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Open Thread 117.75

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

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490 Responses to Open Thread 117.75

  1. malenkiy_scot says:

    Scott, can you please review The Book of Why by Judea Pearl?

  2. Calvin says:

    Because of my job, I have insider knowledge about how condo developments in my city are doing, whether the developer overpaid or whether they are having construction difficulties or city planning/approval problems etc.

    What’s the best way to leverage this knowledge in order to make a profit?

    • johan_larson says:

      As I understand it, condo projects don’t go ahead if they can’t presell enough units before construction begins. If you have insider knowledge of which projects are having trouble, you could use it to make lowball offers for units. The developers would probably often say no, but sometimes they might say yes. You could strengthen your bargaining position by being in a position to buy many units, perhaps by recruiting a consortium of friends and family.

      • Calvin says:

        Not a bad suggestion, but it won’t work in this case.

        Most of the developments sell out because the information that they are doing poorly is obscured and not easily accessible. The people getting screwed are unlikely to be the developers, but the early investors and the purchasers of the pre-sale units. There’s no opportunity to buy units at below market, and I wouldn’t want to anyways because I know the risk of the development as a whole completely failing is unreasonably high (aka my ‘insider’ info).

        In stock market terms, its like knowing a stock is going to fall, but in the stock market, I can short a stock. Can’t think of a strategy to do that in real estate.

    • Deiseach says:

      Depending on where and what your job is, I would recommend extreme caution when trying to use insider knowledge to make money, especially if it involves roping in friends and family to help you make bids or provide funding.

      I don’t know about the private sector, but a public sector job will hammer you for doing this. Especially if it’s about local government regarding planning permission/approval or the likes, you could easily find yourself caught up in bribery or other such charges.

      Find out first if the terms of your employment contract have a small hidden away in the fine print clause about “Anything you learn on the job has to remain confidential and this includes ‘yippee, I can use this information to make money!’ sunshine”. Then maybe find legal advice that specialises in real estate and such transactions to see if your arse is covered should you decide “I know Jones Development plc is having trouble selling all its units, I could buy cheap, hold for a while, then rent them out or sell dear”.

      • johan_larson says:

        I suppose one big distinction is between truly confidential information and nominally public information that is just very obscure. I expect much of the information around land purchases and construction to be in the latter category. If that’s the “insider information” that Calvin is proposing to profit from, he’s on much safer ground than if it is truly confidential.

    • Chalid says:

      You could see if you could become part of an expert network and get paid to talk to investors about what they’re doing.

      • Calvin says:

        Very interesting. Thanks!

      • sharper13 says:

        Yeah, if the information is technically public knowledge (i.e. no betrayal of trust involved) find out who is financing/paying for the bad projects, but isn’t directly involved in managing them (i.e. fiscally responsible, but not managerially responsible, like a bank who lent the project money), then offer to consult for them on auditing the projects they are lending on and providing recommendations (if you have that knowledge) or at least analysis of what their project is doing wrong which others may not be. Maybe present them (find the right decision maker!) with a written analysis of one of them as a teaser. Ideally, they’ll be in the best position to make money based on that analysis (either selling their investment, or forcing changes to protect it) and thus in the best position to pay you to provide it to them.

        I’m not sure one of the existing expert networks would actually get you in front of the exact right people, because they’d have to think to themselves that they need to hire an expert on the subject, first.

        Basically, consider “Who is this information the most valuable to, but who doesn’t already know it” and figure out ways of selling it to them on a regular basis.

  3. albatross11 says:

    This paper is amazing. It’s a statement by several researchers who published some results, and later lost confidence in those results and were willing to go public about their loss of confidence and why it happened. I am very impressed with these scientists and this effort–it must have been awful for each of them to realize what had gone wrong and to correct the record in public.

  4. johan_larson says:

    TIL that Russia, unlike most nations, charges airlines for use of its airspace.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdNDYBt9e_U

    That’s quite a racket.

    • LadyJane says:

      Does the sky count as state property now? How far up do a landowner’s property rights extend? If someone wanted to build a 500 story skyscraper on their property, and there were no specific zoning laws that prevented the construction of buildings over a certain size, how high would they be able to go before they hit the literal upper boundary of their territory?

      • johan_larson says:

        I don’t think it works that way. The height of construction is controlled by zoning laws. In the absence of zoning laws, you can build as tall as you want. Really tall structures really only conflict with air traffic, and even the tallest buildings are short compared to the heights at which modern aircraft fly.

        I do remember something about 80,000 feet being the boundary between nationally controlled airspace and uncontrolled space.

        • CatCube says:

          In the US, the FAA and FCC (sort of) prohibit building towers larger than 2,000 feet due to conflicts with air traffic. There’s a tower in Nebraska that is 2,063 feet tall that predates the FCC rule; since about the only reason to build that high outside of a major metropolitan area, it’s likely that that will remain the tallest building for a while.

          Although there is no absolute height limit for antenna towers, both agencies have established a rebuttable presumption against structures over 2,000 feet above ground level. The FCC has a policy that applications filed with the FCC for antenna towers higher than 2,000 feet above ground will be presumed to be inconsistent with the public interest and the applicant will have a burden of overcoming that strong presumption. The applicant must accompany its application with a detailed showing directed to meeting this burden. Only in the exceptional case, where the Commission concludes that a clear and compelling showing has been made that there are public interest reasons requiring a tower higher than 2,000 feet above ground, and after the parties have complied with applicable FAA procedures, and full Commission coordination with FAA on the question of menace to air navigation, will a grant be made. See 47 CFR § 1.61 Note.
          The FAA presumption against construction of structures over a certain height is set forth in the FAA rules. A proposed structure or an alteration to an existing structure that exceeds 2,000 feet in height above the ground will be presumed to be a hazard to air navigation and to result in an inefficient utilization of airspace and the applicant has the burden of overcoming that presumption. Each notice submitted under the FAA rules proposing a structure in excess of 2,000 feet above ground must contain a detailed showing, directed to meeting this burden. Only in exceptional cases, where the FAA concludes that a clear and compelling showing has been made that it would not result in an inefficient utilization of the airspace and would not result in a hazard to air navigation, will a determination of no hazard be issued. See 14 CFR § 77.17(c).

    • Guy in TN says:

      Meh, no more of a racket than charging for access to any other natural resource.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      Doesn’t the US charge airlines for providing them with the old inefficient public air traffic control system?
      [not knowledgable about that topic, just vaguely remember, that in the EU it’s privatized or something and runs a lot better]

      • BBA says:

        Funding for the FAA (including air traffic control) comes primarily from the excise taxes on airline tickets and jet fuel. There’s no direct user fee for it, just like there’s no direct user fee on most highways but you’re probably still paying to drive on them through fuel taxes.

      • John Schilling says:

        The EU air traffic control system charges direct user fees, the US system is funded by a combination of general and excise taxes. Claims that the EU system “runs a lot better” are definitely in the citation-needed category.

  5. johan_larson says:

    You are invited to give the rest of us context-free advice for the new year.

    My contributions:
    – Use a hashtable.
    – Wear a condom.
    – Change your oil every 3000 miles.

    • LesHapablap says:

      -Go see a professional

    • The Nybbler says:

      – Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

    • SamChevre says:

      Good, fast, cheap: pick two

      Take as you will and pay as you must.

      Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them to be accepted.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      2018 Lessons:
      -Don’t let your Imposter Syndrome win
      -Compliment your wife whenever you see an opportunity
      -If an appliance isn’t working correctly, get it checked out immediately and don’t ride it out

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      -DBAA
      -chronic pain needs to be dealt with quickly, even if small
      -store steam controller at friend’s house

  6. oldman says:

    Does anyone have any travel tips for Prague?

  7. Uribe says:

    South Park

    Greatest cartoon of all time or just in the top 3?

    Or do just us Gen-Xers think it ranks so high?

    • TakatoGuil says:

      I definitely can’t say it’s the greatest cartoon of all time, and frankly top three would be a surprise. Being a long-runner is, to me, more likely to be a handicap than anything else. For example, the Golden Age of the Simpsons is a popular contender for “best cartoon of all time”, but it has a couple decades of mediocrity trailing after it like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a shoe.

      It’s not just a Gen-X thing, though. My millennial buddies loved watching it in college.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t see the long, slow, crappy tail of the Simpson’s diminishing its standing as the top cartoon of all time, nor do the prequels diminish the original Star Wars trilogy (though they do shift some of the credit away from Lucas), and Jimi Hendrix isn’t greater for dying young.

        South Park fits in the Married With Children category for me, an enjoyable (and hateable) show for many the main contributions had to do with their boldness and creativity than with the individual brilliance, and the opening up of new avenues for future shows.

        The Simpsons however did both, managing to be brilliant in its own right while also breaking norms about what TV shows are and how they can be made.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      For me it is probably the 2nd best television show of all time behind Seinfeld. Nothing else has shows I can randomly watch and get as much enjoyment, as well as having specific episodes and multiparts that bring me massive enjoyment on all facets.

    • johan_larson says:

      I’ve watched maybe five episodes. I found them distasteful and juvenile and never went back for more. I suspect they appeal to people who are pretty deeply alienated from mainstream society and really groove on the writers’ irreverence toward it.

      Top three? Presumably top three series, then. Sounds like a stretch. They’d have to beat The Animaniacs, The Simpsons, the Looney Toones classics (however they’re grouped), and Disney (however they’re grouped).

    • broblawsky says:

      It’s too uneven, season-to-season, to qualify. It’s still kinda miraculous that it’s even capable of having decent whole seasons at this point (the most recent one, Season 22, was particularly good), but it’s not top three.

    • dodrian says:

      I can’t stand watching “adult” cartoons – Southpark, Family Guy, and in my opinion even the Simpsons is included in this.

      3) Animaniacs
      2) Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner
      1) Spongebob Squarepants

      I suspect Avatar would be #1 if I ever got around to watching more than a few episodes.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The greatest western cartoon that I’ve seen is Avatar: The Last Airbender, and only Golden Age Simpsons comes close.

      I like South Park but I don’t think it holds a candle to Golden Age Simpsons. Off the top of my head, Looney Tunes and Batman Animated Series are probably both stronger candidates for #3, and there’s a lot of stuff I just have never watched that people really love (Rick&Morty, Bojack, Animaniacs, Rocko’s Modern Life come to mind)

      • Nornagest says:

        What pushes Avatar into best-of-all-time territory for you? For me it’s a good action/adventure cartoon, but it doesn’t do anything that anime hasn’t done better. The native English script helps, but not enough.

        My favorite Western cartoon at the moment is probably Adventure Time. Rick and Morty has some strong moments but it’s too strongly wedded to fanbase drama, and while Bojack’s obviously brilliant it’s just too depressing for me.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          You raise a good point, which I’ll rephrase as: old anime had so many different smart action/adventure shows that I really can’t think of anything Western that can compete on those terms.
          (I say “old” because then anime became harem comedies and other waifu-bait, designed to sell merch to Japanese incels.)

          So I’m going to say the best Western cartoon is either Bojack or… Futurama.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I really can’t think of anything Western that can compete on those terms

            Samurai Jack?

            It had far worse plotting, but I think it stands against anything out of Japan on a purely artistic level.

        • Don_Flamingo says:

          @Nornagest
          I’ve heard about Rick and Morty fans being assholes, but I never followed the details. In what way is the show itself related to fanbase drama and how did it impact your enjoyment? Are certain plotlines or jokes just petty comebacks at obnoxious fans and knowing when that happens, makes it jarring?
          Really curious, actually.
          [though if it’ll likely impact my enjoyment of the show as well, please put
          INFOHAZARD and some whitespace above your response]

          • Nornagest says:

            Are certain plotlines or jokes just petty comebacks at obnoxious fans and knowing when that happens, makes it jarring?

            Pretty much this. With most shows, learning more about how the sausage is made enhances my enjoyment; with Rick and Morty, it killed it.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      idk, it’s got nothing on Rick & Morty, which is basically a funnier, more manic and much more clever Doctor Who.
      South Park was a fun childhood cartoon and now just leaves me cold or makes me cringe.
      I don’t know that many cartoons, so I wouldn’t know what belongs in a top 3.

    • Plumber says:

      @Uribe

      South Park

      Greatest cartoon of all time or just in the top 3?

      Or do just us Gen-Xers think it ranks so high?

      South Park?

      It’s funny, but Lord no!

      Off the top of my head this “X-er” (born in ’68) judges Hopping Goes to Town from 1941 as well as Fleischer Superman cartoons or the 1940’s, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, 1977’s The Hobbit, The Flash Gordon cartoons from ’79 to ’82, and 1979’s Les fabuleuses aventures du légendaire Baron de Munchausen as more impressive to me.

    • cassander says:

      Gravity Falls deserves a mention, despite, or perhaps because, of its kid’s show. It’s one of the best structured TV shows I’ve seen, ever.

  8. LadyJane says:

    Looks like Jordan Peterson’s entire worldview just fell apart: http://www.hoaxorfact.com/science/incredibly-rare-half-blue-male-female-lobster.html

    This split-colored lobster displays a condition known as gynandromorphy, meaning it is half male, half female. In this case, the blue side is the female side, and the brown side is the male side.

    • Erusian says:

      I admittedly only know Jordan Peterson from a single incredibly cringe-inducing Channel 4 interview (the one that went viral) and an interview by Bill Maher (of all people). But his argument there was that dominance hierarchies are evolutionarily embedded because serotonin has a dominance relationship in humans, lobsters, and all creatures with a certain common ancestor. He pointed out antidepressants have an effect on lobsters as a result. He offered this as evidence of the idea that hierarchy and inequality were constructed purely by social systems (patriarchy, capitalism, etc). A two-sexed lobster is a complete non-sequitur to this theory, especially because he mentioned this system operated in both genders.

      On Jordan Peterson more generally, he appears to believe in certain Jungian concepts I think are rather silly but I’m not sure where this hostility comes from. Nor his credentials as an anti-feminist, since he claimed to have run a business counseling women on how to boost their wages and be more assertive in the workplace. Is there something I’ve missed? Why has he become a leftist bugbear? Is it because he testified against what he saw as a compelled speech law?

      • LadyJane says:

        The law in question (C-16) was not a compelled speech law. It does not force anyone to use a trans person’s preferred name and pronouns, and numerous Canadian lawyers and judges have confirmed that the law doesn’t work that way. All it did was extend Canada’s existing hate crime laws to protect trans people (more specifically, it added gender identity and gender presentation to the list of group differences that were legally protected, alongside race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, biological sex, and sexual orientation). Now, some people think that hate crime laws in general are a bad idea, and that’s fine. Personally, I’ve heard reasonable arguments on both sides there – though I feel like if they’re going to exist, then there’s not much justification for not applying them to trans people too. But there’s a difference between opposing hate crime laws in general, and opposing this one specific hate crime law on the basis of something that it doesn’t even actually do.

        More generally, liberals and leftists dislike Peterson because he takes his “don’t try to swim upstream, make the best of your circumstances and accept that some things can’t be changed” message (which is admittedly a pretty good message on the personal level, and probably what a lot of people reading self-help books should be hearing in regards to their personal lives) and applies it to the political sphere. Similarly, he has a lot of rhetoric about how minorities and deviants who don’t fit into society need to change themselves to conform, rather than expecting society to change to fit their deviancies from the norm.

        “Sure, systemic oppression might be real, but instead of trying to rebel against the system or change it from within, we should just accept that the world is unfair and make the best of it.” Or to extend that to trans people in particular, “Yes, gender dysphoria might be real, but you should still just live as your assigned birth gender to fit in. If you try to change your gender presentation to match your internal feelings, then you have no right to complain about society discriminating against you for it.”

        • baconbits9 says:

          and numerous Canadian lawyers and judges have confirmed that the law doesn’t work that way.

          No, they clarified that the law was backed by civil punishments, not criminal punishments. They will only fine you for not using the speech that they want, not jail you.

          • LadyJane says:

            Only if you’re an employee of the government or a government-backed institution (e.g. national banks, public universities) and the misgendering is part of an ongoing pattern of harassment or hostile behavior against a trans co-worker/client/patient/customer/student. See this article.

            Things that won’t get you fined or otherwise penalized in any way:
            *If you’re a government employee and you accidentally misgender a trans co-worker.
            *If you work at a non-government-affiliated private business, and you intentionally and consistently misgender a trans co-worker.
            *If you intentionally and consistently misgender a trans person on the street, on the internet, or anywhere else that isn’t a government or government-affiliated institution where you’re employed.
            *If you write an article intentionally and consistently misgendering a public figure who’s trans.

            Things that might get you fined, terminated, forced to attend diversity training, or otherwise penalized:
            *If you’re a government employee and you intentionally and consistently misgender a trans co-worker.

            I’m fine with this law. The government has a right to set standards regarding the conduct of its own employees, and I believe “don’t deliberately misgender trans people” should be part of those standards.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Well its convenient that your link was the one I was going to share, so we don’t have to argue about the validity of the interpretation.

            Only if you’re an employee of the government or a government-backed institution (e.g. national banks, public universities) and the misgendering is part of an ongoing pattern of harassment or hostile behavior against a trans co-worker/client/patient/customer/student.

            The second part is a distinction without a difference because the way the Ontario Human Rights guidelines are written mis-gendering someone on its own can constitute harassment or a hostile behavior.

            So what we have here is actually the concession of Peterson’s main argument, that as a professor at a University of Toronto he now must refer to students by their preferred pronoun or potentially face fines and more (mandatory training or job loss).

            Things that might get you fined, terminated, forced to attend diversity training, or otherwise penalized:
            *If you’re a government employee and you intentionally and consistently misgender a trans co-worker.

            I’m fine with this law.

            You being fine with the law isn’t the issue, you made the direct statement that

            The law in question (C-16) was not a compelled speech law. It does not force anyone to use a trans person’s preferred name and pronouns, and numerous Canadian lawyers and judges have confirmed that the law doesn’t work that way.

            You have conceded the main point, it does clearly compel some people to use preferred pronouns under penalty of fine and possibly loss of job.

          • LadyJane says:

            Misgendering in itself doesn’t constitute harassment, it has to be part of a larger trend. Whether the larger trend can consist of misgendering alone is debatable (hence why I said it might result in penalization), but it would have to be a consistent pattern of deliberate misgendering over an extended period of time to even potentially qualify.

            At any rate, I don’t consider the bill to be “forcing” people to do anything in the usual political sense of the word; citizens are not being compelled to use trans people’s preferred genders. The government is simply setting a policy establishing standards of behavior for its employees; it’s only “forcing” them to avoid discriminating against trans people in the same way that an employment contract is forcing employees to abide by their employers’ terms, lest they be fired or sued for breach of contract. Jordan Peterson is always free to stop working for the government, after all.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @LadyJane: conversely, if conservatives seized control of the government and academia, all leftists would be free to quit working for the gov’t/universities for violating symmetrical speech codes.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Le Maistre Chat: What do you think would be a fair solution here? What policy should the government have regarding the treatment of trans people?

            Given my libertarian-ish leanings, I have mixed feelings on anti-discrimination laws being applied to private businesses, but I firmly believe that there should be anti-discrimination laws to regulate the government’s own interactions with people. There’s an argument that bakeries shouldn’t be forced to bake gay wedding cakes because gay couples can just go elsewhere. Fine, fair enough. But if every bakery in a 100 mile radius was refusing to serve gay couples, then I would consider that a valid reason for the local or state government to get involved. Likewise, I believe that the civil rights laws passed to prevent discrimination against black people in the 60s were necessary. It wasn’t that some restaurants were refusing to serve black people, it was that virtually all restaurants in certain regions were refusing to serve black people, and restaurant owners who did serve black people were often subjected to threats, boycotts, vandalism, and violence, sometimes with the approval or direct support of local government authorities.

            When it comes to government services and government-adjacent services like healthcare, education, and utilities, it is always necessary for people to have access to them. Someone applying for a state ID card, registering to vote, applying for a license/permit, or filing their taxes can’t simply go elsewhere. The same applies for someone who needs immediate medical care, or someone who wants running water and electricity for their apartment, or someone who’s reliant on public transportation, even if those services are technically provided by government-sponsored private businesses rather than by the government itself. So it’s imperative that government agencies and government-supported institutions be mandated to treat everyone equally, and that they be prohibited from discriminating against various groups of people – either by directly refusing them service (e.g. refusing to grant a marriage license to a gay couple, or grant a valid ID card to a Latino immigrant even though he’s legally eligible for one, or grant a firearms permit to a Muslim despite him meeting all the requirements for one), or by treating them in such an unprofessional and antagonistic manner that accessing those services becomes prohibitively difficult and/or psychologically burdensome (e.g. making a white person wait for hours while serving Asian people who arrived after them, calling a black person the n-word, consistently misgendering a trans person).

        • Don_Flamingo says:

          @LadyJane
          [channeling my inner Peterson here, might more or less match
          his actual thought; sorry if this is too long]

          I think his message is directed at the university crowd and goes more along the lines of:
          “You’re not half as wise as you think you are. Most of your bitter anger is misplaced or at the very least not constructive. Things are more complicated, than you understand.
          If you let yourself indulge in fantasies of being an oppressed victim (goes for alt-righters as well) instead of focussing on bettering yourself, you’re giving up all your agency. And you’re likely becoming the worst possible version of yourself and turn yourself into a cog of an ideological machine. A possessed puppet.
          And that that error was commited by lots of Germans and Soviets in the 20th century and is liable to result in stacks of bodies.”
          (remember he’s obsessed with the Soviets and Nazis)

          And I don’t think he’s undersestimating the smarts of the typical college student here. “Goes to college” starts to basically be equivalent to ‘young adult’ in many places. Colleges is not a place exclusively for bright people, just for people in general.

          But people still think, college students are automatically bright and all too often so do they. Leading to more widespread cringey student activism (always been a minor part of the college experience), that if the people involved ever attain a measure of success later in life, they will shudder thinking about.

          But apparently he comes across differently to you.

          I don’t quite understand how society is supposed to conform itself to deviancies. I suppose we’re working with different ‘society’-conceptions here.
          The famous Thatcher words basically ring true to me:
          “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no governments can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.”

          And Peterson is saying that many young people are too concerned with demanding their rights and neglecting their duties, which is bad for their own psyches, because they instinctively know they’re not worth much, leading such an irresponsible life and allowing themselves to be so terribly weak.
          And his gripe with student activists is that they don’t have their shit together. And that people who don’t have their shit together are dangerous, if they’re allowed to influence the culture at large.

          You know, Red Guard, Antifa, militant communist or enthusiastic Nazi types.
          And that life’s not easy or fair, but not because of “evil oppressors” from up there, it’s more so, because modernity itself is uncharted territory. And nobody and that includes you perfectly knows how to deal with it all yet.
          If people are or feel mistreated, they shouldn’t assume intent or callousness. The world and the people and institutions around you should be approached in good faith, even if they don’t seem to return the favor.

          Because you, as a powerless individiual are small, frail and ignorant of the bigger picture and if you’re this aimless militant type or nihilistic slacker who says “Why bother. Those capitalist [or whatever] pigs will never accept me.”, you will remain powerless to effect the change from within that helps your particular minority and better your own life.

          And if you approach the hierachies around you in bad faith,
          you’ll be indulged a little at best, or exterminated at the worst, should you become dangerous.
          Think of the history of the postwar leftist movements in Germany.
          The Green party after a rocky start grew the fuck up and is now a major power player in Germany it’s members lived to see a lot of their desired policy implemented.
          Nobody even remembers the radical libertarians,
          rad as they may have been.
          And the psychos from the RAF are all killed or in prison.
          But many young people start talking and thinking in those same idiotic good&evil terms.
          And that makes them dangerous and weak.

          • Plumber says:

            @Don_Flamingo

            “…young people…”

            Seems to me that far too many young adults have spent too long in age segregated groups with mostly each other for company and lack experience with adult society.

          • LadyJane says:

            “I don’t know what makes this Ben Franklin guy think he has any right to criticize the British when he’s such a mess. He cheats on his wife, he spends all his money drinking and gambling and whoring, he spends all his time running crazy science experiments instead of doing good honest work like Hob down at the mill. Really, the whole anti-establishment kick is just his way of venting his personal frustrations. He has absolutely no business talking politics until he gets his own life in order first.”

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            @Plumber
            that and many other things are part of it, yes.
            Young people these days live in the weirdest of times.
            And weirdness and complexity are actually very difficult in it’s own right.
            And JP seems to help many people to help grow up into functional adults in spite of that, before it’s too late.

            @LadyJane
            Ben Franklin was a Puritan and AFAIK neither the whoring nor the drinking and gambling type (though his life is rather dazzling and I could only skim his wiki article).
            He did spent time in coffee houses to drink coffee and discuss litertature and politics.
            He literally created an explicit virtue ethics system out of Puritan and enlightenment beliefs for himself. He was not weak. And even if he didn’t have his life planned out, he was far from aimless.
            JP’s criticism would not be that those people are spending too much of their time in discussion. It is that they are incapable of discussion, without immediately ascribing malice to another conversation partner for using this word or that or doubting this belief or daring to speak another.
            That they shout down public speakers with brainless slogans instead of trying to understand their perspective and engaging with them.
            It is not that they read too much, it is (those that he criticizes, anyway) that they barely read anything and think they know all the answers, already.
            He’s criticizing a modern mass movement and recent history and Eric Hoffer tells us, that they are rarely good for the people in them or for reaching any kind of constructive goal.
            I’d recommend this take on “The True Believer” for understanding why mass movements are like that.

            https://samzdat.com/2017/06/28/without-belief-in-a-god-but-never-without-belief-in-a-devil/

            I’m not sure, if Peterson is influenced by Hoffer, but I’m sure, that those two would be in agreement.

          • LadyJane says:

            Benjamin Franklin was raised as a Puritan, but he abandoned Puritanism as an adult. He lived most of his life as a secular deist who attended Mainline Protestant and Quaker church services. And he definitely wasn’t someone who lived a Puritanical life, he was infamous for his womanizing and whore-mongering, and apparently neglectful of his wife and children. He may have advised men to lead virtuous lives, but he didn’t do a great job of following his own advice in that regard. I’m not trying to sell him short, he was a genius polymath and an extraordinarily hard worker, but he certainly wasn’t someone who appeared to have his personal life in order.

            More to the point, people’s lives will be affected by politics whether they engage in the political sphere or not, so it’s in everyone’s interest to be as politically active as possible. You could make an argument that only people who have a good understanding of politics should become politically involved, but that’s very much orthogonal to how often they clean their room. Peterson’s belief that people shouldn’t get involved in politics unless they’ve achieved some arbitrary standard of competence in their personal lives is a very toxic mindset, in my view.

            It’s especially troublesome because it likely excludes people with mental health problems, and the idea that people with mental illness should be excluded from civic participation has some very unfortunate implications. Obviously there are some mental disorders that would preclude civic participation, like extreme forms of schizophrenia and delusional psychosis, but when it comes to the disorders most likely to lead to the kinds of lifestyle problems that Peterson describes (depression, bipolar disorder, Asperger’s, ADHD, OCD), I don’t see why those should be a barrier to entry into politics.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            More to the point, people’s lives will be affected by politics whether they engage in the political sphere or not, so it’s in everyone’s interest to be as politically active as possible.

            That doesn’t follow; most people aren’t going to make much of a difference no matter how engaged they are, so being “as politically active as possible” might not be a good cost: benefit trade-off.

            Plus, successful political change often takes a long time to bring about, and I can’t help but noticing that the list of things that are “oppressive” keeps on expanding. So, if you’re relying on political success to make you happy, you aren’t going to be happy for a long time, if ever. Much more sensible to learn how to be happy even in suboptimal conditions, because all life down here is going to be suboptimal in one way or another.

          • LadyJane says:

            @The original Mr. X: If you take that sentiment to its logical conclusion, then slaves should’ve just tried to make the best of their lives of servitude instead of fighting to end slavery. And women should’ve just tried to make the best of their lives as domestic servants instead of fighting to vote and work; African-Americans should’ve made the best of segregation instead of fighting for civil rights; gay people should’ve just made the best of being closeted instead of trying to make homosexuality socially and legally acceptable; and trans people should just make the best of living as their assigned birth gender instead of transitioning.

            Admittedly, the other extreme leads to insanity too. If Joe Sixpack decides he can’t be satisfied with his life until he has a 96 inch flatscreen, that doesn’t mean he should petition the government to give everyone big-screen televisions. If Melvin the Incel decides he can’t be satisfied with his life until he has a girlfriend, that’s no reason to support a policy of state-sponsored girlfriends for all single heterosexual adult men. So there is a line that should be drawn somewhere, I just think Peterson draws that line way too far on the “people shouldn’t get involved in politics over their problems” side.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            @LadyJane
            Fine, then Franklin didn’t have his shit together, but somehow ended up being super capable. But that’s not the norm.
            And people with broken and unstable lives full of suffering
            aren’t unstable geniusses, they’re just mainly unstable.

            You might not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.
            Yeah, I get that point. It’s sadly true.
            But I don’t want people who don’t have their shit together try to wield political power (and it’s not like the broken people will end up wielding that power themselves even, but some less broken opportunist and/or patronising prick, who will ‘represent’ their voice).

            There are things you have control over and things you don’t.
            Spend four hours going to a protest chanting non-sequiturs or
            spend the same time to become a better person and work on your problems. One of those things at least has a small chance of effecting positive change. If you’re broken, it’s your job to put yourself together,
            not incoherently wail at “society” about unfairness.
            Because whenever something bad happens, people will always feel treated unfairly.
            Think their problems are the most important and they of all people have it the worst.
            Look at your narc president. Always whining about being treated unfairly.
            And he’s the most powerful man on earth.
            Self-serving bias and all that. It’s just human nature.
            And if we take every human sentimental bullshit seriously, we’re all fucked.

            And the way I see it, that nutter John F. Kennedy nearly damned every single human being to a fiery, nuclear death. Maybe you think:
            “Oh, JFK was an effective leader, despite having ‘breakfast in the pharmacy and slurping on cocktails of methadone, Ritalin and barbitrates’-habit.”
            (probably strawmanning, sorry about that)
            Well, I don’t see it that way. I just wonder what the odds were,
            that we aren’t all dead/never were born because of his irresponsibility.
            Good thing another moron shot the bastard.
            For all we know Oswald might have prevented WW3.

            And if you’re somebody who suffers from mental illness (like e.g. Jordan Peterson himself) but get your shit together, then JP wouldn’t have a problem with your civic participation. Not like he aint doing exactly that.
            Politics is ideally about fixing things. More often than not it’s about breaking even more things. And if broken people wield political power (if they’re not dark triad types,
            they will never anyway, just people who ‘speak’ for them), then the latter is almost a foregone conclusion.

            Maybe we just differ in our priors, about politics being more a force for good or for bad. If you think, that all political engagement is good for society, well I don’t see it. When I see many young American campus activists spouting this slogan or that strawman, I just think, they’d fit right in with the Red Guards erasing a great countries cultural heritage, high on their own self righteousness and ‘power’, all the while being pawns for the psycho in charge.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Don_Flamingo: Kudos for making a very compelling counter-argument, I see your point.

            At the same time, as someone who’s spent 8 years studying politics and 3 years working in politics, I resent the idea that I shouldn’t be politically active just because my room is a mess and I leave my dishes to pile up in the sink. And sadly, I’m not a one-in-a-million eccentric genius like Ben Franklin either, just a fairly average millennial. But as a trans person, politics has a direct and unavoidable effect on my life, so even if I didn’t have the education and work experience that I have, I’d still feel entitled to get involved in politics.

