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Open Thread 119.5

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

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1,088 Responses to Open Thread 119.5

  1. SkyBlu says:

    edit — Posted in wrong OT. Now posted in OT 120

  2. DragonMilk says:

    Anyone here play city skylines or other sim city variants?

    I just launched it last night after a few years and their “radio” addition is hilarious:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mMexMWWBBk

    Made me think that real companies could probably get in on in game ads

  3. johan_larson says:

    I finally had a chance to see the film “First Man” yesterday when it became available for rent on iTunes. The film is about Neil Armstrong, starting with his early work as a test pilot and culminating in his historic flight to the moon. The flight sequences were well done, but I think it was a mistake to spend any time at all on this man’s private life. He seems to have been known for a certain get-it-done stoicism that just looks like dead time on the screen. The film also suffers by comparison to more engaging earlier coverage of the US space program, such as “The Right Stuff”, “Apollo 13”, and “From the Earth to the Moon”.

    • bean says:

      The flight sequences were well done

      Actually…..
      I had an issue with those. Basically, everything was significantly punched up relative to what actually happened. If you’re high enough to use the X-15s RCS, you’re not going to get lots of aerodynamic shaking. This is fundamental physics. Likewise, the Gemini capsule was spinning significantly faster than it actually did. And way too much shaky-cam on the launch sequences.

      • gbdub says:

        I don’t know, all the examples you cite sound like perfectly reasonable artistic license for a mainstream biopic.

        I think there is real difficulty in conveying how dramatic and dangerous the situations really were to a non-expert audience raised on Michael Bay films. Presented 100% faithfully to physics, the scenes would look boring and trivial. In some sense the exaggerated physics paint a better picture of the “truth” than a more accurate simulation.

        • bean says:

          Granted, and I didn’t hate the movie. But I was sitting there counting errors in those scenes, and there were a lot. I can’t speak to the rest, as I haven’t actually read the book it was based on. (It’s on my Amazon list, but actual buying is obviously dominated by the naval list instead of the space list.)

          • Incurian says:

            What will you do when there is a space navy?

          • bean says:

            Try to get a job working for them, obviously.

          • Watchman says:

            Had the Air Force given up on being the armed force in space then?

          • bean says:

            They haven’t, and I expect that they will continue to have that mission. But we’re a long way away from having something even vaguely like a naval model in space, regardless of who is running it.

          • Incurian says:

            I think it makes sense for the AF to continue with orbital stuff for the foreseeable future, but long range, many-manned missions seem like the things the navy would be better suited for.

          • LHN says:

            At which point we can probably add the Air Force’s navy to the Navy’s air force (and the Navy’s army’s air force).

          • bean says:

            The basic problem is that you’re not going to have a hard line between the two. Military roles and missions evolve, and by the time we get to the case that you’d point to and say “clearly naval”, the Air/Space Force will have been doing something that’s 90% of the way there for some time. We start manned military presence in space with a new spaceplane for fixing or capturing satellites. It’s basically a long-endurance plane. Then we set up a space station. It’s in LEO, and an obvious extension of Air/Space Force missions. We call it a base. Then we need to do the same around Mars, so we set up a station there. Obvious extension of what we were doing before. And we decide to get our own vessel to ship stuff back and forth. Nothing big, it’s not even armed, but it’s nice to not have to deal with civilian cargo firms.

            Now, suddenly, we need to produce an interplanetary warship. Do we give it to the Navy, whose mission looks fairly similar but has minimal presence in space, or to the Space Force, who doesn’t have “naval heritage”, but does have all of the experience of operating in space, including deep space and long duration.

            I can see a couple of cases where you get naval-style organization in space. The most likely is that someone is standing up a force from scratch and uses fictional models. Or possibly there’s a messy divorce from the Air Force and they want to separate themselves. But it’s not like there’s a sharp divide when someone is going to say “better hand it over to the Navy now”.

          • bullseye says:

            Quick look at wikipedia says the Air Force became much larger, and also de facto independent from the Army, in 1941 and 1942. With that in mind, I feel like the most likely scenario for a Space Force as a separate branch of service is for us to start doing a *lot* more in space. Maybe someday we’ll have settlements in space and reason to worry that they’ll be attacked.

        • AG says:

          Presented 100% faithfully to physics, the scenes would look boring and trivial. In some sense the exaggerated physics paint a better picture of the “truth” than a more accurate simulation.

          This is interesting to me, because I’ve started watching the anime “Space Brothers” chronicling a hypothetical near future where astronauts take moon missions in preparation for a Mars mission. It’s a very optimistic show, and so far, nothing has gone wrong on the missions.
          This is because the show is about the wonder that comes with space exploration, and is more of a character study of why people fall in love with space and want to become astronauts. In addition, some tension comes from there having been a disaster mission in the past that killed astronauts. So it’s not about making the audience worry about the people on the mission, it’s about making the audience interested in how the characters feel in that moment.
          It’s like how there’s not really tension in seeing if something goes wrong for the Superbowl Halftime show, or at least it’s not the primary source of tension.

          • gbdub says:

            “it’s about making the audience interested in how the characters feel in that moment”

            That’s kind of what I’m getting at. Armstrong was an expert, so he would have known he was in (or was in serious danger of getting into) a FUBAR situation. But part of recognizing that is his expert knowledge. To a layperson, it might be necessary to exaggerate to get that feeling of imminent disaster across.

          • AG says:

            The solution to that is, as Space Brothers did, not to focus on dread or nervousness as the primary emotion. It’s about anticipation, excitement, determination. Parlay his expert knowledge into a heroic confidence.
            It’s the tension of waiting at the bottom of the ninth inning to see if the cleanup is gonna get the hit to score the winning run, or if the star quarterback can complete the play to score the winning touchdown, if the tie-breaking point will come from this one penalty shot, etc.

      • Well... says:

        I haven’t seen the movie, but watched the moon landing scene and thought it seemed well done, despite being a little choppy and slightly disorienting. I really liked the moment when the landing module’s door opens, you hear the whoosh of what I assume is decompression (or maybe just artistic sound meant to convey the feeling, since I assume the air was actually pumped out beforehand), and then he exits through the door and everything goes silent. That was really nice.

  4. The Pachyderminator says:

    When will the results of RavenclawPrefect’s alternate survey be available?

  5. Le Maistre Chat says:

    More D&D discourse:

    So, I like 5th Edition better than 3.X – it fixes most of the issues with caster supremacy and the way system mastery made or broke any character. Yet I have a couple of significant points of dissatisfaction:

    1) NPCs are built like 4E monsters, rather than having class levels like AD&D/BECMI. This creates a world with a lack of transparency – how many soldiers or lords of the realm can the PCs fight and not be doomed? Well let’s see… a Noble has 9 HP and attacks for 1d8+1 damage with +3 to hit… and every combat Veteran (besides PCs) has 58 HP and attacks thrice a turn for 1d8+3 with +5 to hit. Well, uh, that sure has big implications for the implied setting!
    2) All PC can functionally cast Cure Light Wounds on themselves at a rate of 1 slot/level. That is way too much healing for my taste: I like PCs to viscerally feel their dependence on a priest for healing.

    • Spookykou says:

      1.) I don’t really understand the problem you are laying out here, but assuming I understand the general direction it is going in, I don’t think it is a problem. The numbers in combat are abstractions anyways, I think the system in 5e works well enough in that capacity. My problem with monster design is mostly, lots of worthless spells and too many sacks of hit-points(which are boring). Which I guess means I think the monsters are too complicated and too simple…yup.

      2.) I generally like surges for a few reasons. I like the idea that a party can in theory get by without an explicitly magical healer, even if this rarely happens. I also think that healing is probably the single least interesting use of a spell slot. Ultimately though I think surges are only really needed at low levels, being a level 2 cleric you just do not have enough healing, even if you blow all your slots on healing(bad class design IMO). I also don’t really have a problem with the idea of mundane characters ‘healing’ themselves, because again, all the numbers in combat are abstractions.

      • Randy M says:

        Which I guess means I think the monsters are too complicated and too simple…yup.

        Depth versus complexity in game design is an important concept. You want to increase the amount of meaningful choices available while have as few as possible mentally taxing aspects.

        Is not easy to increase depth while decreasing complexity. Presentation can help; clear, simple, consistent language or iconography will make referencing and learning quicker. Thematic elements are important. Here’s a monster that can fly, has a blast range damaging power, and can make a reactive attack when flanked. How do you keep all that in mind? Well, it’s a dragon with a breath attack and a tail attack. Bundling things together into thematically relevant states can help. You want a transition point where the monster is stronger but more vulnerable, create a “bloodied” state at 1/2 HP where has increased attack but reduced defense. Stay away from numerous small modifiers and have fewer ones that are relevant. The Combat Advantage mechanic is pretty good about this.

        In terms of monsters, I’m not familiar with 5E, but they should each have a good thematic hook that you can describe in a few words, and an ability to two to reinforce that. Goblins are mobile–okay, every goblin has a bonus move action, or a reactive shift, or whatever .

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        1.) I don’t really understand the problem you are laying out here, but assuming I understand the general direction it is going in, I don’t think it is a problem. The numbers in combat are abstractions anyways, I think the system in 5e works well enough in that capacity.

        I don’t like this much abstraction because I’ve always extrapolated a population pyramid from the existence of classes. Assume a king or priest-king is 9th Level, the village priest a 1st level Cleric, determine the population of the kingdom, and figure out a multiplier from there. Say it’s a city-state with a city of 10,000 supported by 90,000 farmers:
        1 9th level King, 2 8th level Superheroes, 4 7th level Champions, 8 6th level Fighter guys, 16 5th level Fighter guys, 32 4th level Heroes, 140 3rd level Fighter guys, 600 2nd level Warriors… there, now I have the demography and power of an entire social class. Repeat for Clerics and Mages.
        In 5E, it’s not clear how PC classes fit into social classes, and they only give you about 3 stat blocks for humans of each social class (Noble for an aristocrat who’s never seen combat, Knight for an aristocrat who has, Veteran for a commoner who’s seen combat…)

        • Spookykou says:

          I have never played in a D&D setting that I felt accurately reflected what a real world would look like run on D&D rules(maybe Dark Sun is close), I guess I would say this concern is just something that I have sensory fatigue to at this point.

    • J Mann says:

      1) Challenge Rating and a really accurate gut check is all you can really rely on. A noble has a CR just like a goblin chieftain.

      1.1) Part of the reason for this is that the game design is that players are supposed to be relative glass cannon – high damage output but relatively low HP. Opponents, including opponents with apparent class levels, are supposed to have relatively high HP and do relatively low damage. Someone with game design can explain why this is, but apparently PC vs PC conflict is a recipe for devastating first strike and it’s over combats.

      1.2) As a result, you will get told many times that if you want your players to fight a monk or a warlock or a bard or what have you, you should almost never just generate a character using PC generation methods. Instead, you should find a monster stat block for a relatively similar monster and adjust it to have the class features you want. As so you have monster stat blocks like Archmage, which is essentially a level 19 wizard, but generated with a monster stat block instead of a PC stat block.

      2) I find the “you heal completely at the end of each long rest” to strain my credulity a little bit, but it hasn’t really hurt things. Recovering hit dice certainly encourages players to take short rests and continue adventuring, which the game is designed for. (Along with giving opponents PC stats, another destabilizing GM choice is “the 5 minute adventuring day,” which is where instead of the recommended 6 combat encounters per day(!), GMs tend to gravitate to a lot of social and non-combat activity interspersed with about 1 big battle per day, which again, isn’t what the game is designed for).

      • Tarpitz says:

        If one were interested in an RPG suited to a much higher ratio of story to battles, where should one be looking?

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          I’m not sure this the right type of question.

          There’s actually very little in terms of game mechanics that can successfully “facilitate telling stories” – either the players at the table are interested in storytelling (in which case no mechanics will stop them either) or they’re not and you can’t force them to.

          I’m currently involved in two concurrent D&D campaigns:
          1. The one I’m running using BECMI rules (that account for very little other than combat encounters),
          2. A 5E game one of my players is running.

          Other than me and the second DM, there are two further players plaing in both campaigns. My game has two additional players who aren’t involved with the other game, whilst the other game has three who aren’t playing in mine.

          In practice, my game – which has little if any rules for non-combat things – is hugely more story and role-play heavy than the other one; despite 5E having so many additional rules for out-of-combat play, social interaction and whatnot.

          The majority of the people involved play in both games (4 of 6 in mine; 4 of 7 in the other), so it’s not like the groups are that different. In fact, the guys who shoulder a lot of the story-building/role-play in my game are also playing in the other. So why isn’t the ratio of story to combat roughly the same?

          Paradoxically, I suspect that the “rules for everything” approach of 5E (and anything coming out of WOTC, for that matter) is the main culprit. For example: I play an Eldritch Knight, so my main ability focus is DEX and INT for mechanical reasons and for those same reasons CHA is my dump stat. So it goes. What that does mean, however, is I’m not even going to bother interacting with NPCs very much, because I’ll get called on to do Charisma-based checks at a penalty. We have a bard in the party for that stuff – pity his player is usually the one to speak the least during the session.

          Conversely, in my game I tend to focus more on what the players do than the stats on their character sheets. One of them has a WIS 18 cleric that he’s playing as a pretty naive young man. Am I going to tell him that his character wouldn’t do certain things with a Wisdom that high? Or should I reduce his Wisdom score to that actually displayed by the character in most interactions?

          The answer, of course, is to do neither. My approach is to use mental stats where mechanically necessary (very few situations in BECMI), but otherwise let players play the way they want to. The result is a much more interesting group of characters (in the 5E game, I’m well versed in what mechanical powers each fellow character has, but have nigh zero idea of who they’re supposed to be as people, barring a couple).

        • Spookykou says:

          @Tarpitz

          Fate comes to mind as an effort to design an RPG to better facilitate story, but in my experience it doesn’t actually work all that well.

          The two big things I see with games that try to encourage more story focused play is RP tokens(which even D&D has at this point). In theory this adds an incentive structure for players to RP more, in practice basically everyone forgets the system is there, and or the already active players are the ones getting/reminding the DM to give them, inspirations.

          The other thing is just, being very rules light, so the rules don’t ‘get in the way’ which again sounds better in theory than in practice. At lease one issue I have with these kinds of systems is that the lighter your rules get the less space there is for skill expression, not just in combat, but in general out of combat problem solving. Without skill expression, it stops feeling like a ‘game’ to me. If you want to just sit down with four friends and write a story, then, good luck with that. An emergent story from game play though, kinda requires some actual game play to help narrow the field of possibilities and get the creative juices flowing and such.

          @Faza

          The player vs character skill problem is a classic. I like to take a differentiated approach as much as possible. If you try and overly hamstring your proactive engaged players based on character limitations, you tend to get a dead table. On the other side, if my shy silent player picks a bard I am fine with them simply rolling an interaction, rather than coming up with the interaction. I don’t expect the guy playing the fighter to actually be able to cleave an orc in two, he just says that’s what he does, so if the bard can’t string together a cogent argument that is fine, he just needs to say that is what he does, and use the dice.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @Spookykou

            That’s pretty much my approach, as well, except I try to keep the out-of-combat dice-rolling to a minimum.

            In practice, I find it simply doesn’t matter very much – most out-of-combat interactions are not indeterministic in the way combat is supposed to be. Provided the characters are on the right track (that is: are trying to do something that makes sense), I typically just let them succeed, unless they do something really, really stupid. In other words, the player doesn’t need to sweet-talk me, in order to convince the King – he just needs to have a sensible argument on hand (doesn’t even need to be presented in character) and not call His Majesty an a-hole.

        • Plumber says:

          @Tarpitz

          “If one were interested in an RPG suited to a much higher ratio of story to battles, where should one be looking?”

          I think table matters more than rules but I’m partial to GP for XP D&D like I used to play, and I’ve heard good things about Legend of the Five Rings and 7th Sea, but the game I’ve played that I think encourages role-playing the most (if that’s your thing) is King Arthur Pendragon.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Doesn’t Pendragon have rules to enforce roleplaying? Your knight’s nature or something like that constrains their actions, and there’s rewards for following it and penalties for not?

            (Which seems pretty ahead of its time; that sort of thing starts being more of a thing in the late 2000s for game design, doesn’t it?)

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @dndnrsn:
            Depending on how strictly you choose to interpret “constrain actions”, we can see the idea go back at least as far as Supplement I: Greyhawk to OD&D (1976 v. 1985 for Pendragon).

            For example:

            Note that half-elf clerics may not themselves act
            chaotically, nor may they associate with chaotic characters or creatures.

            (Didn’t know that one…)

            Plus, of course, the Paladin:

            [A]ny chaotic act will immediately revoke the status of paladin, and it can never be regained.

            Around the same time Pendragon first came out, TSR released Unearthed Arcana for AD&D, that introduced the Cavalier class with a fairly detailed code of knightly conduct and stressed that it should be enforced:

            In enforcing this code, the DM may reduce or eliminate experience that is gained by the cavalier if its gaining violates the spirit or letter of the code. A cavalier who retreats from battle, even to save fellow party members, would receive half experience for the beasts slain in his or her retreat. Similarly, a cavalier who dons leather armor to infiltrate a thieves guild to effect a rescue will gain no experience, since the rescue would be done in means not approved of by the code. Note that even neutral and evil cavaliers are bound by this code, but in their cases the obedience is to non-good masters.

          • Plumber says:

            @dndnrsn,

            Yes the 1985 version of Pendragon had those rules, as well as the subsequent “editions”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Faza (TCM)

            The paladin is an example of what I mean – it’s not just “a CG character can’t do XYZ” – there’s a stick but not much of a carrot. A combination of rules to reward acting according to some predetermined nature and to punish not seems like something more modern, but of course there’s earlier examples.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @dndnrsn:
            I would say that the carrot is in the considerable advantages the paladin gets, qua paladin – compared to “normal” fighters (and most other classes, in fact). The behavioural constraints (and the CHA 17 requirement) were the price the player paid for the benefits.

            My quibble with classing the idea as “modern” comes from the fact that, as far as I’m aware, most role-playing constraints that were considered fairly standard back in the day were lifted around 2000 (IOW 3E D&D and what came after). If most currently active players grew up with the idea that your class (role/profession/whatever) is simply a collection of bonuses/skills/powers, the idea that a knight should actually act like one may seem novel.

            Most of the stuff I played – and still play – dates to the early Nineties or earlier and the idea that class/profession/role also means constraints on expected playing style is my default assumption.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Looking at the 1st and 2nd ed paladin prereqs, I wonder how often they got rolled up honestly on 3d6 in order, or the rules followed. Although when I started playing late in 2nd’s life cycle, 4d6 drop lowest arranged was the norm.

            I don’t mean the idea of class-based constraints, I mean mechanically quantifying it – which the paladin does, and which Pendragon did. . Personally, I prefer mechanically quantifying rewarding roleplaying to some extent – the people who like to roleplay for its own sake are rewarded for what they were doing already and the people who would ordinarily play in a less constained manner and create friction with the first group have a mechanical rabbit to chase.

        • J Mann says:

          @Tarpitz – I think D&D is probably ok for 1 combat every day or so if you employ the “Hardcore” resting rules from the DMG, discussed elsewhere in this thread. They’re probably more realistic as well. (I think it’s short rests take overnight, long rests take 7 days of downtime?)

          It would also have the advantage of limiting the ability of spellcasters to dominate non-combat situations and offer more opportunities for “skill monkeys” like rogues and bards.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Thanks all for your thoughts – much appreciated.

    • DeWitt says:

      1) A noble with a lot of combat experience and the right gear becomes an NPC with the knight statline, so this really isn’t too big a deal.

      2) 5e PCs are definitely a little far into the disbelief territory of being able to shrug off mortal wounds and truck on, yeah. I do still prefer it over the approach older editions took, because playing band-aid is a thoroughly unsatisfying experience in a tabletop RPG; every time you cast a healing spell that’s one less shatter or well-timed dispel magic, and clerics using their slots for everything but the healing spells is a feature, not a bug.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        2) 5e PCs are definitely a little far into the disbelief territory of being able to shrug off mortal wounds and truck on, yeah. I do still prefer it over the approach older editions took, because playing band-aid is a thoroughly unsatisfying experience in a tabletop RPG; every time you cast a healing spell that’s one less shatter or well-timed dispel magic, and clerics using their slots for everything but the healing spells is a feature, not a bug.

        My experience DMing 3.X was that Clerics got so much narrative agency/power over the world around 5th level that every slot spent on being a healbot was a small mercy to the non-caster players.
        Why does a Cleric get to nope out of the architectural constraints of a dungeon at 5th level in a dungeon-crawling game, and why don’t the poor martials get the Strength to break through a wall like Kool-Aid Man around the same time the vicar gets Stone Shape?

        • DeWitt says:

          5e answers this question by not in fact letting some random lvl 5 cleric cast stone shape or fuck the world around him up as much, so that’s one more thing it does well.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Well, yes. My belief is that Stone Shape never should have gone below a 5th level spell, where 1E put it, because Level 9 is exactly where a character was expected to stop crawling around hostile castles and own their own.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          What’s your take on the Book of Weeaboo Fightan Magic?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            A pretty positive one in theory, though I don’t own a copy to go through all the maneuvers for a detailed take.

        • Spookykou says:

          In 3.X all full progression casters are just playing a different game than everyone else, and I would agree that forcing them to occasionally heal might have balanced them slightly, but that was far from enough to bring them in line.

          I don’t think that situation continues in 5e, I think you can make a reasonable argument for a well made fighter being one of the most dangerous things in the game in combat, and they never run out of steam. In contrast casters get more utility and situational power, but IMO in 5e this balance is already on point, if anything I think fighters might be too good, given the normal focus and scope of most D&D games.

          As such, clerics(or bards, or druids), who are already probably weaker than wizard, and in general very balanced, probably should not also be expected to single handedly deal with the most important resource in what is effectively a resource management game. For a player like me, who considers casting a heal spell in a table top RPG as basically wasting my turn, a Cleric turned heal bot instantly becomes the most boring class in the game(maybe rangers are still worse??), if the game expects them to spend most of their spell slots on healing.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I don’t think that situation continues in 5e, I think you can make a reasonable argument for a well made fighter being one of the most dangerous things in the game in combat, and they never run out of steam. In contrast casters get more utility and situational power, but IMO in 5e this balance is already on point, if anything I think fighters might be too good, given the normal focus and scope of most D&D games.

            That depends heavily on whether “the normal focus and scope” is a dungeon crawl where 7-8 encounters a day is logical. I have yet to play in a campaign run the way the 5E devs want. In the campaign I’m a Moon Druid in, we have two casters who “go nova”, then the DM gives them a long rest because that just makes sense as an option when we’re traipsing around Bronze Age Greece and most villages aren’t going to attempt to murder us while we rest.

          • DeWitt says:

            Agreed that 5e fighters are very, very, very good at what they do. This doesn’t help them one whit when they’re trying to salvage a sunken ship for loot, negotiate a difficult treaty, spy on the immortal queen’s battle plans, or put out a fire started by sorcery, but 5e martials are extremely good at what they’re supposed to do and if your DM isn’t giving you enough to fight you really ought to ask him why you’re not playing another game instead.

            It does break down if your campaign is of the one encounter a day school, but 3.X breaks down a lot worse in those scenarios, and 5e has improved on that front, so it’s better if not perfect.

          • Spookykou says:

            I am probably biased by a lot of my 5e experience being in public play, but the game being balanced roughly around the expectations of published modules and books(which admittedly don’t get to 8 encounters a day either) is acceptable to me.

            In my experience, consistently the players who have the worst time with class balance are people playing casters who don’t really know how to play casters and activly hurt themselves of the group with stupid spells.

            I have played in groups that don’t do enough encounters though, one a day even sometimes. It does skews the class balance a bit, but concentration at least does some work to bring it in line. More importantly though, the heavy OOC/RP games I play in, player enjoyment seems linked to player engagement and general sociability much more than class capability. If we are actually spending four hours with only one combat, sure maybe the wizard casts fly at some point, but most of that game at that point is just friends hanging out and telling a story together.

          • John Schilling says:

            but 5e martials are extremely good at what they’re supposed to do and if your DM isn’t giving you enough to fight you really ought to ask him why you’re not playing another game instead.

            Because you can’t play “another game”, you have to play a specific other game, and unless your nerdosity is dialed up to eleven (glances nervously at four shelf-feet of RPGs), the response to any specific suggestion is usually that half your players haven’t heard of that game and don’t want to learn a new system so the campaign never happens.

            Dungeons and Dragons(*) is both the Schelling point and the gateway drug for tabletop fantasy role-playing. If it can’t be fairly easily adapted to do classic Sword and Sorcery or Tolkienesque High Fantasy or Bronze Age Mycenean Adventuring, if it is too narrowly optimized for Munchkinized Murderhobos to be useful for anything else, then that hurts the entire genre. So both asking “How can I play this as other than eight combat encounters per day?” and complaining “Is WoTC trying to kill off tabletop roleplaying by turning it into the monoculture least likely to compete with online roleplaying?”, are reasonable things to do that are not appropriately countered by “play a different game”.

            * Which in this context means editions of the main product line that have been in print sometime in the past twenty years or so. For the time being, “why aren’t you playing 3.5e?” is perhaps a reasonable question.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I would assume that the stock noble is just Viscount Random and if the players rumble with Duke Facestomper he’s built with his own statline and maybe they get their faces stomped. The stats of the noble guy suggest a guy who has money to buy gear, and minimal training, but isn’t really a proper warrior.

      Some of them seem a bit high-levelled for what they’re described as, definitely. Random knights seem tougher than one might expect.

    • Jiro says:

      All PC can functionally cast Cure Light Wounds on themselves at a rate of 1 slot/level.

      No, they can’t. Cure Light Wounds can be used in combat. Healing yourself using hit dice the way you described cannot.

    • Nornagest says:

      All PC can functionally cast Cure Light Wounds on themselves at a rate of 1 slot/level. That is way too much healing for my taste: I like PCs to viscerally feel their dependence on a priest for healing.

      You’ve said before that you like how the cleric role helps players get into a premodern headspace, and you’re not wrong that it does that, but I have serious reservations about how. Cleric as holy warrrior, prophet or miracle-worker has plenty of theme behind it, but cleric as healbot does not; there’s nothing in folklore or mythology that points to a field medic tagging along with the heroes, and all the (still relatively few) examples of it that I can think of in fantasy fiction postdate D&D. And divine favor as Vancian magic has some pretty weird implications.

      The roguelike Nethack has an interesting alternative model. It’s a single-player game, and you can play a D&D-like cleric or a JRPG-like healer, but healing magic is explicitly a branch of magic rather than a religious thing: anybody can learn it by reading the right spellbooks, and you don’t need to be pious to use it. There are religious mechanics, though, and it’s beneficial for all classes to foster good relations with their gods by sacrificing to them and observing the appropriate taboos: the gods give powerful gifts if pleased by sacrifice, and praying to them can get you out of serious trouble (starvation, poison, disease, etc.). On the other hand, though, offending the gods by asking for their favor too often is a good way to pick up a curse or eat a lightning bolt, and apostacy makes a game unwinnable.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The roguelike Nethack has an interesting alternative model.

        (snip) Cool!
        I’m not sure what to say about “there’s nothing in folklore or mythology that points to a field medic tagging along with the heroes.” There’s definitely more than one Arthurian romance where wounded heroes get healed by a holy person after surviving a battle, but that’s not the same. The sons of Asclepius in the Argonautica and with the army in the Iliad should fit?

        • Nornagest says:

          Sure, you see heroes being nursed back to health by wise or holy people fairly often — or by a love interest, sometimes — but you don’t often see a wise or holy person following a small group of heroes around and patching them up, and you never see them doing it mid-fight. The Iliad and even the Argonautica (which follows what we’d now call a platoon-sized force) are a little too large-scale for what I’m talking about, I think.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Sure, you’re correct: the minimum force of adventurers to get a holy field medic is 50, and you never see healing mid-fight before 1974.
            The thought occurs to me that holy and arcane spell casting should not be separated, but any spell casting should be more religious in character, with spells costing “mana” you generate by making sacrifices. This could take the form of Cast From Hit Points, animal sacrifice, or for demons and other inimical deities, ritual sacrifice of a maiden that takes long enough for heroes to have a chance of rescuing her.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      So how dangerous is a small, optimized adventuring party to the authorities, using 5E stats?
      Since my DM is running it in Mycenaean Greece, let’s give our party a city-state to try to conquer: Pylos. It’s a city of (probably) fewer than 6,500 people supported by more than 300 damoi, villages with ~150 people. The damos “was obliged to supply a certain number of men who had to serve in the army.” So the rural population produces some multiple of 300 5E Veterans, unlikely less than 900. Every village would also have an Acolyte (“junior members of the clergy” — Monster Manual 342) who can cast 3 1st level spells a day. Knossos, which covered more than thrice as many hectares as Pylos, seemed to be able to field 310 chariots with “knights”, so let’s give Pylos 100 of those.
      The weakest stat block for a Mage is a 9th level caster, so I’m going to assume arcane NPC support is rare as hen’s teeth.

      Our adventuring party will include a 7th level Necomancer (Wizard) who uses his 3rd and 4th level spell slots to cast Animate Dead every morning, walking around surrounded by 10 skeletons (AC 13, 20 HP, +7 to hit with shortbow for 1d6+2 damage), a 7th level Moon Druid, and an Ancestral Guardian Barbarian with at least 2 levels of Moon Druid. The AG’s gimmick is:
      “spectral warriors appear when you enter your rage. While you’re raging, the first creature you hit with an attack on your turn becomes the target of the warriors, which hinder its attacks. Until the start of your next turn, that target has disadvantage on any attack roll that isn’t against you, and when the target hits a creature other than you with an attack, that creature [takes half damage].
      OK rationalists, how would you have Skeletor, Beast Man and friends conquer Pylos?

      • SkyBlu says:

        …….Assuming you throw ethics out the window.
        And long term sustainability.

        First make friends with the local bandits.

        Pick the most isolated damoi. Have your Barbarian enter the center of the village without becoming Have your animated dead, bandits and druid summons surround the village. Barbarian aggros in the center of the town, picks a fight with any competent fighters, supported at discretion by the other party members. The Skeletons, bandits and Druid summons pick off anyone who tries to escape. Sending is a third level spell, so as long as you kill everyone, you should be able to hit a significant number of villages this way before anyone catches on. Even when people do catch on, there’ll still be a while before they figure out your M.O. and actually do something about it. Either way, loot the village, giving most monetary spoils to your bandit friends (wouldn’t do well to piss them off). Melt back into the woods. Optionally, when the city-state starts catching on, leave groups of bandits/paid mercenaries behind to ambush the investigative/aid teams. The success of your raids should attract other bandits, and you should eventually build enough people to raid the city and take it. Even if you never build that strength, the city will be weakened economically by the loss of its surrounding villages. It becomes classic guerrilla warfare, and hopefully enough villages were razed in the initial attacks for standard attrition to wear down the city-states forces eventually. You’ll be left with a nonfunctional smoldering apocalyptic husk of a city-state, but it’ll be your nonfunctional smoldering apocalyptic husk of a city-state.

  6. AG says:

    Does re-heating coffee really damage its quality?
    What makes the difference between iced coffee being delicious and cooled coffee being stale?
    Is freshness of brewing really that important, and that quality permanently lost upon the first time it cools? What’s happening at the molecular level, or is it just a placebo effect?

    (Much thanks last OT to baconbits9 explaining why pizza can’t be done as fast as burgers! I hadn’t thought of it that way, though I suppose there’s room for experimenting if you can underbake a crust, flash-freeze it, and then add pre-heated sauce to reduce on-order bake time without sacrificing final quality.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      Iced coffee is fresh coffee that’s been quickly cooled. I’d expect the cooling process to slow the loss of volatiles (both through evaporation and by oxidation), so iced coffee should last longer than hot. Cooled coffee has had plenty of time to lose volatiles; heating it up doesn’t bring them back and increases the reaction and evaporation rate.

      There seems to be dispute about re-heating. I tend to the school which says that re-heating isn’t the problem, it’s that the cold coffee already sucks. Based mostly on re-heating coffee which got cold due to being put into big and too-cold cups rather than sitting around too long.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Iced coffee is fresh coffee that’s been quickly cooled.

        Not always, the best iced coffee is typically cold brewed, simply grounds in water left for a longer period than a hot brew (12+ hours), and it has the longest shelf life. My wife makes a pitcher that lasts 3-4 days when refrigerated in the summer.

        I don’t know why hot coffee goes stale quickly, but I do not like reheated or tepid coffee at all (I take mine black, passable but not super high quality).

        • AG says:

          @Nybbler
          Can you elaborate on what volatiles are evaporating/oxidizing? Is it similar to why decaf loses a measure of flavor?

          And I guess these same compounds would become volatile upon heating cold brewed coffee, such that heated cold brew still goes “stale” at the same rate as a fresh hot brew?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t know nearly enough about coffee chemistry to know exactly what the compounds are. But here’s a random study I found on the internet.

            Coffee is decaffeinated by extracting the caffeine using solvents; this process probably isn’t totally selective. However, there’s also the fact that caffeine itself has a flavor (mostly bitter).

            I’d expect cold brew to start with different flavor/aroma compounds than hot brew from the same beans (since in general temperature affects extraction rate of different compounds differently). So staling of heated cold brew compared to regular hot brew probably just isn’t directly comparable. Anyway, my chemistry knowledge is close to exhaustion with “heat usually makes everyday reactions happen faster”.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Re freezing bread/dough

      It is done in some situations, the last bakery I worked for bought par baked (half baked) frozen baguettes and we would basically toast them to the right color each morning. This works better with bread though because dough rises in the oven as the air trapped by the gluten heats up and expands. A pizza dough without any sauce, cheese or toppings would rise and become thick (and probably unevenly so with bubbles). It is my understanding that your New York City customers would then tar and feather you for such insolence.

      • AG says:

        Hrm. then perhaps pre-sauce a little bit, as well? Just enough to prevent rising, but not enough to significantly increase re-heat time. (and then additional pre-heated sauce is added at time of order, until desired moisture is achieved)

        I mean, they do sell premade pizza crusts in the non-refrigerated section, though I don’t know if those are any good. Or maybe something like pita, which has some rise (unlike no-yeast breads like tortillas) but can be toasted at will.

      • SkyBlu says:

        None pizza with left beef

  7. eyeballfrog says:

    Whatever happened to the public option in healthcare? It seemed like the natural solution to the problem. The government has a default plan that covers the basics, while if you want something better you can pay a private company. This seems to work fine with the post office vs ups and fedex, and worked fine with public schools before educational policy became divorced from reality. It also gives an outlet for people with congenital diseases that no insurance company could realistically profit from.

    Is there something wrong with it that I’m missing? Do people still talk about it? It seems like Medicare for all is the hot idea these days.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Basically, the public option is still a compromise position from the political universe that thought Europe-style socialized medicine is “politically unattainable” and a compromise is needed.

      The lesson Democrats took from Obamacare is that no compromise is possible, and any position they take will be attacked endlessly as socialism no matter what. That being the case, you might as well go for the actual socialized medicine as the half-measure.

      Also, the most popular part of Obamacare in the states that got it was the Medicaid expansion, not the marketplaces or the subsidies, and Democrats noticed that too.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      In addition to MrApophenia’s points about why the liberals didn’t trust it, the conservatives didn’t trust that the public option was not going to become a government-supported system that won because it made other systems illegal or just special tax exemptions not given to other companies.

    • testing123 says:

      That wasn’t how the public option was going to work. The public option was meant to be an insurance company run by the government offering good (as in not bare bones) plans that would compete head to head with private companies on equal terms.

      It only made sense as a way to reduce costs if you think that (A) the government is just that danged efficient or (B) that insurers would make too much money from a captive consumer base that was mandated to buy insurance and needed to be kept honest.

      ACA insurance hasn’t been particularly profitable so B isn’t an issue, and if you believe A I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

      @MrApophenia

      The lesson Democrats took from Obamacare is that no compromise is possible, and any position they take will be attacked endlessly as socialism no matter what. That being the case, you might as well go for the actual socialized medicine as the half-measure.

