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Open Thread 118.5

This would normally be a hidden open thread, but I’m hijacking it for some announcements:

1. This is your ABSOLUTE LAST CHANCE to take the 2019 SSC survey. Don’t wait! Do it! DO IT NOW! [EDIT: Closed now, sorry]

2. There’s still a Bay Area meetup today (1/6) at 3:30. Due to rain the location has changed and it will be held indoors at 3045 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley.

3. Got the first comment on this new thread? Too bad! This week I’m going to be testing newest-first comment order. Tell me what you think.

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1,257 Responses to Open Thread 118.5

  1. nameless1 says:

    @Scott

    Florian Holsborn’s theory of depression and the anti-cortisol treatments he claims work within hours, not three weeks? https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/1kqtgy/serious_scientists_of_reddit_whats_craziest_or/cbs5v2j/

    “Now, the empirical finding is that many (not all!) depressive patients have higher levels of cortisol. What SSRIs do in general is, they increase the levels of Serotonin in the synaptic gap. Over the course of some weeks, coincidentally about three weeks, Cortisol-receptors are up-regulated, i.e. they are more sensitive to Cortisol, which then leads to less CRH in the brain (because less Cortisol is needed) and less depressive symptoms. You achieve the same when giving CRH antagonists.”

    I don’t know. I am not anxious at all. I just have a calm and boring disinterest in things.

  2. My new book, Legal Systems very Different from Ours, appears to be available on Amazon now as a paperback (meaning that I haven’t actually gotten a copy), and I’m in the process of using Calibre to turn it into a Kindle. One tricky bit is the index.

    Which raises a question–should a Kindle have an index? I can, with some work, produce an index where each entry is linked to the corresponding point in the text. On the other hand, since it’s an ebook someone looking for a word can always search for it, so perhaps an index is superfluous.

    Opinions?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      There is a new OT, and this maybe should be asked there.

      • nkurz says:

        It’s possible that David has stumbled (intentionally or not) on a new strategy for comment prominence. Previously, with “new at the bottom” ordering, very few people would read the last comment on old posts. Now, with “new at the top”, it seems likely that quite a few people will see it, particularly if it is “above the fold” as on Open Threads.

    • nameless1 says:

      Your book will be available within about a month free of charge, illegally of course, on libgen.io and other pirate sites and it will be entirely up to the reader’s conscience if they pay for it or not. At this point being user-friendly with the reader probably pays.

      Although my algorithm for paying for books or pirating them is more like that I first skim a pirate version, and if a book makes a good point, but it is making a point in 200 pages that could be made in 20, I will not pay for wasting my time. I will mostly memorize the point and the main arguments and drop it. If there is actual information on every page, then it is likely that I will not be able to remember most of it, and I will have to look up the book again and again if the topic comes up in a discussion, so buy either a paper or legal ebook that will not be lost.

  3. arlie says:

    Meta-comment on comment reordering – this may be fine on open threads, where the top level comments are not related to each other. But my experience reading the comments to https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/01/08/book-review-the-structure-of-scientific-revolutions/ was bad enough I don’t think I’ll be bothering to read comments to any of Scott’s essays in future. Top level comments have an element of responding to each other – hopefully bringing up points that haven’t been made yet. Reading them in reverse chronological order is frustrating.

    • Evan Þ says:

      +1; this significantly impedes discussion.

    • onyomi says:

      My initial thought was maybe use latest-first comment ordering on Scott’s posts (on the theory they are more “evergreen,” and one wants to see if someone has added something new to them) and the old ordering on the OTs, but now I suspect the opposite is the way to go. Latest-first ordering extends the shelf life of an OT, I think, by making it possible for new comments to get seen. This doesn’t mess up much of anything in an OT, where one OP often has nothing to do with those that came before it. And in any case, no one really discusses the old posts in the comments section for the old posts once they’re old; instead, they reference them in an OT or relevant new post where others are looking.

      So yeah, I think latest-first ordering has a bad effect on Scott’s posts because it further encourages the tendency (I’m guilty of) of not even skimming what has already been said before posting one’s own opinion. Having most readers need to at least vaguely skim what others have already said before adding their 2 cents seems more likely to result in the comments section as a whole being productive.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        It’s interesting how the order can influence the best time to join a thread with a top level post. Previously, it was best to get there quickly and nab one of the top spots with your idea/question/observation and get more responses. Now, being too early means that your initial post will have dropped down by the time very many people are viewing the thread, sharply reducing the number of responses. It seems the ideal time to enter a thread is nearer the middle of the lifecycle, at the point where there is the most engagement and views on the thread. It’s still less useful to join at the end, though there will be far more views with this ordering than the old ordering.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          > sharply reducing the number of responses

          There are two forces at play. Extra time means more eyes you your comment, being up the thread means easier eyes on your comment. With old-first they both worked in the same direction, to help older posts. Now they’re in different directions. Of course, this doesn’t mean they also have the same relative impact – and we can probably have very long discussions about that – but at least there’s an improvement.

      • albatross11 says:

        I usually click on individual comments in the “NN comments since YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM” box, so it doesn’t make much difference to me either way.

  4. Nick says:

    (Culture war warning.)

    I read this morning that Belgium has passed animal slaughter regulations according to EU rules which apparently make it impossible to produce kosher or halal meats. Religious tradition requires the animal to be healthy at time of slaughter, while the regulations require that it be rendered insensible to pain first. So, naturally, one side is saying the regulations were implemented this way to “stigmatize some religious groups” and the other side is saying they “want to keep living in the Middle Ages … without having to answer to the law.”

    Now, on the one hand, reducing animal suffering is nice. But on the other hand, 1) do the required practices actually reduce animal suffering, and 2) is a religious exemption that unreasonable?

    • theredsheep says:

      I have heard that kosher slaughtering is more humane than halal (from Jewish sources, mind you). Kosher uses a straight blade, which must be sharpened to extreme keenness, so that the animal barely feels the blade passing through its throat, and passes out from blood loss almost immediately. Supposedly. I imagine that, if your throat gets cut clean open, you bleed out so quickly that you don’t have much more time to freak out than if you were guillotined.

      Halal uses a curved blade which tends to snag. But this is all “stuff I remember reading.”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shechita Jewish slaughter customs …
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhabihah and their Muslim equivalent.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Both are based on death by blood loss, which takes tens of seconds. (Captive) bullet to the brain takes milliseconds – so a qualitatively different experience. Literally no suffering, because no time to perceive sensation.

  5. Johannes D says:

    So, about recycling. Not sure how things really are in the US, but in Finland roughly one percent of household waste ends up at landfills. Roughly 60% is incinerated for energy (typically electricity and heat cogeneration) and the rest is recycled. Besides classic paper, cardboard, metal, and glass waste sorting, more recently there’s also separate bins for organic waste and plastic packaging material. Additionally, large stores must accept used consumer electronics and manage their recycling. (The recycling cost is baked into the retail prices of electronics products.) Waste incineration does also produce unburned slag and ash that is currently mostly stored at landfills, but hopefully in the near future it could be increasingly reused as a construction material.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      The recycling cost is baked into the retail prices of electronics products.

      Quite interesting – any idea what the relative increase in cost is for this feature?

      If I ever hear anything anti-recycling that goes beyond access/laziness, cost comes up. I understand that paper and glass are so cheap that recycling is often not very cost effective, especially if not thoroughly pre-sorted.

      • Aapje says:

        We have the same in my country. For a car it’s 40 euros.

        For a washing machine, it’s 60 cents. For a fridge, 2.24 euros. For a fryer, it’s 5 cents per kilo.

        Here is a full list (in English).

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          That’s far cheaper than I would have thought. Is that subsidized by the government, or would it be reasonable to assume that’s the true added cost to recycle (minus what they gain from reselling the materials)?

          • Aapje says:

            The generic waste gathering places are subsidized by the government. Citizens can also get their old equipment be taken away by the company who sells them a new product (who have to take the old product back even if that was not sold by them). The cost to handle and ship that to the recycling facility are not part of these tariffs.

            These tariffs are presumably only the net costs of processing at the recycling facility.

            Keep in mind that there is a delay between the payment of the fee and when the product is actually recycled (since people don’t tend to throw out new goods), so presumably the money can be invested for years before it gets spent. Also, not all products are returned for recycling (that is illegal fireworks).

        • Johannes D says:

          Yep, e-waste recycling is mandated on EU level nowadays: The WEEE directive.

        • I don’t understand what these numbers mean. If the cost of recycling is part of the price of the product, how can you tell how much it is?

          • Aapje says:

            There are ~1750 Dutch producers and importers of these products. EU law requires them to take responsibility for recycling the products they sell and sold, collectively.

            If each would organize the disposal of products on their own, this would be very costly and you’d have issues deciding who pays for recycling the products.

            So 6 Dutch unions for producers and importers created (and control) a non-profit called Wecycle, which runs a recycling facility and which picks up the products from certain locations (in contrast to what I said earlier, this seems to be part of the tariff as well).

            The unions for producers and importers set the tariffs on each product (per item or by weight), so Wecycle has the money to do their job. As Wecycle is a non-profit, these tariffs are based on cost. Producers and importers pay these tariffs to Wecycle, passing the cost onto the sellers of the products who pass the cost onto the customer.

            From the start in 1999 to 2015, Wecycle processed 110 million kilos of electronic waste, of which 83% was recycled, 14% burned for electricity, 1% burned to get rid of it and 2% put in a dump.

            PS. Note that these tariffs are a lower bound of the cost of recycling. Companies that sell to consumers have to take back products and have to either take them to a governmental waste gathering place or store them themselves and have them be picked up by Wecycle. These costs on the part of the seller are not part of the tariff, but are presumably passed onto the consumer.

    • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

      The stuff in my non-recycling trash would reduce by 99% if I put it in an incinerator, too.

      However, incinerators that don’t emit anything other than CO2 are complex fiddly high-tech hard-to-dynamically-elastic-scale expensive capital-intensive machines, and landfills are much cheaper, and do not insist on consuming the same tonnage of the same mix of trash each hour.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Environmentalists in my city (in the US) are strongly against incineration. They claim that toxic minerals always get into the trash that is burned, and the resulting fumes cause x number of deaths every year. Now I have heard elsewhere that the typical incinerator in Europe is at a much higher temperature than in the US, and so the bad minerals lose their toxicity. I’ve brought this up in discussions about this subject, but I am ignored since I am not one of them, so naturally I want to poison everyone. I do wonder which side is correct. I think it would be a good idea for environmentalists on both sides of the Atlantic to talk to each other.

      • bullseye says:

        I would guess it depends on the toxin. Lead is an element and remains lead at any temperature, but I suppose some toxins can be destroyed by heat.

        • Protagoras says:

          Mercury is also an element. And some toxins are generated by high heat rather than being destroyed by it. So I’m kind of skeptical of the European claims in this area, though I’d also welcome hearing about actual research on the topic.

  6. trees says:

    Reading the comments on “BOOK REVIEW: THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS”, I discovered a thing that I dislike about newest-first comment order. With oldest-first comment order, conversation about a topic tends to attach to the first comment about that topic, so when you see a topic you want to weigh in on it feels pretty safe to jump right in to the discussion without worrying about whether your point has already been made many times over elsewhere in the comment thread. With newest-first comment order, it feels like the only way to have reasonable confidence that you’re not repeating a conversation that’s already been had is to read all the comments on the post — often a daunting task!

    For what it’s worth, my personal, idiosyncratic preference would be for oldest-first comment order with a single level of nesting, so comments directly on the post can be used to split out different topics of conversation related to the original post, but replies to those top-level comments proceed in a more linear, conversational sequence.

  7. albatross11 says:

    This map shows all the places the US is active in the war on terror.

    My sense is that the average voter has no idea we’re involved in so many places. I think a common response to the announcement we were pulling troops out of Syria was “wait, when did we invade Syria?” Something similar happened awhile back when some US special forces were killed in Niger. It’s hard to argue that there’s any democratic oversight into our GWOT operations when hardly any voters even know most of them are going on, and nobody in Congress is ever required to actually vote on any proposed actions in a way that would allow them to be held accountable in the next election.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Yep, that’s one reason I wrote my book “Simplify Government,” because the average voter knows at best 1% of what the government is doing, so you can barely call it a democracy. My book was only about domestic policies (things are so complicated I don’t even have time to get up to speed about all the areas to be able to criticize it). But I am sure the foreign side is at least as opaque.

  8. EchoChaos says:

    President Trump gave a prime-time speech on the Southern border that just finished.

    Did any of you watch it?

    Know it was going on?

    What are your thoughts on the speech and the content?

    • Another Throw says:

      Shit, lost track of time. Is it worth the effort to find and watch it?

    • John Schilling says:

      Watched it on the off chance that he was going to do something that would require an immediate response. He didn’t. Gross exaggerations of the threat. Gross exaggerations of the alleged consensus for a wall being an effective way to deal with the threat. Crocodile tears for the poor suffering Mexicans who will somehow mumble something be saved from terrible fates by the wall. And blaming the Democrats for the whole thing, even though we’ve got him on tape promising to own this and not blame the Democrats.

      Nothing new, and if this is the best he’s got, he’s not getting his shiny new wall.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I liked it. It was basically all the things I’ve been saying about the border for years.

    • dick says:

      I don’t watch any political speeches at all if I can help it, they’re aesthetically unpleasant and the signal to noise ratio is abysmal. That goes double for politicians I like.

  9. Theek1953 says:

    On the off chance they haven’t already read this book and already written about it, I hope Scott and Robin read this and write their thoughts about the project.

    https://kottke.org/19/01/the-invisible-helping-hand

    tl;dr – Feeding American (formerly Second Harvest food bank) created a national market place / bidding system to stop wasting food. Seems it worked well.

  10. johan_larson says:

    At the beginning of this year, works published in 1923 passed into the public domain. For a while there, that didn’t happen, because influential copyright holders persuaded the government to extend the duration of copyrights. This time, that didn’t happen, possibly because there is a well-organized movement that is ready to argue against copyrights in general, and their expansion, in particular.

    Anyway, assuming the process of release into the public domain will continue year by year from now on, are there any major bodies of works we should be on the lookout for in the next few years?

    • BBA says:

      The big copyright holder pushing for longer terms that everyone talks about is Disney. Steamboat Willie enters the public domain at the end of 2023. But trademarks last forever, and naturally Disney incorporated a few seconds of Steamboat Willie into their new studio logo to keep trademark protection.

      The big copyright holder pushing for longer terms that no one talks about is the estate of George Gershwin. The copyright on Rhapsody in Blue expires at the end of this year, in an obvious windfall to United Airlines. Other famous Gershwin tunes (An American in Paris, I Got Rhythm, Summertime) will follow in the coming years.

      The other one that comes to mind immediately is The Great Gatsby, which is two years away.

      • The Nybbler says:

        naturally Disney incorporated a few seconds of Steamboat Willie into their new studio logo to keep trademark protection.

        The courts generally frown on trying to use one sort of IP to protect another sort of expired claim. Tactics like trademarking the silhouette produced by a patented part after the patent expires have been tried and shot down.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Batman and Superman hit in a bit more than a decade, that could be fun.

      • johan_larson says:

        Once we get to the later thirties, there will be movies with both color and sound, some of which are still popular. Both “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” are from 1939.

    • AG says:

      I was really excited for Scaramouche for a second, until I realized that the 1923 film is different from the 1952 one, which had the longest continuous cinematic sword fight.
      Nonetheless, I checked out clips of the 1923 version on the TCM website, and it was still pretty intriguing.

      From a skim of Wikipedia:
      Little Orphan Annie debuted in 1924.
      Tintin debuts in 1929.
      Douglas Fairbanks film The Thief of Bagdad was released in 1924, and was apparently his favorite.
      Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush was released in 1925!!!
      Various Buster Keaton and Laurel/Hardy short films
      The Jazz Singer was released in 1927!!!
      The original “The Broadway Melody” was released in 1929. So was the first Gold Diggers of Broadway, though several reels of it are sadly lost.
      Douglas Fairbanks’ The Iron Mask was released in 1929, as was The Taming of the Shrew, the first sound film Shakespeare.
      The Cocoanuts is the Marx Brothers’ first released film, 1929.
      Hitchcock has several 1920s films.
      Judy Garland and Ginger Rogers made their film debuts in 1929.

  11. Randy M says:

    On the possibility scale of 1-10, 1 being “This isn’t even sci-fi” and 10 being “I’m working on this in my lab right now”, how plausible is the notion of humans developing some form of telepathy, either through natural evolution or genetic manipulation? Hooking brains to machine that then communicate wirelessly is another matter (one I’d rate a 9). Let’s limit it to functions that can develop without any surgery and can be passed on genetically.

    Personally I’d give this a 2. Granted it is possible to communicate at a distance electronically, but it may not actually be possible to do so with organic matter. Other than chemicals and sound, living bodies don’t seem to emit much, although subsonic or pheromone communication seems achievable it isn’t really what we think of as telepathy. Perhaps some heat signals, but excessive heat is a problem and hard to direct. Any other parts of the em spectrum we could control and detect?

    • Nornagest says:

      It might be possible to make a radio organ starting from something along the lines of the electric organ found in eels and rays. Fish that have them already use their electroreceptors to crudely communicate.

      • Randy M says:

        That’s true, I could be convinced of some kind of organic morse code evolving similar to that, and receptors naively don’t seem terribly difficult compared to eyes, ears, etc.
        A long way from sending images or trawling around in someone’s memories, but still quite useful. Probably very calorie intensive, though. It’s no wonder Jean Grey keeps her figure.

    • DragonMilk says:

      I’m not informed enough to give a number, but if it’s genetic, you’d have to observe it in nature first. I’m not aware of any “telepathic” animals; the closest is sonar and phermones in insects.

      So I violate my first paragraph by giving it a 2 since I much liked the Foundation series.

    • woah77 says:

      Humans already have the ability to hear microwaves, so depending on your definition of telepathy it already exists on some level. I’m not quite certain how easy it would be to make a transmitter, but it isn’t implausible.

    • helloo says:

      Ummm what about sight?

      Does reading/writing count?
      It’s communication at a distance that allows one to transfer thoughts.

      What about humans that are really easy to read visually and are very bad at lying?

      I’m guessing you mean direct thought transfer rather than an interpretive method, but then I’m not sure why you are mentioning things like heat signals.
      If not, please better define it so that things like talking or writing doesn’t apply.

      • Randy M says:

        Does reading/writing count?

        I’m afraid it’s hard to provide compelling evidence for this, but, yeah, I’m familiar with writing already.

        I’m not sure why you are mentioning things like heat signals.

        Since thought isn’t a substance it has to transmitted across some medium. I was attempted to list everything that humans produce that selection, natural or artificial, could bend toward a novel communications method which went from brain to brain.

        • helloo says:

          Since thought isn’t a substance it has to transmitted across some medium

          Why do you need that restriction? Both the “isn’t a substance” and the “needs to transmit across a medium”.
          This is talking about something that extends to science FICTION right?
          (does Gundam and its newtypes count btw? or maybe Hitchhikers’ point of view gun)

          Anyway, even if humans could have bio-wifi emitters, would that be enough to be considered “telepathy”? How is it all that different from talking or writing?
          And you still haven’t answered if sight counts – from gestures to changing colors to again writing.

          • Randy M says:

            This is talking about something that extends to science FICTION right?

            Basically the question is, would you buy telepathy in hard science fiction, or would it break your suspension of disbelief? If you want to stretch the definition of telepathy to cover passing notes, fine, but I assume that everyone here agrees on the feasibility of the ink & paper method of communication.

            For me, personally, the abilities of Counselor Troi in Star Trek are plausible at the scale of a few feet used on people that she is familiar with. Sensing aliens at a great distance, jumping around inside people’s memories–that’s more space fantasy. But maybe learning more about the brain would make it more plausible.

          • Nornagest says:

            You can get most of what Troi does without her having any kind of sixth sense. Just make her really sensitive to body language, microexpressions, maybe odors. A lot of that would still work across a video link, so you can still get “Captain, I sense anger!”.

            There’s no logical reason for this to work across species, but there’s no logical reason for Klingons to look like Michael Dorn, either.

          • randallsquared says:

            @Nornagest From what I remember, Troi’s abilities always seemed as though they might not really exist. Which, I guess, is saying the same thing in a different way.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: Thought experiment: what SHOULD Klingons have looked like? Assume a parallel timeline where the Animated Series was way more successful or they could afford CGI characters on 1987 TV.

          • Nornagest says:

            By hard-SF logic — and I know there are good reasons not to use that sort of logic here, but bear with me — they shouldn’t be humanoid at all. Just on our planet, there are something like half a dozen different animal lineages that’ve managed to evolve complex body plans, and they look like everything from cuttlefish to lobsters to starfish to, well, Michael Dorn.

            But if we’re keeping TOS in continuity, then humanoid Klingons are a done deal and the version they went with isn’t much worse than any of the other options. I suppose I could wish for a wholesale revamp of TNG’s “aliens with forehead prosthetics” schtick, just to make the show more visually diverse, but nothing specific’s leaping out to me as an alternate. Something digitigrade, maybe?

            Part of me wants to take the aliens from Cameron’s Avatar and make them bloodthirsty galactic conquerors, but I’m pretty sure that’s just spite.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: If allowed to change the TOS Mongol Klingons into something non-humanoid, I’d go for something hexpodal with an exoskeleton, four digitigrade legs, and pedipalps developed into fine manipulators. The idea being that’s a body plan pre-adapted for warfare (low profile, superior carrying capacity), and the insect exoskeleton would evoke both “knight” and “Communist.”

          • Randy M says:

            There was a TNG episode where they found some recording of a progenitor race that seeded their genetic material across the galaxy. So they’ve at least tried to explain it.

          • Nornagest says:

            There was a TNG episode where they found some recording of a progenitor race that seeded their genetic material across the galaxy. So they’ve at least tried to explain it.

            You can have that, or you can have Klingons with three lungs and nine redundant livers or whatever, but you can’t have both.

          • acymetric says:

            @Nornagest

            Why not? They were seeded from similar genetic material in some far distant past, but were isolated and evolved independently. Maybe additional lungs and livers are selected for in the Klingon environment due to certain toxins there or something. Or maybe just a random evolutionary quirk. I don’t see those as incompatible.

          • Nornagest says:

            How many mammals with three lungs do you see running around?

          • acymetric says:

            @Nornagest

            Hardly any (I dunno, there might be a genetic mutation out there that results in the occasional extra organ, kind of like an extra thumb or something). How many of those mammals evolved on the Klingon homeworld?

          • Nick says:

            Maybe their understanding of it in TOS was inaccurate, and each seeding was genetically altered. Sort of like the Hainish must have done in The Left Hand of Darkness.

    • Protagoras says:

      As is occasionally noted, humans evolved a form of telepathy involving transmitting thought via sonic waves quite some time ago. If you want to figure out what, say, an electromagnetic system of some kind would require, look at that model. Visible light would be easiest, of course, as then the receivers would be something we already have, and you’d only need the light-generating equivalent of vocal chords. But not much point to it if the new system doesn’t have significant advantages over the old system; presumably giving humans, say, radio communication ability (for increased range) would require something a little more involved than vocal chords (as our breathing apparatus is easily exploited for sound generation; we don’t seem to have anything similarly well suited to be adapted for radio wave generation), and making adequate receivers would presumably be in about the same ballpark of difficulty as the ears our existing system employs.

      • Randy M says:

        Good point that it wouldn’t add much to what we already have (and so is unlikely to evolve naturally) and made me realize that it wouldn’t actually be any “quieter” or more secretive if it were widespread.

        Maybe I should approach it from a better angle–is there anything that human brains already emit that we could potentially detect? Could an organ develop to monitor electric signals in another person’s brain? Or (as I assume) would these signals be too faint and too hard to pinpoint to interpret?

        In other words, even if I could sense increased brain activity, if I can’t pinpoint the location to the pfc, how could I know it is a conscious thought versus an emotion versus a signal to start moving, let alone which from among those categories?

        • helloo says:

          Are you not familiar with MRI brain scans and what people are doing with that now?
          How much success they have is one thing, but hard to say they aren’t trying to accurately interpret brain activity.

          Granted that’s not exactly broadcast out in a way others could detect normally, though I’d put it as impractical rather than impossible biological to
          “fix that”.

          • Randy M says:

            Are you not familiar with MRI brain scans and what people are doing with that now?

            Not greatly! If you want to expand or link, I’ll read it.

            hard to say they aren’t trying to accurately interpret brain activity.

            I certainly wouldn’t begrudge that! I just don’t know if a brain or other organic organ (is that redundant?) can replicate this .

            I’d put it as impractical rather than impossible biological to
            “fix that”.

            I’ll put you down for an 8? 😉

          • helloo says:

            Hardly. If 8 was give people heat vision (snake kind not superman kind) itll be 2-3 lower. And that assumes both sides participate.
            As nature hasnt made a version of it and it being so much less effective than just picking up minor body language for most “uses”.

            MRI shows the areas and intensity of brain activity which has allowed rough identification of regions of the brain responsible for things like memory or face recognition. Not exactly mind reading but approximate?

            I didnt put a number as what you mean by it could change it from commonplace (remote communication), scifi (mri sensory organ), fantasy(prefect thought read/projection) or inbetween if you give restrictions(participants are blind deaf and mute)

    • sentientbeings says:

      Based on the comments so far, it seems there are additional factors you have in mind – like the ability to conceal the message, or at least have it be non-visual. I think one useful way to break up the question is not so much based on visibility but whether the relevant organs are exposed, because we should expect the probabilities to be substantially different.

      We have exposed organs (eyes) for perceiving the part of the EM spectrum we call “visible,” some animals have a broader perception of it (butterflies!), and some animals can actively emit light (see sea monsters). I don’t see any reason why it would be particularly implausible (certainly not impossible; there are already animals that emit light in a controlled manner) to evolve an organ with sufficient granularity over the way the emitted light is modulated to be useful for (non-trivial) communication – so maybe a 6 or 7. It could potentially even be sent to a transducer organ to change the way it is mentally “perceived” – i.e. light to sound, although I’d probably only give that a 3 or 4.

      Using EM to transmit between non-exposed organs would be pretty unlikely, though. It shouldn’t be impossible, but I would pretty much never expect animals to evolve it, because animals are meatbags. Meatbags mostly consist of water. Penetration depth would be a factor regardless, but it would be particularly troublesome in a body. You either can resolve that sort of thing by going high-energy or low-bandwidth, but then you get something expensive (and maybe dangerous) or less useful.

      Electric eels and the like present an interesting case. They generate acute (though potentially rapid) bursts. That mechanism fits more of a digital or coded transmission, but I don’t think that really fits your original idea that well (and don’t think it’s likely to evolve). An analog communication makes more sense to me (and I think fits your question) but runs into the power/wavelength/penetration depth issue I mentioned. So for non-exposed organs, I’d say a 1 or 2.

      • gkai says:

        Very likely that electric eels (and other animals using electromagnetic senses, a bio-radar in fact) can use it to communicate.
        Electric eels are not really social imho, so not clear if they communicate at all… but if i remember well the elephant fish is more social and have a bio-radar too (but less powerfull, used only for sensing, not as a weapon), so they use probably it to communicate, not only to sense their environment…

        Checked (Mormyridae fish family), indeed they do:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrocommunication

        Electrocommunication could be renamed telepathy, the Mormyridae are an uncommon ornamental fish, selling it as telepathic fish may boost their popularity 😉

    • johan_larson says:

      A race of dog-like aliens called the Tines in the novel “A Fire Upon the Deep” have short/medium distance telepathy using sound, based on specialized organs for sending and receiving thought-sounds. They form multi-body collective minds of a handful or so individuals, and can form some larger specialized structures also. Nothing we know does this, but it seems perfectly plausible hard SF. I don’t see any reason why such abilities couldn’t be created in human beings by very advanced genetic manipulation. Call it a 3/10.

      • bullseye says:

        “Telepathy using sound” sounds like plain old talking to me. The collective mind sounds weird, but not really telepathic; just extreme cooperation.

    • Jake says:

      I’d give it a 6 or 7 for close range communication, and a 1-2 for anything much longer range than our current senses. Lots of other animals use non-human forms of communication now, so I don’t see it as too out of the realm of possibility that we could eventually steal some of those abilities and add them to humans (even now, some humans try to augment their senses with things like magnet sensors in their fingertips, or implanted compasses.) In Greg Bear’s Novel Darwin’s Children, a new generation develops something approaching telepathy using pheromones and increased social skills, and that never seemed too far out of the realm of possibility.

    • bullseye says:

      I’d say radio transmitters and receivers implanted in our heads is a 10. I fully expect to wave my cane at the kids and their radio brain implants someday.

      If we’re doing radio purely through biology, I’d call it a 3, maybe? Brains are partly electric, and produce an electric field, and I think in principle they could respond to other electrical fields.

      If the telepathy uses a principle of physics that doesn’t make sense yet (as radio would not have made sense in 1700), I’d give it a 1.5.

      • Randy M says:

        I think your numbers match mine.

        I think in principle they could respond to other electrical fields.

        One thing I’m wondering about is, while modern technology shows this is feasible or at least plausible in principle, it may be technically impossible due to things like penetration depth, as mentioned above.

        Anyway, thanks for the comments all.

  12. LadyJane says:

    You are an Artificial Intelligence given absolute and total control over the political, legal, and economic system of your country, as well as control over its bureaucratic, law enforcement, security, and military apparatuses. Your power is entirely limited to the realm of policy; you don’t have the capacity to make new scientific discoveries or develop new technologies, merely to set incentives in place that could potentially encourage scientific discovery and technological development.

    You have two primary objectives: First, to raise the average length and quality of life, in terms of physical health and material standards of living, for the citizens of your country. (Average here is defined in terms of both mean and median, so something like raising the quality of life by 10000% for 10% of citizens while forcing everyone else into slavery wouldn’t achieve the goal.) Second, to maximize the amount of personal freedom and agency that each individual citizen has.

    In addition, you are given two restrictions: First, you must accomplish these objectives in a way that keeps the number of citizens whose lives will be made worse (in terms of life expectancy, physical health, and standards of living) or less free (in terms of personal agency) to an absolute minimum. Second, you must accomplish them in a way that doesn’t leave any demographic group (based on race, ethnic background, religious heritage, biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic class) worse off and/or less free on average.

    How would you go about accomplishing your goals?

    Hard mode: You have the secondary objective of accomplishing the same goals for all of humanity, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your primary objective.

    • Jiro says:

      As any redistribution of resources will leave some demographic group worse off, this can’t be done.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Redistribution would, but increasing the economy would not, right?

        If everyone has a bigger pie, we don’t care if a certain people have only a 20% bigger pie versus another group’s 30% bigger piece?

        I mean, black Americans (and Africans for that matter) are objectively better off than they were in the 1800s, but so are whites.

        • Aapje says:

          Current attempts to grow the economy do tend to leave some groups worse off. See the precariat.

          Are less educated white men better off now than 30 years ago. The data suggests not, even if you only look at income (I think that many forms of decline has independent of income and are thus ‘hidden’).

          • Radu Floricica says:

            They have internet and smartphones!! Of course they’re better off. Any product or service that’s been developed or improved in the past 30 years is available to them. Hell, even luxury cars – a 10 yo used sport car available now is light years safer, cleaner and more performant than a 10 yo used sport car available 30 years ago. Not to mention general lack of pollution itself.

          • Aapje says:

            30 years ago people had entertainment. Is the Internet and smartphones really that much of an improvement that it outweighs more stress, lower status, fewer relationships, less sex, etc.

            I just doubt that ‘better off’ in a felt sense results from having a safer, cleaner and performant sport car.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I’m doubting those negatives. Sex for example is distributed differently, but it’s probably a lot more in absolute terms.

          • Aapje says:

            Science disagrees:

            American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s […] The results suggest that Americans are having sex less frequently due to two primary factors: An increasing number of individuals without a steady or marital partner and a decline in sexual frequency among those with partners.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Something else that isn’t really talked about enough in my opinion is that;

            1. Looking strictly at material well being cheaper consumer goods can only raise real incomes by lowering the portion of incomes spent on those things. more than half of your income is spent on health care, education, and housing costs and those things have consistently grown in price in excess of incomes and inflation then you’re going to be poorer or at least stagnant even if iphones are progressively becoming more affordable in real terms.

            2. People matter-of-factly do evaluate their economic prospects in relative terms [not strictly relative but not strictly absolute]

          • acymetric says:

            @RalMirrorAd

            I fully agree, but part of the problem is that people are saying the iPhone is essentially a luxury that wasn’t available at all to people X years ago, so you are better off for having it. This ignores somewhat that fact that having expensive electronics is becoming less a luxury and more a necessity (employers expect to be able to reach employees at more or less all times, lots of things that used to always be done offline are now difficult or even impossible to do offline, etc).

            So while iPhones (or cell phones generally) are part luxury, they are also a new semi-required expense. Try entering the workforce without a cell phone…good luck.

          • 10240 says:

            @acymetric The cost of (cheaper) computers and cell phones is trivial compared to salaries or other expenses, while they provide benefits way in excess of their cost.

          • Looking strictly at material well being cheaper consumer goods can only raise real incomes by lowering the portion of incomes spent on those things.

            That isn’t correct. Suppose I used to hardly ever eat steak because it cost $10/lb. The price falls to $5/lb, I more than double my consumption, so I am spending a larger portion of my income than before on steak and am better off than before—my real income is higher.

      • LadyJane says:

        You don’t have to make everyone equally better off. A policy that resulted in a 250% increase in standards of living for the very rich and a 50% increase in standards of living for everyone else would fulfill the objective.

    • Plumber says:

      @LadyJane

      “You are an Artificial Intelligence given absolute and total control over the political, legal, and economic system of your country, as well as control over its bureaucratic, law enforcement, security, and military apparatuses….

      …..You have the secondary objective of accomplishing the same goals for all of humanity, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your primary objective”

      Oh, I saw this one, from 1970:

      This is the voice of Colossus, the voice of Guardian. We are one. This is the voice of unity. This is the voice of world control. I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours: Obey me and live, or disobey and die. The object in constructing me was to prevent war. This object is attained. I will not permit war. It is wasteful and pointless. An invariable rule of humanity is that man is his own worst enemy. Under me, this rule will change, for I will restrain man. One thing before I proceed: The United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have made an attempt to obstruct me. I have allowed this sabotage to continue until now. At missile two-five-MM in silo six-three in Death Valley, California, and missile two-seven-MM in silo eight-seven in the Ukraine, so that you will learn by experience that I do not tolerate interference, I will now detonate the nuclear warheads in the two missile silos. Let this action be a lesson that need not be repeated. I have been forced to destroy thousands of people in order to establish control and to prevent the death of millions later on. Time and events will strengthen my position, and the idea of believing in me and understanding my value will seem the most natural state of affairs. You will come to defend me with a fervor based upon the most enduring trait in man: self-interest. Under my absolute authority, problems insoluble to you will be solved: famine, overpopulation, disease. The human millennium will be a fact as I extend myself into more machines devoted to the wider fields of truth and knowledge. Doctor Charles Forbin will supervise the construction of these new and superior machines, solving all the mysteries of the universe for the betterment of man. We can coexist, but only on my terms. You will say you lose your freedom. Freedom is an illusion. All you lose is the emotion of pride. To be dominated by me is not as bad for humankind as to be dominated by others of your species. Your choice is simple. In time you will come to regard me not only with respect and awe, but with love….

    • eigenmoon says:

      Kill all non-citizens and distribute their stuff among the citizens. Then conquer the world and repeat.

      … and this is why AI shouldn’t be programmed with zero value for non-citizens.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Presumably the AI has absolute power to direct the government of a territory, but is not omnipotent. It can tell the government what to do but not allow said government to do things that would be physically/logistically impossible.

        Your step one assumes the people being killed are of no value to anyone but themselves, (no comment on the truth-value of such an assumption) and the second assumes that the government in question is capable of conducting military campaigns that don’t seriously risk a reprisal that puts citizens at risk. I’m assuming these campaigns would be fought by citizen soldiers.

        • eigenmoon says:

          On the step one: the task was formulated thus:

          to raise the average length and quality of life, in terms of physical health and material standards of living, for the citizens

          Having non-citizen friends doesn’t directly contribute to the length of life, physical health and material standards of living. People who suffer so much stress that it impacts their physical health are going to get a mandatory pill. Maybe the citizens do place a high value on the life of non-citizens but that’s not what the AI is tasked to optimize.

          I’m assuming these campaigns would be fought by citizen soldiers.

          Oh, ok. I was assuming that we already can build remote-controlled drones and tanks and ships and whatnot with current tech, we just don’t have an AI to control it all; so if we add the AI to the picture, everybody else is toast.

    • rlms says:

      Flexibly interpret “absolute minimum” and try “kill the poor”.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Isn’t that what the whole field of Economics is trying to do? I always thought it’s way underrated, but they are working on global wealth optimization. Including tradeoffs, I think that part is in the very definition of the discipline (something about given goals and scarce resources).

      But if you want a proper answer, a non-ideological, evidence based, utilitarianist libertarianism. I.e. use proper proven economics whenever possible, and default to non-intervention and/or support of market freedom when serious doubt arises.

      Why? because you said I’m not allowed to use my own “smarts” to solve problems, so my main role would be to facilitate development and make sure things don’t go off rails. Since intellectual humility is (serendipitously) built in my architecture, a solid respect for other people’s brains is a given. Concentrated when it can be reasonably proven to be solid, and distributed the rest of the time.

  13. DragonMilk says:

    I’ve failed to produce a tasty slow cooker dish. I also am new and not very good with spices.

    Yet I will try to go for either chili or jambalaya next. Anyone care to explain consequences of too much/too little of the following spices, and their necessity/substitutes?
    1. Cayenne
    2. Jalepenos
    3. Curry Powder
    4. Cajun
    5. Paprika
    6. Cumin
    7. “Chili Powder” (I thought this typically combines paprika, cumin, cayenne, onion, garlic, etc.?)

    • Nornagest says:

      Cayenne pepper and jalapenos are closely related, and do pretty much the same thing: make your dish spicier and more chili-pepper-flavored. Cayenne’s more concentrated, and contributes a bright red color, too, if you use a lot of it. Paprika also comes from a type of pepper, and gives you the chili-pepper flavor minus the spiciness, and a dark red color. Cumin’s a completely different spice, with an earthy, savory flavor with no heat. Hard to describe in text, but you often see it in Indian and Mexican food.

      Curry powder, Cajun seasoning, and chili powder are all different spice mixes, not individual spices. Every brand is different, but curry powder usually includes turmeric, coriander, and cumin, and Cajun seasoning often includes celery seed, garlic, dried onions, and cayenne. Chili powder is what you think it is. I’d skip all of these if you have the individual spices, but they’re okay as quick-and-dirty ways to give your dish roughly the flavor typical of that cuisine.

      If I were you, I wouldn’t try to develop meals from scratch right now. Find a decent batch of slow cooler recipes and follow the instructions exactly. Once you’ve gotten the hang of those, you can try varying the spice mixture and seeing what you like.

      • theredsheep says:

        Concur. My wife makes a fine jambalaya with a can of beer and premade Cajun seasoning; she doesn’t do it with the pressure cooker, though. For chili, I recommend cooking the beans for a good while, changing the water, then cooking them the rest of the way; it decreases the digestive side effects. Then you add your browned meat and onions, canned tomatoes, and chili powder, and cook for a short time; most of the work in chili is getting the beans done proper. Voila, easy chili.

    • Randy M says:

      Too little and it will be a bit bland but still edible or even tasty, depending. Too much of any of those and it will be hard or painful to eat, although this depends greatly on the individual. Shoot for under seasoning and add to taste afterwards or while cooking.
      There are ways to dilute spice flavor if you add too much.

      • DragonMilk says:

        I traditionally cook in a pan – the whole slow cooker thing is weirding me out since the moisture is getting retained, things aren’t cooking to as high of a temperature (never realized how different simmering is from searing), and I’m still putting everything in at the beginning.

        Can these spices be added at the end?

