SELF-RECOMMENDING!

Open Thread 115.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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

542 Responses to Open Thread 115.5

  1. bean says:

    There was some discussion of the Lion Air crash right after it happens, and the technical report has just come out. I thought I’d share my insights from it.

    The basic story is at least related to the one we had earlier. There was a sensor failure, and it caused the automatic trim system to try to pitch the plane down. However, the new information we have is that the sensor was bad when installed, and the previous flight crew had managed to deal with it. More than that, we now know exactly what was going on with the shutoff that everyone was complaining about. The procedure to deal with the problem is to set the stabilizer into “cutout” (off) mode, and it is covered in the appropriate checklist. The use of manual trim should override this, although it will resume after the manual switch is released.

    My take? This one is pretty much on the flight crew, with secondary blame falling on Lion Air. The basic job of the crew is to fly the airplane, and they managed to do so for close to 10 minutes with the problem going on. Then they stopped. Until we get the voice recorder, we probably won’t know why, although my first guess would be that they got distracted in the matter of Eastern 401. I’m not sure exactly how culpable Lion Air’s maintenance staff is. It’s obvious in retrospect that the AOA sensor was faulty when installed, but I don’t have the knowledge to judge the adequacy of their troubleshooting. It’s rather odd that Boeing has a system of this type taking orders only from the Captain’s instruments, but that’s a rather minor issue, and the ultimate responsibility lies with the crew.

    One thing I want to talk about is the FAA’s release of an emergency Airworthiness Directive (AD) on this issue. This is a field I used to work in, and this one maps scarily well to how the FDA does things. Basically, the AD only says “follow the checklist, and don’t fly around with this problem”. This is pretty obvious.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If the sensor was known bad, shouldn’t either the plane have been grounded until a working sensor was installed, or the automatic system disabled in such a way that it would be hard to turn on?

      • bean says:

        They didn’t know it was bad when they first put it on. The airline is apparently claiming that it was a “serviceable part”, but not new, and that it was FAA certified. The second part is irrelevant. The FAA doesn’t inspect each part, they certify the design. It’s very possible that something fishy was going on there. Parts with fake certs were a serious problem in the US for a while, until the FAA cracked down. Goodness knows what the situation is like in Indonesia.

        And some maintenance was done on the system in Jakarta just before the failed flight, and it apparently passed ground test. I don’t know nearly enough to say if the tests done were adequate or what.

    • Deiseach says:

      This is pretty obvious.

      “Don’t put a broken part into your plane” also seems pretty obvious, but as you say, we won’t really know if it was a case of “ah sure it’ll do” or if they really didn’t know it was bust until we get more info.

  2. johan_larson says:

    Turnabout is fair play, huh? China is trying, with some success, to attract foreign students and professors to China, including Americans.

    https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/11/27/669645323/china-expands-research-funding-luring-u-s-scientists-and-students

    China ain’t kidding about becoming a big player in science, folks.

  3. What would life be like if I had access to perfect recall, could watch any day of the past go by? Suppose I had a year, or a decade, with nothing else to do but review my life.

    Parts would be painful, as I watched stupid mistakes I had made with no power to change them, ways in which I had treated other people badly without realizing I was doing so. But it might be very educational.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      Judging by the strength of memories formed in particularly bad times, I would surmise that we would be overwhelmed by those bad memories that we could never forget, even a little. I’ve been quite pleased with the fading of all memories so that the worst also fade. I’ve never even done something particularly bad, like kill someone or cheat an old lady out of her income. I can’t imagine how someone who fought a war would cope with perfect recall.

      Another negative would be time spent (wasted?) reviewing things that already happened, rather than experiencing new things or doing new things. Since you are 73 and likely have more memories of things done than plans to do more (just a factor of age), then it might be more appealing to relive good parts of your life. There’s more available before than after. For someone who is younger, spending too much time reliving the past would cause a lack of effort in the future. I’m sure a lot of people would simply remember their best sexual experience, rather than trying to find something better. You could do the same thing for a variety of pleasures that form the basis for our drives to do more.

      At best, this reminds me of a thought experiment a professor once asked in class. Would it be morally good/acceptable for someone to live their entire lives hooked up to a pleasure machine – heroin or whatever pumped into you at all times so you have maximum pleasure?

      Now, it would be really nice to read a book, technical manual, graph, news story, etc. and never forget the information or where it came from. To never forget the face and voice of your mom, who passed away when you were 11. Personally, I think it would be a bad trade overall.

    • arlie says:

      Having a decade with nothing to do but review my life sounds really sucky. But having perfect recall available would be wonderful, both for ease of learning and for avoiding the tendency to misremember things, generally in self-serving ways.

    • Randy M says:

      Apparently such people exist.

      • Judging by that story, apparently not.

        • Randy M says:

          You’re right. Ironically, I had read about the case study briefly in another book in the library yesterday, completely mis-remembered the title, the googled until I found something that referenced it and linked that without reading to the middle/end where it discussed that what was passed off in the previous book was probably an exaggeration.

    • cassander says:

      There’s a black mirror episode about that. Spoiler, it ends badly.

  4. Plumber says:

    An exchange upthread has me pondering “Where have you felt out of place the most, and the least?”

    For me it goes from the most strange feeling to least:
    Goleta, California
    >
    Ottawa, Canada
    >
    Washington D.C.
    >
    rural California
    >
    Palo Alto, California
    >
    Los Angeles
    >
    Montreal, Canada
    >
    Downtown San Jose, California (many of the other parts seemed more normal to me, comparable to Oakland)
    >
    Seattle, Washington
    >
    with the flats of north Oakland and south, Berkeley the most “home”.

    I’m sure other have a different list, and/or have traveled more than me, so where did it feel strange, and what’s your baseline?

    • Uribe says:

      I’ve never felt in place much. For me, the stranger the better.

      I felt most lost, in a good way, in Rio de Janeiro. The live samba music in Lapa made me feel more at home than anywhere on the planet.

      I feel most at home on the road; most at rest in the air.

      My baseline is Houston. Anywhere is better than Houston.

    • I felt oddly at home in Israel. Not as much as in America, but more than in other foreign countries. It felt as though the other (Jewish) people there were distant relatives–as, in some sense, they were.

      Aside from that, I don’t think any particular foreign country makes me feel very much in place or very much out of place. Shanghai felt like a happy city to me. In the U.S., Hyde Park, Chicago, where I grew up, probably feels most like home, but I get similar feelings in other places I have spent a lot of time in, including the house in Dorchester where I have spent almost every New Years for forty years or so.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’ve felt surprisingly comfortable in North/West Europe–Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark. More so than in Spain, where I speak the language, or Italy, where I can read the signs and at least kinda-sorta communicate.

        In Denmark, the really interesting thing was that people would walk up to me and start speaking Danish, and then switch over to English. My ancestry is Irish, Scots-Irish, German, and maybe some English, so I guess I look like I could be a local. But it also feels like the culture is compatible with what I grew up with (US midwestern educated middle-class white).

      • Well... says:

        My brother, who is politically quite anti-Israel, visited there as an adult and described a similar experience of feeling surprisingly “at home” — not just among the people but among the landscape itself. (Of course the difference is, he and I were born there; so although we left as toddlers, Israel is in some literal sense “home”.)

    • arlie says:

      I don’t think I can rank order feelings of strangeness, but Colorado has got to be the worst of the places I’ve actually lived, for feeling out of place. (I lived in Boulder, but the rest of the state seeemed even worse.) Dallas would be the worst of the places I ever seriously considered living, though it shares some of its flaws with Edmonton (which I only visited on a business trip).

      Places I’ve lived reasonably comfortably: Montreal, Ottawa, New Jersey, Silicon Valley part of California.

      Places I’ve visited comfortably: England, Toronto, Germany, semi-rural Ohio. Guildford (in England) practically felt like home. And I’d happily have moved to Munich, language and employment permitting.

      Baseline: born and raised in Montreal, Canada.

    • Protagoras says:

      I think I probably felt most out of place in rural Georgia, and I’m most comfortable in the Twin Cities (in Minnesota). I feel like I’ve visited too many places to make a full list of those in between, but I’ve visited two and lived in one place on your list, and of those I’ve felt most out of place in Montreal, and probably most comfortable in Goleta (the one I lived in), with Los Angeles in between.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m not going to try making a full list, but the weirdest place I’ve ever been in by a long shot was Cebu City, Philippines. Far weirder than Puerta Princesa, which is a lot like some parts of Hawaii or Mexico would be if you covered them in auto-rickshaws spewing two-stroke fumes, or even Manila, whose weirdest point is arguably how closely some of it resembles Los Angeles. Cebu’s like a bizarre tropical mutation of 1980s American mall culture grown on a substrate of 16th-century folk Catholicism.

      After that, probably Las Vegas. Imagine taking Saddam Hussein’s living room, feeding it hormones until it grows over a hundred square miles, and genetically engineering it to eat as much of your money as possible. I haven’t deliberately gone there since college, but I keep ending up there on business trips or on my way to other, more interesting places.

      Washington, DC is pretty weird. New England is just enough like the West Coast cities I know well to throw me when it’s not. Rural Utah is a lot like the more gentrified parts of rural California where I grew up, except that there’s fewer trees, more rocks, and less beer. Rural Idaho is a lot like the less gentrified parts, except it’s flatter and colder and more people carry pistols.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Cebu’s like a bizarre tropical mutation of 1980s American mall culture grown on a substrate of 16th-century folk Catholicism.

        That sounds fascinating to visit.

        o/~ It’s the ’80s! Drink a food court Coke and pray to Mother Mary! o/~

      • Las Vegas reminds me of an old story about an early Hollywood epic. The set designers were showing the director around the very lavish set. After seeing it all, he turned to them and said:

        “It just shows you what God could have done if he had the money.”

        That’s Vegas.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I’ve only felt at home in my current suburb. It’s a street-car style development near a rail depot originally set up in the 1800s. I like the relative walkability and I like the small lot sizes that make the single-family homes close together. Other than that, I really enjoy vacation towns that have similar set-ups, like Bar Harbor and Miami Beach.

      Standard sappy answer: I always feel at home with my wife, regardless of where we are.

      Oddest areas? The areas that feel like fake small-town America. New Town, Missouri is a “New Urbanist” development, so you can think of it as mimicking old style small towns. However, it’s a greenfield development, so it looks like you are coming up on a gimmicky small town in the middle of nowhere and are about to become part of a horror movie set.
      Also, what really takes the cake. Delafield, Wisconsin. Also appears like the fake Stepford town out of a horror movie. I stopped there for gas somewhere between 2-4 AM, and again felt like I was the poor nameless extra killed by line 3.

  5. aphyer says:

    +1. I’m not well informed on the issue, but my very vague impression was something like this:

    The deal had no meaningful enforcement mechanisms. Iran denied the inspectors who were supposed to verify compliance access to the sites they needed to inspect, and no non-US signatory paid any attention. Overall, we traded Iran a bunch of money in return for them pretending not to make nukes so that our politicians could pat themselves on the backs and describe themselves as heroic statesmanlike peacemakers.

    It sounds like John is more informed and thinks that this is inaccurate, but I’m curious as to what enforcement mechanisms there are/how the deal is actually a meaningful roadblock to Iran getting nukes.

  6. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.economist.com/international/2018/11/24/suicide-is-declining-almost-everywhere

    “Globally, the rate has fallen by 38% from its peak in 1994. As a result, over 4m lives have been saved—more than four times as many people as were killed in combat over the period. The decline has happened at different rates and different times in different parts of the world. In the West, it started long ago: in Britain, for instance, the male rate peaked at around 30 per 100,000 a year in 1905, and again at the same level in 1934, during the Great Depression; among women it peaked at 12 in 1964. In most of the West, it has been flat or falling for the past two decades.”

    The article goes into detail about various countries.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Interesting. It looks like the male rate is driven by absolute economic deprivation. The world has gotten richer and more interconnected since 1992 (so stagnant wages in, eg, the US after 1973 and recessions that the media talk up as almost as bad as the Great Depression aren’t increasing it). While female rates have also been going down since 1994, the history makes it harder to hypothesize causation.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “In a study in 2002 looking at high rates among young rural women, two-thirds who attempted suicide cited unhappy marriages, two-fifths said they were beaten by their spouses and a third complained of conflict with their mothers-in-law. ”

        ” As social mores have liberalised, that is changing. Rates among young women have fallen faster than among any other group since 1990; Mr Patel believes they will continue to improve as social liberalisation continues.”

        I think this is clear enough– women are less likely to commit suicide if they’re less mistreated by men and by their elders.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Yeah, but it’s weird that “social liberalization” would be happening at the exact same time throughout the non-Western world.
          Female suicide in India plummeting beginning in 1990 almost tracks the beginning of American cultural hegemony (ironically the Congress policy of keeping India poor with socialism and non-aligned reinforced traditional customs), but that shouldn’t apply to China: after 1978 would superficially be much more plausible.
          The claim that the drop is caused by urbanization may come closest to capturing the data.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        stagnant wages after 1973 in the united states wouldn’t affect the economies of the rest of the world.

        It’s interesting that the white suicide rate is higher than any other except for native Americans; at least if we’re going to chalk up suicide to bad economics or inter-familial violence.

        I wish they showed what suicide rates looked like for men/women in the US.

  7. fion says:

    Anybody been following the world chess championship? I’ve heard (from non-chess players) that Carlsen agreed to a draw in the last game despite being likely to win. Is this true? Any other interesting things in the championship? Is it normal to have lots of draws? Are these two players equally good?

    (I haven’t really been following it, and I’m not a chess expert, but I am an enthusiast, and I’d be interested to hear the take of any of the chess players here.)

    • Nick says:

      I’m just an amateur, but I’ve been following it.

      Carlsen had an edge in the final game, according to the computer and grandmaster evaluation, and he had a significant edge on the clock—significant not least because Caruana can’t think under time pressure, and there were nine moves before the next time control. I haven’t watched any autopsies yet, but I’d be very surprised if Carlsen thought he couldn’t get a win out of the position, especially since he’s well known for doing so even in previously dead drawn positions, and for being willing to push where most players would just offer a draw. It’s a move no one expected.

      Having all draws on classical is a first for this format of the World Chess Championship, but plenty of matches have been pretty even before. Still, there will probably be greater demands for a revamp of the format next time. I have no clue how FIDE politics works, though, so I don’t know how likely that actually is. I’ve heard Carlsen himself has said he’d like to have longer matches, like 16 or 18 games, and Russian GM Alexander Grischuk was suggesting a return of the “first to six wins” format yesterday, apparently—a fairer format if you ask me, but that would be grueling.

      Caruana is very good [citation needed], and he might even be a bit better than Carlsen in classical right now. But Carlsen is all-around the stronger player, and it’s very likely Caruana loses in the tiebreaks tomorrow, just as Karjakin did last championship. It’s silly, if you ask me, that the champion of classical should be determined by rapid games, but so it is.

      • fion says:

        Interesting, thanks for your thoughts. Oh gods, after seeing 12 consecutive draws I don’t think I want to imagine “first to six wins”. Grueling is the word.

        But I agree with you that it’s a shame that it goes to rapid games for tiebreaks. I’ve always thought the same about football, when it goes to penalties. You’re basically deciding the winner of one game by playing a different game.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        I think they got rid of 6-wins because it nearly killed Karpov in 1985 (at least so I hear from, like, Wikipedia.)

      • Aapje says:

        IMO, there are some sports/games that have been ruined at the top level by the top players having become too good. Chess is one example, where too many games end in draws.

        Another is Judo, where matches are often decided by penalties for inactivity and a very valid strategy is to minimize risk taking while still appearing to be active.

        • gbdub says:

          This happened to curling in the early 90s – the combination of better players, better sweeping, and better ice maintenance meant that top players could be expected to be able to make take-out shots nearly 100% of the time. This resulted in a really boring game as the first team to take a lead would just “peel” every rock (take out the opponent’s rock with a glancing blow that causes the shooter’s rock to leave the sheet as well), resulting in a ton of zero and one point ends that made comebacks nearly impossible.

          So they implemented the “free guard zone” rule, which makes it illegal to take out any rock in front of the rings until 4 (5, starting next year) stones had been thrown. This resulted in more stones in play and a more aggressive, interesting game.

          That was a fairly major change to a sport’s rules and strategies, but other sports try minor tweaks all the time to increase scoring (i.e. defense gets too good). E.g. hockey making goalie pads smaller and goals bigger – no real change to the strategy of the game but makes goals more frequent.

          What could you even do for judo? Could you have something vaguely like fencing rules of priority that only award points to the person on “offense”?

          • johan_larson says:

            In judo, they could change the rules to add more offensive options. IIRC, shoot-type takedowns of the form used in wrestling and BJJ are prohibited in judo. I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t be added in.

          • Nornagest says:

            It would be incredibly hard to do something for judo like the rules of priority in foil and saber fencing. Those barely work in fencing, but at least you can wire up the weapons to tell who struck first. Can’t do that in grappling, where both people have hands on their opponent most of the time. If you tried, tactics like baiting and countering a move would become impossible to score accurately, and those are a fairly large part of judo strategy.

    • Brad says:

      I don’t especially care about chess, but I found the enthusiasm in this article infectious: https://deadspin.com/armageddon-looms-over-the-world-chess-championship-afte-1830671246

    • Rob K says:

      These games take place at a level that’s extremely hard for anyone significantly weaker than the players to evaluate – and, well, that’s almost everyone. (The mortals among us can use computers, but have trouble distinguishing “computer lines” that a human would never play from ideas that could actually be implemented on the board. The notable example of this in this match came in the endgame of game 6, where the computer had a mate in 30 that was completely unnattainable in human practice.)

      All of that said, there have been two instances in this match where the GM commentators felt like one player had a winning advantage; Carlsen in Game 1, and Caruana in Game 8. In both cases, the advantage was strong but tenuous, and the players failed to find the moves necessary to preserve it. It’s a powerful illustration of what a knife-edge you have to walk at this level of chess; the true path is infinitesimally narrow, and in neither of those cases was one of the greatest in the world able to stick to it in real time.

      The game 12 draw was surprising, and Carlsen was clearly better in the position. That said, the advantage was far from decisive – smaller than what was lost in either Game 1 or 8, in the eyes of the analysts. Caruana was short on time, but had probably found his way through the most difficult terrain over the preceding several moves. What was really shocking about it was how out of character this was for Carlsen, who’s famous for torturing his opponents with extended games in which he grinds out a narrow advantage to see if he can find a win. It might suggest that he’s not at his best mentally, which would be a bad sign going into today. Or, you know, it might not.

      Whatever one’s thoughts about the propriety of deciding the championship with rapid chess, today should be amazing.

  8. Andrew Hunter says:

    I finally got around to reading The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland (the latter of which I’m going to need to seek out.) I quite liked it, despite some idiot-balling and annoying cartoonish caricatures for a few of the villains. It’s gripping, aggressively plotted, uses language well (in particular with the different voices in different epistolary documents), and covers a huge number of settings well. I’m impressed with how well it avoids the Scylla and Charybdis of time travel stories: it is neither recondite and convoluted to the point of incomprehensibility (see Stross’s Palimpsest, which is fun but pulls the “How many levels? You are little baby, watch this” routine on Primer) nor does it fail massively to consider the actual consequences of its own rules (see any mass market time travel plot, I’ll pick on Harry Potter as an easy target.)

    While there’s a built in sequel in the plot, I’d really honestly prefer to read a book entirely about the Fuggers, n pyna bs snzvyl onaxref jub znxr nyyrtvnaprf bs pbairavrapr jvgu inevbhf gvzr geniryvat jvgpurf va rkpunatr sbe rabhtu vasbezngvba gb or gur orfg znexrg znxref rire. I mean, how many places could we go with that?? Plots set over several generations held together by totally untrusted time travelers?

    If David Friedman has read it or can be convinced to, I’d particular like his opinion on (minor spoiler non-rot13, major spoiler rot13) the viking saga the authors insert, recording gvzr geniryvat ivxvatf fnpxvat n Jnyzneg. I loved it and it certainly felt authentic, but I haven’t read that many of the originals.

    Anyway, highly recommended. Has the Stephenson-nature, though definitely a world apart from most of his books, and not quite quirky enough to be entirely him.

    There was some very brief discussion many OTs ago, anyone have thoughts?

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      I enjoyed it very much, but I found the ending unsatisfying.

      Jung V jnf ubcvat sbe, naq zbfg bs gur obbx frrzrq gb or ohvyqvat hc gb, jnf n znwbe qvfnfgre – fbzrguvat gung jbhyq ernyyl znxr vg pyrne gb nyy vaibyirq jul guvf fgngr-fcbafberq gvzr geniry unq orra n greevoyr vqrn sebz gur ortvaavat. Guvf vf uhoevf ba n terngre guna Whenffvp Cnex yriry; gur cnlbss fubhyq unir orra pbzzrafhengr. Vafgrnq jr trg n fvatyr ebthr jvgpu naq n cyhpxl fznyy tebhc frggvat bhg gb bccbfr ure, juvpu vf nf vs Whenffvp Cnex (gur abiry) unq fxvccrq zbfg bs gur pneantr naq gur obzovat bs gur vfynaq, naq vafgrnq raqrq jvgu n cyhpxl tebhc bs ntevphygheny erfrnepuref cybggvat gb sbvy n fblorna-cbnpuvat rfpncrq irybpvencgbe.

      I did like the Fuggers, however. I love how they keep being teased as some all-powerful global cloak-and-dagger cabal, and how the Fuggers themselves keep puncturing this balloon by describing themselves as mere bankers who just serve stable currency – and the two images, the romantic and the mundane, remain in equilibrium.

      • John Schilling says:

        The book is over a year old, I don’t think we need spoiler warnings any more.

        As I wrote at the time, this was akin to a tale set in colonial Massachusetts that ends with the Battle of Lexington. That’s a very fine place to end a tale of colonial intrigue, and it trusts the audience to understand that a minor skirmish with eight dead a bunch of hairy naked Vikings sacking a Wal-Mart is a Really Big Deal. The sequel, if any, can be a different kind of story.

        But the bit where the United States Government gets to use time travel to reshape geopolitical history to its own advantage is now entirely off the table; the USG is now a not-really-innocent, but largely impotent, bystander to the Time War. The stakes of which are the existence of industrial civilization, whether or not there will be English colonies to revolt against the crown in 1775 and establish the United States, and whether the Fuggers can count on a stable currency after all. Seems suitably disastrous to me.

    • I haven’t read it, perhaps should.

    • Tenacious D says:

      One detail I really liked was the use of a qhipu as a sort of tactile nomogram by one of the characters.

    • theredsheep says:

      I found the saga painfully clunky, tbh, and wished they’d written it straight. Not that the juxtaposition isn’t funny, but they had a hard time keeping to the demands of the form, and it shows. Also the ending felt like an anticlimax to me. All in all, I thought they bit off substantially more than they were willing to chew, and the time-travel based on psychically mucking with the quantum multiverse just doesn’t feel as awesome here as it did in Anathem.

      I think I gave it something like three stars on goodreads. Not bad, but could have been so much better.

  9. Atlas says:

    How effective are economic sanctions at changing the behavior of states? My impression from what I know of 20th and 21st century history is that they aren’t very effective, an impression strengthed by a recent article co-authored by former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in Foreign Affairs on US economic statecraft.

    The Official History of Notable Uses of Economic Sanctions as a Tool of Statecraft in Atlas’ Mind:

    1935/6: Italy invades Abyssinia. League of Nations places sanctions on Italy in response. Italy continues to occupy Abyssinia.

    1941: US places an oil embargo, as well as I believe some other sanctions, on Japan in response to the Japanese aggression in East Asia, and Indochina specifically. Japan continues to occupy various East Asian colonies. (Some would allege that the FDR administration did not expect the sanctions to induce Japan to withdraw from its occupied territories, but rather to provoke Japan into firing the first shot in a war with the US, thus obviating domestic opposition to US entry in WW2. If so, the sanctions were indeed successful, but their nominal aim of getting Japan to withdraw from its occupied territories was, at least in a proximate sense, unsuccessful.)

    Some point in the early 1960s: The US places an embargo on Cuba, on the basis that the Castro government is undemocratic and fails to respect human rights. In 2015, the Obama administration took steps to lift the embargo, right before the crucial 56th year in which, despite no evidence of succeeding during the previous 55 years, the embargo would finally succeed in deposing the Cuban government. Thankfully, the Trump administration has gone back to the tried and true policy of the embargo.

    The 1990s: There are sanctions against nominal Yugoslavia/Serbia in response to its actions in Bosnia and later Kosovo. Serbia continues its previous course of action until military intervention by various outside parties decisively alters the balance of forces in the conflicts.

    The 1990s: There are sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq for…invading Kuwait/not fully disposing of WMD/suppressing Shia and Kurdish revolts/just generally being an annoying jerk. These sanctions are often alleged to have killed (or at least resulted in the deaths of) 500,000 children, but, as Scott linked to, recent research suggests that this was actually just a complete fabrication. Nonetheless, my understanding is that Iraq defied the wishes of the US/international community/UN on each point until military action was taken.

    The 2000s and 2010s: The US places sanctions on Iran and North Korea in response to their development of nuclear weapons programs. The results are ambiguous: Iran was willing to strike a deal, after several years, of sanctions relief in exchange for rolling back various aspects of its nuclear program, but clearly sanctions have not given the US enough leverage over Iran to induce the Iranian government to stop doing all the things the US wants it to stop doing. DPRK negotiations are still sort of ongoing AFAIK (I don’t follow NK news at all), but clearly at the very least sanctions have not given the US the kind of absolute leverage over NK it would like.

    I find this trend unfortunate as someone who generally favors an anti-war and anti-imperialist view of foreign relations, in the vein of e.g. Bertrand Russell and Noam Chomsky, on both pragmatic and moral grounds. If economic sanctions were an effective tool of statecraft, they would be a great alternative to war. Indeed, I’m kind of surprised that they aren’t more effective; it’s one of those things that makes me wonder idly if we’re living in a experimental simulation with various parameters altered. I can easily imagine a very similar world to our own wherein Norman Angell’s thesis in The Great Illusion is absolutely* correct, and economic sanctions replace war as the primary tool of international relations. Foreign trade and international financial markets are so crucial to the functioning of a complex modern economy (and war machine) that no government can afford to defy the wishes of the international community, which has a highly pacific effect. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case, and the governments of states like Cuba, Iran and North Korea seem to be able to get their populations to suffer considerable economic pain from sanctions without changing their behavior/being overthrown by either elite coups or popular protests. However, since in practice they don’t seem to work very well, it seems to me that it might be more well advised to trade freely with countries that have bad regimes, so that the populace is more likely to blame the domestic government rather than foreign governments for misfortunes. Furthermore, there seems to be a strong correlation between economic development and democracy.

    *I believe it is indeed correct to a considerable degree, to be clear.

    • cassander says:

      there are a few academic studies of the question, and the answer seems to be not very. There are two major reasons cited for this. One, sanctions tend to strengthen, not weaken regimes. they ensure that essentially all trade ends up passing through the hands of these, a power they (shockingly!) use to stay in power. Two, the more effective sanctions are, the more money stands to be made from busting them. In all the modern cases you mention, countries cheated on the sanctions, with predictable results.

      The japanese case is interesting here. There were japanese with a rather clear eyed view of eventual result of a war with the US. there was one group in particular, called the total war institute, that actually predicted the speed of US mobilization better than the US military did. Their case to the japanese military was simple, if they went to war, the US would inflict total defeat in about three years, and if they didn’t go to war, they’d run out of oil in one year. The military summed up the choice as “we can live like slaves or die like men”, then chose the latter.

      Most countries do not face such a stark choice, and choose predictably. Norman Angell was right that war would destroy the powers, but wrong to think that would stop them. Only nuclear weapons are capable of doing that, so far.

      And please don’t cite Noam Chomsky on foreign policy. He’s a man who endorsed Mao’s China during the cultural revolution as a beacon of democracy, then went on to apologize for the khmer rouge. He’s a living, breathing, left wing cliche.

      • Atlas says:

        Cool, thanks, much appreciated.

        And please don’t cite Noam Chomsky on foreign policy. He’s a man who endorsed Mao’s China during the cultural revolution as a beacon of democracy, then went on to apologize for the khmer rouge. He’s a living, breathing, left wing cliche.

        I’ve never heard that Chomsky defended Maoist China; could you provide a citation? The Khmer Rouge accusation I’ve heard before and don’t find convincing.

        I need to go imminently, so I won’t fully litigate every aspect of this question at the moment, but here are the two most important points for me: 1) As a citizen, your primary responsibility is to analyze and criticize the actions of the government that most closely represents you and that you have the most information about and 2) Intellectuals should be primarily judged on their views of the issues that they’ve spent the most time writing about, and these carry much more weight than relatively minor contentions that they’ve made.

        Thus, when I cite Noam Chomsky as a thinker on foreign policy, I am primarily thinking of his extensive commentary on the US war in Vietnam, US policy in Latin America in the 1980s, Israeli policy and US support thereof since 1967, and the post-9/11 US “War on Terror.” (Though to be clear I also find Chomsky’s incidental remarks on other issues generally quite insightful as well.) In all these cases, I believe Chomsky’s judgement has generally proven far superior, analytically and morally, than that of the majority of US national security academics and government officials. (Something evidenced in his exceptional performance in written and oral debates against supporters of the US government party line, such as Richard Perle, William F. Buckley, jr. and Sam Harris.)

        • cassander says:

          I’ve never heard that Chomsky defended Maoist China; could you provide a citation? The Khmer Rouge accusation I’ve heard before and don’t find convincing.

          On china, see here. the money quote is

          “But take China, modern China; one also finds many things that are really quite admirable. Many things, in fact, do meet the sort of Luxembourgian conditions that apparently Dr. Arendt and I agree about. There are even better examples than China. But I do think that China is an important example of a new society in which very interesting positive things happened at the local level, in which a good deal of the collectivization and communization was really based on mass participation and took place after a level of understanding had been reached in the peasantry that led to this next step.”

          This, he is saying, after the great leap forward, in the middle of the cultural revolution. It’s ludicrous. As for the Khmer rouge, he went on a letter writing campaign to stop criticism of their regime. I don’t know what more convincing you need.

          1) As a citizen, your primary responsibility is to analyze and criticize the actions of the government that most closely represents you and that you have the most information about and 2) Intellectuals should be primarily judged on their views of the issues that they’ve spent the most time writing about, and these carry much more weight than relatively minor contentions that they’ve made.

          If it was an off hand remark, that would be one thing, but it isn’t. Chomsky has made a second career out of critiquing american foreign policy. It’s absolutely fair to judge him on his assessment of other countries, that’s half of what foreign policy is about! Chomsky has spent an enormous amount of time writing about these subjects.

          I am primarily thinking of his extensive commentary on the US war in Vietnam,

          His arguments about vietnam were premised on the condition that the north vietnamese government was essentially benevolent. It wasn’t. the US leaving vietnam (which is what he wanted) got a million people killed and more fled and that’s not counting all the cambodians that died.

          Israeli policy and US support thereof since 1967,

          The US has spent its time since 1967 restraining israeli behavior, not encouraging them.

          and the post-9/11 US “War on Terror.”

          I have heard nothing from him on this subject that wasn’t a cliche decades ago.

          I believe Chomsky’s judgement has generally proven far superior, analytically and morally, than that of the majority of US national security academics and government officials.

          then, frankly, you need to read more widely. Chomsky’s record has been a disaster.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            “The US has spent its time since 1967 restraining israeli behavior, not encouraging them.” — How do you mean?

          • cassander says:

            @RalMirrorAd

            Since 1967, the US’ position has consistently been that the Israelis, who are stronger, should give up land in order to get peace from their weaker neighbors. In 1972, Sadat’s strategy is actually explicitly based on this premise, the point of his war wasn’t to win outright, but to get the crisis to escalate so that the US and soviets got involved and settle a peace on the basis of uti possidetis. And it worked quite brilliantly.

            Since then the trend has been similar, and more pronounced as Israeli strength relative to its neighbors has grown. The US occasionally lets Israel play bad cop, to their good cop, but that’s the exception not the rule.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          TBH I don’t really understand why you think Chomsky’s views have been all that good.

          Its true he has been critical of things that were failures both before & after (Vietnam + War on Terror) but he was wrong about why they would fail. His position wasn’t, “America doesn’t have the political will to do this the right way.” Or, “Vietnamese and Arabs are fundamentally barbarians that cannot be pacified.” Both those positions could have been justified at some point in time. I’m not away he has held either.

          Its more correct to say that Chomsky is a bit of a cause of the failures of certain foreign policy adventures, in a kind of nonspecific generalized way. That is that the fact that Chomsky and other high profile people opposed the adventures doomed them to fail because it demonstrated the US did not have the political will to carry them out. Which is true, and is a theory I subscribe to, but its really unrelated to most of what he actually says.

          • albatross11 says:

            Imagine that you live in a time where medical science is extremely crude and going to a doctor is as likely to make you worse as to make you better. In that time, a fervent believer in Christian Science or homeopathy will make a lot of correct predictions (“Don’t go to Dr Jones for cosmetic surgery–you’ll probably die on the table!”) and will in many ways seem quite wise and well-informed. But maybe his actual ideas are all wrong, just in a way that inclines him toward skepticism of doctors that turns out to be useful under current circumstances.

            This is how I see Chomsky’s foreign policy views. He’s often quite right that the next glorious adventure in blowing up mud huts with drone-fired missiles isn’t going to make the US any better off, but I suspect this is not so much because he has deep insights into foreign policy, but rather because his ideology inclines him toward skepticism of US foreign policy adventures, at the same time that US foreign policy adventures usually don’t go all that well.

        • John Schilling says:

          1) As a citizen, your primary responsibility is to analyze and criticize the actions of the government that most closely represents you and that you have the most information about

          So, the primary responsibility of an American citizen in the early 1940s would have been to analyze and criticize the unprecedented expansions of domestic power recently enacted by President-for-Life Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and not to be distracted by that foreign military adventure he embarked on as a transparent rationalization for the domestic power grab. Got it.

          • Lillian says:

            You say it sarcastically, but i have to be honest, i really wish the American people had objected to FDR’s massive expansion of government power. We could have still saved the world from the Axis without it, and would have been a lot better of for it too. Though of course the objections would have to happen in the mid-30s and be directed at various New Deal policies, not the early-40s and directed at the war mobilization. Doing the latter is in fact mutually exclusive with saving the world from the Axis.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            I’m no fan of FDR but I don’t see how the US would have gone to war with the Axis if not for him; unless lend lease and the embargo of japan was something supported by the less progressive wing of the two parties and not simply a project of the new dealers.

        • The Khmer Rouge accusation I’ve heard before and don’t find convincing.

          Have you read the chapter on Cambodia in After the Cataclysm by Chomsky and Herman? It was pretty straightforward apologetics for the Khmer Rouge, with the suggestion that any killing they did was analogous to the killing by the French resistance of Nazi collaborators when France was liberated.

