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Open Thread 117.25

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

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727 Responses to Open Thread 117.25

  1. LesHapablap says:

    Did WW2 advance technology in general? That is, without WW2 would we be behind where we are today in technology?

    • Machine Interface says:

      I’m of the school of thinking we would at worst be elsewhere. The resources that were invested in the discoveries made in the wake of WW2 would have been invested elsewhere and we would have had other, different discoveries. Best case scenario, the resources lost in the destruction of Europe would have been at least partly invested into more technological discoveries, and so without WW2 we would actually be (slightly) more advanced.

      Without the massive flight and post-war capture of european talents of course, the US might be locally worse off, even if the world would be globally better off.

    • LesHapablap says:

      A friend of mine once said at a party that WW2 made us (the world) better off and that it wasn’t debatable. I didn’t feel like debating that at a party with him because he’s kind of a knob. I don’t know if he meant just technology or the economy as a whole.

      My first thought was that it is very unlikely for us to be better off because of the massive amount of death and destruction of wealth. However computer technology may have been greatly advanced because of it, and people did work extra hard and save extra hard during those years, so maybe that offsets some of the destruction.

      • spkaca says:

        “computer technology may have been greatly advanced because of it”
        The transistor was already in development before the war. A vast amount of scientific and engineering brainpower was sucked up by military problems during the war – it’s doubtful they would have just been sitting on their hands otherwise. The amount of capital consumed during the war hardly bears thinking about – of course the world would have been better off. Rocketry probably would have developed slower, but that too might have been for the best.

      • Tarpitz says:

        This is moving away from the thrust of the original question, but I think we may have been very fortunate in the timing of the development of nuclear weapons relative to major conflicts. The idea would be that nukes are 100% going to get used at some point, so better that they should be first developed by the side that’s winning anyway, close to the end of a major conflict. With no WW2, it seems to me much more likely that we get a hot war a few years later between the Communist bloc and the West, complete with extensive use of nukes by both sides.

        • Protagoras says:

          Somebody might miscalculate and stumble into war, but I think Soviet leadership of the era was more interested in intimidating people by rattling sabers than actually fighting anyone serious (gobbling up tiny neighbors when an opportunity arrived on a platter is another matter), and if the Western bloc had had much taste for pre-emptive war, they would have gone to war with Hitler sooner.

          • cassander says:

            If they had gone to war with Germany earlier, they’d have lost, and they knew it. They barely managed not to lose as it was, with massive American support.

          • Protagoras says:

            @cassander, The under-confident leadership of France and England might have believed this. But had they decided to fight rather than accept the Munich accords, the heavy Czech fortifications in the Sudetenland would have tied down a lot of German forces for quite a while, and an unfinished and undermanned West Wall would not have been able to hold off the French and English. And if they acted even sooner (say, during the Anschluss), Germany would have been much less prepared, and they could even have gotten help from Mussolini. Certainly if they’d decided to oppose the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Wehrmacht wasn’t yet in any shape to resist at that point. I imagine there might be some time in that range which would have been worse for them than the actual date the war started, but most of the possibilities look significantly better for the allies.

          • And if they acted even sooner (say, during the Anschluss), Germany would have been much less prepared, and they could even have gotten help from Mussolini.

            I don’t think so. As I remember Churchill’s account of the history in the first volume of his history of WWII, the first time Hitler moved to annex Austria, it was Mussolini who stopped him, moving divisions into the Brenner Pass and making it clear that annexation was not acceptable. Hitler backed down.

            Then came the Abyssinian mess, and the allies’ actions there convinced Mussolini that they were not his friends and were not very effective enemies. The result was that the second time Hitler moved to annex Austria Mussolini did not object–and Hitler was very grateful.

    • Lambert says:

      I think a more limited conflict would have produced the same kind of technological arms race without both sides of that arms race blowing up each other’s industrial centres so much. So I think a smaller war would have left us further ahead, even if no war wouldn’t.

    • johan_larson says:

      Strictly speaking, the question is probably unanswerable. What would you compare the run-up to the war, the war itself, and the post-war reconstruction era to?

      The war definitely pushed some areas of technology hard: aircraft, radar, and nuclear technology, to name just a few. I would guess we have retained that advancement, so our aircraft are a bit fancier than they would have been in a world where there was no great mid-century fight. There were other changes too; manpower shortages led to a lot of investments in the mechanization of agriculture during the war. So that’s another area where we’re probably ahead.

      But meanwhile did we lose progress in some areas that had no warlike use? Yes, probably. Perhaps we would have had color TVs or VCRs a bit earlier without the war. Are these losses larger or smaller than the gains made during the war? Unknown.

  2. johan_larson says:

    If you’re in the mood for a intrigue over the holidays, and have access to Netflix, give “Pine Gap” a try. It’s a six-hour miniseries from Australia about a joint US-Australian signals intelligence site at Pine Gap in the Australian Outback. Tensions are rising between the US and China, there are sensitive negotiations in progress between Australia and China, and someone has planted malware in the Pine Gap computer system. The cast is small, but the writing is good. Well worth your time.

  3. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    I should probably hold onto this link until the next OT, but Ozy wrote an interesting post about how EA can try to avoid alienating conservatives.

    Most of the suggestions are good. It’s basically a detailed list of verbal tics / shibboleths that are nearly universal in coastal upper-middle class liberal (“Blue” in Scott’s taxonomy) culture but are very off-putting to people outside of that culture. This point is actually a lot broader than Ozy seems to realize: a lot of people one would normally describe as urban liberals, in particular blacks and Latinos, don’t appreciate reflexive bashing of Christianity and creationism very much either. Not to mention that filling your writing with references to American politics and culture is going to limit your audience internationally.

    The big problem I see is the tension between EA as a mission and as a community. It would be better for the mission of EA to focus on the most broadly agreeable parts of the pitch: ensuring that donations to sick kids do the most good is something that it’s hard for ordinary people to argue against. But the community of EA would be harmed, as that would mean not just dropping a few “Blue” shibboleths but also downplaying the weirder causes like radical life extension, existential risk, wild animal suffering, and sentient subatomic particles. There are a lot of people at the center of the EA community whose effect on the mission of EA is arguably net negative.

    • Deiseach says:

      the weirder causes like radical life extension, existential risk, wild animal suffering, and sentient subatomic particles. There are a lot of people at the center of the EA community whose effect on the mission of EA is arguably net negative

      I think that is a big problem that the community is going to have to look at seriously; never mind worrying about conservatives causing a change in attitudes with their conservative notions, if you’re growing out of “a few places like Oxford and the Bay Area” and you do have ambitions to be global, then you have to bite the bullet about “do we want to seem normal or not to the great mass of people who would indeed think ‘are mesons capable of suffering?’ is nuts? Given that those people have money, time and possibly even inclinations to do good, and if we can entice them our way we can steer them to the best use of all that?”

      My main mild concern (I can’t even say it’s a fear) is that the EA movement seems perfectly happy to confine itself to San Francisco and environs (for the big tech beasts) from reasons of (a) that’s where the loadsamoney earners are (b) that’s where the world-changing World of Tomorrow is being created right now (c) these are Our People who do indeed worry about do insects suffer, can mesons write critically-acclaimed poetry in their spare time, and getting absolutely right the exact correct delicate shade of differentiation between “genderqueer” and “genderfluid”, and also to taking in one another’s washing (all the seminars and conferences where it’s “hey come attend, meet like-minded people, and wangle a job working for one of our organisations where you can coax other like-minded people to come work for one of our organisations!”) and they don’t actually care a straw about the great mass of normies in the rest of the world, because Silicon Valley is where the thought-leaders moving fast, breaking things, and inventing AI to change the entire universe come from.

      “Incestuous” is probably a little unkind, but it does strike me that way as an outsider looking in from far away. (From time to time I do throw an eye over things to see possible places I might donate, but since all I can realistically afford is the Widow’s Mite, the air of ‘unless you’re earning $$$$$$$$ to donate a minimum 10% $$$$ don’t even bother us’ and the general ‘right-on’ness makes me go “I think I’ll stick this in the collection bucket for Trocáire instead”).

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        From time to time I do throw an eye over things to see possible places I might donate, but since all I can realistically afford is the Widow’s Mite, the air of ‘unless you’re earning $$$$$$$$ to donate a minimum 10% $$$$ don’t even bother us’ and the general ‘right-on’ness makes me go “I think I’ll stick this in the collection bucket for Trocáire instead”

        The obsession with attracting or breeding millionaire or billionaire donors definitely shows off one of the common problems of utilitarian thinking: going for something that sounds logical at the first pass but doesn’t hold up when you think about it more deeply.

        Wealth has a power law distribution, so it stands to reason that a minority of wealthy donors could potentially be responsible for an outsized portion of a charity’s total donations. But as political campaigns have repeatedly had to re-learn, millions of small donors can still outspend a handful of big donors through sheer numbers. If you only pitch to “whales,” you’re leaving a lot of money on the table.

    • Erusian says:

      Simple question: Would Effective Altruists start to begin meetings with a prayer to God to aid them? The article mentions forcing people to respect trans people’s pronouns. Why not respect religious people’s beliefs by starting meetings the way most of their organizations do? People who don’t believe in a deity can simply have a moment of silence.

      What I think is the answer: Of course not, because {reasons that really boil down to blue tribe shibboleths}.

      You need to make deeper changes than just a few word changes if you want to attract the red tribe. I’m a fairly middle of the road guy politically (seriously, I have almost the exact demographic profile of a swing voters). So I get invited to a fair number of organizations trying to appeal to people like me. I’d say 9 out of ten, perhaps 99%, have no real interest in changing. They just want my support without having to really change anything. This reads a lot like that, frankly.

      Another test: She mentions that liberals would have to take the lead in criminal justice reform and then links to a site that talks about racial bias in policing. Well, one of the biggest donors in that space is currently the Koch Brothers. Of course, they don’t buy the racial bias bit and focus more on race-neutral measures like exposing corruption, improving jail sentencing, better public defenders… Would she suggest they include people like them? If she demands they accept this Blue Tribe shibboleth to be included, then how much is she really reaching out to them?

      And another: She mentions that conservative doctrines would have to take the lead in some cases. I’d challenge her (or any EA) to name one. Bonus points if it’s something in the Republican party platform opposed by the Democratic one.

      • arlie says:

        Is that still a thing – starting random meetings with prayers – other than in ceremonial involving congress?

        I recall a bit of that from my childhood, and it usually ran to asking deity to help the participants make good decisions and/or be charitable/forgiving/nice to each other – both of which seem pretty harmless to me. It’s just a kind-of-quaint way to express an intention/prime participants.

        OTOH, there’s a reason I don’t donate to religious charities, and it’s not just that I don’t want to be counted by them as one of their faithful. I can’t express that reason clearly but it adds up to mistrust of religiously-motivated priorities.

        So I’m curious how much religion would be needed to keep (various groups of) red tribers happy. In the extreme, EA would be redirected to be entirely about “saving souls”, like some missionary charity – hopefully all can agree that’s excessive. But where’s the boundary?

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I think you’re missing his point.

          He doesn’t actually want EAs to pray before meetings. It would be an absurd power play to demand that everyone present go through a ritual affirmation of his beliefs, regardless of their own, when it has absolutely nothing to do with their ostensible purpose there. His point is that “respecting trans* people’s pronouns” is exactly the same kind of absurd power play.

          EA is, ostensibly, a way of optimizing charitable donations to do the most good in the world. If someone has money that they want to donate more effectively, or has skills which would help in evaluating the effectiveness of charities, what does it matter that they don’t swallow the progressive line on transgenderism? How many fewer bed nets or anthelmintic drugs is the comfort of an ideologically pure space worth?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            “respecting trans* people’s pronouns” is exactly the same kind of absurd power play.

            Now there’s a hot take.

          • SamChevre says:

            His point is that “respecting trans* people’s pronouns” is exactly the same kind of absurd power play.

            I’d disagree with “absurd”, but thank you for this analogy: I will certainly use it at some point.

            This is one thing I come to SSC for: ways of expressing clearly things I think fuzzily.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            In some ways. I saw something where alt-lite e-celeb Lauren Southern went to the driver’s license office in Canada and had her gender changed to male. No one would confuse Southern with a man. Getting a government employee to look right at what is very clearly a woman and say “this is a man” is a power play. “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS” kind of power.

        • Erusian says:

          Is that still a thing – starting random meetings with prayers – other than in ceremonial involving congress?

          Many. Most spaces where the majority of people involved are religious. What you see as an empty ceremony is, for many red tribers, a real and important part of Congress.

          Let me tell you a story. I was attending a convention of a certain industry that, for whatever reason, tends to be dominated by Evangelicals. It has nothing to do with religion. The first time the organizers held the convention, they had a daily prayer hour where an Evangelical preacher gave a service and several talks on squaring Evangelical beliefs with business. It was pointed out this was exclusionary. They were horrified, apologized, and next year invited holy men from basically every major religion (Catholic Priests, Rabbis, Imams) to hold services for anyone who cared to use them. They got a philosophy of ethics professor for the agnostics and atheists. But the idea that someone wouldn’t want to spend an hour a day involved in some spiritual activity simply did not occur to them.

          They were certainly being inclusive. In fact, they kicked someone out for evangelizing in a way that made other people uncomfortable. No one could say they were not being accommodated. One could even say it’s a superior answer than simply having no services since that forces the (religious) majority to go without something they’d prefer. But it’s a rather different answer than your average secular rationalist would give, isn’t it?

          My point is that if you want to accommodate people of different beliefs, you need to actually be willing to listen, compromise, and give them real power. And they will use that power to do things you might not like or make you culturally uncomfortable.

          Of course, you can refuse to accommodate them unless they effectively give up their own beliefs. Just don’t expect red tribers to stick around very long or to get any cosmic tolerance points.

          I can’t express that reason clearly but it adds up to mistrust of religiously-motivated priorities.

          How fair do you think it would be to say they’re people who are not like you? Another tribe? Serious question, not trying to be glib.

          So I’m curious how much religion would be needed to keep (various groups of) red tribers happy. In the extreme, EA would be redirected to be entirely about “saving souls”, like some missionary charity – hopefully all can agree that’s excessive. But where’s the boundary?

          You should probably discuss this with people involved in religious charity work. But I don’t know any missionaries that are entirely about saving souls, at least in the direct sense. They tend to do things like building schools, hospitals, roads, and (yes) churches. A lot of Evangelical Churches have mission organizations that basically find people with skills (like construction) and match them to communities in need and fund them out of church donations. They often talk about God and Jesus as well but that’s not the only thing they do. The model has several advantages, not the least of which is a stay-behind effect. The churches they build are often staffed by locals who live there permanently, so further efforts can be coordinated out of them.

          • arlie says:

            Now this is a very interesting response.

            First of all, I’m glad that I surmised, correctly, that a charity devoted entirely to saving souls would would be seen as excessive by all.

            And second of all, I wasn’t being sarcastic, or attempting a reductio ad absurdum. It was a serious question.

            I’ve encountered a lot of people distressed and angry when the time off we get at this time of year is referred to in any way except by the name of their religious holiday. So people feeling excluded and claiming discrimination for not having their religious sensibilites respected (by at least partial participation) is certainly a thing. It’s also a thing for trans people not being addressed by their personal preferred pronouns, particularly by so-called friends and family – which is where this whole thing started.

            I figure talk is cheap, in both cases. It’s not very expensive for me to remember that acquaintance X likes to be called zie – or for that matter to have the winter holiday period called Kawanzaa. It’s a bit too much work to remember the preferences of people I know so little that I have trouble even remembering their names, but even there I can repeat the terms they use, and/or use something generic and harmless.

            And sitting through a boring and meaningless bit of speechifying that happens to be religious isn’t really worse than any other bit of boring and meaningless speechifying. So what I was actually seeing was a potential for compromise (or at least mutual non-offensiveness), assuming (wrongly, judging by others’ responses) that the original poster was serious in seeing the two as equivalent.

            And if some Hindu acquaintance wishes me a Merry Christmas, presuming that white implies Christian, and I wish them the same in return (presuming they named the holiday they celebrate), well we can both have a laugh about it when we figure it out 😉 No harm done, and a lot better than everyone taking offence about it.

            But unfortunately there’s potential in either case for the cost of making some people welcome to involve either watering down the mission, or repelling other people. I’ve seen that happen many times, often leaving some of the original founders either no longer welcome, or no longer feeling welcome.

            So I’m also in effect trying to figure out the ‘price’ for including/attracting various categories of red tribers, in case it turns out to be a lot more expensive than merely displaying good manners.

          • Aron Wall says:

            There are certainly religious charities that are primarily concerned with proselytization.

            One organization to which I donate money, the Jesus Film, operates by showing translations of a film version of the Gospels to international mass audiences. It makes the, perhaps unbelievable, claim to have facilitated 572 million decisions to follow Christ. (Although of course some of these may be insincere/duplicative etc.) It would certainly be interesting to me as a Christian to have people trained in EA methodologies evaluate the veracity of this claim.

            But that doesn’t mean that I expect this to show up as one of GiveWell’s top recommended charities, any more than stopping rogue AIs. It is reasonable for particular orgnaizations to draw lines regarding what kinds of ideas are mainstream enough for them to consider promoting. Since there are a variety of EA organizations, it seems healthy that different organizations should draw these lines in different places.

  4. eurg says:

    I’d like to propose a super-tiny change to the wordpress theme’s CSS, to ever-so-slightly improve the readability of the comments section: Do not indent the first level of the comments, thereby keeping more horizontal space for content, which helps for small screens, larger zoom levels, and deep threads.

    To do this, in the CSS rule

    .commentlist li.comment {
    line-height: 24px;
    margin: 0 0 12px 0;
    padding: 0 0 0 56px;
    position: relative;
    }

    remove the padding: style, and instead add a completely new rule:


    li.comment ul.children {
    padding-left: 2rem;
    }

  5. proyas says:

    Are there any examples of countries that skipped the “Industrial Era” of economic, political, and cultural development and instead went directly to the Postmodern Era?

    • 10240 says:

      How do you define Postmodern Era?
      As far as the economy goes, India and probably some other countries have gone from the agricultural sector to the service sector being the biggest, without industry in the middle.

    • Yakimi says:

      Saudi Arabia. There was no intermediary stage of industrialization, just the sudden discovery of oil in an economy reliant on agriculture and pilgrims. By skipping the turmoil of industrialization, they managed to achieve material modernity with little in the way of political modernization and secularization. It could be argued that they’ve even achieved “fully automated luxury communism”, although their “automation” of the economy consists of having cheaply imported foreign labor provide everything.

      Maybe the real end of history is a theocratic monarchy presiding over an entire population of idle aristocrats whose socialist comforts are supplied by foreign slaves.

    • Deiseach says:

      Well, there is the famous quote attributed to Clemenceau (though it’s not known if he was indeed the originator):

      America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilisation.

      Also quoted in the form of:

      America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to decadence without the usual interval of civilisation.

      America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between.

  6. arlie says:

    Clueless political question –

    Apparantly some largish quantity of American political jurisdictions have laws requiring those who work for various levels of their government, or people in other categories, to swear not to boycott Israel, or act against Israel’s interests.

    At least, that’s if the following link is to a reliable source, rather than a rather clever spoof:
    https://theintercept.com/2018/12/17/israel-texas-anti-bds-law/

    So which US tribe supports this?! It doesn’t seem to me to fit either set of ideologies – I expect blue tribers to tend to regard Israel – and especially the “settlers” – as a bunch of aggressive imperialists seeking Lebensraum. And I expect red tribers to be agin’ anyone but WASPs, and isolationist besides – though they’d tend to prefer the lighter skinned ethnicity in any conflict, and currently have a particular hate on for Muslims. Some portion of the unabashed racist element (almost always red tribe) explicitly hates/opposes Jews as well as anyone with brown skin, and I’d expect that to be an obstacle to red tribers passing laws like this.

    My guess is that the support is from the red tribe, and the pro-Trump portion of that in particular, given Trump’s expressed attitudes. But I don’t know, and I’m trying to understand the motivation behind such rules. (I won’t say the logic behind them; logic in politics seems to be vanishingly rare :-()

    But I don’t know, and hadn’t noticed this phenomenon before, so I’m asking.

    • DeWitt says:

      So which US tribe supports this?!

      A combination of older voters, who are much more likely to support Israel in general, evangelicals, and lobbyists in general swaying politics properly. It’s not a partisan issue because the outrage mill mostly excludes this.

    • Statismagician says:

      My impression is that Israel is a very weird edge case for American politics, in that multiple non-overlapping chunks of both tribes support anything it might get up to, to varying degrees and for often mutually-exclusive, almost exclusively silly reasons. So, e.g., this kind of law is one of the very few things the 75-year-old Red Tribe alderman deeply concerned about the imminent End Times and Israel’s Biblical role in them and the 25-year-old Blue Tribe alderperson deeply concerned about the lingering crypto-anti-Semitism prevalent in our society can agree on, and is therefore passed quickly so that everybody can say they did something this legislative session.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think it’s more like “who opposes it?” BDS is pretty left-wing fringe. Red Tribe evangelicals are very pro-Israel (on Ted Cruz’s Presidential campaign website he listed 9 key policy proposals and #4 or 5 was “support for Israel”), and so are an awful lot of moderates/Dems who want to signal “not a Nazi.” So when somebody proposes anti-BDS legislation, there’s not a lot of opposition.

      • arlie says:

        I would expect libertarians to generally oppose this kind of requirement, possible even if the country one were forced to promise not to harm (in any way?!) was the US itself.

        • bullseye says:

          Like the alt-right, libertarians are a much smaller group than you’d think from their online presence.

    • Randy M says:

      And I expect red tribers to be agin’ anyone but WASPs, and isolationist besides – though they’d tend to prefer the lighter skinned ethnicity in any conflict, and currently have a particular hate on for Muslims

      You do know the “alt” in alt-right refers to alternative, right? I don’t think it’s accurate to say ‘red tribers’ are actually explicitly racist or anti-semitic by and large.
      Some people really believe the “Israel is our greatest ally” slogan, just as they honestly support the “color blind society” line and, implicit bias or systemic racism perhaps withstanding, genuinely don’t care to oppress minorities.

      • arlie says:

        You do know the “alt” in alt-right refers to alternative, right?

        Oh, I’m willing to concede that not all red tribers are racist. Also that plenty of definitions of “racist” also apply to well known blue tribe policies. I was mostly just going for a KISS summary soundbite 😉

        But as for “alt-right” and similar – I don’t feel qualified to draw and label a diagram of various labels/identities likely to get counted as red tribe. I’m not sure whether the alt-right is a small group of extremists within the extremely blurry “red tribe”, the red tribe wing closest to the missing middle, an overwhelming majority of those called “red tribers”, or something else entirely (e.g. the libertarian subset, or the religious subset, or the internet-literate subset…).

        What “alt-right” looks like from outside is a relatively recent new name for an old grouping, that hasn’t really changed all that much while acquiring that name – and is moreover old enough that it’s about time for a new name to become popular.

        There are probably very real differences – huge ones even, to those involved. But I feel a bit like a Hindu attempting to understand theological differences between Protestant denominations – I just know that very few of them seem to approve of me, *or* understand anything about the things important to me. And [in the analogy] if they try to explain my experience, they generally talk about things like “devil worship”, or worse. [I.e. it looks like clueless strawmen all the way down, even when they think they are being friendly.]

        Doubtless when I talk about them, it’s much the same. I probably don’t even really understand those I *think* I have some insight into.

        Note that FWIW, in the US I side with the blue tribe, but I don’t identify with them. When looking at US politics, I mostly identify as a “foreigner”.

        It’s extremely likely I couldn’t draw a blue tribe diagram either.

        • Plumber says:

          @arlie,
          In looking over Scott Alexander’s list of “Blue Tribe” and “Red Tribe” characteristics most guys I know at work share at least some of the qualities listed, and very have few none of the listed “Red Tribe” characteristics, while the listed characteristics of the “Blue Tribe” seems to strongly correlate with the other moms she knows.

          “Blue Tribe” also seems to correlate with “college graduates who aren’t cops” which also tends to be more women than men, while ‘Red Tribe” seems more “cops and trades” to me, which also tends to be men.

          Other than SSC’ers and maybe young adults I’ve no idea what “Grey Tribe” correlates with.

          • John Schilling says:

            “Grey Tribe” correlates most strongly with what Eric Raymond would describe as “Hacker Culture”, though it would be a mistake to presume that every coder in the Bay Area was a Grey. Maybe pre-1998.

            More generally, college-educated professionals, slanted towards STEM, rationalist and consequentialist to a greater extent than Red or Blue, socially liberal and fiscally conservative, eclectic tastes, hobbies, and spiritual beliefs and no requirement that other Greys share any of these as a condition of cultural membership.

          • Plumber says:

            @John Schilling

            “Grey Tribe” correlates most strongly with….”

            Thanks John Schilling, that explains why it’s hard for me to classify anyone as “Grey”, as my contacts with “STEM” and “coders” is very sparse.
            And the “she” I referenced above is my wife, sorry I wasn’t more clear.

            Basically to me then;

            “Red Tribe” = mostly characteristics of most of my male co-workers (and I don’t remember ever talking politics with any of the women I know at work but I think it likely that the Public Defenders are “Blue Tribe”)

            “Blue Tribe” = mostly characteristics of our women neighbors my wife knows ( and other than the septuagenarian next door, I seldom talk to our neighbors, but I’d guess our other next door neighbors are “Red Tribe” cop and a “Blue Tribe” nurse)

            “Grey Tribe” = some people on the internet who I don’t meet much (if at all) face to face.

    • Aftagley says:

      I think this has mostly flown under the radar so far. The second BDS gets its act together and actually starts mattering these laws will get thrown out by the courts.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I doubt it. There are also laws that say no state government employee can belong to the Communist Party.

        • dragnubbit says:

          Has that law been enforced or challenged in court since the federal CCA was ruled unconstitutional? Or is just another dead state law walking?

        • bullseye says:

          I had a state government job in Georgia 15 or 20 years, ago, and I had to sign something that said I wasn’t part of a group that opposed the U.S. government with violence. From the wording, I think it originally said Communist.

        • Guy in TN says:

          If it does go to the Supreme Court I would bet on it being upheld. If the question is about the regulation of commercial behavior (whether you can participate in the boycott), its not even a speech issue (because actions≠speech) and you’ve got the Commerce Clause.

          Even if its a “speech” question (whether you can advocate for a boycott), the supreme court often gives wide berth for national security issues, e.g. you can’t share classified information, advocate on behalf of official U.S. enemies, and such. It seems like a sufficiently motivated justice should not have a problem here, if the argument is that advocating for a boycott is equivalent to supporting Iran.

          • albatross11 says:

            It sure seems like a straightforward free speech issue to me.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Congress’s ability to regulate whether a business can refuse service to people seems like well-trod ground. I suppose one could make the argument that engaging in business should be treated as protected speech, but if the courts accepted that they would be reversing nearly a century of precedent, and much of existing U.S. law. Possible but unlikely IMO.

          • bullseye says:

            You might be right as a commercial issue. But as a speech issue it’s political speech, which is the main thing “free speech” is meant to protect.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Those were declared unconstitutional last century.

    • Machine Interface says:

      As far as I can tell, in no country other than the US is there more widely bi-partisan support for Israel — not even, it seems, in Israel itself!

      • BBA says:

        Chuck Schumer praising the embassy move made me embarrassed to be a Jewish New Yorker. I think he’s in favor of the anti-BDS laws too.

    • At least, that’s if the following link is to a reliable source

      According to a post on the Volokh Conspiracy, it isn’t. The requirement applies to businesses doing business with the state government, not to individuals, so doesn’t affect the person the story is about.

    • David W says:

      Although the wording reads like it’s intended to limit US citizens’ freedom, its purpose and the way it’s generally enforced is to expand our freedom of action. I think this is almost entirely due to the way it’s enforced, though, so speaking as a libertarian I would prefer an alternate method if one were to be invented.

      For context: many Arab states have laws that state something along the lines of ‘if any part of your company does business with Israel you may not do business in our country’. US corporations don’t want to choose between Israel and the Arabs, we want to sell to both. By having a law that forbids us, we can write our contracts to say they will be adjudicated under US/Texas law, which gets us out from under the Saudi or whoever requirement to stop doing business with Israel. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’d love to do what you ask but as it happens my government has forbidden me’ is a much easier way to negotiate, then taking the bull by the horns and saying ‘You’re not important enough to force me to pick sides’, or even worse, having to actually pick sides.

      It’s very similar to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or the various laws against human trafficking, in that way. ‘Yes, the bribe facilitating payment you’re asking for to approve our construction permit is very small compared to the value of the contract, but if my government ever found out they would put us out of business entirely.’ ‘I understand that slavery is legal here these people voluntarily took on the obligation to work to repay their debt, but if I use their services my government will…’

      They’re all ways, in practice, to improve US corporations’ negotiating positions by forbidding us from doing things we don’t really want to do anyway. Along the lines of how unions don’t object to US labor law and minimum wages, even though it limits their ability to negotiate with management. Or to take another example, analogous to California law making non-compete agreements void.

      But that’s only in practice, as it stands today. If the enforcement style changed, or similar laws were passed to forbid us from doing things we do actually want to do, then we’d be against it. That appears to be what’s happening in the article you link: a law that was intended to apply to multinational corporations is being applied to an individual. It’s hard to tell from the article whether this is really what’s going on, though. It might be that Amawi is only barred from boycotting Israel in her school-supplies purchases, the things that are a part of her job, and she’s exaggerating the law’s applicability to try to get it struck down. Or it might be that the law doesn’t actually apply to individuals (and that the school district is misinterpreting it) but does still apply to corporations. Given the rhetoric in the article, it’s impossible to tell what this law is actually doing.

  7. Aftagley says:

    I originally posted this in the CW-Free thread, but was advised it might work better here:

    Basically – why is it that Corbyn in particular and Labor (and the other minority parties in the UK) in general seem to have been such a non-factor in the last few years of Brexit negotiations? I understand that they’re not in power, but even for a minority party their impact seems to have been shockingly small. Also, and maybe i’m projecting across systems as an ignorant American, but it seems like if a political party like the tories had helmed something as publically disasterous as Brexit over here, they would have lost power by now. Instead, everything I read basically treats this entirely as a torie issue.

    Possible answers from the previous discussion:
    1. The tories have such an uphill climb to get back in power that they can’t focus on anything substantive, only elections.
    2. The prevailing sentiment within Labor is remain, but it’s being undercut by Corbyn’s leadership which is pro-brexit.
    3. Something something Corbyn’s being undercut by his party/doesn’t have the confidence of his party/ is the victim of a media conspiracy.

    • dodrian says:

      I think there are a couple of things at play.

      Firstly, British politics isn’t as adversarial as American politics. The Prime Minister is the leader of the party with the majority in the House, and they appoint the cabinet (from the legislature), set the agenda, and have a lot more control and power over Parliament than the President or Speaker of the House would have over congress. If the Prime Minister is supported by their party, there’s not much the Opposition can do—they can call attention to bits of policy and bills that are unpopular and make a lot of noise in an attempt to peel off support from the majority party, and propose amendments and such, but they don’t have the power to be as disruptive as the minority party would in the US.

      Secondly, as I mentioned last OT, Corbyn comes from the traditional left-wing of the Labour party. He didn’t always support the centerist MPs when they were in the leadership, and consequently they are reluctant to support him now that he’s in leadership. He lost a vote of no-confidence from his MPs, but he was able to retain the leadership because he still has widespread support from members of the wider Labour party across the country (thanks to fion for correcting me about that last OT), it’s kind of like how Trump handily won the primaries among registered Republicans, even though a lot of the party establishment are/were against him (though obviously the specifics are very different). So, Corbyn is limited even on his own side in who will support him.

      That said, this past week Corbyn has had the opportunity to do a lot more than usual. Theresa May is Prime Minister because she’s the leader of the Conservative party, which has the largest number of seats in the House of Commons. She was challenged by her own party members, upset with her Brexit negotiations, and while she won the challenge handily, it shows that her own support is divided. What’s more, the Conservatives are a few seats short of having an absolute majority in the Commons, and are relying on support from Northern Ireland’s ten Democratic Unionist Party members to ensure Theresa May remains Prime Minister. The DUP is also unhappy about May’s Brexit negotiations, and have said that they will not support her any more.

      So, Corbyn has had the opportunity to force a no confidence vote against May in the whole Commons (rather than just an internal one in the Conservative party), which there’s a real possibility of May losing, which could trigger a number of things, and possibly (probably?) a new general election which would offer

      While Corbyn promised he would do this, he instead pushed a weaker motion, which the Conservative party easily knocked down using procedural rules. (I know I said that the British system isn’t as adversarial as the American one, but in terms of how they debate, sometimes it’s a lot more adversarial). Why didn’t he force the vote? This is what people are speculating about.

      Some would say that Corbyn, in favor of Brexit, doesn’t want to have Labour in charge, when they are more in favour of Remain, even if he is leader. Some would say he doesn’t think he could actually win an election if he did force the Conservatives out.

      Personally though, I think he realizes what a mess Brexit is at the moment, and if he were in charge he wouldn’t be able to do any better, but now he and the Labour party would get the blame, rather than the Conservatives. If he manages to hold on to the party leadership until after the whole Brexit (there doesn’t need to be an election until 2022) works out, or falls apart, or whatever, the Conservative party is likely to be fractured and lose significant support in the eyes of the public (they called the original referendum, they have managed the whole process so far). This would give him a much better chance of becoming Prime Minister, with more support in the Commons, and a greater chance of pushing his agenda.

      • Aftagley says:

        the Prime Minister is the leader of the party with the majority in the House, and they appoint the cabinet (from the legislature), set the agenda, and have a lot more control and power over Parliament than the President or Speaker of the House would have over congress.

        Interesting, I’m realizing now I know fairly little about the specifics of their parliamentary system. So there’s nothing like the senate’s filibuster rule there (not specifically that, but something that lets a minority hold-up process)?

        • Lambert says:

          Filibusters are a thing in Westminster.
          But they’re not really a legitimate part of the political process on either side of the pond.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I am unclear how you are defining “legitimate” here. They’re clearly a major and legitimate part of the process in the States.

          • EchoChaos says:

            But bailing on a quorum call is also a legitimate tactic, and has been practiced in the United States successfully several times.

            http://archive.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/116381289.html

            I guess I’m not clear on what legitimate means. When the rules of the game are established, you play according to those rules to best advance your cause, whatever it is.

            If both sides agree that’s unfair, they’ll change the rules. Otherwise, fair play.

          • Lambert says:

            It just feels like more of a bug than a feature.

      • dragnubbit says:

        Would it be fair to say that Corbyn cares more about triggering (and winning) the next round of elections than he does in influencing the outcome of the Brexit process?

        • Lambert says:

          The left seems to see influencing the outcome of Brexit as getting to choose between the gallows and a firing squad.
          I remember Nicola Sturgeon (Here, IIRC) being quite dismissive about the idea of getting to influence the decision between a bad deal and no deal.

      • fion says:

        Just to come in on the “what’s Corbyn playing at” question:

        I’ll state my biases: I like Corbyn a lot, and joined the Labour Party because of him. I voted to Remain, but am critical of the EU. I think if we could somehow cancel Brexit right now that would probably be a good thing. Having Labour in charge of Brexit would definitely be better than having the Tories in charge.

        I don’t think Corbyn did flip-flop on calling a vote of confidence. His initial statement was that he would do so when Theresa May lost the vote on her deal. She cancelled the vote (which I’m now starting to think may have been strategically sensible). This left Corbyn in a bit of limbo. It would be really bad to call the vote of confidence and for May to survive it. Also, he was beaten to it by her own party when they tabled their leadership vote of confidence. When she survived this vote, Corbyn was still in limbo. His criterion for calling the Big One still hadn’t been met, and the DUP were saying they supported the government.

        Basically I think I disagree with you that there was “a real possibility” of the government losing a full confidence vote. I think if the government loses a vote that is central to its continued governing (such as May’s “deal” vote) then it’s likely that backbenchers would lose confidence in it, but otherwise I think not. Jacob Reese-Mogg et al don’t like May, but they dislike Labour more.

        Even Corbyn’s watered-down proposal for a confidence vote in May as PM doesn’t look like it would have passed, when the DUP and Jacob Reese-Mogg came out and said they’d support the PM (despite Mogg just having tried to depose her less than a week before). For what it’s worth, I think it was a mistake for Corbyn to table the watered-down vote. I think he should probably have held off.

        I have to say, I find your last paragraph tempting. I kind of hope that’s the game he’s playing, but I don’t think I believe it…

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      No upside to getting involved. Corbyn is confident Brexit will be a clusterfuck, because he knows the Tory party will make sure of it.

      He could expend enormous effort trying to stop it, but a lot of Labor voters are brexiters, and would view such an effort poorly, and in any case, he would fail, because he does not have the votes, currently.

      He could also try to work to make Brexit work better, by, for example, making sure enough people are hired to actually staff customs, and other such technicalities. He would probably get enough Tories voting with him to make that somewhat workable, but.. the Remain voters in the labor party would be unhappy., and in any case, if he manages to make Brexit more of a success, the Tories, being the party in power, would get the credit.

      So he sits on his bench, occasionally points out that the Tories are a bunch of incompetents, and waits for the the manure to hit the fan. When it does, he wants to be sure that all of the blame, every iota of it sticks to the Tories, not to labor. So he wants not a single shadow of a fingerprint of labors work anywhere near brexit.

      “You have the majority. You govern, and come election day, the voters will judge you on your deeds”.

      • fion says:

        Do you think it’s working? I get the impression Labour is getting hit by as much shit as the Tories, despite doing much less. Much of this shit is accusations of sitting on the fence.

        Also, could you say what you mean when you say Corbyn wouldn’t have the votes to try to stop Brexit? Whose votes? The public? Parliament? He’d certainly have the Parliamentary Labour Party’s support (for once) and he’d continue to have the support of the Labour Party membership. He’d probably also become the leader of an informal anti-Brexit coalition including the SNP and Lib Dems. It would become tempting for pro-EU Tory rebels such as Anna Soubry to give him partial support. In short, a large majority of parliament is pro-EU. The public is split pretty 50-50. Is it public votes you’re saying he doesn’t have?

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Primarily parliament. He has a fairly solid grasp of labor currently but not one strong enough to cancel brexit by parliamentary fiat, nor does he have enough votes to be sure of a no-confidence motion passing. Its possible he might be able to swing enough Tory defectors to have another referendum, but he couldn’t count on that canceling brexit either, so..

          As for whether it is working? Not yet, because Brexit has not happened yet, and thus there is nothing to really blame anyone for, just a bunch of general anxiety.