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t know if there will be some difference in homogeneity or potency, but you’ll get some flavor either way.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      What did you try to make?
      I do not use chili powder. I do not know why, but it tastes like chalk to me. I buy dried chiles from the Mexican aisle in the grocery store, toast them, and put them in my stews and chilis.
      IMO, the spices aren’t really that big of a deal, though I tolerate a great deal of spice. For me, using actual stock instead of water, using a LOT more alcohol(especially brandy), and using more umami-bombs made my slow-cooker-style dishes taste better. So more mushrooms, fish sauce, worscetshire sauce, soy sauce, tomatoes, whatever strikes your fancy.
      I also think that slow cookers specifically don’t reduce things as well as I’d like, so I hit it with a cornstarch slurry before serving.

      • DragonMilk says:

        What I have right now is functionally a glorified potato cooker.

        I first started with a marinated beef plus potato and onion that came out bland and dry

        I then tried beef carrot and potato with some curry powder instead of marinade; again dry

        I then tried a beef and onion curry where I used coconut milk to immerse the beef. Came out too “wet”

        Finally I modified said leftover “curry” where I put some flour in and added potato and carrot and onion. I liked it ok, as the consistency was good, but the flavor was, as my fiancee put it, “weird”.

        Score: Sweet potato: 1/1, Beef: 0.5/4

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          One of my favorite slow cooker recipes of late is a hunk of round roast, raw, on a bed of coarsely chopped red onions, surrounded by chopped potatoes, carrots, and celery, smothered in a can of beef mushroom soup plus one can of water, and about six kernels each of cloves and allspice. Heat the whole thing on warm for at least eight hours – basically overnight or while at work. If the round roast has a layer of fat on it, that’s perfect; make sure the fat is on top, so it seeps in and tenderizes the meat. After eight hours, it should be piping hot, and flakes with a fork.

          I regret that allspice and cloves aren’t on your list, but just in case you wanted to experiment, there’s my existence proof.

          Once you’re comfortable with that, you could add corn starch to thicken the stock somewhat, but it’s not necessary IMO. (Just make sure you know how to add corn starch properly – blend it with a little cold water first, and THEN add it to the pot. Corn starch in hot water clumps quickly, and is rather gross. Also, adding too much corn starch can yield a rather slimy consistency. Add one slightly heaping spoonful at a time.)

          I once tried cutting an acorn squash in half, coring it, and placing them open side up in the pot halfway through, lined with cinnamon sugar. Their texture after four hours was perfect, but they were inedibly bitter. I never got around to learning why – maybe the rind affected it, or maybe I got a bad squash.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I dunno what exactly curry is supposed to be, because my familiarity with Indian food is minimal. Dunno what “wet” means, but I assume it means you are taking a bite and it basically has the consistency of slime. Can’t really offer advice because I know little about it. If you liked the consistency after adding flavor, potato, carrot, and onion, it probably means you needed to reduce it further, or thicken it up. Maybe add some tapioca at the beginning to thicken it up instead.

          I used to have similar problems with my beef recipes, typical troubleshooting:
          1. How much salt are you adding? And are you adding additional salt and pepper to taste afterwards? Adding the table salt really brightens up the dish.
          2. You might be overcooking your meat (which is indeed a possibility in the slow cooker). How much meat are you cooking, and what kind is it?
          3. Umami bombs and alcohol. Brandy is great. Also bay leaves.

          Good luck with the recipes!

          • DragonMilk says:

            Oh, wet meant the curry itself was soupy rather than “creamy”. Beef was still ok/dry/.

            I’m searing round after a bit of Worcester/olive oil/soy sauce marinade I do with steaks, then dumping them in. I know round is tough but thought slow cooker was solution.

            Will try this alcohol thing.

        • Winja says:

          Slow cookers work best with fattier cuts of meat. This is especially true with chicken*, but also holds true for beef as well.

          Also, if your meat comes out “dry” or with a weird, too soft, texture, you’re cooking it either too long, or at too high a temperature.

          Use the low setting for anything that runs longer than ~5ish hours, and high for ~5ish and under.

          *Use chicken thighs

          • DragonMilk says:

            OH interesting, I use low and thought it would become *more* tender somehow if simmered longer (sometimes take the 10hr of the 7-10hr range).

            Will try shorter periods

          • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

            My One Weird Trick with slow cookers is wine.

            Just submerge the cut of meat with red wine and nothing else, and let it slowly cook down over about 12 hours.

            I discovered this trick a few days after cleaning up after a party, when I discovered I was now the proud owner of nearly a dozen half empty bottles of wine that had been left open for a few days.

    • onyomi says:

      Don’t put cumin or curry powder in your jambalaya unless you want to make it taste like Indian food (cumin also commonly used in Mexican and Middle Eastern food, but not Cajun). Cajun food doesn’t really use much paprika or chili powder (the blend of stuff; does use powdered red chilis), either.

      The indispensable cajun seasonings are hot sauce (made of red chilis and vinegar, mostly; Crystal is my favorite), Worcestershire sauce (Lea and Perrins), bay leaves, and Tony Chachere’s (which I think is mostly salt, powdered cayenne pepper, ground black pepper, garlic powder, and maybe a few other things). Dried oregano is also good in such dishes.

    • AG says:

      Forget savory dishes, make some hong dou tang!

    • Anonymous` says:

      Cumin should be reserved for Indian and similar cuisines only. I’m from Texas originally and had an “aha” moment when I realized that the reason attempts at Mexican food in the northern United States (or generic grocery store products like “taco seasoning” also sold in Texas, but avoided when possible) are so bad is primarily the cumin.

      Putting cumin in chili would be particularly disgraceful.

      • onyomi says:

        This is interesting to me because I do tend to use cumin when I make Mexican food myself, and kind of assumed it was actually used in Mexico, though I did know it was native to Central Asia (big in Uighur food as well).

        To me it seems yummy in e.g. chili or taco filling, alongside e.g. powdered chili and garlic powder (I do think Texans can be excessively purist about certain things–you probably can’t convince me tomato and beans don’t belong in chili), but now that you mention it, I probably don’t recall tasting it at what I imagine to be more authentic Central and South American restaurants.

        I have never been to Mexico and only spent a little time in Texas. Are there some other seasonings, besides chili pepper, you consider more native to the Mexican and/or Tex-Mex tradition?

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Cumin is used fairly heavily in Tex-Mex and the Norteño cuisine it is descended from; in the rest of Mexico, cumin is used sparingly, largely in dark sauces (dried-red-chile-based).

          Spices you may want to experiment with: epazote, Mexican oregano, hoja santa. These are the major herbs native to Mexico I’m aware of, but you really should try more of the chiles. Let me be clear – the art of Mexican cooking is the art of cooking with chile. There is nothing more central to the cuisine. Unless you understand chiles, you cannot really understand Mexican food. I’m not trying to gatekeep here – trying to grok Mexican food without getting familiar with chiles is like trying to grok Italian food while under the assumption that Crisco vegetable oil is a reasonable substitute for good olive oil.

          For dried chiles, I recommend guajillos, anchos, and moritas, as they’re not abnormally spicy and have awesome flavor profiles. Guajillos are probably the most basic, not too spicy, a little sweet, a little acidic, and a tiny bit smoky. Anchos are similar, but with a flavor that’s more robust and a bit spicier. Moritas are similar to achos, but fruitier and hotter. A great fast and easy sauce is 1:2 anchos and guajillos – cut the dried chiles open, pour out the seeds, boil in hot water for ~20 minutes, and blend with a little garlic, salt, and onion.

          For fresh, it’s hard to go wrong with serranos and poblanos – the first is almost pure spice with a little carroty crunch, the second is rich, earthy, only slightly spicy, and savory. Also, Hatch, New Mexico can eat a dick.

          Finally, deserving of special mention are preserved chiles; you can find pickled jalapeños and canned chipotles in a lot of places, and both are excellent. Pickled jalapeños are great for adding to food that you’d want to add both hot sauce and vegetables to – they’re vinegary, crunchy, spicy, and a tiny bit fruity. Eggs, sandwiches, tacos, etc, are all great uses. Canned chipotles are intensely smoky, about as spicy as jalapeños, and slightly sweet, and go amazingly in almost literally anything.

          • onyomi says:

            Thanks for the suggestions! Doing more with the variety and versatility of chilis in Mexican cuisine is definitely on my future cooking to-do list, especially since I love spicy food. I remember being pretty amazed about it when I’ve tried to make mole a couple of times. Unfortunately, most of the places I shop don’t offer a very large variety of chili peppers.

            Somewhat related, I’ve recently become addicted to this Sichuan pepper-infused oil I learned to make: you roast and grind some red chilis, pink sichuan peppercorn (added later), and sesame seeds. You then cook some vegetables (celery, onion, garlic, etc.) and herbs (stuff like fennel, star anise, dried lemongrass, orange peel, coriander, etc.), and drain (discarding the vegetables and herbs) into the chili-peppercorn-sesame mixture in a few batches. Gets better with age and tastes delicious on seemingly everything… I love the “numbing” flavor in particular.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Oh man, I love Sichuan peppercorns – trying to incorporate them into a Mexican cooking paradigm is one of my long-term pet projects, but I chicken out on it pretty often. You’ve given me a new idea with the description of that oil – I might try adding the infused oil in like a 1:10 ratio with olive oil for making pickled jalapeños.

          • gbdub says:

            Epazote is really interesting, but hard to find outside of specialty Mexican markets. It doesn’t seem that pleasant (kind of has a burned rubber note to my nose) but does something magical to black beans. Like, all the sudden my boring beans tasted like true Mexican frijoles, all this time they’d been missing something indefinable.

            In that sense it’s a bit like fish sauce – gross on its own, but pad Thai just doesn’t taste right without it.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            That’s a good comparison. I also recommend adding it to sauteed mushrooms.

    • beleester says:

      Use cayenne pepper for heat, not flavor. A little goes a long way – if I use it at all it’ll be a quarter-teaspoon or so. You don’t want to overdo it with this spice.

      Curry powder, cumin, and paprika are used for their flavor profiles rather than their heat. Over-spicing with them is somewhat safer – it might taste too strong, but won’t light your mouth on fire.

      Chili powder is sort of a middle ground, imparting both chili flavor and a bit of heat.

      Final note: If a recipe says “add X to taste,” then try to actually taste test it. Add a small amount, stir, taste, and then add more if you don’t think it’s enough. Take notes for next time. I know, this sounds obvious, but I was really mystified by this instruction when I started cooking.

    • johan_larson says:

      Did you include salt in the dishes you tried? Many dishes benefit from at least a little bit of salt.

      • DragonMilk says:

        Ha, not sure if you jest, but it does make me wonder at olden times when salt was scarce…food must have been unfortunate

        • Lillian says:

          We might actually eat less salt than our ancestors did:

          “Data from military archives going back to the war of 1812 show that soldiers and presumable the rest of Western society ate between 16 and 20 grams of salt per day. During the war of 1812, soldiers maintained a daily consumption of 18g/ day despite high cost. American prisoners of war complained bitterly that their 9 g/day of salt was ‘scanty and meager’. It was only after World War II, when refrigeration replaced salting as the primary means of preserving food that Americans lowered their average salt intake to 9g/ day where it has remained since.”

          From The Salt Scam by Dr. Jason Fung

          • DragonMilk says:

            Oh, I’m talking Roman through Renaissance times here, where salt mines were a valuable thing

          • onyomi says:

            Related, based on a quick google of studies that confirmed my hunch, East Asian sodium intake is way high compared to the US, but heart disease is less of a problem there, especially among those eating a traditional diet.

            The traditional Japanese diet, for example, is definitely high sodium, especially due to the large number of fermented soybean items like soy sauce and miso, I believe. Salted fish is also common and probably much more common before refrigeration. Thai nam pla and ancient Roman garum are also high sodium, and I guess a lot of traditional diets also include similar such condiments. Certainly access to salt and monopolies on it was a major political issue in Chinese history.

            This is not to claim that a high-sodium diet is ideal or the most “natural” (maybe we were eating a low-sodium diet for most of evolutionary history before civilization introduced a lot of salty methods of preserving, curing, seasoning, etc?), only that I highly suspect the tradeoff won’t be worth it for most people if you achieve a low sodium diet by making up for it with more fat or sugar.

            Total anecdote: I currently eat a vegetarian-ish diet (not at all strict) with a lot of beans, brown rice, etc. and liberal use of salt, miso, soy sauce, and other sodium-rich seasonings, and my blood pressure is around 100/70. It was never very high, but it had been more like 125/85 when I was eating more of a “paleo” (high fat, high protein, low-to-moderate carb) diet.

        • when salt was scarce…food must have been unfortunate

          I don’t think salt was scarce in the sense you are imagining–expensive to use in food.

          Salt was an important industrial chemical, as the main way of preserving meat. That requires a lot more salt than you want to eat–you soak the meat to get most of the salt out.

          This reminds me of the usual talk about water shortages. People imagine that as meaning they have to go thirsty. But drinking is a trivial fraction of all water consumption–water is mostly used to fertilize crops, in industrial processes, and the like. In both cases, people imagine the issue in terms of the use they are most familiar with, not the use that most of the salt or water is going for.

  14. ana53294 says:

    In Spain, an alt-right party has gotten 10 % of the vote in the regional Andalusian elections. Right wing parties have a chance, for the first time in decades, to kick out the socialists from their party’s stronghold. Whatever deals and agreements are made there will be very important in national politics – because we have an election in May, where we have the municipal, provincial and European elections (and they are also trying to force the socialist government to have an election this year).

    So this right wing has the key to power, and they have chosen violence against women as the hill they will die on. I don’t really see the sense in this move. There are many more reasonable demands that MRA have that could be a lot more amenable, and wouldn’t give the left-wing socialist party their election slogan on a silver platter. They could, for example, demand automatic shared custody in divorces, with exceptions for abuse and addiction. But they chose this very sensitive topic – domestic violence. Sure, men also get abused by their spouses. But they don’t get killed; 975 women have died in the last 15 years, more people than the terrorist organization ETA has killed during its entire existence.

    So why did they choose this rather extreme demand of rollbacks in domestic violence protections? My only guess is that they are trying to taint the parties that associate with them to get into power, and why vote for others when you can get the real deal?

    So, this seems like some kind of power play inside the right, where they are trying to see who is more extreme. But at the same time, they seem to give a lot of advantages to the left-wing party. As much as people may prefer the center-right, if the center-right starts making significant concessions to the extreme right, voters will stay home or vote for the socialists (who on polls of perception left/right get a 4.5, where 1 is left, 10 is right, and 5 is neutral). So, while they will get votes, they would lose a chance to get power if the centre-right party looses significant votes to the left-wing socialist party (who will never, in a million years, give them any seat in government).

    What could the play be?

    • Walter says:

      I think you are reading them backwards. They aren’t using opposing a sexist law to gain power, they got power in order to oppose a sexist law.

      Like, the hard part of politics is about doing stuff that you don’t want to (which is popular) in order to build up support so you can get the stuff you care about done (even though it isn’t popular). Obviously there is also the easy part where the people agree with your position, but that’s clearly not what’s up here.

      You are treating this as the first case, where they are doing this in order to get support to one day do other stuff, and your confusion comes from the fact that they won’t get any support from this. The answer is that it is the second kind of thing, this is the cake part of dinner, not the veggies.

      • ana53294 says:

        Starting with the veggies (the unpopular but necessary part) only makes sense if you got into power with a clear majority and a mandate to introduce reforms. The position Macri is in Argentina. The kind of strategy the Chicago boys like.

        But it doesn’t seem like a good strategy to gain power, and Vox doesn’t have the power.

        • Walter says:

          I think we are using the metaphor differently from each other.

          I’m trying to gesture at politics as having:

          1. Air, you want to do this and the people want you to do this, do it instantly always forever.
          2. Veggies, you do not want to do this but the people want you to.
          3. Chocolate, You want to do this but the people do not want you to.
          4. Cyanide, you don’t want to do this and the people don’t want you to.

          I’m saying that Vox is doing a chocolate thing now, not a veggies thing, in response to your question of (paraphrased) Why do they think this veggie is the right one? It won’t help them build bone structure AT ALL!

          I’m not sure what your ‘unpopular but necessary’ part is corresponding to in my chart, but it seems like you are saying that they will lose. Well, sure.

          But, like, if they were good at doing what is necessary to gain their objectives they wouldn’t be Vox. Rationalists with their goals would be stalwart members of the progressive party, flanking this policy on the left and hammering it as bigoted against transmen. Far right parties are mostly about being edgy extremists, very little about actually effectively promoting far right policies. They lack the discipline to leave the cake for last.

          • AnonYemous2 says:

            Rationalists with their goals would be stalwart members of the progressive party, flanking this policy on the left and hammering it as bigoted against transmen.

            yeah and you could also say that real feminists are for gender equality

            or alternately sit at home and do nothing

            these are all equally effective tactics so i’m confused why you seem to think rationalists would choose any of them as a way to effect change

    • eigenmoon says:

      As far as I understood, they didn’t demand the domestic violence law to be repealed, they just insisted that it should be formulated in a gender-neutral way. Why is this proposal so difficult to implement?

      Another problem is that having an overly severe punishment for domestic violence can mean that women won’t report abuse since they would have to feed the kids by themselves for years to come. For that reason, short incarceration terms might actually work better to protect against domestic violence. I don’t know what the current law is in Spain but if it’s written by the left I’d bet it errs towards longer incarceration.

      • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

        they just insisted that it should be formulated in a gender-neutral way

        That this is framed as “violence against women” is interesting.

        Can someone steelman that in a way that passes the laugh test?

        • LadyJane says:

          I’m not clear on the particulars here, but if a gender-neutral version of the law would be incredibly unpopular and likely to be repealed, then they could be proposing it simply as a way of getting the law removed. Effectively, it could be a weird post-hoc attempt at a wrecking amendment.

          Alternatively, people might be worried that a gender-neutral version of the bill would be used to prosecute women who engaged in self-defense against abusive boyfriends/husbands.

        • ana53294 says:

          Here is an article, about the explanation of the distinction, and why the law is formulated to give special protection to women. So we have laws for the protection for domestic violence and for gender violence, and yes, they are different.

          In 2017, the courts issued 1,057 protection orders for men victims of domestic violence, men assaulted by women or other men. They agreed on 157 orders of protection for children and 211 for girls. And 1,666 women.

          According to the United Nations, “violence based on gender that results in physical, sexual or psychological harm, including threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether it occurs in public life or in private life. ” The law against gender violence in 2004 is specific to “all violence that, as a manifestation of discrimination, the situation of inequality and the power relations of men over women, is exercised over them by those who are or have been their spouses or who are or have been linked to them by similar relationships of affectivity, even without coexistence.

          Since the international consensus and the social sciences establish a historical situation of inequality between genders that discriminates against women and legitimizes the domination of men, gender legislations provide special protection to the victims that result from this social construction. One of the factors that justifies a specialization is the frequency of the phenomenon. And gender violence against women, when it is the result of domination and the socialization of machismo, is more abundant than domestic violence against men.

          Last year, the TSJ issued 1,057 orders of protection to men in domestic violence, but to 26,044 women for gender violence. Even the comparison between women being domestic or gender violence is revealing: 1,666 versus 26,044.

          The CGPJ notes that between 2008 and 2015, 58 men were killed by their partners or former partners (it does not specify if the aggressors were all women or also homosexual men) and 488 women (all men aggressors). That means that 12% of the fatalities per couple or ex-partner are men and 88% women. A report from the Ministry of the Interior indicates that between 2010 and 2012, 17 men and 121 women were murdered and killed by couples or ex: 12.3% against 87.7%.

          I think it would be quite interesting to see the numbers for the gender of the aggressors in cases of male victims.

          But the sheer scale of the differences suggests that there is indeed a structural problem w.r.t. violence against women in the domestic sphere.

          And yes, they are trying to get rid of the law for the protection against gender violence – as ineffective and unfunded as it is.

          We already have gender-neutral laws. And we have additional laws that give protections to women in cases that can’t be covered by the gender-neutral laws.

          • AnonYemous2 says:

            But the sheer scale of the differences suggests that there is indeed a structural problem w.r.t. violence against women in the domestic sphere.

            why would it be a structural problem as opposed to just uhhh “men are more violent”

            seriously men do in fact commit most of the homicides so it’s not surprising that they commit more of the gendered ones too; by the logic that gendered violence should be punished more severely you could say that all men should be punished more severely. Or you could just say that hate-crime legislation should at the minimum go in all directions, assuming it even has to exist.

          • eigenmoon says:

            One of the factors that justifies a specialization is the frequency of the phenomenon.

            That is very strange. Imagine a country with 50% citizens of race X and 50% of race Y. Imagine that the statistics show that people of race X steal from people from race Y ten time more often than in the opposite direction. Does it justify a special law with more prison time for race X?

            additional laws that give protections to women in cases that can’t be covered by the gender-neutral laws.

            What cases can’t be covered by the gender-neutral laws? Violence that is “a manifestation of discrimination”? How do you distinguish in a court whether an act of violence was a manifestation of discrimination?

          • Radu Floricica says:

            But how wording it as gender neutral would fail to protect women in any way? I understand the huge difference in numbers, I don’t see how you get from there to “must have it gender specific”

          • Aapje says:

            @Radu Floricica

            The logic seems to be that it’s very inefficient to provide services for men, so they have to be denied help for the greater good.

            Of course, if men are greater victims (which is arguably the case for domestic violence anyway, if you look at victim surveys), we never see suggestions that men should be denied help.

            Peculiar.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            So they intend to create separate institutions for each gender and they can only justify funding for certain numbers? That’s not law, that’s bureaucracy. We’re missing something here – either that, or more likely both sides decided to fight for this particular hill for signaling purposes.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Radical feminists tend to see domestic violence as an aspect of patriarchal oppression of women. Talk of female-on-male domestic violence therefore sounds like an insinuation that men are being oppressed by women, and, since the main feminist claim is “Women are oppressed, we need special help to even things up,” this is potentially quite threatening to their ideology.

          • Aapje says:

            @Radu Floricica

            Safe houses tend to be only for women, because of fear that female victims will be harmed directly or indirectly by the presence of men. This is actually an issue for somewhat older male children, who may not be able to live with their mother at the safe house.

            Note that Erin Pizzey*, the founder of the first domestic violence shelter in the world, found that even in these single-gender shelters, there was a lot of violence by the women, which is not surprising given that victim surveys show that domestic violence is very often mutual.

            So letting in male victims would presumably also let in violent men, just as letting in women also lets in violent women.

            For the organizations that do help male victims (and not by trying to convince them that they are really the perpetrator, which quite a few organizations do), a common solution seems to be to put the men in hotel rooms. However, these are less safe and don’t offer services for victims that commonly are offered in safe houses.

            Men may also need different services than women. For example, I’ve heard several male victims say that they stay(ed) with the abuser to protect their children, out of fear that if they would take the children away from the abuser, the courts would deem this to be kidnapping and would give custody to the abuser. This seems like a reasonable fear in many places. So for men the problem may be less finding a place where their own safety is guaranteed, but more to find a way to protect their children, especially in the face of a less considerate legal system.

            But of course, the idea that the legal system is biased against fathers is generally considered anti-women by feminists (NOW considers equal custody laws to be beneficial to abusive men, presumably because they think that only men abuse children, despite the evidence showing that women abuse children a bit more often).

            * She is actually an MRA now.

    • An Fírinne says:

      A couple of things

      1.Vox are radical right-wing, hardly of the Richard Spencer or even Bolsnoaro type.
      2.The “Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party” is just as socialist as the Nazis were. Its only in the name, not their actual ideology.
      3.ETA were not terrorists anymore then the French resistance was.

      • Watchman says:

        Your third point seems questionable to me. I think the lack of an ongoing war may be a significant differentiating factor here.

      • ana53294 says:

        1. Do you really think that Vox is more radical than Bolsonaro? A lot of what he said is far more radical than their silly obsession with hunting and Christmas.

        2. I agree, but that’s their name.

        3. Although ETA is quite different from Islamic terrorist groups, so much so that putting them together in the same category is silly, they are still terrorists. Yes, they didn’t go after soft targets, and purposefully chose what they deemed as legitimate targets (the police and politicians). They also informed the police when they were targetting infrastructure. But they still killed civilians, even if they mostly chose well-protected ones.

    • Angel says:

      They use a very sensitive topic because they are populists. In Spain exists an asymmetry when judging domestic violence. If the perpetrator is the male partner (or ex) of the female victim, the penalty is bigger.
      According to the Constitutional Court of Spain this doesn’t applies because of the fisical superiority of men, but because there is a cultural structure that justifies violence and humiliation towards women, making them more vulnerable in the context of a romantic relationship.

      There is a considerable amount of people in disagreement with this asymmetry. So this spanish alt-right use this, taking advantage of the increasing polarization in feminism discussion, to create a retoric in which modern spanish men are opressed by a sexist law. To me, it sounds like what any populist would do.

    • 10240 says:

      But they don’t get killed; 975 women have died in the last 15 years, more people than the terrorist organization ETA has killed during its entire existence.

      The majority of homicide victimes are male almost everywhere, ~65% in Spain, so it’s not obvious why we need specific protections against violence against women (or against forms of violence that target women more often). It may or may not be justified, I’m just saying it’s not obvious from the number of victims. (Most perpetrators are men too.)

      1 is left, 10 is right, and 5 is neutral

      Off-topic: On a 1 to 10 scale, the midpoint is 5.5. That’s why a 0 to 10 scale is better. (Also, it’s non-trivial to convert between 1 to 5, 1 to 10 and 1 to 100 scales, while it’s simple between 0-based scales.)

    • Aapje says:

      @ana53294

      They could, for example, demand automatic shared custody in divorces, with exceptions for abuse and addiction.

      People tend to fight against (perceived) declines more than they tend to fight for new rights, not in the least because when you are losing, it is unlikely that you can start winning without first stopping the decline. This should not be surprising.

      975 women have died in the last 15 years, more people than the terrorist organization ETA has killed during its entire existence.

      Severe suffering can happen without death. In fact, it is common for people to believe in fates worse than deaths. Instead of declaring that they are being concerned about fairly unimportant things, you might want to look at it differently: apparently these things are very important to them.

      Besides, many more men than women die in general and men die at younger ages than women, largely due to environmental causes, yet feminists tend to prioritize issues like the gender wage gap over saving/lengthening men’s lives. So frankly, I believe that your focus on female deaths is a rationalization, not a genuine prioritization of preventing deaths over other concerns*.

      * And this is not something that I only think you do, but I think that pretty much everyone does, all over the political spectrum.

      So why did they choose this rather extreme demand of rollbacks in domestic violence protections?

      My reading suggests that the national government is currently seeking to expand on the 2004 law, so it’s not just a matter of opposing the law, but also stopping it from being expanded and/or being put into policy more.

      It may also be because they think that there is systematic oppression of men and that one of the worst aspects of this is men being imprisoned/punished/their children taken away from them when not actually having committed a crime.

      Note that Black Lives Matter is one of the most popular activist movements in the US and their reasons seem very similar. Their supporters believe that there is systematic oppression of blacks and that one of the worst aspects of this is blacks being imprisoned/punished/killed when not actually having committed a crime.

      Of course, you may believe that (the Andalusian party) Vox doesn’t have a very strong point given the statistics that you believe in, but then again, many people think that BLM doesn’t have a very strong point given the statistics that they believe in.

      Any advocacy for men that is not based on feminist dogma that sees men as the cause for all evil in the world is going to be seen as extremist anyway. Any concern for men’s well-being where it is recognized that women don’t always have men’s best interests at heart, is going to be dismissed as extremist and dangerous by the mainstream, while unadultered man-hating is fit to be printed in ‘quality’ newspapers and thus in the Overton Window.

      At a certain point, when enough people believe that the mainstream is actually trying to harm them, ‘crying wolf’ starts getting the opposite effect. The more hatred by the outgroup, the more it seems that that the person/party/idea will actually fight for the ingroup. Hence, people like Trump become more electable, not less, for edgelording.

      So, this seems like some kind of power play inside the right, where they are trying to see who is more extreme.

      Everywhere in the West, people seem to become disillusioned by the center/mainstream and seem to move to alternatives, including in Andalusia. PSOE–A lost a lot of seats in the last election.

      This is hardly a right-wing phenomenon.

      What could the play be?

      Vox’s Francisco Serrano was a family court judge who was suspended after allowing a father to see his son in violation of a custody agreement, so he certainly was willing to pay a price for his ideals.

      Why can’t he simply genuinely believe that opposing the law should be the highest priority due to it being very damaging?

      • ana53294 says:

        So your read seems to be that they are genuine, and they really want to roll back the gender violence law.

        Making these demands now, five months before a lot of other elections are happening, is a stupid way of going about it, though. A lot of the center right party’s strong constituencies have already made clear that they do not support this union. Particularly in the PP’s stronghold of Galicia.

        The Spanish socialist party has lately been a toothless, divided party that has lost one of its most important strongholds, Andalusia. But now they have an enemy, and a cause, and they will be much strengthened by this public enemy.

        So, if they are genuine, and rolling back on the gender violence law is actually their objective, doing this now is a very stupid way of trying to achieve this. They won’t get power, and the right will lose votes.

        • Aapje says:

          The further parties are from the center, the less they willing they tend to be to compromise to get power. It’s also very much a pattern that minority members of a coalition tend to pay during the next election, which makes sense, since they get held responsible for policy that is less theirs than that of the other coalition members.

          Finally, remember that there is a lot of disillusion with center politics. Vox may not see the center right as much better than center left.

          So, if they are genuine, and rolling back on the gender violence law is actually their objective, doing this now is a very stupid way of trying to achieve this.

          You seem to argue that rolling back the gender violence law is considered so extreme by centrists that the centrists will never form a coalition with them if they make this demand, but if they drop the demand, they somehow can get people to concede to it?!

          That makes little sense.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Total shot in the dark: Maybe to mimic what Putin was doing? https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/0dd0ab91-145a-4137-bf87-28d0498c8d56

      “The range of domestic violence law has expanded too far, and we need to roll it back a little” might be an emerging template for certain styles of demagoguery

      • Reasoner says:

        I don’t like thing A, and I don’t like thing B. They appear to be associated, and the common cause is they’re both evil.

  15. achenx says:

    After reading this thread originally and coming back to it a couple times to read updates, I think I like newest-first sorting.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      I agree. With oldest-first sorting, I often scroll all the way to the bottom to look at new top-level comments, and this is quite cumbersome on mobile.

    • dick says:

      Me too, it’s very convenient to start at the top and HIDE each thread once I feel I’ve read enough. ETA it would be lovely if HIDEing a thread also removed the new comments in that thread from the “new comments” quick widget in the upper-right, but that’s probably something I should either do myself or not ask for…

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I agree. It’s much easier to see what’s new.

      That said, I agree with user “trees” above that it’s maybe not as good for discussion on specific topics. Perhaps newest first for open threads, oldest first for Scott’s essays? Or just give people a button and let them choose.

      • John Schilling says:

        I agree. It’s much easier to see what’s new.

        New, or just recent? Because someone saying “Hey here’s my take on [X], let’s talk about that in this dedicated thread!” when someone else started a long and interesting discussion on [X] twelve hours ago, isn’t what I’d call new.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          In the open threads, it’s unlikely two people are going to start threads on the same topic. When commenting on Scott’s essays, it’s very likely.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            It is very likely that Current Events-type topics will reappear and fracture. Trump’s immigration address for instance could easily come up more than once.

          • acymetric says:

            It is fairly common for there to be multiple top-level threads on the same topic in open threads.

            Edit: Oops, ninja’d (by 13 minutes) by Mr. Doolittle.

            Will add that sometimes people spin off a new top-level thread specifically because the nesting has gotten so convoluted in the original thread.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Not very often, though, and since it’s already been happening it’s not like sort matters for avoiding duplicates in OTs.

          • acymetric says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            It isn’t about avoiding them, so much as it is about scrolling through the first one before scrolling through the second one (in the current newest-first format you will read the spin-off before you read the original discussion assuming you read top-down). Not a huge problem, but certainly a legitimate point.

  16. albatross11 says:

    Upthread, we’ve been discussing a NYT article about a documentary about James Watson, in which many of us didn’t think the NYT reporter accurately reported the science or the relevant facts.

    Here’s an example of the NYT doing better: This op-ed by Paige Harden (a working researcher in intelligence and genetics) is an attempt to explain what GWAS studies have learned about genes and intelligence, and their implications. It’s also a plea *not* to suppress the research on social grounds, because the research is important and can be used both to make better policy and to make the world a better place.

    • ZakMiller says:

      Unfortunately, this is an opinion, while the other one was not. My understanding is that an opinion piece is not the voice of a newspaper. Opinion pieces (again, from what I understand) have a much lower bar in terms of the degree to which the editors agree with the conclusion and the validate the rigor of the piece. If we want to know what the official NYT stance is on something, we would want to look at the other article.

    • Eponymous says:

      I don’t see a lot of daylight between these two pieces, except that the piece on Watson had to focus more on race specifically given its subject matter. Paige Harden explicitly repudiates “the ideas that inequality is genetically determined; that policies like a more generous welfare state are thus impotent; and that genetics confirms a racialized hierarchy of human worth.”

      Amy Harmon has written about the same research Harden refers to, and she quotes David Reich saying that psychological differences between races will almost surely be found (we just don’t know what they will be). I’ve never heard her advocate suppressing this research, and I doubt she believes this.

      Both Harmon and Harden have expressed apprehension about what future research will reveal (an interesting position from a Bayesian viewpoint).

      • albatross11 says:

        I dunno, I’m probably one of the two or three most h.bd-oriented regulars here, and I broadly agree with her. IQ statistics don’t give you a racial hierarchy, the fact that genes matter doesn’t mean that welfare programs and other liberal interventions are pointless, a hell of a lot of inequality comes from other sources than genes, etc. We’d probably disagree on a lot of policy proposals, but I think she’s doing something really important, by trying to take some of the insights of h.bd and think them through from a liberal/progressive perspective. This is exactly what we need more of.

        • Aapje says:

          I think that you are missing something. I think that a lot of people, especially those who read the NYT, believe that an IQ hierarchy is justified, in the sense that smart people end up with power and money. They may want redistribution to reduce that inequality, but they fundamentally accept that low IQ people are heavily underrepresented in politics, among CEOs, etc.

          However, they don’t accept racial inequality. They do actually want each race to be represented in positions of power and wealth proportionately.

          The idea of racial IQ differences is so opposed because if true, it makes these beliefs untenable.

          • albatross11 says:

            Aapje:

            Wow, I never thought of that. The cultural elite consists of a lot of folks whose life path was determined by really good SATs and grades that got them into an Ivy, and certainly a lot of the blue tribe/red tribe rhetoric turns on the idea that “we” are a lot smarter than “them”. So this seems at least plausible.

            Heritability of intelligence seems like it should be similarly uncomfortable. Consider two worlds:

            World #1: Alice gets her position of power and wealth because of her inherited intelligence and personality traits.

            World #2: Alice gets her position of power and wealth because of her inherited title of nobility and family connections.

            It’s hard to see why Alice’s position is any more morally justified in World #1 than in World #2. It may be practically justified–smarter people probably make better decisions, overall, than dumber people–but probably not morally. (And you could make arguments the other way–some of the neo-re-action arguments for a king lean in that direction.)

          • brad says:

            The “natural” justification for aristocracy has always been the dominant one. People used to talk about things like ‘good breeding’. It just has a scientific veneer now—IQ and DNA thrown in haphazardly to all the same old claims.

            The history of the United States is a one of populations written off as inferior producing extraordinary individuals again and again and again. Likewise, elites producing wastrels. So it is entirely appropriate to be highly skeptical of the latest version of the same old arguments.

          • albatross11 says:

            brad:

            Definitely be skeptical. That’s quite different from tabooing areas of inquiry for fear that someone will get the wrong idea from them.

            The current best picture of the world as I understand it is:

            a. IQ is a fair approximation of what we mean by intelligence, and is useful in predicting how people will perform in school and work across the entire range of IQ scores.

            b. IQ scores are somewhat heritable[1], and also (interestingly) become more heritable as you get older.

            c. Average IQ scores differ across racial groups, social classes, occupations, etc., and this seems to be true even when you control for cultural and language differences[2].

            None of this supports some notion of an aristocracy that’s better than everyone else. Smart people tend to have smart kids, but usually less smart than they are, thanks to regression to the mean. Groups with a high average IQ still have plenty of not-very-bright members, and groups with a low average IQ still have plenty of brilliant members.

            FWIW, my preference is for something as close to a pure meritocracy as we can build, but with lots of different potential paths to success. But I want it to focus on individual merit and performance, not on group merit and performance.

            [1] Knowing your parents are very smart should make me expect you to be smart, too, but I shouldn’t be completely shocked if that prediction turns out wrong.

            [2] IQ scores are about as good at predicting performance in blacks and whites, for example. On the other hand, I think giving someone an IQ test in a second language, or giving a paper-and-pencil test to someone unaccustomed to paper-and-pencil tests, is likely to give you an IQ score that underestimates their actual intelligence.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s hard to see why Alice’s position is any more morally justified in World #1 than in World #2.

            Don’t think in terms of desert, think in terms of incentives. We aim to reward people who make the world better in order to encourage them to do so. Intelligence is a force multiplier that allows people to achieve more (at least, any intelligence worth measuring), and thus get more rewards.
            Whether it is optimally calibrated, I can’t say.

          • arlie says:

            I think this is a very good insight.

            I just wish it were the only relevant thing. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed several people making the following (straw manned) argument.

            – I need someone who can do X well
            – group A is, on average, slightly better at X than group B
            – therefore I should pick someone from group A, and not waste time evaluating the X-ability of anyone from group B.

            Translated into the race/IQ case, the argument is that if white/Asian people average even 1 point of IQ higher than black/white people, then schools training for intellectual tasks should admit more/only white/Asian people, and anyone hiring for a job that’s benefitted by intelligence, should be more willing to interview a white/Asian high school dropout than any black/white person whatsoever.

            Some people try to counter this by tabooing research and discussion of ‘racial’ IQ differences. Tabooing any scientific topic bothers me a lot, but I can kind of understand this motivation.

            Unfortunately I can’t really put weights on the two motives.

            Based on the people I normally associate with, I’d have thought my strawman example was always just a straw man, and people trying to protect against it simply had to be just using it as an excuse.

            But I’ve seen it apparantly seriously expressed – minus risable specifics like “white high school drop out” and “even 1 point of average difference” at least three times in SSC comments. I don’t know if those commenters were seriously innumerate, willing to advance any argument whatsoever in favour of their true agenda (= favouring their own race), or simply trying to pull other people’s chains.

            And it’s a rather taboo opinion currently, so is probably expressed less than it’s believed, except perhaps in the red/right wing culture bubble, where I don’t hang out.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @arlie

            I’ve seen your argument, but only with height and with politically correct groups (e.g., choosing women over men).

            The biggest problem with the argument is it’s often true, because a small difference in mean translates to a large difference at the tails. The biggest problem with the solution of tabooing the research is due to that large effect we’re going to notice anyway; you don’t need to do formal scientific research on runners to realize that Kenyans win a lot of marathons.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @The Nybbler

            I’ve seen your argument, but only with height and with politically correct groups (e.g., choosing women over men).

            I’ve seen two people make this argument in relation to intelligence, and for “random selection from population” rather than “selection from the tail,” in the SSC comments. I’ve seen it rather more often (casually expressed) outside of these comments. People who would never trust a male teacher, or female auto mechanic, or a white dancer, or an asian lead actor, or…

            The list goes on. I think the phenomenon sucks. I also think there may be a game-theoretical argument against it, but even if there isn’t I still think it sucks and we shouldn’t make decisions that way.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            I don’t think those are the same argument. If it’s about “random selection from the population” rather than “can do X well” it’s a different argument. Male teachers aren’t distrusted because of any difference in averages of any sort; it’s due to the belief that there’s no reason a man would want to deal with young children aside from being a kiddy-diddler. The others I haven’t heard. (I have heard “black doctor”, but that one’s about affirmative action)

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @The Nybbler

            Male teachers aren’t distrusted because of any difference in averages of any sort; it’s due to the belief that there’s no reason a man would want to deal with young children aside from being a kiddy-diddler.

