SELF-RECOMMENDING!

OT113: Opentekonter Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page).

Starting today, the visible Open Thread is culture-war-free. Please try not to talk about extremely controversial political and social topics. You can still talk about those in the Hidden Open Threads that you can find at the Open Thread tab every Wednesday and alternating Sundays. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. I know that the email subscription function is broken. Thanks to everyone who alerted me of this. I don’t know how to fix it. If someone is good with WordPress and thinks they know how to fix it, please let me know and I’ll give you access to whatever you need. I also need someone willing to fix the Report Comment function, which seems to work very inconsistently right now.

2. Comment of the week is this discussion of dark matter.

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

1,006 Responses to OT113: Opentekonter Thread

  1. lazydragonboy says:

    How likely is it I would notice someone with an IQ of 162-171 as being smarter than someone with an IQ of say 125-135? I learned today that a fellow I have been living with for the past month and a half sat one IQ test and scored 162 and another and scored 171. I was initially disbelieving because while I have observed him to be smart, I would not have thought him that smart. It’s the intellectual equivalent of being taller than LeBron James.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Most IQ tests don’t measure that high. 145 is approximately as high as most IQ tests can measure, and even then, anything over 130 is pretty dicey.

      It is more likely that childhood and adult IQ scores are being conflated than that somebody scored 162 on a test.

      The problem with measuring high IQs is that it is apparently basically impossible to consistently produce problems that can consistently be solved at a given (high) IQ level. So far all intents and purposes, anything higher than 130 is basically indistinguishable.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        It is more likely that childhood and adult IQ scores are being conflated than that somebody scored 162 on a test.

        That all makes a lot of sense, but I thought childhood IQ was relatively predictive of adult IQ?
        What does it mean for adulthood and childhood scores to be conflated?

        Also, how do organizations like the “1 in a thousand society” and such test for membership if IQ tests don’t actually go up to 1/1000 intelligence?

        • Well... says:

          I think thegnskald used the word “conflated” deliberately, since it means something like “accidentally combined”, rather than the more common usage of “accidentally swapped”.

        • Brad says:

          That all makes a lot of sense, but I thought childhood IQ was relatively predictive of adult IQ?

          Not especially. Though more so closer to the mean than further away.

          What those really high childhood IQ tests measures show is precociousness. By some accident of hormones, an 11 year old might be as tall as an average 15 year old, but that doesn’t mean he is going to end up 8′. In fact, he almost certainly won’t. They also, by the way, aren’t deviation IQ even within their age cohorts. They have very fat right tails.

          Also, how do organizations like the “1 in a thousand society” and such test for membership if IQ tests don’t actually go up to 1/1000 intelligence?

          Those organizations are rather pathetic gimmicks with no basis in any kind validated science.

          • arlie says:

            What those really high childhood IQ tests measures show is precociousness.

            Citation needed.

            I cannot recall any pair of acquaintances who reversed either relative IQs or apparant “intelligence” as they aged, unless the difference was trivial.

            And my memory of the literature, while faint, suggests reasonably strong correlations between each individual’s IQ measurements at different ages.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Agree with arlie.

            I’ve never taken a formal IQ test, and don’t know people who did, but I do know that my Standardized test scores were the same percentile for my entire academic career from Grade 1-LSAT (and GRE). We took multiple tests in grade school to determine who was in what classes and it was always the same. There were a few kids I knew for 6+ years that grew appreciably dumber, but those all had obvious explanations (drugs, booze, losing a parent) and none getting appreciably smarter.

          • I think there are two separate issues here.

            1. As I understand it–someone who knows more is invited to correct me–the IQ for someone young is intended to be mental age over physical age. So someone who grew up mentally fast would have a high IQ as a youth whether or not he ended up smart.

            Because of that definition, the distribution of youth IQ is different from that of adult IQ. When I was a councilor at a camp for gifted children a long time ago, there was one kid with an IQ of 201. On the standard distribution that adult IQ is supposed to follow, I think that is very unlikely, but I can believe that at 11 he was in some ways as bright as the average 22 year old.

            2. I have seen the claim that childhood IQ is more dependent on environment than adult IQ, that, for example, identical twins reared apart will have their IQ’s converge as they get older.

          • Brad says:

            I cannot recall any pair of acquaintances who reversed either relative IQs or apparant “intelligence” as they aged, unless the difference was trivial.

            How frequently were you and your friends taking and sharing IQ tests? It’s September, so it must be time for an IQ test?

            And my memory of the literature, while faint, suggests reasonably strong correlations between each individual’s IQ measurements at different ages.

            Every one of these IQ threads we have tons of people coming out and talking about IQs in the 150s, 160s, 170s and even higher.

            These are impossible deviation IQs. So while the correlation across the entire curve may be decent in cannot be on the far righ area we are talking about.

            Unfortunately these conversations end up impinging on deeps parts of people’s self concept and so we get otherwise numerate people trying defend a “score” of five deviations above the mean from a test that was normed against a cohort in the thousands at best.

          • albatross11 says:

            This makes me think of a throwaway line in Heinlein’s (not all that great) book _Friday_, where the genetically engineered superwoman main character noted that she’d been trained to decide what IQ score she wanted before she sat down to the test and hit exactly that score.

          • These are impossible deviation IQs. So while the correlation across the entire curve may be decent in cannot be on the far righ area we are talking about.

            That doesn’t mean that the correlation isn’t good–there could be a close correlation along the lines of:

            (Youth IQ-100)/2 = Deviation IQ-100

            As I mentioned, I knew a kid, I think 11, who had an IQ of 201. He was very bright for an 11 year old and I wouldn’t be surprised if his adult IQ had ended up at (say) 160.

        • albatross11 says:

          One thing that’s kind-of important to remember here: intelligence is what we want to know about, but it’s pretty hard to define precisely. IQ is what we can measure, it’s defined precisely and validated against performance in school and at work, but it’s not measuring exactly the same thing as what we mean by intelligence.

          There are people with high IQ scores whose achievements don’t demonstrate any great intellect, and people with relatively low IQ scores whose achievements demonstrate first-rate minds. IQ score positively (and probably pretty strongly) correlates with what we intuitively mean by intelligence, but it’s not the same thing. My guess is that coming off as smart in conversation positively correlates with intelligence (and IQ), but not all that strongly.

        • arlie says:

          The only intelligence (IQ) based organization I know of is Mensa, and its target is far from 1 in 1000. (A quick google tells me their target is 1 in 50, which is pretty close to what I remembered.)

          Do organizations trying to target 1 in 1000 IQs really exist?

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        I think this is also why we tend (as a society) to identify certain types of genius better than others. Math and Physics problems can be very complicated but still objectively solvable. English and Psychology tend to be fields of study with less objective right/wrong, correct/incorrect results.

        For most interactions with a very intelligent individual, we will likely base most of our impression of their intelligence on how articulate they are, rather than being able to see or measure the “raw” intelligence.

    • Well... says:

      I’m surprised by this too. When people have intelligence like that, it’s usually immediately obvious.

      I took a proper IQ test at about age 9 and scored something like 127, and I would say on a day to day basis I feel like I’m indeed about two standard deviations more intelligent than most of the people I meet out in the world.

      But I’ve definitely met a good amount of people (e.g. a former boss, a friend I had briefly), or observed them (e.g. Elon Musk, possibly JBP) who are clearly another standard deviation or two above me. People like that just seem to see the world in a different way, recognizing and integrating patterns and concepts that my relatively feeble mind is just unable to rise above. (BTW that doesn’t mean I think they’re always right in their conclusions about what they see.)

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t know anymore, maybe I’m not smart enough but I feel a lot more intelligence is situational than I used to think, certainly perception of intelligence.

        I had a roommate that I played chess against occasionally and he would mop the floor with me. I spent a few weeks practicing what probably amounted to an hour a day and I suddenly beat him 2-3 times in a row (we stopped being roommates shortly thereafter). This happened again in a similar way with another friend later a few years later. Part of what happened was simply that when we were playing only each other I couldn’t see much improvement because they were improving as well. Once I pushed them in a game or two they would get a bit better and the gap would widen again. If I had never taken it outside of our matches I would have perpetually felt that they were both just naturally better chess players or without realizing that they both had more experience than I did.

        Domain expertise can really make a person seem superior/inferior, add in some selection bias- you generally tend to know or feel a person is very smart the more successful they are, and I can see how we might be a lot worse at judging intelligence than we think we ought to be.

        • Well... says:

          With Elon Musk for example I get my sense of his intelligence from the way he talks. It’s not that he’s a domain expert in, say, starting companies and therefore he comes off as smart. I’ve seen lots of people who start companies talk, and they don’t all come off as hyper-intelligent the way he does. In fact, I’ve never heard him talk about anything where I haven’t heard other people who know more about those things talk about them, and I even remember thinking he was wrong about a thing or two (I can’t remember specifics offhand). But there’s something about the way he chooses words, the way he looks when he’s thinking, the way he holds himself, etc. And there’s also something about how many steps ahead he seems to be thinking too.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m not saying you can’t tell when someone is genuinely smart, just that you can easily make categorization errors very easily.

            I see Elon Musk is very smart, person X also strikes me as being very smart, I will stick him in with Musk mentally though I don’t have the amount of evidence of his intelligence that I do for Musk. Person Y doesn’t strike me as smart, I don’t know his IQ, so he gets lumped into the “not very smart category.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Do you think that you are maybe confusing CHA with INT, so to speak? (I have never seen Musk speak and so have no opinions as to his charisma)

          • Well... says:

            I don’t know those acronyms so I can’t answer.

          • Nornagest says:

            Charisma vs. intelligence. He’s saying that our impression of how smart somebody is might be based on communication skill or natural charm as well as (or more than) actual intelligence.

          • albatross11 says:

            So, I’ve interacted with people in my own field, whose work I can evaluate. Some are better at coming off as being smart than at actually solving really hard problems; others are better at solving really hard problems than at coming off as smart. Some do both well.

            I suspect there is a positive correlation between seeming smart and being smart.

          • Matt M says:

            I wouldn’t even necessarily categorize it as “charisma” as such. But I do think “talking in a way that makes you sound intelligent” is a skill that different people have to various different degrees, and that it is often easily confused for actual intelligence.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @albatross11

            That’s what I mean. There’s probably a positive correlation, but some people are great BS’ers even if they can’t actually do the thing, and some people who are really good at doing the thing are bad at selling their ability to do so. Outside of one’s field, or adjacent fields, how can one tell the difference?

            Individual fields probably differ in how possible it is to BS people within that field (eg, those academic hoaxers were cheating – making up information and so on – but at the root of it, it says nothing good about a field that an amateur can compete with experts). The more “grind” work something involves, the harder it is to BS, but that can only be assessed by someone who’s done the grind work (you can BS a Roman History exam far better than a Latin exam, but only someone who knows Latin can spot someone who doesn’t).

      • Plumber says:

        @Well 

        “I’m surprised by this too. When people have intelligence like that, it’s usually immediately obvious.

        I took a proper IQ test at about age 9 and scored something like 127, and I would say on a day to day basis I feel like I’m indeed about two standard deviations more intelligent than most of the people I meet out in the world.

        But I’ve definitely met a good amount of people (e.g. a former boss, a friend I had briefly), or observed them (e.g. Elon Musk, possibly JBP) who are clearly another standard deviation or two above me. People like that just seem to see the world in a different way, recognizing and integrating patterns and concepts that my relatively feeble mind is just unable to rise above…..”

        That’s interesting, and doesn’t match my experience.

        I took an IQ test in my early 20’s which showed that I have a pretty much spot on completely average IQ, and since than how long it takes me to learn new things has slowed down considerably so I would guess that I’m less intelligent than in my youth, but I have little memory of encountering anyone who’s impressed me with their intelligence enough for me to regard them as much smarter than me.

        One co-worker was educated in Iran as an electrical engineer and he seems skilled and bright but his lack of commonsense when it comes to driving is frightening, another co-worker consistently has very good problem solving ideas but can barely read, the best and brightest plumber I’ve worked with believes in all sorts of wackadoodle conspiracy theories, my wife and my brother both have college educations but neither seem much brighter than many who lack those educations.

         I just have no memory of any face to face conversations with anyone who made me think “Wow they are so much smarter than me!”, nope I can’t think of anyone that smart, but painfully stupid people I encounter every week, the DA’s and Public Defenders manage to often clog their drains while cops and probation officers who have the exact same plumbing layout don’t (it almost seems like the more schooling staff has the dumber they get), and of course the inmates ars amazingly stupid.

        Maybe I’m just not bright enough to recognize intelligence?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          painfully stupid people I encounter every week, the DA’s and Public Defenders manage to often clog their drains

          I’m not sure if you intended this, but those DAs and PDs almost assuredly would score quite well on IQ tests. Whether they can also be described as painfully stupid is a matter of some contention here, at least in the abstract.

          I’m not going to say any more at this point, because this conversation is about to become a culture war conversation in a non CW thread.

          • Plumber says:

            “I’m not sure if you intended this, but those DAs and PDs almost assuredly would score quite well on IQ tests…”

            I did intent that as I assume that given the academic barriers to getting their jobs that they likely would also do well on IQ tests, but the just don’t give me an impression of “sharpness” (of course I mostly judge them by how they treat the building), and the other examples I gave, the immigrant from Iran who if it weren’t for how he drives I would regard as possibly the smartest man I know, and the senior laborer who can hardly read at all but has better problem solving abilities than 9/10th of guys I’ve worked with, consequently I don’t regard them as smarter than most overall as I wouldn’t trust one to drive and the other to read, but where I trust them they are brilliant.

            There’s a book called “The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker” (which I found about from another fine book “ Shop Class As Soulcraft An Inquiry Into the Value of Work“) that gives examples of the cognitive demands of “low’ and “semi-skilled” labor that I highly recommend.

            But anyway, my “bubble” is such that I just don’t encounter any “cognitive elite” that I can tell are inherently much smarter than median smartness, I’d say about one in five people seem noticeably “slow” overall and the rest being roughly equal to each other but with different strengths and weaknesses.

            In a world this big they should be some who are overall just way smarter than most, but if I met them I didn’t recognize it.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Plumber, what you are encountering is the difference between credentialing and applied intelligence (which is much harder to measure).

          • Well... says:

            I don’t think it’s credentialing and applied intelligence, it just might be the different between something like book smarts and street smarts.

            Neither one really refers to intelligence the way we’re talking about it here though. I’ve been thinking of it as something like “a person’s ability to comprehend abstractions and mentally manipulate them”. That ability is helpful for a lawyer though lawyers have it to different degrees. The same is true for plumbers and cops.

            I think when you meet a person who is truly abnormally strong in this regard it is usually obvious, though I suppose it’s possible that it isn’t obvious to everyone.

        • the DA’s and Public Defenders manage to often clog their drains while cops and probation officers who have the exact same plumbing layout don’t

          Could it be a result of income differences? The richer you are, the more you figure that if you do something that clogs your drains, someone else will fix it for you.

          Or possibly of paying more attention to the world of ideas, in particular legal ideas, and less to the world of objects?

          • Aapje says:

            Or perhaps their work is so mentally demanding that they put less mental effort into basic tasks, while a less intelligent person is more in the moment.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Toilets are magic to people that don’t like to contemplate where shit goes, whether that shit is motor oil or crap. They don’t bother to think about how things work, so they don’t know, because they aren’t interested.

            But some (hypothetical) plumbers might think “the law” is just pointless arguing, as useful knowing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

            Neither view is right, both are common.

          • dick says:

            Could just be that poor people fix their own stuff more. How well I scrape my plates didn’t change gradually over time as I became more educated and earned more money, it changed suddenly on the day that I spent two hours unclogging the drain in my dishwasher.

          • Beck says:

            I’d want to rule out selective memory first.

            A clogged drain at the police station is just a clogged drain. A clogged drain at the DA’s office could get filed under “well, they aren’t so smart, are they?” and be that little bit more memorable.

            (Plumber, that comment’s not meant as a dig; it’s based on a tendency I noticed in myself and folks around me when I worked construction.)

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “Could it be a result of income differences? The richer you are, the more you figure that if you do something that clogs your drains, someone else will fix it for you….”

            That could be, or maybe it’s because of the difference in backgrounds, as I did have one of the DA’s ask me “Are you here to fix the garbage disposal?” and I had to tell him “This building has no garbage disposals, it’s just a sink”, so presumably he never lived where there wasn’t one, and if I judge by their accents which often sound southern Californian-ish to me (compared to the other staff) so many attorneys likely didn’t grow up with old San Francisco buildings, while most of the rest of the staff remember each other from Saint [whatever] High School or from the public schools in Hunters Point, or near Chinatown. Age may also be a factor as the attorneys are just younger than most of us on average (they have lots of interns).

            Between the DA’s and the Public Defenders I like the Defenders better because they’re friendlier, but I like the lady cops best because they just don’t break things much (the male cops sometimes kick things too hard, or what’s worse try to fix things themselves).

            I’d be curious to learn how lady cops IQ’s compare to most people. 

            @dick

            “Could just be that poor people fix their own stuff more….”

            That definitely seems plausible. 

            @Beck

            “I’d want to rule out selective memory first.

            A clogged drain at the police station is just a clogged drain. A clogged drain at the DA’s office could get filed under “well, they aren’t so smart, are they?” and be that little bit more memorable…”

            Well I do have filed in my memory a hand written sign that was in the Public Defenders building kitchen which read “If your were smart enough to finish law school, you are smart enough to seperate recycling” which I thought was pretty funny, but I keep my old service orders so I have a good idea of what’s breaking and where, and Service Orders from the DA’s dwarf the ones that come from the Probation Department who are on the floor below the DA’s with the exact same layout in every way, but that may just be because of staff numbers, in anycase it’s all dwarfed by the Jail which is where 7/10th of the issues come from, and yes the inmates are definitely stupider than average, imagine the worst flame war filled Forum but out loud screaming instead of text and for hours every day.

          • albatross11 says:

            Alternative hypothesis: Is it possible that the pipes are worse in the DA’s office than in the police office? Or that there’s some other reason why the DA’s office’s pipes are clogged more often?

          • Plumber says:

            @albatross11

            “I
            Alternative hypothesis: Is it possible that the pipes are worse in the DA’s office than in the police office? Or that there’s some other reason why the DA’s office’s pipes are clogged more often?”

            Most of the buildings pipes are overdue for replacement so maybe….
            …but unlikely as they have multiple restrooms witg seperate drain stacks that meet two stories down, if all the DA’s pipe shared the same stack than I’d be more inclined to blame the pipes. A puzzler is that with the attorneys it’s the women’s restrooms that get clogged more (with the exception of Public Defender men’s sinks cause they seem to poor coffee grounds into their bathroom sinks) but with the cops it’s the men who clog their drains more, which is easily explained by there just being many more male cops than female cops, and maybe it’s just a matter of how big the staff is as while the Probation Department on the second floor has the same plumbing layout as the District Attorneys office on the third floor I can’t tell what the staff size are, still the DA’s send more than four times as many Service Orders as Probation, and I can’t imagine that the DA’s can cram in that much more staff, but maybe twice the staff equals four times the clogs?

            The weird thing is the courtside of the building gets heavy use by the general public, and during court recess it looks like the public restrooms are getting far more use than any staff bathrooms, but the public restrooms don’t have nearly as many of the clogs that the attorneys do and only slightly more than the cops, and that pattern has held for six years now.

            It does make sense for the Defenders pipes to be at fault though as unlike the DA’s and the cops, their area was built in the 1980’s instead of the ’50’s and it really was built poorly compared to the older parts.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The answer may simply be “tampons”.

          • bean says:

            The SSC Open Threads:
            Culture War (most of the time), battleships, D&D, biblical scholarship, silly missions, and now debugging plumbing problems in San Francisco’s public buildings.

            I love this place.

        • Matt says:

          Is the issue here that people tend to be ‘stupid’ about the things we ourselves know well? IQ should indicate what you can learn, not what you have learned, so it’s not necessarily surprising that a bunch of lawyers don’t know much about plumbing. Here’s something I wrote elsewhere about common sense that probably applies here:

          I always thought ‘common sense’ describes the knowledge of the commoners, which is often extremely useful, but at times blindingly wrong.

          The ruling class has a vast store of knowledge (we see much of it on display here) but can also still be limited by what they do not know. That said, it’s likely that despite his knowledge of the of the politics of Rome and the motivations of his capitol’s ruling class, the King cannot build a fire or cook a meal, and likely he cannot tie his saddle onto his horse. He’s never needed that knowledge.

          In my view, common sense is refined by successfully confronting the problems faced by the common people. Have you changed a tire? It’s just common sense that you have to loosen the lugnuts before you jack up the car.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Probably depends on your perception/judgment skills. I doubt my cat could easily tell the difference, for instance.

      That being said- I’ve met a variety of people who (based on SAT/GRE/advanced-math-performance) are almost certainly smarter than I am, and it was generally noticeable after a few short conversations about interesting topics. The bigger question would be “how many conversations with people similarly smarter than me have I had, and not noticed?”

    • A1987dM says:

      How likely is it I would notice someone with an IQ of 162-171 as being smarter than someone with an IQ of say 125-135?

      If your own IQ is somewhere between 135 and 162, very likely. If it’s much less than 125 or much more than 171, pretty unlikely.

      • Plumber says:

        @A1987dM

        “If your own IQ is somewhere between 135 and 162, very likely. If it’s much less than 125 or much more than 171, pretty unlikely”

        I can imagine why those of us with lower IQ’s can’t tell when someone has a high IQ (like only a Journeyman can tell a “good job” in a craft), but why wouldn’t someone with a really high IQ tell?

        • bean says:

          I’m with you on this one. I spent most of my school years in the St. Louis gifted program, so I saw a lot of smart people, and it was fairly easy to sort them into rough bins. There was a definite difference between the regular gifted program, the special gifted program I was in, and the very best people in the special gifted program, although I’m not sure someone from the regular class could have figured out the gap at the top. You’d have to be way past 170 for it to make any difference. I’m pretty sure my one friend who is (he told me he broke the last IQ test he took) would be able to see the same gaps I can.

      • Matt says:

        Shaquille O’neal walks into a party. Everyone in the party registers as ‘short’ to him, let’s say.

        But the one guy who is 6’7″ probably still registers to Shaq as ‘2nd tallest in the party’, right? He’s likely towering over everyone who is not Shaq.

        Of course, perception of intelligence is more difficult, but I don’t see why an incredibly intelligent person shouldn’t get over that hurdle.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I’m not sure I actually think the argument is correct, but your counter argument doesn’t hold up well. He thinks 6’2”, 6’0”, 5’10”, 5’8” and 5’6” guys are all “short” (and small).

          • Matt says:

            Not really the impression I meant to give. Just that they appear short relative to him, not that he doesn’t comprehend that some of those people are taller than average.

            Not sure why you added ‘small’. It’s much more likely that there will be someone present his size or larger than that there would be someone there his height or taller.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not 6′ 7″, but I’m not far off, and people fall into two categories for me: “regular” and “hey, I can look that person in the eye”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt:
            Relative to the average 7 footer Shaquille O’Neal is also freakishly wide.

            ETA: The reason I brought it up is that Charles Barkley, who has never been regard as a small person by any stretch, looks absolutely tiny in comparison to Shaq. There is a particular video I saw of Shaq playing a prank on Barkley in the TNT studios where tackles him into a couch and it’s like a father tackling their 7 year old.

  2. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness

    There are people who get worse from a gung ho approach to mindfulnss meditation, and the suggestion is that a major cause of this is trauma, and a more gentle approach is a good Idea. Some of it offering choices. I’m not sure what the rest is– I’ve ordered the book– but I wouldn’t be surprised if it includes awareness of when a student needs to pull back from self-observation for a while rather than trying to go in deeper.

    • fion says:

      Interesting. I felt shit last time I tried mindfulness meditation and I’m still really curious as to why. However, I don’t think I’ve really experienced any trauma, so I dunno.

      Currently I lean towards the “meditation is like messing with your computer’s BIOS; don’t do it unless you really know what you’re doing” end of the spectrum.

      But I’m pleased and interested that stuff like this exists.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        Have you tried loving-kindness meditation? It is pretty directly beneficial and does not tend to produce emotional distress.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          David Treleaven said that once he was already in trouble, being advised to do loving kindness meditation didn’t help. (It sounds like he followed the advice.)

          Tentative: meditation which involves movement (mostly taoist stuff) might be less stressful.

          From memory: Bruce Frantzis (a very good teacher of Taoist arts) says that you should apply 70% effort when you’re learning. This allows for progress without injury or burnout.

          As I recall, he also says that if you’re sick or injured, do 20% or 30% effort.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’m skeptical. The idea that you can hurt yourself by thinking about stuff and breathing seems like a stretch.

        I would guess meditation is like calisthenics without equipment. By the time you doing it hard enough to do yourself harm, it’s boring and painful enough that you have almost certainly quit.

        • albatross11 says:

          If meditation is just thinking and breathing, why bother? The whole assumption behind meditation is that it alters the way you think/feel/act in ways that are beneficial. If that’s true, then it’s hard to see why it couldn’t also work the other way, so that you start thinking/feeling/acting in ways that are harmful as a result of meditation.

          • johan_larson says:

            Physical exercise can be good for you, bad for you, or do nothing. Most physical exercise is slightly good for you. Some of it seems to do pretty much nothing. And you have to try pretty hard to do the wrong thing for it to be actively bad for you. Does that sound right?

            Why would mental exercise be any different?

          • Jaskologist says:

            I know many runners who ended up with knee or ligament problems. There are lots of ways for lifters to seriously injure themselves if they aren’t careful and using proper form.

          • acymetric says:

            @johan_larson

            Physical exercise can be good for you, bad for you, or do nothing. Most physical exercise is slightly good for you. Some of it seems to do pretty much nothing. And you have to try pretty hard to do the wrong thing for it to be actively bad for you. Does that sound right?

            Why would mental exercise be any different?

            It wouldn’t, except that your model comparing it to light calisthenics where mistakes are probably benign is probably off, and you don’t have to try that hard for various types of exercise to be that bad for you (even calisthenics). Some things, done improperly, will cause immediate and obvious catastrophic damage (pulled/torn muscles or worse during heavy weight lifting or other highly strenuous activities). Others will not necessarily show obvious signs of problems at the time, but will cause cumulative or chronic issues down the road.

            Meditation is similar. Nobody is saying that some light meditation is going to cause a massive psychotic break after a few minutes, but meditating the “wrong way” (which, like exercise, is not the same for everyone) can definitely cause problems in mental state or mental approach going forward. I think you are underestimating the damage that can be done by light exercise, and then underestimating the damage that can be done by mental exercise by way of analogy.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          The theory is that there’s stuff you haven’t been thinking about because you don’t currently have the ability to deal with it, and taking down safeguards can be a bad idea.

  3. Plumber says:

    From an incredible obituary that was on the front page of the New York Times today:

    “The Norwegian saboteurs skied across the Telemark pine forest in winter whites, phantom apparitions gliding over moonlit snow. They halted at a steep river gorge and gazed down at a humming hydroelectric power plant where Nazi scientists had developed a mysterious, top-secret project….”

    quite a story.

    • johan_larson says:

      There’s a recent Norwegian miniseries about that raid.

      https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3280150/?ref_=nv_sr_1

      It used to be available on Netflix, but it seems to be gone now.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I actually binge-watched that entire series when it was part of the in-flight entertainment on Norwegian Airlines. One interesting production decision is that everybody speaks in the language they would historically have spoken- so the Germans speak German and the British speak English.

  4. albatross11 says:

    The oldest intact shipwreck known has been found. This seems appropriate for this thread….

  5. CarlosRamirez says:

    Are all ethics consequentialist? It occurs to me that, even with things like virtue ethics and deontological ethics their proponents are arguing from consequentialism, i.e. they believe the world would be a better place if everyone were to practice their ethics. Perhaps they can both be regarded as subsets of consequentialism. For example, deontological ethics is known to sometimes misfire on consequential grounds, but one can still make a consequentialist case for deontology, in the sense that “deontology may occasionally produce morally wrong results, but most of the time, it doesn’t, and that’s as good as we’re getting given the difficulty of calculating all the consequences of any given action.”

    • Frog-like Sensations says:

      i.e. they believe the world would be a better place if everyone were to practice their ethics.

      This is not how deontologists argue for their position; this is how rationalists attempt to “steelman” deontology for other rationalists. Being steadfastly consequentialist themselves, they fall into the steelmanning pitfall of thinking that the smart version of their opponent must really agree with them about everything. This results in the view that consequentialism is correct about what is right and wrong but that we should adopt some form of deontology as a decision procedure for bringing about the best outcomes, a view as old as consequentialism itself.

      How do actual deontologists argue for their position? Many ways, but perhaps the most common is to just produce cases in which it seems clear that things other than the consequences of an act matter to whether it is right or wrong. Trolley problems are the most famous subcategory of this form of argument.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        The most common methods that *don’t* do this start by solving varieties of the thorny consequentialist problem of “what is good,” with varying degrees of success. Kant’s categorical imperative may be understood by consequentialists to mean, “you must avoid violating the CI as much as possible,” but this is incorrect. Kant says, “it is wrong for you to will a violation of the CI.” Not “will something which is a violation of the CI,” but “to will in a way which is, itself, a violation of the CI.”

        For a decent exploration of what “will” is, see Neitzche.

    • John Schilling says:

      Quoting myself, the trade pidgin of ethical debate is consequentialism with a bit of common virtue ethics on the side. Almost nobody actually thinks or believes in those terms, but it’s the only way they know to talk ethics with the outgroup or fargroup so it shows up disproportionately in ethical debate.

      If you hear someone arguing from consequentialism, that’s usually because they know it is more likely to persuade you than “…but MY god says X!” It’s still a safe bet that their own beliefs started with an arbitrary rule, virtue, or selfish desire, and added exactly the right carefully-selected terms to the consequential arithmetic to produce a strong consequentialist argument and then stopped right there. There are exceptions, and you’re more likely to find them here than most places, but sincere consequentialism is rare.

      Also, its proponents keep getting run over by trolleys, which keeps the population down.

      • I don’t think most people are fully consistent consequentialists but I think people are more consequentialist than you are saying. In some situations, their deontological intuitions rule, in others they listen to their consequentialist intuitions. It really depends on the circumstance.

      • engleberg says:

        When you’ve said something smart, you should quote yourself later.

    • fluorocarbon says:

      You could also make the argument that utilitarianism and virtue ethics are simply subtypes of deontology with a single obligation (deon): to act in a way that produces the greatest good or to cultivate virtue, respectively.

    • From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense to think of ethics as reducing down to consequentialism. We don’t have ethical beliefs arbitrarily. They help us solve coordination problems. So even if someone explicitly denies consequentialism, it ultimately reduces down to early humans who were more ethical were better able to live in larger groups and those larger groups were better able to survive than smaller groups.

      But like someone else said, that’s different than their actual reasons. It’s like the difference between sex for procreation vs sex for pleasure. We engage in sex because it’s pleasurable but the reason we think it’s pleasurable is because it helped us procreate. If someone says they don’t want kids, they aren’t really a subset of people who do.

    • Nick says:

      No. If your consequentialism works by taking something like virtues or laws as fundamental, and only considering consequences as far as they matter to those, then it’s not a consequentialism.

      And it’s entirely possible to find examples of non-consequentialism. In Catholic moral theology, lying is always wrong. It doesn’t matter with respect to the morality of lying, in general or in any specific case, how many hedons or how many people’s lives or whatever other consequences are on the line—lying is always wrong. You can model this with a utility function, of course, by giving lying a utility of negative infinity, but you can model lots of things with a utility function, and it doesn’t make any of them utilitarian (or consequentialist).

      It occurs to me that, even with things like virtue ethics and deontological ethics their proponents are arguing from consequentialism, i.e. they believe the world would be a better place if everyone were to practice their ethics.

      I think John has the right answer to this, which is that folks appeal to consequences and sometimes virtues as a pidgin. You are onto something, though, which is that it frequently backfires for a non-consequentialist to argue for his system* this way. For example, I’m not going to persuade anyone that Catholic moral theology is true by saying, “See, we can just model lying as having negative infinity utility!” My opponent will immediately ask why it has negative infinity utility, and she’ll point to all sorts of utility we can both agree is being lost when I refuse to lie. And if my answer is “something something natural law” or “something something divine command” or “something something Kantianism,” then I’m mostly not talking about consequences, much less consequences as determinative, anymore. I could perhaps persuade her that hell is real, and that since hell is very bad she should do what Catholicism teaches, but that would still not answer the question why lying is assigned negative infinity utility. Instead the answer, if you take a natural law foundation for it say, is that lying is contrary to reason. The lesson is that, unless you have a very clever proof by contradiction, you can’t persuade anyone out of consequentialism by starting with “assume consequentialism is true.”

      *Of course, you can persuade a consequentialist of a certain moral position by simply bringing to her notice consequences she hadn’t considered. Often this is all we’re trying to accomplish. But it does nothing to motivate a switch to a non-consequentialist system.

      • And this is the problem with natural law theory and deontology. You have to build up these elaborate theories based on dubious premises and then get these results that seem nonsensical to basically everyone who doesn’t already accept it. Instead of trying to bang everyone’s head over with what general ethical theory is right, it’s much more useful to look at ethics from a case by case basis.

        • Nick says:

          And this is the problem with natural law theory and deontology. You have to build up these elaborate theories based on dubious premises and then get these results that seem nonsensical to basically everyone who doesn’t already accept it.

          Oh come now, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

          Instead of trying to bang everyone’s head over with what general ethical theory is right, it’s much more useful to look at ethics from a case by case basis.

          Why, if only Catholics had a way to approach ethical problems on a case by case basis….

          I think you’ll find the problem with a case by case approach, though, is consistency. Which is precisely how the term got its bad connotation, incidentally.

          • Ethics is always going to weird and inconsistent because our ethical intuitions are weird and inconsistent. It sure beats the alternative of doing horrifying things in the name of consistency.

            And I’m not a pure utilitarian or even consequentialist. It’s just less likely to get an insane result than the others in a given example. “Lying is always bad” is insane when, for example, people were in the real world scenario of hiding jews from the Nazi. Compare that to trolley problems where you have to make a really weird scenario to make consequentialism insane.

          • Nick says:

            It sure beats the alternative of doing horrifying things in the name of consistency.

            I’m actually not convinced it does. But as a hypothetical, if everyone following the natural law beat the alternative, would you do so too?

            And I’m not a pure utilitarian or even consequentialist. It’s just less likely to get an insane result than the others in a given example. “Lying is always bad” is insane when, for example, people were in the real world scenario of hiding jews from the Nazi. Compare that to trolley problems where you have to make a really weird scenario to make consequentialism insane.

            I have to point out that Nazis knocking at your door looking for Jews is a pretty rare scenario in itself, and that trolley problems have actually happened too out in the real world. But that aside, there are too cases where consequentialists get weird results for more everyday decisions. For instance, should you give everything you can afford to give to the poor immediately? Should you ever have kids or not? It doesn’t work just to be a consequentialist; there’re a lot of different kinds, and my impression (which Philosophisticat or someone else is welcome to correct) is that there’s going to be edge cases for all of them.

            The larger issue here, though, is that you don’t seem to agree that there’s really a right or wrong answer to any moral question. Intuitions don’t just differ from case to case—they also differ from person to person, or for the same person at different times. It seems to me that you’re forced either to endorse any decision arrived at this way (in which case sorry, but I have an intuition that some actions are wrong no matter the consequences), or only to endorse the ones you happen to agree with at that time (in which case “insane” here just means “decisions I strongly disagree with”). Or are you okay with being inconsistent about this too? I guess that’s fine, but I have an even harder time calling that morality.