            And my point wasn’t about politics being a force for good or a force for evil, it was simply that politics is a force, in the same way that a hurricane or an earthquake or a volcano is a force. It is perhaps the single greatest force in many people’s lives. Let’s say Crackhead Dave gets arrested for possession of crack, gets sentenced to a ridiculously long prison term because he lives in a state with excessively harsh drug laws, and can’t find work after he gets out because he has a criminal record and a 10 year gap in his employment history. Politics has now ruined Crackhead Dave’s life. Granted, Crackhead Dave’s life probably wouldn’t have been great anyway, but it would’ve been a hell of a lot better if he had lived someplace like Portugal, where drug offenders are treated as victims to be treated rather than as criminals to be locked away. So in my view, it’s ideal for Crackhead Dave to be as politically involved as possible – even if he’s an emotionally volatile, mentally unstable, low IQ drug addict and just generally a complete wreck of a person, even if he has purely selfish reasons for wanting more lenient drug laws. And, of course, it’s also ideal for Crackhead Dave to seek psychological treatment so he can curb his addiction to crack, but those need not be mutually exclusive.

          • So in my view, it’s ideal for Crackhead Dave to be as politically involved as possible

            Ideal for whom?

            It might be better for the society if all the Crackheads got politically involved and so scaled back the War on Drugs, although I don’t think the odds of success are very high. But it probably isn’t better for Crackhead Dave to get politically involved, given that his activity will have a very small effect and require time and energy that he might better spend on higher priority activities. I haven’t seen much of Peterson’s stuff, but my impression is that at least part of his message is about what will make the individual life better.

            Also, in terms of the welfare of the society, there is the argument that if your life is enough of a mess you may not know enough for any political activities you take to make the world better instead of worse. That would probably depend on just what sort of a mess your life is in and why–one reason to mess up one’s life is doing a bad job of understanding the world around one.

          • albatross11 says:

            Harry Browne (then a financial advisor) wrote a self-help book in the 70s (_How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World_), making essentially this argument about politics–basically, it’s a waste of time to get involved in political battles, because their success requires convincing millions of other people to go along and can’t be ensured by your own efforts. I think this was a pretty sensible argument (the book was pretty uneven in terms of how sensible I thought its recommendations were–I expect there were people who urgently needed what he was proposing, and others who needed the opposite advice), but it’s worth noting that he later became the Libertarian presidential nominee, thus violating his own advice. And for what it’s worth, I *voted* for him, despite thinking his advice sound.

        • albatross11 says:

          LadyJane:

          Is the part in quotation marks your paraphrase of him, or a quote?

        • baconbits9 says:

          More generally, liberals and leftists dislike Peterson because he takes his “don’t try to swim upstream, make the best of your circumstances and accept that some things can’t be changed” message (which is admittedly a pretty good message on the personal level, and probably what a lot of people reading self-help books should be hearing in regards to their personal lives) and applies it to the political sphere.

          This is literally the opposite of Peterson’s viewpoint, his actual viewpoint is that a really well put together person can change an almost unimaginable amount and the rest of his broad advice is about how to become a well put together person so that you can enact change.

          Well, actually I think his message is that people can be unimaginably powerful and so you can enact change, which means you damn well better have your shit together when you do or you will fuck it up royally.

          “Sure, systemic oppression might be real, but instead of trying to rebel against the system or change it from within, we should just accept that the world is unfair and make the best of it.” Or to extend that to trans people in particular, “Yes, gender dysphoria might be real, but you should still just live as your assigned birth gender to fit in. If you try to change your gender presentation to match your internal feelings, then you have no right to complain about society discriminating against you for it.”

          He doesn’t say any of this.

          • He doesn’t say any of this.

            I don’t know enough about Peterson to judge whether you are correct. The question that occurs to me is whether Lady Jane has formed her opinion by reading or listening to Peterson or by reading or listening to his critics.

            If the latter, it would be worth her doing the former, not to better understand Peterson but to discover whether her own views are based on people she trusts lying to her.

            If the former, she and you might be able to engage on the basis of actual quotes from Peterson supporting one view or the other.

          • LadyJane says:

            @DavidFriedman: A little of both. I’ve read a few excerpts of his work and listened to several of his interviews, though I’ve also taken many of his critics’ statements about him into account when interpreting his statements (many of which are extremely vague and perhaps deliberately left open to multiple interpretations).

            But more than either, I’m going by what his own fans and supporters and followers have said, by how they’ve interpreted his work. That – more than anything he or his critics have said – is what’s convinced me that his ideology as practiced is steeped in misogyny and transphobia, whether he intended that or not.

            In fairness to him, he has condemned his own fans when they’ve veered into overt racism. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that his gross misinterpretation of the C-16 bill was simply an honest mistake, especially since he persisted with it after being repeatedly corrected. And he’s an adamant believer in the bizarre “Cultural Marxism” conspiracy theory, which has anti-Semitic roots and has consistently been used by conservatives to justify bigotry and social repression, and to unfairly ascribe malicious intent to egalitarians and social liberals. His alliance with hardline social conservatives like Ben Shapiro doesn’t help his case either.

            Overall, I’m still not entirely sure if he’s intentionally dog whistling to misogynists and transphobes, or if he’s simply misunderstanding things about politics while simultaneously being misunderstood by a large segment of his fanbase. Either way, I feel justified in taking a stance against the ideology of Petersonianism as popularly interpreted and practiced.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ David Friedman

            Here is a video of him speaking to Harvard students, the first two mins are enough to refute the idea that Peterson doesn’t think that people can make an impact on the world. At around 5:00 he says

            “Your here on a heroic mission, you are going to take your capacity to articulate your thoughts to levels that are undreamed of, you are going to come out of here unstoppable.”

            This claim here is fairly easy to find opposite quotes for.

            If you try to change your gender presentation to match your internal feelings, then you have no right to complain about society discriminating against you for it.”

            Around 35 seconds into this clip he says

            “There is a price that you pay to be different, now you could say that price should be minimized to the degree that it is possible. Fair enough”.

          • LadyJane says:

            @baconbits9: Earlier I said that I wasn’t sure if Peterson was intentionally dog whistling to misogynists and transphobes, or simply being misinterpreted by a toxic fanbase. That last video has me firmly convinced that it’s the latter.

            I still think he’s a crackpot for his views on “Cultural Marxism” and his general opposition to anything that carries any tinge of the social justice movement, and I’m still annoyed by his continual misinterpretation of the C-16 bill. But I am now fairly confident that he’s not actually misogynistic or transphobic himself.

            That said, he seems to be fairly insensitive and tone-deaf on trans issues, as evidenced by the “Gender Identity” video linked to the one you posted (“most trans women are not going to look like women, and it’s very rare for them to look like attractive women”). And combined with his hardline Anti-SJW stance, I can easily see why people would get the impression that he’s transphobic (which then leads actual transphobes to gravitate towards him, which furthers the popular impression that he’s transphobic, and so forth).

      • Plumber says:

        @Erusian

        …On Jordan Peterson more generally…
        ….Why has he become a leftist bugbear?…”

        Beats me, outside of stray SSC comments I have no memory of ever seeing that name “Jordan Peterson” before, and I picked up a copy of the fairly leftist The Nation (which I used to subscribe to along with the far-left People’s Weekly World) and the boogeyman are Donald Trump and Scott Walker, not this Jordan Peterson guy.

        A quick web search tells me Peterson is some “self-help” guru advising on “masculinity”, so petty stuff.

        I’m reminded of some early posts of our host which have “the Left'” mostly correspond to some bloggers who self-identify as “feminists”, and “the Right” as being opposed to “safe spaces” on college campuses.

        This is exceedingly niche stuff.

        • Erusian says:

          Maybe this is something unique to the internet, but Jordan Peterson blows Walker away except for a tiny spike. Jordan Peterson appears to be triggering about as much internet attention points (as measured by Google) as Syria. Which did come as a surprise to me. I also thought he was relatively unimportant but apparently he’s become something of a sleeper personality?

          • Plumber says:

            @Erusian

            “Maybe this is something unique to the internet, but Jordan Peterson…”

            That is just…

            …people in the 21st century are just weird to me, I really don’t understand this.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Nor his credentials as an anti-feminist, since he claimed to have run a business counseling women on how to boost their wages and be more assertive in the workplace.

        There an implicit but widespread belief in the modern world that, if women want something they’re not getting, society needs to change to accommodate them. (Whereas, if men want something they’re not getting, men need to change so they don’t want it anymore.) By suggesting that women change their own behaviour instead, Peterson is threatening to undermine their privilege, and, since losing privilege often feels like oppression, it feels like Peterson is trying to oppress women.

      • Yakimi says:

        Is there something I’ve missed? Why has he become a leftist bugbear?

        He’s dangerous not because of so much as what he says (which is a mixture of conventional self-help advice and incomprehensible metaphysics crossbred with psychoanalysis), but because of the following he’s developed. He leads what is basically a private army (and what is a cult if not a private army?) of (mostly) young (mostly) white (mostly) men, a demographic often regarded as a suspect class and whose mobilization represents a threat to a political order which celebrates the liberation of the formerly marginalized from the dictates of the sociological majority as the cause justifying its perpetuation. (Or as LadyJane candidly admitted, the point is to “unite the minorities and elites against the masses“.) Nor is he alone: supporters of Bernie Sanders are treated with similar suspicion by all the same people for all the same reason.

        Why did the Chinese state turn on Falun Gong? It wasn’t because of anything Falun Gong taught, but because the existence of a private army larger than the Party itself is understandably threatening, even if all they teach is harmless therapeutic nonsense. If their loyalties were to ever compete, who would win the popularity contest? Peterson also teaches harmless therapeutic nonsense. He also functions as a benevolent paternal authority to millions who find themselves alienated when they looked to legitimate avenues to explain their malaise but found only a monotonous refrain of how much they collectively suck, are gross, ruining the world, etc. Then Peterson comes along and, in his peculiar idiom, empathizes with their malaise, acknowledges the relevance of their problems, and offers a feel-good solution. Is it any wonder which side they pick? Really, the Left is lucky that it’s Peterson and not a more malevolent charismatic figure who carved a following out of all the people that they’ve willfully alienated.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          He leads what is basically a private army (and what is a cult if not a private army?) of (mostly) young (mostly) white (mostly) men, a demographic often regarded as a suspect class and whose mobilization represents a threat to a political order which celebrates the liberation of the formerly marginalized from the dictates of the sociological majority as the cause justifying its perpetuation.

          Reminds me of the famous interview in which Cathy Newman said, “Your videos are mostly popular with men, don’t you think that’s a problem?”

        • albatross11 says:

          Really, the Left is lucky that it’s Peterson and not a more malevolent charismatic figure who carved a following out of all the people that they’ve willfully alienated.

          Yeah, a really charismatic figure who did that would probably end up as president or something.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Related, I’ve often thought that America is lucky to have Donald Trump as its populist demagogue. Somebody with the same charisma but more impulse control and ruthlessness could have really caused trouble, as opposed to saying inflammatory things on Twitter and failing to get most of his agenda enacted.

        • albatross11 says:

          I remember watching the media / popular culture reaction against Promise Keepers, which was a broad movement appealing to Christian men that seemed pretty benign to me. The reaction was to assume/ascribe all kinds of bad ideas/behavior to them–to joke about them being full of wife-beaters or fascists.

          I doubt there’s anyone sitting around saying “anything that gives otherwise aimless white [eta: PK and Peterson both appeal to nonwhites, too.] men any help with finding a moral compass and sticking to it must be attacked,” but that kind-of seems like the practical way that things work out. And I think this is pretty (unintentionally) destructive–if a quiet but solid version of being a man (basically a grown-up boy scout–staying out of trouble, being faithful to your wife, going to church regularly) can’t survive in our corrosive media culture, well, we can get a loud, crass, destructive version of being a man who’s optimized for our media culture into the spotlight. What could possibly go wrong?

          It’s important to recognize just how corrosive and destructive of anything good our media culture really is. Quiet virtues and good behavior are always suspect; crass or classless or socially-destructive behavior is commonly cheered and given the spotlight. I guess this is just the incentives of the media companies–long faithful service and honesty and decency don’t make for very interesting stories, but crass bad-boy behavior and fun sexy times with no consequences do.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I remember watching the media / popular culture reaction against Promise Keepers, which was a broad movement appealing to Christian men that seemed pretty benign to me. The reaction was to assume/ascribe all kinds of bad ideas/behavior to them–to joke about them being full of wife-beaters or fascists.

            If you subscribe to the view that men are inherently bad, anything that appeals to them is under suspicion of being bad too.

            And I think this is pretty (unintentionally) destructive–if a quiet but solid version of being a man (basically a grown-up boy scout–staying out of trouble, being faithful to your wife, going to church regularly) can’t survive in our corrosive media culture, well, we can get a loud, crass, destructive version of being a man who’s optimized for our media culture into the spotlight. What could possibly go wrong?

            Personally I blame all this “right side of history” rubbish. If you think that progress is natural and inevitable, you can go to town on current mores and institutions, safe in the knowledge that whatever emerges to replace them is (somehow) going to be better. As a matter of fact, it reminds me a bit of the post where Scott says that Marx was basically a materialist Hegelian — no point worrying about what comes after the Revolution, just have one, and History or The Dialectical Process or whatever will sort everything out.

          • Plumber says:

            @albatross11

            “I remember watching the media / popular culture reaction against Promise Keepers….”

            Of course!

            The kind of behavior/personality encouraged my “Promise Keepers” and the like doesn’t buy much “bling”, a kind of rootless, alienated; and promiscuous man is more appealing to most of the advertisers that funds most major media.
            Besides the ideal is to channel instincts for rebellion towards “fighting the man” (think John Lithgow’s character in Footloose”) by buying T-shirts, so making “Promise Keepers” seem villains is a double win!

          • albatross11 says:

            Mr X:
            If you subscribe to the view that men are inherently bad, anything that appeals to them is under suspicion of being bad too.

            I think almost nobody actually holds this view overtly, but that it’s a common enough cultural trope that people spout off about stale pale males or too much testosterone or whatever without ever even thinking about it.

            Propaganda affects even sophisticated, smart people who think they know better than to be affected by it. People who repeat the comments of high-status media figures[1] implying bad things about men or whites or white men are affected by it, and so are the people around them, especially kids. This is just as true as it is true that when the high-status people are talking about how women are too emotional and flighty to work in important professions, that has an impact–both on their thinking and on the thinking of the people who emulate them.

            Something similar happened with the birther movement, as far as I can tell. A few people on the right were serious about it, but lots made joking comments and references as red meat for their base, or hinted at birther ideas for their funny-to-the-ingroup value. And less clued-in people followed their lead, because most people follow what the high-status people in their tribe say. I had a conversation with an otherwise intelligent and sensible person awhile back who was morally certain Obama was a Muslim–that was the nonsense she’d absobed from her preferred propaganda stream, and even though it’s pretty silly[2], it was just part of her background “knowledge.”

            The traditional media is probably dying, and I can’t really say I’ll miss them. But the same incentives will drive their replacements–they’ll still find crass, violent, sexual, nasty behavior more entertaining than someone faithfully plugging away at an important but non-flashy job, being a good husband and father, voting in every election, showing up as a volunteer when their community needs help, etc.

            [1] Who, note, will get fired if they say anything even a little off the reservation in the wrong direction, so they’re *really careful* not to say anything that pisses off anyone important.

            [2] It’s obviously physically *possible* for Obama to secretly be a Muslim. It’s just that pretty much his whole adult life contradicts that idea. But people mostly believe what they want to believe for tribal reasons.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you subscribe to the view that men are inherently bad, anything that appeals to them is under suspicion of being bad too.

            It’s not just that it appeals to (white) men, but that it promises to increase their agency and efficacy. That will be seen as particularly threatening to anyone who already regards such as suspect or dangerous.

          • BBA says:

            If you see it as a zero-sum game, anything good for white dudes is necessarily bad for everyone else.

            I’m starting to see it as a negative-sum game.

          • albatross11 says:

            This is especially weird when applied to women and men, since:

            a. We need each other to continue having our species exist.

            b. Just about everyone has members of the other sex whom they care about–spouses, siblings, children, friends, etc.

            I mean, race-war rhetoric is evil, but you can see how after the master race murders all the untermenchen, the master race could continue to exist. Gender-war is just nuts–men can’t do without women, and women can’t do without men.

          • John Schilling says:

            Gender-war is just nuts–men can’t do without women, and women can’t do without men.

            Or maybe they can.

            It would be somewhat harder for men to do without women, but ovarian tissue cultures are a thing and people are working on uterine replicators. Of course, either brand of gender separatist would be pragmatically well-advised to maintain a small captive breeding population of the opposite gender as a backup. Ethics, schmethics, the fate of the Patriarchy and/or Matriarchy is at stake!

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think almost nobody actually holds this view overtly, but that it’s a common enough cultural trope that people spout off about stale pale males or too much testosterone or whatever without ever even thinking about it.

            I think it would count as an alief, i.e., a belief which people subconsciously hold despite its contradicting their consciously-held beliefs.

        • LadyJane says:

          @Yakimi, @The original Mr. X:

          Really, the Left is lucky that it’s Peterson and not a more malevolent charismatic figure who carved a following out of all the people that they’ve willfully alienated.

          Related, I’ve often thought that America is lucky to have Donald Trump as its populist demagogue. Somebody with the same charisma but more impulse control and ruthlessness could have really caused trouble, as opposed to saying inflammatory things on Twitter and failing to get most of his agenda enacted.

          While this is probably true, I don’t see “it could’ve been someone much worse in that position!” as a very good defense of someone. I’m very grateful that Trump isn’t Duterte or Bolsonaro, but that doesn’t mean I’m glad to have Trump as President. It’s not like we had to end up with a xenophobic quasi-authoritarian populist in power.

          And as for Peterson, we could’ve had a self-help guru who appeals to disenfranchised young men and helps them to improve their lives and feel good about themselves without using feminists and LGBT activists as a scapegoat, or throwing women and trans people under the bus. In fact, there are already plenty of self-help gurus like that, giving out the same life advice as Peterson without the incendiary political commentary bundled in. But they’re less popular (because people like blaming some nebulous Other for their problems, and they like to feel like brave rebels fighting against a tyrannical authority), and they get far less media attention (because the media loves a good controversy).

          • theredsheep says:

            I view Trump as a political mulligan; the forces that drove him to office seem unlikely to go away on their own. In theory, he buys us time to fix the problems before they manifest in the form of an actual fascist instead of a guy who wants to be supreme leader but has no idea what to do with it once he gets there. In practice, I don’t think we will actually address the underlying problems–I’m not 100% sure what they are, myself–but it’s nice to have a few years of relative sanity.

            Also, is it like Godwin’s Law for SSC that all threads, given sufficient time, will eventually bring up Jordan Peterson?

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            @theredsheep
            yeah maybe. I like the guy, but he’s not that interesting to discuss.
            It’s more interesting trying to show that he isn’t toxic, evil or the devil himself. But that also gets kinda old.
            Maybe Scott could ban the name ‘Jordan Peterson’/’JP’ and force people to say ‘that one Canadian’? Not for long, but maybe a year or two, till the hype dies down. Or till he’s God emperor of Canada or whatever.

          • cassander says:

            It’s not like we had to end up with a xenophobic quasi-authoritarian populist in power.

            It’s lines like this that drive so many other people who dislike trump into reluctant support, or at least refusal to sign up with the anti-trumpers. Trump is no more authoritarian than his predecessors, and his “xenophobia” consists largely of policies that were are largely indistinguishable from those that democrats endorsed only a decade or two ago. Trump is crass and in your face, and I wish he wouldn’t be those things, but angry tweeting does not an authoritarian make.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            LadyJane I think you are fairly wrong on both points.

            While this is probably true, I don’t see “it could’ve been someone much worse in that position!” as a very good defense of someone. I’m very grateful that Trump isn’t Duterte or Bolsonaro, but that doesn’t mean I’m glad to have Trump as President. It’s not like we had to end up with a xenophobic quasi-authoritarian populist in power.

            We did, in fact, have to eventually have an anti-immigrant president because the country was not and is not pleased with the current immigration scheme. Prior to 2016 (which kind of gets to Scott’s old post about Trump being bad for Trumpism) pluralities of all racial groups thought immigration was too high, and a majority of whites (both college and noncollege) thought so. So there was going to be that president, and people were going to call that president xenophobic (although I think that is not really true in this case, or the case of someone like Pat Buchanan).

            Also, just an addition is that I consistently see claims of Trump’s authoritarianism, but rarely evidence. I feel all my rights are as or more secure than under Bush and Obama, although I think he has mishandled the DOJ and probably should have fired all their employees by now.

            And as for Peterson, we could’ve had a self-help guru who appeals to disenfranchised young men and helps them to improve their lives and feel good about themselves without using feminists and LGBT activists as a scapegoat, or throwing women and trans people under the bus. In fact, there are already plenty of self-help gurus like that, giving out the same life advice as Peterson without the incendiary political commentary bundled in. But they’re less popular (because people like blaming some nebulous Other for their problems, and they like to feel like brave rebels fighting against a tyrannical authority), and they get far less media attention (because the media loves a good controversy).

            No you couldn’t because the self help is a lame message. There is a reason mom’s everywhere can’t get boys to clean their rooms. Its the stating of greater truths that the boys feel are unsaid: Women can’t be men; modern feminism is just man hating; intersectionality means your playing with a losing hand; etc that brings in the boys, who then stay for the self help.

            Its not like he was even the first, there are people like Kristina Hoff Sommers (aka “Based Mom” in that community) that said much of this first. He’s just a slight variation who also has had a few fame-making moments because he as been confronted by very fragile people who oppose him.

          • albatross11 says:

            Re Peterson:

            The problem I run into here is that there are a bunch of other cases that look a lot like Peterson, where the common wisdom about what they stand for/believe/have said is like 180 degrees out of phase with what they actually stand for/believe/have said. The limited bits I’ve heard of Peterson’s views on podcasts and such didn’t track too well with the views ascribed to him, but I haven’t read his books or spent a lot of time listening to him (I don’t feel a great need for a self-help guru just now, thanks), so I don’t really know. But I’m definitely pattern-matching on other cases where I’ve read very confident sounding claims about what some thinker believes, only I’ve read a bunch of his writing and the claims are pretty obviously bullshit.

          • LadyJane says:

            No you couldn’t because the self help is a lame message. There is a reason mom’s everywhere can’t get boys to clean their rooms. Its the stating of greater truths that the boys feel are unsaid: Women can’t be men; modern feminism is just man hating; intersectionality means your playing with a losing hand; etc that brings in the boys, who then stay for the self help.

            Well, “women can’t be men” is a near-meaningless tautology on its own, like “apples can’t be oranges.” But if the intended meaning is “women shouldn’t be treated the same as men” or “women and men should have different social roles” or “trans identities are invalid because women will always be women and men will always be men” or anything of that sort, then it’s safe to say that I strongly disagree. I view people as individuals first and foremost. And I don’t agree that “modern feminism is just man hating” or that women’s equality means that men will necessarily be worse off. This isn’t a zero-sum game. So if that’s the advice that Peterson is giving to people, then I don’t think it will meaningfully improve their lives. In fact, it could very well make their lives worse, if it leads them to take on a confrontational attitude and a zero-sum view on life.

            Now, maybe the self-help aspects of Peterson’s message could potentially help some people improve their lives, but those people could get the same message from other sources without all the cultural and political baggage. And if you think the self-help aspects of Peterson’s message are lame and pointless anyway, then I don’t see what value his message has at all.

            At any rate, the reason I linked to Mark Manson is to provide evidence against the claim (made by Albatross, Mr. X., Plumber, and John Schilling) that the liberal media will reflexively oppose anything that encourages men to take more initiative and have more self-worth. Liberals and leftists dislike Peterson because his life advice is bundled in with anti-feminist and culturally conservative sentiments, not simply because they dislike the very concept of life advice targeted at men. Same goes for the Promise Keepers; it’s not that they promote male empowerment, or even that they’re religiously oriented, it’s that they promote an ideal of manhood that comes bundled with strong support for rigidly-enforced traditional gender roles.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        Erusian, I think that JP became “leftist bugbear” because he is very popular critic of “the Left” and its worldview. There is no mystery in it.

    • broblawsky says:

      The only thing you need to dismiss Peterson is the fact that he’s a psychologist who still thinks the Stanford Prison Experiment is scientifically valid. That’s a pretty substantial condemnation of his intellectual integrity.

      • Don_Flamingo says:

        I think he’s just not up to date on the latest developments.
        And since he’s become famous and a messiah to the broken people, he probably is somewhat behind on his required reading and thinking.
        And he’s more philospher than scientist at this point, so I think you’re being a bit uncharitable. He’s most certainly the smartest Jungian, I know of (faint praise, since he’s also the only one).

      • albatross11 says:

        broblawsky:

        Is the same criterion one you would accept generally for public intellectuals? That is, if he still thinks that some unreplicatable social science result is meaningful or valid, you can ash-can everything he has to say? Because that seems like a bad way to go about things to me, but maybe I’m missing something.

        • Protagoras says:

          Lack of replication isn’t the problem with the Stanford prison experiment. Overwhelming evidence of fraud in the initial experiment, evidence which has been widely publicized, is the problem.

  9. ImmortalRationalist says:

    Has anyone else on SSC read any of Ted Kaczynski’s writings, such as Industrial Society And Its Future and Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How, and if so, what are your opinions of his writings?

    • metacelsus says:

      I’ve read “Industrial Society and its Future.” Generally I think that it has some good insights into the problems with modern society, but draws the wrong conclusions from them. (Just because society has problems doesn’t mean that it needs to be destroyed.)

    • j1000000 says:

      He’s come up in a few previous Open Threads but I never remember any seriously lengthy discussion. I think the poster “Well…” has expressed a particular interest in him before?

      Usually some people share some variation on the same opinion that I have, which is: yes, he’s right that we are not made for modern society, and I find his writing interesting, but unfortunately for him I am one of those oversocialized wusses who thinks that it would be evil to kill off 6.99 billion people to allow the remainder to get back to nature.

      • Well... says:

        Yeah. I was interested in him a bit but this decayed after (1) reading his brother David’s memoir, in which Kaczynski’s reliability as a commentator on technology & society is profoundly shaken, and (2) reading more deeply about the history of technology philosophy, in which it becomes clear that many other people (e.g. Socrates, Heidegger) have made much stronger and deeper criticisms of technology than Kaczynski’s.

        On that latter point, I recommend “The Great Reversal” by David Tabachnick.

        • Protagoras says:

          Kaczynski mailed bombs to a few people. Heidegger was a Nazi. I’m not sure about endorsing Heidegger as a better model.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      A few years ago I spent about seven months trying to buy a house in Seattle, losing many frustrating bids. I was also generally dissatisfied with life. After some idle time on Zillow and realizing just how cheap land out in Eastern Washington or rural Oregon or Idaho was, I spent much time in that range ranting to buddies that I should just quit my job, buy a cabin in the middle of nowhere, move there with my dog and spend all my time just doing math.

      At some point I stopped because I realized I was describing Ted Kaczynski’s life plan.

      • The Nybbler says:

        At some point I stopped because I realized I was describing Ted Kaczynski’s life plan.

        As long as you leave out the mailing bombs part, I think you’re OK.

      • Don_Flamingo says:

        I mean… he’s still alive.
        You could write to him in prison and ask him where he went wrong.
        AFAIK his mathetematical output stopped in the wilderness, he would most certainly agree. And he’s not done any published work in prison, either.
        AFAIK he didn’t have a dog.
        But he would be the one to ask really. He’d make an interesting pen pal in any case.

  10. ImmortalRationalist says:

    Which philosophy of identity is the most likely to be true? Here is an article on closed individualism, i.e. you exist as transient throughout time; empty individualism, i.e. you only exist as a single point in time; and open individualism, i.e. you are the only observer in existence and exist as everyone.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I think there’s another option the author hasn’t considered, somewhere between closed and empty individualism. I’d say that “I” exist in the continuity of the qualia I am capable of experiencing (roughly; it’s more accurate to say I believe I exist in the continuity of my will, but insofar as will is “how it feels to think/dream/strive/enact,” it works). As those qualia change, I am gradually replaced by someone new, but that doesn’t really bother me; there’s an additional presumption of desire to preserve the “I” that I don’t really understand; I’m clearly capable of willing self-annihilation, in part or in whole.

      Note that this requires the rejection of mereological nihilism out of hand.

    • Uribe says:

      Thanks for that link. I didn’t realize there were terms for those concepts. Both empty individualism and open individualism seem rational and perhaps two sides of the same coin. Closed individualism is surely no more than a social construct.

  11. Deiseach says:

    Tumblr’s new “no naughtiness” policy is working out real fine, you’ll all be delighted to hear.

    Just today I got followed by three new blogs I had to block: one offered me filthy girls to cheer me up, another asked if I wanted to have sex in the shower with them, even throwing in some faint implications of girl-on-girl action, and the third promised me steamy girls.

    Good job the new algorithm is protecting all the thirteen year old bloggers from being accosted by fanart or female-presenting nipples, isn’t it?

    • theredsheep says:

      Possibly it was just the same girls, in chronological order? First they’re filthy, then they get in the shower, then they’re steamy. If you don’t jump on the offer at the filthy stage, they go ahead without you. You’d better act now if you want hot hair-dryer action.

      • Deiseach says:

        I never considered that: a three stage process! From dirty to clean, just like the Tumblr clean-up!

        Speaking of which, an interesting snippet posted on Tumblr itself – the Big Ban Of Bad Things means that Indonesia has unblocked it.

        While I knew that money, and not ‘think of the children’, was at the root of this action, I hadn’t considered overseas markets. I had no idea Indonesia was so large a potential market, but now I think this even makes sense of the random bot banning of all kinds of imagery – they can ‘prove’ to any authorities that the ban is ‘really’ working by showing all the complaints about “you banned my blog!”

        Meanwhile, as I noted, the naughty porn bots are still onsite and still getting through, but that doesn’t matter does it? They have a policy in place which they can show governments to let them access all those new markets.

      • Viliam says:

        Maybe the filth / shower / steam are covering the female-presenting nipples, so it’s perfectly safe to watch.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      In what sense do you *have to* block them? Porn spam blogs don’t hurt you, nor are they visibile to you or enter your feed. Yes, you’re not interested, I know you’re asexual or however you’d phrase it, but you have repeatedly referenced this sort of thing forcing you to act and I just don’t get it. Why can’t you just do nothing and ignore them? I don’t read or like porn spam blogs but they’re not actionable for me.

      • Deiseach says:

        Because I’m not interested, I don’t like them, and they’re forcing an association with me which I do not want. Simply ignoring them just lets them continue with this behaviour, so blocking them (though it may be like Canute holding back the tide) at least is a sand grain of punishment for their unwanted intrusion.

        Listen, I filter out cute fuzzy kitties that should fill your heart with treacly sentiment from my dash, some idiot “wanna fuck horny bitches?” bot is not getting better treatment!

        • Nornagest says:

          Simply ignoring them just lets them continue with this behaviour, so blocking them (though it may be like Canute holding back the tide) at least is a sand grain of punishment for their unwanted intrusion.

          It’s no extra punishment over just ignoring them. There isn’t a human on the other end to get sad or offended at being blocked, and blocking them isn’t going to show up in the statistics for the people managing that bot and the thousand others that didn’t follow you. They aren’t going to like or reblog anything you’ve written, or at least the porn bots that’ve followed me haven’t, so you haven’t done anything to hurt their business model. All you’re doing is making more annoyance for yourself.

