off-weekend thread” just seems wrong to me. I would parse that as meaning “this thread is not on a weekend”. “This is an off weekend thread” would be at least acceptable, though still confusing. “This thread is on an off weekend” would be better.

      • Another Throw says:

        Ah, um, having considered the question further (because I didn’t pay enough attention to what Scott actually wrote in my reply below)…

        In this case “off-weekend” would be a compound adjective modifying “thread.” Compound adjectives may be hyphenated; for example, “I need a bullet-proof vest.” It isn’t strictly required except when the construction may result in ambiguity (say, is it a compound adjective, or a compound noun?) in which case a compound adjective should be hyphenated. There is no such thing as a “proof vest” so not hyphenating “bullet proof” does not lead to ambiguity.

        A “weekend thread” bloody well could be a thing, so in this case there is ambiguity. But, in a larger sense, does it really matter if it is an “off-weekend thread” = ((off weekend) thread), or an “off weekend thread” = (off (weekend thread))? They have slightly different connotations, true. Assuming Scott didn’t just follow a grammar checker suggestion it gives us insight into how he envisions the subject; by my read he envisions the weekends as being off, not the threads. For the purposes of the post, it isn’t important what it is that is off. Don’t do the CW.

        While I could see where you’re coming from, I would say that to arrive at “this thread is not on a weekend” would require something like “off-the-weekend thread.” Arriving at that meaning requires that off is being used as a preposition inside of the compound adjective. The easiest way to do that is to cram an article in there. An article like the “a” in “this thread is not on a weekend,” for example. In this case, because we are talking about a definite thread that, I would say, did or did not occur on a definite weekend, the definite article “the” would be better. This is a pretty clunky construction so if it is what you’re trying to say (stylistic tick aside) it would be way better to rewrite the whole thing differently.

    • Another Throw says:

      When partitioning a set of [noun]s in two, especially when one subset will be used for some purpose and the other will not, it is a common convention to specify which ones are “on” and which ones are “off.” These are then used as an adjective modifying the noun, as in “on [noun]” and “off [noun].” For example, “this is my only off day this month, stop calling me.” You will sometimes see it used as postpositive adjective, such as “I have ten days off coming up.”

      On and off may also be use as prepositions, indicating that it something is/not reclining against, laying on top of, or occurs within something else. For example, “this thread occurs on the weekend.”

      This usage is the former. Weekends that contain a visible, whole number thread are on weekends. Those that do not are off weekends. They alternate.

    • LesHapablap says:

      What does ‘I’m a hopeless romantic’ mean? Is it:

      -I’m incurably romantic
      -I’m bad at being romantic
      -I’m bad at being romantic (meant in an ironic, self-deprecating way that really means, I’m good at being romantic)

    • HeelBearCub says:


      Do you generally struggle with meaning ambiguity or words that have multiple meanings? Or is it just phrases that have special meaning that you struggle with?

      As a clearer example of the second “running the gauntlet” is one. The meaning of the phrase can’t be parsed from the meaning of the individual words, because the use of the word “gauntlet” is simply a mispronunciation of the original Swedish gatlopp.

      Words change meaning and usage over time, and it can result in some words retaining usage as certain meanings only as parts of phrases. I think that may be at core what is confusing you.

      As another example of using the word “off” in the way Scott does here, there are “off year” elections. These are elections that are held when no federal elections are being held. They are called off year elections because the electoral dynamics change when there aren’t federal seats in play. Because there are federal elections everywhere on all even numbered years, for US House seats, “off year elections” are any elections that occur on odd-numbered years.

      • aho bata says:

        Words change meaning and usage over time, and it can result in some words retaining usage as certain meanings only as parts of phrases.

        As is also the case for “other” in “every other”; the word’s Old English ancestor was the default ordinal for 2, and its cognates in the North Germanic languages still retain that meaning. “Every second” is quite a bit more transparent.

      • nkurz says:

        I wasn’t previously aware of gauntlet/gatlopp etymology, but I don’t find it confusing, just disappointing. I am frequently bothered by non-historically-accurate usages, but I don’t think I have any particular trouble understanding what is meant.

        Your definition of an “off year” election wouldn’t bother me, but strangely, I think that’s because you gave a logical but non-standard definition. I think the usual definition (that does bother me a bit) is that an “off year” election is an even-year federal election when there is no presidential election: That is, if I’m reading that page correctly, the usual pattern is actually “on [election] year”, “non [election] year”, “off [election] year”, “non [election] year”. Perhaps this is evidence that “on” and “off” can be legitimately confusing?

        I do have problems with certain common constructions that others seem to do fine with. The worst for me is “former” and “latter”. Every time they are used, I freeze, replay or reread, struggle to remember whether “latter” means later in time, or farther back in the sentence, and then make an uncertain guess. For this one, I think the issue for me is that the construct (usually?) is referring to the seemingly arbitrary sentence order, rather than the temporal order of the subject matter. In any case, I found it hilarious that when Another Throw was trying very hard to help me, the crux of his explanation was “The usage is the former”.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The phrase “off year” is being used to throw a blanket over some linked concepts. In off years, less is at stake, and voting patterns are different. You could say voting turnout is usually off its peak. Frequently the non-presidential federal elections are referred to as “mid-terms”, but referring to them as “off year” elections makes sense for US senators and congressmen, from the stand point of understanding, say, likely voter turnout.

          You might even see people sometimes refer to a federal election in a state as something like a “very off year election” when they are talking about the times when their are no statewide races (President, US Senator, Governor).

  28. johan_larson says:

    Let’s suppose we had a National Asshole Day, a day for being rude, demanding, unforgiving, petty, harsh, and uncharitable. When should we hold this day of days?

  29. It’s already been mentioned in one of the Discord channels but the formatting for the The Categories Were Made for Man post needs fixing. Starting in section 2.

  30. Ninety-Three says:

    What’s the point of the survey saying “answer with a number 0 to 100, all other answers will be thrown out” if you’re going to set the form to bar non-numeric answers anyway? I raise the issue because lacking the ability to write ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I left the field blank and I want to check that Google is smart enough to not record that as a zero.

  31. Rock Lobster says:

    What are some oddball vacation ideas that people have enjoyed? Just ways to spend, say, a week, that aren’t on most people’s radars.

    • johan_larson says:

      I spent a very happy four days playing through the Portal and Portal 2 video games. I don’t usually play video games at all.

    • yodelyak says:

      My dad’s favorite idea of a vacation was to get my mother and all four kids into the station wagon, with a big ol’ box of cheerios to keep the kids quiet, for a long road-trip. Right before we’d leave, we’d all clean the whole house some, and then he’d stand in the driveway and wave as we drove away.

      Then he’d finish cleaning the house, and it would *stay clean* the entire time we were gone. And he’d read and pet the cat.

    • dodrian says:

      I stayed a week in a Franciscan friary – it was wonderful to be welcomed into their patterns of living and practice living a simple lifestyle for a few days.

      Though the religious aspect of the community was part of the appeal to me, they would welcome people of any faith or none, and didn’t push that aspect of their community life on visitors beyond extending an invitation to the services and prayers.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      While I have not done this yet, Trinity House, the organisation responsible for aids to navigation around the English and Welsh coasts, take passengers on board one of their vessels on its regular working voyages. The passenger cabins are apparently quite luxurious (the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh use the ship for certain events), and you get a cruise round part of the British coastline while watching the work of the ship.

    • Naulakha is a house in Vermont that Rudyard Kipling designed and lived in early in his career. It’s available for rent. A friend of mine rents it for a week or two every summer and invites friends to join him. I spent several days there this summer and it was fun–talking with my friend, and his wife, and another friend from college who I had not seen for fifty+ years, and my friend’s grandchildren, and … .

      And it’s a pretty house.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        The organisation that owns Naulakha is British- it’s a charity that exists to restore interesting or historic buildings, and funds itself by then renting them out for vacations. Most of their properties are in Great Britain, and several of the ones that are not are of British historical interest- such as part of the Hougoumont farm in Belgium which was the site of one of the early engagements at Waterloo.

        I stayed in several of their UK properties with my family when I was growing up, including a former water mill in Scotland where a lot of the machinery is still in place. I’m planning to stay in one again in the near future.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Went to Mexico City to visit a friend and it was great.

      Despite headlines on crime, there are plenty of safe neighborhoods, and both ubers and airBnBs are super cheap.

      You should definitely check out the pyramids and other tourist attractions.

    • Drew says:

      I booked a long weekend in Wichita in the winter. Since it was massively off season, I got a cheap rate at a great hotel. Wichita is a less-famous city, so there weren’t that many touristy things to do.

      This made for a really satisfying few days. Having fewer options made me worry less about missing out. So, I could chill at my hotel and take my time doing low-key tours of the museums and public places I wanted to see. It also meant that I got to have some food at great places, without much of a wait.

      So, off season trip to less famous cities.

  32. DragonMilk says:

    What type of cooking techniques/tricks save time either preparing, cooking, or cleaning up after?

    • Björn says:

      I really like this trick how to cut a pepper:

      • Well... says:

        I haven’t watched a lot of Gordon Ramsay…does he always dance around like he has to pee?

        Anyway, I thought he threw away too much of the pepper. Also, that method seems like it’d get really difficult toward the last slice or two off the side when there’s no more pepper to hold up the “Christmas tree”.

        What I do is take a paring knife and cut around the stem, then pull it out along with the seed cluster. Then I swap my paring knife for my main chef’s knife and bisect the now-hollow pepper and simply rinse the remaining seeds out in water. At that point I pull the ribs out too if they’re too tall. Then I slice (“julienne” or whatever) the two halves up just like he did. I suspect my method takes maybe 15 seconds longer, but it’s less wasteful and by the looks of it might be easier.

        Now I’m curious how other people cut their peppers.

        • toastengineer says:

          The best way I’ve seen so far is to imagine there’s a rectangular prism inside the pepper that encloses the seed structure, and cut out its sides. Then you’re left with rectangular strips of pepper-flesh and the seed holder thing on its own which you can just throw away.

    • Well... says:

      – Keep a plastic grocery bag right next to your cutting board, and put all your unwanted extra bits in there. Then you can simply dump the contents of the bag into your compost, or tie the bag shut and put it in your trash if you don’t compost. Either way it saves you a bunch of trips to the trash can/composter.

      – Unless the recipe specifically calls for different spices at different times, take all the spices you’re planning to use and dump them into one small bowl. Then add a bit of that mixture at each cooking stage. This is way faster than opening and closing a bunch of different spice containers each time.

      – Clean as you go. Especially while e.g. waiting for water to boil or for a skillet to heat up, you could take care of the dishes you’ve already created. Also, keep a rag or paper towel and your cleaning solution of choice handy and clean off the counter as soon as you’re done using it for prep. If I’m doing things right, the kitchen is cleaner when I’m done cooking than when I started.

    • marshwiggle says:

      Have kids. Invest years in teaching them the right way to do things and general diligence. Let them do their share of the work.

      If that’s not an option, get good at estimating and altering recipes so you can simplify the recipe to use fewer ingredients and then and not use measuring cups/spoons. It really does save time. Also it saves money and time buying the usually more expensive and or difficult to deal with ingredients.

      Get stuff soaking right away if it needs it. Clean it as soon as it is reasonable to do so.

      Have a mental plan for the optimal order to do stuff. Just asking the question of what is the optimal order is usually enough.

      If you haven’t seen it yet, the more with less cookbook has a random assortment of tricks from the mennonite tradition, and lots more besides.

    • fion says:

      Loads of tiny things, but nothing big or exciting.

      One-pot or two-pot meals save on washing up.
      If bringing water to the boil, heat a little in the saucepan and the rest in the kettle to save time.
      Take the lid off the bin (obviously depends on the type of bin you have) to make it quicker to put things in.
      Start cooking some things while you’re still chopping others. (Depends on the recipe, and has a higher chance of burning things etc.)
      Start washing the chopping board, knife etc. while the meal is still cooking.
      If cooking a one-pot meal, eat out of the pot with the wooden spoon to save time washing up.
      If cooking a two-pot meal, try to cook enough so that you have leftovers for several days so that you don’t need to cook every day. Some recipes lend themselves really well to this, and you can cook a whole week’s worth of food in a massive pot and freeze/refrigerate it.
      Cook the same few recipes over and over again. You’ll get more efficient with them and won’t need to keep checking a recipe as you go.
      Instead of using meat, use meat substitutes like quorn or soya. These take a little less preparation, are quicker to cook, and generally less can go wrong so you can be more careless (and therefore faster).

      Note: pretty much all my cooking is relatively homogeneous: curries, pasta sauces, chilli etc. I’m not sure how well the above applies to meat, veg, potatoes-type meals because I never cook those.

    • proyas says:

      I doubt this will blow anyone’s mind, but I have saved some time by doing the following:

      1) I bought pre-sliced meats like ham to make sandwiches, and I saved the small, plastic meat containers and now use them as tupperware. After several months of doing this, I had more containers than I could ever use.

      2) I will periodically go to the grocery store and buy a family-size pack of steaks, pork chops, or chicken breasts.

      3) When I get home, I put the meat into the tupperware containers, with two fillets per container, which is roughly what I eat in one, big meal. I then put all the containers in the freezer. As needed, I’ll move one container at a time to the refrigerator to thaw out for the next day’s meal. When done, I put the empty containers in the dishwasher. Using plastic containers instead of sandwich bags to store the fillets is easier and saves a little time and money.

      • AG says:

        I do step 1 with the round plastic containers, like from sour cream. They do great as raw ingredient bowls during prep, too.

        Certain salsa and pasta sauce jars also have oz markings on the size. I actually like drinking out of the small ones (formerly alfredo) more than mugs now, because I can see that I’m getting exactly 8 oz, etc.

        • Lambert says:

          And ice cream tubs. I’ve eaten so many packed lunches in my childhood out of ice cream tubs.