          They hedge a bit by saying that they are not certain of the truth. What convinced me that the chapter was deliberately dishonest rather than an honest but mistaken attempt to evaluate the evidence was their treatment of one of their main sources, a book by Porter and Hildebrand. I read it. That book was pure apologetics, based almost entirely on information provided to the authors by the Khmer Rouge and describing Pol Pot as a saintly figure. None of that came through in references to it by Chomsky and Herman–they simply treated is a reputable source of information on what was happening in Cambodia. To know that it wasn’t did not require any special expertise, just reading the book–and Chomsky is not stupid.

          If you want to check for yourself on whether or not Chomsky was a deliberate propagandist for the most murderous regime in modern history, all you have to do is read one chapter of the Chomsky and Herman book and enough of Porter and Hildebrand to check that my description of it is accurate.

          • pontifex says:

            Chomsky is a moral monster, basically the left-wing equivalent of a Holocaust denier. I admire people who can engage with his arguments without getting enraged, but I am just not one of them. Maybe he didn’t know at the beginning, but at some point, he knew. He had to have known.

      • marxbro says:

        And please don’t cite Noam Chomsky on foreign policy. He’s a man who endorsed Mao’s China during the cultural revolution as a beacon of democracy, then went on to apologize for the khmer rouge. He’s a living, breathing, left wing cliche.

        being a “cliche” doesn’t mean you’re wrong. chomsky’s main failing is that he’s too deferrent to US power and propaganda. if he took a Marxist-Leninist position i think his work would be much stronger.

        • Nornagest says:

          Being a cliche doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but bending over backwards to make excuses for a regime that killed millions of people and destroyed its own economy for shits and giggles just might.

          Multiple regimes, even!

          • marxbro says:

            are you talking about the US? i don’t understand which government you’re talking about so i can’t tell which side of the debate you’re on. apologists for the US are the ones who are both cliches and incorrect about everything. whereas chomsky is a cliche and correct fairly often.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure you don’t.

          • marxbro says:

            i don’t understand your meaning but i presume it means you have zero rational points to make, am i correct?

          • Nornagest says:

            If I can expect more of the same from this conversation, then you can assume that if you like.

          • marxbro says:

            you’re speaking only in cliches like “regime” and nothing else so i’m finding it very hard to understand what you mean. the US?

          • albatross11 says:

            One thing about Chomsky is that he make moral critiques of US foreign policy, which are hard to swallow when he can’t bring himself to criticize Mao’s China or Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

            On the other hand, there are times where I feel like I get some genuine insights from reading/listening to something from him. He’s a smart guy, albeit one who’s probably overly captured by his ideology, and he has a set of starting assumptions and views that aren’t shared by anyone in the mainstream.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Haven’t read Chomsky, but the moral critiques that appear to be “hypocritical” could be an attempt to clarify the framework of the debate.

            The standard rational in US media for attacking other countries is that they have bad behavior, e.g. they “lie, cheat, and murder innocent people”. So Chomsky comes in and says “actually, your country does the same thing”.

            I see two responses to this. The first and worst response, “WHATABOUTISM”, is perhaps the lowest thought-terminating cliche in our modern discourse. A bit beyond the point of this post, so I’ll set that aside.

            But the second response, “well, you criticize the U.S. for lying and killing, but whatabout other countries like China and Vietnam? They do it too” might be the response the Chomsky was hoping for all along. Because his point might not be that the “US is bad/other counties are good”, but that the original national security and media talking point (that the U.S.. has the moral high ground, because these bad countries lie, cheat, and murder) doesn’t hold water.

            tldr: If you’ve come to the conclusion that “everybody does it”, perhaps that was his point all along.

          • Nornagest says:

            Haven’t read Chomsky, but the moral critiques that appear to be “hypocritical” could be an attempt to clarify the framework of the debate […] his point might not be that the “US is bad/other counties are good”, but that the original national security and media talking point (that the U.S.. has the moral high ground, because these bad countries lie, cheat, and murder) doesn’t hold water.

            I have read Chomsky, and that would be a decent albeit debatable point, but it’s not the one he’s making. He does actually believe that the US is bad and those other countries are good.

          • cassander says:

            @Guy in TN says:

            The standard rational in US media for attacking other countries is that they have bad behavior, e.g. they “lie, cheat, and murder innocent people”. So Chomsky comes in and says “actually, your country does the same thing”.

            Chomsky doesn’t say do the same thing. He openly praises the other countries as better. Two, scale matters. Countries Chomsky praises killed tens of millions, far more than even the most exaggerated claims for any US body count, and chomsky has no issue with them. The US fails to reverse a quasi-constitutional Honduran coup, and chomsky calls it a horror story

            I see two responses to this. The first and worst response, “WHATABOUTISM”, is perhaps the lowest thought-terminating cliche in our modern discourse. A bit beyond the point of this post, so I’ll set that aside.

            There is a worse response than “WHATABOUTISM!”, it’s lazily slapping the label of whataboutism on any attempt to compare things and determine which was worse. And it’s a vice that’s become increasingly common in recent years.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Comparing body counts is still a far more nuanced take than is provided by the media. If I can shift to arguing my personal opinion here, changing the narrative from a deontological one (“this county does these bad behaviors”) to a utilitarian one (“this country killed x number of people, which is 8% higher than the global average”) would be a vast improvement in our discourse.

            (Would like to see such reasoning applied to the Israeli/Palestine conflict, particularly.)

            Of course, this sort of analysis is messy. Like, do we allow for short-term suffering for long-term benefits? How do we assign causality, when in a war typically each side blames the other? And to what extent is a government to blame for a country’s economic conditions? But at least we are asking the right questions now.

          • cassander says:

            @Guy in TN says:

            Comparing body counts is still a far more nuanced take than is provided by the media.

            Sure, but the media discussion of every political issue is pretty terrible. I don’t see that the media is any worse with foreign policy than other subjects. And Chomsky actively claims the opposite in Manufacturing Consent, that media corporations are deliberately bad in order to shore up the power of their capitalist imperialist owners.

          • quanta413 says:

            Of course, this sort of analysis is messy. Like, do we allow for short-term suffering for long-term benefits? How do we assign causality, when in a war typically each side blames the other? And to what extent is a government to blame for a country’s economic conditions? But at least we are asking the right questions now.

            It’s messy but being accurate to within an order of magnitude of the rate of unnecessary murders/imprisonments or a factor of 2 or 3 of wealth etc. is often good enough to decide even between bad rulers. The Khmer Rouge wiped out almost a quarter of the Cambodian population in half a decade. And not on accident or through dumb luck like when Europeans transmitted smallpox to Native Americans or something.

            Most brutal dictators fail to be close to as bad quantitatively as the Khmer rouge.

            Like I agree it’s messier for most conflicts of interest, but I think it’s probably workable for a lot of cases of interest if you want to commit to that method of evaluation.

    • 10240 says:

      It’s largely my impression too that sanctions tend to be ineffective, but I’m not sure that they are entirely pointless. While acceding to Western demands would be too much of a loss of face, sanctions show that we mean business, and they might dissuade a country from doing more of whatever triggered the sanctions, as the country wants to avoid more sanctions. E.g. sanctions against Russia weren’t going to cause them to withdraw from Crimea or the Donbass, but they may have been part of the reason Russia didn’t invade more Ukrainian territory.

      Perhaps more importantly, sanctions may dissuade other countries from doing things that anger us. It’s not a loss of face for a country to refrain from doing things that would be likely to cause sanctions.

      • albatross11 says:

        10240:

        Maybe they’re effective in some subtle hard-to-measure way. Where would we look for evidence that would actually let us figure that out?

        • 10240 says:

          Dunno.

          20000 years, 200 periods of 100 years, with randomly chosen policies (sanctions or not), measure some variables decided ahead. Then do a few more studies, because one study is not conclusive. Don’t forget to pre-register. Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?

      • Protagoras says:

        I don’t know if the sanctions had anything to do with Russia not (yet) going further; occupying territory is costly and messy. Russia seems to be messing with Ukraine mostly for domestic political reasons, to stir up and exploit nationalist sentiments, and for that purpose a little goes a long way, with more extensive efforts being likely to increase the cost without any increased benefit.

        • cassander says:

          The desire of Russia to keep access to the black sea ports is not insignificant. Granted, I don’t think their access there was seriously threatened, but I can certainly see them thinking that it was and is.

          • albatross11 says:

            The biggest qualm I have about our long-term hate-fest with Putin is my worry that it will be profitable in local political terms to keep up rhetoric and demands for harsh action against Putin/Russia, and so that will be done regardless of whether that makes sense. We’ve stumbled into wars we didn’t actually want before, and it could definitely happen again.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, the hategasm against Vladimir Putin worries me.
            Compare to the lead-up to WWI: the press and even fiction writers in Britain were having a hategasm against the German government and people that surely contributed to the decision to declare war.
            People need it drilled into their heads that pretty much nothing is worth shooting at the Russians over (I say “almost” because there’s the complication of NATO obligations to the little Baltic states that were once part of the Russian Empire).

          • b_jonas says:

            The Black sea? I thought it was all about the oil pipes passing through Ukraine.

      • Lillian says:

        E.g. sanctions against Russia weren’t going to cause them to withdraw from Crimea or the Donbass, but they may have been part of the reason Russia didn’t invade more Ukrainian territory.

        This is going off memory here, so i may be way off base, but i’m pretty sure Poland mobilizing a couple of divisions to the Ukranian border when the Donbass uprising started may have had more to do with it. It signalled to the Russians that if they went all in, so would the Poles. Presumably the prospect of a shooting war with a NATO member would have been a considerable deterrent against committing to a full scale invasion of the Ukraine.

        Kind of a pity, it would have been rather exciting, but i can’t blame the Russians for not rolling the dice on the possibility of nuclear armageddon, that’s a bit too exciting.

    • 1soru1 says:

      This list seems to miss the main examples where sanctions could plausibly be argued to have a decisive effect: apartheid South Africa and the Iranian nuclear program.

      If a country is ruled by a group that thinks an action is morally right, a single military defeat or nuclear weapon generally won’t change their opinion, and so sanctions certainly won’t. And if all possible leaders think that way, no change is possible.

      However, if an action is profitable _and_ there is a possible leadership faction that thinks it is morally right, they will tend to end up as the ones in charge. So sanctions can only work where:

      a: there is a faction capable of taking leadership of the country
      b: who thinks the sanctioned action is morally wrong
      c: the sanctions make the avoidance of the sanctioned action profitable

    • John Schilling says:

      Economic sanctions get a bad reputation because they are most commonly or at least most visibly used to demand foreign regimes either A: sacrifice the territorial integrity of their Empire or B: accept what they consider a serious threat to that regime’s continued power (e.g. holding elections that the regime might not win). These two things, pretty much every regime will consider to be more valuable than anything that can be secured by mere trade, because the whole point of being a government is to exercise power over territory and if they felt money were more important than that they’d have gone into a different line of work.

      You might get a regime to surrender territory or make security concessions if you imposed economic sanctions so severe that they threatened the regime’s survival by way of economic collapse followed by food riots and guillotines, but at that point they will stop seeing this as a trade policy dispute but as outright economic warfare, and see Japan for how their response might not be to just submit.

      If, on the other hand, you are asking for something that doesn’t involve territory or security, like for China to start treating IP rights semi-seriously or for Switzerland to stop issuing numbered bank accounts, economic sanctions or the threat thereof can work quite nicely.

      There’s also the case of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, where coordinated economic sanctions were a significant part of the process by which a regime was convinced to peacefully surrender power, but it’s not clear how big a part. And in any event, that recipe can’t work post-Pinochet, so no longer relevant.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think the original question is about economic sanctions as an alternative to war. It seems like the cases where economic sanctions can work are mostly places where it would be nuts to go to war over the issue.

      • 10240 says:

        I don’t understand your remark about Pinochet.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Because Pinochet was arrested and charged in the UK after voluntarily giving up power in Chile.

        • John Schilling says:

          Augusto Pinochet ran a dictatorship in Chile which, while perhaps not as broadly repressive as the Apartheid regime in South Africa and with some redeeming features on the economic front, did all the usual Evil Dictator things like running death squads and disappearing people into secret torture-oubliettes. Eventually, it became clear that the Chilean people weren’t going to tolerate that any more. Pinochet cut a deal with the opposition in which he agreed to hand over power peacefully, without the usual bloody civil war, and the new government would agree to grant him immunity for his past crimes – including a job as senator in the new government, which would give him diplomatic cover abroad.

          About a decade later, in 1998, Pinochet traveled to London for medical treatment. While there, a Spanish judge demanded that he be extradited to Spain to stand trial for basically Being an Evil Dictator, which per ICC rules is a Crime Against Humanity akin to Piracy, where any court has jurisdiction to prosecute and no one can issue a binding grant of immunity, and where any ICC member nation that doesn’t feel like prosecuting must nonetheless extradite to anyone who does want to prosecute. Er, scratch that, probably to everyone who wants to prosecute, until someone somewhere secures a conviction, because “double jeopardy” is strictly an American thing.

          The Chilean government objected to this because the deal they had made with Pinochet had spared their country a civil war and they didn’t want to be seen as breaking that sort of a deal. Doesn’t matter. The British government respected the Chilean position, but also didn’t want to go against the ICC over the issue of Evil Dictators escaping their just desserts. Pinochet spent several years in jail
          while this was being sorted out, and avoided dying in a Spanish prison only because the medical condition he was being treated for was clearly going to kill him first. But the precedent was nonetheless set.

          In the 20th century, Evil Dictators and the like could negotiate deals where they leave power peacefully and retire someplace obscure. P.W. Botha, the last great champion of Apartheid, died as a free man at about the same time as Pinochet. Here in the enlightened 21st century, the law of nations allows for only three options – such people can submit to virtually guaranteed life imprisonment, they can be executed, or they can fight to the bitter end.

          Enjoy your century of civil wars, fought with no quarter asked or given. Libya and Syria should give you some idea what to expect going forward. Except, more nerve gas, probably some nukes, and maybe worse. But hey, maybe the bit where you impose economic sanctions will convince some dictator somewhere to die in prison for the economic well-being of his former subjects. That could happen, right?

          • Machine Interface says:

            Side note, but I don’t understand why nerve gas is seen as such a horrible thing on par with nuclear weapons. Sure, it’s not a pleasant way to die (though I can think of a lot worse), but it has to be one of the most ridiculously inefficient weapons invented in terms of cost/benefit.

            It’s hard and costly to make, difficult and dangerous to keep, it’s a pretty terrible war weapon that typically kills far less people than heavy bombardments, it’s not even that good as an area denial weapon since it degrages fairly quickly, and its use is fairly easy to detect so it’s not like you can get away with it anyway. The only interesting use I’ve seen of it is for targeted individual assassinations, but even then it seems pretty loosy and going for a lot of trouble when you could just get a gun (or some botox, if for some symbolic reason you really must poison your victim).

          • sfoil says:

            Nerve gas hasn’t really ever been exploited to the hilt. Iraqi chemical attacks were quite devastating against Iranian military targets during the 1980s war, and in the most infamous attack, Halabja, ~14 sorties of 8 aircraft = 112 planes killed around 4,000 with around 8,000 wounded. The agents and delivery systems used were modern if not cutting edge. I doubt those planes would have been more lethal dropping explosives.

            It’s possible there’s no practical means to attain the theoretical maximum lethality for nerve agents, in which some cost-efficient mass is dispensed into a target area in sufficient volume to form an unsurvivable blanket for a few hours. But this isn’t because no one has made efforts to build such a capability, it’s because no one has ever used it — there hasn’t been a chemical Hiroshima. I would prefer not to find out.

          • ana53294 says:

            Could it be because of how widely acting nerve agents are?

            After the Skripal murder attempt, several people who were not the targets, were affected and one of them died. It also seems to be very expensive and difficult to clean up (they had entire teams in Salisbury, and the couple still managed to get affected by it).

            So, if nerve gas was used even less carefully than in Salisbury (the Russians were quite sloppy) that could mean that entire towns become unlivable, because they are too expensive to clean up.

          • Civilis says:

            Side note, but I don’t understand why nerve gas is seen as such a horrible thing on par with nuclear weapons. Sure, it’s not a pleasant way to die (though I can think of a lot worse), but it has to be one of the most ridiculously inefficient weapons invented in terms of cost/benefit.

            We discussed this months ago. I can’t quite remember all of the arguments involved that other people made, but my argument was that the ‘lethal chemical agents are horrible’, ‘not a pleasant way to die’ and ‘ridiculously inefficient’ are all related: chemical weapons are considered horrible because they’re only efficiently used as terror weapons against civilians or against insurgents where the collateral damage to civilians is likely to be incredibly high (and incredibly horrible).

            If you’re spending money to develop weapons that are close to useless against peer opponents (because you expect they will have protective equipment similar to your own troops or because they’d take use of chemical weapons as a massive escalation and respond accordingly) and are virtually guaranteed to cause massive collateral damage, people are going to start to wonder why. At this point, the only valid reason for developing weapons pretty much only good for killing civilians en masse likely to withstand international scrutiny is for a Mutually Assured Destruction deterrent by a power that can’t produce nuclear weapons and isn’t under the nuclear umbrella of a superpower, so if you have chemical weapons, it’s generally assumed you’ll use them like nuclear weapons.

    • bean says:

      On one hand, you’re not wrong that sanctions are often ineffective in driving behavioral change. On the other hand, they have other purposes beyond simply getting someone to change their actions. Saddam couldn’t just buy a bunch of new weapons on the open market during the 90s to replace the ones we’d destroyed in 91. He could and did do some smuggling, but often the real value of this kind of thing is in limiting cheating to the edges instead of just letting people do whatever they want. The Washington Naval Treaty is a really good example of this.

    • For an even more striking case, consider the economic sanctions against Northern Rhodesia after its unilateral declaration of independence in 1965. It was a two export economy (tobacco and Chrome). It was sanctioned by every country save those two economic superpowers, South Africa and Portugal. That plus a guerrilla war supported by adjacent African countries, China, and the Soviet Union eventually brought down the white majority government.

      In 1980.

    • gbdub says:

      If there is a foreign power doing something you don’t want, and they don’t want to stop, what are your options?
      1) Commit an overt or covert act of war (traditional, can be effective, but messy)
      2) Negotiate a treaty (better than war IFF you can trust both sides to hold the bargain, probably requires you to give up something you want – thus there’s a potential for blackmail by a brinksman, “appeasement”)
      3) Gripe at the UN (ineffective except to look like you’re “doing something”)
      4) Economic sanctions (possibly not effective, but looks like “doing something” with more teeth than 3), can be unilateral)
      5) “trade freely with countries that have bad regimes, so that the populace is more likely to blame the domestic government rather than foreign governments for misfortunes” (maybe effective, but looks like “doing nothing”. If you’re wrong about upcoming misfortunes swinging “the people” to your favor, you’re making the enemy stronger while he prepares for war)

      So sanctions might not work, but it’s not clear the other options are much better. There’s a reason why “kill the other guy till he gives up” is the traditional option.

      • albatross11 says:

        Most things that some other country does that we don’t like aren’t very important to us, so we go with 5, or maybe 3+5. Sometimes we go for 1 or 4 even when the issue isn’t especially important, because we are very big and powerful and most other countries aren’t. This often doesn’t seem to work out very well for us, but since most voters don’t pay close attention (a large fraction still think Saddam had something to do with 9/11), there’s not really a big incentive for politicians not to keep doing it.

        • gbdub says:

          Well, 4 is pretty much only an option if you’re big and powerful (or have a sufficient number of friends to go along). Otherwise your sanctions don’t hurt much, and might her you (your industries needed that business with Nogoodistan!)

          But if an issue is too important to ignore, and your adversary isn’t willing to budge for anything you’d willingly give up, what are your options that are likely to be more effective than war or sanction?

      • cassander says:

        As ever, Yes Minister has covered the topic:

        Sir Humphrey: Well, Minister, in practical terms we have the usual six options. One: do nothing. Two: issue a statement deploring the speech. Three: lodge an official protest. Four: cut off aid. Five: break off diplomatic relations. And six: declare war.

        Hacker: Which should be it?

        Sir Humphrey: Well, if we do nothing, that means we implicitly agree with the speech. If we issue a statement, we’ll just look foolish. If we lodge a protest, it’ll be ignored. We can’t cut off aid, because we don’t give them any. If we break off diplomatic relations, then we can’t negotiate the oil rig contracts. And if we declare war, it might just look as though we were over-reacting!

    • Controls Freak says:

      You should add some early history to your Official History of Notable Uses of Economic Sanctions as a Tool of Statecraft in Atlas’ Mind. One of the first attempts at using economic sanctions was also the first major American attempt to use economic sanctions. Not long after independence, the British were preventing them from accessing ports and markets abroad, and the US didn’t want to raise a navy to go force the point via violence. It had some significant effects in the West Indies, but famously failed, resulting in Madison deciding that the threat/use of force would be more effective and ultimately, war.

  10. Atlas says:

    What do folks here think about the JCPOA, the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from it, and the broader issues about the US relationship with Iran and role in the Middle East? What sources would you recommend to learn more about and cite on this issue, from the point of view of someone (i.e. yours truly) writing a research paper on the JCPOA?

    • Nornagest says:

      John Schilling is the guy to listen to on this, not me, but I’ve learned a lot about the JCPOA by listening to Jeffrey Lewis’s podcast. Podcasts suck, I know; I don’t say this lightly.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Are there specific episodes that you can recommend?

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m afraid nothing stuck in my mind there; I’ve been listening to whatever my subscription turns up during my commute and not paying much attention to titles.

          Looking through its back catalog, though, I might start with “JCPO-eh? Iran, the EU, and the US”, “Netanyahu and the Atomic Archive”, “Decertification Day”, “Scuttling Der Weinerplan”, and “Iranian Space Launch and the JCPOA”. That’s reverse chronological order and does not represent an endorsement of some episodes over others. And those are the ones I see on the website; there are earlier ones on their Apple podcast channel.

          “Up Close and Personal with the Qiam” has nothing to do with the JCPOA, but it does feature an interesting dissection of a (probably) Iranian missile.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      When you say you are writing a research paper, do you mean you’re doing one of those 5-paragraph high school essay-things, a college-level research paper, or did you secretly get appointed to Trump’s advisory council?

    • John Schilling says:

      Disclaimer: I’ve worked with some of the people who negotiated JCPOA on the ground, I like and respect them, so I may be a bit biased.

      JCPOA wasn’t a perfect deal, but it was probably about the best that could be negotiated at the time, and it was a lot better than no deal at all. It gives Iran an ongoing incentive to freeze their nuclear arms program at a level where it cannot be used to seriously threaten their neighbors and cannot be integrated into any offensive war plan not concocted by a comic-book supervillain, and it didn’t cost us anything except the unpleasantness of being seen making a deal with a nation that still holds “Death to the Great Satan” rallies.

      Of particular importance, note that JCPOA wasn’t a deal between the Iran and the United States. It was a deal between Iran, the US, China, Germany, France, Britain, and a few others. Simplistically speaking, Iran promises to freeze but not necessarily eliminate its nuclear arms program, the US up front returns some Iranian money frozen in US accounts since 1979 and promises to ignore the “Death to the Great Satan” rallies going forward, China promises to buy lots of Iranian oil, Germany and France promise to sell Iran lots of machine tools and luxury goods, and Britain offers the use of her banks to handle the money. Also, everybody promises to take the US at its word if it ever finds out that Iran is cheating on the no-building-atom-bombs part.

      Trump pulling out of the deal, particularly in his chosen manner, doesn’t end the deal, it only ends the US participation. The other parties have mostly said that they are going to continue with their parts of the deal. And since the bit where the US returns Iran’s money is a one-time thing that’s already been done, the result is basically the US reclaiming the right to be publicly upset every time there is a “Death to the Great Satan” rally or the like, but losing the ability to be taken seriously if it finds out that Iran has resumed building atom bombs and tries to warn people about it. But, hey, maybe Chinese intelligence will figure it out on their own, and maybe Xi Jinpeng won’t tell his pet wonks to shut up about it just because it would scotch a very valuable trade deal for Beijing.

      If Trump can convince or coerce the Brits to go along with his plan, which seems likely, everyone else will have to come up with some convoluted financial shenanigans to make sure trade with Iran never touches a New York or London bank, but they’ve announced that they are already working on it and it seems that this will be a major nuisance but not a dealbreaker.

      The bit where Trump now turns around and negotiates a better deal for the United States, seems particularly unlikely. The current deal is quite good for Iran, good enough for the other participants, and all of those people basically trust each other but now absolutely don’t trust the United States in this matter. What’s Trump’s negotiating position going to be?

      And, yeah, podcasts suck for many reasons and I really wish Jeffrey Lewis would go back to blogging, but he also is worth listening to on this.

      • gbdub says:

        “It was a lot better than no deal at all”

        It seems like this would be true if and only if:
        1) Without the deal, Iran would have successfully continued their nuclear weapons program beyond the point allowed by the deal
        2) Iran does not intend to cheat (either directly violating the rules or e.g. advancing their tech to a point that is technically within the rules but would allow them to advance very rapidly to dangerous nuclear weapons and delivery systems if they pull out of the deal)
        3) The economic benefits to Iran because of the deal don’t make them a more dangerous/troublesome conventional power in the region (and don’t make them stronger if/when they decide to cheat, i.e. that we didn’t give them a reprieve to build up)

        Otherwise it looks like we gave away some economic benefits in exchange for a promise we don’t expect Iran to follow. Presumably you don’t think that – what’s a good primer if I want to convince myself that those 3 points are true?

        • John Schilling says:

          e.g. advancing their tech to a point that is technically within the rules but would allow them to advance very rapidly to dangerous nuclear weapons and delivery systems if they pull out of the deal

          Iran was at that point before then JCPOA negotiations began. They were probably at that point in 2003, and if they weren’t, it was because they sincerely didn’t want nuclear weapons but felt a need to hedge their bets. Iran is holding at one year or less from a tested, deliverable nuclear arsenal, and that’s not going to change except by moving forward. Even if Iran were to step back from that position, nobody else would ever believe them because there’s no practical way to verify it.

          Your options are, one, wage total war with the purpose of destroying the nation of Iran because Iran might build nuclear weapons next year, or two, find a way to live with an Iran that can build nuclear weapons next year. If you were hoping for a deal that would make it materially impossible for Iran to build nuclear weapons, you’re at least a decade late for that.

          3) The economic benefits to Iran because of the deal don’t make them a more dangerous/troublesome conventional power in the region

          If the objective is to impose or maintain sanctions for the sake of crippling Iran’s conventional power projection ability, then A: you’re going to have a hard time getting the rest of the world to sign on to that, and B: that just makes them more inclined to seek nuclear weapons as an alternative.

          Otherwise it looks like we gave away some economic benefits in exchange for a promise we don’t expect Iran to follow.

          The promise we expected Iran to follow is, don’t do anything that looks like building nuclear weapons to the trained eyes of the CIA, don’t test nuclear weapons, don’t threaten people with nuclear weapons, and don’t use nuclear weapons. And they’ve kept that promise. This is not a small promise.

          But what are these economic benefits that we “gave away”? What is it that you imagine we possessed before JCPOA, that we didn’t have afterwards?

          Iran is trading with China and Germany and France, not us. Iran’s trade with China and Germany and France is not ours to give. And, to the limited extent that we can influence those nations in their trade with Iran, JCPOA didn’t give that away, it preserved it. If we had demanded that Iran bulldoze everything that might be a nuclear facility and allow foreign spies to snoop on every Iranian secret and presumably disband the IRGC and whatever else it is you think we should have demanded, China and Germany and France would have said “Don’t be ridiculous, no, we’re not signing on to that” and negotiated their own trade deal with Iran.

          Again, this wasn’t the US imposing terms on Iran, this was the US negotiating a deal with half a dozen nations, most of whom are our allies but not our bootlicking toadies. JCPOA preserved our ability to influence Allied and Chinese trade with Iran, at the cost of our promise to honestly assess Iran’s nuclear arms program based on the evidence rather than just accusing them of cheating because they keep holding “Death to the Great Satan” rallies.

          The worst-case outcome of the deal we got is that, if Iran had decided to break out and build a nuclear arsenal while the deal was in place, there would have been a few months in which they could trade with China and Germany and France without our interference. The other outcome, is that in exchange for the benefits of trade with China/Germany/France going forward, at no cost to us, Iran actually doesn’t build nuclear weapons for many years to come.

          Given those relative costs and benefits, you’d have to be near absolutely certain that Iran was going to cheat in the immediate future, or you’d have to think you could negotiate a better deal. Donald Trump claims he’s going to negotiate a better deal. What do you realistically think he will or even could get, that Obama didn’t?

          • gbdub says:

            “But what are these economic benefits that we “gave away”? What is it that you imagine we possessed before JCPOA, that we didn’t have afterwards?”

            Billions in frozen cash and a bunch of economic sanctions that were lifted because of the deal? And the ability to pursue “any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran”? Or is your position that Europe and China were always going to deal with Iran to the same extent, even without a nuclear inspection agreement?

            Now if the sanctions were always ineffective, then that’s absolutely worth giving away. But if the end result is that Iran gets more money and tech to develop their ballistic missile program and fund regional proxy wars, that cuts into the value of keeping them at T-12 months or less to a nuke for a decade.

          • John Schilling says:

            The cash wasn’t ours; we could never legally use it for our own purposes, and we could practically use it to influence Iran past 2016 because if we weren’t willing to return it in exchange for JCPOA it would have been clear that we were never going to return it.

            And JCPOA didn’t give away the sanctions, it kept them as a tool to be implemented as needed to ensure Iranian compliance. Implemented by all participating nations, at the demand of Washington alone. Before JCPOA, sanctions served as a means of ineffectually punishing Iran, officially for having a nuclear arms program, mostly for Being Iran. Under JCPOA, sanctions were a tool that actually froze Iran’s nuclear arms program for a time.

            Now, sanctions are at best a tool for punishing our allies for not going along with POTUS’s demand for a new deal.

            And yes, Europe and China were always going to trade with Iran. They were going to demand that Iran submit to what the French considered to be reasonable inspection terms, and they were maybe going to go beyond that to get the US on board, but if Iran offers what France considers a reasonable deal and the US demands what France considers unreasonable, do you really think that France is going knuckle under to Washington?

          • 10240 says:

            Your options are, one, wage total war with the purpose of destroying the nation of Iran because Iran might build nuclear weapons next year, or two, find a way to live with an Iran that can build nuclear weapons next year.

            What about bombing their nuclear facilities (and everything the CIA suspects of being a nuclear facility)?

          • gbdub says:

            “The cash wasn’t ours; we could never legally use it for our own purposes,”

            No, but Iran can and will now use it for their purposes, which may or may not (probably not) be aligned with US interests.

            “And JCPOA didn’t give away the sanctions, it kept them as a tool to be implemented as needed to ensure Iranian compliance”

            It didn’t keep the sanctions, it promised the return of sanctions if Iran violates the deal.

            We traded an economically and technologically stronger Iran in exchange for Iran pausing its nuclear program while the deal is in place.

            So, over the next 15 years, is an unsanctioned Iran perpetually a few months from a nuke substantially less adverse to American interests than an Iran under the pre-JCPOA sanctions?

          • John Schilling says:

            What about bombing their nuclear facilities (and everything the CIA suspects of being a nuclear facility)?

            At this point, Iran’s “nuclear facilities” are probably just a handful of caves, bunkers, and/or warehouses filled with stuff that could be used to reconstitute a nuclear arms program on short notice. Possibly up to and including prototype atom bombs ready to test, but until they actually do something with them (and unless we get a very lucky break), they are indistinguishable from any other cave, bunker, or warehouse. So we’d have to blow up every cave, bunker. and warehouse in Iran. I don’t think we have enough bombs to do that, and I don’t think we have enough goodwill to survive the blowback if we did.

          • John Schilling says:

            So, over the next 15 years, is an unsanctioned Iran perpetually a few months from a nuke substantially less adverse to American interests than an Iran under the pre-JCPOA sanctions?

            Under the pre-JCPOA sanctions, Iran would in fifteen years be about where North Korea is today, both in terms of “fuck it, we’ve got nothing to lose by going nuclear and Gaddafi and Kim as our poster boys for how that can turn out” and in having found trading partners who don’t care that Uncle Sam says they are supposed to sanction Naughty Iran.

            Sanctions that are Always Turned Full On, No Matter What, Because We Don’t Trust You, are entirely ineffective at changing the target nation’s behavior. And I’m not seeing anything from you on a realistic proposal for when sanctions should ever be lifted. This is a recipe for a repeat of the US’s half century of “Embargo ON! Until Castro is Deposed!” against Cuba, where everybody else sighs and ignores us.

          • 10240 says:

            If it’s so easy to hide nuclear facilities (production, not just storage), then how did they become known at all? Is it that a few of them have been discovered by spies, but many others may be unknown?

          • John Schilling says:

            If it’s so easy to hide nuclear facilities (production, not just storage), then how did they become known at all?

            It is fairly easy to hide e.g. an enrichment cascade if you’ve dismantled it and put it in storage. At that point, it’s just a warehouse full of idle inventory. It is much harder to hide an enrichment cascade that is actually being used to enrich uranium. Requires more floor space, lots of electric power and picky about how that power is conditioned, HVAC and specialized gas-handling for the high volumes of hot corrosive toxic working fluids, regular shipments of specialized hazardous materials to and from, and perhaps most importantly a large work force that knows it is involved in making illicit nuclear weapons and might be inclined to pull a Manning or Snowden.

            See here for an outline of how a particular enrichment site was discovered operating in North Korea. It’s not impossible that Iran could conceal an operational covert enrichment facility for a time, but they’ve been caught twice before on that front.

          • gbdub says:

            I should clarify a bit that I’m coming at this from a) mostly agreeing that the deal was as good as could be got, and playing devil’s advocate here a bit but b) being really cynical and c) having a nagging feeling that the Obama administration would have been willing to take a deal objectively a bit worse than the status quo because Obama really, really wanted to say he successfully negotiated a deal with Iran.

            So I agree that basically a key issue, from the US perspective, was that France, China, Germany et al were never going to go along with “embargo ON”, for at least as long as Iran’s nuclear capability is still future tense (would they be willing to go “embargo ON” when Iran tests a nuke?)

            That said, cynicism tells me that nuclear Iran is a fait accompli that the JCPOA delayed for a bit, but given that Iran paused months from a viable weapon test, we kind of have to treat Iran as a nuclear power anyway, since they will be one as soon as the deal ends, for all practical purposes (unless we swap the IAEA inspectors with SEALS and they blow all the equipment and whack all the scientists on the way out).

            So with that in mind, if I were Iran, I’d use the period of the JCPOA, combined with my newly improved access to cash and tech to crash-build all of the extra bits and bobs of nuclear weapons capabilities. Ballistic missiles, re-entry vehicles, mobile/survivable TELs, caves to hide it all in, maybe SLBM tech? With the idea being that, when the JCPOA expires, I could move really rapidly from first nuke test to having survivable delivery systems that can reliably threaten a second strike against Europe and the United States. It’s that latter thing that we really worry about.