          As long as Tumblr’s going to have its Thot Police if would be nice if they rounded them up, but it would be nice if Tumblr did a lot of things.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        You realize that a blog following you does not show up in your dash, or constitute any association with you?

        • Deiseach says:

          I do, but it’s still unsolicited contact, and by blocking them I am hoping to avoid the ninety other fake blogs from the same bot.

  12. sunnydestroy says:

    Continuing with my finance questions, any finance experts want to chime in whether CAPE ratio is a good indicator for the markets being overvalued right now?

    Current CAPE ratio is 27.50, while the historical mean is 16.59, so it’s looking overvalued.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I am not an expert, but my feeling is that we’re headed to 🐻 town. A lot of (questionably justifiable) growth assumptions seem to be priced in right now, but the market is going up and down like a debutante whose only talent is pogo sticking. I blame (((the algorithms))).

      That said, I haven’t decreased my Roth 401 contributions. Time in market > timing the market.

  13. sunnydestroy says:

    Any finance experts out there? I’d appreciate any thoughts.

    As background, I do have some basic training in finance and accounting from my time in college, but a lot of my investment knowledge comes from reading online.

    I am putting together a shortlist of mutual funds/ETF’s to put some money into for the long term. These are all Vanguard funds because I already have an account with them and I generally like Vanguard’s approach. The only thing I currently hold is the Vanguard Mid Cap Index, so I’m trying to diversify my portfolio a little bit. This is for a more passive, buy and hold general strategy.

    I put together a list of funds based on some decent analysis articles on Seeking Alpha, then ranked stuff by my own criteria. I used the 10 year return % because I intend to hold over a longer time period and I’m hoping capturing the data from both the bear and bull markets will give a better picture of it’s performance. I then subtracted the expense ratio from the return to get the 10 year return net expenses. After that, I grabbed the Sortino ratios and Treynor ratios off Morningstar. I also noted minimum investment amounts for funds, whether ETF equivalents were available, and some notes on fund composition/notable management companies (like Primecap or Wellington).

    I put all this info in a spreadsheet, then added some conditional formatting rules on the 10 year return net expenses and Sortino columns to color code scale from red to green for the min-max values. I was looking for green across the board. I made those my 2 main decision factors because I want a good return while evaluating risk adjusted returns. The minimum investment amounts also filtered out some options as I don’t have $10,000 laying around to put in one fund. The greens are some real strong buys for me, but I also have to make some relative decisions within fund asset classes to get my portfolio to have some small caps, large caps, and international exposure.

    Here’s the funds I looked at in the beginning:

    Key:
    Fund Name TICKER SYMBOL
    10 Year Return Net Expenses / 10 Year Sortino / 10 Year Treynor / Min Investment

    Explorer VEXPX
    15.61% / 1.61 / 13.79 / $3,000
    Small-Cap Index VSMAX
    15.49% / 1.49 / 12.56 / $3,000
    Tax-Managed Small-Cap VTMSX
    15.56% / 1.5 / 13.07 / $10,000
    Wellington VWELX
    10.59% / 2.07 / 10.50 / $3,000
    Growth Index VIGAX
    15.65% / 1.95 / 15.47 / $3,000
    International Explorer VINEX
    10.91% / 1.15 / 11.25 / $3,000
    International Growth VWIGX
    10.70% / 1.08 / 10.15 / $3,000
    Global Wellington VGWLX
    na / na / na / $3000
    Consumer Staples Index VCSAX
    12.32% / 1.94 / 23.34 / $100,000
    Health Care VGHCX
    15.80% / 2.02 / 24.74 / $3,000

    From my analysis, looks like Growth Index (VIGAX) and Health Care (VGHCX ) are definite buys as they both have high returns (15+%) and high Sortino ratios (~2) as compared to their peers. Growth Index adds large caps while Health Care is mixed, though a single sector play. Lucky for me, Health Care has an ETF option that gets me out of the $100k minimum. Beyond that, for diversification I think I’d pick up International Explorer (VINEX) for overseas developed and emerging markets exposure, and Explorer (VEXPX) to pick up some small caps (though with mid caps as well).

    I’d also consider Wellington (VWELX) despite the lower returns of 10.59% because it would give me some exposure to bonds in my portfolio and it has the highest Sortino ratio of anything considered here (2.07). Basically, it’s there for safety, though in general I’m weighting my portfolio more towards high growth, high risk, high return type things for the long term. I’ve also heard good things about the advisors for that fund, Wellington. That would leave me with diversification in stocks within every capitalization class, overseas markets, and in bonds.

    Anyway, does this sound like a sane decision process?

    • cassander says:

      Unless you’re willing to do a lot of research, or are saving for some specific purchase and don’t want to be vulnerable to market fluctuations (e.g. a downpayment on a house) your best bet is to buy whatever index fund has the lowest fees (usually vanguard). Possibly a target date fund, depending on your age, but in my experience they have considerably higher fees and aren’t worth it until you start to get withing spitting distance (10-20 years) of retirement. That’s the most basic, most idiot proof, investment decision you can make, and it pays of relatively well. As for whether or not the market is overvalued, you’re probably better off not trying to time the market, especially since it’s taken some pretty big wallops over the last 4 months. Every day you spend trying to wait for a big crash is a day you’re not getting gains if you’re wrong.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I substantially agree with cassander, but I disagree that you should be in a single index fund; the advice I’ve gotten is most in mid/large cap domestic, some in international, some in mid/small cap, a bit for fucking about with. If you think you have particular insight into any of the sectors you’ve talked about, go for them and actively rebalance your portfolio maybe every month or two. If you don’t, remember that the only real diversified investments are investments into sectors with different revenue streams and therefore different revenue drivers. Cross-correlations, not volatility measures, are your friends.

      Also, I would absolutely not go for growth index.

      Also also, I really think at least ~30% of your holdings should be VOO (or another super basic S&P large-mid cap ETF). Everything on here is relatively high-risk, which has (obviously) paid off for the last ~8 years… but if you want to buy and hold, act like it.

      Also also also, if you want bonds buy them yourself. VGLT isn’t sexy by any stretch, but the cross-correlations with any sort of stock ETF aren’t just good – they’re negative.

    • Chalid says:

      10 years is unfortunately not a good enough backtest horizon for this sort of thing. For example, over the really long term, value stocks have outperformed growth stocks on average. That hasn’t been true “recently” (ie in your 10-year backtest), but there have been decades in the past where growth outperformed value as well; going forward, value is the way to bet. Similarly, you say you want to load up on hgh risk things for the long term, and unfortunately that strategy has been a long-term loser too.

      If you want to try to tilt your portfolio toward the types of stocks that have historically outperformed, then this is called “factor investing,” and you should look into a “smart beta” fund or ETF. These have managers who will do the sorts of things you’re trying to do, but who have the resources and data to do them right, or at least less wrong. I never researched these because they’re not a good fit for me personally (they have some correlation with my income), but AQR is well-regarded in the industry (they had a completely miserable year this year, though if you’re thinking about the long term you *should not care too much about that*) and there are a number of very cheap ETFs run by various firms (I think Goldman Sachs has the best known very-low-cost smart beta ETF).

    • SamChevre says:

      One strong note of caution: the last 10 years were a huge bull market from a market low. This will skew your results toward good bull market strategies. I would try to get data back to the previous cycle (start with the 2000 high) to reduce that skew.

      I’d also look for any clear non-repeatable events. For example, if health care is greatly helped by Obamacare, that won’t happen again.

      One additional item to think about: interest rates have been really low, and so have spreads, especially at the low-quality end of the market. This will make heavily leveraged bets look much more attractive than they are likely to be long-term.

    • psmith says:

      As a lazy investor, any reason not to prefer a total market index fund like VTI to an S&P index?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        You can manage the large/mid allocations yourself. Large cap generally means lower market risk. If you’re neutral on that point, no reason at all.

    • dick says:

      Related question: if someone is not buying-and-hodling and thinks the market is going to spend most of the year tumbling (similar to what it did over most of 2000 and 2007-8), where should they put their money for the year?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        VGLT, or buy treasuries yourself. Don’t fuck with corporate debt.

        • dick says:

          I know treasuries are generally anti-correlated with stocks, but is there not a more direct way to bet on the market falling? Like, an ETF that is the equivalent of hiring someone to short stocks, in the same way that VGLT is the equivalent of hiring someone to buy treasuries?

          • baconbits9 says:

            If you think that something like 2008 is going to happen and want to profit if it does then you probably want to put 90% of your money in short term Treasuries (less than a year) and 10% in cash, buying rolling puts on markets every few months.

          • dick says:

            Okay, thanks. I don’t really understand options well and have never purchased them, so if there’s no fund that abstracts that away from me, I will probably end up just doing nothing and either kicking or congratulating myself a year from now.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @dick

            Word of advice: don’t buy inverse (even unleveraged) index ETPs. They use contracts to effectively short the market, so they track fluctuations, NOT value. Good for trying to time the market, bad for trying to bet against the market – and really you shouldn’t be buying into ETPs that hold instruments you don’t understand.

      • baconbits9 says:

        This is a tough one. Generally people will tell you to go Treasuries, and they were right in 2007/2008, but there are plenty of time periods (specifically the 70s) where treasuries got whacked along with the market. Rates are so low that even 3% annual inflation would kill the value you get from Treasuries.

        You need to answer some basic questions.

        1. What is the purpose of pulling your money out? To increase gains or to preserve your capital through a down turn.
        2. How large of a downturn are you expecting.
        3. How fragile/robust is your financial situation now, and if you were unemployed for 3 months?

        • dick says:

          1. Both, I guess? I just have a hunch and I’m not sure what playing it would entail. I think of treasuries as being not just the inverse of stocks, but also much less risky, so I guess another way to ask this is, what’s the (easy) way to bet against stocks that is equally as risky as buying stocks?

          2. Substantial and protracted, though not as long as 2007 nor as deep as 2000. A lot of international situations seem ready to explode, we have an unpredictable dingdong in the white house, and it’s been about the right length of time since the last crash. Also, I have a friend who’s a recovering drunk with no assets and substantial credit card debt, and a bank just wrote him a mortgage on 1.5% down. Seems like it’s time.

          3. Fairly robust, we’re just talking about my playing-around money here.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I guess I’ll lay out a few scenarios of things I, as a fairly conservative guy financially, might consider, none of the buying options on triple negative ETFs to try to triple your money in a month sort of thing.

            1. Trying to win big. The big play (for someone with an idea of what would happen, but not specific knowledge) in 2007ish would have been to sell out of stocks, buy T bills and put a bit of money in put options on the markets. Then you sell those and buy back into the market, functionally leveraging both ways. If you timed things well you could have made 5-10x your money from then to now, and you only have a very narrow window to have messed it up. The differences now are that bond yields are lower now than they were for almost all of the crisis, plus you already have a market downturn without the yield curve inversion or spikes in the overnight lending rate (this one is complicated though, not sure what to make of it). The big risks are that even if you are right the market could just move sideways with little downward action, and you are stuck rolling bonds over at 2-3% for years while bleeding out the options money, an example would be Japan in the mid 90s. The other risk is a spike in inflation killing your bond value (all scenarios will risk that you are just wrong).

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Worth noting that the fed is incredibly scared of inflation (probably not without reason), so that risk seems lower to me than the possibility of bleeding options money, and I judge it to be unlikely that holding bonds means you’re going to eat anything but the opportunity cost. That said, baconbits is right that rates are very low right now, which makes treasuries a really deeply unsexy place to be.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I disagree with Hoopyfreud’s…. ummm wording. The Fed is not (does not strike me as) deeply scared of inflation, they let inflation expectations run up a little bit (2.5-2.9% in 2008, and the UoM inflation expectations measure hit 5.2% up from 3.1% less than a year before) if UE is rising. They appear deeply scared of inflation when UE is low, but that makes sense. They have a dual mandate of manageable inflation and full employment, if employment is high then the only thing to react to is inflation. The Fed also is a backward looking institution, the more low inflation recessions there are the more likely they will let inflation run the next time.

            All in all I think there is a fairly low chance of high inflation in this next recession, but higher than most people, and many commentators have sort of ignored the fact that even modest inflation (3-4%) would hammer bond holders.

          • baconbits9 says:

            2. Very conservative strategy. Basically just sell the market and buy Treasuries, buy back in after the market has dropped 15% or so (you pick a number). Don’t buy anything longer than a 2 year bond, and realistically nothing longer than a 3 month bond.

          • dick says:

            Thanks gents, I feel slightly less dumb about this stuff.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @baconbits

            Sorry, I should clarify – I agree with you. The Fed is holding inflation low and strikes me as unlikely to allow inflation to rise substantially in the near future for the reasons you’ve stated. I don’t think they’re at a point where they need to allow high inflation, and I don’t think a bump in unemployment will scare them into doing so if it’s non-catastrophic enough (and I don’t see the market as poised for catastrophe– but if it is, I’m probably out on the street holding cash and starving to death, so…). Holding short term treasuries strikes me as safe because of this, at least compared to the alternatives I can think of.

      • sunnydestroy says:

        Hmm I’ll have to look into those smart beta ETF’s.

        Right on the cross correlations if the goal is diversification. Maybe more of my goal was eking out returns on some money I’m gonna be parking for a long while. I briefly looked up some correlation coefficients for different equity asset classes and the apparently fluctuating correlation coefficient for bonds:

        Emerging Markets 0.77
        REITs 0.66
        Consumer Staples 0.54
        International Value Stocks 0.88
        Small Cap Stocks 0.92
        Large Cap Value Stocks 0.93
        Utilities Sector 0.39

        From the second article using data since 1926:
        Bonds 0.06 (though about -0.25 in recent years)

        Looks like I might want to look into something in the utilities sector for just equities diversification. Bonds looks like a shoe in for diversification as a goal too. Those bond fund returns really get me on their comparatively minuscule returns though. Looks like Vanguard Intermediate-Term Investment-Grade Fund VFICX has a decent 10 yr 5.59% return compared to the other bond funds. For utilities, there’s the Vanguard Utilities Index Fund VUIAX, with a 10 yr Sortino of 1.34 and a 10 yr return of 11.07%.

        Increasing the time horizon for the Sortino calc to 15 years pushes the Growth Index VIGAX Sortino ratio down to 0.9, which is significantly lower. Btw I’m just going to 15 years because I can pull that number right off Morningstar. Interestingly, that still beats out the S&P500 which has a Sortino ratio of 0.88. Looking at Wellington VWELX over 15 years, the Sortino ratio is still above 1, 1.17 which looks attractive.

        If I’m looking at a large cap only fund, Consumer Staple Index VCSAX looks kind of attractive, though I can’t pull readily accessible Sortino calcs for a 15 year horizon on it and it is also only in the consumer goods sector. Looking at the chart from 2004-2018, it underperformed from about 2005 to about 2008, then has outperformed since. If the correlation coefficient data is correct from above, it would also add some decent equities based diversification.

        Health Care VGHCX I know is a risky bet on a single sector, but I can’t see there being less demand for health care with an aging population. Not a super rigorous investment thesis though, I know.

        @Hoopyfreud any particular reason you don’t like Growth Index? They seem to follow a buy-and-hold-quality-companies approach.

        In general, I’m hoping to hold long enough where even should a recession come in the next years, I can wait it out until the next bull market. I’m pretty young, so I have a lot of time to spare.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I don’t like growth index because I’m not optimistic that the priced-in growth for that sort of company is going to materialize.

          The market has been very optimistic about growth, and that growth is currently priced in, so you only get a positive return if that growth materializes (price goes up because risk goes down) or is exceeded. The second seems unlikely given the bearish turn I expect, so while those companies’ fundamentals might be fine (nowhere near financial difficulties), they might also not be enough to sustain the current valuation. Value stocks’ valuations aren’t nearly as sensitive to changes in forward projections as growth stocks.

          That’s not to say that growth stocks are a bad investment, just that if I were you I’d want less exposure to the kind of market risk that’s priced into growth stocks. But I’m also not in bonds at all (because time in market is more valuable to me than < 3% returns given my time horizon), so maybe my stock holdings are slightly more conservative than they would need to be if I were. My investments are 50% large cap index, 25% mid cap index, 25% international index, 0% bonds. If I were something like 15% in bonds I could take some out of large cap and grow the other two, but I probably won't rebalance into bonds until I have more money socked away and finish paying my debt – right now I'm honestly working with chump change, and market risk doesn’t faze me because paying off fixed-rate debt is an investment whose only risk is inflation.

          Also, re: healthcare, you need to consider that growth is priced in. You’ll only see a return that beats the market if healthcare continues to generate new revenues faster than people already think it will and faster than the market as a whole does, and there’s probably a breaking point (possibly politically-driven) where that’s going to stop being true, and then valuation will tank. If you’re putting money in a basket that doesn’t have a low cross-correlation, you’re betting that the sector will beat it’s priced-in growth for some period of time, and you should exit your position when (if) you judge that to no longer be true. I’m bearish on the idea that healthcare and tech will beat priced-in growth forever, but I’m not arrogant enough to time the market on it. Again, if you have special insight into these sectors and think you can time the market, go for it! You don’t have to beat the smartest investors out there, you just have to beat the retirees and their (conservative) fund managers. But don’t make it a major holding.

          E: I think it also makes sense to invest in sectors if you think that “real wealth creation” per dollar is higher for those sectors than for the market as a whole? But that’s just something my brain spit out as a statement that’s a candidate for making sense and I haven’t thought about it too hard. It probably prices in like growth.

          • sunnydestroy says:

            Very good points in your explanation. That does give me some pause in my greedy rush since I’d have to be confident in an outsized future performance.

            My personal thoughts are likely stagnating or slowing growth rate in the next year for the market as a whole, with a lower probability on a recession or outperformance. I think Vanguard makes a good case for this scenario in their 2019 outlook white paper.

            I tried doing a bit more research on the health care sector. It seems to be down a bit currently over political uncertainties, though it could definitely fall further if there’s a big market crash and the priced in growth doesn’t materialize.

            On the contrarian side, health care does have defensive stock characteristics, so it should be more stable in any type of economic climate, at least if you take that statement at face value. Fidelity offers some general guidance that health care sector stocks tend to outperform during economic contractions. Glancing at the 15 year beta coefficient for Health Care VGHCX, it’s 0.62 vs the MSCI ACWI index. Seems promising. Though again, looking at the health care charts, it’s still on an absolute tear over the index and now is as good a time as any for it to regress to the mean.

            I’m thinking I might hold off on Growth Index and stay in cash until the market contracts and valuations become more reasonable. Yeah, I know that’s trying to time the market, but I don’t plan on that being a large portion of my strategy. Health Care might still be reasonable if it’s defensive characteristics hold true.

            I still intend to pick up some other indexes to diversify my portfolio too.

          • Chalid says:

            I just want to reemphasize – value has beaten growth over the long term. This is a really well-known basic fact in the empirical finance literature. (Follow the many references in my link…)

            Unless you have some reason to think the economy or market has structurally changed so that that’s not true anymore (hint: you don’t) then overweighting growth is backward.

      • broblawsky says:

        Money market funds. Your money won’t appreciate (much), but it also won’t drop if you’re wrong. The top-to-bottom appreciation for treasuries was only ~30% (for VUSTX) in 2007-2008, and timing that perfectly would’ve been almost impossible.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      You, and everyone else in this thread, have no business trying to beat the market. If you attempt to, you might succeed if you’re lucky, but you’re more likely to screw up and lose horribly.

      Just buy a three fund portfolio and move on with your life. Unless Goldman has been begging you to join them, you are not smarter than the market.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Yeah, I gotta agree with Andrew here.

      • sunnydestroy says:

        Rationally, yes.

        This stuff is kind of fun though, so I don’t mind using a portion of my money on these wall street bets. Risky business, but good intellectual exercise.

  14. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I think the Indo-European Urheimat was the upper Amu Darya (possibly Syr Darya). Fight me.
    I know that some genetic evidence has been collected supporting a Yamnaya connection in European, Iranian and Indian genomes, but I don’t see how that proves Marija Gimbutas’s whole theory. Rather I think the proto-IE people were civilized and either passed the word *kwekwlo (wheel, from the root *kwek, “twist”) to Semitic (*galgal, formed by reduplication of a similar root) or vice versa (Sumerian also picked it up as an obvious loanword, not being related to a Sumerian root). As they spread intensive agriculture, an anti-authoritarian element of the population broke off into the steppe with their flocks and herds. The solid wheel appears almost simultaneously from the Harappan civilization (Ravi phase) to Slovenia ( Ljubljana Marshes Wheel ) circa 5,150 radiocarbon years Before Present, and in the absence of convenient terrain connecting the steppes to India, I think it had to be passed there over trade routes, not by nomadic invaders (the same goes for spoke-wheeled chariot technology ~2000 BC). In the case of Anatolia, I would guess they came across the Black Sea in boats, starting in the area where Palaic was spoken, as this was the same route used by the Kaska tribes that displaced the Pala people and threatened the Hittite Empire.
    Then circa 2000 BC we get two important events: the earliest known chariot burials, in India and the Sintashta-Petrovka culture of the steppe, and the archaeological sequence of the Tarim Basin with its famous “Caucasoid” mummies where the Tocharian languages are much later documented begins. This could be when the non-Anatolian branches (“late PIE”) split up, with late PIE invaders conquering descendants of the first wave in the west (Corded Ware horizon, etc.).

  15. idontknow131647093 says:

    An important follow up to a discussion previously. Yes its likely that western governments lack the savage brutality necessary to pacify insurgents:

    https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/ISEC_a_00283

    Debates over how governments can defeat insurgencies ebb and flow with international events, becoming particularly contentious when the United States encounters problems in its efforts to support a counterinsurgent government. Often the United States confronts these problems as a zero-sum game in which the government and the insurgents compete for popular support and cooperation. The U.S. prescription for success has had two main elements: to support liberalizing, democratizing reforms to reduce popular grievances; and to pursue a military strategy that carefully targets insurgents while avoiding harming civilians. An analysis of contemporaneous documents and interviews with participants in three cases held up as models of the governance approach—Malaya, Dhofar, and El Salvador—shows that counterinsurgency success is the result of a violent process of state building in which elites contest for power, popular interests matter little, and the government benefits from uses of force against civilians.

  16. Well... says:

    “I still can’t believe the Library Cop is a real thing!” said Tom shortly after being placed in Bucharest.

    • Well... says:

      “Not only is this place ridiculously hot and uncomfortable, but the foundation seems to be horribly cracked and uneven,” said Tom when he found himself in Helsinki.

      “When I play funky guitar music I like to be able to just hit the pedal once and not have to keep adjusting a potentiometer” Tom said in Ottowa.

      • rahien.din says:

        “Look, if you can’t describe that thing you saw, just give me a rough drawing of it!” Tom said in Saskatchewan.

        “An Earl Grey yes I would like” Tom replied in Tijuana

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      “What’s that word again that describes people like me? Pyro… something?” chuckled Tom after he set fire to his roof and laughing maniacally.

  17. Aapje says:

    I want to give a shout out to Wild Wild Country, the documentary about a commune following an Indian guru.

    It’s essentially a story of the personal assistant of the guru who mostly ran things and who refused to back down, ever.

    Can’t do things in India that you like to do? Move to the US, they have ‘freedom.’ Wait, you’re not allowed to build a city on land zoned for agriculture and the nearby town blocks you? Buy many properties in the town and win the elections. As a bonus, your cult now runs the local police. Wait, now the county is objecting? Invite homeless people from all over the US to live in the commune in return for a vote in the county elections. Wait, many of the homeless turn out to be violent and such? Put sedatives in their beer. Wait, many locals are banding together against the commune? Spread salmonella by intentionally contaminating salad bars (still the largest bioterror attack in the US).

    There is way more to the story than this, islamic terrorism from one cult against the Indian cult, the guru getting addicted to drugs by Hollywood actors and perhaps wanting to kill himself, resulting in an attempted murder by the personal assistant of the guru against that clique. Etc, etc.

    Highly advised for anyone who likes real crime stories, especially very outlandish ones.

    • j1000000 says:

      Watched this a few months ago and thought it was really excellent. It’s shockingly even-handed, and, while it had clear relevance to current debates on immigration and other subjects, it never came close to crossing over into didactic/heavy-handed territory.

      • Aapje says:

        Indeed. I ended up with sympathies and antipathies in all directions and never felt too manipulated. Of course they did get really lucky by getting quite a few key people to talk, including the personal assistant of the guru. Even her strong platonic love for the guru came across well, despite her being quite the evil mastermind in her quest to please and control him.

    • onyomi says:

      Thanks for the recommendation! Will check it out. Especially interesting to me in that I actually remember enjoying some of Osho’s writing, but it may be a case of “much of Scientology is just solid talk therapy” effect and/or much of the information being good but the transmitter being loony and/or manipulated. Overall, I think cults are a very interesting phenomenon, because they are probably less all-or-nothing and more of a spectrum.

      • Aapje says:

        The actual theology gets fairly little attention, so don’t expect too much on that front. Osho’s beliefs were summarized as psychotherapy plus meditation and they explained how a session might go.

        My impression was that the community was heavily focused on helping well-educated people get rid of their anxieties and such. Furthermore, the commune seemed to be very ‘we are all equal and free, but do what the boss tells you to do.’ So people felt great liberty in some ways, but were also expected to fall in line.

    • nkurz says:

      I’ve only watched the first episode so far, but yes, this seems great. I’ll definitely keep watching. Thanks for the recommendation. In return, I might suggest “Kūmāré” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumaré). Some similar themes, and I thought the result was better than the description.

      A few meta-questions Wild Wild Country raises:

      1) Making such direct use of America’s freedom-of-religion is a beautiful idea. Other than believers, are there sections of American society who would support you in your endeavor?

      2) If you had a cult following, and a desire to set up a new city for your followers, where would be the best place to do it? Has it been done?

      3) Does Osho remind anyone else of Scott? Mostly a joke, although I guess I do sense some resemblance.

  18. Well... says:

    Another language question:

    It seems like in various English dialects/accents, the omission of consonants tends to be associated with lower class while the fine annunciation of consonants tends to be associated with higher class. (Compare cockney or the hillbilly twang to a posh British accent.)

    Does this pattern hold true in other languages? If so, why? (Why does it exist in English?)

    • SamChevre says:

      Would this be the posh British accent that pronounces Cholmondeley as “chumlee”?

      Non-jokingly, I think its based on literacy: my impression is that the precise pronunciation of, for example, an English choir, is not reflective of 1600’s English pronunciation, but of scholarly pronunciation. This would lead me to guess that the pattern will be similar in other phonetic languages.

      • Well... says:

        I’m not sure if I understood you right, but I think there’s definitely a difference between how people with posh British accents and people with cockney accents actually (out in the real world) say the word “waterspout”.

        In the former case, it’s pronounced “WHOA-tahs-pout” with every consonant audible.

        In the latter case, it’s basically “WAW-ah-spah” with both the “t”s noticeably replaced by glottal stops.

    • onyomi says:

      There is always pressure to drop phonological distinctions not necessary for understanding. While I think this happens faster with vowels, it can definitely also involve dropping consonants and/or distinctions among consonants. As SamChevre says, this creates a perceived gap between the realization and underlying, conservative form, often preserved in the orthography (including even Chinese). That is, pronouncing words as prescribed in dictionaries, or how they look “on the page,” will tend to be associated with the literate and therefore high-class, while deploying the latest phonological innovation, especially if region-specific (non-national or cosmopolitan) will sound more “low-class” (though it’s interesting also to realize that linguistic evolution tends to happen faster in cities, but city pronunciation is usually viewed as more high-class than the usually more conservative varieties of rural pronunciation).

      I also wonder if whether the nature of the phonological innovations associated with being “low class” doesn’t have to do with the current morphological typological evolution of the language in question? Dropping phonemes and merging diphthongs will always have a tendency to cause syllables to “collapse” into one another, though when this process progresses past a certain point it may result in syllables building up their “weight” again. That is, if your language is one with a lot of syllables like “strengths,” there will be a tendency to not fully pronounce all those consonants. On the other hand, if your language has a lot of long words built of “light” phonemes, like su-tu-ren-ku-su, there may be pressure to collapse them into fewer, as, for example, the Japanese word for little brother, otouto, is a fusion of oto+hito (originally woto+pito).

      To take the example I know best, the oldest known stage of Chinese was one with a lot of “heavy” syllables, like “strengths,” but also traces of collapsing polysyllables; for example, the word 筆 (pronounced “bi” in Mandarin, “but” in Cantonese today), meaning brush or pen, was, in the ancient Wu region, pronounced something like “bu-lut” (hence the fact that other words with this element, like 律, begin with l, not [p]). So, at that stage in the language (when Chinese was presumably evolving from a more agglutinative to a more fusional typology), maybe saying “blut” rather than “bu-lut” would have been the “lazy” pronunciation, whereas in later stages (most of recorded history, when Chinese has been relatively isolating with an arguable tendency to become more analytic), saying “but” rather than “blut” would be the lazy pronunciation, as e.g. failure to distinguish initial [n] from initial [l] is considered a “lazy pronunciation” in Cantonese today.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I think this is yet another area where countersignalling is a thing. My sense is that in English – and probably in other languages, truly upper class enunciation is sloppier than that of the educated middle/upper-middle classes.

  19. Well... says:

    From time to time, Scott and others use this blog to recruit participants for research. Presumably that research is typically conducted online. I sense there is no ethical problem with this, even when the research is not done in affiliation with any recognized research institution or under the eye of an ERB, but I could be wrong. After all, any of us could actually be minors, or otherwise not who we purport to be and so on.

    What makes this kind of research “officially” OK from an ethics standpoint? What are the specific guidelines around this kind of thing? Does research conducted from SSC recruiting ever get published?

    • 10240 says:

      No idea about “officially”, and I’m not sure what that would mean. My opinion is that human experimentation shouldn’t be considered inherently unethical just because it’s human experimentation. Injecting people with a substance of unknown safety, or giving it to them to ingest, or infecting them with a pathogen is wrong and probably criminal in general. When you do e.g. a drug experiment, you seek an exception from this general illegality and immorality, by getting their informed consent, making sure that the risk is relatively low etc. But if what you do wouldn’t be wrong in the first place, it doesn’t become wrong just because it’s a human experiment, even if you don’t abide by a bunch of rules. This includes most psychological experiments, including some random questionnaire, or Scott’s IRB story.

      There have been some unethical human experiments involving dangerous substances, pathogens etc. (and various forms of wanton cruelty under the Nazis), and that created a perception that human experimentation is inherently suspect, but IMO that rule of thumb only makes sense if your action would be suspect in the first place. I don’t think that research organizations and journals should impose any rules beyond what criminal law already imposes.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I looked into this.

      If the research was pre-approved by the official SSC IRB (ie, Scott), then it is OK to publish in a journal.

  20. Well... says:

    What are some distinctive vocal sounds not heard in Western languages? What words or phrases demonstrate fluency in those sounds? How would you teach a Westerner to make them?

    • Machine Interface says:

      Non-pulmonic consonants. Consonants that are produced by an airflow not originating in the lungs (by creating zones of increased or decreased pressure within the mouth cavity and releasing them suddenly).

      There are three major kinds: ejective consonants, found mainly in many native american languages and languages of the Caucasus. Implosive consonants, found mainly in many languages of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. And click consonants, found exclusively in languages of southern Africa.

      The Zulu language, one of the official languages of South Africa, is one of the few languages to have all three of these (as well as tones on its vowels).

      Pretty much any text of a few paragraphs in Zulu would demonstrate fluency, since these consonants are not rare at all in the language.

