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Open Thread 120.5

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822 Responses to Open Thread 120.5

  1. bean says:

    Does anyone here know about the history of vectors? Today’s Naval Gazing has prompted some discussion on why it took so long to make some important realizations that are fairly intuitive if you think in vectors. Specifically, when was the modern concept of the vector formulated, and when would it have been likely to reach technically-interested naval officers, as opposed to professional mathematicians?

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I know a little bit:

      Hermann Grassmann seems to be essentially the originator of the vector space idea in the 1830s/1840s, though of course there were precursors.

      J Willard Gibbs and Oliver Heaviside, working independently, tried to reformulate electromagnetism without using Hamilton’s quaternions, and both seem to have hit on the idea of vector analysis to do so. Gibbs at least, realized his debt to Grassmann; I’m not sure about Heaviside. Around the same time (1888) Peano wrote a book in which he stated an axiomatic definition of a vector space; I have seen it claimed that this is the first such axiomatization, but also seen it claimed that he was referencing Grassmann, so I am not sure what the difference was between their approaches, and thus which one should be said to have “formulated” the concept of the vector.

      Gibbs had a student who based a textbook on his lectures in 1901, in which he included a section on spherical trigonometry which could plausibly have interested a technically-minded naval officer, but apparently it was Hermann Weyl in 1918 who referenced Peano and Grassmann’s work in the context of relativity who really brought the ideas of vector analysis to a wider (though still probably scientific) audience.

      When it would have caught the attention of a non-mathematician or physicist, I don’t know; here is a nice timeline by the author of what is, so far as I can tell, the authoritative book on the subject, though it only goes up to about 1910.

      • bean says:

        Thanks.
        The critical innovation that looks obvious if you’re used to thinking in vectors was 1902, which corresponds reasonably well to your timeline. I don’t know enough to be sure if Dumaresq was thinking in actual vectors or not. Maybe he stumbled across that textbook. In any case, it’s pretty clear that vectors weren’t common enough knowledge to sustain my confusion.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Vectors were invented by the military industrial complex in 1593.

  2. Deiseach says:

    I think the EU might be getting just a tiny bit annoyed with the Brits changing their minds over Brexit every five minutes 🙂

    Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, speaking at a press conference in Brussels after talks with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said at the end:

    By the way, I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely. Thank you.

    There’s only one song that can accompany this!

    EDIT: It’s getting better, someone in Northern Ireland sent a thank-you card to Jean-Claude Juncker the president of the European Commission and he had a read of it with Leo 🙂

    • kieranpjobrien says:

      Brits changing their minds over Brexit every five minutes

      Gonna need a source on this chief.

      Parliament voted for the deal providing the backstop is removed, there’s been no change in position of the government except to want to reopen the deal to remove the backstop, which is now the position of parliament. The People’s Vote campaign is dead. The only options left are leaving with the deal, leaving with no deal, or revoking A50 without a referendum. But minds haven’t exactly changed (cue poll showing a % of minds have changed). Which is fair, but the position of the government has been broadly consistent.

    • beleester says:

      The tweet just below that (Speaker responding to an MP calling it an outrageous insult) is even better:

      “I didn’t know… that he was in any sense a delicate flower.”

      Snowflake insults in the British Parliament!

  3. AG says:

    So NPR ran this story today: https://www.npr.org/2019/01/02/677722959/why-millions-of-kids-cant-read-and-what-better-teaching-can-do-about-it

    Basically, kids were being taught to read via context, and apparently that’s been debunked by science, and kids should learn to read via phonics instead.

    Now, I myself learned to read via phonics. That makes sense to me…for English. What about kanji languages? Sure, there could be a bopomofo or kana system to facilitate a level of phonics, but in the end, learning something like Chinese really is about learning from context. Does anyone know if there’s been research on that?
    I’ve also been slowly osmosing Japanese for a little over a decade now, and basically doing it contextually, never formally studying the language, but the key element to that is pairing the text with audio, so I can hear what it’s supposed to be. But also, pairing with a computer translation tool so that I can see the romanization has been a big boost to the osmosis rate. However, as mentioned above, I first learned via phonics. Is context learning only effective because I already have the phonics learning foundation?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I don’t know anything about moon runes, but that article was stunning.

      She didn’t think getting into the details of how words are made up of sounds, and how letters represent those sounds, mattered that much.

      How…? I know people eventually read by recognizing rgopsus fo etltesr and sort of scanning over the the whole sentence oblivious to individual letters or words, but the concept of “letters represent sounds in words” was kind of fundamental.

      My son’s school does a combination of phonics and sight words, and I think that works out well: sound out the words that obey the phonetic rules and memorize the exceptions. But ultimately what taught him to read was Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Trying to get him to practice reading was like pulling teeth, but he was so desperate to play that game I told him so long as he read every dialogue box in the game, he could play, and we’d help him with words he had trouble with. Took about two weeks and he was reading up a storm. And he beat the four Divine Beasts and just needs to go take down Ganon. And maybe then I’ll finally get my Switch back, too.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        We need more research into how to best teach children to beat the Divine Beasts.

      • AG says:

        You never know what’s going to trigger a kid’s interest. I was stuck on picture books for a really long time (way past when I should have moved on), and then I got my hands on the Redwall books, and my reading level shot past my peers’.

        • JustToSay says:

          A lot of picture books are written at a much higher reading level than early-grade chapter books. With one of my kids, if you give him a chapter book, he can read on a second-to-third grade level and doesn’t enjoy it. Give him a lavishly illustrated picture book, and he’ll happily read 5-6th+ grade level stuff in his free time.

          Official reading level markers obviously have flaws, but for example, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters has the same Lexile measure as Catcher in the Rye or The Call of the Wild. I think picture books are more engaging than many assume.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          AG: Same for me, except I read Watership Down first and then read the Redwall series afterwards.

          At the time, I didn’t notice the difference in quality between the two.

      • bullseye says:

        For me it was a thick book about dinosaurs. My mother read the first chapter to me, but refused to continue because she found it so boring (or at least, that’s what she told me). So I had to read the rest on my own.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          Also true for me! My oldest sister started reading me Watership Down then made excuses about having to do homework and handed me the book if I wanted to keep going.

    • Plumber says:

      My son learned to read before Kindergarten by my setting the television to display sub-titles so he was already above grade level from the start.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I don’t think this works in reverse though. I watch subtitled anime and I can’t recognize any spoken Japanese words besides “baka.”

        • AG says:

          Anime is uniquely bad as a way of picking up Japanese. The people don’t speak normally (voice acting and dialogue trends follow otaku-favored exaggerated patterns), a lot of it is fictional technobabble, and conservation of detail means that they don’t repeat much stuff. Also, “in the spirit of” subtitles are the norm now, which means there’s a hell of a lot of subtle changes that obscure the direct translation, so it’s not nearly as obvious what parts of the subs correspond to the audio.

          My osmosis is of a lot more extemporaneous stuff. Talk shows, radio, variety, etc. They beat jokes into the ground, which means so much repetition of mundane words, until you start getting the gist of common vocabulary and sentence structure. Also, the lack of comprehensive subtitles means I’m having to pay way more attention to the audio to parse out words, and interpolate the mangled google translates from youtube clip titles.

          Still, any time they start talking on the least bit more sophisticated subjects, I lose comprehension.

      • My younger son taught himself to read before kindergarten age by watching his sister be taught and by playing computer games–in particular Warlords II played as a story, not a game, with him playing all eight players.

    • DarkTigger says:

      This has actually be implemented in Germany a few years ago. There is (as with any education reform) a lot of different opinions about it. But as far as I can tell the results have been mixed at best.

      But none of the reports (pro and contra) I have heard so far, are better then anecdots.

  4. baconbits9 says:

    NBA trade deadline discussion?

    The Tobias Harris trade was a terrible move for Philly.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Is that some sort of sportsball thing?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Tough for me to tell, because I don’t follow NBA as much as I should. The Bulls are abysmal.

      My impression is that the teams are heavily reliant on superstar talent. The 76ers need to start showing big moves to keep Butler since he’s FA after this season ends. I don’t think this thrown together group of superstars is going to beat the Bucks, though. Toronto, I don’t know.

      It’s pretty cool to see Lebron struggling to make the playoffs.

  5. ManyCookies says:

    For non-Americans, who were some of the mediocre presidents of your country? The political leaders who were just… sort of okay and didn’t have any big victories or embarrassments (“Adequate! Forgettable! Occasionally regrettable!”), most commonly invoked on hard-ish trivia nights and by nerds reciting lists of leaders.

    For Americans, will any president from the post WW2 era become a mediocre president (if they aren’t already)? Ford and Carter spring to mind as candidates.

    • Jesse E says:

      Most President’s from Lincoln (or more rightly, Andrew Johnson and Grant since Johnson was actually Bad and Grant is Underrated) to McKinley/Roosevelt can be described as mediocre. Franklin Pierce wasn’t great.

      I can even make the argument that what JFK actually did in office was pretty mediocre to bad and the best thing he did for America was decide to drive through Dallas in a covertible.

      As for Post-WWII Presidents, Ford & Carter are both pretty mediocre for different reasons.

      • EchoChaos says:

        What? I’m going to staunchly defend our only non-consecutive President, Grover Cleveland. Despite a bad end to his second term in the Panic of 1893, his policies were good and his term is still remembered quite well by Historians.

      • sentientbeings says:

        Hey, Franklin Pierce signed a trade treaty with Japan in the 1850s. That’s pretty great, IMO.

        That he is commonly viewed as forgettable is certainly true, though.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Jimmy Carter? He’s history’s greatest meh-ster.

      • Evan Þ says:

        But his post-Presidency should be an inspiration to his successors.

        (Sadly, it generally hasn’t been. Though I hear Bush Jr.’s doing a decent job painting and encouraging wounded soldiers.)

        • brad says:

          Of the presidents of my lifetime:
          Reagan mostly retreated from public life within 5 years or so because of the Alzheimers.

          Bush the Elder did a decent enough job as an ex-President, he was involved points of light thing, he did feel good announcements, etc., until GWB started running for President and then things got weird for him.

          Bill Clinton was far and away the greediest ex-President and then there was whatever role he played in his wife’s disastrous political ambitious.

          GWB, as you mention, seems to be doing a decent enough job. There’s been some million dollar speeches, but he isn’t mass producing them like Clinton, and there’s been some charitable involvement.

          Obama, I haven’t heard too much about.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        Eh, I think you can make a case for Jimmy Carter being better than mediocre:

        — Started a lot of the deregulation that arguably helped free the economy from stagflation, for which Reagan then took credit.

        — Appointed Paul Volcker who did the needful on the monetary side which again took effect late enough for Reagan to get all the credit.

        — On the foreign policy side, likewise, if you are a fan of Reagan’s policy stances (support for Soviet bloc dissidents, arming the Afghan mujahideen) you should give more credit to Zbigniew Brzezinski for inaugurating many of those stances, especially those most morally defensible even apart from their realpolitik consequences.

        — For those of us concerned about AGW his energy policy looks a lot better in retrospect than it was thought to be at the time.

        — By preventing Ted Kennedy from gaining the 1980 Democratic nomination he foreclosed the Presidential chances of someone who arguably had a better chance of defeating Reagan in 1980 and would have pursued much, much worse policies than either Carter or Reagan.

        In a lot of ways Carter is like Hoover, in that he inherited a crappy situation that wasn’t his fault and that drastically limited his ability to do anything about it in a single term, and the continuity of policies between him and his successor was much greater than commonly realized.

    • WashedOut says:

      In Australia we’ve had 6 Prime Ministers (5 unique) in 11 years. There has not been a lot of opportunity for long-term, forward-thinking flagship policies to have been delivered due to the attrition rate, so in that sense all of them since 2007 have been mediocre.

      Kevin Rudd was our PM during the Global Financial Crisis, and was probably the most memorable of the last 11 years because of his novel idea of giving every taxpayer a bulk cash payout of ~$700 to prop up the economy. This became jovially known as the ‘Rudd Scholarship’, and we were all encouraged to spend it on retail consumption, as this was one of the hardest sectors hit. A lot of people just paid off their credit cards and went to the dentist, but a good time was had by all.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      In the long view I can’t see any of the presidents during the new gilded era (Ford – present, and probably continuing for a few more presidents still) being thought of as much stronger than the set of presidents for the first gilded era after Lincoln (which is to say, generally mediocre.) Poor leadership all around, poor quality of vision, eroding ideas of the public good, ever more 51-49% elections, no faith in good institutions or good government, constantly shifting power that leaves no one with room to breathe, much less a mandate, etc. is not a recipe I see history looking fondly upon.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        Is there a reason you chose Ford as the cut-off for the new gilded age?

        • ilikekittycat says:

          Wage growth and productivity split in 1968 or 1969? IIRC Nixon, for all his flaws, and useless culture wars, is still clearly with the hard hats and the unions that will have him. The Heartland hasn’t been hollowed out into the Rust Belt. Any number of Wall Street billionaires and laissez-faire people attempt to woo Nixon, but ultimately he confirms the Keynesian consensus. Barack Obama admitted on Bill O’Reilly that Nixon was probably a better Democrat

          By the time you get to Carter and Reagan, the tide has clearly shifted in favor of neoliberalism.

          If you have to draw a line, it’s on Ford reconciling with Greenspan, Rand, etc. to distance himself from Nixon. That shifts the power in the GOP, which shifts the Democrats, and soon you have lending deregulation leading to universal third party credit cards, the 4A Act, etc. etc.

          I understand if anyone disagrees and draws the line in a different place, but if I had to divide presidential eras, Ford clearly feels like the type of president we have “now” and Nixon as “the old kind of president”

    • Aapje says:

      @ManyCookies

      We don’t have presidents, but prime ministers in The Netherlands. I also don’t see that much point in answering this question, since it requires too much context & interest in Dutch minutiae for the average reader to explain why someone was mediocre in that role. With the best and worst presidents, I could at least refer to their performance in major events, like WW I & II.

      Also, in the Dutch context the prime ministers usually were leaders of their party for some time before (and sometimes afterwards), so even if they were forgettable as prime ministers, they weren’t necessarily forgettable as party leaders or even beyond that.

      For example, Abraham Kuyper was a very mediocre prime minister (1901-1905), but founded the Anti-Revolutionary Party (where that revolution refers to the French one) and led it for the first 40 years. The party became one of the major Dutch parties of the time (it got over 30% of the votes 10 years after being founded). Kuyper was instrumental in pillarizing Dutch society, founding the ‘Reformed Churches in the Netherlands’, one of the two major Reformed denominations in The Netherlands from 1892 until 2004.

      He fought hard for equal treatment of faith-based organizations, creating a detente between the various Christian pillars (two protestant and one catholic) and the secular pillars (liberals and socialists).

      He founded the 7th biggest university in the Netherlands, the Free University Amsterdam (‘free’ referring to independence from the state and from the biggest Protestant denomination). He also had his own newspaper.

      His influence extended abroad, including to the US, where he lectured at Princeton Theological Seminary. Calvin College copied the Free University. Others influenced included Dordt College and Coalition for Christian Outreach.

      However, his influence was largest on South-Africa, where his belief that the Afrikaner Calvinists were the core of the nation was important to rally the Afrikaners around the ‘Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa.’ This resulted in the Afrikaners taking back a lot of control that they had lost due to the Boer Wars. The pillarisation that Kuyper advocated got perverted into Apartheid, where voluntary separation with equal rights became involuntary separation with lesser rights (for non-whites).

      Yet despite the obvious force of character that he had which resulted in major changes being caused and/or directed by him, his stint as prime minister amounted to little (although this might have been because his coalition lacked a majority for most of the period).

      • ManyCookies says:

        Ohh thanks for the response. I think that qualifies as non-mediocre if he set the tone for a lot of stuff, even if he didn’t manage to pass any official policy while in office.

    • johan_larson says:

      Here in Canada, we’ve had some recent prime ministers who lasted less than a year in office, and so didn’t have time to do much of anything: Joe Clark, John Turner, and Kim Campbell. Joe Clark’s government was ousted by losing a No Confidence vote on their first budget, a failure to do political arithmetic and adequately enforce party discipline, so maybe he was less than mediocre.

      • ManyCookies says:

        @WashedOut @johan_larson

        Huh, I suppose it’s way easier to have do-nothing leaders if they can get ousted when they do nothing!

        • Aapje says:

          In The Netherlands, it has become far more common for Cabinets to fall than to complete their term. The record is two days, but that Cabinet never had support from parliament in the first place, so it got kicked out at the first available opportunity.

          There is no term limit, so prime ministers can keep going as long as they can find support. The record holders have had four Cabinets. The prime minister with the longest period in office made it almost 12 years.

          Note that it seems common that major legislation is made in the first two years, with the remaining years mostly being implementation. The former seems to be enjoyed by politicians much more, as they can still make promises about what their legislation will do, without being confronted with the disparity between these promises and reality. So this may be why Dutch Cabinets tend to fall during the implementation phase.

          PS. Also, technically the Dutch prime minister is merely a primus inter pares, which means that he theoretically has no more power than any other of the ministers. So this means that the success of position is more dependent on persuasion (and having a supportive coalition) than in the US, especially with the US president having increasingly become like a absolute monarch.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      It’s really difficult to frame myself as an American 100 years from now. Even typical Americans probably don’t remember Adams or Monroe or Madison very well, which makes me think even President Johnson is going to be forgotten.

      I think everyone gets forgotten except for Obama and Nixon, with possibly Reagan or JFK or Trump getting remembered. That makes everyone else forgettable. Trivia Questions will be “which WWII general became President,” “who passed the Civil Rights Act,” “who invaded Iraq” and especially “who dropped the atomic bomb on Japan”

      • Aapje says:

        Who gets well remembered depends heavily on how the person relates to the issues/concerns of the day.

        So for Obama to be remembered requires that race is still a major issue in 100 years time. If not, he will surely become a trivia question.

        Nixon has the big advantage that Watergate has been memefied and that he was the only one who left office after being impeached. So he is relevant whenever people want impeachment of the sitting president or when they want to justify their conspiracy theory by calling it somethinggate.

        • ManyCookies says:

          That’s a great point. Kennedy being Catholic was a super big deal at the time, cries of “Pope is coming to invade America with blood rituals” abound… and now my high school textbook didn’t even mention the fact. Hell a Mormon can now be a presidental nominee, and the evangelical protestants were right behind him after he won the nomination.

      • Walter says:

        Trump getting forgotten seems incomprehensible. I certainly can’t prove it won’t happen, but it would be amazing.

  6. AlexanderTheGrand says:

    A quote from “Moloch”, and a widespread idea, that I take issue with:

    Once humans can design machines that are smarter than we are, by definition they’ll be able to design machines which are smarter than they are, which can design machines smarter than they are, and so on in a feedback loop so tiny that it will smash up against the physical limitations for intelligence in a comparatively lightning-short amount of time.

    I don’t think that this point should be taken as axiomatically as it seems to be. Why should it be true? Squirrels can’t design smarter beings than themselves. Maybe technology lets us create human-brain clones that are bigger, faster, and stronger. But why should that not be both the beginning and the end of self-increasing intelligence? Maybe it can only scale in the same direction — faster, or more processing power, but nothing we couldn’t do with time and resources. Who says it will be smart enough to take that next step?

    It’s soft evidence, but I think we can look around us and see that many “intelligent” abilities are discretely unlocked with brain complexity. For example, fish JUST can’t recognize themselves in the mirror. Dogs JUST can’t comprehend grammatical language. A deer JUST can’t do math.

    I like to believe that there are levels of comprehension that are similarly incomprehensible to us. And if one of them is key to creating a super-super-intelligence, maybe it’s also out of reach of the super-intelligences that we’ll first create.

    There could be holes in this argument. But the point I’m trying to make is, if you look at the quote above, is it really true that “by definition” they’ll be able to improve themselves? I don’t think so.

    • Aapje says:

      If we define ‘smarter’ in this context as being better at solving problems in every way, then by definition the smarter machines are more capable at ‘solving’ the problem of creating even smarter machines.

      The only way the machines will then not be able to make even better designs than humans is if:
      – there is something independent of problem solving ability that holds this back (like physical limitations)
      – further progress requires a huge step up, which is larger than the gap between machines and humans (so humans have smartness 8, the current machines have smartness 10, but to advance further, you need smartness 11)
      – we incorrectly called the machines smarter in every way, for example because they are still less creative and that is a major factor in designing better machines

    • uau says:

      Squirrels can’t design smarter beings than themselves. Maybe technology lets us create human-brain clones that are bigger, faster, and stronger. But why should that not be both the beginning and the end of self-increasing intelligence?

      I think you need a stricter definition of “design” than that. Speaking of squirrels not being able to design beings smarter than themselves is misleading – they can’t even design beings much dumber than themselves! They can reproduce, but they can’t design.

      Similarly, a human with tools like computers can design more than a human without. Drugs may be able to boost ability at least somewhat. But this doesn’t automatically start quite such a strong cascade of improvements, because the human part stays the same.

      So for this argument you need to consider the ability to truly design an intelligence, for a sufficiently high value of “from the ground up”. If you can design an intelligence smarter than yourself, it’s quite plausible that the design can then be significantly improved.

    • whereamigoing says:

      The difference between squirrels or humans and AI is that humans don’t understand the brain well enough to build one from scratch and so can’t improve it much, whereas smarter-than-human AI would be able to build itself from scratch (by definition, since it is smarter than humans and humans already did it).

      In principle, there could be a superhuman AI which it’s impossible for any weaker AI to build by any method more efficient than random search in mind-space. But that seems unlikely to me due to the analogy with Turing-completeness — above a fairly low threshold, programming languages differ only in efficiency, not capability. I would expect humans to be capable of creating anything an AI could, given enough time and physical memory (and self-modification would remove the limit on physical memory). Besides, wouldn’t even this random search be sped up by hardware improvements?

      Even if there is such a superhuman AI, it might not be much more of an upper bound than physical limits. Humans don’t seem to be hitting any limits on what we can fundamentally think of — if the brain were twice as fast (or e.g. we didn’t need to sleep and replaced coffee with modafinil), technological progress would be twice as fast. We are likely as dumb as one can be while being able to think about creating other minds, like the simplest possible Turing-complete language — intelligence increased gradually during evolution, but there aren’t any other animals that can do so (also, tongue-in-cheek: if we were any smarter than we are, we would have already self-modified to be even smarter). So the gap between humans and the smartest AI that can’t create anything that humans couldn’t create eventually (so can’t self-modify further) is probably large in any case.

  7. Aapje says:

    Fairly good analysis of gender by Aella (except for the end, where she thinks it is possible to allow people to opt in or out of gender roles easily).

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I thought that was a very good article; gave me a slightly different lens to view some of the modern struggles with gender relations through.

    • rahien.din says:

      That was an excellent read, thanks Aapje. You have a knack for digging up interesting articles on this subject.

    • Randy M says:

      It’s a good article, made me think about some things.

      One point in particular about responsibility. I mentioned in a prior thread that reading “Life at the Bottom” made me see a book on UBI in a new light; I’m also reading Robert Sapolsky’s Behave. He’s of the view (mentioned in a Joe Rogan podcast, for example) that someday we’ll look back on punishing people with amygdala disorders as barbaric; I don’t want to paint an unnuanced picture of his very diverse teachings on the topic of behavior which consider neuroscience, genetics, and evolutionary psychology, but it seems that he he thinks much of behavior is or may be explained by one such discipline in a deterministic, if extremely complex way. Not dissimilar to what the author of Ajape’s link calls the “environment changing” view, that to effect behavior change, something about the person’s environment (including perhaps the brain chemistry) needs to change; this accords with what Dalrymple would call the therapeutic approach to criminology. In contrast to this, he relays an interview with a prisoner, in jail for repeated theft, who laments that he is being punished when what he really needs is therapy. Yet the physician points out that his behavior in prison is exemplary, to which the response is “Well yeah, I don’t want to lose privileges” or something similar. This mirrors a point Stefan Molyneux makes about child abuse–if you are able to stop in public, when it would be embarrassing or risky to abuse your child, you don’t get to be absolved from the responsibility for the abuse by dint of your own regretable upbringing or genetics–you demonstrably recognize the behavior is bad and are able to restrain it when it is to your advantage to do so. Contrast that with the case of a man with amygdala damage as related by Sapolsky who kidnapped and abused a woman, then dropped her home, said he hopped she had a nice time, and she should call him if she wanted to go out again. Someone who seemingly did not understand the morality of his behavior.

      Extremes are easy to see, but where is the line drawn? To return to the article, which, in general, is the more productive message, the self-changing masculine message or the environment-changing feminine message, and is there any point to giving different messages by sex?

      Perhaps tangentially, I wonder if the perception of lower female agency might stem from them being, not more irrational, but inconsistently irrational. Men are subject to hormones that give certain tendencies or biases (towards aggression, competition, etc.); might women’s monthly hormonal cycle give them varying tendencies and desires, for example, sometimes more indecisive? Also, given the complexities of the brain and differing evolutionary pressure, it may be the case the sexes differ in a tendency to rationality, stereotypical as the suggestion is, and noting that of course that the differences are minor variations on a spectrum with few actually occupying the extreme ends.

      I tend to be more in favor of messages of personal responsibility; it is easier to change oneself than the world, even if the former is still very hard for varied biological reasons. And even if people are largely responding almost deterministically to the environment, treating them as if they were rational agents deserving of blame or praise according to their behavior is itself a facet of the environment, like the prisoner who behaves better in prison that will punish him than in the world which tells him that his behavior is out of his control.

      However, it is not good for man to be alone, and I think this is where there is a benefit to gender roles in that both messages are useful. It’s useful to have both a father to say “The only one responsible for your life is you, try harder” and also a mother to say “Sometimes things don’t work out for factors beyond your control, get help if you need it, you’re special to us no matter what.”

      • Aapje says:

        Perhaps tangentially, I wonder if the perception of lower female agency might stem from them being, not more irrational, but inconsistently irrational.

        Women do perfectly fine in high-achieving careers until they, far more often than men, decide to opt out.

        So it seems very likely to me that women could be forced/encultured to be about equally providery, although not necessarily with the same incentives and/or the same level of (dis)satisfaction.

        Of course, if women do become substantially more providery, they don’t have to match where men currently are if men don’t take the female role, but tone it down a bit.

        However, the question remains whether men and women will still be attracted to each other sufficiently if the gender roles are much more equal. My impression is that this is far less true for women than for men, at the moment, but that may be an artifact of 100 years of feminism telling men to demand less and women to demand more (but being very wishy washy about telling women to take responsibility for their choices).

        I tend to be more in favor of messages of personal responsibility; it is easier to change oneself than the world, even if the former is still very hard for varied biological reasons.

        That only seems valid if you are an outlier. If society changes, which in turn causes negative effects to very many people, like obesity, it seems ridiculous to blame individuals. Even if people could theoretically fix that problem purely individually, clearly this is often beyond people.

        Note that collective solutions don’t have to take away choice or otherwise be very authoritarian. It also can consist of teaching people things, mild disapproval of certain actions (‘you took the elevator despite being perfectly able to walk stairs???’), etc.

        It’s useful to have both a father to say “The only one responsible for your life is you, try harder” and also a mother to say “Sometimes things don’t work out for factors beyond your control, get help if you need it, you’re special to us no matter what.”

        Sure, but it’s not a given that this has to be divided up between a good cop and a bad cop. A single person can say one thing in one situation and another things in another situation.

        • Randy M says:

          If society changes, which in turn causes negative effects to very many people, like obesity, it seems ridiculous to blame individuals. Even if people could theoretically fix that problem purely individually, clearly this is often beyond people.

          Sure, but that’s not incompatible with what I said. It might be so hard that few can do it; but those few might not if they were told no one can, and how many are going to change society? But that’s a complicated question, because by changing society, you are taking control of the environment, having responsibility.
          The real dichotomy is between initiating change, and waiting for change.

          It also can consist of teaching people things, mild disapproval of certain actions (‘you took the elevator despite being perfectly able to walk stairs???’)

          That sounds like a personal responsibility suggestion. The alternative would be “You took the stairs? That must be hard for you. It’s not going to help long term, the problem is out of your hands. Let’s get a law passed to make elevators wider.”

          Sure, but it’s not a given that this has to be divided up between a good cop and a bad cop. A single person can say one thing in one situation and another things in another situation.

          True, and I don’t think anyone should occupy the extreme. But I think a consistent message is easier for one person to transmit.

          • Aapje says:

            Is it actually helpful to hear two extremes, rather than something more moderate?

            The former gives you options, but no guidance. You still don’t know what is appropriate when when the mother yells: “Go to the hospital now” and the dad yells: “It won’t kill you, put a band aid on it.”

            It seems more sensible to be told to put a band aid on when the injury is small and to be told to go to the hospital when it is big. That doesn’t inconsistent or particularly hard to get.

          • Randy M says:

            Is it actually helpful to hear two extremes, rather than something more moderate?

            True, and I don’t think anyone should occupy the extreme.

            Maybe that was poorly phrased? I don’t think anyone should give an extreme message. It doesn’t have to be This Is Sparta! vs Safe Spaces Cuddle Pile.

            But having a masculine and feminine emphasis may be useful. It’s an enduring concept after all.

            It seems more sensible to be told to put a band aid on when the injury is small and to be told to go to the hospital when it is big. That doesn’t inconsistent or particularly hard to get.

            Perhaps because it is a trivial example. (Also, it’s not really about responsibility anymore, is it?)
            But, actually, we pretty much have that situation in our house. I will say (sans yelling), “No, you don’t need a band-aid if the wound is not literally dripping blood, in which case you also have to go get the carpet cleaner. And no, the doctor won’t be able to help you.” All of which is true (well, except the carpet cleaner bit). My wife will say, “Go ahead and get a band-aid if it will make you feel better.” She’s probably right about that too. This leaves the child with a choice and the impression that there are alternate views on the matter. (Which is okay, because neither of us are caricatures of the perspective. When my mother was vomiting blood, I was there to take her to the hospital in ten minutes and clean up as well.)

            Maybe it’s preferable if everyone has the perfect medium from the get go, but I’m not sure it’s possible. Instead, a couple can come to a consensus by each bringing their own perspectives.

            Hey, look at that, I found a context where I’m in favor of diversity.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            There is a genuine benefit from getting more than just the medium/median response. It is quite helpful for us to see responses expressed as ranges, to help us calibrate beyond the immediate situation.

            If “dad” provides one end of the spectrum and “mom” provides the other, then I can better formulate my own acceptable responses within or around that range. If dad says [severity level 8] requires going to the hospital but mom says [severity level 3] is enough, then I know a [severity level 9] definitely needs to go, anything between [7] and [4] is open to interpretation, and anything less than [3] is not to be worried about.

            In this way, I don’t need to actually witness every separate [severity level event] in order to learn the “correct” response. Since every situation may be slightly different, learning to make that decision is far more important than being told the correct solution anyway. “Correct” doesn’t even seem to be a true characteristic of the proposed solutions.

          • Aapje says:

            That is a good argument, although the diversity doesn’t have to be within the parental unit. I’ve often learned that alternatives were possible by noticing that other people/families do things different.

            But it is quite possible that having two more similar acting parents would result in the child feeling forced to copy them and being less open to alternatives.

  8. Scott Alexander says:

    A charity wants to give its clients a small allowance (let’s say $250 per month) every month. They don’t want to have to withdrawn the money from ATM and give it out as cash, so it seems like they would want some kind of prepaid debit card that they can automatically fill with money from their own account each month. They’re very small (~10 clients) so they can’t afford some kind of fancy customized solution. Ability to monitor spending would be okay but not required.

    Is there any product that fits their needs? Right now the best I can find is https://usa.visa.com/pay-with-visa/cards/prepaid-cards/buxx-card.html , but it seems very kid-oriented and I would be nervous using it for another application.

    • benjdenny says:

      Why not Patreon?

      • albertborrow says:

        Patreon takes a 5% cut of cash going through the service, and I think that Patreon money is taxable (unless the recipient is a charity, recipient being the key word here). And also because there’s probably a bank around here that offers a service like the kid-oriented one Scott linked.

    • brad says:

      I try to do exactly this with my disabled sister, except every other week. I don’t have anything good right now. Over the last several years I’ve gone through two different cards with reasonable fees that went out of business. (Moovo or something like that was the last one.)

      Best I came up with for now is capital one will cash paper checks drawn against their own bank for free but they have fairly strict ID requirements.

    • RamblinDash says:

      What about…a bank account?

      This would also have the salutary effect of getting the clients into the formal banking system, and there are checking accounts with no maintenance fees they can use. If they want to monitor, they can set up a joint account with the recipient, which would also allow the charity to withdraw but they can just choose not to do that.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I vaguely recall my wife getting this offer when she went to Wells Fargo to set up a bank account for our son.

        https://www.wellsfargo.com/prepaid/faq

        Getting the clients attached to the banking system is a good thing, but it may also be an impossible hurdle, because a lot of the unbanked are unbanked for a reason.

      • brad says:

        Depends on the population. In my situation the person would certainly overdraft the account and after fees end up with a negative zillion dollar balance. No bank will guarantee to prevent overdrafts, the only thing they’ll offer is best effort.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Chime offers a debit card with a bank account that just declines when it hits overdraft in most circumstances. There are a few cases where there is auth-and-then-later-charge where you can manage to overdraft the account, but they’re fairly rare.

          They have no overdraft fees.

      • Theodoric says:

        Depending on the population the charity is serving, they could be worried about people bouncing checks and getting hit with fees. Also, depending on where they are located, $250 might be too low to avoid a monthly fee (maybe an Internet only bank wouldn’t have this problem?).

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        What about…a bank account?

        Well yeah. When my daughter was in college, I transferred money every week from my account to hers (which also had my name on it, so it was easy to transfer). This also had the benefit that my daughter could learn budgeting skills by getting the same amount every week. Of course this won’t always work, like in Brad’s situation where apparently the recipient simply isn’t capable of learning such skills.

    • kauffj says:

      I use Pex for this at my company. Assuming they’re eligible for the nonprofit pricing, it looks like it would cost $30/month and a $40 one-time setup fee.

    • Randy M says:

      Bonuses at my company are given out via prepaid American Express cards. These may be able to be recharged.

    • benjdenny says:

      https://prepaidmaterials.com/perdiem/ This seems to be what you want; prepaid card, easy to reload, doesn’t work for ATMs unless you want it to. I’d make sure it’s legit, though, I’m just some guy.

    • dick says:

      Their best bet is just to go to Walmart and buy ten new $250 gift cards each month.

