Open Thread 112.75

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

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1,118 Responses to Open Thread 112.75

  1. Eponymous says:

    Apropos of nothing:

    What’s my internet bubble if I see lots of people talking about something called “the NPC meme” and offering opinions about it, but don’t see any actual instances of the purported meme? Anyone in a similar situation?

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I wouldn’t say I’ve seen lots of people talking about it, but mention of the NPC meme has shown up on my Twitter feed, even though the meme itself hasn’t (yet). I don’t find this too uncommon, though. I try not to follow too many people who are down in the trenches, so to speak, of the culture war, so I will often see vague references to “that article”, or something like that, long before I see the actual article itself.

    • Thegnskald says:



      Really? This is just “sheep/sheeple”, recycled for a new generation. And people are… upset by this? Or pretending to be upset over this?

      …did people get upset over being compared to sheep? Isn’t the modern association with the use of those words relate to their use by fringe nutjobs? Was it ever taken seriously? Did people complain that it was “dehumanizing” to be compared to farm animals?

      Christ. Okay, anybody who can’t think for themselves enough to realize this is yesteryear’s recycled insult deserves the title.

  2. johan_larson says:

    US fertility rates are down, and people can’t agree who’s to blame.

    I blame video games and fast food. Pretend life is just easier and more convenient than real life.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In 2016, the teen birthrate hit at an all-time low after peaking in 1991.

      So for years, governments at various levels have been beating the drum against teen pregnancy, and now that apparently something has worked, they’re upset about it?

      I recommend re-introduction of lead to gasoline. The resulting reduction of impulse control should lead to more teen pregnancy and thus more babies. Along the same lines, quiet encouragement of youthful smoking (or perhaps vaping with nicotine) should have a similar effect. Reduce the drinking age. Along with all this, messages of delaying career rather than reproduction; young couples with babies who need to be supported by his or her parents while they get on their feet should not be subject to shame.

      • toastengineer says:

        That’s awfully unhelpful.

        We want lots of people having children when they’re ready and want to, and few people having children by accident when they have no way to support them.

        • The Nybbler says:

          We want lots of people having children when they’re ready and want to, and few people having children by accident when they have no way to support them.

          Not, as far as I can tell, an actual option, unless you can arrange for people to be ready to have children fairly young. Not too long ago, this worked via gender roles, with women starting having children in their early 20s and men in their late 20s, but this only brought us to replacement, so it’s only a partial solution (and probably isn’t gong to fly). Thing is, having babies is never the “responsible” thing for most people. It’s always going to hurt financially; it’s a heavy obligation both financially and otherwise for at least the next 18 (and probably longer) years. So the argument to delay until you’re just that much more ready is always strong, and it’s easy to run out of time. On the other hand, as I recall, teenaged girls often get absolutely baby-crazy and really, really, really want a child, and if they’re not “responsible” they’ll find some equally irresponsible man and get pregnant.

          While lead is probably a bad idea (because lead exposure has other negative side effects, as does lack of impulse control), I’m serious about a de-emphasis on responsibility being helpful. It seems less hard than the alternative of making having babies be the responsible thing (which works for religious communities… but religion hasn’t been doing so well either).

          (note I’m neither in the natalist nor the anti-natalist camp, so all this is “assuming natalism”)

          • johan_larson says:

            On the other hand, as I recall, teenaged girls often get absolutely baby-crazy and really, really, really want a child,…

            I don’t think I’ve seen this even once.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Was definitely a thing when I was in high school… but that’s when we had the lead and the smoking and the booze (OK, it wasn’t legal, but no one cared), around the peak of teenage pregnancy, so maybe one or more of those thing is actually necessary (probably the lead, just because it’s most inconvenient).

        • Jaskologist says:

          We want lots of people having children when they’re ready and want to

          Some of us think “we want lots of people having children” should be the factor driving when they “want to,” not the other way around.

          Biology is fixed, preferences are mutable.

      • Plumber says:

        I can’t help noticing that in the U.S. the teen birthrate and the murder rate both peaked around the same time.

        Leaded gasoline?

    • LesHapablap says:

      Parenting practices have completely changed in the last 30 years, resulting in children that never mature into independent adults, struggle to take risks, and are saddled with crippling anxiety and depression. It is no wonder that teen pregnancy and marriage rates have fallen

      • albatross11 says:

        I think you are right about the change in parenting practices, but to the extent those changes decreased the rate of {teen pregnancy, drug use, early sexual experimentation}, the outcome was exactly what the parents were hoping for. Maybe there are bad side effects of raising your kids in such a way that they don’t get mixed up in a bunch of potentially-life-wrecking stuff at 17, but the direct effects are pretty positive.

        • Randy M says:

          But are we now admitting an area where parental influences manifest?

          • LesHapablap says:

            The changes in parenting have been so universal, and so dramatic, that it would be hard to imagine that they aren’t having an effect. And there seem to be lots of changes going on with teenagers and young adults that can be explained by it.

            I’d be very interested in reviewing some studies that don’t find effects of parenting and see if they are relevant to this idea here.

        • John Schilling says:

          but the direct effects are pretty positive.

          Does that include the dependency, the anxiety, and the depression? Because I think to a large extent we have just replaced failure modes that look bad on TV, with ones whose only visible manifestation is fewer smiles.

          Also, “life-wrecking” is perhaps not the best term for an act defined by the creation of life. Has anyone looked into the overall life satisfaction of former teen parents vs non-parents?

          • albatross11 says:

            Those would be the bad side effects.

          • John Schilling says:

            Then what are the direct effects, other than less human life being created?

          • albatross11 says:

            Parents are overprotective and discourage risk-taking because they don’t want the visible disasters–their kid getting pregnant at 16, or acquiring a drug habit, or getting in serious legal trouble, or dying in a drunk-driving accident. There are bad side effects to that, and at some level of overprotectiveness, they outweigh the decrease in visible disasters. But it’s not like there’s an obvious right level of protectiveness/helicoptering and somehow parents are ignoring that and screwing their kids up out of spite or indifference.

            Our society is wrapped around the axle about kids and responsibility and choice and such, and that probably makes it easier for parents to make a bad tradeoff between protectiveness and making sure their kids grow up and are ready to live independent lives eventually. But the bad outcomes are genuinely bad. Getting pregnant at 16 is a bad outcome, and it’s not crazy to try to keep your kid from having it happen.

          • LesHapablap says:


            The reason for the over-protectiveness is that there is a natural bias of humans to over-estimate the risk of traumatic, awful events that are easy to visualize.

            For example, the actual risk of a stranger abducting a child is too small to take ANY protective action against. The correct level of protectiveness is zero! There are ~200 abductions by strangers each year in the US, and 90% are returned safe and sound. That is 20 kids kidnapped and harmed out of 70 million.

            source: credit donkey

            My friend’s wife told me about a time that she went to get gas with her kids in the car. Her credit card wouldn’t work at the pump, and rather than walk into the store to pay she drove up to the spot next to the store, honked the horn until the attendant came out and took her credit card to charge it in the store for her. Because she was too scared of her kids being abducted to walk 30 feet away from them for two minutes. That is an absolutely insane level of irrational fear, and it is absolutely common in the US now, and totally unheard of 30 years ago.

        • LesHapablap says:

          The society wide effort to stop ‘early sexual experimentation’ in the US (it doesn’t happen nearly as much in most other countries), I suspect, is something that in 100 years will seem absolutely barbaric. Like foot-binding.

          Less important than the actual attempt to stop teens having sex though, is the effort to stop kids of all ages from developing independence and maturity. That’s the real ‘foot-binding’ of today’s world, and the effects include lower teen pregnancy among other things.

      • mtl1882 says:

        This isn’t directly related, but Kids These Days by Malcolm Harris brings up a lot of points about how we’ve been raised to monitor risks at all times, which did help us avoid typical teenage screw ups but of course makes you nervous and depressed in the long run. IMO, it’s a great book, whether you agree with his politics or not. And a scary one. As someone born the same year as him (I think), it rang way too true.

        A review was quoted here recently:

    • Aapje says:

      I blame video games and fast food. Pretend life is just easier and more convenient than real life.

      It’s rather obvious that women wanting a (mini-)career is a major reason, especially for well-educated women. It causes both women to delay having children and to desire fewer children, so they can return to working.

      In general, fertility rates seem to track women’s education levels and how much they work, not access to fast food or video games.

  3. Looking at “upcoming meetups” it says there are none scheduled. Looking at “Map of local meetup groups” it shows at least two for tomorrow.

    And it doesn’t show mine for November 3rd, although I put it in several days ago. I’ve just put it in again.

    It now shows on Map of local meetup groups,” but it still says no meetups are scheduled.

  4. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Remember that illusion I posted about?

    I’ve got a post with a non-facebook link and assorted accounts of how it looks. People’s reactions to the illusion are so varied I’m not sure it would be useful in the survey.

    • Levantine says:

      In my own experience, some illusions look powerful to me on my desk computer, while failing to even appear when I try to view them on my laptop.

  5. I have a question for anyone here who knows more about current international law than I do:

    What is the legal status of Kashoggi’s killers assuming, as now seems very likely, that he was murdered by Saudis in the Saudi consulate? In particular, who is entitled to try them?

    My guess is the Turks–that if you commit a crime on their territory it comes under their law, even if both criminal and victim are citizens of another country. On the other hand, my impression is that, in practice, when someone connected with an embassy does something very bad the usual response is not to arrest him but to demand that he be recalled. And the Saudis seem to talking as if they believe that the case should be tried in their courts.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      Diplomatic immunity. It’s not just for parking illegally in Manhattan.

      • Brad says:

        There’s a process for credentialing new members of a diplomatic staff and it has to be done before the fact for immunity to apply. I don’t know if that process was followed for all the 15 members of the murder gang before entry to Turkey but I doubt it.

      • Salem says:

        They don’t have diplomatic immunity, those 15 were never accredited with Turkey as diplomats. And the consulate is not Saudi territory, even though certain treaties exist to prevent the host country barging in too much. This was an ordinary crime on Turkish soil committed by foreigners, of the sort the Turkish courts deal with every day.

        The Saudi’s however, are in breach of Article 41 of the Vienna Convention.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          Thanks for that, the one diplomat I knew led me to believe that you just show up at the port of entry with a diplomatic passport and you are good to go.

          • Salem says:

            Turkey and KSA may have some special arrangements, but the general standard is the Vienna Convention, whose article 10 requires that the host country’s MoFA is notified of all diplomatic agents.

    • Salem says:

      They can be tried in the courts of any country whose laws they have broken. That is certainly Turkey, very likely Saudi, and maybe third-party countries too. And being tried in one jurisdiction does not necessarily prevent thrm being tried in another – the US, for example thinks this is just fine, under the “separate sovereigns” exemption to the double jeopardy principle – which, coincidentally, is being reexamined in the current Supreme Court term.

      But of course in practice it’s very hard to try someone without custody, and it’s hard to believe KSA will extradite.

    • Lambert says:

      On the practical side, are the Saudi assassins either already outside Turkey or otherwise capable of leaving Turkey?
      Can the Turkish police ‘besiege’ the embassy?

      • Brad says:

        They left the same day.

      • Presumably the Turks could put out a request to other countries to arrest the suspects if they pass through their customs. That would be a serious inconvenience to the suspects, but nothing more than that.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think Dubai did this to Israel, after some Israeli assassins killed a Palestinian in Dubai in 2010. They put out an Interpol warrant on everyone they could find who was involved, including photos and fingerprints. Which presumably permanently burned all those agents–it’s not like you’re going to be very effective when the whole world knows you’re a Mossad assassin.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s not like you’re going to be very effective when the whole world knows you’re a Mossad assassin

            And yet MI6 never had any problem with their top assassin being known by name and never bothering with a pseudonym…

          • Evan Þ says:

            @John Schilling, unless you go by the fan theories that “James Bond” is a pseudonym…

          • Aapje says:

            His real name was Ian Fleming.

          • John Schilling says:

            unless you go by the fan theories that “James Bond” is a pseudonym…

            That just makes it worse. Here you are with some perfectly good anonymous secret agent, and you go put a big red “This man is a Spy and an Assassin” sticker on their passport.

          • albatross11 says:

            Unfortunately, budget cuts at MI6 mean that they can’t afford new pseudonyms, but must recycle the ones they have.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s not budget cuts, is that new “Green Espionage” paradigm where everything that can be recycled, must be recycled.

            Q Branch is still working on the plug-in hybrid version of the Walther PPK.

  6. Well... says:

    For SSCers with strong legal knowledge/background: what’s going to happen in high-profile investigations (of the type similar to Kavanaugh’s, etc.) in the future, when the people being investigated have been posting all kinds of objectionable or even incriminating things on the internet since they were young?

    Have any noteworthy investigations like this already taken place?

    Will the fact that many otherwise perfectly decent people have posted horrible things online become important? Or just as notably, will it become irrelevant?

    • fortaleza84 says:

      I don’t think it’s a legal question since Americans have a legal right to post racist rants online and the president and the senate have the right to give such postings whatever weight they want in terms of high level appointments.

      So it’s more of a cultural question IMO

    • Basil Elton says:

      Not from a legal background, but my wild guess from experience in a different country with remotely similar situation – it won’t be either.

      In Russia in the last few years they declared a bunch of laws incriminating various things one can say or post online. Contrary to the popular in the US belief, criticizing Putin or his government is not on the list – but it doesn’t need to be, that’s the whole point. The list is so long, the definitions are so fuzzy, that good chances are if you’re active online at all, you have some post somewhere in time, or some funny picture in your albums, or some sharp comment, or anything that can get you in jail. Technically it means that huge percentage of the population can be incriminated. Practically, of course, it doesn’t happen – instead it is used only when someone needs to be silenced, or rather punished (or if some detective lacks a closed case or two for a promotion, but that’s just a side effect).

      So it’s not quite irrelevant, but it becomes really important only if you conflict with someone affiliated with government in some way. My guess is that something distantly similar – correcting for all the obvious differences – might happen here. Those horrible things will not be relevant until you’re in the way of someone capable of starting such kind of investigations.

      Once again, it’s just my wild guess, and not based on any kind of legal knowledge, only a generalization from one example.

    • Brad says:

      Kavanaugh didn’t go through a legal process, so I don’t see how that’s a good example. But in terms of actual trials the federal rules of evidence are illustrative:

      Rule 401:

      Evidence is relevant if:

      (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and

      (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.

      Rule 403:

      The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.

      See also rule 404 (character evidence) which I won’t quote because it’s rather lengthy.

  7. Mark V Anderson says:

    I would love to hear discussion of the Brazilian political situation. I know there are Brazilians that read and sometimes comment on SSC. And plenty of others with opinions. How much is Bolsonaro really like Trump? Is he really in favor of the military taking over, or has that been over-played by US media? What effect on Brazil (and South America) if Bolsonara wins? And the same question if his opponent wins.

  8. An interface suggestion:

    When I start reading a comment thread, there is a >> symbol, white on blue, at the top left corner of the page–clicking on it lets me go to other comment threads, as well as other places. As I scroll down it vanishes up. When I get to the bottom of the thread and want to read a different thread I have to scroll back up to the top to see it.

    Is there any reason why the >> symbol shouldn’t move down as I scroll down, so that I can always access it?

    • dark orchid says:

      I had to search a while for what you mean – the button to expand the left sidebar, right? (If I have SSC open in widescreen mode, I don’t get the button, the sidebar is just always open.)

      With modern browsers, positioning such an element “absolutely” on the page is possible – the black “logged in” wordpress bar does that – but the function of the button at the moment is simply to expand the sidebar, so you’d still have to scroll back up to actually see the links. Making the button “expand sidebar and scroll to the top of the page” would theoretically be possible, but not necessarily good for usability.

      You can’t just have the sidebar always appear with the links flush with the top of the screen, as if the sidebar is longer than your window is tall then you need some way to scroll the sidebar too.

    • cassander says:

      ooh, if we’re making these, could we get it so that when you hit “reply”, the leave reply box shows up at the bottom of the list of replies to that comment, not the top like this? it would massively improve the ability to respond to long threads.

  9. Brad says:


    Facebook has sufficient data to prevent the creation of fake or multiple accounts and the technology to use this data to do so is well within their reach given reasonable engineering resources. Therefore that they don’t is evidence that don’t especially want to.

    Agree or disagree?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Premise is false.

    • Dan L says:

      Partial agreement. Judging the legitimacy of an account is fundamentally a hard thing to automate, but Facebook could be catching and eliminating a lot more than they currently are. (Zero? Not sure.) They don’t bother, because from their perspective it’s a negative-value proposition.

      • Brad says:

        Judging the legitimacy of an account is fundamentally a hard thing to automate,

        In a vacuum, yes. But given that you already have the social network graph for the entire country*, to the point where you can create shadow accounts for almost all the relatively few people that aren’t already signed up, it’s a lot easier a task. If someone purporting to be American creates a new account and there isn’t a matching shadow account, the prior should be already be high that its a fake account.

        It’s not a guarantee, sure, maybe they are ex-Amish or ultra-orthodox or something, but what I’m saying is that it isn’t as if Facebook only has to look the four square corners of the newly created profile.

        *granted this is making the problem somewhat easier than my original post, a fake account in China is going to be harder to catch than one in the US or Canada.

        • Lambert says:

          Cat and mouse. The fake account makers will just get smarter.
          And false positives will annoy an awful lot of people. (and the base rate means that there’s going to be a lot of false positives)

          • Brad says:

            That seems rather reductive and defeatist. Surely they aren’t going to entirely eliminate the problem, but I don’t agree that it’s the case they can’t do anything about it. Compare spam now to the turn of the century and it’s night and day.

            Nor do I agree that there would be a whole lot of false positives, at least for the US. Again compare spam, yes there are some false positives, but no one I know wants to have unfiltered email. Further, the people that get most annoyed by the anti-spam measures–people that want to run their own MTAs–are bad customers.

  10. CatCube says:

    Is anybody else unreasonably annoyed by websites that give you when videos, tweets, posts, etc. were posted as “[XX time] ago?” For example, I opened a video that was posted last week Wednesday (the date was on the front page of the website), but the video page said it was posted “1 week ago” with no other date info that I could see.

    It’s one thing to give the “time ago” in conjunction with a date, but it’s aggravating to get it by itself.

    • Nick says:

      Sometimes you can see an actual timestamp by hovering over it (stackexchange does it, if I remember correctly). But yeah, it’s really annoying when you can’t.

  11. johan_larson says:

    Today I opened a frozen entree that’s supposed to contain meatballs, noodles and sauce, but only contained noodles and sauce. I hope fate isn’t sending me a message.

  12. johan_larson says:

    Let’s suppose you are on the US No Fly List, but you need to travel from the US to Europe. What’s your best option?

    You can’t take a bus to Mexico City and then fly to London, because that flight passes over US airspace, and AFAIK the No Fly List is enforced even for flights that don’t touch down at US airports.

    You might be able to take a bus or train to Toronto and then fly to London; that flight gets real close to US airspace, but doesn’t actually cross it. I don’t get a clear sense from online articles whether Canadian airlines enforce the US No Fly List for flights that don’t cross US airspace.

    • Protagoras says:

      It’s apparently still possible to go by boat. A tiny number of cruise ships still do the crossing, and the cheapest options don’t look absurd, though they’re a lot higher than flying. And cargo ships sometimes take passengers, and in this modern era you can use the web to find such opportunities; still more expensive than flying, but cheaper than the cruise ships. If you go by cargo ship, you apparently may even be able to have them include a vehicle as part of the cargo, though I expect you’d have to be planning a very, very long trip before this would be cheaper than renting once you get there.

    • John Schilling says:

      Take bus to Warrensburg, Missouri, then hitchhike to Whiteman Air Force Base. Steal B-2 stealth bomber. Fly non-stop to London. Sell B-2 on Ebay.

      If you have neglected to learn how to fly complex multiengine aircraft, you’re going to have to fall back on Plan B: form a local terrorist group, conduct enough high-profile attacks to start attracting national membership, destroy United States Government, and ensure that the successor state does not maintain a no-fly list.

      You did say “best” option, not “easiest”.

      • johan_larson says:

        Stealing a B-2 and flying it to an interested buyer sounds like an excellent plot for a techno-thriller. Missouri to Beijing is approximately 10,000 km, which the B-2 can reach (just barely) on internal fuel. The great circle route goes north over the pole, crossing a lot of Canadian and Russian airspace. I guess the best time to go would be in the winter, during the period of 24-hour darkness in the north. Catching the aircraft under those conditions would be quite the challenge.

      • bean says:


        Although I do feel compelled to point out that there’s a very good chance you won’t be able to find one that’s operational…

    • ManyCookies says:

      If you’re trying to guarantee your eventual arrival, Protagoras has the right idea. If you need to get there quicker and the Canadian gambit doesn’t work, you could bus to Mexico City (or to a border city and fly to MC), fly south to Brazil and fly to Spain from there.

      The crux here is how much other countries and/or your border agents respect the spirit of the US No Fly list. Like if any of the three border agents wonder about your weird flight path, I’m not sure “I’m circling around my US flight ban” would fly (heh). At minimum they’d probably ask why you’re on the list, which might disqualify ya depending on what you actually did.

      All else fails you can get a fake/stolen passport or borrow a lookalike’s. Zero clue about the feasibility of either, though it clearly happens.

      • bean says:

        Like if any of the three border agents wonder about your weird flight path, I’m not sure “I’m circling around my US flight ban” would fly (heh). At minimum they’d probably ask why you’re on the list, which might disqualify ya depending on what you actually did.

        This is very easy to deal with. Spend a few hours reading frequent-flier blogs, then start talking about how you need a few extra EQMs for the next status level. Seriously, this isn’t remotely the weirdest flight path I’ve seen out of those people. I think that was the person who flew from LA to New York via Europe.

        All else fails you can get a fake/stolen passport or borrow a lookalike’s. Zero clue about the feasibility of either, though it clearly happens.

        Those are biometric these days, which means this basically doesn’t work.

        • John Schilling says:

          First-world passports and passport control are mostly biometric, but for the Mexico City – Barcelona leg I’d guess the Guatemalan passport you bought from some vendor in MacArthur Park / the dark side of TOR would do.

  13. RavenclawPrefect says:

    Admonymous (the site where you could create a profile and solicit anonymous feedback from people), which I believe saw a decent rate of usage in SSC-adjacent places, appears to have expired recently (at the time of posting this comment, attempting to access the website leads one to an error page saying “This domain registration expired on 10/07/2018”). It seems likely that whoever was previously maintaining the site has ceased doing so, but I quite liked the design and concept; does anyone know of suitable replacements for this sort of thing? One could always create a survey with Google Forms or something similar, but that’s a little less elegant.

  14. BBA says:

    Today in weird globalization news: The latest fashion trend in Asia is Jesse Jackson ’88 campaign T-shirts. Nothing to do with supporting the Rainbow Coalition leader, they just like the look of his logo.

    • Matt M says:

      That “88” sure is prominent… Are we sure they are’t just dog-whistling for white supremacy?

      • albatross11 says:

        If Jesse Jackson was dog-whistling for white supremacist votes in his presidential run, I think it’s pretty clear to me why his candidacy wasn’t more successful….

  15. dark orchid says:

    Legal systems a bit different from ours: what if we let cities and regions compete for some of your taxes? Japan seems to do this.

  16. HeelBearCub says:

    I consistently have seen claims here that:
    a) Trump can’t do too much damage as he constrained by the norms of Washington, DC.
    b) Rhetoric, violence and intolerance on the left is a serious issue, chilling to freedoms, as it is accepted and even promulgated by the mainstream left in a way that it is not on the right.
    c) There exists a leftward bias of the standard media means that the overall media landscape protects liberals and punishes conservatives.

    Here is something to ponder the next time you see any of those points brought up.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Donald Trump Jr….Khashoggi was “tooling around Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden” in the 1980s…. Mark Levin…Khashoggi a “longtime friend” of terrorists.

      This is true. Khashoggi was Muslim Brotherhood. MB is Al Qaeda in suits.

      The media keeps hammering on Khashoggi but no one has explained to me why I’m supposed to care particularly about this. The Saudis do all kinds of awful things. Hell, most of the world does all kind of awful things. But Saudis (allegedly) kill a Saudi jihadi and this is supposed to effect US policy how?

      If you want something to criticize with the Saudis, talk about Yemen. Nobody talks about Yemen. We’re selling them $100 billion in weapons and they’re going to use that to starve children in Yemen.

      Also, why are we taking the word of Turkey uncritically? Erdrogan has locked up more journalists than any other nation in the world right now. I think Trump has the right idea about how to get to the truth.

      Just for the record, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs, threw him to the ground, and then punched him—for no reason.

      “No reason.” It’s still not okay to punch propagandist weasels, but he had a reason.

      Faith, Keith and I arrived early to set up for the interview in a room adjacent to another room where a volunteer BBQ was to take place. As the time for the interview neared, Gianforte came into the room. We exchanged pleasantries and made small talk about restaurants and Bozeman.

      During that conversation, another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte’s face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.

      At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”

      No, it’s not okay, but when you play stupid games, you tend to win stupid prizes. But it’s the left that’s still telling their people to go badger people in public. Some of them are, regrettably, going to get popped, but what am I supposed to think? If a white supremacist runs into the Black People Political Group for Black Stuff and starts screaming the N-word at them and one of the black guys lays him out, what am I supposed to think about the BPPGBS now? “Oh, that brave white supremacist sure did prove the blacks are violent!” Nah. When one attempts to provoke a response in someone, sometimes they succeed.

      The DNC promises to have a similar operation running next year—when there’s no election. In fairness, though, the DNC’s spokesman makes a good point: this kind of operation is uniquely effective for Republicans because of Fox News, which will uncritically use anything it produces and hammer at it long enough to force it into the mainstream media. Democrats simply don’t have a similar tool at their disposal.

      This seems lacking in self-awareness.

      • Jesse E says:

        A journalist’s job is to badger people in public. Especially politicians. But, if we’re at the point where we’re comparing journalists to Nazi’s, well, then, there’s nothing else to argue here.

        Also, speaking as a member of the Left, I wish the media was as liberal as Grey & Red Tribers believe it to be.

        • cassander says:

          Also, speaking as a member of the Left, I wish the media was as liberal as Grey & Red Tribers believe it to be.

          It’s almost the most left wing profession in the country, far more left wing than the oil or mining industries are right wing. How much more can you want?

          • Nornagest says:

            What the hell does “online computer services” mean?

          • Lambert says:

            Probably an umbrella term that sounds slightly more professional than ‘bleep bloop’.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I believe a lot of G&RT believe the media to be engaged in deliberate left-wing advocacy, as opposed to (my view) a group of overwhelmingly left-liberal people who generally try their best to keep their biases out of their stories but don’t always succeed. I can imagine a sufficiently left-wing person wishing the former view was true; the statistics on political donations don’t really do anything to prove that it is, since they’re also consistent with my view.

          • cassander says:

            @Paul Zrimsek says:

            I don’t think they try all that hard. If one was trying, after all, I would think that a good start would be to refrain from donating money to left wing politicians. I don’t think the press is much more mendacious than average on this front, most people don’t work very hard at limiting their biases and we aren’t very good at it even when we try, but the press culture of almost universal liberalism cloaked in a mantle of neutrality is particularly unconducive to serious introspection.

          • albatross11 says:


            How would we tell who’s right here?

          • If one was trying, after all, I would think that a good start would be to refrain from donating money to left wing politicians.

            Why? What they should be trying to do is report honestly. Their contributions are evidence of what their views are, which suggests that those views may result in distorting their professional work in a particular direction. But eliminating the evidence doesn’t eliminate the views or, if it is occurring, the distortion.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Regarding the question I originally butted in to address– whether the media are (about) as left-wing as they could possibly be– I can think of nothing better than comparing their output to that of avowed left-advocacy outlets. I come away with the conclusion that they could indeed be much more left than they are now. The side question of whether they’re doing very much to keep their biases out is harder to answer, but I don’t see what their political donations could possibly have to do with it. After all, they won’t stop having left-liberal personal beliefs just because they’ve stopped contributing to left-liberal candidates.

          • Salem says:

            Surely it’s about keeping your identity small, in Paul Graham’s sense. If I make a conscious effort not to think of myself as a partisan, throughout my life, it will make it easier for me to put away my partisan feelings in a professional setting. Whereas if I commit myself to a particular candidate financially, it becomes harder for me to be objective.

            It’s not just “eliminating the evidence” it really is changing your views – at least a little. Compare journalists to judges.

        • Are you disagreeing about how liberal the media are, defined by things like how many people vote for what candidate, or are you disagreeing about the appropriate baseline to compare it to?

          From my standpoint, as an anarcho-capitalist, essentially all of the media and all politicians are left wing. But putting it that way is likely to be confusing.

          • Jesse E says:

            My general view on inside the Beltway politicos (ie. Meet the Press, CNN, etc.) is that they’re generally center-left to left-wing on social issues and range from center-left to center-right on economic issues. Plus, due to decades of pressure about left wing bias, the national media overcompensates and you get things like Republican’s being overrepresented on shows like Meet the Press and CNN panels when both Obama & Trump were in office.

            Now, yes, your average underpaid person writing articles for Jezebel, The Root, or Cosmo is likely going to be very left-wing. Because those are the people willing to make no money to push the conversation. Meanwhile, right-leaning people around the same age are opening businesses or working for The Heritage Foundation.

          • Dan L says:

            Are you disagreeing about how liberal the media are, defined by things like how many people vote for what candidate, or are you disagreeing about the appropriate baseline to compare it to?

            I’m interested in the general problem of figuring out the partisan lean of any given industry, and the media seems like a particularly important case. (Though I’d also argue that “the media” is a very poorly defined set of professions.)

            The majority of studies that I’ve seen tend to focus on things like self-reported donation amounts, any that strikes me as a suspect method when it tells me things such as Newscorp having a dramatic bias in favor of Democrats.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          A journalist’s job is to badger people in public.

          It shouldn’t be. A journalist’s job should be to report. What we have instead are political activists calling themselves “journalists” and demanding consideration for awful behavior to which they have no right.

          Below, anonymousskimmer brings up the concept of social class, suggesting that Trump, by praising Gianforte, is stating that journalists are a lower social class than he or his supporters. Incorrect. The “journalists” have elevated themselves to a higher social class. To think that you can get in someone’s face and badger them without consequence is putting yourself in a higher social class than your target. If I were to interrupt a discussion you were having with someone else, get in your face and scream leading questions at you and refuse to leave when asked, would that be okay? Or would that maybe be me, attempting to assert social dominance over you? And if you were to punch me, while that’s assault and you need to go through the criminal justice system and pay your debt to society, wouldn’t that also be you putting me back in my place as your equal instead of your superior?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            No. Under the thousands of years of old rules, an equal does not punch an equal before calling them out.

            This used to be understood even in the US.

            “Look, I told you where to get this information. Now if you don’t leave me alone to have a peaceful discussion I’ll take you down.” – that’s civilized and honorable.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            He did tell the guy to go away and referred him to his press person multiple times. The only thing he didn’t do that you seem to want was threaten him first.

            Journalists seem to think they’re special, and some other people buy into this. But this is not the case. They are no more or less special than anyone else.

            If you tell me a story “I was screaming in this guy’s face and then he punched me!” I’ll say “well, he shouldn’t have punched you, but you shouldn’t have been in his face.” But add “and I’m a journalist!” and I’m supposed to say “oh, then he’s a monster!”


          • Matt M says:

            They thought the blue checkmark was going to function as the equivalent of a police badge. They’re going to be in for a rude awakening when they find out that most people see it as something closer to a yellow star.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Matt M

      • rlms says:

        Interesting! What do you think about punching Nazis?

      • albatross11 says:


        The guy he punched out was a reporter asking him questions in an annoying, pushy way. Refusing to answer, or even not letting him come into a press conference, would have been fine. Punching him out was absolutely not okay, and doesn’t suggest anything great about Gianforte. Note that the tone of the Fox reporters was that they were utterly shocked. There’s a good reason for that–they’d never seen anything like it.

        • Fortunately he’s only running for Congress. If he was running for police chief or applying for a job as a cop it would be more worrying.

          Congressmen don’t have any special opportunities to beat people up and get away with it.

          Still, I’m glad that I’ve ignored his emails soliciting campaign contributions.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Is it plausible that personally violent people are also likely to support excessive government violence?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            He is not “running for congress”

            He is a sitting congressman (although he was not when he was running in a special election when the incident occurred almost over a year ago).

            He is a sitting congressman, whose assault on a journalist is being praised by the current sitting president to cheering crowds. That same president calls journalists “the enemy of the people”.

            Concentrating on the single act of Gianforte is a gigantic red-herring.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The fundamental issue with punching someone out instead of calling them out is that you are stating that they are not of equal social status to you (which is politically incorrect* in a republic of citizens).

            Voltaire’s quarrel with Rohan, a minor noble, began with an exchange of sharp words. According to record, Voltaire had the better of it, and Rohan left in a huff. Several days later, Rohan had Voltaire summoned from a dinner party and beaten with sticks by a gang of his servants while he mocked the writer from his carriage. Voltaire was outraged, and began training with a fencing master. When he thought he stood a chance of surviving an encounter, he publicly challenged Rohan to a duel. Rohan and his family found this impertinent, and so had the writer arrested.

            This is one of the problems with Trump defending this, or encouraging cops to beat up assumed criminals. Trump is declaring himself and those he likes as socially superior in the old sense of the term. A usage anathema to the concept of universal citizenship.

            According to the rules of honour, rudeness from below should be treated like misbehaviour from a child: one could indulge it, ignore it or punish it. One should never take offence to it. Similarly, a challenge from below should be ignored. It wasn’t a genuine challenge because a challenge assumed social equality. Inferiors did not have the standing to take offence at the behaviour of their superiors, so their offence didn’t matter in this scheme. It couldn’t harm the reputation of a gentleman. Where there was no equality of status, there was no norm of mutual respect, and no offence, properly speaking, was possible.

            * – The old definition of “politically incorrect“.

