Open Thread 120.5

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801 Responses to Open Thread 120.5

  1. Joseph Greenwood says:

    I’ve generally been very impressed with the literary tastes of the people on this thread, so I have a question for you.

    What are your favorite works of fiction that you believe fewer than 5% of SSC subscribers have read?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I wouldn’t call it a favorite, exactly, but Fred Hoyle’s venture into SF,_The Black Cloud_, is probably obscure enough that few have read it.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I don’t know about favorite, but here’s one that I liked quite a bit and I think the author is fairly obscure– The Killing Joke by Anthony Horrowitz.

      This isn’t related to Batman, though if anyone wants to explain that the title isn’t a coincidence, go for it.

      It starts off in mundane fashion– an actor whose life is in bad shape (little work, little money, girlfriend of three years just left him) is further distressed because his birth mother who he’d never contacted dies suddenly. She’s a famous actress, and a callous joke is going around about her.

      He decides to try to find the author of the joke, and there’s about a hundred reasonably entertaining pages which are sort of a tour of London and environs as he tracks back who people heard the joke from.

      And then things get extremely odd.

      It’s not metaphysically weird, but it’s within the range of maybe physically possible weird. Should appeal to fans of Illuminatus!, The Laundry Files, and probably Unsong.

      So, definitely humorous/satirical, not quite science fiction, a mystery and/or thriller. Also has one of the sweetest love stories I’ve seen…. and I don’t like romances.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I have read that, and found it weird, especially since Horowitz is perhaps better known as a YA author, certainly in the UK.

        His Alex Rider series (juvenile James Bond, essentially) were huge bestsellers in the UK, of the sort that were advertised on the sides of buses. He has also written Sherlock Holmes stories and official James Bond continuation novels (authorised by the Fleming Estate).

        The Killing Joke was the first adult book he wrote. By this point, he had written several of the Diamond Brothers books, which are children’s detective stories parodying the hard-boiled PI genre (the first is called The Falcon’s Malteser- a Malteser is a popular British chocolate), as well as the first few Alex Rider books.

    • Plumber says:

      The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights and In Dubious Battle, both by John Steinbeck.

      Swords Against Death (and many other works!) by Fritz Leiber.

      The War Hound and the World’s Pain by Michael Moorcock.

      Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad/Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski

      The Canterbury Tales originally by Geoffrey Chaucer and translated by Peter Ackroyd.

      Don Quixote originally by Miguel de Cervantes and translated by Edith Grossman

      The Book of Common Prayer, 1662 version.

      British Folktales, and An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, & Other Supernatural Creatures, both compiled by Katharine Briggs.

      Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece by Gustav Schwab.

      The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.

      • The Nybbler says:

        You’d lose on Swords Against Death, I bet; it’s been reprinted recently.

        Had to read the Canterbury Tales in school (not sure which translation), and I bet many others did too.

        Don Quixote is also common school fare.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I own Swords Against Death and The Canterbury Tales. I think I finished Part I of Don Quixote, and the only reason I haven’t finished both parts is because I’ve been holding out to buy a copy with the complete Gustave Dore illos.

        • Plumber says:

          @The Nybbler 

          “You’d lose on Swords Against Death, I bet; it’s been reprinted recently”

          It’s a great book, glad to hear that!

          “Had to read the Canterbury Tales in school (not sure which translation), and I bet many others did too.

          Don Quixote is also common school fare”

          Sounds like good schools!

          (I’m now feeling even more bitter about my schooling)

          • The Nybbler says:

            I know _Don Quixote_ is common, but I personally never read it. I don’t think I had a World Lit class. (I did see the play _Man of La Mancha_, but that does not count)

      • No signal says:

        Don Quixote originally by Miguel de Cervantes and translated by Edith Grossman

        The one by Pierre Menard is even better.

        • Plumber says:

          Thanks for the tip @No signal!

