Open Thread 112.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. As the off-weekend thread, this is culture-war-free, so please try to avoid overly controversial topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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578 Responses to Open Thread 112.5

  1. pontifex says:

    In a previous thread, Matt M made a comment to the effect that it was obvious why the government (mostly) taxes businesses on profits, rather than revenue. The idea being that this encourages reinvestment rather than profit-harvesting.

    Is this obvious to most people? I can’t remember anyone ever mentioning this in school (even in undergrad economics courses). Certainly politicians never seem to talk about it. I’m not trying to say it’s a bad idea, just that it doesn’t seem to get discussed a lot.

    This is also not how individual taxation works for wage-earners. If I’m having a terrible year and I have to sell my house, or go deep into debt, the IRS doesn’t give me a break. Instead, the IRS looks mostly at how much I made in wages (this is an oversimplification, obviously). On the other hand, for businesses, a bad year might mean very little paid in direct taxes. Obviously there is sales tax, and a thousand other little taxes, but still…

    • LesHapablap says:

      One of the advantages of taxing profit is that it lowers the risk of insolvency. Have a bad year and you can still keep trading instead of going bankrupt, lots of valuable capital being lost and everyone being out of a job.

      I’d be interested though in hearing what other people thought, though. For example, different industries have different profit margins and different revenue variability. Would a revenue tax scheme hit some industries harder than others?

    • arlie says:

      It’s part of many governments favouring businesses, and their owners. That may be because they honestly expect businesses to do more good things for their citizens and/or for government revenue than they expect from individuals, particularly wage earners. Or it may be because businesses and their owners contribute more to politicians and/or to technocrats/bureaucrats. Or both. [Speculation on *this*, and especially on why/whether it’s a good decision will probably get us into culture wars territory. So let’s not…]

      The whole idea of having income tax as a major source of government revenue is only about 100 years old. There are lots of other things to tax, and those include possessions (wealth taxes, such as realty tax), existence (poll taxes), % of other transactions (import duties, export duties, sales tax, VAT, etc.) , and probably a lot more that any half competent economic historian could easily list.


      Would a revenue tax scheme hit some industries harder than others?

      If the rates were the same for all industries, then the lower the profit margin, the worse the impact. Mature industries with lots of competition would generally get hit harder than they are now, as their profit margins tend to be razor thin.

      • Matt M says:

        If the rates were the same for all industries, then the lower the profit margin, the worse the impact. Mature industries with lots of competition would generally get hit harder than they are now, as their profit margins tend to be razor thin.

        Yeah, this would have a huge impact and lead to a significant and immediate distortion of the economy.

        It would basically put almost every major retailer either out of business, or require dramatic price increases.

        It would mostly favor software, pharma, and other industries with notoriously high margins.

        And it would encourage everyone to, even more than they already do, engage in a “race to the bottom” wherein the most profitable business strategies would all involve cutting costs (i.e. firing people) rather than attempting to expand/grow the business.

    • ana53294 says:

      Income taxes are not done on gross income, either. Usually, pension contributions, healthcare, mortgage, charity contributions are deducted, and you pay taxes on net income.

      Freelancers are also a business, but they are a one person business. If after paying themselves a salary, they have profits, they pay taxes on net profits, also.

      Individuals who sell assets (homes, shares), get a deduction if they suffer a net loss, and pay taxes if they had a net gain.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Revenue taxes are distortionary because they encourage vertical integration to avoid taxation.

    • Matt M says:

      I don’t recall having made that argument. Unless you mean like, several months ago.

      IMO, the obvious reason to tax profits not revenue is that it would be quite difficult to collect taxes from an unprofitable business, and would almost certainly push them into immediate bankruptcy. How could say, Amazon (notoriously high revenue but unprofitable for many years), have survived in such an environment?

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, it also seems like taxing revenues would screw over businesses that have high revenue and high expenses that balance out to a small profit.

    • dick says:

      Are you thinking of this comment? Matt M said “There’s also the annoying habit of people referring to fairly standard, well known, and long-established deductions as loopholes” and Mark Atwood replied “The main “loophole” that tech companies, and all other companies, “exploit” is that corporate income taxes are paid on profits, not on gross revenue.”

      FWIW I’ve never heard of anyone anywhere suggesting that we should tax corporate revenue, or that not doing so is a loophole.

      • Matt M says:

        Wasn’t a lot of the “Trump didn’t pay taxes” thesis (pre-election, not considering the stuff that came out recently) contingent upon loss carryforwards or something like that.

        I recall a snarky piece by a blogger I enjoy that went something like “You too can benefit from this loophole – simply start a business, rack up a ton of expenses, sell no products, and presto! You’ll have a deferred loss carryforward meaning that if you do make profits in the future, you won’t have to pay as much taxes on them!”

        Now granted, that’s not the same as “let’s tax revenue” but I do think there’s a strong sense that people feel it’s bad if a large and well known business doesn’t pay taxes in any given year, regardless of what the businesses net profit was.

        • dick says:

          Wasn’t a lot of the “Trump didn’t pay taxes” thesis (pre-election, not considering the stuff that came out recently) contingent upon loss carryforwards or something like that.

          There are tax strategies popular among rich people that other people think are bad, and if you’re one of those people who think they’re bad, I wouldn’t fault you for assuming Trump uses some of them. But I think the general case for “Trump cheats on his taxes” is simply that he didn’t release his taxes and is seen, both due to actions and branding, as the sort of person who breaks rules for personal gain.

          I do think there’s a strong sense that people feel it’s bad if a large and well known business doesn’t pay taxes in any given year, regardless of what the businesses net profit was.

          If John Q. HypotheticalLeftWinger thinks Trump should’ve paid taxes in a year in which he claims to have made no profit, the reasonable assumption to make is that John thinks Trump is lying about having made no profit, not that he has a secret desire to reform the tax code in enormous ways that he forgot to mention. More generally, it seems like this – you ascribing a position to the left that you read about in a rebuttal to the left, and people here on the left saying no, that doesn’t sound like us – is a pretty common occurrence.

          • Nornagest says:

            There are tax strategies popular among rich people that other people think are bad, and if you’re one of those people who think they’re bad, I wouldn’t fault you for assuming Trump uses some of them

            This is a culture-war-free thread, so I’ll try to keep this abstract, but: while there are widely assumed to be lots of sketchy tax strategies out there, I’d be surprised if more than a couple percent of the people that assume this could actually identify such a strategy. The usual take I see is something along the lines of “so-and-so only paid $SMALLNUM in taxes this year”, without any further analysis. Sometimes some handwaving about donations to charity, which don’t actually work that way.

            A few extremely wonky people do have legitimate objections to parts of the tax code, but that’s not really part of the broader political discourse.

          • dick says:

            The usual take I see is something along the lines of “so-and-so only paid $SMALLNUM in taxes this year”, without any further analysis.

            Well sure, I’m not suggesting every complaint about rich guys cheating on taxes is well-informed or accurate, only that they are definitely not evidence of general support for taxing revenue instead of profit.

            And it’s worth pointing out, I’m not sure that they’re wrong. My knowledge on this is almost entirely limited to a single book I read more than a decade ago, but it seemed like a well-researched book and the gist of it was “it is very common for the super-wealthy to hire accountants that do things of murky legality in order to pay no or almost no tax, trusting that the ensuing court case will either not happen (because the IRS has a policy of prosecuting lots of easy-to-win cases for small amounts over prosecuting many-years-to-litigate cases for large amounts) or will get settled in a few years for 20-40% of what’s owed.”

          • pontifex says:

            Matt M was talking about companies, though, not individuals. Are you ok with Amazon paying zero taxes when it makes zero profit? If not, why not?

          • dick says:

            I recognize that “Huge companies like FANG paying zero tax is bullshit” is a popular sentiment, but I think people who think that do so because of the feeling that they’re getting away with something sneaky that is legal but in opposition to our intuitive idea of fairness, like shifting their profits to a tax haven, as opposed to genuinely reinvesting it. That’s still not the same thing as advocating that we tax net revenue.

            I know I bang on about the Principle of Charity a lot, but it’s important and this is a good example of why. My working definition of it is, “If someone says something that could be interpreted two ways, choose the one that makes them sound like less of an idiot.” I’ve never seen anyone, from serious economist to youtube crackpot, advocate taxing revenue, so if someone says something that you think sounds like maybe they’re the first, charity requires you to stretch your imagination for any other interpretation.

            (And of course it could be that some serious people do advocate this and I’m not aware of it, which I’m ready to hear about if I’m wrong! But no one has suggested that so far.)

          • I’ve never seen anyone, from serious economist to youtube crackpot, advocate taxing revenue

            Sales taxes are very common, and the equivalent of a revenue tax for the seller.

          • 10240 says:

            @DavidFriedman The main problem with taxing the entire revenue of a business would be that it’s extremely distortionary with regards to long supply chains, isn’t it? Sales tax doesn’t have that problem as it only taxes end customers.

          • Yes. When I said “for the seller,” I meant someone selling things on which sales tax is collected, such as a grocery store or auto dealer. Not true, as I understand the usual rules, of sellers of intermediate goods.

          • dick says:

            Sales taxes are very common, and the equivalent of a revenue tax for the seller.

            When I said “taxing revenue” I meant that as shorthand for what we’ve been discussing so far in the thread (the hypothetical “change the corporate income tax from profit to gross revenue” that I don’t think anyone really wants), not as a standalone phrase. It’s hard to see how that could not have been obvious, but it occurs to me that the design of this forum (where people mostly just refresh and look at the most recent comments, perhaps without scrolling up to refresh their memory of the details) kind of drives people to interpret comments like this that refer to up-thread context more broadly than they’re intended.

  2. johan_larson says:

    Four different versions of the film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” are available: the 1956 original, the 1978 remake, the 1993 remake and the 2007 remake (as “Invasion”.) Which one is the best?

    • Machine Interface says:

      Having not seen any of them, it seems most cinema people regard the 78 version as the best by far, followed by the 56 original, with the 93 version being mediocre at best and the 2007 version not worth anyone’s time.

    • Plumber says:

      I’ve only seen the ’56 and the ’78 versions, of the two I prefered the ’56 version, but the ’78 version was pretty good and I appreciated that it had a cameo appearance of the lead actor in the ’56 one, and it almost made it seem like a continuation of the original story rather than a re-make.

      Grain of salt though, it’s been decades since I’ve seen either one, and my memory of either of them is dim.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      According to Horror Every Day, 1978.

  3. johan_larson says:

    And in other Canadian news, it turns out the province of Ontario is a net beneficiary of federal equalization payments. The payments to Ontario in 2018-19 added up to $68 per capita, which is pretty small but still, it’s incoming rather than outgoing.

    To put that in an American context, imagine that New York State, one of the traditional seats of power and site of the largest city and business hub, was a net receiver of federal assistance.

    • Garrett says:

      I grew up in Canada and obtained (among other things) a Poli-Sci degree. This is quite funny, really. Not quite as funny as when the Tories changed their name to the Canadian Reform Alliance Party. But still quite entertaining.

    • ordogaud says:

      Anyone have a general explanation for what caused such a shift? Has the economic output, job market and/or demographics in Ontario shifted significantly? Or is it more to do with the rich provinces getting richer, like BC with all that Chinese real estate money and Alberta with the tar sands?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Ontario has a third of the population of the nation. It can’t help but be average.

  4. johan_larson says:

    Hello from Canada, land of legal dope-smoking from sea to sea as of today. Unfortunately local governments have been dragging their heels, so at least here in Ontario, the only way to buy legal recreational cannabis is online through the Ontario Cannabis Store. Eventually there will be walk-in stores that sell the stuff, but for now it’s online only.

    • John Schilling says:

      Ah, so the inverse of the US situation where a bunch of states have legalized marijuana but the Federal government still treats it as equivalent to heroin or methamphetamine – but has literally zero budget for specific domestic enforcement, and the big obstacle is that no bank will do business with anyone whose plan is to commit Federal felonies every day and hope that the non-enforcement policy continues.

      Meanwhile, you all I hope understand that when US Customs asks you whether you have ever actually enjoyed any of Canada’s fine legal cannabis, the correct answer is either “No, of course not” and “Yeah, I was just kidding when I drove all the way down here and said I wanted to visit the United States; I understand that I am now banned for life”.

      But you should never lie to the US government, because That Would Be Wrong.

      • Matt says:

        How about: “I don’t think so, but I’m blackout drunk most weekends so who knows, really?”

        • johan_larson says:

          “No, my imam strongly advises against it. I will enter paradise pure in body and mind.”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, the answer to “are you here on business or pleasure?” should be not be “jihad.”

          • bean says:

            Yes, the answer to “are you here on business or pleasure?” should be not be “jihad.”

            Is it just me, or does this read like something from Mr. Welch’s list, or maybe Skippy’s?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Do you happen to know if this is law, formal administrative rule, or just policy? It seems incredibly dumb (why should the US government care that a Canadian has done something that would be illegal in the US, but is not in Canada?), but that doesn’t narrow it down to any particular branch of government.

        • Matt M says:

          I mean, philosophically it makes sense to say “We have no positive obligation to allow foreigners to enter our country, and if they readily admit to engaging in habits that we, as a nation, recognize to be immoral to the extent of making them expressly illegal, we might as well refuse them.”

          We certainly do the inverse. Stuff like the FCPA makes it illegal to bribe foreign officials, even if the bribes are legal in the country in which they take place, etc.

          • 10240 says:

            I mean, philosophically it makes sense to say “We have no positive obligation to allow foreigners to enter our country, and if they readily admit to engaging in habits that we, as a nation, recognize to be immoral to the extent of making them expressly illegal, we might as well refuse them.”

            Do people typically regard drug use as immoral? People tend to mainly regard as immoral things that hurt others. A lot of people support banning things to keep people from hurting themselves, but in those cases the banned thing is usually considered stupid or irresponsible rather than immoral.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I guess I’ve always considered drug prohibition to be malum prohibitum; Canada is famously strict about guns at the border, but I can fire as many guns as I want in the US and Canada doesn’t care when I visit as long as I don’t bring them with me. I imagine there are any number of differences between laws of nations, but aside from that one, I don’t know of any that result in exclusion. Polygamy results in complications (because the 2nd and subsequent marriages are not recognized) but not exclusion.

            Sex tourism and the FCPA are the inverse, but as far as I know we don’t exclude foreign citizens who have lawfully bribed officials in their own country nor foreign citizens who have had sex with people who were not underage in their country but would be in the US.

          • Matt M says:


            I was using “immoral” in a general sense. You can substitute “stupid” or “irresponsible” if you wish and my point still stands.

            Or, to use an analogy, you could substitute drug use for some other less controversial crime. Let’s theorize that Canada suddenly legalized robbery. Would it automatically follow that it would somehow be bad for customs to ask “Are you a robber?” to people from Canada wishing to cross, and to refuse anyone who says “Why yes, I am actually! But I don’t see how that’s any of your business – it’s perfectly legal here!”

          • CatCube says:

            AFAIK, a lot of laws will result in exclusions. Criminal convictions of any type or age might very well prevent you from entering Canada, according to this page.

            It’s been a long time since I traveled to Canada, but that jives with what I remember and what I’ve heard from people who’ve traveled more recently.

          • John Schilling says:

            Do people typically regard drug use as immoral?

            Yes, billions of them, starting with almost every Muslim or Mormon on the planet and extending well into the secular world.

          • 10240 says:

            Or, to use an analogy, you could substitute drug use for some other less controversial crime. Let’s theorize that Canada suddenly legalized robbery.

            Hmm, besides the question of whether we prohibit drug use because it’s immoral, it feels different exactly because it’s less controversial. Almost everyone agrees that robbery is wrong. We hope there aren’t many people in our country who think robbery is OK, we don’t want any more of them, and if someone has committed robbery in your hypothetical Canada is good evidence that he considers it OK.

            But we know well that in any country there is a significant percentage of people who think drugs should be legal, and a smaller but still significant percentage who would occasionally (or less occasionally) smoke weed if it was legal. We know this, we leave them alone as long as we don’t catch them doing drugs, and we (even people who support drug prohibition) generally don’t particularly care as long as they obey the law.

            Naturally these people will smoke weed if they live in a country where it’s legal. That they smoke weed if they live in Canada, but not in a country where it’s illegal (well, many of them do, but that’s a different question) is a matter of circumstances. So banning these people from our country is akin to banning people for their political views that happen to be in the minority in our country — for views that are within the Overton window (unlike legalizing robbery). We usually don’t do that. The US doesn’t ban socialists, Canada doesn’t ban gun nuts.

            The above assumes the popular view that morality is important in keeping people from doing “immoral” things or crimes. My own opinion is that it’s mostly (enforced) laws or social pressure that keeps people from doing those things, and morality is just a sour grapes fiction around them. Most (or at least many) people will do something if they are in an environment where it’s legal or unpunished if it’s in their interest (at least against strangers, perhaps not family or friends), and they stop viewing it as immoral once many people do it. And they won’t do it in a country where it’s illegal, as they don’t want to go to prison. If my assessment is true, there would be no point in banning robbers from your hypothetical robber-Canada, as they can be expected to not commit robbery in our country as much as anyone else.

            AFAIK, a lot of laws will result in exclusions. Criminal convictions of any type or age might very well prevent you from entering Canada, according to this page.

            That’s a different question from doing something that’s legal in the country where you’re doing it, but not in the country you’re visiting.

            even if the bribes are legal in the country in which they take place

            Is there any country where bribery is officially legal? Indeed, can something even be defined as bribery for the purposes of the FCPA if it’s legal in the country where it happens? (Presumably an edge case, since I guess there are laws against bribery almost everywhere, but there are small differences in the definitions.)

            Yes, billions of them, starting with almost every Muslim or Mormon on the planet

            Do they think it’s immoral even for someone who is not a Muslim/Mormon?

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed, can something even be defined as bribery for the purposes of the FCPA if it’s legal in the country where it happens?

            I’m not an expert on it, but I always thought that was the entire point of the FCPA. To specifically punish the sort of business actions that we think absolutely should be illegal, but that might not technically be so under the laws of foreign nations.

          • 10240 says:

            @Matt M I thought it was to punish bribery that’s illegal in the country where it occurs, but it’s commonplace and even expected, and rarely prosecuted as long as it involves powerful politicians.

          • John Schilling says:

            Almost everyone agrees that robbery is wrong.

            A more useful example might be rape. Almost everybody agrees that rape is wrong, but some of them have very different definitions of what constitutes rape.

            But we know well that in any country there is a significant percentage of people who think drugs should be legal,

            And in any country there will be a “significant percentage” of people who believe that a husband cannot rape his wife, a significant percentage who believe that no woman can ever rape a man, a significant percentage who believe that accepting three drinks and an invitation to the bedroom then not forcefully shouting “No!” counts as a yes, etc. In many countries, these beliefs are codified by law.

            If you’re running a country that thinks e.g. marital rape is unacceptably wrong, what should be your policy on visitors who have regularly engaged in such in countries where it is legal?

          • 10240 says:

            If you’re running a country that thinks e.g. marital rape is unacceptably wrong, what should be your policy on visitors who have regularly engaged in such in countries where it is legal?

            If an overwhelming majority (something like 90%+) thinks it’s wrong, consider banning them. (I’m not saying we should ban them, but at least it’s reasonable to consider it.) If there is a significant minority who thinks it’s not wrong, don’t ban them. I’m not sure which category marital rape falls into in Western countries, I suspect the former.

            (My own position on marital rape is that it should be illegal. But if you get married in a country where it’s legal, you have essentially signed a contract that says, among other things, that your spouse may rape you. Then it’s not wrong for your spouse to that right. Of course in Western countries you can’t sign such a contract, but I disagree with that too. That would put me in the “not wrong” group.)

            Similar considerations apply to the other cases.

          • John Schilling says:

            If an overwhelming majority (something like 90%+) thinks it’s wrong, consider banning them.

            Interesting. Are there any other political or policy questions where you think the relevant standard should be “overwhelming majority (90+%), and then only consider it”? Because I don’t see that one very often, and I think it leads to very serious problems when say 80% of the population of a democratic nation wants to do something but are told that their majority isn’t overwhelming enough.

          • 10240 says:

            @John Schilling There are two different issues at hand. One is “is doing X wrong?”. The other is “should we ban people who have done X in a country where it’s legal from visiting our country?”. That 80% of people think X is wrong doesn’t imply that 80% want to ban visitors who have done it. Personally, I oppose banning such visitors if a less than overwhelming (~90%) majority thinks doing X is wrong (even if I personally think it’s wrong), and I’m neutral or very slightly oppose if 90%+ think X is wrong.

          • John Schilling says:

            Personally, I oppose banning such visitors if a less than overwhelming (~90%) majority thinks doing X is wrong (even if I personally think it’s wrong), and I’m neutral or very slightly oppose if 90%+ think X is wrong.

            Oh, OK. That’s underwhelming.

            Personally, I’m opposed to banning or restricting the ownership of any personal armament unless 90+% of the population think it should be banned, and neutral or very slightly opposed if it is 90+%. Also, I’m opposed to any increase in federal spending unless 90+% of the population thinks it is for something the federal government needs to be spending tax money on.

            Etc, etc, etc, let’s just put together a list of my object-level positions on every issue and make it look like I’m some sort of champion of democracy by saying the government should do things my way unless 90+% of the population disagrees.

          • 10240 says:

            I don’t understand where you are going. Here is how I view these things in detail.

            On any given issue, I have an object level opinion what the government should do. And I have a meta-level opinion which, if I have my democrat hat on, is that the government should do what the majority wants, even if it’s different from my object-level opinion. That is, take everyone’s object level opinions, determine what the majority opinion is, and the government should do that (roughly speaking). This meta-level opinion is what the government should really do. My object-level opinion can be read as “I would like it if most people were on board with that”, or “what I’d want the government to do if I wasn’t a democrat”.

            If my meta-level opinion was that the government should do what my object-level opinion is even if 80% of the country wants the opposite, that would mean I’m not much of a democrat. But if my object-level opinion is that the government should do Y, which is a minority opinion, that doesn’t contradict mean I’m not a democrat. I’m entitled to my own object-level opinion. Indeed, it doesn’t make much sense to have my object-level opinion depend on other people’s opinion about the same issue. It would lead to circular reasoning: if my object-level opinion was “the government should do what the majority’s object level opinion is”, and most people had this opinion, then what should the government do after all?

            While it doesn’t make much sense to have my object level opinion on one issue to depend on other people’s opinions on the same issue, it may depend on other people’s opinions on some other issue (as long as we don’t create circular reasoning…). It may do so arbitrarily: it may depend on whether a certain view has 50% majority, 90% majority or whatever else. I’m entitled to my object-level opinion, and it doesn’t make me not a democrat.

            On our topic, my object-level opinion on the issue “should we should ban people who do X abroad from visiting our country” is that we shouldn’t if, on the issue of “is doing X wrong”, less than ~90% of our population’s object level opinion is “yes”. My meta-level opinion (if I’m a democrat) is still that we should ban people who do X abroad from visiting our country if the majority of the population holds the object-level opinion that we should ban people who do X abroad from visiting our country. Of course few people think about things in these complicated terms, but I don’t think it’s an unusual opinion that “we should ban people from visiting our country if they have done something we universally regard as wrong, but not if it’s a controversial issue”.

            Your examples are something different. “Personally, I’m opposed to banning or restricting the ownership of any personal armament unless 90+% of the population think it should be banned” Here you refer back to other people’s opinion on the same issue. It’s unclear if your sentence is your object-level or meta-level opinion. If this is your object level opinion, that doesn’t make much sense, and if it’s your meta-level opinion, that means you are not a democrat (otherwise your cutoff would be 50%).

            Note that when voting on an election or referendum, I go by my object-level opinion. The election process itself ensures that the government’s actions approximate what the majority wants if people vote based on their object-level opinions.

        • John Schilling says:

          It is statutory law that C&BP has the discretion to exclude people from the United States for doing things that would be illegal under US law even if some other legal regime is just fine with it. This isn’t just a US thing; nobody wants to let in rapists just because the Islamic State says men can do whatever they want with their sex slaves.

          The “Have you ever used legal marijuana?” bit is an erratic and recent policy implementation of that law, which doesn’t have a master list of of which laws lead to exclusion. It would be impractical to ask every visitor about every US statute, so C&BP inspectors get to use their judgement. Or lack thereof.

        • dick says:

          It is statutory law that C&BP has the discretion to exclude people from the United States for doing things that would be illegal under US law even if some other legal regime is just fine with it.

          This is not intended to dispute what you just said, but it reminds me of something I’ve always wondered about: is it actually illegal to be high or to have been high? I mean, it’s (federally) illegal to possess pot, and to buy it or sell it, and to drive under the influence, and to be intoxicated in public, but is there a law that covers just being high by itself?

          (edit: missed the “not” in the first sentence, kind of an important word!)

          • Lambert says:

            As in to cross the border to Canada, smoke, then immediately return to the US?

          • dick says:

            As in to cross the border to Canada, smoke, then immediately return to the US?

            No, what I’m asking is, separate from the whole matter of border crossing, if you are in the States and you manage to get high without possessing, buying, or selling weed – say, someone at a party offers you a puff from a joint, and you take it – which law if any have you broken?

          • Matt M says:

            AFAIK only actual possession is illegal.

            This is why you can like, post a video of yourself smoking weed on Facebook and not fear being arrested for it.

            Because even if the cops were to immediately show up at your house, unless they catch you with the banned substance, you haven’t violated any actual laws. (With the exceptions of driving, intoxicated in public, etc. that you already laid out)

          • Garrett says:

            I have heard that if the police want to really be a pain, they can charge you with possession for having the drug in your bloodstream. Still time-sensitive for the process, though.

          • 10240 says:

            AFAIK only actual possession is illegal.

            This is why you can like, post a video of yourself smoking weed on Facebook and not fear being arrested for it.

            Because even if the cops were to immediately show up at your house, unless they catch you with the banned substance, you haven’t violated any actual laws.

            But they do have evidence that you have possessed it in the past. Most of the time, if cops can prove that you have committed a crime, you can be prosecuted even if you aren’t caught red-handed. Is there an exception for drugs?

          • ordogaud says:


            I’m no law expert, but I think you could just argue that it wasn’t actually weed (or whatever drug you were doing) and that the video was a fictional representation. If they have no other proof that you possessed an actual illicit substance I don’t think it would hold up in court.

      • 10240 says:

        So, apparently, every Canadian smokes pot.
        “There’s a brick wall going up on the northern border for Canadians if they answer truthfully whether they have smoked marijuana”

      • BBA says:

        Federal law is that marijuana is worse than methamphetamine, which somehow is still a Schedule II drug and can be legally prescribed. The brand name is “Desoxyn” and it understandably isn’t a big seller.

        • albatross11 says:

          I thought some ADHD drugs were closely related to methamphetimine.

        • Protagoras says:

          Yeah, in pill form methamphetamine works like pretty much any other amphetamine (so, yes, very good for ADHD; it’s about the same as the stuff in Adderall). For amphetamines generally, their potential for abuse is hugely influenced by how they are taken, and the resulting impact on how fast they enter the bloodstream. Not sure why methamphetamine is the most popular one to abuse (ease of manufacture? better suited to alternate drug delivery methods?) but it isn’t because meth is hugely different in how it works once it’s in your body. But since in its effects it is pretty much the same as Adderall (or just generic dextroamphetamine) rather than being notably better, it is indeed rarely prescribed as doctors would rather prescribe drugs that aren’t associated with a troublesome street reputation.

  5. Deiseach says:

    Hello, world!

    I am a very happy and relaxed and mellow Deiseach right now thanks to the wonders of modern pharmacology and 5mg of diazepam which my GP prescribed for me today as I have been speeding off my box (to use a technical term) since waking up at 3:00 a.m. this morning and continuing to be in a state of jittering nervous anxiety (or anxious nervousness) until about 11:30 a.m. when I took said tablet.

    Woo-hoo. I totally understand how these can be habit forming and why she only prescribed me ten (10) tablets to be taken strictly as necessary and only then, not whenever I feel like it. I completely agree with that, or will continue to do so once the comfortable floaty feeling wears off.

    But any interactions until that happens will be all peace, love and understanding, not my usual cynical snarling. Have a lovely October day! 😀

    (I may be slightly drugged out of my gourd right now, but it is a huge improvement on the jittering nervous anxiety).

    • Acedia says:

      Benzos are wonderful when used responsibly. In or out of your gourd, I’m glad you’re suffering less. 😃

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Ooh, can we get you to read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality in this mind-altered state?

    • pontifex says:

      I am a very happy and relaxed and mellow Deiseach right now thanks to the wonders of modern pharmacology and 5mg of diazepam which my GP prescribed for me today as I have been speeding off my box (to use a technical term) since waking up at 3:00 a.m. this morning…

      The good news is, we finally found a way to bring right wing / left wing political balance to SSC. The bad news is…

  6. Basil Elton says:

    In the last post there was a link to an article about the thing called the Algernon Argument.

    If you, like me, never heard about it before, the general idea is that we are not likely to find any really effective nootropics because if there were some easy chemical ways to boost our brains’ performance, evolution would’ve already done that. And that any brain enhancements we may find will necessary be either 1) rely on something we can do and evolution can’t (like pacemakers), or 2) something that actually decreases our reproductive fitness but we want it anyway (as birth control), or 3) just too complex (like a massive overhaul of brain architecture). The original argument apparently was made and named by Eliezer Yudkowsky and Nick Bostrom also wrote something along these lines, so it’s not some random theory from the internets.

    But it’s not quite clear for me, how this all holds even though it was more or less proven that IQ, at least past certain point, correlates negatively with reproductive fitness. In fact the original article even mentions this fact briefly. So any chemical improving IQ, or at least greatly improving IQ, should fall straight into the second category – it improves something we care about but decreases evolutionary fitness and hence would be selected against. Does anyone know what is the counterargument to this? I mean, there should be one, all those folks writing papers about the issue definitely have noticed the skulls?

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      #1, I don’t really know that there is all that much evidence that high IQ correlates negatively with reproduction. A lot of high IQ men end up having several “broods” of children by remarrying to younger women. Now, maybe there are populations and cultures where high IQ people cluster that have features that reduce reproduction (although in many of these places the investment per child is very high and likely offsets this to a degree), but lets say I compare across devout Catholics living in comparable cities, will IQ negatively correlate with reproduction? I don’t think thats likely.

      Onto the other point, its likely that the brain has developed at the pace it has because radical changes often result in radical screw ups (aka death or severe mental illness) and frankly most people didn’t have the nutrition to support greatly increased brain function until very recently. There is some evidence, for instance, that smart farmers in Europe and Asia ended with more offspring, but records from those times are sparse.

      Also its possible that we can increase brain function, but not linearly, rather we are at a local maximum (or there is a close local maximum beyond which there is a a trough we would have to further overcome).

      • #1, I don’t really know that there is all that much evidence that high IQ correlates negatively with reproduction.

        I don’t know about IQ, but there was an old exchange between Gary Becker and someone, I think Judith Blake, on the relation between wealth and reproductive success. He was arguing that it was positive, and the reason for the opposite impression was that as contraceptive technologies were coming in, richer and better educated people had better access to them. But that if you looked either at a society where nobody had such technologies (presumably not counting old ones such as interruptus) or where everyone had them, richer people had more children.

        • albatross11 says:

          Cochran and Harpending wrote a speculative paper about a possible explanation for Eastern European Jews’ high average IQ. Basically, the argument says that for many generations, a pretty isolated population of Jews in Eastern Europe were mostly restricted to occupations where intelligence paid off much more than it did for the 90% or so of the population who were farmers.
          They link this to various genetic disorders which may have some kind of heterozygote advantage–get one recessive gene for nasty genetic disease X, and you get a boost to your intelligence, but get two and you die young. You can see these genetic disorders as a signal of active selection. (I don’t think they suspect a large fraction of the IQ difference to be linked to these genes.)

        • Basil Elton says:

          Yes, contraception is exactly the thing I’ve forgot about (wouldn’t want to say this in the real life, lol). This, and the general fact that most if not all of the data we have on the subject come from the modern era, which has plenty of things to change and revert pretty much any trend present in ancestral evolutionary environment. THank you, that answers my questions I guess, at least to the point where it’s not a gaping hole but a small chance of inconsistency.

        • Aapje says:

          @DavidFriedman & idontknow131647093

          Are there studies that correlate IQ with marriage and/or having children, but normalized for wealth, education, etc? I suspect that higher IQ gives a negative correlation above a certain level, but that the higher wealth, education and such of high IQ people hides this effect to a large degree.

      • Garrett says:

        by remarrying to younger women

        How can I manage this? I’m pretty much at an unmarriagable age for a first marriage, so I’d love to know how to reliably pull this off in a way that doesn’t make me hate myself.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          I mean, you just look at the life of this guy. 5 Children with wife 1, 2 (so far) with wife 2.


          etc etc

          • Basil Elton says:

            Well there’s a reason why “Abramovich” in Russian is almost a synonym to “oligarch”. And I never heard about Les Moonves, but his Wikipedia page you linked has the words “allegations that he sexually abused many women” in the very first sentence. Of course I don’t know what Garrett’s moralities are, but my guess is that that’s precisely the cases he was trying to exclude with “doesn’t make me hate myself” clause.

        • I’m not sure I understand your question. Remarrying requires that one first be married and I’m not clear whether you are or were.