      To teach a westerner about this, I would first explain all the sounds and how they are written (fortunately Zulu spelling is very regular and transparent). I would explain the anatomical details of how these sounds are made.

      Then, I would have them listen and repeat many times to recordings of Zulu minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are pairs of words which differ by only one phoneme. They’re useful to demonstrate the inventory of sounds in a language.

      For example, in English “bat” and “pat” are a minimal pair that demonstrates how the phonemes /p/ and /b/ contrast in English (contrast with “pit” vs “spit” – the two [p] are not exactly pronounced the same [at least in most native English accents], but they are not treated as different consonants, because the difference is caused by the presence of “s” before the “p” — it’s a contextual rather than a “minimal” difference).

      Minimal pairs are thus a good way to learn to hear differences that don’t exist in your native language.

      • Well... says:

        That’s pretty cool. Is there a place where, for free, I could get a taste of that? (For Zulu specifically I mean.)

        • Machine Interface says:

          Sadly, this curriculum I described is entirely hypothetical. That’s just how I would teach Zulu (or any other language with a fairly non-western phonology) if I had to do it, but I am not aware that this material actually exists (also I don’t actually speak any Zulu).

        • C_B says:

          You learn to perceive and produce these sounds in any decent 100-level practical phonetics course. That’s not a direct answer to your question since most of those are taught at schools and therefore not free, but there are probably versions of the same class available through Great Courses Plus, Khan Academy, etc. On the other hand, I haven’t found any just now with a cursory googling, so maybe these are harder to find than I thought.

          A course like this uses exactly the approach described by Machine Interface above, with the minor addition of having someone who already knows the sounds available to correct you while you’re trying to produce them (“no, that was just a regular aspirated [p], make sure your glottis is closed before you allow your lips to come apart to make sure you’re actually producing the ejective version”).

          If you’re just looking for overview info and audio samples, Wikipedia is pretty good. It has pages for pretty much every sound and category of sounds you might want to know about, including all three categories of non-pulmonic consonants (ejectives, implosives, and clicks). Clicking on an individual symbol on the chart will bring you to the page for the specific sound, which will have an audio clip of its production in the sidebar near the top of the page. Every example I’ve checked has been correct.

          You might also check out Peter Ladefoged’s web resources. Ladefoged is (was?) a very famous early phonetician who more or less established the subfield, and his “Course in Phonetics” has become model for most modern Intro Practical Phonetics courses like I was discussing above. The website I’ve linked here is the multimedia stuff (audio clips, etc.) designed to go with his course. Here‘s his page for non-pulmonic consonants specifically; clicking on the individual symbols will download audio clips for the sounds.

          Finally, there’s a bunch of YouTube videos like this one made by linguistics nerds trying to explain what non-pulmonic sounds are and how to produce them, but the ones I can find mostly seem pretty bad (including this one).

          • C_B says:

            Sidenote: It is literally impossible to talk about practical phonetics for more than ~30s without sounding like you’re giving blowjob advice.

    • C_B says:

      Other fun non-English sounds:

      Front-round vowels: Vowel sounds vary on three main dimensions:
      – Fronting (how far forward in your mouth your tongue is). Pay attention to where your tongue is during the vowels of “tick” versus “took” – the former is a front vowel, while the latter is a back vowel.
      – Openness (how far open your mouth is). Compare how far your chin moves when you say “tick” compared to “tock” – the first is a closed vowel, the latter an open vowel.
      – Rounding (whether your lips are rounded or not). Compare the position of your lips during the vowel of “tot” versus the vowel of “toot” – the latter is rounded, the former is unrounded.

      These can be combined willy-nilly to produce the full vowel space, but not every language uses every part of the space. English, in particular, doesn’t have any vowels that are both front and rounded, so they sound pretty weird to us. Swedish, on the other hand, uses all of the front rounded vowels, and uses them to distinguish otherwise identical words.

      Back (uvular and pharyngeal) consonants: Most consonants are produced by moving your tongue onto or near to some specific part of your mouth, called the “point of articulation.” The furthest-back point of articulation used in English (more or less) is the velum, or soft palate (the part of the roof of your mouth where you can’t feel the hard upper jawbone anymore; you can reach into your mouth and feel it if you don’t mind looking weird and getting spit all over your fingers). This is where we pronounce [k] and [g].

      But that’s not the furthest back anybody uses. Arabic, for instance, includes uvular sounds (using the uvula as the point of articulation) and pharyngeal sounds (using the tongue root against the back of the throat, or pharynx). Those wikipedia pages have audio clips of them. They’re weird. Uvular stops sound like slightly otherworldly versions of [k] and [g], while pharyngeal sounds sound like choking and/or Darth Vader.

      • Well... says:

        English, in particular, doesn’t have any vowels that are both front and rounded

        Except for the way people from the hood in Baltimore say words with “ew”/”oo” sounds in them. (“Choose” “new” “too” etc.)

        I’ve always been fond of uvular sounds. Hebrew has them too.

  21. toastengineer says:

    How do you keep your home smelling nice? I’ve tried everything including a $300 essential oil nebulizer and nothing works. A big part of the problem is that my apartment is way too large; in college I kept my dorm room smelling nice with wax tarts and a melter but that just isn’t powerful enough anymore.

    The closest I’ve come to the result I want is having my oven set to turn itself on and have bread baking when I get home from work, but I can’t eat a loaf of bread every day.

    • dick says:

      What’s causing it to smell bad? Or does it currently smell neutral and that’s not good enough?

      • toastengineer says:

        I don’t know; I think it’s just the residue of daily life that’s soaked in to the drywall. When I walk through the door I smell vomit, sweat, and wood (in order of intensity). Cleaning and taking out the trash don’t help.

        I did notice the bad smells went away after I spent a week away; just smelled like wood, except with a sort of staleness to it. I assume this is just the smell of the building itself.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          How often do you vomit?

          • toastengineer says:

            Not commonly, like a couple times a year? I have chronic pain problems that make me puke on the most extreme days. I don’t think the smell is from actual vomit, it’s probably the volatiles that composed the smell of last night’s dinner breaking down or something.

    • Well... says:

      1. Don’t leave dirty dishes sitting in your kitchen sink for more than a few hours. Your kitchen’s default state should be “pretty close to spotless” and you should try to keep it in that state whenever you’re not using it, plus as much as possible while you are.

      I knew lots of people in college where I’d go over their apartments and immediately smell a kind of vomity moldy mildewy smell. They always had dirty dishes piled up in the sink.

      Also, don’t use sponges to wash dishes. Use a brush. For scouring pads, keep them as dry as possible when not in use and replace them often. Related: don’t leave wet stuff like washcloths and damp towels hanging in your bathroom.

      2. Don’t let your dirty laundry pile up too high. I think an adult male who changes his shirt/socks/underwear every day and his pants once every two days can expect to do one load of laundry a week, and that seems pretty fair.

      By the way: change your shirt/socks/underwear every day.

      3. Are you sure you’re not a funky-butt? Maintain good personal hygiene, time your showers for as soon as possible after shitting, floss once in a while, use deodorant, etc.

      4. Make sure you don’t have dead mice in your air ducts or something. If it smells like you might, consult a professional to remove them.

      5. What are your expectations for how a house should smell? If you’re always lighting scented wax and spraying Febreeze and crap like that, it might be others who think your house smells.

      6. Let light in. UV rays kill a lot of odor-causing bacteria, I think.

      • toastengineer says:

        I have a dishwasher that seems to seal well enough and I run it every three days; it actually smells a bit odd itself when it’s running but that’s a very distinct smell from my general house smell. Sponge might be a real problem, though, should probably move away from sponges.

        I have two sets of clothes and I change every day, and the set I’m not wearing is kept in my bedroom which seems to seal pretty tightly (it smells ungodly as well except between washing my sheets and sleeping in them, but I don’t think there’s anything that can be done about that…)

        There’s nothing hygiene wise that I can think of that I’m not already doing; my anti-being-dirty instincts are pretty strong, I do everything short of using drain cleaner as bubble bath to stay clean (great way to get the tub shining white, though.) On the other hand I’m massively obese, so maybe I smell anyway. I noticed today that both my shirts have a weird smell that doesn’t go away after they’ve been through the laundry…

        Contaminated ductwork is another good thought, the management company is kinda shady, maybe they just never clean the ducts.

        My family are basically goblins; I grew up in a house with a cat that pissed wherever it wanted and dog crap on the floor most of the time and there was usually some rotten food or forgotten glass of milk lying around. I can’t imagine my standards are that high after that… I just want to smell a relaxing smell when I come home from work.

        Actually… isn’t that kinda weird from an evopsych perspective? Why is the smell of human habitations so unpleasant, shouldn’t it smell “homey?” Meanwhile lavender smells so relaxing, but it seems like in the ancestral environment a big open field of lavender would be a relatively dangerous place…

        I recently started keeping more plants and therefore leaving the blinds open all the time, don’t think it changed anything… maybe I should get one of those UV death lightbulbs and run them while I’m at work.

        • Randy M says:

          I noticed today that both my shirts have a weird smell that doesn’t go away after they’ve been through the laundry…

          You do literally mean you have two sets of clothes. You say you change them everyday, do you wash them every day? I’ve gone a few uses before washing a T-shirt if it’s not warm out, but it seems like you are doing a lot more than that. Do you have undershirts that you wear only once per cycle?

          Also, some laundry detergents smell weird to me. Plus, make sure you dry your clothes immediately after washing them, and maybe try a detergent with bleach if odors are persisting.

          Actually… isn’t that kinda weird from an evopsych perspective? Why is the smell of human habitations so unpleasant, shouldn’t it smell “homey?”

          Probably too many humans in close proximity spreads disease before great sanitation. Especially since before civilization, ie, living outdoors or in caves, you need a lot of people before you get the level of smell we get from only a few that live in a small enclosed space.

        • Well... says:

          OK, try this:

          1. Run your dishwasher once a day. If you really don’t produce enough dishes to justify it, then just hand-wash your dishes after each meal.

          2. Buy new clothes since all your clothes apparently stink. (Thrift stores are a perfectly fine place to find clothes that smell brand new, just do a sniff test in the acute angles of the clothes before you buy.) Throw out your old clothes as they’re replaced. And buy enough clothes so that you always have a clean shirt/underwear/pair of socks to put on and so your pants never get so they have a noticeable smell when you put them on. Then do laundry regularly. (When I’m not particularly active or doing dirty work, I find that my pants can be worn up to 3 or 4 [non-consecutive] times without washing, provided I maintain good personal hygiene.) Buy a couple new sets of sheets too and swap between them regularly, I’d say once a month, always keeping one set clean.

          3. Definitely don’t use sponges except for certain applications and keep them as dry as possible when not in use.

          4. I don’t have personal experience with obesity, but from what I understand your fat rolls can get anaerobic bacteria growing in them. Use baby powder to keep it as dry in there as possible. And of course maintain the best personal hygiene you can. Your diet will also affect the way you smell when you do inevitably sweat, so drink a lot of water and try not to eat a lot of greasy, sugary, or processed foods.

          5. Call management about the ductwork after you’ve tried all the above. If they refuse to even check it out, consult the internet on what your rights are where you live; you probably have some way to force them to have the ducts inspected to your satisfaction if you can demonstrate there’s a reasonable possibility that something has died in there.

        • caryatis says:

          So, it’s not my experience that most houses smell bad. It’s also not my experience that clothes smell bad after being washed or that sheets smell bad after being slept in once. Have you considered that the problem might be you? No offense, but there are conditions that can lead to weird odors–fungal infections and excessive sweating come to mind, both sometimes associated with obesity. A medical exam might be in order.

    • Tenacious D says:

      All the products you list add something to the air. Have ypu tried anything to filter or absorb stuff out of it? Activated charcoal should have some impact on capturing volatile organics and is cheap enough it doesn’t hurt to try. If there are particulate contaminants, I’ve got an air filter from Honeywell that I got this fall to cut down on dust/allergens that I’ve been quite satisfied with.

    • j1000000 says:

      As others have pointed out, a lingering and intense smell of vomit seems beyond the typical stale smell of dude most of us probably have experience with, and you might have something extreme going on like dead mice or something in the vents. That said: Several years back I resolved to de-slob my bachelor pad, and Jolie Kerr was an enjoyable writer on the subject of cleanliness who helped me out quite a bit. Here’s some of her advice on smells, and I’m sure if you googled her you could find a half dozen other columns by her on the subject of getting rid of smells.

      I’m surprised she doesn’t mention vinegar more in this column, which used to be something she recommended to everyone all the time to get rid of smells — wiping down counters with vinegar, leaving out bowls of vinegar to absorb odors, etc.

    • bullseye says:

      Don’t know if this will help you, but I keep the window open when I can.

    • winchester says:

      IME, vacuuming regularly makes my house smell much better.

    • toastengineer says:

      I wonder what these people are talking about when they say “tech bro.” Are they thinking of some mythical hybrid of Zuckerburg and Chad Thundercock, or just Elon Musk, or what?

      • Plumber says:

        “I wonder what these people are talking about when they say “tech bro”…”

        To me “tech bro” is pretty synonymous with “tech worker” it just sounds less sympathetic.

        I think the label “bro” is to conjure an image of a “fraternity brother”, so someone rich and immature.

        Also:

        “…some mythical hybrid of Zuckerburg and Chad Thundercock, or just Elon Musk…”

        who or what is “Chad Thundercock” (no way am I doing a web search of that!)?

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          From Urban Dictionary:

          Stereotypical high school/college apha male; successful with women in the extreme. Often oblivious rather than purposefully condescending or cruel to his fellow men.

          “Did you hear? Chad Thundercock fucked three chicks at that party last weekend!”

          “He high-fived me on the way out the door. I wanted to tear his face off.”

      • dick says:

        “Techbro” is a pejorative term for guys who behave like stereotypical fratboys and who work at software companies. It seems wildly inaccurate from my experience but it’s usually used in reference to startups and very little of my experience is with startups. I think it’s sort of a political assertion masquerading as a noun, like “manspreader” or “feminazi” – to use it (non-ironically) is to declare which side you’re on in one of the various social justice debates.

        • Nornagest says:

          Guys like that do exist, but they’re rare. I suppose there’s an outside chance that one could meet a lot of them if one hung out in the right social circles, though.

        • toastengineer says:

          I’d agree, except in the linked article it’s pretty clear that the author has some specific image in mind…

          Like, if it said “feminazi” where it said “techbro” there are images that would come to mind; like the kid I saw at Panera one time, ~500 lbs, shaved head, with a leather motorcycle jacket covered in patches and a “#killallmen” sticker on her brand-new Macbook, or Big Red screaming or something. Or if it said “alt-righter” or something I could imagine a skinny guy running around in a Guy Fawkes mask screaming “REEE” and offering people cans of Pepsi. I have no idea what a “techbro” looks like such that one could be recognized just by sight.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Wow, that sounds more like surrealist performance art than the alt-right. Especially if you replaced the Guy Fawkes mask (I get the connection between the alt-right and anonymity in general/Anonymous in particular) with a green apple.

          • johan_larson says:

            If you need an image to fit with “techbro”, try watching the first season of “Silicon Valley”, the comedy series, and keep your eyes on the Hooli engineers. They’re a bunch of cocky young bucks. If the label applies to anyone, it’s them.

          • dick says:

            I assume people who say “techbro” a lot have an image more or less in mind that’s a pastiche of people they’ve known who fit that stereotype, but the point is that it’s not an otherwise-neutral description of a behavior (like “litterbug”), it’s a stereotype that some people think is apt and other people think is unfair (like the examples I gave) and using it is tantamount to taking sides in a social justice debate.

          • toastengineer says:

            Wow, that sounds more like surrealist performance art than the alt-right.

            I’m pretty sure what the common person thinks of as the “alt-right” is mostly surrealist performance art. See also.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’ve known and worked with people I would call “techbros”. I imagine, like any other term which is ambiguous and escapes into broad use, whether the term applies or not to any individual is pretty damn vague.

            Techbros are more arrogant than they are smart, even though they are smart. They have very definitive ideas on what technology is “good” and what technology is “bad”. They always need to be working with the latest tech, which is far superior to everything that came before it, until it is obsolete. They think of themselves as “evangelists” and “thought leaders”. They want to be rich, they want to be famous, they want to be a C level employee. They want to climb a corporate ladder. They want to be an entrepreneur. They tend to like the smell of their own farts and think their shit doesn’t stink. They think everyone else is inferior.

            Just before the dotcom crash of 2000 I worked with a guy who declared firmly, as he was quitting, that his new company would make him a millionaire. They didn’t believe in silly things like companies having meaningful names, as they just named their company after the date it was founded … March, 4th.

            He was a techbro before they had a name.

          • Baeraad says:

            @HeelBearCub Yes. I’ve worked with a few of those guys, also.

            I’m not sure if arrogant bastards are any more common in tech than in other places, though, or if they just stand out more because when a rugged, broad-shouldered manly-man acts like he’s tougher than everyone else, at least you can see why he would think that. Pencil-necked pointdexters, on the other hand, you feel should have learned some humility by now.

        • Aging Loser says:

          Since you mention “manspreading” — I ride the subway a lot, so I’ve analyzed the phenomenon. It happens because men are top-heavy, so there only two ways for them to stabilize themselves on a subway-seat: (1) wide foot-placement, and (2) exerting extra pressure at a single point via the crossing of legs. You can’t do (2) because that’s “gay” so you have to do (1) for stability.

          The complementary phenomenon of “womanspreading” consists in the breadth of female posteriors in continuous contact with a seat. In NYC this breadth is remarkable, and the edges of female asses often intrude into adjacent seat-spaces. When women and men sit next to each other you get a puzzle-piece effect, with the women wider in the middle (at seat-level) and the men wider at the bottom (foot-level) and top (shoulder-level).

          • bullseye says:

            I’m a man, and I don’t need to spread for stability. But I do spread if there’s no one next to me because it’s more comfortable for the groin.

          • Aging Loser says:

            Tripods are more stable than bipods, and narrow male butts constitute one of the three pods. Women’s butts constitute two pods, so closely-placed feet can constitute a third.

            Another factor — men have to be ready for combat at all times and are therefore inclined to place their bags on the floor between their feet. Women don’t feel the same need to instantaneously ward off and deliver punches and are therefore content to hold their bags on their laps.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Aging Loser

            Women tend to place bags (both handbags and shopping bags) on adjacent seats, hence “bagspreading”.

            As for asses, the modal Philadelphia bus passenger is a “2 seater”, with “3 seaters” being not unknown.

          • bullseye says:

            Ready for combat at all times? It appears Aging Loser and I have very different life experiences.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I don’t find I need to spread either for balance or for avoiding package compression; it’s simply the position my legs naturally assume when sitting, and it’s slightly fatiguing over time to hold them closer together, unless I’m able to extend them full-length and hook one ankle over the other.

          • pansnarrans says:

            I used to be annoyed at the pejorative term “manspreading” as I assumed it just meant “sitting comfortably as a man” – there’s a fairly obvious reason men aren’t necessarily going to want to sit with their legs together.

            Then I encountered the people that the term actually describes. They’re not sitting like you or I sit. They sit with their legs as wide apart as is physically impossible, and yes, they are going to do that when that means shoving into you, because the whole point is to prove that they’re so damn alpha that everyone else will be too intimidated to complain.

            Tl;dr: the vast majority of men don’t manspread; bona fide manspreaders are bullies.

        • Chalid says:

          I’d say the fratboy programmer type was fairly common at the bank I used to work at. People with that personality type did well there because they had good relationships with the traders and the like (those good relationships being important to career advancement there).

          So in general, I’d speculate that engineer bro-ishness will increase with increasing industry and company bro-ishness and with the amount of contact the engineers have to have with the rest of the business. What are Palantir engineers like? Oil company engineers?

      • Brad says:

        tech bro

        Lots of people are always yammering on about “good jobs”. These guys have good jobs and act like twentysomething young men with good jobs. I fail to see the issue.

        • toastengineer says:

          You expect me to eat this cake knowing that I won’t still have it all afterwards!?!?

        • Plumber says:

          @Brad

          “….I fail to see the issue”

          Color me unsurprised that you don’t Brad.

          I very muchdo see the issue and I strongly support taxing “tech” incomes away until they’re more in-line with median incomes and the economy looks more like the trends of 1946 to 1972, and less like what came after, especially after 1981.

          • johan_larson says:

            Well, this part at least could be changed. The US could return to the high marginal tax rates of the 50s and 60s. If 80% marginal tax rates started kicking in at 150,000, say, the top 10% would still be wealthier than the rest, but they would be less obviously wealthier, unless they inherited family money from way back.

            Of course, this is going to have second-order effects. If just making money makes less of a difference than before, you’ll see ambitious men focusing less on making money and more on other things, like corporate ladder-climbing.

          • Statismagician says:

            Is that tech, specifically, or high-paying professions generally? And would you care as much if America’s tech hub were in, say, Ohio?

          • cassander says:

            @johan_larson says:

            Thos high marginal tax rates were illusory. They didn’t kick in until very high levels of income, and didn’t make taxes more progressive than they are today because the old tax code had so many more deductions. In 1979, when the top marginal rate was still 70%, the richest 1/5 made 45% income and paid 55% of taxes. In 2013, they make 52% of income and paid 69% of taxes. that’s not just income tax, that’s all federal taxes period. They pay 88% of income taxes, up from 65% in 1979.

          • Plumber says:

            @Statismagician

            “Is that tech, specifically, or high-paying professions generally?…

            High paying in general.

            “…And would you care as much if America’s tech hub were in, say, Ohio?”

            Probably not, and that sounds like a great idea!
            PLEASE MOVE TO OHIO INSTEAD!
            Still though that still leaves others to bid up housing, what I want is far flatter after-tax incomes.

    • johan_larson says:

      It sounds like these people don’t want to live anywhere that has a really successful industry. They want a sort of unremarkable branch-plant chain-store mediocrity where no one has too much money to flaunt at others. Maybe they should move to Ohio. Or Canada.

      • Plumber says:

        Um…
        …yes!

        I want things like they used to be (except for the sewage in the bay, and the lead in the air).

        The massive homelessness is my biggest gripe (so many tents!).

        And no I won’t move, I was born and raised here and I refuse to be “tractored out”!

        Maybe “disruptors” should please at least stop gloating about destruction.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        Well, I would not describe the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area as branch-plant chain-store mediocrity. It doesn’t have any wildly successful and interesting hometown industry, but it has a bunch of moderately successful boring ones and plenty of very affluent people, enough to support e.g. very high-quality opera, a world-class symphony orchestra, and a solid though not Michelin-star-heavy restaurant scene. It also has reasonably permissive zoning that is getting more permissive with the latest revisions; a total lack of natural barriers to urban/suburban expansion; a climate sufficiently awful, and scenery sufficiently dull, that those drawn to the luxuries of great climate and scenery don’t want to live there; and a cultural ethic of not flaunting what you have.

        It is not well known enough for people seeking opportunity to move there from afar, but it has enough opportunity that, once people spend some time there and like it, they hardly ever leave. I went to college there and have a bunch of friends who are very skilled techies and who I don’t even try to recruit to come to the Bay Area because I know they won’t move. It’s just too hard to give up living in a place where there’s a pretty abundant range of six-figure tech jobs to choose from (even if they’re more boring and have less extreme upside potential than the ones in SF); urban amenities only a couple of notches down from the big coastal metros; and readily available family-sized houses in decent neighborhoods for <$300K (used to be <$200K but it's gone up enough to make people complain).

        • Odovacer says:

          +1 to the Twin Cities area. I grew up there and they have great urban and natural amenities. The cities have many great museums, theaters, and restaurants. There are many hiking and walking/biking trails near the lakes and Mississippi river, plus wilder environments are close by, e.g. BWCA is only ~3.5 hr away by car. Plus the COL isn’t outrageous like the Bay Area or NYC.

        • Statismagician says:

          Also Saint Louis is like this, to a slightly lesser degree.

      • Well... says:

        Yeah, I’m all for tons of people NOT moving to my state, so yeah, we’re totally mediocre branch-plant out here. Nothing cool going on. If you want a nice high-paying job and lots of fun nightlife, go move to California or New York, kids!

      • Tenacious D says:

        Or Canada.

        Living in a province that is the epitome of this (NB), it has its pluses and minuses. Housing is cheap and traffic is light. Outdoor recreation is super accesible. On the flip side, salaries aren’t very competitive (there are few enough employers in most industries that changing jobs requires moving) and friends moving away is a common occurence. At a more macro level, our public finances here make me suspect that if there was ever an Exodus of the Tech Bros from the Bay Area* that CalPERs would have problems with solvency or at least liquidity.

        *My plan for making this happen would be to make Burning Man permanent. That is, have a site in the desert that’s pitched as being very cool and exclusive with lots of opportunity to rub shoulders (and perhaps more) with creative people and key players in the tech industry.

    • Tenacious D says:

      For a view on deteriorating urban conditions on the west coast (specifically homelessness in Seattle) from the other side of the aisle, you might be interested in this article from City Journal: https://www.city-journal.org/seattle-homelessness

      • pontifex says:

        Horseshoe theory alert. You can build your anarcho-syndicalist paradise where there are no zoning regulations, no drug prohibitions, and no laws of any kind really. You just have to call it a homeless encampment, and people on the far left will applaud it.

  22. sty_silver says:

    Do you enjoy working out?

    I’ve heard people say that it’s highly enjoyable, and I’ve heard at least one person say that they don’t enjoy it at all and doubt anyone does. I’m quite curious to know how common those positions are. I myself work out every day and have no idea what’s supposed to be enjoyable about it.

    • johan_larson says:

      I remember enjoying exercise classes when I was fit enough to be good at them. Getting fit enough for that wasn’t much fun, and now that I am out of shape again, I don’t like them at all.

    • Plumber says:

      @sty_silver

      “Do you enjoy working out?…”

      Only when the view changes.

      A bicycle ride or a walk are enjoyable, running a small track, or using a stationary bike are Hellish.

      • Randy M says:

        This is pretty true. I can hike for hours, to literal exhaustion, but jogging in place gets old after thirty seconds.

    • Aging Loser says:

      It’s nice when you hit a new max or new number of repetitions at some weight, but when you’re not improving it’s just a drag, don’t you think? And the music they play at the gym is usually horrible. Plus the new norm is to not “work in” (share benches, etc), so there’s always anxiety about being able to do the things on your list.

      Don’t you think it’s funny how the steroid-heads are like furtive junkies muttering together in corners, not meeting anyone’s eyes?

      • psmith says:

        Can’t say I’ve noticed it myself. The geared guys I’ve lifted with have always been a pretty cheerful and outgoing bunch. (If you look around the weight room and can’t spot the furtive junkie not meeting anyone’s gaze, it’s you?)

        I have noticed that nobody works in anymore.

    • psmith says:

      PRs are fun for about thirty seconds. Everything else is neutral, just show up and punch the clock.

    • Well... says:

      I definitely like working out. I can’t say it’s sheer joy and ecstasy from the first moment I exit the locker room through clear to the last rep of the last set, but it definitely feels good. It’s something I look forward to (even though I procrastinate at the last minute for some inexplicable unrelated reason), and I like being able to think of myself as someone who goes to the gym regularly.

      The last few weeks I’ve slipped because my gym is at my job and I’ve had to work from home so much because of the holidays, but normally if I miss a day I feel it in my soul, so to speak.

      And then of course I definitely like the way it’s made me look, the attention I get from my wife over it, being able to walk into a room and often be the fittest person there, people assuming I’m really strong and badass (I’m not), even occasional glances from young ladies, etc.

    • Brad says:

      There are a lot of different “enjoys”. Working out is never eating ice cream, or even tucking down a cruiser, but I often get feelings of accomplishment.

    • James Miller says:

      I do a lot of walking while listening to podcasts, and I enjoy the podcasts. It’s a way of getting entertained while feeling like I’m doing something productive.

    • Acedia says:

      Not really, lifting weights is mostly boring and I dislike how much time it eats up. But I do it anyway because it improves my mood, and because being muscular makes me more attractive to women and causes other men to treat me with more respect.

    • Aapje says:

      Yes.

      I do bike rides (on a racing bike).

      I enjoy:
      – being outdoors and seeing the world change & go about its day
      – the pain/exhaustion
      – variety in movement/exercise
      – the lightness/nimbleness of the racing bike
      – specific experiences, like going downhill or having the wind in my back (the best is when my speed is the same as the wind in my back and I lose the wind noise. It’s like getting superhuman hearing)
      – the satisfaction afterwards/the achievement
      – the knowledge that doing it keeps my mind and body in better shape

      Very rarely, if the weather is extremely poor in winter, I ride a stationary bike. This is way less enjoyable.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Sort of. Running on a picturesque but familiar outdoor course is probably on par with watching an okay TV show, not a way I’d prefer to spend my time but on a happy/unhappy binary I’d rate it happy. Running on a treadmill is marginally better than standing still for that same duration, probably unhappy, unless I have some kind of other distraction. Lifting weights is like taking out the trash–not horrible, but I don’t really want to, but also kind of satisfying to get it over with.

      • Nornagest says:

        Huh. My ordering’s very different — I find lifting weights actively enjoyable (albeit tinged with frustration when my numbers aren’t going up), outdoor running arduous but satisfying when it’s done, and treadmill running actively unpleasant.

    • RDNinja says:

      I dread lifting weights until I get the first set or two out of the way, and I’ve transitioned from “comfortable” to “working out.” Then I enjoy it. I get a feeling of accomplishment from weightlifting that I don’t get from cardio; I just exerted my will upon a piece of iron that most people cannot.

  23. Aging Loser says:

    Mobius strips blow my mind but I’ve noticed that they don’t blow some other people’s minds. (You make a mobius strip by twisting a strip of paper and taping the ends together — then if you draw a line along the side of it you end up drawing a continuous line along both sides of it, so it’s like you’ve got a one-sided object. But two twists and it’s double-sided … three twists and it’s single-sided again.) Are people whose minds aren’t blown by mobius strips superior or inferior to people whose minds are blown by them, or are some inferior and others superior? (A mobius strip wouldn’t impress a chimp but maybe it wouldn’t impress an angel either.)

    • Statismagician says:

      It depends on specifically why your mind is or isn’t blown. Either option admits of positive or negative characterization.

      • Aging Loser says:

        It’s very hard to say why one’s mind is blown. I guess it seems to me that the drawing of a single continuous line along all surfaces is impossible and yet there it is. It’s like a hole in reality. Like a real-life Escher staircase.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          For myself, it’s less mindblowing if you think of it as a carved-down donut, rather than a twisted loop. Really that’s all it is – if you can imagine a large enough donut that your tool can pass through the center, the Mobius strip is just the path of the tool as it spirals around.

    • eigenmoon says:

      My mind isn’t blown by the Mobius strip itself.
      Also when you cut it in half (along the side), you get only one, not two strips. That doesn’t blow my mind away either.

      But cut a twice-twisted strip in half and you get two linked strips. Cut a thrice-twisted one and you get a knot. Now this is getting somewhere.

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      After I learned more topology, the Mobius strip seemed less mind-blowing than it had when I first heard about it, but that’s more than made up for by all the other wild things I’ve been able to learn with that knowledge. You might find the Klein bottle interesting, as well.

      [I’d try to summarize some interesting facts about manifolds in high dimensions, but I don’t know of a good way to phrase topological statements in a manner that’s accessible without being a vast oversimplification or outright incorrect – any other mathy people have suggestions for this? I feel like I’m much worse at rigorously explaining topology concepts than I am in any other subfield.]