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I’m not sure if you’re in on the joke, but to avoid wasting your time: Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote is a short story by Borges in which the titular French author rewrites Don Quixote word-for-word in the original Spanish; the story is structured as a review of the new Quixote, in which the reviewer declares the line-for-line rewrite to be superior to the original (hence No signal’s comment).

          • Plumber says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            “I’m not sure if you’re in on the joke…”

            I wasn’t, thank you.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            The short story is still really good though, so you should still read that!

      • sfoil says:

        Lord Jim is incredible, one of my top five favorites. I don’t understand why it isn’t more widely read than the inferior Heart of Darkness, which feels like a test run for Jim Probably just because the latter is so much shorter.

        • Plumber says:


          I’m very pleased to see someone say so!

          It’s the guilt and redemption-seeking aspects of. Lord Jim that interest me (as well as the colorful setting)

    • toastengineer says:

      The Phantom Tollbooth was really good, although apparently it’s more well known than I thought it was.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Yep, common school-assigned book.

        • johan_larson says:

          Now I’m wondering what book has the largest readership within this group. I’ll guess some book that is commonly assigned in both US and British schools. Hamlet, perhaps.

          • Plumber says:


            I don’t remember any assigned reading at all in the mostly black “Intermediate” English class (we were assigned essay topics instead), when I was reassigned to the mostly white “Advanced” English class, it was Julius Caesar, Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, and yes indeed Hamlet

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, I’ll bite with school-assigned books and plays.

            For Intermediate Certificate: play – Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, novel – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, anthology of short stories, anthology of poetry by Irish, British and American poets

            For Leaving Certificate: plays – Hamlet by Shakespeare, The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge, novel – Persuasion by Jane Austen, anthology of prose pieces, anthology of poetry by Irish, British and American poets

          • I bet nearly everyone here has read Green Eggs and Ham.

          • The Nybbler says:

            For Shakespeare, _Romeo and Juliet_, _A Midsummers Night Dream_, _Twelfth Night_, and _Julius Caesar_ were the ones I had in middle and high school, Conrad’s _The Secret Sharer_ (which seems to be a common one, along with _Heart of Darkness_; there’s an edition with both stories in one book), Melville’s _Billy Budd_*

            _Hamlet_ and _MacBeth_ I didn’t have until college, but both are likely common here.

            If we move out of “books probably assigned in school” (and ignore Unsong), I suspect we’d get big numbers out of various books by Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and Le Guin. Seem to be quite a few who have read the _Monster Manual_ cover to cover as well…

            And probably most of us have read at least parts of some version of Jewish or Christian religious texts.

            (* I also was assigned Willa Cather’s _My Antonia_, but I don’t know anyone from another school who was, and I sincerely hope that class was an abberation. As unreadable as Melville without the excuse of tradition)

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Wait, in English and American schools students actually read their assigned books instead of faking it? That is some advanced pedagogy you have there! I would guess Lord of the Rings.

          • Plumber says:

            @The Nybbler

            “…, I suspect we’d get big numbers out of various books by Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and Le Guin. Seem to be quite a few who have read the _Monster Manual_ cover to cover as well…”

            I wasn’t assigned most of your school list, but you’re spot on with your guesses of some authors I chose to read.

          • johan_larson says:

            The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge

            What an odd choice. Any idea why that’s included, Deiseach?

          • johan_larson says:

            Wait, in English and American schools students actually read their assigned books instead of faking it?

            Some certainly do, but SSC is full of eggheads and eggheads like to read so it’s a good bet they actually read the books they were assigned.

          • Deiseach says:

            johan_larson, Irish school so needed an Irish play as well, so it was Synge mostly because of the “Celtic Twilight”/Abbey Theatre connections. I’m not familiar with the modern curriculum but I imagine they have a bit more choice in Irish playwrights today.

            Though looking up the syllabus for this year’s exam, I see Synge is still going strong!

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        I was very fond of this book also, although I came across it via my older sisters, not school. Maybe they were assigned it in school?