      There are reloadable prepaid cards that do what you’re describing, but they’re regulated like financial instruments and are subject to various reporting laws that make vendors shy about selling them in bulk. That’s why the buxx card you linked to is designed for teens – because there are no murky legal ramifications to a parent putting money on a teen’s card. It’s fine to buy reloadable cards and give them to someone, but (I think) not for the giver to then load money on to them, depending on various things.

      Regular non-reloadable gift cards OTOH are a lot less trouble, your only concern there is that if you buy enough of them you’ll get reported to the SEC due to Know Your Customer laws designed to catch money launderers. The cutoff in most cases is $10K but retailers sometimes use lower limits. The rules are capricious – for example, Walmart will probably sell you $2500 in GCs without blinking if you’re wearing a suit at 3PM, but might not sell you $1000 in GCs if you’re dressed shabbily at 11 PM.

      In your charity’s case, if they go to Walmart or some other retailer and are well under $10K and don’t look like obvious thieves, they shouldn’t have any problems. If they get bigger and get closer to $10K/mo they should consider buying the cards in bulk, which would be easier and possibly get a small discount. One way to buy them in bulk would be through my employer.

      Hope this helps! Your charity friend is welcome to contact me at dick followed by an @ sign and then ineptech dot com if they’d like to talk to my employer or get more info on this stuff.

    • b_jonas says:

      I’d advise this charity to ask the bank that keeps the charity’s money. They may be able to write a check to the clients, or send cash via the postal service. The charity has to ask the bank, because there’s no way for us to guess the actual fees these services would cost them. It won’t help you if I told you that sending the money from my bank account to postal address within Hungary in HUF, with the sending requested either in person in the bank or through the online banking, would cost me 12.5 dollars.

    • Walter says:

      This is going to sound really dumb, but why not give them cash?

  9. Atlas says:

    In the last OT, bean wrote in response to johan_larson’s prompt about small historical changes that would have made the world better:

    3. Richard Nixon wins the 1960 election. Robert McNamara destroys Ford instead of the DoD. (This is bad for Ford, but good for the country.) The Vietnam War is brought to an end in 1963 with a major air campaign. Communism collapses in the late 70s.

    What are the grounds for thinking that insufficient bombing of Vietnam was the limiting factor preventing the US from winning the Vietnam War, particularly here as regards the pre-US ground invasion period of the war? I will be discussing, and indeed litigating, the broader strategic as well as moral questions surrounding the war in my forthcoming review of Max Hastings’ recent book on Vietnam; I am currently seeking only to understand rather than to debate. These are tentative, and I always try to adjust my views in light of contrary evidence.

    My various grounds for skepticism:

    —Nixon’s actual “major air campaign,” Linebacker II, did not, as far as I can tell, significantly materially change the state of the conflict in Indochina or the terms of the US withdrawal from Vietnam that had been in discussion by late 1972. Rather, it seems to me (as do most of Nixon and Kissinger’s decisions in Vietnam) to basically have been a dog and pony show to hoodwink the rulers of the Saigon client/puppet regime and domestic political supporters, thus getting them to accept peace terms of US withdrawal/defeat without blaming Nixon. (I am drawing directly here from Hastings.)

    —As a corollary of the above, while I recognize that we are considering a hypothetical air campaign, the United States did in fact conduct the largest bombing campaign in military history thus far in Vietnam. (Incidentally, the imbalance of conventional forces and material resources in the Vietnam War is frankly comical.) How effective was the actually extant bombing campaign at defeating the guerrillas, undermining the will of the Vietnamese leadership/populace to oppose the US occupation/client state and materially constraining the Vietnamese war effort, particularly in light of the massive commitment of US forces? How confident should we be about the possible gains from expanded bombing in light of the evidence about the actual bombing campaign? (Note that these are to be distinguished from the ability of airpower to defeat conventional attacks by NVA forces, which is an important but separate consideration.)

    —North Vietnam was a barely industrial society, and the Vietnamese received a great deal of industrial/economic aid from China and the USSR. How effectively would increased bombing of Vietnam have hindered the Vietnamese war effort when much of what it used to sustain it was produced elsewhere?

    —It seems that, primarily with the help of Soviet and Chinese advisors/aid, by 1972 North Vietnam had developed a fairly effective system of aerial defense, between flak, SAMs and Soviet fighter planes. Would an expanded bombing campaign in the early 1960s, thought by communist governments to be conducted in service of winning the war, have led to expanded Soviet and Chinese aid to North Vietnamese aerial defenses? Would the losses from these defenses have been acceptable to the American public?

    —Nixon’s 1972 unrestricted bombing campaign was made possible by the changes he made to US-Chinese relations earlier in the year. Nixon, and Johnson before him, had previously limited US bombing of Vietnam not out of excessive humanitarianism or insufficient desire to win the war, but out of fear that an unrestrained bombing campaign might escalate Chinese involvement in the war. Would Nixon have been able/wanted to go to China if he had been elected in 1960?

    —The threat to the Saigon government in the early 1960s came from guerrillas operating on very limited supplies. Was the main problem of the Saigon government really that its opponents had an unfair advantage in terms of the weapons at their disposal and the amount of supplies they received? Did not US extant material aid under the Kennedy administration ensure that the Saigon government was not at a disadvantage in terms of the weapons and supplies available to its armed forces?

    —Finally, but perhaps most importantly, what does an “end” to the Vietnam War mean here? Does the Vietnamese populace accept the division of Vietnam and rule of the Saigon government in perpetuity? Does the same level of discontent with the post-1954 status quo remain, but the Saigon government is capable of crushing any opposition? A different option? To tie it all up in a sense, how does an increased bombing campaign lead to your definition of victory in Vietnam in a way that actual US efforts in Vietnam did not?

    • cassander says:

      Hitting the vietnamese harder early on accomplishes a few things. First, it’s not just the quantity of bombing that matters, the timing and targets matter a great deal. Remember, for much of the war, US aircraft over the north weren’t even allowed to destroy SAM sites that hadn’t shot at them first. These restrictive rules of engagements made what bombing we did do massively less effective than it otherwise would have been.

      What the bombing (also mining Haiphong harbor) needed to do was to hit properly strategic targets that would cut Vietnam off from soviet and chinese supplies to make regenerating their army and building up their air defenses vastly more difficult. That allows bombing elsewhere to be much more effective, because it’s safer for US forces (and thus more accurate) and because the damage inflicted becomes much more permanent. This will bring vietnam to the table earlier. Remember, they did eventually come to the table after these things were done.

      Now, the north would certainly not just give up on the dream of re-unification because they signed a treaty, but they’d be sitting across the table from a US that wasn’t internally divided over a war that hasn’t cost 60,000 dead americans after several years of seemingly fruitless efforts. This means that the US has a stronger hand and, more importantly, more importantly, a vastly greater ability to make sure that the north actually sticks to the peace terms it agreed to, meaning that when the north launches their version of the 75 assault, they’re met by linebacker III and a south vietnamese army with plenty of ammunition. that leads to a victory that looks a lot like korea.

      The idea that the vietnamese people wouldn’t accept division implies that the people of the south would rather be unified under communism than disunited under not-communism. the fact that millions fled the northern unification, at extreme personal risk, seems to be very strong evidence against this notion.

      The question of nixon going to china earlier if he’s elected earlier is an interesting one. I don’t have a good answer for it.

      FWIW, I don’t think this leads to the collapse of communism in the early 70s. the USSR can’t help but ride high on the tide of increasing commodity prices, and that’s enough to keep up the illusion of progress going through the early 80s. the long run political effects are mostly going to change US domestic politics in ways that depend on whether you think vietnam was a cause, accelerant or consequence of the whole 60s…whatever you want to call it.

      • Atlas says:

        Thank you for elucidating, I look forward to discussing/debating these issues with yourself, bean and anyone else who is interested at length in a megapost review later. To wit, in your view:

        The hypothetical Nixon bombing campaign would largely or completely cut off Vietnam from Soviet and Chinese supplies from all major routes in perpetuity. It would have been much, much more effective than the actual bombing campaign, because the main issue was restrictive rules of engagement, not any limitation in terms of the possible power of strategic bombing. This would not result in any escalation of Chinese or Soviet participation in the conflict, much less any such escalation capable of imposing costs on the US air campaign. The 1954 status quo could have been maintained in perpetuity, because the Saigon and Hanoi governments had comparable popular support/legitimacy.

        Is this a reasonably fair Ideological Turing Test summary of your view of how bombing would have led to victory in Vietnam?

        • cassander says:

          I could make a few quibbles, but not bad.

          the hypothetical campaign wouldn’t cut off all routes in perpetuity. It would cut off most routes for long enough to, combined with less restrive ROEs, make for a much more effective bombing campaign.

          This certainly would be escalatory relative to the status quo of 1960 or 1964, but not more escalatory, I think, than what we actually did, which was put a half a million ground troops in the country. the two state solution could have been maintained as long both states had sufficient force to prevent the other from conquering them, popular support being a somewhat misleading concept in what was still a substantially peasant society.

    • bean says:

      Linebacker II was enough to force Hanoi to do something it didn’t want to do, namely carry out the terms that had basically already been negotiated. It was the first time we’d had good leverage to make them do what we wanted. Nixon didn’t have the public support he’d have needed to turn that leverage into a better set of terms, and Hanoi knew it.

      In 1972, Hanoi had the best air defense network in the world. Yes, better than Moscow. We managed to breach it with reasonable losses. Do the same thing a decade earlier, and you’re not going to do worse. Losses might be up for the duration of the campaign, but it won’t last that long.

      Re supplies, I think you’re getting confused. War is not supposed to be fair. If the North Vietnamese know that proof of their involvement in the south gets met with mines and bombing, then the amount of aid they can give the Viet Cong is strictly limited. And remember, after 1968, the main problem wasn’t VC, it was the NVA. Get them out, and it’s a war that Saigon can win. I’m not really sure what the endgame with Diem looks like in this case. Maybe the US gets to the point where we can insist on actual fair elections. This is not a part of the war I know. But I expect you’d get something on the Korean model, although probably not quite as deep a rift as that.

      • Atlas says:

        Thank you for elaborating, I very much look forward to further discussions of these questions.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I am also sceptical about this.

        First of all, wouldn´t such bombing campaign require congressional authorization? If so, how likely would Nixon be to get it?

        Second, let´s suppose that after massive bombing in 1963, North Vietnam agrees to formally recognize South Vietnamese government and halts all support to its enemies. What then prevents Hanoi from ramping up its anti aircraft defenses to best in the world, reneging on its promises like they did in the seventies and continuing to do what they did in, eh, our timeline, only on different schedule?

        It is possible that this strategy would spark more active Chinese involvement in the war.

        Political backlash both in the US and around the world would probably be gargantuan, given what actually happenned in our timeline.

        I also do not understand how could US victory in the Vietnam war hasten collapse of Soviet bloc by whole decade.

        • John Schilling says:

          First of all, wouldn´t such bombing campaign require congressional authorization? If so, how likely would Nixon be to get it?

          FDR didn’t require congressional authorization to invade Normandy, nor Truman to drop actual atom bombs on Japan. Military campaigns don’t require congressional approval, there’s only “war on” or “war off”. And since 1945 we’ve always done that with weasel-wording, but on 10 August 1965 congress set that switch to “war on”. From there, it’s up to POTUS how to win the war.

          Second, let´s suppose that after massive bombing in 1963, North Vietnam agrees to formally recognize South Vietnamese government and halts all support to its enemies. What then prevents Hanoi from ramping up its anti aircraft defenses to best in the world,

          The best air defenses in the world, in the 1960s, were demonstrably not sufficient to stop the USAF from bombing the crap out of whatever it wanted, provided it was allowed to bomb the crap out of whatever it wanted. Which is to say, they get to start with the actual air defenses and bomb the rest later. It’s only a big problem if the USAF is ordered not to bomb the enemy air defense sites because that would send the wrong political signals. Because reasons, I guess.

          What then prevents Hanoi from ramping up its anti aircraft defenses to best in the world, reneging on its promises like they did in the seventies

          That would be the bombing, which A: eventually makes North Vietnam materially incapable of sustaining effective offensive operations in the South, and B: hurts real bad when they try.

          If the United States is going to do that sort of thing for a few weeks at a time and then back off to send the right signal, North Vietnam’s offensives will be delayed by a few weeks and they will get the signal, “the Americans will only do this for a few weeks at a time so long as our diplomats say the right things”. If every time there is an offensive the USAF bombs until the ability to support an offensive is destroyed, the results may be different.

          • Nornagest says:

            Because reasons, I guess.

            You probably know more about this than I do, but I’ve read that those state-of-the-art Russian SAM systems sometimes came with state-of-the-art Russian operators. If we knew about that at the time, not wanting to kill a bunch of Russians if they hadn’t actually shot first strikes me as a fairly sane policy goal in 1965-8.

            Still a bad idea, but at least understandable.

        • bean says:

          First of all, wouldn´t such bombing campaign require congressional authorization? If so, how likely would Nixon be to get it?

          Johnson got it in 1964. Maybe ’63 was a bit optimistic for the war being over, but if Nixon listened to LeMay, he would have fought smart.

          What then prevents Hanoi from ramping up its anti aircraft defenses to best in the world, reneging on its promises like they did in the seventies and continuing to do what they did in, eh, our timeline, only on different schedule?

          The fact that they’ll get bombed again. In 1972, Hanoi had the best air defenses in the world. Linebacker II beat them. Both sides going in with less experience is probably a net win for the US.

          Political backlash both in the US and around the world would probably be gargantuan, given what actually happenned in our timeline.

          By that point in our timeline, things were very, very different. There was a lot of opposition to the war in general that Hanoi could draw on.

          I also do not understand how could US victory in the Vietnam war hasten collapse of Soviet bloc by whole decade.

          It’s more that it bought the Soviets a decade when the US was not actively opposing it. What made Reagan so revolutionary was that he thought the Soviets could actually be defeated, instead of being a fact of nature. Maybe a full decade is too optimistic, but I don’t see any way in which coming out of Vietnam in reasonable shape doesn’t hasten the demise of the Soviets.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            You are right about congressional authorization, I forgot about circumstances under which Johnson got it; those seem fairly easily replicable under Nixon. Otherwise I am still unconvinced.

            I think there would still be political backlash against massive bombing campaign, broadly similar to backlash against ground war which actually happened. Unlimited bombing campaign alone would however be less effective than limited bombing campaign plus boots on the ground, and those were insufficient.

            I totally get that conventional ground campaign plus more bombing could be succesful, but I read you as suggesting that conventional air war alone could succeed (now I realize that I perhaps read wrongly).

            I do not think that decision makers at that time were dumb, and they decided to send ground troops instead of rellying just on planes. Also I find it hard to believe that when you have two sides on similar technological levels (Soviet bloc and US) willing to pour enormous resources into a conflict and one of them has boots on the ground while second only has air power, side with only air power wins (EDIT: I realize South Vietnam had an army, but fact that it was beaten so easily indicates that it was deeply inferior to both US and North Vietnamese military forces).

            I very much disagree that Reagan was revolutionary in his quest to defeat Soviet Union. That was the cornerstone of US foreign policy since Truman. Seventies were not somehow a decade when USA took a break from Cold war. Nothing of the sort happened. But that is far removed from the topic of this thread, so perhaps we should steer clear of it.

          • cassander says:

            @AlesZiegler

            I think there would still be political backlash against massive bombing campaign, broadly similar to backlash against ground war which actually happened. Unlimited bombing campaign alone would however be less effective than limited bombing campaign plus boots on the ground, and those were insufficient.

            There would be a backlash yet. But it’s hard to believe it would be a worse backlash than there was against a war that involved a half million american ground troops and 60k dead that we seemed to be losing.

            I do not think that decision makers at that time were dumb, and they decided to send ground troops instead of rellying just on planes.

            See dereliction of duty. They were stupid, in a sense, in that they took the entirely wrong lessons from the cuban missile crisis and had a really terribly run white house that consistently and deliberately chose options that they believed to be poor military choices, but good political choices.

            Also I find it hard to believe that when you have two sides on similar technological levels (Soviet bloc and US) willing to pour enormous resources into a conflict and one of them has boots on the ground while second only has air power, side with only air power wins

            The level of resources wasn’t the same. The US poured in a lot more.

            (EDIT: I realize South Vietnam had an army, but fact that it was beaten so easily indicates that it was deeply inferior to both US and North Vietnamese military forces).

            The south vietnamese military was defeated in large part because congress forbade giving the South material aid in 1973. This meant their large, american equipped army was useless, because it lacked the spare parts and ammunition needed to fight.

            Seventies were not somehow a decade when USA took a break from Cold war. Nothing of the sort happened.

            A break is perhaps too strong a word, but detente was definitely a thing that happened. And reagan pushed back against that.

          • bean says:

            I think there would still be political backlash against massive bombing campaign, broadly similar to backlash against ground war which actually happened.

            First, the thing that most angers the American people is the sight of flag-draped coffins on the ramp at Dover. The ground war killed almost 60,000 of our troops. There’s no way that any bombing campaign focused on winning gives that many casualties.
            Second, backlashes take time to grow. The peace movement didn’t spring into existence fully-formed, and if they can end the war quickly enough, it won’t have time to grow. Nor will the North Vietnamese have time to get good at propaganda. They had some serious own-goals in the early days, most notably the suggestion of putting the POWs on trial.

            Unlimited bombing campaign alone would however be less effective than limited bombing campaign plus boots on the ground, and those were insufficient.

            The whole approach adopted by the Johnson Administration was so focused on making sure they sent the signal “we don’t want to escalate” that they didn’t put any thought into winning, and the North Vietnamese understood that. And when your opponent doesn’t want to actually win, it’s easy to just play the long game until they get tired and go home. I don’t think that’s a mistake Nixon would make.

            I realize South Vietnam had an army, but fact that it was beaten so easily indicates that it was deeply inferior to both US and North Vietnamese military forces

            The ARVN fought better than most people give it credit for. It was always “on the verge of collapse”, but it never fully collapsed, even when the NVA was in the streets of Saigon.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Bean, I remain very much unconviced.

            One thing we agree on is that if the US would manage to win war quickly by air campaing, political backlash would not have time to properly develop and stop the war. But I think that North Vietnam would not surrender quickly. They might try to pretend surrender in order to gather their strenght before continuing the war, but really they would surrender, if at all, only after long and bloody air war.

            Of course in no plausible scenario of the air war would American casualties approach levels seen in our timeline. But I do not think that number of casualties is key variable determining strenght of a political backlash. Instead, I think that most important think is how much public opinion sees war as fought for just cause – or not. Hence, if we stick to the US, little backlash to World War II (lot of casualties) and massive backlash to Iraq war (relatively little casualties).

            I have to admit than in case of Vietnam backlash was especially fierce because lot of people were drafted into the war which they considered unjust. That sucks, and it drove antiwar political mobilization. This would not happen if war was fought just in the air. On the other hand, heavy toll on civilians from air war would plausibly lead to war being perceived even more as unjust than in our timeline.

            The whole approach adopted by the Johnson Administration was so focused on making sure they sent the signal “we don’t want to escalate” that they didn’t put any thought into winning, and the North Vietnamese understood that.

            This is a sort of extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence, given that Johnson actually substantially escalated the war.

          • bean says:

            But I think that North Vietnam would not surrender quickly. They might try to pretend surrender in order to gather their strenght before continuing the war, but really they would surrender, if at all, only after long and bloody air war.

            Remember, this isn’t a matter of national survival for them, it’s a matter of ideology. They played the game you describe very successfully against Johnson, but I don’t think Nixon would let them get away with it.

            On the other hand, heavy toll on civilians from air war would plausibly lead to war being perceived even more as unjust than in our timeline.

            1965 American is not the same as 2019 American. WWII is very much within living memory, and fighting communism is seen as inherently pretty just. I think the prevailing public attitude for the length of a smart air campaign would have had to do with an omlette and eggs.

            This is a sort of extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence, given that Johnson actually substantially escalated the war.

            Are we even looking at the same war? Yes, Johnson substantially escalated things, but the escalations were far more concerned with sending political signals to Hanoi and Moscow than they were with military effectiveness. This is the most uncontroversial thing in the entire history of American involvement in Vietnam.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Remember, this isn’t a matter of national survival for them, it’s a matter of ideology.

            I do not think that these motivation could be separated as neatly as you imply, they (meaning part of Vietnamese society) probably thought about it as a war of national independence, and also is it is totally not true that people fighting for an ideology are always less commited. Hanoi aligned Vietnamese were certainly able to take horrific casualties.

            Yes, Johnson substantially escalated things, but the escalations were far more concerned with sending political signals to Hanoi and Moscow than they were with military effectiveness. This is the most uncontroversial thing in the entire history of American involvement in Vietnam.

            I am not a scholar on Johnson or Vietnam, but I reason that his main priority could hardly be to avoid being seen as escalating things, because way to do that would be, you know, to not escalate things and let the South fall. He did not escalate things as much as some people would have liked, that much is certainly true.

    • sfoil says:

      How effective was the actually extant bombing campaign at defeating the guerrillas, undermining the will of the Vietnamese leadership/populace to oppose the US occupation/client state and materially constraining the Vietnamese war effort, particularly in light of the massive commitment of US forces?

      My main reference for the actual effects of American strategic bombing is Lien-Hang Nguyen’s Hanoi’s War, which while not conclusive or exhaustive is AFAICT the most in-depth look available at the internal workings of North Vietnam and its wartime government. Basically, she says that although the investments the Northern (DRV) government made in strategically-significant infrastructure were limited on an absolute scale, relative to the resources available to the DRV the investment was quite high. Also, the “peace faction” in the DRV essentially believed that the opportunity cost of waging a total war to annex the South vs. industrializing/modernizing the Northern economy was too high, and the political significance of DRV strategic infrastructure was that its continued existence mollified this faction: “Look, the war isn’t doing serious physical damage to the economy after all.”

      The delivered tonnage of an air campaign is basically irrelevant; what matters is whether strategically important targets are destroyed and this simply did not happen. This was almost purely the result of the Rules of Engagement. It’s possible that even a maximally effective air campaign wouldn’t have allowed the Saigon government to survive to the present day — at least on its own — but it is very likely that such a campaign at almost any point prior to 1972 would have set back the Northern war effort by several years, which certainly raises Saigon’s odds of survival.

      The threat to the Saigon government in the early 1960s came from guerrillas

      I disagree, the threat to the Saigon government in the early 1960s, or any other time for that matter, was Northern invasion. The guerrillas were effective only insofar as they enabled this. Anyway the idea that the VC/NLF were independent of the Northern government in any meaningful way is simply absurd given the extent of documentation of the true relationship now available.

      Saigon’s armed forces were never at a serious material or even manpower disadvantage against their opponents (either the NLF or the DRV), until maybe 1972 at the earliest.

      Would an expanded bombing campaign in the early 1960s, thought by communist governments to be conducted in service of winning the war, have led to expanded Soviet and Chinese aid to North Vietnamese aerial defenses? Would the losses from these defenses have been acceptable to the American public?

      It may have led to an earlier expansion of air defenses — certainly the DRV would have asked for more help — but even in their most mature state the air defenses over North Vietnam (which were arguably the best in the world and I think the best that could be done given geography) couldn’t prevent the US from bombing pretty much wherever they wanted. Neither the (American) material nor human loss associated with the air campaign seems to have been a significant factor in US government thinking or public attitudes — the only possible exception looks to have been concern over attrition of the B-52 fleet. Airframes and crew were lost, routinely, almost from the very beginning of US involvement in Vietnam.

      Would Nixon have been able/wanted to go to China if he had been elected in 1960?

      Absolutely not, the Korean War and the Chinese Civil War were too recent and anyway the relationship between the PRC and USSR was much better.

      Finally, but perhaps most importantly, what does an “end” to the Vietnam War mean here? Does the Vietnamese populace accept the division of Vietnam and rule of the Saigon government in perpetuity?

      Yeah, pretty much. Basically, Vietnam would simply become Korea II. My guess: without Vietnamese unification, the Khmer Republic survives. The “Indochina War” becomes a proxy conflict waged mostly in but not confined to Laos between Khmer/Cambodia and Saigon on one side and North Vietnam on the other. The threat of overt Thai involvement hampers Communist war efforts; well before 1980 Le Duan’s unpopular government is replaced by a faction that drastically reduces involvement in the “Laotian” war in favor of internal development. By the present day, the economic and social divide between North and South Vietnam almost directly corresponds to the Koreas in the mid-90s.

      • Atlas says:

        Very interesting comment, thanks for sharing. For the moment I only have one question. You wrote:

        It may have led to an earlier expansion of air defenses — certainly the DRV would have asked for more help — but even in their most mature state the air defenses over North Vietnam (which were arguably the best in the world and I think the best that could be done given geography) couldn’t prevent the US from bombing pretty much wherever they wanted.

        Could you elaborate on the statement that North Vietnamese air defenses were “the best that could be done, given geography?” Was there a physical limitation preventing the Soviets and Chinese from increasing the number of advisors, anti-aircraft guns and SAMs deployed to hinder American air attacks? Could the Soviets and Chinese not have physically deployed more fighter aircraft to defend Vietnamese airspace, if they were willing to risk escalating the war by doing so?

        People can correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me on the basis of history and common sense that it is ceteris paribus a much more difficult mission for an air force to send its airplanes in safety to carry and then drop bombs on enemy territory than it is for an air force to shoot down such planes while defending friendly territory. Thus, I would have intuitively thought that, in order for the US to continually carry out an unrestricted bombing campaign of North Vietnam, it would need not just aerial parity but considerable aerial superiority to do so.

        While I don’t know precisely what the balance of aerial power between the US and the USSR/China was in the 1960s, I would be surprised if the US had such a preponderance that it would have been impossible for communist forces to make it very, very costly for the US to continually conduct an unrestricted bombing campaign on communist territory, if they so desired. My understanding is that the amount of Soviet resources dedicated to opposing the US bombing campaigns in Vietnam and Korea was much smaller than the reciprocal expenditure of US resources, and that the US was very careful to keep it that way by limiting the acceptable targets of its campaigns. (Though as above I’m perfectly happy to be corrected if I’m mistaken.)

        By the way, I guess I lied and I actually have two questions: I wrote a series of tentative theses on military history in an OT around a month ago. I would be very curious to hear any thoughts you have on them. (Though I wouldn’t bear any hard feelings if you don’t feel like doing so.)

        • bean says:

          Could you elaborate on the statement that North Vietnamese air defenses were “the best that could be done, given geography?” Was there a physical limitation preventing the Soviets and Chinese from increasing the number of advisors, anti-aircraft guns and SAMs deployed to hinder American air attacks? Could the Soviets and Chinese not have physically deployed more fighter aircraft to defend Vietnamese airspace, if they were willing to risk escalating the war by doing so?

          My guess (and I’m not 100% sure what sfoil meant by this) is that there are other limitations beyond simply the number of assets available. You can only control so many fighters in the air. Try to put up more than your control system can handle, and you are no longer able to intercept raids with reasonable accuracy. Effectiveness falls off a lot. There are similar limitations on SAMs. You don’t want to have three sites all shoot at a single plane, so you need to coordinate them (hard) and there might be problems if you put the radars too close together.

          The primary geographic limitation for North Vietnam is lack of defensive depth. It’s not that big of a country, and it’s long and skinny, with one flank open to the sea. All of these are bad things if you want to really bleed aerial attackers.

        • gbdub says:

          People can correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me on the basis of history and common sense that it is ceteris paribus a much more difficult mission for an air force to send its airplanes in safety to carry and then drop bombs on enemy territory than it is for an air force to shoot down such planes while defending friendly territory.

          I think this is wrong. In the event, most of the bombers got through (and most of the SAMs missed). The US really did have considerable aerial superiority. The Hanoi air defenses, while relatively advanced for the time, could still be overwhelmed by large raids with appropriate SEAD preparation.

          The attacker has more flexibility – many of the US losses had as much to do with poor tactics as anything. E.g. the December 26 raid, which used optimal tactics designed to overwhelm the air defenses, included 120 bombers of which only 2 were lost. Overall something like 729 out of 741 sorties managed to complete their attacks (and most of the losses were early).

          I think the DRV was at a significant disadvantage not only tactically, but strategically. They had to resupply their fired and destroyed SAMs from Russia and China. A concerted effort to disrupt that could probably have been sustained, at which point Hanoi would have been defenseless, the bombings only slowing when there wasn’t much left worth bombing. Again, in the event, by the end of LBII the North was basically out of SAMs.

          Meanwhile on the American side the limit was how many B-52 losses could be sustained before SAC’s mission was jeopardized. In a longer term effort (or earlier) it may have been possible to restart B-52 production (which stopped in 1962). Then again there wasn’t much left to bomb by the end of LBII. Long term raiding by B-52s was probably not necessary, shorter campaigns of strategic bombing interspersed in long term tactical aircraft raids would probably be enough to keep Hanoi crippled.

          Ultimately the limits are political rather than military: how much of what your opponents can call “carpet bombing” are you willing to do, and how much can strategic bombing actually accomplish.

        • sfoil says:

          By geography, I mostly mean that Hanoi could never develop an air defense network as deep as the one the Soviets had, no matter how good their equipment — incoming raids simply did not have to spend as much time over hostile territory as they would if attacking e.g. Moscow. I think bean argued in another thread about this issue that this doesn’t matter much — after all, more territory also means more area to defend, although deeper territory = more warning time = higher probability of intercept given unlimited resources. American aircraft flying from Thailand could apparently reach Hanoi in under 45 minutes, and for part of that they were flying over Laos. That’s not much warning time. There was also the disadvantage of a substantial lead time on getting equipment including missiles from the Soviets.

          Was there a physical limitation preventing the Soviets and Chinese from increasing the number of advisors, anti-aircraft guns and SAMs deployed to hinder American air attacks? Could the Soviets and Chinese not have physically deployed more fighter aircraft to defend Vietnamese airspace, if they were willing to risk escalating the war by doing so?

          I don’t think the Chinese contributed very much to the DRV’s air defenses. The Soviets — exactly like the Americans — were indeed limited in how many resources they could commit to Vietnam because of commitments elsewhere, particularly in Europe. The North had about as many missiles as they were going to get. They could probably have used more interceptors; on the other hand, despite some impressive performance by the NVAF it’s virtually inconceivable that any realistic increase in the number of available aircraft would have had a decisive effect.

          On the basis of history and common sense that it is ceteris paribus a much more difficult mission for an air force to send its airplanes in safety to carry and then drop bombs on enemy territory than it is for an air force to shoot down such planes while defending friendly territory. Thus, I would have intuitively thought that, in order for the US to continually carry out an unrestricted bombing campaign of North Vietnam, it would need not just aerial parity but considerable aerial superiority to do so.

          History shows that it is very difficult to prevent aircraft from delivering their munitions, although it also shows that it is difficult to identify strategically valuable targets, and even harder to accurately predict or assess the results of a mission or campaign. That’s what we’re talking about, really.

          The US did have air superiority over North Vietnam, or maybe more accurately could establish it for long enough to carry out arbitrarily large attacks against even the most heavily defended objectives, which amounts to the same thing. They could not act with the expectation of impunity, but nobody did in the pre-Gulf War days.

          • bean says:

            I think bean argued in another thread about this issue that this doesn’t matter much — after all, more territory also means more area to defend, although deeper territory = more warning time = higher probability of intercept given unlimited resources.

            I don’t remember making that argument. You’re going to get a bunch of advantages by having more defensive depth around your critical targets. “More area to defend” doesn’t make a lot of sense in this context, as much of it probably doesn’t have stuff the enemy is that interested in blowing up. The really big advantage of defensive depth is that you can raise the bar for strikes. You can’t put F-105s over Moscow with a lot of aerial refueling, which gets really expensive. And things like AWACS have to be supported over enemy territory instead of safe friendly territory.

          • sfoil says:

            It may have been someone else, and at any rate I think the actual point whoever it was tried to make was that the USSR’s greater depth was offset by a greater number and dispersion of high-payoff targets, meaning their IADS had to deal with more potential attack vectors. But all things being equal more depth is better, and North Vietnam didn’t have as much as the USSR no matter how dense or effective their air defenses were.

          • Atlas says:

            The Soviets — exactly like the Americans — were indeed limited in how many resources they could commit to Vietnam because of commitments elsewhere, particularly in Europe…They could probably have used more interceptors; on the other hand, despite some impressive performance by the NVAF it’s virtually inconceivable that any realistic increase in the number of available aircraft would have had a decisive effect.

            Why is a substantial increase in the number of fighters (and possibly pilots thereof) supplied to North Vietnam by the Soviet Union more unrealistic than an unrestricted US bombing campaign in Vietnam of indefinite duration? My understanding is that the latter was “unrealistic” at least in the sense that, given the beliefs of US policymakers, the actual course of events and the incentives they faced, it is very unlikely that such a campaign would have been conducted. (Leaving up for debate the accuracy of those beliefs.)

            Are you saying that the former was unrealistic in this sense, or in the sense that it was not possible in material reality for the Soviets to deploy a significant defensive fighter contingent to North Vietnam?

            Because if it was unrealistic in the sense that I’ve outlined, it would seem to me that it is surely at least conceivable that a major change in the course of events in Vietnam—i.e. the hypothetical unrestricted, indefinite bombing campaign—could also substantially change the decisions made in response by Soviet leaders.

            History shows that it is very difficult to prevent aircraft from delivering their munitions, although it also shows that it is difficult to identify strategically valuable targets, and even harder to accurately predict or assess the results of a mission or campaign. That’s what we’re talking about, really.

            I certainly agree, but the emphasis in my previous comment was somewhat different. The difficulty I, perhaps incorrectly, perceived was not (necessarily) in dropping bombs on the desired targets, but in continuing to do so indefinitely without suffering disproportionate losses relative to the defenders, who seem to have several advantages. Losses that may become unsustainable if the combatants have comparable forces, as in the Battle of Britain.

            The US did have air superiority over North Vietnam, or maybe more accurately could establish it for long enough to carry out arbitrarily large attacks against even the most heavily defended objectives, which amounts to the same thing. They could not act with the expectation of impunity, but nobody did in the pre-Gulf War days.

            So, to get to the heart of the matter, could the USSR and the PRC have done anything to successfully contest this superiority, if they had decided to escalate the conflict in Vietnam, or did US aerial forces have such a massive edge that communist bloc forces could not plausibly have denied them complete freedom of action over Vietnam under any circumstances?

            If the latter is true, while I’d been under the impression that the degree of the alleged threat posed by the USSR had been consistently exaggerated by elements of the US national security state throughout the Cold War (e.g. Team B), I hadn’t realized just how completely toothless Soviet forces were, if they couldn’t even have convincingly challenged US aerial forces with the considerable advantage of being on defense.