            So what’s the long pole of Iranian nuclear capability? Enriching uranium and building/testing a viable warhead? Or all the ancillary tech and delivery systems? Because if it’s the latter, I worry that the JCPOA basically gives Iran breathing room and extra resources to go do all that faster while France pats themselves on the back for their brilliant diplomatic skills (never mind that what happened in Libya is a big reason why Iran would be dumb to not go nuclear ASAP after the JCPOA expires).

            EDIT: I also recognize that “always on” sanctions aren’t going to change behavior – but if they can hobble capability, they can still be valuable.

          • John Schilling says:

            So with that in mind, if I were Iran, I’d use the period of the JCPOA, combined with my newly improved access to cash and tech to crash-build all of the extra bits and bobs of nuclear weapons capabilities. Ballistic missiles, re-entry vehicles, mobile/survivable TELs, caves to hide it all in, maybe SLBM tech? …
            So what’s the long pole of Iranian nuclear capability? Enriching uranium and building/testing a viable warhead? Or all the ancillary tech and delivery systems?

            Iran has not been building and testing intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles, even though it would be trivial for them to do so. Their space launch vehicle was deliberately sized as a smallsat launcher that cannot plausibly be converted to a nuclear delivery system. No SLBMs. The missiles they do have, the same missiles they had before the JCPOA negitiations began, were and are mobile, but that’s old news – everybody’s missiles are mobile in the 21st century.

            Whatever it is you would do if you were Iran, Iran isn’t doing that. They in particular are not developing the sort of deliberately systems they would need to wage war with the US or NATO, probably because A: they really don’t want to wage nuclear war with the US or NATO and B: that would have probably scotched JCPOA which is a much better deal for them.

            They’ll probably still refrain from that sort of thing as long as JCPOA lite remains in force among Iran, China, France, and Germany.

            but given that Iran paused months from a viable weapon test, we kind of have to treat Iran as a nuclear power anyway, since they will be one as soon as the deal ends

            There is a huge difference between a “nuclear power” that has a handful of untested nuclear weapons it can’t admit to, and a nuclear power with an acknowledged and tested nuclear arsenal that has been integrated into its warfighting doctrine and its foreign policy. Yes, the nation with the small covert arsenal can try to “break out”, but that involves a period of extreme vulnerability not compatible with military adventurism. Consider South Africa 1977-1989. Consider Pakistan 1983-1998. Consider Israel in 1973, and maybe even today.

            Or consider North Korea 1994-2009, vs North Korea today. JCPOA froze Iran at roughly North Korea 2005 levels, and was likely to do so for as long as it remained in force. How much would you give to be able to turn the clock on North Korea back to 2005 today, even if only for a couple of years?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            There is a huge difference between a “nuclear power” that has a handful of untested nuclear weapons it can’t admit to, and a nuclear power with an acknowledged and tested nuclear arsenal that has been integrated into its warfighting doctrine and its foreign policy. Yes, the nation with the small covert arsenal can try to “break out”, but that involves a period of extreme vulnerability not compatible with military adventurism. Consider South Africa 1977-1989. Consider Pakistan 1983-1998. Consider Israel in 1973, and maybe even today.

            Or consider North Korea 1994-2009, vs North Korea today. JCPOA froze Iran at roughly North Korea 2005 levels, and was likely to do so for as long as it remained in force. How much would you give to be able to turn the clock on North Korea back to 2005 today, even if only for a couple of years?

            Of those Israel is easily the easiest to predict the nature of and its because they are a regional power and a nuclear power. South Africa has destabilized since denuclearizing (as did Libya) and is a general threat to stability in Africa currently. I don’t consider NK any more dangerous now than in 2005, and Pakistan is fairly instable as well regardless of their ability to deploy.

            Thus, I don’t think one can draw a useful pattern between nuclear progression and whether a country poses a destabilizing force. If anything, the trend is that we should abandon JCPOA for the explicit reason of encouraging Iran to become a fully nuclear state.

      • Controls Freak says:

        losing the ability to be taken seriously if it finds out that Iran has resumed building atom bombs and tries to warn people about it.

        To what extent does this matter? Sure, if the US intelligence product is marginal, it may play a role… but it seems that, “They might be lying, because they don’t like those guys,” ranks pretty close to, “They might be lying, because they don’t like those guys and pulled out of the previous agreement,” but both would be substantially lower in rank than the actual evidence that is presented. Is there more to:

        Also, everybody promises to take the US at its word if it ever finds out that Iran is cheating on the no-building-atom-bombs part.

        Was there something specific here that makes the delta more significant?

        • John Schilling says:

          So long as everyone was still a party to JCPOA, sanctions automatically kicked back in if POTUS declined to certify that Iran was in compliance. We didn’t have to persuade anybody, by preponderance of evidence or any other standard, we just had to make the claim(*) and sanctions are automatically reimposed. Then if e.g. Germany wanted to have Siemens sell machine tools to Iran, they’d have to be the ones to openly pull out of (or break) the deal and a standing UN resolution. There would have been a very substantial political cost to Germany in doing that.

          Instead, POTUS basically said “I hate this deal and I don’t want to be a part of this deal so I’m going to decertify no matter what the CIA says and no matter what Iran does, this deal is over and we’re going to have to negotiate a new deal or there’s no deal”. At that point, there was basically no political cost to Germany, France, China, and Iran saying “Yeah, we’re going to have to negotiate a new deal and we’re not going to bother inviting POTUS this time”.

          * And stonewall sixty-five days of discussions and maybe veto a UNSC resolution, if someone wants to be really picky.

        • cassander says:

          @John Schilling

          So long as everyone was still a party to JCPOA, sanctions automatically kicked back in if POTUS declined to certify that Iran was in compliance.

          Oh, come now John. You know full well that provision was meaningless. Even if the sanctions were formally re-applied, that means absolutely nothing if the countries in question don’t want to actively enforce them. It’s true that there might not have been a better deal on the table at the time, but once the sanction came down, they were (and are) almost certain to stay down de facto, if not de jure.

          • John Schilling says:

            Even if the sanctions were formally re-applied, that means absolutely nothing if the countries in question don’t want to actively enforce them.

            That’s what the JCPOA was for. Nobody outside of the United States and Israel wanted the pre-JCPOA sanctions to remain in place For Ever and Ever No Matter What, and they were not going to remain in place forever. The JCPOA provided the control mechanism that everybody wanted, in a way that was broadly perceived as fair and reasonable and that, if there were a problem, made it clear whose behavior was problematic. Germany might not “want” to forgo the profits of a machine-tool sale to Iran, but they much more strongly do not want to be seen as unambiguous villains in a tale that might end with six million Jews being incinerated. JCPOA made it unambiguous where the line between Good Guys and Bad Guys was in that story, and everybody including Iran wanted to be seen as standing on the Good Guy side. There would have been real political costs to doing otherwise.

            Now, we have a state of affairs where nobody who matters wants to enforce sanctions on Iran. It wasn’t JCPOA that caused that state of affairs, it was the manner in which Donald Trump ended JCPOA caused that. Now, Germany et al can trade with Iran to their heart’s content and there will be very little political cost to it.

            And if we’d piously refused to negotiate JCPOA in the first place because it didn’t include a clause requiring Iran to kiss Uncle Sam’s hindquarters, we’d just have wound up in the same place two years earlier. At least we got those two years.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Oh, come now John. You know full well that provision was meaningless. Even if the sanctions were formally re-applied, that means absolutely nothing if the countries in question don’t want to actively enforce them. It’s true that there might not have been a better deal on the table at the time, but once the sanction came down, they were (and are) almost certain to stay down de facto, if not de jure.

          If you don’t think the sanctions can be snapped back, how sustainable do you think they were in the first place? The world isn’t just going to quarantine Iran forever, not unless they actually do something more dangerous than just stockpile 20% HEU

          • cassander says:

            it was easier to keep them up than it will be to put them back. Now, it’s very possible that, in private, the other countries involved in the negotiations were telling the US that their patience was up and that there needed to be a deal sooner rather than later, but if that wasn’t the case then it was silly not to push for more, especially given that iran’s entirely preditable response to the removal of the sanctions was go go on a buying spree in an attempt to keep them from going back up.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I’m gonna agree with Cass. The status quo effects are very important in this. Germans can’t (they could but they wont) get angry about a 5% increase in heating oil if they never got the 5% decrease.

          • albatross11 says:

            One extra factor to consider when talking about bombing Iran to eliminate their nuclear program: The last time we did this sort of thing, it turned out really badly for us–we went to war[1] on WMD claims that turned out to be about 95% wrong, we spent several years trying to keep a lid on a simmering civil war on ethnic/religious lines, and we got a part of the country falling to ISIS. The way our occupation has gone in Afghanistan, and the outcomes we got in Libya and Yemen from bombing the bad guys–none of that stuff looks like a commercial for why this time, it’s all going to work out fine and everything will be great.

            [1] Bombing another country’s government facilities is an act of war, even when it’s done by the good guys against the bad guys and all the US media constantly remind everyone which side is which.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            There’s a status quo, but the status quo is not sanctions forever, particularly when the impression is of the US refusing reasonable trade deals. The sanctions regime against Iraq was slowly chipping away: we implemented Oil-For-Food, and prior to 9/11 the UK and the US started floating plans to implement “smart sanctions” because everyone else thought we were being ridiculous. And that’s back when everyone (including Iraqi generals) though Iraq had WMDs. Even still, a lot of sanctions were still lifted AFTER 9/11, even as the US was pushing to attack the country.

          • cassander says:

            @albatross11 says:

            Bombing another country is indeed an act of war, but there’s still a world of difference between bombing and actual ground invasion. No one is talking about invading Iran.

          • albatross11 says:

            cassander:

            No, not yet. I assume that will be sold to us as a dire necessity after bombing them doesn’t work, or as necessary retaliation when they respond to our righteous and peaceful bombing by shooting back or using proxies to attack us elsewhere.

            Just bombing them, though, I’m sure that will be every bit as large a success as our intervention in Libya.

          • cassander says:

            @albatross11 says:

            No, not yet. I assume that will be sold to us as a dire necessity after bombing them doesn’t work, or as necessary retaliation when they respond to our righteous and peaceful bombing by shooting back or using proxies to attack us elsewhere.

            It’s not possible to invade Iran. It’s got 80 million people and is 4 times the size of Iraq. There aren’t anywhere near enough troops.

            Just bombing them, though, I’m sure that will be every bit as large a success as our intervention in Libya.

            The trouble with Libya was that the goal of the intervention was idiotic, not that the intervention didn’t achieve its tactical goals.

          • 10240 says:

            when they respond to our righteous and peaceful bombing by shooting back or using proxies to attack us elsewhere.

            Are you worried about that? Then let’s say they get the nukes, and then proceed to shoot at us or use proxies to attack us elsewhere. Isn’t it going to be a lot more difficult to handle it?

            It’s not possible to invade Iran. It’s got 80 million people and is 4 times the size of Iraq. There aren’t anywhere near enough troops.

            Iran’ population is 2.2 times that of Iraq. The Iraq invasion used 309 thousand troops, and had ~196 deaths among the coalition troops (from Wikipedia).

      • ana53294 says:

        If Trump can convince or coerce the Brits to go along with his plan, which seems likely, everyone else will have to come up with some convoluted financial shenanigans to make sure trade with Iran never touches a New York or London bank, but they’ve announced that they are already working on it and it seems that this will be a major nuisance but not a dealbreaker.

        How effective are the shenanigans they did come up with, though?

        The extraterritoriality of US sanctions means that they will affect all companies that trade with Iran and have business in the US. Why would banks sacrifice their US business?

        Especially now that oil prices are below 70 $.

        And how will they ship the oil? While the biggest shipping company is European, they do have business in the US. Can small companies handle oil tankers? Who will ensure those tankers?

        SPVs are quite incomprehensible to me, although if they do manage to implement them, the US does run the risk of having a parallel banking system that does not respond to them.

        • John Schilling says:

          Why would banks sacrifice their US business?

          The quasi-banks that do business with Iran, will probably be banks specifically chartered for that purpose that never had any US to begin with. If they are built around the nameplate of an existing bank, it will be one that doesn’t have any significant US exposure to lose.

          And with the EU governments running interference for them, there will be no real way for the US to enforce secondary sanctions on the basis of intra-European trade that eventually reaches Iran. We’d have to basically declare a total trade embargo on Germany in retaliation for Germany’s refusal to play Trump’s game, and that’s not a credible threat.

          While the biggest shipping company is European, they do have business in the US. Can small companies handle oil tankers?

          I don’t know if the National Iranian Tanker Company counts as a “small company” in your book, but they can definitely handle oil tankers and I’m going to hazard a guess that they will side with Tehran over Washington in any dispute about shipping Iranian oil.

          If they don’t presently have enough tankers, then Maersk or COSCO or whomever can sell some tankers to Bob’s Discount Used Tankers which can trade them for someone else’s used tankers which they can rebadge and reflag to sell to NITC, and Bob won’t losing the US business he never had because the US pretty much doesn’t have a merchant marine to buy used tankers any more.

          Really, have we learned nothing from our experience with Cuba? Once the rest of the world understands that we’re not really interested in negotiating a realistic and fair solution, US attempts to say “Embargo ON!” just make the US a laughing stock.

  11. Uribe says:

    Does anyone here have colorful opinions about Michael Lewis’ new book, The Fifth Risk ? Here’s an overview and brief interview at NY Mag.

    I got it, read the first 100 pages, grew bored. It’s one of those books that should have been an essay, IMO.

    As for his thesis: I don’t know how to judge whether Lewis is exaggerating the importance of these agencies (Departments of Commerce, Energy, and Agriculture) and how much Trump has screwed them up. It seems plausible to me that despite the disastrous transition, which is the book’s focus, that things have or will ultimately upright themselves in these Departments.

    I found his case for the risks posed by incompetence within the Department of Energy compelling, for the USDA, not as much.

    • SamChevre says:

      I haven’t read the book; I probably should.

      But reading the interview highlighted something: Lewis thinks the permanent government is competent and sensible. I think they are partisan and on the other side. So “there are people in the civil service who step into them and do them probably better than the political people would” strikes me as a statement about sides, while Lewis intends it as a statement about competence.

    • cassander says:

      95 percent of the government is occupied by some variety of civil service whose promotions, career path, and day to day work are never even glimpsed by elected or appointed officials, much less affected by them. Much, maybe most, of the rest are those officials appointed out of the civil service. If trump had manged to destroy not one, but multiple government agencies in just two years, we’re not giving him nearly enough credit. He’d have to be the greatest political genius of the last century to pull that off.

      I haven’t read the book, but that interview is built entirely out of suspicions and aspersions, without a single factual claim about actual dysfunction. I’m not impressed.

      • Plumber says:

        @cassander

        “95 percent of the government is occupied by some variety of civil service whose promotions, career path, and day to day work are never even glimpsed by elected or appointed officials, much less affected by them…”

        The majority of “the Federal government” isn’t actually “the government” at all anymore. Despite Federal spending going up the total number of sworn Federal public employees is down from the mid 20th century heights even though U.S. population has gone up.

        What is up (besides spending) is Federal contractors.

        It’s been called “government by proxy

        • cassander says:

          This is a fair point, but the political appointees only have little more control over them than the civil servants in theory, and no more in practice. Most of them are selected by and report to civil servants, and are employed by companies that are very good at greasing the contracting skids. the hire ups don’t even know how many of them there are (it’s official OPM policy NOT to try to count them), much less what they’re up to.

        • SamChevre says:

          total number of sworn Federal public employees is down from the mid 20th century heights

          This is true but misleading: the fall in Federal employees is (if I remember correctly) driven by two changes, neither of which affect the civil service as generally understood.
          1) The carve-out of the Post Office, so 500,000 Post Office employees are no longer counted as Federal employees buy the BLS.
          2) The shrinkage of the Army by almost 1 million from its Vietnam-era peak

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        Most of the federal civil service are bureaucrats managing/running some program or other. They are extremely conservative in the small-c sense of the word–they don’t like changes to their programs and they especially want to keep their jobs.

        I couldn’t find a reference in a quick Google search, but my impression is that:

        a. Most of the civil service is moderately politically liberal, in the sense of being more likely to vote Democrat than Republican.

        b. The military and military contractors, as well as police agencies, tend to be conservative.

        c. I’m not sure about other contractors–it probably depends on what kind of contractors.

        • cassander says:

          Moderately is doing a lot of work in that sentence. the civil service is very liberal, at least 2:1 democrats vs. republicans. Police and fire tend to be split about 50/50. The military is about as republican as the civil service is liberal.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        That Lewis repeats the canard about Rick Perry being unaware of DOE’s involvement with nuclear weapons, is not a good sign.

        I also think more scrutiny should be given to the commonplace assumption that political appointees have a duty to be gung-ho about the mission and practices of the agency they run, as those exist on the day they take over. Sometimes what you need most from the head of an agency is to shake it out of its rut, or to rein in its excesses.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Lewis writes extremely good coverage of a person’s opinion of some state of affairs. That’s it. The quality and insight of what he produces is an identity function of his subject’s; that’s what you’re really judging. (Yes, there are often many people mentioned, but there’s always a core person, and Lewis channels him.)

      Liar’s Poker is coverage of his own experience at Solomon Brothers; I believe it accurate for that world and insightful. Billy Beane actually understands sabermetrics (no really?) and so Moneyball is fantastic. Flash Boys is a mouthpiece for Brad Katsuyama. Katsuyama, depending on your opinion of him personally, either doesn’t understand HFT at all or blatantly lies about it, so Flash Boys is nonsense. (I have no knowledge or opinion of The Big Short.)

      So if you want to analyze his new book, you need to figure out how smart and honest the core subject is.

      • Uribe says:

        That sounds like a good take on how Lewis proceeds.

        This book has essentially 2 parts:

        Part 1) He describes the disastrous transition of leadership for these Depts. Generally, per Lewis’ source, a ton of knowledge sharing takes place between the day after election day and inauguration day, so that the new leadership knows what’s going on in these Depts. Trump, OTOH, didn’t even have a transition team. Nobody showed up to learn anything. It strikes me that even if you want to turn these places upside down and shake them out, it’s best to first learn as much as you can about what they actually do. Chesterton’s Fence and all.

        Part 2) Lewis profiles various brilliant, highly-credentialed, dedicated employees and their work within these Depts in order to refute the general notion that civil servants are mediocre types who aren’t doing important work. I found a lot of this convincing (my own bias is against government bureaucrats), particularly with respect to those bureaucrats in charge of nuclear weapons within the Dept of Energy. However, I found these profiles tedious after a while.

      • rlms says:

        What’s nonsense about Flash Boys?

      • Brad says:

        @rlms
        There was a discussion in the last OT: https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/11/21/open-thread-115-25/#comment-693630

        I put in my two cents, which are in line with Andrew Hunter’s take.

  12. SkyBlu says:

    Recently, a big package on NPM was infected by malware. Now that the immediate clean up is over, people are fighting over how best to stop this from happening in the future. The current state of NPM is that there are a lot and a lot of small packages that do small tasks, with lots of forking and small groups of contributors, a sort of archipelago situation but with software. Now, it seems like some people are very fed up with this model of open source software development and want a centralized authority.

    • CatCube says:

      What is NPM?

      • toastengineer says:

        Since software often has to solve problems that someone else has already solved, programmers back in the Wild West days got it in their heads to solve the really common problems really well once, and then have everyone use the really good solution instead of coming up with a million shitty home-brewed versions. These theoretically really good, re-usable pieces of software are called libraries.

        There’s like millions of them now, available for free on the Internet. The problem then is infrastructure; people need to be able to figure out which libraries exist, get them, update them when the author enhances them, and remove them when they’re no longer needed. In addition, libraries inevitably use libraries themselves, which means when you install a library you need to know what libraries it needs and install them, and install the libraries those need and so on.

        The solution to this problem is called a package manager. There is usually one package manager for a given language/software ecosystem, aside from APT and YUM which are the Linux package managers used to install full programs and libraries of various languages. NPM is the JavaScript package manager. NPM is also unique in that the JavaScript library-producing community is uniquely fucked up in a couple ways.

        So, basically, there’s this component that a lot of programs use, that the creator of which, or more likely someone who hacked in to his account, put a computer virus in. This is bad, and people are very upset.

        I don’t think free distribution of open-source libraries are going away; that wouldn’t make any sense. What I assume people really want is something like APT has where to get in to the official distribution lists your package has to get approved by a trusted authoritative organization.

        If I were designing it, I’d make it so that anyone could upload a package, but for someone to see it, one or more people whose public keys are in your “trusted programmer people” list have to sign it. Maybe have multiple “levels” of trust, so if a thousand other people who you don’t specifically trust per se say it’s okay it still counts as okay, or if a big trusted security organization reviews it that counts as trustworthy on its own. There’d be a default list of trusted people that I maintain. That way it’s still decentralized; no central body holds the trust, and while there’s a central body making authoritative suggestions on who to trust you’re perfectly free to ignore their suggestions.

    • Brad says:

      I don’t think we need a centralized authority in the sense of something like an app store for libraries, but I do think it is the responsibility of every developer on a real project to think seriously and careful before taking a dependency on a library. That due diligence process includes investigating who is responsible for maintain that library.

      Of course the javascript culture is to eschew that because everything about the javascript culture is terrible.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Seriously. Fuck scripted languages.

        Compile or die!

        • SkyBlu says:

          hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
          I actually very much like node and the ecosystem and I know it isn’t perfect because of incidents like this but compile or die kinda just feels elitist to me
          (If this was a joke I’m sorry I’m terrible at interpreting tone)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @SkyBlu:
            Wasn’t a “joke” so much as sarcastic hyperbole.

            Node has its place. I’ve done programming in Node. I find it, like all programming I have done in scripted languages, to be exceedingly tiresome simply because minor errors that would be resolved at compile time can take hours to debug. In addition, what should be compile time errors can even make it into production, simply because a code path was not executed.

            In a highly rigorous development environment these would be less of an issue, but I find that the culture around Node development to be more the opposite. But, as I only have done it as a side gig, this may simply be my personal experience.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Culture does matter. In some projects I’ve had to deal with the “that’s an old version, why don’t you just live-update everything every day, you old fossil lol” nonsense. I’m trying not to get too smug over this debacle since I’ve been warning about it for years.

            It’s not physically impossible for someone to put something actively malicious into the C++ stdlib or the Java runtime. But there are a lot more checks in place, and there is usually some company with a reputation it cares about doing so. I wouldn’t want to be on the C++ committee, but I’m glad the committee exists.

          • dick says:

            What do you mean about “culture around Node development”? I don’t want to assume the worst, but is this just a euphemism for the fact that node and javascript are accessible to amateurs, which leads to a lot of node packages being written by mediocre programmers? I feel like that’s a feature, not a bug.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m not speaking for HBC, but there are boring things that Mature Ecosystems do that whippersnappers don’t like. Like doing slow releases, and giving support windows on old releases, and building things into big packages you can keep an eye on rather than hundreds of tiny things.[1]

            You want the foundation of your ecosystem built by greybeards who are anal about boring things. It’s fine if a lot of cool things are built by amateurs using the stable foundation.

            [1] The Unix system is hundreds of tiny things and it works well, but those hundreds of tiny things were built long ago by greybeards and there are communities around grep and less and sort, so you can’t just have some rando take one of those programs over.

          • Nick says:

            I don’t know about npm, but when it comes to javascript I’m with HeelBearCub. It’s just unpleasant to program in.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The “less” pager was done as a replacement for the “more” pager, by one guy (who still maintains it). He just did it and posted it to Usenet and people used it, no need for any engineering approvals or anything like that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dick:

            What do you mean about “culture around Node development”?

            Roughly speaking, the development culture I am referring to do it fast, do it now, do it with lots of free third party packages. Don’t worry about code being particularly clear or even well organized as long it is “easy”. And sometimes easy means non-performant at scale.

            Which, there is certainly a place for. But it has costs.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Well, TIL.

          • dick says:

            I’m not speaking for HBC, but there are boring things that Mature Ecosystems do that whippersnappers don’t like. Like doing slow releases, and giving support windows on old releases, and building things into big packages you can keep an eye on rather than hundreds of tiny things. You want the foundation of your ecosystem built by greybeards who are anal about boring things. It’s fine if a lot of cool things are built by amateurs using the stable foundation.

            These seem like opinions about process and methodology masquerading as opinions about tools and language. You can build a monolith in Node with no packages, and sell three tiers of support for it, and release it twice a year, no one’s stopping you. You can have an old-fashioned bug database, lots of Gant charts and burndown reports, and a real physical box that comes with CDs and a manual if you want to.

            But, what you absolutely cannot do is bang out an MVP of a SaaS product in a weekend without relying heavily on code written by other people that you haven’t audited and don’t really even understand, and if you’re going to do that, npm or something like it is indisputably the right tool to use. You agree? Meaning, am I correct in thinking you agree that Node is the ideal ecosystem for someone doing that, and your argument is that they shouldn’t be doing it because plugging together stuff you don’t understand like tinker-toys and selling it is a Bad Thing?

            I’m reminded of the old story about when AT&T was thinking of getting in to web hosting. The AT&T execs (so the old yarn goes) couldn’t figure out how it could possibly be a profitable business, so they sent some engineers to a hosting firm to sniff around and find out what their secret was. The answer was: offer lousy service. No staging environment, no redundant bandwidth, frequent downtimes, and low, low prices. The AT&T engineers had just assumed that if you couldn’t deliver 5 9’s you wouldn’t bother to start the company at all, and hence missed out on a burgeoning industry rife with opportunity.
            It seems kind of like you’re on AT&T’s side here.

          • Brad says:

            Python is accessible to amateurs, is interpreted, and has a far better culture than javascript.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @SkyBlu:

            bang out an MVP of a SaaS product in a weekend

            I think you are then agreeing with me on what Node culture is, yes?

            As I already said, there is certainly a place for this, but it has costs.

          • Brad says:

            These seem like opinions about process and methodology masquerading as opinions about tools and language.

            There’s a feedback loop such that it is entire reasonable to use “javascript culture” to describe the whole mess.

            Sure you could write anything in any turing complete langauge, but in practice a random haskell program is going to be a toy effort that’s part of yet another blog post explaining monads and a random javascript program is going to be a pile of crap that has no notion of anything so silly as backwards compatibility or regression testing.

          • skef says:

            What do you mean about “culture around Node development”? I don’t want to assume the worst, but is this just a euphemism for the fact that node and javascript are accessible to amateurs, which leads to a lot of node packages being written by mediocre programmers? I feel like that’s a feature, not a bug.

            I don’t have anything like a holistic view of the current Javascript ecosystem. But I have built non-tiny Javascript-based projects, and also have experience in a range of other script and compiled languages, with the most in C++ and perl. (More recently I’ve been doing python stuff, because I might need a programming job again sometime soon so it would be a mistake to do more projects in a language that makes so many people so angry.)

            Anyway, it’s possible to loosely arrange the various ecosystems on an axis or two that takes into account:

            1) The “centrality” of the typically used packages. This is something like: If your project is in broad domain X, and you compare it with other projects in domain X, how much code are they likely to share? This is, in part, a measure of the stability benefits of shared code, as more people using a library/module/whatever mean more people finding edge cases in it, etc.

            2) The rate of turnover of what packages are central, and of those used in particular projects, and the degree to which new packages are integrating wisdom derived from the use of previous packages. I list these two together because they are closely related — the more quickly change occurs the less likely it is to be in response to actual problems as opposed to fashion or other factors.

            From my admittedly limited perspective, by these criteria the Javascript ecosystem is an extreme outlier. Things might have started settling down in the past year, but generally speaking the experience is of low centrality and rapid change with only the loosest sense of things getting better. There is little fundamentally different about the mechanisms of node packaging and distribution from those of perl or python. But what might be called the “spirit” is so extreme on the Javascript side that many developers’ instinctual reaction is to back away slowly.

          • dick says:

            @ HBC

            I think you are then agreeing with me on what Node culture is, yes?

            You @-ed SkyBlu but quoted me. In any event, no, I don’t know what it means, that’s why I asked. Is React part of “node culture”? Is Express? Is a college student’s homework on github? (I will concede that much of the bad code that gets written these days gets written in Node javascript, but that’s just because that’s how programming is taught nowadays; most of the terrible code that was written in 1987 was written in c++ and most of the terrible code written in 2002 was written in Java but those are not indictments of those languages.)

            @ Brad

            Sure you could write anything in any turing complete langauge, but in practice a random haskell program is going to be a toy effort that’s part of yet another blog post explaining monads and a random javascript program is going to be a pile of crap that has no notion of anything so silly as backwards compatibility or regression testing.

            This seems about as backwards as it’s possible to be, compared to my experience. (Not the Haskell part, that’s spot on 🙂 ) Versioning and backwards compatibility concerns are explicitly a part of npm. Tests are explicitly a part of node apps. The 24-year-old bootcamp grads I interview have usually written more tests than your average 50-year-old Software Engineer IV. A 2018 front-end developer’s personal web page probably has more tests than a 1998 all-our-core-product-functionality-lives-here.dll.

            Also: I realize that a lot of this comes down to taste (I think JS is very pleasant to write in, but I also didn’t use it back in the day when it sucked a lot more) but since we’re hashing it out, it would be helpful if the people who are down on Node/Javascript/npm-style-casual-code-reuse could be specific about which of those they’re complaining about at which time. One can feel that javascript is a bad language and also that npm-style casual code reuse is great, or one can feel that javascript is a fine language but that Node is a terrible implementation of it, or one can feel that Node and JS are both fine but that casual code reuse as exemplified by npm is evil, but “I don’t like Node culture” could be any of those or none of those.

          • liate says:

            @dick

            One can feel that javascript is a bad language and also that npm-style casual code reuse is great, or one can feel that javascript is a fine language but that Node is a terrible implementation of it, or one can feel that Node and JS are both fine but that casual code reuse as exemplified by npm is evil, but “I don’t like Node culture” could be any of those or none of those.

            Eh, I’d say that “Node culture” refers mostly to 3 (or maybe 2) more. If I were complaining about javascript or node’s technical features, I’d say something like “I don’t like Node” or “I don’t like JavaScript”; “foo culture” is pointing more towards the coding practises and other ideas common in people who use foo a lot.

            edit: wording

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            These seem like opinions about process and methodology masquerading as opinions about tools and language.

            I’m not really stating any opinions about language. I’ve done some fairly big and crazy things in JavaScript, so I’m fine with it as a language. But the “pull in 30 dependencies which in turn pull in others until you are dependent upon 1100 different projects” is the insane part.

            Maximize your browser window and watch this: http://npm.anvaka.com/#/view/2d/copay-dash

            But, what you absolutely cannot do is bang out an MVP of a SaaS product in a weekend without relying heavily on code written by other people that you haven’t audited and don’t really even understand,

            I can do that in a lot of eco-systems, depending on what you mean by “haven’t audited and don’t really even understand.”

            I obviously haven’t audited all of MySQL, but there are enough people that give a shit about MySQL that it’s not going to be easy for someone to purposefully backdoor it. I can pull in gems or eggs or CPANs. There are certainly opportunities for someone to sneak something evil into one of those places, but the surface area is at least an order of magnitude smaller in those ecosystems.

            and if you’re going to do that, npm or something like it is indisputably the right tool to use. You agree? Meaning, am I correct in thinking you agree that Node is the ideal ecosystem for someone doing that

            No, I can that in lots of languages. I don’t think I have to do it in Node.

            There is no particular reason the Node ecosystem has to suck. I know a lot of people complain that JavaScript’s standard library sucks, and that is a problem, but the answer was for someone central to the Node project to write it and maintain it.

            At some point the culture decided that pulling in dependencies was cool, because other people could help write your code. Well, great, but now other people are writing your code.

            Most of those projects don’t really need to be pulling in as many dependencies as they do. The pg npm shouldn’t be pulling in pg-connection-string for 30 lines of code. Decide that it does and repeat that decision 1000 times and you get 2300 people who can push code into your secure bitcoin wallet.

          • dick says:

            I can pull in gems or eggs or CPANs. There are certainly opportunities for someone to sneak something evil into one of those places, but the surface area is at least an order of magnitude smaller in those ecosystems.

            So, why is casual code reuse problematic in npm packages but not ruby gems? Is it just the result of the network effect of JS being an order of magnitude more popular and npm an order of magnitude bigger, or something more intrinsic to Javascript? My answer is “the former – if the python runtime had been integrated in to all the major browsers 15 years ago and it were easy to write full-stack SaaS apps entirely in python, pypi would be as big as npm is and would have the same problems as npm and y’all would be complaining about Python culture.” If yours differs, that might be the nub of the gist of what we’re disagreeing on here.

            Most of those projects don’t really need to be pulling in as many dependencies as they do. The pg npm shouldn’t be pulling in pg-connection-string for 30 lines of code. Decide that it does and repeat that decision 1000 times and you get 2300 people who can push code into your secure bitcoin wallet.

            That may be true, but the difference between “you shouldn’t import someone else’s package just for 30 lines of code” and “you shouldn’t re-implement something that someone has already done better than you could” is subtle and subjective. I mean, there definitely are times when you should import, right? It seems like your argument is that code reuse with npm is so powerful and great and easy that some people do it too much, and it’s hard not to see that as elitist gate-keeping.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I can’t describe exactly where the line on “import versus just copy the code” is, and I won’t play the game of saying where it is, but I know when your secure bitcoin wallet has 1100+ dependencies, you have gone too far in the “import” direction.

            The Node team could have seen what’s popular and created official versions of the most popular libraries that didn’t need to include lots of things down the chain. There may have been community backlash at this, because they would be “stealing credit” or something, which is why I think it’s a probably a problem with the culture. I can easily imagine another universe where Node had a sane library system, and when you wanted to hook to a postgres library you import the pg library managed by the Node team which is entirely self-contained, and if version 7.7.1 works today and is safe today, the same will be true tomorrow, without this assumption failing because someone updated xtend which updated postgres-interval which updated pg-types which updates pg.

            It seems like your argument is that code reuse with npm is so powerful and great and easy

            Good God. You can re-use code just fine. You just need some kind of control over the system. You are giving every single person with write access to your dependency tree complete control over your program if they want it, so you need to keep that number small.

            “Don’t Repeat Yourself” is okay, but if you take it too far you get a Huffman-encoded monstrosity that is unreadable.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t want to assume the worst, but is this just a euphemism for the fact that node and javascript are accessible to amateurs, which leads to a lot of node packages being written by mediocre programmers? I feel like that’s a feature, not a bug.

            The issue isn’t whether code is being written by mediocre programmers. The code coiuld be written by Stallman or Knuth. The issue is how good is the process by which the code is reviewed by people who didn’t write it, to validate that it meets standards and requirements and doesn’t have any of the well-known type of mistakes that even a Stallman or a Knuth can make if they having a sloppy/lazy/arrogant day. Code written by mediocre programmers and reviewed by other mediocre programmers can be perfectly acceptable for the most critical applications, if the review process was put together by experienced veterans and if everybody understands that it’s not optional.