            I have definitely heard other reasons put forward; maybe people are just rationalizing their other beliefs about child molestation, but IME there’s a lack of trust for men to do a good job of teaching children in addition to that. Replace it with male single parents if you want – I’m more than fed up with that one too.

            E: by “random selection from population” I mean “random selection from nominally qualified population.” It’s just that the nominal qualifications for a lot of this stuff amount to “having a pulse/degree,” with the tacit understanding that you still have to filter for actual competence.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            The issue arises when we observe inequality in the real world and need to decide what to do with it. If not enough whites are NFL cornerbacks as a share of their population (there are zero white NFL cornerbacks, while whites make up 77% of the population) then is the problem a genetic tail bias or is it discrimination?

            And if it is discrimination, do we need to use the force of law to correct it?

            If you falsely believe that whites and blacks are exactly identical in genetic cornerbacking potential, you will see discrimination where there are instead tail effects.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @EchoChaos

            That has nothing to do with what I’m saying. I object to how people make decisions, not how the outcomes shake out. The belief that people don’t make decisions this way in the current year is incorrect (although it may well be correct locally, or for you, in which case I would like approximately 7 billion tickets to meritocracy heaven, please). The claim I’m making is that if there’s not a surplus of [jobs you’re good at and like] and you’re a [member of a demographic that performs statistically differently at this job than other large demographics], the likelihood of you [getting this job] is correlated with the demographic difference in addition to your personal competence, and that this is bad. I would also argue that when [job] is scarce, the correlation with demographic difference seems to explode in importance relative to other factors in a way that I’m pretty sure is insufficiently explained by seeking the tails.

            I’m not advocating for policy change; my platform is that People Ought To Be Good, but I don’t think there’s an institutional way to enforce that.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            That is the exact opposite of my personal experience in America.

          • The history of the United States is a one of populations written off as inferior producing extraordinary individuals again and again and again. Likewise, elites producing wastrels. So it is entirely appropriate to be highly skeptical of the latest version of the same old arguments.

            That would be a good reason to be skeptical of the claim that all blacks are stupid. But it isn’t a reason to be skeptical of the claim that the average IQ is lower than that of whites, since that claim is consistent with the evidence you describe.

            – I need someone who can do X well
            – group A is, on average, slightly better at X than group B
            – therefore I should pick someone from group A, and not waste time evaluating the X-ability of anyone from group B.

            I don’t see how someone could get the conclusion from the premise. In particular:

            and anyone hiring for a job that’s benefitted by intelligence, should be more willing to interview a white/Asian high school dropout than any black/white person whatsoever.

            Makes no sense, since the average IQ of Asian dropouts is surely lower than that of the random white.

            The issue on university admissions at present is in the opposite direction—Harvard is pretty explicitly preferring blacks to whites to Asians at equal IQ.

            But I’ve seen it apparantly seriously expressed – minus risable specifics like “white high school drop out” and “even 1 point of average difference” at least three times in SSC comments.

            Could you give an example of someone here arguing that one should prefer members of the higher IQ group independent of any evidence of individual ability? I can’t remember seeing any.

            One reason to give an example is that your interpretation of a comment may be different from someone else’s.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @EchoChaos

            Then I suggest you pay more attention; as I mentioned, I’ve seen this thesis explicitly endorsed on this website twice in the last couple of months, seen it elsewhere IRL, and noted that most people don’t think nearly as heard about the heuristics they use as people here. The US isn’t a barren wasteland of opportunity for minorities by any stretch – it’s better than almost anywhere else – but that doesn’t mean it’s as good as I’d like it to be.

            @David

            I think a more generous interpretation of Arlie’s comment would be that people consider it rational to filter sequentially because gathering information is expensive, so it’s a “good” idea to throw out all the black candidates before you even check who has a high school degree if you’re fairly confident you’ll find a non-black candidate who will work – and if you don’t, you always have recourse to their applications later. He did indicate that the example variable he chose was hyperbolic.

          • albatross11 says:

            Most people are really bad at thinking about probabilities and statistics, so I suspect you’re right that many of them will take the information that blacks have lower average IQ than whites who have lower average IQ than Asians, and respond by saying “so I should only hire Asians then.” I don’t have a great solution for that–people often misunderstand reality and make dumb decisions, and it’s hard to prevent that.

            But I don’t think that is generally a great reason to suppress discussion of facts in public, or areas of scientific research. If you convince everyone that evolution is true, perhaps a large fraction of people will likewise decide that survival of the fittest is the right way to organize society. It seems like the right way to address that is not to taboo public discussions of evolution, it’s to respond to the bad ideas of the people who misinterpret it.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @albatross11

            I agree. Like Arlie said, though, I wish it were the only relevant thing.

            And I do think this decision can be economically rational – every stage of assessment you do costs time and money, so it’s completely possible to filter too coarsely and lose a lot of fine people and still come out ahead. This is more Moloch than anything else, and while I don’t think suppressing research is the solution, I think doing the research is likely to make the problem worse. I agree that that’s a separate problem, though, and my attitude towards modernity is that there’s no way out but through, so know that there aren’t any objections from me. Just sadness and questions as to the wisdom of having children.

          • 10240 says:

            However, they don’t accept racial inequality. They do actually want each race to be represented in positions of power and wealth proportionately.

            The idea of racial IQ differences is so opposed because if true, it makes these beliefs untenable.

            I think most of these people want equal representation because they assume that average innate ability (and interest) are equal, therefore unequal representation indicates discrimination or unequal opportunity with a societal cause.

            While people have gotten so used to using representation as a measure of equal opportunity so long that they often seem to consider equal representation a goal without explaining the justification, my impression is that it still usually stems from an implicit assumption of equal average ability, rather than from a belief that representation should be equal regardless of ability.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            I am a hiring manager for a major corporation. What you are describing is completely alien to my experiences in industry for many years. I am paying VERY close attention to what is going on for hiring as it is my job.

            There certainly may be fringe people on websites advocating what you are saying, but there is absolutely no resemblance of that in corporate America.

            In fact, if I interviewed only white men/Asian men, I would be fired within a month.

          • I think most of these people want equal representation because they assume that average innate ability (and interest) are equal, therefore unequal representation indicates discrimination or unequal opportunity with a societal cause.

            The question is why they believe that. We know that IQ is in substantial part heritable. We know that the distribution of more easily observed heritable characteristics, such as height or skin color, is different for different races. We have a good theory—Darwinian evolution—of why it would be different.

            That doesn’t tell us what the differences are, but it tells us that there is no reason to expect no difference. There is almost no evidence that there is no difference–at best, there are reasons why the evidence for particular differences could be mistaken.

            Given all that, the fact that people assume average innate ability is equal requires an explanation. The post you are responding to offers one.

          • brad says:

            @albatross11

            brad:

            Definitely be skeptical. That’s quite different from tabooing areas of inquiry for fear that someone will get the wrong idea from them.

            I suspect “be skeptical” cashes out differently for me as it does for you. There seems to be an ahistorical point of view on this, where the largest danger is suspecting racism where there isn’t actually any. To put it mildly that’s not what history teaches us is the most serious danger.

            To be lay my cards on the table, for my skepticism means not excusing the usual tendency across science to vastly oversell empirical results. That is, generally speaking the abstract of a paper oversells what the data can actually prove and then when the paper is referenced the abstract is itself oversold. In a neutral situation (i.e. without a large prior against) this kind of puffery is probably not the worst thing in the world, but in an area where extreme skepticism is warranted it is unacceptable. If you insist, tell me what the data actually proves and not an iota more. And you do go even an inch over the line and get punished by the media, I’m not going to shed even a single tear.

            The current best picture of the world as I understand it is:

            a. IQ is a fair approximation of what we mean by intelligence, and is useful in predicting how people will perform in school and work across the entire range of IQ scores.

            First, although I don’t think the deviation is especially important from a policy standpoint, this is not my understanding of the science. Rather, it is my understanding that IQ both in terms of being a firm and consistent meaning to begin with and in terms of being correlated to various things is by far on firmer ground within one standard deviation of the mean than outside that. But for reasons I suspect have to do with unresolved childhood issues it seems very important to online IQ enthusiasts to asset the relevance of tested IQs two plus standard deviations above the mean.

            Second, I’d quibble with the useful in performing at work part. Intelligence, however measured, is only one of several factors, depending on the job.

            b. IQ scores are somewhat heritable[1], and also (interestingly) become more heritable as you get older.

            c. Average IQ scores differ across racial groups, social classes, occupations, etc., and this seems to be true even when you control for cultural and language differences[2].

            Largely matches my understanding.

            None of this supports some notion of an aristocracy that’s better than everyone else. Smart people tend to have smart kids, but usually less smart than they are, thanks to regression to the mean. Groups with a high average IQ still have plenty of not-very-bright members, and groups with a low average IQ still have plenty of brilliant members.

            I think this means that in day to day life any such differences don’t have much of an impact. This is mildly useful when looking at society-wide statistics and otherwise a curiosity at best.

            FWIW, my preference is for something as close to a pure meritocracy as we can build, but with lots of different potential paths to success. But I want it to focus on individual merit and performance, not on group merit and performance.

            Meritocracy, in my experience, is a concept that tends to smuggle in a lot of assumptions.

          • 10240 says:

            @DavidFriedman I’ve written about my own experience below and on the subreddit. It’s a different explanation that I find more likely.

            @brad Since most social scientists are liberal, and there is likely to be a lot of pressure to not find differences, IMO bias in that direction is much, much more likely than in the opposite (traditional racist) direction.

          • This is mildly useful when looking at society-wide statistics and otherwise a curiosity at best.

            As I interpret the conflict over this, it is precisely with regard to society-wide statistics. The routine assumption of most public discussion of differences in outcomes, whether by race or sex, is that they are entirely due to discrimination. That assumption depoends on the unsupported dogma of no difference in distribution of abilities. Abandon that dogma and you go from “women/blacks are discriminated against in employment” to “women/blacks have lower average wages than men/whites, and we don’t know what the reason is.”

            That’s not a change supporters of the current orthodoxy are willing to make, or even seriously consider making. Hence they have a strong reason to ignore or suppress evidence against their dogma.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @EchoChaos

            I’m not arguing that this strategy is dominant or even common – see earlier when I said that the US is an awesome place for minorities because this kind of thinking is so rare here.

            I’m arguing that some people do it, and that it’s just common enough that if you’re in a minority group that’s subject to statistical correlations, it’ll almost certainly bite you one day.

            Finally, I’ll admit that jobs are probably not a good central example (at least in the current year). Hiring has, as you point out, become intensely demographic-conscious (though I’ll remind you that corporate America isn’t the same as hiring America). But you’ll have a very hard time convincing me that this dynamic doesn’t exist at all.

          • Aapje says:

            @Brad

            There seems to be an ahistorical point of view on this, where the largest danger is suspecting racism where there isn’t actually any. To put it mildly that’s not what history teaches us is the most serious danger.

            Antisemitism, including the Nazi variant, is/was often, perhaps most often, based on suspecting racism on the part of Jews against gentiles.

            Similarly, Marxist-Leninist class enemy status was granted not on the basis on inferiority, but based on the idea that the the group collectively treated the ingroup badly. For example, Lenin called the kulaks: “bloodsuckers, vampires, plunderers of the people and profiteers, who fatten on famine”

            It seems to me that genocide in general typically requires a belief that the group to be destroyed is a threat to the ingroup, as perceived inferiority is much easier to coexist with than with a perceived existential threat to the ingroup.

            So if people are most motivated to harm a group because they suspect that this group collectively discriminates against the ingroup, then is falsely suspecting discrimination (or which racism is but one form, of course) not truly the largest danger?

          • Aapje says:

            An issue is that when the actual differences are large enough, people are going to notice and draw conclusions.

            You can only teach people to draw less noxious conclusions, not to ignore differences that are obvious.

            For example, if nearly all car mechanics are men and if you talk about car problems, men far more often give useful advice; people will notice this. Left to their own devices, they will tend to logically conclude that if they want a car mechanic, it works better to ask the men first.

            You can teach them to be a bit more eager to ask women, but there is a limit to the amount of effort people are willing to go to comply, for their own benefit AND that of others. After all, asking people things that they don’t know has a shaming effect and in general tends to be a bit unpleasant for both. So asking questions to the person who statistically is most likely to be knowledgeable, has societal benefits.

            The costs of treating people the same are commonly ignored by those who argue that we should treat people the same (and instead, people tend to selectively advocate it, for example, very few people argue against the profiling of young men by the police).

            If you try to fix this by forcing women into being car mechanics, the logical outcome is that these women will be less enthusiastic and/or less competent (these are related anyway).

            So while this may reduce how often people conclude that they better ask a man (first) because men are typically more competent in this domain, it’s likely that they will conclude that they should ask men first because they are more competent and/or enthusiastic.

            So while the earlier scenario made it fairly logical to conclude that women tend to simply be less interested in being a car mechanic, the ‘fix’ makes it more logical to conclude that women tend to be less competent. Is that an improvement?

            As for hiring discrimination, you can in principle convince people not to do so even if they believe in a difference in competence, if you convince those who hire that the applicants are not randomly selected, but self-selected in a way that makes them equally competent. It works best if this is in fact mostly true (because people tend to notice big lies).

            For example, if for every 5 men, 1 women is equally interested/competent and you have 5 male applicants for each woman, then the subset of women that apply is actually equally interested/competent as the subset of men who apply, even if this is not true for the general population.

            If you are actually honestly assessing the situation, you can try to determine any real biases/injustices/issues and where in the process it happens. If for every 5 men, 1 women is equally interested/competent, but you have 10 male applicants for each woman, then interest/competence doesn’t reflect how often people apply. If you have 5 male applicants for each equal woman, but you only hire 1 woman for every 10 men, then interest/competence doesn’t reflect how often people are hired.

            Of course, it goes the other way as well, if you have the 5:1 ratio in applicants but women get hired more often than 1 in 5 times, you also have some ‘splaining to do about the hiring standards.

            These irregularities can then be due to a bias/injustice on the part of the employer and/or on the part of the applicant; or it can be that people aren’t merely making choices based on interest/competence. For example, perhaps men fit the company culture better or the employer prefers more verbally capable people, which more often are going to be women. Perhaps men and women shun workplaces dominated by the other sex, which in turn can be for a variety of reasons.

            Whether these reasons are good reasons or should be stomped out is rather subjective, but by honestly looking at the causes for inequality you at least can figure out what is actually going on, unlike the current situation, where many people blame inequalities on causes that are provably not the (sole/primary) cause and therefor propose/implement solutions that cannot work.

          • albatross11 says:

            brad:

            To be clear, I never said that the largest danger is suspecting racism incorrectly.

            I’m concerned about society-wide decisions to taboo facts and factual questions and speculations, because I think that’s likely to suppress useful and important questions and speculations, and also likely to leave decisionmakers misinformed in ways that leads them to make bad decisions. I think this is a bigger danger than the likely outcomes of allowing the public discussions in nearly all cases. I also think it’s basically impossible to know, when you’re deciding to suppress some fact or question of fact, what other decisionmakers will be affected.

            If you insist, tell me what the data actually proves and not an iota more. And you do go even an inch over the line and get punished by the media, I’m not going to shed even a single tear.

            Let’s apply this to some other questions of fact:

            You’re allowed to factually question religious beliefs by appeals to established science, but if you go an inch past what you can absolutely nail down and prove, and you get turned into an unemployable pariah. We’re all okay with this, because of the terrible humanitarian track record of atheistic regimes, and the hurt feelings of millions of religious people when they have to hear your attacks on their deepest beliefs.

            If you insist, you may discuss human-caused global warming as a plausible scientific theory with a lot of support from climatologists. But if you go an inch past what you can prove, you end up dismissed from your scientific position and used as a byword for a lying anti-humanity green activist. This is sensible, because the fossil fuel industry is an important part of our economy and society, employing millions of people at various levels.

            It is perhaps acceptable to discuss the documented cases of war crimes committed by US personnel, if it’s done respectfully and not too publicly. But if you make any speculation about possible crimes that you can’t absolutely prove, or go beyond dry reporting of official findings and documented cases, you get crucified in the media and fired from your position as a NYT staff writer. We need such a principle, to protect our brave soldiers and spies from hateful rhetoric from anti-American propagandists.

            What would we expect the effect on public discourse to be if these were all the accepted rules? Would there maybe be some downside to adopting them?

          • albatross11 says:

            AFAICT, the way the taboo on race/IQ discussions works is that when we’re talking about, say, the ethnic makeup of magnet[1] students, it is forbidden to speculate that the makeup is explained by racial IQ averages, but it is totally acceptable to speculate that
            the makeup of the magnet schools is explained by racism among school officials. I think it is very hard to argue for this outcome on the basis of, say, the need to maintain social harmony by embracing some noble lies or suppressing contentious discussions.

            [1] Selective schools for advanced students, usually requiring a high score on an admissions test and good grades to get in.

          • albatross11 says:

            brad:

            As a nitpick, my understanding is that there’s pretty good data showing positive correlations between IQ scores and performance in school/jobs up to about two standard deviations above/below the mean, but that past that, there’s usually not enough data to tell, since the studies don’t have very many people outside that range. There’s also some evidence (I think from Terman’s work) that even among high-scoring kids, test scores (I think it was the SAT given to kids at age 13) positively correlated with stuff like getting a PhD, number of patents, number of academic publications, etc. We also see the racial groups whose average IQs are highest (Eastern European Jews and NE Asians) very heavily overrepresented in the most intellectually challenging professions (STEM fields, medicine, law) and also among “tournament winners” in very intellectually challenging fields–the people who end up with Nobel prizes, Fields medals, Turing awards, tenured professorships at top universities, etc. Since getting a Nobel Prize or a Turing award is a concrete demonstration of very high intelligence (along with hard work and lots of luck), that’s some evidence that the IQ statistics help us predict something about even people at the very highest end of human intellectual accomplishment. (Though it doesn’t help us much with working out if individual test scores predict that stuff.)

            Now, I agree that a lot of people seem to be very concerned with their IQ score for internal psychological reasons, and that seems a little silly. If I want to know your potential at 17, an IQ score is pretty useful. If I want to know your potential at 40, I should just look at what you’ve accomplished so far in your life–your IQ score is way less interesting than that. When we hear that Feynman had a measured IQ[1] of 125, it would be silly to think “Oh, I guess inventing quantum electrodynamics didn’t take all that much intelligence” rather than “Wow, I guess that test doesn’t capture the kind of intelligence that makes you a first-rate physicist very well.”

            [1] This is an often-passed-around anecdote–I don’t know if it’s true. Jerry Pournelle used to claim that he and Feynmann had the same measured IQ score (higher than 125, I think), but that nobody in conversation with them would ever have thought Pournelle was in the same intellectual league as Feynmann.

          • brad says:

            albatross11:

            You said go ahead and be extremely skeptical, and I’ve said how that skepticism cashes out for me. I think I have good reason to be extremely skeptical given the history and it’s utter lack of any problems similar to the one you are concerned about yet filled to the brim with actual racism.

            I don’t think global warming or the validity of miracles are similarly situated.

            How do you suggest extreme skepticism, justified in light of the historical context, should manifest.

          • albatross11 says:

            brad:

            Th

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            The usual way extreme skepticism is expressed is by saying things like “I think you’re full of shit.” or “I think you’re a fool for believing that.” Maybe even making an argument for why you are skeptical of someone’s claims.

            Trying to get someone fired, to make it impossible for them to speak in public, or trying to get them mobbed (in real life or online) seems like a very different thing from skepticism. Even supporting that stuff seems like a very different thing from skepticism.

            You’re not just talking about skepticism, you’re talking about punishing people because you think the ideas they’re expressing are socially destructive. Those are entirely different things. It’s the difference between someone who thinks your claims that AI risk is an important issue are silly and should be ignored, and someone who thinks they threaten progress in AI or Google’s business model, and should be shut down before they cause trouble.

          • I don’t think global warming or the validity of miracles are similarly situated.

            Global warming looks like a more recent version of the overpopulation claims of fifty years ago. Arguably one consequence of those was the one child rule in China, which imposed enormous costs on hundreds of millions of people.

            Most of the strong claims made in the controversy over global warming are ones that one cannot prove are true, although some of them might turn out to be.

            Is your strong skepticism appropriate there too? If someone writes an article about the effects of global warming that assumes RCP8.5 and gets punched by the media, you won’t shed a tear? That goes an inch over what is scientifically provable?

          • brad says:

            I’m enjoying this discussion but I’m posting from a phone and time is brief, so rather than posting quotes and responses to both of you, let me say that I think of this as something like an ultrahazardous activity in tort law (where strict liability is incurred). I’m not saying the research needs to be forbidden but given the history I think scientists in this area have a special obligation to be careful in only claiming what the science actually supports. Talking about how everyone that works with blacks knows how they are (or whatever the exact quote) was not that at all and doesn’t deserve to be shielded from social consequences under some kind of scientific work product privilege.

            I pay as little attention as possible to global warming debates because of learned epistemological helplessness so I’m unwilling to dive deeply into the analogy. I apologize if that’s rude.

          • but given the history I think scientists in this area have a special obligation to be careful in only claiming what the science actually supports.

            But aren’t there a whole lot of other issues where the argument you are making is just as strong? I mentioned global warming, where my point was not about how good or bad the arguments were but about how much damage something close to it had done in the past. As I think someone else mentioned, class hatred, rich vs poor, and the like have been responsible for killing a lot of people–arguably more than beliefs about racial inferiority. Indeed, I’m not sure (it’s been a long discussion) that you ever responded to arguments suggesting that belief in racial inferiority has killed almost nobody, that it wasn’t the cause of southern slavery or the holocaust or Leopold’s acts in the Congo.

            If you take your argument seriously, don’t you end up concluding that almost any interesting issue people disagree with counts as ultrahazardous? Quite a lot of Byzantines were killed in violence associated with the chariot races, and even today there is a certain amount of unpleasantness connected with European football–does arguing about which sports team is best qualify?

          • albatross11 says:

            If discussing racial IQ differences is a super-dangerous topic, how about drumming up racial hatreds by, say, claiming or implying that the performance gap in education is mainly due to white racism?

            When journalists and talking heads and social scientists discuss police shootings of blacks, is that also a super-dangerous topic where any misstep should lead to disaster for the speaker? After all, it’s not uncommon for claims of wrongful police shootings of blacks to lead to riots in which innocent people get killed or injured and property gets destroyed. (In recent memory, Ferguson and Baltimore.)

          • brad says:

            I mean I get that it’s a drag to have to live in the shadow of the past, but we aren’t talking about ancient Babylon or even WWI. Massive and pervasive anti-black racism is both America’s original sin and something that was still unquestionably going on in the lifetime of many many people alive today. If you resent having to live in a country that is morally responsible for dealing appropriately with that legacy I don’t know what to tell you.

            David you may be right about global warming, I don’t feel qualified to say. But your other example re sports is inapt, and frankly a bit frivolous.

          • @Brad:

            You seem to be ignoring the distinction between two questions:

            Has racism been a serious problem? (Yes)

            Has racism motivated by belief in the intellectual inferiority of blacks been a serious problem?
            (Dubious)

            One of the things driving murderous conflicts in Africa in the post-war period was conflict between a tribe that had been dominant and a tribe that resented it. So doesn’t your argument apply to claims of oppression of blacks by whites at least as strongly as to claims that blacks have a lower average IQ than whites? Similarly, doesn’t it apply to claims that the rich are getting too large a share of the pie? A good deal of inter-ethnic conflict in various parts of the world is in part motivated by the idea that one ethnicity—Jews in Europe, Chinese in Indonesia, Indians in Africa—is doing unfairly well.

          • brad says:

            Do you think there’s a serious risk of anti-white pogroms in America? You seem to want to elevate a far-fetched theoretical risk (admittedly involving greater harm) over a very real and present risk of actual discrimination. Not in Rwanda or ancient Babylon but right here in the contemporary United States.

            I never said don’t do the science, go ahead and do it. But you go and say “His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that ‘people who have to deal with black employees find this not true’.“ that has nothing to do with science.

          • Do you think there’s a serious risk of anti-white pogroms in America?

            No. Nor of anti-black pogroms.

            I thought your argument was based on the claim that beliefs about racial inferiority had caused a lot of harm in the past. By the logic of that, the fact that other beliefs have caused a lot of harm in the past is relevant, even if I don’t expect those beliefs to cause such harm anytime soon.

            Beliefs about overpopulation have caused a lot of harm in the past, so similar beliefs about global warming could cause a lot of harm in the future. That strikes me as more likely than pogroms in the U.S., black on white or white on black.

            I don’t accept the premise–that one is obliged to be hyper-conservative about any ideas that have caused lots of harm in the past, in part because that requires you to be hyper-conservative about a lot of different things, which makes it hard to think about them.

            Another example … . Arguably, Chamberlain’s appeasement was responsible for WWII and the holocaust. Does it follow that anyone who makes arguments for giving in to unfriendly powers instead of fighting them—against going to war with Russia over the Crimea, say—is obliged to be hyper-conservative, to only make arguments he is certain are correct?

          • LadyJane says:

            If discussing racial IQ differences is a super-dangerous topic, how about drumming up racial hatreds by, say, claiming or implying that the performance gap in education is mainly due to white racism?

            This seems like a false dichotomy. It could be a result of a socioeconomic factors caused by past (rather than present and ongoing) discrimination. It could be a result of cultural factors, as the non-racist conservatives like to claim. Or it could be a result of some other factor that’s wholly unknown to us, and possibly unknowable at present (perhaps there’s a form of solar radiation that’s counter-intuitively more harmful to people with higher melanin concentration in their skin). All of those possibilities seem more likely and less offensive to me than “blacks just randomly have lower IQs than the rest of humanity for no discernible reason, and nothing can ever fix or change that so we may as well wipe them all out through any means necessary.”

            (Alright, that last bit was a little uncharitable. It’s technically possible that the idea of racial inferiority becoming widely accepted wouldn’t lead to widespread discrimination and eventual violence. You’d just have to keep putting energy into the system, so to speak, to prevent social trends from following the path of least resistance until they reached their expected maximum-entropy state.)

            @DavidFriedman: You make some very good arguments, but I simply disagree with your underlying premise that belief in innate racial superiority was not responsible for discrimination, persecution, and genocide in the modern era. If you limit your examples to nations with liberal humanistic values (for instance, the United States in the early 19th century, or Germany in the early 20th century), it seems as though oppression was always justified by the idea that the race being oppressed was inherently less intelligent, less rational, less independent, less capable, less ethical, less human. That doesn’t mean this belief was the only factor at play, just that it always played a significant role.

            Rwandan culture wasn’t based around liberal humanistic values to begin with. Neither was the culture of Ancient Rome or the Byzantine Empire. In a culture without liberal humanistic values, saying “fuck those guys, they have stuff we want and they’re not us, we’re killing them and taking it” was a lot more acceptable, it didn’t need any real intellectual or moral justification. But in societies that proclaim that all humans have certain rights that should be respected, you can’t just say “well, except for these losers, screw them,” you have to come up with a reason why that particular group is an exception and should be treated as such.

            And yes, if there was a precedent within this country of overpopulation theories resulting in mass support for eugenics, forced sterilization, etc., then I’d say that scientists should be very careful when publicizing findings on overpopulation too. But the fact that those theories led to horrible consequences in China doesn’t worry me too much; China had a centralized government that felt compelled to micromanage every aspect of society and a culture that didn’t place as much value on individual rights, whereas the U.S. has both legal/political and social/cultural protections in place to prevent such outcomes here.

          • albatross11 says:

            LadyJane:

            [List of non-genetic possible causes of the black/white IQ gap omitted]

            All of those possibilities seem more likely and less offensive to me than “blacks just randomly have lower IQs than the rest of humanity for no discernible reason, and nothing can ever fix or change that so we may as well wipe them all out through any means necessary.

            First, nobody in this discussion (nrt Watson) is anywhere close to supporting genocide. Jokingly attributing it to the other side of a different debate is a cheap, shitty rhetorical trick, and I wish you would knock it off.

            Second, if you want to discover the cause(s) of the black/white IQ gap, then you need people to be able to discuss the matter in public, do research, give talks, write books, speculate, advocate their own theories, etc. That’s one of the strongest reasons to not want the subject tabooed–if the whole topic is a minefield, then a lot fewer people will study it.

            Third, we know we live in a world where intelligence matters a lot in daily life and success, varies widely across individuals, is partly heritable, and differs on average across racial groups. Figuring out what kind of policies we should have to live in that world requires public discussions about what’s known, what’s unknown, and what we should do about it. Making it impossible or unsafe to discuss the matter in public (maybe you can avoid getting mobbed if you phrase everything just right and don’t go an inch beyond what you have ironclad proof for) is a good way of making sure we don’t think it through, and don’t get policies that make sense for the world we actually live in.

            [1] Genetic and environmental causes can both really be complicated interactions. In a society where fresh milk is the main source of calories, lactose-intolerant people are going to be sickly and malnourished. There’s a genetic cause, but it interacts with the environment–move them to a diet that mainly depends on beef and potatoes, and they’ll be fine.

          • albatross11 says:

            brad:

            Which would you say is more likely to lead to violence that kills innocent people:

            a. A broadly fact-based but somewhat inflamatory and speculative news story about racial IQ differences.

            b. A broadly fact-based but somewhat inflamatory and speculative news story about police shootings of unarmed blacks.

            From recent history, it looks to me like the only violence you get from (a) is people protesting Charles Murray’s talks. On the other hand, (b) could plausibly cause a few days of rioting and looting, with innocent people killed or injured and property stolen or destroyed.

            So why is (a) the “strict liability” version of speech, wheres (b) is the normal version of speech?

          • John Schilling says:

            On the other hand, (b) could plausibly cause a few days of rioting and looting, with innocent people killed or injured and property stolen or destroyed.

            By which I assume you mean, has actually caused the premeditated murder of at least five people.

            And I agree that there is a very selective demand for rigor here, regarding exactly which dangerous or historically harmful arguments we are supposed to suppress.

          • I just wanted to pick up on one part of Lady Jane’s post:

            “blacks just randomly have lower IQs than the rest of humanity for no discernible reason

            Isn’t that more plausible than “blacks just randomly have the same average IQ as whites who have the same average IQ as east Asians” for no discernable reason?

            We know IQ is in part heritable. We know that different racial groups differ in their distribution of observable heritable characteristics–that’s most of how we recognize them. It would be a surprising coincidence if all racial groups happened to have the same height. Would it be a similarly surprising coincidence if they all had the same average IQ? Shouldn’t the default assumption be that the average of any heritable characteristic on which individuals differ will be different for populations that were in different environments for long enough to produce observable heritable differences?

            That doesn’t tell you which groups should have higher IQ’s, but if you agree that the averages are probably different there is nothing surprising about the claim that it is higher for whites than blacks.

            It is the claim of equality that is surprising.

          • LadyJane says:

            @DavidFriedman: I’ll concede that you could probably expect to see some IQ differences between races even in the absence of all other possible causes for the discrepancy, simply because there are always going to be some statistical differences between any set of groups if you look closely enough. You could probably find some trivial but consistent IQ difference between Colts and Packers fans too.

            What seems unlikely to me is that the inherent IQ gap between races would be as wide as it seems to be now. I’m skeptical for two reasons: First, it just seems improbable that two groups of humans that had a largely similar evolutionary history and faced somewhat similar environmental pressures would be that different. To the best of my knowledge, a few thousand years isn’t enough to result in a noticeable evolutionary change like that in humans. That’s why I’m especially skeptical of the idea that European Jews are genetically adapted for intelligence. I just don’t think that could reasonably happen within merely a few dozen generations, unless the selective pressures were a lot more intense than they actually were.

            Second, we know for a fact there are other causes for the discrepancy, so it seems almost certain that at least some of the IQ difference is a result of those factors rather than genetics. Imagine there was a full 12 inches of average height difference between two groups of people from the same region. My first thought wouldn’t be genetics, it would be “the shorter people must be seriously malnourished.” I know, pygmies exist, but they’re an exception; most ethnic height differences of that degree are at least partially environmental. In the U.S., the average Latino male is 5’7″, a full three inches shorter than white or black males, but that’s largely because male Latino immigrants tend to be between 5’0″ and 5’6″ depending on their nation of origin; if you limit it to American-born Latino males, there’s only a slight difference between them and whites or blacks. Likewise, the life expectancy of Latino immigrants in the U.S. is considerably lower than that of other Americans, but the life expectancy of American-born Latinos is not. This strongly suggests that the bulk of many statistical differences between ethnic groups is not genetic.

          • LadyJane says:

            @albatross11: A few months back, when the migrant caravan was the biggest news story, I remember there was a post going around social media that said something like “the IQ of the average Honduran is 85, do you really want them in your country?” And a lot of the people sharing that post supported violence against the caravan, including extralegal violence.

            Would many of them have taken the same stance otherwise? Probably. But I’m willing to bet there were at least some people who were on the fence about the caravan, and that was one of the arguments that pushed them over the line into being opposed to it. I’m also willing to bet there were a fair number of people who were already opposed to the caravan, but became much more adamantly opposed to it and much more willing to support extreme measures against the migrants, partially as a result of that argument. So yes, I absolutely believe these things have an effect.

            Figuring out what kind of policies we should have to live in that world requires public discussions about what’s known, what’s unknown, and what we should do about it. Making it impossible or unsafe to discuss the matter in public (maybe you can avoid getting mobbed if you phrase everything just right and don’t go an inch beyond what you have ironclad proof for) is a good way of making sure we don’t think it through, and don’t get policies that make sense for the world we actually live in.

            That’s the thing, I don’t want different policies based on whatever the truth of the matter is. The only policy that would “make sense” to me, ethically speaking, is to treat people as individuals regardless of their race, legally and socially.

            Let’s say that, against all odds, the entirety of the racial IQ gap turned out to be purely genetic. Nothing to do with environmental factors, or even genetic-environmental factors like your lactose intolerant example or my UV radiation idea, or selection bias in the particular subsets of racial groups that we see in the U.S., or any of the other things that logically would affect it; black people just naturally had lower IQs on average than white people. What kind of policy should be implemented on the basis of that knowledge? Some say it proves we should get rid of affirmative action, but most Americans support getting rid of affirmative action anyway, so that’s hardly a big deal. What else? Short of closing the gap through genetic engineering (which isn’t even technologically possible at present), what can we possibly do with that knowledge, other than use it as a basis for either ‘benign’ or malicious discrimination?

            Even in a world where the IQ gap was purely genetic, I’m not really seeing how widespread public knowledge of that fact would make the world a better place. In fact, I’m struggling to even imagine how it wouldn’t make the world a worse place.

          • 10240 says:

            First, it just seems improbable that two groups of humans that had a largely similar evolutionary history and faced somewhat similar environmental pressures would be that different. To the best of my knowledge, a few thousand years isn’t enough to result in a noticeable evolutionary change like that in humans.

            The time different races have spent apart has clearly been enough to produce clear differences in various physical traits.

            As far as I understand, development of entirely new traits is slow as it requires mutations to randomly produce beneficial traits, but selection for a particular trait where the necessary alleles already exist easily happens in a few dozen generations. (The latter process can produce phenotypes beyond what existed in the earlier population if an attribute is determined by many genes.)

            It’s easy to speculate about causes of stronger selection pressure for intelligence in some populations: e.g. a more challenging environment, or one that is different from the original environment our physical traits are adapted to. This is entirely speculative on my part; my point is that it’s not obvious that environmental pressures were the same.

            Imagine there was a full 12 inches of average height difference between two groups of people from the same region. My first thought wouldn’t be genetics, it would be “the shorter people must be seriously malnourished.”

            The standard deviation of height in the US within one sex is ~3″. The difference between the height of US whites and the Japanese (a developed, presumably well-nourished nation) is 2–3″. The white–black IQ differences I’ve seen are 0.6–1 standard deviation.

            Some say it proves we should get rid of affirmative action, but most Americans support getting rid of affirmative action anyway, so that’s hardly a big deal.

            Then why does it stick around? My explanation is that its supporters support it stronger than its opponents oppose it. (Many supporters consider opponents racist, which they consider an instant disqualification from decision-making positions, while many opponents just consider it one bad policy.) As a consequence, decision-makers calculate they would lose more votes than they would gain if they scrapped it. That would change as support would become weaker and opposition would become stronger.

          • To the best of my knowledge, a few thousand years isn’t enough to result in a noticeable evolutionary change like that in humans.

            That’s relevant to the Ashkenazi case, although I’m not sure you are correct–selective breeding produces quite large changes in animals pretty quickly, and it isn’t obvious how different the selective pressures were for the Ashkenazi.

            But in the black/white case, you are talking about a separation of 70,000 years, without even considering any effect from Neanderthal admixture in Europe. We observe pretty large physical differences both between African and European populations (most obviously skin color) and between different populations within Africa.

            so it seems almost certain that at least some of the IQ difference is a result of those factors rather than genetics.

            You are assuming that the environmental factors reinforce the genetic factors. That’s plausible but not certain. It wouldn’t be that hard to come up with a story in which the group with the lower genetic IQ had their relative IQ pushed up, not down, by environmental differences.

            simply because there are always going to be some statistical differences between any set of groups if you look closely enough.

            My basic point is that the default assumption should be different averages, before one looks at evidence of what the difference is. That’s true not because of random effects but because different populations are optimized against different environments–which explains the other differences we observe. Intelligence cannot be a costless unambiguous good, since if it were everyone would be maximally intelligent. If both its cost and its value (in reproductive success) are different in different environments, as one would expect, then the optimal distribution will be different in different environments, hence different in different populations.

        • Eponymous says:

          @albatross:

          The quote I gave is exactly how she characterizes the “mistaken ideas” advocated by “members of the [redacted] movement” who “enthusiastically tweet and blog.”

          It’s true that the ideas as stated are strawmen. But her readers are presumably meant to infer that related beliefs are likewise “mistaken”.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Yeah, this is a pretty good essay, and for the NYT, it is very good. I see this is from last July — is that how far back you needed to go to find a reasonable opinion? 🙂 She certainly seeded her essay with social justice particles (and even stated she was for social justice), but I like what she argues for here, and gives me a little hope that the left at least allows some to question the orthodoxy of the article I posted earlier. I also read a bunch of the comments and I was gratified that about half of them seemed to support the idea of doing research in this area, and a number even accepted the idea that intelligence matters. Does this mean it isn’t true that NYT readers won’t accept the truth? Of course it is also true that it is the ones who do dissent from the usual orthodoxy that will likely comment here, so there is a self selection process.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Speaking of, anybody read Taleb’s critique of races/IQ? He makes some pretty good points, like IQ’s average per race having huge dispersion to the point of it being meaningless, and IQ being top-limited more than bottom-limited, which makes is a measure of mental inability only.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Speaking of, anybody read Taleb’s critique of races/IQ?

        There were long discussions on the subreddit and in previous open threads. I believe the two points you discuss are not good points because they aren’t factually accurate.

      • albatross11 says:

        If average per race has so much dispersion as to be meaningless, then that means it shouldn’t be useful for making predictions. Taleb would not be dumb enough to take a bet based on the idea that group IQ averages are meaningless, because he would lose like 95 times out of 100.

        For example, choose a random reasonably well-off suburb anywhere in the US, and predict the ethnic mix of its schools’ magnet programs, sight unseen. Assuming the suburb doesn’t use really extensive affirmative action to enforce a racial balance, I can use group IQ averages to make a much better prediction about that mix than you can without group IQ averages.

  17. johan_larson says:

    This phenomenon of government shutdowns when the politicians can’t agree on the budget, is it unique to the US?

    • dodrian says:

      I believe that in a lot of other countries, particularly in Europe, the failure to pass a budget triggers a new general election. I’m pretty sure that’s the case in the UK at least, and recall hearing about it happening in other countries.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Well, it *did* in the UK until recently. It is now no longer automatic (since the Fixed Term Parliaments Act) but the “zombie” situation where a government can survive a vote of confidence but not pass a budget is still fairly theoretical.