          If he is correct that Brexit will be a national disaster, then yes, it likely will. The opposition is the opposition, you do not hold it to account for government policies they did not sign off on, that would be insane, so the likely consequence is that the Tory party gets sent on a loong, long trek into the outer darkness of nobody voting for them for twenty years, and Labor retroactively always having been unified in opposing Brexit.

    • Salem says:

      Basically – why is it that Corbyn in particular and Labor (and the other minority parties in the UK) in general seem to have been such a non-factor in the last few years of Brexit negotiations? I understand that they’re not in power, but even for a minority party their impact seems to have been shockingly small.

      As dodrian says, their impact is if anything higher than you would normally expect it to be. Normally the opposition has zero impact on government policy, except indirectly (by persuading the public to be upset about something). That’s why they’re the opposition.

      it seems like if a political party like the tories had helmed something as publically disasterous as Brexit over here, they would have lost power by now.

      Maybe, but you seem to be forgetting several things:
      (1) The public voted for Brexit.
      (2) Your word “helm” seems deliberately ambiguous. The Conservatives didn’t campaign for Brexit.
      (3) The Conservatives did lose their majority in the 2017 election.
      (4) Brexit hasn’t been disastrous yet. It hasn’t even happened yet!

      • Aftagley says:

        1. Yes, but a very slim majority based in some part on information that’s been shown to have been lies. From what I’ve seen, it’s not inconceivable now to assess that a minority of the public still support Brexit.

        2. I didn’t mean any ambiguity, but let me clarify – the Conservatives have been in charge, or helmed, the planning and negotiations leading up to Brexit and, by all accounts, haven’t done a good job. Seemingly constant negative press about their efforts seem like they should have inspired some kind of action.

        3. They lost the majority, but seemingly no power. They’re still calling the shots (albeit while having to keep their allies happy).

        4. See 2, it hasn’t happened yet, but the run up has been pretty disastrous. If someone running at a cliff and giving no indication they plan on stopping, I’m not being disingenuous by calling their morning jog disastrous.

        • Salem says:

          Trying to be as gentle as possible, but I think you need to try and educate yourself more about Brexit. In particular, this:

          I didn’t mean any ambiguity, but let me clarify – the Conservatives have been in charge, or helmed, the planning and negotiations leading up to Brexit and, by all accounts, haven’t done a good job.

          is ridiculous.

          The issue is not with the technical handling of the Brexit planning and negotiations. The issue is that no-one can agree what we as a country should be asking for, and it’s not possible to get any deal at all that would please both Parliament and the EU.

          As Hugo Rifkind so memorably said, Theresa May has been asked to build a submarine out of cheese. And actually, it’s not a bad attempt at all, for a submarine made of cheese. Obviously it’s an unseaworthy disaster that would get us all killed, but that’s because making a submarine out of cheese is impossible, not because she has somehow done a bad job with the dairy.

          • fion says:

            You make a good argument for the position that the Tories are not to be blamed for the technical handling of Brexit, but I don’t think it’s at all fair to tell Aftagley that they need to educate themself more on Brexit or that their statement that you quoted is ridiculous. If we just change “all accounts” to “most accounts” then their statement is factually correct, even if those accounts are not.

        • and, by all accounts, haven’t done a good job.

          The job involves a deal with the EU, and that depends on the EU. How can you tell whether problems are due to the Tories doing a bad job or to the EU wanting to make the outcome of Brexit look as bad as possible, in the hope of either reversing it or at least discouraging imitators?

          • spkaca says:

            “How can you tell whether problems are due to the Tories doing a bad job or to the EU wanting to make the outcome of Brexit look as bad as possible”
            It is true that the Prime Minister was in a inherently difficult position for the reason you set out (i.e. the EU – as opposed to its member states – was determined to make Brexit look bad), but she has made it worse by her misjudgements (she’s also been taking some poor advice). Her two big misjudgements have been a) calling the 2017 election and b) focussing in the Withdrawal Agreement on ending freedom of movement. Both errors I think came from the same source: she was & possibly still is at some level a Remainer so she misunderstands how the country feels. Her advisors are the same. She called the 2017 election because she believed that the country was extremely anxious about Brexit and needed reassurance (also she hoped to increase her majority) so she campaigned on a vacuous platform of endlessly repeating ‘strong and stable’. It impressed no-one. In fact the country was not especially anxious about Brexit, but the Westminster village was. People outside the UK may get a false impression of this from our media, as the media are part of the Westminster village.
            The second error – making a top priority out of ending freedom of movement, and being willing to sacrifice almost anything else to get it – again stemmed from a misunderstanding of Brexit. Leave voters (such as myself) voted to leave the EU because we believe it is a bad arrangement that undermines British sovereignty. That is what the opinion polls have consistently said, and it’s why I voted leave. Remainers (or most of them) don’t apparently want to hear that message. Whenever we Leavers say ‘we want to leave the EU and restore British sovereignty’, Remainers apparently hear ‘we want to leave the EU because we don’t like foreigners’. No matter how many times this is explained, Remainers refuse to hear it, and there is a minor cottage industry of Remain pundits finding new ways to say ‘Brexit=xenophobia’. Personally I would have been perfectly happy to keep freedom of movement; I would be perfectly happy with ‘soft Brexit’, in fact I would prefer the softest Brexit possible – but by Brexit I mean actually restoring British sovereignty. The Withdrawal Agreement doesn’t do that.
            So in summary, a good job (i.e. smoothly achieving a deal that pleased everyone) was probably impossible anyway, but the PM has made it worse. She would have done better to let some actual Leave supporters (e.g. David Davis) lead the negotiations, but didn’t, perhaps because she worries they are after her job, and/ or because she doesn’t actually want Brexit.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I would call the 2017 election a good decision badly executed rather than a misjudgement.

            Early polls showed a crushing win for the Tories, Labour was divided and a good campaign could’ve resulted in a Conservative Party that could make whatever decisions it wanted about Brexit. Instead, of course, she campaigned awfully, Corbyn managed to bring his party together startlingly well and it was a disaster.

    • fion says:

      Two things:

      I think you’re being a little uncharitable to the argument that Corbyn gets more than his share of abuse from the media. (For the record, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy.) Just look at this “stupid woman” thing. The government is doing a poor job of making Brexit happen, Theresa May had a confidence vote aimed at her by her MPs, Brexit secretaries (and others) have been resigning regularly since this started, May is playing fast and loose with parliament by cancelling votes that she’s going to lose…
      and yet we had a day of wall-to-wall news coverage of “Corbyn calls May a stupid woman” for a comment he made that nobody heard in response to May and the rest of the Tories literally acting like children in a pantomime. It sometimes feels like everybody he encounters is doing terribly and mostly getting away with it but if he slips from the path of virtue for a second he gets the full weight of the newspapers down on him.

      That’s the most recent example, but it’s hardly unique. Large numbers of influential people in the media really will take any excuse to hammer him, and they don’t do it to hardly anybody else.

      Anyway, I apologise for getting a little heated there. On to my second thing:
      Is your name a reference to the Robert Burns poem? 🙂

  8. johan_larson says:

    Have crashworthiness standards or something like that changed recently? I’ve been looking at new cars, and they seem sort of tanklike. The line between metal and glass is relatively high, creating massive-looking doors and narrow windows.

    Compare, for instance this 1995 Honda Civic
    http://www.vmrcanada.com/used-car-reviews/Honda-Civic/1992-95-Honda-Civic.jpg
    to this 2019 Honda Civic
    https://blogmedia.dealerfire.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/116/2018/10/2019-Honda-Civic_A_o-e1539209183553.jpg
    The first one has a lot of window. The second one has a lot of side-panel.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Some of it is safety standards (in particular rollover protection and side airbags, both of which require much thicker pillars) but some of it is marketing and the idea that high beltlines and gun-slit windows make people feel safer.

      The other big change recently is pedestrian safety standards requiring more space between hood and engine, which means the hood has to either be higher or have expensive one-use devices to get around it.

    • Well... says:

      I’m not an expert in this and am really just guessing, but I think it’s a combination of…

      – The stuff AlphaGamma said.
      – Modern automotive styling is to make cars look angry and aggressive. That means window lines that slope upward toward the rear, on top of a sort of “squinting” look to the front.
      – Glass is heavy, so having a higher ratio of body-to-glass means better fuel economy given the same basic body style, and fuel economy is sought by manufacturers both for regulatory reasons and because it’s become something more car-buyers have come to care about.

  9. arlie says:

    Can anyone explain why the following keeps happening to me? Looks like a ‘feature’ that’s becoming a bug.

    1) Find an interesting thread too deep in one of these posts, with no ‘reply’ button
    2) Attempt to respond to the post directly above the interesting part, with @ to indicate who I’m really replying to
    3) Have the post appear in the wrong place – a layer or two too high in the hierarchy
    4) copy the contents (into textedit or wherever) and then delete the post
    5) try again to post in the right place, and have the post disappear when I hit “Post comment”
    6) find everything I post on that blog post disappears, at least for the next several hours.

    I suspect I’m running afoul of automated ‘spam’ detection/prevention, likely one of the following:

    1) posted substantially the same thing twice; must be spamming. (Never mind that I deleted the first one.)
    2) posted “too fast” given the length of the comment – must be “spamming”
    3) posted too often in a short period – must be spamming.

    At any rate, this is maddening, and the lack of any error message makes it even more annoying.

  10. Hoopyfreud says:

    Welp. Mattis is gone.

    While I don’t think this portends “lul Trump’s gonna nuke someone,” it speaks to me of potentially Bad Things – if not now then later, on a stage where NATO actually matters. I’m not educated enough on these matters to say exactly what I’m afraid of, and I’m usually the first to say “fuck Chesterton,” but this and the gutting of the State Department do scare me. Reasonable fear or not?

    • A good heuristic is that anything people fear about Trump, it’s overblown.

    • cassander says:

      The state department hasn’t been gutted. people reporting that it has misunderstand how the department works. State has an up or out promotion system with, at the higher levels, a lot more people than slots. This means that it has unusually high turnover for a government agency. People who don’t know or don’t care how the department works have spun this up into some nonsense about how “trump is purging the department” or “state is being gutted”. It’s not true. You can see their own headcount figures here:

      https://www.state.gov/m/dghr/workforce/

      They’re down slightly at the very highest level positions, probably because the trump administration is behind on appointments overall. That’s not good practice, but it’s also not a disaster. it just means that some senior people are being forced to serve as chiefs of mission, not ambassadors, and acting chiefs instead of chiefs.

      As for Mattis leaving, I’m second to none in my respect for him, but I am quite happy about us getting out of syria, and if that’s the hill Mattis decided to die on, well, that’s unfortunate. I have a hard time imagining that he much liked the job anyway.

      • albatross11 says:

        I would like to believe our pullout from Syria was the result of careful thought about what role we should play in the region, our track record, the desire not to have an endless occupation, etc. But I actually suspect it was the result of a spur of the moment decision from Trump. That may still be the right decision–I think we’re way, way too enthusiastic about having soldiers wandering around in foreign countries–but if so, I suspect it’s right by accident, rather than because the decisionmakers are carefully thinking things through.

        • Trump’s been criticizing our involvement in Syria for years. This shouldn’t really be that surprising.

          • chrisminor0008 says:

            I guess you’re right. But is that a reasoned position on the merits of involvement or a reflexive hatred of everything of everything Obama did? I reflexively assumed it was the latter.

          • cassander says:

            @chrisminor0008

            I’m curious why you’d assume that. I’ve never gotten the impression that trump cared much about Obama one way or the the other.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          What Wrong Species said. He tried to pull out six months ago and backtracked at Mattis’ urging. If nothing has changed in those six months (and I don’t think it has), great, bring our boys home.

      • Aftagley says:

        Your link just went to a splash page, but I assume you’re talking about this document.

        I don’t think that backs up your assertion that it’s OPS normal, minus some political appointments. Every position is down (minus local staff) at least 5%, and when you get to senior positions, likely those we’ll be most impacted by if we lose, those jumps go to around 20-30%. This doesn’t seem to be explainable by an up-or-out mentality.

        Moving past the raw numbers to analysis, we keep getting articles like this from foreign policy (who I trust on this topic) talking about how the State department continues to be understaffed.

        • aristides says:

          I work government HR, so I’ll let you know that 5% vacancies is a perfect example of Situation Normal All Fucked Up. The government always has enough positions in their org chart to function perfectly at 5% and ok at 10%. 20-30% is more worrying, but manageable if the actings are good.

        • cassander says:

          So for at least 20 years, pretty much everyone in the FP community has agreed that the foreign service is understaffed and that we should fix that, but no one ever has. It’s not a new problem, and frankly the issues at the state department go well beyond staffing. To quote a clinton administration report,

          The Department of State, in particular, is a crippled institution, starved for resources by Congress because of its inadequacies, and thereby weakened further. The Department suffers in particular from an ineffective organizational structure in which regional and functional policies do not serve integrated goals, and in which sound management, accountability, and leadership are lacking.

          Some of the harshest language I’ve ever seen in a government document, and it was written before the war on terror.

          As for a 5% decline, I don’t see that at all. From 2016 to 17, you have 113 fewer FSOs, about 1%, and 6 extra FSSs. The State Department is extremely unusual in that “political” positions such as the the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries are usually filled by FSOs. Counting everyone, the department is down 1/2 of 1%. Now, the 2018 figures will probably show a continued drop, but we’re still not talking about anything like mass exodus or major change.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think it’s impossible to not like James Mattis. But I voted for Trump because I wanted us to bomb the shit out of ISIS and then leave. The shit has been bombed out of ISIS. They simply no longer exist. We have had no ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks for over two years now. There is no other national interest in Syria worth one drop of American blood or one dollar of American treasure. Mission accomplished and it’s time to go home. And he’s bringing 7,000 home from Afghanistan, too! So I’m very proud of Trump for doing the right thing, keeping his promises, even if it means letting Mattis go and not being intimidated by the histrionics from the media and the War Party.

      Between the pullout from Syria and the looming shutdown over the border wall funding, this is shaping up to be a very Merry (Political) Christmas indeed.

      • Aftagley says:

        I get Syria, but no matter what perspective you’re coming from, how is a shutdown something to be happy about? Do you actually think the Dems will cave and give him 5 billion, or are you just happy in principle about our system grinding to a halt?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I’m hoping they cave and give him the $5B. And I’m glad to see him fighting for it.

          • Statismagician says:

            Is that because you think this would really be a good use of $5 billion, or just for the symbolism? Some third thing?

          • It’s funny how people how people act like the wall is this expensive boondoggle when its total cost is a drop in the bucket compared to our average annual spending. The fact that Democrats are freaking out over $5 billion when we spend trillions a year shows how the cost has nothing to do with it.

          • Statismagician says:

            @Wrong Species

            I’m perfectly aware that it’s a small amount of money relative to the Federal budget, I just refuse to accept that as a justification for casually writing off what is still a gigantic amount of cash in absolute terms without proper justification and accountability. I feel exactly the same way about various chunks of Federal welfare spending, for the record.

            On a tangentially-related note, the $5 billion figure was almost certainly rectally extracted and represents a huge underestimate of what the actual cost would be.

          • Brad says:

            Why doesn’t he just get Mexico to pay for it? Why are his fans not reminding him of that promise?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            We’d need Congress to act to tax remittances. Good luck with that.

            I just want the wall built. If Mexico doesn’t pay for it, you have my permission to gloat.

            ETA: Yes, everyone knows the total cost of the wall is more than $5B. But it’ll take many years to build. This just gets it started.

          • Statismagician says:

            It’s non-obvious to me that doing this will accomplish anything of particular use. My understanding is that the areas that get a lot of traffic are already walled/fenced off, and that the rest of the border turned out to be more efficiently controlled with increased patrols/surveillance when the Bush administration looked at the problem in the mid-2000s. I’d welcome actual data, of course.

          • albatross11 says:

            Hang on, we need that $5 billion for the Endless Hookers and Blow for Albatross11 Act of 2019! Just 5 billion, a drop in the bucket, nobody should object, right?

          • Why do people assume that the wall would have no effect on illegal immigration?

          • albatross11 says:

            I assume “building the wall” is a 100% PR issue. Trump wants to say he’s built the wall when he runs for re-election, as demonstration that he was able to get what he wanted. Democrats don’t want him to manage that, because they don’t want him to be able to campaign on having built the wall.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why do people assume that the wall would have no effect on illegal immigration?

            We’ve discussed this here before. The proposed wall can be trivially defeated by an ordinary ladder of the sort readily available at your local Home Depot. There is value in having a combination of a wall and a border patrol force. But the experience of basically everyone else who has ever tried to do this, including the folks responsible for the actual Berlin Wall, is that the optimal “wall” is an eight- to fifteen-foot fence like we’ve already got, and a much larger border patrol force than anyone is proposing to hire. It doesn’t matter how tall the wall is if you don’t have the men to patrol it – Jon Snow could have told you that much – and if you do have the men a fence is enough.

            Also, half the illegal immigrants who enter this country, do so openly with legal visas and then overstay, which a wall will do absolutely nothing to stop.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Complaining about $5 billion in federal spending is absolutely special pleading, and the real reason that a “fence” is okay and a “wall” is not has everything to do with denying Trump a victory for his base, and nothing to do with its effectiveness or lack thereof.

            I will make one point on the capability of defeating walls, which is that to a close approximation 99% of people who say “a thirty foot wall will just mean more 31 foot ladders” have never been on a 31 foot ladder, which is not a trivially easy task for a fit young man, and would certainly stop children from crossing.

          • I’m hoping they cave and give him the $5B.

            Why would they do that? Isn’t it reasonably clear that, under current circumstances, a shutdown that can plausibly be blamed on Trump will help the Democrats?

          • Chalid says:

            Of course it’s not about the money. I wouldn’t want the wall even if it was free. Remember how Trump supporters on SSC spent a lot of time talking about how stuff like this was a way of extending a giant middle finger towards those who support the current system?

            Is it any surprise that people object to building a giant middle finger pointed at them?

            Even “middle finger” arguments aside, it’s absolutely antithetical to what I want American values to be. If the wall actually managed to serve a policy purpose, I might change my mind, but since it’s basically all symbolism, I want the symbol of our border to be the Statue of Liberty, not a giant pointless wall.

          • dorrk says:

            My batshit crazy idea is that The Wall is atypically small-thinking from Trump, and he should have instead pitched the idea of a canal from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. It would serve the same purpose as a wall but with multiple additional uses, primarily as a new waterway for the transport of goods, but also potential for new recreation areas including high and low end resorts. While there are likely lots of practical obstacles, treat it like a giant bi-national public works project and get Mexican companies to work on the Mexican side of the canal acting as a magnet for laborers who would otherwise try to find work in the U.S. This would kill the “eyesore” complaint and pay for itself down the line with the economic benefits of a new shipping lane. Anyone who owns land in the path of the canal gets compensated at 5% over market price plus a rest-of-life tax amnesty. I’m sure it’s stupid for a lot of reasons, but we went to the moon and need a new national engineering problem to tackle.

          • Putting aside the fact that there are plenty of ways to add anti-ladder features to a wall besides just making it higher, I’m still flabbergasted by the idea that the wall will absolutely have no effect on people crossing the border illegally. Even if it could be defeated by a ladder, at the very least it would deter some mothers from taking their children on it.

            As far as the idea that we already have border fencing over the low hanging fruit areas, a lot of our “border security” is just metal poles that do nothing more than stop cars from running through. Just replacing those with a wall would do a lot for our border security.

            Looking at some of the proposals, I find it extremely difficult to believe that not a single person would be deterred from crossing the border.

          • DeWitt says:

            Is ‘there will be a person or two, somewhere, who will be stopped’ really the hill you want to die on?

          • Lambert says:

            @dorrk good luck getting a canal all 1100 metres up to El Paso.
            And if folks fleeing Syria are crossing the med on inflatable rafts, I’m sure people can handle a canal.

          • johan_larson says:

            I will make one point on the capability of defeating walls, which is that to a close approximation 99% of people who say “a thirty foot wall will just mean more 31 foot ladders” have never been on a 31 foot ladder, which is not a trivially easy task for a fit young man, and would certainly stop children from crossing.

            It seems to me that there is some unnecessarily excluded middle in this discussion. No one is saying a $5 billion wall would fix the problem all by it self. You’d still need surveillance and enforcement. But on the other hand no one is saying a $5 billion wall is useless. If the wall is constructed and deployed at all intelligently, it should reduce the amount of manpower you need. The real question is whether $5 billion worth of wall is the efficient way to spend the money if the goal is reducing illegal immigration. And that’s a harder question.

          • @DeWitt

            There are plenty of people, including in this thread, who are saying that the wall will have no effect. That is obviously stupid but it is somehow the thing “respectable people” believe. I think it would be much more effective than that, especially if you look at the thirty foot proposal. And yes, the more border patrol there is the more effective it is but the great thing about a wall is you can use less personnel than you otherwise would need to keep people out. I don’t think the wall is a failure if some people manage to get through, which is what the left seems to think.

          • DeWitt says:

            There are plenty of people, including in this thread, who are saying that the wall will have no effect.

            This thread has exactly zero people saying such. None. I think you owe an apology to the people you’re arguing with for implying that they(we?) do.

            what the left seems to think

            You can try politely asking rather than arguing with strawmen the way you have been.

          • dorrk says:

            @Lambert says:

            @dorrk good luck getting a canal all 1100 metres up to El Paso.
            And if folks fleeing Syria are crossing the med on inflatable rafts, I’m sure people can handle a canal.

            Those are exactly the kind of challenges for which we need creative solutions!

          • John Schilling says:

            This thread has exactly zero people saying such. None. I think you owe an apology to the people you’re arguing with for implying that they(we?) do.

            To be fair, I am saying that the proposed 30′ wall will have essentially zero effect beyond that of a good 15′ fence.

            If we hold the rest of border security constant, there will be a very small marginal reduction in illegal border-crossing due to the extra 15′ giving the border patrol another thirty seconds or so to arrive, but if wall funding competes for the same pot of money as border patrol funding there will be a marginal increase in border-crossing due to fewer guards.

        • albatross11 says:

          Shutting the government down inconveniences a bunch of people and businesses (if you’re waiting for a passport or a permit or some such thing, you’ll be waiting extra long), wastes a bunch of money on this sort of theater of shutting down and restarting the government, cancelling trips and meetings, etc., and accomplishes absolutely no positive benefit anywhere. It’s only purpose is as a bit of brinksmanship–I threaten to do this destructive-to-everyone thing unless you give me my way. It’s a fundamentally broken bit of the American political system.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Which is why the Democrats shouldn’t be doing it over a request that makes up .1% of the budget.

          • bullseye says:

            As others have noted, the wall will not fulfill its stated purpose. It’s strikingly useless even by pork standards. Its only purpose is to boost Trump’s popularity. It amounts to a $5 billion campaign contribution from the treasury, so no, Congress shouldn’t stand for it.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Not taking a position on the political slap-fight, which I agree is an exercise in pure brinksmanship, but as a federal employee, I want to point out a couple things that usually go under the radar.

            First, the “start” of the brink is pretty reliably buffered from the start of any real effects. Notice that it usually happens now at the end of a Friday. So, right off the bat, you have the entire weekend before almost anything happens. Then on top of that, this one is stupidly buffered. We have both Monday and Tuesday as federal holidays. Almost nothing will change if they can reach a deal by Wednesday. This allows folks to walk to the “edge” of the brink, jump down to the nice safe platform below, take a look around, see how the political messaging is going and whether they can successfully leverage it, and then decide what type of deal to take… all before there are any serious consequences. For those of us who are just suffering through political slap-fights and don’t care, this is a positive thing, letting the media get out all their hyperbolic shenanigans, but not really doing any damage.

            Second, many run-of-the-mill federal employees fully expect that they’ll get back pay after whatever sort of shutdown occurs. I’ve heard folks legitimately hope for a shutdown. If it’s not extended long enough to get in the way of actual paychecks, the headline of “harming federal employees” often cashes out as “bonus holiday”. In fact, short shutdowns (like the last one that lasted one real day of work) are basically the equivalent of the GHWB memorial day or the bonus holiday we’re getting on Christmas eve.

            It likely slows the mission some, but it’s likely a marginal effect, and approximately zero happened as we crossed over midnight last night.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I believe it will fulfill its stated purpose, but more importantly, the idea that a pork project of such a small size is unique in American history is also absurd. This exact bill is filled with pork projects for both Democrats and Republicans, some exceeding the size of the wall.

            Presidents getting their pork projects of such small magnitude is a bad reason to shut down the government.

    • aristides says:

      Depends on who replaces him. Mattis was an amazing general, but there are still many great generals and other options for Trump. Only worry of Trump appoints someone from left field, like the CEO of Lockheed Martin or Blackwater.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        SecDef is usually a civilian, because civilian control over the military is an important principle is US governance. By law, the Secretary of Defense cannot have served as a commissioned officer for seven years before his appointment to the position. Mattis had to get special permission from the Senate, which was only granted because he’s Jim Mattis, Warrior Philosopher who wrote a book on the history of the relationship between citizen and soldier. I doubt the senate will do that for anyone else, so I would expect a civilian replacement for Mattis.

        Erik Prince would be a hilarious choice, though.

  11. Salem says:

    In previous Open Threads, there has been extensive discussion of drone regulation, including the (allegedly excessive) FAA rules regarding permissible drone operation.

    Today, one of the world’s busiest international airports was shut down by a rogue drone operator, with no end in sight to the disruption. What do commenters here think of these developments, and how can they be prevented?

    • Skivverus says:

      First inclination is “shoot/net/hack/etc down the drone in question, pay compensation to its owner later if they had a good reason for it to be there.” Trying to prevent malicious actors from smuggling in a drone in the first place scales poorly, and drones are disposable enough that we can probably swallow the costs on innocent mistakes.
      Obvious caveat: once bullets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department, but the idea is you’d have shot that can bring down drones but not people in the event you miss. Something something Dragon’s containment foam.

      • Nornagest says:

        you’d have shot that can bring down drones but not people in the event you miss.

        Literal shot — spherical balls of metal that you fire out of a shotgun — would probably work pretty well. Rifle bullets have good enough aerodynamics that they can still be dangerous when they come down, but spherical shot and especially birdshot rapidly loses its energy. So as long as you’re firing at high angles you should be fine.

        • johan_larson says:

          I wonder what the effective range is of shotguns firing buckshot at drones. Could they be effective out to 100 m?

          • Nornagest says:

            Buckshot will retain about half its energy at that distance, but you’d probably get too loose a pattern to reliably bring down a drone. Could be wrong, though. 50 yards is the figure you’ll usually hear for maximum effective range, but that’s for animals, not drones.

          • johan_larson says:

            Seems like a decent place to start. It won’t solve the whole problem, but shotguns and shotgun training are cheap, and you already have cops on duty.

          • John Schilling says:

            The effective range of a standard shotgun is almost certainly ineffective for this to be a useful strategy. Even if the drone is being flown below ~50m altitude, it probably isn’t coming within ~50m of the shotgunner. And is fast enough to evade any gunner who tries to chase after it on the ground, and likely malevolent enough to try and lead them onto an active taxiway or the like.

            If you need a kinetic solution, it will have to be something we invent for the purpose.

          • dick says:

            Other drones! Drone dogfights! I can already see the shitty hollywood movie about the misfit teen who gets recruited by the government because he’s the only one with the piloting skills to stop the terrorist drone-flying hotshot.

          • Statismagician says:

            @dick

            Okay, seriously though, there’s some money in this; who does SSC know in Hollywood?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Teen will need a scene where he has a training accident and beans his best friend’s drone, followed by a hearing, then probation, then a montage where he trains back to qualifying status.

            Also, at some point, he will have to charm the program instructor into falling for him. Work a volleyball game in there, too, but it could probably be just Wii Sports or something.

      • bean says:

        First inclination is “shoot/net/hack/etc down the drone in question, pay compensation to its owner later if they had a good reason for it to be there.”

        What good reason? Did they just not know Gatwick was there or something?

        I’m with you in that they should shoot first and ask questions later, but in this case, the questions are more like “Who are we hitting with a hundred thousand-dollar fine and/or sending to jail?”

        As for how to bring them down, I’d think your best option is a drone interceptor. Basically, just collide with the drone, grab it, then deploy a parachute. Attach the bill for the interceptor to the huge fine you sent to the operator.

        • Skivverus says:

          What good reason? Did they just not know Gatwick was there or something?

          No idea, but I’m also not feeling particularly imaginative at the moment; was thinking “in the unlikely event of Hollywood-style shenanigans”. “Honest ignorance” would not be a good enough reason for compensation, but it seems it would count as enough reason to avoid jail the first time around. You’d need something like a deaf operator to get the “ignorance” defense to work though.
          Or, short version: agreed.

          Separate musing… are there fines for people deliberately causing traffic jams?

          • acymetric says:

            I’m not sure deaf gets you out of this one.

          • Skivverus says:

            Neither am I, I’m just reluctant to conclude “there are never good reasons” from “I can’t think of any good reasons”.

          • CatCube says:

            Separate musing… are there fines for people deliberately causing traffic jams?

            I vaguely recall there is a moving violation for disrupting traffic, but a quick search (“obstruction of traffic”) brings up this:

            https://www.trafficviolationlawfirms.com/resources/traffic-tickets/moving-violations/obstructing-traffic-fines-points.htm

            The law states that it is unlawful for the driver or operator of any vehicle to operate or stop a vehicle in such a manner as to block or obstruct any roadway to prevent the free use of any roadway for the purpose of travel by other vehicles, either willfully or when such driver or operator is able to avoid doing so by ordinary care.

          • Skivverus says:

            @CatCube
            Yeah, that’s the sort of thing I was thinking of. Seems like the sort of thing that could be generalized/scaled up to drones in airspace.
            Does seem to have a bit of a loophole at the moment for non-vehicle obstructions, but I’m guessing/hoping those are presently covered by other laws.

      • Salem says:

        Obviously whoever did this (and it was clearly malicious) is in huge trouble if caught. The maximum penalty is only 5 years – hopefully they will find supplemental crimes to charge him with.

        But the whole question is how can it be stopped. They did want to shoot it down, but it was judged too dangerous.

        How would a drone interceptor work? Would you be able to run the airport as normal and then if a drone appeared, immediately intercept? Or would you have to shut down the airport if a risk appeared, wait for the drone to reappear, hope to intercept, and only then all clear? Because that’s a massive difference.

        • AG says:

          May cause a communications arms race, but maybe equip the interceptor to broadcast a short range jamming/disruptor signal so that the drone automatically shuts down?

          • beleester says:

            Jamming the control signal will work on most consumer drones, but if you’re really trying to screw with the airport it wouldn’t be hard to make them autonomous (or at least smart enough to hover in place until the signal comes back). You probably need something to physically knock them out of the air as a backup.

        • The Nybbler says:

          > But the whole question is how can it be stopped. They did want to shoot it down, but it was judged too dangerous.

          That’s what happens when you put safety over everything else. Sure, 120,000 people were inconvenienced, but at least there was no chance anyone was going to get hit by shotgun pellets or a stray bullet. It’s like someone trying to do the torture v. dust speck “experiment” in a less extreme way.

        • bean says:

          How would a drone interceptor work? Would you be able to run the airport as normal and then if a drone appeared, immediately intercept? Or would you have to shut down the airport if a risk appeared, wait for the drone to reappear, hope to intercept, and only then all clear? Because that’s a massive difference.

          High-level sketch of my airport defense scheme, designed to deal with drones with minimal interference to the airport:
          Initial drone detection is done by an active system of some sort. Probably a short-wave radar, because we really want to be able to use this in all weather conditions. It scans the sky, looking for things it thinks are drones. If it sees something it thinks is a drone, it tries to use a secondary sensor (probably IR/visual) to discriminate it. Most likely confuser? Birds. If it still thinks it’s a drone, it alerts some human, who can give a second opinion. If it’s still a drone and needs to be taken out, then measures are taken. They might try directional jamming at first, but if that doesn’t work, then you need to launch an interceptor.

          I’m not 100% sure on the details of the interceptor, but I’m thinking you’re looking at a relatively fast fixed-wing drone. It’s supposed to bring the target drone down in once piece. It might launch some sort of net, or collide with the target and bring them both down. You’d probably fit it with a camera and use it if you need to, say, inspect a possible bird in bad weather. If it turns out to have been launched in error, then just land it and send somebody out to put it back in its silo. So you only possibly expend the interceptor for an actual threat, and one of these will be a lot cheaper than shutting down the airport.

          My thought is that you’d have stations along the airport perimeter, each with a sensor set and a few interceptors. The interceptors should be fast enough that you can deal with a drone by waving off one or two airplanes, and there’s not much risk of a drone getting away.

          • 10240 says:

            Is a drone actually more dangerous to planes than a bird of a similar size?

          • Statismagician says:

            a) Yes, since, drones can be made of stronger materials and used to carry all sorts of nasty devices, and b) birds are extremely dangerous to aircraft, so drones being similarly so wouldn’t really be a safety win for them.

          • bean says:

            @10240
            Quite possibly. Pretty much everything in a bird is softer than a plane, which means it’s going to lose a collision. This is not true for a drone. (Yes, it does matter. Look at the mythbusters chicken cannon revisit.)

          • 10240 says:

            @Statismagician If b) was the only concern, then drones shouldn’t be a serious concern as long as there is much fewer of them (at least by flying time) than similarly sized drones. Or at least it should be possible to estimate their danger from the number of plane crashes caused by birds. That doesn’t hold if a) is true.

          • Statismagician says:

            @10240

            I don’t think you’re conceptualizing the concerns about drones and airplanes sharing airspace correctly. A bird (or flock of birds) is basically a natural hazard, and one which while a serious problem is not actively trying to destroy planes; I assume birds generally try to fly away from the giant very loud alien monstrosity if they have the chance.

            This is also true for the vast hypermajority of drone operators. The problems are that if something weird does happen (and that’s more likely than for unit birds, because people are more likely to be trying to closely observe airplanes than birds are), a drone can do more damage to an engine or a cockpit because metal and electronics > bird for such purposes, and that if somebody is trying to destroy an airplane, for example by strapping a bomb onto their drone and crashing it into the cockpit, there’s no way to tell until it’s very close to going off. Therefore, the policy is ‘absolutely no drones near airports;’ there’s just no reason to introduce completely artificial risks here.

            Also of note; this is really more of a Black Swan type risk and so calculations based on literal White Swans aren’t going to be super useful.

        • CatCube says:

          It’s worth noting that active jammers are illegal in the US. There is something there about “authorized use by the federal government” but the last time I checked (and it has been a while) that meant only people developing jammers for the military to use overseas, and those were only used in military bases. If I remember the items I read at that time correctly, some states and police agencies asked if they could use cellphone jammers to prevent the use of cellphones in prisons and to prevent the use of cellphones in hostage situations and were flatly refused.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            The situation is the same in the UK. For a while, mobile phone jammers were sold openly, but with a disclaimer that they were only for use abroad.

            There was a discussion a few years back of using them in school exam halls to prevent cheating (British education systems rely more on high-stakes exams than US ones do). The government refused to allow it.

          • onyomi says:

            Can we get a special dispensation for college classrooms?

          • Statismagician says:

            This seems… super weird? Is anybody familiar with the relevant laws/precendents? I would not have predicted this given the general trend of US regulations.

          • Brad says:

            I’d guess it’s a consequence of the post New Deal administrative state structure. The FCC operates under an old, fairly broadly worded law. They probably could carve exceptions for intentional emitters if they really wanted to, but the best reading of the law probably is that it doesn’t authorize such carve outs and the kind of people that go work on radio policy at the fcc probably have an instinctual adversion to wideband intentional emitters.

          • CatCube says:

            @Statismagician

            Are you asking why the FCC prohibits jammers, pretty much flatly? Part of it is that the US Government makes a lot of money selling pieces of radio spectrum. They hold the position that nobody can transmit without either an explicit or implicit license from them, so it’d be rather poor customer service for them to license a part of the spectrum to users for a purpose, then also license people to use jammers to prevent that first group from using it for that purpose.

            As Brad also alludes, the FCC sees its mission as allowing communication on the radio spectrum. Jamming is kind of completely against that, so they tend towards not seeing it as legitimate.

            I should note that when I (and the FCC) say “jammer” we’re referring to actively transmitting to interfere with other users. If you want to build a faraday cage around your lecture hall or in your movie theater that will prevent the use of cell phones, you’re totally allowed to do that. What the FCC is saying is that transmitting a signal that intentionally interferes with others is prohibited; since they can regulate all transmission of signals, that’s how they derive the ability to say that.

            Another reason for their dislike is that most jammers are really shitty electronically (they’re cheap pieces of crap), and it’s hard to make a broad-spectrum jammer that won’t jam things outside the intended slice of spectrum. This goes double when other consumer devices are also cheap pieces of crap that might receive outside their intended band–small signals from cell phones might not interfere with the operations of these devices, but jammers flooding the whole cell phone spectrum might. (Though, technically, if your TV has cheap electronics that will be interfered with by signals in an adjacent spectrum, that’s your problem. That’s what that label “must accept all interference from authorized devices” means.)

            @AlphaGamma

            One difference is that it’s illegal to sell jammers in the US, and so far as I know that’s always been the case. Here’s an action from the FCC fining a company $34,000,000 for marketing jammers.

          • CatCube says:

            I found one of the documents I was thinking of when talking about jammer use being forbidden to law enforcement.
            FCC Enforcement Advisory DA 14-1785

            WARNING: Jammer Use is Prohibited

            Prohibition Applies to Use by the Public and State and Local Government Agencies, Including State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies

            We again warn the public that it is illegal to use a cell phone jammer or any other type of device that blocks, jams or interferes with authorized communications. This prohibition extends to every entity that does not hold a federal authorization, including state and local law enforcement agencies.

            Federal law provides no exemption for use of a signal jammer by school systems, police departments, or other state and local authorities. Only federal agencies are eligible to apply for and receive authorization.

            As I said, I think the FCC has only even granted permission to federal agencies for the purposes of developing jammer technology for use outside of the US for military purposes.

            Also if interest for this discussion, since @The Nybbler pointed out that drones use the 2.4GHz band:
            Enforcement Advisory DA 15-113

            WARNING: Wi-Fi Blocking is Prohibited

            Persons or Businesses Causing Intentional Interference to Wi-Fi Hot Spots Are Subject to Enforcement Action

            In the 21st Century, Wi-Fi represents an essential on-ramp to the Internet. Personal Wi-Fi networks, or “hot spots,” are an important way that consumers connect to the Internet. Willful or malicious interference with Wi-Fi hot spots is illegal. Wi-Fi blocking violates Section 333 of the Communications Act, as amended.1 The Enforcement Bureau has seen adisturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots on the commercial establishment’s premises. As a result, the Bureau is protecting consumers by aggressively investigating and acting against such unlawful intentional interference.