          My mental picture of the remarry to a younger woman scenario is a situation where the man has some highly valuable characteristics, such as wealth and/or status, to make up for the fact that he is older, hence less attractive and likely to last less long.

          A potential problem is that a wife who marries you for your money may not be the optimal partner for you.

      • Basil Elton says:

        You’re right, I was mostly thinking about this paper, but turns out it deals with educational attainment – but it’s both strongly correlated with IQ and is valued on its own. Wikipedia article on the subject seems to be unsure but mostly leaning toward negative correlation.

        As for local maximum – yes, of course nobody’s arguing (here, at least) that we can’t increase brain performance at all, just that big increases are going to be very costly and/or involve deep understanding of brain functioning and doing some lookahead, unavailable for evolution. And jumping to a higher local maximum involves exactly that.

    • albatross11 says:

      There are tradeoffs between intelligence and other stuff–for example, you can make smarter people by the brute-force approach of just making their brains bigger, but then your smarter people tend to get stuck in the birth canal and die (taking out their mother in the process). Modern medicine helps a lot with that[1]. Similarly, your brain takes a lot of energy, adds a lot of heat, requires a long period of helplessness for it to develop, etc. All those things had to trade off against intelligence over all human history.

      We can surely make better tradeoffs in future children, assuming a modern environment. Make a smarter kid whose brain uses 50% of the body’s energy, extend childhood by two years to allow for more time for the brain to develop, etc.

      Also, there are some genetic diseases (Gaucher’s, I think) that are associated with higher IQs. It seems like we might be able to figure out how to get the positive effect on IQ of those diseases without the negative effect, since we have a worked example of some mechanism making people smarter.

      Finally, there are existing people who are way, way smarter than almost anyone else. If all you could do with genetic modification of children was push the average level of intelligence up to the average for people working on the Manhattan Project, or even the average for people working at Google, you’d still see a big effect overall, with one-in-a-million geniuses showing up regularly.

      [1] I wonder how much of the Flynn effect, if any, can be attributed to increased availability of C-sections.

    • Eponymous says:

      Isn’t caffeine a counterexample to the Algernon argument? It improves cognitive function without serious side effects.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Nope, and neither are some other nootropics that work. Because in both cases the effect is in single digits of percent, while the Algernon’s Argument is about increases of factors or orders of magnitude, not some small tweaks.

        Of course this all would’ve been obvious if I attached the original article, but for some reason any links to the website gwern[dot]com seem to be blacklisted. And I’ve spent so much time yesterday finding this out with binary search that didn’t have any to work around it. The simplest way is to go to the post about the Guf and look for “Algernon” there. Or you can go to that site and then add ‘/Drug-heuristics’ to the url.

        • Nornagest says:

          That’s bizarre, Gwern’s a friend of the blog. Seems to be happening for me too, though.

        • liate says:

          Note: the actual site (which is also blocked) is gwern[dot]net. gwern[dot]com is unowned and is an advertisement for buying it for a ludicrous amount of money.

          Maybe Scott’s spam filter aggressively matched a thing which blocked via the hosts file distributed with my browser with a similar domain from a different TLD?

          ETA: Which apparently isn’t blocked; wonder why it didn’t work before

    • The Nybbler says:

      Another hole in that hypothesis is energy. It’s only extremely recently that ability to conserve energy was a serious consideration; something that raised your IQ 20 points but caused you to burn 500 extra calories a day would be evolutionary bad. Nowadays… hey, smarter and thinner, win/win. However this might be a dead end because burning more calories probably has other side effects that are negative, like higher occurrence of cancer or whatever.

      • Basil Elton says:

        I guess the idea is that higher intelligence was still net beneficial, it gave you more than it cost you in calories. If it wasn’t so, we wouldn’t evolve such big brains in the first place, and if it is so it’s very unlikely that the trend brakes exactly at the intelligence level we have now.

        • The Nybbler says:

          if it is so it’s very unlikely that the trend brakes exactly at the intelligence level we have now.

          On the contrary; that’s exactly where you’d expect it to brake.

  7. meh says:

    Are SSC’s email subscriptions no longer supported? I have not been receiving them, so tried entering my address in the subscribe box on the main page again, and am getting:

    “There was an error when subscribing. Please try again.”

    • 10240 says:

      Someone ask this in every thread as of late, so probably yes.

      • meh says:

        cool. Scott is… aware?

        • Nick says:

          He responded to previous posts about it, so I believe he is aware but does not know how to revert it.

          • meh says:

            ugh.. can we start a gofundme or something for him to fix it? I really dislike this new version of the internet.

          • disposablecat says:

            It’s not perfect, but I have been using IFTTT to replace the broken email stuff.

            It can parse the RSS feeds for comments and posts, which are still working, and email you new items (I recommend the Gmail connector, since the normal email one caps out at 750 a day and we go over that in comments sometimes.)

            I have Gmail set to recognize comment emails from this setup, archive them without a notification, and label them as SSC. I then search that label by thread title and read in date order oldest to newest.

  8. RDNinja says:

    Since there seems to be regular discussion of tabletop RPGs here, I created a Discord server to facilitate recruiting for and playing games online.

    Anyone is welcome to advertise for players, or suggest games they want to play. If you want to run a Play-by-Chat game, I’ll create channels for you.

  9. Conrad Honcho says:

    Video games where you play the bad guy.

    So I’m playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which is beyond excellent. Phenomenal game. I’ve previously played all the Assassin’s Creed games up through Black Flag, but Unity never worked right on my computer and kind of soured me on the series for a few years. In other AC games I’ve played, yes, you’re a killer, an Assassin, but you’re killing bad guys, or soldiers in league with the bad guys, “for the greater good.” The Assassins are definitely billed as the good guys, against the puppy-kicking evil of the Templars.

    In Odyssey, you’re just a mercenary who will kill literally anyone for money. Like one contract I took was a woman who wrote a comedy, and she met some guy on the street who said tragedies are the only real art form, and gave me about 500 drachmae and some wood to send him to Hades. I stabbed him to death in the middle of the street in broad daylight in cold blood.

    I find this slightly off-putting because the game doesn’t bill itself as “you’re the bad guy.” Yes, you also kill these evil cultist people, but they’re not significantly worse than you are. They’re just better organized. And this game takes itself seriously. It’s not a joke. Grand Theft Auto, yes, you play a murderer and thief and what have you, but that game is a parody. They take every perverse aspect of American culture and dial it up to 11 and you’re walking into a corner gun store to buy a rocket launcher then blow up a bunch of cop cars and if they catch you it’s a $500 fine and you walk out of the police station and this is all totally normal.

    Do you have any favorite games where you play the bad guy? How does it make you feel?

    • Matt M says:

      In other AC games I’ve played, yes, you’re a killer, an Assassin, but you’re killing bad guys, or soldiers in league with the bad guys, “for the greater good.” The Assassins are definitely billed as the good guys, against the puppy-kicking evil of the Templars.

      Eh, I’m not sure this is quite true. Once you get past the initial Desmond arc, the line between good and evil among the Templars and Assassins becomes significantly blurred. Hell, that was the whole entire point of Rogue. And in all of the AC games, you can routinely butcher city guards simply for being in your way. While in theory these guards might be working for a templar regime, they are mindless mooks at best and slitting their throats because you’re worried they might yell at you to get off the roof seems a tad extreme.

      Also I’m not fully onboard with your point about GTA. It was cartoony in the past, but 4 and 5 have definitely gone more of the “gritty and realistic” route. And in all cases you’re playing fairly hardened criminals who routinely murder people for personal gain. Almost all “sandbox” style games contain an element of this. In Red Dead Redemption, most of your actions throughout the course of the game are serving the interest of entirely corrupt government agents (although you escape being the “bad guy” because you were blackmailed into doing it with threats against your family).

      Most of the Fallout games certainly allow you to be the bad guy, although you don’t really have to. Same with Bioware in general. You can choose to be an evil sith in the KOTOR series. You can be a huge dick in Mass Effect, (but you basically bumble your way into saving the world anyway, unless you hilariously pick the “let humanity die” option at the end)

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I didn’t play Rogue, Unity, the British one, or Origins.

        As for the blurring of the lines, sure, in III I rather enjoyed playing the first act as (spoiler!) the Templar. In real life, I’m definitely more on the side of Social Order and Civilization than on the side of total freedom to do whatever you want. The main way we know the Templar are the bad guys is because they kick puppies and the like. Same thing with the Empire in Star Wars. If they just didn’t call themselves the Dark Side and have monster faces and refrained from blowing up planets and instead brought order and security to a lawless galaxy they’d probably be all right.

        In other AC games I’ve played (1 – 4 including all flavors of 2) if you killed civilians you’d desynchronize. And you could certainly avoid killing mooks. And if you did kill mooks, I mean, they were soldiers for the bad guys, even if they weren’t aware of how bad the bad guys are (kind of like killing stormtroopers who think the empire is mostly all right and don’t know about the monster faces?). But Odyssey definitely escalates the evil of the protagonist. Like I said, missions to kill innocent civilians for money, paid to you by the sorts of people who pay people to murder innocent civilians.

        As for GTA, yes, I’ll give you IV was more “gritty and realistic” but V was a straight-up cartoon. That game does not in any way take itself seriously. And of course you’re explicitly aware you’re the bad guy, and you’re buying the game in order to play as the bad guy. And the missions are almost entirely about you robbing/killing other bad guys (and the cops are all corrupt and basically just another gang), so the vast majority of the civilian-killing in GTA is on you. You did that because you wanted to, not because the game told you to. I was just surprised by Odyssey because the marketing is “go on an epic adventure in ancient Greece!” and they left out the bit about “as an unrepentant murderer!”

        • Matt M says:

          Like I said, missions to kill innocent civilians for money, paid to you by the sorts of people who pay people to murder innocent civilians.

          Optional missions!

          I didn’t play Rogue

          This probably explains it though. At the risk of spoilers, you basically play an Assassin who witnesses the order engaging in… if not outright evil, at the very least an incredibly reckless disregard for civilian casualties, decides “No, I’m not going to hand over this very powerful artifact to you because you don’t care what damage it might do,” at which point the entire order declares you a traitor and attempts to murder you. You’re nursed back to health by the templars, do some odd jobs for them, and ultimately join. And then the whole rest of the game is hunting down your former brothers before they can find and use the dangerous artifact. While also supporting the British in the French and Indian war, because why not?

          But even still, I’d hesitate to say that “In Rogue you play the bad guy” because you aren’t a bad guy in Rogue. The Templars are good and the Assassins are bad. They’re the ones who commissioned Benjamin Franklin to create a poison gas grenade launcher that you have to steal!

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Eh, yes, the missions to murder innocent civilians are optional (so far…but so far is already about 60 hours in for me because I cannot stop playing this game) and I always try to 100% just about every game I play, but even the mainline missions that have you acting for one side or the other in the Peloponnesian War, you’re assassinating leaders who aren’t particularly evil or cruel, and you’re doing it for money and to further your personal quest for revenge against this cult. Neither Athens nor Sparta are billed as the good guys or bad guys and you switch between them constantly.

            Maybe once I finish this play through I’ll do it again as the girl and try to only kill people who deserve it and see how much innocent blood I can avoid spilling. See how much of the murder is on the game designers and how much is on the players.

            This is similar to how I felt about criticisms that GTA “promotes violence against women” because you can murder prostitutes after you have sex with them. Yeah, sure, but there’s no mission to do that. If you do that, it’s because you the player wanted to and not because the game told you to.

            And it sounds like I need to play Rogue. That sounds good.

            ETA: Oh and with respect to Mass Effect, the Renegade options made you an anti-hero, not a villain. KoTOR, where you would explicitly go dark side, yes. I think Odyssey just stands out to me because the murder is just…there and treated as normal with no trade-off. Like you don’t get a reputation as a murderer which makes good people not want to interact with you or something. You do your murder, collect your money, and are on your way to the next quest.

          • Matt M says:

            ETA: Oh and with respect to Mass Effect, the Renegade options made you an anti-hero, not a villain.

            Eh, I dunno, there are definitely renegade options where you can basically “murder people for the crime of being in your way”, similar to AC.

            Whether or not Rogue is worth playing I would say largely depends on how much you enjoyed the gameplay of 4. Because it’s the exact same engine. It’s so much like 4 that some people think it should properly be considered a really big expansion pack rather than its own game.

            ETA: It did add a somewhat cool mechanic where there were side-missions based on protecting a target from assassination, wherein you had to hunt and find the assassins (on rooftops and in hay crates and low bushes, naturally) and eliminate them before they assassinated your target. And later in the game, there would often be assassins waiting for you in various hiding places that you had to react very quickly to stop yourself from being, well not typically OHKO but having most of your life gone in a flash. That was a pretty interesting reverse take on the normal situation in these games.

            That said, it does fill in a lot of the gaps in the storyline that take place between 4 and 3, providing a reasonable explanation as to how things got the way they did vis-a-vis Achillies and the American chapter of the order.

            Does 100% include achievements? I’m somewhat of an achievement whore, and I remember in Red Dead Redemption there was a “Snidely Whiplash” achievement for kidnapping a girl, tying her up, placing her on the railroad tracks, and watching her get hit by a train. That’s uh… pretty messed up when you think about it.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, I loved 4, it was probably my favorite one. But a large part of that was due to the piracy. One other great thing about Odyssey is you have a ship again, and I’m very much enjoying smashing ships apart with my trireme.

            I’ve really liked every AC game I’ve played, and only quit playing them because Unity was so bugged, and never worked right on my PC. Something about my video card. I still have it on Steam, and plan to play it once I build a new gaming PC, which I had wanted to do earlier this year but then the crypto craze hit and I’m not spending $600 for a two year old $300 video card. Whenever that gets sorted out I’ll build a new PC.

            And no, I don’t usually bother with achievements. Just whatever it takes to get the 100% on the completion screen, or to clear off every quest and location on the map.

            You looking forward to Red Dead II?

          • Matt M says:

            1. You still get the piracy stuff in Rogue. Like I said, it’s almost an exact copy of 4, gameplay wise.

            2. One thing I forgot to mention is that for storyline purposes, Rogue also has an epilogue that sets in motion the events of Unity quite nicely.

            3. I’ve the whole series through up to Unity, but nothing newer than that. My feelings on Unity are quite mixed. I think the gameplay had some improvements but also some regression. The storyline is largely nonsensical and also does a ton to blur the line between good and evil with Assassins and Templars (the protagonist is incredibly sympathetic to many templars he personally knows, works with them regularly, only joins the assassins to aid his personal quest for revenge, eventually gets kicked out of the order for not playing nice with others, etc.). I’d say overall Rogue was better and more worth playing. Unity is near the bottom for me, probably slightly better than 3, but not much.

            4. I’m sure Red Dead II will be great, but it’s hard to be excited because I simply don’t have as much time for gaming anymore. I spend most of my gaming time on WoW. Haven’t played a “new” game in a couple years. Recently I decided I want to replay Morrowind and I figure that’ll eat away a big chunk of time.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If you’re time-limited but still want to play games, consider getting a Switch. Best console I’ve ever owned. Very easy to pick up and put down. Breath of the Wild is probably the single best video game I’ve ever played. And there’s a ton of fun cheap indie games like Hollow Knight, Enter the Gungeon, The Messenger, etc. Oh and Mega Man 11 was great.

          • Matt M says:

            ehhh, I’ve been tempted, but I went Master Race a few years ago and have no desire to go back!

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            1) Why not both?

            2) Switch is a different type of thing though because of the portability. And then there’s all the great first party nintendo games you can’t play anywhere else.

          • Matt M says:

            I dunno, I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that Nintendo is still more of a kids toy than a serious gaming system. And I’ve never seemed to like the Zelda franchise nearly as much as everyone else has (LTTP was pretty great in its day, but everything since then has been massively overrated imho)

            To the extent that I want gaming on the go, there are plenty of F2P mobile games that suit my needs just fine.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Whatevs. I’ll just be over here playing Monster Hunter on my lunch break…

      • Nornagest says:

        I couldn’t get through GTA 4 because it was trying to be so grim! and realistic! but it still had all the same cartoony GTA mechanics. You could end up doing stuff like walking out of a heart-to-heart with your cousin, stealing six cop cars and murdering a city block for fun while heading to the next waypoint, and then walking into a mission where you’re required to kill forty more guys to progress but then sparing or killing the one guy at the end was treated as a gravely significant decision. It was like the designers couldn’t decide whether to make it Natural Born Killers or Unforgiven, so they just made it both. Eventually the cognitive dissonance got to be too much for me to handle, and I put it down and never picked it back up.

        San Andreas struck a good balance, where the story was fairly grounded overall but there was just enough over-the-top craziness floating around that it didn’t feel jarring when you pulled off stunts like parachuting out of a plane into another plane and then killing all the passengers. I liked Red Dead Redemption, too, but the spaghetti western formula is a lot more flexible with its level of splatter than the Serious Modern Crime formula.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          San Andreas was amazing just for the sound track. But if you haven’t’ played V, you should. It’s definitely the best one and hits the tone just right. It’s surreal, it’s self-aware, it’s very funny and very fun.

          • Matt M says:

            I dunno, I thought Trevor was a bit much for my tastes. And I feel like they tried too hard to be funny and over the top in a “culturally relevant” way rather than a “irreverent” sort of way.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I thought it was a send-up of everything. You kill/capture the illegal aliens, but also the patriot nuts. You go on a rampage against hipsters. You’ve got the hippy-dippy radio guys but also Weasel News: Confirming Your Prejudices. I thought they skewered everything.

        • Matt M says:

          and then walking into a mission where you’re required to kill forty more guys to progress but then sparing or killing the one guy at the end was treated as a gravely significant decision

          Heh, did you ever play Sleeping Dogs? The whole entire narrative of the game is based on this premise. It gets utterly ridiculous.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Final Fantasy Tactics Advance lets you play as the bad guy (though the game doesn’t seem to realize this).

    • Matt M says:

      Also – if you’re familiar at all with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, there’s a long-running school of revisionism that basically suggests the protagonist is the villain (essentially, some weird spell whisks a bunch of people off to a fantasy world, where many of them are better off and are living much nicer lives, but as the main character, you’re on a quest to “restore the real world” for no particular reason other than a general sense of “this isn’t where we belong, guys.”)

      Edit: Dang, just beat by jaime!

    • lvlln says:

      When I think of recent games where you play as the bad guy, I think of Spec Ops: The Line. As a fan of Heart of Darkness, I enjoyed the game quite a bit, though the whole tactical 3rd person shooter combat was a bit repetitive and shallow. The game did take its narrative far more seriously than it warranted, with cringe-inducing loading screens like “How many American soldiers have YOU killed today?” but the references and wholesale copies of Heart of Darkness managed to make it all work.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Never played that one. I read the Wikipedia article and it sounds more like you make explicit choices? Like in a KoTOR-type game where you choose light side or dark side?

        I’m not sure about games where you just play as “the other side” in a war. Like in Call of Duty: World at War I really enjoyed playing as a Russian soldier, but the Soviets certainly weren’t good.

        • lvlln says:

          You make choices, but it’s not like KOTOR where there’s a light side or a dark side. It’s varying levels of villainy. There’s also only a handful of such choices, none of which actually affect the overarching narrative – they just add flavor.

          It’s also not that you’re on “the other side.” You’re a US soldier sent in to save some people in Dubai, and you end up betraying the US and causing lots of chaos to the people already there. Without spoiling too much, there are various twists that reveal why you do these things, but those reasons aren’t heroic, to say the least.

      • sfoil says:

        I didn’t like the game, because there’s a crucial “turning point” event where you’re given the opportunity to use white phosphorus shells (boo!) against an enemy position up ahead.

        However, when I was playing (which I did after being repeatedly told how GRIM and BRUTAL and GOOD it was), I carefully surveyed the target and surrounding area via the provided UAV and noticed a bunch of civilians huddling in a trench right next to the target. I actually decided, nah, I’ll just go in and kill these guys on my own, like I’ve been doing this entire game. So I hit the back button and…nothing. Then I figured I would just offset a bit to so that the bad guys were between the weapon impact and the trench full of kids. Click…nope. So I sighed, clicked again on the bad guys, and then was treated to some cutscene of dead babies and my character blaming himself etc. I gave up when it became obvious that this was supposed to be incredibly significant.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Coming from a real-life military (and even UAV) background, I had a very similar experience. It’s worth noting that the game even has to break its own rules about the effective radius and/or CEP of the mortar in order for that sequence to make sense: it only works if your rounds suddenly become much less accurate or produce incendiary effects at several times their normal radius. I get what it was trying to do, but it wasn’t particularly effective. I did enjoy the game more than you seem to have, and I did think it had some nice touches depicting the arc of the characters: Progressively mroe dirty and ragged clothing, the various barks during combat becoming less professional and more unhinged, etc.

          • sfoil says:

            I think the actual point I stopped playing involved a a map with a ton of backtracking through cleared/uninhabited areas. I don’t remember the specifics. But that one part did give me a jolt that prevented me from ever really being onboard with what the game was trying to do.

    • Rowan says:

      Do strategy games count? I’ve done a lot of horrible things in the various Paradox games, up to and including literal genocide, although it’s kind of impersonal.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      You have quite a few of the characteristics that are normally associated with the rival in Pokémon Sun and Moon (and Ultra versions of each). You take the starter with a type advantage over your Hau’s pokemon (normally the rival picks one that has an advantage against yours). Hau is very nonchalant about training his pokemon, while you’re recognized by the game as serious. Finally, you’re the champion when Hau arrives, in some earlier games your rival had arrived just before you and you’d challenge them.

      Obviously it’s still a kids Pokémon game, so you’re not actually bad, and you follow the hero’s role through the plot, but it was an interesting role reversal.

      Crusader kings is very open ended, so if you want to torture and murder a rivals entire family before putting your cardinal, who would make a Borgia blush, on St Peter’s throne you can. You can also play as the knight Sir Gawain wishes he could be.

      Eve is probably a better example, because while there’s a layer of interactions with NPCs, the fun largely revolves around finding new ways to play the bad guy to another player, rather than an NPC (whether that’s by blowing up their ship, 0.01 isking their order, mining the last block from the ice asteroid before they can, or headshotting the boss who drops the loot in “their” DED site).

      KOTOR was probably had the worst thing, I’ve ever done in a game (Mission and Zaalbar if you go Dark Side). You can make some pretty evil choices in Jade Empire, (the fates of Death’s Hand and the Water Dragon, in particular), too.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Crusader kings is very open ended, so if you want to torture and murder a rivals entire family before putting your cardinal, who would make a Borgia blush, on St Peter’s throne you can. You can also play as the knight Sir Gawain wishes he could be.

        Or play as a Viking and pillage the hell out of north/western Europe (now with sex slaves concubines!). Or a proto-Genghis and burn Constantinople to the ground (and then murder actual-Genghis when he shows up). Or play as a horse and kill all humans

        • John Schilling says:

          I believe Scott already linked to the glitch where the AI was caught devoting 75% of its computronium to having everyone in the Hellenic world carefully and thoroughly examining the question, “whom should I castrate today?”. I’d say it would be difficult for meat players to out-evil that, but then there’s that Equine Supremacy Genocide stunt.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          That was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in any video game.

    • AG says:

      I mean, I made my post about speedrunning Universal Paperclips not that long ago…

      Being the “bad guy” in a video game is different from merely playing apathetic to morals (orthogonal?), though. I’ve written before about how unconvinced I am by the handwringing over torturing NPCs brought up by stories like Westworld or Undertale, because the situations in which we currently do so are clearly delineated as fantasy. People play Genocide Undertale out of curiosity and completionism, to validate the effort the creators put into making content. Why let that content never see the light of day?

      Similarly, the biggest swath of “being horrible to NPCs” is actually a case of orthogonal morals, not same-framework malice. A common thing done in episodes of Monster Factory is to input a cheat of doing ridiculous amounts of damage per blow, so that they don’t have to waste time grinding when the purpose of the show is comedy. It enables the McElroys to see what the game does when played anti-as-intended. There are certain Let’s Play series where orthogonality is the explicit purpose of the show, to create their own mini-games out of game mechanics that have nothing to do with the original purpose of the game, creating a sandbox where there wasn’t supposed to be one. One of the key aspects of these shows that hand-wringing stories seem to miss is that players gleefully have schadenfreude over the destruction of their own avatars as much as the abuse of NPCs. Self-inflicted lethal slapstick gets even more laughs than doing it to pieces of code that can’t meaningfully react.

      This is different from playing a game where you roleplay the bad guy. In that case, you are still choosing to work within the framework the game wants you to operate under, choosing to accept their moral standards, and then acting in line with what the moral standard considers as evil. But even then, it goes back to the Genocide Undertale situation of following the incentive path, where the creators obviously intend for the content to be played. Sure, you can sit at 100 memory in Universal Paperclips and never subjugate the humans, but then a whole 2/3rds of the game is left unplayed.

      Mind you, there’s also the cases where game mechanics and story aren’t really compatible, so a game that supposedly advocates for peace can still have you mowing down swarms of minions for it main gameplay, and what does it even mean to play a bad guy in an incoherent thematic vision like that?

      • Matt M says:

        Mind you, there’s also the cases where game mechanics and story aren’t really compatible, so a game that supposedly advocates for peace can still have you mowing down swarms of minions for it main gameplay, and what does it even mean to play a bad guy in an incoherent thematic vision like that?

        One thing that annoys me is when games heavily market themselves (and usually the gaming press goes along with it) as “choices matter” when they actually don’t, including when, from a gameplay perspective, you are heavily incentivized to pick the “right” choice.

        My go-to example for this is the original Bioshock, where they made a big deal about the fact that you could choose to free or harvest the little sisters, as you saw fit. In theory, your moral act of freeing them was supposed to come at a cost, that is to say, harvesting gave you valuable experience points, which you would forfeit…. except then it turned out that if you freed them, an anonymous benefactor would send you a bunch of “gifts” for having “done the right thing” that were about as equivalently useful as harvesting was.

        So the whole thing was basically pointless.

        • AG says:

          My favorite example of the “wrong” choice definitively benefiting you for the game is in FF6. There’s a point at which you can decide if the protagonist at that point, Terra, decides to join up with the plucky rebels against the Empire, or have her continue her existential crisis and mope about not joining. The game really wants you to join the rebels, you have to select “no” multiple times. But the item you get for declining is so much better, so both speedruns and casual playthroughs always go for inflicting angst on poor Terra.
          Of course, in the storyline sense, the choice doesn’t really matter, because Terra still goes through the rest of her arc without modification, but it does matter in the gameplay sense.

          I do have to say Genocide Undertale is the one game I know that really makes the choice matter, since you have to go out of your way to do it, and the storyline and ending drastically changes for it, but there’s plenty of good writing about how it’s actually rather morally incoherent. (Basically, that it only works in reaction to RPG tropes, and does not make sense in real-life application. Similar to most fantasy/scifi/superhero discrimination allegories.)

          Another case is Until Dawn, touted as the most “choice matters” game of our time. Its gameplay is a mix of quick-time events and making action choices, and there’s a play-type category called the “chaos run,” in which players deliberately fail all quick-time events and choose the most dangerous options. Some characters swiftly perish in the chaos run, but certain others are destined to survive to the late game, because they’re critical to the plot and exposition, no matter how hard you try to off them. Your choices actually don’t matter until that point.

          Video games, by dint of limited memory, are therefore uniquely situated in the worst of both worlds in narrative delivery: they can’t have the infinite flexibility of a tabletop session, but going full railroad is as undesirable.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I also don’t like it when you’re given choices which don’t really have any obvious weight to them that wind up having a big impact on whether or not you get the “good” ending.

            (minor spoiler)

            Witcher 3 was like this. How are you supposed to know that the correct answers to get the good ending are “have a snowball fight with Ciri because it’s fun” and “let Ciri talk to the sorceresses alone because she’s an adult.” Both of these choices are about whether or not you’re treating Ciri like a child, but in one case you do so, and the other you don’t. There’s no obvious connection to those choices and whether or not she has the confidence and strength to do her magic stuff at the end.

            Then again, at least as far as the Witcher goes, “minor stuff has a big impact later” is kind of a recurring theme through the books, so maybe they did that intentionally and not just because the game designers are jerks.

            The result is “before making these choices look up a guide on the internet.”

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, I really liked what Witcher was trying to do there and conceptually it was a great idea, they just executed it really poorly in that a game with like 5,000 decisions there’s like 3 of them that affect your ending (and they aren’t obviously big ones).

            I was disappointed to find out that my decision to get drunk with the boys, change into ladies underwear, and drunk dial my girlfriend on the magic orb device did not have a lasting impact 🙁

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That was an amazing sequence. God that game was good. The characters in that game are better and more well developed than any other game ever. Definitely one of those ones I never wanted to end.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, the writing was off the charts. Like, orders of magnitude better than anything any other videogame has done.

      • BBA says:

        One feature of the Disgaea games allows you to capture enemies and torture them into joining your team. The help menu for this feature includes the helpful question “Is this really OK?” with the answer “Yes.”

        The games overall kinda-sorta count as “playing as the bad guy” since you’re a demon overlord out to take over the multiverse and your enemy is out to destroy the multiverse, or something like that… honestly the storylines aren’t that memorable, the devs are clearly just coming up with wacky characters and building stories around them, and anyway the main point of Disgaea has always been level grinding. (And exploding penguins. Dood.)

        • Matt M says:

          There was a “Punisher” game (surprisingly good and enjoyable!) that came out during the original Xbox/PS2 generation where you were richly rewarded for brutally torturing criminal mooks.

      • toastengineer says:

        People play Genocide Undertale out of curiosity and completionism, to validate the effort the creators put into making content.

        Ah, but that’s the point. One of the main premises of Undertale was “what if there was a game where characters realistically reacted to what the player character did.” The game knows that’s why you’re doing what you’re doing, but given the assertion that the characters are real people, well, in-game that’s a pretty fucked up thing to do. It’s not doing the “you want to watch people get hurt in a story, what an asshole you are!” thing.

        • AG says:

          I disagree. All of the thinkpieces on Undertale wouldn’t be nearly as patronizing if the game was just the regular and Pacifist routes. People have no incentive to play as Genocide Frisk if the route doesn’t exist, so the game wagging its fingers at how monstrous the player is (and it even takes a potshot at the audience of a Genocide LP at one point) is disingenuous. For example, you don’t see the same moralizing about Dishonored.

    • gbdub says:

      It’s interesting that in most of these games, being the bad guy is an option (and often one where the choice doesn’t actually change that much). On the other hand, there are a lot more games where being the “good guy” (or at least a guy presented as good) is the only option.

      What’s the best game where you play as an unambiguously bad/evil character, and that’s the only option given (not counting goofy unintended options, like those people who try to beat GTA without killing anyone).

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        What’s the best game where you play as an unambiguously bad/evil character, and that’s the only option given

        GTA V.

        And I would put Odyssey way up there. This game is truly great. Best AC game by far. But I’m not sure being bad is the only option. It just seems sort of default and doesn’t even bring up the moral choices you make.

        That’s the weird thing. In other games where you have the option, like Bioware/KOTOR games, the whole morality thing is explicit. You are given a choice and the options have a little light-side icon or a dark-side icon, and your light/dark meter changes accordingly, and based on these choices you gain or lose access to certain powers/abilities and story options.

        In Odyssey it’s not in any way explicit, or generally consequential. There’s just quests that are unambiguously evil (murder innocent person for money) and the only “good” option would be to not take the quest and leave that icon on the map. But there’s no reward for not doing it, and there’s no downside to taking the job. The default way most people play games (do quest, get reward) has you being a bad guy. But the game is in no way marketed as “oh you’re a bad guy this time.” Weird.

        (minor spoiler)

        That’s not to say the choices are entirely without consequence. One quest had me supporting a popular rebellion (which was also supported by Sparta) against Athenian rule, and one of the rebels had committed murder in the course of robbing the treasury to fund the rebellion, and he was being held by guards. You go rescue him, and he’s pretty fanatical, and you have the option of either letting him go, or killing him. I let him go, and later he murdered the Spartan I liked because he didn’t want Athens or Sparta in charge. Next play through I’m killing that SOB.

        • Matt M says:

          There’s just quests that are unambiguously evil (murder innocent person for money)

          If only there was a ritual to summon a sufficiently devoted AnCap to explain how murder for hire markets are actually economically efficient and utility maximizing for society as a whole.

          Maybe Walter Block would do this?

          • Viliam says:

            There are many irritating people whose actions are either technically legal, or technically illegal but impossible to prove. With efficient murder markets, these people would disappear. Especially if multiple people could share the murder cost on Kick-the-bucket-starter.

            But this would probably lead to arms race in anonymity (so that your neighbors don’t know whom to murder) and surveillance.

          • John Schilling says:

            But this would probably lead to arms race in anonymity (so that your neighbors don’t know whom to murder) and surveillance.

            And in both preemptive and retaliatory murder of anyone suspected of having anything to do with an efficient murder market. I am guessing that history’s most efficient killers will be unleashed for this purpose, so have fun.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I haven’t played it yet, so is anyone able to comment on Tyranny? The concept is pretty great, though I’ve heard mixed things about the execution and that it doesn’t really stick to its guns. The basic idea is that you assume the role of the feared elite right hand of your classic Fantasy Dark Lord who has pretty much finished crushing the various “free peoples” of this setting under his iron-shod boot and bringing the New Order to the world, and the game has you acting as an agent of said New Order and navigating the factional politics within the Evil Empire.