            (As the US had a long history and pre-history of legal duels among all classes of citizens/subjects, I wonder if dueling may be made legal again, now that Kavanaugh, a proponent of the Glucksberg test, is on the court.)

        • Brad says:

          What’s interesting to me here is despite apparently widely divergent attitudes towards causal violence the states have relatively convergent written laws on the subject. Granted non-enforcement is always an option, but how did Montana and Alabama end up with assault laws in the first place if most of the people that live their take the “play stupid games, win stupid prizes” line?

          • CatCube says:

            Don’t oversell what “play stupid games, win stupid prizes” means. I can’t speak for @Conrad Honcho, but I’ve never heard it used to mean that you should change laws or something–it’s just a recognition that the natural consequences of your actions aren’t something that everybody else is obligated to froth at the mouth about. If I was selected for a jury sitting in judgement of Gianforte, I’d have no problems voting to convict; nor would I vote for him if I was in his district. However, if you’re going to point at this incident and demand, “Aren’t you outraged!? Shouldn’t you be taking to the street!?” my answer is going to be, “Eh.”

            Let’s look at this for a different crime: A guy goes and robs a meth dealer’s cash hoard, and three days later they track him down, kick him to his knees, and shoot him in the back of the head. I’d quite comfortably say the murderers should get the death penalty, and would state as much to any who asked. However, let’s say this robber’s wife were to corner me at a dinner party and keep on about “How this is an unthinkable tragedy, and how could this have happened to her Dear Husband…”–well, I’d try to noncommittally dodge out of the conversation because family members undergoing a tragic loss aren’t often clearheaded and should get some consideration because of that, but assume I was pinned there until making a committal statement–my response would be “Your Dear Husband should have taken a few more minutes to consider the likely aftermath of the endeavour upon which he was about to embark,” or, more punchily, “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”

    • cassander says:

      I fail to see much relevance here. The article makes three largely unrelated complaints. First is that unnamed “Hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators” are working with reporters who agree with them. The second is that Trump said nice things about a congressman who got in a scuffle with a reporter, and third 60 republicans are apparently capable of single handedly disrupting the operations of the entire democratic party for months.

      These three points say absolutely nothing about your point A, because none of them have anything to do with policy. For your point B, unless your claim is that the media is going to applaud trump’s comments, I fail to see any relationship their either. And for three, if you truly believe that 60 republican “attack dogs” are somehow equivalent to the mainstream media, I have a bridge I’d love to sell you.

      • albatross11 says:

        As a meta-comment:

        The apparent murder of a Saudi journalist in Turkey is pretty horrific. (The stories coming out from Turkey claim he was basically tortured to death inside the consulate.) And it’s absolutely reasonable to push back on the international norm violation of killing one of your citizens in a foreign country because he dares set foot in your consulate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Turkey expel the Saudis from the country and close their embassy and consulates.

        But there’s something really weird about all this media outrage about how brutal and awful Saudi Arabia is. Saudi Arabia has been brutal and awful for its entire existence, and essentially everyone in the media pretending that they’ve just now realized that it’s brutal and awful is bizarre. These guys execute people for blasphemy and homosexuality. They’re running a brutal war in Yemen (that we’d be hearing about every day if it were being run by someone we weren’t allies with, or who didn’t spend a gazillion dollars on PR in the US). They are 100% on board with arresting and torturing journalists, protesters, democracy activists, etc. It’s what they do.

        Similarly, acting like there’s some unique Trumpian or Republican evil involved in cozying up to Saudi Arabia (and many other awful regimes) is just partisan bullshit. We were buddies with Saudi Arabia under Clinton and Obama, and probably will be under the next Democratic president, too. Our foreign policy has a fairly large share of being buddies with guys whose secret police run torture chambers and death squads at scale, and nobody seems too interested in backing off from that.

        • Part of what has intrigued me about this case is the reason why everyone, myself included, reacts so much more strongly to this murder than to the multiple murders that governments, our own included, engage in. At some level it’s the feeling that the Saudis were’t playing fair.

          The other tangle of puzzles is about why the Saudis did it and how their doing it and the Turkish response ties into political interactions between the two countries.

          • mtl1882 says:

            Yeah, you are right as to fairness, and I think the whole using a saw part adds a lot to people’s reactions.

            It is definitely ridiculous, as said up thread, that people are pretending that Saudi Arabia’s behavior is new or that the U.S.’s relationship with them is new. There’s an intentional blind spot in the government and much of the media, but it is still annoying to hear the disingenuous hype and to see the public fail to absorb the reality and the general phoniness that surrounds the moral convictions of our foreign policy.

        • Yakimi says:

          Yemeni peasants aren’t employed by the media class, unfortunately.

        • hyperboloid says:

          Everybody has long recognized that Saudi Arabia is a brutal medieval state, nevertheless the American foreign policy establishment has embraced them for transactional realpolitik reasons.

          Two things have changed in the last couple of years: first, there has been a significant increase in Saudi brutality since the rise of Mr bonesaw; and second, much of his behavior raises serious questions about his reliability as an ally.

          Some (though not me) might excuse the war in Yemen as being necessary for Saudi national security, but it’s hard to see a rational plan behind the quasi kidnapping of Saad Hariri, or the murder of Khashoggi.

          One of the reasons that even people like John Brennan are publicly condemning the killing of Khashoggi is that MBS’s recent antics have moved their priors in direction of the crown prince being a charismatic sociopath, less a gulf state Park Chung Hee and more Saddam Hussein.

          As a retired government US government official said to me recently “this is crazy man stuff”

          • Three things have changed, which may be connected to the problem. The Saudis under MBS have taken steps in the direction of becoming a more normal state, although not large steps—allowing women to drive, for instance. One concern may be that if MBS is forced out over this issue his replacement may reverse those steps, or at least not take any more.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Trump ain’t worried about women’s driving rights in Saudia Arabia.

            Seriously, David. Do you pay any attention to Trump at all?

          • @HBC:

            I said nothing at all about Trump. He isn’t the only person who matters in this particular conflict.

            Hyperboloid, whose comment I was responding to, said nothing about Trump either.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I just get tired of the selective outrage. It makes me think there’s an ulterior motive when the media is choosing their targets. For instance, China is running concentration camps for the Uyghurs, spies on their citizens and imprisons dissidents and critical journalists. The media is mad about Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods, though, and is not demanding sanctions against China. Russia bans gay propaganda, but doesn’t do anything to homosexuals themselves. This is apparently an affront to human rights and we should be super mad at Russia about it. Saudi Arabia publicly executes people for homosexuality. That hasn’t been any sort of reason to criticize them or limit trade with them.

            The world is awful and just about every government in it is horrible. Unless you’re advocating isolationism I don’t take the moral outrage very seriously. It seems more like an excuse than a reason.

  17. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Siderea has been doing a detailed look at the earlier phases of the Spanish Flu in Boston– with focus on the gradual spread of information. At the beginning, the seriousness of the epidemic wasn’t noticed because civilian and military cases were counted separately.

    The link is to an article about the authorities trying to keep the public from panicking…. but thee’s no reason to think the public was apt to panic.

  18. CarlosRamirez says:

    I think that, instead of getting mad about progressive policy proposals, maybe they ought to trialed? For example, take Ta-Nehisi Coates’ idea that all black prisoners ought to be released immediately. It occurs to me that while it would be reckless to actually apply this all at once at the national level, surely we can find a black community somewhere in America that is down with trying this? Then both proponents and opponents pre-register their predictions for what will happen, and all black prisoners of the city/county/district that wants to try this are released back there. Then data is gathered for two years, and at the end, we’ll have a clearer idea of what are the pros and cons of “releasing all black prisoners”. Other ideas can be trialed like this, such as reparations, lower burden of proof for sexual crimes, and even open-borders, for any given definition of it.

    Though open-borders would be trickier, I still think it can be trialed in this way. You need a city that is pro the idea, all ICE and immigration control efforts are suspended in that city, and anyone caught illegally crossing the border just gets sent immediately to the city, which is much easier and cheaper than bothering with trials and detention camps. Containing the policy is perhaps complicated, but this is tempered by the fact that immigration enforcement is a lot easier: just send them to the city, it’s not a human rights violation to send someone to an American city, and this can therefore be done instantly.

    Given that conservatives are massively skeptical of these ideas, I think they ought to propose these trials immediately. They of course would be part of this adversarial policy, and would get the opportunity to produce fairly damning evidence as to the effects of these policies.

    Likewise with progressives: they would get the opportunity to prove their ideas right with a lot of high quality empirical evidence.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Ta-Nehisi Coates’ idea that all black prisoners ought to be released immediately

      Is this actually a thing?

      lower burden of proof for sexual crimes

      This one, I’m sure you can find at least one person suggesting it, but I would also contest it genuinely being a thing with remotely substantial support.

      • The Nybbler says:

        lower burden of proof for sexual crimes

        This one, I’m sure you can find at least one person suggesting it, but I would also contest it genuinely being a thing with remotely substantial support.

        With #BelieveWomen and #metoo and l’affaire Kavanaugh, I think not. In fact, it appears to be an orthodox position that for anything short of actual criminal conviction, the burden of proof should be on the accused. And I saw plenty of people objecting to the presumption of innocence (never mind proof beyond reasonable doubt) even for criminal conviction because it’s just too easy for men to get away with sexual assault if they are acquitted when there’s no evidence beyond her word.

      • CarlosRamirez says:

        Yeah, Coates is down with decarceration: It’s not as unhinged as it sounds, and he recognizes there are pitfalls. Would probably need to be done as part of a broader reparations trial.

        There are people suggesting both lower burden of proof combined with lighter punishment, such as Germain Greer. What is the actual policy people in the #believewomen bandwagon want needs to be hashed out, but it can then be trialed.

        • hyperboloid says:

          Did you actually read the link you posted?

          Quoting from Coates himself:

          One thing I want to clear up: I think I said “open the jails” or something like that when asked for my solution. I didn’t mean let everyone, everywhere out. What I was trying to get at was this palatable—but fictitious—idea that we can decarcerate without having a very hard conversation over what we mean by “violent crime” and what kind of penalties we want to attach to it.

          Coates is arguing that we should decrease sentences even for violent crimes, not that “all black prisoners ought to be released immediately”.

      • dndnrsn says:

        What I’d like to see is someone who holds both those views, and how they reconcile the two (given the evidence that black men get hit with mistaken/wrongful/false convictions for sex crimes considerably more than averaage).

      • dick says:

        lower burden of proof for sexual crimes

        This one, I’m sure you can find at least one person suggesting it, but I would also contest it genuinely being a thing with remotely substantial support.

        Carlos Ramirez has raised this in two or three OTs already, has been asked repeatedly to justify the idea that this is really a prominent position on the left, and has only defended it in the “Well even if they don’t say it, I believe they think it” fashion.

        • CarlosRamirez says:


          No that’s a real position. I have seen commenters here or on r/SSC proposing lower burden of proof combined with lighter punishment. Germaine Greer supports this position:

          And since you’re here, if #believewomen should influence the government in some way, then what should this influence be? Or if you believe #believewomen should not result in any policy or legal changes, then what should it accomplish?

          • dick says:

            Which commenter? My apologies if I missed that and I’m curious to see what specifically they were advocating. My understanding of #believewomen is similar to some of the other people who responded to you – that it means “believe women more, to counteract having believed them too little in the past”. (But I didn’t find the previous discussions constructive and do not want to re-do them)

            That Germaine Greer article is interesting, but it argues for a very different position than the one you’re discussing. It is primarily about redefining rape and lowering the penalty for it substantially, it doesn’t mention changing the standard of evidence, and it seems likely to be (to put it mildly) not popular with the mainstream left.

          • CarlosRamirez says:

            Probably it was over on r/ssc. If you really want it, I’ll link it, but I need to go find it first.

            Believe women more

            Ok, but what does that mean? Nothing actually changes if the government doesn’t “believe women more” in some kind of way.

          • dick says:

            Ok, but what does that mean? Nothing actually changes if the government doesn’t “believe women more” in some kind of way.

            It’s a hashtag, not a policy proposal. Haven’t we had this thread twice? Translated in to rationalist language, it might mean “If you have a subconscious belief that rape claims are inherently suspect, you should recognize that it’s probably the result of biases, like the ‘just world’ fallacy and the fact that false accusations are much more newsworthy than accurate ones, and update accordingly.”

          • I don’t know what it does mean, but what it could mean is “allocate resources into investigating the accusation on the assumption that it is likely to be true, but retain the usual standard of proof when it comes to actually convicting the accused.”

          • CarlosRamirez says:

            Ok, but the average civilian deciding rape accusations are probably true won’t change anything in and of itself. Rape victims will still need to subject themselves to rape kits to have a hope of conviction, sexual crimes victims in general will still have to chance a trial and a potentially traumatizing cross-examination. What I find hard to believe is that all these people professing #believewomen actually want nothing at all to change. Unless, you think having the exact same justice system we do know, but the average citizen believes are accusers are likely telling the truth, will change something?

          • cassander says:


            Unless, you think having the exact same justice system we do know, but the average citizen believes are accusers are likely telling the truth, will change something?

            Honestly, I think that’s what an awful lot of people want, and that’s part of the problem. It’s not possible for the rest of the justice system to remain unchanged if everyone’s opinion of causers changes.

          • @CarlosRamirez:

            Sorry if I was unclear. I was thinking not in terms of the average citizen but of the police. In deciding whether to look for evidence of a claimed offense, one factor is going to be how likely they are to believe the offense is real–no point wasting time looking for something that isn’t there. So if the police are more inclined to believe rape charges they will be more likely to investigate them, resulting in more perpetrators being charged, tried, and convicted–how many more isn’t clear. Of course, that would also mean fewer resources being spent on investigating other crimes.

            But the attitude of average citizens is also relevant. If I hear that someone I know has been accused of rape, the effect on my interaction with him will depend in part on how likely I think it is that the accusation is true. Having people you interact with distrust you is a real cost, even if not one coming through the criminal justice system.

          • dick says:

            Ok, but the average civilian deciding rape accusations are probably true won’t change anything in and of itself.

            It won’t? Imagine you get raped and your friends assume you’re telling the truth. Now imagine you get raped and your friends assume you’re lying. Are those interchangeable outcomes?

          • CarlosRamirez says:

            If your friends believe you when you make an accusation,
            it’s bad for someone who is falsely accused, and a slap on the wrist for an actual rapist. Can’t imagine anyone will agree to, “ostracism and firing is sufficient punishment for rapists”, which is why I suspect such a norm will eventually result in a policy change.

          • albatross11 says:


            It seems likely that the police’s willingness to investigate claims has a close connection to how likely they think it is that there will ever be an actual arrest.

            If they’re pretty sure that there’s never going to be an arrest (because there’s no evidence other than two contradictory claims by two different people), then by not investigating further, they’re making the world a better place in several ways:

            a. They’re not wasting limited police resources on a case that’s never going to lead to an arrest.

            b. Assuming it happened, they’re subjecting the victim to an intrusive and unpleasant investigation that they know is never going to lead to an arrest.

            c. Assuming it didn’t happen, they’re subjecting the accused to an intrusive and unpleasant investigation that they know is never going to lead to an arrest.

          • CarlosRamirez says:


            I think police already take accusations seriously, they don’t, as a norm, just dismiss them, though it does happen.

          • dick says:

            Imagine you get raped and your friends assume you’re telling the truth.

            If your friends believe you when you make an accusation, it’s bad for someone who is falsely accused

            I think this spells out what #believewomen is railing against better than any further attempt at explanation would.

          • CarlosRamirez says:


            Ok, let’s fire and ostracize everyone accused of rape. It is your sincere belief that it will just stop there?

          • dick says:

            Ok, let’s fire and ostracize everyone accused of rape. It is your sincere belief that it will just stop there?

            This is pure strawman. Shall I respond, “Oh, so you want rapists to go unpunished”? Is that the sort of discussion you want to be a part of?

            I get that you want to argue against the get-rid-of-presumed-innocence position, but it’s just not very common. #believewomen doesn’t imply it, I don’t believe it, and exaggerations like this won’t jiujitsu me in to taking the other side of the argument you want to have. If you found someone on the subreddit who believes it, great, go yell at them.

          • CarlosRamirez says:

            This is not a strawman, I really, sincerely do believe these would be the inevitable consequences of your position, even if perhaps you don’t genuinely believe them. Or at least, if accused rapists are not most of the time ostracized, I genuinely don’t understand in what meaningful way would women be believed. If a woman tells you someone raped her, and you continue on treating that someone the same way you did before, clearly the woman was not believed, since you’re demonstrating you don’t believe the guy is a rapist. That doesn’t necessarily mean one believes the woman is lying, but it is incontrovertible evidence that one doesn’t believe her, since one does not believe the guy is a rapist. So the only way to demonstrate you believe the woman is to retaliate against the guy in some way, even if it’s “just” ostracism.

          • dick says:

            I genuinely don’t understand in what meaningful way would women be believed.

            I’m not sure how to explain it any better. Look, imagine there’s a dial that goes from 0 to 100. 0 is believing that rape is imaginary and all accusations are false, and 100 is believing that all accusations are true even if they sound absurd. Everyone’s got their own dial; one person’s might be 30, another’s at 50, and another’s at 70. Generally, someone with a lot of experience with assault victims (say, a counselor at a women’s shelter) is going to be higher than someone with no such experience. Watching a close friend go through the aftermath of a rape would probably raise your dial, and watching a close friend go through the aftermath of a false accusation would probably lower it. Make sense?

            The #believewoman position is that a lot of peoples’ dials should be raised, and they are sharing their experiences of assault on social media because of the “experience with assault victims raises your dial a bit” effect. Your position is that it shouldn’t be too high, which is not necessarily incompatible unless you pretend that #believewomen wants them at 100, which is what I keep pushing back against. Conspicuous concern for the plight of victims of false accusation is generally indicative of a very low dial.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Here we have an actual attempt to do so, by actual legislators, in criminal law. The idea was that once a sexual encounter was established, the defense would have to prove consent:

        Of course, the Obama-era guidance letters did this already for non-criminal university procedures (Title IX tribunals) in the US — burden of proof was reduced to preponderance of the evidence. Here’s a call for the same in the UK: .

        Refuge in audacity isn’t working anymore.

        • dick says:

          Here we have an actual attempt to do so, by actual legislators, in criminal law. The idea was that once a sexual encounter was established, the defense would have to prove consent:

          …which appears to have been abandoned as a bad idea by everyone, including the people who proposed it. Correct? That seems like evidence against the idea that this is a real position with some prominence on the left, not evidence for it.

        • The Nybbler says:

          No, one of the proposers (Little) has backed off of supporting it. For now. The other (Williams) has not. And they are still discussing an inquisitorial justice system for sexual assault.

          • dick says:

            Okay. I can’t find any evidence that she ever proposed legislation, and that article is very vague, and the position it attributes to her is not exactly the one Carlos Ramirez keeps bringing up, but I will concede that it is a real position held by a real person. It’s still appears to definitely not be a common one and definitely not implied by #believewomen.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      One of the benefits of federalism is that, if we still had a federalist system, we could try that out. The only limit on experimentation would be the extent to which each state could function as an independent country: if we’re all using the dollar, Alabama doesn’t get to experiment with monetary policy.

      That said, there’s a bigger obstacle standing in the way of most of these proposals. It’s not that abolition of prisons or open borders are popular in one state or region but the others veto them at the national level. These are ideas supported by a small but wealthy and outspoken minority and opposed by the entire rest of the population. In order to try these ideas out you would need to either overrule the majority opinions of the current residents of the trial communitiesor build a new community consisting predominantly of progressive activists for the sake of the trial.

      • engleberg says:

        I think back in the twenties Toledo Ohio was an open city for criminals- the police would not cooperate if outside police wanted to arrest you.

      • CarlosRamirez says:

        You don’t need federalism for this, in fact, I think the Trump administration ought to be floating these ideas, declare they’re very skeptical about them, but they’re willing to try them on a small scale to try and heal the divisions. The trials should be run by the federal government.

        The obstacle that maybe there is no county/city/district (polity from now on) that is down with X policy is a big one, but then, that begs the question of why these ideas get any play at all. I do think there must be at least one polity that would support this. Technically, sanctuary cities are probably ready for full open-borders, or whatever it is they want to define as open-borders.

        If no polity is pro the policy, that itself could be part of the trial. Give progressives one year and a not-too-big grant to persuade a polity to run the trial. It is evidence against the policy if they find themselves unable to.

        • albatross11 says:

          Re the immigration one, suppose we could somehow announce that, say, in California and only California, nobody was going to be deported or hassled by ICE unless they got in some other kind of legal trouble. Suppose we move the ICE agents to surrounding states to try to make sure that this experiment is somewhat contained. What would we expect the result to be?

          a. Things get better in California–the extra immigrants help the local economy, they fit in fine with the existing culture. Lots of new businesses start, prosperity breaks out all over, and everyone sees the success story and decides we should imitate it.

          b. Things stay about the same–the current number of illegal immigrants in California is mainly determined by labor market considerations having little to do with ICE. Nothing much changes, and everyone sees that enforcement probably isn’t that big a deal. Probably we keep setting immigration policy as a culture-war victory thing rather than as a technocratic optimization thing.

          c. Things get worse in California–the large influx of illegal immigrants (often penniless refugees from the poorest parts of the world) overwhelm the available social services (schools, public hospitals) and cause a crash in the local labor market. Everyone sees that this policy was a very bad idea and decides not to follow it.

          My first guess is (b), but I haven’t looked into it enough to have a strong opinion.

          • CarlosRamirez says:

            Both the pro and anti side predict such a policy would have an effect. A net positive and a net negative one respectively. It would be quite unexpected if nothing changes either way, but it would worthwhile to find this out.

      • mtl1882 says:

        I like this idea in theory, leaving out a bunch of caveats.

        A a lot of people need to see something in action to come to grips with it. A lot of people also support completely contradictory or unenforceable things, and thus will only be able to realize their mistake when they see it in action.

        There are a lot of people who want very tough policies on immigration or welfare. Most of them would be completely unwilling to accept the results of enforcement, even if they retained very strong views. There are some exceptions to this, but my mom just tried to tell me the other night she wanted illegal immigrants kept out but not arrested or basically inconvenienced. I was sort of able to clear this up for her, but she still just kept saying that she wanted it to happen without anyone being treated in a manner upsetting to her. Most people have little tolerance for actually upsetting videos and images, which they then try to justify as “exceptions.”

        If we could agree to the experiment, it might clear up a lot of things for us.

        But the calls to return to federalism kind of ignore why we centralized, right or wrong. With modern communication and transportation (now much more accelerated than it was even then), things one state does become known by other states, and it is easier to move between them. Whatever theories one wants to allege caused the Civil War, the major tension was due to the fact that the North could now see and hear about slavery in detail, and it upset them, because it tends by nature to be upsetting to at least some people regardless of social norms, and because it was so clearly out of sync with their social norms and American ideals. Then, they started talking and speaking about it all the time, for various reasons and because it connected to many other issues. The South couldn’t handle debate on this issue because of their fear of insurrection and for other reasons. So it began banning related publications and speakers, and Congressional debates. People are not able to “live and let live” on all issues, especially when they necessarily influence each other (not to mention the whole Fugitive Slave Law thing, which made it very much an interrelated issue). They generally don’t care about basic economic measures or voting procedures or what have you, as states now differ on those without much of a problem, but something like slavery provokes feelings of a more widespread wrong that can’t be acquiesced in. Not everyone would feel this way, but enough can to cause a Civil War. Abortion is a somewhat similar issue, though not as powerful. Jim Crow laws were another. Certain issues are lightning rods for activism, and it is not all virtue signalling or posturing. Certain things viscerally bother a not-small number of people, and will lead to intervention. I think the stakes are probably a lot less now, as even the toughest states probably won’t let their population descend into starvation once they see the consequences of holding back aid, and because those people would be able to move to someplace safer. But clickbait videos are not going to help the problem. I don’t think we necessarily have anything in particular to worry about in this area, and people now have a lot less moral conviction about these issues IMO, but who knows what conflict could develop along the line. Hopefully we’ve gotten the basics settled. And if we aren’t all held to the same constitutional standards, it gets easier.

        Gun control is probably the issue we have now that is closest to this – a lot of people just really don’t want guns anywhere, partly for moral reasons and partly because they fear someone will take a gun into their state and use it. It’s not an easy issue to “live and let live” over. Something will break eventually.

        • CarlosRamirez says:

          Mind, this isn’t necessarily advocating for federalism. If a policy has a favorable trial, it should probably start being rolled out at the national level, maybe all at once, but not necessarily. The point is to try to make all these political/cultural conflicts seem less life-and-death, by instead quickly distilling the conflict to specific policies, then trying them out and seeing how they hold up. I think it would work well for most of our conflicts. But there are complications, namely of a group refusing to accept their policy was shown to be bad, and of both groups having their predictions validated, though perhaps that last one can be mitigated by automatically having the anti side bet against the pro-side’s predictions, in addition to making their own. This roughly what happened with slavery: the North already knew you can live quite easily without slavery, such that there are no good arguments to keeping it around given the harm it causes.

          Abortion is roughly being trialed already, given some states ban it. I suppose a way to change their minds would be have the pro-life people clarify all the bad they think will come from legal abortion, which of course, includes “increased abortions”, but I doubt, if pressed, that’s all they would come up with. Similarly with the pro-choice people: what exactly are the bad things they believe flow from “banning abortion”? Are all of these happening in the anti-abortion states? The answers to these questions matter a lot as to whether it’s ok for some states to ban abortions.

          Similarly with gun control, some states have less than of it than others. Do all the things the gun control proponents predict happen from low gun control happen there? Scott seems to believe it’s unclear, other than guns increase suicides. Similarly for the pro-gun crowd, do all the things they believe would happen from gun control happen there? Even deontological positions they take could be brought down to earth: they believe the right to bear arms is inalienable , but nobody really just stops there when defending some right. They really believe the lack of the right will produce some kind of harm, and once that harm is clarified, some manner of measuring it can be concocted.

          • mtl1882 says:

            Yeah, I generally agree with all of this. I think most people would benefit from it. It to a large extent depends on going in in good faith, which I think would be hard to do. Not because most people aren’t willing, but because the media would hype everything so badly that we never actually get to deliberate and absorb the consequences without going into defensive mode. They’ll make it “life and death” as you said.

            Abortion is an issue that would be cleared up pretty quickly. There are some sincere very pro-life people, but I’m confident the majority of people who strongly sympathize with being pro-life would be appalled by a total ban in practice. Most of them don’t want abortions to happen, except, y’know, for those obvious “exceptions.” But since our system can’t operate by us personally running each abortion by these people and asking if it should be an exception, I think they’d give up trying to legislate it pretty quickly once they saw the variety of very difficult situations some women face. That’s not to say those situations are the norm, just that there are so many of them as to make legislating them impossible for all but the most die-hard pro-lifers. And most Americans aren’t anywhere near die-hard.

            I think that’s a good example of why this would benefit everyone. People just think there are easy ways to draw lines and enforce things, and there aren’t. Or if we make it clear, we’re going to have to use a pretty broad stroke and go way beyond what most people want. The reason we have a lot of freedoms is not because people in the past didn’t care about right or wrong or common sense or whatever, but because trying to legislate that causes so much conflict that eventually people decided it was better to allow others to do some things they considered bad, and to have the favor returned, than to try and fight it out all the time. People have a way of going backwards on this, because they forget that if they get their rules applied, enforcing them may not be fun.

    • J Mann says:

      Jim Manzi’s book Uncontrolled argues for something like this – that as long as we’re trying to solve problems with government power, we should set things up to generate data that helps us figure out which interventions are most effective.

    • 10240 says:

      Prisoners/immigrants: there is no way to guarantee that the criminals or immigrants stay in the city in question, unless you build a wall around it with border controls when exiting to the rest of the country.

      Reparations: I’d guess the main debate is about whether it’s justified, not about the consequences. The main consequences are obvious: white people have somewhat less money, black people have more. The question is whether we want that, not what the consequences are.

      Also, if you oppose a policy, it would be hard to justify the damage to the people it hurts in that city (some of whom are not on board with the trial) such as the white people whose money you take, or people accused of sexual crimes.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Well if we’re talking about things that will never happen, internal migration controls exist today in many countries. China’s Hukou system is probably the most famous.

        The way I understand it, only residents with valid internal passports can access government services and certain legal protections in a given locality. So if you move without changing your registration nobody will grab you and throw you in prison but you’re going to have a rough time e.g. making sure that you actually get paid by your boss.

        That’s not really an enticing idea, but if you want to control internal movement of people without violence or physical barriers that’s probably as good as you’re going to get.

      • CarlosRamirez says:

        Prisoners/immigrants: Can’t be guaranteed, but if they’re caught by the usual immigration controls the handling is cheaper. Probably comes out in the wash.

        Reparations: That’s why I think this approach is interesting: who cares if something is justified? If on the balance it does good, it should be done. Whether reparations do significantly more good than harm is the point of contention. That would be one of the variables the anti side would be interesting in tracking: does the policy massively increase resentment of whites towards blacks? Does it substantially harm whites? These and many other things need to be taken into account when deciding if a reparations trial demonstrated that reparations is a good policy to pursue.

        Also, if you oppose a policy, it would be hard to justify the damage to the people it hurts in that city (some of whom are not on board with the trial) such as the white people whose money you take, or people accused of sexual crimes.

        Hey, all policies hurt *someone*. If a polity is in favor by supermajority of a policy, I’m fine with giving them what they want, even if I believe odds are good it will harm them. It’s better than the alternative of rolling out policies that affect entire states, or the whole country, all at once, on nothing more than a guess that it will work out.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          You’re missing a big part of the opposition to reparations by only thinking about it in utilitarian terms.

          For many, myself included, it’s not about the money. A tax increase of the same amount would be obnoxious but potentially bearable. It’s the inherent insult which makes reparations unbearable.

          The first person in my family tree ever to set foot in the new world came here long after slavery had been abolished and settled in one of the northernmost states in the union. More than half came after the Civil Rights movement was over. Forcing people like me to pay a blood debt for other people’s real or imagined sins is completely outrageous and a repudiation of every promise that drew my family here in the first place.

          • CarlosRamirez says:

            What you describe is a prediction of the anti side, namely, “a policy of reparations will result in mass discontent”. This would get measured in the trial, it’s not just about measuring the things the pro side wants to measure.

        • 10240 says:

          who cares if something is justified? If on the balance it does good, it should be done.

          That’s absolutely not how most people think about things. If you take $x from A and give it to B, if it has the same utility to them, it’s zero sum. But if it’s done without a proper justification, most of us think it’s wrong, rather than neutral.

          Well, it’s negative sum in that it erodes property rights and thus investor confidence. But even whether a forced money transfer erodes property rights depends on whether it’s seen as justified. If you commit a tort, and a court forces you to give $x to the plaintiff, that’s seen as justified, and no (innocent) investor will flee the country in fear that their money will be confiscated as well. If the government forces you to give money to someone in a way that is seen as arbitrary, that erodes confidence in property rights.

          • albatross11 says:

            IF we’re trying to do good, then we don’t give reparations to the descendants of people shafted by various injustices. Instead, we give support money of some kind to people on the bottom.

            A reparations scheme would tax money from everyone and give it, in part, to black millionaires. This makes no sense in utilitarian terms. The argument for it always seems to be in terms of some kind of justice, where the justice is done, not between individuals, but between racial groups.

  19. johan_larson says:

    Darryl “dirtbag” Ducane has enlisted in the US Navy, to the delight of his family and indeed much of Davis county, except the bail bondsman and the abortion clinic. Won’t you wish him well as he heads off to boot camp, and offer him any advice that may be useful in his new career?

    • CatCube says:

      They’re going to piss test you when you arrive at MEPS, so don’t smoke weed on the way there, or you won’t be going to the Navy today (or ever). They’re also going to piss test you after every single long leave, so stop smoking weed when you’re home with your idiot friends.

  20. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I recently read some people being very enthusiastic about weighted blankets. I don’t think I need one, but if it were handy, I’d try it out just to see.

    On the other hand, I’ve had the annoying experience of a sheet being too warm, and no sheet being too chilly. I was told the solution– just cover my feet.

    Any other non-obvious low tech sleep hacks?

    • Aapje says:

      AFAIK, the weighted blankets need to have the right weight for you.

      The feet are furthest from the core and thus most easily get cold. So a traditional remedy is to warm the feet using mohair/goat socks and/or with a hot water bottle.

      Some people are very sensitive to light and benefit from a blindfold.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Yes, the physics of just putting a sheet over my feet was obvious once it was mentioned.

        I think the mental block was that the mohair socks or whatever were associated in my mind with a chilly room and/or feeling chilled. Being in a room at a moderate temperature with my body being insanely finicky didn’t seem like the same sort of thing.

        As for the weighted blanket needing to be the right weight, that makes sense, but my guess is that if the weighted blanket isn’t too far off, I would get a hint that I want somewhat different blanket rather than no weighted blanket at all.

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          Do you sleep better in winter?

          An ordinary two or three blankets + quilt is not as heavy as a weighted blanket, but it can approximate “weighted blanket that is too light for you” and it’s a natural experiment – a lot of people have tried it for reasons other than the weight.

          (The above is my experience, I can’t guarantee it holds for everyone.)

    • Jaskologist says:

      I often do the inverse of what you describe, regulating my temperature by sticking a leg out from the covers if I’m too warm.

      When it’s cold, thin sheet+blanket is a big improvement over just the blanket. I assume it reduces convection.

      Don’t just lay the blanket on top of you. Tuck it underneath you at all edges of your body.

  21. johan_larson says:

    Some interesting information has emerged about Harvard’s admissions practices based on data from an internal study run by the institution’s own Office of Institutional Research.

    The office considered four models with different admissions criteria:
    1. academics only
    2. as 1 plus legacy and athletics
    3. as 2 plus extracurricular and personal
    4. as 3 plus demographic information

    The portions of Asians, blacks, and whites admitted under these models vary dramatically. Model 1 gets you 43.04%/0.67%/38.37%; model 4 gets you 17.97%/11.12%/44.08%.