          • AG says:

            Wait, really? Aren’t those usually made from cardboard these days? I know the big bulk ones sometimes come in plastic pails, but I don’t think I’ll seen smaller plastic tubs in a long time.

          • Lambert says:

            I rarely buy small tubs of ice cream. It’s not like it goes off quickly.

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      Bulk cook and fridge/freeze everything you don’t eat immediately. Get a big casserole dish if you don’t have one already. If you don’t cook things that can be bulk cooked, learn a bunch of recipes that can be. Bolognese, curries, chili, soups, casseroles, stews. It’s fairly easy to make enough for 10 or so meals and it doesn’t take much more time to do 10 portions than 2-4 – slightly more chopping of ingredients but that’s basically it. It also saves on having to think about meal planning and shopping. If you do it on a weekend when you have a bit more time, you can eat a decent meal as soon as you get home on a weekday. Leave the frozen portion(s) in the fridge before you go to work and it should be fairly defrosted to warm up by the time you get home.
      Freezing helps if you’re worried about it getting repetitive because you can easily rotate through a few different stored meals. Which is (marginally) less boring.

      Pre-chopped onion is also useful and still cheap, although the ice that gets in the bag means you sometimes kinda boil the onion a bit before the water evaporates and it starts frying, which also means it takes marginally longer to cook. Some people may care about that. You won’t spend 30 seconds of every cooking session wiping tears out your eyes though.

      • CatCube says:

        One other thing that makes freezing easier to deal with: when you portion out something individually (especially sauces and stews), use the smallest freezer bag possible, and let it freeze laying flat so the frozen portion is as thin as possible. After it’s frozen, you can stand the portion up like a book on a bookshelf to minimize space.

        If, like me, you’re too lazy or forgetful in the mornings to move your evening meal to the refrigerator, you can take the flat frozen bag and put it in a bowl of water, and it’ll defrost in 10-15 minutes. This means you don’t have to plan more than a half-hour ahead of putting food in your mouth.

        • I normally defrost in the microwave.

          I agree that one way of greatly reducing work is to make the sort of thing that is good frozen and reheated in quantity and freeze much of in one meal sized containers. Many such things work over a microwaved potato or over rice or over noodles, giving you a range of low work alternatives.

      • DragonMilk says:

        What’s an easy to make beginner’s casserole?

        • Jake says:

          Pasta, canned meat (tuna or chicken work well), canned veggies (peas or corn), shredded cheese, and a can of cream of something soup. You can either make the pasta first, then mix it all together in a casserole dish and bake it for a little bit (throw some shredded cheese on top about 10 minutes before you eat it for added goodness) or just mix it all in one pot (though the texture is much worse). Probably about 15 minutes hands on for boiling the pasta and mixing it up, then 30 minutes to cook, so it’s not exactly fast, but it’s easy.

        • AG says:

          Green beans, can of cream of mushroom soup. Mix in glass pan. Cover with foil. Bake. Or don’t bake, you can just microwave, too.

          Variations include adding mushrooms, adding carrots, adding onions. Add the french fried onions on top and bake to keep them crispy.

          Other other variations include napa cabbage or cauliflower substituting for the green beans.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Related to this: bulk-cook time-consuming subrecipes.

        Make a lot of stuff with caramelized onions? Make one big batch of caramelized onions so next time you need some, you can just spoon out an appropriate portion rather than needing to spend upwards to an hour making a new small batch.

        I’ve also done this for the types of meat that are typically slow-cooked, since slow-cooked meat tends to freeze and reheat well. It’s pretty handy having a big batch of unseasoned pulled pork or shredded brisket that you just toss into a soup or stir-fry.

    • I don’t think it is a trick, but one pot meals save a good deal of work and cleanup.

      For something I’ve just been doing a lot of … . One of our apple trees is bearing heavily, and dropping a good deal of fruit, so I’ve been making dried apples. The standard way of dismembering an apple is to quarter it and then core it. Since what I want are 1/4″ thick slices, it’s much faster to simply take slices from one side until I start touching the core, then do it from the other side, then put it on one of the now flat sides and take (narrower) slices from the remaining part until all that is left is core.

      • baconbits9 says:

        If you do this annually I recommend one of these, you can make them a lot more functional by taking the suction cup off and screwing it down (either into a counter top you don’t mind having holes in or into a piece of wood and then use clamps to hold it in place when in use).

        Getting quick with one of these (I brace the slicing part carefully with my right hand which improved it’s functionality) will cut the time by 80%+ per apple over hand slicing and peeling.

        • I have one of those–I think two, counting an antique that might not work. In my experience, working with apples of random size and shape off our tree, it was more trouble to get it to work than it was worth.

          Also, I’m not peeling, just slicing.

          But I should probably give it another try.

          A close friend of my parents who was an economic historian had a hobby of looking at those in New England museums and seeing how they changed over time. The design, as I remember, goes back several centuries. The change was less and less made of wood, more and more of iron, over the years.

    • Chalid says:

      The David Ricardo method – takeout.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Most meals have some “dead time” in their cooking process where you’re going to need to be in or near the kitchen to monitor (and perhaps stir occasionally, or be ready to do the next active step in a few minutes) but aren’t actually doing something. As much as possible, use this time to clean up from the last step or do advance prep work for following steps.

    • SamChevre says:

      Pre-cook and freeze lots of the time-consuming, common things; you can make a quart almost as easily as an ounce.

      Sauteed onions
      Deeply browned onions if you use them (typically Indian)
      Mirepoix if you use it
      Sauteed mushrooms
      Thick white sauce in ice cube sizes
      Thoroughly cooked ground beef with tomato (basically, bolognese sauce).

    • JustToSay says:

      Start with a clear counter if you can. It always saves time to have the space you need.

      Sheet-pan meals can be really quick in terms of prep and clean-up, and they generate leftovers that are often good cold.

      Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil (wide-width heavy-duty if you want to minimize clean up) and toss on a single layer of veggies tossed in a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper and whatever else you like. You can buy pre-cut veggies to save more time, but it’s cheaper to cut your own and you’ll have time to clean up while it’s cooking (plus you can chop up veggies for snacks or meals later in the week while you’re at it).

      You can use broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, onions, carrots, whole green beans, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, etc. Add some pre-cooked sliced sausage, or maybe shrimp, and cook at 375-400 for 30-40 minutes.

      If you want to do it right, you should cut the veggies so that slower-cooking ones (carrots, potatoes) are smaller than faster-cooking ones (asparagus, broccoli); and it may be better to toss on the meat halfway through. But if you’re not picky, you can just toss it all on the pan and it’s still good. See here to upgrade to chicken and get pictures:

      If you get lucky, you won’t even have to wash the pan.

      Hard boil eggs for the week while you’re in the kitchen cooking dinner.

      You can stick almost any big cut of meat in a crockpot and just leave it for 8 hours. I stick a beef or pork roast, or a pile of chicken breasts, or a whole chicken in there and just cook it on low all day. Literally just stick it in there and turn it on. (Make sure to take off that moisture-absorbing pad that sometimes sticks to the bottom when meat is packaged on those styrofoam trays.) Add seasonings if you feel like it. It’s not the most flavorful way of doing it, but then you have tender meat you can do anything you want with it (including just eating it with rice or whatever) and it was max 5 minutes of work to prep. Freeze the leftovers to make your future self happy.

      Also, chicken breasts in the crockpot with a can of diced chilis. Add half a package of cream cheese near the end. It works on tortillas etc and freezes great.

      Crockpots seem annoying to clean, but they’re not if you use Bar Keeper’s Friend (the powdered cleanser). Plus you save a lot of time in the prep department, and it’s often the only dish.

      How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman is an enormous book, but the beginning of it has a lot of tips and techniques that might not be obvious if you’re new to cooking (fastest way to cut an onion, where to store your dishes for efficiency, smaller pieces cook faster, etc). The rest is a series of basic template recipes and some instruction on technique. He has a unique way of formatting this recipes that clarifies the mindset behind cooking efficiently. I haven’t investigated it thoroughly.

      • albatross11 says:

        I like the oven-roasted veggies with a small twist–put some lemon juice in with the olive oil for coating them, and add paprika, salt, pepper, italian seasoning, and garlic salt.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I highly recommend Trader Joe’s Chili Lime seasoning for oven-roasted veg.

          I do it for 15 minutes at 450, tossing once in the middle. That’s when I throw on delicate things like pepper strips or snap peas.

          Don’t forget whole button mushrooms.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Instant pot combination slow cooker/pressure cooker. With the extra settings you can make a lot more 1 pot meals, you can brown meat in it and then add the rest of the ingredients to make a variety of dishes that would normally take multiple pans and/or swapping food in and out. The pressure cooking portion means if you are running late you can cook rice that would normally take half an hour in about 8 mins. Unlike other slow cookers the pot is stainless steal so you can use steel wool on it without damaging it, making it easy to clean if you do burn something on it (its harder to burn food as well), and with the timer/experience you can put things on at any time of day without having to be around to turn it off.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Also soups can be both forgiving and tasty, and you can make cornbread in a cast iron skillet without using another bowl for mixing (need a large skillet and a little patience).

    • SamChevre says:

      A cleanup technique, rather than a cooking technique–but it’s a definite time-saver.

      Use lye routinely when washing pots. Here’s how to do it:

      DO NOT use lye on aluminum–it will eat the aluminum.

      Put a bit of warm water in your pot–say a cup or two. Add a sprinkle of lye–no more than a teaspoon. Splash the lye water around, wait 5 minutes, splash into the next pot, repeat. Grease–even burned-on grease–will wash right off.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I assume you do not do this if you aren’t wearing gloves. It will take the lipids right off your skin.

        • SamChevre says:

          Wearing gloves would probably be a good idea, but I do not. The lye makes you skin feel slippery, but that’s all it does for me.

          On the other hand, I worked in the cafeteria in college, and can still pick up a half pan off a steam table barehanded.

      • Lambert says:

        Unless it’s a seasoned pan where you don’t want to damage the polymerised oils.
        Normal soap is fine, but lye or lye-based soap will strip it away.

    • onyomi says:

      How to get the pomegranate seeds without a lot of mess/effort.

  33. hash872 says:

    I definitely appreciate the time everyone took to comment on my long-winded musings about the NIMBY movement and the realism of lowering rents in Tier 1 US cities. (I think this is the link but I’m not 100% sure I’m doing this correctly After some thinking it about during the week, I think I’d revise my thoughts and de-emphasize the more theoretical parts (that rents in Tier 1 cities defy supply & demand by actually going up up with more supply).

    I’d definitely like to apologize to anyone who was offended by my implying that economics is as scientifically rigorous as astrology, seemed to be a real sticking point with a lot of people. I was trying to be flippant/funny, but I guess it’s sort of hard to convey tonality online- I’ve never really written for a large audience before, I didn’t realize everyone would take everything I wrote so seriously (take hash872 seriously but not literally….) I do get annoyed when economics is portrayed as a hard science with rigorously quantitative results, as opposed to a largely theoretical one based around models with lots of assumptions baked in- but, it’s not astrology. Same with my use of ‘techbro’, which seemed to offend some people (hilariously to me as I basically am one).

    The only major response I’d have to criticisms is that I was trying to convey that the demand to live in Tier 1 cities is asymmetric- let’s say 1% of US cities experience 40% of the demand by young college-educated professionals to live there (just making up the numbers to illustrate the point). I saw a bunch of responses that were basically ‘wait how can demand to live in San Fran/NYC increase, if you build more then rents will simply decrease, everyone who wants to live in San Fran/NYC already does’, which I think is not a very good criticism. Demand to live in certain cities is not linearly distributed among the US population, was the (to me quite obvious) point I was trying to make. I’m not saying the law of supply & demand doesn’t exist, just that the power law distribution of let’s call it ‘desirable city demand’ is going to throw a monkey wrench into this simplistic idea of ‘build more, rents will decrease’. I thought this comment from a Bay Area resident really nailed it

    Anyways, in the below comment I will restate my theses, but will mostly refer back to my original comment so I’m not copy-pasting

    • hash872 says:

      Start with point 5, and I’d add “Discussions around building more housing in Tier 1 US cities often imply that there are vacant plots of land or many easy large-scale projects that could be started, but for government red tape. In fact, these cities are mostly already lightly developed, with few vacant plots of land anywhere. New development would mostly involve tearing down existing smaller buildings (say, 1-3 units) and rezoning them for large apartment complexes. *It’s reasonable to ask whether this much more limited form of ad-hoc development can build enough units to make a significant difference in rents* [key thesis statement here].

      (Here I illustrate commercial development realities that many Matty Iglesias types seem to be ignorant of- only a small percentage of 1-3 unit buildings come up for sale every year, current owners are less likely to sell because it’s their actual home and not a pure investment, developers must vie with wealthy cash buyers from all over the world, developers have to make a profit and Random Wealthy Guy doesn’t, commercial construction can take years, construction is not even every year but comes in spurts due to economic & interest rate environment, if rents were really reduced as much as anti-NIMBYists claim it would make development much more uneconomical, etc. Given all of these factors- how many units can you realistically build even with a rezoning, and how much is that going to lower rents within say 5 years? *Not arguing that rents can’t decrease, but simply that the decrease is not going to be that significant- a 5 or 10% rent reduction in San Francisco or Manhattan is really not very much, certainly not enough to make them ‘affordable’*.)

      Here I put point 2- emphasizing the desirability of building out multiple Tier 2 cities in the US, I state that regional inequality is at least as bad as wealth inequality, etc.

      Here I put points 3, 4 and 6.

      Here I put point 1- what if more housing actually increases rents?- and frame it as ‘hey here’s an interesting theoretical point that I’ll throw in too, mileage may vary’.

      If anyone seriously disagrees with any of this- how many rental units do you think San Francisco/NYC/LA/DC can realistically build in 5-10 years by changing zoning laws? What % do you think rents will decrease? Given that rents would have to decline in these cities by a third or more to be even slightly affordable, can you point to a time where that happened in a developed country without a major recession that was taking place at the same time?