      No compromise was attempted with the ACA. It was a healthcare bill that got bernie sanders’ vote that the right wing of the democratic caucus had to be cajoled into swallowing. That’s as much an effort to compromise as the republicans telling the democrats “We’ll vote for whatever budget you want, as long as you get Ron Paul’s vote.”

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        It’s a pity, too. A true bare-bones public option is probably the least-bad alternative that’s anywhere close to politically feasible.

        • The Nybbler says:

          A bare-bones public option would last as long as it takes to make a campaign showing someone photogenic who couldn’t pay for care that their bare-bones public option didn’t cover.

        • SamChevre says:

          At this point, I’d settle for a bare-bones public option: anyone who wants can sign up for Medicaid and pay the average Medicaid cost.

          • John Schilling says:

            Which means mostly people with chronic conditions whose treatment costs more than the average Medicaid cost will sign up, which will cause the average Medicaid cost to rise, which will make it even less likely that anyone without expensive chronic conditions will join, lather, rinse, repeat.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            That’s not what the public option was. It was supposed to be just like an insurance company, self-sufficient and the only thing the government gave it was a loan to get started.

            And from the start, proponents of the public option started talking about how it was Medicare and taxpayer-funded. You need to hold off on the bait-and-switch. You can’t talk in public about how you are planning to swindle the other side. It doesn’t work like that.

          • SamChevre says:

            John Schilling

            My plan will definitely push average Medicaid cost up, but I think it will avoid the vicious cycle problem because Medicaid has so many participants already, who will not switch away. About 20% of the US population has Medicaid now–even adding 5% of the population with 10x the current average cost would “only” triple average cost.

      • MrApophenia says:

        As discussed below, Obamacare was the Heritage Foundation’s conservative alternative healthcare reform plan, and Obama went with it, over the objection of large parts of his own party and even his own administration, in an open and explicit (and laughably futile) effort to get Republican votes.

        And even if no Republicans believe it was a compromise, that isn’t really the question. Democrats absolutely believe Obamacare was not just a compromise, but a staggering, bending over backward compromise at that – and the Republican reaction to it has shown that it isn’t even worth trying to compromise with Republicans.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          This will fall on deaf ears, but the Heritage Foundation plan was for mandatory HDHP, not mandatory full-coverage with anything labelled as “preventive” done for free.

        • sharper13 says:

          Sorry, but you can hear straight from the Heritage Foundation Director in 2012 that they had nothing to do with the Obamacare plan, nor mandate. It’s a myth some people seem to like to tell, but the reality is that the ACA didn’t pass with a single Republican vote. To call that a “compromise”, is a bit much. Who exactly were the Democrats compromising with, themselves? They certainly weren’t listening to the concerns of Republicans at the time it was being discussed. At best, they tried to bribe a couple of GOP Senators with special treatment for their States, which they didn’t go for in the end.

          • beleester says:

            That article comes off as saying “We didn’t support an individual mandate, we supported something that’s just like the individual mandate.”

            But the version of the health insurance mandate Heritage and I supported in the 1990s had three critical features. First, it was not primarily intended to push people to obtain protection for their own good, but to protect others. Like auto damage liability insurance required in most states, our requirement focused on “catastrophic” costs — so hospitals and taxpayers would not have to foot the bill for the expensive illness or accident of someone who did not buy insurance.

            “Yes, we want to make everyone buy health insurance, but when we do it it’s for sound economic reasons and when the Democrats do it it’s because they love the nanny state.”

            Second, we sought to induce people to buy coverage primarily through the carrot of a generous health credit or voucher, financed in part by a fundamental reform of the tax treatment of health coverage, rather than by a stick.

            I’ll grant that this could be a substantive difference in how it works out, but if your position is “I don’t want to make everyone buy insurance, I just want to offer them a lot of money to get it,” I don’t think there’s as much daylight as you think between you and the Democratic position.

            And third, in the legislation we helped craft that ultimately became a preferred alternative to ClintonCare, the “mandate” was actually the loss of certain tax breaks for those not choosing to buy coverage, not a legal requirement.

            I’m pretty sure this is exactly the same defense Obamacare used – that it was constitutional because it was not a requirement, simply a tax increase on people who didn’t get insurance.

            The only defense I really buy is “That was 20 years ago and my views have changed,” but if the Obamacare mandate was a Republican plan from 20 years ago, then that rather puts a dent in the “Cthulhu swims left” narrative, doesn’t it?

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Beleester the ACA has a mandate but the ACA is not merely a mandate. I think the argument being made is that a lot of the bells and whistles of the ACA that ended up overwhelming any potential premium reductions gained from expanding the insurance pool were not part of the heritage foundation’s proposal. If the ACA was a mandate and nothing else it would not have resulted in the kinds of premium increases that was observed.

          • MrApophenia says:

            It’s a myth some people seem to like to tell, but the reality is that the ACA didn’t pass with a single Republican vote. To call that a “compromise”, is a bit much. Who exactly were the Democrats compromising with, themselves?

            This part was actually my main point. You guys, and other Republicans, don’t think the ACA was a compromise. Cool.

            The Democrats did, and do. They think they compromised a huge part of what they care about in health care reform to try to create a compromise plan that would be palatable to at least moderate Republicans.

            And it didn’t get one Republican vote, and they spent the next decade devoting all their efforts to killing it.

            Which is why the party has moved on to Medicare for All now. If the Republican response to a subsidized private healthcare market and a nationalized healthcare system are going to be identical, why not just go for it?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The Democrats were compromising with their own party. Senator Joe Lieberman killed public option, not Senator Susan Collins.
            Given that a bill with public option would not have had cloture, I’m not really sure how anyone thinks Medicare For All would have passed. But absolutely, go back in time and try to run that instead. It would collapse just like Clinton’s health reform did, despite the fact that Clinton had substantial majorities to work with in both Congressional houses.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            They think they compromised a huge part of what they care about in health care reform to try to create a compromise plan that would be palatable to at least moderate Republicans.

            And failed, evidently. It happens. That’s the point where I’d expect a bunch of professional politicians who were actually bent on compromise to look around for some unrelated thing the Republicans actually wanted, and offer them that in exchange. “You give us part of what we want, in return for nothing” isn’t most people’s idea of a compromise.

          • johan_larson says:

            What would such a compromise look like? The Democrats get Medicare for All, and the Republicans get what? Would any one of the following on its own be enough political compensation?

            – nation-wide ban on second-trimester abortions, with narrow exceptions
            – prompt deportation of 90% of current illegals
            – nation-wide concealed carry for everyone except ex-cons

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            – nation-wide ban on second-trimester abortions, with narrow exceptions
            – prompt deportation of 90% of current illegals
            – nation-wide concealed carry for everyone except ex-cons

            I think that there are at least two distinct types of Republicans on those answers. Inasmuch as I respect Republican thought processes on the question, I respect that they can look at Medicare-for-all and (correctly) point out that it’s way too expensive for the current budget, and taxes on the middle class would necessarily go way up to pay for it. Because that would be completely unpalatable to the average voter, both parties seem to know the whole proposal is DOA.

            The other side of the Republicans seems to be more interested in getting what they can and using the government to support their own shibboleths. That side doesn’t seem to care about deficits either, and would probably take one or all of your proposed offers – at least if they thought they were genuine offers and not a short term ploy that gets immediately retracted.

          • Randy M says:

            “You give us part of what we want, in return for nothing” isn’t most people’s idea of a compromise.

            Well put. Merely compromising with the status quo is how you get the ratchet effect.

          • testing123 says:

            @johan_larson

            It would look like what Bush did w/ no child left behind.

            NCLB originally had two main planks: enhancing school choice by giving people the right to move between different public schools and making schools more accountable by mandating testing and establishing accountability criteria for schools. When it didn’t get the votes, Bush cut a deal with Ted kennedy that dropped the school choice provisions and dramatically increased federal education funding. This cost republican votes, but won over more democratic ones. The final vote in the senate actually had more democratic support than republican, and the thing passed overwhelmingly.

            Regardless of what you think of the policy, that’s what legislative comprise looks like, offering the other side something that they actually want to get what you want. In the context of healthcare, that would have meant adding something like tort reform or block granting medicaid in the hopes of winning over some GOP support. Nothing like that was ever on offer for the ACA, at no point were the democrats willing to give up a single democratic vote to win over republican votes.

            As for a compromise to get medicare for all, I don’t think it would pass the democratic caucus in the senate. They might like to posture with the idea, there’s no appetite for the trillion a year in taxes required to pay for it. Yes, there’s a house bill every year that gets a fair bit of nominal support, but that proves as much as the republican votes to repeal the ACA or the ryan budget. Less, actually, because republicans actually took votes on those things and passed them through the house, something the democrats don’t do on medicare for all.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            @johan_larson: The things in your list might even have been overkill: they’d have only needed to shake loose a handful of Republicans to get something most people would recognize as a bipartisan compromise. A modest tax cut would probably have done the trick; tax cuts are the dealing-with-Republicans equivalent of an Amazon gift card.

        • testing123 says:

          The ACA had nothing to do with the heritage plan. Heritage involved completely blowing up the group insurance market. the ACA mandated group coverage by a large number of employers. Heritage was, at least in theory, zero cost. all the cost of the individual subsidies was to be paid for by abolishing group subsidies. the ACA spent 100 billion a year out the door. the heritage mandate was minimal, to keep the subsidies down, to make it cost neutral. the ACA had an expansive mandate.

          the two plans had nothing to do with one another, despite some very superficial similarity. the ACA had far more in common with hillarycare than anything heritage as ever proposed.

          • gbdub says:

            That was honestly the part that baffled me the most about ACA. Rather than blowing up the employer provided group coverage system, it entrenched it. Losing insurance when you quit or switched jobs was one of the biggest issues with the existing system, and ACA did nothing but enhance the tie between employment and health insurance.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            While blowing up group insurance is possibly necessary, 1) actually blowing it up would bring out INCREDIBLE amounts of pressure, and the lesson Obama learned from Hillarycare was to not pick huge fights, and 2) it is the most secure way someone with pre-existing conditions can get good coverage that they know is good.

            You can say #2 was going to be solved by PPACA changes, but a) it didn’t, and b) people aren’t going to trust what comes out the other end of the sausage factory will still take care of them.

          • testing123 says:

            I agree that blowing up the group market was both a good idea and essential to making the individual market functional, but they wanted to be able to say “If you like your plan you can keep it.”

          • John Schilling says:

            “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan”. Yes, that was a four-Pinocchio, pants-on-fire whopper, but Obama wasn’t wrong when he understood he needed to sell that particular lie if he wanted to get the ACA passed.

            At least in 2008, most working-age Americans actually liked the coverage they were getting through their employers. They may have feared what would happen if they lost their jobs, and sympathized with the less fortunate who didn’t have (good) jobs, but regarding their own present health insurance, they had a reasonably plump bird in the hand and Obama wasn’t promising more than a single vaguely equivalent bird hidden in the brush.

            If you openly propose to do away with employer-provided group coverage, you can’t credibly promise to let people who like their plans, keep their plans. If you can’t make that promise, the ACA is DOA in 2008.

          • gbdub says:

            Then the ACA SHOULD have been DOA. If your plan can only be sold by lying about the downsides and you don’t have the cajones to push the hard changes needed to make it actually work, you have no business screwing with something as huge and important as the US healthcare system.

            But of course, Obama had to have something that could be called healthcare reform, and, well, the ACA was certainly something. Political symbolism has become something of a theme the last couple OTs. At least Trump’s dumb wall is 2 or 3 orders of magnitude cheaper. If only Obama could have been appeased with a $10B statue of himself.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The US post office has annual operating revenues in the neighborhood of 70 billion and losses under 5 billion. It ‘works” largely because the US system is wealthy and robust enough to withstand that level of inefficiency easily. A public option would likely be much higher, though also likely absorbable on its own the the broader economy, what will eventually happen though is that enough of these programs that work fine will be built up and the economy won’t be handling them well. At that point none of the individual programs will appear to be the culprit.

      • Lillian says:

        The US Post Office’s isn’t running a deficit because it’s inefficient, it’s running a deficit because a Republican Congress foisted ludicrous requirements on it, possibly in a cynical attempt to kill it. From Bloomberg:

        “Then there is the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), which some have taken to calling “the most insane law” ever passed by Congress. The law requires the Postal Service, which receives no taxpayer subsidies, to prefund its retirees’ health benefits up to the year 2056. This is a $5 billion per year cost; it is a requirement that no other entity, private or public, has to make. If that doesn’t meet the definition of insanity, I don’t know what does. Without this obligation, the Post Office actually turns a profit. Some have called this a “manufactured crisis.” It’s also significant that lots of companies benefit from a burden that makes the USPS less competitive; these same companies might also would benefit from full USPS privatization, a goal that has been pushed by several conservative think tanks for years.”

        • baconbits9 says:

          I don’t understand this objection, is a national health care plan going to be magically exempt from asinine rules written by congress? It doesn’t particularly matter if the problems are caused by congress or the postmaster general, they exist because of the structure that it operates under.

          • Spookykou says:

            Is there no substantive distinction between, this will have to operate under normal government oversight, and this will have to operate under an active attempt to shut it down by ‘bad actors’ in the government.

            If not, yeesh.

          • John Schilling says:

            Anything that is politically controversial, will if implemented as a government program have approximately half the elected officials in the government trying to make it a humiliating failure for the next generation (at least). This is an inherent consequence of democratic government; if you don’t want to deal with it, don’t have a democratic government, or don’t ask it to do controversial stuff.

          • Lillian says:

            I don’t understand this objection, is a national health care plan going to be magically exempt from asinine rules written by congress? It doesn’t particularly matter if the problems are caused by congress or the postmaster general, they exist because of the structure that it operates under.

            The objection is to the manner in which you characterized the problem. If you had said that any national healthcare plan would have to content with asinine rules set by Congress, possibly in a cynical attempt to destroy it, and used the Post Office as an example, then there would have been no objection. Indeed that is exactly my primary concern with adopting a national healthcare plan. It is very likely to be sabotaged by Congress through either malice or incompetence.

            Hell i remember a long time ago a forum discussion in which US posters were explaining to a Canadian this exact thing. He couldn’t believe it, to him it was tantamount to claiming that the US government was filled with petty evil people. It’s unfortunate that nobody thought to say, “Congratulations! Now you know why the Libertarians exist.” Instead everyone immediately walked back the implications. Of course that was then, these days the response would probably have been, “Yes, haven’t you been paying attention? They’re called the Republican Party.”

        • testing123 says:

          that’s not an insane requirement, given the enormous pension issues in that exist in virtually every major American government institution, it’s straight up good policy to require government entities to fund their retirement programs. Private entities have already funded their pensions. That said, regardless of whether or not the policy made sense, the post office did it, and it’s still losing money hand over fist.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I don’t know enough of the financial situation to say for certain, but my initial response was similar. Maybe the USPS is the only entity that has to meet this requirement, but maybe the others should.

            If you read much on Reason.com, you’ll note that there are many, many entities who are not going to be able to fund their pensions. This is highly predictable, clearly known, and not being accounted for in current planning. If the intention is to continue having the USPS not be subsidized by taxes, then they will not have the option that many other public pensions have – increase taxes. Whether it’s good or even acceptable for other public entities to knowingly fail to fund their pensions seems like a highly relevant conversation.

          • Randy M says:

            I saw municipal and state pension funds being underfunded mentioned as a crisis during the 08-09 recession. Was that overhyped, or has market improvements delayed it, or is it still impending but just not talked about much in the last decade? Or am I not looking in the right places?

          • ana53294 says:

            Paying retiree obligations isn’t the issue here; rather, being singled out as the only company with a congressional requirement to fully fund those obligations is. It puts the USPS at a huge competitive disadvantage. Yes, a retirement crisis is brewing; most private-sector pensions are wildly underfunded. But the solution is to mandate that ALL companies cover a higher percentage of their future obligations — not just one entity.

            The article actually mentions that. And it does seem like the issue is that private companies have not completely prefunded their pensions.

            The fact that everybody should do something doesn’t mean that singling out one and forcing them to do it is not discriminatory.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            The way pension budgeting works, they are allowed to assume a certain level of growth in the funds to cover future expenses. So a 3% shortfall can be “covered” by a 3% annual growth (highly simplified). One of the major problems is that the budgeted growth is often higher than can reasonably be expected. Not usually pure fantasy, but higher than what we see in practice. In good years, where the markets are all up, this seems like a non-issue. In bad years, like 08-09, people suddenly realize that there are a ton of underfunded pensions.

            The pensions really are often unfunded, but the markets have been doing great for the last two years, so it seems controllable. That is actually true for better funded pensions, and completely false for the bad ones (even in really good markets…).

            ETA

            The fact that everybody should do something doesn’t mean that singling out one and forcing them to do it is not discriminatory.

            Sure, but the USPS doesn’t have a lot of competition, since it’s a mandated monopoly. I would prefer stricter rules about how entities are allowed to structure their pensions. I don’t support the narrative that the Postal Service is failing because it loses money, because it’s made opportunistically. If the people saying that would also say “all these other [entities] are failing too, because they don’t account for future expenses” then that’s fundamentally true. Hiding the Illinois state pension fund shortfalls doesn’t make them go away.

        • bean says:

          Actually, I think you have this one wrong. That law required the Post Office to fund outstanding retiree benefits within 10 years, which should have meant 2007-2016. It’s taking longer because the Post Office keeps defaulting on the debt, but it’s not a permanent thing. And given that the other alternative is for the USPS to get bailed out by the government when they run out of money down the road, I don’t really have a problem with this.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          I am a bit confused here as to the outrage that the USPS funds its pension plan. I had to dig a little beyond that Bloomberg article, but I found the text of the law.

          You have to scroll down a ways to find the applicable section, but I think section 802 is what they are referring to. In that section, it says that the USPS must fund the net present value of its future costs over the net present value of its pension receipts. Thus they must pay for their pensions when they are incurred. It is my understanding that every company in the US has these exact same requirements. It is certainly true that companies have gone bankrupt and their ex-employees have lost much of their pensions. But that’s because many times these pension costs and receipts are calculated very badly, not because the requirement isn’t there. So I am unclear what is so insane about this law. It looks like the rare sane pension law that has come out of government to me. OF course all this is just a segue to the discussion about ACA, but I don’t see how the pension section of the postal code is a good “bad example.”

    • If your model is the public schools the public option is free to the customer, paid for by everyone’s taxes, which means the private option has to be a lot better to be worth taking, since those who take it, like those who send their kids to a private school, are paying twice.

      If the public option isn’t subsidized, then it becomes a straightforward question of whether the government can do a better job of providing insurance than private firms.

      • Aapje says:

        @DavidFriedman

        Note that it definitely isn’t necessary for the healthcare to be free, just like sending mail through USPS isn’t free.

        • Garrett says:

          The USPS manages to survive by having a government-issued monopoly on mail. IIRC correctly, competing services are only allowed to exist if postage costs at least 6x 1st class mail.

          The lesson to learn here is that the government would soon ensure a monopoly on its health insurance plan to guarantee universal service.

      • JPNunez says:

        There are other reasons to prefer the private school options, though, beyond quality. Segregation -by race, social class, actually having the money to pay, religion-, immediately comes to mind.

        I doubt segregation is a premium for private vs public healthcare.

        • Spookykou says:

          Neighborhoods in America are already so segregated this seems like it would not be a powerful motivator. Private schools to me have always looked more like signaling that no cost is too great for my child’s future, or a sort of nebulous belief in the core principle that things that cost more are better.

          • albatross11 says:

            Spookykou:

            Do you actually know any parents who send their kids to private schools?

          • Spookykou says:

            @albatross11 I have known a few, the most salient example in my mind is two Jewish families who sent their children to a Christian private school(so, not segregating on religious grounds*) in my area, the school had slightly nicer facilities, in that they had a ‘campus’ set up that looked very nice, but the demographics of that school and the closest public school were basically identical, I am sure the private schools produced slightly better results on average, thanks to selection effects, but from everything I have seen the top public schools in my city are very competitive with the private schools in terms of student outcomes.

            *While my example and previous comment does not speak to it, I do think segregation on religious grounds is probably a common/reasonable motivator for private school.

          • My parents sent us to a private school run by the University of Chicago. I don’t have statistics, but I’m pretty sure the intellectual quality of both the classes and the student body was well above that of the local public school.

            We sent our kids for a while to a small and very unconventional local private school run along unschooling lines, a model we much preferred to the conventional model, public and private. Eventually problems arose with the school and we shifted to home unschooling.

            Not signalling in either case.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The only people I’ve known who sent their kids to private high schools lived in Philadelphia. I doubt segregation was a factor in their decision; they were a mixed race couple — black and white.

    • Aapje says:

      @eyeballfrog

      Isn’t the issue that the private insurers will then cherry pick the healthiest people? So then the people on the government plan will be very expensive, which means either very high premiums or huge subsidies (which in turn makes people upset who are on the private plans and which gives government a bad name for being inefficient, because most people probably wouldn’t understand the problem).

      In The Netherlands we used to have both a public option and private options, which worked as long as Dutch society was still fairly collectivist. However, when it became much more individualist, young people began picking cheaper private options. This caused the premiums to rise, which made more relatively healthy people leave the public option, which raised the premium further, etc.

      So we got a reform where we now only have (semi-)private insurers, who are forced by the government to provide a standardized package whose contents is set by the government, for which they cannot refuse any anyone. So they now compete on providing this package the cheapest (although fairly few people switch insurers, so whether this market is competitive enough is up for debate). Then above and beyond this, they can offer extended packages, the contents of which they are free to pick (and where they may refuse customers).

      Dutch people are required to have this standard package, (more or less) preventing low-risk people from opting out entirely and poor people from using ’emergency-room only care’ (as is common in the US).

      • Theodoric says:

        So we got a reform where we now only have (semi-)private insurers, who are forced by the government to provide a standardized package whose contents is set by the government, for which they cannot refuse any anyone. So they now compete on providing this package the cheapest (although fairly few people switch insurers, so whether this market is competitive enough is up for debate). Then above and beyond this, they can offer extended packages, the contents of which they are free to pick (and where they may refuse customers).

        Dutch people are required to have this standard package, (more or less) preventing low-risk people from opting out entirely and poor people from using ’emergency-room only care’ (as is common in the US).

        This sort of sounds like the ACA-insurers required to offer essential health benefits, people required to buy a compliant plan.

      • Isn’t the issue that the private insurers will then cherry pick the healthiest people?

        Only if you have price control. On a free market, insurers are happy to insure healthy people at a healthy person price, unhealthy people at an unhealthy person price.

        One of the problems with discussions of health insurance is that they confuse insurance with income redistribution, try to compel people who expect to have low medical costs to subsidize people who expect to have high medical costs. In particular, the ACA is designed to force the young to subsidize the old. Once you do that, you then need something like the mandate because otherwise the people who are being forced to pay $4,000 for insurance only worth $2,000 choose not to buy, and their money can’t be used to provide $6,000 worth of insurance to other people for a price of $4,000.

        • Aapje says:

          Sure, but how else are you going to force solidarity from the healthy to the less healthy? You could have an inverse tax on healthcare use, but that would distort the market, incentivizing people to avoid healthcare more than warranted.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            An income redistribution plan is not nuts, but if you are hiding an income redistribution plan in your insurance plan, it’s going to look bonkers and weird.

            incentivizing people to avoid healthcare more than warranted.

            In all seriousness: if the country as a whole is spending Too Much on health care (and Obama made the case for this very strongly in 2009-2010), and we want to Spend Less on health care, we should be taxing it more. Practically, this is received about as well as plans to eliminate tulip subsidies.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Adding to what Edward said: Even given that redistributing resources to the unhealthy is a reasonable thing to want to do, why would you pick on the healthy– mostly young people without a whole lot of money– as the people to redistribute from?

          • Guy in TN says:

            The way the ACA pays out subsidies is based on income levels, such that the wealthy are paying extremely high premiums while the poorest groups are only a small fraction of the nominal price.

            Because of this, the bulk of the ACA acts as transfer from the rich to the poor.

          • J Mann says:

            @Guy in TN

            – The hardest hit by the ACA are young working people and familes just over the subsidy cut-off, who pay the full (and inflated as a result of the ACA) cost while receiving the fewest benefits on average.

            – Ultimately, the ACA transfers money from people who are (a) above the subsidy cutoff and/or (b) unusually healthy to others, but only if the people buy ACA insurance in the first place, so people with access to other sources of insurance, or who go bare, pay much less of the subsidy.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The transfers aren’t funded exclusively though premiums. The law also levies taxes on the rich in various ways to fund the program. You can read all about it here.

            Describing it as being funded by people “above the subsidy cutoff” is a little deceptive since this group technically includes billionaires, but that’s not what the phrase colloquially implies.

          • Because of this, the bulk of the ACA acts as transfer from the rich to the poor.

            That might be true, but how do you calculate the amount of the transfer in the other direction due to rules restricting the ability of insurance companies to charge lower rates to healthier people in order to know if it is true? On average, people are poorer young than old, and the system pretty clearly subsidizes the old at the expense of the young.

  8. jhertzlinger says:

    As far as I can tell, for the past three months, the Sort by Controversial algorithm has been running on a Kremlin supercomputer.

    The border wall–government shutdown was their first shot.
    The Buzzfeed story about Cohen was their second.
    The Covington School tempest in a teapot was their third.

    What’s next?

    • albatross11 says:

      It’s not Putin running the supercomputer, it’s Molloch.

      • MrApophenia says:

        In the case of the MAGA teens, it appears to have literally been the Russians – the video was originally posted by a fake and now banned account and then signal boosted by a bunch of bots.

        Correcting myself – the original video was posted by some rando on Instagram, but the one that went viral was posted by a fake account and then signal boosted by a bunch of bots.

        • sentientbeings says:

          How does fake account + bots = Russians?

          They hardly have a monopoly in that area.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I mean, they are the ones we know are actively running a government program to seek out or generate culturally divisive topics and spread them on social media to create chaos in America. Fair enough, could be somebody else doing the same thing.

            I’m putting my marker down on Russia, though.

    • Nick says:

      Good God, someone was sharing around this “Covington School is a scissor statement” interpretation on Twitter earlier today and now Ross Douthat’s gone and written his column on it.

      • Plumber says:

        @Nick

        >”Good God, someone was sharing around this “Covington School is a scissor statement” interpretation on Twitter earlier today and now Ross Douthat’s gone and written his column on it

        Despite being annoyed that I now know of the incident (which I don’t think should have ever been considered “newsworthy”), I thought the column was pretty good, it reminded me of something our host would write (and I’m sure that was Douthat’s intention).

        • Nick says:

          I actually wrote that before reading the article itself. Mostly I was supremely amused that, like two hours before, Ross was retweeting this interpretation and then quoting Scott on Twitter, and then I poke back on and sure enough, he’s written about it. Like, that didn’t take long I guess.

          So I’ve actually read the column now and it probably deserved more than a snarky comment from me. I liked that Ross broke script to acknowledge the stupid dance many conservatives* feel they have to do, performing moderation and both-sidesism but not always feeling it. Because there’s the exterior tension as Ross is caught between his wider liberal audience and his conservative allies, but an interior tension too between playing a lie and just cutting loose.

          *This goes for many folks in many positions, I’m sure; I just know the feeling from the position of a conservative surrounded by liberals.

      • AnonYemous2 says:

        i thought it was cool to see an SSC thing featured in the NYT, but uh

        well, it wasn’t a bad column; I feel strongly that I’m right about the case, but of course that’s how I’m supposed to feel, which doesn’t stop me from feeling it

        if I have one objection it’s that I feel like the early over-reactions to this case forced people to maintain their position to avoid admitting that they may have tried to ruin the lives of someone for no good reason; maybe that’s part of scissorism too, that one side gets stuck in a wrong position to avoid cognitive dissonance. Of course that’s just me subtly advancing my position on the whole case, but maybe it can be taken as a commentary on scissors; in a scissor case, one side really can be right, but due to forced cognitive dissonance it still tears people apart.

        • Nick says:

          maybe that’s part of scissorism too, that one side gets stuck in a wrong position to avoid cognitive dissonance

          That’s explicitly suggested in the part of Scott’s story Ross quoted on Twitter:

          [T]hey don’t care about the Scissor statement anymore. They’ve just dug themselves so deep basing their whole existence around hating you and wanting you to fail that they can’t walk it back.

          But the lesson here isn’t that one side has cognitive dissonance; it’s that it’s easy to suspect that the other side has cognitive dissonance. It’s one element of the paranoia that a Scissor statement induces, and it’s one more escalation of the fight, should you act on the belief that the other side doesn’t really believe it anymore, that now they just want to destroy you.

          After all, cognitive dissonance is not a one-way phenomenon. It’s obvious that one can be on the wrong side of a statement, encounter evidence that favors the other side, and feel dissonance. But it’s perfect possible to be on the right side of the statement, encounter different evidence that favors the one side, and feel dissonance too.

          So I’m sure a fraction of people on both sides ended up in this position. It’s easy to imagine myself watching the video for the first time, getting a sinking feeling as I see the tomahawk chops and MAGA boy’s awkward smile that the media narrative is right, and then quashing all doubt so I can get back to owning the libs. It’s likewise easy to imagine myself watching a video from a different angle, getting a sinking feeling as I hear the homophobic slurs being aimed at the boys and watching Phillips approach them, and quashing all doubt etc. etc.

          I think ignoring the dissonance like that is wrong and shameful. I also think I can’t read minds, and acting even on the relatively firm assumption that some percentage of my interlocutors don’t believe what they’re saying is a terrible idea. So the dissonance is, ultimately, not an element we want to focus our energies on.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s embarrassing and socially awkward to admit you were wrong. And media sources tend to follow one another and cluster around the same narrative. That creates a lot of path dependency. For example, the Trayvon Martin shooting’s original set of facts turned out to be quite different from what eventually came out (the great big white guy became a little hispanic guy, for example), but once the narrative was established, most media sources just followed it. I suspect this interacts badly with the desire to get the story first/get a scoop.

            One thing this should make us do: pay attention to the people who initially jumped on the bandwagon, and then got back off when more facts came out. Those are people who might be good to pay attention to in future stories, as they’re doing something hard and uncomfortable to be more right.

          • Nick says:

            Absolutely, on both counts.

            One more thing: Jonah Goldberg had a comment on The Remnant (which I’ve been listening now thanks to you) that when news breaks on Twitter everyone rushes to be “the first to be wrong.” Robby Soave and others have placed a lot of the blame here on journalists for piling on and not checking the facts, but of course, it’s not journalists who broke the story. A million people had gotten there first and a narrative already crystallized.

            It has me wondering about the tradeoff. Irresponsible journalists can screw up and malicious ones can twist the story. So a platform like Twitter that lets us signal boost the very people, on the ground at the time, with documentary evidence no less, seems like a powerful tool to combat that. But the very people on the ground at the time used documentary evidence to twist the story themselves! How well can even responsible journalists fight that?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            The way the Washington Post handled the Rolling Stone “Jackie” story.

            They approached it as neither true nor false, and did the research that RS should have done in the first place. Then noted the problems with the story, ran their own article pointing out the issues, and effectively changed the narrative.

            There was already a very public crystallization (more accurately, several different ones in different segments of the population) of the narrative before the Post wrote their story, but they did the right thing anyway.

            The most important thing a Journalist can do when presented with a trending Twitter story is to research it and then present a more detailed report. The worst thing a Journalist can do is signal boost an existing narrative without checking into it, especially if the signal boost specifically adds inflammatory language – in essence becoming part of the mob they are reporting about.

          • gbdub says:

            “Solicit comment from the person you’re criticizing before you run the story” is, or used to be, responsible journalism 101.

            The mainstream outlets seem to have abandoned this when it comes to Twitter outrages, rushing to report before doing even a simple investigation into the subjects involved.

            It certainly would have lessened this controversy.

            I think that’s why Covington, at least the event itself, isn’t quite a classic scissor. Part of the problem is that a narrative started to crystallize based on incomplete information. Once the complete information came out, a good chunk of the initial critics of the Covington boys either outright apologized or quietly memory holed their criticism. Another chunk doubled down. So the actual current controversy is between the double downs and the people who are pissed off at the double downers (as well as upset about the early coverage).

            To me a true scissor would be a scissor that remains once all the facts are on the table, where in this case the unusual two-phase way the story came out is a big reason it was controversial in the first place.

          • Part of what I observe in this case (on FaceBook) is people who are uncomfortable admitting that their initial response was wrong shifting from blaming the boys to blaming their adult chaperones—because that still lets them put the blame on the outgroup instead of admitting that both they and the people they were supporting were in the wrong.

        • aristides says:

          That was basically my reaction, too. When I read the Ross article, I thought, “how is this a scissor statement, it was a simple misleadingly edited video that now that we’ve seen the whole context we can now agree was an honest mistake.” Then I read the NYT comment section and felt a desire to burn the entire organization to the ground. Scissor statements are

          scary.

          Edit: After typing this I thought it might be unfair to form an opinion on what other side was thinking by only reading internet comments, a notoriously unreliable source. So I did a google search and read the first three clearly left leaning articles published today, Vox, Huff Post, and Roots. I regret that decision immensely. All three of the news sources are dead to me, which is sad because I like some Vox articles. Again scissor statements are scary.

          • Plumber says:

            @aristides,

            I had a similar reaction to a left leaning radio station that I was listening to on Friday because they were reporting on a “wildcat” teachers strike in my hometown.

            Come my Tuesday morning commute I turn on the radio and they were interviewing Nathan Phillips and…

            ….it was just so very bad!

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Honestly, I remain unconvinced about this being a scissor statement, as defined by Scott.

            I’d also had a look at the NYT comments section (on the David Brooks column linked by Plumber) and I wasn’t particularly surprised at what I saw. Essentially, when people’s “is” position (what the parties did) became untenable in light of additional evidence, they pivoted to “ought” statements (what the people involved should or should not have done).

            “Ought” statements are pretty much unassailable on objective grounds (you can appeal to someone’s previously stated position, but they can always retort that the circumstances are different in this case), giving everyone free reign to talk past one another till they’re blue in the face.

            If there are (perceived) political benefits to doing so, they can go on for a really long time.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Can we at least agree it’s not toxoplasma? This blew up before the facts were available that favored the students.

          • albatross11 says:

            There are two possibilities here:

            a. Most of the participants are acting irrationally–overreacting and making fools of themselves. They’ll eventually moderate their behavior and stop doing so.

            b. Most of the participants are behaving rationally–signal boosting these outrage fests is beneficial for driving clicks/keeping media types in the spotlight.

            If we’re in case (a), things will probably get better over time; if we’re in case (b), though….

          • gbdub says:

            I agree with Faza here, the NYT comments are bad but they are basically some combination of “ought” and “they were asking for it by wearing MAGA hats and protesting abortion calling for pregnancy to be used as a weapon to subjugate women”.

            While that stance is unfortunate, it seems like the current extent of the “punish these kids” crowd is limited to the hardliners who were always going to hate on any white kid in a MAGA hat regardless of what he was doing, and, eh, it doesn’t take a scissor to make people be dicks on the internet.

          • Aapje says:

            @Jaskologist

            I think that toxoplasma involves the apparent story fitting biases about outrages that are going on. So then people don’t wait for or look for further facts, because they feel the need to fight this outrage right now.

            Stories that match the biases the best tend to be toxoplasma because the biases are very exaggerated and thus the stories tend to be very exaggerated.

            So the story blowing up before better facts are in and it being shown to be largely false later fits fully with it being toxoplasma.

    • beleester says:

      I don’t see how the government shutdown could be a scissor statement, unless the Kremlin was able to cause either the Democrats or Trump to refuse to pass a budget. Like, the shutdown is an actual piece of government policy, not just a meaningless statement that gets argued about endlessly.

      (“Trump is a pawn of the Kremlin being used to generate the conditions for scissor statements” would make for a pretty fun take, but not a plausible one.)

  9. dndnrsn says:

    RPG thread: people who’ve played 5th, and especially people who’ve run it, what’s it run like? I’m about to run a 5th ed game. I’ve played 2nd, 3rd, and a tiny and regrettable amount of 4th (I’m least familiar with 4th). I haven’t actually run any D&D other than the sort of feeble quickly-abandoned one sometimes runs as a kid, and a retroclone, which is pretty far from modern D&D.