      • acymetric says:

        Firing guns at an airport might have problems other than failing to bring down the drone or causing collateral damage which might be enough reason for airports to look for another opt. I imagine it would be fairly disconcerting for anyone not expecting it, which might be enough reason on its own for airports to look for other options.

        I could also imagine some overly convoluted Oceans 11 style plot to use gunfire directed at an unauthorized drone to cover up/distract from less friendly gunfire in some kind of airport plot (although I’m not sure that part is likely enough to be a problem).

      • Incurian says:

        These are pretty great, and the rounds auto-destruct in the air if they don’t hit a target: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phalanx_CIWS#Centurion_C-RAM

        • Lambert says:

          Auto-destruct or no, sounds like a great way to litter a runway with bits of pointy steel.

        • johan_larson says:

          4500 20 mm rounds per minute sounds a bit heavy for 5 kg drones.

        • bean says:

          No. Auto-destruct fuzes are not perfect, particularly ones that have to fit in a 20mm shell. When you’re shooting at incoming mortar shells, this is an acceptable risk. When you’re in the middle of a major city shooting at drones which are not loaded with explosives and being used as cruise missiles, it’s not.

          • Incurian says:

            drones which are not loaded with explosives and being used as cruise missiles

            I wouldn’t expect this to remain the case, especially since they did an excellent job proving the concept this week.

          • bean says:

            First, they really didn’t. What they proved is that whoever runs Gatwick will freak out at the first sight of a drone. I have a feeling that this may not continue to be policy.
            Second, the problem is that you can’t easily tell the difference between a drone flown by an idiot or troll and one flown by a terrorist. Any system which can handle the first is going to be able to handle the second, pretty much by definition. Yes, if terrorist-flown drones become common, C-RAM starts to look pretty appealing. But I kind of doubt that will happen. (Yes, the terrorists could build much faster drones that are essentially primitive cruise missiles, but they’ve been able to do that for years. Also, getting access to explosives is hard.)

      • Salem says:

        They have been talking a lot about lasers at Gatwick – but I have no idea whether that would actually work to shoot down a drone.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Shooting a low-powered laser at a drone isn’t going to do all that much. You could take out the camera at most. A high-powered laser could certainly do damage, but you have to be really careful about your backstop — wouldn’t do to laser a real plane. A maser (microwave laser) would work — if you soften the rotors or overheat the electronics, the drone is coming down — but I don’t think anyone’s made a practical one.

          • bean says:

            The practical implementation of a maser weapon is a directed EMP, which should fry the drone’s electronics. (If you’re melting it, you’ve gone too far.) But that has issues. Even leaving legality aside, you have lots of potential issues with frying legitimate electronics.

    • The Nybbler says:

      All the regulations implemented and proposed so far aren’t going to do a thing about someone deliberately trying to shut down an airport with a drone, which is apparently what’s happening at Gatwick. If you went as far as you could without banning it, demanding every drone have a transponder and GPS with no-go zones programmed in and be subject to remote takeover… it still wouldn’t make any difference, as the technology to make a drone without such features is already out there. Much as people still laser planes coming into Newark from the NJ Turnpike despite the restrictions on lasers similar incidents engendered.

      Of course the FAA will use it to crack down more on recreational users, because their mission is to make the world safe for the airlines, and if shutting down the entire hobby results in one less plane crash in 25 years, they’ve come out way ahead. But incidents like these are an excuse, not a reason.

      • John Schilling says:

        f you went as far as you could without banning it, demanding every drone have a transponder and GPS with no-go zones programmed in and be subject to remote takeover… it still wouldn’t make any difference, as the technology to make a drone without such features is already out there.

        Yeah, and handmade two-meter ham radios are out there and secure crypto is out there, so it “wouldn’t make any difference” if the NSA were to browbeat all the cellphone manufacturers into including an eavesdrop-on-demand feature into their phones.

        It makes a huge difference whether unlocked drones are something a handful of elite nerds can build or something anyone with a credit card an buy from Amazon. And for that matter, it makes a difference whether the nerds can be arrested as soon as they are found with an unlocked drone or whether the police have to wait for them to misuse it. Yes, “the technology is out there”, but almost nobody understands it and almost none of those understand opsec well enough to use it and remain undetected, and that’s 99.9% of the problem solved.

        If you’d prefer a solution that doesn’t involve drones without GPS lockouts and FAA overrides being regulated in approximately the way machine guns are regulated, now’s the time to offer your alternative proposal. If all you’ve got is “there is no solution, leave me alone!”, I’m pretty sure everyone else is going to go with the 99.9% solution.

        • The Nybbler says:

          What you’re saying is true for “idiot flies toy drone near airport”; if you get rid of or neuter all the toys, you can mitigate those. It’s not true for “malicious person flies multiple large drones near airport” which is what this incident is.

          You don’t have to be one of a handful of elite nerds to build something without lockouts, or to defeat them; I believe hacks to defeat the geo lockouts on DJI drones are pretty widespread, and I wouldn’t be surprised if such a hack was used here. Trying to stop such things from being distributed will be about as successful as preventing people from pirating movies. You only need enough knowledge to apply what some elite nerd has figured out, which is something available to a large class of people. It’s a smaller class than can buy something from Amazon, but that doesn’t seem to be what Gatwick is dealing with.

          If you’d prefer a solution that doesn’t involve drones without GPS lockouts and FAA overrides being regulated in approximately the way machine guns are regulated, now’s the time to offer your alternative proposal. If all you’ve got is “there is no solution, leave me alone!”, I’m pretty sure everyone else is going to go with the 99.9% solution.

          I don’t have a seat at the table. Nobody with any authority is asking me anything. And putting a gun to my head and telling me to come up with a solution or you’ll pull the trigger is unlikely to result in anything but a messy wall.

          • CatCube says:

            Nobody with any authority is asking me anything.

            That’s true, but I’d be very curious as to what you’d propose, even if posting here won’t affect any decisionmakers.

            As it happens, I somewhat lean towards your POV that maybe we’re getting a little crazy with how much we’re willing to spend for marginal increases in safety. However, we’re now in a situation where we’ve had one person killed on a US-flagged carrier since 2009. And if you include scheduled airline flights in the US, even with non-US-flagged carriers, you’re still only up to four deaths. Understand that jeopardizing that record so you can fuck around with a teeny camera in the sky is a big ask.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s not much useful I can propose when the weight of the interests of myself and those similarly situated is zero or negative (there are quite a few people who take joy in ruining others fun and sneering at them while doing so, usually something about “overgrown boys and their toys” or “fucking around with a teeny camera in the sky”).

            If the airline safety record has gotten so good that to preserve it, every non-zero risk must be eliminated by any means necessary at any cost to people who don’t matter, go ahead, ban unmanned aircraft entirely (or with the usual exceptions for police, military, and the politically connected, it’s all the same to me). Why should I be allowed a hobby that doesn’t involve committing a few crimes?

          • johan_larson says:

            Do we know how dangerous a toy-level drone is to a modern airliner? Presumably these things are already designed to be resistant to bird strikes, and a toy drone should be somewhere in the same neighborhood of size and weight.

            If aircraft can reliably be landed safely after collisions with drones, that changes things, since we are dealing not with immediate danger to lives but rather danger to property, and the appearance of danger to lives.

          • The Nybbler says:

            A bird can bring down an airliner if it’s very unlucky, so I assume a drone could also. The University of Dayton did a test with a drone and a smaller aircraft wing which wrecked it pretty good; DJI (the drone-maker) has complained the test wasn’t realistic, but it’s probably a decent worst-case.

            The problem is that airliners are so safe that any measurable probability of an issue is significant. It’s basically Pascal’s Mugging in real life. I can’t estimate the probability of a drone downing an airliner with sufficient precision to say it’s not a significant risk. So the regulators will demand a risk of zero. Against a benefit of allowing ordinary people to fly of zero to negative. I know how that plays out.

          • johan_larson says:

            I have to wonder whether this is really the right attitude to approach this issue with, or perhaps that this might be a sign of a broken regulatory relationship. I used to be into flying gliders, and got to talking with some of the pilots who had been around the soaring movement, including some who had been in positions where they needed to deal with the government. And they seemed pretty positive about it. I got the impression of useful dialogue and respectful attention both ways. Both sides seemed to understand that the other had legitimate things they wanted, and compromises were useful and necessary. That’s not at all what I am hearing in these discussions about drones. Why the difference?

          • Nornagest says:

            Why the difference?

            I kinda get the impression that the FAA is willing to play ball with hobbyist communities it feels are consistently serious and responsible, but not with ones it views as abetting the clueless, feckless, or malicious.

          • bean says:

            The problem is that airliners are so safe that any measurable probability of an issue is significant. It’s basically Pascal’s Mugging in real life. I can’t estimate the probability of a drone downing an airliner with sufficient precision to say it’s not a significant risk. So the regulators will demand a risk of zero. Against a benefit of allowing ordinary people to fly of zero to negative. I know how that plays out.

            While you’re not entirely wrong about the level of safety the airline regulators demand (I once told some of our senior engineers that I thought they’d only be happy if we replaced the entire aircraft every 3000 flight hours [a very low amount]) this still strikes me as very much a matter of you being piqued that we’re asking you not to play in the middle of the highway. Airliner crashes are serious things. They get lots of media attention. If you don’t manage to find a way to coexist with them, then drones will be banned, and they’ll deserve it. It has nothing to do with your depressive view of politics or the FAA. People don’t like dead bodies on their TV screens.

            Also, your consistent refusal to try to offer any kind of solution is really, really irritating. Everyone here knows we’re speaking hypothetically, but you continue to cling to some sort of depressive worldview where nobody will listen to you. Even when we ask.

            @Johan

            Pretty much what Nornagest says, and I think we’ve seen an evolution from the first kind to the second in the drone community recently. Back in the old days, you had to be really into flying to fly drones, and that raised the maturity waterline a lot.

            I’ve actually dealt with the FAA professionally, and they seemed pretty reasonable to me. In some ways, a lot less unreasonable than a lot of my company’s engineers. I was once the point man for the implementation of a new process that was intended to make both of our lives easier, and actually presented to the FAA at their office, and they were very helpful. So I think that if there was a serious hobbyist organization that was trying to create a safe way to share the air, they’d play ball. But you get people like Nybbler who seem determined to have their own way, and the FAA sees no reason for compromise.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Both sides seemed to understand that the other had legitimate things they wanted, and compromises were useful and necessary. That’s not at all what I am hearing in these discussions about drones. Why the difference?

            The FAA does not believe that ordinary people flying drones have any legitimate things we want, and sees no need to compromise with us because we have no power anyway. The FAAs first move on recreational drones in recent history was a registration scheme, promulgated as an emergency measure, that they were explicitly statutorily denied the authority to enact. They cowed the self-appointed spokesgroup for the hobby (the Academy for Model Aeronautics, or AMA) into not opposing this by firing a shot across their bow — they expanded the no-model-aircraft zone around Washington D.C. from 15 miles to 30 miles and shut down a bunch of AMA clubs. This didn’t work, because a gentleman named John Taylor sued them anyway, and they lost. Congress then tacked an amendment on the defense authorization bill to re-instate the regulations. Womp-womp.

            When Congress went to do the FAA authorization bill this year, the AMA was explicitly left out of the room during discussions; the only drone interests around were commercial. The AMA had a Senator promising them a bunch of stuff (including giving the AMA a few special perks; I’m not happy with them either), but they and we got nothing, in the final bill.

            The FAA hasn’t published the new regulations based on the new bill yet, but I’m sure thanks to this Gatwick thing that they’re happily adding new restrictions to their work-in-progress.

            If by “gliders” you mean unmanned ones, they’re actually some of the worst hit by the new legislation; it specifies a 400′ ceiling. If you mean manned ones, there’s two effects there. One is that the FAA is willing to deal with pilots. If you’re not a member of that club, and you’re not a passenger, you have no legitimate interests. The other is you’re not seeing the people who the FAA did drive out…number of pilots is way off its highs, and increasing regs is part of that.

            Edit to respond to bean:

            this still strikes me as very much a matter of you being piqued that we’re asking you not to play in the middle of the highway

            Except that the FAA considers “the highway” to be everything above the ground, anywhere.

            Also, your consistent refusal to try to offer any kind of solution is really, really irritating. Everyone here knows we’re speaking hypothetically, but you continue to cling to some sort of depressive worldview where nobody will listen to you. Even when we ask.

            I’ve answered that. There is no solution that will both allow me to fly and satisfy the FAAs safety levels. I cannot come up with a set of regulations that guarantee that no one is going to fly a drone into an aircraft and cause a crash.

            Further edit:

            There is not really a “hobbyist community”. The aforementioned AMA is an umbrella organization that charters local model aircraft clubs. The local clubs tend to be very “clubby”; some are closed to new members, others only if you know someone or with a long initiation period where you pay dues but don’t fly. Many also allow only particular types of model, such as fixed-wing, or sailplanes, or helicopters. This setup goes back to the days when the models were generally large and very noisy and needed a lot of space. There are about 200,000 AMA members.

            When the FAA required registration for model aircraft, they got over 900,000 registrants. That’s quite a bit more than the number of full-scale pilots. And at least 700,000 aren’t members of the AMA. And that’s leaving out the elephant in the room, all the people who never registered even given the requirements. This means that there’s no organization representing most people flying drones. Which is good for the FAA in a way because it means no one to oppose their regulations. But it’s bad for the FAA because it means there’s no one to put pressure on to obey. They can’t go to the AMA and say “Hey, AMA, if you don’t make your members obey our rules, we’re going to shut you down by hook or by crook”, because most of us aren’t members of the AMA. That means they have to enforce their regulations themselves. Which means the only dealing with the FAA someone flying a drone will ever have is a Notice of Civil Penalty. There’s no reason for a person flying a drone recreationally to ever deal with the FAA except when it’s bad.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @The Nybbler

            I have a great deal of sympathy for you here, but you’re wearing it thin. A drone in the flightpath of an airplane is about as dangerous as a tiny bomb on the wing. Airplane passengers demand more safety for the same reason train passengers do: they’re not behind the wheel. And the fact that the drone’s controller risks nothing by buzzing a plane while passengers and pilots risk their lives really can’t be waved away. A $3000 drone isn’t worth 300 dead Americans, and it’s hard to get drone operators to fly as if it is. Especially if the prospect of 300 dead Americans doesn’t faze them.

            Do I think there are better solutions than just not letting you fly? Yes. Does the FAA? Probably. But if you aren’t willing to respect that the FAA is vastly more concerned with making sure drone pilots don’t cause a national tragedy than with your ability to fly, it’s going to look to you like you’re not getting anywhere. If you clash directly with the FAA they will roll right over you because many more people care about getting home for Christmas alive than care about flying drones near airports. And if that means you have to drive an hour or two away from an area of major air traffic, nobody is going to shed a fucking tear.

            Fight for reserved airspace and a sane flight ceiling and I’ll be right behind you. Fight to share airspace with planes and nobody will listen, least of all me.

            Also, I think a “shoot down and charge the owner within 15 miles from an airport” is a decent policy. It’ll get expensive fast enough that operators will hopefully not want to do this again. Gold code beacons with license IDs may also be reasonable, with “shoot down and charge the owner” being the method of enforcement. Enforce flight ceilings the same way you do for rockets, and use the license beacons to verify that flights are at or below licensed levels. You don’t even have to associate licenses with people, just with ceilings – and have some airspace reserved where licenses aren’t required. Rocketry enthusiasts have been doing this for decades. There’s no reason the FAA won’t accommodate you too.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I have a great deal of sympathy for you here

            No, you don’t, considering your proposals are worse than the current FAA ones.

            And if that means you have to drive an hour or two away from an area of major air traffic, nobody is going to shed a fucking tear.

            Yeah. You’re willing to add a four-hour round trip every time I want to fly. And I rarely fly for more than 40 minutes or so at a time; I’ve only got so many batteries and also it’s somewhat tiring; if I fly for too long I’m more likely to crash. This is why there’s no point in me making any sort of proposal; what other people think I ought to be willing to accept is not even in the ball park of what I actually am willing to accept.

            Rocketry enthusiasts have been doing this for decades. There’s no reason the FAA won’t accommodate you too.

            Only the high-powered rocketry people have to deal with that stuff. That’s another exclusive club. And it was ATF who put them out of business for a few years.

            Also, I think a “shoot down and charge the owner within 15 miles from an airport” is a decent policy.

            I’ve posted my field location here before. It’s maybe 7 miles from EWR. My flying hasn’t bothered any airliners, but thanks for demonstrating why there’s no point in my expecting anything reasonable.

          • bean says:

            Except that the FAA considers “the highway” to be everything above the ground, anywhere.

            We’ve been over this. That is not the state of current regulations, but it will be if people like you keep insisting on a nonsensical and frankly dangerous approach. You could be fully in compliance with the rules for less than the cost of one of your drones and a couple of phone calls. Yet you’ve refused to put in even that much effort. I get that you think you’re charisma is negative and that everyone hates you, but insisting that you can’t even be bothered to try to play by the rules sounds dangerously close to putting your right to have fun over the safety of everyone who chooses to fly in an airliner. And that, sir, is an attitude I can only describe as depraved indifference to human life. If it’s common among the drone community, then I’ll absolutely back the FAA in shutting you all down.

            I’ve answered that. There is no solution that will both allow me to fly and satisfy the FAAs safety levels. I cannot come up with a set of regulations that guarantee that no one is going to fly a drone into an aircraft and cause a crash.

            This is only for a very idiosyncratic definition of “allow me to fly”, where you have to do no work at all. The current regs, if followed, will keep you well away from air traffic. You just refuse to follow them as they’re “too onerous”.

            I’ve posted my field location here before. It’s maybe 7 miles from EWR. My flying hasn’t bothered any airliners, but thanks for demonstrating why there’s no point in my expecting anything reasonable.

            Seriously, this is getting really annoying. When you say “the FAA’s regs are too onerous”, people try to come up with what sound to them like reasonable rules, usually without checking what the FAA is actually doing. This often involves rectal extraction of numbers, which may be worse than the existing numbers. This is a reflection of ignorance, not unreasonableness. I know that 15 miles is way too much because airliners try to get as high as they can as fast as possible. But Hoopyfreud is probably not someone who has vast knowledge of aviation, so he made up a number. I basically did the same thing when I first got into this discussion.

          • Another Throw says:

            I don’t really have a dog in this fight either way, but it is worth noting that I have personally witnessed someone flying a drone smack dab in the middle of the approach for an airfield.

            Like, literally right in the approach. I’ve watched planes flying that approach (because war planes, fuck yeah!) and if anyone had been flying that day I am pretty confident they would have died.

            Just saying.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I get that you think you’re charisma is negative and that everyone hates you

            I’ve got everyone in this thread pissed at me, so I think that’s demonstrated quite well.

            If it’s common among the drone community, then I’ll absolutely back the FAA in shutting you all down.

            There isn’t a “drone community”. Outside the clubs (which constitute a minority of flyers), it’s just people flying drones.

            I know and you know that flying my models in the little valley I’ve described in past posts isn’t going to present any threat to an airliner that isn’t already in rather greater danger from terrain, yet you’re perfectly willing to shut me down because you don’t like my attitude. Authorities tend to have the same reaction to me, so any regulatory regime where I have to ask is one where I can’t do. Trying to fake a different attitude doesn’t help; I can’t do one where I neither get their back up nor end up just agreeing that sure, I understand the answer’s no.

          • bean says:

            I know and you know that flying my models in the little valley I’ve described in past posts isn’t going to present any threat to an airliner that isn’t already in rather greater danger from terrain, yet you’re perfectly willing to shut me down because you don’t like my attitude.

            I know that your drone in your valley isn’t a threat to an airliner. You know that, and anyone from the FAA who looks at it will know that. But we don’t have the resources for the FAA to preemptively evaluate every single area where drones could be flow, so you’ll need to do some sort of legwork to convince them to be safe. And I live in Oklahoma, an area notably devoid of little valleys, so there’s a nonzero risk that anywhere I try to fly a drone could become an operating area for helicopters. So any regulatory regime we come up with has to be set up so that I can get out of their way when they come through, and it makes a lot more sense to apply that to you in your valley than to try to set up a second, parallel process for areas which are always going to be safe. And there are people who will do stupid things like try to fly drones in the approach path of an airport. I’d really like to be able to throw the book at them while still allowing cooperating drone pilots to fly, but if you won’t cooperate, I’ll cheer the FAA on while they throw the book at you, too. That’s how laws work. And if few enough people are willing to cooperate, then we just shut the whole thing down, I guess. I don’t want to, but it’s better than losing airliners.

          • albatross11 says:

            There’s an important distinction you need to make here, between accidental and intentional risks. On one hand, you have the risk of an accidental incident with a drone bringing down a plane. Let’s suppose that risk is really low (which it probably is); it could probably be lowered still more by putting in default restrictions on where drones could fly, even if those restrictions were pretty easy to bypass. This addresses the situation where some dumbass buys a drone and wants to take pictures of airplanes taking off, without thinking about any potential risk, and manages to get his drone sucked into an engine during takeoff and cause a plane crash.

            There’s also the question of whether someone trying to take down a plane can use drones for this purpose. In that case, restrictions that can be pretty easily bypassed are probably not as helpful (though moving the attack out of the reach of the terrorist equivalent of script kiddies is worthwhile).

            One important difference here is that you can think about probabilities of accidental things (how likely is it that Mr Dumbass manages to put the drone in just the right place to get sucked into the engine at some critical point in takeoff that maximizes the chances of causing a crash). But intentional attackers will try to figure out what that point is and put their drone there, and will outfit it with a small bomb or a spool of steel wire or something intended to maximize the damage to the engine.

          • albatross11 says:

            The cost of over-regulating drones is not just messing around with a few hobbyists, it’s preventing people playing around with a cool new technology in ways that could lead to new stuff being invented. The more we restrict people playing around with cool technology (so you need to jump through some hoops and get past some gatekeepers), the less innovation we should expect. That’s not something that will show up in any clear way, either. If concerns about intellectual property had guaranteed that nobody who wasn’t sufficiently credentialed was allowed to play around with operating systems, we wouldn’t have Linux, and that lack would be completely invisible to us.

          • johan_larson says:

            Who represents commercial drone users? That’s a fairly big and growing sector. Surely they have some organization that speaks for them in Washington? Seems like that would be the place to start to have some input on government decision making.

            Of course, rules for commercial users probably aren’t quite right for amateurs. The commercial users are probably going to be using larger and more expensive drones and can deal with more regulatory paperwork. But something is better than nothing.

          • bean says:

            My biggest concern about a drone isn’t it going into an engine. That’s pretty unlikely to cause a crash, because airliners are required to be able to operate with an engine out. (The US Airways flight that ditched in the Hudson had geese go through both engines.) It’s a drone hitting the cockpit. That could take out both pilots, or at the very least distract them enough that the plane goes down. There might be spots a drone could hit and cause a crash for mechanical reasons, but I don’t know any specifics.

            But I’m somewhat less concerned about intentional terrorism for a very simple reason. The sky is big. Even if you program the drone to try to dodge into the way of the airliner, you’re most likely to get a near-miss or a non-lethal hit. (Unless you load it with explosives or something, but that tends to draw the attention of authorities for other reasons.) This is going to bring the authorities down on you. More likely is annoyance tactics like what’s happened at Gatwick. Overall, idiots without malice are a greater threat simply because there are so many more of them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The cost of over-regulating drones is not just messing around with a few hobbyists, it’s preventing people playing around with a cool new technology in ways that could lead to new stuff being invented.

            The FAA opinion is that super-heavyweight and restrictive waiver processes accessible only to companies like Google who can hire people like Dave Vos is quite sufficient for that.

            Who represents commercial drone users? That’s a fairly big and growing sector. Surely they have some organization that speaks for them in Washington? Seems like that would be the place to start to have some input on government decision making.

            That would be the Commercial Drone Alliance. But their interests are at odds with recreational users; they have this vision where their autonomous drones roam around making deliveries or whatever, and having recreational users in the air interferes with that. They want recreational use restricted to below 200′ and even then only in certain narrow areas. They’re happy with things like only being allowed to fly certified equipment ($$$$) and having transponders and licenses and all that, because those kinds of things are relatively easy for a company with resources and a compliance department to do, but rather hard for an individual or competitive upstart to do

          • CatCube says:

            @The Nybbler

            The last time we went around on this, I posted the name and phone number of the guy you needed to talk to for permission to fly at this field. Did you ever actually call him?

            What’s frustrating me in this discussion is that I can’t figure out what you’re demanding, other than “I should be able to fly my things on the spur of the moment without ever talking to anybody, and making me have some sort of training to keep current on what the rules are is oppressive.”

            The rest of us in the airspace communicate with each other, even if it’s before flight. Yeah, you should have to communicate your use of drones to towered airfields within 5 miles. They are responsible for the airspace from the ground up in that radius, and it is way too difficult to try to carve out, on a national level, some sort of rule that will permit drone flights near an airport, what, “when the drone operator thinks it won’t interfere with air traffic.”? The ideal, from both the drone side and the airport side, would be a memorandum of agreement that lays out what the areas of operation and the protocols for communication are, and nothing in the previous ruleset prohibited that. But yeah, you’re still going to have to talk to people.

            That’s why I asked what I did: I don’t care, for the purposes of this discussion what you think you’re going to get. Tell us what you want the rules to be, devoid of any other political concerns.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Tell us what you want the rules to be, devoid of any other political concerns.

            I want to be able to fly my models without asking permission of government officials (including ATC), or of airport operators who have better things to do than talk to people flying drones. You know, the way it was before the FAA decided drones were an existential threat to the NAS.

            I understand there’s an incredible amount of red tape, radio procedures, certifications, training, maintenance schedules, permissions, checklists, required equipment, etc, etc, to fly a real plane. Not to mention some sort of favor economy to get all that. If that’s what it takes to fly, I’m certainly out of the club. Even 1/1000 of that, and I’m out of the club. You talk about a “memorandum of agreement” as if it’s some sort of normal thing, and maybe you deal with such things all the time. But I don’t, and talking to people is very much my weak point. And this is a pretty advanced version of it; I want something, but have nothing to offer in return. They have something I want, but no reason to offer it, and access to force if they choose not to. It takes someone who is really good to make something of that situation, and I’m really bad.

          • Garrett says:

            I’d note that much of the rhetoric reminds me of what I see in the gun debate:
            * Insist that what you value should count for nothing.
            * Insist that any adverse harm must be prevented absolutely.
            * Refuse to consider positive side-effects which are diffuse and might not materialize.
            * Demand that the person with a complaint provide an alternative solution to a complete ban while meeting the requirements previously laid out.
            * Conclude that anything short of a complete ban is a gift for which others should be grateful.

            In practice, we have something like a million private drone owner/operators in this country, of which there are a handful who engage in some form of dangerous behavior, and approximately 0 intentionally. That an airport was impacted significantly is sufficiently rare to make international news!

            In my view, if the government is going to keep building the panopticon security state, the least it can do is identify and arrest the people purposefully engaging in mayhem.

            Concurrently, do airports shut down service if a stray goose is seen anywhere in the vicinity? I know that they may engage the use of dogs/ people/whatever to discourage nesting near the airport. But if they don’t shut down the airport due to similarly-massing wildlife in similar positions, it’s simply an institutional freak-out over something new rather than something substantially different.

          • bean says:

            I’d note that much of the rhetoric reminds me of what I see in the gun debate:

            Those are mostly Nybbler’s strawmen of the FAA, not positions anyone here is advocating for. Except maybe out of frustration with him, because I will say that if given a choice between his position of “no regulation at all” and a complete ban, I’ll take the ban. But it’s not my first choice.

            In practice, we have something like a million private drone owner/operators in this country, of which there are a handful who engage in some form of dangerous behavior, and approximately 0 intentionally. That an airport was impacted significantly is sufficiently rare to make international news!

            Define “some form of dangerous behavior”. Yes, people who intentionally try to get aerial footage of airplanes landing at LAX are pretty rare, and people who deliberately fly drones over the runways at Gatwick are even rarer. But what about someone who lives a mile from a hospital and whose drone might get in the way of a medivac flight? Or who is visiting a friend and doesn’t realize that the friend’s house is under an alternate approach path to an airport. They’re not being deliberate about it, but it’s definitely dangerous. Under the current rules, the first person will probably do something like emailing the hospital when he flies and they’ll call him if they need him to land. The second will check the rules and learn of the danger. And the danger is growing substantially, because drones are cheaper and easier to use, which means that people who are less knowledgeable and less concerned about safety are using them.

            Concurrently, do airports shut down service if a stray goose is seen anywhere in the vicinity? I know that they may engage the use of dogs/ people/whatever to discourage nesting near the airport. But if they don’t shut down the airport due to similarly-massing wildlife in similar positions, it’s simply an institutional freak-out over something new rather than something substantially different.

            They do not. However, a lot of work goes into trying to keep birds away from airports. But you can’t reduce the risk of drones by changing the grass or putting up plastic owls. The Gatwick shutdown is probably an overreaction, but it’s not a trivial matter.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’d note that much of the rhetoric reminds me of what I see in the gun debate

            That would be a much better analogy if the gun debate were dominated by arguments over those horribly oppressive, downright tyrannical laws against discharging firearms in city limits other than in self-defense or at an approved target range. If gun owners were daft enough to insist on such a thing, claiming it was an intolerable imposition to make them actually go to a range rather than blast away in the nearest back alley, yeah, you’d see about the same level of ridicule and opposition.

          • Only bits of this discussion deal with the question of deliberate terrorism. I have no expertise in the field, but it seems to me that if a terrorist wants to bring down a plane on takeoff or landing and is willing to accept a significant chance of being caught in order to have a significant chance of doing so, both chances as good as the terrorist could get by using a drone, it shouldn’t be that difficult. I don’t want to suggest ways of doing it, but am I wrong?

          • dragnubbit says:

            Drones + bombs/grenades is already a battlefield issue against fixed targets. But once a jetliner takes off it is going 150+ mph, so a drone would have to be either incredibly fast (e.g. not typical COTS tech) or already in a very favorable position to close with the target.

          • The Nybbler says:

            An airliner is the next best thing to a fixed target — it’s a target whose location is known well in advance.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Everything is a fixed target in the right coordinate system. For airliners we know what that coordinate system is. 🙂

      • Deiseach says:

        But incidents like these are an excuse, not a reason.

        Incidents like this (warning: the link is to The Sun which is a tabloid so it is more interested in melodrama than strict accuracy) where two people apparently used two drones to act the maggot make it a lot harder to be sympathetic to recreational users, Nybbler. Before this stupidity, the argument would have been “nobody is going to deliberately fuck up an airport for shits and giggles, it’s not fair to penalise recreational users”.

        Well, somebody did, and it sure looks like more by luck than judgement that they didn’t cause an accident with the planes trying to land or take-off. Shutting down an entire airport for a day during one of the busiest parts of the year is going to piss off a lot of ordinary people, making it a lot harder for people who do only want to fly their drones for fun to make the case. And human nature being what it is, this makes the chance of copycats thinking this certainly sounds like a fun prank to pull off to show off how clever they are much more likely.

        And then arguing “well the relevant authorities are intending to crack down anyway, this case had nothing to do with it” looks more like whining and less like reasonable argument. If you sound paranoid and as if you prefer your fun not to be interfered with in any way even if that causes inconvenience and possibly even danger to a lot of people, then the non-recreational drone flying public is going to say “Fuck you, I hope the authorities take your toys away from you completely”.

        It may not be reasonable, or fair, but it’s human. Try sounding less like “everyone is out to get me and I’m not even going to try complying with anything, I demand to be free to fly my drones where I like when I like how I like and you just have to trust that I’m not going to turn out to be like the Gatwick Two” and you may get further with appeals to the ordinary public.

    • Lambert says:

      How easy is it to track the transmitter?
      Leave 3 or 4 SDRs running at the airport. When you see a UAV, trilaterate every weird looking radio source nearby and dispatch some kind of police there.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The radio sources aren’t necessarily weird. Mine run using 2.4Ghz spread spectrum; there’s a LOT of stuff like that. You’d need something more sophisticated that could decode the various common air protocols; these exist but are fairly new. However, it’s possible the people disrupting Gatwick are not even controlling the drones by radio; they may have them set up to follow waypoints, in which case there could be no radio signal at al.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Arrest made in the Gatwick case.

      47-year-old man and 54-year-old woman. I think you’ll find this is not your normal demographic for people buying cheap drones off Amazon and flying them anywhere and everywhere. No motive reported yet (though some right-wing papers are speculating about environmental activists upset about airport expansion).

      • johan_larson says:

        They’ve been released. Also, the army got involved.

        Authorities finally regained control over the airfield early on Friday after the Army deployed unidentified military technology.

        It is believed that the Israeli-developed Drone Dome system, which can jam communications between the drone and its operator, was used.

        • Lambert says:

          Well Bean sure timed his EW miniseries well.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Apparently the guy’s boss said he was at work at the time, leaving Lestrade’s genius squad out of luck. Not clear why they arrested the couple other than that the man posted pictures of his drones online (and some wonder at the mistrust drone flyers have for authority). Alas, “Mr. Sherlock Drones” is nowhere to be found.

  12. ahenobarbi says:

    I’m confused about SF Bay Area. I’ve visited A few times. For work reasons I read some news from there. And my impression is it’s a rather unpleasant place to live. It’s expensive. Commutes tend to be awfully long. Not that much interesting stuff seems to be going on there. Yet A lot of people move there. I wonder why?

    I presume there are people from the Bay Area here. Could you give me your reasons for choosing to live There?

    • johan_larson says:

      I went to Silicon Valley, i.e. the Bay Area, because it is the heart of my industry. Things tend to happen there first, and there are opportunities there that exist nowhere else.

      That said, living there is very expensive and while pay is high, particularly for the major companies, I’m not sure it’s quite enough to compensate. I keep hearing about really crappy commutes from well-paid colleagues. SV may still be the best place to do your best work as a software developer. But if you want to live well, you’re probably better off in one of the secondary centers. And some of them, particularly Seattle, aren’t very secondary at all.

      • ahenobarbi says:

        Thanks. I’m a kind of software developer and it’s true that it’s easier to find interesting projects in the Bay Area. It’s useful to know what you think about trade off between options there and in other places (that you chose SF Bay but secondary centers look better if one puts values life quality vs impact than you do).

        • johan_larson says:

          I eventually left the Bay area to move back to Canada. Now I kind of wish I had stayed. But the next time I go looking for work, I’ll start in Seattle. They have many of the same growth challenges as the Bay, but seem to be managing them better.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      The easy but true ones: climate, natural beauty, bohemian culture tolerant of a lot of things of which most places in the US are less tolerant, and access to lots and lots of high paying job opportunities. Also, “not much interesting stuff seems to be going on there” is not true for most nerdy (artistic or techie!) values of “interesting”.

      • Nornagest says:

        Also, “not much interesting stuff seems to be going on there” is not true for most nerdy (artistic or techie!) values of “interesting”.

        Q: What’s the difference between the South Bay and a bowl of yogurt?

        A: The bowl of yogurt’s got an active culture.

        • johan_larson says:

          I have to wonder what sort of beyond-the-fringe cultural experiences you are looking for if you can’t find them in the Bay area.

          • ahenobarbi says:

            What kind of cultural experiences can one get in the Bay Area? My impression was that it was very boring place with a few interesting spots (a bunch of Slate Star Codex / Less Wrong people and events). Even when I’m just visiting I’d be interested in what should I look for.

          • johan_larson says:

            If I were there now, I’d take up either surfing or hang-gliding. You can do both locally. If I wanted something more sedentary, I’d join a Go club; given the ethnic mix, there should be some good ones around.

          • AG says:

            @ahenobarbi

            There is always something happening in the Bay Area. Festivals and events happen every weekend, a lot even happens on weekday evenings. The arts scene is very active, so you can find lives for any genre of music you want at any time. There’s endless hiking and walking around that can be done, and lots of hiking/walking groups to do them with. All sorts of niche meetups exist. The variety of quality food available is infinite.

            Much of this, of course, is contingent on having the money to spend. But “lack of things to do” is usually the result of lack of effort from the person looking, not from an actual lack of things to do.

        • Nicholas Weininger says:

          First of all, the Bay Area includes the city of SF, which has world-class cultural institutions of many sorts (the Opera and Symphony, the museums, etc). Second of all, at least in the area I’m most familiar with (choral music) there are a bunch of good ensembles that regularly give high-quality concerts in Palo Alto and San Jose.

    • Plumber says:

      @ahenobarbi

      “…I presume there are people from the Bay Area here. Could you give me your reasons for choosing to live There?”

      I was born in Oakland, California where I lived for 22 years, and still live near.

      The water tastes bad to me in most places further away (such as San Jose,  California).

      The weather is unpleasant elsewhere (too hot summers, too cold winters, etc cetera).

      I know my way around. I spent some months in Seattle and near and in Los Angeles and found those places extremely disorienting, my sense of North, South, East, and West was off, it felt almost like being a bit dizzy all the time.

      How dark it was at 9AM in the morning in Seattle in December was off-putting, otherwise it seemed nice for a foreign land Where be Dragons. 

      I worked construction in and near Santa Clara county (Palo Alto, Mountain View, Santa Clara, San Jose) for a decade and found it much like Los Angeles (bad air, water, etc cetera), and when my wife came down and we both spent nights down there her allergies were triggered.

      Palo Alto barely qualifies, but don’t believe that “south bay” stuff about San Jose, I’ve been to the Alviso neighborhood of San Jose that on the maps borders the bay, but I only found weeds, not water, in the bay area you should be able to see the bay from a roof if nowhere else!

      I’m stubborn and don’t want to be “tractored out”, I feel much like Grandpa Joad: 

      ”You go right on along. Me–I’m stayin’. I give her a goin’-over all night mos’ly. This here’s my country. I b’long here. An’ I don’t give a goddamn if they’s oranges an’ grapes crowdin’ a fella outa bed even. I ain’t a-goin’. This country ain’t no good, but it’s my country.”

    • arlie says:

      I came here because I’m a highly specialized techie, and this was the only area I could find where I had reasonable expectations of being able to get another equally good job when my current job evaporated or developed major downsides – I’d been moving to a new state (or country) every time I got a new job for a while, and I wanted to put down roots.

      Once here, there were two things I loved:
      – the weather
      – the fact that I went from “weird leftie” to “normal, maybe right of center” by coming here – without changing my behaviour or opinions

      It took a while for me to notice some downsides, but my commute was never one of them. I bought a fixer-upper that I could barely afford, a short stroll to Caltrain and about 2 miles from my job. It’s been within a 30 minute drive of all but one job I’ve had since – and that one was right on the Caltrain. (Of course I’m selective about jobs I interview for – if I won’t like the commute, I don’t apply. There are enough choices *here* that I can afford to be that selective.)