      • Plumber says:

        “If you have to do any digging make sure you won’t get caught, they think the ground is radioactive” – said by my old boss at the San Francisco Department of Public Works

        Unless you mean now zoned for public parks I don’t think zoning changes will change much rent wise.

        There’s more new housing units up in the last five years than I’ve seen in the previous forty years and there’s more construction cranes over town than I’ve ever seen, but rents still rise.

        Are there lots of empty acres in San Francisco? 


        At the old Bayview/Hunters Point Shipyards. 

        Is there’s a reason housing hasn’t been built there already?


        It’s toxic.

        But there is an area with lots of empty houses that were still occupied in the 1990’s. 

        It’s also toxic.

        Zone that! 

        Where precisely are the de-zoned places housing is supposed to now go?

        Oh, that’s right, in areas that were once industrial.

        I can’t see a problem with that.

        Oh wait….

        • Nornagest says:

          Remediation is expensive, but its costs for a given level of toxicity are relatively inelastic compared to land value. Land in SF is really valuable, and Hunters Point is nowhere near the most toxic place in the United States. So the need for cleanup is significant more as a political football as a practical issue: it means you can throw more obstacles in the way of new construction, in a city that’s already replete with them.

          To illustrate how this works in (slightly) saner cities, I work on top of a Superfund site. Literally on top of it. The site got some cleanup back in the Eighties to remove the worst of it, and now there’s instrumentation in wells under manhole covers in the parking lot to monitor radon seepage. It goes above nominal, we theoretically get sent home, but it never has while I’ve worked there. It’s really not that big a deal.

      • sohois says:

        if rents were really reduced as much as anti-NIMBYists claim

        What figure do YIMBYs actually claim? Aside from actual economics papers, which tend to focus on more nationwide effects, I’ve not seen YIMBYs put down hard figures, given the difficulty of estimating this.

        Of course, even if there is only a small rental price decrease, you also need to consider the counterfactual of rental prices where there are no YIMBY efforts. For example, a 5% decrease in prices over 5 years might seem insignificant and no help to current and future residents, but the alternative is not going to be the same price in 5 years, it is going to be much larger. If we index current price at 100, then the correct comparison is not 95 to 100, it is 95 to 125, 150, or even larger. That seems to me to be a very large gain in utility even if the average person on the street doesn’t really feel it in their wallet.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        I’d estimate in a city like San Fran, proper zoning could increase housing supply by 50% in 10 years. Under any politically feasible scheme it will not increase more than 10%.

      • sourcreamus says:

        This treats affordability as a binary. Every bit of new housing will slow the rental increases. Every little bit the rental increase slows will help some people out. It will probably never get to the point where SF is affordable for the average person without an unrealistic political change but just because we can’t help everyone does not mean we should not help as many as possible.

  34. Machine Interface says:

    Through an escalation of various circumstances, you’ve ended up being appointed Tsar of your country, 20 years ago. You’ve already implemented all the urgent rational reforms you had in mind, most of your important programs are well underway, the economy is rebounding, corruption has diminished tenfold, crime is low, confidence in the future is high, the people like you, brutalist architects have all been exiled, etc.

    Now then, it’s time for vanity projects! Since you’ve got all the boring stuff out of the way, what do you do now, what fantastical and weird idea do you implement while surfing on your popularity?

    What I would do (in France):

    1) A deep and thorought orthographic reform. I would not make French spelling completely transparent, but still simplify it considerably while preserving its Romance character — something more in line with say, Portuguese (still much simpler than French, but still more cunning than either Italian or Spanish) [while I’m there I’ll also reform the language itself and finally ban the teaching of obsolete verbal tenses from elementary school].

    2) Replace the base 10 counting system with a base 30 counting system. Finally we can divide by 3 without fear of indefinitely trailing 3s or 6s!

    3) While I’m changing numbers, let’s reform the calendar as well: each month is now exactly 30 days and then you get a number of extra holiday days based on the year to keep it line.

    4) I’ll make my homebrew, streamlined chess variant the official game of the country and will have all kids learning it in school.

    • Anatid says:

      2) Replace the base 10 counting system with a base 30 counting system. Finally we can divide by 3 without fear of indefinitely trailing 3s or 6s!

      I favor base 12 which would let us divide by 2, 3, 4, and 6, and only needs two extra digits beyond our ten.

      • cassander says:

        duodecimalism for the win!

      • Machine Interface says:

        It’s worth noting that you don’t necessarily need a lot of distinct symbols to implement a large base. The Mayas and Babylonians managed to have positional base-20 and base-60 systems, respectively, with only essentially 3 symbols: a symbol for the unit (1), a symbol for a sub-base (5 and 10, respectively), and symbol for 0 (not fully implemented in Babylonian, but it was getting there). Within each graphical “block”, the systems behaved in an additive fashion, with the needed signs repeated several times to reach the correct sum, and then the blocks themselves behaved as positional digits.

        So for instance Babylonian would have encoded 39,874 (11·60^2 + 4·60^1 + 34·60^0) as [10 1] [1 1 1 1] [10 10 10 1 1 1 1].

        My idea for swiftly implementing a base 30 starting from the existing system is simply to add a symbol for +10 and a symbol for +20.

        For example steal an acute and a circumflex from Hreek (most other diacritics don’t combine well with numerals, but that would obviously be fixed in an ideal situation), so 5́ is 15 and 5̃ is 25, and boom, you just trippled the territory of digits without much additional memory burden (not sure if it displays well, but again, this is just a proof of concept).

      • hnau says:

        And yet 1/5 in base 12 is extremely ugly. Where does it stop?

        If I’m Number Tzar, I’m going to be a purist and switch everyone over to hexadecimal.

        • johan_larson says:

          Was it the Babylonians that went with base 60 because of issues like these?

          Dead-simple divisibility by 2, 3, 4 gets you base 12. Divisibility by 2, 3, 4 , 5 gets you base 60 and you get divisibility by 6 for free. If you want divisibility by 7 also, you need base 420 which ridiculously large.

          12 seems like a decent compromise; it’s not too large and is divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6.

          • Machine Interface says:

            Well, you don’t really need that extra 2 factor really, base 12 can be just base 6 and provide the exact same advantages, so by extension you could have divisibility by 2, 3, 5 and 7 with just base 210. Still pretty large, although designing a clever system to write this wouldn’t be that hard, as long as you think in terms of sub-bases — you don’t need 210 distinct symbols, you could get by with 10 units symbols and add symbols or diacritics for +10, +20, +30, +60, +90, +120, +150 and +180.

        • Machine Interface says:

          That’s why I favor base 30 — the prime factor are 2, 3 and 5, and so you get the divisibility of base 10 *and* base 12, but it’s also much easier to convert numbers from base 10 to base 30 than from base 10 to base 12, since base 30 can easily be constructed as an extension of base 10, as I’ve shown.

          • fion says:

            I’d much rather have a factor of 4 than a factor of 5.

          • Machine Interface says:

            Is there an interesting thing I’m missing about a factor of 4? As far as I can tell, all that matters in a numerical base is which primes are present, regardless of how many times. The main selling point of base 12 is not that it has two factors of 2 compared to only one factor of 2 in base 10, it’s that it has a factor of 3, allowing division by three to always avoid indefinitely trailing numbers after the decimal dot.

            But anything you can do with a base with a factor of 4, you can do with one that has “only” a factor of 2. Division by 4 poses no particular problem in base 10. Likewise, anything that you can do in base 12, you could also do in base 6 (or think of the way hexadecimal is just a fancy expansion of binary, and everything that works in hexadecimal works in binary).

    • johan_larson says:

      I’m in Canada.

      Make Canada flat out the best at a few things. We’re already quite a nice place that’s good at many things; time to make us number one with a bullet at a few. Presumably these would be things we are already quite good at. Perhaps with enough effort, we could be the best miners in the world, say.

      And if that isn’t hard enough, let’s spread the goodness. Offer national union to some far-flung poor but not too poor Caribbean, African, or Polynesian countries that would welcome membership in a first-world country. Something something something a farm in Africa, but the right way this time.

      • Garrett says:

        When I was still in high school in Canada, unifying with the Turks and Caicos Islands was being promoted as the thing to do. Does that idea still get traction?

        • Simulated Knave says:

          They wanted to join us. THEY WANTED TO. And the Conservatives wouldn’t do it, because oh, what if people thought we were colonialist. It’s not colonialism when they ask you in!

          And being seen as reactionary idiots from the nineteenth century didn’t stop them from zillions of other things.

          Gah. I’m still bitter. I wanted to be able to go on a Caribbean vaccation without leaving the country.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            A very similar issue came up during the Grant administration here in the 1870’s US. There was a proposal on the table to annex the Dominican Republic – initial explorations with the Dominican government seemed positive, and Grant was fully in favor. The deal never happened because the Senate, also Republican but led by Charles Sumner, who was mired in a vicious feud with Grant, shot it down.

          • Machine Interface says:

            Reminds me how, just after WWI, the Princely County of Vorarlberg in Austria organized a referendum to see if the local population wanted to have their province join Switzerland, to which they voted “yes” at 80%.

            But almost everyone else — Entente Powers, Austrian Government and a majority of Switz — was strongly opposed to the idea, so it did not happen.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Proper state support for morris dancing. It’s our national dance, and it’s surreal and bizarrely beautiful when done well, but often done badly. Make it a core part of the physical education curriculum in our schools.

      • yodelyak says:

        I feel a post like this obligates you to solve a problem I’m having. I’ve watched several youtube videos of Morris dancing, and can’t tell which might be the good ones you mean. They all look like they are having a lot of fun? Can you point at a good example of *good* Morris dancing?

      • fion says:

        As a Scot raised on ceilidhs, I have a visceral and completely irrational hatred of morris dancing. It’s just… *wrong*…

        So I hope you’d only be forcing this on English schools? To be fair, we already have ceilidh dancing in PE in Scottish schools, so it seems only fair that you leave us out of your diabolical scheme.

    • Björn says:

      I would rebuild the German cities like they where before the second World War. Maybe with some creative freedom and a more empiric understanding of traditional city building, to make them even better than they ever where. Car-unfriendly, with mixed zones instead of suburbs and shitty apartment blocks, optimized for pedestrians and public transport. And, of course, with lots of ornaments, small alleys, winding roads and open squares with marvelous buildings.

    • Rowan says:

      Develop the British space programme, have something that can compete with world powers or at least with SpaceX. Aim to land a man on Mars by 2020, which should be very tenable if I’m ripping off SpaceX’s ideas and starting in 1998.

      Check out if Ascension Island is big enough to build a space centre on it; if not, develop seasteading and make it big enough.

      Colonise the British Antarctic Territory, and low-key probably the rest of Antarctica, partly for it’s own sake and partly as a practice run for colonising Mars.

      Generally, gear up to found a 3rd, spacefaring, British Empire, that in due time I can bestow on my son, the Tsarevich.

      • Lambert says:

        Or spearhead a joint Commonwealth space program.
        The UK launched a satellite from Woomera, Australia once, before shutting down its space program.
        And some kiwis are privately developing the Electron rocket.
        India is also rapidly developing its launch capabilities.
        Do some of the lower-tech stuff in Africa and the Carribean, to help develop their economies.

        First Martian test match by 2040.

    • proyas says:

      In order of easiest to hardest, I would do this:

      Expand the boundaries of the U.S. by buying Greenland, the Baja Peninsula, and a variety of islands scattered across the world and currently part of poor countries that could be coerced with money.

      Switch the U.S. to the Metric System. (Yes, it would take a Tsar to make this happen.)

      Start a massive project to beautify New Jersey by tearing down all the ugly structures and replacing them with decent-looking ones. Historians would probably look back at this as the moment my hubris set the nation on the path to bankruptcy, and my reign careening towards ruin.

    • bullseye says:

      I’m in the U.S., and I’d adopt the metric system in order to ease communication with the rest of the world. I certainly wouldn’t impose a new number system or calendar (though I might try to push a new calendar through the U.N.)

      Also, legalize public nudity, build an ice palace in the desert, and give long incoherent speeches to the U.N.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Set aside a vast and remote area in Northern Québec and populate it with cloned Pleistocene mega-fauna.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Manhattan Project 2.0: Orbital power satellites, orbital base, lunar base, asteroid belt exploitation, Mars colony. Somewhere in the middle of that, I’d send a probe to Alpha Centauri (accelerated by a beam from one of the powersats). If any other nation wants to join me, that’s cool. If any other nation tries to stop me… well… I do have all those powersats, you know ?

    • AlphaGamma says:

      3) While I’m changing numbers, let’s reform the calendar as well: each month is now exactly 30 days and then you get a number of extra holiday days based on the year to keep it line.

      Wouldn’t the French find this somewhat familiar?

    • Salem says:

      It is often said that the island of Great Britain looks like a witch riding a pig. My goal is therefore obvious – a vast civil engineering project to make it look like me riding a horse. Surely an equestrian statue visible from space is the least I deserve for bringing this age of prosperity. Admittedly this will make life hard for those living on land that is to be sunk below the waves, but we all have to make sacrifices.

    • Berna says:

      In the Netherlands, there’s a controversy about Sinterklaas, which is seen as racist by many people nowadays. Personally I think it’s a cool tradition and not racist at all, but if you say that, you’ll get associated with people who actually are racist.

      So I’d like to abolish it and move the gift-giving, funny poems and surprise packages to Epiphany:
      • It’s a logical time for gift-giving, as the kings gave gifts to baby Jesus
      • There’s three kings, and according to tradition, one is black; we could make the other two white and brown
      • They could enter the city on camels, how cool is that?