    If I had to guess, Asians admission numbers are lower than they might be because Harvard has a number of priorities in admissions other than academic excellence. They want to boost donations, and hence reward legacy. They want to field good athletic teams, and hence recruit athletes. They want personable and multi-talented people, and hence reward people who interview well and have a lot of extracurriculars. And of course, being good academic liberals, they want to go out of their way to give a hand up mistreated minorities. And all of these priorities are to the disadvantage of Asians as a group.

    • Aftagley says:

      What stuck out to me was that every other admission preference other than “just academics” and “everything, but make sure you pay extra attention to ethnicity” absolutely skyrocketed the number of whites who got admittance to at or over 50%.

      • johan_larson says:

        Going from 38% to 51% is significant. I wouldn’t call it skyrocketing. The portion of Asians varies from 43% to 18% which is more than a factor of two. The portion of African-Americans goes from 1% to 11%(!).

        • AG says:

          So the Asians lose 20%, and the other two demographics get half of that pie each? Acceptance UBI in action!

  22. smocc says:

    This Christmas you are going to visit an ancestor from 400 years ago. You can bring $100 worth of gifts. What do you bring that they will like the most?

    No attempting to alter history in any major ways; the goal is to find things that they will appreciate in their time.

    • baconbits9 says:

      $100 worth of the best heirloom seeds I can get my hands on.

        • quanta413 says:

          But what if you pick the wrong antibiotic? They’ll be very sad.

          Like, which terrible infection may they get? Will you pick an antibiotic that works for that? Maybe bring them some supplements instead. Iodine (goiters), vitamin D (rickets), or something I haven’t thought of. Get ahead of some diseases.

          I think heirloom seeds is clever although maybe premise breaking. If the heirloom seeds have enough additional generations of selective breeding compared to the crops of 400 years ago you could suddenly cause the Malthusian limit to jump up.

      • Aapje says:


        I think you and David are confusing the most useful with the most liked. I also suspect that you guys are overestimating the education level of your ancestor.

        They may actually like something far more trivial, like a fidget spinner with LED lights 🙂

        • baconbits9 says:

          Fidget spinner would get more weird looks and ohhs and ahhhs, seeds get way more liked once the harvest comes in.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you give a fidget spinner (even without LEDs) to a 17th century clockmaker, he’s going to have his mind absolutely blown by the bearings.

    • Well... says:

      It’s an interesting exercise. Who were likely my ancestors in 1618? Where might they have lived? What might have been their lifestyle?

      My own location and lifestyle (midwestern suburban US) is pretty darn different from that of the one ancestor 120 years ago about whom I know anything (a craftsman woodworker in northeastern Europe or Russia), and that’s about as far back as I can go. I assume the rate of change going back from him was slower, so that maybe his grandfather was also a craftsman woodworker and also lived within that general region. That gives me maybe another 80 years.

      You’re asking for twice that! Were there significant geographic migrations in my family line? Intermarriages? Conversions? Maybe some rebellious people who departed drastically from the occupations and values of their fathers? No clue.

      So I have no idea where I’d be going: probably somewhere in central or eastern Europe or Russia, but possibly somewhere in the Middle East? So whatever gift I bring, it can’t be language-dependent.

      And I have no idea who I’d be seeing: an illiterate peasant? a nobleman? a merchant? a skilled artisan? a scholar of some kind?

      A better bet seems like bringing a gift that basically anyone at any time would likely appreciate. Good food? Fine alcohol?

      • johan_larson says:

        1618 was before the industrial revolution, when virtually everybody was a farmer. Unless you have specific information to the contrary, that’s probably what your ancestors were doing too.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Half my ancestors were Ashkenazi Jews, which probably makes them substantially less likely to be farmers than average. The other half were mostly shopkeepers and tradespeople in Sicily in the 19th and 20th century, though the family may have been mostly farmers in the early 17th century.

          If my Jewish ancestors were cliche enough to be in the gem business, I’d say modern loupes and lenses would be something good, but they most likely weren’t.

          Hand tools work for a wide variety of professions, though I’d have to do some research to figure out which ones have improved the most.

          • Well... says:

            Half my ancestors were Ashkenazi Jews, which probably makes them substantially less likely to be farmers than average.

            A huge majority if not all of my ancestors were Ashkenazi Jews too. I don’t know how less likely to be farmers this makes them, but I figure it’s enough to make it pretty much impossible to say with Johan Larson’s apparent level of certainty what they did do.

    • sentientbeings says:

      A copy of English-language Wikipedia in print format.

      I don’t actually know the dollar cost of it anymore and I do think it is well in excess of $100. That said, the last time I looked into it (~7 years ago) it wasn’t so far off. If you focused on scientific articles, on math and computers especially, I think you could get a fair proportion of the total that would translate well into effective use.

      • Nornagest says:

        1618!ancestor would probably have trouble reading modern English, if they were even literate (and an English speaker, but you probably wouldn’t pick an ancestor that wasn’t). It’d be like reading Shakespearean English, but in reverse.

        • albatross11 says:

          What materials would be much more valuable in their world than in ours, and recognizably so?

          One thought: manufactured gemstones? Maybe cubic zirconium diamonds? [Ninja’d by baconbits]

          The goal here is to spend $100 on cheap manufactured gemstones here and deliver way more in resale value when given to them.

        • sentientbeings says:

          I’m not convinced the English would be too large a barrier. What might be more of an issue is that a lot of math and science notation was not developed for another 100 or 200 years. If the selected corpus did not include explanations of those things, it might be hard to discern their meaning contextually.

    • littskad says:

      I might include a $5 solar-powered calculator and a $10 hand-cranked flashlight.

    • baconbits9 says:

      To make some assumptions: That the relative will own their own house with windows.

      Pay a window installer $50 to save and drop off the best 20 vinyl, double hung windows that he replaces in a week, add a caulk gun and as much caulk as I can buy for the last $40 odd bucks. Show them how to install said windows, improve their quality of life immensely.

      Alternatively if the seeds are to history changing: Several fruit tree saplings of high quality that aren’t available to them yet, apple varieties that are tasty and disease resistant for example.

      Alternatively: $100 in cubic zirconia, being jewel like and completely unique in their time they ought to be able to sell them for far more money, making them fairly wealthy.

      • albatross11 says:

        How about blight-resistant potatoes for my (mostly) Irish relatives?

        If I’m allowed to change history, a primer on the germ theory of disease and recipes for some useful medicines within their likely resources and tech level.

        I like the idea of a printed (on acid-free paper) version of some useful reference material. But compiling it would take high-value time to make it really worthwhile. But something like “here’s how to get ether to use for anesthesia, here’s the recipe for aspirin, here’s how to make some useful antiseptics, here are plans for a simple working steam engine, here’s how to make an accurate clock that will stay accurate enough on ocean voyages to measure longitude, etc.” would be a pretty good gift if my goal were to jump start the industrial revolution a few years. (Though it’s quite likely none of my 400-years-ago relatives would have had the resources or influence to make use of a lot of this–the modern seeds and magic pills that you should try only if you or someone you love is very ill, that sounds more universally workable.)

        • b_jonas says:

          The printed reference material took high-value time, but not *your* time. Someone else has already done it, and you can buy it for less than 100 dollars (“” book by Ryan North, author of Dinosaur Comics aka qwantz). But I agree that my ancestor probably won’t be able to read, and almost certainly won’t understand enough English.

      • I suspect that synthetic ruby and sapphire might be better than CZ, recognizable stones that are very valuable then, very cheap now.

    • Tenacious D says:

      A good quality globe (with physical features not political boundaries). They’ve already been invented by this point but would have been quite a luxury item.

    • johan_larson says:

      My ancestors 400 years ago were peasant farmers in Finland. I bet he’d love $100 of modern tools: hammer, axe, saw, and boxes and boxes of nails.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      First whack at the problem: spend it on stainless steel items. A lot of needles and some good knives.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, stainless steel items, tools, etc., would probably be a multi-generation present, useful as long as they didn’t get lost or stolen or broken.

        • Lambert says:

          Might be cheaper to give them stainless steel bars. Let the local smith figure out what to do with it.

          • Protagoras says:

            Being worked affects the properties and composition of metals, sometimes drastically. The local smith may end up destroying the strength and/or corrosion resistance of the steel in the course of trying to do something with it. The harmful effects are going to be less if the smith doesn’t try to soften the steel with heat, but the smith will also obviously have a much harder time shaping cold steel.

            I suppose you could provide diamond edged or tungsten carbide or something files and saws and cutting tools and let them cut useful items out of the steel. But I don’t know how well you could do that and stay under budget.

          • Lambert says:

            Stainless can absolutely be forged. The chromium only starts burning out at bright orange.
            Once I have enough garden space for a smithy, I intend to try forging a stainless cutlery set. Until then it’s cheapo stamped sheet spoons.

    • Plumber says:

      Food, wine, good boots, some stainless steel tools, an electric light, a solar panel to charge the light, and a music box (but I suppose the “not changing history” part puts some of those off the table, so I guess period appropriate coins would be appreciated?).

      From the branch of my family that bothered to research genealogy there was one ancestor (surnamed :”Babcock”), in an English speaking area, and I imagine that my learning to speak an older version of English would be easier than Algonquin, Gaelic, German, Polish, Yiddish, or whatever

    • b_jonas says:

      I’d buy high calorie food. Certain charity organizations have the same idea, and transport high calorie food to third world countries as aid to the poor right now, though of course they do it cheaper in high quantities. Anything other than food would be too risky, because I don’t know what my ancestors would like.

      I’d choose mostly fatty food, and fewer food with protein. Fatty food is easy, since I already buy both chocolate and margarine for myself for about a dollar per 100 g, and I believe they were much more expensive 400 years ago. Protein source is more difficult, because my normal choice for myself in preserved proteins is decent quality canned meat and liver, but for this visit, I’ll have to look for cheaper canned pulses or fish. Weight won’t be an issue: even if I buy food in glass jars, the total weight with packaging for 100 dollars won’t be reach 15 kilograms, and I can carry that much for a short visit.

    • Urstoff says:

      More than likely they were farmers, so a sweet-ass plow or something.

    • Randy M says:

      My ancestors of 400 years ago were probably English puritan peasants or German/Danish dairy farmers or similar.
      Let’s go with a a few boxes of fancy chocolates, an mp3 player with classical music and a solar powered charger, and a framed picture of my family to show them that at some level their likely often grueling life paid off.

      • Plumber says:

        @Randy M

        “….Let’s go with a a few boxes of fancy chocolates, an mp3 player with classical music and a solar powered charger….”

        That is so nice!

        I want you as a descendent/neighbor/in-law relative.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      First time I am disappointed in no one in our family having professed any interest in genealogy, as it might be interesting if I could fathom a guess what some* of my ancestors were doing at that year (*depending on the age when each generation respectively produced offspring, there could be 8-16 of them, and to my understanding in this kind of genealogy studies one can trace only some of them back in the records.) 1618 appears to have been relatively boring year in the eastern parts of the Swedish realm. There is a war in Poland, but it appears to be more of background noise. Nothing interesting there, then. So general items suitable for early 17th century, not specific to that particular year.

      Choosing items that would be appreciated because they would easily understood and probably not to break timeline is surprisingly difficult. 17th century Finland is a foreign culture. (I assume “Finland” because I can date whole of my great-grandparental generation to Finland as “regular poor people” and prior to invention of bicycle, not many regular people moved that much.)

      I saw some suggestions of printed information. Firstly, any non-religious books (even after removal of all timeline breaking information on science that has not been invented yet) would not likely to be well received or considered weird at best. There was not that much of such literature, certainly not to found in the ordinary people’s homes, and any of them would be quite expensive items. Reformation was recent enough affair that most regular folks were not able to read. (A brief google search suggests that the first printing press in the country started functioning in 1642, thus any book my ancestor might have seen probably was a precious item produced quite far away; and the first permanent bookshop in the country was founded no earlier than 1789.) I recall occasional amusing anecdote how 19th century people in the Finnish countryside were skeptical of letting their kids go to school, not because farmhands were needed in the house (while that was a common objection) but sometimes also because their geography or maths textbooks evidently did not discuss the Bible at sufficient length and were thus ungodly education. Examples of religious literature that appears to be not uncommon includes hymnal books, sermons, and alike, and they were subject to censorship against hereticism. One (not totally uncontroversial at the time) but not totally unheard of exception I am aware of are the farmers’ almanachs, which while not secular factual literature as we would know it, also contained suggestions of dates for planting the seeds, horoscopes and description of ailments and other such information. One curious possibility would be compiling an almanach that would contain correct information (or at least not too incorrect information), given the benefit of hind-sight and scientific knowledge, but would break the restriction of not messing with course of history.

      Not breaking history is also more troublesome than initially would appear. I assume a good quality (but not opulent enough) Bible or hymnal book might be accepted as a well-intentioned gift from a stranger, assuming the recipient could read, but acquiring one with the correct 17th century translation (… for example, the whole of Bible was not available in Finnish until 1642, only New Testament …) appropriate materials and all the other details correct so that it not would not rise suspicions might beyond the budget. Item got from a bookshop today would not do as it stand out (first of all, they would not be able to read the print, they would have been accustomed to blackletter aka fraktur, and then they would notice strange paper and binding. Another curious anecdote: when the newspapers in late 19th century started to move to sans-serif fonts, they also encountered some criticism from readership; more rural the newspaper, longer it sticked with fraktur and resisted antikva. I can find newspapers national digitized archive from near the turn of century that still use fraktur.).

      21st century devices that would appear as magic, thus anything that could not be found in their time, are definitely out. It bears to mention that 17th century Finland had witch trials and not only had, as in “once of twice”, they were apparently relatively regular occurrence throughout the century. While the trials followed some organized procedure, and thus many people charged of witchcraft were acquitted because lack of evidence, firstly, I assume going through such procedure for a possession of a toy would not be welcomed, and secondly, it gives me inclination to believe that my ancestor might interpret a flashy fidget spinner as a work of devil.

      Recreating useful household items that would not appear too weird (this probably includes everything industrially mass-produced), only with subtly higher-quality materials than available then might break the 100 USD budget, because today craftmanship is expensive. Also, too high-quality items even if age-appropriate might cause social problems if they are noticed. (“how come the piss-poor k.m.s have acquired that mysterious very expensive axe? did they steal it?”)

      So granting any gifts should be done subtly, so that they would not be noticed by prying eyes, or in a flashy way that appears normal to the locals. “A traveler arrived, rested a night at k.m.’s and left an excellent knife as a payment.” Unfortunately I have no information on my ancestor’s social standing, so planning the details is difficult (“why the strange traveler insists in staying the night in the shack of ḱ.m.’s, instead of not-k.m.s who have nice house”).

      I don’t know anything about plants and gardening, but as a conclusion, seeds and possibly also edibles suggested above in sibling comments might work out best.

  23. Walter says:

    For a given book on Amazon, is there a way to find out all of the places it was advertised?

  24. JulieK says:


    I’ll respond here to what you wrote about Yom Kippur in the previous open thread.

    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.

    You’re right; it seems that only eating and drinking are forbidden by the Torah, and the other four prohibitions are Rabbinic law.
    By the way, did you notice that written Torah does not in fact mention fasting? The language there is “you shall afflict yourselves” (or “your souls”). It’s the oral tradition that tells us that fasting the the specific affliction called for.

    But I could be wrong — if so please point me to the relevant bits of Torah.

    I don’t see the point, since you and I don’t practice the same religion and don’t accept the same authorities as binding.

    • Well... says:

      By the way, did you notice that written Torah does not in fact mention fasting?

      I did notice that. I interpret “afflict” as something like “constantly interrogate”. Fasting, for me anyway, is a good way to make that happen because a few hours in I’m thinking about food every few minutes, and each time that causes me to think about why I’m not going to eat…

      I don’t see the point, since you and I don’t practice the same religion and don’t accept the same authorities as binding.

      I don’t think either of us disclosed our religion in the previous OT, though I have mentioned in past OTs that I’m a Karaite Jew, but not a very good one. But, the point was that I’m not really anywhere near as familiar with the Torah as I’d like to be, and some people here are much more familiar with it than I am, so I figured it was a good opportunity to quickly check my assumption about whether the aforementioned traditions are God-ordained.

      • sentientbeings says:

        I did notice that. I interpret “afflict” as something like “constantly interrogate”. Fasting, for me anyway, is a good way to make that happen because a few hours in I’m thinking about food every few minutes, and each time that causes me to think about why I’m not going to eat…

        I think that is sort of the opposite of the intended mechanism. I learned that a reason for the fast was to not think about food so that one could focus on prayer and introspection and the like. When I first heard that, I found it odd, because it seemed to me that one’s actual thought process would be more like what you described.

        Over the years I’ve changed my mind about it, though. I think that people used to have different eating habits that made that sort of mindset easier (or rather, our modern-day constant eating and food availability with little preparation makes that mindset harder or unfamiliar). I’ve experimented with different eating habits as part of diet and exercise protocols, such as alternate day fasting, and I’ve found that under the right conditions fasting is easy and it does free up one’s mind and time to focus on other activities. One caveat is that those fasts do not restrict water, which the Yom Kippur fast does – a significantly greater imposition, IMO.

      • JulieK says:

        Right, I remembered you mentioned your being a Karaite. The link I posted is a good overview of which traditions are God-ordained.

  25. broblawsky says:

    Scott, if you want to fix the comment section here, you should probably fix the post reporting function first.

    • Aapje says:

      This has been an issue for years and somehow seems like a problem that is more difficult than rocket science (since even our resident rocket scientists haven’t solved it).

      • Dan L says:

        The obvious answer then would be to stop asking rocket scientists and hire a competent web developer. I’ll probably make a top-level comment on it for the next integer OT, but is there some reason Scott has chosen not to take a professional approach to this?

        • Aapje says:

          Probably that this is mostly a hobby that earns very little money relative to his day job.

          • Dan L says:

            SSC is definitely in a weird place, I don’t think I can think of a higher-profile website run and maintained by a single (non-tech!) individual. Maybe it’s just the circles I’m exposed to these days though, but even for an personal site it seems to have a large number of long-unresolved technical issues.

            The limited monetization is a whole can of worms that I’m uncomfortable making recommendations on one way or another without doing an uncomfortable level of (unasked-for) digging into Scott’s practices, but it again strikes me as deeply weird to essentially see Scott with his hat in hand soliciting donations of labor. He seems to have a few bites on the latest OT though, and if it works out win-win for everyone I’m perfectly happy to shut my mouth on the topic.

  26. Matt M says:

    So, I have an affirmative action question, inspired by (but not directly related to) the discussion above.

    In most job applications/college admissions forms, you are asked to provide, at a minimum, your race, gender, veteran status, and disability status. In most cases, these are accompanied by disclaimers informing you that this is a voluntary disclosure, and that you can choose not to answer (which is, indeed, a choice on all the forms).

    Does anyone here have any admissions/HR experience and can speak to what happens with the “choose not to answer” group? Are they simply assumed to be white males? How are they classified exactly?

    I’ve been selecting this option almost exclusively recently, because I surmise that the fact that I’m a white male will only be held against me – and even though I strongly disagree with affirmative action, I still don’t feel comfortable actively lying about myself.

    • Matt says:

      Are they simply assumed to be white males?

      Probably not assumed to be male.

    • Viliam says:

      I don’t feel comfortable actively lying, so I wouldn’t choose e.g. “black” or “female”, but if there is an option called “other” without further explanation required, I feel okay taking that one, because it somehow doesn’t feel like lying. It’s just being a very special snowflake; and if your definition of a special snowflake does not match mine, that is not my fault! 😀

      So far, no one has ever asked for further explanation, but in case that happens, my prepared answer is “uh, I feel really uncomfortable talking about this, and I’d rather not answer unless it’s absolutely necessary”. Which is technically true.

      • Aapje says:

        You can also say: my ancestry is a complicated mixture of backgrounds and I don’t feel that a simplistic category captures that diversity.

        This is not a lie even if your ancestors are all white Europeans.

    • Well... says:

      I don’t work in HR but my guess is you’ve modeled this wrong.

      You’re modeling it as…

      1. You check a box
      2. Hiring manager compares the box you checked against some affirmative action quota about who must be hired
      3. If you check the “Choose not to answer” box the hiring manager makes an assumption about the box you probably would have checked.

      I think the reality is more like…

      1. You check a box, as did a bunch of other people applying for the job as well as more people who now work at that company
      2. The company obtains a mass of data about who works there and who wants to work there
      3. The company uses this data to decide how hard to push for affirmative action in their hiring
      4. Checking the “choose not to answer” box just means you don’t contribute to the data in #2.
      5. The hiring manager uses information from your resume and your interview (i.e. your name and your appearance) to determine whether you will help fulfill the affirmative action quota, if the quota is being pushed.

      TLDR: I think the information in those questions is used in aggregate to determine whether to enforce affirmative action quotas, not to determine whether a particular candidate will fulfill them.

      I’m white but I always check “black” so that the company feels that much less of an urge to push affirmative action policies.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Has anybody ever asked you about that, when they see you’re not really black? I actually had doubts about whether it’s even legal.

        • 10240 says:

          Do they even have the right to determine that you are of a certain race, other than what you identify as?

          • Aapje says:


            Even deciding on what standard to use is fraught with conflict. Is the organization going to be willing to actually get into fights with people who claim that they are black?

            A common American standard for ‘black’ is having ‘one drop.’ Determining that is almost impossible with even very extensive genealogical research, because you have to look at a huge number of ancestors. An alternative is DNA testing, but it is rather invasive to demand that of people.

          • Basil Elton says:

            Well I have no idea. When I first came to the US and started to see these race/ethnicity questions in job application forms, as well as in approximately all the other forms I filled out, I was genuinely… well if not shocked then at least very surprised. Because until that moment I’ve kind of grown up and lived with the idea that the last people who officially put that much significance – any significance in fact – at person’s race were those Nazi guys. And they racial politics were one of the key reasons people didn’t particularly like them, so I thought it has been generally considered a bad practice ever since.

            Of course I did know that the idea is the opposite – give preferences to the minorities – but stating that I’m white on each and every form I submitted still felt Third Reich-ish for quite a while.

        • Well... says:

          @Basil: No, nobody has ever asked. And it would be illegal for them to ask.

      • WashedOut says:

        5. The hiring manager uses information from your resume and your interview (i.e. your name and your appearance) to determine whether you will help fulfill the affirmative action quota, if the quota is being pushed.

        Do people actually include photos of themselves with their resume? How gauche.

        Anyhow, if your model is correct, checking the “choose not to answer” box should be regarded as a civic duty.

        • Well... says:

          They get your name from your resume, physical appearance from the interview. I guess I should have written “respectively” there.

    • dick says:

      In most job applications/college admissions forms…

      I think these are wildly different questions. Colleges use applicant race in all sorts of ways that I don’t know much about, but I assume vary a lot from school to school. I assume some civil service and pseudo-government jobs ask for candidate race, for the obvious reasons. I’v never seen a private sector job application ask for race, and if I did see it, I would alert HR and be very confident their response would be, “Oops, good catch, we’ll remove that ASAP.”

      • Nornagest says:

        I’v never seen a private sector job application ask for race

        I’ve been asked for my ethnicity as part of the hiring process before, but they’re always very careful to say that it’s for statistical purposes only and won’t be used to make hiring decisions. It’s always been part of the boilerplate phase after I basically have the job and they’re just doing their due diligence to make sure I’m not a con artist or axe murderer, so I don’t have any reason not to believe them.

        • dick says:

          Being asked before you’re hired and after are completely different things. The latter is routine record-keeping; the former is exposing the company to costly litigation for (presuming you don’t have explicitly racist hiring policies) no discernable reason.

          Edit to add: if it was part of the background check, then the reason you were asked is because the background-check-contractor uses it to distinguish people with similar names and whatnot. So the result of leaving it blank would be a negligible increase in the chance of being denied the job because someone you share a last name/former address/etc with is unemployable, and the result of checking it inaccurately would be a non-negligible chance of losing the job because of the part at the bottom of the form that says “Lying on this form is grounds for termination”. But I’d be stunned to see race asked for on a job application, which was what Matt M asked about.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, I hadn’t been hired in the sense of receiving an offer letter. The phase I’m talking about is after an informal or implicit offer (“We’ve decided we’d like to have you on our team…”) but before it’s been formalized, when they’re going through stuff like background checks.

            They might even be asking because the background check service they’re using asks for it, although I can’t see why they’d need it if they have my SSN.

          • dick says:

            They don’t need it necessarily, which is why you can leave it blank, but they do ask for as much as they can. An example of a case where it might matter would be: suppose you’re named John Smith and you went to Peoria High in 1990-93, and they check publicly available arrest records for Peoria in those years and see a John Smith who committed a string of burglaries, who may or may not be you. Those records will not contain SSNs, but they will contain race. (I think in such a case they would probably ask for more info, as opposed to just denying you the job, but I’ve never had a background check come back red flagged so I’m just theorizing)

          • anonymousskimmer says:


            I briefly worked with a person who was denied due to such a mixup, but having gone through this before they knew what the problem was and immediately informed the employer that this was another person with the same name and the denial of employment was quickly reversed.

            You have to prove your innocence, but don’t have to go to extremes in doing so.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Pardon me asking but what country you’re talking about, and if the US then which industry?

        Every applicant tracking system I’ve encountered stateside had this question. Just as a random example, here’s the Twitter’s application form and you can see questions about race, gender, orientation etc. They’re all under “U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Information” section, so I’d guess they’re mandatory by law or close enough to that.

        • dick says:

          I’m in the US. I’ve never seen an EEO thing like that on a job app and my company’s application (which is outsourced to a SaaS app lots of other employers use) doesn’t have it, but if Twitter has one I assume they must be fairly common. I’m really surprised, everything on that form (gender, race, veteran status) is stuff that interviewers are warned not to ask about. I guess that idea is outdated?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:


            No, it’s still very much a bad idea to ask about those statuses at the application stage. There are reasons a company may ask that early, for instance if they are a government contractor. Government contractors are often required to keep a detailed record of that information for each applicant, so that it’s easier to determine if they are discriminating against potential employees based on those metrics. Twitter executives may be trying to monitor their recruiters for the same reason, even absent such a government requirement.

            Hopefully that information gets stored separately and the recruiters don’t have access to it, so Twitter can’t be accused, at least as easily, of using it against someone. If they could be shown to use that information directly, they could get successfully sued. If it can be shown that the recruiters were aware of that information, and the appearance of discrimination exists (disparate impact), then a company that asks early would have a very hard time disproving the claim. That’s the reason employers should not ask that during interviews especially, since the recruiters and hiring managers would then have that information directly and no plausible deniability if that applicant complains.

      • Matt M says:

        Uh, I just applied for a ton of jobs recently and literally all of them asked for race/ethnicity (although as I said, included a disclaimer that it was voluntary and you could “choose not to answer”)

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      (disclaimer: I work in HR and have to deal with this)

      I would agree with the above response that you are modeling the situation inaccurately.

      Most of the time, refusing to answer just becomes an administrative hassle for any reporting that we have to do. Many US companies have to fill out an EEO-1 report yearly, and the “unknown” responses are listed as errors. On a personal level, your average HR person doesn’t really care so long as the person being hired is competent enough to do the job, and the demographic skew isn’t bad enough to draw attention from some government agency or higher level manager worried about the same.

      As for people putting down the “wrong” information – it’s a very bad practice to ask someone about what they self-select, and literally no other legal way to determine status. If someone puts down an answer that is visually questionable, that honestly helps us on the EEO-1 side and no government agency is going to question that either.

      Even when I worked at a government contractor that had strong Affirmative Action requirements, we didn’t have quotas (those are strictly illegal) and rarely had situations where there were both qualified minority and white applicants without enough positions to just hire both. If there was a problem, we would sometimes just go ahead and hire the minority applicant on top of what we otherwise needed, and let their performance be judged by objective criteria (can they do they job, attendance, etc.).

  27. nweining says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to devise a minimum-cost, maximally practicable plan for the peaceable division of the United States into 2-4 separate, independent nations. The goals of this are to forestall a less-peaceable future division or civil war, and to reduce the sense of threat to their respective core values felt by both Red Tribe and Blue Tribe so as to get them focused more on improving institutional quality within the new nations.

    Important points to cover:
    — mechanism for determining borders
    — mechanism for determining citizenship
    — initial conditions regarding freedom of movement of goods and people
    — distribution of Federal debt
    — distribution of military resources and facilities

    • Jesse E says:

      The basic problem is that the split isn’t West vs. East, North vs South, or even coastal vs inland.

      It’s urban vs rural – people in Austin ,Texas would be very unhappy to be part of a even more conservative Flyover Republic and people in the rural coast of Washington or Oregon would be even more unhappy to be a part of the People’s Republic of the Coasts.

      • nweining says:

        Granted. So maybe you address the former with citizenship choice independent of current residence location (to make relocation easier for those who decide, after partition, that they really can’t abide the other tribe’s rule) and address the latter by allowing for some per-county border adjustments.

        Note I said minimum-cost, not low-cost. There’s no low-cost way to do this, I’m going for a lower expected cost over a couple of generations than the enormous expected cost that attaches to any appreciable risk of a Second Civil War. Of course, if you believe that risk is negligible you may not think this is achievable.

        • Jesse E says:

          I think that’s the thing – we aren’t on the brink of a Civil War.

          What we are at is at another societal bulging point, where there’s an more conservative generation at loggerheads with a more liberal generation. This happened before – from the mid 60’s to the mid 70’s, we had riots, wars, kidnappings, and low level continual bombing campaigns. As other people have noted, during the 70’s, there was a bombing a day in America.

          But by the end, by 1980, people accepted the vast majority of changes that the younger generation had asked for, in part because some of the older generation died out and in other parts, because after the changes were made, people realized society didn’t collapse.

          We’ve had these moments before and the only time there’s been actual civil wars is where the ‘losing’ generation refers to yield or has some structural advantage that allows them to rule despite having minority support.

          So, the only reason I think there’s a sliver of a chance of actual large scale issues is say, the future of 2040 where the Republican’s hold 60 seats in the Senate, despite the other 40 Seats having 65-70% of the population.

          • Nornagest says:

            The Sixties and Seventies culture war was much less generational than it’s generally seen as. As the Death Eaters are fond of pointing out, people of age for the draft were actually more likely to support the Vietnam War.

          • Matt M says:

            people of age for the draft were actually more likely to support the Vietnam War.

            What, what?

            This is the first I’ve heard of that. Any interesting links?

          • Nornagest says:

            I haven’t dug into it for a while, but Google turns up this. And this, which looks like it’s citing the same Gallup poll but is at least a more respectable source.

          • Jesse E says:

            “The Sixties and Seventies culture war was much less generational than it’s generally seen as. ”

            On the War, yes, but on virtually ever other issue, it’s the same as today – a “progressive elite” pushing minority ideas past a majority of the country that disagrees, then within 10-15 years, 80% of the country is basically OK with 80% of the changes.

          • nweining says:

            Have you read “Uncivil Agreement”? I would claim that the Sixties and Seventies culture war:

            (a) never really ended, and is one of the main sources of our present tribal division

            (b) had not, in the 60s and 70s, yet resulted in the level of social sorting and interpartisan bigotry and hatred we now have (where e.g. people are much more likely to blatantly say they would discriminate against someone from the other party in hiring, and would be unhappy if their child married someone from the other party, than they are to say the analogous things about race, religion, etc).

          • Aapje says:

            @Jesse E

            But by the end, by 1980, people accepted the vast majority of changes that the younger generation had asked for, in part because some of the older generation died out and in other parts, because after the changes were made, people realized society didn’t collapse.

            It seems extremely common for people to argue that certain movements got most of what they asked for, while if you look at the actual sources of the day, many strongly demanded things that that they never got or that were rolled back.

            For example, a very common demand in the 60’s/70’s was pacifism, while the obvious reality is that the US often used military force since then.

            Another common demand was abandonment of nuclear for deterrent and energy, neither of which happened.

            ‘Free schools’ never became widely accepted.

            The sexual revolution obviously effected mores, but some aspects were not accepted or reverted back. For example, pedophilia, women being topless, social pressure on women to have sex often and with different partners to show that they are ‘liberated.’

            Wide use of LSD never happened.

            Of course, quite a few other things were accepted, but these revisionist narratives that pretend that movements mainly asked for the changes that actually happened, while ignoring all the things that they asked but didn’t get, irritate me a bit.

      • Plumber says:

        @Jesse E
        “The basic problem is that the split isn’t West vs. East, North vs South, or even coastal vs inland.

        It’s urban vs rural ….”

        So very much this!

        Let’s see, divide every citizen into groups of their hundred nearest neighbors, each “Hundred” would have a vote on whether they wish to be part of an incorporated City or a separate County government, when those “Hundreds” are a majority pro-City and contiguous a separate City is formed, with Hundreds that are completely surrounded by the City absorbed by the City and some outlying land given up to the County if they’re many “islands” of Hundreds that didn’t want to be in the City. The Cities and Counties would be largely self-governing with all the powers now granted to the different States (each City would be it’s own State, how Counties are divided, I don’t know, maybe based on the 435 parts in this article) so that’s two parts, then States and Territories that aren’t part of the  current 48 contiguous States (so Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, et cetera) would be made to be one or two independent Nations, or remain with the rest of the 500 (not 50) States, as long as the total is two or three Nations, or you could just poll which one to three States and Territories most want to be independent, maybe it’s Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Texas that have at least 20% say “Yes let’s go!”, the rest of the Nation says “Thanks for volunteering”, and BOOM independent nations.

        As for how we handle political separation?

        However we did it with the Philippines and the rest of what used to be a bunch of U.S. administered Pacific Islands that are now independent, do that.

    • herbert herberson says:

      To start with, this would be my rough map:, with the modification of taking NoVA (the DC metropolitian area that extends into Virgina) and giving it to Blue, while extending a line from the top point of Kentuckey to the top-right corner of Missouri and giving it to Red.