          • The next thread is almost up. If you want, we can more fully discuss this particularism vs generalism in ethics there.

          • Nick says:

            Yeah, that’s fine by me.

      • Nornagest says:

        I could perhaps persuade her that hell is real, and that since hell is very bad she should do what Catholicism teaches, but that would still not answer the question why lying is assigned negative infinity utility.

        If Hell has infinite negative expected utility, then anything increasing your probability of Hell — viz. any sin — also has infinite negative expected utility. Infinities don’t play nice in a lot of ways, though, and I have a feeling that if you took this line of argument to its logical conclusion, you’d end up some places that’re nowhere near mainstream Christian doctrine. It implies that all sins are literally equal, for one thing, not just in the eyes of God but in practical terms.

        • Randy M says:

          It implies that all sins are literally equal, for one thing, not just in the eyes of God but in practical terms.

          That is something some Christians believe, although if we’re allowed to multiply infinities (or assume some arbitrarily large but non-infinite value to salvation) a sin that imperils someone else’s salvation in addition to one’s own (like murdering them when they are not in a state of grace, or persuading them to sin, or sowing doubt in God) would be worse than one that did not influence other people.

          • Nornagest says:

            Adding or multiplying infinities just gives you the same infinity — tricks like Hibert’s hotel make it clear why. There are different degrees of infinity (designated by Aleph numbers), but the logic I outline above would put everything into the same class. You are allowed to assign large but non-infinite values to salvation, but it’s not clear from conventional theology why that would make sense (there’s eternity on the line, after all).

          • albatross11 says:

            What’s the discount rate?

          • Randy M says:

            @Nornagest
            Yeah, but then by that reasoning having one person in eternal paradise is the same morally as having everyone in eternal paradise. And perhaps mathematically that’s true, I think it doesn’t apply to the theology because Heaven isn’t mathematical infinity but just something possibly best approximated by it.
            Moreover, the same reasoning that has one believing in a Heaven (trusting in God) should probably have one taking the moral reasoning of God seriously, which is one that seems to value multiplying infinity.

          • woah77 says:

            I would suggest that sin doesn’t have negative infinity utility (in and of itself) but that sinning without salvation leads to hell which does indeed have negative infinity utility. Sin just has an arbitrarily large amount of negative utility such that any positive utility a circumstance might grant would be dwarfed by it. It might appear to have negative infinity utility under any given situation, but that’s not actually accurate. Similarly, salvation has an arbitrarily large positive utility that eliminates all sins except one (renouncing the holy spirit, as this counter acts salvation). That said, I don’t know if one could accurately model someone’s life this way, since it’s not as if the bible has very good metrics for the model. At best, you can model a given circumstances this way.

          • Nick says:

            I would suggest that sin doesn’t have negative infinity utility (in and of itself) but that sinning without salvation leads to hell which does indeed have negative infinity utility. Sin just has an arbitrarily large amount of negative utility such that any positive utility a circumstance might grant would be dwarfed by it. It might appear to have negative infinity utility under any given situation, but that’s not actually accurate. Similarly, salvation has an arbitrarily large positive utility that eliminates all sins except one (renouncing the holy spirit, as this counter acts salvation). That said, I don’t know if one could accurately model someone’s life this way, since it’s not as if the bible has very good metrics for the model. At best, you can model a given circumstances this way.

            I’d prefer if Nornagest weighed in directly, but I don’t think a distinction between venial and mortal sins helps: if a little white lie makes you only 1% more likely to commit some mortal sin later, that’s a 1% greater chance of going to hell, which means that little white lie has a negative infinite utility too.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, but then by that reasoning having one person in eternal paradise is the same morally as having everyone in eternal paradise.

            Right. That would be one of those things I was talking about when I said it’s not much like the doctrine.

            I would suggest that sin doesn’t have negative infinity utility (in and of itself) but that sinning without salvation leads to hell which does indeed have negative infinity utility.

            Nick’s right, more or less. The model I outline above doesn’t actually rely on assigning any value to sin in itself; it’s an expected-value calculation based purely on the negative infinity of hell. (Or, equivalently, the positive infinity of salvation — it doesn’t matter which as long as there’s at least one infinity).

            Adding a discount rate only resolves this issue if the utility integral to infinity converges. I don’t know enough about intertemporal choice to know if this is always true.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            Nick’s right, more or less. The model I outline above doesn’t actually rely on assigning any value to sin in itself; it’s an expected-value calculation based purely on the negative infinity of hell. (Or, equivalently, the positive infinity of salvation — it doesn’t matter which as long as there’s at least one infinity).

            Positive infinity is the correct framing. Remember that Christianity, the evangelion (good message), was introduced into a world where every literate person learned to read from Homer. The most common belief was that your post-mortem existence was just gloomy. The good message is that you can have infinite bliss after death.
            “The default afterlife is more suffering than you ever imagined, but you can avoid it only by worshiping an executed preacher from a small, troublesome country as God!” would be bad news. Unsurprisingly, this is how modern atheists like to frame the doctrine.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It gets a little bit more complicated than that; apocalypticism is confusing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If hell is infinitely bad, and we can’t add infinities then would salvation that was just death and nothingness be equivalent to paradise? D

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            If hell is infinitely bad, and we can’t add infinities then would salvation that was just death and nothingness be equivalent to paradise? D

            I’ve heard the reverse of this many times from Christians – that Hell is nothingness, but because it’s a negation of the infinite good of Heaven, it’s infinitely bad.

        • Nick says:

          If that’s the case, that’s fine by me, because it means the approach is even more of a nonstarter. The reason I mentioned it is because I have seen a Christian (may have been Catholic, I couldn’t tell) try to defend a “utilitarian” natural law ethics by saying it could be modeled that way.

    • rlms says:

      No, for instance agent-relative moralities aren’t generally consequentialist in the conventional sense. It’s true that consequentialist systems could give you a substantive aim of following a non-consequentialist system, but that’s not the same as having a formal aim of such. Read the first few chapters of Reasons and Persons.

  6. JRM says:

    I’m running for elected office (my name is like John Wayne, except flip the W over; I use the middle initial which I bet you can figure out) and it’s been interesting.

    I’ll be outspent by an incumbent whose hit pieces on me have a lot of pictures of me. (Comparatively, I am less good looking, and my selfie skills are poor.)

    Fortunately, there’s no stress because it’s not like I work for her now. (Checks paycheck, office diagram.) Oh, right, I do.

    If anyone wants stories from the front, I’ll check back here later or look me up and FB message or email me. Most notable lessons so far: 1. Most people are nice. 2. Partisanship is too often toxic. 3. “You’ll be just another guy who would have been best at the job but lost to the superior politician,” was a warning a got a long time ago. Trying to avoid that. 4. I’ll be locally famous for a long time. 5. My supporters aren’t quite as even-keeled about the attacks on me as I am. 6. Precommitting to rules of engagement is important – there are a number of stories/things that are true or likely true about my opponent, but are thoroughly irrelevant, or much more prejudicial than probative. It’s easy to get angry and want to set fires, but I precommitted to not using certain things, and not using other things barring specific hit pieces against me. Plus, I have ample material as it is.

    Aside: If you like what Ben Sasse or Amy Klobuchar or Justin Amash or Joe Biden or whoever are saying, send them a little money. It matters. I’m the SSC-reading prosecutor, and if you want to send me money (there’s a contribute button at mylastname4da.com) that would not hurt my feelings particularly, either.

  7. Charles F says:

    I’ve got a possibly dumb question about melatonin. Can a midday dose simultaneously perform the sleep advance function — helping me sleep earlier in the evenings — and the hypnotic function — helping me fall asleep more quickly for an afternoon nap?

    The “much more than you wanted to know” article mentions that the hypnotic effect probably won’t be able to compete with the time of day being bad for sleep, but I take it at 2:30 to get to sleep at 9:30, which is right after lunch, and usually feels like a pretty good time to sleep. But despite being sleepy, it usually takes me too long to fall asleep for a nap to be worthwhile.

    I’ll probably just try it and see, but does anybody have an idea why napping between a melatonin dose and bedtime would/wouldn’t interfere with the melatonin’s effect on bedtime?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      You probably aren’t seeing this (I am looking for my own melatonin update and saw this) but if I take .600mg (twice the .300mg dose) in the afternoon I want to take a nap shortly. I haven’t notice it pulling my sleep schedule around, but that is messed up anyway from time change and travel and election night.

  8. Jaskologist says:

    China Wants to Replace Streetlights With a Trio of Artifical Moons.

    It’s not flying cars, but it’s a lot closer to the future I was promised.

    • Nornagest says:

      Well, that’s the most cyberpunk thing I’ve seen this week. If they can make it work, I might head through Chengdu at some point to see it.

    • Matt M says:

      That’s no moon, it’s a—–

      Okay, sorry, I’ll show myself out…

    • professorgerm says:

      I planned on visiting someday anyways. Now I want to make sure I visit once these are launched.

    • dodrian says:

      I’m 97% positive that’s a cover story for orbital death rays.

    • Well... says:

      I wish the article in Popular Mechanics explained the mechanics better.

      Why three satellites and not one, or a thousand? How will the satellites work? How will they direct the light? Are there concerns about light pollution? Can the mirror be folded up on command? (That seems like an important function to include.)

      The idea of using reflective satellites as a way to save energy costs for light is intriguing. Will they use a geostationary orbit, and if so, aren’t those really high up? If sending a satellite into geostationary orbit is cheaper than conventional energy spending on lighting then it seems like something other places should be interested in too.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Geostationary is indeed very high up. They aren’t planning on going to geostationary, as hinted in the article where they mention only one “moon” being active at a time (because the other two are out of position).

        My guess is that they’re looking at quite low orbits, probably as low as they can get without having an excessively short operational lifespan.

  9. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’d noticed that the ship moves to the left when the page loads, and I was wondering whether there was some animation involved, but it’s just a result of the right sidebar taking a little longer to load than the center of the page.

    I’m viewing this on a laptop.

  10. Jo says:

    Does anyone here know of a good discussion of the question “Is the risk of AI, climate change, nuclear war or anything else so bad that you should not have children”?

    • professorgerm says:

      I don’t know of any sources, and I would venture to say that the decision to have children is generally un-rational to the point that such a discussion doesn’t exist, but I’ll second the request. I would enjoy reading a good discussion on the matter.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        I find this response interesting, and I think it’s more of a window into values than an objective fact.

        If it’s “rational” to accumulate material wealth, then having children is probably not rational. Similar things could be said about other metrics. If someone values company in their old age, or just finds family enjoyable as a terminal value, then they would obviously be “rational” in the pursuit of having children, even at the point of sacrificing the material well-being they might have otherwise.

        • professorgerm says:

          Fair, it does depend on the exact meaning of rational, and perhaps especially the time-preference of rational decisions. Or the vantage point of rational- what’s good for society (and how do we define society?) is not necessarily good for the individual.

        • Matt M says:

          If it’s “rational” to accumulate material wealth, then having children is probably not rational.

          Disagree.

          If we assume that humanity as a whole generally gets richer, and that children/grandchildren will share some of their material wealth with their parents and grandparents, it may be entirely rational that having children is NPV positive, despite the larger upfront costs.

          Especially if you expect that your children are more likely to surpass your own financial/career achievements. Which seems more likely the poorer you are.

          • Jo says:

            Okay, I think that if we assume that the past trend of everything getting better and better continues, then my question is easy to answer (by assumption).

          • Well... says:

            Aren’t children themselves a form of wealth? I enjoy my children a lot and feel richer for having them.

          • albatross11 says:

            ‘Rational” doesn’t tell you what my values or goals are, just that I’ll pursue them in ways that make sense.

            Alice wants lots of money. Bob wants kids. Carol wants fame. Dave wants lots of consequence-free sex. Each one can behave rationally to accomplish their goals, but I don’t think there’s really a way to use reason to determine that Alice’s goals are right and Bob’s are wrong.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @ Matt M

            I had considered that possibility, and I personally think that makes more sense for the average person. A non-average person who takes all of the expenses of the first 16-30 years of their _potential_ child’s life and invests them prudently will probably find their overall wealth increased by a fair margin. This is especially going to be true if you include things like a full college education as an expense and multiple children.

            The more average person will have a higher standard of living that uses up most of their gains, while their peers with children simply lived more frugally. When the second group’s children reach financial independence and tend to hit their maximum earnings is when their parents most need assistance, so it works out quite well for them.

            One other scenario which is not uncommon is to see one or more children fail to succeed. That could be a subsistence-level income through adulthood, or more strikingly drug addiction, incarceration, or death. Under those circumstances, the childless person would still come out more financially secure.

            As a parent, I tend to think of myself as modestly behind in terms of financial wealth, but significantly ahead in terms of psychological health and feeling of well-being.

          • Matt M says:

            I mean sure, that’s all fair, and you’re probably correct for the average person.

            Another way of looking at it might be as similar to insurance. In other words, it’s not NPV positive, but it does still add value and make you better off.

            It’s worth noting that prior to the institutions of various government safety nets, children were pretty much required in order to ensure that you didn’t starve to death in old age. You might claim that the institution of public safety nets makes this model obsolete, although the fiscal state of most of them might very well call that into question.

            Nobody expects to “make money” on homeowners insurance, but you still choose to have it…

        • meh says:

          If it’s “rational” to accumulate material wealth, then having children is probably not rational.

          This could only possibly be true if ‘rational’ has only a single dimension; and multiple objectives are not rational. This seems false, even without stating an opinion on the ‘rationality’ of either accumulating wealth, or of having children.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Very true. I was attempting to identify a flaw in logic with a simple counter-statement. My only real point was that we have different goals in life, such that having children or not having children (the specific example) could be rational or irrational, depending on goals.

            You are correct to note that people tend to have multiple goals, often in competition with each other, such that it’s difficult to assign “rationality” to any particular choice.

    • Lillian says:

      On Thermonuclear War, by Herman Khan contains an entire chapter dedicated to question of whether after the balloon went up, the living would envy the dead. His conclusion was that they would not, as while things would suck a lot, it would still be preferable to survive than to not. Life goes on, as they say. To the extent that this has implications on having children, i think this indicates that you should even in the face of very high risk of apocalypse.

      • Jo says:

        Very interesting, but what about those who are not yet dead in that situation but dying a slow death?

        • Well... says:

          Like people in concentration camps during the Holocaust? Most of them did everything they could to stay alive.

          I don’t know what data exists on pregnant women in those camps but I’ll bet most of them showed a preference for bringing their babies to term and then keeping them.

          • Jo says:

            While that is a good example, it is not perfect. Firstly, you could hope that at some point things get better. I originally thought about probabilities that, for example, a superintelligent AI will simply take us apart atom by atom. Also, the data you mention would be really interesting.

          • Matt M says:

            What future do you envision that’s so abjectly terrible that nobody can even so much as hope that at some point things will get better.

            AFAIK even the most dystopian fiction still includes people who hope things will improve, regardless of how horrible the present circumstances seem to be.

          • Jo says:

            @Matt M:

            Well, hm, at least one of the possible future pathes described here may qualifiy:
            https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-1.html

      • Well... says:

        Yup. People seem to go to great lengths to continue living, even when their living conditions are abysmal.

      • hyperboloid says:

        On Thermonuclear War, by Herman Khan contains an entire chapter dedicated to question of whether after the balloon went up, the living would envy the dead.

        Of course not Mein Fuhrer! …I mean Mr. president.

        When they go down into the mine everyone would still be alive. There would be no shocking memories, and the prevailing emotion will be one of nostalgia for those left behind, combined with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead!

        Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years.

    • WashedOut says:

      I found it very far from convincing, but the anti-natalist David Benatar makes arguments along those lines in his recent book.

  11. Ketil says:

    MR (https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/10/u-s-saudi-relationship-proven-enduring.html) seems to think Saudis depend on US to protect them from a conflict with Iran. How plausible is this? Iran has a larger population, and a fleet of submarines, but outdated technology (T-72s vs M1s, F14 vs Eurofighters). More to the point, SA seems to be the #3 military spender, with Iran not on the top 15 list.

    Is MR wrong, or is Saudi Arabia the paper tiger of the Middle East?

    • johan_larson says:

      The Saudi monarchy keeps a lot of its people in line with generous no-work or low-work public sector jobs. It wouldn’t be too surprising if some of these were in the military, and the military suffered for it.

      Arab armies have a crappy reputation in general because of various cultural and institutional problems.

      • bean says:

        I think it depends heavily on the part of the Saudi military. Their Air Force, for instance, is somewhat notorious for being the domain of princes and westerners. I’d be more suspicious of their ground forces and navy, but any war isn’t going to be hugely naval, and there’s a lot of empty territory before you get to the important stuff. Plus, the Kuwaiti military isn’t bad, and it’s hard to get to Saudi Arabia except through Kuwait.

    • John Schilling says:

      Paper tiger, for reasons johan and bean have already alluded to. A lot of that fancy hardware is basically toys to divert minor princelings from getting too politically ambitious because tooling around in an F-15 or Abrams is so much fun. And while some of them make individually superb warriors, modern weapons really need to be used by disciplined combined-arms teams for best effect. If it’s every man for himself, OK, the F-15 pilot may really want to make ace and he may have the chops for it, but why are any of his mechanics going to work overtime keeping his jet in the air? And what about the front-line soldiers who needed some close air support but that wasn’t glamorous or exciting enough for the wannabe ace, who nobody could give orders to because his rank is “prince”?

      The Iranians seem to be pretty good at using their second-rate equipment for effective warfighting. They got a hard lesson along those lines in 1981-88, though it’s only been some select Revolutionary Guards units getting combat experience since then.

      • Dan L says:

        The Iranians seem to be pretty good at using their second-rate equipment for effective warfighting.

        I agree with this as a general impression, but the occasional press releases they’ve been putting out about their purported domestic fifth-generation fighter program lead me to question the competence of their entire aerospace corps. They’re been trying to pass off as legitimate threats things that wouldn’t fool a college undergrad.

    • sfoil says:

      Saudi Arabia’s “dependence” on US protection is probably similar to South Korea’s: they could probably — maybe even almost certainly — handle a serious war on their own especially on the defensive, but the American commitment makes it vanishingly unlikely that they’ll have to find out.

      Saudi Arabia’s air force is unquestionably better than Iran’s (by the way, to a first-order approximation none of their F-14s work). This would make it basically impossible to launch a ground attack across a desert that’s basically a Euclidean plane, especially since the Saudis can afford as many guided munitions as their supplier can build.

      (Edit: The Saudi Air Force is unlikely to be a complete paper tiger even if its army is because it requires a hard baseline of competence to keep from crashing your jet every time you go in for a landing)

      Iran’s ground forces are probably pretty similar to those of the Syrian government: second-rate equipment but solid competence. Their navy might be better but it’s not enough to mount a major amphibious landing or effective blockade; at most you would probably see a replay of the naval activities of the Iran-Iraq War (e.g. the “Tanker War”) which weren’t decisive, being among other things fundamentally limited by the need to avoid dragging other countries into the war on the enemy’s side. A major difference between the Iranian and Syrian armies looks to be how much effort Iran has put into its missile program. Their missiles give them a limited strategic bombing capability, but the record of effectiveness for such efforts is very poor historically and they won’t be of much significance unless the Iranians fit them with nuclear warheads.

    • proyas says:

      Iran and Saudi Arabia are formidable on paper, but neither has really fought an all-out conventional war since 1991 or earlier (depending on how you look at it). In that year, the Saudi Army was part of the Coalition against Saddam Hussein, but the Saudi contribution was dwarfed by that of the U.S. and other countries. The Saudis didn’t do the hard fighting. Iran also fought Saddam in the 1980s, but their achievements were less than impressive, and the war turned into a stalemate.

      Very few of the people who gained useful experience in those wars are still in the Saudi and Iranian militaries. I doubt either one could take over the other alone, and if they ever directly fought, it would be overwhelmingly done with standoff weapons (e.g. missiles and air strikes).

      • John Schilling says:

        The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has been doing a fair amount of fighting, and by all accounts doing it fairly well, in both Iraq and Syria. Not clear how much of that experience filters back to the Iranian Army, but the IRGC seems to be their preferred force for expeditionary warfare and would probably do the bulk of the fighting in any conflict that isn’t an actual invasion of Iran or Saudi Arabia.

        The Saudis don’t seem to have an equivalent.

  12. Nicholas Weininger says:

    Does anyone know of any online, printed-book, etc piano courses that are specifically focused on building sightreading skill, and/or score-reading skill (where you have some piece for instrumentation other than a piano and want to play it through on a piano)?

    Motivation: I am an odd fit for traditional piano instruction because I do not care about developing the ability to play anything note-perfect or fast or with subtlety of expression. I want to get better at hacking my way through music I have not seen before well enough, and fast enough, to give a good sense of how it works phrasally, harmonically, and contrapuntally. This is because I am a choral composer and singer and occasional informal conductor and need piano skill to read through scores (my own and others’) either on my own or to help a choir rehearse. So far I have learned by doing and that works OK, but a more focused practice discipline would help. Thanks!

    • jgr314 says:

      I liked the spirit of Alan Bullards’ Joining the Dots series. However, I never really progressed beyond the piano beginner level and I suspect this is too basic for you.

      I would also be interested in other peoples’ recommendations.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        Thanks. The lower grades of that series I’ve indeed likely already passed but the higher grades likely not, and I’m happy to order a few to binary-search till I find my level.

  13. Well... says:

    Test: WordPress

    ETA: Apparently if you type “W-o-r-d-p-r-e-s-s” in a comment, without the dashes, but with that exact capitalization, WordPress automatically capitalizes the “p”. This might be true regardless what other text is around the word WordPress:

    asdfasdfaWordpressasdfasdfa

    ETA2: No, it isn’t. But it does work if you make up silly words using WordPress as the root, such as “WordPressian”.

    • gbdub says:

      antiWordpressian

    • The Nybbler says:

      Wordpress

      • Well... says:

        What black magic…

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I bet I can guess… let’s see…

          word‌press

          Haha, yup, it works!

          Edit: I see The Nybbler used essentially the same trick also. 🙂

          • Lambert says:

            I’m assuming the solution is (in rot-12):
            ε

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            The solution is, respectively for The Nybbler and Sniffnoy:

            &65279;
            and
            ‌

            Which are HTML escape codes for something invisible that I’m not going to bother to look up that effectively disappear in the word, but which break the parsing on the raw DOM side.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I used the hex code, . This is a zero-width non breaking space, which is obsolete but still works. ‌ is a zero-width non joiner. The zero width joiner ‍ should also work.

        • toastengineer says:

          ꅏꂦꋪꀸᖘꋪꍟꌗꌗ

    • Evan Þ says:

      I think that’s due to your browser’s spellcheck, not the website?

      Huh, no it isn’t. It happens between when I submit my comment and when it shows up – and when I go to edit it, “WordPress” still shows with a lowercase P.

    • Adam says:

      Apparently if you type “W-o-r-d-p-r-e-s-s” in a comment, without the dashes, but with that exact capitalization, WordPress automatically capitalizes the “p”.

      Yep! The function that does this is capital_P_dangit():

      https://developer.wordpress.org/reference/functions/capital_p_dangit/

      Fun fact: it doesn’t actually alter the miscapitalized strings in the database. The post content, comment content, or whatever is dynamically modified after extraction from the database but before it’s output to the browser. This is why commenter Evan Þ saw p when editing their comment, but P after submitting it.

      It’s also very easy to trick, as others have shown.

  14. postgenetic says:

    Suspected Fundaments of Reality
    (a few)

    An Abstract of Sorts
    Fundamentally, that is, evolutionarily: Humans are biologically coded for relationship interface with local environs in a relatively short-term manner.
    We’re not coded to process complex relationship information at a global scale with exponential dynamics and myriad long-term consequences, many of which are unknown.
    We’re not coded — biologically or culturally — to process the alien, unprecedented environs we continue to generate by way of our numbers, powers and reach.

    This bio-&-cultural-code-to-environs mismatch is an emergent phenomenon that accrues as complexity accelerates exponentially.

    * * *

    Passing multilevel selection tests is primarily a function of processing complex relationship information with sufficient reach, speed, accuracy, power and creativity.

    Passing selection tests is increasingly difficult to do in environs undergoing exponentially accelerating complexity.
    At some point, the code-to-environs mismatch becomes so great that:
    The Code doesn’t fit.
    The Code doesn’t work.
    The Code can’t process the environs, the novel relationship information, with sufficient reach, speed, accuracy, power and creativity.
    The Code — Biological & Cultural — Becomes Non-Selectable.

    Exhibits A & B: Sky & Ocean … being converted into omnipotent terrorists wielding weapons of mass extinction.

    Verily, our situation resembles an immune system being overrun by novel pathogens.

    • Plumber says:

      @postgenetic

      “…Fundamentally…”

      Sorry, I barely understood most of those sentences, I’m guessing it was maybe about the difficulty of thinking long term?
      I’ve had similar troubles trying to parse many of the posts at “Less Wrong” as well.

      • postgenetic says:

        Thanks for your feedback.
        I get that response frequently so I gotta take responsibility for readers’ inability to understand what I’m attempting to impart.
        It’s an abstract to a larger work that attempts to expand and explain those concepts.

        One thing about Fundamentals is that they are weighted more than more recent add ons in complex systems.
        That claim is an extension of this concept cited by Stewart Brand: “Initial conditions rule in complex systems.”

        For example, genetic code is more fundamental than legal code, more of an “initial condition.” So as a causal mechanism, genetic code would be weighted more than legal code. That’s NOT a claim of genetic determinism, but it is a claim that genetic code carries more weight. There are myriad other variables … and then there is the claim that causation itself is a false concept. But I don’t know enough about that.
        There is also the idea that the whole is the causal mechanism. Again, I lack solid knowledge regarding that. See Erik Hoel.

      • toastengineer says:

        Have you been linked to https://readthesequences.com yet? The Sequences are the foundation for most of the hardcore rationalist thinking that places like this spun off from. I had the same “what do any of these words mean” response to a lot of LW and LW-y stuff but it all made sense after I read that cover to cover. I guess it’s like if you tried to understand Christianity without being familiar with the basic story of Jesus; it’s not going to make any sense unless you get where it all came from.

        It’s also genuinely really really good and makes a lot of sense, at least in my opinion.

    • dick says:

      Can you explain this in plainer language? It seems like your main point is something like “humans were designed by evolution for a world that changes slowly or not at all, but our world changes quickly and that causes a lot of problems” but I’m not sure what problems specifically. Also I think the suggestion that our environment is “undergoing exponentially accelerating complexity” is poetic but not close to literally true.

      • postgenetic says:

        Yes, re designed by evolution for more stable, less changing environs. Use code for multiple reasons, for greater, big-picture resolution: “The story of human intelligence starts with a universe that is capable of encoding information.” Ray Kurzweil—How To Create A Mind
        Code is physics generated and physics efficacious relationship infrastructure in bio, cultural & tech networks: genetic, epigenetic, language, math, moral, religious, legal, monetary, etiquette, software, etc.

        Re exponentially accelerating complexity: We’ve added ~ 6 billion people since 1900, an exponential increase. And, in part, because knowledge now doubles about every 12 months (also exponential), billions of people have access to exponentially more powerful tech: e.g., rainforest tribes with stone axes vs. corporations with people using chainsaws, dozers, trucks, etc.; exponentially more trees get cut.
        All of these unprecedented inputs extend our species reach in-and-across Geo Eco Bio Cultural & Tech networks and across Time. These inputs also increase the relationship complexity of the networks, i.e., exponentially more moving parts / relationship interactions.
        For thousands of years we could trade, buy or hunt meat at a global scale without significant consequences to the sky and ocean. Now, meat consumption at a global scale negatively impacts our relationships with the sky and ocean, other species, etc., our relationship are more complex.
        “There were 5 exabytes of information created by the entire world between the dawn of civilization and 2003; now that same amount is created every two days.” Eric Schmidt — Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Inc.
        All of that, and more = exponentially accelerating complexity; i.e., not poetic, but literally true.

  15. Mr. Doolittle says:

    D&D Chat

    I used to play a fair amount of 2ED and 3ED D&D back in college, but haven’t been in a game in a while. I am looking to make an extensively homebrewed world/casting system, but am not interested in re-creating the baseline rules to underpin everything. Are there any recommendations for a good, but relatively simple system? I plan to re-do casting and spells, and am mostly looking for a combat system that has enough flexibility for me to make my own classes and spells and answer the “what happens now?” type questions when PCs want to try various things.

    Basic guidelines:
    Flexible but relatively complete
    Not overly complicated (No GURPS)

    I don’t mind spending some money on some sourcebooks, but would prefer not to spend a lot – especially if I would only be taking small portions out of several books. I’m not worried about needing to homebrew some rule fixes if needed.

    • woah77 says:

      Have you considered Tales from the Loop for introducing players to roleplaying? It doesn’t have the same amount of stuff something like DnD, nor a lot of combat, but it’s highly focused on the “what happens now” type questions.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      For a more interesting discussion, the main reason I am asking this question is because of how much I hate Vancian casting. Otherwise I’d pick up some core D&D and just go with that. After taking out classes and the casting mechanics, I realized that I might be better off with a different system to work the combat functions, instead of having my players dig through longer books to pull out bits and pieces we might actually use.

      I think that a large portion of the problems with D&D casting and casters can be traced to a fundamental problem with the Vancian system. With a certain number of pre-determined spells, casters need to have a fairly strong spell each time they cast something. Otherwise they feel undervalued and can easily waste their turn doing something relatively pointless. Why do 5-10 damage when a melee character can do the same and never run out? So, instead of modestly powerful spells, casters have to cast game-changing spells when they do cast. They often hit multiple targets or significantly nullify an opponent. Otherwise the caster would feel weak. This can trivialize the efforts of the other members of the party, especially at higher levels. If they had many more spell slots that were individually weaker, then their versatility would become overwhelming (they would always memorize a Knock spell and other utilities) and further stigmatize support functions from other classes. Take away both the versatility and the power, and then you leave them wondering why they even exist. A bow-wielding ranger can do damage at range without being as weak physically.

      I think it’s possible to fix some of these problems, but not to fix all of them at the same time and still use Vancian casting. Thoughts?

      • woah77 says:

        I guess the first question is “Do you like crunch?” Because in my experience the more level/spell oriented the rpg the greater the crunch. If you want things to be more balanced (that is for all players to contribute roughly evenly) you probably want to get away from crunchy systems, which makes spells and other similar “powers” much more ephemeral. Mutants and Masterminds comes to mind as a system with lots of flexibility and doesn’t favor one build over another.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          Like most people, I love crunch! But I’m also very aware of how it can break systems and make games unfair and unfun. Let’s say I’m cautiously optimistic about it.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        A very popular variant is to keep the slots per level system but make casting from your spellbook spontaneous rather than the rigidity of Vancian memorize-and-forget. 3E copied it from Final Fantasy for its Sorcerer, ACKS copied it from 3E, etc.
        Steve Jackson created the “cast from hit points” system for The Fantasy Trip, his pre-GURPS RPG. A wizard could cast any spell they knew, and more powerful ones cost more HP.

      • arbitraryvalue says:

        I think it’s possible to fix some of these problems, but not to fix all of them at the same time and still use Vancian casting. Thoughts?

        The problem as I see it is that a (3rd edition) D&D wizard is useless without his spells. If wizards had useful actions which they could take in combat other than spell-casting, then you can (1) get rid of “like an attack but better” combat spells and (2) balance around utility spells. IMO hybrid classes like paladins are a good idea, but they only work if every class is a hybrid class; otherwise a team of specialists will almost always be better than a team of hybrids.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          Agreed. One of my earlier thoughts was along those lines, with strong utility and low magic damage. I had the same reservation you mention, that the non-hybrids would either feel too useless for lack of versatility, or would completely outshine in their core areas and make the “master-of-none” types feel pointless.
          My current solution is to make some basic spells much simpler to cast, such that they are essentially a baseline. I.E. a line of attack spells that are close to free to cast but do damage in line with what a ranged physical class would do. Making the neat and interesting spells will be the challenge, as just the baseline damage would be boring.

          My plan is a much narrower and focused caster design (think: Fire Mage) that has some thematic utility and thematic damage, without the need for huge power and without the versatility to cover everything with enough planning.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Just saw this – you tell me which subthread you’d rather continue in.

            The problem with “thematic” casting is twofold – on the one hand, it’s hard to come up with a theme for certain things, like teleportation or opening a door. “Spooky action at a distance” mage is hard to get right. On the bright side, Mage: The Ascension does a pretty good job of this by introducing a while bunch of complicated subsystems.

            The second problem is the Shadowrun problem. If you go the Mage route, your mages will likely be substantially disconnected from the unified mechanics of the game. Even in 3.0 you can see this happening with Metamagic Feats – while I’ll concede that there are lots of feats for matrials that just bump your numbers, most feats for wizards don’t do anything else because the feat design space for wizards is… pretty small. The ones that are cool, meanwhile, are decoupled from the spellcasting system and leverage other class features, and the more involved your spellcasting system is the harder that is to do, since your mages are likely to turn into “the spellcasting system class.”

          • Jiro says:

            My current solution is to make some basic spells much simpler to cast, such that they are essentially a baseline. I.E. a line of attack spells that are close to free to cast but do damage in line with what a ranged physical class would do.

            5th edition has damage-causing cantrips that are free to cast and basically this.

          • Aqua says:

            3rd ed / pathfinder also has free cantrips/orisons

            Maybe as the wizard becomes stronger the “cantrips floor” could rise as well, where eventually you could cast 1st/2nd/3rd/etc level spells for free

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Aqua

            4e ran with this idea, but without that edition’s changes to saving throws (which I don’t like), low-level spells tend to become useless anyway.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Consider that 3e Psionics/Warlock exist and don’t solve the problems you’ve described, fundamentally. Then ask yourself what magic should be able to do, and ask yourself – IF you’re keeping classes – what *sort* of magic each should be able to harness.

        D&D has a lot of conventions baked into it that are more fundamental to the problems you’re trying to solve than you’re giving them credit for. For example, you should only be able to use powerful magic if you specialize into it and specialization is necessary in order to keep up with increasingly powerful enemies and magic is primarily spooky action at a distance; the only fundamentally different kinds of magic are divine and arcane (but not even really) and magic should be a limited resource.

        If you tell me what your “vision” of magic (and classes, assuming you want to keep them) is, it’ll be a lot easier to find a fit.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          I’m not familiar with Psionics/Warlock, if you would be willing to elaborate? I read up on them some, many years ago, but never saw them used.

          I’ve held off on getting overly specific on details until evaluating what underlying system I want to use, but my plan is a modular approach to “classes”. I have a fairly large group of major and minor modules, and players will be able to pick and choose among them. Picking a “minor” spell-casting module would allow a group of basic spells within a certain field (for instance, healing spells, or a branch of utility spells) while a “major” module would provide a much deeper and broader spell selection within the same domain. Players can mix and match both spell casting and non-spell casting modules as they see fit, though limited to one “major” module and then the minor ones they want.