          • sfoil says:

            @Atlas

            How many more planes to you think the NVAF needed to deny air superiority to the US? Many hundreds. Yeah, maybe if the Soviet Union had simply deployed a large portion of its own air force to Vietnam; it might not be physically impossible. But the Soviets had no problem letting the US bomb the DPRK almost literally back to the Stone Age 10-15 years previously, as in the bombing didn’t stop until there actually wasn’t anything else left to destroy. Both proposed and actual bombing campaigns against North Vietnam were in retaliation for that country’s attempted invasions of its neighbor, a US ally. What was it about North Vietnam’s attempt to annex the South that would make them commit massively more than they did to North Korea’s attempt to annex the South? Nothing, and if Johnson/McNamara thought otherwise, it was because they were fools (no news there).

            Maybe an earlier intensification of bombing would have led to marginal improvements in air defense earlier courtesy of the USSR. But again, even at maximum effort this couldn’t stop a strategic bombing campaign, and there was no reason to think it would at the time.

            The difficulty … was not (necessarily) in dropping bombs on the desired targets, but in continuing to do so indefinitely without suffering disproportionate losses… Battle of Britain.

            Most obviously, the disparity between the British and German air forces was nowhere near as great as that between the USAF and the NVAF. Also, though I can’t make a detailed case for this, I’m certain that the USAF/N of 196X was better than the Luftwaffe at identifying targets (the Luftwaffe was awful at intelligence even by the low German standards of WW2) and could attack them more efficiently. But this is a lower-level consideration.

            On a deeper level: the advantage of the defender in an air campaign is much more tenuous than in defense against a ground attack. It is easier for an air force to concentrate against a defender and achieve local superiority than for a ground army. Likewise, because of the speed at which air sorties occur, interior lines — a major defensive advantage in ground warfare — become much less useful What this means in practice is that air defense networks are very vulnerable to defeat in detail, and air forces are very effective at exploiting breaches in air defense.

            Further, an attacking air force can disrupt the regeneration of an air defense network but the converse does not really hold true. This means that a bombing campaign doesn’t actually need to be “indefinite”: there is an intense effort early on to neutralize air defenses, followed by an equally intense but less dangerous effort to destroy strategically significant targets. After that, the attacker can reduce its strategic effort substantially to a long-term sustainable level, watching for attempts to regenerate air defenses and working its way down the target list in the fact of disorganized/piecemeal defenses.

            These facts can present something of a primrose path for the owners of air forces, and they have limits, but they are real. The German strategy such as it was during the Battle of Britain was somewhat based on this thinking, although they seriously overestimated the effect of bombing, and underestimated the RAF’s effectiveness in contesting air superiority, AFAICT because Goring et al. simply didn’t have a mental model of the effects of radar.

            Still, back to the Battle of Britain. Frankly, if a US air campaign against North Vietnam had reduced their capacity to wage war in the South to the level of Britain’s ability to wage war in Europe in 1940 it would have been an unqualified success. That aside, Britain had a much better air force relative to their opponents than the Vietnamese, the Germans had far worse intelligence and tactics than the Americans in Vietnam, German strategic aims were more ambitious, Britain had greater depth, and its critical infrastructure was less vulnerable to attack for both technological and geographic reasons.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @sfoil

            Additionally to what you’ve posted, I’ve read (I believe in Evans’ The Third Reich at War; I recommend his trilogy) that the Germans’ crappy intelligence extended to lowballing British plane production, highballing British unrecoverable losses, or both.

          • bean says:

            If the latter is true, while I’d been under the impression that the degree of the alleged threat posed by the USSR had been consistently exaggerated by elements of the US national security state throughout the Cold War (e.g. Team B), I hadn’t realized just how completely toothless Soviet forces were, if they couldn’t even have convincingly challenged US aerial forces with the considerable advantage of being on defense.

            Besides sfoil’s excellent description of the limitations of the defense in aerial warfare, I should point out that the balance of forces was not static throughout the Cold War. Through the mid-60s, the US had a very convincing lead, although we didn’t always realize that. If the Cuban Missile Crisis had gone hot, the Soviets would have lost convincingly. But Vietnam cost us a big chunk of that lead, as R&D programs were cancelled essentially to protect the Great Society. So by the time Team B showed up, the Soviets were well on their way to catching up, although they did exaggerate the badness of the situation somewhat. And it’s also important to remember that the other guy can try to deceive you, and deception was so rampant in the Soviet economy by the 70s that it’s not hard to get stuff wrong.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why is a substantial increase in the number of fighters (and possibly pilots thereof) supplied to North Vietnam by the Soviet Union more unrealistic than an unrestricted US bombing campaign in Vietnam of indefinite duration?

            As others have already noted, there’s a point of diminishing returns there where most of what you’re doing is providing a target-rich environment in Vietnam while degrading air defenses in Russia and Eastern Europe.

            But beyond that, MiGs burn fuel, and lots of it. North Vietnam had no oil fields, no pipelines, only a single-track rail link to China with several vulnerable bridges, and one good deepwater port. One of the more underrated capabilities of US bombers is their ability to shut down ports by aerial mining, which historically we only did intermittently in 1972 because diplomatic concerns overrode military before that point.

            But if the US plan is to wage an air war for maximum material and psychological effect, and the DRV/USSR response is to send lots of MiGs to North Vietnam, then the result is just a target-rich environment where most of the targets stay parked on the ground.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I don’t think it’s relevant. There’s no scenario where Nixon is going to authorize a full-scale bombing of Vietnam in 1963 or 1964, when troop commitments are small and the US is just coming out of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Berlin Crisis. The real action is going to occur between 1965 and 1968, which means Nixon has to win re-election in 1964, which is not going to happen.

      Also Nixon’s air campaigns were because he did not want to use US ground troops. Without hundreds of thousands of US ground troops, the Vietcong are never going to get crushed, and in the mid-60s the South Vietnamese situation is so bad that the Vietcong themselves are starting to threaten the regime. Nixon is probably not going to do a wholesale bombing of Vietnam anymore than Johnson is until Tet happens: why risk a major escalation when your generals tell you that you are winning the war? And once Tet happens, it’s too late, you lose your credibility.

      IMO, the only realistic turning point is when the US decides to not even supply the ARVN. It’s completely ridiculous.

      • cassander says:

        you’re leaving out a large part of why the Johnson administration made the decisions that it did in vietnam, Johnson himself was fundamentally not very interested in foreign affairs, and saw it largely as either a way of scoring points with voters or as a weakness he had to cover. This is something that shines through very clearly if you read Dereliction of Duty, where the national security staff is constantly laboring under the fact that johnson sees vietnam as an irritant distracting from his real work. Nixon very much didn’t see foreign affairs that way and gave it a much higher level of attention and devoted more political capital to it.

      • bean says:

        the US is just coming out of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Berlin Crisis.

        What crises? Cuba in particular was because of how spectacularly unimpressed Khrushchev was with Kennedy when they met in Vienna. So he tried to push further. Kennedy turned out to have more spine than expected, and so the Soviets backed down. If Nixon is president, it’s probably off the table entirely.

        Without hundreds of thousands of US ground troops, the Vietcong are never going to get crushed

        Citation needed. The Vietcong were never going to get crushed by the ARVN while Hanoi was funneling cadres and even whole units of troops south. If that gets cut off, they’re a lot easier to deal with.

    • John Schilling says:

      —Finally, but perhaps most importantly, what does an “end” to the Vietnam War mean here? Does the Vietnamese populace accept the division of Vietnam and rule of the Saigon government in perpetuity? Does the same level of discontent with the post-1954 status quo remain, but the Saigon government is capable of crushing any opposition?

      This is the actual outcome of the Korean War, so it’s a pretty good pattern for what an allied victory in the Vietnam War would look like. As with Korea, you want to avoid the part where the United States thinks it can unify the country under the South’s rule and find out that China doesn’t like having US armies parked right on its border, so just skip to accepting the status quo ante without fighting Chinese armies.

      And yes, the regime in Saigon could maintain its oppressive dictatorial rule as long as they like, just like the regime in Seoul did, which if we take the Korean War as a model means you probably get a transition to democracy at about the turn of the century.

      ADBG is right that you can’t make this happen during the first term of a hypothetical Nixon-1960 administration, since there’s no real basis for the US waging war against North Vietnam until 1965. And knowing Nixon, he’d be embroiled in a presidency-ending scandal by then. But if you shift the timing so that US starts taking the war against North Vietnam seriously in 1965, under POTUS-whomever, the scenario johan_larson lays out plausibly leads to its end by 1968.

      • bean says:

        And knowing Nixon, he’d be embroiled in a presidency-ending scandal by then.

        I’m not sure of this. How much of his later paranoia was a result of the 1960 election, which I believe he saw as having been stolen from him due to voter fraud in Chicago.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          I read his autobiography, and he clearly came off as feeling like he was either the same as everyone else, only he got caught, or more moral than his enemies and he really got ripped off. He also was very upset about the 1960 election, referring to it multiple times. I’d be very willing to agree that he would have gotten involved in far less Watergate-like situations without the 1960 election. (I also happen to agree with him that most/all Presidents were involved in shady stuff, and that he got caught was “unfair” on some level.)

          • I heard a talk by someone who had been involved in high level Democratic party state politics. He was upset over Watergate, from the other end. Roughly speaking, by memory:

            “We wiretapped them, they wiretapped us. Then some bastard called the cops.”

            So it was his view, at least, that the Watergate break-in was illegal but accepted as more or less business as usual.

            I’ve heard the claim that LBJ wire tapped the Goldwater campaign, don’t know what the evidence was.

  10. johan_larson says:

    You are invited to pitch us a concept for a summer blockbuster, a big-budget movie aimed at the broadest possible audience, based on the conflict that society in 2021 just can not get enough of: the Crimean War.

    • Nornagest says:

      The easiest way I can think of would be to make The Flashman Papers a multimedia franchise. Flashman at the Charge, the one dealing with the Crimean War, is the fourth book in publication order and somewhere towards the middle of the chronology, but it’s one of the better ones and I could see it as a second or third movie pitch.

      Would take some pretty dramatic changes in PC standards, though, or alternately some pretty severe bowdlerization.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Elevator pitch: Black Hawk Down, but with horses instead of helicopters.

      Elaboration: The central, climactic battle will be Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”. The characters will include a mix of the “theirs not to reason why” school along with others who are more cynical about the war and maybe the empire in general, although no less stoic or stalwart than the first set. It’s obedience to orders that leads them into the valley, but loyalty to the men beside them that gets them back out (in reduced numbers). It will also take some inspiration from Bridge over the River Kwai (bonus points if a Crimea River pun can be worked in somewhere) and The Last Samurai.

    • sentientbeings says:

      Well, obviously you’re going to have to tie in marketing efforts with the sale of balaclavas

    • Atlas says:

      (I’m resisting making a joke about this movie appealing to Eric Garland premium content subscribers.)

      Charge of the light brigade is the obvious choice, as previous commenters have noted, but between Tennyson and earlier films I think it’s kind of trod on enough at this point. (Though maybe not to mainstream audiences.)

      I think it would be interesting, though unconventional, to do it from the point of view of the Turks or the Russians. Maybe that’s too alienating for a blockbuster, though.

      You could probably say something about the geopolitics of the ongoing conflict in Syria with such a film, if you wanted to be didactic.

      Actually, now that I think about it, the rather more obvious possible parallel is the current conflict in the Ukraine.

    • bean says:

      Right. Let’s think way outside the box here. Instead of doing the obvious, I’m going to push for an adaptation of the one book I own on the Crimean War: The British Assault on Finland 1854-1855: A Forgotten Naval War. The plot would mostly revolve around the Anglo-French attempts to capture the fortress of Bomarsund, in the Aland islands, probably from both sides. Not sure what we’ll do to attract women. A romance between one of the Alanders and a Russian soldier, maybe. But it’s an underappreciated facet of the war, and should have lots of fun bombardment bits.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Okay. A dark action comedy, focusing on three characters: A British diplomat organizing the end of the war (but doing a terrible job negotiating for Britain owing to preoccupation with his Russian mistress), a British general who wants to prove his mettle in battle, and a Russian soldier who just wants to go home.

      The diplomat gets delayed by his mistress, failing to inform anyone the war doesn’t have to happen. The British general spends all the critical time in the war caught up in the toilet with consumption. And the Russian soldier runs away from every fight but somehow, Rincewind-like, keeps ending up in critical positions and saving the day.

      ETA: Seriously, the war was a farcical affair. I don’t think you can really play it as anything but a comedy.

      • bean says:

        The British general spends all the critical time in the war caught up in the toilet with consumption.

        Consumption is usually TB, which I don’t think leads to spending time in the toilet. Are you sure you didn’t mean dysentery?

        And the Russian soldier runs away from every fight but somehow, Rincewind-like, keeps ending up in critical positions and saving the day.

        This sounds a lot like Flashman, although he was a British officer.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sounds like the safest bet would be to pitch a remake of the Errol Flynn Charge of the Light Brigade; Hollywood loves remakes and reboots of proven hits.

      Add in this season’s current must-have storyline or sub-plot about “colonialism bad” with quadruple heavy-handedness and throw in a couple of ahistorical POC characters and you have your hit!

      • Nornagest says:

        If you’re going to make a movie about “colonialism bad”, it doesn’t work if the villains are aristocratic Russians who were still keeping serfs three hundred years after everyone else had abolished the practice. You could probably get a pretty good class war angle, though.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I think you’re overestimating Hollywood’s commitment to historical accuracy. They could easily go with contemporary Russian propaganda line of Russia trying to liberate the captive nations under the Turkish yoke and just ignore serfdom. Alternatively, they could portray Russia as the villains trying to imperialistically conquer Turkey and Britain as the noble defenders of Turkish independence.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Just do the thing where the specific Russian aristocrat protagonist is 2029 woke about everything and while the other Russian aristocrats are keeping serfs he’s set his free and they all work together in a gender-equal queer-friendly multiracial commune. Mel Gibson in The Patriot didn’t own slaves.

          • Nick says:

            Dostoevsky occasionally has characters that sound like tumblr blogs. Lebezyatnikov from Crime and Punishment is one. But he and his friends comrades didn’t have the capital to form the gender-equal commune they wanted.

        • Deiseach says:

          Ah but you see, Nornagest, making movies in modern day means everyone is bad; as Evan says, Hollywood is not indissolubly wedded to historical accuracy, and the ostensible reason for the British fighting the Russians would indeed involve propaganda “we are on the side of right, look at these aristocrats still enslaving their serfs!” but then the POC character(s) would point out that Britain is establishing an empire of its own, thus it’s being a big fat hypocrite and is really engaging in the war for its own benefit.

          I didn’t see Black Panther but wasn’t there something in it about them calling a white character a colonizer? Same thing here – you’re all colonizers and slave-keepers and so forth!

          (I’m a tiny bit cynical about this current sudden bout of raised consciousness about representation in movies, as you might have picked up).

          • dick says:

            I didn’t see Black Panther but wasn’t there something in it about them calling a white character a colonizer?

            That was a joke. Have we finally discovered that rarest of linguistic creatures, the slur against white people that actually stings?

          • EchoChaos says:

            > I didn’t see Black Panther but wasn’t there something in it about them calling a white character a colonizer?

            There is, and it’s pure racism based on skin because the character in question is American, the founders of the only free country in Africa in the colonial period and a nation that didn’t colonize at all.

            I doubt it was meant to be the deep statement on how everyone is prejudiced that it ended up being.

          • Nornagest says:

            and a nation that didn’t colonize at all.

            We did take over a lot of Spanish colonies after the Spanish-American War. The biggest chunk was the Philippines, which were only under American administration for forty-odd years, but Puerto Rico and Guam are both still US territories. That’s not a central example of colonialism, but it’s not zero involvement in colonialism either.

            Of course, most critics of American “colonialism” aren’t talking about that, but rather about some vague sort of economic and political dominance that doesn’t involve establishing actual colonies.

          • dick says:

            There is, and it’s pure racism based on skin because the character in question is American, the founders of the only free country in Africa in the colonial period and a nation that didn’t colonize at all.

            Huh? It was a one-liner. That he isn’t a colonizer and she isn’t colonized is what makes it a joke, like calling a fat guy “Tiny”. Are people genuinely offended over this?

          • EchoChaos says:

            That he isn’t a colonizer and she isn’t colonized is what makes it a joke, like calling a fat guy “Tiny”. Are people genuinely offended over this?

            I’m not terribly offended, but since both people think “colonizer” is a bad thing, it would be similar to him calling her “slave”.

            Would anyone think that’s funny since she’s never been enslaved and he has never enslaved anyone?

            I put to you that had the quote gone the other direction, the offended would’ve been up in arms. The double standard offends me, not the specific quote.

          • dick says:

            I agree that we live in a time in which it is generally acceptable to rib white people for being white but not black people for being black. And I guess technically that’s a double-standard, similar to how TV commercials will portray men but not women as being too dumb to do the laundry properly. But it doesn’t sting the way calling a black person a slave would.

            Also, I get people getting upset over the double standard in an abstract sense, but it’s awfully hard for me to believe someone getting genuinely upset over this specific joke in this particular movie. It’s too playful and too obviously light-hearted. There’s no accusation or insult in it. It’s not racial animus, it’s the opposite of racial animus.

            That last bit is hard to explain, but it seems important so I’ll explicate. Imagine a post-race world, a Star Trek future in which all the old grievances have been retired, all race-based hatred is forgotten, and all ethnicities live together as friends. Would people in this world be careful never to make jokes about race? I don’t think so, in fact I think it’d be just the opposite – people make fun of their friends, and in a world where there is no bitterness or emnity over race, they’d make fun of each others’ race as well, the same way friends make fun of each others’ professions or bald spots or whatever.

            Well, I think Shuri calling Martin Freeman’s character “colonizer” is a glimpse in to that world. It’s what it looks like for someone to make fun of someone else’s race that doesn’t sting. My hope is that the future will have more of that.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @dick

            Well, I think Shuri calling Martin Freeman’s character “colonizer” is a glimpse in to that world. It’s what it looks like for someone to make fun of someone else’s race that doesn’t sting. My hope is that the future will have more of that.

            You and I obviously see things from a very different perspective, but I will say that for your hope to take root you now need to aggressively push for racial jokes against blacks and other minorities to be acceptable because racial jokes against whites already are and have been.

            But I suspect that the real root of this is in basic “Who? Whom?”

            Note that you seem to understand that in your initial comment when you say “the slur against white people that actually stings?”

            I suspect that your protests are mostly feigned. You aren’t, in fact, working to make sure that if I make a racial joke to a black or Hispanic it would be accepted.

          • dick says:

            You and I obviously see things from a very different perspective, but I will say that for your hope to take root you now need to aggressively push for racial jokes against blacks and other minorities to be acceptable because racial jokes against whites already are and have been.

            100% backwards. If your friend is not sensitive about his weight, it follows that you can make fun of it; if he is sensitive about his weight, it does not follow that you should make fun of it.

            I do not know at what time or by what process we will get to the point where slavery jokes no longer upset people, but I’m pretty confident nothing you or I say on a message board will affect it.

            I suspect that your protests are mostly feigned.

            You lost me. Did I protest something?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @dick

            No, it doesn’t sting or offend, but I think you’re wrong in identifying it as a joke, at least in the context of the film itself. You might not remember, but it’s not the only time time it appears in the movie. Other Wakandans use it,
            notably Killmonger, commenting that he knows how the colonizers think. From the context of the script I think it’s pretty clear that “Colonizer” in Wakanda is rather like “Farang” in Thailand, “Gweilo” in China, “Gaijin” in Japan, and so on, a slang term for people of European, or maybe any non-African descent. Shuri uses the term absent any particular malice, but that’s expected. She’s the young, hip sibling, but also unwordly and sheltered (always pestering her big brother to led her leave Wakanda and see the outside world) and a bit geeky.

            The line (and the scene) are funny to the audience precisely because this usage and the dynamic between Ross and Shuri is a deliberate inversion of racial politics and language. For another example of the same stylistic choice, look at how W’Kabi (T’Challa’s best friend from the Border Tribe, Okoye’s lover and the one with the rhino) expresses his distrust of and distaste for allowing outsiders and refugees into Wakanda, or look at the various discussions the Wakandans have about interacting with the less technologically advanced and socially enlightened outside world. These are all intended to echo and mirror similar conversations and points of view on how first world nations relate to third world ones, as well as how blacks and whites have related to each other in the not too distant past in the US.

            So, I think you’re right that these are windows into the world of Wakanda. I think you’re wrong in seeing it as a world that has moved past questions of racial and cultural animus, cultural chauvinism, xenophobia and traditionalism vs. multiculturalism and outreach, and so on. The fact that they haven’t, that Killmonger found fertile soil for his plans waiting for him, is pretty central to the film. You have characters who are horrified by Killmonger (Shuri, Nakia), those who are ambivalent or conflicted (Okoye), and those who say “Man, Finally someone has the balls to do what we should’ve done years ago!” (W’Kabi). Remember that there’s a line explicitly pointing out that Killmonger’s new policy has strong support among the Wakandan military.

            I was rather amused, given this, that the character development and resolution that T’Challa comes to, Nakia’s position, amounts to “Take Up The Black Man’s Burden/ Send Forth the Best Ye Breed…”.

          • dick says:

            This is good context, I had forgotten that it’s used in other places in the film in a more serious context. And I agree that Colonizer in Wakanda seems seems similar to Gwailo or Gaijin, words which can certainly be mean-spirited or offensive to people in certain contexts. But they’re not a priori offensive like certain racial slurs, right? You can imagine a movie in which Gaijin is used angrily by one character to accuse western governments, and playfully by another character to poke fun at a white person. And unless that white person grew up in Beijing getting taunted and beaten up for being Caucasian, I don’t think it’d sting.

            So, I think you’re right that these are windows into the world of Wakanda. I think you’re wrong in seeing it as a world that has moved past questions of racial and cultural animus, cultural chauvinism, xenophobia and traditionalism vs. multiculturalism and outreach, and so on.

            Sorry to have been unclear, I’m definitely not suggesting that the Black Panther world is the post-racial-animus world I described. That was just a metaphor. I said Shuri’s joke is a window in to what that world would look like. Whether a word is offensive or not depends on the context, and “colonizer” is used in both contexts in the movie, but I believe the one EchoChaos was talking about (“pure racism based on skin because the character in question is American”) was Shuri’s joke. To call out that joke as racist is, to me, to make references to ethnicity off limits regardless of the context.

          • John Schilling says:

            But they’re not a priori offensive like certain racial slurs, right?

            Why are “certain racial slurs” a priori offensive? All of them used to be used in a broad range of contexts, from mean-spirited and offensive through thoughtless default to playful fun-poking, just like gweilo or gaijin or “colonizer”. Then we decided that some racial slurs were a priori offensive and anyone who used them was a racist bigot even if the context made it clear that their particular usage was not mean-spirited. What is the basis for deciding that one racial slur is never to be used because some people use it hatefully, and another is to be presumed harmless fun unless proven otherwise because not everyone uses it hatefully?

          • dick says:

            What is the basis for deciding that one racial slur is never to be used because some people use it hatefully, and another is to be presumed harmless fun unless proven otherwise because not everyone uses it hatefully?

            (This model is something I’m epistemically unsure of and I’m sort of arguing for it more to see if it stands up than because I’m convinced it’s right, so please be open-minded about it…)

            A slur can be offensive to one person and not to another person based on their perspective, right? “Paddy” might be an egregious insult to one Irishman, and a term of endearment to another. More generally, to refer to someone’s ethnicity is to evoke the hardships associated with their ethnicity, and if there aren’t any hardships, the reference doesn’t offend. To be an oppressed minority is to have mixed feelings – “I love my heritage but I’m angry about some of the things that have happened because of my heritage” – and to be an un-oppressed minority is to have the first part without the second. I assert that you’re a lot less likely to get punched for calling an Irishman “Paddy” now than you would’ve been 150 years ago, and the reason is that the Irish are much less oppressed.

            These days, “race” in the sense of the national origins of caucasions rarely get anyone’s blood boiling, but “race” in the sense of ethnicity is still a very touchy thing to discuss. And the reason is obvious – lots of examples where someone said something they thought would be okay, and then someone else jumped down their throat and told them it was actually racist in some subtle way. So we’ve collectively begun walking on eggshells and trying not to refer to non-white peoples’ race at all in most contexts. And I think EchoChaos’ position is, “Why is that not the case with whites as well? Shouldn’t liberals be just as upset about slights against us as they are about slights against non-whites?” And further, I think there’s a subtext to his position like, “Even if I don’t find ‘colonizer’ offensive personally, white people should at least pretend to be offended, because history has shown that crying RACISM! is the way you get people to stop making jokes about you.”

            (As always, paraphrasing someone else’s position accurately is hard, and I apologize and seek clarification if I failed at it)

            Well, if my thesis from the previous paragraph is right, the answer to why there’s a double standard is obvious – white people don’t get offended much because they haven’t been oppressed much. If we extend the same vigilance to subtle slights against whites as we do to subtle slights against other races, we would be enforcing political correctness for its own sake, rather than as a way to avoid hurting people. I don’t think that’s anyone’s goal here. We don’t want a world where no one ever says “Paddy” because that’s on the list of Words You Must Not Say as dictated by Twitter, we want a world where people don’t (or do) say “Paddy” in direct proportion to how much it does (or doesn’t) cause pain to real humans.

            So, to answer your question, I don’t claim to be the one who gets to tell people what they should or shouldn’t get offended by, and I’m not proposing a heuristic that will tell you which words are or not offensive. If someone is offended by “Colonizer” as used in Black Panther, I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong (though I am very curious why). But, if they’re not, I am arguing that they should not pretend to be offended, or try to suppress it out of some misguided attempt to “fix” the liberal double-standard.

  11. actualitems says:

    10+ years ago when I watched more TV than I do now, I remember seeing tons of ads on ESPN for hard lemonade and hard cider. I’d always wonder who are these commercials are for, as they’d usually be absurd or goofy ads featuring twenty-something dudes, and those guys don’t drink hard lemonade or hard cider.

    And then it hit me, oh yeah, they’re marketing alcohol to high school boys that haven’t yet acquired the taste for beer. And I’d laugh it off because I didn’t have kids. 10 years later I have 3 elementary school age kids and I see things through a different lens.

    Last night the 1st commercial in the 1st break after the start of play in the Super Bowl was an ad for Spiked Seltzer. And I–never have seeing an ad for or even heard of this product before–say to my wife, “really, that’s the 1st commercial in the Super Bowl?” My 10 y/o son chimes in, “those commercials are on YouTube all the time.” He watches sports clips and video game stuff on YouTube.

    So are of my hunches correct that 1- these products (hard cider, hard lemonade, spiked seltzer) are specifically marketed to underage drinkers or worse 2- these products only even exist to serve the underage drinking market? Or am I off-base here?

    • Well... says:

      When I was in high school we (me and everyone I knew) drank regular beer, as well as whatever liquor we could afford (i.e. bottom-shelf crap). I always thought hard cider/lemonade/etc. was more for girls (in general — not underage, specifically) and people with gluten allergies.

    • j1000000 says:

      For spiked seltzer (both the product and the generic concept), I can tell you anecdotally that product is very popular among the women I know. And so the Super Bowl commercial seems fine, because tons of drinking-age women are watching that game only for the commercials and pay extreme attention to them.

      I do remember a lot of Mike’s Hard commercials growing up, though I don’t remember them specifically on ESPN. The major thing I remember about them was their (re?)branding as a “tough” and “manly” thing to drink though, so teenage non-drinking j100000 did not at all grasp that it would be an easier thing to consumer than liquor and beer. So that’s how I’d defend their advertising on ESPN, because maybe they thought at that time that they could capture a share of the male light beer demographic by rebranding as a tough guy thing to drink.

      But I agree that it does seem… suspect to advertise what is at least now known expressly as a girly drink on ESPN.

    • Yesterday I was at a high end baby shower with catered food and, I presume, drink. One of the drinks put out was a fancy hard cider–at least, I’m pretty sure hard. The guests it was there for were over 21, mostly, I would guess, under 30, almost all female.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      A lot of people want to drink with their friends but don’t like beer or hard liquor, or don’t want the calories. Hard lemonade, cider, and seltzer are legitimate substitute drinks. They come in bottles and cans, and are served cold, unlike wine (usually).

      I imagine kids will just drink beer if they can get it. Cider or hard lemonade shouldn’t be easier to get, and that’s the main obstacle for underage kids.

      • Nornagest says:

        don’t like beer or hard liquor, or don’t want the calories

        Alcohol is caloric, and the overwhelming majority of the calories in hard liquor are going to be coming from the alcohol. Switching to seltzer isn’t going to help you there. (Beer’s another story, granted, but hard lemonade and cider usually have more carbs floating around than beer does.)

    • Nornagest says:

      They’re marketing to inexperienced drinkers, but that’s not quite the same thing as marketing to underage drinkers. It’s not like a hypothetical student who scrupulously abode by all the laws regarding underage drinking — whom I’d expect to be rare, but that’s not the point — would wake up on his 21st birthday with a taste for Lagavulin and hoppy IPAs. And it’s not like they’ve got fifteen-year-olds in their ads, either.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I hadn’t thought of that, but it makes sense. Although I assumed the spiked seltzer was for people who want to drink but don’t want carbs. The hard cider/lemonade almost certainly tastes better, and teenage drinkers are probably not that concerned about their carb intake.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      I am male, very much enjoy hard cider, and will often pick it over beer despite having been able to drink legally for more than 5 years.

      I don’t dislike beer, but will generally only drink it in limited circumstances (it’s good with greasy food like pizza or burgers): when I’m drinking, it’s generally mixed drinks with hard liquor.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        When I was your age, I was in the same boat — except not liking beer at all, ever. For whatever its worth, as I’ve aged (I’ve now been legal to drink for more than 20 years), I have less of a taste for sweeter drinks (including many ciders, pretty much all hard lemonades, and the sweeter mixed drinks that I used to like more). I still like dryer hard ciders.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Its a broadly developing market. Beer in the US was dominated, for various reasons related to prohibition and WW2, by cheap, low flavor, mass produced beer. Some things changed and the craft beer market crept up and demonstrated that there were tons of different niche tastes to be exploited, and we have been sailing down that road for the past 20 years.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I drank gallons of the UK equivalents as a 16-19 year old. I’ll still occasionally grab one if I’m out late and feel the need for some sugar to keep me awake. Certainly over here, they’re overwhelmingly drunk by the young, though not necessarily the underage (though NB UK age to purchase booze is 18).

    • Lambert says:

      Cheap hard cider fermented sugar with a homeopathic quantity of actual apple is the cheapest kind of booze, in the UK, at least. The Scots have had to implement minimum-unit-price laws to stop folks getting too trashed on the stuff.

      Though one mustn’t write off all cider just because some of it is nasty. The dry, barrel aged stuff is rather nice.

    • sentientbeings says:

      It’s an interesting theory, but not one that matches my experience. I never even saw a drink like that at a party until maybe my sophomore year of college, and I remember that as being due to a fad prank/game involving Smirnoff Ice. Keep in mind that for underage drinkers, much of the emphasis is getting the best bang for your buck – those drinks don’t qualify.

      I think they’re more drinks for people who don’t particularly like beer. My observation in college was that they were favored by women. I also remember them attracting bees on nice days outside, but I suppose that’s a bit off topic.

      Bear in mind there’s a bit of a difference between drinks like hard lemonade and cider. I don’t like either, but I know people who enjoy one and not the other.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I’ve never known anyone to drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade or equivalent, and the existence of alcoholic seltzer is new to me.
      In my experience, there’s nothing wrong with hard cider. It’s more expensive than a Trader Joe’s mid-priced six-pack of beer and made from fermented apple (or pear, etc.) juice, not “sugar and a homeopathic quantity of apple.”
      It’s a more feminine drink than beer, is my main thought.

    • j15 says:

      Spiked Seltzer seems to be hugely popular among the early-mid-20s female demographic. Went to several college football tailgates this past fall and they were everywhere (and the same holds true for houseparties I’ve recently attended). From experience, I don’t think those would be too appealing to underage drinkers. They are more like mildly flavored vodka sodas then fruity/sugary drinks.

    • johan_larson says:

      I’ve met some men who just don’t like the taste of beer, but are happy to drink and participate in bar culture. Some of them go for the sweet fruity alcoholic beverages. The others just drink distilled spirits; scotch is a particular draw.

    • C_B says:

      My crew (late 20’s to early 30s, ~70% female, tech-adjacent, left-leaning, majority white) is about evenly split between mostly-beer people and mostly-cider people (slight bias toward cider for women, but not 100%). I’m a mostly-beer person, but sometimes we go to places that specialize in ciders, and I enjoy those too.

      I think hard cider just fills the social role of beer (something you can chug 2-3 of socially without getting smashed) for people who don’t like beer.

      Super sweet malt liquor products like Mike’s Hard and Smirnoff Ice I think are more marketed toward young people (not necessarily underage, but they’re for getting drunk at college parties, and I’m sure the marketers don’t care whether it’s the 19-year-olds or the 21-year-olds drinking it).

      Not sure about the alcoholic seltzer; I’ve only seen it recently. I vaguely think of it as bougie stuff for people who drink La Croix but want to get tipsy doing it, but I’m not sure if that’s an accurate read on who’s actually drinking it, or just my bias against seltzer talking.

    • Plumber says:

      Sounds like “wine coolers” in the 1980’s, the girls at my high school loved them, I remember one young lady in the yearbook wearing a hat made from labels from the boxes.

    • Theodoric says:

      At least with respect to the spiked seltzer commercial, I got the impression that they were targeting a female audience. A claim of zero sugar, the spokespeople sounded like middle aged women.

    • Michael Handy says:

      In Australia cider is generally considered a perfectly acceptable beer substitute, with many craft ciders being available on tap at trendier joints. Its mostly something that has grown in the last few decades.

      We do have what we refer to as Vodka Cruisers, which are aimed at teenagers and women, but the standard cheap drink of choice is the goon bag,

    • Protagoras says:

      I’d expect teenagers to be more interested in proving that they can handle manly drinks than twenty-somethings would be, so I think you’re just being paranoid here. As others have said, some people just don’t like beer. I certainly remember hard ciders and hard lemonades being available at quite a number of parties I went to when I was in my 20s.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Hard cider is pretty mainstream nowadays; most restaurants that serve beer on tap will have one on tap. The others less so; Mike’s Hard Lemonade specifically shows up a lot, but I don’t know if that’s because people drink it or because Mike’s has a really good pitch to the restaurants.

    • Pdubbs says:

      I used to be a management consultant at a firm that did a lot of work for AB/Inbev. Wine coolers/alcopop/whatever you want to call Mike’s Hard Lemonade and crew are mostly targeted at 20-something women, especially women that will be at an event where men are drinking beer and wine would be awkward to serve (e.g. tailgates, beach parties).