    Mainly I have the following questions:

    1. How closely do I have to adhere to the CR system and all that? Does it assume they are doing x numbers of encounter per long rest and thus gaining x amount of treasure and Y xp, thus able to face encounters of a higher CR later, and so on? Do I have to be spending my “CR budget” every adventuring period to not break the system?

    2. If I just level them every x sessions (increasing with level; more time spent at each level as they level up) instead of giving out XP from combat and whatnot will it break the game?

    3. Is the bard as good as the class looks? Are rogues as high damage-dealers as the sneak attack ability suggests?

    4. Are there any idiosyncrasies or general tendencies of play I should be aware of?

    • Walter says:

      It runs a lot like 3.x/Pathfinder, in my experience. Less source bloat, less endless rabbit holing, but the core of the game feels more like that than it does 2nd or 4th.

      As for your particular questions:

      1. It is a helpful suggestion, but you know your players better than the algorithm. They will be stronger or weaker than their numbers suggest, balance accordingly.

      2. No, it is fine.

      3. Eh, not really to both. Neither is going to make you pull your hair out a la the pathfinder summoners. 5th is still young and comparatively balanced.

      4. Not that I noticed. It is just D&D. You’ll have to look stuff up, but by and large the game goes like it always has.

      • dndnrsn says:

        3. It just kinda looks like the bard can do several things about 2/3 as well as that thing’s specialist can: they get arcane and divine magic, they quickly get half proficiency on anything they don’t know how to do, and they get some cool abilities of their own. They can’t tank, seems to be about it.

        In general, the proficiency bonus doing everything and the easy availability of melee weapons that use DEX to attack and damage, would seem to devalue the damage-dealing abilities of the melee classes. Is the increased survivability of someone with a d10-12 HD and better armour enough to make up for the thief now hitting as hard or almost as hard?

        • broblawsky says:

          From experience: yes. The sheer destructive power of a fighter or a paladin with Great Weapon Mastery can’t be denied.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m playing 5e right now, one game as a player and one as a DM, and really like it. As Walter said, it runs like 3.X with a lot more polish and a few of the better aspects of 4e tacked on.

      As for your questions:

      1. You don’t have to do anything, but you need to keep in mind that resource depletion is the primary way of generating tension in D&D. If characters aren’t weighing their odds of pressing on with half of their hit points and most of their spells gone versus resting and possibly facing tougher opposition later on, they’re not going to be challenged in the way the game expects. The game’s default assumptions about how rests and encounters are paced creates a good sense of tension in my experience.

      If you want time to pass more realistically while maintaining that pace, I suggest using the “Gritty Realism” variant rule in the DMG: short rests take 8 hours, long rests take 7 days. That way you can get 2-3 days of adventure with 1-3 encounters per day in a ten day period.

      2. What you’re talking about is a recongized variant rule, called “Milestone XP” in the DMG, so you won’t break the game. You will definitely have a harder time keeping a consistent tone though: your players are going to very rapidly go from seeing a goblin tribe as a serious challenge to being able to take on Demon lords and elder dragons, which is difficult to work around from a narrative or world-building standpoint. The mayor of a small town literally cannot compensate a high-level adventurer for their services, because the money they pull down individually is worth more than the entire settlement.

      3. In 5e Bards are one of the better full-casting classes. Rogues also do pretty solid damage, because they get Sneak Attack virtually every single round.

      4. Warlocks are the big one. If you play by-the-book when it comes to how often the party can rest, Warlocks are competitive with other classes. If you rarely allow short rests, they’re much weaker; if you allow short rests after every encounter, they’re much stronger. The other casting classes don’t have this problem to the same extent because their abilities are tied to long rests.

      • dndnrsn says:

        What’s brought in from 4th? The powers of the commander fighter archetype look pretty 4th-y. So do “legendary actions” or whatever it is some creatures get.

        1. So, HP is high enough that attrition of the party is the name of the game? What I’ve noticed in the retroclone I’ve run is that there’s very little space between “it’s just a scratch, we got this” and “the hirelings are dead and there is a serious chance of one or two PCs going down, maybe start thinking if running is a good idea.”

        With regard to resting, I intend to use that variant for healing, more or less, but the ordinary lengths of time for power refresh. Otherwise wizards get however many spells per week rather than per day, etc. Is this going to mess things up?

        3. Do I make rogues suck if I don’t let them pull the sneak attack from the front? As it is, if you and your buddy are standing in front of a guy, and both of you are rogues, you’re getting an extra xd6 damage per hit, which seems the opposite of a sneak attack. As written it’s a “team up” power.

        4. I haven’t sat down and figured out exactly what it is warlocks do.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The biggest single thing that they brought over is healing surges. Other than that, the daily / per encounter / at will powers are still around although in a less insultingly dumb way. There’s even some vestigial traces of marking.

          1. Yes, PCs have high HP and monsters have much lower damage output than PCs with that many HD would have. Combat is less swingy on the PC side, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on what kind of game you want to run. If it seems too easy you can run fewer “Deadly” encounters instead of more “Hard” or “Medium” encounters. Speaking of, treat that terminology like a Midwesterner trying to describe how spicy something is: vastly exaggerated.

          2. Yes, that will mess everything up. The point of the pacing of rests is how quickly resources come back. Spells are resources just as much as hit points if not moreso. If you change how frequently spells recover relative to hit points, that’s a substantial change to the game’s balance.

          3. If the rogue isn’t getting consistent sneak attack damage, they’re basically just “the guy with the lockpicks.” A nerf isn’t necessarily bad but it makes the class a lot less appealing.

          4. You should. They’re my favorite class, very fun flavor and interesting mechanics. Unfortunately they’re also a source of a lot of 5e’s cheese builds: beware the Sorlock!

          • dndnrsn says:

            1. Healing surges like the spend HD to gain HP on a short rest? Because 4th-style healing surges were more “you just gain some HP all of a sudden in the middle of combat” – this is available as an option in the 5th ed DMG.

            2. It’ll change the balance – probably gives casters a boost, especially those who only get whacked upside the head when things go badly wrong – but how? I’ve liked the way it’s been with the retroclone, where naturally healing significant damage will take a week or two. A week for a spell refresh is silly, but so is being able to get a good chunk of healing out of a lunch break and healing totally every night.

            I’m cool with party balance that’s a bit out of whack as long as it’s not the “one guy finds the build that lets him do the jobs of 2-3 other party members better” kind of out of whack. The wizard being a more important party member than one of the martial guys is not going to ruin the game. I’m more worried about balancing against the enemy – I want to be able to make minor use of the CR numbers.

            3. I’m thinking they’d at least have to be to the side or rear; it’s not that hard to get around someone’s side in a fight. Maybe up the sneak attack dice? I suppose I have real problems with conceiving of a rogue’s special attack as just being “they’re distracted and I pick my shot well” – why is the rogue better at doing that than the martial classes? I have at least two players who will complain about that, one of them particularly bitter, and it kinda bugs me. A sneak attack should be a super damaging attack that’s tricky to set up.

            4. I might build a big-name NPC sorcerer to get the sense of it.

          • Spookykou says:

            I think It is hard to balance a sneak attack in the way that you want, because I generally think Nova-ing is bad for D&D encounter balance. Dropping the enemy wizard before he gets off a single spell warps the difficulty of the combat in a way not easily teased out through more generally applicable DPR based balancing.

            If the problem with your player disappears if sneak attack was instead called ‘Combat finesse’ then…i’m sorry.

            Rogues do slightly less damage than fighters, the fact that it is tied to sneak attack instead of multi attacking with a great sword, creates interesting and different tactical considerations for the rogue, especially coupled with their ability to use bonus actions better than anyone else. Rogues in 5e actually play in a considerably more ‘rogue like’ fashion than rogues in 3.X from what I have seen. They are dashing around, throwing caltrops or interacting with puzzles between attacks. Or at least, they can be if your player is fully exploring what the class can do.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The problem with the players is going to manifest if anything that suggests better ability in a stand-up, face-to-face fight is available to a non-martial class, but not the martial class – a couple of them are just the sort of people for whom this sort of thing profoundly bothers them (it bothers me, but much less so.) Meanwhile, I don’t really mind if the rogue pulls something like that off – I think on balance my players are people who lean towards the “it was awesome to absolutely bushwhack that boss fight” side of things rather than “boo what an anticlimax”. I think it’s OK if the rogue is less powerful in a straight up fight, but is better able to pull off truly decisive sneak attacks.

          • DeWitt says:

            Rogues are literally worse than perfectly normal fighters at dealing sheer damage, so if your players throw a fit over sneak attack damage they are mistaken at best and wrongfully spiteful at worst.

          • Spookykou says:

            I don’t know exactly how you want to change sneak attack, but I guess just keep in mind that with one combat days, it is pretty easy to misty step/invisible, every fight, which will probably make your harder sneak attack requirements, trivial to achieve at the start of every fight.

            Given that, at least elsewhere in this discussion you have talked about wanting to use the CR system/design good challenges, I would reiterate that Nova-ing is much more powerful than it would seem if you just average their expected damage across four rounds, and keep upping the CR until you start pressing your players.

            Elsewhere I said the biggest flaw with CR is effects that make players save, and advised you against using them too much, so ignore that, and go crazy with the save effects(probably not 5 banshees hiding in a wall crazy, but yeah).

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DeWitt: I’m not super familiar with it; can fighters be made high damage one-shot using battle master abilities? I’ve statted out a few fighters at different levels and it looked more like their benefit was more attacks.

            @Spookykou: What level does that sort of thing start happening? I figure this isn’t going to go further than level 10 maybe before the campaign wraps. So if gameplay past that gets wacky and will be getting wackier because of changes I’m making that’s not a big deal but if I do a higher level campaign sometime I’ll have to do things differently.

          • DeWitt says:

            @DeWitt: I’m not super familiar with it; can fighters be made high damage one-shot using battle master abilities? I’ve statted out a few fighters at different levels and it looked more like their benefit was more attacks.

            I’m still not sure why this even matters. A battlemaster in plate armor with a greatsword doesn’t outdamage the rogue per attack, but absolutely per action. He does this while having more AC and less ‘leftover’ damage when he kills people. What do you care whether the damage is from one attack or from three?

          • Spookykou says:

            Fighters and Paladins have far and away the best Nova, going by the PHB. Action surge +3 attacks is 12 d6 + 30, smites are how pallys do it big.

            The CR being bad about save effects happens basically instantly, the only difference is at level 1 regular attacks are also dangerous, where as by say level 4 save effects are way more dangerous. A paladin can help a bit with this, but outside of the pally aura it is really hard to get better at saves and a lot of the save effects are very serious. 5 Banshees would be a ‘Deadly’ encounter for 5 level 5 characters, and there is almost a 100% chance they TPK a party of 5 level 5 characters. Technically 5 Chuul are the same CR, but a party of 5 level 5s would have a much better chance of winning that fight/are probably favored to win that fight.

            *This all assumes more or less optimal play by the DM though, if you are willing to pull your punches, that kinda throws the CR system out the window*

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DeWitt

            From a functional standpoint, there’s usually not much of a difference, but I find that enough of my players draw a line between “I just got one super cool attack on the lich and did 100 damage” and “I hit the lich 2x doing 50 damage each” that it’s worth it for me to keep it in mind.

            @Spookykou

            So, all else being equal, if I want an easier encounter, fewer “your tons of HP can’t save you” things like the banshee? Looking at it, yeah, the drop to 0 thing is bad news. I’m also still kind of thinking in 3rd terms, where everyone after a certain level could reliably make DC 13 saves; the way proficiency works means that a DC 13 check is probably gonna have a ~50% chance of taking out anyone without a CON save proficiency. Am I getting this right?

        • bullseye says:

          “Commander fighter archetype”? What book is that from? I have what I thought was a complete list of all the classes, races, etc.

          • Randy M says:

            Look at, for example, the commander’s strike in the Battle Master Archtype in the PHB. Some of the Cavalier in Xanathar’s might be inspired by the Warlord as well.

          • bullseye says:

            So “Commander” is 4e terminology? I’m not familiar with 4e.

          • Randy M says:

            Commander’s Strike 4E

            The Warlord in fourth edition had some healing powers, and could select from a power list that often included granting attacks to allies.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I meant “battle master” but thought the name was “commander”. “Shout real good and your buddy hits the orc again” feels very 4th to me.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t see why you think a real good chosen word would be unable to turn the tide of battle, be it strategic advice or morale boost. It’s a very common fictional trope, and hardly unrealistic.

            You know RPG combat is abstracted. The combatants aren’t actually making one attempt at a hit every six seconds like clockwork, but trying to get a blow in when they see an opening.

            Eh, you do you. If you want to understand the intent, I can help it make sense. If you want to take scissors to any lessons learned during the time 4th edition was published, well you’re the target audience of 5th, so it should work out.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            I don’t actually have any problems with it; the Warlord or whatever was one of the things I liked about 4th. “Your cornerman yells that he’s dropping his left, he’s DROPPING his LEFT and boom you find an opening for the overhand right” is absolutely a thing; it’s not dissociated, which is the problem I had with a lot of 4th stuff. I bag on 4th a lot because the general philosophy* but it had some good bits. I’m assuming that “character-native” healing is a 4th thing? In any case I’ve got two fourth ed fans in my group so they like that sort of thing at least.

            *by which I mean: Let’s say a player wants to slide down a bannister and kick a dude in the face. Original D&D says something completely inscrutable and you gotta figure it out yourself. Basic D&D says nothing but you oughta be able to improvise something that works; the system’s simple enough already. Advanced says “hey yea bro I got a rule for that; it’s completely arbitrary and doesn’t connect to anything else and it’s maybe in some optional book.” 3rd requires that you consult several different tables and crunch DC numbers and a player just showed up with a third party sourcebook that contains the Dashing Swordsman prestige class. 4th has one class get the Cool Slide daily power, which works in any situation where you’re moving downwards.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t actually have any problems with it; the Warlord or whatever was one of the things I liked about 4th

            Very well! All implications that you did dropped and apologized for!

            4th has one class get the Cool Slide daily power, which works in any situation where you’re moving downwards.

            Are you familiar with the famous page 42 chart from the 4E DMG? It was very much raw that stunts were allowed. The effects of which were generally limited to damage and less powerful than on level class abilities, so they weren’t used much, but there was absolutely support for “stunting”.

            I’m assuming that “character-native” healing is a 4th thing?

            Yes, but please be aware that healing surges were healing limitations as well as reserves. Each character could, once per encounter, heal their HP by their surge value. That’s it. And doing so cost 1 healing surge. Magical healing and potions also cost 1 healing surge, and surges didn’t come back until resting. So no character could heal much by themselves during a fight, and they couldn’t heal fully after a fight without resting. In a way it was grittier than 3E, aiui, with unlimited potions.

        • J Mann says:

          3) Don’t nerf rogues. The rogue’s sneak attack is how the rogue keeps up with the multiple attacks of the fighter, the multi-attack and damage boost of the paladin, etc. It should be the exception when a competently played rogue isn’t getting sneak attack damage, not the rule.

          Some of that is the term. “Sneak attack” is actually less effective (and a subset of) “Surprise attack” for a rogue. In the “from the front” version, the rogue is picking her (one) shot and fighting dirty while the monster is busy responding to the barbarian’s (three) greatsword attacks.

          The rogue’s penalty is AC – she can’t use a shield or the better armor – but her combat function is built on that sneak attack.

          • dndnrsn says:

            So, it’s probably relevant that I don’t intend to run a campaign where the standard obstacle is combat. I want chases, stealth, environmental obstacles, etc. Rogues seem so good at that stuff – there’s so many situations where the rogue is the only person who can deal with it – that it seems a bit much to have the rogue keeping up with the martial classes in combat. There’s so many situations where the fighter won’t get a chance to shine and the rogue will – why can’t the fighter be better at combat?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I want chases, stealth, environmental obstacles, etc.

            https://img.fireden.net/tg/image/1463/70/1463707829647.jpg

            E: because this is a bit flippant…

            Since 3.x or so a large part of D&D has been a tactical miniatures combat game. If most of your obstacles don’t require tactical miniature combat I highly, highly suggest that you either accept the imbalance of the game or play a different one, because D&D will remain largely fundamentally broken for you.

          • DeWitt says:

            So, it’s probably relevant that I don’t intend to run a campaign where the standard obstacle is combat.

            You should, very sincerely, play another RPG. My poison of choice is Reign RPG, but D&D really does fall apart a lot if you try to play a campaign like that.

            Edit: Jesus Christ, that’s one way to get sniped. Wow.

          • Spookykou says:

            I think you can play D&D 5e as a relatively combat lite game, it doesn’t give you a lot of mechanics to interact with if that is what you are doing, but in my experience most games don’t, or if they do it always feels cludgy to me, I have never experienced really smooth out of combat table top RPG mechanics, player skill is just way too important I think.

            As for rogues, expertise is probably not as important as you are thinking it is, especially not for the first few levels. The Urchin background turns anyone with dex into a rogue more or less, as far as out of combat is concerned. The 10%-15% bonus up until 9th level shouldn’t be huge, especially because calling for tons of stealth checks always fails anyways. By 9th level your players out of combat challenges are going to be solved by your casters far more often than your rogue.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Spookykou

            I have never experienced really smooth out of combat table top RPG mechanics

            You mean like skill checks and such, or more complicated stuff, like how some games try to introduce a social-situation analogue to combat? (Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying tried but in practice it didn’t work very well)

          • Spookykou says:

            Exactly, I played a bit of the song of ice and fire RPG and the ‘social combat’ system, and generally all social combat systems, just feel super artificial and wrong to me. Outside of those, you have a ton of stat-skill skill systems in, D&D and WoD and Shadowrun and what not, these systems are super light and don’t give you a lot to interact with, if all you are doing is lots of skill checks, the roll of the dice normally ends up being more important than player or character competency, and as such, don’t make for good games in and of themselves.

            Lots of people will recommend playing something else if you want to play an out of combat heavy game, but my personal experience is that no table top RPG handles that problem well, so just play the one you are most familiar with or most interested in. I think 5e is the most elegant and interesting system I have seen, so far, so even if I was running the game you are describing, I would probably still use it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think that systems that are pretty light in the sense that most of the work gets done with skills that are described in a paragraph (BRP, for example) can be done well, but they’re more sensitive to other elements being off (bad GM or just having an off day, bad adventure, whatever). D&D’s core gameplay is harder for a bad GM to screw up or a bad adventure to undermine. It’s also less overhead for the GM as far as adventure writing and prep goes: it can be a hassle to keep track of complicated combats but I spend less time before the game hammering out the web of clues or whatever.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @dndsrsn

            I think that in some ways D&D is worse when it comes to the not-tactical-miniatures parts of the game. Although the bounded design of 5e does alleviate the problem somewhat, it’s still the case that something that’s designed to be “challenging” for the party can become “downright impossible” or “downright trivial” for individual members fairly easily, and because so much of D&D is deterministic there’s not much you can do alleviate that IMO. If a PC’s stealth falls under an enemy’s perception, they’re seen, RAW. Whereas a system like BRP has less deterministic outcomes because gracefully handling skill checks is a core part of the game.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Is BRP better at handling out-of-combat stuff? I don’t see how rolling a +6 d20 check against a DC of 10 (85% chance of success) is different from rolling an 85% chance in DG is (no idea how to calculate chances for opposed checks).

    • MrApophenia says:

      My impression of 5E was that it was very consciously trying to model the feel of old-school D&D through the lens of modern design.

      Part of this is that they introduced the idea of bounded accuracy, in which players AC/hit bonuses do not increase every level, and so the monsters don’t need to either; the result is that a bunch of goblins can still actually hit a high level PC and PCs can actually hurt a much higher level monster than in earlier editions. There are obviously limits on this – a fully grown dragon will obviously pulp a level 1 party – but you can be much looser with CR and encounters per day than in the last few editions.

      In my 5E campaign, I pretty much just sprinkled a bunch of classic D&D modules (Keep on the Borderlands, Village of Homlet, that sort of thing) on a hex map and ran them with minimal conversion – just updating monster stats to the new versions, basically, except where there was something completely obviously broken – and it worked great. As long as the players have the mindset that just because a monster shows up doesn’t mean it’s a carefully balanced encounter they can definitely win – they might need to get the hell out of there instead.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Oh and to go full on “Let me tell you bout my campaign” mode, the best thing about a pure sandbox hexcrawl with a bunch of classic modules dropped into it, is that it becomes possible for your party to roll up on Castle Ravenloft with a cart concealing the power armor and energy rifles from their expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

        That was a fun fight.

    • Spookykou says:

      1. CR works a lot better at lower levels in terms of giving your players a reasonably challenging fight, breaks totally past 13ish (PCs are way too strong). The other problem is that in general the CR system does not accurately account for making players throw saving throws, saving throws are super dangerous for the players relative to everything else, but again this isn’t a huge problem normally, maybe just be mindful if all of your CR budget for a low level encounter is stuff that makes players throw saves. There is no requirement to have a certain number of encounters per day, but keep in mind that different people have different types of resources. If you have one fight per day, your wizard is going to seem a lot stronger than if you have four or five. A unique aspect of 5e related to this, 5e works very well with low stakes low risks fights, that only really serve to reduce party resources/let the martial players shine.

      2. Milestone XP is in the book, and a looser version where you just level them when you feel like it is appropriate works fine. A related side note, 5e handles off level parties better than basically any other table top RPG I have played, having a couple level 2 and level 4 characters in the same party is really seamless.

      3. IMHO Fighters and Wizard are generally the strongest classes, Bards are actually pretty weak outside of a few niche builds where they can for example, cheese to generate a lot of out of combat healing. Rogues are totally fine, and in general the game is very well balanced, the real risk is that a bad player can REALLY fuck up while playing a caster, and be useless or actively detrimental to the group.

      4. The biggest advice I would give for a player is avoid ranged DPS, it is super non-interactive and generally very boring. A lot of the meat from combat in 5e really comes from emergent game play based around the chapter nine core combat mechanics*, which ranged DPS mostly don’t engage with. Moon druids are broken at level 2-4, its a really weird outlier in an otherwise very balanced game, moon druids from level 2-4 are basically as strong as two player characters, but fall back in line with the level 5 power spike and are generally middle of the road at every other level. Owl familiars, especially for the arcane trickster/eldritch knight are kinda broken, but if your player starts abusing it just kill their familiar, so, not a huge problem.

      *If you really read only one chapter in the book, make it chapter nine!

      • dndnrsn says:

        1. I’m cool with one fight per day and the wizard is the most vital part of the party. It’s like that in the retroclone campaign – the major strategic factors are the wizard’s spell loadout, hirelings (need numbers to keep the enemy from outmaneuvering you), and surprise; magical healing a secondary priority. Of the complaints people have had about the campaign, the wizard being too central to the party wasn’t one – although the wizard has complained that it’s a bit boring to be a sleep/fireball/invisibility/haste machine sometimes. The guy who plays arcane casters is generally reliable and does his job as a caster.

        I’m not a huge fan of low-pressure fights; I find they slow down play and the chance that a mook who’s supposed to go down easy might land a good hit is a potential problem. Any other ways I can give the martial guys their time to shine?

        2.

        • Spookykou says:

          There isn’t much they can do out of combat, but my general opinion is that fun out of combat is mostly down to the player not the class(or game). 5e fighters have more options and more game play in combat than 3.x fighters, and similar or more out of combat options, thanks to sub classes like eldritch night.

          If you are going to run the game as you have described it in other parts of this discussion, I would recommend getting all your players to at least play half casters.

          Of course if you have played similar games in the past with the same group, and they were honestly okay playing a 3.x type martial, they should have no problem playing a 5e martial, it is as far as I can tell a straight improvement.

          If they really hate dissociative mechanics the champion fighter, or thief rogue are good options.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      1. How closely do I have to adhere to the CR system and all that? Does it assume they are doing x numbers of encounter per long rest and thus gaining x amount of treasure and Y xp,

      Sort of. It’s VERY important to either have 7-8 CR-equal encounters before PCs are allowed a long rest, or at least two deadly encounters with a short rest in between, due to the vast stores of resources classed characters have. Having players murdering 7-8 groups of easy enemies (CR-equal) enemies every adventuring day is the default assumption, but that really tests the tensile strength of your suspension of disbelief unless you’re in a dungeon owned by hostile creatures. If you’re travelling in a dangerous wilderness, or even soldiers in a war, 2 combat encounters a day is the most that’s plausible (e.g one on the road then an ambush at night, or encountering a band of enemies on a scouting mission and then more show up after you catch your breath).
      Here’s an infamous example of the kind of attrition some PCs are capable of: the Barbarian 1/Moon Druid 2. If her second-highest attribute is 14, she can have 28 HP (a 12-sided Hit Die & two 8-sided with +2 CON), and all Moon Druids get an extra 74 HP by Wild Shaping into a dire wolf twice (short rest recharge). Rage (twice/long rest) doubles your HP against “non-magical piercing, slashing and bludgeoning damage”. If a combat encounter chews through all those hit points, a short rest allows her to reroll her hit dice (average results 6.5+4.5+4.5+6=21.5) and go into combat again with 75% human (or whatever) health and full double-dire-wolf health, one Rage, and any spell slots not used.
      This is an outlier, but any way you slice it, if you end up nearly dead after one encounter, you can survive another encounter >75% as hard, and if the DM ends the adventuring day without throwing that encounter at you, the game simply will not work at intended.

      Treasure is not a big deal because there are no core domain rules (OSR gold sink) or magic item malls (3.X gold sink). Nor do you have to award XP by the book: the devs accounted for “milestone” level-ups as a variant rule.

      3. Is the bard as good as the class looks? Are rogues as high damage-dealers as the sneak attack ability suggests?

      Yes, especially a Lore Bard with finesse weapons or STR-based Valor Bard who puts their Expertise into Athletics for grappling. Rogues are high damage-dealers when they get Sneak Attack, but they’re not even the highest, so if you weaken them in any way, expect no Rogue PCs.

      4. Are there any idiosyncrasies or general tendencies of play I should be aware of?

      Encounters designed for attrition with a negligible chance of death is probably the biggest one. I’m playing in a campaign where the DM made the mistake of starting us at Level 6 explicitly because “most of the Greek monsters are CR 6” and then gave us adventuring days with only one encounter. The rules do a poor job of explaining why CR-equal encounters are jokes and why you should use them anyway (because your PCs are metal-skinned murderhobos in a war of attrition), yet it’s an absolute bedrock assumption.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Wait, you don’t let a Moon Barbarian rage while in beast shape, do you? That’d just be silly.

        • Spookykou says:

          I think RAW there is nothing wrong with it.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Pff, this is D&D, not a Warhammer tourney. GM can declare “rocks fall, everyone dies” if they really want to. You are allowed to reign in stupid bullshit that the WotC playtest team didn’t munchkin hard enough to unearth.

            And let me tell ya, the people at the table who aren’t rules-lawyering asshats will be grateful you did.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            What Spookykou said. A Barb-dipped caster cannot concentrate while raging, but that just means they can switch from a 148-HP (+ humanoid HP) dire wolf tank to a spell-casting tank between encounters.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I don’t have my PHB on me, but the usually reliable wiki says (emphasis added):

            If you are able to cast spells, you can’t cast them or concentrate on them while raging.

            So when exactly does Rage synergize with the Druid powers?

          • Spookykou says:

            Wild shape is not a spell and not concentration.

            * I do a lot of public play 5e and lean really hard on RAW so that everyone at the table knows what they are getting

          • Gobbobobble says:

            You do you, then. I for one have been bored out of my skull on several occasions with public play due to munchkins not being reined in. To the point where I basically never do RPGs at conventions anymore.

      • dndnrsn says:

        1So, if I want few but dangerous combats, I should be building them to Deadly spec, or one to Deadly and one Hard or whatever it is? That should work?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          That’s a good guideline, yes. Try Deadly & Hard, and if Hard doesn’t drain their post-short rest resources, try making both Deadly. It’s the sort of thing that requires tuning to your party composition. A Wizard who doesn’t know what he’s doing, a Ranger and a Monk are going to play differently from a group with a Moon Druid, a Necromancer, and Assassin.

    • DeWitt says:

      1. How closely do I have to adhere to the CR system and all that? Does it assume they are doing x numbers of encounter per long rest and thus gaining x amount of treasure and Y xp, thus able to face encounters of a higher CR later, and so on? Do I have to be spending my “CR budget” every adventuring period to not break the system?

      CR is a little nebulous, but the differences between levels are a little less stark than they are in 3.X. Encounters a day is similarly nebulous, but there’s definitely some general pointers to keep in mind: terrain and circumstance matter a lot, mobs of weaker enemies are more dangerous than they are in 3.X, and short rests exist, something much more important if the party has a monk or warlock.

      2. Nothing breaks, at all. You’re fine.

      3. Bards are pretty good, if terrible at dealing actual damage. I know that dealing damage is a dirty word in 3.X, but it’s quite necessary here and not to be neglected. Rogues’ damage is on par with fighters of the same level, so don’t begrudge them the sneak attack; Word of God is that they were balanced with them having access to sneak attack every round.

      4. Don’t screw over your short rest folk by never actually letting them get short rests. If someone asks you to play a hexblade warlock multiclass character, cut all contact with them. Don’t sweat bringing your players to 0 hp too much, it’s much less deadly than it was in older editions. Don’t give out magic items etc like candy and don’t let your players con you into thinking they’re entitled to any, 5e (mostly) works with zero magic items whatsoever as long as monsters’ resistances aren’t too bad.

      • dndnrsn says:

        3. If I assume they’ll be getting it half as much and double the sneak attack damage, does that work or is that silly?

        • DeWitt says:

          Silly. How do you balance a subclass like swashbuckler, where they can get sneak attack even without allies?

          • dndnrsn says:

            What book’s that in? I’m going to be sticking with the core books for at least a while; there’s more than enough material in them for plenty of play.

          • DeWitt says:

            Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. I don’t know of anyone that considers any of the subclasses in it to be off kilter, other than the hexblade multiclass thing anyway, but you do you.

            (And I still say you shouldn’t mess with sneak attack; a lot of thought went into it and nerfing or altering it is a bad move)

          • Spookykou says:

            Gloomstalker is potentially busted as all hell, depending heavily on your campaign(which is one, of the many reasons, that I hate gloomstalker).

          • DeWitt says:

            Doesn’t the reason it’s busted get nerfed a whole bunch by any odd enemy casting the light cantrip?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I might try sneak attack as written and see if in practice it causes what I’m afraid of, or if it doesn’t feel weird. There don’t seem to be defined penalties to firing into combat – can rogues just get sneak attack damage shooting through their own line at the enemy?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @dndsrsn

            A target with half cover has a +2 bonus to AC and Dexterity saving throws. A target has half cover if an obstacle blocks at least half of its body. The obstacle might be a low wall, a large piece of furniture, a narrow tree trunk, or a creature, whether that creature is an enemy or a friend.

          • DeWitt says:

            There are, in fact, rules for shooting into melee. They’re not very popular, but they’re around and either in the PHB or DMG(I forget), so you can use that as a way to discourage firing into melee.

            Which is also one thing I can’t really blame anyone for because 5e ranged combat is lots stronger than 3.X’s.

          • Spookykou says:

            So one of the reasons it is upsetting is because it creates all sorts of weird questions around in game monster knowledge. It might be reasonable to assume that monsters, especially sentient monsters are familiar with magical invisibility, but outside of direct contact with other gloomstalkers, there is nothing else in the whole D&D universe that is invisible to things looking at them with dark vision such that a light cantrip would reveal them but dispel magic would not. It is a completely unique, highly tactical trait.

            Also, light is a touch spell, which seriously limits it’s effectiveness at revealing ranged gloomstalkers so the drow are fine, their dark vision is probably the same as yours so you can’t distance cheese them and they have dancing lights which has 120 foot range(again assuming they know to cast dancing lights at an invisible archer).

            But basically my problem with the gloomstalker boils down to how much of its power is wrapped up in how the DM plays it, in my opinion the gloomstalker features are uniquely bad for creating DM determined character effectiveness.

          • DeWitt says:

            Those are good points. I have gloom stalker rangers in both my campaigns, and they’re both quite strong, but in practice most fights do let me handwave the presence of light, and one particularly mean bastard of a drow enemy decided to cast darkness and render everyone blind.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            Huh. I wish it gave a bit more guidance; is firing right from behind your buddy at the enemy full cover for the enemy?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @dndsrsn

            If fully eclipsed by another person, I would say yes – that is, if it’s unreasonable to catch a glimpse of them by moving within your 5-foot square.

          • Randy M says:

            Huh. I wish it gave a bit more guidance; is firing right from behind your buddy at the enemy full cover for the enemy?

            I think that depends on how much of his AC your buddy gets from Dexterity 😉

            [clarification: It probably doesn’t actually depend on that]

  10. testing123 says:

    Casander, with 2 Ss, is still banned.

  11. Hoopyfreud says:

    So, Oscar noms are out. The Academy continues to mystify. I probably won’t watch this year, as most of the films I care about (Annihilation, Burning, Beale Street, Won’t You Be My Neighbor) don’t seem to be in the running. That’s pretty expected, honestly; the fact that my favorite film of 2017 won best picture last year is still so shocking that I can’t actually be mad.

    • Last year seemed like a pretty abysmal year for movies in general.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I think it was a fine year. 2 or 3 movies I’d rewatch is a typical crop; it just seems like the Academy briefly poked it’s head out of its rectum but decided it didn’t like the experience.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I think it was an actively excellent year: any one of Cold War, Leave No Trace and A Star is Born would be my favourite picture of any normal year, and I also very much liked Shoplifters, Lean on Pete, Miseducation of Cameron Post, The Favourite, Blindspotting, Colette, probably a bunch of other stuff that isn’t springing to mind right now, even apart from the various probably good films I haven’t yet seen. I’m delighted that Pawlikowski and Zal got nominated, but sad that none of the voters apparently saw Leave No Trace.

          We obviously have somewhat different tastes, though – I didn’t much go for either Moonlight (although the acting was superb) or Annihilation, and haven’t seen any of your others.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Wrong year, actually – Moonlight wasn’t much my jam either. I’m taking about The Shape of Water. Cold War did look good but I never got around to seeing it – the timing was bad. Same with Leave No Trace.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Ah yes, senility strikes again – last year was not in fact 2017.

            I also didn’t particularly like Shape of Water: I could appreciate the craft, but I dislike both magical realism and 50s Americana. I was sad that it beat Lady Bird, which I absolutely loved.

            Incidentally, was it you or someone else of the same name I saw talking about Dune in LSV’s Twitch chat a few weeks back?

          • Spookykou says:

            I dislike both magical realism and 50s Americana.

            Is this a scissor??

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Hey, that was me!

            I still maintain that God Emperor is the best Dune novel.

          • Tarpitz says:

            @Spookykou

            What are you trying to say? Some of my best friends like magical realism.

            @Hoopyfreud

            Huh, small world. Though I guess it’s not entirely surprising that Scott and LSV’s audiences overlap. I actually only read the Dune books once twenty years ago, and don’t remember them well at all. I loved the first one and thought they got progressively crazier and more unreadable (which, to be clear, I thought was a bad thing) but 35 year old me has, uh, limited regard for the literary opinions of 15 year old me, so I’ve no idea what I’d make of them now.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Beale Street and First Reformed got robbed.

      Not too angry though. Since at least the time of the “Crash” Oscar in 2006 it seems like the whole institution has existed only to infuriate people and create a canon no one likes or agrees with. No one under 30 seems to “believe” in the judgment of the Academy like young cinéastes did in the 90s and before

      • Tarpitz says:

        I suspect it’s partly a product of the Weinsteins commercialising and politicising the process, but mostly a result of the bifurcation of production budgets. There are far, far fewer intelligent mid-budget mainstream pictures than there used to be.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Having actually looked up the numbers, you appear to be absolutely right to highlight Crash. Prior to Crash, American Beauty was a notable outlier among Best Picture winners of recent times in terms of budget. Crash had something like a third of American Beauty’s inflation-adjusted budget, and since then the vast majority of winners have cost American Beauty money or less.