      At the time of partition, every current citizen would have the option to become a citizen of any of the successor states, regardless of their residence. The successor states would be bound in an EU-style trade/migration system. Equal protection, except for voting, would be constitutionally guaranteed to members of other successor states. Federal lands and military bases within each successor state devolve to their geographical residence. Nuclear forces are divided equally. Movable government property, the Navy, and overseas assets would be divided up pursuant to a bidding process. The national debt is divided on a per-capita basis. Federal employees and soldiers have their contracts transferred to the successor state they chose to be a citizen of.

      Property taxes of all kind would be abolished and constitutionally barred from being reinstated for a period of at least fifty years. The successor states would instead fund their governments purely off of income taxes (levied on their citizens) and sales or value-added taxes on the commerce within their borders. Commercial/environmental regulations, land use, torts, IP/copyright, and criminal law would also fall within the borders. Child protection law would be geographical, except that when addressing non-citizen children, the government of those children would have ICWA-style rights to notice, intervention, and transfer. Family law would be citizen-based. In cases where couples are nationals of two different successor states, the geographical location would be controlling (if you had, say, a Red and a Blue married and living in Beige, then I guess you follow something like existing diversity jurisdiction practices). Children would be citizens of their parents’ nation if their parents are of the same one, otherwise you follow that same rule. Local municipal and county governments will continue to be land-based with all residents allowed to vote within, regardless of their citizenship (but note that, until and unless property taxes are relegalized, their powers will me negligible). Successor states will be able to set up intermediate/state-level governments if they want around whatever lines they feel are appropriate. Children will have equal rights to local public schooling regardless of citizenship, although a successor state may chose to not have public education if it so feels. In places where the population can support it, you would expect parallel education systems serving the nationals of different successor states (although in practice, one would expect Beige and Blue to usually join up together)

      Although my map has four zones, I only envision three nations. Yellow is, instead, a demilitarized/semi-autonomous zone. All federal lands in it are divided out to the other three nations at the time of partition through a bidding process. Major cities are allowed to set up charters allowing them to be semi-sovereign Hong Kong-style city-states, as are Indian reservations in that area. The remaining areas are assorted along the borders of the existing states on the same semi-sovereign basis. The Yellow semi-sovereigns have full control over the types of law evaluated on a geographical basis as described above, except that they are not permitted to have foreign policy. Also, with the exception of the Indian reservations, none of these semi-sovereigns have oil, gas, or mineral rights to their lands. Instead, all such exploitation is handed by chartered companies jointly owned by the three successor states. Yellow semi-sovereigns are able, and expected, to structure their land use laws in such a way that they nonetheless receive a portion of the profits, but it is anticipated and intended that their share will be relatively low due to the lack of leverage against the monopolistic successor state charter companies. Note that people living in Yellow will enjoy the same right to choose which successor state to be a citizen of as all other Americans living at the time of partition (while also voting in the elections of their local semi-sovereigns). Also note that my approach to Yellow is probably a boondoggle that would be best avoided by simply portioning out lands to the other three states, but I just couldn’t help myself (and do not believe it would be appropriate to make Yellow a fourth state, on the grounds of the large amount of federal lands within, the sparse population, and the lack of a unique culture).

      • nweining says:

        Why abolish property taxes?

        Also: who gets the nukes, and who gets the debt?

        • herbert herberson says:

          I edited in the nukes and debt before even seeing this, honest!

          Abolishing property taxes is to make it less onerous to live in a successor state that you’re not a citizen of (that’s why it ends after 50 years–the expectation is that right after partition you’ll have many “foreign” nationals living in successor states, while the hope is that after a couple generations you’ll have far fewer

      • Jesse E says:

        See, this seems fine for a sci-fi book set-up, but in reality, 80% of American’s are going to say, “what the hell are you talking about? We’ve got problems, but there’s no reason to further complicate things just because we’re at political loggerheads.”

        Your world would seem unduly confusing to basically everybody who doesn’t spend too much time on the Internet.

        • herbert herberson says:

          Can’t say I disagree, I was just approaching the question for fun and taking the premise for granted.

        • herbert herberson says:

          Honestly, if you wanted a real answer that wouldn’t cause barrels of unforeseen problems and that people would have a chance of going for, you’d keep it one sovereign country, go back to a pre-Civil War level of federalism, and reorganize the states around lines that actually reflect contemporary cultural divisions.

          You’d probably end up with five of them, and the fact that you already know basically what those borders would look like is my number one piece of evidence for why that would be ideal.

          • nweining says:

            I would love to have radical devolution (your “pre Civil War level of federalism”) within a single sovereign state plus some state border adjustments. I agree that that would be a lower-cost and generally preferable alternative to a breakup. My concern is that that would be even more complicated to hash out than an actual breakup, and wouldn’t accomplish the threat reduction effect– as long as FedGov in Washington is still there, controlled by one tribe or the other, the tribe not in control of it will not be able to trust that it won’t break out of whatever bonds you’ve constitutionally put it in to reestablish radical federalism, and the tribe in control won’t be able to restrain itself from trying to break out of those bonds.

          • Jesse E says:

            Radical pre-Civil War federalism can’t exist in a world where any liberal in California can see a person in Alabama being denied their civil rights, wallowing in poverty because of extra low social spending and tax rates, and so on, and so forth.

          • Nornagest says:

            Radical pre-Civil War federalism can’t exist in a world where any liberal in California can see a person in Alabama being denied their civil rights, wallowing in poverty because of extra low social spending and tax rates, and so on, and so forth.

            (Epistemic status: kinda shitposty.)

            Why not? Liberals in San Francisco and conservatives in Houston alike seem perfectly content with people going without power for months in Puerto Rico, unless it can be used as a stick to beat the other side with, and not for long then. That’s American soil just as California and Texas are, but they turn a blind eye because they feel more culturally distant from Puerto Ricans. That kind of distance hasn’t existed between between San Francisco and Houston for the last hundred years or so, but it’s growing, and would only grow faster if more authority was devolved to the state or local levels.

          • albatross11 says:

            I wonder whether the Alabamans ever get upset about seeing Californians denied their second amendment rights and taxed/NIMBYed into penury by the oppressive Californian government.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I wonder whether the Alabamans ever get upset about seeing Californians denied their second amendment rights and taxed/NIMBYed into penury by the oppressive Californian government.

            I’ve never seen for those two particular issues. It’s just making fun of California.
            But other social issues? Absolutely a national issue. They want abortion banned everywhere, they wanted gay marriage defined as a man and a woman, and they will get real pissed if you don’t let kids pray in school.

          • bean says:

            They want abortion banned everywhere, they wanted gay marriage defined as a man and a woman, and they will get real pissed if you don’t let kids pray in school.

            I suppose that would be one way to solve that problem…

    • johan_larson says:

      Let’s take some lessons from Joel Garreau’s old book The Nine Nations of North America and split up the US along economic and cultural lines.

      Ecotopia (a long thin strip along the west coast) gets along with nobody, so they get to go their own way. (They could probably get along with New England, but that region is at the other end of the continent. No way.)

      Dixie is a big and distinctive block, so they get to go their own way. All hail the new confederacy.

      That leaves The Empty Quarter, The Breadbasket, The Foundry, New England, a small part of Mexamerica, and a tiny bit of The Islands. I’m guessing The Empty Quarter (oil, mining, ranching) can get along with The Breadbasket (agriculture). And The Foundry and New England should work too. That gets me a big central block and a mid-sized north-east block.

      The portions of the US that are Mexamerica get to choose whether they want to join Mexico (probably not) or adjacent divisions of the US. The Islands is too small a portions of the US to worry about.

    • eighty-six twenty-three says:

      We’re not going to partition existing states, that’s crazy talk.
      The US is keeping all our debt — and all our nukes, thanks.
      Instead, we’re going to start some fledgling nations as seeds, and they can grow as people immigrate to them.

      I’m going to find some cheap unsettled land in the US.
      Discussion in “Next Door In Nodrumia” tells me there are lots of spots that would be decent places for cities; “the reason they are not now cities is because Vancouver, Bremerton, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and etc, already exist, and it’s easier to expand the ports there than build a new one.”

      I’m going to designate one such spot Conservatopia and one such spot Progressylvania.
      They start with a place to build a city on, plus some decent farmland.
      Anyone who wants can pack up and leave the US and move to one of these countries.
      We’ll try to build these sites near unused US land; if lots of people move there and they need more lebensraum, we’ll let them buy land from the US.
      If things go very well for them and they need a lot more land, we’ll try to figure out a fair price to sell them cities for.
      If someone used to own land but it gets bought by one of our new nations, they’ll be compensated. But they can’t refuse to sell.

      (To be clear: the immigrants who are moving here have presumably sold their old houses/land/etc that was in the US, so I don’t think it’s unfair to ask them to spend that money to buy new land in-and-for their new nation.)

      We’ll make some sort of effort to identify a good initial leadership for each city. Will it be as simple as letting self-identified progressives and conservatives vote on their first presidents, and then letting the first presidents decide who will be allowed to immigrate? Maybe it will be that simple.

      The two new nations will not be near each other.
      We will have some ground rules about crime: obviously they can legislate which activities are against the law in their own borders, but if they start (eg) smuggling drugs into the US, we might retaliate.
      These nations must permit full access by reporters, who will keep the rest of us updated about how the two nations are developing.
      These nations can pay for the protection of the US armed forces, or they can choose not to do that if they’d prefer.
      If any nation seems to be developing a human rights crisis (a failure to hold democratic elections, for example), we reserve the right to end the experiment and re-annex the nation.

      My prediction is that both new nations will fail badly. My hope is that we’ll learn a valuable lesson from the failures.

    • arlie says:

      I don’t think this is possible, because there seems to be a strong constituency of Americans who would choose to keep their country together by military force.

      I first noticed this in casual conversation with my office’s loudest conservative, intelligent and politically aware, but nonetheless a vocal early Trump supporter. I had mentioned the Calexit movement, which I’d just encountered. He was aware of it, but basically insisted that it couldn’t work, because it would/should be prevented by military means. Given the context of the conversation (which included the idea that Calexit was being created by Russian puppets), I pointed out that a second US civil war would probably be even more satisfying for hostile foreign powers than an amicable split up.

      He didn’t really have an answer for that – but it seemed clear that he’d give those hypothetical foreigners their civil war, rather than lose any US territory, whatever its inhabitants wanted.

      I suspect he’s representative of a significant group.

  28. Cardboard Vulcan says:

    LessWrong DC will be having a meetup this Sunday.

    Kelsey Piper, blogger at The Unit of Caring and a writer for Vox’s new EA vertical, Future Perfect, will be our guest.

    WHEN: October 21st, 2018, starting 3:30 p.m
    WHERE: National Portrait Gallery, F St NW between 7th and 9th St. Near the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro stop

    We usually meet in the main courtyard. Look for a table of folks with a LessWrong sign. If there is an event in the main courtyard we meet upstairs in the Luce Center.

  29. This may be relevant to the neuroscience/psychology readers here. I am actually quite surprised by how good this is as a qualitative model for several neurodegenerative diseases.

  30. S_J says:

    Tangentially related to the genetic testing discussion above, but not directly related to it:

    A hobbyist website (called GEDMatch) which was created to help people connect genetic tests with genealogy research has turned into a powerful tool for solving old criminal cases.

    Not because the criminal in question might have put their DNA into 23-and-me’s database…but because enough other people have put their DNA into databases like 23-and-me. A talented, knowledgeable sleuth has a good chance of matching a random DNA sample to a near-relative who has put their DNA into a genealogy website.

    For Americans who have some ancestry from Northern Europe, the odds of matching DNA to some relative (probably a cousin) is approximately 60%. From the point of identifying the relative, there is a reasonable chance of finding a person who can be treated as a suspect.

    After finding a suspect, it is easy to do a comparison of the suspect’s DNA against the stored samples from the crime-scene.

    Effectively, if a person’s DNA is found at a crime scene, the odds of that person being found are now much higher than they were five years ago.

    • J Mann says:

      I’m planning on getting a 23 and Me sequencing later this year, and on signing up for GEDMatch.

      • S_J says:

        I doubt that I will put my DNA on any such site, within the next few years.

        At the moment, that is mostly because I am already in possession of most of my family-tree genealogy. (Said genealogy is traced back some three centuries in North America, and was done by an Uncle of mine who is into such things.)

        I have had discussions about this with my wife. We might decide to do a 23-and-Me-style test, but we don’t expect to find much meaning in it.

        I do find it amusing that a user-driven website can generate an approximation of a total-population-DNA-database, with no government intervention in play.

        • J Mann says:

          Oh, that’s the reason I’ll probably sign up – I don’t think I’m likely to leave my DNA at any crime scenes, and I don’t object to helping the police catch serious criminals who are related to me, if any, plus I’m all for getting broad DNA databases to researchers.

          • S_J says:

            I find it interesting that the article about GEDmatch notes that the owners got one very nasty letter about them helping Police…and dozens, if not hundreds, of people congratulating them about that practice.

            On the one hand, I’m assuming that someone else in the family tree has done a 23-and-me test.

            On the other hand, most of the members of the extended family that I’m aware of aren’t the kind of person I expect to be interested in a 23-and-Me-style test. Echoing your thoughts, I might be doing a public service by taking a 23-and-me test, and posting the results on GEDmatch.

        • CatCube says:

          I find it amusing that 1984 had a dystopian society with mandatory bugging of all residences, but it turns out that people will voluntarily bug their own residences if it makes ordering toilet paper slightly easier.

          • J Mann says:

            David Brin’s Earth has a nice early prediction of the crowd sourced surveillance society – one of the complaints that the teens have is that wherever they go, old people follow them around with networked glasses publishing everything they do.

  31. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I just reposted something I had on facebook, and I left the urls visible. Does anyone care about whether urls are visible in long posts, or do you prefer them to be under link test? Does anyone have a preference for whether explanations come before or after urls?

    • Matt M says:

      In the past, I’ve had lots of posts where I paste URLs deleted by the spam filter, but never had that happen using link text, so now I always use link text. Not sure why you got away with it when I never did!

    • CatCube says:

      I’ll usually leave URLs visible if the only thing that I’m going to use as the link text is “here.” That is, if I have a sentence, “You can read more about it here,” I’ll use a colon and paste the URL after it. If I’m referring to something within a text where there are some relevant words, especially to disambiguate what the link refers to, then I’ll go through the effort of putting it in a full-blown [a href] tag.

  32. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve gotten interested in the politics of the 1994 crime bill. Any recommendations for material about who was for it or against it, and what their reasoning was?

    Were there political consequeces for being for it or against it?

    Recently, I asked about the how the two parties were involved with the war on drugs, and got an answer that it was pretty much the Republicans.

    Then a memory drifted in about black people who wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because of her involvement with the war on drugs, which gave me something convenient to check on.

    Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1994 which greatly increased the penalties for drug crimes. He could have vetoed it.

    Some black leaders were also complicit.

    Especially Rangel.

    I’ve hated Rangel for a long time because he was pro-conscription. Looks like I had good instincts.

    Hillary Clinton and her tough-on-crime approach. Also, Sanders voted for that 1994 crime bill.

    I’m dubious about the bit at the end about mysterious deaths of people near the Clintons, though.

    A quick search doesn’t turn up anything about whether Michelle Alexander has any doubts about discouraging black people from voting against Trump.

    A first whack at the question of whether Democratic members of Congress only supported the bill to keep their seat.

    I’m making a sketchy overview here, but a lot of Democrats voted for it, and a noticeable number of Republicans voted against it. Considering the high incumbency rate in the US Congress, I bet people who voted against it weren’t voted out.

    Joe Biden wrote the law.

    • J Mann says:

      My recollection of that period was that we were nearing the end of the crack crime wave (but didn’t know we were near the end), and that the 94 crime bill was an effort to reduce crime, in large part in order to help inner city crime victims. Clinton got mocked for proposing youth basketball as a way to get kids out of gangs, but the crime wave was perceived as a serious problem.

      IIRC, the perception was that the crime wave was disproportionately harming African Americans as they were disproportionately likely to be victims of crime. “New Jack City” was a popular movie of the time, “911 Is a Joke” argued that there wasn’t enough police presence in the Inner City, and a somewhat popular conspiracy theory was that the CIA had supported the crack trade (and/or AIDs) in a deliberate attempt to commit genocide against African Americans.

      • Matt M says:

        “Demolition Man” is one of my favorite views into how people in the early 90s viewed the issue of crime. It was assumed that in the quite near future, Los Angeles would essentially be an active warzone.

        • Jaskologist says:

          On the other hand, Robocop’s picture of Detroit was meant to be dystopic, but turned out to be over-optimistic.

        • Salem says:

          Demolition Man was an action-comedy. No-one thought LA would be an active warzone (or that Arnie would be President), but the fact that people were even joking about it is revealing enough.

          • Matt M says:

            Right, that’s what I meant. Sorry if I didn’t clarify. I do not think that they were painting that as the literal most likely future. But it was plausible enough to serve as a reasonable set-up to the larger plot.

          • J Mann says:

            In hindsight, I was somewhat afraid that all restaurants would be Taco Bell, so the Foodie and Craft Beer revolutions were welcome surprises.

          • Matt M says:

            I tried to pitch a startup about three seashells, but I was unable to demonstrate how they function 🙁

            Seriously though, Demolition Man is criminally underrated. It’s one of the very few action comedies that tends to do a pretty good job on both fronts. Surprisingly clever. I’m extremely disappointed that we never got a sequel.

          • J Mann says:

            Wesley Snipes was the star of that movie, and gave one of the performances of the decade. Stallone, Bullock and Leary were all adequate. Remove Snipes and you would have a disappointing sequel, IMHO.

            I would gladly have watched a sequel where Snipes is somehow refrozen and thawed in a different time with different rules. If necessary, Stallone could freeze himself to go after him, like Austin Powers.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            All the restaurants are owned by Taco Bell, but they can serve whatever they want.

          • Matt M says:

            You also have some decent cameos from Dennis Leary, and way-before-he-was-at-all-famous Rob Schneider.

          • J Mann says:

            All the restaurants are owned by Taco Bell, but they can serve whatever they want.

            I know this isn’t literally true in the movie, but since it’s Taco Bell, I assume

            1) Yes, they can serve whatever they want, but it has to be a combination of the same 7 ingredients (ground beef, refried beans, tortillas, fritos, etc)

            2) Yes, they can serve whatever they want, except they have to serve Pepsi.

          • Matt M says:

            There is no beef. It’s a vegetarian society. Meat has been banned.

            That’s why John Spartan very much enjoyed the “carne de ratta” he was able to obtain in the underground sewers.

          • Plumber says:

            I think “Escape From New York” and “The Warriors” are films more reflective of earlier and less tongue-in-cheek views on the crime waves of their times

          • John Schilling says:

            Pop culture could be alternately sarcasted, comedic, ironic, or deadly serious about it, but it took a long time to really notice that the dramtic increase in urban violence of the ’60s and early ’70s had stopped, and there was a common background assumption in ’80s to early ’90s pop culture that, yes, this really was going to get a lot worse in the near future.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The increase in urban violence didn’t end until the ’90s. NYC crime dropped off sooner than most, but its homicide peak was in 1990 (though there was a drop from 1980 to 1985).

    • S_J says:

      I was barely a teen at the time, but I remember President Clinton making speeches about ‘putting a hundred thousand more cops on the streets’, as well as adding social events to keep criminally-inclined youth away from a life of crime. [1]

      My knowledge is that these bills also included “Three Strikes and you’re out” provisions for Federal offenses. Effectively, a third violent felony conviction led to a much-longer sentence.[2]

      A final point: though it is not Drug-War related, that series of laws included the Brady Bill. The Brady Bill toughened laws about firearms, including (A) some form of Federal Background Check for any firearm purchased from a licensed dealer, and (B) a 10-year ban on manufacturing/selling weapons from a list of “Assault Weapons”, or weapons that had more than two from a specified list of “Assault Weapon features”. [3]

      Whether or not the Drug-War related laws had any effect on politics, the Brady Bills did have a big effect on politics. To a first approximation, the Brady Bills are part of the reason that the Republicans were able to take a majority in Congress in the elections of 1994.

      [1] Rush Limbaugh had some sarcastic jokes about Midnight Basketball Leagues, or something of that sort.

      [2] At the time, minority communities which had high rates of crime-victimization were clamoring for such laws, at both Federal and State levels.
      Much more recently, minority communities have been complaining about the number of men from their community who are imprisoned under such laws.
      Which shows, to my mind, how much the base-level of crime in the community affects the perception of tough-on-crime laws.

      [3] Most gun-rights proponents will quickly argue that handguns are much more common as weapons-used-in-crime than Assault Weapons as described in the Brady Bill, and that the Assault Weapon nomenclature confuses the distinction between fully-automatic (as controlled by the National Firearms Act of 1934) and semi-automatic (which can only fire one bullet per trigger-press).

  33. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    For those familiar with geopolitical history, how intellectually respectable is this piece on Vietnam? It seems to be more or less the mirror image of Chomsky, and I have a sneaking suspicion that they’re more or less both right.

    • bean says:

      I’m very much a member of the revisionist faction on Vietnam, and something smells off here. I’ll grant that the Diem regime was corrupt and may often have been more interested in fighting its domestic enemies than confronting communism. This is Dictator 101. But to suggest that it was actually under the control of the communists? That’s going to take more than a single book from 1965. People, even ones who should know better, often get weird ideas, and taking a single primary source that disagrees with the conventional narrative and saying “this explains everything” is a fairly well-known failure mode. The article makes a big show of saying that the book names names, but I’d like someone to at least track those names down and make sure they agreed before I buy the theory.
      That said, I don’t think he’s entirely wrong on the fact that US foreign policy is often run by the stupidest of idealists, who shoot us in the foot.

      And I’m inherently suspicious of a magazine whose tagline is “what comes after liberalism”. I suspect there are death eaters about.

      • Protagoras says:

        Good to hear that from the conservative side before I weigh in with my likely to be leftist biased opinion. I completely agree that the suggestion that Diem made a mess of things by focusing on weakening his political rivals rather than fighting communism is plausible, while the suggestion that he did this because of some sort of communist conspiracy rather than just because that’s the sort of thing authoritarian leaders usually do is not plausible. But it is certainly part of the problem with backing authoritarian leaders as a strategy.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          So the part that rang potentially-true to me was the suggestion that the American left backed a bunch of horrible dictators claiming to be moderate leftists. I suspect that this happened in addition to, not instead of, the usual story about the American right backing horrible dictators claiming to be democratic capitalists.

          • Protagoras says:

            Yeah, the trend of thinking the right hero can fix everything and subsequently deluding one’s self into thinking the most obvious (but really not even close) candidate must in fact be the right hero seems to be more human than left or right.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        I didn’t want to make the thread about that, but yes, the source does indeed reek of death eaters.

      • cassander says:

        I don’t think that it’s accusing diem of being under the control of communists as being surrounded by sympathizers and fellow travelers, which he unquestionably was.

        And that death eaters are saying something doesn’t make it wrong. As you say, american foreign policy is stupid in very predictable ways.

        • Matt M says:

          Man, who isn’t surrounded by commie sympathizers and fellow travelers?

          And can I go live with them?

        • bean says:

          I don’t think that it’s accusing diem of being under the control of communists as being surrounded by sympathizers and fellow travelers, which he unquestionably was.

          I think it makes more of it than can actually be made. He seems to conclude that it was all part of a communist plot, and that they weren’t even trying to fight communists. I don’t buy that.

          And that death eaters are saying something doesn’t make it wrong. As you say, american foreign policy is stupid in very predictable ways.

          I never said it did, but it does diminish how much credibility I’m willing to give them.

          • cassander says:

            A big part of the death eater argument is that conspiracy isn’t necessary in cases like this because the ideological deck comes pre-stacked. If you were a post-colonial elite educated in western schools, or a westerner interested in foreign affairs, you spent your early life in places that were full of fellow travelers, and sometimes, especially for the post-colonials, explicitly funded by the USSR or its appendages. You grew up in a milieu where those ideas were standard, and even if you didn’t espouse them, you had friends who did, and they couldn’t help but influence them.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Cassandres interpretation deffinately accords with my reading of the death eaters.

            Anyone who recieved public education in the past 50 years was explicitly raised in the twin ideologies of anti-fascism and anti-anti-communism.

            Joe Mcarthy was wrong and evil and we shouldn’t blacklist people for their political beliefs or try to destroy their lives. unless they seem racist or insuficiently anti-fascist then we’ll use every tactic old joe used and a dozen more we’ve perfected since then to lock them out of not just the media and public sector but even the private sector and social life.

            America is great because we fought the Nazis, the evilest people of all time, the nazis who commited the holocaust, a genocide of 11million inoccent civilians!
            And america did that even though the nazis had not commited a holocaust in 1941 and would not hold the wanasee coference til 1942 and the soviets (our dear allies) had already commited genocides totalling far more than 11million cilvillian in the 20s and 30s in peacetime.

            We’re infected with systematic double standards and illogic and absurd sacred values that even we don’t hold the second we can’t pigeon hole an issue into the US’s left right spectrum.

            The solution to vietnam was simple. Stop it with the democracy bullshit that no one on the ground was going to stick to, then cycle through rightwing military dictators until you find one that can win a threshold of support and funnel enough money to him until a peace treaty can be gotten, then funnel even more money and weapons to keep him proped up.

            This is the Korea, Tiawan, Chile model it works, the country gets rich, then they transition to democracy in there own time.

            And in every god damn instance you find hordes of american media, intellectuals and state department functionaries bemoaning that the US supported these horrible horrible dictators, before going back to praising Casto, Chavez, and Mugabe.

            America fought two enemies in world war 2 the german reich and the japanese empire, and at the time the japanese were universally considered to be worse.
            And yet, i can garantee you spent almost a month every year learning about the horrible crimes of the nazis, and the crimes of the japanese empire were skirted over, while the crimes of communism (which dwarf both) were barely mentioned.
            This is confusing, until you recall most education practices were codified in and after the sixties when good kind hearted civil servants wanted to make sure kids didnt grow up racist like those inconvient southerners. Learning about the crimes of the japanese might make them more racist, lear ing about the crimes of communism might make them question good kind hearted civil servants, but learni g about the holocaust thats perfect for crushing the last remenants of jim crow and solidifing federal control over domestic matters.

            The american south wasnt evil because its practices resembled the nazis, the nazis are evil because their practices resembled the south.

            The animating spirit of all mainstream american self-conceptions is that a good left winger fights for progress and equality and a good right winger loses to progress, and if it means losing south east asia or even the whole cold war no good american was going to suggest just turning vietnam into an out and out colony or an old fashioned client monarchy (either of which would have solved the internal power struggles between catholic and buhdist and allowed for a routing out of corruption).
            Because that wouldn’t be progress.

            All politics are domestic politics and all domestic politics are culture war politics.

    • dndnrsn says:

      In this understanding, the liberal consensus will always ally with the anti-Western faction abroad, even as it tries to appropriate the label of “the real West,” descent from the Enlightenment, and so forth. The focus on ideology and mythologies about doctrines and rights is itself to a large extent a ruse meant to obscure concrete political and historical realities: as Burnham points out, nobody a few centuries from now will understand European withdrawal from Africa in the 1960s as a story about rights or liberation. They will see it for what it is, retrenchment and retreat of a civilization in the face of threat and aggression from another, with the aid of a complicit fifth column at home.

      This smells pretty Voldemort-y to me; what’s their take on the American Revolution I wonder? It also completely ignores that colonized people might want independence for reasons other than evil commies, aided by the Fifth Columnists at home, whispering in their ears. This is just the new stab-in-the-back myth.

      Its description of the Burns documentary is also pretty odd. It is not hard to take from the documentary the impression that by 1972, the South Vietnamese were able to fight off the Vietnamese communists, as long as money and air support kept coming. Then Nixon’s presidency collapsed, followed fairly quickly by South Vietnam. It’s funny how I’ve seen both right-wingers condemning Burns as a commie stooge and left-wingers condemning Burns for not recognizing American villainy.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        I mean that is the more compelling part of the piece to me. A lot of anti-colonial sentiment does ring to me not as “rights” but as anti-western.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Because, by and large, the colonies that decolonized after WWII were held by Western countries. It’s a mighty shame that the behaviour of the USSR towards subject peoples didn’t get the same treatment, but that doesn’t change that the places that wanted to decolonize had a lot of legitimate beefs. They did want their rights; that the way things broke often meant they didn’t even get those is unfortunate!

          • Matt M says:

            It’s a mighty shame that the behaviour of the USSR towards subject peoples didn’t get the same treatment

            Didn’t it?

            As far as I can tell, the people who hate the Soviet Union the most are the non-Russian denizens of Eastern Europe…

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            That isn’t really what I was addressing. Rather, I was saying something along the lines of, “anticolonialists in the West seem only mildly interested in the plight of Africans (Asians etc) and appear primarily concerned with criticizing Europeans and European culture as inherently corrupt.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M

            In the modern west, there’s more of a sense of sympathy for the victims of British or French or whatever colonialism than sympathy for ethnic-minority victims of Stalin, and the split of western leftists over Soviet violence to keep satellites in orbit indicates that a decent number thought it was OK.


            I don’t know that I get that impression; however, it could just as easily be “sympathy is the root, but righteously hating the wicked is more fun than sympathy” as anything else.

          • AG says:

            Can we have a thread about the plural of beef?

          • sfoil says:

            I think what the author’s trying to get at is that decolonization and rights are just fig leaves for ulterior motives and anti-Western sentiment. This becomes visible when “anticolonialists” attack (often literally) objectively non- or even anti-colonial regimes, organizations, and individuals for being insufficiently progressive/Communist.

            South Vietnam, for instance, had indeed thrown off the yoke of colonial rule and its population showed a marked willingness to defend its independence to the tune of several hundred thousand combat fatalities. However, “the left” supported its invasion and annexation by a hostile neighboring state because said invader was Communist and the South was not.

          • dndnrsn says:



          • Viliam says:

            Despite the usual excuses, it wasn’t only Stalin; the later governments of Soviet Union sometimes followed a similar policy, although with smaller numbers.

            [Khrushchev’s] government reversed most of Stalin’s deportations. This did not include the Crimean Tatars, Meskhetian Turks and Volga Germans, however. They were only allowed to return en masse to their homelands after 1991.

            Some peoples were deported after Stalin’s death: in 1959, Chechen returnees were supplanted from the mountains to the Chechen plain. The mountain peoples of Tajikistan, such as the Yaghnobi people, were forcibly settled to the desert plains in the 1970s.


          • Nornagest says:

            Can we have a thread about the plural of beef?

            No point, it’s obviously “beese”.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I think the piece is interesting, but I think it fails in that it explains too much. It is extremely Vietnam focused and focused on ideas about what happened in those situations and America working against its own self interest.

      I think the answer for Vietnam/Iraq is much simpler: Political will is not aligned with what is needed for victory.

      In my opinion a lot of people have a “feudal” view of warfare. In this view you send out your army it fights another army, you win, you depose a leader and now the country does what you want. This view is much more prevalent among politicians than normal people.

      However, this view is ahistorical and the norm is total warfare or “state” warfare. State warfare was common in the Roman and Pre-Roman eras, and it is also the era we currently in. In this warfare, it is necessary to convince the populace of an area that they prefer whatever regime you implement to the war you conduct. So maybe in 2000BC you capture priestesses and idols and threaten to rape/smash them if they rebel. Also you put heads on pikes. Now, you need to engage in military campaigns with little regard for minimizing civilian casualties. If you don’t military victory is irrelevant unless you are going to implement a totalitarian state of your own.

    • sfoil says:

      I think the author shoots himself in the foot by attempting to portray Diem as a Communist fellow-traveler on the basis of some early association and anticolonial/nationalist attitudes as relayed by a single source who — at least as regarding Diem personally — himself looks to have relied on hearsay. He also attempts to equate the United States’ lack of support for French colonialism with lukewarm support among its foreign policy establishment for South Vietnam’s postcolonial government. FWIW, I do think there’s something there, but he doesn’t make any real connection because he’s too busy complaining that Diem wasn’t Franco.

      He wasn’t specific enough about the pattern of American government hostility to the “wrong” kind of postcolonial regime and again, he didn’t show enough or convincing enough evidence on how this pattern relates to Vietnam. For instance, over a long period of time Saudi Arabia systematically does bad things, is clearly non-progressive in any sense of the word, and enjoys good standing with the American foreign-policy establishment while being an actual for-real monarchy.

      By the way, the idea that a single carrier strike sortie would have saved the French at Dien Bien Phu is militarily so absurd as to be not even wrong. Eisenhower was presented with an air-centric plan to relieve the French there; it involved building an airstrip on Chinese territory (Hainan Island I think?) seized by amphibious assault and then flying sorties from there into a decent air-defense network and unknown communication with friendly ground forces. Also the US was currently fighting an unpopular war with China. The plan did convince Eisenhower that any intervention in Vietnam would have to go big or go home, possibly becoming a “second Korea”, so he withdrew all support. That’s what David Halberstam said at any rate, and I find his account of this both sensible and well-supported.

    • Aftagley says:

      In addition to the already-discussed dubiousness of claiming that Diem was working for the communist, this article also uncritically accepts a few other really sketchy claims from it’s sources and tries to pass them off as fact. The first one that stuck out to me was:

      “A one-hour carrier-based airstrike could have destroyed Ho chi Minh’s decimated army in March 1954, saved the beleaguered garrison at Dien Bien Phu and changed the course of history. But there was a virus in the bloodstream of America that desired a Vietminh triumph.”

      Admittedly he’s just quoting from his source there, and maybe he doesn’t believe that it was literally those dirty leftist preventing the carrier strike that would have won the war, but any claim that this conflict could have been one in one or two decisive military actions is nuts. Even the revisionist faction doesn’t think (as far as I can tell) that we were ever THAT close to winning.