            Code written by a genius who says that everyone should incorporate it into their production code because a genius said it was OK, isn’t.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In this model, what do you need good programmers for?

          • John Schilling says:

            Writing better code, and sometimes solving problems that less-good coders simply can’t – but only if they the can and will explain their work to the point where the lesser coders can fully understand it. They also often make good teachers, and they can develop good standards and processes, but see above re explaining your work.

          • The Nybbler says:

            So programming skill is not valued over the mediocre level, but teaching and making-processes skill is.

          • John Schilling says:

            Incorrect, and I suspect uncharitable. Genius in programming ought to be respected and valued in roughly the same way that genius in science is respected and valued – when its results can be explained to mere mortals, and not before.

          • The Nybbler says:

            My claim directly follows from yours, so I don’t see why you say it is incorrect. A good programmer who cannot teach less-good programmers is not to be valued any more than those less-good programmers.

            One of the goals of SEI-style software engineering is indeed to turn making software into a repeatable process that can be accomplished by anyone with the right 3-ring binders and the minimal intelligence and training required to follow the procedures therein. There’s no room for better or worse there; just follow the procedures. Unless you have the skill to write a better procedure that anyone can follow, and the political acumen to get it implemented — which is a very different thing from being a good programmer.

          • Brad says:

            It’s the military model, which works adequately when you have an unlimited budget because somehow taxation isn’t theft when it comes to blowing things up.

          • The Nybbler says:

            MIL-STD-239, Procedures for Nuclear Weapon Development.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I once worked with a genius, in the sense that people here have heard of him, and he would produce this blob of code that perfectly solves the problem but no one is sure how of what the side-effects are, and he’s too important to explain to the rest of the team how it works. “Just read it!”

    • John Schilling says:

      I work with people who write software that absolutely, positively has to WORK, and their culture and their professional standards are absolutely unlike anything I’ve seen in the open source world. It may be possible for them to exist in an open source environment, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the norm.

      That said, “centralized authority” covers a multitude of sins, some of which are quite sinful indeed. But see CatCube’s structural engineering effortposts for how professional organizations can establish and maintain standards that ensure you can e.g. sit in your chair eight hundred feet above the ground, confident that the server you are fiddling with will probably crash sometime in the next year but the floor beneath you will remain solid. We don’t need a Federal Czar of Software Integrity or any such thing, we just need the same level of organizational discipline that everyone else who builds critical infrastructure uses.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        we just need the same level of organizational discipline that everyone else who builds critical infrastructure uses.

        I don’t think this is quite fair to software engineering.

        Real engineers build (substantially) the same things over and over. Software engineers mostly don’t, because once software is built it can simply be copied.

        Imagine engineers having to design roads that could withstand a doubling of vehicle weight every few years, or buildings that could handle year of year increase in furniture size…

        • toastengineer says:

          And every six months the people commissioning the bridge change their mind about which two places the bridge goes between.

      • The Nybbler says:

        If you’re talking about the software which controls airplanes, that’s different than nearly every other professional software environment (including some other life-critical embedded software), not just open source. But without a centralized authority, or direct auditing by the customers of a piece of software, I’m not sure how you prevent the owner of a piece of software from handing it over to a malicious actor.

        The engineering techniques CatCube describes work well. The cost of them applied to software, even if you could figure out how, includes driving pretty much everyone now in the software field (except, ironically, the business programmers) out of it. Engineering is now a process of applying standards and best practices to problems in <field of endeavor>. Practitioners can go through their whole professional life applying formulas approved by experts in the field and making sure all the standards are followed, and not having an single new idea. If a practitioner did have a new idea, their bosses will tell them the cost of proving it will work safely is $$$$$$$$ and several years; much cheaper to go with the tried and true. To many software engineers, and especially those in open source, this would be torture.

        • John Schilling says:

          But without a centralized authority, or direct auditing by the customers of a piece of software, I’m not sure how you prevent the owner of a piece of software from handing it over to a malicious actor.

          Ideally, I do that by being myself the owner of a single instance of software that simply works, and not caring that the original developer / IP owner is mucking about developing fifty-two revisions of dubious functionality before handing the thing over to a complete stranger, because my own unchanged instance still works.

          In cases where I need my software to be periodically revised to deal with external issues, e.g. Garmin updating my database every time someone builds a new high-rise that might threaten aerial navigation, I contract with them and specifically with them for update services, which costs me actual money but lets me sue them if they hand it off to a third party who screws up – and also predictably costs Garmin a billion or so dollars of brand recognition if they screw up in a big way.

          In cases where I need my software to be periodically upgraded because the best I can buy wass bug-ridden crap from the day it was released and it will only ever be marginally less bug-ridden until it is obsolete, that’s the problem we’re trying to solve here.

          To many software engineers, and especially those in open source, this would be torture.

          Fine. They can find work writing browser games or social media platforms for teenagers, or they can learn to become intimately familiar with the phrase, “Do you want fries with that?”

          The minority of software engineers who can write reliable code, we can task with producing a reliable digital infrastructure for all the critical functionality that currently rests on a house of cards, and forgo a few generations of cardhouse-building. Which will give them plenty of scope for new ideas, so long as they don’t demand that those new ideas be incorporated into the product on the basis of their unsupported assertion that they are Real Smart and that they Did It Right.

          That we have let a bunch of spoiled primadonnas build critical infrastructure, does not mean that we must let a bunch of spoiled primadonnas build critical infrastructure. Grow up or Get Out.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That we have let a bunch of spoiled primadonnas build critical infrastructure, does not mean that we must let a bunch of spoiled primadonnas build critical infrastructure. Grow up or Get Out.

            We can have software built according to rules set by over-credentialled, superannuated, stodgy conservatives who think that if it was good enough for Mauchley and Eckhart, it’s good enough for you. Or we can have MacOS/iOS, Windows/Bing, Google Search and Android, and all the rest of the things our slapped-together infrastructure has gotten us. Including that Garmin GPS, most likely; I don’t think Garmin wrote to aerospace standards, and they purchase the aviation database.

          • CatCube says:

            @The Nybbler

            I don’t think Garmin wrote to aerospace standards, and they purchase the aviation database.

            Garmin makes glass cockpits, and their aerospace products are very expensive compared to their run-of-the-mill “suction cup to your car windshield” products (at least until everybody had a smart phone and separate GPS units for vehicles went by the wayside).

            Even within the aerospace product lines, there’s a distinct difference between units that are certified for instrument flight and the ones that you can use just to help you find your way around the sky.

          • John Schilling says:

            We can have software built according to rules set by over-credentialled, superannuated, stodgy conservatives who think that if it was good enough for Mauchley and Eckhart, it’s good enough for you. Or we can have MacOS/iOS, Windows/Bing, Google Search and Android

            Don’t tempt me. Those aren’t the only options, and you damn well know it, but if you’re going to tell me that meaningful quality control “would be torture” to you and yours, then count me among the superannuated stodgy conservatives.

            I don’t think Garmin wrote to aerospace standards, and they purchase the aviation database.

            Pretty certain Garmin complies with DO-178C, among other aerospace standards, and requires compliance from their third-party suppliers as well. Must be torture for them, I know.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Don’t tempt me. Those aren’t the only options, and you damn well know it

            I don’t know of other options. Well, I know of options that are less formal than the way better commercial and open source projects build software, but I don’t know of anything between that and the sort of highly controlled engineering-style process I’m objecting to. To demonstrate the impact of requiring such processes, I need only point to one piece of software: Linux. Make that go away because it sure wasn’t done according to best practices, and a huge amount of the software world over the past few decades goes away, appears much later, and/or becomes much more expensive (and you can’t substitute the BSDs because they weren’t developed according to such a process either)

            then count me among the superannuated stodgy conservatives.

            I’d consider it, but it appears we’re roughly equally annuated.

            Pretty certain Garmin complies with DO-178C, among other aerospace standards, and requires compliance from their third-party suppliers as well. Must be torture for them, I know.

            Unironically, probably. It looks like they resurrected parts of DoD 2167A, with its model of people writing ever-increasingly-detailed levels of requirements and design so that the people who are allowed to think aren’t allowed to write any code, and the people who are allowed to write code aren’t allowed to think. Then you get things that can’t be implemented as specified because the high-level people didn’t know about or weren’t considering the low-level constraints, and you need a series of (often hostile) meetings up the chain to correct it. Been there and done that, got the T-shirt.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            That we have let a bunch of spoiled primadonnas build critical infrastructure, does not mean that we must let a bunch of spoiled primadonnas build critical infrastructure. Grow up or Get Out.

            My primary technical specialty involves a wide variety of low level infrastructural components which have to work–not on the level of the Shuttle or a 747, but in a way that Ye Random Crap Javascript App doesn’t begin to touch. I am restricted by NDA from naming the places they work, but code I wrote was involved in something you did today, P>0.98, and in addition does in fact run on some embedded systems with risk to humans involved. I know of what I speak.

            It is possible to build software, of near-arbitrary complexity, with extremely strong correctness guarantees and testing that makes it near impossible for failures to be inserted. The shuttle, for all its hardware disasters, is generally given as a pretty good example. Doing so is not free. It has nothing whatsoever to do with software engineers being prima donnas or lazy [1]: it just takes longer. Hugely longer–there’s far more to do before you get to anything usable, which means longer until you realize your first version is shitty, which means longer til you try a second version, which means you *never* invent the cool new algorithm that makes your search engine worth using.

            Writing shitty stuff that barely stands up isn’t done because it’s easy, or because we’re lazy, or because we’re cheap, it’s done because for almost all software, that’s actually good enough. Anything else is a waste of money, and you lose to someone with a OODA loop ten times faster. We are hugely better off for having a giant pile of shitty software than shuttle-level reliable MSDOS apps. (And I doubt we’d have even that, because no one would have funded the industry without early results.) Is it right for aviation? No, but it’s not aviation.

            The entire process has nothing at all to do with governance or decisions, it has to do with what’s effective for producing large quantities of novel something from nothing.

            [1] Well, it does, in that shuttle code is dull and unpleasant to write, and you’ll have to pay me an incredible premium to write it.

          • Aapje says:

            @Andrew Hunter

            Also, to add to that, the customer’s revealed preferences are that they prefer this trade-off.

          • bean says:

            Well, I know of options that are less formal than the way better commercial and open source projects build software, but I don’t know of anything between that and the sort of highly controlled engineering-style process I’m objecting to.

            I’m pretty sure I do. Rigor is a sliding scale, not a switch. On an airliner, you’re likely to have several different levels applied. The flight control stuff will be as bulletproof as it is possible to make it. The avionics (moving map and stuff) will be somewhat less so, although still significantly more robust than a typical commercial/open-source software product. There are probably levels within this, too, depending on what’s seen as merely a nice-to-have and what’s truly critical. The IFE is standard commercial software, because it’s only annoying to the passengers when it goes down.

            (I’m more familiar with the military side, but don’t want to give details. There are massive differences between programs depending on where they sit relative to weapons and particularly nuclear weapons. The system that talks to the weapon has to be tested very rigorously. Something that sits on top of that has a lot more freedom.)

          • John Schilling says:

            It has nothing whatsoever to do with software engineers being prima donnas or lazy [1]: it just takes longer.

            To be clear, it isn’t writing quick and dirty code that makes one a lazy prima donna. It’s whining about how it would be “Torture” to be asked to do anything but quick and dirty, that makes one a lazy prima donna.

            Writing shitty stuff that barely stands up isn’t done because it’s easy, or because we’re lazy, or because we’re cheap, it’s done because for almost all software, that’s actually good enough.

            I disagree. For almost all users, that’s actually good enough. The problem is that the users for whom it isn’t good enough are often stuck using the same software. 98% of Microsoft Windows users are doing email, websurfing, some Excel and Powerpoint, and playing games. 2% are running hospitals and warships and air traffic control facilities. Most NPM users don’t really need to be protected against dedicated, targeted malware, but the cryptocurrency people do.

            There are a number of ways we could deal with that split, and I think we’ve settled on about the worst one in all but the most strenuous risk cases. If that’s because the critical-infrastructure people are too cheap to pay for solid builds because Microsoft and Apple and Open Source are offering them cheap buggy crap with lots of chrome, shame on them. But if it’s because a critical mass of the “software engineering” community had decided it is going to throw a hissy fit and go home if we demand solid builds, then that’s where the finger of shame should point.

          • The Nybbler says:

            98% of Microsoft Windows users are doing email, websurfing, some Excel and Powerpoint, and playing games. 2% are running hospitals and warships and air traffic control facilities.

            OK, first of all, Windows — especially early pre-XP windows, but to some extent continuing up until today — is not an example of the better commercial or open source software. Even among us prima donnas it was well known as unreliable crap. I don’t know the whole story of the interminable ATC re-architectures, but if ever someone decided to base them on Windows, they were negligent or malfeasant. I used to work for a medical equipment company; when the decision (made by management) came down to base the newest CT scanners on Windows the technical people were horrified. The old ones were based on SunOS/Solaris; as far as I know an operating system issue never caused an issue in the field. I don’t know if the Windows ones ever saw the light of day; the company was sold to another and essentially dissolved shortly after that.

            The USS Yorktown Windows-based fiasco was not at all surprising to anyone in the software field.

            Second, if you want to run life-critical (or fortune-critical) software, you can’t expect the rest of the software world to stop and change its procedures to make software to your standards. You can have commercial-off-the-shelf software, or you can have your bureaucracy and traceability and your paperwork that weighs more than your aircraft, battleship, or hospital. But you can’t have both at the same time. And you can’t get us prima-donnas to submit to that bureaucratic regime (at least not for more than you’re willing to pay), so you’re going to have a much more restricted pool of software people.

          • John Schilling says:

            And you can’t get us prima-donnas to submit to that bureaucratic regime (at least not for more than you’re willing to pay), so you’re going to have a much more restricted pool of software people.

            And if we do that, the much larger pool of software people you claim to represent will basically be limited to coding entertainment apps and platforms. If you’re fine with that, then where’s the problem? Let’s split the industry ASAP.

          • acymetric says:

            What exactly is stopping this from happening now? The problem isn’t programmers/developers, it is that the industries you are trying to represent aren’t willing to pay for the resources (personnel) and invest the R&D time to develop whatever system you are after.

            As soon as someone is willing to do that, I am quite sure there will be plenty of people signing up to get paid to do it. The fact that there isn’t such a split (or really that the existing split is much larger on the size that you appear bothered by than you would like) just means nobody thinks it is worth the cost. If you do, and believe there is a market for it, then by all means pay up, take advantage, and make a killing.

            Edit: Also, there is a pretty wide range of coding to be done outside your “entertainment apps and platforms” category that would not require the type or rigor you are asking for, unless you are using “entertainment” exceedingly broadly.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It already IS split. It’s just that the side with the entertainment apps and platforms turns out to be far, far, far larger. And includes not just entertainment apps but e.g. the software which runs the Google and Amazon cloud services and a good deal of embedded and life critical software (like CT scanners). Whereas the other side includes basically just aerospace and defense. Maybe automotive, but I’m not certain of that.

          • SkyBlu says:

            that’s because the critical-infrastructure people are too cheap to pay for solid builds because Microsoft and Apple and Open Source are offering them cheap buggy crap with lots of chrome, shame on them. But if it’s because a critical mass of the “software engineering” community had decided it is going to throw a hissy fit and go home if we demand solid builds, then that’s where the finger of shame should point.

            I’m very confused by the phrase “solid builds.” what exactly needs to be solid here? It wasn’t an issue inside npm or node; both the package manager and the interpreter did exactly what they were supposed to do. If npm is buggy and full of chrome (as much as a very widely used and tested command-line tool made for installing packages can be), there are other package managers that are 100% compatible with npm, including ones designed to be more secure, that would have prevented the malicious dependency from being installed.

            As for all the people arguing here… I’m going to start by admonishing my tribe because virtue points, so application developers, listen up. People have been talking about this exact kind of exploit on npm for years now. This was a problem we knew we had, that the npm ecosystem, with hundreds of dependencies and packages going several layers deep, mostly maintained by volunteer labor, means it is very easy to slip malicious code into lots of peoples projects very easily. This isn’t something that we can just brush off as a cost of doing business; we need to find a way to share code between us to build and test faster and better, with fewer of the pitfalls we currently have.

            But for everyone bashing application developers as being lazy or entitled… Let me tell you a story. flatmap-stream was the malicious package, injected into event-stream. Event-stream needed a flatmap function, and it needed it to work with node-compatible streams. Event-stream was used by ps-tree, which needed it to properly deal with a stream of events related to processes. ps-tree was then used by two bitcoin wallets, copay and copay-dash. The malicious code in flatmap-stream was not present in the source code; it was only in the compiled (minified) (!!!) version uploaded to npm. Even then, it was entirely encrypted and would only run if the package description matched copay or copay-dash’s package description. This was a targeted attack by a very smart actor that was then mitigated by the default behavior of NPM; most builds of the targeted applications didn’t contain the exploit. This was especially easy on NPM with the sheer number of packages and how a lot of dependencies is very much a normal thing, but can happen in any ecosystem with widely used open-source dependencies. PyPi would not have been immune to the same attack, it would just have been harder to pull off. The only way to be immune to attacks like this, to have known good code, is to either audit every piece of code you use (Which might not even have worked in this case; the exploit was part of obfuscated, minified code that didn’t appear in source code and where the payload was 100% encrypted), or to write everything you use in house, which….
            Let me tell you another story. In about July, I got a task: add some animations to our web game. This would have been a hard problem on its own, just dealing with timing and edge cases and rendering and performance, but this was made harder because we were using react+redux; our view code was designed to be stateless, and adding in the state required to do animations would have been painful. If I had to write everything from scratch, it would have likely taken be upwards of two weeks; the end result would have been janky and buggy, it would have been a lot of work for not much benefit. But the thing is, lots of people have the exact same problem I had: they want to do animations, an inherently complicated and stateful problem, inside react+redux, a stack designed to be simple and stateless. That why someone made react-spring, an animations library that just makes writing animations in react’s declarative style much easier. I used it and made the animations I needed to in a much quicker timeframe, with much more stability and polish, and I even contributed back to the project; we use typescript, which react-spring has nominal support for, but some typings provided were incorrect, and I helped fix them., which made life easier for both us, and anyone else who uses react-spring and typescript. It’s amazing that we’ve gotten to a place where the largest players in the software field are encouraging us to share our work with each other, (which lets them exploit our free labor yes), but it levels the playing field: If everyone kept code entirely in house, everyone has to write their own animation library if they want to do any animation, and there’s so much labor gone into duplicating the works of others. Large institutions have an advantage; they can share code within themselves, but individuals and small groups are effectively locked out of a lot of things they know how to solve, but that they don’t have the time and energy to deal with. And for all the people out there telling me to suck it up and write my own; that it wouldn’t be that hard, that it’d only take you a day or an hour at most; that’s exactly the kind of empty elitism that doesn’t matter. Being able to recreate animation functionality doesn’t contribute to society. Improving our neuroscience game that lets you trace neurons for science does .
            There’s definitely problems that need to be solved with the NPM ecosystem. If you look at the link source, you’ll see lots of passionate developers analyzing the problem, performing forensics on the malicious code, discussing the best way to prevent this from happening again. They’re trying to make sure we can have all the benefits of being able to share code that lots of people use, like event-stream or react-spring, while mitigating the risk and issues that come along with it.

            tl;dr: npm has structural issues that need fixing, but stop harrumphing over your code dick and start helping the discussion if you don’t want this to happen again.

          • Nornagest says:

            And includes not just entertainment apps but e.g. the software which runs the Google and Amazon cloud services and a good deal of embedded and life critical software (like CT scanners). Whereas the other side includes basically just aerospace and defense. Maybe automotive, but I’m not certain of that.

            Not sure how accurate this take is. I haven’t written aerospace software, but I have written defense software, and I’ve interviewed with companies where I’d have been writing the software for e.g. CT scanners. The medical companies were much more process-oriented than the defense ones, which were really about par for the course for embedded (which is admittedly already more process-oriented than applications).

          • dick says:

            I’m very confused by the phrase “solid builds.” what exactly needs to be solid here? It wasn’t an issue inside npm or node; both the package manager and the interpreter did exactly what they were supposed to do.

            This whole thread has very little to do with the npm attack. I don’t know why but it diverged almost immediately in to a discussion about software quality generally, which is confusing since the attack in question did not involve any bugs.

            But this is an excellent comment, thanks for writing it. I fear it’s a little jargon-heavy and dense for people who didn’t already know what npm was, so I’ll just tack on by way of summary that the key point here is that some open source packages are very very good and re-implementing them (under the misguided notion that the path to quality is to not reuse other peoples’ code) would absolutely lead to worse software.

            So, the Hard Problem here is not how to write better quality code, it’s how to distinguish the good packages (ones so good that you’d be dumb to try to rewrite them) from the ones that are good enough for tinkering but shouldn’t be included in Real Software where money or lives are at stake. Right now the main way people do that is loose heuristics like “if a million people use it, it’s probably fine,” which works quite well against regular bugs but is not good enough to protect from a competent and malicious attacker.

            Also: certainly there are security and quality problems inherent to casually re-using other peoples’ code without understanding it, but to airily dismiss them with “Well, just don’t do that then!” obscures the absurd amount of innovation you’d be losing. There’s incredible value to being in the sort of industry where one person or a small team can build something genuinely new and useful in a garage. Right now, npm or something very much like it is the price you need to pay to have that. It’s hard to describe just how magical this is, if you haven’t thought of a product that doesn’t exist yet, thrown it together in a weekend, and then watched other people take it and add different stuff to it that you’d never have thought of.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Right now the main way people do that is loose heuristics like “if a million people use it, it’s probably fine,” which works quite well against regular bugs but is not good enough to protect from a competent and malicious attacker.

            We’re really close with that heuristic.

            I’m pretty confident that emacs will never have malicious code inserted into it, because rms cares too much. You might get actual bugs in it, including security bugs, but not intentionally introduced. (The plugin ecosystem is something else, but that’s unavoidable.)

            event-stream was used by millions of people, but the owner didn’t care. Nor should he have to. He had given up, but somehow thousands of projects had, through an insane ecosystem, come to rest upon his work. (I think it was fine for him to stop caring.)

            The Java runtime put out by Oracle is unlikely to have explicitly malicious code in it, simply because there are checks in place. Unintended security problems? Oh, obviously. Every day, at least.

            Smaller commercial shops and smaller OS projects are more vulnerable to this. Sourceforge was putting adware into the downloads of the software they were hosting installers for.

            Relying upon other people’s software is okay, but how much do they care? Can you look at it? What does their software depend on, in turn?

            Usually the popular packages get the most attention. There are enough Serious People who rely on Ruby’s ActiveRecord gem that if the people who maintain it got bored, someone else could be bothered to pick it up. But due to the craziness of npm, this was turned on its head.

          • Another Throw says:

            I’m torn on whether to jump in here or wait for the next OT before going on a screed.

          • BBA says:

            A few years ago I thought the chances of malicious code being inserted in OpenSSL were slim. Then Heartbleed happened, and, well, now I don’t trust any code if it isn’t by Donald Knuth or Dan Bernstein. But they don’t scale, and even they make mistakes sometimes.

          • SkyBlu says:

            @dick thanks for summarizing the rant that I wrote during lecture; I’m definitely salty about people claiming superiority because they do things the old fashioned way, with extra effort™️. Personally, I use typescript, which mitigates a lot of headaches with untyped javascript; it’s really helpful to think of exactly the contract between objects and methods, and typescript has an awesome dynamic type system that lets you abstract out lots of logic but have some compile-time guarantees about what’s being run. The founder of node is now working on a better typescript interpreter and I’m pretty excited for that. A big push in Javascript these days is interestingly enough, fully functional programming; the react+redux stack allows you to ideally run code that’s fully functional, which makes auditing and testing much easier (no mockers or anything just inputs and outputs), and there’s a lot of good computer science and software architecture going on in the js ecosystem going on right now, if people bother to look. Ironically, I agree with most object-level criticisms of npm right now; because of how its dependency ecosystem is structured, you have to trust thousands of people with little accountability to not screw you over. The reason I brought it to SSC was because npm seemed like the concept of the arpelegio taken to the logical extreme; you may be able to split off and make your own nation, but you end up depending on lots and lots of people in a complicated web of relationships, such as for food or water or resources or whatever.

          • Aapje says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            An issue is that malicious code can take the form of a hard to detect bug. Then RMS or anyone else may miss it, just like they could miss a non-malicious bug.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          @HBC, The Nybbler

          Well now I’m just peeved. Forgive me if I snark.

          You are aware that R&D is not restricted to academia and CS, yes? You are aware that people like me actually get paid to think in these fields? That the reason why standards exist is not because of the wealth of optimally solved problems, but because pulling together the domain-specific knowledge, both practical and theoretical, that’s needed to solve modern engineering problems is expensive and hard?

          Costs are always a real concern in engineering, and you are always responsible for justifying your deviations from a standard. But you can’t replace (most) engineers with a standards book.

          Imagine being an engineer who has to retrofit a mold blowing machine to work at double its rated operating capacity. Imagine being an engineer who has to re-rate dams for earthquake safety 40 years after they were built while they’re still holding back giant lakes. Imagine being an engineer who has to decrease the nonlinearity of a positional measurement device by a factor of two while maintaining the same form factor and power consumption.

          In this field, costs matter. Organizations have to commit to a course of action because the machinery behind it is immense, expensive, and high-inertia. Instead of patches, we have recalls. Instead of crashes, we have total existence failures. But the decision making is just as real and just as intense as it is for software engineers, albeit in a different way.

          I’ve never had a (good) boss dismiss an idea because what we do is good enough. I’ve had them dismiss ideas because they weren’t better enough to justify the costs. If the difference between these seems important, you do not understand the constrained optimization framework that engineering exists within, and should probably not call yourself one.

          Yes, I am slightly upset.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes, I am slightly upset..

            Eh, why do you care about the opinions of, as John puts it, a spoiled primadonna? (I’ve never sung opera in my life, for the record).

            Obviously there are some people who are allowed to do things that deviate from the book. This would be the equivalent in software of allowing a few “R&D” groups to do new things (so Thompson and Ritchie, or Waymo or the Tensorflow group at Google, but not Linus Torvalds or Steve Wozniak), while the vast majority of working software “engineers” just followed the rules.

            As for the name “engineer”… the only indisputable claimant is a combat engineer. After that there’s the train drivers and steam engine operators. The types of engineering you’ll find in university engineering departments came later, and the attempts by licensed PEs to claim the title specifically for themselves is later than that. It’s currently fashionable to call people who write software “engineers”, but when I was doing DoD 2167A-based software work, the “engineers” wrote the specs. People who wrote code were just programmers.

        • Brad says:

          [short of]
          direct auditing by the customers of a piece of software, I’m not sure how you prevent the owner of a piece of software from handing it over to a malicious actor.

          Not even then. See Reflections on Trusting Trust by Ken Thompson.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m aware of “Reflections on Trusting Trust”, but that isn’t the sort of auditing I meant. I meant an arrangement where if a supplier decided to turn over control of its software base to another party, the customer(s) of the supplier would have the right to vet the proposed new supplier and possibly veto the arrangement.

      • CatCube says:

        But see CatCube’s structural engineering effortposts for how professional organizations can establish and maintain standards that ensure you can e.g. sit in your chair eight hundred feet above the ground, confident that the server you are fiddling with will probably crash sometime in the next year but the floor beneath you will remain solid.

        To be fair, even with the standards sometimes our practitioners still screw the pooch.

        Of course, the people responsible for those can’t say “No Warranty, Express or Implied.”

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        It’s fine to build mission critical things with open source.

        But you don’t pull in over 1000 libraries with over 2000 developers can push changes onto your code at any time they want.

        I’ve built security software with a lot of open source included. It used Lib v5.01 used by everyone else and with the source available and unobfuscated.

        This debacle was a long-time coming and inevitable. It could have been much worse so I’m glad only a few people got their bitcoin stolen for trusting some stranger’s software.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        Slightly tangential note: did DO-178C manage to strike a better balance between high safety standards and avoiding bureaucratic busywork than DO-178B did?

        Long, long ago, I worked on a system (avionics RTOS) written to the DO-178B Level A standard. Having to write software that way taught me a lot about how to Do It Right and check properly that I’d done so. It also taught me a lot about the excruciating delays and useless sham-work that bureaucratically determined procedures can produce, e.g.

        — documentation “traceability” requirements that routinely could only be fulfilled with BS boilerplate
        — reviewer “independence” requirements that often meant there was an empty intersection between the set of people qualified to review a piece of code and the set of people allowed to review it
        — fault probability analyses that were essentially elaborate exercises in making up numbers that multiplied out to 10^-9

        All of these were totally well intentioned and sounded reasonable on their face, and did nothing to improve safety in practice, and enormously increased the cost of shipping software.

        I’ve since worked on systems where the consequence of a bug is “merely” an extremely expensive large-scale distributed system outage, and learned how to incorporate into that process the 20% of the ideas from DO-178 that arguably produce well over 80% of the benefit. I do think there is a far better balance to be struck than any I have seen codified, but I may have missed some better-than-usual codification.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Unfortunately, “traceability” is kind of the core of it. Every high-level requirement can be traced down to a low-level requirement, through the design, to the specific lines of code which implement it. And conversely each and every line of code can be traced up to the part of the design it implements and from there through the detailed requirements and to the high level requirements. Just as every load in one of CatCube’s structures can be traced all the way through every supporting member to the ground.

          Without that, you’ve lost the essence of the process. Unfortunately, it’s also what makes it miserable and tedious.
          Saying so tends to result in accusations of laziness and immaturity (which failed to shame me when I was 20 and won’t shame me now); but that’s just kind of a standard response to complaints abut additional process.

          • Nicholas Weininger says:

            Is there any evidence that traceability actually improves software quality, though? Bugs in my experience, even in complex software systems, rarely come from requirements unfulfilled in code or code that isn’t justified by a documented requirement. Moreover, traceability in practice was (again, in my perhaps limited experience) more often than not fulfilled post hoc: you wrote whatever code you knew needed to be written, then made up requirement statements in the design docs to which to “trace” that code.

            Review requirements (for both design and code) and test coverage requirements seem much more likely to actually produce less buggy software, and aren’t nearly so miserable and tedious to fulfill since you can actually see that what you’re doing is improving the end product.

    • John Schilling says:

      From the discussion:

      Q: @dominictarr, why was @right9ctrl given access to this repo?

      A: he emailed me and said he wanted to maintain the module, so I gave it to him. I don’t get any thing from maintaining this module, and I don’t even use it anymore, and havn’t for years.

    • dick says:

      Now, it seems like some people are very fed up with this model of open source software development and want a centralized authority.

      What? Who? What does “centralized authority” even mean in this context?

  13. It looks as though some scientists in China produced two infants from ova edited using Crispr. The objective was to disable a gene associated with vulnerability to AIDS.

    A good deal of the commentary on the report is negative, with talk of Eugenics and risking the human gene pool and such. I find it hard to see much basis for such concern. There are obviously risks which the parents should have been, it is claimed were, informed of, but then there are risks to producing a child by the usual technology as well.

    I am particularly unsympathetic with the way in which “eugenics” is used as a bogey word, since it confuses two quite different things. Eugenics in the sense of some people deciding what children other people will have is a bad thing, especially when it involves some people deciding that other people will not be permitted to have children. Eugenics in the sense of couples trying to improve the quality of the children they have seems like a reasonable and unobjectionable activity. At the individual level it happens every times someone includes, in the choice of whom to marry, the consideration of what sort of children the proposed spouse will produce.

    My favorite version of eugenics is the one described in an early Heinlein novel (Beyond This Horizon). It was a technology that let a couple select on both egg and sperm, thus choosing, among the children they could have, which ones they did have.

    • Walter says:

      i concur. I don’t see anything wrong with what is being reported.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m dubious about this whole story, especially since in one article the scientist alleged to have done this is also alleged to have said that while getting rid of the risk of HIV it makes the gene-edited more susceptible to West Nile Virus.

        I’m seeing a lot of smoke and not much light about this; some are speculating the Chinese are working on this in order to make their investment in Africa a lot more secure (e.g. introduce AIDS resistance into the native populations and so establish tighter hold on their position in these nations) which sounds like conspiracy theory, especially if it’s true about the increased susceptibility to West Nile Virus. On the other hand, some are saying that there isn’t the same problem with HIV/AIDS in China, so why create these two babies?

        The general consensus seems to be the Chinese are starting with genetic engineering to create the coming super-race, take that as you will. I think this kind of thing is risky since we don’t know what effects will become known in the babies until they get older, and if anything does go wrong will that news be released?

        • rm0 says:

          There is definitely an HIV/AIDS issue here in China, and it’s apparently getting worse, especially in but not limited to MSM populations.

          Here’s an article about this genetic engineering, and some statistics. Anecdatally, I’ve seen multiple human sized posters with info about HIV when I went to get my health checked, which I’m inferring to mean it’s a big enough issue to be worried about. Also, my school has some of these posters and is holding a lecture from a guest speaker next week.

    • theredsheep says:

      How certain are these scientists that the gene in question is relevant only to AIDS susceptibility? I think Scott posted on this a while ago, the way we used to have this idea that genes coded for things in the straightforward way we learned about from Mendel’s pea plant experiments, when really it’s an incredibly convoluted rats’ nest of interrelated effects, some of them really counterintuitive. If they could say with a high degree of confidence that this gene would have no other effects whatever, to the extent that the researchers would be eager to put it in themselves if they could, that’s one thing, but I suspect they don’t know for certain that the change they’re making doesn’t affect other things downstream.

      That being the case, I don’t think they have the moral right to test it on humans. I realize they might have no other way of finding out, but I don’t think you can tweak the trolleyology such that it’s okay to do any number of weird things to these kids’ lives for the sake of hypothetical other kids down the road. Especially since, unless something is terribly wrong with China, the AIDS resistance won’t even be relevant to these kids until the mid-2030s, while the side effects of this gene change could potentially strike at any time. I am not a geneticist, of course, but in the absence of clear certainty I don’t see this as kosher.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Obviously humans didn’t evolve a gene with the sole function of making us more susceptible to HIV infection. Even if you know nothing else about it you can be sure that it has some other function.

        From a few seconds of research CCR5 is a GPCR with some kind of role in immune signalling or inflammation judging by the ligands. It definitely isn’t essential because the deletion they’re trying to mimic is naturally occurring and may be under positive selection in the broader population since it confers resistance to several viral diseases including HIV.

        Anyway, the whole point of the clinical trial here is that they’re attempting to edit the children of couples where the father is HIV positive. Whatever possible negative health effects this deletion or off-target cutting might have, it has to be better than AIDS. I’m not sure how much we can trust these guys but it’s not an obviously unethical experiment.