  24. Le Maistre Chat says:

    The centrality of insanity to Lovecraftian fiction:

    Going insane in cosmic horror is not a cliche inherited from Gothic horror that can be dispensed with. It would be a completely facile reading to think that protagonists could remain sane by being Genre Savvy. For to be Genre Savvy is to think of the cosmos around you as a story, and once you think in those terms, you’ve slipped into theism*. The typical Lovecraft protagonist can’t do this, and trying to change that raises the specter of the Derlethian Heresy (a twee name for the fact that the fandom hates August Derleth introducing Good, Evil and the War in Heaven into his Cthulhu Mythos tales). He is instead stuck in the stage of stage of Descartes’s meditations where he knows he exists but lacks certainty that his perceptions are objectively real, not the result of a brain defect or a demon.
    In this context I note the case of William Dyer, who first encounters sensory phenomena outside his tribe’s consensus reality at high altitudes in Antarctica, an environment now known to cause hallucinations or psychosis. He then makes a cameo in The Shadow Out of Time, trying to study pre-human archaeological remains in western Australia. He needs repeatability in a more normal environment to provide evidence of his sanity even to himself.

    *Vaishnava Hindus literally say that the cosmos is lila, “(God’s) play”.

    • Aging Loser says:

      Don’t Philip K Dick’s protagonists tend toward what you call “being Genre Savvy”, their cosmic horror morphing into theism? Or isn’t this what’s going on with PKD himself — a continual never-completed morph from cosmic horror into theism?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yes. Apparently PKD’s biggest theistic influence was Carl Jung, who had some polytheistic tendencies (he left a book where he prays to Gilgamesh, of all things) that dovetailed with the Dickian theme of reality not being One, singular, and objective.
        But there’s only so many times you can write that theme, and I should read more Dick in chronological order to see if he follows the Cartesian path from doubt to theism.

        • Protagoras says:

          Not sure why it’s so odd to pray to Gilgamesh; he was 2/3 a god.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, that’s right. Weirdly, his mother is named as the goddess Ninsun, which logically entails that his father, Big Man Banda, was exactly 1/6 a god.

          • Protagoras says:

            Or the Sumerians thought you got 2/3 of your nature from your mother and only 1/3 from your father. Or maybe if one of your parents is a god, their contribution counts twice as much. Or they were terrible at math. So many possibilities!

          • Deiseach says:

            Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh’s father, is shown in this family tree to be at least part-god, so if he was considered a demi-god and Gilgamesh’s mother was a full goddess, that might be why Gilgamesh was called two-thirds divine and one-third human (instead of three-quarters divine).

            Who knows? Probably just a way of saying that he still had a human portion which made him liable to being a bad ruler and to die as a mortal.

          • b_jonas says:

            Le Maistre Chat: no, the father is 1/3 part of a god. That’s because the father’s father is a time-traveling Gilgamesh, but the father’s mother is a mortal.

          • Protagoras says:

            Considering what the Sumerian gods were like, Deiseach, I wouldn’t assume it was his mortal part which made him liable to being a bad ruler.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      An exploration of “go mad from the knowledge” that makes sense, and with a Lovecraft spin: https://exploringegregores.wordpress.com/who-worships-an-evil-god-2/

    • Deiseach says:

      For to be Genre Savvy is to think of the cosmos around you as a story, and once you think in those terms, you’ve slipped into theism

      Isn’t that what Lovecraft is saying in the stories, though? Humans can only survive by making up stories about the nature of reality, which is that the universe is comprehensible by human reason and that ‘magic’ doesn’t exist*, and thinking of God/gods and demons in conventional religious terms which are weak and easily reducible down to moral precepts.

      In reality, the universe doesn’t have coherent rules or at least not limited by human Euclidean/Newtonian notions, there are vast ancient entities which are not gods as we think of them, but are huge cosmic forces while being alien life forms in tune with the real rules of how the universe operates re: matter, energy, space and time.

      Humans may worship them as gods, but that is as meaningless to them as ants worshipping humans as gods, and if humans ever really understood the true nihilism and meaninglessness of the universe and the lack of any kind of objective standards such as good and evil or right and wrong or cruelty and kindness or justice and injustice, our minds would crumble because we literally could not handle such knowledge. So story telling about “Science makes all these comfortable true discoveries which let us control and shape nature” helps us survive by making us blind to the sheer alien quality of what actual reality is like surrounding us. And of course, those who know the reality sound like maniacs and the insane to us because we have carefully constructed a consensus about “magic doesn’t exist, super-powered inimcal alien life doesn’t exist, you can’t manipulate space and time and biology like that”.

      *The Dreamlands are different and more like an AU within the Lovecraftian universe, being taken from Dunsany’s invented world and pantheon of Pegāna

      • Aging Loser says:

        Deiseach, a couple of things: (1) the question of whether huge cosmic forces are conscious beings or not seems very important (one’s feelings about things in general would be different depending on the answer); (2) if we found out that ants have been worshiping us, or if it became apparent that they are beginning to do so we’d feel very differently about ants; the ants might end up with a seat in the UN, for example.

    • beleester says:

      There’s a fine line between “Genre savvy” and “pattern recognition.” Like, if you refuse to read the eldritch tome because you’re thinking “If this was a story, then that book would be the sort of eldritch tome where it drives you insane just by looking at it,” then that’s basically being superstitious because the book happens to look creepy. I can understand why you’d say that’s out of character for a Lovecraft protagonist.

      But on the other hand, if you’re a character in The King In Yellow, then you know, as a 100% verifiable in-universe fact, that people who read the second act of the play go insane. So why do so many people keep it on their bookshelf?

      The first guy who falls victim to insanity-inducing mythos has an excuse – he didn’t think that it was actually possible. But after you get the news that everyone on the Antarctica expedition either died or went insane, acting like you’re living in an H.P. Lovecraft novel is perfectly sensible.

      (Someone on another forum pointed out that “Read a thing and you magically go insane” is a common cliche, but what’s even more creepy is the idea that the knowledge drives you sane. Sure, everyone else may think you’re crazy for building a house with no sharp angles, but you know that it’s the only way to keep yourself safe from the Hounds of Tindalos. The necessary actions to survive in a Mythos-tainted world would seem insane to anyone who’s not living under such a threat.)

      • Deiseach says:

        But after you get the news that everyone on the Antarctica expedition either died or went insane, acting like you’re living in an H.P. Lovecraft novel is perfectly sensible.

        It depends on the set-up of the story/game/universe. For instance, the whole point of the story in “At The Mountains of Madness” is that a second expedition is being planned, and Professor Dyer (the only sane survivor) is trying to warn them off, with little expectation of being believed:

        I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why. It is altogether against my will that I tell my reasons for opposing this contemplated invasion of the antarctic — with its vast fossil hunt and its wholesale boring and melting of the ancient ice caps. And I am the more reluctant because my warning may be in vain.

        He sets out quite good reasons why he won’t be believed; the first expedition was obscure professors from a small university, and besides they weren’t “specialists in the fields which came primarily to be concerned”. It was a geological/engineering expedition, and it turned into biology, history and God knows what else. He and his colleagues don’t have the influence or the Big Recognisable Public Names to stop this expedition going forward, he’s trying to get Big Public Scientists on board who do have enough clout to gt it stopped.

        Imagine Neil deGrasse Tyson being appealed to by Professor Billy-Bob Jones of Cow College, Alabama, to stop a scientific expedition on the grounds that there are monsters and demons in the hills. How do you think that would go? “Sure, the members nearly all died or went insane, so Billy-Bob must be right and I’ll go against all my hitherto stated principles and accept that mythology is right and ancient demon-gods exist!” Yeah, and pigs might fly.

        Can’t you imagine a professional debunker in such a universe? The Amazing Sandi going on talk shows and Youtube channels to calm people down: “Look, this is standard ‘Curse of the Mummy’ junk. The public are talking about this the same way they talked about the Curse of Carnavon back in the day, with the same old stories being trotted out by the press – and I have to say, the media are being highly irresponsible in spreading this nonsense simply to sell papers and get clicks. There was no ‘curse of the Pharaohs’, any deaths were adequately explained, and the expedition was not struck down by magic powers of ancient gods. Same way with the Pabodie Expedition – it was a tragedy but it happened because they weren’t Arctic explorers, the expedition wasn’t as well-equipped as it should have been, and a set of unfortunate circumstances all hit them in a row. The Scott expedition to the North Pole all died tragically but nobody thinks that was because of a mystic curse, it had a natural explanation. And so does this tragedy.”

        Even investigators of cults in the Lovecraft universe don’t accept them as having anything more behind them than superstition, inbred degeneracy, and the typical trappings of a cult covering criminality and a ‘guru’ exercising power over his dupes – see “The Call of Cthulhu” where the narrator doesn’t believe the testimony of one of the policemen who participated in breaking up a cult meeting in the swamps:

        It may have been only imagination and it may have been only echoes which induced one of the men, an excitable Spaniard, to fancy he heard antiphonal responses to the ritual from some far and unillumined spot deeper within the wood of ancient legendry and horror. This man, Joseph D. Galvez, I later met and questioned; and he proved distractingly imaginative. He indeed went so far as to hint of the faint beating of great wings, and of a glimpse of shining eyes and a mountainous white bulk beyond the remotest trees — but I suppose he had been hearing too much native superstition.

        It’s only direct personal experience that breaks through the whole “This is the 20th Century, Science Explains Everything, it’s all superstition and backwardness”, and any survivors who manage to escape with their lives and their sanity more or less intact generally keep their mouths shut, since telling what they really experienced has them disbelieved at best, and shut up as lunatics at middling, and killed by the cultists at nearly worst, or dragged off into the other dimensions by the old ones at very worst:

        He was, it developed, a New York police detective named Thomas F. Malone, now on a long leave of absence under medical treatment after some disproportionately arduous work on a gruesome local case which accident had made dramatic. There had been a collapse of several old brick buildings during a raid in which he had shared, and something about the wholesale loss of life, both of prisoners and of his companions, had peculiarly appalled him. As a result, he had acquired an acute and anomalous horror of any buildings even remotely suggesting the ones which had fallen in, so that in the end mental specialists forbade him the sight of such things for an indefinite period. A police surgeon with relatives in Chepachet had put forward that quaint hamlet of wooden colonial houses as an ideal spot for the psychological convalescence; and thither the sufferer had gone, promising never to venture among the brick-lined streets of larger villages till duly advised by the Woonsocket specialist with whom he was put in touch.

        …But Malone had at first told the specialists much more, ceasing only when he saw that utter incredulity was his portion. Thereafter he held his peace, protesting not at all when it was generally agreed that the collapse of certain squalid brick houses in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, and the consequent death of many brave officers, had unseated his nervous equilibrium. He had worked too hard, all said, in trying to clean up those nests of disorder and violence; certain features were shocking enough, in all conscience, and the unexpected tragedy was the last straw. This was a simple explanation which everyone could understand, and because Malone was not a simple person he perceived that he had better let it suffice. To hint to unimaginative people of a horror beyond all human conception — a horror of houses and blocks and cities leprous and cancerous with evil dragged from elder worlds — would be merely to invite a padded cell instead of restful rustication, and Malone was a man of sense despite his mysticism.

  25. johan_larson says:

    Wildly powerful aliens have arrived in ships the size of small moons. After studying the matter, they have concluded there are way too many people on this planet. Half of us have to go. They
    have retained you to advise them on what half of humanity should be painlessly put to death.

    In doing so, keep in mind that these aliens are not literally gods. They can’t look into people’s souls to tell the good from the bad. But they do have extensive powers of surveillance and records analysis which can be used to judge people by whatever criteria you design.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Recruit people who are outraged enough at this injustice to launch an attack on the aliens and give them the means to do so, being quite honest with them that they’ll probably die. Tell the aliens to kill the ones shooting at them.

      Once you know how big this army is, for the remainder, exempt parents of children who already exist and who are currently minors (and depending on how long we have, who will be minors when the kablooie happens). Don’t extend this to parents who conceive after this date in order to prevent perverse incentives (that means the new kids get the lotto too).

      Lottery for everyone else.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        … for everyone else

        Except for the collaborator advising the aliens, and all associated staff. You all get to choose being painlessly put to death, or else shot in the back.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I don’t expect the collaborator group to include anyone else; as for me, I’d pray to get lotto’d, or else I’d probably kill myself.

      • bullseye says:

        You’re selecting proactive and idealistic people to die. I don’t think that’s a good idea.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t feel like I’m competent or have the moral right to judge the world, so I’d prefer to let it sort itself out as much as possible.

    • cassander says:

      I think that depends a great deal on WHY they think we have to go. What result are the aliens hoping to achieve?

      If the goal is improving the moral fibre of humanity, tell the aliens to set up a volunteer program, where anyone who volunteers can spare one other person. Then have them secretly encourage and anti-alien rebellion. Then kill anyone the people who didn’t volunteer, didn’t get spared, didn’t rebel (or didn’t support the rebels secretly). Also anyone who used morally questionable methods to secure a volunteer.

      • Protagoras says:

        My suggestion: As an applied ethics experiment, they are visiting thousands of civilizations to gather data on how they choose when confronted with this dilemma. They have no futher interest in any of the study participants beyond collecting that data.

        • toastengineer says:

          How’d they get this approved by the ethics committee?

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh dear. In which case, you really don’t want to be the Quisling who accepted the job of “Adviser to the Aliens on Who To Kill” because once they leave, you have probably about ten minutes left to live as an outraged humanity is united in wanting your head on a plate.

    • johan_larson says:

      Any way we do this, losing half the population is going to be disruptive. That’s just plain a lot of people.

      Here’s a breakdown of the US population by age:
      https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/distribution-by-age/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

      If we opt to do this by age, and eliminate the very old and the very young, since they are typically the least productive members of society, we can get to roughly half the population by eliminating everyone 55 or older (29%) and everyone 15 or younger (20%).

      • baconbits9 says:

        Getting rid of everyone 15 or younger is going to cause serious problems in 20 years when the work force is entirely people age 35+ (plus a few 18-20 year olds).

    • Nornagest says:

      I don’t think we need to kill anyone. If their spaceship’s the size of a small moon and a non-negligible fraction of that is habitable, then they can take half the planet’s population and a good amount of infrastructure with them without even noticing the change in the shipping manifest. If they aren’t willing to do so, then they can go to hell.

      (Let’s pick Thebe, an inner moon of Jupiter with a mean radius of about 50 km. That gives a volume of 523598 cubic km. Let’s say a quarter of that is habitable, divided into 3m decks. That gives us 43633166 square km of habitable deck space, or 5454 m^2 for every person on Earth. And they have several of these.)

    • bullseye says:

      I’d ask them to kill half of every profession. I figure a society with half as many people would need about half as many doctors, half as many plumbers, etc.

      As for which half, targets include people who have been in the profession a while but are still bad at it. Also people convicted of serious crimes, where the aliens’ analysis of the case indicates they probably did do it.

    • James Miller says:

      I would try to expand the set of what they consider human to include mosquitoes and get them to just take mosquitoes.

    • Deiseach says:

      They are determined to kill half of humanity either way, or if I don’t choose then they won’t do it?

      If they will kill half of us anyway, then “Fuck you, do your own dirty work” and they can put everyone’s name into a lottery and pull out 50% at random. I am not going to personally pick Tim over Bill, even if Tim is a serial killer. The aliens are not humans, they’re not God, and why do they think half of humanity (instead of one third or two thirds or nineteen and three-quarters) have to die? And why die, rather than “we can move the excess population to artificial habitats/currently uninhabited but compatible worlds”?

    • Tarpitz says:

      I suggest the aliens use their vastly superior surveillance (and, I assume, data processing and analysis) technology to evaluate as best they can how long each person on earth would live absent the coming gigacide and kill the ones who would have had least time anyway. Possibly an exemption is required for parents of under 12s, per Hoopy’s suggestion.

    • Chalid says:

      OK, if we don’t fight the hypothetical, then lots of people have to die to get to 50% and some terrible decisions have to be made.

      Kill everyone 50 or older, both from a fairness perspective (they got to live longer already) and from an economic perspective (they’re less productive, and therefore it’s less disruptive if they’re gone). Anyone who has a short life expectancy, or would have a short life expectancy if a major disruption to society happened, also dies. Anyone in jail for a long prison sentence dies.

      That doesn’t get you anywhere near what you need – maybe it gets you to 25% of the world population? For the rest, use a random process that:

      a) selects about equal numbers from every country (maintain overall balance of power, to reduce the chance of war)
      b) selects at the family/group level as opposed to individuals. In particular, don’t leave children without their parents, and parents without their children.

      For the group selection part, it’s not clear to me how big the groups should be. Is it better to select people fairly uniformly, or to completely depopulate some towns/cities and leave others intact? I’d lean toward keeping larger communities intact as it would minimize the grief.

      • johan_larson says:

        For the group selection part, it’s not clear to me how big the groups should be.

        I suppose you could let people group themselves however they want. I can see some benefit in making sure parents don’t disappear while their children survive, so grouping by family at least would make sense. But beyond that, cultures differ. Some people are very close to their kin. Others are not. And some would prioritize not togetherness, but making sure their lineages survive. So maybe the best policy is to let people group themselves however they like, and each group lives or dies together. It won’t change the chance any one person survives, but the survivors will find a world with their most important ties intact.

    • Another Throw says:

      I don’t agree with the suggestion to kill everyone over 50.

      Having people around that aren’t constantly fucking, fighting, or fucking working is a critical ingredient to a functional society, far in excess of what their direct personal contributions to world GDP might be.

      More generally, y’all appear to have a bias towards “productivity” over maintaining functional institutions. Functional institutions are really important.

      • Aapje says:

        Yeah, I really think we’d be in great trouble without some of the oldies.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        I thought that response was odd as well. That kills off almost all political leadership in the world, most top experts in most fields, most grandparents (which even from a productivity standpoint alone is childcare and such), etc. Picking a much higher age obviously doesn’t get it close to where we need, but I see no reason to make age the primary determinant.

    • Randy M says:

      The correct answer is probably to fight the hypothetical and the aliens. Figuratively and literally, respectively.
      But if I were to don my utilitarian hat for purposes of discussion…
      Assign everyone a score, from 0 to 100.
      Short-term terminally ill people, people on death row, etc. get 100. Less serious illness or criminal history (aliens can verify if diagnoses and/or verdicts are correct, hopefully) get smaller numbers.
      If you are suicidal, you get a +100 and we ask you to hold off until the accounting is done.
      People in more critical and/or demanding professions (nuclear engineer and brain surgeon, say, being -99, and “social media brand promoter” being -1) get negative modifiers. Admittedly providing the specificity here is going to be highly contentious and subjective.
      Add a positive modifier equal to 1% of the square of your age in years.
      Subtract ten times your number of dependents. Subtract your number of other living relatives.
      The randomize the death pool, with each person’s number being a modifier to their percent chance of being selected.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        I think I like the thought put into this approach, but… Iterated 8 billion times this is going to lead to a non-trivial number of absolutely horrible situations. Kids with no living relatives, parents who lose all eight children, towns where all the women/men are killed. I can also see some patterns that very likely emerge – in cultures where men more often work than women and/or do higher level work (almost all of them), we may find that significant numbers of men are spared, but their wives/prospective mates are not. I’m not sure on the tilt, but it would probably be 60/40 or more, which would be a disaster.

        I’m not sure if the better approach is a more complicated scoring system, or some fail-safes built into the final calculation. For fail-safes, some previous ideas were “whole families die or survive as a group” and we might add some big picture safety nets like “the final distribution of men and women must be within X% of equal.”

        I feel like fine-tuning the scoring system would be good, but that with only one chance to get it right, we’re almost certainly going to fail badly in unexpected ways. Fail-safes seem like an easier and better option.

        • Randy M says:

          Good point! I considered something like “increase the score if more is someone nearby is chosen” on the idea that it is better to have some areas completely destroyed if others are kept relatively untouched.

          Regarding gender imbalance, perhaps a slight bias towards survival if female would be appropriate.

          Come to think of it, the system, if not calculated by omniscient aliens, are going to give an anti-western bias. If we have a higher proportion of people diagnosed with illness or convicted of a crime compared to a less technological or more lawless* culture, we’d end up losing more people compared to one where someone just doesn’t get to the doctor or police are scarce.

          *Yes, I know, very crude description for cultural differences in law enforcement.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            anti-western bias

            I would think the opposite, based on the preferences for education and skillsets. Maybe that would tend to cancel out?

            These kinds of difficulties in the fine tuning are leading me more towards fail-safe approach than trying to make a score-only approach.

            The “increase score if someone nearby is picked” will just make some situations worse. Your poor nuclear physicist who lost his wife is now more likely to lose his children, but his score is so high that he’s practically immune…

          • Randy M says:

            I would think the opposite, based on the preferences for education and skillsets. Maybe that would tend to cancel out?

            We’ll have to wait for the survey results to find out how many of us are in bullshit jobs. 😉
            Also, I expressed no preference for education. =P Use it or lose it.

            Your poor nuclear physicist who lost his wife is now more likely to lose his children, but his score is so high that he’s practically immune…

            But if some small town is depopulated by the random number jobs, for the rest of our sake, we’d prefer it if the nuclear engineers were kept around to prevent catastrophe, more’s the pity for him.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I guess I would write it backwards from your way then – someone who passed increases the chances of someone else nearby passing. Keeping communities and families intact is a pretty high priority for me.

            This will inevitably ruin the third world if we score such too highly.

        • Statismagician says:

          We might also try iterative testing – run the algorithm on some subset, see what goes horribly wrong (you know, besides everything that led up to this point) and then try and fix it.

      • albatross11 says:

        Thanos may not win in the end, but he sure inspires a lot of thought experiments.

        Tell them to randomly select nations until they get to their population goals, maybe rolling back and using some low-population nations to fill in to as close as possible to 50%.

        The reason to do it this way is that it will leave currently working social, political, and economic systems intact. (Almost) no parents disappearing while their kids still need care, or political systems collapsing into civil war / warlordism for lack of legitimate functioning government, etc. The disappeared nations will be recolonized in the next generation or two by the people of the surviving nations. My guess is that this minimizes the damage done by murdering 3.5 billion people. Because I’m American, I’d tell them to exclude the US from the list, too, but people from other countries would probably have different ideas.

        • acymetric says:

          I’m not sure the push to acquire the newly vacated land/resources will be any less chaotic or bloody than countries struggling with crippled governments.

          Hopefully we also have time to plan for the loss of any shared infrastructure (tech mostly I’d guess) that relies on any equipment or people in one of these countries.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I think that the obvious answer is to go by whole countries. Despite the globalization of our economy, country borders matter a whole lot still, which means that humanity’s disruption is reduced if you just lose whole countries instead of losing half of every country.

      China + India + Africa would be the way to do it in order to preserve the Western ideology I like as much as possible. That adds up to ~3.4 billion people, or close to half.

    • Dack says:

      Wildly powerful aliens have arrived in ships the size of small moons. After studying the matter, they have concluded there are way too many people on this planet. Half of us have to go. They have retained you to advise them on what half of humanity should be painlessly put to death.

      First I would laugh in their cartoonishly evil faces/face-analogs. Then I would correct them: “No Thanos, you are wrong, we do not have an overpopulation problem. What we have is a distribution problem….And if you really wanted/needed to help us, it would take less effort to just give us some of that sweet sweet Death Star Artificial Moon technology. Or, you know, just build some houses or something.

      Because there’s a reason why haven’t we colonized space yet. For the same reason we haven’t colonized Antarctica. It’s very cold and not a lot of fun and if you go outside you die. In fact, Antarctica is preferable to space in pretty much every way. There is no reason to colonize space before you have finished colonizing Antarctica. And there is no reason to colonize Antarctica until you have finished colonizing Nebraska (population: 9 people per square km).”

      • fortaleza84 says:

        As a side note, I can think of a couple reasons to choose to colonoize space over Antarctica or Nebraska. For a lot of people the lure of setting up a colony is to get out from under the thumb of oppressive governments and to build something which their descendents will get to enjoy.

        Certainly in Nebraska, it would be difficult to stop the state and federal government from imposing on you. It would also be difficult to keep out outsiders who want to glom on to the utopia(?) you’ve built. Even in Antarctica, all of the land is spoken for by present governments so they would probably stop you from building your colony.

        On the other hand, if you and your crew had the wherewithal to start a viable colony in space, a few light-months away from Washington, it would be very difficult for the United States to assert control over you. It would also arguably be easier to keep out outsiders.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I knew there was something foolish about all those old SF stories that had extraterrestrial colonies funded by governments only for them to declare independence.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        One really good reason to go to space is to extract resources that either can’t be found (in sufficient quantities) on Earth, or can’t be extracted easily enough. Antarctica is also a bad choice because there’s nothing there we want, at least that we currently know.

        • Randy M says:

          One really good reason to go to space is to extract resources that either can’t be found (in sufficient quantities) on Earth, or can’t be extracted easily enough.

          If by space you mean Mars or Jupiter, maybe. If you mean interstellar, probably not. I expect in most cases it’s easier to find substitutes (to the resource, or even the entire technology) than to transport it at such expense, especially since you’ll have years to work on that anyway.
          Absent teleportation technology.

          I think the only valid reason for space colonization, barring changes in our understanding of the physics involved, is as a back up to the extinction events on earth, and even then only if a fairly close match were to be found. Colonizing due to “overcrowding” doesn’t make sense unless the overcrowding leads to an existential risk, because one can’t remove enough people to make a dent for the ones left behind and the colonizers have to be crammed into an even higher density environment for years anyway.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            You are completely correct until/unless technology can get us to those places a whole lot faster than now seems possible.

            I did have in mind the asteroid belt as far as resources go. Less gravity means it’s better than trying to mine a planet and then launch back into space, and there are lots of resources to be had.

        • John Schilling says:

          Also note that outer space is Not In Anybody’s Back Yard, which is likely to become an increasingly valuable commodity on several fronts. Nebraska may have few local NIMBYs, but every busybody in the United States of America feels a deep moral authority to make sure that whatever you do there, you mustn’t do it Wrong. With Antarctica, the self-perceived moral authority is weaker but it’s got the whole world including explicit international law behind it.

        • Dack says:

          Antarctica is also a bad choice because there’s nothing there we want, at least that we currently know.

          There’s lots of known recoverable resources in Antarctica. Coal, oil, Iron ore. It’s all protected by treaty for at least another 30 years, so ostensibly that’s why it’s untouched. But really, even if it weren’t protected, the continent is very remote for it to be profitable to ship raw resources back to the rest of the world. On the other hand, if there were a bunch of arcologies in the big open spaces there, it would make sense to develop the local resources rather than importing.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antarctica#Present-day

      • albatross11 says:

        Since the super-powerful aliens probably have long lives and are pretty patient (they’re traveling between stars), maybe propose widespread birth control as an alternative? Wealthy nations now mostly have a below-replacement fertility rate, so wealth+education+birth control will work fine if you’re not a comic-book villain.

    • The Nybbler says:

      My first thought would be, “F U bastards, do your own dirty work, I’m not helping you out”.

      My second would be to make a nice long enemies list, then add my own name, then just tell them to pick at random within very poor, far away, and overpopulated places. This minimizes disruption to useful infrastructure (though you’re going to need some new elected officials…). My own name is on there because I’m not going to want to live with making this choice.

    • Phigment says:

      I think the best answer is to tell the aliens to get lost, but I’m not a moral consequentialist.

      If we play along with the premise, however, I think we should give some thought to wiping out communicable diseases.

      If we picked every person who currently was infected with Ebola, we might be able to permanently get rid of a really nasty disease.

      Similarly, we could probably knock out a lot of STDs. Maybe measles? Keep going down the list looking for diseases that don’t have non-human reservoirs to survive and re-infect from.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        AIDS probably fits best, but involves something close to genocide. I wouldn’t.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          While I understand your reasoning, the thought experiment is going to result is a whole LOT of genocide already. I think the point is more about how to determine which genocides would be preferable.

        • johan_larson says:

          Every country in the world has way less than 50% of the adult population HIV positive. The sheer scale of murder required gives us a lot of room for choice.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_HIV/AIDS_adult_prevalence_rate

          But if we make HIV+ status one of the targeting criteria, we will disproportionately be killing Africans.

          This could get really nasty. Wanna wipe out Tay-Sachs disease just like that? Here’s your chance. Hope you like killing Jews, French Canadians, and Cajuns.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I assume the wildly powerful aliens can terraform planets and let me perform minor miracles, so I convince the aliens to spark a nuclear conflict, wait for half the population to die, and return as a living entity that terraforms the entire planet back to habitability.

      I save a small proportion of the brightest minds from the targeted nations to aid in the rebuilding and have backups of all knowledge before sparking WWIII.

      No one ever knows the aliens visited us, no one ever gets blamed for the ultimate evil, and I get to be King of the World!

  26. Mark Atwood says:

    Re the acrimonious conversation about drone regulation, here is a wrinkle:

    https://hackaday.com/2018/12/26/ooops-did-we-just-close-an-airport-over-a-ufo-sighting/

    The “drones” that were illegally flying interfering with Gatwick Airport… well, it looks like they may have been figments of imagination, then blown up into a moral panic by a kneejerk mindless safety-first-culture and inflamed the British press. Said moral panic, we can hope will subside in the face of absence of evidence, but yeah right, we all know better than that.

    • Well... says:

      Kneejerk mindless safety-first culture is a good thing to have at places like airports.

      Press, on the other hand — British or otherwise — are the pros at blowing things up into a moral panic. They don’t have a job without it.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        Kneejerk mindless safety-first culture is a good thing to have at places like airports.

        No, it’s not. It’s a really unwise idea. Just starting with that it becomes trivial to Denial Of Service a critical part of infrastructure. So trivial that it will be done by accident, or even by nothing at all.

        • Well... says:

          I guess it depends on what you mean by “mindless” and “culture”.

          I was thinking of culture in the sense of “business culture” or “corporate culture”, where safety is prioritized in terms of operations, where meetings start out with remarks about safety, where people are rewarded for doing things that are safe at the expense of things that might be lucrative or productive but unsafe, etc.

          And I meant mindless insofar as safety often is referenced in the abstract and turned into a kind of meme or perfunctory value because there just aren’t really life-or-death safety incidents happening to everyone all the time, yet everyone has to be prepared for one to happen at any time.

    • The Nybbler says:

      From what I’ve read elsewhere, the night sightings were of a police helicopter called in to look for the drone flyers. The photos sent in to the Daily Mail were fake (another place and time). At least one sighting was crane lights. The couple arrested and held for 36 hours was 100% innocent and got grabbed because the man is known to fly model helicopters (and was reported by their neighbors; the UK living up to stereotypes). The Sussex police now swear up and down that their statement about there maybe not having been a drone were a “miscommunication” and no really there was a drone. And ISIS weighed in with this meme, assuming that’s not another fake.

      No doubt the proposed and planned anti-drone regulations which got a boost from this panic will not in any way be tempered by the panic being unfounded. And if anything similar happens in the US, there’s no need to rely on nosy neighbors; the FAA has the drone registration list to use to round up the usual suspects

      • pansnarrans says:

        and was reported by their neighbors; the UK living up to stereotypes

        Hang on – do we Brits have a reputation for being curtain-twitchers who are forever shopping each other, or are you referring to the general fact that we’re surveillance-heavy as a society in terms of CCTV and so on?

        • The Nybbler says:

          The former. The term “curtain-twitcher” doesn’t even have an equivalent in American slang.

          • pansnarrans says:

            Hah, good point well made. Although I’d argue the archetypal curtain-twitcher doesn’t actually report anyone to anyone, just glowers out of their window at teenagers.