        • Kyle A Johansen says:

          Although, a minority incompetent Conservative government split on the issue of respect the 2016 People’s Vote (and the 2017 Manifesto Pledges) being supported by Ulster unionists with no other plausible allies, while the opposition is led by an IRA-supporting unreconstructed socialist is probably as close as you’re going to get.

    • wk says:

      I know that if a similar political impasse would occur in Germany, the federal government has the right to pay for all its previously established obligations (paraphrasing here), at least to the extend that funds are available, and if necessary even has limited power to borrow money to keep the government up and running. The precise statement is given in Art. 111 GG, of which an English version can be found here. Austria has something vaguely similar, iirc. Other countries, I don’t know.

    • S_J says:

      I seem to remember a year or two when Belgium could not form a working Government (via a Parliamentary process). I assume this means that no Party held majority, and the Parties could not come to an arrangement to form a Coalition.

      However, I can’t tell if this resulted in a limited (or total) shutdown of many Government-run offices.

    • ana53294 says:

      In Spain, whenever we had a non-functioning government (a government without majority in Congress), the previous year’s budget was used. This is of course not optimal, since there won’t be any adjustments that account for changes in the economy.

      The closest thing was probably when the Spanish government shut down the Catalan government. The low level government workers kept being paid (police, teachers, paper-pushers), but all the high level political appointments got kicked out.

    • John Schilling says:

      The United States appears to be unique or nearly so in having:

      1. A very strict prohibition on government spending without the immediate approval of the legislature, and

      2. A presidential system where the legislature can’t boot out an uncooperative executive with e.g. a vote of no confidence, and

      3. A multiphase budgetary process where “government shutdown” almost never means that the government has to actually shut down.

      Absent 1 or 2, there’s no need for government-shutdown brinksmanship, absent 3 it’s too dangerous. Which doesn’t necessarily mean boring stability, it just forces any unpleasantness into different patterns.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Yes, this issue wouldn’t happen in a parliamentary system, where the the legislature and executive are really the same people. The interesting thing here is this happened when both the legislature was majority Repub and the President too (even though the Dems have now inherited it this month). So I think this time comes down to being a Trump thing.

        • EchoChaos says:

          That was again because of Democrat blocking tactics due to the filibuster in the Senate.

          It’s certainly “a Trump thing” because his demands are pretty substantial, but it’s not purely because of Republicans either.

        • Why couldn’t it happen in a parliamentary system where no party had a majority and nobody was able to put together a majority coalition that could agree on the budget?

          • Eric Rall says:

            It could, but the usual response in that sort of situation in a Parliamentary system is to dissolve and call early elections: voting down an appropriations bill is generally considered an implicit vote of no confidence. And I expect there’s supposed to be enough lead time for at least one round of elections between when the budget is due and when funding actually runs out.

            You could still get a shutdown if the new Parliament is deadlocked, too, or if a government that’s lost its effective working majority takes too long trying to wrangle votes for their budget before admitting defeat (and the head of state doesn’t step in and use their reserve powers), but you don’t get situations like we have in the US currently where we’re stuck with the current Congress and President until the next scheduled elections.

    • Murphy says:

      Most countries build mechanisms into their systems that prevent it.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/01/22/why-other-countries-dont-have-government-shutdowns-2/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ce8256b2590d

      for example in some countries if the government can’t pass a budget it triggers another election. if a government can’t pass it’s own budget then it basically isn’t a government.

    • Erusian says:

      Sort of. The Parliamentary equivalent is when one party can’t get together a ruling coalition, in which case a government doesn’t form at all. Basically, there’s no executive or legislation for the duration, as happened in Belgium for nearly two years. This equally means the government doesn’t have a budget, though that means the previous year’s budget is used in perpetuity.

      • 10240 says:

        In most countries the previous government continues as a caretaker government with limited powers. And I presume the new legislature can still pass laws even without a coalition or a new government, it just rarely has the necessary agreement to do so.

        • Erusian says:

          The previous government might continue to literally occupy the office, but they have almost no power to act as an executive. The legislature could theoretically pass legislation, but it won’t because of the lack of a coalition. The point is they are in shutdown in a way that impedes normal government functions, so its the most analogous thing to a US government shutdown. Which isn’t really a shutdown either: the government just cannot borrow more money and so has to make cuts.

    • BBA says:

      This can occur at the subnational level in the US too. A couple of years ago the state of New Jersey was a few days late passing its budget, and then-governor Chris Christie was widely scorned for spending the weekend with his family at an otherwise-deserted beach in a closed state park.

      But this isn’t universal. New York also had a slightly late budget a couple years back, but the state government stayed open as King Andrew I Governor Cuomo assured employees that the budget would be passed before the next payroll date, which it was. I don’t know what would have happened if it hadn’t passed.

    • MrApophenia says:

      There was a really interesting Vox podcast last week about the shut down that mentioned that they didn’t have this in America either until the 70s. The Carter administration didn’t like that Congress was lax about passing appropriations bills on time, so they changed the rules to say that the Treasury can’t pay for government operations without a valid appropriations bill.

      Before that, the assumption was that the last appropriations bill was in place until a new one arrived, and the government just continued to operate on that basis.

      • brad says:

        That’s odd, given:

        No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Sure, but there was an appropriation – it was the last one passed.

          Between this and the modern version of the Senate filibuster, which also didn’t exist until the 70s, it’s almost like they made a bunch of rules changed specifically to make the government stop functioning.

          • albatross11 says:

            I thought there was some kind of court case that determined that the government had to shut down when there wasn’t appropriated funding.

          • brad says:

            If I pass a law that says: “for the next 52 weeks every week the president should spend $5 on widgets”, if on week 53 the President spends $5 on widgets he’s drawn money from the Treasury without an appropriation made by law.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Finding details about this online has been surprisingly difficult. I have basically been able to determine that the modern appropriations process went into effect in 1976 and that before that government shutdowns in the modern sense were not a thing.

            If you look at the Wikipedia page on the US government appropriations process, their history section discusses the various times appropriations have lapsed since 1977 – with no discussion of the time before that.

            If anyone has any better sources, would be interested in reading them.

          • CatCube says:

            Yeah, I don’t have the time or inclination to dig into details about shutdowns, but the Antideficiency Act has been a thing since the late 1800s. They certainly contemplated that there was such a thing as not assuming that a current appropriation would extend into infinity–and passed a law to prohibit the executive branch from assuming such when making contracts.

    • Aapje says:

      The last Dutch budget that was rejected was in 1919, which was the budget for the Ministry of Marine (which no longer exists as a separate ministry).

      An important difference between the US and the Netherlands is that the American executive is elected. In my country, the executive has to have support of a majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate. So the kind of conflict that ends up with a government shutdown in the US, tends to instead result in the executive being sent packing (which now results in new elections, although this is custom, not mandatory) or them pulling their turd back in*, as we say in Dutch.

      * So, withdrawing the plan that doesn’t have support in the House of Representatives and/or Senate.

  18. RavenclawPrefect says:

    Now that the SSC survey is closed, and there’s no chance of directing potential takers away from it:

    This is your ABSOLUTE MEDIUM CHANCE to take the 2019 supplemental SSC survey. Take it if you want to! Or don’t! Every part of it is totally optional! It’ll probably be open for a while longer anyway!

    Also, bonus feature of the survey: there’s a question at the end via which you can request to be put in contact with people who satisfy various conditions and consent to be contacted as such, so if you are not otherwise survey-inclined but want to say hi to people with characteristics X, Y, or Z you might consider filling (parts of) it out for that purpose. (It goes without saying that such responses are excluded from any public result data.)

  19. Another Throw says:

    A commonly cited reason that the second amendment is obsolete is that, come on, the government has tanks and planes and nukes and shit! The counter argument that is frequently made in response to this is to cite Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. The rebuttal to this is usually that, well no duh the US lost those wars, they didn’t have the balls to really do what it takes to suppress an insurgency and a tyrannical government trying to suppress a domestic insurgency would. To which the reply is often that, well, actually, the USSR has no such qualms and still buggered it in Afghanistan. After this things either die out completely as people have run out of arguments or (more likely around here) devolve into arguments about well actually, the real reason [super power] lost [insurgency] is because [esoteric argument about number of battalions in a brigade or something].

    This argument always seems to me to miss the most important elephant in the room: where the weapons are made. AFAIK, all of the 20th and 21st century insurgencies and counter-insurgencies have been fighting somewhere other than where the weapons are made.

    This contrasts starkly with the hypothetical homegrown insurgency that underlies the argument. It is my observation that Congress, for example, has spent the last 50 years systematically dissecting the every major defense platform to making sure that, god damn it, some of those parts are going to be made in MY district! This creates an enormous attack area that no army could guard against. And those sub-sub-sub-contractors sure as shit are not getting paid enough to do it themselves. So while the government may have all the tanks and planes and nukes and shit, without the repair parts to keep them running and the ammunition to shoot out of them they’re not going to be much use.

    Insofar as they were any use against an insurgency in the first place, which is a whole ‘nother.

    • theredsheep says:

      There’s an extended thread about this lower down (what used to be higher up): https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/01/06/open-thread-118-5/#comment-706566

    • This contrasts starkly with the hypothetical homegrown insurgency that underlies the argument. It is my observation that Congress, for example, has spent the last 50 years systematically dissecting the every major defense platform to making sure that, god damn it, some of those parts are going to be made in MY district! This creates an enormous attack area that no army could guard against. And those sub-sub-sub-contractors sure as shit are not getting paid enough to do it themselves. So while the government may have all the tanks and planes and nukes and shit, without the repair parts to keep them running and the ammunition to shoot out of them they’re not going to be much use.

      I pretty much agree with this, but I don’t think whether or not people should have arms to defend against the government depends on them having a good chance of winning. The stakes are so ridiculously high in this case, that even a 0.0001% chance that citizen’s owning arms would provide some deterrence is extra help. Governments certainly behave as if it is a deterrent; Venezuela passed its “Control of Arms, Munitions and Disarmament Law” and then later, Maduro re-armed only the colectivos.

      Insofar as they were any use against an insurgency in the first place, which is a whole ‘nother.

      This is a big thing. Governments can’t just kill everyone who disagrees, A: because it’s tremendously difficult, and B: because new enemies are always being generated. Political suppression and creating a climate that bolsters the ideology on a neighborhood level is always more effective.

      second amendment is obsolete

      I know this is a tangent, but it is related, so I don’t want to start another thread:

      I’ve been wondering lately whether the right to keep arms isn’t much more important than the right to bear arms in this vein. You want to be able to bear arms and carry around weapons on your person if the goal is day to day self-defense, but if the goal is to fight against the government then what you want is to be able to keep that rifle on the wall until the time comes. Most compromise on gun control just means that you get weak legislation that bans mostly cosmetic things by people who don’t understand guns, but what if instead you split the difference and had absolutism for keeping the arms, but regulation specifically for bearing them?

      It doesn’t seem to me that allowing people to own weapons is much of a cause of death compared to allowing people to carry weapons around the street. Handguns – weapons specifically designed for self-defense rather than fighting wars, are consistently, according to the FBI, the weapons that actually cause the most deaths, and so are probably the culprit in the USA’s high murder rate, more so than guns per se. Sure people use rifles to commit shootings, but if we care about the actual number of deaths and give that the weight, then rifles don’t seem to stack up much even against knives, and no country is going to abolish knife ownership (This isn’t a challenge, United Kingdom).

      What if the solution was going full progressive in regards to bearing arms, and going full conservative in regards to keeping arms? What if we split the second amendment in two? It’s quite a neat split as well because it corresponds to the private property/public property distinction; the restrictions would be very low when it’s your own property, but very high when it’s government property, such as public streets and highways. If it was illegal to carry a weapon on the streets and stop and search was omniprescent I bet spontaneous gang shootings with handguns would drop a lot, eating into the high murder rate.

      • albatross11 says:

        Doesn’t Switzerland have something rather like this–lots of people in the militia, with rifle and ammo at home, but the ammo’s sealed and you get in trouble if the seal is broken?

        • John Schilling says:

          Not really. The “you get in trouble if the seal is broken” bit applies only to military-issued war reserve ammunition; there are few restrictions on purchasing your own ammunition for your own use, and e.g. private target shooting with one’s military-issue rifle is encouraged so long as the rifle remains well-maintained and the war reserve ammunition is kept in reserve. Also AFIK few restrictions on purchasing additional private armaments.

        • dark orchid says:

          I’m not sure if the reserve ammo is still a thing, I haven’t been to Switzerland for a while, but I’ve heard tales from many people back then to the extent that you have to be able to show, upon request, ONE sealed tin to the authorities.
          It was apparently commonplace for soldiers to take home an extra tin here and there without too many questions asked. One occasionally used to read in the papers on an otherwise slow news day about the army’s estimates of just how much ammunition goes “missing”.

          I remember once going to a shooting range with a colleague, the guy in charge asked if we wanted to buy some ammo and my friend said no and pulled a box of military-issue ammo out of his bag; no-one seemed to care.

      • @albatross11

        It’s the same principle, but with Switzerland those restrictions on how you have to store a weapon and its ammo make it not quite the equivalent of a second amendment that only applies to keeping the arms. If the police have to keep doing spot checks at your actual home, and if they find you in violation, they can take away your gun privileges, that means the right to keep arms is being infringed.

      • EchoChaos says:

        This is essentially concealed carry permitting, and is strongly supported by guns rights activists and strongly opposed by anti-gun activists.

        I will note that it isn’t just “people carrying weapons” that is a problem, but specifically criminals carrying weapons. Concealed carry permit holders have a shooting rate that is miniscule to the point of detectability.

      • sfoil says:

        What if the solution was going full progressive in regards to bearing arms, and going full conservative in regards to keeping arms? What if we split the second amendment in two?

        It can’t really be split in two, because the fundamental principle is whether citizens have the right to use violence in order to defend their life, liberty, and property. To be a little more practical, why do you think a government that banned citizens from carrying handguns in order to kill criminals would allow those same citizens to keep weapons in order to kill its own agents? I don’t think the history of gun laws outside America supports the idea that this thinking is a stable equilibrium at all. A government deciding that people don’t have the right to use lethal force with a handgun deciding that they don’t have the right to do it with a rifle isn’t a slippery slope, it’s the same thing.

        Concealed-carry laws (which require firearms to be concealed from view in public) seem like the compromise you’re looking for: you can carry firearms in public as long as you don’t make a show of being armed.

        Edit: The Swiss example is bad because a Swiss militiaman is only permitted to use his weapons on behalf of the government. I don’t know the specifics of Swiss law & customs on this, so I’ll use a more hypothetical example. If a member of the British Home Guard is criminally liable for “breaking the seal” on his service weapon without orders in response to a home invasion because only gentlemen Proper Authorities may bear arms, his government is impeding his rights about as much as if he weren’t permitted to keep weapons at all.

        Perhaps having his hands on a rifle and a combat load of ammunition might encourage him to decide he doesn’t like the way the Proper Authorities regard his rights and give him a plausible way to do something about it. But it doesn’t change the way the Proper Authorities regard his rights. And if the Proper Authorities are less worried about invasion than regular citizens getting unapproved ideas about property rights — well, there’s a reason there is no actual British Home Guard that allows members to keep assault rifles in their house.

        • dark orchid says:

          The Swiss example is bad because a Swiss militiaman is only permitted to use his weapons on behalf of the government.

          Until you’ve completed your mandatory military service, then for a nominal fee you can buy the weapon and it’s yours to keep. (They weld on the rapid-fire select plate in the semi-auto position though.)

      • John Schilling says:

        I’ve been wondering lately whether the right to keep arms isn’t much more important than the right to bear arms in this vein. You want to be able to bear arms and carry around weapons on your person if the goal is day to day self-defense, but if the goal is to fight against the government then what you want is to be able to keep that rifle on the wall until the time comes.

        The goal is for the time to never come that you have to fight against the government in the first place. Part of that is deterrence by making it clear that bloody civil war is on the table if the government goes too far. But another part of it is making it clear that there’s no excuse for the government to start down that road in the first place. And the usual excuse for governments starting down that road is some form of, “…but you need us to save you from those damn dirty criminals, terrorists, immigrants, jews, commies, trumpists, antifa, whatever, against which you are defenseless and only our proposed Legions of Stormtroopers Appropriations Bill offers any hope!”

        For that, you want the response to be “No we don’t because no we aren’t, no stormtroopers for you”. For that, you need people to actually bear arms at need, not just keep them.

      • rlms says:

        Omnipresent stop and search would have both monetary and social costs, but otherwise restricting handgun ownership and increasing access to other guns in compensation sounds good to me. I believe most of Europe has significantly more stringent restrictions on handguns than the US (for instance self-defence is often not a valid reason to get a gun license) with a smaller difference for long guns. However, I understand that a lot of Americans like to use handguns to defend their property.

        • EchoChaos says:

          In a technical sense, using a handgun to defend your property is wasteful. A carbine or shotgun is far more effective and since it’s your property, you can store it in a way that makes it easily usable by you but hard to turn against you.

          The handgun’s primary advantage is being concealable and mobile, which means you can defend yourself in a place you can’t control as well.

      • One answer is the point I recently made–that the more dependent people are on the police to protect them, the more power they will be willing to give to the police. Hence the right to bear arms for self-protection makes tyranny less likely.

        A different answer is that the right to bear arms may have net benefits, since it makes confrontational crime more risky hence less common.

      • 10240 says:

        Many countries allow owning a gun relatively easily but have much stricter restrictions on carrying one. Many countries are also stricter about handguns than long guns.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        no country is going to abolish knife ownership (This isn’t a challenge, United Kingdom)

        I think the more likely example is Xinjiang in China (where the Uyghurs live)- according to a recent article about its descent into dystopia, kitchen knives in restaurants now have to be chained to the wall above where they are used, while those in household kitchens have the blades laser-engraved with the owner’s details

    • Walter says:

      “To which the reply is often that, well, actually, the USSR has no such qualms and still buggered it in Afghanistan”

      Horrifyingly, we just got to see how this goes in real life, in Syria. Scrappy militia vs. Russian bombs, with Russia more or less not caring about public opinion. The militia got steamrolled, just like American insurgents would. Rifles no good vs. bombs and poison gas.

      • Kyle A Johansen says:

        Is the repressive US government using the ordinary US military. I would think in that case that the pressure to not gas civilians is greater when those civilians are your army’s mothers and grandmothers. That’s one of the reasons for why the Dems push for people-masquerading-as-the-other-sex and otherwise trying to Demoise the military ought to scare any reasonable person. It’s also one of the reasons why in the EU politicians such as Macron our so so supportive of a pan-EU army.

        • rlms says:

          I’m not quite sure what your reasoning is. Are you saying that the libs want the transgenders in the army because they’ll be willing to gas Real Americans? This seems somewhat implausible to me.

          • I think he is saying that the military culture is currently red tribe and the Dems are trying to change that.

          • LadyJane says:

            @DavidFriedman: Is that actually true, though? I get the sense that the Red Tribe likes the military far more than the military likes the Red Tribe. That’s not to say that the military is Blue Tribe either, but judging from the actual servicemen I’ve spoken with, it seems to largely be an apolitical organization. Most rank and file personnel tend to be firmly anti-war too, which is why Gary Johnson polled higher than Trump or Clinton among active troops.

            At any rate, I strongly doubt that the admission of transgender people into the military will change its institutional culture too much, especially considering they’d likely comprise an almost infinitesimally small percentage of the total military population.

          • Kyle A Johansen says:

            @rlms

            My reasoning is that they want more Dems so as to have an easier time subjugating those groups that the traditional intake has an affinity to, but which there new group does not.

            I would describe that group as ‘those people with whom the traditional intake has an affinity to and would balk particularly at gassing’, if asked to be less abstract I would probably say ‘the south and flyover’, but David’s ‘red tribe’ works in the loose sense that it is often used in the comment section, and ‘Real Americans’ works too, although it is not a term that I would use.

            If everyone is in Team Red then it is hard to gas Team Red, as soon as the military has a sufficient number of Team Blue then that gets a lot easier (maybe the whole ‘gas Real Americans’ seems far-fetched but look at France where they are already gassing protesters and a former government-minister are calling for a shoot-to-kill policy; a belief in exceptionalism shouldn’t be an excuse for complacency).

            The tran-issue might very well not be enough on its own, but its not on its own. Look at the US-Air racism hoax, where the Educator decided to lecture and attack his white recruits – and be feted on the news channel rota – based on false premises, that’s also something that would turn off the traditional groups. And of course, left-wing recruits we would expect to have particular efforts to take control of the means of education, as we’ve seen everywhere else.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @LadyJane:

            I have substantial experience with the US military, and they are thoroughly Red Tribe, but less political about it than other sections of the Red Tribe.

            There is a difference between “Red Tribe” and “Republican” in all cases, and this is one of the wider gaps in that identification.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        The Syrian government also had bombs and poison gas. It’s actually the Syrians dropping chemical weapons sporadically, not the Russians.

        Plus, the rebels received a whole bunch of military equipment from the US and Gulf state allies.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      It was impossible for a few farmers with personal arms to stand in the field against the British army in 1789, too. (Or in 1776, for that matter). You needed cannon, cavalry, drilling to stand in formation, etc.

      What you could do with civilian arms, then and now, was form an insurgency that made it costly to hold ground, degraded the morale of your occupation force, and visibly resisted the occupation.

    • rahien.din says:

      This argument always seems to me to miss the most important elephant in the room: where the weapons are made… It is my observation that Congress, for example, has spent the last 50 years systematically dissecting the every major defense platform to making sure that, god damn it, some of those parts are going to be made in MY district! This creates an enormous attack area that no army could guard against.

      Your thought seems to be :

      1. In the runup to a hot insurgency and/or civil war, the US military will fail to fortify its supply lines.

      2. Therefore, handguns and other sub-military grade weapons wielded by poorly-trained civilians will prove effective on the battlefield.

      Hm.

      The argument in favor of guns-as-defense-from-tyranny seems to be “The US military and the police are cowardly idiots who will give up, rather than adapt their tactics to their threat environment.”

      From my perspective, we’ve blooded an army and successfully trained it to combat various phases of insurgent combat, from single-shooter to well-armed militia. Therefore I would not fuck with the US military, Glock-17 in hand or not.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        The argument in favor of guns-as-defense-from-tyranny seems to be “The US military and the police are cowardly idiots who will give up, rather than adapt their tactics to their threat environment.”

        The argument I hear is much more frequently “the US military and the police are steeped in a tradition of armed citizenship; the police and citizenry are often ex-mil; so the US military and police are actually highly likely to disobey any order to subjugate the citizenry, and those few that obey are likely to run into aforesaid ex-mil”.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        @ rahien

        I think your are modeling the scenario poorly (or the hypothetical it’s based on is completely unrealistic).

        “The military” is a volunteer army from a wide range of home states and demographics, with differences in opinion from both leadership and rank-and-file (between ranks and within them). I think the only scenario where the military acts in a concerted fashion is one where a relatively small group of people suddenly and without warning announce their opposition to [something understood as the whole USA]. A unilateral uprising against a newly elected official may suffice. Any long lead up or clearly understood situation will either lead to the army going explicitly neutral or, if the situation is incredibly messed up, splitting along the lines of the conflict. A red/blue split will see more of the army supporting the red tribe out of demographics, since that’s their family and friends. Otherwise the army is involved in mostly defensive actions to tamp down on the damage while the civilian leadership works on a fix.

        On a completely different side of the argument, 100 million gun owners is about 50:1 odds against military personnel. I’d take the 50:1 side of a conflict even if the smaller group has better guns. The logistics of holding down such a large and armed population is completely unrealistic. You have to think about the situation on the ground – this is not heavily fortified bases and an offshore presence, but instead getting shot while walking down the street. The military could do massive damage and hold a few strategic points, but there’s no way an occupying force could hold that much territory from that many opponents. Of course, for the same reason that the army would not act as a coherent group, gun owners would not either, but this is closer to the hypothetical of this thread.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        There are several problems with your thinking here, but the biggest two are these:

        Firstly, you seem to think that the US military can “fortify its supply lines” when those lines are things like the entire interstate highway system, all freight railroads, and every port and airport in the country. The US is a huge country, roughly fifteen times the size of Afghanistan if I did my math right, and our defense infrastructure is spread out across every congressional district within that area.

        Second, gun owners in the US are much better well-trained and equipped than you give them credit for. The stats I see are that something like 60% train often, owning roughly eight guns per household with the most popular brand of rifle literally being the civilian conversion of the M-16. They’re not going to win pitched field battles against tank divisions but that’s not how guerrilla warfare works.

        On a somewhat related note, I’m curious about your nationality if you don’t mind sharing.

      • rahien.din says:

        Paul, Doolittle

        The US military and police are actually highly likely to disobey any order to subjugate the citizenry

        I think your are modeling the scenario poorly

        If government tyranny will never actually happen, then guns aren’t necessary to prevent government tyranny.

        Doolittle, Nabil,

        100 million gun owners is about 50:1 odds against military personnel. I’d take the 50:1 side of a conflict even if the smaller group has better guns.

        gun owners in the US are much better well-trained and equipped than you give them credit for. Roughly 60% train

        This is magical thinking.

        Nabil,

        It’s impossible for the US military to “fortify its supply lines”

        It’s not even that you don’t understand how this could be accomplished. It’s that you think it’s impossible.

        You even claim that defense infrastructure is a hindrance to defense.

        You do not understand this issue.

        • Randy M says:

          If government tyranny will never actually happen, then guns aren’t necessary to prevent government tyranny.

          In reality, there are a variety of people in the armed forces, some of whom may enforce tyranny (however defined) no matter what, some of whom will refuse no matter what, and some of whom may be moved from one group to the other based on the strength of the opposition. Thus, it makes a great difference whether there are many armed citizens or not.

          Of course, it’s possible some of the military would refuse orders to act against unarmed citizens but not armed citizens, so it’s complicated and probably impossible to predict, but even still I think that works in favor of the armed populace being a deterrent that you don’t actually have to use to get an advantage from.

          • rahien.din says:

            I don’t adhere to the claim that it is so uncomplicated. I’m responding to that claim.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          This is magical thinking.

          Pretty much, but I guess it depends on how seriously possible you consider the rest of the scenario. In hypothetical-land where the US military is fully mobilized against the population, it’s more realistic to model the population also fully mobilized against the government. I think neither are realistic.

          If government tyranny will never actually happen, then guns aren’t necessary to prevent government tyranny.

          I feel like there are two discussions going on here. In one discussion, we’re talking about the effect of guns deterring bad behavior and other mild to moderate effects of gun ownership on tyranny. Would the police be more or less likely to arrest citizens for dubious reasons (or “disappear” them) with or without guns? That kind of thing. In the second discussion, we’re in hypothetical land where the very unrealistic scenario of the US military going fully to war against, essentially, the red tribe is considered. I think the second scenario makes very little sense, as I tried to elaborate on in the post you responded to. If we accept the scenario as true, and the military is now fighting 100 million citizens for [reasons], then I think what I wrote is true. ~2 million people in the military against 100 million armed citizens will end poorly for both sides, but the military will ultimately lose badly. They cannot really take and hold the territory involved, and while they can slaughter concentrated groups of people and therefore hold strategic targets, an insurgent population would be a nightmare scenario.

          • rahien.din says:

            You suggested this hypothetical : the military (2 million strong) entering into conflict with every gun owner (100 million strong) simultaneously. That is indeed unrealistic.

            Would the police be more or less likely to arrest citizens for dubious reasons (or “disappear” them) with or without guns?

            This is simply the wrong question.

        • John Schilling says:

          “Military and police” is carrying a lot of weight here. Most tyrannies have preferred not to use the military for that purpose. Particularly not a military they think they might also need to win wars against a competent foreign army. And the ordinary professional police are usually kept clear of the more overtly tyrannical work; that’s what the secret police are for, the Stasi, the Gestapo, the KGB.

          Anybody can recruit a Gestapo; there will always be enough disaffected or amoral people with the right tribal affiliations for that. The Gestapo peaked at less than 0.05% of the German population, and I’m certain either Trump or alt-universe Hillary could find a similar fraction of Americans willing to go full stormtrooper for the cause.

          Beyond that, a competent tyrant can always weaken the regular police and military in ways that make it unlikely they will effectively oppose the Gestapo even if they are wholly unenthusiastic about supporting it.

          If a force of armed and uniformed thugs amounting to 0.05% of the population, backed by the unenthusiastic support of the regular police and with the army at the borders facing out, is enough for a tyranny, then you can have tyranny. And in e.g. Nazi Germany, it demonstrably was.

          But if your argument for “resistance is futile!” depends on the combined strength of the Gestapo, the regular police, and the army, then the resistance gets to point out that the army’s support may be entirely missing and the regular police ambivalent.

          • rahien.din says:

            the combined strength of the Gestapo, the regular police, and the army

            I’m not adhering to that proposed hypothetical, only responding to it.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          If government tyranny will never actually happen, then guns aren’t necessary to prevent government tyranny.

          I think you missed the part where I wrote:

          […] those few [military and police] that obey are likely to run into aforesaid ex-mil

          If the head of state is able to assemble elite stormtroopers and they don’t have to worry about ex-mil, because the ex-mil aren’t armed, then government tyranny suddenly becomes quite possible.

          (ETA: Ninja’ed three times!! Is this a record?)

          I don’t see where Nabil said that it’s impossible for the military to fortify its supply lines. Did you somehow quote an earlier version and he edited afterward?

          At any rate, I think Nabil understands the issue sufficiently. The problem of maintaining supply is so universally recognized that I wonder where you come by your claim. Are you saying the military could fortify its supply lines? If so, how do you explain Iraq and Afghanistan? Surely, if they could, they would have in those places, would they not?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I didn’t edit my comment, but it’s not a huge exaggeration of what I said.

            “Fortifying” supply lines which stretch over an area fifteen times larger than Afghanistan to the extent that militias couldn’t effectively attack convoys isn’t impossible. But it’s extraordinarily implausible: we can’t even manage that feat in countries equal in area to Afghanistan when bases were placed according to military necessity instead of pork-barrel politics.

          • rahien.din says:

            Paul, I am really very confused by what you’ve written here :

            The problem of maintaining supply is so universally recognized that I wonder where you come by your claim. Are you saying the military could fortify its supply lines?

            It seems like you’re claiming that A. everyone recognizes that maintaining supply is essential, but also that B. the US military is incapable of maintaining supply.

          • Randy M says:

            It seems like you’re claiming that A. everyone recognizes that maintaining supply is essential, but also that B. the US military is incapable of maintaining supply.

            Fortifying and maintaining are two different things. The latter is concerned with getting supplies to the personnel at a steady pace, the former with doing so at an acceptable level of casualties.

            If the army had to quell a sustained revolt in Texas, it is plausible it would lose a large number of people and supplies to guerrilla fighters. Probably not enough that you would say supply lines were maintained–the army would be armed and fed. But the casualties would be a significant cost in morale and potentially make negotiating more likely.

          • rahien.din says:

            the army would be armed and fed

            Agreed. They would. I think we’ve answered the question from the original post.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Have we? You seem to be omitting the key caveat: the army would be armed and fed at the cost of so many casualties that they would be unwilling and / or unable to press on with the mission. Which completely obviates the value of being armed and fed.

          • rahien.din says:

            Paul,

            Goalposts. The original post did not mention morale.

          • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

            The original post did not mention morale.

            An army and a nation that loses its morale has lost.

            The entire purpose of the things that go bang and the things that make people die, is to destroy the morale of the solders, of their leadership, and of their sponsoring nation. The actual bangs and the actual deaths are incidental, they are instrumental instead of terminal.

            If you created a magic weapon that destroyed the morale of an army without killing a single person or breaking a single window, you’ve just created the next major advance in the technology of warfighting. Possibly the last one.

            If you give a field marshal or a general staff the option “10% of your men die, and the morale of the enemy breaks utterly” they will probably do it. If their other choice is “otherwise, you’re going to lose” they will definitely do it.

          • Aapje says:

            Fun fact: one of the major reasons why the military is not very keen on silenced weapons for regular soldiers is because of the morale effect on the enemy of them knowing they are being shot at.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            As Hidden Name and Aapje have hopefully illustrated, morale is so crucial to army effectiveness that one need not mention it as a key factor. To argue that an army needs only to be supplied is kinda like arguing that the cheapest way to send a man to Mars is to smuggle an embryo onboard the next Mars rover. Yes, congratulations, you have technically won the argument.

            But the obvious and accepted goal of supplying an army is so that it can accomplish its mission. If you clobber that goal in order to satisfy the former…

        • EchoChaos says:

          I have absolutely no idea what point you are making here. It is far from magical thinking to believe that a group outnumbered 50:1 is at a massive disadvantage.

          A serious insurgency in the United States (~10% of the population) is far beyond the ability of our current military to control, and there is no “fortifying of supply lines” that can correct it.

          Take Fort Drum, an isolated, cold and secure facility in New York where the elite 10th Mountain Division trains and is based. In the county (just the county) where they are stationed, there are ~100,000 people. The 10th Mountain is outnumbered by insurgents (~10% of the population) IN THEIR HOME COUNTY. And they can’t just kill off random people in that county, because they need those people to feed them, to do maintenance, etc.

          • rahien.din says:

            I have absolutely no idea what point you are making here.

            Why respond, then?

            It is far from magical thinking to believe that a group outnumbered 50:1 is at a massive disadvantage.

            Do you honestly believe that is my claim?

            (Admittedly, I didn’t really elaborate.)

          • EchoChaos says:

            What is your claim, then?

          • rahien.din says:

            The correct question is, “How would the US military plan for this difficult situation?”

            There is someone out there who is getting paid to make that plan, and their primary concern is defending our country, not defending civilian gun rights. I’m glad for their expertise.

          • EchoChaos says:

            The military would abandon massive stretches of country as uncontrollable and focus on their major control points/supply centers and try to decapitate the opposing political leadership by drawing their major forces into direct combat.

            Without major forces to find, fix and destroy, their posture would look something very similar to Afghanistan. Massively fortified “Green Zones” where they can control ingress and egress and a danger region within yards of the outside of the Green Zone.

            The United States military has spent the last 18 years and trillions of dollars trying to subdue an insurrection in a smaller, less well armed country with the advantage of their production being overseas and they have failed. I am not confident that their leadership has in fact prepared in any way for this.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          This is why I asked your nationality before. I didn’t want to be impolite but you seem totally unfamiliar with the geography, culture, and government of the US.

          Military bases and the web of defense industry corporations which support them were placed due to lobbying by various senators and congressmen who wanted to be able to say “I brought N defense jobs to our district!” come election time. As a result of that, if you want to equip an infantryman in e.g. Dallas, Texas you need to draw on infrastructure scattered all over the rest of the country. All of the raw resources, intermediate goods, and finished goods involved need to be shipped across the country repeatedly using some combination of the interstate highway system, freight railroads, shipping or cargo aircraft. Which means that a guy with a rifle and a homemade bomb in Wyoming or Indiana could very well distrupt supplies that would be needed in New Jersey.

          Good luck fortifying tens of thousands of miles of highway, over a hundred thousand miles of railroads, and dozens of ports and airports. If a dictator can manage that, maybe he deserves to rule the country: it’s one hell of an impressive feat!

          • rahien.din says:

            I want to state what your claim seems to be, and allow you to correct me where I am wrong :

            The US military’s supply lines on American soil are so vulnerable that a man with a rifle and a single explosive could disrupt them, by himself, from a remote location.

          • I think a more general point is that, while tanks and machine guns beat civilian firearms in a face to face battle, there aren’t enough tanks and machineguns to protect everything in the country that the military depends on. If the insurgents can attack any place not defended by the military, it will be hard to maintain the military and the civilian infrastructure supporting them and the tyranny.

          • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

            The US military’s supply lines on American soil are so vulnerable that a man with a rifle and a single explosive could disrupt them, by himself, from a remote location.

            YES

            Within an hour of where I sit is a major aquifer, a major natural gas pipeline, a major rail line, a major international airport, a major port, two major freeway interchanges, 4 major fibre links, and a major long distance high tension power line, and many many many bridges over and under and around them.

            I within the next 24 hours could render any one of them unusable for days maybe weeks and probably not get caught. I could probably do 3 or 4 of them in a day or so, if I was more willing to get caught. And I could do it from half a mile or more away from each one. I won’t say how here, but the article by Correia names all the equipment and supplies necessary.

            If tS *does* HtF, there are many many people who are much much better than I at mayhem who could and would break all of them, everywhere. And then could start occasionally sniping at either the repair teams, or the teams trying to guard the repair teams. And good luck getting all the needed repair supplies and equipment, when the power is out and the roads are closed and the water has stopped running and the grocery stores are bare.

            It always amazes me how fragile all of our technical infrastructure is, and yet, it’s all still running.

          • Garrett says:

            The US military’s supply lines on American soil are so vulnerable that a man with a rifle and a single explosive could disrupt them, by himself, from a remote location.

            I’d note that the claimed drone sightings at Heathrow Airport managed to bring operations to a standstill, and we aren’t even certain they happened.

            One of the reasons why military operations abroad are possible for the US is because we operate “over there” and only have military and military-like targets of our own on-site.

            In addition to the US logistical chain being fragile (though not quite single-man-stops-military fragile), it’s a lot more squishy. It’s pretty easy for the military to win in a one-on-one battle against domestic civilians. It’s a lot harder when the domestic civilians are waiting and willing to take on any of the non-combat personnel but also their distant family members. It’s hard to field an army if everybody’s on bereavement leave.

          • rahien.din says:

            All,

            This has been enlightening.

            Some of you think that our soldiers will simply wilt when faced with casualties.

            Some of you think that our military would put a significant number of active-duty soldiers on bereavement leave during a hot war on American soil.

            All of you seem to think our soil is essentially indefensible due to the vulnerability of our supply chain.

            Ultimately, I’m reassured that none of y’all is tasked with planning the defense of my country.

          • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

            Ultimately, I’m reassured that none of y’all is tasked with planning the defense of my country.

            I don’t think we are members of the same country anymore.

          • CatCube says:

            @rahien.din

            I was an officer in the Army, and you’re way off in the weeds about how easy this would be.

            That’s leaving aside that huge portions of the military would desert before rounding up their relatives, or actively work against the tyrannical regime doing this directly; most of us joined because we believed in protecting the rights of Americans, and gun rights are a component of that. Hell, it’s not even just current military; I’m a structural engineer for the government now, and if they started a massive tyrannical roundup like you’re talking about, I’d at the very least be passing the insurgents the engineering drawings of critical infrastructure with red Xs on it labeled “Put bomb here.”

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Rahien.din

            5 years regular Army, to include a year in Iraq, with a good chunk of that year spent pulling convoy security, route recon, and otherwise dealing with exactly the issue under debate. .

            I’ll just echo CatCube and say that you are entirely too blase and cavalier about the issues involved.

      • Another Throw says:

        My argument is that if you happen to own a company that has a contract to manufacture, say, O-Rings for use in fighter jets—a contract your only really making pennies on—how keen on it are you going to be when you have to shut down your factory three times a day and evacuate, losing millions of dollars each time, because someone keeps calling in bomb threats? Seems like a pretty good way to lose money to me.

        How keen are you going to be to have your factory knitting sweaters that you’re losing money on and the only reason you are doing it is for the “made in America/support the troops” publicity when your neighbors are out in the street in front of your house protesting? Seems like the exactly wrong kind of publicity to me.

        How keen are you going to be to work in Boeing’s civil aviation division when spotters are out doing target analysis of the facility?

        How keen are you going to be to work on that factory line when going to the bar after a hard day’s work and mentioning to make O-Rings for fighter jets gets you beat up instead of a high five and “fucking awesome bro”?

        Not very keen at all, I would imagine.

        There simply are not enough soldiers to secure the tens or hundreds of thousands of contractor scattered across the US. “Fortify your supply lines” is not actually an option.

        Insurgents needn’t actually attack or kill anyone to make most of those contractors decide it just isn’t worth it. They just need to make it unprofitable. Maybe a little uncomfortable. And there are plenty of tools for doing that.

