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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1,254 Responses to Open Thread 118.5

  1. RavenclawPrefect says:

    I’m conflicted on the new sorting. On the one hand, it makes discussion a lot more lively and prevents the thing where readers are scrolling for 5 minutes just to find the third top-level comment in a big thread and most people who read a lot of open threads have multiple extensions installed just to navigate the mass of initial comments and find the recent stuff. I suppose it also wards off low-effort comments taking up the top slot, but this seems pretty rare as it is.

    On the other hand, the first few comments I think are often of higher quality than the last few, when I look at historical posts? I often notice myself giving up on a comment thread halfway through once it seems like I’ve passed all the good stuff. But maybe that’s an artifact of the old sorting, and will go away with the new approach. Regardless, definitely worth trying out for a bit. (I’d also be curious to see what a Reddit-style upvote system does to the comment space, though obviously that’s a lot more work to implement.)

    I appreciate that higher-order comments are still chronological, though; that makes discussion within a thread a lot more sensible.

    • Dave Orr says:

      Someone’s already implemented a wordpress comment voting system very similar to reddit, so I think it should be relatively easy to set up. My guess is that Scott has thought about this and decided not to do it — there are drawbacks as well as benefits for this sort of thing, like more susceptibility to groupthink or faction-driven voting behaviors where people vote not on the quality of the comment but whether they directionally agree with it.

      Still, I could see it be worth trying. Certainly wading through the morass of comments to find the gold is challenging.

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        I suppose the obvious model for what happens to an upvote-based comment system with this readership is /r/slatestarcodex; the result seems reasonably similar in quality, though nothing outside of their CW thread gets anywhere near the comment density of large threads here (or the level of linking to by outside sources) so it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison.

      • Jaskologist says:

        It’s brought up frequently. The general view of commenters here is that if we wanted a voting system we’d be on the subreddit.

        (And also that the subreddit sucks, probably because it has a voting system.)

        • ilikekittycat says:

          Even strictly +Like/Upvote/Starring voting systems with no downvote/dislike option seem to destroy the incentives behind good discussion on the internet. Facebook/Twitter is just stupid in a different way than Reddit

        • Dan L says:

          (And also that the subreddit sucks, probably because it has a voting system.)

          Aside from the obvious population confounder, comment voting/sorting systems and global karma on a per-user basis are completely separable systems. I’m of the opinion that employing both tends to be the worst of all worlds.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I think it would be statistically interesting to have a vote system (with more than two options) that didn’t change anything about the comments’ placing or appearance. It would be like one humongous survey (possibly cross-referenceable).

    • Plumber says:

      In looking at the 118.25 thread I think I like the new sorting so far.

    • Uribe says:

      I prefer this new sorting. It’s nice to click on the comments and see a new comment right away.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      I’m not liking it. It’s probably partly because it would take a while to get in the right rhythm — when I search for tilde-new-tilde, the new order makes me feel like I’m jumping around in time. (And so I am, of course, even in the old ordering, but it somehow feels less obtrusive there.)

      I guess another (or maybe the same?) part of it is that if I dive into a page that’s been up a while, the old order gives me the illusion that I’m just doing an accelerated version of what I would have been doing if I had been keeping up with it as it grew, while the new order makes it seem as though I am intruding on a private conversation.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I hate it. I want to see the oldest comments first. Some of the initial comments refer to earlier comments in the same thread. This will now be incomprehensible.

      • CatCube says:

        I’m hating more the more I read the threads. I’m typically more interested in replies to threads I’m following, instead of new ones. The old way, I’d read through the conversations I’m following before hitting the new threads.

        Of course, I’m using the comment autocollapser, so I don’t have to scroll by a bunch of threads with no new updates; maybe that makes a difference to other people.

    • arlie says:

      Net result seems to be that I’m reading less. This may be good for me – not having to scroll through old (but chatty) threads I wasn’t interested in when I first encountered them either, or exercise willpower not to participate in threads I’d already rejected as likely to generate more heat than light – but I’m not sure whether it’s good for the site.

    • Bamboozle says:

      Counter to what others have said i’m liking the new change though i don’t use any extensions.

  2. Plumber says:

    Anyone know why subscriptions to SSC comments no longer work?

    The regular ones disappeared month’s ago, and the “reply” one’s in this link stopped working last week.

  3. Hoopyfreud says:

    Because there’s a max-level comment depth I don’t like the new sorting. It requires you to read a conversation normally for the first N posts, then scroll down to the bottom maximally-nested comment and scroll back up.

  4. Aging Loser says:

    A few weeks ago I protested against the use of the phrase “verbal intelligence” but didn’t check responses for fear people might have been annoyed at me. At the time I proposed that what’s called “verbal intelligence” is just imagination. That isn’t quite right, of course — the phrase “verbal intelligence” is probably supposed to label an ability to clearly develop interesting thoughts, and people no doubt can be super-imaginative without being able to stick their mental images together into the structures that constitute clearly developed thought. But the structuring-activity itself is sort of an imaginative process, so to say that imagination is what is in question isn’t entirely wrong either.

    I would have said that what’s called “verbal intelligence” is simply intelligence — the ability to assemble ideas into coherent structures — but of course mathematically-inclined people also build structures out of ideas. I wonder why quantitative ideas are set aside from all other kinds of ideas in such a way that someone who’s good at working with them is thought of as having one of two basic kinds of intelligence — the other kind having to do with all ideas other than quantitative ideas.

    (I find geometrical propositions very interesting and would like to understand their proofs but don’t have the ability to go beyond very simple ones. Actually the only two I’m familiar with right now are the proof for the equality of a triangle’s angles to two right angles and a “kinetic” proof for the Pythagorean theorem that involves moving around four identical right triangles. I recently redd that a cone has 1/3 the volume of a cylinder with the same base and height, which was a very striking fact — why should it be exactly 1/3? — but the proof apparently involves calculus so I’ll probably never learn it.)

    (I’ve included the above parenthetical remark within this post only in order to establish that I do find at least the geometrical side of mathematics beautiful and certainly admire “mathematically intelligent” people.)

    • brad says:

      I think “quantitative” is the wrong opposite for verbal intelligence. There are areas of math, at least through the undergraduate level, that are quite amenable to verbal type thinking. Rather, the other major kind of intelligence is visual-spatial. As for it is separated out, I think many other tasks that might not be exactly verbal are nonetheless approachable with the tools of verbal intelligence, but a pure spatial task–say mentally rotating an object–is simply part of this other thing. No amount of verbal jujitsu, reconceptualizing, or creative problem solving is going to allow someone that’s weak in spatial reasoning to fake it, so it makes sense to give it a different name rather than including it as a lesser, included part of verbal intelligence.

      • Camouflage Interior says:

        This reminds me of a time when I was a study participant doing a cognitive task which was apparently supposed to test visual/spatial capacity. Some squares would be highlighted on a grid, and then be replaced by a different set of squares. The objective was to remember the first set. I (unintentionally) “cheated” by using a coordinate system to store the square locations in verbal memory, thus bypassing the spatial distraction of the second set of squares.

      • Aging Loser says:

        Brad — but I imagine sentences as structures in space, and make sense of theories in the same way. I have to turn theories into visual cartoons, often 3-D with flowing components, into order to understand them. And I’ve always done well on “verbal” tests and only mediocre-ly on math tests. So I don’t see how “visual-spatial” is in any way opposed to whatever “verbal” stands for.

        • grothor says:

          So I don’t see how “visual-spatial” is in any way opposed to whatever “verbal” stands for.

          They certainly don’t “oppose” each other, and they are not opposites. They’re just different things.

          For example, the tasks used to measure these things are very different. A verbal IQ test will ask you to do things like analogies: “Cat is to paw as horse is to ____”. Visuospatial tests ask you to do things like spatial rotation: “Which of these images is of a rotated version of this object?”.

          And, though ability on these axes are not entirely uncorrelated, it is common to score much better on one than the other.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Rather, the other major kind of intelligence is visual-spatial.

        I think you are right that quantitative probably isn’t quite the right word for those good in Math. But visual-spatial isn’t right either, based on my own intraspection. I have always had higher math than verbal skills — I easily got A’s in Math back in the grades, but rarely got A’s in anything else. But my spatial IQ is also pretty low — my mechanical skills suck, and I do poorly in those tests that require picturing things from different angles. So I think the ability to understand mathematical symbology is different both from spatial ability and also from the ability to express oneself verbally. Maybe quantitative IQ is the right term after all, at least I can’t think of another (perhaps because of my poor verbal IQ :-))

        Edit: this was supposed to be in reply to brad, but somehow got in wrong level. Oh wait, it is in the right place. Maybe my spatial skills screwed me over again.

        • brad says:

          Are you sure it isn’t interests rather than type of intelligence?

          I thought I was a math person in high school and I was able to pull it off amply with mediocre at best spatial intelligence. It wasn’t until well into a physics degree that I figured out that it’s near impossible to get one if you are utterly incapable of picturing a dynamic three dimensional vector field.

          Perhaps if I had gone into stats or computer science I would to this day still think of myself as a math person.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I’m sure it isn’t interests. I was never that interested in math, but it was always easy. I actually did like Physics, but while the tests were easy, the labs were hard, because I had difficulty getting the equipment to do what I knew was the answer, and also hard to write up the lab results. I don’t find it hard to picture an x-y-z field, but that doesn’t seem the hard part. I fyou then rotate it, then it gets more difficult.

          • quanta413 says:

            I’ve known good math people who had relatively mediocre spatial ability at least compared to the better physics students I knew.

            Abstract algebra, number theory, a lot math fields don’t necessarily require a strong ability to do spatial reasoning tasks or spatial visualization.

            As brad says, physics seems to select really hard for spatial ability. But I’m not sure that all physics subjects have to. I don’t remember using much spatial reasoning in statistical mechanics.

    • grothor says:

      Verbal intelligence is more narrow than you’re describing. It’s better to think of it as abilities related to language, rather than abilities related to ideas in general. (Or, if you want, you can operationalize it as “the thing that verbal IQ tests measure”, which makes it even more narrow.)

      I suspect that for people with much higher verbal intelligence than quantitative intelligence or visuo-spatial intelligence, it feels like abstract reasoning is mostly a matter of verbal reasoning. On the other end of this, I have substantially higher visuo-spatial ability than verbal ability, so for me most problems feel like they are a matter of visualizing and manipulating things.

      • so for me most problems feel like they are a matter of visualizing and manipulating things.

        For me, many problems feel like a matter of visualizing and manipulating logical structures, seen as neither words nor objects.

        • brad says:

          visualizing and manipulating logical structures, seen as neither words nor objects.

          Is it possible for you to elaborate and/or give an example? As it stands I don’t understand what you mean at all.

          • Someone posted something relevant to the inconsistency in the Efficient Markets Hypothesis, the fact that if markets are fully efficient there is no incentive to do the research that makes them efficient. The obvious response is that, in equilibrium, markets will deviate from efficiency by just that amount that incentivizes the amount of research that makes them that close to efficient.

            That’s a verbal argument. It could be a mathematical argument. But I didn’t get to it by either math or words but by seeing the logic of the situation–which is the same logic that explains why it isn’t worth looking for the shortest checkout lane or switching lanes on the highway, and when it is. Those are three different situations, in words or math, but the logical structure is the same.

            Of course, like any other way of solving problems, that sometimes gives me the wrong answer.

          • brad says:

            I appreciate the effort, thanks for the reply, but I still don’t understand. Maybe this gap is simply unbridgeable.

            I find the OP’s “cartoon diagrams” very very far away from how I understand my own thought processes, but at least I can see what he means. But when you say you “see” the logic in neither words, nor mathematically equations, nor any kind of visual objects I don’t really see what’s left.

            Are you talking about some kind of Kahneman-ian “system 1” flash of insight? If so, I guess I don’t think of that as “thinking”

          • Eternaltraveler says:

            flash of insight? If so, I guess I don’t think of that as “thinking”

            I think rather than a flash he may be describing the process of insight; which most certainly is thinking.

          • quanta413 says:

            Are you talking about some kind of Kahneman-ian “system 1” flash of insight? If so, I guess I don’t think of that as “thinking”

            I don’t think so. Sometimes when learning something new, I will analogize not verbally but by attaching my logical picture of one system to another one (temporarily) and then begin modifying it in my head to try to make it work better. This can work, but it can also fail spectacularly.

            But the mental process isn’t really verbal and I don’t detect my spatial thinking kicking in. Maybe that’s sort of what like DavidFriedman’s describing. I don’t know. I’m very unsure how to describe it.

        • Aging Loser says:

          I literally visualize them — they’re imaginary objects fitting together in head-space. But maybe your problems are different from mine. I never understand any economics arguments, ever, because I can’t turn anything that’s said into a cartoon. (I liked reading Marx because he imagines a sentient robotic fungus remorselessly encrusting a beautiful jungle-planet.)

          • ilikekittycat says:

            Before I had read Capital I thought of Marx as the guy in the popular imagination who wasn’t above resorting to vampire and werewolf metaphors because it was the best way to add fuel to the fire of polemic, and was later surprised to come across the actual passages and realize “oh, he was actually picking the metaphor that would get this dry description of how a certain cycle persists across the fastest”

      • Aging Loser says:

        Grothor — What’s the point of measuring something so narrow, then? Why devote 1/2 of the SAT to it? Why not replace it with a dancing or singing competition or something else equally narrow? Maybe a “social skills” test or drawing-assignment. Half of the SAT would be a math-test, the other half would consist of drawing a kitten.

        Can you think the thought “abstract reasoning isn’t mostly a matter of verbal reasoning” without having the words “abstract reasoning isn’t mostly a matter of verbal reasoning” running through your head? (By “verbal reasoning” you mean thinking in a way that involves words running through your head, right?)

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          The SAT is intended for a very specific purpose. This purpose is why schools which teach dance or art would be SAT-optional (e.g.: “Boston University does not require either the SAT or ACT for applicants to the College of Fine Arts. This is common practice among arts colleges, as standardized test scores do not relate to a student’s artistic talent and potential. However, applicants may choose to submit their scores if they feel they accurately reflect their academic ability.”), and instead have other entrance criteria.

          Can you think the thought “abstract reasoning isn’t mostly a matter of verbal reasoning” without having the words “abstract reasoning isn’t mostly a matter of verbal reasoning” running through your head?

          Yes, of course you can. The phrase “abstract reasoning isn’t mostly a matter of verbal reasoning” is merely a negating verbal translation of the positive visual expression of a person manipulating abstract ‘objects’, some of which can be named concepts, as this allows that abstract reasoning can include verbal reasoning as well (ala “isn’t mostly“).

          • Aging Loser says:

            On your second point, anonymousskinner — I can see how you’d nonverbally think of a thinking that in fact isn’t verbal (by imagining various odd shapes flowing out of someone’s head, which he reaches up to stick into each other at various angles as they flow out) but how would you picture the additional thought that this in-fact-nonverbal thinking isn’t verbal? Would there be an accompanying flow of letter-like marks out of the person’s mouth, with a big X over this accompanying flow?

            I guess it seems to me that the flow of words in one’s head is a kind of making-and-remaking of connections between imaginative and physical/practical tendencies. If I tend to imagine reality in a certain way I tend to act upon reality in a certain way. And although actual images don’t accompany all of the mental words (and even if they did one couldn’t infer the thought from the series of images), it must be possible to bring the relevant potential images into reality — otherwise the thought is meaningless. (Much of the imagining is kinesthetic/proprioceptive — a sense of bodily motion and posture and tension in relation to other resisting surfaces.)

    • Furslid says:

      Here’s a skeleton of a no calculus required proof that the volume of a cone is 1/3 of (base area)

      Consider a cube with side length N. You can split a cube into three identical pyramids by taking one corner of the cube as the “top vertex” of all three pyramids and using the three opposite sides as the bases. Each of these pyramids would have the same volume (because they are identical). Because three of them make a cube, their volume is N^3/3.

      You can stretch the pyramid to show that it doesn’t require the height to be identical to the length of a side. The volume of a pyramid is (base area) * height/3.

      Then you can use the principle that if the area at each height is identical, then the total volume is identical to move from pyramids to cones.

      • Aging Loser says:

        Furslid — That’s hard for me to visualize but I think I’ve succeeded (after staring at a cubical object for a while). You have to imagine the edges running through the interior of the cube. Okay, but is it just a flash of intuition that convinces you that nothing would change if you squished the edges into curves so as to turn the pyramids into lopsided cones? You’d have to squish the cube as a whole as well, turning it into a cylinder, for this to work as a demonstration, wouldn’t you? And if the volume of a soft container decreases when you squish it (which I find weird), then why wouldn’t the volume of the cube and internal pyramids alter in a unbalanced way when you squish them into a cylinder and cones respectively? Is it just obvious to you that the proportions would stay the same?

      • A1987dM says:

        It’s very far from immediately intuitively obvious to me that the three pyramids have disjoint interiors and their union is the entire cube.

        • Furslid says:

          I’m using a six sided die for my cube. Suppose you split the cube so the bases of the pyramids are the faces labeled 1, 2, and 3. The top vertex of the pyramids is the corner shared by the 4, 5 and 6 faces.

          Take any point in the cube. Draw a line between that point and the 4/5/6 vertex. If the line passes through face 1, it is part of pyramid 1. Similar for pyramids 2 & 3. So all points in the cube are part of one of the pyramids. No line can pass through the 4/5/6 vertex, and two of the opposite faces. So the pyramids are disjoint.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I think the real distinction is spatial processing and sequence processing.

      Verbal intelligence taps more into the sequence processing ability, but it’s not exactly the same thing.

      • Aging Loser says:

        BlindKungFuMaster — but aren’t arithmetic and algebra and pretty much all non-geometrical mathematical disciplines very sequence-based?

        • whereamigoing says:

          Only to those who are better at sequence processing, apparently.

          Now that you mention arithmetic, I somehow gained the ability to do arithmetic in a more visual way recently and it’s faster for me than the purely syntactic methods taught in school. (Which is one of the problems with visualization — it’s hard to teach, because usually teaching is verbal.)

          Also, some proofs in algebra make more sense to me when visualizing formulas as abstract syntax trees, so associativity is tree rotation and commutativity is reflection.

          • Aging Loser says:

            That sounds kind of trippy, whereamigoing — I wish you could provide a diagram so that I could see what you’re visualizing. But I think that I get the basic point, because when I add, say, 8 and 6, I imagine the numbers as stacks of coin-shaped items that fit in slots that only have room for ten of these coin-shaped items, so that when you drop the stack of 6 into the slot containing the 8 there’s only room for two of them and so four of them spill over into the adjacent slot and you end up with one full slot containing ten and an adjacent slot containing four, so 14.

  5. Brett says:

    1. I disappeared down the rabbit hole of reading papers about Skyhook launch systems for getting into space. Pretty neat stuff (especially the paper on HASTOL, a system some Boeing people looked into in the 1990s), although like most of such proposals it has the issue of huge up-front costs in terms of launches and set-up (to launch 14 metric tons into Low Earth Orbit, it has to mass around 3000 tons – that’s a lot of set-up space launches). It’s the bane of anything space-related.

    2. I got the Uniball Vision Elite pens per the recommendation of folks in the hidden open thread. They’re working great!

    3. I’m so behind on music and music news. I just finally listened to MGK’s “Rap Devil”, followed by Eminem’s “Killshot” reply. Good times.

    • andrew_wilcox says:

      Let’s see…

      The HASTOL paper says the total mass of the space tether facility would be about 3000 metric tons.

      Falcon Heavy can launch 64 metric tons. So that’s around 47 Falcon Heavy launches. Or 30 BFR launches at 100 metric tons per launch.

      In comparison, this Starlink FAQ says that Starlink would need 112 Falcon Heavy launches.

      So that’s not bad at all! 🙂

  6. Plumber says:

    Food and beverage question:

    So Brennan’s in Berkeley (where I first went as a child in the 1970’s) is now closed.

    I’m looking for a new place that serves plates corned beef and half-pints/pints of brown ale (“Newcastle” and “Downtown Brown” have the taste I’m after) at the same place.

    The corned beef “Reuben” sandwiches at Saul’s in Berkeley are very good, but I’m looking for a full plate of corned beef with mustard, potatoes, and cabbage like I used to get at Brennan’s, and I’d like a tasty beer as well.

    “Dives” seldom have the tasty beer, just Budweiser, Coors, and the like, and seldom the food I crave, and “craft” beer places annoy me with their changing selections and confusing labels, and I don’t want a sample taste and “new experiences”, I want to get something close to what I had:
    Good and unchanging.

    I don’t want to linger in San Francisco after work so somewhere in Albany, Berkeley, north Oakland, south El Cerrito, or Emeryville please.

    Any suggestions?

    • sunnydestroy says:

      I’d just make my own, a bit time intensive from scratch though since you have to cure the meat over a week with the rub then cook it at low temperatures slowly (~10 hours). A slow cooker works for that and is pretty common household equipment, otherwise a sous vide would get you better cooking precision.

      I used to work in Hayward and I know a place in San Leandro that has corned beef among other meaty beer drinkin’ foods: Harry’s Hofbrau. When I used to live in SF, Tommy’s Joynt was a solid spot for a plate of stomach filling carved meats and sides on a plate, especially for late night. I live in San Jose now, quite a drive from the East Bay, but if you’re ever around there’s Gunther’s Restaurant, which has fantastic pastrami plus authentic Jewish deli classics.

      Apparently Hofbrau restaurants–bars serving fresh carved meats–are a Bay Area dining tradition and it sounds like Brennan’s fit that tradition as well.

      • nweining says:

        +1 to Tommy’s Joynt, still excellent and going strong.

        It is in the wrong direction for you, but the Refuge in San Carlos has a bunch of interesting beers on tap and the best pastrami sandwich I have ever had; my father, who grew up in NYC, compares it favorably to the great NY Jewish delis.

      • Plumber says:

        @sunnydestroy

        “…a Bay Area dining tradition…”

        I also went to Lefty O’Doul’s with the crew at work a few times before it closed.

  7. Acedia says:

    You’re going in for major surgery and you’ve been presented with an unusual choice:

    1) You receive the standard general anaesthetic (e.g. propofol) that induces complete unconsciousness for the duration of the surgery. Statistically has a very small (less than 1 in 10,000) chance of killing you, either due to anaesthesiologist malpractice or some unexpected quirk of your biology.

    2) Instead of the above, you get a muscle paralytic and another drug that induces anterograde amnesia, temporarily preventing new memory formation. You will be fully conscious and able to experience any sensations associated with the surgery while it’s happening, but will not remember anything about it afterward. Unlike the normal anaesthetic, this has no chance at all of killing you.

    Which do you choose?
    https://www.strawpoll.me/17181410

    • noyann says:

      How strong is your belief in peak-end rule?

      edit: typo

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Not to question the hypothesis, but are we to assume that the two drugs in (2) are really perfect implementations of the effects you describe? Or simply what exists today?

      That is, can I legitimately assume that (2) is completely equivalent to a “restore from backup” taken just prior to the surgery? Or does it risk, say, that I will also be foggy about the events leading up to the surgery, or have vague deja vu about the events during the surgery?

      • Acedia says:

        For the purposes of the hypothetical, yeah, assume that (2) is completely equivalent to a “restore from backup” taken just prior to the surgery. There won’t be any hazy recollections or flashbacks, feelings creeping into your dreams at night or anything of that sort. For you it will be as if the experiences never happened.

        • aashiq says:

          To clarify: there is additionally no risk of changes to my subconscious resulting from the surgery, even though I consciously remember nothing?

    • rahien.din says:

      (I feel like this is going to turn into an argument for antinatalism.)

    • Mark Dominus says:

      The latter is discussed at some length in Daniel Dennett’s amazing essay on Why You Can’t Make a Computer That Feels Pain.

      Dennett also raises the question of whether that isn’t how general anesthetics actually work, and discusses the neurological evidence against that possibility.

      I recommend the essay. When I first started to read it I was prepared to write off the whole question as the sort of thing only discussed by college sophomores, and I was thrilled to discover that there was quite a lot to say on the topic that wasn’t obvious.

      Also, the following memorable passage, which has haunted me ever since:

      (Disturbing anesthetic failure, click to read anyway.)

      • Mark Dominus says:

        Oh, here’s another juicy item I had forgotten, somewhat less disturbing:

        “Sometimes,” I was told by a prominent anesthesiologist, “when we think a patient may have been awake during surgery, we give scopolamine to get us off the hook. Sometimes it works and sometimes not.”

        Scopalamine has amnestic affects.

      • Acedia says:

        Fascinating (if horrible), thanks.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I can’t get the Dennett article up to an easily readable size (zoom takes to to sort of readable), so I’m going to raise the question of what can be real in the computer.

        The program of a hurricane can only knock down simulated trees. Do they count?

        However, a chess victory in the computer is a real victory as far as I can tell.

        A computer can really prove a math theorem if the proof is correct. I suppose that if the proof is incorrect, it’s a simulated proof, but not different in principle from an incorrect proof by a human, even though it would seem odd to call that a simulated proof.

      • LTK says:

        If you (or anyone else) found that essay interesting, there’s also the book Feeling Pain and Being in Pain by Nikola Grahek, which goes into a lot of depth about how pain works and pain disorders.

    • TDB says:

      Didn’t they perform an experiment where a patient with anterograde amnesia learned to avoid shaking hands with the doctor after getting shocked by the doctor several times, even though the patient was unable to consciously remember having been shocked? I wonder what I would learn as a result of having experienced being sliced open? I don’t think I want to know.

    • ing says:

      I suspect that the “amnesia” solution still exposes me to a lot of stress hormones which the anesthetic would have let me avoid. Stress hormones are pretty bad for people, and I’d guess that the “less than one in 10K” chance of death might be less bad for me than that.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      #2 was basically my experience with getting my wisdom teeth out, I have a general memory of it being weird/irritating but can’t actually recall anything of the conscious experience because of the gas. I wouldn’t hesitate to go through a similar procedure in the future, despite not “enjoying” it

      I’d say #2 for anything up to the length of a movie, maybe 2.5-3 hours. Beyond that length of time, having to sit there conscious (even in a blackout state) is gonna start to feel like endless unbounded torture considering having to hold your head in place, continue to respond to directions, and all those other minor cognitive drains that don’t really let you relax

    • Basil Elton says:

      0.0001 chance to die vs one experienced surgery squares with a certain death vs 10000 experienced surgeries. 10k surgeries is equivalent to being cut alive for 2-10 years straight. I’m not sure which kind of adamant person would’ve chosen that over death, but I’m pretty sure I’m not that kind of person. So I’ll go with the traditional anaesthetic thanks.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I’ve long said that if I was going to be executed my two preferred methods would be slow torture, the slower the better (to eke out that last bit of life for as long as possible), or as instantaneous as possible (to avoid the horror of not having any control as much as possible).

        These two options are basically 6 of one, half a dozen of the other (it’s probably pretty instantaneous-like if you’re unconscious when it happens).

        • Basil Elton says:

          Don’t you think that life under torture has negative utility (in and of itself, when enduring that torture does not give you increased chances of a normal life afterwards)?

    • Rana Dexsin says:

      I’ll chime in to say I’ve done something a little bit like option (2) via… well, the terminology is hazy for me, but I want to say it might have been a form of self-hypnosis or consciously-induced dissociative state? Aside from the memory-formation dispersion, I also included a “don’t move” component, so it’s eerily parallel in a way. Though I remember having to suddenly adjust the induction due to the frantic realization that the doctor didn’t understand what I was going to be doing (even though I’d told him) and would expect me to be conscious, so I had to be capable of at least giving hand signals.

      Consciously, I remember nearly no details of the surgery itself other than the part where I had to give hand signals, and I remember during recovery having checked and been pleased to find that interval of time mostly missing. Possible subconscious effects… I don’t know how to measure, though nothing obvious has turned up.

      It’s not fully the same thing, of course. In this context, I had a choice between local-only and global anaesthetic, and I had other reasons to choose local-only, so this was a technique I applied to make up part of the difference. (2) describes not even having local (if I’m reading correctly), so that could be much harsher, but I also assume well-targeted, well-tested amnesia-and-paralysis drugs would have a higher efficacy than whatever I was doing, so maybe it’d be a wash.

      So I picked (2), because it’s closest to what I know from experience to work already.

    • Kyle A Johansen says:

      I was pretty sure that the amnesia-bit was already how anesthesia works. With me assuming that brain-surgery subjects got a different sort of pain-number when their skull was cut open.

      Is ‘anesthesia ‘ just a more specific term that I thought, as I remember when I had stuff what I was told is that I would act like a dope but have no memory of it (sort of like getting blackout drunk, I suppose.)

      • Garrett says:

        Anesthesia, literally means “without sensation”.
        Which then leads you to ask: sensation of what? Pain is usually what people care about, but there are others. Time is another.

        There are some other related terms involved:
        Analgesia: inability to feel pain.
        Amnesiac: inability to form memories.
        Anxiolytic: reduces anxiety/panic.
        Hypnotic: drugs which induce sleep.
        Dissociatives: drugs which “disconnect” you from reality.
        Paralytic: drugs which cause paralysis.

        What is needed is a combination of the above, based upon the particular circumstances.

        Local anesthetics eg. lidocaine used for stiches in skin, minor dental work, etc., is well-understood. It also only provides for localized analgesia (intentional) and paralysis (unintentional).

        General anesthetics involve a wide combination of the above factors. Unfortunately, how and why most general anesthesia works is not understood.

        Some types of procedures only require limited combinations. For example, for cataract or vision correction eye surgery, only pain and anxiety management is required. So something like tetracaine is used to numb the eye. And something like midazolam is used because people rationally freak out when someone comes at your eyeball with a knife.

        In other procedures, like intubation, a combination of a short-acting paralytic is used (to stop the muscles from responding to the gag reflex), and some form of amnesic and/or anxiolitic (because you still *have* the gag reflex).

    • Murphy says:

      this actually isn’t so far for current real practice.

      Estimates for “anesthesia awareness” are something like 1%

      basically it means they can err slightly towards the possibility of you waking up vs dying from the anaesthetic. They dose you up with Flunitrazepam so that even if you wake up it’s unlikely that you’ll remember.

  8. Lambert says:

    Why not a ‘sort by: newest/oldest’ dropdown?

    Also the comments are not linear: they are a tree. Perhaps something like miller columns (like the ranger file manager) should be implemented.

  9. Camouflage Interior says:

    Last!

    …for now…

  10. nweining says:

    Scott, I don’t know how CW-ish you want this to be so I’ll keep the description relatively neutral, but: I am almost done rereading Richard Rothstein’s _The Color of Law_ and I would really like to see you do a book review post on it, because I think it has a lot to say about moral and historical considerations around local-government rule pluralism, which has been a major theme of your “Archipelagic” thought over the years as I see it. In particular, it presents a strong challenge to an idea you expressed (or came across to me as expressing– sorry if I’m misinterpreting) in a previous NIMBY-vs-YIMBY post, namely that local zoning restrictions are more defensible than other kinds of government regulation because it is easier to exit if you don’t like them.

  11. Greg Perkins says:

    Is there evidence that CEV converges?

    Intuitively, I seem to strongly believe that it will cohere, but perhaps not converge. I also intuitively hear Haidt very strongly. My guess is that, yes, everyone seems to have different preference schedules, but that they’re mostly just encoded historical artifacts in brains. The individual artifacts will iron out eventually, and humanity will be left in a semi-permanent value drift.

    • Aging Loser says:

      What’s a CEV?

    • sty_silver says:

      I think the convergence that’s already happening of smart people towards utilitarianism of some kind is strong evidence that CEV will converge. Of course, that presupposes that a) you agree that this convergence exists and b) you expect it to be permanent.

      I also think that it would be very hard to get strong evidence against convergence of CEV, because the time window we have available is extremely small.

      (And I think you should definitely define what you mean if you say CEV. It’s not nearly well-known enough to be common knowledge. Unless it was your intent to filter responses that way.)

      • Tarpitz says:

        the convergence that’s already happening of smart people towards utilitarianism of some kind

        Citation badly needed.

        • Aging Loser says:

          Smart people might be converging toward utilitarianism because they don’t often find themselves in a situation in which torturing a child seems likely to contribute significantly to the Greater Good. (Everything’s bland and bureaucratically regulated these days.)

          Also, smart people might be less likely to have children of their own these days, so they don’t have a vivid sense of greater duty toward one’s own, and everyone seems sort of interchangeable to them.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Or someone might be hanging out in a filter bubble containing a lot of smart people with utilitarian leanings, and wrongly inferring convergence…

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “Or someone might be hanging out in a filter bubble containing a lot of smart people with utilitarian leanings, and wrongly inferring convergence…”

            Exactly my thoughts also.

          • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

            might be less likely to have children of their own these days, so they don’t have a vivid sense of greater duty toward one’s own

            No kidding. Asking someone if there is anyone who they would kill someone to protect, will quickly sort the parents from the non-parents, and the people who answer “no” tend to have complete incomprehension to the question at all.

    • It seems the opposite to me. Values will converge because human civilization is converging. But ethics is very Hegelian, in the sense that when you resolve some contradiction, new ones appear. I don’t think this will ever stop as long as humans are around.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      On the contrary, I think there is an ironclad counterexample proving it doesn’t: sociopaths. Unless you believe moral realism is so true that philosophical arguments can eventually convince a serial killer to put down the knife, some small percentage of the population are going to have individual CEVs with no term for “the flourishing of people other than me”, and this seems very hard to integrate with a society mostly made up of normal people.

      • Walter says:

        Why do you think it is a small percentage of the population? Like, I wouldn’t trust most people if they had a button that would kill me and give them ten bucks.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I didn’t want to start a disagreement about what portion of the general population are assholes and how irredeemable they are, so I kept it small and only brought up the commonly-estimated percent or two of the population that are literal sociopaths. Proof by counterexample only needs one, after all.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      No, because there is no evidence of any kind regarding CEV.

      CEV’s role in Rationalist eschatology is important, because it turns the phrase “I want to live in something akin to Ian Banks’ Culture” into “we all want to live in something akin to Ian Banks’ Culture.” With CEV there aren’t any thorny questions about the morality of forcing the vast majority of the world’s population to live according to a value system they empathically disagree with. CEV says that if they were smarter and less hypcritical they would have those values already, so really you’re not forcing those values on them so much as helping them realize what their values actually were the whole time.

  12. J. Mensch says:

    Suppose you want to sample the average walking pace of each person in a city, and you have you do it by measuring the instantaneous velocity of all who walk past over a one hour period. Should you worry that you’ll overcount quick people, as they cover more ground per second and are thus more likely to walk by you?

    • The Nybbler says:

      My intuition is that this is canceled by the fact that the slow people take longer trips (in terms of time) and are thus more likely to be in your sample period.

      • ajakaja says:

        Yes. It’s easiest to think about imagining just two speeds, say 1 and 2. In an hour a fast person covers 2x as much ground, and so is 2x more likely to cross you if their trips take an hour. Meanwhile, a slow person who’s making the same trip will be out for 2x as long, so they’re 2 times more likely to overlap with you. If both types of people make the same trips in a day on average, then the 2s cancel out.

        But that’s if slow and quick people make the same types trips and they start and finish at random times and your polling place randomly samples them. So probably not in reality.

        • meh says:

          Each walks past my polling point at a specific time. Someone walking 1mph will walk past 1 mile of points, someone at 2mph will walk past 2 miles of points.

          • 10240 says:

            If they walk for the same time. If their trips have the same length, then they have the same probability of passing through the polling point in any given period (assuming that time points are uniform throughout a day, which is not true in practice).

            Faster people probably walk longer distances per day actually, as they are likely to be healthy, and walking is a more convenient mode of transport for them than for slower people. (An opposing factor may be that people who walk as a way to pass time walk slower than people who walk purely as a form of transit, and they may walk longer.)

    • youzicha says:

      I’m not sure.

      If everyone in the city just makes a single trip during the day, then it seems there should not be a bias. Suppose that you are standing on the road at point B, somewhere in between two points A and C, and suppose that someone will walk from A to C during the day. If he walks at a given speed v, you can calculate what during interval of time he needs to set out from A in order to meet you at B in the 1-hour window, and this interval will be exactly 1 hour long, no matter what v is. So for every point A in the city you should get a fair sample of people setting off from that point.

      On the other hand, if we assume that people are just walking back and forth randomly (i.e. as soon as they reach a destination, the start walking on a different trip), then intuitively you will oversample fast walkers, since they can be buzzing back and forth in front of you. I guess this corresponds to more fast than slow peoples setting off from each point.

    • grothor says:

      It depends on what assumptions you’re able to make and how long your sampling period is.

      One way to think of it is to remove the temporal component. During your sampling period, you will only see people whose path, during that time, crosses your point of measurement. Assuming your sampling period is small compared to a typical trip duration (probably not a good assumption?), fast people walk a longer path, so it’s more likely to overlap with your measurement point.

      youzicha points out correctly that if you’re able to assume that everyone makes the same number of trips, and everyone starts and finishes their trips during the time you’re measuring, you do not need to make a correction. I suppose this is sort of the other limit, where your sampling period is long compared to trip duration.

      If you know something about trip duration, you can probably combine these, using the first to correct for edge effects on the second.