      Cider, being typically less sweet and more traditional is less demographically slanted, but still skews female.

    • arlie says:

      Where I grew up (Quebec), hard cider (referred to simply as “cider”) was a standard drink, available anywhere that sold beer and wine. I still drink it.

      OTOH, neither hard lemonade nor hard seltzer strike me as anything I’d ever want to try.

      But as for hard cider and underage drinkers – the stuff is incredibly easy to make, and all my college peers knew how. (The drinking age was 21 where I went to college, so most of us were underage.) Take ‘soft’ cider. Open it. Close it again. Leave at room temperature.

      • And if you want something harder, freeze distill?

      • johan_larson says:

        How often does that method produce alcoholic cider rather than apple vinegar or something even nastier?

        • C_B says:

          It will usually get you something that won’t kill you and has more than 0% alcohol. Beyond that, it’s a roll of the dice. Depending on your local microbe population, you might end up with decent cider, or you might end up with something that tastes overwhelmingly of lactic acid (the sour/vinegary/vomit taste that characterizes sour beers), or you might get sick. If you’re extremely unlucky, you might grow some botulism spores and die, but I think that’s quite unlikely.

          If you’re slightly less lazy and/or more risk-averse, you can do the same thing in a sanitized container with a little champagne yeast, and get a more reliably drinkable product. But that requires a little more infrastructure.

          • AG says:

            I mean, drinking vinegar from a soup spoon is a thing in parts of China, so…

            Honestly, I’d do it myself, with certain quality varieties of vinegar. Some of them are really delicious.

      • Plumber says:

        One thing that long plagued me in unplugging the toilets in the jail was continually finding plastic bags filled with pieces or orange, often tied to long strips of cloth (that the inmates tear from their bedding) in the drain lines.

        I presume that the inmates were making pruno, and hiding it in their toilets.

        Once an inmate was repeatedly flushing (for many minutes in a row), and I couldn’t hear the if the water was running in the faucet I was trying to repair, so I climbed over, shut the water supply off of the cell tgat was flushing over and over again, and went back to repair the faucet, within minutes out of an air vent landed and broke a plastic liquid filled bag only a few feet from where I was inside the plumbing chase.

        When I alerted the deputies the were amused: “The plumber just missed a pruno shower”!

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, you’re off-base. Not every adult drinks beer, you don’t “acquire a taste for beer” as a natural part of growing up, it’s a beverage some people like and some people don’t. You’re incorrect if you say that categorically twenty-something dudes don’t drink alcopops. They’re traditionally thought of as more girly drinks, but that’s specifically something that the alcopop makers are trying to change with their marketing, is what it looks like to me. It’s a pretty common marketing play to say “okay we have a product that appeals to one gender, if we can persuade the other gender to go for it we double our market overnight”.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yeah, you’re off-base. Not every adult drinks beer, you don’t “acquire a taste for beer” as a natural part of growing up, it’s a beverage some people like and some people don’t.

        Thing I learned about French culture: they used to drink craft beers as well as wine, then the tradition declined unto disappearance during the World Wars. Then mass-produced pilsner became something the working class drank as well as wine from 1945-1980, before 37 consecutive years of decline in the nation’s taste for beer.

      • AG says:

        Yep, my response to this was going to be that this is a natural consequence of wider diversity in the populace, meaning that there are many more people who watch sports now that don’t have the genetics to enjoy traditional beer. Which means there’s a market for selling them alternatives. (And I guess sake has been snatched up to be high end marketing?)

  12. gbdub says:

    An interesting Andrew Sullivan piece on the tension between gay identity and the conflation of gender identity with biological sex. Inspired by an apparently well received talk given by a panel of radical feminists at a Heritage Foundation event (no really).

    • albatross11 says:

      I don’t care what the others say, this timeline is the best timeline.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      TERFS opposing the new guidelines on gender isn’t really new; they’re not really going to get a platform anywhere else. [for better or worse]

      What’s perhaps a bit more novel is the idea that the new doctrine is anti-gay, that is, insofar as it abolishes the idea of biological sex completely. (I don’t know if that is a straw-man of the new doctrine. I had thought at one point, Gender and biological sex were two separate and semi-related but real concepts. However I know these things change)

      I say a *bit* because in general the tactic of a conservative outlet calling a progressive “The real bigots” is not in itself novel.

      • John Schilling says:

        What’s perhaps a bit more novel is the idea that the new doctrine is anti-gay, that is, insofar as it abolishes the idea of biological sex completely.

        It’s equally anti-gay and anti-straight in that regard. And the extent to which it is both, depends on the extent to which “I demand that you should want to have sex with people like me, because I arbitrarily declare myself to be a member of the class of people you like to have sex with and you’re a bigot if you don’t go along with that”, is a part of the transgender package. That’s an extraordinary claim that we would reject if almost anyone else made it, but it seems to be accepted when it comes from the trans community and it may be central to some people’s concept of their own trans-ness. Not sure how big a factor that is overall, but it isn’t trivial.

        If only gay people have enough oppression points to be able to push back against this, that’s several sorts of perverse.

        • arlie says:

          Running off an a tangent here – “I demand that you should want to have sex with people like me” was certainly a thing, the last time I went anywhere near an online dating site. (Not remotely recently.) Some quantity of whiners seem to object to any person who is specific about what they are attracted to, and contact people who explicitly don’t want people like them to complain about their preferences, without gender being involved.

          • Walter says:

            I guess negative attention is still attention? I dunno. Hard to see what they are going for there. Maybe just bored?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            “Nothing else has worked to get me sex, might as well try this.”

          • dick says:

            Running off an a tangent here – “I demand that you should want to have sex with people like me” was certainly a thing, the last time I went anywhere near an online dating site.

            Was this demand overt? Interpreting someone’s stated desire to not be rejected as an implied demand seems very similar to what Scott was decrying in Radicalizing the Romanceless.

          • gbdub says:

            The “girl who won’t date guys under 6’0″ but gets indignant if you’re less than thrilled about her age or weight” is common enough to be a meme. To be honest, some of this is just a straight double standard. Women in general usually get way more attention on dating sites, and thus they (at least the attractive ones) can get away with being openly picky to the point of being offputting. I can see the ones who can’t afford to be picky being miffed by this and lashing out.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think it’s as common as dirt for someone to be upset/offended that people don’t want to date them or marry them or sleep with them for whatever reason–that’s expressed often by people from every group that has a shortage of offers, and sometimes even by people who have plenty of offers but the person they’re interested in isn’t interested in them. Too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too black, too white, too Jewish, not Jewish enough, too smart, too dumb, etc.

            Every now and then, people try to connect this to some kind of ideology to make a moral argument about how the right people should be attracted to them. This is a great way of using up extra mental cycles and writing clickbait articles, but the next person who’s convinced to find you attractive by your argument that it’s bigoted and evil not to want to go out with you will be the first.

            Entertainingly, you also sometimes see arguments/think pieces by people who have a surplus of romantic interest, talking about how the wrong sorts should stop being interested in them because it’s oppressive or annoying. And I gather you occasionally see the same woman, twenty years apart, first writing the “why won’t they stop hitting on me all the time?” lament, and later writing the “why do attractive men treat me like I’m invisible?” lament.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I do remember some instance a few years back about a white guy in college getting in trouble for stating on social media that he didn’t find black women attractive.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @dick

            Was this demand overt?

            (Caveat – this was online, ~8-10 years ago, and an unusual community).

            I have seen this overtly said and fully meant. It was not phrased exactly that way, but more along the lines of “Because I am female and you claim to be attracted to females, why would you not date/have sex with me?” The strong implication was that it was wrong to not have sex with a trans woman if you are attracted to women. Whether this boiled down to a “demand” depends on your perspective. It was a very long conversation with multiple participants, so I won’t be able to quote it all.

            The conversation did die down after I explained my interest as marriage and children. Had I just been looking for sex, that particular group considered it bigotry to reject a trans individual.

          • arlie says:

            @dick

            Was this demand overt?

            I can’t quote anything specific this many years later, and wouldn’t want to anyway for reasons of personal privacy, but as I remember it, yes. Not quite as strong as “you should want me” but definitely “you should want people like me”, with phrasing suggesting a moral type of ‘should’.

          • melolontha says:

            @ Conrad Honcho

            I do remember some instance a few years back about a white guy in college getting in trouble for stating on social media that he didn’t find black women attractive.

            I think this highlights the difference between ‘is it okay to have this preference’ and ‘when is it okay to express this preference’.

            Having a preference is one thing; stating it in a context where you have some practical reason to do so, like a dating site, is another; stating it for the sake of stating it is still another. Everyone will have their own opinion on where the line should be drawn between okay and not okay, but it’s pretty easy to see a natural progression of offensiveness here.

            And in the other dimension, stating the unattractiveness (to you) of some attributes will be more offensive than others; race is a pretty obvious candidate for ‘more offensive’, both for good reasons (unchangeable, linked to a history of poor treatment that isn’t over yet) and neutral ones (currently a hot-button issue).

            I don’t know the context, but gratuitously talking publicly about one’s racial sexual preferences seems pretty likely to have been calculated to offend.

          • melolontha says:

            edit: this was written in response to a now-deleted comment which, if I remember it correctly, suggested that some people equivocate between ‘Xes are unattractive’, ‘Xes are unattractive to me’, and ‘I haven’t yet been attracted to an X’.

            Yeah that’s an interesting one — I mean, I hope we can all agree that generalising from one’s own preferences to some kind of ‘objective’ attractiveness is bullshit, but I think the distinction between “I haven’t yet been attracted to a black person” and “black people aren’t attractive to me” is interesting.

            My first reaction is that the more absolute statement could be evidence of learned prejudice or deliberate choice, rather than the unhindered workings of whatever innate physiological processes normally produce attraction (or its absence). It seems unlikely to me that many people have preferences so rigid that no member of a particular race could meet them — so if someone insists that’s the case, I’m going to at least suspect that they might be deliberately signalling a value judgment, or expressing a preference that at some level they have chosen to have, or at least inadvertently revealing a more general antipathy toward that race.

            But on the other hand, I’m happy to say “men aren’t attractive to me”, and I’m certainly not deliberately signalling some kind of anti-male or anti-gay value judgment when I say that.

            On the third hand, perhaps in fact I am ‘innately’ only 85% straight, or whatever, and social pressure has caused me to stifle the other 15% until I’m not really aware of it myself; in that light, my declaration of heterosexuality does represent the workings of a kind of prejudice, or at least something contingent and socially mediated.

            Whether that should be considered a moral failing on my part is less obvious; I would tend to revert to the ‘when/how is it okay to express this’ analysis, rather than judging myself for the preference itself.

            (I’m not really sure whether any of this translates neatly back to the case of race.)

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            And I gather you occasionally see the same woman, twenty years apart, first writing the “why won’t they stop hitting on me all the time?” lament, and later writing the “why do attractive men treat me like I’m invisible?” lament.

            Or just one year apart:

            https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/03/women-street-harassment-statistics

            https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/20/catcall-culture-feminism-jessica-valenti

      • gbdub says:

        The article goes into a bit more detail – the key issue is a proposed anti-discrimination bill that would make gender identity and biological sex legally equivalent, and includes in the definition of gender identity things like “mannerisms”. Sullivan worries that this entrenches gender stereotypes and would make it harder to be an “alternative” man/woman. If you’re a tomboy or a drag queen, you’re not gender nonconforming, you’re trans. Given that gay men have had to fight hard to be recognized as “real” men, I think this is a valid concern.

        He also mentions that apparently gender reassignment treatments are used in some countries where homosexuality is illegal as literally conversion therapy – it’s acceptable to be transgendered but not to be gay. Probably not a realistic concern in the US, but you can kind of see how the logic is the same.

        Anyway I found the article interesting because, even though it’s being spoken by TERFs at a very conservative gathering, I think there’s a common discomfort with the idea of eliminating consideration of biological sex entirely, even among people that are generally in favor of not discriminating against trans people. It’s one thing to affirm the gender identity of a trans person, it’s another to require ourselves to act as if current gender identity completely erases the impact of biological sex, not only now but since birth.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          I imagine this has the potential to effectively render impotent any sort of special legal protections or privileges afforded to biological women [as we understand them]?

          Realistically i doubt this would happen. A visually Cisgendered male who ironically claims to identify as a female as a troll would probably just get disregarded.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Isn’t that what led to the TERFs being blackballed and having to speak at Heritage? The lady spoke out against the situation with the women’s prison in the UK where an inmate with a penis said they identified as a woman, was placed in the women’s prison and then raped a female inmate with said feminine penis. The test case has already happened and the cultural powers that be sided with your “troll” and cast out the critics.

        • Zephalinda says:

          What confuses me is that “gender identity completely erases the impact of biological sex” is not exactly what’s being argued, or else there wouldn’t be the urgent assertion that subjective gender identity also needs to be supported with aggressive chemical and surgical alterations to the organism’s status quo.

          It seems reasonable to define essential gender such that it becomes whatever one wishes it to be, regardless of one’s hormone concentrations, genitalia and secondary sex characteristics. Gender is a beautiful wild garden, many flowers can bloom, etc. But I quite don’t understand the loop back that then says: even though my natal vagina, XX chromosomes and high estrogen levels absolutely don’t make me a woman, I do clearly require a penis and high testosterone levels to be properly a man– and so incontrovertibly so that for the community not to provide these interventions on demand would be tantamount to removing a part of my personhood, effectively murdering me.

          It’s an odd framework where the empirical reality of a biological sex doesn’t exist, but the aspiration toward an (entirely imaginary, because as-yet-unexperienced) biological sex is all-important and worthy of absolute respect. I’d certainly like to see any coherent account of human selfhood that makes sense of it.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I think that some of the pushback from TERF and other kind of left-ish critics of the trans movement is exactly that as the definition of trans has broadened, it has started to include lots of people who precisely don’t want to transition fully, or perhaps even “at all.”

            Like, I think that some fraction of the critics of the trans movement are at least provisionally at peace with trans women who, you know, get the surgery and the hormones and try their best to act “feminine” and so forth. But what really sets off at least some people is the idea that someone who (still) looks and acts and can function sexually as a man can demand that people treat them as a woman. There is a definite fear that, basically, privileged men are going to invade and occupy female spaces (certainly including but not exclusively lesbian spaces). You can see some of this resonance in discussions of bathrooms and biologically male sportspeople competing as women, as well as lesbians discussing the idea that they are “supposed to” be attracted to people with penises.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            To add to what sandoratthezoo said, this is one of the few times I don’t roll my eyes when a progressive uses the word “erasure.” A lesbian is a woman who is attracted to other women, and wants to touch their lady parts. If we redefine gender such that an XY chromosome 6’4″ hairy bearded person with a penis but wearing a dress and calling themselves “Carol” is a woman, then what’s a lesbian? This new definition of “woman” erases the definition of “lesbian.”

          • Randy M says:

            It’s a not entirely obvious question as to whether sexual attraction is to primary sexual characteristics (ie, genitals) or secondary (ie, the masculine or feminine shape of a body). It’s conceivable that for some people these are decoupled, that someone could be more attracted to the curves of a woman and agnostic about the particular sex organs hidden under the dress fitting those curves… but to insist that everyone has an obligation to care only about one and not about the other is perverse, bad faith, and futile.

          • Aapje says:

            @Randy M

            Sure, but many people now demand that people are not treated according to their primary or secondary sexual characteristics, but instead their self-image, even though this is invisible from the outside.

          • Randy M says:

            Doubly perverse and futile in that case.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje: What? Do you think trans women are just men who say they’re women, with no characteristics aside from maybe clothing to distinguish them as such? Or are you making up some kind of strawman where some obviously male person who isn’t actually trans just says he’s a woman to hook up with lesbians?

            I identify as a lesbian, and I’m attracted to both cis and trans women, but I have absolutely no attraction to men whatsoever. I’ve tried to like guys, including trans men who probably had vaginas, and it just doesn’t work. I just felt absolutely nothing romantic or sexual for them, even when I’ve actively wanted to.

            For me, attraction isn’t about genitalia. It’s about secondary sex characteristics (female breasts, feminine physique, lack of facial and body hair), but even beyond that, it’s about the way that the other person looks and smells and feels to the touch. If I met a trans woman who looked and smelled and felt like a man, I probably wouldn’t be physically attracted to her. But the overwhelming majority of trans women I know – even the ones who aren’t that passable – still have obviously female anatomical traits, still have a feminine scent to them, and so forth. That includes some trans women who haven’t even started medically transitioning yet; I’ve known two separate trans women who had feminine physiques, fully developed breasts, and limited body hair, and even smelled like women, despite not having started on hormone treatments yet.

            And yes, not everyone is like me, some people’s sexual orientation is much more focused on genitalia. I have a friend who also identifies as a lesbian, and she’s only attracted to women with vaginas. She said she’d probably be willing to sleep with a post-op trans woman, but definitely not with someone who still had a penis. And that’s fine! She hangs around in queer circles with plenty of trans and non-binary people, and no one is calling her transphobic for her preference, or insisting that she has any obligation to sleep with people who have penises. The idea that lesbians are now being socially pressured to have sex with trans women seems like nothing more than a strawman, or at most a fringe position held by a very small minority of trans activists.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @LadyJane

            There’s stuff that probably doesn’t exist much in meatspace, where you’re interacting with real people in sociable environments, but does exist online. Online you’ve got a combination of people who are socially isolated, or socially isolated from the groups with which they would like to associate, you’ve got limitless ability for people to come in and pretend to be something to stir up trouble (eg, we think we’re able to spot false-flagging, but maybe we’re just spotting the ones who are bad at doing it with verisimilitude), and this is on top of the internet’s general tendency to make people mean and cruel (even without anonymity – I know plenty of people who are sweethearts in person but jerks over Facebook).

            EDIT: To give a completely different example, the sorts of social disputes that happen in tabletop RPGs when you’re actually playing face-to-face with reap people are completely different than RPG internet communities. Then add that the internet makes the loudest people (whether they’re the real deal or false flagging) look more present than they are…

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            I’m talking about the rules that people fight for. Quite a few people now fight for a right to be treated as a certain gender, without any additional requirements.

            However, it is common for (parts of) society to distinguish between men and women. This can be for an arbitrary reason, similar to how some places let even-numbered plates drive on some days and odd plates on other days. However, quite often it seems to be because they use gender as a proxy for certain traits they want to discriminate on.

            What I see in transactivism is that quite a few people want to not just be labeled as a certain gender, but also treated as if they have the traits associated with that gender, even when they actually don’t have that trait.

            The most obvious example is bepenised transwomen who demand to be treated as vagina’d people, telling other people that they can’t consider a vagina a key component of what they are attracted to.

            This argument/demand seems equally applicable to secondary characteristics. If you can demand that people ignore a penis, then why not a beard?

            Why shouldn’t a lesbian then have an obligation to be willing to date a person who considers themselves a woman, but would be judged to be a man by more than 99% of people? Or to let that person into lesbian spaces, etc.

            PS. Note that the ‘cotton ceiling’ seems to merely be an application of the very same principle that is commonly accepted by trans activists, in a more extreme way. Many people who reject the ‘cotton ceiling’ argument seem to do so by making an exception for sexual attraction, rather than actually change their principles. This makes their objections very weak.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje: Even in the most liberal U.S. states, you still need to be undergoing some kind of actual transition to legally change your gender marker, and you need written confirmation of that transition from a medical professional and a mental health professional. Very few people are arguing that everyone should be able to change their legal gender at will (although some libertarians are saying that the government shouldn’t officially classify people by gender in the first place, similar to how they argued that the state should stay out of marriage altogether back when gay marriage was still a hot issue). Likewise, very few people will argue that someone who makes no effort to present as anything other than their birth sex should expect to be treated as a different gender, or given access to gender-exclusive spaces.

            It seems like you’re taking the opinions of a few extremists and/or trolls and assuming that they represent the mainstream stance of trans activism. I also think you might be looking at rules meant to be applied within the trans community and incorrectly assuming that trans activists want them to be universalized. For instance, at trans support groups, the norm is to assume good faith of anyone showing up. Some people are confused about their gender, some people know they’re trans but aren’t presenting as their preferred gender yet, some people might not have the opportunity to present as their preferred gender for various reasons. So if someone shows up to a trans-feminine support group meeting looking like a cis male, the group isn’t going to turn them away. That doesn’t mean they’d support that person going into a women’s locker room!

            Many people who reject the ‘cotton ceiling’ argument seem to do so by making an exception for sexual attraction, rather than actually change their principles. This makes their objections very weak.

            I think it makes sense to make an exception for sexual intimacy, because aside from medical issues, that’s the only area of life where genital configuration actually matters in a real physical sense. (Biological sex also has an impact on athletic performance, but genitalia doesn’t, at least not directly.) “What genitals I have is nobody’s business unless they’re my lover or my doctor” is a pretty common sentiment among the trans community. If you agree with that notion, then believing that sexual attraction can be based on genitalia rather than gender isn’t a flimsy exception to one’s principles, but a logical extension of them.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            Very few people are arguing that everyone should be able to change their legal gender at will

            The reason why that is true in the US is because people are ratcheting, demanding change step by step. I predict with high confidence that once the requirement for surgical intervention has been eliminated from most or all state law (perhaps after federal intervention), requiring just a statement from a medical expert, the next step will be to fight to eliminate that requirement.

            After all, that is what has happened/is happening in other countries. For example, Amnesty International is arguing that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Human Rights Watch made a similar criticism (in Dutch) of the (recently liberalized) Dutch law. Argentina already eliminated the requirement. It remains to be seen whether the ratchet continues further, to make the procedure purely administrative (I suspect so, since this is already the case in The Netherlands).

            Amnesty International, HRW and the entire country of Argentina are not “very few people,” IMO.

            Likewise, very few people will argue that someone who makes no effort to present as anything other than their birth sex should expect to be treated as a different gender, or given access to gender-exclusive spaces.

            There is still a very large grey space between the level of effort that some go to and the level that other people think is necessary for their gender-exclusive spaces.

            I think that people should be allowed to advocate for certain minimum requirements, without being accused of transphobia.

            For instance, at trans support groups, the norm is to assume good faith of anyone showing up.

            That is true for quite a few liberal groups, many of which also have a culture of weak policing of norms and/or no clear norms to be policed. It’s not uncommon for transgressive people* to wreak havoc in such places, as they are not stood up to.

            The TERFS from the video want a Schelling fence to solve that issue.

            * Pun not intended

            That doesn’t mean they’d support that person going into a women’s locker room!

            Perhaps. But if they oppose clear rules on that front to maximize their own freedom, then this leaves the door open for people to transgress.

            If you agree with that notion, then believing that sexual attraction can be based on genitalia rather than gender isn’t a flimsy exception to one’s principles, but a logical extension of them.

            I wasn’t talking about genitalia. My argument is that there are all kinds of differences that are noticable, but that are argued to not be grounds to treat the person differently from their target gender. For example, I never heard a transactivist argue for any minimum below which using source gender pronouns should be allowed, any minimum requirement for using a restroom intended for their target gender, etc.

            My impression, based on the lack of good principled arguments, is that quite a few progressives fairly arbitrarily exclude sexuality from their principles, because they consider the sacrifice too large. This is fine in itself, but they should then allow other people to say that they wish to violate those principles for things that are a very large sacrifice to them. Otherwise it is merely selfishness.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Have any transgender nondiscrimination activists tried getting disability status for gender dysphoria, thus allowing them to invoke the ADA? Honestly, “disability” seems like a fairly good model for it–it’s not something you chose to have, it negatively affects your life, and our current best ways of managing it involve expensive medications, prosthetics, and surgery.

      • gbdub says:

        Any effort to label transgenderism a disability or mental illness is going to get a ton of (not totally undeserved) pushback.

        But notionally I agree. Sullivan kind of hints at focusing on treatment of gender dysphoria, and I think Scott has made similar statements in the past (essentially, living as your preferred gender identity (including body modification) is an effective treatment for debilitating gender dysphoria, and we should support people doing so).

    • fr8train_ssc says:

      I feel like Sullivan doesn’t take the opportunity to steelman activists who support protecting gender identity under the aegis of trans-rights.

      To understand how they argue in support of sexual identity and gender identity, one has to understand their praxis in Queer theory, particularly their readings on Judith Butler.

      Transgender activists argue that trans individuals, along with people without strictly heterosexual partner preferences, all fall under the aegis of ‘queer’ group identity. For trans individuals, this membership is based on identifying as a different gender than assigned at birth, and fulfillment comes from taking steps to present as that behavior. Those with homosexual partner preference fall under queer group identity for desiring sexual partners that aren’t ‘heteronormative’.

      Thus to trans people, attempts to exclude them from participating in lesbian or gay spaces is attempting to out-group or impose the same kind of “discrimination, harassment, injury, pathologization or criminalization” that ‘heteronormative patriarchy’ imposes on queer individuals.

      Sullivan of course, at least acknowledges the counterargument to this steelman:

      If you abandon biology in the matter of sex and gender altogether, you may help trans people live fuller, less conflicted lives; but you also undermine the very meaning of homosexuality. If you follow the current ideology of gender as entirely fluid, you actually subvert and undermine core arguments in defense of gay rights. “A gay man loves and desires other men, and a lesbian desires and loves other women,” explains Sky Gilbert, a drag queen. “This defines the existential state of being gay. If there is no such thing as ‘male’ or ‘female,’ the entire self-definition of gay identity, which we have spent generations seeking to validate and protect from bigots, collapses.”

      No progress will be made on this issue, in my opinion at least, because both sides are basically trying to invoke an ‘intersectional framework’ to justify their perceptions as correct over the other. Those seen as trans positive or inclusionary prioritize ‘queer’ needs over same-sex relational needs, while those seen as exclusionary emphasize same-sex relational needs over ‘queer’ ones.

      The correct response/course of action is A Sphinx though.

      • gbdub says:

        I appreciate the Last Psychiatrist link, it kind of matches my feelings on that particular situation – but I’m not quite sure where you’re going with it relative to this discussion?

        The TERFs are probably talking about excluding transwomen from lesbian spaces, but I don’t think Sullivan is. The TERFs position to me looks like: lesbians didn’t set out to create a generically “queer” space. They created a place where it was safe and comfortable to be lesbian, and now they are concerned about entryism. “Your safe space isn’t good enough for me, you need to change your safe space to make ME comfortable”. Which of course defeats the purpose of a safe space and the only reason it gets any traction at all is because trans people seem even more oppressed and in need of a safe space.

        I think part of the difficulty here is that, frankly, the needs of trans people are costlier to accommodate and affect an even smaller minority than homosexuality. I don’t think you can escape weighing cost-benefit, because as you not there is no clean solution. At some point one has to accept that they are weird, and it is not reasonable to expect the whole world to bend to accommodate you.

        There was a South Park episode where Kyle’s dad decides he identifies as a dolphin and has surgery to affirm this identity. He becomes indignant when the school does not have dolphin-specific bathroom facilities. This of course was ridiculous, and was the point of the creators. So where do we draw the “reasonable accommodation” line? Obviously we don’t require Jewish lawyer dolphin bathrooms, nor do we think the ADA requires an escalator to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Does reasonable accommodation mean we really must erase any legal or social consideration of biological sex in favor of self-declared gender-identity? That’s an extremely hard question, but I think we have to make it okay to have that discussion, in those terms, because pretending it is painless and costless is simply unrealistic.

        • fr8train_ssc says:

          As I mentioned, the last psychiatrist link was a sphinx argument (i.e. a meta-argument not germane to the discussion)

          What I wanted to point out, is that until the predominance of narcissism is combated, it will be impossible for anyone to ascertain whether trans identity is manifesting itself as “entryism” or actual dysphoria in an individual. At the same time, it will be simultaneously impossible for anyone to ascertain whether a lesbian safe-space is trans-exclusionary out of necessary psychological/sexual safety precautions of its members, or through bigotry against trans individuals. This is what happens when in-group identity is prioritized over judgement-of-action/role-fulfilling.

          Sullivan does not talk about exclusivity, but I think he overstates the whole “trans abandoning biology” argument for their position. There are plenty of trans activists who take a materialist perspective with respect to Dysphoria, and Sullivan should be careful not to caricature the opponents of ‘TERFs.’ Plenty of trans individuals recognize ‘OK, I’ve gone through surgery and hormone treatments to present as a female to alleviate my body dysmorphia.’ they would then ask TERFs ‘ I realize I do not produce ovum, but what does producing ovum have to do with discussing sexual harassment I’ve faced?’ This is not unreasonable for trans individuals to ask.

          For Sullivan to understand why it isn’t unreasonable, he would need to engage with queer theory in his argument. Certainly a post-transition, well-presenting trans individual could easily omit their status as a trans individual in a lesbian space, but that would mean ‘closetting’ themselves, ‘the closet’ producing the same kinds of harms to trans individuals as to GLB individuals.

          This way, as you said, Sullivan can present his counterargument as “Well, why is queer theory more important/correct than older theory and why should lesbians/gays who don’t identify as or accommodate queer individuals respect trans individuals engaging in entryism?”

          To clarify my own perspective, I agree with you that we should be able to have discussions on whether its worthwhile to mold society to be more trans-friendly. I’m skeptical Idpol from either side (manifested through narcissism) will allow progress on this dialectic.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What I wanted to point out, is that until the predominance of narcissism is combated, it will be impossible for anyone to ascertain whether trans identity is manifesting itself as “entryism” or actual dysphoria in an individual.

            I think this is an important point. There is the phenomenon of “social contagion transgenderism” or “rapid onset gender dysphoria.” I don’t think this has anything to do with transgenderism, though.

            The media and institutions are currently giving positive attention to transgendered individuals. The percentage of people in society who are trans is something like 0.3%. The percentage of people who are narcissists or confused or attention seeking in society is much, much greater than .3%. If the media were hailing kids who convert to Islam as “stunning and brave” we’d see a dozen kids at every high school suddenly discovering Allah.

            The media will eventually lose interest and move on, and that will probably make it easier to separate trans issues from narcissism-related issues.

    • rlms says:

      But the Equality Act would define “sex” as including “gender identity”

      This certainly sounds dubious, but if you click through to the actual proposed text of the Act, it says

      The bill defines:
      “sex” to include a sex stereotype, sexual orientation or gender identity, and pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition;

      So this appears to be standard shenanigans where legal terms are divorced from their everyday meanings, rather than a misguided attempt to equate sex and gender identity.

      • gbdub says:

        I don’t think it’s the definition of “sex” that is problematic to Sullivan, it’s the definition of “gender identity”:

        “gender identity” as gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or characteristics, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth.

        Which he fears could entrench stereotypical gender behavior. If you want to be identified as a man, you must do these things. If you have these other “mannerisms” or “characteristics” you’re a woman.

        Part of gay culture is the affirmation that there are many ways to be a man or woman. You might be “stuck” as a man or woman, but you can express that however feels right. In some sense trans is kind of the flip side of that – there is a narrower sense of what it means to be a man or woman, but you can change between them if you want.

        • rlms says:

          The same thing applies to that: it’s just a convenient way of expressing that gender-related-discrimination against groups other than trans people such as drag queens is prohibited. I don’t think that definition of gender identity is widely used outside this context.

  13. Thegnskald says:

    If anyone has experience turning off “awareness”, in the Buddhist sense, how hard is it to turn back on? I know where the switch is, but I have a feeling it will be much harder to find the switch when the metaphorical light is turned off.

    • AlexanderTheGrand says:

      If you don’t mind going into it, what’s your reason for wanting to do so? I’ve never heard of somebody feeling “too mindful” before, although I’m not well-versed. I’ve got no advice for you, sorry.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I realized I had the ability, is the short answer, and am curious to see what experiential difference it would make, if any.

        Provided, of course, it is relatively easy to turn it back on afterwards.

  14. Atlas says:

    ICYMI: Anatoly Karlin has been writing a very interesting essay series on the “Age of Malthusian Industrialism.”

  15. A thought on inequality, based in part on a point in The Bell Curve.

    The authors argue that one effect of a meritocratic system is an increase in assortative mating. It occurs to me that the same effect would be expected from any change that increased the range over which individuals sought mates. The girl in your village who makes the best fit with you is likely to fit less well than the girl in your city who makes the best fit. As population becomes more concentrated, transport and communication better, the result should be a greater pairing of like with like.

    That assumes, in the context of intelligence, that smart men want to marry smart women and vice versa. I’ve just been listening to an audiobook of Heinlen’s Podkayne of Mars, in which it is assumed, by the viewpoint character and presumably the author, that men don’t want to marry smart women, hence that smart women find it prudent to conceal their intelligence. If true, that might reduce or eliminate the effect.

    If my line of argument is correct, it provides an explanation of increasing economic inequality, since assortative mating should result in widening the spread of whatever characteristics are being sorted on, and some, such as IQ, are probably relevant to income.

    • Atlas says:

      I’ve just been listening to an audiobook of Heinlen’s Podkayne of Mars, in which it is assumed, by the viewpoint character and presumably the author, that men don’t want to marry smart women, hence that smart women find it prudent to conceal their intelligence.

      This may have been the case when Heinlein wrote, but is it currently true? The New York Times’ marriages section—which one of the authors of The Bell Curve amusingly described as the “mergers and acquisitions” section—seems to usually feature couples of high and comparable intelligence. (They often seem to have met while getting JDs, MDs, MBAs, etc. from highly-rated universities.)

      Even more anecdotally, a friend of mine attended CCNY for a couple years before transferring to a different university. He claimed that, as you walked downtown from CCNY toward Columbia, you could observe the young women on the street becoming more and more attractive the closer you got to Columbia. In my friend’s judgement, at least, the fact that these women presumably went to a university with higher mean SAT scores did not diminish their value as potential mates compared to his fellow CCNY students.

      • Aging Loser says:

        Fairly recently I found myself explaining to a fat woman that men are programmed to find fat women unattractive because being fat signals likelihood of physically unhealthy offspring. On reflection, though, I concluded that this isn’t what being fat signals; rather, being fat signals likelihood of mentally unhealthy offspring. As you walk downtown from CCNY toward Columbia you observe women becoming more and more able to “keep their shit together” in a way that results both in their being slimmer (which constitutes 99% of female attractiveness) and in their being able to to make it through the gates into Columbia.

        • onyomi says:

          I think fat has become a signal of lower status in both men and women ever since not being fat got harder than being fat for a majority of people in the first world.

          Thin=I have the mental, physical, financial/logistical/organizational resources to exercise and think about/plan what I eat.

          Fat=I don’t have the money/spare energy/sophistication/wherewithal to figure out how to eat healthy and exercise.