      And as for interesting stuff – I’m a techie. The valley is full of interesting tech stuff. Lots of interesting people too.

  13. eigenmoon says:

    Apparently sometimes WordPress rejects my comments without saying anything. Is this happening just to me?

  14. Statismagician says:

    Any tips/recommendations for visiting Italy or Greece? What about arguments for doing the one vs. the other? We’re trying to figure out where the next big vacation should be. Parameters are probably two weeks-ish and aiming not to keep overall costs towards the low end relative to the set of all longish international trips, if that matters.

    • DeWitt says:

      What are you visiting for? Beaches? Ancient history? Something else entirely?

      How much of an issue is money going to be?

      • Statismagician says:

        History and general culture for me, general culture and activities/scenery for the SO, to a first approximation.

        Not a huge one, we’d just like to avoid unnecessary money on for example Google-recommended hotels if there’s a more cost-effective but less-well-advertised-in-English option, or on tours of e.g. the Parthenon if they’re uniformly crap/easily replaced with a book and a few hours. That sort of thing.

        • DeWitt says:

          Okay, that helps.

          Visit Italy, not Greece. Much as I enjoy ancient Greek history more than that of the Romans, the sad fact of Greece is that it’s had earthquakes to deal with and that very, very little remains. It is no exaggeration in any way to note that Paestum has Greek temples in better state of repair than Greece itself does.

          I’ve no recommendations on hotels or tours, although Italy is possibly the European country with the history that’s been written about the most, so you can find a wealth of information anywhere. Generally speaking, the further south you go, the older the history and the cheaper the tourism gets: Italy’s ancient Greek settlements and the like are all in the south, the renaissance stuff et al is further to the north.

          Do visit Rome, whatever you do. Being an ancient history nerd, I can recommend southern Italy well, if everything being relatively ‘unpolished’ doesn’t really bother you. There’s Pompeii and Herculaneum to visit, the aforementioned Paestum I spoke of, as well as some other nice places to visit, and anything beachside is cheaper there, too.

          Just make sure you either plan everything out very very well or set aside a decent amount of money, because Italy has gotten good at the tourism thing and things you buy on the fly will end up quite expensive.

    • johan_larson says:

      The Mediterranean is surprisingly filthy. If you go walking along the beach, you’ll end up with big oil stains on your feet. Consider enjoying the mountains rather than the seaside.

      Back-country Greece is poorer than you might expect, considering it’s a European country. You might still see some people getting around using donkeys and such.

      Major European historical attractions are world-famous and get mobbed during tourist season. It keeps getting worse and worse as more of the world can afford to travel. If you’re planning to visit the big-name sites, go during low-season, probably during the winter.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Tuscany and Umbria are as beautiful as the pictures say, the little hilltop towns are charming and full of historically interesting art and architecture, the people are wonderful and the food and wine exquisite. Umbria is noticeably scruffier/more downscale and cheaper than Tuscany, so if you’re looking for bargains there are plenty to be had there. I was in the Orvieto area in August and had a terrific time, and can give more specific recommendations for that area if you want.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Just went to Italy in May:

      -Take the high speed trains! Faster than driving
      -Try to dine where the locals do rather than tourist traps. Much faster service, especially if you’re eating during American hours (seem like Italians eat later)
      -Spend more than 1 day per location. Ideally I would have had 2-3 days each, but we saw Rome, Naples (for Capri), Florence.
      -No tipping in restaurants! So take this into account if you think food is expensive.
      -A lot of people use AirBnB, but there are plenty of decent hotels.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      Italy. Greece is cheaper but there’s less to see. Take trains from city to city. Milan-Venice-Florence are all 3 h apart, Rome is 3 h from Florence, Naples is 2-3 h from Rome. Some smaller towns are day trips, and the scenery is lovely pretty much throughout. Budget 3-4 days in Rome if you have two weeks, Venice is 1-2 days w/o a SO, 2-3 days with (it’s romantic). Consider staying on the Lido and taking the water taxi over each day. The Lido is – or can be – much cheaper and the water taxi is fun anyway.

    • dorrk says:

      Beware of packs of seemingly harmless children who try to engage you. While one or more distract you, one of them will be picking your pocket.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Italy, as well. Rome is a must – you’ll be passing 800 year churches in the street and they’re not even a landmark, just a church. Florence is a close second, I think, with Venice being… Venice.

      There is a continuum of rich/less rich from north to south, with Sicily having low prices and nice weather year round (I often go there in February) and Trento being almost Austrian, with equally good coffee and beer, pasta and wurst.

      Airbnb is a good choice, even for last minute bookings. You can also use it to find local guides.

      A rented car would be the most expensive option – trains and public transport are pretty good. Old cities don’t have a lot of parking spots.

  15. Gossage Vardebedian says:

    I found the Fed decision yesterday to be, while unsurprising, kind of amazing. On the one hand, we have tame inflation, a slowing worldwide economy, an expectation of a domestic slow down over the next year, and a fairly flat yield curve, all of which would argue for not raising. On the other hand, we have . . . a historically long recovery, and expectations of maybe, perhaps, inflation resuming, because it’s kind of expected to. More amazingly, Powell stated that inflation was benign, and a bit below the target, and that the Fed was really, truly, treating that target symmetrically. And then they raised, and said they expected to raise twice more next year, during an expected decelerating economy. His answers to questions repeatedly spoke of how good things were, and how data-driven the Fed is. So, exactly which data said “raise?” Isn’t this an illustration of how the Fed, and mainstream economics in general, is 1) amazingly terrified of inflation, and 2) wedded to the idea of business cycles?

    The idea that we could, with prudent management, avoid the worst excesses of business cycles seems to be forgotten. While I’m sure the Fed members truly believe that part of their remit is to smooth out the ups and downs of business cycles, they also seem hell-bent on doing what they can to push us toward a recession. They can’t simply look at a steadily-growing economy without worrying themselves into trying to stop it.

    • The fed is being criticized by other economists but they won’t listen. If you did a poll of economists right now, I bet the majority of them would say that the fed is raising rates too fast. Yellen probably would have been more responsive to that.

      There definitely is a strand of inflation-phobia in econ but that was much more widespread ten years ago than it is today.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The issue with this POV is that according to 90-100% of economic theories the “inflation-phobia” is functionally why we haven’t had bad inflation for 30 years and it was not worrying about inflation because you “can’t get high inflation with high unemployment” that was a major contributor to the high inflation of the 70s.

        • We’re not going to get double digit inflation because the fed lets inflation hit over 2%. In fact, for most of the last ten years the Fed has been undershooting the target. It would take an extraordinary set of circumstances for the US to have inflation at that level again. There is absolutely no justification for worrying about inflation at this time.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You don’t need double digit inflation to get problems, the structural issues in the US are different now than they were in the 70s. With debt to GDP ratios of 100%+ sustained 4-5% inflation rates that translated into an extra $400-500 billion in interest charges in 4 years*.

            Over the last 10 years average 30 year mortgage rates have been under 5%, just matching inflation with interest on deposits at 5% would put most mortgage holders in the US in serious financial trouble, and the Fed’s typical inflation fighting tool, raising rates, would make the matter worse in the short term.

            5% inflation would be at least a minor disaster in the US, and 7-8% would be potentially another 2008 in terms of financial distress. The US has become extremely path dependent on there being low inflation, and the Fed knows this.

            * with the government set to roll over ~60-70% of its debt in that span.

          • We’re not even close to 5%, not even during the relatively dovish Yellen.

          • Brad says:

            Over the last 10 years average 30 year mortgage rates have been under 5%, just matching inflation with interest on deposits at 5% would put most mortgage holders in the US in serious financial trouble, and the Fed’s typical inflation fighting tool, raising rates, would make the matter worse in the short term.

            For better or for worse, mortgage holders is now mostly just the federal government in its various incarnations. A significant part of the nominally private part of the national economy is instead socialized and the party that is supposed to be the champion of the free market doesn’t seem very bothered by it.

          • baconbits9 says:

            We’re not even close to 5%, not even during the relatively dovish Yellen.

            You have mistaken the point of the above post to mean that because there are obvious expected problems at 5% inflation mentioned that the space between 2% and 5% is therefore clear. There isn’t some obvious “inflation can go this high without causing a problem” line in the sand that they can toe up towards and then safely sit behind. The Fed literally has a mandate to keep inflation under control, and their other mandate seems well in hand at the moment (actually they have overshot their other mandate by their preferred metric).

            @ Brad

            The government currently backs most mortgages on the market, not outright owns them (though they do own a large portion as well). The issue of rising inflation->rising interest rates would cause a funding issue for banks not a delinquency issue which the Federal Government wouldn’t be on the hook for.

            The concern is actually fairly serious for financial analysts. If inflation increases pushed up interest rates and caused financial issues for the banks the Fed’s most likely channel for smoothing the crisis would be to lower short term rates which is supposed to push up inflation.

          • Brad says:

            But the banks all have huge equity cusions, can survive 5 sigma events, and even if they fail have living wills that ensure orderly shutdowns with no contagion.

            Right?

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Brad

            I keep rereading your reply and can’t figure if you are being sarcastic or not.

          • Brad says:

            Sorry, yes I’m being sarcastic. The post-crisis laws and regulations which were substituted for the feedback of of failure, bankruptcy, and career destruction are wholly inadequate.

          • You know what’s worse than inflation running a little hot? A recession caused by the fed needlessly increasing rates. Which would you rather have?

          • baconbits9 says:

            What are the odds that a 0.25 point increase that was planned months (years) ahead of time is going to push the US into a recession? Your underplaying the risks of inflation and overplaying the likelihood that such a small, routine and planned move could actually push the US into recession.

          • There is a much higher chance of another recession than whatever you think is going to happen if Powell doesnt go through with interest rate increases.

            If a recession does happen in the next year, would that even change your views?

          • baconbits9 says:

            These aren’t my views, these are the explanations of why people critical of the Fed’s recent behavior are shortsighted.

            There isn’t any particular reason to fear a recession from a macro point of view, there are a huge number of recessions on record and only a handful of them particularly dangerous (and those are also associated with other mistakes). There is basically no evidence that countries can perpetually avoid recessions and growth returns to trend after most recessions meaning they should be about as concerning as mildly above trend inflation most of the time.

          • quanta413 says:

            Sorry, yes I’m being sarcastic. The post-crisis laws and regulations which were substituted for the feedback of of failure, bankruptcy, and career destruction are wholly inadequate.

            Career destruction was probably still inadequate even if less inadequate. Let’s bring back the Code of Hammurabi for bank executives.

          • I’m sure that people who lose their jobs will be happy to know that it doesn’t matter from “a macro view”.

            There is basically no evidence that countries can perpetually avoid recessions

            Australia hasn’t had a recession in 25 years.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m sure that people who lose their jobs will be happy to know that it doesn’t matter from “a macro view”.

            People are constant losing jobs when there isn’t a recession, you need a broad and healthy economy to absorb them and recessions are likely a part of that.

            Australia hasn’t had a recession in 25 years.

            Due to a technicallity of how recessions are defined. Their UE rate jumped from 4% in 2008 to 6% in 2009 and has remained above 5% for nearly a decade now, between their under employment, unemployment and lower labor force participation they dropped 4-6% of their labor force between 2009 and 2014, but because it occurred at a different pace it didn’t technically become a recession.

            This is a standard SS tactic. When he wants to highlight the Australian CB he talks about nGDP and how they avoided recession, while ignoring the employment numbers and when he wants to highlight the Japanese CB he talks about their employment numbers and downplays the nGDP stuff (except for the period where he foolishly attributed a 3% sales tax increase boosting the inflation rate to CB actions and their new nGDP target, and he wanted to highlight both).

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      The Fed believes it’s currently depressing interest rates below the “natural” rate. If you accept this as true, the Fed should raise interest rates as long as they can do so without causing some sort of crisis, so the data that say “raise” are the same ones that say that the economy is isn’t currently huffing stimulus (opinions seem to be split, but the Fed has a very real incentive to believe it’s not, of the “oh fuck oh god oh no oh fuck please just recover we don’t have time for this” variety). Whether you accept this as true rather depends on whether you believe current economic conditions (and the last decade’s bull run) are a house of cards built on that low interest rate. If you assume they are, get ready for a bumpy ride, ’cause the 🐻 gang is coming. There’s enough irrational behavior floating around that the business cycle is inevitable one way or another, ans it won’t hit less hard just because rates are already low.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Starting buying CDs this year (1yr, once a month), and even though I bought my December allotment, I just opened another one as PurePoint is offering a 2.8% 1-year promotion. Hope it’s easy to close out during the 10-day grace period…

    • baconbits9 says:

      One of the complicated parts of Fed actions is that they are heavily reliant on forward guidance, The Fed announces its plans in advance and there are two primary consequences of this. The first is that The Fed doesn’t like to change course quickly unless it is necessary, they prefer to change their future promises to give the market ample time to react. The Fed did this as while they raised rates they cut one expected rate increase in 2019, meaning they are balancing the two concerns to some extent.

      The second point is that the increase was expected which means (by most theories) that part of the impact of the increase has already been baked into the numbers. In one sense the indicators that you are citing are the outcome of this rate increase as much as they are the cause of the policy.

    • baconbits9 says:

      While I’m sure the Fed members truly believe that part of their remit is to smooth out the ups and downs of business cycles, they also seem hell-bent on doing what they can to push us toward a recession. They can’t simply look at a steadily-growing economy without worrying themselves into trying to stop it.

      This sentiment, while common, is not particularly grounded. The Fed started raising rates in late 2015 coming off a bad quarter of growth and lots of the same voiced concerns, that the Fed was pushing us toward a recession. Instead growth picked up, and rose while rate increases became more frequent. The Fed stopped increasing rates 18 months prior to the start of the 2008 recession, and 2 years prior to the financial crisis. Rates were at 4 year lows on the eve of the crisis.

      • sharper13 says:

        Are you familiar with the market monetarist school of thought, or Scott Sumner’s work?

        To summarize:

        Interest rates are not a reliable indicator of the stance of monetary policy. On any given day, an unexpected reduction in the fed funds target is usually an easing of policy. However, an extended period of time when interest rates are declining usually represents a tightening of monetary policy. That’s because during periods when interest rates are falling, the natural rate of interest is usually falling even faster (due to slowing NGDP growth), and vice versa.

        Attributing the Fed’s stance based on the Fed no longer increasing rates or the nominal level of the rates before the Great Recession is a common misunderstanding of the evidence, reflected in a lot of popular articles.

        Here’s a decent summary of how the Fed caused the Great Recession. For example:

        … during April-October 2008 the Fed held its target fed funds rate at 2%, even as the natural rate of interest fell sharply into negative territory.

        If you want more detailed info on the recent Fed moves, read the most recent couple of posts on Sumner’s blog.

        I’m probably not doing a great job of explaining, but please, read the linked article at least and look at the empirical economic evidence available around the monetary base and what the Fed was doing to it.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Are you familiar with the market monetarist school of thought, or Scott Sumner’s work?

          Yes.

          Attributing the Fed’s stance based on the Fed no longer increasing rates or the nominal level of the rates before the Great Recession is a common misunderstanding of the evidence, reflected in a lot of popular articles.

          Even if the monetarist view was useful (its not) the Fed raising rates is still tighter than not raising rates, and lowering rates is still looser than not lowering them (for most theories) meaning the point is still valid for the current conversation.

          If you want more detailed info on the recent Fed moves, read the most recent couple of posts on Sumner’s blog.

          SS sees everything through a single lens, without question, his posts aren’t informative beyond that.

          • sharper13 says:

            Why do you believe the Fed’s decision to stop printing additional currency during late 2007 and early 2008 and the resulting change in the monetary base growth rate, combined with the Fed starting to pay interest on base reserves (boosting the demand) is irrelevant to the resulting economic slowdown?

            Aren’t those involved directly in “tight money”, while any Fed stance on interest rates is at most a proxy for how “tight” money is? Why would the Fed’s monetary actions have less effect on the monetary base than their interest rate decisions?

            Obviously you don’t agree with Sumner, but curious as to why, as I’ve never seen anyone make a coherent argument tied to actual empirical economics as to why those monetary actions don’t matter.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Why do you believe the Fed’s decision to stop printing additional currency during late 2007 and early 2008 and the resulting change in the monetary base growth rate, combined with the Fed starting to pay interest on base reserves (boosting the demand) is irrelevant to the resulting economic slowdown?

            You have the facts and causality entirely backwards. The way the Fed system works is that the Fed sets a rate at which it will loan and banks then come and ask for loans (its more complicated and roundabout, but that is the direction). The monetary base growth rate fell because banks stopped trying to loan money out, not because the Fed cut them off. The Fed responded by cutting rates faster than they typically do and the banks responded by still not demanding more money. The only way to interpret this as the Fed not printing enough money is to start with the assumption that the Fed could have tempted banks into lending which requires some pretty strong evidence. The evidence against it is the fact that delinquency rates were rising across the board leading INTO the recession, not starting after the fed “tightened”.

            combined with the Fed starting to pay interest on base reserves (boosting the demand) is irrelevant to the resulting economic slowdown?

            IOR is a red herring.

            1. Banks were already increasing their reserves in exactly the correct reaction to an increase in delinquent payments. IOR was a method of keeping those banks solvent in the short term, making sure large reserves didn’t drain them of capital and start a feedback loop.

            2. IOR was tiny (0.25%) from late 2008 through late 2015, 30 year mortgage rates were over 4% through 2011. The notion that a 0.25% payment rate was preventing banks from making loans at 4% that they would have expected to be profitable at any notable rate is nuts. The spread between the 30 year mortgage rate and IOR was over 4.5 percentage points for the entire crisis period and over 4% for almost the entire period through mid 2011. Banks were not passing up 4.5 billion dollars in profit for every 100 billion dollars in reserves that they had so that they could collect 0.25 billion instead, they judged the loans to be to risky to take on. Any loans that were not made due to IOR during that period would be insignificant to the broader economy.

            3. IOR has risen with the fed funds rate and is now close to 2.5%, and the spread between the 30 year mortgage rate and IOR has declined and is at its all time low at under 2.5%, and yet banks haven’t decreased lending during the tightening of that spread. This is an extremely strong indicator that perceived risk was the driving force of decreased economic activity.

            Aren’t those involved directly in “tight money”, while any Fed stance on interest rates is at most a proxy for how “tight” money is?

            No. The Fed controls interest rates (ie it directly controls the federal funds rate and the IOR rate) and that is a first order effect, the money supply/demand for money is a combination of the Fed’s actions and market actions. The Fed has, by definition, less control over these things than interest rates and they cannot be more indicative of Fed policy than the Fed’s actual policy.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Obviously you don’t agree with Sumner, but curious as to why, as I’ve never seen anyone make a coherent argument tied to actual empirical economics as to why those monetary actions don’t matter.

            The response to this is that the monetarist position is coherent because it assumes that the Fed controls nGDP. It takes a uni-variate* model, and that model then spits out a straightforward answer. The coherence of their position is a bug, it takes an extremely complicated system and collapses it to a single function, so it can spit out an answer. When you do that you are myopic, its why Keyensians are always convinced the problem is Aggregate Demand, and Monetarists are convinced that it is Monetary Demand, and MMTers are convinced that space aliens seeded life on earth you can just print money whenever you want and the markets will take it. These are people searching for a policy answer when the real answer to “what should we do during an unprecedented housing crisis” is I don’t know. Its unprecedented, we are mostly guessing and seeing what happens.

            *You could argue its bi-variate with the Fed controlling nGDP and the markets controlling how that translates into rGDP.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t really see a criticism of the Sumner position other than that he thinks the Fed is more powerful than they really are. Banks holding onto money leads directly to recession in directly the uni-variate way you are criticizing them: banks holding onto money drains money out of the economy and will cause an immediate contraction if prices do not respond accordingly. Banks holding onto money are the typical animal spirits running into bear mode that will cause a general glut in traditional Keynesian economics.

            Both the Monetarists and Keynesians look at it in a univariate way because it’s pretty much univariate. Recessions are typically caused by a lack of aggregate demand. How to respond to the lack of aggregate demand is an entirely different question, but (IMO) right-wingers are too hawkish on this question, and do more damage to their own cause when lingering recessions create demand for people like FDR or Bernie Sanders.

            But, yeah, Sumner is wrong in the exact question of “who caused the Great Recession,” because the Fed is not Superman and cannot directly drop money from the skies. Maybe they did cut rates too slowly in the spring and summer of 2008, but they had already cut the rates massively by then. They can do unorthodox monetary policy, but you don’t really have the political mandate to do crazy stuff unless crazy stuff is happening to the economy, and that doesn’t happen until AFTER Lehman collapses, TARP fails one time, etc.

          • sharper13 says:

            (Keeping this as high level as possible in order to not lose others, so forgive me if I explain my understanding a bit too much for you.)

            @baconbits9,
            It appears to me that in your reply above about the change in the monetary base, you’re confusing the results of different tools the Fed has. You appear to be talking about the discount rate (which you’re right, the Fed sets the rate and then banks decide how much to borrow at that rate), rather than the Fed’s open market operations, which is where the Fed decides how much to buy or sell in securities and either increases or decreases the same amount of cash in the monetary base (depending on if they are buying, which adds cash, or else selling, which removes cash).

            This is relevant because while the Fed’s discount rate decisions must wait for a response from banks to borrow or not at that level (although I disagree that they couldn’t have lowered that rate much faster, if they were actually trying to increase lending faster), for open market operations all the Fed has to do to inject cash and increase the monetary base is to go on the open market for securities and buy some. That tool doesn’t depend on anyone’s willingness to lend or not.

            I agree, the IOR is a lesser issue, although it does discourage lending and shows that the Fed wasn’t really actually to encourage lending at the time, because if they were, they wouldn’t be raising the IOR, quite the opposite.

            Either way, it seems the Fed did what seemed reasonable to them at the time given the information they had, not that it would have been impossible for them to avoid or diminish the impact of the Great Recession had they made better decisions (based on better information, rate targeting, etc…). They could have cut the discount rate much lower, they could have at the very least stuck with the same level of increasing the monetary base via open market operation purchases (or even increased it more), rather than curtailing them.

            Yes, delinquency rates were rising, but they were significantly rising at the exact same time the monetary base was falling in Q2 2007. That fits the market monetarist explanation.

            According to the Fed itself in regards to what it’s intentions were in 2007 (emphasis added):

            Initially, the Fed focused on making funds available to banks and other financial institutions, but used open market operations to prevent lending to individual firms from increasing total banking system reserves or the monetary base.

            Agreed, there were some negatives starting with early mortgage credit issues from housing price fluctuations, but rather than seeing the signs correctly and loosening, the Fed actually used open market operations with the intention of making sure reserves and the monetary base did not increase. That matches with the Fed actually making things worse, not better, at the time.

            Real GDP was still increasing in 2007. There was some time for the Fed to respond correctly, but they did too little, too late. Instead, they were more concerned about inflation targets, even as late as their December 2007 meeting, when Bernanke and friends rejected a call for a 50 basis point rate cut from Mishkin and Yellen. It was predictable enough to have been predicted. Here’s Yellen at that meeting, asking for a 50 basis point cut:
            With an assumed 25 basis point cut at this meeting, the Greenbook foresees the economy barely skirting a recession, so any more bad news could put us over the edge; and the possibility of getting bad news, in particular, a significant credit crunch, seems far from remote.

            The decision-making at the Fed was just wrong in 2007. It was somewhat understandably wrong, but that’s because things like the Taylor rule and they way they pursue their inflation target (undershooting, but never allowing overshooting if they can possibly help it) led them to make bad decisions. The Great Recession could have been avoided by the Fed using the tools available to them in 2007, but it wasn’t, instead they seem to have contributed to making it much worse by their open market activity impacting the monetary base.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Both the Monetarists and Keynesians look at it in a univariate way because it’s pretty much univariate.

            They both take a multivariate function and reduce it to a uni-variate output so that they can prescribe the exact same actions because the diagnoses all look the same. However it doesn’t work, a bank might stop (reduce, slow whatever) lending for a variety of reasons, their need to raise capital due to losses is a different animal from a need to raise capital due to potential losses (ie a reduction in the value of their collateral), and both are different from the bank judging the lending pool to be of insufficient quality, and all are different from borrowers trimming back their lending for the variety of reasons that they might do so. Compressing the causes only blinds you to those possibilities and from the possibility (ie certainty) that some actions which may have been appropriate under conditions A, B and C are not at all appropriate for conditions X, Y and Z.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ sharper13

            OMO are the tools that the Fed uses to match the Fed funds rate to (roughly) the overnight inter-bank lending rate. They can either state the interest rate that they want and then shuffle the monetary base around until they hit it, or they can state the monetary base that they want and move the Fed Funds rate around until they hit it, but they can’t target both simultaneously.

            So when you say

            for open market operations all the Fed has to do to inject cash and increase the monetary base is to go on the open market for securities and buy some. That tool doesn’t depend on anyone’s willingness to lend or not.

            Yes, but by doing so they would have to let the Funds rate float, which would then depend on people’s willingness to lend. The overnight rate shot way up during the crisis, and the FFR would probably have to have risen to nearly match.

            Yes, delinquency rates were rising, but they were significantly rising at the exact same time the monetary base was falling in Q2 2007. That fits the market monetarist explanation.

            It does not, the nominal monetary base was at an all time high in Dec 2007 and the adjusted monetary base had a tiny, not at all unusual, decline during that period. What changed was the velocity of money (V of M2 fell, of M1 stopped growing).

            The Great Recession could have been avoided by the Fed using the tools available to them in 2007, but it wasn’t, instead they seem to have contributed to making it much worse by their open market activity impacting the monetary base.

            There is literally zero evidence for the bolded claim outside of the tautology of the monetarists. The rising delinquency rates are a clear causal element for banks restricting lending, which is a clear reason for velocity to fall. Delinquency rates continued to rise through the Fed cutting interest rates down to 2%, continued to rise when they cut them to 0% and continued to rise through the end of QE1, and they remained high for several years on.

            There is no action* that the Fed took, and they took many, large and unprecedented actions during the time, that correlates with a slowing of the delinquency rate, and there is no logical reason to believe an expanded monetary base would cause lower delinquency rates.

            According to the Fed itself in regards to what it’s intentions were in 2007 (emphasis added):

            That is the intended effect of that one program, but the magnitude of their commitment to that program was very small compared to the other programs that push in the opposite direction. IOR was like gently tapping on the breaks while going down a hill, you don’t draw the conclusion that the driver is trying to stop in such a situation by noting the brake taps.

            * If you line all of them up you get correlations like the announcement of QE3 lines up with the begging of the long decline in single home delinquencies, but QE1 and QE2 line up in the opposite directions.

          • sharper13 says:

            Caveat: I’m totally an amateur economist and I know a lot more about micro than about macro, mostly because it’s usually more interesting to me in a practical sense.

            @baconbits9,
            Thanks for your continued engagement. I appreciate it and it’s not only informative, but also forces me to go research your comments, during which I learn even more. 🙂

            To clarify, I don’t think any economist is arguing the Fed directly actively caused the recession in toto, and certainly not deliberately, but that they had the tools available to minimize it and didn’t use those tools early enough because of their decision-making methodology, the goal being to improve the Fed’s decison-making.

            You state “What changed was the velocity of money”, but isn’t that a key part of the monetary base and shouldn’t a theoretically “perfectly managing” Fed be taking that into account and injecting money accordingly to offset that slowdown in velocity? After they cut the federal funds rate to effectively zero at the end of 2008, then they started just injecting money (QE) for the next 6-7 years, correct? But the rate wasn’t so linked that it dropped into negative territory to compensate (although I can tell you from personal experience that banks were getting ready for negative interest rates to happen in all sorts of places, even checking and savings accounts). No need for a zero-bound digression, just that it’s an indicator the Fed doesn’t have to be constrained by OMO effects on rates.

            The Fed actually changed how they used OMO at the end of 2008, corresponding with how the MM would have had them do it a year earlier. Within a few months of that change, GDP growth was positive again and the recession “officially” ended. Maybe it would have ended anyway, but obviously at that point the Fed thought it was necessary to do QE, so why not earlier instead?

            Agreed, the mortgage bubble was going to burst, because there WERE bad securitized mortgages out there. The question is if the rest of the economy needed to slow down to negative GDP growth at the same time.

            Let me pose you a question, with the benefit of hindsight. Knowing what you know now about the start of the crisis, what are the best decisions the Fed could have made in 2005-2007 to prevent the mortgage credit/default issue from spreading as much to the wider economy? In a possibly related question, why was there such a global slowdown, even in countries with no housing bubble sell-off and no default issue?

            I’m having a difficult time finding a reasonable answer to either of those questions, other than the market monetarist answer, which basically points at the Fed needing to make a change at least a year or two earlier, which to me means in turn that their increase in rates from mid-2004 through mid-2006 was maybe a bad idea, or rather potentially a good idea taken too far and overshooting the ideal mark to maximize future growth in the overall economy. If the Fed’s inflation target has been 2% since 1996, they don’t seem to have done a great job of hitting that target, instead mostly falling short.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Sharper13

            I’m having a good time with this, I’m glad to have a back and forth of this quality.

            To clarify, I don’t think any economist is arguing the Fed directly actively caused the recession in toto, and certainly not deliberately, but that they had the tools available to minimize it and didn’t use those tools early enough because of their decision-making methodology, the goal being to improve the Fed’s decison-making.

            If you agree with the proposition that delinquencies (or something else) caused the initial recession, and that the Fed took actions to attempt to mitigate those issues then you ought to be able to show that the Fed’s actions, while inadequate to stop it, at least had some impact on their rate. If you claim that the Fed lowering rates faster and more aggressively in 2007 would/could have prevented the worst of the recession then shouldn’t the Fed dropping rates in an aggressive manner at least have slowed the rate of delinquencies? If expanding the monetary base more/sooner would have prevented it shouldn’t the first 2 rounds of QE have been associated with some kind of directional change?

            You state “What changed was the velocity of money”, but isn’t that a key part of the monetary base and shouldn’t a theoretically “perfectly managing” Fed be taking that into account and injecting money accordingly to offset that slowdown in velocity?

            This already sits on the assumption that it is possible to increase the monetary base faster than velocity declines. If V declines proportionally to increases in MB then you can literally never have the effect that you want. Besides that the relationship between V and MS is not consistent across time, making it a practical impossibility to forecast the resulting V from your shift in base.

            After they cut the federal funds rate to effectively zero at the end of 2008, then they started just injecting money (QE) for the next 6-7 years, correct? But the rate wasn’t so linked that it dropped into negative territory to compensate

            I’m not positive what you are asking here, the “rate” that didn’t go negative do you mean the federal funds rate?

            The Fed actually changed how they used OMO at the end of 2008, corresponding with how the MM would have had them do it a year earlier. Within a few months of that change, GDP growth was positive again and the recession “officially” ended.

            I don’t know what you mean by MM would have had them do it a year earlier. If you follow SS’s preferred metrics you would conclude that the Fed was to loose from 2007 into 2008. From memory inflation and inflation expectations were rising through April or May of 2008 with inflation expectations hitting 2.9% and inflation hitting 2.5%. Overall inflation had been above the 2% target from 2004 or so on, if the Fed had instituted a plan of level targeting in 2004, 2005, 2006, or 2007 they would have raised rates in 2008, not cut them (prior to September).

            Knowing what you know now about the start of the crisis, what are the best decisions the Fed could have made in 2005-2007 to prevent the mortgage credit/default issue from spreading as much to the wider economy?

            I don’t think that this is an answerable question, the economy is crazily complex and outcomes are unpredictable. The worst excesses of the time occurred during a period of rising interest rates (that is the Federal Funds rate). To me this implies (though how strongly I don’t know) that if the Fed had the power to stop the issues that were brewing it would have had to do so before 2005. My position though is that it is unlikely that the Fed had such power in 2008, and probably earlier than that. I probably need to develop a stronger opinion on the Fed’s actual actions (or at least figure out how to) but I don’t know if this is a situation of X would have worked.

            I’m going to put off answering the 2nd question tonight.

            Agreed, the mortgage bubble was going to burst, because there WERE bad securitized mortgages out there. The question is if the rest of the economy needed to slow down to negative GDP growth at the same time.

            What would that look like? Rising delinquencies means that banks have to increase their buffer, so they have to have more reserves that they aren’t lending out. It is very difficult to see how you can prevent housing prices from falling in this environment, and if housing prices fall that amplifies the delinquencies/reserve ratio issues, but also shifts a lot of other stuff. Fewer houses selling means less work for realtors, movers, people who fix up the homes before sale (painters etc). It also makes moving harder and labor mobility is strongly positively correlate with growth, a decline in which should make growth harder. The residential building boom had already petered out and housing completions were falling. Where are those workers going, plus the demand for building materials? Commercial delinquencies were picking up right along with mortgages and credit cards, pretty much ruling out the easiest transition point for those workers and materials.

            I don’t see how you can compartmentalize such a large portion of the economy and not have spill over effects.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      We’re nearly at the inflation rate target and unemployment is under 4%. If you aren’t going to raise rates NOW, when are you going to raise rates?

      If you wait until inflation is consistently hitting above 2%, then you’ve waited far too long. You’ve destroyed the credibility of the institution in fighting in inflation, and then rather than having gradual interest rate increases or cuts, you will have to have sudden, unexpected interest rate increase of .5-1% to fight inflation.

      This is pretty much what I would’ve expected of the Fed. As bacon noted, they’ve provided explicit guidance that they are only going to do 2 rate increases next year, down from the previously expected 3 rate increases. Given that the Fed is normally a conservative institution, just making that statement is an effective monetary stimulus.

      • Brad says:

        I heard a proposal on the radio once, I think it was a regional fed president, to set a zero day and then target 2% growth from there. So a year of undershooting would mean a need to overshoot the next year and vice versa.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Its not just that UE is low, it is actually under the “natural rate” which is what the Fed pays attention to (the spread between the two) and have been since Q2 2017.

      • dragnubbit says:

        Does that mean the Fed is raising rates to provide themselves freedom of movement in the future, as opposed to optimizing this quarter’s economy?

        • baconbits9 says:

          The Fed has no mandate to optimize the economy.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I don’t think the Fed can optimize the economy in a single quarter. They control a few powerful instruments, but the feed-back loops are not instantaneous, and the Fed does not have perfect information about the current state of the economy anyways. Whatever they do now is going to take some time to ripple through the economy, and with an institution like the Fed, what they “do” includes making vague statements that are interpreted by economic actors.

          That’s leaving aside what “optimize” even means. You and I might have different definitions of that.

          • dragnubbit says:

            Wasn’t trying to imply I understood their objectives better than anyone else, just was curious whether raising rates has is its own longer-term objective even if not required for short-term outlooks.

  16. DragonMilk says:

    Religious hypothetical!

    If you are an atheist/agnostic, but were under a government that forced you to choose and practice a theistic religion, which would you choose and why?

    • Tenacious D says:

      Didn’t Indonesia (and perhaps Malaysia?) do more or less that, no hypothetical?

    • johan_larson says:

      The boring answer is protestant Christianity, since that’s my cultural background. If the requirements are ceremonial, so it’s mostly just a matter of showing up once a week to sing songs, pretending to pray, and having the pastor hector us about our sinful sinful ways, it doesn’t much matter which denomination. If the expectations are higher, I’d have to consider the matter more carefully, to sort out which denomination’s version of wrong is the least wrong or least offensively wrong.

      • Randy M says:

        have the pastor hector us about our sinful sinful ways, it doesn’t much matter which denomination.

        If you shop around you can find a pastor that doesn’t much bother you about your sinful ways, but wants to tell you about how great Jesus thinks you are. This would probably be all the more so if some unspecified church attendance were mandatory.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’ve flirted with the idea of practicing Mormonism before, mostly rejecting it because a) Christianity is slave morality and b) I like coffee. Neither my addiction to caffeine nor my love of Nietzsche is stronger than my desire not to be imprisoned, so Mormonism would win under the hypothetical.

      Mormonism makes historical claims which are idiotic even by the standards of other Abrahamic religions, but in terms of how the religion is practiced they’re a clear winner. Mormons do a nice job balancing between reproductive success and being economically successful in the modern world. Mormons have a respectable TFR of 3.4, with the rarity of income being positively correlated with fertility. And judging by the state of Utah, they seem to be pretty peaceful and well-adjusted.

      • DragonMilk says:

        What do you mean by slave morality?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Salt Lake was the cleanest big city I’ve ever been to. I walked around there thinking “man, I wish we Catholics could run shit like the Mormons do.”

        • Walter says:

          Have you been to Vatican city? Like, maybe when the catholics actually get to be officially in charge they keep stuff mad clean too. (I don’t know this, just sort of trying to stick up for the church, no idea why)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, I’ve been to Vatican City. Did midnight Mass with Pope John Paul II for Christmas 1999. I guess it was hard to tell how “clean” it was because it was packed with people.

            But for Salt Lake I didn’t just mean the areas around the temples. The commercial districts, and the whole city just seemed like really nice, orderly places to live.

          • Plumber says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            “…the whole city just seemed like really nice, orderly places to live”

            Ottawa, Canada gave me the same impression.

            Montreal seemed much more like a typical American city to me despite the language. 

            Any other similarities between Canadians and Mormons? 

          • bean says:

            To throw in another wrench, Singapore was not built by either Mormons or Canadians, and it’s incredibly clean.

    • Plumber says:

      Catholic ’cause Saint Ambrose is near my house, but my wife went to Catholic school and may veto it, so second choice would be Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church a little further, which we’ve been inside for their annual rummage sale and looked quite nice, actually all the nearby churches looked nice inside when they have their sales, and “Urban Adamah” has Jewish services in a private park they have that looks quite nice.

      Otherwise I guess whichever sect has the easiest “Cliff Notes” to memorize so me and my wife and son’s can pass as practicing.

      If the I order means my wife is more forgiving of my slacking on home repairs and yard work duty because the time is needed for worship instead I’d consider it a win!
      But it’s more likely to cut into my cooking, reading, and sleeping time so probably a burden instead.

    • DeWitt says:

      Pastafarianism, ’cause it’d be the least effort.

      • bullseye says:

        I think a government repressive enough to make religion mandatory wouldn’t recognize Pastafarianism as a real religion. The U.S. recognizes a lot of obviously fake religions because of our commitment to the government absolutely not telling you what to believe. Germany, in contrast, is a liberal democracy but has never recognized Scientology as a real religion despite Scientologists actually believing it.

    • fion says:

      Depends whether I’m optimising for likelihood of being true, avoiding persecution, or having an interesting religion.

      Likelihood of being true: either Judaism or Shia Islam
      Avoiding persecution: Anglican Christianity
      Having an interesting religion: Greek Paganism.