      Both of these models assume that trip distance is uncorrelated with speed.

    • meh says:

      Under most assumptions it will.

    • ing says:

      There’s a hidden question here: do slower people walk the same distance (per day) as fast people, and therefore spend more time walking in total? Or do they compensate for their slower walking speed by walking a lesser distance?

      For example, you can imagine that you’re sampling from a point that’s on a one-mile walk from a residential area to a downtown. Some people enjoy walking, so they walk quickly, and are willing to walk the distance whenever they go downtown. Other people hate walking, perhaps because they’re less healthy and walk more slowly, so they tend to drive when they go downtown.

      If this is happening, then you should worry that you’ll overcount quick people — not exactly because they walk faster, but because they walk more.

      On the other hand, if you include in your model an assumption that everyone walks the same distance per day (and across the same distribution of paths), then I think you are not in danger of overcounting faster walkers.

    • SaiNushi says:

      The trick is going to be in the time and place you pick. If the place you pick is the entrance to, say, a theater, and the time you pick is when the play lets out, then you’re less likely to over count either one. Do the study multiple times with different types of events each time, and you’ll have made sure you’re not accidentally sorting based on events that are more likely to be attended by fast or slow walkers.

      On the other hand, if the place you pick is a mall, and the time you pick is 9am, then you’ll definitely over-represent the fast walkers, as that’s when the mall walkers are taking advantage of no crowds to get some exercise indoors (the mall is open, but most stores aren’t, so no shoppers yet).

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      Not quite your question, but a related math puzzle I thought up last week while hiking:

      Suppose you have a trail which attracts hikers at a constant rate throughout the day. All hikers of the trail have a speed in miles per hour uniformly and independently chosen from the interval [1,3]. You walk at 2mph.

      You would like to determine properties of the distribution of hikers on this trail; unfortunately, you are a very bad statistician and so have utterly neglected to consider the sampling errors at play here, so you just tally up the people who walk by you as you’re hiking the trail. (You may, however, assume that the trail is long enough, or popular enough, for you to have an arbitrarily good sample size.)

      (A) If all hikers are walking in the same direction (including you), what is the average speed you measure of the hikers?

      (B) What if all hikers are walking in the opposite direction as you?

      (C) What if equally many people hike the trail from either end? Do you believe this fact, or do you measure that one direction is more traveled with your poor sampling methods? What overall distribution do you measure, and what is a curious property of it?

      Rot13 for the final part of (C): Hayrff V’z zvfgnxra (juvpu vf cbffvoyr), gur qvfgevohgvba lbh zrnfher vf na npphengr nffrffzrag bs crbcyr cre zvyr bs genvy sbe rirelbar fybjre guna lbh, naq na npphengr nffrffzrag bs crbcyr cre havg bs gvzr qrcnegvat sebz gur genvyurnq sbe rirelbar snfgre guna lbh, abeznyvmrq fb gur shapgvba vf pbagvahbhf ng lbhe bja fcrrq.

  13. sunnydestroy says:

    The replication crisis comes to finance.

    There seems to be several finance nerds and enthusiasts here, so I’m sharing this interesting study I came across called Replicating Anomalies: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2961979&__s=otwhkfwmq7behqhdy6ai. For the full text, search sci-hub with http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2961979.

    I’ve only skimmed the paper and I won’t pretend I understand more than the high level points. They reference a lot of finance minutea I’m unfamiliar with. Actual finance pros, feel free to correct me or chime in.

    A couple open threads ago, I learned the term factor investing, which honestly seems like something everyone does to a certain degree since you’re evaluating characteristics of companies that might explain their performance. At least, that’s what I get from the Investopedia definition. I’d definitely say people doing it professionally are way more technical and quantitative about it with factors like coefficient of variation for dollar trading volume or financial intermediary leverage beta being looked at.

    This study is interesting because it acknowledges widespread p hacking in the research on factors influential to stock returns then conducts a massive replication of studies on different factors. They find the majority of factors shown to affect returns in the literature to actually not influence returns when a more rigorous replication is run. Out of 447 factors they looked at, only 161 factors were significant at the 5% (t ≥ 1.96) confidence level, which means 64% (286) were insignificant. At t ≥ 3, 85% or 380 factors were insignificant. Apparently, most liquidity variables were found to be trash, with 93% of them insignificant on returns:

    Prominent variables that do not survive our replication include the Jegadeesh (1990) short-term reversal; the Datar-Naik-Radcliffe (1998) share turnover; the Chordia-Subrahmanyam-Anshuman (2001) coefficient of variation for dollar trading volume; the Amihud (2002) absolute return-to-volume; the AcharyaPedersen (2005) liquidity betas; the Ang-Hodrick-Xing-Zhang (2006) idiosyncratic volatility, total volatility, and systematic volatility; the Liu (2006) number of zero daily trading volume; and the Corwin-Schultz (2012) high-low bid-ask spread. Several recently proposed friction variables are also insignificant, including the Bali-Cakici-Whitelaw (2011) maximum daily return; the Adrian-Etula-Muir (2014) financial intermediary leverage beta; and the Kelly-Jiang (2014) tail risk.

    They also note some other influential variables that don’t replicate:

    …the Bhandari (1988) debt-to-market; the Lakonishok-Shleifer-Vishny (1994) five-year sales growth; several of the Abarbanell-Bushee (1998) fundamental signals; the Diether-Malloy-Scherbina (2002) dispersion in analysts’ forecast; the Gompers-Ishii-Metrick (2003) corporate governance index; the Francis-LaFond-Olsson-Schipper (2004) earnings attributes, including persistence, smoothness, value relevance, and conservatism; the Francis et al. (2005) accruals quality; the Richardson-Sloan-Soliman-Tuna (2005) total accruals; and the Fama-French (2015) operating profits-to-book equity.

    They also found that many of the significant factors had much lower magnitudes of effects than originally reported:

    Famous examples include the Jegadeesh-Titman (1993) price momentum; the Lakonishok-Shleifer-Vishny (1994) cash flow-to-price; the Sloan (1996) operating accruals; the Chan-JegadeeshLakonishok (1996) earnings momentum formed on standardized unexpected earnings, abnormal returns around earnings announcements, and revisions in analysts’ earnings forecasts; the Cohen-Frazzini (2008) customer momentum; and the Cooper-Gulen-Schill (2008) asset growth.

    The authors conclude that most of the problem comes from overweighting of microcaps in the studies they looked at:

    Fama and French (2008) show that microcaps represent only 3% of the total market capitalization of the NYSE-Amex-NASDAQ universe, but account for 60% of the number of stocks. Microcaps not only have the highest equal-weighted returns, but also the largest cross-sectional standard deviations in returns and anomaly variables among microcaps, small stocks, and big stocks. Many studies overweight microcaps with equal-weighted returns…

    They also note sample size as a problem, with most studies using U.S.-centric CRSP-Compustat data that don’t have emerging markets data. They also think publication bias and financial conflict of interest compounds the issue. I also thought it was nice that they threw in some background info on the replication crisis in social science studies and how they applied it to the finance literature.

    The last thing they do is to try explaining the significant factors they found using the q-factor model. First I’ve heard of this model, but it looks like the best performing current investment model for explaining stock returns based on different factors. Honestly, a lot of the q-factor model section (section 4) is over my head, but it seems they’re testing the 161 factors they found to have a significant effect using the q-factor model, then seeing which of the 161 had significant alphas (return above a market index). They found 46 of the 161 factors’ alphas to be significant at the 5% confidence level. Combining the 46 significant factors led to an average return spread of 1.66% (t = 10.28).

    Can anyone comment or explain further? I’m especially fuzzy on the q-factor model section.

    • 10240 says:

      Wouldn’t people who do these sorts of studies well work for investment banks and not publish their studies?

    • Chalid says:

      Not going to read carefully, but it looks like they’re just doing it wrong. e.g. they use monthly return series to test short-term reversal which is has a timescale of a few days. Eliminating microchips is good practice but going all the way to value-weighting is too far in the other direction. “We treat an anomaly as a replication failure if the average return of its high-minus-low decile is insignificant at the 5% level (t < 1.96)" while in "real life" much of the return comes from the middle deciles. etc etc

    • Bamboozle says:

      Most “factor investing” is marketing. Not surprised most factors are bunkum. The only one i’d even consider looking at is Momentum. But then that’s exactly what index investing does and considering the massive rise of indexers recently that probably is why it’s performed so well.

  14. ed74 says:

    Could have used a comment field at the end of the survey. It’s difficult to put some ideas into multiple choice form.
    EG, in actual moral principle, I am entirely against governments and borders. However, I recognize that both are pretty much the best game in town, and necessary to any sort of civilization whatever.

    • 10240 says:

      IIRC last year ~8000 people filled in the survey. If, say, 10% of them adds a comment like that, nobody is going to read and process them all.

  15. hash872 says:

    Bit of a random finance/efficient market hypothesis question. If EMH is true…. why do banks still have trading desks? Why is ‘trader’ still a type of person employed by banks/financial institutions/whomever? Doesn’t EMH mean that trading cannot possibly be profitable in the long run? Or, alternately, doesn’t the continued profitability of trading desks at Goldman/JP Morgan/BoA disprove EMH? What exactly is the distinction between active management and trading, per se? I guess I just find it really difficult to believe that, say, Goldman Sachs traders have been unprofitable or marginally profitable over a long enough period of time, but GS somehow never noticed. Seems rather easy to express in Excel, yes? Full disclosure of priors, I find the strong version of EMH to be incredibly implausible, though I’d accept some weaker ones.

    Another EMH question I have is the very vague definition of ‘beating the market’. What is the ‘market’ defined as- the S&P 500? Given that the S&P 500 is down for the year, but I predicted this and moved much of my personal capital into money market funds, have I ‘beaten the market’ for 2018? (This part is actually true). If the S&P 500 continues to decline in 2019, but I place various short bets and am even slightly profitable (or even just don’t lose as much as the market declines), have I again beaten the market?

    • EricN says:

      Markets are efficient because there are people who make them efficient. Say you have an ETF (fund) that tracks the S&P 500 (say, SPY). Laypeople who just want to invest their money in an index fund won’t check to make sure that the price of SPY is fair (that is, it reflects the prices of the S&P 500 stocks). So they rely on traders who make sure the price is fair (for example, if SPY is trading too cheap, they will buy SPY, trade the shares of SPY for the basket of underlying stocks — that’s a thing you can do with SPDR, the company that issues SPY, and then sell those stocks). So, traders such as the ones at the places you mentioned do things like this (except more complicated — things as simple as what I just described are generally done by high frequency trading firms).

      The term “beating the market” refers to making investments in a way that is more profitable than just investing in the market as a whole (say, by investing in the S&P 500). Depending on whom you ask, beating the market in the long term is either hard or impossible. It’s impossible for laypeople, but probably possible for the best hedge funds, which do really high quality fundamental analyses of companies to figure out how much they’re worth and make long-term bets.

      So technically you beat the market by pulling your money out of it and then it declined (because you would’ve made -5% or whatever had you kept in invested but this way you made 0%). But had the market gone up, you would have underperformed the market. The EMH says that you can’t beat the market in expectation — that is, while you can beat the market in the short term by getting lucky, in the long term whatever strategy you pursue will not be better than just putting your money into an index fund.*

      *Well, you can put your money into a leveraged index fund: these are things that give you, for example, twice the return of an index fund. So if the S&P 500 grows by 10% you win 20%. But obviously this is more risky. So more accurately, the EMH says that if you want to have the same exposure to risk as investing in the stock market as a whole, your long-term returns can’t be better than if you just invest in the stock market as a whole.

    • aashiq says:

      Disclosure: professional trader

      Most practitioners believe in neither the strong, semi-strong, nor weak forms of EMH. Banks and hedge funds regularly perform statistical analysis on the performance of their trading desks, providing fuel for their widespread disbelief. As you say, I guess this “disproves” the EMH, but I don’t know of anyone who actually believes it — only economists who make the assumption as a convenience for analyzing a related problem. I still think of markets as “efficient”, but in a much weaker sense: that “the market” is hard to beat, and in the absence of some “edge” (analytical ability, herculean effort, private information, technological superiority, etc) or market failure, I will just believe the market price.

      Regarding “the market”, I think most people think of the S&P 500. Regarding your trading, I would say you have “beaten the market”, but others might conceivably disagree, preferring to restrict the comparison to people who are long equities. Your intuition that the comparison to the S&P is weird is correct. For example, if you are a high frequency trader arbitraging different FX markets, your performance has little to do with the performance of US equities. In addition, your business has a massive technological barrier to entry and takes little risk, additional factors that make the S&P 500 a terrible benchmark.

      • brad says:

        The family of EMH theories might benefit by borrowing some of the ideas that underlie security proofs in cryptography. There’s a notion that a ciphertext is secure if there’s no polynomial time algorithm that can distinguish between it and a random text. By analogy economists might posit certain scenarios where there aren’t exploitable inefficiencies in a particular the market (because the costs would exceed the benefits).

      • hash872 says:

        Gotcha, thanks for the response. I just don’t see how trading fits in to EMH- active management, yes, trading any manner of asset classes, no. I Googled around and couldn’t find anything on the topic.

        The whole ‘what about a bear market’ thing really debunks a lot of EMH as well. If the market’s down 5% for the year, and I just do various shorts here and there and turn any type of profit or even a loss up to 4.99%, have I not beaten the market….. Kind of happy to do that with my portfolio and return it to my Vanguard index fund when we’re back in a bull market. I’ve been using ETFs for shorting, lots of small profits to be found

        • arabaga says:

          EMH doesn’t imply that no one can ever beat the market ever, it implies that no one can consistently beat the market (to choose a specific but arbitrary minimum, let’s say over at least 10 years).

          So yes, if you were down less than 5% in 2018 then you did beat the market for that year, but if you remain in money market funds in 2019 and it is a bull market then you would have lost to the market in 2019 (and perhaps over the whole 2018-2019 period).

          This doesn’t answer your initial question about traders at banks — I can’t answer that — just wanted to clear up info about EMH.

        • WashedOut says:

          I’ve been using ETFs for shorting, lots of small profits to be found

          Not a professional trader, but that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, of the “long series of small incremental gains followed by a massive loss” type. What leverage are you typically shorting with? I’m assuming you don’t just mean going long on 1/[$stock].

          • hash872 says:

            I read Nassim Taleb too. I’m using ETFs to guess what general market sentiment will be- ones like the SPXU allow me to purchase one if I think the market will go down etc. More specifically I find Trump as a personality pretty easy to read, and his whims or moods from one day to the next seem to drive what the market does. May not be a sustainable strategy once he’s out of office.

            I guess I don’t understand what’s the worst that can happen if I use stop losses. So it…. goes down a bit and I automatically sell? Where’s the ‘disaster’ part? Anyways, I’m only trading a small % of my speculative capital at any one time, and speculative capital is just a % of my net worth. I genuinely don’t understand what could happen that’s so bad

          • WashedOut says:

            You said you were shorting certain financial instruments, which is what prompted my reply.

            I guess I don’t understand what’s the worst that can happen if I use stop losses. So it…. goes down a bit and I automatically sell? Where’s the ‘disaster’ part?

            If you are shorting with leverage and you set your stops incorrectly, you can get liquidated (and if you repeat this experiment enough times, ‘can’ becomes ‘will’), which is why I asked about leverage.

            If the price “goes down a bit” your shorts will pay off if they’re in the money, so that’s not the issue.

            As for your trading strategy, I find it more plausible that Trump’s ‘whims and moods’ are the _result_ of newsworthy financial events, rather than the cause, but now im just speculating.

          • BillyZoom says:

            Quick note about stop orders.

            Stop orders are latent orders held by a broker which are then communicated to the market at a time when a price hits a certain level. It may be that now exchanges support them directly, but it wasn’t the case when I was involved in equities trading.

            The order sent to market can either be a limit order (it has a specific price attached to it), or a market order (no price attached – “fill at any price”).

            If a security gaps (meaning its price moves a lot in single move), then if you use a stop limit order, you may not get filled. For example, you are short XYZ which trades at 10. You put in a stop to buy at 11 to cover your short. However, news comes out, and the XYZ stock jumps from 10 to 12. Your “buy @ 11” will not be filled as no one will sell @ 11. They demand 12.

            If instead you use stop market orders (e.g., buy @ market if price > 11), then you will buy at whatever the market is if it passes 11. In a flash crash or flash jump, you can be filled at a very disadvantageous price. Even if it’s not a flash, but just a big move, you’ll be filled at the price to which it move, not the price at which it activates. In the above example, you’d be filled @12, not 11.

            So, stop orders are good if you’re not watching, but they aren’t a panacea.

      • cryptoshill says:

        I also think that “you can’t beat the market” is mostly “good advice for starting investors to avoid hedge funds” and not “advice that you can’t actually make a profit trading”.

        Hedge funds can and often do “beat the market” – however the fees you pay to have the money in the account are greater than the amount that the hedge fund is “beating” the market by – so you would be better off with a low fee fund that just goes long a given basket of equities.

        For the aspiring retail trader, the important consideration is that “you are unlikely to be more then 1 to 3% better off than if you had just done indexed investments with the same amount of money – and learning to trade is a skill that requires a lot of effort”. So if 1 to 3% of your invested capital is enough to provide you with an income you’re comfortable with and you really want to learn to trade for other reasons (you enjoy it, you want to be able to decouple your work from your physical location, or other justifiable purpose) it could be worth doing.

    • 10240 says:

      Adding to the above comments [not an economist or a finance expert]: Likely a stable situation is one where it’s possible to outperform the market, but only by what is a reasonable price for the work of performing the analysis necessary to do so. (And under conditions like having the relevant expertise and enough money to play with.) If it was more profitable than that, then more people would start doing it and succeed (or banks would hire more traders); if it was not profitable, (rational) active traders would quit.

    • sunnydestroy says:

      Efficient markets depend on perfect information. Less information, less efficiency. I think the rigor of your analysis would create the information asymmetry for larger cap stocks–if you can see more than what everyone else is seeing.

      I’d argue that’s why small and micro caps are more volatile. More opportunities there too.

    • Walter says:

      Excellent job noticing your confusion!

      EMH is not true or testable in any real way. It is only connected to other terms, never to any part of the real world.

      You can sit at a trader’s desk, or your own desk. You can buy a stock. Later on, you can sell that stock at a higher value. These are truths, they are real. The EMH fairy will never swoop in and stop you from clicking.

      People will dissuade you from earning money in the market. EMH is one of their tools. It is just the ‘Don’t try to do something new! if it was worthwhile someone would already have done it!’ gag with more sophisticated words.

      I urge you to open an imaginary account and trade some stocks in your mind. Track them like they were real. This will give you the confidence you need to do the real thing.

      • Kyle A Johansen says:

        EMH is not true or testable in any real way. It is only connected to other terms, never to any part of the real world.

        It is falsifiable by finding a counter-example where one can systematically make money through tricks or psychological methods, rather than being among the first to trade on new information.

        There is an issue there with distinguishing between a thousand people trying to beat the market and a couple getting lucky, and actually knowing it. But that’s not the theory being untestable.

        If you think you have done that, then that is still not the same as theory being untestable.

        I think it important to remember that EMH is not some economist’s dogma – however obvious it seems to use now – but a truth meteor that crashed into financial academia, and their baseball and moods industry.

    • Chalid says:

      As a quant researcher/portfolio manager, I’d say the philosophy within quant active management is that markets are mostly efficient and the EMH is almost true.

      But there’s a lot of room to make money in the gap between “almost true” and “true”. There are certain kinds of information that the market systematically underreacts to (for example). There are other kinds of information that the market systematically overreacts to. There are certain systematic psychological biases that market participants share. There are kinds of semi-private information that are only available to those who pay for it, or are available more quickly to those who pay for it. None of the effects you look at are large – large effects go away, because the market is almost efficient. But gather up enough small advantages, and eventually you get enough of an edge that trading can make money net of costs.

      So in general a quant doesn’t say “the price is X and I believe the price should be X+1 so I’ll buy the stock.” It’s more like “stocks with these properties tend to go up by 0.1% on average so I will buy them regardless of their price.” In other words, it’s very hard to say what the price ought to be from first principles, and much easier to estimate what the errors in current prices are.

      • In other words, it’s very hard to say what the price ought to be from first principles, and much easier to estimate what the errors in current prices are.

        Close to my approach, from a different angle.

        Back when the original Macintosh came out and I bought one, one of my colleagues at Tulane Business School asked me why I didn’t get a PC Junior instead. I knew about graphic interfaces, having seen stuff on the Xerox Park work, and had been using a personal computer (a superclone of the TRS80) for some years.

        Looking at the boxes, the Mac and the little PC seemed roughly equivalent–but the Mac was running a Motorola 68000 normally used for multiuser machines, because it needed the horsepower to run its graphic interface. I concluded that my colleague’s ignorance was typical of the overwhelming majority of those in the market, hence that Apple stock was badly undervalued, and bought some.

        Part of the argument was believing in almost efficient markets. I assumed that all other relevant considerations were being correctly priced by the market, hence I didn’t have to look at Apple’s price to earning ratio or similar statistics. There was one point on which I was willing to bet against the world, and the market let me do so.

        • hash872 says:

          Not vouching that is 100% true, but…. on the How I Built This podcast, Mark Cuban told the host that part of how he built his personal fortune was that after he sold his first startup in the 90s, Wall Street analysts kept calling him to pick his brains about this or that tech company. Eventually he realized that he knew more than them and started trading himself based on his personal knowledge of tech products, and claims he multiplied his existing net worth a few times over. Just an anecdote, but that’s his story

    • rlms says:

      Tangential pedantic note on your first paragraph example: post-Volcker rule, traders at investment banks nowadays don’t do much speculation on their own account. Instead, they largely facilitate speculation and hedging (for instance, executing large orders without impacting the market too much).

      Also, even if the EMH was totally true in its strongest form, there would still be a place for traders. The EMH says that you can’t get a greater return than the market without also taking on greater risk, but different people have different appetites for risk. So traders would still be involved in “buying risk” off people who want to hedge.

  16. Aging Loser says:

    I’m reading C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves (first chapter after the Introduction is on nature-love and patriotism, then chapters on affection, friendship, eros, and charity) and on the one hand liking it a lot and thinking he’s a sensitive, deep guy with lots of interesting things to say and on the other hand kind of hating him because he seems to feel that you’re damned or saved on the basis of your personality — like, “prigs” and “cold” people go to hell while warm, easy-going people (the ones that he’d like to hang out with) go to heaven.

    Pretty much every story ever told depends upon the assumption that people have certain personalities which pretty much persist throughout their lives albeit developing in logical ways. Otherwise stories wouldn’t make any sense. And this is just as true for stories whose authors who tell us that they believe in the possibility of personality-altering conversions as it is for those who don’t profess to believe in such a thing. So, for example, in The Brothers Karamazov some people are just awesome and interesting from the beginning and throughout (Dmitri) while others are just despicable rodents from the beginning and throughout (Smerdyakov). (Same in Lord of the Rings, the work of an explicitly Catholic author — can you imagine Wormtongue or the Mouth of Sauron turning into a good guy? Or even Boromir becoming sweet and gentle?) And the only counter-example that I can think of in Lewis’s stories is the kid who turns into a dragon and then has a conversion-“talk” with Aslan (is he the same one who got addicted to Turkish Delight?) — but his conversion might as well have been the annihilation of him as a character and his replacement by someone else with the same name, if I remember correctly.

    • Laukhi says:

      I haven’t read The Four Loves, but if I recall correctly he explicitly decries this idea in Mere Christianity – being a virtuous and good Christian is what causes you to go to heaven, not your inner personality. In fact, I think that he wrote that people who are naturally warm in temperament may be more at risk of not going to heaven, because they’ll just rely on that rather than turning to Christ, or something along those lines.

    • sfoil says:

      Laukhi beat me to the remark so I’ll dig up Lewis’ thoughts on that from elsewhere. Here it is from “Mere Christianity”:

      Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the [Victoria Cross]. When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.

      It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge.

      • Aging Loser says:

        Laukhi and sfoil — funny, I just opened Mere Christianity to find a passage supporting my view and opened directly on the pages (182-183) that include sfoil’s quote. And, yes, those pages DO support you guyses point, and I’m sure that whenever Lewis is being extra-reflective this is what he thinks.

        My impression of him as seeing the sheep and goats as separated by natural personality-type is on the other hand supported by this passage from Mere Christianity, at the end of “Sexual Morality” chapter: “All of the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, completing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.”

        My reaction, reading this, was, “Okay, so Lewis doesn’t like certain people who attend his church, and thinks of them as ‘cold, self-righteous prigs’ who are close to hell because their personalities are such that he finds them repellent.”

        • SaiNushi says:

          The key there is “may be”, not “is”. As in, it’s not certain, but there’s this possibility that it could be. The cold self-righteous prig thinks he’s assured a place in heaven, but Lewis is warning him to beware, because none of us really know.

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay, I’m going to push back a bit on this because I am one of the people with cold, priggish personalities and I get what Lewis means.

          He’s not saying all extroverts go to Heaven, or that it’s on your personality that you get into Heaven with the party sheep while the priggish goats are damned (I mean, think of the traditional associations of goats, ‘priggish’ is not the word there!). Part of the problem here, I think, is the cultural and social changes since he was writing. We are all nowadays supposed to appreciate the Authentic, the person who is True To Themselves, and that is the kind of outgoing, “sure maybe I sinned but I also loved and love is never a sin” type that is admired – the rule-breaker. But back in the day, the respectable and admired type was the rule-keeper, and that is what Lewis is speaking about, the same point as in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican:

          9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

          Or think of the Elder Brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son – he was very disappointed that his father apparently forgave and forgot all, and once more indulged the younger son he had spoiled all along:

          28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

          The point is not “big-hearted out-going lovable loser types are Lewis’ favourites so he’s prejudiced against the personalities he finds repellent”, it’s exactly what he says in that quote: spiritual pride is the worst of all the sins, the spiritual rather than the merely fleshly are the worst sins. This is why Dante puts the damned in the circle of Lust first, as the least serious and ‘highest’ level of Hell, because even when it is degraded into lust, there is some tiny spark of going outside of the self, which is what love means, remaining.

          And the cold personalities are at fault because of their lack of love. It’s not following the rules that will get you salvation, it’s passionate love of God. This is where the misunderstanding comes in, as in the woman with the alabaster jar – the idea I’ve seen as pop-exegesis there is that “her sins are forgiven because she has loved much” means that her sins weren’t really sins (and they’re taken as sexual sins) because she loved the men she slept with. No. Her sins are real sins but they are also really forgiven because she has come to love God enough to weep in public over them.

          That’s where the coldness comes in – the prostitutes and tax collectors enter Heaven before the righteous, because they realise they are sinners, realise they need forgiveness, respond (messily, with tears and shouting and climbing trees and making public exhibitions of themselves) to the message of salvation and let their hearts be broken open by grace to the love of God.

          But the righteous? We, the Elder Brothers, the Pharisees, the Good People? We keep the rules and count our virtues and make a bargain that we expect God to fulfil, we have our cold stone hearts all in one piece and attend church every Sunday and never make a fuss or a show.

          And that is our damnation – that we do not love God with the burning fire that would melt the frozen, warm the chill. And we needn’t be prudes and prigs in our everyday lives! We could be the life and soul of the party, the great guy or gal everyone knows and loves! But inside we have that hard, cold kernel at our core where we want things on our terms. About six years ago, I wrote a piece about Being The Elder Brother for a sorta religious website, and if you’ll permit me to quote myself:

          I find that I am comfortable with the notion of punishment, but liberty scares me. And that is the point of the Older Brother in the parable. If the younger brother can throw it all away and come back for a second go, then where is the justice in that? What is fair or right? If anything is permissible, then surely that means everything is permissible? He doesn’t particularly want his younger brother to be scorned and turned away, but he does want to know why the father seems to act as if nothing has happened or indeed as if the younger son has done what is good, right and excellent just as much as the dutiful, faithful son.

          And that’s what grace is. Grace is liberty, grace is unjust – no, maybe not unjust, but grace is unfair. Grace is gratuitous. Grace is a pleasing thing given freely by the favour of the giver and no desert in the recipient. Grace is a fountain in a dry land.

          Grace is scary.

          So I rush back to the comfort of definitions, trying to put grace in a cage or a leash around its neck, a halter on its head or a hobble on its feet, so that I can classify it and understand it and handle it.

          That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. Pope Benedict XVI did not, I think it is fair to say, have a reputation as one of the more liberal, ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ types. This is why there was a great deal of excitement back in 2010 when he seemed to say that condoms were permissible – this was in the context of a book-length interview with a German journalist being published and naturally the media junked all the nuance and caveats and went for the obvious (and incorrect) headlines.

          But that’s beside the point. What I want to quote is the part that coheres with what Lewis is saying in the above:

          There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.

          And so, gradually, by the realisation of the selfishness at the heart of sin, the prostitute comes nearer grace and Heaven than the self-satisfied righteous who is sure he or she are not like other people, they fast twice a week and tithe!

    • theredsheep says:

      I think you misremembered your Karamazovs; Dimitri is the most ambiguous of them, the one who feels pulled to bestial behavior but knows in his heart that it’s shameful and struggles ceaselessly against it. Ivan is the too-clever atheist who invents the Grand Inquisitor, while Alyosha is the devout mystic and junior starets. Eustace doesn’t completely change in personality, I don’t think; he only drops his most obnoxious habits. Also, I suspect that Eustace was intended to be at least a little bit autobiographical; like Lewis, his first and middle names are dorky, and Lewis was only a little less snotty as a young man.

      My general feel is that, by this model, God grades on the curve; a poor guy with a crappy upbringing who makes a valiant effort to stop drinking and beat his girlfriend less gets more credit than someone raised with every advantage who never changes from being a basically amiable but unexceptional person.

      Yeah, I got ninja’d in turn. Nested Xposts!

      • Aging Loser says:

        I remember my Karamazovs, theredsheep — reeredd it last year. He loves Dmitri throughout, and Dmitri is the novel’s true protagonist — Dmitri is the archetypal Christian man, passionate and deep and terrible and redeemable. Alyosha isn’t very real — my guess is that he’s modeled on the author’s dead son, who never had a chance to grow up into reality. Ivan isn’t fleshed out very well — really just a series of trains of thought.

        You may be right about Eustace — that’s interesting.

        With regard to your “general feel” paragraph — yes, that supports my salvation/damnation by personalities impression — the passionate “authentic” guy (Dmitri-type) gets saved and the boring “prig” gets damned.

        • quanta413 says:

          He loves Dmitri throughout, and Dmitri is the novel’s true protagonist — Dmitri is the archetypal Christian man, passionate and deep and terrible and redeemable.

          This is not my memory of the book but it’s been a long time since I read it.

          I remember Dmitri as being the idiot brother who was also crude and somewhat disgusting. I didn’t think Dostoevsky portrayed him positively at all.

          • Protagoras says:

            I reread it quite recently, and I think you’re both wrong. Dmitri is not an idiot, but he’s not the “true protagonist” either. Smerdyakov is perhaps of less interest, but Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha are all interesting in their own ways.

          • quanta413 says:

            By idiot brother I don’t mean stupid but more the stereotype of the sibling who is degenerate and irresponsible. To be fair, he’s not just that and I’ve undoubtedly forgot the good parts.

            Personally I do not remember finding him interesting while I found Ivan and Alyosha interesting. But like I said, it’s been a long time. His character may not have resonated with me.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I don’t think Boromir needs to become sweet and gentle, or at least there are certainly good warriors in LOTR. It’s interesting to try to figure out what Boromir needed to have not tried to take the Ring– possibly trusting his betters about how dangerous the Ring was. Note that he did repent and die heroically. He’s presumably in heaven.

      • Aging Loser says:

        That’s true, Nancy Lebovitz. But he was basically a good guy, and likable — hence his ability to repent and redeem himself by dying in battle, same as with all such characters in movies.

    • can you imagine Wormtongue or the Mouth of Sauron turning into a good guy?

      It’s pretty strongly implied that Gollum could have reformed, had things gone just a little differently.

      • Aging Loser says:

        Yes, DF — the scene where Sam sees him having the internal argument that ends in his reaffirming his Gollumhood. But Tolkien, as author, couldn’t have allowed Gollum to end up as a disgusting version of Sam, and especially couldn’t have allowed Sam (who has amusing visions of world-domination while wearing the ring) to end up as a superior version of Gollum. (Can you imagine a 3-1/2 foot-tall world-ruler?)

        • silver_swift says:

          I don’t know to what extent the two scenarios are analogous, but Snape, both in canon and HPMOR, kinda does go from repulsive, cold, sadistic bad guy to (slightly less) repulsive, cold, sadistic good guy.

          The other direction is trickier, but Mistborn’s evil god Ruin started out as the kind, generous and warm person Ati. Mistborn spoilers (rot13): Ur qryvorengryl gbbx hc gur pbeehcgvat cbjre bs uvf Funeq, xabjvat shyy jryy jung vg jbhyq qb gb uvz, orpnhfr ur oryvrirq ur pbhyq zvgvtngr fbzr bs gur qnzntr gur Funeq jbhyq pnhfr qhevat gur svefg srj praghevrf orsber vg shyyl pbeehcgrq uvz.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            IDK, I feel like canon Snape is more a case of Harry/the audience learning more about Snape’s personality and motivations than of Snape himself changing.

    • aristides says:

      Those are two different characters, Edmund and Eustice. A few of the non human characters go through a character transformation as well, so I think it is fair to say Lewis believed it was possible to change your ways, but I agree with you that he thought the personality had to change with actions.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Puddleglum from The Silver Chair is far from warm or easy-going, but he’s the only actually useful person in that book’s trio.

      • Aging Loser says:

        True! Good counter-example. He’s an interesting character — really weird-looking, too. Sort of a minor Ent. A swamp-Ent.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      “It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would rather have stayed there in peace.”

    • Walter says:

      Galavant, if you want to turn characters, watch Galavant.

      It pulls off a full Dudley Do-Right Rotation…Inverted!

      The series begins with Galavant attempting to save Madelena from Richard. It ends with Richard saving Galavant from Madelena.

    • Deiseach says:

      can you imagine Wormtongue or the Mouth of Sauron turning into a good guy? Or even Boromir becoming sweet and gentle?

      Yes. Absolutely yes. As you say, Tolkien is a Catholic author, not a Calvinist. There is always the possibility up to the very last minute of repentance and redemption.

      When they return to the Shire and find out what has happened, Frodo offers clemency to both Saruman and Wormtongue, and there is that moment where they could avail of it, if they both in their ways had not surrendered themselves to habits that bound them:

      ‘No, Sam!’ said Frodo. ‘Do not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood. He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.’

      ‘Wormtongue!’ called Frodo. ‘You need not follow him. I know of no evil you have done to me. You can have rest and food here for a while, until you are stronger and can go your own ways.’

      Wormtongue halted and looked back at him, half prepared to stay. Saruman turned. ‘No evil?’ he cackled. ‘Oh no! Even when he sneaks out at night it is only to look at the stars. But did I hear someone ask where poor Lotho is hiding? You know, don’t you, Worm? Will you tell them?’

      Even the Mouth of Sauron, who has so surrendered his own will and personality as to be literally the mouthpiece of his master, if there was one tiny seed of regret or remorse, could be redeemed.

      Boromir’s fatal flaw is his pride (the spiritual vice again!) and the Ring works on that weakness and changes him for the worse. He comes back to himself again eventually, but the damage has been done by then. Boromir would never be sweet and gentle, but he could be wiser and more humble.

      • Lambert says:

        The potential for change is all well and good, but it’s rather moot if nobody actually you know… changes.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      and on the other hand kind of hating him because he seems to feel that you’re damned or saved on the basis of your personality — like, “prigs” and “cold” people go to hell while warm, easy-going people (the ones that he’d like to hang out with) go to heaven.

      Well, you’d have to quote him directly for me to be sure, but I suspect that Lewis is actually talking about what the scholastics would call habitus — i.e., the traits and habits that we build up by repeated action, as opposed to ones that we have innately. Since such habits are caused by our actions, I don’t see any problem in assigning them moral value?

  17. mintrubber says:

    I’m already noticing less comment nesting with the new system. To me this is a good thing, because replies rapidly become unreadable on mobile when the boxes become too narrow, and you have to scroll for ages to get to the next readable comment. Now the the two-word-column reply walls are much further down.

    • thomasflight says:

      I just spent more time reading SSC comments on this thread than I ever have in my ~year as a reader. This is definitely due to the formatting on mobile (where I often read) being much better.

      I also felt compelled to pick up the pen and comment for the first time, mostly because there’s less of the “I’m too late to this party” feeling you get when there’s big long threads. While this is good for me, I’m curious if the “higher barrier for entry” is part of what leads to a higher quality of comment around here relative to other sites.

      I can see this format being better for variety of discussion, but perhaps discouraging depth of discussion. It seems like an option to sort one way or the other, with Scott’s preference as default would be ideal if that’s possible.

  18. Tenacious D says:

    What 2019 releases—books, movies, albums, etc.—are you looking forward to the most?

    • sfoil says:

      I have very high hopes for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune movie.