    • JulieK says:

      Angela Thirkell, The Brandons
      Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey

      Though I suppose if I want works that I’m positive 5% of people here haven’t read, I should recommend fiction written for Orthodox Jews, but good luck getting them from your local library.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        What sort of fiction is written for Orthodox Jews?

        • JulieK says:

          What sort of fiction is written for Orthodox Jews?

          Usually, fiction about Orthodox characters, and avoiding any content that wouldn’t be rated G or PG. Mostly drama, thrillers, historical fiction, etc.
          You can see recent releases here:

          My own favorites (some may be out of print):
          Wildflower and A Time to Rend, a Time to Sew (Rachel Pomerantz)
          This is America! (Henye Meyer)
          Invisible Me (Tzipi Caton)
          “Devora Doresh” mystery stories (Carol Korb Hubner)

          Various titles by Riva Pomerantz (no relation to other RP, who is using a pseudonym) and Dov Haller

          • I wonder if orthodox Jews would like Spinning Silver. One of the protagonists is the daughter of a Jewish moneylender in a fantasy Slavic setting and the story ends with a Jewish wedding–which is a great deal stranger than it sounds.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Not an orthodox Jew but I also really enjoyed Spinning Silver—seconding this recommendation as an extremely interesting fantasy with a compelling setting; one of the very best books I’ve read recently.

            It also combines various fairy tales but in a way that seems very natural, not forced…

      • SamChevre says:

        OK, that is a hint: Joseph Cox’s The Assessors

      • SamChevre says:

        The same would apply to books from the Plain world. And I’ve read plenty of those, but they are even harder to find. Not only are they unavailable in libraries, they aren’t even generally available on Amazon, and many of the publishers do not even have phone numbers. But if you have the opportunity to read a book published by Pathway, it will likely be intriguing.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto, the greatest in a series of Italian Renaissance epics that took “the Matter of France” (Charlemagne and his paladins fighting Muslims) and poured them into the form of Classical epics. The exuberant, madcap adventure that results perfectly illustrates everything Chesterton tried to say about the difference between Antiquity and Christendom: “Gargoyles laugh because they are Christians”, etc.
      To even summarize the work is to recommend the even more obscure Orlando innamorato, to which it was a sequel. The plot starts with Charlemagne inviting all his vassals and his Muslim enemies to a feast, at which Princess Angelica of China shows up with giant bodyguards, and is so gorgeous that everyone fights over who gets to participate earliest in the tournament to marry her… all except Charlemagne’s wizard Malagigi, who scries that she’s on a mission from her father to sow chaos among rival world powers. He tries to save the Empire by sneaking up on her while she’s sleeping… only to be overcome by lust and magically imprisoned in a rock bignum miles away. Eventually, while the paladins and many of the Muslims ride to Albracca where Angelica has gotten herself captured by the Khan of the steppe, the Caliph of Spain manages to knock enough sense into his men to attack France…
      … basically each canto is like a D&D session, the original plot getting lost in a Gordian Knot as the storyteller allows the characters to make their own adventures. But for all that, it does not lack unity, especially in the second half (the furioso), which is driven by the female cavalier Bradamante being ordered by Merlin’s ghost to convert the great but ditzy Muslim warrior Ruggiero so she can marry him and found an important dynasty. Meanwhile Orlando abandons his liege because Angelica fell in love with a common soldier, Hulking out and doing things like throwing an innocent peasant’s donkey one mile and swimming the Strait of Gibraltar to kill totally random Moors. The paladin Astolfo has to go on a quest TO THE MOON to recover Orlando’s lost wits (they’re in a little vial on a pile of lost things).

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Oh yeah, I bet <5% of you have read the French proto-novel Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais. It’s the story of father and son giants from Utopia who go to Paris for their university education. If you have, I dare say you never forget scenes like Gargantua trying to scientifically discover the best way to wipe one’s butt or the first appearance of the scoundrel Panurge, who hits on a lady who rejects his advances by shoving him miles away… and then they carry on a conversation like nothing happened.