  12. Walter says:

    Woah, the Atlantic, of all places, just admitted progressive pro lifers exist.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2019/01/march-life-secular-liberal-pro-lifers-feel-welcome/580837/

    That’s several deviations away from their brand. I wonder what prompted that?

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      My opinion of the Atlantic is that they have generally intended to be open-minded and neutral. The fact that they are often not either of those things comes from being in an insulated bubble more than editorial diktat.

      They consider the inclusion of Conor Friedersdorf and David Frum as offering “right wing” perspectives, and allow left wing perspectives that they consider similarly far from the center of their Overton Window. They genuinely seem to not see that their Window is fairly to the left of a national center.

      Acknowledging political breadth in left-of-center individuals seems like an easy place for them to be.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      The recent prominence of Angela Nagle or Liz Bruenig maybe? Until recently it was possible to put all progressive pro-lifers into the category of Christina Hoff-Sommers where you always suspected them of being maybe secret right-wingers, but now even people in the Atlantic intellectual bubble can name far left pro-life thinkers they’ve read

      • Guy in TN says:

        I’m glad to be living in a world were Liz Bruenig can now be considered “prominent”. She is my favorite political commentator, bar none, and its crazy to see her career take off over the past ~3 years.

  13. albatross11 says:

    Instead of discussing that Gillette ad, where would you point someone who wanted positive masculine role models, rather than negative ones? American popular culture is, of course, corrosive as hell, and so we’ve got plenty of bad examples. Where would you point someone for a better example?

    If you’re raising boys, I very much recommend getting involved with Boy Scouts, as a source of a lot of positive male role models and traditionally masculine pursuits that aren’t destructive or toxic. Where else would you point someone trying to raise boys to end up as healthy, functional men?

    • woah77 says:

      Engineers, Scientists, the military, churches, tradesmen. Regardless of individual failures in each of these groups, they each represent major elements of what is positive masculinity.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Boy Scouts has pretty much fallen down in that respect as it has abandoned masculine exclusivity.

      For Christians in America Trail Life USA has replaced it, but I don’t know of a non-sectarian replacement.

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t think having only boys involved in the troop is a requirement for teaching them how to become men. At any rate, there’s a plan to eventually allow girls to be involved in a somewhat separated structure, but I don’t know how that’s going to work. (Though my nine-year-old daughter is very interested, since she thinks campouts and outdoor stuff is way more interesting than most of what she does in Girl Scouts–she basically went through all the activities for Cub Scouts with her brothers.)

        My boys’ troop is still, AFAICT, a good place for a boy to grow up.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Their fathers or, failing that, possibly the military.

      My father was my role model for being a man. Be hardworking and develop the skills to be self-sufficient; be honest without being a sucker; stand up for yourself and fight back if someone is disrespecting you; put your family first. I don’t always measure up to that standard but it’s the standard I measure l myself against.

      He didn’t know his father and didn’t have a church, so if it came from anywhere besides personal experience it would have to have been from the US military. Not sure if they’re transmitting the same values now as they were in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but if it’s close then it should serve as an acceptable fall-back for fatherless boys.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Be hardworking and develop the skills to be self-sufficient; be honest without being a sucker; stand up for yourself and fight back if someone is disrespecting you; put your family first. I don’t always measure up to that standard but it’s the standard I measure l myself against.

        In these degraded times, most of those are useless. If you work hard, it will be demanded you give up your work product for the benefit of those who don’t. If you develop the skills to be self-sufficient, most will jeer at you for wasting your time and many will tell you “you didn’t build that” because you failed to mine the ore yourself. If you stand up for yourself you’ll be told you should “be the bigger man” by letting it go (though if you do let it go, you’ll be considered weak). If you fight back, you’ll be jailed and punished by the process at the very least.

        • johan_larson says:

          Jesus. You feeling ok, Nybbler? Don’t go shopping for a straight-razor, now.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Less useful, but not useless.

          With a few notable exceptions, marginal tax rates are under 100%. Hard work isn’t rewarded as well as it should be but it isn’t actually punished yet.

          Self-sufficiency is mocked, but again still worthwhile. Cooking is the big one I point to: I can cook myself a week’s worth of healthy good-tasting food for what I would pay in one day for takeout or fast food. Nobody respects thrift but they respect money, and being thrifty in some areas means that you can display that money more prominently in other areas.

          Standing up for yourself and fighting back is a similar story. If you’re institutionalized, like a student in school or a convict in prison, then any overt defiance will be cracked down on. There are people trying to expand that institutional mindset to the rest of public life and so far they’re succeeding, but they haven’t succeeded yet. If you exercise discretion you can still stand up for yourself and your rights most of the time as a free adult.

          • Randy M says:

            The nice thing about stoic self-sufficiency is it doesn’t really matter much to you if you are mocked for your stoic self-sufficiency.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Randy M

            If the only feedback you get is negative, you have to consider whether you’re engaging in a good thing which is treated as a bad thing, or whether you’re just an arrogant ass who is wrong all the time.

          • Randy M says:

            Depends on whether you are optimizing for the kind of feedback you get from reality, or the kind of feedback you get from fools and mockers.

        • cuke says:

          Hey Nybbler,

          Your outlook seems really dark right now. Is that normal for you or is this more than usual?

          The world is full of critics and people with judgments about everything. There is no way to live a life that will gain approval from all quarters, and besides, it’s no way to live a life.

          Nabil ad Dajjal is saying what their values are. That’s their measuring stick. What’s yours?

          We’ve all got to find the things we value, and live as best we can according to those priorities and find our satisfaction there. Other people will have to deal with their own disappointments and we with our own.

          I work mainly with women in my psychotherapy practice, but not exclusively, but I do get to hear quite a bit about the things that different women love and don’t love in men. These are smart, good-looking, healthy, high-functioning women.

          Most of them want partners who can listen and carry on an interesting conversation. They want partners who take responsibility for tending to their own issues (depression, anxiety, addiction, ADHD, whatever it is), but they aren’t looking for men who don’t have issues. We all have issues. They want partners who know how to be emotionally present for them and for their kids if they have them. None of these women have complaints about how much their partners earn or what kind of cars they drive or what list of accomplishments they can point to or whether they can single-handedly remodel a kitchen. Some other women may want other things, but you don’t have to please all women. Or all bosses. Or all men. Or all whoever. We need to learn to please ourselves (by finding and living according to our own values) and let that guide us forward.

          My sense is we all need to feel like we’re good enough, in order to function in the world. If we let the big rioting sweep of “they say” voices in so deep that we feel like we chronically don’t measure up, then it’s “society’s” standards and not our own that need to go. “Society” as one voice is just a shit show and is no guide for a life, regardless of your gender.

          Shitty people say and do shitty things everywhere, including constantly advancing narratives of shame and inadequacy. We don’t have to be perfect to live good, worthy, enjoyable lives. I think it’s really important though to get one’s own bearings as quickly as possible, so that your own standards are what you measure yourself by and not some version of masculinity promoted by a razor company, a political organization, a church, the military, the boy scouts, or any other institutional entity. If those groups’ expressed values make a person feel good, confident, capable, then that’s great. Some other people don’t find that to be the case. No one else can say for us what we need to become the people we want to live with. We can’t outsource that job to an institution; it’s our responsibility. So when the external voices of inadequacy and judgment seem really loud, it’s time to look to yourself for guidance about what makes a good enough person and a good enough life.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            This is a good comment.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            I think it’s useful to ask, though, where people should look for models. We are a social species, and indeed, social learning and mimicry of high-status people is a huge part of how we operate.

            Ideally, your parents and relatives and friends’ parents and teachers all provide some useful models. But our popular culture is extremely corrosive, and IMO often puts the worst people up in positions as models to be emulated. (Consider the current president, or the one a few years back who had major sex scandals. Or the common behavior of top sports stars, musicians, and actors.)

            Neither a razor company nor pop culture is going to provide useful guidance about how to be a functional adult–a man or a woman, for almost all kids. So I think it’s useful to try to work out what useful models look like.

          • cuke says:

            I agree albatross11. My main thought is that there aren’t generic good models or generalizable places to find them, but rather that all sorts of relationships end up providing helpful modeling for all kinds of people. Still, individuals need to get clear who makes a good role model for them.

            One of the hazards I see of people (including me) who grew up with some significant gaps is that we can find ourselves drawn to people who are reproducing the dysfunctional stuff we experienced, rather than helping us to move on from it by showing us a different way of relating and being in the world. So it seems important to me that people listen to what feels helpful to them and articulate for themselves what values they hold dear and where they see those values showing up in their lives and in the people they hang out with.

            As you say, we are hugely social as a species, and so who we spend time with can have a really big impact on our sense of self. I work with a lot of people who wind up in relationships with the alcoholic who is like their parent or the narcissist who is like their parent, etc. And then wondering why it feels so bad but they can’t quite leave.

            People who say they value loyalty, empathy, honesty, and taking care of oneself are sometimes also getting into friendships over and over with people who aren’t behaving in accordance with those values because their parents didn’t display those values (even if they might have talked them up). I find when people get clearer about their values and say them out loud more that they are quicker to notice the discrepancy between the kind of people they are drawn to or spend time with and the kind of people they want in their lives.

            It’s like our radars get bent as a result of not great role models early on and we need to be a bit more intentional about getting them oriented right.

            So I don’t think there’s a “should” when it comes to where people can find good role models. I think there’s getting clear about what you value and then noticing when you are in the presence of people who seem to enact those same values. Those people can show up anywhere — martial arts teacher, college professor, high school coach, person in your church, co-worker, and so on. The thing is that bad role models for a person show up in all those same places too. So the trick is helping a person recognize their own internal signals — “oh, this is how it feels to be in the presence of someone whose values I share/admire” versus “oh yeah, this feels familiar because this is how mom/dad made me feel and it wasn’t so great.” People who had pretty good parents tend to do a better job of finding what they’re looking for in terms of mentors while people who had more shitty parents have to train themselves to look for what they need because it’s so different from what they got. We know this of course, but it does seem unfair.

            I’d also say I think it matters that most of our role models be real people in our lives with whom we have real relationships. It’s fine to admire someone from afar, or to have someone’s actions you witness from afar inspire you. But like you say, we’re social, and most of the learning we do is in the context of real live relationships of one kind or another.

          • Aapje says:

            @cuke

            None of these women have complaints about how much their partners earn or what kind of cars they drive or what list of accomplishments they can point to or whether they can single-handedly remodel a kitchen.

            Some desires are attractors, others are repulsors. People are more likely to talk about attractors as what they want in a person, while repulsors are often only very salient to people if they have been burned (a lot) by mistakenly judging people. For example, women who repeatedly misjudge men as being nice when they actually are abusers. However, when their assessments are fairly accurate, people just tend to dismiss those who have repulsors, without making a big deal out of it.

            From the perspective of someone who has one or more strong repulsors, the other sex is then being disingenuous when they say that they are looking for A and B in a partner, but never say that they won’t consider someone who has trait C, even though they do.

            This is what typically goes wrong with ‘Nice Guys.’

            A further complication is that some desires are socially acceptable and some aren’t. People tend to lie (even to themselves) about those that aren’t, while still acting on their desires. Nowadays, judging men for how well they can provide is not accepted in the blue tribe, but the evidence pretty strongly suggests that blue tribe women still judge men that way. For example, you only have to ask “do you judge men who don’t offer to pay for the full meal at the end of a (restaurant) date negatively?” to see a very high proportion of women say yes.

            My sense is we all need to feel like we’re good enough, in order to function in the world. If we let the big rioting sweep of “they say” voices in so deep that we feel like we chronically don’t measure up, then it’s “society’s” standards and not our own that need to go.

            Few individuals can change society that drastically and most people are not so stoic that disapproval glides off them as water from a duck.

            The issue with mimicking role models to get approval is that you still have to be sufficiently true to yourself or you will just live a lie and the approval you get, will be for the false facade.

            It doesn’t necessarily help with cynicism when you figure out that the only way to get respect is to consciously act the part, where showing the actual you will result in disapproval.

          • Garrett says:

            Most of them want partners …

            Revealed preferences claim otherwise.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Aapje

            Few individuals can change society that drastically and most people are not so stoic that disapproval glides off them as water from a duck.

            And as I said before, suppose they are that stoic. They constantly do what they think is right, and consistently receive disapproval for it. Are they really stoic, or merely so arrogant as to believe the rest of the world is wrong? Isn’t it more likely that it is they who are wrong all the time?

          • Aapje says:

            @The Nybbler

            History is full of commonly accepted behaviors in the culture of the day & place that we now consider quite bad and I expect that future people will judge us similarly for some things.

            Collective behavior is often herd-following, not so much actual careful objective ethical consideration. People rationalize more from behavior to arguments than that they reason from arguments to behaviors.

            I read a story in my newspaper very recently about a guy who studied perpetrators of genocide and those who resisted. He was a bit dismayed that those who resisted once genocide was the new normal were themselves very abnormal (and it was implied that they were rather asocial). The normal people just followed the herd.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        My father was navy and reserves from the mid 60s to high year tenure in the mid 90s. He too didn’t know his (biological) father, though knew his step-father.

        I attribute some of the negative parts of his personality, that ultimately drove me to cut him out of my life, to his time in the service.

    • Well... says:

      Country music. I don’t know too much about the actual musicians themselves (maybe they’re good role models, maybe they aren’t) but in the music itself it’s easy to find upstanding father figures.

    • honoredb says:

      This feels like a paradox some ancient Greeks must’ve written about somewhere: to be distinctively masculine means being on an extreme end of a gender spectrum, but virtue requires moderation, so how can there be such a thing as a gendered virtue? I’ve seen Mr. Rogers given as an example of “non-toxic masculinity”, but somehow I doubt someone asking this question would see him as masculine enough to count as a masculine role model.

      • Well... says:

        Maybe it only has to mean “I’m a boy, and this is a man I could grow up to be like.” Although there are women a boy could grow up to be like, the scope of that would necessarily be more limited (to things like “how you conduct yourself as a professional or as a friend”, etc.) because a boy can’t grow up to be a mother/wife/etc.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        It’s only a paradox if you consider virtue to be a single universal thing.

        The Greek and Latin conceptions of vritue, like most of the ancient world, were very tied to telos. What’s virtuous for a man might be vicious for a woman and vice versa. The same way that we can say that a horse which hunts mice and birds for meat is deeply unhealthy and abnormal when a cat which behaves the same way is healthy and normal.

        The Abrahamic religions tend to muck this up but for most of human history people have understood that different virtues apply to different people.

        • Nick says:

          This is half right. The virtues are grounded in natures, because what is good or bad for a thing is grounded in its nature, and virtues are stable habits to doing good. But most of human nature is common to man and woman, and I don’t think anyone believes that, say, it’s not in some people’s natures to be prudent or temperate. Certainly, prudence is easier for some people than others, but that just means those who have a hard time being prudent would get more out of cultivating it.

          • Statismagician says:

            Proposed modification for clarity: nobody believes that it’s not in peoples’ natures to have the potential to be prudent or temperate or whatever. It is very much in a lot of peoples’ natures not to be those things without a lot of work; they get extra virtue points for the effort. Somebody who has never been tempted towards some excess isn’t really virtuously temperate, just very lucky; c.f. Nichomachean Ethics.

        • Watchman says:

          Virtue was gendered male anyway – clue is the vir- bit of the word. Virtue was to act like an ideal man.

      • zqed says:

        This feels like a paradox some ancient Greeks must’ve written about somewhere: to be distinctively masculine means being on an extreme end of a gender spectrum, but virtue requires moderation, so how can there be such a thing as a gendered virtue?

        I don’t know about the Greeks, just here to observe that the word virtue comes from Latin virtus – “manliness”.

        • bullseye says:

          A few months ago I read that early Christians deliberately changed the meaning of “virtus” in order to promote their morality; essentially, “Real men love Jesus”.

    • fion says:

      Slight pushback on the Scouts. During my short time with them I met six or seven leaders, only one of whom was at all what I would consider a decent person let alone a positive male role model. The others were all arrogant bullies, sad losers or both.

      I know lots of people who’ve had entirely positive interactions with the Scouts, and I know some people who had a similar experience to me. My point is that it’s not consistently positive.

      • aristides says:

        Since the plural of anecdote is data, I’ll add that I had the same experience with boy scouts, but a friend from college loved them. All depends on the group.

        • bullseye says:

          Any organization that big is going to have major differences from one local subgroup to the next. I’ve heard of Boy Scout troops that don’t even go camping.

          I grew up in a town with a lot of military officers, and they were most of my troop’s leadership. Good, honorable men, though I don’t agree with their politics.

    • Lambert says:

      This got me thinking: What traditionally feminine role-models are out there?
      Maybe I’m not involved with traditionally feminine spheres, so it’s less salient, but most of the female role models I’ve seen lately have been in Stem/high-powered business/the military.

      • Randy M says:

        most of the female role models I’ve seen lately have been in Stem/high-powered business/the military.

        Where are you looking for your female role models? At your family, church, PTA, community groups, etc? Or Hollywood, advertising, etc?

        Traditional femininity has a complicated relationship with orthodox opinion makers. The message seems to be, Sure, it’s a choice, you’re free to make it if you must… but are you sure you aren’t making it because some man wants you to? Have you considered that deep down you might rather be the next Senator, CEO, or PhD? Look at these strong independent women over here!

      • cuke says:

        There are a hundred flavors of “good role model” for women, depending on the woman who’s looking. People aren’t just these gendered beings. We’re so much more complicated than that, right, and we all need to find our own ways.

        In our family, we have “manly” lesbian women, we have STEM women, we have women raising children and farming in almost 19th century gendered division of labor arrangements, we have artist women and lawyer women and so on. And just as many flavors of men as well.

        One person’s fantastic role model is another person’s nightmare. The goal isn’t to see how well we can focus our lives around fitting into other people’s boxes, is it? Isn’t the goal to live satisfying lives making good use of the ingredients we came in with? We’ve all got to start with our own ingredients. If we do that, then we’re likely to stumble across people who feel like kindred spirits to us and who act as role models in various ways and for parts of our lives. Men can be role models for women and vice versa.

        All these conflicting voices “out there” about how we “should” be — how do they help us really when we’ve still got to live our own lives every day? Trying to fulfill someone else’s image of “right” isn’t going to get a person very far in a life before they break down from emptiness or unhappiness or exhaustion from trying to be something they’re not.

    • aristides says:

      Jesus is always a good role model choice for Christians.

      • Watchman says:

        You’d advise a child to model themselves on the self-proclaimed son of God, a man who knowingly raised the dead, excised demons from the insane and who challenged the secular and religious authorities of his time to the point of it being a capital crime? I’d say that was a bold choice.

        I think that anyone advising people to model themselves on Jesus (or Mohammed or the Buddha or whichever embodiment of a religion you want to name) is generally confusing following the teachings, which are in all cases pretty good in the main, religion tending to last best if it’s teachings are viable for its followers, with imitating the founder figure, and sometimes aspect of the divinity.

        Focussing back on Christianity, I’m not sure I’d say the Bible is exactly full of good role models. Probably because it’s characters were written about 1,800 years ago or so, at the most recent, and reflect societies closer to Islamic State’s ideal of society than what any reader here seems to want. The remarkable thing is that this book’s teachings manage to transfer so well, but as a source of moral behaviour not as a source of literal exemplars of how to live in a modern society.

        All of which to say is that Jesus as recorded is a poor choice of role model for a modern boy, and if you wish to promote his teachings as part of a model of masculine behaviour you need a role model who embodies them without the extremes of the lives of Jesus or many of his recorded early followers, although St Paul might be a good role model if you want your son to write home lots (with observations about how to improve things).

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Are role models actually a thing? I never really felt like my personal experience contained anything matching up with the concept.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Agree.

        But they are a thing to a broad variety of people.

      • Randy M says:

        I think a mentor is a more useful concept. Failing that (and for most people, they probably do lack anything close), numerous examples of honorable productive behavior they can see in person is surely preferable to specific but unknown and likely idealized people, although I can see it being useful to know how a particular surgeon got to be where they are if your goal is to be a surgeon or whatever.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think a lot of the virtues that make for a functional, healthy adult are a pretty bad fit for popular entertainment, and especially for onscreen entertainment. Think of adult virtues like hard work, commitment, loyalty, kindness, putting your values ahead of short-term gain, prudence. It’s not so easy to tell a story onscreen where those are a big part of the main characters nature. It’s easier to focus on someone with some amazing inborn talent than someone who spends decades honing his skills and abilities; it’s more fun to watch someone resolve a conflict by kicking ass than by calmly talking everyone down and working out an equitable solution; the guy driving a 200,000-mile Honda is less fun to watch than the guy driving a shiny new sportscar. And so on.

          I’m not sure that there’s a great solution to this. It’s like the way movie scientists spend all their time having brilliant insights and building death rays, rather than trying to figure out what the hell keeps going wrong with their plaque assay or poring over badly-written documentation to try to work out how to get their statistics package to do the specific thing they need done.

          • AG says:

            Furthermore, a lot of storytelling is about expressing your emotions about a particular situation, or resonating with the emotions in a story, which means that some people want to tell and/or consume stories about broken, messy people and broken, messy situations. Representation and all that. Storytelling is rarely meant to be aspirational, and aspirational storytelling often needs to incise the parts that don’t fit the narrative, rendering them unrealistic, anyways.

    • Plumber says:

      @albatross11

      “….Where else would you point someone trying to raise boys to end up as healthy, functional men?”

      Going through a four or five year trade apprenticeship seems to mature most boy-ish men beyond the years alone, and those that are ex-military, volunteer for extra work for their church, and/or volunteer for extra duties for their union seem exemplary, but it’s hard to judge which is cause and which is effect. 

      Helping build a fence (or other such work) seems to have a positive effect, and so does teaching him how to cook something for his mom to eat (using the heavy cast-iron pans that his mom doesn’t use to make it “masculine”) as does “women’s work” like babysitting, really just any kind of work, but the trick is to do the work together and calmly offer advice on doing it, just “go do chores” doesn’t quite do it, you have to be there.

      Having your son learn something you don’t know is also good, a computer programming or some other skill class beyond what’s in school, some days at Home Depot with their monthly kids classes are good as well (yes you’ll wind up with birdhouses and wood toy cars that will barely roll, suck it up and find a place for them).

      The main lesson is not to quit and to be the one to rely on to finish whatever the task, and be counted on, however many mistakes are made.

      Shop Class as Soulcraft” by Matthew Crawford, and “How to Tell When You’re Tired” by Reg Theriault are good books for  an older teen to read.

      For films to watch together and discuss:  Casablanca, The Grapes of Wrath, Lord Jim, On the Waterfront, and Saving Private Ryan are great, and if you could only include the scenes with Sir Percival and somehow keep Mordred being Arthur’s son a secret I’d be tempted to recommend Excalibur, but maybe that movie is one for your son to find on their own. And after he reads or watches The Lord of the Rings ask him to tell you about Samwise Gamgee.

      For you to read: “The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry” by Brad Miner, which is sort of “Red-Tribe-ish”, and “Rules for a Knight” by Ethan Hawke, which is sort of “Blue-Tribe-ish” are two good takes with which to make a synthesis of values to pass on.
      If you can take your son to your paid work or (better yet) volunteer work with you that’s good as well, as is taking him to a union meeting.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Boy scouts:

      It was unclear how all four of those charged were linked or how they initially connected, though at least three of the four were boy scouts, Mr. Phelan said. Two of them, Mr. Vetromile and Mr. Crysel, were eagle scouts.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/nyregion/islamberg-attack-muslim-community.html

      • albatross11 says:

        So, those particular guys are maybe not the ones to seek out as mentors/role models for your boys….

  14. albatross11 says:

    David Reich (a famous geneticist) requests five major corrections to a NYT magazine piece. It looks like the original article got a bunch of stuff wrong, whether from the reporting not understanding stuff or a trying to hammer the story into a desired narrative.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Interesting read–reading Reich’s piece and skimming the article, his complaints seem sound.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      For example, as I mentioned to you in my letter of January 7, 20 of 49 statements presented to me for review on January 2 were incorrect, and 27 of the 36 statements presented to me for review on January 5 were incorrect.

      Is this normal? This can’t be normal.

  15. johan_larson says:

    Matt Reed is a blogger who writes about his experience as a former faculty member and current dean in community colleges. In one of his latest posts, he writes about the experience from the other side of the transaction. His son has been applying to college and Matt is frustrated that some of the offers from colleges come with completely inadequate amounts of student aid.

    I’ll admit being at a loss to explain the “EFC plus 26k” “award.” It’s obvious from our financials that we couldn’t come close to doing that. Honestly, a rejection would have been cleaner. Saying “you’re in, but only on terms you could never possibly accept” is just mean. And it’s from a school that can’t plead poverty with any credibility.

    • brad says:

      Why can’t his son borrow money to feed the maw of BigEd and their ever growing armies of administrative staff like the rest of us?

      • johan_larson says:

        I don’t know. Maybe Matt sees paying for his children’s education as his job, not the kids’. That would be understandable. If I had children I would want something better for them than starting adult life six figures in the hole.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Perhaps he didn’t go about it the best way if he’s waiting until now to start figuring out how to pay for college. My state has a prepaid college program and we signed my kids up for it when they were born. This locked in their tuition rates to the rates when they were born. So long as they go to one of our (very good) state schools they will have four years’ tuition already paid for by the time they arrive.

          • johan_larson says:

            Mat is an official at a community college. I’m sure he knows all the tricks for getting an education on the cheap. But that’s not what he wants for with his son. I don’t think he has dropped any names, but I get the impression he supports his son’t efforts to apply to upper-tier private schools, like the one he himself went to, Williams.

        • brad says:

          So the chain of logic is: “I want to voluntarily take on this obligation” -> “I can’t afford to take on this obligation” -> “how dare the schools not make it possible for me to voluntarily take on this obligation”?

          To put it mildly, I have my problems with BigEd, but that just sounds like special pleading.

          • Well... says:

            To put [it] mildly, I have my problems with BigEd, but that just sounds like special pleading.

            Yeah, I kind of agree. There’s lots of reasons why college shouldn’t be as expensive as it is, but “because I can’t just pay for it outright for my kids” doesn’t seem like a good one.

            Also, six figures seems like a lot. I went out of state for a year (bloody expensive) and then in state for the rest of the time (much less expensive) — always to good, reputable state universities — and I wound up with about 25 or 30 grand in debt*, of which I’ve now ten years after graduating paid off about half. (This includes a few years of forbearance for economic hardship.) Not ideal, but when I hear about people with six-figure college loan debt and they’re not doctors or Ivy League graduates I find it a bit puzzling.

            *I had a few modest grants and scholarships as well as working two to three jobs simultaneously throughout college. I believe that is typical though.

          • johan_larson says:

            I think his view is more, “Why even bother making an offer this bad? You can’t believe my son is going to say yes to this. You might as well have said no in the first place. Doing otherwise is clueless or insulting.”

          • brad says:

            How would the admissions office possibly know that this particular applicant refuses to take loans and so they should reject rather than sending an acceptance and aid package that requires loans?

          • Randy M says:

            To put it mildly, I have my problems with BigEd, but that just sounds like special pleading.

            I’ve had to delete a couple unproductive responses because I feel similar. The college loan situation sucks in a lot of ways, and moreso now than when I went there twenty years ago.
            Haggling over student aid offers may be a useful way for an individual to soften the blow, but seems unlikely to be a worthwhile systemic change.

            I think his view is more, “Why even bother making an offer this bad?

            The answer to “Why is the price this high?” is almost always “because someone is willing to pay it.”

          • gbdub says:

            I think part of the problem is the language, when I was applying (and this was 15 years ago, it has only gotten worse), FAFSA suggested an “Expected Family Contribution” of what amounted to nearly a quarter of my parents’ income per kid (my sister and I were in college simultaneously). To add $26k a year to that is kind of insane.

            It’s one thing to say “We recognize that this is a huge sum of money you will need to go deeply into debt to support, but that’s the price”. It’s another to couch it in language that makes it sound like it’s a totally reasonable and modest request and you’re bad parents if you don’t just have that laying around.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Maybe Matt sees paying for his children’s education as his job, not the kids’.

          The schools charge based on the parents ability to pay. The schools will bill like the parents are paying.

          I’m not sure I would let my 18 year old take on six figures of non-dischargeable debt, the same way I wouldn’t let him start making meth in his bedroom.

      • albatross11 says:

        I wonder when the last generation of kids will be who take out huge educational loans for the required-for-a-good-life credential–the ones who get screwed to the wall because the *next* generation has switched over to some much cheaper credential.

    • EchoChaos says:

      The entire paradigm of allowing a business to have full access to your (and your family’s) financial information before deciding what to charge you is one of the most bizarre and immoral things I know of.

      Especially when the product is as necessary to a middle class lifestyle as a college diploma is.

      • johan_larson says:

        Well, if you make enough money that you’re not eligible for any government tuition assistance, I suppose you could try to treat it like a negotiation.

        Gentlemen,

        On the forms you sent us, you asked us to provide detailed information about our family finances. This is unacceptable; such information is strictly private.

        We understand your base tuition is $55,000, but discounts are routinely offered. We propose to pay $20,000 per year for tuition, with room&board at your standard rate. Let us know if this would be acceptable.

        But I suspect they would just drop you for your presumption.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I also suspect that, unfortunately. Still tempting to think about.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Heck yes, don’t presume it’s gentlemen making the decision. 😛

          • johan_larson says:

            If you were determined to try this, what would be the right way? I’m guessing to would help to be a strong student and applying to second-tier schools that can’t afford to ignore the financial side of admissions, and sometimes have to make some hard choices to fill out a class. Also apply broadly, and be prepared to spend a gap year in case no one says yes.

            Ultimately, you are insisting on not doing things the normal way, so the colleges will probably pass on you in the first sweep. But I expect colleges sometimes have to go to second or third rounds when unexpectedly few prospects say yes the first time around, and that’s when they might consider you seriously.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Actually my guess would be that they would treat the letter as a negative, as not wanting trouble-makers, but otherwise ignore the letter. So if the student was otherwise a good fit for the school, they’d accept the student and give no financial aid, pending receipt of your FAFSA.

            They don’t have time to deal with weird outliers, and I doubt they have any interest in doing so. I think it’s pretty much accepted that part of the value of a college degree is to prove you are conformist enough to follow all the rules to get there. A letter like this isn’t something they’d want to encourage.

    • Jake says:

      This is just anecdotal, but I’ve noticed that a lot of universities’ online calculators tend to offer student aid of around 1/3 of what the student would actually need (cost – EFC). This is before you even factor in that EFC calculations are ridiculous in the first place. As someone lower in the thread says, any transaction that when you ask for a price, you are first asked, ‘How much do you have?’ is going to end up going badly.

    • rahien.din says:

      What’s happening here is risk allocation. Students have the ability to place bets on themselves. The university can allocate some risk to the student, in the form of a higher tuition that requires securing a loan.

    • sfoil says:

      “Financial aid” is just part of a highly information-asymmetric ploy to squeeze as much money out of students as possible. It’s basically the school replying to “How much does it cost to go here?” with “How much you got?”.

      Frankly, the fact that anyone considers it remotely acceptable for schools to post high sticker prices and then proceed to negotiate only after conducting an audit of the finances of the prospective student and his family is insane. I am in favor of banning it, personally.

  16. johan_larson says:

    This is a question for the amateur astronomers in the audience. How does one turn astronomy into a lasting hobby? I can easily see how you can get a couple of years worth of fun out of looking at various astronomical features. But once you’ve saved up for the big telescope, the one that’s a sizable fraction of your yearly income, and used it to find a whole bunch of deep sky objects, that kinda sounds like the end. Is there anywhere to go from there?

    • Well... says:

      I’m not an astronomer of any kind, but I imagine the rarity with which various cool celestial objects/phenomena are visible, given atmospheric conditions and various things having to line up and so forth, puts a natural speed limit on how quickly a person with a really good telescope can exhaust their checklist of things to see.

    • Jake says:

      I am a very amateur astronomer (read total investment <$300), so take what I say with a grain of salt, but try taking pictures through the big telescope. It not only takes up many nights taking pictures you can merge of the same object, it also allows you to buy a whole new class of expensive electronics for your hobby.

      Seriously though, it does allow you to share your hobby with a wider range of people, and there are some great amateur astronomy photos.

    • bean says:

      If you’re not prepared to go quite that far, then it lasts fairly easily. My Dad found a 6″ reflecting telescope at a garage sale when I was young, and we usually got it out a couple times a year to take a look at something or other. It was usually stuff we’d previously seen, but Saturn is really cool to look at. And there are lots of people around who haven’t seen that stuff, so showing them is half the fun.

      But that was a $25 telescope (it was an estate sale, and my Dad got a good deal because he had kids) that has since had a couple hundred dollars poured into it. Not something that’s a substantial fraction of a year’s income.

    • Randy M says:

      Take it to a public, outdoor place and use it to teach your kid or pick up chicks, depending on your life situation.

    • Mustard Tiger says:

      I think you’re basically right.

      I have maybe $4-5k into the hobby and have dabbled a bit in astrophotography. If you reach the point where you have the 36″ reflector, 8″ refractor, cooled CCDs for photography, $50k mount on a pier, etc – yeah, you’re kinda done unless you get into the really esoteric stuff like radio astronomy, or plan a trip to the southern hemisphere to see things you haven’t seen before. I will probably never get to that point, but spending several hundred on a new, slightly better eyepiece every now and then, or trading up for a bigger/better scope, helps keep the interest going.

      There can also be a social aspect. You can bring your gear to outreach events or “star parties” at dark sites and meet other interested parties.

      A lot of the attraction is the gadgets, though. The gear is really impressive. You can geek out on optics, make your own mirrors and obsess over their wavefront errors and Strehl ratios. Astrophotography also provides a lot of opportunity to do things a little different or a little better. Occasionally there is something new to see – comets, something changed on Jupiter, etc. – but not super often.

    • Another Throw says:

      A few uncollected thoughts.

      1. How big are we talking, because you can always go bigger.

      2. The best self defense weapon telescope is the one you have with you. A big scope either requires a dedicated observatory, which will cost the rest of that year’s income, or a team of people to set it up for you any time you want to use it. Also, I’m pretty sure being perched on top of a ladder to peep through the eyepieces is a huge PITA. The wind can be a cruel mistress, as well. There are decided drawbacks to having a big scope.

      3. If you want a big scope anyway, and you’re in California (which I think you are?), I think the 100 inch Hooker telescope is available to the public for visual use. I seem to recall is costs about the same as a super bowl ticket, though. ETA: Apparently $2,700 for a half night, and $5,000 for a whole night. (The 60 inch Hale telescope is considerably cheaper.) Conveniently located in LA County.

      3. But more importantly, your viewing will almost always be limited by the atmospheric conditions rather than the telescope. In any given year, you are only likely to experience a handful of nights of good seeing unless you live in a mountaintop observatory. Your ability to actually get a good view of a particular object depends on having a night with good seeing during the right time of year for that object to be close to the zenith. (The closer to the zenith you are looking, the less atmosphere you are looking through, the less distortion affecting your view.) Developing the skills to take advantage of the rare moments of excellent seeing takes time, and an enormous amount of patience to sit through hours of wavering views to find the few moments of perfect clarity right as you were about to give up and go to bed.

      4. Astrophotography is one method to get around the seeing limitation. This can be very technical, and developing the skills to do it well takes even longer.

      5. If you really, really want to nerd out you can probably try doing photometry light curves and try to find exoplanets.

  17. ana53294 says:

    Why aren’t there proposals on universal healthcare for kids who are American citizens? This seems to be the reasonable middle ground (or step forward) between the current situation and Medicare for all.

    It would create economies of scale, where you could have national (or state-wide) vaccination schedules, where nurses go to school to give everybody the reminder shot (except those who opt out). You could also streamline annual checkups by doing them at schools.

    It wouldn’t be too expensive, either. Sure, kids have a tendency to break bones and stuff, but extremely expensive childhood diseases tend to be rare, unlike those for the elderly. This would also cover rich kids, not just poor kids. One of the things that makes the Scandinavian system more palatable is that it covers rich people too.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Two confounders:

      1) anchorbabies/dreamers/children born to unlawful residents etc.