    • WashedOut says:

      New album from Primitive Man, hopefully.
      Nassim Taleb is bound to put out a few more sections and technical notes to his Incerto this year. Lovers of fat tails rejoice.
      More meditations and lessons as part of the Waking Up podcast.
      I’m working on a guide on de-Google-ing one’s life, which will be a simple pamphlet with some infographics on how to eliminate Google products and services from you’re life to the greatest extent possible/practicable. I’m looking forward to it being complete.
      New game “Sekiro” from From Software, the creator of the two best games of the decade (Dark Souls and Bloodborne).

    • Bugmaster says:

      Doom Eternal. Probably won’t be as good as Doom 2016, but still, I have high hopes for it.

    • aristides says:

      I am extremely excited for Fire Emblem: 3 Houses. In general, Nintendo has done a great job with their mainline games on the switch, and FE is my favorite of their franchises.

      • silver_swift says:

        This, yes! Finally another Fire Emblem game that I’ll be able to play (I don’t own a 3DS).

        • aristides says:

          The mobile game, Fire Emblem Heroes is actually pretty good and free. I suggest playing it in the meantime. My favorite mobile game so far.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Well, I’m hopeful that the first feature in which I play a major character – This Weekend Will Change Your Life will get a proper release of some description, even if only via streaming services…

      Other than that, The Last of Us Part 2 might well come out, which would be sweet, BoJack Horseman season 6 presumably will come out, which will no doubt be great, I look forward to the as-yet-unnamed Nicol-Bolas-invades-Ravnica Magic expansion and maybe, just maybe, George Martin will finally get Winds of Winter done. No, I’m not holding my breath either.

      • Walter says:

        Congrats on getting a major character role!

        • Tarpitz says:

          Thanks! It was a lot of fun to do, and mercifully I’m pretty happy with both the film and my performance. Currently in a sort of weird limbo state where people I’ve worked with already are like, “here are these four awesome roles we’d love you to play… as soon as someone gives us the money to make the films” and I still don’t have access to the footage to persuade anyone who hasn’t already worked with me to give me a look. But I’m pretty optimistic that this state really is temporary, and either way I’m enjoying the script development work I’ve been doing in the mean time (and it’s going well), so with any luck this will be the year in which I get to pack in the day job for good.

    • brad says:

      ISTR that there’s a new Neal Stephenson book in the works.

      • Tenacious D says:

        It continues with some characters from REAMDE, I believe. I’d be more excited if Enoch Root was going to make an appearance, but I still plan to read it.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah, I’d much rather read a sequel to Cryptonomicon than Reamde, but I’ll be checking this one out regardless.

      • achenx says:

        The year Seveneves came out that was my answer. I’m not sure about Fall (the new one coming this year) but it’s certainly the only thing I’ve preordered or anything, so maybe it’s my answer again.

    • johan_larson says:

      The movie “Captive State” looks very good. Set after the aliens arrived, during the occupation. The cast includes John Goodman, which is a good sign.

      The final season of “Game of Thrones” is coming! My bet is on Tyrion to end up on the Iron Throne when all is said and done. Jon and Daenerys would be the conventional happy ending, which is probably too light for Martin.

      “Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia” is a non-fiction book about how the Polynesians settled far-flung islands in the Pacific. I know a little bit about this topic, and I’m eager to read an extended treatment.

      • Tenacious D says:

        That sounds like a fascinating book.

      • TDB says:

        GOT spoilers warning.
        The fans would love for Tyrion to end up on the iron throne, but then there would have to be a few more books about the rebellion and plots to dethrone him. Too many people hate him, and he doesn’t even have the Lannister gold to bribe people with any more. If Martin brought Jon back from the dead just to kill him off in an even uglier way, my eyes will be rolling. Tyrion makes a good Hand, a terrible king.
        Of course, when all is said and done, maybe there won’t be enough people left to revolt. Or rule over. That would be the ultimate Martin twist, the night King turns them all into wights and ascends the iron throne, and they all undie unhappily ever after. Winter has arrived.
        Edit-typo

        • AlphaGamma says:

          The joke from a few seasons back:

          “I expect the final scene of the trilogy to be eternal snow blowing over a graveyard”

          “That’s too optimistic, it assumes there’s somebody left to bury the dead”.

        • johan_larson says:

          I’m thinking Tyrion might be the only one left after everyone else dies herotragically.

          • Aapje says:

            Perhaps the main characters all end up in 1 room at the end and kill each other. Then after a minute of silence, Tyrion crawls out from under the table, gets the crown and puts it on his head.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            He’s very bad indeed.

        • cmurdock says:

          …but then there would have to be a few more books about the rebellion and plots to dethrone him

          My response to this would be the same as my response to the people who say that seasons ~5 to 7 ruined the show: the whole “it’s good because it’s like real life where there are no resolutions!” shtick only works for so long in a work of fiction, but eventually you do have to have a resolution or else there is no story (an arbitrary sequence of events is not a “story”). In my opinion, the people who started off by loving the show because of its subversion and unconventionality were shooting their own long-term enthusiasm in the foot so long as “subversion and unconventionality” translated into “lack of dramatic thrust”: it was always the case that, eventually, something would have to actually happen.

      • John Schilling says:

        Jon and Daenerys would be the conventional happy ending, which is probably too light for Martin.

        It’s not Martin’s decision any more, if it ever was. And there’s no way HBO will leave either Daenerys or Sansa dead or humbled in the final act. Daenerys gets the Iron Throne, Sansa gets Winterfell, Tyrion probably gets a noble self-sacrificing death, HBO doesn’t get truckloads of hate mail and canceled subscriptions.

        And if Martin is planning anything different for the novels, he’d be best advised to wait until the fans of the TV series have moved on to other things. Not, given his writing pace, that this is likely to be an issue.

        • johan_larson says:

          If the series is going to be true to form, a major sympathetic character has to die in the battles against Cersei and the White Walkers. Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon, Sansa, or Aria must fall. Maybe even more than one.

          • John Schilling says:

            You are probably right about that. And I am probably right that Daenerys and Sansa cannot be allowed to fall. Arya can maybe die once she’s finished her list, and Jon can maybe heroically sacrifice himself for Daenerys except that there’s no other plausible candidate for consort(*).

            Tyrion is the expendable one, and he’s basically already sacrificed himself for Daenerys so they might as well go all the way with it.

            *Well, OK, maybe Yara…

      • Nornagest says:

        It’s still up in the air in the books, but I’d be astonished to see any outcome other than Jon/Dany on the Iron Throne in the series. Ever since Season 6 it’s been much more telegraphed than usual for the franchise.

        I’d have bet on the same ending for the books pre-HBO, but there’s enough ambiguity left for surprises, and Martin’s a bloody-minded enough guy that he might change his planned ending for the books out of spite.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Screw it, I want to be contrarian.
        -Dany dies ep 3 or 4 after she horribly butchers yet another negotiation and Cersei one ups her. Jon Snow takes the Iron Throne, then immediately ascends into Heaven to sit besides the Lord of Light.
        -Jon Snow names Theon Greyjoy his successor in the event he dies right before his ascension. Theon Greyjoy takes the Iron Throne!
        -Aria thinks Tyrion is plotting with Cersei, because she’s not as smart as she thinks she is and Tyrion is being all sneaky. She stabs Tyrion, they both get fire-bombed with Cersei laughing, Jaime can’t actually kill Cersei, but Tyrion pulls the dead-man switch that kills everyone but Jaime (who makes a thrilling escape!)
        -Cleganebowl ends with Sandor getting eaten by Blue Eyes White Dragon (I actually think this one might actually happen)

        • Tenacious D says:

          My contrarian/curmudgeon take (based more on the books than the show; and I don’t think any of these ideas are original to me) would include a mix of the following:

          – Bran realizes that his visions are actually manifesting his fears and imagination into the world and sacrifices himself to put a stop to it.
          – the college of Maesters regains the upper hand in their struggle against superstition and restores a measure of rationality to Westeros.
          – the Iron Bank of Braavos puts some or all of the seven kingdoms into receivership and sends a competent interim manager across the narrow sea.

          More realistically, I’d point out that the Targaryen sigil is a 3-headed dragon and GRRM doesn’t use symbolism accidentally, so Dany and Jon need a +1 (a surviving Aegon? a disenchanted Night King?) for things to be balanced.

          • Nick says:

            – the college of Maesters regains the upper hand in their struggle against superstition and restores a measure of rationality to Westeros.

            I really want to see more of this plot hook, since it’s barely more than introduced so far. Likewise a bit of House Hightower.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Nick: Have you read Fire and Blood yet? I’m halfway through it at the moment, and get the sense that the Hightowers (like the Velaryons, but for different reasons) are a House that used to be much more important than it is now.

          • johan_larson says:

            The usual speculation along those lines is that Tyrion is a Targaryen by blood. I don’t remember the details, but the thinking is that Tywin is not Tyrion’s biological father.

          • Nick says:

            @AlphaGamma no, not yet. I’ll probably pick it up sometime this year.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’m not even all that far into GoT and I’m already on Team White Walker. All these people deserve to die, not only for their moral failings but also their extreme stupidity.

        • theredsheep says:

          Unfortunately, in the books at least, it sometimes takes a very long time for stupid people to suffer the very obvious consequences of their extremely stupid choices. With one exception: gur Jbeyq’f Qhzorfg Fyniref–V guvax gurl jrer va Zrerra be fbzrjurer yvxr gung–jubfr fghcvqvgl vf bs fhpu na rkdhvfvgr glcr gung vg whfg jnfa’g cynhfvoyr gb qent vg bhg. Gurl unir gb vzzrqvngryl trg zheqrerq ol gurve bja fynir nezl be vg jba’g jbex. But they weren’t major/significant characters. Some of the others, you think, “wow, that is very plainly going to bite you in the arse later,” but two hundred pages on they’re still sitting there being all dumb and stuff. And at least once that I can think of (rfgnoyvfuvat gur uvfgbevpnyyl greevoyr cerprqrag bs oevovat gur pvgl zvyvgvn gb vagresrer va cbyvgvpf) the terrible consequences don’t arrive at all. Huh.

          • theredsheep says:

            While I’m grumping, I’m unsure why the characters are concerned about the White Walkers when it’s made perfectly clear that the Wall absolutely will not allow them to pass, even if they try to go under it. I mean, yeah, obviously it’s going to go down somehow, perhaps when somebody blows the Magic Horn of Why Would You Make That And How Would You Even Know It Worked, but everything the characters have to go by says that the Wall works beautifully.

            That, and the bit where a reported/off-screen death is infallibly false. And the unnecessary period filler. And the lemon cakes. Grump.

          • Lillian says:

            And the lemon cakes.

            It’s astonishing how often the narrative of A Song of Ice and Fire stops to remind you at length that the author is, in fact, very fat.

      • theredsheep says:

        More than a bit late to this party, and I’ve only read–okay, skimmed–the books, never watched or wanted to watch the show. My assumption, for some time, has been that Dany would win but do absolutely monstrous things in the process, because if there’s one consistent pattern with GRRM it’s that people who try to be morally good must be systematically destroyed. Aside from having by far the most dramatic character arc, she started a transition from “masochistic hero” to “antihero” at the end of the last book, which should mark a significant increase in her fortunes from this point on.

        As for the other options, he’s gone to way too much effort to show Cersei as an utter incompetent, the squids and the sand-people are both sideshows, Stannis is deliberately boring, and at this point I can’t recall if any other major players are even alive anymore. Littlefinger, I guess, but I think he mostly wants to pork the redheaded Stark kid and have a piece of the action. Not really the sort who wants to actually sit on the throne himself. But I just read each book once.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Nothing really, more hoping for a paradigm shift, movie industry collapsing, AAA gaming industry collapsing, some totally new musical cultural force coming out of nowhere, etc. Even television, which was the most recent entertainment industry to have a hot streak/”Golden Age” seems to be in a weird place, Game of Thrones is probably gonna end terribly, etc.

      The current slate of cultural production is in the worst place I’ve seen it in my own lifespan and is genuinely making me wonder how much I once loved seeing movies, playing games, etc. An experience like WoW 2004 or seeing the Matrix for the first time or hearing Nirvana or anything that grips enough people to really be monocultural just seems incredibly unlikely right now (outside of some billion dollar Marvel or Jurassic Park thing that gets there on spectacle instead of being resonant with the audience)

      I’m starting to wonder how much of the radicalism/irritability in the zeitgeist is how sparse good opiates of the masses are right now. The last time I got a new TV, when HD/plasma was new, it was a true joy to get through all the new programming I had been meaning to watch in HD, even the hours I spent calibrating it were sublime. Getting a 4K HDR TV in 2018 felt like a waste considering I got Hereditary, First Reformed, maybe a good 10 hours of new content all told that was worth upgrading for

      To not just leave things on a totally bleak note, I will say podcasting seems to keep getting better than ever, and I think it will continue to blossom in 2019, but it’s impossible to name anything I anticipate there because good new content comes out of nowhere with no fanfare

      • silver_swift says:

        An experience like WoW 2004 or seeing the Matrix for the first time or hearing Nirvana or anything that grips enough people to really be monocultural just seems incredibly unlikely right now

        I think you might be suffering from an unduly rose tinted view of the past and/or a unduly dim view of the present.

        Fortnite is more popular than WoW ever was and the indie game industry is giving us a phenomenally broad selection of good (as well as terrible) games to choose from.

        The Marvel MCU is largely spectacle based, but is also an unprecedentedly large attempt to build a shared universe (and is certainly present in more peoples lives than The Matrix was) and Black Panther and the Winter Soldier were certainly able to make a political statement in addition to being entertaining punchy fighty movies.

        On the small screen side of things, Game of Thrones might be petering out a bit, but it did prove that series with a complex, ongoing plot were viable. Now we have things like Sense8, The Expanse, Jessica Jones and The Punisher. There are also a bunch of upcoming tv-serie-fication of fantasy novels (Wheel of Time, The Witcher, Dresden Files, etc), most of which I think have at least a moderate (>20%), chance of being very good.

        I’m not super into music, but I’m betting a larger percentage of teenagers hear whatever the current version of Justin Bieber is than Nirvana. If there is a problem with the modern media industry, it’s not that they are incapable of making things that appeal to a broad audience.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Fortnite is more popular than WoW ever was and the indie game industry is giving us a phenomenally broad selection of good (as well as terrible) games to choose from.

          I just don’t know what people are talking about when they say there’s something wrong with gaming today. Yes, Fallout 76 is a nightmare and EA is and always has been evil but that’s the exception, because even in AAA land we just had Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, God of War, Red Dead 2, Far Cry 5. The kids are all playing Fortnite. The Switch is setting records. Smash Ultimate is the best ever. And the indies, the indies!!! SO MANY GOOD THINGS FOR SO CHEAP. BTW go play GRIS. SO GOOD.

          • ilikekittycat says:

            Excluding Fortnite and indie gaming, your list there is like, the exact case I’d make for gaming being awful now. Assassins Creed/GOW/Far Cry might have hit (what many consider to be) local maxima in the past year, but the franchises are running on fumes. Red Dead/Bethesda games/the general sprawling huge open world type of game is probably the single biggest trend I’d want to die. Playing the next iterations of each Nintendo franchise in the latest cycle is something I was tired of in Gamecube/Wii days. Smash Brothers/the style of fighter that starts you with a few guys and you play for 10000 hours to get the full roster is something I always hated. I’m glad you enjoy all that but I couldn’t disagree more.

            It’s not even just EA and Fallout 76 going bad now, even Blizzard (the one developer you could trust to put out a product worth buying day one no questions asked) doesn’t have that distinction anymore. Paradox was the developer I trusted most recently but with HOI4 and Stellaris it’s becoming apparent their games aren’t “release quality” until 18 months later and at least 2-3 expansion DLCs. There’s no games out there I’m interested in playing where I wouldn’t say “well, it’s probably better to wait 12 months for the GAME OF THE YEAR edition” because all games are essentially in beta until then, and because paying day one $60 + several DLC fees is an nonstarter compared to picking up everything + patches + the DLCS for $40 next Christmas

            I think PC gaming is in a worse state than I’ve seen it in my lifetime, and console gaming just one step above the nadir of the Playstation/N64 low poly/ugly texture era of gaming.

          • Lillian says:

            Gotta be honest, from a consumer point of view i see no distinction between waiting for the GOTY edition a year later, and the game just being released a year later. If you see it that way, things have never been better, since it means you get far more game, for a much lower price than it used to. Like the whole game, all fully patched and functional, plus a bunch of DLC, for $40? That’s equivalent to being able to buy StarCraft+Insurrection+Brood War in 1999 for $26.50. Possibly as little as half that if you managed to catch a good sale. How is that not an amazingly good deal?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Assassins Creed/GOW/Far Cry might have hit (what many consider to be) local maxima in the past year, but the franchises are running on fumes.

            Wait, so they’ve hit local maxima, and this is…bad? And they’re certainly not running on fumes. AC Origins and Odyssey re-invented the franchise. Unity and Syndicate were running on fumes. Origins and Odyssey are new imaginings. And God of War?! FUMES?! They made an emotional, personal story about the bond between a boy and his horrifically brutal god-slaying father. Definitely not a rehash of the previous games. What exactly do you want out of AAA games?

            I get that maybe you prefer the quirky indie titles (I do too! Love them!) but it’s also nice to have the massive budget AAA titles, too. I’m almost done with Red Dead 2 and it is…something. I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it rather than endured it, but I’m glad they made it.

            Smash Brothers/the style of fighter that starts you with a few guys and you play for 10000 hours to get the full roster is something I always hated. I’m glad you enjoy all that but I couldn’t disagree more.

            You get a new fighter about every 3 fights. Santa brought us SB Ultimate for Christmas and we played it off and on (I was mostly caught up in Red Dead 2 and my son in Pokemon Let’s Go) and we had every fighter unlocked by New Year’s.

            I’ll agree that I haven’t been playing much on my PC lately (but that could also be because my video card has needed a replacement for two years now but the GPU prices are still god-awful) and a Diablo mobile game is laughable, but if you like AAA games, many of the AAA games out right now are great. If you like Nintendo, the Switch and its library are great. If you like indies it’s never been better. And I love the fact the indies have made side scrollers a thing again (btw Guns, Gore and Cannoli 2 was really fun for couch co-op. GGC1 was good but the controls are way better in 2) so Capcom had the impetus to make Mega Man 11. I’m eagerly awaiting Streets of Rage 4. And I really, really, really hope the excitement Konami saw over putting Simon and Richter Belmont in SBU is going to goad them into making new Castlevania.

            Strategy games and sports games are ill-served right now. But for everything else it’s a golden age.

            Oh, and there’s the back catalog. With emulators, remasters, Steam, backwards compatibility on the Xbone and the availability of basically everything on the Xbox Online Store if you think things were better 10, 20 or 30 years ago you can easily mine the back catalog for all the good stuff you missed. I never played Deus Ex: Human Revolution (I think that’s it…the one for the 360). I got it off the online store for $2. Two. Dollars.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Strategy games are ill served?

            Strongly disagree.

            Eu4, Civ 6, Xcom/Xcom2, Hoi4, etc.

            Only a few studios are doing it, but they’re really good at it.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Civ 6 is better than 4 or even 5?

            EU4 and HOI4 are just palette swaps.

            Where’s the RTS games?

            I’m not saying good strategy games don’t exist. I’m just saying there hasn’t been much innovation on that front, and maybe even steps backwards and there’s not a lot of options.

            For everything/everyone else…if you think gaming is bad right now, tell me what sort of thing you like and I can give you recommendations of new games released in the last two years that are top-tier and you will have an excellent time playing. And that can even be things like “platformers” or “twin stick shooters” or “metroidvanias” that five years ago I would have told you you’re SoL, but today you’ve got the finest examples mere dollars away.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m not super into music, but I’m betting a larger percentage of teenagers hear whatever the current version of Justin Bieber is than Nirvana.

          I’d bet the other way, myself. There’s nothing out there now with the reach and ubiquity of ’90s-era MTV and VH1. YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, etc. are too customized to their users, and actual music television basically isn’t a thing anymore. There might be a (slightly) higher percentage of teenagers listening to music, but the mechanisms pointing them all to the same music are much weaker.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            the mechanisms pointing them all to the same music are much weaker

            Other way around, I’d say. The algorithms seem to shove very little niche music at me despite my actual tastes.

          • Nornagest says:

            Oh, no argument that the algorithms suck, but there is an algorithm that’s trying to tailor itself to your tastes. In the ’90s you were stuck with whatever was on TV (or on the radio, but there wasn’t much choice there either in most areas).

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Yeah, but DJs have taste.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          I’ll give you Fortnite, that was a big oversight, and also that indie/non-AAA gaming is better than ever and a real bright spot

          Without claiming the Matrix is great art or anything, I just don’t think Black Panther and the Winter Soldier are the same thing at all. The Matrix is/was celebrated from the transiest part of the left to the “red pill” right and everything in between. I can’t think of any of the big popcorn movies since like, The Dark Knight, that are leaving anything like that mark on culture once you leave the theatre. People enjoy the Marvel things but they’re mostly watching them the same way the Chinese do, not taking anything away from them

          I bounced off Sense8, The Expanse, Jessica Jones and The Punisher, and I don’t think of them as fantastically popular, I could be wrong. No group I talk to is talking about a TV show and how you HAVE to catch up on it like with Sopranos or Breaking Bad or GOT year 1-4

          Fantasy novels is a blindspot for me and you are probably entirely correct there.

          The fact that you say “the current version of Justin Beiber” instead of naming that person is telling that that person hasn’t penetrated the monoculture. There’s lots of mumble rappers and stuff but I don’t see anyone even on the Lady Gaga (now going on 10 years BTW) level of popularity. If you search reddit or other social media sites for stuff like “Mazzy Star – Fade into You” you can also see that things that were overlooked in the 90s were so good they are having renaissances bigger than their initial release. Garth Brooks is making a comeback and probably gonna be the biggest tour of the year, basically unreconstructed from 1997 or w/e

          (edit: Nornagest post above is correct and saying the same thing I was trying to get across)

          • AG says:

            The current Gaga equivalent is Ariana Grande, having dethroned Taylor Swift. Drake and Maroon 5 seem to have a strong hold of the charts, as well.

            I don’t understand the requirement that audiovisual monoculture be resonant rather than spectacle. Are we really going to call the glut of Big Kitschy Musical Films during the Depression resonant over spectacle?
            Marvel and Bayformers as “not taking anything away from them” seems ideal as opiate for the masses. Which is an apropos term, considering that the current drug epidemic is the result of low quality cuts causing overdoses. The comparison to “Golden Age Cinema” is also apropos, because mainstream media historically gets more kitschy and escapist and spectacle-driven when the masses are besieged by anxieties. People simply aren’t in the socioeconomic context and mindset to produce or consume the kind of content you’re nostalgic for.

            All that said, I’m pretty sure that the paradigm shift has already occurred under our noses, and we’re just not up on them because we’re old farts: the new monoculture is not in narrative media, but in “””Real””” People: http://arbitrarygreay.tumblr.com/post/178969937085/harold-and-kumar-go-to-the-topless-towers-of-ilium

            (Technically, this is a return to an old form, the worship of celebrity-as-idol, showing their stuff in variety formats, celebrities that only have fame for being celebrities rather than having an acting/musician day job, but with a new sheen of “””authenticity”””, thanks to social media blurring the lines between them and the audience. Some of these structures never left Asian pop culture in the first place.)

        • EchoChaos says:

          @Conrad Honcho

          Strategy games are ill served? Strongly disagree.

          We have EU4, Civ 6, Stellaris, XCom and XCom2, Hoi4.

          I realize there are only 2-3 studios making them, but they’re very good right now.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Double-counting XCOM seems like chesting when it’s a long-cycle single-studio franchise, but Phoenix Point is coming, so I’ll grant a pass on it.

          • EchoChaos says:

            That’s why I put both of them in the same comma section, actually.

            But I can think of more. Endless Space, GalCiv.

            There are good ones out there.

      • Winja says:

        You’ve put it more eloquently than I could, but I agree with you completely.

        Current mass culture is just garbage.

    • rubberduck says:

      As an anime fan I am most excited for Mob Psycho 100 season 2 and the continuation of Jojo part 5.

    • Kyle A Johansen says:

      I’ll second the new File emblem game. But i am also excited for finally getting the real Pokemon experience made for the television.

    • apar says:

      Thankfully I’m not yet a capital-A “Adult,” so hopefully I’ll be able to spend many happy hours in it before putting away proverbial childish things.

      Being a “capital-A Adult” means whatever you want.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        +1

        I went over to my boss’s house this weekend to teach her family how to play Smash Bros. Still sort of feel like an adult.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Avengers: Endgame
      Glass, just because I liked Unbreakable
      Star Wars Ep 9

      I’m also looking forward to the 2019 Bears season. This one was a heart-breaker, but the Bears did much better than anyone expected, and most of the lineup is going to stick around. We were a missed interception and a missed field goal from 14-2(with an admittedly weak schedule). NFC North should still be weak enough that it’ll just come down to the Bears or the Vikings, and the Bears should be getting home field advantage against a lot of elite teams.

    • dndnrsn says:

      There’s a bunch ofDelta Green releases in 2019; for my money it is the best tabletop RPG on the market right now and the people writing for it for it are some of the best in the business. Including one or two actual full campaigns – which DG (whether the standalone game or the CoC supplement) has mostly been missing. Plus, presumably Fall of Delta Green (60s DG for the same GUMSHOE system as Trail of Cthulhu) will receive support; I’m not a fan of the GUMSHOE system but Kenneth Hite is involved and he’s another top-flight writer/designer, and system is kinda secondary anyway.

    • Tarpitz says:

      The show started out excellent, but declined progressively over time and I’ve long since stopped watching it, both because it was no longer that good and to avoid spoilers for the books. And while I really hope we get Winds of Winter this year… yes, you’re a sweet summer child.

    • Tenacious D says:

      My inner sweet summer child is hoping Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord gets released in 2019.

      • Nick says:

        I for one want The Doors of Stone. I’m if anything more looking forward to that than The Winds of Winter, partly I think because it’s the end of the trilogy, while Winter is still only the penultimate book.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I just want to see if Kvothe gets what’s coming to him at this point tbh.

        • Dan L says:

          As I hear more from Rothfuss, I’m increasingly confident that unreliable-narrator Kvothe is deliberately fucking with the audience. Or maybe that’s just what I want to believe, because it’ll be necessary for anything like a satisfying resolution. 😕

        • Nick says:

          I’m not sure what you’re referring to, Dan, but a lot of stuff in the story is likely not going to be resolved. I expect we’re going to find out how the king gets killed, where the scrael come from, what’s in the chest at the inn, and what’s behind one or more of the doors of stone and/or the lockless box. But Rothfuss intended this story to be a prelude to Kvothe’s real adventures later on—so I think we’ll see Denna running off, and maybe indications that the Chandrian are still out there.

        • Dan L says:

          One example: Rothfuss engages with the con circuit, and there’s a particular story he likes to tell there.

          There’s a repeating theme of playing with metafictional narratives in his work, and in both of the main trilogy currently published (esp. Wise Man’s Fear) there’s an awful lot of the story where we’re taking Kvothe at his word about stupendously fantastical things. I don’t doubt that a lot of the hinted-at plot points aren’t going to be resolved because the trilogy fundamentally isn’t about them, and I expect Doors of Stone to significantly undercut the veracity of what we’ve been told thus far.

        • Walter says:

          I’d also be really really happy if Doors Of Stone came out, but at this point I’ve given up hoping.

    • johan_larson says:

      Here’s IO9’s list of movies to look forward to in 2019:

      https://io9.gizmodo.com/io9s-guide-to-all-the-movies-you-should-give-a-damn-abo-1831320229

      A whole bunch of big-budget franchise pictures are coming our way: “Captain Marvel”, “Avengers: Endgame”, Star Wars IX, “Pokemon Detective Pikachu”, and the Terminator rewind.

      For me, this is the year I give up on movie theatres. They are now running 20 minutes of ads and trailers before each picture, which is just unreasonable. I might as well be watching TV.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Hmm, I got tired of superhero movies years ago, I’m certainly not watching “Star Wars IX” unless its subtitle is “The Apology to the Audience”, never been a Pokemon fan. The Terminator movie will probably be terrible but I’m a sucker for them, so I guess one out of five.

        • albatross11 says:

          After the prequels, I naively imagined that Lucas putting it in Disney’s hands might actually lead somewhere worthwhile. And it did in one case–Rogue One was a pretty good Star Wars movie, even if it was basically a “the rest of the story” fanfic turned into a movie. But The Force Awakens was just a less-inspiring, dumber rehash of A New Hope, and The Last Jedi was soulless, and about 80% goofy. (The last battle between Luke and Kylo was fun, but almost all the rest of the movie was just dumb. Rey and Kylo at least have some chemistry. And that pretty-much exhausts the movie’s virtues.)

          I’ve long since accepted that the sense of wonder I felt watching the first Star Wars as a kid will never come back–Lucas tried and couldn’t manage it, and hacks like JJ Abrams were never going to get anything more than spectacle out of it. RIP.

          • Nick says:

            Yeah, I’m open to more Star Wars universe movies—I definitely liked Rogue One, and Solo was all right—but I’m passing on IX. I just see no way it’ll be a good movie.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I’ve heard rumblings that IX is being made with an understanding that VIII wasn’t well received. With that in mind, and Rogue One as evidence that they can make a great movie, I’m willing to give it a chance. It helps that my son loves Star Wars and it’s a good bonding potential. I wouldn’t go see it alone.

          • mdet says:

            I thought that the Rey-Luke-Kylo storyline in Last Jedi was second only to Empire for the best Star Wars movie. I loved that Luke had to slowly admit to almost murdering his nephew and having a crisis over it. I loved that Rey & Kyle each seemed to seriously consider switching sides, or breaking off entirely to form their own Morally Grey Side of the Force. TLJ was also the best looking Star Wars movie by far, enough to get me interested in watching director Rian Johnson’s other movies (heard good things about Looper and Brothers Bloom).

            The rest of the movie felt like lazily done filler, but there were enough pieces of a great movie in TLJ to make me think that the creators are capable of doing better. Hopefully they don’t throw the entirety of it out for Ep 9

          • acymetric says:

            Ugh…Last Jedi was so disappointing. Force Awakens was a lot of cheese/pandering to fans with a dumb superweapon, but it was entertaining and asked enough interesting questions that I was looking forward to the next one. Rian Johnson then apparently said “not only are we not answering these questions, we’re not even going to acknowledge them” with the exception of Rey’s parentage which was both unsatisfying and probably a misdirection.

            The opening scene with Poe/Hux was way too cartoony, like something from Guardians of the Galaxy. Took me out of the movie immediately. The bit with Maz was also way too goofy. I’m going to pretend nothing on the casino planet ever happened.

            The weird overuse of tracking as a plot device was a little strange. The entire premise of the movie centered around “they can track us through hyperspace”. On the other hand, they are apparently not looking for small ships (even though they probably would have been visible to the naked eye by someone watching from the bridge, let alone the scanners). This is used twice, once by Rose/Finn and once by the Resistance as a whole in an attempt to slip down to the planet unnoticed. Neither made any sense. Not monitoring for smaller ships makes even less sense than the somewhat silly classic “Hold your fire, there’s no life forms aboard”.

            Speaking of the plan to slip down to the planet, is there a reason Holdo didn’t just explain what her plan was? Everyone seemed immediately satisfied it when she finally explained it 2 hours later…seems like it would have avoided a lot of trouble (a mutiny!) if she just said “this is the plan” at the very beginning.

            Meanwhile, Kylo must be a really disappointing apprentice if after ~20 years of training with the force between Luke and Snoke he is basically equal to someone who found out about the force like 2 months ago, and is only a marginal improvement over Haydn Christensen in this role (I realize some people love him).

            Rey’s training was all cheese and way too vision focused, and I’m still not sold on the Kylo/Rey mind bridge. I’m also not sure why 19 year old Rey is so determined to redeem a 30 year old Kylo (who appears to have an emotional age of 12), Luke only wanted to redeem Vader because he was blinded by love for a father he had never known.

            Everything that happened on Crete was pretty cool, even if it wasn’t how I wanted Luke to go out it was at least done well. I remain unconvinced that it makes sense Rey would be so powerful with the force after such a short time (displaying power that we haven’t necessarily seen from any force user previously let alone a brand new one) but I guess I have to let that go.

            I’ll still go see IX, out of hope that it will at least return to the entertaining/pandering formula from Force Awakens and maybe provide something more, but I’m not exactly excited. Hopefully Poe and Finn will be entertaining characters again, and hopefully Rey’s dialogue doesn’t bring back memories of the prequel trilogy again (she was so much more compelling in Force Awakens).

          • mdet says:

            The reason Holdo didn’t tell Poe “Here’s the plan” seems to be because in the opening scene, Leia tells Poe “Here’s the plan” and he ignores her. Holdo seemed to assume that if she just told Poe to sit down and shut up, then he couldn’t break anything. She was wrong, but it was worth a try I guess?

            The Daisy Ridley / Adam Driver age difference is 26 / 35. I assume for the sake of being-less-weird that Kylo is not as old as Driver is.

            While I did praise the Rey-Luke part of the movie, I think the opening battle scene should have been set days or weeks after TFA instead of hours, to give Rey more training time. And drop the part where she lifts a dozens boulders in one try. While she seems to be more talented than Luke was at the same age, that feat is comparable with Yoda’s best in the films.

          • acymetric says:

            @mdet

            I wasn’t speculating about the ages. Canon is that Rey is 19 and Kylo is 29 or 30 (conceived shortly after the events of RotJ).

            As far as Poe rejecting Leia’s plan, my recollection is that she only explained what they would do (flee to the nearby planet) but not why it would work (it is an old base with tons of equipment to use and the First Order wouldn’t be scanning for small transports). Not explaining that part is the problem (so I guess Leia and Holdo were both guilty of this). Of course the idea that they wouldn’t be scanning (or looking with their naked eyes) for transports is stupid anyway, but the premise of the movie is that it is valid.

            Completely unrelated, but I couldn’t help myself and went back to the archives to see what the discussion about the movie was like when it came out (I wasn’t a reader yet). It wasn’t as much of a discussion as I’d hoped, but I did come across this gem from @Vermillion (no idea if they still post here) that had me cracking up. It is just this side of plausible!

            https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/12/24/open-thread-91-5/#comment-583794

            *One of my favorite fan theories about the Star Wars universe is that everyone is functionally illiterate, which is why they need droids to run everything, and why Han’s comment about the Force etc being a legend in TFA makes sense, no one has any sense of history because they don’t/can’t keep records.

      • theredsheep says:

        I am cautiously optimistic for the Zombieland sequel. That’s about it. I keep wanting to take my wife to the movies, only to look at what’s on offer and say, “nope.” Alas.

      • John Schilling says:

        A whole bunch of big-budget franchise pictures are coming our way: “Captain Marvel”, “Avengers: Endgame”, Star Wars IX, “Pokemon Detective Pikachu”, and the Terminator rewind.

        OK, but is there anything to look forward to?

        I’ve been officially done with comic-book superheroes since “Wonder Woman”, the last straw in an increasingly strained genre, and nothing I am seeing here makes me want to reconsider that position. Nor do any of the other current franchises hold any appeal, being divided between the ones that were never good ideas in the first place and ones that have been run into the ground and then through the ground into the sewage lines.

        Also not a fan of horror movies, or reboots of what were good stories the first time around, and that doesn’t leave much on io9’s list for me.

        • albatross11 says:

          Marvel movies are great at spectacle, but you kind-of have to turn off your brain to watch, and definitely you have to turn off your critical thinking.

        • johan_larson says:

          My take:

          Probably worth seeing:
          Captive State
          Terminator reboot

          Possibly worth seeing:
          Dark Phoenix
          The New Mutants
          Happy Death Day 2U
          Detective Pikachu
          Ad Astra
          Frozen 2
          The Call of the Wild

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse might be a welcome exception to your concern, if I understand it.

          (I like Marvel movies for the spectacle and fun writing, but I definitely see that as a personal taste.)

          • mdet says:

            Into the Spiderverse might be the best-animated movie I’ve ever seen. One of those movies where you could pause it on nearly any shot and frame it.

            The tired-of-superheroes crowd makes it sound like “spectacle and fun writing” is not the purpose of the action genre. Like walking out of a musical saying “Well the singing and dancing were great” and intending it as a negative.

            reboots of what were good stories the first time around

            While there might be something to be said about the speed of reboots (in which Spiderman is always the example), I think it can be really fun to see how a different creative team takes on the same characters and story. Like how a good song cover can take the exact same lyrics and melody and reinterpret it into an entirely different piece of art. If you skipped listening to Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower because why would anyone need to rehash a perfectly good Bob Dylan song, you made a big mistake.

            Not that I’m particularly interested in many of the reboots in question — I don’t recognize the director of the new Hellboy, but who’s really going to make a better monster movie than Guillermo del Toro? — but I’m not opposed to the idea of seeing a familiar story retold by a new set of filmmakers.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m generally a Guillermo del Toro fan, but I don’t think his Hellboy really worked. The thing that makes Hellboy Hellboy is the atmosphere of the comics, and del Toro didn’t capture it very well. He did make a couple of pretty good monster movies with some pulp tropes, but there are lots of movies like that.