      • Nornagest says:

        Why Shia Islam specifically?

        • fion says:

          I’ve done very little research into this and I know very little about it, but I understand that Muhammad requested that all his followers follow Ali after his death. Abu Bakr was among those who pledged to do so. But when Muhammad died and several important people started following Abu Bakr he seemed to forget about his promise and Muhammad’s wishes and took power.

          It seems that God’s prophet wanted one thing, but politics played out the other way. If God exists, and if Muhammad was His prophet, then I take his wishes more seriously than a “who’s best at playing political games” contest.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            But then you have to decide whether to be a Twelver and support things like vigilante execution for the crime of criticizing Muhammad (plus the bizarre empirical claim about the hiding immortal imam) or an Ismaili and follow the liberal Ismaili imam.

            This can be a pretty important decision for the people around you!

          • Salem says:

            It’s not at all clear what Mohammed desired regarding leadership after his death.

            What is clear is that when Mohammed died, all the important Muslims around got together and decided, consensually, on who should be the new leader. They had a much better idea than we do now on what Mohammed had said and done, throughout his life, and at the time leading up to his death, regarding a new leader. They decided that Mohammed’s father-in-law, abu Bakr, should be the Caliph (“successor”), and they all – including Ali ibn abi Talib – pledged allegiance to him. That entirely settles the matter in the view of the vast majority of Muslims.

            But even if you think Ali ibn abi Talib should have been the first Caliph… so what? He had to wait a couple of years, but he became the fourth Caliph anyway, so you end up in the same place. The big split on leadership is not on who the first leader should have been, but who should have been leader after Ali, and what was the nature of leadership. Ali isn’t the central figure in Shi’ism, Hussein is.

            Importantly, the Caliph did not inherit Mohammed’s authority, only his leadership of the Muslim community. His was a much more circumscribed role. This upset a lot of the nomadic tribespeople, who wanted ongoing revelatory leadership – partly because they were naturally drawn to that sort of charismatic leader, and partly because too much settled law and order was contrary to their interests. These were the original Party of Ali, who murdered Uthman, the third Caliph. And much the same was still true with Hussein. This is why the early Shi’a rejected the whole concept of a Caliph and instead believed in an un-Quranic, semi-pagan hereditary Imamate. Of course, after a couple of centuries the Shi’a were as settled as anyone else, and wanted stable rule-of-law rather than ongoing revelation, just like everyone else, hence why they were happy with a pretend hidden Imam who couldn’t cause any trouble, rather than following a real-life Imam who might say and command all kinds of things.

            The other cause of the division is that abu Bakr and Omar al-Farooq conquered Persia, which was a much older, more sophisticated, and non-Islamic culture. Hence Shi’ism, which rejects abu Bakr and Omar, has gotten wrapped up with Persian nationalism, the preservation of ancient, non-Islamic folkways, and rejection of Ottoman authority – none of which are reliable sources of truth!

            More generally, even if the Sunni view of the succession is mistaken, that wouldn’t make Shi’ism “true.” It has to stand of fall on its own merits – the Ibadi have some pretty devastating criticisms of them on their own terms.

          • but I understand that Muhammad requested that all his followers follow Ali after his death.

            What is your reason for believing that?

          • and partly because too much settled law and order was contrary to their interests. These were the original Party of Ali, who murdered Uthman, the third Caliph.

            Isn’t the evidence better that Uthman was the one acting in his own interest–appointing his kinsmen, some of them very poor Muslims, to various lucrative positions?

            The immediate cause of the murder of Uthman was that he responded to the delegation complaining about the governor he had appointed for Egypt by agreeing to replace him with (I think) Umar’s son. On their way back to Egypt they stopped a slave of Uthman coming past them and found he was carrying a message telling the governor of Egypt to kill them when they arrived. They turned back, told their story, Uthman denied authorship of the message but enough didn’t believe him so that he ended up dead.

            As to your point linking Persia to Shiism, Persia only converted to Shiism under the Safavids, from about the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. The first major Shia power was the Fatimid Caliphate, originating in North Africa and eventually taking control of Egypt.

          • fion says:

            @Salem, @DavidFriedman

            Thanks for the info. Perhaps Sunni Islam would be a better shout because a large number of people are less likely to be wrong?

            Basically, I don’t consider myself wise, intelligent or knowledgeable enough to determine which way of worshipping God is correct, so I’m gonna have to base this on following other fallible humans to some extent.

            Oh, and in reply to why I believed what I said, it was mostly from reading the Wikipedia page on Succession to Muhammad.

          • Salem says:

            Well, the immediate cause of the death of Uthman is that Ali withdrew his sons providing him symbolic protection from the beseigers. But sure, Uthman was a weak, self-interested ruler who is extremely lucky to be considered Rashid, and in many ways he was the first Umayyad.

            But that says very little about the motivations of the people who opposed him. The coup was successful because Uthman was bad and weak, but those same people would have been plotting against him anyway (many of them had also rebelled against abu Bakr). They just would have had a harder time of it if he had been a ruler like Omar al-Farooq.

            It’s a bit like – to draw an analogy – you can’t explain the likes of Cromwell solely in terms of Charles I’s weak rulership. Sure, that helped shape it, but at some stage you have to look at the Puritanism too.

            As to your point linking Persia to Shiism, Persia only converted to Shiism under the Safavids, from about the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.

            Correct, and Shi’ism only became linked to resistance to the Ottoman authorities at about the same time – or even later. Obviously these things weren’t developments in early Islam! The point is that the modern popularity of Shi’ism derives from nationalistic propaganda and opportunistic resistance to an unpopular ruler, not to disinterested truth-seeking or a continuous line from the Sahabah.

            EDIT: looking back, my earlier comment was perhaps unclear. The original Party of Ali was in the time of Abu Bakr. And then many of the same people participated in the murder of Uthman. I am not saying that the first Shi’i arose in opposition to Uthman’s policies, that would be crazy.

      • Salem says:

        Don’t be too sure about Anglicanism.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Reform Judaism. Meshes well with my cultural background, makes very few demands of believers, and its adherents are generally kind, decent, tolerant people who I like interacting with. I know this is sort of an easy answer because it’s kind of weak-sauce about just how rigorously theistic it is, but I do think it still counts.

    • Baeraad says:

      Christianity. It’s the one I have any experience in. And I have also, as I’ve gotten older, started to think that a lot of parts of it make a lot of sense, even though I also think that as a worldview it has the slight drawback of being, well, not true. I could get behind its overall sentiments (e.g., “we were supposed to be super-awesome, yet somehow we’ve all turned out to really suck”) enough that I could probably avoid looking too hard on its specific metaphysical claims if I really tried.

    • James C says:

      Church of England. It’s like Christianity but no one really expects you to go to church unless it’s Christmas or Easter (you could go on both Christmas and Easter but most people would think that’s a little keen).

      • SuiJuris says:

        Surely a government that required the practice of Church of England religion would actually enforce the formal requirements of members rather than the current cultural norms of people who put “Church of England” on their census form but are basically secular? The formal requirements of members of the C of E are not tremendously onerous (if you’re a practicing Christian) but they do exist. Non-hypothetical: when the English government did require C of E practice there was a non-trivial attempt to enforce at least Sunday attendance.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      Unitarian Universalist, on grounds of not being soaked in blood and generally pretty well regarded.

      Or Wicca for the trolling factor and more entertaining rites.

    • Machine Interface says:

      (Don’t consider myself an atheist, somewhere between true agnoticism and indifferent deism)

      If there isn’t much choice/it has to be Christianity: Catholicism, due to familiarity with culture, low number of strict religious prohibitions, and Catholic church buildings don’t look like giant prefab broom closets, so at least there’s pretty architecture to look at during the mass.

      If there’s more choice: whatever sect of Hinduism has the most emphasis on determinism and rejection of free will, and the least emphasis on theistic aspects (that is, sects that accept that all the divinities of hinduism might all be just metaphorical). Prohibition on cow meat is fine, it’s my least favorite meat.

    • Lillian says:

      Imperial Roman paganism. It seems to be the religion least interested in legislating morality, and the only real requirement is that you pay some lip service to the deified emperors now and then, otherwise you’re free to worship or not as you like. It’s the closest thing there is to a libertarian theistic religion. Well except for the slavery thing, but having slaves is not actually a tenet of the faith, just an economic reality of the time. Pretty a modern industrialized Roman paganism wouldn’t have any.

      • Machine Interface says:

        Well, sort of. The pre-Christian Romans were quite afraid of witchcraft and bad magic — even by the standards of their time. Roman historians report thousands of people executed for witchcraft during Republican times, and Roman laws banning magical books, magical artefacts and divinations are frequent.

        That can arguably be said to be distinct from the religious phenomena, but unlike with Christianity, where the fear of witches was more of a vulgus things and Christian authorities generally rejected the belief in the existence of witches as supertitious and heretical (until German Protestants ran away with it), in Roman times it was a very official thing endorsed by the patricians just as much as the plebs.

        • Lillian says:

          Republican Roman paganism was very concerned with legislating morality. There was this one time where they literally banned all women from wearing jewelry or fancy dresses during a national emergency out of the belief that sheer puritanism would strengthen the Roman fighting spirit or something. Then they kept the ban going for like ten years until the women got fed-up and basically staged a general strike in protest.

          This is why i specified Imperial Roman, since once you get deep enough into the Empire things get a lot more cosmopolitan and relaxed. As long as you pay that lip service to the deified Emperors that is, otherwise… well see the whole persecution of the Christians.

  17. Walter says:

    I am super happy that the US is (in theory) pulling our forces out of Syria. I really hope Trump gets his way here, and they actually do leave within 30 days. Fingers crossed!

    • albatross11 says:

      How about if we have an actual public debate about whether we should have troops in Syria for the next few years, culminating in a vote on the matter in Congress, with congressmens’ votes a matter of public record so the voters can respond accordingly.

      • Walter says:

        Presently I see no need for a debate, since what I want to happen is already happening, but if the situation changes in such a way as to make the public debate the most likely way for me to get what I want then I’d be delighted to support it.

        • albatross11 says:

          I have this radical utopian idea that sending US soldiers off to war should be taken as a really serious decision, done out in the open where the voters can see what’s done, with Congress required to actually vote to authorize it and then voters able to change their votes depending on how things turn out.

          • bean says:

            You seem to be operating under a model that was only arguably true in, say, the 1800s, and definitely doesn’t work today. Specifically, the idea that you have “war”, where you send your troops to fight, and “not war”, where you keep your troops at home and aren’t fighting. Where does a US assistance mission to help train the Philippine Armed Forces to fight terrorism fall? Do we need a vote on that? What if Indonesia asks for a similar mission? What about the ships deployed to fight piracy off Somalia? How do things like the drone strikes fit into all of this?

            And this isn’t a new problem. The Barbary Pirates were a serious problem in the early 1800s, and the US had to fight them. To a large extent, wars were between civilized countries, while violence against the rest of the world was normal. All that’s changed in the last century is that the “rest of the world” now is technically countries, too.

          • Brad says:

            I know it’s a crazy idea but how about the President, whoever he is, follow the law: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/1543

          • albatross11 says:

            bean:

            Is Congress’ schedule so cramped and full that they don’t have time to discuss and authorize all the places we have our military intervening in?

            I understand there are edge cases where a formal declaration of war wouldn’t make sense, but Syria (like Iraq and Afghanistan) is just US soldiers fighting in a war and holding down territory afterwards, right? Is it really your position that Congress can’t be expected to authorize something like that, on the record with an actual vote? Did you feel the same way about our “kinetic humanitarian intervention” in Libya?

          • bean says:

            AIUI, our troops in Syria are mostly there as trainers, and that all of our direct operations against people in that country are either airstrikes or by Special Forces (or artillery, which is actually a specialized form of drone airstrike). Neither of these is trying to take and hold ground in our own name (the SF might be working with locals to do that, but that sort of thing has a long history, too), and thus neither fits well into the traditional “War Y/N?” model.

            I’m not advocating for Congress not paying attention to this stuff. Should there have been votes on Libya and Syria, given our levels of involvement there? Yes. But neither is involving us in a war as traditionally understood, and there’s a lot of stuff going on that doesn’t even reach that bar. The US military has some level of engagement with almost every country on the planet. This is a good thing. It gives us links, and keeps people on our side. But it’s also definitely within the purview of the President as CinC and the man responsible for foreign policy.

          • bullseye says:

            It’s true that there are cases where it’s ambiguous whether or not we’re at war. But the United States has not been in an officially declared war since WWII. Korea, Vietnam, both Gulf wars, and Afghanistan were all undeclared. Congress no longer decides whether we go to war, at all.

            I would be in favor of a law that says the military can’t enter a foreign country, or shoot into a foreign country (except when fired upon), without authorization from either that country or Congress.

          • Brad says:

            @bean

            The US military has some level of engagement with almost every country on the planet. This is a good thing. It gives us links, and keeps people on our side. But it’s also definitely within the purview of the President as CinC and the man responsible for foreign policy.

            It certainly is not “definitely” within the President’s Article II powers.

            The are two schools of thought on the Commander in Chief clause (also on the receive ambassadors clause).

            One school holds that it is an extremely broad grant of power that makes the President the senior partner vis a vis the Congressional Branch when it comes to war, peace, and generally anything even tangentially related to the military.

            The other school considers it to be little more than a senior generalship with the delegated discretion that implies. People in this school might perhaps think the President has some exclusive space for tactical decision making in a military context but in no way do his powers begin to approach Congress’ powers spread out across a half dozen broadly worded provisions (e.g. To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;)

            The important thing to note about the first school is that it is made up almost entirely by people that were either in the executive branch at the time they wrote their analysis or at least had spent significant portions of their life in the executive branch.

            The same, mutatis mutandis, is not the case in the other school. That one is made up not primarily of Congressmen, congressional aides, and those formerly in those roles but instead almost all third party scholars, most judges, and so on that have looked at these questions have come down much more in the second school camp. Even some people with executive branch experience (albeit not those at the OLC).

            Anyway, maybe the maximal CiC folks have the stronger argument but there’s no way they have a “definitely” strength argument.

          • bean says:

            @Brad

            I’m not a lawyer, and it’s been a while since I looked much at war powers in general. You might well be right, and I definitely don’t want to get into Congressional vs Executive power in general.

            That said, the War Powers Act has always struck me as the worst sort of useless feel-good legislation. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was an explicit Congressional authorization to the President to go into Vietnam. Johnson got their permission to do what he did. So why pass a law saying “You can’t do that without our permission again”? For that matter, they control the purse, and that brings a lot of power indeed. If Congress wanted out of Syria so badly, they could have said “no more cash until you leave”. They didn’t, ergo, they’re essentially trying to have their cake and eat it too.

          • Brad says:

            @bean
            It may be a silly law, but in my opinion—formed after a semester’s worth of looking at that and related questions—it’s a constitutional law. Presidents swear an oath. One that has no exception for laws they consider silly.

      • The Nybbler says:

        We didn’t have an actual public debate about deploying them, why should we have one about recalling them?

        • dragnubbit says:

          Budgets are debated publicly, and there have been special funding bills or provisions for nearly all US military ‘adventures’. It is a talking point to say Congress does not approve US military deployments but the reality is that they do.

      • Randy M says:

        Has that ever happened for any military conflict, ever?
        Congress should declare war, but I don’t think they get to keep it declared.

      • Yakimi says:

        There’s no public debate because no one cares enough to debate it. Interventions like Syria and Yemen are too low-key for all but the extremely online to care about. There’s not enough blood or glory to captivate the average voter’s attention in an age of endless distraction. The belligerents are too exotic and ambiguous for moral clarity, and the geopolitical motivations are too complicated to understand. Congressmen will always vote in line with the wisdom of the foreign policy blob because they don’t have to answer to their constituents on this issue.

        • Plumber says:

          Foreign affairs are foreign.

          With the single exception of the immigration of people from elsewhere to the U.S.A., unless Americans are coming home in body bags, nothing overseas sways elections very much.

          • cassander says:

            This is something I have to constantly strive to remind my colleagues of. Deep down, most americans do not care about other countries. They don’t dislike them, they aren’t afraid of them, they just ignore them, because they’re largely irrelevant to their day to day lives. Sure, they’ve read about them in books, but they’ve also read about unicorns and gandalf in books.

            This has substantial, and generally underappreciated, effects on the conduct of american foreign policy.

          • jgr314 says:

            At this point, I don’t think Americans care much about the bodybags either: Afghanistan Nov 2018.

          • Statismagician says:

            It is important to recall that for all that we’ve been in Afghanistan for 17 years, there have only been ~5,000* US deaths and ~40,000* US wounded. It’s just… you know, not that big a deal, unless you are or personally know one of the people contributing to those numbers. Per CDC we had ten times that many people die from the flu/pneumonia last year alone, and this is rather less present in peoples’ minds than Afghanistan.

            *Wikipedia gives it as 2,412 military deaths and ~2,000 contractor deaths; the split for wounded is 22,773 and ~15,000. I assume they’re undercounting to at least some degree but it ought to be in at least the right ballpark.

    • Tenacious D says:

      I don’t know enough about the situation, but I’ve seen some people suggest that Turkey wants to drive its offensive against the Kurds into Syria. Kurdish militias have been a key part of the fight against ISIS and I assume they have some embedded US “advisors”. Withdrawing US forces thus avoids having two NATO countries shooting at each other on the Euphrates plain–but it leaves the Kurds out to dry. Does anyone know enough to say how likely this scenario is?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Well, I “hope” Trump gets his way, in the sense that if Trump is ordering troops withdrawn, they are withdrawn. Trying to block the withdrawal sets up all sorts of problems for the next guy.

      In terms of actual policy, it doesn’t affect the US directly in any immediate sense, but it really undercuts the position of the Kurds, and probably encourages the Syrian government and its allies to go back on the offensive. It’ll be up to other people to try to stop that offensive, but you might end up with just another vacuum, and ISIS came out of such a vacuum in the first place. IMO, we are better off with the current situation with an effective stalemate, especially since it doesn’t take all that much US commitment to keep that stalemate stable.

      • John Schilling says:

        In terms of actual policy, it doesn’t affect the US directly in any immediate sense, but it really undercuts the position of the Kurds, and probably encourages the Syrian government and its allies to go back on the offensive.

        The Kurdish position has already been undercut, and it was the defeat of ISIS that undercut it.

        Before, the position of the Syrian Kurds was that the Assad/Putin alliance wanted them exterminated or wholly subjugated, and the Turkish government wanted them exterminated or wholly subjugated, and ISIS wanted them exterminated or wholly subjugated. But Assad/Putin and the Turks also wanted ISIS exterminated, and were perfectly happy to play “let’s you and him fight” with the Kurds and ISIS while preparing to take down whoever emerged victorious. The Kurds only had to fight ISIS, and the United States could safely help them without having to fight anyone but ISIS.

        Now, the position of the Syrian Kurds is that the Assad/Putin alliance wants them exterminated or wholly subjugated, the Turkish government wants them exterminated or wholly subjugated, neither have any further use for the Kurds, and United States assistance means putting the US on the opposite side of a shooting war from a hostile nuclear superpower and one of our own sworn allies at the same time.

        The Syrians and their allies are going on the offensive regardless. If we stick around, they’ll do it through deniable mercenaries and “volunteers”, but if we try to stop it we will be shooting at people who are in fact Russian military personnel (and possibly also some Turkish military personnel), and that’s the sort of thing we really should consider carefully in the halls of Congress.

        Otherwise, there’s a perfectly reasonable position that the United States is willing to help the Syrian Kurds fight ISIS but not help them fight Russia, and that it is therefore time to pull back and go home. Preferably without blindsiding major US allies and the US military itself in the process, because even if Trump occasionally makes the right object-level decision he tends to implement it in the most offensive way possible.

        It’ll be up to other people to try to stop that offensive, but you might end up with just another vacuum, and ISIS came out of such a vacuum in the first place.

        This isn’t 2011. Syria is a Russian protectorate now, and Vladimir Putin isn’t likely to throw away a geopolitical victory of that magnitude by letting a third-rate pretender to the Caliphate muscle in on his action.

  18. Aapje says:

    A French writer wrote a very interesting book about the divide in France (although it also touches on other places where similar things may be happening). Here is a very interesting and long review of the book.

    The TL;DR version is that the claim is that the successful parts of the country, mainly Paris, push out low-ability native Frenchmen, who have trouble paying the rents. Who are left and who migrate in, are an upper class of very liberal and well-earning native Frenchmen and a lower class of migrants and their descendants. However, even within the cities the latter are on the periphery, just less so than the lower class native Frenchmen.

    The consequence of this is then that the upper class forgets about the lower class native Frenchmen, as the people cleaning their toilets and serving them in restaurants are migrants. So the logical consequence is then that their view of the underclass is distorted, which in turn makes them very susceptible to blaming racism. After all, from their perspective, the upper class is white and the lower class is colored.

    A fact from the book that I found very interesting was that while London grew by 1 million people between 2001 and 2011, the population of white Londoners fell by 600,000. I used to believe that urbanization was still going on, but the reality might be more complex, where international migration to cities is hiding a white flight out of city centers by the middle and lower class.

    The book seems to explain lower class native Frenchmen being pushed out as being due to tribal/ethnic conflict, where housing complexes and entire blocks are ‘owned’ by a certain ethnicity, who don’t accept the presence of the other ethnicity. However, I think that this is incomplete. My belief is that migrants perceive much more benefit from being in the city, as that is where the migrant communities are with their culture, while if the native French move out of the city, they can still enjoy French culture there. Furthermore, migrants seem to have lower standards. I think that natives are less likely to be willing to stay with their parents until late in their life, live in squalor and especially want to provide their kids with good prospects. I see a lot of people leaving cities to have and raise children.

    In Dutch, we have a saying, doing thing with ‘a French swing,’ which means doing things sloppily. Unfortunately, the book seems to conform to the stereotype, in it’s use of data to support the claims. However, the basic ideas from the book do seem promising avenues for further investigation as they seem to explain reality better than many other explanations.

    • Plumber says:

      @Aapje,
      That pretty much matches San Francisco, California except for one detail: blacks (who’s families have usually been in North America longer than most of their white countrymen) are moving out in a greater percentage than whites (actually other whites are moving in along with Asians and Latins, replacing those who move out).

      • Aapje says:

        Well, black Americans who have been in the US since slavery are no more migrants (or 1st/2nd/3rd generation) than most white Americans. We should distinguish race from migration status.

        I looked up some numbers and could find the percentage of foreign born for these cities:
        San Francisco: 35.6%
        London: 36.7%
        Paris: 20.3%

        This doesn’t count second and third generation migrants, even though they are often still poorly integrated and can cause high friction with especially lower/middle class natives.

        The low figure for Paris might reflect that Paris is most likely far less appealing to well-educated foreigners than SF and London. I think that for London and SF, that group of migrants can be split up in a large group of well-educated foreigners and a large group of not so well-educated people. I suspect that this is very different for Paris.

        • Plumber says:

          @Aapje

          “…no more migrants (or 1st/2nd/3rd generation) than most…”

          Very few residents are “Californos” (descendants of people who were here before California was part of the U.S.A.), and even 4th generation is rare.

        • Machine Interface says:

          The number in Paris might be skewed by the fact that Paris Proper is an unusually small city, in terms of superficy. In the US, the UK or Germany, most of the mid-size cities on the periphery* of Paris, which is where the bulk of migrant population live, would have been incorporated into Paris decades ago (this is eventually planned for Paris, but it’s a work-in-progress nowhere near completion). This means that what is counted as Paris is only the most expensive quarters of the Greater Paris Area, whereas the poor districts which concentrate migrant population are autonomous cities and thus not counted in the statistics of Paris’ population.

          *: more exactly, the “migrant and proletarian cities” are mostly the cities around the north and east of Paris. The cities west and south are whiter and more middle class, or even bourgeois.

          • Another Throw says:

            My favorite example of this:

            The population of London(*) is less than 10,000.

            (*) The City of London is, confusingly, embedded inside the city of London. Both of which are headed by someone called the *mumble mumble* Mayor of London.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Sort of, for the UK. London has not really expanded geographically since 1965. Places like Dartford or Watford probably should be in London but aren’t.

          • Lambert says:

            ‘Hasn’t really expanded’ in the sense that the Gov’t decided that a 30km wide, sprawling London is a bad thing, and really heavily restricted building in the countryside surrounding Greater London.

          • Statismagician says:

            They have, at least, not paved over most of England and called it Even Greater London, so there’s that.

          • Aapje says:

            @Machine Interface

            I already looked at that, but the percentage of first generation migrants is actually lower in the Greater Paris Area than in Paris itself (17.9% vs 20.3%).

            So this doesn’t explain the disparity.

          • Plumber says:

            @Statismagician

            “They have, at least, not paved over most of England and called it Even Greater London, so there’s that”

            Maybe after “London” is renamed “Trantor” or “Castle Gormenghast”.

          • One reason rents and housing prices are very high in London is the greenbelt–the fact that a belt of land surrounding London is, in effect, zoned unavailable for housing.

            Something similar appears to be largely responsible for the high housing prices Plumber complains about in the Bay Area. There was a story some months ago about a large chunk of land in Milpitas that went on the market. It was zoned agricultural and sold for what I estimated to be between one and two orders of magnitude less than it would have sold for as land for housing.

            I have seen estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of the land in the Bay Area is not available for housing, due to the combined effect of zoning, parks, and other restrictions. I have not checked the calculation, but I have seen the same figure both from a source that thought it was too high and one that thought it was too low, which makes me at least suspect that it may be true.

            Where I live, small houses on small lots sell for about a million dollars each. Most of them are single story, a few one and a half stories (two stories over part but not all of the house), almost none a full two stories or more. Given those prices, it’s hard to believe that the pattern does not reflect regulatory restrictions.

            Which is to say that the pattern Plumber would establish were he king of California, where land use is decided by the government, is in large part responsible for the expensive housing he objects to. Of course, if he were the government … .

          • Plumber says:

            “……Which is to say that the pattern Plumber would establish were he king of California, where land use is decided by the government, is in large part responsible for the expensive housing he objects to. Of course, if he were the government…”

            I would reign both justly and mercifully, though I can’t promise the same of my agents (good help is so hard to find!), I’d suffer an exile republic in Iceland Catalina Island for a few generations, in time the benefits of my rule (ale, corned beef sandwiches, hammocks, and cookies!) would be extended to Yorkshire and the rest of the Danelaw southern Oregon, lumber from which would be used to build the pubs and homes that would replace the office parks of Santa Clara County, and for new brass and bronze plumbing fixtures sources of copper, tin, and zinc would need to be secured….

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Retirement? If I’m a white senior citizen with a fixed pension, and all matter of prices are raising around me in Paris, I’d seriously consider moving out.

      That’s actually an upgrade. I have family near Paris and they don’t go into the city unless they have to. It’s (relative to where they live) crowded, polluted and dirty. Selling a million dollar old apartment and moving into a 500k villa in an idyllic small town… not a hard decision.

      On the other hand plenty of immigrants go where the work is. Rent prices in London are famous – 400 pounds per month for 3 people living in the same room. But if you don’t see it as a household but as making money, you still end up with a very good wage to save or send back home. And even if you bring your family with you, it may be crowded for a few years but the kid will go to a british kindergardern and the wife will have a british wage as well, so it evens out.

  19. Repost from the totally dead OT:

    Is anyone here aware of Andrew Yang? He’s the first potential candidate I’ve heard of (outside of minor/third parties) in a Western country that is making his primary platform all about automation and the basic income guarantee (OK the UK Conservative Party had some stuff in a pamphlet somewhere but it’s hilarious stuff about the “positive conservative vision” of shaking hands with a robot while wearing a VR set). He’s a Democratic Party candidate, not some independent figure with zero chance. Actually, we know from Hillary’s book “What Happened?” that she had a chance to raise these issues but deliberately chickened out. This guy is hoping to make the issue the Democratic Party’s flagship issue and make the basic income its flagship policy (though he calls it a “Freedom Dividend” in an interesting piece of marketing).

    As well as being a Democrat (I would have preferred a Republican but ho-hum) that is focused on automation, the third important element to me is that he’s neither an actual radical socialist nor someone trying to rehabilitate the label of socialism like Bernie, as can be seen from this FAQ answer on his website where he expresses it as a policy to advance capitalism. He repeatedly talks about evolving capitalism into a new form in his speeches, which is good. This normalizes the policy and is both a fact based defense against conservative dismissals using the buzzwords of socialism/communism (basic income is compatible with markets and private property), and assuages the fears of market positive moderates who are suspicious of those trying to sneak a real socialist agenda in by other means. So I’m rather pleased about this so far.

    I’m (CULTURE WARning, but at the same time disclosure) right of center, a nationalist, and I don’t like the left wing identity stuff that’s part of his platform and worldview, but that’s to be expected, and all things considered it’s really rather paltry. All that kind of stuff pales absolutely in comparison to the importance of getting policy on technological unemployment and autiomation right. We have opposite views on affirmative action, guns, immigration etc but that doesn’t matter when it comes to the rise of the robots. The Culture Wars don’t matter in the face of that.

    My only affecting issue (and it’s a big one) is that the basic income is a context sensitive policy. It shouldn’t be brought in too big, too early. He’s offering $1000 per month for every American over 18 (over 20 if you don’t graduate), which is a rather large amount. He seems to be under the impression that a lot of jobs have already been lost to automation, but this is highly disputed. It was always going to be the left that advanced the basic income first, but I’ve long been concerned about them ruining it by bringing it in as a massive wage boost rather than a replacement for most wages in the context of massive permanent unemployment. The one case risks inflation, the other not so much. The one is just another level of hand out, the other is existential.

    It’s entirely likely he’ll lose in the primaries, but I’m sure (if he isn’t still known as “Who?” by that point) he’ll force the issue into the mainstream where Hillary could not. It’s possible that 2020 will be the breakout year for the basic income, or it might be the year that it kills it dead for a while. I just wish he’d started with a smaller amount of money that would be grown over time in response to rather obvious and indisputable tech-unemployment. That’s the way to do it.

    What do you think? I’m told from the discord that he’s a virtual unknown, but my point is that if he’s the first good chance to push the platform into the Democratic primaries, maybe we should try and help make him well known. Even if his “freedom dividend” is way over the top for now, chances are he’s not going to win and implement that dumb version of the policy anyway. The main goal here would be to promote someone with that platform so that the other Democratic candidates start addressing it. That very process of exposure to critique by mainstream candidates could argue the basic income down to something practical and pragmatic that can be built up over time.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m not going to reiterate my arguments against UBI again here, but even if you think it’s a good idea in general there’s a fundamental problem with Andrew Yang’s proprosal:

      What do we do if the singularity doesn’t happen immediately?

      A UBI that pays $12,000 a year to every American adult would have cost three trillion dollars in 2017, assuming zero administrative costs. That’s roughly equivalent to the entire annual revenue of the IRS in 2017. Unlike Scott Alexander, Andrew Yang doesn’t mention cutting any existing entitlement programs to pay for this: his website says that he wants to pay for it with a Value Added Tax. A VAT capable of paying for this would need to raise an amount of money equivalent to over 15% of America’s 2017 GDP. I don’t know how to convert that into a rate but it’s going to be a steep one.

      Implementing this plan is depending not just on the inevitability of a technological singularity, but on being able to time it precisely. If you’re not already on the cusp of a singularity, the ruinous expense could crash the American economy. Are any of you soconfident that we can count on the singularity happening within the next few years that you’d bet the entire US economy on it?

      • sty_silver says:

        I’m not sure how relevant practical arguments against his position really are. Unless you’re going to argue that he might actually win, supporting him would just be trying to get the idea of UBI more into the public mind, which would be detached from policy details.

      • honoredb says:

        If I were doing a phased introduction of UBI in the U.S., and justifying it as a response to tech-driven unemployment, I’d implement it as an unlimited extension of unemployment benefits. You keep getting the same check forever even if you get another job. This is sort of equivalent (U.S. unemployment benefits vary wildly but are in the neighborhood of $1K a month) but has some nice qualities:

        – You have to work first and not be fired for cause in order to qualify so we at least nod in the direction of addressing some of the objections to UBI.
        – It scales up automatically in response to spikes in layoffs if, say, the trucking industry gets wiped out overnight.
        – It uses existing infrastructure (and actually saves money in the extreme short term due to removing restriction enforcement costs).
        – It’s already adjusted by the states to local cost of living.

        If it works out you just make it easier and easier to qualify, maybe provide a guaranteed two year term of public service employment to anyone who applies with accommodations for disabilities, and increase the benefits if necessary.

        • acymetric says:

          That works for the people who are forced out of the workforce, but doesn’t do much for the people behind them who are never able to enter it.

          • honoredb says:

            Hence the “guaranteed minimum job” as phase 2. Which I don’t think we’d need for a while since UBI will cause people to leave the workforce faster than entry-level jobs will disappear.

    • @Nabil ad Dajjal

      I think it’s astronomically unlikely that Yang gets into power and implements this proposal in this form with zero resistance. It’s not about “Andrew Yang should be President”, but “Andrew Yang should be a significant figure in the Dem primaries where his ideas can be put on the table”. It’s like how Bernie realistically had a staggeringly low chance of winning, but by putting a $15 minimum wage on the table, he got Hillary to seriously consider a $12 minimum wage.

      If Yang is all about automation and the basic income and nobody else is, then promoting him means these issues get talked about more in the mainstream party circles. His crazy plan of “give all Americans between 18 and 65 $1000 a month” can then become a sensible Democratic candidate’s plan of “give all Americans between 18 and 65 $50 a month, which gradually scales up over time as other entitlements are scaled down in proportion, in line with a new office of government that will carefully monitor job loss due to automation over time”.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        His crazy plan of “give all Americans between 18 and 65 $1000 a month” can then become a sensible Democratic candidate’s plan of “give all Americans between 18 and 65 $50 a month, which gradually scales up over time as other entitlements are scaled down in proportion increase at the same rate as other entitlement spending if not higher, in line with a new office of government that will carefully monitor job loss due to automation over time lobby for a higher UBI every single year regardless of what the labor market looks like”.

        FTFY.

        Seriously though, why would you expect other programs to ever decrease? They each have strong constituencies and large bureaucracies whose existence depends on that particular program. Apply that reality to your proposed automation department and you’ll see the same thing applies to UBI itself.

      • Well, what’s the alternative to pushing UBI/BIG into mainstream and ramping it up slowly?

        The two alternatives to this seem to me to be:
        1: Wait until technological unemployment is so massive and permanent that people are screaming in the streets for it. This could work; big tech capitalists seem to already be for the policy, but it’s also cruel and dangerous to wait until things get really bad before you push the policy.
        2: Wait until that point but then don’t do anything and have a bloody communist revolution (with ethnic undertones) instead.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          My alternative is to wait as the projected date for mass technological unemployment keeps being pushed forward to “twenty years from now” every year until I’m laying in a pine box. It’s like making policy based on the Rapture: people have been predicting that this would happen within their lifetime for centuries.

          But yes, if mass technological unemployment does happen, then that will be the appropriate time for government intervention. Not before.

          • acymetric says:

            I would suggest that it needs to happen before. How far before, and predicting when it will happen to time it correctly are the challenges. If you wait until after mass unemployment has occurred you are going to have a bunch of problems that UBI will not be able to fix because it can’t be implemented quickly enough and the people impacted might…find their own implementation in the meantime.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I would suggest that it needs to happen before. How far before, and predicting when it will happen to time it correctly are the challenges.

            Since unemployment is extremely low, it seems odd to pick now as the appropriate time, at least. I’m pretty content kicking the can down the road for as long as the economy is doing reasonably well. For that metric, even 2008-2012 was a really good economy that met most people’s needs.

            I am just spitballing for the next part, but I would say that sustained 12-18% unemployment would not wreck the economy without recourse, but would certainly show signs of “mass technological unemployment.” What do you think about that range as when we consider a UBI?

          • acymetric says:

            I agree that it isn’t necessary now. Waiting until the economy is doing poorly doesn’t make sense though, because the economy is doing poorly implementing UBI is going to be difficult or impossible because you have to find that money somewhere.

            I guess it depends a little on how you are measuring the economy. Perhaps if you see unemployment/underemployment increasing without seeing expected impacts on GDP (or some better metric) that would be a good trigger to seriously consider whether UBI is warranted?

          • DeWitt says:

            unemployment is extremely low

            There’s a lot of gymnastics that are used to keep the numbers from looking low, certainly, but the combination of underemployment and shoddy counting certainly exists and should be kept well in mind.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I guess it depends a little on how you are measuring the economy. Perhaps if you see unemployment/underemployment increasing without seeing expected impacts on GDP (or some better metric) that would be a good trigger to seriously consider whether UBI is warranted?

            I suppose we would expect to see a huge increase in stratification, with segments of the society doing unbelievably well, and sections literally unable to find any income despite being healthy and available. I can see that we may be at that first part, with tech industries pushing the way. I don’t see that we’re in the second part.

            There’s a lot of gymnastics that are used to keep the numbers from looking low, certainly, but the combination of underemployment and shoddy counting certainly exists and should be kept well in mind.

            Certainly true, but this seems more like an object-level consideration, while I feel that the UBI conversation is at the stage of “what types of information should even be considered.”

          • acymetric says:

            I suppose we would expect to see a huge increase in stratification, with segments of the society doing unbelievably well, and sections literally unable to find any income despite being healthy and available.

            Why would it need to be “unable to find any income” as opposed to “unable to find sufficient income to support themselves”?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Sorry, that was sloppy writing on my part. I had in mind a more direct comparison between Employed and UBI, temporarily discounting a more general safety net or underemployment. At the abstraction of “UBI – Y/N?” for this thread, I didn’t want to bog down in partial incomes and a discussion about how much income was “enough” and COLAs and all that. You are correct.

        • Jaskologist says:

          3. Technological unemployment continues its historical trend of always being just around the corner, but never actually arriving.

        • acymetric says:

          Another thought related to Nabil ad Dajjal and Jaskologist’s points about technological unemployment. I’m sure this is something is discussed somewhere, but I don’t believe I’ve seen much of it.

          Has there been any analysis about technological underemployment as opposed to full unemployment? Do people who do not believe technological unemployment is a valid concern (at least at this time) have the same view of technological underemployment? “Service economy” and “gig economy” seem like concepts that hint at this somewhat.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I think regulatory underemployment is the bigger problem. And that’s something we’ve actually seen happen in many places in the past, so we know it’s real.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Only if we consider Indonesian labor to be a technology.

            The Good Jobs™ are for the most part still being done by humans, just not American humans. Germany has demonstrated very convincingly that you can run a first world economy with a robust manufacturing sector and ample trade jobs, if you care to. And there’s a lot of dirtier work that could be done profitably by Americans if not for regulation, such as coal mining.