        • Deiseach says:

          Anyway, the whole point of the clinical trial here is that they’re attempting to edit the children of couples where the father is HIV positive.

          Is there really that amount of HIV positive Chinese men that this is necessary or worthwhile? To be horribly cynical, this could be the logical next step in human trials of genetic engineering – take the embryos to live birth and see what goes wrong so you can fix the next batch, under the cover of “we’re letting HIV positive men become fathers and keeping cute babies from being infected, who could possibly object to such humanitarian goals?”

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I guess I agree with your reasoning but not the negative spin you’ve put on it. That said, it’s a reasonable choice from a scientific perspective.

            If you’re testing CRISPR gene editing in humans, you’re going to want to delete something because it’s much easier to generate an indel than to add something new in. You’re also going to want to have a single cut site, again because it’s easier to make one guide RNA than several. And you want it to work regardless of whether you delete one or both copies of the gene just in case you have low cutting efficiency. And it should be something that’s reasonably common so that you can get a decent size for your clinical trial.

            Deleting CCR5 makes a lot of sense from this standpoint. CCR5-Delta32 (in biology delta is short for deletion) is a naturally occurring disease resistance allele so you just need a deletion. You just have to delete one gene, or really just one region of one gene, to get the protective effect so you can use one guide. Based on what I can see it looks like heterozygotes (who only have one copy) still have a resistance to HIV. And virtually everyone has two copies of the gene, so it’s easy to find trial participants even if HIV prevalence is low.

            The optics are definitely a plus but it makes a lot of sense to edit this gene specifically. I personally would have still picked one of the monoallelic congenital disorders because it seems more practical, but that would be a harder trial to recruit for because the population affected is so much lower.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, because this is an interesting catalyst for discussion on an important topic, but it’s not clear yet whether or not this actually happened.

      As far as I know, there hasn’t been any independent confirmation of Dr He Jiankui’s claims. We’ll know more soon but it’s still too early to tell. It wouldn’t be the first time that groundbreaking claims from a Chinese lab didn’t hold up under international scrutiny.

      Anyway, regardless of whether or not this actually happened it’s good that China is reporting this. Policymakers in the west are very complacent and conservative when it comes to biomedical research, so they need an occasional kick in the butt to get them moving. If they think that the Chinese are about to start engineering their population to remove disease alleles or enhance abilities that threat of competition makes it more likely that they’ll liberalize laws here.

    • Plumber says:

      This actually got a small report on morning radio today, but with lots of “It’s claimed” caveats.

      If true it has some very big implications.

    • Salem says:

      I have a co-worker who was outraged by this development, as playing God. He is also very exercised about abortion rights (he is in favour).

      I did not bring up the seeming inconsistency (the deeper consistency is that he is always outraged about something) as I didn’t think it productive, but it got me thinking. That combination of views is, I suspect, the majority opinion, albeit with less hysteria. Yet every other possible combination of views seems more plausible. Very strange.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Google tells me that 37% of Americans think that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, and 58% think it should be legal in all or most cases, making it tough for the majority opinion to be “pro abortion + anti genetic engineering” as 86% of pro abortion people would have to hold that view to have 50% of the population hold it.

        • Salem says:

          I am not American. In the UK, 70% of people support abortion if the mother does not want the child. This is pretty stable. Views of genetic engineering are all over the place depending on the study, but I would not be at all surprised if it coalesced at 70%+ opposed, which would lead to a likely majority for that position as a majority.

    • cassander says:

      The biggest risk I see is removing traits that are usually negative but very occasionally extremely positive, e.g. no one wants to have an autistic kid, but one autistic kid in a million turns out to be a savant that makes some important contributions to society that improves the lives of millions.

      I admit that this is a pretty vague and unformed worry, and I have no idea how to evaluate it, but it does concern me.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The biggest risk I see is removing traits that are usually negative but very occasionally extremely positive, e.g. no one wants to have an autistic kid, but one autistic kid in a million turns out to be a savant that makes some important contributions to society that improves the lives of millions

        This doesn’t seem like a major hurdle to me, as the 1 million or so non autistic kids you would replace the autistic ones with should have an outlier or two that would make important contributions to society.

        • cassander says:

          Not if the autism is crucial to their savant-ness they won’t.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Autism is clearly not crucial to every type of savant-ness, so unless you weight savants that need autism higher than savants without or that savants among those with autism occur at a higher rate than among those without there isn’t an objection.

          • cassander says:

            I didn’t say it was crucial to every kind of savantness, and it doesn’t have to be for the point to hold. If it’s crucial to any kind, and we remove autism, we lose access to that kind of savantness. I think of sort of a reverse sickle cell anemia. A little bit of the trait is bad, but a lot is sometimes very, very good.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Even if it is crucial to a kind of savantness you still have to posit that the output of that savant is > (in some way) the output of the other kind of savant that you end up getting.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Hans Asperger literally had to argue that a degree of autism was necessary to produce savants so that the Nazi government wouldn’t euthanize everyone with it.
            Though maybe he was lying to save lives, or that it’s hypothetically possible to have all savants without autism because non-autistic savants carry single copies of alleles that are terrible when paired (like sickle cell anemia).

          • cassander says:

            @baconbits9

            That’s a fair point, but I’m not trying to argue specifically about the virtues of autism, just raising a general point about traits that might be collectively good to have around even if they’re often individually undesirable.

      • The biggest risk I see is removing traits that are usually negative but very occasionally extremely positive, e.g. no one wants to have an autistic kid, but one autistic kid in a million turns out to be a savant that makes some important contributions to society that improves the lives of millions.

        You seem to be assuming that if we have gene editing technology available to parents, all of them will use it in the same way. That isn’t likely. Most won’t use it at all, at least for the first few decades of the technology, and those who do use it will have different things they are trying to accomplish.

        By the time such a techology is in widespread use we will know a good deal more about the effects, and have considerably more ways in which it can use.

        • cassander says:

          sure, there are going to be some outlier parents that give their kids 6 fingers on each had so they can play really rocking piano pieces, but most people are normal and want their kids to be normal, so I think the overall effect is going to make people more normal. Which, in a lot of ways, is good. But I worry about second order effects, not so much the immediate consequences of removing genes from individuals, but the broader societal affects of reducing socially undesirable traits. Or even, as salem says, seemingly minor effects like a slow height arms race.

          • Or even, as salem says, seemingly minor effects like a slow height arms race.

            Now you have my interest. My wife already smuggled some tall genes into my gene pool when I wasn’t looking. Now my daughter in law is doing the same thing without even bothering to hide them.

            But with proper application of CRISPR tech, she could give me grandchildren who are beautiful, smart, and charismatic and don’t end up looking down on me.

      • Salem says:

        Indeed. Or traits that are individually beneficial but societally harmful, like height.

    • hyperboloid says:

      I would tend to agree about eugenics. Nevertheless, this is an area where the danger of a slippery slope is very real, and if I were to make a list of groups of people ranked by my confidence in their respect for the value dignity of individual human life the Chinese Communist party could rank pretty near the bottom.

  14. Lambert says:

    Anyone else going to be watching the Insight Livestream at 19:00 UTC?
    https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive

    • andrewflicker says:

      I did, and got a few others in the office to share in the vicarious excitement. I always enjoy watching the control room in victory.

      • John Schilling says:

        Yeah, it was fun to watch, but I feel compelled to note that the only room in which anything was controlled was the one at a DSN site where someone made sure the system kept receiving and recording whatever telemetry InSight sent about the thing that happened fifteen minutes ago, so it could be reviewed in detail tomorrow. That guy had buttons he could push that would actually do something, and the possibility of making a difference in a crisis, but he didn’t get his face on television.

    • dodrian says:

      Thanks for the reminder – it’s funny how exciting a livestream of people staring at monitors can be!

  15. Deiseach says:

    Passing on a recommendation for a new Mongolian folk rock band – electric horse head fiddle is my jam 🙂

    • Chlopodo says:

      The HU? I love bands!

      These guys have been showing up in my Youtube recommendations lately as well. I guess The Algorithm must have decided that we both like Mongolian folk rock (??????).

      • Lambert says:

        That video turned up for me last week too.
        The Algorithm has probably decided that they are to Go Viral.

      • Deiseach says:

        It recognises the musical tastes of SSC readers? 🙂

      • Tenacious D says:

        The Algorithm also recommended this video to me.

        If Mongolia was still powerful, the sentiments in the video would seem a bit threatening but as it is it’s just a nice display of talent.

        • Deiseach says:

          Found a second video of theirs, not as catchy as the first one, but I found them rather charming (which, er, is probably not the effect they were going for?)

          (a) So hard rock/light metal?
          (b) Who knew Mongolian Biker Gangs Motorcyle Clubs were a Thing? 🙂
          (c) Should have expected it but was still surprised by the obvious influence of Tibetan Buddhism (see lyrics) and duh, Wikipedia informs me that Mongolia did convert to Buddhism (heavily influenced by Tibetan sects), lapsed back to Shamanism after the collapse of the Empire but Buddhism was resurgent in the 16th/17th centuries. Do not know why I had it in my head that Mongolia would be shamanism/animism if any beliefs
          (d) My, you lads really do admire Lord Chinggis, eh? 😉

          • Tenacious D says:

            Regarding religion in Mongolia, I had a roommate in uni who took a one-year teaching contract at “the second best international school in Ulaanbataar” (his words) a couple of years after graduation. He’s a great storyteller and described the local colour in memorable ways. My recollection is that he mentioned a relative of one of his students was a nationally-prominent televangelist for some variety of Buddhism. This student had a bunch of swastika bling, which apparently took some getting used to. I’m pretty sure he also mentioned some shamanism still being present too.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I’m surprised that I first heard of them here, rather than via the Facebook or YouTube algorithm. Good fun, though still not as cool as Yat-Kha when they were at the peak of their powers. But I am very much appreciating the decorative art that has been put into their instruments.

      • Deiseach says:

        Oooh, thanks for the introduction to Yat-Kha! The only Tuvan group I previously heard of were Huun-Huur-Tu (okay, the Algorithm definitely has us sussed).

        So now I’m obligated to share the Mongolian version of the Folk Music Themes post circulating on Tumblr (it started off with one person doing Traditional Scottish Themes and was built on from there):

        behold mongolian folk music genres

        * I Went Out Riding and Noticed Mongolia
        * We Fought a Bunch of Guys (On Horseback)
        * Witness My Many Ungulates
        * (While On a Horse) I Met a Hot Girl Who Reminded Me of a Plant
        * On Three, Say What That Terrain Feature Looks Like to You (One, Two, Three, A Horse)
        * Witness My Many Ancestors’ Many Ungulates
        * I Also Enjoy Heavy Metal, Especially If It’s Made of Horseshoes
        * Oooorrrrweeeeuuurrrreeeeuuuuwwwwwrrrrrrrr (Is Tuvan for “Horse”)
        * You Might Not Know This About Me, But I Own a Horse

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Sounds legit 🙂

          Though it is a pity you didn’t get the chance to hear them live; they never quite captured on record the fun of one of their gigs, and there is very little quality footage online from the early 2000s when Sailyk Ommun was touring with them. Still, even without the full rock sound, their singer-guitarist has the most satisfying voice of anyone alive.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks, this is definitely the aesthetic.

    • eigenmoon says:

      Let me throw in my favourites:

      Mongolian (in decreasing order of my liking):
      Khusugtun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUxyh1HTssU
      Domog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVSGt2M228M
      Sedaa (with a Persian guy): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRvonMcELAc
      Hanggai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNJ_FtYbTtc
      This guys are called Altai but they seem to be actually Mongolian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrwpdRe7meM

      Tuvan:
      Alash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V76psBrEypg
      Kongar-ool Ondar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVyyhHFKI8E
      (a whole film about him and Paul Pena: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mL85sgAvER4)

      Altai:
      Altai Kai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lnxs_DMUDk

      Eastern European:
      Latvians with the soloist from Khusugtun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vztRqe_CHC0
      Polish doing it themselves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofaFV2XpKDs

  16. Nickel says:

    Hi y’all.

    I just happened unto this fairly old article about the Irish of New York: https://www.city-journal.org/html/how-dagger-john-saved-new-york%E2%80%99s-irish-11934.html

    This was a shock for me. First, let me say that English is not my mother tongue or culture, and that I know very little about the experience of the Irish in New York City, or Ireland at all, really. I regularly heard or read that the Irish used to have a very bad reputation for being belligerent, and drunk, and belligerent drunks… but that it was all just racism and bigotry really, and pretty soon everyone snapped out of their silly racism and realised that the Irish were just as upstanding citizens as anyone else.

    The article shook what I thought I knew. It argues that a) the Irish *really* were an awful lot for quite some time. They did suffer from what were then seen as intractable very grave social ills. But then, and seemingly out of nowhere, b) they seemed to undergo a true transfiguration, and managed to pull themselves out of it.

    This is an interesting story, because it would seem to indicate, first, that the views of the Irish by their WASP contemporaries were not simply pure prejudice caused by blind bigotry, but that they were grounded in what one could call widespread observable behaviour. And second, that the real change occured internal among the Irish community (not through affirmative action, welfare or slick prejudice-fighting educational campaigns), and once the change was made, the purported bigots readily adjusted their views accordingly. Finally, it is a source of optimism that seemingly unsolvable social problems can be overcome.

    But then for all I know that story is still just something else someone wrote on the internet. I have the highest regard for the combined knowledge and expertise of the slate star codex readership. Can anyone shoot that story full of holes? Is this correct? I cannot judge, really.

    • Walter says:

      I dunno man, talking about how often bigotry is rooted in observation seems like it’ll veer into CW territory mad fast, yeah?

      • johan_larson says:

        The hidden threads are CW-permitted now. It’s the visible threads (with whole numbers) that are CW-free. Scott switched the system.

    • Deiseach says:

      It argues that a) the Irish *really* were an awful lot for quite some time. They did suffer from what were then seen as intractable very grave social ills. But then, and seemingly out of nowhere, b) they seemed to undergo a true transfiguration, and managed to pull themselves out of it.

      Yes and no. The article is correct that the main streams of emigration in the early 19th century (which would only be exacerbated later on by the Famine emigrants) were the poor and uneducated – I can’t speak to the American end, but from the Irish end there are plenty of songs about even the northern Irish, who would be not just the Catholics but the Presbyterian Scots-descended settlers who would become in the US the Scots-Irish, emigrating because of high rents and lack of employment.

      Prior to the Famine (which really is a huge watershed in Irish history and changed so much culturally, socially and every way), Irish society amongst the peasantry was still in an 18th century mode. Early marriage with high fertility, a rather more relaxed attitude to illegitimacy, sub-division of holdings so that land was divided up into smaller and smaller plots between all the sons of a family (part of the effects of the Penal Laws) and a lot more meant that the Irish were often criticised by the English (and this criticism used as justification for rule by a foreign power) as being child-like, fond of fun and gaiety, but not really capable of putting in hard work and most of all governing themselves, as well as being shockingly negligent when it came to Pure Gospel Religion. There wasn’t really a middle-class as such and for various reasons native industries were not plentiful or very efficient.

      So there would have been a huge culture shock when these people arrived into urban America and they would have been subject to the same criticism by the Anglo-Dutch-German upper classes (who did like to think of themselves as Anglo-Saxon in the same vein as the English) as they were at home by the English.

      And this attitude bled over into the Famine, where even otherwise sympathetic officials and the English public viewed it as a terrible misfortune but one the Irish had largely brought upon themselves by fecklessness, ignorance, and calling down the just wrath of an offended God on themselves. Tying in with the national movement for self-determination, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Ireland decided to placate the English establishment as much as possible. Having suffered through the Penal Laws they did not want to lose the hard-won ground they had retained, so they set about a project of taking on board the criticisms and reforming Irish society along ‘Victorian values’. (Ironically, they succeeded so well that the traditional values hung on in Ireland long after England itself had become socially liberated, so the criticism then became that the Irish church was repressive and backwards about sex etc.)

      One element of this was the Temperance movement, driven mostly by one priest Fr Mathew who founded a Total Abstinence Movement and pushed it very hard and, it has to be admitted, successfully. Alcohol abuse was (and indeed remains) a real Irish vice, was one of the elements picked out as blameworthy, and did need to be tackled. The other reforming movements concentrated on copying as much as possible the British Nonconformist reforms of the time and imposing them on the Irish to make us respectable in the eyes of the British, and in exchange for toleration and increasing power over their own affairs, and recognition as the de facto state church of Ireland (whatever about the legal position of the Church of Ireland), the hierarchy made the bargain with British government under Gladstone that they would suppress rebelliousness and make the Irish good British subjects of the Crown. (The late 19th century tussle between Ultramontanism and Gallicanism in the Church was won in Ireland by the Ultramontanists).

      So I imagine that article outlines something similar in the US where the Irish Catholic Church was concerned – seen as a hostile foreign interloper, wanting control of its own affairs, making the bargain with the civil authorities to promote integration by making the Irish immigrants respectable by adopting the culture of the host nation (while retaining separate religious belief and status) and using the influence and power of the Church as the social network for the emigrants to do so.

      • Nickel says:

        That is interesting, thanks.

        I am from Quebec, that shares with the Irish a) being conquered by the British, b) being catholic c) having a movement for self-determination.

        After a rebellion in 1837-38 that was militarily crushed, the Catholic Church in Quebec made the same decision that the best strategy was to lay low, assure the British that there would be no more trouble. Nowadays it is often criticized as being servile, but then those criticizing might not remember how hard revolting against the British Empire was.

    • Plumber says:

      @Nickel

      “….the real change occured internal among the Irish community (not through affirmative action, welfare or slick prejudice-fighting educational campaigns)…”

      What Bishop Hughes and his allies achieved was very much “affirmative action”, and “welfare” work, just church not state.

      In our own times the church based “welfare programs” of the Mormon’s are a good example of effective anti-poverty works (born poor and want to become middle class? The odds are better in Utah than much of the rest of the U.S.A.).

      The story told in the link has been repeated (though not to the same extent because of the sheer numbers of Irish escaping the famine), in my own lifetime Vietnamese immigrants were usually mentioned as being “gang-ridden” (home invasion robberies were often cited) back in the ’80’s and now are a “model minority”, assimilation and education does that.

      • Nickel says:

        @Plumber

        I am from Quebec, and we did receive a good number of Vietnamese boat people back in the day. But they have had a reputation for being a “model minority” right from the start. I was surprised to hear that in Toronto and other cities they did not have a similar reputation.

        I heard from Vietnamese that a reason was that those who chose to live in (French-speaking) Quebec were more likely to know some French, have worked with the French administration, be more educated, more urban, while those who picked Toronto would be more leaning towards people associated with the American military bases and GIs, prostitution, drug-dealing… not so nice sub-sample of the population.

      • Nickel says:

        @Plumber
        OK I do not regard a community that organizes itself to help its members out as practicing affirmative action. It is not asking an outside institution open to all to give its members any sort of preferential treatment over any other group. To me, being self-reliant is not the same as requiring others to give you special favours.

    • Nickel says:

      Rereading my post I realize that when I wrote “*really* were an awful lot”, I was expressing myself extremely poorly and clumsily; let me retract it and apologize.

      • Deiseach says:

        Don’t worry about it. Speaking not for my nation as a whole but as a single Irish person, the reputation for drunken violent fecklessness, while an exaggerated stereotype, is also not untrue to a certain extent. The Irish fetching up in early 19th century east coast American cities would have been lower classes, rural or small town, culturally and religiously different, clannish and at odds with the ‘better’ Anglo-Saxon (soi-disant) strain in the cities, and coming face-to-face with the native white lower class citizens would have resulted in violent clashes as well as guys seizing the chance to get into crime and politics (if any distinction can be made there) to establish local power bases within their own community.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think a lot of big waves of migrants in the 1800s were from very poor backward rural areas, and tended to have lousy sanitation and not a lot of the right cultural norms for living in big cities, with crime and poverty and various kinds of social dysfunction following. This was true of the Irish and the Italians, and also of the blacks migrating North after the end of Reconstruction.

          Living in the Amazon rainforest requires a big package of culturally-transmitted knowledge–what’s poisonous, what’s edible, what materials work for various tools and clothing and weapons, etc. Drop almost anyone who is living a successful life in the US in that environment, and we’d have a lot of trouble surviving long enough to figure that stuff out.

          It makes total sense that the same should be true of living in cities with 19th or 20th century technology.

          • Nickel says:

            Albatross11, you say each immigration wave just goes through this, re-adjusts and everything works itself out fine. Not always. Take french immigration from the Maghreb. The first generation was guest workers, they were, if somewhat low-status, functional members of society. But since then, instead of becoming ever more closely integrated culturally and economically within French society, the opposite happened. Each generation has generally grown more separate and alienated from the larger french society, and more dysfunctional, in spite of billions sunk into several “plans banlieues”.

            To me the salient point of the story is that the Irish in NYC were not just, oh, fresh off the boat and needing a couple of years to find their footing. But that they were actually so deep in trouble, that it had reached a self-perpetuating point where the dysfunction reached the american-born generations. But then as things seemed so dire that they were on their way to becoming a perpetual violent criminal underclass, salvation. From within. I found this an uplifting story, but wondered how accurate it is.

          • albatross11 says:

            I don’t know why this seems to work well in the US and not so well most other places. I doubt anyone else knows, either. (Which of course means we don’t know it will keep on working.) But I know a lot of immigrants with kids, and the kids seem to be generic Americans with (usually) darker skin and grandparents they speak Spanish with.

          • Nickel says:

            Well France had received significant immigration in the 20th century, from Russia, Italy, Spain and Portugal. And those waves did follow a pattern of initial struggling and prejudices, receding into integration and assimilation. But the most recent waves… not so much, and the experience seems the same in the rest of Europe.

            Canada does mostly OK.

          • @Nickel:

            Could the difference be that the second wave of Maghrebi immigrants were coming into something much more like a welfare state, with a less grim picture for those who didn’t fit into the economy and less labor mobility making it harder to do so? I don’t know a lot about the relevant French history so that might be wrong.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Non-Maghreb migrants that came to Europe roughly during the same time did a lot better. Everyone has pretty much forgotten about Italian and Chinese ‘waves’ that came to The Netherlands. In the case of the Italians, that’s because most went back and those who stayed integrated well. In the case of the Chinese, they hide in their niche (mainly Chinese restaurants), take care of their own and don’t blame others for their problems.

            Similarly, France has had more EU migrants than Maghreb migrants, but the former don’t cause anywhere near as much trouble.

            Finally, the criminals or even gangs that are traveling around Europe, getting hospitality from refugee centers despite having no chance at refugee status and wreaking havoc in the centers and around them, are primarily from the Maghreb.

            So all signs seem to point to Maghreb culture being particularly shitty, as the first and foremost reason for the issues.

          • Nickel says:

            @DavidFriedman
            A few remarks:
            – the Irish immigrants in the original article were not coming into a 20th century welfare state and that did not prevent the Irish from falling into pretty bad, hem, let’s call it rowdy poor behaviour.
            – the first generation of Maghreb immigrants was working. Maybe not sophisticated service jobs, but working in, say, a Renault car plant was a steady, decent well-paid union job, so you’d think they had at least a foot in the door of French society and the next generation would just blend in. The opposite happened. Now things look, honestly, rather dire.
            – I go back to the article telling a optimistic tale. If the picture of the Irish in NYC is accurate, they were in at least as bad a situation as anything in the current western world, black ghettos in the US, Maghreb banlieues in France. And yet… they pulled out of it. Is the only hope for France a muslim moral revival?

          • Aapje says:

            Perhaps the difference is authoritarian morality vs self-driven morality.

            I think that people’s morality is partly driven by a desire to be good and partly by a desire not to get punished. The latter kind of morality is dependent on policing. Without it, people will start violating the norm.

            When people from a very authoritarian culture/society move to a culture where people are more often expected to voluntarily act morally, it is fairly likely that they will see the lack of explicit policing as permission.

            Note that it is specifically Maghreb men who do this. Ironically, the oppressive cultural norms for Maghreb women actually prepares them much better for success in the West, as a moderate amount of liberation from their gender norms makes them study and work hard, rather than eschew those ‘square’ choices for a life of crime and sexual aggression.

            Many in the West blame the wrong thing. For example, you have the anti-racists who claim that these men would behave better if we would just be more tolerant (even though more tolerance than they are used to causes the problems), feminists who argue that the issue is male socialization (for example, after Cologne a bunch of feminists loudly argued that Western men are equally rapey), those who blame economic issues (even though these men do have way more opportunity than they actually take).

        • arlie says:

          @Aapje and not really in context:

          Perhaps the difference is authoritarian morality vs self-driven morality

          I question whether authoritarian morality is really morality. If I do something to avoid punishment, I may think I’m being a wimp, and going along to get along, even though what I’m being corerced into doing is clearly wrong. I may think my actions are neutral – “the boss wants the walls painted purple, not green, so I’ll paint them purple”. I may think the rules are good, and therefore my coerced actions aren’t bad – but I’d have difficulty considering coerced actions as being good – they certainly can’t be as good as doing the same actions without coercion.

          To some extent, being raised with a particular set of enforced rules causes people to internalize those rules as being “right”, regardless of how they were enforced – though there does seem to be a phase in the teenage years where the tendency is instead to rebel against most of those teachings. But adults are harder to influence – some already know right from wrong, and have the self confidence not to believe what they are later told … especially when there is coercion involved. (That might account for all the folks who rant about “political correctness” among their friends or anonymously, even while talking the way HR wants at work, at least to the extent they need to do so to keep their jobs, look promotable, etc. etc.)

          So at any rate, I don’t think those Maghreb troublemaker were ever moral in any real sense. They did whatever things-we-consider-bad they could get away with, both at home and abroad. And I don’t know enough about them to know whether that’s because they consider their behaviour to be “good” (perhaps “manly” or some such, like honor killings) – or because they are no good troublemakers by their own standards as well as ours, doubtless with the usual million excuses for why they can’t help themselves, etc. etc.

          [oops, sorry, this landed at somewhat the wrong place in the thread.]

          • Aapje says:

            I was thinking more about societal morality than individual morality.

            A society has an ordering that results from its people behaving a certain way. In practice, this always results in large part from manipulative forces that make people act a certain way. This can be cultural beliefs/ideology, but also authoritarian enforcement.

            In many cases, it is both, where people have the cultural belief/ideology that they have to enforce behavior in others.

            Further complications exist, like roles based on gender, race, family, tribe, etc. For example, in traditionalist societies, families are generally held responsible for policing their own.

            So you can get a somewhat more complex system, where for example, the men feel responsible for preventing ‘slutty’ behavior by their sisters, daughters and wives and where women who do act ‘slutty’ are essentially worthless, like a broken bike on the sidewalk. After, women’s role is to get married, raise children and such, but no one wants to get married or have children with a ‘slut.’

            And just like no one could really blame a person for taking that broken bike and using it for their own purpose, no one can blame a man for sexual aggression against a ‘slutty’ woman, since she can’t make a good wife or otherwise contribute to society. In fact, by being nasty against this person, a message is sent to other women not to act this way. Or so the logic goes.

            These behaviors do work, in the sense that if everyone acts this way, it produces a (rather oppressive, but functional) society where people marry, men work & provide, women birth children and raise them, etc.

            However, men with this ideology logically have trouble living in a society where many men are willing to date/marry/etc ‘sluts’ and where many families don’t punish women who act like this. Then these men encounter ‘sluts’ on the street, in school, at work and such and can feel entitled to punish these women or use them for their own purposes.

            There are some other cultural issues as well (like a dislike for manual labor and ingroup status deriving greatly from having money) that all combine to making these men very likely to commit crime.

            Anyway, my point is that their behavior does come from a morality intended to have a functioning society. However, it’s an extremely dysfunctional morality when you transplant these people into the lower class of Western society, where they have to dig themselves out of that hole.

    • mrdomino says:

      There were a lot of major problems with the large wave of Irish immigration in the 19th C that has been lost to the popular history in the US. Consider:

      1.) The largest collective mass execution in U.S. history was the execution of 50 deserter from the St. Patrick’s battalion during the Mexican-American war. They were part of 150+ Irish US soldiers who defected during a war to Mexico to help their fellow Catholics fight the US. wiki. Imagine the outcry if say, 100 members of the Nisei unit of Japanese Americans defected to the Axis powers during WW2.

      2.) Nowadays there is (justified) criticism of criminal activities during the Puerto Rico day parade or West Indian Day parade in NYC. But what brought down Boss Tweed was his inability to control his Irish constituents during the Orange Day riots where 60 were people killed and 200 wounded in a sectarian clash between Protestants and Catholics in NYC after 8 were killed the previous year. wiki There was also a strong link between figures like Boss Tweed, machine style politics, and Irish immigration. I don’t know if saying that the Irish didn’t receive something like affirmative action or welfare is correct as the party bosses often generously doles out largess to their loyal constituents.

      3. Irish Civil War veterans tried to invade Canada as a means of helping liberate their home country and there was a battle involving 1500 people and a major diplomatic incident. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Ridgeway

      It was pretty crazy. Even now there can be some discussion of the unique path the Irish took to assimilate-they did build up a parallel educational structure in the Catholic Church. If you watch the movie Spotlight there is a large undercurrent of the political power the Cardinal and the Church wield in Boston. You can easily twin Notre Dame to historic black colleges as a separate institution which exists to help preserve a distinct culture.

      • albatross11 says:

        Interesting. And I suspect that Notre Dame has lost a lot of that role as Irish Catholics assimilated, in much the same way that Howard doesn’t have the same role now that it had in 1960. (Weren’t there some universities in the NYC area that became important because they let Jews in when the Ivies were imposing the Jewish quota? They probably went through a similar transition–NYU now vs NYU in 1940, say.)

  17. theredsheep says:

    Okay, longshot request: as some of you know, I’m working on a kids’ history of Byzantium for homeschooling. The rough draft is almost done–in fact, the main historical narrative is complete. However, I’ve got a couple of add-ons at the end of each chapter to provide addition information for color and variety. One is a brief survey of a specific topic (the Church, the military, icons …) and the other is a brief bio of a prominent or important person from the time period of the chapter it’s attached to.

    All the factual surveys are done, but I need a person for one chapter, specifically the one covering from the end of Justinian’s reign (565) through the rise of Islam and the initial aftermath (c. 650). I’m okay with wiggling a little on that–I might swap some subsections around to make that chapter extend to the end of the seventh century, more or less–but I need an important person, from the Byzantine Empire, who’s not covered in the main story (ie not an emperor) and is within spitting distance of that time period. Ideally someone who sheds fresh light on the period in some way (I did Theophano, wife of HRE Otto II, for the Macedonian Dynasty chapter, for example), and hopefully isn’t a horrible villain since I’ve got enough downers in the main text.

    I tried St. John of the Ladder, only to find that we know basically nothing about his life; he’s an enigmatic figure who wrote a really influential book. I could do St. Maximus the Confessor, but cool as he is I’d have a hard time making his biography stand out from those of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great in earlier chapters. Also the bios are pretty saint-heavy already, but that can’t be helped. Anyway, my best prospect now is Alexander of Tralles. No, I didn’t know who he was either, I just went Wiki-hopping through their category on famous Byzantines of the seventh century. He’s a suboptimal choice, really, but eh. Any ideas?

    • littskad says:

      Paul of Aegina was toward the end of your period, if you want to talk about Byzantine ideas of medicine.

      • theredsheep says:

        It seems Alexander of Tralles was a doctor as well; the problem is getting a good amount of information on either. This period in particular is a doozy because it’s the start of the Dark Age, when documentation all but disappeared and educational standards plummeted to the point where mere literacy was considered sufficient. So I just Wiki’ed Paul of Aegina and found that, like St. John, we supposedly know almost nothing about him except that he wrote this important book.

        Idunno. It doesn’t help that I’m short on good sources for biographical information; I can’t use Wiki. I’ve been leaning heavily on the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. I might wind up putting Maximus in there after all, and use him to give more coverage to Monothelitism.

    • eigenmoon says:

      I vote for Pope Gregory I. Well documented, an interesting personality. (Italy is technically Byzantine at that point.)

      Maximus the Confessor is complicated. After Riedinger’s discovery that the Lateran Council of 649 was a sham orchestrated by Maximus, he probably should be classified as a villain rather than a saint.

      • theredsheep says:

        The book’s intended for Orthodox homeschoolers. I’m okay with introducing complexity–there’s no way to teach the history of such a subject honestly without acknowledging serious moral and other errors–but I’m not going to be calling Maximus the Confessor a villain.

        I haven’t read enough about the subject to say definitively, but a quick Wiki suggests that “sham” is putting it a bit strongly. At any rate, by Maximus’s time Monothelitism was politically pointless. Nearly all the Monophysites they were trying to please were in Muslim land anyway, and the few that remained weren’t impressed. An abstruse theological formula wasn’t going to erase two centuries of bad blood.

        • eigenmoon says:

          > “sham” is putting it a bit strongly

          The accusation is that Maximus and his team wrote the speeches for most (all?) the bishops present at the Council and also most (all?) the letters sent to the Council by the absent bishops.

          Another problem is that the Council (read: Maximus) had identified Monothelitism as the belief that Jesus lacks a human will. This is a belief that nobody held (OK, maybe Theodore of Pharan). The impressive unions with Armenian and Persian Churches was achieved on the basis of Jesus’s divine and human wills coming together into a single will.

          > An abstruse theological formula wasn’t going to erase two centuries of bad blood.

          In 648, the official doctrine was “everybody just shut up” aka Type of Constans. It was Maximus who decided that an abstruse theological formula is necessary.

          > At any rate, by Maximus’s time Monothelitism was politically pointless.

          Saying “hey guys, we both believe in one will, so let’s agree to disagree on the number of natures” didn’t work indeed. But it’s significant that everybody’s (except Rome’s) reaction wasn’t “wait, who believes in one will?” but more like “yeah, we do believe in one will, so let’s join together and see if we can tolerate each other”.

          • theredsheep says:

            Not going to get into this. Regardless, I’m not going to do Maximus the Confessor. Even if it weren’t politically indelicate to vilify one of the most important theologians in Orthodox history, the Monothelite controversy is too convoluted to dwell on in detail, and ultimately those details are of no major consequence (does anyone identify as Monothelite today?). I’m not diving into the weeds of the Photian Schism either, for similar reasons. In both cases, they’re mentioned as things that happened, with broad outlines, and the results.

          • eigenmoon says:

            Yeah, MtC is too complicated.

            > (does anyone identify as Monothelite today?)
            There are Oriental Orthodoxes and the Assyrian Church of the East. They do believe in one will but do not focus on it in explaining why they’re victims of slander and libel from Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxes.

            The bigger issue for the OOs is the Monophysite label that they’d like very much to be replaced with Miaphysite. Anyways, in 1990s the OOs came pretty close to a union with EOs during talks in Chambesy. It failed though, with Maximus being referred to all the time by the opponents of the union.

            The ACoE’s bigger problem is people calling them Nestorians because Catholics’ and EOs’ understanding of Nestorianism has nothing to do with actual Nestorius. The ACoE is a direct descendant of Persian Church that entered into a union with Heraclius’ Byzantine Church in 630. If Maximus didn’t destroy that union, perhaps they’d still be one with Catholics.