          Related, in Asia women mostly want to be pale, while in the West they now want to be tan. In Asia, pale=I don’t have to work on a farm or construction site. In the US, tan=I have time and money to go the beach rather than sitting under fluorescent light all day.

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          “Men are programmed to find fat women unattractive” is obviously false – just look at Reubens, or older European art in general, or Japanese floating world art, or in fact most societies/cultures apart from the modern First World.

          Yes, most men (but not all) men in America are, on average, more attracted to thinner than to fatter women. But we know that describing that as programming rather than as cultural conditioning must be wrong, because we can see that in other cultures exactly the reverse is or has been true.

          • onyomi says:

            Another example, Tang Dynasty figurines, paintings, etc. show a clear preference for round and plump as a beauty ideal for elite women (elite men also tend to be pictured with very large belts; that said, Tang may have been a bit new/different wrt to its ideals of masculinity).

          • RDNinja says:

            Do we know that there wasn’t a disconnect between what people espoused as beautiful for artisitic purposes, and what people actually found sexually attractive? Because my understanding is that many of the same aristocrats that commissioned paintings of plump women were also running around having affairs with (presumably thin) servants, etc.

          • onyomi says:

            @RDNinja

            If that were the case one might expect to see a different beauty standard for e.g. courtesans and entertainers as opposed to wives, but I don’t think there’s much evidence of that? These female musicians still look pretty full-figured by the standards of the time, especially in the face. They would also be lower status than e.g. the woman in the previous sculpture I linked, and so if they display slightly less of that “high status” characteristic, it is only to be expected.

            Also speaking against it, at least for the Tang Dynasty is the story of “Precious Consort Yang,” traditionally depicted as very full-figured, but also, apparently sexy enough for the emperor to make her divorce his own son so he could have her for his own. Of course, this is just one anecdote, but if it were common knowledge in the society that “sexy beauty” and “elite beauty” were different one would expect the femme fatale to have the former.

            And when the beauty standard changes from plump to slender and willowy, it changes for everyone, I believe.

            More broadly, I’m pretty sure in any time or place the number of body types many can find attractive is a much wider range than whatever the aesthetic ideal happens to be at the time, but that, all else equal, more people will actually be attracted to e.g. higher adiposity (or lower adiposity, or any other feature) in a society where that is the aesthetic ideal than otherwise.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Reubens is known for painting fat (but not morbidly obese) women. And he’s known for it because it was unusual. Lots of societies have preferred women larger than the Hollywood ideal, but very few have preferred obese.

          • gbdub says:

            This debate comes up constantly, and it seems to miss a few things:
            1) There is a big difference between “Rubenesque” and “morbidly obese”. Not just in terms of how heavy you are, but how you carry it. E.g. Ashley Graham and some other plus-size models are distinctly heavy, but heavy in a way that accentuates their feminine features. Versus some people who probably don’t weigh much more but are, to be blunt, blob-shaped.
            2) Most fashion models are not intended to be particularly sexually attractive to the average straight man. In particular, most are skinnier than what the average straight man would call ideal. Again being blunt, most of the fashion world seems to be status games played by women and gay men.
            3) The range of what men find sexually attractive is much wider than the range of what those same men might consider ideal. The bar for “hot” is a lot lower than the bar for “hot enough to make a living off of being hot”. A lot of men might say a certain swimsuit model is the hottest woman alive – but are still very much attracted to their not-swimsuit model partners. This is also worth considering in art – what we depict as “ideal” is often an exaggerated form of the things we actually like.

          • Deiseach says:

            the same aristocrats that commissioned paintings of plump women were also running around having affairs with (presumably thin) servants

            Charles II and one of his mistresses, Louise de Kérouaille. She was plump, he called her by a pet-name “Fubbs” which was slang of the time for “chubby” and indeed named a yacht after her – the H.M.Y. Fubbs.

            Given that Charlie could (and indeed pretty much did) have any woman he liked, that he picked her shows that tastes of the time were for well-upholstered women.

          • John Schilling says:

            …the tastes of one specific man of the time were for well-upholstered women.

            And that the chosen nickname was a reference to said upholstery, strongly implies that this was an atypical preference, or at least an atypical appearance for women in that line of work.

          • bean says:

            Charles II and one of his mistresses, Louise de Kérouaille. She was plump, he called her by a pet-name “Fubbs” which was slang of the time for “chubby” and indeed named a yacht after her – the H.M.Y. Fubbs.

            1. I’m rather amazed I’ve never heard of HMY Fubbs. Adding that to the “strange ship names” list.
            2. She wasn’t that fat. Unless all of the artists for the paintings in her wiki article are dramatically distorting her figure, you’re looking much more at “plus-sized model” than “normal plus-size”.

          • gbdub says:

            There were probably not multiple standards of “elite beauty” vs. “sexy beauty”.

            But it is still an interesting question, to me anyway, how realistic the Tang figures and paintings are. I mean, why would we expect those to be any more representative of real life than anime girls? Just looking at those figures, I’m guessing the overall roundness is an exaggerated idealization.

          • John Schilling says:

            There were probably not multiple standards of “elite beauty” vs. “sexy beauty”.

            Why would you say that? We’ve certainly seem “elite beauty” standards in the modern era, e.g. “heroin chic”, that were clearly distinct from “sexy beauty” as reflected in mainstream porn or cheesecake of the same period.

            “Elite beauty” seems closely correlated with “fashion”, and fashion is all about pretending to like something completely different than the previous fashion-generation did even if your actual preferences haven’t changed at all.

          • Plumber says:

            It’s pretty common for some of the blue collar men I work with to describe a woman approvingly as “thick”, most commonly (but not exclusively) those men are black and/or “Hispanic” (not born in Spain, it’s a Californism).

            I noted one lighter-skinned man on the crew approvingly calling a lady “thick” while his datker-skinned younger apprentice (who was had a college diploma) said “naw that’s too big”, so I’m pretty sure there’s broad class and ethnic preferences as well.

          • gbdub says:

            @John you’re right I was probably overgeneral there. Where I was coming from was more that your “Precious Consort” basically IS cheesecake and is thus unlikely to stray that far from what you actually find attractive.

          • onyomi says:

            Re. morbid obesity, I certainly agree that morbid obesity was probably rarely if ever widely considered attractive, insofar as it signaled unhealth rather than prosperity to the society in question. But morbid obesity in societies like Tang China would have been extremely rare, almost a feat to achieve.

            So if you’re in a society where “fat” conjures up this image and “thin” this image then a lot of people are going to be attracted to “thin.”

            If you’re in a society where “fat” conjures up this image and “thin” this image more people will be attracted to “fat.”

            Somewhat related: I think standards of physical attractiveness in women have recently pushed even further in the slender direction in part due to the advent of breast implants, which make possible a once very rare or nonexistent body type, e.g. the woman who can seem both curvaceous and yet also almost have a sixpack.

          • bullseye says:

            “Men are programmed to find fat women unattractive” is obviously false – just look at Reubens, or older European art in general, or Japanese floating world art, or in fact most societies/cultures apart from the modern First World.

            Evolution built the hardware. Culture does the programming.

          • bullseye says:

            Digression: I’ve never been anywhere near California, and “Hispanic” meaning people from Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas is a normal word to me.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Men are programmed to find damn near anything beautiful under the correct circumstances. Sex Drive is a hell of a drug.
            The modern world has an element of choice that does not exist in prior societies, leaving aside the difficulty of describing typical preferences from surviving art pieces. I am tempted to wonder if this conversation will play out in 800 years with someone suggesting that #wincest was perfectly normal and accepted based on the popularity of the category on Pornhub.

    • sentientbeings says:

      The girl in your village who makes the best fit with you is likely to fit less well than the girl in your city who makes the best fit. As population becomes more concentrated, transport and communication better, the result should be a greater pairing of like with like.

      The question is, as transport and communication become better, does it necessarily mean that the process produces the better mate pairings (or closer like-with-like pairings)? I can imagine ways in which it might, but many of the potentially beneficial mechanisms could provide negative effects on pairing as well. It seems highly likely that the field contains a better match, but the effect on the likelihood of locating the match seems indeterminate.

      Let me provide a few selection factors as examples. I think they provide evidence for increased assortative pairing on specific characteristics, indeterminate evidence on a basket of characteristics, and indeterminate evidence on best pairing.

      After years of ignoring my friends’ suggestions, I’ve finally caved and downloaded a couple dating apps. I live in a large metropolitan area, so there is no shortage of options, including people who fit some of the typical assortative mating characteristics we’d think about in this context (i.e. high concentration of professionals, often with degrees from elite universities).

      One item I was surprised to find in a lot of bios was some reference to astrology. In a way, that’s a great thing for someone to include, because I know immediately that I have no interest at all in that person. I think mentioning (or not mentioning) astrology would result in both better matches and more assortative pairings for people like me and indeterminate effect on quality of matches but more assortative pairings for the astrology people.

      Another item I was surprised to find (though in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have been) was something like “If you voted for Trump, I’m not interested.” I didn’t vote for Trump, but this sort of statement is not a like-like signal to me, because the impression I receive from a comment like that in a dating profile is close-mindedness and an inability to tolerate members of the out-group. If we just think of it in terms of political affiliation, the overall assortative like-like effect is probably increased. On the other hand, it might be that many of the intelligent, educated women in my area (1) strongly dislike Trump or (2) are intolerant of the out-group or (3) just like the social signal of “anti-Trump,” which could cause an intelligent person who is generally politically averse to avoid that pairing. In that case, the effect on the whole basket of correlated traits that might be affected is indeterminate.

      Even if one characteristic, like intelligence, was the single factor of focus, it seems to me that with the increased range of individuals from which to select, people face different selection mechanisms, in which the order to evaluate characteristics plays a role (on top of priority of characteristics). If the population is large enough that dating apps become the norm for pairing, then something that might not be that important to the intelligence-valuing individuals might still play a large role, simply because it’s easier to measure (e.g. height) or the app operates by a certain algorithm and it pre-filters the candidates, limiting the assortative effect on what is actually the more highly-valued characteristic.

      Whereas in a smaller community, people might be forced to have enough interaction that they dispense with the ephemera and manage a better assessment on the most important (or most sorting-prone) characteristics. They could make for better evaluations on a worse set of candidates, versus worse evaluations on a set containing better candidates.

      • Aging Loser says:

        There was a woman in the neighborhood I’d had my eye on for a few years — when the opportunity arose, in the corner laundromat, I started chatting with her — the first thing she did was to make anti-Trump statements — some kind of screening-mechanism. Diversion of the “what’s your favorite color?” sort didn’t work. I decided not to try tickling her. She’d gotten kind of old anyway.

      • albatross11 says:

        To try to estimate the impact of this, assume narrow-sense heritability of IQ of 0.5.

        Let A = the average IQ of the parents. Then, I think the mean IQ of your children is

        (A-100)*0.5 + 100

        So, suppose you’re a very smart person with an IQ of 130 (98th %ile–in the top 2-3 % of intelligence).

        In world #1, you marry an average person with an IQ of 100. Your kids’ mean IQ is 107.5–around the 70th %ile.

        In world #2, you marry someone with your IQ–130. Your kids’ mean IQ is 115–the 84th %ile.

        That’s a noticeable but not huge difference. World #1 is like the doctor marrying his hometown girlfriend, and having kids who do okay in school but couldn’t really make it through medical school; World #2 is like the doctor marrying a girl he met in medical school, and their kids are on average just about bright enough to get through medical school if they work hard.

        Let’s work the same numbers with 145 IQs. (That’s the top 2/1000 of intelligence, so 99th %ile and on the right end of that.) This is a range of IQs where you’d find a lot of college professor/scientist types.

        In world #1, you marry an average person and so your mean IQ is 122.5, and your kids’ expected IQ is 111.25. That’s around the 78th %ile.

        In world #2, you marry someone of your intelligence–your mean IQ is 145, and your kids’ expected IQ is 122.5–around the 93rd %ile.

        So in world #1, the experimental psych professor marries his hometown girlfriend from high school, and they have reasonably bright kids–the kids do fine in school, go to college, but aren’t stars. In world #2, the experimental psych professor marries a classical literature professor he meets while he’s in grad school; their kids maybe go to medical or law school or something, and maybe one of the three ends up as an academic of some sort.

        As a datapoint, I can think of several colleagues of mine whose parents were also academics/researchers–this phenomenon isn’t exactly new. One coworker of mine had two parents with PhDs in technical subjects, and he and his wife do, too. It’s not a big shock that their kids are really smart, too.

        One consequence I’d expect from this is that the smart, accomplished people have little connection with less intelligent people. If your kids are just average, or your in-laws include people who have a hard time handling complicated instructions, it’s probably easier to keep in mind that such people exist. If you live in a pool of people who mostly don’t deal with anyone who’s below average intelligence, it’s easy to almost forget such people exist.

      • toastengineer says:

        Tangentially related, but: it matters which services you were using; e.x. OKCupid is intentionally targeting the blue-hair-dye crowd. Unfortunately you’re probably not going to find traditionalists (i.e. red tribe values) on online dating services. (and you’re not going to find grey-tribe values anywhere because there’s like a couple thousand of us in the entire country.)

        • Garrett says:

          Dating services have the perverse incentive to *not* match you so that you have reason to keep using their services.

          Unfortunately, I have yet to find a service which is willing to take on any risk of them *not* being successful. Eg. If they successfully match me they get, say, $10k. But if they don’t after 6 months they pay me for my wasted time.

          • toastengineer says:

            Yanno, I suspect this is one of those things that should theoretically happen but never actually does. Do we have any evidence of sites actually trying not to match people?

            I suspect that if someone doesn’t find any actual matches after a few months, they’ll just leave the site, not stick around forever.

        • EchoChaos says:

          That’s interesting, because I’m as hard red-tribe as they get, and I found my wife and plenty of other red-tribe girls there when I was dating in 2007-2010.

          I obviously haven’t used it since 2010. Is that a recent change?

          • toastengineer says:

            Relative to 2010, yes. Nowadays the “i am a ____ looking for a ____” drop-downs have ~30 entries, and that’s not an exaggeration.

    • Aging Loser says:

      Men want to “marry” women by whom they are liked; smart women are more likely to like smart men.

    • onyomi says:

      In East Asia I have many times heard women complain that East Asian men don’t want a wife who is smarter than he is, or with higher educational attainment (there is some kind of joke about “female PhD”=”forever alone”).

      One example was a female Korean student at an Ivy League school complaining that the Korean men at said school weren’t interested in dating the Korean women at that school, basically because they wanted someone who would obviously be “marrying up” the education hierarchy to be with them, not someone on an equal footing (don’t know if her experience was representative).

      I get the sense some American men might not want a wife who is taller than him, or makes more money than him, but less sense that they would view intelligence per se as a negative.

      Personally, I guess I could imagine feeling a little insecure if my wife were obviously a lot smarter than me, but below that threshold I find more smartness more attractive.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I get the sense some American men might not want a wife who is taller than him, or makes more money than him . . .

        I remember debate about whether it’s “men want women who earn less” or “women want men who earn more,” but when I search to make sure I was accurate, I find a huge shitstorm of everyone putting words in everyone else’s mouths, and no primary sources to be found.

        https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1994-40946-001 was the best I could find on Google Scholar, but it’s over 20 years old, and doesn’t try to separate “men don’t care about women’s earning potential” with “women earning more would actively turn men off.”

        “Women want men who earn more” certainly matches my experience from an elite college, where a majority of the women had good careers yet still married up so they could then become SAHMs. But experience is not data etc.

      • Garrett says:

        Do you have any references? I’m looking for a spouse and don’t object to someone with a higher degree of educational attainment than I have.

      • aristides says:

        As an American man, I know I felt put off dating women who came from a wealthier background than me. What we wanted and valued in life was so far removed from each other, I got the feeling that marriage would never worked out. I had no desire to work 80 hours to afford an expensive house in a nice neighborhood and go on overseas vacations nor get a powerful job where I could change the world which seemed like the main desire of some of the wealthier women. Instead, I married a poor immigrant. Now I think she is very smart, but since family wealth is corroborated with IQ to some extent, she is probably not as smart as me nor as smart as most of the women at the grad school I was attending at the time. This can affect some of the sorting, but I’m not sure how much

      • AG says:

        Isn’t this a function of expectations of a housewife fate in Asian cultures? The more education or career experience a woman has, the less likely they have revealed preferences of quitting their job and staying home all day as soon as they say their vows.

        But also, the Two Income Trap necessitates prioritizing women who can earn their own share. I don’t know that Asian countries have encountered such housing crises or cost disease.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      On the topic of modern changes in mating, I warmly recommend Is There Anything Good about Men, by Roy Baumeister (the cognitive psychologist). The book, not the article – they ended up being about different topics.

      About men preferring less intelligent women, it may be just that they prioritize different things. Looks it the most obvious, but traits like kindness or willingness to settle down are seldom talked about yet very salient to many men. And since we have only so many character points to spend…

      For women it’s the opposite. Not only is IQ a desirable trait by itself, but status, income, wittiness&charm are positively correlated with it.

    • albatross11 says:

      Is there polling data on how men feel about smart or educationally-accomplished women? In my social circle, this looks like a plus, but I live in a weird social circle where being smart and having impressive educational credentials is a good thing–I have no idea how this plays out in the big wide world.

      My guess is that when you meet your mate in college or on the job (especially in an intellectually demanding job), everyone’s intelligence is easier to see and probably seems more relevant.

      Is there good data on assortative mating by IQ or educational achievement?

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Try searching up “Wendy Johnson” – [the psychologist and former actuary, in case other Wendy Johnson’s exist] I think she may have done some research on that at some point.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I strongly suspect that associative mating is a real and strong effect. Very few people of either sex want a mate who is substantially less intelligent than they are.

      There is still a small but real effect where women want a higher achieving man, but men generally want a woman who is very close to them in success and intelligence.

    • bean says:

      I think that both are likely true, but that meritocracy will increase assortative mating more than just widening of the pools will because the pool is enriched with closer matches. In theory, there’s no reason that going from a small pool to a larger one is going to change the distribution in the pool. If there are 50 potential matches in the village you grew up in, and 250 in the town you move to to do your apprenticeship (this being ye olden days), then you’re likely to get a better match in the town. But at some point, you’re going to start getting enrichment because your pool can’t grow indefinitely, and you’re more likely to meet the daughters of the members your guild (who are broadly from the same strata as you) than you are to meet the daughters of the dung-collector (who is not). But the strata is pretty broad.

      Modern meritocracy seems like the turbocharged version of this, particularly at the upper levels. You go to Columbia, and you’re with the sort of people who can get into Columbia. Then you get into grad school at Yale, which has the same sort of people. Then you get a job at some elite institution, with coworkers who also went to elite schools. Where are you even meeting non-Ivy-caliber people in all of this? Maybe at some social activity, but even those tend to be rather heavily sorted.

      • J Mann says:

        My anecdotal observations of successful professionals is they tend to group into:

        1) Marry a peer, remain married for life

        2) Marry a peer, divorce them and marry someone more successful.

        3) Marry a peer, divorce them and marry someone younger, more attractive, and less successful than both members of the original group. (The dentist marrying his hygienist, or lawyer marrying an admin.)

        No idea on the numbers, or if the observations are accurate.

    • JPNunez says:

      Recently the Flynn effect was shown to be reversing in a nord country, probably due to dysgenics effects of intelligence (smart people will tend to have less kids).

      So probably humans naturally evolving into hyper intelligent big headed grey aliens ain’t happening after all.

    • SamChevre says:

      I think you only get this effect strongly if both men and women are measured on similar measures of “merit.”

      It’s interesting to compare my thinking when dating with my little brother’s; he is probably as smart as I am, certainly more financially successful, but a good bit more traditional. I wanted a wife I found interesting; he wanted a wife who was kind and competent. His wife is incredibly capable and really nice, but she is not an abstract thinker. She’s smart, but not smart in a way that would make her good at college.

      • Garrett says:

        Where did your brother meet his now-wife?

      • Secretly French says:

        I almost get the impression you’re looking for a lab partner for a school project, while he’s looking for a wife for a home. I’m married; if my wife were not kind my life would be hell. If my wife were a good abstract thinker… this would have little significance to me. Are you looking for a wife, or a co-author?

        • andrewflicker says:

          I wanted a wife that I could co-author a life with- cliches aside, I wanted someone who would be an active partner in many of the activities I wanted to engage in, not a helpmeet who enabled my independent concerns.

    • DeWitt says:

      I don’t really have a strong opinion on these matters, but I feel like it’s relevant that SSC is a blog with some freakishly smart people, who almost never meet people appreciably smarter than they, and that this isn’t in the slightest anyone else’s experience.

    • edmundgennings says:

      Some of Greg Cocran’s work implies that there was astoundingly large medieval and early modern assortative mating in England. (I read this a while ago and can not pull up exact citation for details unfortunately.) Most memorably, the data shows women were pairing to a considerable based on the academic potential of the individual woman before women were receiving formal education. While this high assortative may have fallen later, especially in the colonies, I am dubious of 1900 as being any where near full random mating. Hence while an increase in assortative mating can explain a far bit of increased inequality, we can not increase assortative mating that much above historical levels.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      There must be rapidly diminishing returns to looking farther for a better fit in terms of IQ, etc. So I’m somewhat sceptical. Also, I once saw assortative mating data from a hundred years ago and it was virtually identical to the numbers today (I think it was for the UK).

      The original bell curve argument makes much more sense: You select all smart people and put them into the same universities: That should definitely increase assortative mating at the very top. But it doesn’t have anything to do with mobility.

      I recently thought about whether this effect would be proportional to the size of the country. I.e. in China you have a much bigger talent pool for the top university, so you have a higher threshold to get in, so you get assortative mating closer to the top, so you get a next generation of super geniuses.

      • There must be rapidly diminishing returns to looking farther for a better fit in terms of IQ, etc. So I’m somewhat sceptical.

        I’m not sure. If all you were looking for was IQ then a pool of a hundred potential mates should be adequate for almost anyone. But if you are looking for a combination of IQ, personality type, body type, …, then out of a hundred you eliminate ninety-five on non-IQ grounds and the best fit on IQ of the remaining five may not be very good.

  16. Atlas says:

    Atlas’ Grumpy Contrarian (Or Maybe Meta-Contrarian) Corner:

    There’s a certain sort of cultural snobbery that really annoys me across many different forms, and indeed has done so since childhood. I don’t partake of the Chinese Cartoons myself, but the best distillation of this is the “Don’t say you love the anime if you haven’t read the manga” meme [1]. Ha, you like the more popular version of something? What a pleb, the less popular original is better!

    Sub-variants:

    —The foreign version is better than the American version
    —The original is better than the remake
    —The (comic)book is better than the film/TV show/video game
    —The influencing work of art is better than the influenced one

    In a repudiation of such insufferable snobs everywhere, what are some counter-examples to this meme that you can think of? Some of mine (since in my view artistic merit is largely subjective, I won’t bother to elaborate unless people are curious about my thoughts on a specific item):

    Blade Runner is better than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

    Mad Max: Fury Road is better than the films in the original trilogy.

    The Godfather films, parts I and II, are better than the novel.

    The Witcher video games are better than the books.

    Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy films are better than any Batman comic ever written.

    Shakespeare’s telling of Romeo and Juliet is better than its various sources, e.g. Ovid’s telling of Pyramus and Thisbe.

    Guillermo Del Toro’s first Hellboy film is better than its source comics.

    Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier graphic novel is better than the Silver Age comics than inspired it.

    Westworld the TV series is better than the film that inspired it.

    Incidentally, in all the cases I’ve cited thus far, I’m familiar with and very much like the source material as well; no slight on the original creator(s)/works is intended in any of these cases.

    I have not seen the original Ocean’s Eleven, nor frankly do I ever expect to, but by all accounts Steven Soderbergh’s version is much better. (I have seen and didn’t really like Soderbergh’s all that much; at least, I liked it far less than I expected to.)

    I haven’t seen the original BSG TV series, but I suspect that the remake is considerably better.

    I really, really hope that Christopher Nolan directs an adaptation of The Prisoner that is even better than the excellent TV series. (Nolan was attached to such a project at some point in the past; I think he made Inception instead.)

    [1] This meme is apparently primarily used in satirical contexts, but I assume that it’s based on an actually observed tendency among some mango/animu lovers.

    • johan_larson says:

      Jaws the film is better than the book it was based on.

      The History Channel is better entertainment than the wars it uses as source material, and less costly in lives.

      • Atlas says:

        The History Channel is better entertainment than the wars it uses as source material, and less costly in lives.

        I have to say, I chuckled at that one. Also, much the same could be said about the Flashman novels.

        Revealing the truth about Ancient aliens are also more fun than real history.

      • attir says:

        But Crocodile Hunter is worse entertainment than Steve had while filming it.
        Star Trek is also presumably less thrilling entertainment than would be had by the fictional characters on the bridge of the Enterprise, albeit without the binding code of honour, which might dampen the experience somewhat.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Even the directors concede that the remakes of Three Godfathers (1919), These Three (1936), Sisters of the Gion (1936), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) were improvements (1948; 1961; 1956; 1956).

      The second remake of The Maltese Falcon is better than the first two films.

    • Uribe says:

      In the case of movies, if a movie is really good it is probably better than the source that inspired it. Great books rarely translate into great movies. Its a different art form. A mediocre novel can often be more cinematic in style than a great one.

      • Atlas says:

        Great books rarely translate into great movies.

        Agreed. Steve Sailer once observed something to the effect of: Hollywood keeps trying to adapt novels based on hundreds of pages of erudite exposition about characters’ inner feelings into 2 hour films and is surprised when they don’t pan out.

        I think Kubrick had a pretty good policy of taking inspiration from books that were respectable but not first rank. The only film of his that was based on a novel considered a masterpiece is Lolita, which I think is not coincidentally one of his least remembered films.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I agree in general, but I think both the book and the Joe Wright/Keira Knightly film of Pride and Prejudice are excellent, and I believe the film of Brighton Rock is generally seen as a classic; the book is certainly great. Notably, both books are, as novels go, very short.

      • silver_swift says:

        Counter example: Lord of the Rings

        • carvenvisage says:

          I haven’t doublecheked this but Christopher Tolkien (JRR Tolkien’s son) apparently said “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25”.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I don’t go quite as far as Christopher Tolkien, but the movie was much worse than the book. Jackson overlooked many of the book’s themes, mutilated several major characters, and spent far too much time on battle scenes. Perhaps the film was good as a film – the average moviegoer apparently wants different things than I do – but it’s significantly inferior to the book.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I am reading the trilogy for the first time and I am largely finding I disagree with this pretty much entirely.

            As of the end of The Two Towers, all the major important aspects of the hobbits, Gollum, Gandalf, Gimli, and Legolas come through as strikingly similar between the movies and the books. They feel like the same characters with the same arcs and development in a way that as surprising given the edits the movie makes for time.

            The only character who bears little resemblance to his book counterpart is Aragorn – and the movie version is a superior character and character arc in basically all respects.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Book-Aragorn is such a weird character. He only got character development in the appendix. The only thing worse than that is a punch in the appendix.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @MrApophenia

            Faramir is totally and completely changed for the worse. It misses an important part of the book to change his character the way they did.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Yeah, fair. I forgot about Faramir, he mostly does wind up worse off.

            Saruman also doesn’t really translate through fully, although that’s more a matter of degree – the basic ideas are there, just not expressed as well.

            On the other hand, the Aragorn stuff is so much better, and the rest of the characters nailed so well, I think they still come out ahead.

            (First two, anyway – haven’t read Return of the King yet.)

          • SamChevre says:

            I watched the first movie, and didn’t watch the rest because it so completely muddled the books (which I love).

            For me, the key element missing was that Sauron and Saruman were rivals, not allies.

          • acymetric says:

            Can someone explain the knock on Aragorn as a character in the books? I don’t remember having any problems with him, although it has been a little while since I re-read them.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Not MrApophenia, but Aragorn in the books is more than a man. He’s very Elvish and very old and wise. He doesn’t struggle the same way people do.

            The movie Aragorn was very human, and had much more struggle because of that. Which actually stole a bit of the thunder of Faramir and Boromir, who were meant to be emblematic of that struggle in the book.

          • AG says:

            The LotR films are outstanding as film adaptations. Every time I watch them, it amazes me how optimally they made decisions to make things work in the cinematic format.

            Also, they fixed the horrid pacing issues in FotR, so that’s the main thing. Fucking Bombadil.
            So many people were dazzled by the FotR film, tried to read the book, and gave up in disgust because that damned first act goes on forever.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Yeah, pretty much what EchoesofChaos said, plus the basic fact that he just doesn’t really develop as a character at all. When Aragorn shows up in the book, he is just introduced as the rightful heir to Gondor, he has totally embraced that role already, to the extent that he himself is going around reciting that poem about how the crownless again shall be king to people – who all immediately fawn at his feet because, oh wow, the heir to Gondor!

            The Aragorn of the movie is aware of his lineage, but he is living a much more humble life as a wilderness loner under an assumed name, and has no particular designs or desires on claiming the throne.

            The thing that is really emblematic of this to me is the reforging of Isildur’s sword. In the movies, this broken sword is this weighty portent of the fall of Isildur and Aragorn’s line; when it is reforged in Return of the King, an Aragorn accepts it, this is a big deal.

            In the book, they just reforge it for him at the House of Elrond right at the start because hey, he’s the king, he should have his sword, right?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Fucking Bombadil

            I tried to read FoTR 25 or so years ago, well before the first movie came out, and that was when I quit.

            I loved The Hobbit.

          • Evan Þ says:

            When I think back on the book-and-appendix as a unit, I love the character of Aragorn as presented there. He’s gone through his character development long before he meets Frodo; by that point he’s already gained wisdom and come to terms with his status and heritage and the need to wait patiently and humbly as a ranger in the wilderness defending the land that he should rightfully be ruling. When he meets Frodo, he sees the time to make his move and regain his kingdom is now or never; the Sword-That-Was-Broken is reforged to indicate that he’s now putting himself forward as none of his ancestors did since Arvidui Last-King. As we see in the one point in the book we share his perspective – chapter 1 of Two Towers – he’s challenged by the uncertainty of which course to take when he’s fully aware of the stupendous implications of any mistake.

            The films change this. They show him coming to terms with his destiny onscreen, and not fully accepting it till Return of the King. It might have been a good decision to take; it would definitely have been harder to show the same sort of Aragorn as the books (Tolkien himself doesn’t do a great job since a lot of the necessary scenes don’t show up till Appendix A.) The first-time viewer can appreciate the film version more… but I’m sorry they passed up the chance to show as rich a character as book!Aragorn turns out to be below the surface.

            (And then the films totally messed up Denethor even worse. Book!Denethor despairs about victory, sees how horrible defeat would be, and is quite literally willing to kill himself rather than even see Sauron’s victory. Movie!Denethor despairs about victory, screams out that it’s time to surrender, and then when Gandalf physically beats him up (!) decides the next-best thing is to kill himself.)

          • acymetric says:

            Tom Bombadil was awesome. I’d watch a feature length movie just about that part of the book expanded to fill 2.5 hours.

          • Randy M says:

            I wouldn’t be surprised if you got your wish; isn’t Amazon working on more new LotR content? I’m sure it will be restrained and not turn every passing detail into a bloated mess.

          • What turned me off on the first LOTR film was the encounter of Arwen and Aragorn, where she plays ninja and sneaks up on him. Neither of them is a teenager–Arwen not by a millenium or two–and that sort of behavior is wildly out of character.

            I was also bothered by the missed opportunity in the Gandalf/Saruman encounter, which looks like something from Star Wars or the like. Saruman’s power is his voice–which is a kind of magic that could have been done on the screen with no special effects at all. Saruman makes an obviously persuasive and reasonable argument, the viewer expects Gandalf to accept it–and
            Gandalf somehow pricks the bubble and it bursts. Repeat.

            I didn’t see the other two.

            And I disagree about Bombadil. I think his strangeness adds to the richness of the world, just as the Ents do–it isn’t all about Gandalf et. al. against Sauron et. al., there are other things in the world.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @acymetric, I don’t really share your love for Tom Bombadil to that extent (though I do agree with @DavidFriedman that he fits in the work), but have you read the Adventures of Tom Bombadil? It’s a collection of Tolkien’s poetry, including a few narrative verses about Tom Bombadil. You might also like Roverandum, a Tolkien children’s book that I think shares something of the same feel.

            @DavidFriedman, I totally agree with you about the Gandalf/Saruman fight. The one play-by-play encounter Tolkien gives us of a wizard’s duel is Finrod and Sauron in the “Lay of Leithian” and Silmarillion; they fight not physically but with words and song (which, Appendix A informs us, literally builds illusions around them of what they’re singing). Gandalf and Saruman should be doing that to an even greater extent, since they’re both Ainur who literally sang the world into existence! That would be something new and different and wonderful onscreen.

          • acymetric says:

            @Evan Þ

            I was sort of exaggerating a bit, but I do enjoy his part of the story and was disappointed it couldn’t be squeezed into the film. That said, I’ll have to check those out.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Roverandom is completely delightful, in my opinion: it’s a story Tolkien wrote for his young son upon losing his favourite toy, about the toy’s various adventures.

          • Aqua says:

            Disagree, though I only read the first book because I thought it was absolutely awful

            Movie trilogy seemed fine at the time

      • cassander says:

        The distinction, I think, is that a two hour movie is a short story, not a novel. To be adaptable, a novel has to either be very suitable to visual display or have a lot of stuff cut out, probably both. The former s rare, and if the latter is true then the novel is probably good, not great.

        • Evan Þ says:

          That’s a great point, but I think you’re overstating it somewhat. Consider The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; it’s a fairly faithful adaptation of the 40,000-word novel, or at least it could be with a couple changed lines without adding any new scenes. Today, we might call a 40,000-word narrative a novella, but it’s definitely not a short story.

          On the other hand, I do agree with you that a longer narrative is very hard to faithfully adapt into a movie. Marketing probably isn’t the only reason Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn were split into two films – all the plot threads the books brought together need the screen time!

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        Fight Club is great because Fight Club is great. But obviously to do some books justice you need at least 3 hours or a mini-series.

    • LadyJane says:

      100% agreed regarding Blade Runner and Fury Road. Disagree about Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but only because you’re comparing it to such a broad catalogue of work; if you said “better than 99% of the Batman comics that have ever been published,” I’d agree. Broadly speaking, the same probably applies to most good comic book movies.

      The new 2000s-era Doctor Who seems to be leagues and bounds better than the 60s movie series with Peter Cushing.

      Heat, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, was vastly better than L.A. Takedown. Although the original is so obscure that most people don’t know that Heat is a remake of anything.

      Johnny Cash’s rendition of Hurt was indisputably better than Trent Reznor’s original. Reznor himself agrees.