            Underemployment is a problem here but I’m far from convinced that it’s a technological problem. If anything, the technology underlying the gig economy is mitigating the problem as it at least gives people the option to do some work.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Before the “service economy” and “gig economy” there was the coal mining economy, the auto manufacturing economy, the agricultural economy. The service and gig economies seem far superior to these economies by a mile, and if anything a lot of the earlier economies had “overemployment” when you compare how much people would like to work vs how much they had to work.

    • Plumber says:

      I think thr ultimate effect of an extra $1,000 in everyone’s pocket will be everyone’s rent going up by a $1,000, since housing costs always seem to grow eventually.

      • dragnubbit says:

        Isn’t that an argument against everything that increases disposable income for renters?

      • Can you think of any way of testing that belief? It doesn’t follow from any conventional account of the economics of rent.

        Real per capita income has increased about eightfold over the past century. If your theory is correct, that should have had no effect on the welfare of anyone but people who owned housing. Is that consistent with the evidence?

        • Plumber says:

          @DavidFriedman,

          In the last 100 years?

          No.

          In the last 40 years?

          Yes.

          Something happened in the U.S.A. in the 1970’s that caused the bulk of any subsequent increases in wages to be swallowed by increases in the cost of housing (and education and health care).

          I’m very curious as to why the change.

          • cassander says:

            Among other things, housing size almost doubled while family size fell. A huge part of the reason housing costs are up in real terms is that we are consuming far more housing per capita. And when I look at how my mother grew up (6 kids spread out over 20 years in 2 bedrooms) I think that’s money well spent.

          • Brad says:

            The only way to claim no improvement since the 1970s is to arrogantly disregard revealed preferences and claim to know what “really” matters.

          • Plumber says:

            @cassander

            “Among other things, housing size almost doubled while family size fell. A huge part of the reason housing costs are up in real terms is that we are consuming far more housing per capita. And when I look at how my mother grew up (6 kids spread out over 20 years in 2 bedrooms) I think that’s money well spent”

            Maybe that’s true in the rest of the U.S.A., but for me who grew up in Oakland and Berkeley, California and for my wife who grew up Seattle, Washington both of our parents bought houses at younger ages for less labor hours that were bigger and newer than the house we eventually bought, and we have the same number of kids in a smaller and older house than my parents had and we have more kids in a smaller house and much older house than my wife’s parents, and I’m the only one among my friends who I grew up with who managed to get a house near where we grew up, and none live in bigger homes than their parents. 

            Of my generation the only people I know with a higher standard of living than their parents are immigrants from other countries. 

            @Brad

            “The only way to claim no improvement since the 1970s is to arrogantly disregard revealed preferences and claim to know what “really” matters”

             Brad, I’m pretty clueless about what you mean, a “revealed preference” to work more hours for pay that buys less?

          • Brad says:

            It is a much more desirable place to live than it was back then. As evidenced by revealed preferences. If you and your friends have idiosyncratic preferences that and don’t appreciate the massive increase in value, you can realize it as cash and use that money to buy things you like more.

          • cassander says:

            @plumber

            https://hbr.org/resources/images/article_assets/2013/11/consumptionspreads.gif

            The arrange house in 1970 had half the square footage per person, no microwave, no dishwasher, no dryer, no air conditioning.

            I grew up in the Bay area, and living elsewhere has taught me the folly of generalizing from there. California has seen the population double, the vast majority crammed into a tiny share of the land while development has been massively restricted. It’s a textbook case for bidding up a good of fixed quantity.

          • Plumber says:

            @Brad

            “…If you and your friends have idiosyncratic preferences that and don’t appreciate the massive increase in value, you can realize it as cash and use that money to buy things you like more”

            That only works when you own property, and his the explosion in property prices that’s harder to achieve. 

            @cassander

            “…I grew up in the Bay area, and living elsewhere has taught me the folly of generalizing from there. California has seen the population double, the vast majority crammed into a tiny share of the land while development has been massively restricted. It’s a textbook case for bidding up a good of fixed quantity”

            That was very interesting. 

            What are conditions like elsewhere? .

          • What are conditions like elsewhere?

            One easy way of getting some idea of housing prices elsewhere is to go up on Zillow.com.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            A common example I like to give is Texas. I grew up about 30-45 minutes outside of Austin. My sister and her husband build houses for a living. They recently sold a 1500-sqft newly renovated house, 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, for about $130k. It came with about 10 acres of land.

            This is normal for that area. Zillow listings look about half the price of the same size and occupancy and type of house in Maryland (where I live now). Location is by far the dominant factor in pricing.

            This is why GDP is often such a lame measurement of how well a country is doing. It rarely matters that your salary is twice as high, if everything costs twice as much. PPP matters much more.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman and @Paul Brinkley,

            What I wondered about “conditions” wasn’t just the nominal prices of houses but how likely someone who grows up there may have one.

            From what I’ve read someone born poor in Salt Lake City, Utah or Seattle, Washington is more likely to get to be a middle class adult than someone born in Atlanta, Georgia, but what their definition of “middle-class” actually is I don’t know, I’m guessing earning close to the national median annual income. 

            My perception is that the “Bay Area” is a place where the lucky and talented go to increase their fortunes beyond what they may where they come from, and it’s also my perception that most who grew up here can’t earn enough to stay here, an economic centerfuge turning some into millionaires and others into tent dwellers. 

            There’s also lots of reports of “dying” rural small towns, “coal country”, and the “dying rust belt”, where young. people who stay aren’t doing well as their parents, and I’ve seen many reports showing that the last 40 years has been an economic centerfuge for the whole U.S.A.

            What I’m wondering about is if they’re still places in the U.S.A. (Utah?) that don’t have the migration of the desperate and the ambitious to and from and instead just have the majority of people who were born and raised there get steady work and detached homes that are family sized (ideally while they’re still in their 20’s), like my parents generation here 50 years ago. 

            Any such places?

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Plumber

            I grew up in the Eastern suburbs of Cleveland and my 5 siblings live in the area still, each married, 4 of them with kids (between 1 and 3 of them), living in the same general area. Each owns their own, unattached, house. I found a nice little 6 bed, 4.5 bath, 6,700 sq ft house on 2.5 acres for you, for $400,00. It needs some plumbing work, but I think you are up for it.

          • Plumber says:

            @baconbits9

            “..I grew up in the Eastern suburbs of Cleveland and my 5 siblings live in the area still, each married, 4 of them with kids (between 1 and 3 of them), living in the same general area. Each owns their own, unattached, house…”

            4 out of 5?

            If your siblings didn’t have family money  (and between 6 how much could there be?) those are really good odds! 

            Cleveland is represented here as part of the “dying rust belt” but, just judging from your anecdote, Cleveland is doing right for it’s residents in a way San Francisco isn’t! 

        • cassander says:

          @Plumber

          well for a start, when I moved to DC, I looked at prices and thought “huh, downtown rents here are pretty cheap.” Everyone else thinks I’m crazy. I had a friend move here from san carlos a couple years ago, his rent for a similar sized place in a similar sort of neighborhood when from 4500 to 2800 a month. California in general, and the bay area in particular, is uniquely terrible when it comes to housing prices.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Sorta what Plumber said.

      Trying to sum up, the basic problems of UBI I’ve run across are as follows:

      1. It’ll either be so paltry that everyone will say “so what?” and walk on by, or as Nabil says, it will cost so much that the US will bankrupt itself trying to keep its people solvent.

      2. It’ll just cause prices to rise across the board. PPP will remain unchanged, or drop a bit due to the overhead of the new Department of UBI.

      3. People are already sensitive about illegal immigration. A program that promises Free Money illegals if they file a DUBI-US claim is going to hit a nerve.

      4. How certain are we, actually, that automation is a crisis in need of UBI as a solution? I keep hearing this, and I keep not being sold on it, for multiple reasons. (I even have a bookmark to an article claiming that the cost of labor will double due to automation – great news for laborers – but I’m still waiting on some parts before I can repair my computer and get to it again.)

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        the cost of labor will double due to automation

        That’s a new one for me. Do you recall what the mechanism for that was supposed to be?

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Sadly, no. And a casual search doesn’t turn that article up, although it turns up similar language. (Note the section on the effect a surge of female labor had on the wages of men.) I’m trying to remember who wrote that article; it might be David Henderson, and it might be on Econlib, but I haven’t found it, and my computer won’t be fixed enough for me to re-acquire that bookmark until probably this weekend or later.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Thanks for searching. I am familiar with the argument in your link (essentially, we’ve been automating for years and it doesn’t seem to cause unemployment). Since that’s been true for several hundred years, I happen to find that argument fairly persuasive. I would need to be persuaded that something is different for that to change.

            I’m still curious about an argument that human labor would become more expensive, though, as that doesn’t seem to follow from history or economics. No big deal, but I would enjoy reading it if you do find it.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            I would need to be persuaded that something is different for that to change.

            Lump of labor stops being a fallacy if marginal consumption is less than marginal labor. We’re definitely not at that point globally yet, but there’s no reason to expect human appetites for consumption to be infinite, and per capita productivity growth is slowing.

            I don’t unequivocally believe this, but I don’t unequivocally disbelieve it either.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            there’s no reason to expect human appetites for consumption to be infinite, and per capita productivity growth is slowing

            Assuming I’m reading you right:

            (1) Could you double-check whether per capita productivity growth is slowing? I thought it was increasing.
            (2) Appetite for consumption is either finite, or infinite.
            (2a) If finite, then perCapProd will eventually satisfy it, at which point we Win.
            (2b) If infinite, then perCapProd will eventually either catch up and presumably stay caught up, lag behind more and more and thus leave AforC unsatisfied, or somehow manage to stay in step but some finite distance behind.
            (2ba) If it catches up, we Win, per (2a).
            (2bb) If it falls behind, then there’s perpetually something for people to do, so the automation crisis has failed to manifest. Furthermore, the greater the unsatisfied consumption, the greater the demand for labor, and therefore the higher the wages (maybe this was the argument I had forgotten?).

            (2bc) This might be where the automation fear comes in. The robots are racing humans for the available jobs. Whenever a job is identified, a robot snaps it up and does it before a human can learn to do it. Result: humans are endlessly frustrated, looking for something to do that they can trade for buying power, but always surpassed by a metal man before they can get anywhere.

            But (2bc) seems too much like (2ba) to me. At worst, human consumption demands Something To Do, which robots instantaneously satisfy by producing… skinner boxes, I guess.

            Is the above accurate to you? Missing something important? Way off base?

          • acymetric says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            I am not Hoopyfreud, but here are my thoughts:

            1) Per capita productivity is increasing. Per capita productivity growth (the rate of the increase) has decreased from where it was from 2000-2010. It would be hard to determine what exactly this means (if anything) or extrapolate to the future without some serious data analysis and probably a deeper understanding of economics so I’m probably not the guy for that. It probably also matters how you measure per capita productivity, I think there are multiple methods.

            2a and 2b) Why would we assume that perCapProd would never exceed appetite for consumption? Sort of sounds like assuming an infinite frictionless plane of uniform density to me. Also, perCapProd being equal to appetite for consumption is not mutually exclusive with mass unemployment. If a very few workers (along with a bunch of automation) are producing a ton of stuff we might still be increasing per capita production but with a large population producing nothing/next to nothing (and thus receiving the same in compensation). That’s kind of the whole point of the UBI argument.

            If I misunderstood (or completely missed) part of what you were saying please correct me.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @acymetric:

            The only reason I assume perCapProd would never exceed appetite for consumption (2bb or 2bc) is that those two or (2ba) neatly cover all possible cases. perCapProd either meets+exceeds, falls behind, or exactly trails appCon. I suspect perCapProd will never meet appCon; but I don’t have to assume my suspicion.

            If perCapProd equaled appCon, then everyone is satisfied by definition. In the mood for a burger? Robot gives you burger. Prefer ratatouille? Robot gives you ratatouille. Want a cruise to Alaska? Robot rolls up the self-driving car to take you to the gangplank, and your toiletries are already in your robo-bag in the trunk.

            If even a little of this isn’t being provided by automation, then it’s a toehold for human labor. You either do it yourself, or someone sells it to you. If you can’t afford it or do it yourself, then you do something else that you can sell. If you can’t find out what that is, ask the robot. If robots can’t do that yet, then that’s the service you sell.

            If cooking burgers and packing bags for Alaska and figuring out which of those demands are unsatisfied are literally the only things left for humans to do, then this is very arguably no worse than the current market economy where someone gets stuck hanging around with nothing to do every so often.

            In every case and sub-case of this situation I try to consider, a UBI ends up being nothing more than Monopoly money. It’d be more efficient to just give everyone a UBSiri.

            The only extreme exception to this is where you really can’t even pack bags. Like, you’re literally a zucchini. In which case, I have bad news if the ratatouille bot is nearby.

          • there’s no reason to expect human appetites for consumption to be infinite,

            There is no reason to expect them to be bounded.

            Are you imagining that increasing consumption means consuming larger amounts of stuff? That surely is bounded. But where is the upper bound on desired quality? I would rather have a car where the chance of my being killed if it runs into something is 10% than one where it is 20%, 5% than 10%, 1% than 5%. I would rather have a car that gets me where I want to go faster (unless the trip happens to be itself enjoyable), with no limit up to instantaneous transport. I would (if single) rather have a matchmaker who finds me a wife with an 80% chance of working out than 70%, rather 90% than 80%, rather 100% of working out wonderfully well than 100% chance of working out tolerably well.

            My casual impression is that everyone believes there is a level of consumption above which additional income is useless, pure display. Typically the level for each person is about twice his current income. That lets him buy all the things he has thought of buying, would like, but didn’t buy because they were too expensive–but he hasn’t considered the things that someone with twice his income would have considered but decided not to buy because they were too expensive.

          • albatross11 says:

            Consider the King of England in 1902. Surely nobody could reasonably want more wealth or comforts than the king of the richest and most powerful country on the planet had. And I guess that explains why wealthy (middle-class, working-class) people now don’t expect any better creature comforts, electronics, entertainment, medicine, etc., than he had.

      • It’ll just cause prices to rise across the board.

        Why would you expect that to happen? The money handed out as UBI isn’t coming out of nowhere, it’s being taxed or borrowed from people who, as a result, are not spending it themselves.

        What is true is that a UBI at the level people tend to imagine–enough so one will have a modest but comfortable life on it alone–costs an enormous amount.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I think I spoke hastily. I don’t actually believe prices would rise across the board. However, I do believe that the prices for things people relying on UBI to buy – food, rent, mortgage payments, clothes, etc. – would rise, relative to the price of things they tend not to buy – shares, high-end luxury goods, and capital goods. (I could see a few people on the margin for whom UBI makes the difference in them being able to expand their business, but I suspect far more are going to be on the margin in the other direction.) Since I see capital as a driver of the ability to create consumer goods, I see a drop in capital purchases as a slowdown in production of such goods, raising their prices even further. It may be that most people would experience a negative in PPP as a result of a UBI program.

          Does this seem plausible / accurate to you?

          • I don’t think an increased demand for food or clothes would have much effect on their price, since quantity can be increased pretty easily. I would expect a UBI people were willing to live on to decrease the demand for housing in places where prices are now high, since those tend to be places people live in because of good employment opportunities. If your income doesn’t depend on a job, it makes a lot of sense to move to somewhere housing is cheap. And building housing isn’t all that expensive, as the Austin figures someone else cited show–the problem in places such as the Bay Area is the combination of limited amount of land that it’s legal to build on plus a lot of regulatory restrictions on building.

        • @Paul Brinkley

          Again, it all depends on what a UBI is responding to.

          If UBI is brought in as a response to advanced automation, then the productive capacity of the economy should be so correspondingly greater that aggregate supply can easily adjust to this hypothetical rise in aggregate demand. Even if machines can only do things as well as humans (not superhuman AI), then they can do them for far longer a work week, with no holidays, with the only breaks being for maintenance, with no safety regulations slowing down production, and with the monetary cost being purely reproductive, unlike wages.

          If anything, I’d expect full automation (the only situation where a truly universal basic income makes sense) to cause slight deflation as the rich capital owners stay where they are, the bottom proletariat more or less stay as they are in terms of income as their wages are changed into the UBI and they become the new lumpenproletariat, and then the real consumption change happens in the white collar professional class, who will see their previously high wages exchanged for a blue collar wage level equivalent UBI. This should lower consumption, leading to either a decline in the rate of inflation or even deflation… at least in the transitiory period. (When everyone can buy into capital with robot slaves to work for them then all bets are off and a UBI might not even be necessary, but that’s extrapolating even further into the future).

          Incidentally, I expect the white collar professionals who don’t own much capital, and have jobs easily automated, but stand to lose income when transferring to a UBI standard of living will be the biggest proponents of any new luddism, anti-automation, and human traditionalist movements.

  20. johan_larson says:

    I seem to have forgotten who was the greatest author of English-language works in the 20th century. Oh well, I’m sure someone will remind me.

    • jgr314 says:

      sorry if i’m spoiling the fun here, but what is the objective of this question? The two things that seem most likely to me are (a) thoughts (and debate) about the metrics which should be used to evaluate an author or (b) a list of authors that, implicitly, SSCers recommend you should read.

      While there are many authors I like, “greatest” is too difficult a position for me to defend.

    • aristides says:

      You are thinking of C.S. Lewis. Over 70 works listed in Wikipedia, master of fiction, non-fiction, and rhetoric. Created one of the most successful children’s book series ever, made the strongest arguments in support of Christianity since Aquinas, and overall an eloquent writer.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Ima let you finish, but G.K. Chesterton out-Lewised Lewis before Lewis.

        • Nick says:

          Yeeeah, while I liked the Space Trilogy well enough, The Ball and the Cross and The Man Who Was Thursday are really excellent.

      • SamChevre says:

        In the same group, but better: Dorothy Sayers. Best-selling mystery author, best apologist I’ve read, awesome take-off on the Athanasian Creed, clarifies law (code) vs law (reality)…

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Isaac Asimov, of course. One of the most prolific writers ever (over 500 books to his name), with a writing style that tended towards wit and accessibility even when dealing with complicated scientific concepts. A philosopher deeply committed to humanism and rationalism. A decent author who opened entire cultures’ eyes to the folly of the Frankenstein Complex and the possibility of finding beauty in the machinations of an orderly universe. By all accounts a kind, thoughtful, considerate man whose legacy has sadly withered in the decades since his death.

    • fion says:

      Why, Terry Pratchett of course!

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      Donald Knuth? Basically the Thomas Aquinas of computer science – devoting a large part of his career to a never-to-be-finished magnum opus, which begins with basic fundamentals but is unreadable for anyone but experts, and for them, invaluable. Also the inventor of a great digital typesetting system which large swathes of academia and industry rely on, and a new programming paradigm developed for the purpose. He’s an inspiring example of how programming expertise can be combined with literary skill. He’s also a polymath with interesting things to say on many non-technical subjects.

      Disclaimer: maybe I’m wrong about the value of The Art of Computer Programming, since I’m one of those who can’t possibly comprehend it. But I do greatly admire Knuth.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        “The Art of Computer Programming” is not that hard, if you go very slow and carefully, and don’t skim it looking for “an answer”. You really do have to read every line, and follow every piece of math with pencil and paper, it does not lend itself to short-attention-span, leetcode, stackoverflow, style “learning”.

        It looks forbidding, but almost all the “number math” and “calculation” is algebra of integers, and it carefully walks you through all the combinatorics and graph theory and other higher math needed. As is, in fact, a better textbook on any of those topics than any focused textbook I’ve found.

        There is also a really awesomely fun “the really fun parts” version that will take only 6 months to read, instead of 6 years. “Concrete Mathematics” by Knuth.

    • AG says:

      “Author” seems like a very limiting factor for the 20th century, when other audiovisual forms of storytelling developed so much. “Author” would be so much less influential on the populace than the collectives making magic happen on screens.

      With, perhaps, the exception of nonfiction, in which case we may have to go with Einstein.

      • mdet says:

        Best Director of the 20th Century, go!

        • johan_larson says:

          Robert Oppenheimer was director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during the Manhattan Project. Later he was director of the Institute for Advanced Study. That’s some pretty good directing right there.

        • AG says:

          Eh, auteur theory may apply to certain productions, but most are very very much more a collective process. The more I learn about behind the scenes, the more I realize how much autonomy and creative contribution the other myriads of departments have, and the directors are just like “yes, your ideas are awesome, approved.” Otherwise, we’d probably have to give the prize to good ol’ Walt. Or rather, to Walt’s copyright-extending lawyers, damn them.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I’ll keep believing until the end that the most influential author of English-language works in the 20th century was Lovecraft. His impact on popular culture in terms of tropes and standard stories is ridiculous and continues to this day.

      As for the greatest, if that can mean anything, I’ll vote for Faulkner.

    • Plumber says:

      @johan_larson

      “…who was the greatest author of English-language works in the 20th century…”

      Fritz Leiber.

      • littskad says:

        Heh. “Lean Times is Lankhmar” is just about a perfect short story. “Where is the jug? WHERE IS THE JUG?” I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder at a story.

        • Plumber says:

          @littskad,

          You have excellent taste!

          I’ve read and liked some Anderson, Asimov, Bradbury, Hammett, Howard, Moorcock, Moore, Niven, Smith, Steinbeck, and Vance (to name some other authors off the top of my head that I’ve liked), but none have quite matched Leiber for me.

          Any suggestions?

          • littskad says:

            I’ve read quite a lot of all the authors you’ve listed. (Smith is E. E. “Doc” Smith, I’m assuming.) Here are some others I’ve liked:

            Avram Davidson: He was unique, and I don’t know really anyone to compare him to. My favorites were his Dr. Eszterhazy stories and his Unhistories. He has a very digressive style, but the seeming irrelevancies are going somewhere.

            Gene Wolfe: His New Sun books are his best known, I think, but I preferred his Soldier and Long Sun books. His short stories are even better (Island of Doctor Death, for example).

            Roger Zelazny: He’s probably best known for his Amber books, but Lord of Light and Creatures of Light and Darkness are two of my favorite books. Oh, and A Night in the Lonesome October is fantastic, too.

            C. J. Cherryh: She somehow reminds me of Vance in many ways. My favorites are the Company War books.

            Steven Brust: Most of his books are in his Vlad Taltos series, very good; buy I especially liked his Khaavren Romance books, modeled after Dumas.

            Glen Cook: His Black Company books are amazingly good—kind of fantasy/war novels. I also liked his Garrett, P.I., stories as lighter reads.

            I’m away from home for the holidays, so I can’t look over my bookshelves, but that’s what I’ve got off the top of my head.

          • Plumber says:

            @littskad,

            Clark Ashton Smith (“The Return of the Sorcerer”, “The Seven Geases”, et cetera, is the author who I referred to.

            Anyway, I’ve read and enjoyed some Davidson and Wolfe (but for some reason I’ve never gotten too far into The Shadow of the Torturer despite it being well recommended), and thank you very much for some tips of othet authors to check out.

            Much appreciated!

          • littskad says:

            In that case, I’d add E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series to the list!

            Wolfe’s New Sun books, (Shadow of the Torturer, etc), are pretty extreme in their “I don’t know what’s going on here” vibe. I think his other stuff is more accessible. That said, they do eventually come together, for the most part. They seem like fantasy, but they’re actually more science fiction; and the narrator is willing to hide and lie about things from time to time. They have a feel somewhat like Vance’s Dying Earth books, which I definitely have to be in the right mood for, too.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Philip Larkin, for his insight, clarity and astonishing ability to pickle a moment, or thought, or feeling.

      Best prose stylist probably Capote, greatest writer for theatre Sondheim, writer of the greatest plays Peter Shaffer.

      Personal favourite Graham Greene, who is noteworthy as being to the best of my knowledge the only writer to acheive greatness in both novels and screenplays, but I would be hard-pressed to make the case for him as the greatest.

  21. Basil Elton says:

    Looking for help from the Bay Area natives or those who lived here for a while.

    Are there any New Year events around which go beyond “as glamorous a party as you can get for this amount of money” template?
    A weird question I know, but that’s what this blog’s audience seems to be good at.

    • sunnydestroy says:

      If you’re looking for a good resource for Bay Area things to do by day, especially cheap or free ones, check out funcheap.com.

      • Basil Elton says:

        It’s not about cheap, it’s about doing something other than dancing to the club music and drinking. But they seem to have a sizeable list of events, there should be something here, thank you.

  22. Well... says:

    Question for people with customer-facing jobs:

    What’s something any customer could easily do — but which most don’t — that would make your job easier or more enjoyable?

    (Please indicate what your job is and who your customers are.)

    • Plumber says:

      I’m a plumber for the City and County of San Francisco, and the “customers” are other city workers, most often deputies working in County Jail #4.
      The number one thing that would help me out would be specific room numbers on the former repsir requests (service orders), and contact info so that I may actually talk to the person making the service order.
      The second thing would be to stop making verbal repair requests without following up with the formal entry on the “Computer Maintenance Management System”, as I get in trouble for doing those repairs instead of the listed ones.
      At the parts counter of the motorcycle shop I worked at in the ’90’s the main thing would be supplying VIN and Engine numbers (on the registration) through (as I had to explain to one pair of customers) “The bike you you were sold is a two-cylinder motorcycle from the ’80’s, the title you were sold is for s four cylinder bike from the ’70’s”, so even that’s not fool-proof, and then there’s when “customization” has been done by previous owners.
      *shudder*

      • DragonMilk says:

        And here I didn’t think you were actually a plumber. That perhaps you were really into the Mario franchise or something.

        How long have you been a plumber for?

        • Plumber says:

          I started as an apprentice plumber with U.A. Local 393 San Jose on February 3rd, 2000 (but my uncle was a plumber in Oakland, California before then so a few odd plumbing jobs with him).

          And I started with the City and County of San Francisco, and transferred to U.A. Local 38 on April 4th, 2011.

    • Walter says:

      Don’t lie to me.

      Seriously that’s it.

      I am a software developer, and from time to time support requests make it all the way to me. So I am on the phone/meeting with a customer, trying to troubleshoot ‘through them’ as it were. (That is, They tell me what is going on and how long it has been happening, as well as what they want, I tell them what to try, they tell me what shows up on the screen, eventually I have enough info that I can go back into source and try a few things, meeting over.)

      They lie like rugs about each and every part of the above.
      How long has this been happening?
      “Oh, it just started doing this” (…3 months ago when we bought the software and installed it)
      What did you do just before this happened?
      “Nothing, it just did it on its own” (…after I deleted all the configuration files and changed the display language to Sumerian)
      What do you want it to do instead?
      “I just want it to do what it says in the literature” (…and also be the holodeck.)
      What does the screen say?
      “It is just giving me an error message, no details” (…except for this stack trace.)

      It drives me absolutely insane. Why are people like this?

      • Nick says:

        What does the screen say?
        “It is just giving me an error message, no details” (…except for this stack trace.)

        This one drives me crazy. People have been trained to immediately close error messages, without even bothering to read them, much less record them for you. It’s a nonstop uphill battle, fighting this tendency.

        A pet peeve of mine is the old XY problem.

        • acymetric says:

          Part of the problem is that there are so many error messages, and most of them are completely meaningless to regular users. Generally seeing an error message doesn’t mean you need to call customer support right away, so people close the message, go on about their business, and only call support after the problem persists or additional problems pop up, at which point it is too late to get the original message back.

          In other words, this is an annoying problem, but the alternative is probably for users to stop work and contact support for every error seen (which for some applications isn’t even possible anyway), which would probably be much more annoying.

          • Nick says:

            I agree that part of the problem is poorly written and excessive error messages, but your alternative doesn’t follow. Plenty of errors are replicable, and users regularly figure this out themselves, at least if they try. Meanwhile I have gone to end users’ actual computers, asking them to replicate it so I can see the error, they go through the whole process, only to immediately close the error when it appears. It’s maddening!

          • CatCube says:

            @Nick

            I had one of the most infurating examples of that a while back (though just as a slightly-more-expert-than-other-users end use).

            I was the guy in charge of doing the Unit Status Report for my battalion (every month every unit in the Army is required to report various data in standardized form to give the Pentagon an idea of the readiness status of the force–training, equipment and personnel on hand, etc.) This was done on a standardized program which included validation of the data.

            I had one of the company executive officers call me to say that he was having trouble submitting because of a persistent error message he was getting. He couldn’t tell me what it was over the phone, so he brought his computer up to the battalion headquarters so I could see it in person. He went to the page, clicked on the validation button, an error message popped up and he clicked the close button and said “See, sir, it’s giving an error.” I told him that I couldn’t read what it said before he closed it, and asked him to do it again. He repeated the same sequence, including closing it before I could read it.

            After two more iterations of this, I threatened to take him outside and smoke him like a pack of cigarettes if he clicked the close button before I had a chance to read it. He finally stopped clicking close so I could see exactly what the error message was.

            The error message was in nice, user-friendly English, and said something like (I don’t remember the exact error, but this is morally pretty close to what happened): “Invalid data entered on Equipment page. Click here”

            Clicking on the provided link brought you to the equipment page, where it said something like: “You are required to enter the commander’s top 25 required equipment shortages. Only 22 are entered.” I told him to pick a couple more. He did, and clicked the button throwing the error before and, lo and behold, it worked! (and yes, the program was smart enough to not require 25 if less than 25 pieces of equipment were short–though we always had way more than 25 line items that were short)

          • Incurian says:

            Did you branch transfer to Chemical?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I’m not an IT person, but somehow I’ve fallen into the role of fixing tax errors in the system just because I’m a tax person. The error messages we get are 95% useless. Every once in a while I get one and then I know “aha, this is coming from such and such a system.” But I am constantly getting people telling me the error message and expecting me to understand what the problem is. I always tell them the message doesn’t tell me the answer. It seems to me this has also generally been my experience when I talk to real IT people. This is why people don’t tell you the error message, because the experience of seeing its uselessness. Also that most error messages are something like 50 characters of meaningless jargon, so it takes 10 minutes to write it down. Or sometimes I get pages of error messages.

          • CatCube says:

            @Incurian

            No, we didn’t have a CHEMO at the time and the S-3 Training owned the USR. (Which, technically, is probably a better fit for the data fed in anyway, but I think Chemical has it for lack of other peacetime work)

          • Incurian says:

            Just teasing/trolling any chemos who happen to be reading.

          • AG says:

            Maybe programmers shouldn’t be putting out OS/programs that prevent you from copy-pasting the error codes/descriptions.

            That disturbingly common trend miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight have a tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiny bit to do with why people are bad at providing that information.

            Or, perhaps, programs should be dumping error information into a default text file that the user can then send to debuggers, instead of only outputting it in a temporary dialogue box that the user must exit out of to do anything else. That might help. /s

            Why on earth does anyone have to resort to barbaric rasterizing methods like screencapping, or worse, webcam/phonecamming like they’re doing an indirect TV/film bootleg!?

        • A1987dM says:

          People have been trained to immediately close error messages, without even bothering to read them,

          Not only error messages.

          I get so much mail from Ryanair titled “Important information about your flight” to the effect that the cabin baggage policy is not the same as one year ago (but still the same as eleven months ago) that when I got one with almost exactly the same subject line saying that my flight was cancelled due to a pilot strike I almost missed it.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I had a problem recently with a piece of software on a scientific instrument and I ended up with several megabytes of error logs and dozens of screenshots of different error messages. It was helpful in the end but very frustrating at the moment.

        I’m guessing that people don’t save error messages because it’s obnoxious and they don’t understand how it will help get the problem fixed faster.

        • acymetric says:

          It would help, I think, if at least part of the error was worded in words the user could make sense of.

          Something like “Unexpected termination: error code 1A2-B” is going to get closed immediately because it looks like gibberish and unhelpful.

          A message that tells a user what to do with the information will still get people who dismiss it absentmindedly, but probably less of them.

          “An error occurred. Contact customer support and provide error code 1A2-B” is at least a little better.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Sometimes they actually are gibberish. In the problem I was talking about, at least two of the error messages ended with seemingly random Japanese characters. The machine was built in Germany by a German company and the software is otherwise entirely in English.

            But yeah, more comprehensible error messages would be helpful. Having software issues is already very frustrating without your computer speaking in tongues at you.

          • johan_larson says:

            The best way to handle it I have ever seen is a simple message directed at the end user, and then a separate listing of debugging information (hidden in a dropdown) that the end user can provide to customer support.

          • Deiseach says:

            The worst thing is “Error Code 0001235XYT” so I try Googling that to see what comes up and it recommends the product website and I go there and enter the error code and it comes back “Not recognised” or even worse “This page has been deleted”.

            Argh!

          • Lambert says:

            The only way to improve upon that would be a ‘search stackoverflow for this error’ button.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sometimes they actually are gibberish. In the problem I was talking about, at least two of the error messages ended with seemingly random Japanese characters. The machine was built in Germany by a German company and the software is otherwise entirely in English.

            That probably means you’re looking at a Unicode string (common in international software) that’s full of uninitialized data. So yeah, gibberish.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I can think of some easy, plausible explanations:

        How long has this been happening?
        “Oh, it just started doing this” (…3 months ago when we bought the software and installed it) …and then left it alone without actually using it or checking that it installed properly, because we got distracted by something else. But we’re not going to tell you that, because we want you to think we’re good, diligent customers.

        What did you do just before this happened?
        “Nothing, it just did it on its own” (…after I deleted all the configuration files and changed the display language to Sumerian) …or rather, our sysadmin did it and didn’t tell us. Or: I made all sorts of weird changes months ago, but hadn’t used your software since, and now I’ve forgotten that I’d done all that.

        What do you want it to do instead?
        “I just want it to do what it says in the literature” (…and also be the holodeck.) …I’m not a software developer or similar type of engineer, so I’ve never developed the habit of Talking To The Duck, so I have a hard time articulating what I want… I just know it isn’t what you just put in front of me. (This drives me up the wall, too.)

        What does the screen say?
        “It is just giving me an error message, no details” (…except for this stack trace.) …all that fine print is utterly meaningless to me, so I assumed it’d be meaningless to you, too, and I didn’t want to waste your time… so, yeah, I guess you got me; I might be kinda dumb. (Or, +1 to what a lot of others said above.)

      • Mark Atwood says:

        People lie because they are punished for telling the truth.

        Keep that in mind when you think someone is lying to you. If you want to get the truth out of them, you *must* 1) make that not happen, and 2) persuade them that you were effective at doing so.

        If you can’t do that, direct your ire at whoever or whatever is preventing you from doing so, instead of directing it at your customers.

        • Salem says:

          This is naive.

          The normal explanation is that the person who is lying to me is an employee of one of our customers, and he fears being punished by a more senior employee of that same customer if he admitted the truth. (And frequently for good reason…) There’s a sense in which maybe I should blame the senior martinet rather than the junior doofus, but it’s all the customer.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        If you are asking your customers for error messages, your application has already failed, and it probably failed long ago, probably when it was being written.

        The app should be logging all of it’s important state transitions, current utilization and health, and the event and error log, and you should be able to review that log, or the customer should be able to push one button to send it to you. If is not, is not your customer’s fault.

        • Walter says:

          *blink*

          Uh, so if my customer lying to me about what is on their screen isn’t their fault, then whose fault is it?

          Like, I’m not mad, it is just a weird experience to have someone be like ‘what is your gripe’, and me be like ‘cancer’, and then you show up and start saying how cancer is making a lot of great points.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            This exchange amuses me. It sounds like someone asked “what is your gripe”, you said “cancer”, and you say they said cancer made some great points, when what they’re really saying is that that cancer is a stupid black box of a machine that really only says what you told it to say.

            Or to break it down: Mark is claiming that your app was written in a way that gave your users the opportunity to lie to you, and since the author of your app was presumably* you, you’re really complaining about something you let your users do**.

            *The author may of course been someone else. I strongly suspect Mark is perfectly aware of this, and expects you to blame the true author in that case.

        • AG says:

          Seconding this so hard.

          I kind of hate that graphical loading screens are a thing, especially for OS boots nowadays. If loading goes wrong, then I want to be able to know exactly at what point of the process it went wrong!

          The propagation of this aesthetic is why Tumblr has infantilizing “ooopsy poopsies we made a mistakesies! \^0^/” pages instead of goddamn error codes, and Apple is happily trying to prevent right-to-repair, and farmers are hiring Ukrainian hackers to fix their IoT tractors.

    • Deiseach says:

      Not really customer-facing anymore, but previously?

      Have your information.

      Current and up to date and all the pieces of paper. Bureaucratic requirements are a pain in the backside, but the person asking for a piece of identification really does need it. I can give an anecdote from the social housing job: a person applying for this needed to provide proof of address, and all they supplied was the address label from a magazine subscription, and they steadfastly refused to provide anything better to prove that they were living where they said they were living, which made us suspect they were lying about “and there are sixteen of us to a room and I’m expecting a child and my sister is expecting a child and we can’t fit eighteen people in, please give me a house!”

      Some people genuinely need help filling out forms and are otherwise co-operative, but if you’re ever tempted to blow up at the clerk at the counter because you have six of the eight pieces of paperwork, do you really need that trivial other piece? Yes you do. We’d love to just take the six but (a) we get hammered by superiors who get hammered by their superiors for doing that (b) experience shows that “okay I’ll take your form and start processing it and you can send in the other parts later” means “later is never” (c) scammers tend to pull the loud demanding to see a supervisor because this clerk is abusing me with red tape stunt.

      Also, we don’t make the rules. The guys you vote in who go to parliament/congress pass the laws which are turned into the regulations which then filter down to the front-facing level in the civil and public service, and we don’t get to choose which bits we’ll apply and which bits we will wave away. Yelling at us may make you feel good but it won’t change things.

      As for private industry type jobs – again, treat the people like humans. They are not deliberately making things harder for you and are not capriciously choosing to deny you and give it to someone else, they’re just as stuck with ‘I don’t have the power to accept six months expired coupons for a completely different product’.

    • Tarpitz says:

      A few years ago, I worked as a telephone fundraiser for various charities (my employer was a for-profit company which charities contracted to do their fundraising). Many, many people would say something to the effect of “Right now isn’t a good time – could you call me back.” No doubt some of those people meant what they said, but I’m pretty sure the majority just wanted to get out of the call without being forced to say, “No, I have no interest in giving UNICEF money to spend on blankets for Syrian orphans” or whatever it was.

      The trouble with this approach is that you will in fact be called back, repeatedly, unless and until you actually say “No,” or better yet, “I’m not interested and please delete my contact information from your system.”

      Also a mistake: hanging up the phone without saying anything the instant you realize what’s going on. If the fundraiser hasn’t stated their name and the organization they’re calling on behalf of yet, that will be logged as requiring a call-back. If you wait until they have communicated that information before hanging up, it will (or at least should) be logged as a “hard no”, meaning you won’t be contacted again as part of that campaign.