      The second was when he alleged that modern leftists are secretly trying to propagate global Sunnism out of a reflexive hatred of western civilization. I don’t even think I’m misquoting him, original quote here:

      “Nor is it hard to understand from Burnham’s point of view why, during the last thirty years, America has consistently sided with international Sunni Islam in every theater: with the Chechens against Russia, with the Albanians, Turks and Bosnians against the Serbs and Macedonians, with the Pakistanis against India, with the Saudis and their allies against secular regimes in Iraq and Syria, with Islamist militias against a Gaddafi who had reached a rapprochement with the West and whose presence was holding back mass migration from sub-Saharan Africa which contributed to the migrant crisis; and with Muslim pressure groups in Europe supported by local American embassies. For, as Burnham noted, Marxist-Leninism wasn’t really an ideology or an economic system, but a competing civilization system, and this role is somewhat taken up by Sunni Islam in our time.”

      This is 100% bug-fuck insanity.

  34. DragonMilk says:


    If you had autocratic control of the government of your country (state the country you’re in for context), what kind of incentives or disincentives would you place on child policies – from contraception, abortion, tax credits for marriage, for children, etc.?

    For instance, I think children require at least a mother and father, beyond just financial considerations. In addition, long term, a country wanting to preserve its culture must do it through reproduction, or else it will change (which in my book is fine) via populations with higher birth rates – immigrants and the poor. I also think divorce takes a large toll on kids and would disincentivize it. Therefore I’d use tax policy to provide incentives. Top 10 things off the top of my head:

    1. Taxes are filed only on an an individual basis, not joint
    2. Individual get an upfront flat tax credit for first marriage the year they are married, and a scaling annual flat credit for each year of marriage.
    3. All married Citizens are able to claim a flat credit for the *birth* of a child
    4. Government provides vouchers for diapers and formula pre-2 to married citizens
    5. Government provides vouchers for daycare (2+) through primary school (age 10) to all children
    6. DNA test for paternity done for each birth to identify father
    7. Male tax filers face a flat penalty + % income for each child identified out of wedlock until child turns 18.
    8. Single fatherhood affects credit like divorce
    9. If taxpayer has children, then default of flat tax penalty on males for divorce and annual % penalty thereafter – penalty is to female if infidelity is proven. Both penalized if both unfaithful. Only upfront penalty for those without children.
    10. All child-related incentives are wage-garnishable, accrue penalty interest, and cannot be discharged in bankruptcy

    • albatross11 says:

      I suspect this is a very hard thing to do via government. It’s driven mostly by culture.

      As far as I know, the communities in the US with very low birth rates aren’t mostly communities where nobody can afford to have kids–they’re communities where lots of people don’t value getting married and having kids over other options like staying single and playing the field, or marrying and having lots of money to pay for an apartment in an expensive place.

      • DragonMilk says:

        This isn’t so much about affecting high-income earners as median and low-income earners that have the higher birth rates – making sure the kids are raised by two parents who are disincentivized from divorcing.

        Nudges rather than pushes

    • Jake says:

      I like those ideas, but I also think the idea of a single-earner family provides a better experience for the children, so I would propose a few updates:

      1. Keep taxes filed on a joint basis. If we are targeting family growth, looking at the family as a unit makes sense.

      5. Government vouchers need to also be payable to stay-at-home parents. I was really excited when I read that Trump’s tax plan was going to allow deductions for stay-at-home parent provided daycare, but then I never heard anything more and it wasn’t in the final bill.

      7-9. Penalty should be to whoever does not have custody of the children. This may normally be the father, but I don’t want to codify discrimination against men.

      New idea
      11. Require new construction to have a certain number of high-occupancy units (4+ bedrooms) similar to current codes that require low-rent units. (I think one of the biggest obstacles to family growth is finding a place to put them all.)

      Out-there Idea:
      12. Replace SS (USA) with an ancestor tax, where 10% of your earnings are paid directly to your registered parents.

      Goofy idea
      1. Free, widely available, ineffective birth control

    • The Nybbler says:

      Your provisions seem to be at odds with your goals, in some cases.

      1) At above-median income levels, the marriage tax advantage for one person working outside the home and the other not is enormous. You’re losing that here, and thus discouraging marriage, though some of your other provisions compensate somewhat.

      Your 4 and 5 encourage reproduction among the poor but have little effect above that. Compared to the current situation (where primary school is already covered by the government, and assistance is already available for infants), they’re probably no effect.

      For 8 — as far as I know, divorce in and of itself does not affect your credit score.

      I expect your policies would mostly discourage children and marriage among the financially responsible (who would care about the penalties) while doing nothing or encouraging children among those too irresponsible or poor to care.

    • Salem says:

      Country: UK
      The biggest problem for middle-class parents is the high cost of housing, so:
      1. Default rule that all new construction is permissible on non-green belt land unless the Local Authority can show, in court, by clear and convincing evidence that the development would lead to a substantial net harm. No deference to LA’s determination of harm. In case of a failed application by an LA, LA responsible for developer’s legal fees + costs from the delay. Developer can still be sued after the effect for nuisance etc – can tighten those rules later if necessary.
      2. Move to Japanese-style “highest permissible” planning permission, where permission for use A automatically includes permission for all uses less disruptive than A. So for example, there would be no need to ask for LA permission to change planning permission from commercial to residential, as all commercial planning permissions would automatically include residential.

      Next biggest problem is schooling:
      3. New grammar schools allowed. Obvious move that should have been done long ago.
      4. State schools not allowed to select on proximity, beyond requirement that children live a reasonable distance from the school (abolishes school selection by house price).
      5. For-profit schools allowed in state sector, and independent schools allowed to run free schools.
      Note also the overlap with (1) and (2), as they will prevent hostile LAs from killing new free schools.
      6. Private school fees tax-deductible, up to cost of state education.
      7. Refocus of universities around teaching, not research.

      Final major problem is the tax wedge – you pay for the childcarer’s pre-tax income out of your post-tax income. This discourages having children, discourages professional women who do have children from going back to work, wastes human capital, and is fundamentally unfair.
      8. Married couples with children can fully transfer their taxable income to each other [in effect, the opposite of your (1)]. In effect, married would file jointly, but with double the allowance in each tax band.
      9. Abolition of 45% tax rate, raise 40% tax rate to £100,000.
      10. Abolition of inheritance tax.

      • Garrett says:

        Can you expound on the current state of #4? It sounds like there are some underlying current problems with school selection, but I don’t know what they are, and I’d be interested in hearing about the issue.

        • Salem says:

          In the UK, parents choose a list of state schools (in preference order) which they would like their children to attend. Some schools are better than others, which means the best ones are heavily oversubscribed. So there needs to be some way of deciding who gets in.

          One way would be to select on academic merit. Schools that do this are called “grammar schools” – few remain, and it is illegal to create new ones (see my point 3). The remainder select on essentially the following criteria:

          1. Are you in Care? [i.e. essentially a ward of the state – this is a tiny number of children]
          2. Have your parents been attending the church/synagogue across the road from the school for the past two years? [Religious schools only]
          3. Do you have a brother or sister at the school?
          4. How close do you live to the school gates, as the crow flies?

          Note that (3), while nifty, doesn’t bootstrap itself – your elder sibling had to get in somehow. So (2) and (4) are what determine it. Religious state schools are disproportionately good, so their associated churches are packed with utterly cynical, striving middle-class parents every Sunday morning. This is quite unfair, but I don’t know how to solve the problem, and anyway, it’s not nearly as big an issue as (4), because most state schools are not religious, so (2) doesn’t apply, and (4) is the binding rule.

          If (4) is the binding rule, then the people who live closest to the school get in. A good school will be heavily oversubscribed, so you have to live super-close to stand a chance. But parents are aware of that! There is a whole cottage industry based on helping parents buy property right next to the school gates of the best schools in their area. The house price premium to live near the best schools is huge – as much as £70k. In other words, the only way to get into these schools is for your parents to buy you a place. This is extremely unfair – these are taxpayer funded schools! Ironically, poor kids have a better chance of getting into a private school – at least they might get a scholarship or financial assistance there!

          It is fundamentally unjust for school selection to be determined by house price. Of course there needs to be some allowance for proximity – if you live in Land’s End you can’t go to school in John O’Groats – but if we put in a rule that all children who live a reasonable distance from the school should be treated equally, then poor kids would at least stand a fighting chance of going to the local state school that their taxes are paying for.

          • Lambert says:

            Is 4 universally true?
            I’m sure the Local Authority where I grew up changed from ‘as the crow flies’ to ‘by road’ (or was it vice versa?). ‘By road’ shafted a load of kids who went to school via a short public footpath.

            And I’ve heard there are places laid out arranged as thus:
            School A ——— Town X —-School B ——————- Town Y
            Shortest distance means that School B fills up with people from town X, so kids from Town Y have to go miles to School A. To avoid this, the Local Authority uses a different algorithm.

          • Salem says:

            Those are easily the most common default rules, but you are right, almost nothing is universal in this area. I was simplifying. Additionally some schools have literal catchment areas, where someone living further away, but inside the catchment area, is preferred over someone closer, but inside. And various other geographic rules. But although these are interesting wrinkles for wealthy parents to exploit, they all amount to the same thing, which is school selection by house price.

            To be clear, the issue is not that parents shouldn’t be able to spend money on their children’s education – they should, and I have nothing against independent schools or private tuition. The problem is that bidding up the price of houses near good schools does nothing to increase supply, it’s a negative-sum game to privately capture public benefits.

          • rlms says:

            If you replace distance with academic ability or something similar, I think you will get issues where some schools only have stupid kids that were rejected from better nearby schools and end up in negative spirals as this causes even more good students/teachers to avoid them.

          • Salem says:

            We already have schools like that, although the issue is not so much stupidity as gangs, violence, and disinterest. I am much less worried about “stupidity” – after all, we used to have academic selection as standard, and it certainly wasn’t the case that every Secondary Modern was a sink school. Just because a child isn’t the most gifted intellectually doesn’t mean he’s a problem student.

            But yes, we should try and improve the worst schools too, not just focus on fair opportunity to get into the best ones. That’s why there’s lots of proposals in my list for making it easier to set up Free Schools and stopping LAs from blocking them. But nothing will be perfect, we will never make all the schools outstanding, so it’s really important to make sure that everyone has a fair shot at what opportunities do exist.

      • DavidS says:

        Is there good evidence in favour of grammar schools? Seen some.recent reports suggesting kids from them.don’t do better than they would elsewhere while other local schools suffer. But it’s a super ideological issue so I don’t know if thats accurate.

        I am strongly.ambivalent on grammars and would love more evidence.

        • Lambert says:

          Looking at the Central European system may provide better data points than at the vestiges of the UK system.
          Though I suspect Germany has better careers in technical roles than the UK.

    • hoof_in_mouth says:

      Your proposals here are all financial (and strangely punitive towards fathers), which does not support your statement that children require a mother and father. If you want to encourage more children you need to deal with not just the financial issues, but find ways to deal with the status, time, external requirements, coordination issues that affect the decisions of when to and how many children to have.

      1) encourage earlier marriage by reducing college cost or requirement, HS can be graduated at 16, minimum ages on jobs are removed
      2) place being married, not divorced and having children (natural or adopted) as a requirement for high trust and/or prestigious positions such as corporate officers, public officials above a certain level, elected officials, judges, etc
      3) requirement of equal mandatory custody for single or divorced parents and eliminate mandatory child support that can be paid to the other (though people are free to make their own arrangements)
      4) parental income cannot be taken into consideration for students older than 18 and parents cannot be required to support adult children after the age of 18
      5) Single parents are considered unfit wards of the state (think halfway house residents) and subject to strict controls on their behavior to ensure adequate parenting and discourage further aberrant behavior
      6) Divorce is grounds for dismissal from any position and alimony is illegal
      7) Parental decisions and behavior are not reviewable outside of normal courts. CPS, family courts, etc are abolished due to their lack of transparency and due process.
      8) Child tax credit is large and potentially livable, i.e. $10,000 per child per year but non-refundable
      8) Social security is enhanced for each child you have above 2 and reduced below 2

    • AG says:

      And what are your incentives against marital and parental abuse? Do you really think anyone is benefiting from a family that all hates each other staying together for the sake of money?

      I’m going to go with policies that stake out and strongly protect easy exit rights and incentivize the formation of low-conflict communities, rather than leaning on blood relations. The whole “mother-and-father” thing is less critical if the kids have many more adults they can rely on than just two. Make it financially doable for a good chunk of the population to take care of others, instead of working production jobs.

      • albatross11 says:


        When divorce is extremely hard and socially disapproved, people stay in horrible marriages and suffer. When it’s extremely easy and socially encouraged (glorified on TV, say), people divorce for dumb reasons and screw over themselves and (even more) their kids.

        My guess is that like 90% of this effect comes from the community and its values, rather than the law. If you make divorces require jumping through three times as many legal/procedural hoops, but they’re still commonplace and socially acceptable, they’ll happen pretty often; if you make them procedurally/legally easy, but they’re socially unacceptable and rare, they won’t happen so often.

        • AG says:

          I agree with this, basically. The cultural problem in this case is that people are jumping into marriage (perhaps for the financial incentives) with people they aren’t so compatible to be married to. So making it harder to get married (by vetting their devotion and willingness to work things out) may actually improve the divorce rate.

          But I actually want low-stakes entry and exit, in order to allow for easy reversals of rash decisions. People do a lot of hasty things, no matter how hard we try to train the lizard brains, so sometimes the solution is to just let those hasty decisions become insignificant noise. Let people argue and make up and argue and make up and argue and make up, and that is no barrier to the people who genuinely need to stay away or the people who successfully stay together.

          So it’s not unlike “UBI but for social capital.”

          Currently, we’re in a bit of a worst of both worlds, where marriage is a huge investment but also romanticized, so people rashly jump into marriage because of ~feelings~ (and it’s easy to get married) and then it’s bad times because the separation process is gnarly. The damage to kids from divorce comes from how bad the separation process is, and how much incompatible adults force themselves to stay together long after they should have separated. Kids that go through more amiable divorces (perhaps with the parents staying friendly), in a culture where marriage is not romanticized as much and divorce not stigmatized and in an environment of community child-raising may not have the same issues as divorce kids today. And for all of those divorce kids, we can’t know the counterfactual of if they would have done better had their parents stayed together in their misery.

          A certain amount of people screwing themselves and others is inevitable, so what we can do is reduce the amplitude of the impacts.

          • Salem says:

            The cultural problem in this case is that people are jumping into marriage (perhaps for the financial incentives) with people they aren’t so compatible to be married to.

            This is almost the opposite of the problem. At least in the UK, the average age at which a woman gets married is higher than the average age at which she has her first child.

          • AG says:

            Eh, the same failure mode can still apply: getting married because of ~feelings~ and finding out after that they shouldn’t have gotten married. Age doesn’t matter to that.

          • Salem says:

            It’s not about age, it’s about commitment. People aren’t too quick to “jump into marriage” they’re so slow to get married that they’ve already made an irrevocable multi-decade commitment with that person by the time they’re willing to tie the knot.

          • AG says:

            @Salem: Okay, then I’m curious, how has the divorce rate reacted to that state? Has anyone checked to see if there’s a correlation between age-of-first-marriage and probability of divorce of that first marriage?

          • Salem says:

            You can see the divorce rate over time here. Of course the marriage rate has declined heavily too, do despite the lower divorce rate, the number of long-term married is actually falling.

            Your suspicion that people who get married older are less likely to divorce is correct. However, people who have children before marriage are more likely to divorce, so it cuts both ways.

          • JulieK says:

            At least in the UK, the average age at which a woman gets married is higher than the average age at which she has her first child.

            That doesn’t necessarily mean that the typical woman has a child at 26 and then gets married at 27. Maybe there are a lot of women who get married at 27 and have a child at 28, and equal number who have a child at 24 and never get married, meaning the average age at first childbearing in this group is 26, while the average marriage age is 27.

          • A1987dM says:

            @Salem: My impression is that people rashly jumping into marriage is much more of a thing in the US than in Europe (incl., I guess, the UK).

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      (ETA: Country is US, but I’d recommend the same for any industrialized nation)
      In terms of within-Overton stuff, all major contraception types should be available free, and daycare and nanny costs are tax-deductible, with no cap.

      On the Overton border (I think?), pay people a small stipend for being on reversible long-lasting birth control (IUD, depo-provera, RISUG on the male side which I’d be fast-tracking).

      Outside the window, pay parents to raise kids in proportion to the parents’ income (this regressive aspect is what makes it a non-starter). One way I’ve discussed before would be to give parents a security worth a fixed percentage of their child’s future income taxes. The holder of said security receives their share every year that child pays taxes, and I say ‘the holder’ because the parents are required to sell it for cash up front. This is an incentive for the parents, and I don’t want them guilted out of enjoying it. (ETA: This is not an idea I’ve fully vetted for crazy exploits or horrifying failure modes, and seems very much like the sort of thing that might have some)

      • DavidS says:

        The last one doesn’t seem as radical if you approach it cuts (which of course benefit those paying higher taxes rates more)

    • nweining says:


      1. Everybody by default (w/some exception mechanism for e.g. religious objectors) gets put on free, long-acting reversible birth control at puberty. This means we have to develop this for men too, which should AIUI be feasible with a bit more R+D investment.

      2. If you want to get off your birth control there is some speedbump designed to ensure you pass some minimum level of conscientiousness. Counseling, knowledge testing, something like that.

      3. Child allowance on the model of existing child allowances in many other developed countries: cash payments to parents of young children.

      Assumptions justifying the above:
      (a) children benefit from conscientious, impulse-controlling parents first and foremost, other attributes of parenthood that correlate with good outcomes probably do so b/c of their correlation w/conscientiousness, so let’s target that directly

      (b) raising young children is hard work that deserves compensation, and providing that compensation also improves outcomes for the kids

      (c) to the extent conscientiousness is heritable, selecting for it will improve the general quality of future generations

      (d) most other possible nudges (incl. those mentioned so far) are wrongful intrusions on individual autonomy and more likely to trap people in bad situations than improve or prevent bad situations

      (e) for long-term environmental sustainability mild anti-natalism is probably the optimal balance, and preserving a culture through reproduction is a totally illegitimate use of state power.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Long-term treatments with serious side-effects (all birth control) should be opt-in IMO. You can try for the cultural norm, but nobody should jump through hoops to *not* be subjected to medical risk.

        • nweining says:

          What are the side effect risks of e.g. IUDs or reversible-vasectomy-ish plugs, beyond initial discomfort? Is the expected health downside for those for a typical recipient (no special risk factors) greater than that of an unplanned pregnancy?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            IUDs are hormonal, though lower dose than pills, and share all side-effects with oral BC (though with lower levels) and can cause uteral problems (neverending periods is a relatively common one). Copper IUDs don’t have the same hormonal problems, but can cause more bleeding, and can be extremely difficult and painful to insert for smaller women, especially those who haven’t given birth. Effect of plugs is unknown, but “requires surgery” seems like a good line to draw for “requires consent.”

        • Lambert says:

          All medical treatments being opt-in except where there is no other option sounds like a pretty good rule to continue to honour.
          And anyway, how do you put things inside people by default?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Oh, I agree, but I think the strong claim is only worth making if it’s instrumental, or it risks derailing.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Unfortunately, schemes like this usually harshly penalize kids with a single dead parent, especially a dead mother, like I was. For this reason, I tend to be very skeptical of suggestions like this – and it’s worth noting that widows/widowers should ABSOLUTELY NOT be encouraged to marry ASAP – finding a second parent for your (now usually somewhat traumatized) child is hard.

      Penality to fathers for divorce by default seems like a possible perverse incentive; emotional abusers can use it as a weapon to keep their victims trapped in a relationship with guilt. Also divorce seems like less of a problem than single parenthood in any case.

      Flat tax bonus per-child-born also seems like a perverse incentive, as you’re encouraging people to birth more children than they may be able to sustainably maintain unless they birth more children. This only works if you think more children > well-cared-for children.

      Penality interest plus non-dischargeable seems problematic, as amounts can balloon to the point where garnished wages only pay interest and everyone loses. I think one or the other is better.

    • For instance, I think children require at least a mother and father

      Why not two mothers? Two fathers?

      • mdet says:

        I think, if nothing else, puberty can be really tough if you don’t have a guardian and role model who has experienced the same to help you work through it. How many dads are ready for their daughter’s first period? There may or may not be any long term harm from same-sex parenting, but I imagine that in certain short term circumstances, it definitely helps to have both a man and a woman in the household.

        • Plumber says:

          That seems to make sense but I thought that I read thar the children raised by lesbian couples do better on average than children raised by heterosexual couples (two few children raised by male couples to study), and a quick web search shows some evidence of that, but it’s not sn extreme effect.

          My gut feeling is that if lesbians get divorced more than straights than it’s probably not something to be encouraged, except for how poorly foster kids fare, if however they get divorced less, and their kids do better, than we men may be increasingly superfluous. 

          • I can see an argument against having a boy brought up by two women or a girl by two men, but I don’t see one against doing it the other way around.

            The one piece I have seen on the virtues of lesbian parenting appeared to me entirely bogus, for reasons I offered at the time on my blog. On the other hand, the one family I know that consist of two women and their daughter, adopted as an infant and now almost full grown, seems entirely functional.

          • DragonMilk says:

            Need to adjust for income though – married same sex couples who can afford adoption or in vitro are far wealthier than average. It’s disingenuous to make the comparison without taking income into account, and I’m not aware of when it’s done.

            Also, a same sex couple can’t accidentally have a child, it’s a very very deliberate choice, and I don’t think it requires changing incentives, haha

          • Nick says:

            Need to adjust for income though – married same sex couples who can afford adoption or in vitro are far wealthier than average. It’s disingenuous to make the comparison without taking income into account, and I’m not aware of when it’s done.

            That was my impression too, but interestingly, in the study David wrote about the opposite is the case:

            They were not matched socio-economically—on average, the heterosexual couples were of higher SES than the lesbian couples.

            ETA: He also notes your second point:

            Most obviously, since the lesbian parents had conceived via artificial insemination, their pregnancies were all planned and all desired. If the comparison group contained a significant number of children from unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, that might explain why more of them had behavioral problems.

          • For those who didn’t follow my link … . My main point was how unreliable news stories on this sort of issue are. Reading the story, it sounded as though there was good evidence that lesbian couples were better parents than heterosexual couples. After reading the article the story was based on, the conclusion was that there was very weak evidence for that claim, stronger evidence that the author of the story wanted readers to believe same sex parents were better.

          • DragonMilk says:

            To reply to David, my initial reply was to Plumber, as I saw it was a Time link and immediately dismissed it, as I think there’s an active agenda by media to hype up weak evidence and make a mockery of studies, often coming to the opposite conclusion as study authors.

            To get back to the point, though, my nudge incentives listed are to discourage accidental children and provide support for them, and in the case of same-sex couples, I don’t think there needs to be any nudges since you cannot accidentally conceive with your partner.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman“For those who didn’t follow my link … . My main point was how unreliable news stories on this sort of issue are…”

            I did follow your link and found it far more convincing than mine

            “….my nudge incentives listed are to discourage accidental children and provide support for them….”

            Both seem like worthwhile goals, but I’m not following how they’d work, how do you punish parents without harming their kids, and how do you support the kids without supporting the parents? 

            In California it was found that nearly half of foster kids became homeless once they turned 18 and aged out of the system so additional support was put in place (many times I think re-creating the Tudor era apprenticeship system is the right way to go).

      • albatross11 says:

        I wouldn’t be shocked if there were a basic biological need (or cultural need–how would we distinguish?) for role models of the same sex. But my own experience as a parent suggests that having two parents is a big win just in terms of time, emotional energy, and having a second person to deal with the kids when the first one is sick or frustrated or otherwise not at their best. And I think there are times when my wife and I have different enough ways of interacting with our kids that there’s a real benefit to having us both.

    • arlie says:

      I’m in the US. While I think it’s good for children to have stable families and loving responsible adults, I think this country’s children have worse problems.

      1) Feed them. Good healthy food. Everyone pays, via taxes, for this.
      2) Medical care, starting (at least) when their mothers become pregnant. Paid by taxes.
      3) Shelter. Let’s not have them living with lead paint, neighbours prone to violence, etc. etc.
      4) Safe environments. I’m Canadian, so I’ll start with serious gun control 😉 But also safe, drinkable water – no more Flint water crises, or at least not ones that could reasonably be avoided. Etc.

      OK, that’s the basics. Education belongs up there too, but I’m unclear what would actually work, and I’ve already spent enough of my citizen’s money that I might already be facing rebellion. 😉

      Also in the basic area – let’s make contraception freely available (and free). People who don’t want children – or who are just looking for fun, or comfort, shouldn’t be having them. Anyone who wants their tubes tied can get that for free too. I’m tempted to treat abortion the same way, for the same reason.

      I’m stopping here. I’ve got plenty more ideas, but I’m trying not to write a wall-of-text.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        You’ll be up against cultural issues if you want to make sterilization freely available to women– I’ve read a number of accounts by women who want to be sterilized and couldn’t find a doctor who was willing to do it.

      • albatross11 says:

        We have programs in the US to accomplish all of these. Those programs aren’t all that well-designed or -run, but they exist, and I don’t think there is any great problem in the US with children being malnourished or never seeing a doctor[1].

        [1] This is complicated by the fact that both the medical industry and government poverty programs in the US are massive clusterfucks of waste and mismanagement. So it’s entirely possible that we’re spending piles of money on getting kids basic medical care, but still somehow not providing it to lots of poor kids.

        • arlie says:

          I’d want to take the food thing somewhat farther – I suspect there are a lot of kids getting too many calories and not enough nutrition. I’d cheerfully ban sodas from school cafeterias 😉 (And ketchup is not a vegetable, though that particular soundbite seems to be an example of inaccurate political sloganeering.)

          In fact, if I could get away with it as “helping children” I’d also fund the agencies responsible for food safety and purity (FDA?) to the point where they had serious teeth, and probably cut off some of the bottom tier of acceptable pseudo-foods.

          • The ketchup is not a vegetable link doesn’t, unless I missed it, provide any relevant nutritional information. Ketchup is largely made from tomatoes, which are vegetables, so if you are calculating how much vegetable you are eating and not distinguishing between fresh and processed, some fraction of the ketchup you consume should count.

            The father of a high school friend of mine fought on the losing side of the Russian civil war as a teenager, walked out through China, made it to the U.S. At some point, I think during the depression, he fed himself cheaply by buying a hamburger and consuming a whole bottle of ketchup with it.

            He ended up as a professor at the University of Chicago.

      • arlie says:

        Having had some time to think about it, I realize that I’d have to tackle the issues that are increasing childhood depression, and that would have to include the schools.

        1) No more mega-schools, and get rid of the ones we have. That kind of consolidation seems to create Columbines. If it’s big enough to need a resident cop, and metal detectors, it’s probably too big. (And in any case, an atmosphere like that is teaching kids all the wrong things.)
        2) Children need increasing degrees of independence, and time away from adults. The soundbite here is “free range parenting”. My generation walked to school, and sometimes took city busses. The current generation gets chauffered around [unless their parents can’t afford to], and communicates with each other via social media rather than attending supervised play dates, at ages when my generation would have been hanging out together without close adult involvement. To the (limited) extent that law can change this, do so.
        3) Ban advertising directed to children.
        4) We’re getting evidence that social media as currently implemented are bad for everyone, and children generally have less ability to manage their own moods, impulses, bad habits etc. than adults. Limit access to these media, with gradually increasing limits based on age.
        5) While we’re fixing the education system, break the notorious Texas control of textbooks. Limit the ability of parents (individually and collectively) to prevent their children from getting what I’d consider a modern education.
        6) US adults are notoriously weak on geography and history, not to mention languages. It’s irrelevant to childhood depression, but since we’re fixing the schools anyway, teach these things.
        7) With parents rightly worried about their children’s future prospects, the stress impacts the children, both indirectly, and via helicopter parenting etc. etc. Use the “save the children” mandate to reduce wealth inequality and improve opportunity overall, thereby making childhood “success” less critical to future prospects. Get the economy back to that of the 1960s 😉 Soundbite: Not every Kid-Bond Matures

        Stopping now because this is already a wall-of-text. However, this could and should get into some of the cultural issues already discussed by others. All things being equal, stable families are good for kids.

        • Plumber says:


          “…Not every Kid-Bond Matures…”</a

          Fascinating link.


        • break the notorious Texas control of textbooks.

          Texas and California.

          I would rather break the state control of schooling by instituting a voucher system for the full average cost of a student in the public system.

          • Plumber says:

            As a public employee I say no, but as a parent I say YES PLEASE!

          • arlie says:

            I’m not aware of details of the California part of this, but my primary concern is influence that is anti-science, anti-data, and pro treating religious dogma as if it were fact.

            I’m not at all inclined towards allowing parents 100% free choice. I want some basic standards for what is taught. Here is an example of why.

            If parents want to add religious education on top of secular education, they are welcome to do so. But not at the expense of their children’s basic secular education, and not at public expense. (If someone wants to run a religion-affiliated school including religious components, and can demonstrate that their school meets secular standards, they are free to do so. Ditto re home schooling, religious or otherwise. But if they don’t meet standards, they lose that privilege.)

          • The argument I have seen is that both California and Texas have textbook decisions made at the state level, that in each case there is political pressure to avoid books that say things people in the state don’t like, and the politics of the two states are different. So the only solution for a publisher who wants to sell in the two largest markets is to produce books that don’t say anything that people in either state disapprove of, which means not saying much of anything.

            On the more general issue, you are assuming that having the state set the rules for choosing textbooks means the right textbooks will be chosen. The argument against doing it at that level is that if the state chooses textbooks that give a one sided account of some issue all of the kids learn that side. If the decision is made at a lower level, whether by the local school district or the parent, you get diverse views and, with luck, some of the errors some kids learn get pointed out by other kids who didn’t learn those particular errors–if not when they are kids then later. And the argument applies beyond the case of textbooks to state control over what is taught.

            On the face of it, state control of schooling looks like a bad idea for the same reason that state control of publishing does–both let the state give everyone its version of truth and there is no reason to expect that it will always be true.

            Steve Landsberg tells the story of his two experiences of religion in his daughter’s schooling. The first was a school which took it for granted that everyone was Christian. Steve complained, and the teacher (or administrator, I don’t remember which) was very apologetic. It just hadn’t occurred to them that that wasn’t what everyone believed.

            The later case was a school pushing environmentalism. Steve complained there too. The response was that since environmentalism was true, there was no reason not to teach it. Presumably the Christians believed that Christianity was true too—but were more willing to take seriously the possibility that others might disagree.

          • arlie says:

            @DavidFriedman When talking to an American, I’m never sure whether “state control” means control by government in general, or by a specific level of government, and if so, which level. FWIW, I’m not especially concerned about the level of government, except that in some cases, local is plainly too low not to produce adults ill equipped to be part of anything but a very tiny sub-culture.

            This is one area where my instincts are conservative – with a small c. Political/bureaucratic control of minimal educational standards seems to work. It doesn’t work well – nothing political or bureaucratic ever does. But it’s had a reasonable period of testing, and mostly works adequately, with mechanisms to fix it when its broken.

            As for the textbook thing – I think the main reason for textbooks that avoid all controversy is publishers wanting to produce a single line of text books to be sold to everyone. In my experience, modern large companies rarely have any interest in niche markets, which are consequently too-often very badly served. Texas (and California?) may make things convenient for publishers by giving them lists of things to exclude, so as to satisfy a particular large market. But I suspect the publishers would do that anyway, because they are more focussed on owning (or competing bitterly for) the largest market segment, than actually satisfying any individual niche.

            Frankly I expect schools to be used a a bully pulpit for somebody’s agenda. That’s one of the things people with power do. I want to see those agendas contested, and the worst examples pruned back severely. But that’s pretty much all I expect; humans don’t seem to be capable of better than that. (Except of course that, being human, I decide on ‘best’ and ‘worst’ the same way as anyone else – based on my own preferences ;-))

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m surprised Texas and California are still such a big deal. I would have thought that computers make it much cheaper to do different versions of a textbook.

            I’ve heard that it’s highly educational to read children’s history textbooks from different countries. This should probably be assigned as high school projects.

          • I agree that “state” is ambiguous used by an American. My general argument applies to any level of government, more strongly the higher the level and hence the wider the area affected. But the conversation started in the context of states in the U.S. sense.

            Political/bureaucratic control of minimal educational standards seems to work. It doesn’t work well – nothing political or bureaucratic ever does. But it’s had a reasonable period of testing, and mostly works adequately, with mechanisms to fix it when its broken.

            What sort of evidence supports that? The only examination of the effects of the introduction of state schooling I’m familiar with is West’s book Education and the Industrial Revolution, which doesn’t find any evidence that the shift to compulsory schooling mostly publicly provided resulted in an improvement. What reason is there to think that Americans are better educated than they would be if there were no government involvement at all, or a voucher system with essentially no required coverage?

            I think the main reason for textbooks that avoid all controversy is publishers wanting to produce a single line of text books to be sold to everyone.

            They can’t. Given that different purchasers have different tastes, a book designed to appeal to everyone will be inferior for some groups of purchasers to a book designed to appeal to that group.

            Texas and California make statewide decisions on which books to buy and they are huge markets. If the decision was being made separately by each family, or each school, or even each school district, one would expect a much more diverse range of products.

            Consider the market for fiction. There are some books that sell a lot of copies, many more that sell a smaller number, but only very rarely a book that comes close to being read by everybody.

            Frankly I expect schools to be used a a bully pulpit for somebody’s agenda.

            Also newspapers and books. But there is a large difference between one view having the bully pulpit directed at everyone and ten thousand people each having a bully pulpit directed at forty thousand people–with some overlap. State setting of educational standards is pushing the system in the latter direction.

          • Plumber says:

            “….both California and Texas have textbook decisions made at the state level….”

            I don’t think “at State level” is a problem…

            …when the States are Vermont and Wyoming!

            California and Texas (and Florida and probably New York as well) are too damn big!