      One side getting fearful and upset if this group is included and the other getting upset if it isn’t included. My guess is in a realistic scenario that it would be.

      2) If it does/doesn’t work on a small scale why would it work/not work on a large one?

      What you’re describing sounds like certain things that could be tacked on to a school budget but doesn’t really amount to universal health care as i understand it. FYI blood tests and flu shots are administered at where I work [office has at least 1000 employees] annually but that’s far from HC.

      • ana53294 says:

        No, in Spain, where this is practiced, this isn’t part of the school budget. The nurse works for Social Security. This is organized in this manner because then parents don’t have to schedule these shots separately, and it can be done all at once. This is especially useful for slightly disorganized homes. It also makes following vaccination schedules the more convenient default mode.

        Well, but wouldn’t American citizens (even those that are anchor babies) be covered by Medicaid or something? If Medicare does not include illegal immigrant seniors, why would this cover illegal immigrant children?

        • EchoChaos says:

          Because in the United States any child born on American soil is an American citizen.

          “Anchor baby” is the term used because it’s much more difficult (both legally and politically) to deport the illegal parent of an American citizen than it is to deport other illegals.

          So if a pregnant woman enters the United States illegally and then gives birth, she has given birth to an American citizen.

          • ana53294 says:

            No, I know that. By illegal immigrant children, I mean those that are not American citizens, like those covered by DACA.

          • brad says:

            Politically maybe, but it isn’t much more difficult legally to deport the parent of a USC than a person that doesn’t have that relationship.

            8 U.S. Code § 1225(a)(1)

            Aliens treated as applicants for admission

            An alien present in the United States who has not been admitted or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters) shall be deemed for purposes of this chapter an applicant for admission.

            8 U.S. Code § 1225(b)(1)

            (A) Screening
            (i) In general

            If an immigration officer determines that an alien (other than an alien described in subparagraph (F)) who is arriving in the United States or is described in clause (iii) is inadmissible under section 1182(a)(6)(C) or 1182(a)(7) of this title, the officer shall order the alien removed from the United States without further hearing or review unless the alien indicates either an intention to apply for asylum under section 1158 of this title or a fear of persecution.

            (iii) Application to certain other aliens
            (I) In general

            The Attorney General may apply clauses (i) and (ii) of this subparagraph to any or all aliens described in subclause (II) as designated by the Attorney General. Such designation shall be in the sole and unreviewable discretion of the Attorney General and may be modified at any time.
            (II) Aliens described

            An alien described in this clause is an alien who is not described in subparagraph (F), who has not been admitted or paroled into the United States, and who has not affirmatively shown, to the satisfaction of an immigration officer, that the alien has been physically present in the United States continuously for the 2-year period immediately prior to the date of the determination of inadmissibility under this subparagraph.

            8 U.S. Code § 1225(b)(2)

            Inspection of other aliens
            (A) In general

            Subject to subparagraphs (B) and (C), in the case of an alien who is an applicant for admission, if the examining immigration officer determines that an alien seeking admission is not clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to be admitted, the alien shall be detained for a proceeding under section 1229a of this title.
            (B) Exception
            Subparagraph (A) shall not apply to an alien—
            (i) who is a crewman,
            (ii) to whom paragraph (1) applies, or
            (iii) who is a stowaway.

            There is no special rule for parents of minor US citizens.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @brad

            It absolutely is. The judge will ALWAYS take into account that a child (who cannot be deported) will be left without a parent if they are deported.

            Quoting the black letter law doesn’t change much about the practice on the ground. Pretty much everybody on the right would be happy if black letter law was followed in all cases for immigration, but it’s pretty motte and bailey to pretend that when I say legally I mean black letter law and not how judges and the system actually interpret it.

            Which is incidentally why the high profile “my parent was deported” are always kids who have a second parent in the United States.

          • brad says:

            Have you ever been inside an immigration court? Because I have. I cited law and you cited not black letter law, not statistics, maybe personal experience, maybe just supposed “common knowledge” or “common sense”?

          • rlms says:

            Linking to unevidenced assertions by anti-immigration thinktanks is not much of an improvement on just making those assertions yourself.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          Speaking hypothetically, If it does cover them [officially], people will get upset. If it doesn’t cover them, [other] people will get upset.

          A fair portion of the electorate already believes non lawful citizens are given citizen’s treatment as far as medical care is concerned [in addition to things like public schooling]. They’ll assume it is the case unofficially.

          Another portion believes non lawful citizens should be given these things as official policy and would resist ant attempts to enforce a distinction.

      • metacelsus says:

        For Confounder 1, the law could be written to only cover children of citizens.

        • ana53294 says:

          Could this be legal?

          I can’t imagine a law that discriminates between American citizens based on who their parents are would stand in court.

    • Plumber says:

      @ana53294

      “…..Why aren’t there proposals on universal healthcare for kids who are American citizens?…”

      Sounds like a great idea!

      Please make it happen!

      As to why doesn’t it happen already?

      The U.S.A. is wedded to what I call “Tonite Socialism”, if you live long enough it turns into Sweden, but only if you live long enough.

      Probably because of lingering Spencerism.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        The demographic in question votes more than anyone else, is reasonably well off financially, and believes that social security and medicare are ‘earned’ by virtue of having paid some amount of taxes for some period of time.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      So what are the specifics? Right now, the US has both Medicaid and SCHIP to provide health care to minors. However, these funds are doled out to the states with certain conditions, and the states decide how they wish to spend the money. We really don’t want the states to use this money to give to families that are making several times the poverty income, because the intention is to help out families that are not making a ton of money. Based on what Wiki says, there were about 10 states that were essentially giving discounts to middle class families when they hadn’t fully enrolled poor families, which is a waste of federal dollars.

    • Deiseach says:

      It would create economies of scale, where you could have national (or state-wide) vaccination schedules, where nurses go to school to give everybody the reminder shot (except those who opt out).

      They don’t have this already in the USA?

      • Statismagician says:

        Yes and no. Vaccines are required for public school attendance (with some medical and religious exemptions to various and variously-silly extents depending on locality), but are generally handled through the child’s family physician, as I recall.

        That said, we do already have free routine medical care for otherwise-uninsured children already under the CHIP (again with local variation), and the vaccination schedules are centrally set by… CDC and the Academy of Pediatrics jointly, I want to say, so this would be more rationalization of existing policy than something really novel.

      • Theodoric says:

        Some states do have free vaccine clinics; in a way, OP’s plan would just be one more focused on school-aged children.

  18. Looking at the sidebar, I notice that our South Bay meetup, which is this Sunday (not, like previous ones, Saturday) isn’t on it. I thought I put it up on the schedule, but perhaps I did something wrong.

    • Watchman says:

      Interesting. Has this been reported anywhere in the Western media? I’ve not picked it up and southeast Asia is an area I’m currently professionally involved with. The dominant media narrative is that Duterte is a dictatorial strongman with no respect for the rule of law, but nothing about his attempted resolution of the regional instability. If something as key as this is not being reported, what else positive is happening in the Phillipinnes that isn’t being reported?

  19. S_J says:

    Did anyone stay up late to watch the lunar eclipse?

    I saw part of the eclipse, but did not want to stay outside under the clear, cold skies. (Locally, I had single-digit temperatures, on the Fahrenheit scale.)

    • DeWitt says:

      I did, but it really wasn’t very impressive, unfortunately.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I went outside several times during the eclipse to watch. It seemed really weird to have the moon getting dark from the bottom, instead of the right or left. And then, the rust-red color looked really strange.

      It wasn’t anywhere near as impressive as the solar eclipse a few years ago, but still well worth seeing.

      • S_J says:

        Lunar eclipses are slow events. And it pretty much requires the observer to stay up very late to see.

        My memory is that lunar eclipse watching is more enjoyable with company. (Which I also didn’t have on Sunday night…)

        Of course, the lunar eclipse I remember best is the one that happened when I was a child. My parents took me to an eclipse-viewing party. I saw the beginning of the eclipse, and remember the progression to total eclipse… Then I got too tired, and the whole family went home.

        • Evan Þ says:

          When I was a kid, my parents took me out to our front steps one night to watch a lunar eclipse. It was too cold, and it was taking too long, and I got bored after ten minutes or so. Maybe a viewing party would’ve been better?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Yes. Thought the blood moon looked very neat. Also was creepy when all the monsters came back into the world.

    • Randy M says:

      For me, it’s solar or nothin’.

    • marshwiggle says:

      I did. It was cold, so I started 5 minutes before total. I took the kids. It was worth it. One of them really learned something from it, despite complaining that the moon totally did not look as red as blood, too much grey. 1/100 as amazing as the solar eclipse, but 1/100 the effort too.

    • AG says:

      It was cloudy and raining, so there was nothing to see. 🙁

      (Clearly this was a clever ploy by our plucky protagonists to prevent the nefarious from completing their world domination spell by the light of a superbloodmoon.)

  20. Theodoric says:

    Re the conversation about health insurance:
    ISTM that the major issue with people not having health insurance is getting a ruinous bill. We see horror stories in the media about people getting billed thousands or tens of thousands for things that insured people who did not meet their detectable would pay much less for. Defenders of the current system say “no one actually pays that”, however, not everyone is confident negotiating, people may be intimidated from even trying from the size of the bill, and, if the provider or hospital does sue, it will be for the amount that supposedly “no one actually pays”, and that will be what the judgment against you will be for. How does this sound as a way to alleviate this:
    -Health care providers must disclose the average insurance price for each billing code
    -Courts may not enter judgment for more than this price
    -Any bill or collection notice or summons & complaint must disclose the average insurance price for what they’re billing you for, and must disclose that a court will not enter judgment for more than this amount
    -Any contractual provision a provider has with an insurance company preventing them from routinely charging the insurance rates to people without insurance is void as contrary to public policy
    -Straight catastrophic insurance that pays for literally nothing (no check up, no birth control, no nothing) until you reach the deductible is legal
    The idea is that people who get bills that, as someone her put it “only a Saudi prince could pay, and only a Saudi prince actually pays”, would be able to just call the hospital and say “Look, according to what you sent me, you could only actually get $X from me in court, so let’s just cut to the chase and I’ll pay you $X”, and that if the matter did end up in court, the judgment against the person would be more in line with what is actually paid for these services. The provision for catastrophic insurance is in there because I expect this system would push more people to catastrophic insurance.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I strongly agree that cost disease is real, there are absurd “nobody pays this” numbers in healthcare and some people get their finances ruined over not preparing for healthcare disasters.

      I mentioned my friend who had a major potentially lethal health problem while he had no insurance. He was billed upwards of a million dollars, which he obviously could not pay. Some of it ended up covered by Medicaid (his health problems left him unemployed), some was written off and in the end he had to pay a fraction of the seven figures he was charged.

      But he would say, and I would agree, that his poor planning does not mean that I have a moral obligation to rescue him. His going through the system made him more anti-ObamaCare, actually.

      And the other thing is that ObamaCare wasn’t pitched as a new welfare program to make good young people who want to play the odds by not having insurance and lost that bet. It was pitched as fixing a broken medical system that left people to die.

    • I don’t know about the details, but the core of this proposal seems reasonable. An uninsured person goes into an emergency room and is treated. No list of prices was offered to him before he agreed to be treated, so there is no explicit contract.

      The question then is what price can he reasonably be charged–what can a court force him to pay? It makes no sense to answer “whatever the hospital says.” A reasonable answer would seem to be “the price that the hospital accepts from other people for the same services.”

      I observed a case of this sort. The hospital originally billed about $40,000. They then reduced it, because of the discount they give to uninsured patients, to about $4,000. Comparing it with my records for what was paid for similar services when I was an insured patient of the same hospital chain, I concluded that it should have been something under $1,000.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        This sort of thing always confuses me, because [health] Insurance companies are always insisting that they can negotiate down the prices of these things. Does the $1000 represent the total paid by all parties or just the amount paid by the insured below the deductible?

        Is the assumption that the uninsured should pay what the insured pays out of pocket or the total born by the insurer and insurance company?

        Interestingly a few days ago I was researching NAIC data on the health insurance industry. I don’t have 2017/2018 data but I noticed:

        1. loss ratios consistently at 85%
        2. Admin expenses originally at 11-12% until 2014 when it spiked up to 13.5% then went down to 13% by 2016
        3. Underwriting profits 3.5% in 2007 down to 1.1% in 2016 [lowest was .06% in 2015]
        4. claims adjustment expenses aren’t aggregated but they appear to be 1/2 to 1/4rd the size of the admin expenses by health care type with some exceptions.

        That doesn’t seem terribly gluttonous as far as insurance goes. perhaps I’m missing something.

        • Does the $1000 represent the total paid by all parties or just the amount paid by the insured below the deductible?

          The total paid by all parties–insurance plus insured.

          The pattern, as I have observed it in my own case, is that you get some medical treatment. The hospital states a cost, say $10,000. The insurance pays a small fraction of that, say $1,000. The insured owes a smaller fraction, say $200. The transaction is then over–the remaining $8,800 is, in effect, a discount the hospital provides to the insurance company.

          What I am suggesting is that if the patient is uninsured and refuses to pay the $10,000 bill, the court should find that he owes the hospital $1200.

          I should add that I don’t know how such cases are handled now, when and if they go to court. But it makes no sense to say that the patient owes however much the hospital says he owes, given that no price was stated in advance for him to agree to.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      For me the problem isn’t paying absurd prices, but paying average prices, even with insurance. I’m on a (mostly worthless) high deductible plan and if I get a major illness or have a major accident in the next ~3 years my plan is to kill myself.

      • SamChevre says:

        That’s a bad plan of action: don’t.

        The highest legal OOP is somewhere under $10k per year. If you get a serious illness, not having $10k will be a fairly minor problem; that’s an amount that even very poor people routinely come up with, given enough time and a few fundraisers.

        To put it in context–our middle child had a birth defect that ended up with him spending 5 weeks in the hospital when he was 2-3 months old; he had major surgery, spent part of the time in the ICU, etc–and ended up completely healthy and not expected to have any long-term health issues. The bill for that was over $500k. It took over a year, but we did manage to pay off the $10k deductible eventually; we’d never have been able to pay the $500k.

        • Murphy says:

          There’s something …. depressing about the “oh just charity it!” approach.

          Almost by definition you hear about the go-fundme campaigns that go viral.

          But for every one that goes viral there’s hundreds or thousands of similar that don’t.

          https://thenib.com/a-gofundme-campaign-is-not-health-insurance?t=default

          There’s nothing sexy about a “1 month worth of insulin” gofundme and most gofundme’s fail.

          There’s also a facet of human nature where if most of the little girls with cancer we hear about, the story ends with a generous angel descending from the clouds and saving them… we assume that that’s the normal outcome when a little girl has cancer and needs donations to live.

          We, almost by definition, don’t hear about all the fundraisers which don’t go viral.

          Where the person doesn’t get the money for that transplant or similar.

          So on the one hand you have a load of gung-ho people convinced that “the system works” because every case they heard about it’s worked out. Who may even have been part of the lucky minority themselves… on the other hand you have a giant pit of suffering that simply doesn’t get addressed because it hasn’t gone viral filled with people with a more realistic view of the world.

          • SamChevre says:

            I’m not thinking of gofundme, or other fund-raising, as a way to pay for needed future care. I’m noting it as a way of paying for the deductible on already-provided care: the advantage of even a high deductible is that the needed amount is fairly small relative to typical incomes.

          • Murphy says:

            @SamChevre

            That still doesn’t help much, if anything small go-fundme’s seem to do worse, like the “1 month of insulin” one in the link.

        • Garrett says:

          [Warning: Emotionally loaded, terrible and ethically-fraught question]

          Why should insurance have covered that? $500k is a lot of money and has to come from somewhere. From a purely mechanical perspective, the cost of a newborn (as measured by low-end surrogacy costs) is about $90k. Why should we structure public policy and insurance requirements to cover the far more expensive option?

          • albatross11 says:

            Because insurance works differently than someone deciding whether the social value of caring for someone is greater than the cost?

          • Randy M says:

            That’s what insurance *is*. People who sign up for it pool small, regular sums so that the few of them with the tail end events are covered. The details of what will be covered and what won’t are available up front, and the company knows exactly the price and likelihood of all medical events and decides what they will cover based on that.

            Further, if an insurance company has too many pricey, valid claims, they turn to their insurance company to cover them. This is what the system is for–massive questions about how the $500,000 figure is arrived at aside.

          • Murphy says:

            The company likely didn’t pay 500K, it could have been closer to 50K or even much much lower the way US hospitals structure their prices.

          • SamChevre says:

            I’m occasionally inclined to agree. My sister (former PICU nurse) would agree even more strongly, especially once you are out of the “fine long-term” range.

            On the other hand–it seems like spending $500K on a newborn who will be healthy and fine afterward is more sensible than spending it on an 80-year-old, and we do that routinely.

          • Randy M says:

            Murphy, you’re surely right, but that kind of lack of transparency seems to be a problem to me.
            Maybe it’s good if it allows them to negotiate with people unable to pay without causing a lot of complaint, but it seems more that it is the opposite–those least able to pay also have the least leverage to negotiate, being unaffiliated with insurance.

          • Murphy says:

            @Randy M

            I completely agree.

            My understanding is that it’s the result of some kind of nutty arms race (pricing race?) between hospitals and insurance companies.

            Insurance companies, having lots of clout, turn around and declare that they’re only going to pay a fraction of the invoiced amount, so the hospitals, to cover costs, start invoicing for a multiple of the real price and then the insurance companies lower the fraction they’ll pay…. until you’re seeing bills for $2000 for giving someone an aspirin.

            And it absolutely does screw over poorer people and people who don’t know the game they’re playing.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The point of a high deductible plan is to cover exactly those sorts of major events while not covering the small stuff. If such an event would drive you to suicide, your deductible is too high.

        • suntzuanime says:

          But you’re required to have health insurance, even if it’s mostly worthless. Thanks Obama!

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Low deductible plans are too expensive, so people gamble with the high deductible ones that aren’t as financially painful but have a tail risk of total financial ruin.

            This costliness isn’t a feature of the mandate though it’s quite possibly exacerbated by other aspects of the affordable care act. If the bill had been nothing but a mandate, it’s likely you’d have roughly the same number of people facing the risk of financial ruin opting to take HD plans but their premiums would be somewhat lower because of lower cross-subsidies and “feature-creep”.

          • albatross11 says:

            How high is the deductible on a high-deductible plan? I’ve never seen one with more than a $10K deductible, and $10K of medical debt would be unpleasant to get saddled with, but isn’t the end of the world. A hell of a lot of people carry more than that much credit card debt, basically used to fund unnecessary consumption.

          • John Schilling says:

            Low deductible plans are too expensive, so people gamble with the high deductible ones that aren’t as financially painful but have a tail risk of total financial ruin.

            OK, somebody is unclear on (or deliberately misrepresenting) the concept here. The whole point of high-deductible insurance plans is that they A: completely eliminate the high-end tail risk and B: don’t do anything else that would inflate the cost of eliminating the high-end tail risk. If there’s a thing that still has a tail risk of total financial ruin then calling that thing “high-deductible insurance” is wrong.

            Unless you’re saying that simply being asked to pay the deductible (IIRC $6K for an ACA Bronze Plan) would itself be financially ruinous, in which case that’s not a “tail risk”, that’s basically all the risk. Insurance where the payout doesn’t begin until you’ve already crossed the threshold for declaring bankruptcy or committing suicide or disappearing into the night or whatever, is worth less than nothing and no one should ever buy such a thing.

          • gbdub says:

            It’s more that it’s weird to declare victory on “access to affordable care” when in practice the majority of your health care costs are 100% out of pocket.

            Yes, high deductible insurance is still “insurance”, but we were promised affordable health care.

            Most of us were already insured. The net change in my health insurance post ACA is that the PPO plan I was on became unaffordable and everybody is on HDHPs with HSAs now. I guess I get free “preventative health care” now, but whoop-tee-do, that used to be a $15 copay.

            As a young, relatively healthy male, most of my health care needs are of the urgent care sort, plus a couple of surgeries for joint injuries. Fortunately I got those surgeries back when we had the PPO, and those were $200 out of pocket. On the HDHP, they’d be $3000. Not ruinous, but not a trivial write off either. Basically the likelihood of my health insurance actually paying for any health care for me in the next decade is minimal.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @gbdub

            Yes, because the ACA was intentionally redistributive. It was supposed to take away the good plans (“Cadillac plans”) from the people getting them to pay for the poor to get health insurance.

          • Randy M says:

            The goal was to get the money from you to the less healthy, less young, less male. There was a lot of discussion at the time about how it was rational for you to forgo insurance other than perhaps the most catastrophic, but that meant less money paid into the insurance pools, higher rates for the sick and poor.

            I don’t think it was honestly sold, but the rebuttal of “You didn’t really think your insurance wasn’t going to change, did you?” is probably fair.

          • dick says:

            It’s more that it’s weird to declare victory on “access to affordable care” when in practice the majority of your health care costs are 100% out of pocket.

            I’m with John, this is an unrealistic expectation. HDHPs are supposed to be catastrophic insurance, like home insurance or car insurance. Complaining that all your costs were out of pocket is equivalent to saying that you didn’t have any catastrophic health emergencies.

            Separate from that, premiums were going up each year and insurance was covering less each year before the AHA came along. You can argue that things would be better now if the AHA hadn’t passed, but you can’t just assume it; they might well have been even worse.

            Separate from those two things, HSAs are supposed to be the main way people pay for healthcare in the future, and the best you can say about our current system is that it’s sort of optimized for a time when HSAs have always existed. If your HSA had $60K in it, invested in a vanguard fund that returns ~$3K a year, having a HDHP that caps your healthcare expenses $3K/yr sounds pretty good.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            the best you can say about our current system is that it’s sort of optimized for a time when HSAs have always existed.

            Not just this, but that you’ve always had money in them. Part of my problem is that my HSA balance is so low that I can’t afford to spend any of it, and if I did spend it it’d be a drop in the bucket.

          • albatross11 says:

            RandyM:

            I dunno, it sure seems like if we care about politicians lying, we ought to care about even politicians we like lying in a cause we support.

          • Randy M says:

            Wow, I passed that ideological turing test.
            I just meant that, with sweeping changes to the laws and regulations, of course it was going to trickle down into each persons’ individual policy, everyone knew it at the time and voted accordingly, or else probably should abstain from doing so in the future.

          • ilikekittycat says:

            @suntzuanime – On December 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which reduced the individual mandate penalty to $0. On December 14, 2018, District Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas ruled that the Obamacare individual mandate was unconstitutional because [the] “Individual Mandate can no longer be fairly read as an exercise of Congress’s Tax Power and is still impermissible under the Interstate Commerce Clause—meaning the Individual Mandate is unconstitutional.”

            Until the Democrats sweep back into power and change that to ≥1¢ “required” is doing too much work in that sentence

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @johnschilling

            “OK, somebody is unclear on (or deliberately misrepresenting) the concept here. The whole point of high-deductible insurance plans is that they A: completely eliminate the high-end tail risk and B: don’t do anything else that would inflate the cost of eliminating the high-end tail risk. If there’s a thing that still has a tail risk of total financial ruin then calling that thing “high-deductible insurance” is wrong.”

            Sorry, I use the term ‘Tail Risk’ to mean something more expensive than the regular medical requirements of a healthy individual that would hit the deductible or come close to hitting it, and is priced above what the individual is capable of paying without going into debt. In some cases [like me] I have enough liquid assets that I could pay the deductible on my health insurance at least once without having to resort to borrowing.

            Calling an unexpected and involuntary 10K payment total financial ruin was hyperbolic on my part [sorry] — as payment plans are obviously a thing. But a significant portion of Americans have next to no savings. So the typical American getting hit up with a 10K bill is going to feel pretty ruinous even if it is manageable.

            I probably said total financial ruin because while I’m no apologist for socialized medicine but the idea of people borrowing money for a medical procedure strikes me as a bit ghoulish.

            With deductibles as high as 10K there’s still a fairly ‘event space’ of medical incidents that have costs that a typical american could afford to pay out of pocket as well as those that can’t.

          • gbdub says:

            So ACA proponents just get a free pass for “if you like your plan you can keep your plan”? And “bend the cost curve”?

            It was the “Affordable Care Act” not the “health care is as expensive as ever but we subsidized HDHPs so poor but not poor enough for Medicaid people can still pay 90% of their health care costs out of pocket but we get to label them insured now Act”.

            Incidentally I’m not opposed to the idea of a government provided HDHP for everyone; that, supplemented by additional private coverage, might be the best compromise. But I don’t think it’s politically feasible – in addition to the ACA opponents on the right you’re going to have interest groups wanting to tack their preferred stuff into “basic” coverage.

          • BBA says:

            As I understand it, even pre-ACA you had to maintain “continuous coverage” or you ran the risk of a future insurer denying your claims on grounds of a pre-existing condition. At least I think that was the point to those HIPAA certificates I got whenever my employer changed plans. It seems to me that even worthless ultra-high-deductible policies would have met this requirement, but maybe someone familiar with how things worked then can chime in.

          • Lillian says:

            It was the “Affordable Care Act” not the “health care is as expensive as ever but we subsidized HDHPs so poor but not poor enough for Medicaid people can still pay 90% of their health care costs out of pocket but we get to label them insured now Act”.

            So i’m in the “poor but not poor enough for Medicaid” category. Or well, that’s what i tell the government, because i’d rather pay the extra taxes than actually be on Medicaid. The plan i’m on costs 60 dollars a month, has a deductible of 600 dollars, and an out of pocket maximum of 600 dollars. Maximum yearly health expenses are therefore less than $2000, or about 1/8th of my reported income.

            That’s with some steep government subsidies, amounting to more than i pay in payroll taxes. Not sure exactly how much, but i believe that without subsidies the same plan’s deductible and out of pocket maximum are each ten times higher. So at least where i live it seems that the people getting saddled with the high deductible plans are the ones who are too poor to get them subsidized. I’m hopefully working towards becoming one of them suckers, since being a net tax drain has thus far been a pretty shit deal.

          • Lillian says:

            So at least where i live it seems that the people getting saddled with the high deductible plans are the ones who are too poor to get them subsidized.

            Obviously i meant those who are not poor enough to get them subsidized.

          • Randy M says:

            Incidentally I’m not opposed to the idea of a government provided HDHP for everyone; that, supplemented by additional private coverage, might be the best compromise. But I don’t think it’s politically feasible

            I don’t know, you’re like the fifth right-leaning poster to admit that in this thread, myself included.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        To clarify, the problem wouldn’t necessarily be paying as such, but rather losing my job, having no support structure, and being stuck with massive bills on top of massive medical bills. Just too much to deal with.

        • Murphy says:

          That is pretty much what bankruptcy is built for. If you don’t have much assets and have debts on top of debts that’s kinda when it makes sense to press the reset button.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Non-dischargeable debt is a bitch like that.

          • CatCube says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            I’m not tracking medical debt as being non-dischargeable. Once you discharge the medical debt, that’s going to put you, in terms of credit, roughly where you are now. Could you sketch out what you’re referring to here?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @CatCube

            I’m paying about $3000 per month on non-dischargeable student loan debt. That’ll all be gone in a year and a bit, but until then I’m fucked if anything happens to me.

          • gbdub says:

            If you qualify for disability, you can suspend payment (or pay only a nominal fee) on your student loans to keep them out of default. Even if you just lose your job, there are income based repayment plans.

            None of these forgive/discharge the debt, but they can at least keep you from getting hassled for cash while you get back on your feet.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @gbdub

            It’s likely that by the time I managed to obtain a forbearance I’d be wiped out.

    • methylethyl says:

      I’d go for that plan. We are “insured” through a religious healthshare (basically, catastrophic high-deductible insurance). The way our plan deals with the problem is:

      A) $5k deductible.
      B) If you get a bill that exceeds that $5k, they pay for everything over that, BUT…
      C) IF you call up the hospital (clinic, office, whatever) and are able to negotiate a lower price, the difference between the originally billed price and the final price is essentially subtracted from your deductible. So for example, if you’re billed $20k, and you talk them down to $15k, that $5k difference is subtracted from the $5k deductible, and you pay nothing.
      D) They have a helpful consultant you can call up on the telephone, who will coach you through the process of getting the institution to lower your bill.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        I really like this sort of incentive. A previous employer of mine gave money off your deductible for meeting various healthy living tasks&benchmarks during the year

    • 10240 says:

      Another solution: you should only have to pay whatever is specified in a written contract you have signed ahead of time. You don’t just go to a hospital without signing anything, and in the end they give you a bill with whatever number they decide to make up on it. No contract, no promise, no obligation, no enforcement.

      Emergency situations where the time needed to read contracts or shop around would put life or limb in danger are probably a small minority of health spending. Those situations, as well as ones where you are unconscious, are tricky, but ideally “no enforcement without contract” should still apply. You could have a contract with a hospital chain that, in case of unconsciousness or emergency, you agree to be treated for prices outlined in the contract; and another contract with a health industry association that, if there is no time to take you to a hospital in your preferred chain, you agree to be treated for specified industry standard prices at any hospital. Ambulance crews should be able to retrieve these contracts from a database, including your directives regarding your preferred hospital(s) or chain(s).

      • Murphy says:

        That seems to be trying to apply the rural american fire service model used in some places: you have to pay for fire cover and if you don’t the fire service will come out and watch our house burn down while making sure it doesn’t spread to any neighbors who have paid in advance.

        Which works kind of OK for houses but less well for people since people move around.

        it’s much easier to ID a house and check if it’s covered in a few seconds.

        OK, so the cops find someone bleeding out in a gutter with no ID and no wallet.

        Do they say “welp, we have no proof they have a prior health cover contract” and leave them to finish bleeding out?

        Does the hospital have to take the hit under your system if they stop the bleeding and then it turns out you never paid in advance? (massively antisocial and benefiting people who defect the most “HAHA! Chumps! Why would I pay at all when they’ll treat me anyway and can’t collect!”)

        Now there is a model used in many countries where you pay in advance with it being taken out of your paycheck in advance and then whatever happens, no matter what, you’re covered with no deductible so that medical staff can treat anyone who comes in to the best of their ability without any fear of landing them with a gigantic ,life ruining, bill. it works remarkably well and is much much cheaper than the American model. But it only works if people cooperate to a reasonable degree and agree to all pay in advance.

        A little bit like everyone just paying for a fire service in advance with the agreement that they just concentrate on putting out any fires that need to be put out without worrying about trying to decide if a particular burning house’s owner has paid in advance.

        Or everyone just agreeing in advance to pay for police so that the cops can concentrate on dealing with crimes rather than trying to decide if the victim has paid their police-protection bill this month.

        • 10240 says:

          All it would take is a smartphone with a fingerprint reader to retrieve your contract data in seconds.

          But it only works if people cooperate to a reasonable degree and agree to all pay in advance.

          We don’t “agree to all pay”, we are all forced to pay whether we agree or not.

          • Murphy says:

            ….Just like with fire services and police in most places. How terrible.

            While a gigantic biometrics database of most of the countries population accessible to vast swaths of the population where the current condition of your fingertips decides whether you’ll be left to die on the street sounds so very appealing it also sounds worse than every other option in basically every way.

          • 10240 says:

            @Murphy I would make special provisions for the rare case of a freak accident where your fingers are blown off, or similar. Again, these are a tiny fraction of all cases of an unconscious patient, which are themselves a fraction of all healthcare spending. I feel like these technical details and edge cases are not the real reason you dismiss my suggestion.

            Please argue with a bit less sarcasm. I get that you think that state healthcare works the best, but many people disagree (and many others agree; it has been debated at length several times on this forum e.g. here), thus it’s natural that we discuss ideas to create a better system under free market principles; it’s not very productive to just ridicule any such proposals. I definitely think that advance contracts in as much of the situations as technically feasible would be an improvement over the current American system, as it would create more transparent pricing, and thus more competition.

    • Garrett says:

      Alternate question: how should we create incentives for people to do the “healthy” thing? There are lots of costs associated with a lack of prenatal care, lack of vaccination, failure to comply with medication regimens, smoking, being overweight, etc.

      Premiums based on risk drive out those who are poor and high-risk. But due to EMTLA/medicaid they end up being covered anyways, just via a more circuitous system.

      • Murphy says:

        Mostly people have pretty strong incentives to be healthy anyway. unless your incentives are massive they’re not gonna do much to tip the balance if years of life and life quality aren’t enough and/or people value the things that make them unhealthy a great deal or don’t have the energy after working their second job.

        Making it easier for people to do healthy things seems to get much more millage than punishing people but it’s much harder to get money for a kids skate park from people than to convince them to try to punish people they already consider kinda sinful.

      • Statismagician says:

        Straight financial rewards from insurance companies (often through lower premiums, c.f. safe-driver discounts) or employers (of the form ‘check of these 10 Healthy Living Challenges, win a ~$50 gift card!’) work disproportionately well – at least the latter are already broadly standard among large employers.

        A problem is that very few of these things actually matter all that much in the grand scheme of things, compared with the raw fact that Americans are basically sedentary. To significantly reduce our chronic disease rates we’d need to tear down our entire commuter-orientated infrastructure and replace it with European-density cities, or something on that order of drastic-ness.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          at least the latter are already broadly standard among large employers.

          They are standard but do they actually work?

          Getting people to take care of themselves is bloody hard. It is long hard sloughs of paying doctors millions of years to tell millions of smokers to stop smoking and having some tiny percentage stop, and then moving onto the next hard slough, while hoping you don’t have backslides in all the previous efforts.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I have anecdotal evidence (confirmed by a medium-sized insurance company, for whatever that’s worth to you) that financial incentives do work. Not shame, or cajoling, or pleading, but straight financial considerations.

            That could be deductibles, or higher fees for smokers, or co-pays, they all seem to work. I couldn’t tell you how strongly they work, though my anecdotal experience is “quite well” when there’s an up-front cost to making a decision.

            A lot of insurance plans charge a large ER fee, which is waved if someone gets admitted. That definitely redirects people to Urgicare centers for non-serious problems.

          • Statismagician says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            Sorry, just saw this – they work at the object but not the outcome level. Sure, you can get a lot of your employees to e.g. do a WebMD lifestyle training and get an annual checkup, but those have basically no effect on overall healthiness or health care spending because, well, duh. The level of change-required-to-impact-real-health is outside the realm of things companies are willing to try and make their employees do, outside of very specific things like vaccination or dis-incentivizing smoking.

    • Dack says:

      Re the conversation about health insurance:
      ISTM that the major issue with people not having health insurance is getting a ruinous bill. We see horror stories in the media about people getting billed thousands or tens of thousands for things that insured people who did not meet their detectable would pay much less for. Defenders of the current system say “no one actually pays that”, however, not everyone is confident negotiating, people may be intimidated from even trying from the size of the bill, and, if the provider or hospital does sue, it will be for the amount that supposedly “no one actually pays”, and that will be what the judgment against you will be for.

      The ideal solution is the simplest one. Ban the price discrimination. Make it so the out-of-pocket price is the same as the insured price, and that these prices are posted publicly and knowable before treatment. Now all healthcare providers are competing on price and the market can sort itself out.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I’m sympathetic, but the ability to purchase in bulk has advantages for both buyers and sellers. (Think an insurance company saying “we are buying 1000 MRI scans for the next year” which the facility uses to finance purchasing of the MRI machine.) You would ban that. A facility may also have an MRI machine that is used by both internal groups and external groups: those internal groups may be subsidizing the price and have good reason to expect a discount.

        Like I said, I’m sympathetic to the idea of getting price signals out there. Maybe everything I just complained about doesn’t matter, doesn’t happen, is petty, or is worth losing in exchange for clear price signals in the market.

      • One problem with this is that the uninsured patient may be less likely to actually pay his bill than the insured patient.

  21. Atlas says:

    Caveat lector: I freely admit that this is just emotional, meandering ranting done on the basis of no research.

    So there was a Gillette ad that launched a thousand takes recently. I watched it without reading any of the articles or watching any of the videos about it I’d seen on various internet outlets to see what the fuss was about. And I was kind of surprised that it became such an intensely contested battleground in the culture war, like an alien visiting France during World War 1 and observing incredibly bloody struggles over tiny pieces of land by the Somme.