    • Robin says:

      In “Battle for Wesnoth”, there is the Descent into Darkness campaign. Your character starts off well-meaning. Slowly but surely, he is breaking bad.
      It felt kind of uneasy to play this, but I didn’t proceed far, because frankly, I’m not so good at this game.

    • KG says:

      Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is one of my favorite games of all time. You play as a half-demon and, provided you make particular choices, you can become fully a demon and kill your friends and a representative of Yahweh.
      There’s also Soul Nomad, which I haven’t played but I understand you can do something in a similar vein. Other Nippon Ichi games feature protagonists of ambiguous morality and often give you the option to be basically evil.

      • Nornagest says:

        Other Nippon Ichi games feature protagonists of ambiguous morality and often give you the option to be basically evil.

        Disgaea 1 and 3 have you playing as a demon in Hell, and as such a card-carrying member of the evil party, but it’s a pretty lightweight kind of evil — rude and mischievous and occasionally violent, but not really malicious. (Except to cartoon penguins, but there’s an excuse for that in lore.) You sometimes have the option to descend into really serious evil, but it’s not encouraged.

        • BBA says:

          Let’s just say my use of this particular avatar and my previously discussed mental health issues are, ah, not a coincidence. Nothing is ever a coincidence, dood.

    • Machine Interface says:

      In the Blood Omen and Soul Reaver games you play a vampire. There’s some storyline about revenge and such so that your character has some relatable motivation and is not a complete sociopath, but you’re still playing a vampire that kills humans to replenish himself. I guess video games adapted from Vampire: The Masquerade also qualify.

      In, you play as a disease. Your goal is to infect and kill all of humanity.

      • Nornagest says:

        I guess video games adapted from Vampire: The Masquerade also qualify.

        I’ve only played Bloodlines, but there’s not much emphasis on the vampire’s role as villain in it. You can drink bums and drunks dry in alleys if you want to, but it penalizes your Humanity stat, which isn’t usually a deal-breaker but can make your life (er, unlife) harder if it gets too low. The path of least resistance is to get your blood nonlethally and sometimes even consensually (which per lore is an enjoyable experience for both parties). Or to eat rats.

        Most of the plot is about internal vampire politics and has nothing to do with humans either way. And while your side for most of the game is pretty morally gray, the vampires you’re fighting are consistently worse.

    • cassander says:

      It’s astonishing that no one has mentioned the Dungeon Keeper games yet, where the goal is to build up a dungeon so you can murder the heroes that come to steal your treasure and end your reign of terror.

      • Nornagest says:

        Similarly, Overlord. But at least in the first game, you can play that such that you’re a villain only in terms of aesthetics: you can be a pretty good boss to your underlings and the people you conquer, and the “heroes” you’re fighting are all tremendous jerks and oppressive enough to their people that you don’t feel bad about conquering them.

        You’re a villain either way in the sequel, but that wasn’t as good a game.

  10. SamChevre says:

    Northampton MA meetup

    There is a meet-up in Western Massachusetts this Saturday.

    Saturday, October 20 at 6:30 PM
    The Roost
    Northampton MA

    We had eight people at the last one.

  11. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Second part of my post on dragons, wrapping up Indo-European ones:

    In Armenian, the dragon is called Vishap. It’s said to be a winged snake (no legs). The god Vahagn is called Dragon Slayer, so he must have been the god who starred in a Chaosampf we no longer have.

    Scottish folklore has an unusual dragon, called Beithir. Unlike the standard Western dragon, they’re serpentine, with a venomous sting, associated with lightning and considered nuath (“water spirit”).
    In Ireland, any folkloric equivalent of the dragon is a serpent. Due to the name “peist”, it can be difficult to tell just what beast an Irish monster is. Oilliphéist was the last Irish “dragon”, cutting the course of the River Shannon and swallowing a bad musician named O’Rourke who continued to play from his stomach (he survived, being coughed up because Oilliphéist hated his piping) when St. Patrick banished serpents.
    The Welsh, of course, gave us a red and a white standard dragon fighting each other.

    • Nornagest says:

      Oilliphéist was the last Irish “dragon”, cutting the course of the River Shannon and swallowing a bad musician named O’Rourke who continued to play from his stomach (he survived, being coughed up because Oilliphéist hated his piping)

      That might be the most Irish thing I’ve ever heard.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, Irish myths/folklore don’t tend to have land dragons, they’re all water monsters living on the bottom of lakes and the like.

        And of course, there is the tale of how St Colmcille drove off the water monster dwelling in the river Ness in the land of the Picts:

        How an aquatic monster was driven off by virtue of the blessed man’s prayer

        On another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, ‘Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.’ Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          So Nessie doesn’t exist (anymore) and she was evil anyway?

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh, (s)he still exists, she was just driven back not killed by Colm Cille. And “evil” is relative – sure, maybe she ate swimmers, but that’s equivalent to people eating cows or sheep – meat is meat 🙂

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      So what have we learned?

      Belief in “dragons”, both in the sense of snakes so souped-up that it took a god to defeat them and multi-headed dinosaur-types, can be traced back to 2800-2600 BC (the simple supernatural snake probably has a more primal origin, but we’ll get to that).
      Mesopotamian civilization may have influenced the proto-Indo-Europeans: this is hard to document, but both Hindu and Greek mythology inherited an intermediate type, the naga/drakon that could be a serpent with 3-9 or even $BIGNUM heads, or have a woman’s upper body emerging from the serpent’s neck, having watery or gold-guarding associations. In Iranian languages/culture, which shared a common history with Indo-Aryan after late PIE broke up, a dragon is a big serpent with watery associations or has 3 heads and human attributes (like a body with four limbs).
      All Gaelic equivalents of this creature are water snakes. Welsh dragons are dinosaurs with wings, but are first mentioned in an Arthurian context, after the Roman period and Christianization.
      Norse mythology had “normal” snakes of cosmic scale that were chthonic or watery (Nidhoggr at the roots of the cosmos, Jormungandr in the body of water encircling Middle Earth). Other Germanic folklore developed the Western dragon we know and love (Fafnir, Beowulf’s bane).
      Armenian folklore featured a winged snake.
      Slavic folklore has 3 to 12-headed dragons with paws and bat wings. They are sometimes associated with bodies of water and are intelligent like a naga/nagini or drakaina. Since extant Slavic folklore is heavily influenced by Christianity (and Greek mythology in the case of the Balkan lamia), it’s not clear if the pre-Christian belief was in an identical creature or if they used to be imagined the same as a naga or drakon and got their wings and lizard bodies from Christian influence, esp. St. George iconography.

  12. cernos says:

    “The Inner Life of the Cell” (YouTube)
    No idea if you have linked this before but seeing simulations of how specific proteins are created and moved around the cell was kind of amazing.

  13. Gazeboist says:


    For the institutional health of the Union at large, the state of California should be divided into four states, and the ninth circuit of the federal courts of appeal should be divided into two circuits. It may also be advisable to divide the state of Texas into two or three states. The next largest states, New York and Florida, need not be divided and therefore should not.


    The federal courts of appeal are divided into 11 geographic circuits (the numbered ones), one jurisdictional circuit (the Federal Circuit), and one wonky hybrid (the DC Circuit)*. The 9th Circuit is almost twice the size of the next three largest circuits: the 5th, 6th, and 11th Circuits each cover a bit over 10% of the population of the US, while the 9th covers nearly 20% (except the DC Circuit, the other geographic circuits cover a reasonably smooth spread of 4.5-9.5%, and stare decisis means it’s inadvisable to combine circuits). It has 29 sitting judges, more than 2.5 times the number on the next largest Circuit by seats, and still comes in fourth when ranked by the ratio of population to judges. The last court to hold jurisdiction over about twice it’s nominal “share” of the population was the 5th, which was split into the modern 5th Circuit (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) and the 11th Circuit (Alabama, Georgia, and Florida). The 9th Circuit also covers more states than any other at nine, and more districts at thirteen (plus two territorial districts, but those are negligible in their impact). The courts in general are overloaded due to the other branches’ sluggishness in filling seats, but this problem mostly presents itself at the district level. Only the 9th Circuit is simultaneously judging too many people in general and short judges to handle its expected caseload.**

    Given the precedent of dividing the 5th Circuit and the uniqueness of the 9th Circuit’s situation, I think it’s fairly clear that it should be split. There’s a problem, though: California accounts for almost two thirds of the population that the 9th Circuit covers entirely on its own. In order to avoid supplanting the state Supreme Courts, the federal government should not establish a circuit with only one state. In fact, it should probably avoid dropping below three states per circuit, the current minimum.**** But if California and two other states were left in a single circuit, either Californians would massively dominate the petitioners before the court, or the initial problem with the circuit being too large wouldn’t be solved, or even both. This is the first argument for breaking up California: it’s too big to fit in a federal judicial circuit. There are other good reasons to do so, though.*****

    For one thing, California has a massively disproportionate effect on the national economy. The state has a larger economy than most sovereign nations, which goes some way towards explaining the controversies its regulations generate. It’s often said that California’s auto emission standards are America’s emission standards, and we’ve all seen products that are “known to the State of California” to have various bad effects on health. Probably the worst example of this problem, though, is exemplified by the California regulations on the cage size for chickens producing eggs sold in-state, for which the state was sued late last year (note: the case has yet to be decided; link goes to the docket). My guess is that the suing states are going to lose regardless of the justices’ thoughts on the merits – they probably shouldn’t be suing directly in the Supreme Court, and despite three-ish years in force their claims about the effects of the regulations are still based almost entirely on prospective studies, which creates standing-related problems for the plaintiffs like the ones that got the case dismissed a few years ago. Regardless, though, California accounts for a substantial part of the egg market for a couple of these states – ten percent and up for Arkansas, Utah, and Missouri. In effect, a regulation on the sale of eggs in California is a regulation on either the production or the sale of eggs in these other states.

    This is pretty clearly contrary to the spirit of the Commerce Clause, despite California’s law very clearly regulating exclusively intrastate commerce. At the same time, whether or not you think they should******, states clearly have the power to regulate intrastate commerce in ways that include the banning of some types of economic transaction: witness the varying legality of strip clubs, or of the purchase of fireworks. It seems pretty nonsensical that, say, Wyoming could enact a law that California could not just by virtue of being smaller. And it’s not like California can just exile half its population; the studies needed for an eminent domain action of that scale are far too expensive. The problem would be resolved, of course, if California were simply replaced with a few smaller states.

    Further, California is one of the states which selects textbooks at the state level. This means that California has an immense effect on the textbook market for the relevant grades; for those who favor local control of public education, this is a good reason to divide the state. Even if all four states continued to adopt statewide textbooks, they would likely not (or not necessarily) adopt the same ones, and the size of the market in each state would be more in line with that of a typical state. Of course, California only has statewide textbooks in grades k-8, and primary and secondary educational materials tend towards a fairly uniform quality level anyway, so YMMV.

    The question remains: how many states should California become? I would suggest four, bringing each piece’s population in line with the other largish states in the 9th Circuit and the Union more generally. The 9th Circuit could then be split into a circuit consisting of Arizona, Nevada, two ex-Californias, and Hawaii, and a circuit with the other two new states, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana. An even split of the current judges and perhaps an extra two or three seats should suffice to handle the caseload in each of these districts. The state should not be split further, in order to avoid unduly expanding the Senate.

    This would leave Texas as the largest state in the Union, again with a notable gap in population between it and the next tier of states. Texas is about two thirds of the population of the 5th Circuit, and like the 9th and California, many of the 5th Circuit’s come from Texas. That said, I don’t know of any significant economic effect that Texas has (in general Texas is one of the less regulatory states, to my knowledge), and the famous Texas school board no longer makes binding textbook selections. Splitting Texas into three pieces would bring the population of the new states in line with that of more typical medium-large states; two pieces would instead bridge the gap between the new largest pair of states (New York and Florida) and the relatively smooth population curve through the other 46 existing states. I do not think New York or Florida should be split; their intrastate regulations don’t have nearly the effect on the national economy that California’s do or Texas’s theoretically could, and their circuits are healthy in terms of state balance and size.

    * The DC Circuit, not the Federal Circuit, is the one with the strongest effect on national policy and the one that is the most frequent source of Supreme Court nominees. It hears appeals from the District Court of the District of Columbia, and more importantly conducts direct review of most appeals from regulatory adjudication (but not all – I’m not totally sure what determines whether a numbered circuit or the DC Circuit hears an appeal from adjudication not explicitly directed to the DC Circuit, or a case challenging rule-making rather than adjudication). The Federal Circuit hears only appeals from the Court of Federal Claims, the Congressional Office of Compliance, the courts that deal with veterans’ and federal employees’ claims, and a few administrative tribunals where stare decisis straightforwardly needs to be national, like PTAB. I know that sounds like a long list, but the list of regulatory agencies is a fair bit longer and the regulatory agencies have substantially more effect on the law than any of the tribunals that go to the Federal Circuit. The DC Circuit is also a little questionable just because of how powerful it is, but it doesn’t have the same overload issues that the 9th Circuit does and it’s less obvious to me how to fix the problem.

    ** The 7th, 11th, and especially 1st*** Circuits could all use more judges as well, but there’s no need to break them up.

    *** Most of the smaller circuit courts have 11 or 12 judges. The 1st Circuit inexplicably has six, making it incapable of seating more than two panels at a time without pulling from senior and district judges, and incapable of seating more than three without double dipping.

    **** Note that the 5th and 11th Circuits are not the only three state circuits; there are three others, as well as several four state circuits. The only circuits covering more than four states, other than the 9th, are the 8th and 10th. These are the two smallest circuits by population aside from the 1st.

    ***** Unexpectedly, inadequate representation in Congress is not a reason to divide either Texas or California. They’ve both got a little more than 700,000 people per representative, which is a only bit less than the median state (Kansas and Illinois, at 715,000 or so). And despite the size of its delegation, California can’t overwhelm a coalition of any two of the next three largest states in the House, or any three of the next five. That’s not great, but it’s not bad in a Congress where the 10th largest delegation is 6.5 times the size of the 40th.

    ****** There are two very distinct ways government can go wrong: government malfunction, where the government can’t do what it’s supposed to do, and government misbehavior, where the government successfully acts in a way that it shouldn’t. A good example of malfunction, as opposed to misbehavior, is the Bureau of Land Management being simultaneously required to and forbidden from drawing down the population of certain wild herds of horses, although luckily most government malfunctions don’t involve direct and irreconcilable contradictions in the same way. I’m far more interested in the first class of problem than the second, and at any rate “California violates the dormant commerce clause by being too large” is clearly an instance of the first.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      Meh. I don’t think California’s problem is size and outsized influence on the 9th Circuit. It is that it is increasingly becoming a rich-man poor-man state without a mediating middle class or any strong mediating institutions (like Church, Boy Scouts, etc).

      • Gazeboist says:

        I don’t care about solving California’s problems, I want to solve the problem California creates for the federal architecture of the United States.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          To me you haven’t really provided a strong case that its bigness is the cause of the problem, and that that problem would be reduced if it just became 4 Californias. The problem is the bad policies which negatively affect interstate commerce and that SCOTUS doesn’t have 5 solid judges that understand how much the clause is meant to limit pseudo tariffs like state CAFE or chicken coop standards.

        • Plumber says:

          Still totally worth it @Gazeboist!

          This Californians reaction to “California is too big and powerful ’cause courts, textbooks, and stuff so divide your State” is “Thank you Sir may I have another?!

    • johan_larson says:

      Can you show that the 9th Circuit is dysfunctional? It’s certainly large, but some large things work.

    • Plumber says:


      “……The question remains: how many states should California become?….”

      I don’t know, 53 new seperate States, one for each Congressional district? Or, 58 new seperate States, one for each County?

      I didn’t much read the stuff about the Federal Courts in the OP but I’m all in when it comes to dividing California into multiple States, as I posted in another thread:

      “….California is too big, Los Angeles County alone has more people than 40 states, and I like our rulers to be up close and our votes to count more. In my lifetime I’ve never seen a Governor in person and I’ve seen exactly two Presidential candidates: Jesse Jackson up close when he gave a speech right on Adeline Avenue in my old neighborhood near the border of Berkeley and Oakland (pedestrians were allowed, but they closed the street to motorists), and Walter Mondale from a great distance in San Francisco that same year, and neither won.

      In contrast this last year a City Councilman running for re-election in the little town I moved to knocked on our door and asked me what issues mattered to me. I liked that, it reminded me of a union meeting….”

      Anyway, almost any division of California into more than one State sounds like a good improvement to me.

    • Brad says:

      I don’t necessarily disagree with either of your ideas, but it’s kind of weird how you join them together. Splitting states is a lot bigger deal than splitting a judicial circuit, so it’s very tail wagging the dog to create entirely new state governments just to solve a judicial circuit problem.

      • johan_larson says:

        Dividing the 9th Circuit into two parts, one for California and one for the rest would be a lot easier, certainly. Why is it important for a Circuit to have jurisdiction over multiple states?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Splitting up California has gotta fall under “culture war”

      • johan_larson says:

        Splitting up California isn’t a motherhood issue for the reds or the blues; it’s too fringe for that. It’s outgroup for both factions. Shouldn’t be a problem, unless doing so would dramatically reduce the influence of the Democratic or Republican parties.

    • Matt M says:

      At the risk of invoking CW, my question is, why should red tribe support this, given that, with the exception of aggressive and blatant gerrymandering in their favor, there’s virtually no way this could be done that wouldn’t result in blue tribe gaining 2-6 senators.

      • Chalid says:

        Is there some electoral reform you’d trade for it?

        • Matt M says:

          I don’t know. I think the only way it might be feasible is if you did Texas at the same time, and did it in such a way as the net effect on the senate would be neutral (and would be expected to stay that way into the near future). And in Texas’ case, that would be a lot harder to do without gerrymandering, as the large liberal cities are fairly spread out from each other.

      • John Schilling says:

        If you split California into either three or five states, along any reasonable lines, one or two of them respectively will be solidly Red. Three Californias gives both the Democrats and the Republicans two extra senators each (on top of the two the Democrats already get), five Californias means +4 each, and either way no net change in the balance of the Senate.

        Four Californias almost certainly tilts the balance, probably +2 Democrat, so that’s not the way to go. The number of the counting shall be three, or possibly five. Four shalt thou not count, excepting that thou then proceed to five. Six is right out.

      • ana53294 says:

        California has two Democratic Senators.

        The non-coastal part of California is Red, so couldn’t you split California into three states so you have 4 Democratic and 2 Republican senators (4-2=2)?, so no net gain for Democrats?

      • Plumber says:

        @Matt M

        “…..with the exception of aggressive and blatant gerrymandering in their favor, there’s virtually no way this could be done that wouldn’t result in blue tribe gaining 2-6 senators”

        If you only divide California into a North and a South, one with Los Angeles and one with San Francisco, yes that would likely be two additional “blue” senators, but California still has plenty of “red” counties and dividing the State up in other ways would likely not be blatant gerrymandering but would result in at least one “red” senator, I could easily imagine a division into four States that wouldn’t look much like gerrymandering but would result in two blue senators and two new red senators which nationwide would be +2 for red.

        It’s not Texas but remember that our current Senators are San Francisco’s former Mayor and San Francisco’s former District Attorney, and even Los Angeles county is more Republican than San Francisco.

        Also, I’d love to see how Texas would decide to divide California, and Californians divide Texas.

        • bean says:

          Also, I’d love to see how Texas would decide to divide California, and Californians divide Texas.

          I’m an Oklahoman these days, which I hope is close enough. My division plan is simple. We make SoCal a state. We make the rural regions another state. We kick the Bay Area out of the country entirely. Or if we can’t do that, we make them another state.

          Why yes, I did spend a few years in LA. Why do you ask?

          • Plumber says:

            “…We kick the Bay Area out of the country entirely….”

            Wait, we’re still part of the United States?

            Then why have we been paying the tax for the Wise and Noble Protector of the Golden Gate and the Valley of the Heats’s Delight our Glorious Emperor Norton the 6th latest wedding?

          • Garrett says:

            You forgot about Emperor Norton I.

      • Matt M says:

        I mean you guys aren’t wrong, but I think that counts as “aggressive gerrymandering” because the population balance would be so out of whack. We already are getting complaints of the “why do people from Wyoming get 5x as much Senate representation as people from California” variety.

        If you’re going to cut it in such a way that the end result is two blue states and one red state, both of the blue states are, I believe, still going to be quite larger in population than the red one, and the end result would end up looking a little weird (basically LA and SF would be their own blue states, and everything else would be one giant red one)

        ETA: Basically, if you do it that way, the question then just gets flipped and becomes “Why would Blue tribe agree to that?” Why should they give up their ability to lord their preferences over millions of red tribe Californians in exchange for no perceptible gain of their own?

        • johan_larson says:

          Why would Blue tribe agree to that?

          Because they get to do things their way in the Peoples’ Republics of San Fran and LA (plus change.) They can rocket into the progressive future without always always getting into fights with neo-fascists and paleo-conservatives from the red districts. It’s exhausting.

          • Matt M says:

            They already get to do that. The small number of neo-fascists among them hold next to zero real power. They can steamroll over them whenever they want.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Is it not reasonable for states to be divided like that? We already live in a world where Maryland borders Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, and having a couple coastal states and an inland state fashioned out of CA’s bloated corpse doesn’t seem out of line with that. The house and senate exist in parallel because states aren’t really meant as “evenly population-distributed administrative districts.”

          We already are getting complaints of the “why do people from Wyoming get 5x as much Senate representation as people from California” variety.

          On a side note, this is very literally the worst argument made about American government I’ve seen, and it keeps coming up in the wild. I don’t even feel bad about shit-talking it in a CW-free thread because it completely disrespects the basis for the US’s bicameral legislature and the democrats should really be focusing on the house if they think they’re being unfairly treated, population-wise. If the argument is against the bicameral structure I wish people would start from there rather than from “the senate equally represents the states and that’s not fair.”

        • David Speyer says:

          Not everything is culture war. When congress is voting on subsidies for grape farmers, or research for earthquake proofing, having 6 Californian senators rather than 2 will help all Californians.

          Also, I don’t know if this is true, but having a legislature and governor just concentrating on the SF bay area might get a lot of inter-municipality coordination problems solved.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Historically this sort of thing has played a role in bringing new states into the Senate: after the Civil War, Republicans ‘gerrymandered’ the Senate by bringing in new states that were heavily Republican from the western territories in order to cement policies they had enacted while the Southern states were still absent; however even some Democrats were willing to support (heavily Republican, sparsely populated) Nevada joining the Senate–particularly those from western states, who hoped for more Senate votes for their preferred land-use policies, railroad policies, etc.

      • Watchman says:

        Has anyone in the US considered doing things regardless of the outcomes for the political parties? If something is worth doing for some reason, do it and if this happens to affect politics so be it…

        I may be an optimist mind you.

      • Nornagest says:

        An equal-population split is going to look gerrymandered, yeah, but there’s no good reason to do one anyway. If I was going to split California up along cultural lines, it’d look something like Northern California (the coastal counties from San Luis Obispo north to about Mendocino), Southern California (the coastal counties south of San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border), Central California (the Central Valley and surrounds), and Jefferson (roughly the northern third of the state, plus the Sierra Nevada counties south to Eldorado, minus Roseville). And while I’m at it I’d cede parts of southern Oregon to Jefferson, and parts of Mono, Inyo, and San Bernadino Counties to Nevada.

        This would give you two blue states (Northern and Southern California), a Democrat-leaning swing state (Central California), and a red state (Jefferson). If you wanted to keep the Senate balanced, the way to do it would be to divide Central California among the other three, probably by giving Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto to NorCal and Fresno and Bakersfield to SoCal.

        The water politics would be interesting, but they already are.

        • johan_larson says:

          For a three-way split that breaks two-blue/one-red, you might do San Francisco and surroundings/LA and surroundings/everything else. The “everything else” state is going to be eastern and northern California, the sparsely inhabited portions of the state. The coastal counties are pretty darn blue, and will probably want to go with either SF or LA, whichever is closer. It might make sense to split some of the really big counties, like Riverside, into what I expect is a blue west and a red east.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, I guess, to slightly rephrase my initial objection, it seems to me that the inevitable outcome is going to have to deal with three potential objections:

            1. It will alter the existing balance in the Senate/EC
            2. It will appear to be heavily gerrymandered
            3. It will not be balanced by population (thus exacerbating the already existing “problem” of blue states being “underrepresented” in the Senate/EC)

            I think there are ways you can do it that will resolve one of those objections, but I’m not sure you can resolve two of them at once, and I think it’s virtually impossible to resolve all three without having some sort of giant national convention wherein we’re prepared to re-draw the borders of all the states

          • Nornagest says:

            The Central Valley’s got a fair amount of population. The Sacramento metro area is about two and a half million, the Fresno and Bakersfield areas have nearly a million each, and the Stockton and Modesto areas sum to another million or so between them. That still doesn’t match the Bay Area’s 7 million, but it’s not too far off.

            The area I described under “Jefferson” really is pretty sparsely populated, though — Redding is its biggest city, and that’s only 180,000 people even if you count nearby towns with it. I want to give it its own state because of its cultural differences from the rest of California, and also because it’s got a preexisting statehood movement going.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, the Jefferson movement is weird in that sense.

            Culturally speaking, they wouldn’t even draw in two of the larger and more established southern Oregon cities, Medford and Ashland, which are hippy enclaves. I guess you could give them Klamath Falls, but then the map starts looking weird again…

      • Gazeboist says:

        “To form a more perfect union” is the flip answer.

        The real answer is that no existing politician, as far as I can tell, is interested in constructing or maintaining an actual functioning government (since that risks damaging red/blue dominance) as opposed to enacting a series of laws named after their campaign promises; likewise the vast majority of political commentators. There’s no need to worry about this actually happening; it would require a constitutional amendment or the kind of political consensus necessary to enact one, and the last time that happened was 1971 (the ratification of XXVII is an unusual circumstance that I don’t think qualifies). Since this requires a supermajority and vaguely advantages blue tribe, it won’t happen, which means blue tribe won’t even suggest it. As goofy twitter ideas go, court packing is substantially more likely, and that is, again, “goofy twitter idea” levels of plausible.

        • Matt M says:

          “To form a more perfect union” is the flip answer.

          I mean, sure, okay. But in that case, why not go with my suggestion above and open the entire nation up to re-distracting at the state level? It strikes me that California is likely not the only state that has a “clash of cultures” within its internal borders. And that to the extent that population imbalance does result in less proportional outcomes in the Senate/EC, that could be shored up a bit as well. We might even be able to achieve some economies of scale in state government costs through consolidating 50 states into 30 or something (or, for those of us who consider decentralization as an obvious benefit, split it into 100).

          The notion that the most obvious way to improve the national political environment is to re-draw the boundaries of California but leave everything else untouched strikes me as quite unlikely.

        • As goofy twitter ideas go, court packing is substantially more likely, and that is, again, “goofy twitter idea” levels of plausible.

          Why? It’s happened once.

          • BBA says:

            Several times, but the last time was almost 150 years ago. That’s what makes it goofy, it’s changing a rule that’s been in place since before anyone on earth was born.

    • cassander says:

      Water rights issues make any division of California infeasible. The central valley of California is one of the most productive areas of agriculture in the world, but it depends almost entirely on water that comes from elsewhere. The water users will never agree to let the people who live in the water producing areas go on terms that they might be willing to accept. The population of people who care about the issue is relatively small, but they care immensely and there’s a lot of money backing them, so they’re very well positioned to torpedo any breakup.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        And the infrastructure is paid for by the coastal cities paying to keep the whole system going in return for an astonishingly small faction of the water. – Which actually means it is already unstable, because the per cubic meter prices charged to those cities are so high that there is an ongoing chance they will decide to just go for desalination instead to at least stop people making them feel guilty for their swimming-pools, since the cost would be the same.

        This move kicks the legs out from under the rest of the state because they loose the effective subsidy.

    • herbert herberson says:

      The Dormant Commerce Clause is the right-wing equivalent of Substantive Due Process

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        Is that why it dates back to 1824?

      • Nornagest says:

        I think this might be edging a little too close to culture war.

      • Gazeboist says:

        There isn’t a real DCC violation here even if it’s plausible that having a large economy can cause one. DDC violations are things like West Virginia deciding to shut off gas to a large portion of Pennsylvania, or Louisiana deciding to explicitly and deliberately tax out-of-state consumers of natural gas and only them. There is a problem of the general class that the DCC is supposed to address, though.

  14. dndnrsn says:

    Hello, and welcome to the twelfth installment of my Biblical scholarship effortpost series. We are getting into the home stretch of the prophetic books, and so far have looked at Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. This time, we’ll consider the book of Obadiah, a prophetic book concerned primarily with the supposed misdeeds of Edom during a time when Judah was vulnerable. We’ll look primarily at its dating and historicity.

    The usual caveats: this is about secular scholarship. I’m not an expert, but I did study this back in university. I’m shooting for about a 100/200 level coverage here; let me know if there’s anything you want to know more about and I’ll see what I can rustle up. I usually don’t summarize much, although for Obadiah I will, because it’s so short I can do a proper summary.

    Obadiah is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible. Its topic is the destruction of Jerusalem and the alleged acts of Edom against Judah. Much like Nahum, it is entirely an oracle against the nations – there is no self-criticism here.

    The book begins with an announcement that the nations will rise against Edom in battle. Edom is condemned in harsh terms by God. It is characterized as foolish and delusional in its confidence in its defensible terrain and its allies. In fact, nowhere Edom could be is safe from God, and Edom’s allies will betray it.

    Why is Edom condemned? The Edomites were traditionally regarded as kin to Israel – they were thought to descend from Esau, Jacob’s brother. According to Obadiah, when Jerusalem and Judah suffered disaster, Edom took part in the plunder, betrayed fugitives, and committed other misdeeds. Edom will receive as punishment, Obadiah declares, the same as what it did to its victims.

    Following this, the book concludes with an announcement of future judgment (“the day of the LORD”). Israel/Zion will be restored, and will get its revenge: the “House of Esau” will be utterly destroyed. The book concludes by imagining an idealized future.

    Scholars think that Obadiah was written at some time in the first half of the sixth century. The destruction of Jerusalem is a past event, but it is clearly still fresh. The text seems to reflect the conditions in Judah following the destruction of Jerusalem. The original author or source is unclear – the name Obadiah may be a reference to the figure who appears in 1 Kings 18, but lacking more information such as the name of his father, this is mere speculation.

    There’s disagreement between scholars over whether the text as a whole is coherent, or whether it is an expansion of an earlier core. Some scholars think that similarities between the first seven verses of Obadiah and verses in Jeremiah 49 indicate that Obadiah borrows from Jeremiah – however, it could just as easily be that both borrowed from a third text that no longer exists. Some scholars think that the fifteenth to twenty-first verses of Obadiah are a later addition.

    Another scholarly question raises its head: is this historical? There’s no archaeological evidence for aggression by Edom against Judah at that time, but there are scattered (and somewhat vague) references in the Hebrew Bible outside of Obadiah (though none in historical books, where one might expect them). Multiple prophets of the time convey a sense of hostility against Edom for supposed actions during the period of the destruction of Jerusalem. Scholars tend to think that Edom must have done something, as otherwise the references make no sense.

    So, in summary: Obadiah is a very short book. It was likely written after the destruction of Jerusalem, and is largely concerned with the misdeeds of Edom. Scholars disagree over issues of its composition, but tend to agree that it must reflect historical events in some way.

    (If I’ve made any errors, please let me know, ideally within 55 minutes so I can edit)

    • SamChevre says:

      Mentioned elsewhere–probably the best-known reference to Edom is in Psalm 137 (“By the waters of Babylon”):

      Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I’m looking forward to working on the Psalms installment. Just 2-3 more installments until the Ketuvim.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Are you going to do the deuterocanon, too?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m trying to figure out what the best approach is. I might try to address those that link to something in the Hebrew Bible when I cover the latter, like the additions to Daniel. There’s a lot of New Testament-era noncanonical stuff I kind of want to do, but the only one I can really justify putting in is Thomas when I talk about the synoptics or the historical Jesus or whatever.

      • engleberg says:

        ‘An Edomite, a bloody shite’- from Kafoozalem, not quite a psalm, yet.

    • Gazeboist says:

      So, uh, quick question: who the heck is Edom? Are they another Punt or do we actually know what archaeological culture group they correspond to? From what I understand, the relevant major powers in this period are Egypt, Akkad, Babylon, and Persia, but what’s the rest of the political landscape like outside Israel and Judah?

      • Aron Wall says:

        They weren’t ever a major power I think, just a minor Semitic nation (like Moab or Ammon) in the mountainous area south of Judah. But we definitely have records of them from outside the Bible.

        According to the Bible they are descendents of Esau, Jacob’s brother. Although their country was destroyed by the Babylonians, the ethnic group survived, and the Romans called them Idumeans. The most famous Idumean is King Herod, who Matthew says tried to kill Jesus as a baby. Part of the reason for Herod’s political paranoia (well documented in other cases) was that many Jews didn’t regard him as a legitimate ruler (despite his conversion to Judaism) due to the requirement in Deuteronomy that the king of Israel should be one of their own.

        More info can be found from Wikipedia.

      • Watchman says:

        Can I point out that archaeological cultures do not map political units at all well. Who the Edomites were is a different question from who was buried in this way or who used that type of pot, not least because the type indicators for archaeological cultures tend to be in the household/feminine sphere whilst political groups were public and probably strongly masculine in gender.