      For an inverse example, I genuinely like the original 50s version of The Fly a lot better than the 80s remake, even though virtually everyone else thinks the remake is superior.

      • Atlas says:

        100% agreed regarding Blade Runner and Fury Road. Disagree about Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but only because you’re comparing it to such a broad catalogue of work; if you said “better than 99% of the Batman comics that have ever been published,” I’d agree. Broadly speaking, the same probably applies to most good comic book movies.

        Fair enough, it was a bit hyperbolic. Are there any specific comics you’re thinking of? I was comparing Nolan’s films to Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, Knightfall and The Dark Knight Returns. I really like The Long Halloween and Knightfall, but I still think that The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are better than them. I don’t particularly like Frank Miller’s writing personally, so I think that Batman Begins is heads and shoulders above Year One.

        Although the original is so obscure that most people don’t know that Heat is a remake of anything.

        I certainly didn’t. (Actually, now that I think about it, the Now Playing review of Heat must have mentioned this, but it completely slipped my mind.)

        • LadyJane says:

          Those four plus The Killing Joke and No Man’s Land were the main inspirations for the Nolan movies, so that’s a fair comparison. If we’re only comparing the movies to the storylines that directly inspired them, then I’d agree, the movies are an improvement over all six of them.

        • J Mann says:

          I think it would be hard for a movie to be better than The Dark Knight Returns, but haven’t seen the Nolan movies.

          • MrApophenia says:

            The one that most directly adapts The Dark Knight Returns, the third movie, is in my opinion nowhere close to the source material; I also don’t think Batman Begins beats Year One.

            On the other hand, The Dark Knight is definitely better than The Killing Joke.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Is The Dark Knight supposed to be an adaptation of The Killing Joke? I’ve never read TKJ, but it conspicuously features Batgirl, and TDK doesn’t.

          • MrApophenia says:

            None of the Nolan movies are really adaptations, but they are all pretty clearly riffing on specific famous Batman stories, redoing famous scenes and themes and arcs in different contexts.

            Batman Begins is a combination of Year One and some famous Ra’s Al Ghul story or another. (Ra’s Al Ghul is a big gaping hole in my bat-trivia.)

            The Dark Knight is a completely different story than The Killing Joke, but it takes its core conception of the Joker from that book – he’s been driven mad by the random, meaningless chaos of life and wants to do the same to others, even he doesn’t know his own backstory (“If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”), and of course victimizing a woman the hero cares about as his primary means of accomplishing the goal.

            Finally, The Dark Knight Rises is both the most direct adaptation in a lot of ways, but also is simultaneously a mashup of three different stories, each recognizable in the movie – The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall, and No Man’s Land.

          • LadyJane says:

            @MrApophenia: Contagion is the Ra’s Al Ghul story that Batman Begins is most directly inspired by, although I actually haven’t read it myself. And The Long Halloween was just as much of an influence on The Dark Knight as The Killing Joke, possibly more so. Otherwise, you’ve basically got it down.

            Much like Atlas, I’m simply not that much of a fan of Frank Miller’s writing style, which is why I feel like Year One and The Dark Knight Returns aren’t as good as the films they inspired. But I can see why a lot of fans would disagree with me about that.

            Weirdly, the Batman v. Superman movie also tried to adapt The Dark Knight Returns while mixing it with Death of Superman of all things. And the sad thing is, as ridiculous as that mashup is, I think it actually could’ve worked if the execution had been better.

          • J Mann says:

            I like all of TDKR, but this in particular is probably my favorite single page in all of comics.

      • John Schilling says:

        The new 2000s-era Doctor Who seems to be leagues and bounds better than the 60s movie series with Peter Cushing.

        It’s also leagues and bounds better than the 90s movie with Paul McGann, but so what?

        The ’60s and ’90s movies were both second-rate knockoffs of the Doctor Who television series, that ran continuously from 1963 to 1989 with William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylverster McCoy, achieved enormous acclaim on a tiny production budget, predates the Cushing movies, and is pretty much the only thing anyone means when they talk about early or original Dr. Who.

        Are you confusing the original TV series with the knockoff movies with Cushing, or were you under the misconception that the Cushing movies were the original?

        And yes, granted that the modern TV series is better than the Cushing movies. It’s by far the best “Dr. Who” knockoff ever made, and the only one that is arguably better than the original.

        • LadyJane says:

          Okay, so apparently I was slightly confused. I haven’t seen the 90s movies or the original TV show. All I’ve seen in the 2005 series and the Peter Cushing movie Dr. Who and the Daleks, which I only saw because of Rifftrax. I knew there was a 60s series, but I guess I figured it was either based on the Cushing movie, or the Cushing movie was a direct follow-up that was similar in terms of plot, tone, characters, quality, etc. Up until now, I thought plot points like Doctor Who being an alien with multiple reincarnations was something that one of the later series came up with, I thought the original series just went with the “old grandfather creates a time machine in a phone booth” premise of the Cushing movies. Whoops!

        • Plumber says:

          Please, modern “Doctor Who” is completely LAME!!! as it isn’t on broadcast television at all!

          I watched Doctor Who when it was on channel 54 (KTEH) in the 1970’s (sometimes requiring me to hold the antenna and touch the wall) and then in the 1980’s it was also on channel 9 (KQED) and I really enjoyed it.

          New “Doctor Who” isn’t broadcast at all!

          • AlphaGamma says:

            You were watching it several years late in syndication I think. You’re correct that it’s not on a free-to-air US TV network, though it is on BBC America.

          • Plumber says:

            AlphaGamma

            “…it is on BBC America…”

            It will be a cold day in Hell before I pay a subscription to watch television!

          • toastengineer says:

            The original up ’till Baker was replaced is infinitely better than the modern series. The stuff past that is more hit or miss for me.

            Douglas Adams wrote a few episodes!

          • John Schilling says:

            Douglas Adams wrote a few episodes!

            Only two, alas. Well, one and a half at least. And Neil Gaiman wrote two episodes for the new series.

            Both series, when they were good, were very good. I’m open to the opinion that the higher production values of the new series are useful for papering over the occasional stinker with some shiny distractions and giving it a net win.

            OTOH, the old series could put Nicola Bryant in a bikini or Louise Jameson in a leather mini, which was also quite distracting in a way the new series isn’t quite willing to match.

          • gbdub says:

            The second B in BBC is for “Broadcasting”! You just need a better antenna. Or a plane ticket.

            Original Doctor Who is just too cheesy for me to get over. The new stuff is still pretty cheesy, but at least the production values are better. Old TV sci-fi is tough. I could handle goofball plots OR the grandpa’s basement set design quality, but both at once is hard to swallow. Star Trek TOS is about as cheesy as I can handle.

            Unfortunately I think it suffers from Monty Python’s Flying Circus syndrome – it’s very fondly remembered because you really can construct a hell of a series out of the best ideas and characters. But you’re remembering the highlights – there was an awful lot of dreck filling in those many episodes.

      • J Mann says:

        IIRC, Johnny Cash has a number of these. I think Nick Cave and Bruce Springsteen have both said that they liked Cash’s version of their songs (The Mercy Seat and Highway Patrolman) better than theirs, and if U2 hasn’t said it about One, they should.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Hurt by Johnny Cash is the definitive version, as even Reznor agreed.

          • Well... says:

            But let the records show that Johnny Cash’s cover of “Rusty Cage” by Soundgarden is a poor empty shadow of the original.

          • J Mann says:

            Yeah, it’s hard to see with the threading, but I was responding to a post that suggested Hurt as one of the cases where the remake was better than the original. (FWIW, I think Cash’s Hurt is better than Reznor’s, but his Mercy Seat is on another level).

          • EchoChaos says:

            You’re right. My post was redundant, but no less true.

        • acymetric says:

          He did a whole series of covers (with some originals sprinkled in) as the American series (I think there were 5 American albums released, plus one “Unearthed” with some alternate takes and additional unreleased tasks).

        • AG says:

          Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” is universally known to be superior to the Otis Redding original. A lot of people favor her take on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” too.

          Given that “Singing in the Rain” is a jukebox musical, evidently Gene’s version of the titular song surpasses its usage in previous musicals (though some may prefer the Judy Garland version).

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Some of these I want to fight about, but whatever.

      Silence of the Lambs certainly counts.

      Some might claim that The Shining does, but I disagree. Nonetheless I recognize that it’s a viable position to take.

      • Atlas says:

        Some of these I want to fight about, but whatever.

        Go ahead, make my day.

        Silence of the Lambs certainly counts.

        Great example, I can’t believe I didn’t think to put it in the original list.

        Some might claim that The Shining does, but I disagree.

        I haven’t read the King novel, so I have no opinion myself. How does it differ from the film?

        • BlindKungFuMaster says:

          I haven’t read the novels, but of the movies neither Silence of the Lambs nor The Shining is particularly amazing. In fact, they both have the feel of books being turned into movies that can’t do the source material justice, as far as I’m concerned.

    • Aging Loser says:

      Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is beautiful, sad, weird, and funny; it combines two novellas, the Deckard novella and the J. R. Isidore novella. Dick’s Christian Gnosticism wraps the two novellas together. Deckard’s a questing knight errant, Isidore a suffering/meditating hermit. Pris is Isidore’s incubus.

      The movie Blade Runner was fine, but has very little to do with the novel. Not a single movie has ever managed to transmit the feel of Dick’s writing. Maybe the cartoonized Through a Scanner Darkly movie came closest, but that’s because the novel Through a Scanner Darkly barely gestures toward being science fictiony and so resists William-Gibson-ization — it’s almost entirely just a sad picture of the mental degeneration of hippie-losers out of a Robert Crumb cartoon.

      • Aqua says:

        Yeah they felt so different to me that I don’t think it makes sense to compare them

        Overall I think I enjoyed the novel more and it felt more unique and interesting

    • onyomi says:

      The English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service, with Phil Hartman playing the cat, is better than the Japanese original.

      I also liked the dub of the original Full Metal Alchemist better than the original, but it may be a function of having seen the former first.

      Random anecdote: a gym I went to used to always be playing “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” at the time I would work out. It was playing on silent with closed captioning. I ended up watching a lot of the show in this manner just by virtue of being in the gym at that time. One day I saw it on TV with the voices on and it was a very strange experience, presumably because I had mentally made up voices for all the characters and hearing what they actually sounded like was a surprise.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Another subvariant:
      If you like the original, but you’ve heard of it only because you first liked the remake/adapted thing, you’re nowhere near as cool as if you had found the original first by your “own” means.

      Some years ago there was a manga and subsequent anime adaptation called Hikaru no Go, which was about the game of Go. It was quite well made, good story and interesting characters overall, but it was nonetheless conceived as a fiction-documentary about the world of the game of Go, with the intent to get many new people interested in the game.

      And it certainly worked, a lot of people did learn the rules of Go and tried to pursue the game at least as a hobby for a while after reading/watching Hikaru no Go, but they got a lot of sneering from people who were “already into Go” before the manga and anime popularized it.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        Hikaru no Go was the first manga I ever read from beginning to end, and I loved it.

        But I didn’t end up learning to play Go, so do I have shielding against Go-lover-snobbery? I am surprised that Go lovers would look down on people who started playing because of the manga. In my model of the world, game lovers (I avoid the term “gamers” because of its complicated connotations) of all shapes and sizes tend to be excited about newcomers as long as there aren’t so many at once that it wears on their patience.

      • Walter says:

        I’ve been active in a Go club for the past ~20 years, and > 50% of new people who show up do so because they’ve seen Hikaru No Go and it inspired them to start learning. It got a lot of people into the game.

      • jgr314 says:

        FWIW, sneering about new players is not at all consistent with my observation of go clubs and experienced players, regardless of the reason they are interested in the game. Maybe that’s a thing in high school or university clubs?

        Also, Hikaru’s influence is still pretty strong. The TD of my sons’ tournament this weekend has an online nickname “odnihs.” Took us all of 10 minutes to figure out his inspiration for it.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        But a few decades later that will flip and suddenly this will be the typical and unifying experience of getting into Go.

    • RDNinja says:

      I haven’t seen/read it in 20+ years, but I distinctly remember thinking as a child that James and the Giant Peach was better as a movie, and recognizing how transgressive that observation was.

    • silver_swift says:

      Don’t think this is remotely controversial, but:

      Samurai Pizza Cats is better than the Japanese show it is based on.

      And a sort of reverse example:

      Legend of the Seeker is not nearly as terrible as the books it is based on (to be clear, it is boring and nonsensical, just not quite as much of a train wreck as the books)

    • cassander says:

      Fight Club the movie is better than the book, and even the author agrees.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I think the book version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide is the best version and it was not the first.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I don’t partake of the Chinese Cartoons myself, but the best distillation of this is the “Don’t say you love the anime if you haven’t read the manga” meme

      Oh please, you shouldn’t even be allowed to discuss the manga if you haven’t read the light novel.

      Also, Witcher 3 was better than the books. Witcher 2 was about as good, and Witcher 1 was god-awful and I only slogged through it because I love everything else Witcher-related so much.

    • JPNunez says:

      The anime / manga thing may be explained by insane fillers in the TV version.

      Both Naruto and One Piece suffer greatly from this; Naruto had years of filler in the middle, tons of story that just don’t matter and are not advancing the plot, putting a lot of character into people, or anything. And in the end, its end lagged the manga by years too, all to add even more filler.

      One Piece had similar filler for a while, nowadays TV episodes are a 1:1 version of the manga, except that a manga chapter is too slow to fill 24 minutes of anime, so everything happens slowly, there are long intros, outros, long recaps of the previous episodes, etc, so it is a huge annoyance to watch.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Stardust the movie is better than the book (by Neil Gaiman). The book goes for a slow climax playing out themes and atmosphere, while the movie does a decent job of the themes while giving a great character- and action-based climax.

      Princess Bride the movie is light-years above the book. The movie is a wonderful comedy that takes the narrative seriously even though the incidents are hilarious, while the book deconstructs one level further by parodying itself to the point that I don’t care what happens to the characters.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        Both Stardusts are somewhat soulless. Ever since I have been somewhat mystified about the general adoration of Neil Gaiman.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Gaiman is very hit-or-miss and his highs have inspired fans who don’t want to admit this.

          I was enthralled with Sandman when I read it in the 90’s, not sure how well it holds up. Good Omens is still amazing (and I think that’s more due to Gaiman than Pratchett — I don’t generally enjoy Pratchett and found the more obviously Pratchett-y sections of Good Omens to be the worst). American Gods is uneven but at times spellbinding. Lots of Gaiman’s second-tier works (which Stardust certainly is) are, like… fine.

    • Well... says:

      I agree Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are probably better than the comic books (because comic books are just horrendous) but they’re not better than the Tim Burton Batman movies.

      Apocalypse Now is better than Heart of Darkness even though the latter was really good.

      Stevie Wonder’s version of Superstition is better than Jeff Beck’s.

      Ricky Skaggs’s bluegrass cover of “Superfreak” is better than Rick James’s original.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Linda Ronstadt’s cover of Desperado is better than the Eagles version.

        Well basically ever song she did was better than the original.

        • sentientbeings says:

          Well basically ever song she did was better than the original.

          I’ve got a counter for you.

          As much as I enjoy Ronstadt’s beautiful rendition of Carmelita, Warren Zevon’s, with it’s slightly different, original lyrics is better.

          There’s just no comparison between her

          Well I pawned my Smith and Wesson

          and Zevon’s

          Well I pawned my Smith Corona

          Besides, it was his dealer down by the chicken stand.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        not better than the Tim Burton Batman movies

        I mostly liked the Tim Burton movies, but I don’t agree. Can you explain what you find so good about them?

        • Well... says:

          They look and feel like zany comic books. Nolan’s movies try to take the concept of a guy running around in a silly suit beating up bad guys and make it a serious adult movie, and it just fundamentally never can be.

          • EchoChaos says:

            One thing that happens in comics is a series of implausible coincidences are treated as a master plan that makes sense somehow.

            When this happens in a “grim and realistic” Batman movie it destroys the entire premise. About mid-way through Joker’s nonsensical plan I had lost all suspension of disbelief and couldn’t enjoy the movie after that.

          • John Schilling says:

            I was about to say the same thing. Burton/Keaton/Nicholson took Batman about as far as it could go in the “dark, gritty realism” direction without taking itself too seriously. Nolan/Bale went about two steps too far, and did it masterfully but were taking the story into territory with – for me – a dangerous gap between plausible and necessary suspension of disbelief. And then Heath Ledger went two steps beyond that.

          • MrApophenia says:

            The Joker doesn’t actually have a plan in any meaningful sense in The Dark Knight. He’s got some broad strokes ideas but he is very much just making it up as he goes.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @MrApophenia

            Except for the jail scene, where Joker just happens to be put in the same cell as a man in obvious pain because he has been implanted with a cell phone bomb, is allowed to make a phone call, detonates said bomb and is not killed by such a massive explosion in close proximity and escapes.

            That’s at the edge of acceptable in a comic book due to implausibility. It doesn’t fit grim and gritty at all.

    • Jiro says:

      Wynonna Earp the TV series is better than the comics. I read the early comics and they were just capitalizing on the Image comics-like and bad girl trends of the time.

    • Well... says:

      More, now surely attracting cries of heresy:

      – Faith No More’s cover of “War Pigs” is better than the original by Black Sabbath.

      – Many of the bands that combined Black Sabbath and the Beatles as influences were better than either. Soundgarden and Type O Negative, to name two.

      – Nirvana was better than all the bands they ripped off, except the Melvins but they only ripped off the Melvins a few times blatantly (e.g. “Paper Clips” and “Milk It”).

      – Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” is WAY better than Dylan’s

      – Americanized brats and all-beef hot dogs are tastier than most authentic German wurst

      • AlphaGamma says:

        – Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” is WAY better than Dylan’

        Agreed. Alien Ant Farm’s cover of “Smooth Criminal” is also IMO better than the Michael Jackson version.

      • acymetric says:

        – Faith No More’s cover of “War Pigs” is better than the original by Black Sabbath.

        Heresy! The cover is fine, but it isn’t better, it just sounds…newer (as in, if Black Sabbath recorded decades later than they had, it would have sounded somewhat like this). Stylistically it is pretty much the same, except that it is a little too driving, Black Sabbath tends to have a dragging quality in their songs that adds to the tension. Sort of the rock version of playing in the pocket (Sabbath) vs. being meticulously in time on every note (Faith No More).

        – Many of the bands that combined Black Sabbath and the Beatles as influences were better than either. Soundgarden and Type O Negative, to name two.

        Too subjective to really debate. Disagree that Soundgarden was better than Black Sabbath though. Difficult to compare either to the Beatles, they were just trying to do very different things.

        – Nirvana was better than all the bands they ripped off, except the Melvins but they only ripped off the Melvins a few times blatantly (e.g. “Paper Clips” and “Milk It”).

        Agree. This is true for an awful lot of bands at the top of their genres, and seemed especially pervasive in the 70s (I’m looking at you Zeppelin) but in most cases it was kind of a “sure they’re ripping of X, but they’re doing it so much better that I don’t care!”

        – Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” is WAY better than Dylan’s

        I love Bob Dylan, but is there anyone who would disagree with this?

        – Americanized brats and all-beef hot dogs are tastier than most authentic German wurst

        Now I’m hungry, is it lunch time yet?

        • Well... says:

          The main improvement FNM brought to the song was in the singing. I agree about the pocket, but the competent singing makes up for it. Can’t stand Ozzy as a singer. He sounds like Wacko from Animaniacs (almost as much as the original ACDC singer did).

          • dick says:

            +1, Mike Patton is a national treasure.

            (Obligatory Mike Patton fact – he was the voice actor for the deranged gibbering of GLaDOS at the end of Portal)

      • Well... says:

        Even more:

        “12 Monkeys” was better than “La Jetee” (although “La Jetee” was really good).

        The Coen Bros.’ “The Ladykillers” was better than the original.

        Helmet’s song “Milquetoast” first appeared on the soundtrack to “The Crow” (as “Milktoast”). The later version that appeared on their album “Betty” was better.

        The Meat Puppets cover of “What To Do” by the Rolling Stones is better than the original.

        Newer generations of the Ford Mustang are cooler-looking than the earlier ones. (Although they’re still pretty lame.)

        Newer generations (2016 model years and later) of the Hyundai Accent are way better-looking than earlier generations. And from what I hear, somewhat more reliable.

        • Nornagest says:

          Newer generations of the Ford Mustang are cooler-looking than the earlier ones. (Although they’re still pretty lame.)

          Really depends on the generation. 1965-70 Mustangs are some of the best-looking cars ever made, especially the fastback models. ’71-’78 Mustangs have some decent sub-models (’71-’72 convertibles and ’74-’78 Cobras especially look good), but the base models weren’t up to the line’s previous standards. After that there’s 30 years of undifferentiated ugly. The 2005 Mustangs look good externally, but were marred by an ugly interior, and their 2011 facelift looked bloated and indecisive inside and out. The 2015 Mustang is a hit, though, looking better than anything since ’70 and finally including a decent interior, but I think the 2018 facelift was a (small) step backward.

    • bullseye says:

      I watched the first season or so of the new BSG, and the premiere of the original shortly thereafter. The original is *awful*. I only sat through the whole thing out of stubbornness.

      Now, obviously somebody liked the original. Maybe it’s just a taste difference between generations? Maybe I would hate any show from the 70s?

    • Etoile says:

      Movies better than books: Princess Bride, Everything is Illuminated

      Movie remakes better than originals: The Birdcage (remake of the French “La Cage Aux Folles”), Freaky Friday, and Parent Trap (although the book is still better than either movie).

      I think a large determining factor for movie remakes is the spirit with which they are made. For example, I don’t Pride and Prejudice variations as “remakes” of each other – it’s just really popular (and free) source material.

      With Disney live action versions of their animated films, it feels like a money grab and an attempt to improve on the social justice content. They may be good but I go in prejudiced against them.

      When the original movie is generic Hollywood fare that’s also dated, updating it to something that is fresher works well, even if it’s generic Hollywood of a later time.

      When something fresh and unusual is sanitized into Generic Hollywood, or worse yet Hollywood with overt social justice agenda, then I think the complaint is well-taken and not snobbery.

      For the latter point, LotR vs Hobbit movies are a good example. Even though I might have disagreement on the interpretation of the characters, plot editing, or specific artistic choices, LotR movies are way more than an action film for teenagers. I think they preserve the spirit and put extraordinary work into maintaining faith with the spirit of the work (including maximal use of book dialogue).

      The Hobbit movies, OTOH, are in fact just implausible action sequences and too little plot scraped over too much movie. The book, plus the background from appendices and such, are a good story that stands on its own; it didn’t need the orders of magnitude of Hollywoodizing it received.

      Anyway, my two cents.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Iron Man was better than the Iron Man comic, full stop. Nobody gave a crap about Iron Man. Even hardcore comics fans didn’t give a crap about Iron Man. I mean, I’m sure someone somewhere did, there’s always someone – I’m a fan of Paste Pot Pete for crying out loud – but what are the great Iron Man stories from the comics? Demon in a Bottle reads like an after school special to a modern audience. There’s that one with Dr. Doom and King Arthur, true, and that story rules, but that’s basically it pre-movie.

      The movie reinvented the character in the comics, and the comics version is much the better for it.

      Oh, and Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake is… well, it probably isn’t better than the original, but about as good? I don’t think you get the modern zombie craze we are still in to this day without that movie.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        There’s that one with Dr. Doom and King Arthur, true, and that story rules, but that’s basically it pre-movie.

        Iron Man and Dr. Doom meet Excalibur is a movie I want to see so bad.

    • beleester says:

      I have not seen the original Ocean’s Eleven, nor frankly do I ever expect to, but by all accounts Steven Soderbergh’s version is much better. (I have seen and didn’t really like Soderbergh’s all that much; at least, I liked it far less than I expected to.)

      They’re completely different movies, the only thing they have in common is that they both involve eleven people robbing a casino (five casinos in the original, actually).

      Neither one is perfect, but at least the remake has an actual ending and some twists in the plot. The original Ocean’s Eleven has an ending that basically turns the entire story into a shaggy dog story. And it commits the cardinal sin of heist movies – having the heist go exactly as planned. The only reason to explain the plan in advance is to set up the twist when the heist doesn’t go as planned! That’s Filmmaking 101!

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Chicago is the only well-known Broadway musical where the movie is considerably better than the stage production.

      (The Last Five Years‘s canonical version is the movie, but no one but musical nerds have heard of it.)

    • Fahundo says:

      I haven’t read the comics but I don’t believe you when you say the Dark Knight Rises is better than them. That was one of the most painful theater experiences I’ve ever had.

  17. Odovacer says:

    I have a naive question. Is there any link between birthrate and war? I mean, do societies with higher birthrates/more people surviving to adulthood go to war more often/support more war? I was just pondering, and superficially it seems that countries with lower birthrates would have less support for war. I mean, if all you have is 1 or 2 children, then you might have invested too much in them to risk having them be killed in a war. Would China with a 1.62 births/woman be much less likely to support war, than a China w/6.5 births/woman?

    • sentientbeings says:

      I don’t know anything about birthrate, but I remember reading something a while back about ratio of male to female population have a slight correlation with war. I think the figures were pre-20th century, or possible through WWI, and in the context of a discussion of decimated male populations returning to near normal levels fairly quickly.

      I’ll see if I can find it again.

    • Basil Elton says:

      I think any data you can gather on this question will be massively confounded by development level (more developed countries have lower birth rates and are less warlike) to the point of being useless.

    • Statismagician says:

      Yes anciently, but not in modern societies, if I had to guess, and not from cold risk-reward calculation in either case.

    • HeirOfDivineThings says:

      There might be a link between mate inequality and war (sorry for the multiple links):

      The link between polygamy and war.
      Polygyny and Violence Against Women
      Monogamy reduces major social problems of polygamist cultures
      In Plain Sight: The Neglected Linkage between Brideprice and Violent Conflict
      How the terrorists stopped terrorism

      Mate inequality might be tightly correlated to birthrate; the less mate inequality there is (monogamy) the fewer children are produced. That’s just a guess on my part though.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        Mate inequality might be tightly correlated to birthrate; the less mate inequality there is (monogamy) the fewer children are produced.

        Sounds unlikely to me. Monogamy also means that more men contribute materially to offspring, i.e. overall more kids can be supported.

        • ana53294 says:

          Monogamous men tend to pour more resources into their kids (quality vs quantity). Men who have many wives and many kids tend to not care too much about the kids. They probably won’t worry too much about the kids studying in school, or being able to go to college, or even about girls not quitting school to get married. Early girl marriage is very common in polyginous societies.

          With current levels of wealth in the world, it is not very hard to get kids to survive. The hard thing is to provide them with good nutrition, healthcare, education.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I once read an interview with a guy that claimed that exactly this relationship exists. You need second sons to wage war and second sons are eager to wage war because they have trouble finding a place in society. I guess nowadays the growth of the economy has to be included, the faster the growth the more sons can be accommodated.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I am not an expert here, but the old British system was for the first son to get the estate, the second son to go into the military, and the third son to go into the clergy. In case the first son dies the second son can retire and take over the estate. Not sure about retiring from the clergy in case of a double-death.

  18. sentientbeings says:

    Has anyone heard about this claim of having a cure for cancer in a year?

    It’s a claim that, once you make sure it isn’t part of typical journalistic misrepresentation of scientific results, seems so preposterous that I’d wonder why a company/research team would make it unless they actually had something really good.

    So for those who have domain knowledge, what do you think?

  19. freemantle says:

    Hi everyone, I wonder if anyone could offer some tax advice.

    I’m in the US on a student visa, but married an American citizen in 2018. My understanding is that we can file separately, as we have done in previous years, or elect to treat me as a resident alien, allowing us to file jointly. Which is better? (Or is this the sort of case where I should just pay the $50 or so for tax filing software, and let it tell me?)

    For reference, my income this year was approximately 100k and hers about half that. We have no dependents, no overseas income, or anything else out of the ordinary that I can think of.

    • John Schilling says:

      If you’re earning $100K and there’s anything at all not-simple about your finances, you should probably pay $50 for the software (or pay an accountant, or dive into the paper forms if that’s you’re thing but you’re asking here so probably not). I would guess that being a foreign student with an employed citizen wife would be not-simple enough for this to be the case.

    • brad says:

      Back up, before we get to taxes are you still on an F1 visa? Because that’s not a dual intent visa, and I’d be very worried trying to prove non-immigrant intent at a border crossing after having married a USC.

      On to the tax issue. I assume you were a US tax resident even though not a resident alien. If that’s the case you are significantly more likely to come out ahead with the filing status MFJ than MFS. The latter status is essentially designed to be punitive so as to prevent rampant gaming.

      As always with random pseudo-anonymous advice on the internet take it with a grain of salt.

      • freemantle says:

        Thanks for the advice! Yes, I’m F1 OPT (as you guessed below). Green card application pending, and I’m not traveling outside the US while I wait, for this reason.

    • SamChevre says:

      I would definitely spent the money to get your taxes done by a professional, at least this year. And be sure to check/file any FATCA reports required.

    • Statismagician says:

      I can’t help but think that a student visa + $100,000 in income might raise some questions; you may want to consult a complex tax expert to save yourself further paperwork.

    • aristides says:

      If you were both US Citizens, I would estamite that filing jointly would save you about $200. However, with that amount of money and a citizenship question, it’s worth getting software or an expert.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      So you make about 150k together and have a complicated situation. I would go with what others said and suggest you go to a professional. I am a tax accountant, although I am on the corporate side, so I am not an expert in individual taxes. But I know enough that a non-US citizen married to a US citizen will have some big issues. I mean, if all you want to know is whether to file separately or joint, then the software should tell you that (or doing it longhand, but that is pretty labor intensive). But I think there might be other issues. As one person suggested, find a good professional for at least one year, and then maybe you can copy that in future years, so it won’t be an ongoing charge.

  20. Hoopyfreud says:

    Negative versus positive externalities, and free ridership:

    I don’t see a good way of distinguishing between positive vs negative externalities without making ultimate reference to a state of nature, defining natural entitlements, and/or abandoning the idea of negative externalities. In particular, I don’t see how making reference to an immediately previously existing state (pareto improvements are good) doesn’t reduce ultimately to a claim about a state of nature.

    If you’re a Hobbesian, this seems to me to lead to the claim that there are no natural entitlements, and that human beings are naturally entitled to nothing at all. As far as that goes, the natural conclusion is that negative externalities simply don’t exist. There are only free riders leeching off the positive externalities of others, leaking economic value like a sieve, and the good and proper thing to do is to capture it. Charge people for anything that makes their lives anything but nasty, brutish, and short. Don’t want pollution? Pay people not to pollute. Want an education? Pay for the best you can, or put those kids to work. Type I diabetes? Better hope you never end up without enough money to be able pay to stay alive. Don’t want kids with birth defects? Save enough to move out of a paint dumping zone. Want to talk to someone? They ought to be charging you for it, just to make sure you really mean it. Et cetera.

    This is, of course, a horrible strawman, and I don’t mean to imply that anyone reasonable actually holds these views. However, I don’t see how one can reject this position without accepting some idea of natural entitlements. The question, I think, is “what things are people entitled to?” Another way to formulate this question is, “what negative externalities exist?”

    I think this is actually a very hard question to answer, particularly if you consider value to be non-cardinal like I do. In any case, I’m beginning to think that this is the real intersection between economics and politics; I believe that framing political debate in terms of economic thinking is socially useful beyond the level at which negative externalities cease existing, and I expect broad agreement on this, but my idea of where that level is is both high and idiosyncratic. I’m not a Hobbesian to start with, and to complicate matters further I’m of the opinion that the proper reckoning of people’s natural entitlements is not defined only by a “proper” conception of a state of nature. I’m only just now actually trying to work out a real and systemic idea of what I believe natural entitlements to consist of; previously I’d considered it a side issue, not a central one.

    Any thoughts on this?

    • 10240 says:

      Externalities can be defined easily: if you make others worse off than if you didn’t exist (or if you didn’t interact with the rest of humanity in any way), you create a negative externality. If you make others better off than if you didn’t exist, you create a positive externality.

      As for what we are entitled to: one possible opinion, similar to geolibertarianism/Georgism, is that you are entitled to the use of 1/(population of the Earth) of the Earth’s land (or, if we restrict the discussion to a country, 1/(population of your country) of your country’s land), unpolluted by others. That’s not much compared to the total amount of assets or production in a developed country; even the poorest people could afford the rent of that amount of land, even with much less welfare than currently exists. However, it provides a basis for considering pollution an externality.

      Out of your list, pollution and toxic paint are clearly externalities.
      If nobody treats your diabetes or educates your children (at least for free), that’s not an externality. I don’t think there exists a natural entitlement to be provided with something that requires others to work for you, whether or not we want government to ensure that everyone has access to, say, healthcare or education. I definitely don’t think that Robinson, living on a desert island, has his natural rights violated.
      Likewise, people should have a right to not talk to you unless you pay, but that doesn’t mean that they should actually charge for it.

      • Jiro says:

        Externalities can be defined easily: if you make others worse off than if you didn’t exist (or if you didn’t interact with the rest of humanity in any way), you create a negative externality. If you make others better off than if you didn’t exist, you create a positive externality.

        This definition doesn’t always work when two people’s contributions interact. Imagine that each of us owns a factory and the factories produce pollutants A and B respectively. Also assume that those pollutants are harmful only in combination. Who is producing the externality?

        (And if your answer is “well, assume that both of you don’t exist, then divide the change from that among the two people”, that doesn’t generalize very well. If mad slashers are hanging around at the park, killing kids and getting blood all over the place, there would be no blood with either no slashers or no kids, but we wouldn’t divide this externality between the slashers and the kids. The concept of “fault” becomes necessary or you can’t figure out where the externality is coming from.)

        • 10240 says:

          I’d say both are responsible. Both are releasing pollutants into other people’s air; furthermore, if either didn’t exist, other people would be better off.

          However, it’s unclear how to measure the amount of externality caused by each, and thus how much Pigovian tax they should pay. One idea is the following. If you make other people $x worse than if you didn’t exist, you have to pay $x. (In your example, the two factories would each have to pay the total harm caused by the two factories.) However, if for a group of people it holds that if the entire group disappeared, they would make others worse off by $y (which may be less than the sum of the values for the people/companies in the group), they can ask to have the total payment for the group to be reduced to $y. Then they can decide among each other how to split the payment.

          This probably wouldn’t work well as an actual legal rule, instead we could try to approximate what the outcome of this process would be. Fortunately complex interactions like this are not that common.

          As to your second example, if we have public land, it’s inevitable that there will be conflicts over its use without an obvious, objective answer to who is right.