          That doesn’t fall within the mold of classic D&D where specialization is required in order to use magic, and I am pushing the power arc down such that even lower levels of magic will continue to be useful at higher levels. Magic as a limited resource I think is good for where I want to go, as I would like to have the option for someone to specialize and gain flashier spells, without the ability to then spam them. I’m looking at a mana-based system where a lot of core spells are cheap and generally available, with higher level spells being more expensive and difficult to use, but also more powerful. Casters would be physically weaker, but would have the option to steal the show once in a while, if they are willing to pay the cost.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            So, psionics are a “mana system” class, and Warlocks are like hyper-sorcerers – they get very few spells, but they’re unlimited use. In both cases, they leverage different subsystems than standard casters, but their overall role is basically the same – virtually any story involving a psion or warlock could be told about a wizard and it’d make sense, and I don’t think either offer a solution to your problems.

            That said…

            A system like the one you describe can probably be very easily hacked into Mythras (formerly RuneQuest 6e) which is a d100 BRP-based game which has several different kinds of magic, most of which are fairly lacking in flavor. You as the DM are encouraged to develop your own “flavored” variants, IIRC. I think this fits well because

            1 – it’s a system with highly modular spells in Sorcery and a lot of very useful but simple spells in Folk Magic. All magic can be flavored and packaged as you like.

            2 – it’s a skill-based system with relatively immutable characteristics and derived characteristics, so HP and casting bonuses don’t scale (or demand scaling) like they do in D&D, and any character can eventually train into knowing magic.

            3 – it already runs on a mana system

            4 – it leaves out the worst of d20 (bonus/malus types/stacking, feat tree design, terribly-written skills, number bloat)

            It has a few problems of its own – I really dislike hit locations and the 5(!) weapon ranges – but it’s easy to hack those out, and I’d be more than happy to offer advice on doing so.

            If you find it’s not to your liking, I highly recommend at least reading Mage: The Ascension. Despite being an awkward mess, it’s clear that a whole lot of thought went into it, and there are lots of lessons to be learned from it.

            Also, at any point in the future, just @ me in an OT if questions come up.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Thank you. That sounds worth looking into!

      • raemon777 says:

        This was one thing I thought 4th edition actually got right: you have powers you can use per turn, powers you can use per encounter, and powers you can use per day.

        This lets wizards get to have magic-missle-ish things they can throw around as their basic melee attack, while still having to save up spell slots for cool impressive things that are more rare.

        I think 4E went overboard with making _all_ classes use this mechanic for everything (it was a fine choice to make but made everything feel same-same-y to me).

    • Plumber says:

      My go to’s are Chaosium’s “Basic Role-playing” system (Call of Cthullu, Magic World, Mythic Iceland, RuneQuest, et cetera), Lamentations of the Flame Princess (a variant update based on “81 B/X D&D), and “5e” D&D with a bunch of stuff edited out.
      3e/3.5/Pathfinder probably has enough content to find what you want out of them, but I personally wouldn’t use it (I just don’t like mandatory “Feats” and all that crunch).

    • Nornagest says:

      Savage Worlds is simple, flexible, and easy to run but can’t support much depth. Good for one-shots, not so good for ongoing campaigns. FUDGE/FATE might also be worth looking into, if you can find it.

      There aren’t many other common systems that’re all of simple, flexible, and still in print: simplicity tends to funge against flexibility, and crunch-heavy systems have dominated the market for the last while (though that’s starting to change). If you’re comfortable with D&D mechanics, your best bet might be to take those, strip out the caster classes, and overlay your own casting system; 5E and Pathfinder are going to be the easiest versions to find players for, and of those, 5E is mechanically simpler.

      Your first cut at this is almost certainly gonna be broke as hell unless you’re a game design genius, but that’s what playtesting is for.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        Your first cut at this is almost certainly gonna be broke as hell unless you’re a game design genius, but that’s what playtesting is for.

        Oh yeah, I’m fully aware of that. My first players are going to be my kids, who are old enough to get into RP now. I figure we can learn as we go along and we’ll adjust as needed. I’m going to be as careful as I can with the crunch to start, because it’s too easy to break (though they tend to be more fun until everyone realizes how broken it is!)

        I’m planning to check out the other suggestions, and if nothing else works better to pick up 5E and do as you suggest.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The simplest possible system for something that at least smells of D&D would be The Black Hack. It’s free, I think.

      A lot of people like B/X D&D, from 1981. The most direct retroclone of this is Labyrinth Lord. There’s a free version.

      I really like the look of Silent Legions, an “old school” style game meant to do Lovecraftian horror. The spell system isn’t built into the classes in the same way D&D’s is, so that might work.

    • John Schilling says:

      and am mostly looking for a combat system that has enough flexibility for me to make my own classes and spells

      Phrasing it like this makes it sound like you are looking primarily at combat magic, rather than utility magic. Is this a fair assessment?

      If so, the first step is to decide what tactical role you want your spellcasters to play in combat. You’ll presumably want them to be balanced with the non-magical classes, but not redundant with them. If a wizard is just a guy who does the same DPS as an archer from the same distance as an archer, but with special effects rather than arrows, meh, why bother?

      The old-school D&D approach was to treat spellcasters as “artillery”, capable of more powerful attacks than any mundane fighter (at 1st level, “sleep” takes 2-3 orcs out of the fight on round 1, at 5th level you’re casting fireball and, what it says on the label), but not every round or even every fight and fragile enough that they need to be protected in between. That’s a promising approach, which in D&D’s case failed mainly by not preserving balance at higher levels.

      What other tactical approaches are there? There’s a fair bit of literary sword-and-sorcery stuff where the fighter types “multiclass” as low-level spellcasters, but more for access to ultility spells than for direct combat.

      General thoughts:

      You probably can’t get around needing specific mechanics for combat spells, for the same reason you need specific mechanics for swords and crossbows. You can try to make your players improvise, but if you do they’ll just try to find the best solutions to “take out hominids up close”, “take out hominids from a distance”, and “take out big monsters from a distance”, and then use those mechanically at every opportunity just like your fighter swings his sword mechanically. So stat up your fireball spells or whatnot and be done with it, and if there’s improvisational or customized magic as well, that’s probably best for utility spells.

      Versatility is a feature, and one Vance-as-ported-to-D&D does badly. This is particularly the case for utility magic, where it is unrealistic to expect the wizard to know in advance whether they are going to need to open locked doors or read arcane languages or scry on a remote enemy or whatnot today, which leads to “fuck it, I can’t win that game but I know how to stock up on optimized combat spells”. Which makes wizards boring outside of combat and overpowered within it. The ability to cast any spell you know and/or can improvise, drawing from some common finite reservoir of magical power, is probably the way to go.

      You do need that finite (but replenishable) reservoir for combat magic. Otherwise the wizards become unbalanced if they can cast spells more powerful than a crossbow bolt, because there’s nothing stopping them from doing it every round, and if the spells are of roughly crossbow-bolt power then again you’ve just got an archer with special effects.

      Another approach that I particularly like is to make magic generally slow and ritualistic. This favors utility over combat spells, and it favors the “artillery” approach to wizardry in combat because you’ve got to protect the wizard while they work up a fireball.

      Finally, how much multiclassing/character versatility do you want to see? The classic D&D approach makes wizards all but useless for anything but spellcasting, which makes it particularly important to balance the power of magic across all aspects of the game and at all levels. That’s probably a mistake. But I’m not terribly fond of the Runequest-style approach where IIRC absolutely everyone has some modest spellcasting ability.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        Thanks for the additional thoughts, you’ve definitely helped me with some direction.

        I would like all of my characters to have at least decent combat ability, but want some utility as well. My preference would be for all characters to have some non-combat options, especially in support roles. I don’t like D&D wizards who have the ability to do anything, but only if they specifically plan for it. Instead, I am designing the options to be able to pick up some utility that will be readily accessible but also limited to a particular type of function. That is, they pick what they would like to have as options, and then those options are always available.

        My plan is to use mana. Players would have the option to use bigger spells as artillery, but also to replicate the archer during normal rounds. If they blow their biggest spells as fast as possible, then they may not be able to cast the small spells until they replenish – fairly classic trade-off for artillery, but not useless when they don’t blow their fireball. Archers would pick up the support skills and roles that they want, including spellcasting options, so that they have something bigger to do to balance the artillery option of the spellcaster.

      • Dan L says:

        You do need that finite (but replenishable) reservoir for combat magic. Otherwise the wizards become unbalanced if they can cast spells more powerful than a crossbow bolt, because there’s nothing stopping them from doing it every round, and if the spells are of roughly crossbow-bolt power then again you’ve just got an archer with special effects.

        Another approach that I particularly like is to make magic generally slow and ritualistic. This favors utility over combat spells, and it favors the “artillery” approach to wizardry in combat because you’ve got to protect the wizard while they work up a fireball.

        Hmmm… I’m conceiving of a system where the caster has two distinct pools: a large reserve that replenishes over time, and a smaller pool that feed from the former which they can directly employ for spell effects. Establish significant limits on the readied pool and how long it takes to fill from the reserves, and you’ve got a system where wizards have a charging period for large effects but can snap out weaker ones if necessary. Maybe ritual magic is a technique that allows for a significantly expanded readied pool but takes tools and time. Maybe specialties discount the usage of certain spells, or auto-fill a few points at some cost.

        Anyone know of an existing system that looks like this? It would seem to be an increase in bookkeeping v. classic mp systems, but I like how many options it has for customization.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          I have a similar thought in mind on this, though a good bit simpler than you are talking about.

          A caster has a relatively large maximum mana pool (relative to the costs of their spells), but cannot cast a spell for more than half of their remaining mana. So a caster fully rested with 100 mana can cast a spell with up to 50 mana. Once they do so, they cannot cast another 50 mana spell, but are now limited to 25 or less on the next cast (half of their remaining 50). With core spells costing a very low amount (2ish) that could be cast all the way to the point that the caster becomes “exhausted” and is about out of mana anyway. There would not be very many extreme mana spells, but a spell that cost 25 mana (in the above example) could be cast three times from full, or about two times with a mixture of other spells, without exhausting the character or being overwhelmingly powerful – spamming fireball or whatever.

          This gives a character flexibility on casting their most powerful spells if they need to/want to, but a very large penalty and natural limitation on doing so.

    • ing says:

      My favorite simple D&D-like system is Dungeon World.

      Out of the box, the system will ask you to design your world in collaboration with your players. You could try not doing that, though.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Define “Complicated”.

      The system I wrote has ~250 spells, spread across ten feat-locked disciplines. From the utility-heavy planar magic, to the support-oriented enchantment school, to combat-oriented elemental magic, there are a lot of ways of playing a magic user. But 25 spells per school of magic, each of which is written with multiple formulas to account for variable spell power levels, is both very simple and very complex; there are a lot of non-deterministic mechanics involved (Does control of fire let you instantly kill a fire elemental?) which require DM decisions on a regular basis, because utility magic needs a lot of ambiguity to be useful. “Unlock Level 3 Lock” is both specific and useless, and doesn’t show up. Instead you can enchant an object to make it a more effective lockpick, if that is your thing. So it is complex, in that sense.

      On the other hand, the rules themselves are fairly simple, and it is ultimately up to the DM to decide how to implement them, which in practice is how story-driven “simple” systems end up handling things anyways.

      The trade-off to the magic system is that it actually requires some player cleverness to use effectively; there is a general theme in the game that wizard beats warrior beats rogue beats wizard. But in a straight damage contest, the wizard is going to lose to the warrior; rather, the wizard has tools to prevent it from being a straight damage contest. So it goes back to being kind of complex.

      So what does complicated mean?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Different D&D question: in B/X-1E-2E, how are you supposed to handle training to level up?
      In 3rd Edition on, everyone needs the same number of Experience Points to level up, and once you have that #, you just go to bed and wake up more powerful. I love the idea of actual training instead of that idiocy, but how are you supposed to handle PCs needing downtime to train on different schedules?

      • woah77 says:

        Downtime stories? It’s been covered in a lot of different rpgs, including DnD 2ed and WEG Star Wars. You can’t literally adventure all the time, so what do you do when “nothing” is going on around you? You train, developing your skills.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I’m planning downtime stories. My concern is what happens when some characters level up in the middle of an adventure and others don’t. This is less of a big deal if they’re adventuring from a fixed base (“Your PC needs downtime. Spend 5 minutes making a new PC to play today.”) but becomes a big deal if they’re traveling on a quest.

          • woah77 says:

            That’s why if you have certain people levelling and others who aren’t, you have those who aren’t tell you what they’re doing, in a write up or something. You, as the GM, evaluate it and decide if it requires a scene just for them or if it just works out. Then you reward them with something for their time, possibly money or political influence. The other players who were training don’t have that because they were, obviously, training, but the level should be as much or more of a reward than the money.

            If you’re traveling on a quest then you can’t take time to train unless they stop somewhere (home base isn’t required, local city should do) and all of this assumes that your campaign is a grand story and not a sequence of stories with a predetermined duration. If your players are racing a clock, then down time to train just gets in the way.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Unless you’re running straight from one adventure to another without downtime, you could always have characters level up in town after the adventure. That’s generally how I’ve seen it handled. Every character that hit a milestone in the last adventure levels up at the same time.

            To avoid drama, GMs would often fudge small amounts of XP to get someone over the hump, if they were very close and others were leveling up ahead of them.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @woah77:

            If you’re traveling on a quest then you can’t take time to train unless they stop somewhere (home base isn’t required, local city should do) and all of this assumes that your campaign is a grand story and not a sequence of stories with a predetermined duration.

            Stopping in their travels to train in a local city could work. I’m not in favor of running a grand story with a predetermined duration.
            In my long 3.5 campaign, I found it interesting that my players wanted a slow-burning grand story, so when they fought chaotic Gaia cultists at a sacrifice in the woods, because said cultists tried to kill the queen they worked for with a magic potion of suicidal thought, enough cult mooks ended up falling in the sacrificial fire to summon Gaia, who told the PCs she was fed up with what her grandson Zeus was letting humans get away with and was sending her youngest son Typhon to go get married and train to set things “right.”
            Because Typhon and his wife had to have a bunch of monster babies, that didn’t become a real campaign clock. 🙂

          • woah77 says:

            Then I would argue that training at the local city for their most recent adventures would be the way to do it. I’m not a huge fan of a giant clock counting down, but it is good for certain kinds of campaigns.

      • Lillian says:

        Isn’t adventuring itself a kind of training though? If you have been in a lot of fights, it makes sense that you would get better at fighting. If you have done a lot of thieving, it makes sense you would get better at being a thief. If you have done a lot of spellcasting, then it makes sense you’d become a better spellcaster. This is incidentally why i prefer non-levelled over levelled systems, in a non-levelled system growth happens in a more organic and steady fashion, rather than not at all and then suddenly all at once. Though i suppose training should still be necessary if you want to get better at something you haven’t been doing much of.

        • woah77 says:

          Though i suppose training should still be necessary if you want to get better at something you haven’t been doing much of.

          That is the presumed reason for level training. Sure, a fighter might get better at fighting by adventuring, but that doesn’t translate to figuring out how to use pocket sand or tripping. It also doesn’t really apply to characters like clerics or wizards who presumably get better at their craft using more esoteric means.

          I too enjoy non-levelled systems, many of which say “you can improve this with no training if you used it, but if you didn’t, you need to take X days/weeks to train it up between adventures”

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I think it was one of the first Chaosium RPGs (Runequest?) that took the D&D roll-under percentile resolution for seeing if using a skill succeeds and made them improve in 1% increments with use. That was a cool innovation.
            However, if you’ve committed to GMing a level system at all, I like training because teachers provide a large number of plot and character hooks to crib from fiction and it sure beats “you wake up knowing things you’ve never practiced before”, which is what I had to put up GMing D&D 3.5 from Level 1-22. 🙁

          • woah77 says:

            Yeah, those kinds of systems are both good and bad depending upon the campaign in question. As I said above, if you’re fighting a clock, having to take time to train really makes everything more difficult. But as you point out: The teachers make great adventure and character hooks.

      • Nornagest says:

        Requiring training makes more sense for some class features than others. It makes perfect sense that you’d get better at fighting if you’ve spent the last week murdering goblins, and it makes perfect sense that you’d get more careful about traps if the last lock you tried to pick spat acid in your face. D&D’s a little coarse-grained about it but that’s the price of abstraction.

        It makes a lot less sense if your spell repertoire suddenly doubles in the middle of a dungeon, though, and it makes even less sense than that when you split Goblin #40’s face with an axe and then you understand how to operate a catapult. Or an alembic.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          It makes a lot less sense if your spell repertoire suddenly doubles in the middle of a dungeon, though, and it makes even less sense than that when you split Goblin #40’s face with an axe and then you understand how to operate a catapult. Or an alembic.

          Eat your enemies’s hearts to gain their courage; eat Goblin #40’s brain to gain their knowledge?
          (It’s probably a bad idea to create incentives for PC cannibalism.)

          • Nornagest says:

            …not gonna lie, I’d play it.

          • woah77 says:

            This sounds like something you’d find in a game like FATAL

          • Nick says:

            Sylar plays D&D?

          • Nornagest says:

            The only tabletop game I can think of offhand that gives you substantial bonuses for cannibalism isn’t FATAL, it’s Vampire — where it’s the only way short of GM fiat to unlock higher-level abilities. Well, they call it “diablerie”, because Vampire wouldn’t stop being pretentious if you held a gun to its head, but it’s basically cannibalism.

            I always wondered about that, since the lore talks up how taboo it is, and there are a few mechanical reasons not to (it permanently taints your aura, making your crime obvious to anyone with a certain ability), yet I don’t think I could come up with a stronger incentive for players to do it if I tried. That can’t be a coincidence. Never got far enough into a Vampire game for it to matter, though.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: It’d be interesting to get far enough into a Vampire “chronicle” (holds a gun to the rule book’s head) to watch that matter.
            I feel like some group must have eaten sapient enemies just as dungeon or wilderness rations back in the AD&D 1E era, just because incentives to eat dead monsters started showing up in CRPGs. I mean, it became familiar enough that there’s a fantasy comedy manga where eating enemies is the central joke!

          • Nornagest says:

            Makes sense. You end up eating a lot of monsters in Nethack, and Nethack borrows a lot of old-school D&D tropes. Eating your own race is a bad idea, but you can eat e.g. gnomes without penalty if you’re a human.

          • woah77 says:

            Gonna second the Vampire chronicles getting really interesting when Diablerie matters. But also going to stipulate that Vampire is primarily a politics game and that murderhoboing in Vampire should spell a quick end for your character.

          • Nornagest says:

            Vampire is primarily a politics game…

            Vampire — in nWoD as well as oWoD, but especially the latter — doesn’t give much guidance as to what kind of game it’s supposed to be. It’s definitely not a dungeon-crawling game, but I wouldn’t call it a politics game either — you can certainly run it as one, but it takes tweaks. The default setup where you all start as newly Embraced 13th generation vampires just doesn’t give much scope for politicking. You can be pawns in other people’s politics, if that’s your idea of a good time, but you don’t have enough power, leverage, or connections to do much yourself, and GMs aren’t encouraged to let players develop them.

            Back in the late Nineties when I was playing Masquerade, it kind of veered in practice between being an edgy urban superhero game and being a soapbox for goth kids to be gothy on. Requiem, which I’ve read but not played, seems to be trying to discourage both of those, but it doesn’t set up a strong thematic line to replace them, either.

            This is actually my biggest beef with the WoD line. If you ever get to a situation as a player where you’re asking “so what now?”, there’s nothing thematic or mechanical to point you in any particular direction — so as GM you constantly need to come up with carrots and sticks.

          • woah77 says:

            Alright, I’ll amend my statement. Every Vampire game that I’ve been involved in that went anywhere was primarily political, even for 13th gens. The least political games were Sabbat games and those were still largely political, with lots of clan posturing and backstabbing. There certainly were plots that weren’t political, but the majority of the action and fun was in screwing over another clan to gain an edge.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            You end up eating a lot of monsters in Nethack, and Nethack borrows a lot of old-school D&D tropes.

            Aw yeah, Nethack. I like that game. I’ve actually poked around with a few roguelikes, because I knew this girl online in high school who was such a video game grog (or hipster?) that she liked ZAngband[1], and later I wanted to see the alternatives.

            [1]Zelazny Angband, a variant of the open source (?) roguelike Angband, which was theoretically about delving to the bottom of Morgoth’s fortress Angband from the Silly million Silmarillion to defeat him, but especially in the expansions there’s so much other source material that you’d easily forget.

          • Lillian says:

            The last Vampire game i played had at one point two player characters negotiate with each other over diablerie rights. Specifically we were going attack an enemy Prince and take over his territory, and there was no chance that we were going to allow him to leave with his unlife. So the question became who, if anyone, would get to eat his soul.

            Eventually we came to a satisfactory agreement, and my character got the rights. The interesting thing about it is that i didn’t want the guy’s soul for the power-up, both characters were of the same Generation and so there would have been zero mechanical benefit to devouring him. Rather i wanted his knowledge, since the guy was deeply embedded in an ancient conspiracy, eating him would mean acquiring a great many juicy secrets.

            Alas, the target did not survive the battle, which left my compatriot with bit of a problem: he still wanted the thing i gave him in exchange for the diablerie rights, but he could not honourably claim it when i had not gotten my due consideration. Naturally i proposed that i would keep my end of the bargain in exchange for a favour, to be named later, and he agreed.

            Incidentally said compatriot and another one had committed diablerie earlier. Fortunately they had done it outside the city we were based in, to individuals whom nobody likes. Thus the fact that evidence of the crime was visible in their aura was of little importance. Presumably the Setite Clan does consider the murder of half a dozen high ranking clan-members in Alexandria to be a matter of great consequence. However, they were too busy backstabbing each other over deciding the new leadership of the city to do anything about those who destroyed the old one.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Not D&D, but my solution was to frame level up bonuses in a different manner. You got skill points (or feat points, depending) which could be spent later, with an emphasis on later. The upshot for players being, if you spent the points to learn or improve a skill as you used it, you got a one-shot bonus to your use of that skill (or feat, or spell), being a representation of a sudden flash of insight arising in a moment of need.

        It is more narratively satisfying, and discouraged players from pre-building their characters. (It also helped offset my own unbalanced DMing, as it prevented players from wasting points on, say, climbing, when it never occurs to me to write climbing challenges into dungeons.)

      • John Schilling says:

        Pragmatically, if you’re running a series of disconnected dungeoncrawls or other short adventures, pretty much everyone assumes you’re going to “level up” (or upgrade skills etc in non-level-based systems) automagically between dungeoncrawl N and N+1, and if that “really” involved a month or three of training, almost nobody tracks intra-dungeon time that well anyway.

        If you’re doing a single extended campaign where Frodo leaves the Shire as a 1st-level thief “rogue” and has to be good enough to sneak into Mordor by the end, then almost all DMs will let him level up on the first good night’s sleep after he’s earned the requisite XP and say that this was 100% on-the-job training. And the sleep is optional.

        And let’s not even mention multiclassing. Though one does occasionally find DMs taking the rules about new spell acquisition seriously, so “leveling up” on the fly as a wizard just gives you more slots for the spells you already know unless you do some sort of side quest or downtime story to sneak a peak at some higher-level wizard’s spellbooks.

        Realistically, a thief who spent the last three dungeoncrawls doing an awful lot of moving silently and picking locks but almost no trap-defusing or sneak-attacking “should” find himself significantly better at the former even with no formal instruction but with no gain to the latter – and if it’s possible to improve the latter by spending downtime training, then it should realistically be possible to do so even without any lockpicking-derived XP. But that’s a level of crunchiness that’s mostly incompatible with a level-based system, so if you’re playing any sort of D&D you should probably just accept the abstraction that having done lots of real-world Thieving Stuff gives you the experience to do all sorts of Thieving Stuff better. In an annoyingly granular fashion.

      • Dan L says:

        I love the idea of actual training instead of that idiocy, but how are you supposed to handle PCs needing downtime to train on different schedules?

        Third Edition has a whole set of optional rules to cover stuff like this! How PCs Improve, page 197 of the DMG! The general theme is that an XP threshold allows a character to start gaining benefits of ‘leveling up’, but making use of new feats, skills, class features, etc. can be withheld until the PC invests some reasonable quantity of time and funding. Especially significant abilities might require finding a trainer that has already mastered them, or lost lore, or…

    • RDNinja says:

      Have you tried Warrior, Rogue, & Mage? It’s simple, and I’ve had some success running a version modified to take my players through the plot of Skyrim.

  16. Le Maistre Chat says:

    The Tollense valley battlefield is one of the most important Late Bronze Age sites from a non-literate culture. The disarticulated bones of >750 men between the ages of 20 and 40, demonstrated by radiocarbon dating to have died in the 1200s BC (matching the context and tool finds, to rule out the dated bones being an outlier), were found along a stretch of Tollense river bank in NE Germany. 26% had healed wounds in addition, indicating that a large minority were habitual fighters.
    The expert consensus is that this many battle dead indicate a minimum of 3,000 combatants, at a time where the local population density was 3-5 people per square kilometer. So there must have been chiefdoms that could organize all the families in >1500 square km. Archaeologists also found evidence of a bridge from this period and there’s speculation that they were fighting over a trade route, as Persian Gulf pearls were found at Halle nearby and Baltic amber is known to have been going to the Aegean and even as far as King Tut’s tomb.
    Despite some speculation otherwise, it seems they were all locals (whose genome clusters with modern Poles and Austrians) except sample WEZ54 associated with the Neolithic “LBK” culture and Basques, a kinsman (WEZ56) partway between Basque Man[1] and the rest, and WEZ57 whose genome separates toward the Yamnaya steppe culture. The sample also contained a Neolithic (2900s BC) local, WEZ16 with “LBK”/Sardinian DNA whose grave the dead fell upon and was taken by archaeologists as part of the “battlefield” sample. Oops.

    [1] Nana nana nana, BASQUE MAN!

    • johan_larson says:

      How do they know all the fighters died in the same battle? If the causeway was a strategically important spot, it could have been the site of multiple battles. Several places in the US were the sites of two or even three battles just during the Civil War.

  17. dividebyzeroes says:

    Does anyone here work with gemstones, either faceting them or making cabochons? I’m a rockhound and have accumulated all sorts of semi-precious stones, and while they often come out nicely from my rock tumbler, it seems like it would be fun to do something more hands-on with them. I’m wondering specifically about the learning curve for both faceting and cabbing; I work full time and have school-age kids who have sports and other activities, so my free time is limited and unpredictable.

    • I do cabbing. For some decades I did it with a very low end machine which require me to change the sanding wheel multiple times (three levels of sanding plus polishing) for each stone, which led to my doing stones in batches, which was a nuisance. A few years ago I got myself a birthday present–a much better and more expensive cabbing machine with three grinding wheels, three (diamond) polishing wheels. I ended up cutting more stones than I was ever going to set, for the fun of it, and started offering SCA people on FB free stones if they were doing period jewelry, that being something I wanted to promote anyway.

      My cabbing machine (Diamond Pacific Pixie) costs about $1,900 online, and is the major cost. I’m seeing something similar online, with 6″ wheels instead of my 8″ and not by a well known brand so probably lower quality, for about half that. You also need a diamond saw–mine is an 8″ trim saw, which is adequate for slicing pieces of the sort I’m normally using and then cutting the blank from the slab. If your rockhounding is producing ten pound chunks of agate and you want to slice them you would need something bigger and more expensive and with an automatic feed—or find someone else who has one you can use. Looking online I see a trim saw that attaches to my cabbing machine for $366, I expect a separate one would be a bit more.

      I learned to do cabbing back in high school, so it’s hard to be sure how much time it would take someone to learn it, but I don’t think very long. I expect I could teach someone to do it in few hours, although obviously you will get better with practice.

      I have no experience with faceting.

      Have you done any jewelry making? If you are not up for making things yourself, which isn’t all that hard or expensive if you do construction rather than casting, you can buy quite nice pre-made settings, cut cabs to fit, and use them for gifts to anyone you think might appreciate them.

      • dividebyzeroes says:

        David, thanks very much for the information. I haven’t done any jewelry making, but would definitely want to learn at least some basics if I’m able to produce some finished stones.

        A couple of years ago I picked up an inexpensive tile saw with a 10″ diamond blade at Harbor Freight so I could cut my larger chunks into smaller pieces for tumbling, but it doesn’t have automatic feed, realistically can only cut straight edges, and generally seems like too blunt an instrument for preforming cabochons, so if I pick up a cabbing machine, I would probably get one with a trim saw attachment.

        Thanks again for your reply.

  18. j1000000 says:

    Potentially related to SSC’s interests: I read this whole article about two Cuban baseball prospects without actually realizing the guy’s name was “Victor Victor Mesa.” I mentally skipped the second “Victor” automatically.

  19. dick says:

    It seems to me like this forum is uniquely ill-suited to CW/debate conversations.

    – The layout is terrible – no matter how big your monitor, after 4 replies you’re limited to a 2-inch-wide column. This makes it hard to read long posts and hard to fisk or quote more than one person. Relatedly, it’s often difficult to tell which comment a given comment was replying to without hiding and unhiding things.

    – The temporary nature of open threads discourages extended discussion and forces people to re-cover the same territory (see Carlos Ramirez’s “what is #believewomen’s position exactly?” discussion that ran through three consecutive OTs and rehashed some of the same topics as a result).

    – The lack of thread titles makes it difficult to keep separate topics separate and to retain context. Topic drift and hijacking are common.

    -The popularity of the blog means that there’s a large audience potentially reading, which (IMHO) leads participants to be less charitable than they would if they were arguing in private or in a forum whose only readers are the participants.

    – The new-replies-widget in the upper-right to go to new comments one at a time, makes it easy for contextual cues to be lost. For example, if in a thread about X and Y you say, “X is pretty easy,” you probably meant that X is easier than Y, but it’s very likely that someone will interpret your comment as a standalone statement and rebut it by pointing out that X is harder than Z.

    – Most relevant to me, the new-replies-widget makes it difficult to avoid threads you don’t want to read. You have to actually read the comment to tell if it was one of the comments you were trying to avoid reading, which is kind of self-defeating. This is not a “protect me from scary ideas” complaint, it’s a “help me avoid the temptation to get sucked in” complaint.

    For these reasons, I’m fine with any and all curtailment of CW here. Almost all of these are not an issue on Reddit and on any regular BB-style forum. Conversely, most these problems are arguably not really problems for the “I wonder if you could take over dark ages France with a single modern handgun and ten bullets” sort of silliness that I think constitutes the best part of this forum.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Define “Dark Ages.” Right after the province(s) of Gaul falls to the Franks?

      • dick says:

        (Yes I did include that knowing it would get more response than the subject of the post!) I think the problem is challenging enough that any reasonable definition, of “dark ages” and “france” and “take over”, is permissible.

    • johan_larson says:

      This site is running WordPress. WordPress is meant for blogging, with a bit of light commenting. But we’re not using it for that. We’re using it as a discussion forum with some 2000 posts per week. It’s no wonder it doesn’t work all that well; we’re trying to plow a field with a shovel. Rather than fiddling around with an under-powered tool, we should bite the bullet and migrate this community to software specifically designed for discussions. phpBB seems to work well, but there are other options, too.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Agreed with this; Scott’s OTs could just be replaced with a small forum, leaving commenting here for his effortposts, which don’t get filled up as much. At first blush it seems a bit daft when there’s already a subreddit, but ugh, that subreddit.

        • Randy M says:

          which don’t get filled up as much.

          Depends on what the effort is spent on

          • I don’t know if a different format would work better. But given that SSC currently works better, at least from my standpoint, than any other place online I know, I’m reluctant to argue for a change.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            I recommend that we go for satisficing rather than optimizing, here.

          • Randy M says:

            I just meant that some of Scott’s posts get comments on par or in excess of open threads.

        • John Schilling says:

          At first blush it seems a bit daft when there’s already a subreddit, but ugh, that subreddit.

          That subreddit is probably the future of SSC proper, if SSC proper is made significantly more CW-comment-friendly than it already is. The current system is somewhat annoying but good enough to support 2000 comments/week from the existing commentariat. If you “improve” it to the point where we get 5000 comments/week, what sort of comments do you expect and from whom?

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, it’s important to recognize that the number of participants in the discussion determines a lot about what kind of discussion can happen.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Reddit, by its nature, is anti-thetical to back and forth conversation among multiple parties.

          This means that, by its nature, it encourages more drive by commentary, optimized for an easy read an upvote, so, you get a shit show. And I don’t think that is avoidable.

          All of this is why I have never spent any time over the sub-reddit. Perhaps I am wrong about why its problems are.

          • Matt M says:

            Agreed. Reddit has always been near useless for actual discussions, IMO. Checked out the subreddit once, saw that it was basically like the rest of reddit, never went back, never will.

          • gbdub says:

            Agreed. Reddit sucks.

            Voting / Filtering on voting seems like a good idea, but always devolves into drive-bys and mob rule.

            Maybe a hybrid system where you have upvotes/downvotes, but only a curated pool of superusers have votes? The pool could be larger and lower commitment than the usual pool of mods, while simultaneously being more visible/accountable.

          • Dan L says:

            I don’t know, my experience has been that I’ve had longer, more productive conversations on the subreddit (and reddit in general) than are typical here.

            (Many with the same people! My reddit name is rather more anonymized for reasons that on second thought undercut my point. Ah well.)

            I think the trade-off between multi-party and deep conversation is inevitable to some extent, either it’s threaded or no. WordPress’ depth limit is a weird mix of the two though, and I can’t believe it’s optimal.

            As far as upvotes go, on one level I think they serve a critical function in prioritizing commentary by community norms while still leaving everything public. Global karma per user is a disaster though, and that’s where the perverse incentives creep in.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I tried a forum for a while. People didn’t post there.

      • Well... says:

        Strong disagree here. I like the SSC plow-a-field-with-a-shovel format. Its shortcomings, I think, help focus the discussion, or else help discussions that probably ought to die out to do so. It’s also unflashy and blog-like enough that it probably deters some not-insignificant number of people who are used to arguing politics via Disqus or the like.

        I guess that makes me a WordPressional Conservative.

        • Matt M says:

          Plowing a field with a shovel might be a good idea if you care more about building upper body strength than about efficiently plowing the field 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            We’re not ploughing, we’re digging lazy beds! 🙂

          • Well... says:

            @Matt M:

            Put me down for upper body strength then. But to continue the plowing metaphor, a shovel-plowed field might be of more interest to the soil scientists and subsistence farmers I’d like to interact with than to the produce wholesalers and real-estate developers who I don’t want to interact with.

            Also, switching forum formats means having to sign up for new accounts with new websites and that is something to avoid.

            You’re a right-winger. Don’t you know change is bad??

    • All the problems are probably good in a way. It keeps the site from being more popular.

    • quanta413 says:

      The subreddit was a tire fire though last time I glanced in. So whatever advantages are theoretically gained by having reddit style threads are apparently completely lost by the social milieu of being on reddit.

    • Statismagician says:

      Strongly agree, but I think the solution is probably ‘stop trying to hold complex discussions in the comments section of a blog.’

      • Well... says:

        You should explain your reasoning in more detail.

        • Statismagician says:

          Surely we could scrape up the hosting costs for an old-style BBS between us? This kind of website is fundamentally not designed for the kinds of conversations we all want to have, everybody knows it, why force the matter?

          • Well... says:

            Because a lot of us feel that the conversations we’ve been having here are great, and that the website’s design has not hindered — and perhaps has even helped — the facilitation of those conversations.

            Anyway, my above comment was kind of a “gotcha” (heh, sorry) because now you and I are having a (relatively) complex discussion in the comments of a blog. And I think it’s going just fine.

          • Statismagician says:

            See, I think it’s illustrating how much easier this would be on a board with distinct threads, a mobile version that doesn’t suck, and a more robust text editor, but I’m willing to concede that this is probably a matter of taste.