      • Deiseach says:

        I have indeed read part of it when I was a teenager but Rabelais was a bit too robust for me at that age and I never finished it 🙂

    • Kim by Kipling
      The Paladin by Cherryh

      But I could be wrong about the less than 5% for either.

      • SamChevre says:

        I’ve read Kim. (I think I’ve read everything Kipling wrote, most of it several times.) I like the later stories better, which I gather is somewhat unusual. On the Gate and Dray Wara Yow Dee stand out in memory right now, but tomorrow it could be a completely different set.

        • I think I’ve read all of Kipling’s fiction, not sure if everything he wrote. Do you know the poetry as well?

          I think my favorite is “The Mary Gloster.”

          And I’ve also spent several days in Naulakha, the house in Vermont that Kipling helped design and lived in for several years.

          • SamChevre says:

            I do not know the poetry as well as the stories, but I’ve read it, and enjoyed it. I like “The Mary Gloster”, but it’s not one of my top ten of Kipling’s.

            My favorite, far and away, is The Supports.

            Praise Him, then, Who orders it that, though Earth be flaring
            And the crazy skies are lit
            By the searchlights of the Pit,
            Man should not depart a whit from his wonted bearing

            I also very much like the (incredibly cynical) Ballad of the King’s Mercy and the beautiful, alliterative language of The Sea and the Hills. The classics are classics for a reason–Recessional, If, Gods of the Copybook Headings, Sons of Martha, Gunga Din, Boots, “I Keep Six Honest Serving Men”, etc etc etc

          • spkaca says:

            I’m a fan; I once stayed overnight at Bateman’s. Kim is charming, but is it a novel? My favourite of his poems (in grim moods) is Gods of the Copybook Headings, in other moods The Ballad of East and West. His short fiction is worth a look, notably The Gardener.

          • Nornagest says:

            My favorite Kipling poem is “Hymn of Breaking Strain”. “In the Neolithic Age” is worth a look too, though — much more lighthearted.

          • albatross11 says:

            “Hymn to Breaking Strain” is wonderful–it’s one of my favorite Kipling poems, too.

          • I third “Hymn of Breaking Strain.” I like to offer it as evidence that Kipling was a modern poet in a sense in which most modern poets are not.

            Although Cummings’ “Electrons deify a razor blade/Into a mountain range” also qualifies.

            “The Mary Gloster” is the best Browning Monolog I know–better than Browning’s.

            Nobody has mentioned “The Palace.”

            Or “The Last Suttee.” I have some reservations about the twist in the ending, but some of the playing with rhythm is wonderful.

            “But ere the rush of the unseen feet
            Had reached the turn to the open street,
            The bars shot down, the guard-drum beat —
            We held the dovecot still.”

            At least as good as “The soul selects her own society.”

          • Nornagest says:

            If we’re talking modern poetry in the sense of dealing with modern social and technological concepts, I can’t pass up mentioning John M. Ford’s sonnet “Against Entropy”, which is short enough to be quoted in full:

            The worm drives helically through the wood
            And does not know the dust left in the bore
            Once made the table integral and good;
            And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
            Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
            A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
            The names of lovers, light of other days
            Perhaps you will not miss them. That’s the joke.
            The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
            But memory is everything to lose;
            Although some of the colors have to fade,
            Do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.
            Regret, by definition, comes too late;
            Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

            ETA: Just looked up the e e cummings poem. That’s damn good.

          • SamChevre says:

            John M. Ford was amazing, and that is very likely his best piece of work.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, that was written in a Making Light thread as a response to the original post (a news article), in like no time.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’ve read Kim, but I believe I read it on your recommendation.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Tibor Fischer, _Under the Frog_
      Iain Pears, _An Instance of the Fingerpost_ and _The Dream of Scipio_
      Vikram Chandra, _Sacred Games_
      Vikram Seth, _The Golden Gate_ and _An Equal Music_
      Richard Powers, _The Time of Our Singing_
      A.S. Byatt, _The Children’s Book_

    • johan_larson says:

      “Enigma” by Robert Harris is excellent, but quite obscure.