  15. ManyCookies says:

    Has a forum experimented with hidden +1s, and how’d it go? Visible +1s have well documented pitfalls, but there’s a lot of comments here that I thought were interesting/insightful and I want the author to know it (basically every Naval Gazing post) but don’t have anything particular to add to the conversation. But I don’t want to spam the OT with “+1s” either!

  16. Uribe says:

    Does where you come down on the free will vs. determinism debate have any practical meaning in terms of how you live your life? Should it?

    I sometimes find myself wondering whether I should have made different academic and career choices long ago. I wonder how different my life might be now. But then it will occur to me that, to have made different decisions, I would have had to have been a different person than I was, at least slightly. I suppose I believe that because I am a fatalist. Wouldn’t someone who believes in free will believe differently?

    Why might this matter? I think it might matter in terms of moving on in life and not getting hung up on mistakes made.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Does where you come down on the free will vs. determinism debate have any practical meaning in terms of how you live your life?


      In all seriousness, I can’t coherently model a hard determinist. I assume that I don’t act like one, but I can’t really tell.

    • I think it should affect how you feel about things. If I have done something terrible and believe in free will I should feel guilty. If I believe in determinism, it’s just a fact I have no responsibility for.

      • Protagoras says:

        Assuming responsibility tracks free will. But even under free will, feelings are mostly not under conscious control; for a determinist it seems even more clear that any alleged facts about how they “should” feel are unlikely to affect how they’ll actually feel.

    • Baeraad says:

      I’m not sure my determinism affects how I live my life, just how I look at it. I don’t see myself as making choices, I see myself as gradually becoming aware of what I’m going to do next – but as near as I can tell, the processing of thoughts and feelings that produces my course of action is indistinguishable from what most people call “making a choice.” I’m just more detached from it.

      I suppose it does stop me from second-guessing myself after the fact, like you say. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel proud or ashamed of things I’ve done. After all, it was my personal nature, the one I defined myself by, that made those decisions. Thus, they still inform how I see myself.

    • fion says:

      I think it does. I think believing in determinism makes me more forgiving of other people’s transgressions. They don’t deserve to lose an eye just because they took someone else’s. Anybody in the exact same position would have done the same thing. Forgive them and help to create circumstances that will make them and others less likely to remove eyes in the future.

    • raj says:

      I think it would be great if someone could provide a definition of “free will” that makes clear why it conflicts with “determinism”.

      This is mostly rhetorical, because you can’t.

      • Protagoras says:

        Plenty of people have given contradictory accounts of free will. A contradictory account is incompatible with determinism (and anything else, including itself).

      • Uribe says:

        I’ll play, if just to see where I fail.

        I define Free Will as meaning that individuals have more than one action they can choose to take given the exact same set of physical circumstances in the universe (those physical circumstances include everything within the brain of the individual).

        Does that definition not conflict with determinism?

        • Protagoras says:

          I’m not saying your approach can’t provide what raj is looking for, but I am curious whether you realize that it is far from clear what it means to say that someone has more than one action they can choose to take. Some possible meanings are absurd, and some are compatible with determinism. Perhaps yours is neither, but it is impossible to tell unless you elaborate and clarify.

          • Uribe says:

            No, I’m not clear why my above definition isn’t clear about what it means for someone to have more than one action they can take. I simply stated in my definition that one does have this.

            To elaborate, since I say they have “more than one action they can choose to take given the exact same set of physical circumstances in the universe”, what I mean to imply is that one can only believe in Free Will if they believe that the agency of Will transcends the physical universe. This isn’t an uncommon belief. Many believe that mind != brain.

            Perhaps more radical, taking a more Eastern view in which the universe is a creation of mind, a hallucination, Will may be free-er. Determinism has little claim in a universe that is a projection of the mind.

          • Protagoras says:

            Ah, well, putting it that way makes it clear that your account of free will doesn’t conflict with determinism; a genuinely dualistic but deterministic universe (one in which there is a category of the mental which is entirely non-physical, but mental events are determined by prior causes just as physical events are) would almost automatically have free will by this definition. But I’m not sure how this would line up with intuitive ideas about freedom.

        • Baeraad says:

          It does, as near as I can tell, yes.

          What I would like to know is how it differs from mere random chance. If you have no reason whatsoever to choose X over Y or Y over X, then doesn’t that reduce the choice between them to a metaphysical coin flip?

          • Uribe says:

            Well, I defined Free Will as more than one choice in order to be precise. To be more liberal with the definition, I think many would say the potential choices are many an perhaps even infinite. (Imagine a composer of a symphony with free will. Are not his choices at least near infinite if the symphony is of indeterminate length or the instruments of indeterminate number and type?)

            Now, perhaps you might think of the choice taken among these options as like a coin flip or die roll. I would’t call that Free Will if that’s a valid analogy of how the choice is made. Free Will isn’t throwing “heads” or rolling “six”, it’s CALLING “heads” or “six”.

            In other words, it is a conscious CHOICE by an agency.

            I’m not saying this phenomenon exists in nature. I’m describing how it exists in concept.

  17. CarlosRamirez says:

    Doesn’t “joyful reduction of uncertainty” also work as an invitation to join a cult?

  18. Barry says:

    Question about a phenomenon I’ve been experiencing:

    So I’m a very big guy. I stand 6’5 and weigh more than 350 lbs. Whenever I meet a friend, acquaintance, or family member who I haven’t seen for an extended period of time, (around a month or longer), the person in question almost always asks me if I have A) Gotten taller, B) Lost weight, or C) Both. I haven’t gotten taller or lost significant weight in a long time, or gained significant weight.

    Does anyone have any theories as to why this keeps happening?

    • Matt M says:

      Hmmmm, I think A and B might be getting at slightly different things. I would suspect that in modern America, your height is more unusual than your weight, so question A is probably just a simple result of someone who hasn’t seen you in awhile having forgotten how tall you actually are. And B might just be common politeness.

      • Barry says:

        My first thought was that people were just being polite too, but based on the personalities of some of the people who’ve asked, as well as the follow-up conversations we’ve had, I no longer think that explains it for at least a portion of the people asking the weight loss question.

    • baconbits9 says:

      C is quite the confounder as I otherwise would have guessed that people would tend to either over or under estimate your size and on meeting you again would reframe it (and being somewhat polite would ask if you were taller rather than fatter).

      Possible answer: are these people you would have known in one situation and now are meeting in another? Perhaps people who saw you sitting often but now you are meeting while standing up? A large seated person might look heavier and without the striking height differential between the two, so you can get all three effects from them seeing you standing.

      • Barry says:

        I will say that C is by far the least common of the three. It’s only happened twice that i can recall.

        But for A and B, these are people who know me well and have seen me in many different contexts.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Asking if you’ve gotten taller and then shifting to weight loss (or vice versa) seems to me like it would indicate that they’re remembering you with more bulk than you actually have, but don’t remember you as having any particular height. They’re surprised by your height/shoulder-breadth ratio or something like it and are assuming they misremembered the numerator or the denominator, then checking both. Presumably most people just assume they had the ratio wrong.

          As far as people not actually having a very specific understanding of your height, I have two pieces of anecdotal experience. First, I had a roommate who had a pretty significant slouch; every now and then he would stand up straight, and I was consistently surprised by his actual height despite knowing (in theory) that he slouched most of the time. Second, I’ve repeatedly had people discover, months or years after meeting me, that to their great surprise I’m actually kinda short (5’7″ or so). I have no idea what it is that causes people to overestimate my height, but the reaction is always amusing.

          • A1987dM says:

            I heard that in Back to the Future the actor playing Doc Brown deliberately slouched all the time to hide the fact he was much taller than the one playing Marty.

          • JulieK says:

            My husband also has something that makes people overestimate his height. I’ve had this conversation with several people:

            Friend: Wow, your kids are tall! Your husband is also tall, right?
            Me: No, my husband is of average height.
            Friend: Funny, I thought he was tall.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Asking if someone has lost weight is a common way to compliment someone who you haven’t seen in a while. Even if your weight hasn’t changed ordinary politeness would explain that.

      On the other hand, I can’t fathom how it would be polite to ask if an adult man’s height has changed. I’ve gotten “I forgot how tall you were!” (6’2″) from people but nobody has asked if I’ve grown in more than a decade.

      • Matt M says:

        I’ve gotten “I forgot how tall you were!” (6’2″) from people but nobody has asked if I’ve grown in more than a decade.

        Eh, I really feel like “Have you gotten taller?” is just a different form of “I forgot how tall you were!”

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          In terms of the sentiment yes but it’s a different and weirder implication.

          It just seems like the kind of question you’d direct at a kid or a teenager and not at an adult. If someone implied that I was still growing I would think that they’ve mistaken me for a lobster.

          • Matt M says:

            Right, I get what you’re saying. But I think it’s less “I legitimately think you’ve grown” and more “I want to spin my forgetfulness as somehow your own fault and not my own, haha”

          • fion says:

            Yeah, I agree with Matt M. It’s just a bad joke. I know, because I do this. I’m used to being the tallest person around, so when I see one of my very tall acquaintances after a long time I often accuse them of having grown.

    • B sounds as though it could have two explanations, both based on the fact that even at your height 350 lbs is a lot. One is that they are being polite by suggesting that you have reduced your excessive weight. The other is that they are hinting that you should so so.

      • Barry says:

        The people in my life who think I should lose weight tell me so explicitly, as it’s never been a subject I’m touchy about.

        As to the polite theory, I said this in an earlier response:

        My first thought was that people were just being polite too, but based on the personalities of some of the people who’ve asked, as well as the follow-up conversations we’ve had, I no longer think that explains it for at least a portion of the people asking the weight loss question.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Have you been doing anything that would improve your posture (and thus look taller) or have you done anything to gain x amount of muscle and lose a comparable amount of fat (and thus look slimmer)?

    • dick says:

      I remember someone who lost their hair to chemo saying that people suddenly started commenting on her necklaces and sweaters and such, and figured that was going on was that they were surprised by her hair but didn’t want to mention it due to cancer being taboo, and so needed to find something else to mention. This might be similar – when people see something unusual they have a strong impulse to comment on it, but are aware that “Holy shit you’re huge” is impolite, so after their brain discards all of the inappropriate responses, the ones you hear are what’s left.

  19. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Entirely favorable use of SJW. No pushback in the rest of the thread.

    Whether SJW is an insult is dependent on where you hang out.

  20. helloo says:

    Regarding the expansion and fluidity of terminology

    I’ve seen multiple times now where Moloch was used to describe adverse effects of competing interests. Not a free-for-all kind of capitalistic competition, but straight up fights between differing sides.
    That’s… not what Moloch is supposed to represent is it?
    A plant becoming increasingly poisonous and the insect that eats it grows increasingly resistant to that poison is probably costing both sides something compared to their initial states, but it’s pretty clear what was the cause of it and there’s not a need to pin some otherworldly entity as its source.
    Sure, technically they face the same problem of coordination and incentive to deflect but does that apply if there wasn’t any intention to collaborate in the first place?
    Not sure which definition is intended or more useful.

    Sidenote – in my mind, I don’t really view Moloch as malevolent even metaphorically as I feel its just as responsible for the emergent benefits of capitalism and such (lower prices, general push for improvements, etc.) So that’s a third version, but I haven’t been using it as such.

    This one is probably way too late for any kind of agreement or control-
    Steelman was originally coined as a foil to strawman.
    From what I can tell, it was meant to be the strongest argument of an opposing side – either stated or created, which the debater engaged and generally agreed with. But then STILL took down due to other values, arguments, or differing evaluation of facts. They made it as hard as possible to take down, but still took it down.

    However, now… it seems to mean any argument that could possibly apply to a side you are not aligned with that is not meant to be inherently condensing. Or something.
    But regardless, the part of the takedown seems to have been lost. And though strawman can refer to a weak argument of an opposing side in general, there’s a fundamental difference between the two –
    In presenting a weak or ridiculous argument, as long as one doesn’t fall to Poe’s law or appear as a troll, the audience can infer it is intended for them to defeat or ridicule them (and accordingly also the opposing side).
    In presenting a strong argument in a way that they can generally agree with – it’s not exactly inherent that this argument is meant to be taking down by the debater or the audience.
    Sure there’s the probability of them being unable to successfully argue against the steelman they created, but sometimes people are unable to even take down the strawman (TvTropes calls it Strawman has a point).

    Not sure what is to be done besides agreeing to clarify the definitions (either in the future or to me) or possibly just splitting out and invent new terms for them.

    • Nornagest says:

      A steelman is supposed to be something you create, on your own time, to improve your understanding of an opposing position. It’s not something you use in debate; in fact, what looks steel to you might look straw to your opponent, because the stuff you think is strongest about your opponent’s position usually isn’t the same stuff they do.

      • J Mann says:

        I often use steelman to mean “what I think is the strongest argument for X, without taking a position on whether I personally am convinced.”

        I would argue that it’s collaboratively the same thing as using it for myself, and that when someone says “what’s the steelman case against gay marriage” that’s a useful thing to be able to say. (And you rationalists can’t take it away from me because you believe language is descriptive, not prescriptive!!!)

      • dndnrsn says:

        A problem with steelmanning is that it often seems to involve arguing for someone else’s object-level positions using your meta-level positions (to use the local jargon). This obscures cases where very basic differences in priors are key to the difference in opinion. It’s what I’ve found myself doing, at least – so it doesn’t really achieve that “understand it better.”

        • albatross11 says:

          I think it only works if you can (arguendo) assume the other side’s critical premises, and it’s probably only really very useful (or possible) when you’re relatively close to the other side in terms of basic worldview. I mean, if I see a space alien behave in some incomprehensible way, I’m probably not ever going to be able to steelman my way into understanding it. Probably that’s also true if I see an uncontacted hunter-gatherer in the Amazon acting in some incomprehensible way–we just don’t share enough worldview for me to make much sense of his actions or beliefs.

          On the other hand, 99.99% of the views we might reasonably try to steelman are from people from more-or-less the same broad culture, and most of the time are other highly educated, intellectual, literate citizens of some advanced industrial country. If you’re trying to figure out why the hunter-gatherer in PNG thinks it’s imperative to stick a pointy spear in some other hunter-gatherer in PNG, you probably won’t really understand his reasons without learning a lot about his culture and worldview first. But if you’re trying to figure out why another highly educated American is arguing for higher tariffs on Chinese goods, you can probably make some progress toward understanding him by steelmanning his position.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think there’s some huge differences in worldview even among educated people – even ones who got their degrees at the same time from the same university, let’s say. I think the big split is between people whose worldview is more biodeterminist, and those whose worldview is more social determinist, and the differences are more about “social policy” than questions like “what should the new NAFTA say about milk?”

        • J Mann says:

          I don’t see steelmanning as “let me figure out the best argument for what Rupert believes” but as “let me figure out the best argument for proposition X (which Rupert coincidentally believes).”

          Why Rupert believes X is an interesting data point that might help me build my steelman, but my goal is to (a) aggressively test my own priors about not X and (b) maybe develop some respect for Rupert by realizing that while I may still think X is mistaken, it might not be ridiculous or contemptible to believe it.

          • Jiro says:

            Suppose Rupert wants to stop global warming for political reasons. You steelman it by giving scientific reasons why global warming is bad. You are then surprised when Rupert prevents you from building nuclear power plants, because you failed to figure out why Rupert specifically wants to stop global warming, and that’s what you really needed to figure out.

            I could phrase this as a mismatch between the position you’re steelmanning (we should stop global warming) and Rupert’s position (we should do the things my politics says to do; most of those by happenstance follow from stopping global warming, but opposition to nuclear power doesn’t). In that case, your sin was misrepresenting Rupert’s position, and then steelmanning the misrepresented position instead of his actual one. But I think most people wouldn’t describe it that way.

          • J Mann says:

            @Jiro – thanks, that’s helpful.

            You’re correct – if Rupert thinks “carbon use is immoral” and I steelman “carbon taxes would be a utilitarian improvement,” I have not improved my understanding of Rupert.

            I would like a word for “find the strongest arguments in favor of position X, even if I believe X to be wrong.”

            On review of LessWrong, I do agree that the general meaning of steelman is probably closer to the “find the best argument in favor of Rupert’s position” interpretation than “find the best argument in favor of general position X, and draw from Rupert as helpful.”

            However, the general interpretation is IMHO not very useful, and mine is – are there any words that actually fit the meaning I would like to express?

      • helloo says:

        This is roughly what I meant above for the original besides the improve part. Meant it to be similar to strawman in use where it’s put in created media that discusses a topic. By necessity, it will be the creation of the author(s) and possibly personal as it needs to make sense and agreed/felt defend-able to them.

        The debater part was simply to indicate that they were part of a discussion and was part of one side. Didn’t mean it to have them actively talking with the other side/party.

        The issue with it simply being the strongest argument is that arguments can be stronger to different people. Some just value different things. So then it ends up becoming “strong argument against someone’s position” and then diluted to “theoretical argument against this position that I am not part of”. Still might be useful to see what you consider as strong arguments and whether someone’s covered all their bases, but hardly the above.

    • Brad says:

      I’m a bit of a broken record on the subject, but my least favorite along these lines is what’s happened to “virtue signaling”.

      • mdet says:

        Is it possible to explain in a CW-free way? I’ve seen the term used in what seem like several different ways and I’d like to know which ones you think are “right” or “wrong”.

        • Matt M says:

          I am not Brad, but if I recall, his main complaint is that “signaling” in a scientific sense long referred to signals that were actually rather costly in some way, whereas “virtue signaling” in common usage refers to actions that are essentially costless.

          • albatross11 says:

            That male peacock doesn’t really *believe* in big, heavy, colorful tails, he’s just virtue-signaling!

          • Brad says:

            Right, thanks. A quibble: either costly or at least capable of fooling others as into think it was costly.

            AFAIK the classic example when the term was coined would have been something like tithing. There it serves as a homo econimus explination for why someone would want to do that—viz. to show his community, in a hard to fake way, that he really believes in its principles.

            There are certainly arguments to be made that it’s reductive but it seems like a useful concept to have a term for, and “virtue signaling” is a good fit for it. Neither is true IMO for the contemporary colloquial usage.

          • Aapje says:


            Do they actually have to be costly or merely be perceived as costly?

            For example, suppose that some people believe in repercussions that don’t happen or at least far less than they think. Then these people can honestly believe that they are showing/advancing their principles at a personal cost. Then when the repercussions don’t happen or happen less than expected, this can be attributed to ‘luck’ to preserve their world view.

            Another possibility is that the repercussions actually exist for contemporary usages of “virtue signaling.” For example, it does seem to me that a certain kind of activism makes one more dependent on support/approval/jobs furnished by others who have the same politics, while alienating the person from people with different politics. This seems to often make them unhappy for being marginalized.

          • John Schilling says:

            Right, thanks. A quibble: either costly or at least capable of fooling others as into think it was costly.

            Turning every debate into a bravery debate looks rather like an attempt to fool people into believing cheap signals are costly because The Man will punish them for Speaking Truth to Power or whatnot.

            And there may even be some small truth to that, in that e.g. filling your social media history with tribal politics, forecloses some social and even economic opportunities with the other tribe. But only a small truth, and I agree something is lost when we use the same term to describe one person giving 10% of their income to charity and another person retweeting some political memes.

        • toastengineer says:

          Is it possible to explain in a CW-free way?

          Political bumper stickers. Accomplishes nothing, only reason it exists is because people have an instinct to publicly announce their virtues.

  21. proyas says:

    I’d like feedback to help develop an idea. I first expressed it in the last Open Thread, in response to another user’s question about whether there was any use to the perpetuation of the human species (don’t bother posting any responses there–it’s less likely I’ll see them). Forgive me if this is scatterbrained, but this is a new idea of mine that I need help polishing.

    The purpose of human reproduction is of course to perpetuate one’s genes within the genepool, and ideally, the expand one’s representation within the genepool over time. Since there are now 7.5 billion humans, the odds that any single person having one or more unique alleles are vanishingly small, so any one person is expendable–whether or not he or she has children, the other X million humans who, in aggregate, share all of their alleles, will reproduce and ensure the alleles don’t go extinct. Genetic diversity will not be lost.

    I believe that AGI will be created by the end of this century, that it will, for lack of a better term, “take over” the world and relegate humans to second-tier status in most or all important ways, and this belief informs my views on the importance of human procreation.

    Human procreation is good and necessary because humans are needed to create AGIs in the future. In particular, procreation of people in advanced countries (including China) is good since they comprise the majority of scientists and technicians, and since their countries collectively maintain international order. Though birth rates are declining in advanced countries, their populations will stay big enough to field enough scientists to create AGI.

    Once AGI has established dominance over the Earth, the continued existence and biological evolution of the human race will serve no purpose (though I hope our species continues on anyway). Even the smartest human will be dumber than an AGI. Moreover, by the time the first AGI is created, it’s certain that billions of humans will have had their genomes sequenced, allowing for the construction of a database of all existing human genetic variation. Paired with futuristic “cloning labs,” again for lack of a better term, it would become possible to make any human if so desired. At that point, procreation for the sake of perpetuating specific human alleles will become obsolete since the genes will be saved in the database. Humanity could become homogenized and/or entire groups could become extinct, and it would be of no real consequence since the full range of human genetic variability would still exist as computer code, and it would be possible to use cloning to “resurrect” anyone in the database. Redheads will never die out.

    • Uribe says:

      I’m not an expert on this subject, but I don’t understand why the population size should affect the odds of an individual having a unique allele. Ceteris paribus, wouldn’t a smaller population have a proportionally smaller number of mutations? Or is this something that is proportional to the square root of the population? Or is the outcome space of mutations confined in some way that means mutations are more likely to match other mutations beyond a certain number of them?

  22. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Is there a name for the fallacy/bias/problem of getting so focused on the current state of a process that the whole trajectory isn’t noticed?

    Mentions of the IRB nightmare reminded me of this– neither Scott nor the person giving him advice seemed to have any idea of him learning about the whole thing instead of getting blocked by single failures caused by not knowing what to do.

    Other examples– there are people who diet, lose weight, regain it plus more, and keep doing it again.

    Various scams like the Spanish prisoner. (Put in some money to get a whole lot more money. Oh, dear, more money is needed. Repeat.)

    • That sounds similar to “missing the forest for the trees” but I don’t think that’s what you are talking about.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        After I posted, “missing the forest for the trees” occurred to me, but that’s so vague I’ve never known what it means.

        • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

          Missing the forest for the trees actually happened to me.

          We were visiting a cottage up north and i knew at some point, so far north, everything thinned out and there’d be miles of undeveloped wilderness.
          So at some point i asked how far north we had to go before the forest starts, and they looked at me confused and said “its right there” pointing to the treeline not 20 feet from us.

          Because i’m from a lush area that would be forest naturally and this was a lush area and everything between was lush i assumed this area was just like home and the the treeline was just brush that would went for like 100m before another property or a feild or something. But no if you walked into it it was woods for dozens of miles.

          Thus missing the forests for the trees. when all you see are the first row of trees you don’t know if there’s a forest behind it or if its just a woodlot between fields

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      There’s a thing in programming called an XY Problem which sounds similar. Your real problem is X and you think Y is a solution for it, so you ask someone to help with Y, but Y either won’t solve X or is harder or more annoying that other solutions for X. You waste all your time “solving” Y. So, when asking for help, start with the broad problem you’re trying to solve.

  23. DragonMilk says:

    So Steak.

    After successfully cooking sirloin a few times, on a whim I bought a leaner cut that seemed to be in high demand – round top.

    It was tough. Like bark-infused. I will not buy it again.

    Which cuts of steak do you recommend that has a good tenderness/price ratio? For now I’d stick to sirloin.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      IMO, round is best as a roast. I typically get a 3-pounder, sear that sucker brown, and roast at 325 for an hour or so. Goal temp is 120-130, depending on how done you want the roast. Pull out and let rest for 15 mins. These are good now that it’s fall. I typically do top or eye of round roasts when I have family coming over and don’t want to shell out money for a rib roast.

      Favorite steak: ribeye/strip. I buy thick-sliced steaks (1+ inch) on sale, season with salt/pepper, then sear and bake. They don’t take long at all. Last night we had some bone-in strip that I finished with a brandy/gorgonzola pan sauce.

      Skirt steak is good for steak sandwiches, IMO.

      Filet is overrated given the price.

      I don’t even understand why chuck comes in steak form. There are apparently sections of the shoulder that ARE tender, but hopefully your butcher knows what he is doing.

      Tomahawk steaks are particularly cool to look at.

      • gbdub says:

        I would highly recommend switching to a reverse-sear (do the lower temperature bake / roast first, THEN sear), especially if you prefer rarer meat.

        The initial roast gets the outside dry (a key step in searing) without significantly overcooking it. Then, when you drop it on a hot pan or grill afterward, you’re halfway to searing temp already, so you can brown up the outside fast before the heat penetrates too far.

        • Well... says:

          And if you prefer it more on the well-done side of medium?

          • gbdub says:

            It matters less – the upside of a reverse sear is reducing the depth of the gradient between the seared exterior and the cooler interior, such that you minimize the thickness of the overcooked layer underneath the seared crust.

            On the other hand, wanting a more well-done steak really makes the 2-step cooking process essential, in whichever order. Getting the interior of a thick steak up to medium-well+ with direct heat only will result in a tough, burnt exterior.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I have never had any success with reverse-sears, unfortunately. There’s a bit of a gradient with the normal sear, but I’m usually pretty satisifed with the results.

          • gbdub says:

            You ever have trouble with the crust getting a bit soggy during the roast? That’s the other problem reverse searing fixed for me.

            If you’ve got access to a super hot direct heat source, I suppose it matters a bit less – the sear will happen fast enough to minimize the gradient even if you start from raw.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Can’t say that I’ve ever had a problem with a soggy crust. Only real issue I’ve ever had is not really ever having a crust at all because it was too low. Normally not a big deal these days, I get my cast iron pretty hot before I start searing.

          • SamChevre says:

            What problem do you have with reverse sears? I’ve had extremely good success with them for roasts, using my Uncle the chef’s technique:

            Salt and pepper the roast, cook on a rack at the lowest temp your oven will maintain until 120 degrees (rare) to 135 degrees (medium-well), take out, cover with a foil and a towel; sometime within the next hour, pre-heat oven to 500 degrees, put back in for 10 minutes or so until the exterior is smoking

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Every time I’ve tried a reverse sear, I’ve ended up overcooking the meat long before I had anything approaching a sear. However, I did not think of heating the oven up to do that, so maybe I’ll give that a shot next time I do a roast.

            Since I’ve got the sear-sear-bake method down pretty well now, I’ve never felt the need to add an additional skill.

            Sounds a lot like doing a turkey, but that’s one thing I leave to Mrs. ADBG, so it’s never occurred to me!

            Might give it a shot this weekend…with round!

          • gbdub says:

            With a reverse sear you’ll do the usual “post-cook rest” between the low temp roast and the sear.

            Sounds like maybe you weren’t preheating your sear vessel (oven or cast iron) before putting your meat in it?

            Were you maybe moving the cast iron pan straight from the low temp oven to the burner without taking the meat out? That would definitely result in overcooking – the meat has to go straight from mostly cooked and resting to ultra-high heat for best results.

            I often would have exactly the opposite problem with traditional sear-then-bake – my cast iron would carry too much heat into the oven and the pan side of the meat would burn.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The best “cheap” steak cuts are flank or flatiron. Not super tender, but not tough.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Top Round as a steak has to be sliced thin and/or marinated, except prime-grade. Strip steak (loin; goes by various other names like club and cowboy) is tender, but I find the boneless versions to be fairly flavorless. It varies in price a lot. Ribeye (often called Delmonico) is tender and extremely flavorful (and fatty) but tends to be quite expensive. Flatiron is a tender cut of chuck.

      I think by now everyone’s found all the bargains on the cow; even the formerly cheap-but-good cuts are expensive.

      • Betty Cook says:

        What do people recommend as steak marinades?

        • dndnrsn says:

          One I like, though I haven’t done it in a while, is giving the steak the usual dry rub one uses (I like Montreal steak spice) then letting it sit half-submerged in a tub of Worcestershire sauce, flipping halfway through, giving that at least a couple hours to sit. If it’s cooked on a grill, you can pour the marinade over it as it cooks. In a pan, you could try reducing the marinade or something fancy like that.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          The only marinade I’ve ever liked on steak is a flank steak marinated in:
          soy sauce
          Worcestershire sauce

          I’d add in red wine vinegar were I to replicate it.

          Honestly, top round roast is amazing. I’d leave it at that.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Skirt steak marinated with lime, then grilled, is pretty tasty. Doesn’t work with flank or top round IMO.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      Of course it depends on how cooked you like your meat. The more well-done, the more fat you will want. Nothing dumber than a guy who likes well-done steak ordering a filet. If you’re a standard medium-rareish type, ribeye/NY strip is about as fatty as you want to go, and most people will be happy if you cook it for company. I like my meat lean and red, so ribeye is too fatty for me, but I trim mine before and after cooking and it’s fine. Flank steak is great for marinating and cheap, and cooks quickly and is hard to screw up.

    • J Mann says:

      The tougher the beef, the longer you need to marinate and/or cook it. Tough beef cuts make good roasts, or you can leave it in the slow cooker with some spices, then pull it into barbacoa.

      • gbdub says:

        Barbacoa (or pot roast, or anything slow cooked) really needs to be a fattier cut. If he has something like top round, that’s a traditional “roast” that should be cooked no more than med-rare and then sliced thin.

    • gbdub says:

      Unfortunately you won’t find very tender steak cheap. Petite sirloin (tip steak) is my go-to cheap steak, and it needs marinating to get tender (it’s lean and has pretty good flavor though). The former “cheap cuts” like flat iron got popular and are now no cheaper than true sirloin.

      One of the best deals in beef is the Tri-Tip at Costco, which is super-flavorful and under $6 a pound. It will come as a pair of 2+ pound “steaks”, which are great for reverse searing (I smoke them until rare then sear on a hot grill). Eat your fill plain or with a little BBQ sauce, then slice up the rest and save for salads, fajitas, and sandwiches. The big cuts freeze pretty well too.

    • SamChevre says:

      Round top is a good steak only if cooked very rare; it will be tough if you cook it to medium, and it’s too dry to make good pot roast in my opinion. But when it’s magenta (hot, but not pink) it’s a delicious steak.

      Favorite steak: sirloin strip. Buy a whole strip loin at CostCo or butcher shop that specializes in big cuts–it makes great steak and great roast beef.

      • DragonMilk says:

        Ha, definitely cooked it like a sirloin to medium.

        Guess I lucked out going with sirloin for my first trials

    • toastengineer says:

      The real answer is “whatever’s on the we’re-about-to-throw-this-out rack at the grocery store,” especially if you’re in a wealthy area. Assuming of course you’re eating it the same day you buy it.

  24. ing says:

    My friend A invited me to a board games party a few months ago. The party was not at her place; it was at an apartment owned by B and C. I had a good time at the board games party.

    Since then, I’ve noticed that A is inviting lots of her friends to the board games parties run by B and C. That’s okay! They’re good people. I am going to the parties too. I like the board games events I organize better, but it’s nice to go to events that I don’t have to organize personally.

    Recently, I noticed that A is also inviting my friends — or, rather, friends of mine that she met through me at events I organized — to the parties run by B and C. I feel like this is bothering me.

    Here is why this is bothering me: I organize events, and I like it when my friends have free time available to come to my events. B and C are, in some sense, rival event organizers. I don’t want to be competing with them for attendees.

    I recognize that, on some level, this is really selfish of me. I should be happy that my friends are meeting new people and doing fun things!

    On the other hand, I feel like the “all of our friends should be transitively friends with each other and we’ll all be one happy family” thing is sort of a recipe for drama.

    So, here’s my question: would it be reasonable for me to ask A to not invite my friends to B’s and C’s parties?

    • Nick says:

      I can see why it would bother you if your board game crowd is getting poached. I’m not sure what you mean when you say everyone being friends is “a recipe for drama,” though.

      • CatCube says:

        I think its a reference to the Geek Social Fallacy #4 from here:

        • Nick says:

          Ah, good catch. It definitely does look like a reference to that, but it doesn’t seem to be the issue here, just something which could become an issue later. It’s an argument for A not inviting all of ing’s friends to B and C’s parties, but I wouldn’t recommend him bringing it up—if he wants to talk about it to A, he should be honest about what’s really bothering him here instead.

    • DragonMilk says:

      That’s completely unreasonable. An invitation is not automatically accepted. Some people are social butterflies and just because you met someone first doesn’t give you veto power over someone else.

      If they are your friends, talk to your friends casually about it. Or have alternate times. My friend does board games weekly, sometimes three or four times a week at various places with a lot of overlap.

      You could just also do the same to her

    • John Schilling says:

      I can understand why you would prefer the situation be other than it is, and I agree that merging two social circles is a recipe for “drama”. But asking A to not invite your friends to social events that they and A all seem to enjoy, is the sort of thing that is likely to precipitate that drama, and not in a way that ends well for you.

      A better bet would be to coordinate with B and C to organize non-competing gaming events, on different nights and possibly with different emphasis (RPG vs Eurogames vs classic boardgames or whatever).

      • Gazeboist says:

        It might be a better idea to do a rotation in order to avoid taking up more calendar space. The goal, after all, is to avoid damaging either event, and it’s plausible that one or the other will weaken if people have to choose which one to allocate calendar space to, even if there’s no direct conflict.