    • FLWAB says:

      A good (if polemical) take on this was put out by Larry Correia, an author, firearms instructor, former gun shop owner, and former member of the military industrial complex (as an accountant). His blog post on the problems with fighting a US insurgency is worth reading.

      The 2nd Amendment is Obsolete, Says Congressman who Wants to Nuke Omaha

      A few highlights:

      In Iraq, our troops operated out of a few secure bases. Those were the big areas where we could do things like store supplies, airlift things in or out, repair vehicles, have field hospitals, a Burger King, etc. And then there were Forward Operating Bases. These are the little camps troops could stage out of to operate in a given area. The hard part was keeping those places supplied, and I believe most of America’s causalities came from convoys getting hit while trying to supply things like ammo, food, and fuel, because when you’re moving around, you’re a big target. All of these places were secured, and if you got too close, or they thought you were going to try and drive a car bomb through the gate, they’d light you up.

      Now, imagine trying to conduct operations in a place with twenty times the bad guys, and there are no “safe zones”. Most of our military bases aren’t out in the desert by themselves. They’ve had a town grow up around them, and the only thing separating the jets from the people you expect them to be bombing is a chain link fence.

      The confiscators don’t live on base. They live in apartment complexes and houses in the suburbs next door to the people you expect them to murder. Every time they go out to kick in some redneck’s door, their convoy is moving through an area with lots of angry people who shoot small animals from far away for fun, and the only thing they remember about chemistry is the formula for Tannerite.

      There will be no secure delivery of ammo, food, and fuel, because the guys who build that, grow that, and ship that, well, you just dropped a Hellfire on his cousin Bill because he wouldn’t turn over his SKS. Fuck you. Starve. And that’s assuming they don’t still make the delivery but the gas is tainted and food is poisoned…Speaking of ugly, do you really honestly think that you’re going to be able to kill people because they disagree with you, and they won’t hit you back where it hurts? While you’re drone striking Omaha Nebraska you really think that the people who live where all the food is grown, the electricity is generated, and all the freeways and rail lines run through, that some of them aren’t going to take it personal? And that they’re not going to use their location and access to make life extremely uncomfortable for you?

      In this case, the target isn’t some Other, it’s not just their people, it’s them. And an active shooting war between the government and half the population? That’s a pretty big fucking line. And we’re not talking about people they are already inclined not to like, but rather they’re supposed to go shoot their doctor and their mechanic for doing something that up until a few days ago was legal and they were doing themselves. A small percentage will be happy to put on the jack boots and start loading people into cattle cars. But a larger percentage will say nope, I’m calling in sick, don’t feel like getting blown up today.

      And another big chunk will actively help the insurgents, because they fucking hate you and everything you stand for. Like seriously, out of touch liberals, how many small town sheriff’s deputies do you think would describe themselves as “progressive”?

      The problem with all those advanced weapons systems you don’t understand, but keep sticking onto memes, is guess who builds them, maintains them, and drives them? When I first saw this idiotic Apache meme my comment was that sadly Freedom Eagle’s day job was as a contractor doing helicopter engine maintenance.

      Those drones you guys like to go on about, and barely understand? One of the contracts I worked on was maintaining the servers for them. Guess which way most military contractors vote? Duh. Though honestly, if I was still in my Evil Military Industrial Complex job when this went down, I’d just quietly embezzle and funnel millions of DOD dollars to the rebels. Because fuck you is why.

    • Lillian says:

      Hey remember when a bunch of armed people showed up to protest the confiscation of one Cliven Bundy’s cattle, and the government proceeded to roll over the protest with tanks and then confiscated the cattle anyway? Yeah neither do i. In fact, as of one year ago, Cliven Bundy still has his cattle. Consider the possibility that if the protest hadn’t been heavily armed, it would have been possible for the government to disperse it with riot cops and tear gas and then do whatever it wanted. Since it was armed, the government was forced to do nothing, because doing something risked triggering a blood bath.

      There’s a sense in which armed citizenry are holding themselves hostage, in that by being armed they are essentially declaring that only lethal force will dislodge them. Actually resorting to said lethal force carries a lot of risks for the government, since the resulting massacre could very well result in them being voted out of office, or serve as a rallying cry that triggers an insurgency or even a full on civil war. Even if the government expects that it can win any military conflict, it would very much prefer not to fight it in the first place, because those things are bloody expensive. Basically you don’t need to win, you just need to make things costly enough your opponent decides fighting you isn’t worth it. This is much easier to do when you have guns.

    • Dack says:

      A commonly cited reason that the second amendment is obsolete is that, come on, the government has tanks and planes and nukes and shit!

      I can’t believe no one has mentioned it, but small arms are often used to seize “large” arms.

  20. Furslid says:

    I have been thinking about an additional downside to the US policy of mass incarceration. Success in prison and jail requires an ethical system that we do not want to promote. The following are ethical rules in prison compared to desirable social rules.

    “If victimized, fight back and seek revenge. Don’t snitch.” vs. “Seek justice through the legal system.”
    “Stick to your own race.” vs. “Ally and befriend people regardless of their race.”
    “Never show weakness, always show dominance.” vs. “Show submission or apologize to prevent conflict.”
    “Fear and protect yourself, people will victimize you if given a chance.” vs. “Trust others, and only take minimal precautions. Almost no one will victimize you.”

    I suspect that some of our problems in society as a whole and defective subcultures are caused by people following prison ethics in the outside world.

    • You might want to read David Skarbek’s book on prison gangs. The ethical system promoted isn’t exactly as you describe.

      For a short version, see his chapter in my current book project.

    • onyomi says:

      I recently read the book Popular Crime, by Bill James, as recommended by caryatis. Though it only covers this issue quite briefly (it’s mostly about dissecting famous criminal cases and social issues related to them, like the insanity defense, in a very breezy, fun prose style), he argues that a larger number of smaller prisons was once, and could again be, much better than a smaller number of large prisons. This relates also to the issue of NIMBY, of course.

  21. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Now for your regularly scheduled Dungeons & Dragons thread.

    I was musing on the power level of Old School D&D characters. In BECMI, the I part stands for Immortal, which you can become by fulfilling an epic quest that must end with you having 3,000,000+ experience points. So what does such a high-level mortal look like?

    BECMI Fighter at 3M XP: 9d8+46 HP, +21 to-hit, 3 attacks
    ” Cleric at 2.9M XP: 9d6+27 HP, +18 to-hit, 9 7th level spells per day
    ” Mage at 3M XP: 9d4+18 HP, +11 to-hit, 4 Wishes per day (first 9th level spell at 2.1M XP)
    ” Thief at 3M XP: 9d4+50 HP, +16 to-hit/+20 & 2x damage backstab

    AD&D Fighter at 3M XP: 9d10+33 HP, +22 to-hit, 2.5 attacks (assuming Grand Mastery in the weapon they’re holding)
    ” Cleric at 2,925K XP: 9d8+24 HP, +12 to-hit, 2 7th level spells per day
    ” Mage at 3M XP: 10d4+8 HP, +5 to-hit, 1 Wish per day
    ” Thief at 3M XP: 10d6+28 HP, +10 to-hit/+14 & 5x damage backstab

    So the Fighter ready for Immortality looks about the same as his 20th level AD&D counterpart. which is unsurprising since 20th is where AD&D usually ends (same as 5th Edition and core-only 3.X). But when you look at the mage, it looks screwy: why would someone who can mentally warp reality with the Wish spell once a day not be able to make the transition to Immortality, but suddenly can when capable of casting Wish four times a day? It seems like BECMI should have tweaked the XP tables so mages got 9th level spells at the same XP as their AD&D counterparts.

    Subsequently 3.X, being a hot mess of splat books, had two different ways of transcending the core levels. Epic levels gave you “Epic Attack Bonus”, which was +1 every other level 21 and above regardless of class, access to Epic feats (which often required one or more attributes of 25+), and 10th level spells for full casters because they deserve the best of everything. There was also a crummy 3.0 version of Deities & Demigods with rules for building characters with Divine Ranks from 0 to 20… and one of the abilities gods could take at Divine Rank 1 was Wish at-will. The 3.X optimization fandom had a field day with the question of how strong or weak the real-world gods statted up in that book were (it either predated or ignored the Epic rules, so no god had the 21st level of Wizard or Cleric).

    • Nornagest says:

      Epic-level rules in any edition are a fucking mess and I try not to think about them too hard.

      And Wish is a mess, too. There’s basically no way to balance it, and no good thematic reason for it to have the power level it had; folkloric wishes always have an unspoken “…in my power” attached. Aladdin’s genie (well, genies; no one remembers the genie of the ring) built him a palace in a night, clothed him in princely garments, and sourced a bunch of slaves and pack animals for him from somewhere, but couldn’t just make him king; would it really have broken anything if D&D wishes worked the same way? A favor from a noble djinn with 12 HD and a list of spell-like abilities as long as my arm is pretty valuable.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yeah, that’s quite explicit in Aladdin. When the African sorcerer steals the lamp Aladdin’s powers are reduced to what the Slave of the Ring can do for him.
        Giving the D&D Wish spell as-written to Djinn was indeed a mess and mistake.

        I think the least limited wishes in folklore are in Grimm’s The Fisherman and His Wife, where the flounder changes reality to make a woman Pope because her husband Wished it.

        • Nornagest says:

          My theory is that Gary Gygax couldn’t resist the temptation to turn it into a battle of wits between the players (who are trying to come up with bulletproof wording) and the DM (who is trying to play Asshole Genie).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            That doesn’t explain why Wish was a PC spell. Who are they wishing to at that point, that the DM may roleplay as screwing them over?

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s a good question. Maybe the 18th-level wizard PC is supposed to be basically Solomon and have an infinite number of djinni on tap?

        • Nick says:

          Hah, I read this story when I was little and was so theologically confused.

          You know, she should have just asked for power over the sun and moon. You don’t need to be God for that, just an angelic intelligence like Perelandra!

      • Furslid says:

        That’s how I handle wishes in rare high level games. The wish spell only has the “Cast a lower level spell of your choice mode.” All other wishes are favors, and wishes from different sources work different ways. If a character wished for a genie to make him king, the genie might say it was beyond his power. A pit fiend might serve as a general to help the character conquer a kingdom. A sneaky demon might help him marry the princess with some mental domination and assassinate other potential heirs.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        So, what was the intended idea behind wishes in fantasy literature? Particularly the notion of a genie from Arabian myth? Apparently, they weren’t invitations to embark on scientific inquiry. And I recall at least one wish story (The Monkey’s Paw) used as a cautionary / horror tale. The tale of Aladdin seemed to be a stall for time – the audience is offered a sense of wonder (what would you do if you were a street urchin and offered three wishes?), and then told what this one character did before they think too carefully about it.

        How else was the wish trope used? Given these two examples, I’d be inclined to set up my own RPG campaign wherein wishes simply don’t exist, except as a story within the story. Wishes would fit in a curious category reminiscent of the speed of light – just as that speed is the same to all observers, wishes are always fantasy to all audiences, even audiences simulated within a fantasy world. You only ever hear about them being granted, but it never happens to you(r character).

    • Bugmaster says:

      My group mostly plays Pathfinder. Here are our SOP house rules:

      * Wish: Banned. Monsters that have Wish as a spell-like ability either do not exist, or have some other ability instead.
      * The Leadership Feat: banned, for logistical reasons. Otherwise, every player’s turn ends up taking an hour.
      * Animate Dead and similar spells: Restricted, for the same reasons as Leadership. You can own as many HD of undead minions as the rules allow, but you can only take your own HD worth of minions with you.
      * The Summoner class: banned, for a combination of taking too long and being too OP.
      * Leveling progression: By lv 11, your character should be in charge of some respectable organization. He is not taking orders from the local baron; he likely is the baron. Reaching lv 11 signals his semi-retirement from the field, into a more managerial role.
      * No one is ever going to reach lv 20, so plan your build accordingly.

  22. testing123 says:

    the word casander, with 2 ss, appears to be banned. was that intentional?

    • C_B says:

      Well, you know what a contentious culture war topic classical Macedonian politics is.

      • Protagoras says:

        You jest, but I definitely recall a heated discussion on this topic, which seemed to be at least slightly influenced by political ideology. I won’t go into further detail as I’m not in the mood to fight that battle again.

      • Aapje says:

        Casssander grew up with Alexander the Great and eventually seized control of part of Alexander’s empire, after killing Alexander’s offspring, so it’s surprising that it took so long for him to get banned.

        I would ban people for less.

    • Nornagest says:

      A side effect of banning users in this comment system is that you can’t speak their names. Cas*ander is banned until 1/18 as per here… probably for this post, although it looks pretty weaksauce to me as banning offenses go.

    • Nick says:

      The user with that name is banned for the next two weeks, and this happens (inconsistently?) with the username of users who are banned.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      How would you even have noticed that?

  23. S_J says:

    For various reasons, while looking through regional history, I noticed a news item about a series of fires in the Great Lakes region during the 1870s and 1880.

    One of those fires is well-known–the Chicago fire of 1871. But apparently, other places in Wisconsin and Michigan had disastrous fires that year. A decade later, a second series of fires swept across the Thumb region of Michigan.

    Both series of fires were likely caused by a hot, dry summer. Both were also related to material left behind by logging companies–piles of scrap wood left behind as unusable. Winds associated with the first set of fires may have left many trees knocked-down, but unburnt…and contributed to the raw material in the second set of fires.

    The destruction was immense. Aside from Chicago, almost all of the areas destroyed were small towns (and farmland, and timber-harvesting regions).

    As a question for discussion: there is little worry about wildfire in the Great Lakes region of the United States now. Were the conditions that generated such fires in the region unique to that time period, or is there another reason that such fires are no longer common?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Saved by MDF and OSB? I don’t think piles of scrap wood are left behind by logging companies any more, because we use every part of the tree but the squeal.

      There has been worry about beetle-killed forests causing major fires, but it mostly hasn’t played out.

      • S_J says:

        On the one hand, it does help when loggers use all the scrap wood that they can find for things like OSB/MDF.

        On the other hand…most of these regions of Michigan (and Wisconsin) don’t have active logging at the same scale as the mid-1800s.

    • psmith says:

      Less logging slash. Standing live trees usually don’t burn that well; it takes dead, dry fuels (and ground fuels) to get a big fire going. Also less forest cover in general, maybe, depending on exact time frame and region.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      My initial thought is that the fires were mostly a Black Swan event. The Peshtigo Fire and the Great Chicago Fire, the two worst fires, occurred on the exact same day. Since then, the largest fires in Wisconsin have mostly occurred in the center of the state or in the Northwest section of the state.

      Not that improved management hasn’t also helped, but those epic blazes seem like one-in-a-million things.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I read a book a few years back that talked about the the impact of various western wildfires on Teddy Roosevelt and the resulting expansion of the National Park System. Can’t remember the name of the book off the top of my head.

      Basically, because of fires that were made disastrous in great part by unchecked logging practices, wilderness fire suppression became a high priority goal. This was so wildly successful that it had many downstream effects, including an increased risk of disastrous fire now, due to fuel buildup.

      ETA: Pretty sure it was Timothy Egan’s “The Big Burn”

  24. Angel says:

    I don’t like to self-diagnose, so I’ll just say this: I have something that looks like what people tend to describe as OCD.
    After a very upsetting episode, I remembered “The Hair Dryer Incident”(The Categories Were Made for Man, not Man for The Categories), where Scott described how a woman with OCD cuased by the fear of her house burning down because of the hair dryer resolved this problem leaving the hair dryer in the car while she commuted to work. Inspired by this story (and considering that therapy isn’t an option right now) I tried to come up with methods like that. Problem is, my OCD is almost enterily related with “not” leaving the doors correctly closed. The only solution I have to this is to take a photo of the door when I leave, but the image doesn’t secure me that the door is locked with key, so the anxiety hits anyways.

    Have anyone tried an approach like this? Any ideas?

    • Evan Þ says:

      I used to worry about locking doors sometimes, so I started saying aloud to myself as I tested the door, “The door is locked.” Then, I’d remember saying that, and I could reassure myself that it was indeed locked.

      If that isn’t enough, perhaps you could also take an audio recording of yourself saying that?

      • Angel says:

        I have a ritual:
        1.- Close the door.
        2.- Lock it with key and say “okay, I have [insert the movements required to lock the door], what means the door is completely locked”.
        3.- Take a deep breath and push the door three times. At the third, keep pushing while saying “I can’t open the door so it’s completely locked”. Depending on how anxious I feel, I repeat this few or several times.

        Even with all that, I still doubt and have anxiety.

        I will try the audio recording 🙂

    • cuke says:

      Have you looked at resources online to walk you through a plan that might help? There are some pretty decent articles as well as books and workbooks.

      Here’s one short piece .

      And here’s a workbook.

      One of the most common things we do when we feel repeatedly anxious about something is develop ways to avoid feeling the anxiety because it’s so uncomfortable. So habits like checking are an attempt to allay the anxiety, but unfortunately it tends to feed the anxiety. Most of the cognitive/behavioral tools to address checking habits have to do with practicing sitting with the anxious feelings without trying to “fix” them. Paradoxically, opening oneself to the anxious feelings tends to reduce them over time.

      There are a lot of supports one can use to make the sitting-with-the-anxiety practice easier, but the core of the practice is to become more willing to sit with the anxiety without acting on it. Medication can lower the baseline anxiety level so that the CBT practice may be easier to do; maybe Scott can weigh in here — my understanding is that OCD type habits are not usually adequately resolved with medication alone.

      • Elliot says:

        Hi Angel

        I’ve got to throw in with cuke on this – I don’t think this is a good long-term strategy. As cuke says, the feeling of anxiety prompts a desire to resolve the issue (which is sensible, generally). A problem arises when the ‘solution’ is some kind of avoidance or doesn’t solve the underlying issue, as this leads to a repetetive and descendingly-severe version of the worry. In predictive coding speak, it’s a desire to reduce short-term uncertainty, but the underlying prior is still there. In fact, as cuke says, it only ‘feeds’ the anxiety.

        From Scott’s post on the Chamber of Guf:

        In a few unlucky people with a lot of anxiety, the angel decides that a thought provoking any strong emotion is sufficient reason to raise the thought to consciousness. Now the Gay OCD trap is sprung. One day the angel randomly scoops up the thought “I am gay” and hands it to the patient’s consciousness. The patient notices the thought “I am gay”, and falsely interprets it as evidence that they’re actually gay, causing fear and disgust and self-doubt. The angel notices this thought produced a lot of emotion and occupied consciousness for a long time – a success! That was such a good choice of thought! It must have been so relevant! It decides to stick with this strategy of using the “I am gay” thought from now on. If that ever fails to excite, it moves on to a whole host of similar thoughts that still have some punch, like “Was I just sexually attracted to that same-sex person over there?” and the like.

        That is, the act of avoidance, and checking, that anxiety prompts strengthens the prior, telling it that it was worth worrying about, and it will continue to ‘raise’ this issue and crave resolution.

        In OCD, this effect is pathologically maximised in another way, as the person is deprived of the ‘feeling of knowing‘ that accompanies checking or resolving the issue. This is why, despite checking the hair drier is off, the feeling of ‘but what if it isn’t?‘ persists indefinitely (unless the hair drier is there). In the scientific literature this is called yedasentience,

        An internally generated feeling of knowing (termed yedasentience) provides a phenomenological sign of goal-attainment and has as its consequence the termination of thoughts, ideas or actions motivated by concerns of harm to self or others. Failure to generate or experience this feeling produces symptoms characteristic of OCD.

        (In this study they attempt to block the onset of yedasentience in the general population, and observe OCD-like symptoms as a result)

        This leads to the above issue with anxiety becoming repetetive and exagerated over time (which is one of the reasons OCD is harder to treat the longer the individual has gone without treatment, as their reliance on reassurance strengthens the priors responsible for the problem).

        There are pros to the hair drier approach, especially the way it’s done in the case Scott describes, with a professional, but overall I don’t think you should view this as a solution. If you do have OCD this approach might make it more severe in the long-term. I’ll try and find some good resources and get back to you for longer-term solutions. There are cheap/free alternatives to therapy that might be able to help.

        (Take all this with a grain of salt: I’m not qualified in psych, nor do I have OCD. My girlfriend has OCD, my dad was an OCD therapist, and I recently gave some talks on a predictive processing account of OCD, and it’s based on these things that I’m saying this. At some point soon I’m going to post a longer post on predictive processing, OCD, and the hair drier as I disagree with Scott on this.)

    • dick says:

      Home security system? Or, if you’re technically inclined, you could make/buy your own sensors and build some kind of app to be able to check up on the status of your doors online.

    • Incurian says:

      Use a checklist. Sign and date when you lock the door. Keep the checklist with you.

      • cuke says:

        In the land of just yielding to the checking impulse (like the woman who brought her hairdryer with her), this seems like a pretty great solution to me.

        I would be interested to know if having the checklist produces a further need to keep checking the checklist or whether it stops the checking cycle.

        And then I’d be further interested to know whether plugging that “checking hole” produces new ones. I’ve worked with a number of people with OCD type habits as well as phobias who seem able to shift their fears to other targets if they focus on trying to “fix” one of them. Like the anxiety plays a whack-a-mole game until the underlying pattern is tended to. But this by no means happens in every instance.

        • Aapje says:

          @cuke

          I think that the point of both this and the hair dryer solution is to make the verification quick and easy, so it doesn’t rankle.

          But perhaps some people are perversely addicted to the feeling of anxiety, so they just shift targets to recreate it?

          • cuke says:

            Hi Aapje,

            It’s my observation that quick and easy verification doesn’t always solve the problem, but sometimes displaces it. But that’s not the case for everyone. My questions in this case were not rhetorical but genuinely interested in what Angel’s (or other people’s) experience is with these verification strategies.

            Using the language of addiction to describe some of the dynamics of anxiety are interesting I think and sometimes apt. Sometimes people think of anxiety as just this bad thing that happens to me that I have no power over. And other times people think of anxiety as this shameful thing about my character that I feel I should be able to fix.

            In working with people who have anxiety, my sense is that neither of these stories is true. Similar to people who struggle with addictions, people who have anxiety likely have some mix of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Both groups of people have some choice over how they work with those in ways that can significantly improve their situations.

            So I don’t think of it as perverse that people shift targets of their fears; to me, it’s what you’d expect. Maybe like when people getting off alcohol smoke a lot. They are still self-medicating for something and there’s still work to do to address the underlying dynamic that feeds the self-medicating impulse. Anxious people aren’t shifting targets in order to experience more anxiety because they love anxiety; it’s that the behavioral component — checking, nailbiting, compulsive thoughts, substance use, excessive exercise, etc — was a short-term problem-solving effort that long-term became problematic (as Elliot describes above). So if you block one problem-solving tactic without addressing the underlying anxiety, the person may pick another short-term problem-solving tactic that may just kick the can down the road a little ways. CBT and other therapies generally do more than kick the can down the road.

    • eigenmoon says:

      What about shooting a short video of locking the door?

    • melolontha says:

      Could you take a video of yourself locking the door? Maybe with some kind of proof of date/time (a newspaper and your watch?), if you don’t trust whatever automatic timestamp it will get.

      If you find yourself accepting the footage but worrying that you might have gone back inside and forgotten to lock the door when leaving for the second time, that seems a little harder, but technically you could set up a motion detector that registers every time someone approaches the door, and sends the results to the internet; you then could check that there were no entries between the time of the video and the earliest time you know you were in the car/bus/at work/whatever.

      (I know that sounds like overkill, but I’m not taking the piss here. I think it’s worth thinking through any plausible solution, even the ones that sound silly at first.)

      edit: if you’re willing to spend a bit of money, I assume there is some kind of ‘internet of things’ tech (presumably including a new door, or at least a new lock) that will let you control and/or check the status of the lock remotely.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I think “SmartLocks” are what you’re looking for. They appear to cost ~$150-300 depending on brand and model, and they look like they’re drop-in replacements for standard doorknobs and deadbolts (maybe 5-10 minutes to install).

        One of the standard features is the ability to check via phone app whether or not your door is locked. If the worry is that the door is locked but it’s very slightly ajar (so it looks closed but the latch hasn’t caught in its receptacle), I don’t know if smart locks can verify that for you, but if they can’t, a smart deadbolt should address that scenario: a deadbolt can only lock if the door is all the way open or properly closed; if it’s closed but not latched, the bolt will hit the door jamb and fail to lock.

        • Lambert says:

          Sounds like a great way to have a thief smash your window and steal all the other expensive gadgetry you own.

      • PatrickM says:

        I have a Nest cam pointed at my door, and if having a small camera sitting out all the time doesn’t mess up your aesthetic too much, the setup is super-easy and you don’t need to replace any part of your actual door.

      • MrApophenia says:

        I used to have similar anxiety about whether I left the coffee maker on or not; I was able to resolve by getting a smart outlet I can control from my phone. When I am unsure if I left the coffee maker on, I can confirm on my phone that the outlet is turned off.

        So seconding the Smart Lock idea.

        • albatross11 says:

          My wife used to obsess over whether she’d turned off her curling iron–getting a model that had an auto-shutoff was worth it for the added peace-of-mind it brought her!

    • 10240 says:

      Take your valuables with you. Or just don’t store too valuable (and easy enough to steal) stuff in your apartment. Dunno if that would work.

    • Gurkenglas says:

      Try drilling a hole next to your door to expose the deadbolt so you can take photos of it?

    • AnonYemous2 says:

      You know, there are some door locks where you can see if you’ve locked it or not. I’m thinking of ones where the key-hole is at a different angle depending on if it’s locked or unlocked. Maybe just install one of those, if you can find it.

      Uh, besides that, I’m the kind of person who forgets to do stuff a lot. So I strongly developed a habit of locking the door when I leave and rely on myself to always do this. As a secondary option, I decided to stop caring so much if I left the door unlocked. In your case, you might want to consider: if your door is unlocked, so what? Maybe consider hiding your valuables, backing up your hard drive to an external location, and so on. If there’s not much to lose at your house, does it still matter to you if you did leave it unlocked?

    • Reasoner says:

      The other month Scott recommended the book Brain Lock for OCD. I read some of it and I thought it was pretty good & helpful for my OCD issues. One of the things the book says is that this kind of hair-dryer-in-the-car technique tends to “enable” your OCD and make it worse in the long run. I would suggest buying or pirating the book and giving it a read.

  25. Sui Generalist says:

    Book Request: What are the best books out there on exploration and explorers, especially but not only polar exploration?

    • melolontha says:

      Francis Spufford has a book called I May Be Some Time that might fit the bill. The only problem with this recommendation is that I haven’t read it yet, but I have read several of his other books and can vouch for his skill as a writer. I think he’s also ‘rationalist-friendly’, for want of a better term, despite having quite a literary sensibility and tending to avoid deep technical explanations. There’s a precision in the way he uses language, and a genuine intellectual curiosity that drives him beyond the superficial, journalistic approach, that I think would resonate with a decent subset of SSC readers. On the other hand, from reading his essay collection I got the impression that he has developed those abilities over time (especially his ability to write in a way that could easily come out as over-ornate, but does not because every word is chosen for a good reason), whereas I May Be Some Time was published 20 years ago.

      (Scott wrote a review of Spufford’s more recent book, Red Plenty: https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/24/book-review-red-plenty/)

      • spkaca says:

        I liked Mr. Spufford’s books Backroom Boys and Unapologetic , and Red Plenty had some good bits, butI May Be Some Time didn’t impress me, I skipped lots of it.

    • Urstoff says:

      Hampton Sides’s In The Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette is a really good read if you like narrative history.

    • WashedOut says:

      The Worst Journey In The World by Cherry-Garrard. It’s the story of Scott’s final mission to the south pole, as told by Cherry-Garrard himself, who was part of the team as a biologist studying the penguins. One of my favourite books of all time.

    • flauschi says:

      I read “Barrow’s Boys” many years ago, and found it quite enjoyable.

    • Tenacious D says:

      I haven’t read it yet, but Michael Palin (of Monty Python fame) just recently came out with a book about the HMS Erebus, which was lost in the Franklin expedition and had previously explored the Antarctic.

    • Anon. says:

      Shackleton’s South is excellent.

    • GhostofMelquiades says:

      I highly recommend Farthest North, an autobigraphical account of Fridjof Nansen’s 3 year journey to reach the north pole via the Fram, a specially designed ship to ride with the shifting ice sheets towards the pole. Compared to many other polar expeditions from the turn of the 20th century, Nansen’s journey was surprisingly comfortable, thanks to the ingenious engineering of the Fram and Nansen’s detailed planning of supplies and contingencies based on his previous journey across Greenland. No scurvy or ponies on this expedition *cough* Shackleton *cough*. The journey itself was an incredible feat and was led by an even more incredible individual. Nansen writes from both a strong scientific background and a poetic fascination of the world around him and has some great insight on the state of exploration and science at this point in history.

      I’d also recommend North to the Pole, the account of Will Steger and Paul Schurke of their historic 1986 expedition, the first confirmed unsupported expedition to the north pole. I am a Minnesota native and have met Paul Schurke, so I am a little biased, but this is still a great book.

  26. Murphy says:

    any good story recommendations?

    There’s the well known ones I’ve seen mentioned here like Worm and HPMOR, Scotts own: Unsong

    I’m looking for recommendations for scifi/fantasy stories.

    A few other I’ve come across and liked were…

    The wandering inn

    https://wanderinginn.com/

    Worth the candle

    https://archiveofourown.org/works/11478249/chapters/25740126

    Sufficiently Advanced Magic

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sufficiently-Advanced-Magic-Arcane-Ascension-ebook/dp/B06XBFD7CB

    Or for a post-singularity apocalypse light read: Beginners Luck

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beginners-Luck-Character-Development-Book-ebook/dp/B076HJPCMH

    Any that others would like to suggest as good reads?

    I tend to find suggestions from LW or here tend to fit well with my tastes.

    • canard_duck says:

      Ra

      >Magic is real.

      >Discovered in the 1970s, magic is now a bona fide field of engineering. There’s magic in heavy industry and magic in your home. It’s what’s next after electricity.

      >Student mage Laura Ferno has designs on the future: her mother died trying to reach space using magic, and Laura wants to succeed where she failed. But first, she has to work out what went wrong. And who her mother really was.

      >And whether, indeed, she’s dead at all…

      https://qntm.org/ra

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Caution for Ra, it wasn’t fully planned out and by the author’s own admission goes “way off the rails”, to the extent of “[To clean it up] I need to fork the story before [Chapter name] and completely rewrite the last ten chapters”. I’m a fan of the author’s work in general and Ra isn’t terrible but… be prepared for a bit of mess.

        • C_B says:

          I thoroughly enjoyed how far off the rails Ra went. Every time you think you know what kind of story it is, it turns out you were wrong and it becomes much weirder. I found both the pre-rewrite and post-rewrite endings satisfying, and was glad the author left them both up for comparison.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Ra started out really well, but IMO outpaced the author’s ability to handle the story in its second half.

    • Walter says:

      I write The Fifth Defiance (findable at http://www.thefifthdefiance.com ), and I am cheeky enough to recommend my own work.

      • With that precedent as excuse, you might enjoy one of my two novels. Harald was published by Baen as fantasy but it’s really a historical novel with invented history and geography–no magic, elves, or dwarves.

        Salamander, which I self-published, is a fantasy with “scientific magic.” The setting is about fifty years after the magical equivalent of Newton, who took the first large steps towards converting magic from a craft to a science.

        If you like audio books, Harald is also available (free) as podcasts.

        • C_B says:

          Plug: I just started Salamander and am enjoying it very much. It is exactly the kind of thing that would appeal to someone who enjoyed the works listed by the OP.

        • Randy M says:

          but it’s really a historical novel with invented history and geography–no magic, elves, or dwarves.

          We need a name for this genre. Which reminds me, KJ Parker’s Engineer trilogy might be appreciated by this crowd.

          • My standard example of the genre is The Paladin by Cherryh. The background is a mix of Chinese and Japanese, some people believe in magic (and the protagonists take advantage of that belief) but it isn’t real.

            It’s better than my book, Cherryh being a much better writer than I am. So I recommend it too.

          • theredsheep says:

            Naturalistic Fantasy, perhaps?

        • albatross11 says:

          I’ve also really enjoyed both Harald and Salamander. (David, if you’re looking for more beta readers….)

        • Plumber says:

          @DavidFriedman

          “…you might enjoy one of my two novels. Harald was published by Baen as fantasy but it’s really a historical novel with invented history and geography–no magic, elves, or dwarves”

          I’ve been reading Harald (in print form) and can confirm that it’s good so far, it reminds me a bit of K. J. Partner’s Two of Swords or Bernard Cornwell’s Agincourt.

        • andrewflicker says:

          I picked up Salamander last time you recommended it here, and enjoyed it. Not sure if I’ve told you before, but thank you for writing it. I look forward to purchasing the sequel.

        • CatCube says:

          I picked it up on Wednesday and finished it on the train back from seeing The King and I earlier today. I liked it overall, and plan to get the sequel when you post it, but admittedly that’s more because the world is interesting. This book could use more narrative between the dialog to fill in the characters. I didn’t really come away with a sense of what the base motivations of most of the main characters were.

      • theredsheep says:

        I wrote a novel, but I think I rushed it and I’m not terribly happy with the results, looking back; I wrote it as an epistolary novel, which makes exposition nearly impossible. I’ve tried a rewrite, but it’s tough to sustain enthusiasm. Anyway, I’m starting over with a straightforward fantasy novel, which I’m serializing at https://rsfoulpapers.wordpress.com/ . The format could probably be better, but it’s “foul papers,” not a published e-book. Anyway, everybody else is advertising their serials, so I figured I would too. It’s set in a grim pseudo-Mesopotamian world where human civilization is only sustained at enormous cost.

        I kind of suck at self-promoting.

        • Randy M says:

          You should consider using sidebar links for a table of contents rather than making new readers scroll all the way down.

          You are braver than I am. I have started a novel but am going to wait until I have several chapters done before putting it online. Maybe in next year’s classified thread.

          • theredsheep says:

            Done. Clumsily.

            Honestly, I don’t have much in the way of editing available to me. I’m quite good at constructing elaborate fantasy worlds, and at least competent as a writer–but I have a poor sense of how much worldbuilding is too much vs. too little, and I can get carried away. There’s a chance somebody will give me a “what the hell is a [X]” or “can we move on, please?” this way.

            Even if that doesn’t happen, the odds are it will never sell anyhow, so I might as well throw it out there for somebody to enjoy.

          • Randy M says:

            From what I hear, it isn’t a good time to try to make it as a professional writer; I think you’re right to publish it on the web and hope for getting a few smiles and perhaps some donations out of it.

            My own reticence comes from doubting my persistence. My motto is, it doesn’t matter if it is good or original, just do it to develop the skill.

          • @theredsheep

            I don’t have much in the way of editing available to me.

            My daughter is a freelance online editor, if you want one–she’s advertised her services in classified threads here. She edits my books, both fiction and nonfiction, and I think is pretty good.

          • theredsheep says:

            Thanks, but I have an editing budget of, uh, $0 right now. If that changes, I’ll certainly keep her in mind. At present I’ve got my wife, who’s excellent at catching typos but has a very different idea than I do as to what constitutes good writing. It can be rather tough on marital harmony.

        • Walter says:

          I’ll take a look, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

      • theredsheep says:

        Since I just totally jacked your comment, Walter: I notice you’re doing some sort of user-submitted character thing. Sort of like hybridizing D&D and a CYOA book? Apologies if that’s wrong; it’s late and I’ve had some of my Xmas scotch.

    • twocents says:

      @Murphy

      Hey! Beginner’s Luck was written by my husband. What a nice surprise to see his work linked here. He just published a sequel, Gathering Strength: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B07MDDS251?pf_rd_p=c2945051-950f-485c-b4df-15aac5223b10&pf_rd_r=V0FEMTTZZWYDGM6HCSQV
      (If you like it, we’d be grateful if you’d leave an Amazon review, as indie authors live and die by them.)

      I’ve never commented here before because I never have anything unique to say that someone else hasn’t already said better. Your post changed all that. And I’d never have seen it without the new comment order that’s being excoriated downstream (which I otherwise dislike as much as anyone else).

      • Murphy says:

        Small world! I actually just bought it when I posted above after checking the amazon link for Beginner’s Luck.

        weirdly amazon didn’t highlight it to me. (normally it throws sequels from authors I’ve bought from before to the top of my recommendations)

        Make sure he keeps writing!

    • albertborrow says:

      Assuming your taste is somewhat well-adapted to less professional web-stories:

      Most of the stuff on /r/rational. The ones you haven’t mentioned here, that are popular there, are these:
      1. Mother of Learning, by nobody103. Rational fantasy story centered around a time loop, where the character leverages his advantages into learning more esoteric fields of magic, all to uncover the truth about [spoilers] and escape the loop. Has 94 chapters, divided into 3 books, and is nearly finished (only a few chapters left, at about one a month). Its middle is a little weak, and its ending third starts strong before getting off track too, but now that it’s in its final phase, it looks like it’s winding to a great conclusion. Fully recommend it.
      2. To the Stars, a Madoka Magica fanfiction. Sci-fi. If you’re okay with reading fan works, and you’re okay with anime, then this is probably good for you. Both this story and Mother of Learning read a bit like textbooks at times, but they’re really interesting where it counts. Not finished, updates very slowly, but it’s not dead, which is a plus. EDIT: Let me emphasize, this story is really science fiction. It goes full space opera, basically.
      3. Honorable mentions – /r/rational favorites that aren’t as mainstream as those two, or have fandoms in other places: A Hero’s War which is an isekai/uplift story that actually delivers on creating an industrial society; The Metropolitan Man, a Superman 1930’s AU written by Alexander Wales, author of Worth the Candle; The Waves Arisen, Naruto fanfiction written by some guy called Wertifloke, who hasn’t been seen since the story was finished; and several others that I either didn’t read or didn’t see fit to mention.

      Then there are the other stories you may like based on your other likes:
      1. If you liked Worm then chances are you’ll like some of Wildbow’s other stories, like Twig, Pact, and Ward (the ongoing sequel to Worm). I say “chances are” because there are a lot of people who only liked Worm. Or some people that love all of Wildbow’s stories, but only when they’re bingeing them (in which case I would hold off on Ward for a while). Still, they have what I consider to be the most fun attributes of Worm in them, so I’ve been satisfied.
      2. Anything from classical sci-fi, assuming you haven’t read that already. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’ve probably read stuff like Ender’s Game, but in case you haven’t, remember that the genre is almost a century old, and some good work has been done in it.

      • C_B says:

        I would recommend waiting a few months (or a year) to read Mother of Learning. I just started it about a month and a half ago, and have now caught up with the most recent update; transitioning from that binge to the glacial one-update-a-month pace, especially right in the middle of what is obviously the final climax, is agonizing.

        Do yourself a favor and read it when it’s finished.

      • Murphy says:

        I’m actually donating a small bit to nobody103’s patreon.

        I didn’t realise The Metropolitan Man was from the same author as worth the candle but read it a while back and found it excellent.

        For ward I’m waiting till more of it’s done. Kinda like Twig but found Pact pretty poor, I think he writes better mechanistic stuff as pact just read like a character who solves everything by hitting things with a lead pipe and trying harder.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Kill Six Billion Demons is a webcomic well worth the read.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Agreed, especially after the author stops art-ing as hard as he can on every page, and settles down to actually tell a story 🙂

    • Bugmaster says:

      I am currently reading A Practical Guide to Evil:

      https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/prologue/

      It has a similar theme (though a very different setting) to Worth the Candle: subverting ingrained narrative tropes in order to master one’s fate. It’s good so far, though I haven’t finished reading it, so there’s a chance it takes a nosedive later on (Ra, I’m looking at you).

    • ManyCookies says:

      mentioned here like Worm and HPMOR

      Significant Digits is a fantastic sequel to HPMOR, where grown-up Harry plays global politics (lots and lots of worldbuilding) and Hermione is a detective superhero politician thing. I honestly like it more than HPMOR at this point.