    • Chalid says:

      You’re right about externalities often being defined in terms of fault, which references an imaginary state of nature. Ronald Coase noticed this in the 1960s. IANAE but I thought this is a nice summary of his take on it.

      “it’s because they were obsessed with the faulty notion of “fault”—the idea that if there’s a problem, it must be someone’s fault, and we should begin by identifying that someone. But in the rabbit/lettuce example, who’s really at fault? It’s true that if there were no rabbits, the lettuce wouldn’t get eaten. But it’s equally true that if there were no lettuce the lettuce wouldn’t get eaten. The problem is that rabbit farmers should not be next to lettuce farmers, and when you put it that way, you’re forced to recognize the fundamental symmetry of the situation.”

      • 10240 says:

        The situation is not symmetric. Lettuces don’t run over to the neighbor’s farm and eat his rabbits. It’s reasonable to expect your neighbor to not let his animals destroy your crops, it’s not reasonable to expect your neighbor to not demand that you don’t let your animals destroy his crops. Arguably this is a reference to a state of nature. You seem to be saying that a state of nature is necessarily imaginary or arbitrary. IMO a base state where people don’t destroy, pollute etc. the property of others or public property is a pretty objective base state, not an arbitrary one.

        Now while it’s clear that the polluter is fundamentally at fault, complications and complex interactions may arise when we want to determine the amount of compensation the polluter should pay. Arguably the compensation should be equal to how much economic harm* you cause to others. Let’s you build a pig farm, and it stinks up your neighbor’s land. If your neighbor’s land is empty, the harm you cause to him is a reduction in land value as the land is now not suitable for building residential property on it (and other activities on it are also made less pleasant); if your neighbor already has residential buildings on his land, his loss of property value is probably much greater. As such, if you don’t already have a pig farm on your property, then if your neighbor builds houses on his land, he increases the amount of compensation you have to pay if you decide to start a pig farm, assuming that the compensation is determined like this. Jiro’s comment has another such interaction.

        In practice, we have several different categories of externality, and we can deal with them in such a way that this sort of “reverse externality”, where someone can harm you by increasing the amount of compensation you have to pay for some form of harm, doesn’t really happen.
        (1) Harm that we regard as unacceptable, e.g. physically destroying other people’s property, or letting your animals loose on it. You should take steps to ensure that you don’t do it, and if you do it, you have to pay full compensation for any damage. You are expected to not do it at all, regardless of what other people do, so other people’s actions don’t really affect your obligations.
        (2) Pollution affecting the entire planet or a large area that we regard an acceptable cost of some activities (as long as the amount is limited and compensation is paid). It affects everyone, more-or-less regardless of what they do.
        (3) Pollution affecting a small area that we regard an acceptable cost: we can designate areas for type of use, e.g. agricultural or residential, with the compensation depending on the designation, rather than on how your neighbors actually use the land. If you stink up a residential area, your neighbors are entitled to a high compensation. If it’s an agricultural area, they only get a low compensation; if they’ve decided to build housing there, it’s their problem.

        Still, in some situations it may happen that other people’s actions affect how much compensation you have to pay for some action. Still, whether you cause a physical externality at all is generally unambiguous, and I’d consider such a “reverse externality” a different category than physical externalities.

        * With harms to health, well-being etc. included, converted to a dollar-value if possible. If the harm only affects a small area, it appears as a decrease in property values in the area.

        • Chalid says:

          It’s reasonable to expect your neighbor to not let his animals destroy your crops, it’s not reasonable to expect your neighbor to not demand that you don’t let your animals destroy his crops.

          Your intuitions about what is “reasonable” are not shared by everyone. Similarly to the rabbit/lettuce example, cattle ranchers need to coexist with farmers, and fence laws differ from state to state. Some states require ranchers to fence in their cattle to keep them from harming the farmers’ crops, while other states expect the farmers to put up their own fences to protect their own property.

          I was going to type more, but instead I’ll just refer to comment #5 in the post I linked upthread.

        • Your neighbor builds a recording studio into his house, and then demands that you make no sounds that can be heard from his house any time he is recording.

          Which of you is imposing an externality on which?

          As Coase pointed out quite a long time ago, what is going on is not “A imposes an external cost on B” but “A and B are taking actions which jointly result in a cost.” Either one can prevent it; we want legal rules that result in the one able to prevent it at lower cost doing so, assuming it’s worth preventing.

          • 10240 says:

            I don’t have a complete answer, other than that we can differentiate between the questions of
            (1) who imposes an externality on whom in some natural sense (I’d still say that it’s me when I make noise, even if it’s a small externality that we usually consider acceptable and legal. Notably, my neighbor who makes the demand only affects my interests if the law favors his demand.)
            (2) how to determine the course of action that is optimal regarding the aggregate of people’s interests and what law produces the optimal outcome regarding the aggregate of people’s interests, and
            (3) what the law should actually be. (This may or may not be the same as (2), depending on one’s worldview.)

    • Guy in TN says:

      However, I don’t see how one can reject this position without accepting some idea of natural entitlements.

      “Natural entitlements” has a deontological ring to it. Couldn’t one reject the Hobbesian framework you provided by the language of moral obligations, be they derived from natural rights theory, utilitarianism, or a myriad of other philosophies?

      I would also tread carefully with your usage of the word “externalities”- its technical use is an economic term referring to decreasing economic value, it does not directly relate to decreasing someone’s utility. If you want to talk about making someone worse off, just say “made worse off”. I made the same mistake a few months ago, and was correctly raked over the coals for it by David Friedman and others.

      • I would also tread carefully with your usage of the word “externalities”- its technical use is an economic term referring to decreasing economic value, it does not directly relate to decreasing someone’s utility.

        It relates to decreasing someone’s utility–as long as everyone’s marginal utility of income is positive, anything that decreases economic value must be decreasing someone’s utility.

        But something could be a negative externality and yet increase total utility, assuming one believes that interpersonal utility comparisons are possible. My utility is decreased by ten utiles, which is equivalent to me to ten dollars. Guy’s utility is increased by fifteen utiles, but that’s only the equivalent to him of five dollars because he really loves consumption, hence gets lots of utility from each dollar.

        Net effect on value -$5, hence a negative externality.
        Net effect on utility +5 utiles.

    • Aging Loser says:

      I’d love to read your thoughts, but you use the word “externalities” so I won’t be able to do so.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Sorry for my stupidity. Scott, please delete the top-level post; it’s low quality and uninteresting.

        E: to be clear, this isn’t snark or sarcasm. I made a bad post again and I feel bad for being bad.

      • Guy in TN says:

        It’s not a bad post. I’d wager that 95% of the people who use the word “negative externality” think it means “thing that makes a third party worse off”.

        For example, people use pollution as the classic example. But really, its only a “negative externality” if it imposes an economic cost on the people it affects. If the people being harmed own nothing of economic value (they are children, for instance), its not a “negative externality” from my understanding.

        • Clutzy says:

          That’s totally wrong. Children can still suffer externalities because we are forward looking. Like lets say there is a gang shooting and a stray bullet strikes a child paralyzing him. This was a negative externality equivalent to all the future lost value to society the injury has caused.

        • Guy in TN says:

          We are not “forward looking” in the sense that we measure economic value in terms of what we might have in the future. We measure it in terms of what we are willing to pay for today. If no one is willing to pay for you, then you’ve got no economic value.

          Of course, if a third party places economic value on the children (say, a parent), the they are able to express this value in the marketplace. But if the child has no one willing to advocate on their behalf, I’m pretty sure their economic value is zero, and thus anything bad that happens to them is not a negative externality.

          Children are just one example, people can find themselves with no money at any stage of life. For a penniless elderly person, it would be relatively easy to find people not willing to bid on their behalf!

          I tell you this not in order to advocate for mistreatment of the children or the elderly, but in order to show the vast inadequacy of using the language of economic externalities as a guiding point for any sort of morality.

          • Clutzy says:

            The old adult is very different than the young child.

            If no one is going to bid for an old adult, perhaps the external cost is 0. But for the young child, we have to assume a hypothetical to determine the externality: What if a person could bid for all of that child’s future labor minus future costs? If the kid has a genetic condition or is destined to be a career criminal/delinquent then maybe, again, it is zero or even positive, but the median person benefits society more than he harms it over his lifetime. And that is even if he dies penniless, because he’s paid more in taxes than he received in benefits, he raised children, etc. Most importantly from a Marxist POV he provided surplus value to his employers that they took and put elsewhere.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If the kid has a genetic condition or is destined to be a career criminal/delinquent then maybe, again, it is zero or even positive, but the median person benefits society more than he harms it over his lifetime.

            True. But still, the negative externality of pollution isn’t being placed on the children, since they have no money themselves, but instead on whoever is bidding on the children’s behalf (assuming there are any of these people).

            And that is even if he dies penniless, because he’s paid more in taxes than he received in benefits, he raised children, etc.

            Are you sure the median person pays more in taxes than he receives in benefits? I’m not so sure, and my instincts tell me “no” (particularly if you add up the value of things like roads, defense, ect).

            And this is all unnecessary anyway: You seem to agree that there are certain people (those who provide net-negative economic value to society, such as the disabled) for whom “doing bad things to” does not count as a negative externality.

          • rahien.din says:

            I largely agree with your conclusion about economics’ inadequacy as the beacon of morality, but Guy in TN, this premise :

            We do not measure economic value in terms of what we might have in the future.

            …it’s just wrong. “What we might have in the future” is the exact target of economics.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If I’m willing to pay no more than $0 for a thing today, then the current economic value of that thing is $0. It doesn’t matter if I say that I’d be willing to pay more than $0 at a later date.

            (If binding contracts are involved that changes things, of course)

          • rahien.din says:

            If I’m willing to pay no more than $0 for a thing today, then the current economic value of that thing is $0. It doesn’t matter if I say that I’d be willing to pay more than $0 at a later date.

            But this makes no sense when applied to the economic value of a child.

            You might not be willing to hire a toddler as a programmer, scientist, or jet pilot, even if someone was to pay you. Their economic value is measurable in negative dollars. So yes, until it matures into a productive adult, a child is an economic drain on its community – it is callous but true that if the child is killed, then the community is temporarily richer. But you want to be able to hire programmers, scientists, or jet pilots in the future – growing children into productive adults is indeed the whole point of having children at all. The death of a child means that there will be one fewer such adults. Their future community will be poorer, because it had lost a productive member. The resultant damage to expectations of productivity is economic harm.

            Therefore, spending money to safeguard children is to make a payment for a time-deferred fulfillment of a good or service. It’s an investment.

            Everything is an investment of one sort or another. Even such a thing as simple as buying a hamburger. You expect to hand over some money and get a hamburger in exchange. A restaurant with sloppy preparation or slow service will not be able to charge as much as a restaurant which promptly and consistently produces good hamburgers. The higher price at the better restaurant is what you pay for a more favorable expectation. It’s a miniature investment.

            What I’m trying to point out is that
            1. Every transaction is a deferred exchange predicated on an agreement
            2. Economics is chiefly concerned with risk and expectation
            3. Damage to said expectation and/or involuntary increase in risk is economic harm, even in the absence of agreement or contract

          • 10240 says:

            @Guy in TN , Regarding the economic measurement of not-inherently-economic things, there are at least two ways to convert a particular suffering to a dollar value: (1) how much you would be willing to pay to avoid it (which is capped by your ability to pay), and (2) what is the smallest payment you would be willing to accept in exchange for enduring it. (Similarly, the value of a pleasure can be measured as (1) how much you would be willing to pay for it, or (2) how much payment you would be willing to accept to forgo it.)

            If the values are small compared to your total wealth or paying ability, and you are rational, then (1) and (2) should be approx. the same (though (2) is bigger than (1) if you show loss aversion). However, if the values are significant compared to your paying ability, then (2) will be significantly bigger than (1). In particular, (2) may exceed your paying ability, and it’s meaningful even if your paying ability is 0.

            IMO when calculating compensation for an externality, (2) should be used.

            Note that (2) may be infinity, e.g. there is no amount of money I would be willing to take in exchange for being killed. However, often the calculation can be made when the event is not yet a certainty. E.g. if some pollution has a 0.01% probability of killing me, and I’m willing to take a 0.01% probability of dying in exchange for $10,000, then the compensation should be $10,000, rather than $∞ but only if I’m actually killed.

            This actually suggest two more ways to calculate a monetary equivalent of some form of suffering: (3) the limit, as p⟶0, of f₁(p)/p, where f₁(p) is the amount of money you would be willing to pay to avoid a particular suffering (or to receive a particular pleasure), and (4) the limit, as p⟶0, of f₂(p)/p, where f₂(p) is the amount of money you would be willing to take to avoid the suffering (or forgo the pleasure). If you are rational, then (3)=(4), and generally (1)<(3)=(4)<(2).

          • Guy in TN says:

            @10240

            IMO when calculating compensation for an externality, (2) should be used.

            Its not a terrible theory but I do see a few problems:

            If the value of (2) is beyond both you and the source of the externality’s ability to pay, then how is it’s value calculated? Do you just ask the person experiencing harm how much they would hypothetically be willing to accept, assuming the other person has an infinite amount of money? (You have to use infinite, because if you cap their wealth at for example $10, then the harm-recipient could just say “well, I wouldn’t accept it” and you don’t end up with a harm value measured in dollars). And if we’re switching from actual ability-to-pay to hypothetical ability-to-pay anyway, couldn’t we achieve the same result in (1) by just asking how much they would be willing to pay to avoid it, assuming they had an infinite amount of money?

            Your work-around for the ability-to-pay-cap issue is interesting, in that it highlights a difficulty in transforming utility to dollars that runs much deeper than just in regards to externalities. You seem to understand (correctly IMO) that ability-to-pay on the externality-inducer’s end is problematic when calculating the utility-harm of an externality, and thus we have to switch to asking what the recipient would hypothetically be willing to accept, not merely use what the externality-inducer is able to pay.

            But consider this: to calculate value in the traditional market setting, if I have $100 and want to buy a loaf of bread, then the economic value of the bread is how much I am willing to spend on it, given that I only have $100 dollars. And the utility is what I gain from eating it. However, if for some reason my wealth drops to $0, then the economic value of the bread to me now becomes zero, since I am able to pay nothing for it. We don’t use hypothetical ability-to-pay to calculate the value of bread . So if we use dollars as a proxy for utility, then we must infer that the utility of eating the bread has now also dropped to zero for some reason.

            This seems equally as problematic as using ability-to-pay dollars as a proxy for utility in your externality example, no?

          • 10240 says:

            If the value of (2) is beyond both you and the source of the externality’s ability to pay, then how is it’s value calculated?

            If the causer of the harm can’t pay up, they shouldn’t allowed to cause the externality. (In practice, in cases such as pollution, we wouldn’t go around asking everyone, but try to approximate the total amount of harm, and levy it as a Pigouvian tax. Again, if a polluter can’t pay the tax, they are not allowed to pollute.)

            And if we’re switching from actual ability-to-pay to hypothetical ability-to-pay anyway, couldn’t we achieve the same result in (1) by just asking how much they would be willing to pay to avoid it, assuming they had an infinite amount of money?

            That wouldn’t work: if I had an infinite amount of money, I’d be willing to pay an arbitrarily large finite sum to avoid the harm.

            Note that in (2), the value is the smallest amount at which you would be happy with the deal (or, rather, the point where you are indifferent to whether you get both the harm and the money or neither, you are happy with the deal if you get more money than that). It’s not whatever value you would manage to get in a haggle with a polluter with infinite money, which is arbitrarily large. Indeed, beyond impracticality, a reason not to go around and get everyone’s consent is the problem of hold-outs who, after most people have accepted payment, refuse a similar amount (even though it’s a good deal) in a gambit to get a much higher payment.

            So if we use dollars as a proxy for utility, then we must infer that the utility of eating the bread has now also dropped to zero for some reason.

            This seems equally as problematic as using ability-to-pay dollars as a proxy for utility in your externality example, no?

            It’s clear that dollar values don’t equal utility in some moral sense; a dollar has more utility to a poor person than a rich one. Nevertheless, in your example, the dollar value of a bread can be calculated as the amount of money above which you would rather take the money than the bread.

            Fortunately (for the ease of calculation), if a product has many buyers, many sellers and a liquid market, everyone is a price-taker: if the market-clearing price of a bread is $2, then anyone who has at least $2 can buy a bread for $2, and anyone who has a bread can sell it for $2. Even if you have nothing, you are indifferent to receiving $2 or a bread, as you can swap one for the other. Thus the monetary value of a bread is $2, to rich and poor alike. (This doesn’t necessarily mean that eating a bread has a value of $2 to you; if it has less, you will sell it.)

            While dollar values can’t be used to compare utility between different persons (in a moral sense), they are useful. E.g. they can be used to compare the utility of different things to the same person. Or they can be used to determine Pareto-improving trades: e.g. if an item is worth $10 to you and $15 to me, then if I buy it for any amount between $10 and $15, both of us are better off — regardless of the utility of $10 to you or $15 to me.

          • E.g. if some pollution has a 0.01% probability of killing me, and I’m willing to take a 0.01% probability of dying in exchange for $10,000, then the compensation should be $10,000, rather than $∞ but only if I’m actually killed.

            I don’t think that makes any sense. Under the circumstances stated, the compensation should either be $10,000 whether or not you are killed, since that’s your price for a .01% probability of death, which is what the pollution creates, or $100 million if you are killed, since that’s the value of life implied by your pricing a .01% probability at $10,000, risk preference or aversion aside.

            The reason you won’t accept any price for a certainty of death is not that the value of your life to you is infinite—if it was you wouldn’t accept any price for a .01% risk either—but that money is of little use to a corpse. The advantage of being paid for the risk instead of the death is that you get the money when it is, almost certainly, of use to you.

            You could get the same result with the alternative rule, if there was a market where you could sell your future tort claim.

            For my discussion of this stuff at greater length, see Chapter 9 of my Law’s Order.

          • 10240 says:

            money is of little use to a corpse.

            @DavidFriedman That’s why I wrote that I wouldn’t accept any amount if it’s only paid if I die, and therefore the arrangement should be that I get paid $10,000 immediately, rather than the impossible $∞ if I die. I tried to show that the fact that I wouldn’t accept any amount in exchange for getting killed doesn’t mean that a potentially deadly risk can’t be compensated.

            You could get the same result with the alternative rule, if there was a market where you could sell your future tort claim.

            I didn’t think about that. That way a payment of $10,000 for a 0.01% risk is indeed equivalent to $100M paid only if I die.

            However, I don’t think it’s correct that the only reason I wouldn’t accept any amount of money for being killed is that I couldn’t use the money, or that the true value of my life is unambiguously the amount we can derive from the price I set on a 0.01% risk. I wouldn’t accept any amount of money for a 1/2 chance of getting killed either; or if I did, it would be a lot more than 5000 times what I would accept for a 0.01% risk.

    • Lambert says:

      The way to avoid needing to compare to a ‘state of nature’ is to calculate on the margin.
      Don’t do ‘x units of pollution vs no pollution’. Do ‘x units of pollution vs x-1 units of pollution’.
      With luck, any changes you make will be incremental and continuous enough that you can notice when you hit the local minimum.

  21. theredsheep says:

    So, lots of people have commented (not here necessarily, but in general) at the shocking negligence of the adults in Harry Potter. It’s basically pure luck that keeps them from having a double-digit body count every Hogwarts school year. A while back, the in-universe reason for this hit me: there are no wizard lawyers. Not one. The series gets fairly deep into the nitty-gritty of magical law enforcement, and we see multiple court scenes, but at no point is it ever hinted that there are professional advocates for accused criminals, victims, state interests, or even plain civil suits. Obviously, if Hogwarts stood to get sued for several thousand galleons each time a kid suffered acute trauma from being turned into a ferret and magically body-slammed in front of his peers, the faculty would be under much closer supervision.

    Why do you suppose this is (explained in in-universe terms, not “Rowling had no artistic reason to get bogged down in magical tort claims”)? In general, HP wizards take a lot of cues from the muggle world, right down to having wizard radios and such. They have all sorts of magic jobs, and their society is obviously big on convoluted rules for people like Percy Weasley to write grumpy reports about. Why are there no magical lawyers? Is it just that their society originated as a small minority, and therefore they used to be a much higher-trust society? But then, why do they have so much bureaucracy now? Speculate.

    Yes, this makes two replies mentioning Harry Potter back to back. And yes, this is a fairly inane question. I’ll own up to it.

    • Dack says:

      Dumbledore does act as advocate for Harry at his hearing. So there is that.

      Perhaps no one does this professionally because there are so many ways for a wizard to anonymously make your life miserable if they feel you have wronged them.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      There’s a lawyer joke in book 7. The minister of magic asks Hermione if she’s planning to be a lawyer, and she responds something like, “No! I’m hoping to do some good in the world!”

      In general, the wizarding world does seem to have a strong culture of self-representation in legal matters. The only exception I can think of is Dumbledore representing Harry at his disciplinary hearing in Book 5, and that could be explained by Harry being a minor. Even for someone like Hagrid, who clearly needs someone on his side who can make an argument in court without getting flustered, all he gets – and that through informal channels – is pretrial help to research the law and prepare the case. This reminds me of classical Athens, where a litigant might hire a professional to write his speech, but would then give it himself.

      I’d guess that this is due to a deep-seated tradition of individualism and self-sufficiency in wizarding society. This would also explain why the Imperius Curse is considered “unforgivable,” akin to torture and murder: for wizards, taking away someone’s autonomy even temporarily takes away their humanity, reducing them to the level of a house-elf, and thus *is* akin to murder. I don’t know what the ultimate source of this individualism would be, though, especially since the emphasis in the high levels of wizarding society on family traditions and bloodlines should militate against it.

      • theredsheep says:

        IIRC she’s asked if she’s looking to work for the Ministry, and that’s her retort.

      • beleester says:

        Magic is really the ultimate expression of self-sufficiency – you don’t need anything from society to be powerful, all you need is your wand and your wits – so the idea of wizards having a strong independent streak isn’t that surprising. Really, the surprising thing is that wizarding society developed those aristocratic traditions in the first place.

      • AG says:

        Tangent, but I wonder if it’s illegal in Wizarding Society for a defendant to use mind enhancers during their trials, the way exams are policed.

        (And also the usual cracks about why Felix Felicis isn’t getting downed by everybody frequently)

    • beleester says:

      One important factor is that magical healing completely trivializes a lot of mundane medical problems. If some kid cracks his skull falling off a broomstick, he doesn’t go to the hospital and rack up thousands of dollars in medical bills (which he will subsequently sue Hogwarts for), he goes to Madam Pomfrey, and an hour later he’s back on his feet and ready to go back to class. So he doesn’t really have much in the way of damages to sue for.

      This won’t save you from criminal penalties – Hogwarts staff might be fined or punished for failing to comply with regulations that require them to maintain a safe learning environment – but it does mean that wizards might have a very different definition of what counts as a “safe environment.”

      • theredsheep says:

        See, I think that’s balanced out by the magical world having really, really lethal stuff. Like, they teach teenagers to practice medicine in Potions class, and it’s trivially easy to use their universal tool–a wand–to do something extremely dangerous, even without Avada Kedavra. Their favorite sport involves flying at high speeds without restraints or apparent safeguards while heavy objects deliberately try to knock you off; quidditch is probably less safe than BASE jumping. And then they have freaky incurable magical plagues, and things like lycanthropy. Unfixable curse scars. Emotional trauma from overenthusiastic employment of dementors. There’s so, so many ways for the wizarding world to jack you up.

    • ing says:

      I imagine that (1) Voldemort killed a lot of the lawyers and etc in the last war, and (2) of the remaining people who want to enforce the law, most of them are a lot more worried about the Malfoys and other not-very-convincingly-pretending-to-not-be-Death-Eaters types, than they are about negligent schoolteachers.

      There’s some text in HPMOR ch 77:

      Slowly the old wizard shook his head. “You seem to think, Harry, that I need merely use my full power, and all foes will be swept aside. You are wrong. Lucius Malfoy controls Minister Fudge, through the Daily Prophet he sways all Britain, only by bare margins does he not control enough of the Board of Governors to oust me from Hogwarts. Amelia Bones and Bartemius Crouch are allies, but even they would step aside if they saw us acting wantonly. The world that surrounds you is more fragile than you seem to believe, and we must walk with greater care. The old Wizarding War never ended, Harry, it only continued in a different form; the black king slept, and Lucius Malfoy moved his chesspieces for a time. Do you think Lucius Malfoy would lightly permit you to take a pawn of his color?”

      • cassander says:

        Voldemort killed a lot of the lawyers and

        So you’re in the Voldemort was a good guy camp?

      • theredsheep says:

        I’m not sure why Voldemort would want to kill the lawyers specifically, but that would explain things if you could come up with a good reason. As for 2, low trust societies would encourage the proliferation of lawyers, wouldn’t they? If you can be hit with veritaserum and polyjuice and crap like that, you’re going to want an advocate who can find reasonable doubt. I certainly would.

        • Clutzy says:

          Veritaserum essentially eliminates the need for them. The problem is that there are like 10 living wizards that are skilled enough to make it, and like 5 are employed by Hogwarts, because reasons. And those people could never make enough to work the legal system properly.

          • theredsheep says:

            I would think that many law cases depend not on the truth as one person subjectively perceives it, but interpretation of the truth. The problem is not that nobody will admit that they said, “Sure, there are new safety rules, now go steal an egg from a firebreathing dragon, and remember the clock is ticking.” There were hundreds of witnesses to that. The problem is that apparently nobody has a vested interest in extracting lots of money from people who do that.

      • sentientbeings says:

        I imagine that (1) Voldemort killed a lot of the lawyers and etc in the last war

        Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2

        Cade:
        I thank you, good people—there shall be no money; all shall eat
        and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery,
        that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

        Dick:
        The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

        Cade:
        Nay, that I mean to do.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      The trouble is that lawyering and spell-casting share a reliance on Latinate phrases– harmless enough for Muggle lawyers, but a wizard lawyer can’t read the simplest pleading aloud in court without turning the jury into toads.

    • Walter says:

      I feel like the justice system is just low key malicious. Like, they dealt with an animal problem by sending a headsman. Their jail has torture ghosts in it as a part of its design.

      People of good conscience route around maniacs. Like, your kid got traumatized in an unfortunate ferret bouncing incident, but you still wouldn’t complain if the gov’s response will be vile and heavy handed, and fall indiscriminately on all involved.

      Alternate answer: The wizarding world has Unbreakable Oaths, mind reading and memory erasing magic. They may literally not have a need for lawyers.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, the good but unfinished _Truth and Reconciliation_ HP fanfic has Hermoine reflecting, at various points, on the general awfulness of the justice system. (Things like locking up an 18 year old kid for life in a prison where insanity is the treatment goal.).

        • baconbits9 says:

          I don’t take insanity as the treatment goal for Azkaban, only that locking up a bunch of powerful and dangerous wizards is really difficult and insanity was just a side effect

          • albatross11 says:

            You can either execute the prisoner or lock him up in a place so horrible he will eventually be driven mad by the awfulness of the torture-ghosts. Which do you choose, if your issue is just that it’s hard to securely lock up prisoners?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Sirius Black didn’t mind the torture-ghosts, which a) should have been a sign they had the wrong man, and b) is kind of hard to believe he never did anything bad in his life.

            As a follow-up to a), if there were lots of people immune to the Dementors, then they don’t serve their purpose of containing wizards. As a follow-up to b), if he just thought his actions were okay, then the torture-ghosts wouldn’t work on lots of evil wizards.

            Of course it’s a kid’s book and I’m overanalyzing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            My impression was that Azkaban was also used for serious, but not life sentence crimes, where a person could be released ant not be insane.

            You can either execute the prisoner or lock him up in a place so horrible he will eventually be driven mad by the awfulness of the torture-ghosts. Which do you choose, if your issue is just that it’s hard to securely lock up prisoners?

            If you choose execution you basically have to either have Azkaban or no trial process, but you can’t have Azkaban without a persistent prison population.

      • JPNunez says:

        They still happily sent an innocent to jail, for life. They probably overtrust their system, like we do.

        There just may not be anyone interested in doing that; if you are Lucius Malfoy and are rich enough to need lawyering, you probably do hire someone full time to help you, although that person probably has other responsabilities too.

        For everyone else the opportunity cost of not being a wizard and having to study super boring law is too high. Although the most canonically boring person in the books, Percy, gets a job in the ministery in international relations, so he probably does some kind of lawyering.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The wizarding world also seems crazy expensive as well. 1,000 galleons is enough to start up a shop and rent a property in what has to be one of the, if not the, most expensive strips. If there was an exchange rate I would assume that 1 galleon would = at least $100, and probably $1,000 to $10,000, meaning a 7 galleon wand is $7,000-$70,000 (no wonder Ron’s parents were furious when he broke his and he didn’t get a new one until the next year). A year’s muggle salary is needed every year just to buy new versions of books for Hogwarts, and used dress robes cost hundreds of dollars.

          • JPNunez says:

            The economy of the Potterverse doesn’t work on any level. Even ignoring stuff like the exchange rate of silver/gold, it seems like the economy should be one where any kind of services are super expensive -thus leading to slavery like house elves-, but you see tons of wizards working as cashiers, salespeople, bartenders, etc.

            The Wesleys were poor, but keep in mind that they still managed to buy wands for his kids, at least until they get out of school and get jobs and hand down the wands, owned a big house, could fed a family with only one breadwinner. It is unclear how much the dad skims from the government. That Ford Anglia was probably stolen somehow.

            The textbooks are priced in Galleons too, so while a Hogwarts education may be free, someone is making a killing selling these books. Maybe Dumbledore is taking a cut. Not sure if “regular” books are this expensive too.

            There’s also that time the Weasleys win the lottery or something and buy a family tour to Egypt and it is way more expensive than just taking a moogle plane there.

            Something weird is that there seems to be very little relationship between wizarding skill and riches. Lucius Malfoy was probably powerful as a Wizard, but only cause he had access to the dark teachings of Voldemort; Voldemort himself wanted to be a teacher, then he had a job as a salesman for a while. It seems riches are only won by historical familiar accumulation of wealth.

            The two exceptions are the one Weisley that goes to work for a bank, and Dumbledore who -I am assuming a lot here- was rich as a member of the Wizengamot and school principal, and that must have been due to his skill at stopping that other dark wizard.

            I assume that most Wizards are largely economically self sufficient -being able to produce their basic necessities with their wands-, thus raising the prices of all services.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @JPNunez, aren’t we told that the dad had confiscated the Ford Anglia from someone because it was an illegally-enchanted Muggle object, and brought it home technically against the rules? Or am I conflating that with something else?

            And yes, they did fund their Egypt trip with lottery winnings.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The economy of the Potterverse doesn’t work on any level.

            Well it doesn’t work coherently (and she didn’t put the main focus on making it work, more making it familiar) but there are ways of looking at it to make it seem to work.

            We are really only exposed to the top 0.1% of the Wizarding world as fleshed out characters. Harry is the chosen one, but also the son of very pair of very talented wizards, the Weasley’s are bunch of god damn geniuses- Fred and George are teenagers who are inventing new magic that some trained witches can’t handle (their swamps stymieing Umbridge), Bill and Percy are Head boys, Charlie was a prefect and seeker on the Quiditch team, and Ginny is wildly talented and keeps up with the gifted kids a year older than her. Ron is the dunce in the family and he bests a magical chess set in his 2nd year. Hermoine is top of the class.

            Most of the rest of the characters are top of the line as well, Dumbledore is the G.O.A.T. wizard, Sirius is a teenage Animagus, Mad Eye is the best auror ever, Malfoy is top of his house and from a long line of powerful wizards.

            Even the dunces that are handed to us are brilliant (outside of the actual squib). Longbottom is the son of two famous aurors who breaks out of his mental inhibitions to be able to fight toe to toe with fully grown death eaters and ends up destroying a horcrux, and Hagrid who is presented as dimwitted cross breeds new magical creatures and knows more about other magical creatures than anyone. He is closer to a weird/socially inept genius than a dunce.

            So the whole world looks weird because you have a system run by your Cornelius Fudges while looking at it through the eyes of child geniuses. Which can be twisted to make sense, after all the previous generation of magical geniuses was all but wiped out or imprisoned in the wizarding war, leaving only those to weak or cowardly to pick a side or be much of a threat.

          • John Schilling says:

            We are really only exposed to the top 0.1% of the Wizarding world as fleshed out characters.

            Top 0.1% in talent or aptitude, perhaps, but not in economic ranking. Until the twins open their shop, it’s a straight middle-class civil servant family with too many kids to be comfortable. Hermione is a muggle-born on scholarship, IIRC. Harry inherits a fortune, because it’s that kind of story, but about the only other people who appear rich are villains or villain-adacent fools.

            And, OK, it’s a very English story, so people in the top 0.1% by talent still being confined to the middle class is appropriate, but it still leaves you with a problem when the younger sons of a struggling civil servant are waving wands that should maybe cost $70,000 each.

          • Nornagest says:

            Hermione is a muggle-born on scholarship, IIRC.

            I don’t think it’s ever made clear how Hermione pays for her stuff. She doesn’t seem to be struggling (Ron has financial problems and has to make do with hand-me-downs and shoddy repair jobs; Hermione never does), but she’s not conspicuously well off either.

            The implication is probably that her parents (both Muggle dentists, so they’re likely doing well) are paying her way, but it’s never made clear how the exchange rate works, either, that I recall. Well, except in HPMOR, but that’s basically a straw man that Eliezer only sets up so that he can knock it down.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And, OK, it’s a very English story, so people in the top 0.1% by talent still being confined to the middle class is appropriate, but it still leaves you with a problem when the younger sons of a struggling civil servant are waving wands that should maybe cost $70,000 each.

            What I meant with that post is the the most common complaint of HP economics is “why does anything cost money when people can just do magic?”. Or “why fly around on broomsticks or use the floo network when you can just turn in a circle and then appear anywhere you want? If everything is much harder than it appears in the book then you have a lot of your answers. The Weasleys have a big house because they are one of the top wizarding families and they can magically make their house bigger, but most people can’t (or couldn’t reliably). In this world a tiny top fraction of the wizards are doing everything, enchanting the fireplaces and producing reliable floo powder.

            Do you really think a family with Fred and George in it just happened to win the lottery? No cheating involved for them eh?

          • Nornagest says:

            If the Weasleys are one of the top wizarding families, with a big stake in making the society they live in actually work, then they should be swimming in money, and not just from the occasional sketchy lottery win.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If the Weasleys are one of the top wizarding families, with a big stake in making the society they live in actually work, then they should be swimming in money, and not just from the occasional sketchy lottery win.