            I’m not sure you could capture the atmosphere very well in live action, though, and Mike Mignola’s style would be incredibly expensive to animate.

          • theredsheep says:

            I stopped watching the Marvel movies in theaters when I realized I was basically only watching for the fancy battle scenes, and those inevitably get thrown up on YouTube anyway. I don’t need to see ten minutes of action on a big screen badly enough to pay that kind of money, plus travel time to the theater.

            The Incredibles does a far better job making good use of superheroes’ powers for fights anyway, in addition to being more interesting movies in general. A shame you have to wait more than a decade between installments.

          • mdet says:

            I stopped watching the Marvel movies in theaters when I realized I was basically only watching for the fancy battle scenes

            How many action movies does this not apply to though? There are some action movies that are good enough to also be watched for their not-action — Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight*, Bob & Helen’s relationship in The Incredibles, Edgar Wright’s Edgar Wright-ness in Baby Driver — but in general those seem like rare exceptions.

            I think the Russo’s movies’ superpowered fight choreography is comparable to The Incredibles, and some of the other ones as well.

            *ETA: Now that I think about it, Nolan Batman movies didn’t actually have very great action. The fights or chases were serviceable, but none were particularly notable in their own right. Replace this example with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, I’ve mostly stopped going to the movies in general, to be fair. I feel–and I know this is not an original insight–that CGI has eaten everything.

            (Also I just looked up the two fight scenes from Episode 8, following the same principle; the first was boring and silly and the second did not actually contain combat. Even TPM made the damn Darth Maul fight look good. All you kids better stay off my lawn.)

          • mdet says:

            Wait, did you just say that the Rey & Kylo Throne room fight was boring and silly? We’re going to have to disagree. The choreography was great — complex, but without the ostentatious flips and twirls of the prequels (which makes sense, since Rey is not at that skill level). The camera shots were all wide and long enough for you to clearly see every movement — no editing to obscure the actors’ lack of ability. The mirrored floors and bright red curtains that slowly burn down made for a beautiful set. And on the emotional / character level, the fight plays with the “will they / won’t they” of Kylo & Rey’s relationship, and works like foreplay for the next scene where they each have to choose which side they’re on. That scene hits almost every checkbox for what a great action scene should be, imo.

            I don’t have a problem with CG. If you can praise the action of The Incredibles, which is 100% CG from start to finish, then why should an action sequence that’s only 80% CG be a problem, y’know? It’s one thing if the CG visibly clashes with the live action / practical stuff, like when The Matrix Reloaded very obviously transitions from a practical shot to a rubbery CG one, but I think most blockbusters today can manage mostly seamless CG.

            On the other hand, CG has made it so easy to do huge-scale action that small-scale action has become something of a niche thing. I would be happy to see more action movies on the scale of Baby Driver, John Wick, and Atomic Blonde, all of which had some really great fight scenes with stakes on the level of “several people get shot” instead of “several buildings explode”.

          • acymetric says:

            @mdet

            Agreed, the throne room fight was one of the best parts of the movie. I thought the whole thing was both well done and cool to watch, as was the aftermath.

            Now, the throne room design (so much red) left a little to be desired. Also, did Snoke look like he stole his clothes from the “villain” in Goldmember to anyone else?

          • theredsheep says:

            Eh, the throne room fight looked like a bunch of people pretending to fight, particularly that first wide shot where they’re all cluttered together on the screen (you can actually see one guy move his weapon out of the way to avoid hitting Rey right in the back). The wide variety of overly-complicated zappy melee weapons made me roll my eyes, and the armor of the guards reminded me of the playing cards from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland abortion. I know they were going for the Imperial Guards from ROTJ, but meh. It might have been cooler if I didn’t hate both Rey and Kylo. And basically everyone else involved in the movie; I’m heavily biased by nerd rage here. I didn’t really believe Rey was going to join Kylo on the bi-curious side of the Force, or whatever he was offering, and it wouldn’t have mattered if she did. But that’s getting away from the action scene itself.

            CG works in The Incredibles because The Incredibles doesn’t have to be realistic; the cartoonishness works in its favor, because it’s a cartoon. You don’t see somebody do something wild and immediately think, “huh, wonder how much that cost.” Also, it was extremely well-made and inventive in its action scenes, like I said. Not that I2 didn’t have flaws, but the yo-yo effect on the elasticycle, or the Violet/Voyd fight, for example, were totally unlike anything I’ve seen in live-action superhero films. They were actually clever with the impossible things and made them serve the human action, instead of vomiting ever-escalating spectacle onto the screen. I could go on, but I don’t want to get too deeply into analysis of why action movies have gone totally down the crapper. Basically, it’s what you (mdet) said about big vs. small-scale. The action has come unmoored from the actors, and it’s hard to care about a collection of wisecracks stapled to a collection of effects shots. At least, for me it is.

          • John Schilling says:

            How many action movies does this not apply to though?

            All the good ones. Die Hard with just the action scenes would be unremarkable at best. Heat. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Off the top of my head, and you give three or four off the top of your head, and these aren’t “rare exceptions”, they’re the just the cream of the crop. Hollywood has traditionally been able to make movies where action and non-action scenes reinforce reinforce one another, and those are strictly better than movies that are just action scenes and pointless filler(*).

            Apparently colorful mindless action and nothing but colorful mindless action is enough to entertain you. And that’s fine, and you’re not alone. But in this context, that’s like walking into a discussion of comedy and saying “How many comedy movies have anything more than slapstick and toilet humor”?

            * For some audiences, movies that are just action scenes and more action scenes would be better still, but for cost and pacing reasons Hollywood doesn’t make many of those.

          • theredsheep says:

            A particularly bad example, IMO, is Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring. The two sequels did a better job, but Fellowship in particular had a problem with feeling like barely-competent walking and talking scenes used to hold together a bunch of fight sequences. And it wasn’t like the cave troll, or the balrog, or the Uruk-Hai weren’t fun to watch; it just didn’t feel like it added up to a cohesive whole.

            Now, there have always been terrible action movies. But it used to be a lot more common to have big-budget effects-driven movies that worked dramatically: the original Star Wars trilogy, Aliens, Predator, Terminator, Die Hard, hell, even the Fifth Element. Now they all have that disjointed feel, like the director isn’t bothering to do more than glue explosions to banter and trust that it will add up to a compelling narrative as long as the CG isn’t fake-looking.

          • mdet says:

            @John Schilling

            I’ll agree that Heat wasn’t a film that actually needed its action scenes to still be good, and would’ve still been a complete crime drama if it had had much less gunfire.

            But a version of Raiders where the opening scene is Indy walking into the temple and walking back out, with the booby traps mostly glossed over? Fast forwarding through the marketplace chase, and the fistfight around the biplane? The ark is opened, and the Nazis die bloodlessly offscreen instead of extravagant face melting? At this point it’s practically a movie about an actual archeologist. You get a little romance between Indy & Marion, but that’s it. Their relationship felt like stock action movie love interest, not a compelling and convincing partnership. Indy is a great character through sheer charisma and personality, not dramatic growth.

            Star Wars is only dramatically great for Luke’s relationship with Vader in Empire & Jedi. Han & Leia is another cliche romance. The first movie is just ok on the drama, but works because the combination SciFi -Western – Sword & Sandals – Samurai – WWII genre absolutely nails the sweet spot between the unprecedented and the familiar, and because it’s just all around great filmmaking from the cinematography, to the art & sound design, to the soundtrack, etc. (This last part applies to every movie on this list, but I’d argue several Marvel movies as well.)

            I never really felt attached to any of the soldiers in Aliens, so watching them flail and get dragged into some air vent wasn’t particularly interesting to me. Aliens only really gets good at the end, when Ripley completes her transformation from traumatized victim to fearless badass mom. Everything before the little girl getting captured is unremarkable imo.

            Terminator 2 is one of my favorite action movies of all time, and I still wouldn’t say it’s that interesting minus the action. Like Ripley, Sarah Connor’s transformation from victim to badass is great, but it’s mostly complete by the time she appears on screen. Young John Connor and the T-1000 are not inherently interesting characters, and the T-800 sorta kinda learning humanity isn’t much beyond what you’d see in a cartoon where “robots can be people too”. It’s an amazing movie because, again, top notch filmmaking all around, and because the action sequences are as tense, inventive, and dynamic as you’ll find anywhere.

            Besides Heat, I think Die Hard fares best because of the cat & mouse game between McClane and the terrorists, and McClane’s developing friendship with the cop. But saying “I don’t watch Die Hard for the action sequences” would still be pushing it.

            I sincerely say that Marvel’s best offerings (Iron Man 1, Avengers 1, Winter Soldier, Civil War, Black Panther but mostly for Killmonger, Infinity War but only if you’ve already seen multiple films’ worth of exposition so maybe not) all have compelling dramatic arcs, and pretty good filmmaking more generally.

          • Nornagest says:

            Young John Connor and the T-1000 are not inherently interesting characters, and the T-800 sorta kinda learning humanity isn’t much beyond what you’d see in a cartoon where “robots can be people too”.

            I don’t think that trope was very widespread in 1991, certainly not in film. It also works better in relation to the first movie: this is hard to see in retrospect because the sequel’s far more famous (I saw Terminator 2 when I was about eleven, Terminator not until I was around thirty), but taking the first movie’s unstoppable death machine and making it a good guy, while keeping its badass cred and introducing a credible adversary for it, is something that no one had done at the time. Very few people have done it successfully since, though not for lack of trying.

            Young John Conner isn’t a very interesting character, but he doesn’t actively get in the way of the movie, and that’s more than I can say for most sequels with kids added.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I’d also like to point out that I despise the trend towards “””””dynamic””””” filmmaking, which seems to involve chucking gopro footage in a blender. Tony Zhou illustrates the point perfectly in Every Frame a Painting (RIP): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1PCtIaM_GQ

          • acymetric says:

            @Hoopyfrued

            It seems like that may have been driven initially by the really really awful obsession with 3D, which resulted entire scenes (entire movies?) where the only purpose was so that something could “pop” towards the audience in 3D. Gradually the popping out of the screen obsession has faded at least a little (or is at least slightly less transparent and fits better with what is happening in the movie), but the other aspects of those scenes seem to have stuck.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I think the other side of that is that it really does cover up Hollywood deficiencies; the aforementioned throne room fight from the newest Star Wars doesn’t have the flow or beauty that Hung or Chan’s films do, but it also doesn’t tell a story the way the fight with Maul did, and the deficiency of substance shows. Painfully. I don’t know what it’s there for, and there’s no flashy cuts to distract me from that, so I hate it. Great action films have awesome fights that tell a story, good action films have fights that tell a story or awesome fights, and bad action films have fights.

          • John Schilling says:

            But a version of Raiders where the opening scene is Indy walking into the temple and walking back out, with the booby traps mostly glossed over?

            You’re shifting the goalposts here. The claim was that it is a problem when action movies are worth watching only for the action scenes, not that they should be worth watching in the complete absence of action scenes. An action movie needs action scene and, outside of maybe Hong Kong and DTV, it needs non-action scenes. A good action movie, needs for both the action and non-action scenes to be good, and in complementary ways.

          • mdet says:

            I wasn’t deliberately shifting the goalposts, that was a sincere misinterpretation on my part.

            I’ll still stand by the point that the Greatest Action Movies of all time includes dramatic arcs as simple as Star Wars: A farm boy with ennui wants to do something grand and meaningful with his life, then he gets swept up in a war and DOES do something meaningful with his life; and Raiders: A surprisingly badass archeologist meets up with his ex-girlfriend to punch Nazis over a McGuffin Box and honestly that’s the whole story and it’s still great.

            “””””dynamic”””””

            When I described T2’s action as “dynamic”, I was trying to describe how action scenes will flow naturally from a car chase down the highway to a car crash into a steel mill to the liquid nitrogen spill to the shatter & reassemble to a fight within the steel mill. I admit that “dynamic” is probably the vaguest word I could’ve chosen. Shoutout to Every Frame though.

            Great action films have awesome fights that tell a story, good action films have fights that tell a story or awesome fights, and bad action films have fights.

            I agree with this criteria. I would say that a number of the MCU films rate as “Good”, and a few like Winter Soldier might rate as “Great”, and that I don’t think the ratio between them differs too significantly from previous eras of action filmmaking, it’s just that the scale is much bigger and the branding is more prominent.

          • mdet says:

            I feel like I sounded like an idiot so let me defensively say that “The sign of a great action movie is that it would still be entertaining and compelling even if there were few-to-no punches thrown or shots fired” DOES sound like something that someone would say, and a handful of movies DO pass that test — The Incredibles and Heat, but not T2 or Die Hard. (I’m sure I still sound like an idiot)

          • Name hidden for obvious reasons says:

            Sounds too much like “the test of a great porn is if it’s just as hot with all the sex scenes removed”

          • Randy M says:

            Maybe more like “The test of a good romantic movie is if it is just as enjoyable without the sex.”
            Action, like sex, is eye-catching but usually not what makes a movie memorable.

  19. Uribe says:

    You are blind and placed on some random spot on the Earth. You walk in as straight a line as possible, having to sometimes go around objects, but you climb what you can. At times you encounter an incline or decline. Now say you notice that you have been on an incline, in general, for quite a while. You have a very good sense of how long you have been on this incline and how much altitude you have gained.

    Is there some point at which it is rational to believe that the next step you take has a better than 50% chance of being up instead of down? What about whether the next 100 or 1000 steps will on average be up or down?

    • benjdenny says:

      I can’t think of very many one-step inclines/declines; wouldn’t every the next step after the first uphill step be more likely than not to continue uphill? Especially considering inclines and declines are typically created by forces that tend towards long distance molding(erosion, mountain-building)?

      Edit: Assuming you know the heights of every mountain, you’d also know if certain steps were going to take you higher with certainty: If you had just gained a step over the max altitude of mountain height rank #10, you’d know you were clear until rank #9 at least, and so on.

    • 10240 says:

      Your next step will more likely than not be in the same direction in terms of elevation. (The trend is your friend this time.)

    • Erusian says:

      A common prediction is that the rate won’t change rapidly. For example, let’s say you’ve been on an incline where each step is 1 centimeter higher than each previous step. If you take a step of two centimeters, it’s reasonable to presume your next step will be level. If it’s 3 centimeters, one centimeter down, and so on.

    • rahien.din says:

      Consider that there are (essentially) a finite number of straight-line paths that you could follow on the earth’s surface. Your hip width defines the width of the path you can travel. You can’t walk through canyons or sufficiently-hazardous bodies of water. And there are a large number of paths that for practical purposes are the same. With a little bit of jitter to account for things like cliff edges and the like, you could take a topographical map of the world and construct a very-large-but-still-finite set of potential paths. That finite set of paths will necessarily contain the changes in elevation, should one decide to blindly walk along any path in the set.

      (Before anyone analogizes to the coastline paradox : we are working with a single person, who has a consistent hip width and stride length, and therefore we are working with a single invariant sampling rate. We’re doing engineering here, not racing tortoises. Come at me.)

      Here’s the procedure :
      With every stride, compare your change in elevation to the set of paths and determine which paths are compatible with your observations. Eliminate the rest. For each path from the subset of compatible paths, determine whether the next step is likely to be uphill or downhill. Count the number of uphill steps and downhill steps. Calculate the ratio.

      You could do this for any number or combination of subsequent steps. It’s just a database query.

  20. sfoil says:

    It’s pretty implicit in the very concept of immortal elves and analogues. Tolkien’s elves reproduced at very low rates. They weren’t literally infertile after their “reproductive years”, they simply refrained from engaging in the marital act once its purpose had been fulfilled (notice the difference between Tolkien and the modern Sapkowski, who implicitly assumes this to be impossible).

  21. Mark V Anderson says:

    The latest Reason has a short essay that trashes McConnell. This really resonates with me. It seems to me that he has been one of the worst on Repub side exacerbate toxic partisanship. The one thing in particular that he’s done is the Garland thing, where he didn’t allow the guy to be seated in the Supreme Court for complete partisan reasons, just because he could get away with it legally. I actually prefer the two guys who have been seated, but I think the increase in partisanship is not worth the better justices. Especially since the Dems will eventually get revenge and do the same thing when they have a chance, which will even out the Court.

    Usually Trump is treated as the biggest partisan, but it seems to me that he is just a clown and more of a symptom than a cause. Trump certainly has been very partisan, but McConnell is more to blame because he’s been at is longer and is more competent.

    I’m not saying that the Dems aren’t partisan too, but McConnell seems to be the biggest culprit on the Repub side. Although wasn’t it the Repub House that repealed Obama-Care something like 7 times when Obama was President ans so would veto, and so did it entirely for political reasons? It would be nice to get it down to just a few characters on each side to blame, but maybe that isn’t possible.

    I may be just rambling here. I’d like to figure out how to slow the partisanship and so know who to blame.

    • brad says:

      I don’t get what makes McConnell tick.

      Paul Ryan had strong ideological views that he wanted to stamp on the government. Donald wants everyone to be talking about him. Vladimir Putin wants power so he can torture and dismember his enemies. But Mitch McConnell seems to want Republicans to do well, especially Senate Republicans, as an ultimate goal.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        After all the stuff came out a few years ago going into the story about how McConnell defied Reagan at the height of his powers and pushed to sanction South Africa for apartheid, I don’t at all get how that man turned into what we see now

      • Kyle A Johansen says:

        You have to consider that political power is sort of zero-sum, in that there is only so much Oxygen and attention (and, obviously, seats).

        Simply defeating the Democrats keeps children safe, taxes from rising, state rights from being further trampled, oil and fracking continuing etc.

        The federal government is a tool. Democrats try to use that tool to make the rich, or bigots, ‘dad’ or whatever to suffer. McConnell helping Senate Republicans do well keeps that tool from being too effective for Democrats.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Kyle is banned indefinitely. An occasional post of this quality will not always 100% of the time a permabanning offense, but Kyle is new and many of his posts have been like this, so this one is.

      • Walter says:

        “I don’t get what makes McConnell tick.”

        “But Mitch McConnell seems to want Republicans to do well, especially Senate Republicans, as an ultimate goal.”

        I think you get what makes him tick just fine. He is a tribal chief, a sports captain, a fierce partisan. He wants his side to win, and the other to lose.

      • quanta413 says:

        Vladimir Putin wants power so he can torture and dismember his enemies.

        I think you’ve got the means and ends switched.

        • Protagoras says:

          I don’t know, I think humans do plenty of “I want to hurt these people, I’ll rationalize it as necessary thus,” probably more than they do “I want to accomplish this, and the only way to do it is to hurt people, so I’ll do that.”

          • quanta413 says:

            It might be a side benefit (I don’t know his mind), but I highly doubt his primary, secondary, or even tertiary goal in obtaining power is to torture and dismember his enemies. It “good vs. evil” view of how the typical dictator operates if you expect the primary goal of dictators in obtaining power is to torture and dismember people.

            The words weren’t just “hurt”; the words were “torture and dismember”.

            And giving enemies a grizzly end is a great way to discourage some people from being your enemies. Of course, some may feel you are more of an enemy so there’s a tradeoff. It depends who you need to discourage.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      I continue to be shocked at how little the Garland thing moved the needle. That wasn’t like, some complex culture issue with 1000 little subtle things to consider that make it hard to do the right thing, it was just straight up Marius/Sulla/Caesar era pressing the system to get what you want with 0 justification

      In the Bush era I read a lot of conservative/libertarian stuff (mostly aware of how it’d be futile/impossible at this point, but still talking about how things would be in a perfect world where we followed all the rules) about how things went wrong with Wickard v. Filburn, or the income tax technically wasn’t legal because the amendment couldn’t have been passed in good faith, or how the imperial presidency took more and more powers it shouldn’t have, and it made me sad that by the time the Garland thing came up, it was just 100% tribal/about not letting go of power. I mean, I’ve never actually encountered an everyday Republican/libertarian type that thinks it was The Right Thing To Do, or anything other than a power move, but it just doesn’t move the needle at all in terms of “oh this is a watershed rule of law/constitutional crisis moment” like I would have assumed from the stated principles in the things I had read 15 or 20 years ago

      • Kyle A Johansen says:

        It seems a bit rich for the ‘phone and pen’ people defying tradition to complain about McConnell using as much of the power invested in him to keep that corruption from getting even worse.

        The defections of the Supreme Court surely came from Democrats deciding that an unelected, unaccountable judge throwing up his hands and going ‘the constitution is out of date, this issue is too important, and if the politicians won’t do something then I will’ was no longer a failure state but the actual criteria.

        • aristides says:

          I agree with this, and add that partisanship was so bad even before Garland, that I think Senate Republicans assumed the Democrats would do the same thing if they had the chance. Personally, I think they were right about that point. The power of the Supreme Court is to great to not be tempted to abuse it. I’m conservative, but I would still support measures to reduce the SC power at this point.

          • cryptoshill says:

            Notably – this didn’t start with Garland, this started with Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork. After it was made *completely clear* to the Republicans that SC seats were not about who the people want, or who would be good for the job, but purely about who can use them to take power for their team it would be *astonishing* if they didn’t make moves like the Garland affair.

            Also notably – Schumer suggested doing the exact same thing to Clarence Thomas.

            The rules of this particular game were not set by McConnell or the Republicans, they just played for keeps twice (with Garland and Kavanaugh).

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            I don’t think Garland is remotely comparable to Bork or Thomas.

            Plenty of individual judicial nominees have been opposed before, on their own merits, but note that after Bork was rejected (and Ginsburg withdrew, largely for non-political reasons), Reagan was able to appoint Kennedy, and that Thomas was in fact successfully appointed.

            What makes Garland completely unprecedented is that it’s the first time we’ve seen a party go from “you get to make the appointment, but we may try to stop particular individuals we especially dislike” to “we’re going to stop you appointing anyone, purely on ideological grounds”.

            We’ve never seen anyone defect against the norm that hard before.

          • Randy M says:

            a party go from “you get to make the appointment, but we may try to stop particular individuals we especially dislike” to “we’re going to stop you appointing anyone, purely on ideological grounds”.

            What do you think made those individuals especially disliked, if not ideology?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            As I point out below, this awful, awful thing has been done for many years by both parties to lower-court nominees; McConnell’s only innovation is applying it to a Supreme Court nominee. As completely unprecedented things go, that’s rather precedented.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I don’t think Garland is remotely comparable to Bork or Thomas.

            True, but not for the reason you cite. Garland was vastly different because the Republicans didn’t do a hatchet job on him, sullying his name and his character. They were almost unfailingly polite with regard to Garland himself, openly acknowledging that their problem was with Obama, not Garland.

            (Oh, damn, that’s right, this is supposed to be a culture-wars-free open thread. I love the idea, but I guess I have to stop reading them.)

          • Jaskologist says:

            The non-decimal, plainly visible open-threads are the new non-CW threads. You can go nuts on *.5

          • Randy M says:

            But there is understandable confusion since the rule was changed so the CW-free would coincide with the “visible” announced open threads.

          • albatross11 says:

            Bork’s role in the last days of the Nixon administration was a pretty sensible reason to oppose him, IMO.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          The right response to that is impeachment, constitutionally, isn’t it? I wouldn’t even think it would be wrong if all the Republicans just voted “no” to confirmation without having a good reason, that power is theirs to exercise. Just refusing to go through with the procedure seems like a bigger violation, I don’t know how to express this to you if you don’t have that intuition

          • Jaskologist says:

            Meghan McArdle posted the following observation a while back:

            “I’m not insisting the other party is more guilty. I’m insisting that both sides have escalated, and because each escalation was both a response to an earlier escalation, and itself unprecedented, each side believes itself justified.”

            And right before that:

            “One thing is crystal clear to me: virtually no liberals remember anything that Democrats did to escalate the judicial wars. It’s not strategic. They didn’t care, so they’ve forgotten it ever happened, and therefore believe that GOP invented this stuff in 2008. This is asymmetric with the GOP, who appear to have eidetic memory for everything they did, along with somethign D’s did that justifies it. I don’t know what this says about our politics, but it must be something.”

          • ilikekittycat says:

            I don’t think the Democrats are blameless, to be sure. Somewhere in the posting hell of the previous Kavanaugh open threads I said (and now reiterate) the culture war escalation the Democrats did for Bork/Thomas/Kavanaugh of pretending they are skeptical of the nomination for technical reasons instead of just coming out and saying “we can’t have another judge on the court who will vote against RvW/PPvC” was intellectually dishonest

          • brad says:

            I don’t think Bork fits that sentence. First, the Saturday Night Massacre was arguably the real reason with the ideology, the ostensible reason. Second, inasmuch as ideology was the real reason it matched what Senators said were their reasons (“Robert Bork’s America”).

      • Walter says:

        Um, maybe 0 justification if you are a progressive. I dunno, like, talk to one of your conservative friends about why McConnell might have done his utmost to get a pro life SC justice instead of a pro choice one. It isn’t, like, a deep mystery.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Yeah, I don’t get how people are mystified by this. You worked hard to set up the Supreme Court as the ur-legislature which overrides all other votes, and flexed that power very shortly before Garland when Obergefell overrode some 2 dozen state amendments (somebody else can count how many voters that disenfranchises). Unless we have the court in our court, we cannot expect to win any other vote. Since everything rides on that, why wouldn’t we pull out all the stops to make sure it goes the right way?

          “The animal is a vicious partisan; when attacked, it fights back.”

          • albatross11 says:

            Don’t worry, I feel certain that as the court balance shifts right, we will suddenly see a proliferation of explanations from the left about how precedent and plain meaning of the laws should be followed, and from the right on how the constitution is a living document that should be interpreted in light of current issues and moral views.

            Why, it’s almost like most of those people don’t have principles so much as they have a side.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No, I still think the plain meaning of the laws and constitution should be followed. Which means an awful lot of the left’s legislating from the bench gets overturned.

          • brad says:

            “You”

          • cryptoshill says:

            I would be very pleasantly surprised if the Red Tribe intellectual class kept droning on about originalism and textualism after they got significant control of the SC.

          • Kyle A Johansen says:

            Gaining control of the court is about putting textualists and originalists onto the court. To suddenly declare that current Washington and university mores ought to trump the constitution is to throw away that control in order to support the Democrats.

            There may be ‘sides’, but the Republicans are the side that support the constitution and the founding fathers. *

            * This is just my perspective from over the pond.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What is it that you think the Republicans want the courts to do that extend beyond textualism/originalism?

            Look at Obergefell. Scalia’s dissent wasn’t “the Constitution says gays are bad so no gay marriage!” His dissent was that the Constitution has absolutely nothing to say about marriage or sexual orientation, so the Supreme Court has no authority to define marriage for each state. He would neither ban nor mandate gay marriage. Leave it up to the states for the people of the states to decide what marriage is for them.

            I agree with Kyle. The Republican push is for textualists/originalists on the SC. Do you think they’re all lying, and are secretly right-wing “Living Document” types, and once there’s 5 or 6 of them on the court they’re going to drop the mask and say “ah ha, fooled you, it’s theocracy time!”

          • cryptoshill says:

            @Conrad Honcho – that depends on whether I think Republicans are particularly principled or particularly unprincipled, the relative number of principled/unprincipled Republicans *and* which ones control the general Red Tribe memeplex.

            I would say that it is *entirely possible* that the push for textualism/originalism originates from cynical power grabbing just like the “these are civil RIGHTS” “Living Document” supporters could potentially be a mask for cynical power grabbing.

            That’s why I said “I would be pleasantly surprised if Red Tribe thought leaders continued to drone on about textualism and originalism”. IE: it means that the push for textualism/originalism was actually about textualism/originalism and not a mask for some other kind of power grab. That result would *reduce* my prior that there’s someone out there with a mask they’re waiting to take off and say “BOOM! Theocracy time!”.

            I don’t think it was a significant danger – but also something else to consider is the danger of winning too much. I don’t think the people who wrote the civil rights act predicted the continuous and forever expansion of the definition of a civil right, but with their memeplex ascendant that is exactly what happened.

          • Nick says:

            I would be very surprised if non-textualist views took over on the right; even if McConnell and other senators are pragmatists, that doesn’t mean the conservative judges they could get confirmed are, and sidelining the Federalist Society and others sounds like a terribly idea. You don’t build something like that for thirty to forty years only to throw it aside for the five or ten years you have the court.

          • Tarpitz says:

            I would like to join Kyle Johansen in noting – as a Brit who largely dislikes both main US parties and is more socially liberal than the mainstream of either – that this situation is not symmetrical. Unsurprisingly, 21st Century conservatives are in most respects to the left of 18th Century liberals, and as such the US constitution, naturally interpreted, is far more supportive of Republican than Democrat positions.

          • Jaskologist says:

            This is a place where we should be able to make some firmer claims. What do you think an originalist vs activist Republican Court looks like?

            Activist:
            * Overturning Obergefell, declaring that the Constitution bans gay marriage.
            * Overturning Obamacare. I think there are colorable arguments to be made, but it still ultimately smells of dirty tricks and technicalities.

            Originalist:
            * Overturning Obergefell, saying voters can define marriage however they want.
            * Overturning Roe v Wade, saying voters can ban or not ban abortion as they see fit.
            * Enforcing the RFRA. Legislatures passed the law and if they don’t like it they should repeal it themselves.
            * Striking down anti-gun laws.

            Borderline:
            * Banning abortion. This would be pretty easy to defend under the right not to be killed, so I’m not sure which category it goes in.

          • John Schilling says:

            What would a non-textualist conservative judge look like; what object-level decisions would you expect them to make differently than a textualist conservative and on what basis?

            And, where would you actually find such judges who are plausubly SCOTUS-worthy candidates? Because if this takes twenty years of the GOP planting and cultivating e.g. Christian theocratic judicial candidates in the hopes that they will control the White House and the Senate with enough margin to get such justices confirmed to the Supreme Court in the next generation, I think it very likely that the GOP will instead decide to stick with what has been working tolerably well for them all along.

          • ilikekittycat says:

            @John Schilling

            Maybe like the Thomas/Scalia split in Gonzales v. Raich? The textualist upholding things like the 10th Amendment even when they go against the culture war position vs. the jurist who consistently caves to the culture war position?

          • Dan L says:

            @ Conrad Honcho:

            Look at Obergefell. Scalia’s dissent wasn’t “the Constitution says gays are bad so no gay marriage!” His dissent was that the Constitution has absolutely nothing to say about marriage or sexual orientation, so the Supreme Court has no authority to define marriage for each state. He would neither ban nor mandate gay marriage. Leave it up to the states for the people of the states to decide what marriage is for them.

            This is an interesting case, because SCOTUS has been ruling that marriage exists as a federally-guaranteed right for decades if not centuries. Is anyone here willing to bite the bullet and argue against Loving v. Virginia?

            @ Jaskologist:

            originalist vs activist

            Elaborating on my comment above, I don’t see this as a dichotomy*. Even ignoring the differences between textualism, originalism, and strict constructionism (and the questionable track record of the preachers’ practice), when it comes to “activism” I’m mostly concerned with how aggressively a court is willing to overturn precedent. It’s not clear to me that originalists (let alone merely-professed originalists) are more small-C conservative than average – the opposite, if anything.

            *”Activist liberal judges that try to legislate from the bench v. textualist conservative judges that adjudicate the law as it is instead of what they wish it was” definitely doesn’t pass the ideological Turing test.

          • Jaskologist says:

            when it comes to “activism” I’m mostly concerned with how aggressively a court is willing to overturn precedent.

            This is not the concern that was originally voiced (though not by you). The claim was that the talk about originalism is a smokescreen for power grabs. I say that accusation needs fleshing out, and how better to do that than to list what an originalist court would do relative to a Right Activist court? A court which overturns precedent that’s out of whack with the constitution may not be what you want, but it’s not hypocritical of originalists.

            I can come up with quite a long list of things that I think are bad ideas that are nevertheless constitutional. It sure would be nice to have the Council of Nine simply override those mistaken votes, but it would not be originalist or democratic, and I think it’s a severe violation of the rules we are supposed to live together by.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Is anyone here willing to bite the bullet and argue against Loving v. Virginia?

            I don’t think there’s a valid comparison between Loving and Obergefell, because in Loving the Virginia law in question made interracial marriage a felony offense, punishable by 1-3 years in prison. There’s a huge difference between “the state may not punish you for X type of marriage” and “the state must grant you a license for X type of marriage.”

          • Controls Freak says:

            This is an interesting case, because SCOTUS has been ruling that marriage exists as a federally-guaranteed right for decades if not centuries. Is anyone here willing to bite the bullet and argue against Loving v. Virginia?

            No one thinks this right is absolute. Restrictions include tests based on age, incarceration status, fertility combined with blood relationship distance, and existing marital contracts. One doesn’t need to overturn Loving to sustain these restrictions, either.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Loving and Obergfell both rely on a very similar reading of the fourteenth amendment. The legacy of common law means that the institution of marriage is given rather enormous legal weight and makes restrictions on it subject to intermediate scrutiny – the state must argue a compelling interest when introducing restrictions. Prevention of incest (birth defects, etc) and protection of minors (age) are compelling interests. Incarceration is not, per Turner v Safley, for what that’s worth. This is distinct from marriage being motivated by a compelling interest – the argument that the institution of marriage ought to exist because it serves the state. Marriage is held as a natural unenumerated right that the state may restrict, not a privileged status granted by the state in order to encourage procreation.

            And yes, I think that this implies that the exclusivity of marriage is very much legally suspect (though I’m personally extremely monogamous by temperament).

            @Conrad

            Loving held that anti-miscegenation laws of any sort are unconstitutional, and that the state has an obligation to recognize marriages unless it has a compelling reason not to do so. That’s not a revisionist reading of Loving – it’s there in the majority opinion, an extension of Perez.

            There’s a strange strain of Libertarian thought that says that marriage is a contract between the people who are in it; the most salient features of marriage in a legal sense, I would argue, are the parts where a marriage imposes obligations on the people who are not part of it.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Conrad Honcho:

            The Republican push is for textualists/originalists on the SC. Do you think they’re all lying, and are secretly right-wing “Living Document” types, and once there’s 5 or 6 of them on the court they’re going to drop the mask and say “ah ha, fooled you, it’s theocracy time!”

            That’s a bit hyperbolic for my tastes, but basically yes. I view “Constitutional originalism” in much the same way that I view “states’ rights.” A lot of people claim to value those things as terminal ends in and of themselves, but in actuality, most of those people really just find them convenient for justifying their preferred conservative policies. This is evident by the fact that they’d happily throw those principles under the bus when there’s a contradiction between the principle and their actual policy preferences, e.g. Jeff Sessions’ blatant disregard for states’ rights when it comes to cannabis legalization.

            Of course, I’m sure there are some people out there who really do care about Constitutional originalism and states’ rights, I just think those people are rare and greatly outnumbered by the people using those concepts as shields and bludgeons. (For what it’s worth, I think Justice Gorsuch may very well be a genuine originalist, or at least much closer to one than most of the people who use the term. But it’s also worth noting that he’s repeatedly been criticized by his fellow conservatives for being “too liberal” and siding with Democrats on too many cases.)

          • Controls Freak says:

            A few nitpicks. Loving/Obergefell both fit marriage into fundamental rights, demanding strict scrutiny, not intermediate (of course, Kennedy was as opaque and haughty as Kennedy always was, so he wasn’t always abundantly clear how much 14A and how much 5A he was using). Traditional 14A EPC standards would have subjected racial classifications in Loving to strict scrutiny (see Justice Stewart concurring) and sex classifications in Obergefell to intermediate scrutiny (requiring instead that it furthers an important gov’t interest by means that are substantially related to that interest). Until Obergefell, the best explanation of what a fundamental right was came from the Glucksberg test. Kennedy threw that away, and now we’re back to, “Fundamental rights are whatever can get five votes on the Supreme Court.”

            Concerning incarceration, I didn’t spell this out, but was implying that the particular status of the prisoner was important. Butler v. Wilson summarily affirmed Johnson v. Rockefeller, denying marriage to a prisoner who was sentenced to life without parole. Turner v. Safley acknowledged and did not overturn this.

            Concerning “encourag[ing] procreation”, there is a reason why I mentioned fertility alongside blood relationship distance. It’s because procreation is incredibly intertwined with marriage (after all, there is a reason why Loving cited Skinner in saying that marriage is “fundamental to our very existence and survival“; it’s not just about lovey-dovey feelings). And States have historically used marriage policy both to encourage responsible procreation and to discourage irresponsible procreation. Sure, they can’t actually regulate the sex; that’s very much a private activity that is outside of the domain of state control. But they can regulate the issuance of marriage licenses, which is squarely in the domain of government-run bureaucratic records-keeping. So, they don’t say, “You can’t have sex with your sister.” They say, “You can’t get married to your sister… uh, unless you show that one of you are sterile.” The intent is absolutely to influence procreation via marriage policy, and it’s frankly absurd to try to divorce these things.

            Concerning bigamy, I don’t even care to discuss this. I’m just sitting back and waiting to see which portion of the left wins this one. We’ve already departed from defensible jurisprudence; the only question is whether bald assertions like “[it’s] very much legally suspect” are backed up with enough of a credible threat of ostracization to make a successful power play.