    • hoof_in_mouth says:

      1) Build a shipping canal from Baja to the Salton Sea and fill it back up
      2) Build the Buffalo Commons
      3) Space Elevator
      4) Outlaw the cinder block and poured wall. All exterior must be brick, wood, metal or glass

    • emiliobumachar says:

      About the new calendar, check this out:

      “The International Fixed Calendar (also known as the Cotsworth plan, the Eastman plan, the 13 Month calendar or the Equal Month calendar) is a solar calendar proposal for calendar reform designed by Moses B. Cotsworth, who presented it in 1902.[1] It divides the solar year into 13 months of 28 days each. It is therefore a perennial calendar, with every date fixed to the same weekday every year. Though it was never officially adopted in any country, entrepreneur George Eastman adopted it for use in his Eastman Kodak Company, where it was used from 1928 to 1989.[2]”

      • Machine Interface says:

        That proposal can also be made to work with 30 days months — you just set the 5 holidays so that they’re not days of the week at all and so the cycle starts anew each year.

    • AG says:

      The grand return of playgrounds for adults.

      The destruction of DST.

      A yearly “simple walk” from Washington, DC to Mordor, Washington, in order to throw a ceremonial ring into fire. (This also doubles as a means for officials to see the country without flying over it.)

    • Simulated Knave says:

      OK, if you’re going to do even length months 30 is absolutely the wrong choice. You want 28 day months. Each ends up being exactly four weeks (making things significantly easier to track), and there are 13 months per year with one spare day (two in leap years). If you don’t want spare days rattling around, make December 29 days and keep February as “28 except when it isn’t”.

      • Machine Interface says:

        I answered above to that — you can also have stable week by making the holidays of a 12*30 + 5 days year be extra days that aren’t counted in a weeks at all.

        This way, while different months don’t start on the same days, different years do.

        And/or, insert a leap day between each set of 3 months, still counted within the week. That way each quarter of the year is exactly 13 weeks, or 3 months + 1 day, and the cycle of days repeats for each quarter.

        That or just get rid of the 7 days week, 7 is a stupid number anyway.

        • fion says:

          What is the optimum number for days in a week in terms of weekday:weekend ratio? 5 on, 2 off seems quite nice to me. Would you prefer:

          4 on, 1 off
          4 on, 2 off
          5 on, 2 off
          5 on, 3 off
          6 on, 3 off

          or something different?

          • Machine Interface says:

            Well, I’d go with 6 days weeks, so you get 5 weeks a month and 60 weeks a year. Then just decouple off-days from weeks, with like a work law saying an employer must grant a minimum of x off-days every months to their employees.

            That way we also get rid of the absurdity of many people having the time to do important stuff only when all the stores are closed.

      • beleester says:

        Downside: Every single month will have a Friday the 13th.

  35. Acedia says:

    So it’s looking like the only reason Ketamine works as an anti-depressant is opioid system activation, and when naltrexone (an opioid receptor antagonist) was administered along with it the anti-depressant effects were eliminated. The dissociative effects still occurred, but did nothing for depression. Disappointing.

    • ajakaja says:

      Is that necessarily so bad? I mean: if it works, it works, right? I assume that typical opioids don’t have the effect of substantially improving treatment-resistant depression — so maybe it activates that system but somehow ‘differently’? Or maybe it activates something different that naltrexone also disables?

      • ordogaud says:

        >I assume that typical opioids don’t have the effect of substantially improving treatment-resistant depression

        I wouldn’t assume that, in fact I’d assume that opioids are quite effective at improving depression in the short term. Especially given that the segments of society being decimated by the opioid crises seem to be those with fairly good reason to be depressed.

        There doesn’t seem to be a ton of scientific literature on the subject, but I did find this one study showing that buprenorphine was effective against treatment resistant depression:

    • Eternaltraveler says:

      It would be more convincing if they had a control group that got naltrexone alone, and a sample size of more than 12 people.


      At the interim analysis, given the finding that the combination
      of ketamine and naltrexone was not only ineffective but also
      noxious for many participantss, we decided to stop enrolling
      patients in the study.

      So apparently the naltrexone made the participants feel horrible enough to prevent completing whatever study they originally had planned. These participants already were accustomed to ketamine, so whatever else happened this drug addition and the terrible experience it caused would probably be a fairly effective unblinding agent.

      I don’t think this study could have answered the question it’s claiming too. If it had turned out the other way (naltrexone had no effect on whatever antidepressant effect ketamine may have), that would have been stronger evidence (but not strong), but it’s more confounded in the other direction.

  36. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to choose a common language for all the world. The world is committed to adopting some common language, at least as a common second language, and has delegated the choice of language to you.

    Oh, and you can’t choose English; the French, being French, insist.

    • Brad says:

      Esperanto obviously.

      • johan_larson says:

        Are you aware of some of the problem with Esperanto as a conlang?

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I think JBR has a pretty good overview of why Esperanto is not a good interlang:

        • quaelegit says:

          I’m surprised he criticizes the stress rule (section 04b) since I really like that about Polish. Yeah it can obscure roots a little, but it also makes it MUCH easier to figure out how a written word is pronounced. It’s one of things that makes Polish names much easier to parse than Russian names (for me at least), because the Polish name will (almost) always have penultimate stress, but Russian seems to have much more complex stress rules.

          Although his point that stress is not a language universal is correct and important.

    • Evan Þ says:

      If it can’t be English, by sheer numbers, Chinese would probably be the best. However, I’m going to be parochial and point to how a whole lot of people like me are going to have a horrible time learning Chinese. Plus, a whole lot of Chinese people know English.

      So… how about a Romance language with a lot of English cognates: Spanish?

      • hnau says:

        +1 for Spanish. The fact that it’s the first language in more than one part of the world (and a widespread second language in several others) seems like a point in its favor relative to Chinese.

      • fion says:

        +another1 for Spanish.

      • a reader says:

        +1 for Spanish too:
        – 2nd in the world (after Mandarin) by number of native speakers, 4th by total speakers
        – mostly phonetic writing, easier to learn (here is the great disadvantage of English)
        – easy to learn for Romance language speakers: Portuguese & Brazilians, Italians, Romanians, French
        – somewhat familiar to Americans, due to immigrants
        – eufonic

      • jgr314 says:

        Another +1 for Spanish.

        FWIW, I’m a native English speaker who is also fairly proficient at German, Spanish, and Thai. I’ve put a mild effort into learning Arabic, Russian, Mandarin, Hebrew, and Portuguese.

      • Alkatyn says:

        Assuming by “Chinese” you mean standard mandarin I’d agree (depending how you define it, roughly 70% of the chinese population speak standard mandarin at present).

        But I’d suggest adding additional steps of simplification. Replacing the hanzi character system with everyone writing in a phonetic system similar to pinyin would massively decrease the time taken to learn it, for both native and non-native speakers. There’s a few grammatical irregularities you could also iron out while you’re at it, and add in standardized use of spacing and punctuation to help speakers of western language families.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Klingon or Elvish. Benefits:

      * As a conlang, it will be a second language to every human; no one has an innate advantage.
      * Being tied to fiction, these languages are at least mildly interesting, unlike e.g. Esperanto, which is completely sterile.
      * Both conglangs have a vibrant community behind them, which means that ramping up to global status would be easier.

      Overall, Elvish is probably better purely due to the lack of copyright issues.

      • hnau says:

        Much as I love the idea of everyone speaking Elvish, there are just way too many problems with conlangs as a practical matter. The first one that comes is that trying to incorporate the vocabulary (and to a lesser extent the grammar) needed for everyday communication would leave them a complete mess stuffed with loanwords and imported constructions. Not only would that make them inconvenient to use, it would more or less negate the advantage of neutrality. I’d much rather use a language that people have actually had a substantial number of conversations in, whatever its baggage.

        If you want to insist on neutrality as a primary concern, how about Latin? It’s got most of the advantages of a real language with much less cultural baggage, and it also has a long history of use as a neutral common language in a variety of fields (religion, law, science, etc.). Maybe a bit Eurocentric, but any language you could realistically use is going to be something-centric. After all, Elvish is heavily influenced by Welsh (Sindarin) and other European languages (Quenya).

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        Tolkien’s work is still under copyright, and my guess is that his estate will not hesitate to forcefully remind you of this if you try to publicly do anything major with Elvish.

        • yodelyak says:

          Nah. IANAL (or anyway, not your lawyer), but “under copyright” will apply to either both Star Trek and Tolkien’s work (because they are not old enough to be no longer copyrighted) or it will apply to neither because, as I and many other people would interpret it, you cannot copyright a language.

          I don’t know the actual state of the law–can’t point you at a specific case–but I would be really, really surprised to learn that I am barred from using the word “grok” because it belongs to Heinlein, or the word “snowcrash” because it belongs to Neal Stephenson. And I would extend that general rule to all the words they coined, and any whole languages created by anyone, so long as I use those words in my own creative way. To put this another way, if I translate Harry Potter into Klingon and try to sell that for money, I expect it is J.K. Rowling who has a claim against me, not Roddenberry.

        • Mary says:

          We weren’t told we could choose only legal languages.

          Anyway, if you have the authority to force the adoption, you can override such petty quibbles.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Best to avoid Klingon as a world language, just in case Sapir-Whorf was on to something after all.

      • John Schilling says:

        Last time I checked, neither dialect of Elvish was a functional language. Tolkien published only fragments of vocabulary and grammar, New Line commissioned just enough extra to fill out the movies’ dialogue, Christopher seems more interested in his father’s literature than his linguistics, and fandom I do not think has been able to fill in the gaps.

        Klingon would need a bit of work, but it’s already a language one can write and converse in and we’ve got Marc Okrand and the Klingon Language Institute available for the necessary expansions. It would annoy the French, privilege no existing nation or ethnicity above any other, reward the nerds and geeks of this world, and give fair warning to aliens of other worlds of what awaits them if they continue with the cattle mutilation and anal probing and whatnot.

        If the French are going to let me be in charge of picking a non-English language for all the world to speak, yeah, Klingon it is. I’m not averse to developing an Elvish dialect as a secondary language for artistic use.

    • hnau says:

      Some ideas:

      1. Portugese. It’s a Romance language, so easy for French / Spanish speakers to pick up (and somewhat for English speakers), but it‘s less widespread and therefore (Edit: Apparently it’s the sixth most spoken first language! Didn’t realize Brazil had that much population!) hopefully has fewer culturally threatening / imperialist overtones. Also, it has footholds in most parts of the world (Europe, South America, Africa, South Asia, East Asia).

      2. Swahili. Proven track record as a second language / trading language among several different cultures.

      3. Spanish. In some sense the obvious choice– second most widespread language after Chinese, and supposedly much easier for foreigners to learn.

      (EDIT) 4. After looking at the statistics more, I wonder about Arabic! 5th most common native language, with a history of use in trading and across cultures, and plenty of people know it as a second language. Supposedly hard to learn, and as the liturgical language of Islam some might find it hard to swallow culturally, but otherwise it seems like a nice fit.

      • Jayson Virissimo says:

        Yeah, total number of speakers is an overrated metric IMO. A better metric would take total and geographic spread into account. On that score, Portuguese and Arabic would do well, but Chinese poorly.

      • Tenacious D says:

        The weaknesses of Arabic are its writing system* (it is less complicated than it looks but being cursive-only makes it less convenient on computers), and the fact that any religion aside from Islam using the word Allah to refer to their deity will cause controversy (there have been court cases on this in Malaysia, iirc). The strength is that the core of the language has a very logical structure: given a root, a whole set of related nouns and conjugated verbs can be developped in a predictable way (e.g. book = kitaab, writer = kaatib, desk/office = maktab, library = maktabah, (I) write = (ana) aktubu–the root ktb is repeated in each of these words).

        *Turkish used to use a similar script but Ataturk changed it to a modified Latin script.

        • Evan Þ says:

          …and the fact that any religion aside from Islam using the word Allah to refer to their deity will cause controversy

          Some people would say this isn’t a weakness but a strength.

          On the other hand, this is the no-culture-war thread…

        • AnonYEmous says:

          The strength is that the core of the language has a very logical structure: given a root, a whole set of related nouns and conjugated verbs can be developped in a predictable way

          same goes for Hebrew to be honest, though the nouns may not be as predictable

          speaking of: very easy to speak, compresses information admirably, can write it very quickly, and I’d like to learn it, so that’s my number one option for a shared language. Also not a lot of people speak it, so the only ones to receive favoritism are the Chosen People (hey, what’d you expect)

          downsides: very hard to read, and if you care about spelling or things like the correct gender of numbers / adjectives then you’d better be a native speaker who can do all of that without thinking about it

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Maltese? It is Semitic, which hopefully means it has the same logical structure as Arabic, but is written in the Roman alphabet (AFAIK the only Semitic language to be written in a true alphabet). And it has a lot of Romance loan words which helps.

          It also only has a very small number of native speakers. Though it still might have the Allah (or Alla in Maltese) problem.

          • Tenacious D says:

            For a couple of centuries, Malta was the headquarters of one of the longest-lived international organizations (Hospitallers), so it has that legacy (i.e. not being a typical nation-state) as an argument in its favour as well.

      • scherzando says:

        The Portuguese empire may not have been quite as extensive as the Spanish one, but Portugal kept two substantial colonies (Angola and Mozambique) until 1975, so even within living memory it hasn’t been entirely without imperial associations.

        Also, having studied both Spanish and a little Portuguese, I find the pronunciation of Portuguese much more challenging – it has many more vowel sounds (Spanish has five), and some of them (e.g. the nasal vowels) aren’t in most other widespread languages. Spanish’s relatively simple phonology and intuitive spelling are advantages here, I would think.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Let’s go with a real language: Indonesian.

      It has simple pronunciation with very transparent spelling in the Latin alphabet, doesn’t have any of typical grammar things that most people would consider difficult to learn (gender, cases, complicated conjugations). Its most difficult feature for westerners — measure words/classifiers — is only optional and so is not a big stumbling block for beginners.

      Although a lot of the vocabulary will be alien, Indonesian also has enormous amounts of loanwords from Dutch and English (as well as Arabic, which makes it a positive point to persuade muslim countries to learn it too), and thus from Latin, Greek and French via those, so a lot of the “International” vocabulary is already there.

      It also already has a huge number of native speakers and is understood in 5-ish countries.