          • Matt M says:

            I think a lot of us view SSC as something that works really well. Far better than we have any rational explanation for. The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, and tinkering with any of the parts… even the ones that seem obviously inferior to alternatives (such as the UI), is likely to somehow throw off the balance and have some of unforeseen negative effects and ruin something we all love.

            This is a simple case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or perhaps, since Scott is a doctor and all that, “First, do no harm…”

      • albatross11 says:

        But we hold complex discussions here regularly. CW issues are fraught, not because they’re especially complex relative to other problems, but rather because they’re issues where it’s very easy to get your reason tangled up with your identity and get mindkilled. Further, there’s a whole surrounding ecosystem of people trying to mindkill you on these issues, trying to get you outraged about them, etc.

        • Statismagician says:

          I don’t say we can’t, I say the basic logistical substrate isn’t conducive. The format of a blog comment section does not readily support detailed meta-philosophical debate. Politics-as-mindkiller isn’t relevant here.

          • CatCube says:

            The discussion is better here than most other places with a “better substrate.” It’s good enough for the purpose. I don’t have any intention of leaving if Scott’s not coming along to run the place, and considering that places like this are rare he might not be able to capture lightning in a bottle twice. The raging shithole that the subreddit became without his close oversight doesn’t give me much hope.

          • Statismagician says:

            Yes. Obviously. I very much enjoy the content of discussions here. That is in no way the point, as I though I had made clear. This is apparently not the case, for which I apologize.

            The format forced on those discussion by the site is very, very bad. See, e.g., the fact that this post is not a nested reply to yours, or else try to read this section of the thread on a mobile device. No reflection on anybody, it’s just a fact. I have no position on the sub-Reddit; I don’t really care for the Reddit format either, as it happens.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Statismagician
            I agree the lack of nesting is somewhat of a limitation, but I’ve never seen a format that handles that super well. Most forums I’ve been on haven’t nested at all although of course each thread was more constrained in topic.

            Nesting arbitrarily deep doesn’t work well either unfortunately. I agree the current level of nesting is way too deep if you want to browse on a cell phone, but it’s probably not deep enough if you use a big monitor. Sort of a compromise.

            There’s probably some subtle yet good improvement to layout that someone will stumble across eventually for some future comments section, but I dunno what it is.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I suppose it’s time to mention trn.

            Trn and similar things were built for usenet– the bit rate was much less, and all you got was ASCII– one simple font, no images, video not even imaginable.

            It solved the nesting problem by only showing you one comment at a time, but offered a little chart so that you could navigate to nearby comments, and opportunity to see a bigger chart of the tree if you wanted to.

            I don’t understand why no one has done a web version, since it’s simply the best format I’ve seen for long discussions. My failure to understand may just mean I don’t understand how difficult it would be.

            People are still working on trn, but I don’t know how far they’ve gotten.

    • Late, but I quite like the XKCD model of one thread per post in an adjoining PHPBB or similar site: http://forums.xkcd.com/

  20. DragonMilk says:

    Thought experiment on frugality required for an early retirement turned into a question on crime:

    While working dull jobs, I once thought of how minimalist I could go and still be fairly pleased with day-to-day living. How much do you think you *need* to spend annually? Here was my thinking (flow of conciousness actual live update of thought process):

    1. Google Fiber is currently located in Atlanta GA, Austin TX, Charlotte NC, The Triangle NC, Kansas City, Nashville TN, Provo Utah, and Salt Lake City Utah, costing $70/month
    2. Of these, Kansas City, MO has the lowest median home value according to Zillow at $142k
    3. Going to Zillow, I can find a $50k 3 bed, 2 bath home at 731 Wabash Ave that needs some work but I’m sure there’s a Lowes/Home Depot nearby. Tax assessment for 2017 was $329 of property taxes annually. More importantly, Google Fiber is Available here
    4. So one reason this neighborhood is cheap is crime – so I googled (you can see why #1 is important to me) that Frontpoint is something quite recommended..but this likely adds $50 month and perhaps being too cheap while risking being a victim is not optimal. AreaVibes shows an “F” on crime.
    5. Alrighty, then, niche.com via google tells me that the Longview area has pretty bad schools but pretty good on crime. No kids at play here. Alrighty then, I found myself a 2 bed 1 bath 1,288 sq ft home at 7936 Jefferson St for $55k. Much less likely that I get beat up…dang it, AreaVibes gives an F on safety again…
    6. Ok, I’m turning to neighborhood scout…these home prices are much more expensive in safer areas!

    So does anyone have a sense of how much more dangerous an “F” is than a “D” to a…..”A” on these websites? Like if someone told me if there’s a 20x greater chance I’m murdered at an F than A, but the base rate of A is 1 in 10,000 annually, I might take the 1 in 500 chance. And how much violent vs nonviolent crimes affect ratings? It’s one thing to be beat up or murdered, but I’m much more ok with my cheap stuff getting taken away and covered by insurance (or not)

    • Matt M says:

      Why do you have to have Google fiber?

      I’m as much of a web addict as anyone but if I were to think “minimalist” I feel like I could easily get by with a 25mpbs connection.

      • DragonMilk says:

        I don’t – it was just a thought experiment to identify a primary goal and building around that.

        Order of thought certainly not order of priorities, as the thought was scuttled after realizing people really pay up for safety…or are barely willing to pay anything for areas perceived to be unsafe.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, I like your line of thought here though.

          I wonder if the argument to be made is something like “You can make your home and yourself reasonably safe even if you live in an ‘unsafe’ area for a lot less money than it costs to move to a safe area.”

          My understanding is that criminals mostly like soft targets. So make your home a hard target (but not so hard it looks like you’ve got a lot of money). Invest in good and sturdy locks, security systems, etc. Train yourself in defensive use of firearms, and maybe basic MMA techniques. Don’t get involved in local/neighborhood squabbles or politics. These are just guesses, but I suspect that there are many ways to dramatically increase your own safety, even in a statistically unsafe environment.

        • baconbits9 says:

          If you want not dangerous and cheap the rural/semi rural is typically the route to go. If you want a project in semi-retirement you can find houses for incredibly cheap in some of these areas that have been empty for several years and fix them up yourself/act as a GC for the project.

          • Matt M says:

            I mean, that’s why I immediately asked about Google fiber.

            Because yeah, if you want cheap + safe, the answer is almost certainly “rural.” But what you tend to sacrifice are things like “100 mbps internet speeds” and “doordash will deliver to you”

    • EchoChaos says:

      Anecdote time!

      So I looked my neighborhood up on AreaVibes and I was at a surprising D- for crime. There is certainly some petty crime around, and my wife has reported that she can feel unsafe with the increasing number of vagrants, but your risk of being murdered here is the same essentially zero that it is in most American suburbs. We had zero murders last year, and it’s a rare year (looking back historically) when we have more than one.

      I would say that at a D- I would not be concerned. I have four kids who play outside and I don’t worry for their safety.

      Now, I don’t know if there is something odd or misreported that makes it a D-, but still, that’s crazy to me.

      • SamChevre says:

        My old neighborhood was like that: it had a high “crime rate”, which seemingly consisted entirely of noisy college-student parties, stolen bikes, fistfights between drunks, and people selling pot. I don’t think most people even locked their doors, and we happily let our children (the oldest was 5 when we moved there) play outside.

        • Matt M says:

          I also recall one of the major things I took away from John Lott’s “More Guns, Less Crime” was something to the effect of: You can reduce your risk of being a victim of “gun violence” by 90% with this one neat trick – don’t be in (or affiliated with) a criminal street gang.

          Basically, school shootings get a lot of media play, but the overwhelming percentage of gun crime in America largely takes place between groups that might very well be seen as “willing combatants”

          • albatross11 says:

            I think there’s also a fair bit of gun violence involving armed robberies, but those are heavily concentrated in certain places–late-night liquor stores and 7-11s, for example. Also I think a fair bit of domestic homicide, which turns mainly on not shacking up with / marrying a very violent man.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            To get the full 90% reduction you might also need to be prepared to clear out in a hurry if you find yourself on the same sidewalk as a criminal street gang member.

          • John Schilling says:

            That’s an overrated threat, I think. Gang members almost never kill civilians who merely share the same space without partaking of the culture, and gang violence is rare enough that the caught-in-the-crossfire risk is low unless you’re embedded in the community for a prolonged period.

          • CatCube says:

            I remember browsing a gun sales shop at the National Matches at Camp Perry back in 2002 or 2003, and overheard the Australian expat owner talking to someone else at the counter. He said, “I have people from back home asking me if I worry about getting shot since moving to the US. I tell them that as long as I’m not trying to muscle in on a drug dealer’s territory, it’s not a major concern.”

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            The people who are “embedded in the community” are the ones I was thinking of. We should all be able to agree that people from the nicer parts of town would be wasting their time worrying about their personal chance of victimhood.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            albatross11:

            “Also I think a fair bit of domestic homicide, which turns mainly on not shacking up with / marrying a very violent man.”

            My impression is that’s harder than it sounds– very violent men typically ramp up the violence slowly, and leaving them can increase the danger.

      • Protagoras says:

        My area is a D+, and I’ve lived here for 10 years and neither experienced nor observed anything. And another site tracking crime puts me in a “low” crime area bordering on an “average” crime area. On the other hand, I did at one point in my younger days live in a high crime area, which I have no reason to think has changed, and which Areavibes does indeed rank F for crime. So that result looked plausible.

      • Matt M says:

        Count me as another person who lives in what seems to be, by all accounts, a pretty safe and nice suburb that somehow has an F on this site.

        • The Nybbler says:

          At least your suburb exists on the site. My suburb of some 45,000 people does not, and it points me instead to Essex Fells (population 2154), a town which is wealthy even compared to its wealthy neighbors. A+ for crime, F for cost of living, F for housing (since the thing in Essex Fells now is to pull down 1990s mansions and replace them with even bigger mansions, I assume this is mostly based on cost).

          • Nornagest says:

            I can’t figure out exactly what the housing scores are based on. It’s not raw cost, but it might be some kind of algorithm that takes into account cost, rent/price ratio, and appreciation rates.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          My neighborhood is rated D for crime, but so far as I know, it’s safe.

          I’ve even occasionally forgotten to lock my bike without it being stolen.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I live in a very nice area that nonetheless scores an F for crime on AreaVibes. If you asked me yesterday morning, I’d have scoffed and told you that the site just wasn’t measuring well.

      Last night when I got home, a man was hiding outside my front door with a knife, after dark, crouched behind my yard waste bin. Anecdotes-schmanecdotes, I will now heartily endorse AreaVibes as a predictor.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      If you scroll down to the details on a neighborhood’s letter grades, it appears that AreaVibes crime ratings are relative to the metro area, so an F (or A) probably means very different things in different cities.

      • DragonMilk says:

        The thing is, if they’re grading along a curve, what’s the deal with Kansas City? Seems that crime goes quickly from B to D

    • JonathanD says:

      Another data point attesting to the crime rating unreliability. I live in an F area that I consider very nice and recommend when people ask me about places to live. My kids play outside and walk to the neighborhood school. I frequently walk about after dark. I did once have a bike stolen, so there is that.

      For reference, some SSCers know my area, as the meetup was here. So if anyone who was at the St. Louis meetup held at Hartford Coffee wants to add a comment, feel free.

      • Lillian says:

        Checking my neighbourhood in AreaVibes, it also gets an F in crime rate, but all the crime is concentrated in the part i don’t live in. The crime map shows blockgroups of about 4-12 blocks, with six levels of crime 0-5 for each. The neighbourhood where i live is all 0-1 except for the one sector that’s majority black, which is uniformly a 3. There is no gradient between the two. This jives with my perception that my immediate neighborhood is quite safe, but the black area is a bit dodgy. Not so dodgy i avoid it during daytime though, in fact i quite like the atmosphere over there, black people are so friendly. It seems my neighbours largely agree, since i regularly see kids running around my area unsupervised.

    • proyas says:

      You’re being a penny wise and a pound foolish by considering living in the bad part of Kansas City, MO.

      And keep in mind that places with high crime rates also tend to suck in every other way. Even if you get a home security system and are religious about protecting your personal safety, you’ll still have to deal with trash being tossed into your yard, sleeplessness thanks to horrible music blaring from all-night neighborhood parties, and ugly houses and buildings all around you (maybe right across the street).

      You’d be much better off delaying your early retirement by a few years so you can save up enough money for a better house in a better location. I’ve been to four of the cities on your list, and Austin is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of fun and interesting things to do and people to meet. Atlanta and the Triangle are livable and are, I’ve found from my travels, very typical for American cities. Kansas City, MO is below average. Kansas City, KS is little different from Gary Oldman’s dictatorship in The Book of Eli.

      Anyway, I just checked areavibes and found its Crime rating for my area to be slightly too generous: instead of an “A” it should get a “B.” The Education score of “F” is also wrong since the local public schools have renowned magnet programs.

      • Matt M says:

        If you care about affordability at all there’s virtually no reason to favor Austin over, say, any other city in Texas.

  21. honoredb says:

    Possible business/effective philanthropy idea that occurred to me listening to Tyler Cowen and Rob Wiblin: Has anyone tried approaching convicted drug cartel chemists about their “near misses”? Recreational drugs (or drug variants) they developed that turned out not to be addictive enough, or that had effects that people were satiated with quickly so they ended up only using a small amount once a week, or that failed to get you high at all but had interesting other effects? There’s been decades of Dark R&D in pharma, and it seems like the evil side gets to profit from the good side’s failures but not vice versa.

    Variant for governments: Offer pardons or asylum to active drug cartel researchers in exchange for their research.

    • Aftagley says:

      AFIK cartels are not the creators of drugs, they just produce/refine/transport and distribute them. I’ve never heard anything that would lead me to believe cartels have drug researchers on staff looking for new addictive compounds. In fact, given how complex the cartel’s supply chains are and how much they’ve invested, it would be weird for them to develop new compounds that would potentially undercut sales of their existing products.

      That’s not to say they I wouldn’t expect them to have some expertise on staff, but i’d guess they’re on hand to refine the more complex refinements of the existing product lines, not trying to develop more.

      • baconbits9 says:

        In fact, given how complex the cartel’s supply chains are and how much they’ve invested, it would be weird for them to develop new compounds that would potentially undercut sales of their existing products.

        This is a common economic mistake. If you develop a new drug that steals 10% of the cocaine market at a similar profit level then you only undercut yourself if you control nearly 100% of the cocaine market. If you control 50% then your final outcome will be controlling 55% of the cocaine+new drug market, the main undercutting comes from your adversaries.

    • Nornagest says:

      To a first approximation, I don’t think there are any chemists working in R&D for drug cartels. The major cartels tend to stick to established drugs with existing, large customer bases (cocaine, heroin, meth, weed), and their business models are mostly about distribution. Heroin and some cocaine variants involve a synthesis step, but it’s pretty straightforward; meth is nontrivial to synthesize but there are still plenty of people that manage to do it on trailer-park cooktops. (That occasionally explode, but that doesn’t seem to put much of a kink in supply.)

      Meanwhile, the people that’re into exotic drugs are a fairly small niche; quite a few popular compounds (lysergamides, tryptamines, many phenethylamines) are non-addictive; and I get the impression they mostly come from small-scale labs in places like Seattle and Berkeley.

      • honoredb says:

        Huh! I had the impression that innovation in mass-produceable, life-destroying drugs was still happening (obviously it happened at some point since advanced versions like crack exist), but maybe that was more a worry of Cowen’s than the current state.

        • Nornagest says:

          Crack’s not really that advanced. Unlike e.g. heroin relative to morphine, it’s not any more physiologically potent than the compound it’s derived from: once it enters the bloodstream, it’s quickly converted back into its original form. And it’s very simple to synthesize: many users produce it themselves, from cocaine and baking soda. The reason people use it is that it can be smoked, which regular cocaine can’t, and which gives a quicker and more intense (hence more addictive) high than snorting — but not any quicker, more intense, or more addictive than injection. I don’t know anything about how it became popular, but it wouldn’t have taken very much knowledge of chemistry to figure out.

          Heroin and methamphetamine, meanwhile, were developed by the pharmaceutical industry before they became street drugs. The same’s true for a lot of other drugs that’ve lately become popular, like desomorphine (lately popular in Eastern Europe under the name “krokodil”).

    • Winter Shaker says:

      If he were still alive, Alexander Shulgin would be your man (side note: is anyone else astonished by how short his Wikipedia entry is?), and possibly also David Nutt… but since the official position of most governments seems to be reasonably accurately modelled as ‘using chemicals to induce altered states of consciousness not for medical reasons (and sometimes even then), or enabling others to do so, is inherently wrongful and deserving of punishment regardless of the actual risks involved’ (even if it is rare for anyone to actually express it in those terms), you’ll have a hard time getting that off the ground until we actually manage to end the war on Drugs.

  22. Nietzsche says:

    Hey, I thought there might be some SSC readers interested in this position:
    The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) invites applications for a Senior Research Associate – Academic Programme Manager.

    This senior position will play a central role in leading CSER’s research team and shaping the future of the Centre. This is a unique opportunity to play a guiding role in a world-class research centre as it enters an exciting period of growth.

    Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

    CSER is an interdisciplinary research centre within the University of Cambridge dedicated to the study and mitigation of risks that could lead to human extinction or civilisational collapse.

    The Centre was founded by Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal; Jaan Tallinn, the co-founder of Skype; and Huw Price, the Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy, to “steer a small fraction of Cambridge’s great intellectual resources to the task of ensuring that our own species has a long-term future.” As Lord Rees says, “our century is special, because for the first time in 45 million centuries, one species holds the future of the planet in its hands – us.”

    Our research focuses on how to manage extreme risks, including biological risks, environmental risks, and risks from artificial intelligence. Our expertise has been sought by European, Asian and American governments, leading technology companies and the United Nations. Through our publications, expert workshops, and international conferences we have fostered a global community of academics, policy-makers and industry-leaders working to reduce existential risk.

    Role

    The Academic Programme Manager will play a central role in leading CSER’s research team and shaping the future of the Centre. This senior research associate level role combines academic and management responsibilities, working with CSER’s Directors to lead a substantial subset of CSER’s research projects, develop our overall profile, and to build our collaborative networks.

    The post-holder will be encouraged to set their own priorities within the role, and will work with a high degree of independence. We aim to build a passionate and engaging culture. Our approach encourages interdisciplinary collaboration, leading to creativity, new research insights, and real social change.

    Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available for 3 years from the start date in the first instance.

    Responsibilities:

    Contribute to strategic planning and leadership for CSER
    Manage CSER’s postdoctoral researchers
    Plan and coordinate activities in CSER’s research programmes, and manage the use of research resources and budgets
    Conduct research within CSER’s focus areas, to be published as papers in leading academic journals
    Act as an ambassador for the Centre’s research, engaging with academics, policy-makers, industry collaborators and the public
    Actively seek additional funding: identify opportunities and develop proposals

    About you

    We seek an ambitious candidate with initiative and a broad intellectual range. Candidates will have a high level of education, with substantial experience at a postdoctoral level, or equivalent experience within a relevant setting (e.g. policy, industry, think tank or NGO).

    How to apply

    If you would like to discuss the role, please email Haydn Belfield on admin@cser.org

    FIND OUT MORE AND APPLY – https://www.cser.ac.uk/about-us/careers/academic-programme-manager/

  23. arbitraryvalue says:

    Has there been anything interesting written regarding the sociology of heterosexual pairing in communities with extremely skewed sex ratios? I’ve been thinking about this in the context of being a computer nerd but I’m also interested in, for example, workers in remote mining towns (mostly male) or elementary school teachers (mostly female).

    • albatross11 says:

      Consider ballet dancers and ice skaters as another point. The relevant ratio is straight men/straight women. For ballet dancers and ice skaters, I think a large fraction of the men are gay, and a very small fraction of the women are lesbian, so the effective pool of eligible men in that group is much smaller than it looks.

      • Aftagley says:

        Does that matter though? I feel like there’s a difference between being in a town or locale with a severely restricted amount of one gender (see the above mention of mining towns) and just choosing to associate with mostly one gender. I mean, at any time a ballet dancer or iceskater who wanted to meet a guy could just take off their shoes/skates and head down to the local bar.

        • arbitraryvalue says:

          at any time a ballet dancer or iceskater who wanted to meet a guy could just take off their shoes/skates and head down to the local bar

          But do they? One of the things I’m interested in is whether such an individual would choose to compete for the few available partners who appreciate her accomplishments, or to turn to the much larger pool of potential partners who do not. I imagine that a professional ballerina might have a strong preference for a man who appreciates ballet as art, both because she would have more in common with him and because the time and effort she invests into ballet would give her a competitive advantage against other women.

        • I mean, at any time a ballet dancer or iceskater who wanted to meet a guy could just take off their shoes/skates and head down to the local bar.

          The reminds me of an acquaintance who told me that everyone should have an affair with a ballet dancer–that it was like driving a sports car.

          • baconbits9 says:

            We can’t know how to take this advice until we know his sample size.

          • albatross11 says:

            With that description, you’d think he’d have *tried* to get as large a sample size as possible. Unless he just stuck to the first ballerina he dated and eventually married her or something.

      • Michael Handy says:

        The tradition is for Ballet Dancers to Marry…

        a)The Audience (Older Rich Straight Men)
        b) The Orchestra
        c) The Lead Tenor of the associated Opera Company.

    • Erusian says:

      I’ve dated a lot of women from communities with extremely skewed sex ratios. I’ve also been part of ones that were both in my favor and not. And I’ve been out in remote communities that are overwhelmingly one gender (though the only overwhelmingly female communities I know forbade dating). AMA?

      • arbitraryvalue says:

        My own experience is that of a standard “computer nerd” which I assume you’re familiar with even if you aren’t one yourself; I’m curious about how the culture of other gender-imbalanced communities (such as blue-collar workers in “mining towns”, women, etc.) is different from “nerd culture”.

        • Erusian says:

          My impression is that computer science was overwhelmingly male but that nerd culture was not. Googling around, it looks like most major nerd events get 35-45% women, with a few having majority female. So I’m not sure you’re actually in a hugely gender-imbalanced community. That’s about as gender-imbalanced as the average college.

          What do you want to contrast specifically?

          • arbitraryvalue says:

            I suppose “nerd culture” is too general a term. I was in the physics department in grad school (ten to twenty men per woman depending on the event) and now I do scientific software development (can’t compute the male:female ratio because it’s a divide-by-zero error). Almost all of my interaction with women my age has been through online dating, which also has a high male:female ratio, although I don’t recall the specific numbers.

            So essentially I have spent my whole adult life in an environment where women are quite rare, and therefore that seems entirely normal to me. But statistically speaking, I’m actually a weird outlier. I want to understand this phenomenon better, but my point of view is from the inside, so I can’t ask specific questions since I don’t know what I don’t know.

          • Did you consider other environments you had access to with a more favorable ratio? Folk dancing, say. SCA. Volunteer work, charitable or political? Some other hobby that fits better with your interests?

          • Matt M says:

            Googling around, it looks like most major nerd events get 35-45% women

            How many of them there are not working/advertising/accompanied by men?

          • gbdub says:

            Honestly most general interest comic cons these days are probably at least at the 35% female threshold, probably more. If you want to meet chicks you might have to go to the Harry Potter panels instead of just the hard sci-fi book club, but still.

          • Libertarianism has a high m:f ratio. For libertarian men looking for libertarian women, I recommend Students for Liberty, in particular the annual D.C. ISFL conference, where I think the ratio is something like 60:40 instead of 10:1. To do even better, visit the country of Georgia which, on the basis of my admittedly limited sample, is the only place in the world where libertarian women outnumber libertarian men.

          • dick says:

            Since we’re discussing stereotypes about libertarians, is it just me or is there an amazingly high correlation between libertarians and leather trenchcoats?

          • quanta413 says:

            I always thought that libertarians wore tweed jackets. But admittedly, I have no basis for this assumption.

          • @Dick:

            I’ve never noticed such a correlation, but I may not be very observant with regard to such things.

          • Erusian says:

            How many of them there are not working/advertising/accompanied by men?

            The stats are for attendees, so only ‘accompanied by men’ is a valid category of the three. If that category makes up 100% of the women, that means that 50-90% of men attending these cons have at least one female friend or a girlfriend willing to accompany them. Which is still not a great stat for the dating pool sucking.

          • Matt M says:

            Which is still not a great stat for the dating pool sucking.

            Sure it is. The fact that men can meet women who will agree to do nerd stuff with them says nothing about the dating pool of doing nerd stuff. It proves that not all men who are into nerd stuff are hopelessly screwed and can never find romance, true – but this was not the issue.

            My point is that a whole lot of women who are present at nerd-related activities aren’t there because they care a dime about the nerd-related activity – they are there because they care about their boyfriends and want to spend time with them and they don’t abjectly hate nerd-related activities so whatever. But if they broke up with the boyfriend, they wouldn’t keep going to the nerd related activities on their own or with female friends or whatever.

          • gbdub says:

            Anecdotally, Hall H in San Diego had Supernatural and Riverdale as the first two Sunday panels this year. The crowd was probably 60-70% female, and based on the amount of female cosplay, these were actual nerds. If anything it was the men who were dragged there by their nerd girlfriends (myself included, at least for the Riverdale part).

            The turnover after those two panels was amusing – not a lot of overlap and a big gender shift between Riverdale and Mayans MC fandoms apparently, even though both include rival biker gangs as a major plot element 😉

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @quanta413: According to L. Neil Smith, libertarians wear two-piece suits with fedoras and handguns.

          • Matt M says:

            Why is Mayans MC even there?

            SDCC should be excluded from the dataset for being a weird outlier that has been completely and totally co-opted by larger corporate powers.

    • Argos says:

      A lot is being written about the gender imbalance in China (and also India, but not so familiar with that). Due to a strong and culturally long running preference for boys coupled with the One-child policy, China has a sex ratio of 1.19:1. The generation that is most affected by this is currently entering their 20s and 30s, so the whole societal and political effects remain to be seen. The situation is particularly hopeless in rural areas, as women move to larger cities much more often than men, who are expected to take over their parental farm. So far the most salient effects are:

      The general expectation of the financial status of a good husband continues to rise and be more unattainable for the average Chinese male, usually the male parents need to chip in to finance an appartement. See this (already quite old video that is only slightly tongue in cheek https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxSUdCD-28A)

      Male depression and frustration is rising. Also rates of sexual violence. Most sadly, female abduction is a major issue, where young women are kidnapped in cities, sold to a rural man and then watched over by the whole village to prevent them escaping.

      Also interesting is an effect that (from my knowledge) is NOT happening: The common expectation that a man has to marry does not seem to get relaxed. I would have expected that once 20 percent of all men cannot mathematically get married, society would realize that bachelors should be shamed less, but if anything the opposite is the case. Other examples of the same effect: Obesity (although obesity has only become more common compared to the 70s, it is considered much more negatively now), or maybe in the future (or already) being unemployed.

      According to the paper linked at the end, women are forced to be in an even more female role, focusing on child rearing and household duties. “A 117-country study by South and Trent, which empirically tested Guttentag and Se-cord’s propositions, found that if one controls for the level of socio-economic development, the key propositions mentioned above are vindicated. They conclude, “It is somewhat paradoxi-cal that the increased ‘valuation’ of women that accompanies high sex ratios severely limits their life options” ”

      The only sensible solution so far seems to be for some men to find foreign brides in even poorer countries, or anecdotically Russia, where some women are fed up by male alcoholism.

      For more, see this paper:
      https://www.academia.edu/4354147/Mapping_the_Adverse_Consequences_of_Sex_Selection_and_Gender_Imbalance_in_India_and_China (you need to sign up to download the paper for free)

      • arbitraryvalue says:

        Thanks for that link! It’s interesting to consider gender imbalance in societies where wealth and familial prestige appear to play a larger role in mate selection than they do in the USA.

        Also interesting is an effect that (from my knowledge) is NOT happening: The common expectation that a man has to marry does not seem to get relaxed. I would have expected that once 20 percent of all men cannot mathematically get married, society would realize that bachelors should be shamed less, but if anything the opposite is the case.

        This does not seem strange to me – if I may be facetious, it is about as surprising as there being more of a rush to get to a lifeboat once the passengers of a sinking ship realize that there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone.

        “It is somewhat paradoxical that the increased ‘valuation’ of women that accompanies high sex ratios severely limits their life options”

        This seems like basic economics rather than a paradox. If the value of a woman as a wife increases, the marginal cost of a non-traditional lifestyle for that woman is that much higher.

      • Lillian says:

        According to the paper linked at the end, women are forced to be in an even more female role, focusing on child rearing and household duties. “A 117-country study by South and Trent, which empirically tested Guttentag and Se-cord’s propositions, found that if one controls for the level of socio-economic development, the key propositions mentioned above are vindicated. They conclude, “It is somewhat paradoxi-cal that the increased ‘valuation’ of women that accompanies high sex ratios severely limits their life options” ”

        It’s disappointing to me to know that if a virus wiped out 99.99% of all females, the survivors would not become Queenlords ruling over the post-apocalyptic wasteland like in the plot of BattleTanx. Of course in BattleTanx: Global Assault we learn that the virus was intended to target women who didn’t have psychic potential, so i guess if you adjust for the fact that every survivor has latent mind control powers, it makes much more sense they’d become the ruling class.

    • Plumber says:

      @arbitraryvalue

      “Has there been anything interesting written regarding the sociology of heterosexual pairing in communities with extremely skewed sex ratios? I’ve been thinking about this in the context of being a computer nerd but I’m also interested in, for example, workers in remote mining towns (mostly male) or elementary school teachers (mostly female)”

       A few years ago the New York Times did a story on the effects of a local sex imbalance in Noth Dakota called “An Oil Town Where Men Are Many, and Women Are Hounded“. 

      “My own experience is that of a standard “computer nerd” which I assume you’re familiar with even if you aren’t one yourself; I’m curious about how the culture of other gender-imbalanced communities (such as blue-collar workers in “mining towns”, women, etc.) is different from “nerd culture….

      …I was in the physics department in grad school (ten to twenty men per woman depending on the event) and now I do scientific software development (can’t compute the male:female ratio because it’s a divide-by-zero error). Almost all of my interaction with women my age has been through online dating, which also has a high male:female ratio, although I don’t recall the specific numbers.

      So essentially I have spent my whole adult life in an environment where women are quite rare, and therefore that seems entirely normal to me….”

       I worked on construction sites and have gone to union meetings where the male to female ratio was over 50 to 1, and in my current job I have worked in Fire Stations and Police Stations which had about a 10 to 1 ratio, and I’ve worked in Jails which have had a few women guards that are hugely outnumbered by male guards and the inmates, plus I’ve taken the day off and taken my sons to playgrounds during the middle of the day and to school events where adult women greatly outnumbered adult men.

      High School was over 30 years ago for me so the only commonly mixed work environments that I’ve seen have been when I’ve worked around the DA’s and Public Defenders, I’d say that pretty much stereotypes apply and in mostly male workplaces people (including the few women) speak louder and coarser, and in mixed settings and where there’s mostly women people (including the men) speak softer but faster.

      I’ve noticed that if I work a lot of overtime in an all male environment usually the first women I see (at a gas station for example) after getting off work looks unusually attractive (“Wow she had two eyes!”), and also that I’ve been unable to recognize a women who’ve I worked alongside of at celabatory dinners when she was wearing a dress and make-up instead if overalls and a bandanna on her hair, as she just sort of seemed “male” at work, until she change clothes.

      • Matt M says:

        When I was in the Navy, there was a concept of a woman being a “Navy 10” which basically meant something like “In any other situation, this woman wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, but by our standards (largely due to deprivation) she appears to be a perfect 10”

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      A lot of other people have commented on places where there are lots of men and few women, but there is an example of a culture with lots of women and fewer men: Modern College Campuses, particularly liberal arts colleges.

      The TLDR of the research on this is that a high female/male ratio seems to drive hookup cultures on campus. Campuses with even ratios have significantly longer relationships, higher marriage rates, etc.

      • John Schilling says:

        How many people here have extensive experience with modern liberal-arts college campuses, without being firmly embedded in a mostly-male STEM department therein?

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Me, in a slightly different form: Law School. There are very few instances I recall of people meeting there successfully. But attorneys are notorious for having bad relationships anyways.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This guy, although it’s a bit out of date. There was a somewhat lopsided gender ratio (probably around 2:1 female:male) and a higher than the general population’s % of men were gay. Men’s “market value” was definitely increased, and men definitely got away with worse behaviour than one might expect – naively, I would have expected that a female-majority community would come down harder on the guys who were jerks (sexually speaking) or outright predators. This didn’t happen.

          EDIT: Also, outside of the sexual sphere, men were relatively more socially prominent. Elected positions in student government, clubs leadership, that sort of stuff, tended to go to men, although everybody got to vote on them. You’d see complaints from women about this, but they never got together and coordinated shutting men out of elected positions.

  24. 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?

    • Matt M says:

      I don’t know that I can answer this without invoking CW. But it would seem your bubble is, uh, people who are very concerned about certain cultural practices that they don’t actually participate in.

      • Eponymous says:

        Good point about CW — I didn’t know that rule. I will re-ask in the hidden OT. Though I’m curious if the question here will yield interesting answers given the constraint of avoiding invoking CW directly. Strictly speaking, the question is about memetics and internet bubbles, not the content of political debates, though obviously these can be difficult to disentangle.

    • rlms says:

      I wouldn’t say I’ve seen lots, but I’m in a somewhat similar situation.

    • Urstoff says:

      Edgelord-adjacent

      • gbdub says:

        I’ve noticed more, uh, notice of the meme on mainstream conservative sites lately, but the path seems to have gone:

        1) Right wing… edgelords (loaded CW term but seems to fit better than any alternative here) create meme
        2) Left wing… uh, need a word for “active internet participants who make a habit of noticing right wing edgelord behavior” react to the meme in the usual manner of active internet participants.
        3) Mainstream left leaning outlets pick up and signal boost the reaction of 2)
        4) Mainstream right leaning outlets pick up 3) and pile on 2).

        I think this pattern is actually fairly common: hyperpartisans on team A insult/upset hyperpartisans of team B, eventually pulling in the moderates of team A but by way of the team B moderates. Seems like a common transmission method for the Toxoplasmosis.

        Could be that most moderates aren’t generally willing to participate in their hyperpartisans’ more aggressive attacks, but they are more willing to defend their hyperpartisans from the other side?

        Long story short, if you are hearing about the meme but have never actually seen it, your bubble is moderate on one side or the other.

        EDIT: this is very “talking about the culture war without participating in it” so maybe we save it for Wednesday. On the other hand, tiptoeing around to keep it meta might be more productive than the trainwreck that a no-holds-barred CW discussion of the meme itself is likely to be.

        • arlie says:

          *roflmao* what does it say about my bubble that I’ve only heard about it just now, in this thread? Should I bother googling it, or is it yet another predictable exercise in high emotion, low rationality CW conflict?

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s pretty dumb. I’d save myself the trouble.

          • Plumber says:

            I did a web search on the “meme” after reading that it exists in this thread, and basically it amounts to “other side people are personalityless automatons and dummies”.

            Not a particularly hard hitting insult or a funny put down either, it won’t make your blood boil or make you laugh.

          • Brad says:

            Yeah … I want those two minutes back. I can’t say I’ve ever found any of those image memes terribly compelling, but that one isn’t even clever or funny or well drawn or anything.

          • gbdub says:

            Well of course its dumb, it’s CW. And of course it’s crudely drawn – not only is it a meme, but that’s kind of the point of this particular meme.