      I imagine much of the above is the result of UK regulatory requirements and would also apply to sales calls (and not apply to other countries), but that is speculation.

      • arlie says:

        It sounds like the UK is much less pathological in this area.

        I’m in the US. I will be called back – full stop – often by a bot that may or may not connct a (virtual) tape player, depending on how many people happen to actually answer their bot calls that minute. To actually interact with a human, I’ll have to listen through the message – and follow some instructions given after the 2 minute taped spiel. And there’s no guarantee that following thiose instructions will (a) work or (b) work effectively. I.e. it’ll take longer for them to get around to removing me from their list, than it will take for them to receive another copy of my phone number from their partners.

        Net result – I don’t answer my phone, and sometimes don’t check my messages either.

        Does anyone know whether Canada’s regulations are currently more like the US or more like the UK?

  23. David W says:

    Basic, basic accounting question. When learning history, I often run across a sentence that goes something like: the invention of double-entry bookkeeping was key to the growth of the European economy and enabled the growth of banks and large scale merchants. They never explain why. What is it about double-entry bookkeeping that makes it work better than the preceding methods? It’s not nearly as obvious as similar items of progress – I can easily see why you might prefer a windmill to grinding your wheat by hand.

    I’ve done enough googling to have a general idea of what double entry accounting actually is, but it’s not clear to me why it isn’t just double work. Maybe that would become obvious if I actually did accounting, but I’m hoping the accountants here can give me a short cut to understanding instead.

    • bullseye says:

      I’m technically an accountant, but my understanding is mostly academic.

      The fundamental point of accounting is to help management (or other people in charge) see what’s going on so they can make good decisions. I’m not all that familiar with single-entry bookkeeping, but I think it’s mainly focused on what you have and what you owe, while double-entry also keeps track of profit and loss. Keeping track of profit and loss helps you figure out what you’re doing right and what you should stop doing.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Simple question: if your friend owes you $50, how do you record that in your checkbook? Simple answer is that you don’t. Single-entry book-keeping typically tracks just pure cash, which means you can’t do the accrual based accounting that I mentioned above. You also don’t “close” accounts. It’s the cash account. It never closes. That’s kind of the point of the single-entry. But that also means you aren’t able to generate income statements and balance sheets that tell you the health of the firm.

      This starts to matter a lot more as businesses grow in complexity and scale.

    • bean says:

      Very much not an accountant, but I actually know this one. The big advantage of double-entry accounting is that it reduces the amount you have to trust your clerks. With single-entry accounting, it’s way too easy for an unscrupulous clerk to simply steal money. With double-entry accounting, it’s pretty easy to check for a single point of failure because the ledgers should all add up to zero. (Obviously, it doesn’t protect against two clerks colluding, but that’s a lot less likely). Before double-entry, merchants basically could only use their family members as clerks. With it, they could hire people to do that job, letting them get much bigger.
      (Ross Anderson’s textbook on security engineering goes into this in much more detail. Also, it’s a really interesting read.)

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I remember reading somewhere (Google fails me) that the Assyrian merchant families in Middle Bronze Age Anatolia developed some very sophisticated financial instruments including clay checks (!), but each trading post (karum) had to be operated entirely by kin, with another family member back in Asshur, due to the principle you state.
        Also, turning a profit depended on breaking local law.* It’s easier to maintain honor among criminals if you’re all family only cheating the princes of little city-states trying to shekel-and-dime you every step of the trade route.

        *”Let them [the transporters] bring the tin via the narrow track [smuggling route] if it is clear. If not, let them make small packets of my tin and introduce them gradually into Kanesh, concealed in their underwear.”

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The chapter is here.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      People make several different claims about the value of double-entry bookkeeping. I assume that they’re all true, although I don’t understand all of them. But historians probably mean specifically that one of them was more valuable than the others. Different historians may choose different features, though.

      Bean’s answer of security against embezzlement is probably the problem that the Renaissance bankers were trying to solve, because they had multiple accounts kept by multiple people locked up separately. And this, especially the expansion of the firm, is probably what some historians mean.

      But other historians, namely Max Weber and Werner Sombart, claimed that double entry bookkeeping lead to putting value on capital and thus to managers optimizing the use of capital, which they called capitalism. I’m not sure what they meant, but it sounds like they meant that it gave better abstractions with which to understand the firm.

      Better abstractions can have value to the owner-manager in a completely non-adversarial way. But they can also be valuable in an adversarial way to outside investors who don’t understand the firm very well. For example, as ADBG says on elsewhere on this OT, much of the value of the firm is what customers owe less what the firm owes to its suppliers. I think of double entry bookkeeping as a step beyond that, mainly linking inventory into accounting, putting a dollar value on inventory, or services owed to customers.

      For example, I have seen several small businesses that sell annual subscriptions (paid up front) and think of them as a big burst of profit. But the transaction is not complete until the year is up. The investor does not want the manager to be able to manipulate the apparent profitability by moving around when the sale is made, just as in ADBG’s examples the investor does not want the manager to be able to manipulate the value of the company by moving around when payments are made. So the outside investor required the company to switch to an accounting system that shows that the customer owes services to the customer. The baseline value of those services, as suggested by double-entry bookkeeping, are price, so the immediate effect of sale is no effect on the value of the company. Each month the company delivers one month’s worth of services and reduces what it owes the customer. If it cost less to deliver the service than the 1/12 of the price paid by the customer, this results in a profit being recognized in that month.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Bean’s correct about security (specifically, the ability to detect malfeasance by auditing books) are correct. In addition, audibility doubles as a way of catching honest mistakes and correcting them before the propagate beyond recognition.

      Another big benefit of double-entry bookkeeping is now pretty much obsolete, but used to be a huge deal: double-entry bookkeeping reached Europe well before the concept of negative numbers did, and it allows you to fully describe the ordinary operations of a business’s accounts entirely with positive numbers. Tangentially, the lack of negative numbers explains the major features of double-entry bookkeeping that tend to confuse people learning it: particularly the debit/credit terminology (which substitutes for positive/negative numbers) which switches sense depending on which side of the accounting equation you’re on (because a positive number added to the left side of an equation needs to be balanced either by the same number subtracted from the left or added to the right), and the way the accounting equation is layed out (Assets = Equity + Liabilities instead of the equivalent and more-intuitive-to-modern-eyes Equity = Assets – Liabilities or just thinking of liabilities as being assets with negative values).

    • David W says:

      Thanks, all. I think I was thrown by the way articles usually start by describing the purchase of a physical thing. Debt is a much clearer example of something where single-entry can’t capture the whole story – and time shifting in general, really. Single entry accounting for issuing a loan would be a lot of seemingly-unrelated events, where the double-entry method of having it be neutral on the day it’s issued, followed by steady small profit (or the default causing ruin), fits the reality a lot better.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I’ve been an accountant for almost 40 years, and I have to confess I don’t really understand the answer to this question. Bean says it’s easier to catch an unscrupulous clerk, but I’m not really sure how. I think it does make it easier to audit the books, but why? I think it is true that auditing a business is usually done mostly by counting its assets/liabilities and making sure they tie to the books. But the most important numbers in a business is usually its profit. So maybe double entry bookkeeping makes it easier to audit one’s income by looking at the resulting assets and debts. I think I’m mostly uncertain here because I don’t know how single entry bookkeeping was done. It may be that single entry bookkeeping was just less organized so double entry helped audits because it easier to understand what was happening.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I’ve thought about this some more, and I think the benefit of double entry bookkeeping isn’t so much the double entry part as that it is an organized process, making it easier to organize.

        Consider a very simple retail kiosk selling widgets. It does business in cash only. The person running the kiosk has had no training in accounting, but wants to keep track of the numbers. This person will likely write down all the widget sales, and all the spending to buy more widgets and pay rent for the kiosk. Also the cash and widgets are counted at the beginning and end of the day. Obviously, a numerate person can calculate whether cash or widgets have disappeared. But by using normal bookkeeping methods, it is a simple process to have book numbers for cash and widgets, to compare to the count. Thus the formal process makes an audit a lot easier. And this is compounded as businesses become more complicated.

        And what Sam says below me. In my example, one audits assets to calculate income. Double entry bookkeeping makes it all happen automatically.

    • SamChevre says:

      In my mind, double-entry book-keeping has the key advantage that it links the balance sheet and the income statement, while keeping them separate. All the other advantages listed above–auditability, no negative numbers–are extra. The real key insight is that you paid Joe $50 from cash, or in goods, or you owe Joe $50 but haven’t yet paid it. Single-entry isn’t good for looking at liabilities–single-entry tends to be cash-only, and net profit only.

  24. Well... says:

    Question about food in Indian/Pakistani/Jamaican/African/etc. restaurants, for anyone who might have insight:

    Why is it that if you order stew-type dishes with lamb or chicken (i.e. chunks of meat in a thick sauce, usually eaten over bread or rice) the meat is often boneless, but if you order a similar dish with goat meat there are always bones?

    • Plumber says:

      Nope, the lamb curry I had this week also had bones. The chicken curry didn’t though.

      • Well... says:

        Lamb doesn’t always have bones though. Goat pretty much always does.

        Is your experience different?

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Certainly in the UK it is very rare for a lamb curry to actually contain lamb, normally it’s mutton.

        Some Indian restaurants will simply refer to this option as ”Meat”, which their customers know will come from a sheep of indeterminate age- most Indian restaurants in the UK don’t serve pork or beef, the ones that do advertise it as such.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Bone-in produces better flavor but is harder to eat in almost all cases. My guess is that this is down to food distributor offerings/prices and also possibly the marginal benefit of leaving the bone in being higher for tougher red meats.

      • Well... says:

        That was my hunch too, but I couldn’t figure out why it happened so far more often for goat than for lamb.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Odd hunch: I imagine goats are butchered by smaller-scale operations than those that butcher chickens or even lambs (even in countries the US where lamb is relatively unpopular). They may not sell boneless goat meat- either because it’s not worth the effort to them, because their customers- possibly the same small butchers sell to private individuals- want their meat with bones, or because there is a market for lamb bones for making stock that there isn’t for goat bones.

        • I put the question to the friend we are currently visiting, who happens to be a wholesale butcher. He suggested that part of it was that goats are smaller animals. Scale everything down and boning the animal takes more work per pound of meat.

          On the lamb vs mutton question … . According to Wikipedia, rules in the U.S. “permit all sheep products to be marketed as “lamb.”[8] Sheep products less than 12-14 months old can be labeled “prime lamb” or “choice lamb” and all other sheep meat can be labeled simply as “lamb.”

    • bottlerocket says:

      I think the idea is that anyone who isn’t turned off by the idea of eating goat also won’t mind eating around bones. From the restaurant’s point of view, leaving bones in is easier and produces better flavor for braised/stewed dishes, but the mass market standard in America at least is that boneless meat is the expectation, save for a few random exceptions like steak and buffalo wings. The less mass-market America friendly the meat is, the higher probability of it coming bone-in. I’ve even seen this controlling for the meat in Chinese cuisine. General Tso’s? Always boneless. Chicken soup? Maybe bones, maybe not. Chongqing chicken? Bone-in always.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m guessing it’s based on who is expected to order what: people who order goat are used to dealing with bones, which give a better flavor but really require being eaten with your hands.

      If the whole clientele is Indian or African, the chicken will be bone-in too, and hacked rather than jointed, in my experience.

      • quanta413 says:

        I think this is why.

        Where I live, some restaurants have enough Chinese (from China/Taiwan/Singapore etc.) and enough U.S. customers that you can buy a few popular chicken dishes with or or without bones.

        I think bones do make it taste a little better, but it’s definitely harder to eat.

  25. onyomi says:

    As I read the recent posts and comments on Trumpism and “Reversed Moderation,” I got thinking about a related phenomena I’ll call something like “excluded middle surrogate” or “motte-in-the-middle.” Basically, it’s a position you adopt, consciously or unconsciously, as stand-in for the moderate position you know won’t be heard because of “reversed moderation.”

    Examples:
    “True position”: I don’t have any problem with immigrants so long as they adapt to US culture, and so long as they aren’t “scary” (“scary”=criminals, vagrants, non-industrious poor, and the kind of person who leaves a sofa on his lawn for a long time).
    “Reversed moderation”: I think foreigners and brown people are scary.
    “Motte-in-the-middle”: I’m just against illegal immigration (because I expect the current legal process, if strictly enforced will probably filter out most “scary” immigrants)

    “True position”: maybe black Americans will never be as wealthy as white Americans and maybe that’s okay for the same reason it’s okay there won’t be as many Asian basketball stars.
    “Reversed moderation”: I think white people are superior and black people should just know their place.
    “Motte-in-the-middle”: I’m just saying welfare and the drug war have been devastating to the black family.

    “True position”: I suspect this relatively inexperienced Ivy League community organizer guy with a weird name who grew up abroad doesn’t represent me or my values.
    “Reversed moderation”: I think a black man shouldn’t be president.
    “Motte-in-the-middle”: I’m just saying I’d like to see his birth certificate.

    A key point about “motte-in-the-middle” is that it isn’t disingenuous in the sense that the person doesn’t really believe it, only in that it’s not their true rejection (because they wouldn’t be worried about hordes of Swedes overstaying their visas). I’m also not saying that the above positions are only ever substitutes for “real,” unspeakable positions (some people may genuinely be bothered by lawlessness per se more than the idea of a bunch of “scary” people who don’t speak English moving into their neighborhood, though I suspect that isn’t the majority of immigration opponents), only that they are examples of where such a dynamic may be at play.

    One will notice that the above examples all map to “conservative” opinion, though I’m not ruling out the reverse sometimes happens; my impression is that the left currently has more “narrative veto power” and so may pressure conservatives into masking their “true” opinions more than the reverse (see “Shy Tory Syndrome”). I suspect “motte-in-the-middle” holders are frequently unconscious of what they’re doing because it’s a pretty natural psychological impulse to put a more socially acceptable face on a less socially acceptable opinion/feeling.

    As people become familiar with “mottes-in-the-middle,” they start to suspect their status as “mottes” and then to reduce them to their respective “reversed moderations” a la ideological “bingo” (was going to link Jackdaws Love my Big Sphinx of Quartz here but seems it’s not available or has been set to private or something?), so now you really can’t say “I’m just against illegal immigration,” even if you really, truly are just bothered by lawlessness per se, because now people hear “I hate brown people.” And now all liberals have to say “I love all immigrants and I love the New York Times and all inequalities in outcome are caused by racism, I swear!” because anything less risks being mistaken for a “motte-in-the-middle,” which, in turn, collapses to a “reversed moderation.”

    I can understand why this happens: the immigration proponents correctly suspect most of the people worried about illegal immigration wouldn’t be bothered if a bunch of middle-class Swedes moved into their neighborhood so suspect it’s not really just about illegality per se. Problem is, the fallacy of reversed moderation leads them to suspect the worst possible hidden motivations rather than something in-between that and their own position.

    • Well... says:

      Hm…is the Black Friends defense a motte-in-the-middle?

      Anyway, interesting point.

      • EchoChaos says:

        My understanding is that the Black Friends defense is virtue signalling to the wrong generation.

        In the 70s or 80s if you were a white guy/gal with a black friend you were clearly not racist, so saying “I have a black friend” was an absolute defense against that accusation.

        But as the term “racism” has marched on and Americans are overall less racist, black friends are pretty common even among people who the current definers of “racism” would like to call racist (e.g. Donald Trump).

        • acymetric says:

          Part of the problem is overlap/confusion between racism and prejudice. Even in the 70s or 80s, while having a black friend would mean you aren’t a card carrying racist, you might still be prejudiced against black people generally (but not your friend, who you have gotten to know, specifically).

          • EchoChaos says:

            I think that’s my exact point. “Racist” in the 70s and 80s was someone who actively hated people of a different race.

            Nowadays it’s someone who doesn’t have the right specific brand of right-think on differences between races (and signal it). So people who are defending themselves against the charge of racism they are familiar with, not realizing that what people now mean is “you have bad social/political views”

          • Well... says:

            Even in the 70s or 80s, while having a black friend would mean you aren’t a card carrying racist, you might still be prejudiced against black people generally (but not your friend, who you have gotten to know, specifically).

            That doesn’t make any sense to me. If your black friend was really your friend, he would know if you were prejudiced against other black people, and if that was a problem, he wouldn’t be friends with you.

            As I wrote on my blog a while ago, (paraphrasing) “it would be pretty racist of you to think my black friends — who actually know me — aren’t as capable as you are at telling whether I’m a racist.”

          • Baeraad says:

            As I wrote on my blog a while ago, (paraphrasing) “it would be pretty racist of you to think my black friends — who actually know me — aren’t as capable as you are at telling whether I’m a racist.”

            Irrespectively of whether you’re a racist (and I don’t think you are, for what it’s worth), that’s not that much of a gotcha. I have at least one feminist friend who considers men (explicitly including me) to be pampered oppressors who don’t understand her suffering. I find that offensive, and in fact it’s an attitude that I rant against often and with much vitriol in other places – but since she doesn’t constantly rub my face in it, is always nice to me, and is just generally a good person, I find it hard to hold it against her. (and presumably she, for similar reasons, does not hold my pampered-oppressor-hood against me :p )

            Friends can agree to disagree, is what I’m saying, even on topics that are close to their heart. Therefore, having friends from a group does not mean that you’re pristinely inoffensive to that group, only that you make up for it in other ways.

          • Plumber says:

            Time and time again I’ve seen white guys who tell the most vile “jokes” about blacks and freely complain about [n-words] make fast friends with the actual black men who get on the crew, and many times they are the most friendly to the new guy who’s black, and then they say the same “jokes” on the next job (so no change of heart).

            I’ve no explanation for this phenomenon, just something that I’ve I observed.

          • Well... says:

            Like I said, even if you are prejudiced against black people, if it’s really a problem for the black person you claim to be friends with then he wouldn’t be friends with you. If your black friend is able to look past it, then so should your accuser.

            This is even stronger if instead of (or in addition to) a black friend you have a black wife. Friends can indeed often look past views you hold that would normally be quite offensive to them, but a spouse would really have to live with you having those views. It wouldn’t be something that can be easily brushed aside for the long term.

            For this reason, I think someone having a black spouse is pretty much an argument-ender that that person cannot be racist against black people, at least not in any meaningful sense of the term “racist”.

          • This is even stronger if instead of (or in addition to) a black friend you have a black wife.

            I had a friend who had a very low opinion of Germans. He thought his wife was an exception. For all I know, she may have shared his opinion of (other) Germans.

          • dragnubbit says:

            @Well

            That doesn’t make any sense to me. If your black friend was really your friend, he would know if you were prejudiced against other black people, and if that was a problem, he wouldn’t be friends with you.

            There are a lot of married misogynists.

          • Tarpitz says:

            For a beautifully drawn portrayal of how this can play out, watch Hell or High Water, specifically the dynamic between Jeff Bridges’ and Gil Birmingham’s characters. I mean, watch it anyway – it’s one of the best films of recent years.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @Plumber –
            Chris Rock did a whole bit on that (that white people aren’t allowed to reference).

            The basic idea is that the people you are interacting with actually hate “N*****s”, not black people. Being black is just a high-probability predictors of “n*****dom”.

            Or – “racism in America is just classism in disguise”.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      If my neighbor were an illegal Swede I’d call ICE. Is it that hard to understand that the True Rejection is “I can’t form a stable, high-trust society with people who demonstrate they believe the rules simply do not apply to them?”

      You’ll notice nobody cares when, say, illegal Irishmen get deported. But the media likes to cover these things as if “haha, see racists, your evil policies hurt the white[1] people you love so much too!” No. No one cares.

      [1] We’re assuming for the sake of argument that the Irish are white.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        I think there’s a third way to look at this Conrad. I can be against an illegal Swedish immigrant because I think he (or she!) is “scary” and part of my reasoning is their willingness to break the law. “Adapting to US culture” doesn’t have to mean “Speak English or get out!” bigotry, but it probably does mean a willingness to assimilate and get along with neighbors. Being white doesn’t make a career criminal appealing in any country.

        I’m against illegal immigration generally, but in favor of fixing immigration rules even if that might mean an overall increase in immigration. When it comes down to it, the really fuzzy “I don’t want scary people coming in” is pretty accurate for me. I don’t consider brown skin and speaking Spanish to be “scary” though, which I recognize as the position many people will try to attribute to me even if I want more hard working Mexican immigrants in this country. That is, if I were to say “I don’t want scary people coming in.”

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          The correct amount of legal immigration is an entirely different debate, and that debate would depend on what things look like with illegal immigration “solved.”

          As is whatever rules we make for legal immigration are pointless because when the Super Defectors say “yes, I know it’s illegal, and your people don’t want me to come, and the President of the United States has officially told me to scram, and it’s dangerous, and it’s not fair to the legal immigrants, and I’m going to be mucking up the works for legitimate asylum seekers by falsely claiming persecution, but I want some (illegal!) money so I’m going to drag a kid through the desert to illegally enter your country anyway because no rules of God, man, nation or common decency apply to me” the left says “oh look he’s brown and sad and has a kid you have to let him in anyway and we’re going to stymie all attempts to enforce the laws our duly elected officials passed.” What good are rules when we’ve already decided we’re not going to enforce them?

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        It’s not hard to understand; it’s just that opinions differ widely on which rules, when broken, actually predict that the rule-breaker will be significantly less trustworthy generally. Not coincidentally, this is correlated with opinions on the justice of the rules, and almost everyone has some rules which they believe to be both unjust and non-predictive of general untrustworthiness in their breakers. To give an extreme example: very few of us would say that, if you were a white Northerner in the 1850s, you’d be justified in fearing the untrustworthiness of a neighbor who is an escaped slave.

      • “I can’t form a stable, high-trust society with people who demonstrate they believe the rules simply do not apply to them?”

        Does that apply to people who drink before they are 21? People who drive over the speed limit? My guess is that those two groups, combined, make up a sizable majority of the current population.

        I saw a story recently, perhaps in Reason, about a state (New Jersey?) that passed a law requiring anyone who owned a magazine that held more than ten rounds to turn it in or destroy it. So far, according to the story, none had been turned in. Should anyone who retained such a magazine be exiled?

        In my experience, people in practice distinguish between those laws that one is morally obliged to obey and those one is not, and think worse of people only for violating the first sort.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      I find this idea highly persuasive. Being subconscious, I don’t think that it would be proper to attribute all of their “true position” to be separate from their “motte” position – how would we ever know for sure anyway? Most people seem to have multiple reasons for the positions that they hold, even if some are more convincing to them than others.

      I find the first example to be accurate of my feelings, including the motte that I might say when meaning the true (at least with your added paranthetical).

      I have a request along this line – Can anyone who considers themselves on the left and “pro-immigration” please fill in the “true position” aspect of the following? I’m trying to create better models of understanding on this particular issue. I understand that different types of “left” positions will answer this differently, from Hard Left Communists to SJW to Blue Dogs, etc., and getting multiple responses would be great. I decided to just leave the “reversed moderation” since that seems pretty clear, but left the Motte empty as well, since that will vary a lot depending on individual motivations.

      Pro Immigration (left)
      “True position”: ?
      “Reversed moderation”: I want more votes for my team.
      “Motte-in-the-middle”: ?(variable depending on which subgroup is answering)

      • acymetric says:

        This is one of the reasons I am not a fan of the reversed moderation concept Scott proposed. In what way does reversed moderation apply to the view you assigned to it? Some of onyomi’s examples were flimsy as well. This is kind of expected, because reversed moderation is a bad concept.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          I take it (as Onyomi used it) to be a stand-in for “worst reasonable interpretation.” That is, something that may be true, but is certainly not sympathetic and not nuanced. Many on the right feel that the left wants more immigrants as a way to ensure voting supremacy. That seems both plausibly true, if shaky, as an underlying motivation, and deeply uncharitable compared to stated reasoning (i.e. it seems to fit the mold Onyomi is talking about).

          Since we’re talking about something subconscious and also attributing “somewhat false” to their stated reasoning, this isn’t a very useful way to approach people to start a discussion. I recognize that. I’m genuinely hoping to get some responses that help me to see a view I don’t see clearly, somewhat better. I fully understand that a person can lie and continue the Motte version, or not realize that it is a Motte version, or truly hold what others might attribute to a Motte. I got some good feedback in another recent thread that was unusually productive, and I think SSC might be one of the few places a question like this might get any kind of reasonable response and introspection.

      • DeWitt says:

        I don’t know that I consider myself pro-immigration, I’m not American at all, and I think you really severely overestimate the importance of immigration to Democrat voters, but can you truly, genuinely, absolutely not see why people might be in favor of more immigration that’s not full-out evil ‘outvote the other guys’?

        • Randy M says:

          full-out evil ‘outvote the other guys’?

          Do you think this is evil, or do you think that he thinks this is evil?

          • DeWitt says:

            I think supporting immigration for the purpose of marginalising the opposing vote is an evil point of view, yes.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          I can imagine quite a few, and I’ve heard a good number (lots of rallies covered in the news, etc.) I suppose the question is a bit too CW for the introspection I am requesting, especially since the real answer might truly be “all the outwardly said things are true.”

          I’m not American at all, and I think you really severely overestimate the importance of immigration to Democrat voters,

          This alone is worthwhile as a response for me to ponder, though. I hadn’t considered the possibility that Democrats really don’t care. If true, then presumably what we hear from Democrats is not so much a full-throated endorsement of immigration, but instead a response to the change in Republican approach.

          • DeWitt says:

            presumably what we hear from Democrats is not so much a full-throated endorsement of immigration, but instead a response to the change in Republican approach.

            It doesn’t seem unlikely.

            I could see why a Republican voter might care about immigration the most; the stereotypical rust belt voter who went for Trump might very well be able to point at why immigration is an issue. I’m sure there’s a lot of Democrats who care about immigration, too, but it’s unclear to me that they’d care more than they might about wealth inequality or healthcare or gay rights or justice reform or minority rights or lord knows what else.

            That said, immigration being an issue is something the right addressed first, and I really do think that a lot of the importance there on the left is taking a side more than careful reasoning from first principles. A mirrored example might be something like environmentalism; I’m not sure the people on the right might have cared nearly as much if it weren’t for the fact that politics split up into factions really quickly.

          • albatross11 says:

            Or maybe most Democrats don’t care, but some Democrats feel like it’s the most important issue on the table, and others feel like it’s a perfect wedge issue.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            That said, immigration being an issue is something the right addressed first, and I really do think that a lot of the importance there on the left is taking a side more than careful reasoning from first principles. A mirrored example might be something like environmentalism; I’m not sure the people on the right might have cared nearly as much if it weren’t for the fact that politics split up into factions really quickly.

            Thank you. I appreciate the response and find this useful in modeling the position. I agree that the right’s position on environmentalism is more reactionary than first-principle as well.

            Or maybe most Democrats don’t care, but some Democrats feel like it’s the most important issue on the table, and others feel like it’s a perfect wedge issue.

            This seems likely.

          • mdet says:

            I think a common pro-immigration position might be “I know some people who(se parents) came in illegally, and they’re fine. They’re honestly just fine. Not ‘scary’, not lazy, not moochers, just people. Why is it so urgent that we keep them out again?”. This isn’t my position because I don’t actually know any illegal immigrants, but it’s an argument that I frequently hear and have no reason to doubt the sincerity of.

            Isn’t it the case that the places with the highest populations of illegal immigrants are the most sympathetic to illegal immigrants? (Assuming that this effect isn’t illegal immigrants being sympathetic to themselves as the natives stay opposed.)

            Edit: “I know some people like that and they turned out just fine” might be the social left’s argument for most things. It’s a pretty strong argument for most people, even if it’s not the most rigorous.

            This isn’t quite a “most Democrats don’t care” argument, but it does still fit “Anti-illegal-immigration Republicans were first movers, Dems are just responding by being anti-anti-illegal-immigration”.

          • Aftagley says:

            Democrat talking here, and I’d wholeheartedly concur. I think the average thought on this topic kind of is as follows (not listed by hierarchy):

            1. Some laws are just stupid and not meant to be followed. Someone can smoke weed and be an ok person; jaywalking doesn’t mean you need to be arrested; not having filled out the proper paperwork to live somewhere doesn’t seem like it needs to be THE defining issue when it comes to their life.

            2. The negative effects of illegal immigration, if there are any, are pretty diffuse. Maybe no white people can get a job cleaning hotels anymore, maybe various sections of town have a bit more of a language spoken in them that I don’t understand. Whatever, I don’t live in those parts of town anyway. The negative effects of overzealous immigration enforcement, however, are striking. Crying children in cages, sobbing families, op eds about how that guy was a model citizen for 20 years before being thrown back to some place where he’ll likely get killed by gang violence is severely distasteful and immediate. I’m going to favor the policy that doesn’t result in me having to feel complicit in those activities.

            3. Even if I were to consider illegal immigration an issue worth solving, and even if I accepted that the only way to do so would be through some relatively inhumane measures, it doesn’t ever reach priority level. Maybe once I’ve solved wealth inequality, reformed healthcare and education and tackled climate change I’ll get to it, but until then we’ve got more important stuff to do.

            As far as I can tell, the resistance to Trump’s immigration policy isn’t because we support immigration blindly, it’s because we hate how it’s being done.

          • jgr314 says:

            I guess I’m also a democrat who also doesn’t really care about immigration. My views were pretty well summarized by This American Life episode 599’s segment with Alex Nowrasteh: why is this an issue and why now?

          • Civilis says:

            Some laws are just stupid and not meant to be followed. Someone can smoke weed and be an ok person; jaywalking doesn’t mean you need to be arrested; not having filled out the proper paperwork to live somewhere doesn’t seem like it needs to be THE defining issue when it comes to their life.

            ‘Stupid laws are not meant to be followed’ fails once there is no longer a general societal consensus about what laws are stupid enough not to be followed, and I think it’s obvious we’ve reached the point with the combination of laws, regulations, ordinances, codes, and unwritten rules of society where there can’t be a societal consensus. You end up with groups with the privilege to ignore the rules they think are stupid and those that can’t, and of course those that can’t are going to be angry. In this case, the existence of a group defined by their status as able to ignore a set of laws with impunity is going to be naturally infuriating to anyone feeling victimized by being held to arbitrary and capricious rules. On top of that, the people that want the rules to be enforced are being told they are the bad guys.

            Part of the reason that immigration is so important to the right at this time is that it’s probably the most obvious single example of a larger breakdown in the rule of law (or, more precisely, the rule of rules) in the US and how it gets handled is a proxy for the larger debate. If your business is getting strangled by poorly-worded regulations enforced to the letter by petty bureaucrats, it’s galling to see someone else treat actual laws as stupid obstacles to be ignored when inconvenient.

            The negative effects of illegal immigration, if there are any, are pretty diffuse. […] The negative effects of overzealous immigration enforcement, however, are striking.

            This is entirely a matter of how the issue is framed in the media. If every video of a sobbing illegal immigrant family facing unjust deportation was replaced with a video of a sobbing parent of someone killed by an illegal immigrant that had escaped deportation due to sanctuary policies, the polling numbers for proposals to deal with illegal immigration would be entirely different. The people that choose what stories to present and how are a small group of the American public with specific interests, and those interests can’t be taken to be identical to those of the public at large.

            Even if I were to consider illegal immigration an issue worth solving, and even if I accepted that the only way to do so would be through some relatively inhumane measures, it doesn’t ever reach priority level. Maybe once I’ve solved wealth inequality, reformed healthcare and education and tackled climate change I’ll get to it, but until then we’ve got more important stuff to do.

            Politics works when we can find solutions that all groups believe benefit them in some way (or, in a more cynical world, when everyone’s back gets scratched). Ultimately, you don’t have to understand why conservatives value enforcement of immigration laws more than they do goals like ‘reforming healthcare’, just that on some scale, you’re not going to get what you want without giving something to the other half in return. The immigration debate is a good place to look at this. Saying ‘why now?’ on immigration is meaningless because this was an issue thirty years ago, and the proposed solution then was one that benefited both sides: amnesty in return for enforcement. The left got its amnesty, the right got shafted, and in result further immigration deals are impossible.

          • Brad says:

            @Civilis

            I’m not saying you are inaccurately portraying the feelings on the right regarding the connection between the importance of the rule of law and immigration policy, but after having heard for too many “jokes” and earnest declarations of intent to violate existing and hypothetical gun laws they aren’t feeling that garner much respect from me.

          • Deiseach says:

            So explain this bit to me, because I really don’t get it:

            Maybe no white people can get a job cleaning hotels anymore, maybe various sections of town have a bit more of a language spoken in them that I don’t understand. Whatever, I don’t live in those parts of town anyway.

            So a place that’s on your doorstep doesn’t matter to you because you don’t go there. Okay. But then why bother about:

            The negative effects of overzealous immigration enforcement, however, are striking. …op eds about how that guy was a model citizen for 20 years before being thrown back to some place where he’ll likely get killed by gang violence is severely distasteful and immediate.

            Some guy you don’t know at all (because he lived in the part of town you keep out of) gets sent back to a country hundreds of miles away that you’ve never been to, and that makes you feel concern?

            You don’t care about the people living half a mile from you, but you feel guilty about somebody living hundreds of miles away. And that makes no sense to me.

          • Plumber says:

            @Civilis

            “…The left got its amnesty, the right got shafted, and in result further immigration deals are impossible”

            Really? 

            As far as I can tell “the right” has exactly what it wants, busted unions and a compliant class of easily deported Helots to do it’s bidding instead of an uppity working-class. 

            Maybe you meant the majority of voters for “the right” instead, in which case they haven’t gotten what they want on much (as far as I can tell) for 45 years, such as there’s been little overturning of “social issues” court decisions that “the right” squawk about, just as voters for “the left” (with the marginal exception of Obamacare) haven’t won for 48 years, and the gap between the richest and thr rest continues to grow. 

            The donor class of both sides has done quite well for itself however.

            One dollar, one vote.

          • Civilis says:

            I’m not saying you are inaccurately portraying the feelings on the right regarding the connection between the importance of the rule of law and immigration policy, but after having heard for too many “jokes” and earnest declarations of intent to violate existing and hypothetical gun laws they aren’t feeling that garner much respect from me.

            People are neither automatons nor idiots. If we are faced with two laws that conflict, our heads don’t explode, we prioritize which one to follow. If a law is impossible to follow, we don’t. If a law is hard to follow, even if we think it’s good to follow the law, we default to the intent of the law over the letter. If the law clearly doesn’t make sense or seems morally wrong, we ignore it.

            I expect a tiny minority of the most ‘respect for law’ types obey the speed limit every time, and they mentally justify it by citing the intent of the law rather than the letter of the law. Likewise, it’s very easy for laws regarding guns to enter into the area where they become stupid or unjust and conflict with the fundamental natural right enumerated in the second amendment. If the government passed a law requiring everyone to attend Catholic mass every week, I would expect that even people that highly value respect for the rule of law to recognize that the law conflicts with the natural rights enumerated in the first amendment and ignore it.

            Respect for the rule of law requires both sides (the public and the lawmakers) to uphold their end of the bargain. Passing unjust laws erodes the rule of law. Passing laws that are not enforced erodes the rule of law. Selectively enforcing the laws erodes the rule of law. Enforcing a law to the letter when it conflicts with the intent erodes the rule of law. In some cases (such as speed limits), this is unavoidable, but these exceptions don’t add up to much when most of the laws are clearly written and necessary. When there are tons of laws which are often vague, this breaks down rapidly, and we’re forced to prioritize.

            The issue with immigration is that the general rules the laws are based on themselves aren’t widely viewed as unjust (we only accept a limited number of immigrants, we prioritize people in imminent danger and those that will contribute a lot to the country, and we expect those that come in to obey the law); it’s just not easy to codify and enforce them without being perceived as unjust. Handling immigration is also a core function of government; if anyone and everyone can walk in, you don’t have a country or a culture anymore.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Brad

            Can you give some examples of what you’re referring to as “jokes and earnest declarations of intent to violate existing and hypothetical gun laws”?

            I suspect there are at least two groups of people involved in your observations here, one more responsible than the other.

          • Civilis says:

            As far as I can tell “the right” has exactly what it wants, busted unions and a compliant class of easily deported Helots to do it’s bidding instead of an uppity working-class.

            Maybe you meant the majority of voters for “the right” instead, in which case they haven’t gotten what they want (as far as I can tell) for 45 years on much such as there’s been little overturning of “social issues” court decisions, just as voters for “the left” (with the marginal exception of Obamacare) haven’t won for 48 years.

            You have a point that immigration is not strictly a left/right issue; the breakdown is much more complex than that, and it’s driven the split between the corporate establishment types and the more populist types on the right for years. It’s just the only politicians with the freedom from the establishment enough to make it a real issue have been on the right.

            As far as unions and the left, I can argue that they got exactly what they wanted in the short term. And like with any wish on a monkey’s paw, it came back to bite them good and hard.

          • Brad says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            The jokes are for some reason usually about fake boating accidents. I imagine there’s some cultural history there are missing.

            The earnest declarations are both about existing laws (NYS’ SAFE Act) and hypothetical future laws require registration and/or banning certain guns.

            @Civilis

            You can insist “that’s different!” until you are blue in the face. What I hear is “I think this is a good law and that other one is a bad one”. Which is fine, just go and pretend it’s really all about this higher level principle. I don’t ever buy conveniently tailored higher level principles. If you want to claim one is important to you, show me where it really hurts and you support it anyway.

          • Aftagley says:

            @ Deiseach

            Some guy you don’t know at all (because he lived in the part of town you keep out of) gets sent back to a country hundreds of miles away that you’ve never been to, and that makes you feel concern?
            You don’t care about the people living half a mile from you, but you feel guilty about somebody living hundreds of miles away. And that makes no sense to me.

            My point got lost in an attempt at snark, my apologies. It’s not that I don’t care about the people half a mile from me; it’s that I don’t register their presence as a problem. I’m 100% ok with them being able to work here, and it bothers me not at all to hear languages I don’t understand on my daily commute. None of these are problems that I think needs a solution. I’m admitting that maybe this is because my line of work/various privileges have insulated me from any serious negative effects, but that doesn’t really matter. If I don’t register it as a problem, I don’t think it needs a solution.

            Moving now to the kids in cages or guys who’ve been productive citizens for decades getting deported: these are the kind of drastic solutions that would require a massive and obvious problem to be acceptable. If we don’t have any problems, I deem these solutions to be illogical and will therefore advocate against them.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aftagley

            I can think of no more perfect demonstration of the Tragedy of the Commons than the argument you are putting forth about illegal immigration.

            “The costs are diffuse and minor in each specific case” is absolutely true about illegal immigration. And the Tragedy of the Commons is the best example of a place where specific incentives break down, which is why we need government to intervene.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Brad

            The jokes are for some reason usually about fake boating accidents. I imagine there’s some cultural history there are missing.