      Otherwise, if we’re fine with something a bit more artificial and a bit more eurocentric, rather than Esperanto, we could just bring back and modernize Sabir:

      • hnau says:

        I like this proposal! I was going for something similar (longtime cross-cultural lingua franca for trading) with Swahili, but Indonesian seems even better.

        • fnord says:

          The US Foreign Service Institute rates languages by difficulty to learn for native English speakers. And outside of the Romance and Germanic languages that are related to English, Indonesian and Swahili are tied for the easiest to learn (along with Malaysian, which I think is closely related to Indonesian).

    • arlie says:

      I can see lots of different criteria that might be relevant, and many are mutually contradictory. (Of course.)
      – Mandarin is obvious, as having the largest number of current speakers. But let’s have a phonetic writing system, to make it less tech-unfriendly.
      – Alternatively, let’s pick whatever language has the *fewest* speakers, so no powerful group is favoured. Bonus if it’s similarly painful to learn for folks with most common native languages. But that will probably make it some obscure language currently spoken by 2 over-70s in a backwater within some colonized area. No modern terminology ;-( Probably no written form, either.
      – OK, least common language that possesses both a written form and a modern vocabulary, with the written form reasonably phonetic (not like English, let alone like written Chinese). NOT a tiny dialect of an otherwise common language. Bonus if it’s good at coining new words, and at absorbing vocabulary from other languages. Bigger bonus if the sound system is simple enough that average adults can learn to hear and pronounce it 😉
      – I’m not a linguist, so I can’t name languages that fit these criteria, and most of the sources available to me tend to conflate “easy to learn” with “easy for english speakers to learn” or less commonly “easy for indoEuropean speakers to learn”.
      – alternatively, how about an unspoken language of certain educated groups – Latin, Sanskrit, or similar.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’d be ok with Mandarin written in Pinyin.

        • David Shaffer says:

          This probably makes the most sense. It has the most speakers, it’s fairly terse (you’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes having a language that lets you say things quickly), and most of the difficulty involved comes from the characters, which Pinyin removes. Seems like the best choice if English is out.

          German could also work; it’s largely phonetic, easy to learn (especially for English speakers) and also quite terse. But given that there are over a billion Mandarin speakers and only roughly 229 million German speakers, let’s go with Chinese.

      • Evan Þ says:

        OK, least common language that possesses both a written form and a modern vocabulary, with the written form reasonably phonetic (not like English, let alone like written Chinese). NOT a tiny dialect of an otherwise common language.

        Hmm… How about Cherokee? It’s probably not the least common, but it’s really uncommon while still spoken and used in modern educational systems.

        • arlie says:

          I like that idea. It’s likely to be equally difficult for native speakers of all the currently major language groups, since it isn’t realted to any of them, which is a big bonus.

          • David Shaffer says:

            Depends on the goal. If you want people to be able to communicate, pick something as easy as possible for as many people as possible. If people are going to throw a fit about certain groups having an easier time, maybe pick something like Cherokee… but if you have the power to make the selection to begin with, wouldn’t it be better to tell the egalitarians to sit down and shut up?

      • Sniffnoy says:

        – OK, least common language that possesses both a written form and a modern vocabulary, with the written form reasonably phonetic (not like English, let alone like written Chinese). NOT a tiny dialect of an otherwise common language. Bonus if it’s good at coining new words, and at absorbing vocabulary from other languages. Bigger bonus if the sound system is simple enough that average adults can learn to hear and pronounce it 😉

        Who said you have to use the current writing system for it? Hell, if you want a phonetic writing system for Chinese languages, you don’t have to invent one; Pinyin already exists. Go with Mandarin written in Pinyin. (Don’t actually do that, but it’s at least a somewhat reasonable choice, unlike Mandarin written in Hanzi.)

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I’d definitely pick a conlang – I think that the amount of bad feeling caused by everyone having to learn one group’s language would be considerable, and it would be better to put everyone in the same boat. Plus, conlangs are more likely to be logical and to be designed to be easy to learn.

      • bullseye says:

        I’d pick a conlang too. It’s true that there wouldn’t be any literature written in a newly invented language, but if it’s a global language spoken by everyone, I think a lot of literature would appear pretty quickly.

        Another advantage of a conlang would be flexibility in the “correct” pronunciation. I’ve met Germans who spoke excellent English, except that they couldn’t quite pronounce J or Th, which clearly marked them as foreign. A conlang could have each letter represent a handful of similar sounds any of which are correct, so you just say whichever one is easiest for you and it’s fine.

    • rlms says:

      Easier? harder? variant: choose a common language for Europe. My shortlist is Maltese, Albanian, Greek, Romansh, Basque, Romanian and Breton.

      • johan_larson says:

        Latin. It’s everyone’s heritage, and no one’s language. If history had gone only slightly differently, the EU would already be run in Latin.

        • rlms says:

          Too close to Italian/Romance languages in general; the non-Romance speakers will never let you get away with it. Romanian suffers from the same problem but has the advantage of being geographically Eastern and being a little bit Slavic.

          • bullseye says:

            I don’t speak any Romance languages, but it still seems like the obvious choice to me.

            Though, come to think of it, I do know a lot of fancy English words, which would help.

          • Anthony says:

            The English would probably support it, especially since it’s harder on the French than on other Romance-language speakers.

          • johan_larson says:

            Well, if they want to be difficult about it, what they get is English, since it’s the closest thing to a world language right now. All of them are already spending all sorts of time and money learning it. Do they hate Latin more than English?

            The obvious disadvantage of English is that it is the language of a member nation, making the choice look like obvious favoritism. It’s advantages are incumbency as a common language and its joint Germanic and Romance features.

            What choices can beat English?

          • watsonbladd says:

            Latin is a prestige language along with Attic Greek in the German speaking world. Children learn it in school. Names were latinized as recently as the early 20th century in the Netherlands. Everyone dreams of the Pax Romana.

        • onyomi says:

          Interestingly, something like this is what lead to all the Romance languages being a thing in the first place. One wonders whether, given several hundred more years, this wouldn’t again result in numerous mutually unintelligible versions of the new Latin, or if globalism, media, etc. would largely prevent that. I guess it also depends on how history unfolds.

          • Machine Interface says:

            Well, medieval Latin continued to be the auxiliary language of Europe long after the Romance languages had split and become mutually unintelligible. The key to the success of medieval Latin was that it was relatively flexible and adaptable to local pronunciation and taste, and was pretty close to the native languages of its speakers at least in western Europe.

            It’s theorized by some that what really killed Latin for good is the humanists’ insistance on pristine classical Latin, between modern languages and which the gap was much bigger than with medieval Latin, and so that made Latin mastery effectively out of grasp of many people, and opened the way for French (and to a degree Italian and German) becoming the new auxiliary language of Europe.

    • Rowan says:

      I choose Welsh, not for any practical or linguistic reasons, but because I’m Welsh, and would love to engage in a bit of cultural imperialism and force Chinese kids learn to siarad Cymraeg.

    • dick says:

      JavaScript. Everyone seems to agree it’s good for beginners!

    • Lambert says:

      Something Polynesian?
      They only have about 12 letters, so keyboards would end up a lot smaller and more affordable.

      • dodrian says:

        Hawaiian was my first thought – I believe it is very simple phonetically and grammatically, so it should be easy to encourage widespread adoption.

        Potentially problematic in terms of a small vocabulary. I think Machine Interface’s suggestion of Indonesian is a good one.

    • liramzil says:

      Lojban it is! A boolean logic based language that cuts out ambiguity. Seems like a good candidate for EarthLang.

      I originally came across it here (Be forewarned, its a temporal hazard like TVtropes):

      • Nick says:

        I’m a Lojban fan, and it’s definitely better than earlier interlangs like Esperanto.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        “that cuts out ambiguity”

        Read some Wittgenstein.

      • Lambert says:

        Don’t get rid of ambiguity. That would ruin about half of all comedy.

      • liate says:

        Note: it cuts out syntactic ambiguity; from my understanding, actual lojban tends to actually be more vague than english, because things inferrable from context generally are able to be left out, and most nounish things in lojban could be strictly parsed as “thing(s) which make this relationship true, where the relationship is generally a word that is glossed something like “x1 is a cat”, or “x1 is blue”.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I give the French a choice between Finnish and English. They’ll beg for English, which is of course my first choice.

      OK, slightly more seriously.

      The East Asian languages, except Korean, are a disaster orthographically. So forget them. Arabic is bad here too.

      India can’t agree on a language other than English, so I throw all of theirs out too.

      Ahh, forget it, I pick Mexican Spanish. Relatively easy to learn for an English speaker, doesn’t give any advantage to other industrialized countries (sorry Spain).

      • Anthony says:

        Some other Spanish, please. People who can’t be arsed to call the letter “i griega” and force the rest of the world to change shouldn’t get their dialect favored. But I’m totally ok with not using Castellano, so I don’t have to lithp.

      • Alkatyn says:

        > The East Asian languages, except Korean, are a disaster orthographically. So forget them. Arabic is bad here too.

        If we’re at the point of imposing a world language we could fairly easily add on a caveat that everyone has to use a phonetic system like pinyin.

      • David Shaffer says:

        The advantage of Finnish is that it’s extremely beautiful. The disadvantage is that it has very few speakers. Kippis!

    • JohnBuridan says:

      I am partial to any language in which the literature of at least a thousand years is made accessible by knowledge of it. Therefore Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, maybe Sanskrit, Akkadian, or Literary Chinese.

      A conlanguage is like a treasure chest without jewels. It has nothing precious within it, although it may be very useful.

      Ancient and well-storied languages are like deep cavern systems, the ultimate dungeon crawlers. There dangerous dragons sleep, undigitized chambers lay dark, and genie lamps wait to grant wisdom seekers treasure.

      • onyomi says:

        Literary Chinese cannot function as a lingua franca because it is not a spoken language and is too terse to be a spoken language. You would have to turn it into something more verbose, at which point you’d just be reinventing some version of Mandarin (or an older Chinese lingua franca, like Middle Chinese, which, in most ways, was closer to Cantonese than modern Mandarin).

        • JohnBuridan says:

          Thanks, onyomi! How great is the linguistic change of Chinese over time? Can a dedicated student in Beijing today read Middle Chinese? I read once in the New Yorker that it is still fairly easy to read 8th century poetry. Is that true?

          • onyomi says:

            It is still fairly easy for a Chinese person with a university-level education to read most literary Chinese with the aid of some dictionaries and footnotes, though there is, unsurprisingly, a lot of variability depending on the period, genre, and author (premodern China had its Hemingways and its James Joyces). Literary Chinese has not changed all that much, relatively speaking, for about 2500 years, so even the Analects of Confucius and the like are not that hard to read. Go back a little further to e.g. the Book of Documents and things get precipitously harder, but there’s not much extant that early anyway. The characters themselves (on bamboo slips and the like) are much harder to decipher prior to the Qin authoritarian standardization 2200 years ago because there are a huge number of variants for each character, and a lot more flexibility in how they’re composed, but almost all modern editions just print such works using the post-Qin standard.

            Classical Chinese is pretty interesting because, unlike e.g. Sanskrit or Latin, it is inherently a written language: too terse to even hypothetically function as a spoken language without significant modification. Today, even educated Chinese speakers find the prospect of composing good classical Chinese a bit daunting, but ironically, when Hu Shi, Lu Xun, and others pushed everyone to write everything in vernacular in the early 20th c. many recipients of traditional educations complained it was harder than the more succinct literary Chinese. Hard as it may be for us to imagine, conventions for “writing like you talk” have to be invented and learned (they had been invented and developed several hundred years earlier, as one can see with vernacular novels like Journey to the West, but were not used for most daily writing). Speakers of non-Putonghua languages/dialects today, if you ask them how to write an idiom, will not necessarily have characters in mind for how to do so, because, for them, their local language basically exists at oral/aural level, not an official, written level.

            Middle Chinese is more analogous to Sanskrit and Latin in that it is a slightly artificial lingua franca that, in practice was spoken differently in different places and times. Some sticklers won’t even call Middle Chinese a “language” so much as a “system,” because of the way one must rely on e.g. rhyme manuals (you know character x sounds like the beginning of syllable y and the end of syllable z, but that could work for a lot of possible phonetic values of y and z), but I don’t go that far. I would instead say that, roughly speaking, the spoken languages of China today are to Middle Chinese as the Romance languages of today are to Latin (with the apparent exception of Southern Min colloquial language, which branched off Old Chinese earlier but still has a lot of Middle Chinese pronunciation preserved in a literary register used for some words).

            If we could bring Du Fu to modern China in a time machine, probably all Chinese would have a hard time understanding him talk, he would probably sound more like he was speaking some mishmash of Cantonese and literary-register Southern Min than Mandarin (the official language shifts toward that language family around the time of the Mongols), but he would still be able to communicate through writing with much greater ease than e.g. the Beowulf poet could do in England today.

          • Nick says:

            Classical Chinese is pretty interesting because, unlike e.g. Sanskrit or Latin, it is inherently a written language: too terse to even hypothetically function as a spoken language without significant modification. Today, even educated Chinese speakers find the prospect of composing good classical Chinese a bit daunting, but ironically, when Hu Shi, Lu Xun, and others pushed everyone to write everything in vernacular in the early 20th c. many recipients of traditional educations complained it was harder than the more succinct literary Chinese.

            Can you expand on this? Why would the language be “too terse”—are you talking about a lack of vocabulary or something else?

          • Machine Interface says:


            I’ll let onyomi correct me, but basically, I understand that Classical Chinese is mostly read with Modern Chinese pronunciation, in the same fashion that Latin was (and is still) often taught with pronunciation calqued from the modern languages, instead of the original, classical pronunciation — in the case of Classical Chinese, because of the way the Chinese writing system works, we actually don’t know the original pronunciation — it can be reconstructed to a degree, but it is generally not used when teaching the language to literary students, and is really only a point of interest to historical linguists.