            Honestly it seems like yet another iteration of the venerable tradition of calling your opponents sheeple/bots/etc., making both finding it clever and finding it an outrage kind of questionable.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Don’t hate tha non-playa characta, hate tha D&D game.

    • Plumber says:

      @Eponymous

      “…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?”

      Same?

      No.

      Similar? 

      Yes.

      I’ve no memory whatsoever of this “meme” before reading about it in this thread, but now I see a few people discussing it in this thread.

      So there you go.

    • dick says:

      Sometimes the phenomenon of discussing something without linking to it means it’s particularly offensive, but in this case it seems that it’s just that the “controversy” in question is so uninteresting that linking to examples of it would show how not newsworthy it is.

  25. AG says:

    Thinking about the recent case of a utilities provider shutting down power to an entire area for safety reasons, or how fossil fuel use is necessary for post-disaster situations, in portable generators.
    How feasible is it for building to have their own batteries to deal with such cases? Like, just enough power storage for kids to still attend school, or something. It also further incentivizes the integration of adding a renewable generation capability to buildings (mostly solar, but perhaps some geothermal), since those could then run indefinitely until the grid gets back up. But it seems like power is cheap now, and letting buildings capture some of that excess for rainy days is both a means of selling more of it, and not getting so disrupted by said rainy days.

    Is it that the technology isn’t there yet, and mass batteries are unsafe in their own way?
    Is it whatever hangups the state and utilities people have about the ability of buildings to go off the grid?

    • J Mann says:

      I think that was what Musk was trying to achieve with the PowerWall – I know that a number of those have been installed but haven’t seen an assessment of their effectiveness or lifespan.

      Once you have distributed power storage, I think it also makes sense for all of the end units to feed power back into the system at high demand times to smooth out conflicts between supply and demand, particularly when you have non-fossil generation.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s money. Enough battery capacity to run a building is expensive. Massed lithium batteries are something of a fire hazard, but a manageable one.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m not seeing the advantage of batteries over the current standard tech, which is on-site generators with on-site fuel storage.

      The thing to remember is that any form of energy storage–fuel, batteries, a tank full of liquid nitrogen, a tank full of water on a hill–has lots of stored energy. One failure mode is undesired/unexpected release of that stored energy. So one goal is to store energy for use when needed; the other is to make sure that unplanned releases will be non-catastrophic. Our technology for accomplishing that with diesel fuel is pretty good; I’m not certain that the battery technology available will get you there.

    • John Schilling says:

      Diesel generators are cheaper and more efficient for this application. Probably safer as well. Batteries are for load-leveling a home or other local wind/solar power installation, and if you have them for that purpose they can double as an emergency reserve.

    • AnarchyDice says:

      The good kinds of batteries that you can use for rapid cycling of loading and unloading also have lifespans of less than 10 years. Combine that with their expense, regular testing requirements if used for emergency backup purposes, the extra electrical infrastructure in the buildings’ electrical systems, and the low cost of diesel/natural gas generators means that battery systems see very little use.

      They do get some use as either per light fixture emergency lighting backup or as a centralized emergency backup. In that case they either cover only the necessary lights for exiting or are only intended to cover the time until the generator is fully up to speed.

    • AG says:

      Thanks for the responses, guys, they pretty much confirmed my suspicions (that the technology just isn’t there yet.)

  26. lazydragonboy says:

    Hey, does anybody have any insights into this whole Khashoggi thing? Specifically, why is the Turkish government so invested in this? It occurred to me today that they are taking care to ensure this gets attention; do they have something else going on Edogan wants to distract from? Do they want to look good on human rights? Do they have an axe to grind with Saudi Arabia? What’s going on?

    • J Mann says:

      My understanding is that Turkey is broadly aligned with Iran and against Saudi Arabia. It may be as simple as Saudi has handed them a weapon and they’re going to keep using it until it doesn’t work any more, but I’m sure some people have more detailed understanding.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, I think it’s important to remember that there are no entirely honest/unbiased sources of information here. Turkey’s statements are based on what the Turkish government thinks is in their own best interests, as are Saudi Arabia’s statements and the US’ statements.

        The story as it’s come out so far is amazingly awful in a way that also makes the Saudis look deeply incompetent–they allegedly tortured this guy to death in a situation where it was obvious they were to blame, it was almost certain to cause an international incident with a country that’s already hostile to them, and the Turkish government (definitely not their friend) was in a position to get audio footage of the whole thing, apparently while also utterly traumatizing the other Saudi officials there.

        What was the point of all this?

        You could imagine trying to deter other critics of the regime, but that implies that they wanted this to all come out, which seems unlikely as hell. If they really meant for him to disappear and nobody knew quite where he was, then that would be intimidating, but wouldn’t require anything more than one guy with a gun at the consulate. (Or one guy with a gun shooting him at his favorite coffeehouse and then escaping.)

        Had he somehow gotten information that MBS was extremely interested in extracting from him? That would explain snatching him at the consulate and torturing him. But it wouldn’t make sense that they’d keep the rest of the staff in earshot for that–if it was secret enough to be that important, they’d want to limit it to as few people as possible.

        Was it just some personal grudge that had made MBS or one of his underlings decide this guy needed to die horribly, whether anyone knew about it or not? That falls more into the “this is crazy guy stuff” line someone else had earlier.

        If the goal was to be brazenly brutal, seeing that it has worked okay for Russia and North Korea in several cases, you can imagine that, but it doesn’t seem like a very smart strategy given the Saudis’ massive dependence on the US. (OTOH, it’s not like we’ve ever had qualms about dealing with their brutal and horrible regime before–torture a hundred political prisoners or starve a hundred thousand kids, and it’s no big deal, but murder one Washington Post reporter, and you’re in big trouble.)

        • Matt M says:

          OTOH, it’s not like we’ve ever had qualms about dealing with their brutal and horrible regime before–torture a hundred political prisoners or starve a hundred thousand kids, and it’s no big deal, but murder one Washington Post reporter, and you’re in big trouble.

          Yeah. As far as I’m concerned, it’s incredibly appropriate for MBS to act with shock and disbelief in the “Of all the shit we’ve gotten away with for decades, THIS is what upsets the Americans? Seriously?” sense.

          • albatross11 says:

            Who, whom. Real people are getting hurt, now.

          • johan_larson says:

            In particular, journalists. It makes perfect sense that harm done to journalists would be over-reported, since journalists are the ones doing the reporting.

          • Matt M says:

            In particular, journalists. It makes perfect sense that harm done to journalists would be over-reported, since journalists are the ones doing the reporting.

            I mean sure, but this cannot possibly be the first journalist they’ve tortured and/or killed. Can’t even be one of the first 20.

            I’m sorry, but I think there’s more going on here… which will have to be discussed some other day.

          • John Schilling says:

            First journalist for a major American newspaper, I should think. And yeah, they should have known to make that one extra specially deniable.

          • I don’t think the reason people react so strongly is that it’s a journalist, it’s that the way he was killed feels like cheating. Hiring a hit man to murder him in a dark alley is just as immoral but it doesn’t have the same feel of blatant norm violation as murdering someone in the consulate when he has come in to do some paperwork.

            Which makes it puzzling, at least to me, why they did it that way. Possible explanations:

            1. Nobody in a position to affect the decision realized how non-Saudis would react.

            2. Incompetence. It was supposed to be something short of obvious murder, but someone at a low level messed up.

            3. Some sort of a conspiracy, probably against the prince running things designed to make him look bad, presumably with someone in the chain of command between the prince and the killers responsible. That’s what it would be in a thriller, but it seems very unlikely in the real world.

          • albatross11 says:

            My priors strongly favor incompetence. But I also suspect three other things:

            a. Some very powerful and scary guys who can get away with anything, and know it, and thus who are basically never told they’re making a mistake. (Or if they are told that by anyone below the level of MBS himself, they don’t have to listen.)

            b. The decisionmakers here are probably in a very strong bubble of other people who think like they do. In that bubble, there may be a lot of folks who pal around with Western policymakers and journalists, but not so many who have an intuitive feel for how those people thing.

            c. The Saudis have gotten away with horrible brutality for years, so they’re not used to having to think in terms of a public backlash pushing back on them. That’s why they’ve got well-paid PR people, complete with various media and political personalities on their payroll. Probably having the Washington Post get behind this story and push (for obvious reasons) meant that even with their vast resources, the Saudis couldn’t pull strings to get the story to disappear.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I picture it as a snippet of Neal Stephenson dialogue:

            “Didn’t anyone tell you guys that you’d never get away with murdering a reporter in a government office?”
            “All the people who could have told us that were already murdered in government offices.”

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            This is something I’ve heard but haven’t been able to check on– that Khashoggi wanted to do his paperwork in Virginia, but was told he had to do it in Turkey. If this is true, it strongly suggests premeditation by the Saudi government.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I don’t think the reason people react so strongly is that it’s a journalist, it’s that the way he was killed feels like cheating.

            I feel like the strong reaction started before it was even known he was killed, much less before details started coming it, so I’m not sure this is it.

            I think the explanation that is most convincing is that he was a WaPo journalist who was friendly with other WaPo journalists.

          • I think the explanation that is most convincing is that he was a WaPo journalist who was friendly with other WaPo journalists.

            That doesn’t explain my reaction—it felt to me much worse than ordinary killing by governments, a lot of which happens. And that seems to have been the reaction of a lot of other people as well.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            How much of that was because of how well-reported it was, with a slow release of ever-more-horrifying details? How many stories does the ordinary death-by-autocratic-government get in American newspapers?

          • sfoil says:

            That doesn’t explain my reaction—it felt to me much worse than ordinary killing by governments, a lot of which happens. And that seems to have been the reaction of a lot of other people as well.

            Without discounting the effects of propaganda, which are certainly real, I think the difference is this: Saudi Arabia, e.g., does a lot of bad things. To use one example, it’s waging a war on/in Yemen that’s definitely killing a lot of people, and making even more people’s lives worse. However, it has legitimate reasons not to want a a hostile, Iran-friendly government with claims on its territory on its border. Conceivably the Saudis and the Yemeni insurgents could come to some sort of agreement, but that’s obviously not going to happen while both sides think they can get an advantage by fighting it out.

            Likewise, while I don’t approve of Saudi Arabia’s funding of overseas missionary work this effort is fundamentally peaceful and non-coercive.

            On the other hand, with Khashoggi the Saudis abused their Vienna Convention privileges to kill someone in ambush in a third country, someone in fact who had already taken reasonable measures to stop bothering Saudi Arabia while still saying what he wanted to say by removing himself from their territory.

          • ana53294 says:

            Khashoggi’s fiancee is Turkish, so my understanding is that was the reason he was in Turkey.

            The murder of this journalist in an embassy also felt to me like a greater breach of trust than what the Russians did to Skripal. Because it happened in a consulate.

            We give diplomats immunity and embassies extraterritoriality so we can maintain diplomatic relationships with them. Sometimes this diplomats commit crimes, and we pressure their countries to rescind their status.

            When diplomats commit a crime and get away with it, people get a lot angrier than when a similar criminal who also got away.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The (alleged) murderers were not registered diplomats and did not have diplomatic immunity.

            “Extraterritoriality” just means exemption from a lot of local laws. It does not make the Saudi embassy in Turkey literally part of Saudi Arabia where their laws and only their laws apply.

            But I would say, yes, there’s a worse reaction to this because of the manner of the killing. If they had dragged him back to Saudi Arabia, put him on trial for sedition, convicted and executed him, they’d get a finger wagging from Justin Trudeau and that’s about it. There’s no reason for extrajudicial murder when you are the state and can murder judiciously.

          • Matt M says:

            There’s no reason for extrajudicial murder when you are the state and can murder judiciously.

            Well, it’s a little more honest, and presumably more efficient.

            Show trials consume resources to put on, and provide a veneer of respectability to what is actually an arbitrary execution. Why should we be in favor of them? What value do they really add?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I think what makes this feel particularly bad is it’s a violation of diplomatic standards. Take a guy, bring him into your own miniluv in your capital and torture him… well, that’s just evil nation standard operating procedure. Have your agents go and torture him to death in some foreign nation, then you’re still within accepted international dirty tricks standards, unless you do it as blatantly as Russia did recently. But bring him to your own consulate or embassy in a foreign nation is dirty pool; it’s an insult to the host nation.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, that explains why the Turks would be outraged (which I think is entirely legitimate), but not necessarily why the US should be…

          • John Schilling says:

            The Soviet Union and its allies frequently used embassies as bases for kidnapping and murder during the Cold War, including bringing their kidnap victims through the embassy for drugging and “rendition”, e.g. Vladas Česiūnas. And I don’t think that process stayed limited to the Warsaw Pact or ended with the Cold War. People didn’t like that this was happening, but it was always understood that the Vienna Convention meant embassies and consulates would provide cover for a certain amount of unpleasant spy-stuff, and this sort of thing was seen as pushing but not breaking the limits.

            I don’t know of any cases where the initial abduction happened on embassy or consulate grounds, as with Khashoggi, but I find it hard to believe that explains the difference in reactions. Enticing people into the clearly-labeled enclave of your autocratic regime and then practicing autocracy upon their bodies, would seem to be less outrageously provocative than sending armed agents from that enclave into the territory of a surrounding democracy(*) to abduct people and drag them into said enclave for further malevolence.

            But all the previous instances involved victims who were citizens of the abducting and/or murdering regime – perhaps having recently defected, but not having established themselves as One Of Us in their new democratic home and in any event mostly-anonymous nobodies good for fifteen minutes of fame at best. Khashoggi, while still nominally a Saudi citizen, had established himself as One Of Us w/re the class of cosmopolitan elites who decide what is and is not important enough to be outraged about.

            * YMMV, Terms and Conditions Apply, and we’re watching you, Erdogan.

          • Lambert says:

            Why is diplomatic immunity a thing, anyway?
            Are there any analogous kinds of immunity? (military bases and personnel, Project E nuclear assets in the UK?)

            The normal judicial system is probably not suitable, but why not a specific system for diplomats?

          • Brad says:

            I can’t remember which one, I think part of the Hundred Years’ War, but there was a major conflict that started with a diplomat (I want to say a papal nuncio) was thrown out a window.

            That kind of thing made it difficult to recruit diplomats.

          • Nornagest says:

            You might be thinking of the Thirty Years’ War, which was sparked by two Catholic lords getting thrown out of a window in Prague (they survived).

          • sfoil says:

            The (alleged) murderers were not registered diplomats and did not have diplomatic immunity.

            Giving intelligence operatives diplomatic cover is completely routine. I would be somewhat surprised if no one involved in Khashoggi’s killing had diplomatic immunity.

            Khashoggi, while still nominally a Saudi citizen, had established himself as One Of Us w/re the class of cosmopolitan elites who decide what is and is not important enough to be outraged about.

            I completely agree this is mostly what’s going on. However, consider: if I dispatch my hitmen to kill someone on the street in a third country, I’m putting those agents at risk — I’m making the “fight” a little more fair. I’m also avoiding implicating my diplomats directly — sure, everybody knows there’s a case handler or two in the embassy, but it’s all plausibly deniable. And by not actually killing someone on the embassy/consulate grounds, I’m also signaling at that I’m willing to pay a cost (increasing the risk for my assassins) to maintain the status quo, which indicates that I support it materially and will continue to do so in the future.

            Why is diplomatic immunity a thing, anyway?
            Are there any analogous kinds of immunity? (military bases and personnel, Project E nuclear assets in the UK?)

            The whole thing is based on a combination of reciprocity and signaling respect for the ambassador and his staff as embodiments of the sovereign power they represent. Saudi diplomats in Turkey aren’t subject to Turkish law for basically the same reason that Saudis living in Saudi Arabia aren’t subject to Turkish law. If the Turks don’t like it they can tell the Saudis to leave (who will proceed to do the same to them).

            Non-hostile foreign military personnel and assets are covered by separate agreements negotiated on a case-by-case basis — “Status of Forces Agreements”.

          • CatCube says:

            @Lambert

            The job of a diplomat, at its very core, is to say “no” to people who don’t get told “no” very often (presidents and dictators), and in repressive states (dictators) those guys have some pretty flamboyant ways of expressing their displeasure (e.g., the Khashoggi thing); immunity means that their tantrums are limited to throwing the diplomats out of the country. As a matter of reciprocity, we have to give their guys the same consideration, or why would they agree to give our guys immunity?

            Another good argument for diplomatic immunity was its treatment in an episode of Law & Order (Season 8, Episode 10). A diplomat has some records that Our Heroes need for a murder trial, but won’t turn them over. I can’t recall the exact details of whether the diplomat’s government instructed them to not turn them over, or whether it was within the diplomat’s policy latitude, but either way he was a Bad Guy for thwarting Our Heroes.

            The answer that the prosecutors hit on was to tow this guys car for unpaid parking tickets. When he protested that he had immunity, the prosecutor said that he could get his car out of hock free because of that immunity–but that they’d tow it again the next day and make him go get it out of the impound yard again. The diplomat ended up giving them the records.

            This is kind of a stemwinder, but where I’m going with this: why absolute diplomatic immunity? Because even here in the US, we have an example in pop culture of it being treated as heroic to harass a diplomat with petty bullshit in retaliation for refusing to turn over records that his government has every right to deny to US law enforcement authorities.

          • Brad says:

            Thanks Nornagest. Modern European History AP was a long time ago.

          • Protagoras says:

            Historically, countries have thought it’s good to have diplomats (probably less important recently when government leaders in different countries can call one another on the phone, but face to face is still valuable). Including, perhaps especially, to not particularly friendly other countries. But it is not advantageous to provide one’s rivals with hostages. So in order for diplomats to be possible, a strong norm of not using them as hostages is needed. But it wouldn’t really be sufficient to just say the diplomats must be protected unless there’s a good reason; any country that can’t cook up some fake justification for arresting people whenever they feel like it isn’t trying very hard. So the norm pretty much requires that diplomats can’t be arrested at all.

          • Matt M says:

            When he protested that he had immunity, the prosecutor said that he could get his car out of hock free because of that immunity–but that they’d tow it again the next day and make him go get it out of the impound yard again

            This seems like the kind of thing that sounds clever on TV but would never work in real life, where the diplomat would have his higher ups call the US diplomatic higher ups, who would promptly tell the low-power and low-status NY street cops to knock it the fuck off or face major consequences.

          • CatCube says:

            @Matt M

            This seems like the kind of thing that sounds clever on TV but would never work in real life…

            I agree that it’s not realistic as written–I’m not totally sure if it’s even legal to tow a car with diplomatic plates. (If it is, I don’t know if the State Department could actually enforce consequences beyond complaining to the President and Congress to put the screws to the local government. If it’s not legal, getting a court order will be a straightforward action.)

            My bigger point is not that this is how it would go down in real life, but that this was presented on TV as a good thing to do, to put the screws to those nasty diplomats for doing something that their government has a right to do, but that thwarts an objective of a local bigwig. That’s here in the US–extrapolate to more repressive countries.

          • Brad says:

            Mayor Giuliani got into a three way argument with the State Department and the UN over parking tickets, which is probably where the L&O writers got the idea for their plot.

            https://www.nytimes.com/1997/04/19/nyregion/grumbling-giuliani-accepts-truce-in-un-parking-war.html

        • Lillian says:

          You might be thinking of the Thirty Years’ War, which was sparked by two Catholic lords getting thrown out of a window in Prague (they survived).

          Two Catholic lords and their secretary, Phillip Fabricus, whom the Emperor would later ennoble as the Baron of Highfall. A rare instance of a man getting thrown out a window and then going up in life.

      • hyperboloid says:

        My understanding is that Turkey is broadly aligned with Iran and against Saudi Arabia

        Your understanding is radically off base, and it’s not just a questions of lacking certain details. Turkey has been bitterly opposed to Iranian policy in Syria, and was a major supporter of the insurgency against Assad. Tensions between Ankara and Tehran have cooled somewhat since the defeat of ISIS and the rise of the Kurds in northern Syria, but they will heat right back up again whenever Assad finally gets around to clearing out Idlib.

      • John Schilling says:

        My understanding is that Turkey is broadly aligned with Iran and against Saudi Arabia.

        No; Turkey is broadly aligned against Iran and Saudi Arabia both. And those two against each other. Middle Eastern politics seems to be particularly favorable to Imperial rule, and now that the United States appears to be scaling back its involvement in the region, there are three obvious capitals for the next Empire – Ankara, Riyadh, and Tehran. They’ll come up with some other word than “empire”, of course, at least in English translation. But even if one of them doesn’t want the job, they can’t be blind to the consequences of one of the other two taking it up.

        Riyadh, being exceedingly tone-deaf in how it chose to handle this particular troublesome journalist, handed Ankara a weapon they can use at no cost to drive a wedge between Riyadh and the foreign allies that might otherwise support their bid for Imperial power. Why wouldn’t Ankara pull that trigger?

        • J Mann says:

          AFAICT, over the last year or two, Turkey

          – Allied with Iran against the Saudi blockade of Qatar
          – Opposed sanctions against Iran
          – Spoke out against the 2017-18 public protests in Iran and accused the US and Israel of orchestrating them.

          I don’t doubt that Turkey is primarily motivated by what it sees as Turkish interests, but recently, I think they’ve been more aligned with Russia and Iran that with other players in the area.

          • ana53294 says:

            Sanctions against Iran strengthen Saudi Arabia, though. Now that there are sanctions, Saudi Arabia will increase production to cover the shortfall, which will increase their revenue.

            Helping Qatar is also a move against the Saudis. If Saudis manage to force Qatar to do what they want, this will greatly increase their influence in Arab countries (and if Al-Jazeera stops existing, Al-Arabiya will gain influence). The existence of soft Qatari power means that Saudi Arabia has a harder time filling the Arab soft influence.

            The only one that could be seen as Turkey defending Iran would be the protest against the public protests in Iran.

            At the moment, Iran is weaker than Saudi Arabia. It is in Turkey’s interest to keep Iran from getting weaker and Saudi Arabia from getting stronger. I am pretty sure that if Iran ever becomes stronger than Saudi Arabia, Turkey will side with Saudi Arabia against Iran.

          • Tenacious D says:

            Qatar and Erdogan have some ideological alignment (more or less the space filled by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is no friend of the Saudi monarchy), don’t they? I assumed opposing the blockade of Qatar was more about supporting Doha than Teheran.

        • Ketil says:

          In other news, Saudis plan to make Qatar an island by digging a trench along the border and filling it with radioactive waste.

          With friends like these…

          https://www.scmp.com/news/world/middle-east/article/2140985/gulf-feud-hits-new-low-proposal-make-qatar-island

        • pontifex says:

          There’s an aspect of this story that I think is missing from this analysis so far.
          Trump has been trying to improve ties with Saudi Arabia, as part of his campaign to isolate Iran.

          May 20, 2017
          RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Trump made a splashy debut on the world stage here Saturday, ushering in a new era in U.S.-Saudi Arabian relations by signing a joint “strategic vision” that includes $110 billion in American arms sales and other new investments that the administration said would bring hundreds of thousands of jobs.

          Basically Obama said, “Iran isn’t so bad — let’s try to cut a deal with them.” Trump said that that deal was bad, and has doubled down on the US’ traditional alliance with Saudi Arabia. Turkey wants to be seen as more reliable, democratic, and stable than either of those countries, so it has an incentive to dish dirt on both of them. Plus, the dirt distracts from Turkey’s own human rights abuses, and the alleged creeping authoritarianism of Erdogan’s government.

          As to what MBS was thinking in killing this journalist in such a brazen way… probably the usual thing that dictators think: that they can get away with it. And so far he has. Trump has managed to avoid cancelling the arms deal.

    • lazydragonboy says:

      Thank you everybody. This was all very informative.

  27. baconbits9 says:

    Business Idea:

    Actual parenting classes where soon to be first time parents can come and learn the for real basics. Like how to soothe a crying child and how not to lose your shit after being unable to soothe a crying child for half an hour. Classes will be unplanned just like parenting is, you show up, we give you a baby and you deal with whatever issues it might have (under supervision) for the duration.

    Besides all the legal obstacles and convincing soon to be parents that they need the class finding the babies is the major issue. I’m thinking starting a good relationship with a low income/high fertility religious/ethnic minority so that classes could keep rolling along.

    • bean says:

      The obvious place to get babies is from parents who previously took the class. They’ll have seen the supervision and presumably it will be good enough that they’ll trust you with their babies. As for why, the elevator pitch is very simple: free babysitting.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t think this would work well, the people most likely to pay for a class on parenting are less likely to offer up their child for a cash payment after they have it (and you also have the initial problem of finding the first round of babies but that is solvable).

        Free babysitting for an hour where you have to bring your infant and then pick them up isn’t much in the way of value, especially if the infant is going to be somewhat stressed during that period.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, “hand your baby over to people who lack even the most basic parenting instincts” seems like trouble, and I can’t imagine the sort of person who might be willing to go for it.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It’s not nearly that bad, they don’t lack the basic parenting instincts as they are soon to be parents. This isn’t like handing your kid over to people who hate kids trying to convert them, its giving a baby to someone who wants a baby, but is inexperienced but also is willing to pay t feel more comfortable with it.

            The type of person willing to go for it would satisfy 3 basic criteria.

            1. Would enjoy the idea of helping soon to be parents.
            2. Understands that short periods of discomfort for babies aren’t tragedies.
            3. Could use some extra cash.

          • albatross11 says:

            Parents in the real world routinely use teenagers to do babysitting, so it’s not like letting your baby be watched by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing is outside the realm of possibility.

          • baconbits9 says:

            My experience is that parents will use teenagers for kids who are older than 2, I don’t know any who use them for kids younger than 9 months.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t recall observing any instances of parents letting teenagers babysit literal infants. Isn’t the teenage babysitter typically for like, kids aged 6-10 or so who are expected to be reasonably capable of caring for themselves without too much complication?

          • Jaskologist says:

            The standard thing to do is hand your baby over to young teenage girls for a few hours. I was already sold when I saw the words “free babysitting.”

            Babies are not fragile. They just need someone watching them constantly to amuse them and make sure they don’t kill themselves by crawling into the road or swallowing something. Anybody can do it.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Personal anecdote, we have a teen aged babysitter for our current 5 and 3 year old and she sat for the younger one at a little over a year old, but we also broke her in slowly, having her entertain the kids for a few hours while we were working on projects at home for multiple months before she was left along with both kids and putting them to bed.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Jackologist

            The class would be aimed at helping parents be better prepared for the very young babies, 0-3 months in particular, which is a simple, but often more frustrating time, for new parents.

          • INH5 says:

            How many teenage babysitters are older siblings, and thus have some pre-existing experience in looking after younger kids?

            I don’t have any statistics at hand, but my guess would be most, if not almost all.

        • bean says:

          Free babysitting for an hour where you have to bring your infant and then pick them up isn’t much in the way of value, especially if the infant is going to be somewhat stressed during that period.

          Why only make it an hour? Even leaving aside making the classes longer (which may or may not be a good idea, as I’m not sure what a typical baby’s care schedule is) you could run more than one in a given evening.

          And I doubt the infant will be too stressed. The sort of people who sign up to take this kind of class are likely to do a decent job of parenting, and I’d think being the focus of attention from two people for an hour or two is probably less stressful than being tended by a sleep-deprived parent at 2 AM.

          Oh, and to seal the deal, you hire a babysitter for parents who are former clients and having multiple children. That way, they can get rid of the baby and the older ones all at once.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The other issue with using graduates of the class is that you probably need a 2:1 baby to parent ratio as some of those infants are going to be asleep and the parents don’t need practice reading a book while a baby naps.

    • Randy M says:

      My wife teaches Bradley Birthing classes, which run 12 weeks. The final week is the “what to do now that you have a baby” class. She’s also a labor doula which includes a follow up visit which would help address newborn concerns.

      Classes will be unplanned just like parenting is, you show up, we give you a baby and you deal with whatever issues it might have (under supervision) for the duration.

      This is, uh, not at all how it’s done, though.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Which is backwards (in my view).

        11 weeks of preparation for an event that will be attended by between 1 and many licensed medical professionals and will last less than 72 hours (and hopefully a lot less), and 1 class of preparation for months worth of issues when the parents are frequently alone, stressed and sleep deprived.

        This is, uh, not at all how it’s done, though.

        I know, but I also know how to hold a plastic doll that makes crying sounds!

        • Randy M says:

          Which is backwards (in my view).

          Perhaps given our current demographics (many fewer families with multiple children and cousins) you are right, but I think a lot more young adults tend to have some experience with even young children than they do with labor. Also, this is a class on natural childbirth, which some doctors have little to no experience with and in any case the mother is the one who is actually doing the delivering–the doctor is there for emergencies.
          Also, the class covers prenatal nutrition, exercises for pregnancy, emergency/unusual situations, first stage labor (when doctors aren’t likely to be present), lactation, and, as mentioned, the “how to handle a baby” class, so the actual labor is about 8 of 24 hours, including practice.

          I know, but I also know how to hold a plastic doll that makes crying sounds!

          I mean, “Here’s a baby, let’s see what happens over the next hour” is unlikely to give the prospective parent insight into many of the situations they might encounter, with the experience skewed towards “How to treat a newborn who is agitated at being separated from it’s mother”.

          Which is backwards (in my view).

          But, this is basically my critique of the wedding planning industry and the mindset of certain young brides with much preoccupation on a wedding and little on planning a life together.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m not intending to imply that those classes add nothing, only that the ratios are backwards, our 2 kids were natural, at home with a midwife and our next (today is the “due date” in fact, probably why I’m thinking about it) will be as well.

            I mean, “Here’s a baby, let’s see what happens over the next hour” is unlikely to give the prospective parent insight into many of the situations they might encounter, with the experience skewed towards “How to treat a newborn who is agitated at being separated from it’s mother”.

            At the very least it would be good for a lot of first time fathers as their experiences have a tendency towards this problem. It would also be good for mothers who end up having issues feeding (a decent fraction) for how to deal with a child that they can’t calm with them boobies. My personal opinion is that to many women lean a little to hard on the “I’m your warm, comforting mother, here is some milk” routine and end up having to break the “feed them to get them to sleep” cycle as late as 3 years old (people I have known) and that some could have benefitted from this.

            Perhaps given our current demographics (many fewer families with multiple children and cousins) you are right, but I think a lot more young adults tend to have some experience with even young children than they do with labor.

            My target audience would be DINK couples having their first kid in their late 20s/early 30s.

          • Randy M says:

            today is the “due date” in fact, probably why I’m thinking about it

            Oh that’s right, we discussed elevated fetal heart rate sometime within the last nine months, didn’t we? How’d that turn out?

            My target audience would be DINK couples having their first kid in their late 20s/early 30s.

            Right, and many such people in 2018 grew up not looking after younger siblings or cousins–making that content less critical to include–whereas I suspect even back 20-30 years ago, when this curriculum was developed that wasn’t the case. But at the time most labor was done at a hospital without sometimes even the father present, let alone children or siblings, so few people had first hand experience observing labor.

    • Salem says:

      How would this differ from, let’s say, NCT? Is it just that there’s a real baby?

        • Salem says:

          They’re a charity who’ve been running incredibly popular antenatal courses for over 60 years. It definitely includes how to change a nappy, how to soothe a crying child, how to stay calm, etc. When I posted, I didn’t realise NCT wasn’t worldwide, so it’s understandable you haven’t heard of them, so let me rephrase:

          How would your course be different from the antenatal courses that already exist? Is it just that there’s a real baby?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Having a real baby is the main difference, changing the diaper of a squirmy baby is different from a calm one, and every child I have soothed has its own preferred way which actually shifts from who is doing the soothing (I’m top X% as a baby soother, just saying).

    • dodrian says:

      I believe this is an excellent idea. I am willing to offer my baby for the first class.

      It will take place from 10pm-3am tonight, and if this past week’s experience is any indication it will be the perfect opportunity for prospective parents to learn the many different soothing techniques for 4-month olds and why none of them actually work. SSC readers in West Texas may join in this unique learning opportunity by replying to this comment.

    • Well... says:

      The problem is, being the parent of a baby just isn’t that hard, despite how much first-time parents complain about it. (Provided the baby is basically healthy I mean. Serious health problems undoubtedly make it WAY harder. Presumably having multiples is harder too.)

      What would be really valuable is a class that teaches you how to KEEP being a good parent once your second kid is born and your first kid acts all jealous and resentful and does things that make you want to explode with violence.

  28. Luke Perrin says:

    It occurred to me that fibrillation and seizures are dual conditions. Fibrillation is asynchronous electrical activity in the heart, when synchronous activity is needed; a seizure is synchronous electrical activity in the brain, when asynchronous activity is needed. Perhaps this is what people mean when they tell you to think with your head and not your heart.

  29. bean says:

    Naval Gazing looks at mission kills, things that can take a ship out of action without actually sinking it.

  30. ana53294 says:

    What things does it make sense for the general public to overlearn, or learn it to the point of automaticity?

    Things I think should come automatically, without thinking:

    Basic arithmetic, the multiplication tables.

    Spelling and grammar rules (you should not have to think whether to write their/they’re/there, it should come without thinking).

    Touch typing.

    Rule of three calculations (for example, estimate how much is the per kilo price of that 375 g package of tomatoes).

    Common courtesy/etiquette.

    Most of the other things are more specific to certain professions, and it probably doesn’t make them worth spending all that time learning about. But I’d be happy if every high school graduate in Spain could do all those things.

    • AG says:

      Disagree about spelling and grammar rules. They’re extremely arbitrary from language to language, and as lnog as polepe can slitl udnrentasd ecah oehtr, what’s so beneficial about a rigid enforcement? Why should we reward the creation of silly language rules? Besides which, it’s impossible to enforce. People will memetically create new perversions of the language as a natural part of socializing.

      Now, I do think a strong understanding of phonics is useful, or learning grammar in a “logic rules” kind of way. It’s about enabling people to easily learn new words or comprehend new phrases when they encounter them. But you might achieve the same effect by forcing them to somewhat learn a myriad of different languages, instead of mastering just one.

      • ana53294 says:

        lnog as polepe can slitl udnrentasd ecah oehtr, what’s so beneficial about a rigid enforcement?

        It saves people time. Writing clearly shows you respect other people’s time. Clarity matters a lot.

        For a real-life example where a split comma ended up costing 5 million $:

        In 2014, the delivery drivers filed a legen-dairy lawsuit arguing they were owed additional compensation because a Maine law detailing overtime exemptions did not include a serial comma. According to the law, duties that qualified as exemptions from overtime include the “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing packing for shipment or distribution of” foods. Because the drivers don’t actually pack any produce—and because there’s no comma to separate that activity from “distribution”—they argued the exemption did not apply.

        But you might achieve the same effect by forcing them to somewhat learn a myriad of different languages, instead of mastering just one.

        I disagree with this. There is a value to learning other languages. I am multi-lingual, and learning other languages just makes me appreciate the quirks of my language more. But learning one language deeply allows you to read and enjoy texts of great complexity.

        • AG says:

          Following arbitrary spellings (UK or UK?) is not a useful sink of time. In the majority of cases, I can differentiate what a person meant if they misplace they’re/there/their. And again, why should we reward the creation of inconvenient language rules? Let the market weed bad cases of prescriptivism out.

          Learning several languages tends to highlight just how arbitrary language structures are, and that most people don’t need a high level of mastery to communicate with another person who prefers another language.

          Your original case was about what topics the general public should overlearn. I don’t think super legalese or the enjoyment of complex texts falls under that category.

          • 10240 says:

            I can differentiate what a person meant if they misplace they’re/there/their.