    • quanta413 says:

      I think you should first spend some time feeling thankful about the surplus of board game parties in your local group!

      I think it’s a strange request to make to A, and I don’t think I would find it reasonable if someone asked it of me. If I was one of your friends and found out I would be very unhappy you tried to get me uninvited from something. I would find it controlling and spiteful. Why not just ask your friends to prioritize your board game parties when there is a conflict? If I was your friend, I think I would respond well to that.

      Or what about asking B and C to alternate times or weeks for board game parties with you? If many people are already going to multiple events just make a club. Unless someone going to one of B and C’s parties is a real jerk and you don’t want to invite them. Then it’s a much harder decision.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I have some sympathy for you here; several times my friends have been “poached” and have stopped having the time or inclination to do things with me, then stopped being my friends. My advice is to just roll with it. Anything else is worse.

    • Calvin says:

      I’m on the “that sounds unreasonable of you” side.

  25. bean says:

    Naval Gazing continues its long-running series on the Falklands War as the carriers finally go into action.

    • dodrian says:

      Thanks – I’m really enjoying this series. Two questions if I may:
      1) Any idea what the Argentineans hoped to achieve by sending a turbo-prop training aircraft? What weapons could they have been fitted with?
      2) Were the British warships equipped to fire back at the planes that attacked them? Or were they relying solely on the harriers to protect them?

      • John Schilling says:

        The T-34 was used for, among other things, primary weapons training. It could carry a variety of weapons, including a pair of 500-lb general-purpose bombs, and that would have been an effective armament against frigates. Assuming the fuzes worked, which was something the Argentine forces had persistent trouble with.

        Most of the British warships would have had 4.5″ dual-purpose guns, which with proximity-fuzed ammunition would have made short work of a T-34. If anybody had bothered to fire them. It would take a T-34 about five minutes to go from over the horizon to dropping bombs on British ships, and it often takes more than five minutes to go from a fuzzy blip on the radar to releasing live ordnance on an unidentifed target. Particularly for navies that haven’t fought a war in a generation, but have spent every day since making sure they don’t shoot their own people by mistake.

        A big part of the reason for having CAP is that you can meet the threat more than five minutes out and with more information than “blip on the radar”.

      • bean says:

        1) Any idea what the Argentineans hoped to achieve by sending a turbo-prop training aircraft? What weapons could they have been fitted with?

        I’m not sure what the theory was. They’d have carried iron bombs or rockets.
        Edit: John ninjad me on this one.

        2) Were the British warships equipped to fire back at the planes that attacked them? Or were they relying solely on the harriers to protect them?

        The Type 42s and Invincible had Sea Darts, a medium-range SAM. Most ships had short-range SAMs, either Sea Cat or Sea Wolf on the Type 23s. The Sea Cat was old and slow (probably fine against a T-34 or a Pucara, but not a fast jet), but the Sea Wolf was very effective. And there were lots of old 20mm guns scattered around on various railings, which proved more effective than you’d think, particularly in San Carlos Water (which is still a ways off).

  26. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Plants affect weather as well as weather affecting plants

    “Swann’s and Fung’s research suggested that plants need to be brought to the fore. And other researchers have taken note. Earlier this year, two groups of scientists, both of which included Swann, authored studies of how forest-driven water transport will change as carbon dioxide levels rise. Studies of individual leaves have shown that when plants are bathed in carbon dioxide, they don’t need to make as many stomata per leaf, and they close the ones they do make more of the time. These changes help forest plants conserve water to survive, but they reduce the water vapor available to fall as rain on the surrounding continent. Moreover, when plants transpire, they cool Earth’s surface and warm the air, just as the evaporation of sweat cools your body on a hot day. Leaf-level changes, scaled up across continents, could rob the atmosphere of moisture and warm the planet’s surface.”

    • albatross11 says:

      Does anyone run greenhouses at a higher-than-outdoors CO2 concentration to get better growth of crops?

      • MasteringTheClassics says:

        Yes, this is quite common.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’m willing to bet that how much co2 and which plants matter a lot.

          We can also expect that more co2 in the atmosphere will have an evolutionary effect on the plants. The details will be hard to predict.

        • There are two mechanisms for photosynthesis, called C3 and C4. Most crops are C3–the major exceptions are maize and sugar cane.

          Doubling CO2 concentration increases the yield of C3 plants by about 30%, has a smaller but still positive effect on C4 plants.

          This is one of the big positive effects of increasing CO2 and so gets very little press attention. It’s also the effect we can be most confident of, both because there is lots of experimental evidence and because it depends on only the first step in the causal chain, the increase in CO2 concentration. Other effects–sea level rise, temperature increase, increase or decrease in number and strength of hurricanes–depend on further and less certain steps. Estimates of sensitivity, the effect on global temperature of a given increase in CO2, for example, vary over about a factor of two.

          • AG says:

            If I recall, the studies about that show that the ratio of nutrients to carbs in plants gets worse. The growth is not proportional in all aspects. The same amount of salad gets less healthy. The production of vitamin supplements will become less efficient, as more source material has to be processed (discarded as waste) to get at the same amount of concentrated nutrient.
            And as Nancy’s top level comment points out, there are apparently other side-effects of the increased growth that may be concerning and not worth it.

          • helloo says:

            So should it not be a common practice in greenhouses then?

            Or does it mainly affect things that are not grown in greenhouses?

          • sentientbeings says:


            If I recall, the studies about that show that the ratio of nutrients to carbs in plants gets worse. The growth is not proportional in all aspects. The same amount of salad gets less healthy. The production of vitamin supplements will become less efficient, as more source material has to be processed (discarded as waste) to get at the same amount of concentrated nutrient.

            Your conclusion regarding efficiency (and health) does not follow from the different nutrient ratio. Assessing either definitively requires better operationalization and possibly specific numbers.
            Regarding health, some nutrients are only needed in very small amounts. The gain in calories might be more beneficial than a per-calorie decrease in nutrient content. It depends on the nutritional circumstances of the person eating the food, as well as the price of other options. The circumstances regarding material processing are less uncertain, but not necessarily a problem, IMO.

            Suppose plant A has a ratio of 1 non-caloric nutrient to 1 calorie at price 1 unit. Let’s consider possible effects of changes in those ratios.

            Scenario A’: The new plant consists of 1 nutrient to 3 calories at price 2. In this scenario, the price of calories has improved, while the price of nutrients has gotten worse. The end effect for the consumer is indeterminate, since we don’t know a priori the value of nutrients to calories, and since those values aren’t biologically fixed anyway but rather determined by individual needs. It is also possible to shift other patterns in food consumption to re-balance one’s overall ratios of consumption. If we know of a large population with certain deficiencies – either in calories or in nutrients, or both – we might be able to determine which (A or A’) is better, but it would require more explicit measures of health and efficiency. I think it is unlikely that those people who face the greatest threat of malnutrition would be harmed by this change, but it is possible. This scenario would probably be worse for nutrient-harvesting/processing into supplements.

            Scenario A”: The new plant consists of 2 nutrients to 4 calories at price 1. This scenario could come about through various combinations of changes in nutrient content and harvest yields. In this scenario, the health impact is also indeterminate as it depends, again, on the needs of the consumer. That said, the relatively lower price makes it unlikely, though not impossible, that this sort of ratio makes the consumer worse off. Consumers without much choice (facing food shortages/famine) are unlikely to complain about this change, and people worried about over-consuming calories probably have enough choice to compensate. With respect to processing, this scenario is almost certainly beneficial, though I wonder if you realize that, given your mention of “waste” in your earlier description. It is true that in processing this scenario’s plants for nutrients, more absolute caloric content is discarded, but if the price is the same, that does not really constitute waste. The price reflects a calculation of the value of the discarded material. I think you might be falling into the trap of considering something not being used as wasteful per se. In reality, it often costs more (on net) to use “all” of a thing. That means that using something more completely is the more economically wasteful approach, because the cost incurred means that you can no longer get something else that would have been worth more. Throwing things in the trash can be a net gain.

          • @AG:

            More precisely, the study shows that the ratio of two of the minerals in wheat (out of ten), I think iron and zinc, to calories goes down. That’s not because the plants are producing less of those minerals but because they are producing more calories.

            The article doesn’t give enough information for precise calculation, but if they are doubling the CO2 concentration the rough result is that calories produced per acre go up by thirty percent, iron produced per acre goes up by twenty percent. They describe that as the food getting less nutritious, which is true but a bit misleading since the same amount of land is now producing more of all nutrients.

      • Jaskologist says:

        It’s also standard practice for growing planted aquariums, because underwater plants are primarily limited by light and CO2. Hobbyists try to get their water CO2 level a good deal higher than it would be at equilibrium with the air.

    • Well... says:

      I wish Fung studied fungi instead of plants, so it could be an aptonym.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I feel like I never get anything out of these articles in terms of further understanding. I got some neat new facts about CO2 absorption in plants but now I have more questions such as

      1. Does surface vs air temperature matter for GCC?
      2. Is 2% of the temperate forests in the world a larger or smaller amount than 20% of the Amazon?
      3. Is 100 million trees a lot or not?

      When I read it I get the vague notion that these discoveries mean that GCC is likely to be worse than is projected but then trying to nail down actual predictions/outcomes is impossible with the information given.

      • Nornagest says:

        According to Google, there are about three trillion trees globally, so 100 million is about 0.003 percent of the total. On the other hand, it’s not like they’re going to count 100 million trees by hand, so this must come out of some kind of model — which might have different assumptions than the one that gave us 3 trillion. Chances are it’d still be an insignificant fraction, though.

        I haven’t been able to easily find numbers I trust for the area of temperate forest in the world, but from eyeballing this map I’d bet on 20% of the Amazon being bigger — unfortunately that’s not an equal-area projection, though. More concretely, the Amazon is about two million square miles. If you figure temperate forest is a third of the US and half of Europe, that comes to about three and a half million. There’s some in China, Australia, and South America too, so maybe five in total, but it would definitely be in the same order of magnitude.

    • If the effect is a significant reduction in water vapor in the atmosphere that reduces the feedback effect on warming, reduces climate sensitivity to CO2, and so reduces the temperature rise for any level of CO2.

      • benwave says:

        What’s the link between water and the feedback mechanisms you are referring to?

        • Eternaltraveler says:

          I believe he is referring to water vapor’s role as a greenhouse gas.

          • Correct.

            Increasing CO2 concentration increases temperature. Increasing temperature increases the amount of water vapor in the air. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, a stronger one than CO2. So that gives positive feedback.

            There could be negative feedback as well, since more water vapor could result in more clouds which could increase the albedo of the Earth, make it reflect back more sunlight. But everyone in the field seems to agree that the net effect is positive feedback. If CO2 fertilization results in less water vapor, which is the claim, that would reduce the positive feedback, hence reduce the amount of warming produced by any given increase in CO2 concentration.

  27. JulieK says:

    PSA: If you use the “link” button when composing a comment, you produce text like this (only with pointy brackets instead of square brackets):
    [a href=”URL”]link text[/a]

    Which when posted looks like this:
    link text

    You can replace “link text” with a description of what you are linking to, e.g. “Article about XYZ.”

    • fion says:

      Indeed. It’s a useful feature.

      I’ve noticed a bug with it, though, which is that if I add a link in to the middle of my comment, when there’s text coming after it, the link code overwrites some characters of my comment. The workaround is to put in the links as you write your comment, or if that’s not possible, put the link code at the end of your comment and then copy and paste it to where you want it.

  28. onyomi says:

    I am thinking about choosing a company to cryopreserve me in case I die. Is this one good? Alcor?

    I feel like I have seen some mention of this on SSC before, and seem to recall Eliezer had signed up for it. Also, I believe Hal Finney did it. Is this common in the “Rationalist” community?

    • sty_silver says:

      It is definitely very common relative to the average person. Robin Hanson has also signed up. I don’t know enough to judge which company is better — one important question is whether you want to go for a full-body preservation or only for a preservation of your head. Last time I checked Alcor’s prices, the former was 200k and the latter 80k, I believe.

      • onyomi says:

        I guess one thing I’m wondering is how “Cryonics Institute” can do the full-body preservation for significantly less than Alcor charges for a head. It is apparently non-profit, but I don’t know if that’s all the difference is about. I do kind of agree with their view that head-only preservation seems more likely to give cryonics a bad rap in the popular media/culture as well, Futurama.

    • DragonMilk says:

      No point right now – tech is not there. It’s like choosing between space startups to get you to Alpha Centauri.

      • onyomi says:

        In what sense is it not there? I mean, I understand the tech to revive you is not there, but the tech to preserve you with a better chance of one day being reviveable relative to e.g. being embalmed seems to be?

        • DragonMilk says:

          *Disclaimer, I’m no expert so I’ll just rehash my understanding, so the more knowledgable should jump in*

          For one, think of practically freezing the brain and thawing it, beyond sci fi and current marketing.

          Almost all fat and water, and the only method known to free/thaw without destroying brain tissue was using glutaraldehyde, which works great on dead tissue since it’s a sterilant/disinfectant that is toxic to living humans. And they only discovered it in 2016.

          Now presumably you don’t just want to be a brain in a cold vat, the rest of your body has all sorts of other intricate components that each have its own issues. Cold brings preservation but not life – it slows down life processes but the tech/science is just not there to preserve anything beyond single-celled organisms or cells quite suited for the shock of freeze. The principles are still being debated, and everything is still hypothetical rather than practical.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Alcor is much better than CI. It’s also more expensive; $200,000 for whole body or $80,000 for for neuro (head-only) vs $28,000 for whole body. Most people fund cryonics through life insurance. You should go with Alcor if you can afford it.

      I’d recommend against whole-body if you go Alcor; brain-uploading is by far the most realistic prospect for reviving cryonics patients, which makes a body unnecessary. Plus, whole-body causes problems:

      There are countless people with bone marrow transplants and countless others whose spinal cord and peripheral nervous system have been functionally disconnected from their brains. Do these people constitute an acceptable degree of survival for you as persons? If so, I would suggest you delve into the logistics, economics and hard practical realities of cryopreservation that must endure over a period of many decades, or far more likely, a century or two. It is NOT easy to handle, move or care for whole body patients. They are a ball and chain and cannot be moved or evacuated quickly. They are subject to a large burden of state regulation which neuros are not, and they suffer additional injury to the brain as a result of compromises necessary to achieve cryoprotection and cooling.

      If you think that those components of you identity present in your body are worth those added risks, then you should go whole body. However, my question is, where is the empirical evidence to support that belief? I’ve known many, many transplant patients well, and neither they nor I saw any noticeable transformation in their identity. Indeed, the transformation, such as it was, was the return to fully functioning person-hood which resulted from becoming chimeric with another human being or a machine.

      The rationalist community inherited the cryonics meme from the earlier transhumanist/extropian/singularitarian communities, mainly through the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky and Robin Hanson. See “We Agree: Get Froze”, “You Only Live Twice”, “Normal Cryonics”, and “That Magical Click”.

      For more information, check out Mike Darwin’s blog, the LessWrong Wiki article on cryonics, and Gwern Branwen’s “LessWrong and cryonics” & “Plastination versus Cryonics”.

    • proyas says:

      Alcor is probably the most reputable human cryonics firm in the world, and the techniques they use now are probably the best that have been developed. That’s no guarantee of patient success, of course, but it beats odds of 0%.

      I think head-only cryopreservation is the smarter option. Think about it: If you get a full-body procedure, all the cells in your body are going to be pulverized by ice crystal formation. The thaw-out process would therefore have to involve a reconstruction of each cell, almost certainly involving nanomachines or at least micromachines. If that’s being done, and if that level of technology is available, then it should be easier to use your DNA to grow an entirely new body for you in a bubbling vat, and to just put your brain in it.

      Also, by the time you are cryopreserved, you will probably be very old and/or ravaged by disease or injury, so why would you want to wake up in the same, ruined body?

    • James Miller says:

      I’m a long time member of Alcor. I’ve listened in to a few of their board meetings and I was very impressed. Once they mentioned a problem recovering a customer who “died” outside of the United States. One person said that the problem arose because the airline the body was traveling on lied to Alcor. Then someone else, I think the President of Alcor, said that even if the airline lied, it was still Alcor’s fault that there was a delay in preserving the body, and everyone agreed with this sentiment. They take financial precautions like putting lots of their funds into a patient care trust that is legally separate from Alcor in case Alcor loses a large legal case. When someone wants to get preserved, but can’t afford Alcor’s price, they express sympathy but refuse to do anything that which would endanger their very long-term finances. Here is a podcast interview I did with Alcor’s president.

  29. Scott Alexander says:

    Your wacky completely hypothetical mission for today: I’ve been getting a lot of requests to make more anxiety sampler kits or figure out a way to send them by mail. I’m not going to worry about this until the results from the first set come in. But if they’re positive, how would you go about turning this into a company?

    The simple method: figure out some way to make the kits at scale so that they cost $10, sell them for $20, make $10 profit per kit. Problem: people would use the kit once and then never need it again. I anticipate the market for these is limited and would get exponentially harder the further away it got from my social circle, so I imagine the company having a great first month, a good second month, an okay third month, and then battling uphill after that.

    The clever method: sell the kits at cost. Get affiliate agreements with the companies that sell the supplements involved. Set things up so that if people decide they like the supplement using the kit, they’ll buy it through my affiliate link. Problem: suppose 25% of people who get the kits end up buying more of the supplement through the link, and on average they keep using it for a year. Supplement costs $20 for 3 months, affiliate link gives me 10% of that, so total profit per kit is $2. This is even worse than the last method. Maybe I could make special deals with some suppliers where they give money to be the one included in the kit, but I doubt this would work much better.

    The coward’s way out: pitch this idea to an existing supplement company, who could probably do it better given economies of scale and vertical integration. Problem: this would be boring, and they might not make the resulting data public. On the other hand, if this idea is successful, it’s probably what would happen anyway since there’s nothing stopping them from copying it and doing it for cheaper.

    • johan_larson says:

      I would guess the best way to position this is as the first thing to try for minor anxiety. You’re not quite sure what to do, so stop drinking coffee and try this blind sampler. Maybe something in there will work. If yes, keep using what worked, and here’s a handy coupon. If not, you probably need more serious help. Market it as self-help to consumers. Market it as get-this-fucker-out-of-my-office to doctors.

      Another thing to keep in mind if you sell these things by mail order is that you’ll be building up a database of people who are looking for help with anxiety. That seems like it would be worth money to somebody.

      • silver_swift says:

        Another thing to keep in mind if you sell these things by mail order is that you’ll be building up a database of people who are looking for help with anxiety. That seems like it would be worth money to somebody.

        Maybe I’m biased by living in the EU and/or hopelessly naive, but keeping customer records in any kind of medical context and selling them to third parties sounds like a good way to run afoul of a million different privacy laws.

        I’m sure there are companies that do exactly that, but those presumably have legal staff available to help them work around the legislation and/or are big enough to deal with the fallout if something does go wrong.

        • Watchman says:

          As I work with GDPR, I’d have to agree. If you want to access markets with reservations against people helping themselves to your personal data, you’d need to have explicit consent from a customer to use their personal data for anything other than dispatch and billing.

          Plus the actual value of personal data is pretty limited. You aren’t going to get much income from a small company’s customer base.

    • Argos says:

      Re bigger companies will copy it and do it cheaper :

      I think this is not as likely as one might think, as long as the yearly profit you are making is in the realm of what a doctor earns annually. Organizational inertia, coupled with concerns over bad press coverage and inefficiency should work out in your favor. “this evil drug company is now offloading their drugs in bulk to the unsuspecting patients!” Also, this would not be the work of just one person, several people would have to be involved, shrinking the profit margins and so on.

    • Argos says:

      Re: how to evolve this into a proper business

      This might not be exactly what you are looking for, i. e a low recurring work / medium recurring revenue business but it ties in with one of your past posts.

      I think this would be a perfect fit for the efficient quick online psychiatrist model. There will probably be a lot of patients who would like some kind of counseling or explanation of the effects the supplement had on them. “Magnesium made your heart rate go down, but your mood remained gloomy? Then we can maybe try one of those 3/5 supplements/drugs, / physical exercise ”

      It’s probably not possible for you to provide drugs by yourself or receive an affiliate share for them, but you could still be writing the prescription for the drugs, and be receiving the recurrent fee for *that*. That would also mitigate the fear that a drug company would undercut you, since they would also have to establish cooperation with doctors. A problem might be finding an online pharmacy that is willing to give out sample of the drugs, but I think that should be doable. You could also cooperate with doctors of other specializations where a similar multitude of possible drugs for a given problem exists and save overhead.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I don’t think people are going to be likely to only use the kit once– that is, a lot of people will only use the kit once, but a significant number will get fascinated and want to try out different combinations of supplements.

      Also, it’s my impression that making the kits involves a significant amount of conscientious hand-work. The business would have to be scaled up a lot for it to be automated. Or would it? Maybe there’s someone in the maker community who can automate it at least partially.

      Anyway, you may need to be paying people.

    • Matt M says:

      I know that Scott isn’t this sort of person, but I can imagine a meeting of marketing executives in hell that goes something like this.

      Man, we sure are making a killing with these subscription-based services. I wonder if there’s a demographic out there we could exploit that we haven’t gotten around to yet?

      How about the chronically anxious and other people struggling with mental illness?


      • toastengineer says:

        “Hey fellow kids! You’ve heard of Loot Crate, now try DRUG CRATE! Exciting mystery pharmaceuticals delivered to YOUR DOOR!”

    • J Mann says:

      I would think you’re best off charging for the kit, taking your $10 and hoping you get good data. It takes a lot of integrity to get paid by the downstream referrals and not get unintentionally corrupted.

      Of course, your biggest problems are (1) unless you find a way to patent it, success will breed competitors and (2) success also might breed regulation.

      Generally, the idea of blinded self-testing for supplements is really good, should be appealing to the noogenics crowd, and would IMHO make the world a better place. For example, I’d love a blinded set of nicotine gum and placebos to try out Gwern’s experiments.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Scott you are making an age old mistake in business, assuming you know things about your market that you can’t possibly know. Imagine the following interaction:

      Engineer at Honda: Sir we have developed a better car, the engine its self should run well for 300,000 miles.

      President at Honda: You fool, Fords and Chevy’s only last for 150,000 miles, we can never break into the American market while selling a car that at best will have half the market share!

      If you have a good product that people actually want don’t assume you know how many people will want such a product, how deep the market is or how often they will use it. You don’t know those things, heck you CAN’T know those things because your customers don’t know how much they will actually like the product, how often they will use it, recommend it, give it as gifts. You don’t know what the next product in the line will look like or how popular it is.

      If you have a good product have faith in it.

    • The Element of Surprise says:

      people would use the kit once and then never need it again

      The company would probably involve a website or app where people log which sample they took from the kit as well as their reactions, and then spit out a result (“we are x% confident that y amount of supplement z works well for you”). You could emphasize the statistical uncertainties in the resulting numbers and entice people to buy more kits to decrease this uncertainty, or maybe to work out optimal dosages. Another idea for follow up would be to offer kits with combinations of supplements. “X and Y and possibly Z work well for you, try to find out if they work even better in combination”

      Instead of using pills containing one supplement each, you could use pills that contain mixtures (maybe the first few months of results show what mixtures are promising) and keep the exact composition a secret. You could then go on to sell these mixtures to people who found out they work well (or partner with a supplement company to do that; you might be able to get a larger cut in this case than when only using affiliate programs). You would probably give vague hints about contents (“contains at least 80% X”, or “contains X, Y, and Z in some ratio”; I don’t know how vagueness the law allows here though) for legal reasons and so that people who cannot afford to buy from you later on are not completely lost.

      Finally, when you also scale to other mental health related conditions, you might find the market is large enough even when only selling the sample kits. You probably know which ones are safe enough to have people self-experiment with (sleep quality maybe?).

    • Erusian says:

      I make companies for my living and have been fairly successful at it.

      The way I would turn this into a business: I’d use the kits as a gateway to a subscription of the pills they find effective. The kits themselves would be cheap or even free with a subscription. Basically, ‘try this sampler, tell us the results, and we’ll send you a personalized pill plan’ or something of that sort.

      This not only produces better data (it gives them an incentive to truthfully tell you how they feel since it affects the medicine they receive, plus they’ll tell you over longer time frames) but pushes your profit per customer up (if done right). I’d then upsell them on telepsych, which you could set up with the profits of the pill business, and perhaps getting prescription subscriptions (which has more regulation but again can be funded through the profits of the initial business). There are people doing both but not well and your list of customers combined with having some money behind it will make it easier to grow.

      Your model (production cost plus profit) is missing a ton by the way. For example, marketing costs. It’s also a very simplistic way of setting a price. Before you make this a business I’d suggest looking pretty thoroughly into the market, how to run a business, etc.

      PS: Large scale companies often lose to well run small scale companies. Especially large scale ones that don’t have a lot of agility like pharma companies. That’s why they buy businesses like this all the time. If PillCorp thinks you have a good idea they usually prefer to write a check that’s big for you and small for them and buy your company. Also, their scale of ‘relevant’ is not your scale of ‘relevant’. If you have a few million in business, you’re still probably beneath their notice.

      • Matt M says:

        Basically, ‘try this sampler, tell us the results, and we’ll send you a personalized pill plan’ or something of that sort.

        I swear I recently saw an FB ad for something like this. But it was for vitamins and I think instead of a sampler they just had you fill out a quiz about what was bothering you about your health in general.

        • Erusian says:

          Doesn’t surprise me. The consumer market is shifting a lot right now and no one’s really figured it out. A lot of opportunities if you like B2C business.

    • benwave says:

      To play the devil’s communist, is it a problem if you sell (let’s be optimistic) one million kits over a few years, and then drop down to just a few thousand a year after you’ve reached everyone who wants one? I don’t think you really need to work sustainable growth into the model of every business. Decay to stability seems fine to me if the job is done.

      Then, to play the devil’s founder, so what if your company doesn’t last long? Bring it through growth and either sell out at a high point or sell cheaply after you’ve made the what, ten million or whatever we assume in sales. Most products don’t have an infinite lifetime, but if you want to keep doing this sort of thing you do R&D to create new ones with some of the money you made. You can build up a brand in selling good products and you build up experience and connections in the process of steering that journey.

      • Erusian says:

        Single use products can be the basis of a long term company. The ADAA says that seven million adults have generalized anxiety disorder. Let’s say Scott gets every single one as a customer (which he probably won’t). First off, if he makes a $10 profit per kit (as he suggests above), that’s seventy million dollars to develop new products and services for the customers. But secondly, if 10% of those cases are newly formed or diagnosed each year, then the company can sell up to 700,000 kits annually indefinitely.

        The main effect is the product has to be more expensive because the single purchase has to cover all fixed costs associated with the new customer. But it’s sustainable. The market furnishes plenty of examples. Things associated with burials (plots, cremation, caskets, etc) are the classic example.

    • yodelyak says:


      So, I think the first thing you want to do is to talk to some other psychiatrists, and aim at reaching the public via marketing by psychologists and general care doctors. If a group of 50 (500? only 5?) well-regarded psychiatrists pool some cash and launch a new brand of treatment, which those 50 (500? 5?) psychiatrists all own (lease/license) some share of the ongoing profits (but also have put up the ongoing expenditure to iterate/develop version 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, x, z, z++, etc.) and those psychologists take their brand and offer it to general care doctors. Then general care doctors (and hopefully *lots* of them) offer it as a self-treatment option to their patients/customers.

      I think this compares well with the book, “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” which as I understand it is a steady best-seller, in large part because it is the go-to book for drs to recommend to bookish patients who might successfully self-teach CBT. Like with Feeling Good, you aren’t offering anything patented or exclusive. (I assume lots of other books do as well or nearly as well as Feeling Good at explaining CBT and persuading that it can work. But those books don’t have a massive cadre of doctors promoting them, because their authors didn’t do the work to convince those doctors of their effectiveness.)

      Being the author at this blog is a really great start. Get a couple of other good credentials on your board, and get a couple dedicated not-crazy-credentialed-but-really-hungry-entrepreneurial-types with good backgrounds and smarts. Give the hungry types enough means to do a lot–but stay in their way enough that they can’t do anything you and the rest of your board wouldn’t be proud to put your own names on, and see where that takes you. I think the next step for you is to talk through this with a few people with entrepreneurial experience, and to try to get to a 10-page business plan with the usual sections, like a market research section and a section on your existing and potential competitors.

    • Watchman says:

      An issue I haven’t seen touched on yet is that the pills you are using are manufactured by others. This provides a potential issue in that you are reselling these as your own product, removed from their packaging. I’m not familiar with commercial law, especially in the US, but my gut feeling is that this might breach the allowable uses.

      This need not be a bad thing, as it would simply require you to gain permission from the manufacturer of each pill, which would allow you to open a conversation with them. What you are proposing is a commercial method of identifying people who find the manufacturer’s product helpful for their condition, so firming up their market. It’s a proposition that should attract interest if nothing else. So this opens the door to discuss discounted purchase rates or even investment (which might be in kind) from the manufacturer.

      I’d suggest from a background of not taking businesses forward (I think due to fear of failure) that what you’d need is a credible proposition. This might need some form of perceived competent investor (who could then handle this for you…) or some indication of wider support from within the psychiatric community so you have the gravitas to get heard. But otherwise your basic idea appears sound so its simply (hah!) the business case that needs to be made.

  30. Shmooper says:

    I have just recently gotten into D&D in a big way. I’m listening to a podcast called the Adventure Zone. I’m also watching a live-streamed weekly DnD sesssion by a number of talented voice actors called Critical Role.

    I want to play D&D, but I have no idea how to get started. I don’t know anyone who would want to play and neither am I well-versed enough in the rules to be able to DM a game. So I thought maybe I could play online.

    Are there any other beginners here who would like to try a game? I haven’t figured out any logistics or anything but just wanted to know if anyone is interested in this. It would also be incredibly helpful to have someone who could DM, show us the ropes, etc.

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you looked into

      • Shmooper says:

        Thanks, that should help.Although the real roadblock for me at this point is finding someone to play with!

      • J Mann says:

        Roll20 has a learning curve but is fun. Your local game store may have pickup games as well and is worth googling – that’s a good way to try it out and get your feet wet.

        If you pick an online forum and lurk for a while (giantitp, /r/dndnext, etc), you’ll learn a lot, especially about picayune rules disputes, but also about what makes a good player or DM.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Giant in the Playground is the best forum for learning about optimizing 3.X characters and monsters. It’s a very specific niche but they do it well.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Join my online game. 🙂

      • Shmooper says:

        Hi, your comment in the last thread was where I got the idea! I dropped in earlier today in your Discord to see what’s what. But I was unsure if it would be alright for a complete beginner haha.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I think we’re all beginners at Old School D&D, though at least Nornagest and myself have book learning. So don’t worry.

          • Gazeboist says:

            OSRs usually aren’t terribly complicated. Opaquely written, yes; frequently unable to answer the question of “what happens”, yes; possessing (what I see as) strange ideas as to what “balance” is, yes; harsh in punishing mistakes, yes; complicated, no.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        Is your game on Roll20? I didn’t see it there.

        Also, how did you get so many people from SSC to join your game?

        I’m trying to get people from SSC to play in my online campaign (on Roll20) and very few have been interested, so I want to find out how to be more successful at it.

        Also, to anyone else on SSC: What would make you interested in playing in an online tabletop roleplaying campaign?

        • Nick says:

          It’s on Discord. Speaking for myself here, I joined this one because it’s D&D and because earlier campaigns Le Maistre Chat has mentioned sounded interesting. If I remember correctly, yours is GURPS, which I’m less likely to join because I don’t know the system, and I don’t know anything about your campaigns either.

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            Thank you! I appreciate the information, and it’s very useful to me.

            Yes, my game is GURPS (although I consider it “a D&D game that happens to use GURPS rules” because the creatures are primarily from D&D, since I started my campaign over 40 years ago when D&D was all there was).

            For information about the campaign, you can check out and/or ask me about it here or in the #gaming channel of the SlateStarCodex Discord server.

            FWIW, I tell people that GURPS is like D&D: You don’t actually need to know the rules in order to start playing; all you need to do is say what you want your character to do and someone else at the table will tell you what funny-sided dice to roll.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The Discord is called Bronze Age Tabletop. As Nick said, people’s familiarity with D&D + accidentally advertising it by describing how I’m GMed in the Greek Heroic Age before. 🙂

    • Protagoras says:

      Are you not in any kind of urban area? Because if you are in or near a city, I’d think, or maybe a gaming store (sadly, those are becoming less common, but they still exist) could be a way to find in person role-players, and in person has advantages over online.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I would suggest not having your first game be online, because online games have a very different dynamic than in-person ones. It’s actually pretty rare for a player to not show up to a session without notice, but online that’s the rule rather than the exception. It’s a huge uphill battle to keep people from disappearing online and that’s just not something that you have to deal with in person.

      If you’re not confident running a game yourself, you should think about trying organized play. I’ve never played an Adventurers’ League game but from what I’ve heard and read it doesn’t sound like a bad way to be introduced to the game.

      That said, the true D&D experience is reading through the rules once and jumping in with both feet. You’ll make mistakes but that’s honestly part of the fun. I still get nostalgic for the first campaign I ran, as ridiculous as that game was.

    • johan_larson says:

      Look for game stores in town. Some of them organize game nights far all sorts of games, including D&D. If they don’t, go to other demo nights and start making friends with the regulars. Some people who are into, say, Magic might be interested in playing D&D.