  27. onyomi says:

    I am a big fan of Agatha Christie novels but not a big follower of real-life criminal cases like OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony. Maybe because in the latter case there seems usually to be either too little information to form a strong opinion (Zodiac Killer) or else the correct answer seems fairly obvious, usually because the person who really seems like they did it probably did it (or at least, I’m comfortable assuming that, especially given that my opinion on the matter is inconsequential).

    One exception is the case of JonBenet Ramsey. I find it interesting because it feels like an Agatha Christie setup that needs a Poirot to come along and disentangle the many red herrings. My Occam’s Razor assumption is that the simplest solution (one or both of the parents did it and tried to cover it up) is the correct one, but there seem to be enough other weird complicating factors to make it interesting, nor is the idea of the parents killing her an entirely satisfying narrative (was it the father or the mother or both? Was the brother involved somehow? etc. Though the idea that things should “make sense,” motivations be legible, etc. can itself be a misleading bias).

    Anyway, I’m know there are whole SubReddits dedicated to dissecting every minor detail, but I don’t have the patience to dig that hard. Anyone have any opinions, either on this, or on the proper sort of epistemic approach to such questions (a healthy amount of “not sure and will probably never have enough information to be sure” is probably in order, of course).

    • caryatis says:

      If you have any interest in true crime, I highly recommend the book Popular Crime by Bill James. He goes beyond the usual true crime thing of just telling the sordid facts, and really approaches these stories from an analytical perspective, addressing overarching theoretical questions like: how much does it matter if a witness contradicts herself? Where should we look for suspects? What kind of person becomes a serial killer? I’ve reread this book several times, it’s just so good. Also elegantly and cleverly written and laugh-out-loud funny.

      Anyway, about JonBenet, James’s theory is that someone with a grudge against her father because of his business deals killed her, with the intention of throwing suspicion on the parents, and, essentially, ruining the father’s life. I’m summarizing about 30 pages he has on the case.

      • onyomi says:

        Hi, thanks for the recommendation. I will probably read the whole thing.

        *Content warning: includes discussion of child abuse, murder*

        Based on the preview I can read of the JonBenet case, his theory seems pretty convincing, and also alerts me to what may be a bias I suffer: what he calls “naive cynicism.”

        That is, I definitely have a prior in favor of “given a choice between people being a lot weirder and more awful than you thought possible and what seems a more complicated explanation, people are probably just weirder and more awful than you thought possible.” This is a kind of cynicism intended to avoid naivety, but may itself lead to error if misapplied.

        For example, let’s say the Ramseys look like the sort of people who’d never in a million years harm their beloved beauty queen daughter. The sort of level-one assumption is that they are the sort of people who’d never in a million years harm their beloved beauty queen daughter, but the desire to avoid being fooled by appearances, plus the desire for surprising narratives (“no one ever expected that this picture-perfect family hid a dark secret…”) might lead one to skip right over what should be the default assumption and right to the next “level” of interpretation, which is that things aren’t what they seem because people often aren’t what they seem (but actually, more often than not, they are).

        Of course, there is the prior, I still think correct, that most non-gang murders, especially committed in a home, especially committed against a child, are probably the work of someone close to the child and not Hans Gruber. So if the parents don’t seem like the sorts of people to murder their child, but a child is unlikely to be murdered in the home by a total stranger, the simplest explanation is not that the parents did it, but that someone who did know the family and does seem like the sort of person who could do this did it. This complicates matters by positing the addition of another person, but not necessarily more than the necessity of explaining the Ramseys being very different from how they seemed. In fact, the best explanation may be it was a weirdo who knew the family and liked to pretend he was Hans Grueber.

        It’s also interesting to me that what seemed the most damning piece of evidence against the parents is now the reason I’m willing to a 180 and accept James’s theory as my default assumption: he makes very good points about the ransom note that make it seem highly unlikely the mother wrote it, and handwriting experts apparently determined the father was unlikely to have written it. And it’s not just because he undermines the probability, for me, that the mother wrote it, because his interpretation actually points very strongly in a different direction. It’s meta-interesting to me that it should be the same piece of evidence, viewed in a different light, that can seem to strongly suggest two completely different theories (though maybe that is also a warning sign?).

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          If a suspect is a basis vector in crimespace, there’s no reason that the vector a piece of evidence represents has to point along any one of them.

  28. Atlas says:

    Does anyone have any minimally spoilery suggestions on how to get the most out of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey? (I just got the game in the Steam winter sale, and have not played any entries in the franchise since AC2.)

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I don’t know what you mean by “the most”, so I’ll assume you want to explore all of the game content. First, some gameplay / setting notes:

      The AC franchise gameplay changed significantly between Syndicate (industrial era London) and Origins (Cleopatran Egypt), but you probably won’t feel it as much. The main difference is that combat changed from simply pressing the right button to a hitbox system. I like it a lot more as a result, but YMMV.

      Odyssey departs from Origins here in one key respect: you can choose one of two protagonists. The conceit is still that you live out their memories as stored in their DNA, which compels me to posit that you’re in a completely different universe depending on which one you pick, which fractures further as you choose different responses to events in Greece.

      Expect a lot less interaction in the modern world. You’re still in an Animus, but you get out of there maybe three times, total, I think (I’m not finished yet). Parkour is a lot more automatic; just go forward and hold down the Shift key (or whatever it is on a gamepad), and you’ll climb up virtually any surface.

      The world is much larger – the largest it’s ever been. Prettier than ever, too. Back in AC2, you were inside a handful of cityscapes. Since then, the franchise has enlarged cities, and added wilderness and oceans and weather. I’ll assume your hardware is capable, but just in case, I’ll say that I was able to play it with a motherboard and CPU from 2012 and a GPU from 2014. I had to scale settings down a tad and still got 30 FPS most of the time.

      Extra features include animals, ship combat, experience and leveling, a talent tree, and armor pieces. When scouting a location, you use an eagle pet of yours, flying overhead. No more multiplayer. Stealth is still a big part of the game. Assassinations are no longer always insta-kills (on nightmare difficulty, at least).

      Explore like crazy. The main storyline quests should be easy to recognize. There are a lot of sidequests. Some of these are bounties, contracts, or minor missions you get from signposts in cities, or at random in the wilderness. They never stop popping up, so don’t get too hung up on them, unless you need to get more XP fast. Do any quest that awards orichalcum – you can use that to buy special gear from a guy named Oikos.

      Check the Steam forum for the game if you have more questions. My username there is Mehhh; I check that forum every day if I can.

  29. theredsheep says:

    Can somebody explain the Monty Hall Problem to me? I can accept that I’m wrong and you really are supposed to switch doors, but I just can’t understand why.

    So there’s three doors, A, B, and C. Two with goats, one with a car. You pick A, Monty opens C and shows it has a goat, and asks if you’d like to switch to B. Now, your first choice had one in three odds of the good result, while picking B would have one in two odds. 50% is better than 33%. Fine. But why does remaining on A not count as “picking” A, which also has a fifty-fifty chance? Is electing to stay any less of a fifty-fifty choice than electing to switch, since we’ve established that one of those two has a goat and one has a car? I’ve read the Wiki entry, and it doesn’t help; it starts with claims that don’t make sense to me and ends with statistics arguments I can’t follow. Can anyone break it down further and explain why B is better than A?

    • meh says:

      The most intuitive explanation I’ve heard is:

      Imagine instead there are 100 doors. You pick door A. Of the remaining 99 doors, Monty opens 98 of them, revealing a goat in each one. Do you stay or do you switch?

      …I wont go further into the details here, hopefully this should give you a feel for it.

      • theredsheep says:

        Assuming there was one car and 99 goats before, there are now two doors, one with a car and one with a goat. Right? Supposing you had made no choice before, and he had eliminated 98 doors at random–excluding the winning door–you would be left with two doors, one good and one bad. IE, it would be the same scenario, and it wouldn’t matter which one you chose. The problem seems to be implying that something about the prior act of choice “contaminates” one door with bad juju for having been chosen at lower odds beforehand. I can easily accept that you have better odds selecting one of two doors rather than one of a larger number; that’s obvious. What I don’t get is why “I choose A” is not a one-in-two choice as well.

        EDIT n/m, I got it below, thanks.

        • dodrian says:

          Supposing you had made no choice before, and he had eliminated 98 doors at random–excluding the winning door–you would be left with two doors, one good and one bad. IE, it would be the same scenario, and it wouldn’t matter which one you chose. The

          I think this is your conceptual mistake – this is not the same scenario.

          In the 99/100 cases where you didn’t choose the prize at first, the host does not randomly open doors. The host opens all doors except the one with the car behind it – they have no choice in which doors they can open – you made that choice for them already.

        • toastengineer says:

          The problem seems to be implying that something about the prior act of choice “contaminates” one door with bad juju for having been chosen at lower odds beforehand.

          I think I just got it – like dodrian said, the one you picked IS “contaminated” because Monty won’t open it.

          • theredsheep says:

            I got it, and reasoned it out in a reply to Doolittle below. But thanks.

          • pjs says:

            Not really, the one you picked isn’t ‘contaminated’; quite the opposite – it has the same chance of a prize as it always had. It’s the other door Monty offers that becomes ‘blessed.’

            Think of the 100 door case, but suppose that Monty opens none of the other 99 and just says: stay as you are (1 in a 100% chance of prize), or ‘switch’ and get the car if it’s under _any_ of the other 99 (99% chance). This simpler game also makes it easy to see the importance of the rules: if Monty _has_ to always offer you this deal, the numbers are as above, but if Monty can choose whether to do so maybe he only offers this deal when he knows you already have the prize (evil!). The normal puzzle assumes that Monty has to do what he does, but this isn’t always stated.

            First satisfy your intuition in the “stay with the one I picked” vs “get the prize if any of the other 99 have it” first, which should be easy. (And has the bonus of making vivid the importance of assuming that Monty has no arbitrary choice in what he does.)

            Then realize that “opening 98 goat doors (*) and offering you the remaining one” is exactly the same as offering you all 99 chances. He’s carefully selected one door, but because of how it’s done it’s essentially a stand-in for the prize-winning possibilities of _all_ 99 doors.

            (*) Assuming Monty knows they are goat doors. If he opens 98 doors at random, and they all happen to be goats, you are in a different situation again.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      It has to do with your original guess. Since you are much more likely to have picked a goat than a car on your first pick, you’re at a statistical disadvantage that doesn’t go away when Monty removes the second goat. You picked A, which was 66% likely to be a goat. It’s still 66% likely to be a goat after Monty removes one option, because he knows and always removes a goat after you pick. He doesn’t remove a random option, and he knows which one is a goat.

      You’re moving from 66% goat to 50% goat.

      • theredsheep says:

        Okay, let me reason this through. Label the doors Car, Goat A, and Goat B (though the goats are interchangeable). All three choices are assumed equally likely.

        If I pick Car, he eliminates Goat A or Goat B, and I should not switch.
        If I pick Goat A, he eliminates Goat B, and I should switch.
        If I pick Goat B, he eliminates Goat A, and I should switch.

        … that makes a lot more sense. Okay, I’m good. Thanks!

        • John Schilling says:

          Also, note that this rests on the unstated rule that Monty Hall must always reveal a door with a goat, when the problem as usually stated does not assert or require such a rule. Wikipedia, of course, describes the winning strategies for a range of possible rules consistent with the problem statement, and switching isn’t always the game-theoretic optimal choice.

          Actual Monty Hall applied the rule, “open a door, or not, based on my perfect knowledge of the doors and maximizing a utility function based on TV ratings, the network’s prize budget, and my personal enjoyment”. Now the problem is one of psychology and economics. Have fun.

          • Deiseach says:

            maximizing a utility function based on TV ratings, the network’s prize budget, and my personal enjoyment

            That still gives you a good chance of winning by switching doors. The point of the guessing game with the doors is to increase tension/suspense, and the point of that is to get and keep the audience watching – you see the same effect at work in other quiz-game shows, where it’s down to the final question, the contestant picks their answer out of A, B, C or D and instead of “yes you’re right/no you’re wrong” the host pauses for a recap of the rules, restates the position up to now (“George, you scored nine out of twelve perfect rounds, you got 90% correct answers in the last round, and now you are one round away from the grand prize of sixteen waterbuffalo”) and inserts as many pauses and “are you sure? do you want to change? are you positive?” as they can get away with before revealing “yes you’re right/no youre wrong”.

            Somebody has to win the grand prize sometime. If every week Monty reveals the wrong door and nobody ever wins, then nobody is going to bother applying to enter and audiences won’t watch because nobody ever winning is boring. If Monty reveals the right door every week, the prize budget is blown, the sponsors are not happy at paying out so much, and that’s boring too for the audience.

            So the show has to judge a mix of “losing versus winning shows” and you can estimate based on that: did someone win the grand prize last week? Then it’s more likely Monty will try and steer you to the losing door this week. Has there been a relatively long streak of losing shows? Then it’s more likely Monty will try and steer you to the winning door this week.

            You can throw “the host’s personal enjoyment” into the mix as well; if they genuinely are/play the part of the nice, Santa Claus-type host who commiserates with the losers on their bad luck, then they can get away with letting people win more often (even two winners in a row). If they’re the stern, slightly sadistic type, they get away with slightly more losing than winning shows particularly as people will tune in to see if they get beaten by the canny winning contestant this week, in this case building suspense works in their favour.

          • Aapje says:

            @Deiseach

            So the show has to judge a mix of “losing versus winning shows” and you can estimate based on that: did someone win the grand prize last week? Then it’s more likely Monty will try and steer you to the losing door this week. Has there been a relatively long streak of losing shows? Then it’s more likely Monty will try and steer you to the winning door this week.

            That works for a viewer, but shows tend to be taped back to back (the host & other permanent fixtures tend to bring many clothes or will be provided many clothes, so they make it look like shows were taped on different days).

            So as a contestant, to apply that strategy you generally need to get information about the past results from the show creators and can’t just watch the TV.

          • Lillian says:

            Actual Monty Hall applied the rule, “open a door, or not, based on my perfect knowledge of the doors and maximizing a utility function based on TV ratings, the network’s prize budget, and my personal enjoyment”. Now the problem is one of psychology and economics. Have fun.

            You missed one element. The entire time you were troubling yourself over the doors, Monty Hall would be offering you a substantial sum of cash (though significantly less than the value of the car) to walk away. According to the man himself, the optimal strategy was to take the cash, because he was pretty good at tricking those who didn’t into getting the goat.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        You aren’t going from 2/3rds goat to 1/2 goat. You’re going from 2/3rds goat to 1/3rd goat.

      • Baeraad says:

        … okay, that actually makes sense.

        • wk says:

          It’s wrong, though. By always switching, you end up with even better odds than 50-50; you actually have a (slightly better than) 66% of winning the price.

          They way I like to explain it goes as follows: When you switch, you have two doors left to choose from, one with a price and one without. So switching always changes the outcome of the game, regardless of your first choice. If you had a goat originally, after switching you get the price; if you started with a price, the switch means you get the goat. Since this works always, no matter what, switching is nothing but a way to flip the odds. And since there’s only one price and three doors, your original guess is a 1-in-3 guess, meaning on average you’re right only once in three games, and twice you’re left with the goat. That’s why you want to switch, since the switch flipps those odds, and transforms a game where you’re right only 1/3 of the time in a game where you’re right 2/3 times.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I was thinking of the situation as an iterated approach, but I see that you are correct. You are essentially adding the 1/3 and 1/3 chances that the two closed doors originally had, since Monty removes only the bad portion. You made the 33% chance originally, but can then swap your 33% for the 66% (combine of both other doors). What I had suggested was more like backing up and now looking at two doors with no prior knowledge, but since we do have prior knowledge that Monty’s door is double-likely to be the car, we should definitely switch.

          • wk says:

            I should also add that, as several other commentators have already pointed out, it matters a lot precisely how the moderator chooses which, if any, door to open. Or in other words, how the MH problem is stated. If you truly only have the information given in the original question, meaning you’re in some game show, you chose a door, the moderator then opened another door with a goat and gave you the choice to switch, then you can’t make an optimal choice without making some additional assumptions on the moderators behaviour. For instance, the moderator could have offered you the switch only because your original choice was already good, and wouldn’t have done so otherwise. In which case my solution obviously fails.

          • Don P. says:

            It’s amazing how much of the confusion in this question comes from the fact that it leaves out the key fact that Monty is deliberately never opening the prize door; it’s also amazing how faithfully this problem is reposted around the internet, time and again, with that key fact still missing. It’s as if what is really wanted is the disagreement…

          • John Schilling says:

            The fact that Monty often chooses not to open any other door at all is just as crucial, and just as frequently omitted by people who are looking for an argument.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Just like the old airplane on a treadmill, a meme designed perfectly for replication

    • sty_silver says:

      I wrote a blog post about this some time ago, trying to explain it the way I think is most intuitive. Maybe you find it helpful? Apologies in advance about the tone if you take issue with it.

      One thing I really emphasize in the post is that it depends on how the door that was revealed has been chosen. This is crucial. If the way the revealed door was chosen is not specified, then the problem is unsolvable. Moreover, I think it’s impossible to understand the problem without understanding why this matters.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      1. How does he magically increase the chance that you originally guessed right by opening another door? If you had a 1/3 chance of being right when you originally guessed, he can’t retroactively make that a 1/2 chance unless he is a sorcerer.

      2. Take a variant game: you pick a door. Then you get a chance to choose both of the other doors, instead. Obviously both of the other doors is better than the one door you have, right? That’s intuitive? But it’s the same game as this one.

    • A1987dM says:

      The host does not open a door at random, but knows which door contains the car and deliberately opens one that doesn’t.

    • Deiseach says:

      It makes little sense to me either, but I think it depends on what door Monty opens. You pick A, that leaves B and C. Monty knows which door of B or C has the car behind it. If he picks C first (because he definitely knows C has a goat instead of a car behind it), that means the chance that B has the car goes up. Likewise, if he opened door B first instead, that would bump up the chance of C being the winning door. So the door Monty leaves closed, not the one he opens, is the important door.

      • CatCube says:

        They way I like to think of it is that the only way that switching will lose is if you happened to pick the door with the prize on your first try. So the odds of you losing by switching are 1/3, and the inverse, winning, is 2/3.

        This is most evident using the “100 door” version discussed above. If you picked the prize on your first pick (1% chance), then switching to the other door after Monty has opened the other 98 will lose. However, if you picked a goat (99%), then switching after Monty has opened the other 98 doors, you will win.

        • smocc says:

          A ha! Thank you!

          I’ve been able to prove the result to myself before (Baye’s theorem is pretty helpful for this), but I’ve never been able to feel it intuitively and this works great.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      There’s actually a book cleverly titled “The Monty Hall Problem” that works through several versions of this puzzle. I thought it was pretty good.

    • rahien.din says:

      The “reveal the goat” bit is a red herring. The Monty Hall problem is as follows :

      So there’s three doors, A, B, and C. Two with goats, one with a car. Monty offers you the choice of picking A alone, or, picking B&C. If you pick B&C and the car is behind either of those doors, then you win the car.

      When Monty shows you the goat, he hasn’t really revealed any new information – since there is only one car, either B or C (or both) must have a goat. But by opening that door, Monty makes it look like you’re picking between A and B, with C eliminated. You’re really picking between A and B&C.

    • Erusian says:

      First, let’s brute force it. There are three configurations:
      CGG
      GCG
      GGC

      There are also three options, leading to nine post-choice states. (Parenthesis represents your door here.)
      (C)GG
      (G)CG
      (G)GC
      C(G)G
      G(C)G
      G(G)C
      CG(G)
      GC(G)
      GG(C)

      Monty Hall then always reveals a goat. (Brackets represent Hall’s reveal here)
      (C)G[G]
      (G)C[G]
      (G)[G]C
      C(G)[G]
      G(C)[G]
      [G](G)C
      C[G](G)
      [G]C(G)
      G[G](C)

      So, if you switch:
      Lose
      Win
      Win
      Win
      Lose
      Win
      Win
      Win
      Lose

      Six wins, three losses. 2/3rds.

      Why is this true? Because the original question is finding which door has a car. However, after Monty reveals the goat, the question is whether you chose a goat initially. If you chose a goat initially, switching means getting the car because those are the only two options left. And you had a 2/3rds chance of picking a goat initially.

      Basically, it’s a property of an iterated game that does not exist in a single round game. That is why it’s a bit mind bending. If Hall just revealed the door at the beginning it would indeed only increase your chances to 50%. But because he waits for you to choose and then reveals the door, it increases your chances to 66.6%.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Why is this true? Because the original question is finding which door has a car. However, after Monty reveals the goat, the question is whether you chose a goat initially. If you chose a goat initially, switching means getting the car because those are the only two options left. And you had a 2/3rds chance of picking a goat initially.

        Nice. Good points.

  30. Illuminatus major says:

    I have a writing prompt that was rejected from r/writingprompts for being about politics.

    One day politics will transcend the primitive act of speech and politicians will communicate by distributing simulations of the society that they promise.

    Optional sub-prompts: Maybe these simulations update in reaction to each other’s updates, as though a conversation between worlds. Maybe people will upload let’s plays. Maybe the simulations allow players to investigate or ask questions and maybe if you explore too deeply then you start getting really absurd results.

    • beleester says:

      There’s an old text adventure called A Mind Forever Voyaging with a similar premise: You’re an AI living in a simulation, intended to test the effects of a political party’s plans. It looks promising at first, but once you’ve been in it for a while, the simulation gets enough data to jump 10 years in the future, and things start to look grim…

  31. Plumber says:

    My big (usual) political question:

    How to get things more like 1973 (high wages even for non-college educated men, cheap housing, cheap college for those that go, cheap hospital visits, after Jim Crow, but before Neo-liberalism/Reaganism/Thatcherism so a pre-90’s “welfare as we know it safety net”, before divorce was common, before the smell of marijuana was common on sidewalks, and before mass homelessness).

    Please don’t answer with “have a world war”, 1973 was more than a generation after.

    • Atlas says:

      Steve Sailer/Pat Buchanan’s answer: restrict immigration.

      I’m not sure that I’d endorse this myself, but it is a novel, by the standards of mainstream discourse, suggestion about the relationship between wages, housing prices and social trust.

    • Statismagician says:

      An issue is that the problems you mention are the result of secular trends combined with suboptimal policy. We could (and should) have kept institutional mental health care where needed, not massively over-emphasized college education, and disincentivized the litigation-happy legal climate surrounding health care, but that doesn’t solve increased automation of manufacturing, and I don’t think there’s anything you can do about divorce that doesn’t lead to some fairly repugnant conclusions.

      Avoiding the War on Drugs would probably have done a lot of good, too, but that doesn’t help with your marijuana problem (although, personally, I think cigarettes smell worse and smashed beer bottles are more dangerous, plus the whole regulatory consistency problem of allowing two at least equally-bad substances).

      So, I propose we institute a US NHS including mental institutions* (provides employment and can reduce degree inflation by example, may plausibly keep net costs down to at least some degree, gets the most unpleasant class of homeless people into hospitals and out from under the highway); strongly push for mixed-use development over single-use (will at least increase homes/unit area, and support foot-traffic-dependent small businesses); come up with some sort of legal/regulatory tools to prevent national chains from taking everything over (Walmart et. al., maybe something from the antitrust sphere?), and subsidize skilled-trades education over the bifurcated factory job/college degree unofficial tracking system we’ve got now. Have the land grant universities offer free tuition to people who perform well on some objective measure; the private ones can do whatever they like, but the Federal government doesn’t offer lots of free money to anybody who can fill out a FAFSA.

      While we’re at it, try to set up some kind of incentive to keep regulatory complexity down. Maybe government department heads get a bonus which varies inversely with the number of pages pertaining to their portfolio, I don’t know; it should be very easy to start a business/understand the laws relating to it, is the idea.

      Pitfalls include: this will all be very expensive, and it’s not apparent from within the system that tax payments in this situation are less than (tax+insurance+student loans+various economic disfunctions) are in our real-life one, if indeed they really would have been. Probably only diminishes, rather than prevents the problems you’re concerned about. May have missed something very important due to author limitations.

      *There will, obviously, need to be massive reforms to the institutions as part of this.

      • cassander says:

        So, I propose we institute a US NHS including mental institutions*

        The US has an NHS, it’s called the VA, and it’s a disaster. And yes, you asterisk we will need “major reforms”, but this is like saying in 2001, that we just need to go into iraq, make some major reforms, and everything will be great. You can’t gloss over implementation like that, especially when we have very similar institutions like the VA that have spent decades not making those sorts of reforms. Your argument amounts to “we’ll get it right this time, just trust us.” No, I won’t. How about you prove those reforms can work on our existing institutions, before asking me to trust you with even more money and power?

        • Statismagician says:

          The VA is not a national health service, it’s a poorly-managed understaffed mess trying to do too much without sufficient cost-effectiveness oversight. All of this falls directly out of it being specifically for veterans, with the accompanying uniquely medically-complex and noncompliant patient population, mandated* insufficient/inefficient hiring and contracting policies, and political impossibility of effective management because ‘think of the troops’. The actual modern British NHS is at least not worse (confounding from European vs. American lifestyles) and definitely does cost much less per capita than our modern system, and the goal here is to provide jobs, control costs, and restrict degree inflation compared to our historical track since 1973. If you want to talk about how to fix the modern health care environment, we can do that too – broadly speaking, I’m for Medicare for everybody as long as the new program is allowed to bargain properly – but it’s not really germane to this topic.

          *The VA must purchase medical supplies from veteran-owned businesses, even if that business is some guy buying perfectly standard equipment from a standard wholesaler and then selling it on to the VA at a 15% markup (anecdata, but a real thing that has really happened more than once according to people I trust). It has to hire ex-military applicants when possible, which significantly distorts the talent pool available to fill positions.

          • cassander says:

            The VA is not a national health service,

            It is a national health sevice. It’s not universal, but it absolutely is a national health service.

            it’s a poorly-managed understaffed mess trying to do too much without sufficient cost-effectiveness oversight.

            And your American Health Service (AHS) would, of course, not be a poorly-managed understaffed mess trying to do too much without sufficient cost-effectiveness oversight. For…reasons, I’m sure.

            All of this falls directly out of it being specifically for veterans, with the accompanying uniquely medically-complex and noncompliant patient population, mandated* insufficient/inefficient hiring and contracting policies, and political impossibility of effective management because ‘think of the troops’.

            Frankly, bullshit. the VA population is slightly different from other populations, but it’s not worse. It’s better in some ways (better physical fitness on average) and worse than others (a lot more physical trauma.) It’s problems are more fundamental than that, extremely basic managerial failures that exist in all government institutions and would certainly exist in your AHS.

            The actual modern British NHS is at least not worse (confounding from European vs. American lifestyles) and definitely does cost much less per capita than our modern system, and definitely does cost much less per capita than our modern system, and the goal here is to provide jobs, control costs, and restrict degree inflation compared to our historical track since 1973

            First, the AHS will be, at an absolute minimum, 6 times the size of the NHS. that’s a minimum of 10 million people, and probably more given the diseconomies of scale that would ensue. It would be the largest institution in the world, almost as big as the entire ww2 era army. It’s an insane thing to create.

            Second, it will do nothing to conflate degree inflation. If anything, it will make the process worse, given how much government hiring relies on and rewards credentialism.

            Third, there is zero chance that it will control costs. You’re creating an institution that makes the existing pentagon look like a small business and vesting it with enormous funding. How on earth is that going to result in less spending, especially when, politically, it is impossible to create such an institution without guaranteeing all the existing providers a deal at least as good as the one they’re currently getting.

            I’m for Medicare for everybody as long as the new program is allowed to bargain properly – but it’s not really germane to this topic.

            This is an admission that you don’t know how medicare financing works. negotiation doesn’t enter into it.

            *The VA must purchase medical supplies from veteran-owned businesses, even if that business is some guy buying perfectly standard equipment from a standard wholesaler and then selling it on to the VA at a 15% markup (anecdata, but a real thing that has really happened more than once according to people I trust). It has to hire ex-military applicants when possible, which significantly distorts the talent pool available to fill positions.

            Yep, just like all government agencies are instructed to buy certain amounts of goods from small businesses, minorities, veterans, and multiple other politically popular groups, with the same results.

            Again, I have to ask, if you can’t make these stupid rules go away for the VA, why on earth do you think you’ll be able to get them to go away for the AHS? they’re the natural result of congress pandering to the photogenic. How about you implement your plan to stop that from happening, THEN try to centrally plan 1/5 of the economy?

          • Statismagician says:

            @cassander

            It is a national health sevice. It’s not universal, but it absolutely is a national health service.

            You know perfectly well what I meant; no points for needless pedantry.

            Frankly, bullshit. the VA population is slightly different from other populations, but it’s not worse. It’s better in some ways (better physical fitness on average) and worse than others (a lot more physical trauma.) It’s problems are more fundamental than that, extremely basic managerial failures that exist in all government institutions and would certainly exist in your AHS.

            Here’s the VA itself and Kaiser showing very nearly equal per capita spending for the VA and Medicare populations in 2014 (last data year for both sources). Here’s NPR giving some examples of how weirdly distorted that VA figure is by geography and unavoidably missed services because hey, guess what, it’s not cost effective to do veterans-only health care at the national scale.

            First, the AHS will be, at an absolute minimum, 6 times the size of the NHS. that’s a minimum of 10 million people, and probably more given the diseconomies of scale that would ensue. It would be the largest institution in the world, almost as big as the entire ww2 era army. It’s an insane thing to create.

            As, per Kaiser again, that 10 million person figure would be a net ~30% efficiency improvement; I’m fine with it. We already live in crazy bureaucracy land, it’s just hugely and competitively decentralized and therefore mutually-incompatible and repetitive.

            Second, it will do nothing to conflate degree inflation. If anything, it will make the process worse, given how much government hiring relies on and rewards credentialism.

            Since the whole point of this subthread is to address problems including that, I rather assumed I had some ability to specify the hiring policies of an organization I myself created to do exactly this. Which goal I specifically mentioned directly above. You dummy.

            Third, there is zero chance that it will control costs. You’re creating an institution that makes the existing pentagon look like a small business and vesting it with enormous funding. How on earth is that going to result in less spending, especially when, politically, it is impossible to create such an institution without guaranteeing all the existing providers a deal at least as good as the one they’re currently getting.

            According to Her Majesty’s Government, and among many places Kaiser again, you’re quite wrong.

            In re: Medicare financing, I very specifically specified that I wanted any hypothetical universal program to be able to bargain ‘properly.’ I assumed you would assume I didn’t mean to imply ‘properly=exactly as it currently does, never mind all the nonsense, inefficiency, and waste, and even though I literally just finished critiquing government health spending policy.’ Apparently this was too charitable. Would you care to try again?

            Yep, just like all government agencies are instructed to buy certain amounts of goods from small businesses, minorities, veterans, and multiple other politically popular groups, with the same results.

            I don’t believe you understand the scope of the problem. Other agencies have quotas; the VA has a mandate. In any case, broadening the scope of people-who-care-about-potential-American-NHS-equivalent reduces this problem as various interest groups cancel each other out.

            Again, I have to ask, if you can’t make these stupid rules go away for the VA, why on earth do you think you’ll be able to get them to go away for the AHS? they’re the natural result of congress pandering to the photogenic. How about you implement your plan to stop that from happening, THEN try to centrally plan 1/5 of the economy?