          • theredsheep says:

            Just FYI, I’m an Orthodox layman, writing the book because it’s needed and nobody else has done it. My knowledge of Byzantine history is bootstrapped from a synthesis of Norwich, Mango’s Oxford History, the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, and sundry dribs and drabs from other books. I’m using those–giving the dictionary tiebreaker authority in the frequent cases where books disagree–with supplements from The Orthodox Church by Kallistos Ware to get a balanced Orthodox POV on the controversies. Not an expert.

            I was aware that the Councils shed more heat than light, and that the schismatic (from our POV) churches today insist they were misquoted. The issues in question are so dense that it’s easy to see how mistakes could be made, and Ware allows that it was mostly political. But I meant specifically monothelite as opposed to monophysite, etc.

            Why would they be united to the Catholics, though? My sources seem to indicate that Rome was awful leery of monothelitism even before Maximus got involved–Constantinople was the one pushing it–and they’re at our end of the pond, anyway. I thought they were much closer to us in terms of customs, anyhow.

          • eigenmoon says:

            I was an EO layman. I’ve deconverted from EOxy after I’ve realized that it got the history all wrong. I wouldn’t call myself an expert but I’ve wasted a lot of time learning about this stuff.

            My main sources here are Hefele (Catholic) and Ekonomou (EO):
            https://archive.org/details/historyofcouncil05hefeuoft
            https://www.amazon.com/Byzantine-Rome-Greek-Popes-Interdisciplinary-ebook/dp/B002C73VP0

            > Why would they be united to the Catholics, though?
            This is a long story. First of all, just as the Imperial Church greatly exaggerated the differences between themselves and the unlucky guys outside the Empire, it also greatly downplayed the differences between various factions inside the Empire. It seems to me that the Catholics and EOs approach the issue completely differently.

            For Catholics (and Nestorians), a personal will is an obviously good thing. It’s joy, creativity, freedom of choice and all that. Of course Jesus had one of those; nobody questioned that and nobody (except maybe Honorius) had even figured out that it was under question. But it is important that that personal will is generated by the divine and the human will acting together – in modern terms, sort of like brain hemispheres generate a consciousness together even though each of them can generate a consciousness separately. Now what could those pesky one-will guys mean? They probably mix the divine and the human wills, just like those weird Easterners tend to mix the two natures, resulting in some sort of a centaur – eek! Certainly we need to emphasize two wills that don’t mix even though they generate a personal will as a whole.

            For EOs, a personal will (gnomi thelema – a choosing will) is an obviously bad thing. If you have to choose it means you don’t just know what’s best. That’s an imperfection. God would know. God doesn’t have to choose, to deliberate, to calculate the best option – he just knows what to do. Therefore, God doesn’t have a personal will. Also, that would make 3 personal wills for 3 divine persons and that would be a mess. Jesus doesn’t have a personal will either – it’s a bad thing, why would Jesus have it? – also, his divinity simply informs him about what’s the best thing to do, so he doesn’t need to choose anything, ever.

            Now the 6EC has officially affirmed the EO position that Jesus has no personal will. The Catholics however still haven’t realized the magnitude of trouble that they’ve signed up for. This is why they always try to downplay 6EC saying that there were those weird guys who denied human will in Jesus and we got rid of those and nothing else happened.

            Observe how Hefele (a Catholic) comments the Type of Constans (p. 95, footnote 4): “Here in a very improper manner Monothelitism is identified with the orthodox doctrine: one and the same (Christ) works the divine and the human”. Contrast that with Bolotov’s (“Lectures on the history of the ancient church”) opinion on the same document: “в типосе аргументация той и другой стороны воспроизводится действительно объективно и одинаково добросовестно” (In the Typos the arguments of both sides are reproduced indeed objectively and equally faithfully).

            It seems to me that Bolotov is correct and the 6EC actually forbids EOs from saying that one and the same (Christ) works the divine and the human because neither action nor will may any longer be ascribed to the Person. This point seems to be lost on Catholics, who are, in this sense, Monothelites.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Two ideas:

      1. Extra History youtube channel has a cartoonish series on Justinian as well as his Persian counterpart, Khosarau, as well as a series on the crusades
      2.Not even joking, but if you’re a homeschooling history, check out Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis IV
      Base game of CK2 is often given away on free durin sales, and EU4 is on sale for $10.

      I learn most of my history these days from a mix of these two above plus wikipedia to supplement.

      • theredsheep says:

        Thanks, but Justinian’s already got a whole chapter to himself. That’s the problem with overambitious emperors.

  18. JPNunez says:

    So…without starting a culture war, is Modern Monetary Theory more believable if Trump doesn’t cause a big recession and keeps growing the deficit?

    He seems to be asking for the money prints to “just run”, which is obvs silly, but the effect is the same if he keeps spending and not cutting the deficit (despite him talking against the deficit).

    Is it an argument against MMT if the recession does come?

    • The Nybbler says:

      MMT would have to make different predictions than other models for whatever happens to make a difference. Do any macroeconomic models (including MMT) make predictions precise enough to distinguish?

      Anyway, a recession will come. A recession will always come, the only question is when.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Can’t we just just run this for past presidents? They all grew the deficit.

      (On the other hand, they’ve generally been doubling the deficit, so we could say each successive president has been twice as irresponsible as all his predecessors combined.)

    • baconbits9 says:

      The current deficit isn’t particularly large as a % of GDP (its not small either, its above average but not huge in these terms yet).

    • Salem says:

      So…without starting a culture war, is Modern Monetary Theory more believable if Trump doesn’t cause a big recession and keeps growing the deficit?

      No. Why should it be? What monetary theory claims that increasing the deficit leads to recessions? No sensible one.

      Hint: increasing the deficit is fiscal policy. Running the “money prints” is monetary policy. They aren’t the same, and nor is the effect the same – think about how monetary offset works.

      • baconbits9 says:

        What monetary theory claims that increasing the deficit leads to recessions?

        Anyone worth its salt, that is to say none of them.

        increasing the deficit is fiscal policy. Running the “money prints” is monetary policy. They aren’t the same

        They aren’t identical, but that doesn’t mean they are separate, if fiscal deficits cause a shift in monetary policy then fiscal policy is in part monetary policy.

        • Salem says:

          Maybe this is semantics, but fiscal deficits do not cause a shift in monetary policy, they cause a shift in monetary actions, precisely so that monetary policy does not change. If you want to view monetary policy as “base rates are at 0.75% right now” then your usage is right, but I do not think this a useful way of looking at the world.

          • baconbits9 says:

            In the US monetary policy is supposed to target both inflation and the UE rate, the only way that fiscal policy could not shift monetary policy would be if those two measures were exactly equally impacted by all possible fiscal actions. Any deviation form a perfect Phillips Curve would mean that fiscal policy is shifting monetary policy as the Fed will have to choose one or the other as more important when they don’t move in lockstep.

          • Salem says:

            the only way that fiscal policy could not shift monetary policy would be if those two measures were exactly equally impacted by all possible fiscal actions

            Fiscal deficits and monetary expansion (or their converse) affect the economy in essentially the same way and for the same reasons – the effect on the money supply. As long as the deficits are within the government’s credible capacity to repay, the central bank can perfectly offset them.

            Perhaps what you mean is not fiscal policy but spending. If the government spent the money on a make-work program for the unemployed, or on a new army of locusts regulators, that would have real effects on the economy separate from the expansion, and would change the tradeoffs available to the central bank in terms of inflation versus unemployment (or other variables). But that is equally true whether the programme was funded by borrowing or taxes, and has nothing to do with deficits.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Fiscal deficits and monetary expansion (or their converse) affect the economy in essentially the same way and for the same reasons

            This is not true, its an oversimplification, of an oversimplification (possible another level of over simplification on top of that).

            Keynes himself expected that paying people to dig holes and fill them in would be stimulative, but that it would be less stimulative than paying people to build infrastructure. You can find multiple Krugman posts that claim deficit increases through spending have a higher multiplier than deficit increases through tax breaks. The fact that tax breaks even have a positive multiplier in many (most?) models is indicative of the fact that it isn’t via monetary expansion, as tax cuts don’t expand the monetary base.

          • Fiscal deficits and monetary expansion (or their converse) affect the economy in essentially the same way and for the same reasons – the effect on the money supply.

            If the government borrows a million dollars and spends it, that has no effect at all on the money supply.

          • Salem says:

            Your examples are all about spending, nothing to do with deficits.

            Think about what you mean by “stimulative.” Yes, building useful infrastructure is likely to increase economic activity more than digging pointless ditches, because they make it easier for people to travel, transport goods, etc. But that is true whether the money is borrowed or raised by taxation.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Your examples are all about spending, nothing to do with deficits.

            I was using short hand as it seemed that you understood enough economics to know that Keyensian stimulus is based on deficits and that spending with commensurate increases of taxation, or tax cuts with commensurate rates of spending decreases aren’t stimulative in their models.

          • Salem says:

            If the government borrows a million dollars and spends it, that has no effect at all on the money supply.

            I can’t believe that I am going to argue with you on this, but… what?

            Clearly there is no effect on the monetary base, but broader measures of money are going to be affected.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Think about what you mean by “stimulative.” Yes, building useful infrastructure is likely to increase economic activity more than digging pointless ditches, because they make it easier for people to travel, transport goods, etc. But that is true whether the money is borrowed or raised by taxation.

            Keyensian models of stimulus typically differentiate on how the deficit is created as well as the size of the deficit. A deficit that is created by tax cuts has a different expected result than the same sized deficit that is created by increased spending. Therefore within just fiscal stimulus it cannot be said (under that model) that there is a single way in which fiscal stimulus effects the economy, let alone that fiscal and monetary stimulus must work in the same single way.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Your examples are all about spending, nothing to do with deficits.

            Think about what you mean by “stimulative.” Yes, building useful infrastructure is likely to increase economic activity more than digging pointless ditches, because they make it easier for people to travel, transport goods, etc. But that is true whether the money is borrowed or raised by taxation.

            I don’t understand what you are getting at here.

            Bacon seems pretty straight-forward, a change in fiscal policy is going to change the UE and inflation rate, which is going to change the monetary policy. I’m not sure where the disagreement can possibly come from here. Your counter-point seems off but even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t matter: if the US Treasury started dropping money from helicopters, the US Federal Reserve would at least TRY to increase interest on excess reserves to keep the monetary base from causing inflation. It’d be a metaphorical tug of war between two agencies with conflicting objectives that have access to similar tools.

            Also, I don’t think Bacon’s point is specific to deficits, just to any sort of fiscal policy in general. If the US government raised taxes and raised spending to keep the deficit neutral, but the new balance sheet somehow increased aggregate demand in a way that deviated from the Fed’s idealized UE-Inflation trade-off, the Fed would still act.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Bacon seems pretty straight-forward, a change in fiscal policy is going to change the UE and inflation rate, which is going to change the monetary policy. I’m not sure where the disagreement can possibly come from here. Your counter-point is off but even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t matter: if the US Treasury started dropping money from helicopters, the US Federal Reserve would at least TRY to increase interest on excess reserves to keep the monetary base from causing inflation. It’d be a metaphorical tug of war between two agencies with conflicting objectives that have access to similar tools.

            As I understand it Salem’s point is that the Federal Reserve’s actions are monetary offset, that they represent monetary actions but not monetary policy. The policy would be say 2% inflation and 4% UE rate and their actions would change to keep on the same policy track. This is the concept of monetary offset, and as far as describing the concept goes it is correct.

            My objection is that if the government starts dropping money from helicopters there will not be a perfect correlation between the changes in inflation and UE and therefore the Fed will have to choose a different pair of targets for its new policy.

            Salem has countered by claiming that fiscal stimulus and monetary stimulus are nearly identical and so the Fed can just do the opposite of the Government and have near perfect impact pushing both measures back to the original targets with their actions.

          • Salem says:

            That is a fair description of my points here.

          • Clearly there is no effect on the monetary base, but broader measures of money are going to be affected.

            The Fed could choose to monetize the debt, but it doesn’t have to. Consider the simple case where the government finances the spending by selling bonds to the public. Bonds are not generally considered money.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Baboncits said

            Any deviation form a perfect Phillips Curve would mean

            Which is odd to me, because we should always expect deviations as they are not causally related, its just an old correlational observation that hasn’t held in a while.

            Indeed, Post-Vietnam’s economy has more or less driven all sorts of ideas into the ground, including the “ditch digging is stimulative”, even if some people hold onto them (politicians) because they like to look like they are doing something during an economic crisis.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Which is odd to me, because we should always expect deviations as they are not causally related, its just an old correlational observation that hasn’t held in a while.

            Correct- but the Fed has a mandate to target both UE and inflation so any fiscal intervention that pushes on one more than the other is going to force the Fed to effectively make a policy change, choosing one over the other*. The point that I was trying to make was that monetarist models functionally have to assume that the Phillips Curve (or something else with a similar nature) has to describe reality pretty well for monetary offset to work the way it is claimed to work.

            *Technically you could have them be 100% independent and then the Fed could just push that one metric back into place without effecting the other but I don’t think anyone holds that sort of view.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Correct- but the Fed has a mandate to target both UE and inflation so any fiscal intervention that pushes on one more than the other is going to force the Fed to effectively make a policy change, choosing one over the other*. The point that I was trying to make was that monetarist models functionally have to assume that the Phillips Curve (or something else with a similar nature) has to describe reality pretty well for monetary offset to work the way it is claimed to work.

            *Technically you could have them be 100% independent and then the Fed could just push that one metric back into place without effecting the other but I don’t think anyone holds that sort of view.

            I mean, I think they are not 100% independent, but I also don’t think there is a kind of Phillips-style tradeoff where higher inflation will somehow lower unemployment. IMO its just that as long as you keep inflation from becoming a problem it wont negatively affect the economy (and thus unemployment) and if the economy is slowing that means you have more money chasing less productivity growth and you’ll get inflation if you aren’t careful. Also employment is a sticky indicator.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ idon’tknow

            Lets say the Federal Government introduces a fiscal policy that pushes up inflation but doesn’t reduce UE. If the Fed cannot perfectly counteract that policy in terms of inflation without increasing UE then the Fed has to make a decision on which to weight more, UE being out of its preferred range or inflation being out of its preferred range.

            Without a Phillips Curve like ratio + the Fed’s dual mandate it is almost certain that fiscal policy will push one or the other in such a way that the Fed effectively has to choose between its priorities.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I mean they can try, but they are powerless to affect unemployment aside from the fact that massive inflation or deflation will cause a panic and thus result in unemployment.

            Their dual mandate is magic pixie dust.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I mean they can try, but they are powerless to affect unemployment aside from the fact that massive inflation or deflation will cause a panic and thus result in unemployment.
            Their dual mandate is magic pixie dust.

            I’m interested in your thoughts behind this one. The Fed cannot directly influence unemployment besides hiring a trivial number of people, but their tools can have a major impact on some broader measures of money supply. That should change economic activity (including employment) in the short-run at the very least, depending on which model you prefer. I’m guessing the most popular models are New Keynesian DGSE models, which are going to have sticky prices and inflationary expectations baked into the cake: throwing more money out into the system would increase aggregate demand because prices are not fully adjusting to the new supply of money and people were expecting less inflation anyways.

            In the long-run, well, who the hell knows? I don’t think anyone in the Fed knows what the “true long-run unemployment” curve is, and I doubt any of them expected to be at 3.7% unemployment with only steady rate increases when they were discussing policy in 2012. They are going to follow a glide path to whatever target they have in mind, and they are going to update their estimates as they approach said target.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That should change economic activity (including employment) in the short-run at the very least, depending on which model you prefer.

            Which of these models has been consistently useful in predicting the near term?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Which of these models has been consistently useful in predicting the near term?

            Central Bankers seem to like their New Keynesian DSGE models. Either way, I don’t see any central bankers abandoning the idea of a inflation-unemployment trade-off. They seem terrified of how to implement their policy if we have another serious downturn, not overturning the whole field.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I mean, the reaction to 2008 and the differing paths for employment in Europe and the US should be seen as a fairly good test of whether monetary policy can have an impact. The Keynesians seem to have been on pretty solid footing, there. Anti-Keyensian predictions seem to have been pretty thoroughly refuted.

            The issue seems to me to be that you want monetary and fiscal stimulus to work in tandem, and the US abandoned fiscal stimulus too early, leaving us with monetary policy that hasn’t had the room to maneuver in preparation for the next cycle. We also put too much emphasis on tax relief as fiscal stimulus, leading to deficit/debt loads that will be seen as problematic.

            This seems like a generic problem with current conservative orthodoxy. Instead of wanting policy that is counter-cyclical, they want pro-cyclic policies…

          • baconbits9 says:

            The Keynesians seem to have been on pretty solid footing, there. Anti-Keyensian predictions seem to have been pretty thoroughly refuted.

            In what way? Keynesian models totally failed to predict the path of the recession, with or without the stimulus in the US and there is no positive correlation between expansion of deficits and the shortness or shallowness of the recession nor the length or speed of the recovery (with the exception of the ludicrously dishonest analysis where they chose to start the measurements of deficits well into the recession).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Austerity in Europe produced a longer and deeper recession than in the US which pursued Keynesian stimulus.

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub

            What austerity would that be? Other than Greece, which had its own special issues, no country in Europe cut spending.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            Are you playing a definition game, here? “It’s not austerity unless it follows my definition of austerity”?

            Or are you going by economists’ definition of austerity, wherein raising taxes and slowing the predicted growth of budget are both austerity?

            In the second case, austerity existed.

            ETA:
            Regardless of whether you wish to put this behavior in the class of austerity matters little, as the outcome simply shifts from “stimulus outpaces austerity” to “more stimulus outpaces less stimulus”

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub says:

            Are you playing a definition game, here? “It’s not austerity unless it follows my definition of austerity”?

            No, I’m going by what eurostat says. Government spending as a share of GDP grew both as a share of GDP and in line with the pre-crisis trend. Well above the pre-crisis trend in 2008 and 9, actually.

            Austerity didn’t happen, by any definition but the propagandist’s.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Austerity didn’t happen, by any definition but the propagandist’s.

            Ooooookkkkk.

          • Ooooookkkkk.

            For those of us observing the argument, it would be more interesting if both of you provided links to the relevant data sources, in order that we could check them for ourselves.

            If I correctly understand the argument, Cassander’s claim is that government expenditure in the European countries continued its previous trend, hence there was no austerity as (partially) defined by HBC (“slowing the predicted growth of budget”). I think HBC is claiming the opposite, although he could be resting his claim of austerity on the other half of his definition (increased taxes).

            Also, I’m curious as to HBC’s view of the difference between what happened in the U.S. after the surge in unemployment from 1920-21 and what happened in the U.S. after the surge from 1930-31. That would seem like a better test of his views—same country, only a decade apart, opposite policies, opposite results.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Or are you going by economists’ definition of austerity, wherein raising taxes and slowing the predicted growth of budget are both austerity?

            In the second case, austerity existed.

            That is not what the blog post that you linked, nor the papers they cite, found.

            One telling paragraph

            Although Greece’s GDP performance is exceptionally negative, a contraction in GDP over the post-crisis period is not unique – about a third of European countries experienced net reductions in GDP between 2009 and 2014. At the other end of the spectrum is Lithuania. Like Greece, Lithuania experienced a strong contraction during the recession. Unlike Greece, however, Lithuania returned to a rapid rate of growth quickly thereafter.

            Greece entered the crisis with a debt to GDP ratio of 100% and was around 150% by 2010, Lituania entered with a debt to gdp ratio of 14% and was around 40% by 2010. The paper that is cited is Blanchard and Leigh 2013 which uses projected vs actual government expenditures for 2010. The governments that saw expenditures drop in 2010 were ones that were cut off from funding due to high debt levels.

            In short what is found in that paper is a correlation between countries that had badly managed their finances leading into the recession and countries that did badly from 2010 on. Shockingly badly run countries did worse.

            This is also NOT how economists defined stimulus/austerity prior to the 2008 crisis. In the Keynesian models that existed prior to 2008 the primary focus is on the output gap and the trend of government expenditures leading into the recession. Here is Krugman describing how the stimulus package of 2008 should be sized. He mentions GDP, UE, the natural rate of UE and increases to government spending. I will bet you that you cannot find a Keynesian who wrote that stimulus/austerity should be measured between the 2nd and 3rd year of a recession written anytime between 2001 and 2008.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @DavidFriedman:
            You could actually click on the link already provided.

            I’m not the one claiming that everyone who says Europe engaged in austerity is a “propagandist”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @baconbits:
            #1, that is written in late 2008 before we see the full size of the crisis .

            #2, it’s talking about the size of the stimulus, not what the baseline is. The analysis I linked does talk about analysis vs. existing trend lines, just as you say.

            #3, note that he says “But interest rates can’t be cut in any meaningful sense.” when we in fact know that they did figure out a new way to essentially cut interest rates through quantitative easing and then operation twist. Saying he only thought of government expenditure as stimulative before hand is incorrect.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ David Friedman

            Here is an image listing Euro area countries comparing their deficits by year. The average country goes from a deficit of 0.7% of GDP in 2007 to 2.1% in 2008 to 6.4% in 2009. Only one country (by my count) had a lower deficit in 2009 than 2008 (Estonia) and none had a lower deficit (or higher surplus) in 2009 compared to 2007.

            This one is a graph of deficits to GDP and total debt to GDP for Euro countries from 2007 to 2016. Its a little hard to read, but it looks like every country listed had a higher debt to GDP ratio in 2016 than 2007 with only Germany looking close.

          • baconbits9 says:

            #1, that is written in late 2008 before we see the full size of the crisis .

            The point of linking that is not the size, it is the method which Keynesians used at the time. If the crisis validated Keynesian economics it has to validate the methods and metrics they selected prior to the the recession, or it didn’t validate them at all.

            #2, it’s talking about the size of the stimulus, not what the baseline is. The analysis I linked does talk about analysis vs. existing trend lines, just as you say.

            No it doesn’t, the one you linked cites a paper that does two things.

            1. It cites projected spending vs actual spending for 2010 which is not the same thing as a trend.

            2. It cites 2010, which is in the middle of the recession and not 2007/2008, which is the appropriate starting point according to Keynesian economics circa 2007.

            If you don’t think this matters consider a hypothetical. Recession starts in 2008, country A stimulates and increases spending without increasing taxes. In 2010 country A has a higher debt to GDP load and a higher baseline of spending. A reduction in spending, increase in taxes or simple failure to match the size of the earlier stimulus bills will be filed away under “austerity” now, literally getting the classification wrong. You cannot measure austerity by choosing a starting point after the recession has begun.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            HBC, I actually agree with your definition of austerity as being conventional.

            However, like the argument about monetary policy I think and the inflation/UE tradeoff I think its misplaced. Most New Keynesians say that spending has a larger effect than tax cuts in affecting fiscal stimulus. Thus, the opposite must also be true, raising taxes while increasing spending is still actually fiscal stimulus.

            Raising taxes should just be called raising taxes and should not be conflated with austerity in most cases. If you are raising taxes and cutting spending then it can be called austerity in an honest fashion.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Most New Keynesians say that spending has a larger effect than tax cuts in affecting fiscal stimulus.

            A larger effect does not mean the effect of the second is zero.

            In addition, I think it’s long been part of Keynesian thinking that who has their taxes cut or raised matters a great deal. In a recession, dollars added to/or taken from those who have a larger marginal dollar utility will have more of an effect. AFAIR, there was talk of this kind of effect specifically around the recession in 2002-2003, and subsequent tax cuts.

            As to complaining about using 2010 as some sort of baseline, again, this seems to miss the point that all you are really complaining about is a conclusion that would end up being “more stimulus is better than less”. 2008 was a deep downturn, and the US came out better by spending more, using more monetary stimulus, and worrying less about present deficits. Europe cared more about these things and came out worse.

            As to the idea that countries who went into the crisis with more debt coming out worse, this would merely show that “counter-cyclical” should mean that. It’s a counter-weight to the the idea that “deficits and debt never matter”, but it doesn’t say anything about whether counter-cyclical stimulus is warranted.

            It is certainly possible (in some countries, somewhere in the world) to provoke crises that call cause a failure of trust in the fundamental value of a currency, and its government’s debt. There are plenty of examples. But mere debt load on its own isn’t enough to do that, else Japan’s sun would be sunk.

          • baconbits9 says:

            For the Euro Area we have

            Central Government debt to GDP dropping from 2005 to 2007, down from 62% to 59% to 56% of GDP, and then up to 61% of GDP in 2008 and 69% in 2009.

            Growth (different source unfortunately) was 3.3% in 2006, 3.0% in 2007, 0.7% in 2008 and -4.5% in 2009.

            Straight forward math (as long as the two sites are weighting the same) implies that the Euro area went from roughly no deficit in 2007 to a deficit almost double that of the decline in GDP growth in 2008, and 60% higher by 2009 than the drop in GDP.

            In 2010 debt was 72% of GDP and growth was 2%, and 2011 73% and 1.6%.

            You can only get austerity for the Eurozone (which might not work out the same for the EU or some other collection, though I suspect it would) by comparing 2010/11 to 2009 and ignoring 2005-2008.

          • baconbits9 says:

            A larger effect does not mean the effect of the second is zero.

            I never said that it was, nor was it crucial to the point made.

            As to complaining about using 2010 as some sort of baseline, again, this seems to miss the point that all you are really complaining about is a conclusion that would end up being “more stimulus is better than less”. 2008 was a deep downturn, and the US came out better by spending more, using more monetary stimulus, and worrying less about present deficits. Europe cared more about these things and came out worse.

            to the bold- NO IT IS NOT. You can literally classify countries incorrectly by using the 2010 baseline vs the appropriate one, that is a country with lots of stimulus in 2008 and 2009 will look “austere” in 2010 even if it was on net stimulating from 2008-2010, and if a country had actual austerity in the early years and then went back to normal spending it would appear in the “stimulus” bin.

            This is not some hypothetical. Greek government spending went from 47% of GDP in 2007, to 54% in 2009 and then to 52% in 2010. There was “austerity” in 2010 after a combined 10 percentage point in terms of GDP bump in spending from 2007 to 2009.

            A similar situation for France, government spending and debt as a % of gdp was declining slightly from 2005 to 2007, then jumps up through 2009 and then dips (spending, not debt to gdp) slightly in 2010. So now France, after reversing a trend in declining spending and increasing it by 5 percent of gdp is now a country plagued by austerity.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @baconbits9:
            Ok, the crisis did not start until the end of 2008. Trying to count 2008 spending as crisis spending is nonsense.

            2009 is going to be something of a mixed bag, as bills to change spending are introduced and passed over the course of that year. 2010 would be the first full year of any stimulus. I’m not aware of what EU countries passed stimulus bills in 2009, nor am I aware of whether any then subsequently passed austerity bills for budget year 2010. I have doubts whether any did.

            Regardless, if you start stimulating, and the immediately withdraw that stimulation that is simply less stimulation than continuing it.

            I never said that it was, nor was it crucial to the point made.

            You will note that the person I was quoting there was idontknow… it would have been clearer of me if @ed him.

          • 2009 is going to be something of a mixed bag, as bills to change spending are introduced and passed over the course of that year.

            If the question is the effect of stimulus, surely the issue is what the government was doing, not whether it was doing it in response to the 2008 downturn. If stimulus works, then a country that runs a large deficit in 2009 due to spending commitments it was already locked into should get the same benefits as one that runs a large deficit in 2009 in response to the events of 2008.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Come now. “Stimulus” != “Deficit spending”. If you want to go with the definition you are proposing, that deficit spending is stimulative spending, then we are simply back to “in a downturn, more stimulus (or less austerity) is called for”.

            Imagine a government running a small surplus. Then the economy tanks and suddenly tax revenues no longer meet expenditures in the next budget year, with no other changes made. We would not say that the government had enacted stimulus. If they raise taxes to keep the same small budget surplus, we would instead say they had enacted austerity (rather than being neutral).

            Stimulus is a change to existing policy designed to temporarily “replace” the loss of economic activity engendered by the downturn. If your policies (fiscal or monetary) are not changing in response to the economic conditions, you can’t be said to have enacted stimulus.

            Now, policies like unemployment insurance are stimulating, in that the pre-existing policy changes government expenditures directly in response to the loss of certain forms of activity. But it’s the delta that matters, not whether the specific UI spending is paid for by debt.

            But again, if you want to say that any deficit spending should be considered stimulative all the time, then you need to also adjust the way in which you talk about what Keynesian’s prescribe for a downturn, by talking about increasing stimulus, rather than simply enacting it.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Ok, the crisis did not start until the end of 2008. Trying to count 2008 spending as crisis spending is nonsense.

            The recession started in the US* in late 2007 with the UE rate at a 14 year high in October, and the Federal government passed a $100 billion+ stimulus bill in February.

            But you don’t have to believe me, Keyensians were calling for fiscal stimulus in Jan of 2008. Here is Larry Summers

            1. Is fiscal stimulus desirable at present?
            Yes. Following recent economic reports particularly the last employment report and yesterday’s retail sales data, my judgment, like that of many economists, is that a recession is more likely than not. At this point this is or is very close to being a consensus judgment. Even if there is not an officially defined recession, there is almost certain to be a significant slowdown in the economy that will feel like a recession in many parts of the country and to many businesses and families. Fiscal policy measures that succeed in increasing spending will mitigate the severity of the coming downturn and accelerate the eventual recovery

            Keynesian analysis is explicit, the earlier the intervention the better, the ideal is automatic stabilizers where the government increases its expenditures the moment that AD starts to fall, stating that we should skip 2008 demonstrates a failure to understand the most basic and important claims of Keynesian economics.

            Again this isn’t an academic exercise, the US Federal deficit in 2008 was the largest nominally in US history to that point, 300 billion dollars more than the 2007 deficit and close to double the % of GDP as the average of the 2006 and 2007 deficits.

            So you are wrong on the theoretical foundations, but even if you were correct you still cited a source that uses the incorrect baseline because you cited one that chooses 2010 vs projections for 2010, and not 2009 vs 2008.

            2009 is going to be something of a mixed bag, as bills to change spending are introduced and passed over the course of that year. 2010 would be the first full year of any stimulus.

            What happens if a government spent $500 billion in stimulus in 2009 and then $501 billion in 2010? Using your logic we would end up assuming that total stimulus is about 1 billion dollars which is very obviously nonsense, which is why it is traditional to start the comparison using the year prior to the recession as the baseline.

            What is all the more galling is that the

            Regardless, if you start stimulating, and the immediately withdraw that stimulation that is simply less stimulation than continuing it.

            This is not captured by the link you provided. The method they chose was how much spending was expected vs how much spending that they delivered. The real correlation there, and this is what is particularly galling about that link, is that there was a SOVEREIGN DEBT CRISIS in Europe in 2010 which was caused by large debt loads and the countries that underwent “austerity” did so because the market refused to loan them more money. The only thing that measure found was that countries in bad fiscal shape in 2010 had bad outcomes after 2010.

            * Using the US here as I am more familiar with the numbers, and they are easier to access for me.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If the question is the effect of stimulus, surely the issue is what the government was doing, not whether it was doing it in response to the 2008 downturn. If stimulus works, then a country that runs a large deficit in 2009 due to spending commitments it was already locked into should get the same benefits as one that runs a large deficit in 2009 in response to the events of 2008.

            Not quite (or not necessarily). One Keynesian response would be that if the spending was expected far enough in advance that would mean it was a structural part of the economic expectations going into that year and so wouldn’t be stimulus.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Stimulus is a change to existing policy designed to temporarily “replace” the loss of economic activity engendered by the downturn. If your policies (fiscal or monetary) are not changing in response to the economic conditions, you can’t be said to have enacted stimulus.

            This is not true. Consider UE insurance, if there is an increase in UE then UE payments go up. These are stimulative by Keynesian definitions but not under yours as there was no policy change. Nor do you have to change in response to economic change, per Krugman

            “If we discovered that space aliens were planning to attack, and we needed a massive build-up to counter the space alien threat, and inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months,” Krugman says, referencing an episode of The Twilight Show in which an alien threat was manufactured to bring about world peace.

            The primary thing that matters is the coincidence of spending plus an economy operating under its potential.

          • Stimulus is a change to existing policy designed to temporarily “replace” the loss of economic activity engendered by the downturn.

            It’s legitimate to distinguish a deficit due to a fall in revenue from a deficit due to an increase in expenditure if you are testing a theory that has different implications for those.

            My point was that if the question is what the effects are, what the policy was designed to do is irrelevant. I was responding to a comment of yours where you seemed to be arguing that the fact that something happened too soon after the downturn to have been designed as stimulus meant it didn’t count, which I don’t think makes any sense.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @baconbits9:

            This is not true. Consider UE insurance, if there is an increase in UE then UE payments go up. These are stimulative by Keynesian definitions but not under yours as there was no policy change. Nor do you have to change in response to economic change, per Krugman

            Given that I already addressed this, and pointed out that this was indeed a stimulation, I think you may not be reading me correctly. I’m not sure it’s particularly worthwhile to engage you on this.

            @David Friedman:
            I’m sure technically correct is the best kind of correct, but it makes for poor argumentation. If a Keynesian says that we need to stimulate the economy in response to a crisis, they aren’t speaking in a binary sense where stimulating the economy any amount at all, even less than the previous year, is their intended meaning. “Correcting” me in usage is then mere pedantry.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Given that I already addressed this, and pointed out that this was indeed a stimulation, I think you may not be reading me correctly. I’m not sure it’s particularly worthwhile to engage you on this.

            This point contradicts your other statements though, you didn’t address it, you waved an incorrect hand at it as if that resolved the tension. It didn’t.

            If a Keynesian says that we need to stimulate the economy in response to a crisis, they aren’t speaking in a binary sense where stimulating the economy any amount at all, even less than the previous year, is their intended meaning.

            This isn’t true, Friedman is correct in that if you wanted to study the effects of Keynesian stimulus you would use his definition, not the hypothetical perfect level of stimulus. Keynesian do not argue that stimulus is only effective over a certain amount, to little stimulus is still stimulus and positive for the economy.

            Now, policies like unemployment insurance are stimulating, in that the pre-existing policy changes government expenditures directly in response to the loss of certain forms of activity. But it’s the delta that matters, not whether the specific UI spending is paid for by debt.

            Imagine a government running a small surplus. Then the economy tanks and suddenly tax revenues no longer meet expenditures in the next budget year, with no other changes made. We would not say that the government had enacted stimulus. If they raise taxes to keep the same small budget surplus, we would instead say they had enacted austerity (rather than being neutral).

            Both of these are incorrect statements. Keynesian spending acts through the AD channel, who gets the money is as important as increasing debt. Here is Krugman on the Bush stimulus plan in 2008

            The goal of a stimulus plan should be to support overall spending, so as to avert or limit the depth of a recession. If the money the government lays out doesn’t get spent — if it just gets added to people’s bank accounts or used to pay off debts — the plan will have failed.