            (Los Angeles County alone has more people than 40 States)

    • Plumber says:


      “…If you had autocratic control of the government of your country (state the country you’re in for context), what kind of incentives or disincentives would you place on child policies – from contraception, abortion, tax credits for marriage, for children, etc.?…”

      This one’s really hard as really want to disincentive parents divorcing and also out-of-wedlock births, but I can’t think of ways to do that without also hitting the kids in the crossfire (maybe bring back stocks and put the divorcee’s in them?).

      Anyway I grew up in Berkeley and Oakland, California in the U.S.A. and other than working a miserable decade in Santa Clara County, working almost a decade in San Francisco, and some days in Ottawa, Ontario and Seattle, Washington I haven’t seen much else so my policies would be geard to where I know in the U.S.A.

      First off, Guns: adult women may own them if they keep them out of reach of their boyfriends and sons, and men may own them who meet two of four conditions; they’re married and live with their wives, they are working Journeyman in their craft union or they have full guild status in their profession (AMA, BAR, et cetera),  hold elected public office, they own a business that has at least three employees that are paid the median annual wage or more.

      An exception may be made for residents of rural areas that live out of range of their nearest neighbors home.

      Second, Housing: The biggest obstacle to having a family is shelter, so a massive building project of the equivalents of U.C. Berkeley’s University Village family student housing, but not just for academics.

      Third, Education: Before adulthood all are taught political philosophy, that is the equivalent of Michael Sandel’s Harvard “Justice” class that was broadcast on PBS, plus history with an emphasis on labor history, basic economics, science and statistics, which should start no later than the age of ten.

      At no later than 16 years old, all but feeble-minded and/or frail boys are indentured apprentices in a blue-collar craft, and girls are given an education in a white-collar profession (accountant, lawyer, nursing, et cetera) including work experience internships.

      All boys and girls older than 13 except for the very frail shall work at least ten days a year picking tomatoes in the fields between Gilroy and Hollister (or the local equivalent, Alaskan fishing boats, et cetera) until they reach the age of 30.

      “Selective” public colleges are eliminated, no education on the tax payers dime that isn’t open to all citizens. 

      Private large endowment colleges are heavily taxed, no “Ivy league” finishing schools for the ruling class. 

      Reed college like “activists” get to join the field hands in the tomato fields and promote justice there. 

      State supported college educations including living expenses are established for all citizens over 45 years old who wish to become teachers, twenty and thirty something teachers are kicked off the payroll to make room, and class sizes are shrunk to accommodate all the new middle-aged and older teachers, Police and Fireman are no longer paid pensions when they’re less than 65 years old, their disability payments are also cut, ex-cops and ex-firefighters can become teachers or starve, when they’re not enough kids for all the teachers we raise the age when you get to go to free living expenses college. 

      If the student children aren’t testing well the teachers are moved around until it’s determined if the problem is the teacher or the kids.

      If it’s the teacher who is bad, they’re retrained or put in stocks.

      If many bad teacher come from the same college that colleges administration and faculty is put in stocks.

      No paid basketball and football coaches on the public payroll. 

      Kids have decent restrooms at their schools with paper again. 

      Fourth, Military service: A Swiss style militia is implemented, or some annual National Guard service is mandatory for all from 20 to 35.

      Fifth, Medical Care: Local communities are paid for how long their residents stay alive compared to the residents in other communities with the same income, how local communities achieve that is up to them.

      Sixth, Taxes: A married couples receives a big tax credit with their first child, especially for that child’s first five years, an additional credit is given for couples with children who’s combined paid work hours are between 1,000 and 2,500 hours a year.

      Income taxes are made much more progressive on those with incomes above the singe wage earner median income, but very high income families are given substantial tax deductions if they have lots of dependent children.

      Inheritance “death” taxes are re-instated, at up to 95% of the estate, the only way to pass on most of one’s wealth is to have lots of heirs.

      Seventh, Jobs: anyone who grows up and has a job title of “Advertising Promotions”, “Marketing Manager” or “Sales Engineer” is put in stocks. 

      Anyone who says “price point” instead of “cost” or “price” is put in stocks.

      Anyone who employs salesmen who are paid only by commission are put in stocks.

      Morning radio “shock jocks” are put in stocks, just play the damn songs already! 

      Radio programmers who change a stations format so that I can’t hear Maxine Waters sing “Right Back Where We Started From” on the radio anymore are put in stocks. 

      Someone, somewhere is responsible for Doctor Who and Star Trek not being on broadcast television anymore (cable and ‘streaming’ are not acceptable substitutes!), at least one person goes into the stocks for that. 

      Landlords who raise the rent on a bookstore causing that bookstore to go out of business are put in stocks.

      Someone needs to be in stocks for not making ‘obsolete’ motor vehicle and plumbing fixture replacement parts. 

      Seventh, Public Libraries: More within walking distance please.

    • Nornagest says:

      Wow, lots of hobbyhorses in this thread. For a question like this, I think it’s especially important to define our objectives; otherwise it’s too easy to end up flogging partisan talking points or pursuing personal grudges under the guise of helping children. Some options:

      – to encourage births to families which are sane, stable, and not substantially deprived
      – to reduce unwanted births
      – to avoid introducing dysgenic effects, and to combat existing ones if found (I’m not convinced these are actually significant, but it’s the kind of thing we should investigate for policy purposes)
      – similarly, to avoid child-related welfare traps and other adverse incentives
      – to improve children’s future prospects
      – to improve children’s lives in the short term
      – to better serve certain types of children or families (e.g. gifted, disabled, neurodivergent)
      – to avoid excessively burdening parents
      – to lower personal and/or societal childrearing costs

      Then we can start talking about how well a proposal actually serves our goals. Some of these funge against each other to some extent: it’s easy to imagine proposals aimed at improving children’s future prospects which those children wouldn’t be happy with short-term, for example.

      • Plumber says:


        “Wow, lots of hobbyhorses in this thread….”

        I think that’s just me and my getting carried away with the “If you had autocratic control…” question.

        • Nornagest says:

          Your comment is how I found the thread, I’ll admit, but you’re not the only person I’m reacting to here.

          And at least your take is clearly your own, not just regurgitations of talking points. That’s worth something, even though I disagree with a lot of it.

      • arlie says:


        I’m all about the present and future welfare, into adulthood, of the children in question. This includes growing up to be good citizens. Because I’m treating children as a group, it does not include competing with each other for future wealth and status – I want to give them all the same advantages, to the extent that this is possible.

        I don’t think this goal – which seemed obvious to me – is really on your list. You’d have to combine goals, and explicitly exclude some of their potential implications.

    • anonymousskimmer says:


      If I had autocratic control?

      Absolutely nothing, other than personally remain childless. When fairly, compassionately, and most important knowledgeably interacting with each other we benefit, as a nation, from the diversity of formative experiences we each bring to the table.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I live in the U.S.

      I don’t think I’d put most of my resources into ensuring children have both parents (of course, obviously, I’d never wish for a child to not have a parent in the picture for whatever reason). This is a tough one, because I think the benefits of it are more connected to stability and economics than other reasons, and can be replicated in other family structures. It seems that the most important thing is that you have at least one person who truly cares for and believes in you and sets some sort of example. Being raised by a devoted and respected grandmother can go a lot further than being raised by two average parents, even ones without obvious red flag issues like abuse, if they don’t give you a good foundation and feeling of security, or completely fail to appreciate your interests and personality, etc. In general, two parents has a better chance of working out, but I think there’s a lot more to it, especially with women being able to work. I’m always struck by how many of our presidents didn’t have fathers or were primarily raised by female relatives. But it may work well for kids who tend toward exceptional and who are already secure, and work poorly for most kids, which seems more important.

      I’m not big on economic incentives, because I don’t think they have huge effects. Most people are simply not big planners on this issue – our vision of responsible family planning is nowhere near the norm and is unlikely to become so unless we offer voluntary reversible sterilization early in life, which I actually think may be one of the best options, but raises many ethical questions. A lot of people don’t want to wait until they get really economically secure to have kids, and a lot of people simply have kids when they happen to conceive one. If the circumstances were so dire that the poor had no assistance whatever, I think it would encourage some improvement, but the fact is that starving people have kids anyway. Birth control is more available, so that’s a start, but people are programmed to have sex, and it just isn’t rational for most people.

      One economic thing that I do think is an issue is college. The “responsible” people whose children we arguably want to maximize are under pressure to provide a $200k education per kid in many cases, which causes all sorts of problems related to having kids and parenting. That expectation has to be changed. We can offer more assistance for various things, but really, the cost needs to come down. Maybe we have to stop playing up college as the be all end all thing that if you fail to provide the best of, you’ve failed as a parent. It’s too high a price tag in any event, and it doesn’t not correlate to career possibilities beyond a certain point. We’ve overemphasized it and made people so crazy that the price has been driven up beyond almost anyone’s sensible reach.

      I don’t think banning divorce is very helpful. Household breakups are harmful to kids, but IMO not as harmful as living with people who don’t want to live with each other. Some are able to keep it civil for the kids out of a sense of obligation, but my guess is most are not able to do so. To a large extent my parents did this, and it’s hard to say which one would have been harder. The biggest problem is that separation leads to control issues over how the kid is allowed to behave at each parent’s house. I think that would have been too much of a problem in my family, but even if they didn’t fight much, staying together caused its own problems. I 100% would like divorces to decrease and people to be more committed to the institution of marriage, but the way to fix that is to make sure people choose a good spouse to begin with. No easy way to do that, but that’s the issue. If people make a good choice, they can usually stick it out. If they don’t, often times sticking together makes them more dysfunctional or drags down the more functional person beyond repair. Marriage should not be taken lightly, but preventing divorce is not the answer to that IMO.

    • albatross11 says:

      As an exercise, do you think you could construct a parallel article about some left-wing member of Congress and their association with (say) advocates of Sharia law (Linda Sarsour has quotes that can be read that way; I have no idea what her real position is)?

      I mean, it’s quite possible that King is as vile as this article suggests. There are some genuinely awful people in Congress[1]. But it also seems clear to me that Vox would be okay with writing a very similar article on someone who didn’t hold particularly vile beliefs, because they were on the other side. That’s the problem with crying wolf.

      To be clear: I’m not saying the article is wrong, I’m saying that it’s not all that strong as evidence, given that I think it would be possible to build a similarly damning case for a fair number of non-vile people (X endorsed person Y who is really vile, and has associated in the past with people A, B, and C who I claim have vile beliefs by some combination of what they’ve said and who *they* hang around with.), and given that Vox has shown in the past that they will do just that.

      [1] Though I’ll point out that many beliefs I find vile are pretty mainstream.

      • Matt M says:

        I’ve heard some compare this to how people on the left are all seemingly quite chummy with Louis Farrakhan, but I’m not quite sure how accurate that may or may not be (and notably, nobody on the left ever seems to get in actual trouble for this, despite the right howling about it fairly often)

        • dndnrsn says:

          There’s inter-left beef over Farrakhan. Some Republican shouting about Farrakhan doesn’t do much, but you’ll see some lefty activists issuing apologias (in the technical sense) for their chumming around with him, and people seem to chum around with him a lot less (as feminist and LGBT activism have become increasingly important).

      • newsroot says:

        The premise of Scott’s “stop crying wolf” is that Trump and is Republican colleagues say things that offend the left but don’t actually warrant the term “white supremacist.” This article is showing that there is a political candidate who I think has pretty clearly crossed that line into Actual White Supremacy (talking about “the JQ”, reciting the 14 words). These aren’t associations, these are direct actions of a politician running for office.
        Rep. Steve King has endorsed this politician. Maybe you can argue his endorsement is in spite of her white supremacy and not because of it and this is some version of playing guilt by association. But the wording of his tweet announcing the endorsement talks about exactly those cultural issues.
        As you point out, yes it is possible to unfairly use guilt by association. That does not mean that there is no such thing as actual white supremacists who do things like openly advocate the white race.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Sharia law is extremely fringe in the US and always has been. US Muslims are by and large not supporters of sharia law, are a tiny minority, etc. If they defend people who are maybe a bit dicey, it’s probably the same reason that some people here defend the dicey (as is being done here for King and Goldy): a suspicion that going after the bad guys isn’t just going to stop with the bad guys, or the bad-guy-adjacents, or whatever. I think Scott had a post up there like this. If you are an American Muslim, someone who styles themselves an “anti-sharia activist” is, by the smart money, hostile towards Muslims in general.

        If the US had a history, nationally for the longest time and locally into living memory, of fairly harshly enforced sharia law, palling around with someone who is or could be read as an advocate of same would catch a lot of flak.

        Context does, in fact, matter. White nationalism, regardless of how much of a threat it is to the US, is vastly more of a threat to the US than sharia law. Responding to the spectacle of a US elected official palling around with someone who has gone from bog-standard “oh no the sharia law is coming” huckster to full-throated white nationalism and is approvingly recommending Corneliu Codreanu with “well, what about sharia law” borders on arguing in bad faith.

        • cassander says:

          If you don’t like sharia law, you can take “communists” if you like. Or, to bring up an Obama era chestnut, Bill Ayers.

          • dick says:

            What’s the position here? Let’s say the left-right inverse of this situation would be a Democratic senator tweeting a hearty endorsement of a Canadian politician who espouses communism. Are you saying that has happened? Or that if it did happen, the politician wouldn’t be criticized as King has been? Or that they would be?

          • cassander says:

            Democratic senator tweeting a hearty endorsement of a Canadian politician who espouses communism. Are you saying that has happened?

            A politician or other prominent figure, candian or otherwise.

            Are you saying that has happened? Or that if it did happen, the politician wouldn’t be criticized as King has been? Or that they would be?

            Yes it’s happened and yes it’s never criticized in the same way.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Is there a bit of an unfair double standard in the way that WNs, Nazis, etc are recognized (correctly) as evil, and there’s a bit more wiggle room for the fans of some pretty bad dudes on the left? Sure.

            But the question is whether this reflects badly on Steve King – whether someone who describes Steve King as a racist who is softpeddling white nationalism, or whatever, is factually correct.

          • albatross11 says:

            Right. And I don’t know much about King, so I don’t know if he’s really as vile as the article makes him out to be. My point is that the article seemed to build its case, not from things he’d said or done, but rather from the people he associated with and this lady he’d endorsed for some mayoral race who apparently does have some pretty awful ideas. I’m not convinced that this is a good way of finding out what someone actually believes, and in fact, I think it’s workable to make up similar guilt-by-association stories about all kinds of people who I’m pretty sure aren’t actually communists, fascists, advocates of imposing Sharia law on the US, killing cops and snitches, etc.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’d say that what King does goes beyond “politician caught in photo with horrible person!” (after all, politicians will take photos with anyone). It’s not like Faith Goldy grabbed him and was like “omg can I have a selfie with you” – he’s endorsing her; this implies that he has some idea what she’s about, and so does the language he’s using (I’m guessing “Pro Western Civilization” doesn’t mean that her platform is about raising museum and art gallery funding to keep old Greek vases in good condition, eh?). He has been endorsed by the Daily Stormer for crying out loud. He retweets some extremely dicey people. His association with white nationalist, etc, people goes far beyond “he was in the same room with them” or anything like that.

            Compare what the article has on King to the shot at Giuliani at the end: the latter does appear to be a case of “politicians take photos with everyone” (I’m assuming that Giuliani cannot tell either fringe right internet personalities nor fringe foreign mayoral candidates by sight). Steve King goes waaaaaay beyond that.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The whole thing seems bizarre. Why endorse a mayoral candidate in another country that is polling at 5%?

          • Why endorse a mayoral candidate in another country that is polling at 5%?

            Possibly she’s a friend of a friend? He identifies her as “one of us” without knowing in any details what her exact views are.

            When I see a foreign politician identified as right wing my instinctive response is positive, despite the fact that he may be getting that label for views that are the opposite of mine. That’s how human minds work, with in-group defined automatically by labels, only later and more slowly by content.

          • dndnrsn says:

            He’s probably excited that someone in a city that’s left of the national average in a country that’s left of the US average whose views are basically white nationalist is still going to get something like 1/50-1/20 of votes. Which is frankly pretty spooky, given her stated opinions.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            He identifies her as “one of us” without knowing in any details what her exact views are.

            Why do you assume he doesn’t know her views? Shouldn’t the most obvious explanation be that he supports her precisely because of her views?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Because those views are generally frowned upon in the US, why would your coming out of the supremacist closet be endorsing this person?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I think Steve King has been inching the door to that closet open for a little while now.

          • albatross11 says:

            Is there something King has written or said or done that justifies this claim, or is it just who he associates with?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I mean, just look at what he says about her, eh? It’s not “associates with” like he drinks at the same bar as her. They don’t just happen to occupy the same space. He’s signal boosting her because he likes what she’s saying. The alternatives are all less plausible.

            Again, compare to the shot at Giuliani at the end. That’s all they have on Giuliani, far as I can tell – some young woman came up to him at an event, asked “can I get a photo” – is he supposed to get her ID and then figure out who she is? No, he’s a politician, he does the photo, it’s what they do. Compare to Steve King, endorsing her, and explaining why he’s endorsing her.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I mean, just look at what he says about her, eh?

            Wait, do you have some more information about this? I didn’t see one quote from him about her. I am even skeptical on his “endorsement” of her, because I don’t see a quote from him saying ” I endorse this woman.” It looks almost 100% like a hit piece to me, with little actual information. Maybe King is a nasty piece of work, but I can’t tell from this article working very hard to leave this impression without saying much at all. It was almost all about Goldy. Even the stuff about her was ONLY about the dirt Vox could find — nothing about the positions she is taking in the mayor race. I don’t trust the article at all.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            “culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
            “with the inter-marriage, I’d like to see an America that is just so homogenous that we look a lot the same”.

            More generally, his support of Faith Goldy is evidence as well. I know you’ve above characterized it as “guilt by association”, but when you go out of your way to endorse a minor mayoral candidate in a different country, this is more than just “association”–the default assumption in such a case has to be that the endorsement is because you agree with, or at least want to be seen to agree with, whomever you are endorsing.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Steve King definitely is promoting her candidacy, and she has acknowledged his support.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            The link to his tweet about her is the first thing in the article.

            EDIT: I think “guilt by association” is bad, but this isn’t guilt by association. He is promoting her. This is not “Steve King and Faith Goldy are in the same lawn bowling club, and he isn’t denouncing her! Shame!”

          • albatross11 says:


            Is this her, or King?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Everything in quotes is King.
            Faith Goldy is a bit more spicy than that, notorious for appearing on the Daily Stormer podcast, reciting the 14 words, promoting Corneliu Codreanu’s book, praising Richard Spencer for his “well thought out ideas”.

    • theredsheep says:

      I don’t know anything about this particular case, but to play devil’s advocate, is it clear that this guy actually knows and understands the person he’s endorsing? Lots of politicians just chuck out recommendations willy-nilly on the advice of their staff, or have staff tweet for them. Like when Ron Paul had a staffer put that insanely racist cartoon about communism on his page. Going by the article, it does sound like this King guy is pretty reactionary–I’ve heard terrible things about Camp of the Saints–but it’s also possible that he’s simply a dullard who doesn’t understand just who he’s associating himself with.

      • albatross11 says:

        Has anyone here read Camp of the Saints? I’ve heard it described as some evil racist book, and also as some kind of eerily prophetic book, but I’ve never read it. (And having seen how partisans have smeared perfectly reasonable books I *have* read as evil, or hailed mediocre books as deeply insightful, I’m not so confident in these pronouncements.)

      • newsroot says:

        This is a mayoral candidate in Canada that he must have gone out of his way to endorse. It’s not like this was some local race in Iowa he felt compelled to comment on and didn’t do the research. Pretty much the only reason to endorse this woman is because of her exceptional views.

        • Matt M says:

          This is the most relevant point in this whole debate, IMO.

          The reason I know who Faith Goldy is has nothing to due with her being a mayoral candidate in Toronto…

    • jgr314 says:

      I think associates are useful evidence related to a politician’s character and should be fair to use by both sides. As with another recent debate, the standard of evidence is (and should be) different than for a court ruling (or even for an indictment).

      In case any right/red commentators need an example from the left, I think Sen Menendez has enough demonstrated association with shady characters that I would vote against him (and, indeed, did cast such a vote in the distant past when I was a NJ resident).

  35. theredsheep says:

    A challenge: Can you name five current or recent, popular/prominent/mainstream sci-fi or fantasy authors who include organized religion in their books as something other than an unambiguous evil? I realize popular/prominent/mainstream is hard to nail down, but basically I mean not vanity presses or explicitly religious lit. Lewis and Tolkien both died decades ago, so they’re out too. Bonus points if the religion in question is, or resembles, Christianity.

    I’ve got, uh, Orson Scott Card. I hear the Dresden Files guy is big on religion in the later books of the series, but I couldn’t get past the first terribly-written page of the first one so I can’t confirm. Andy Weir gets at least partial credit for Islam’s appearance in Artemis. Anyone else?

    • RDNinja says:

      The Dresden Files doesn’t portray organized religion itself, but it does have a hardcore bad-ass modern Christian knight.

      I’m guessing you’ll see a lot of D&D/Pathfinder novelizations with churches of explicitly good-aligned gods, but I have a sneaking suspicion few of them are portrayed both prominently and sympathetically.

    • theredsheep says:

      Forgot Bujold in The Curse of Chalion and The Spirit Ring. However, that’s somewhat counteracted by Cordelia’s “geez, people with traditional values are so contemptibly backwards” attitude throughout the entire Vorkosigan series.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives. Dennis Taylor’s Bobiverse – religion isn’t evil, more inconvenient. Peter Brett’s whatever – Islam-equivalent starts off as evil but gets rehabilitated, I assume due to real-world political changes over the course of the series. Charles Stross’s atrocity archives or whatever; religion as it shows up is almost always evil, but that is only because it is all splinter cults worshiping Cthulu.

      Going through my books, most just lack religion in any meaningful capacity; if it exists, it exists “over there”, outside the scope of the story.

      • Nick says:

        Sanderson’s Elantris is also mostly positive when it comes to religion—with a big asterisk. One viewpoint character is a well-educated noble who debates theology, but another is, um, a proselytizer from a militant, aggressive theocracy planning to invade the setting nation.

        • Baeraad says:

          Sanderson’s Mistborn series also deals with religion in a pretty nuanced way. In fact, most things he writes touches on religion in some way, and usually treats it in a balanced-to-positive way, as something that can be an inspiration towards good or an excuse for evil depending on how people interpret it. Also, his religions are usually partly right and partly wrong in their theology.

    • J Mann says:

      The Dresden Files has (three?) religious characters presented sympathetically. Those characters are tied into the Catholic Church, but the organized part of organized religion hasn’t really shown up.

      This Tor list is a good reference.

    • albatross11 says:

      Lois McMaster Bujold: Cordelia Vorkosigan believes in God, though I don’t know how much of a formal religion is involved. I think theism is common on Beta Colony and rare on Barrayar.

      David Weber: A bunch of the characters in the Honor Harrington books are religious, and their religion matters to them. This includes both positive characters driven to do great good by their religion, and negative characters whose religion drives them to do terrible things. Also lots and lots of people who are kinda religious in some background way but it doesn’t seem to affect their day-to-day lives much.

      S M Stirling: Almost everyone in the Change books is religious, though that may be because of direct evidence. (Many of the most important characters raised in the pre-change world were atheists, but they mostly either died off or changed their minds when encountering actual evidence of divine/demonic stuff happening–from several different and mutually incompatible theologies!) He also has religious characters (mostly Christian) in the Nantucket books.

      Orson Scott Card: He has written a lot with religion as a major focus and organizing principle of societies. He also wrote a series (the Memory of Earth series) which I think recapitulated the Book of Mormon, but I haven’t read BoM, so I may be misunderstanding something. His description of the religion based on intentionally-induced OCD in (I think) Xenocide was really fascinating, as I think it illuminates the way religion and obsession can intertwine.

      Eric Flint: The 1632 series has a lot of religious characters (mostly Christian and Jewish), some quite important and positively portrayed.

      Katherine Addison: The Goblin Emperor has a bunch of religious characters (all some religion that’s part of the storyline, not close to any real-world religions), and people moved by their religious convictions to act in important ways. She also has a kind of religion that plays the role of revolutionary anarchism in her world.

      David Brin: His Uplift books include alien religions and references to human religions. Human/chimps/dolphins are sometimes religious. (A couple uplifted dolphins pray to/imagine pre-uplift gods.) ETs have their own religions which are attuned to uplift and galactic society and the progenitors.

      That’s off the top of my head.

      • albatross11 says:

        James D MacDonald and Debra Doyle wrote an urban fantasy series involving Peter Crossman, a Templar knight battling various kinds of evil with some combination of guns and crosses and prayer and blowing things up. He’s religious and serious about it and needs to be.

        C J Cherryh has all kinds of alien and human societies in the Union/Alliance universe. In the Chanur books, the mahen are kind-of religion-obsessed, with fad religions breaking out all the time, and a detailed concept of hell that’s known by other species. The hani (including most of the main characters) we see aren’t religious. They curse using their gods. At one point, the not-very-religious, hard-crusted near-pirate main character finds herself praying because of an incredibly dire situation she and her home world are in, but she recoils from the idea (with the thought that the gods bargain way too hard). You could kind-of see the resolution of the story as her having made a bargain with her gods that accomplished her goal at great personal cost. Most of the other human and alien societies in her books that I’ve read don’t have religion as a major component.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Cordelia believes in immortal souls, as I recall. Something about people being eternal, while politics isn’t.

        Also from memory– I think Garth Nix has somewhat in favor of organized religion.

      • JulieK says:

        Orson Scott Card: He also wrote a series (the Memory of Earth series) which I think recapitulated the Book of Mormon, but I haven’t read BoM, so I may be misunderstanding something.

        The sibling rivalry in that series reminded me of biblical archetypes like Jacob and Esau or Joseph and his brothers.

        I haven’t read BoM either, but I think the Alvin Maker series is also based on Mormonism.

        The series that starts with Memory of Earth takes place in the far future, with humanity having left Earth for other solar systems. The first three books take place on another planet. Two organized religions are depicted, one for men and one for women. If I remember correctly, they both worship the Oversoul, which turns out to be an AI.

        The second book has several characters receiving prophetic visions. There’s one scene that I (as a theist) quite liked, which starts with a character saying “Why me? Why am I so unfortunate?” and later has the same character (after understanding more of the divine plan) saying “Why me? Why am I so blessed?”

        In the last two books, humans return to Earth, and find that in their absence, rats and bats have both evolved into intelligent species. I think the rat-people and bat-people had some kind of religion as well.

        • Randy M says:

          Don’t forget that in Speaker for the Dead and its sequels, the colony is explicitly chartered as a Catholic one, and while the people there are not perfect people, the faith is depicted as making them better, compelling repentance and non-violent discourse with the violent alien sects.

    • bean says:

      David Weber springs immediately to mind, and I’d include S.M. Stirling on the list. No, I don’t just mean the Wiccans in Emberverse, either. His portrayals of the Catholics in the later books are generally pretty positive.
      Edit: This is what happens when I start a comment, then go do something else for a while. albatross11 said it better than I could.

    • S_J says:

      Does the character of Enoch Root, in several books written by Neal Stephenson, count?

      In the book Cryptonomicon, Enoch is introduced as a member of the Societas Eruditorum, which is an organization sponsored by parts of the Roman Catholic church. Enoch isn’t a typical Catholic, but he is evidently a very intellectual man.

      This novel also contains a major character named Avi, who is Jewish.

      Another major character is Randy Waterhouse. He discovers, at one point, that old friends from grad school are actually Christian, but in a closeted way. These friends come up when the story discusses Randy’s divorce, and Randy re-appearing in his town along with his new romantic interest, Amy. Most of Randy’s old acquaintances in town have a good opinion of Randy’s ex-wife, and a bad opinion of both Randy and Amy.

      But there is an exception.

      From the book:

      Weirdly, the ones who adopted the sternest and most terrible Old Testament moral tone were the Modern Language Association types who believed that everything was relative and that, for example, polygamy was as valid as monogamy. The friendliest and most sincere welcome [Randy had] gotten was from Scott, a chemistry professor, and Laura, a pediatrician, who… had one day divulged to Randy, in strict confidence, that … they had been spiriting their three children off to church every Sunday morning, and even had them all baptized.
      … they were the only people who made any effort to make Amy feel welcome. … even if they thought he had done something evil, they at least had a framework, a sort of procedure manual, for dealing with transgressions.

      The story continues with a comparison between complex social rules and complex computer systems.

      … the post-modern, politically correct atheists were like people who had suddenly found themselves in charge of a big and unfathomably complex computer system (viz. society) with no documentation or instructions of any kind, and so whose only way to keep the thing running was to invent and enforce certain rules with a kind of neo-Puritanical rigor…. Whereas people who were wired into a church were like UNIX system administrators who, while they might not understand everything, at least had some documentation….

      This scene doesn’t have many implications for the main story in the book. Randy doesn’t have any other interactions with Scott/Laura.

      But this comment shows some sympathy for organized religion. It also provides a moderately-strong critique of modern/secular culture, as compared to the culture of organized religion.

      • Salem says:

        The Diamond Age has organised religion as a positive too, although it isn’t always called that.

      • Aftagley says:

        I’d echo the Stephenson, both for the reasons listed above and for Anathem. Admittedly, it’s a religion he made up himself, but he’s pretty explicit that the faithful in his book are superior to the secular.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Although the secular and the Saecular are very different.

          The Avout (the people who I think you are referring to as faithful) almost all don’t believe in God, and have quasi-insulting terms for those who do. I don’t know whether you can count the mathic way of life as a religion or not.

          There is also something in the Saecular (non-Avout) world that is much more like Christianity with the serial numbers filed off, and isn’t portrayed as unambiguously evil.

      • Nick says:

        I can’t figure Enoch Root out. He seems pretty genuine in Cryptonomicon, but he doesn’t come across that way in the Baroque Cycle. Although I’m not sure I can blame him—the Baroque Cycle is on one view a long litany of horrors that Catholic Europe is inflicting on everyone else. Even the theoretically badass Fr. Gabriel Goto just wants to go back to Japan and pretend to be non-Christian, Silence-style.

        On the opposing end we have Juanita of Snow Crash, who rolls her eyes at our protagonist’s misunderstanding of Catholicism and talks up the Dominicans, but whose goal is to become a, uh, neurolinguistic hacker? And let’s not forget the Orthodox and Counter-Bazian folks of Anathem, who appear to be based on Catholicism/Orthodoxy and low church Protestantism, and some other faiths, all of whom are portrayed very positively.

        My general impression is that Stephenson in his early work seems to appreciate organized religion, Catholicism especially, and even fear it’s onto something, which is the correct take for an atheist. But if his later work is consistent with this, it’s an awful lot more subtle about it.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I mean, Anathem isn’t exactly “early.” It’s 10 years old now, but System of the World is 4 years older.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Orson Scott Card, as noted.

      George RR Martin, in whose fantasy world organized religion is, at a minimum, not presented as an unambiguous evil.

      I don’t recall LeGuin being all about how religion was evil.

      Tons and tons of D&D authors, both for the game and in subsidiary fiction lines, have basically an “as above, so below” view of religion: there’s good gods, evil gods, etc, and organized religion is good or evil in the same way that the army of a good country is good, army of an evil country is evil.

      • theredsheep says:

        Martin: the Old Gods aren’t bad, but they’re also not an organized religion, more of a pagan remnant some people still pray to. The Seven church revives a militant order of violent zealots. The Lord of Light religion seems to do pretty terrible things (human sacrifice) and the followers don’t appear to understand that their own magic isn’t the work of an actual god. All in all, it’s pretty negative. But I may be misremembering since I read the series years ago.

        Earthsea is predominantly irreligious. The exceptions are the Kargan people, who run the repressive cult seen in The Tombs of Atuan, and occasional local cults who serve old, malignant spirits.

        • Nick says:

          The Westeros travelogue we get in A Feast for Crows shows us another side of the Seven church; Brienne and friends travel a while with a kindly old priest and even stay at fantasy Mont St. Michel.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I honestly haven’t read anything by LeGuin in a while, so I’ll take your word for it; I don’t remember anti-religion axe-grinding being a part of what I’ve read by her.

          With regard to Martin, the faith of the Seven becomes a violent populist movement, but it’s clearly only turned to that because of a brutal civil war (which the books do a better job of conveying than the show: Brienne’s travels have an atmosphere that’s practically postapocalyptic).

          • Nick says:

            (which the books do a better job of conveying than the show: Brienne’s travels have an atmosphere that’s practically postapocalyptic).

            Huh. I’ve read the books but not seen the show, and that sounds like quite a revision. Did they at least keep the priest and the island monastery?

          • dndnrsn says:

            It shows up, but in different form. It seems to do a lot more telling of how bad things are than showing; it shows the impact on the peasantry a lot less.

          • J Mann says:

            @Nick – The show pretty much glides over the idea that the Faith militant is one of the few groups that actually give a toss about the fate of the smallfolk,* and portrays them mostly as a bunch of sexual prudes who want to put a stop to Cersei’s adultery and Loras’s ghey.

            * Albeit basically just faithful smallfolk, but they’re primarily responding to depredations by the warring armies. The other groups on the side of the downtrodden seem to be the Brotherhood and the faith of R’lorr, both of which have their own issue.

          • gbdub says:

            The Faith in Martin can be awful, but it’s not uniquely awful. It’s a crapsack world and all things considered the Faith is probably one of the less crapsack aspects of it, especially if you’re among the smallfolk.

          • dick says:

            As someone who has watched the show but not read the books, I think they mentioned that the poor liked the faith militant a bit, but they certainly didn’t show it very well. The faith militant kind of show up, rise to power, and get defeated so fast that I would’ve guessed that no one outside King’s Landing really knew they were a thing. More generally, the show does a bad job of showing that the lower class even exists, and I’m continually wondering at what point the lords will have to start plowing their own fields because all of the serfs have died or been run off.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The books do a better job of showing the civil war as being something that isn’t just nobles moving pieces around on a board, honestly. The “how long travel takes changes depending on the need of the plot” business is also a lot stronger in the show than the books.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, a theocracy led by the Faith Militant and the High Sparrow would probably be a better place to live than, say, King’s Landing under King Joffrey, and possibly under Queen Cersei. Or, really, most of Westeros at this point.