            You cannot possibly be so blind as to miss the fact that a relatively small interest group with almost sole interest in a specific agency will end up with nearly complete control of that agency (within the bounds of lobbying influence). No proper small-scale trials have been conducted in this country of which I am aware, and the large-scale one which springs to mind was broadly very successful, c.f. links above.

          • cassander says:

            You know perfectly well what I meant; no points for needless pedantry.

            It’s not pedantry. the VA functions in a manner very similar to the NHS, it’s absolutely the best comparison for your

            Here’s the VA itself and Kaiser showing very nearly equal per capita spending for the VA and Medicare populations in 2014 (last data year for both sources).

            Which was precisely my point.

            As, per Kaiser again, that 10 million person figure would be a net ~30% efficiency improvement; I’m fine with it.

            the 10 million figure was not an estimate for how many people it would take, it was to demonstrate the order of magnitude you’re talking about.

            We already live in crazy bureaucracy land, it’s just hugely and competitively decentralized and therefore mutually-incompatible and repetitive.

            That’s not even CLOSE to how bureaucracy works. a lot of small bureaucracies are almost always going to be smaller than one large one, because bureaucracy gets less efficient with scale.

            Since the whole point of this subthread is to address problems including that, I rather assumed I had some ability to specify the hiring policies of an organization I myself created to do exactly this. Which goal I specifically mentioned directly above. You dummy.

            I’m sorry, no, you don’t just get to assume that the entire culture of american government and the laws governing the civil service change over night without mentioning it.

            According to Her Majesty’s Government, and among many places Kaiser again, you’re quite wrong.

            Pointing out that other countries spend less is NOT evidence that adopting their system in america will result in cost savings, especially when we already have a version of the american system and it doesn’t show those savings.

            >In re: Medicare financing, I very specifically specified that I wanted any hypothetical universal program to be able to bargain ‘properly.’

            Yes, that’s the problem. You are magically assuming competence and hand waving away all the difficulties as if they’re minor details. they’re not.

            I don’t believe you understand the scope of the problem. Other agencies have quotas; the VA has a mandate. In any case, broadening the scope of people-who-care-about-potential-American-NHS-equivalent reduces this problem as various interest groups cancel each other out.

            This is literally the opposite of how governments work. concentrated interests win out over diffuse ones nine times out of 10. federalist 10 doesn’t trump two centuries of evidence to the contrary.

            You cannot possibly be so blind as to miss the fact that a relatively small interest group with almost sole interest in a specific agency will end up with nearly complete control of that agency (within the bounds of lobbying influence).

            Thank you for explaining precisely what’s wrong with your proposal,the medical providers care the most and will rig the system to benefit them at the expense of everyone else. Would you like to try again?

          • bean says:

            Here’s the VA itself and Kaiser showing very nearly equal per capita spending for the VA and Medicare populations in 2014 (last data year for both sources).

            You do know that Medicare pays the VA for services provided to eligible veterans, right? And particularly given that the veteran population as a whole is pretty old (the WWII generation is dying off, but you still have a lot of people from the Vietnam era who did 2-year terms, vs now when 4+ is more common), I suspect that medicare rates dominate the VA population.

        • Statismagician says:

          @cassander

          Which was precisely my point.

          Then your point is unclear; how does it serve your argument if this allegedly-normal population costs as much as the set of the very old and the disabled?

          the 10 million figure was not an estimate for how many people it would take, it was to demonstrate the order of magnitude you’re talking about.

          What, the order we already operate at, and that with demonstrably-inefficient care and sub-par outcomes?

          That’s not even CLOSE to how bureaucracy works. a lot of small bureaucracies are almost always going to be smaller than one large one, because bureaucracy gets less efficient with scale.

          Citation, please; extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If nothing else we can save money on the upper management, and insulate the professional ranks from political appointees.

          I’m sorry, no, you don’t just get to assume that the entire culture of american government and the laws governing the civil service change over night without mentioning it.

          No, you’re assuming I’m trying to fight a modern best-policy battle here, even though I’ve specifically said I’m not several times, and I wish you’d stop it. This is about the set of things that might have been done decades ago to preserve the then-prevailing conditions; I’d love to discuss either that question or the set of things which we ought to do now to improve the health care system, not both or either as you please.

          Pointing out that other countries spend less is NOT evidence that adopting their system in america will result in cost savings, especially when we already have a version of the american system and it doesn’t show those savings.

          No, we bloody well haven’t; we have a system treating disproportionately expensive patients which is still (if only just) cheaper than our existing elder-and-disabled-care program.

          Insurance works by distributing costs due to sickness over the healthy subscribing population. By basic mathematics, it’s cheaper per capita the more relatively-healthy people you bring under the same scheme; therefore a national insurance plan (the one I said I support in the real world! This is a weird hypothetical case! You dummy!) is by definition cheaper than any smaller one given equal accessibility.

          Yes, that’s the problem. You are magically assuming competence and hand waving away all the difficulties as if they’re minor details. they’re not.

          Come again? These are not in fact that complex a set of issues, we’re just supposed to think they are so that various lobbying firms can stay in the black.

          Thank you for explaining precisely what’s wrong with your proposal,the medical providers care the most and will rig the system to benefit them at the expense of everyone else. Would you like to try again?

          Would you? So far you’ve blamed me even though this post is very explicitly not about my own ideal solution to modern health care problems; the VA even though empirically its patients are disproportionately complex; and the concept of government programs generally even though similar ones are cheaper in at least one comparable nation.

          • cassander says:

            Citation, please; extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If nothing else we can save money on the upper management, and insulate the professional ranks from political appointees.

            Literally the entirety of management and organization theory. large organizations have MORE management than small ones, not less. you’re the one making extraordinary claims, not me, and that you don’t know that is extremely telling.

            Insurance works by distributing costs due to sickness over the healthy subscribing population. By basic mathematics, it’s cheaper per capita the more relatively-healthy people you bring under the same scheme; therefore a national insurance plan (the one I said I support in the real world! This is a weird hypothetical case! You dummy!) is by definition cheaper than any smaller one given equal accessibility.

            You are making a very fundamental mathematical error, confusing average cost with total costs. Covering more people doesn’t lower total costs. if half your population costs X and the other half Y, your total cost is 1/2(X+Y). herding more people into one insurance pool doesn’t change that math. Pooling is something insurers do for their benefit, it has nothing to do with total medical costs.

            In sum, you have no idea what you’re talking about, and can’t manage to be civil. I’m willing to try educate the civil and ignorant, and I’ll try to learn from the knowledgeable and snarky, but I’m not going to waste any more time on you.

          • johan_larson says:

            I don’t think that last paragraph does you credit, cassander. Hope you really really had to get that off your chest.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            the one I said I support in the real world! This is a weird hypothetical case! You dummy!

            you have no idea what you’re talking about, and can’t manage to be civil. I’m willing to try educate the civil and ignorant, and I’ll try to learn from the knowledgeable and snarky, but I’m not going to waste any more time on you.

            Please stop. It’s unpleasant. 🙁

          • Chalid says:

            large organizations have MORE management than small ones, not less.

            I don’t know much of anything about organization theory, but this looks to me to be different from the kind of overall organizational efficiency that Statismagician is talking about. My understanding is that large organizations might have more management per employee, generally, but they may also be more efficient. If you merge two equally sized corporations, you might imagine that the HR department of the new combined company might have 1.4 times as many employees as each of the original companies, and 1.6 times as many managers.

            In general, I’d expect that large organizations have advantages from increased bureaucratic specialization leading to more expertise, along with better opportunities to take advantage of automation of bureaucratic processes. And I’d expect that small organizations benefit from more flexibility and less management. So where you end up depends on the details of how the industry works. Would love to learn more though.

          • Statismagician says:

            I apologize for my tone. Other bits of the internet where I spend a lot of time are more confrontational than we’re supposed to be here; I got carried away.

            cassander, we’re clearly operating from very different definitions and first principles; this is not the thread to hash that out but if you’d like to continue in a different subthread or by email or something I’d be happy to do so.

          • cassander says:

            @Chalid says:

            In general, I’d expect that large organizations have advantages from increased bureaucratic specialization leading to more expertise, along with better opportunities to take advantage of automation of bureaucratic processes. And I’d expect that small organizations benefit from more flexibility and less management. So where you end up depends on the details of how the industry works. Would love to learn more though.

            In a word, no. What you say makes sense in theory, but in practice it doesn’t happen. Your double sized company ends up requiring at least as many people in HR to do all the work plus extra people on top to manage them. And there’s a more subtle problem than just extra layers on top, the more people you have the more time in general needs to be devoted to coordinating them. In a small company, the engineer just talks to the marketing guy. In the large company, the engineer has to write up his ideas, get them approved by his boss, transmitted to the marketing team, where they get disseminated to the marketers. People generate work for one another.

            Economies of scale exist, but there are also large diseconomies of scale, and the idea that “doing it all bigger will make it cheaper” is fallacious. Every industry has an optimum firm size, and that optimum tends to be higher where you have high ratios of capital to labor, like car manufacturing. It’s lower in industries where you have expensive, uncoordinated labor. To take a trivial example, think of the world we have for psychology, dominated by a lot of small practitioners running their own shops. Does anyone thing there are huge economies of scale if we forced them all into a national psychology service and ran it centrally? Where could they even come from, really large bulk orders of note pads?

            The rest of medicine is more like that than, say, auto manufacturing. Centralize everything and you still need all the same services you have now in the same locations, plus a lot of extra people on top to manage them, plus complicating everyone’s day to day work, plus the rigidity that comes from a monopoly with no competition. You don’t really even eliminate insurers, because you’re going to need most of those people in the billing department of your new service.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I still think Cass’s most important point holds:

            You are handwaving away the implementation, which is the most important thing, and is the thing the US Federal Government is notoriously bad at compared even to other first world governments (because the US Constitution is designed explicitly not to have such huge bureaucracies).

          • Chalid says:

            I’m skeptical.

            Improving the efficiency of firms by reducing duplication is often cited as a justification for a merger, both by firms and by academics studying the topic. I don’t think they’re all wrong or trying to fool investors.

            Anecdotally, layoffs in “redundant” departments seem to very often follow mergers.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            That will depend on whether the firms are in the same industry and how closely related they are. A single corporate board can oversee multiple companies with the same work, but may know nothing about even semi-related work. I would expect a Google acquisition of Exxon to reduce almost no employees, but require an oversight mechanism to integrate anything.

            Exxon buying Mobil – lots of redundancy and potential cost-savings.

          • cassander says:

            @Chalid says:

            Improving the efficiency of firms by reducing duplication is often cited as a justification for a merger, both by firms and by academics studying the topic. I don’t think they’re all wrong or trying to fool investors.

            Anecdotally, layoffs in “redundant” departments seem to very often follow mergers.

            The purpose of companies is to expand and grow, not to maximize profit per employee. Making more money overall is a win even if you get less per employee. The best mergers are those with (A) compatible types of business and (B) minimal redundancy. Yes, there are often overlaps with things like payroll, but usually lots of people from the payroll department of company B will get absorbed by that of A, and if not, payroll A will usually expand. After all, the main reason to buy a company is because you think that it is doing profitable things and want them to do profitable things for you. You generally don’t buy companies where you think large swathes of the workers should be laid off.

            Mr. Doolittle’s point is also well taken.

          • Chalid says:

            No, buying a company because you think you can improve its performance (often through layoffs) is absolutely a reason companies get bought and/or reorganized.

            You do not just buy a company that’s doing profitable things and hope they do those same profitable things for you. In a generally efficient market the you have to pay as much for those profitable things as they would be worth to you (and here in the real world you’d have to pay much much more than the efficient market price).

            The argument for mergers is that they *create* value; the merged company can do something better than the two separate companies could have. And while there are lots of possible ways that that can happen, very often one of the arguments by the acquirer is “we can lay off lots of people.” This isn’t some obscure thing – any news story on a merger is likely to mention the acquirer’s plans to “increase operational efficiency” i.e. fire people.

          • cassander says:

            @chalid

            The mergers you read about in the papers are an extremely un-representative sample. And, as I said, economies of scale do exist, but that doesn’t mean diseconomies don’t. There’s always a theoretical optimum firm size. I didn’t mean to imply that companies never get bought with intent to re-organize, just that the less you need to change the company you’re buying, the better. Buying to reorganize is a high risk option, and tends to be done by specialists or by large companies with cash to burn. Much better to, e.g. buy a company that does what you do, but has a lot of clients in places you don’t.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @ Chalid

            To be honest, I think most of the value created in mergers comes from exercising monopoly power/reducing competition. This certainly has been the case of the recent trend of merging hospitals/healthcare systems.

            Others like Youtube/Instagram purchases are simply customer acquisitions where Google/Facebook took their other tech (ads) and applied it to a new set of customers. They increased value by bringing value to a place that would have had to replicate 100% of Facebook/Googles ad team.

          • Aapje says:

            @Chalid

            I have been told that various studies of mergers found that the majority is not successful.

            In general, I would suggest not trusting that management’s actions are necessarily beneficial to the company, because people are often irrational and various incentives exist that drive companies to merge regardless of the ‘synergy.’

          • Chalid says:

            @Aapje

            I have been told that various studies of mergers found that the majority is not successful.

            My understanding is that the research you’re alluding to claims that the acquirer on average *overpays*, which is really a different question. (Overpayment makes the merger a failure from the perspective of the acquirer’s shareholders, but that’s not really relevant to this discussion.)

            I absolutely agree that you can’t take management’s word for it, but most companies really do do cost-cutting post merger.

          • Chalid says:

            @cassander

            This report claims that the fraction of employees in HR falls as organization size rises.

            “For example, small organizations had a significantly higher HR-toemployee ratio of 3.40, compared with medium and large organizations that had ratios of 1.22 and 1.03, respectively… A large HR-to-employee ratio for small organizations suggests that it takes a minimum number of HR employees to deliver core HR services, such as recruiting, benefits and employee relations. But once a minimum number of HR staff members are hired, the incremental amount of HR FTEs required to support large organizations does not increase at the same rate…”

            There are similar findings about total HR expense on page 4. Also, the fraction of management needed falls with increasing firm size!

            This agrees with my priors about large firm bureaucratic efficiency, is there any reason I shouldn’t believe it?

            Granted there are confounders (most importantly it’s not normalized by industry) but it’s hard for me to see that changing the overall picture.

          • Aapje says:

            @Chalid

            Sure, but they also commonly hire new people. It’s not cost-cutting if you fire 3 people and hire 3. That’s just reorganization.

            Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for companies to go through hire & fire cycles, where they gradually hire people and then cut the chaff in a big swoop and then gradually hire people again, etc.

            Then if companies tend to align their fire phase with the merger, it may seem like cost-cutting due to the merger, even though those benefits would also happen without the merger if they had cut down on their staff at that point.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @ Chalid

            A large HR-to-employee ratio for small organizations suggests that it takes a minimum number of HR employees to deliver core HR services, such as recruiting, benefits and employee relations.

            This is accurate, but may be a bit misleading. HR employees at small companies tend to get thrown the kitchen sink of any regulatory burden the company doesn’t know what to do with, as well as pretty much anything else vaguely office-related that doesn’t have an obvious home. They often do payroll (Accounting), Safety, Environmental, Training, and other functions that larger companies can hire specific individuals to handle. In terms of direct HR functionality, many smaller companies either outsource what their employees do not personally know, or accept doing a poor job.

            To do an apples-to-apples comparison, it may be necessary to talk duties and find out how much of that HR ratio is “pure HR” verses things that a larger company would put into a separate department.

          • Chalid says:

            @Aapje

            What would you say is the epistemic status of your most recent post? If it’s something along the lines of “it’s an idea I find vaguely plausible” then I’ll just say that my prior would be that to the extent that there’s hiring post-merger, it’s not in the same departments where there’s firing, but rather the hiring takes place where the merged company is trying to do something more ambitious.

          • Chalid says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            I’m skeptical that what you’re saying explains a factor-of-three difference. And I also don’t think it explains the continued drop in HR employee ratio and expense ratio as you go from mid-size to large companies. (And if small companies just do a poor job, then that’s a factor in favor of large company efficiency.)

          • Chalid says:

            Also, if you read the HR report, the text basically attributes everything to various efficiency advantages. It mentions how big companies have more flexibility to shift staff to meet peak demand, more specialized employees who therefore work more efficiently (more skill build-up, less task-switching cost), and fixed infrastructure costs that are spread among more people.

            I don’t see why I shouldn’t just basically accept their interpretation, over (what I take to be your) speculation?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            My point is not that the size of HR departments doesn’t drop, but that we may not necessarily know if that drop comes from job shifting verses lower headcount for the same positions. If a smallish (200-500 person) company has an HR department that includes a payroll person, a safety person, an environmental person, and a training person, but the larger company has each of those functions as a separate department, I’m thinking that we are not actually seeing a 3-1 ratio drop.

            I agree with the underlying position that larger companies can streamline certain managerial functions, including HR. I am skeptical of the 3>1 magnitude of that change.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            cassander banned for two weeks

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Have the land grant universities offer free tuition to people who perform well on some objective measure; the private ones can do whatever they like, but the Federal government doesn’t offer lots of free money to anybody who can fill out a FAFSA.

        Disparate impact. This proposal doesn’t survive contact with Power Word: Racist!

        • Statismagician says:

          As the conceit here is that we’re starting in 1973 and trying to keep general conditions broadly similar, this is less of an issue than it might otherwise have been (or at least, so I interpreted the OP).

          • Plumber says:

            @Statismagician

            “As the conceit here is that we’re starting in 1973 and trying to keep general conditions broadly similar, this is less of an issue than it might otherwise have been (or at least, so I interpreted the OP)”

            I actually meant “how to get back to 1973 conditions” but “how to have kept 1973 conditions” sounds like an even more interesting question so please continue, and I’m grateful to you and @cassander for having a lively debate upthread.

        • cryptoshill says:

          That is possibly the most succinct description of that particular political problem I have seen in a while.

          I’m sure there are other good political Power Words – but I’m not sure exactly how they can be described.

        • Viliam says:

          Disparate impact.

          Okay, then: offer free tuition to people who perform best on some objective measure, a predetermined number for each race.

          Would this still improve things, compared with now? (Or would it lead to an avalanche of “trans-black” people trying to get the free tuition?)

          • Aapje says:

            Studies already suggest that it’s extremely beneficial to be regarded as black at Harvard rather than white of Asian (or even better, a gay black woman), and yet we don’t see very many people called something like ‘Bob Wang’ identifying as a black lesbian.

          • Randy M says:

            Steve Sailer has made the point that gaming affirmative action is pretty rare in America, perhaps contra some other countries like Brazil (but I don’t know any numbers about Brazil, it may be misremembering on my part).
            This could be because of lower corruption generally, because white people really believe in some of the justifications for it, or because being white is higher status de facto despite AA and people don’t want to even semi-anonymously associate with non-white races.
            Be interesting to see if this changes as more ink gets spilled on intersectionality and white privilege, etc.

    • cassander says:

      Well, one, reagan didn’t meaningfully reduce the safety net. He made some minor reductions to SS (biggest was delaying retirement from 65 to 67) and majorly reformed how disability works, but that was it. On the rest of it, if you want cheaper housing nad dirty industrie sback, you need to repeal the regulations on dirty industries and housing development. The US had 1/3 fewer people in 1970, but built about the same number of houses, and was willing to have rivers that caught fire from time to time if it meant factory jobs.

      On the social issues, that’s a tougher question.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Comparing stocks (population size) to flows (new housing) isn’t a good idea. Population growth in 1970 was was close to double what it is now, and people per household was in a falling pattern, while it is stable now. The idea that we are not building enough housing isn’t supported very well, homeowner and rental vacancy rates are notably higher now than they were in the 70s which is not what you would expect to see if there was a shortage of home building.

        • cryptoshill says:

          @baconbits9 –
          Major cities disagree with your “there is no shortage of homebuilding” hypothesis.
          https://www.deptofnumbers.com/rent/california/san-francisco/
          https://www.deptofnumbers.com/rent/washington/seattle/

          What we are seeing is a lot of vacancy in land where nobody wants to live, and a huge shortage in the major urban cores where lots of people want to live. Other than bringing the “rivers that occasionally catch fire” industrial jobs (that naturally require a lot more open space than can be provided in a modern superdense city – room for big machines and equipment, semi trucks, etc) I’m not sure how you increase demand for those units.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This doesn’t address the issue at hand at all.

          • cryptoshill says:

            You suggested that rental vacancy rates are indicative of no homebuilding shortage. They happen to be substantially lower than the 1973 rental vacancy rate of about 5.2% in almost any random major city you can name. (see St. Louis Fed https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/RRVRUSQ156N)

            What I *don’t* have is comparitive rental vacancy rates for the major cities – but I would predict that in 1973, the difference between a major metro and the national would be much less stark.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The initial statement was that we weren’t building enough housing and the evidence was total new units/population, which is not the correct way to look at it*.

            The overall rental vacancy rate is 10-50% higher than it was during the 70s, and homeowner vacancy rates are up from half a percentage point (worth about 500,000 homes).

            You cannot have

            1. Growing population
            2. Fewer people per household
            3. Higher vacancy rates
            and
            4. Not enough building.

            Its not mathematically possible**.

            If your argument is that we aren’t building homes in the right place, then that is a very different discussion, with very different solutions/causes.

            * Its not actually population growth that you want on its own, the US went on a massive building spree in the late 60s and early 70s as the baby boomers started moving out and forming households of their own + the increased divorce rate lead to more, but smaller, households. What you had was a demographic shift leading to higher demand + fairly high immigration rates driving building.

            ** Fine, technically if tons of people are sharing living space but not in the same household then you could have this effect, but it would have to be a huge number of people now doing this just to cover the increase in the vacancy rates alone.

          • Statismagician says:

            @baconbits9

            Anecdata, but for my social network at least your ** is very much the case. Also, national rates do not capture severe geographic distortion in the nature/scale of the problems; we can (and as far as I can tell do) have empty collapsing small towns and overcrowded expensive cities.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Statismagician

            You can have those things, but it is difficult to. Large portions of Detroit are no longer vacant homes as they have been torn down. Vacancy rates are generally done by listings, so empty lots, abandoned homes, ghost towns and the like are being steadily deleted from the housing stock. To get that vacancy rate you not only have to have 4 guys sharing an apartment in San Francisco, but you also have to have the places that they moved from keep all of the now empty housing stock on the market indefinitely.

          • Plumber says:

            @baconbits9

            “To get that vacancy rate you not only have to have 4 guys sharing an apartment in San Francisco, but you also have to have the places that they moved from keep all of the now empty housing stock on the market indefinitely”

            You mean like all the empty houses in the central valley, and people crammed together in tiny apartments in San Francisco? 

            Done and done! 

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Plumber

            If there are millions to tens of millions of said units more than there were 10 years ago, then maybe. If there are 100,000 then no.

    • Do you find the smell of marijuana more problematic than the smell of tobacco? My impression is that the latter was much more common back then.

      I don’t know if you followed the link to a piece on income inequality that Scott recently linked to. According to that, the most recent study coauthored by Piketty found that median real income increased 33% from 1979 to 2014. Two of the other studies found higher increases.

      • Plumber says:

        @DavidFriedman 

        “Do you find the smell of marijuana more problematic than the smell of tobacco? My impression is that the latter was much more common back then…”

        Quite right, cigarette smoke is pretty foul (though for some reason tobacco cigar and pipe smoke bothers me less than cigarettes), though mostly it’s not “live” smoke but the smell of ashtrays that “brings me back” in an unpleasant way, and they’re other things about 1973 I wouldn’t want back, bombings, street violence, lead in the air, and sewage in the bay, plus I remember hypodermic needles on the sidewalks which l didn’t see again till this last decade. 

        But what sticks in my mind was, albeit with smaller closer together houses, how “Leave it to Beaver” like the neighborhoods of mostly black homeowners in first north Oakland, and then south Berkeley (where we moved to) were, which didn’t survive the 1980’s as few of the sons of our neighbors found jobs like their fathers, and a lot of ink and pixels have been spent on the decline of rural America and the Rust Belt these past couple of years to explain the ascendancy of Trump, and a very familiar story of job losses and drugs has been told lately that mirrors what I saw happen in an urban black neighborhood in the 1970’s and ’80’s.

        No one else seems to remember this (why?), but for me as a child the middle-class had a black face in the early and mid 1970’s, and it’s decline happened fast.

        Personally for me, judging by the gunfire and sirens I heard, around 1985 was the worst times ever, and while after 1991 rents starting skyrocketing, but judging by how they were less street beggers, things got better until about 1999, and then started to decline again, the hardest years to find jobs seem to me to be 2002, 2003, 2009, and 2010, but despite jobs being easier to find, I see more homeless now than ever before. 

        “….the link to a piece on income inequality that Scott recently linked to…”

        Interesting and encouraging, though hard to reconcile with what my eyes tell me is massively more homeless on the streets. I’m grateful that I may now communicate with you and others via the incredible “phone” in my hand, but if I could turn back time so more were housed, I would, even though I’d lose the technology. 

        My wishlist remains the same:
        Affordable housing, 
        affordable education,
        affordable hospital visits, 
        useful work and dignity for the less educated,
        and
        parents who “stay together for the kids” (though this last one not being the case anymore is less of a problem than it was in the late 1970’s and 80’s, and instead the problem now is that other than making a baby many parents weren’t really a couple to begin with).

        1973 in other words

        • Interesting and encouraging, though hard to reconcile with what my eyes tell me is massively more homeless on the streets.

          You are generalizing to the U.S. from a tiny sample that you know is wildly unrepresentative. The Bay Area has much higher rental costs and home values than the U.S. average, a climate that makes living on the street a lot more doable than in Chicago, and local governments, in particular SF, that are more friendly to people living on the streets than in most places.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “You are generalizing to the U.S. from a tiny sample that you know is wildly unrepresentative. The Bay Area has much higher rental costs and home values than the U.S. average…”

            I simply haven’t seen these “U.S. average” conditions.

            True I’ve seen more homeless in the Bay Area than elsewhere, because that’s what I’ve been most of my life, but I’ve also seen homeless in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle when I visited there.

            Where I haven’t seen much homelessness was Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in ’89 when I visited there, Washington D.C. when I visited there in ’83, and the Bay Area in the early 1970’s (but by the mid ’80’s they were lots of street beggers around, something changed).

    • pontifex says:

      You want to escape clouds of marijuana, so you set your time machine to the 1970s, the hippie era? Does not compute.

      The 70s was also a really bad period for the US economy. We had stagflation, a combination of inflation, stagnation, and high unemployment.

      The 70s was also when divorce rates started to shoot up.

      Overall, it sounds like the society that you really want is that of the 1950s, not the 1970s. And the changes that happened were progressivism, feminism, and the environmental movement.

      • Plumber says:

        @pontifex,
        No I very much meant 1973, though they’re aspects of 1946, 1954, and 1999 I’d like as well (and even some of 1485 and 2018!), as 1973 marks the end of the Great Compression and the start of the Great Divergence.

        As for marijuana use, my parents (especially my Dad) were users, so I’m not saying it wasn’t used, I just don’t remember people smoking it on the sidewalks in front of police stations back then, as for the other culturally trends, yes they were all percolating, but the big divorce wave hadn’t hit yet, and as one of “Generation X” that is the single-most important cultural change to effect me and my classmates, as few of my peers growing up were spared, it felt like all of our parents decided as a mass to reject their marriages, and just “phone-in” parenting, so a generation of “latch key kids”, and yes I’m pretty damn bitter about what turned out to be a passing fad.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Do you think it’s possible to replicate the dynamics of that time without something like “what came after?” I’m skeptical of the idea that most short-lived “golden ages” are stable configurations rather than transient periods. It seems more likely to me that the good times then were borrowing against the next decade than that they were sabotaged. As you mentioned, it was a time of transition, and those are the times that offer hardworking people the greatest opportunity. But the imposition of a paradigm is inevitable, and it inevitably means that certain edifices erected during the transition are brought to ruin, and others are elevated far beyond their worth.

          • Plumber says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            “Do you think it’s possible to replicate the dynamics of that time without something like “what came after?”…”

            It probably isn’t possible, but I think it’s a worthwhile goal.

        • pontifex says:

          I think you are over-romanticizing the 1970s. There was a lot of public pot-smoking and just general civil disobedience. The economy was terrible— stagflation, deindustrialization, and high oil prices were hammering the western world. The seeds of high divorce rates may not have fully sprouted, but they were well planted by the 70s.

          The only people who really should be nostalgic for the 1970s are far left-wingers. In the 1970s it was stil possible to believe that the Soviet Union was the wave of the future. Capitalism looked like it was failing. The US looked like a paper tiger in Vietnam. Detente was in full swing. One of the core ideas behind detente was that we should accept the postwar status quo and not try to roll back communism anywhere in the world (well, at least not try too hard.) Union membership was at historic highs, and the US was a big industrial power.

          When people in the 70s looked at the future, a lot of them imagined that the US and the USSR were destined to become more like each other. Some of them thought that the US was already pretty similar to the USSR (read anything Chomsky ever wrote– he was the archtypical 1970s intellectual.) They certainly didn’t see the 1980s or the collapse of the Soviet Union coming.

          • Plumber says:

            @pontifex

            “…I think you are over-romanticizing the 1970s…”

            I think it’s more likely that I over romanticize all of 1946 to 1973, as I mark the 1970’s as when good trends ended, and I may be unique in remembering the 1980’s as a Hellscape (a new five years younger than me co-worker yesterday started on how “society is worse than when we were growing up and I angrily disputed him, turned out he remembered San Francisco in the 1980’s while my memories are of north Oakland [when I stayed with my Dad] and south Berkeley [when I stayed with my Mom] as he doesn’t remember the gunfire).
            Fine, I over romanticize what the neighborhood was like in 1973, but my memories of what it became by 1989 are pretty damn clear, and to me getting to now will never be worth that.
            The poverty and gun violence stick in my mind.
            Not worth it, the early 1970’s were better than the Hell that soon followed in the subsequent two decades, and yes things got better in the ’90’s, it still wasn’t worth it.
            As for overseas?
            Except for as examples of how things can be different I barely care about out-of-state, much less out-of-continent.
            Where I grew up and have lived is what I care about, but what I see here and now is hundreds of tents in encampments between my work and my home that people now live in.
            That’s not an improvement

          • pontifex says:

            It’s interesting that you say that, because a lot of people have the opposite position, and are really nostalgic for the 1980s. Society was more united because we knew who the bad guys were (the USSR) and we knew we were winning. People were more willing to create straightforward books and movies without a heavy layer of irony or sarcasm. Computers were new and exciting. And so on.

            I heard that Oakland had a lot of poverty and gang issues, but I guess I don’t know what it was like firsthand. It sounds like the kind of urban blight that a lot of cities struggled with in the 70s and 80s.

            The homeless issue is just a clear case of local governments doing the wrong thing. The cops should break up tent cities and start enforcing the laws against vagrancy. If needed, the city should set up shelters where these people can go to get them off the streets. A lot of the homeless population is people travelling from other parts of the country to take advantage of how naive some towns are in the Bay Area. In some cases they even get bussed out by municipalities elsewhere in the coutnry.

          • @Plumber:

            Property crime rates peaked about 1980, are now at about half that level.

            Murder rates peaked in 1980, are now at about half that peak.

            I can’t speak to where you lived, but on a national scale those problems were worst at about the time period you want us to go back to.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman, 

            From my personal experience the most gunfire and sirens I remember hearing would be in the early to mid 1980’s, the last time I had a pistol pointed at me was in the 1990’s, the most muzzle flashes and nearby gunfire I witnessed would be at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland at night sometime between 1993 and 2000 (I was going home from work), and the last time I saw muzzle flashes and heard nearby gunfire was probably in the early 2000’s at the corner of Ashby and Sacramento in Berkeley, none of which is admittedly scientific statistical analysis. 