            Under this model taxing someone with $300 in their bank account who would not have spent it and transferring it to a recently UE person who would spend it is stimulus.

            Under standard assumptions an increase in debt always comes from someone with a low marginal propensity to spend (ie the type of person buying government bonds during a downturn), so debt increases are treated by default as stimulative with the only major exception being when the money is transferred to a person with the same or lower marginal propensity to spend.

            And this has an even higher in Europe where much of the borrowing crosses borders as the people doing the lending are often people who would not be increasing the AD in your country any way (or doing so at a much lower rate as only 2nd or 3rd order impacts are being felt) while you are getting the full impact of the person receiving the benefits spending it. The reverse is also true, paying back the debt to those foreigners after the recession is more contractionary (and hence the Kyenesian nonsense that debt isn’t a problem if we “owe it to ourselves”).

    • baconbits9 says:

      The primary claim of MMT (that people want to talk about and distinguishing it from other theories) is that a government that owes its debts in its own currency can skip the whole borrowing thing and just print its obligations. This is not the current situation as the federal government is borrowing to fund its deficit and the Fed is reducing its balance sheet.

      The closer experiment was the 2008-2014 period where the Federal government greatly expanded its debt and the Federal Reserve greatly expanded its balance sheet absorbing much of the new debt issuance.

      • JPNunez says:

        Ah, so the problem here is that Trump is not forcing the Central Bank + Treasury to just run the prints, and instead it’s letting them do their usual borrowing routine.

        2008-2014 would be interesting in that the economy recovered super slow from the recession, so it had growth but it was slow.

        • baconbits9 says:

          That is the claim that MMTers would likely make, I find their claims to be generally laughable, either tautologies or just so explanations without consistency, but I tried to represent them fairly above.

    • John Schilling says:

      Is it an argument against MMT if the recession does come?

      The difference between MMT and more conventional economic models isn’t so much in their prediction of recessions, but in their prediction of complete and total economic collapse. Pretty much all models, I think, agree that you can postpone a recession for a while if you print(*) enough money and devote it to that purpose. MMT basically promises that you can do this forever with no ill effect; other theories say that if you push it too far then your economy collapses into utter ruin.

      So if a recession comes, I think MMT says “…and that’s because you didn’t print enough money like MMT said you should!”, whereas everyone else says “yes, correct, we didn’t do that and now we’re facing a recession because we didn’t do that. You’re welcome.” Which is no use at all for determining who was right all along. Prediction of mere recessions is, as others have noted, something nobody does well enough to make for a useful discriminator.

      * For expansive definitions of “print” that include all the shenanigans governments and central banks will predictably do to obscure the fact that, yep, they’re basically printing money.

      • Gossage Vardebedian says:

        MMT basically promises that you can do this forever with no ill effect

        Well, that is a bit uncharitable. MMT says eventually inflation will occur, and that is indeed bad, but it can likely be stopped before catastrophe ensues.

        The main thing MMT says is that people should 1) not worry about the existence or size of a deficit, but rather 2) look at growth and employment situations and tweak the economy based on those, and 3) not see inflation as some relentless monster that is essentially untameable. Whereas conventional economists seem to work under a mental model of Monday – inflation a bit below 2%, Tuesday – inflation a bit above 2%, Wednesday – Venezuela. Additionally, most MMTers put a premium on full employment and are much less fearful of a bout of inflation, feeling that it can be handled with sound fiscal policy. These latter are not necessarily tenets of MMT, but most economists who follow MMT also seem to go along with these ideas.

        So if a recession comes, I think MMT says “…and that’s because you didn’t print enough money like MMT said you should!”, whereas everyone else says “yes, correct, we didn’t do that and now we’re facing a recession because we didn’t do that. You’re welcome.” Which is no use at all for determining who was right all along.

        Yup, exactly. The reasons mainstream economists stop with stimulus is because they fear big deficits and inflation, while MMT economists fear only the second, and not as much.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Pretty much all models, I think, agree that you can postpone a recession for a while if you print(*) enough money and devote it to that purpose.

        I don’t think this is true. There are several “monetarists” (link to one blog here) who claim that to stimulate growth the Fed needs to raise, not lower interest rates, generally considered the opposite of printing money. I think you can also interpret Milton Friedman’s “optimal quantity of money” to mean that you cannot stimulate with printing (of course with most models one or two tweaks means you can also get the opposite result).

        • Salem says:

          Neo-Fisherians like Williamson are a tiny minority. There are other weird macro camps too but what is their reach and influence? “Pretty much all” is surely right.

          • baconbits9 says:

            His statement was that “pretty much all models” predict X, Neo-Fisherians (or the few I have read) point out that the standard models produce or can be very easily tweaked to produce those outcomes. They aren’t using different models, they are claiming that the mainstream is misinterpreting their own models a lot of the time.

          • baconbits9 says:

            For Example

            We know that Neo-Fisherism works in our models. In baseline macroeconomic models in which money is neutral, increases in inflation and increases in nominal interest rates go hand-in-hand. If we incorporate standard types of frictions that give rise to monetary non-neutralities in our models, for example New Keynesian sticky prices or segmented markets, an increase in the central bank’s nominal interest rate target will in general raise inflation – in the short run and in the long run. See for example Cochrane (2016), Rupert and Sustek (2016), and Williamson (2018). And note that these theoretical predictions don’t come from some freakish concoction of a demented neo-Fisherian, but from the mainstream modern macroeconomic models widely used by academics and central bankers.

    • cassander says:

      The current deficits are larger than is good, but aren’t all that large, relative to GDP.

  19. johan_larson says:

    Something really weird happened at the Oakland Coliseum BART station on April 22, 2017. A large group of young people (50, maybe?) jumped the fare gates, and rushed inside to rob the passengers of the arriving train.

    https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/04/25/audio-dispatch-of-oakland-bart-mob-its-a-group-of-50-they-bum-rushed-the-entire-train/

    I took BART daily for two years without incident when I was commuting from Daly City to downtown SF in 2006-2008.

  20. johan_larson says:

    If you were determined to leave the country you are living in now, where would you go?

    • Baeraad says:

      Norway, probably. Similar culture and language.

      Or Canada, if I was really looking to run far away. Canadians seem to be an uncommonly sane sort of people.

      • ManyCookies says:

        Pretty much this but with the countries swapped. I overall like their politics, I can communicate off the bat (my impression is Scandavians typically have at least passable English, is that accurate?), and I really like the cold.

      • Anonymous says:

        Norway, too. Lived there before.

        That, or Japan. Totally alien, but one of the few remaining civilized places on Earth.

    • johan_larson says:

      I’m in Canada. If I decided to leave, the obvious choice would be the US, the heart of my industry.

      If that were out, Australia is the safe choice; it’s the place most like Canada. The other place of interest to me is Finland. I was born there and I keep hearing good things.

      • Baeraad says:

        Australia has many good qualities, but dude, three words:

        Giant.

        Freaking.

        SPIDERS!!!

        • johan_larson says:

          Also great white sharks, salt-water crocodiles, really poisonous snakes, and plagues of toads and rabbits, of all things.

          God created Arrakis Australia to train the faithful.

    • Protagoras says:

      If I really confronted such a situation, I would research a lot more. But my present impression is that immigration rules would not favor me in a lot of places I would like to live unless I had a job lined up in advance. If we handwave that away, Canada or New Zealand, as I would like somewhere that English is the dominant language, and I’m mostly OK with what I know about their respective governments. If I absolutely must move, without a guaranteed job and so an employer to help me with immigration issues (and with survival once I get there), perhaps India? Lots of English speakers, low cost of living so that my savings can keep me going a long time while I try to track down work, and likely to regard my relatively modest wealth as nonetheless constituting a reason to let me in rather than keep me out.

    • Brad says:

      Currently in the US. Probably Australia. Canada, the UK, and Ireland are too far from the equator. I’d strongly prefer a country where I speak the language. I guess I could try to go to Bermuda, the BVI, etc. but I’d be unlikely to find work.

      • actualitems says:

        Yeah, I live in Florida, and I mostly echo your sentiments.

        If I could be reasonably assured I could telecommute in my current line of work for a few years while I slowly transitioned to a work in the hospitality industry, I would pick an English-speaking Caribbean island first. I’d have to research which one.

        But if I felt that was too risky, it’s Australia then UK then Ireland then Canada for me.

      • Bamboozle says:

        If you’re saying near the equator for the climate, i used to live in Texas, moved to Scotland, and now live in australia, and Australia is much more like Texas than Scotland

    • JPNunez says:

      Sweden. Visited there this year, lovely country.

      Canada I guess. Been only to Vancouver but it’s by far the second option.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Being in France, I would go to Germany or Switzerland, which seem mostly like France where it matters and marginaly better overall. I’d have to get a lot better at German, but I assume that would come with immersion.

        • Machine Interface says:

          Too far, too cold, and I suspect too American to my taste— although that might be just a prejudice on my part.

          • Tenacious D says:

            too American

            Don’t let a Québécois(e) hear you say that.

          • Plumber says:

            @Tenacious D>

            “Don’t let a Québécois(e) hear you say that”

            @Machine Interface has it right.

            Based on my 10 day visit of Canada in ’89, French speaking Montreal felt more like “America” (Oakland and San Francisco) than did Ottawa which just felt unreal, I’d have described it as “like being in The Truman Show” if that movie had been screened by then.

            English speaking Canada was eerie, it felt empty somehow, it was just too clean and most everyone was nice in such a way that I kept expecting a sales pitch, the people in Montreal’seemed more “normal” to this American.

          • Obelix says:

            Plumber: Well, to some extent. I’m from Quebec, and this is also where I currently live, although I’ve also lived for extended periods of time elsewhere in Canada, as well as in Italy and in Poland. Quebec society is culturally quite American, but not exactly the same as “America” either. I’ve heard some compare it to the Nordic countries in some regards, and it does have its French elements as well. It’s interesting that you say Montreal reminds you of the Bay Area, which is also an atypical part of America.

            As for Ottawa, it’s probably changed a bit since 1989, but it’s still very much a city of public servants which might be part of what you experienced. Although I do find English Canadian society hard to understand and “off” in some ways, and I get the impression I’d feel more at home in the US where the people would have no baggage in dealing with me. But I think I could live in any modern Western country. It’d be easier if it’s a French or English-speaking country, because while I’m not bad at learning languages, I’m also very shy about using languages I’m not fluent in. (I know that’s something I need to work on.)

          • Tenacious D says:

            @ Plumber:

            My meaning was that calling Québec the most American part of Canada would not necessarily be taken as a compliment without explaining in what sense you meant it.

          • Obelix says:

            Tenacious D:

            I don’t think Quebec is the “most American” part of Canada, however you’d define this. But on the other hand, while Canada’s identity is largely defined as being “not the US”, this is not so much the case for Quebec. Canada feels being distinct from the US to be an existential matter and this shapes its identity, while Quebec instead defined its identity from its relationship with Canada, and doesn’t feel as great a need to prove itself to be different from the US.

          • Tenacious D says:

            @ Obelix:

            Fair point.
            Nice username, btw.

    • Chalid says:

      Pre-Brexit, London would have been the obvious choice. Now, the financial services industry there is shrinking, and also there is a certain hostility to immigrants.

      Post-Brexit, there’s a bit of a tradeoff between wanting to be in a major financial center vs wanting to be in an English-speaking country. I’d probably still go to London, but there’s an outside shot of being in Canada, or alternately in a major Asian financial center. Singapore might check both boxes but I don’t really know much about the place.

      • Rusty says:

        A certain hostility to immigrants. Well I live in London and I haven’t noticed that at all. I suspect part of this is from people who support Remain and want to paint Leavers in a bad light. Also some US coverage of Brexit has been laughable.

        And maybe the financial sector is shrinking but the effect isn’t observable yet.

    • fion says:

      Currently living in the UK. Would happily move to Norway. The rest of Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany would also be acceptable. Canada is too far from my family.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Canada’s the easy choice (I’m in the US), but since I’m staying in the Anglosphere (due to lack of any other language) I’d probably go to New Zealand. Plenty far away from whatever I’m running from, mostly better weather than Canada, not too crowded, and perhaps slightly less on the micromanagement of one’s life (not that anywhere is good with that anymore)

    • Aapje says:

      Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, USA. Much choice.

    • johan_larson says:

      For those of you who are considering Canada but are unsure of the climate, let me describe what you might be facing. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, has four seasons. We have real winter with snow on the ground from late December to mid March. -10 C would be a cold winter day; -5 C would be an ordinary winter day. We have a long warm summer; you might be able to walk around in shorts from May through September. 23 C would be an ordinary summer day; 30 C would be a hot summer day. A few weeks per year in July or August are really hot and humid. You’ll want air conditioning but could live without it.

      No place in Canada is completely snow-free, but there are a few places in Canada which don’t routinely have snow even in the winters. Victoria, British Columbia is out on Vancouver Island, and is very temperate because of the influence of warm ocean currents. It has a dry coolish summer and a mild rainy winter. Snow is rare and doesn’t stick around. I’ve never visited, but descriptions of the climate remind me of Seattle.

      • baconbits9 says:

        My metric for the quality of a winter is mostly “how many days can you see the sun”, and for summer “how many days do I need AC to sleep at night”.

        Currently I live outside Philadelphia and have for almost a decade, the winters here are on the low end of an acceptable amount of sunlight, and the summers here seem to average about 5-10 nights of needing AC to sleep.

        • Brad says:

          Yeah. For me it’s not the cold or the snow, it’s the short winter days.

          • actualitems says:

            I lived the first 34 years of my life in OH/PA/KY then moved to Florida 5 years ago. It was life changing.

            The sun, that is. It is amazing. I didn’t realize how grey Ohio was until I left.

            I could never picture myself living without this much sun ever again. My happiness depends on it.

            And I have red hair and fair skin.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I grew up in the Cleveland area, and the grey/overcast/wintery mix that went on indefinitely was just brutal, just moving to Philly, which isn’t that far south, functionally added a month of decent weather to my life.

            I can’t see myself in Florida, I don’t particularly like air conditioning.

          • actualitems says:

            I grew up in Youngstown and Pittsburgh and a touch of Cleveland. And yeah, the winter in those locations is not to my liking.

            I spend from age 18 to 34 in the Cincinnati area, and my impression that winters there are milder than Philly (maybe I’m wrong about that). And after a decade and a half of what felt mild in the early years became unbearable to me in the latter years.

            My company asking me to move to Florida saved me. I wonder if I’d have ever built up the nerve to move south on my own volition.

            My company was about to move me back to Ohio, and I found another job in Florida. I’m not sure I’ll ever leave the state. But you can never say never.

          • Brad says:

            I suspect it would have a big positive effect on me, though it’s hard to disentangle the impact of being on vacation. That said, it’s hard for me to see moving to Florida. I’m a New Yorker through and through. I’d say only for love or for money, but realistically probably only for love.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            And after a decade and a half of what felt mild in the early years became unbearable to me in the latter years.

            I have this, just on a seasonal basis. Winter normally doesn’t bother me until well into January. This last April was brutal, below freezing practically every single day. I was definitely in a foul mood for the entire month.

            Oh, and this last blizzard in Chicago pissed me off. 8-12 inches of ridiculously heavy snow. I don’t mind 8-12 inches of powder, but wet, heavy snow is hard to move, and even the municipal plows struggled to clear the roads. Some roads were still crappy when I was driving home, a full 10 hours after the snow stopped.

            Oh and my Dad and I tried for hours to get my stupid ****ing snowblower to work for good measure. No good.

            I have bad memories of Disney World in August and July that will prevent me from ever moving to Florida. Miami Beach, maybe, but I am not sure how education or commuting would work for me there.

          • actualitems says:

            I have bad memories of Disney World in August and July that will prevent me from ever moving to Florida. Miami Beach, maybe, but I am not sure how education or commuting would work for me there.

            I have bad memories of Disney World in August and July from the 1st summer we moved here…that’s why we’ll never go back there in the summer 🙂

            Disney is southwest of downtown Orlando. I live in a suburb northeast of downtown Orlando. Although we are only a 45-min or so drive from the tourist spots (Disney, Universal, I-Drive), it feels like another world. Where I live is probably indistinguishable from other suburban areas around the rest of the country but for the amazing weather. (Amazing if you can take 4-5 months of brutal heat and humidity, which I don’t mind.)

            And I’m a long-run optimist on the economic prospects of the I-4 corridor (Tampa-Orlando) so I can see my family and I staying until at least my kids are all out of the house, which is another dozen years or so.

            I do like Miami-Ft Lauderdale area, and would consider moving there for the right opportunity, but that would definitely be a lifestyle change for the family and me.

      • Nick says:

        I live in Northeast Ohio, so I don’t imagine moving to Toronto would be a substantial change in weather for me. Well, I guess I wouldn’t have lake effect snow anymore. How often do you have school closings from snowfall there?

        • johan_larson says:

          It depends on how far into the country you are. I grew up in a suburban community not far from Toronto, and we had maybe one or two snow days per year. But some of the schools that were really out in the country seemed to have a couple of snow days per month. I guess those rural roads were not priorities for plowing.

        • Telemythides says:

          In Toronto itself, almost never. I grew up in downtown Ottawa, which is much snowier than Toronto, and I don’t think my schools ever closed because of snow. In the suburbs, it’s probably something like twice a year as Johan says, but that’s probably because they close the schools whenever the school buses don’t run.

      • Garrett says:

        Toronto doesn’t have real winter (as a guy from Thunder Bay). 🙂

        They also can’t cope with it, having to call in the army to shovel snow more than a few times.
        I’d be going back to Canada (from the US), if I had to, because I have family there.

        • johan_larson says:

          Toronto doesn’t have real winter (as a guy from Thunder Bay). 🙂

          Coming from Finland, I’m inclined to agree. But our audience is mostly American, so one must make allowances. 🙂

          • albatross11 says:

            Hey, you could move to the DC metro area, where five snowflakes in the air will cause school to be cancelled and cause beltway-snarling accidents.

          • johan_larson says:

            Well, in fairness, if there’s snow on the ground in an area that doesn’t usually get snowfall, that’s a good reason to stay home. Most people will not know how to drive in snow, and their attempts to do so will be hilarious in a tragic sort of way.

    • christianschwalbach says:

      I waffle between a Mediterranean climate nation like, say Spain or even South Africa , Australia of course, and somewhere with a climate like I have here in Northern US, like Scandinavia or Canada. That being said, the laws and culture of nations like CA, AUS and the Scandinavian nations appeal to me over the more chaotic and sometimes dysfunctional natures of Greece, Italy, Spain, etc….

    • Plumber says:

      I’ve visited Ottawa, Canada back in ’89 and found it eerie how clean and beggers free, it just seemed “off”.

      Montreal, despite being francophone felt more “American”.

      I visited Mexico at age five in 1973 and my memories of it are dim, and I never been outside of North America so I have limited basis of comparison though my brother, mother, and step-father visited Europe and said it was “nice”

      I stayed some weeks in Seattle, Washington in the winter and found how late sunrise was hard to take, but the legendary rain didn’t seem much different than the San Francisco bay area, so I imagine British Columbia would be much the same so I suppose Pacific coast Canada would be the least adjustment being in the same time zone.

      A wrinkle in moving to Canada is back in 2009 I investigated working there and many in my local union paid for the paperwork and background checks for work in Alberta, I think it was a $1,000 and none of them got the work, even the welders, so I’m doubtful that Canda actually welcomes legal immigrants, at least not quickly.

      If I had to choose places I’m curious to visit it would be Ireland and the U.K., but to escape?

      I guess Costa Rica or Cuba?

      I really don’t know where in the world welcomes Americans.

      • Telemythides says:

        We have beggers in Ottawa, at least we do now. I suppose they probably keep them away from the parliament buildings and other places tourists go.

    • arlie says:

      Canada. This is a complete no-brainer; I’m already a citizen, and I have family there.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think probably Poland. My great-grandparents were from there. Culturally it seems like a very nice place to live and since they’re not taking in migrants it’ll probably stay that way for a long time. Just about everyone is Catholic like me. I’m highly educated enough such that the middling economic situation of the nation wouldn’t be that big a deal for me. The only problem would be having to learn Polish.

      • Anonymous says:

        Just about everyone is Catholic like me.

        Unfortunate thing about the attendance rates. The other Sunday we had a substitute priest, and we were all temporarily locked out of the church building. The gathered noted that I was the only young person there.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Man, it depends on why I am leaving the US. The obvious fall-back options are Canada and New Zealand, but that’s not going to work if I am fleeing because the US wants to Assange me. In that case, I don’t know, Sweden?

    • fraza077 says:

      I visit Switzerland multiple times a year and would really like to live there, in the Berner Oberland.
      Probably near Frutigen or so. You’re less than an hour from Bern, but surrounded by mountains. Skiing, paragliding, mountain hiking, mountain biking, all right outside the door. And a really high standard of living. The only problems are:
      – Finding a job in such a remote place
      – Understanding the local dialect
      – Being accepted by the locals

      • Randy M says:

        I visited Switzerland just once, but would also really like to live there, language barrier aside. The people were nice and the countryside was amazing.

    • John Schilling says:

      That’s going to depend very strongly on how soon I need to leave and what I’m running away from. I’ve got an airplane fueled and waiting, a passport and emergency cash close at hand, I could be in Mexican airspace in a little over an hour and on the ground in Belize City by tomorrow evening. And Belize is a pretty good choice for an American with a bit of money looking for a low-profile existence.

      Canada is probably a more comfortable place for me to live and work in the long run, and I have a few contacts in the Canadian aerospace industry to help with employment. But there’s a good chance that whatever is hypothetically making me leave the United States would make Canada similarly untenable.

      If Canada is too close to the troubles of home, then Australia and/or New Zealand would probably be my next choice.

      If those don’t work, it’s probably going to be Russia, North Korea, and/or Mars, depending on exactly how and when this desperate state of affairs comes to pass.

      • The Nybbler says:

        “Noted North Korea analyst defects to North Korea” would be a pretty good story, except perhaps for the analyst.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Mexico, probably. I already have citizenship and family there, I know the language, and the cash I have will take me further – hopefully long enough to learn the technical vocabulary I’d need to work in my field.

    • Evan Þ says:

      The only language I speak on a comfortable day-to-day level is English, which rather limits my options. For instance, a friend of my parents moved to Chile some time back and has a lot of good things to say about it – pero no hablo Espanol bueno.

      My first choice, from proximity and culture, would be Canada. But, there’s a good chance that whatever’s making the United States too uncomfortable for me would be at least as strong there. So, I might well end up in India, where I could probably get a job at one of the multitudinous software development firms where half my current coworkers worked before coming here.

    • Urstoff says:

      If the immigration hurdles were low, New Zealand for the weather. Climate seems to impact my wellbeing much more than many other environmental/political/social factors.

      • fraza077 says:

        While the climate in New Zealand is mild, the constant wind can be draining. I now live in a wind-free location, and I appreciate it a lot.

        • Urstoff says:

          My current locale is constant wind and it is not pleasant. Maybe Australia has less wind. I don’t mind the heat.

    • Telemythides says:

      The United States.

      I’m in Canada now, so physical and cultural proximity plus lots of interesting tech jobs.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I think Israel is the only other place I could get legal residence.

      There are about as many Jews in the US as Israel– how many immigrants can Israel accommodate?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_population_by_country

      “The world’s core Jewish population was estimated at 14,511,000 in April 2018,[1] up from 14.41 million in 2016.[2][3][4] Demographer Sergio DellaPergola proposes an “extended” Jewish population, including people identifying as partly Jewish and non-Jews with Jewish parents, numbering 17.3 million globally, and an “enlarged” Jewish population figure that also includes non-Jewish members of Jewish households totaling 20.2 million. Additionally, the total number of people who hold or are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return — defined as anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent, and who does not profess any other religion — is estimated at around 23 million, of which 6.6 million were living in Israel as of 2015. Figures for these expanded categories are less precise than for the core Jewish population.[4]”

      I’m guessing that the extended estimate is low, or at least I seem to know a lot of non-Jews with some Jewish ancestry.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I currently live in the US, so… Texas.

    • Ketil says:

      Similar culture and language.

      Am I the only person who would prefer to move to something very different?

      Any actual decision to move would probably take me somewhere I could find interesting work, apart from that, I’d look for a nice climate, good food, friendly people, things to do (mountains and water nearby, a bit of culture, learning a new language), low living costs, low crime. Singapore, Japan, China? Honolulu, Southern or Eastern Europe, maybe.

    • aristides says:

      Assuming I could get the job I want and am qualified for, I would move to Okinawa, Japan. There are a small number of well paying jobs in my field for U.S. civilians in Kadena AFB, though spouses of military members always get preference. Assuming I got that job, it would be well paying from COLA, have my ideal climate, allow me to work in English while learning Japanese, and have a culture Iike.

      If I have to leave immediately without a job, I would move to Vancouver, Canada. I have enough qualifications to quickly get an entry level job in my field, wouldn’t have to learn a new language, and am ok with the culture. The climate is a big minus, that makes me consider Australia or New Zealand, but I don’t know enough to go there without a ton more research.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Do I want to leave the country, the culture or what?

      If it’s a local problem, America is REALLY big, so I can just move to Montana and whatever problems I had where I was are now irrelevant. Leaving the country seems overly dramatic.

      If it’s only because “prompt says you must leave the country” then the obvious choice is Australia. High standard of living, plenty of work in my field, and I even have business contacts there. An easy transition for me and my family and the kids would notice about as much as Montana, honestly.

      If it’s because Anglosphere culture has shifted to the point where living there is a massive culture shift and I want a more hospitable culture, then probably Chile. I have fewer business contacts there, but they have a large English speaking population, Spanish is fairly straightforward to learn, and it’s a safe, out of the way country to raise a family while America does whatever.

    • SamChevre says:

      Assuming I could get work: France or Belgium; I’m a conservative Catholic, and I speak French to some degree.

      If I had to live on my savings and farm–I’d go home to rural Tennessee.

      If I had to leave the US, with no guarantee of finding work–probably Costa Rica. I expect I could learn Spanish, I have a few contacts, and I enjoyed the country when I visited 20 years ago.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      In the US now, spoiled by San Francisco climate, so Victoria, BC is basically the only comfortable Canadian locale. I’d probably go there or Auckland, NZ or the Catalan coast of Spain depending on who’d let me get permanent residency most easily. I’d be tempted by Malta, too, because of their Citizenship by Investment program which looks like a relatively-cheap way to get EU citizenship.

      Speaking of which, folks thinking about this should know if they don’t already that most major countries will give you a green card equivalent for investing some amount of money in some appropriate set of local assets, under an “investor visa” type program. The cheapest I’ve found is Quebec, where if I understand right you can pay $200K nonrefundable cash and through some weird proxy scheme be considered to have invested a sufficient amount. The most expensive anyone seems to get is $2M or so.

  21. CatCube says:

    Structural Engineering Post Series
    Steel Design I

    Continued from a smaller post here: https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/11/04/ot114-penelopen-thread/#comment-687508

    Content Warning: I’m going to link to a video of a structural collapse to illustrate some points. This won’t be anything you wouldn’t see on the news (in fact, the video was on the news), but it did have fatalities. The video isn’t graphic, but people did die in it.

    This post discusses the design of hot-rolled structural steel framing. As discussed in the post linked above, this is only a subset of all of the materials properly called “steel” that are used in contstruction. One notable example not covered would be cold-rolled studs used in light-frame construction, replacing lumber.

    The code referenced can be found here: https://www.aisc.org/globalassets/aisc/publications/standards/a360-16-spec-and-commentary_june-2018.pdf

    Steel is something of an outlier in code development. The model code used in the US is written by the American Institute of Steel Construction, which is an industry trade group. “Full Membership” is only available to concerns that make and sell steel products. The fee structure is different than most other engineering and construction organizations that I’m familiar with. The base fee is a relatively small ($950) charge per year; however, they also pay $1.10 per ton of steel shipped, up to $50,000 annually. There’s an additional charge of $1.40 per ton for steel used for bridges levied on fabricators, up to $80,000 when combined with the $1.10/ton charge.

    I’ve not dug deeply into the finances of all the model code organizations, but I think this does help explain why I can link to a freely-available PDF of the steel design code located on the originating organization’s website. While AISC does make some money from selling the Steel Construction Manual, which contains a printed copy of the code as well as a bunch of design aids used heavily by practicing engineers, as well as a series of Design Guides explaining the details of particular areas, I think it’s something of a sideline for them. When you compare to, say, the American Concrete Institute, which drafts the concrete code, or the ICC that writes model building codes, those organizations rely very heavily on the revenue from selling copies of their documents to remain fiscally stable. While not all companies in the steel industry are AISC members, most of the big boys are. This means that the steel code is supported by a voluntary “tax” on most of the steel shipped in the US, rather than selling copies like most of the codes for other building materials. Or, it might be viewed as something of a “loss leader” for AISC.

    This is only a hypothesis on my part, but I’ve always found it interesting that AISC (hot-rolled steel) publishes its code freely online, while the ICC (building code), American Wood Council (Timber), and the American Iron and Steel Institute (cold-formed steel) begrudgingly gives you the most inconvenient version possible while still making it “available,” and the American Concrete Institute (concrete) doesn’t have any availability. The funding structure is the only thing I’ve noticed offhand.

    Structure of AISC 360
    Like most codes, the steel code is divided into chapters. AISC 360 is a bit of an odd duck in lettering the chapters, rather than numbering them–Chapter A through N. It also contains 8 (numbered) appendicies. Finally, it has the commentary, which is not legally part of the code but explains the history, use of, and thinking behind the legal provisions.

    I won’t list all the chapters, obviously, but the ones I’ll discuss in more detail are:
    Chapter C: Design for Stability
    Chapter E: Design of Members for Compression
    Chapter F: Design of Members for Flexure
    Chapter G: Design of Members for Shear
    Chapter J: Design of Connections

    Obviously, this won’t be a very comprehensive review of these, since this contents of this post would normally be a 15 week college course, and that college course barely scratches the surface. Also, Chapter I covers the design of composite members, which are members formed from structural steel and concrete (principally concrete deck supported on steel beams, but others are possible). This is because I want to discuss the behavior of concrete in the post on that material; I may cycle back and discuss composite construction at that time.

    Goals of Design
    When designing a building’s structure (or any other structure), we’re seeking a structural system that is fit for its purpose. The most straightforward way that a structure could be unfit for its purpose is, of course, gross collapse. However, there are other ways that buildings can fail. As I’ll get into later, we also seek to have structures fail in ways that fall short of a collapse.

    The way that the current versions of AISC 360 meet the “fit for purpose” goal is with the use of limit states. A limit state is a state of loading on a structure beyond which it is considered to have failed. There are two general types of limit states: 1) strength 2) serviceability. Strength limit states are those where exceedance can result in danger to life. Serviceability limit states are those which do not present a danger, per se, but will negatively affect the habitability, maintenance, or function of the structure. By far the most common serviceability limit state is deflection. Excessive deflections can cause occupant discomfort or damage to nonstructural building components, among other consequences.

    The steel code is mostly concerned with safety, so it does not have any explicit servicability limit states. The thinking is that there is no reason to legally require it; there’s no danger to excessive deflection (with some exceptions I’ll discuss), so any problems are between the contractor, the owner, and the engineer, with no public involvement required. There is some boilerplate in Chapter L (Serviceability), but that can be boiled down to “check serviceability.” The IBC does have some deflection limits, based on the material being supported. Deflections of 1/360th of the span are the tightest required.

    Now, funnily enough, for steel serviceability limit states usually control for member selection. That is, the section that provides the minimum acceptable deflection is larger than the section that provides the minimum level of safety. However, if you alarm people using your structure, or cause all of the walls to crack, those are failures, even if not as bad as a collapse.

    I won’t discuss serviceability limit states further. The deflections are calculated using standard mechanics, and don’t have much in the way of structural engineering-specific details to talk about.

    All strength limit states are of the following form:
    Qᵣ ≤ Qc, where:
    Qᵣ = Required strength
    Qc = Design Strength.

    Steel has two permitted design methodologies, Allowable Strength Design (ASD), and Load and Resistance Factor Design (LRFD). I won’t completely rehash the discussion from here (especially the reasoning behind LRFD), but a quick primer on the difference:
    Allowable Strength Design uses a factor of safety, Ω, for each limit state, and use relatively simple additions to combine the various loads imposed on a structure.
    Load and Resistance Factor Design uses resistance factors, ɸ, to scale the design strength, and load factors, γ, to scale each type of load.

    The calculating the design strength will use the same equation for either method. This equation is called the nominal strength for that limit state.

    For example, lets discuss the bending (or moment) capacity of a beam. The nominal bending strength is:
    Mn = (some equation to be discussed later)

    Using ASD, bending uses a factor of safety Ω=1.67. If you have a dead load D and a live load L, the limit state is:
    D + L ≤ Mn/Ω

    Using LRFD, dead loads have a load factor γ=1.2 and live load have a factor γ=1.6; bending has a resistance factor ɸ=0.9. The limit state is:
    1.2D + 1.6L ≤ ɸMn

    For either type of design methodology there are a number of different load cases to be checked for each limit state and a number of limit states to be checked, but all of them have a similar form. That is, more complex equations on the left side and a ɸ-factor on the right for LRFD, and relatively simple addition on the left with the right divided by Ω for ASD.

    When the LRFD code was written for steel, it was tuned so that it produces identical designs when the ratio of live to dead load is three. If you look at the example above, you could do some algebra showing that Mn will be equal for both if you substitue L=3D into the equations.

    Resistance to using LRFD was high, so in 2005 ASD was added back into the code, and the engineer was given a choice of which method to use. However, it’s important to not mix-and-match them. It would be extremely unsafe to use ASD load combinations (the one without 1.2 and 1.6) with LRFD’s ɸ-factor. The code states the equation for the nominal capacity for each type of limit state, then gives the Ω for those engineers using ASD, and ɸ for those engineers using LRFD.

    • CatCube says:

      Frame Stability
      Or: Why Movies Have Given You an Unrealistic Picture of Structural Behavior
      I’m going to take the opportunity to get on one of my hobbyhorses: frame stability and overall behavior of structures, and how it intersects with pop culture. AISC 360 Chapter C provides requirements for the overall analysis of a steel structure. A treatment covering all of the requirements would be too esoteric to discuss in detail in a post for non-structural engineers; if you’re really that curious you can look at the Commentary for Chapter C in the PDF linked above, which does a good job of explaining the thinking in detail.

      One topic that I do want to discuss: the P-Δ (P-delta) effect. This is the term for the additional bending load that will act on a column due to the column and its loads being displaced sideways. (P is the variable traditionally used for axial loads in a column, and Δ is the variable traditionally used for displacement, hence the name.) For example, consider a portal frame–that is, one that is three steel structural members rigidly connected in an upside-down “U” shape, like you might have over a warehouse or an aircraft hangar. So there are two vertical columns connected by a horizontal beam*. Let’s say the frame is 15 feet tall just to have numbers to discuss.