      Colleges also often have D&D and general games clubs. If there’s any in town, that’s another place to start.

    • dndnrsn says:

      When you say you don’t know anyone who would want to play, have you tried asking? You might be able to grab three other people (ideal group is 3-5 plus GM; 2 players works if both know what they’re doing, more than 6 is hard to manage).

      For GMing advice, this guy is in my opinion the best source. He links to other people who know what they’re talking about, too. “The Railroading Manifesto” is, in my opinion, the most important thing he’s written: many flaws in a GM are forgivable or fixable; railroading is uniquely terrible, and is something where people who do it tend to get worse rather than better with practice. As long as you avoid doing that, it is not really that difficult to run a game.

    • RDNinja says:

      It seems there’s a lot of SSCers who want to play RPGs, and would like to play with each other. Would there be a market for, say, a dedicated SSC gaming Discord server, for finding and running Play-by-Chat games? Or is there another platform better for something like that?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        There’s a market for it, and I’m already running a Discord game:

        It’s an ongoing question whether another platform is better. Discord doesn’t do maps, for one thing.

        • RDNinja says:

          What kind of game is it?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Historical fantasy, specifically the Greek Heroic Age starting around Knossos, Old School play style (We are using Adventurer Conqueror King, approximately Basic/Expert D&D with proficiencies and standardized dice rolls). PCs got their first XP and glory by defeating 50 land pirates holed up in a coastal cave, without the death of even a henchman.

          • RDNinja says:

            Sadly, I have no experience with D&D before 4e (unless you count Pathfinder)

          • Plumber says:

            “..Sadly, I have no experience with D&D before 4e (unless you count Pathfinder)…”

            Started in ’78 with the “Basic Set” it was AWESOME!
            “Lost Mines of Phandelver” was fun and cool (except for those stupid Factions!), but check out this:
            …100 years ago the sorcerer Zenopus built a tower on the low hills overlooking Portown. The tower was close to the sea cliffs west of the town and, appropriately, next door to the graveyard.
            Rumor has it that the magician made extensive cellars and tunnels underneath the tower. The town is located on the ruins of a much older city of doubtful history and Zenopus was said to excavate in his cellars in search of ancient treasures.

            Fifty years ago, on a cold wintry night, the wizard’s tower was suddenly engulfed in green flame. Several of his human servants escaped the holocaust, saying their rnaster had been destroyed by some powerful force he had unleashed in the depths of the tower.
            Needless to say the tower stood vacant fora while afterthis, but then the neighbors and the night watchmen comploined that ghostly blue lights appeared in the windows at night, that ghastly screams could be heard emanating from the tower ot all hours, and goblin figures could be seen dancina on the tower roof in the moonlight. Finally the authorities had a catapult rolled through the streets of the town and the tower was battered to rubble. This stopped the hauntings but the townsfolk continue to shun the ruins. The entrance to the old dungeons can be easily located as a flight of broad stone steps leading down into darkness, but the few adventurous souls who hove descended into crypts below the ruin have either reported only empty stone corridors or have failed to return at all.
            Other magic-users have moved into the town but the site of the old tower remains abandoned.
            Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages below the hilltop, and the story tellers are always careful to point out that the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city, to the graveyard, and to the sea.
            Portown is a small but busy city ‘linking the caravan routes from the south to the merchant ships that dare the pirate-infested waters of the Northern Sea. Humans and non-humans from all over the globe meet here.
            At he Green Dragon Inn, the players of the game gather their characters for an assault on the fabulous passages beneath the ruined Wizard’s tower….

            By Crom if that doesn’t stir your soul than all hope is lost!


          • Nornagest says:

            Sadly, I have no experience with D&D before 4e (unless you count Pathfinder)

            Pathfinder is basically just 3.5 with some of the warts cut off, and 3.5 is basically just 3.0 with some of the warts cut off, so yeah, I’d count that.

            4e and Pathfinder are about as different from each other as 2e is from 3.x/Pathfinder, and 2e reproduces the Basic D&D core rules almost exactly — it just wraps a lot of other crap around them, and takes a different approach to adventure design under them. So I imagine you’d pick up the rules fairly quick. Whether you’d mesh well with the old-school mentality is more of a personality question.

          • dndnrsn says:


            I’d argue that 4th is more different from any other edition than any other non-4th edition is from any other non-4th edition.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’d argue that 4th is more different from any other edition than any other non-4th edition is from any other non-4th edition.

            There’s a strong argument for that. But it depends what you focus on. From a mechanical perspective, there’s not much in 4E that wasn’t there before — at-will, encounter, and daily powers, feats, most of the action economy, and the core mechanics of stats, skills, bonuses, attacks and movement would all be familiar to anyone that knows 3.5E core. Ritual magic isn’t in core, but it’s fairly intuitive and there’s similar stuff in the splats. (The healing economy is a real innovation, though.) It’s all just put together in unfamiliar ways, so the way most 4E classes play ends up being very different from the way the corresponding 3.x class plays.

            2E and earlier have a lot more in common with 3.x in terms of the way classes are built and the way combat tends to flow, but their fundamental mechanics are very different. If you look at a 2E character sheet as a Pathfinder player, you won’t recognize half the stuff on it — THAC0, descending armor class, the weapon proficiency system, exceptional strength, open doors/bend bars/lift gates, its weird system of saving throws, etc. But once you get into actually building a character that’ll all end up mapping to familiar stuff.

            Well, unless you build a psion.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:


            2E and earlier have a lot more in common with 3.x in terms of the way classes are built and the way combat tends to flow, but their fundamental mechanics are very different. If you look at a 2E character sheet as a Pathfinder player, you won’t recognize half the stuff on it — THAC0, descending armor class, the weapon proficiency system, exceptional strength, open doors/bend bars/lift gates, its weird system of saving throws, etc. But once you get into actually building a character that’ll all end up mapping to familiar stuff.

            The thing that amuses me about AD&D is how its non-unified resolution mechanics are part of its “time capsule” nature. You can tell what books and movies inspired Gygax and his players by what content is bolted on.
            Instead of “Make a Strength check, Difficulty Class of something Hercules did is gated off from the best result a Level 1 character can roll”, you had a “Bend Bars/Lift Gates” field on your character sheet, because at some point a player wanted his strong PC to emulate very specific feats from Sword & Sandal movies.
            Some of this persisted to 3rd Edition and beyond, like the Cleric wearing armor and turning undead because of his origin as Van Helsing crossed with the monastic knight figures from Gygax’s historical wargames, but there’s MORE of it on display in AD&D and OD&D.

            I’m enjoying the Basic/Expert line and its retroclones because it’s so much cleaner than that spaghetti code, which is endearing in a textual-archaeology way rather than at the table.

          • dndnrsn says:


            I’d agree that, mechanically, 4th ed looks a lot like 3rd ed, but it plays radically differently; a different game, really. I think the latter is more important. I went from 2nd to 3rd without really having to change how I did anything: it was the same game, but better; things finally made sense, all sorts of little rules replaced everyone’s homebrew stuff, etc. In comparison, the experience I had of trying 4th when it came out was, we did one session, before we realized how bizarrely different combat felt. Learning new rules vs. learning a whole new game.

            @Le Maistre Chat

            The various editions of Basic D&D are kind of a revelation, aren’t they?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @dndnrsn: They are.

            It seems that tabletop role players had a long honeymoon with 3rd Edition. It looked great; now the original RPG has caught up with the rest of the industry by adopting a unified mechanic!
            But there were other design decisions that made it un-fun. The DM lost control of their campaign: the Wizard and Cleric were in the driver’s seat now, the Challenge Rating system fostered the expectation that the DM was a success-producing macro rather than a Storyteller – oh and they had to babysit the hurt feelings of whoever played something other than a Wizard, Cleric, Druid (always better than a Fighter, and always better than 2 Fighters with magic items from Level 5) or Diplomancer.
            Even trash classes like Fighter completely obscured the original meaning of mechanics like “hit dice” (1 HD = can survive 1 hit, more or less), because the one thing they could do, if allowed to take certain feats from non-core books, was do ~300 damage per turn. By the book, by Level 5-6, combat should default to “win initiative and murder someone, because an enemy never getting a turn is how players survive.”
            And then I learned that some players will hold the game hostage by pouting, quitting for the week and going rules-diving to find your mistake that entitles them to a do-over if any enemy pulls the same tricks the party’s Wizard or Cleric does…

          • Nornagest says:

            Late 3E could get pretty silly, but running a game like early 3E was always an option if you could talk your players into it. Pace your adventures so that the Wizard and Cleric can’t nova in every encounter; allow non-core stuff only on a case-by-case basis; treat CR as a loose guideline; lurk GiantITP for a while and don’t allow any cheesy charop tricks at the table; houserule a few of the more broken spells, and make scribing scrolls more expensive; and don’t listen to any players that whine to you about the preceding. That’s not to say it was perfect — there were design decisions baked into the core classes that still bother me, and there’s no getting around those short of wholesale revision — but it went a long way.

            But there’s one thing you can’t avoid, and that’s how unbearably fiddly everything starts getting after a few levels. Prep’s a lot slower right out of the gate, just because everything has stats now and a lot more have class levels, but combat’s not so bad at 1st level. Not so by 7th, though: a decently buffed mid-level character might have a dozen bonuses running, from class features, equipment, and their party’s spells. And because your enemies have class levels now, so do they. You need to keep track of all of them. And their types. And their sources. And their expirations. And their interactions.

            I’ve seen campaigns die because there physically wasn’t enough time to get through them.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: Good grief, that too.

            I’ve seen campaigns die because there physically wasn’t enough time to get through them.

            Say it with the shell-shocked expression of a combat veteran of multiple wars. 😛

          • Nick says:

            But there’s one thing you can’t avoid, and that’s how unbearably fiddly everything starts getting after a few levels. Prep’s a lot slower right out of the gate, just because everything has stats now and a lot more have class levels, but combat’s not so bad at 1st level. Not so by 7th, though: a decently buffed mid-level character might have a dozen bonuses running, from class features, equipment, and their party’s spells. And because your enemies have class levels now, so do they. You need to keep track of all of them. And their types. And their sources. And their expirations. And their interactions.

            To what extent can software help with this? Are video games built on D&D as fiddly as this, or does letting the computer keep track of what’s active mitigate it? (I’ve heard of games like Baldur’s Gate but never played them.)

            ETA: To expand, I store a Pathfinder sheet for a current campaign on myth-weavers, which is smart enough to do like half of the math for me, and with just a little more information could probably do 25% more of it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I don’t think the shift to “GM as storyteller” (which began in the mid-80s and was largely complete by the mid-90s) was great either; in practice, CR-style mechanics got combined with the “the GM is here to tell you a story” to create the norm that the players were there to get a story told to them, plus the occasional combat that was guaranteed to not be more or less difficult dangerous than a certain range of danger. CR is the thing the game needed least, honestly: it can’t possibly factor in everything that would go into an encounter (the relative skill of the players, the abilities of the PCs, the terrain, how good the GM is at enemy tactics, etc etc etc) so it just sort of assumed a spherical party on a flat plain and so on. A remotely competent GM should be able to look at their party and look at monsters and figure out what’s what. In any case, encounter balance is a silly idea because it basically focuses the game world around the PCs, far more tightly than “this adventure is meant for x PCs of y-z level.”


            There was a period of, oh, it must have been around 10 years when the only thing that could be considered D&D I played was a single session of Pathfinder with relatively low level characters. 10 minutes between turns? Fun. 4th was much the same: it’s really weird how they looked at late 3rd and thought “we need to fix this” and then… Didn’t speed up play at all. 5th edition is what 4th should have been; too bad it took them most of a decade to figure that out. This was part of a general trend over more than a decade where I played about one session each of 3.5th, 4th, and Pathfinder, and had basically given up on D&D, until I picked up a retroclone. 5th actually seems really good, though I’m still playing around with it.

            (Also, there’s an SSC-Discord-adjacent gaming Discord, if anyone’s interested)

          • Nornagest says:

            To what extent can software help with this? Are video games built on D&D as fiddly as this, or does letting the computer keep track of what’s active mitigate it? (I’ve heard of games like Baldur’s Gate but never played them.)

            I’ve never tried using a software-assisted character sheet for 3.x. (The one short-lived 5E game I played in used one, but I didn’t get very good at it before everyone lost interest.) I imagine it depends, though. If it just keeps track of your stats and equipment, it wouldn’t help much (that’s all front-loaded anyway, although it’d make chargen easier); if it tracks active effects it might help with the bookkeeping, but that’s a much trickier interface to design.

            Baldur’s Gate was built on a modified 2E system, but Neverwinter Nights was 3E (albeit early in the 3E lifecycle). That was my first experience with 3E, actually; I wouldn’t use the system on tabletop until a couple years later. I remember it being fairly streamlined to play. Also kinda bland and soulless, but that’s only secondarily the system’s fault: the biggest problems were with the script and characters, and, after that, with the choice to do everything in cookie-cutter 3D tileset graphics.

            The original vision for Neverwinter Nights, as I recall, was to use it as the engine for online D&D games, where your DM would build their scenario using the level editor it shipped with and a group of players would run through it. It didn’t work out, mainly because it’s much harder to write encounter scripts and dialogue trees than to ad-lib the corresponding effects at the table.

          • Nick says:

            the biggest problems were with the script and characters, and, after that, with the choice to do everything in cookie-cutter 3D tileset graphics.

            As a Minecraft player, this offends me. But anyway, that’s interesting. I think software could handle situational modifiers fine, as long as it’s aware of, say, who’s in range of the bardic performance. Which would work fine if it had a map too. But then you’re basically asking gamemasters to run their campaign out of a video game; are we asking them to build the maps and in-game NPCs too? This is getting pretty far afield of pen-and-paper….

            But the real problem for software, I suspect, is that there’s so much to model. Woe to whoever has to input every single spell, every single item, every single feat.

          • Nornagest says:

            No disrespect to Minecraft players, but for a player coming from Baldur’s Gate‘s gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds, it felt cheap and ugly. You could move the camera now, but that just meant it was ugly from every angle. Especially since this was the early 2000s, and real-time 3D was still pretty rudimentary, and they weren’t very attractive or well-done graphics even for their time.

          • Nick says:

            I’m looking at pictures online now; Baldur’s Gate looks a lot like Runescape to me, which is not what I’d call gorgeous. But a tileset is absolutely a step down, so point.

            What you say about Neverwinter Nights being a D&D engine sounds about like what I was suggesting, which is neat. But I find it pretty silly they expected GMs to create dialogue trees. Just let the GM control the NPCs in real time! As long as they don’t hem and haw about what to say, it should still run faster. And even a tileset is better than a paper map.

      • RDNinja says:

        OK, I went for it. Invite link here:

        Anyone is welcome to advertise for players, or suggest games they want to play. If you want to run a Play-by-Chat game, I’ll create channels for you.

  31. ana53294 says:

    My favorite Soviet joke:

    There is an interdepartmental competition in the Soviet Union. The different departments compete in showing off their talent. Among other things, they are asked to peel and juice an orange.

    A man stands on the stage, squeezes the orange, and juice comes out of it. He opens his hand. The orange is whole. The judges cut the orange. The skin is intact, and the inside is all dry. The audience claps. The man bows, and introduces himself: “KGB”.

    Another man stands on the stage, and squeezes the orange in his hand. The skin neatly falls down. He opens his hand. The meat of the orange is untouched. The audience claps. The man introduces himself: “GRU”.

    Finally, a very unimpressive man stands on the stage, and nervously takes the orange. The skin neatly falls in pieces, as if to make candied orange pills. He squeezes a whole glass of orange juice out of the orange. He then opens his hands, and the audience gasps: the orange is whole. The judges cut the orange, and the orange is whole: its skin is untouched, and its meat is still juicy. The audience claps. The man introduces himself: “Central Statistical Administration”.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      I’m afraid this one went over my head.

      • ana53294 says:

        Well, the first two parts were about the KGB and the GRU, and their tendency to torture people while leaving no trace of the torture.

        And the bit about the Central Statistical Administration was about Soviet statistics, which had a tendency of being very cooked. Soviet Gosplan was organized in five year plans, and statistics about production and consumption had to be made to show what was being consumed by whom and where (since they had a controlled market, they had to deliver the needed products without the signal/incentive price gives). The absurd 2+2=5 in Orwell is said to be an allusion for proposals to make a five year plan in 4 years. A quote by Stalin about the CSA:

        The same can be said about the ill-fated bread-feed balance of the Central Statistical Administration, given in June, according to which it turned out that 61% of the well-to-do have a surplus, the poor have nothing, and the middle have the other percentages. The funny thing here is that after a few months the CSA came with a different figure: not 61%, but 52%. And recently, the CSB has given the figure is not 52%, but 42%. Well, is it possible to calculate so? We believe that the CSA is a stronghold of science. We believe that without the CSA, no governing body can count and plan. We believe that the CSA should provide objective data, free from any preconceived opinion, because an attempt to adjust the figure to one or another preconceived opinion is a criminal offense. But how can one then believe the CSA figures if it stops believing its figures itself?

      • Well... says:

        Once you’ve read ana53294’s explanation you’ll see that the joke makes sense, but that it’s just not very funny.

        • ana53294 says:

          I never found a joke funny after it was explained. Explained jokes are never funny (at least for me).

          • Well... says:

            Fair nuff. I would say though that if you don’t get a joke before it’s explained — i.e. you don’t even have a naive, incorrect interpretation of it — it can never be funny. Once you’ve had it explained you can at least get a sense of how funny it might have been, and sometimes that’s enough to at least feel a bit of the funny radiating from it.

            I got your joke before your explanation, but still didn’t find it that funny.

          • 10240 says:

            I often have. I’ve never understood why people say that an explained joke isn’t funny.

      • SamChevre says:

        I thought it was hilarious. (Maybe I’ve spent too much time reading about Russia.)

        • Well... says:

          Most of the jokes about Soviet Russia I’ve heard that are along the lines of this one are really funny; this one was just…I dunno, too on-the-nose or something.

    • bean says:

      My favorite, from the Radio Yerevan genre:

      Q: Is it true that there is freedom of speech in the Soviet Union the same as there is the USA?

      A: In principle, yes. In the USA, you can stand in front of the White House in Washington, DC, and yell, “Down with Reagan!”, and you will not be punished. In the Soviet Union, you can stand in the Red Square in Moscow and yell, “Down with Reagan!”, and you will not be punished.

    • J Mann says:

      A man tells his wife he’s leaving for the ration line and heads out. When he gets there, the line is so long he can’t even see the window. After an hour, word filters back – they’re out of beef. Another hour and they’re out of pork. Another hour – fish. When he’s just a few steps from the window, the guy inside says “we’re out of meat – come back next week,” and slams the window closed.

      The man loses it, falls to his knees, and curses the State. This doesn’t happen in the West. They eat meat every night, and it’s just sitting on the shelves for anyone to buy! This all the Party’s fault. It doesn’t have to be this way, and the Party knows it!

      As he winds down, he notices that everyone has backed away from him. He turns his head slowly, and sees two men in trench coats, standing a few feet away and listening. One of the men walks over, squats down and puts his arm around the man’s shoulder.

      “Comrade, you may not realize this, but you are a very lucky man. If we heard someone like you rotting the state with your lies even last year — bang! Bullet to the head. But this is a different time, the time of Glasnost. Instead, I want you to go home and think about why what you said was wrong. Will you do that for me, comrade?”

      “Of, course, yes comrade! Thank you!,” stammers the man as he got up and ran home.

      He comes in, covered in sweat and pale as a ghost. “What’s wrong?,” asks his wife. “Are they out of meat again.”

      “It’s worse. They’re out of bullets.”

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      An old man is stopped during the late Soviet Empire years by the police, who asks for his papers. The man hands them over, and the policeman looks them over and asks, “Where were you born?”

      “St. Petersburg” the man replies.

      “Where did you grow up?” asked the policeman.

      “Petrograd,” replies the old man.

      “Where did you work?”


      “And where is it you would like to go now?”

      “St. Petersburg.”

    • dndnrsn says:

      A man goes to line up to get meat. He waits, and waits, and waits, and when he gets to the front of the line, he is told, sorry, no meat left.

      He gets pissed off and starts fuming: “I’m a loyal citizen, I do my part, I did my military service, I’ve been waiting here for hours, and no meat? This is bullshit!”

      The guy behind him taps him on the shoulder and says quietly, “my friend, comrade, please, don’t say these things. Recent reforms have made things a bit more open, but still, you wouldn’t want to cause any misunderstandings.”

      Our protagonist, realizing this is clearly a secret policeman, nods, shuts up, and goes home. When he arrives, emptyhanded, his wife looks at him and says “no meat?”

      “Worse: no bullets.”

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      A scientist applies for permission to leave the Soviet Union. He’s told that he cannot, as he knows military technology secrets.

      He replies, “What are you talking about? We’re ten years behind America in my work, they already know everything I do!”

      “Yes, that’s the secret.”

      This one actually wasn’t a joke.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The USA and the Soviet Union are swept by rumors of an invading army of unicorns.

      The CIA launches and investigation and 6 months later announces that they have identified and neutralized the threat, releasing thousands of pages of blacked out documents detailing their efforts.

      The KGB launches an investigation and 3 months later they hold a press conference, they walk a large bear up to the podium with a plastic horn stuck to his head. The bear reads from a prepared statement. “I am a unicorn and have been leading a plot against the Soviet government, my close friends and family are all unicorns who have been plotting against the Soviet government, we realize the tragic error of our ways and wish to affirm our loyalty to the Soviet government and the people it serves.” The bear is never seen again.

    • J Mann says:

      Why do communists drink so much chamomile?

      Because they don’t believe in proper tea.

    • dick says:

      An old man is passing out leaflets in front of the Kremlin. The police go over to arrest him, but they see that the leaflets are just blank pieces of paper. “Why pass out blank pieces of paper?” they ask him. He shrugs and replies, “Why write it down when everyone already knows?”

    • rubberduck says:

      Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev are taking a train through Siberia. Suddenly the train stops. The engineer reports that the tracks were not completed on time and they have reached a dead end.

      Stalin: “Shoot everyone who built the tracks.”
      Khrushchev: “Take the tracks from behind and put them in front.”
      Brezhnev: “Why don’t we just pull the curtain over the window and pretend the train is still moving?”

      A pair of East German guards atop the Berlin Wall. One asks the other, “What do you think of the GDR?”
      “The same as you.”
      “In that case, I have to arrest you.”

      Panic at NASA: The Russians got to the moon! And they painted it red! The Americans immediately send a crew of astronauts to set things right.

      The astronauts land and the leader says, “Well, boys, you know what to do. To your left are buckets of white paint and brushes, to the right is the stencil for the Coca-Cola logo.”

      A Russian visits an American car factory. He asks the workers, “Who owns this factory?”
      “Mr. Ford.”
      “Whose cars are those in the parking lot out front?”

      An American visits a Russian car factory. He asks the workers, “Who owns the factory?”
      “We do.”
      “Whose car is that out front?”
      “The party chairman’s.”

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      From “Common Knowledge and Aumann’s Agreement Theorem”:

      A man is standing in the Moscow train station, handing out leaflets to everyone who passes by. Eventually, of course, the KGB arrests him—but they discover to their surprise that the leaflets are just blank pieces of paper. “What’s the meaning of this?” they demand. “What is there to write?” replies the man. “It’s so obvious!”


      Stalin’s ghost appears to Putin in a dream, and Putin asks for his help running the country.

      Stalin says “Round up and shoot all the democrats, and then paint the inside of the Kremlin blue.”

      “Why blue?” Putin asks.

      “Ha!” says Stalin. “I knew you wouldn’t ask me about the first part.”

    • J Mann says:

      Four men are travelling across the Soviet Union on a sleeper train. One starts reading the newspaper out loud, and two more get involved telling political anecdotes. The fourth decides to play a prank. He steps out and orders tea to be delivered in ten minutes, comes back in and a few minutes later, tells his companions.

      “You shouldn’t be discussing politics – don’t you know the KGB has all of these cars bugged?”

      When his companions protest that’s not possible, he looks up, snaps his fingers and says “Comrade Major, could be so kind as to send in four cups of tea?” A minute later, the tea steward comes in with the tea, and doesn’t really understand why the man is laughing so hard.

      The next morning, the man wakes up to find the car empty. He asks the steward where his companions have gone, and is told the KGB took them in the night.

      “But why did they leave me?,” he asks?

      “Oh, Comrade Major really enjoyed your tea joke.”

    • Humbert McHumbert says:

      In America, you can always find a party. In Soviet Russia, party can always find you!

    • cassander says:

      My favorite best soviet joke is pretty dark, you might like it. After all, dark humor is like food, not everyone gets it.

    • theredsheep says:

      Telegram, Hanoi to Moscow: PLEASE SEND FOOD
      Telegram, Moscow to Hanoi: TIGHTEN YOUR BELTS
      Telegram, Hanoi to Moscow: PLEASE SEND BELTS

    • Plumber says:

      After years of saving up, a Soviet man finally has enough to buy a car. He goes to the appropriate ministry and informs them that he would like to purchase a vehicle.

      “There are currently shortages, it will be three years before your car is available,” the minister informs the man. “We will have it sent to your house when it’s ready.”

      “Three years,” he responds. “What month?”

      “August,” says the minister.

      “August? What day in August?” Asks the man.

      “The Second of August,” says the minister.

      “Morning or Afternoon?” Asks the man.

      “Why do you need to know?” Asks the minister, getting exasperated.

      “The plumber is coming in the morning,” the man responds.

    • Salem says:

      Why has the Soviet Union not landed a man on the moon?
      What if he refused to return?

      A man enters the KGB offices, and tells the official there, “My parrot has flown away.”
      “That’s not our business. You should go to the police, or the animal catcher.”
      “Excuse me, I know that. But I wanted to let you know that I disagree with that parrot.”

      A commissioner went to inspect an asylum, and were greeted by a choir of the patients singing a patriotic song from a recent movie “How good it is to live in the Soviet land!”
      The commissioner noticed that one of the men did not sing, and asked him why.
      “I’m not crazy, I’m a nurse here.”

      A delegation of foreigners were being shown around a Moscow school. The children had been instructed to answer every question by saying that in the USSR, everything is the best in the world.
      “Children, do you like your kindergarten?”
      “In the USSR everything is the best in the world!” the kids shouted.
      “And what about the food you get?”
      “In the USSR everything is the best in the world!”
      “Do you like your toys?”
      “In the USSR everything is the best in the world!”
      One child began crying.
      “Yevgeny, why are you crying? What happened?”
      “I want to go to the USSR!”

      A woman walks into a store. “Do you have any meat?”
      “No, we don’t.”
      “What about milk?”
      “We only deal with meat. The store across the street has no milk.”

    • [Thing] says:

      “Tell me, comrade: what is the difference between capitalism and communism?”

      “Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man!”

      “I see. And what is communism?”

      “The reverse!”

  32. Anonymous says:

    How long have you ever fasted?

    • christianschwalbach says:

      2(maybe 3 days?) I have tried periodic fasting before, and I wouldn’t mind being able to do 4 days perhaps, just for experimental purposes, but I am already pretty lean and my body physiologically just doesen’t seem to react well to it, but this could also be a feature of not truly getting over the hump of discomfort. The circumstances would have to be proper , and between my work and exercise needs, I dont anticipate this happening soon. Regarding the last time I fasted for 2 days, it was a month after I had gotten food poisoning in India, and my digestion was still messed up, and I wasnt working out or anything like that , at least not yet. I remember the fast helping to calm my gut down and it also helped the headaches I was dealing with at the time. Quite a bit actually. After i broke that, I went through a period of Keto type dieting, again, for Neuro purposes, but I did not sustain this due to a slow energy drain and eventual defecit

      • Anonymous says:

        How lean are you?

        • christianschwalbach says:

          I havent had my leanbody mass analyzed in quite some time but I am currently 5’11” with a body weight around 165, though it varies up and down depending on h2o weight. The last time I had lean mass analyzed it was around 9%, but I am probably a wee bit higher now. Still, not much body fat to burn

    • DragonMilk says:

      Define fast – water only or no water either? No other beverages?

      Since I have a full time job, I didn’t get to attempt the, “can I go completely ketotonic” 40 day jesus fast, but I did fast for 2.5 days for about 5 weekends.

      By fast I mean water only. Dropped 34 pounds.

      • Anonymous says:

        I meant water-only, yes. Possibly with non-caloric beverages, like unsweetened coffee or tea. I’ve never tried a dry fast before.

        Currently fasting to reduce some fat mass after a trying out a variant ketogenic diet, and finding that I’ve gained like 3.4kg and 4cm in the waist in a week. May go as long as a week; I’ve done this once before, earlier this year, to drop about 5kg.

        • DragonMilk says:

          Heavly depends on metabolism – fasting will guarantee to lose you weight, it’s just arithmetic.

          What’s crucial is not overeating after and be very aware of the amounts you’re eating if you’re sharing. Be meticulous about portioning out meals after and sticking with it, and not help yourself to extra.

          You could start off by trying dinner skipping or go a weekend-day with only water.

          Dry fast is more a religious thing and I couldn’t ever imagine it. Water fast is the way to go.

          • albatross11 says:

            Well, it *can* be a medical thing, too, though in my limited experience that’s only in the hours before some kind of major medical procedure.

          • Anonymous says:

            What’s crucial is not overeating after and be very aware of the amounts you’re eating if you’re sharing. Be meticulous about portioning out meals after and sticking with it, and not help yourself to extra.

            I’m not going to binge immediately, no.

            But after that grace period? I’m going back to One Meal A Day and eating only meat and eggs and animal fat. I tried that, and with that experience in mind, I agree with the various anecdotes that you basically can’t gain fat even eating enormous amounts on that sort of diet. (But if you add even a small amount of concentrated carbs… that’s how I gained that much in a single week.)

            I’m pretty shit at moderation. When it comes to regulating intake, I find strict, binary rules to be more effective and less effort than “moderation”. Stuff like eating only once a day, or eating only animal tissue.

            In terms of willpower expenditure:
            Ad libitum < strict rules <<< moderation.

            Dry fast is more a religious thing and I couldn’t ever imagine it. Water fast is the way to go.

            I’m going to do it today, and see how that feels. It’s allegedly 3x more effective than water fasting for fat burning, and I’m all about efficiency.

    • RDNinja says:

      I fasted for 5 days for religious reasons in college. My rules were that drinks were fair game, so there was a fair amount of fruit juice and chocolate milk included. I broke my fast by eating an entire large pizza, and regretted it for the next two days.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yeah, you’re not supposed to pig out right after. I ate “normally” if cautiously after completing my 7 day water-only fast earlier this year (during Holy Week).

      • SamChevre says:

        Longest I’ve fasted (water and unsweetened tea only) is 3 days (Wednesday night to Saturday midnight after the Easter vigil)–the regular Triduum fast in some parts of Catholicism. It does weird things to your mind. If I’m reading at Saturday vigil, I can’t do it; I eat an apple or something similar before the service so I’ll not mix up my words.

        Eta: I’m on the slim side of average–6’4″, about 200 pounds, much more out of shape than I used to be.

    • Well... says:

      While awake, for Yom Kippur I once fasted from about 6:30 or 7am until 8 or 8:30 at night. One of the hardest things I’ve done.

      Which is strange because I am quite able to not eat a bite past 6pm and then not eat at all the next day until 10 or 11.

      • Anonymous says:

        The first day is hardest.

        • David Speyer says:

          If fasting on Yom Kippur normally, one does not drink anything. Since 24 hours is quite doable, but 2 days runs you into what is considered a serious health risk, I don’t think the first day will be worst here.

          I don’t find the Yom Kippur fast too bad, because the day is mostly sitting in synagogue or reading. I feel a bit light headed by the end, but that’s all. I once tried keeping the Fast of the Firstborn while working in the morning and cooking a seder in the afternoon, and that was awful.

          • Anonymous says:

            Ah, dry fasting. That would make it harder.

            Are you allowed to touch water during this?

          • Brad says:

            Touch water? Yes, you can wash your hands. Even take a shower as long as it is for the purpose of cleanliness (vs enjoyment).

            Yom Kippur is also my longest fast.

          • JulieK says:

            Washing (or other touching water) is one of the 5 prohibitions of Yom Kippur, except for (i) the minimum necessary to remove actual dirt, and (ii) ritual handwashing on awakening or before prayer.

          • Well... says:

            @JulieK & others,

            I don’t see in my JPS Hebrew-English Torah where it says anything about abstaining from water or hand-washing. These seem more like human traditions than God-ordained laws. But I could be wrong — if so please point me to the relevant bits of Torah.

    • SamChevre says:

      Reading the responses, I have a follow-up question: what proportion of the people who have fasted have done so for religious vs non-religious reasons?

      • Anonymous says:

        I fast for both religous and health reasons, intermittently and not. I’ve found it to be the moste effective way to cut. And I follow the old-timey Eucharistic fast – no food before Communion, regardless of the time of day that it takes place.

      • christianschwalbach says:

        non religious only, mostly motivated by a history of digestive issues.

    • A1987dM says:

      As far as I can remember, around 24 hours (i.e. eaten way too much on Sunday lunch and not been hungry at all for either Sunday dinner or Monday breakfast).

      I very seldom have breakfast, so you could say I’m on 16/8 intermittent fasting (though not mainly for the supposed health benefits).