          • TakatoGuil says:

            In addition to the Faith being a “Fantasy Catholicism, warts and all” portrayal, the Red Priests are clearly more complicated than just “human sacrificers from hell”. Melisandre is a woman who genuinely believes that she is helping the Messiah save all humankind from damnation (and for all the screwed up things she does, she also does genuinely good stuff like try to keep Davos’s surviving sons in safe positions because she doesn’t want him to suffer more losses, even though he hates her and her faith). Other red priests are fierce abolitionists who in the books will likely support Dany when she goes west through Volantis and the other “Free” Cities.

            On the other hand, beyond that the religions Martin portrays in detail are pretty iffy. The Drowned God is Lovecraftian as heck and the priest us viewers get to know is a relatively decent Ironborn but still, you know, an Ironborn. The Many-Faced God is worshiped by a syncretic death cult, though even they at least perform some good if you’re okay with voluntary euthanasia. The Lion of Night seems to be Yi Ti’s (fantasy China!) interpretation of the demonic Great Other, and is happily worshiped by the rich. Valyrian religion is a bit of mystery, but everything else about Valyria was pretty evil so their gods probably sucked too.

            On the gripping hand, the throwaway details Martin provides show off some okay religions. If the Lhazareen are organized, their Great Shepherd deity is pretty chill. The Rhoyne religion, back when there was a Rhoyne civilization, was also probably pretty chill – they worshiped a river goddess and her “consorts” (giant turtles). There’s a lot of religions mentioned in the House of Black and White, and some of the gods (like the Hooded Wayfarer, who looks out for the poor) seem like the sort of thing you’d find in Earth faiths.

            Basically, religion in the world of Ice and Fire is much like religion on Earth. The faiths represent the concerns and worldviews of the cultures that participate in them and are used by good people for good ends and bad people for bad ends. It just so happens that ASOIAF has a lot of bad people running around and human sacrifice is the most consistent way to get results out of the local magic system, so it’s easy for religions to end up looking pretty awful despite the good.

          • albatross11 says:

            As Tyrion says at one point:

            The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned, the drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the Gods such vicious cunts? Where is the God of tits and wine?

          • Aapje says:

            He has better things to do than to mess with humans.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Dionysus, god of wine, was not traditionally known for his niceness either. His followers (the Maenads, “raving ones”) had the tits, and were known for tearing people apart.

            I don’t know if there was a Game of Thrones equivalent, but if so, probably not much different.

          • Dack says:

            Since Westeros is an obvious parallel of Britain, it seemed obvious to me at first that the old gods were a parallel of celtic/druidic worship, the seven was a parallel of the Roman pantheon, and the lord of light was a parallel of Christianity.

            Upon deeper reflection, it seems more like the seven is a mashup of some aspects of Roman religion and some aspects of Christianity, while the lord of light religion is a mashup of other aspects of Christianity and some sort of apocalyptic death cult.

    • Aminoacid says:

      Brandon Sanderson has different branches of religion in his books, and they range from (un)ambiguously evil (steel ministry), to pretty sympathetic (Irali religion)

    • AG says:

      Simoun is a 2006 scifi anime frequently lauded as a masterpiece, with a lot of thematic exploration of religion, and never casts it as evil.

      The difficult part is whether or not you accept works where organized religion isn’t an issue because the gods are more explicitly present? Because then you have loads of high fantasy that applies, with mythological pantheons (but you cited Lewis as an older example, so). Even Discworld would apply, as Constable Visit isn’t seen as evil at all (and that Good Omens TV adaptation is highly anticipated). The Tortall books by Tamora Pierce would be a big one, as would Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. How would you rate the “organized religion is secretly a society of action agents!” media like Bleach, Soul Reaper, or even the bastardized Christian churches of Hellboy, Hellsing, or Trinity Blood?
      Similarly, then you have the swaths of anime with neutral depictions of Shinto ritual practices that have basically been secularized like Christmas. Your Name includes a protagonist who’s a miko at the family shrine, and many more similar characters exist in popular media.
      The big DC fanfiction With This Ring takes the unique approach of the Angels and Demons being supreme assholes (as fuelled by their source material depiction in John Constantine comics), but depicts the actual Christian church as ambiguously good.

      Any authors of the Kamala Khan Miss Marvel comics. One of them, G. Willow Wilson, wrote a really good novel, Alif the Unseen, which straddles fantasy and scifi with a positive depiction of modern Muslims (it’s set in not-Saudi-Arabia, and the villains are authoritarian government who don’t really respect the religion).

      Currently-airing scifi show Killjoys includes an organized religion that is questioned in the efficacy of their practices, but never seen as evil. When a recurring priest-ish character gets violent, it’s seen as a result of straying from the religion, not because of it, and his reaction to prevent more outbursts is to study the texts more deeply.

      Hell, you can even consider the recent Dr. Strange film. And it’s not like people have stopped considering The Prince of Egypt positively.

      Not scifi/fantasy, but Book of Mormon lampoons the titular religion, but never condemns it as evil.

      • Chalid says:

        If we’re counting Marvel, then Daredevil is very positive about Catholicism (at least judging by the TV show).

        • AG says:

          I actually feel that you’re more likely to get a positive depiction in audiovisual media than books, because the former is a collaborative effort that usually doesn’t want to alienate such a large potential audience base, while single authors can have axes to grind. And hey, maybe it’s because authors perceive that religion is so unchallenged in audiovisual media, that they are nudged to be write as contrarians to that perception. All debates are bravery debates.

          Secondly, the secularisation of stories actually makes it more possible to have more positive depictions of organized religion. When the church is going to be the local government, it’s easy to set them up as the authoritarian institution the plucky hero needs to take down, especially because you don’t even need to reach far to have them do abnormally bad things (arbitrarily justified by their arbitrary beliefs assigned by the author), instead of a veneer of understandable political/financial/social motivation a secular villain needs. A more secular world is what makes it possible for a religious institution to be the underdog against another opponent.

          Oh, that reminds me, Star Wars would be another example of Scifi where organized religion is not unambiguously evil.

        • mdet says:

          While we’re counting religious expression in Marvel properties, I loved Captain America’s line in The Avengers after meeting Thor, “There’s only one God, and he doesn’t dress like that”. It’s disappointing that he’s been secularized in all the following movies, that one line really added to his character.

      • mdet says:

        Including The Prince of Egypt in your list is basically like calling the book of Exodus “A fantasy novel that takes a very positive view of Judaism”. I mean… I guess if you wanna call it that…

        • AG says:

          I mean, Orson Scott Card has that “women of Genesis” series that is pretty much that.

          But I more included it as a case of modern mainstream media that’s as overt about its pro-religion stance as the Narnia series, with a positive reception by even non-religious people. And the “2D musical from Dreamworks” gives it a genre feel, the way Book of Mormon has.

          (So does the recent Jesus Christ Superstar Live broadcast starring John Legend as Jesus also count?)

      • Jaskologist says:

        If we’re looking at tv and stretching the definition of “recent” enough, Deep Space 9 is the big winner. The Bajoran religion is prominent, positive, and even true.

        Babylon 5 at least goes as far as not pretending that religion has vanished in the future. Human religion is not very impactful, but it does show up in episodes and is positively portrayed, even Christianity.

        Firefly tried to pull off something similar with Shepard Book, but I don’t think Whedon succeeded. “I don’t care what you believe; just believe it” grates on me; that’s not how real pastors think!

        Battlestar Gallactica also deserves a mention. As with most things BSG, it ends up a muddled mess, but there was a big thing at the start about humans being committed polytheists and Cylons being monotheists, which you’d think would mean monotheism=bad, but it turns out the Cylons are correct.

        • Randy M says:

          Firefly tried to pull off something similar with Shepard Book, but I don’t think Whedon succeeded. “I don’t care what you believe; just believe it” grates on me; that’s not how real pastors think!

          This is kind of like “It doesn’t matter which way you vote, just go out and vote!” which is only believed by idiots or cynics.

          • engleberg says:

            Heinlein’s Take Back Your Government! encouraged volunteers out canvassing to tell people to get involved whether they were on your side or not. Because America! Fuck Yeah!

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Is it really that bad that I would like people to *fucking vote*? Democracy is better when people express their opinions, and it makes the whole system less vulnerable to undermining by the losers.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Less thinking, more decisions!

          • Randy M says:

            Is it really that bad that I would like people to *fucking vote*? Democracy is better when people express their opinions, and it makes the whole system less vulnerable to undermining by the losers.

            Is it bad? Well, no, but I consider it a kind of irrationality, summed up aptly enough by baconbits, but to expound, one has to believe that the buy-in to the system is more important than the actual decisions made, which is kind of cynical since it’s another way of saying “It doesn’t matter that you effect the process, just that you think you do!”
            Or, if the vote is actually important, than it’s idiotic to want people who make poor decisions to be among those partaking in the decision making.
            To answer your point specifically, I would say Democracy is even better still when people who don’t get informed or aren’t terribly logical thinkers realize this and sit it out and accept the consequences of doing so.

          • mtl1882 says:

            I’m reading a book now about the lack of audacity in American literature, and at some point the author loses patience with the “hey, at least he’s reading!” argument. As he puts it,”we don’t respond to obesity by saying, ‘hey, at least he’s eating!'” You have to have *some* minimum demand for quality.

          • brmic says:

            @Randy M
            – To get a tad more cynical: Yes, I believe getting people to vote for ‘draining the swamp’ or somesuch has a chance of making them understand it isn’t that easy, or at the very least, get them to shut up about it for a time.
            – More generally, buy in to the system is important IMO.
            – Idealistically, there is a virtuous cycle of voting – a feeling of responsibility for the effects – educating oneself – voting better. To which ‘voting’ is the easiest entry point.

            – The notion that poorly informed people and irrational thinker should sit out elections sounds a lot like high modernism. It falls apart upon inspection, as we can only talk degrees of poor information and irrationality and on the other hand democracy is kind of premised on the notion that simple preference is relevant and thus vote-worthy.

          • albatross11 says:

            Most voters aren’t ever going to be well-informed on the issues compared to people who deal with those issues for a living. But even uninformed voters can give useful feedback about how they’re unhappy with how things are going. And I think that’s useful, because it creates an incentive for elected officials to care when they’re letting things go badly for the voters.

        • cassander says:

          Babylon 5’s portrayal of religion is weirdly positive. MJS is apparently a pretty hardcore atheist, but I cannot think of a single instance in which religion is portrayed negatively. The religious characters are almost universally on the side of right, and those formally associated with religion (monks, religious caste, etc.) are invariably wiser, more competent, and better meaning than everyone else and their religion a force for good. The closest thing I can remember being said about any religion by any character is a good natured feud about decorum between two minor characters, one Jesuit monk and the other Baptist minister.

          There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve always found it odd.

          • Protagoras says:

            There was one episode with a family of aliens who were essentially christian scientist types (their religion prohibited Dr. Franklin from giving life-saving treatment to their son; he eventually did it anyway and they subsequently murdered the kid). The episode didn’t seem to present Franklin as obviously in the right, but obviously it didn’t present the alien religion all that positively either. But that is the only example I can think of. Anyway, I don’t know why you find this odd; there are plenty of atheists who are respectful of religion.

          • cassander says:

            It wasn’t that MJS was respectful, or that he sometimes portrayed religion positively, it goes far beyond that. Religion doesn’t just exist in B5, it’s not an affectation some characters have. It’s portrayed as an almost universal force for good in virtually all circumstances. Even in the episode you mention (which MJS didn’t write fwiw), when these aliens murder their own kid, the portrayal is, at most, neutral.

            And I’m not claiming MJS as a hypocrite or complaining about this portrayal. I’ve just always found it a little odd.

          • TakatoGuil says:

            IIRC, it’s J. Michael Straczynski (JMS), not MJS.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Wait, for real?

            My interpretation of that episode has always been that the aliens committed an atrocity motivated by sincere belief, and that while Franklin was right to be angry, he did NOT have the right to violate their autonomy.

            The writer didn’t take the easy way out here, which would have been a fluff anti-Christian-Scientist episode that wouldn’t have been challenging to the show’s demographic; instead, he made an episode with Christian Scientists in it and made the argument that, while their beliefs are despicable, their rights ought to be respected in a free society.

            Also, the Minbari Religious Caste was barely restrained from genocide through the first half of the show, Delenn being… somewhat heterodox. And the Vorlons’ manipulation of galactic religions could easily be seen as manipulative and self-serving.

            My take on religion in Babylon 5 is that belief is important, but churches are corrosive. The (religious) protagonists are all believers-without-a-church, and therefore “safe.”

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      David Feintuch’s Seafort Saga has a devoutly Christian viewpoint character working within a more or less theocratic regime. While this is presented as clearly creating major problems, it’s not presented as entirely or even mostly evil and unjustified– there is a fairly simplistic “theocracy may be repressive but it saves us from total social breakdown” meme throughout, as I recall.

    • Matt says:

      The three Knights of the Cross in the Dresden files are presented as working directly for God, and when they are ‘on the clock’ they are pretty unstoppable. Avoiding spoilers, the first one to be introduced is a Catholic who is a paragon of goodness. The other two knights are also good, though only one of them is Christian (Baptist) and the other is an atheist in a state of descartian uber-doubt. (at one point he shows up just in time to answer an old woman’s prayers for help and tells her his appearance is probably a coincidence.) Qrnguf naq ergverzragf qhr gb vawhel perngr bcravatf gung yrnq gb nabgure (grzcbenel) Pngubyvp Xavtug, nf jryy n aba-cenpgvpvat Wrjvfu Xavtug jubfr gehr snvgu frrzf gb or Wrqv. They all work with the Church, which has various networks that combat evil, from supporting organizations that combat them directly to offering sanctuary, like a kind of witness protection for victims of various monsters or just temporary sanctuary on holy ground.

      There are also other religious characters, such as Christian, Muslim, and at least one Native American Shaman wizard. Most of these characters don’t need ‘faith’ from a belief standpoint (the main character has met / conversed with angels, archangels, and pagan gods, and has no doubt that God himself exists) but ‘faith’ in the sense that ‘If I am called to do X and I do my best, God will not forsake me’ is a very powerful force. The main character has seen this occur multiple times and has come to realize that this faith magic, while different from his own, is pretty powerful.

    • Tenacious D says:

      In The Dagger and Coin series by Daniel Abraham, there is a dangerous cult that spreads across the world, but the organized religions it displaces are portrayed as pretty benign.
      Eifelheim by Michael Flynn has a very sympathetic priest as one of the main characters.
      The Lamb Among the Stars trilogy by Chris Walley is explicitly religious rather than mainstream, but it is kind of the flipside of your question: organized religion is not portrayed as an unambiguous good–with the leaders of the right religion being as fallible as anyone else.

    • engleberg says:

      Robert Chase for science fiction and straight-up Christians Are The Good Guys. Shapers, The Game of Fox and Lion. The novels are from the eighties or nineties, but I think he’s still doing stories in Analog. Otherwise I think Tor blocks Christians.

    • woah77 says:

      I don’t have 5, but L.E. Modesitt has at least religious tones (although I’m having a hard time recalling if it was ever called a religion) in his book which were definitely positive.

      • theredsheep says:

        I read the first two books of Modesitt’s Imager series, and the religion there is some kind of aggressive Unitarian Agnosticism. They have really long sermons about how you’re not allowed to say anything definite about God. Since that’s not a religion so much as a bunch of people furiously willing themselves into being Spiritual-but-not-religious, I didn’t count it. More an attempt of a non-religious author to make a “good” religion from his own POV. YMMV.

    • sfoil says:

      Gene Wolfe
      John C. Wright
      Neal Stephenson
      Brandon Sanderson
      David Weber

    • arlie says:

      This actually seems fairly common to me. Here are the ones that come to mind first:

      – David Weber – Honor Harrington universe. Christianity and Judaism.
      – S. M. Stirling – series seems to be called “Nantucket Event”. Catholicism, Wicca, and Asatru.
      – Mercedes Lackey – Valdemar series. May not count, as deities are actively involved in the world. Fictional religions.
      – David Drake/Eric Flint – Belisarius series. Individual cleric(s?), and at least two religious orders are involved in “saving the world”, twice. Christians mostly. Some Zoroastrians and Hindus.
      – Tamora Pierce. Books for teens (and some for younger children). One religious order and its members are quite prominent. Fictional religions.
      – Elizabeth Moon. I didn’t enjoy these books, so I’m short on details. But IIRC, some of the heroes were “saints” of the local religion – in one case unknowingly. Fictional religion.

      • C_B says:

        Tamora Pierce is a weird case.

        Religion started out mostly positive (Alanna, protagonist of the first quartet, is a devotee of an apparently good goddess), became a mixed bag later on (the Hag is pretty evil in the Daine and Kel books), and eventually took a nosedive into more “the gods have alien blue-and-orange morality and don’t have humanity’s best interests at heart” territory (Trickster series really pulls the rug out on the apparent goodness of the Goddess).

        • AG says:

          The Tortall pantheon is like that of the old pantheons, a divine soap opera causing troubles for their human pawns, which isn’t necessarily alien blue-and-orange morality, though “don’t have humanity’s best interests at heart” is correct, in the sense that the gods are uninterested in advancing humanity as a whole. They better their followers’ lands to better advance their own agendas against other gods.

          (A nitpicky correction, though: it’s not the Hag that’s evil, it’s Uusoae, Queen of Chaos. “Uusoae continuously plans how she will devour the world.” The Hag is just a trickster Goddess, but powerful in Carthak.)

          But that’s not the same thing as being portrayed as unambiguously evil. The OP’s question wasn’t to find a case where they’re portrayed as unambiguously good.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      A TV show, not books, but I was surprised by how Christianity was portrayed in Black Lightning. All of the main characters are Christian (I think probably Baptist). They say Grace at dinner. They talk seriously about whether their superpowers are a gift from God or a curse from the devil.

      It’s not at all a show about religion, which is why I was surprised that Christianity is so visible in it: it made me realize how little you see of Christianity in other shows.

      I assume this is a black/white cultural difference.

      • Plumber says:


        “….I was surprised that Christianity is so visible in it: it made me realize how little you see of Christianity in other shows.

        I assume this is a black/white cultural difference”

        In urban areas, yes it is.

        Despite being an integral part of the Democratic Party coalition black Americans in many ways tend to fit Scot Alexander’s “Red Tribe” more than the “Blue Tribe”.

        I grew up a stones throw from the McGee Avenue Baptist Church in Berkeley which had mostly black parishoners, and my neighborhood friends grandmothers would have pictures of Jesus and John and Robert Kennedy on their walls (which my parents and their white friends didn’t), and typically my friends grandmothers (the grandfather usually had already died) were born in the South, and were very religious and made sure that their children and grandchildren attended church.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Adding to the mentions of Stephenson and Bujold:

      Mary Doria Russell- The Sparrow is SF about a Jesuit missionary who visits an alien planet. Can be deeply disturbing, but Catholicism is portrayed sympathetically.

      Terry Pratchett. There are a huge array of organised religions. The one we see the most of- Omnianism- starts out as fairly unambiguously evil but then reforms dramatically. Others are fairly neutral- for instance, I don’t think much evil is done in the name of Offler. Of course, Pratchett’s ideas about the power of belief are also important here.

      • dodrian says:

        I enjoyed Pratchett’s Small Gods as a piss-take on some of the worst aspects of organized religion, but as the Discworld series went on Pratchett got increasingly hostile towards religion. He indulges in a number of author’s soliloquies in his last few books about how the gods are useless, mankind should take responsibility for its own destiny, etc etc. It could be that he’s writing against people who claim to have faith but don’t show any good for it (a common theme in his earlier books), but he came across to me as being angry at people of faith in general.

        In any case, I don’t think these types of fantasy books should count for this question, where the gods are revealed to actually exist. Similarly, while Deep Space 9 portrays the Bajoran faith in both positive and negative ways, their gods canonically exist and interact with most of the main characters in some way or another over the course of the show.

        Pratchett’s collaboration with Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth, has a number of religious main characters: a Buddhist monk (reincarnated as an AI), a few Catholic nuns, and an Anglican priest (who at one point admits that he doesn’t believe any of it, though admittedly this is a common British stereotype). They’re all portrayed positively.

        P.S. The Sparrow is a fantastic book.

        • AG says:

          Disagree that Pratchett got angry at deities. But he kind of take the mythological view, that entities are more like elementals, and less complex beings than humans for it. The better deities are the ones more human.

          For example, late Pratchett produced Monstrous Regiment, wherein Nuggan represents the same kind of “stagnant organized religion eats itself” view as Small Gods and Pyramids, but a critical element of Borogravia is that the people retain faith, just re-directed to the Duchess, to the point where she ascended into deity-hood. The protagonist of Monstrous Regiment learns not dismiss the prophet of the Duchess, and the whole setup is to say that religion goes wrong when it stops following where the people’s spirituality actually lies. (But also, that most people’s faith is non-malicious. It’s almost Book of Mormon-esque in that way.)

          The Moist books have a running thread of the things he’s getting into having a supernatural presence to them (the mail wants to be delivered, the train wants to be invented), and his needing to navigate respect for and faith in them without losing his wits.

          Tiffany Aching mostly gets in trouble when her hubris pits her against powers beyond her control, while her innate power is rooted in her veneration for The Chalk, the near-religious view of her grandmother. She surpasses Granny Weatherwax by being a priestess-type, able to connect with the people where Weatherwax was the necessary evil witch.

          Pratchet hated blind faith. His best characters work ceaselessly towards a certain ideal (Vimes and Carrot envision a better Ankh-Morpork), but they’re also continually interrogating it and their own faith, which is what stops them from carrying out bad acts for it. So they keep rejecting the conventional/easy path to their goals, because to submit to the narratives is to blindly believe in it.

          • J Mann says:

            The previous statement wasn’t that he was angry at dieties, but that he was hostile towards faith and people of faith; the larger context was asking whether there were authors sympathetic to organized religion.

            Agreed that Pratchett was sympathetic to some deities, especially personifications of ideas or forces, such as Death or that guy from The Thief of Time. In terms of religion, isn’t there a minister character that he kind of likes?

          • AG says:

            There’s an Omnian minister as one of the good guys in Carpe Jugulum.
            Constable Visit is treated in a neutral way, equal to Reg Shoe, affection for the inevitable annoyance of proselytizers.

          • dodrian says:

            Faith is depicted as a powerful force on the Discworld, and used as a positive plot device for a number of things (the mail, the clacks, etc etc). His religions in general are mostly parodies of fantasy tropes (pulling in lots of Earth mythologies for fun), but when depicted to draw parallels between real life religions or people of faith I don’t think they’ve been positive portrayals, especially not towards the end of the series.

            The plot of Small Gods (one of the earlier Discworld books, #13 of 47) is that gods get their power from belief, and a god of one of the larger religions has been reduced to a single follower because people have transferred their belief in the god to belief in the church. The book is highly critical of those who would use religion as a means to seize power or manipulate other people, but I wouldn’t say it’s wholesale critical of people of faith. Though perhaps it’s telling of Pratchett’s views that the one remaining believer is a simpleton (at the start of the book at least), and the reformation that he leads ends up turning the religion into a JW-style one, which for the rest of the series is portrayed as a bit silly, though ultimately harmless.

            Carpe Jugulum (#25) features a minister as a main character, whose development is all about relying less on his faith an more on himself. In one scene he must burn his holy book in order to start a fire to save Granny from hypothermia. In the end he chooses to stop wearing his religious turtle pendant and replace it with an axe, symbolic of the weapon he used to take on one of the main antagonists. Charitably you could say that Pratchett is making a ‘faith without works is dead’ type statement, but it’s also easy to read it with a plain ‘faith is dead’ meaning.

            I’ve not read the latter Discworld books as much as I’ve read the earlier/middle works, but I got a much more hostile impression from Snuff and Raising Steam (#45 & #46). I think I recall the lead character of Raising Steam giving a speech about how it was silly to believe in the gods because they didn’t help people-people should help themselves, or something similar. His last few books read a lot to me like Sir Pterry was angry about people in our world who would say that God is good, when he was facing down Alzheimer’s disease and the possibility of an particularly dehumanizing death. I can’t imagine him allowing a character to positively discuss theodicy in one of his books, especially not the later ones.

          • AG says:

            The complicating factor here is the Pterry is equally angry at secular faith, i.e. revolutionaries. The Discworld books are just as full of side-eyeing idealists taking action as they are of any religious or political figures (for example, in Small Gods the philosophers don’t come off much better, as impotent in the face of organized malice as turtle!Om). It’s equal opportunity scorn.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Though perhaps it’s telling of Pratchett’s views that the one remaining believer is a simpleton (at the start of the book at least), and the reformation that he leads ends up turning the religion into a JW-style one, which for the rest of the series is portrayed as a bit silly, though ultimately harmless.

            I thought that later Omnianism was more a parody of Anglicanism: nice, ineffectual, full of arguments over what exactly (if anything) it believes. Though it’s been some time since I’ve read the relevant books, so maybe I’m misremembering things.

    • James C says:

      Despite an inauspicious name, The Gods Are Bastards has some interesting and deep church cultures built up around their various patron deities. One of the main characters is a priest of the god of thieves, and is very much on the side of the good guys. Along with the rest of the church come to think of it.

      Actually, people should just go read The Gods Are Bastards in general. If nothing else it’s the only series I’ve found that deals with a fantasy society transitioning to some amalgam early modern society.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Wouldn’t the Diskworld books count as typical fantasy world transitioning to something more modern?

    • b_jonas says:

      I won’t get five, but I’ll give some attempts without looking at other answers.

      Would Isaac Asimov count? I don’t know if you’d count him as a contemporary author (he died in 1992). The middle chapter of ”Foundation” portrays a cult of priests on Anacreon who are trained in operating the technology. The technology was created by the Founation, who probably also created the organized religion and trained the operators, but they didn’t teach them enough to be able to reproduce the technology, so they used organized religion as a means of controlling people and keeping knowledge from them. I don’t know if this counts as unambiguously evil either.

      Lois Lowry is definitely current and mainstream, but organized religion plays very little role in ”Number the Stars”. That is a fiction book based on the real life story of saving most of the jew population of Denmark from the Holocaust. Organized religion isn’t a big theme, but I think the book mentions how the german soldiers requested lists of names going to each local organized jewish community (parish), but the leaders of those communities didn’t comply. ”Number the Stars” isn’t a sci-fi or fantasy work, but I call on the loophole in your post, because Lowry got famous as a fantasy writer with ”The giver”. I even dare applying for the bonus point, on the grounds that we know of simlar stories about organized christian communities later when the communist regime was persecuting people.

      Stanisław Lem likely has some example somewhere that would count, but I’m pulling a blank right now.

      • syrrim says:

        While Asimov died only recently, the original Foundation was written in the 50s. More recent instalments have a much harsher view of organized religion. Prelude to Foundation presents the religion of Mycogen as unambiguously bad for example.

    • silver_swift says:

      One name that wasn’t mentioned yet is Mark Lawrence. Most of Red Sister and Grey Sister takes place in a convent (that turns magically gifted young girls into near unstoppable murder nuns) of a religion that is essentially Christianity with the serial numbers filed off. There are plenty of thoroughly corrupt church officials, but many of the protagonists are genuinely religious and this is not portrayed as a bad thing.

    • jgr314 says:

      This doesn’t really answer your challenge, but have you read any of the work of Kristin Janz or Donald Crankshaw? They also edit Mysterion Online.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I think it was Robert Sawyer who had the book about the first contact with two alien species. Both of these alien species pretty much universally believed in God, and the representatives on Earth found it amazing and illogical that many humans did not. As an atheist myself, I found their reasons for God being so obvious not very convincing. But of of course being aliens in an SF book, they had evidence that Sawyer made up as existing in the aliens’ world, so not as convincing in the world outside of that universe.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver (an expansion of Rumplestiltskin set in fairy tale eastern Europe) is very friendly to orthodox Judaism. As far as I can tell, there’s no reason to think G-d exists in the novel, but the religion is portrayed as benign and wholesome.

      • And it’s a wonderful book.

        After I read and enjoyed it I decided I had let the internet distract me from reading fiction for too long and read about half a dozen novels in the next week or two.

  36. Matt M says:

    So the other day I was scrolling through Facebook and caught a story from one of the popular newer clickbaity sites (Buzzfeed, Vox, something like that) about the “parental happiness” gap which suggested it was a long-standing and non-controversial issue that parents are less happy than non-parents.

    Am I crazy, or is this the exact opposite of studies we’ve previously discussed on SSC, which suggested that parents virtually never regret having kids and report higher levels of happiness all around?

    (I tried to Google the article in question but have been unable to find it, but I have found multiple older ones that repeat essentially the same points)

    • J Mann says:

      It looks like there was a study in 2016 that got some coverage. Here’s Quartz and the NYT.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      One thing to keep in mind is that different forms of happiness measurement tend to yield different results. This comes up a lot in the money/happiness research too–IIRC getting people to log their happiness levels over the course of their days found that money only buys happiness up to a point, but asking them to rate their overall happiness on a questionnaire found diminishing but always increasing returns. (Though everything about that topic is disputed)

    • Aapje says:

      @Matt M

      Studies seem to show that parents of young children are less happy, while parents of older children are about equally happy as the childless. However, parents rarely say that they regret having kids. My assumption is that cognitive dissonance plays a large role here. Because you can’t undo having kids, regretting having kids is unfixable. People tend to change their preferences (or at least say that they have different preferences) if the outcome cannot be changed.

      It may also be possible that happiness is not actually the only thing that people seek, but that they also seek some form of fulfillment. So parents may then be more content with parenthood, despite not actually being happier.

      • JulieK says:

        I would have guessed that specifics of taking care of young children – especially sleep deprivation – play a large role.

      • Randy M says:

        It may also be possible that happiness is not actually the only thing that people seek, but that they also seek some form of fulfillment. So parents may then be more content with parenthood, despite not actually being happier.

        I think this is a lot of it. People can interpret happiness as “enjoyment” or “having a fun time” or something.
        I consider providing a good home for my children to be an accomplishment that brings me satisfaction. If I was unhappy, due sleep deprivation or financial worries or personal strife, that would be a less relevant factor in any regret than the joy I got out of it.

    • mobile says:

      A proper study must also consider the grandparental-happiness gap, which is huge and positive.

    • quanta413 says:

      Caplan’s book and graphs I’ve seen show a small dip in happiness of parents just after a child is born compared to their past selves a few years before the child is born. But then they return to baseline.

      They’ve also got a big spike in happiness for months before the birth.

      And as mobile mentions above, the grandparent gap is huge. Really, lowering your odds of dying alone is huge.

      Long run, I think it’s crazy for most people to not have kids if they want to feel happy and fulfilled.

    • Plumber says:

      As a parent your less happy most minutes-by-minutes, but you (usually) have more happy memories, and (as others have pointed out) being a grandparent is AWESOME!

      That said, be very confident in your marriage before you have kids, the lack of sleep and time pressure means tempers will rise.

  37. J Mann says:

    Culture war: “Key Fob Kelly” is a woman who got put on blast when she (a) tried to stop a man from entering her condo building, (b) followed him to his condo and (c) called 911. (b and c might have been in the opposite order).

    – The guy videoed her, posted it on facebook, and it went pretty much everywhere. Initially she didn’t comment, and she ended up getting fired.

    A few days later, she told her story

    My take:

    1) It’s pretty clear from the videos that this is a “piggybacking” or “tailgating” situation. She says she isn’t comfortable letting him in unless he swipes his fob, he says he already swiped it, she says she didn’t see it.

    2) If she didn’t cancel the 911 call after she saw that he had a key to an apartment, that’s pretty inexcusable. It wastes police time and there’s a (low) chance of someone getting injured.

    3) She really didn’t get her story out effectively. Once the guy started recording, she’s basically on public trial – she would have been at least a little better off if she had explained why she was doing what she was doing more clearly. (And heck, if she had said that the building board had instructed everyone not to allow tailgating and that she would do it to anyone, maybe it would have defused the situation.)

    Also, refusing to comment for the first few days was probably a mistake. (She may have thought that if she didn’t comment, she wouldn’t get named, or maybe she was keeping him out for other reasons and didn’t think of the tailgating story until a few days ago.)

    4) The press did a fairly silly job – they pretty much just reported “Hey, this Facebook video got posted.” Nobody bothered to check out whether the building door locked, to talk to other residents, or talk about tailgating.

    • albatross11 says:

      I just assume at this point that almost nobody will bother doing minimal checking on stories like these. Even the serious folks like NPR or the Washington Post don’t reliably dig deeper than the clickbait/CW story. I assume this is because they’re lazy or lack resources and it’s a quick way to get a story. (But it seems like NPR should be immune to many of the forces driving most of the other media platforms toward becoming a less-careful version of Buzzfeed.)

      • J Mann says:

        In general, it makes me a little mad to see press stories that are basically “3 idiots said something offensive on Twitter” or “somebody posted a Facebook video of somebody else being racist,” but I guess if that’s what drives clicks, that’s what people want to know about.

        • mtl1882 says:

          Yeah, and what’s worse is that some people actually believe that because it is “news” it is significant. My parents regularly say “Everyone” is doing something based on a tweet and the associated outrage, and then argue with me when I say it is basically the same small group of loud people over and over again, and not a widespread issue. All of these things, on either side if they are political, are initially cared about by a small and annoying group of people, but then other people feel like they have to react to it and actually do start caring. They end up fighting with caricatures.

          Also, clicks or not, the media’s abdication of responsibility is atrocious. People with any journalistic integrity should have walked away from their jobs when the business pressures escalated this stuff to absurd levels. I realize that is a huge demand to make, but I think it is that bad, and it’s not like you’re going to get job security out of it at that point. It is largely the fault of business owners who have no decency and a public who is way too okay with that, but I can’t just shrug it off as reality. It may be predictable, but it is too damaging to accept as the way things are. It demands pushback of some sort.