            You are confusing the specific with the general. The Weasely’s are an example of extremely tightly distributed talent pool, and such a talent pool + the destruction of the talent from the war vs Voldemort can be used to explain some of the economics of the wizarding world. Arthur Weasely in general has low ambition which explains their economic status, and also could be used to explain how he escaped the war despite being in the order.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Weasleys have a big house because they are one of the top wizarding families and they can magically make their house bigger, but most people can’t (or couldn’t reliably).

            So they can do things that most wizards can’t do but would certainly seem to value having done on their behalf. Meanwhile, they can’t magic up decent wands on demand, and have to settle for patchwork and hand-me-downs. And the wizarding world otherwise seems to have a market economy with currency and banks and craftsmen trading the products of their specialized labor in the market, so there’s something obviously wrong here.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Yeah there is something wrong, Arthur Weasely is a low ambition genius who spends all his free time tinkering with his illegal/borderline illegal hobbies in the garage leaving Molly to raise 7 kids on a shoe string budget.

            How many other families are sending multiple kids to hogwarts? The Creavy’s send two, the Patils are twins… Sirius and his brother went. It seems like 90%+ of kids in Hogwarts are from 1 child families, or at least 1 wizarding child family.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            On Hermione (and Ford Anglias)- at one point Hermione’s Muggle parents are seen exchanging Pounds Sterling for Galleons.

            As for what the wizard economy does with pounds, there must be some Wizard-Muggle trade for items that wizards can’t make but can enchant. Radios are the best-known example (unless there are secret wizard radio factories), but there are others. The Knight Bus, for instance.

            Possibly the Ford Anglia was bought from a Muggle scrapyard using a similar channel- or the original enchanter was a Muggle-born wizard. The issue isn’t IMO that enchanting it was illegal, but that using it risks breaking the Statute of Secrecy.

          • dick says:

            It seems like the whole matter of the wizarding economy just received no thought at all beyond “what is needed for Harry’s arc?”, like the rules of Quidditch, the physics of the time-turner, etc.

            Alternatively, in Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” (which I’m 90% convinced is the result of Grossman setting out to parody Harry Potter and childrens’ fantasy generally, and then being persuaded by an agent to make it saleable), his equivalent of Hogwarts has a system where they recognize that magicians can and will steal everything they need from muggles, so they set up a corporation to steal muggle money effectively and harmlesssly and hand it out in large sums to any magician graduate who wants it. That seems a lot more believable (in the sense of internally consistent) than anything in HP.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            In HP, are wizards allowed to trade and do business with muggles (obviously without revealing their powers)? Can they take muggle transportation or buy muggle goods and services?

          • Nick says:

            In HP, are wizards allowed to trade and do business with muggles (obviously without revealing their powers)? Can they take muggle transportation or buy muggle goods and services?

            Don’t we see this during the Quidditch World Cup at the beginning of Goblet of Fire? Arthur Weasley has to use Muggle money to get a spot for his tent or whatever. He doesn’t understand the denominations of money, which may be because he’s a doofus or may be because wizards are that insulated from the Muggle economy.

          • AG says:

            they recognize that magicians can and will steal everything they need from muggles, so they set up a corporation to steal muggle money effectively and harmlesssly and hand it out in large sums to any magician graduate who wants it

            UBI in action! Although it’s more like UI, eh.

          • J Mann says:

            The wizarding world also seems crazy expensive as well.

            Not crazy expensive, just crazy. 🙂 In the first book, Rowling tries to make the point now and again that wizards don’t operate on Muggle logic. Their system of currency is bizarre, they play a game that doesn’t make any sense, Ron thinks it’s admirable that Dumbledore’s statements to the school are nonsensical, etc.

            It’s tough to carry that out for seven books in a way that doesn’t seem like nonsense to readers, so as Harry grows up, things that weren’t introduced in the early books start to make more sense, which clashes with the ideas from the first books.

            Alternatively, in Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” (which I’m 90% convinced is the result of Grossman setting out to parody Harry Potter and childrens’ fantasy generally, and then being persuaded by an agent to make it saleable)

            IMHO, it becomes clear that Grossman (a) loves Narnia (the Fillory sections are genuinely magical), (b) wants to poke a little fun at Harry Potter, and (c) primarily wants to write a novel about youthful anomie.

          • dick says:

            Sure, agreed. But my suspicion is it started out as a bleak parodic anti-fantasy “Harry Potter meets Bright Lights, Big City” sort of thing, and then gradually turned in to “10% parody, 90% standard fantasy novel” for one reason or another. I was really surprised and a little let down with the ending for that reason.

        • Walter says:

          I kind of have sympathy for them, though. Like, they have all the tools they need to make a perfect system. It SHOULD be trustworthy. They can read minds and alter memories.

      • aristides says:

        I’d also add to your list that there are magical contracts that magically know when they are followed or broken, so you do not need lawyers and a judge to argue about the fine print. Magic contract is self enforcing.

    • honoredb says:

      I think the lack of lawyers is portrayed as an instrument of social control, reinforcing the class hierarchy. When Hagrid and Lucius Malfoy have a legal dispute, they each represent themselves. Malfoy is an aristocrat who has had time to study the law, Hagrid is not, so Malfoy wins easily without any blatant corruption or favoritism. If you’re a lower-class wizard, your only hope is that a higher-class one like Dumbledore will intervene on your behalf. So I think it’s reasonable to assume that the wizarding community has mostly rejected this whole “professional lawyer” concept as too democratizing destabilizing.

      Note that when they think a student who’s a member of a noble house has been killed inside Hogwarts, McGonagall’s immediate reaction is that this is “the end of Hogwarts”. Without lawyers, you end up with massive sanctions at the tail risk end without the minor sanctions at the “oh wait she narrowly survived” outcomes.

  22. Coming out of lurk mode to ask an extremely weird question, out of the blue. Any response appreciated.
    I’m new to philosophy, but I see examples of it within Science Fiction, and I’d like to hear if anyone else sees the resemblance. If not, well maybe it’ll still be a fun discussion.
    Does anyone else see the resolution of Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic in the story of Harry Potter and Voldemorte? Voldemorte is the would be master, and HP beats him despite being in the position of slave. I also saw another resolution to Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic in original Star Trek’s episode Arena. The Aliens throwing Kirk and the Gorn together are like the past set up of Western civilization’s history, forcing moderns to wake up and become conscious of themselves. The Gorn is the brutal Lord/slavemaster aspect to the fight. Yet Kirk solved the challenge.

    • Silverlock by John Myers Myers
      Psychological Types by Carl Jung
      Symbols of Transformation by Carl Jung

      Jung has an interesting theory on how the culture wars go back thousands of years. Jung set me wondering about Hegel, another starting point for current culture wars, theoretically. Not easy to find people willing to discuss such things. 🙂

      @justdiane – C S Lewis “Till we have faces” was a good book. I think I learned about it on this blog.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      The best example of a Hegelian dialectic in SF I can think of off the top of my head might actually be in Heinlein. He was interested in fundamentally transformative sociological figures, and while the agents of change in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land do die, the resolution tends to take the form of synthesis rather than overcoming. That said, fuck Hegel.

      God-Emperor of Dune is a good work for contemplating the sociological properties of violence, and one of my favorite books. You need to slog through quite a bit before getting to it, though. Efficient centralization as violence is an idea that resonates a lot with me.

      • the resolution tends to take the form of synthesis rather than overcoming. That said, fuck Hegel.

        Just like it’s not over until the fat lady sings, it ain’t over until the opposites are synthesized. Heinlein was great. I’m using Hegel and Jung to grok why science fiction is so tasty. But I’d love to hear why @hoopyfreud hates/dislikes Hegel.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          The Hegelian conception of becoming seems overly teleological and platonist, as though Hegel expects the world to evolve towards a terminal point, and in fact for all disputes to resolve in its direction. Each step along to road of becoming narrows the path rather than expanding it. I am not a platonist, and there’s so much in this framework that’s just… incredibly unsatisfying. That’s it, really. I could go on, but it would just belabor the point.

    • Statismagician says:

      I think about the deepest you can get is that the models Hegel used were not vastly more complex than Harry Potter, which I suspect is more an observation on Ms. Rowling than anything else.

    • Aging Loser says:

      Mottleton’s Husband-Wife Dialectic, Grumbie’s Father-Daughter Dialectic, Ferditta’s Department Secretary – Adjunct Dialectic, Kassingbor’s Carroll Gardens Mom – Trader Joe’s Clerk Dialectic, and Devinghop’s Gym Trainer – Wealthy Homosexual Dialectic are far more interesting than Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic.

  23. hash872 says:

    How to get rich- or, at least make a higher income- without working very hard? The eternal question that has preoccupied humanity for aeons. I thought I’d pose it to the rationalist community, with my quick thoughts:

    The best way to get rich without working hard is engaging in trading/gambling where you have an informational edge over what are called retail traders, aka the average uneducated ‘punter’ as they say in the UK. This is extremely difficult/impossible, apparently, in financial markets without actual insider trading. EMH, etc. However, it should theoretically be possible in:

    Sports betting on exchanges like Betfair (not traditional gambling houses- they can ban you for winning too much). Arguable if anyone can really attain a consistent edge that beats, say, an S&P 500 Index fund.

    Fantasy sports. This seems like the absolute best & most realistic way to make a high side income, if not actually get rich. You build sophisticated models & use data science to get an edge over average betters/retail traders, and the companies that run fantasy gambling are OK with it because they simply take a % of all bets placed, and professionals have to place a lot of bets. (I’ve heard some talk that Draftkings/Fanduel quietly cater to professionals with advanced models, because they need the volume of bets that pros place). I suppose the only possible problems are if more and more professionals/Wall Street types keep entering fantasy sports, driving down the returns.

    Poker? Totally speculating here as I don’t play, but there are lots of retail players/punters, and the casinos are OK with pros as they’re just taking a % of total winnings. Seems like a bit of a miserable way to make a living though, with days and days of endless tournaments.

    I vaguely considered crypto trading last year because I suspect EMH hasn’t really ironed out all of the inefficiencies in this kinda shady market yet. I mean, if I can figure out that X Twitter Personality is running an obvious pump-and-dump scheme with Brand New Coin, I can try to get in and get out at the right time? But, I simply don’t trust any exchange other than Coinbase with my money, and what one can do in Coinbase is kinda limited (like you can’t short currencies, right?) So I’m keeping an eye on crypto trading, but not really dipping a toe in yet.

    Are there any other opportunities for betting/trading with an informational edge against retail traders, that I may not have thought of? I feel like the rationalist community should be a source of good ideas (I’ve freely shared my best one, fantasy sports, and in fact I have a data science project going on now with it)

    • cassander says:

      You can do very solidly at blackjack by learning proper strategy and counting cards. Counting’s not as hard as it sounds. Basically, you keep track of how many picture cards have come out relative to little cards and vary your bet as the odds improve in your favor. Casinos are getting smarter about it, though, and increasingly making the game worse. Paying 6:5 on blackjack or continual shuffle machines are a death sentence, so it’s not clear how long this will be viable for.

      • hash872 says:

        Yeah, I mean it’s zero sum with the casinos for games like blackjack, right? Your win is their loss.

        I don’t see how one could get rich with zero-sum casino games like that, they employ private detectives and facial recognition technology to identify big winners. Even if you got really ‘good’, the casinos would simply ban you, and probably put you on a global blacklist they all share together

        • cassander says:

          they do have blacklists and they can ban you. But if you play for modest stakes, do a little bit of work concealing the extent of your winnings (e.g. go with a friend, have him cash some of your winnings in), and don’t attract attention to yourself, you can fly under the radar while still pocketing enough to made tens of thousands a year, in cash. The casinos could theoretically stop everyone, but such a small number of players are good enough for it to matter that a lot of places don’t bother.

          • woah77 says:

            Another element that I learned recently is that they’ve started using 8 decks and shuffling every 3 or so hands. Which means that you can’t possibly actually count cards anymore. Might as well start playing Baccarat instead of Blackjack with that circumstance.

      • John Schilling says:

        You can do very solidly at blackjack by learning proper strategy and counting cards.

        I do not believe this is currently true unless you add “…and recruiting and managing a team”. At very minimum, a partner (and one of you should be an attractive woman).

        Counting cards doesn’t lead to a positive expected return if all you do with the knowledge is to change the way you play the cards – you also have to change the way you bet, in ways that are fairly easy for a professional to spot. At that point they can shuffle after every hand and destroy your informational advantage, or have their tame counter arrange a shuffle only when the deck favors the player, or just throw you out of their private club. They don’t like to do these things, because they have the side effect of driving away the sort of player who consistently loses to the house, but they will if they have to and they’ll know if they have to.

        In order to exploit the informational advantage of card-counting against a competent house, either you have to win money much slower than the other people at the table are losing it, or you have to disguise the betting changes by having players join and leave the table outright. Plan A does not lead to you making rich-people money, unless you already are rich.

        • cassander says:

          standard blackjack, played correctly, has something like a 1% house advantage. But when the count is good (that is, the deck has an unusually large portion of pictures and aces left), that rises to something like a 1-2% advantage for the player. So what you do is you raise your bet when the count is good, and lower it when the count is bad, which yields an expected return considerably better than just the raw cards. Because it’s blackjack, the rest of the table tends to win at the same time you do.

          If you wander around the casino watching for hot tables, jump in, play a few hands, and then leave, you’ll get caught pretty quickly. But if you just sit at a table varying your bets within a modest range, you’re much harder to spot by people who isn’t watching the count. If someone who does know how to count starts watching you, they will figure it out pretty quickly, but those people are surprisingly rare. .

          It’s not going to make you rich, at least not for my definition of rich. But it can score you tens of thousands of dollars tax free, plus a lot of perks from the casino.

          • bullseye says:

            Gambling winnings (minus losses) are taxed.

          • cassander says:

            only if you report them. And unless you like getting audited, I don’t suggest reporting tens of thousands in gambling winnings if you don’t have to.

          • hash872 says:

            I’m almost 100% positive the casino gives you a 1099, or in some way reports that they lost x amount to y person so that they claim it on their own taxes? I don’t see the risk/reward of committing an offense that people routinely go to Real Prison for just to make five figures.

            Like- many people on a regular basis go to prison for outright tax evasion. It’s a real thing that regularly happens

          • John Schilling says:

            And unless you like getting audited, I don’t suggest reporting tens of thousands in gambling winnings if you don’t have to.

            As hash872 notes, if you’re winning tens of thousands, the casino will report it for you, and you really want your reports to match theirs.

            It’s possible to structure your transactions so that they aren’t reported, but that’s A: very illegal and B: actively looked for by professionals in a panopticon for both anti-cheating and anti-money-laundering purposes. If you’re winning now-I’m-rich levels of money, this is difficult and dangerous to get away with and it makes you look like a higher-priority criminal than you actually are.

          • rlms says:

            Tax evasion is a nice Get Rich Quick scheme, but it’s also a nice Go To Jail scheme.

          • cassander says:

            Casinos do keep tabs of how much high rollers are winning. But it’s fairly easy to hide earnings from the casino, and in california at least they’re required to show you their records so you know what they’re reporting.

            I think our disjunction is coming from the anticipated scale of earnings. I’m assuming that the person in question is earning a few tens of thousands on the side of a moderate 6 figure income, maybe ~15% or less of earnings. That’s easy to just keep and spend in cash without raising any suspicions. If you’re making a much larger share of your income from gambling, and especially if you intend to deposit any meaningful amount of it in bank accounts, then you’re absolutely right that it’s smarter to pay taxes on it.

          • Gossage Vardebedian says:

            It’s very difficult to make a meaningful amount of money by card counting. It’s worth doing if you like gambling and really hate losing, but you really can’t make a lot of money at it unless you a) play for high stakes, b) vary your bets a LOT (and deal with the resulting swings in bankroll, or 3) play a ton and grind out wins. A and b will get you noticed, and require having a lot of money to start with, while c seems like work.

            I’ve made a few grand over 20 years of playing on my rare trips to Vegas or on cruise ships. If I hadn’t been counting, I’d probably have lost a few grand over that time. That’s nice, but as a way of really making money, it’s a wildly inefficient use of my time.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            This is what turbotax says are the limits for reporting tax (by the payer):
            $600 or more at a horse track (if that is 300 times your bet)
            $1,200 or more at a slot machine or bingo game
            $1,500 or more in keno winnings
            $5,000 or more in poker tournament winnings

            It doesn’t say what is the limit for Black Jack — I would assume similar to a slot machine, since both would be in a casino. I think the original poster is British, so different limits, but probably similar.

    • broblawsky says:

      A member of my family is a fairly well-known poker player, and while he makes pretty decent money, he works very hard for it. I think this one of those things where you have to be genuinely amazing to do well.

      Sports betting (and associated fantasy leagues), on the other hand, might work. One of the shop workers at my last job supplemented his income with it, and he ended up making nearly as much money as I did on my Senior Scientist salary. He was pretty obsessive about reading stats, though.

      • Clutzy says:

        It depends on what you mean by “very little work” because sports betting is a great deal of work if you are going to win enough to get past the VIG.

        First, betting on big games rarely works. While it is true, for instance, that most of the public’s tickets were on the Pats in this Super Bowl, and the Pats won and Covered, that doesn’t happen that often. If you look at the successful betters (usually defined as 56%+) that do it for real money, they bet on sports people don’t pay much attention to like NCAA Basketball regular season games.

        Second, the market is always getting smarter, and the casinos police the lines vigorously. Any edge you think you have is an edge someone else is looking for.

        Third, even if you a the best, you can still get unlucky enough to lose all your money and then you can’t get back into the game to make it up against “the house”.

        • Tarpitz says:

          For as long as I’ve been paying attention, the market has underrated the importance of the quality of group stage opponents to the likelihood of a player top scoring at a major international soccer tournament. “Find the quality forward in a group with bad teams” is a simple and valuable heuristic. In the last World Cup, for example, it would have told you to bet on Kane and Lukaku to top score, because they both got to play Panama and Tunisia.

          • Clutzy says:

            I dunno. That doesn’t translate for me in 2014. James won in a decent group with Greece (defensive team), Ivory Coast, and Japan. Mueller was 2nd coming out of probably the 2nd toughest group. Neymar 3rd in a pretty weak group.

      • Aapje says:

        @broblawsky

        My heuristic is that any job that very many people like to do as a hobby, requires something exceptional from the people who earn good money from it.

        This can be be exceptional talent, exceptional hard work, exceptional luck, etc; or a combination of such things.

    • baconbits9 says:

      None of this sounds easy.

      I played poker professionally for 3 years (sole source of income at an income level higher than the median US income during that time), and was a winning player as a sideline for a couple of years before that, this was during the golden era of poker when making a living was almost certainly easier than it is now. It was a lot of up front work, I enjoyed it early on so it didn’t feel like a job, it was an engaging and profitable hobby, but read 20+ poker books and had thousands of posts on a popular forum at the time. The swings are emotionally brutal, I quit professionally after going on a $60,000 downswing that still left me up $120,000 over a two year period.

      I attempted to play fantasy football as a profitable sideline, probably broke even after several years and a few hundred hours of effort. Again not what you would call “not work” unless you just enjoy it, but then the way to get rich is to find a high paying profession you like, ergo not work!

      • hash872 says:

        Yeah, without revealing too much info, I’m targeting a less popular fantasy sport- hopefully less ‘sharks’, aka other Big Data types. I agree that playing poker as a full-time job seems an awful lot like work.

        I have a high-paying profession as a day job now. It’s no way to get rich though, even if we define rich as having at least a few million dollars of net worth. $200kish income minus the expenses of living in places that contain those jobs means I can save low to mid five figures every year by being thrifty, but it’s not like a get rich quick scheme

        • minus the expenses of living in places that contain those jobs

          How much could you reduce those expenses if you were not trying to live in the style of other people with such incomes in those places? Imagine that your objective was to save as much as possible. To do that you were willing to live in one room of a shared apartment or house, either cook inexpensive things for yourself or eat at very inexpensive restaurants, spend no more on clothing then necessary not to appear obviously poor to your coworkers. Would that cost more than $50,000/year?

          If not, you should be able to save $100,000+/year.

          • hash872 says:

            You’re completing forgetting about income taxes? And anyways, let’s say I saved $100k a year this way- so in a decade I’d have a million, minus whatever I would’ve made via real estate appreciation from owning a home vs. renting a room. A mil is still not really enough to be independently wealthy.

            The point of my thread was ‘make money quickly via trading with an informational advantage’. I don’t need to be convinced to make an above-average income and save an above-average amount, I’m already doing that now

          • You’re completing forgetting about income taxes?

            $200K-50K = $150k > $100K

            I was assuming that income taxes were no more than $50K/year. I concede that with that high an income, probably in California, that was optimistic.

            If you save $100,000/year for ten years, at the end of it you should have more than a million—how much more depending on interest rates.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @hash872

            Why would you sell your house? If you live in a high demand area you should be able to rent it out for enough to more than cover carrying costs. Also 1-1.5 million is enough to retire on in a low cost area, it may not be rich enough for you, but it is a healthy chunk of change that would allow many people to live a very enjoyable lifestyle for many years.

          • Plumber says:

            @hash872,

            I nominally made about $120,000 last year, spent about $40,000 of that living 15 miles from San Francisco, California (the biggest single expense is property tax).

            Baring major illness, if you’re not saving money for your kids, and you own your home, $1,000,000 should last you 25 years easy

          • brad says:

            @baconbits9

            What’s the enduring attraction of the landlord business? Is it the subsidized leverage and the moral equivalent of the Greenspan put?

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ brad

            Are you asking me what my enduring fascination with the landlord business is or are you asking me what I think the public’s fascination is?

          • brad says:

            I didn’t know you had reasons that were different from those of most other people running around recommending everyone that can afford to do so go into the landlord business. Those different reasons are probably more interesting so I’d like to hear them if you don’t mind.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I didn’t know you had reasons that were different from those of most other people running around recommending everyone that can afford to do so go into the landlord business. Those different reasons are probably more interesting so I’d like to hear them if you don’t mind.

            I think the public fascination is fairly straightforward- anytime that there are hidden (or non obvious) costs then people will get carried away by back of the envelope calculations and convince themselves that deal is great when it isn’t. Landlording has that in spades.

            I talk about landlording because… well I am one on a small scale. I actually intend to undersell it compared to our situation because I know that ours was an aberration that can’t currently be repeated (zero down, half a point below prime, at 5 year lows and 2 years before the start of a bull market). I prefer it to stocks to a modest extent because you can actually improve your own return as your abilities expand if you choose.

    • sorrento says:

      If you’re a software engineer making 200k or so, my advice on side hustles is: don’t. It’s just not worth your time. You’re better off focusing on work. You could easily get a promotion worth 40k a year, or stock options that are worth double that. If you’re good, the pay ceiling is a lot higher than you think. If you’re not good, then you’re going to get burned trying to strike out on your own. So it all comes to the same thing.

      You will never put the kind of effort into your side hustle that people who do it as a full time job do. So you will always lose out to those people.

      If money is tight, then you have a few options. The first one is to stop spending so damn much. The second one is to rent out a room. It’s an easy $1000 / month in the bay area. Sure, that’s only 12k a year (9k after taxes). But it’s a 1000 bill laying on the sidewalk. If you want money, pick it up, and accept the loss of privacy.

      If you still need money, then change your job to something more lucrative. Finance pays very well indeed… although the hours usually suck. If you’re not averse to managing your own business, you could become a full-time contractor helping companies out with tricky projects. Then you will find out how much your boss has been skimming off the top when he rents you out to customers. You will also find out why he can afford to do it (dealing with customers sucks and will consume a good half your time.)

      (By the way, none of the above applies if you’re doing your side hustle for fun. Obviously if you want to learn about 17th century Pervian art or wood carving for fun, then do it! Just don’t expect to pull down the big bucks for it.)

      • The Nybbler says:

        Unfortunately roughly $200k (salary, not including equity) is near a ceiling for software engineers unless you can do the schmoozing/leadership thing. So a side hustle that doesn’t require that particular ability could be worth it.

        • brad says:

          When the equity is in the form of RSUs of public companies that aren’t going anywhere in the medium future, by all means apply a discount rate but I don’t see why it should be excluded altogether. Ditto for regularly paid bonuses. Sure they aren’t guaranteed, but when you get right down to it salaries aren’t either.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It makes a difference only in that salary levels (or salary + bonus) are often used for comparison purposes. If you’re making $200K total comp as a software engineer at a big tech company, you’ve got room to grow. If you’re making $200K salary (with the usual bonus and equity), you don’t, unless you can do the leadership thing.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            @The Nybbler:

            Netflix pays its entire total comp as salary. A friend of mine got hired there as a QA Engineer II and got a salary of $250k.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          Unfortunately roughly $200k (salary, not including equity) is near a ceiling for software engineers unless you can do the schmoozing/leadership thing.

          This is flatly, totally, entirely false.

          You are just so wrong that I don’t understand how you can think this. I know you think this because you suffered at a former employer that paid a lot of people you didn’t like more than you, but they also paid a lot of people who are not good at the above skill integer multiples of $200K. They do this because so do dozens of other companies.

          • brad says:

            https://www.levels.fyi/comp.html

            Base salary declines as portion of total comp as you move up the ladder with an implied ceiling across a number of big companies (FB, AMZN, MSFT, GOOG, Uber) somewhere less than $300k.

            I argued above that equity and bonus should count, but there does seem to be something like what he is saying in the data. A lot of these companies have more cash than they know what to do with, so the heavy equity part is a bit of a puzzle. I guess they value the golden handcuff effect that RSU vesting provides.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            You can do substantially better than $200 in base salary if you want to (work for Netflix is the easiest way) and in any case to the extent salary vs. total comp matters for this discussion Nybbler is playing disingenuous games to prove a false point which he knows to be false but won’t accept because of depressive realism. (Seriously, dude, the world doesn’t always suck for us.)

            (This is true because I know who he is and his career path and what he knows about compensation, this is necessary because he’s lying to people about how much can they earn and career choices they should make, and is kind because, seriously, he’s choosing to feel terrible for no good reason and should stop.)

          • brad says:

            Netflix isn’t over here on the best coast. I guess the next best bet is LinkedIn? At least if we are leaving aside the financial industry.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Another friend of mine got an offer at LinkedIn and I felt like they were surprisingly low — though he was a devops/SRE/infrastructure guy instead of a classic software engineer, so maybe they undervalue those people. He was around $250k, but he was a very senior, highly valuable person.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Interesting that Netflix pays so much more, according to that site. But my point about a ceiling for non-leadership types is true, and most companies acknowledge it. So if you’ve hit that ceiling, you can try to become management or a lead, but if you can’t do that, a side hustle has more potential than concentrating on your current job.

            but won’t accept because of depressive realism. (Seriously, dude, the world doesn’t always suck for us.)

            I accept that there are people depressive realism does not apply to.

          • johan_larson says:

            I think we are talking past each other a bit. There are real differences between programmer pay
            – base salary only vs base+stock/options/GSUs+bonus
            – at elite vs ordinary companies
            – with or without leadership/management responsibilities

            I have no trouble believing that if you work for non-elite companies and are entrusted with no leadership responsibilities at all, getting your base pay to $200K is really hard.

            OTOH, if one of the elite companies will have you, and you are entrusted with at least Lead duties, your base pay plus stock plus bonus will be above $200K in short order.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            How much are you conflating “elite company” with “working in expensive city”? I am unwilling to move my family to an expensive city (San Fran, NYC, Boston).

            The #1 way I found to raise my salary was to make it a goal and tell my managers I wanted more money. I often got pushback, which was fine and expected, but most like knowing how to keep you happy.

          • johan_larson says:

            How much are you conflating “elite company” with “working in expensive city”?

            Somewhat. Most elite-company jobs are in expensive places, and I would expect non-elite-company jobs to pay somewhat more in expensive places, but still less than elite company jobs.

            I don’t know how much companies adjust pay between cities. I know Google pays less in Canada than it does in the US, but I don’t know whether the Googlers in Denver are paid less than those in Mountain View, ceteris paribus.

      • hash872 says:

        Not a programmer. I make $150+ as a self-employed sales guy. It’s very economy dependent and I could (in theory mind you) make $40k next year in a recession. I value a few million dollars in the bank for general financial security for my family, not like, a yacht or something.

        (Also, as I do work in tech- $200-300ish is probably the absolute absolute max for the best software developers working for Google, Amazon, Facebook etc. You could also make ‘equity’ in a startup if you magically hit a 1000x valuation. Frankly, I think that’s more speculative than any type of gambling/trading).

        Lots of smart people have remarked on how it makes sense to engage in activities with low costs and asymmetrically high upside. Spending a few k on a model of Obscure Sport and seeing if I can make Large Sums Of Money seems worthwhile

        • johan_larson says:

          The peak is a lot higher. Check out this site, with self-reported total comp for various levels at Google, Facebook, and Microsoft:

          https://www.levels.fyi/SE/Google/Facebook/Microsoft

          Click on “Senior Staff SWE” at Google. It shows total comp at $647,000 (more than half from stock) with 7 data points.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Senior Staff SWE is nigh-unreachable, though, as you can see by the 7 data points. The “Terminal Lance” position at Google is two levels below, “Senior SWE”.

            (to be fair, it does pay considerably better than E-3!)

          • johan_larson says:

            When I was there, to make Senior you needed to undertake a large (~6 month) project and complete it successfully, no fuss. The project could be in-team and could be done solo. To make Staff (the next level) you typically had to serve as Tech Lead of a small team successfully for two years. It was also possible to do it without TL experience, but then you had to build something very complicated, probably cross-team, yourself, and that was definitely the rarer path. I’m not sure what it took to make it to the higher levels; I didn’t see enough people get promoted to them to get a clear sense.

          • hash872 says:

            That’s like, .001% of all people in the profession. I’m pretty familiar with software engineer salaries, it gives you an upper middle class income in most urban areas. For virtually everyone it’s not, like, doctor money

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            You can make close to that at Senior (5, two levels down.) Maybe not $600, but certainly hugely more than $300.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          (Also, as I do work in tech- $200-300ish is probably the absolute absolute max for the best software developers working for Google, Amazon, Facebook etc. You could also make ‘equity’ in a startup if you magically hit a 1000x valuation. Frankly, I think that’s more speculative than any type of gambling/trading).

          Incorrect by integer multiples. It does not require being rockstar famous either.

          • hash872 says:

            I am extremely confident that 98% of software engineers in the US do not make more than $200k, and that 99.9999% don’t make more than $300k. That $200-300k range is for the best developers working on advanced projects at Google/Apple/Facebook/Amazon etc. We are talking base salary here, not equity/RSUs/other benefits.

            I work in an industry where I’ve seen literally thousands of data points on what software engineers take home. It’s literally my job

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            @hash872:

            Base salary is a weird number to look at for software engineers for the FAANG and FAANG-like companies, though. You get a cash bonus yearly. You get RSUs that are immediately liquid. It makes sense to look at base salary as distinct from equity for pre-IPO startups, when the value of the equity is very hard to nail down and won’t be realized for years if ever. It doesn’t make sense to look at it for big public companies.

            Regardless, there are lots of people who make more than $200k — even if just in base salary — if you live in the SF Bay Area or one of the other big metro tech centers. Certainly compensation is much lower in other places, and I have no idea what that makes the nationwide average, but making more than $200k/year as a software engineer is not an impossible dream for most people who are willing to live/work in SF, NY, Seattle, and maybe Austin or Portland.

            And that’s only considering base salary. Which again, is a silly way to look at comp for a big company.

          • John Schilling says:

            I work in an industry where I’ve seen literally thousands of data points on what software engineers take home.

            If you’ve seen mere thousands of data points and you consider this your most noteworthy qualification in the area, how can you be “extremely confident” in your assessment of the salaries of the top 0.0001% of software developers in the US? The odds are at least a hundred to one that you’ve never, ever seen the data from a single top-0.0001% developer.

            Also, what is your definition of “software developer”, and how many millions of them do you think there are that “top 0.0001%” is a useful category?

            Possibly consider dialing down your confidence and not making pronouncements that far out on the tails of the distribution.

          • hash872 says:

            If you’ve seen mere thousands of data points and you consider this your most noteworthy qualification in the area, how can you be “extremely confident” in your assessment of the salaries of the top 0.0001% of software developers in the US?

            The same way polling works, it’s a representative sampling of developer salaries in the US. I was not including management/lead salaries, and I think I mentioned that I’m just covering base salary- not RSUs or bonuses. (Also, what are the qualifications/data sampling methods employed by those who disagree with this statement? Shouldn’t they also be examined more in-depth, or told to dial down ‘extreme confidence’? Seems like an isolated demand for rigor).

            Anyways, I think we’re getting off-track talking about fat tails. I was originally responding to a comment that developers can in some situations expect to make over $200k. This is extraordinarily unlikely for virtually every developer who’s a hands-on contributor and not a manager/executive

          • I am extremely confident that 98% of software engineers in the US do not make more than $200k, and that 99.9999% don’t make more than $300k.

            Let me guess that there are ten million software engineers in the US. That feels high to me, but I don’t actually know. If you are correct, then no more than ten of them make more than $300k.

            Do you think that likely?

          • Also, what are the qualifications/data sampling methods employed by those who disagree with this statement?

            My guess, as an observer, is that they know at least one software engineer making more than $300,000, which is unlikely if there are only ten in the country.

            The same way polling works, it’s a representative sampling of developer salaries in the US.

            How does that tell you the density of the upper tail given that, if your claim is correct, you have probably observed nobody on it?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @David Friedman

            According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 1.7 million software developers in the US as of 2016 (this includes the categories Computer Programmer, Web Developer, Software Developer (Applications), and Software Developer (System Software) ). This would include leads but not managers.

            2% of this would be 34,000. I am sure there are more than this making over $200,000 in total compensation. I am almost sure there are more than this making over $200,000 in cash compensation.

            0.0001% of this would be 1.7. I am certain there are more than this making over $300,000 in cash compensation.

      • Chalid says:

        Finance pays very well indeed… although the hours usually suck.

        Does being a SWE in finance really pay any better than being a SWE in a tech company? If so is it just compensation for a crappier lifestyle/less respect within the company/etc or is there more to it?

        If you meant that he should become a bond trader or something, I have a hard time seeing how that would be possible.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          My understanding is that yes, being a SWE at a financial company does pay better (though you have to be willing to value bonuses and so forth). This is second-hand from people who’ve looked at it. I’ve never gotten close to that world myself.

        • brad says:

          I’ve got close friends on both sides of that fence (FANG and finance). The finance ceiling is higher (unless you were really really early at one of tech giants) and the offers are better.

          Backwards looking some of the tech giant friends ended up doing much better than an annual accounting would suggest because the stock ended up doing so well. But that’s partly an investing story given that you are “supposed” to sell as soon as you vest.