    • Chalid says:

      48 hours. I have the unfortunate problem that fasting makes me sleep badly, so these days ~24 hours is the maximum; I will always want to eat before bed.

    • onyomi says:

      9 days on water only I did once. Have done many shorter ones.

      • Anonymous says:

        Did you do any dry fasting?

        • onyomi says:

          No, this does not seem healthy to me. I know some people claim it is more “potent,” but water-only is hard enough for me, and has lots of beneficial mental and physical effects. Besides, health-wise, given that the urine is the primary way out for the ketones, etc. during fasting, I don’t know why you’d want to make the kidneys’ job harder. Seems dangerous.

          I also would not do well with Ramadan-style fasting. Not only no water, but you basically just end up eating one big meal at sundown every day. I used to do more of this intermittent-type fasting, but stopped liking it once I had experience with longer fasts. Rather than giving your system the rest it gets with slightly longer periods it feels sort of like letting something shut down only to wake it up immediately with a big demand. Tends to give me bad sleep and constipation relative to slightly longer fasts interspersed with more regular eating.

          • christianschwalbach says:

            I agree. The intermittent cycling can be problematic for some people. I do ok with it for about 2 days, but day 3 of time restricted eating (Like Ramadan but from 2pm to 8pm) I feel like crud when I eat in afternoon

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      Dry fasted from dinner one evening to 9PM the next; I was joining in with two friends who were celebrating Ramadan at the time, and couldn’t be bothered to wake up in the middle of the night for food. Got a bit dizzy and lightheaded by the final hour after several trips carrying around heavy boxes from place to place in mid-summer, but overall not too bad. I’d like to try a water-only fast for a longer period of time at some point, if only for the sake of appeasing the little voice in my head that will do anything for the sake of getting a little internal achievement badge for some weird accomplishment (I don’t know if anyone else gets this, but it drives a solid 80% of the less-standard things I do).

    • Anatoly says:

      12 days water fast. Dropped about 10kg of weight. Hunger goes away on 3rd day, comes back a few times but not strong. I continued working and was full of energy; coworkers and friends never knew I was fasting. A week into the fast, I started having some back pain if I stood or walked a while – as if I was carrying a large weight (technically true, I guess, since I’m morbidly obese). A blood test done near the end of the fast was normal except for (expected) large excess of uric acid. I felt able to continue fasting, but was afraid to continue past 12 days without medical supervision.

      I include any noncaloric drinks in water fasting. I drank coffee without milk, coke zero, and lots of water. I think a dry fast is dangerous and unhealthy and wouldn’t try it.

      I also experimented many times with water fasting 2-4 days, and that did nothing in terms of weight loss for me (all the weight lost came back up in the next 2-4 days without fail).

      There’s a modest-sized medical literature on medically supervised long-term water fasting as a treatment for obesity, back in the 60s and the 70s, with what seems like good success rates. Then a few people died, and it seems to have quickly gone out of fashion. I don’t think anyone did any QALY analysis of benefits to obese people vs expected adverse events, including death, and wonder what such an analysis would show. If it were possible to do a very-long-term water fast with rigorous mainstream medical supervision, I would seriously consider it.

  33. johan_larson says:

    Twelve million Americans currently believe lizard-people run their country. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to triple that number.

    • Anonymous says:

      Assasinate Pence.
      Trick Trump into appointing Zuckerberg as VP.
      Assasinate Trump.

      • johan_larson says:

        Jeepers. So bloody.

        My thinking is that the lizard-people hypothesis is currently outside the Overton window for most people. Someone running for office who is accused of being a lizard is best off not even bothering to deny it. So the challenge is to make the lizard-people hypothesis something that at least has to be taken seriously enough to be worth denying.

        My plan is to introduce the idea by example through entertainment. Give a bunch of political dramas money* to include a brief sequence where someone running for office is accused of being a lizard-person and the staff takes the matter seriously enough to rebut it. They can ridicule the idea if they want, that’s fine, but the characters in the show don’t just ignore it. Repeat this often enough and the notion that a politician might be a lizard will be subtly normalized.

        [*] Product placement is a standard practice in the industry, so it’s not like the scripts are sacred.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          How do you prove you’re not a lizard person? Is this like the kind of disguise they have in Dr Who, where they just have a basic covering over their real bodies? In that case, I suppose an Xray would work.

          But presumably those who believe in lizard people think they are some advanced technological species that happen to look like lizards? I would think in that case they’d have a better disguise than just a covering. Maybe even a robot that is operated from their spaceship. Once you start trying to prove you’re not a lizard, all bets are off.

          • Protagoras says:

            It seems more likely that an X-ray would work, but they cleverly avoid X-rays or bribe technicians and have fake X-rays taken for medical records and things. Any test only works on those willing to subject themselves to the test, or that you can force to be tested, under honest conditions.

          • johan_larson says:

            Oh, gosh, I don’t know. I haven’t researched these theories.

            For the purposes of fiction at least, it would make sense that the lizards can mimic us well but not perfectly. Perhaps they can’t do teeth quite right. Or their skeletons are subtly different. If someone challenges you to prove you aren’t a lizard, you provide dental x-rays showing perfectly normal human teeth.

            They could come back and say those aren’t your real x-rays, but at least in the scenario I am describing, it would be just fine to have the protagonists of the political dramas I wrote about above offer dental x-rays and that settles the matter.

        • JPNunez says:

          Then your best course of action is to run for office, insult some prominent lizard-people believer, and then strongly and publicly deny you are a lizard person.

          It’d help if you wear gloves and sunglasses, and stuff some fake lizard tail on your pants. Also try to eat a mouse live on camera as on the old V series.

    • Shmooper says:

      Get a person who identifies as a lizard elected president, or even just to Congress. Hue Hue Hue

      • Deiseach says:

        Get a person who identifies as a lizard elected president, or even just to Congress.

        Courtesy of the sub-reddit, you apparently already have a T Rex-American congressperson!

        (I can’t even, as the young people say).

        • I don’t think 1/1032 T. Rex classifies someone as a dinosaur. Not unless one is willing to classify most Americans as both blacks and Indians.

          But he doesn’t say how much other dinosaurs contributed to his DNA, so it’s possible.

    • a reader says:

      Put some psychedelics that increase openness to experience in the water supply of the biggest cities.

      If the presence of drugs is discovered, hint Alex Jones and other famous conspiracy theorists that the government put it, at the orders of lizard-men.

      • Nick says:

        If the presence of drugs is discovered, hint Alex Jones and other famous conspiracy theorists that the government put it, at the orders of lizard-men.

        Could getting Alex Jones a television deal help?

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, my idea was going to be something like “Convince Alex Jones to focus on this exclusively, and abandon all of his other weird theories,” combined with “Convince all the major media and social media platforms to make an even bigger deal out of attacking Alex Jones.”

          It would seem to me that you could triple the number easily enough by simply convincing about half of red tribe to reflexively support Alex Jones, which would happen naturally enough if sufficiently powerful blue tribe folks put forth a sufficient effort towards attacking him.

    • Nick says:

      I’m thinking that getting some fabricated reptilian bodies uncovered would help, but where’s the best place to have them found?

      • woah77 says:

        Best way to have them found is to have them found by Nazi Scientists in the 30s. The evidence of the discovery is only just coming out because of some hidden bunker that was recently opened in Austria.

        • albatross11 says:

          The original discovery was foiled by this American archaeologist dude who ended up stealing the ancient alien artifacts for his own museum.

        • Nick says:

          I was thinking maybe have them found in ways that link them to other conspiracy theories. That way, you’re targeting the folks likelier to believe it anyway. For instance, have them found in a water treatment plant, or a disease research center, or a climate change think tank.

          • woah77 says:

            I’m pretty confident blaming everything on Nazis is a fairly solid manner for it tying in to already existing conspiracy theories. Just say that the scientists involved were recruited under project paperclip.

        • CatCube says:

          I could see that backfiring. Who did the Nazis primarily target? Then add the detail that they were fighting back against the lizard people secretly controlling the world…

    • baconbits9 says:

      This one is probably the easiest of all that you have posted.

      Simply create a series of well produced videos denying that Lizard men exist, post on you tube.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Offer political asylum to all the people who are being oppressed by lizardmen in their own countries.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I just wait until 2021. No, it doesn’t matter which way the election turns out.

    • Watchman says:

      Considering what the lizards really represent to many of those who push the idea, I’d suggest getting one of your major political parties, whichever is most prone to leadership cults, to appoint as a leader some extremist with links to lizard believers and perhaps a hint of these views himself, and then attack him over these views, forcing his (I suppose it might be a her…) loyal supporters to identify with his belief in lizards running things to defend him from smears from evil political opponents and the biased press.

      We’ve trialled this in the UK without the use of the masking term lizard, and it works great.

    • Tatterdemalion says:


      Step 1: Run for and win high office, or suborn someone who has.
      Step 2: Repeatedly and unambiguously deny that I am a shapeshifting lizard person.

    • Well... says:

      Administer your next survey on this topic to three times as many teenagers and unemployed 20-somethings as when you surveyed to get your 12m figure.

    • AG says:

      Rig the election such that Kanye wins in 2020.

    • James Miller says:

      Genetically engineer super-intelligence in some species of lizards. Wait for them to take control of the country. Possible flaw: They might decide to keep their control a secret.

    • Nornagest says:

      Get a few articles going in major news publications about who David Icke is, what his ideas are, and why a series of seemingly innocuous gestures by mid-ranking Executive Department staffers are actually dog-whistles to Icke followers.

      That would probably do it right there.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Pay a bunch of teenagers in a school district that leans to wards repressive actions to wear clothes with semi lewd pictures of lizard men, have them meme about it and be disruptive in class cracking jokes over the teachers about it. Get the local news to cover the crack down, then start circulating edited videos of the news and the local “banning of discussion of lizard men”.

    • SamChevre says:

      First you get it into The Babylon Bee (go on, click the link).

      Then you get people confused about what is and is not an actual news source.

  34. CatCube says:

    Structural Engineering Post Series

    Continued from here:

    I hadn’t intended to stretch the discussion of general building code requirements over two posts, but the last one didn’t quite cover some things that I think might be of interest. I’ll touch on some general concepts used for code compliance, and then finally go back to the actual topic of this series, structural requirements!

    I’ve tried in this series to post links to a variety of sources, but when I go to post the filter apparently hates this. Therefore, I’m going to only post a link to the IBC.

    The International Building Code
    The most common model code in the United States today is the International Building Code (IBC), published by the International Code Council. As you might recall from the last post, this was formed by a unification of three separate standards bodies to try to create a model code that would be used everywhere in the US. I’m going to discuss the 2012 version of the IBC for no better reason than this is the one I have a printed copy of, because it was the version required when I took the Professional Engineer exam. The IBC is updated on a three-year cycle, so this is two versions ago. The ICC maintains a website with the text of the model code here:

    Note that this website is crippled in various ways, like not allowing you to copy text. They’ve basically made it as inconvenient as possible to access to try to sell you a PDF or printed version, but still maintain the ability to read online.

    Anyway, the IBC is divided into 35 chapters and 13 appendices; the appendices are effective only if explicitly adopted by a jurisdiction. Sections are numbered by the chapter, then sequentially into clauses and subclauses with periods. For example, Section 1608 governs snow loads, and is found in chapter 16. 1608 has 1608.1, as a basic general clause, 1608.2 talks about using a figure (a map on the next page) to determine ground snow loads, etc. Each chapter contains clauses related to a particular subject or building system. I won’t bother listing all of them, but will touch on a few that give basic concepts. The most difficult thing to deal with in the code is the way requirements are arranged. They aren’t arranged by any particular type of building, but you’ll have requirements that apply to all buildings scattered throughout all of the chapters, and some other things that only apply to certain buildings scattered between those. It’s not obvious how all of these will interact, either, so this is where an architect has their work cut out for them, and why an expert is probably a good idea when dealing with these things. There are consultants who are experts in just talking about how to properly specify doors and door hardware–doorknobs, basically. These are harder than you’d think to get right; accessiblity especially imposes some really non-obvious requirements that are easy to fuck up. (When’s the last time you saw an actual door knob in a building? They’re no longer legal for anything other than a single-family residency, and even there I’m not sure if you’re renting. For commercial buildings, there are even tighter requirements for lever-style door hardware, to include returning to within ½” of the door.)

    Chapter 1 is administrivia defining such things as enacting clauses, intents, declarations of applicability, etc. I say “administrivia” in a flip manner, but this chapter does lay out the legal and paperwork framework that an Owner will have to deal with. One basic concept that’s not fully defined here, but is used in all building codes is the concept of the “Authority Having Jurisdiction”. The AHJ is used metonymically in conversations about building code requirements for the building official, who is “[t]he officer or other designated authority charged with the administration and enforcement of this code, or a duly authorize representative.” The AHJ (or building official) is the person with the power to decide if the design complies with the IBC. I’ll continue to use “AHJ” since that’s more common in informal discussions.

    A power given to the AHJ is the ability to grant modifications to the code on a case-by-case basis when “there are practical difficulties involved in carrying out the provisions of this code…” The concept is that exceptions may be granted, if the modification is “in compliance with the intent and purpose of this code, and that such modification does not lessen health, accessibility, life and fire safety, or structural requirements.” For example, a required fire rating of a partition might be relaxed, if the owner agrees to install a fire sprinkler system that mitigates the fire danger the partition was meant to protect against.

    Chapter 2 is basically a “Glossary” chapter. There are terms (printed in italics when used elsewhere) that are fully defined here. Some of these are a little mind-bending, like “Grade Plane” and “Story Above Grade Plane”, which are used for determining heights–they account for sloping ground, and have some non-obvious features.

    Chapter 3 covers one of the most important concepts: Occupancy Classification. Basically, all buildings have to be classified into a category that defines further requirements. This is important for determining code compliance–for example, the general requirement for exit doors is that they be freely operable by the people inside, but this wouldn’t do much good for a prison or an inpatient psychatric ward! Therefore, those occupancies have exceptions to the general rule, but do have other requirements to mitigate some of the danger for locked doors. There are 10 categories, with some categories having further subcategories. The categories are:
    A – Assembly. These are large areas with a lot of people. It’s divided into four further subcategores, A-1, A-2, A-3, and A-4. For these think things like theaters, nightclubs, restaurants, stadiums, etc. A-3 is the “catch-all” subcategory for things that don’t fit into the other three, and would include everything from arcades to churches. Educational facilites have their own category, so are excluded here.
    B – Business. This is a general category that includes most office-type settings, as well as places of business that don’t sell large quantities of goods, like barbershops.
    E – Educational. This is for K-12 educational facilities; colleges would be Occupancy Category B (except for large lecture halls, which are A-3).
    F – Factory. These are areas for fabrication and assembling, and have two categories: F-1 and F-2. F-2 is for low hazard manufacturing, and F-1 is moderate hazard. For example, a facility that produces alcoholic beverages at or below 16% would be F-2, and above 16% is F-1.
    H – High Hazard. This is for things that are extremely dangerous in relatively large quantities. For example, if you’re storing or working with a Division 1.1 explosive in quantities of larger than 1 lb, you’re talking an H-1 category. There are subcategories H-1 through H-5 depending on the type and quantity of what’s being worked with.
    I – Institutional. This is for institutional settings where you’re either working with people who are detained or generally not capable of self-care. It has four subcategories. I-1 is for facilities with people in custodial care, where they are probably able to self-evacuate, but much more slowly. Examples given are alcohol and drug rehab, assisted living, halfway houses, etc. I-2 is for people who are incapable of self-preservation That is, they can’t escape from a fire. Nursing homes and hospitals are examples. I-3 is for people who are incapable of self-preservation, because of security measures. In other words, they can’t escape from a fire because the doors are locked. Prisons and related facilities. I-4 is day-care facilities, differentiated from I-1 by not being present for 24 hours a day.
    M – Mercantile. This is for sales and display of merchandise. Stores, basically.
    R – Residential. This is where people live and sleep (unless they’re in an occupancy category I). Things like hotels, dorms, monasteries, houses, group homes that where the people are capable of self-care. R-1 through R-4 have different requirements based on the nature of people’s stay; R-1 is for people who are transient, like regular hotels. R-2 is for non-transient spaces with more than two dwelling units, like apartment buildings, long-stay hotels, and the like. R-3 is smaller residences, like detached houses, or duplexes, or boarding houses with less than 16 occupants.
    S – Storage. This is for structures intended for storage, with two subcategories. S-1 is for moderate hazard storage, and S-2 for low hazard.
    U – Utility/Miscellaneous. Anything that doesn’t fit in the above.

    Note that there can be mixed occupancies, where you have a building with more than one occupancy classfication. For example, if you have stores on a ground floor and apartments above, you’ve got M and R-2 in one structure. Each space would have to comply with the rules that apply to that classification, and there are some rules for how they may be combined based on relative areas. There may be requirements to have a fire barrier between the categories if the store is larger than a certain size, for example.

    Chapter 10 has requirements for means egress. This would be requirements for the location, size, and door hardware for escaping from a building during a fire. I talk about this here simply because there are a few details that I found interesting, and figured I’d pass them along.

    The maximum distance that is permitted between the furthest point in an R-1 building and the access to an exit stairwell is 250 feet (with a sprinkler system which all of them have these days). Also, you may not have a dead end longer than 50 feet, so that’s why you see stairwells at the ends of halls, or with only a room or two between the end and the stairwell. It makes sense when you think about it, because you don’t want people having to hunt for an exit during a fire if they walk by it, but I hadn’t realized this before studying the code for the PE.

    I’ll continue with discussion of the structural-specific requirements, but don’t quite have them done yet and it’s late here. I’ll get them up later tomorrow after work as a child post to this one.

    • Beck says:

      Nothing to add, but very nice summary.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Is it actually possible to prevent copying a pdf? I’m guessing that there’s some way of taking a series of screen shots and making them back into a pdf.

      A fast glance suggests that the International Code doesn’t have links, but I bet there’s even a way a computer could recover those, though I feel less trusting that it could be done reliably.

      I was curious about how international it is, and wikipedia says it may also be used in Abu Dhabi, the Caribbean Community, Colombia, Georgia, Honduras, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, so it’s very far from universal, and I assume there’s nothing resembling a world-wide building code. I’m also surprised at the list– it’s not as though those countries have anything obvious in common with each other. Includes some ancient building codes.

      However, if there’s a site about building codes worldwide, a fast search doesn’t turn it up.

      The building code for the EU

      • CatCube says:

        Is it actually possible to prevent copying a pdf? I’m guessing that there’s some way of taking a series of screen shots and making them back into a pdf.

        I know that Adobe Acrobat will collude with a “protected” PDF to prevent you from selecting text, and will disable a lot of the toolbars. I know this because the copy of the code you can download for free from the Oregon state website of their enacted code does this; they’ll cheerfully send you to the ICC website to buy a non-protected PDF. I’m sure there is a way to twiddle bits in the PDF or the reader to bypass this, but since I have legitimate access to regular PDFs through a subscription service that my office has, I’ve never had reason to investigate it much further.

        I was curious about how international it is, and wikipedia says it may also be used in Abu Dhabi, the Caribbean Community, Colombia, Georgia, Honduras, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, so it’s very far from universal, and I assume there’s nothing resembling a world-wide building code. I’m also surprised at the list– it’s not as though those countries have anything obvious in common with each other.

        I discussed this last time when @bean noticed the same thing. Basically, this is the same thing as Major League Baseball calling its championship the “World Series”, but the previous organizations making up the ICC did have “International” in their name, and I think there were vague hopes they could do a North-America-wide code when forming the body in the late ’90s. They have some info on international adoptions here:

      • The Element of Surprise says:

        > Is it actually possible to prevent copying a pdf? I’m guessing that there’s some way of taking a series of screen shots and making them back into a pdf.

        It is possible to set a few flags within the PDF that tell the reader to not let the user copy any text. There are a variety of tools that can remove these flags, and many readers that don’t respect these options (certainly on Linux most readers have an option to disable respecting “DRM”).
        Some PDFs go further and use internal fonts with nonstandard character encoding: When copying text, the system does not copy the appearance of that text, but only the code points of all the characters. If a PDF uses a font with nonstandard code points for characters, then pasting the text somewhere else results in garbled text.
        A last step would be to use PDFs containing images of text instead of the text itself, but this will usually result in large files and / or look low quality. This (as well as the nonstandard fonts) can still be defeated somewhat by OCR software.

        The text on that IBC website OTOH appears to only be protected by Javascript. When disabling Javascript after the page is loaded, it is possible to copy text.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Structural Engineering Post Series

      Saw this, my first thought was to wonder whether there was also a Structural Engineering Beam Series.

    • Garrett says:

      As an FYI for mere mortals (despite having an engineering degree, I put myself into that category):
      There is something referred to as the International Residential Code, which is basically all of the relevant parts of the International Code Council codes stripped down to the elements required for individual residences (they note single family, duplexes or townhouses), but stripped of all of the rest of the stuff. Because most people aren’t operating a detention facility with large quantities of radioactive molten magnesium next to the MRI machine in their basement.

      Though a bit technical, it is readable and usable by the dedicated lay-person. If you want to draw up your own plans for your own “normal” house, there’s enough detail to know what you’ll need to achieve and what you’ll be evaluated against. I refer to “normal” as it doesn’t have requirements for building geodesic domes, etc. But anything that you and 5 people off the street agree is a “normal” house can be built here.

      Likewise, if you do any renovation work on your house, it’s easy to figure out which bits meet current code and which don’t. For example, I have a 110 year old house. Having ripped up the plaster & lath from the master bedroom I measured the lengths of the floor joists above and their spacing. At 24″ on-center, the joists aren’t wide enough. However, at 12″ they would be. So as a part of the work I’m doing I’ll install a few extra floor joists above which will likely improve creaking, etc.

      • CatCube says:

        The IRC is primarily what’s referred to as “prescriptive”–that is, if you construct things the way they say, you don’t need an analysis by an engineer. Stuff like joist spacing and nail spacing on sheathing, etc. As you said, it only applies to detached homes, duplexes, and townhouses, though.

        The IBC chapter on wood framing has some heavily prescriptive elements as well, but I’m less familiar with them, since I do very little with that structural system.

        • Beck says:

          In the 2015 IBC, the ‘conventional light framed construction’ portion of the wood framing chapter (2308) has been revised to match up with the IRC a lot better. To the point of bringing in span tables and bracing details directly from the IRC.

          I don’t really use IRC or the prescriptive portions of the wood framing chapter, but anything that makes them less confusing, particularly to people trying to design without an engineer, is a big plus.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        a detention facility with large quantities of radioactive molten magnesium next to the MRI machine in their basement.

        That sounds like a video game.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Speaking vaguely of, why did the mansion in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom have a stash of poison gas?

          I had to work to remember the title of the movie. I want to think of it as Jurassic Kingdom: Fallen World– I’ve never seen any other movie with so much original sin in the story.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      (When’s the last time you saw an actual door knob in a building? They’re no longer legal for anything other than a single-family residency, and even there I’m not sure if you’re renting.

      Okay this makes me wonder how much of this code is overkill to ensure full employment of those who learned the code. I assume the code is about safety. Is it truly unsafe to have a door knob in a commercial building? I suppose it might take an extra second or two to get through the door in an emergency, in comparison to a swinging door or one with a lever.

      I think that complications in codes like this often detract from the original purpose of the code in the first place, since there is so much code to remember one might easily forget the code which is truly important. This is certainly the case in my own field of tax accounting. No one in the world can possibly understand the entire Federal tax code, so everyone must rely on experts that know certain areas very well. And in practice, it means that generalists simply ignore much of the complications in the code, because it is not possible for them to know it all. Of course the tax code is created by Congress, so that ensures a certain minimal level of insanity. Presumably the building code has been created by professionals?

      • CatCube says:

        In the previous post I discussed the purposes of the current building code:

        …to ensure that the completed structure is safe, sanitary, habitable, accessible, and environmentally sound.

        This particular requirement is for ADA compliance. The standard old-style doorknobs require too much gripping force for somebody with a hand disability.

        The IBC is written by people in the construction industry, but in this instance they’re following requirements that were passed by Congress, and developed by the US Access Board, which generates the requirements for “accessibility”, by which I mean that it doesn’t impose an excessive burden on the disabled.

        Another requirement I didn’t know about until I had to dig into them for a project at work: you can’t have anything (fire extinguisher box, those automatic defibrillators, wall-mounted TVs, etc) projecting more than 4″ from a wall, unless it also runs down to less than 27″ above the finished floor, or is more than 80″ above the floor.

        As far as building code requirements in general, while there are some I think you can quibble with, for the most part, each requirement in isolation more or less makes sense once you see the logic behind it. Nor is each requirement in isolation a huge cost. However, when you add up all the different requirements…well, it’s probably one of the causes that Scott was searching for in “Considerations on Cost Disease”. I actually had more written here about some of the requirements (and their intersection with pop culture), but it occurs to me that it was bordering on Culture-Warry, so if I remember I’ll pick it back up in the next OT.

        • Lambert says:

          >Another requirement I didn’t know about until I had to dig into them for a project at work: you can’t have anything (fire extinguisher box, those automatic defibrillators, wall-mounted TVs, etc) projecting more than 4″ from a wall, unless it also runs down to less than 27″ above the finished floor, or is more than 80″ above the floor.

          So that blind people with sticks don’t walk into them, I assume.

          • CatCube says:

            Yup. The ADA standards on the Access Board site have a helpful figure showing the layout. A lot of the fiddly little requirements are like that–they make perfect sense once you know why, but if you’re not familiar with all the fiddly little requirements it’s nearly impossible to learn all of them well enough to not miss some by simply paging through the code.

            I assume that some of the requirements have some feedback, as well. That is, I’m sure that an average value was chosen for that 27″ requirement, but it probably could very well have been 28″ without much change in risk. However, once you settle on 27″, I’d guess that blind people are taught what height they can expect to find obstacles when using a cane. These requirements then become something like whether your country drives on the right or the left–that is, it doesn’t matter exactly what the requirement is, but it’s important that everybody is doing the same thing.

          • they make perfect sense once you know why

            Only if you assume that all buildings must be constructed in a way convenient to all possible users.

            Quite a while back, people in the small and unconventional private school my kids were going to were considering the possibility of buying rather than renting a building. One of the things that discouraged us from doing so was discovering that any building of more than one floor would have to have an elevator. This was for a school that I think never had more than twenty students, none of them unable to walk up a flight of stairs.

            One source of the cost disease discussed in the past is people making generous sounding rules for what other people have to do.

          • CatCube says:

            @David Friedman

            Only if you assume that all buildings must be constructed in a way convenient to all possible users.

            I was assuming for the sake of argument that “convenience to all possible users” would be a design goal, and that they make sense in that context. I had actually started talking about how that may or may not be appropriate (I’m not convinced that it is for the reasons you discuss), but realized that’s a pretty culture-warry discussion. I stripped out that part of the post because of it, and didn’t realize that I also stripped out the portion about my assumptions.

          • dick says:

            One source of the cost disease discussed in the past is people making generous sounding rules for what other people have to do.

            It sounds like another way to describe the same scenario is, “no individual private school is incentivized to be the one that builds infrastructure for disabled students” is a coordination trap, and the solution to coordination traps is for someone powerful to force individuals to do something they don’t want to do.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Also note that elevators make it more possible to have disabled teachers.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ dick

            The rule does not solve the coordination problem. Any school that has 2 floors also has a first floor, it is materially indifferent from a one story school for a disabled student and a faculty willing to ensure the kids classes are all on the first floor.

            If there was a material difference all that has happened is that the competition for one story schools has increased because schools with and without disabled students are competing for the same space, if anything making it harder for schools to cater to disabled students, not easier.

    • CatCube says:

      Structural Requirements
      Thanks for bearing with me during the side tour of general code requirements. Here, I’ll begin discussing structural requirements in more detail. Chapter 16 of the IBC has the basic requirements for the structural design of a building.

      Building codes give various minimum requirements for structural design. An Owner is free to impose higher requirements if they so choose. From a structural engineering perspective, the code requirements simplify design to a certain extent by giving a “default” for many types of decisions, especially loads.

      Structural engineers use various types of loads to differentiate between different types of loading conditions:
      Dead Loads – Gravity loads imposed by the weight of parts of the building or permanently attached equipment
      Live Loads – Gravity loads imposed by the weight of building occupants and movable equipment due to occupancy of the structure
      Roof Live Loads – Gravity loads imposed on a roof by workers and moveable equipment on a roof; treated differently than regular live loads because roofs typically will have far fewer people at one time than a regular floor.
      Fluid Loads – Weight imposed by fluids, to include lateral loads; for a dam or a drainage control structure this is obvious, but regular buildings may have flood loads, and you may have other non-obvious things like tanks.
      Earth Pressure Loads – Loads from the earth acting on a subsurface wall; basements or retaining walls, for example.
      Snow Loads – The weight of snow acting on a structure.
      Rain Loads – The weight of ponded rainwater acting on a structure.
      Ice Loads – The weight of ice that freezes to structural members.
      Wind Loads – The loads imposed on a structure by the force of the wind.
      Seismic Loads – The loads imposed on a structure by the sudden movement of its foundations due to an earthquake.

      Building codes will either prescribe loads, for example in dead, live, and roof live loads, or give methods for calculating the loads as in environmental loads (snow, wind, rain, seismic, ice). While environmental loads do have prescribed environmental characteristics based on location (for example, a required wind speed), how those translate into the actual force that a building sees is usually a complicated process. I’ll discuss dead and live loads as well as load combinations in this post, and the environmental loads will get their own posts.

      The IBC draws very heavily (and references in many places) another document by the American Society of Civil Engineers, ASCE 7. Often the requirement in the IBC is simply to calculate the load in accordance with a particular chapter. Other requirements are obviously drawn from ASCE 7, but reprinted in the IBC.

      The dead load for a structure is, simply, the best guess for the weight of a building. There are typical values used for various building materials. For example, reinforced concrete is 150 lbs/ft³, while steel is 490 lbs/ft³. Many references will have tables of all kinds of other materials, or a simple Google search can bring up values. When doing steel design, sections are typically named for their nominal size and weight; for example, a W12×35 is a wide-flange section with a nominal (not actual) depth of 12″, and a weight of 35 lbs/foot of length. So you multiply the length of the member by 35 and there you go. For permanently attached equipment, like air handling units, you ask the mechanical engineer how much his shit weighs. Ceilings and floors will use typical values from a manufacturer or guidance from the architect. Note that when I say permanently attached for dead loads, I mean really permanently attached; in some types of rental space, many of the walls are only semi-permanent so the landlord can reconfigure the space to accommodate tenants. In this instance, the walls would be considered live, rather than dead loads.

      Live loads are typically table lookups. The code will prescribe minimum loads for each type of room. The IBC has a basic set of tables, and ASCE 7 has more extensive ones; these tables mostly agree AFAICT, but in the event of differences the adopted building code would control. For example, a single-family house or a duplex must be designed for the following: 10 lbs/ft² for uninhabitable attics without storage, 20 lb/ft² for uninhabitable attics with storage, 30 lbs/ft² for habitable attics and sleeping areas, and 40 lbs/ft² for all other areas. So what is your living room designed for? Probably* 40 lbs/ft² but with an asterisk. This is actually more than you might think. This is 40 lbs/ft² over the whole floor, simultaneously. You, as a typical human being are probably about 2′ (60 cm) across the shoulders, and probably about 1′ (30 cm) front-to-back. So 40 lbs/ft² is about equal to ranks of 160 lb (73 kg) people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, with about 1′ (30 cm) between the ranks. That’s a hell of a house party. Now, appliances and furniture will cut into that, plus some for carpeting.

      There are four factors for the asterisk from a few sentences ago: 1) there are rules that allow the reduction of live load in certain circumstances, that rely on the fact that it is pretty unlikely that you’re going to pack that many people in at once, though these rules probably aren’t going to apply to a house. 2) Sometimes the maximum stress on a structure may involve not having all of the live load on at once. Sometimes, load patterns where alternate floors are loaded and unloaded may produce larger load effects; the middle unloaded span may be “bent upwards” by the loads on either side, for example. 3) Most residences are built according to the International Residential Code, which doesn’t require calculating the capacity of floors, it just gives requirements for how closely spaced joists have to be, etc. 4) This is for a properly-built, well maintained building–if the builder was incompetent or the building is going to seed, all bets are off. There were some balcony collapses in California a while back because poor design details and lack of maintenance meant the structural members supporting the balcony had dry-rotted. So don’t load up your floor because CatCube said it was OK–consult with a structural engineer who has studied your building and its design.

      Some other loads that might be of interest: Offices are 50 lbs/ft², library stacks are 150 lbs/ft², with some details about what dimensions of shelving were assumed (so your college library probably wasn’t designed “forgetting the weight of the books”). They also have requirements for concentrated loads of 2,000 lbs and 1,000 lbs, respectively, though these don’t have to act at the same time as the uniform load; it’s unlikely that somebody is going to be moving an air handling unit around at the same time that the office is packed. Handrails are required to be designed for 50 lbs/ft or a 200 lb concentrated load, either acting in any direction. (Though the 50 lb/ft isn’t required for residences, just the 200 lbs)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        House optimized for 250 mph wind survives Hurricane Michael in excellent condition

        There’s a book about taking care of your home book collection (title forgotten) which includes taking account of the weight of your books.