            It takes me half a second more to figure out what they mean, perhaps a second or two if it’s ambiguous at the point where the word occurs and I have to backtrack later when I see that sentence doesn’t make sense with the word that was written. It shouldn’t take the one who writes it any extra time to write it correctly, and even if it does, if several people read it, they probably lose more time if it’s incorrect.

          • AG says:

            There may be some cases where learning the proper term is important. They’re/there/their may even be one. But I don’t think it applies in such a generalized case such that spelling and grammar overall need to be overlearned. Not that many people are going to lose time over piqued/peaked, alot/a lot, mispelled/misspelled, and even the flammable/inflammable clusterfuck is usually made immediately clear by context in the cases where it matters.

            I think I’m influenced by how uniquely bad English is in this respect. No amount of overlearning is going to help you with buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo. No amount of overlearning with a single language is going to help you the moment you move to a drastically different language, either.

            The tradeoff we are considering is “how much time does the individual lose deciphering a few mistaken words” vs. “how much time does the individual spend on overlearning these things when they could be learning something else”. Especially with the advent of software that can catch and correct spelling and grammar errors, I just don’t think the benefits are large enough.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Those that they do, they generally will overlearn. I’m not sure if targeted overlearning of commonly-used skills makes sense. Targeted overlearning makes sense for skills which may be used rarely but need to be automatic when they are used — emergency responses, for instance.

      Navigation (using the sun and/or landmarks) is one that would be useful for people to overlearn but which they don’t. I think this is because they don’t learn enough to reach the point where unsupervised practice helps.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      That we do not already focus on in school?

      First aid. Most everything else important, people will keep in practice with by doing, if relevant. But first aid is not naturally maintained, so drilling it in hard is the only option.

    • Aftagley says:

      “Rule of three calculations (for example, estimate how much is the per kilo price of that 375 g package of tomatoes).”

      I have literally never heard of the Rule of three, and basic Goolgleing just gave me tips about writing comedy. Can I get some more details on this crucial life skill?

      • ana53294 says:

        Well, I was just referring to calculating proportions.

        It’s one of the few math things I actually use in everyday life (to calculate whether this brand or that brand of tomato sauce is cheaper, or to see whether the 3×2 deal is good).

        • Aftagley says:

          Interesting! I’d never heard that topic referred to as the rule of three. Thanks for the link.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I’ll overlearn English orthography when it will have been rationalized to be on the level of complexity and consistency of German orthography. Until then, I see no problem with googling/dictionary-checking the spelling of a word in every other paragraph. The huge extra investment to master a system this complex isn’t worth the small gain of time.

      (Or since I’m not a native English speaker anyway, same argument with French/Portuguese).

      • ana53294 says:

        English is a language that is hard to spell. Knowing the spelling/pronunciation of a word does not mean you know the other. In Spanish, there are rules about spelling (very strict rules about the accentuation). It is trivial in Spanish to know how to pronounce a word or to spell it by the sound (if it is pronounced correctly).

  31. johan_larson says:

    This past weekend I went looking for fiction set in the Gulf War. I didn’t find much. Plenty of non-fiction I-was-there books were written about that war, but not much fiction. Or maybe the fiction that got written wasn’t particularly memorable.

    But I did find Frederick Forsyth’s “The Fist of God”, which I am thoroughly enjoying. The title refers to a nuclear weapon that the fictional Iraqi government developed in secret, and which Saddam plans to launch using a giant cannon against a US troop concentration.

    • Salem says:

      Three Kings is pretty famous.

      Does Bravo Two Zero count as fictional enough for you? I’ve never read Andy McNab’s other work, but I think some of the Nick Stone books are set in the Gulf War too.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      Re: Fist of God, an open thread or two ago someone brought up Gerry Bull and I asked if anyone knew the Tom Clancy book based on his story. Now I realize I was remembering wrongly, and it was Forsyth, not Clancy. So thanks for this!

    • Björn says:

      There also is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, about the Second Gulf War. It was even made into a movie in 2016.

    • sfoil says:

      There was a video game, Eternal Darkness, part of which was set during the Gulf War.

      That was a great game, and one of the thing that made it great was that the different characters you controlled through the ages actually played differently in ways that made sense. When you’re a pudgy colonial gentleman or a scrawny monk, you have a hard time getting aggressive with the eldritch minions you encounter. If you’re a broadsword-wielding knight or, as in the Gulf War section, a soldier with an assault rifle, you have much less to worry about.

      • Nornagest says:

        The guy in the Gulf War level was a fireman, and the rifle he was using was an experimental model that they only ever made prototypes of, starting five years after the Gulf War. It was a good game, but that segment was full of holes.

        (Still, I’ll forgive a lot of a game that lets me use enchanted C4.)

      • CatCube says:

        If there’s any game that deserved to be a series, it was that one. It was disappointing that it didn’t sell well.

    • Elephant says:

      Escape from Baghdad! by Saad Hossain is good, steadily building up from realism to bizarre surrealism.

    • Vermillion says:

      Pride of Baghdad is a graphic novel about the true story of some lions who escaped from the zoo when Baghdad fell and I really liked it.

      • John Schilling says:

        If graphic novels count, the Ramadan one-shot from Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”, has either one page or all of them set in 1991 Baghdad. It’s a superb story either way, and almost certainly fictional.

    • Nornagest says:

      Jarhead isn’t so much about the Gulf War as it is about sitting in a base in the Saudi desert slowly going insane while waiting to be called up for the Gulf War, but it’s at least set during the Gulf War.

      • Lillian says:

        Parts of it are also by slowly going insane from the tension of advancing across the desert, waiting to meet the enemy who never shows up because he’s too busy high tailing it back to Baghdad. Also having the worse case ever of blue balls, but for legally sanctioned murder in the field of battle.

        Absolutely fantastic movie, highly recommend it.

  32. Szemeredi says:

    What about limiting the number of comments each individual can post in a given thread? (To, say, something small like 3)

    Usually the best comments are those from some specialist dropping in once to share something interesting. Usually the worst comments are interminable chains of back-and-forth between regulars. I imagine it would even solve the problem of culture war topics dominating discussion.

    • fion says:

      I think it would be really interesting to try this! (But I imagine it’d be very unpopular among most regulars.)

    • bean says:

      I’m opposed, although that’s probably to be expected. I’m not defending the interminable back-and-forth, and this is definitely an interesting idea as to how to control it, but I think it goes too far. First, it rules out a lot of our best content. Take CatCube’s recent structural engineering effortposts or dndnrsn’s on Biblical scholarship. These may not be to everyone’s tastes, but they’re good, serious efforts on complicated questions. When I was doing something similar, one of my favorite things was the back-and-forth (which only once wasn’t informative and interesting) with readers, and as a reader, it’s really nice to be able to ask questions. Second, it doesn’t actually help your goal much. Regulars jousting does take up space and attention, but you’re proposing to destroy the community for a minor improvement in ability to get attention for the stuff you want. Assuming you even get as much when a bunch of people stop checking the comments.

      • Jiro says:

        You will also get people gaming the system by saying outrageous things as a level X comment knowing that level X+1 is prohibited.

        They needn’t even do this deliberately–people will do actions that result in success whether or not they actually analyzed them and explicitly did them for a particular reason.

      • benwave says:

        One could conceivably try out a softer version of this where all but the first three comments of any given poster are hidden by default, just requiring a click to reveal. It might achieve what Szemeredi is angling for without significantly reducing the benefits of back-and-forth threads.

    • Matt M says:

      Usually the worst comments are interminable chains of back-and-forth between regulars.

      Says you. This is what I like best about this place.

  33. Argos says:

    What are you guys’ experiences in DIY health improvement OR:
    Is the trial and error approach of the anxiety samplers scalable to general health and longevity?

    There is a lot of noise flying around when it comes to nutritional and general health advice (e.g supplements, intermittent fasting), and a scientific consensus is usually missing. So, instead of reading the 100th meta-meta-analysis-review, the obvious and only solution is to try out stuff and see whether it works for you.

    However, there is a theoretical problem first: Do all interventions that increase longevity also improve general well being? If for example intermittent fasting actually causes something of a cleansing reaction in human cells, this should also affect some part of your daily experience. I wonder where this would also be true for stuff that reduces specific risks, i.e. if omega-3 supplements reduce risks of a heart attack in 10 years, would I notice it now? Or in general, how correlated is life expectancy with well being?

    More importantly, what are some measurements that could reliably track my well being? Humans have very weak memory, and are susceptible to bias. If I go through the trouble of actually fasting for more than two days, I am sure to find eating afterwards does in fact beat being hungry. The state from before the fasting is not mentally present anymore, making it hard to draw comparisons.
    Is it reasonable to just rate my mood/energy levels on a scale?

    Or should I use something objective, like time to get out of bed in the morning (I fear training effects though)

    • Many health problems stem from the gradual accumulation of ‘silent’ risk (e.g. visceral fat, DNA damage, metabolic resistance, carcinogen exposure), which means the attenuation of said risks is going to be equally ‘silent’. It’s kind of like an agency that works hard to prevent black swan events – if they do their job right, they’ll never get any credit, because nothing happens.

      I fast regularly, and have no idea if it contributes to my short-term wellbeing, except insofar as it is fits nicely with my personal preferences. I’d also be interested to know if there are relevant biomarkers that can be tracked by people who don’t own electron microscopes.

      My guess is that for people who are not looking to solve specific health problems, there are plenty of low-hanging fruit to pluck: things like blood lipids, waist circumference, resting heart rate, sleep duration/quality are all easy metrics to track, with obvious strategies for improvement, and well-documented benefits.

      Peter Attia often talks about the importance of focusing on the biggest bang-for-buck interventions, and the (over)promises of personalized medicine. I found this podcast episode with Patrick O’Shaughnessy particularly informative and entertaining.

      • I recommend listening to the whole episode if you’re interested, but if anyone wants a quick overview, here are my bare-bones notes. This is mostly paraphrased, any errors are my own:

        Health span
        If you want to live longer, you have to delay death. Assume you don’t smoke, and you’re not suicidal. There’s an 80 per cent chance you’re gonna die from four things: Cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke), cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and accidents.

        ‘Health span’ is as important, and maybe more important, than living longer. Four things that comprise health span:

        – Cognition (executive function, processing speed, and short-term memory)
        – Physical (functional movement, maintenance of muscle mass, freedom from pain)
        – Sense of purpose and social support
        – Capacity to cope with distress

        Evolution of Medicine
        Medicine 1.0 was the old-school approach based on observations, beliefs, bad humors, good humors. Germ theory came out of this.

        Medicine 2.0 was the randomized controlled trial. If they look like this, they get this treatment. If they look like that, they get that. HIV is an amazing example. It can almost become a chronic disease now. The things Medicine 2.0 dealt with all happen quickly: which antibiotic to take, how to deal with HIV, etc. They’re also all amenable to clinical trial, with randomization.

        Medicine 3.0 is an empirical, personalized, probabilistic medicine. You have to accept the fact you will not get the answer from any clinical trial, or any sum of clinical trials. The oath says ‘first do no harm’. That’s a very Medicine 2.0 thing, and frankly it’s already violated every day. The real question is, how can you take a probabilistic approach to this? What’s the trade-off that has to be made? You can’t invest capital without taking risk. It doesn’t make sense to think you can do something with health with no risk.

        Practical stuff
        There have really only been a handful of step-changes in human longevity. The first was sewers, the second was germ theory, and antibiotics. After that, most of the increases in longevity have been relatively modest.

        There are only seven things you can do:
        – Fiddle with food
        – Fiddle with exercise
        – Fiddle with sleep
        – Modulation of stress
        – Drugs
        – Supplements
        – Hormones

        Each of those has an infinite set of things you can do, but that’s not that interesting. What’s the strategy? How do you apply those seven things to solve this problem? And that, to me, is the science of longevity.

        On senescent cells:
        If you kill them, you can turn an old mouse into a young mouse. It’s a long stretch to say that will definitely work in humans.

        On sleep:
        Evidence is incontrovertible that we need 7-9 hours of sleep… I have a very hard time believing sleep is not going to be really important.

        On fasting:
        We evolved in an environment where we were not constantly fed. It was feast or famine. A lot of people say ‘fasting is not for me, I can’t do it’. You had to be able to go days without eating, and be mentally sharp, physically sharp, able to perform.

        On mindfulness:
        Our ancestors had the luxury of always being present. We are almost never present. This is important for being able to tolerate distress.

        On strength training:
        Lift weights and never stop lifting weights.

        The most important type of exercise, especially in terms of bang for your buck, is going to be really high-intensity, heavy strength training. Strength training aids everything from glucose disposal and metabolic health to mitochondrial density and orthopedic stability. That might not mean much when you’re a 30-something young buck, but when you’re in your 70s, that’s the difference between a broken hip and a walk in the park.

        • Brad says:

          Are fasting and weight training compatible?

          • Not only compatible, but (possibly) complementary, in the sense that lower body fat and better metabolic health are generally advantageous. There’s hardly any quality research yet, but there are plenty of competitive powerlifters and bodybuilders who follow intermittent fasting.

            If you mean weight training during the fasted state itself, I think it’s mostly personal preference. For longer water fasts, strenuous exercise intuitively seems like a bad idea (I am not a doctor!) but light cardio on the first couple of days is often recommended to deplete glycogen stores and get into ketosis as smoothly as possible.

          • Brad says:

            Just so I understand what you are thinking can you give a sample cycle schedule? Would it be something like:

            Lift for five weeks, fast for five days, recover for two days, rinse and repeat?

          • Oh yeah, sure. So there are broadly two types of fasting:

            1. Intermittent fasting, where you try to restrict your daily feeding period within a certain window. The classic schedule is 8 hours on, and 16 hours off. For example, I usually break my fast around midday or 1pm, and try not to eat any later than 8 or 9pm. You can exercise whenever you want; some people do it first thing in the morning, but they are braver souls than me.

            Intermittent fasting is the metaphorical equivalent of brushing your teeth. It may help a little with the likes of insulin sensitivity/cell repair/inflammation, but it’s probably not a long enough window to do a whole lot. The main benefit for most people seems to be simple caloric restriction.

            2. Water fasting, where you eat nothing for an extended period of three or more days. This is the metaphorical equivalent of going to the dentist for a deep clean. You don’t need to do it that often, but it gets in all the nooks and crannies: autophagy goes through the roof, pre-cancerous cells are hopefully purged, your organs shrink, the immune system is reset somewhat, various biomarkers improve dramatically.

            Personally, I’ve started doing a three day fast each quarter, and intend to build up to longer durations over time. Training-wise, it’s an opportunity for a rest, or to focus on stretching/light cardio/mobility. As mentioned earlier, it helps to do a bunch of easy cardio on the first day to use up the glycogen stored in your muscles/liver and get into ketosis faster.

            Note that there are all sorts of variations on both of the above approaches, and that it’s still early days on the research front, AFAIK. If the thought of not eating food sounds too horrible to contemplate, there’s also a ‘fasting mimicking diet’ developed by Valter Longo, an adapted version of which is endorsed by Sarah Constantin here.

        • johan_larson says:

          Lift weights and never stop lifting weights.

          I wonder. Is there some lifestyle that inherently contains the right amount of strenuous effort — just enough to keep you vigorously fit but not so much you start to wear out before your time — without added exercise?

          • Possibly. Both my parents have decent muscle mass for their age, purely from the likes of kneading dough, carrying buckets of produce, cutting firewood, sinking fence-posts, pulling mowers, etc.

            But a) that doesn’t seem like a broadly applicable way of living, and b) they could presumably reap even greater benefits, in a much more controlled fashion, if they did 30 minutes of weights or calisthenics a few times a week.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          There’s an eighth thing you can work with, and I recommend it highly– ease/efficiency of movement.

          Accumulating parasitic muscle tension* is a drain. If you make movements harder than they need to be, it’s just a cost to everything you do.

          The Feldenkrais Method is a way of improving kinesthesia mostly through gentle repeated movements. It’s typical to find that making movement easier and more varied in one part of your body has good effects elsewhere.

          The Alexander Technique is a way of accessing better movement by a release that starts at the neck an promulgates through the rest of the body. It includes paying attention to what you do as you start a movement (or think about starting it) and then doing a release which prevents the excess effort.

          The Franklin Method— moving better by having a more accurate map of your body and how it moves. This one has a lot of imagery and anatomy. It’s effective, and might be more fun for geeks.

          Qi gung and daoist martial arts.

          *I’ve heard that there can be muscle tone that’s habitually too low as well as too high, and that seems plausible, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it.

        • Slicer says:

          “If you kill [senescent cells], you can turn an old mouse into a young mouse.”

          This is partially true but mostly false. Senescent cells are just one of the Hallmarks of Aging. Getting rid of them has shown some serious benefits but it won’t keep mice (or people) around forever. Human trials for senolytics (things that kill senescent cells) are in progress.

          There’s real research being done on the rest of the causes of aging.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I track heart rate, blood pressure, and weight. Other than that, I rely on my memory of subjective well-being, and I have a solid idea of how much energy I have based on how quickly I perform tasks or am behind schedule. I have some idea of how many times I wake up in the middle of the night, which correlates with sleep quality, and is driven by how clean I keep my bedroom.

      My blood pressure and heart rate very clearly track how I am eating and how much cardio I do. If I miss vigorous cardio (80%+ target heart rate, 2x-3x/week), my blood pressure climbs about 10-15 points within 2 weeks. If I am eating a ton of salt (fast food consumption), my blood pressure climbs about 10 points. Beta-blockers, decent food, and regular cardio keeps me at 113-65, pulse 52. My unmedicated, lazy body is 160-90, pulse 70.

      WRT weight, I don’t recommend what I did, but I was about 210 at 5’10. I spent a month eating very little besides bread and meat, doing vigorous cardio every day for 45-60mins, and drinking 8-9 cups of espressos a day. That got to me a more sustainable 174, I got up to 190 once, went back down to 180, and have kept in the 170-175 range for the last several years. From what I understand, though, this is relatively trivial weight loss.

      I lift heavy weights 2x-3x/week. I am pretty weak, though.

  34. Adam says:

    Hi Scott!

    My name is Adam, and I work for Automattic. We’re the company that makes Jetpack, the WordPress plugin you’re using for email subscriptions. I actually do Jetpack support there, so uhhh, not to toot my own horn, but I’m the perfect person to talk to re: your subscriptions not working. 🙂

    My work email is in my profile data here on your site, so feel free to reach out. Hopefully we can get the emails up and running again! Thanks!

    • Scott, I don’t know much about the Jetpack plugin’s subscription feature, but I can see that your blog has Jetpack version 6.5 installed, while the latest version, released two weeks ago, is version 6.6.1. You could try updating Jetpack and seeing if that fixes the problem. (I don’t see anything related to subscriptions in Jetpack’s changelog, though.)

      Another thing you could try is turning the Subscriptions feature off and on again in your settings for the Jetpack plugin, or disabling and re-enabling the Subscriptions module on your Jetpack modules page. However, I’m not sure whether this would preserve the list of subscribed users. The answer to that may be somewhere on Jetpack’s Subscriptions documentation page.

      (Adam, this is a reply to your post because I wouldn’t have known that the Jetpack plugin is responsible for that feature without your post. Also, you may be able to comment on my proposed fixes above, even if it’s just to say that it’s more complicated than that and that Scott should let you do it.)

      • Adam says:

        Rory,

        Thanks for the input! Unfortunately the issue is a bit deeper.

        Basically what’s wrong is that the connection between SSC and Jetpack’s system is currently broken. When that happens, our systems don’t get notified that a new post is live, and thus no emails are sent to subscribers.

        The particular error I’m seeing in our Jetpack diagnostic tool indicates that the error is not something I can fix in our systems. Someone (Scott, myself, or whoever currently manages the site) will likely need to reach out and cooperate with WPEngine (SSC’s host) on repairing it.

        I’m happy to do this if need be, or provide advice over email. 🙂

        EDIT:

        I also need someone willing to fix the Report Comment function, which seems to work very inconsistently right now.

        This is probably because the plugin SSC uses for reporting comments hasn’t been updated in 5 years:

        https://wordpress.org/plugins/reportcomments/

        Ideally you/we could find a suitable alternative.

  35. Sniffnoy says:

    Not at all an expert, but — the comment on dark matter is certainly the conventional understanding but I’m not sure how accurate it actually is, specifically the part about the Bullet Cluster.

    Going by what I’ve read on Sabine Hossenfelder’s blog, the thing is that the dark matter hypothesis, and the modified gravity hypothesis, aren’t actually that different. They’re presented as if they’re wildly different, with all the evidence pointing to the one rather than the other; but in fact it’s hard to be quite so conclusive when they’re actually pretty similar. Because, you see, all the (surviving, anyway) modified gravity proposals out there work by adding additional fields that couple to gravity. Which is… exactly what the dark matter hypothesis does. The only difference is the sort of field; the dark matter hypothesis is that they’re the sort that can also be called a “particle”, the modified gravity hypothesis that they’re not, that they don’t follow those same rules.

    And put that way, the Bullet Cluster isn’t obviously evidence against modified gravity; yes, the gravity is not where the visible matter is, but that’s a possibility whether this extra field is a particle or not.

    • fion says:

      Do you have a link to a blog post about this? I couldn’t find it with a quick google. It’s true that the differences between dark matter and modified gravity are sometimes over-stated, especially for lay audiences. Modified gravity does indeed often involve introducing new fields coupled to gravity, which is what dark matter is. I think an important difference is the nature of the coupling between the fields and gravity, but I’m not an expert on this.

      My limited understanding of quantum field theory is that every field has particle excitations. If you’re introducing a new field, you’re introducing a new particle whether you like it or not.

      Also, as a more philosophical point, even if it’s possible in principle to explain the bullet cluster with modified gravity, I think I’m correct in saying that nobody has yet done so. Similarly, nobody has yet proposed a modified gravity theory that explains the “dark matter” contributions to the peaks of the CMB power spectrum. Dark matter does both of these jobs very easily.

      (BTW, I’m a final-year cosmology PhD student. I don’t work on dark matter.)

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I’m even more of a non-expert on this than you, I just do math. 😛

        My limited understanding of quantum field theory is that every field has particle excitations. If you’re introducing a new field, you’re introducing a new particle whether you like it or not.

        Yeah I’m pretty uncertain of this — my understanding was that the question is whether the field you’re introducing obeys the rules of QFT in the first place; but maybe that’s just wrong and there’s even less difference than that and both really are introducing new particles, in which case it’s less about whether dark matter exists and more about what type, i.e., ΛCDM vs something more exotic. This is where having an actual expert would be helpful.

        Do you have a link to a blog post about this? I couldn’t find it with a quick google. It’s true that the differences between dark matter and modified gravity are sometimes over-stated, especially for lay audiences.

        Here’s what’s probably the most relevant one.

        • fion says:

          I definitely agree with that blog post that the early universe is stronger evidence for DM than the bullet cluster, but that’s beside the point.

          I didn’t know about those calculations about the low probability of things like the bullet cluster happening in LCDM simulations. I might actually bring it up at Journal Club and see what my colleagues think.

          I feel as though she’s being a little dishonest in conveying the scientific consensus, though. She implies that it’s only pop-sci that says the bullet cluster is evidence for LCDM, but I hang around a lot of cosmologists, and I’m in one of the most MG-friendly departments in my country, and even there everybody thinks DM exists.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I feel as though she’s being a little dishonest in conveying the scientific consensus, though. She implies that it’s only pop-sci that says the bullet cluster is evidence for LCDM, but I hang around a lot of cosmologists, and I’m in one of the most MG-friendly departments in my country, and even there everybody thinks DM exists.

            Those are two different questions, though. Hell even Hossenfelder herself, as best I can tell, agrees that particle dark matter probably exists (she seems to be a fan of the superfluid dark matter hypothesis); her complaint mainly seems to be that, due to a combination of confirmation bias, a willingness to fudge things a bit, and unfamiliarity with modified gravity, people interpret just about everything as evidence in favor of particle dark matter and against modified gravity, even things that aren’t.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            No, she doesn’t claim that the consensus agrees with her. She just published a book about how the consensus is wrong!

      • 4gravitons says:

        Here’s the relevant Hossenfelder post.

        I think a paper linked in that post has a setup that explains the bullet cluster with modified gravity, but it may just show that bullet cluster-like setups are more common in modified gravity than in dark matter models. Not enough of an expert on this particular debate to judge this, but for what it’s worth here’s an older post on Sean Carroll’s blog with a conversation with Stacy McGaugh, a modified gravity proponent, that brings this up among other topics.

        Last-minute additions:

        Whether or not it’s DM isn’t about whether or not it obeys the rules of QFT (at least for modern approaches to modified gravity). I think fion is closer to the mark that it’s about the couplings, but I think it’s also about whether or not you’re looking at whether the mass is coming from the field or the particle (so for example, there aren’t many Higgs particles around, but the Higgs field is quite physically important). But as mentioned I’m not an astro person and I don’t know a ton here either.

    • Eric Boesch says:

      My inexpert impression is that the Bullet Cluster anomaly weakened all major theories that the phenomena attributed to Dark Whatever might be solely the reliable consequence of unknown universal laws acting upon known matter and energy. (Contrast with astronomical anomalies of the 1800’s which were entirely explained by replacing Newton’s Laws with relativity.) That is interesting regardless of whether the unknown stuff is particles or fields or a combination.

      I would appreciate confirmation or denial of my interpretation from someone more expert. If my impression here is wrong, I bet I’m not alone in that.

  36. Brett says:

    I’ve found with candy corn that only some of the brands are good. Most of them don’t put enough honey into the candy corn, so they just taste kind of blandly sugary.

    I hope this isn’t creeping into Culture War stuff, but Occasional SlateStarCodex subject of critique Nathan Robinson had a debate with a libertarian the other day, and wrote about it.

    I was reading the back-story lore for the Wheel of Time setting, and realized just how much of that only works because of the lack of gunpowder weapons (there is an in-universe reason for it). Trollocs – the setting’s version of orcs – are big and scary, but also skittish and poorly disciplined under the best of circumstances. They’d be chewed to pieces by even Early Modern guns and artillery, assuming they didn’t just break and run at the sound of it.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      …I’d reply to that Robinson piece, but I’m pretty sure it would be CW…

      (Really, I don’t see how the piece itself, or linking to it, can be construed as not CW; while going by the description you gave it needn’t be, the piece itself clearly is.)

    • baconbits9 says:

      I think linking to someone who consistently on one side of the CW is going force any conversation into that space.

      • Aftagley says:

        Eh, I’ll try. A few non-CW points that I got while reading that piece:

        1. I think he’s correct is saying that people on both sides of the aisle who have styled them selves as “master debaters” have gotten that title by consistently refusing to debate people who could seriously challenge them. To use a sport’s analogy: we wouldn’t make a boxer the world champion when he demonstrates his skill by routinely defeating amateurs.

        2. Maybe this is common and I just haven’t seen it before, but his self analysis of his performance after the fact was interesting. You don’t normally get a good look at what someone was thinking and why they chose to focus on a certain topic.

        3. Maybe getting CW here, let me know and I’ll drop it – speaking from the left, I was a bit annoyed about how self congratulatory he was in this piece. I agree with the basic proposition that debate is good, but you can’t conflate Dr. Mitchell (the person he debated) with some of the other public figures on the right, which Robinson does.

        • baconbits9 says:

          1. Sure, someone who engages only weak opponents is being a crummy debater but Robinson tries tarring multiple people with the same brush. He puts effort into demonstrating that Shapiro is this type of person and then tries a guilt by association tactic with Jordan Peterson who has publicly engaged reasonably prominent leftists. How do we get down this discussion path without getting into CW territory.

          2. Robinson is specifically advocating that leftists start adopting if not the right’s tactics, their own tactics to win debates starting from the presumption that their side is right. This is basically the culture war (imo), fighting as if it is sides and not truth or correctness.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            2. Robinson is specifically advocating that leftists start adopting if not the right’s tactics, their own tactics to win debates starting from the presumption that their side is right. This is basically the culture war (imo), fighting as if it is sides and not truth or correctness.

            …and, that’s roughly a shorter version of what I was going to say. 😛

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Jordan Peterson

            ….

            is “anyone” taking him seriously?

            Yes, obviously, lots of people do because he draws lots of clicks, but ..seriously? He thinks the caduceus is a sign that the ancients understand the structure of DNA.

          • dick says:

            Did you miss the “Starting today, the visible Open Thread is culture-war-free” bit?

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Dick

            this is a meta discussion about if you can have a culture war free discussion around a link to a person who actively engages in the culture war.

        • Nicholas Weininger says:

          FWIW speaking as a libertarian I appreciate point #3 greatly and from reading Mitchell’s blog he strikes me as overly self-congratulatory and overconfident in his views as well, even though I agree with probably 90% of those views. Hopefully it at least counts as meta-CW (is that a form of CW or not?) to lament the parlous general state of intellectual care and nuance among those who feel inclined to debate these sorts of issues, at least if one does not except one’s “own side”.

        • professorgerm says:

          Personally, and I’ve been absent for a while so I haven’t kept up with Scott’s shift very well, I think discussing Robinson’s style should be safe although CW-adjacent.

          And I would add: Robinson pretty much always writes like that, doesn’t he?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Any time someone talks about “scoring” debate, I can only think of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FPsEwWT6K0

      Okay, that’s not true. I also remember my policy debate friends having to draft cards for why nuclear war is bad, because someone won a major tournament with “nuclear war is good!”

    • Aftagley says:

      This is almost certainly CW, but you’re objectively wrong: all brands of candy corn are terrible, sugary messes.

    • Ventrue Capital says:

      Brett, have you signed up for the “Soothsayers & Scoundrels” Discord server, for SSCers who are interested in tabletop games?

      RDNinja, blessings be upon him, created the server, and posted a link to it in the most recent classified thread.

    • Nornagest says:

      What’s the in-universe reason? I dropped that series in the middle of book 10 back in college and never picked it back up, but when I left it, it looked like some folks were on their way to (re?)inventing cannon.

      If you’re talking about the Illuminator monopoly, I don’t think that actually works over the scales that we’re talking about — although admittedly being bad at scale is kind of a perennial fantasy problem.

    • Dack says:

      I was reading the back-story lore for the Wheel of Time setting, and realized just how much of that only works because of the lack of gunpowder weapons (there is an in-universe reason for it). Trollocs – the setting’s version of orcs – are big and scary, but also skittish and poorly disciplined under the best of circumstances. They’d be chewed to pieces by even Early Modern guns and artillery, assuming they didn’t just break and run at the sound of it.

      I don’t know.

      The trollocs are already depicted as cowardly when left to their own devices. And as killing machines when shepherded.

      I don’t see them being more afraid of a gun than of a myrddraal.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      Seeing parts of the debate is weird. I think its just an example of self selection. This guy thought he did well because he agreed with the arguments he was making. Dan Mitchell probably also thinks that way. In reality they are both below average debaters.

  37. sammy says:

    Has anyone read Radical Markets? (hopefully this isn’t culture-war-y, if so I’m sorry)

    https://www.amazon.com/Radical-Markets-Uprooting-Capitalism-Democracy/dp/0691177503/ref=sr_1_1/147-8206106-4246166?ie=UTF8&qid=1540180169&sr=8-1&keywords=radical+markets

    I find it fascinating and was wondering about others opinions. It would be cool if Scott did a book review on this.

    I found some chapters to be silly/not-too-radical but the Harberger taxation ideas were really cool and seem to strike everyone differently independent of their political leanings.

  38. guzey says:

    I have a rough draft of a critical review of William MacAskill’s Doing Good Better. Want to be super careful and would really like to have several people check it before publishing. If you want to help — please email me alexey@guzey.com

  39. Lillian says:

    One month ago Ars Technica published this: When supplies of drugs run low, drug prices mysteriously rise, data shows; And the less competition, the higher the price hikes.

    Truly, this is a mystery for the ages. The forces in play here are so esoteric that the nation’s top medical researchers can only speculate as to what could possibly be behind this phenomenon. It’s almost as if there were some invisible hand at work here. If only our universities would dedicate resources toward studying these astounding economic factors, perhaps we might get to the bottom of this befuddling enigma. Nothing short of sustained academic effort could possibly figure this one out.

    No but seriously, how does an article like this even happen? How do a bunch of medical researches studying the medical market manage to apparently not be aware of the most absolutely basic concepts in economics? How does a writer for Ars Technica manage to write an article about it that sounds just as befuddled as our intrepid researchers? It is dumbfounding to behold a bunch of people who by all rights should know better inexpertly grope at the concept of supply and demand like some teenage boy encountering bra clasps for the first time. Except worse because the boy actually knows what’s he’s trying to get at!

    Then for the perfect conclusion to this astounding display of economic illiteracy, the researches who have come so close to discovering supply and demand curves, go on to recommend price controls as a solution to the problem. Our top minds in medical research suggest a policy with a track record of failure stretching at least as far back as the 4th century. But really, how would they know, when they apparently don’t even know how prices work in the first place? My gob is smacked, ladies and gentlemen, my flabber is officially gasted.

    • cassander says:

      In my experience, doctors, while usually pretty bright in general, are terrifyingly innumerate. And the data backs up that experience. Some surveys were done asking some very basic statistics (e.g. if a disease has a prevalence of one in 10,000 and a test has a false positive rate of 1 of 100, if someone gets a positive score what’s the chance they have the disease) and doctors scored very low.

      Journalist are even worse, and, I’d bet, on average a lot less bright. And tech journalists definitely aren’t the cream of the crop.

      • Lillian says:

        The journalist who wrote this article is herself a former medical researcher with a Ph.D. in microbiology, and the same is true of Ars Technica’s senior science editor. While i can see how practising medical doctors might be shockingly innumerate, shouldn’t medical researchers know at least basic statistics? Because that sounds like a core part of their job. For that matter, shouldn’t people studying prices have bothered to maybe read up on the subject a little? Maybe my 6th grade science teacher lied to me, but i was under the impression that reading the literature was Step 2 of the Scientific Process.

    • Erusian says:

      Economics is not a core subject. The vast majority of Americans do not study it. It’s not only possible but likely that a doctor or lawyer will never take an economics course outside of a few specialized disciplines. There is a huge amount of economic and business illiteracy. Lots of popular, mainstream positions rely on either not understanding economics or understanding a theme park version of it.

      And that’s not even getting into how many people take lessons and don’t seem to comprehend them.

      • johan_larson says:

        My impression is that a hefty portion of college students take Into to Econ. When I was going through there were a lot of such classes, and they were big.

        Economics courses are also required for two of the most popular college majors, Business (#4) and Economics (#5) (duh).

        Maybe the core principles don’t stick.

        • bean says:

          David Friedman has talked about what I think he called 9 to 5 economists, who seem to forget to apply economic principles outside of the office. If it’s possible for them to do that, then it seems likely that someone who took economics in school and is now in charge of Departmental Paperwork Compliance at work can easily forget to apply those same principles.

        • Erusian says:

          According to the DoE, a little less than 20% of college graduates (at any level) have a degree in a business or related field. Let’s round up and double that to account for economists, people who study economics, people who took it in high school, etc. (And that honestly seems very generous). That would mean 13% of people had taken an economics course. Not graduated with rigorous training: had ever taken any course. And that’s not including people who don’t really absorb the lessons.

          Contrast this with, say, English or basic mathematics. Virtually everyone has taken a mathematics course. More than 88% of the population has passed high school level exams in mathematics.

          The ability to understand economics should be taken less as a basic skill like addition or English composition and more like speaking French. A skill that’s not hugely out of reach if you sit down and decide to learn it… but something it’s safe to assume your average interlocutor does not understand.