            Where I can get some crime numbers from is if I go into room 303 at work there’s a chalkboard that lists the number of homicides in the City and County of San Francisco from 1969 to 2009, and it goes: 

            1969 – 127

            1970 – 109

            1971 – 102

            1972 – 82

            1973 – 107

            1974 – 134

            1975 – 135

            1976 – 131

            1977 – 146 (Zebra cases)

            1978 – 122

            1979 – 123

            1980 – 117

            1981 – 130

            1982 – 111

            1983 – 85

            1984 – 75

            1985 – 86

            1986 – 114

            1987 – 103

            1988 – 100

            1989 – 71

            1990 – 101

            1991 – 96

            1992 – 117

            1993 – 132

            1994 – 98

            1995 – 97

            1996 – 85

            1997 – 66

            1998 – 63

            1999 – 64

            2000 – 67

            2001 to 2003 [left blank for some reason]

            2004 – 88

            2005 – 96

            2006 – 85

            2007 – 98

            2008 – 97 (98 w/Ocean Beach body)

            2009 – [50 individual names and dates and then the chalkboard is full and untouched for at least the six years since I first saw it]

            So other than a peak in 1986 and again in 1993 (both still less than 1977 homicides) it doesn’t match my impressions of past gun violence on the other side of the Bay Bridge during the same time period (and shots fired =/= bodies anyway).

            Make of it what you may. 

          • Plumber says:

            @pontifex

            “…The homeless issue is just a clear case of local governments doing the wrong thing….”

            Where are local governments doing the right thing?

    • Deiseach says:

      You probably can’t. Manufacturing and heavy industry has changed so that jobs there are being automated, moved overseas to cheaper countries or done away with. The new paradigm seems to be the “knowledge economy” so education is paramount there, meaning that for all the griping about going to university as expensive signalling it isn’t going to go away as “look, I have the piece of paper that is needed to get a job” will be even more relevant as we go forward. We also have an increased population so the combination for the 70s of “people born immediately post-war being old enough to go into employment” with “more jobs available in growing economy to soak up those workers” isn’t likely to happen again. Even the “restrict immigration” argument won’t work, look at the demand for skilled immigrants put forward for H-1B visas, such companies are not going to willingly accept cutting off overseas supply and hiring (perhaps less qualified, certainly more expensive and less hindered by the conditions attached to the visa) Americans instead.

      Standards of living have also gone up, so conditions that would have been acceptable in the 70s re: cheap housing are not acceptable nowadays. And ironically things like technological toys are both cheaper and more necessary (you need a mobile phone because you need to be available even outside of work hours to take texts and emails) than ever, while things like housing and utility costs are going up. So while it’s perfectly feasible to argue “even a homeless person can have a cheap mobile phone!” that does not mean the homeless person can get the cheap lodgings or on the first rung of the property ladder as in the 70s.

      As for social liberalisation, you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. No-fault divorce, acceptance of cohabitation and childbearing outside marriage, multiple successive relationships (“serial monogamy”), new party fun substances and calls for legalisation of the old party fun substances, feminism, gay rights, trans rights being the current new battleground – that can’t be wound back. Look at the arguments for hte legalisation of abortion – that was going to be a sad but tragic medical necessity that would only be used in strictly limited circumstances, now you have people trying to be fair-minded to the opposition going “Well, some people do think a foetus is a human life (yes, I know this is ludicrous but some people do think like that)”.

      Or IVF – I’m old enough to remember the arguments about permitting that as “sharing the precious miracle of life”, then along came the embryonic stem-cell research arguments about “well you need to use those spare embryos from fertility treatment for something, they’ll only get dumped as rubbish otherwise” – so much for the “precious miracle of every fertility treatment being a wanted and desired child!”

      Unless you get something like a mass religious conversion (as, to be fair, has happened beforetimes) then attitudes are not going to change on things like that (and I’ve seen at least one person arguing that Christiantity has declined because it was proven to be not scientifically true, so good luck with another Great Awakening or Moral Rearmament). My own impression is that Effective Altruism would like to be that moral awakening but, as I’ve said before, it seems to me to be a bit too much “taking in one another’s washing” to be really globally attractive as a mass movement.

      • Jaskologist says:

        As for social liberalisation, you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. No-fault divorce, acceptance of cohabitation and childbearing outside marriage, multiple successive relationships (“serial monogamy”),

        You absolutely can. We know this, because long ago the genie was out and our ancestors had to invent the bottle.

        We spend a lot of money subsidizing these things, trying to keep the genie out of the bottle. I am assured that women have more or less reached economic parity with men, so we should be able to withdraw those subsidies now. End no-fault divorce, child support, and the many welfare programs that take money from women who married the fathers of their children to distribute it to those who didn’t.

        • Deiseach says:

          You absolutely can. We know this, because long ago the genie was out and our ancestors had to invent the bottle.

          I await with interest your efforts to convince the current generation that no, they should live like their grandparents (or perhaps I should push that back to great-grandparents, if the grandparents are the Baby Boomer generation). Ozy, for example, is a generally sensible person with whom it is fruitful to have a discussion because they are amenable to reason and teasing out the finer points of an argument rather than kneejerk “I am being oppressed!”. Try lecturing them about how they should stop being poly, kinky, non-binary, and settle down to vanilla monogamy, then come back and tell me how successful you were in convincing them.

          Then think about what it would take to convince the people who aren’t reasonable, who just know they like being free to indulge the tingle in the loins or elsewhere as and when they want with whomever they want however they want. Brett Kavanaugh got smeared as a rapist because there were fears he would roll back Roe vs Wade (I’m not talking about Christine Ford’s accusations, I’m talking about the opinion pieces in print and online about how he totally was a serial rapist because white Republican male):

          No one who has committed an act of violence against women should be in a position to make decisions about women’s lives – even if they were a reckless teenager when they attacked a woman; even if they’re very sorry; even if they are good people in myriad other ways. The promise of rehabilitation is always on the table, and people who do terrible things must always have the option of paying for their crimes, atoning fully and reintegrating into society.

          But Brett Kavanaugh isn’t a criminal who has done his time and simply wants to be able to support himself. He’s trying to sit on the highest court in the land. And it’s not asking too much to say that there should be a hard rule for judges: no rapists (or attempted rapists) allowed.

          • toastengineer says:

            I await with interest your efforts to convince the current generation that no, they should live like their grandparents (or perhaps I should push that back to great-grandparents, if the grandparents are the Baby Boomer generation).

            The current generation aren’t, but I suspect the generation after next are going to look and go “you know, you guys pumped yourselves full of drugs and each-other, and reading all these op-eds and blog posts you’ve written, it seems to have made you completely fucking miserable. Let’s not do that.” In fact I think it’s already starting; as the left goes full Ms. Grundy, conservatism is becoming cool again.

          • Aapje says:

            The newest generation is a lot more sexually conservative. Age of having sex is going up again.

            Of course, this may be in large part because people spend all day playing with their smartphones, so most people of the other sex they meet are 2D.

          • Deiseach says:

            In fact I think it’s already starting; as the left goes full Ms. Grundy, conservatism is becoming cool again.

            Oh, you do get these undulations of the pendulum, but they never swing back as fully to the socially conservative side as they used to do. I remember the 80s being held up as “younger generation more conservative than their parents, wanting steady jobs with good pay etc.” The TV show exemplar of this was Family Ties, with the parents being the 60s peace’n’love hippy types and the son being a young Republican.

            This was the loadsamoney, cocaine for all 80s, remember. Sure, it might have been socially conservative (think Section 28 in Britain) but it did not revert all the way back to “and now we’re going to roll back on divorce, contraception for the unmarried, cohabitation, and so forth”.

            Young people may be delaying age of first sexual experience, sure. But going back to “and that only happens on your wedding night”? Not going to happen any time soon without a much, much bigger change in social attitudes.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I never said anything about the current generation or “soon.” It probably took centuries to build these institutions, generations to build up the resulting social capital, and it will probably take generations to burn it all up. Rome didn’t fall in a day.

          • toastengineer says:

            I suspect that that’s unusual due to circumstances at the time – primarily the left being genuinely right about a lot of things. That said, I think, from looking at the right-ification that’s happening now, we’re going to get a lot of the bad “stomp on people who gross us out” aspects of the right more than the “build stable and peaceful societies” parts. But hopefully we’ll end up with enough of the latter to, yanno, not have society collapse.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That said, I think, from looking at the right-ification that’s happening now, we’re going to get a lot of the bad “stomp on people who gross us out” aspects of the right more than the “build stable and peaceful societies” parts.

            I’m not sure the two are incompatible. Nothing brings people together like having a common enemy to stomp on, after all.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        As for social liberalisation, you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. No-fault divorce, acceptance of cohabitation and childbearing outside marriage, multiple successive relationships (“serial monogamy”), new party fun substances and calls for legalisation of the old party fun substances, feminism, gay rights, trans rights being the current new battleground – that can’t be wound back.

        Not with that attitude it can’t.

      • Creutzer says:

        No-fault divorce, acceptance of cohabitation and childbearing outside marriage, multiple successive relationships (“serial monogamy”), new party fun substances and calls for legalisation of the old party fun substances, feminism, gay rights, trans rights being the current new battleground – that can’t be wound back.

        One of these is not like the others. I fail to see how abstinence from psychedelics and MDMA is necessary for a successful marriage. On the contrary, considering that such substances can give rise to powerful bonding experiences, they might even increase the prospects.

        • Deiseach says:

          I fail to see how abstinence from psychedelics and MDMA is necessary for a successful marriage.

          Do you see how abstaining from getting hammered on the juice of the barley every weekend might help with a successful marriage, or conversely how someone who always has some kind of drink in their hand might not be looking for a stable long-term relationship with kids over some quick and easy fun sexy times?

          We have experience with drinking over centuries and how people approach it and the upsides and downsides. Usually people cut back on the fun party times as they get older and settle down. Changes to that expectation, where people expect to keep having the fun party times when they’re thirty the same way as when they were nineteen are going to have knock-on effects on other social expectations.

          I’m not saying “LSD bad”, I’m saying “we’re moving towards greater liberalisation because people like fun party times and it’s not going to be at all easy or maybe even possible to reverse those attitudes to a previous mindset of forty years ago”.

          • soreff says:

            Where does caffeine fit into this?
            I tend to think of it as more of an occupational drug than
            as a recreational one…

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      How to get things more like 1973

      What a terrible idea! I graduated from high school in 1974. I remember rapidly increasing prices. I remember it being very hard to get a job, as the bulge of the baby boom forced millions of inexperienced workers into the job market. I remember gas lines as OPEC took out their frustrations about Arab losses to Israel on gas consumers. I remember the worst decisions in the history of the US Supreme Court being made in the ’70’s (admittedly most of the bad effects would occur over the coming decades). I remember crime rapidly increasing. I remember an enormous culture war and a giant generation gap where someone said “don’t trust anyone over 30,” and a lot believed it. I remember lots of conflict between the 1st and 2nd world, with many proxy wars going on, especially in Africa.

      It is true that the Vietnam War finally ended (for the US at least), so I didn’t have to worry about that. But overall, the ’70’s were a terrible time. We are quite a bit richer now. The 3rd world is enormously better off now than then, with much less extreme poverty and many fewer wars.

      • Plumber says:

        @Mark V Anderson,
        You’re quite correct most of the ’70’s was bad (though my own worst decade nominee remains the 1980’s, especially 1985 ’cause gunfire), also correct about the rest of the world being mostly better off, and you’re also correct about total wealth being higher now.

        But the share of GNP going to labor was higher then and, more importantly to me, in 1973 my parents bought a house in Berkeley, California while my Dad was just in his 30’s and my Mom was still only in her 20’s with blue collar wages!

        Me and my wife got a house just outside Berkeley in 2011 (thank you financial crisis!) that was smaller and older than the house my parents bought in 1973, and we were both past 40 years old, and it cost far more labor hours.

        Can you imagine an economy where people could get to have a home and start raising kids while they’re still young! 

        It used to be!

        I know it’s a crazy-utopian-never-gonna-happen-scheme but, what if the majority where paid enough to afford houses while still young?

        Maybe by having them negotiate with employers by something I’ll call “collective bargaining”?

        Obviously that would just start inflation, keeping house prices out of reach, but what if we had a means to remove money from out of the economy? 

        Some SSC commenters have wild fairy tales of mystic cities they call “Cleveland” and “Minneapolis”; which have less Billionaires than here, where they say the majority actually grow up and buy houses near where they grew up, and they have more than one kid while still in their 30’s, without many hour commutes!

        Probably just tall tales, as no one face-to-face actually claims to have seen such places, but what if those tales could inspire things to be?

        Archeological evidence suggests that there used to be things called “Army” and “Navy” “bases”, I even have some old co-workers who claim they used to work in one in a fabulous overseas realm called “Alameda”, but it’s hard to credit old men and their crazy stories, they even sonetimes claim that once rockets carried men to the Moon and back! 

        In the old men’s tales instead of a just a few going overseas to be in the “Army” and “Navy”, instead they were many young men living in what are now ruins that they say used to be called “bases”, one is supposed to have been near the Port in Oakland and the sewer plant!

        I’ve been there and they a bunch of abandoned empty buildings, who knows exactly what this “Army” thing was, but apparently a lot of people used to be in it.

        Also, even crazier, they tell tales of the broken windowed abandoned buildings in Oakland and say that once-upon-a-time the things that come off the ships used to be assembled in something called “factories”, which were sort of like the silicon chip plants in Santa Clara county, but they actually made full consumer products, and legends even speak of automobiles assembled in Fremont and Milpitas! 

        Getting back to the legends of the far away realms of “Minnesota” and “Ohio” it is said they have less “wealth” than here, this “wealth” is apparently the big pile of money that Peter Thiel, his lackeys, and U.C. professors have, now imagine if instead of just sending checks to old people and their physicians, and running the fewer and fewer post offices the barely noticeable “Federal government” actually did other things like the “bases” and “Moon rockets” in the old men’s stories? 

        Further imagine that they more income someone has the more the percentage of income they paid in taxes, I’ll call this “progressive income taxes”, which could pay for the (obviously impossibile) things the old men tell of and would limit wealth and inflation, why if such a system were imposed, the majority might not be out-bid by the few, but obviously such a state of affairs could only be fantasy!!!. 

        • Further imagine that they more income someone has the more the percentage of income they paid in taxes, I’ll call this “progressive income taxes”,

          So far as the IRS figures on the federal income tax is concerned, the percentage of income paid in taxes does indeed go up with income. For 2015, the bottom 50% of the income distribution paid 2.8% of all federal individual income taxes, the top 50% paid 97.2%. Lots of detailed numbers here.

          Figuring out how the tax burden is distributed–who consumes less in order that the government can spend money–is much more complicated than such numbers suggest, both because there are taxes other than the federal individual income tax and because who hands over the money isn’t the same thing as who ends up poorer due to the tax. But you seem to be talking about the incidence of the income tax, defined in the usual way, and if you believe it is not progressive you are simply mistaken.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “…. if you believe it is not progressive you are simply mistaken…”

            It’s still progressive, just not enough for my tastes. 

            With the very big caveat that there’s some indications that the general post 1972 economic trends are finally reversing in the last couple of years (hooray!), I’ve seen lots of statistics indicating how the share of national income has been driven upward.

            As a couple of quick examples, from these charts from the C.B.O. which tell of how the top fifth in income has had most of the gains in after-tax income from 1979 to 2007, and these charts from The New York Times detailing the changes income distribution from 1946 to 1980 and 1980 to 2014 tell a similar tale.

            My preference is that flatter incomes be achieved more like how Japan does it (pre-tax incomes are closer) rather than Sweden (after-tax) but I’ll take either option. 

            I don’t want Cuba (and I really don’t want North Korea!), but more like Japan or Scandinavia?

            Sure I think that would be more healthier, and as for Japan and Scandinavia having less “vibrant” economies? 

            I want an economy “vibrant” enough that Jack and his “Dark Carnival” bookstore continues to exist, as does “Builders Booksource” in Berkeley,  and “Borderlands Books” in San Francisco, but beyond that?

            I judge “vibrancy” as making the odds of my son’s being able to have homes near where they’ve grown up less likely and I really don’t want Musk or Thiel to have even one more dime in their coffers, they’ve already had their share.

          • cassander says:

            @ plumber

            Those past high marginal tax rates were illusory. They didn’t kick in until very high levels of income, and didn’t make taxes more progressive than they are today because the old tax code had so many more deductions. In 1979, when the top marginal rate was still 70%, the richest 1/5 made 45% income and paid 55% of taxes. In 2013, they make 52% of income and paid 69% of taxes. that’s not just income tax, that’s all federal taxes period. They pay 88% of income taxes, up from 65% in 1979. Taxes are actually more progressive today than in 1979.

          • @Plumber:

            Did you look at the article Scott linked to on problems with defining income in order to make claims about the income distribution? You can’t take the sort of figures you were linking to at face value–you have to know in some detail how they were calculated.

            To give the simplest example from the article: using the method in the widely reported Piketty and Saez 2003 article, median real income went down 8% from 1979 to 2014. Using the method in Piketty, Saez and Zucman 2018, median real income over the same period went up by 33%. That’s a very large difference produced by two different sets of methodological choices, implemented by the same authors (plus one for the second paper). One of the other studies found that it went up by 51%.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “Did you look at the article Scott linked to on problems with defining income in order to make claims about the income distribution? You can’t take the sort of figures you were linking to at face value–you have to know in some detail how they were calculated….”

            I did look at the link and sadly I just don’t have the education to judge whether it’s valid or not. If
            I see enough mainstream media articles saying it is valid then I’ll assume that it’s true, but that hasn’t happened yet.

          • I just don’t have the education to judge whether it’s valid or not.

            The simplest thing to check would probably be the difference between the old Pikkety & Saez article and the new Pikkety & Saez & third author article. If the article correctly reported that, that tells you that different ways of measuring changes in the income distribution can give radically different results–even if done by the same people.

            That doesn’t tell you what way of doing it is right, but it tells you not to trust a report of the result of a single article, especially if the author appears to have an axe to grind.

            A useful rule of thumb is that if there are multiple different results for some interesting statistic, an author who only reports one is reporting the one most favorable to the argument he is making.

        • freemantle says:

          big pile of money that Peter Thiel, his lackeys, and U.C. professors have

          Are UC Professors really that wealthy? I don’t imagine that they earn much more than college professors at University of Minnesota or Ohio State University, especially when adjusted for cost of living.

        • sharper13 says:

          I think part of your issue is that you’ve lived in a more left-wing bubble since the 70s. Sure, Berkeley and the Bay area as a whole has gotten much worse since then in many ways (although better in a few ways). It’s been run into the ground by the local voters and who they put into office, both locally and at the State level.

          Up-thread, you listed various cities you’ve visited which have similar issues, although to perhaps a lesser degree. They have a similar cause.

          At least try some Democrat cities in Republican states, like SLC or Austin (Depending on if you prefer “clean” vs “creative”). Even a city like Denver is going to not be so far down the path SF has taken. If you want to have some real points of comparison, go visit some GOP strongholds, just to compare the issues you are seeing and find out if they have the same ones. For example, there is no real housing shortage nor rent crisis in the Phoenix area, despite a lot of recent Intel/Amazon/eBay/Apple major investments and despite being constrained to about the same geographical size as the bay area by the surrounding Reservations which can’t be expanded into.

          Really, if you want more sanity in your local government, shoot for places like Charlotte, or “mid-major” cities like Boise, Research Triangle Park, or even up and coming super-fast-growing metro areas you may not have heard of such as St. George, Utah.

          SF, LA, SD, Seattle, Detroit, Philly, Baltimore, etc… all suffer from varying degrees of decades of mismanagement and one-party rule which doesn’t provide very good incentives.

    • Plumber says:

      After I posted I saw an article that clearly articulated the changes:

      “….The biggest difference between the economy of the 1945-1973 period and that of the 1982-2000 period was that the same amount of growth found its way into totally different pockets….”

      I highly recommend reading it.

      • SamChevre says:

        That’s a reasonably common talking point, but I don’t think it’s true: I think the problem is that measured GDP grew equally, but “stuff people benefit from” grew much less. (Basically, GDP rise reflects substitution of market for non-market work as women joined the workforce, and rising asset prices, rather than rising quantities of consumable goods.)

        I don’t think 1973 is sustainable: I think the following three items are a “pick 2”
        1) Married women work in significant numbers
        2) Married women working is high-status
        3) One man can earn enough to support a family

        I think you have to go back to before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to have a stable equilibrium where one man can support a family.

        The problem in my mind is the increasing concentration of wealth and of functionality. The median wage in DC and NYC vs the median wage in Detroit is much higher than in 1973. And the level of family instability in equally-wealthy areas is much higher everywhere than in 1964. This dynamic drives everything else.

        • Statismagician says:

          I don’t immediately see the connection to the Civil Rights Act; can you say more?

          I agree about some large fraction GDP growth being basically a substitution effect – Scott’s post about The Two Income Trap seems relevant. But my understanding is that consumption actually has gone up significantly too; is that wrong?

          • SamChevre says:

            The connection to the Civil Rights Act: by forbidding discrimination based on sex or on marital status, it was intended to, and did, make employment for married women much more common and higher-status. It also prevented the kind of discrimination against divorce and single motherhood that kept family structures stable.

            Consumption has gone up significantly on most measures, but measuring consumption correctly is very hard. As capital goods get more expensive, this counts on most metrics as an increase in consumption: this dynamic means that increasing prices for a house of the same size, in an area with the same demographics, counts as an increase in consumption for the home-owner. Similarly, increasing medical costs mean that a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy and birth count as much more consumption relative to median wages. I think that the increases in consumption that is of real benefit is significantly lower than the increase in consumption on most measures, which include both substitutes for homemaking and increases in house prices as increasing consumption.

  32. Mr. Doolittle says:

    I’ve got a question about death statistics that has been bothering me for a bit.

    For backstory, I’m sure most of you have heard Trump rumbling about bad statistics in counting deaths in Puerto Rico a few months or so back. The main gripe (which Trump was characteristically bad at explaining) was that there were two main kinds of deaths being counted as “Hurricane Maria deaths.” The first was those that died in the storm itself, and to other direct causes (flooding, collapsed buildings, etc.) The second is a theoretically ongoing count of the difference between the “normal” death rate and the death rate since Maria went through. The number initially killed was fairly low, but the number often cited is in the thousands. A CNN article explaining or Wikipedia

    I don’t normally track hurricane death totals, but I don’t recall ever seeing that method for other storms. It may be that Puerto Rico lacks/lacked the ability to properly count, so a different technique was used, but then I worry about apples-to-oranges comparisons.

    This also came up in the Links post where a comment was made about Iraqi civilian deaths in the years since 2003. Since the death rate under Saddam was so high, it was argued that the overall number of deaths may have stayed constant or even gone down after the US invaded, despite other claims that hundreds of thousand of Iraqis died as a direct consequence of the invasion.

    Using such a method, we could find that a hurricane saved lives – despite the obvious lack of causation, which we would want to label as unrelated reductions in the death rate. One political motive, which I believe is what Trump was griping about, in the PR case is that the leaders of the island get to blame the hurricane for the deaths, instead of their own shoddy leadership (and therefore get to ask for more relief money instead of being tried and convicted for negligence).

    Not knowing enough about how such statistics are compiled and used, I wanted to get SSC’s thoughts on Maria specifically, and the different methods of estimating deaths generally.

    • Statismagician says:

      Partly this is because of a changing understanding within the public health sphere of knock-on effects and socioeconomic determinants of health, and partly a reflection of very, very incompetent response and recovery efforts as well as the natural logistical difficulties resulting from Puerto Rico being an island. Katrina had management within the same general realm of incompetence (see e.g. here), and FEMA and the Bush administration were rightly castigated for it, but it’s obviously way easier to just throw resources at problems when they can be driven 9/10ths of the way there than when everything has to be routed through ports/airports that were just hit with a major hurricane.

      I think the methodology is basically sound, in short, though that’s at the conceptual level (haven’t checked the calculations). It’s not the same as we’ve been using in the past, but it’s what we probably should have been doing and we’re not being notably harsher on the people in charge than we were using the old metrics.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        I have deep mistrusts in this class of methodologies. They look entirely too non-falsifiable and easy to game, and smell too much like the class of metrics that seemed to always make Cuba the “best”.

        • Statismagician says:

          Could you say more? I think the causal claim that if death rates go way up right after a major natural disaster, that’s probably to do with the aforementioned natural disaster ought to be uncontroversial (although past some sufficient time afterwards it’s a bit silly), the immediate aid and longer-term recovery efforts really were spectacularly bungled, and I’m not really sure where Cuba comes into it.

          I don’t know a lot about the Puerto Rican territorial government, so if it turns out that the Federal one did things broadly right and they mismanaged their end then tried to blame Washington for it of course that would change my interpretation of all this.

      • One conceptual problem with using statistical measures of excess mortality is that it doesn’t distinguish a cause that kills someone from a cause that makes someone die six months or a year earlier than he otherwise would–which anything stressing the system might well do. Strictly speaking, one could run the statistics a few years farther out and note that while 50,000 more people than average died in the first year after the hurricane, 47,000 fewer than average died in the year after that. But I doubt anyone actually does it that way.

        • dick says:

          This is (somewhat morbidly) called the harvesting effect.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I doubt anyone actually does it that way.

          The concept you’re referring to is called “mortality displacement,” and it is studied. Excess deaths are almost never, to my knowledge, mostly explained by mortality displacement. The trouble is that natural experiments like this are really hard to do (especially with destructive disasters like hurricanes [and not heat waves] because they drive migration).

          As always, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            [epistemic status: youtube video]
            One example I heard of this was daylight savings supposedly causing more people to die from heart attacks. On “spring forward” day when everyone gets an hour less of sleep, more people have heart attacks. However, over the following week, fewer people have heart attacks; it seems that the daylight savings switch triggers heart attacks for people who were likely to have one imminently anyways, rather than causing more deaths on net.

      • Deiseach says:

        it’s what we probably should have been doing and we’re not being notably harsher on the people in charge than we were using the old metrics

        It probably is a better metric but I have to disagree about the “not being notably harsher” part since I see this figure routinely used to bash Trump/Republicans for being heartless monsters who hate brown people, see how many Puerto Ricans died for lack of prompt and sufficient government intervention.

        I’d be interested to see if any old disasters were counted by this new metric and compare “death rates then/new death rates now” and see what shakes out. How would a revised Katrina death toll compare to the Puerto Rican quoted death toll? Would that make a difference to commentary (e.g. comparing Obama’s and Trump’s responses to hurricanes that hit the US)?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Having taken a sociology of disaster class, I believe this is a fairly standard method for measuring knock-on effects; the metric is referred to as “excess deaths” (http://conflict.lshtm.ac.uk/page_100.htm). The reason for its use is that there isn’t time to do a thorough autopsy of every corpse and the knock-on effects of disasters may not show up in the direct cause of death; if someone dies of heatstroke because they don’t have shelter, it ought to be counted as a disaster death for understanding how much damage the disaster did to the affected community.

      My understanding is that this methodology was most prominently used during the Chicago Heat Wave, and some googling reveals that it was absolutely using in the wake of Katrina. I think it’s fundamentally sound.

    • Chalid says:

      One would expect that this sort of analysis is more important to do after Maria than after most other hurricanes, since basic services like power were still lacking for much longer after Maria than after most other hurricanes, and it’s easy to imagine how that could connect to excess deaths. In a more typical hurricane where the basic necessities are restored quickly, it’s harder to see why one would expect lots excess deaths months afterwards.

      • dick says:

        I agree with this. What’s unusual about Maria is that the number of excess deaths is controversial and disputed, not that it’s being counted at all or that it’s being counted using statistical modeling.

        • John Schilling says:

          If it’s not unusual, where do I find a count (statistical or otherwise) of the excess deaths from other major US hurricanes? I haven’t noticed much discussion of anything but the direct deaths from prior hurricanes, but if we’re going to be talking about the excess deaths from Maria, then we should understand excess (not direct) deaths from other hurricanes for comparative purposes. Also, it’s an important risk to understand even if we don’t care about Puerto Rico, and one that seems to have been underplayed in media coverage.

          • dick says:

            I’m only familiar with it from discussions about earthquakes and Hurricane Katrina; for all I know Katrina may have been the first time it was used for a hurricane. I would think most hurricanes wouldn’t produce any excess mortality at all, because they don’t cause enough lasting damage to infrastructure. And I assume the reason it’s controversial in the case of Maria is because you can’t calculate it without making assumptions about the pre-Maria situation in PR, which are themselves controversial.

          • Chalid says:

            Just googled and found a similar analysis for hurricane Sandy; I didn’t read carefully but it finds a “6% increase in 1-month and 7% increase in 3-month all-cause mortality” in NJ in the elderly. You can go down the citation rabbit hole if you like.

            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508144/

            I’d guess (guess!) that for most other hurricanes the effect isn’t going to be distinguishable from noise, which may explain why we don’t see much discussion of it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It’s simply not true that we only count direct deaths.

            For example here is an article referring to a number of pulmonary deaths as storm caused and includes a suicide (after house condemnation).

    • 10240 says:

      In any case, how much is the president or the top political leadership responsible for the way a particular disaster is handled? I’d expect that the relevant government agencies should have plans for how to handle a disaster situation. The president is not an expert on disaster relief; I’d expect that most of the decisions would be administrative decisions made by the leaders and experts of the relevant agencies, not political decisions made by the political leadership of the administration.

      Of course, on the long run, the political leadership is responsible for having government agencies make the right plans and be well-managed, but it’s unlikely that they would have been in a significantly different state if the same disaster happens a year earlier, under the previous administration.

      Since the death rate under Saddam was so high, it was argued that the overall number of deaths may have stayed constant or even gone down after the US invaded, despite other claims that hundreds of thousand of Iraqis died as a direct consequence of the invasion.

      According to no count did the invasion directly kill hundreds of thousands. Any such count includes the effects of civil wars and other consequences that were not directly caused by the invasion. The invasion indirectly allowed a civil war to break out in the same way as it may have prevented Hussein from embarking on another massacre.

      • toastengineer says:

        the political leadership is responsible for having government agencies make the right plans and be well-managed

        Are they? Like, say you were President and you’re really concerned about whether or not FEMA are actually doing their jobs. What concrete action can you take? Appoint staff who also care about this sort of thing? Write announcements saying “hi, yes, this is mr president, please be good at your job, thanks” all the time? Have the director of FEMA come to your office and keep asking him to make sure FEMA is prepared for emergencies?

        • watsonbladd says:

          You have the ability to hire and fire. Picking the right head of FEMA is important and something you totally can do.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          @toast.
          This is what management is about. A good chief executive hires good people and maintains consistent contact with his top managers, asking them for periodic updates of their area, and provides policy guidelines for the major issues. Bad things happen to even the most competent people, but fewer bad things happen under good executives than bad ones.

        • albatross11 says:

          Once the disaster is happening, you probably can’t do much short of high-level resource allocation (declaring it a disaster area, campaigning for aid money in the next budget). But before it happens, you could try very hard to have an effective disaster-response mechanism set up, so that on the day you need it, it snaps into action.

  33. Statismagician says:

    Is anybody aware of a good dataset for relative importance of political issues by demographic factors? There’s a thing I want to test.