          • Dan L says:

            @Jaskologist:

            The claim was that the talk about originalism is a smokescreen for power grabs. I say that accusation needs fleshing out, and how better to do that than to list what an originalist court would do relative to a Right Activist court?

            Again, I reject the notion that these are automatically different things. Originalism is a popular legal philosophy among the Right these days because it can support what they want and vilify their enemies. I see little evidence that its popular acclaim comes from a more principled (or unified!) position than that.

            To engage your specifics, I’ve seen both of your listed Activist positions (and a blanket abortion ban to boot) argued in a supposedly Originalist way. I found it unpersuasive, but that doesn’t say much.

            A court which overturns precedent that’s out of whack with the constitution may not be what you want, but it’s not hypocritical of originalists.

            You missed the key phrase “precedent that originalists think is out of whack”, which brings us back to a mere disregard for precedent. That’s unacceptable coming from a Roy Moore. If you want to play No True Scottsman, then I’m still not on board with a mere Scalia.

            @Conrad Honcho:

            I don’t think there’s a valid comparison between Loving and Obergefell, because in Loving the Virginia law in question made interracial marriage a felony offense, punishable by 1-3 years in prison. There’s a huge difference between “the state may not punish you for X type of marriage” and “the state must grant you a license for X type of marriage.”

            First, note that this is a retreat from “the Constitution has absolutely nothing to say about marriage”.

            Second, that difference is irrelevant to the decisions reached, or to the legal consequences. Are you under the impression that Virginia retained the right to deny interracial marriages after Loving, as long as they didn’t imprison people?

            @Controls Freak:

            You’ve listed a lot of facts ranging from the obvious to the dubious, but until you put forth a constructed argument I’ll decline the diversions. I don’t think you’d appreciate me guessing your position to be “SCOTUS sometimes finds exceptions even to things it judges to be fundamental rights, therefore they could (should?) have done so in Obergefell“.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I don’t think you’d appreciate me guessing your position to be “SCOTUS sometimes finds exceptions even to things it judges to be fundamental rights, therefore they could (should?) have done so in Obergefell“.

            You’re correct, especially since I spoke directly concerning the method by which SCOTUS judges fundamental rights.

            …perhaps you should put forth exactly what you think is dubious about what I’ve said.

          • Dan L says:

            You’re correct, especially since I spoke directly concerning the method by which SCOTUS judges fundamental rights.

            You’ve said both that Obergefell comports with earlier jurisprudence in treating marriage as a fundamental right and that its decision cast doubts on how fundamental rights are determined. You wrote a bunch of other words about scrutiny standards, but they’re ultimately irrelevant to either Kennedy’s purported contradiction or yours.

            Regardless, we seem to agree on the recognition of marriage as a fundamental right protected by the federal government. (It really shouldn’t have been in doubt to begin the thread.) If you’re looking for a general argument about Obergefell‘s quality, I’m not interested.

            …perhaps you should put forth exactly what you think is dubious about what I’ve said.

            I’ll decline. Your comments don’t call for a Fisking.

          • brad says:

            I agree with Kyle. The Republican push is for textualists/originalists on the SC. Do you think they’re all lying, and are secretly right-wing “Living Document” types, and once there’s 5 or 6 of them on the court they’re going to drop the mask and say “ah ha, fooled you, it’s theocracy time!”

            I was going to respond to this, but LadyJane said almost exactly what I would have.

            There are people that genuinely care about constitutional hermeneutics. They are mostly lawyers, but most lawyers are not among them.

          • Controls Freak says:

            …perhaps you should put forth exactly what you think is dubious about what I’ve said.

            I’ll decline. Your comments don’t call for a Fisking.

            Ok. Then, I guess I’ll just leave my comments as they stand, and folks can judge for themselves concerning whether you’re interpreting them intelligently.

          • Concerning bigamy, I don’t even care to discuss this.

            As with gay marriage, there are two different questions—can the federal government make it illegal and can the states make it illegal. Do you think the 19th c. decisions that let the federal government suppress bigamy in Utah were correct? Where in the Constitution did the federal government get the power to make rules on marriage?

            Arguably the 14th Amendment limits the states in what rules they can make about marriage, but that’s a separate issue.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I was going to respond to this, but LadyJane said almost exactly what I would have.

            There are people that genuinely care about constitutional hermeneutics. They are mostly lawyers, but most lawyers are not among them.

            LadyJane, brad, do you have any evidence the Federalist Society are all frauds?

            This sounds to me like projection. You like judicial activism, so you assume everyone else must too, and those who claim they don’t are lying.

          • brad says:

            LadyJane, brad, do you have any evidence the Federalist Society are all frauds?

            I neither made nor endorsed any such claim.

            You like judicial activism, so you assume everyone else must too, and those who claim they don’t are lying.

            Nor is this an accurate description of what I wrote or my position.

            Did you wake on the wrong side of the bed this morning? We don’t agree on anything but you haven’t generally made such garbage posts.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think I’m the one who made the initial statement about this.

            I think the Federalist society and its members probably are somewhat committed to an originalist position on interpreting the law. But I predict that this commitment will weaken over time, as the Republicans have a majority on the top tier of Federal courts. I predict that will happen among judges and supreme court justices to some extent, but I think it will happen far more, and far more rapidly, among pundits/talking heads whose job is to explain or justify their side’s decisions.

          • 10240 says:

            @Hoopyfreud , I find the way common law countries consider institutions like marriage to descend from common law rather than to be created by the state weird, especially since I think most actual legal consequences of marriage are specified in statutory law. It’s weird to consider marriage a natural right when the state may change its meaning arbitrarily by altering its legal consequences; other natural rights such as habeas corpus imply that the state may not do certain specific things.

            However, given the common law treatment of marriage, only opposite-sex marriage has ever existed under common law until recently. Same-sex marriage wasn’t prohibited by the state; it had never existed under common law. It’s not even clear why the SCOTUS extended marriage to same-sex couples rather than abolished marriage for everyone (while allowing legislatures to reintroduce it in a sex-neutral way), if allowing only opposite-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Both would have required altering the common law: either abolishing a common law, or creating new law supported by neither existing common law nor statutory law.

            In civil law countries, constitutional courts generally have the authority to strike down law as unconstitutional, but not the authority to create new law (even on the basis of the constitution). In common law countries, courts have authority to interpret common and statutory law (creating precedent that’s much like creating law), and under the US interpretation to strike down statutory law as unconstitutional, but theoretically not the authority to create law. Do they have the authority to strike down common law as unconstitutional? Do they have the authority extend common law to situations it hasn’t applied to before, to avoid unconstitutionality, but without a basis in either earlier common or statutory law?

            Unlike the restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples which has been part of common law since time immemorial, race-based restrictions were statutory restrictions explicitly created by the state.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            We don’t agree on anything but you haven’t generally made such garbage posts.

            Aw, shucks, I bet you say that to all the girls…

            I asked if people thought the textualists/originalists were really judicial activists in disguise, and once they got enough of them on the court the mask would fall and it would be “WE THEOCRACY NOW” and you said basically “yes.” Well the recommendations for the judges are coming from the Federalist Society. Do they know Gorsuch and Kavanaugh and Thomas and all of them are frauds? Or is the Federalist Society also frauds?

          • There are people that genuinely care about constitutional hermeneutics. They are mostly lawyers, but most lawyers are not among them.

            How about judges on the federal appeals courts, the group most likely to end up on the Supreme Court? They are not a random selection of lawyers. Do you think that most of them also don’t care about theories of constitutional interpretation?

          • LadyJane, brad, do you have any evidence the Federalist Society are all frauds?

            The argument doesn’t require that they are all frauds, at most that enough of them are so that the organization would shift its choices.

            But it doesn’t even require that, because the members of the Federalist Society are not a fixed group. One could imagine circumstances in which, over time, the membership shifted in a way leading to the result they are suggesting.

            If that seems implausible to you, consider the case of the ACLU.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            The ninth amendment appears to be an explicit recognition of the existence of common-law unenumerated rights, and I think that a coherent reading of the constitution suggests that the constitution’s text takes precedence over unenumerated rights, but that US law cannot abridge those rights (at least absent compelling interest). Therefore, marriage is a right that the fourteenth amendment applies to in the state’s recognition of that right.

            Insofar as you can accept A) that the constitution exists to enumerate negative natural rights (freedoms) and B) that positive natural rights exist (entitlements) then this makes some sort of sense.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Conrad Honcho: No, I think the Federalist Society probably has a mix of people who genuinely aren’t political/cultural conservatives and only care about originalism, people who are political/cultural conservatives but put their commitment to originalism first, people who are genuine originalists but care more about furthering the goals of political/cultural conservatism, people who are genuine originalists but would betray their values for the sake of pragmatic concerns (such as pressure from their political allies), and people who don’t care about originalism at all and only use it as a cover for pursuing conservative goals.

            In terms of federal justices who claim to be originalists, I’d imagine you’d see a fairly similar mix. For instance, I think Justice Gorsuch falls more on the “genuine originalist” side, whereas Kavanaugh would probably fall into one of the latter three groups.

            In terms of political pundits who emphasize the value strict judicial originalism – yes, I genuinely believe that almost 100% of them are in the fifth group. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would change their stance on originalism in a split-second if it was politically expedient for them to do so. Same goes for random conservatives who make similar arguments, I doubt half of them even have any real coherent understanding of what originalism would actually entail.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            As far as I’m aware, no common law jurisdictions ever held that two men could get married until a decade or so ago. Unless you consider common law to be some sort of Platonic ideal existing independently of any human mind, it seems that common law does not, in fact, count same-sex marriage as real marriage.

          • Dan L says:

            @albatross11:

            I think the Federalist society and its members probably are somewhat committed to an originalist position on interpreting the law. But I predict that this commitment will weaken over time, as the Republicans have a majority on the top tier of Federal courts. I predict that will happen among judges and supreme court justices to some extent, but I think it will happen far more, and far more rapidly, among pundits/talking heads whose job is to explain or justify their side’s decisions.

            Broad agreement, David’s example of the ALCU is apt. It shouldn’t be surprising when an organization ends up compromising (or more generously, shifting) ideology in order to further shorter-term political goals. I can think of few strategies less effective that explicitly bringing them into the SCOTUS nomination process.

            @Conrad Honcho:

            I asked if people thought the textualists/originalists were really judicial activists in disguise, and once they got enough of them on the court the mask would fall and it would be “WE THEOCRACY NOW” and you said basically “yes.” Well the recommendations for the judges are coming from the Federalist Society. Do they know Gorsuch and Kavanaugh and Thomas and all of them are frauds? Or is the Federalist Society also frauds?

            In addition to David’s comment, I’ll repeat my earlier point that originalism is no proof against activism. Trump has also been crediting the explicitly-activist Heritage Foundation – some might find it concerning that their lists have so much overlap with the FS’.

            @LadyJane:

            In terms of federal justices who claim to be originalists, I’d imagine you’d see a fairly similar mix. For instance, I think Justice Gorsuch falls more on the “genuine originalist” side, whereas Kavanaugh would probably fall into one of the latter three groups.

            In terms of political pundits who emphasize the value strict judicial originalism – yes, I genuinely believe that almost 100% of them are in the fifth group. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would change their stance on originalism in a split-second if it was politically expedient for them to do so. Same goes for random conservatives who make similar arguments, I doubt half of them even have any real coherent understanding of what originalism would actually entail.

            +1

          • brad says:

            How about judges on the federal appeals courts, the group most likely to end up on the Supreme Court? They are not a random selection of lawyers. Do you think that most of them also don’t care about theories of constitutional interpretation?

            I’ve only met a few, but I’d guess most of them do. It’s a job that’s a perfect fit for someone that cares and I imagine parts of it would be something of a drag for someone that didn’t.

            All that said, I believe that Scalia cared deeply about constitutional hermeneutics but still wrote what he wrote in Raich v Gonzales, Bush v Gore, and a few other cases.

          • 10240 says:

            Sure, they can’t actually regulate the sex; that’s very much a private activity that is outside of the domain of state control. But they can regulate the issuance of marriage licenses, which is squarely in the domain of government-run bureaucratic records-keeping. So, they don’t say, “You can’t have sex with your sister.” They say, “You can’t get married to your sister… uh, unless you show that one of you are sterile.”

            @Controls Freak : It’s definitely illegal to have sex with your sister in most places. Homosexuality has also been illegal in many places, and miscegenation has been in some places as well.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        How mad were you when Harry Reid triggered the nuclear option to change Senate rules? Garland was the inevitable payback for that.

        There are two kinds of Republicans: the “tolerable” ones who politely lose to progressives and the awful ones who win.

        And we’re still going to call the tolerable ones Nazis anyway.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          Not mad? There’s nothing in the Constitution that says you have to have filibusters or any of that. It’s all custom. AFAIK you don’t have to even pick the Speaker of the House from the body of politicians, Congress is full of weird rules like that and could technically take a very radically different form from what we have if the body wanted it, because the next version could change everything back and ultimately its all legislators going back and forth about matters of the Legislature

          Going around inter-branch division of powers/rule of law stuff is on a different level of violation. It’s bizarre to me that I even have to explain this, the sorts of conservatives/libertarians I would read or argue with in like 1999-2004 seemed to have grasped this intuitively ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            And how is McConnell’s rule fuckery worse than Reid’s? McConnell didn’t even have to change any rules. Your anger seems to be very much dependent on whose ox is getting gored.

          • ilikekittycat says:

            Going around inter-branch division of powers/rule of law stuff is on a different level of violation

          • EchoChaos says:

            I don’t parse how not voting on a judge is “violating inter-branch division of powers”.

            Not voting on judges has happened quite a lot in the past, and will likely happen quite a lot in the future. The fact that it was a Supreme Court Justice doesn’t really change that all that much.

          • brad says:

            I wonder if everyone here will be so blasé when the Democrats expand the Court. After all that’s Congress’ complete prerogative too.

          • And has already been done once–by a Republican president.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Increasing the size of the court to pack with liberal judges actually sounds to me like the obvious next step that will be taken by Democrats in this increasingly nasty tit-for-tat over judges.

            They will justify it because McConnell did his stuff, which he justified because Reid removed the filibuster for lower court judges, which Reid justified because of the Republican obstruction, which they justified because of the Democrat obstruction of Bush’s lower court judges, which the Democrats justified because of the Republicans shoving Clarence Thomas down their throats, which the Republicans justified because of what the Democrats did to Robert Bork, etc ad infinitum.

            One side needs to step back and say “no, we won’t take partisan advantage by changing the rules to benefit us”, but that will never happen again, because both sides increasingly view each other not as political opposition, but as actual enemies.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            This has been going on for a long time. We’ve had increasing numbers of unfilled judgeships and increasingly bitter political battles for appointing judges for decades, since at least the Clinton administration. I expect that to continue.

            A whole lot of social policy that is much more popular with the elites than with the masses has been imposed by the courts, over the years, and this is routinely done to override voters, as with the gay marriage decision. It’s not a shock that this led to increasing politicization of the courts. And Congress has become increasingly dysfunctional over my lifetime, and continues its descent into a nonfunctional mess, which is part of what’s responsible for long court vacancies.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I wonder if everyone here will be so blasé when the Democrats expand the Court. After all that’s Congress’ complete prerogative too.

            Yes, it is their prerogative. But it would be interesting to see what the justification is beyond “we want more partisan political power.”

            Largely I think the criticisms of McConnell with respect to Garland are over-the-top. He didn’t change any rules. He didn’t break any rules. He didn’t overly burden the courts or the judicial system. Lots of judges have been obstructed in far worse ways by both parties for decades. As far as “he didn’t do his job!” goes, that’s also false: the Senate majority leader’s job is to decide what comes up for a vote and what doesn’t, and he did his job by deciding “this one doesn’t.”

            And it could have completely backfired on him, too. Leading up to the election our wise conservative punditry was writing articles begging McConnell to take Garland before Hillary and the Democrats swept the elections. If Hillary had won, the day after the elections Obama would have said “you know, I agree with Senator McConnell. The incoming President should have the privilege of selecting the next Supreme Court Justice” and withdrawn Garland’s name. Hillary would then install the Genetically Modified to Live 200 Years RBG Clone instead. Well, Counterfactual World Obama should do that, but I’m pretty sure his bottomless narcissism would not allow it.

          • Kyle A Johansen says:

            I wonder if everyone here will be so blasé when the Democrats expand the Court. After all that’s Congress’ complete prerogative too.

            There are non-partisan reasons for why a situation where one party controls all the relevant institutions deciding to , but if the Democrats do choose to do that they choose to do that.

            I’m pretty sure there would be less gnashing of teeth from the Democrats choosing to go to court-packing, than for Republicans court-packing in their turn.

            In contrast, a party holding the relevant institution – and if they don’t hold it, then they shut up – deciding to move onto simply saying ‘we won’t vote on your nominee’rather than going ‘your nominee is a black sexual predator’ or ‘your nominee is a fratboy rapist’ would actually be an improvement.

          • brad says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Yes, it is their prerogative. But it would be interesting to see what the justification is beyond “we want more partisan political power.”

            Which exactly parallels the only justification used to not hold hearings for Garland.

            Largely I think the criticisms of McConnell with respect to Garland are over-the-top.

            Again, I wonder if you’ll say the same thing when Fox News and talk radio goes ballistic over the Expanding the Supreme Court Bill of 2023.

        • brad says:

          And we’re still going to call the tolerable ones Nazis anyway.

          Is that the royal we?

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      With Garland he explicitly refused to do his job as a senator. That is impeachable in my book, and I’d pretty much demand his impeachment and conviction for it if I was president.

      He should have brought Garland up for a vote and used his clout to get all of the republicans to vote against seating him. Or he should have sent back a detailed note explaining to Obama why Garland was not a fit nominee. Either of those choices were his constitutional duty, but he decided to not risk 4 republicans voting for Garland and instead to use the vacancy alone as an election ploy.

      At the time I understood and accepted it as just politics, but it’s really not.

      • albatross11 says:

        It is precisely “just politics,” since it’s within the law. But it’s also breaking a norm that will now remain broken in the future, and that norm should not have been broken.

      • Chalid says:

        Prior to Garland, Democrats basically accepted the Supreme Court as a legitimate institution. Post-Garland, it’s not a radical thing at all on the left to say that the Supreme Court was stolen. You can see entirely reasonable types like Josh Marshall say it.

        If we ever have a civil war, I strongly suspect people will look back McConnell stonewalling Garland as one of the top 10 things that caused it.

        • Kyle A Johansen says:

          If we ever have a civil war, I strongly suspect people will look back McConnell stonewalling Garland as one of the top 10 things that caused it.

          A civil war initiated by which side?

          • Nornagest says:

            Does it matter? I’m sure it will be a great comfort when we’re all radioactive ash that the other guys started it.

          • Kyle A Johansen says:

            @Nornagest

            I do not believe that the left has access to nuclear weapons. At least not at the moment.

            And if we’re dealing with the specifics of ‘next time the Dems have POTUS they will start a civil war in which they use nuclear weapons so as to get justice for Garland’, then I find that very unlikely.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not suggesting that the Secret Masters of either political side are going to kick off a war by saying “fuck it, nuke them”. I’m saying that a for-real civil war would carry a lot of risk, a few months or years down the line when both sides have a real military.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            A civil war initiated by which side?

            Whichever one loses it, I suspect.

          • Randy M says:

            Does it matter? I’m sure it will be a great comfort when we’re all radioactive ash that the other guys started it.

            Since we aren’t radioactive ash yet, I’d say it matters who is likely to start the bloodshed and ash making–if there is any difference in the relative likelihoods, anyway.

            Large caveat, I know, but still, being able to know in advance who starts a war may be useful in stopping it.

        • cryptoshill says:

          @Chalid – So McConnell bears responsibility? Despite multiple bitter partisan machinations to maintain control of the court on the left, starting in the 70s?

          The Democrats accepted the Supreme Court as a legitimate institution because they knew they had rough control of the institution, and for no other reason. Republicans have been yelling (to lesser or greater degree) about “activist judges” for a few decades, the shoe is just on the other foot now.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Except I would like to know what a Republican “activist judge” looks like. The Republicans claim they want textualist/originalist judges, and that appears to be the sorts they put on the court. The shoe is not on the other foot. The shoes are off all feet. That the left perceives it otherwise I suppose is an example of “removal of privilege feels like oppression.”

          • jgr314 says:

            @Conrad Honcho (apologies, I can’t seem to get this as a direct reply to your post)

            what a Republican “activist judge” looks like.

            A current example would seem to be Judge Reed O’Connor, district judge for the northern district of Texas. Reading his recent ACA opinion, it seems to me that he used a lot of motivated reasoning to get the outcome he wanted. (disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, but I read a lot of court opinions for a “civilian.”)

            In his time as judge, Roy Moore would probably have been another example, though I haven’t read any of his opinions, so I’m relying on 2nd hand sources.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The recent ACA opinion was terrible, but it was built on an ACA Supreme Court decision that was equally terrible, so it’s tainted.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Isn’t it also the job of senators to bring appellate court nominees up for a vote?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        There is no requirement to vote. One of the previous time this came up I gave a list of many previous nominees who never received a vote.

        IMHO he should have held a vote, and, separately, Garland should have been confirmed at that vote. But neither of those “should”s is a Constitutional requirement.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          I’m sorry I didn’t see your previous post, were there nominees who weren’t eventually withdrawn/nullified or died before the body could reassemble? Was there anyone who no action was taken on and was still around willing to serve and the president who had nominated them still thought they should serve by the time the Senate was assembled and the hearing for the next nominee was taking place?

      • testing123 says:

        With Garland he explicitly refused to do his job as a senator. That is impeachable in my book, and I’d pretty much demand his impeachment and conviction for it if I was president.

        Mcconnell’s job as a senator is not to give consent to whomever the president asks for. The senate has a right to withhold its consent, and a right to use whatever internal procedures it wants in that process. Let’s please not pretend you’d be any happier had Mcconnell called a voice vote and sent Garland packing.

    • testing123 says:

      The job of majority leader pretty much IS to be a partisan hack. It’s all about securing maximum advantage for your side at the expense of the other side, particularly in the senate where controlling the flock requires more finesse than in the house. McConnell is operating just like Harry Reid, who played similar hardball for similar reasons.

  22. BBA says:

    Due to the partial government shutdown that began on December 22, all “non-essential” government employees in the affected departments are being furloughed, while “essential” employees are working unpaid, with the promise of back pay once the shutdown ends. Now it’s starting to have an impact on the general public: airport security officers are taking sick days rather than work unpaid.

    It’s unsurprising that many TSA staffers are living paycheck to paycheck, although I didn’t think they’d start walking out quite so soon. I don’t expect this to resolve the impasse, but a CBP walkout, which would leave the border unguarded, might. (Or, hell, I don’t know, the “state of emergency” could encompass sending soldiers to America’s airports to stamp passports in place of the CBP deserters. I’m sure they’d love that.)

    • ing says:

      I don’t think “people stop doing their job when their employer starts paying them in promises rather than money” is strong evidence that they were living paycheck-to-paycheck. I think it’s merely evidence that they’re not suckers.

      • A1987dM says:

        The typical “employer starting paying employees in promises” is a lot less credible than the USG, though.

      • CatCube says:

        As @A1987dM notes, they’re absolutely going to get backpay, unlike the higher chances of getting stiffed by a private employer.

        However, unless their landlords or mortgage holder will take payment in promises, they’re going to have to start finding something that’s paying them *now*. I could certainly float myself for a good time without getting paid, but AIUI the modal American cannot.

        • A1987dM says:

          However, unless their landlords or mortgage holder will take payment in promises, they’re going to have to start finding something that’s paying them *now*. I could certainly float myself for a good time without getting paid, but AIUI the modal American cannot.

          Which is also known as “living paycheck-to-paycheck”.

      • albatross11 says:

        “As long as they pretend to pay us, we’ll pretend to work.”

    • aristides says:

      Could be worse, the federal government has several LWOP options that are often trivial to get. If I was in their position, I would be sorely tempted to apply for 3 months FMLA, and go work somewhere else. Depending on how good the other job is, I might not come back. And since there is no real way to hire, I would assume that if the shutdown lasts 3 months or more, virtually no one will be working essential government positions.

      • albatross11 says:

        Is there anyone from HR around to process the LWOP paperwork?

      • John Schilling says:

        and go work somewhere else.

        I’m going to guess that if your day job is as a TSA screener, you don’t have the sort of resume that is amenable to just walking in off the street and getting a non-crap job without even the implied promise of sticking around for a year or so.

    • Winja says:

      So TSA can’t do their job of still not having thwarted a single terrorist?

      • Ketil says:

        Snide. But makes me wonder if a lot of security is “bullshit jobs”, like Graeber talks about. Stuff that we need to show that we are taking security seriously, but which has no real effect on anything, except being an obstacle and annoyance.

        Perhaps better targeted at systems than people: byzantine password schemes, detailed access prevention regimes, administrative bureaucracy, and so on.

        Anyway: The point of TSA is not to catch terrorists, but to convince travelers that they are safe, because the TSA is on the job, forcing people into x-ray cages and scanning shoes and other measures, as ostentatious as they are ineffective.

        • Walter says:

          I tend to agree, I think a LOT of security is fake. That is, it is not going to deter anyone, and is executed with the full knowledge of this fact.

          • albatross11 says:

            There is a lot of security theater–security whose purpose is to make people feel safer rather than to actually make anyone safer. The TSA is, IMO, like 95% security theater.

          • Lillian says:

            And the 5% that isn’t security theatre could be done by private security personnel hired by the airports. In fact, it would be better if it was done by private entities since they don’t get qualified immunity, and so can be sued if they misbehave.

        • eigenmoon says:

          Oh but TSA does have an effect. Namely, some people decide to travel by land to avoid dealing with TSA. As travel by land is more accident-prone, TSA effectively kills people by nudging them towards more dangerous form of transportation.

          How many? I’ve seen an estimate of 500 deaths/year but I can’t find the source.

        • arlie says:

          No no no! The point of TSA is to make air travel so unpleasant that frequent travellers pay extra for pre-screened status, thereby creating a new source of income.

      • CatCube says:

        Well, considering what things looked like before airport security was a thing (I think they had one highjacking per week for about a month in the ’70s), they’re at least doing something. Whether they do it efficiently is another question, of course.

        • Nornagest says:

          There were a couple of decades between the hijacking-a-week era and the TSA. It seems that airlines were adequately motivated to solve the problem of their planes getting stolen and their passengers effectively kidnapped without a huge unaccountable obnoxious branch of government doing it for them.

        • Protagoras says:

          The frequent hijacking era was also back when there were two superpowers who were actively supporting and financing terrorist groups to mess with one another. A big decline in international terrorism since that ended (and, of course, some of the most notorious more recent examples involve leftovers from that era).

          • John Schilling says:

            The frequent hijackers of the frequent-hijacking era were mostly not members of state-sponsored terrorist groups, but a mix of lone nuts, mercenaries, and small groups of wannabes. Rather like mass shootings today, hijackings in the early 1970s were widely publicized as a way for anybody with a gun fifteen minutes of fame and a bit of PR for whatever cause they supported, but unlike mass shootings today one could plausibly imagine living happily ever after in Cuba or wherever.

            Metal detectors and X-rays are a big part of what made that go away, by hardening passenger airplanes just enough that anyone without serious tradecraft would pick an easier target or give up altogether. Wikipedia reports eighteen hijackings of US aircraft in the decade before mandatory screening, vs seven in the decade afterwards. For the rest of the world, the numbers over the same period(*) were 26 and 24, respectively.

            * Most of which introduced universal screening later than the US.

          • Protagoras says:

            I know the individual incidents varied, but, for example, the stereotypical choice of Cuba as a hijacking destination was surely heavily influenced by the cold war context of superpower-encouraged terrorism (which, for example, made people think they might be welcomed if they hijacked an American plane to Cuba and claimed to have an appropriate political agenda).So I stand by my thesis as a significant (though perhaps not the only) factor.

      • BBA says:

        Ya know, if TSA being shut down meant anyone could get on a plane without going through security, I’d be for permanently zeroing their budget. But instead it means nobody gets on a plane, period.

    • hls2003 says:

      A family member of mine was a federal employee for decades, through multiple shutdowns. For the first one, he was very concerned. Then after it was over, he got reinstated with back pay even though he was furloughed and staying home. The second one, he was much less concerned. Again he got reinstated with back pay even though he was staying home. Further down the line, a furlough occurred during a time period when he already had scheduled vacation time. After that one, he got reinstated with back pay, and all his vacation time was returned to him. By the end of his tenure, he relished every shutdown as a paid vacation with guaranteed back pay. He was never wrong in 30 years.

      So the alternative perspective is that TSA workers may not be experiencing terrible hardship; rather, they may be banking on this shutdown being the same as all the others. Assuming it is, then (1) anyone not working will get back pay anyway for the furlough time; (2) anyone taking vacation will get pay and vacation time returned; and (3) anyone working will get back pay. Given those options, those who work through get the worst deal (though they’ll still get paid) – so it would make sense that TSA or other employees would prefer to take vacation and put themselves into Category 2 rather than Category 3 – they know that once the shutdown resolves, they’ll get their vacation time returned and back pay anyway, so better to convert the shutdown into a free vacation.

      • bullseye says:

        That was my father’s experience; but he was making enough to have money in savings while waiting for his delayed paycheck. That’s not true for everyone.

        • Gurkenglas says:

          Surely some entrepreneur or bank is paying people now in exchange for the right to any backpay?

          • bullseye says:

            I expect a payday loan place would hesitate to do it without knowing when payday will come, and the loans would be too small for a regular bank to bother with.

            Or maybe I’m wrong and the media just neglected to mention it.

          • acymetric says:

            There are also laws in some (many?) places that would prevent it. Less scrupulous lenders will work around those laws, but that is not a great place to be and the fees are not small.

          • CatCube says:

            Banks that work with government employees have often done this; here is a page from First Command that states they’re doing no-interest loans during this shutdown.

            USAA has done this in the past, but apparently are charging interest this time around, causing some ill feelings.

  23. johan_larson says:

    You are the creative director for the reboot of Star Wars. This is decades is the future, after a lengthy hiatus during which no new big-budget material in the franchise was published. As such, you have significant freedom to update the material, and make a new beginning for a new generation of fans. What changes will you make?

    • The Nybbler says:

      We’re starting over with the prequels, and we’re doing the rise of Darth Vader right this time. The first movie will, as the Phantom Menace did, set the stage with Palpatine pulling the strings of several players to create the crises of the second and third movie; this is where we’ll get our action sequences. Meantime, Anakin is discovered and put to training in the first movie; he is unusually powerful but not obviously too old to be trained — Obi Wan’s mistake should be understandable. His mother will deny he has a father (as she did in the Phantom Menace), but we will drop hints that she knew Palpatine (leaving it open whether she was a lover or the victim of some bio-experiment).

      The second movie will focus mostly on Anakin, with Palpatine’s continued machinations as the B plot. He’ll have proven unsuitable for standard Jedi training, so Obi-Wan is taking a more personal hand. He’ll be powerful but reckless, of course; his recklessness will both cause problems and solve problems not caused by him (albeit, known to the audience but not the Jedi, set up for him by Palpatine). This is where he begins a relationship with Padme, and with Palpatine, who Padme is working with in the Senate.

      The third movie is the corruption of Anakin. The Republic is falling apart (due, of course, to Palpatine’s machinations). There are factions within factions on Coruscant, assassinations and some outright warfare. Palpatine guides Anakin on a path, each step of which seems reasonable, but which are clearly (to the audience) leading him deeper into evil. Yet even the audience cannot see how Anakin could make the “good” choice; in one case it would lead to Obi-Wan’s death, in another his mother’s. Perhaps, just to twist the knife, one “good” choice would apparently kill Palpatine himself (but not really of course). The final choice goes the same way as the original; he must do something horrible (alas I am not nearly a good enough writer to write this movie) to save a pregnant Padme, and he fails, taking the damage that makes him into Vader. As in the original, Padme is in fact saved, long enough to give birth, by Obi-Wan and Bail Organa, who only too late figured out what Anakin was becoming and some of what Palpatine was up to.

      There is no Jar-Jar. The proclamation of Palpatine as dictator is done by the Vice Chair of the Senate, the representative from Naboo, incensed at the (he thinks) assassination of Padme by the enemies of the Republic.

      • Kyle A Johansen says:

        By ”he is unusually powerful but not obviously too old to be trained”, do you mean that Anakin is younger, or that the age-limit for training is higher?

        • The Nybbler says:

          By ”he is unusually powerful but not obviously too old to be trained”, do you mean that Anakin is younger, or that the age-limit for training is higher?

          I don’t believe the age limit was ever given. But to keep Anakin as a character rather than a nonce or a “creepy kid” (well, even more than he already was), he can’t be much younger, so we’ll likely raise the age limit. Maybe he’ll be right at the top end so it’s an issue but not clear disqualifier.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Yeah, Anakin definitely needed to be older; his romance with Padme was frankly rather creepy in the actual films.

            Also, make Padme a bona-fide hereditary monarch, rather than “the US President, but with a fancy title and clothes”. Maybe she could have been raised in a cloying world of official protocol, then forced to flee Naboo disguised as a servant after the Trade Federation attack. Then she meets Anakin, who, not knowing that she’s actually a queen, just treats her like a normal human being. Since Padme’s entire life so far has been dictated by rules and protocol, she finds this exciting and refreshing, providing a basis for her attraction to Anakin.

          • Lillian says:

            I don’t believe the age limit was ever given. But to keep Anakin as a character rather than a nonce or a “creepy kid” (well, even more than he already was), he can’t be much younger, so we’ll likely raise the age limit. Maybe he’ll be right at the top end so it’s an issue but not clear disqualifier.

            Why is it a problem that Anakin was considered too old to be trained? Always thought that was one of the good parts of the plot, that the Jedi Council is presented with a force sensitive of unprecedented potential, someone who could do a lot of damage if they were turned to the Dark Side, and their first reaction is “Yeah we’re not going to train this kid.” It shows how complacent they had gotten that they never consider the possibility that if they don’t train him, someone else will. It’s great when Qui-Gon Jinn basically tells the Council to go fuck themselves and that he will train the kid himself, and it provides a good set-up for Anakin and Obi-Wan’s relationship, which was probably the single best part of the prequels.

            If it were up to me, i’d make Anakin a teenager to start, but keep the “too old to be trained” thing pretty much the same.

            Also, make Padme a bona-fide hereditary monarch, rather than “the US President, but with a fancy title and clothes”.

            Personally, my preferred interpretation on the Queen of Naboo is that she is indeed elected for a fixed term (though making it exactly the same as in the US was supremely lazy), but the Queens have to be elected from among a specific group of hereditary noble houses. It fits really well with the “aristocratic republic” aesthetic the Galactic Republic had going on.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Why is it a problem that Anakin was considered too old to be trained?

            The problem is that if there is a good, established reason not to train Anakin, training him anyway requires our heroes take hold of the idiot ball. Their mistake should be reasonable.

          • bullseye says:

            The weird mashup between monarchy and democracy is one of the things I like about the setting.

            As for the queenship being exactly like the U.S. Presidency, I don’t think that’s fair.
            Similarities: Head of state elected for a fixed term.
            Differences: Age. A fourteen year old can’t run for President, and wouldn’t be elected if she could. Costume and other cultural baggage; the President dresses like a car salesman and carefully avoids monarchist terms.
            Unknown: Who gets to vote? For all we know it’s just the heads of noble families or something.

          • Lillian says:

            The problem is that if there is a good, established reason not to train Anakin, training him anyway requires our heroes take hold of the idiot ball. Their mistake should be reasonable.

            Qui-Gon Jinn’s decision to train Anakin Skywalker is not just understandable, but also correct. It’s the Jedi Council that made the wrong call by refusing to train him. Imagine what would have happened Qui-Gon had accepted the will of the Council, and a bitterly disappointed Anakin is returned back on Tatooine, where someone like Count Dooku can get his hands on him. You though Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side was catastrophic for the Jedi? Imagine what happens if Luke can’t say, “I have become a Jedi like my father before me” because his father was never Jedi to begin with. Imagine if Vader is not just irredeemable, but also physically whole with the full might of his power to call upon.

            It’s understandable why the Jedi Council doesn’t want to train Anakin, they feared what would happen if they trained him and he fell. Indeed their fears came to pass, and the Jedi were annihilated. Nonetheless they should have taken the risk, because the risk of not training him is that someone else will. Indeed someone else did, and they were lucky it was Qui-Gon Jinn rather than Dooku who stepped up to the plate, and he did so because he understood that if he didn’t the Sith would. Nobody is holding the idiot ball in that entire sequence, everyone’s reasoning is understandable.

            As for the queenship being exactly like the U.S. Presidency, I don’t think that’s fair.

            Padme establishes in Attack of the Clones that the Queens of Naboo are elected for four year terms, and may serve no more than two terms. Any American who hears that will immediately think, “Like the US President”. It doesn’t matter that they have very little other resemblance to the US President, the thought “Like the US President” will still pop up unbidden, and it’s very annoying to be thinking it when you’re trying to immerse yourself in the events of a A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Lucas could have easily avoided this by just saying that they serve a single eight year term, while having to change absolutely nothing about his plot or timeline.