    The ad really frustrated me, but for I think it did so for different reasons than the ones motivating most other people. I think I’m more on the anti-feminist side of gender politics, insofar as I think that there are real and important biological differences between men and women, that discrimination against women qua women is not actually a very prevalent or important problem in modern society and that both women individually and society more broadly benefit greatly from having an above replacement fertility rate. The writing of someone like Heather Mac Donald or Martin van Creveld probably accurately captures my views on the issue, though to be honest it’s not the topic that seems the most important or interesting to me.

    However, I didn’t really see that the ad, even from an anti-feminist viewpoint, was sending any particularly egregious messages. It seemed like the specific behaviors that were condemned were: Bullying other boys, catcalling random women on the street and being a jerk to female coworkers. You might reasonably contend that this ad, and the ideology that underpins it, is exaggerating the harm of these behaviors, but is anyone really actively in favor of them? I’m reminded of President Obama’s reaction upon hearing his “don’t do stupid shit” foreign policy prescription criticized: “Who exactly is the ‘pro-stupid shit’ caucus?” Likewise, who exactly is the pro-bullying, catcalling and being a jerk to your coworkers caucus?

    What really irked me about the ad, and the theory underlying it, is that I feel like it misunderstood which parts of traditional masculinity are praised and valued by society, and consequently failed to understand why some boys struggle so much with living up to an, often implicit, ideal thereof.

    I don’t think that “being a rude, predatory person who sadistically bullies other men and ignores women’s consent” is the memetic apex of masculine cool that young men receive. Sure, it might not be actively discouraged as much as it could/should be, but I don’t think that’s the central message about masculinity communicated by entertainment media, peers, elders, et cetera. If anything, I think a lot of popular fiction, even pro-patriarchal fiction written long before the advent of feminism, gives villains and low-status guys “toxic masculinity.” The rape of Cassandra and the abduction/seduction of Helen were considered bad and Ajax the Lesser and Paris bad guys as a result. (There are other important factors in both cases, and I’m by no means saying that Greek mythology is feminist, only that Greek mythographers didn’t think that violating women was the essence of masculinity. There are probably better examples of what I mean.)

    Rather, I think that “being a strong, tall, courageous, worldly, successful, athletic man who is capable of defeating any opponent in a confrontation, using any weapon competently, operating any vehicle effectively, solving any challenge and getting any beautiful woman to be (willingly) intimate with him” is more centrally the ideal of masculinity that boys are presented with on the playground, at the cinema, in the video game, on the playing field, etc. Sometimes that man is a British gentleman spy and sometimes he’s a gangsta rap thug, but either way he has (or at least approaches) those traits. And the problem is that I think everyone, including feminists, left-wingers, Blue Tribers, and so on, genuinely believes in this conception of masculinity on some important level and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. My impression is that guys who argue in favor of right-wing beliefs about politics (libertarianism, anti-feminism, ethnic nationalism, gamers’ rights [that one was a joke] etc.) online while failing to live up to this ideal can reliably expect to be shamelessly mocked by left-wingers on these grounds. (Obviously the same is true if you argue for left-wing beliefs, but that’s less surprising because right-wingers explicitly favor a traditional conception of masculinity.)

    To bring this back to the Gillette ad: To stop “toxic” male behavior, which I indeed agree is worth doing, you have to be able to win a psychological/physical confrontation with said “toxic” males. An ideal of justice without the strength to enforce it in the face of opposition means nothing. I really hated those anti-bullying campaigns that were popular when I was a kid that were all about sternly telling bullies that bullying is morally wrong. Yeah, I think so too, but I think the problem is less that bullies don’t understand that and more that their victims lack the physical strength and allies necessary to defeat them in (real or hypothetical) confrontation. My greatest fear is that the strongest people will also be cruel, and thus can be cruel without bound; I think that the most likely way to prevent this dreadful unity is not to convince the strong and cruel to be just, but to convince the just but weak to be strong.

    So, what really frustrates me is that I feel like this ad is actually implicitly supporting most of the ideas of the paradigm it’s supposedly critiquing, but not being honest about it or giving guidance to men who struggle under the burden this ideal creates. This might be unfair, but it subjectively feels to me as an individual viewer like a call for unilateral disarmament. It reminds me of the situation with [redacted]: The media and feminists relentlessly criticize [redacted]/”nice guys” for their misogynistic views, but their actual problem as individuals with their lives is their failure to live up to the traditional standards of masculinity that women and other men in the real world actually value and that feminists and the media are supposedly opposed to.

    • Plumber says:

      @Atlas

      “…Likewise, who exactly is the pro-bullying, catcalling and being a jerk to your coworkers caucus?…”

      I’ve never seen the ad as an ad and I’ve seen it exactly once when the news was on during lunch instead of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”, and the news was reported on the Ad, I could barely follow what the message was but the new hire started yelling about how awful it was that the Ad suggested touching a women’s shoulder was bad.

      So one person didn’t like that message enough to shout about it at the table, but he’s a weirdo.

    • WashedOut says:

      Stories of men failing to meet the demands of masculinity are probably among the oldest ever told; The Bible is full of them and probably so too with every other foundation text. It’s possible to overshoot and become a tyrant, or undershoot and become a bitter resentful, coward. Modern society has gotten very good at guarding against the former, but particularly bad at preventing the latter.

      Regarding the ad, my issues with it boil down to the slow encroachment of advertising into politics. Marketing agencies, who never let a bandwagon pass by, seem to have seized on a hot-button cultural topic in order to maximise brand exposure, without regard for (surprise surprise) nuance or tact. The whole thing felt cheap and insincere coming from a faceless megacorp who several years ago were busy plastering their logo all over the bikini-clad asses of cheerleaders and Formula 1 trackside girls. One of the things that’s guaranteed to piss men off is being given a morality lecture in the form of corporate advertising, and I can certainly relate.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        In relation to seizing on a bandwagon am extremely doubtful this ad will actually benefit Gillette, at least on net. When a company firmly takes one side over another on this issue the anger from the losers will almost certainly outweigh the appreciation from the other.

        Gillette is not a media company, it doesn’t profit solely from drawing attention to itself by signal boosting controversies. Journalists can write incendiary articles and as long as outraged people are sharing it amongst each other, effectively the critics are consuming the product. But if one outraged person shares the Gillette video to another outraged person who happens to be a Gillette customer, they can materially harm Gillette.

        • MrApophenia says:

          I am not so sure – the famous (and probably apocryphal) Michael Jordan quote about “Republicans buy sneakers too” apparently turned out not to be true. The Nike/Colin Kaepernick thing was specifically because they looked at who was actually buying Nikes and who wasn’t, and determined growing their market in Democrat-leaning areas was worth far, far more than losses in Republican areas.

          • Aapje says:

            in Democrat-leaning areas

            Is this a euphemism for black neighborhoods?

          • MrApophenia says:

            Not exactly – I don’t have the list handy, but Nike determined that basically their entire business was coming from a specific set of cities, and that expanding in those cities gained them so much that they didn’t really care whether they lost some red states that don’t buy many Nikes anyway.

            Urban vs. Rural certainly has a black/white element to it, but it’s not fully the same thing.

          • Spookykou says:

            Sneakers seem considerably more cultural as a distinct type of shoe, Gillette does not to my knowledge really make a distinct type of razor. Of course I have always been confused by cigarette brand loyalty, so I could be missing some sort of weird razor loyalty blue tribe thing, although at first blush I would think this would divide in exactly the opposite direction, with things like Harry’s and other ‘disruptive’ razor companies being far more represented in the blue tribe. Maybe this is an attempt to fight back against that?

          • The Nybbler says:

            The type of razors Gillette sells are cartridge razors, which are the same as Harry’s and Dollar sells. The “culturally different” hip (dare I say hipster?) competition is the safety razor (invented by King Gillette and a guy named Nickerson, how’s that for nominative determinism?), which Gillette AFAIK no longer sells but sister company “The Art of Shaving” does.

          • Nornagest says:

            Safety razors probably don’t have a significant amount of market share anymore, and I’m saying that as a guy that uses a safety razor. Cartridge razors’ main competition is probably disposable razors on the one hand, and electric razors on the other.

    • BBA says:

      It reminds me of how a few years ago, Unilever was running a feminist-ish body image positivity campaign for Dove skin care products, while at the same time the ads for their Axe men’s deodorants were the most sexist trash on TV.

      P&G owns Gillette and a gazillion other brands. I’m almost positive that if you go through all of them, you’ll find they’re being just as cynical and hypocritical as their competitors at Unilever were.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, the point of the ad is to sell razors, or at one more level of analysis, it’s to sell the ad agency’s future work product to future clients by showing an example of an ad they made that went viral. Gillette has no more inherent position on toxic masculinity than it does on AI risk.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      However, I didn’t really see that the ad, even from an anti-feminist viewpoint, was sending any particularly egregious messages.

      It wasn’t, but it very clearly laid out an ideological stance in a very obvious CW topic. Even removing “toxic masculinity” alone might have changed that, because that term is a cultural signifier for a left wing academic position.

      For those who either didn’t notice the culture war aspect or could look past it, the underlying message was not a bad message. For many on the right, it was much like the left with Reagan complaining about “Welfare Queens” – nobody wants welfare abuse, but the term provides much more heat than light and places the conversation in a CW battlefield.

      ETA: There’s also the fact that a major corporation is presumptively accepting a narrative that there is a cultural problem in need of fixing. On its face, that’s true (there are always bad actors and potential improvements), but it’s like saying “there is welfare fraud.” Yes, there is fraud in the welfare system, but a major ad campaign about it has implications beyond “I am stating true facts for completely neutral reasons.”

    • Aging Loser says:

      Atlas: “… to convince the just but weak to be strong” — you mean not afraid to be punched in the face by the strong bad guy when they talk back to him or tell him to stop being bad?

      Suppose you’re just and physically strong — you might still not confront the bad guy because if it becomes a fight you’re very likely going to face months of legal anxieties and lots of debt paying your defense attorney. And you won’t get any support from a community esteeming you for your heroism, because there are no communities anymore.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      1. A razor company is not a moral authority. For them to take on that mantle and lecture men as a group on their behavior requires much chutzpah.

      2. The ad implies that these behaviors are common and tolerated among men. That seems insulting to their audience. If Popeye’s Chicken ran an ad campaign about how their customers need to stop stealing bicycles I don’t think we would be applauding Popeye’s for their anti-bike theft* stance. I think we would be wondering what kind of delusional racists are running Popeye’s ad campaigns.

      * Is it “anti-bike theft” or “anti-bike-theft” or something else? It looks weird. I feel like there should be a hyphen there, but “anti-bike theft” makes it seem like they’re stealing anti-bikes, which annihilate when they collide with regular bikes.

      • albatross11 says:

        To be fair, a bike’s mass of antimatter would be worth an incredible amount of money.

        • John Schilling says:

          To be even more fair, money would next to worthless in the post-apocalyptic landscape that would result in a bike’s worth of antimatter existing in the vicinity of any existing monetary economy.

          What’s the black-market exchange rate between antiprotons and .22LR cartridges?

          • The Nybbler says:

            To be even more fair, money would next to worthless in the post-apocalyptic landscape that would result in a bike’s worth of antimatter existing in the vicinity of any existing monetary economy.

            That really depends on how much of a weight weenie our antimatter cyclist was. Assuming anti-cyclists are also anti-UCI-weight-limit, we’re talking considerably less than 7kg. The lightest road bike today is less than 3kg, in fact. At about 43 megatons per kilogram, that’s not SO bad, at least if you kept it all together. One devastating kaboom, but release it from containment out in the desert somewhere and it’s nowhere near a civilization-ending event.

            Parcel it out in gram-sized packets and you have a quite respectable arsenal, of course. Provided you can maintain containment until you reach the target..

          • bullseye says:

            I figure the sort of bike that gets stolen from a Popeye’s parking lot isn’t one of the fancy racing ones, which means it would be heavier. I assumed 9kg and it worked out to about 7.7 Tsar Bombas. That’s pretty bad and could seriously disrupt the world’s supply of fried chicken.

          • albatross11 says:

            I don’t see what you guys all have against enormous, steaming radioactive craters in the middle of North America.

      • Nick says:

        * Is it “anti-bike theft” or “anti-bike-theft” or something else? It looks weird. I feel like there should be a hyphen there, but “anti-bike theft” makes it seem like they’re stealing anti-bikes, which annihilate when they collide with regular bikes.

        A common rule for situations like this is to use an en dash rather than a hyphen between the prefix and the compound word, viz. anti–bike theft.

      • Randy M says:

        SSC–where a grammatical footnote will generate more discussion than the paragraphs preceding it.

        This is the house that puns built.

        • woah77 says:

          To be perfectly honest, grammatical footnotes are often more intellectually stimulating than politics.

        • Nick says:

          SSC, where any discussion is bound to generate meta-discussions, and meta-discussions bound to generate meta–meta-discussions….

      • dick says:

        1. A razor company is not a moral authority. For them to take on that mantle and lecture men as a group on their behavior requires much chutzpah.

        If TLP were here, he’d say that “You should pay attention to what advertisers have to say about anything at all” is the real message of the ad, right? I’ve not seen the ad, had not heard of it outside of SSC comments, and am mystified that it’s garnered so much discussion here.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Atlas,

      Good post!

  22. I have a puzzle that people here may be able to suggest solutions to.

    Why do people prefer to do their socializing in very noisy environments, where it is hard to have a conversation? It’s a pattern I have observed repeatedly, in a variety of contexts and several different countries.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      It’s easy to drop conservations you don’t like. People prefer to have the option to escalate rather than deescalate intimacy. Environments where you do things together tend toward the noisy because they tend towards centralization.

    • EchoChaos says:

      My gut instinct says it’s to create a lack of intimacy.

      Talking in a private quiet space is an inherently intimate activity and there is a lot of natural resistance to engaging in too much intimacy too quickly is very uncomfortable for a lot of people.

      There is also an energized feeling to doing the same thing as a large group, which is probably a natural result of this.

    • woah77 says:

      By noisy, do you mean at a concert, a construction site, a club, a gun range, a bar, or bazaar?

      Because some of those I couldn’t possibly answer, but some I have some theories about.

      • Most recently, at the social event at the end of Libertycon, a convention of International Students for Liberty that I had spoken at earlier that day. A big hotel ballroom, with pizza and drinks and music playing quite loudly. The crowd was mostly about college age–I would guess several hundred people.

        A year or two back, at a London pub full of people. I don’t remember if there was music playing or not—the noise could have been just a result of lots of people talking, but that wasn’t my impression, and I don’t think that such locations design their interior to be as sound absorbing as possible. A similar experience more recently in a Belgrade pub (or whatever they call the equivalent) in the evening of a libertarian event–again, I would guess mostly about college age. I’m pretty sure there was music.

        • woah77 says:

          I believe that most pubs are loud for primarily two reason: It makes it difficult for someone to overhear your conversation and, as others have pointed out, it also makes it easier to disengage.

          At the convention, I think that others are also right about it being more about a shared experience and not about talking to the person next to you. You all have a mutual experience of enjoying the event and socially charge that way.

    • Another Throw says:

      Because that is where the booze is.

      Setting aside the sarcasm, I don’t particularly understand it either; my impression is that “socializing” has less to do with actually talking to the other person and more to do with the shared experience of some kind of energy. Whatever is making the venue loud is usually the source of said energy. Or maybe it is the noise itself. I don’t really know.

    • J.R. says:

      Some hypotheses.

      1. Mixing up cause-and-effect. Lots of people socializing at the same time generate lots of noise.

      2. Masking. Music is made loud enough so that you can only hear people at your table but not eavesdrop on conversations at the table next to you. (This, if I recall, is the justification for loud background music in a recent bartender’s manual I read. No, I’m not a professional bartender)

      3. Killing conversation is a feature, not a bug. If you spend less time talking, you’ll spend more time drinking, which improves the bottom line of the bar.

      EDIT: Typo

      • johan_larson says:

        Mixing up cause-and-effect. Lots of people socializing at the same time generate lots of noise.

        No one goes there to socialize. It’s too crowded with people socializing.

    • Randy M says:

      Could be more plausible deniability. If I say something off, maybe you misheard, or maybe I was distracted, or hey, look at that!

    • baconbits9 says:

      A. Signalling
      1. Interacting with someone in an environment with lots of distractions shows that you are interested in them. Interacting with someone in private might just mean that you prefer them to sitting quietly alone, but in a bar it sort of shows that you prefer them to anyone else in the bar, plus the TVs/music.
      2. Being able to interact in that situation shows stronger social skills, after all if you can figure out how to act/reply when you are missing a lot of the words that are being said then you clearly are picking up on everything else.

      B. Superficiality
      1. Perhaps you don’t want to delve into personal discussion with someone, but also don’t want to tell them to stop talking about their grandmother’s cancer. Meeting at a public place is a nod to “I want to hang out but not in an intimate way”.
      2. It makes it easy to signal your intentions. “Why don’t we go back to my place” is a shift when you are out in public, but a lot less of one when you are already in a private setting.

      3. Lack of originality- most people don’t think of creative things, they see what other people are doing and copy that, which means that people are going to congregate.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      You are in a lively area with lively music and lively food with a bunch of other lively people that are having lively conversations. You feel energized and exciting.

    • James Miller says:

      I find many common environments so painfully noisy that I assume most peoples’ brains work much better in such environments than mine does. Perhaps we are both a few standard deviations below the mean in our ability to think and hear well in “noisy” environments. Once when I was teaching I found the noise of the yard work being done outside almost unbearable. I asked my students if any of them were bothered by the noise, and none said that they were.

      • albatross11 says:

        When I was in college, the most common thing to go out and do was to go to smoky, loud, crowded bars and try to pick up girls/get drunk. I found icoffeeshops a much better fit–less bad music and more bad poetry, fewer PIB (proto-Goths) and more retread hippies, but it all worked out okay.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I think this sensitivity to multiple auditory channels is linked to the autism spectrum.

        • DeWitt says:

          Likely true. I’m diagnosed, and I absolutely can’t stand noise, particularly when coupled with other tasks or strains.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Same. I don’t even play music while studying text, which is apparently the most neurotypical thing in the world.

        • Plumber says:

          @Le Maistre Chat

          “I think this sensitivity to multiple auditory channels is linked to the autism spectrum”

          I may be undiagnosed then.

          So may my wife.

          Neither of us like screaming.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        I think James has it–this is just less objectionable if you’re fully neurotypical. I shut down in these spaces.

        • As far as I know I’m neurotypical in the relevant sense–I’m not particularly bothered by noisy environments if the noise isn’t getting in the way of talking with people.

    • ana53294 says:

      I think there are people who like noise and crowds. My dad is such a person.

      He always puts the TV on as background noise during lunchtime and in the evenings. Pretty loud, at that. And it’s not like he is listening to what they say – I sometimes comment on something they said on the telly, and he’ll be like “What? Did they say that?”.

      He also has this strategy of looking for pubs. We’ll pass by several cosy and quiet places, and he will find the noisier and busiest one.

      I have a lot of sensory issues, and I don’t get it at all, but it does seem to me like there are people who enjoy noise.

    • Basil Elton says:

      Is there some particular reason why this can’t be explained by the fact that many people socializing at the same place produce a lot of noise? Which causes everyone to speak louder to be heard which creates even more noise thus closing a positive feedback loop. And if there’s any music present it follows the same pattern.

      I always assumed it’s an inevitable price to pay for socializing in large groups. People in a small group or pair often prefer to socialize in more or less quiet environments.

      • Often the noise of conversations is being added to the noise of loud music, which isn’t an inevitable price of large groups. If it were seen as a negative rather than a positive, bars and the like would be designed to minimize noise, which I don’t think they are.

        • Basil Elton says:

          It you’re talking specifically about various eating/drinking establishments, I have little idea about why American bars and restaurants are so noisy, but Scott posted a link to this article which tries to explain that fact, and it seems to have less to do with people’s preferences about the noise level and more with other restaurants’ incentives. And I can testify that at least in some other countries restaurants and bars are commonly much quieter and expected to be so, and (to a degree allowed by budget and other constraints) are designed to minimize noise. That is, except for a certain category of bars which are somewhat club-like and have accordingly loud music, but I assume people go there not so much for talking as for… idk, hooking up? getting drunk?… guess here I share your puzzlement.

          But all the other common places for socializing seem to get pretty loud naturally, unless there’s something pushing against it, such as written or unwritten rule or sound absorbing panels. At least that’s my experience and understanding.

          • My sample includes the U.S., the U.K., and Serbia. But outside of the U.S. it was all in bar-like environments, very likely ones in which people were drinking and hoping to hook up.

            Which also seems rather odd to me. If I were still single, I think I would find something like an SSC meetup a much more appropriate place to try to find a girlfriend.

            I expect part of the problem is that I really don’t understand the dynamics of conventional courtship behavior, short term or long. If I imagine myself in that situation, I would be trying to demonstrate characteristics that would make me attractive to the sort of woman I would want to be involved with, and would expect her to be doing the same, mutatis mutandis. That would be done mostly through conversation.

            I suppose the problem doesn’t arise if the main relevant characteristic is physical appearance or dancing ability. That might make some sense for short term hookups, much less if the objective is a long term relationship.

          • Basil Elton says:

            @DavidFriedman

            For hookups, an obvious upside of loud music is that it gives you a natural excuse to get physically closer to your (prospective) partner. And I don’t really think a lot of people look for anything more serious in clubs and the like. Not that I’m a big expert on the topic – in case of America I don’t even know where adults do look for something serious, except for dating apps.

            And for the countries, I’m quite sure about Russia and Bulgaria. Also Ukraine was the same IIRC, and the friends from other post-soviet countries seem to mostly share my experience.

          • Aapje says:

            Surveys seem to suggest that most people meet through friends and that dating apps are not actually that successful.

    • Nick says:

      Rowling points out in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that noisy environments actually make conversation more private, because it makes it harder to eavesdrop.

    • Don P. says:

      Maybe most of the relevant people hear better than you do in those environments? (And than I do.)

    • Well... says:

      I have no such preference. But I have noticed I’m usually outspoken on that. (Pun intended.)

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      Ugh, I hate those. I have trouble understanding people and having any conversation at all in these situations (but most people seem to manage that just fine). Probably missing some wiring growing up partially deaf till I was 5ish. That’s on me though, because I should bite the bullet already and learn lip reading.

      I figure that people who do this don’t do it to fill a need for communication, but want to see the people around them just act without having to give much cognitive input or expecting any. Less words, less bullshit. Having that feeling of a crowd, can be kinda hypnotizing and calming. I get that with smaller groups, but larger groups and more volume, I just find alienating and I leave soon.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      For an environment where a lot of people are going to be drunk, a loud place is going to indicate a lot quicker who is too drunk. A sarcastic put-down has to be expressed as outright vitriol, a creepy sexual comment has to be made loudly enough that it’s gonna trigger people around you who could help, and so on.

    • tossrock says:

      Outside noise fills gaps in conversation which can otherwise become awkward.

      • gbdub says:

        I think this is a big part of it. It kind of makes it feel like you’re “socializing” even if your local conversation is dead. On the flip side, you don’t have to feel awkward if you laugh loudly and everyone in the room turns to look at you. It’s an environment that’s simultaneously full of social energy and also pseudo-private, since outside noise makes your conversation inaudible beyond a few feet.

        That said a lot of places are too loud. Some of this is aesthetic (harder, industrial chic decor absorbs less sound), some is the weird idea that every bar needs to be a sports bar. But I also don’t like restaurants that are library-quiet. That’s awkward too.

    • Murphy says:

      I suspect it’s for similar reasons to why some people like getting utterly hammered.

      Loud music, dancing etc helps a lot of people to let go and stop thinking.

      At first glance it seems counter intuitive “I want to meet new people. To do that most effectively I shall drink myself close to incoherence”

      But a lot of people struggle to put themselves out there a great deal and the algorithm they settle on is, to paraphrase a classmate from back when I was at uni: “Get hammered, go to [club name] sloppily stumble together with someone at 2am and hope you like each other in the morning”

      And many people seem to have crippling issues with intimacy such that unless they numb their brain pretty thoroughly they can’t get together with anyone.

      And it seems to work OK when the other people are following the same algorithm.

  23. Deiseach says:

    Looks like trouble starting back up again in Northern Ireland. Whether this is Brexit related or not, who knows, but it’s strange that it’s happening right now. Car bomb went off on Saturday, more vehicles hijacked and a controlled explosion carried out on one today.

    Awaiting further developments.

  24. theodidactus says:

    It’s martin luther king day and this is one of them hidden open threads. What could go wrong?

    Confession time: I, like a lot of people my age, had to listen to a bunch of Martin Luther King speeches in grade school and high school. and I, like a lot of people my age, spaced out and wrote it off as a bunch of utopian noise. This was of course in my angsty teenage phase when I figured I was an ice-cold realist fully apprised of the horrors in the world and how to set about righting them.

    Post-college, when I landed a gig that included, in part, teaching kids how to speak persuasively, I went back over his speeches…and goddamn it, that guy was GOOD and RIGHT.

    I’m now a convert: I’m crazy about his rhetorical style, and I’m thoroughly convinced he was correct regarding pacifism and activism. I converted to full-on personal pacifism in college, through a different source, but I should have listened when I was younger.

    I don’t exactly blame the establishment for “teaching Martin Luther King wrong.” I’m of course equally to blame by being an angsty teenager…but I still think there’s some basic facts about MLK that could be taught differently.

    He was a problem solver. His pacifism did not come out of some benighted utopianism but a clear understanding that any other technique would lead to instant and brutal annihilation. I do not recall anyone actually teaching MLK this way growing up, but it is absolutely AT THE CORE of what he taught, and he talked about the practical utility of pacifism ALL THE TIME. This is true whether he’s talking about nonviolence generally (“the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world…Jesus is not an impractical idealist; he is the practical realist.”) and his political struggles specifically (“In violent warfare, one must be prepared to face ruthlessly the fact that there will be casualties by the thousands. … Anyone leading a violent conflict must be willing to make a similar assessment regarding the possible casualties to a minority population confronting a well-armed, wealthy majority with a fanatical right wing that is capable of exterminating the entire black population and which would not hesitate such an attempt if the survival of white Western materialism were at stake”).

    In short, nonviolence is both a moral necessity and a really effective tool, maybe these are both the same thing.

    Thoughts?

    • J.R. says:

      I took a history course in college that spent a couple weeks on MLK. It was revelatory.

      Re:nonviolence, one thing that made it so effective was how it leveraged the ubiquity of television to show the stark brutality of segregationists to the whole country.

      • theodidactus says:

        Nonviolent tactics perhaps work better in the modern world because the whole world is watching? It’s an interesting possibility.

        Scott always characterizes various forms of nonviolence/tolerance as technologies. Perhaps mass media is a pre-requisite of this form of nonviolent protest.

        • John Schilling says:

          Nonviolent tactics perhaps work better in the modern world because the whole world is watching? It’s an interesting possibility.

          The whole world is watching, but its people do seem to differ in how much they care (and in some cases, what direction they care). It suspect that there is an increasing disadvantage to A: caring too much and B: watching too closely, with advances in information technology making “so we won’t watch too closely” a less tenable strategy.

        • edmundgennings says:

          Also a degree of mass media support and or some basic sympathy of the broader population is also a prerequisite. If the considerable majority of the population and all mass media thinks a group got what was coming to it for advocating an evil position then nonviolent protests can be attacked at a low enough level to avoid really drawing attention but at a high enough level to make them unworkable.

        • SamChevre says:

          I’d add that non-violent tactics work much better when the courts will make up law in your favor, and the US Army will back them up with combat troops.

          You’ll often hear that MLK offered a more acceptable alternative to Malcolm X. In my opinion, what he more importantly did was offered a deal: you can give me what I want, or the courts will make up or strike down any law or precedent to benefit me and harm you (from real estate easements, to libel, to freedom of association, to town boundaries, to electoral system) and the Army will enforce those decisions.

          • brad says:

            Wow, now that’s something you don’t see every day!

          • DeWitt says:

            The courts and military being kindly predisposed to his movement is a literal damn consequence of it not being a bunch of domestic terrorists or armed insurrectionists and you really ought to account for that rather than pretend one trend precedes the other.

          • Aging Loser says:

            No, DeWitt, it’s “a literal damn consequence” of all of the Nice People already dreaming the Dream; he was the playing the role assigned to him (by the Sandman) within the pageant.

          • albatross11 says:

            My not-very-informed impression is that lots of whites in 1950s America were pretty comfortable with the status quo of blacks being subject to private discrimination almost everywhere and legally-mandated discrimination in some places, but didn’t like to think about how that had to be enforced. “Yes, the Georgians treat their blacks badly, but it’s not really my problem” is harder to swallow if you’re watching footage of people getting their heads bashed in during a peaceful protest.

            If white public opinion had been hardened to the point of being willing to see blacks’ heads get busted to maintain the status quo, as I think it was in much of the South, then nonviolent tactics wouldn’t have worked.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I largely agree. I think King understood violence – why it happens, what it means, and how it affects people, including those who suffer it, those who commit it, and those who witness it. He understood that people are not naturally inclined to violence, that the “veneer of civilization” is actually the core of humanity, and the power of articulated pain.

      • theodidactus says:

        That’s a beautiful way to put it!

        I’m not sure I’d describe myself as a rationalist anymore, but I definitely went through a period where I did. Rationalists should like King more (even though he emphatically wasn’t). King always emphasized the damage that hate does to the human ability to think rationally. I think the moment I “got” King was this passage from a speech on nonviolence he gave circa 1957:

        “But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”

        You can see a resonance with Tolkien and Lewis.

        • woah77 says:

          As a pastor of mine once said “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison hoping the other person will die.”

      • Aapje says:

        @Hoopyfreud

        He understood that people are not naturally inclined to violence

        People are inclined to punish ‘bad’ people, including with violence if deemed necessary to correct their behavior.

        The trick to non-violent resistance is to create cognitive dissonance between behaviors/people deemed ‘bad’ by the rules and the actually perceived badness.

    • bean says:

      I’m not in favor of pacifism. It was absolutely the right choice at the time, and I’m not criticizing his methods. I toured the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta a couple years ago, and the stuff on the Civil Rights Movement was deeply impressive and moving. But the last room, where they tried to generalize the principles, fell really flat. To use the most stark example, they held up Vaclav Havel as an example of non-violent resistance. But while Vaclav Havel is pretty impressive, 1989 wasn’t the first time the Czech people tried to throw off communism via non-violent protest. And the Czech Spring of 1968 was brutally crushed by the Soviets. The conditions that allowed Havel and the other leaders of Eastern Europe to bring down the communists were created by people like Reagan and Thatcher, who were unacknowledged in the exhibits.
      Edit:
      To be a bit more clear, they completely failed to look at any example of cases where nonviolent protests just didn’t work. I’m not necessarily saying that armed resistance is always the answer either, but there are times when it’s necessary.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t see this as a compelling argument, it is unlikely that any type of rebellion in 1968 would have lead to independence for the Czechs.

        • theodidactus says:

          It’s quite likely that there is a selection bias regarding nonviolent protest. It’s hard to point to examples of “nonviolent protests that don’t work” because possible contenders fall into two categories:

          1) the sort that have been brought to your attention. These will surely work someday. The arc of the moral universe is long and all that

          2) the sort that you don’t know about because they’re arcane.

          That said: I don’t think it’s a coincidence though that King remains hugely relevant while other leaders remain relatively more obscure, but as you point out this might be a situationally dependent decision. I know scads of people, for example, that know of King but not Malcolm X. In fact I just had a discussion about this today. Someone objected to me making exactly this characterization by saying “well yea, but that’s not really fair, it’s only because King took great pains to make himself palatable to the power structure so now the same power structure memorialized him” and I was kinda like “yeah! that’s the point!”

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            2) the sort that you don’t know about because they’re arcane.

            Could you unpack this?

            I agree with your first characterization, but my second would be:

            “There have been thousands (millions?) of ‘nonviolent protests’ that have resulted in the nonviolent group getting conquered, captured, or killed. We will not hear about them because they are destroyed.”

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            “There have been thousands (millions?) of ‘nonviolent protests’ that have resulted in the nonviolent group getting conquered, captured, or killed. We will not hear about them because they are destroyed.”

            This is a very good point. What was vital for MLK was media coverage of non-violent protester getting hit and the mass audience finding it icky.
            I mean, I think everyone knows the King-ist Civil Rights movement was a Christian spin on Gandhi’s non-violent resistance, and if you watch his official* Hollywood bio-pic they show the importance of journalists (in the form of Martin Sheen) to his success.

            *It was funded by the Congress Party-ruled Republic of India, and Congress is controlled by descendants of his associate Nehru also named Gandhi (no relation).

      • Ash says:

        Just a side note, I think its a pretty common opinion of historians and the like that Reagan and Thatcher had a very minor to no role in the fall of communism. Probably not the thread to have “why did the USSR fall debate”, but I think a museum would be justified in not mentioning them if that was their stance.

        • bean says:

          First, I sort of regret including them in the OP. My bigger issue is that they didn’t mention the Prague Spring or any other case of nonviolence failing to work. Or the cases where violence advanced human rights. Slavery was ended by warfare, after all.

          Second, fight me. One of the main factors leading to the fall of the Soviet Union was deliberate economic warfare on Reagan’s part. (I’m perfectly fine with delaying that discussion or moving it elsewhere, but I disagree incredibly strongly.)

          • When you say “economic warfare”, do you just mean the military buildup or are you referring to something else?

          • bean says:

            That was most of it. He basically managed to set up a new arms race in smart weapons, a sector the Soviets were ill-equipped to compete in. They spent a bunch of money trying to stay in the race, and Gorbachev set up stuff like Glanost to get more. It didn’t work, and the whole house of cards collapsed.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Slavery was ended by warfare in the US. From what I understand,
            the British Empire managed to abolish slavery without fighting a war first. It was very expensive, the UK only paid off the loan they took to compensate slave-owners in 2015, but much less expensive than the American Civil War by any measure.

            I’m not really disagreeing with you on the meta level, sometimes violence actually is the answer, this is just not the best example of that.

          • bean says:

            Fair point that the British ended slavery without fighting a war, but it’s completely implausible to suggest that the US could have done the same, at least in the same timeframe. Slavery was deeply rooted into the culture of a big part of the US, and they wouldn’t have let legal abolition happen. On the other hand, it was only a thing on a few small islands far from Britain, so the political power the slaveholders could muster was very limited. And the same is true in terms of relative financial burden.

            It was very expensive, the UK only paid off the loan they took to compensate slave-owners in 2015

            Objection. The UK has only fairly recently finally retired a lot of debt that was really, really old. I’m not quite sure why this was, but for the entire 20th century, it apparently made financial sense to simply keep paying interest on the debt. Some of the debt retired in 2015 dated back to the South Sea Company. But the US would have had to pay proportionately much more, and that was also impractical.

            Let’s put numbers on this. The compensation for slaves appears to have been about 15 pounds at the time. That’s $2,300 today or $76 in 1860. (Note that this was about 10% of the market rate at the time.) That year’s census showed 3,953,761 slaves. A similar level of compensation would have cost $300 million. The 1860 federal budget? $63.1 million. So you’re looking at 5 years of federal spending at a ridiculously low rate of compensation. In comparison, the compensation for Britain’s abolition of slavery was about 40% of the treasury’s annual revenue. So the Civil War may have been more expensive than buying out the slaves, but it’s actually within the same order of magnitude.

          • Zeno of Citium says:

            Slavery was ended by warfare, after all.

            Not everywhere! In the US and Haiti, yes, but the the UK ended slavery in the homeland and then in its overseas (mostly Carribean) colonies without any sort of real war over it – in 1833, three decades before the Americans did. The British slave trade, which was outlawed even earlier, was pretty significant, and around a million (IIRC) British slaves were freed by the 1833 act – not as many slaves as were ensalved in the USA at the time, but a significant number.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @bean

            I will note that slavery was substantially MORE a part of Brazilian culture (and partially with the same people under the Confederado program) and it was abolished peacefully there, although not as early as 1865, but within a generation.

            The idea that it could have possibly been done peacefully in America doesn’t seem wildly implausible to my admittedly biased Southern self.