            The joke is that when the government passes its registration of guns law (which they think is unconstitutional and unjust and tyrannical) they will claim to have lost the guns in a boating accident. This is both an act of civil disobedience and a hedge against confiscation.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The jokes are for some reason usually about fake boating accidents. I imagine there’s some cultural history there [I’m] missing.

            Thanks. I hear the boating accident joke all the time, so I can pretty safely say this is mostly idle jest from people who know their way around guns and gun rights and are intent on being the exact opposite of sloppy about how they handle them. It’s idle because they genuinely believe the state would never do something as boneheaded (in their considered opinion) as to try to confiscate all guns.

            This is consistent with Civilis’ latest. Particularly the part about respect for the law being based on an understanding that both parties are upholding their end. Again, if the state were to try to pass a law that it can’t realistically enforce, or will not protect its constituents…

          • Part of the reason that immigration is so important to the right at this time is that it’s probably the most obvious single example of a larger breakdown in the rule of law (or, more precisely, the rule of rules) in the US and how it gets handled is a proxy for the larger debate.

            How did that play out when the most obvious example was alcohol prohibition?

            Note that, in that context, there were two alternative solutions–enforce the law or repeal it.

          • And the Tragedy of the Commons is the best example of a place where specific incentives break down, which is why we need government to intervene.

            Except that the tragedy of the commons, market failure more generally, is much more common in the political market than the private market.

            Consider voting. If I spend several days studying the issues and the candidate in order to vote for the less bad candidate for president, I receive about 1/300,000,000 th of the benefit of doing so. That’s an externality of more than 99.999999%.

            The same pattern holds for almost all of the actions that control what government does, although sometimes the externality might be as low as 99.9%.

          • if anyone and everyone can walk in, you don’t have a country or a culture anymore.

            For most practical purposes, anyone and everyone could walk into the U.S. until 1882, when restrictions came in on Chinese immigration, lunatics and carriers of contagious diseases. Anyone and everyone else could walk in until 1921, and anyone and everyone from the New World until 1965.

            For what part of that history did the United States not have a country or a culture?

          • cassander says:

            @davidfriedman

            For most practical purposes, anyone and everyone could walk into the U.S. until 1882, when restrictions came in on Chinese immigration, lunatics and carriers of contagious diseases. Anyone and everyone else could walk in until 1921, and anyone and everyone from the New World until 1965.

            I’m far from agreeing with the original point, but you could walk here only if you managed to pay for (and in the early days, survive) a long and expensive boat trip first. That considerably limited the number of takers, even in the absence of policy.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m far from agreeing with the original point, but you could walk here only if you managed to pay for (and in the early days, survive) a long and expensive boat trip first. That considerably limited the number of takers, even in the absence of policy.

            During the potato famines there were hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants who were functionally coming from the poorest population in the world at the time (literally starving to death and legally prevented from accruing property). Cost wasn’t as prohibitive as this statement makes it sound.

      • Baeraad says:

        “True position”: ?
        “Reversed moderation”: I want more votes for my team.
        “Motte-in-the-middle”: ?(variable depending on which subgroup is answering)

        All right, fine. How’s this?

        True position: Compassion for people looking for a better life (along with slight guilt at having randomly been born, through no virtue of your own, in one of the world’s more disgustingly rich countries). Honest belief that people are all fundamentally alike, so why discriminate? Honest belief that the scary people who’ll come in aren’t any scarier or more common than the scary people we already have here, so again, why be a dick about it for no reason?

        Motte-in-the-middle: Blah bla bla country was founded on immigration bla bla sob stories of extreme suffering bla bla inspirational tales of hard-working immigrants bla bla.

        Also, I have absolutely zero faith in immigrants from hyper-conservative countries voting for the sort of hippie-dippie liberal policies I favour, so I can honestly say that that motivation isn’t even remotely a factor for me.

        • onyomi says:

          Thank you for your candor, but what is the “reversed moderation” here? Something like “you care about foreigners more than you care about Americans”? I could be wrong, but I feel like that doesn’t actually have a lot of sting in US mainstream culture/politics today? Like, I’m not sure it would be considered a major gaffe if a politician stated your true position.

    • Plumber says:

      @onyomi

      “….immigration….”

      Plumber’s True Position: Wages are too low, the rent’s too damn high, the freeways are too full, and I really don’t like hearing Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley accents (“surfer guy” and “valley girl” are particularly annoying), and I dislike that the poor who grew up here are forced out.

      A border wall between Mexico is just a start, I want so many other Americans and even other Californians to stop moving here

      • arlie says:

        The question then becomes whether the border wall will
        a) reduce the influx of people who can afford to outbid folks born in your area
        b) do so more cost effectively than other options

        Given what I know about where you live, your problem with cost-of-living looks to me more like it’s caused by well heeled tech employees than by dirt poor unskilled labourers with language problems.

        I.e. you need to get rid of rich and upper middle class immigrants to your area, both those from within your country and those from outside. Those from outside the country are almost certainly legal – very few high income illegal immigrants, and even fewer in tech.

        I’d suggest convincing silicon valley to move elsewhere, preferably somewhere that doesn’t have an existing population to be displaced, or where you don’t like that population anyway.

        If you can wreck the natural attractions – i.e. get rid of the lovely weather, pleasant culture, etc. that would help too.

        For what it’s worth, I hope you don’t succeed – I’m a happy legal immigrant, and I fathermore appreciate the significant increase in value of the house I bought when I first arrived here. Moving elsewhere (to follow the jobs) while losing my paper profit on the house (or worse) wouldn’t be very welcome to me.

        But driving out folks like me would do you a lot more good, than keeping illegal south and central Americans out of the United States – except perhaps to the extent that we’re providing employment in your trade.

        • Plumber says:

          @arlie

          “…driving out folks like me would do you a lot more good, than keeping illegal south and central Americans out of the United States – except perhaps to the extent that we’re providing employment in your trade”

          Yes pricesly! 

          The late 1990’s employent boom in ‘Silicon Valley’ got me into my trade (Local 393 in San Jose called me for work before 38 in San Francisco or 342 in Concord, and 467 in San Mateo’s only interview question was “Who do you know?), and while they were occasional hospital, residential (only two!), school, and the airport expansion projects, mostly it was silicon chip plants and office parks, and I didn’t feel good about much of it, I remember dismantling a perfectly usable restroom and rebuilding it some feet away so some executive could have a bigger office, and my thinking “What a waste of labor”, and I remember being on a multiple building project in the hills above Palo Alto and seeing what looked like a red fox one morning and thinking what a shame it was that these concrete blocks were displacing it (the schools and the two residences I had some pride in though), my current job doing repairs just feels more useful, and while I should be grateful for the work, it’s hard for me to think of all those low density office parks of ‘silicon valley’ that replaced the orchards as anything other than a blight, and except for job losses, stopping ‘the valley’ seems mostly positive to me.

          Where I live though, the engine of outbidding displacement is mostly the University, the closing of which (and shifting of it’s resources towards schools that more Californians have access to besides a privileged few) seems mostly positive to me as well, except for that would likely eliminate the bookstores surrounding U.C. as I imagine students and faculty are more of their customers.

          An easier solution, it seems to me, would be sharply progressive income taxes (and stop paying professors and coaches so much in the first place!), so that while U.C. and silicon valley might still be magnets for the ‘cognitive elite’ I would hope that they’d then simply lack the money to outbid others by so much.

          If somehow the “great compression of the mid 20th century could be brought back, many of the problems I perceive would be eliminated.

    • Alejandro says:

      Here is a possible example on the left:

      True position: Torture is morally abhorrent and should not be used regardless of effectiveness.
      Reversed moderation: I care more about treating well captured terrorists than about saving American lives.
      Motte-in-the-middle: Torture does not work.

      • Randy M says:

        (I know you are not intending to argue the object level there)

        Treating well is the point of contention there. If you swapped it out for “not torturing” it is basically the consequence of the unqualified “should not be used” in the first statement and the reversed moderation is actually accurate.

        It would be morally convenient for the third statement to be true and thus make irrelevant the decision of which value is higher for any given quantity of lives and particular torture method.

        For certain values of work, it might be right, for others, perhaps not. I think in reality it depends on how readily you can corroborate possible leads given up. Torturing out a confession is silly. Torturing out possible confederates when you secretly have some way of double checking some of the information for veracity is possibly actionable, and the harder but truer test case for the morals.

        • Walter says:

          +1 to the careful explanation there. That’s what I’ve always thought when people say that torture doesn’t work. I’m like, this is either trivially true or trivially false depending on the other parameters of the situation, and the sides are talking past one another.

        • Aftagley says:

          Concur, and this has always bothered me about the torture debate. It’s basically just wayyyy to pat to handwave away it’s potential efficacy (when it’s supplemented with other means of verifying information) and reduce it down to “it doesn’t work.”

          It also implies that some of the most capable intelligence-gathering personnel on earth were doing something they should have known was morally repugnant just for fun,

          • Randy M says:

            Makes me wonder what other morally inconvenient truths there are, then I realize that’s probably the maximally CW stimulating question to ask.

      • onyomi says:

        This seems a decent example and also points to what seems like a pattern: “mottes-in-the-middle” tend to be not only more socially acceptable but also “convenient-if-true,” whereas the “true positions” or “true rejections” they substitute for tend to be less so. It would be a more convenient moral universe if torture simply didn’t work, for example, since then we would never have to face the hard question of whether to use it.

        Inconvenient (especially for conservatives) if true: continued differences in outcome among races are a result of deep historical injustice that can only be remedied by radical transformation of existing attitudes and institutions.

        A little less inconvenient, but not very “kumbayah” in its implications: it’s basically impossible to level outcomes between black and white Americans and the two societies will never fully integrate.

        Convenient-if-true: it’s basically just a few bad policies conservatives don’t like anyway preventing black people from all being like the Huxtables.

        Inconvenient-if-true: there are many poor, hardworking people in the third world whose lives could be greatly improved by coming to the US. Moreover, the kind of poverty they suffer makes US poverty look like a cake-walk. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to let in a significant fraction of them without also letting in many criminals and people who will drain the system. Moreover, even the well-meaning ones, if allowed to come in great numbers, will transform American social and political life in a way existing Americans won’t be happy about. We must chose between denying this opportunity to the vast majority or else allowing our society to rapidly, deeply change in a way that may “kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

        Convenient-if-true: a good immigration policy can both avoid denying the opportunity for a better life to millions (billions?) of hard-working, well-meaning people, while at the same time keeping out the criminals and comfortably integrating the newcomers. American society can accept them all and be the healthier for it so long as they are made to go through an orderly legal process (“a big, beautiful door in the big, beautiful wall”).

        Inconvenient-if-true: hundreds of millions of my fellow countrymen actually identify, at least aspirationally, with this Ivy League community organizer guy with a weird name who grew up abroad way more than they do with me and my idea of America. I feel highly alienated from much of my country.

        Convenient-if-true: those underhanded DemocRATS always seeking to divide us! This guy’s basically a Manchurian candidate no one would like if they knew the truth.

    • dragnubbit says:

      True position: I hate paying taxes.
      Reversed moderation: I am a sovereign.
      Motte-in-the-middle: Passing budgets with gigantic deficits will eventually starve the beast.

  26. Mark V Anderson says:

    The US Census is coming up in a couple of years. People in my state are push pushing the view that we’ve got to count every single person here, so the state gets as much credit for its population as possible. This is especially so since my state is at risk of losing a representative this year, since we haven’t grown quite as fast as the rest of the country.

    But it seems to me that should only be convincing to me if I agree with political position of most of our reps. Every blue or red state has a sizable minority within its borders that is of the opposite color. It seems to me that this minority should want to minimize the population counted in the state, because a higher population in their own state results in bad results in Washington. So maybe these people should try to duck the Census so they aren’t counted?

    It is true that a higher population also results in more gravy from the Feds when counting pork barrel votes and such, and so perhaps lowering these Federal benefits hurts everyone in the state. Speaking personally, I hate this pork barrel spending, so I don’t count it, but I suppose some do.

    I do mostly disfavor the position of most of our reps in Washington, so it won’t bother me a bit if we do lose a rep. On the other hand, I think the data gathered by the Census is a very valuable tool for researchers. So I think the loss of accurate data if I skip the Census is more important than the political ramifications. But I do wonder if it is in the interest of others not to be counted.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      What are the odds that a marginal representative for your state would be of the minority group?

      And do you need it to be better than 50:50 to be in favor?

    • bullseye says:

      Ducking out of the census for that reason sounds like putting party loyalty ahead of democracy and the Constitution. I’d advise you to be counted even if you’re in my party.

      • johan_larson says:

        I think a bit of gamesmanship is within the bounds of good conduct. If Mark at least arguably has two residences, he could choose which one he wants to be counted at for census purposes.

    • acymetric says:

      Do you oppose literally every representative from your state? What if the one you like is the one that gets cut? What if the redistricting lowers the chances of eventually getting someone that you do like?

      If you think the data is important, then support everyone getting counted for that reason. The problem with trying to game this is that the end results seem too hard to predict to determine if the payoff is worth it.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        No my state is Blue, but does have some Red reps. But it is more probable to lose a Blue one because there are more of them to lose.

        Mostly I am pushing back against the folks who seem to think it’s in everyone’s interest in the state to count more people. I disagree with that.

        • Dack says:

          But it is more probable to lose a Blue one because there are more of them to lose.

          That’s not how it works. If blues are in power, then blues get to redraw the map. We have no reason to believe they will redraw it in their own disfavor. There are no district lines that are obviously not gerrymandered.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I think playing fairly is important- generally I don’t want to win in cases where the result isn’t life-or-death if the way I win is through cheating. I would not lie to get a job, for instance, or spread rumors about a coworker to get a promotion over them. This sort of unethical behavior seems to be of the same category, and so I’d advise you not to do it, on moral/ethical grounds.

    • rahien.din says:

      Just childish.

  27. Tenacious D says:

    (I thought about commenting under Nabil’s post about federal sentencing, but this is different enough–more general–that I decided to make a new thread)

    Repeat offenders are responsible for a lot of crime*, so keeping them off the streets has significant benefits in protecting the public (victimless crimes aside). However, laws like mandatory minimums and 3 strike rules are overly harsh to offenders who genuinely are turning their lives around. It seems to me that laws around sentencing should aim to balance these considerations. An idea I had would be to have anti-backsliding provisions (like the EPA does for environmental permits): future sentences can’t be more lenient than previous ones for the same category of offense. Does anyone have other ideas?

    *The case that prompted this thought was the shooting at the Christmas market in Strasbourg, which was committed by someone with 27 previous convictions–who the police tried to arrest that morning on a separate matter. Less anecdotally, a study in Sweden found that 26% of violent offenders accounted for 63% of convictions for violent crimes.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      future sentences can’t be more lenient than previous ones for the same category of offense.

      Yeah that sounds reasonable, except I’m not sure how difficult it is to determine the same category of offense. What if the first crime was someone who burgled a house, took thousands of dollars of property, and wrecked thousands of dollars more in ransacking the house. In the second crime a decade later, he had a baby that needed milk and he had no money. So he went through a window of his neighbor’s house, when the neighbor was on vacation, to steal some milk? The 2nd one sounds like the same category of crime, but by someone who was mostly rehabilitated. I think this question requires empirical evidence of how things usually work, and how many subsequent crimes do have a lower punishment.

      • albatross11 says:

        One additional thing to remember is that the whole system is incredibly noisy. Most crimes don’t get solved, and most minor crimes don’t even get reported. So when you see a guy who’s been arrested and charged for armed robbery twice, it’s likely (but not certain!) that he’s really committed a lot of other armed robberies for which he was never caught. As a matter of justice, we can’t and shouldn’t punish him for stuff we statistically think he likely has done. But if we want to assess the likely impact of a three-strikes law, then we’d better take that into account–probably the average guy with three armed robbery cases against him has carried out another dozen armed robberies but never ended up getting charged for them. (I think the armed robbery clearance rate in urban areas is around 25%.)

        • dragnubbit says:

          I served on a jury in California that returned a conviction in what seemed to be a routine open and shut DUI case (no accident). During the case some of us jurors were confused why this case even went to trial. The defendant’s family was distraught when the verdict was read. We were told by a reporter in the hallway after that it was his third strike. I felt a little sick even though I didn’t even know what the first 2 strikes were.

    • 10240 says:

      mandatory minimums and 3 strike rules are overly harsh to offenders who genuinely are turning their lives around.

      If they didn’t turn their lives around the last 2 times, what’s the chance that this is the time they will?

      • John Schilling says:

        Going from “professional armed robber” to “can be tempted to shoplift when hungry”, is close enough to turning your life around for anyone not named Javert, and should perhaps be encouraged by means including some measure of mercy for any remaining imperfections.

        • 10240 says:

          Yeah, some three strikes rules only apply to serious, violent crimes I think.

          • albatross11 says:

            My very imperfect understanding is that all this stuff is best understood in game theory/negotiation terms. Three strikes rules and mandatory minimum laws basically strengthen the hand of the prosecutors–they’re able to negotiate for longer sentences/higher fines/pleas to more serious stuff, because they’ve got the power to decide whether to charge the person with a crime with a mandatory minimum of 5 years or not.

            Now, as best I can tell, having plea bargaining be the main way cases get resolved (something like 90%) is a terrible idea. And prosecutors can and absolutely do charge not-very-serious criminals with very serious charges to punish them for refusing a plea deal. This makes no sense in terms of justice, but it’s exactly what you should expect if you think in game-theory terms.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yeah, some three strikes rules only apply to serious, violent crimes I think.

            That was the original intention for almost all of them, but then it becomes a cheap “tough on crime” signal to add new crimes to the list, to say e.g. that because some petty thieves or low-level drug dealers sometimes hurt people, petty theft and/or low-level drug dealing is henceforth a “violent crime” for 3-strikes life-imprisonment circumstances, and link to a cherrypicked example involving a pretty white girl to drive home the point.

            This is the type of thing that is supposed to be left to judges to decide; that’s a big part of the reason we have judges. But since legislatures have been increasingly taking that power out of their hands, we’re going to need periodic clean-up legislation like this to deal with the accumulated unintended consequences.

          • Tenacious D says:

            @ albatross11:

            Interesting point about the game theory aspect.

            Conrad Black, who’s been on the wrong side of the US legal system himself, had an article last week where he referred to it as a “prosecutocracy”.

      • Chalid says:

        Remember that propensity to commit crimes falls as people age, which is an effect that really will lead people to eventually turn their lives around.

        • acymetric says:

          I imagine that effect is diminished if the person spends long periods of time incarcerated (especially at a young age, say 18-30)?

  28. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    Quick accounting non-effort-post

    Accruals.
    Most of us practice accrual based accounting, rather than the typical “money-in, money-out” kind of mentality most people think of when we say “accounting.” For instance, most people will think Apple collected $1 billion this year, and had to pay $500 million to its suppliers and employees this year, so it made $500 million (EBITDA, of course).

    This is not what accountants want to capture. For instance, Apple may have collected $100 million on a contract it performed for the US government back in 2017, and it may have withheld payment on $100 million to some suppliers because it wanted more cash. When we report income, we want to know income related to THIS period’s business. We want to know “how much did Apple make as a result of activity THIS YEAR.”
    In the case above, we would remove the $100 million Apple collected from 2017 business, and we would add in the $100 million of expenses that Apple did not pay timely, bringing us down to $900mm-$600mm=$300mm.

    Right now, I’m on the cost side, so I’m mechanically more interested in the costs. And because it’s year-end, we have a LOT of that “not paying out suppliers” right now, but managers aren’t quite getting what I mean when I say “I’ll accrue it.” What this means is that whatever you don’t pay, I book as an expense. It still comes out of your budget for this year, even though you didn’t actually pay anything, and then next year it washes out.

    Let’s take PTO as an example, since that came up last thread. When you “accrue” PTO, you think of it is building up a balance. However, to us accountants, we book your PTO as an expense in the month that you earn it. From our perspective, we’ve already paid you your PTO, even though we haven’t actually paid you a dime yet.
    That money gets recorded as a liability on the balance sheet, and the company should hold cash against it. When you actually do take your PTO, no additional expense is incurred: we release the liability from the balance sheet and it covers your PTO balance.
    Here’s what this looks like

    Debit Credit

    PTO Expense $500 PTO Reserve $500 (You Earn your PTO)

    PTO Expense $500 Cash $500 (You Take Your PTO)

    PTO Reserve $500 PTO Expense $500 (I release the reserve to cover the money we paid you)

    The important thing is that, when the expense is paid, it will be incurred again, so the manager might think they are losing money. However, we are releasing the reserve, so the effect will be a wash (in most cases). On the company books, this will look like a “negative expense” for the month in which I release the reserve, so everything should net to zero.

    Problems:
    1. I can only accrue what I have knowledge of. We have thousands of accounts at my factory, and there’s no way I can track all of them, so we don’t even bother unless it is “material” (which means ‘is someone going to bug me when they see a swing in this expense account’). We also cannot accurately for bills that have not been incurred yet. Like, our payroll for today is not finalized: if I had to accrue for today’s payroll, I need to make a guess. We also cannot accrue for one-offs that we don’t know about, like if a truck got banged to hell and you need to pay for the damages.

    2. Certain items might change in value over time. For instance, imagine you earned PTO in your first year at work, and I accrue for that expense. Then you take the PTO 10 years later, when you have twice the salary. We will be under-accrued (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and the company will incur a loss, unless someone is actively updating this.

    3. The accrual system depends on people actually knowing what the hell they are doing. For instance, if you don’t know your accounts are supposed to have reserves or your accounts are in the wrong balance state, the entire system breaks down pretty face. We had a massive problem with our PTO because we had it recorded as an asset instead of a liability. This meant that we incurred a multi-million dollar loss when we corrected our PTO account this year (after someone finally found the issue). The cooking equivalent might be if I tell you to add in a basic item (like egg whites), and then you pour in vinegar because you don’t know the difference between basic and acidic.

    4. This really complicates month-end. I cannot just close the books, absorb costs, and report income, because the expense accounts are never correct, and accruals need to be performed. This typically involves making a lot of manual journal entries, which means you have to go to a lot of different people to gather enough information to make journal entries. You also need to pester said people to pay their invoices timely, so you can stop making journal entries, because journal entries (particularly one-offs) are liable to be questioned.

    5. You need to hold ACTUAL CASH against your reserve. You have a liability, remember? That means you need to have an asset to hold against it. Depending on your working capital desires, you actually might need to hold MORE than $1 of cash or cash-equivalent against every $1 of liabilities. For instance, if you have $100mm assets, and $50mm liabilities, you have twice as many assets as you have liabilities. If I add $10mm to both sides, you no longer have twice as much. If your C-suite’s target is twice as much, you need to actually hold $20mm in cash vs. $10mm in liabilities. This is a problem because companies don’t like holding lots of cash.

    I hope this was at least remotely clear. I’ve had to explain this a few times in the last few days, because we have so many people out and cannot approve invoices, and people do not want to lose 2019 budgets due to 2018 costs.

    In other news, I am still reconciling our company store. I also order all the product for the company store. And verify the receipt of goods of the company store. And collect the money and ring up the sales for the company store. And reconcile the receipts against the payments for the company store. And reconcile the payments against the actual final bank receipt. And perform the journal entries to the company store account that could theoretically mask any missing money. And audit the journal entries to ensure the journal entries are accurate. And perform the Segregation of Duties internal audit designed to prevent fraud.

    Thankfully, I am a quite ethical person, because otherwise this system would be verrryyyyyyyyyyy bad.

    • cassander says:

      when you say cash, do you mean literal cash? not physical money, of course, but money in ordinary bank accounts not parked in any sort of equity.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Better question for corporate finance and Treasury, but no. Firms typically take a lot of money and plunge them into low-risk short-term investments to make a bit of interest on them, to the best of my knowledge.
        There are requirements for actual cash as well, but companies usually have revolving lines of credit to help out there.

      • jgr314 says:

        In the past several years, a lot of “cash” at large corporations has been reinvested in debt instruments by other corporations. That’s part of the reason why the thinking in the tax bill that encouraged “repatriation” was flawed (the investment potential of the off-shore money wasn’t trapped outside the US, it could be brought in through indirect means).

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      In other news, I am still reconciling our company store. I also order all the product for the company store. And verify the receipt of goods of the company store. And collect the money and ring up the sales for the company store. And reconcile the receipts against the payments for the company store. And reconcile the payments against the actual final bank receipt. And perform the journal entries to the company store account that could theoretically mask any missing money. And audit the journal entries to ensure the journal entries are accurate. And perform the Segregation of Duties internal audit designed to prevent fraud.

      OF course that last line is highly ironic. I’m not sure how many non-accountants will get that. Do you work for a non-public company? It does sound your list of duties might totally kill an unqualified audit. It sounds like someone sometime set up procedures for SOD, and then didn’t do anything else.

      Edit: Unless of course the company store is simply immaterial. I used to work at a public company, where our petty cash was a joke of an uncontrolled process. But it only held $150, so the auditors didn’t care.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Private, thank god. However, we still have internal audits and they have historically slapped our company store with some audit points because of the terrible process. The issue is that we were sold to another private company recently, so people think that the old audit findings are no longer applicable. Our Warehouse team threw a shitfit when I asked them for the documentation that verified they checked the temperature of trucks shipping our temperature-sensitive product.
        “Why do we need to worry about that audit from 2 years ago?”
        People are nuts.

        We do have procedures for SOD and these are straight-up in violation, but right now no one cares. For 6 months we didn’t even DO our SOD, and the plant got an official reprimand. Not that I even knew about that function, since our management team just considered it irrelevant and neglected to mention it to anyone.

    • bean says:

      Why is it that every time I read about this kind of finance, it comes out making orbital mechanics look straightforward and simple?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        We manipulate numbers according to laws in order to establish relationships between phenomena; accountants manipulate numbers according to conventions in order to make the arrangement of those numbers maximally functionally useful. If we’re playing Sudoku, they’re playing the crossword.

        Also, there are no conservation laws in finance.

        (At least, that’s the impression I, an engineer, have gotten from my accountant father)

      • johan_larson says:

        Much of the complexity seems to be driven by buy-now-pay-later provisions, on the one hand, and the desire to have the buy-now- part in some sense considered current income for the firm, on the other. If everything was done on a payment-on-delivery basis — or even counted as income when the payment actually arrived — much of the complexity would disappear.

      • actualitems says:

        It’s not finance really, just accrual-based accounting. And when I think of this, I am reminded of a Tyler Cowen quote I am going to butcher: he says something like you will know you are good at something when it seems easy to you but everyone else thinks it’s complicated.

        Accrual-based accounting seems so easy to me. It is even difficult for me to understand what other people don’t understand about it.

        But there are so, so many things that so, so many people can do so easily, but I have accepted I will never understand. Like fixing a toilet or baking a cake or swinging a golf club or changing a tire. There are no amount of YouTube videos that will make me be able to do these things, but literally millions of people do these things every day and probably don’t understand what I am not understanding.

        • bean says:

          I think this is most of it. During the “rods from God” thing a couple weeks ago, I was initially very confused that the author of the linked piece was saying some really nonsensical things about response time and damage. Then I remembered that he probably wasn’t used to thinking in orbital mechanics terms, whereas that’s something that has always come naturally to me.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Looking back at my post, mostly because I communicated pretty poorly… 🙁
        Also, it’s somewhat non-intuitive, so unless you are doing it pretty frequently, it’s not something that’s going to stick in your head. Although orbital mechanics are simple, right, you just shoot something really fast and it flies around Earth, but not too fast or else it escapes entirely!

        (Orbital mechanics part was obviously a joke…)

        This honestly isn’t even the hard part. The hard part of my job is calculating variances, tracking down losses, and figuring out where costs flow once they leave my immediate sight. Along with using our systems to figure out information we should easily have. Like, how much money we spent on packaging, by vendor. Yeah, I can tell you how much we spent on packaging, but I have to do some digging and fancy lookups to get it by vendor.

        • bean says:

          Looking back at my post, mostly because I communicated pretty poorly… 🙁

          No, that’s not it. Your effortposts on accounting and the like have always been some of my favorites for taking something that is sterotypically really boring and making it comprehensible and interesting. I’m just sort of going “why do you people do this to yourselves, it’s not rocket science”.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Thanks for the positive feed-back! Your stuff is great, so any praise from you is high praise indeed.

            As for “why do this to yourself,” excellent question indeed. It pays decently well, and it isn’t super-hard. Unfortunately, without a CPA or MBA, there is a hard cap on how far I can advance, but I’m not interested in going back to school right now.

          • bean says:

            “Why do you do this to yourself” is directed more at the complexity of finance and less at the people actually working in it. The bit where everything is a positive number, for instance, seemed completely baffling, at least until Eric explained it.

    • actualitems says:

      we have so many people out and cannot approve invoices, and people do not want to lose 2019 budgets due to 2018 costs.

      I work in FP&A, i.e. accounting-adjacent, and this one of my biggest pet peeves of my job: the arbitrary significance of the move from 12/31 to 1/1 and the downstream impacts.

      Any other time of the year, things pushing to next period aren’t a big deal. But at year end, all the sudden everything is important to get in, approvals and such are needed, but no one seems to be in the office. I wish our fiscal year end was January because no one takes the last 2 weeks of January off.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Honestly I would be 100% on board with this. January would be a great fiscal year end. The first company I was at had a fiscal year end near the end of Summer, which was a nightmare, as essentially the entire summer was a black-out period for vacations. You want to take a vacation this close to year-end?! Blasphemy!

        • Elementaldex says:

          Yeah… I just started working in the finance department of a company with year end in July… I was going to take a vacation in July but I’m thinking that’s going to be a no.

      • andrewflicker says:

        We do our fiscal year switchover in September for this reason, in part!

    • Deiseach says:

      I feel your pain about year-end 🙂

      We’re only a very small organisation, I ran the payroll yesterday for the two weeks up to the end of December (two payments at once because of all the bank holidays which would bugger up the EFT payments and have people complaining “but I checked my bank account and my pay never went in!” yeah that’s because of the THREE BANK HOLIDAYS between now and the first week of January which means THE BANKS AIN’T OPEN THAT’S WHY YOUR MONEY DIDN’T GO THROUGH IT’S NOT MY FAULT) and hooo boy. I’ve been nagging them for the past two months, including emails with the payslips, and there are still people who haven’t provided their tax details. And I know they won’t until they incur the emergency tax penalty, then come looking to know why half their pay is gone in tax.

      BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T BOTHER TO UPDATE YOUR DETAILS WITH REVENUE AND NO, WE CAN’T DO THAT FOR YOU, WE’RE NOT PERMITTED TO DO IT, IT’S UP TO YOU TO TELL THE NICE TAX COLLECTOR YOU’RE WORKING FOR US AND THESE ARE YOUR CLAIMS FOR CREDITS.

      Even better there’s an entirely new tax system being put in place by the Revenue Commissioners that is going live the first week of January and I know it will be an unmerciful pain in the backside to get it running correctly, never mind all the workshops they held about “it’s going to be fast and convenient and will work perfectly all the time, what do you mean you work from home out the country and your internet drops out all the time so what happens when you’re trying to upload to our new site?”

      I am feeling slightly smug in that I got all the last invoices paid off for the year, so any bills that come in the post in the next week (when we’re shut) can just sit there for the New Year 🙂

      Thank God we don’t do accruals in that way, we only have to worry about UM HEY YEAH ALL THE MONEY IS GOING OUT OF THE BANK ACCOUNT AND THE CHEQUES AND AUTOMATIC PAYMENTS ARE COMING DUE, CAN YOU PLEASE TRANSFER OVER SOME INCOME THANKS YEAH?

      Happy Christmas and may everybody have their receipts, remember which company they ordered that delivery from, the delivery dockets match up with the invoices, and hand in their expenses sheets on time and filled out correctly!

      • acymetric says:

        We’re only a very small organisation, I ran the payroll yesterday for the two weeks up to the end of December (two payments at once because of all the bank holidays which would bugger up the EFT payments and have people complaining “but I checked my bank account and my pay never went in!” yeah that’s because of the THREE BANK HOLIDAYS between now and the first week of January which means THE BANKS AIN’T OPEN THAT’S WHY YOUR MONEY DIDN’T GO THROUGH IT’S NOT MY FAULT)

        For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure it is standard practice for most companies to do this. If someone gets paid on the 1st and 15th, and the 15th is a Sunday, typically they would get that check on Friday. If someone would normally get paid on December 25th this year due to some weird pay schedule, I would expect to get that check/direct deposit tomorrow.

        • Deiseach says:

          For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure it is standard practice for most companies to do this.

          My boss very nearly expected me to come in on St Stephen’s Day (26th December) to do a payroll run, to which my first reaction was WTF but I couched it more diplomatically by reminding them it would be a Bank Holiday so doing two payroll runs the week before we shut up shop would be the more sensible option 🙂

          The main problem, as ADBG says, is that nobody tells you anything. It’s like they expect you to somehow know by instinct or mind-reading that they spent the money, or put in that order, or need that transfer. Without the pieces of paper in our hot little hands, we know nothing, we can do nothing. If you need to take a half day off on Thursday when the payroll is run on Wednesday, I need to know before I pay you so I can put that down as annual leave or TOIL or whatever rather than “paid for working the full week”.

          Mostly it goes okay, it’s only the occasional “seeing the stub of a cheque made out to J. Smith for €5,000 with no idea who J. Smith is or what this is for, so what the hell do I enter this under” that is the tricky part 🙂

    • Deiseach says:

      Thankfully, I am a quite ethical person, because otherwise this system would be verrryyyyyyyyyyy bad.

      I’ve been in similar situations where I’ve thought “You know, I could be robbing this place blind and nobody would know, and even better they treat me like a dog so I have every incentive to rob them blind and all that’s holding me back is Catholic guilt thanks to going to school to the nuns for thirteen years” 🙂

      It does amaze me how organisations put low-level/poorly-paid people in positions of trust like that, don’t do anything to make them feel trusted and valued, do make it very clear that as far as the organisation is concerned “you are only a peon” and then expect nothing to go wrong with having hundreds of thousands or even more, often in CASH MONEY, flowing through their hands with no oversight. People can be shitty but people are also a lot more honest and conscientious than given credit.

      • Walter says:

        Same.

        I worked for big healthcare company and I was debugging the client DB within a month of starting on the job. If I was a competitor’s plant they’d have been, if not out of business, then absolutely crippled for a year or two while they rewrote everything.

        It feels like individual humans are mad trustworthy, whereas people at large are the internet.

        • acymetric says:

          Given it was healthcare related, if you were caught you very well might have been fined by the government, sued by the company, sued by the clients, and possibly put in jail.

          Granted the company would still have been crippled, but this is probably part of the seemingly unreasonably high trust.

    • CatCube says:

      This actually was pretty interesting to me, and I think it helps me to understand one of the most aggravating things when dealing with my pay at work: we’re required to submit projections of the time we’re going to charge to projects at the end of the month 4-5 business days before the actual end of the month. I don’t know for sure (I just do it because I’m told–and because they’ll project us as using vacation time if we don’t), but this seems like it could explain why they ask for this information.

    • SamChevre says:

      Why do reserves have to be in cash?

      I’m an actuary, and have spent more time calculating reserves than doing anything else. But in my world, you need salable (“admitted”) assets to match your reserves, but they don’t have to be cash: accounts receivable would be perfectly acceptable

  29. Edward Scizorhands says:

    The grocery store had chicken livers on sale. I picked some up, because 80 grams of protein for a dollar is awesome.

    But I have no idea how to prepare cook or eat liver. I have no prior experience here, which is both good and bad, because a lot of people hate liver. I’ve never had paté either.

    What’s a good beginner’s recipe? And is there a thing as eating too much liver in a day/week? I doubt anyone else in my family will touch this. I monitor my protein intake so I won’t go over there.

    • Nornagest says:

      Make gravy with them. Dice finely, simmer with chicken stock, butter, and whatever herbs you feel like adding until they pretty much dissolve, then thicken with flour or corn starch. Pour over potatoes, roasts, biscuits, or anything else you think would go well with gravy.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Try this and see what you think
      Also, make some liver pate as an appetizer, your family might actually like that (but tell them what it is first or they will never trust you again)

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        My wife has food texture issues so she’d never go for paté, but it is hard to go wrong with deep frying. I will try that.

        Thanks for the gravy suggestion but liquified meat triggers my own food texture issues.

    • arlie says:

      I like to fry them with onions and/or bacon. (But the problem is it’s easy to overcook them and/or dry them out that way, and that pretty much wrecks them.) If you want to try that, sear them on a high heat on both sides, lower the heat and then put on a lid. Maybe add a bit of liquid. And don’t cook them very long – you don’t want the insides looking like raw/rare meat, but once they cross into cooked, they are done.

      And oh yeah – cook the bacon beforehand, and fry the liver in the bacon fat. And most likely cook the onions afterwards. All done at the same time in the same pan probably turns into overcooked liver. (Or maybe that’s just because I’m a lousy cook.)

    • Anon. says:

      Just fry them up in a bit of olive oil with salt, pepper, and oregano. Really get that Maillard reaction going, liver benefits immensely from it.

    • Brad says:

      Ideally find some schmaltz, but if you can’t find that duck fat works. Fry the livers, add the fry oil, hard boiled eggs, fried onions, salt, pepper, and some brandy (the secret ingredient). Throw all that into a blender and you have yourself some chopped liver.

    • Deiseach says:

      Haven’t ever used chicken livers, but for lamb or pork liver just fry it with onions. I see suggestions along that line from others here and second it. Goes very well with fried rashers/bacon and sausages, fried eggs, black and/or white pudding (if you have any of that locally). Some fried potatoes if you have any left-over boiled spuds, makes a full meal 🙂

      Or fried on its own/with onions then make gravy and add that to the pan and simmer slightly to reduce a little, goes well with nice crusty bread to dip into the gravy. EDIT: Here’s a decent recipe (using lamb or calves’ liver) for liver and onions with gravy. Also, finishing off cooking the liver in the gravy helps with the problem of over-cooking/drying it out.

      Wash the livers well before cooking, dry them, you can coat them in some seasoned flour if you like (helps with the frying). Chicken livers are probably small enough to not need this advice, but it’s a fine line between cooked enough not to be pink and bloody inside (a little bit pink is fine) and over-cooked (which makes it tough and leathery) so you may need to watch the frying time the first time you do it. Liver stores iron, so possibly not a meal to eat every day as you could run the risk of absorbing too much iron, but on the other hand if you need to make sure you’re getting enough iron in your diet, it’s a quick and tasty way of doing so!

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      Fry them with some onions, then put them in a sandwich with some turkey and Russian dressing.