          • bean says:

            Episode I makes so much more sense when you think of it as the result of an improvised RPG campaign.

            Particularly the bit about the Queen.

            The other possible conception is that the problem is one of translation from Nabooan into English.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Padme establishes in Attack of the Clones that the Queens of Naboo are elected for four year terms, and may serve no more than two terms. Any American who hears that will immediately think, “Like the US President”. It doesn’t matter that they have very little other resemblance to the US President, the thought “Like the US President” will still pop up unbidden, and it’s very annoying to be thinking it when you’re trying to immerse yourself in the events of a A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Lucas could have easily avoided this by just saying that they serve a single eight year term, while having to change absolutely nothing about his plot or timeline.

            Yes, and it doesn’t help that Anakin says something about people wanting to “amend the constitution” to allow her to stand for a third term.

            Also, maybe it’s just me, but I though that Padme’s description of her childhood makes it sound almost exactly like that of an upper-class late-twentieth-century American blue-tribe girl, complete with Peace Corps and Model UN analogues. I just found this quite disappointing and unimaginative.

      • yodelyak says:

        Re-do The Phantom Menace, to solve its other major problems. Make young Anakin likeable.

        Do not get rid of Jar-jar. Do not sanitize him or make his imbecility less annoying.

        Then, in episode two, as many others have suggested, focus on the steady ruin of Anakin via Sith suggestions and string-pulls creating situations where good intentions create deep rifts between Anakin and other characters. But don’t use the sith that everyone knew about–Palpatine. Use the Sith no one knew about. Use the sith who used the force in front of everyone, the whole time, without even the audience noticing he was using it.

        Use Jar-jar.

    • ing says:

      I produce episodes 4-6 as “Star Wars: Luke’s Story” with three episodes. I’m willing to discuss names other than “Luke’s Story”, but I’m not willing to start a series with episode 4. I don’t want to create an expectation that somebody will later create prequel stories which will inevitably be lame because we know how it all ends.

      Also, perhaps you’ve seen http://yudkowsky.tumblr.com/post/181121498760/the-empire-strifes-back?

    • sfoil says:

      I’m going to play off The Nybbler here since I feel basically the same way.

      Episode I — really, the whole PT — did the string-pulling Machiavellian aspects of Palpatine right. That can stay. Make it clear the Jedi are knights-errant instead of FBI agents. Qui-Gon is wise and good but also dissatisfied with the attempts of the Jedi Council to centralize the Jedi and more closely integrate with the Republican government; he only has respect for Yoda and has derogatory nicknames for the other council masters. He sees objections to the recruitment of Anakin as bureaucratic obstruction to the mystical aspects of Jedi traditions. No midichlorians. Pod-racing stays. Padme is the hereditary monarch of Naboo, and the “Chancellor” is a regent.

      Make the battle scenes less retarded; have the Gungans fight a guerrilla/ambush war against the droids moving through the jungle instead of forming up in a ridiculous pseudo-Napoleonic battle line.

      After Darth Maul kills Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan runs away.

      In episode II, the CIS turns to clones based on the poor performance of battle droids during the events of Episode I, although some are still around. The Republic begins training an all-volunteer armed force as outer systems secede and rumors of Mandalorian assistance to the CIS create panic. The Jedi Council insists on being given operational control of the armed forces; their mismanagement culminates in scores of Jedi fighting in a colosseum somewhere with substantial loss in a failed attempt to go after Dooku. Fortunately, a young officer named Tarkin saves the day when he destroys most approaching reinforcements from orbit and lands troops headed by another guy named Veers to finish them off. The men discuss and blame incompetent Jedi generalship on casualty aversion and lack of strategic sense, along with the superiority of mass and firepower over Jedi warrior ways.

      Lucas hires someone else to write romantic dialogue, and finds someone who can at least pretend to enjoy making out with Natalie Portman. Anakin is portrayed as something of a naive boy-toy to the still-charmed older Padme. Anakin fights and kills Darth Maul, after which Obi-Wan confesses what happened when he and Qui-Gon fought him in Episode I.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Episode I — really, the whole PT — did the string-pulling Machiavellian aspects of Palpatine right.

        [Vader]NnnnooooooooooooooooOOOoooOOOoooooo![/vader]

        None of Palpatine’s plans made any sense in the PT (or TPM). If his underlings had carried out their orders successfully, Palpatine would never have come to power. Instead his plans were foiled in unpredictable ways that somehow magically result in him “succeeding.”

        So the plot of TPM is that Palpatine is engineering a crisis on Naboo that the weak Republic Senate is unable to solve, thereby triggering a vote of no confidence against Chancellor Valorum, moving Palps into that spot and conditioning people to want a more powerful government, with an army. This is vastly overcomplicated for a children’s movie but whatever.

        The Jedi show up at the blockade to resolve the situation (because I guess Jedi are expert Space Taxes negotiators or something) and Palps tells the Trade Federation guys to kill them. Assume they succeed in this. The murder of official government negotiators, flying a flag of truce on your own turf, and Jedi no less, is unforgivable and unignorable. Now the Republic and Valorum have a direct casus belli to send troops, either from individual member worlds or from a newly formed Republic army. The whole murky “what can we do?” thing is gone. Palpatine should have told the bug-faced guys to tell the Jedi “there will be no negotiations. Order them to leave.” They would then report back to the Senate “nothing we can do. Valorum?” which would have prolonged the crisis in ways Valorum could not solve.

        Instead they try to kill the Jedi and then invade. Landing for some reason on the other side of the planet from the capital and then driving there. They capture the capital and the queen and Palps tells the Trade Federation guys “I want that treaty signed!” Okay, so what happens if Padme is all like “oh shit, we’re fucked, I guess I’ll sign the treaty.” Doesn’t that end the crisis? There’s no more conflict. Naboo and the Trade Federation had a dispute on Space Taxes, they had a kerfuffle, now they’ve signed a treaty and Naboo will pay more Space Taxes or charge less or whatever and it’s all over.

        None of these things make any sense. If his underlings had executed Palpatine’s orders correctly then Palp would never have been Chancellor. Instead everyone fails spectacularly but it all works out for Palps anyway.

        • albatross11 says:

          The real killer problem with the Star Wars universe is that none of it makes much sense if you’re looking at the big picture. Ten semitrained guys with off-the-shelf blasters can reliably kill a jedi that takes a decade to train and requires a monklike devotion to duty and the jedi religion, so it’s silly that jedi are seen as anything but a ceremonial guard. An impoverished slave child can build a sentient robot using standard parts and software, but there’s still slavery, widespread hunger, and starving kids doing shitty dangerous jobs. (I guess because the impoverished slave children don’t bother ordering their droid slaves to do the shitty dangerous jobs?) Everybody is horrendously stupid. The technology makes no sense. The form of government makes no sense. Etc.

          Telling an adventure story in a corner of that universe works, because the plot moves quickly and because there’s not much reason to think about why the society works as it does when you’re watching a farmboy get swept up into a civil war. But the bigger sweep you needed for episodes 2, 3, and the latest couple turkeys basically required you to think about why things worked the way they did. You could do the necessary worldbuilding and think through a reasonable explanation for some of what appeared in episodes 4,5,6 in a pinch, and use that as the backdrop for better broad-sweep stories, but nobody involved in any of the movies ever had any intention of doing *that*. No toy tie-ins are going to come from *that* kind of work.

          • INH5 says:

            Re: The Jedi. That seems roughly equivalent to saying that Navy SEALs are worthless because each one costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to train and can easily be killed in a fair fight by 10 semitrained militia armed with black market AK47s. The facts are true, but the conclusion seems to be missing the point.

          • theredsheep says:

            An ordinary medieval knight also took a long time to train, and could be taken down far more easily than a Jedi OR a SEAL. Also, the Jedi as shown in the prequels fight rather stupidly; they just rush forward twirling lightsabers en masse. You have magic–including the ability to communicate telepathically, lift things with your mind, leap enormous distances, move at superhuman speed, etc.–and you’re going to do a banzai charge?

            Not saying the SW universe makes sense–it should be far more heavily automated, to be consistent–but I could see Jedi, properly used, doing enormous damage.

          • Randy M says:

            An ordinary medieval knight also took a long time to train, and could be taken down far more easily than a Jedi OR a SEAL.

            Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good crossbow at your side

          • John Schilling says:

            Ten semitrained guys with off-the-shelf blasters can reliably kill a jedi that takes a decade to train and requires a monklike devotion to duty and the jedi religion

            Ten semitrained guys are just going to stand there knowing that the first guy to fire a shot is absolutely certainly going to be killed by his own blaster bolt so that the last guy to fire a shot can go home and say “We killed a Jedi! We badass!”

            Same goes for ten guys who are trained to the peak of human ability in e.g. marksmanship. To kill a Jedi, you need ten guys who are very well trained in a completely different area. Guys like that are, historically quite hard to come by – though if you can find even one and then infinitely clone him, then the Jedi are maybe obsolete.

            Battle Droids, also, might be an effective countermeasure, but there don’t seem to be many of those in the long-ago/far-away galaxy. The Trade Federation had a bare handful of dedicated combat models, and a lot of what look like general-purpose units handed cheap blasters and copies of “Infantry Combat for Dummies”.

          • hls2003 says:

            Ten semitrained guys with off-the-shelf blasters can reliably kill a jedi

            While I get the point, and your number is thrown out there for effect, this actually seems like an interesting mental exercise. Based on what we know of the Jedi, if a real person possessed those same capabilities, how many (basic-level but not incompetent) opponents would we expect him to defeat in open battle more often than not?

            So the “Real Jedi” has access to superhuman speed, strength, and agility; limited precognitive sense sufficient to allow positioning to deflect / direct incoming projectiles; limited telekinesis; and a weapon capable of deflecting his opponents’ weapons (including projectiles) back at them without noticeable impact and of cutting through any defensive material without substantial effort. He can also use tactics, cover, his opponents’ weapons against them, etc. I suppose one could include mental powers, but for this exercise I’d limit him to being able to perhaps incapacitate / control a single person at a time, not anything like “he’d blind them all and sneak away for a more opportune fight” even though that would certainly make sense.

            His opponents would be enlisted infantry, let’s say armed with some sort of gun, capable of acting as a cohesive group but not with elite-level coordination / commando training. They have significant determination but not unlimited morale – if 20 out of 22 get cut down, the last two are probably running.

            I’d say eight, about a squad’s worth.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In an environment with a lot of cover and concealment, your Jedi could probably defeat any number of ordinary infantrymen. He’ll have them blasting at shadows and at each other, and he’ll split them apart and defeat them in detail.

          • hls2003 says:

            I suppose it is an unfair question without specifying the battleground. In the spirit of the movies, how about three different options, potentially giving three different answers: (1) Nakatomi Plaza from Die Hard, (2) the forest from First Blood, and (3) sand hills on Tatooine.

            I’d then amend my answer to about 50 for Nakatomi Plaza (John McClane killed 10 in that cover-rich environment); 100 for the forest (that’s probably about how many they had in the manhunt for Rambo, though he only disabled a couple men before being cornered and presumed dead); and my original 8 for fairly open ground on Tatooine.

          • Dan L says:

            Guys like that are, historically quite hard to come by – though if you can find even one and then infinitely clone him, then the Jedi are maybe obsolete.

            It probably deserves emphasis that a rank-and-file clone trooper is probably well above-average by Mandalorian standards. Semi-trained they ain’t.

        • sfoil says:

          The reason it worked is that it didn’t matter what the outcome was — Palpatine was playing both sides. Now, I’m not trying to give the movies too much credit, but it wasn’t a serious flaw.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But he wasn’t playing both sides. If his plans had succeeded, he would have lost.

            Imagine Padme folds, and signs the treaty as Palpatine (through the Trade Federation) demanded. How does Palps become chancellor then?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Conrad Honcho,

            I agree that the plan was dumb overall but there was an obvious way forward:

            Just keep pushing.

            If the Trade Federation rolls over Naboo and the Galactic Senate shrugs, then tell the Nemoidians to attack some other sympathetic world. It’ll be that much easier to convince them now that they’ve just won by going all-in on that strategy, and Chancellor Vallorum looks like an even bigger dunce for failing to stop them at Naboo. The longer the Galactic Senate seems to be appeasing the Trade Federation, the stronger Palpatine’s case that they’re too corrupt and weak to keep the peace.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Palpatine knew Padme, and presumably was confident that she’d rather die than sign – so Palpatine gets to blame the death of two Jedi and a monarch on Valorum’s inaction, while also weakening the Jedi’s position as negotiators and diplomats.

            Landing the army and marching to Theed lets Palpatine show off the ruin of a Republic planet, lots of dead bodies and destroyed architecture and landscape, and blame that on Valorum too.

            Basically, Palpatine’s job on Naboo was to make the invasion as theatrically evil as possible given that the people he was able to get to actually do it were there for space taxes, had a powerful army, and were immensely stupid.

          • albatross11 says:

            If your goal is to get rid of the most of the jedi, you don’t need to engineer a war with clones and droids. (Though getting the jedi to go to war against lots of mooks with blasters seems like a good way of thinning their ranks–like sending fully-trained Samauri wielding swords to face US Marines during WW2.) Just wait for Anakin to go to the jedi temple[1], and then drop a great big bomb on it. Blame it on terrorists. Tragically, what with the terrorist threat and the conversion of 98% of the jedi to a big, steaming radioactive crater in the middle of town, we have no choice but to form a military full of guys with blasters who take six months to train[2], instead of guys with laser swords who take ten years to train.

            [1] The real reason for Anakin’s turn to the dark side: not only would the jedi council not give him tenure, they stuck him with a heavy teaching load!

            [2] But maybe this time include some marksmanship training, so they don’t miss every single shot they take. Hell, give them some decent armor too–it doesn’t have to stop blasters or light sabers, but it ought to be enough to stop Ewok-launched rocks and unarmed Wookies from clobbering them.

          • John Schilling says:

            Imagine Padme folds, and signs the treaty as Palpatine (through the Trade Federation) demanded. How does Palps become chancellor then?

            Possibly he doesn’t, but instead becomes the Grand Poobah of the Trade Federation, de facto ruler of the galaxy. If you’re playing all-paths-lead-to-victory, you have to be open-minded about what victory looks like.

            As Nabil notes, the Trade Federation isn’t going to quietly stop after subjugating Naboo. They didn’t stop after being decisively defeated at Naboo; a victory would just have encouraged them. Most outcomes of Palpatine’s plan will leave him as simultaneously A: the de facto and to some extent de jure leader of the anti-Federation resistance in the Senate and the Republic at large and B: the de facto leader of the Trade Federation. So long as that conflict continues, every victory for either side increases his power. And with a major voice on the war councils of both side, he can make sure the conflict isn’t quickly resolved nor allowed to fade away.

            If the Galactic Republic prevails in the long run, it won’t be under Chancellor Valorum. If the Trade Federation prevails, it’s not like Nute Gunray is going to be calling the shots. Both of those are invertibrates, and there’s one obvious replacement in both camps.

            The actual outcome is not the best outcome for him,as it leaves Padme to contend leadership for the “leader of the Resistance” role on one side of the fence, and leaves the Trade Republic weakened and in need of new allies on the other. It might not have taken him ten years to nab the Chancellorship and then the Imperial Throne if he’d taken the more direct path.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @Conrad

            But he wasn’t playing both sides. If his plans had succeeded, he would have lost.

            Imagine Padme folds, and signs the treaty as Palpatine (through the Trade Federation) demanded. How does Palps become chancellor then?

            All he had to do was push one of his pawns (Trade Federation in this case, but he had many – see Episode II) to do something that required Republic intervention. Then, as soon as someone complains to the Senate, have the bureaucrats hamper Valorum and prove that the Senate couldn’t function. Pushing the Federation to go to war and be all evil was distinctly part of the plan. And the real kicker here is that Palpatine was right! The Senate, with no functional power to implement its decisions, was beholden to their members to enforce the rules. As soon as one side in a conflict blatantly snubs those rules, the whole system breaks down. The Jedi were the one force that could operate successfully, which is why they were sent in Episode I, and why the orders were simply to kill them. No matter that killing the Jedi was a massive problem that needed condemnation – that would have allowed the Senate to break down earlier.

            All roads lead to Palpatine getting an opportunity to show the Senate as non-functional. The real question is, how much did Palpatine engineer the Senate that way, verses coming to understand its true dysfunction and exploit it.

            But once it’s as weak and ineffective as we see in Episode I, there are a million ways to create a conflict that would lead to the desired situation.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But my argument is that if his orders to his subordinates in TPM were carried out, his plan of creating a crisis fails. Responding with “but then he would have done something else!” misses the point.

            Plan A: Shoot self in foot.

            Plan B: Do something competent.

            Why not just start with Plan B?

          • Walter says:

            @Conrad:

            The ‘something competent’ is the setting up the heads-I-win, tails-you-lose situation. It isn’t doing something different for him to take the other fork if stuff goes different from how he was expecting, that’s the point of the plan.

            He sends the Trade Fed to push the people of Naboo, expecting the Naboo to resist. What happens if they don’t? The movie doesn’t exactly go there, but it seems like either ‘push harder’ or ‘you have what you want, you now lead a trade federation that can do whatever it wants to planets’ is a valid response. Neither is doing something different, they are just continuations of the declared plan.

          • Nornagest says:

            Palpatine’s goal in the prequels is to create a threat pressing enough that he can use it to get himself granted supreme executive power and a clone army loyal to him installed over whatever the Old Republic’s regular military is. If a secession crisis won’t do the job, a hostile neighboring power with a battle station that can blow up planets (we first see the Death Star plans in Episode II) probably will. That might even have been his first plan.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Both of your examples are things that someone would complain about to the Senate, if carried out. Killing the Jedi, obviously so, as you noted. Getting the Queen to sign a treaty under duress would get to the Senate about as soon as the Federation ended the blockade. (They would have to, since their interest was trade and the blockade would prevent that). The fact that it was under duress would be pretty obvious and at least require Senate investigation. Either way, it goes to the dysfunctional Senate where the plan unfolds.

            As far as how dumb the Federation was – Palpatine’s promise to the Federation was that he would stop any Senate action, which he does exactly as promised. Had they not lost to the rebels, they would have controlled the planet and forced further action. Presumably that would have been Palpatine’s chance to bring about the clone army, but he had to engineer a further plot to enact that portion.

            Since he was also Sidious, which the Federation did not know was Palpatine, he could play both sides earnestly.

          • John Schilling says:

            But my argument is that if his orders to his subordinates in TPM were carried out, his plan of creating a crisis fails.

            The Trade Federation invading and conquering a peaceful planet by brute military force, overthrowing its democratically-elected government and charismatic young queen, isn’t a crisis in your book?

            Seems unlikely, but if so it is just another path to victory. Just have the Trade Federation keep on invading and conquering planets, each instance of which is Not A Crisis, until they rule all the planets. Palpatine rules the Trade Federation, so mission accomplished.

            The more planets the Trade Federation can conquer before the Republic says “Hey wait this is a crisis, we should probably do something about it”, the stronger Palpatine’s position in both camps. So a quick and bloodless victory over Naboo would be in his interest if he can achieve it; it just isn’t necessary.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Okay, I concede. You have convinced me Lucas is a masterful scriptwriter.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Hah, hardly – but Palpatine’s plot arc was about the only thing in those movies that was fairly well written, [mostly] well acted, and made consistent sense. That’s one of the few areas of the films that I will defend.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            OK, you guys have convinced me that Palpatine’s plan in TPM isn’t as dumb as I’d thought it was. One thing I’d still like explained, though, is why the Trade Federation were taking orders from him. It’s clear from the way they interact with him that he is in charge rather than just giving them advice and encouragement, but how did he actually get to be in charge? And why do the Trade Federation still follow his orders in AOTC and ROTJ, even though his plans in TPM have led to nothing but disaster for the Trade Federation?

          • John Schilling says:

            As Mr. Doolittle says, plotting is only one facet of screenwriting, and one Lucas has always been pretty good at. Characters, and especially dialogue, not so much. Sometimes his actors could cover up that deficiency, but that’s something that e.g. a thirty-something Harrison Ford can do but is a but much to expect from a 9-year-old Jake Lloyd. And unfortunately Hayden Christiensen at 20 wasn’t the answer either.

            For that matter, many of the plotting deficiencies in the prequel trilogy were I think forced by the decision to introduce Anakin as a cute precocious child and somehow build a character arc that has to end with both Darth Vader and Luke+Leia. Since the political intrigue of TPM was almost completely separated from Anakin, that worked like nothing else in the trilogy did.

          • bullseye says:

            @albatross11

            Bombing the Jedi Temple would take out whoever happens to be there but leave most of the order alive. There are a *lot* of Jedi; about 10,000 according to the Rebels cartoon. (How does Yoda train all the younglings? I figure he’s the head teacher and there are other teachers we don’t see.)

            The clones have good aim and do an excellent job of killing Jedi in Episode III. The Stormtroopers in the original trilogy aren’t clones (and not all of them have bad aim either; the ones in the opening scene who capture Leia are capable enough).

          • Walter says:

            @The Original Mister X:

            I think it is important to remember that the Trade Federation aren’t following Palpatine, they are following Sidious. They know him as a mysterious Sith Lord, who seems to have great insight into the gov’s workings and influence over it. They don’t suspect him of leading them to ruin on the gov’s behalf, because if that was his aim why help them out in the first place!

            Essentially they know he is not a gov partisan, so they assume he is a fed partisan. Red Team / Blue Team thinking. His actual plan is out of context for them.

            If that doesn’t seem plausible, fall back on dude having mind control powers.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I recant my earlier concession!

            Okay, so the argument is that he’s playing both sides and doesn’t care who wins because he’s in charge of both.

            But, at the start of TPM, he’s not in charge of the Republic, just moderately powerful within it. And the Republic is much more influential and well established than the Trade Federation. While yes, being in charge of a Trade Federation that can conquer Naboo (and then perhaps other worlds) is good, being in charge of the Republic is much better. Why build your own institution from the ground up when you can co-opt someone else’s? (e.g., Trump taking over the Republican party rather than starting a 3rd party).

            So, he’s still better off prolonging the crisis so he can depose Valorum and move up in the Republic rather than ending the crisis swiftly, taking over Naboo and then making a new crisis that maybe this time will do the trick. He should still not try to murder the Jedi nor force Padme to sign the treaty, as prolonging the crisis is the quicker and easier path to power, and the Sith are kind of all about the quick and easy paths to power.

            Also wrt to stormtroopers being bad shots, remember that on Death Star I the troopers were on orders to let the gang escape so Vader could track them back to their base. Leia immediately recognizes how easy their escape was. In every scene besides the ones in which they’re deliberately trying to miss, the stormtroopers are expert marksmen.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @ Original Mister X

            It’s clear from the way they interact with him that he is in charge rather than just giving them advice and encouragement, but how did he actually get to be in charge? And why do the Trade Federation still follow his orders in AOTC and ROTJ, even though his plans in TPM have led to nothing but disaster for the Trade Federation?

            I always saw this as basic greed. The Federation are interested in trade and money, but lack political power. Sidious offers them support in the Senate and presumably was convincing (maybe he did some other things for them previously) about his ability to do it.

            Once established in their relationship, his strong will and political power is the natural leader. They appear quite weak-willed and soft. In Episode I the various people on the bridge take turns poo-pooing Sidious’s plans and freaking out about the Jedi. They also use a droid army, separating themselves from any front line action. When Padme storms the palace, they just stand around and let themselves get captured. By the time Episode I comes around, they are also quite afraid of Sidious and don’t feel that they have the ability to back out of their arrangement. Since Sidious wields political power, they can’t expose him, and they can’t beat him mentally or physically. They’re quite stuck.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @ Conrad

            Okay, so the argument is that he’s playing both sides and doesn’t care who wins because he’s in charge of both.

            But, at the start of TPM, he’s not in charge of the Republic, just moderately powerful within it.

            That’s missing the point. He was able to take influence over the Federation because they are relatively small and weak, but they are not an end, but a means to the greater prize of the whole Republic. His purpose was never to successfully use the Federation, but to create an unjustifiable incident. Killing the Jedi alone might have done it, but invading should work if not. He gets the Federation to do something that requires action from the Senate. Then he follows through on [Sidious’s] promise to bog down the Senate, so the Federation feels like Sidious is following through on his end of the deal and they continue to support him.

            When Valorum can’t fix an obvious problem, that sets the stage for “new leadership” in the form of Palpatine himself.

          • John Schilling says:

            So, he’s still better off prolonging the crisis so he can depose Valorum and move up in the Republic…

            The objective isn’t to depose Valorum and move up in the Republic, the objective is to create and rule an Empire. The long pole in that tent, if he follows the Republican path, is turning the Trade Federation into something the Senate will be sufficiently frightened of that they vote for at least a de facto Emperor, rather than just a new Chancellor.

            In the plan as executed, that took ten years and the creation of a “separatist alliance” around the defeated Trade Federation and a new Sith apprentice. If the Federation had been victorious in the first round, winning an extra dose of prestige and a wealthy planet of their very own, it would likely have been faster.

            And there’s still a good chance that when news gets out that the Federation has conquered Naboo and killed or subjugated the Good Queen Amidala while Valorum did nothing, Palpatine will be able to make that vote of no confidence stick. But exactly when he moves behind the slightly bigger desk of the Chancellor is secondary to the great work of replacing that desk with a throne. Because when the throne is ready, there’s approximately zero chance that Valorum will be sitting on it.

          • albatross11 says:

            Stormtroopers are bad shots when firing at people wearing plot armor.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Okay, I guess I can think of one really good reason for Palpatine to pick the “worse” option of murder/invasion: that’s what’s in the perceived self-interest of his Trade Federation lackeys. Not that they seem keen to or even able to resist Sidious, but what exactly do Nute and pals say when Sidious says “don’t invade or force Padme to sign the treaty. I want to drag this out as long as possible so I can take over the Republic.” “Uh, Mr. Sidious, sir, we kind of wanted our Space Taxes? Or…to not have to pay Space Taxes? Or whatever it is we’re doing here? How exactly does just being a big expensive distraction help us?” It’s easier to manipulate your lackeys when you’re telling them to do things they think they want.

            Given this, what works out best for Palpatine is for the Trade Federation to invade and fail rather than invade and succeed or not invade at all. But either of those are probably fine, too. Still, maybe a little dialogue between Palps and Maul where he explains his wisdom would have been nice.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Start over with some hitherto unknown, or at least unpopular, characters. In a pinch, if my team can’t come up with anything worthwhile, use Admiral Thrawn, or Mara Jade, or some similarly notable and interesting characters from the Expanded Universe.

      While The Last Jedi is certainly… controversial, I agree with its main thesis: let the past die. We are what we grow beyound.

      • albatross11 says:

        The next episode should have this charismatic military leader named Cheradenine Zakalwe show up and offer his services to the Rebellion, along with this chick named Diziet Sma and a funny-looking new floating droid she brought with her.

        • Bugmaster says:

          As amusing as that would be, there’s virtually no AI in the Star Wars universe — except for the human-level AI of the droids — so the scenario wouldn’t quite fit. However, if you took out the Culture emissaries and just left Zakalwe, that could be an interesting show… probably a bit too dark, though.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suppose liberating the droid slaves from their biological masters would be one of the big causes the Culture types would be shooting for.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’d read that fanfic, but you can’t do a Banks pastiche without at least one gratuitously disgusting torture scene, and there’s no way in hell that’d fly in a Star Wars film.

    • Fitzroy says:

      Star Wars’ USP is the Force – without that it’s just any other sci-fi – so I would want to major on that.

      In particular, I’ve never been happy with the way the Dark Side, and falling to it, is presented. Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” and the Jedi seem to try to avoid emotional attachment for related reasons – emotions cloud judgement etc. etc.

      But the one time we see someone fall to the Dark Side it seems to go:

      Whiny Emo Teen gets laid –> has visions of wife dying (fear) –> Dark Lord of the Sith says he can save her –> Whiny Emo Teen pledges self to Team Obviously Evil and willingly murders a bunch of 4 year olds.

      There’s no way that journey makes sense unless you’ve already shown how the Dark Side has manipulated him to that point. And you have to do that on-screen with more than just Palpatine’s whispering in his ear.

      So I’d like to do a proper ‘fall of Anakin’ movie. Some latter-day Michael Bay type can do all the action beats in the main series. I want to do a prequel / interquel / whatever focussing on Anakin. I want it to be a properly dark psycho-drama where we can see the seductive nature of the Dark Side. See the easy power it offers. See Anakin using that power, just a little at first, for what he perceives to be the right reasons. Some noble-cause corruption. Maybe he Jack Bauers the location of a terrorist bomb out of someone with a little Force lightning, that kind of thing.

      Likewise, Palpatine can’t be cacklingly evil. He has to genuinely believe he’s doing the right thing – most dictators do, at least at first. The cackling hanging-on-to-power-for-grim-death comes later.

      In the end when Anakin commits soem indefensible atrocity ‘for the greater good’, I want the audience to understand why he did it and think that, just maybe, they’d have done the same in the circumstances.

      I want to make the Dark Side, and Anakin’s fall to it, believable.

      I’d probably need to up the rating of the film to an 18 for this, but I don’t see that as a bad thing to be honest.

      • Walter says:

        I like the view of the Force advanced in the novelization of Revenge of the Sith. It is the will of the universe, to which Jedi are in submission, and Sith in contention. Fatalists vs. Activists.

        Anakin falls when he prevents a tragedy that the Force does not direct him to prevent, simple as that.

        • bullseye says:

          Do you mean attempts to prevent a tragedy? He *causes* the tragedy he’s trying to prevent, like a Greek hero.

          • Walter says:

            I was just working on Fitzroy’s ‘Fall of Anakin’ idea. Like, my pitch would be that he sets himself up above fate, twisting the Force to right wrongs that it didn’t guide him to. Maybe he frees all the slaves on his home planet, or whatever. He becomes a Sith because destiny isn’t good enough for him, he needs to guide events to their optimal conclusions, whereas Obi Wan and the others have the humility and wisdom to allow Fate to find its own path.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Chuck “SF Debris” Sonnenberg has a really good series on the behind-the-scenes issues that caused George Lucas to go the direction he did with the prequels. I’m basing my answer on that analysis, and if you haven’t seen it I suggest watching it.

      It seems like at least half of the problems with the Star Wars prequels stem from one issue: George Lucas hates flashbacks. Put in a flashback and a lot of the problems in the movies solve themselves. You only need a few minor alterations at that point and you have a solid trilogy.

      The logical place to start the series is in Epsiode II. Master Obi-wan Kenobi and his brave but arrogant apprentice Anakin Skywalker have been fighting side-by-side ever since Obi-wan met him an obscure desert planet as a child and saw that he was strong with the force. Cue flashback to Obi-wan meeting Anakin as a child, seeing that he was strong with the force, and agreeing to train him as a Jedi.

      Then Obi-wan and Anakin are sent to Naboo, where they rescue the princess Padme Amidala from an invasion by the Trade Federation. Anakin and Padme have a whirlwind romance. At the same time, Obi-wan is distracted as he uncovers the extent of Sith involvement, eventually killing the terrifying Sith warrior Darth Maul at the climax of the film. The senator of Naboo uses the crisis to become chancellor and orders the creation of a Grand Army of the Republic to counteract growing Trade Federation aggression.

      Now the Trade Federation, led by the charismatic former Jedi Count Dooku, join with other worlds and leave the Republic. The Seperatists attack, leading to the Clone Wars. The Jedi are forced with an ugly choice: compromise their principles and fight as generals, or retreat from the galactic stage and ignore the clear Sith influence on the Seperatists. Some, like Yoda, choose the latter but most are seduced by the possibility of winning a war with the dark side and accept their role as generals in Palpatine’s army.

      We then see Obi-wan and Anakin slowly ground down by the reality of fighting the Clone Wars. Obi-wan turns to the philosophy of his master Yoda for comfort; Anakin finds solace in his secret marriage and in his friendship with the Chancellor. When Dooku’s assassins threaten Padme, Anakin’s desperation to save her life and end the war leaves him open to embracing the dark side as a means to easy power. Giving in to the dark side, he kills Count Dooku and effectively ends the war.

      With the war over, and Obi-wan’s growing suspicions about the Chancellor, the Jedi demand that Chancellor Palapatine step down and relinquish his emergency powers. He refuses, revealing himself as a Sith Lord and forcing Anakin to pick sides. Anakin becomes Darth Vader and leads the Grand Army of the Republic to destroy the Jedi. Obi-wan deals him a moral wound and then retreats to hermitage with Anakin’s twin children. Anakin is saved but is now a mechanical monster and believes that he killed Padme and his children.

    • AG says:

      Relevant to the….”reinterpretations” before the holidays, remake The Karate Kid with Anakin as the lead.

      Since this is decades in the future, then LotR should be public domain, so then I’ll turn the other movies into a Star Wars adaptation of LotR.

    • knockknock says:

      …And then Mel Brooks will have to do a reboot of Spaceballs

    • testing123 says:

      There are a million treatments out there about, e.g., how to make the prequels or sequels a more compelling story. Read one, pick the one you like.

      I’m going to eschew discussion of plot and focus on process. Our goal isn’t to come up with good plots for star wars movies, our goal is to replicate the success of Marvel universe and come up with a system that kicks out billion dollar movies at least once a year for a couple decades.

      Fortunately, we have a model for how to do this, we do what marvel did, which was actually pretty simple. Phase one is make essentially unrelated movies in a shared universe. We have the star wars setting, so that’s easy. You make these movies as low stakes as possible, relatively limited budgets reduced hype, not bringing in the old actors/characters, and give the teams doing them a lot of freedom to experiment.

      This first phase takes years. Remember, it’s 4 years and 5 films from Iron Man to Avengers 1, and 6 more years and 12 films from thanos’ first appearance to infinity war. It is essential not to rush this period because it’s how we develop our house style. These movies won’t hang together as a cinematic universe if they feel wildly inconsistent, but we also want to avoid the DCU mistake of committing to a creative team that doesn’t work out. By experimenting with lower stakes movies and being ruthlessly willing to discard what doesn’t (e.g. hulk 2008), we can feel out what works and what doesn’t, and bring together a team that make movies that sell well and that the fans like and trust. You also use the one offs to tease ideas that will show up later phase two.

      Phase two is “the episodes”. These are really going to be the real heart of the franchise. They’re integrated trilogies planned as single stories with single teams. You make a big deal about how they will shake up the universe with galaxy shaping events with real consequences. These are risky moves, but that risk has been reduced dramatically by building a creative team that has a demonstrated record of success and by relentlessly plundering the expanded universe characters and story arcs that have already worked and which are already known to have some popular appeal.

      Once that works, you move onto phase three, repetition. Pick another basic idea for a set of episodes (ideally picking up something you teased in phase 1, but that isn’t essential), use the status quo you’ve established as the basis for a new set of stories, and then use them to develop new talent and to build up your new episodes, and rake in the cash.

      As I said, none of this is rocket science, at least conceptually, but the fact that no one has managed to imitate marvel suggests that it’s harder than it sounds. The real rub, I think, is impatience with phase 1. The first 3 marvel movies were Iron man, Hulk, and Iron Man 2, which is not a great record. You need a studio that’s willing to let the process work. They must resist the urge to overcorrect or over-determine story in the early stages or to try to jump ahead to the big payday before it’s been properly built up.

      Also, get my my god damned thrawn trilogy! I mean seriously, disney, wtf?

    • theredsheep says:

      Ignore the prequels; they never should have existed. There’s no point telling a story whose broad outlines and outcome are already known to the audience. This being the far future, maybe it could be fresh again, but then again it’s the far future and who knows if movies even exist; I interpret that as “license for a do-over.” Maybe it would make an interesting story, but it’s not one that really interests me.

      Brush 7, 8, and every abomination thereafter out of existence. Okay, I haven’t seen 8, I lost all interest after 7, but I read the summary and it seems daft. Anyway, it’s not canon anymore. No Captain Chrometits, no Generic Irrelevant Emperor, no Marey Sue, no Vader wannabe who screws up and imitates Hayden Christensen instead, none of the other boring characters or derivative plot moments. Gone.

      The new episode seven (assume we have magic Ford, Fischer, and Hamill duplicates) takes place in a galaxy where the roles have been reversed and the remnants of the Empire have merged into a roving terror fleet striking the Republic at random, surviving by stripping worlds bare after the fashion of the World Devastators from EU. Han and Leia’s force-strong children, a pair of siblings, were learning the ways of the Jedi when the fleet strikes the training location, killing one of them along with several other disciples. The other, infuriated by Luke’s slowness to retaliate, leads a pack of his/her (don’t know which I’d prefer) fellow trainees on a hunt after the fleet, teetering in and out of the dark side en route.

      It’s only revealed partway through what has happened; at first, we see only a bunch of force-sensitive youngsters on a rampage, followed by a ghostly blue figure (dead Solo kid) begging for sanity in vain. At the same time, Han, Leia, and Lando (remember him?) are struggling to maintain order and pin the fleet down, even as Han and Leia are frantic with worry about their rogue child. Luke is chasing after his renegades, but struggles with how he went wrong, and how he is to restrain them as they cause more and more collateral damage.