          • bean says:

            I will note that slavery was substantially MORE a part of Brazilian culture (and partially with the same people under the Confederado program) and it was abolished peacefully there, although not as early as 1865, but within a generation.

            Two points:
            1. That wasn’t entirely without problems. There had been some steps already, and slavery was rapidly becoming uneconomical, but it still brought down the monarchy.
            2. I’d quibble with “more a part of Brazilian culture”. The US at the time was something like 70% people who were not into slavery and 30% people who were really really into slavery. Yes, on average it might have been more a part of Brazilian culture, but the South had enough political power (see all of the debates over free vs slave states) to basically make it impossible to end slavery peacefully.

            The idea that it could have possibly been done peacefully in America doesn’t seem wildly implausible to my admittedly biased Southern self.

            While it’s obvious in retrospect that the economics of slavery were going to go away within a few decades, I think that the South’s leaders had invested too much of their self-image into slavery to make a peaceful transition work. During the time of the Revolution, slavery was seen largely as a necessary evil, but that changed over the next few decades. You had lots of people defending it as a fundamentally good thing, and that’s a hard position to retreat from.

          • baconbits9 says:

            While it’s obvious in retrospect that the economics of slavery were going to go away within a few decades, I think that the South’s leaders had invested too much of their self-image into slavery to make a peaceful transition work. During the time of the Revolution, slavery was seen largely as a necessary evil, but that changed over the next few decades. You had lots of people defending it as a fundamentally good thing, and that’s a hard position to retreat from.

            The economics would definitely have eventually broken slavery in the south, the newer moral arguments for slavery coincidentally started appearing with the technological advancements such as the cotton gin which increased the value of cotton in textile manufacturing. The US was producing more cotton in 1870 than it did in 1860, despite the devastation from the war.

            The only way to perpetuate slavery in a world where Eygpt et al are pushing into the cotton market would be to heavily subsidize cotton producers. Such subsidies would have to come from the North as the economy of the South outside of cotton wasn’t large or strong enough to bear a significant cotton subsidy. The North was very unlikely to support such action and tariffs wouldn’t work as the US was a massive cotton exporter.

            In the long run slavery may have continued to exist indefinitely as a legal institution but on ever decreasing scales, and how much worse this would have been than the war + reconstruction + Jim Crow is up for debate speculation, but I doubt that as well. Lincoln was willing to negotiate with the South and not demand an immediate end to slavery, but the South basically knew that the writing was on the wall if they remained. Eventually they would be forced to give up the institution and move on.

          • While it’s obvious in retrospect that the economics of slavery were going to go away within a few decades

            I don’t think that’s clear. Slavery was workable in activities suited to the gang labor model–lots of people doing the same thing at once, so pretty easy to monitor and enforce. The two big examples were agricultural–cotton and sugar.

            Consider assembly line manufacturing as a possible third.

          • DeWitt says:

            There’s also the caveat that everything isn’t economics, and that people had some highly political and cultural reasons not to want to abolish slavery.

          • ilikekittycat says:

            To add to @DavidFriedman I was taught that the Confederacy’s claims to land in AZ/NM were based on the fact that certain crops that could be grown there would be profitable if slavery could be established, even though cotton in the Deep South was coming to an end. The South wasn’t merely standing athwart history yelling stop, they were actively thinking about how their system would be perpetuated

            To add to @DeWitt, I also don’t buy the Ron Paul argument that we could have bought our way out of slavery. There was an alternate history mockumentary a few years ago about the Confederacy surviving to modern times, and although slavery had ceased to be an economic engine, it hadn’t died off in the 1%, and everyone who in our timeline could afford to have a Hispanic maid or racehorse still had a slave. I think that’s probably what would have happened without the harsh reprimand of Southern aristocracy that came from the ACW

          • bean says:

            Lincoln was willing to negotiate with the South and not demand an immediate end to slavery, but the South basically knew that the writing was on the wall if they remained. Eventually they would be forced to give up the institution and move on.

            This is pretty much my point, though. This is a group who decided that succession and war were a preferable alternative to staying in the Union, despite Lincoln saying as loudly as he could that he wasn’t going to abolish slavery, he just didn’t want it spreading any further. Slavery was way too deeply embedded in their culture to let them give it up gracefully, no matter what the economics said.

            @David Friedman

            Consider assembly line manufacturing as a possible third.

            That didn’t turn out so well for the Nazis. I’m sure that the slaves (or the abolitionists) would have quickly figured out how to make products that would pass QA and yet still fail pretty quickly. I don’t think that’s really possible to do with cotton.

          • John Schilling says:

            That didn’t turn out so well for the Nazis. I’m sure that the slaves (or the abolitionists) would have quickly figured out how to make products that would pass QA and yet still fail pretty quickly.

            Those two sentences don’t belong together, because while our culture celebrates the exceptions, the vast majority of the stuff (explicitly including weapons) that the Nazis produced by slave or slave-adjacent labor worked tolerably well. The productivity of industrial slave labor was substantially less than that of free, by ~50% IIRC where we can do an apples-to-apples comparison, but if the cost of slave labor is <<50% of free that's a net win in labor-intensive industries.

            Slavery has been a thing for basically all of recorded history because it works, and it works because most people who aren’t characters in a work of inspirational fiction will actually respond to slavery by trying to get by day to day and stay out of trouble rather than by trying to sabotage their masters’ works.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Dewitt

            Everything isn’t economics, but massively important and internationally traded commodities are mostly dominated by economics.

            @ bean

            The Sought chose succession and maybe war, the North chose war after succession. Succession does not mean the long term survival of slavery. Points to consider

            1. Several slave states stayed with the North, they would definitely have lost the ‘right’ to own slaves eventually (and probably in the short term) with this move.

            2. The states that remained had low cotton production vs those that left.

            3. The leave faction heated up heavily with the increase in cotton prices prior to the civil war.

            The places where slavery was ingrained culturally and politically were, surprise surprise, the places where the economic benefits were greatest. The places where it was least economically beneficial walked with fairly open eyes a path directly towards abolition. The end of the economic advantages of slavery would almost certainly have eroded and eventually ended the needed political power to continue it.

            You can argue that would have been to long to wait for the end of such a heinous institution, and with good reason, and the argument that in 1860 ending slavery by 1870 required a war is a strong position, but the argument that ending slavery in the south required a war is far weaker.

          • bean says:

            @John

            Apparently, slavery ended in Brazil because immigrant labor was cheaper even for plantation work in the late 1880s. Between the efficiency hit you take and the fact that you have to do your manufacturing in the South to take advantage of slavery, I doubt it would have worked very well.

            The places where slavery was ingrained culturally and politically were, surprise surprise, the places where the economic benefits were greatest. The places where it was least economically beneficial walked with fairly open eyes a path directly towards abolition. The end of the economic advantages of slavery would almost certainly have eroded and eventually ended the needed political power to continue it.

            I’ll grant that the glorification of slavery and the economic need for it went hand-in-hand. But I’m positing that it had potentially grown close to a critical mass. The Crittenden “compromise” would have completely prohibited abolition at any point in the future. That is not exactly the work of someone treating slavery rationally, and allowing that it might stop making sense.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I didn’t argue that the South was acting rationally in that way, only that the economics of the situation had lead the cultural and political alignments. A shift in the economics away from slavery should therefore generally be expected to shift the cultural and political over time.

            The Crittenden compromise wasn’t much of a compromise, it was a promise to give the South everything it wanted and the North got…. not war. It was closer to appeasement, and was mostly rejected by the North (and was probably also unworkable with the fugitive slave issues as well). It was also proposed by Kentucky, who elected to remain without the compromise.

          • EchoChaos says:

            It’s plausible that a better negotiator than Lincoln can get Virginia to not leave the Union. Half of Virginia wanted to stay so much that they split to stay, after all. It wouldn’t take much compromise to get the rest to stay.

            Once Virginia stays North Carolina certainly doesn’t leave.

            There isn’t a need to invade a rump Confederacy led by South Carolina even if you really want to keep the Union together. They aren’t economically viable if the North embargos them, and will cave fairly quickly. Then you’re easily on the Brazil path with absolutely no large-scale violence. Maybe not by 1870, but certainly before 1900. Slave-based agriculture clearly doesn’t make economic sense past then.

            This obviously isn’t what happened, but it’s far from “completely implausible”.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I am of the opinion that nonviolent civil disobedience works when it is backed by credible threat that if protesting faction chooses violence, Power will be in serious trouble. That was not the case in Czechoslovakia of 1968, Warsaw Pact armies were prepared and able to crush any resistence Czechoslovaks could muster.

        In 1989 situation was very different – Gorbachev clearly signalled that he is not only unwilling to use force against the protesters, but even that USSR is prepared to withdraw its troops from Czechoslovakia, if its government would ask them to. So protesters were facing only weak and demoralized domestic communists, which was an easy fight.

    • cuke says:

      My thought is I’m so glad you came on here and wrote this. My husband, son (“an ice-cold realist fully apprised of the horrors in the world and how to set about righting them”), and I stumbled into a conversation in this direction over lunch today and wound up at how do you distinguish between enlightened self-interest, “rationalism,” and morality. So I copied your comment to share with them and we’ll revisit this at dinner, I’m guessing.

      • theodidactus says:

        Here’s my philosophy: I’m a rabid individualist and I detest anything that compromises my autonomy. That meant I was pretty selfish growing up. It’s still the core of my morality though, but I took a lot of the lessons taught by my religious upbringing to heart even though I’m not very religious: C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien and MLK all taught that evil, especially hatred, is essentially a form of slavery, one that slowly devours your autonomy and individual identity (this literally happens in two different C.S. Lewis books). Additionally, Scott has reviewed a book on this site: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/01/30/book-review-eichmann-in-jerusalem/
        which demonstrates vividly that Hatred ultimately makes someone REALLY BORING.

        All these were moral realizations that lead me from angsty teen to slightly more well-adjusted adult.

        • cuke says:

          Thank you for this. I share your rabid individualism and detesting anything that compromises my autonomy, as does our son. And that hatred is a form of self-enslavement. Where did you wind up for a career (broadly-speaking) and are you happy at it?

          • theodidactus says:

            I graduated in the depths of the 2008 financial collapse, and lived abroad as a teacher. Then I came back to the states and worked as a librarian for a few years. Now I’m in law school. I’ve generally been happy with my work but there is a lot about librarianship that I didn’t like, which has nothing (much) to do with librarians and more to do with the environment that surrounds them. That’s why I’m in law school.

          • Nick says:

            …That personal history explains so much of Synchronicity.

          • theodidactus says:

            Virtually everything that happened in synchronicity is autobiographical or something that actually happened to a friend, with exceptions that should be obvious. I went to a catholic college, was really into the history of science, did a lot of urban exploring, and hung out with a bunch of martial arts nuts. Almost every character is just a real person I knew with some salient traits swapped around.

            I like to joke that the guy Nathan Wild is a based on is actually more of a cartoonish exaggeration in real life. I really did know a Jiu-Jitsu nut that was also a supergenius science teacher, but in real life the same guy was ALSO a top-of-the-line knife and axe thrower. (also in real life he’s Canadian not an archetypal “ugly american”…that part of nathan was based on the americans I worked with)

          • Nick says:

            Hah! I joked when I shared the book with my friends that it sounded like you were writing about us. At least, as far as the college characters go; none of us are teaching abroad. (We attended John Carroll, no less, which was formerly Ignatius College.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Nick

            John Carroll in University Heights, Ohio?

          • Nick says:

            @baconbits9 Yeah.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I lived 2 blocks over from JC from 2002-2009. Something about seeing a thing that is so familiar to me mentioned on SSC is both comforting and off putting.

          • theodidactus says:

            Almost everyone I knew thought I had based James Shannon off of them…which is odd because James is probably the only person in the whole book that I did NOT have a single direct model for. I think he’s just sorta how a lot of vaguely intellectual people I know feel, a lot of the time.

          • Nick says:

            @baconbits9 That’s neat! It’s a really nice area; I don’t own a car, so walking to Target or to friend’s or professor’s houses I got to see a bit of the neighborhood.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I’m a demoralized rabid individualist. I’ve come to believe there is only obtaining control over others, being controlled oneself, or slipping through the cracks in a system intended to control one. That is, you’re either a tyrant, a slave, or a criminal. Individualism is a fine goal, but unattainable; if you can’t control others you will be controlled yourself, or be despised by all others.

        • @The Nybbler

          The fourth option is to be a nobody. People are slaves to control systems only because it’s important to enslave them; it has an actual purpose. You need to be manipulated because the government relies on your votes, and because the capitalists rely on your labor. As technology advances, the bulk of people are going to become irrelevent, not prized slaves. The liberation of humanity from control is the liberation of humanity from relevence.

          • cuke says:

            I rather like this answer about being a nobody.

            Wanting particular goodies (whether things or forms of validation) from society in order to be happy makes one more subject to systems and therefore less autonomous.

            Some kind of perfect individualism may be unattainable, but a lot of autonomy can be had in the crevices without being a criminal.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The authoritarian/totalitarian impulse is too great for merely being a nobody to work (at least nowadays). People don’t control other people only for labor or votes or for their own convenience, they also do it just because they enjoy the power of doing so. So “being a nobody” is the same solution as slipping through the cracks and being a criminal.

          • cuke says:

            Nybbler, I guess I’m missing your central point.

            I’m not sure who you’re referring to when you say the totalitarian impulse is too great for being a nobody to work. From my perspective, not everyone enjoys controlling other people. I don’t enjoy it. When I’m anxious, I can get controlling, yes, but I don’t get pleasure out of that and work against it in my own life.

            There are lots of people I know who seem to have found comfortable non-criminal places in the crevices. Farmers, programmers, psychotherapists, massage therapists, artists, some kinds of teachers, writers of various kinds, some solo practice lawyers, and so on. These people, including me, might call ourselves “nobodies,” but we also love the people and things we love and feel considerable freedom to go about our lives in our own ways. We could argue about levels of self-delusion or whatever, but if a person feels subjectively that they have autonomy, who are we to deny that? Yes, there are moments of having to connect to official systems, but it’s also possible to limit those moments so that daily life is not hugely impinged by those systems.

            Are we talking about two different things?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      This is true whether he’s talking about nonviolence generally (“the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world…Jesus is not an impractical idealist; he is the practical realist.”) and his political struggles specifically (“In violent warfare, one must be prepared to face ruthlessly the fact that there will be casualties by the thousands. … Anyone leading a violent conflict must be willing to make a similar assessment regarding the possible casualties to a minority population confronting a well-armed, wealthy majority with a fanatical right wing that is capable of exterminating the entire black population and which would not hesitate such an attempt if the survival of white Western materialism were at stake”).

      Yeah, MLK was a good man (I mean, he was a Christian pastor, guys!) and a good rhetorician. As far as pacifism as practical opposition to violence by a minority, though? The jury is still out on that: Europe is running a huge experiment as we speak, even if some of the variables are different (such as the wealthy majority being disarmed rather than well-armed).

      • DeWitt says:

        I didn’t really care for the previous time you spoke of Europe in this way, and I still really don’t. What are you even on about?

        • theodidactus says:

          I’ll confess to being afraid to touch this one, but now you did so I’m all ears.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          What are you even on about?

          Muslim immigration, and the fact that nearly every terrorist attack by a Muslim in Europe is an attempt to use violence to achieve social change that their religion has programmed them to want. They do this in European countries where they constitute as little as 6% of the population, less than half the black American minority in MLK’s day.
          So the empirical question is whether a pro-violence faction within a minority of ~6-12% of the population can achieve its goals at the expense of a wealthy majority without the minority getting violently crushed, which is the empirical question in theodidactus’s MLK quote.

          • DeWitt says:

            So the empirical question is whether a pro-violence faction within a minority of ~6-12% of the population can achieve its goals at the expense of a wealthy majority without the minority getting violently crushed, which is the empirical question in theodidactus’s MLK quote.

            seems very different from

            As far as pacifism as practical opposition to violence by a minority, though? The jury is still out on that: Europe is running a huge experiment as we speak, even if some of the variables are different (such as the wealthy majority being disarmed rather than well-armed).

            and different enough indeed that you should’ve been clearer from the get go. Aside from the motives of terrorists, which seem much less clear-cut than you keep implying, governments in Europe do in fact spend a lot of money combating terrorism, they’re not very kind about the matter, they do in fact kick out and punish people who commit terrorism even abroad, and muslims in other countries do in fact get killed by various European nations.

            The argument that the entire muslim population doesn’t generally get targeted proves too much. Would you say white Americans are nonviolently resisting their black fellow citizens because the latter group is, on net, more violent?

          • brad says:

            Muslim immigration, and the fact that nearly every terrorist attack by a Muslim in Europe is an attempt to use violence to achieve social change that their religion has programmed them to want.

            I’ve reported this comment. I don’t believe it to be true, kind, or necessary.

            I hope your constant anti-Muslim bigotry isn’t welcome here.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I’ve reported this comment. I don’t believe it to be true, kind, or necessary.

            Hmm. I hope the “true, kind, necessary” rule doesn’t mean that outlier opinions are banned. One of the things I like about SSC is that people can make arguments well outside of society’s Overton window, and get serious responses.

            When we use the TKN rule, are we basing on what Scott thinks is TKN? Maybe that is Scott’s intent, but I hope not. Because otherwise anything outside Scott’s Overton window he might well find neither true nor necessary. I think we should use TKN under the sense of the person making the comment. This would eliminate trolling but not outlier opinions. I think MLC sincerely believes that violence is an inherent part of Islam (and I think there are some others on SSC that would agree). I don’t agree, but I would like to hear an argument.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Speaking of teaching and King, I’ve always been amazed that his day is a day off. I think if you told King “on the day honoring you, little kids don’t go to school” he would be really pissed off. I think he would want his day to feature mandatory schooling.

  25. Plumber says:

    So in the last “open thread” I posted:

    “I rather agree. Fine it blew up on twitter and facebook. That doesn’t mean the Times needs to write multiple articles about it”

    The New York Times

    Funny it never filtered to anything I’ve read and I try to read every column by Brooks, Edsall, Douthat, and Krugman, and usually there’s “Editors’ Picks” and “More in Opinion” showing at the bottom of the essay to lead me to what’s newsworthy that week but somehow once again the SSC commentariat is responding to something I’ve never heard of.”

    Which prompts me to ask in this thread:
    Just where is the SSC learning of all these “outrages” of the week?

    I check The New York Times opinion pages, and (a bit less) The Washington Post, I used to check The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal but those have become harder for me to view, otherwise I’ll look at the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle and pick it up if something looks interesting, and there’s the news I hear on the radio that’s in-between the traffic and weather reports, and many things the first time I learn of something is from a SSC comment (note: Facebook and Twitter don’t sound appealing to me).

    So how are y’all finding these things out?

    • Guy in TN says:

      many things the first time I learn of something is from a SSC comment (note: Facebook and Twitter don’t sound appealing to me).

      So how are y’all finding these things out?

      We’re finding these things out on Facebook and Twitter. You are choosing to learn about these events second-hand here instead, after they have been filtered through the SSC talking-point bubble.

      That’s not the worst thing, but just recognize its an ideological filter, shaping not just how the content is presented/discussed, but what content is presented/discussed.

      (The social circles we follow on Facebook and Twitter are ideological filters as well, so there’s no way out)

      • woah77 says:

        I’m going to second this. To be perfectly honest, I actually enjoy having this filter around. It keeps me from expending emotionally energy on every single controversy that goes through my social sphere. If Trump or Gillette or whomever decides to offend the powers that be, it has to be a big enough deal that not only does it bother someone, but it bothers someone I share a social circle with enough to talk about it.

        • Guy in TN says:

          Yep. You’re inevitably going to have a filter bubble- it might as well be via people you trust.

          As for the supposed “ideological exposure crisis”: as someone old enough to remember the pre-social media discourse, I am absolutely sure people are being exposed to more diversity of viewpoints now than they were 15 years ago. The exposure crisis narrative mostly plays on the faulty viewpoint that the mainstream media is non-ideological, and doesn’t qualify as a bubble itself.

    • gbdub says:

      You should at least peruse the headlines at Slate and Vox which are reasonably mainstream and often pick up these sorts of “outrages of the week”. (Notably, both, Vox especially, are places where Scott has gone for examples of “media behaving badly” that are mainstream and level-headed enough to be worth, in his mind, engaging).

      Also cable news. It’s worth noting that a lot of these things on Twitter aren’t just randos tweeting (even if they start that way), they are getting picked up and spread by members of the traditional media on their own social media accounts. So even if it doesn’t make its way into the hoary confines of the NYT opinions page, your latest Twitter outrage-of-the-week is almost certainly reaching and influencing the people who write that page (e.g. Ross Douthat, columnist for NYT, has commented about this week’s outrage, the “Covington Boys”, although it hasn’t made its way into one of his columns yet).

      EDIT: I should clarify that I don’t necessarily recommend doing these things, but if you’re actually honest about understanding where folks here are coming from, those are important influencers.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      1. Click here: https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex
      2. Click the thread at the top each week that says “Culture War Roundup”

      (note: never actually do this, but there are thousands of comments each week discussing the dozens of things to be angry about that are going to pop up a few days later in open threads here. Every time I’ve been confused about the context of flavor of the week outrage in this blog’s comments I hadn’t heard about, it has an immediate predecessor conversation in Culture War Roundup threads. Its a pipeline constantly pumping toxicity over to here)

    • Plumber says:

      Well the incident that I was ignorant about, which “went viral on social media” did finally filter to what I usually read besides SSC tonight, and it turned out that it was such stupid nothing of a story I’m pretty irritated that pixels and ink our wasted on it.

      • Aapje says:

        It was on Dutch TV yesterday. Anything that goes international like that is not minor in its reach.

      • gbdub says:

        It was also on CNN over the weekend. Stupid story or not, it was pretty mainstream stuff. In fact the reaction of mainstream news outlets to this latest social media outrage is a significant part of the controversy.

        As weird as SSCers are for generally being in tune with the latest Twitter/Reddit/Whatever outrage, at some point I think you’ve got to admit your lack of exposure to these things is also a little weird.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah. Rod Dreher wrote that people were talking about it in Dublin when he gave a talk there Monday.

        • Plumber says:

          @gbdub

          “…I think you’ve got to admit your lack of exposure to these things is also a little weird”

          After I read of it here at SSC I saw mentions of the story three times in The New York Times here, here, and here, and yesterday I heard one long interview on the radio with the drummer (if SSC hadn’t primed me to listen I likely would have quickly turned to another station and forgotten about it), and I heard brief mentions of the story twice on the radio this morning, but I definitely saw the story at SSC first, and I still find it baffling that it became a news story in the first place.

          Why did three protest groups meeting each other without any violence become a news story, what explains this?

          • Randy M says:

            First, it fit into the narrative of ‘Trump empowers racists to abuse minorities’ and used as an example of that trend. Then, when that was shown to be completely bollocks, it was fit into the narratives of ‘media lies about conservatives’ and ‘twitter mobs dangerous’ and used as an example of those trends.

            While individual stories may not matter to you or I, trends might, if they really are. Of course, it’s hard verging on impossible to correctly identify trends given the ease of misrepresenting them by not reporting on other stories, or even just the inability to see enough news to get an accurate picture.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why did three protest groups meeting each other without any violence become a news story, what explains this?

            The Two Minutes Hate feels really, really good and is politically useful to cultivate. Social media strips out almost all of the context that would make people feel a bit guilty about hating an actual person. And that kid, in that instant before the camera, had a really punchable face.

            The question isn’t why this became a story, the question is why at least some of the haters are backpedalling on that story. This is a positive sign, though there’s still a long way to go.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Not attacking you personally, but it feels incredibly and frighteningly tribally hateful to say that kid had a “punchable face”.

            That’s such a dehumanizing and nasty statement. Can you imagine if a right-wing commentator said that about the Native American on the other side of that picture? Or about a black protester?

            That anyone would make this statement about any teenager bothers me a lot.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s such a dehumanizing and nasty statement.

            “Dehumanizing” is really overused nowadays, and this seems like an example of that. Nasty? Sure. But the term gets the visceral feeling across; it’s useful. A “punchable face” is literally a face with an expression that just makes you want to punch the person. There really isn’t any polite way to put it. Urban Dictionary’s page on “shit-eating grin” (which is one way you display a “punchable face”) probably gets the point across best.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I parsed “punchable face” as not being merely the expression, but that his face by nature was acceptable for punching.

            But even your parsing, that seems so incredibly mean and tribal in nature. His face never registered as punchable to me, so it seems that it isn’t anything inherent in the expression.

            The question stands: Would it have been acceptable for me to say that the Native American protester also in the picture had a punchable face?

          • Randy M says:

            “Punchable face” is a way to try to find something objectionable in otherwise quite restrained behavior. It is attempted to discern a thought-crime from extremely ambiguous evidence, complete with sentencing.

          • John Schilling says:

            Not attacking you personally, but it feels incredibly and frighteningly tribally hateful to say that kid had a “punchable face”.

            To clarify:

            I assert with almost complete political and emotional detachment, based on my observation of human behavior over close to half a century, that the kid’s combination of general physical appearance, demeanor, and facial expression will tend to cause human observers who are not already sympathetic to him, to experience a visceral pleasure at the thought of punching the kid’s face on the grounds that they believe nature would never allow that face to exist on someone not guilty of underlying WrongThink of a kind and degree that is or ought to be righteously punishable by facepunching.

            If I were a proponent of the theory of Intelligent Design, I would also consider it a grievous design error of H. Sapiens v1.0 that its brain usually come prewired with such broadly dysfunctional heuristics and reward loops, but it is so and there isn’t much I can do about it. Humans gonna human, and that means vastly overestimating their ability to evaluate character from appearance.

            That anyone would make this statement about any teenager bothers me a lot.

            Meh. Kid’s gonna get his face punched if he keeps doing what he’s doing, along with all the verbal and textual abuse from people who can’t be bothered to find him in meatspace. That’s wrong, but it’s likely to happen and it’s not going to be better if nobody ever explains to him why. He’s got a punchable face. He has to learn to wear a different face, or lay off the f2f political agitating, or get comfortable with having his face punched. Hopefully only virtually, but that can’t be assured.

            The question stands: Would it have been acceptable for me to say that the Native American protester also in the picture had a punchable face?

            It would not have been accurate. Among other things, you can barely see his face in the camera angles of the most commonly published photos. And from what I’ve seen elsewhere, his face is not generically punchable and he doesn’t seem prone to the demeanor and expressions that tend to amplify perceived punchability. His inner self may for all I know be mean and hateful, but he wears a face that will rarely be punched for it even as the kid wears a face that is likely to be punched even when he is sincerely innocent.

            If you were to find some other Native American with a punchable face, and say so, I’m certain there would be people who would still call you out as having acted inappropriately, but they would be wrong to do so.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @EchoChaos:
            I read “punchable face” as meaning: the face of someone who deserves to be punched, as a method of attitude adjustment (in other words: deserving of a short, sharp shock that’ll make him rethink his choices and/or world outlook).

            Mind you, that should actually read “someone who looks like they deserve to be punched”, but before we knew more details, the story was that he had participated in something we might find more or less objectionable (what, if anything, is behaviour deserving of a punch is another story altogether).

            The thing is: as much as I disapprove, I can see why the boy’s face in one of the photo’s looks like that of someone who could use a good punch. I find this a valuable thing, in that it allows me to get some idea of other people’s emotional reactions to the story as presented.

            Are such reactions justified, given what we know? I certainly don’t think so. Would they be justified under different circumstances? Maybe. Suffice to say that peaceful coexistence of large numbers of people requires setting boundaries. Sometimes, such boundaries are best enforced by a fist to the face (“best” meaning most effective with fewest long-term downsides, in this case).

            I mention this as a caution against going too far in the other direction: to dismiss this merely as “tribally hateful” or “dehumanizing” is to lose valuable insight into what makes people tick. Without such insight, all that’s left is pushing for a confrontation (“don’t you talk like that”). Even if you win, you’ll only have made an enemy (this, incidentally, is the main problem of the progressive movement these days).

          • acymetric says:

            I feel like it is worth mentioning that “punchable face” is a reasonably common colloquial term that is roughly equivalent (but uses slightly more inflammatory language) to “that guy looks like a dick”, and while it may not be a particularly admirable way to make quick judgement on people it is fairly common and I suspect most here have done it.

            I can see how people who have not seen it in common usage due to age, social circles, or whatever might be more bothered by its use than people who are familiar with it which might be part of the issue?

          • ana53294 says:

            “Punchable face” is the male equivalent of Resting Bitch Face. There are people who wear a facial expression that is annoying.

            I saw that video after everything was cleared up, but that boy still has a deeply annoying smirk. This may not have anything to do with his character. He may outgrow it. I know people whose facial expression has changed a lot. But if it hasn’t, he will be punched (or criticized by internet commenters) for no reason.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I believe that John McWhorter’s complaint about the psychological turn in anti-racism may have wider application. In many areas of human conflict nowadays, we seem to waste our time demanding that people purge themselves of incorrect feelings, despite the obvious fact that they have very little ability to do that– and are neglecting, by comparison, the older and more productive project of trying to get them to stick to correct actions in spite of their incorrect feelings. (Look at how “hate” has stopped being a universal human emotion which can’t be avoided but must not be allowed to become the master– and turned into a moral failing which They have and We do not.) I can’t help finding the Sandmann kid’s smirk irritating, though knowing that he’s hiding a bad set of teeth helps a little– but I like to think I can control what I do about it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It could just be the media waiting until he gave just the right facial expression (again, just like in Gone Girl), but I totally understand why people have a "what a little shit" and "punchable face" vibe, even though I would 1) condemn and demand punishment for anyone actually doing it 2) wonder what was wrong with someone for sticking with this opinion after getting more facts.

          • Randy M says:

            I think there is room for interpretation on that smirk–it could be haughtily dismissive, or it could be an uncomfortable wan smile held in place for lack of any better social response to the provocation.

            I hope here of all places will grant a bit of consideration to, at worst, some social awkwardness.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Even if it was haughtily dismissive, so what?

            After all, the best way to teach teenage boys manners is apparently to punch them in the face if they make an unapproved expression in a single frame of a video selected to make them look bad.

            I will suggest that his “punchable face” is far more what Randy M said. People felt angry at him because of what they were told he did and because he is a tribal enemy (a good looking white kid in a MAGA hat), but when it turned out that he didn’t actually do it, their anger didn’t leave, so their brains came up with a reason for it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @EchoChaos

            I’m pretty sure people of several tribes agree that he’s got a punchable face.

            Some of the twitterati are (apparently seriously) claiming that his having a punchable face is an actual justification for all the hate he’s gotten. But then, other twitterati (I’ve seen them) are claiming “guilt by association” as an actual reason to fix blame, so all that proves is that Twitter sucks and should be destroyed.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            “Punchable face” is essentially designed to describe relatively wealthy, young white guys who are damn cocky and act like jerks, but don’t look like they could “walk the walk.”
            No one would describe John Cena as having a punchable face, since John Cena would Bane-Break you in about a second if you punched him.
            Regardless, “punchable” should definitely fall into the category of “things you think, but don’t say, except in locker room talk.”

          • albatross11 says:

            ana:

            Consider Matt Taibbi–good reporter, but the guy genuinely has an annoying smirk.

            The annoying smirk on the kid’s face may be something that doesn’t usually show up (there’s a whole art to catching a celebrity or politician looking unusually goofy), or might be just how he looks.

            Either way, when a bunch of allegedly responsible adults decide his annoying smirk and MAGA hat is sufficient reason to say horrible things about him in public or call for bad things to happen to him, I’m going to think a lot less of them. As Brad might say, these folks have acted like jerks in public, and I’ve revised my opinion of them as a result.

            And like I said before, spending a week reading the tweets from blue-checkmark journalists on Twitter is a really good way of correctly calibrating your sense of how moral and careful with the truth a lot of our media elites are.

          • albatross11 says:

            Both tribalism and twitter make people dumber and less decent, and there’s a multiplicative effect.

          • Nick says:

            I think there is room for interpretation on that smirk–it could be haughtily dismissive, or it could be an uncomfortable wan smile held in place for lack of any better social response to the provocation.

            My thoughts exactly. From some of the pictures I saw, it could be interpreted as a haughty smirk. That it could be does not mean it had to be, by anyone.

          • ana53294 says:

            I am not saying that him having RBF is a justification for all the hate he has received. And no, it is not because he is a white rich teenager. There are plenty of rich white teenager who are adorable.

            All this bondoogle was a huge overreaction that shouldn’t have happened.

            But it is a fact that some people can get away with stuff other people can’t get away with. Some people have charisma, others have anti-charisma. This guy has a very annoying smirk. It may not reflect who he is. But some people have body language that is offputting, and you just have to deal with it. Knowing this makes it easier to deal with consequences.

            And this partly explains why this whole thing happened. Other than the media being itching to expose MAGA hat bearers as racist assholes, and the very aggressive twitter environment, there where other factors that contributed to this, and his face was one of them. And just to make it clear: explaining something is not the same thing as justifying it.

          • nkurz says:

            I feel compelled to say that I find some of the “punchable face” explanations to be among the most offensive ideas I’ve seen expressed by regular posters to this blog. Maybe I’m misunderstanding it, but it seems directly parallel to making excuses for rape because a woman smiled at a stranger. As an awkward and occasionally bullied child I may be unduly sensitive to group behavior of this sort, but from here it looks like a really ugly opinion. I’m shocked that you would believe this, aghast that you think everyone else would agree with you, and terrified by some of the responses that this attitude might be a lot more common than I would have guessed.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @nkurz

            I strongly agree with you.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @nkurz

            Consider someone like Gilbert Gottfried or Fran Drescher, with a voice like nails-on-a-chalkboard to some people. Such people are likely to be judged negatively in situations where they objectively have done nothing wrong, just because their voice grates. A “punchable face” is a visual equivalent of this. That’s not justifying it, that’s just explaining it.

          • Aapje says:

            @nkurz

            I think that people are reading victim blaming into comments that can be interpreted as being merely descriptive.

            I don’t see anything wrong with noting that something happened to a person because of a trait they have and that there is no need to make a moral judgment in a comment. As a reader, you can provide your own moral judgment.

            For example, if you ask someone why Dreyfus was targeted, then the answer ‘he was a Jew and people were antisemitic’ is a fine answer. It doesn’t mean that the person who gives this answer approves.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I feel like people are taking “punchable” way too literally. Would “he looks like a smug little shit” have stirred up nearly so much controvery? Because that’s basically what it means. Sometimes an idiom is just an idiom.

            Though I suppose that when elements of society start celebrating the literal face-punching of quote-unquote nazis, that faces being referred to as punchable could set off alarms.

          • Secretly French says:

            Amongst all the pushback, I would like to say that I thank John Schilling for letting me know how much of a fucking asshole he is. If someone gets off at the thought of punching beardless young schoolboys, especially those already clearly vulnerable and extremely uncomfortable, then yeah I want to know about it, all the better to know to avoid and ignore them. Bye~

          • I feel like people are taking “punchable” way too literally. Would “he looks like a smug little shit” have stirred up nearly so much controvery?

            Probably not.

            But “punchable” has the further implication that punching people who look like that is an appropriate response.

            Consider the difference between “she looks really sexy” and “she looks really fuckable.”

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But “punchable” has the further implication that punching people who look like that is an appropriate response.

            Eh, I don’t think I agree with this. Just because the id would enjoy something doesn’t make it appropriate. Or even imply that the ego supports the course of action. Any functioning adult knows this.

            But nowadays we live in a world where childhood lasts decades, nuance is forbidden, and words are violence so I guess we should stop using idioms that rely on common knowledge of standards for adult behavior ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          • John Schilling says:

            Maybe I’m misunderstanding it, but it seems directly parallel to making excuses for rape because a woman smiled at a stranger.

            Obviously I should have used the long-form explanation rather than the colloquial “punchable face” expression. Lesson learned, and I won’t make that mistake in the future.

            But we’ve had the long-form explanation, and extensive discussion thereof, and there’s definitely still some miscommunication here. How can we make it more clear that explaining why a crime or other misbehavior occurred, does not constitute excusing that misdeed?