          • albatross11 says:

            Moloch is eating the respectable news media right now. They were pretty crappy overall in terms of accuracy and bias, but they’re better than what we’re likely to end up with in their place.

      • rahien.din says:

        This is the model of modern journalism.

        Due to social media, news moves (scoops move) too fast for fact-checking. So they outsource data gathering to social media. The reporters’ job is to iterate until they have the definitive take.

        Essentially, the whole world is a newsroom now.

    • Matt M says:

      Yeah, I lived in a building somewhere like for a while and the staff was constantly sending out emails and such reminding us that we must never let someone in unless they swipe their own key fob, that doing so put the entire building at risk of massive security issues, that we signed agreements agreeing not to do this, etc.

      Of course most people ignored that noise and let in anyone who said “Hey man I live here and forgot my key, will you let me in?” then acted shocked and mystified when their car ended up being broken into…

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Agreed with all your points.

      If she failed to cancel the call, that’s the most important part of the story, because at that point she’s using law enforcement as a weapon to get revenge which is obviously much worse

      But asking to see the key fob is completely reasonable. I’m white and I faced the same request the one and only time I’ve tried to tailgate into my apartment building.

      Like, I’m sure there is racial disparity in this, and if you ran a study with white and black experimenters trying to tailgate into random buildings the black ones would get stopped more often. I’d gladly bet on it if such a study were planned. But IMO the people letting white strangers in are the ones in the wrong.

      idk, I guess the video makes this the lightning rod for lifetimes of experiencing that disparity. But fuck it, this woman wasn’t wrong to block the door.

      • Nick says:

        If she failed to cancel the call, that’s the most important part of the story, because at that point she’s using law enforcement as a weapon to get revenge which is obviously much worse

        When I was a child, I was instructed not to ever call 911 unless it was a real emergency, because you can’t cancel a 911 call. This happened to my cousin, where her parents called them back immediately but they drove out anyway—a forty minute drive. I’m looking online now, though, and it looks like this isn’t true, at least not everywhere? More data needed.

        • gbdub says:

          I think it depends – you can certainly cancel if you accidentally dial and immediately tell them that.

          Still, she could have said “look, I’m sorry I bothered you, go home and I’ll talk to the cops when they get here and say it was a false alarm”.

    • Aapje says:

      It seems to me that the guy probably forgot his fob for the outside door, but did have his keys. He then expected to be let in and instead of telling the truth and proving he was a resident, he lied. When she didn’t accept his lie, he got aggressive. This was rather unreasonable of him.

      Unfortunately, due to the current racial narratives floating around, many people’s first (and last) assumption is that this must have been racism. Ironically, this extreme assumption of bad faith of white people looks a lot like racism to me.

    • The Nybbler says:

      she ended up getting fired.

      And here’s the problem, part of the reason the culture war cannot die down. Here’s a woman who gets into a dispute with a neighbor, at her home, clearly not representing her employer in any way. But she gets fired over it because “that’s racist”. Once the personal becomes political and the political becomes total, everyone has to at least be aware of the Culture War and hold a position, if only for defensive reasons.

      • Jiro says:

        Her job was being a property manager for another apartment building. Her behavior in excluding someone from an apartment building is relevant to her job.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I don’t think that merely because one’s job involves some tasks one does in one’s personal life, that one’s employer should judge those personal-life tasks. It’s not enough of a connection. My employer doesn’t care how bad any coding I do outside of work is, unless I associate with them somehow. I’ve never heard of a dishwasher being judged on the cleanliness of their home dishes.

          The exceptions are certain licensed professions — a truck driver can get fired for tickets in his car, for instance — but I consider that a problem also.

          • J Mann says:

            IMHO, it depends. If her 15 minutes of fame was for waving a swastika sign and protesting school integration, I don’t think most people would object to firing her. Or I guess if her boss called her and she said “I don’t want black people in my condo building,” I could see firing her for that as well.

            I guess the question is whether the video is beyond the pale, and what kind of process we expect before firing someone, when most people are in jobs where they can be fired for almost any reason, or for no reason.

          • acymetric says:

            It isn’t really about whether she behaved properly, from her employer’s perspective this is a liability thing. You really can’t afford to have a property manager with a “racism” scandal surrounding her managing a property. It becomes way too easy for some tenant or prospective tenant to then claim that they were discriminated against and point to this as another example of her pattern of racism (you do not have to believe that she was being racist to have this concern). The stakes are much higher for real estate than the would be in some other professions. This is kind of an “avoid all appearances of impropriety” thing.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            well thats the real problem now isn’t it.

            As long as the government maintains that they can prevent employers from descriminating based on some protected class (and allow those protected classes to sue), then employers have to fire any employee that could concievably cause or be evidence of descrimination in an investigation or lawsuit.

            And since the government enevitably gets to decide what are and aren’t protected classes this will inevitably be a highly political decision.

            A political decision that will inevitably hurt political opponents and help political allies (your opponents get fired for their oppinions of protected groups and can be decriminated against but yourallies get to sue when their decriminated against and can say what they like of their enemies)

            Thus antidecrimination laws are an end runaround the first ammendment and allows the government to punish their opponents political speech by threatening their employers into doing the punishing for them.

            Imagine if republicans declared blue lives/families a protected class and employers had to preemptively fire anyone who could possibly be contrued as supporting black lives matter. And realize what a powerful attack on free speech and the private sphere this is.

            Of course since the american government has been waging active economic warfare on disapproved conservative oppinions for over 50 years now there is no reason that conservatives are in power they shouldn’t reply in kind.

            Just declare the police, the unborn and white people areas of particular concern regarding decrimination and use it to purge academia, the government and every “ngo” (a misnomer since most do recieve federal funds) of anyone whose ever expressed a left wing oppinion.

            Of course i have no fondness for the police, the unborn, or white people.
            But if i were conservative id conclude that whats good for the goose is good for the gander

        • albatross11 says:

          I think firing someone as a result of a social media outrage mob is almost always a terrible idea.

        • Matt M says:

          But isn’t this true in the opposite direction?

          As an apartment manager, she knows that the rules are that you don’t let an unknown person in who doesn’t have their keyfob.

          She behaved this way because she was an apartment manager, not in spite of it!

          • mtl1882 says:

            I agree. I certainly understand why there is a suspicion of racism, because as someone said above, I’m sure if you did a random trial, way more people would do this to a black man than a white man doing the same thing. But she has a reason to be fastidious towards everyone, and to be particularly focused on this issue. Now that I think of it, though, if she is this fastidious and this her job, I find it hard to believe this is the first time such an incident occurred. If there is no history of 911 calls or other residents coming out to say they had a similar encounter (of any race, whether supporting her or not), it does make you wonder if she was a lot more extreme this time. Possibly the man reacted in a way that bothered her, but the fact that he was filming her tends to indicate that he wasn’t there to commit a crime or hurt her. Of course, she may not have been thinking that logically, but I think it’s reasonable to consider. In general, I consider twitter outrage mobs and mass media coverage of them generally unproductive or worse. I’m not justifying that behavior, but I do understand that this kind of discrimination is a problem to be discussed and why the man would be upset and videotape it. He may not have been out to get her in particular, but wanted to show people what he has to deal with, and I get that. It would be aggravating for most people to be treated with suspicion all the time, even if some people claim they’d be more than happy to comply and follow rules without ever caring about fairness.

            One of the many reasons I hate these mobs is because he may not have even wanted it to ruin her (I don’t know his personal views), but to start a conversation, share his experiences, get acknowledgement of the problem, or even to just laugh at the absurdity. But it becomes such a thing that, in addition to other consequences, it will often get him labeled as the troublemaker and unreasonable one as though he directed the mob, which is even worse. I don’t know if that’s true in this case, but it has been at least partially true in other cases. Someone posts a video of someone acting ridiculous more to entertain their friends than anything, and it turning into a massive issue that ends in firing. These people should realize that it is a likely consequence, but they truly don’t seem to.

    • rahien.din says:

      The root of the problem is that she’s clueless.

      The purpose of the admittance policy is to protect the condo’s owners from tenants seeking damages, should some unauthorized person cause mischief. The policy makes tenants blame each other for security breaches, rather than blaming the owner. It is not a prospective obligation on the tenants to provide unlicensed and untrained security work. It’s a legal firewall.

      Key Fob Kelly’s mistake was to interpret the policy as a prospective obligation (or, to expose herself to a situation that required that interpretation). In that situation, she had no other option than to do what she did – follow the guy, call for sanctioned backup. In doing so, she exposed herself to a whole lot of damaging nonsense.

      She’s not racist. She’s just an idiot.

      In that sense, I don’t see what’s wrong about firing her. Her employer’s only other option was to publicly retain (and be tarred alongside) a social justice lightning rod who had just proved herself to be recklessly stupid. No way.

      • Matt M says:

        It is not a prospective obligation on the tenants to provide unlicensed and untrained security work.

        As I said above, in my building, we were told that this was a requirement under our lease agreement. I never bothered to check, personally. And even if true, it’s probably not legally enforceable. But still.

        They definitely threatened to fine anyone who propped a door open – which in effect is just “holding it open for someone, but for longer and with an object.” Unsure if they ever actually tried to fine anyone though.

        • rahien.din says:

          If you weren’t asked to report on any times you prevented unauthorized entry, then it’s not a prospective obligation. It’s just a transfer of liability, from landlord to tenant.

          And fines are just prices. A price being retrospective (whether that is the fee assessed for door-propping, or the bill at the end of a meal) doesn’t make it anything other than a price.

          So in some sense, your landlord was saying “You can let any strangers in, as long as you assume the legal risk related to their entry and pay a fee. The fee will be refunded if you screen them face to face.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            A provision forbidding propping a door open and providing a fine is not necessarily JUST a monetary price; doing so may result in non-renewal of the lease as well.

      • J Mann says:

        The purpose of the admittance policy is to protect the condo’s owners from tenants seeking damages, should some unauthorized person cause mischief. The policy makes tenants blame each other for security breaches, rather than blaming the owner. It is not a prospective obligation on the tenants to provide unlicensed and untrained security work. It’s a legal firewall.

        Presumably, the residents might feel that it’s an ethical choice to try to protect one another from mischief?

        • Matt M says:

          It could also be entirely out of self-interest.

          By refusing to let an unknown person into the building, she isn’t just protecting other residents. She’s a resident, too!

          • acymetric says:

            Of course, if he were dangerous, following him around would probably be the opposite of protecting herself wouldn’t it?

            She didn’t do anything wrong, per se, but she did something stupid. Alert the authorities (police, building management, front desk person if there is one, whoever seems most appropriate) and then remove yourself from the situation. Following him around was asking for trouble one way or another, and she indeed got it (although probably more than she deserved).

            The way she carried herself makes her a “technically correct” but somewhat unsympathetic character in all this.

          • J Mann says:

            Mmm, she’s face to face with him and actually follows him around. At a minimum, she clearly doesn’t think he’s a physical danger, but I guess she could be concerned about theft.

    • Nornagest says:

      SpaceX is in LA, though.

      • John Schilling says:

        Blue Origin and Planetary Resources are in the Seattle area, Stratolaunch and Virgin Galactic are both in Mojave, Bigelow in Las Vegas, it looks like Deep Space Industries is the biggest player with a Silicon Valley (San Jose) headquarters.

        It is true that an awful lot of the money came from Silicon Valley, but it’s patently true that anyone who plans to build spaceships has to be willing to set up shop someplace much less densely populated and development-averse than the Bay Area.

        However, it is also true that YIMBY is one commodity where outer space has a clear comparative advantage over most any terrestrial market, and one which will be of increasing importance going forward.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I dunno, I think Asimov said it pretty well.

  38. Thegnskald says:

    A question for those in the audience who have been sexually assaulted, and didn’t report it:

    Would you have been more or less likely to report it if the punishment, in the event of conviction, were more along the lines of “Mandatory counseling”?

    (Pet theory: A lot of sexual assault goes unreported because most people don’t think the punishments imposed by society are a reasonable reaction to what they experience.)

    My own answer:

    More likely, depending on specifics like whether or not the situation could have been private, as were it to become public knowledge, that alone would suffice to be over-punishing.

    • ana53294 says:

      When sexual assault in the sense of being touched sexually without consent happened to me, it was in public transportation.

      Transport for London made a great ad about sexual harassment/assault in public transportation. A lot of the situations seen there are unclear, especially for insecure or young people. If it is very crowded, it is confusing to know for sure whether this was intentional.

      As for whether this is not reported because of excessive punishment, I don’t think this is the case at least for sexual molesters in public transportation. My perception of them is that they are mostly repeat offenders, they target underage girls/boys, and they absolutely deserve to be banned from public transportation and maybe even a couple of years of prison (because of the minors). But they target unsecure people. And usually, it’s too much trouble to report them, and nothing happens to them, so most people don’t bother.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      This is a dumb question, but when you say sexual assault are you including rape? People are really unclear here and I can never be sure what specifically people are talking about.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Yes, for both standard and extended conceptualizations of rape.

        I would in general be interested in people’s perspective on punishment, not limited to my specific question.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Ok thanks for the clarification.

          I’m not really qualified to answer your question as stated, unless you’re willing to really stretch the definition of sexual assault to include things like women pressing themselves into my crotch on the train.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Would you classify a man pressing his crotch into a woman on the train as sexual assault?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Yes, although I’d probably call it groping / frottage to make it clear what specifically I was talking about.

            Anyway I don’t think that there’s any meaningful symmetry there. Women who have been groped on trains generally say that they were very upset and/or afraid, whereas I was just confused at the time. Unarmed women just aren’t very frightening.

          • Aapje says:

            Groping doesn’t have to be frightening to be upsetting. Disrespect, disgust, etc can also be upsetting.

            Also, given how society now treats sexual assault, some men are afraid to scorn sexually aggressive women out of fear that they will then accuse the man and that bystanders or authorities will then believe the woman and punish the man.

            I’ve read a story by a man who let a woman rape him after waking up to find her riding him, rather than throw her off, out of fear of the consequences if he did.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I think there is a symmetry that is disguised by sexism; we wouldn’t be so accepting of the situation if the fear/upset condition was predicated on the bad actor being black and the recipient being white, but nobody blinks an eye at an equivalent situation based on sex.

            This kind of sexism is both widespread and invisible. It is hard to convince people there is even anything wrong with the fact that the asymmetric nature of the situation is self-reinforcing.

          • AG says:

            @Aapje: Do you know if we’ve ever had a case yet where “he-said-she-said” has both claiming to be the victim of sexual assault?

            Lots of sexual harassment training emphasizes that women bosses can be the harassers, but I wonder how it would play out if a woman boss and a man subordinate both tried to claim harassee status.

          • Aapje says:


            I can’t remember something specific, but a quick google turned up a book by a lawyer who defended Nicholas Turner, Getty’s curator of drawings. The lawyer claims that Turner turned down a subordinate who wanted an affair with him, that she retaliated by accusing him & that the museum then took her side in the he said-she said, based on the assumption that only men sexually assault women, not vice versa. He got fired, sued and settled out of court.

          • JulieK says:

            fear that they will then accuse the man and that bystanders or authorities will then believe the woman and punish the man.

            The Potiphar’s Wife gambit.

    • brmic says:

      Would you have been more or less likely to report it if the punishment, in the event of conviction, were more along the lines of “Mandatory counseling”?

      Does not apply. The matter was not sufficiently grave to merit involvement of the criminal justice system and I could have physically defended myself if I felt I needed to. It was the equivalent of a (much weaker) drunk repeatedly pushing you, spoiling for a fight: One hopes his friends intervene, tries to get some distance etc. , but I wouldn’t call the cops.
      More generally speaking, I think anything for which the maximum punishment is ‘mandatory counselling’ is generally better left to community standards or other informal or private means of conflict resolution. I’m sure counterexamples exist and I expect I’m not 100% consistent on this.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I would like a little more detail on “I wouldn’t call the cops”, specifically your reasoning there.

        Is it because dealing with the cops would be a bigger hassle than dealing with the behavior, or because it would be a relative waste of their time, or because it would be an overreaction in some other sense (punishment being one possibility)?

        Or some other reason entirely?

        • brmic says:

          No, not a bigger hassle in this case, even though that is a concern in general. Waste of their time, yes, somewhat, as I could defend myself. But mostly because it would be an overreaction.
          There’s also a bit you didn’t mention, which again is not the whole picture, but it omitted so far, and that’s a sense that the criminal justice system is there for conflicts we can not resolve ourselves, that need a formal authority, use of force etc.

    • J Mann says:

      No – I have never felt threatened, and didn’t feel like the circumstances indicated a lot of risk of future activity. (One was by an ex-girlfriend, the other was a developmentally disabled woman whose parents were there and can presumably respond. I am bigger and stronger than both, and was able to stop the activity without a lot of drama).

    • Aapje says:


      I was slapped on the butt in school by a female friend (while being bent over a table to work on something). There was no consent, flirting, etc so technically this was sexual assault, although it was not traumatizing or such. So I did not and do not desire her to be punished to ‘make her pay.’

      My current belief is that many women are unaware that they can hurt men through sexual assault and that women should be called out on this more often (individually or collectively), not just to dissuade certain behaviors, but also to reduce double standards (and make women understand the male perspective better by making them understand that their well-intentioned behaviors can be undesired, so they are then less likely to attribute malice to men).

      However, reporting individuals to authorities often has nasty (psychological or social) consequences, so I think that things in a certain gray area should often be discussed at a group level, not by addressing/punishing individuals. I think that this is true for what happened to me.

      So I would still not report it.

      PS. I assume that you mean to contrast more severe punishment with ‘mandatory reporting’ as a milder remedy. However, I expect that if I had reported what happened to me, the response would at most be a brief ‘don’t do that’ conversation between a teacher and her. I think that the chance of greater consequences to me than to her would be very high (with it becoming known to other students that I complained and them attacking me for it).

      • Matt M says:

        Re: Mandatory reporting

        Reason chronicles the suffering and tribulation of a young man who suffered multiple coordinated false sexual assault accusations by a group of girls who “just didn’t like him.”

        The school, for its part in all of this, seems to take the “We regret nothing!” position, as they are “mandatory reporters” who are obligated to take all accusations seriously, while simultaneously insisting that it can’t punish the girls for “bad behavior outside of school.”

      • Thegnskald says:

        The last paragraph is its own set of problems.

        Setting that aside, would a “Don’t do that” from a teacher be the most appropriate response?

        • Aapje says:

          I suspect it would be more of a “don’t do that because Aapje dislikes it/is weird” than a “don’t do that because it’s sexual assault.” So that would not actually teach the right lesson.

          In general, I think that it requires a lot of ground work for most people to get that men can be assaulted and raped by women. Without this ground work, brief statements will rarely ‘land.’

          PS. This was back in medieval times anyway, where teachers were more ignorant about things than now. For example, for bullying they favored the ‘fight back’ advice, while the modern approach is to get the peer group to sign up to certain values that exclude bullying and then make them collectively responsible for enforcing those.

    • Matt says:

      Some woman in a club grabbed my ass and ran off giggling. That’s sexual assault, right?

      I didn’t report it because I didn’t think it should be punished at all.

      • albatross11 says:

        Right. My impression (not at all scientific) is that this sort of thing happens quite often, more often to women than men, but to both. And that it’s bad behavior, but not such bad behavior that it’s worth engaging the machinery of the criminal justice system. Though I do think it’s reasonable for the bouncer at a bar to toss you out without any great gentleness, or the owner to tell you to get out and never come back, if you’re groping people.

        • Thegnskald says:

          I think the impression a lot of people get of the “SJW” crowd is that they -would- like the machinery of the criminal justice system to be engaged for cases like this. (Well, when men do it, anyways.)

          Fair or not, that is what rhetoric that amounts to “Society is full of unpunished sexual assault and this is a problem” ends up parsing as. Likewise rape, in which all unreported rape is quietly presumed to be unreported because the system disentivizes reporting rape, as opposed to, as in my case, thinking the legal system isn’t an appropriate response to what I experienced.

          Granted, I tend to regard our justice system as draconian and amounting, to some extent, to rape-and-violence-as-punishment. So I probably have a far greater aversion to using the justice system to punish people than average.

          • gbdub says:

            I’ve mentioned this before, but for almost all non-sexual crimes, we accept that the “proper” reporting rate (and certainly the proper conviction rate) is << 100%.

            Obviously speeding, jaywalking, and other minor infractions are enforced <<<<100%. I don't think most Americans want to live in a world where that's not true.

            We generally try to enforce laws against petty theft, but most stores generally avoid involving the cops except for egregious or repeat offenders (more likely is you get caught and banned from the store – maybe if you keep doing it they'll eventually get the cops to take you away on theft or trespass). And a lot of theft has basically zero chance of the perpetrators being caught – I might make a police report of a stolen bike for insurance purposes, but nobody is going to spend a lot of effort solving that crime and arresting the thieves. Yet "Only 10% of theft is ever reported!" is not seen as prima facie sign of a cultural crisis.

            The definition of physical assault/battery is just as broad as sexual assault. I wager a similarly small percentage of physical/nonsexual assault and battery is reported, keeping in mind that technically this would include anything as minor as getting shoved, slapped, spat at, or threatened with a fist. Again, "Only 10% of assault is reported!" is not a major area of concern.

            Now, if only 10% of forcible rape is reported (or only 10% of assault with a deadly weapon, or 10% of grand theft, etc.) that seems like it would be a legitimate issue.

            This means I have to take any report that plays fast and loose with distinguishing "rape" and "sexual assault" with a pretty heavy sodium dose.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I would expect that most assault with a deadly weapon isn’t reported either — because it occurs between criminals or at least low-lifes, in places mostly populated by same.

            I expect that even when there’s injury, if no one has to be hospitalized, there’s usually no report.

          • Matt M says:

            I suspect the vast majority of crimes are only reported if and only if the victim has

            a. Suffered obvious, quantifiable damage
            b. Expects to be compensated for this damage

            Most people won’t press charges over a minor assault just for the sake of justice or revenge or whatever. Similarly, most women won’t press charges over some dude grabbing their ass at the club. Because it’s just not worth it. If it bugs you that much, it’s far easier just to get your boyfriend to punch the guy and hope my other sentence is true.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Consider that this question, in this setting, is probably tuned to give you results from the subset of people who didn’t report their assault because they considered it unimportant. Nothing wrong with that, but it may not be a good representative sample.

      • albatross11 says:

        It seems kind-of important to know how often that’s the case, though. We might live in two worlds:

        World #1: Lots of people are subjected to sexual assault that’s annoying but not very serious, and they don’t report it because they don’t think it’s serious enough to matter.

        World #2: Lots of people are subjected to sexual assault that’s upsetting and extremely unpleasant, and they don’t report it because they don’t think anyone will do anything about it, or because they fear the stigma, or whatever.

        To the extent we’re more in World #1, more strict enforcement of rules against minor sexual assault is probably not all that important. To the extent we’re more in World #2, it probably is important.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Right, but this isn’t likely to determine which world we live in. It provides evidence for world 1, but not evidence about the relative percentages of people who live in world 1 and world 2.

    • vV_Vv says:

      I don’t think that private mandatory counseling is a reasonable punishment for anything, at least as long we are talking about adults.

      I mean, this is a joke even with kids, what good could it possibly do to adults?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Doesn’t the military use private counseling as a punishment? Where “counseling” is a euphemism for belittling, insulting, and otherwise yelling at the offender?

        • vV_Vv says:

          Does it?

          Anyway, there is a difference between a verbal warning, which carries an implicit or explicit threat of more serious consequences and doesn’t require any belittling, insulting or yelling to be effective (in fact any of these indicate poor leadership and weak authority), and counseling.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            There is a middle category that is definitely not yelling or insulting, but is also very much seen as a punishment. Mandatory counseling probably fits that bill quite well, even without a strong implication of future punishment.

            The fact that it’s seen as a joke by those receiving the counseling is, in fact, indicative of the punishment nature of having to sit through it. The counterpoint that the person performing the counseling not thinking of it as a punishment works even better, because it’s hard to find a point to complain about it being too harsh or whatever.

            (I have to conduct various mandatory counselings on a regular basis. I realize it’s a punishment, but I have to pretend I don’t, because the situation rarely rises to the level of necessitating actual discipline. Often this takes the form of: “Someone screwed up, and now everyone has to get a recitation of the company policy about X.”)

          • vV_Vv says:

            The fact that it’s seen as a joke by those receiving the counseling is, in fact, indicative of the punishment nature of having to sit through it.

            But as a punishment is probably too mild to have a serious deterrent effect, but annoying enough to associate negative affect towards the authority administering it. Possibly it may even incite futher infractions, or generally unproductive behavior (e.g. slacking, doing as little work and with as little quality as you can get away with).

            “Someone screwed up, and now everyone has to get a recitation of the company policy about X.”

            So it’s collective punishment, even worse.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Oh yes, it’s often a bad idea to go about it in that way. Unfortunately, it’s often the path that employers must take to be in legal compliance.

            See :
            New York Sexual Harassment

            The best I can say about it is that employees can be properly on notice that there may be a level of infraction that results in more significant punishment, and maybe some peer pressure about not getting everyone in trouble for them doing something stupid.

  39. ana53294 says:

    There seems to be a very high percentage of men in Norway that will never become fathers (25 %). At the same time, the percentage of women who never become mothers is lower.

    “On the one hand we have strong demands on fathers to spend time with their children and families.”

    “On the other hand, developments in working life force a mounting number of men into project jobs. As a result people are expected to be accessible for work all the time.”

    […]As their biological clocks approach the age of infertility, women are eager to have children. But many men still entertain doubts; they procrastinate, and end up childless.When women do give birth to children, it turns out that it can often be with men who have kids from previous relationships.

    My theory on why women have kids with men who already have kids:

    When a woman’s biological clock starts ticking fast, she needs to find a good candidate for a father fast. This needs to be a man who is willing to have a kid a year or two maximum after they start dating.

    So, once we assume reasonable attractiveness and social skills, there are going to be several important things: a) willingness to have a kid; b) willingness to spend time with the kid and to help with child-related expenses; c) having a decent income.

    And in some ways, a man who has one or two kids and is a decent father signals both a and b.

    Some men are willing to be involved in all kind of legally and ethically questionable financial shenanigans in order to avoid paying child support. A man who pays child support without the mother having to get a judge to garnish wages is not a man who will do that to his new kid. At the same time, the girlfriend can observe how much time he spends with his kids, how we plays with them, and can make reasonable assumptions about his willingness to play with their kid.

    A man that already has a child that wasn’t an accident also shows he is not child-free. If he doesn’t have more than 3-4 kids, a woman can assume that he would be willing to have a second or third. He is also not a man who wants to push having a child for “later”, “when he is ready”. Because that, to a woman who is pushing her late thirties, means never. The procrastinators are running the clock on her biological clock, and the woman who now wants a child will be less willing to wait.

    If my model is true, 45+ men who want to have kids for the first time need to signal that they want a child right now, and that they are willing to have a child after dating a year or so. I can’t think of a signal that is as convincing as already having a child, though.

    • johan_larson says:

      I thought this part was interesting:

      She has recently completed a research project on fertility in Kenya, where she interviewed both men and women.

      “When I ask Kenyan men whether they want to become fathers they burst out laughing. Of course, all of them want to have children. Anything else is unthinkable. The purpose of being a man is to become a father.”

      What is it about Norwegian culture (or western cultures more generally) that makes childlessness a thinkable choice, when it isn’t one elsewhere?

      • Aapje says:

        In most societies, success as a human being is: having a money and/or a good job, having a house, being married and having children.

        Progressives in the West are much less judgmental of women who do not having partner and men & women who do not have children.

      • albatross11 says:

        I suspect you will get the same answer in most high-birth-rate communities. Try asking among Mormon men.

      • Lambert says:

        When you don’t have a pension, who will look after you in your old age?

      • 10240 says:

        Existence of various fun and creative activities that (1) make your life feel worthwhile without having children, and (2) make the time you have to spend on a child a bigger opportunity cost.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Two, non-mutually exclusive hypotheses:

        1. Generational decline of testosterone and sperm count in developed societies.

        2. Lack of paternal male role models.

        In traditional societies boys spend lots of time with their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, older brothers and cousins: families are big, most of their members live within walking distance of each other and they tend to work together in small family businesses where the kids get to “help” since they are young. Boys will naturally identify with these adult male role models.

        In developed societies families are small and fractured: fathers are estranged or spend long hours in the office getting yelled at by their bosses, relatives live in different cities if not different countries and meet up only a couple times a year, kids spend 15+ years in an educational system which, from daycare to college, is extemely feminized. Lacking successful paternal role models, a boy may not know how to be a father or even desire to be one.

        I wonder if 2. might also cause 1. to some extent.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I don’t think your theory is necessary, there’s already a perfectly good explanation for why women would prefer to have kids with a man who already had kids by other women: preselection.

      Anecdotally, it’s really easy to notice how much more attention you start getting from other women once you get into a relationship. And it’s trivial to find studies demonstrating the same principle. Women are more attracted to a man the more attractive he is to attractive women.

      Given that, it’s not a mystery why women would prefer married men to bachelors.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Obvious relevant quotation from The Departed:

      “Marriage is an important part of getting ahead: lets people know you’re not a homo; married guy seems more stable; people see the ring, they think at least somebody can stand the son of a bitch; ladies see the ring, they know immediately you must have some cash or your cock must work.”

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Sorry no source, but I remember stuff from decades ago about employers preferring married men (not sure whether there was an additional preference for married men with children) because a man with obligations is less likely to leave his job.

        • andrewflicker says:

          Anecodatally, this makes perfect sense. There are definitely jobs/moments I’d have quit if not for my (self-perceived) need to provide for my partner.

    • Viliam says:

      I would have a quite different hypothesis:

      When men get the cultural message that to be a good man, your time spent at work plus your time spent with kids has to exceed 24 hours a day, they will naturally split into two groups:

      a) the responsible ones, who see that they are unable to fulfill both social expectations, and because they have bills to pay and need to keep the job, they logically give up on having kids; and

      b) the irresponsible ones, who suddenly have many fertile ladies fighting for them, so they make a few kids here and a few kids there…

      The information missing here is how old on average are the kids of the “men who have kids from previous relationships” when their fathers leave them to create a new family elsewhere. If it’s 18 or more, that would favor the hypothesis of preselection of high-quality fathers; if it’s 10 or less, that would favor the hypothesis of guys who enjoy making kids and don’t worry about their other social obligations.

      • ana53294 says:

        When men get the cultural message that to be a good man, your time spent at work plus your time spent with kids has to exceed 24 hours a day, they will naturally split into two groups:

        But women get the same message too. And the option of being a stay at home mother is becoming less and less acceptable.

        I am not saying they are selecting for the best fathers; the best fathers, as you indicate, stated with their kids until they are 18.

        The options when the clock is running are not great. You have the men who don’t want to become fathers, the ones who want one but later, the ones who do and are willing to spend a bit of their time and money but not all, and the ones who abandon their kids and very rarely visit them.

        It’s not like these women have queues of men who want kids, don’t have them but are willing to stay married for eighteen years of more. That kind of man is already married.

        • johan_larson says:

          The message I got growing up is that there are many things you should do. You should have a good job that gets you plenty of money and respect. You should be married and a devoted parent. You should keep fit. You should be engaged in civic and community life. You should help the unfortunate by donating time or money.

          But the message was very clear that among these the most important bit was to be successful at work. The twice-divorced childless VP with drinking habit gets more respect than the fifty-year old first-level supervisor who has great kids and is a pillar of his church and PTA and runs 10K races on weekends.

          • b_jonas says:

            I have some difficulty imagining the stereotype you are painting here, of a man who both has drinking habits and runs 10K races.

          • johan_larson says:

            Two separate people:
            – twice-divorced childless VP with a drinking habit
            – fifty-year old first-level supervisor who has great kids and is a pillar of his church and PTA and runs 10K races on weekends

          • acymetric says:


            As johan_larson noted, it was two separate people, but I’ll just point out that you are probably underestimating the number of people who do fit both of those categories.

          • gets more respect

            From whom? Where? In what context?

            If I am a businessman dealing with a firm, I will properly treat the VP of the firm as more important to my dealings than a low level employee. If I am a parent deciding whose children to encourage my kids to play with, on the other hand, the order would reverse.

            Ignoring the fact that in the specific example the VP had no children.

    • vV_Vv says:

      I have a simpler explanation: female hypergamy unbridled by traditional monogamous sexual norms.

      We have twice as many female ancestors than male ancestors, this means that throughout human history, many more men than women failed to reproduce. Women selected the best men available to them even if they already have children.

      Traditional monogamous or near-monogamous marriage limited hypergamy: there were some illicit relationships of course, but having a rule of a maximum of one spouse per person and formal social prohibition of pre-marital and extra-marital sex meant that if you were a man who worked hard and played by the rules, and you didn’t get killed in a war or some freak accident, you had good chances of landing a wife and fathering some children. Now these norms have faded and many people live in a state of serial, or even simultaneous, polygamy, thus it’s not uncommon to see men who have five children with three different women and men who don’t have any children at all.

  40. Sui Generalist says:

    Suppose you’re persuaded by the argument that pre-agricultural societies had higher living standards than shortly after the adoption of agriculture.

    If there are so many mongongo nuts, why doesn’t the population increase to the Malthusian limit where there are only just enough mongongo nuts to go around?

    Has anyone come up with a good answer to this one?

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      What I’ve read is that hunter-gatherers tend to die of things other than starvation. Agriculture “reduced mortality and raised morbidity”, I read once, the latter term meaning chronic poor health.

    • James C says:

      Generally, the point of there being only just enough nuts is the point where every member of the society is at the brink of starvation. Hence, when agricultural societies reach the carrying capacity of their land their standard of living plummets.

    • somatochlora says:

      This is just something off the top of my head, no idea if it’s complete bogus, but perhaps seasonality of available food is an explanation. Could a few months of near starvation in the winter keep populations low enough to allow lives of leisure the rest of the year?