        • johan_larson says:

          One might think the Floridians would be better prepared for what is, after all, merely severe weather. The state gets hit by a major hurricane what, a couple times per decade? That’s well within most people’s planning horizons, so individuals and institutions should be able to take effective preventative measures. But no, every major storm has to be an emergency and a tragedy,

          • Plumber says:

            The article linked to said that“….Their architect, Charles A. Gaskin, said that building a house the way they did roughly doubles the cost per square foot, compared with ordinary building practices.

            Other experts had different views of the expense required. An estimate published in Forbes in 2012 said implementing an array of storm-resistance measures, including some of those advised by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, would add more than $30,000 to the cost of a typical house…” so there you go.

            I’m reminded of when I had a job at Lockheed-Martin, and everything was done to Federal code instead of the UPC and how the drain and vent pipes where all smaller.

            I guess the Florida panhandle just decided that cheaper is better than stronger.

          • Brad says:

            That upshot of those numbers should be that all houses built in the suburbs of NYC, SF, etc. in the last 25-30 years should be really built. For those markets an extra $30k is nothing.

          • CatCube says:

            One issue is the lifetime of a building is very long. If your structure was built back when standard designs were insufficient, then it doesn’t matter what your planning horizon is if you can’t afford to push the building flat and rebuild it, or at least retrofit which may or may not be possible and usually isn’t cheap itself.

            The scale of this hurricane is relatively high for the area struck as well. You can find the structural chapter of the current Florida Building Code here: There are maps about 1/3 to 3/8 down the page that show the design wind speeds for Risk Category II buildings (which houses are), and the subsequent map for Risk Category III/IV (hospitals, fire stations, etc.). The Risk Category II is for wind speeds with a 0.143% chance of exceedance in any given year, which works out to about a 5% chance of occurring in a building life of 50 years. The Risk Category III/IV maps is for wind speeds with a chance of 0.0588% chance of exceedance, or about 3% in 50 years.

            How much do you want to drive risk down? Increasing the cost of every structure to gain a few percent is going to have opportunity costs at some point.

            As far as the additional cost for a building goes, it’s often apparently pretty hard to get owners to pony up for something like this voluntarily. I think we have a geotechnical engineer running around (@WashedOut?), but they often have a hell of a time getting owners to pay for foundation investigations, as they’re willing to throw the dice and hope they’re not going to discover something terrible when foundation excavation starts. That’s one reason that while every other engineer will work as a subcontractor to the architect, the geotechnical engineer is contracted directly with the owner–the architect wants to minimize the chances of ending up in the middle of that litigation furball.

          • The Nybbler says:


            Except in most of the NYC suburbs, it just doesn’t matter (parts of Long Island and the Jersey Shore excepted). The homes are built just fine for wind and rain we actually get. There’s no point in spending an extra $30,000 (which would be more here, actually, because of Baumol’s cost disease) per house to proof against wind loads that don’t happen, any more than it makes sense to build to California earthquake standards.

          • Brad says:

            I guess I wasn’t literally thinking of hurricane proofing the houses, no one wants something elevated like that. I’m just saying that if all that is only $30k then there isn’t any excuse for poorly built houses.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Round houses, at least somewhat hurricane-proof

 House probably withstood 120 or 130 mph winds.

          Another dome home

          I don’t have a feeling for what proportion of people can afford this sort of house, nor why they seem to be so rare compared to the number of people who can afford them.

          Company that builds hurricane-resistant houses

          • CatCube says:

            I don’t have time right now to click through links (I had seen the NYTimes one on the house in Mexico Beach a few days ago, but was thinking about discussing it during wind loading), but one problem with round houses that has always bedeviled their acceptance: where do you get furniture for them? Find a bookcase that works well in a round room.

          • JulieK says:

            A Quonset Hut also has no roof to blow off, without having round rooms…

    • CatCube says:

      Load Combinations and Design Philosophies
      One other concept I mentioned above but want to touch on in more detail is load combinations. Not only does the code give what the minimum loads to which you design, it also tells you how you combine them. For example, when you’re considering an earthquake acting on an office building, do you need to consider the maximum floor load? The IBC (from ASCE 7) gives load combinations that answer this question: you consider half the floor load (live load) in combination with the design earthquake, since it’s unlikely that you’re going to have the maximum number of people the building will see in its life on the same day you have the largest earthquake it will ever see. However, for a place of public assembly, you use 100% of the floor load, since packing those to capacity isn’t unusual and it’s not hard to see that there might very well be a full house when the Big One hits.

      There are two sets of load combinations in use, based on two different design philosophies. The original philosophy, called Allowable Stress Design (ASD) in steel design codes and Working Stress Design in concrete, is the one that’s going to be familiar to every other kind of engineer here. You multiply the summed loads by some factor of safety (or divide the capacity by the FS). This does have an issue, because the loads in that sum don’t all have equal probabilities of occurrence. We’re usually pretty sure about what the dead load is going to be, since that’s under our control. However, while I said above that 40 psf is a pretty safe guess for a floor load in a house, we’re necessarily going to be less sure that somebody’s idiot kid won’t to try to pack the living room with his entire class. That is, there’s more uncertainty in the live load. Also, this same factor of safety is accounting for uncertainty in the strength of the structural member.

      The other design philosophy, called Load and Resistance Factor Design (LRFD) in steel and Ultimate Strength Design in concrete, attempts to more closely account for this uncertainty. (I’ll generally use the term LRFD gong forward) Each type of load will get multiplied by its own Load Factor, based on the uncertainty of that load. Then, you calculate the capacity of the structural member and multiply it by a Resistance Factor (which is less than 1–0.9 is a typical value), which accounts for material uncertainty, as well as consequences for that type of failure. I’ll explain that last detail when talking about individual materials, but basically failures that occur with less warning are more undesirable. The target of LRFD is to have a constant reliability (probability of failure), rather than a constant factor of safety.

      The American Concrete Institute did away with Working Stress Design as a design philosophy for concrete in the ’60s; I only know a little bit about it because I dug through our office files for an old 1963 version of the concrete code when doing research for this post series. As far as I can tell, it wouldn’t be legal to use today, for reasons I’ll discuss in the post on concrete.

      However, the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) didn’t write an LRFD code until much later. The original LRFD code was released in 1986, and by the late ’90s they attempted to replace the ASD code–last updated in 1989–with the new LRFD code. Resistance in the structural engineering community was high, however. I mean, resistance to the point that you will see some engineers to this day who still refuse to use a code beyond that 1989 version (the old 9th edition Green Book). AISC tried to resolve the disagreement in 2005 by creating a parallel Allowable Strength Design method in the update to the code of that year. That is, for each type of failure you can either divide the capacity of the member by the traditional factor of safety and compare to the traditional sum of the loads, or, you can multiply the capacity of the member by the resistance factor and compare to the factored loads. In the aftermath of this, the newer code versions gained ground with many engineers preferring to use the ASD option. Giving engineers this option does mean that there needs to be separate combination requirements, as you cannot mix-and-match these design methods.

      I admit to not really understanding the resistance to the LRFD code, but I believe that an increase in the complexity of the equations for calculating capacity that occurred at the same time was part of the reason. Research had been refined over the years for some types of failure, resulting in more accurate, but also more difficult, equations. Another is that even under LRFD, checking deflections still requires a simple sum of the loads, since generally deflections are more of a concern for avoiding damage to architectural features (e.g., not cracking drywall) and occupant comfort. However, since these are not strictly safety issues (they’re referred to as serviceability criteria), factoring either the loads or the capacities are not appropriate. Since you’ll need the simple sum of loads anyway, the thinking is in part you may as well just use them for calculating strength as well.

      Another possible reason was that at the time the LRFD code was pushed out in steel to replace the old ASD, concrete had been using LRFD (called USD by them) for decades…but they used different load factors. So you’d have to calculate the traditional sum of loads for serviceability checks, factored loads for the steel design, and then calculate a different set of factored loads for designing the concrete foundation. The load factors have since been unified, but this probably didn’t improve peoples’ opinion of the rollout. At any rate, I learned LRFD in college, did 9 years in the Army without doing design, and when I started doing structural engineering as a job just picked up with LRFD again; I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually used ASD, so I’m something of an LRFD partisan.

      Circling back to the load combinations, the LRFD has a series of 7 basic equations, but note that there may be many more combinations that need to be checked, since loads acting in different directions may have different effects in a building that’s not symmetrical. The basic LRFD equation for gravity loads is 1.2D + 1.6L, where D is dead load and L is live load. There are other terms in there, but for a simple internal floor that’s the most common form you’ll see. Note that the factor for live load is larger than that for dead, again, because of the higher uncertainty.

      Further down the list you have loads that include wind and earthquake. Of note, the load factor for those environmental loads is 1.0. Uncertainty is accounted for in how the loads are chosen; for example, you might be required to design for a 700-year wind event, and if you need more reliability you’d design for the 1700-year event, rather than scabbing on a scalar load factor. As stated in the introduction to this section, you don’t use the full live load with that. The concept for the development of the LRFD combinations is to have one load at its maximum value, and the other loads at their “Arbitrary Point in Time” values. Both the design wind event and the design earthquake are unlikely; it’s even more unlikely to have the design wind event occurring at the exact same time as the design earthquake.

      The ASD equations are pretty straightforward, mostly simple sums. Due to the way that wind and earthquake loads are chosen in modern practice, they do get multiplied by factors less than one, because since you’re not increasing the dead and live load terms, these extreme design events will be “overpowered” when you add in the larger factor of safety.

      A final thought: buildings are designed for loads that are unlikely to occur. This means that sometimes it’s possible to have lurking damage that isn’t a factor for a long time…until it is. A colleague of mine just came over from the private sector, where one job he worked on was a football stadium for a college that every single person in this comment section has heard of. At some point, somebody had created storage space under the grandstands, and to fit some of the equipment, had cut away some of the tie rods that were intended to resist wind and other lateral loads. Thousands of people were in those stands during every weekend in the fall (note that only a relatively small number were removed, but all were technically necessary for the design). However, since a huge wind event never occurred, it turned out to not be a problem.

      One that I saw was an aircraft hangar, used to store Blackhawks. Similar situation–offices were constructed into part of the hangar, and as part of the construction somebody cut out cross bracing that was part of the lateral force resisting system. As far as anybody could tell, this had happened sometime in the late ’60s or early ’70s, probably troop labor. But since we didn’t have a major earthquake or a huge wind event, it turned out not to matter. That was an ugly shock for the designers when they let a contract to rehabilitate the hangars, and the contractor opened up the wall to discover this. We were very lucky that money and time was all that this cost us. So please, if you happen to be working in facilities, don’t assume that because a structural member is small, that it is unimportant and can be removed to fit something else in. Consult an engineer!

      • bean says:

        Very interesting. I don’t have much to add (other than that I’m glad I didn’t go into structural engineering), but thanks for doing this.

      • Garrett says:

        Why is the resistance factor (less than one) used instead of simply scaling down all of the load factors? Wouldn’t that allow you to eliminate one of the required multiplications?

        • Skivverus says:

          That sounds less like “eliminating” a required multiplication and more like “hiding” it, to me. Scaling down (or up) is a matter of multiplication.

        • Beck says:

          @ Garrett
          CatCube can certainly answer this better than I can, but it’s because the different factors are allowing for different uncertainties. The load factors in the combinations are allowing for uncertainties in the loads (the party he mentions above or storing boxes of old paper records in the attic, say).
          The resistance factor (called phi) is allowing for uncertainties in the material (think manufacturing or installation issues) as well as the seriousness of a particular failure mode.
          A fairly simple example would be a steel member in tension. The member can fail in yielding or in rupture. In yielding, the material deforms in the direction of the load (fails in a ductile manner, which is good), but it will deform a certain amount before ultimate failure. The yielding is more likely to be noticed and less likely to kill everybody, so a high resistance factor of 0.90 is applied.
          A rupture failure (perhaps at bolt holes) is sudden and is more dangerous, so when checking capacity of the member in rupture, a lower resistance factor of 0.75 is applied.
          So in this case, checking a member with the same factored loads but two different failure modes, you’re ‘penalized’ in rupture because the effects of failure are more serious.
          I think the lowest resistance factor I’ve seen is 0.45, for certain post-installed anchors into concrete that are really sensitive to poor installation and fail very suddenly when they go.
          Apologies if I didn’t explain that well.

          • CatCube says:

            I think you actually did a better job than me; in hindsight, I should have refreshed to see if anybody had posted before hitting post myself.

          • ryan8518 says:

            Also, this same factor of safety is accounting for uncertainty in the strength of the structural member.

            Sorry, but this line hit’s on one of my pet peeve’s at work (to my knowledge most aerospace work is in an AWB system, and I’m assuming this is handled the same in the civil world). Uncertainty in your loading should be handled by using your three sigma*(high) load predictions, uncertainty in your material strength is handled by your A-basis material allowable**, and your factor of safety is a measure of separation between the two bell curves. Factor of safety is intended to cover some elements of uncertainty (primarily the fact that no structure is ever built perfectly to the drawing, but that’s what tolerances are for to keep from getting out of hand and some quantification of risk that your analysis was inappropriate). In theory, it is controls on these uncertainties that allow you to adjust what factor of safety you use, the most salient example in my world being that any structure which undergoes a qualification test*** is allowed to use lower factors of safety (and hence be lighter).

            * Three sigma in this case is a statistical term that says you have a 99.7% chance of not exceeding the load during your expected operating life.
            **A-basis material properties are a different form of statistical confidence , which is defined as the value for which 99% of specimens of a material will meet or exceed the property value with a 95% confidence assigned to that statement (this defines the # of specimens you have to test to arrive at that basis for a new material, normally what you want already is tabulated in the Metallic Materials Properties Development and Standardization (MMPDS))
            ***There are two main types of structural loads testing you can do. A proof test, usually done to some percent over the expected load on the structure but that won’t damage the thing you are testing, is a “workmanship” check, which shows that something was built correctly (e.g. all the bolts were put in, the welds are good, the beams are all straight enough) and if you are doing it is done on every unit built for use. A qualification test is done at a higher percentage over the expected load than a proof test, usually to the point that the thing you are testing can’t be used anymore (though most aren’t to failure, the dramatic videos of Boeing qualification testing a new wing design are the exception, not the rule due to the fact that lots of metal flying at the test operator is scary). The qualification test shows that the basic design is correct and your strength engineer actually knew what he was talking about (or at least was conservative in his guesses).

        • CatCube says:

          Because the resistance factor is different for different materials and limit states. The 0.9 example that I gave is the most commonly used, but it’s far from the only one. A concrete column, for example, has a resistance factor of 0.65, and as the load on a concrete member transitions from compression to bending, the resistance factor will vary linearly from 0.65 to 0.9. In steel, designing the connections between pieces of steel uses a variety of resistance factors depending on exactly what kind of connection and geometry you’re using, but 0.75 is probably the most common.

          These varying factors have two roots: capturing the fact that material properties and geometry have some variation, and the consequences of particular modes of failure. The first one is pretty straightforward, but the second requires a full-post explanation, which I’ll cover in when discussing individual materials. As a one-sentence summary, though, failures that are either sudden or that are likely to result in a major collapse get smaller resistance factors. You can’t simply scale the load factors by a single constant and still capture everything the resistance factor is intended to account for.

          I didn’t cover it for length, but there was some balancing of the load and resistance factors when the final version of the code was published so that you’d get identical designs for the most typical limit states when the ratio of live load to dead load is three. That is, for these common failure modes, the original ASD combination had a factor of safety of 1.67. The resistance factor for these is 0.9. If you plug L=3D into the “1.2D+1.6L=ɸR” and “D+L=R/Ω”, where the resistance factor ɸ=0.9, the factor of safety Ω=1.67, and the resistance (capacity) is R, you can see that this will shake out as R being equal across both.

          This does mean that rather than chasing a selected reliability, they tuned the equations to give the same reliability as the existing code in its most common and basic equations; the other less common limit states were then altered somewhat so they are much closer in reliability (assuming the constant L/D ratio of 3 of course; for more than 3, LRFD is more conservative, and for less than 3 ASD is more conservative)

      • ryan8518 says:

        How do you handle cyclic loading, and by corollary fatigue & fracture analysis? I’m guessing (partially from memory) that for steels you force the design loads to stay below the endurance limit, but I don’t know how it works for concrete and I know that aluminum don’t have one (though I don’t know how much you work with them). While I’ve always heard about the classic example of bridge inspectors monitoring a crack, I don’t know what the theoretical basis they use to calculate the remaining life (and hence determine inspection cycles & when it needs to be repaired). We use a program called NASGRO for our fracture analysis, but I was always under the impression that’s very much an aerospace tool. Fatigue we generally do with S-N curves.
        *Apologies to the general public if some of this needs further explaining, let me know if you want me to take a crack at a specific point, but I wasn’t planning to start a mini-series needed to run through the full explanation

        • CatCube says:

          It depends on what you’re building, and therefore the applicable code. I’ve been talking about the codes that apply to buildings, which for steel-framed buildings is AISC 360, published by the American Institute of Steel Construction. Bridges are handled by a different code, published by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), in an LRFD code written specifically for that purpose. (I don’t have a link to an open version of the AASHTO code) If you’re designing a steel gate, stoplogs, or bulkhead for a dam or a navigation lock, the agency will have its own standards. For the Corps of Engineers, that is Engineer Technical Letter 1110-2-584. The Bureau of Reclamation has some standards for steel stoplogs and bulkheads in their Design Standard 6, Chapter 6.

          As you might imagine, the load factors and load combinations from each of these standards are quite different (except for that one from Reclamation, which still has allowable stress standards–0.6×yield). ETL 1110-2-584 and Design Standard 6 relies heavily on AISC 360, though. The actual calculation of capacity for both of these is handled using AISC’s equations, and only the load and resistance factors and load combinations are played with to account for the very different environments. Of the four, AASHTO and AISC 360 are the “full featured” codes that don’t farm out their design equations.

          Each of these have different concerns. For buildings, fatigue is generally not a concern; wind simply doesn’t impose enough cycles. Seismic loadings impose a low number of cycles, but there have been collapses after a small number of load reversals due to fracture in welded joints that imposed higher restraints and stress concentrations, and while this is probably technically “fatigue” it’s not usually handled with an S-N curve, but by requiring that connections be detailed to eliminate this as a concern. So AISC 360, which concerns itself with buildings, has fatigue analysis in an appendix, nor does it have any particular load combinations to deal with it. ETL -584 will use this appendix for its requirements, though fatigue may be more of an issue in the hydraulic steel structures it deals with.

          The AASHTO bridge code, on the other hand, has an explicit load case for fatigue, because as you pointed out it really matters for bridges. There, they assume that the load factor is 0.75 for the design truck, since trucks lighter than the fully-laden design vehicle are way more common. It also has the fatigue considerations in the base code. However, the methodology is exactly the same as in AISC (or, maybe the other way around–I’m pretty sure AISC stole it from AASHTO). So if you’re curious you can look at that link to AISC 360, above, and Appendix 3 beginning on page 16.1-196 (PDF page 254).

          I’m not familiar with the program you referenced, but I’m guessing that you’ll use some sort of finite element analysis to determine the magnitude of a stress cycle at a stress concentration, then compare it to the base material’s S-N curve for the expected number of cycles. In structural engineering, we generally will do it the other way around: we calculate the stress in the base material through simple mechanics, then assign the geometry being considered to a stress category based on its characteristics.

          An example is probably in order. Consider a wide-flange beam with no attachments, undergoing a cyclic moment loading of n cycles. We calculate the stress at the outside fiber using your standard σ=M/S. This is plain base metal away from any welding, which is going to be 1.1 on the the first line of the table beginning on 16.1-202 (note that the table is printed on facing pages, so the next page–203–is a continuation of this line showing an illustration of what is meant). This shows that this is Stress Category A, Cf=25, and FTH=24 ksi; the FTH is the threshold stress, below which you don’t need to consider fatigue. Let’s assume that you’re above that, so you take Cf and trundle back up to Equation A-3-1, which is Fsr=1000(Cf/n)^0.333, or a bog-standard fatigue equation. If you run that out and discover that the stress range is less than Fsr, OK.

          Now, consider if you had to hang something from the bottom of this W-section, so you fillet weld a hanger to the flange. Where this joins will obviously cause a stress concentration; however, we don’t figure out what that is explicitly. We adjust the S-N curve. This detail can be found on page -218, under 7.2–look at page 219 for a picture. I didn’t specify a radius, so let’s assume it’s a sharp corner (R<2") According to the table, this is a Stress Category E detail, with Cf=1.1 and a threshold stress of 4.5 ksi. You'll calculate using the same Eqn A-3-1 as above, but you'll compare to the same stress range as in the first example. That is, instead of figuring out what the stress at the corners of that hanger will be and comparing it to the material's base curve, we just use the stress on the gross area and pull the S-N curve down from the base curve.

          We do this because it rarely pays in our business to do a detailed analysis of each connection to the level that truly determining the stress concentration would require. We’re building one-off structures, so there is no cost savings from amortization, nor do we have a weight penalty for flight to concern ourselves with. A more detailed analysis might easily cost more in the design engineer’s time than any conceivable savings in material.

          For fracture analysis, I know that a fit-for-service evaluation (figure out the critical flaw, compare to the actual flaw) is typical in our office. That one I still need adult supervision on, though, so I don't have much detail to talk about there.

        • bean says:

          Apologies to the general public if some of this needs further explaining, let me know if you want me to take a crack at a specific point, but I wasn’t planning to start a mini-series needed to run through the full explanation

          That’s too bad, because that sounds like a really interesting series. I had a lot of exposure to the outcomes of aerospace fatigue analysis in my last job, but nobody ever really explained how it was done, and my mental model is still a couple of engineers around a cauldron, chanting and throwing in tables.

          • ryan8518 says:

            Hrhmmm…. Guess it feels a little intuitively off to me that wind isn’t a cyclic loading, though that may be because the closest I’ve come to working w/ structures code was AISC 7.10 to come up w/ wind loads for a test tank we were building outside, and like a lot of tanks happened to have a resonance between the first bending mode & a portion of the required wind speed (the sweet spot was somewhere around 70 mph when empty, and I could get around the full cases by restricting when they could run their tests), and so vortex shedding meant you built up load cycles real quick. I do have some vague memory of that being atypical for buildings, since if your aren’t resonating (or keep your resonances at low wind speeds) then the cycle count only comes from full wind reversals, which I guess would be kinda rare (at least compared to something resonating at a few hertz).

            Bean, I’m not sure I could really help all that much w/ aircraft specific stuff, that tends to be driven by high cycle fatigue problems and in my world we rarely crack 10,000 cycles (which does mean we do get into the the rather weirder low cycle fatigue, which is generally strain rather than stress based). I’m also still pretty new to the field, only about three years out of school, so I’m still trying to get my feet wet in a lot of this, but if you replace cauldrons with white boards you aren’t terribly far off. There’s probably only a couple of people in the company who really get the theory completely, the rest of us are probably better described as just dangerous enough to know how to use the tools.

            As an interesting anecdote, this is something of a big deal in our organization right now because we’re trying to introduce additively manufactured parts into our design options, but appropriately either developing new fatigue test data or finding a way to anchor the data for traditionally manufactured materials is a major stumbling block, and that core group with understanding were all pulled to other projects when this effort was kicked off and most of the general cadre of engineers don’t know enough to know what questions they need to ask (probably the most common/dangerous failure mode I’ve seen in most projects). At least when you start talking the aerospace grade stuff, a steel is not a steel is not a steel, every product form (plate, bar stock, wire, etc.) has it’s own custom set of material properties, which can be further tailored by various heat treatment and other metallurgical properties, and taking assumptions from one way of building a part to a different without redeveloping those properties requires carrying some very large fudge factors, which is incredibly punishing in weight optimized designs

          • CatCube says:


            That’s an unusual case; vortex shedding is unusual in building structures, and generally design features like a strake will be added to prevent the formation of stable vortices.

            It’s mostly a concern in tall, thinner structures like the tanks you mention or the chimney in the picture. For something like that, it seems to me you’re looking on a forcing frequency of somewhere around 1 second? Maybe less?

            I’ve only ever dealt with vibrations in water for analyzing trashrack bars, but let me think about this quickly. Your 70 mph wind is about 100 ft/s. The Strouhal number for a square bar in flowing water is round about 0.25. (I can’t say for sure if air is going to behave wildly differently, so let me know if that’s way off.) For a building of moderate size–let’s say it’s the size of a city block in my city, about 180 feet square–you’re going to have a forcing function period of about Tf=D/VS=180’/(100 ft/s*0.25)=7.2 s.

            Let’s consider the fundamental period of the building. I didn’t give a height, but let’s say it’s 10 or 12 stories. Call it 12. The fundamental period of the building is going to be about 0.1×number of stories (If you still have access to ASCE 7-10, that’s Eqn 12.8-8), or 1.2 seconds. I’m not super worried about a frequency ratio of 6. Edit: I forgot that you have to flip it over when you use period instead of frequency; 1/6 is still not concerning.

            Now, consider the forcing function on something a lot thinner like a tank. I’m assuming you’re talking about a water tower tank, because I can’t imagine much concern about a low squat structure like a tank from a fuel farm. If it’s 40 feet in diameter, Tf=40’/(100 ft/s*0.25)=1.6 seconds. I don’t have an easy equation at hand for the fundamental period of a structure like that (you’re supposed to use “rational methods”–i.e., basic mechanics), and I don’t feel like doing any extensive research tonight, but I could believe anything between 0.5 and 2 seconds offhand. Yeah, vortex shedding might be a problem.

            You also have to consider the damping in the system. The “typical” value in use is ξ=10% for buildings, so for the building the dynamic magnification factor is going to be about 5. For the tower, it could very well be lower than that, depending on detailing, since if you’re sitting on 4 legs acting as simple columns the connections will have less ability to move to dissipate energy. If you’re at 5% damping, now you’re looking at a magnification of 10. Couple that with the fact that you’re going to have larger static deflection due to less structure resisting the wind load, and a frequency ratio much closer to unity? Even if the cycles aren’t high enough for fatigue to be a problem, collapse due to simple overstress is possible, plus P-Δ might start to matter a lot.

          • ryan8518 says:

            Pretty much nailed it on the problem on the head, we ended up having to go with some fairly thick walls to keep the cylinder for buckling and the other problems ended up going away (sorta, the tank was aluminum for reasons, and that means there isn’t really an endurance limit but the intended service life was short enough and the fact that we were building it on our own authority on army land meant that we could comfortable enough to sign off on the result). We looked at strakes, tuned mass dampers, and a strong back design with a wind damper though and they are surprisingly expensive to do well. Thinking about it a little more, I seem to remember coming to the conclusion that the math suggested as you say, and these conditions only apply to relatively thin walled structures in a uniform wind field (and that very tall buildings started to get back into the same problem but were tall enough that they could play games with non-uniform wind profiles over the height of the building.

            My basic takeaway from the whole project was to be very glad I get to stick to my clean FEA and first principles hand calcs and get to leave the messy world of concrete and steel framing to contractors most of the time.

      • WashedOut says:

        Great stuff CC.

        As far as the additional cost for a building goes, it’s often apparently pretty hard to get owners to pony up for something like this voluntarily. I think we have a geotechnical engineer running around (@WashedOut?), but they often have a hell of a time getting owners to pay for foundation investigations, as they’re willing to throw the dice and hope they’re not going to discover something terrible when foundation excavation starts…

        Yes. The relevant adage here is “You pay for a geotechnical investigation, whether you undertake one or not.”

        The careful elaboration of the separate ‘Factor of Safety’ vs. LRFD frameworks is appreciated, and is almost as salient in geotechnical design as it is for structural. FoS has a ‘tried and true’ ring to it that older asset managers like to hear, because it simply relates the resisting and destabilising forces in a neat ratio. Whereas presenting a Probability of Failure is rather intangible and hard to action for everyone except the insurer. Should you accept the design of a bridge with a PoF of 10^-5 ? What does ‘failure’ look like in that scenario? Will it happen suddenly or gradually? Is that PoF conditional on it not being detected early with regular monitoring? etc etc.

        When working with LRFD and probabilistic design frameworks, often what we are targeting is an acceptable Reliability Index (RI), or ‘beta’. This RI is the ratio of the mean(Z) to the, where Z is a performance function for the system (gory detail alert in link).

        Where the rubber hits the road here is that probabilistic analyses require data. For a given site this data will be spatially and temporally variable, and most engineers are not willing or able (due to budgets) to devote significant time and resources to characterizing this, and engineering firms typically don’t have data scientists on their books. The result is where we’re at now: lots of very over-engineered sites, a few disasters a year, and a status-quo of statistical ignorance among most engineers and asset owners.

        • CatCube says:

          FoS has a ‘tried and true’ ring to it that older asset managers like to hear, because it simply relates the resisting and destabilising forces in a neat ratio. Whereas presenting a Probability of Failure is rather intangible and hard to action for everyone except the insurer. Should you accept the design of a bridge with a PoF of 10^-5 ?

          It’s funny–I was just reading over a bridge design textbook during drafting of my post, and it talked about how a factor of safety is a meaningless measure compared to a reliability:

          If the safety factor is higher, the number of failures in lower. However, if the safety factor is increased by a certain amount, it is not known by how much this increases the probability of survival. Also, it is more meaningful to decision makers to say, “This bridge has a nominal probability of 1 in 10,000 of failing in 75 years of service,” than to say, “This bridge has a safety factor of 2.3.”

          I know that in our asset management for many of our structures, they’re crying out for probabilities of failure, since that’s much more amenable to economic decisionmaking for replacement or rehab. They really love working with mechanical systems like motors, because there’s tables of stuff and historical information from manufacturers that allow you to multiply a bunch of numbers together and do a cost-benefit ratio.

          • John Schilling says:

            I know that in our asset management for many of our structures, they’re crying out for probabilities of failure,

            Speaking from the aerospace side, we’d much rather use probabilities of failure than factors of safety. And some of us pretend that we do. But I think almost all of us, even the ones doing the pretending, understand that our probability-of-failure numbers are 99.44% fantasy, whereas factors of safety can often be calculated or measured with real precision.

            Probability of failure requires a statistically significant sample of failures under consistently similar operating conditions. Meanwhile, there’s the other side of the industry that tries to respond to every failure by investigating root cause, implementing corrective action, and never repeating the operating conditions that lead to failure. And at the intersection, yes indeed, are the people who argue probabilities-of-failure based on zero observed failures because the design was changed after the last failure so none of the previous failures count.

          • CatCube says:

            @John Schilling

            I don’t know if this is as much of a problem in aerospace, but part of the problem we face is that the imposed loadings are also ill-defined.

            I believe that you guys have a better degree of control over what your stuff sees. You have the ability to say, “Don’t fly if you have these wind conditions,” and “Here is the maximum permitted flight envelope to avoid developing large G-forces,” for example, bounding what the maximum imposed forces on a structural member will be, and then design and test to those conditions.

            The major design forces for structures are wind and seismic, and the best answer for either to the question, “What will the biggest earthquake this structure will see?” is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

            Now, we do ultimately have to actually pick something for design, but that becomes an implicit exercise in reliability. Historical records are not long enough to directly calculate the odds of an event of interest–50 to 100 years is typical for wind, and for seismic the earliest really good record we have for a strong earthquake is the El Centro event in 1940. A 100-year event, or more properly, and event with a probability of exceedance of 1% per year, is nowhere near sufficient for life-safety considerations, as that would have a 39% chance of occurring during a 50-year design life! So you have to use some sort of extreme-value analysis to extend the period of record to a more reasonable event; for example, a basic Risk Category II building (regular building, not an outbuilding that’s not normally occupied or a hospital that must survive a major disaster) is designed for an event with a probability of exceedance of 0.143% in any given year (700-year event), which works out to a 7% probability of exceedance in a 50-year design life.

            However, all of those values are more or less chosen out of thin air. A 50-year design life seems reasonable, but a lot of houses and buildings do end up lasting longer–maybe it should be 75? Why not 60? Or 45? Also, is that 7% OK? Why not 5% or 8%? (NB: 7% is an artifact of the return period being a round 700-year event–0.143%). Indeed, for Risk Category III/IV buildings (hospitals, fire stations, etc.) they design for the 1700-year event (0.0588%), which has only a 3% chance of occurring in 50 years, and a Risk Category I building (the outbuilding) is a 300-year design basis event, or a 15% chance of occurring in 50 years.

            This also skips over the fact that we are determining a design basis load, not a rated load. Almost no full-scale testing of an assembly will ever occur, only testing of individual parts in isolation. It’s also acceptable for severe damage to occur under these events, as well, and for seismic even rendering the structure uninhabitable, so long as it doesn’t collapse.

            You’re correct that all of this is to a large extent aspirational. But it’s at least aspirational out in the open. If you choose a wind event, then scab on a scalar FS of 3, what does that mean for safety? Is that too much or not enough? Again, it’s ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ for everybody who’s not an expert in extreme-value theory. Separating the factors out at least breaks the problem up into discrete units we can argue about individually. If we tighten up our construction and material fabrication standards, we can start talking about resistance factors. If we think that higher or lower probability events are more appropriate, we can do that and discuss either the design basis event or load factors. Otherwise, any changes will require relitigating the single FS every time.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t know if this is as much of a problem in aerospace, but part of the problem we face is that the imposed loadings are also ill-defined.

            Yes, and hence the bit about factors of safety being calculated with extreme precision.

            Also, we get to build (hopefully) many copies of the same design for the same environment, one of which will be a structural test article that can be tested to destruction.