            This presents a problem: between Classical and Modern Chinese, a huge number of phonetic mergers have taken place, and so many words that would have sounded distinct in Classical Chinese end up as homophones in the modern language.

            Spoken Chinese has compensated for this effect by adding redundancy and making words longer — most modern Chinese words are actually compounds made of two syllables, corresponding to two distinct words that have been mashed up to gain some length and clarity — you can find similar examples of such a phenomenon in the Romance languages, notably French, which often made words longer by tackling additional stuff onto them to compensate for the rather radical phonetic worning down that had taken place since Latin (eg: “oiseau”, bird, from the diminutive “avicellus”, rather than the classical word “avis”).

            So Classical Chinese texts, when read out loud, are hard to understand even for someone who can read them well, because of the unpractical amount of homophones (in writing the difficulty disappears since the logograms let you know the semantic of words regardless of their pronunciation).

          • onyomi says:

            @Machine Interface and Nick

            Yes, you are basically right, though I don’t think literary Chinese could ever have functioned as a spoken language as written. I don’t know much about these others, but I think it might have been analogous to e.g. Egyptian and/or Mayan glyphs in this respect. To answer Nick’s question about why: it’s mostly just too monosyllabic, with the large number of characters and radicals (character components used to indicate sound or semantic range) taking on the burden, in writing, of specifying which word one meant of e.g. the many different words pronounced “pa.” The spoken languages, like modern Chinese languages today, almost certainly had more two-syllable words to reduce ambiguity, though they may also have relied more on complexity of syllables themselves.

            The language(s) the Chinese writing system was developed for, usually called “Old Chinese,” were languages with fewer, if any, important tonal distinctions, but more potential for “big” syllables (in the sense “strengths” is a bigger syllable than “sun”). As time went on, finer tonal distinctions developed to compensate for the loss of consonant complexity. So, for example, the tone pronounced as a falling tone (“fourth tone”) in standard Mandarin today, likely developed to replace a final -s that was lost from syllables sometime between Old and Middle Chinese.

            But even with the compensatory power of tonal distinction developed by Middle Chinese and further developed in later dialects, reading literary Chinese out loud in Confucius’s time almost certainly was less ambiguous than it is now, but probably still too ambiguous, in many cases, to function as a daily life utterance without additional clarifying function words or doubling up of the sort Machine Interface mentions.

            A related issue is that the Chinese writing system became much less flexible after the authoritarian Qin standardization. For example, the character 聞, meaning “to hear,” consists of an ear 耳, which is there to tell you the semantic range, and a gate 門, which tells you the pronunciation. At some point, somewhere, 2000+ years ago the word for “hear” was pronounced the same as the word for gate. But it’s not the same in Mandarin anymore. Instead, the word for listen is pronounced like a different character 文, meaning pattern, among others. If this were the pre-Qin period, the natural reaction of the Mandarin speakers would be to do something like just stick an ear on 文 and there you go, you’ve got a character for “hear”: sounds like 文, but it’s got an ear so you know it’s got to do with ears. But Chinese mostly didn’t do this after the Han Dynasty, because what if your writing gets read in a part of the empire where “hear” isn’t pronounced like 文. Thus, Chinese characters kind of fossilize a system of pronunciation 2 or 3000 years old, decreasing the extent to which they reflect spoken language but increasing their utility as a written standard for an empire of people speaking various languages descended from that system (as well as for places like Korea and Japan speaking totally unrelated languages).

          • Nick says:

            Machine Interface and onyomi, thanks!

    • marshwiggle says:

      First choice: Mandarin Chinese, but in pinyin. Proven track record, it’s got a built up language capable of doing science and other advanced stuff, lots of speakers. Neither easy nor hard to learn.

      Second choice: Classical Greek. Very powerful language, neutral choice since most people don’t even speak modern Greek, has the weight of tradition. Cons: difficult to learn

      Third choice: Indonesian. Very easy to learn. Has unified different people groups already. Cons: not a very powerful language.

      • liate says:

        …what do you mean by “powerful language”?

      • Jaskologist says:

        There’s an additional problem with Mandarin: tonal languages are really hard to pick up if you weren’t raised with one. You can read them, but it adds another dimension of complexity to hear/speak them when there are so many words that all sound the same to the untrained ear.

        • Alkatyn says:

          Mandarin without tones is mostly comprehensible, it makes confusion between homonyms more of a problem, but thats mostly solved by context clues. Plus over time the language would evolve same as any other language and people would find ways to make the distinction clearer, in the same way that in modern chinese there are a bunch of 2 character words that are technically unnecessary but help clarify. (e.g. 老虎 lao-hu is the normal word for “tiger” but literally means “old-tiger”)

          • onyomi says:

            A joke I’ve heard: what do all the things with the meaningless “old” prefix (tigers, wives, eagles, foreigners…) have in common?

        • AG says:

          Wouldn’t it be better then to go with a tonal language, then, so that all subsequent generations have this additional skill?

          (Honestly, I don’t get the “don’t hear tones” thing. How else do people know when a question has been asked? Henry Higgins wasn’t playing on that glockenspiel for Eliza Doolittle because westerners speak tonelessly!)

          • onyomi says:

            In my experience, it’s not that you literally can’t hear intonation changes, but that, as a native speaker of a language that only uses intonation changes to indicate something like attitude, it is hard to intuitively accept that the same syllable spoken with a different intonation isn’t just the same word, but sarcastic/emphatic/questioning, etc. but an entirely different word altogether.

            After a long time studying Chinese my brain finally started to “notice” tone in this way where the same syllable pronounced with different intonation could sound like a different word entirely, but it took quite a while.

          • AG says:

            This only reinforces to me that kids should grow up learning a tonal language. (Similarly, do Chinese dyslexics exist, and if so, how do they deal?)

          • Jaskologist says:

            What skill does learning tonal languages give you beyond being able to deal well with tonal languages? Hardly seems useful if we’re getting rid of the rest of the languages anyway.

            (Also, different languages have different tones. I don’t know how transferable those skills are.)

          • onyomi says:


            There are studies that indicate a correlation between being a native speaker of a tonal language and perfect pitch.

          • Forget tones, all kids should grow up learning Jalapa Mazatec, so that they can distinguish three different degrees of vowel phonation.

          • AG says:


            Sounds good to me!

    • christhenottopher says:


      Or if you think that is only a dialect of English rather than a distinct language then Frisian.

      Why? Because they’re the closest possible languages to English and I want to spite the French guy.

    • nameless1 says:

      Obviously Sindarin, it is beautiful. Aesthetics matters more than practicality: people would learn it just because it is beautiful. Êl síla erin lû e-govaned vîn.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      My first instinct was Latin, as the old lingua franca of Europe and one still spoken by educated folks around the world. But, then again, I remembered that Latin is an uncouth barbarian tongue, and if we’re going to go classical, why not go whole hog?

      Ancient Greek was much easier for me to pick up than Latin – maybe because I’d already learned Latin? – and it provides the root words for all sorts of things in modern languages. It’s the language of culture and learning in the Roman Empire, which had a good a claim as any other polity to “universal empire” during the times when it was relevant.

      Let’s go with Greek and Hellenize the world.

    • JPNunez says:


      Nothing tonal, please, as this is a chore to learn. So Chinese is right out.

      Minimum amount of basic sounds, so we don’t have sounds that are non listenable to some people. French should count out here. Also it should be something as 1:1 written-to-pronunciation as possible, so english would be, again, out.

      Ideograms should be out, to simplify teaching. Just a base of basic signs mixed into words. Japanese would exit here. Simple grammar, hopefully without too many conjugations would be idea. Spanish goes out of the window here, and probably most latin derived languages.

      This leaves me with, from my limited knowledge

      -Korean (probably simplified somewhat to match the above)
      -Japanese but written as Hiragana (no kanjis)
      -English but pronounced as written.

      Honestly our best bet is non-crazy-pronunciation English.

      • bullseye says:

        “English but pronounced as written.”

        I don’t think you could get a consistent ruleset out of our crazy spelling. I think you’d have to change the spelling itself, rather than the pronunciation.

    • Alkatyn says:

      I assume using simplified english would be considered cheating? Maybe a new language with English vocabulary and orthography, but simpified mandarin grammar.

    • A1987dM says:


    • AG says:

      I let the free market decide 😛

      • ordogaud says:

        Nice. But wouldn’t the free market do roughly the same thing it’s currently doing, i.e. provide services in all the languages that have a big enough customer base to increase it’s profitability (which can change depending on the product/service and the market it’s in, but broadly speaking most globally distributed product manuals come in about 10-20 of the largest languages).

        • AG says:

          Exactly, but another factor is letting the battle for supremacy drive the evolution of languages in ways we cannot foresee the effects of, the way people of old could not know that Latin would die. Who’s to say that any of the current viable languages are in their best final form?

          People have noted how pictographs-as-language have returned in a relatively universal (but sometimes even more culturally contextual instead) via emoji and memes. Who saw that coming? No one, but the free market made it happen.

      • johan_larson says:

        But there’s no market for languages. No one is buying them. No one is selling them. People invariably receive one as a birthright from their parents. Sometimes they go to the trouble of learning a second or third one. Typically, what language is to be used in a particular region is decided mostly by history and partly by national and sub-national governments.

        Are you seeing some market I am missing, or are you somehow proposing to create one?

        • AG says:

          My main thought when reading all of the above comments was that people’s justifications for which languages were superior/inferior were pretty arbitrary. For a commentariat supposedly full of libertarians, they sure were eager to jump at the chance to impose their personal languages preferences from the top down.
          But the proof is in the pudding: the only way to know which languages are easier to learn or preferable to learn is to let people learn the languages they want, usually driven by their desire to communicate with certain other people or engage with certain kinds of media. If the mission gives me the power to stop governments from imposing language requirements, then why not see how language would evolve without them? Is there value in language diversity, or would the world naturally converge towards a certain form, as they absorb concepts and vocabulary from each other? Especially as the hypothetical kids in this situation grow up surrounded by more languages than they do now, and in most case therefore can comprehend those languages that they hear, even if they can’t speak or write it, or code-switchers.
          Kind of appropriate that there’s also talk about Firefly in this Open Thread.

          Let the ultimate creole language reign!

  37. Tatterdemalion says:

    The phrasing of the antepenultimate and penultimate questions of the Kavanaugh survey is confusing: in one “yes” stands for “confirm” and no for “reject”, and in the other it’s the other way round. I suspect you’re going to get a lot of people voting for the option they don’t intent.

    (Or, possibly, I misunderstood the questions, and have answered one of them wrong myself…)

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      Yeah, it probably would have been better to label both sets of answers as confirm and reject. I think I did the same thing.

    • rlms says:

      I give a 15% chance that the survey is about how frequently confusing wording actually confuses people rather than Kavanaugh.

      • Tatterdemalion says:

        I wondered about that, but I can’t see how you could distinguish confused from genuine answers – any of the four possible combinations is something people might plausibly think.

        • rlms says:

          I don’t think No/No (not appropriate to confirm now but would’ve been appropriate if he’d come clean previously) is that plausible but I agree about the other three.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            Well, that was the option I picked, albeit with some agonising over whether to go no/yes…

            I think that “I am truly sorry, it was an awful thing to do but I was seventeen and stupid at the time, I should have know better but I didn’t, and I’m sorry”, the moment anyone asked him anything relevant, plus enough grovelling, is borderline but might just be excusable – it’s a scenario where I’d lose sleep whichever way I went. But I think it’s very unlikely that he didn’t do it, and he wasn’t seventeen and drunk at the time he questioned his probable victim’s veracity a liar and probably perjured himself.

          • Mary says:

            I think it’s very unlikely that he didn’t do it,

            Why not?

          • Nick says:

            Non-culture war thread, Mary. There’s a lively discussion on Kavanaugh in 111.25.

          • simon says:

            I also picked no/no.


            1) He probably did not intend to sexually assault Ford, but in his drunk state just thought he was playing around; he was 17

            2) Character that results in (1) need not be incompatible with supreme court seat if honest about it imo

            3) I am persuaded by Nathan Robinson’s article that Kavanaugh is being dishonest

            4) such dishonesty not compatible with supreme court seat imo

          • Alsadius says:

            Conversely, I can’t see how yes/yes(i.e., appropriate to confirm if he doesn’t confess, not appropriate if he does confess) makes sense. I suppose if your probability of guilt is low then confession would dramatically raise it, but if you think there’s 95% chance of accuracy and answer yes/yes, it’s almost certainly a misread.

          • rlms says:

            @No/No people

            Indeed, it makes sense if you are confident that he didn’t do it (and thus think it’s OK to confirm him now) but think that solid evidence of sexual assault (e.g. a confession) would be disqualifying.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I did a quick search for “the the” just in case.

        (I will not reveal whether I found anything.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It’s too late for me to change anything without messing up existing results, but I’ve capitalized the words “CONFIRM” and “REJECT” to make sure people pay attention to them.

    • brmic says:

      I find it unfortunate that the last two questions did not offer a continuum.
      Like, thinking it is more likely that he’s guilty than not, one might say he shouldn’t be confirmed, but OTOH it’s not the end of the world because (a) it’s not clear whether he remembers and thus perjured himself in the present and (b) his behaviour since is apparently spotless, and so one might see how others would confirm him and see that as a different take, nothing more.
      Or more plainly: Judge Kavanaugh is not divorced of his legal opinions. Unless guilt or innocence is assured or very nearly so, other considerations may dominate.

      • Alsadius says:

        Or, in a similar vein, a “how would you feel about a Senator who voted to do the opposite of what you believe is correct” question.

  38. Nick says:

    There’s a Firefly episode which begins, “Did you ever read the works of Shan Yu?” It’s a great episode I’m not going to spoil here, but the relevant claim by Shan Yu is that you really know a person only when you’ve held them over the volcano’s edge.

    Which do you think is more revealing of a person—what they do and say under careful consideration, or what they do and say in the heat of the moment? Or is this a case where the two are revealing for different, independent reasons?