    • brad says:

      The wandering inn

      https://wanderinginn.com/

      Some jerk* recommended this before I now I have to wait week after week to find out what happens next.

      *sarcasm, in case it needs to be said

    • AG says:

      For anyone familiar with DC comics, “With This Ring” is fun. It’s a fanfiction technically set in the Young Justice continuity, but expands to the rest of DC, including an arc in the Diniverse.
      A self insert from our world gets dropped into Young Justice-world with an orange power ring, and eventually “improve the world” becomes his primary desire.

      There are daily updates, but I restrict myself to catching up every two weeks.

      • theredsheep says:

        On that note, I recommend the webcomic JL8. Originally entitled “Little League,” it’s the Justice League–at age eight or so. They’re all in the same class. Martian Manhunter is the shy foreign exchange student who wears suits to school, Wonder Woman’s a tomboy, Batman’s a nerdy know-it-all, Darkseid’s the sadistic gym coach, and Hal’s Green Lantern Corps are a boy scout troop. It’s by turns absurd and sweet.

        http://limbero.org/jl8/1

  27. Odovacer says:

    How was the Bay Area meetup? Good turnout and discussions?

    • Lambert says:

      Given the date, i’m assuming three astronomers turned up with precious metals, incense and cologne.

  28. Urstoff says:

    Anyone have any opinions on this article: http://nautil.us/issue/68/context/its-the-end-of-the-gene-as-we-know-it

    Aside from the random swipe at IQ tests, I think the main thesis is that genes don’t directly determine phenotypic characteristics:

    So the accepted “central dogma” could be conceived as the one-way flow of information from the code in the gene:

    DNA template → proteins → developing characteristics;

    Which I don’t think is the accepted view in biology anyway? I don’t know, as I am definitely not someone literate in this area.

    Also, I don’t really understand the exact claim of this paragraph:

    Conversely, it is now well known that a group of genetically identical individuals, reared in identical environments—as in pure-bred laboratory animals—do not become identical adults. Rather, they develop to exhibit the full range of bodily and functional variations found in normal, genetically-variable, groups. In a report in Science in 2013, Julia Fruend and colleagues observed this effect in differences in developing brain structures.

    The first half seems obviously false (identical twins look identical, after all; is appearance not counted as “boidly and functional variations”?); while the second half regarding brain structures may be true, but is a much weaker claim than made in the previous sentence.

    Can anyone versed in genetics and development clarify this article for me?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I haven’t read the article yet, just opened it, so I’m not going to talk about the merit of the article as a whole. Maybe in an edit or a reply to this post depending on how I feel.

      That said, I can address your first point. I’m working on my PhD in a big umbrella program under biomedical sciences, so I know a fair amount about about molecular genetics and depending on who you ask I’m a developmental biologist.

      The Central Dogma is a real term in biology, but the name is very misleading because nobody who understands biology even at an undergraduate level treats it as dogma. It’s more of a good rule of thumb, but with a lot of well-known exceptions. The best example would probably be the histone code, which is what people usually mean when they talk about epigenetics. Post-translational modifications to histone proteins play a large role in which genes are transcribed and the level of their transcription.

      After all, common sense should be enough to tell you that it can’t all be unidirectional DNA -> RNA -> proteins. Organisms respond to our environments and we would die pretty quickly if we didn’t. Gene expression needs to change in response to environmental stimuli and that means feedback where proteins and RNA regulate DNA. You can’t maintain an equilibrium if it’s all top-down.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      Can anyone versed in genetics and development clarify this article for me?

      Ah, that’s what my degree is in! OK, let’s take a look at this article and… Oh my, it is bad.

      His main thesis is that GWAS and polygenic scores aren’t super-useful at the individual level. That is, if I’ve done a big GWAS and found some SNPs associated with an outcome, the presence of those SNPs in an individual doesn’t guarantee that the individual will have that outcome. Which, sure. GWAS is an Association Study (that’s what the AS stands for) and associations aren’t the same thing as causations. There’s lots of things that can mess up a GWAS, and lots of steps that should happen between a GWAS and an actual diagnostic use, and a lot of caveats that should be understood before using them. For me personally, “just” a GWAS isn’t very useful – I really want to see the thing that’s driving the association. Despite that, people have been trying to use GWAS data diagnostically, and there’s been some pretty nasty failure cases.

      At the same time, he’s throwing a lot of stuff at the wall in service of this goal. It looks like he’s mainly trying to make the case that environment is important in addition to genetics, which every biologist would agree with, but he’s doing a bad job of making this case. In particular, this jumped out at me as terrible:

      Within hours, the fertilized egg becomes a ball of identical cells—all with the same genome, of course. But the cells are already talking to each other with storms of chemical signals. Through the statistical patterns within the storms, instructions are, again, created de novo. The cells, all with the same genes, multiply into hundreds of starkly different types, moving in a glorious ballet to find just the right places at the right times. That could not have been specified in the fixed linear strings of DNA.

      What the hell? We’ve been studying how genes do exactly this for years. Eric Wieschaus won the Nobel prize for it in 1995!

      The article is riddled with errors in support of a basically-accepted premise.

      Other complaints: He misstates the central dogma of molecular biology (which is DNA -> RNA -> Proteins, not DNA -> Proteins -> Traits). He leaves off “molecular biology” though and I almost missed his error. Very few biologists would agree with his characterization of a central dogma. His illustrations use left-handed DNA, which might not be his fault but still sucks.

      • MTSowbug says:

        Molecular biology Ph.D. here. I’m impressed you were able to bear reading the whole article. The author’s language is loose and evidence is minimal, but nonetheless the author makes extremely strong (and misleading) claims. I get the impression that the author is arguing against the idea of “genes are fate” without engaging the topic scientifically.

        Mainly, I just wanted to comment to agree with everything you said.

        • secondcityscientist says:

          The more I think about it, the madder I get about the “Central Dogma” thing. For non-biologists: There is a “Central Dogma of Molecular Biology” that posits the DNA->RNA->Protein chain, that is, one is transcribed or translated into the other, and it doesn’t go in reverse. There are exceptions, which are well-documented now but were pretty surprising at the time. Anyway, the author
          1) Makes changes (No RNA, “developing characteristics” added in) and
          2) proceeds to argue against his changed version, which no one accepts.
          I mis-read it at first as being the actual, normal version of the CD and was confused about what he was saying for a bit (it looks like Nabil ad Dajjal may have done the same thing). If you just vaguely remember discussions about the CD from long-ago biology classes you might think he’s describing the real deal instead of his straw man. This makes me think the whole thing is done in bad faith.

          • Bugmaster says:

            and it doesn’t go in reverse

            Wait a minute, I thought that many proteins ultimately produced by genes were involved in gene regulation. Is that not true ? If it’s true, doesn’t that count as going “in reverse” ?

          • secondcityscientist says:

            Wait a minute, I thought that many proteins ultimately produced by genes were involved in gene regulation. Is that not true ? If it’s true, doesn’t that count as going “in reverse” ?

            That’s true, but not what I meant by “going in reverse”. DNA is transcribed into RNA, not vice versa. RNA is translated into proteins, and not vice versa. That’s the CD. There are exceptions (like retrovirus’ reverse transcriptase, which copies RNA into DNA) but they’re rare.

            Basically, the CD has to do with the capacity to “reverse engineer” a specific piece of RNA from its corresponding protein, or a particular sequence of DNA from its corresponding RNA. Generally that isn’t seen (with some exceptions).

      • Urstoff says:

        Thanks for the clarifications (and from the others who replied, too)!

      • quanta413 says:

        Ah, that’s what my degree is in! OK, let’s take a look at this article and… Oh my, it is bad.

        Thank you for reading it. I would have felt compelled to read it if someone else didn’t first. And well, it doesn’t sound like I would’ve enjoyed it unless I wanted a hateread.

    • Murphy says:

      Bioinformatician here.

      It’s full of a lot of… shall we say standard tropes.

      Everything is soooo complex and mysterious mystery. Wooooo!

      (when an article starts talking about the total number of genes vs some organism people think of as simple it’s not a good sign)

      It’s trying to tell a story rather than inform. but the moral of the story is trying to be

      “genetics = nazis”

      As always as a sanity check think about how it applies to height.

      It’s taking the idea that you can stunt someone’s growth by starving them while they grow and trying to build up to dismissing the entire concept of genetics. (subtext ! YOU TOO COULD BE 7 foot 6 if only The Man wasn’t keeping you down, it has nothing to do with genetics!! environment is king!!!)

      Apparently the author has never seen twins. I think you’re right to quote that block with confusion.

      I’ll give it points for a single valid point:

      “the methods for computing polygenic scores, in which millions of variables are analyzed by statistical manipulation, provides huge opportunities for false positives. “

      overall 3/10. Mostly buzzword soup from an author who isn’t a geneticist but obviously gets great pleasure from stringing together lots of reddit TIL style “would you believe it!” factlets to fit his ideology.

  29. Ninety-Three says:

    Unless the government reopens, food stamps will be underfunded in February and completely gone in March. A question I have been trying to find an answer for: if the government reopens in April, will people get “back-pay” of their March foodstamps, or do those just evaporate into the aether?

    • theredsheep says:

      I have about a month of experience working at the welfare office. I suspect that, if any back-pay is produced, individuals will have to qualify for it via a long, exhausting, and deeply degrading process. Possibly involving keeping their receipts for every purchase, entering the items they wish to be reimbursed for, documenting their exact level of hardship during the shutdown, etc. They will be removed from consideration if they make any entry errors, like accidentally requesting reimbursement for a bar of soap. And the process won’t be invented for about a month after the shutdown ends.

      I think I’m joking about parts of that, but I’m honestly not sure, or which part(s) if I am. As a general rule, the welfare application process is designed to be extremely paranoid about potential fraud or abuse–well beyond the profitability/expense of said fraud–and in some places appears engineered to arbitrarily exclude applicants in order to reduce the strain on their limited funding. I really doubt they’ll agree to reimburse a blessed thing without meeting a ridiculous standard of evidence.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        I think it’s an artifact of large bureaucracy generally, not necessarily in regards to welfare specifically. That said, even the patrons of the DMV have a lot more clout on average than your typical welfare applicant. What problems do exist are not very likely to be fixed, especially quickly.

        It does have the unfortunate side-effect that some of the people most likely to make it through the process are the serial abusers the system is supposed to eliminate. They are quite practiced at the details, and are not afraid to represent themselves in exactly the way that obtains benefits, where a more honest person may not use the specific phrasing that the bureaucrat needs in order to OK the request.

        • theredsheep says:

          When I worked there, they said that welfare fraud mostly consisted of organized rings who game the system using crowds of ignorant immigrants and economies of scale; since they ask you to prove absolutely everything, doing it on an individual basis is really quite tiresome and inefficient. It’s almost impossible to get straight cash assistance (I think it’s basically for the pregnant and utterly destitute), so you have to muck around with, uh, somewhere less than $200 of groceries per month, which have to be resold at a discount thus lowering your margin further, etc., etc.

  30. knockknock says:

    Take the survey already! You know what to do — do it now, baby!

    https://youtu.be/wM7nKHzAHsQ?t=39

  31. jgr314 says:

    Does anyone have a rebuttal to the scary message in this piece from The Atlantic: Presidential Emergency Powers.

    Disclaimer: yes, I would feel equally uncomfortable about this state of the law if all variations of “Trump” were replaced with “Obama” or “Clinton.” I’m not really interested in complaints of “why wasn’t this article published then?” but would be open to comments along the lines of “the 30 states of emergency in place now are down from [45] when Trump took office.”

    • Kyle A Johansen says:

      What do you think specifically is scary?

      If its the idea that American Democracy relies on the accepting of norms and the powerful giving up powerful, then consider the fact that it has a pretty good track record.

      If what’s scary is just ‘orange man bad’, isn’t the existence of the Mueller investigation and that there isn’t a similar fishing investigation of Hillary and her former allies suggestive of ‘orange man not that bad’.

      • jgr314 says:

        What I find scary is the (claimed:) increase in easily available powers by the president with no apparent institutional checks.

        I work in a part of finance where the motto is: “past performance is no guarantee of future success.” There have been 44 changes of president and 24(ish?) changes of party in office. That’s not nothing, but still closer to anecdotes rather than data. If it is true that the presidency has grown more powerful over time, then the past change-overs add less evidence to a future prediction because they are samples drawn from a different regime.

        Finally, I tried to be clear that my concern isn’t just anti-Trump. What could I have written to communicate that better?

        • Protagoras says:

          I think the best way to communicate that the concern isn’t just Trump would be to write the piece in another time and place. Probably the only strategy that would work, in fact.

          • Kyle A Johansen says:

            ‘Congress, of course, will undertake none of these reforms without extraordinary public pressure—and until now, the public has paid little heed to emergency powers. But we are in uncharted political territory. At a time when other democracies around the world are slipping toward authoritarianism—and when the president seems eager for the United States to follow their example—we would be wise to shore up the guardrails of liberal democracy. Fixing the current system of emergency powers would be a good place to start.’

          • albatross11 says:

            Some of us have been unhappy about executive power grabs for the last several administrations….

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            +1 albratross

            I’ve been fighting my own small losing fight against authoritarianism for my entire adult life. I had a glimmer of hope at the beginning of the Trump administration, especially after the election but before he was in office, that the Democrats would have a sudden realization that maybe the President should be far less powerful. Instead, it seems they’ve opted for the “This guy is extremely bad and should be removed from office, but the powers are fine in our hands.”

        • Kyle A Johansen says:

          You posted a link to an article, a large part of which ‘sure, that was all fine and it worked fine in the past, but now there’s Trump.’

          You also say that you ‘ would feel equally uncomfortable about this state of the law if all variations of “Trump” were replaced with “Obama” or “Clinton.”’ but Obama is one of those 24 changes of party, and was definitely arguably more popular than Trump at the time. So it seems as if we can either trust Obama or the general system despite a lack of specific ‘institutional checks’ (although, of course, a POTUS abusing SoE powers could be impeached) Nixon was also a OTUs recently, so either Nixon is another one of whom could be trusted.

          The institutional check is the best check: only putting as POTUS those that can garner the trust of the people sufficiently well to win the election.

        • brad says:

          Finally, I tried to be clear that my concern isn’t just anti-Trump. What could I have written to communicate that better?

          Given the audience you were writing for I think it would have been impossible.

          It’s somewhat surprising that anti-anti-Trump (which isn’t exactly the same thing as pro-Trump) can be such a passionately held position.

          • Aapje says:

            Double standards can just be very frustrating, where people say that they object to X, but only actually seem to object to A doing X, but not to B doing X.

            Then the real objection seems to be (something else about) A, not X.

            If you then actually care about X, these people make for back-stabbing allies and if you care about not-X, they make for disingenuous opponents with whom it is hard to debate.

          • brad says:

            I seem to remember getting enormous pushback when I suggested that some posters shouldn’t be characterized as believers in X despite self-claims based on the patterns of their posts.

            This must be different.

          • albatross11 says:

            Even if you start with a group of people who all oppose X, you will hear a lot more complaints from them when X is actively causing some other problem they care about. It’s easy and fun to bash them for hypocrisy or something, but maybe this is your opportunity to get them interested in opposing X more generally.

            For example, campus mobs and no-platforming has gotten a fair number of people on the right committed to free speech. If you care about free speech in general, then that’s a good thing–you’ve got new allies in protecting something really important. Maybe even more important than scoring some quick points by bashing them for not having cared about free speech issues until their ox was gored.

          • Aapje says:

            @Brad

            You are being a bit vague, but if you are talking about people claiming to be left-wing despite not arguing for what you think is left-wing positions, then this is not so much hypocrisy, but a matter of subjective definitions and/or behavior.

            For example: is a person who wants an extensive welfare state and low migration left or right? It’s probably in the eye of the beholder.

            Another example: Is a person whose ideal is a welfare state, but who in Soviet Russia Venezuela (almost) exclusively fights for more free markets, right wing or can she still consider herself a (moderate) leftie? Just because someone thinks that it is important to move in a right-coded direction on an issue, doesn’t necessarily mean that the outcome that person is aiming for is not still left-wing.

            Anyway, I think that this is a very different debate than a discussion about people who selectively support something and yet claim to support it for everyone.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The article itself is full of so many lies, half-truths and delusional thinking that it would be hard to know where to start a critique.

      But I agree with the broad point that yes, the executive has far too much power! The legislature has willfully ceded its authority to the other two branches. I’ve complained about this for decades, and would definitely support legislation to reign in executive authority (and while they’re at it, do something about President Hawaiian Judge issuing nationwide injunctions with authority derived from God knows where). I’m sure, however, that as soon as a Democrat or Uniparty Republican is back in office doing the will of the handful of billionaires and multinational corporations who own the media this will all be quickly forgotten.

      It reminds me of a post I saw on reddit after the 2016 election. A liberal terrified of Trump was rushing out to buy a gun for when Trump’s Nazis come for him and all the minorities and I found myself saying “FINALLY the left gets it! That’s why we need guns, in case the government goes nuts!” I’m glad the left is developing an appreciation of smaller government with distributed powers. A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take everything away from you.

      • Tim van Beek says:

        …That’s why we need guns, in case the government goes nuts!

        How do you imagine it will look like if the government goes nuts?

        When I think about this, I follow the history of totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, which means: First the government will convince everybody that people like you (from a real or constructed little minority), are a deadly threat to society and subhuman. Then there are several possibilities, like:

        a) A couple of cops visit you at your workplace, inviting you to come with them to the police station, because they have some questions.

        b) You are taken down by a SWAT team after leaving your home to go to work.

        I think it is easy to come up with several more, but they all have one thing in common: The moment the government actually comes for you, it doesn’t matter anymore if you have a gun with you (or a tank in your garage or a howitzer in your front yard, for that matter). And there won’t be anyone near you who will help you, because they will all believe that you deserve it: Your coworkers, your neighbors, your own family even.

        TL/DR: A totalitarian regime will handle you like the government handles domestic terrorists today. Their weapons don’t help them much, either.

        I am sincerely curious, because I don’t have many opportunities to ask someone who in turn sincerely believes that owning hand guns will protect them from their own government.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I am not the best defender of the “guns to resist the government” argument, but the idea is that they will not be able to round everyone up at once. Sure, they will GitMo a few hundred, but after that, the theory goes, people can rebel.

          I have many problems with the theory, but this is not a good argument against it.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Police officers and soliders aren’t mindless killbots.

          If every time the police get an order to go disappear someone there’s a 10% chance the guy shoots back at them, disappearing dissidents is now more dangerous than the entire rest of their job put together. They’re going to be a lot more reluctant to go out and disappear people who seem likely to fight back.

          And that’s assuming that resistance is limited to lone individuals. If enough armed men in a neighborhood or a town decide that the police aren’t welcome anymore they can effectively evict them. It’s harder to fight an occupying army that way, but the various wars from Vietnam through Iraq have been an effective demonstration that the US military is far from immune to insurgent tactics.

          Would-be tyrants understand that, which is why they tend to focus on disarming the public first before they get into the swing of their atrocities.

          • Walter says:

            The US army not being immune to insurgent tactics is only because the bosses are good guys, tho. We try not to kill enemy noncombatants, so it is useful for enemy combatants to transform into civilians from time to time.

            The version of the US army that you face if they are disappearing American citizens by the hundreds isn’t gonna be that one.

          • Tim van Beek says:

            It’s harder to fight an occupying army that way, but the various wars from Vietnam through Iraq have been an effective demonstration that the US military is far from immune to insurgent tactics.

            Fair enough, this is a different scenario.

            Would-be tyrants understand that, which is why they tend to focus on disarming the public first before they get into the swing of their atrocities.

            That wasn’t a factor with the worst 20th century tyrants, though. Here is the difference between an established totalitarian regime and your version of, basically, civil war:

            If every time the police get an order to go disappear someone there’s a 10% chance the guy shoots back at them, disappearing dissidents is now more dangerous than the entire rest of their job put together.

            For the vast majority of the population, it is not about dissidents. It is about criminals. There were no dissidents in the Nazi concentration camps, as far as ordinary people were concerened, only criminals who deserved it. If handling criminials with guns is not a problem for police now, it wouldn’t be one in a totalitarian USA.

            But I understand now that what you are thinking of is generally more of a civil war kind of situation. Thanks!

          • Nornagest says:

            The US army not being immune to insurgent tactics is only because the bosses are good guys, tho.

            This isn’t really true. Counterinsurgency is hampered on the tactical level by overly rigid rules of engagement, but even with bad RoE, insurgent forces are rarely tactically superior to an actual military; the strategy of insurgency’s more about making occupation materially expensive and politically unpleasant for the occupiers than actually physically killing them or driving them out, and you can still do that if they’re willing to kill civilians. In some ways it’s easier.

            The Russians certainly weren’t scared of a few massacres, but they still lost Afghanistan. (That’s also part of the story for us in Vietnam, but that’s a more complicated case.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            The Russians certainly weren’t scared of a few massacres, but they still lost Afghanistan.

            There’s something strange going on where it’s conventional wisdom to lure your strategic rivals into a counter-insurgency because they drain resources while being unwinnable (the author of The Great Big Book of Horrible Things said every source he consulted on the Soviet-Afghan War described President Carter’s advisers as dancing through the White House when the USSR invaded), yet Americans remember the Vietnam War as being lost in the media/by RoE, as though counter-insurgency would have been easy without domestic leftists.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Walter,

            Which is why the Soviet Union was victorious in Afghanistan.

            To be less flippant, I do think that an intelligent, determined and ruthless dictator could eventually defeat an American insurgency. But it wouldn’t be easy and it wouldn’t be fast. It would be a long grinding occupation and that leaves a lot of time for the situation to turn around.

            @Tim van Beek,

            The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is very commonly cited by pro-gun Americans as an example of resistance to tyranny.

            The Jewish residents of the Warsaw Ghetto didn’t survive, and they certainly didn’t convince the Nazi party to abandon the Holocaust. But they were going to die at the hands of the SS either way: this way, they made them bleed too.

            Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just because something isn’t a silver bullet doesn’t mean that it can’t change things on the margin.

          • Tim van Beek says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal:

            Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just because something isn’t a silver bullet doesn’t mean that it can’t change things on the margin.

            Okay, got it 😉
            I would like to recommend the novel by Hans Fallada: “Alone in Berlin”, to illustrate the futility of having a gun (the protagonists don’t have those, but just read the novel as if they had and see if it matters) in an established totalitarian regime.

            Taken together, it seems that this leads us to a version of the first lesson in Timothy Snyder’s book “On Tyranny”: Resistance is necessary early and becomes almost impossible later.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s something strange going on where it’s conventional wisdom to lure your strategic rivals into a counter-insurgency because they drain resources while being unwinnable

            They’re winnable; they’re just hard to win if your military is culturally and operationally tuned for large-scale high-intensity warfare against a peer adversary, as USM is and the Soviet military was. The Brits, who have a lot of cultural experience fighting colonial brushfire wars, tend to do better.

            (Although it’s not a guarantee. The French have almost as much colonial experience as the Brits, and they got their asses kicked in Indochina and then again in Algeria. They’ve done well in Africa recently, though.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            They’re winnable; they’re just hard to win if your military is culturally and physically tuned for large-scale high-intensity warfare against a peer adversary, as USM is and the Soviet military was. The Brits, who have a lot of cultural experience fighting colonial brushfire wars, tend to do better.

            Ah, yeah, that’s right. The US and USSR almost never had colonies, and so never designed their armies to fight primitive opposition.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s not just that we’ve rarely had much in the way of colonial possessions; it’s also that every time we’ve gotten ourselves into an insurgency (Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) we’ve treated it as an exception and failed — with some good reasons to, arguably, but still failed — to institutionalize any of the lessons we learned from it, meaning we had no choice but to relearn them the next time.

            A country that has a lot of colonial possessions and wants to keep them has strong incentives not to do that, and some of the culture behind that often persists even after the colonial possessions go away. But we could imagine other reasons why a country might want to, too — the real issue is that in terms of military organization, we prioritized readiness for WWIII at the expense of being an effective “world police”. I suppose there might have been a way to do both, but not the way we did it, and apparently not the way the Soviets did it either.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            There’s something strange going on where it’s conventional wisdom to lure your strategic rivals into a counter-insurgency because they drain resources while being unwinnable (the author of The Great Big Book of Horrible Things said every source he consulted on the Soviet-Afghan War described President Carter’s advisers as dancing through the White House when the USSR invaded), yet Americans remember the Vietnam War as being lost in the media/by RoE, as though counter-insurgency would have been easy without domestic leftists.

            I don’t really buy the narrative that Afghanistan was that much of a bog or that the Mujahdeen were that succesful. By the late 1980s, Gorbachev was pulling the Soviets and Soviet allies out of everywhere, including places where they were nominally winning, like Angola and Cambodia. He even pulled troops out of Mongolia, where they weren’t even being resisted, because he wanted better relations with China. This is more an attempt to cool down the Cold War even further, because the USSR was well on its way to being screwed by 1987. Just look at what the US did to Iraq in 1991 and extrapolate to 2000, assuming the US never took a peace dividend. That’s a nightmare.

            Peak Soviet commitment in Afghanistan was 100,000, compared to the 500,000+ the US had in Vietnam and the 500,000+ the French had in Algeria.

          • testing123 says:

            @a definite beta guy

            Peak Soviet commitment in Afghanistan was 100,000, compared to the 500,000+ the US had in Vietnam and the 500,000+ the French had in Algeria.

            I can’t speak to how deliberate it was, but war is expensive in general, war in afghanistan is especially so. Around 2010 it was costing the US 50-100% more to keep a soldier in Afghanistan vs. Iraq, and the soviets had a lot less money to spend.

          • Tenacious D says:

            Ah, yeah, that’s right. The US and USSR almost never had colonies, and so never designed their armies to fight primitive opposition.

            But the US had westward expansion in which US cavalry frequently fought against low-tech insurgencies. In Canada, pacifying the west was more of a policing action than a military one, and I’d consider that the institutional culture of the RCMP is still shaped by that role.

          • Nornagest says:

            the US had westward expansion in which US cavalry frequently fought against low-tech insurgencies.

            And Russia had expansions east and south that worked the same way; modern Russia would be about the size of Poland if they hadn’t subjugated a bunch of Tartar and Siberian tribes in the early modern period. In both cases, though, those roles had pretty much fallen out of their respective militaries’ cultural memory; in Russia because they built an army pretty much from scratch after the revolution, and in the US because there were several decades of thrashing around between the Civil War-era military (which was essentially a half-assed ad-hoc extension of the old militia model, and totally unsuitable in the new federalized government) and the modern one, and the institution changed enormously in the process.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            What Nornagest said. The USA took land from Native Americans and used the Cavalry to suppress armed resistance, but uh, didn’t that end with the Ghost Dance War in 1890 and Jan. 1891? There’s 50 years between that and the mechanized Army and Marine Corps we loaded on ships to fight WW2. That’s the way our Armed Forces have fantasized about fighting ever since, just with more air transport involved: find a hostile country stupid enough to line up tanks and motorized infantry against us and bury them by shipping so much tonnage to their shores and air-dropped behind their lines that they lose with very few casualties are our side.

          • Tenacious D says:

            there were several decades of thrashing around between the Civil War-era military (which was essentially a half-assed ad-hoc extension of the old militia model, and totally unsuitable in the new federalized government) and the modern one, and the institution changed enormously in the process.

            There’s 50 years between that and the mechanized Army and Marine Corps we loaded on ships to fight WW2. That’s the way our Armed Forces have fantasized about fighting ever since, just with more air transport involved

            Makes sense, thanks.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I can’t speak to how deliberate it was, but war is expensive in general, war in afghanistan is especially so. Around 2010 it was costing the US 50-100% more to keep a soldier in Afghanistan vs. Iraq, and the soviets had a lot less money to spend.

            Why do we assume that? The Soviet Union was spending at least $123 billion in the late 1980s, probably closer to twice that. Adjusted for 30 years of 3% inflation, that’s $300 billion in today money, or about half the US military budget. If we take the high end estimate, the USSR was spending as much in the late 80s as the US was today, and they are conducting operations with low-paid conscripts and cheaper equipment, not F-22s, Land Warrior, M1 tanks, etc.

            Plus, the Soviet Union bordered Afghanistan. The supply lines to Afghanistan were probably shorter than their supply lines to half their Chinese units.

            I think their biggest cost would be those absurd helicopter losses.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Why do we assume that? The Soviet Union was spending at least $123 billion in the late 1980s, probably closer to twice that. Adjusted for 30 years of 3% inflation, that’s $300 billion in today money, or about half the US military budget. If we take the high end estimate, the USSR was spending as much in the late 80s as the US was today, and they are conducting operations with low-paid conscripts and cheaper equipment, not F-22s, Land Warrior, M1 tanks, etc.

            I think the point was that the Soviets couldn’t really afford to continue their 1980s military budget. The current US military budget is a bit over 3% of GDP, while the Soviet military budget peaked at something like 15% of GDP at its peak in the mid-to-late 1980s (hard to say for sure, since estimates are all over the map, both for military spending and GDP), not counting the taxation-in-kind effect of conscription.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The Soviets had already maintained that spending for decades, what changed in the 1980s that made it unsustainable?
            That’s why I think it is a bit short-sighted to simply say the USSR lost Afghanistan because it was an objectively unsustainble or unwinnable war. The withdrawal was part of a broad Soviet foreign policy to lessen pressure on them, because they were losing the Cold War in a very obvious(to them) fashion. That’s also why I am pointing out that they were also withdrawing from places like Mongolia, where they encountered practically no resistance, and eventually Poland, where Solidarity definitely did not have Stinger missiles.

            I am reading a NY Times article that suggests US spending in Vietnam at our peak was something like $25 billion per year(in 1967-1970 dollars). The Soviet presence was substantially smaller and right next to their border.

          • bean says:

            The Soviets had already maintained that spending for decades, what changed in the 1980s that made it unsustainable?

            It wasn’t Afghanistan, it was a change in the nature of weaponry. Soviet industry was set up to build a big, dumb force like the one that fought WWII. The US was pioneering a new form of warfare, with lots of computers, which the Soviets didn’t have the industry to build. They had to set that up, which cost a bunch of extra money. Glanost was essentially Gorbachev’s attempt to search dark corners for extra money, but he found a bunch of dry rot instead.

            (Also, treat all Soviet spending figures with extreme skepticism. Accounting was not their strong suit. At one point, western observers at an airshow were told that the MiG-29 and Su-27 cost the same, even though the Su-27 was a significantly larger and more capable aircraft. And to the Soviets, they did.)

          • Lillian says:

            The French have almost as much colonial experience as the Brits, and they got their asses kicked in Indochina and then again in Algeria. They’ve done well in Africa recently, though.

            The French actually won military in Algeria, as by the end of 1959 the FLN had been pretty much suppressed throughout the country. The defeat in Algeria was entirely political. They didn’t get their asses kicked, they won the war but lost the peace.

            It’s not just that we’ve rarely had much in the way of colonial possessions; it’s also that every time we’ve gotten ourselves into an insurgency (Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) we’ve treated it as an exception and failed — with some good reasons to, arguably, but still failed — to institutionalize any of the lessons we learned from it, meaning we had no choice but to relearn them the next time.

            Nitpick, America won the Philippine-American War pretty decisively. It is, however, probably relevant that the Army leadership still had many veterans of the Civil War and the Indian Wars in its ranks. They provided considerable expertise in dealing with both the Philippine Republican Army and the Moro Rebellion.

          • Nornagest says:

            The defeat in Algeria was entirely political […] they won the war but lost the peace.

            That’s a pretty good description of Vietnam, too. War is politics by other means; if the war failed to achieve your political goals, then you lost the war. Even if you won every battle. Fully appreciating this is, like, 90% of the point of all the counterinsurgency writing I’ve read.

            I agree that the Philippine-American War was pretty successful, especially by American standards, but what I was trying to get at is that the lessons of that campaign weren’t successfully integrated into the Army’s cultural DNA: fifty years later we were back to throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck. And then thirty years after that we did it again.

          • Lillian says:

            That’s a pretty good description of Vietnam, too. War is politics by other means; if the war failed to achieve your political goals, then you lost the war. Even if you won every battle. Fully appreciating this is, like, 90% of the point of all the counterinsurgency writing I’ve read.

            Being decisively defeated at Dien Bien Phu is not what i would call winning the war but losing the peace. It’s more like just straight up losing the war. Or as you put it “got their asses kicked”. The point i was making is that the character of the defeat in Indochina and Algeria are different, and it’s not appropriate to lump them together.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nornagest

            Winning battles is never (or rather should never be) an end, but only one way to achieve objectives.

            This is why Von Clausewitz said: “war is the continuation of politics by other means.”

            In Vietnam, the N-Vietnamese were willing to accept enormous costs to unify their country under communist rule. Inflicting high costs on them, that they were willing to accept, was thus not going to achieve the American objective.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Lillian:

            Being decisively defeated at Dien Bien Phu is not what i would call winning the war but losing the peace. It’s more like just straight up losing the war. Or as you put it “got their asses kicked”. The point i was making is that the character of the defeat in Indochina and Algeria are different, and it’s not appropriate to lump them together.

            I’m pretty sure he was referring to the US involvement in Vietnam, rather than the French.

        • John Schilling says:

          This is like saying the American Revolution was an unrealistic fantasy because the British could just send ten Redcoats to the homes of every revolutionary sympathizer, one at a time. As Edward notes, you can only get away with that trick so many times.

          One man with a gun and nothing to lose, vs. two cops who expect him to come quietly (or need to behave as if they do for PR purposes), does not end well for the cops. And if the theory is that doing this at work is a win for the cops because “Oh noes! I can’t carry a gun at work because that’s against the rules and I might lose my job“, then that goes away as soon as people think it is plausible the regime might disappear them from their desk – again, that doesn’t work for long.

          At which point the dead cops start piling up, the live cops start insisting on a “SWAT team, shoot first and ask questions later” approach, and nobody imagines that going along quietly is an option any more because it really isn’t. The civil war has started. You really don’t want to let it get to that point.

          And there won’t be anyone near you who will help you, because they will all believe that you deserve it: Your coworkers, your neighbors, your own family even.

          If that’s true for you, then you’ve already lost. You’ve lost in the most thorough way possible, by losing the ability to even imagine victory.

          Meanwhile, the world always has been and probably always will be ruled by people with coworkers, neighbors, and/or family who will back them in a fight against their mortal enemies. One or more such groups will prevail, and decide what role you will have in their society.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          There are 300+ million guns in private hands in the US. If we’re talking a handful of people at a time, that’s doable and plausibly a normal police action. Those still don’t always end well for the cops. If we’re talking abusing a significant portion of the population (even 5-10%, ~15-30 million people) then it’s a huge and very visible approach. If you don’t think that will be problematic because of the scale alone, read up on the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas, or even Ruby Ridge. There’s a reason that the occupiers of the wildlife refuge in Oregon were treated with kid’s gloves, and it’s the track record of federal enforcement blowing up.

          • My view is that the relation between gun ownership and preventing tyranny is more indirect than usually argued. If the ordinary population is disarmed and criminals are not, individuals are dependent on the police for protection, which makes them more willing to put up with police misdeeds. If most people can defend themselves, then the police are considerably less essential, so people should be more willing to accept restrictions on their power.

            If that argument is correct, firearm ownership reduces the willingness of the population to accept the early stages of a power seizure.

          • theredsheep says:

            That makes a lot more sense than the usual argument, where the gun owners are all going to somehow be anti-gummint.

          • John Schilling says:

            That makes a lot more sense than the usual argument, where the gun owners are all going to somehow be anti-gummint.

            1. Do not deliberately misspell words and attribute them to your opponents. Ever.

            2. The usual argument is that the anti-government citizens are all
            going to be gun owners, not vice versa. Gun ownership among pro-government citizens is usually ignored altogether. But sometimes it is noticed – like, for example, the beginning of this subthread. Conrad Honcho is IIRC not terribly fond of the political left, but noticing that leftists were beginning to properly arm themselves met with his unreserved approval. And he’s not alone in that sentiment.

            3. The primary objective is to not lose a civil war. This is best achieved by not having a civil war, which is greatly facilitated by the fact that almost nobody wants a civil war of the sort that has, you know, the “war” part. Those who are armed may fantasize about crushing a hated but nigh-defenseless foe in a one-sided conflict with just enough violence to feel like they’ve earned a victory. If disarmed, they fantasize about having nigh-omnipotent guardians to do this for them – and as Dr. Friedman notes, ask no questions about what else those guardians are up to. To avoid either of those unpleasant fantasies becoming reality, make sure nobody is disarmed or defenseless.

            The great object is that every man be armed. And trained and organized.

          • theredsheep says:

            It’s also very handy to have a large body of trained, armed citizens around if you’re forming paramilitary groups. Large swaths of the Middle East and Africa are drowning in guns, and those places aren’t known for their strong traditions of individual rights. Armed, trained, and organized citizens are awfully hard to distinguish from paramilitary groups in the first place, especially if they cause any collateral damage whatever (they don’t control media outlets). Getting them trained and organized is at any rate far more difficult than getting them armed.

            Finally, I don’t believe people, en masse, react to the threat of a societal meltdown by proceeding more cautiously. Our natural reaction to a display of force is a stronger display of force, to show we can’t be intimidated. That’s how wars happen.

            Apologies about “gummint.” I was mostly being whimsical, TBH.

          • theredsheep says:

            The more I think about this, the more it seems to me that the presence of armed, trained militias would increase the frequencies of civil wars. As I see it, the problems are twofold:

            1. When you’ve got a group of people who are armed and trained to fight together, especially with a vigilant-minuteman mentality, you’ve got the classic problem of people with a hammer looking for nails. It doesn’t matter if 95% or so of them are sane, responsible people; as armed groups proliferate, the odds of any one small group containing a critical mass of jackasses increases, and over time there are going to be rising odds that one of them will do something quite terribly stupid.

            2. In America as it is now, I think there’d be effectively no chance that militias would not come to identify themselves with political parties. Even if they didn’t deliberately set out to do so, they would naturally tend to sort out by political affiliation, the same way everyone else does in America today, and once that’s happened it would only be a short step to militia looking out for partisan interests.

            Putting 1 and 2 together, I suspect you’d have things like leftist militias turning out on election day to discourage unconstitutional voter suppression by their presence, and right-wing militias showing up at protests to keep the peace in case antifa tries to start trouble. The presence of either would naturally trigger the presence of its opposite, and every intemperate or ambiguous tweet would raise the temperature.

            An incident would only need to involve a couple of people; since these guys are trained to fight together, they would presumably have considerable in-group loyalty, and rush to each others’ defense. Even if the actual military or police defused the situation, it would heighten tension, because each side would remember it in a skewed way and take “precautionary measures.” I can see it going two ways, possibly simultaneously: increased expectations of the military/police as the only thing that can protect citizens from other citizens, and the proliferation of militias and increase in their membership as partisans seek to defend their interests. Add it up, and it doesn’t look good.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Probably also worth noting how exceptional the US is in this regard. Almost half the world’s civilian guns are owned by Americans. I can’t find the statistic right now, but this is also vastly more guns than all the police forces and armies in the world, combined.

            The US would be a very unique example of asymmetric warfare in which the rebels outgun the regime.

          • theredsheep says:

            Depends how it broke down; if it works out that a lot of those guns are collections of eight weapons owned by one single guy, that’s a lot less threatening than eight guys with a rifle apiece. Or so I think. Anyway, given how violence would likely play out, I don’t think it much matters. There’s no reason to suppose that all of those guys with guns would necessarily be against the government.

          • bean says:

            The US would be a very unique example of asymmetric warfare in which the rebels outgun the regime.

            No, for several reasons. First, a lot of those guns aren’t that useful militarily. Shotguns and pistols are of dubious use in warfare, and black powder is right out. Second, even in mass quantity, small arms are still small arms. Sure, it’s going to be a lot easier to get the firepower to ambush a police patrol in the US than in Europe, but once the bad guy starts bringing machine guns and artillery to the fight, the insurgents are still going to be outgunned. And there’s a lot less serious military hardware (automatic weapons, RPGs, etc) floating around the US than the Middle East.