      Let’s say that each of those two columns have 40,000 lbs acting downward on them, say 15,000 lbs of dead load and 25,000 lbs of live load, so the factored load will be 1.2(15000)+1.6(25000)=58,000 lbs. If they were perfectly vertical, each would be carrying simply that 58,000 lbs in compression.

      Let’s consider a lateral load, like wind. Let’s just say it’s 20,000 lbs; the load factors for extreme events like this are 1.0, so the factored load will be 20,000 lbs. Now, each column will still have that 58,000 lb vertical load, but the wind will be trying to overturn the building so the compression in the windward column will decrease and the leeward column will increase. I’m going to neglect that effect to avoid having more numbers kicking around, though in a real design problem for a frame this simple it probably wouldn’t be negligible. That 20,000 lbs is also trying to rack the frame, which imposes a bending load on each column. It’s not quite accurate to simply give 10,000 lbs of sideways load to each leg so that the bending is 150,000 lb-feet (that 10,000 lbs × 15 feet) for each column, but it’s close enough for this discussion.

      Now, there’s one more thing to consider: when those columns go into bending as the frame racks, that 58,000 lbs on top of each column moves sideways. However, those 58,000 lb load are still acting straight down, because gravity. The 58,000 lb reaction at the base of the column is still acting straight upwards, because Newton’s second law requires it to balance the loads straight down. These two 58,000 lb forces are no longer acting on the same line–they’re two equal forces with a distance between them, or a couple. That is, due to the displacement there is a new bending force on the columns. Let’s say that the frame racked over 0.1 feet (very large for a 15 ft tall frame, but it makes the math easy). That means that each column will have an additional 0.1 ft × 58,000 lbs, or 5800 lb-ft of bending moment.

      But wait! There’s more! This additional bending moment will cause a little bit of further displacement, which will then cause a little bit more bending moment, which will cause a little bit of further displacement… This is referred to as a second-order effect. Normal types of analysis use what is called “small deflection theory,” where we assume that the loads and members aren’t displaced from their position. For hand analyses, there are so-called moment magnification procedures (found in Appendix 7) that allow estimation of these additional P-Δ loads. When using a finite element program, there’s usually a switch you can twiddle in the analysis mode to account for them; however, it’s a nonlinear analysis that can interfere with some other useful analyses, as well as being an iterative process that will consume vastly more computer time–though if your normal analysis only takes a few minutes on a modern machine, taking even 10 times that long isn’t unreasonable.

      Under normal circumstances, the additional displacement > additional moment > additional displacment cycle will stabilize. However, if the lateral load gets too large, it will not do so, and the columns will fail, causing the structure to collapse downward.

      To reiterate: too much sideways load will make a typical structure fall straight down, not topple over mostly sideways. You can see this in the video from the Indiana State Fair Sugarland Concert collapse in 2011. (That’s the “content warning” video I was talking about.) The collapsing structure was about 40 ft tall, and the collapse was due to the failure of the lateral-force resisting system, which consisted of wire ropes tied to Jersey barriers that slid under high winds. However, the final rest of the canopy wasn’t 40 feet from its original position, as if the 40′ columns were simply pivoting about their tops and bottoms; once they got pushed over far enough, it came straight down as the columns ruptured near the top.

      I don’t know how many other people saw the movie Cloverfield (and you have my sympathy), but this scene immediately jumped out at me. That shows the Time Warner Center, which is a twin tower structure, with one pushed over until it leans against the other. If you haven’t seen the movie, that’s not a frame from a collapse in progress, the building is at rest in that position (they’re going into it to rescue somebody for reasons that I didn’t care about, since I was hoping all of the main characters were going to die by that point). I hope that I’ve done my job of explaining why if the monster pushed one building over, it would have collapsed well before laying against the other.

      This is all just an instance of the more general “square-cube law” that also means that ants can’t grow to 50 feet tall, even if it does look cool on the screen. Similarly, tall buildings aren’t trees and won’t look like them when they fail.

      This isn’t due to frame stability or P-Δ (or even a steel structure, but as long as I’m on my soapbox) similarly, squat, long buildings aren’t bricks either. They’re mostly empty space, and the framing in it is very limited in its ability to transfer loads that would normally be carried in one column to any other arbitrary column in a building. Mostly, a vertical load is carried by the columns immediately adjacent to it. That’s why Superman can’t pick up an apartment building and carry it to evacuate the people inside of it. A very small structure is possible, but something that big will come apart.

      I’m going to stop here and continue in a second steel design post covering limit states for various types of members in more detail next time.

      * Technically, they’re going to all be beam-columns since all three will have significant axial and bending loads, but calling vertical members columns and horizontal members beams is used here informally.

      • JPNunez says:

        Oh no, you ruined my fav image of Cloverfield, the building resting on the other one.

        I suspected it was impossible, but it was still cool.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Is this the same effect which caused the Twin Towers to fall straight down? Naively I would have expected that one part of the structure would have been weakened before the rest, resulting in the top of the building toppling in that direction. That didn’t happen, obviously, so something caused it to fall straight down.

        • skef says:

          I once read an explanation of this in a context that in no way implied it was a reliable or knowledgeable explanation. However, it does have that satisfying basic physics flavor that makes it sound at least plausible. It was, roughly:

          For something to tip over there has to be some source of momentum in that direction. If there is no other force at issue (like the wind) and what is tipping over has broken off, that source will typically be gravity causing the thing to slide against something, transferring some of the downward force into sliding force.

          With the twin towers, once the structure failed to the point that the floors above the impact failed, there just wasn’t any part of it strong enough to transfer that lateral force to the mass of the upper floors. In at least one case they obviously tipped, but did not tip over. The result was that they fell straight down on the floors below, and the only substantial lateral forces were largely uniform, of the sort you would expect from the combination of a huge conversion of potential to kinetic energy and conservation of momentum.

          Where this might fit in with the square cube law is in explaining how we frequently see things tip over at “our scale”, but things won’t tend to tip over at a much larger scale: things would have to be much stronger to support the force transfer.

          • skef says:

            Just to clarify: That last paragraph may make it sound as if I’m implying really big things can’t tip over. Which would leave unexplained the care demolitionists take in blowing up all supports of a tall structure simultaneously. But most demolition is near the ground, and the ground is absolutely a “structure” strong enough to transfer some downward momentum into lateral momentum.

        • CatCube says:

          Is this the same effect which caused the Twin Towers to fall straight down? Naively I would have expected that one part of the structure would have been weakened before the rest, resulting in the top of the building toppling in that direction. That didn’t happen, obviously, so something caused it to fall straight down.

          If you pay close attention to collapse videos, the top of WTC1 did topple in one direction–or at least started to. There is a definite tilting of the building above the impact area as it starts to collapse, and for a few tenths of a second it’s similar to the video of the building that @actinide meta links below. However, what it doesn’t do is continue to do so. This is for exactly the reason you identify: once it rotated enough (the NIST report gives about 8°), the global stability effects I’m discussing took over and left the block unsupported, so it started collapsing straight down.

          One minor annoyance of blogging in a comment section is the lack of figures, and I try to minimize references to them because of this. However, to discuss this further I’m going to refer to Figure 2-12, PDF page 39 (printed page 2-26) of this file. The actual topic of the linked Engineer Manual is seismic analysis, but it has a discussion of rigid-block rotation. It points out that to topple a block (like you are expecting for the WTC, or as happened to @actinide meta’s video), you need to rotate it through an angle:
          α = arctan(b/h), where
          b = ½ base width
          h = ½ height

          Another way to think of it is that you need to displace the center of gravity of the block by a distance b (relative to its base, that is, you have to “trip” a lower corner while moving the c.g.)

          For WTC1, the rigid block of the building above the impact area was about 174 ft tall (my best guess with the centroid of the damage at the 96th floor, since digging through reports to find the real number was way more annoying than I’m willing to put up with tonight). The WTC was about 210 ft square. So b = 105 ft and h = 87 ft. To topple the block like a tree, you have to move the c.g. 105 ft horizontally, or rotate the block arctan(105/87) = 52°. The columns give up the ghost well before reaching that point and just allow it to drop straight down.

          One thing that that EM points out in its discussion of rocking under seismic forces that is relevant to my wider point about structural behavior not being obvious:

          …the structure will start rocking, but its displacement…must reach the value of b before it can overturn. These equations also demonstrate why larger structures such as buildings do not overturn during earthquakes, whereas smaller rigid blocks having the same aspect ratios are expected to overturn. This is because, in general, [earthquake spectral displacement] is never large enough to tip over a building, but it can approach the one half base width (i.e., b) of smaller rigid blocks such as tombstones.

          The term that I haven’t defined there is spectral displacement, which is the displacement that an earthquake will cause in a structure. The maximum acceleration, velocity, and displacement that an earthquake causes on a building are interrelated with each other and the vibration characteristics of the building for reasons that I’ll get into when discussing seismic design, so I’m going to just ask you to push the “I believe” button when I say that earthquakes have a absolute maximum lateral displacement that they can possibly cause in any structure (though a building whippy enough to reach that maximum displacement will have very low forces–and probably too whippy to be an actual structure somebody would build)*.

          For the largest earthquake in the US, in the New Madrid fault zone (1.21 g peak ground acceleration), that maximum displacement is about 15 feet. That means that even that large of an earthquake physically can’t cause rigid block overturning in any building more than 30 feet on a side, but it could easily overturn smaller things such as tombstones. However, it’s absolutely enough to cause a collapse of a building due to the P-Δ effect I discuss above.

          This is a long winded way of coming back to my original point: the curse of the square-cube law. Your intuitions about how small things like trees (even really big trees) will behave might fail you when thinking about how big things (like buildings) may behave.

          * Edit to soothe my own pedantry. I forgot about base isolation and damping, which could make a building that’s not whippy during normal use, but whippy enough during an earthquake.

          • Ketil says:

            Clearly tipping over here, but the force of the corner of the top floors falling is high enough that it just plows its way downwards, simultaneously bringing it towards the center of the building. The fire is pretty high up, so the top part resembles a cube, rather than a tower. The width was 63 meters, about 20 times a reasonable floor height.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhyu-fZ2nRA

      • LHN says:

        The criticism of Superman’s lifting large objects goes back a ways. At least since the mid-80s, Superman’s strength has explicitly incorporated “tactile telekinesis” to hold large structures together when he moves them.

        (IIRC, the author who did that, John Byrne, had previously had a Superman stand-in try to lift a building by the corner and wind up holding a brick in an issue of Fantastic Four.)

        The Superboy clone introduced in the 90s then elaborated on that power, with the ability to move, distort, or shatter objects that he was touching some part of.

        (Of course it’s all handwaving. But superheroes have always been more about cool imagery than scientific plausibility, with entertaining but largely meaningless handwaves– like “telekinesis”– being part of the game.)

        • Jiro says:

          There was a story where Supergirl tried to move a planet, and ended up digging a tunnel through it instead.

          (Unfortunately, the “solution” was to bounce her into the planet instead, which should have failed for similar reasons.)

        • CatCube says:

          I’m aware of the handwave; IIRC it’s the same one used to explain why Superman’s clothes aren’t blasted off in his fights or when he flies into the sun–but explains why his clothing does get ripped when he fights somebody capable of kicking his ass, since his opponent is overpowering his telekinesis as well as his super strength.

          If it was just that, it’d be a fun story–just like how CSI adds drama and speeds along its investigations with their magic laboratory. However, when you have people for whom that forms their model of the world sitting on a jury, and they can’t be pushed off of it by, “C’mon, that’s just fiction,” it gets to be a little more irritating.

          So, apologies to @JPNunez, but I’m kind of in that “Sorry/Not Sorry” mode about breaking that Cloverfield scene for you.

      • actinide meta says:

        buildings aren’t bricks

        Except this one, apparently!

        • Nornagest says:

          Someone needs to set that to “Yakety Sax”.

        • CatCube says:

          That’s an awesome video. Though I stand by my comparison to Superman carrying an apartment building–with absolutely no windows, that building would be hell to live in, even if Superman could carry you to safety in it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            with absolutely no windows, that building would be hell to live in, even if Superman could carry you to safety in it.

            Still would rent for $3/sq foot in Manhattan. Or $4 in SF.

  22. snifit says:

    My wife has been away for almost a week on business. She was feeling flirty and sent me some NSFW selfies. This is a first, and after getting over my shock and delight I’m now wondering about how best to keep things like this private. I love her dearly and she would be devastated if other people saw these photos. She sent them from two different iphones as text messages and emails. I’ve heard of things like Tinder and Snapchat but haven’t used them myself. Is there a standard, secure way to send images and/or video from a smartphone?

    As a start to keeping these photos private, obviously we should try to remove the images from our text and email. Our kids can unlock our phones and they could very easily see them by accident. These images are also on my wife’s laptop now since her texts and emails are duplicated there. I’m not sure how she stores her photos but she occasionally clogs our home internet when her devices sync. She also has a smartwatch, now that I think about it. Any advice for her would also apply to me as the images are easily accessible via my phone and desktop computer.

    • Inside a semicircle of displays says:

      Signal is probably the way to go.

    • Aapje says:

      @snifit

      I suggest trying the ProtonMail app. Just use a separate mail account just for this and sign out of ProtonMail after you had your fun.

      Of course, any pictures made should be deleted from the iPhone after attaching them to an email.

    • christianschwalbach says:

      The suggestions below are valid, and as an aside, Tinder is actually an online quick-dating app, not a photo app. Snapchat is indeed a Photo app but a poor choice for your scenario, in my opinion

      • SkyBlu says:

        I would actually argue that snapchat does a good job of keeping your photos inaccessible to you by default; unless you specifically make an effort to do so, the photos you send with the application will not be saved by either the sender or the receiver. If you’re looking to keep the photos away from other people who see your devices, using snapchat and turning off notifications could work.

        None of this means that they aren’t storing every photo sent through their service (they probably are) and selling that information to advertisers (less likely but still possible) so if you’re worried about those photos being accessible to large corporations online then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        • Yaleocon says:

          Sending the actual photos? More legally risky than it is profitable. Selling data about what kinds of photos you send, to whom, at what times, and what things you mention in conversations? Absolutely.

          And anecdotally: a couple family members swear that after installing Snapchat, they got ads which freakily lined up with offline conversations they were having; and that this stopped once they uninstalled it. It’s no sure thing, but I don’t think it’s paranoia.

          • albatross11 says:

            Advertising networks do their best to tie all the information they can find about you together. They’re probably not listening on your microphone and parsing your conversations for keywords to direct ads to you[1]. But they’re collecting and correlating location data, sites you’ve browsed, etc.

            My best guess is that they sometimes give you creepily-apt ads relating to conversations you’ve had in the same way that a mentalist (magician who specializes in “fortune telling” or “mind-reading” illusions) can use a bunch of cues you don’t even notice to give you creepily-apt revelations about your life.

            [1] Not because of ethical constraints; rather because of technical ones–it would be hard and drain your battery.

    • Ketil says:

      I wouldn’t really trust any mobile phone to keep things securely private. Looks from comments below as if Snapchat should ensure only they themselves have access, and the public outcry if they abused this will probably keep them straight. But then there could be bugs or malware in apps or the mobile OS. How many of your installed apps ask for (and are granted) access to the camera, anyway?

      I think you (and everybody else) should just accept the idea that there is a small but nonzero probability the pictures might leak out. Your prepared answer should be that yes, it’s a nude photo, what’s the big deal, and why the f*ck are you nosing around in the private life of others anyway.

  23. idontknow131647093 says:

    There are certain activities that have become associated (mostly in media, but also culture) with being very smart, despite the fact that a really smart person will be worse at the activity than an average person who practices even a little. Examples include chess and playing the piano/violin.

    Can people think of equivalent shorthands for someone who is “dumb” in media/etc that isn’t also an objectively dumb thing to do (like dipping tobacco, which is used a lot)?

    • a reader says:

      Chess skill is really correlated with intelligence:

      “When it comes to expertise, training and practice certainly are a piece of the puzzle,” said Hambrick, MSU professor of psychology. “But this study shows that, for chess at least, intelligence is another piece of the puzzle.”

      For the in-depth study, known as a meta-analysis, the researchers considered nearly 2,300 scholarly articles on chess skill, looking specifically for studies that included a measure of cognitive ability (such as IQ score) and objective chess skill (such as the Elo rating, which ranks players based on game performance). The final sample included 19 studies with about 1,800 total participants. […]

      The study found that intelligence was linked to chess skill for the overall sample, but particularly among young chess players and those at lower levels of skill. This may be because the upper-level players represent a winnowed distribution of cognitive ability — in other words, they all tend to be fairly bright. (By way of comparison, Burgoyne said, consider the world’s best basketball players. Although there is essentially no correlation between height and points scored at that level, that doesn’t mean height isn’t important in basketball.)

      source: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160913124722.htm

      Playing the piano/violin is mostly associated in media/culture with talent and with being refined, cultured, not so much with intelligence.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        Correlation in the chess example is silly. It is definitely true that to be awesome at chess you need to have a high IQ. The example I am talking about is the idea that an unpracticed smart person can beat a practiced normie. This is not true in chess. It is not true in musical instruments. The media pretends it is for both.

        • a reader says:

          What you say about chess is true also for math: a very intelligent person who didn’t study math besides basic arithmetic would do worse at a math test than an average college student who studied math. Does it mean that media/culture is wrong to associate math with being very smart?

          And can you give some examples of media associating playing piano/violin with being very smart? I can’t think of any.

          • albatross11 says:

            Indeed, the whole practical point[1] of studying math is that you don’t have to be Newton to use calculus.

            [1] As opposed to studying it for its inherent coolness.

          • b_jonas says:

            > examples of media associating playing piano/violin with being very smart

            I only know one. Sherlock Holmes plays the violin according Doyle’s stories. The very first book *A Study in Scarlet* says that he can play difficult pieces, and the short novel *The Red-headed League* has a passing note too.

            Update: ah, Plumber already said that below. That’s what I get for not reading further.

        • A1987dM says:

          The media pretends it is for both.

          Examples?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            House.

            Sheldon.

            Any of the supergenius shows.

          • Plumber says:

            Sherlock Holmes playing the violin is my first thought.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Which of these people are supposed to be unpracticed?

            The Media typically gives these types of hobbies to their portrayals of geniuses, but it isn’t particularly common to have them just pick them up and be proficient without some backstory.

          • Eric Rall says:

            House playing the piano and Sherlock Holmes playing the violin is partial double-counting: House, MD is a loose adaptation of the concept and characters of Sherlock Holmes to a modern medical setting. The switch from violin to piano is probably because Hugh Laurie plays the piano in real life.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            There’s a scene in A Beautiful Mind where a college-age John Nash loses his first game of Hex and is upset because he “played perfectly” by his own estimation, concluding that the game is flawed. However, the point is clearly that movie!Nash is arrogant, not that he actually solved the game in his head instantly (he didn’t, or he really would have won, as the real Nash proved).

            ETA: However, all games that admit of “solving” in principle are on a continuum. A smart person probably could win or draw at tic-tac-toe as soon as they learn the rules. A superintelligence could conceivably do the same for chess. Piano playing is a different story, since (1) good performance is subjective; it can’t be solved like a strategy game, and (2) it requires complex physical movements.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sheldon at least is seen *constantly* doing things that refine his brain. He started out smart and also was drawn to science/math/geeky interests so that he’s kept on building up his knowledge. He’s the kind of person you’d expect to be able to solve a Rubik’s cube, not because he’s super-smart, but because he was given one when he was 8 and got obsessed with it for a couple weeks till he could solve it effortlessly.

        • John Schilling says:

          The example I am talking about is the idea that an unpracticed smart person can beat a practiced normie.

          One of the key tricks of being an effective smart person, is understanding that this is never true. Intelligence is useless without relevant knowledge, obtained by experience or study. If you want your intelligence to work for you, you need to make the most of your opportunities to study and learn, you need to make sure you practice in advance the skills you will be tested on, and you need to carefully avoid any challenge where your ignorant smartness will be put up against a “practiced normie”.

          • woah77 says:

            That is why a wise engineer trusts the professionals who actually build the designs. An engineer might be an expert on all kinds of academic and physical properties, but the practical element of building the darn thing may easily elude them. There are good reasons to have experts who might not be as exceptional in brute intelligence, but have niche knowledge that they have the requisite 10000 hours of practice in. I think that many intelligent people underestimate the 10,000 hours of practice and easily forget that what looks trivial on paper isn’t so simple in practice. (I find myself doing that oftentimes, so I could just be extending my failing to others, but I find that unlikely)

          • Plumber says:

            It’s not just practicing a certain specific activity it’s also about practicing certain types of thinking itself, on my crew at work many of my co-workers are hardly literate (judging by our periodic “safety meetings” when we are asked to take turns reading out loud directives), but our senior laborer, who seems like he can barely read, consistently has good ideas on how to use on hand materials to solve problems, more so than most.

            I suspect he would do poorly on an IQ or SAT test but I regard him as one of the most intelligent men I know.

          • woah77 says:

            @Plumber

            That’s what I was trying to get at. Specialist knowledge doesn’t always correlate with what we consider “Raw Intelligence” and an expert on a topic isn’t the same as a “genius”. AFAIK we don’t have a good way to measure “ingenuity” and “practical thinking”. Some time ago I was working with some radio technicians and one of the conversations was the discrepancy between working with PhDs and BS/MS graduates for Computer Science. It seemed that the kind of person who gets a PhD wants to find a novel elegant solution which will take far longer than a practical one a BS/MS might seek out. This difference in approach isn’t quantified by measuring IQ, but it does bear out into how one approaches the problems presented.

          • Aapje says:

            @Plumber

            That is the difference between intelligence and wisdom.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            If you’re sick, you want a medical doctor with a 120 IQ, not a mathematician with a 150 IQ.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            One of my friends told me (this would be information from decades ago) that engineering in school doesn’t teach enough about scale for real world projects. For example, stirring two things together in a beaker is very different from mixing them in a big vat.

            Do colleges do a better job of teaching that sort of thing these days?

          • John Schilling says:

            Do colleges do a better job of teaching that sort of thing these days?

            Not so much on their own – they may cover scale effects in the boring lecture part of the experience, but then they send everyone off to do hands-on experiments that will fit in a university laboratory. But internships are a much bigger deal than they used to be, and that involves sending students off to work for a semester on projects of more realistic scale.

    • Orpheus says:

      Watching NASCAR? Also reality TV.

    • SamChevre says:

      The first one that comes mind as “shorthand for stupid” is one of the Southern accents that isn’t aristocratic.

      I notice this because it took a decade of work and the tools from learning a foreign language for me to not “sound stupid”–and the difference in how people treated me was noticeable. (I grew up in Appalachia–East Tennessee–and still sound like it when talking to family or childhood friends.)

      For an example, here’s someone from very near where I grew up.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Came here to say “Southern accent is shorthand for stupid” but I’ll have to settle for seconding this post.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I”m surprised that the clip is an example of someone who would be considered to sound stupid.

        I do have some prejudices about southern accents, but his accent is pretty mild and he talks at what I’d consider by my middle Atlantic standards to be a reasonable speed. Maybe he even goes a little faster than average.

        I’ll certainly take your word for it about your experience, though.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        I sort of had a mirror experience on this: unlearning that prejudice because I wound up working with some genuinely extraordinarily intelligent (and I mean this in the sense of “top 100 people in a common high prestige occupation nationwide”) people who have heavy southern accents. I grew up in the same region but in a city with far fewer regional natives so wasn’t used to the heavy accent at all and in fact hardly knew anyone with an accent.

        Now I find myself unconsciously aping it!

        • albatross11 says:

          When I go back to Missouri for very long, I notice my accent returning. It’s not a southern accent, exactly, but it probably maps in US culture to “uneducated yokel.”

    • Murphy says:

      To throw another example on the pile: rubix cubes.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RPraFSgHoI

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8Dm3OfSn4w

      OMG! The character is a genius! how do we know? he just SOLVED a rubix cube!

      Solving them isn’t exactly rocket surgery.

      If you can remember a few steps the algorithm isn’t complex and anyone can learn it pretty easily.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Not that it matters, but I’m pretty sure a hand double was handling the cube.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        They had those characters just solve one Rubik’s cube? While not juggling? That signals rank amateurism.

        • albatross11 says:

          OTOH, if you handed someone a Rubik’s cube who had never seen such a thing, and they looked at it for a minute or two and solved it, that would show that they were pretty smart.

          • RavenclawPrefect says:

            I would be willing to bet at 90% odds that no one in the history of the world has gone from not knowing what a Rubik’s cube was to solving one from a scrambled position in under two minutes, at least not without a very generous helping of luck. Figuring out a solution from first principles is doable – if you have a few clever ideas about symmetry and good intuition for where you can move things, you can devise a method which relies on no algorithms – but I can’t imagine any route via which someone might build this up from scratch in so little time.

            Anecdatum: I picked up a Rubik’s cube I had lying around and gave it a try using a solving method which takes no algorithms to memorize, just familiarity with the cube that you might get after playing with it for an hour; it took me 5 tries to get it in 2 minutes and 1 second, even granting all that strategizing in an instant.

          • fion says:

            @RavenclawPrefect

            gave it a try using a solving method which takes no algorithms to memorize

            I’m intrigued. What was the method?

    • christianschwalbach says:

      1. Certain forms of hunting, esp. of small game and the taking of mud fish. Not surprisingly associated with southern states
      2. Watching pro wrestling
      3. The tobacco argument is an interesting one, as while pop culture associates Tobacco use with lower intellect to some extent, it is also marketed to outdoor culture, certain sports practitioners, and is actively used in certain white collar settings, like wall street….

      • cryptoshill says:

        Tobacco use seems to me more of a *philistine* habit than a low-class or low-iq one. Nobody will tell the Wall Streeters they aren’t *smart*, but the portrayal is that they’re smart, but they’re hooligans/ruffians.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        One irony is that dip is a much *smarter* choice than smoking (it is in relative terms much safer) but cigarettes are in certain settings associated with intellectualism.

        • Brad says:

          I think the smoking thing inasmuch as the association still exists must have to do with the huge lag the European professional classes have in not smoking. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was pretty shocked at an industry event when a huge chunk of the Europeans went outside to smoke. It’s just not something I see anymore in the circles I travel.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Shopping at Wal-Mart. There’s nothing dumb about buying goods cheaply, but apparently only dumb people shop at Wal-Mart.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        I do quite enjoy the awkwardness of the “smart” people shopping at places like Whole Foods. Pay a lot more more money for food! That’s the Smart thing to do!

        Effective culture signalling though…

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        My favorite answer so far.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Given how tightly class is tied to education, it’s not really surprising that class markers are used as a stand-in for intellect.

        That said, shopping at Walmart is kind of a mixed bag. The stuff there is definitely cheap and not uniformly low quality, so you can save a lot of money. But you’re spending time interacting with some very unpleasant and occasionally dangerous people in the process. Where I used to live the local Walmart had something like three or four shootings in as many years.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          But there’s also lots of clean Wal-Marts in nice areas where no one gets shot.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I don’t shop at Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart doesn’t offer me anything. Their prices aren’t particularly good compared to sale prices at typical Anchor Grocery Stores or bulk prices (like at Wal-Mart’s bulk stores in Sam’s Club). They also are positioned as a Big Box Stores, which means they are typically located at busier roads and in different strip malls than neighborhood grocery stores, and their parking lots are typically more difficult to navigate. Also, for their non-grocery items, they typically offer an inferior selection of products, so there is no world in which Wal-Mart can substitute for Home Depot or JC Penney or Ashley Home Furniture or Kohl’s or Binny’s.

          If you don’t go there frequently, the stores are difficult to navigate.

          Aesthetically, the stores are not pleasing, but this isn’t the worst thing in the world. I shop at Jewel-Osco and those stores are ugly as sin, too. The people at my Wal-Mart tend to be normal people, with a higher proportion of Mexicans.

          This isn’t a knock just against Wal-Mart either. Target has the same problem and I don’t shop there either.

          • albatross11 says:

            Where I live, the Wal-Mart is insanely crowded, whereas the nearby Target is only unpleasantly crowded, so I pay slightly higher prices and have a less unpleasant time. Self-imposed price discrimination FTW.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Funny that albatross11 should mention Target as slightly higher.

            A few years ago, Rob Cockerham (of cockeyed.com fame) did an experiment where they compiled a typical shopping list and filled it at both Walmart and Target, and compared prices. They found the difference to be pennies either way. Neither store beat the other monotonically.

            This was in Sacramento IIRC. Given their business models, however, I expect both Walmart and Target to be fairly uniform experiences nationwide.

      • Chalid says:

        I’d speculate that shopping at Wal-mart often implies that you’re willing to trade time for a little bit of money, which means your time isn’t valuable.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I think shopping at Wal-Mart is generally a large time saver, they have large isles, lots of signs and typically a lot of registers, and their super stores have everything under one roof meaning a single trip instead of multiple trips.

          • Chalid says:

            Sure, but it takes a heck of a lot more time than ordering online from Amazon. Plus either you spend time driving there (implying low value of time) or you live near one (often implying you live somewhere with lowish land value.)

            But again these are very low-confidence speculations.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Wal-Mart was associated with low economic classes well before ordering from Amazon was a big thing though.

          • Chalid says:

            And there are local stores, and were lots more before Amazon.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And going to Wal-Mart is probably a time saver over going to 4-5 different local stores.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Wearing glasses used to be a shorthand for smart, but I assume it’s shifted by now. Anyone keeping track, and if so, when was the shift?

      • Nornagest says:

        The stereotype’s still live as far as I know, although it might be weaker than it used to be. If it’s breaking down, it’s probably because people at all levels of intelligence use their smartphones a lot, while thirty years ago, only avid readers would have spent a lot of time staring at stuff close to them — myopia’s been linked with close visual work in childhood.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          My immediate guess is that laser eye-surgery means wealthy, intelligent people are often dumping their glasses. However, if this were true, I’d expect to see a lot of optometrists going out of business. Luxottica seems to be gobbling everything and seems to be profitable, so maybe this isn’t the case…

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It’s not just that laser surgery means people are less likely to wear glasses, contact lenses have been around for a while.

          • albatross11 says:

            Laser surgery isn’t all that expensive–you’re not going to do it if you’re poor, but it’s well within reach (and pretty common) for middle-class office worker types.

    • Jiro says:

      Aside from Southern accents as people have already mentioned, having a lower-class name. Anyone named Billy Bob will probably be thought of as stupid.

      Reading comic books used to be another example but that’s pretty much moved to being a geek marker instead. Maybe watching reality TV?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The first Billy Bob I think of is Thornton. Not sure this applies any more.

        In fact, I would associating Billy Bob (or, more apt, Cletus) with “yokel” is primarily based on media portraying characters in that way.

    • Nornagest says:

      Interestingly, dipping tobacco’s a lot safer than smoking tobacco, which doesn’t have the same connotations of lower-class stupidity. It’s not harmless — it’s been linked to a bunch of cancers — but there’s like an order of magnitude’s worth of difference in all-cause mortality. Part of this is because the cancers it’s linked with are the sort that’re disfiguring but tend to get caught early, but I’d be willing to bet that a lot of it is because you’re not constantly inhaling burning crap (just sucking on fermented, heavily smoked plant matter).

      Meanwhile, smoking’s connotations tend to vary a lot with the delivery system. Cigarettes: rough, villainous, or working-class characters; rebellious youth; self-destructive or self-medicating people; Europeans. The older and fatter a character is, the more likely their cigarette’s a class marker. Cloves: goths. Vaporizers: hipsters. Hookah: hipsters, foreigners, or gone-native expats. Pipes: intellectual or wannabe-intellectual types; wise old wizards; Sherlock Holmes. Unless they’re corncob pipes, which are for farmers, hillbillies, and Popeye. Cigarillos: underclass gangsters and Clint Eastwood characters. Cigars: fat-cat capitalists, cops, and hot-shot military officers.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Cigarette holder: upper class intellectual or supervillain (FDR, Jose Ortega y Gasset, the Penguin).

        • Nornagest says:

          That, or Hunter S. Thompson or a pastiche. Look for aviators, a bucket hat, and/or a Hawaiian shirt.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Finally, someone else who views FDR as a super-villain.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I like referring to him as “President-for-life.” Yes, each election he won was legitimate and nonfraudulent, but it was still unhealthy for the Republic for so many hopes to be concentrated in one man. His own ineffectiveness didn’t really help either.

            Three cheers for the excellent and profitable Twenty-Second Amendment!

          • cassander says:

            @Evan Þ

            I can understand the third term even if I don’t agree with it, but the fourth was really inexcusable. Everyone around him knew he was dying, they all mention it in their journals, memoirs, and biographies. But they all wanted to keep their power or were distracted, so they all aided and abetted covering it up. They, just barely, managed to get Wallace off the ticket, but Harry Truman was not a good choice for a replacement, just a popular critic of the war effort.

            President for life is a good monicker for him.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            FDR’s third term came close to disaster for the Republic because he replaced his incumbent VP with Henry Wallace, threatening the Party machinery with not accepting the tradition-defying third run otherwise. Fortunately the VP was changed again to mainstream liberal Harry Truman in mid-July 1944 (or was it only on the convention floor?).
            When running as a third-Party candidate in 1948, Wallace said that if he became President, his cabinet would include Laurence Duggan and Harry Dexter White, both long-serving Soviet agents, at State and Treasury respectively. And if you believe the Marshall Plan was crucial to the containment of Stalin’s empire, he campaigned against that.
            There’s a deep rabbit hole to go down with Wallace, as before he was a Soviet dupe he was a Republican and one-time follower of the White Russian New Age guru Nicholas Roerich.

      • psmith says:

        I have heard that snus is even safer than American dipping tobacco (“dip”), something to do with the pasteurization/curing process, though I don’t know.

        • Well Armed Sheep says:

          Steamed versus smoke cured I think.

          Anyone struggling to quit smoking should seriously and closely research snus as a harm reducing alternative.

    • DragonMilk says:

      A bit of tangent, but I judge people’s intelligence by how well they play board games, and it’s fairly spot on.

      My fiancee confirmed my board-game-based tiering coincided with what co-residents thought of each other within her residency program.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I have a guy friend who beats us at board games, even when playing one for the first time. He also went from never having played D&D on the tabletop (“only Baldur’s Gate”) to running an impressive 3.5 Clericzilla.
        So this checks out.

      • albatross11 says:

        How do you verify your estimate?

        • DragonMilk says:

          In games or co-resident strength?

          We’d alternate people within the program. She’d ask, “what do you think of X”. And I’d say, “honestly, he seems to be a slow learner.” and she’d reply, “yeah, even though he’s done a lot of research, he’s been yelled at by attendings for A”.

          And then, I’d ask, “What about Y?” She’d reply, “below average”, and I’d confirm, “yeah, he struggles at 7 wonders and I think he’s more around mostly to hang out, which is cool. He was nice and took out the recycling after everyone was done.”

          Anecdotal to be sure, but I form most of my judgments anecdotally!