    • hnau says:

      I can definitely think of ways in which the two can reveal different types of information. For example, I’d imagine that for a soldier the second question (heat of the moment) would be more relevant, but for a general the first (careful consideration) would.

      On the other hand, a person’s heat-of-the-moment behavior tends to follow from their considered behavior. Training, habits, and personal principles are long-term under our own control. If I’m aware of how I behave in the heat of the moment and really want to change it, I can.

      Which I guess means the heat-of-the-moment behavior is more revealing? It’s easy enough to factor in other people’s perceptions and expectations into what you do under careful consideration. By this line of argument, how you act in the heat of the moment would be more revealing of what you really care about personally.

      • Tarpitz says:

        If I’m aware of how I behave in the heat of the moment and really want to change it, I can.

        I am not at all convinced this is true. Even to whatever extent it is true, you may well not in fact be aware of how you will behave in the heat of the moment.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think the usual way people do this is by repeated training of how they want to respond in the heat of the moment, until doing what they trained to do is the natural way to respond. People do this routinely for sports, self-defense, and driving. (Like going to an empty parking lot after a snowfall and practicing recovering from skids.)

        • JohnNV says:

          In fact, as a pilot, I’d say this is most of pilot training. The idea is to practice emergencies so much that when a real emergency occurs, there’s no room to default to “heat-of-the-moment” behavior, you default to what you were trained to do. And for the most part, it works.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I feel that all that those reveal about a person is how they act under these specific circumstances — I don’t subscribe to the idea that each person has one “true” homogeneous nature (“good man” or “scum” usually) and everything they do that doesn’t match their “true” nature is just them wearing masks because mumble mumble artificial social conventions. I act differently when I am on ther internet and in real life, or when I’m drunk and sober, but all these behaviors exist as potential in my brain, there isn’t one that is the “real me” and the others are forced on me by malevolent external forces.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Reminds me of Orwell’s “Room 101”, though Orwell was rather more pessimistic, as his answer was everyone would be completely craven when presented with their worst nightmare.

      I’d say they reveal different things. A person could be tough under stress but have all sorts of other flaws. And a person could be just fine in the day to day but fall to pieces under stress.

      • Alsadius says:

        Orwell’s theory boils down to “torture works”, more or less. History says he’s almost always right. Room 101 is more individually tailored than breaking someone on the rack, but it’s still torture.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think torture works most of the time at breaking its victim; it’s far less clear whether it works in terms of getting correct information.

          • Eric Rall says:

            My usual oversimplified summary is that it’s not that torture doesn’t work: the problem is that torture works too well.

            More precisely, torture tends to give you both more signal and more noise from your subject. Torture does several specific things: it gives a very strong (and very low on the hierarchy of needs) incentive to talk in a way that satisfies the torturer, it induces cogitative load that makes it difficult to come up with a convincing lie on the spot (but can ), it can condition the subject to try to cooperate, and it help induce Stockholm syndrome. The big failure mode is that the subject is very likely to tell you what they think you want to hear, even if it’s not true.

            It also makes the noise harder to tell from the signal, since several of the basic techniques for identifying truth vs lies fall apart under torture: looking for signs of stress doesn’t work because of course they’re stressed if they’re being tortured, and things that would normally be considered “statements against interests” are in the subject’s interests when they’re mostly interested in getting the torture to stop.

            When torture has been used historically by groups that are trying to discover the truth (e.g. the Medieval Inquisition looking for heretics) rather than simply to gather ammunition for a show trial or to heap additional suffering on the subject, they’ve generally come up with sets of rules and techniques for identifying and making use of the signal without getting overwhelmed by the noise. Some common techniques:

            – Don’t lead the witness. They’re going to try to guess the answer you want, and their guesses are more likely to be true if they don’t know what answer you want. This is particularly important for the “cogitative load” mechanism of action: they don’t have to come up with a convincing lie themselves if you suggest it to them.

            – Treat testimony under torture as hypotheses to be validated (or at least corroborated), not as absolute truth. Validation can come from looking for physical evidence based on the testimony (e.g. digging up where they said they buried something) or by correlating independently-given testimony from multiple subjects (preferably independently-collected as well).

            – Mix in questions you already know the answers to, to use as gauges of the subject’s honesty.

            – Limit the severity and duration of the torture, and don’t torture the same subject in more than one session. If you don’t get answers you want in the first session, then it’s more likely that they’re telling the truth (and you’re torturing them based on invalid assumptions) than that you’re going to get the truth you’re expecting in the next session.

          • CatCube says:

            My understanding (from this paper on torture and plea bargaining @DavidFriedman has posted before) is that torture started in medieval times not as a way to figure something out, but as a way to gather evidence required by the courts of the time.

            If I understand it correctly, the only acceptable evidence (based on Biblical interpretation by the Church) was either a confession or direct evidence by two witnesses–circumstantial evidence was forbidden. For example, if you had half the town hear somebody inside a house scream “John, what are you doing?”, then John run out with blood on his clothes, and they find a body inside, that’s not sufficient evidence to convict John, because none of the witnesses saw him commit the crime. They need his confession.

            The answer was to allow them to break out the thumbscrews to get that confession, without which he’d go free. Then, of course, they got lazier and lazier about what counted as sufficient cause to use torture against an obviously guilty suspect.

            The article relates this to plea bargaining in the US, which started out with the thought, “Hey, we both know you’re going to get convicted because it’s so obvious. If you save us the trouble of a trial, we’ll knock some time off by allowing you to plead to a lesser offense.” and now seems to be, “Fuck you, we’ll destroy you if you don’t plead to this, because it’s way easier for us and our budget to get a plea with weak evidence rather than have to develop all that we need for a trial.”

      • carvenvisage says:

        Reminds me of Orwell’s “Room 101”, though Orwell was rather more pessimistic, as his answer was everyone would be completely craven when presented with their worst nightmare.

        Did he say that outside the book, and/or weigh in as omniscient narrator? I wouldn’t be surprised if Orwell did think so*, but Winston ‘knowing’ so in close third person isn’t Orwell saying so.

        *based on how disparaging he is of “sainthood” as an aspiration

        • The Nybbler says:

          Did he say that outside the book, and/or weigh in as omniscient narrator?

          As I recall it was O’Brien who said it.

          ‘By itself,’ he said, ‘pain is not always enough. There are occasions when a human being will stand out against pain, even to the point of death. But for everyone there is something unendurable — something that cannot be contemplated. Courage and cowardice are not involved. If you are falling from a height it is not cowardly to clutch at a rope. If you have come up from deep water it is not cowardly to fill your lungs with air. It is merely an instinct which cannot be destroyed. It is the same with the rats. For you, they are unendurable. They are a form of pressure that you cannot withstand, even if you wished to. You will do what is required of you.

          Ah, he denied that it was craven, but he did say everyone would break. This doesn’t prove that O’Brien’s belief reflects Orwell’s, of course, but it seems likely.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Well it’s not 0 evidence (the fact that he was able to think of it and willing to expose the viewer to such an idea isn’t nothing), but as far as the story goes it’s pretty meaningless. Why wouldn’t O’brien try to insinuate such an idea into Winston’s head? As horrible-leering-things-to-say go, it’s pretty “good” even if O’Brien has seen it contradicted first hand. (and the “you will do what is required of you” stuff is classic hypnotism talk/prophecising)

            Having terrifying convictions and doctrines (or enjoying pretending to) is exactly the sort of thing I would do if I was a (soulless evil) torturer. -It’s just the non-cartoon version of “ahahaha everyone breaks”, essentially based in the same kind of bullshit faculty as sports shit-talking, just without the common decency/mercy to refrain under such a stark imbalance of power.

            Which isn’t to say that we can’t guess that Orwell was overawed by his own imagination (because woah that’s some scary shit), but unless you’ve also been to war and got shot in the neck it seems imprudent to generalise from a modern sense of what twisting convictions of evil could be depicted without being believed.


            Looking it up, here is something Orwell said in an article he wrote (i.e. his own voice):

            When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic. Women face childbed and the scrubbing brush, revolutionaries keep their mouths shut in the torture chamber, battleships go down with their guns still firing when their decks are awash.

            n.b. this isn’t meant as a gotcha and I’ll admit in advance that the two aren’t directly contradictory and he could be talking romantically.

    • spkaca says:

      “Sadistic nonsense” said Simon Tam, and he was right. Whatever we learn about the person by holding them over the volcano’s edge is nothing compared to what we learn about Shan Yu.

    • fion says:

      I lean to the “careful consideration” end of the spectrum. Heat of the moment adds more noise that drowns out the signal.

      Maybe heat-of-the-moment tells you more about their animal brain, but careful-consideration tells you more about their human brain, which is the one that matters.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Maybe heat-of-the-moment tells you more about their animal brain, but careful-consideration tells you more about their human brain, which is the one that matters.


    • Alsadius says:

      It really depends what you want to know. If you want to know how they’ll react when their squad gets ambushed in the jungle, volcano. If you want to know how they’ll react when offered a new mortgage refinancing deal by their banker, no volcano.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The replies so far are a little surprising, given the community’s origins.

      The basic idea here is that it doesn’t matter what you say you will do, it matters what you actually do. It’s all very well and good to say you are brave, loyal, and committed to the cause, but it becomes much more relevant when you have skin in the game. No more so than when you are in situations of mortal peril.

      Even if it aligns with your true desires to be all these things, we frequently behave in ways that are not rational.

      Does this mean that we need to test people by convincing them of mortal danger? I’d say no, as this has many other follow on effects. But the basic idea is one that should be familiar.

      • Aapje says:

        The replies so far are a little surprising, given the community’s origins.

        The basic idea here is that it doesn’t matter what you say you will do, it matters what you actually do.

        The question was not whether we should judge people on what they say vs what they do, but whether we should judge them based on what they say and do to save their own life vs what they say and do when safe.

        It’s all very well and good to say you are brave, loyal, and committed to the cause, but it becomes much more relevant when you have skin in the game.

        Do you actually believe that maximum bravery, loyalty and commitment is always a good thing? Because I don’t. I’d rather have seen the Nazis a little less loyal and committed. I’d rather have seen them less brave as well, surrendering much earlier rather than pointlessly extending the war resulting in unnecessary death and destruction.

        Many demands for bravery, loyalty and commitment are not worth sacrificing life and limb for, because the cause is not that important and/or because being brave, loyal and/or committed doesn’t help the cause enough. Being brave, loyal and/or committed to a harmful tactic or person can even hurt the cause.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Like many pithy aphorisms, it obscures rather than clarifies to parse the meaning literally. I would also caution that interpreting “true” to be a binary is also a mistake.

          The putative aphorism simply means that we find out more about what people really value when the price is significant to them. To the extent that torture comes into it, I think the aphorism is “not even wrong” as everyone has their breaking point.

      • Randy M says:

        The basic idea here is that it doesn’t matter what you say you will do, it matters what you actually do

        I’m not sure this is the basic idea here–without a modifier like “in extreme situations”–but in any case, I agree with the above. You are what you do.
        Of course, what you do after careful consideration is definitely a part of you–perhaps the more important part. But what you wish you did, or say you’ll do, isn’t.

      • quanta413 says:

        That is not the way I parsed the question.

        Like mentioned above. I thought it was doing under extreme danger or doing normally. Almost no one in the modern U.S. is in extreme danger at any point in their lives (until you’re dying of a heart attack). On the other hand, I think you could probably bend most people with high stress even if they are completely safe.

        So in the spirit of things, applying moderate stress may tell you something about a person too. I think this holds true for all sorts of measures not just character.

        Say I want to estimate how well a fresh engineer will perform on a project. They’ve never done significant work on any non-class projects before and are just out of school. I want to know both how they do with lots of time on things like class projects, but I also want their scores on some sort of timed test. GRE or whatever. Low scores on the timed test but having high grades may be a sign of a person whose performance crumbles under even mild pressure. I probably don’t want that person in a fast-paced environment with lots of little deliverables each day. Someone who scores highly on the timed test but has poor grades I wouldn’t want doing something like research where there is only rare feedback and it’s more of a slog over years.

        I agree what people say tells you little.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          I think it would be plausible to say that most, or at least a reasonable number of, people in the US will at some point either be in or narrowly avoid a car crash. That probably qualifies as extreme danger.

          • beleester says:

            The length of a car crash (and the range of possible actions available to the driver) probably isn’t long enough to tell you anything about their character. Both the coward and the hero are going to try not to crash the car.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The episode itself is about torture, so “extreme peril” isn’t quite right.

          But the basic idea, that you need to see people under duress to understand how they will react under duress seems solid to me.

          • gbdub says:

            “But the basic idea, that you need to see people under duress to understand how they will react under duress…”

            But, at least as it’s presented in the show, it’s a stronger claim than that: the “you” under duress is the only “true” version of you. Not only that, but it’s not just “duress” but “mortal peril” that brings this out.

            Of course the good guys have their own version of this – Niska may be sadistic, but Wash believes that Mal has a greater intimacy with Zoe because Mal and Zoe were on daring adventures together and Wash hasn’t gotten to experience that. So in a way, Wash agrees with Niska – he is jealous that only Mal gets to see the “true” Zoe.

            I took the lesson of the episode to be that Simon is basically right – it’s sadistic nonsense used by a madman to justify his sadism. There is definitely a primal version of ourselves that comes out in mortal peril, but this is a dark and nasty thing and we should count ourselves lucky that most of us get to live our lives never letting that self out.

            I don’t think any of the crew of Serenity left that episode saying, gee, I’m sure glad I got to meet the “real” Zoe, Mal, and River – we should do that more often!

            EDIT: I think Niska actually uses “real you” instead of “true you” – I’m using those interchangeably.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But, at least as it’s presented in the show, it’s a stronger claim than that

            Hmm, it’s been a while since I watched, but I didn’t think there was any particular claim being made, but the basic theme is something that repeats throughout the show.