          • Matt M says:

            But the general concept of “supply and demand” is the most rudimentary and common aspect of economics.

            Understanding that is less “speaks French” and more “knows bonjour, merci, and parlais-vous-Engles?”

            Being able to view price increases during a product shortage as something other than “mysterious” doesn’t require a ten week economics course. It requires about five minutes to read the first three pages of any economics textbook or listening to the very beginning of an intro lecture.

          • Erusian says:

            Not to be snarky, but considering you just misspelled “parlez vous anglais” you’re kind of proving my point.

            Coming from an educated background, it can be hard to remember that not knowing is the default. I suspect the majority of Americans do not know what parlez vous anglais means. Likewise, you can read basic economics videos on youtube getting people talking about how amazing the analysis is. I don’t think they’re faking: I think they honestly didn’t know.

            Now, whether journalists should know better is another question. Of course, I don’t think we hold journalists to particularly high standards, to be honest.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, I never learned how to write anything in French. I just know how to pronounce it (although the actual French would probably disagree)

          • Deiseach says:

            considering you just misspelled “parlez vous anglais”

            Perhaps he meant “parlez-vous Engels” as in Friedrich, considering this is related to economics 🙂

          • Lambert says:

            non Angli, sed Angeli.

    • JohnofCharleston says:

      That’s definitely a bad article, but I’m not sure the study itself was bad. The researchers certainly weren’t surprised by the sign of the result, they went in looking to quantify what was going on with the price increases. Reading between the lines, I think the paper was a pretty standard “let’s measure the effect of X” study.

      The key seems to be that the price increases that were enacted during the shortage persisted even after the shortage resolved. Econ 101 wouldn’t predict that. When there are supply problems with fuel after a hurricane, the price of gas doesn’t stay permanently high forever. If short-term shortages in medication have long-run price effects, that’s an interesting fact and clearly worthy of study. The authors studied those long-run price effects, confirmed the anecdotal reports and quantified harm. That’s a perfectly valid paper.

      The flaw here is in the reporting. The price increases themselves weren’t mysterious, the fact that they persisted was. The reporter conflated those frames, maybe because she didn’t know better, but it’s just as likely she didn’t realize the article was ambiguous. I lean towards the second. Note “mysterious” shows up in both the Ars Technica and Bloomberg write-ups. Presumably the Bloomberg reporter has taken Econ 101, yet he framed the paper the same way. Both probably relied on a University’s press office summary, or the researchers hit the same talking points in interviews.

      So in summary: paper seems fine, reporting garbles the message. Tale as old as time.

      • Lillian says:

        Oh thank God, a reasonable explanation that doesn’t mean a bunch of people researching prices apparently can’t figure out price theory. Okay reading it like that, it does seem like a valid study. In which case, my guess is that since medicine is a captive market in which demand is fairly inelastic with respect to price, then price increases that happen due to supply constraints do not tend to be reversed after they are over. As has been discussed in some of Scott’s articles previously, excessively high barriers of entry that stifle competition are likely to blame.

        • JohnofCharleston says:

          Yep, exactly. If I’m right, the paper (whose full text I can’t access) would have taken all that as a given and moved on to measure the effect of the increases that persist.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          then price increases that happen due to supply constraints do not tend to be reversed after they are over.

          If you read the article further it seems to imply not just that the price increase remained, but that the rate of price increase was still increased after the supply shock resolved.

          Prices were increasing by double-digit percentages (year over year) after the supply shock, whereas they were only increasing by single-digit percentages (year over year) before the supply shock.

        • Leah Velleman says:

          In general, science journalism is not reliably good at distinguishing the parts of the story that are Common Knowledge Background Information from the ones that are New And Exciting Research.

          A researcher sits down with a reporter and tells them ten facts. Eight are C.K.B.I and two are N.A.E.R. It’s really easy for the reporter, who might not really have a strong background on the subject, to accidentally shift a fact or two from one column to the other. Usually the result is just a little eye-rolling. Sometimes, like here, they really make an ass of themself.

          (Headlines are really bad, because they’re often written by an editor and not the writer. So there’s two games of telephone happening — researcher to writer, writer to editor. More opportunities for facts to switch columns.)

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Probably not quite econ 101, but the cause of the shortage matters. Taking a quick gander through the Google machine, drug shortages are persistent issues. For example, here’s the GAO:
        https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-595
        Apparently a lot of drug shortages are caused by persistent supply chain issues, not just one-off problems.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I’m glad I’m not the only one who knows how to read beyond the headline.

        Thanks for the detailed description.

      • Aftagley says:

        Another finding of the study was that during shortages where two different drugs became similar restricted, if one was made by fewer companies than its price rose more than the one that has a broader manufacturing base. This was a factor independent of overall supply of the drug, which is noteworthy.

        Overall, I agree this is bad reporting, but I think you had a slightly uncharitable read of the study/article.

    • j r says:

      Is it possible that the editors added the word “mysteriously,” expecting this response and more traffic?

      Maybe I’m way too cynical for this era, but it feels like trolling.

    • Jiro says:

      No but seriously, how does an article like this even happen? How do a bunch of medical researches studying the medical market manage to apparently not be aware of the most absolutely basic concepts in economics?

      Some possible answers may be CW.

    • James C says:

      A glance at the article suggests that the study authors were surprised by the size and period of the effect rather than the fact that the effect itself.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Since the study is paywalled it’s impossible to tell if the drug price is rising *when* supplies run low, or after the supply has recovered, without reading the study.

      The article seems to contradict the headline as to when these prices increase (during the supply shortage – according to the headline; or after the supply shortage resolves – according to the article).

      Since headlines are notorious in not getting it, I’m inclined to dismiss this one.

      Suffice it to say, it would indeed be economically ‘mysterious’ if prices start increasing faster than normal after supplies have recovered.

      Begin tongue-in-cheek snark:
      No but seriously, how does an article thread like this even happen? How do a bunch of medical researches studying the medical market rationalists reading a headline manage to apparently not be aware of the most absolutely basic concepts in economics journalism?
      /s
      😀

      • Lillian says:

        For the record, i read the article like five times and did not interpret it as it contradicting the headline until JohnofCharleston provided me with an alternate interpretation. The article’s writing is very unclear and muddled, so it’s very easy for different readers to come away with different impressions. In other words, it looked like it was a bad study and a bad article, instead it looks like a good study and a bad article (which is par for the course, really). Also i’m not a rationalist, i just post here.

  40. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Your mission is to reduce the proportion of people who are vulnerable to multilevel marketing schemes by 90%. Not vulnerable means bailing out after paying in twice or less. Not paying in at all would be best, but it may be too much to ask of people in general.

    • Well... says:

      Define “multilevel marketing schemes”?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Businesses where people make most or all of their money from the people they recruit rather than selling a product.

        Sometimes, as with Amway, there’s actually a pretty good product involved, but most of the people selling it still lose out.

        There’s also The Airplane Game, where it’s all just money shuffling.

        There’s even one called 31 that’s relatively gentle because the goal is to make a little money on the side rather than as much money as possible.

        Have some podcasts.

    • Erusian says:

      Ban recruiting incentives as more than… say, 20% of total real compensation. Write in an exclusion for headhunters whose job is explicitly to recruit people for positions but who cannot then be involved in activities like selling. Ban compensation as a portion of any recruited parties earnings. This attacks the ‘multi-level’ portion of it. If any employee received more than 20% of their total compensation from recruiting other employees, the company would be… fined and forced to repay them? I’m sure we could think of a suitable penalty. This will require salespeople to earn most of their money by selling, which will not hurt legitimate operations but will hurt pyramid schemes.

      Legally require buybacks of unsold stock from independent distributors or distributors below a certain size, with no tracking or retaliation allowed (though I’m sure they’ll get around this). This prevents the company from selling large stocks of unsellable products to its ‘distributors’ who then don’t move them out. Alternatively, find a way to make it so the company cannot sell stock to its salespeople and must supply the stock more directly without crippling some retail operations. This will incentivize the company to send only as much stock as they think the distributor can sell. (Side note: this is a huge demand among distributors and has been for at least a century and a half.)

      Both these will cripple pyramid schemes without destroying independent distributors. Direct selling through independent distributors is not a particularly exploitative way to sell. What makes a pyramid scheme exploitative and non-productive is that it relies on distributors putting in their own money and recruiting others who in turn put in their own money rather than making money through sales.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I like the idea of a requirement to buy back products.

        Still, MLMs seem to be so tempting to invent that I suspect the only solution is somehow hardening the public.

        • Erusian says:

          I don’t know. Law has a powerful effect on incentives. I’m imagining ambulance chasing lawyers getting in on this. “Did your parent distributor not buyback your stock? Pressure you to keep it? Encourage you to recruit your friends illegally? Call Crazy Eddy’s Legal Emporium. Don’t let those fat cat pyramid schemers take advantage of you! We only get paid if you win!”

    • Matt M says:

      It seems to me that MLM (and various other scams) are a simple byproduct of living in a high trust society. Do things to significantly lower trust and social cohesion and watch as everyone becomes increasingly skeptical of anyone claiming to offer them a “great deal.”

      I recently read a book about scams, I think it was called “The Confidence Game” or something like that. I was already a pretty skeptical person slow to trust anybody, but now I simply assume that everyone on Earth is constantly trying to screw me over and eternal vigilance is the only way I’ll be able to keep most of what I’ve earned.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I don’t have a cite, so this may not be accurate, but I heard about an eastern European country after the fall of the USSR where there was a huge ponzi scheme– everyone was expecting not to be the last sucker.

        Not being high trust may not be the solution.

        What I’d like to see is some way of getting people to be reflexively numerate– to hear about an MLM and realize very quickly that it can’t work for the vast majority of the people in it.

        • SamChevre says:

          The giant ponzi scheme country is Albania.

        • Matt M says:

          realize very quickly that it can’t work for the vast majority of the people in it.

          Would this really help though?

          My impression is that a lot of people understand this part, they’re just overly confident that they’ll be one of the successful ones.

          People who buy lottery tickets understand that most people not only won’t win that night, but will never win. They just think they’re own case is special.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            That’s a fair question, but it might help if people realize that the odds of success are much higher if you get in early.

            Of course, that might lead to proliferation of new MLMs.

          • toastengineer says:

            It’s not even a matter of overconfidence; in my experience at least it’s a matter of desperation.

      • j1000000 says:

        I worked in a phone sales job for a few months after college. I have never trusted a salesperson again in my life.

  41. paranoidfunk says:

    Hi SSCommentariat:

    I’m looking to find a place of retreat in New England. Ideally, it would be a barn or cottage or shack in The Middle of Nowhere.

    I’ve never bought or maintained my own property before, so I don’t know what the legal aspects of being a Homeowner entail; or how to hook up the electrical, plumbing, water, etc.

    Does anyone have suggestions on where – or how – to look for such a place? Has anyone done similar? Could you point me to a forum or subreddit? Anything relevant is appreciated. Thank you so much.

    • Aapje says:

      You can just look at websites that lists real estate. If you don’t know what you want or what to look for, you can get a real estate agent to help.

      Given your lack of expertise, I would suggest getting a ‘home inspection’ before you buy it. Note that you may still need help interpreting the inspection report.

      Pretty much any ‘Middle of Nowhere’ home in New England will have a septic tank. Septic tanks need regular cleaning. Ask for documentation about the age & design of the tank, the last cleaning and the last inspection. If these cannot be provided to a reasonable extent, get a full inspection of the tank. Once you own the place, determine when you need to clean the tank (depends on the size of the tank and how much you use it) and make sure you get it done it in time.

      Many of the most rural homes have a well. These need regular testing, so you aren’t drinking poison. Get it tested before you buy.

      Ask the (selling) real estate agent how to get the electricity turned on.

      Heating is commonly done with oil. The oil tank may be buried or not. If it is buried, it is probably old & may be leaking. Beware.

      Figure out how you are going to get Internet access (unless the idea is to retreat from that as well).

      Keep in mind that some states in New England have very high real estate taxes (mainly Vermont and New Hampshire). This is bad for second homes. Then again, if you go for a really cheap second home, it may not be significant.

      All of the above is just some things that I picked up when someone I know bought a home in New England. It is not complete, caveat emptor, etc.

      • arbitraryvalue says:

        One thing to note about New Hampshire is that unlike all its neighbors, it has zero state income tax. If you are looking for a primary residence and plan to work from home, New Hampshire is an excellent place to live for this reason. Property taxes are relatively high as a percent of house value, but house value is low in absolute terms, so you end up saving a lot of money.

        • Matt M says:

          New Hampshire is also a great destination if you’re looking forward to meeting… uh…. “interesting” people…

          • j1000000 says:

            New Hampshire most DEFINITELY has some very “interesting” people, but I don’t think Free Staters exist en masse anywhere in the state, do they? I thought the Free State “project’ had mostly been abandoned.

            That site say there’s 4400 Free Staters in NH, that’s 3 people in every 1000. Massachusetts had the same libertarian voting percentage in 2016.

          • Matt M says:

            Keane is known to be an epicenter for that sort of thing.

            The FSP tends to “officially expel” people it doesn’t like from its “roster”, such as it is. So the weirdest ones probably don’t even count in their statistics!

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          New Hampshire taxes investment income.

    • ana53294 says:

      I follow a blog by a frugal couple that bought a homestead in Vermont. They document the process it took them to buy the homestead in great detail. You can see the initial vetting process they use, how they look at the well, and the septic tank. They talk about the process in great detail, but in layman’s terms.

      One of the things that seems clear to me is that buying and selling rural property is much more difficult than city property. It is a much slower process, and selling a rural property may take years. So if you do buy a ruraly property, you should be prepared that you won’t be able to sell it for a long period of time.

    • Erusian says:

      Where in New England? And what’s your budget?

  42. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Why aren’t you reading Worth the Candle yet, SSC? It’s an ongoing fantasy novel in the growing genre of rational fiction by renowned author Alexander Wales, and it is absolutely amazing. It tells the story of Juniper Smith, an ordinary high-school student who suddenly finds himself whisked away to the magical land of Areb for no apparent reason and imbued with extraordinary powers patterned after RPG abilities.

    Sounds like just another LitRPG Portal Fantasy/Isekai story, right? Well, sure, but only in the same sense that Worm is just another superhero story. To compare it’s quality with another work which is very popular here, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, I would say that Method’s peaks are higher (Candle hasn’t made me cry yet; Methods did) but Candle’s average quality is higher (there are no missteps like the S.P.H.E.W. arc).

    And BTW, it is NOT fanfiction, so you can read it no matter what books or shows you have watched (though some familiarity with RPGs, either pen-and-paper or videogames, is strongly recommended).

    • albertborrow says:

      Seconding the recommendation of Worth the Candle, with the caveat that you need to be engaged with the text at a fairly high level in order to walk away from it with the right interpretation. (Fairly high is defined here as “slightly more than fanfiction, but a great deal less than most classical literature”) Like HPMOR, it leans on the unreliable narrator trope quite a bit in order to make its story work, and because Worth the Candle is explicitly a self-insert rather than implicitly, it’s very easy to pretend that the author is exactly as clueless as his character is.

      Also, if you’re deep into the community in general, it’s a good idea to check out the rest of /r/rational. We’re a little unorthodox, but I think we recommend stuff in a tight enough cluster that, if you liked HPMOR, you’ll probably be at least okay with most of the other works posted there.

    • amaranth says:

      the shape is the shape and you are the shape

    • Placid Platypus says:

      Cool, I’ve very much liked Wales’s previous work so I’ll be sure to check this out.

      EDIT: Are you sure this is him? The author name is different, and I don’t see any links to it on his website or anything.

    • Randy M says:

      I just binged Worm over the last couple weeks. This sounds worth looking into; I’m not sure whether to get to it or the Worm sequel first.

      • albertborrow says:

        If you’ve finished Worm, make sure to make a post about your thoughts on /r/parahumans. It’s always really fun to read people’s responses to the story.

        • Randy M says:

          reddit? Eh, I don’t care to establish myself there–by which I mean go through the password look up process. I can tell you here, though.

          I thought that the characters and prose were pretty well done, but the real strength of it was the worldbuilding and plotting. I loved how minor characters from early on turned out to have major impacts on the plot (like Marquise), or at least have backstories that shed light on the some of the ongoing mysteries (like, Battery). Sometimes the horror was a bit much. I liked the frantic pace in the middle and end, how threats kept escalating beyond what came before, or else shifted from straight combat into intrigue into battle of wits–Bakuda to Leviathan to S9 to Coil to Echidna was pretty wild. And the way Dinah’s prophecy was resolved was believable.
          I kind of predicted the sequence near the climax where Taylor’s power changed given some of the things Glaistig Uaine said.

          • C_B says:

            Worm sequel is blowing-my-mind good. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should read it before Worth the Candle (there’s always upsides and downsides to reading a serial novel while it’s being posted, and I haven’t read Worth the Candle yet to compare), but Ward definitely deserves a spot on your to-read list.

          • brmic says:

            I liked Worm, but found the sequel Ward awful. I forced myself through 8 arcs before I quit.

          • Nick says:

            I like Ward, but where it’s good it’s mostly not for the same reasons as Worm. The writing is better, there’s plenty of plot hooks to draw you in, and I mostly like the format of these early arcs, but it doesn’t quite hold me like Worm did.

          • rlms says:

            Count me as another “Worm was good but I didn’t like Ward”. The prose is better than Worm but it doesn’t have the worldbuilding and plotting that (as Randy M says) are the real strengths of Worm. I’ve read Worm twice, Pact once, and bits of Twig and Ward. I think either wildbow hit on something special with Worm, or the development of his worldbuilding and plotting skills after it actually made them weaker (although other aspects of his writing improved).

          • Randy M says:

            For the record, by Worm sequel I had in mind Pact, since that is linked in the notes on the last Worm chapter. I’ve heard of Twig and Ward but don’t quite know how they fit in.

            I think either wildbow hit on something special with Worm, or the development of his worldbuilding and plotting skills after it actually made them weaker

            Wildbow has said that he developed the characters over many years of aborted stories and brainstorming. I suppose most of this character/worldbuilding work made it into Worm, with the author having had time over the years to ruminate and intertwine the clever setting bits.

          • Placid Platypus says:

            Pact and Twig are both independent works whereas Ward is an actual sequel to Worm. The general consensus is that Pact is the weakest of the four, although still quite good; the worldbuilding is excellent but it suffered from some pacing issues. Among the other three opinions differ.

          • Nornagest says:

            For whatever it’s worth I got through Pact but didn’t get through Twig. Might have been the genre difference, or I might have liked the worldbuilding enough to cut it more slack. I agree it had pacing issues, and the characters generally weren’t as strong or well-rounded as Worm‘s (spoilers can account for a lot of that in-universe for Rose and Blake, but that’s not really an excuse).

    • Nick says:

      I’ve bookmarked it for later. Can I ask how far along it is? Does it look like it’s wrapping up, or does it look like there’s quite a bit of story left to tell?

      Also, can’t tell if intentional or not, but one way to read your second sentence is that the entire “growing genre of rational fiction” is by alexanderwales. 😛

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I’ve bookmarked it for later. Can I ask how far along it is? Does it look like it’s wrapping up, or does it look like there’s quite a bit of story left to tell?

        We’re in Book 6. At the end of Book 2, Alexander Wales predicted there would be no more than 10 Books. Then again, we all know how these predictions can turn out; A Song of Ice and Fire was originally intended as a trilogy.

        Also, can’t tell if intentional or not, but one way to read your second sentence is that the entire “growing genre of rational fiction” is by alexanderwales. 😛

        That was a joke, yes. A reference to the prolificness of Alexander Wales; the man is a machine. As Green0Photon once said, “I swear half the stuff on this sub is written by you.”

      • brmic says:

        Can I ask how far along it is? Does it look like it’s wrapping up, or does it look like there’s quite a bit of story left to tell?

        The story recently moved from local to global level, which mostly leaves the cosmic level untouched. There may be some shortcuts yet to come, but OTOH some issues are at 2 out of 60 or 0 out of 12 and it’s hard to imagine a satisfying narrative that doesn’t spend at least 10 chapters on the issue in question, with 20 chapters a more realistic guess IMHO.
        Based on all that, I’d guess we’re at least 120 chapters from the end, which in terms of the progress so far would mean another year to year and a half until the end.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I will step in to say that I seldom if ever read fanfic/webfic, and I think Worth the Candle is fantastic. Well above replacement level.

    • ing says:

      Hmm, I think I’ve read some of this guy’s other works.

      Before I get too deep into this, can you say anything about the angst level in this story?
      Is it, like, more or less than Worm? Like, what’s the going prediction on whether the main character dies at the end?

      (I recognize it would be unusual for a self-insert main character to die at the end, but…)

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Before I get too deep into this, can you say anything about the angst level in this story? Is it, like, more or less than Worm?

        Worm is actually a pretty good parallel. Both are set in a dying world. Both are about high school students who have lost someone close to them. I would say the level of angst is about the same.

        Like, what’s the going prediction on whether the main character dies at the end?

        (I recognize it would be unusual for a self-insert main character to die at the end, but…)

        I have never seen any speculation that the Juniper is going to die at the end. It’s not been ruled out or anything, but there is no particular reason to think he will, either. In fact, chapter 73 seems to hint that Juniper is still alive at the end of the story (Juniper gets separated from one of his companions, so he tells that chapter from her perspective, and then halfway through the chapter he breaks the fourth wall to let the reader know that this is an interpolation he made from what he was told after the fact).

        • ing2 says:

          Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve caught up with this now, taking much of the weekend to do it. : )

          I’m now trying to figure out how to get email notifications when it updates. I’ve applied for AOOO membership, hopefully that will have an option for it.

  43. Gray says:

    @Scott RE: “If someone is good with WordPress and thinks they know how to fix it, please let me know and I’ll give you access to whatever you need.”

    I’m happy to take a look – my email address is in my profile and I can provide links to freelancing site profiles if you want to verify that I am who I say I am + have experience with this type of thing. Let me know!

  44. hash872 says:

    (Hoping this doesn’t violate the no-Culture War rule- especially as I have been silently hoping that Scott would administer this exact rule. I think 1 out of every 3 Open Threads being a Culture War one is a good ratio. Anyways this is health policy nerdery, so hopefully CW-free).

    I’d be interested to hear about the lived experiences of non-Americans who have single payer healthcare (if you live in a developed country- not sure if any developing countries have single payer). So mostly Western Europeans & Canadians. (Australia/New Zealand/Japan/South Korea/Israel- do y’all have single payer? I have no idea).

    Can you sum up the pluses and minuses for us Americans in a paragraph or two? Are you ultimately happy with it, or unhappy? Is it true specialists are on a gigantic wait list and it takes forever to see them? (As an American- I have to say it can take months to see a specialist here, speaking from personal experience). Do any of you have private insurance as a supplemental? Does everyone who’s upper middle class/wealthy have private insurance on top of single payer? Are prices for everything medical cheaper? (This for me personally, as a wonky neoliberal center-left type, is the ultimate argument for single payer- having one negotiator with massive leverage to drive down prices).

    Other thoughts on your single payer system? Really looking for life examples from people who have actually lived it- not American partisans on either side who have opinions about how awful/amazing the system is

    • cassander says:

      You’re conflating single payer with a universal healthcare system. They are not the same. The US has a single payer system, medicare, for everyone over 65. That’s not universal, but it is single payer, everyone pays in and the payer pays providers. Most countries around the world have a subsidized insurance scheme of one kind or another. the only countries with proper single payer are Canada, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan. The UK often gets lumped in there as well, but they aren’t single payer either, they’re literal socialized healthcare, where the providers work directly for the state.

      • Simulated Knave says:

        Strictly speaking, *Canada* isn’t single payer as such. All the individual PROVINCES are. You are a member of your province’s insurance plan. If you go somewhere else, your care is still paid for by your province. Unless it isn’t. And different provinces are more or less willing to pay for certain things – and have different rules about what they’ll cover when you move or travel.

      • Mabuse7 says:

        Australia isn’t single-payer, we have a universal public option with tax incentives that heavily incentivise purchasing a private health plan if you have the means.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        The UK often gets lumped in there as well, but they aren’t single payer either, they’re literal socialized healthcare, where the providers work directly for the state.

        Partly. GPs are private businesses under contract to the NHS.

        • Lambert says:

          This is also a big political thing.
          The Right is pro private businesses under contract to the NHS (privitisation), the Left is against.

      • rlms says:

        Single payer isn’t a very well-defined term. There are multiple axes along healthcare systems can vary: the extent to which they are funded by taxes, employer-linked insurance, or private insurance; the extent to which users have to pay at the point of service; whether hospitals tend to be owned by the government, non-profits or for-profit companies; and how doctors are employed. You seem to be saying that latter two factors are part of the definition of single payer, whereas I would say that the only relevant thing is the funding source. But either way, it’s more useful to talk about actual differences than vague categories.

        I agree that it’s important to distinguish between universal healthcare and single payer, and that there are a lot of developed countries with multi-payer systems (by any reasonable definition), but I think there are more countries with single payer (or “socialised systems” if you want to categorise them separately) than you are suggesting. As I understand it, France, Germany and various smaller countries between/around them do have compulsory/subsidised/employer-funded systems rather than single payer, but most other developed European countries (Spain, Italy, Greece, most of Scandinavia etc.) have tax-funded systems.

    • shakeddown says:

      Israeli here: Kinda single-payer-ish – basically gets funded from income tax, but you choose which one of the four insurance providers you want to be on (also you can pay out-of-pocket for extra insurance, etc).

      I’ve always been happy with it – pretty efficient, good care/prices (Well, they come out of income tax, but the overall portion of GDP spent on healthcare is pretty low).
      On the minus side, I will say that the American healthcare system (to the extent that I’ve interacted with it) has better customer service and pays doctors better. But that’s kind of low on my priority list. (In America’s defence, it also has to deal with problems Israel doesn’t – you can’t just force all insurers to cover the entire country in America, for example).

      • Anatoly says:

        More details on the Israeli system. Everyone is registered to one of the big four HMOs (you have to be, by law). You can generally move from one HMO to another without penalties. Each of the big four has clinics throughout the country, one clinic in a small city, more in larger. For things like family doctor (GP) appointments, nurse service, blood/urine tests, you typically go to the HMO clinic, after making an appointment on their website or our equivalent of a 1-800 number. If you need to see a specialist, you look up the specialist in the service directory on your HMO’s website; typically a few of them will be present in HMO clinics, and many more are private doctors/clinics that “work with this HMO” (in American terms, in-network, accept their insurance, etc.). In my experience, seeing your GP is a 0-2 days wait, seeing a common specialist like an ENT or a pulmonologist is a 1-2 week wait, while a neurologist or a blood vessel surgeon can be a 1-4 months wait. All these in-network doctor visits are essentially free. Things that in-network doctors prescribe (tests, scans, physical therapy) are essentially free except for drugs. CT/MRI scans take 2-3 months wait in this system.

        Drugs are significantly subsidized by the HMOs. HMO clinics have their own drugstores in them, but also big chains of cosmetics+body care+drugstore stores throughout the country give you your HMO’s discount if you present your HMO card and a prescription. Prescriptions by in-network doctors are a must. A week’s supply of not-too-scary pills is typically $10-$20. As for scary expensive drugs (cancer etc.), there’s a country-wide “basket” of which of them are subsidized by the system and which aren’t. Decisions are made once per year by a committee in Health Ministry and are a Big Deal. Drugs that are “in” will be essentially free in any HMO.

        Each of the four HMOs has an extended coverage program, which costs I think $20-$30/month, and gives benefits like discounts on dental medicine (basic health insurance omits dental completely), a few subsidized consultations with out-of-network private doctors per year, surgeries abroad for catastrophic things.

        Hospital visits and procedures are free if prescribed by in-network doctors. Emergency visits and hospital stays are typically okayed later by the HMO, but you have to leave your credit card details at the hospital and if the visit was frivolous, the HMO won’t pay and they’ll charge you. Almost all hospitals are public (run by or heavily subsidized by the state), but there’s one largish private hospital network and very many private clinics/practices.

        Most specialists (or maybe just good specialists, I’m not sure) have this weird work structure where they work one day a week in an HMO clinic somewhere, another day in a private clinic that “works with” some HMOs and not others, maybe 1-2 days a week in a hospital.

        If you’re unhappy with your HMO choices or length of wait, private clinics and hospitals are happy to take your money. You’ll still wait 3-6 weeks to see a well-regarded specialist and a few weeks to do an MRI.

        If anything’s unclear/need more info, ask me questions.

        • nzk says:

          Another one.

          What you say is correct, but I think you paint too rosy a picture.

          1) Meetings with general doctors are very short, usually a few minutes.
          2) Meeting with Specialists is the same. Also, since you don’t have “your” specialist, there is no sense of ongoing treatment. Sure, theoretically you could book with the same specialist, but waiting times would be much longer then the “next available”.
          3) Conditions (I assume, mostly from movies, no direct experience) are sub-par to U.S. – no private rooms, etc. Multi-patients rooms even for patients screaming from pain are common, almost no privacy.
          4) Managing the health is up to the patient – looking up the “best” doctors, deciding what to book, etc. Yes, doctors give referrals, but you have to manage the process if you want a good outcome.
          5) Health Tax is quite high, 5% of income on most pay.
          6) Especially in winter, there is a lot of overcrowding, with people in beds in the halls. But this can happen any time there is pressure for any reason.
          When my Wife gave birth she had a bed in a room(not alone), but women who came before here were waiting in the halls on mobile beds with some curtains.

          • JulieK says:

            When my Wife gave birth she had a bed in a room(not alone), but women who came before here were waiting in the halls on mobile beds with some curtains.

            I assume you mean she was in a shared room in the maternity ward after giving birth, not that she literally gave birth in a shared room.

    • Cheese says:

      Australian. It works really well IMO, very happy with it (both as a consumer and working inside it). Has it’s pitfalls like any system.

      We have a public/private mix with the option to purchase supplemental insurance. As a public patient, everything is effectively free via a single payer/socialised system mix. Emergency care, primary care in community is effectively free. The majority of medications that one will ever be prescribed are majority subsidised by the government, especially if you are low-income. Specialist care in the public system is free, as you say waiting lists can be a problem – it is generally only in very specific areas that we have issues. For the most part you can get in quite quickly depending on the severity of your issue. Currently my state has a massive backlog for ENT services for example. The issue with this is specialist numbers rather than rooms/funding/equipment lack – there’s a big coordination problem in that medical student training is federally funded whereas post-graduate training is done in the tertiary hospital system which is state funded. It’s hard to get more numbers through in the areas that you want and no one wants to shoulder the cost of training (the college doesn’t help IMO). The other related pitfall is you can get a bit stuck in non-urgent specialist care (e.g. say you need a knee reconstruction or you need your wisdom teeth out but you can still function ok day to day), because they will prioritise it by urgency which means the waits can blow out. I know people who have done a bad ACL and had surgery in the public system the next week, and those who can still run on it and have had to wait a year or so.

      The above issues are one of the main justifications for purchasing supplemental insurance, it is basically waiting list circumvention for those who can afford it. Additionally, there are tax incentives to purchase it. Basically if a person earns over 90k and doesn’t have insurance, they cop an extra 1-1.5% income tax depending on salary. There is also a weird incentive to buy insurance before you turn 31, as the premiums that can be charged are regulated, and if you take out insurance after 31 you can be charged more (it’s transferable so you don’t have to stick with one company and there are gap options). The argument for the private system that we have is that it takes a lot of pressure off the public system by allowing people who can afford it to pay and not clog public waiting lists. This mostly works, although there’s some issues in that in some areas waiting lists are a function of specialist availability (most will do both public and private work). Also premiums are almost at the point where it isn’t really worth it for a lot of people.

      Quality of care wise there’s, for the most part, very little difference to what you’d receive in the US and here. There are some gaps with respect to rarer conditions where the government will refuse to fund treatments on a cost/QALY basis. But our population is only ~25 million so can’t have it all. I’m obviously fairly biased and cheer-leading a bit, but family members and myself have had all positive interactions, ranging from emergency public care (which doesn’t consist of fixing you then sending you out the door without rehab and follow-up) to oncology where we haven’t had to pay a cent beyond paying $6.40 a month for a script which actually costs ~$3700. And private as well, I have private which has been a net loss to me financially but enabled me to get my wisdom teeth out much sooner and I felt was a good idea to have playing contact sports.

    • Simulated Knave says:

      Canadian.

      Good side: it’s more-or-less free. Drugs are fairly cheap overall. Both these things are not to be underestimated.

      Bad side: free stuff gets abused, just like always – all clinics are free clinics, and it shows. Waitlists can be extremely long – wait time on a doctor’s appointment with a family doctor are often very long, much moreso than they seem to be in the States. Things are not particularly consistent from province to province. Old people are going to do truly horrific things to the health care budget. Despite things logically being MORE organized than the American healthcare system, we still have a simultaneous doctor shortage and shortage of residency spaces. There is a widespread shortage of family doctors that results in it being very hard to manage any kind of ongoing issue, since you’re dealing with someone different every time and you don’t know what they’ll be like.

      Overall, I’m happy, but it’s a deeply flawed system. Of course, the US system ALSO appears to be deeply flawed, and from my impression the Canadian system distributes the misfortune a little more equitably.

      Specialist waitlists are definitely long, and often badly coordinated.

      Private insurance in most of Canada is for dental and drug and supplementary non-medical stuff – many have it, many don’t, it depends on what you need it for. I can get by without right now. In ten years I suspect I’ll want it.

      Prices for everything medical…hard to say. I mean, we don’t see them. Dental prices appear to be cheaper, despite supplies costing more. Drugs are definitely cheaper. If this website (https://transferwise.com/gb/blog/cost-of-having-a-baby-in-canada) is to be trusted, costs are way, way, way, way lower. That seems likely – doctors do very well, but not as well as a lot of US doctors seem to.

      • Tenacious D says:

        To add to this, I’ve been fortunate not to have needed to go to the hospital as a patient since childhood so I don’t have direct experience but have observed the experiences of people I know.
        For urgent and life-threatening conditions (cancer and heart attacks, etc.) care is very good, and not having to worry about payment avoids extra stress during a very difficult time. It’s on quality-of-life (e.g. joint replacements) or preventative procedures that waitlists become a major complaint. Also, if you move to a new location there can be a long waitlist to even get on a family doctor’s patient roster—at least outside of the biggest cities. Diagnostic testing anecdotally can take several follow-up calls to get results reported, in addition to any waits incurred getting the test scheduled in the first place.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Canadian also.

        I like our system overall; I think it’s worthwhile to have a system where everyone gets the same thing.

        The biggest problem with the system is wait times for non-urgent stuff (want to see a specialist for something where you’re not about to die? Well, in six weeks, your doctor might get a call back from the specialist! Then you can wait another two months for an appointment! Show up early and be prepared to wait long after the appointment should be, because the specialist only works one day a week) and the generally low quality of the “customer service” side of things. I’ve never seen someone engaged in a public-facing job ruder than one ER nurse.

        Still, I wouldn’t take the tradeoff I saw when I took a cat in to a vetrinary hospital: on the one hand, service was incredibly good (short wait time, very easy to get a vet on the phone), on the other hand, it was all private, and the bill was considerable.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          the generally low quality of the “customer service” side of things. I’ve never seen someone engaged in a public-facing job ruder than one ER nurse.