            If we want to see less face-punching, less twitter-mobbing, or for that matter less raping, we’re going to need to understand why these things happen. That’s going to be harder to arrange if anyone who tries to offer an explanation without an elaborate disclaimer, is at risk of being called an apologist.

          • LesHapablap says:

            It is an often sad truth in life: in large part we determine the way people treat us.

          • nkurz says:

            To clarify, my objection is to the phrase “punchable face”. It’s reasonable and desirable to explain why a someone is likely to encounter violence because of their appearance. But in my opinion, it’s unreasonable and undesirable to treat that violence as justified because someone was provoked by another’s appearance. I feel that describing someone as having a “punchable face” condones (and even encourages) unjustified violence.

            As a parallel, I think it could be helpful to explain (if true) that a women in Western dress who smiles at the conservative tribespeople is likely to be raped. But it crosses the line (for me) to therefore describe her as having a “rape-able face”, as that buys into a system that accepts rape as a justified consequence for smiling at strangers. I may be wrong in taking a phrase too literally, but I do think that choice of language matters, and can have consequences.

            It may also be that people who use the term “punchable” (for Nazi’s or for smirking high schoolers) feel that “punching” is not actually violence, but is instead equivalent to a stern rebuke. I don’t agree. After a few rounds of retaliation, or after others see that punching seems to be socially acceptable, escalation will likely occur. I don’t usually like slippery slope arguments, but I think once society comes to believe that violence against others based on their appearance is acceptable, things can turn very violent very quickly.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            To go the other way a bit, I get why people are uncomfortable with the term. I’ll map the term onto a dynamic I remember from high school:

            Bully 1: Hey, look, it’s victim X. What a punchable face has he.

            Bully 2: *having nothing else to do that day, punches victim X in the face*

            Then Bully 1 says “I didn’t do nuffin” and administrators don’t give enough of a shit to actually find out. There’s enough bored bullies around that just picking on someone often leads to a third-party committing violence, and Bully 1 knows this damn well.

    • Dan L says:

      I check The New York Times opinion pages, and (a bit less) The Washington Post, I used to check The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal but those have become harder for me to view, otherwise I’ll look at the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle and pick it up if something looks interesting, and there’s the news I hear on the radio that’s in-between the traffic and weather reports, and many things the first time I learn of something is from a SSC comment (note: Facebook and Twitter don’t sound appealing to me).

      My operating theory is that, to a first approximation, everyone who uses Facebook and Twitter as primary news sources is either dangerously media illiterate or deliberately shit stirring. The theory is looking better and better as time goes on.

      That looks like a pretty good list. Are you committed to paper, or are you doing this online? I’ve mostly substituted Reuters for WSJ these days, but that’s mostly for accessibility reasons.

      • Plumber says:

        @Dan L

        “….Are you committed to paper, or are you doing this online? I’ve mostly substituted Reuters for WSJ these days, but that’s mostly for accessibility reasons”

        All of the Wall Street Journal articles I read are from the print version, but someone usually buys the copies at my usual news stand before I get to them so now so I seldom read it anymore, and I’m too set in my ways to go someplace else. The vast majority of The San Francisco Chronicle articles I read are from the print version as well, while I still pick up a printed copy of The New York Times about every other week I mostly read it on-line now.

  26. Scott Alexander says:

    Just bought a bunch of PredictIt shares in Joe Biden, since he is leading 12 out of 13 polls, the most heavily-vetted and well-connected politician of the bunch, but only at 15% to win the nomination. Did I make a good choice or not?

    • OutsideContextProblem says:

      Surely 78 is too old to reasonably be sworn in as president? It would also mean a good chance of giving up the incumbency advantage (unless the plan is for him to die at 80, and then have his Veep serve ten years?).

      Baby boomers will have to let go of their death grip of American civilization at some point I hope. It is remarkable though that any of Biden, Clinton, Warren, Sanders or Trump would be the oldest president ever inaugurated in 2021.

      • Deiseach says:

        Surely 78 is too old to reasonably be sworn in as president?

        His health seems to be reasonable for a man of his age, and living to be 82 to the end of his term doesn’t seem unlikely. Running him as a ‘caretaker president’ for one term until the Dems get their act together and pick a decent electable candidate would be a plausible strategy; I’m going by the elections of ‘caretaker popes’ in the past e.g. John XXIII who was elected at the age of 77 and lived to be 82:

        Roncalli was summoned to the final ballot of the conclave at 4:00 pm. He was elected pope at 4:30 pm with a total of 38 votes. After the long pontificate of Pope Pius XII, the cardinals chose a man who – it was presumed because of his advanced age – would be a short-term or “stop-gap” pope. They wished to choose a candidate who would do little during the new pontificate.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          For those who don’t want to read the wiki article, the joke is that this “stopgap” pope proceeded to convene the Second Vatican Council, which became essentially the defining event of twentieth-century Catholicism and ushered in decades of tumult.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Decades of tumult? For real? I wasn’t born until the 90s so it must have settled by then. When they got it into their damn fool heads to shake things up *mumble* years ago I got fed up enough to stop attending mass – was it similar back in the 60s? From my super-biased perspective, Vatican II was one of the best things to happen to the Church

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Dude, the oldest baby boomers will turn 73 this year (the youngest will turn 55). You’re gonna have to live with us a few more years yet. Bwa ha ha!

    • Walter says:

      I think not, dude is a white guy. I believe that the democrats will go for anything else this year.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I don’t think he has much of a shot. This would be his third attempt at running a campaign and the first two ended with zero impact (’88 he withdrew before the caucuses and ’08 he got trounced in Iowa and dropped out). The odds that he has suddenly figured it out at 76 and can run for months without sinking himself verbally are low, let alone run and beat other candidates.

      • Theodoric says:

        I dunno, considering how the dems are going full-on progressive, Biden might have a shot as the “don’t scare the normies” candidate (eg, tone down things like “abolish ICE” and “let people with penises use the women’s changing room”), and, if he did win the nomination, his opponent would be Donald Trump, and he is not nearly as toxic (rightly or wrongly) as Hillary Clinton.

        • EchoChaos says:

          He’s probably the only somewhat moderate Democrat who has a chance and certainly the only stale pale male who has a chance due to his close association with Obama.

        • baconbits9 says:

          He has had two shots and hasn’t built enough of a following to make it to the New Hampshire primary either time. His policies aren’t the issue, convincing people to vote for him has been the issue. He has a shot if the Trump blowback is of just the right sort where people are tired of the bickering and outrage, but it doesn’t look like that right now. Carter won the nomination in the Nixon aftermath, but Nixon was gone, and the D candidate didn’t have to beat the villain to displace him.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I think his time as the Obama VP (and the heaps of praise from Obama for him) might help him break out of the mold. He had the smell of Bob Dole on him in 2008 – old, been in politics forever, nothing special. Obama still holds a very high position in the minds of many, and he essentially endorsed Biden for President. He’s likely calming to the crowd that feels the Progressive wing is taking over, while also being supportive enough of that wing to not have them try to tear him apart.

            If I had to pick one candidate from the crowd to win, it would be Biden. That said, it currently looks like the Democrats might be in the same position as the Republicans in 2016. Too many candidates splitting the “normal” votes. If that holds until the primaries, we might see a minority (votes, not race) candidate getting a plurality of very passionately supportive voters. In that case, Biden might turn into the Jeb Bush of this election and get demolished. If the race thins down, I would only expect Biden’s position to improve.

            That all said, I don’t know how to account for his age. He’s incredibly old by electoral standards, but so are several other people likely running against him as well as the current Republican president. I’m leaning towards his age being a minor detriment overall, and a bigger or smaller issue depending on who runs against him.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t see him being VP as solving his issue, his issue is that when people hear him talk they have no real impulse to vote for him. He didn’t get VP by coming in 2nd in the primaries, he got VP after dropping out with 1% of the vote in Iowa because the Obama team didn’t want Hillary as VP (or whatever reason you want). He didn’t earn it by convincing lots of voters which is his major flaw. Dole did far better in the primaries in ’88, and was a top Republican in the 90s. As important was the fact that he was associated with the Republican standoff against Clinton in the mid 90s, which put him on the stage as an adversary to Clinton, Biden hasn’t been in such a conflict to prove himself. His main attributes right now seem to be name recognition and a distance from the current conflicts, the latter has to go away with campaigning and a potential race against Trump.

            One thing about age in politics is that it is far more than just “s/he’s to old for the job” it is also “why are you presidential material now if you weren’t for the last 40 years”. Biden is 75+ and the next primary he wins will be his first despite running twice previously. Dole, who is a good comp, kudos on bringing him up, had a short run in ’80, but in ’88 won 5 contests. That is a significant difference, but he still needed to build his name up just to get trounced in 96 by Clinton (well Clinton/Perot).

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I certainly wouldn’t argue that he has a lock on the election, primary or general, but of the crowd I put him top three and maybe top single position.

            What Bob Dole never found was a way to break out of the mold that Biden found in 08. Without eight years as VP I would think Biden was insane for trying again. Instead, he can ride the coattails of a very popular Obama presidency (at least in the primaries) and the outright love Obama shows for Biden. His name recognition is probably carrying him more than anything right now, but unlike Clinton (who also rode name recognition almost all the way to the WH), he’s considered a good person and I can’t think of a group that hates him. Even on the right he seems to be mostly respected (person, not his politics obviously).

          • baconbits9 says:

            I disagree with this assessment of Hillary, she certainly used her name recognition early, but she is a shrewd, aggressive, hardworking political operator. She is very good at getting people to actually vote for her, getting more votes than Obama in 2008, Sanders in 2016 and Trump in 2016. She has some obvious and well known flaws, but she still gets people to actually vote for her and still raised huge amounts of money, which are clear skills in politics. Name recognition fades in importance as campaigns go on as other candidates get their name out there.

            Obama coming out and actively campaigning for Biden would be huge for his chances, but I don’t expect that in the primaries. Being Obama’s friend isn’t exactly a compelling reason to vote for him, its a nice reason to vote for him, and politically strong emotions dominate rationality and moderate emotions. Biden inspires moderate emotions and he gets ignored as soon as a candidate who inspires something strong appears on stage.

          • Lillian says:

            That said, it currently looks like the Democrats might be in the same position as the Republicans in 2016. Too many candidates splitting the “normal” votes. If that holds until the primaries, we might see a minority (votes, not race) candidate getting a plurality of very passionately supportive voters. In that case, Biden might turn into the Jeb Bush of this election and get demolished. If the race thins down, I would only expect Biden’s position to improve.

            Democratic primaries assign delegates proportionally rather than winner take all, so it’s difficult for a minority but passionate block to run away away with the primary because the more mainstream candidates have split the vote. If nobody has a majority of the primary votes then nobody will have a majority of the pledged delegates, unless they’ve gotten delegates from candidates who’ve dropped out. Therefore it is entirely possible for the plurality candidate to still lose if all the delegates coalesce around one of the other candidates.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I consider that a positive. Thanks for clarification!

        • ManyCookies says:

          I dunno, considering how the dems are going full-on progressive

          …Are we? Internet politics =/= IRL politics, I haven’t seen Warren or Harris be particularly woke yet.

          • gbdub says:

            Warren was “woke” back when that meant “Occupy Wall Street” and the term wasn’t particularly mainstream. But that was centuries ago in woke-years.

            Less glibly, she was / is a leading progressive on economic issues but has largely come off as just following the leaders in terms of identity politics / social justice.

      • Deiseach says:

        The odds that he has suddenly figured it out at 76 and can run for months without sinking himself verbally are low, let alone run and beat other candidates.

        Yeah, but with the wide field of candidates popping up now all he reasonably has to do is hang back, let them beat each other into the ground, and then when the last couple are left start the serious campaign. Just look wise and elderstatesman like in the background while all the hair-pulling is going on, do some sympathetic photo-ops like visiting blind one-legged puppy sanctuary, and then in the final stretch go for it (or rather, let his campaign tell him what to do and say and how to do and say it).

        • baconbits9 says:

          This is generally not how presidential primaries work in the US, if you hang back while the others fight the winner of the others is now a big name who has withstood their attacks, has “momentum”, and is a hot story. That is the opposite of what Biden is good against.

          • Deiseach says:

            If people are tired of the whole ruckus around Trump, I think they’ll be looking for a candidate who hasn’t gotten into any fights, who seems like a calming presence. Just show up and be friendly and statesman like. Biden seems like that. I think that would give him an advantage. But it all depends what candidates actually go forward, and if any of the ones currently throwing their hats in the ring are going to stick with it once they’ve done some initial exploration of how their candidacy might be received.

          • baconbits9 says:

            My disagreements here are on two levels. One is that if you are sick of Trump you will want your candidate to be able to beat Trump. You can get Jimmy Carter after Nixon if Nixon is out of the picture, but if you have an ongoing problem with the biker bar down the street you don’t generally go to your easy going friend for help.

            The second one is that the people I note to be most complaining about Trump look more like they are thriving/obsessed with the conflict and not at all going to go Uncle Joe in this election if there is an option that will keep the conflict going. Enough of the moderates who would like to see an end to the Trump situation are moderate Republicans and Independents that their impact will be muted in the the Democratic primary.

          • John Schilling says:

            Enough of the moderates who would like to see an end to the Trump situation are moderate Republicans and Independents that their impact will be muted in the the Democratic primary.

            If there isn’t a strong Republican challenge to Trump next year, where do you imaging the moderate Republicans and Independents will be casting their primary votes?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            It will be interesting to see the difference between states with Open verses Closed primaries, especially if Trump is running [functionally] unopposed.

          • Theodoric says:

            John Schilling:
            Depending on state law anti-Trump Republicans might be stuck with the Republican primary (eg: I think NY requires party changes a year in advance).

    • rlms says:

      I’m not sure how relevant polls are at this point. IIRC, Obama only announced he was running around this time in 2007, and Trump waited until June. Furthermore, there are various reasons that make an outsider nominee this time more likely.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Polls right now are just noise. They measure name recognition and not much else.

    • Deiseach says:

      If he makes it through to the nomination stage, sure. Right now the Democrats are reminding me of the Republicans in 2016 with everybody deciding “I’ll have a go!” I don’t think Elizabeth Warren will make it through, and I don’t know about Corey Booker (there does seem to be some whiff of past scandal still hanging on to him). There’s another three or four names I’ve heard tossed about. The Wikipedia page has a whole lot of “Who the heck is that?” people throwing their hat in the ring.

      We’re going to see them winnowed down to “possibles” over this year, and Biden has the advantage of the nostalgia over Obama and probably being seen as moderate/centrist. Once all the no-hopers have been shot down (because there is going to be a lot of in-fighting to do down rivals and get internal support, and this will mean the candidates will do all the work of dragging each other down for the Republicans), the field will narrow to a reasonable number and it may well be “the old dog for the hard road”.

      Now, unless some wild card comes along (like Trump did) to blow all the established candidates out of the water, I think you’re okay. Ocasio-Cortez is legally too young for the presidency so she can’t be the kind of wild card for the Democrats. As for First Female Ever, I think Tulsi Gabbard and Kamala Harris would be fighting each other too much for either to get a solid lead (as I said, I don’t think Elizabeth Warren has a chance – she really shot her bolt with that DNA test unprompted error) and I get the impression that there’s a certain amount of dislike about Harris due to decisions she made as Attorney General, plus again a whiff of scandal that she got her start in politics due to being the girlfriend of Mayor Willie Brown who used his influence on her behalf.

      So Biden to be last man standing when the dust settles is not a bad bet.

    • John Schilling says:

      15% seems about right to me. If it weren’t for his age, it would be much higher. He was the VP of the immensely popular (among Democratic primary voters) Barack Obama, and he didn’t conspicuously screw it up. He has an excuse for sitting out 2016, in the death of his son, so he doesn’t have the stink of loserdom on him, and the Democratic base has had time to develop a serious case of buyer’s remorse re Hillary Clinton. They’ll be looking for someone more generally likeable, and if Biden were even ten years younger he’d be the George H. W. Bush of 2020. But at 76 he may not have the energy or the mental flexibility, and he will not have the full trust of voters who are expecting a grueling ten-year commitment.

      He’s a white guy; BFD, so was Bernie Sanders, so is Beto O’Rourke, and the bit where the Democratic electorate is all mindkilled SJWs who count Oppression Points uber alles is just plain wrong.

      He’s up against Kamala Harris, and a couple of fellow geezers without his positives, and a bunch of nobodies and a few popular somebodies who haven’t yet declared and are looking flakier by the day. Looking at the Predictit numbers, I’d say Harris is a bit undervalued and O’Rourke a bit high, but otherwise everything is about where I’d expect it to be.

      • Deiseach says:

        Looking at the Predictit numbers, I’d say Harris is a bit undervalued and O’Rourke a bit high, but otherwise everything is about where I’d expect it to be.

        I agree about O’Rourke, I think a long campaign like the presidential one would expose him. His record is that he was a three-term member of the House of Representatives, which at least means a fair amount of political experience, but as for the rest of it? “I nearly beat Ted Cruz” is not good enough, and if he couldn’t win the Senate seat in Texas how are you gonna win the Presidency, Beto?

        Nearly beating Cruz is good, but not enough. “Nearly” doesn’t count. And he has not much else to run on – him being the progressive option for Texas, how does that scale up for the rest of the country?

        The reason I’m so interested in the US campaign? Because our own election was “yeah Michael D. is going to get the second term, why are the rest of them even bothering?”, the most interesting scandal we had was “did the President spend too much on dog grooming”, and whoever becomes the next President of the US is going to have an effect due to being a global power on us, like it or lump it. So it’s more entertainment than our own recent election plus we do have a stake in the outcome.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I don’t share this view of how politics works, it isn’t accomplishment based in that sense. What were the combined accomplishments of Obama and Hillary in 2008? Accomplishments count because they correlate well with what you have to do to win a campaign, not because people will vote for you because of your experience.

          • Deiseach says:

            What were the combined accomplishments of Obama and Hillary in 2008?

            To be snarky, Obama had the First African-American thing going on very strongly, also well plugged in to the Chicago political scene. I agree about Hillary! That’s why I thought along with all the baggage that she had no real chance in 2016, despite all her insistence on being the best qualified and most experienced, because when you dug down into it there wasn’t a lot of experience there.

            O’Rourke at least has three terms in the House of Representatives, but he doesn’t have “First Ever” and he doesn’t have “Occupant (as spouse) of the White House twice”. Trump was a goddamn fluke, do you think lightning can strike twice like that? I don’t get a sense of anything from him, of any particularly strong policies one way or another, of him being anything other than a garden variety Democrat (that’s fine, that’s okay, nothing wrong there, but nothing to stand out).

            Even this pro-O’Rourke article doesn’t convince me: Criminal justice reform! Legalise soft drugs! Get big money out of politics! Healthcare for all! Immigration is great!

            Can you point me to anything there that is uniquely his own brand?

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t think Obama got “First” until people heard him campaigning and said “holy shit, he could win”. He was also going up against a “First”, so I attribute his success to be mostly his personal characteristics, with a little sprinkling of having a die hard base he didn’t have to pander to.

            Trump was a goddamn fluke, do you think lightning can strike twice like that?

            I’m not sure what you mean. Most presidential elections are fluky in some serious way. Bill Clinton had Ross Perot dramatically shift the race, JFK was the youngest ever elected by ~3 years and was Catholic Bush #2 lost the popular vote and won a very contentious and controversial Florida.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Can you point me to anything there that is uniquely his own brand?

            BTW I’m not arguing “O’Rourke is the guy!”, I’m arguing that personality, or force of will, or difficult to explain combination of traits X, Y and Z are the major determining factors and that unless no candidate has those things then experience and accomplishments don’t matter much*. The brand is the person and how they resonate with voters, not he has position X, Y and Z. As long as you aren’t on the fringe policy wise then you can get people to overlook where they disagree with you, because there will be enough overlap with your other positions anyway.

            *outside of the fact that if you have that kind of personality and drive to become president that you will have accomplished something.

        • Uribe says:

          if he couldn’t win the Senate seat in Texas how are you gonna win the Presidency, Beto?

          Keep in mind that Cruz is much more popular in Texas than is Trump. Trump fared very poorly for a Republican in the general election in Texas in 2016 and was demolished by Cruz in the primary. I suspect Beto has a much better chance of beating Trump in Texas than he did of beating Cruz.

          And what other Democrat has a chance of winning Texas in 2020? Castro, maybe.

          • Deiseach says:

            Trump fared very poorly for a Republican in the general election in Texas in 2016 and was demolished by Cruz in the primary

            And yet. Trump is Mr President, Ted is “I beat Beto” and that is being treated less as “you won” and “he nearly won but narrowly lost”. So O’Rourke wins big in Texas – and Clinton won big in California. Having one state that loves the heck out of you is not enough.

        • hnau says:

          Nearly beating Cruz is good, but not enough. “Nearly” doesn’t count.

          I know it’s comparing apples and oranges, but don’t forget that Abraham Lincoln was also a former U.S. Representative best known for “nearly” beating an influential opponent in a Senate race.

        • Don P. says:

          and if he couldn’t win the Senate seat in Texas how are you gonna win the Presidency, Beto?

          A Democrat doesn’t have to win Texas to be elected President. Beto’s proposition is that he narrowed the 2016 R/D gap from 9% to 2%. It may well not translate nationally in 2020 but it’s an argument.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Also, it’s important to note which demographic group he appealed to in order to shrink that gap. If he did better among Hispanics than prior competitors in Texas did, that’s not terribly important nationally, but if he cut heavily into suburban and rural white voters, that’s a big selling point.

            Note: I don’t recall the answer to this for O’Rourke specifically.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I would say not – this far out, leading the polls is more about name recognition than anything else, and Biden has obvious advantages there. Nearer the time, as campaigning actually starts, I think that advantage will evaporate. Biden may still be leading then, but the polls now are not strong evidence for that.

    • jgr314 says:

      Do we know the rules that the Democratic party will use for allocating delegates and choosing its candidate? I’ve seen claims that the structure of the process was very important to the emergence of DJT as 2016 Republican party candidate.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Its still very early in the primary season. To give you some perspective, Donald Trump announced his candidacy in June of 2015 (meaning we could have ~5 months before we even learn that the Dem winner is running).

      My take is that, like in 2016, the media is probably over-hyping centrist candidates while under-hyping more anti-establishment ones. I see no indications that the pundits and prognosticators have learned any lessons after getting nearly everything about the previous election wrong. (So yeah, Biden was a bad bet)

      • Guy in TN says:

        Just for fun, here are the top polling candidates for the 2016 Republican Primarily in January 2015 of the previous election cycle.

        From Fox News:
        1. Mitt Romney
        2. Rand Paul
        2. (tied) Mike Huckabee
        4. Jeb Bush
        5. Ben Carson

        Note that none of these candidates would even place in the top three in the final voting results (those would be Trump, Cruz, Kasich).

    • Plumber says:

      @Scott Alexander,

      My late grandmother said voted for Obama in 2008 mostly because she didn’t like “that women” (Palin) and she loved Biden, but she was from the generation that elected Roosevelt and Truman, and they have mostly passed on.

      I’d vote for Biden (Sherrod Brown also looks good), I liked Water’s The Two Income Trap book, and her efforts to protect people from the credit industry, but while I think she’d govern okay I really doubt her ability to campaign (Trump’s “Pocahontas” quips visibly got to her), I like Kamala Harris’s tax proposal, and I’d like to see more of her, but I doubt she’d win (but I didn’t think Obama or Trump would win either so me predictions are off).

    • Another Throw says:

      It might be worth noting that according to according to the Social Security actuarial life table, and assuming I did it correctly, Biden only has a 73% chance of surviving from now until the end of a first term. His chance of surviving from now until the end of a second terms is 51%.

      As a point of reference, Donald Trump has a 94% chance of surviving the rest of this term, and 81% until the conclusion of a second term. ETA: And 64% until the 2029 inauguration, which would correspond to the end of Biden’s second term.

      Erratum:

      Since the 2nd anniversary of Trumps inauguration was yesterday, adjust by one day’s life expectancy.

      Bear in mind that, IIRC, the tables are counting birthday to birthday, and we are using it to approximate today through the following inauguration days. The actual ages of the individuals concerned will be slightly older than the reference population, and so the mortality rate would be slightly higher.

      ETA: I did a simple linear interpolation (mortality isn’t linear, but it is simple!) to account for the slight age discrepancy, and the effect wasn’t large. As I’m sure you could imagine. Adjust every number down by 1%, except Trump making it to 2029, which is 2% lower, and Trump surviving the current term, which is the same.

      I believe that at this point it is well established that heads of state have a higher life expectancy than the general population of their respective countries. I have never seen any attempts to quantify it, though, so it is hard to tell the magnitude of the impact.

      • ManyCookies says:

        The Social Security life table pulls from typical 78 year olds on Social Security, and a good chunk of those deaths would be from folks with existing long term problems. Whereas Biden is pretty healthy, would have a doctor and field center shadowing him 24/7 for short term complications, and would get the absolute best healthcare the U.S has to offer for long term.

        • Another Throw says:

          A. I suspect you are overestimating the ability to diagnose health issues at a distance. He’s not wheelchair bound or bedridden and doesn’t have any obvious physical deformities, but that is about all we can really say. Brand management is huge for politicians.

          B. Like I said, heads of state have a longer life expectancy than the general population but I’ve never actually seen any discussion about the magnitude of this effect. And how much of it is driven by selection effects. Sample size is obviously an issue, but if you have any cool insight into the question I would love to see it.

      • CatCube says:

        Using the life tables found here for 2015, I get about 81% for making it through the first term, and 59% for two terms. This is, of course, assuming I’m doing it correctly.

        I’m using the data from Table 14: Life table for non-Hispanic white males: United States, 2015, found on p36 (pdf page 35). The table assumes a cohort of 100,000 people at birth, and gives the number surviving to a particular age. 59,288 are the number surviving to age 77; assuming that the first term is 77-80, 48,269 are still alive at 81, or 48269/59288 = 0.8141. For both terms, assume 77-84, so 35,194 are still alive: 35194/59288 = 0.5936. You are starting to get into a region where fencepost errors will have a big effect.

        The life expectancy at age 77 is 9.9 years (the arithmetic mean survival), and eyeballing the median survival it looks to be about the middle of 87, or about 10 years.

        Edit: Added the last paragraph, since it seemed interesting and on topic.

        • Another Throw says:

          I used this table, which doesn’t break it out by race.

          Also, I used the inauguration day because it seems more appropriate than election day to me (and because it was yesterday), which is two years from now (Jan 20, 2021). Biden will be 78 then.

          But also… I think you have an off by one error: even when counting election days, he would be 81 on his incumbent election day (Nov 5, 2024). Again, counting by election days (Nov 4, 2028), he would be 85 on outgoing election day.

          But again, I think we really care about inauguration day, Jan 20, 2025. When he’ll be 82. (His birthday is, IIRC, Nov 20th.) The end of his second term would then be Jan 20, 2029, when he will be 86.

          I mean, I guess surviving the lame duck session isn’t as important as the other 45 or so months… but it is the principle of the matter!

          ETA: Oh! Also, I used today as the start point. It doesn’t do much good if he drops dead during the race. [Glancing at my notes] The 8% chance of doing so before being sworn in is worth considering! So I used 76-82, and then 76-86 as the intervals.

          ETA ETA: Re: Fence post error. I am open to arguments that I am off by one somewhere as well. The way I read it, though, if you want to know the chance of surviving from birth to age 19, you should do p = t(19)/t(0), where t(n) is the table lookup for that age. More generally, to find the probability for an n year old to survive until age m, you do p = t(m)/t(n).

    • Atlas says:

      This isn’t a super well-researched opinion, but I personally don’t think so. Matt Yglesias says that Biden’s record in terms of issues like foreign policy, financial regulation and crime will, like Hillary Clinton’s in the 2016 cycle, be a huge albatross around his neck. (Clinton did win the primaries, but it was much, much closer than the initial polls suggested, and I think that the Sanders campaign didn’t realize what an opportunity they had until it was too late. Also I think that Sanders, mindful of the fact that Clinton would probably win in the end, didn’t go after her record as hard as he could have.) Chapo Trap House says that they look forward to laughing heartily when Biden collapses right out of the gate from a million #MeToo scandals. Biden also has a tendency to make “gaffes,” which I think might be a real potential problem given his age and the stress of a presidential primary campaign.

      Also, I may have a tendency to overrate the importance of intelligence in electoral politics, but I don’t think that Biden is very smart. I’ve been reading through Steve Sailer’s old writings circa the 2008 election, and he found quite a few occasions to amusingly mock Biden. I don’t know, I haven’t really done anywhere enough research to make a money judgement on this, but this guy just doesn’t seem like the horse to bet on to me.

      Fun fact: According to the New Yorker’s 2014 profile of Biden:

      That March, declassified documents seized in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden included an unexpected insult: bin Laden had advised assassins to spare Biden and target Obama, telling them, “Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis.”

      • baconbits9 says:

        I think Yglesis is way off on the reasons, and totally misunderstands the basis for votes. Partially this is a misremembering of history, Hillary stomped Sanders in the popular vote, 55% to 47%, she was neck and neck with Obama in 2008 actually picking up 300,000 more votes. None of the things mentioned sank her against Trump, it was her on going email scandal that did the most damage (and lets not forget she still picked up almost 3 million more votes than Trump).

        Its not that Americans like young blood to drain the swamp, its that if you are a lifelong politician why would it take you until you are 70+ to become a serious candidate? Hilary was a serious presidential candidate at 61/62, and there is a good chance she would have beaten McCain in a GE. She ended up as the 2nd fastest horse in the ’08 and ’16 elections and people who broadly predicted her victories going in are now claiming to know how and why they went badly. If you are young (and remember that “young” is 46-50 for a president), charismatic and ambitious why are you waiting to be president until you are grizzled? Of course American voters prefer the newcomer, because a half a dozen to a dozen newcomers throw their hat in the ring every election cycle, and odds are that one of them is going to have the talent to at least push the older ones who were newcomers in some previous cycle.

        • Aapje says:

          @baconbits9

          I think that the #MeToo thing is definitely real. Biden seems extremely into touching people, to an extent that makes many (women) uncomfortable.

          With one of the main accusations of Trump being that he grabs kittens, it seems like a hard sell.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I have no interest in that part of the article, “and maybe hes a serial sexual harasser” is a nasty thing to toss into the article without evidence that I think its best to ignore it.

          • John Schilling says:

            More to the point, so long as Donald Trump is in the campaign, accusations of sexual harassment against just about anyone else will be ignored, in roughly the way accusations of wimpish pacifism were going to be ignored for anyone campaigning against Jimmy Carter in 1980.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            I think that the opposite is true. Trump’s opponent will have to be sufficiently different on this front so that the way Democrats responded to Trump and Kavanaugh doesn’t seem totally hypocritical.

          • John Schilling says:

            Trump’s opponent will have to be sufficiently different on this front…

            But they only have to be sufficiently different from Donald Trump, and Donald Trump has set the bar low enough that anyone this side of Harvey Weinstein could clear it. Donald Trump isn’t excoriated by #MeToo because he didn’t treat Christine Blasey Ford fairly, but because he brags about sexually harassing and assaulting women and can’t even be bothered to pay his mistresses properly. The accusations against Joe Biden are very, very different in kind and degree from that.

          • Aapje says:

            Except for Al Franken.

            Take this video. Look at 0:39 on, but especially at him creeping on the little girl at 1:32 on.

            That’s what he does in front of a crowd. How much did he do behind closed doors? Has to be a lot more.

            I don’t believe that all of these women like that and don’t believe that accusations won’t start coming up if he becomes a true front-runner.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned lately, it’s that you can always trust video snippets provided by political opponents.

          • albatross11 says:

            I would have thought we’d learned that lesson from the 100% reliable sting video produced by James O’Keefe w.r.t. Planned Parenthood. Or for that matter, from 60 Minutes decades ago.

          • Aapje says:

            Can you explain how you think these fragments could have been tampered with to turn something innocent into something that seems rather #metoo (to me)?

            Interviews can be manipulated by editing out part of the answers, putting answers next to wrong questions, removing relevant precursor questions, etc. James O’Keefe did at least some of these things.

            None of that is relevant for an uncut video fragment showing the entire event, unless you think that either of these women stated loudly beforehand that they wanted Biden to do this.

          • John Schilling says:

            Funny you should mention that. Because when I googled “Joe Biden Sexual Harassment”, literally the first result was a Snopes fact check of the claim “Did Joe Biden Grope Stephanie Carter During a Government Ceremony?”, with the result, “False”.

            Now if you read the fine print, they’re talking about a version of the photo where Biden is photoshopped as touching Carter’s breast. But the framed narrative is clear: It is capital-F False that Joe is a pervy groper. In Snopes’ estimation, what the real photo shoes is Not Groping, and it takes fakery by evil fakers to make it look like Evil Groping. More generally:

            A: Biden is old enough to benefit from a literal grandfather clause where any touching will if at all possible be presumed to be paternalistic or at worst patronizing rather than sexual in nature.

            B: To the left, and the #NeverTrump center, Biden is for the moment Too Big To Fail and so will be protected against this level of failure by the left and the #NeverTrump center, which is to say approximately all of the mainstream media and every thinkfluencer any Democratic primary voter would ever notice.

            C: Biden isn’t grabbing anyone by the breast or the pussy, he isn’t sleeping with anyone other than his wife, he isn’t expressing any interest in doing any such thing, he isn’t saying derogatory things about women,

            D: There are AFIK no victims, no women anywhere willing to say that they were sexually harassed by Joe Biden or found his conduct towards them to be inappropriate.

            E: He’s at a few hundred milliFrankens at worst, and he’s up against Donald J. Trump. Or against other Democratic candidates who are being evaluated on almost the sole basis of “can this person defeat Donald J. Trump?”, so same difference.

            F: Neither the DNC nor the Democratic Primary Electorate are lockstep Social Justice Warriors who would consider the slightest unwanted touch or white-male “creepiness” to be a disqualifiers.

            This is going to be a negligible factor in the 2020 Democratic Primary. Some fringe protesters will protest it, some talking heads will talk about it, the near-unanimous decision of everyone with real power on the left will be that Joe oughtn’t have done that but it isn’t a big deal, and the Democratic primary voters will go along with that.

            And then probably vote for Kamala Harris or Beto O’Rourke or whomever, but because they are younger and cooler and not because of any allegations of sexual harassment against Biden.

            Mark my words, at p>0.80

          • testing123 says:

            @John Schilling

            D: There are AFIK no victims, no women anywhere willing to say that they were sexually harassed by Joe Biden or found his conduct towards them to be inappropriate.

            I believe that there were some complaints from his secret service detail in that vein, and even some noise on the left, but I agree that they’re probably politically irrelevant as long as Biden is running against trump.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            There were no women accusing Weinstein openly, until there were. There were no women accusing Bill Clinton, until there were. These things tend to explode when there is a breakthrough.

            The issue is that due to the ‘believe women’ framing, the Dems will have a really hard time dismissing accusations now.

          • John Schilling says:

            There were no women accusing Weinstein openly, until there were.

            And yet it was common knowledge that Weinstein was demanding sex for jobs. Everybody knew this. They just didn’t care, because Weinstein was either a powerful high-status member of the ingroup or he was part of an outgroup that had already been written off as hopelessly licentious. Until people noticed that he wasn’t really powerful any more and they could claim some status of their own by tearing him down.

            Joe Biden hasn’t been demanding sex for jobs, he hasn’t been diddling interns or exposing himself to his secretary, he hasn’t been committing sexual assault. He’s been touching people on the head and shoulders, hugging them at somewhat more than the socially approved rate, and that’s pretty much it. If you think he’s secretly been engaging in Weinsteinian or Clintonian behavior and keeping it 100% secret, then I don’t think you understand how this works.

            Hollywood can swing from “meh, who cares” to “We’re not going to let this guy get away with extorting sex from vulnerable young women”, when all it costs them is a few has-been directors and actors. If you think from this that the political left generally is going to swing from “meh, who cares” to “We’re not going to let this guy get away with hugging people at more than the socially approved rate“, when it costs them a serious chance at defeating Donald Trump, then you definitely don’t understand how this works.