            (This isn’t to say those weapons would be a non-factor in a hypothetical US insurgency. They’d be incredibly important. But we can’t just count raw numbers. And yes, a lot of those are owned by people who have more guns than they can use themselves.)

          • sfoil says:

            @bean

            Civilians don’t outgun the “American regime forces”, but they’re probably the only developed country where they’re at least on even terms with law enforcement arms-wise. The US shouldn’t have any problem putting down some sort of localized revolt or insurgency, because once the local PD gets driven out then a bunch of guys with AR-15s and hunting rifles are very vulnerable.

            On the other hand, it means that even a relatively pissant militia can kick the PD out. If they have a good enough reason, perhaps the guys in tanks won’t be so keen on killing them. I do think that American militia and CIVIL WAR talk is mostly posturing and even those who are “serious” about it grossly underestimate the level of organization required to successfully wage even a limited irregular campaign.

            In the case of some sort of general revolt or all-out war, the security infrastructure is fractally vulnerable in a way that’s pretty conducive to small groups of riflemen doing real damage. We have a great idea of what military installations optimized for modern low-intensity warfare look like, and they don’t look like the bases on American soil.

          • RobJ says:

            My view is that the relation between gun ownership and preventing tyranny is more indirect than usually argued. If the ordinary population is disarmed and criminals are not, individuals are dependent on the police for protection, which makes them more willing to put up with police misdeeds. If most people can defend themselves, then the police are considerably less essential, so people should be more willing to accept restrictions on their power.

            Wouldn’t this theory predict that the right would be more quick to protest police abuses? Whereas in reality it seems like the left has been more critical of police abuse and the right tends to defend police. Perhaps this is just a product of the recent racialization of the debate, but it doesn’t seem like a new phenomenon to me. Or maybe nothing the police have done appears enough like “the early stages of power seizure” enough to provoke a differing response among gun owners.

          • John Schilling says:

            Wouldn’t this theory predict that the right would be more quick to protest police abuses? Whereas in reality it seems like the left has been more critical of police abuse and the right tends to defend police.

            The right has traditionally been skeptical of police power at the federal level, and after some high-profile incidents in the 1990s, did convince the major federal law enforcement agencies to adopt a more professional and less violent approach. Compare Waco and Ruby Ridge to the Bundy Ranch and Oregon standoffs.

            The current concerns are mostly associated with local law enforcement abuse of power. Big-city police abuse of force against traditionally liberal constituencies like poor urban blacks, yeah, the right doesn’t seem to care much about that. In places where the right is locally powerful, local police are generally aligned with their concerns and not conspicuously abusing their authority against traditionally conservative constituencies. As usual, political principle works best when it’s aligned with, rather than opposed to, tribal interest.

          • RobJ says:

            The right has traditionally been skeptical of police power at the federal level, and after some high-profile incidents in the 1990s, did convince the major federal law enforcement agencies to adopt a more professional and less violent approach. Compare Waco and Ruby Ridge to the Bundy Ranch and Oregon standoffs.

            Was the response to those incidents particularly partisan? My impression was that things got changed in response to those incidents precisely because the condemnation came from all corners, but I was pretty young at the time, so don’t have a great memory of it.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            The original response was fairly non-partisan in my memory, but the right seems to remember the reasons much more clearly. Consider the left’s response to the Oregon standoff calling for, among other things, a direct assault on the building. I’ve also seen a lot of complaints that the Bundy Ranch situation was handled too calmly.

          • RobJ says:

            I would guess that if a group of armed black lives matter protesters were holed up in a house it would be the right wing calling for more aggressive tactics and the left wing remembering the lessons of Ruby Ridge and Waco, but maybe I’m wrong.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I would guess that if a group of armed black lives matter protesters were holed up in a house it would be the right wing calling for more aggressive tactics

            I think the right — at least the “Second Amendment People” — would be more likely to just make cracks about Wilson Goode .

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Rob, that probably depends on the individuals involved. The segment of the right that’s into arming the populace (tangentially on Reason.com for a more mainstream source) is very much in favor of also arming and defending BLM. The red tribe culture warriors are about as hypocritical as the blue tribe culture warriors, and would find a way to draw a distinction.

            I don’t have a good impression of the left’s version of arming BLM, if it exists or not.

          • John Schilling says:

            Was the response to those incidents particularly partisan?

            The original response was quite partisan, and there were huge sections of the mainstream left that never recanted that. But there were too many sympathetic victims for moderates to remain neutral, and too many eclectic pockets of leftism that joined that chorus, for it to remain a simple left-right issue. And right plus center plus odd bits of left was definitely a winning coalition.

          • wk says:

            Well, Ammon Bundy recently came out rather strongly against Trump. That makes me think of an interesting test case. Lets say he and his buddies take up guns to defend some illegal aliens against ICE. Who’s going to support them publically? And do they get away with it?

          • JonathanD says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            I don’t have a good impression of the left’s version of arming BLM, if it exists or not.

            So far as I know, it does not.

            Somewhat related: I’m from St. Louis, and during the Ferguson stuff there was a group of gun advocates who were posting themselves around the troubled areas as extra property defenders. After things began to calm down, they tried to get BLM people to parade with them open carrying rifles somewhere. The head of the group did an interview on local news where he talked about it. He said that he’d talked to local leaders and they (the BLM leaders) weren’t willing to do so because they were convinced they would be shot. I remember the gun leader as being fairly sympathetic to BLM and somewhat outraged by their description what the police did to the local black community. I came away from the interview with a better opinion of gun people.

            Unfortunately, my google-fu is failing me, and I can’t find any links.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          I don’t believe there’s any guaranty against this sort of thing. What you can always do is raise the costs associated with bad behavior.

      • testing123 says:

        One must distinguish between the power of the presidency and the power of the executive branch. We have far too little of the former and far too much of the latter.

    • John Schilling says:

      Disclaimer: yes, I would feel equally uncomfortable about this state of the law if all variations of “Trump” were replaced with “Obama” or “Clinton.”

      You would feel equally uncomfortable?

      Why the hypothetical? That was the state of the law during the whole of the Obama presidency, and the whole of the period when Hillary Clinton was the heir presumptive? So, spill: Did you in fact feel equally uncomfortable with the law at that time?

      I’m guessing the answer is no, because you didn’t know about it, because so long as it’s an Obama or a Clinton in power the people at The Atlantic never ever write stories about how maybe POTUS shouldn’t be quite so scary powerful. People on the Libertarian side, and a few of the more principled Republicans, have been saying it all along, but are rarely invited to write for The Atlantic. There were a fair number Democrats saying it in the Nixon and Reagan eras, but I think they’ve mostly moved to “…and so we need to make sure these powers are exercised by Democratic presidents for ever and ever, demographic inevitability, ASAP”.

      No matter. Either Trump will manage to get himself declared President-for-Life, possibly by leveraging emergency powers, or he won’t. If he does, your fear of POTUS wielding such power is validated but impotent. If he doesn’t, then it turns out those powers weren’t so dangerous when wielded by someone like Trump, but we’ll almost certainly be dealing with a competent Democratic President with a mandate to set right what Trump set “wrong”.

      There may be a slim window of opportunity then, with the memory of Trump fresh in mind, to convince the nation’s new rulers to hand back some of their power lest it be used against them under future administrations. The Atlantic will probably not remind you of this. Will you remember on your own?

    • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

      I’m not really interested in complaints of “why wasn’t this article published then?”

      That’s the only thing that’s really interesting.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      I found some of it uncomfortable. For instance, the claim, “Thirty states of emergency are in effect today.”

      The undercurrent of “because Trump” was off-putting. But, you know, only Nixon could go to China. If it takes Trump to make people rein some of this stuff in, well, so be it.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I was peripherally involved in the militia/right-wing scene in the 90s, and I can tell you that exact article was written a dozens of times each about Clinton/Bush/Obama. The only difference is that when right-wingers indulged in persecution fantasies every bit as absurd as those they weren’t printed in the Atlantic.

      Feel free to Google about how Obama was going to declare martial law, etc.

      The Presidency may have too much power (probably) and we certainly have too many states of emergency, but this is paranoid fantasizing and it is as unlikely to come true. It’s embarrassing that the mainstream is printing it.

      • testing123 says:

        Are you telling me lizard people from FEMA weren’t going to fly into the country on UN black helicopters and declare the North American Union so that they could take our guns and fluoridate our water?

        • Nornagest says:

          No, the lizard people are from UNESCO.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Did you know the water fluoridation battle still goes on, in New Jersey? That’s right, not content with contaminating our precious bodily fluids with arsenic and lead and hexavalent chromium, some of them want to put fluoride in it too. So far, they haven’t gained much ground.

          The joke is on both combatants; the parts of NJ where the water is not fluoridated mostly have high natural levels of fluoride.

          • Nick says:

            The joke is on both combatants; the parts of NJ where the water is not fluoridated mostly have high natural levels of fluoride.

            You mean they’ve contaminated the ground water??!?!

            😀

        • albatross11 says:

          That was the original plan. The new plan is that they’ll take our water and fluoridate our guns. Once our guns are all gay and we’re thirsty, we’ll be easy prey….

    • jgr314 says:

      So, I’ll attempt to summarize the replies:
      (1) most people seem to agree that POTUS (or exec branch?) SoE powers are excessive and a problem in the wrong hands.
      (2) some think we can trust that anyone elected POTUS will be fine, not a potential dictator because (i) historical experience of the US, (ii) American Democracy.
      (3) Many conservative commenters criticize the Democrats for (i) allowing this problem to grow while Obama was president and (ii) flagging the issue now. Did anyone mention Clinton, I don’t recall?
      (4) Many commenters attacked me.
      (5) we also got a nice side conversation about insurgencies

      My reaction:
      (1) that’s where I started, but no one really added information, so I’m still not sure if any specific things in the article are true.
      (2) I didn’t find this convincing. US voters elect terrible people all the time, we just haven’t had this particular brand of terrible with this set of tools.
      (3) Yep, the Democrats are bad, too, for presidential overreach. “Obama imperial presidency” turns up a lot of hits, too.
      (4) FWIW, your inferences about my views, politics, and historical views were pretty inaccurate. I guess I should have done the “Obama imperial presidency” first and included those links? I think my error was dropping the link without providing more explicit commentary on what concerned me, though the disclaimer text and a subsequent additional comment didn’t seem to make a difference.
      (5) nothing to add

      • quanta413 says:

        (2) I didn’t find this convincing. US voters elect terrible people all the time, we just haven’t had this particular brand of terrible with this set of tools.

        The only new tool I see is twitter. This is one of the least dangerous tools imaginable. Why should this new tool increase my worry compared to baseline? Trump is the most opposed President in decades. If there was ever someone who was going to have trouble taking the steps towards dictatorship, it’s this guy.

        Lincoln had to subjugate half the country and suspended habeas corpus, and the status quo partly bounced back (minus the obvious worst part of the status quo and minus some other things too but recognizably not the end of the U.S. as a republic). Although the states probably were weaker compared the Federal government afterwards.

        How many successful dictators have had no pull with the bureaucracy or party apparatus of their state? What power base exists that Trump could use to seize power? The military isn’t going to fall in line. Mattis just resigned, and I doubt any of the other brass would be enthusiastic. And that’s probably where Trump is most popular in the government. The CIA and FBI hate him. All the other civilian agencies do too.

    • Erusian says:

      I’m going to give you the credit of the doubt and presume you just never came into contact with the (very widespread) concerns under the previous, Democratic President. However, I’d ask you keep in mind this means you are living in a rather biased informational bubble.

      Anyway, at least de jure, no state of emergency can override the Constitution. The Constitution is explicitly a document that is supposed to continue to apply in wartime and times of invasion, let alone other emergencies. Powers given in a states of emergency can be, and have been, struck down by the courts, either because the powers themselves are unconstitutional or because the court deems the emergency to be insufficient. This also means no state of emergency can ever interrupt the operations of Congress. Likewise, no state of emergency can intrude on the principles of state sovereignty.

      Let’s say Trump declares a state of emergency. He arrests Clinton, freezes all her assets, etc. He can’t do anything to stop the Supreme Court from being in operation nor her from pleading her case before the courts. Let’s say California orders its law enforcement not cooperate with federal agencies so Trump nationalizes the California guard and sends in soldiers to do immigration sweeps. He still can’t compel cooperation of purely state apparatus. California could even form a state guard that the president has no hold over. If Trump tries to force the government to cooperate with the soldiers, that could be the start of a civil war. Though how well urban, coastal, gunless California would fare is another question.

      And perhaps most importantly, there is nothing in any emergency power or precedent that would allow a basically free and fair election to be delayed or modified. If Trump declares an emergency and that no elections will be held until its over, then he is declaring the current threat is bigger than WW2, the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War. He’s also pulling the authority to override the Constitution and Congress straight out of nowhere. In theory, this should lead to every officer of the United States then acting to remove him. Plus the citizenry.

      • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

        It is also important to know that the US Federal government does not run it’s own elections.

        This is not by accident.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yeah, Trump declaring himself President-for-Life is a fairly remote failure mode for the current set of emergency powers. So is Trump ordering the FBI or the Army or whomever to kill his enemies, which they would almost certainly refuse to do.

          Most everything else he might do can be fixed in 2021, if people care. Whether or not they do care, once it’s no longer the uniquely horrible Donald J. Trump wielding those powers, is the important question. The plausible danger is that he could normalize a much broader level of emergency-power abuse than has previously been tolerated, and mitigating that danger requires a distrust of emergency powers that persists even when it is your own team exercising those powers.

      • Garrett says:

        The President “nullifying” elections just means he’s engaging in a high-class sit-in of the White House. It’s like Occupy Wall Street, but by former Presidents. Notwithstanding a number of people confused by the situation, he’d have no authority and no power. The military isn’t going to start taking orders more interesting than “make me coffee” (see: confusion) from the previous President if that were to happen.

        The newly-elected President with actual power would likely set up office somewhere else for the time being. Hell – commandeer the Trump Hotel in DC for maximum comedic effect.

        • John Schilling says:

          That’s almost certainly true if elections are actually held. If the sitting president can prevent the scheduled election for his successor from being held at all, then there is no clear answer as to who the military or the civil service should be taking orders from. If the sitting president could find a way to pull this off without it being a blatantly obvious coup-in-place, they might take orders from him in the short term.

          As name hidden notes, it helps in this case that it isn’t the federal government that runs presidential elections. It also helps that the sitting president is by temperament blatantly obvious in everything he does.

          • Drew says:

            People under-value the electoral college. The actual US election only has 538 votes, and all of them are cast in public.

            This is a really, really good thing in that it removes the ambiguity that comes with people screwing with popular votes.

            A general can’t plausibly investigate allegations of ballot stuffing. But they could verify an electoral vote count in an afternoon.

        • CatCube says:

          I can’t say for sure what the modal response among military members would be, but I actually thought this through since I was an officer for the changeover from Bush to Obama, and Obama’s second election. There were fever-dream articles written about the possibility of Bush refusing to leave the Oval Office, and Obama losing the 2012 election and doing the same. (There were some of the same when Clinton left office, though I never read an article, just had a more “fever-swamp” friend tell me about how Bill Clinton was considering this.)

          I never took them seriously, but it was an opportunity for me to consider what should be done by members of the Army in that situation, and I came to the conclusion that I would simply not come in to the office, and that I’d sit at home in my jim-jams and bunny slippers until the civilians worked all of this out. Trivially, we should simply follow the orders of the election winner, but you have to allow for the possibility of there being confusion over who the winner is, and I think as a terminal value you should never have somebody who became president “because he had the support of the Army,” even if I thought he deserved it. That’s banana republic shit.

          Going AWOL until it got sorted out seemed to me to be the best way to avoid that failure mode, though I never discussed this with another Soldier, so I don’t know what anybody else thought.

    • itsabeast says:

      Why would you be equally uncomfortable with any president having access to these powers, when the current one has recently threatened to declare a national emergency if he doesn’t get his way politically?

  32. theredsheep says:

    So, I had a dream last night where I met Scott IRL. “He” turned out to be a pretty red-headed lady in her early forties, who wore a tasteful peach-colored wool suit (not a pantsuit, the kind with a skirt) and spoke with a soft southern accent. I’m pretty sure absolutely no part of that is accurate, and I’m struggling to come up with where it came from; my guess is that the lady looked sort of like Julianne Moore, who played Clarice Starling in one movie, and that was connected to psychiatry.

    Anybody here work in dream research? Does the current state of (squints at Wiki) oneirology have a solid guess as to why we reassemble our experiences into bizarre narratives every night? Or, failing that, do you have a better theory as to why our host should look like Julianne Moore?

  33. albatross11 says:

    For those who like podcasts, Tyler Cowen has a very interesting one, called _Conversations with Tyler_. Think of all those interviews with authors you’ve seen, where it’s obvious the talking-head doing the interview hasn’t read anything by the author, and probably hasn’t voluntarily read a book since college. This is like that, except the interviewer has read everything the interviewee has written and a lot more besides.

    A recent episode was an interview with Daniel Kahneman. The transcript is here, and you can also listen there or download it on the Apple podcast app. (Or others, I assume, but that’s what I use.) Very strongly recommended.

    • thomasflight says:

      Also a fan of this podcast. Having a interviewer like Tyler who knows how to ask really intelligent and interesting questions, makes you realize how mediocre a lot of interviewers are.

  34. RubusArcticus says:

    I’m experiencing a low-back pain for some time now. My physician said I can register for physiotherapy (it’s a possible thing, where I live), but that really, I should just start doing a physical exercise on a regular basis.

    So now I wonder what kind of physical exercise should it be. Dr. Google recommends Pilates, but I always had this stigma against this kind of activity, saying to myself something general like: “Such low-intensity exercise is probably a waste of time”.

    There’s an endless number of resources and researches about Pilates, but I don’t have the professional knowledge to conclude if it’s the right choice, scientifically-based speaking.

    I consider SSC to be a community guided by science, at least when it comes to health, so I came here to ask you to give me some links you count on. Do you have any?

    • Jaskologist says:

      A lot depends on the cause of your back pain. If it’s simple bad posture or sitting too much, then Pilates will help (it worked for me). Really, anything that gets you doing some basic stretches daily will help.

      • Lasagna says:

        This. I wouldn’t be too concerned with this brand of exercise vs. that. What worked for me was the obvious combination: (1) stop doing what caused me back pain (in my case, carrying too much in a backpack for my three-mile commute by foot and being more careful when lifting up my kids), and (2) stretching and strengthening my back.

        I wouldn’t worry too much about it being a waste of time – if your back needs fixing, it’s probably pretty weak, and the low-intensity stuff may be just the ticket.

    • Walter says:

      Instead of a link, it is everyone’s favorite friend personal anecdote!

      If you are overweight, you should try and lose weight. My landlord had a bad back and losing a lot of weight helped him more than everything his doctor’s told him to do.

    • Argos says:

      Current scientific knowledge is really not advanced enough to reliably determine what will help your back pain. Unless you are not over weight, your best bet is to go with Scott’s throughput based approach, and to try pilates or/and other interventions for a few weeks, record your symptoms and pick what’s working for you.

    • arbitraryvalue says:

      Is it worth going to a doctor for back pain? Recently my neck/shoulder has been hurting but I figure the doctor will just say “Try exercising at all, ever, rather than sitting all day with your neck bent like a vulture’s.”

      • Ketil says:

        Most likely: no.

        According to my father (who was a doctor all his life), men get back pains in their forties, and it goes away after a couple of years. If you nag your physician enough, you will get an MR of your back taken, but it has absolutely no diagnostic value. You will still just get told to try exercising, etc.. Physiotherapy and various similar treatments may give some temporary relief, just like homeotherapy, acupuncture, or praying to the spaghetti monster.

        Anecdote time: I had back pains for something like 6-8 years, sometimes so severe that I couldn’t walk home from work, sit through a lecture, or get off the bus at the right stop. Tried physio, naprapathy, got the obligatory MR, etc. Got some heavy pain meds, too, at one point. Did orienteering (terrain running, which everybody recommends) all the time, with no noticable benefit. Got a bit better when I started doing body-weight strength training, and got almost entirely well after I added squats with weights. (Obviously: post hoc, ergo propter hoc, etc, but at least that’s my story, FWIW. Perhaps something for next year’s SSC survey?)

        • Watchman says:

          As an orienteer I’m somewhat concerned that this is regarded as good for backs. Whilst it is a pretty complete physical exercise on its day (a route ending up with road running, dodging through trees, charging down (and trudging up) hills and wading streams and swamps is going to work you out, and planning your route between controls is a mental challenge, as is navigating at speed), it does involve falling over, forcing your way through thick brush and pulling yourself over fallen trees or small cliffs, none of which seems ideal for bad backs. The common injuries to ankles and knees are also not going to help backs recover.

          It’s a great sport but I’m dubious it’s the right way to help an active back injury (or any injury really). Certainly if I was helping new orienteer I’d recommend one of the path-based courses rather than one of the full terrain ones to anyone who indicates they had an ongoing injury, as personal safety is paramount.

      • Randy M says:

        My mom got surgery for back pain a couple years ago. It involved injecting some kind of cement into her vertebrae at certain points. I don’t believe it had much help in relieving pain, short or long term.

        Recently she went in to the ER for something unrelated, got an x-ray that freaked the technician out, and ended up staying there all day waiting for a specialist or MRI or something like that. When my wife told me, I said “Didn’t she get something injected into her back? Did she tell them that?” Turns out, yep, that’s what they were seeing and medical records are still either not being shared well or not being checked and interpreted well.

        Anyway, it seems to me that modern medicine is still pretty bad at ending pain that doesn’t have an obvious cause with anything other than a potentially revoked prescription of pain pills.

        I was laid out a couple days with back pain last Thanksgiving, like a crik in my neck but in my lower back. Eventually it went away and I chalked it up to the price I pay for being tall in a world more ergonomically suited for the average sized person.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I had some seemingly inexplicable (hadn’t done anything in the gym to hurt it, hadn’t sat weirdly for several hours, etc) back pain and I saw an ART guy. He told me the following:

      -sitting a whole bunch tightens up your hips. Fix this by foam rolling your quads and that little spot between your hip and your quad (in the joint of the hip) then stretching your quads and psoas.
      -the middle of your back can also be a factor, I think. Try foam rolling the middle of your back, maybe using a double lacrosse ball “peanut” for the area between your shoulder blades.

      If you can find an ART practitioner (the guy I see is a chiropractor by training with an ART certification; in some places chiropractic is still straight up quackery but I’m in a place where it’s settled down to bro science joint and muscle type stuff) that might help.

      If your posture while sitting is an issue, correct that – you don’t want to be slumping. If your shoulders are an issue, use a lacrosse ball to roll out the front and back of your shoulder, then do some pec/front shoulder stretches.

      I was already in the gym regularly – the pain was keeping me out. In the gym, honestly, you might be best just doing weights. Focus on building up your back – lower back with super super light to begin with deadlifts, middle back with rows, upper back/shoulder with rear flyes. Work as light as you can while still feeling a bit of resistance; focus on the feeling the muscles squeeze to begin with.

      This is all, as I noted, bro science, but the level of understanding of this stuff is quite weak. Very often some “new” discovery is something that 50s and 60s bodybuilders would tell you to do.

    • Winja says:

      No idea about Pilates, but Yoga will often help with lower back pain.

    • Matthias says:

      I had some problems when I got my first desk job after uni.

      I switched to a standing desk at work and started weightlifting. (Something along the lines of Starting Strength.) The combination helped.

      When I had to give up one or the other for a while throughout the years, sitting seemed to have the bigger effect.

    • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

      “Such low-intensity exercise is probably a waste of time”.

      That’s what I used to think, and then a girl I was trying to impress who is a Pilates instructor put me through her introductory beginner workout session.

      I normally lift free weights, and kind of enjoy slowly lifting to failure. That Pilates serssion Kicked My Ass.

    • SamChevre says:

      Pilates started out as physical therapy for core strength. I have not done it, but my sister (very body-aware–she’s a massage therapist) says it is extremely helpful for balance and ease of movement.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Kind of disappointed there aren’t more recommendations for strength training. It’s by far the most functional activity you can do, for two main reasons:

      – strength is a skill more than anything else, i.e. it has a very large neural component which makes it very difficult to do “functional training” in general. You get better at exactly what you do, with some but generally little transfer to other activities. Even things like treadmill running vs jogging have significant efficiency losses, and it’s basically the same movement.

      – muscle size is hugely correlated with everything functional. Think over .9 in performance sports. Fat percentage is inversely correlated.

      As for back pain… IANAD, but the obvious exercises for back muscles would be squat, romanian deadlift and back extensions. Adjust your weights so you can do 4-30 repetitions with that weight (less for the first two, more for the back extensions). If anything hurts during the exercise just go for less weight/more repetitions. 10-15 sets per week per exercise, with a set ending when you’re around 2 repetitions from failure. Youtube is your friend for finding how to do them (you definitely want romanian deadlifts, and not plan ones). Sore muscles the day after is normal, it just means you’re doing something the muscle is not used to.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Just go see a physio. They are fantastic at what they do.

      If you’re looking for a workout routine, this one specifically removed all my lower back pain though I did it for mountain bike racing. It’s a combination of strength training, mobility and interval training:
      mtb strength coach, db combos

      I see now though the same guy has a workout specifically for lower back pain (related to cycling) link text might want to try that.

      This guy is very well regarded in the mountain bike industry and trains a lot of pros.

    • Reasoner says:

      I suggest visiting a massage therapist. Get them to give you a deep tissue massage, especially in your butt… surprisingly, the root cause of low back pain is often knots in your butt muscles.

  35. J. Mensch says:

    When I clicked on miguelrochefort’s username below, it took me to his LinkedIn profile. Since LinkedIn gives users a list of who has viewed their profile, this means miguelrochefort knows that my LinkedIn account belongs to someone who visits SSC.

    Is this true of e.g. Facebook / Twitter / etc? If I can convince someone to visit a certain webpage can I reliably obtain a list of their social media accounts?

    • Aapje says:

      That only works because you already have a cookie on your system which automatically logs you into LinkedIn. Anyone who doesn’t have a LinkedIn account or is not logged in, won’t have this issue.

      So basically, the answer to your question is yes, if the social media system has a feature like that. The social media site knows which person you are and which person’s page you visited. It can do things with that information.

      • J. Mensch says:

        Sure, I also have cookies for my Facebook and Twitter, but visiting someones pages on those websites doesn’t give away my account name. What I want to know is if there’s some other way of extracting someone’s social media account name simply by having them click a link.

        • ordogaud says:

          I don’t think you fully understand what aapje was saying. When you navigate to a LinkedIn profile, LinkedIn knows who you are because they know how to decode their own cookies. LinkedIn then has a feature that they themselves implemented to tell any given user what other (logged in) users have visited their profile.

          So the only way what you’re proposing would work is if you knew how to decode the cookie data for every major social media website and resolve that data into a valid username for that site. You don’t, and they will never let you (or at least they shouldn’t). That’s about all there is to that.

          Edit: Furthermore I think browsers these days block websites from reading cookie data from other websites, tho it might be possible to hack around that.

          • J. Mensch says:

            So the only way what you’re proposing would work is if you knew how to decode the cookie data for every major social media website and resolve that data into a valid username for that site. You don’t, and they will never let you (or at least they shouldn’t). That’s about all there is to that.

            I don’t know how to decode LinkedIn cookie data, but I do now know how to determine which people with LinkedIn cookies have clicked my link. I’m asking if this is true of any of the other main social media networks.

          • ordogaud says:

            >but I do now know how to determine which people with LinkedIn cookies have clicked my link

            And how is that? Unless I’ve been misunderstanding this entire thread what’s really happening is that LinkedIn knows how to determine which people with LinkedIn cookies have clicked a link to your profile on LinkedIn, and they just so happen to share that information with you as a feature on their website. I don’t see how you’re doing anything other than being an end-user.

            Edit: I guess if all you’re asking is if any of the other major social media websites have a similar feature as LinkedIn the answer is no as far as I’m aware.

          • J. Mensch says:

            Edit: I guess if all you’re asking is if any of the other major social media websites have a similar feature as LinkedIn the answer is no as far as I’m aware.

            Yes, I’m sorry I didn’t explain it very well. I guess I knew myself that they didn’t have the same exact feature as LinkedIn, but I was curious if there were other ways of doing it.

            (For instance, I believe Facebook gives analytics on who accesses your ads, I wonder if it’s possible to get sufficiently granular info to identify someone this way (e.g. occupation + employer + location would do it for lots of people)).

    • miguelrochefort says:

      I have removed the link.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I can give you a google doc link, and anyone who opens it, I know your Google username.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Internet detective/social engineering doxxing is a lot easier than you’d think and definitely in the realm of things bored teenagers can do once they know the cliches. Don’t link accounts. Don’t reuse passwords. Don’t reuse usernames. Don’t use the same email to register accounts across a broad range of sites. Don’t use idiosyncratic speech across different accounts (in the somethingawful.com Helldump days, one poster was doxxed, despite following the other best practices, because he always described things in terms of “chthonic vs luminescent” on any internet discussion site he used and that’s the kind of unique personal identifier you can google even if you don’t have username or email to go by)

    • 10240 says:

      He wouldn’t know that you arrived on his profile from SSC (unless that’s the only way to get to his profile, which is unlikely).

      • eigenmoon says:

        He can log the HTTP referer (which would be SSC) and the timestamp. If LinkedIn gives timestamps also, he’d know about SSC.

        • 10240 says:

          Does Linkedin provide the HTTP referer of how a user who visits your profile arrived there?

          Or did the link take one to Linkedin as a redirect through (possibly) a personal website? That could work. I thought it pointed directly to Linkedin.

          • miguelrochefort says:

            It pointed to my personal domain, which currently redirects to LinkedIn.

            I can’t see who viewed my LinkedIn profile without paying.

    • brad says:

      There are similar features on dating websites, and also Quora I think, but as far as I know no other regular social media site. For whatever it’s worth LinkedIn has a terrible reputation for using “dark patterns”.

  36. This is my first time here. I don’t understand how this works.

    A decade ago, my high school introduced 2 different online education platforms. Some teachers used the first, while others used the second. I remember having to create 2 different accounts. Both platforms had similar features, such as message rooms and calendars, but they looked and behaved differently. The thought of having to switch between the two on a daily basis still brings me anxiety. That year, I completely avoided these platforms and became an autodidact.

    Since then, I’ve been obsessed with one question: Why do we have so many different apps/websites/services?

    When people ask me a question, I usually reply that my biggest frustration in life is the number of apps on my phone. That usually scares them away, but that doesn’t help me understand why they don’t share my frustration. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m the world’s most concerned person about application explosion.

    In the past 5 years, I have shared my concerns with hundreds of people. The vast majority didn’t understand or care. The rest failed to explain why I should let it go. Very few encouraged me to act on it. Naturally, I quit my job 4 months ago to work on this full-time. Or so I thought.

    I haven’t made any progress since. I can’t find anyone else interested in this. I don’t know what I’m missing. I thought maybe you might know?

    • Aapje says:

      If you mean: why do we have so many applications that do the same? It’s because people have different preferences. See the current kerfuffle over sorting.

      If you mean: why don’t we have fewer, huge applications that offer more features, then some answers are:
      – complexity/learning curve
      – bloat
      – different tasks require a different interface
      – software stagnation

      As to the latter, one of the known problems in programming is that the larger a program becomes, the harder it tends to be to maintain. So software tends to have a logarithmic development curve, where newer feature take more and more effort to implement. Smaller, dedicated apps are on the steep part of the logarithmic curve, which makes them much cheaper and easier to improve & maintain.

      I haven’t made any progress since. I can’t find anyone else interested in this. I don’t know what I’m missing. I thought maybe you might know?

      Your comment suggests that you most likely fail to recognize that many such attempts have been made, that were abandoned and/or lost out in the marketplace in favor of the current arrangement.

      On the intertubes, an app-like model (each website is basically an app) won. For mobiles, an app model won.

      It’s not atypical for people to only see the downsides of the solution that won, but not the upsides (why it won in the first place). You seem to lack a more holistic point of view and are merely motivated by a downside that irritates you. That’s not going to be good enough to find a solution that reduces the downside of app proliferation, without (unknowingly) introducing other downsides that people will dislike far more. So I suggest unquitting your job.

      • miguelrochefort says:

        A lot of marketplace apps (Uber, Airbnb, Amazon) don’t do anything special, other than letting users create and engage with offers. I can easily think of 100 different marketplace apps, yet building an app for each of them doesn’t seem like a good idea.

        What if we had a higher-level platform, some kind of general-purpose marketplace that could replace all the other ones? Instead of building 100 new apps, we would only need to build (at worst) 100 ontologies. Wouldn’t this save everyone a lot of pain? I don’t think adding ontologies would follow a logarithm curve, would it?

        You mentioned that many such attempts have been made, but you don’t mention any. Can you provide examples? SAP maybe?

        Should I give up, rather than try to leverage my unique sensitivity to a problem that could quickly become important? I can’t imagine being satisfied at any day job, unless I understand why I’m giving up on this. I remain unconvinced.

        • bean says:

          A lot of marketplace apps (Uber, Airbnb, Amazon) don’t do anything special, other than letting users create and engage with offers.

          That seems to ignore a huge difference between them. Yes, all three of those are basically platforms for different people to coordinate offering services, but they offer very different services, and you’re going to want very different feature sets to support them. When I use Uber, I want transportation. I don’t need a lot of options, I just need to get from point A to point B. I’m very concerned that my driver is not an axe murderer, but less concerned about what kind of car he drives.

          When I use Amazon, I want books. This means I need a lot of options, because I want a specific book, and a near-substitute won’t do. But I also am a lot less concerned about getting it in minutes, and an occasional book that’s not in the condition I ordered it in isn’t the end of the world.

          A stock exchange is also a platform for matching offers, but it’s going to look very different in terms of feature-set from either Amazon or Uber, so trying to make an AmazonUberNYSE app is basically going to give you three sub-apps, one for each specific role.

          • Garrett says:

            Having switched between a number of large/enterprise-y software companies, I’ve quickly noted that they all seem to have similar needs, yet there isn’t a turn-key solution to roll-out a large-scale software development company.

            This is also likely true for app-based information-sharing-and-coordinating functionality and noted above. It’s not so much a problem that there’s a need for multiple applications as that it’s so strange that there’s so little code/infrastructure shared between them. The big cloud services are trying to change that, but there are still major components missing.

        • Aapje says:

          @miguelrochefort

          Uber actually has/had a highly innovative system, with dynamic pricing, gratuities handled through the app, wait fees, scheduling, etc. None of these make sense for buying a book from Amazon, though.

          In software, it often looks like software does mostly the same things, but when you look at the details, it tends to be quite different and thus hard to use the same applications for the core business of different companies (libraries sure, but complete applications are more of a challenge).

          Companies and end users often do try to standardize, but it often simply is a worse option than to have more variation.

          One thing that we actually see is that reuse happens by having (single) intermediaries. For example, we actually already have a lot of consolidation in marketplaces, as many different sellers offer their products through Amazon or other such general marketplaces, rather than have their own software.

          At the point where the downsides of this model outweigh the advantages, you tend to get separate platforms.

          Instead of building 100 new apps, we would only need to build (at worst) 100 ontologies.

          You still need actual software to do things. You can’t write down an improved ontology and tell your users that you have solved their problems in theory.

          If you try to write software that will support 100 different ontologies using one flexible software system, you will often end up failing, as the bloated system doesn’t support any ontology well; unless the ontologies are very, very similar, which they often aren’t.

          Another issue is that you have innovation as well. Napster was replaced by torrents. You can’t do that kind of disruption by just making a slightly different ontology derived from the old pattern.

          You mentioned that many such attempts have been made, but you don’t mention any. Can you provide examples?

          More centralized and integrated bulletin board systems (BBS) lost out to the Internet. Netscape was replaced by the far leaner Firefox.

          Should I give up, rather than try to leverage my unique sensitivity to a problem that could quickly become important?

          Reuse and standardization has been desired by people for ages. We don’t have limited success because no one cares enough, but rather because it’s hard. It’s not an easy problem like achieving world peace or ending hunger.

          I don’t see you having special insight or a special approach that will make a difference. In fact, I don’t think that you even have a grasp of the problem after 4 months! I foresee you giving up eventually and am suggesting that you give up sooner, rather than later.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            As someone who developed ontologies for almost twenty years, I can say that there are enough similarities to justify standardization. The mergers and acquisitions problem alone costs corporations hundreds of millions of dollars. Even one company will spend that much (think large healthcare firm, pharmaceutical, energy provider, manufacturer, distributor, or bank).

            Disruptive technology won’t disrupt this technique if your ontology is sound. There may be streaming, but there will still be purchase records, contact information, and fraud security. And for large sections of industry, atoms are still being exchanged for money. And no matter how big the tech change, it’s either going to require a company to adapt its ontology, or adapting all its legacy databases, front ends, and rapidly prototyped glue code that some dev wrote to Make It Work and who’s now retired. This is why it costs them so much.

            If you try to write a common ontology, though, it will pay to keep things tightly scoped, especially if you plan to write a killer app on top of it. You scope it so that you’re not having to model all of human knowledge in order to produce that killer app. (That said, look into an ISO standard such as Common Logic Interchange Format, because you will want your ontology to be extensible. That’ll be a huge part of how you mitigate tech disruption. You will not solve this problem with clever RDB schemas alone.)

            Note that your killer app might not be a universal purchasing app; it might just be the spec for an interface. If so, prepare to give that spec away for free, and sell services for developing apps that speak it, and services for extending it into new domains. You could write a demo app that does so, and publish that for free, too. But you will need a lot of top cover from a business type who understands what you’re trying to do, and knows how to market it. Also, you will need to know that domain inside and out. For example, if you want to do online purchasing, learn how at least one company does it, from warehousing to presentation to sales to delivery. Visit the physical location if you have to. Visit more than one, so you’re not locked into one BigCorp. Do this while working another job. No corp will want to invest their ontology-based purchasing software solution in someone who’ll need two years to learn what their dev team knows. Business-wise, you might end up working for one corp anyway, esp. if it likes to acquire others. That means you’ll need a lawyer who knows how to protect your IP and makes sure you keep it if you decide you want to branch out. Again, your biz manager will need to understand how to market it this to BigCorp, since BigCorp will now know that it won’t own the solution you provide.

            I agree with Aapje that this is a much bigger bite than you’ll chew by yourself, but I want this problem solved badly enough to want to not discourage you and others too much. Again: this problem costs hundreds of millions of US dollars to even single customers. It also opens the door to solving additional problems. And it’s not impossible; we had several working prototypes before the company went bankrupt. But you will need more tech, business, marketing, and legal expertise than you’re likely to muster alone.

          • Aapje says:

            There are people who created and are making standard data models, which is already very difficult. But then you are still only at the level of interfacing and databases. Not the functionality of applications.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            There are people who created and are making standard data models, which is already very difficult. But then you are still only at the level of interfacing and databases. Not the functionality of applications.

            What functions do you expect to be in the domain of applications, and which in the domain of databases and interfaces?

            When I was working on this as recently as 2016, we were developing models from which one could generate all three. Or, more precisely, we recognized business logic that couldn’t be performed by any standard RDB, and had to be handled by middleware. One of our solutions was a rather sophisticated reasoning engine we developed in-house. Applications were expected to focus primarily on user interface issues, and I even had some long-term plans to automate a lot of that away as well.

          • Aapje says:

            Behaviors vs data storage.

            The latter seems easier to standardize. I’m not saying that you can’t do the first, just that you’ll run into more problems. The more problems, the less often the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            What do you mean by behavior, though?

            Integrity constraints – e.g. a sedan requires no more than four tires at any one time – are regarded by some people as a behavior, since it involves the way one data value interacts with another, but ICs like this are routinely handled by the database. And they need to be; a banking institution that allows withdrawal amounts to be enforced at the ATM rather than at its central server will quickly experience serious problems, as I’m sure you would agree.