          This surprises me; I am young and healthy enough that I haven’t had too much interaction with the healthcare system, but when parents or grandparents have been in, I’ve found the staff incredibly helpful and kind. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad interaction with Canadian hospital staff, though I’ve not spent too much time over in ER.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It was one particularly bad experience; generally staff are OK. However, it was the sort of thing where if I got that kind of treatment at a restaurant, I would never go there again. It was an overcrowded ER on a weekday night, they were probably understaffed; it was still obviously not the behaviour of someone who saw themself as serving the people they were dealing with.

            Even when staff are helpful and kind, though, it’s really hard to get information. A two-hour wait where you know it’s a two-hour wait is easier for me than an hourlong wait with no indication, y’know?

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        Another Canadian here, young and healthy enough to have had only minimal interactions with the health system. However, I’ve had family who have had cancer and other serious medical issues, two grandparents die in Canadian hospitals, and my mom has a bunch of moderately severe, chronic but not life-threatening issues that require visiting multiple specialists.

        My impression is mostly good. As others have said, wait times can be a little long, especially for things like clinics and specialists–I drove my mom to a specialist clinic the other week for one of her ongoing quality-of-life-impacting but otherwise not too serious issues, and after waiting in line for an hour, we were told (at 8 am or something) that the clinic had too few doctors to see anyone else in line and we would have to come back another day.
        On the other hand, we were able to find another doctor who could see her the next day.

        Making appointments for scans can take a while, though I feel like my parents haven’t had to wait much longer than a few weeks or so on average; I’ve heard stories of people waiting months for things like knee problems.

        I have heard no complaints whatsoever from any of my family who went in for serious, life-threatening issues: the cancer patients and heart-attack patients all seem to have had good experiences (other than the medical issues, of course). I thought my two grandparents who died in hospital both received great care, and family visiting from abroad remarked upon it at the time.

        There are a few private treatment options: my dad had a hernia surgery at a private hospital years ago, but when he had another hernia recently he opted to do it through the single-payer system, so I guess he didn’t think the private treatment options were that great.

        Dental and eye-care is private, and most people get it covered through employment insurance; some places will also help cover pharma costs. I am currently uninsured right now, which isn’t great, but it’s not terrible to pay out-of-pocket for a dental cleanup once in a while, and I anticipate being insured again in a few months.

        The major caveats to this are: all of my experience is in Ontario, and most of it is in Toronto/Toronto area; and I haven’t been to a doctor for anything serious in years, and my medical issues have been pretty minor since childhood.

    • pdbarnlsey says:

      I live in Australia (universal coverage increasingly supplemented with private insurance) and spent a number of years in the UK (universal coverage single payer, free at the point of delivery).

      The Australian system has been moving away from an NHS-style pure single payer model since the mid-90s, when the then -government imposed a tax penalty on upper-middle class earners who did not hold private insurance. Prior to that private insurance was a fairly vestigial luxury good for high earners and perhaps the very sick (we’re now safely before my time).

      Australians can access free medical care (apart from dental, which is weirdly excluded form almost every universal health care model) by jumping through a sufficiently large number of hoops, but have to pay out of pocket and/or (usually and) via their insurance to see who they want in a timely fashion or in higher income areas. Out of pocket costs are usually low relative to income (<USD70 for a specialist visit if you're happy with whoever the general practitioner suggests) and catastrophic care is pretty reliable and cheap, though less so outside major cities (Australia is by some measures the world's most urbanised nation). The literature on relative effectiveness is extensive and, AFAIK, fairly positive, but my lived experience can't really attest to that.

      Personally, I'm relatively healthy and probably average, say, four primary care visits per year for myself and maybe twice that for my young child. Seeing a primary care doctor for free, rather than for cheap, within walking distance of my home or work often involves waits of up to 3 days. I see a specialist of some description maybe 1-2 times per year. My total out of pocket costs for all of this, including prescription medications, are probably less than USD150 per year and I would usually be able to see a specialist less than a week after being referred to them. These numbers reflect catastrophic-only health cover, so are probably in line with most Australians who share my level of general health.

      I have twice received emergency care at a hospital, once including an ambulance ride, and it was, I think, approximately free. The birth of my child cost, IIRC, low-to-mid thousands of dollars thanks to our selection of a range of "fancier" options which are probably standard under most US plans. It can be done approximately for free in less pleasant and slightly riskier ways.

      • WashedOut says:

        The birth of my child cost, IIRC, low-to-mid thousands of dollars thanks to our selection of a range of “fancier” options

        Do you mean in the low-mid part of the $1000’s dollar range? Or “several thousand dollars – much less than 10k but not much less than 5k” ?

        I’m Australian and have had private health insurance for about 5 years, never used it, but this is one thing I would really appreciate them to help out with.

        • pdbarnlsey says:

          Several thousand dollars, though I remained strategically uninvolved in decision making, which is why I’m quoting such a broad range.

          Maternity cover typically has a waiting period, though it can be possible to get a staff member who is sympathetic to pregnant people to waive it. I think there would be pretty clear financial benefits from adding maternity cover for the period which includes the year of your child’s birth.

    • pdbarnlsey says:

      As for the UK: the biggest shock to visitors is that it really is completely free. As in, there isn’t even a mechanism in place to take money from anyone. I’ve had relatives from the US visit and receive free care to which they weren’t entitled, simply because no one could figure out how to charge them.

      Obviously free at the point of care isn’t free – it all comes out of ones taxes – but it’s also very cheap as a proportion of GDP. The literature suggests that residents largely get what they (don’t) pay for, and there are plenty of horror stories. Without having researched them in any detail, I’d say that any large organisation devoted to dealing with people who would otherwise die is going to have its share of bad outcomes, but that some of the outrage is probably justified and some of it probably does relate to failures in incentives and lack of patient choice.

      My lived experience: it’s a genuinely no-frills experience, but I received fairly immediate, competent care from primary and specialist physicians, including the diagnosis of a chronic back problem which the Australian system had missed. I had to wait 1-2 weeks for specialist appointments at times, but that seemed perfectly reasonable given the severity of my condition. The downside is that it’s much for difficult to supplement the quality and comfort-level of care by paying a bit more – everyone ends up receiving much the same thing unless they opt for the real luxury bracket. Decisions on what care everyone gets are made rationally and backed by science, though they face a budget constraint that’s below what most rich nations choose to spend on their health.

      Based only on my personal experience, I would choose the UK system over the Australian.

    • smwls says:

      I don’t have a lot of experience with the NZ healthcare system, but in general my vague impressions are:
      – GPs/family doctors are not free, but fairly cheap (my doctor is $18 per visit), and usually available within a week.
      – prescription medicines are extraordinarily cheap thanks to a wonderful government agency called Pharmac
      – yes, there can be wait times of several months for non-urgent specialists and elective surgeries through the public system, but e.g. if you need to see an oncologist, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. All public specialist appointments, hospital stays, and surgeries cost exactly zero dollars.
      – I’ve visited the public emergency room a few times without hesitation; it’s completely free.
      – of course there’s underfunding (e.g. nurses are notoriously underpaid and have been striking recently), but per capita expenditure is fairly low, and quality of care is generally considered to be high.
      – ~30% of NZers have some kind of private health insurance, and this is correlated w/ income.
      – mental and dental health are a very different story. I think (although may be mistaken) that the former has fairly long waitlists even for relatively serious things, and being forced to pay for private care isn’t uncommon. Dental care isn’t subsidised at all for some stupid historical reason: it’s outrageously expensive, and a huge number of ppl don’t go to the dentist unless it’s urgent.

    • a real dog says:

      Poland here.

      There is an explicit “health tax” taken off most forms of individual income, used to fund public healthcare. Most hospitals and clinics are either privately owned or work as for-profit companies that happen to be owned by the local government. However, almost every one has a contract with the public payer (“National Healthcare Fund”, or NFZ) that allows a subset of services to be rendered free of charge. On top of that there is an expanding layer of private practice by doctors (paid in cash) and private medical insurance (with the services usually rendered in-house by the insurance provider).

      The good parts:
      1. Emergency care is free and relatively uncongested. If you break a finger you can usually go to the ER, get through a simple yet efficient triage system, and receive care within an hour or two. You won’t pay anything (except maybe 50% copay for some painkillers etc, if you want them). Ambulances are always free, though if you waste their time on bullshit you can get charged an US$150 fine.
      2. Surgery that would, in a private system, run into tens of thousands of USD is free. There are waiting lists, they are long especially for QoL surgeries (often over a year), but it will eventually get done. Surgery that would save you from death or a serious loss of functionality has a priority queue.
      3. There is a third-party system for rating doctors (znanylekarz.pl), which combined with almost every experienced doctor having a private practice allows you a timely and relatively inexpensive (30-50 USD per visit) consultation with whatever exotic skillset you need.
      4. Employer-provided private insurance is a pretty popular thing. The quality of covered doctors is really hit-or-miss (oftentimes it’s safer to treat them as prescription-giving machines than actual experts) and you can get a lot of diagnostics done for free, including things that are hard to get otherwise such as MRI (~6 months waiting list in the public system, if you don’t want to pay and it’s a QoL problem). I use it mostly for blood testing and care for chronic problems.

      The bad:
      1. The standard of care is pretty meh, in particular when it comes to new technologies. Hospitals are underfunded and lack equipment, they are quite competent at whatever was cutting edge 30 years ago but it’s nowhere near the US standard. Hospital food is infamously an atrocity.
      2. The public system is built on yearly per-service limits allowed to each contracted clinic, due to budget constraints. Unfortunately, this often leads to valuable equipment being underutilized, as the public payer won’t cover any more uses despite the fact that the machine IS IDLE RIGHT THERE and putting another patient through it actually costs nothing.
      3. Following from 2, queues for the public system are often unreasonably long, and stem from the limits, not actual staff/equipment shortage.
      4. Pay for doctors in the public sphere (or clinics/hospitals recently converted from totally public) is a joke, the doctors and nurses go on strikes regularily over it. Hospitals are mostly seen as the place for young doctors to get experience, with most of them moving towards private practice once they know stuff and have the certifications to prove it. Emigration is a popular choice as well.
      5. Private insurance covers consultations and simple diagnostics, but good luck getting surgeries or cancer care. Then you’re back to the public system – see points 1-3.
      6. Almost all dental care is paid in cash. It’s still pretty cheap (about $50 for having a cavity filled, up to $1000 for the very fancy stuff).

      It’s really a mixed bag, but everyone I know reacts with a mix of amusement and horror to the US healthcare shenanigans – so I’d say we’re doing something right. TBH learning from the mistakes of the Polish system you could probably design a far better one.

      • timorl says:

        Just commenting to say that this is a very good overview of the situation in Poland. And perhaps add that “hospital food” being number one on the list of problems is neither a coincidence nor an understatement.

        OP, if you want to learn about various healthcare systems I heartily recommend the WHO publications on the topic. You can either read one of the overwievs or the ones for specific countries if you want more detail, but all of them are very informative and not as dry as one would imagine.

        After writing that last paragraph I remembered the most surprizing thing I read in the report about Poland. We have a publicly funded and surprizingly well functioning system of non-hospital on-site healthcare in the form of “sanatoria”. Those are places where mostly old and some ill people go to get some rest and general wellness care (physiotherapy and the like I believe). In practice my grandma goes to such a place about once a year for 2 weeks. This is a very unique thing about the polish healthcare system and no wonder, because it sounds (even to me) like a huge waste of money. But the WHO reports spoke very highly of the system and apparently it improves quality of life significantly for older people, so my intuition is wrong.

        • Alaburda says:

          Lithuanian here. “Sanatoria” are rehabilitation centres or spa centres and they do work! Any patient after a stroke, for example, can have their QoL really improved with 30 or more days or rehabilitation. On the surface it may sound like just physiotherapy, baths etc, but usually treatment is catered to retain and improve autonomy of the patient, e.g. there are specific exercises to improve grip strength, limb strength or physical endurance. Long queues to get into the best ones, though, and the prices can be exhorbitant as our national healthcare system cannot cover the costs completely.

    • New Zealand. Sometimes described as single-payer, although I don’t know if that’s technically correct. My personal experience has been fine for the basics: seeing a GP is heavily subsidized and free for children, hospital and emergency treatment is free, dental care is free for under 18s, subscriptions cost a uniform $5 (US$3.30), and there’s further means-tested assistance available for most remaining fees.

      Where it gets tricky is anything involving surgery or specialists. For example, earlier this year I was put on a four-month waiting list to see a specialist, for a problem that was quite worrying, and that my GP essentially knew nothing about. I have also heard that it’s extremely difficult to get timely assistance for mental health problems in particular (NZ has the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world, and suicide rates are at historic highs at the population level).

      Middle-class and rich people can get around this problem in three ways:
      1. By taking out private health insurance, which is sometimes subsidized by employers, so they can skip waiting lists and choose their desired standard of care.
      2. By paying a private specialist out-of-pocket, without having to go through the public referral system or an insurance company.
      3. Geoarbitrage (i.e. medical, dental and cosmetic tourism).

      I have used all of these strategies at various times. For example, I was able to see the best [XYZ] doctor in Mumbai with two days’ notice, have a procedure scheduled immediately, and all the relevant medicine prescribed, for a few hundred dollars. I had my wisdom teeth pulled for less than $50 in Thailand, etc.

      One particularly noteworthy aspect of the NZ system is the single-buyer model for pharmaceuticals. We have a Crown entity called Pharmac which decides which drugs will be subsidized, then negotiates on behalf of the entire public health system at once. Because it only chooses one brand from each category, usually generic, pharmaceutical companies have to compete hard for the tender. NZ’s trading partners are understandably not thrilled about this, and always make a fuss about it during FTA negotiations…but it’s been in place for 25 years now, and saved us many billions of dollars.

      EDIT: As smwis notes above, dentistry is not covered for adults, which leads to some bleak outcomes like people waiting until it’s bad enough that they can go to the emergency room. I vaguely assumed this was a moral hazard thing (don’t remove a major incentive for people to look after their teeth) but this is completely inconsistent with the approach in every other domain.

    • Robert Jones says:

      I’m in the UK. I don’t have any experience of other health systems, so it’s difficult for me to make a list of pluses and minuses, as I don’t have a basis for comparison.

      I often find it difficult to make a GP appointment. I should explain that a GP is short for general practitioner and refers to the local doctor that you see in the first instance when you have a non-emergency medical problem. Any way, my last several GPs seem to have been heavily booked up. To deal with this they sometimes have a system where you have to call a specific time to make an appointment, and then I end up waiting on the phone for ages, because everyone else is trying to call at the same time.

      I understand there is a problem specifically in London with GP capacity, so this may be less of an issue in other parts of the country.

      The appointment times can be inconvenient. Partly that’s because of the capacity issue: if there’s only one appointment available, I have to take that and arrange my life around it. But also, GPs tend to operate normal working hours, so it can be difficult for working people to get to appointments. Obviously, if you’re off sick that isn’t a problem, but it can be difficult for routine appointments. The government wants GPs to offer more evening and weekend appointments, but the GPs aren’t keen, and apparently there isn’t that much demand. I suspect that working people tend to also be healthy, so they don’t use NHS services much, although there could be some chicken-and-egg stuff going on.

      Sometimes there can be a long wait for a specialist referral, but it depends on the specialist and how urgent the problem is.

      My NHS psychiatrist advised me to have my Asperger’s Syndrome assessed privately (which I did) because it would have taken too long to get it done on the NHS. He was a good psychiatrist though.

    • Argos says:

      I live in Germany; we have universal healthcare, but everybody can choose between around 10 public insurance providers. In addition to that, there are also private providers, which serve around 10 percent of the population (mostly well-off people and teachers). As in other counties, these private plans’ contributions is based on your personal risk profile, covers more medical services and is supposed to reduce strain on the public system.

      Personally, I am very dissatisfied by the way the system works, although it may objectively compare well to other industry nations and my dissatisfaction has probably little to do with the question of universal/private/single payer systems.

      In general, care is free or *very* cheap, and waiting times vary from ok to outrageous depending on where you live and which specialist you want to see. I assume that the system serves those well, that either have a very urgent or a very common/easy-to-treat condition. What is lacking is the treatment of somewhat hard to treat conditions that are not life threatening. As doctors usually have very little time for a given patient and no real feedback mechanism is in place at all (i.e. specialist doctors don’t see the patients again, are not informed of the outcome of the treatment; I understand that the UK is more advanced in this regard), there is very little incentive to treat problems like chronic pain or conditions that flare up occasionally.

      In my circle of friends (mostly people in their 20s) I have several people suffering from joint problems and the like, which led them to quit their hobbies and are impacting their working life/studies. None of them feels very well treated by doctors they see; as the waiting times are so long, they usually only see two or three doctors, and those doctors often do not even examine the joints in question. My personal experience was with the onset of hyperthyroidism in my teenage years was that even though I was suffering from hair loss and tiredness, none of the doctors suggested that as a possibility, dismissing it as a lack of sleep and getting older. It was only after I specifically requested a test that the correct diagnosis was found.

      On a more personal note, I find dealing with the medical system fairly unpleasant and I suspect other people share this sentiment. Staff is usually stressed out and overworked, so there is neither time nor inclanation for being overly friendly. I however already feel uncomfortable and vulnerable for seeking help, so I don’t bother as much as I probably should. According to this study German doctors spend 6 minutes on an average consultation, while in the US it’s something like 20 minutes, which is a very sad state of affairs.

      • melboiko says:

        For a contrasting experience, I came from Brazil to Germany & I bless the healthcare system every day. Sure it’s bureaucratic and doctors tend to be curt, but it has provided me with free or affordable care for everything I needed, including new eyeglasses, advanced dental care, psychological support, and my transition. If I was in the U.S. I wouldn’t be able to afford anything, if I was in Japan treatment would have been denied to me, & if I was back home I’d still be waiting for everything, so I consider myself super lucky to live in Germany at this point in history.

      • raw says:

        I also live in Germany and had to look up the numbers. There are currently more than 100 public insurance providers but the differences are quite small. You are only allowed to get a private insurance if your earn more than 60k euros per year or under special conditions (self employed or working for the government as “Beamter”). I thought there are much more people with a private insurance put in 2018 it was only 8.75%
        The big advantage, in my opinion, of the public insurance is that you pay a fixed percentage of your income (a bit like tax). That means if you have less money (e.g. being retired), you pay less.
        The overall quality of the health system seems good to me. Waiting times are often longer if you are in a public insurance as doctors can bill more for the same procedure from private insurances.
        The public insurance negotiate with the pharma companies and the caregivers to save costs which often results in a lot of bureaucracy for the caretakers. I have the impression that as a result the system is not very good for the people working in it.
        As for Argos arguments, I’m not sure if the German medical system is worse regarding chronic illnesses.
        My impression is that this is a problem of most modern medical system, that they are very good at treating acute illnesses but very bad at complex chronic illnesses that would perhaps even need life style changes as an intervention.

    • toastengineer says:

      Hey, I’m an American whose been poor enough to receive 100% free “insurance” from the state, does that count for anything?

      If so: I filled out a 3-page form, waited a week, they sent me a Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance card that got me whatever doctors and tests I needed. I had to pay $1 at the counter for prescriptions, but that’s it.

    • arlie says:

      I’m a Canadian who’s lived in the US for 35 years, but I’m old enough to have experience of the Quebec and Ontario health care systems as an adult, and most of my relatives live in New Brunswick, with one in Ontario. (Canadian healthcare is run by the provinces, and there are differences.)

      – as a young adult in good overall health, in the 1980s and early 1990s, I was completey satisfied with the health care I received.
      – my sister’s breast cancer seems to have been handled very well, in New Brunswick in the 2010s
      – ditto for end of life care for both my parents, also in New Brunswick
      – one nephew has Crohn’s syndrome. This got discovered at a point when his family income was severely impacted by the 2008 crash. Excellent medical care there – and most importantly, affordable. New Brunswick. He’s since moved to Quebec, and I presume the same quality of care continues.
      – the Ontario sister is satisfied with her health care, but I see her dealing with longer delays than I do, in the US with fairly good insurance
      – my mother waited much longer for cataract surgery than I did, and had it at a point where her vision was much more impaired than mine was when I had it. Finally getting it made a huge difference in her quality of life.
      – According to my mother, who was not a reliable source by that point, Saint John, New Brunswick has such a desperate shortage of primary care physicians that some large % of the population doesn’t have one – she said 30%.
      – I get a lot more ‘screening’ care than other members of my family. Things like routine colonosopies, just because one turned some specific age. Our standard of care seems to do some of these things earlier and more frequently. I am not a doctor(!) but I understand there’s real controversy about how much screening is too much. So it’s unclear whether I or my relatives in Canada are having the better expereicne.

      • Simulated Knave says:

        “Exciting” context for non-Canadians: New Brunswick is arguably the worst-run province in Canada. The literacy rate would embarrass a third world nation, and since the French and English both resent each other the government spends a lot of money creating double education and health care systems.

        Having lived in Saint John New Brunswick until 2010, 30% not having a primary care physician sounds about right. It’s a problem throughout the Maritimes – despite high salaries offered, people all want to go live in Toronto. Also, Saint John is habitually underserved due to the provincial government having resented it for the province’s entire history. Seriously. The provincial capital was founded pretty much just because the governor didn’t want to live in Saint John.

        Screening DOES start being pushed once you’re a certain age in Canada, though I think the waitlists mean its less frequent overall.

        • Tenacious D says:

          “Fun” fact: right now, New Brunswick is not being run at all. The outcome of the last election was such that no party could successfully form a government on its own or find a coalition partner. I doubt things will go as long as Belgium without a resolution but all sorts of rarely-used parliamentary rules are getting dusted off.

          • Simulated Knave says:

            Yeah, watching the Conservative leader either lie to everyone about how Parliament works or demonstrate that he doesn’t know himself was very much not reassuring.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I get a lot more ‘screening’ care than other members of my family. Things like routine colonosopies, just because one turned some specific age. Our standard of care seems to do some of these things earlier and more frequently. I am not a doctor(!) but I understand there’s real controversy about how much screening is too much. So it’s unclear whether I or my relatives in Canada are having the better expereicne.

        Possibly-relevant anecdote: A British friend recently moved to the US. In order to get a driving license there, she had to have a doctor sign off that she was medically fit to drive (I don’t know whether this is general PA state law or something restricted to immigrants).

        Her doctor asked when she had last had a physical. Her answer, of course, was “never”- they aren’t really a thing in the UK, healthy working-age adults don’t usually go to a doctor unless they’re sick. The doctor was shocked and refused to sign off on her driving license until she got one- and, IIRC, a gynecological exam!

    • jgr314 says:

      My anecdotal experience: I have a decent amount of experience with three systems: US (over 20 years), UK (10 years), Thailand (5 years). My family and I have not gone through major issues and most of our experience in the US and UK has been kid-related (pregnancy, birth, early years, allergies, immunization, etc).

      UK: we were lucky to be able to use the NHS and supplement with private services as needed. Mainly, we found the NHS very easy to use and fairly high quality. Two services particularly stand-out: the health visitors who make home visits in the early months after a birth and the emergency services my son required for some allergy/breathing scares. Those were both in SE London in an area that was lower middle class (or lower) when we were there. When we lived in posh central London, our local NHS surgery was basically on par with private clinics.

      In both private and public, we were easily able to find out how much things would cost.

      On balance, we perceived that UK providers would tend to under-treat. We were rarely given tests or prescriptions unless we pushed for them.

      For what it is worth, dental care was awesome (despite the historical stereotype about terrible British teeth).

      Thailand: again, we mix public and private services, over a wider range of services, from birth through old-age, mostly in greater Bangkok. Public services are high quality, but there is a lot of waiting, especially for emergency (non-scheduled) services. Private is high quality and they are especially great with kids and elderly patients. Thanks to rambunctious kids, we’ve gotten to sample services in some rural and provincial clinics/hospitals and have had mixed experiences, for example small clinics that weren’t able to handle emergency stitches.

      We perceive that Thai providers over treat, and the private providers are especially enthusiastic about giving out prescription medicines.

      We usually find it easy to determine how much the services will cost.

      Dental is very similar to our experience in the US: competent, but providers give the impression of being much more commercially oriented than optimizing care.

      US: though growing up here, I have no idea how this works. Since returning to the US several years ago, we’ve managed to get adequate care for our kids, but my wife and I haven’t even managed to get primary care physicians for ourselves nor have we had any regular/preventative check-ups. We generally find it hard to determine how much things will cost, especially what net amount we will pay after insurance.

      Concerns about healthcare in the US were a partial deterrent to returning and are the main reason we will probably return to Thailand when we retire.

    • Lillian says:

      Here is an unusual one: Private medical care in Venezeula used to be so good, that as late as 2013 my Venezuelan relatives were still preferring to obtain medical treatments and medicines over there rather than in the United States. It used to be that nobody wealthy in Venezuela would go abroad for medical treatment unless they a really bad cancer or some kind of very rare condition. Obviously none if this is the case any longer, but it’s still noteworthy that it ever was.

      Interestingly enough the principal complaint about the US medical system wasn’t so much the expense, though that was a factor, but rather the doctors. They seem to feel they were overworked, had bad bedside manner, didn’t listen to patients, and tended to both over and under treat. There was also, i suspect, some frustration that in the US they could not use political pull or money to get preferential treatment.

      The other big complaint was the hassle and absolute necessity of medical insurance. In Venezuela there is medical insurance of course, and obviously you want it if you can afford it, but US insurance is more like managed care, which adds a whole extra layer of bureaucratic stuff to deal with. To my relatives this all struck them as excessively complicated and unnecessarily difficult.

      So in short, my Venezuelan relatives didn’t like American doctors, and felt their money went less far and gave them less clout over here than over there. So as long as the private medical system in Venezuela continued to function, they continued to prefer it.

  45. adder says:

    Who here knows much about copyright, and how it pertains to textbooks? I have this dream of writing an open access elementary mathematics text (series). I don’t have anything particularly new to offer, and would use the techniques presented in the best math books already out there. At what point does this become plagarism? Presumably, a unique approach to solving a math problem can’t become the intellectual property of that author/publisher forever…. can it? What if I take the form of puzzles and games of another text, provided I don’t rip off the exact values for those puzzles?

    • 10240 says:

      IANAL, but ideas definitely can’t be copyrighted, only the actual text can. The only issue you could run into is that if you read something and then try to write it down in your own words, you may inadvertently use the same phrasing, which may be taken as copying. Perhaps read stuff, then write it down a week later, when you have probably forgot the exact wording but remember the idea. (Of course if you use a source that’s itself free content, you can copy stuff as long as you give the source proper mention as required by its license.)

      In an academic work, the norm is to cite the source as a reference if you use other people’s ideas (except perhaps if an idea is very widely known, but even then you mention the originator’s name if it can be tied to a specific person), but that’s a matter of fairness and academic ethics, not copyright law. I don’t know what the custom is in a more elementary work.

    • Protagoras says:

      If you use other open access texts as your sources, then as long as you cite them you have no issues (at least if their version of open access allows adaptation; there are a few different versions of what it means, but the text should indicate). If you don’t use open access sources, you should really consult a lawyer, and not random people on the internet (or better yet just don’t do it). Even if someone here knows the relevant law, that isn’t the same as knowing what will hold up in court, and for that matter if you’re sued for copyright infringement, even if technically you are legally in the right it could be very expensive to defend yourself. What 10240 says sounds right, but I wouldn’t bet my livelyhood on it holding up in court, and even if it does you don’t want to end up in court in the first place.

    • Erusian says:

      Not a lawyer but took graduate level copyright law courses in undergrad.

      My personal suggestion: There are already public domain mathematics textbooks that cover a lot of subjects. My high school math teacher once had me look over a 1903 mathematics textbook. It covered virtually all the topics we had in class without much different. It wouldn’t have had any copyright. You could copy that book, write down to the questions, update the language, and make it publicly available for free. It would be a virtually complete curriculum. And you can find them on ebay for ten or twenty dollars.

      This wouldn’t work for advanced topics, like abstract algebra, but that… is not elementary.

      Anyway, no textbook manufacturer could ever copyright a mathematical formula they did not invent. And most textbooks do not invent new mathematics to teach. They could claim rights over their curriculum or pedagogical technique. My suggestion would be that you do not directly reference any other textbooks while creating your textbook, to avoid it being a derivative work of any kind. For example, if a textbook has a puzzle you like and you put in a similar puzzle, they could argue you derived it from their copyrighted work. For example, taking the puzzles and games of another textbook and changing out the numbers is a textbook example of derivation. It would not fly.

      Put another way, even if they can’t copyright the way to solve a problem, they can copyright the way they teach it to people. And not forever, but only until copyright runs out.

      If you want to do this, really want to do this, I’d suggest start reading on how people make make textbooks and on teaching techniques, combined with the relevant mathematical texts, and invent your own theories on the best way to teach. Otherwise… well, it really seems like you’re asking how close you can get to copying someone without being sued.

      • 10240 says:

        My high school math teacher once had me look over a 1903 mathematics textbook. […] It wouldn’t have had any copyright. You could copy that book,

        Make sure the author(s) kicked the bucket by 1948 (or the relevant year in your jurisdiction).

        • ana53294 says:

          Works published before 1923 in the US are in the public domain.

          If the country where it was first published was the US, then US copyright applies.

          Not all countries use copyright life+70 years, by the way. Some use +50.

          There are multiple laws in the US, which do not apply retroactively. So basically, there is a law for pre-1923, 1923 to 1978 (copyright has to be registered) and 1978* to now.

          * Copyright Act goes into effect.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      This is being done now. Check out openstax.org

    • adder says:

      Thanks for the responses. I suppose “talk to a lawyer if you’re serious about this” is probably the most obvious and best advice. Also, the tip regarding using public domain sources should have been obvious, but will probably prove very useful.

      Nonetheless, I still think there are a lot of fairly new approaches to mathematics that aren’t quite original, but presented in a new way. E.g. we all know that we could add two-digit numbers by adding each place value and regrouping where necessary, but if one text comes up with a fresh way of notating this, is it off limits?

      As far as puzzles go, I wonder who invented, e.g., the cross logic puzzle? If someone comes up with an equally cool concept today in a copyrighted material, is that concept their intellectual property?

      [I suppose I’m not actually expecting an answer here, unless a helpful IP lawyer happens to be reading here… but I just want to share where I’m coming from.]

      Part of why I want to do this is because I have developed some pretty strong opinions about the best ways to teach elementary math and what textbooks should look like. But I can’t say I’ve come up with any genuinely new pedagogical techniques; I suspect this is true of many textbook writers.

    • Leah Velleman says:

      It’s important to distinguish between copyright infringement and plagiarism.

      If your publication copies a large chunk of text from a textbook written after the 1920s, and you don’t fit through one of a few specific loopholes, you have infringed the publisher’s copyright, exposed yourself to lawsuits, and possibly committed a crime.

      If you don’t copy text, but just talk about someone else’s ideas in your own words, you probably haven’t broken any laws. But if you do it in a way that implies you came up with the ideas yourself, or you don’t properly credit your source, you probably have committed plagiarism. Plagiarism isn’t a crime — just an ethics violation (albeit a serious one that in some fields can get you fired or ruin your reputation).

      The rules of citation you might have learned in high school or college are about avoiding plagiarism. This means most people with a high school or college education know a lot more about plagiarism than about copyright. Which is part of why people are suggesting you get a lawyer — the actual laws here don’t correspond to the rules you were taught in school to follow.

  46. albertborrow says:

    I was just asked to write an essay answering a whole bunch of questions about open source for my freshman software engineering class, and I feel like I’ve been training my whole life for this moment. (background: my father had me using Linux since before I could read) As someone who has grown up using these tools, it’s always kind of strange to me to see how unfamiliar most people are with it.

    • ggreer says:

      It’s not just freshmen who lack familiarity with these tools. In my experience, a CS or Software Engineering degree has little correlation with such knowledge. When I was in college, I had to teach my classmates how to use subversion. Within the past year, I’ve worked with Berkeley CS grads who didn’t know how to use git or basic shell features like tab completion.

      I really wish more schools would spend some time on unix tools.

      • Nornagest says:

        Tools, yeah, but that’s only one part of it. An academic CS degree is pretty good at teaching algorithms, but it’s really bad at giving students any of the skills they need to work on large collaborative projects.

        A typical project in industry might look like “this ten-year-old system that does A through X now needs to do Y too; make it so”. That breaks down into reading lots of other people’s code, figuring out the best places in the system to put the entry points for Y, writing the actual algorithms that do Y (while conforming to house style and reusing as much existing code as practical), testing it (often including putting new test cases into an existing test framework), getting it reviewed (often over-the-shoulder, but maybe using tools like CCollab), and committing it into source control. Every step of that, except writing the algorithm, a CS degree will tell you nothing about.

        • toastengineer says:

          An academic CS degree is pretty good at teaching algorithms, but it’s really bad at giving students any of the skills they need to work on large collaborative projects.

          And to be fair, that’s probably the right decision. Academia is slow, tools fall in an out of fashion; BFS and hash tables aren’t going anywhere ever. Plus, professors don’t actually DO any production programming, so how are they expected to teach something they never do?

          • Nornagest says:

            Tools go out of fashion pretty often, but I’d like to have seen a class on software development methodology that showed some of the principles behind those tools. It wouldn’t matter much if it used e.g. SVN while industry had moved on to git or Perforce; it’s much easier to transition between tools than to learn your first.

            And a lot of the stuff I was talking about has nothing to do with tools. Understanding other people’s code, and building on existing frameworks, are core software engineering skills that’ll never go out of fashion. Even academics use them. They just don’t teach them.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          As a software engineer myself, I can confirm this.

      • sty_silver says:

        I study SE, and I struggle far more with figuring out how to use these kinds of things than with the material of any computer-science-y lecture. I can only echo that I wish there were class for these kinds of things. It is, at various points, just assumed that you know how to use linux and stuff, but at no point was I told that and how to get used to it

      • arlie says:

        I’m finding it a little weird to see git classed within “Unix tools”. I’ve read at least one intro to git that concentrated entirely on web-based git use (probably github; the author seemed to be unclear on the difference, but was proudly trying to help others use whatever they’d been taught.)

        But I’ve been using unix since before linux was a gleam in Torvald’s eye, never mind git.

    • chlorinecrown says:

      I’d like to read it!

      • albertborrow says:

        The questions were, in order:
        1. What would be the differences between creating free software and doing so under a commercial product?
        2. When is it appropriate to use other people’s software?
        3. What might be the legal, ethical implications and moral obligations of doing so?
        4. Where does the responsibility lie on maintaining the software?
        5. Does one area interest you more than the other (free, open source, commercial)? Why?

        Because I think most people here are familiar enough with open source, I’ll give you the abridged version. For #1, I basically spent a paragraph showing that the biggest difference between free software and commercial software is the addition of economies of scale. For #2, I said that the legal answer is “according to the terms of use” and that the real answer is “as much as they’re not willing to sue you for”, and then gave the classic example of the extended WinRAR free trial period, where individuals using the free trial forever spread public goodwill and press, but corporations that wanted to use it had to do it by the books, buying licenses. For #3 I talked about the dispute over who owns a program once it is bought – say, the end user wants to make their own modifications, but the license doesn’t permit it. The last two questions aren’t really relevant.

        • The Element of Surprise says:

          addition of economies of scale

          Are there economies of scale in software development? I have never developed commercial software, but naively I would assume that one hundred people working on a product will be less than ten times more productive than ten people. (Also, how does this relate to open source / free software?)

          • Garrett says:

            There are economies of scale in terms of users for bug finding/fixing. One of the best things to happen to any library you write for your own use is to have someone else start using it. They will inadvertently throw a whole different set of use-cases against the code, likely finding additional bugs you didn’t even know to look for. This will result in better quality code over time.