      That’s as far as I got while fuming after Ep 7 (I have a similar incomplete non-terrible version of Frozen in my head). I never quite got around to finishing it, because I knew it’d never happen and I said ehhh screw it. I think I’d want to plot out a full trilogy arc before deciding how alternate seven would end.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        There’s no point telling a story whose broad outlines and outcome are already known to the audience.

        Hmm, I don’t know. In some ways, I thought that Palpatine as an ordinary human with no wooga-wooga, plotting a coup that we know will succeed but that our heroes are completely oblivious to, was perhaps the only really effective thing in parts 1-3. Chilling.

        I’ve long wanted to write a Star Trek novel in which Kirk and company meet a time traveller from a hundred years in the future — except we gradually learn that the future he describes is nothing at all like the Next Generation. So what’s going on? We know he’s bogus. Don’t we? Or is he going to mess things up somehow, so that the TNG future is actually not the default future?

        • rmtodd says:

          I’ve long wanted to write a Star Trek novel in which Kirk and company meet a time traveller from a hundred years in the future — except we gradually learn that the future he describes is nothing at all like the Next Generation.

          Heh. That’s actually rather like the 1994 Trek novel Crossroad by Barbara Hambly. Except Kirk encounters two different groups of time travellers from the future, one group from the future Federation’s Starfleet pursuing another group that is, basically, the future Federation’s equivalent of Blake and his Seven (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blake%27s_Seven for those who don’t get the reference).

        • theredsheep says:

          I think that’s mostly because Ian McDiarmid was one of the few actors who did a good job and wasn’t saddled with regular interaction with Jar Jar Binks or Anakin.

      • Walter says:

        One thing I like about your idea is that the Empire is now insurgents, and we keep the New Republic intact to fight them.

        I was super disappointed when they essentially just reset the Empire/First Order back into power at the start of the new trilogy. Struck me as gutless.

        Like, the Empire was fascist nations when it started, a clear Nazi Germany analog. That isn’t our fear anymore. Nowadays we are fighting a neverending War On Terror. Make them terrorists.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Yeah, that’s pretty good. Then you have to see the extent to which the Republic is willing to compromise its principles to fight terrorists.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Like, the Empire was fascist nations when it started, a clear Nazi Germany analog. That isn’t our fear anymore. Nowadays we are fighting a neverending War On Terror. Make them terrorists.

          So just the first trilogy with heros and villains reversed? Osama bin Skywalker destroys the Death Dodecahedron, Lord W. Ader wipes out his home planet of Afghanabaraan in retaliation?

          • theredsheep says:

            That would have worked if the movie came out in 2005. I think what’s really worrisome now is not so much terrorism per se as the complete dissolution of order–a reign of chaos, where nobody’s in charge at all. The ep 7 was vaguely relevant to the silliest fears of leftists where stormtroopers wear MAGA helmets, but even so it’s just a rehash.

            I don’t envision this as some space-politics thing where Admiral Ackbar talks about winning hearts and minds on Korriban, or anything like that. I think of the imperial death fleet as simply angry people who see that their golden age has been taken away from them, and set out not to build a new era but to burn away their shame.

          • Walter says:

            I don’t think it has to particularly resemble the first trilogy. The Empire were evil, and the Rebellion were good. But the First Insurgency would be evil, and the New Republic good. So they wouldn’t be using Death Stars on inhabited planets, etc.

          • theredsheep says:

            I don’t think of it as something where the Empire holds planets at all; they’ve been beaten down and lost everything, and now they rove about wrecking the New Republic purely to make things even. I’m thinking it might be interesting to have Grand Admiral Thrawn cut through the chaos and take over the fleet in ep 8 to turn it to more constructive purposes, but that’s just something that came to me now.

          • theredsheep says:

            I have scenes in my head where the rogue padawans infiltrate the fleet; most of them don’t have lightsabers, but they don’t even need them, because in this trilogy the Jedi are neither morons nor lone geriatric holdouts. They coordinate silently from a distance, distract and confuse with mind tricks, and ruthlessly tear their way through a star destroyer.

            Vague idea for a climax involving the commander(s) of the death fleet, Luke, his nephew/niece, and the Emperor’s malignant ghost pulling strings at random. Man, that would’ve been metal.

          • John Schilling says:

            No, the Jedi in your version need lightsabers, because we need to see them mirror Darth Vader in the boarding sequence from Rogue One. The bad guys can’t be allowed a monopoly on that kind of awesome. And if you can get Liam Neeson and Samuel Jackson to do that scene together, even better.

            (OK, the rules of the hypothetical probably allow you to rewrite Rogue to de-awesomize Vader, but that feels like cheating)

          • theredsheep says:

            Jedi stunts are what Luke is for; he’s the Jedi master with twenty years of experience past his ROTJ level. The rogues are a pack of misguided kids with one stolen lightsaber–properly the emblem of a fully trained Jedi–a big grudge, and no idea how much trouble they’re getting themselves into. Which isn’t to say they can’t whoop ass; they just aren’t doing it Vader style. More like ninja infiltration.

        • theredsheep says:

          What annoyed me most about the reset was the way it required all the heroes of the original trilogy to be essentially incompetent. They spent years fighting tyranny, they blow up two death stars, you pan away for a couple of decades and they are right back to square one again. Luke screwed up training his nephew–details unspecified–and responds by skulking on a rock while the galaxy goes to hell; Han gets his ship stolen repeatedly and bumbles around acting like the same jackass he was at the start of ANH; Leia apparently failed to build a functional society, but she’s still the best of the three because she at least hasn’t given up. Lando seems to have fallen off the map entirely, though I gather he’ll be back in the next one. Still won’t see it.

          • albatross11 says:

            I always wonder, when I watch some utter turkey of a movie (The Phantom Menace, say), whether the people doing the movie realized it was going to be a turkey, or if they actually thought Jar-Jar was great comic relief and the plot totally held together and made sense.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I think there was a real feeling that TPM met the goals and needs of a wide audience, though specifically aiming to pull in a younger generation. It stretched the plot and made the whole thing a little bit less fulfilling than going for a strategic vision directly executed – but it seems to be what they intended.

            The real question is what someone thought of Episode II… I can’t think of any audience or any perspective that would have thought – this is the movie I wanted!

          • theredsheep says:

            I imagine it was a case where George Lucas was totally in charge and everybody was shrugging and going along with it because they couldn’t talk him out of it. Sort of the artistic Nuremberg defense.

            I just read on Wiki that Lucas compared Disney to “white slavers” for what they did to SW. They didn’t muck it up any worse than he did, but it still made me snicker.

    • WashedOut says:

      Hate to be a stick in the mud, but I would probably do a clean retelling of the original trilogy plus a compressed version of the subsequent 3 films, with the sole aim of updating the CGI and visual/audio experience for the new generation.

      So something like Episodes I-VI compressed into maybe 4 or 5 films released in chronological order. Each film is 90 minutes, 100 minutes TOPS. Get rid of pod-racing garbage from TPM, get rid of Jar Jar Binks entirely, basically scrap 50% of the total screentime of the franchise taken up by pointless, infuriatingly annoying shite. Attack of the Clones didn’t need to exist. Neither did any of the pure rent-seeking spin-offs.

      Star Wars 2040: All Killer, No Filler

  24. Mark V Anderson says:

    This comment is a very culture war type comment. But I am asking a serious question here about journalism, and I request serious answers, and not rants one way or the other.

    Earlier this week there was this article about James Watson in the New York Times.

    I think the journalists at the Times are very good at what they do, which makes me a bit perplexed that the scientists they quote are so one-sided that they give the impression that the other side doesn’t even exist from a scientific point of view.

    James Watson was quoted as follows:

    In 2007, Dr. Watson, who shared a 1962 Nobel Prize for describing the double-helix structure of DNA, told a British journalist that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says, not really.”

    Responses of other scientists are as follows:

    “I reject his views as despicable,” Dr. Lander wrote to Broad scientists. “They have no place in science, which must welcome everyone. I was wrong to toast, and I’m sorry.’’

    (although this one doesn’t say what this guy is a scientist of, so maybe he doesn’t know the applicable science?

    In response to questions from The Times, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said that most experts on intelligence “consider any black-white differences in I.Q. testing to arise primarily from environmental, not genetic, differences.”

    Dr. Collins said he was unaware of any credible research on which Dr. Watson’s “profoundly unfortunate’’ statement would be based.

    This quote is the worst, indicating a genetics scientist that has no understanding of statistics:

    But Mary-Claire King, a leading geneticist at the University of Washington who knows Dr. Watson well and is not in the film, suggested that the racially homogeneous culture of science also played a role in shaping Dr. Watson’s misconceptions.

    “If he knew African-Americans as colleagues at all levels, his present view would be impossible to sustain,’’ Dr. King said.

    It is my understanding that the comments made by Watson match the science pretty well, if a bit exaggerated. And yet the New York Times couldn’t find a scientist to say that Watson was saying pretty much what the data shows. Watson did imply the IQ differences are genetic, and also that the differences are great enough to keep Africa from ever advancing, both of which are unknown, but certainly are serious issues and not crack-pottery. I would think the average intelligence scientist would give such answers.

    I think the Times sincerely wants to report the truth. So why do they get this uniformity of untruth:
    1) Do they have a certain set of scientists in their rolodexes that are in the Times’ bubble and so will reliably answer how the Times wants them to?
    2) Perhaps no scientist wants to go on the record defending Watson, because then THEY will be the ones to be disparaged?
    3) Perhaps the journalists aren’t really calling the scientists to get the answers, but just using them as justifications for their own biases? Perhaps the article was mostly written before the scientists were even called, and the scientists are only there for quotes? I hate to think this about journalists, but maybe.

    I suppose all three of these are true to some extent. The thing is, I do not believe that journalists want to publish untruth. They think of themselves as the good guys. Do journalists see these problems themselves?

    • The Nybbler says:

      think the Times sincerely wants to report the truth.

      I think you’re mistaken.

      2) Perhaps no scientist wants to go on the record defending Watson, because then THEY will be the ones to be disparaged?

      Absolutely. After seeing what happened to Watson, nobody’s sticking their neck out without good reason.

      • David Shaffer says:

        Exactly. There is literally no reason to suspect that the Times (or any other newspaper) has an interest in reporting the truth. What would they gain from doing so? Reporting the truth costs them subscriptions from people who prefer to reinforce tribal beliefs and earns them opprobrium from people who’s beliefs are challenged. What possible benefit could honest reporting give them? Support from people who value truth over politics? That’s not a wise position to take in the ancestral environment, so unsurprisingly, such people are vanishingly rare. Personal satisfaction from integrity? Anyone who had integrity would be outcompeted by journalists who didn’t. The idea that the Times is sincere should not even occur to you as a hypothesis without evidence that frankly doesn’t exist.

        • Tim van Beek says:

          Does this apply to all media and all topics or only to a certain subset? If the latter, which one and how can one know?

          • quanta413 says:

            All media obviously although I would say media and humans in general typically have an interest in not being too obviously wrong. I doubt outright lying is a typical failure mode either. Rather, they are more interested in some particular set of morals or ideals so things that jar against that squick them out and they will bend things around.

            There is a slight partial solution in reading a more diverse media all the way out to some crackpotty things, but what helps more is reading things not typically thought of as the media. If you know enough things about science or business or just whatever a lot of bullshit is much more obvious. Unfortunately, you can only really be confident about the bullshit in a few things because it’s hard to know enough.

          • David Shaffer says:

            All media and all topics. Remember Gell-Mann Amnesia? An expert who encounters a news article on his field will quickly notice that it is unmitigated tripe. However, most people forget this when dealing with topics outside of their area of expertise, assuming that the news must be decently accurate (hence the amnesia).

            Of course, the strength of the effect will vary. Where there’s no politically correct “right answer” the news obviously has less reason to twist the facts, and where there’s a greater chance of getting independently checked there’s more incentive to report accurately.

            Basically the hatchet job on Dr. Watson is on one end of the spectrum, while reporting baseball scores is on the other.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          There is literally no reason to suspect that the Times (or any other newspaper) has an interest in reporting the truth.

          Integrity? I know it’s fashionable to assume no one has integrity, but I don’t believe it. I grew up in and still pretty much live in a Blue bubble. People who become journalists tend to have a pretty high ideological quotient. They believe that they are doing the most important thing in the world. And I think what they think they are delivering to people is the truth. So I find it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me when it is clear they are doing the opposite.

          Anyone who had integrity would be outcompeted by journalists who didn’t.

          Now this is a fascinating possibility. Kind of a Public Choice effect as applied to journalism. So is telling the truth contra-indicated for selling newspapers to the intellectual elite that buys NYT? It is true that it is much harder to read a journal that regularly tells one things that greatly contradict one’s worldview. And I suppose the idea that the races have different IQs on average is very hard to accept by people who have been taught since babyhood that such thoughts are only for those who are evil, as 10240 says below.

          This only makes sense if it is true that NYT subscribers will reject the paper if it doesn’t have this bias. I think most readers of the Times are looking for the truth, but perhaps only to the extent it stays within the Overton window. I need to think about this some more.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you live in a bubble of people who all believe X, and you’ve spent your life being told that all right-thinking people believe X, then it’s easy to convince yourself that X is true. I assume this happens to most reporters who report on this stuff.

            Suppose you overcome that, and come to believe, based on careful weighing of the evidence, that X is false. You also know that writing stories saying not-X will end or severely curtail your career as a journalist. My guess is that if you have much integrity, you stop working on that kind of story, or you try writing a “maybe X is not 100% right” story and your editor kills it and tells you not to write about that subject anymore.

            And finally, if you’re doing a story about a Nobel-prize-winning scientist whose career was destroyed for claiming that X is false to a news reporter, it’s not exactly the biggest surprise in the world that it’s hard for you to find other scientists (presumably less immune to firing than a Nobel prizewinner) who want to tell you that, yeah, there’s some evidence kinda leaning toward not-X, and so maybe X is actually not 100% true. That would take a lot of trust.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            So is telling the truth contra-indicated for selling newspapers to the intellectual elite that buys NYT? It is true that it is much harder to read a journal that regularly tells one things that greatly contradict one’s worldview.

            I notice that there exist articles which change one’s worldview, and some of them do so in jarring, uncomfortable ways, and some do so in comfortable, non-threatening ways.

            The latter include, for example, Scott’s link summaries. I find them fun. The stakes are low. Sometimes they appeal to deeper beliefs. (Oooh, yeah, I always knew Dr. Bunkowitz was talking out of his ass about that SSRI alternative!)

            One could imagine an article that gets people thinking critically about IQ and race. I think it would be really hard, though. You would need a journalist capable of writing in a mainstream appealing tone (i.e. probably not Charles Murray), and capable of steelmanning both sides (exceedingly rare in general, IMO).

            I actually don’t want an article about IQ and race, though. That feels too much like trying out a untried new way of reporting, by hitting it as hard as you can. Instead, I’d be thrilled to get this type of treatment for more mundane issues, like whether a trade tariff on car parts would be good for US auto workers, or whether it’s worthwhile to invest in Falcon Heavy, or the case for and against some high-profile political candidate. The closest I see to that are selected pieces in The New Yorker, Derek Lowe’s In The Pipeline, Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, Michael Totten at WorldAffairsJournal, Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, Megan McArdle at WaPo, and of course, Scott.

          • David Shaffer says:

            People who become journalists tend to have a pretty high ideological quotient.

            Exactly. They’re ideologues, and they believe that promoting their ideology is the most important thing in the world. They don’t even have to consciously think “and now I will lie so people are fooled into believing my worldview”, they just have to not look too closely at their arguments (or at all), and not bother with the other side. This is human nature already, and when your bubble is telling you that you’re right about everything and questioning it makes you a horrible person, people tend to let little things like integrity, sanity and decency slide.

            So is telling the truth contra-indicated for selling newspapers to the intellectual elite that buys NYT? It is true that it is much harder to read a journal that regularly tells one things that greatly contradict one’s worldview. And I suppose the idea that the races have different IQs on average is very hard to accept by people who have been taught since babyhood that such thoughts are only for those who are evil, as 10240 says below.

            Pretty much. Positing an IQ difference is an outgroup shibboleth for the left, and it doesn’t exactly help that most people historically who posited such a difference committed a horrifying amount of evil. Dr. Watson set himself up as Scary Other Monkey-the fact that he might be right, and that if he’s wrong the reasonable response is “these statistics suggest otherwise”, not “how dare you; you’re stupid and evil!!!”, is far over these people’s heads.

            In the ancestral environment, caring about political truth, about actual facts in politicized matters or about which policies would actually benefit people, was a crippling handicap. Being right was no consolation when you were losing status for disagreeing with the highest status member of the tribe, or being thrown out of the tribe outright! As such, political integrity is a rare condition, probably due to abnormally strong curiosity. There are people who have it (Scott is a great example; he’s consistently interested in truth over winning debates or stroking his ego), but not enough people to make an industry.

          • albatross11 says:

            Can you point out what horrifying evils were done by people who posited an IQ difference between blacks and whites?

          • albatross11 says:

            As best I can tell, coercive eugenics programs were pretty widespread in a lot of NW Europe as well as the US and Canada. I don’t think they had a lot to do with concerns of race and IQ, though.

            ISTM that the bad idea that enabled this horror (which isn’t anywhere in the top 100 for the 20th century, but is still pretty nasty) is the idea that the state should have the power to decide who is allowed to reproduce and who should be forcibly sterilized.

            It’s true that recognizing (and indeed, seriously overestimating) heritability of some traits like intelligence and criminality and mental illness was part of the justification used for eugenics. (Until you realized that these things might be heritable, you wouldn’t have had any idea that eugenics was even possible.) But if you were trying to suppress or taboo information to avoid this kind of horror, it seems like you would have to suppress knowledge of heritability of some kinds of intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses. What would the world look like if that had been done? Would it be a better world now?

          • David Shaffer says:

            @albatross11

            Can you point out what horrifying evils were done by people who posited an IQ difference between blacks and whites?

            Slavery, Jim Crow etc. It’s worth noting that these acts were perpetrated by people who believed in IQ differences, but not because of that belief per se; rather the motivating belief was that their racial outgroups were morally inferior (also profitable, in the case of slavery). There were also people who believed in racial IQ differences while opposing such atrocities (Abraham Lincoln for instance both helped ban slavery in the U.S. and believed strongly in racial gaps), and people who weren’t as concerned with such differences, yet committed atrocities regardless (for instance much of Nazi anti-Semitism was “they’re not us and they’ll attack us” rather than “they’re dumb”).

            However, distinguishing between belief in a moral gap and belief in an intellectual one is not something many people are capable of; thus the conflation of the IQ gap hypothesis (a scientific claim like any other, which might be right or wrong and can only be addressed with data) with bigotry (a moral claim which can be shown to be wrong from first principles).

          • albatross11 says:

            The first IQ test was invented in the early 1900s, so I’m pretty sure slavery wasn’t justified in terms of IQ statistics. Jim Crow laws are, I think, mostly a product of reconstruction. I don’t think they have much to do with IQ statistics–someone, somewhere must have argued for keeping Jim Crow laws around on that basis at some point, but realistically, the driver had nothing to do with IQ statistics. If the IQ statistics had turned out the other way, or had been suppressed, I doubt it would have had any effect at all on Jim Crow laws.

            You’re talking about a related idea–the claim that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites. I think that was used to justify slavery and Jim Crow, though I don’t think it was necessary to justify it. In 1890 in Georgia, you did not actually need some subtle intellectual argument to convince most whites to want blacks kept on the bottom. That was the default belief, present, not because someone said blacks were intellectually inferior, but for the same reasons that ethnic hatreds and the desire to keep all of “us” above all of “them” have existed in a million other places.

            The motivation for slavery was straightforward economics–tobacco, cotton, and sugar were profitable things to grow, and they became more profitable when your employees didn’t have to be paid a wage and weren’t allowed to quit. Over time, the economies of a bunch of Southern states became dependent on slave labor, which added a “too big to fail” aspect to the arguments for keeping slavery–even Southerners who agreed that slavery was morally terrible feared a collapse of Southern society without it.

            But I don’t think there’s any sense in which claims of intellectual inferiority drove slavery. Without those claims, it’s not like the Southerners or the owners of West Indies sugar plantations were going to yield up their slaves.

            Defenders of slavery tried to use these claims of intellectual inferiority to justify slavery. But that’s very different than the claims being a cause of slavery’s existence.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      You might get clearer answers to this if you ask it in a CW-friendly thread. Hint: “I think the Times sincerely wants to report the truth”. What makes you think this?

      “They think of themselves as the good guys.” Everybody thinks of themselves as the good guys. You and I think we’re the good guys, and it is both evidence of this claim and a consequence of it that we would want to report the truth. But you are typical-minding if you think that’s true of everybody. I’m not saying they want to print falsehoods, just that “the truth” is not their top priority.

      Remember that their motto is “All the news that’s fit to print”. Compare that to “survival of the fittest” and remember that fitness is highly context-dependent.

      • This is now a CW friendly thread.

      • Tim van Beek says:

        What makes you think this?

        Because truthfulnes is essential for a good reputation?

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Because truthfulnes is essential for a good reputation?

          What makes you think this?

          I mean, seriously. Watson himself is surely not lying about what he believes, and his reputation is in the toilet simply for stating it forthrightly. The converse is the worrier who might privately believe Watson is correct, but who sees speaking that truth as more harmful than a pious avowal that he is wrong.

          If you want something less inflammatory, how about a reporter who suppresses a discovery that seriously affects national security?

          The free press is a good thing, but it’s not rocket science. Truth is not its primary virtue, nor is it the main criterion by which its works are judged.

          (Hell, even in science, truth is arguably merely an instrumental value. “Shut up and calculate!”)

          • albatross11 says:

            Note that the NYT suppressed a story on massive illegal wiretapping until after the 2004 presidential election. This seemed extra-perverse to me–the main social value of revealing the illegal wiretapping is that you give the voters a chance to respond to it.

            Also, the NYT acted more-or-less as a propaganda organ for the Bush administration in the runup to the Iraq invasion.

            Neither of these look much like the actions of impartial truth-seekers.

        • quanta413 says:

          Because truthfulnes is essential for a good reputation?

          Not being a totally blatant liar is essential for a good reputation, but being maximally truthful would be pretty stupid. Humans tell clear little lies all the time out of politeness. They form huge fabrics of myth and group identities too.

          The truth can be dangerous. But I think although there can be danger to truth, it’s usually vastly overestimated.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, if the truth you’re thinking of telling is the names of undercover DEA agents infiltrating the Zetas or the recipe for making a civilization-collapsing plague in your garage, that’s dangerous truth you should suppress. But that’s not remotely what we’re talking about here.

        • David Shaffer says:

          Because truthfulnes is essential for a good reputation?

          Apparently it is not. Dr. Lander managed to say with a straight face that Dr. Watson must be wrong because “science must include everyone,” and the Times reported this as a serious critique rather than a poor attempt at comedy. Even if it turns out that Watson is wrong, there’s a conceivable world in which he’s right. And in that world, you can still say “science must be inclusive”. Therefore, that’s not a counterargument to Watson’s belief in IQ differences; it doesn’t even resemble one. Presenting it as such is a boldfaced lie that relies on tribalism to be taken seriously for even a moment.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says, not really.”

      White man savior complex.

      What are these social policies, and why is he certain that they won’t work for people of below average intelligence? Below average people are literally a significant minority in every single nation, and every single race, on the Earth.

      So if they won’t work for Africans who happen to be below our average, then why would they work for ‘our people’ who happen to be below our average?

      And if they won’t work for our people who are below our average, then in the long run they won’t work at all.

      This is basic extrapolatory logic.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        He is talking about developmental aid working out like the Marshall plan: You give a people money and they use it to build up the infrastructure and economy, and bam!, you’ve got a peaceful, technologically and economically advanced, liberal democracy. (I’m not saying the Marshall plan actually did contribute all that much, but it’s a popular story.)

        So the argument is on the nation level. People below average intelligence in a developed country still get to live in a developed country, because there are significantly smarter people around taking care of complicated stuff. If this smart fraction is largely missing however …

      • Kyle A Johansen says:

        Its perfectly consistent to believe that a nation needs an intelligent class for a society to function, and that not* every individual needs to be in that class.

        Imagine if all our social policies were based on ‘their knowledge of civil engineering is the same of ours’, then your critique applies equally well to that as it does to Watson’s comment.

        You also do not need to have belief in ‘our social policies’ to believe that we have them, and that they won’t work.

        *edited in later thanks to Aapje

        • Aapje says:

          Its perfectly consistent to believe that a nation needs an intelligent class for a society to function, and that every individual needs to be in that class.

          I assume that you forgot a ‘NOT’ here.

    • metacelsus says:

      Whether or not his views on the genetics of race are true, Watson is a very narcissistic, egotistical person and has alienated many in the field, starting as early as the 1960s. See Crick’s letter to Watson here: https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/SCBBKN.pdf

      It’s not surprising that many scientists are willing to speak against him.

      • Dan L says:

        This is probably relevant. By Six Degrees rules I’m three away from Watson, and I can attest that was already close enough to whiff some dirty laundry.

        • quanta413 says:

          While I believe what you are saying is true, I don’t think it explains much. A lot of scientists are narcissistic and egotistical. And pricks to boot. Especially the famous ones. From a distance Watson looks further out on the curve, but I doubt if he was nicer he’d get many defenders.

          Oppenheimer had many defenders and the guy was a nut who tried to poison his own tutor, tried to run away with his friend’s wife, and just generally was unstable and immoral. It’s somewhat lucky that someone so unstable and with such strong communist sympathies didn’t betray U.S. interests to the Soviets. Granted, Oppenheimer was also very brilliant and did a lot of good work. But then again, so did Watson.

          Oppenheimer was a sucker for causes that other scientists tended to be sympathetic to though which seems to have helped his reputation.

          EDIT: I’m not sure if Watson is a sucker or not or in what way precisely since the quotes are too short on their own to get a really solid idea, but it’s interesting to me how little it took to destroy Watson.

          • Dan L says:

            Ah, let me try that again – I’m not making a claim as to how personally distasteful Watson might be (and I’m certainly not comparing him to others), I’m making the direct observation that badmouthing him to uninvolved parties was apparently common in academic circles. Now one could go two levels deep and speculate as to why that might be (and why it might or might not be justified), but as a first level analysis it’s not surprising to find a dearth of experts defending him even before the topic is considered.

          • quanta413 says:

            Badmouthing jerks to uninvolved parties isn’t that rare in my experience. Usually jerks who had a lot of success have some defenders. What’s interesting is how quickly and totally Watson was deserted. That’s what I mean by your observation doesn’t explain much.

            Because usually even if you are terrible to lots of people, doing something big and winning a prize for it and running a large lab/corporation/whatever will leave you with enough power that you don’t go down like a wet sack of grain.

          • John Schilling says:

            doing something big and winning a prize for it and running a large lab/corporation/whatever will leave you with enough power that you don’t go down like a wet sack of grain.

            Watson hasn’t won any prizes or run any large labs since 1994, or possibly 2003 depending on his role at CSHL. As we’ve seen with e.g. Harvey Weinstein, the immunity provided by past fame and power is not everlasting

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, pretty much everyone who has met Watson talks about what a huge prick he is. Including his defenders when the original news story about his comments about African average IQ came out. Basically every one of them said something starting with “Jim Watson is a huge asshole, but….”

        • Cyril Burt was in some ways a parallel case–a very prominent person in his field who a lot of people in the field disliked. But it was only after he died that he got attacked–for a while successfully, although the outcome seems to have partly reversed later.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Watson is a very narcissistic, egotistical person and has alienated many in the field, starting as early as the 1960s

        Oh I didn’t know this. That certainly makes it easier for him to be hung out to dry.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      On the one hand I am inclined to be charitable. I don’t think the average Times journalist knows that pure environmentalists don’t really have a leg to stand on. Journalists are not scientists.

      On the other hand none of these articles mentions any of the pertinent facts, like the big and persistent IQ gaps in the US and how these explain the biggest part of economic differences, but conversely cannot be explained by parental SES. So I really wonder what research for such an article looks like.

      • albatross11 says:

        More to the point, as far as I can tell, the NYT *never* notes any of that stuff. They either don’t know the most basic things about race and IQ, or have decided not to mention it, or have decided it’s all lies from evil racists. This is just as true when they report an education story about selective schools in NYC, where for reasons nobody can untangle, black kids are way underrepresented and Asian kids are way overrepresented.

        My best guess is that they’ve decided, perhaps as an editorial policy, that this is an area of knowledge/set of facts which is “not fit to print”–that openly discussing it would be so horrible that it’s better to omit those facts even when they’re enormously and obviously relevant to the story they’re discussing.

        • johan_larson says:

          I bet it’s a combination of factors. First, in liberal company it’s unseemly to “punch down” by blaming those who have been mistreated by others. And US blacks have certainly been mistreated. Second, the entire field of intelligence research has been tainted by crappy pseudo-scientific research from the early twentieth century to the point that someone who doesn’t like its conclusions now can easily be skeptical of it.

          • albatross11 says:

            Compared to most psychology, I’d say intelligence research has probably been less plagued by pseudoscientific research. I’ll see your “using factor analysis to get a model parameter and assuming it means something real and essential” and raise you an id, an ego, and a superego.

          • They’re perfectly willing to punch down, as long as it’s the “right” people.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I really despise the terms “punch up” and “punch down.” It is impossible to punch up. “Power” is that which lets you punch without getting punched back. If you are punching (and not immediately getting clobbered even harder right back), you are only ever punching down.

          • albatross11 says:

            How powerful some person or group is seems to have only a little correlation with how prudent it is to “punch” them verbally[1]. To use a trivial example, Malcolm Gladwell and Nassim Taleb are probably people with comparable amounts of power in any meaningful sense (NNT has more money, MG has more cultural reach), but NNT tends to verbally punch back a lot harder than Gladwell does. Empirically, publishing mean things about Peter Thiel is bad idea, relative to publishing mean things about George Soros or the Koch Brothers. You’d be well advised to be careful verbally punching Israel in US media/culture, but can probably get away with verbally punching Germany or Japan in relative safety. (Punch away at Russia, but probably try to avoid pissing Putin off enough for him to be willing to risk an international incident to have you die of Polonium poisoning.) And so on.

            Of course, none of this has anything to do with morality. “Punching up/punching down” is inevitably an excuse rolled out when someone points out that you’re saying awful, unfair things about someone else, and especially when you’re violating rules of discourse you previously held to be very important, like not using gender or sexual orientation as insults. Of course, it’s different if you’re punching the right people down. OTOH, those same journalists are in practice pretty careful about not “punching up” on someone who’s likely to be able to avenge himself. Few journalists were interested in “punching up” at Weinstein, even though his behavior was apparently pretty widely known. I mean, principles are fine and good, but I’ve gotta still be able to find work in this town!

            [1] Actually punching people tends to get you arrested or beaten up, but almost everyone actually uses this phrase to mean saying bad things about someone, making fun of them, calling them names, etc.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I really despise the terms “punch up” and “punch down.” It is impossible to punch up.

            Yes true. Like “speaking truth to power.” Every time I’ve seen it, it’s been a comment about a powerful person talking about a much denigrated institution, that is one with little power.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, the new Congresswoman who was in the news for saying “impeach the motherfucker” wrt Trump defended herself by saying she “spoke truth to power.” Except the truth that Trump has committed any impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors is in no way proven, and is in fact highly unlikely. And as a sitting member of congress, she’s powerful, with the power to impeach. Certainly more impeachment power than I have. So in fact she’s speaking power to (almost certainly) truth.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            “Impossible” is putting it a bit strongly– Timothy McVeigh was certainly punching up. (It would admittedly be less easy to support that conclusion if he hadn’t gotten punched back even harder.)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If we’re getting into literal punching (and as you said, McVeigh’s not a good example) what is?

            Was the guy who punched Richard Spencer punching up or punching down? The media (social and otherwise) either outright praised him or penned apologetics.

    • Aapje says:

      @Mark V Anderson

      Watson did imply the IQ differences are genetic, and also that the differences are great enough to keep Africa from ever advancing

      Actually, the quote by Watson that you presented does neither. A perfectly reasonably reading of Watson’s comment can be that he believes that the current circumstances in Africa prevent Africans from developing their IQ sufficiently and that the social policies don’t address these and thus prevent (sufficient) African development. Note that Africa has rapid population growth, which seems unsustainable. So the gloomy prospects don’t have to refer to indefinite stagnation, but can refer to insufficient development to lower birth rates in time and/or provide enough jobs & economic growth, causing one or more major crises, like war, revolution, large scale migration to unwilling places, etc.

      Of course, one can only speculate, because part of the CW, especially on this topic, is that people are often unwilling to actually ask the questions to figure out what someone means exactly; preferring to apply their stereotypes and prejudices instead, to tell everyone what the person must have meant and why this straw man is wrong.

      • albatross11 says:

        Okay, but suppose he intended exactly what Marc thinks he intended. Suppose he’s really claiming that sub-Saharan Africa will remain underdeveloped because its people have lower IQs than other countries for genetic reasons.

        Now, that’s a claim of fact. It may be right or wrong, and I don’t think anyone has enough data to say for certain[1].

        So why is his saying such a thing a reason to hound him from his job? As best I can tell, the reasoning is that this is such an offensive and socially destructive statement that it should be suppressed regardless of whether or not it is true, and that the question should not even be investigated. This reflects that editorial I linked awhile back by Megan McArdle, asserting that since scientists are human and have biases, they mustn’t be allowed to look into such topics for fear they’ll get the wrong answers[2].

        But let’s imagine for the moment that I want to make correct predictions about what policies will and won’t work even more than I want the Great and Good at the NYT to think well of me. Then, it seems like I should really want the answer to that question of fact, because it will help me make better predictions and thus better decisions. If I want the World Bank or the Gates Foundation to use their vast resources intelligently, it seems like I should want them to know the answer to that question, so they do the most good in the world.

        There is a substantial chunk of our intellectual class proposing ignorance as a policy for making the best possible decisions. It’s really hard to imagine this working out well.

        [1] The genetic basis of intelligence is an active area of research, but as best I can tell, it’s nowhere near being able to answer this question. And economic development–which countries get rich, which stay poor–is extremely messy and not well-understood.

        [2] Perhaps we should publish an Index of forbidden books and research topics. You know, just to keep everyone on the same page.

        • Aapje says:

          There is a substantial chunk of our intellectual class proposing ignorance as a policy for making the best possible decisions.

          Not for all decisions. They just have very strong taboos, because of their great recognition of how certain beliefs can get out of hand, while not recognizing that extremist beliefs in the other direction can similarly get out of hand greatly.

          However, even at the NYT, some are realizing that while shaming people can make them shut up, it’s not necessarily very convincing.

          • albatross11 says:

            There’s something really interesting about this article: It starts with the conclusions it prefers for political/social reasons, and then discusses how some scientific results don’t support those conclusions, and this is seen as a problem to be solved. This seems like an ass-backwards way to understand the world.

            Consider the perspective of a similarly-placed thinker in 1940 w.r.t. the claim that smoking causes cancer. Saying this upsets a hell of a lot of people who both enjoy smoking and who are addicted and can’t manage to quit. If it were believed, huge and important industries would probably collapse, and the economies of many Southern states would take a terrible hit. And it kinda reminds us all of prohibition and of the puritan killjoys who wanted to ban drinking, smoking, dancing, etc.

            The only problem is, smoking actually *does* cause cancer. If we’d had a society-wide fight to shut down that message, with peoples’ careers ruined and people shouted down when trying to speak in public, the result would have been a few million more people dying of lung cancer.

        • Bamboozle says:

          On the one hand i agree that we shouldn’t forbid study into any area or the publishing of truth.

          On the other hand i want to ask what the point of researching it is? It’s like trying to research the extent to which your girlfriend’s trousers make her look fat. What’s the point? The answer isn’t really going to help discussion and the ultimate effect isn’t going to mean all that much in the grand scheme of things.

          They should be allowed to research it for sure, but we should also allow them to be ridiculed for doing so.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Because it greatly affects policy.

            If the biggest reason that blacks lag behind whites in America is the lack of some material thing, then a policy of giving them that material thing could fix the gap.

            If it’s purely cultural, then a substantial cultural program can be put in place (don’t get divorced! Don’t have premarital sex! etc.)

            But if it’s genetic, then the best we can do is try to moderate the effects and do the best we can.

            Same with Africa as a continent. If the problem with Africa is the same problem with Asia in the 1950s (communism and the ravages of war), then removing those problems can make Africa boom. If the problem is that Africans have a genetic IQ average of 80, then removing those problems won’t make Africa boom.

          • Kyle A Johansen says:

            “and the ultimate effect isn’t going to mean all that much in the grand scheme of things.” could be said about anything in biology.

            Although I agree with EchoChaos that it might affect policy, to my mind the main problem is that the false dogma is already affecting policy and people’s livelihoods.

            For example schools, when you rule out natural intelligence and the falsifiable falsehoods then you are left with a mass-white conspiracy – and academia sure aren’t shy in cheer-leading that – and to my mind ‘those people have a bell-curve slightly to the left’ is a much safer conclusion that ‘those people are actively conspiring to destroy your life’.