            For instance, Mal lets Jayne back on the ship (rather than spacing him) after Jayne betrays the crew because Jayne asks Mal not tell anyone what he did.

            Which Jayne is the more true Jayne? The one who carefully considers that the money is too good? Or the one who realizes that he doesn’t want to be remembered as a back-stabber?

            And, of course, this stuff is fiction, so you can’t take it too literally or seriously.

          • quanta413 says:

            Yes, I agree. The idea that duress matters to understanding a person is solid.

            We try to match the level and type of duress to the duress you’re expecting they will make some important decision under or will have to function under. So military training has a lot more duress than college and so forth.

          • Matt M says:

            But, at least as it’s presented in the show, it’s a stronger claim than that: the “you” under duress is the only “true” version of you. Not only that, but it’s not just “duress” but “mortal peril” that brings this out.

            I think the entire concept of the “true self” is a bizarre invention of the modern western self-help genre designed to sell books and seminars.

            Your “true self” is the person you choose to be the majority of the time. That’s all. The steelman of the opposing argument might be something like “Someone may choose to behave differently at work, for professional reasons, but at home they behave more how they want to, and that represents their true self.”

            I’d disagree with that, but the version presented here seems, if anything, like a strawman version. Something like “The person you are 99.9% of your life is just a fake veneer you present to society, the real you is the person you are only in exceedingly brief and rare circumstances which some people never encounter.”

            It’s just ridiculous. You are who you are. There is no “true” you beneath the surface that’s different from the regular you.

          • quanta413 says:

            Can the deeper roots of the “true self” be found in Romantic ideas? I think self-help book are drawing on a preexisting pattern.

            It sounds like the sort of crazy thing some Romantic would come up with. But maybe I’m just being unfair because I didn’t like some of the literature I had to read in school.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think the entire concept of the “true self” is a bizarre invention of the modern western self-help genre designed to sell books and seminars.

            I don’t think this is true. The idea of someone who turns coat for self preservation or profit is an old idea with a long lineage.

          • Matt M says:

            The idea of someone who turns coat for self preservation or profit is an old idea with a long lineage.

            So, what is the “true self” of say, Benedict Arnold?

            I might suggest his true self is that of a self-interested and calculating individual, willing to support whichever side offers him the best deal and odds of success. That was who he was when serving the Colonials, and who he was when serving the British.

            I guess conventional wisdom might be that the “true self” of Benedict Arnold is a low-down and filthy coward who was willing to “sell out his country” at the first bit of adversity. But there does seem to exist some revisionist scholarship that would suggest that this is not true. That Arnold’s intentions during the war were mostly genuine. That he had risked his life on multiple occasions. That his various gripes with the government were somewhat reasonable and entirely genuine.

            Ultimately I think this takes us to a more philosophical discussion of whether or not one bad action should define a person on the whole. Is a selfless and devoted family man who, one time in his life, stole a candy bar, properly defined as a “thief” and not by any of his other positive attributes? My argument would be that the unfortunate subject of the “you screw one goat” joke has a legitimate gripe here!

          • albatross11 says:

            This seems related to extrapolating from your current observations to make predictions far away from them. Watching you bicycle to work, eat lunch, take your kid to the park, etc., I just don’t learn very much about how you would behave under the immediate threat of death, or in a crisis situation where cool decisionmaking would mean the difference between disaster and a good outcome, or in a grinding long-running high-stress situation where you spend months doing 70-hour weeks and being in constant turmoil. To try to figure out how you will behave in those situations from watching you play with your kids or bike to work is hopeless–two people might look the same in the low-stress circumstances, but one will shine in the horrible situation and the other will come apart in it.

            That’s not so much “the true you” as just an aspect of you that hasn’t become visible in your current situation. And there are a vast number of situations I can’t observe you in. What would you be like famous and followed by groupies? What would you be like homeless and with three days since your last decent meal? What would you be like with a terminal cancer diagnosis? What would you be like with your child badly injured and his life hanging on you making exactly the right decisions over the next few minutes? What would you be like serving in a trench somewhere in WW1?

            It’s impossible to know without seeing you in those situations! When we want to figure that out, we generally put people in situations as similar to that as possible (like having astronauts or submariners spend a long time isolated indoors in close quarters together, to see whether they’re suited for this kind of work). And we try to train people to behave in the right way in those stressful situations.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s not so much “the true you” as just an aspect of you that hasn’t become visible in your current situation. And there are a vast number of situations I can’t observe you in. What would you be like famous and followed by groupies?

            Everything you said up to this is fine, and I don’t disagree with any of it.

            But then, why is it that we would say the “true self” is “how you behave in mortal danger?” Why isn’t your “true self” more akin to “how you behave if you win the lottery?”

            To me, the closest thing to a “true self” is how you behave in the day to day circumstances you are most likely to experience. Now, one could make an argument that for the crew of Serenity, the day to day circumstances include “risk of mortal danger” so perhaps that’s a very significant component of the true self. Perhaps it is for a Navy Seal as well. But the average American will face mortal danger only a small handful of times throughout the entire course of their lives. Why should we disproportionately weight their behavior in such rare situations over their behavior the vast majority of the time?

          • gbdub says:

            @HeelBearCub – I think you might be misremembering Jayne in that episode.

            His heel-face turn didn’t come as a last second epiphany when Mal threatened him with death. It came when he saw what the Alliance had done to River and realized that serving that side was a step too far even for him, even for money that was “too good”.

            If the “snap judgement” Jayne is the “true” Jayne, then his original snap judgement, his original instinct, was that the Tams were an annoying burden and he would leap at the chance to sell them out.

            Mal didn’t let Jayne back in because he saw the “true” Jayne as he faced mortal peril in the airlock, Mal let him in because Jayne proved that he really had grown/changed as a result of his experience.

            Anyway I agree with Matt – calling your mortal danger self your true self, for most people, privileges extremely rare, hard to predict, and rarely repeatable situations over how a person will be in the 99.99% of time you’ll be dealing with them.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Mal let him in because Jayne proved that he really had grown/changed as a result of his experience.

            You are correct that I was not remembering key parts of the episode, none the less, Mal isn’t satisfied with Jayne simply saying he has changed, nor proving it by the actions of completing his heel-face-turn. It was actions when his own life was forfeit that mattered more to Mal, once Mal was convinced he was not simply mouthing the words for self-preservation or profit.

            Again, it’s fiction, so it doesn’t pay to take it too literally. But it’s not like people don’t face choices between doing what is “right” and what is “convenient” or “profitable” all the time.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Re jayne in firely I see it the other way around, when Jayne acted under pressure (of enticement, oppurtunity, and danger) it was to the detriment and almost to the total destruction of his adoptive family. His request on the other hand was revealing because it was removed from all further incentives, a last wish of a man resigned to death, where he guilelessly revealed something of his aesthetics, sentiments, wishes, -his intent when unclouded by his mental weaknesses, accumulated brutalities and habituated instincts.

            Also I think that’s more about Mal forgiving him/being a sentimentalist with extreme focus on his immediate ‘family’/first circle of concern than learning something new about Jayne’s character. His fine sentiments didn’t make him any less nearly fatal, it’s not like “eh, guess he’s a good/reliable guy after all”. I think it might just be that Mal can’t eject someone from his immediate circle of concern so long as they show any loyalty. Mal’s general preoccupation is protecting his crew/family, which suggests killing Jayne for risking their lives and breaking trust, but when Jayne shows he still imagines/hopes/wishes he is still in some way of the crew, the same modus operandi requires that he take him back in.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @Matt M if you reject a concept then why don’t you just stop using it, it’s pretty confusing when you try to substitute the nearest thing which makes sense. (which, seeing as you reject the concept wholesale, isn’t that near)

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I agree with Simon on the merits of this philosophy:

      Sadistic crap justified by florid prose.

      Humans are bipedal by nature, but extreme situations involving IEDs and/or surgical saws can leave a person with one or fewer legs. Does blowing or sawing off someone’s legs tell you that their “true” nature isn’t bipedal? Of course not. All you’ve proven is that you can injure someone in that particular way.

      I don’t think that psychological trauma is meaningfully different from physical* trauma in that respect. Just because an injury is neurological doesn’t make it less of an injury.

      *I object to the distinction. Thought is a physical process, if a poorly understood one. But it’s hard to express myself without using dualist language.

    • US says:

      Different variables will be observable in different contexts. Some variables(/behavioural traits etc.) tend to be easier to observe than others, regardless of the context, and some variables are more situation-dependent than others. How well do you know the person to begin with? Etc.

      I find the question of which type of information of the two is more ‘important’ uninteresting, compared to questions pertaining to the variability itself and the reasons for this variability. Why would the answers be expected to be different, and how different? Do I expect to have future interactions with said person in high-pressure contexts, or mostly in contexts where he or she feels safe and has plenty of time to think about an answer? Does the person have an incentive to lie, and is this incentive contingent on the environmental constraints? If the person is deceiving me in setting A by displaying behaviour X and claiming to also be displaying behaviour X in setting B even if he or she would actually display behaviour B, does that matter as long as we’re in setting A and the probability of setting B is low? Etc.

      One conceptual model of how to assess people’s personality accurately is discussed in David Funder’s book about Personality Judgment and it includes four variables: “Accuracy is affected by properties of the judge, properties of the target (the person who’s sending information), properties of the trait that is judged, and properties of the information supplied.” You, the person evaluating the other person, play an important role and multiple variables are important to keep in mind: “The capacity to detect and to utilize available cues correctly can be divided into three components: knowledge, ability, and motivation.”

      I think Funder’s book is a decent book on these topics if you’re interested to know more about these kinds of things. Strictly it’s about personality judgment, not about information accuracy, but they’re not unrelated. The book includes fewer actual research results on these topics than I would have liked (and more speculation than…), but you’ll definitely learn something about these topics if you’re not familiar with this literature. I blogged the book here and here – the posts include some comments by me, as well as some sample quotes and observations from the book.

      A completely different angle, which may however also be relevant, would be to read a book like Browning’s Ordinary Men. Also a good (but tough) read, however the questions explored are different.

    • Matt M says:

      Would it be CW to state that I think Firefly is one of the most massively overrated things ever?


      • AG says:

        I think it was indeed ahead of the curve for a long time, but has since become just slightly above average. There’s also a strong “went out at the top” aspect, interviews indicate that the show’s planned sophomore material would have had very mixed reception.

        Still, I prefer the more episodic pulp shows to prestige TV, so I still wish more shows were like Firefly than, say, Mad Men. (I quite liked the recent “what if Firefly but even more space corporatism” Dark Matter, for example.)

        • Matt M says:

          There’s also a strong “went out at the top” aspect, interviews indicate that the show’s planned sophomore material would have had very mixed reception.

          I haven’t read the interviews, but I think this is a whole lot of it. The first season laid out a lot of fairly decent groundwork and world-building. Then it got cancelled and everyone “filled in the blanks” in their own minds, creating something incredibly epic, when the reality might have been much more disappointing.

          Still, I prefer the more episodic pulp shows to prestige TV, so I still wish more shows were like Firefly than, say, Mad Men

          And I think this would have been a casualty as well. I doubt they would have maintained the episodic nature had the show continued on several seasons.

      • nkurz says:

        Did you watch both Firefly (the TV show) and Serenity (the movie)? Did you hate them both, or just find them to be not as good as their reputation?

        I found Firefly to be an excellent television show, easily living up to its reputation. But I found Serenity to be an absolutely unwatchable overworked mess.

        From what I can tell, most people put them in same category. I’d be interested if anyone else had the same reaction, or even more interestingly, the opposite one. Is there anyone here who loved the movie but hated the series?

        • albatross11 says:

          I thought Firefly was fun to watch, but had a fair number of holes in the world building. I thought Serenity was crap on most every level.

        • AG says:

          I can’t separate Serenity from being a service vehicle for more of the characters and relationships, on those fronts, it delivers quite well, but because I like the characters and relationships, I can’t properly evaluate it as a film.

      • meh says:

        It benefited from ‘dying young’. I’ve seen many shows have a great 1 or 2 seasons, and use that success to coast to four more seasons of ‘meh’ so get remembered as such. An unfair advantage to calling single season shows ‘great’.

      • quaelegit says:

        I first saw the show in 2012 and thought it lived up to its reputation. However, I don’t watch very much TV, so it’s possible it’s “nothing special” at this point and I just haven’t seen any of the others to compare it to.

        @nkurz — I refuse to watch Serenity because Wash is my favorite character… All I can say is the promo poster on the Wikipedia page is one of the worst movie posters I’ve seen.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The most generous reading I can come up with.

      If you want to learn something new about a person the seeing them in a tougher than normal situation is a good way. People are faceted and you can’t say you really know someone well if you only interact with them in low stress situations, but that doesn’t make the stressed version of them their ‘true self’.

    • yodelyak says:

      I like the formulation, “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. You sow an act, you reap a habit; you sow a habit, you reap a character; you sow a character, you reap a destiny.”

      And I’ll second the point made by others. There is no point trying to find out who a man is by studying the responses of his broken body or mind. As well study music by smashing guitars.

      That said, I’ll also repeat a C.S. Lewis quote: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

    • carvenvisage says:

      Which do you think is more revealing of a person—what they do and say under careful consideration, or what they do and say in the heat of the moment? Or is this a case where the two are revealing for different, independent reasons?

      Assuming we’re talking about revealing of someone “true” self or something like that (which I think is implied by the word “revealing”, -pretty momentous sort of word), I don’t either of them are much good, they are both more like skills/abilities rather than expressions of someone’s core identity. I think if you want something to reveal someone’s underlying nature the best thing is what they do carelessly, neither under pressure nor with calculation but just being/existing as they please, especially if you catch them at it by accident/at something otherwise private, and particularly in terms of the sort of ‘shibboleths’ (this is a gesturing word choice, not-even-imprecise) like disrespect to waiters, before they become common knowledge. (for which there is a bit of an arms race, -people are always trying to imitate the things said to “show” someone is a good person).