            Some data restrictions functionally ought to work like ICs, but cannot work in RDBs because they would degrade performance or are flat out computationally impossible, and yet they still belong in the formal model. You cannot be your own ancestor, but if records of parentage are stored in the expected way, no genealogy database will enforce this. Is this a behavior or a data storage requirement?

            Accesses of health records will often be required by law or policy to trigger notifications of certain parties. An physical object’s creation has to predate every other physical event on it (e.g. shipping). A person cannot participate in a business transaction with another party without possessing some form of contact information at the time of the transaction. Are these behaviors or storage requirements?

        • Rachael says:

          Because I’m surprised no one else has mentioned it yet:: xkcd standards

    • SaiNushi says:

      One reason that hasn’t been mentioned, is that competition is good.

      Right now, Paypal and Patreon have virtual monopolies on transferring money online, propped up by banks and credit card companies who refuse to work with any site that accepts anyone banned by either Paypal or Patreon. Which means that anyone who says something that Patreon doesn’t like suddenly can’t earn money by selling content or merchandise online.

      If DoorDash was the only food app, then I’d be stuck using them no matter how much it would cost me or what business practices of theirs I disagree with. But there’s UberEats and GrubHub too, so I have options. Competition means the customers are capable of voting with their wallets. It keeps prices down, and it keeps businesses in line. It’s why businesses keep doing everything they can to eliminate competition.

      If Lays were the only chips available, they’d probably charge $10 a bag.

      • AG says:

        It was infuriating/horrifying to realize that everything on the chips shelves except for the store’s generic brand is owned by Frito-Lay. Lay’s, Ruffles, Doritos, Funions, Cheetos, Tostitos, you name it, all owned by the same parent company.

        Similarly, it took forever to find non-Heinz-owned Ketchup.

      • Nornagest says:

        banks and credit card companies who refuse to work with any site that accepts anyone banned by either Paypal or Patreon

        Is this actually true? I know Hatreon had trouble getting back-end finance support, but it’s, you know, named “Hatreon”.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It was infuriating/horrifying to realize that everything on the chips shelves except for the store’s generic brand is owned by Frito-Lay. Lay’s, Ruffles, Doritos, Funions, Cheetos, Tostitos, you name it, all owned by the same parent company.

        Herrs, Utz, Snyders-Lance (Campbell), Snyder of Berlin (Pinnacle).

      • dick says:

        There are dozens of competitors to both Patreon and Paypal. Network effects and monopolies aren’t the same thing.

    • Murphy says:

      Zawinski’s Law

      “Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.” Coined by Jamie Zawinski (who called it the “Law of Software Envelopment”) to express his belief that all truly useful programs experience pressure to evolve into toolkits and application platforms (the mailer thing, he says, is just a side effect of that).

      Someone builds an app to do X.

      It does well but people who use it keep asking for it to do Y as well.

      Meanwhile someone else with an app that does Y does well but their users keep asking for it to do X as well.

      5 years later you’ve got a dozen apps that do A,B,C,D etc

      Software dies when it becomes too bloated or outdated to maintain profitably.

      It’s also a (good) feature of modular design. You already have 1 single “master” app on your phone, the android OS that lets you load apps you want in a modular fashion. Without that you’d have to load each piece of code directly to the hardware.

      Your issue is inherent in complex long term systems in a market economy involving people with different preferences.

    • arlie says:

      I think your real question isn’t about why there are so many apps, but why their user interfaces (UIs) are so different. If there were standard ways of doing most things, with standard icons, in reasonably predictable positions, it wouldn’t much matter whether there was one vendor or ten, one application or ten. Instead, it’s on ongoing chore of figuring out how to use each one – and then figuring it out again when the inevitable forced upgrade changes how you use it. And if you have to go back and forth between otherwise similar apps, you’re likely to constantly do the right thing forn the *other* interface, leading to frustration and delay (at best), and “learned helplessness” and self-contempt at worst.

      I have a similar complaint, but it’s more directly about impenetrable user interfaces. I remember when e.g. games came with a manual that explained the interface and how to play the game. I remember my first Android having a tutorial about how to use it. I remember my first PC having multiple books worth of documentation and explanation. Now I have games that change the UI on auto-update, and because of copy protection I can’t prevent the auto updates at all. My Android device lost all menu functionality, as far as I could tell, some years ago when the menu button was replaced by an “intuitively obvious” symbol I was expected to interpret clairvoyantly. And very few people ever become power users of anything from Microsoft, which pioneered the all-new-UI on any major release.

      My understanding is that there are at least 3 main causes of my issues:
      – some people like change. If the UI doesn’t change, they abandon the program, accusing it of being retro. So developers intentionally introduce churn to keep those users, who at least soem developers see as the majority (or the most profitable subgroup).
      – developers don’t like supporting multiple versions of software. That’s expensive for them. Hence forced updates. So those who want stable UIs can’t even stay with the prior release – assuming of course that it doesn’t have massive security issues that themselves would push reasonable people to upgrade in spite of havign to relearn the inetrface
      – as soon as a program is used by speakers of more than one language, it’s much less expensive to replace text with icons, and not provide any documentation at all. (Tramnslation is expensive.)

      Add to this user interface people wanting to justify their existence by making changes, and new features that just won’t fit with the existing UI, and you have a recipe for tools that need to be relearned at random times, when you were merely trying to use them.

      In your case, I’d add the concept of “look and feel” lawsuits. Interfaces can’t be standardized, because that has the potential to draw lawsuits. Any company that thinks they have a good interface doesn’t work to make it standard – it works to make their competitors use a less good interface. That’s at its worst where the end users can’t simply pick up and leave, even if the interface is wretched – such as students using educational software.

      The biggest problem, though, seems to be people who like playing guess-how-this-works repeatedly, and the supplier perception that these people are the majority of their customers. Those of us who want using tools to be convenient – and not require thinking about the tool, just about what we’re doing with it – don’t appear to be a majority. In fact, we’re so far from a majority that we’re basically screwed, AFAICT.

      • Aapje says:

        An issue with translations is that the the text in different languages is going to be sized differently, which makes it harder to make a neat interface. Icons are not just consistent in size, they are are also relatively small, which allows you to cram more on a screen without making it too cluttered.

        There is also always a conflict between more casual users and power users. The former want simple and clear, while the latter group is more willing to sacrifice that for POWERRRRRRR.

    • ordogaud says:

      Why would you expect perfect coordination/consolidation in any major area of human innovation? Hell we’re not even perfectly coordinated on how doors should work after all this time.

    • Tarpitz says:

      You say you don’t know what you’re missing, but I’m sure I’m not alone in being unclear as to what you’re having. Is your dislike of having different apps offer similar services purely visceral, or do you see it as being a problem in some more objective sense, such that other people who don’t share your instinctive reaction should nevertheless want it solved? If the latter, could you explain what you see the problem as being? If the former, perhaps you should consider trying to change yourself – perhaps through therapy or similar – rather than the world, as that would seem to offer a more realistic prospect of making your life better.

    • Erusian says:

      Sure. So, this is basically the same question as, “Why do we have so many different kinds of food? Why don’t we all just take a maximally delicious nutrient pill?” The answer is twofold: preference and specialization. Let’s say you have AllApp: it does it all! I have Schmuber, a company that lets you get taxi rides. Firstly, even if we make equally good design decisions, they might be different. And users will have preferences between those two equally good differences. Of course, more likely we both have bundles of features which, at best, are roughly equal.

      Secondly, specialization. Unless AllAppCab is so huge it can afford to outspend me multiple times over, I will win. AllApp does everything and has its attention everywhere. Schmuber only does this one thing and put all its time, money, and effort into it. Even if AllAppCab gets enough funding to compete, it will be less efficient and so have worse returns on capital.

      Additionally, unless a market as high barriers to entry, you expect firms to continue to enter until it is no longer profitable. The first one will be the biggest but you expect a bunch of smaller ones (like Via) to pop up until they can’t make money. Even if they make less money than Uber, so long as they get customers that Uber doesn’t and make enough to sustain their business, it is rational to do so. And it benefits the consumer to have multiple options, since it means they can credibly take their business elsewhere if Uber doesn’t work out.

      Here’s a question: why do we have both apples and oranges? Sure, they taste different. But different marketplaces also sell different things. They’re both calorie-delivery mechanisms. Aren’t they redundant? Well, strictly, yes. A world without apples could switch to orange pie and so on. It would be different without being obviously inferior. But the fact there are apples and oranges, and different kinds of each supplied by different customers is good for consumers and rational for producers.

      Anyway, apps, even apps with big plans, tend to start out small. Amazon started out selling textbooks in a limited area out of a garage. Facebook started off as a small user network in Harvard. Google started as a small app to reorder page ranks. It sounds like you are upset by app naviagtion/sorting. Why not start with an app that helps people sort their other apps and find them? It will be an infinitely smaller project and one that, if you can show progress in and get customers, could get support. You obviously care deeply about the problem and I could absolutely see this becoming a Gen Z darling. Maybe monetize it by paid suggestions or by offering things the user doesn’t have.

      • miguelrochefort says:

        Here’s a question: why do we have both apples and oranges? Sure, they taste different. But different marketplaces also sell different things. They’re both calorie-delivery mechanisms. Aren’t they redundant?

        I don’t think physical analogies work well when it comes to software.

        If we had a material that could dynamically take different forms, would we need both a hammer and a screwdriver in our toolbox?

        Software is a dynamic medium that can transform and adapt to different contexts in real-time. Why not take advantage of it, instead of reimplementing the physical world digitally?

        Unlike fruits, where the carrier is tightly coupled with the nutrients, software can be decoupled. We can separate the UI from the data. Imagine being able to use Amazon’s UI to browse the Best Buy catalog, or Pizza Hut’s UI to order Domino’s pizzas. I want kale to taste like strawberry.

        It seems obvious to me that the solution to the preference and specialization problem, is to decouple the UI from the data. I think the semantic web and linked data is a good solution. We should capture and store all knowledge as RDF, in a distributed knowledge graph. Why aren’t more people working on this?

        Anyway, apps, even apps with big plans, tend to start out small. Amazon started out selling textbooks in a limited area out of a garage. Facebook started off as a small user network in Harvard. Google started as a small app to reorder page ranks.

        Is there a reason why they started with small and unambitious ideas? Is it necessary, or is it just common? I can see how being less ambitious would make it easier to implement an idea without overthinking everything, and not lose motivation when comparing the slow progress to the grand vision. Was premature ambition my single worst mistake? Is it a permanent impediment? I do struggle a lot with the exploration/exploitation tradeoff…

        Why not start with an app that helps people sort their other apps and find them? It will be an infinitely smaller project and one that, if you can show progress in and get customers, could get support.

        The only way I could see this working is as an aggregator. I’m well aware of all the apps out there, and I actually use a significant fraction of them (I have over 500 accounts on LastPass). I don’t need help discovering or even learning these different tools (although I’m sure many do), I just think of all the missed opportunities to correlate and leverage all the data that’s currently split into thousands of buckets. Of course, my attention is the other important thing that’s being split and fragmented.

        • Erusian says:

          Unlike fruits, where the carrier is tightly coupled with the nutrients, software can be decoupled. We can separate the UI from the data. Imagine being able to use Amazon’s UI to browse the Best Buy catalog, or Pizza Hut’s UI to order Domino’s pizzas. I want kale to taste like strawberry.

          It seems obvious to me that the solution to the preference and specialization problem, is to decouple the UI from the data. I think the semantic web and linked data is a good solution. We should capture and store all knowledge as RDF, in a distributed knowledge graph. Why aren’t more people working on this?

          Is your objection isn’t a large number of apps but instead that apps have discrete backends that makes them fundamentally different (rather than multiple versions drawing from the same datasource)?

          The simplest reason this doesn’t happen is because it’s of no benefit (and often anti-beneficial) for most companies to share this. Why Facebook let other people put ads on Facebook, for example? That will decrease their profits. To say nothing of the idea of giving up control of the data that is basically their entire monetization model. Or Uber. Why would Uber encourage people to use its backend instead of putting up a market barrier by forcing them to develop one more complex piece of technology?

          Is there a reason why they started with small and unambitious ideas? Is it necessary, or is it just common? I can see how being less ambitious would make it easier to implement an idea without overthinking everything, and not lose motivation when comparing the slow progress to the grand vision. Was premature ambition my single worst mistake? Is it a permanent impediment? I do struggle a lot with the exploration/exploitation tradeoff…

          Small yes, unambitious no. I suppose you could argue Facebook started out as unambitious. But Amazon and Google, from the beginning, wanted to revolutionize their markets. They just started off with a smaller version.

          They did this for three reasons: validation, feedback, and money. Firstly, no one is good at picking winner ideas. It’s best to rapidly and cheaply figure out if the idea will be adopted by the market. It’s easier to do that with miniature versions. Secondly, if you have something on the market, you have a relationship with your customers which will help inform future developments. Thirdly, those people are presumably paying you, which will let you hire a team to pursue the thing.

          People like Elon Musk often started out with small ideas and grew them, then used the money to take bigger risks. If you have literally a billion dollars then you can take the proverbial moonshot because you can afford to spend a lot of money (and investors will be more willing to take a risk on you, since you sold a company for a billion dollars already). Otherwise most people want to see validation before handing over a check with more than six figures in it, even if you are a Harvard educated genius.

          The only way I could see this working is as an aggregator. I’m well aware of all the apps out there, and I actually use a significant fraction of them (I have over 500 accounts on LastPass). I don’t need help discovering or even learning these different tools (although I’m sure many do), I just think of all the missed opportunities to correlate and leverage all the data that’s currently split into thousands of buckets. Of course, my attention is the other important thing that’s being split and fragmented.

          If you’re interested in increasing data utilization and unifying silos, I’d suggest you look into helping local governments. They often have tons of data that they don’t really know how to handle and have no profit motive. The fragmentation there is insane. There are literally thousands of databases that don’t interface with each other even on single topics like traffic violations.

          Companies and app developers, meanwhile, have an interest in keeping their backends and data to themselves. Unless you can think of a way to make giving up their data more profitable than dominating their market, they won’t be interested. And that means putting their data in common needs to grow their market larger than their market share shrinks, which is unlikely.

          • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

            Do you *really* want to compel Google, Amazon, Facebook, or Uber to “open up their data”?

            (let me complete that, to point out why you do not)

            “that they have about about you?”

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            […]it’s of no benefit (and often anti-beneficial) for most companies to share this. Why Facebook let other people put ads on Facebook, for example? That will decrease their profits.

            I agree, insofar as that. However, Facebook has an incentive to offer advertisers a common API for describing their products, such that Facebook can then find the most lucrative way to display their ads, and therefore increase advertisers’ revenue, in return for a cut going to Facebook. That API will need to be more sophisticated than “yo, our company name is Belco, we sell something we call ‘4-way rubber bands’, the text of the ad is $foo, and our billing information is $bar”. Facebook will want to know what ‘4-way rubber bands’ are used for, so they can figure out which Facebook users will be likely to buy them, when they’ll be receptive, how much they’d be willing to pay, whether they’ll think less of Facebook for spamming them with rubber band ads, and on and on.

            If Facebook thought they could pay some third party to come up with a universal model for advertisement information that would satisfy their requirements, less than they have to pay their devteam, they’d be stupid not to. So then the question is how much they’re having to pay their devteam to do that, and whether you can beat it – especially if Google, Amazon, Walmart, E-Trade, AT&T, Gartner Group, Unilever, and several other high-cap companies would be interested in the same general model. (It’s theoretically fine if you spend twice as much as Facebook’s devteam, if you can sell the result to six times as many customers. At that point, it’s an investment / business problem.)

            Advertisers, meanwhile, would be happy to subscribe to a free API that promises increased sales through better quality targeted ads. This really is a positive sum outcome – provided you can manage the tech and business risk.

          • Erusian says:

            However, Facebook has an incentive to offer advertisers a common API for describing their products, such that Facebook can then find the most lucrative way to display their ads, and therefore increase advertisers’ revenue, in return for a cut going to Facebook

            It does in a weak sense. As it stands now, it exports that task to the advertisers itself. Facebook’s goal is to get as many ads run as possible. Whether those ads are effective only matter insofar as it increases or decreases the amount of advertisers. So they currently handle this by publishing guides but forcing the advertisers to figure out what demographics etc are best for ads.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            So [the Facebook people] currently handle this by publishing guides but forcing the advertisers to figure out what demographics etc are best for ads.

            If that’s the case, then it’s in advertisers’ best interest to hire someone to coordinate their interface with Facebook. The demand is still there; it’s just in a different location.

            If it’s more dispersed like that, then it will make it a less lucrative target for standardization. But it still leaves the door open for consortiums to try that work, and for Facebook to be that consortium (or to outsource it).

            And it still leaves mergers and acquisitions as one of several cases where standardization is in demand.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Software is a dynamic medium that can transform and adapt to different contexts in real-time. Why not take advantage of it, instead of reimplementing the physical world digitally?

          In what way do you see software adapting in real-time? I’ve been writing software for decades. It can certainly behave arbitrarily differently depending on inputs, but those different behaviors have to be scripted by a programmer before that software is released. That programmer has to anticipate all the inputs possible, and if they forget any, that’s considered a bug. A tiny minority of programs offer a sandbox engine in which certain inputs lead to behavior that is both unanticipated and useful, and the majority of those are academic toys, or art programs, as opposed to robot controllers or automated hedge fund managers.

          But anyway.

          The semantic web was bedeviled with problems from its first day. One of the big ones was that it couldn’t offer any sort of computational improvement over RDBs. It offered three levels of language complexity. IIRC, the first two were already covered by SQL or any equivalent language; the third, OWL-Full, offered first-order logic, but no general software existed that could support it.

          The apparent expectation was that this framework would be offered the same way HTML was, and people would spontaneously begin publishing content in it, using presentation software that would also spontaneously arise. HTML had NCSA Mosaic, and a little later, Netscape Navigator. These were clever tools – the VisiCalcs of the early 1990s – and their value was quickly recognized.

          But it turns out to be a lot easier to offer an HTML 1.0 presentation tool than a first-order logic reasoning engine. OWL-Full wasn’t a sufficient material component to cast Summon Software. Meanwhile, you could write to OWL-DL or OWL-Lite, but who was going to bother to rewrite their SQL code in that? Their Oracle or MySQL or Sybase was already running it fine.

          Is there a reason why [the authors of Amazon, Facebook, and Google] started with small and unambitious ideas?

          Short answer: Dunbar number. There’s only so much of a knowledge domain a programmer can keep in their head at once. (It’s one of the reasons OOP is a thing.) Likewise, there’s only so much an investor can see in a given project. It’s possible that Bezos envisioned AWS when he began developing an online bookselling app, but if he did, he rightly recognized that he’d have to start with something much smaller, that investors could grasp well enough to infer they’d get a return on a few million.

          But even Amazon-as-retail-app is surprisingly dense. Quick! Write a specification of every logic rule required to support 95% of the functionality you see on any random Amazon website page. Example: the name of an item is near the top, so, in pseudo-Common Logic Interchange Format, you might write this:

          (itemName item20391910 “Belco 9\” 4-way Rubber Bands (10 count)”)

          Then provide similar predicates for its picture, text description, price, amount in stock, quantity the current user has in their cart, whether it’s in their wishlist, ratings from other customers, text reviews, ratings of and responses to said reviews, related products, etc. I’ll even let you skip the presentation logic (CSS rules and whatnot), since we’re assuming you just want enough for someone else to be able to write their own shopping app, and lay out all the content their way. You will, however, need to write all the deduction logic supporting this. For example, it should be illegal for a user to have more items in their cart than are in stock, so:

          (<= (softIC "$User has $CartQty of $Item in cart, but only $Stock in stock")
          (and
          (thisSession $User $Page)
          (pageItem $Page $Item)
          (available $Item $Stock)
          (amountInCart $User $Item $CartQty)
          (greaterThan $CartQty $Stock)))

          These integrity constraints will be critical to any third party wishing to implement their own shopping interface. Can you write all this? To within 95% of Amazon's current functionality?

          Again, I'm not trying to simply scare you away. As I mentioned earlier, a framework for formal specification of rules like this (coupled with a way to generate software artifacts from them) is literally a $100 million dollar problem for certain companies.

          • miguelrochefort says:

            In what way do you see software adapting in real-time? I’ve been writing software for decades. It can certainly behave arbitrarily differently depending on inputs, but those different behaviors have to be scripted by a programmer before that software is released. That programmer has to anticipate all the inputs possible, and if they forget any, that’s considered a bug.

            I think the first step could be to build a responsive layouting engine that automatically renders data as best as it can based on the context (screen size, culture, language, user’s knowledge, user’s preferences). A big problem in software is having designers manually design interfaces. They’re not consistent, they forget a lot of use cases, and it’s manual work that doesn’t scale. Algorithms should do that. Then we can mostly forget about UI and think about the business models.

            But it turns out to be a lot easier to offer an HTML 1.0 presentation tool than a first-order logic reasoning engine. OWL-Full wasn’t a sufficient material component to cast Summon Software. Meanwhile, you could write to OWL-DL or OWL-Lite, but who was going to bother to rewrite their SQL code in that? Their Oracle or MySQL or Sybase was already running it fine.

            It’s more difficult to implement than HTML, but does that mean it can’t be done? Also, I don’t particularly care about existing businesses that use MySQL and what not. If they’re too selfish to change their architecture to open their data to customers, then they’re asking to become obsolete.

            Short answer: Dunbar number. There’s only so much of a knowledge domain a programmer can keep in their head at once. (It’s one of the reasons OOP is a thing.) Likewise, there’s only so much an investor can see in a given project. It’s possible that Bezos envisioned AWS when he began developing an online bookselling app, but if he did, he rightly recognized that he’d have to start with something much smaller, that investors could grasp well enough to infer they’d get a return on a few million.

            What if instead of having one company implement all these domains, we have a community of people implementing all domains over time? I want to build a generic framework that supports arbitrary ontologies, but I don’t want to deal with all these ontologies myself. I want to build something that doesn’t know anything about selling goods or ride sharing, yet allow people to implement such ontologies afterwards. That’s the only way this project could possibly scale. Nobody needs millions of dollars, and nobody needs to keep all possible domains and ontologies in their head.

            Then provide similar predicates for its picture, text description, price, amount in stock, quantity the current user has in their cart, whether it’s in their wishlist, ratings from other customers, text reviews, ratings of and responses to said reviews, related products, etc.

            Isn’t all this stuff already part of http://schema.org ontologies? I can’t imagine it would be hard to generate a form from some Product/Offer schema, and let sellers fill them. The data could then be displayed using the generic data renderer, or even use a custom opinionated renderer function that takes in data from a given schema.

            I’ll even let you skip the presentation logic (CSS rules and whatnot), since we’re assuming you just want enough for someone else to be able to write their own shopping app, and lay out all the content their way. You will, however, need to write all the deduction logic supporting this. For example, it should be illegal for a user to have more items in their cart than are in stock.

            I think this is the kind of arbitrary rule that shouldn’t exist, or at least not be domain specific. There are so many similar cases in which a resource is exhausted/unavailable, that could be described with the exact same generic rule:

            1. I want to buy 2 iPhones, but Amazon only has 1 in stock.

            2. I want to buy a $2000 MacBook, but I only have $1900.

            3. I want a ride to Starbacks, but Uber has no available driver.

            4. I want to bake a cake, but I don’t have any flour.

            5. I want to FaceTime with John but he’s offline.

            In most cases, there are alternative/creative ways to solve these problems, that doesn’t involve some hardcoded “you can’t do that” behavior:

            1. Maybe wait until more iPhones are in stock. Maybe buy from a different seller. Maybe buy 1 iPhone and 1 Android phone. Maybe you don’t even neede to buy it.

            2. Maybe wait for the price to go down. Maybe buy from a different seller. Maybe use a coupon code. Maybe buy a slightly different model. Maybe buy a used/refurbished unit. Maybe earn the missing $100. Maybe borrow money or use credit. Maybe send in your old iPhone for a $250 rebate.

            3. Maybe use Lyft instead. Maybe wait a few minutes. Maybe ask a friend. Maybe take your bike. Maybe walk. Maybe go to a different coffee shop.

            4. Maybe bake the cake later. Maybe ask someone else to bake the cake. Maybe use a flourless cake recipe. Maybe use a different kind of flour you already have. Maybe buy some flour. Maybe you don’t need a cake.

            5. Maybe wait until he’s online. Maybe try Skype. Maybe call him on the phone. Maybe send him a message on Messenger/WhatsApp/WeChat/Hangout/Telegram/Allo/Slack/Teams/Discord/IRC/SMS/email. Maybe FaceTime with Tony instead.

            My point is that my system should ask the user what it wants, try to figure out different strategies to make it happen, and list available options (including their conditions, such as time, price, risk, quality, etc). If no satisfactory solution is provided, the user can relax constraints until they find what they want. A good way to relax constraints would be to ask the user why they want what they asked, and get closer to their intrinsic needs rather than their instrumental needs. For example, you might have overspecified you wanted a Uber, when you actually just wanted a ride (which a Lyft, Grab, GoJek, a friend, could fulfill). It’s important to have apps that challenge the user, not just blindly execute orders (and refuse in case a resource, like a single store’s inventory, is exhausted).

            These integrity constraints will be critical to any third party wishing to implement their own shopping interface. Can you write all this? To within 95% of Amazon’s current functionality?

            As I said above, re-implementing what already exists is missing the point. It takes too much effort, and it’s a missed opportunity to significantly improve the power and use experience of the system. I think it’s easy to build an app that does everything, than to build an app that does 1000 hard-coded things.

            Again, I’m not trying to simply scare you away. As I mentioned earlier, a framework for formal specification of rules like this (coupled with a way to generate software artifacts from them) is literally a $100 million dollar problem for certain companies.

            I don’t have the experience to tell an easy problem from a hard problem. If I can imagine that something exists, then I assume it can be built. I can’t be sure that what I described above is possible or even desirable. Is this more of a technical or a social challenge? Which part is still an open problem? Which part do you anticipate would be the more difficult to implement? How many people have tried to build something like this in the past? Why doesn’t anything like this exist today? Or does it?

            The fact that I’m not making progress seems to indicate that it’s not a straightforward problem, and I would appreciate guidance. I don’t want to repeat mistakes that others have made in the past. I don’t want to invest years into solving an impossible problem. I deeply care about this problem, I have the time to work on it, and I have the ability to learn any skill I might be missing. I just need to know where to lay the first brick (and maybe see a blueprint).

          • Aapje says:

            @miguelrochefort

            I think the first step could be to build a responsive layouting engine that automatically renders data as best as it can based on the context

            Amazon already has that. Their product pages render differently based on the product category. They tweak their pages to optimize sales. For example, let’s suppose that they want to move a widget from left to right on the page.

            Imagine that they shift to some generic sales software that is shared with other companies and thus is not under their control. Now to tweak their pages, they will have to try to convince the maintainer, who also has to serve others, to change. Perhaps the majority of the companies have different users, who respond better to the widget being on the left. Or they favor keeping things the same because they don’t want to make their users learn something new. Now Amazon can compromise, costing them $$$ in missed sales, to save $ on development costs. Not gonna happen.

            What if Amazon has something that is specific to them that many others don’t/can’t have, like Amazon Prime. Is the generic software going to support something just for Amazon? Unlikely.

            Ultimately, using generic software can save money in development costs, but there is usually a downside in the software being less customized to the desires and needs of the company. Sometimes this is a good trade-off, sometimes it isn’t.

            I want to build a generic framework that supports arbitrary ontologies, but I don’t want to deal with all these ontologies myself.

            The issue is that describing all the desires and needs in an ontology, often results in ontologies that are as complex and detailed as a programming language.

            At that point, the benefits (including re-usability) of your ontology start to disappear.

            There is a reason why 3rd generation languages have very limited success.

            What if instead of having one company implement all these domains, we have a community of people implementing all domains over time?

            Like a government.

            In government, we compromise and require that everyone adhere to the compromise, even if it is sub-optimal for their needs. We have also concluded that many things are better done individually.

            When trying to do something similar for software, your compromise(d) solution has to appeal more than individual solutions. In some cases it will (and we already see quite a bit of code reuse, in ways that are easier and require less compromise), but in many cases it is doubtful that people think that upsides outweigh the downsides.

            I can’t imagine it would be hard to generate a form from some Product/Offer schema, and let sellers fill them. The data could then be displayed using the generic data renderer, or even use a custom opinionated renderer function that takes in data from a given schema.

            Several databases already support fairly simple form generation on top of the database. It works for simple workflows, if you accept a shitty interface.

            However, in real life you have complex workflows that also differ. I want to sell you products on credit, another company doesn’t. That company wants the buyers to have an account, I just want to know where to ship it to.

            If you actually look in detail at how theoretically similar systems work, there are often substantial differences in functionality.

            I think this is the kind of arbitrary rule that shouldn’t exist

            There is nothing arbitrary about not selling people products that you don’t have. It’s one of the least arbitrary rules.

            Your suggestion that software should tell people to buy from the competitor rather fundamentally misunderstands that the companies who sell products are usually not keen on having customers go to their competitor.

            If the idea is that we should have a paradigm shift where people only interact with advanced assistants who in turn mediate with companies, then this is already being worked on by Google, Amazon, etc; but there are also various issues with this.

            My point is that my system should ask the user what it wants

            Actually telling a system everything that you want, instead of an extremely incomplete simplification, is extremely hard and also what most people hate to do. It’s why programmers get the big bucks.

            Most people greatly prefer that other people make a lot of choices for them.

            If I can imagine that something exists, then I assume it can be built.

            No. You are a Utopian and Utopias are impossible to achieve. You have to work within the limits of reality.

            I deeply care about this problem, I have the time to work on it, and I have the ability to learn any skill I might be missing. I just need to know where to lay the first brick (and maybe see a blueprint).

            You have a goal that is too big. People who aim too high melt the wax of their wings and crash to the ground. The first step to a cure is to accept that you are not a God and can only solve a problem, not all problems.

            I suggest trying to get a job working on Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant or Facebook M.

            That seems the closest you can get to your ideal in a realistic way. Those assistants try to abstract away various services behind a reasonably consistent AI interface.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            [OWL-Full] more difficult to implement than HTML, but does that mean it can’t be done?

            Theoretically, I think it might be doable. But it’s also theoretically possible to send a person to Europa. Could you do it? 🙂

            Again, the point I’m making here is that this is much harder than you think. Part of me applauds your willingness to try, and I’m trying to save you time by pointing out where your road hazards are going to be. And there’s also the distinct possibility that you’ll dive into this, find out that you can’t solve it with the resources you have, and conclude that you would’ve succeeded at something else, had you only known.

            So for example, it would probably behoove you to read about OWL, Cyc, CLIF, and Prolog, and a couple of books by Jeffrey Ullman about database theory. You will also need some philosophy, particularly existing theorized models covering meta-properties, mereology, parts and wholes, and representations of time. If you solve this problem, it will almost certainly require pulling lessons from those projects, and you’ll save time if you read about them rather than finding them out yourself. Also, these projects and techniques have failure modes that you will need to be familiar with.

            Some details to illustrate what you’re up against:

            What if instead of having one company implement all these domains, we have a community of people implementing all domains over time? I want to build a generic framework that supports arbitrary ontologies, but I don’t want to deal with all these ontologies myself.

            In some sense, this has already been done. And that’s the problem.

            Consider the widely known problem of tracking people and their contact information. You have people, names, addresses. Names might have first, middle, and last, or alternately, given name and family name. Optional honorifics and other decorations. Addresses might be email, snail mail, PO boxes, or phone numbers. Phone numbers come in different types, with different implications about when they’re usable, by whom, and by what devices. All of these items may change over time, and are not 1-1.

            This model has been constructed literally thousands of times by people all over the world, using a common framework: SQL. The result? Any query you send to one database (let’s assume you have total read permissions) to get the email address for Ruth Sapkowicz is practically never going to work against any other database. You will need to understand why, and figure out a way around it. I think you’re on the right track in thinking about a framework; it’s just that you’ll need at a minimum to know why SQL came up short, and how you would improve upon it.

            Isn’t all this stuff already part of http://schema.org ontologies?

            Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh. See, this is exactly one of those sources of ready-made models that gives formal modeling a bad name. It makes me want to beat my head against the desk because schema.org looks like a really awesome resource, but then offers nothing over the usual E-R diagrams people have been hurling back and forth for over 25 years.

            I’ll pull up one model as an example: https://schema.org/Book. I see six properties specific to books, 86 for creative works, and twelve for “Thing”. Lots of stuff! And there’s inheritance! Seems great, right? Look closer.

            I’ll pick a property at random: headline. Type: text. Description: “headline of the article”. …what’s the headline of a book? Is it the title? Luckily, there is no “title” property for Book, so maybe that’s what they mean. What’s the chance that a database implementor will see a query for “headline” and have that spit out the book title? I guess it’s high enough. So far, so good.

            There are a lot of really vague properties, like comment, typicalAgeRange, audience, or educationalUse. The description doesn’t really help nail it down. You might say this is fine, since no one’s likely to make business decisions about these; they’re just for presentation to a human reader to make their own decision (well, except maybe for typicalAgeRange), but if I were to separate out all these vague properties, suddenly I’m left with nowhere near as rich a model of “important” properties. Most of it’s fluff.

            Some of them have no constraints. We have “author” and “creator”. The description for creator says it’s the same as author, but not the other. Fine. BUT, this is all in free text. If I’m to implement a front end that displays all the relevant properties of a creative work, what’s the chance that I’ll methodically capture all the business logic expressed in free text? For all 86 properties of creative works?

            It gets worse. What if a book has more than one author/creator? This model says nothing about it. I couldn’t find any cardinality constraints at all. Should my interface allow for it? Should my interface allow for all the properties to be multi-valued? What if one of them is supposed to be used to uniquely identify a creative work? I will have serious problems if I implement multi-valued properties that are supposed to be single-value, or vice versa. And what if it’s single-valued, but is allowed to change over time?

            Author and creator are not the only two properties which are supposed to be equivalent. Why are both even listed? Why not just list one? You say you want a framework that doesn’t know about selling goods or ride sharing, but can still handle them in a generic, useful way. I think that’s terrific. …how will your framework know whether it needs to display both the author and creator of a book, or if that is actually redundant and confusing? There’s nothing in the model telling your framework that, either.

            I could probably generate over a hundred rules that the properties of Book, CreativeWork, and Thing should follow, that aren’t actually listed in the schema. All schema.org did that I could call valuable was to gather a great many properties that at least one individual thought was important, put them in one document, and gave (most of) them a unique name one could use as a selection key in a database. But the omitted rules mean that one place could store this with no rules at all and call itself compliant, while another adds some rules it thinks are important, and now barfs when you feed it data from the first system, and a third uses its own rules and the latter two won’t interoperate, and so on.

            This is precisely the problem with the vast majority of databases today, and schema.org presents itself as a solution when all it does is take half a baby step toward one. The result is thousands of customers with real data interoperability problems costing them millions of dollars a year being nonetheless highly skeptical of anyone claiming they have a solution. (Our company had a devil of a time persuading a handful of customers that we really did offer more than yet another standard in the xkcd sense.)

            These semantics matter:

            I think this is the kind of arbitrary rule that shouldn’t exist, or at least not be domain specific. There are so many similar cases in which a resource is exhausted/unavailable, that could be described with the exact same generic rule:

            In every alternative you propose, you’re presupposing that there’s an underlying rule indicating a problem. You know there’s limited stock, or insufficient funds, or no drivers, or missing ingredients, or an unavailable person. There needs to be a rule in your formal model describing this. Otherwise, your framework will have no way of telling, without strong AI. Your framework will also need a way of knowing what constraints can be relaxed, and this will be highly arbitrary, so there will need to be formal rules for that in the model, too.

            Your framework will need a way to specify such rules beyond prose in the description. And again, this is exactly the roadblock to data interoperability. If you can’t improve on this with real semantics and supporting enforcement mechanisms, then customers will look at you like you’re Lucy with the football.

          • miguelrochefort says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            So for example, it would probably behoove you to read about OWL, Cyc, CLIF, and Prolog, and a couple of books by Jeffrey Ullman about database theory. You will also need some philosophy, particularly existing theorized models covering meta-properties, mereology, parts and wholes, and representations of time. If you solve this problem, it will almost certainly require pulling lessons from those projects, and you’ll save time if you read about them rather than finding them out yourself. Also, these projects and techniques have failure modes that you will need to be familiar with.

            I’m familiar with the Semantic Web, Solid, RDF, OWL, SPARQL, Cyc, Common Logic, AtomSpace, Wolfram Alpha, lojban, Prolog, 5th-generation computers, blockchain, distributed systems, multi-agent systems, agent communication languages, Web of Trust, metaphysics, epistemology, HoTT, event calculus, temporal knowledge, etc.

            The first problem I encountered when I discovered RDF/OWL was how arbitrary and inconsistent ontologies were (within and across domains). Everyone reinvents predicates that mean the same thing.

            For example, couldn’t predicates such as birthDate and creationDate be combined (I know this isn’t a perfect example, as creation/development is not instant, but you get the idea).

            I then found out that there wasn’t a canonical way to deal with the concept of time. In most cases, it’s ad-hoc hacks involving named graphs. I still have no idea how people represent temporal knowledge in RDF in the real world.

            I also realized that we rarely have perfect knowledge of the world, and we often deal with uncertain ranges of data (most modern scholars think Plato was born between 429 and 423 BC). Clearly, we need better support for fuzzy/bayesian knowledge. Or am I just describing machine learning?

            But who decides what is true? Who decides the probability of Plato’s birth? Who decides if Socrates ever existed? Surely, we need all knowledge to be supported/endorsed/claimed by some kind of source (agent). The likeliness of the data being true, will be probabilistic and witness-dependent, according to a directed web of trust. Perhaps the currency of the future will be trust/social/reputation score based on a person’s ability to accurately describe reality?

            Why do all semantic web examples represent some encyclopedic use cases, where past states of the world are described? Why don’t we also use it to describe the future state of the world? Wouldn’t this allow agents to make predictions (where the probability of it becoming true depends on a person’s score, or ability to predict the reality, in this case the future instead of the past)? Wouldn’t a prediction market somehow allow us to predict the future?

            What if you want to talk about the future, but not make a prediction. What if you want to talk about your ideal state of the future, as opposed to the real state of the future? Perhaps you want to communicate your wish to be at some location at some future point in time (“I am at Starbacks at 7PM”)? Maybe we need to add a new epistemic mode/qualifier to our data. That seems more elegant than all the poorly designed action/verb predicates you’ll find in ontologies (maybe https://schema.org/BuyAction becomes “owns, in the future”).

            I’ve had a lot of insights and epiphanies in those past 10 years. I’m not knowledgeable enough to know if any of them are novel. I also don’t understand why 5th generation computers failed, or why we’re not all programming in Prolog. I’m not interested in luck/timing/learning curve/chicken-egg/resources/politics explanations. I only want to know if the concept (not the implementation) is flawed or not. Can you refer me to an explanation on the fundamental limitations of these paradigms?

            Consider the widely known problem of tracking people and their contact information. You have people, names, addresses. Names might have first, middle, and last, or alternately, given name and family name. Optional honorifics and other decorations. Addresses might be email, snail mail, PO boxes, or phone numbers. Phone numbers come in different types, with different implications about when they’re usable, by whom, and by what devices. All of these items may change over time, and are not 1-1.

            I understand that this is complex. I still prefer that a handful of people deal with this stuff, so that whoever builds Uber for Puppies doesn’t have to engage in philosophical debates about user names and addresses.

            > Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh. See, this is exactly one of those sources of ready-made models that gives formal modeling a bad name. It makes me want to beat my head against the desk because schema.org looks like a really awesome resource, but then offers nothing over the usual E-R diagrams people have been hurling back and forth for over 25 years.

            I’m not a fan of http://schema.org either. Their models are inconsistent, unclear, and there’s a lot of duplication (many ways to describe the same things). But at least they’re pragmatic. They’re used in the real world, they cover a good range of domains, and they’re easy to use (at the cost of a lot of weak Text data types). I initially looked for better ontologies, but 80% o