          • albatross11 says:

            Bamboozle:

            First, Watson’s comment was about a practical issue for development policy–whether we can expect sub-Saharan African countries to develop into first-world economies. If you’re thinking about aid programs, development grants, foreign policy, etc., you should care about whether or not he’s right, because it changes what you should do.

            Second, scientists investigate a lot of stuff that you might find frivolous or not very worthwhile. Some of that stuff turns out to be important later, some doesn’t, but we do not, as a society, generally bash on people for doing research in areas that seem unlikely to pay off in practical terms. If you only object to “frivolous” research that threatens your existing beliefs, you’re engaging in an isolated demand for rigor (or maybe for relevance of research). ISTM that puts you in the same place as a fundamentalist who’s okay with research on evolution of flies and bacteria, but demands an end to research on human origins because all that research challenges his most prized beliefs.

            Third, it’s hard to find anyone who actually thinks research into the black/white performance or IQ gap should actually be forbidden. They want to forbid some hypotheses and some answers, regardless of the data. You don’t get shouted down by an angry mob for presenting your work on stereotype threat or structural racism as explanations for the performance gap. Only *some* explanations are unacceptable.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It’s like trying to research the extent to which your girlfriend’s trousers make her look fat. What’s the point?

            Perhaps the research could lead to the development of trousers that make her look less fat.

    • albatross11 says:

      Mark:

      The interesting question to ask here is, are there any circumstances in which the NYT would have given any kind of defense for his position? If they called 10 scientists and 2 offered to give an off-the-record defense of Watson’s position, would they have published it? My guess is no–they would have decided that this news wasn’t fit to print.

      Now, if you see the NYT’s job as being “tell people what they should believe,” this is reasonable. But if you think their job is to inform you of the best available picture of the world, that’s not so great.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Yes I think informing of the best available picture of the world is their job. And I suspect the journalists at the Times would agree, which is why I am confused and wrote this post.

    • SaiNushi says:

      Journalists write the article. Editors strike out things to make the article say what they want it to. So, often, the journalists write a well-reasoned, balanced article, and the editors strike out enough to make one side look like idiots and the other side look like saints.

      Most journalists are interested in the truth. Most editors just want to sell papers.

      • knockknock says:

        That’s right about editors, though not just “striking things out” after the fact but more crucially sending the reporter out in the first place with a specific narrative to fill instead of an open mind. Of course there ARE good editors who will tell the reporter, “Wait a sec, you’re sayng that EVERYONE says the same thing here? Go find someone who doesn’t.”

        There also are situations (such as this one with Amy Harmon) where a reporter has been following a story or an issue for quite some time, and this can be a double-edged sword — as the reporter becomes more knowledgeable he or she might also become more biased or at least more emotionally invested. (They might even have plans to write a book or somehow leverage their knowledge).

        A reporter brought in cold on a subject might be more neutral, more disinterested or more balanced just to play it safe on an issue he knows he doesn’t really grasp. But you are sacrificing expertise there.

        Let’s take a simple example: You have a reporter covering the police beat. If he becomes too buddy-buddy with the cops over the years — or too cynical and confrontational toward the police — then you might want to bring in someone fresh.

      • Dan L says:

        I guess I prefer the model where journalism is the result of two largely homogonous loci of control over the model where it’s the result of one monolithic power center. Not sure it’d make for a good survey question, but it’d be interesting to see where exactly everyone here puts the bounds on “journalism” and “mainstream media”.

        • albatross11 says:

          I’d prefer many loci to two loci. The world’s richer for the Glenn Greenwalds and Matt Taibbis and Steve Sailers and John Derbyshires and Radley Balkos who aren’t exactly on one of the two approved teams, but who instead discuss things from their own perspective and understanding.

          The two-locus world is one where nobody reports on opposition to the Iraq invasion or the GWOT mass-surveillance or the bailouts after the 2008 meltdown, because the leadership of both parties is onboard with it.

          • Dan L says:

            I was responding to the idea that “editors + journalists” models “journalism” better than “journalists” alone. To show my own hand a bit:

            1. Media literacy is both critically important and harder than people think, and involves taking into account the journalists, editors, management, investors, and audience. Miss an actor and you’ll be tempted to substitute a conspiracy among the rest.

            2. The media landscape is now large enough that fully independent ecosystems can exist simultaneously, with strongly negative public effects both via inferential gaps and toxoplasma dynamics. It takes active effort for an individual to read from multiple spheres, which sucks because it’s necessary to having decent models.

            3. If you’re informed, you’re part of the problem. (Maybe part of the solution, but that’s less automatic.) Nobody gets the excuse that they’re not feeding into the mainstream narratives anymore, fragmentation and social media means everyone’s in play.

    • dick says:

      It sounds like you simultaneously believe “Watson holds a position that is unfairly slandered as wrong and racist by most mainstream scientists” and “It’s surprising that all the quotes about Watson in a mainstream news article are disparaging” despite the former adequately explaining the latter.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        “Watson holds a position that is unfairly slandered as wrong and racist by most mainstream scientists”

        No I never said this and don’t believe this. I think most scientists in the field of intelligence testing would mostly agree with Watson. My point was that the Times somehow didn’t find these scientists.

        • albatross11 says:

          I don’t think that’s quite right. My very imperfect understanding is that there’s a range of beliefs among scientists who study this, with the belief that the black/white IQ difference is primarily genetic being a somewhat minority belief, and a lot of people feeling like there’s not enough data to know, or like it’s such a fraught topic that they’re uncomfortable speculating.

          I don’t know who’s right, and I wouldn’t be qualified to evaluate most of the evidence to decide without a lot of work and research. (Though even an amateur can do some sanity checking on various claims.)

          But I’m very sure that the way to get to the right answer involves allowing open discussion and collection of evidence and analysis, just like in every other area of science. And I’m very sure that the right way to work out the implications of the answer, whatever it is, is to allow people to discuss the matter in public, just like we do for all kinds of other topics.

          The current state of the art in intellectual taboos isn’t that a topic is forbidden, it’s that some claims about the topic are forbidden, and others are mandatory if you say anything about it. This will never lead you to the truth except by lucky accident.

          • Eponymous says:

            My very imperfect understanding is that there’s a range of beliefs among scientists who study this, with the belief that the black/white IQ difference is primarily genetic being a somewhat minority belief, and a lot of people feeling like there’s not enough data to know, or like it’s such a fraught topic that they’re uncomfortable speculating.

            See the surveys mentioned here. There’s plenty of support for hereditarian views among researchers, just the opposite of the impression one gets from the NYT article. Any way you slice it, this is bad journalism.

        • dick says:

          I think I see the problem – it sounds you’re using “Watson’s views” to mean the strongest case for a genetic difference in IQ between races. But when someone says “I find Watson’s views reprehensible”, the charitable thing to do would be to assume the mean the least-defensible things he’s said, which in this case would be the thing about dealing with black employees and the thing about the futility of anti-poverty interventions in Africa. That’s one reason why it’s so unfair to quote a scientist saying Watson’s views are wrong and conclude that they don’t understand math.

          Anyway, I think this is a really pointless debate (as discussed at length here) so I ought to butt out, but I think it would be fair and uncontroversial to say that it is definitely not the case that most people in the field agree with the most controversial things Watson has said. More generally, I’d add that it is a mistake to view this as a debate between “people who understand and are willing to face the implications of IQ test data” and “people who don’t/won’t”. It is a debate between “people who think IQ tests are a good measurement of intelligence, and think that dividing people up arbitrarily in to racial groups, measuring their IQs, and comparing them tells us something useful about the world” and “people who don’t.” That’s the other reason why it’s so unfair to quote a scientist saying Watson’s views are wrong and conclude that they don’t understand math.

          • albatross11 says:

            Imagine if the reporter saw her job as informing her readers about the actual state of the science behind Watson’s claims. What would that have looked like?

            I don’t think it would have looked much like the article she wrote.

          • dick says:

            It would’ve been called “The Race/IQ Debate – Which Side is Right?” and would’ve been much longer than this one, and would’ve probably not have mentioned James Watson, certainly not the movie about him that prompted this article. Why are you so surprised/annoyed that this article isn’t that article? Has it not already been written, several times?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            But when someone says “I find Watson’s views reprehensible”, the charitable thing to do would be to assume the mean the least-defensible things he’s said, which in this case would be the thing about dealing with black employees and the thing about the futility of anti-poverty interventions in Africa.

            I really have no idea what else he has said. I am using the quote in the essay itself as why Watson is disparaged. Perhaps I am treating the scientists unfairly because they are responding to much worse comments than the author quotes? Possibly.

            That’s one reason why it’s so unfair to quote a scientist saying Watson’s views are wrong and conclude that they don’t understand math.

            Did you read what she said? It was totally innumerate. She implied that one’s personal relationships should over-ride statistics. Tell me if I mis-interpret, but she seems to be saying that if Watson had worked with brilliant Black researchers, there is no way he could believe what he does. I hate to think she would bring such beliefs to her own work, but it seems likely.

          • albatross11 says:

            Mark:

            To be fair, Watson’s quote may have made the same error in the other direction. If you have the same criteria for hiring members of different groups with different average abilities, then you should see about the same abilities in your employees. (Though Watson may have been thinking about affirmative-action hires, who are in general going to have lower qualificiations.)

          • dick says:

            Did you read what she said? It was totally innumerate. She implied that one’s personal relationships should over-ride statistics.

            You act as if Watson at some point published a mathematical defense of the Bell Curve, and she was responding to it. To my knowledge nothing like that has happened. What has happened is, an elderly man gave an interview where he said some things widely interpreted as a bit racist, and one of his friends defended him by saying, “Oh, he wouldn’t feel that way if he’d gotten a chance to work with more black people.” And then you insulted her.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            What she said, specifically, was “If he knew African-Americans as colleagues at all levels, his present view would be impossible to sustain,’’

            All levels would presumably include Watson’s own, the level of a Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine. Or perhaps it’s fair to expand that to Chemistry. Maybe even Physics.

            That provides the possibility for a downright Straussian reading, though I’m sure she didn’t actually mean it that way.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Okay I’m getting pushback on my innumeracy comment, and I don’t understand why. Well possibly one idea.

            As I’ve been reading further posts, I see that Watson made a comment about how hard it was to work with Black workers. And looking at the original article, I see that comment was vaguely alluded to, though I didn’t get that when I first read it. If the geneticist was referring to Watson’t comment on working with Black employees, then okay, that wasn’t innumerate.

            I assumed her comment related to Watson’s first quoted comment, that Africa is in trouble because of low Black IQ’s. That seemed to be the main focus of the essay, so I assumed all the scientists’ arguments were regarding that. If that main focus is what the geneticist referred to, then she is certainly innumerate. If Watson had worked with one or more Nobel winning Black researchers, that would have no bearing on whether the average Black IQ is 85, any more than a White Nobel winning scientist would prove that the average White IQ cannot be 100. To me, she seemed to imply that personal relationships should over-ride one’s understanding of statistics. I’ve known plenty of otherwise smart folks making such comments, but I was a bit shocked at a PhD geneticist doing it. So maybe I mis-interpreted.

    • 10240 says:

      I commented about this topic in the subreddit once. Basically, most intellectuals think there are no differences between the average innate intelligence (or other mental traits) of different races not because they think researchers have proved it, but because they consider it so obvious that research is hardly needed. To them, any research is to prove that there is no difference, not to determine whether there is or not; only a racist would even think about researching the possibility that there is. Journalists, scientists etc. don’t consider this a bias. They report that there is no difference because they think it’s true. They don’t report about the possibility that it’s false for the same reason they don’t report about the possibility that the Earth is flat.

      I used to think like this, and I see the same sort of thinking in the sort of discourse you quote*. Growing up in a liberal family, I heard a lot about the evils of racism, people being biased against other races, racist science in the past, and how racists wrongly judged people based on their race before they would know about their individual qualities. In all this, it seemed implied that it’s obvious that there is actually no difference between the average qualities of races, even though no one explicitly told me so. At some point I changed my mind, realizing that actually nothing in the reasons I thought racism was wrong implied that averages were the same.

      While most people from liberal, intellectual families learn that racism is very wrong, we pick up or form different ideas about why it’s very wrong, and even about what racism actually exactly is. I’ve always considered the main problem with racism to be judging individuals from different races who happen to have the same qualities differently, based on their race. However, many people don’t care that much about the distinction between individuals and group averages, and mostly consider it racist and immoral to think that one race is better as a whole (in any sense). To them, the possibility that the average innate intelligence of one race is higher than that of another really is unthinkable. (IMO it’s pretty stupid and religion-like to consider it immoral to think a certain statement about facts, but it’s common.)


      * During the debate about the Damore memo, it was clear that many people thought like this about sex too, though I’d never thought so.

      • albatross11 says:

        It’s hard to reason into a headwind.

        When you’re honestly trying to follow the facts, but they’re leading you somewhere you’ve always been told is wrong, or that is believed only by wicked people, then it’s *hard* to let your reason take you to those conclusions. Arguments that push you back toward a more comfortable set of conclusions seem much stronger, even when they’re really laughably sketchy. Sources that push you toward the uncomfortable conclusions seem shaky and untrustworthy, even when they’re quite sound.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        mostly consider it racist and immoral to think that one race is better as a whole (in any sense). To them, the possibility that the average innate intelligence of one race is higher than that of another really is unthinkable.

        Also, you’re talking about people of an “intellectual” class who tend to wrap intelligence up in moral worth. Their own intelligence is how they justify their wealth, privilege and right to rule. If they were to extend that same justification to racial groups…

        The correct answer, though, is to stop conflating intelligence and moral worth. God loves the genius and the imbecile just the same, which is really good news for all us imbeciles.

        • 10240 says:

          Also, you’re talking about people of an “intellectual” class who tend to wrap intelligence up in moral worth. Their own intelligence is how they justify their wealth, privilege and right to rule.

          Scientists, journalists are not the best paid professions. I don’t think these sorts of intellectuals consider themselves the ruling class; that would be rich businessmen, politicians etc.

          I also don’t think “moral worth” (whatever that means) is commonly considered the justification for wealth or leadership. A common justification for wealth is beneficial contributions to society; many of the professions that may contribute the most require intelligence. (A more libertarian/capitalist position is that wealth requires no justification other than having obtained it in a legitimate way.) Likewise, people tend to think that leaders should be the most capable people.

          If they were to extend that same justification to racial groups…

          … that would only lead to policies that most of us consider unacceptable, if average intelligence differs by group, if a person’s status was to depend on the average intelligence of his race, rather than his on own intelligence.
          While many people consider it problematic that average wealth or representation in leadership positions differs by race, I think people consider it problematic because they think that average intelligence is the same, rather than the other way around.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think these sorts of intellectuals consider themselves the ruling class…

            Of course they don’t; one of their criteria for legitimate use of power is that it’s not being exercised on behalf of a ruling class. Insofar as they want to use their power anyway, it follows that they consider themselves outside of one, or, if not, then at least that they’re not using it to further their class interests. But this is a fragile sort of justification, and anyway you can’t always find somebody to punch up at, which creates a need for other sources of legitimacy. Intelligence is one of the bigger ones.

          • Walter says:

            “I don’t think these sorts of intellectuals consider themselves the ruling class;”

            Yeah, I get what you mean, but do you also get that they do, in a sense, do a lot of ruling?

            Like, this weekend, the good folks over at Lifetime decided to do us a all a favor and drop the hammer on R. Kelly’s career.

            The President couldn’t have done that, yeah? If he had told his spies to disappear him they’d be leaking while they closed the Oval Office door. If he’d just told folks not to buy dude’s music sales woulda doubled.

            Congress couldn’t have done that. If they’d tried to, like, outlaw dude in the senate the democrats would have called them racists. If the democrats had tried it in the house the reps would have called them extreme feminists.

            Similarly, like, a progressive buddy and I, back in the day, were talking about President Obama and the global warming policy. Dude was like ‘I sure hope he listens to the expert scientists’. He didn’t want the guy he’d elected to make the policy, he wanted it made by the scientist. Obama’s job is to defend their policy from Republicans.

            Similarly, Scott Pruit got to run the EPA. My bud was super worried that he wouldn’t take the orders from his scientists. The idea that the leader would actually lead was anathema to him. In his view, policy comes from scientists, if the right politicans can safeguard it through.

            But you are also correct, I don’t want to seem like I’m proposing some kind of conspiracy thing. Scientists/journalists don’t meet in dark rooms or whatever and do the Stonecutter thing. Calling them the ‘ruling class’ isn’t technically right, but it isn’t entirely wrong either, if that makes any sense.

          • Nornagest says:

            Dude was like ‘I sure hope he listens to the expert scientists’. He didn’t want the guy he’d elected to make the policy, he wanted it made by the scientist. Obama’s job is to defend their policy from Republicans.

            I don’t think this is quite fair. Even the most hardcore environmentalists don’t want climate scientists to be writing policy, not if they know what they’re talking about. That’s not what they’re good at. They don’t know how to write a bill that won’t immediately be struck down by the courts, or how to balance a proposal with the rest of the economy’s needs, or how to keep constituents relatively happy while they’re doing it.

            They do want climate scientists to be taken seriously, when they talk about the scale of the problem and when they say roughly what has to be done to solve it. But that’s not policy, that’s a set of facts informing policy needs. It’s no different from taking economists or civil engineers or population psychologists seriously in the same sense, and I can think of plenty of rightist perspectives that might want that.

          • 10240 says:

            @Walter To the extent scientists and similar intellectuals rule or influence decisions, the logic is that intelligence (and relevant expertise etc.) justifies ruling, not that intelligence is equivalent to moral worth, and moral worth justifies ruling. Thus, decoupling intelligence from moral worth (as @Conrad Honcho suggested) wouldn’t affect it.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            This same elites seem awfully contemptuous of the sort of stupid, inbred retards who would elect someone like Trump. The lack of intelligence they attribute to the masses justifies ignoring or outright condemning their interests. Recall Peter Strozk who could “smell the Trump support” at Wal-Mart. Perhaps “moral worth” isn’t exactly the right term, but it’s something like that. “These people are stupid and beneath me and therefore I am justified in giving them no consideration.”

          • 10240 says:

            @Conrad Honcho They/we typically don’t ignore their interests, but think that their demands are contrary to their own interests (or at least not the best way to advance their interests by far). Another possible motive is that they/we think that there are more unfortunate people than the stereotypical Trump supporter, who are thus more deserving of help.

      • Garrett says:

        Fun fact[oid]s:
        * In basketball, one of the predominant attributes of players is height.
        * Basketball players are disproportionately black (~74% vs. ~13% of general population).
        * In the US, the average height of white males is higher than black males.
        * Std. deviation for the win!

    • albatross11 says:

      Just an aside about Watson:

      This is a guy who has a Nobel prize for his discoveries in biology, and who has headed a major biological research institute for decades. He made an intellectually defensible but really unpopular and socially unacceptable comment, and it ended his career.

      Are we really sure it’s a good idea to have intellectual taboos so strong that even a Nobel prizewinner can’t question them without being destroyed? How would we know if those taboos were keeping us from learning some really useful or important things, given that even super-established and -respected people aren’t permitted to question them?

      This is us blinding ourselves. As far as I can tell, the people enforcing these taboos and deciding on what ideas should be taboo are not particularly smart or wise or insightful. Putting the James Watsons in charge of telling the Megan McArdles what questions are off limits would be a pretty bad idea, but putting the Megan McArdles in charge of what questions the James Watsons are allowed to ask is just nuts.

      • xq says:

        Note that Watson didn’t just say: I think the evidence supports the hypothesis that genetic factors explain a large part of the observed differences in IQ scores between blacks and whites.

        He said: “[I] hope that everyone is equal… but people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”

        This is not a scientific statement. You could not publish a report saying that your subjective perception of your white vs. black employees supports a particular position on the relation between genetics, race and IQ. He’s denigrating his black employees (note “have to deal with”) and those employees would be justified in the belief that he is unable to fairly evaluate them. These are inappropriate comments for a manager, regardless of their position on the scientific issues.

        • CatCube says:

          Yeah, that’s the definite failure mode of focusing on average ability of a racial group. I’m agnostic on whether that exists (I think the whole question is so politicized we won’t get any useful information on it in our generation), but even assuming that it does, the notion that you can tell a lot about individuals from it is bad.

          Like, you don’t need to look at the average intelligence of blacks when dealing with a specific employee (or one you’re considering hiring). You have the employee right there, and he either is or is not intelligent enough to do the job. It might be rarer to find somebody of a specific race to do this job, but a large number in absolute terms will exist, and it’s horrific to refuse to consider the person in front of you in terms of anything other than their actual ability.

          The distribution is important in considering things like overall representation, but stupid when considering individuals, and there are a lot of people who want to use the distribution when talking about a specific person.

          • dick says:

            and there are a lot of people who want to use the distribution when talking about a specific person.

            I think this is very similar to the concept of privilege. It was explicitly proposed in academia as a way to talk about the differences between groups of people, and it took about 8 seconds before people started using it to compare individuals. (Which makes it kind of ironic that the groups of people bloviating about the importance of those two things are almost perfectly disjoint)

      • 10240 says:

        He made an intellectually defensible but really unpopular and socially unacceptable comment, and it ended his career.

        “Ended his career” may be a slight overstatement. He was 79 at the time, near the end of his career anyway. According to Wikipedia, he was suspended from his administrative responsibilities, and then resigned from his position as chancellor. I don’t know if he would have been fired if he refuses to resign, whether he could have kept a job as a researcher, or gotten a similar job at another institution if he wanted (which would have been likely if he’d been younger).

        (I don’t know why people often resign in such situations, rather than force the employer to fire them if it wants to. The latter would make it more clear that it’s entirely against their will, while a resignation leaves it unclear if the employer would have actually fired him. For example, Brendan Eich is often said to have been forced out from Mozilla, but according to Mozilla he wasn’t, and they also offered him another executive position when he resigned as CEO.)

        • The Nybbler says:

          I don’t know why people often resign in such situations, rather than force the employer to fire them if it wants to.

          Probably because being fired (except by George Steinbrenner or Donald Trump) carries some pretty serious stigma with it.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          I don’t know why people often resign in such situations

          Often they are not really given much of a choice, and “resigning,” even under duress, is better on a resume than getting fired at the same time. Going quietly is also often a prerequisite for a severance or leaving bonus. The person is given the choice of getting fired for cause, or leaving with a nice retirement and a little bonus + a cleaner official record.

          Given the choice, most people wouldn’t want to stay at a place where it’s obvious they want to get rid of you anyway. You leave on your own terms and save face.

          • 10240 says:

            In these highly publicized situations, everyone knows anyway why the person ended up leaving, whether he is fired or resigns. People who think he was in the wrong will condemn him either way; people who don’t think he should’ve been made to quit will side with him either way. So it doesn’t look like much of a difference in terms of saving face.

      • JPNunez says:

        The taboo is there because in the past similar accussations of genetic inferiority have led to giant atrocities. Let’s not pretend this is Galileo saying “and yet it moves”.

        It’s good that the taboo is still there, and that it can bring down such prestigious figures as Nobel Prize winners. Do note that no science is being harmed here; if you want to study intelligence and genetics, you are still as free to do so. You just cannot say stuff like “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. It’s not like Watson had a lot more to contribute at his age. The people studying it seriously tend to know this, it’s just that Watson thought he had the prestige of a Nobel Prize and could run his mouth as he wanted, and turns out he could not.

        The taboo is there for a very good reason.

        • EchoChaos says:

          This is a bad argument, in my opinion.

          It implies that if there were genetically inferior humans (however defined) it would be okay to commit giant atrocities against them, and is an isolated demand for rigor in addition to that.

          Nobody serious is saying “you can’t argue for any amount of redistribution of wealth because communism has led to giant atrocities”

          The argument against giant atrocities is that they are immoral, not to taboo a specific fact.

        • albatross11 says:

          JPNunez:

          I feel exactly the same way about inflamatory public discussions about economic inequality and class struggle. Given the huge piles of bodies associated with the movement that was driven by such concerns, we should just make a taboo about anyone discussing them, and shut them down if they do. Right?

        • The taboo is there because in the past similar accussations of genetic inferiority have led to giant atrocities.

          Is that true?

          The Nazis didn’t, so far as I can tell, think that the Jews were genetically inferior–they thought they were enemies. I don’t think the Khmer Rouge thought the people they killed were inferior, or that Stalin thought the Ukrainians were. I’m not aware of beliefs of racial inferiority by the Hausa with regard to the Ibo—if anything it was the Ibo that had the reputation of intellectual superiority. I doubt many of the people involved in the Hutu/Tutsi conflicts had opinions about genetics. Mao starved some tens of millions of people–but they were his own people, so I don’t think he believed they were genetically inferior.

          It’s possible that Leopold’s atrocities in the Congo had some such motive, but I wouldn’t assume it–given the opportunity to benefit by mistreating people under your rule, quite a lot of rulers take advantage of it.

          One case that fits is killing of Slavs by the Nazis, but while they planned to do that on a very large scale they fortunately didn’t get a chance to carry most of those plans through.

          You could make a case for the slave trade–I’m not sure to what extent the motivation behind that was a belief in the genetic inferiority of blacks rather than their availability and usefulness as slaves. Large scale slavery had existed in the Muslim world for a long time and some blacks ended up as high status members of that society—Ibraham ibn al Mahdi was son, brother, and uncle of caliphs and an unsuccessful pretender to the caliphate, as well as a famous musician and gastronome—so I doubt they believed in the inherent inferiority of blacks.

          Your argument might make more sense if it was against research on whether private property and related institutions were good, or whether the rich treated the poor unfairly, since quite a lot of people have been killed as a result of beliefs along those lines.

          • LadyJane says:

            @DavidFriedman: The role of racism in a modern humanistic society is to justify systemic oppression and genocide to people who would otherwise be opposed to such things as a matter of principle. A society of barbarians needs no excuse to act barbaric to their enemies; a society of liberal humanists will oppose barbarism by default, and can only be persuaded to go along with it if they’re convinced that it’s necessary for their survival, or that the targets of their barbarism are not quite fully human. An amoral person or culture can engage in immoral actions without any need to excuse their behaviors, but any person or culture who wants to maintain any sort of moral high ground needs to justify their own atrocities somehow.

            This is why the belief in the inferiority of Africans was so crucial to maintaining the institution of American slavery. The United States was founded on the idea that all men were created equal and entitled to certain unalienable rights; the only way to justify slavery was to claim that the slaves weren’t really men, in the true sense of the word. The militaristic slave societies of antiquity didn’t need to justify slavery, because they never held any pretense that humans were entitled to certain rights; in their view, “let’s enslave them because it helps us, and who cares about the well-being of people who aren’t us?” was a perfectly valid way to approach ethics.

            I’m reminded of Steven Weinberg’s famous statement about religion: “Evil people can always be expected to do evil, but only religion can make good people do evil things.” Expand religion to include ideological beliefs – including the idea that your race is superior, or some other race is inferior – and I’d largely agree with his statement.

          • albatross11 says:

            LadyJane:

            First, it sure seems like the problem with slavery was the slavery part, not the factual claims used to spin out a justification for it. My guess is that the people profiting from the slaves were going to find *some* kind of justification for it, and that the need for a justification drove the claims of racial inferiority instead of the other way around. If those claims had somehow become taboo in their time, they would just have come up with other claims to justify their economic interests and the social system they wanted to maintain.

            Second, none of this has anything to do with IQ differences–IQ tests weren’t even invented until after slavery was abolished. IQ differences may have been used in some places to justify school segregation (though there’s an obvious problem with that), though they wouldn’t have worked too well for the other kinds of legally-mandated discrimination in the South.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I really feel that’s contorting cause and effect. Primitives enslaved the other because they were the other, moderns enslaved the other because they were the other and then justified it with literally anything at hand.

            If the IQ gap had gone the other way, then the justification would’ve been some other bullshit to justify enslaving them, because enslaving them was never based on a philosophical reason. Rather, the enslaving was based on enslaving and the reason was a slave to that.

            It’s not like racism against Asians or Jews doesn’t exist because the IQ gap goes the other way.

            I think you overestimate the number of purely immoral hedonic people. It’s very important to 99% of villains to be the hero in their own story.

            Also, I will point out that atheist quotes like that are especially annoying because it’s religion that got us past the slave societies of antiquity.

          • Aapje says:

            Note that often successful minorities have been targeted (like Jews and Chinese), as well as people of the same race whose beliefs were deviant. Beliefs of inferiority can change how people are targeted, but it certainly doesn’t seem a requirement.

            With regard to slavery and persecution, perhaps it’s even better to invert the question. Given the obvious benefits of slavery and killing people who cramp your style, what justifications do people use not to enslave and kill?

        • Aapje says:

          @JPNunez

          That would be more persuasive if it was upheld for somewhat similar situations.

          In the past, accusations of collective male deviousness have resulted in mass murder of men, while women were let go. See Srebrenica, for example.

          Yet people are allowed to say far worse things than what Watson said, as long as it’s about men. In fact, they are given a platform in WaPo to do so.

  25. T82 says:

    Does anyone have any links to a credible defense of George HW Bush and his administration? With his passing away a little over a month ago, I’ve seen and heard a lot of appreciation for him that I don’t really understand. One big reason for that is that I don’t know much about his presidency other than Gulf War I and “No New Taxes” (often cited as causing his loss in the 1992 election), and even then my understanding of the context and details of those things is very limited.

    I would be particularly interested in an examination of his foreign policy, including Gulf War I, since that’s what he seems most famous for. Links would be appreciated, or if you’d like to make the case yourself, be my guest.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Rough Outline from memory:
      -Invaded Panama, typical poor US relations with any number of Latin American countries
      -More or less brought Poland into the Western/NATO sphere of influence
      -More skeptical of Israel than most who hold the office, including Obama. Told Congress not to approve money to Israel if it was going to be used for Jewish settlement of the West Bank
      -Worked with our allies in good faith to advance environmental accords
      -Presided over the end of the Cold War. Condemned the August 1991 coup in Moscow but mostly stayed out of the way, seeing the end was coming fast. Genuinely thought we would see a “peace dividend” and drawing down of the MIC, but ultimately got drawn into Team America World Police things like Somalia and taking sides in the breakdown of Yugoslavia that would pave the way for the era of Clinton imperialism
      -Probably the last president to maintain the old, skeptical stance toward China. Saw them as a useful balance against the Soviets but not someone we were going to have cozy relations with
      -Had neocons in his orbit but was ultimately smart enough to listen to Colin Powell and the adults in the room and limit our mission in Iraq to something winnable (which of course also had the effect of leaving the Kurds out to dry, but that’s par for the course)
      -Free market enthusiast, strongly promoted NAFTA and trade with Japan in an era where many average Americans were skeptical (Japan would end up not dominating the world as assumed but NAFTA remains controversial)

    • Jo says:

      Here’s not a defense, but the opposite, in German (Google should be able to translate it): https://www.heise.de/tp/news/Auf-den-Hund-gekommen-4244823.html
      I have not much knowledge about him, just skimmed that article when it was published and thought it might increase your information base.

    • Walter says:

      I’ve always felt like the most important thing about his presidency is that the Berlin Wall fell under his watch, and he let East Germany and West Germany unify and be part of NATO.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        I think if the US government had strongly objected, Germany might not have re-unified.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Which is an interesting thought experiment. Two independent Germanies at peace with each other and both capitalist, but not unified.

          Would Europe be more or less stable and peaceful?

          • Protagoras says:

            It seems less would be the safe bet for almost any change you care to name, insofar as Europe at present is absolutely extraordinary in its stability and peacefulness by historical standards.

          • Aapje says:

            @EchoChaos

            Right now you have (political) friction within Germany along pre-unification lines. If separate, East-Germany would presumably have more Eastern-European policies, like desiring less immigration. It would then still get into conflicts with the EU over this, just like many of the Eastern-European nations.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Protagoras Why would that be the assumption? Having a separate Czechia and Slovakia has been far better for both.

            @Aapje I suspect that’s true, although the humor of Germany allying with Poland against France in terms of policy is pretty good for me.

            There would be conflicts with the EU, but those have been pretty peaceful so far, and it would reduce internal German conflicts.

    • John Schilling says:

      It’s not clear how much credit Bush I deserves for the end of the Cold War, but it happened on his watch and he didn’t fuck it up. That’s huge. A conflict that had two generations of Americans fearing that the only possible futures were subjugation to foreign tyranny or bloody apocalypse, and we won an essentially bloodless victory. George could have fucked it up. He didn’t.

      Also, he united approximately the entire world behind the principle “Nation shall not conquer nation”, and made it stick for at least twenty years.

    • Snailprincess says:

      I kind of liked this take. . It’s not exactly a glowing endorsement, but it’s at least nominally positive. The short version is that he deserves some credit for staying calm during the fall of the Soviet Union. Our response to that could have made things a lot worse.

  26. Sanchez says:

    I like the newest first ordering. I would always scroll to the bottom and read the newest posts first anyway. With newest first I no longer have to do this, and I’m also saved the annoyance of having to search for parent comments.

    It always seemed like the first posts weren’t as interesting. They were often from regular commenters and had similar formats. It seemed like you got more variety as you got to the later posts. (This could all be in my head.)

  27. Kyle A Johansen says:

    Those that have seen Room 243 – The ‘The Shining’ theory film – what did you think of it?

    I am not very sure – I intend to steal the consensus opinion from here – but I think it is somewhat uncomfortable as if gawking at people; the whole Kubrick fake the Moon footage especially. One particular thing about that being “‘Room No’, the only words you could get from that are ‘Moon’ and ‘Room'” ignoring stuff like ‘norm’ or ‘moor’, but perhaps that fellow actually has a good reason for ignoring ‘norm’ or ‘moor’ and obviously the film does not show us that by refusing to interrogate him, or whatever.

    There’s also the scene with the woman talking about her son’s story. What was the point of that?

    I feel like the film’s goodness is allowing us to see how others look into something and see connections. Only, the film doesn’t really explore it itself nor makes it very easy for us to explore it.

    Also, did you see a Minotaur in the ski poster?

    • saniette says:

      Film studies Professor David Bordwell argued a while back that what the people in Room 237 do isn‘t as far removed from ‚respectable‘ film criticism as it may seem.

      http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2013/04/07/all-play-and-no-work-room-237/

      [Room 237] handily illustrates how interpreting a movie involves certain informal reasoning routines shared by “amateur” and “professional” critics. The differences between the two camps depend largely on what cues the critic fastens on in the film, what associational patterns the critic builds up, and how strongly the critic subscribes to the professional constraints on inferences.

      Whether the cues, the patterns, and the inferences based on them seem plausible depends on what particular critical institutions have deemed worthwhile. Claims that won’t fly in mainstream or specialized cinephile publications can flourish in fandom. The purposes and commitments of these institutions may sometimes overlap, but we shouldn’t expect them to.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      No, but have you seen Pitch Perfect 237, the guide to understanding how the 2012 Anna Kendrick a cappella singing competition movie is really trying to tell us the truth about 9-11?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      I wasn’t particularly convinced by any of the reads except that guilt about the Indian genocide generally pervades American fiction unconsciously or in ways you wouldn’t expect. (But I had previously noted that sort of stuff so I don’t know if I would have been convinced if Room 237 was the only thing I’d seen making that case)

  28. Aapje says:

    Scott and/or one of the resident Word Press experts:

    Is it fairly easily doable to make the sorting user-configurable? I don’t begrudge other people their wrong preferred sorting. However, I prefer something that makes sense.

    • T82 says:

      I would second this. If we have to have one or the other, I’d prefer oldest-first. But it would be great to have a choice.

    • Alsadius says:

      Better yet, can we have upvotes and offer best-first sorting, or Reddit’s “hot” algorithm?

      • Kyle A Johansen says:

        If you would like to comment on a forum that uses a Reddit-style comment structure, then I am sure that there exists websites like that. There’s one on the tip of my tongue; begins with ‘R’, rhymes with ‘Breadit, more specifically the SSC subreddit’.

    • Winja says:

      Disqus, for all its faults, allows users to sort.

      Also, as long as we’re kvetching, trying to read SSC comments on mobile is a
      total
      n
      i
      g
      h
      t
      m
      a
      r
      e

      • CatCube says:

        I’m always baffled by why you’d try to interact with the comment section on mobile to begin with. Trying to peck out a response on the ridiculous soft keyboards that have been inflicted on all mobile platforms in recent years is even more nightmarish.

        • the ridiculous soft keyboards that have been inflicted on all mobile platforms in recent years

          Not quite all.

        • Lambert says:

          I still think we need to give chording keyboards another shot.
          Sounds like the perfect solution to the need for a small, mobile, one-handed keyboard.
          Until then, messagese > normal on-screen keyboard.

        • Bugmaster says:

          FWIW, I use SwiftKey and I like it a lot. It’s far, far from perfect, but it makes it actually feasible for me to reply to emails and comments on mobile.

          I also use Opera (for Android), which allows me to completely bypass the “mobile experience” of most sites.

        • Dan L says:

          The combination of the speed of these comments sections and my availability means that I’m typically faced with the choice of either a few lines hammered out on a break from work, or a more effortful post after the thread dies down. Mobile is terrible, but better than nothing.