    • rlms says:

      I feel like people are overestimating how many books people tend to read; the modal American apparently reads 4 per year. Outside of books commonly read in school, bestsellers, and books particularly popular with this demographic, I don’t think many books would get above 5%. According to this survey, e.g. War and Peace doesn’t manage that in the general British population.

      • Simulated Knave says:

        First, the poster said SSC people.

        Second, Russian novels are notoriously long, depressing and boring (I’m not saying they actually are, but they’re famous for it). War and Peace is nearly 600K words. 19th century novels are from two centuries ago. It’s translated. And it’s STILL been read by 4% of the British population. I’m impressed it’s anywhere near that high.

        • sfoil says:

          I’m not impressed at all; I think they’re lying. Maybe 4% own a copy of War and Peace and/or have thought about reading it at some point.

          • spkaca says:

            I don’t believe the 4% figure either. I listened to the BBC Radio adaptation and that was enough for me. Life’s too short.

    • littskad says:

      Douglas Bell, Mojo and the Pickle Jar
      Gene Wolfe, Soldier in the Mist
      John Dickson Carr, The Hollow Man (also published as The Three Coffins)

    • Alejandro says:

      I am a big fan of Robert Graves’s historical novels. I, Claudius and Claudius the God are maybe too well-known to be under the 5% cut (especially if we count in the percentage those who watched the wonderful 1970s TV adaptation) but I also recommend his novelistic re-imaginations of Greek mythology (The Golden Fleece) and the New Testament (King Jesus). They both use as background his Triple Goddess mythopoetic theory, which is boring and kooky in his serious exposition of it (The White Goddess), but works very well to give these retellings of well-known stories a fresh spin, as a kind of “alternate myth” (by analogy to alternate history).

    • J.R. says:

      Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry comes to mind. Not very accessible — it is a dense modernist work and the first chapter is 50 pages long and takes place one year after the events of the rest of the novel. Not to mention it is depressing as hell. The writing is incredible, though. It’s amazing how well Lowry portrays the experience of being blackout drunk and at the end of your rope, but then again, he knew from personal experience.

      • sfoil says:

        I’ve got both Lowry and Gaddis on my to-read list — any recommendation on whom to start with? With Gaddis I was planning to do J.R. -> The Recognitions.

        • J.R. says:

          Depends on your appetite. I enjoyed J.R. much more than The Recognitions. J.R. makes you work to understand every scene but you get into a rhythm about 100 pages in. I had a blast reading it, too. Gaddis had a great ear for dialogue and he satirizes corporate America to great effect. Volcano is a more conventional work, but is also crushingly sad and beautiful.

          Bottom line: if you want something like Wallace or Pynchon, go with J.R. first. If you’re feeling something more like Woolf or Faulkner, go with Volcano.

    • S_J says:

      I’ve long appreciated anything written by Timothy Zahn.

      Among his lesser-known stories, my favorite is A Coming of Age.

      It’s a detective story, set on a planet where something has given telekinesis to most children between ages 6 and 14.

      The story is well-written. The social, legal, and economic implications of the telekinesis are fleshed out in a way that makes sense. And the plot works because all the major players are acting intelligently, given the situation that they are in.

    • sfoil says:

      5% is a very low bar — there must be only a small handful of books that more than one in twenty of SSC readers have read, and those overwhelmingly high school assigned reading. On the other hand, a few of my picks were already mentioned.

      The Glass Bees by Ernst Junger. I’d recommend reading The Storm of Steel, Junger’s WWI memoir, first since it provides a great deal of subtext to Bees‘s narrator although it isn’t absolutely necessary.

      The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe is reasonably popular around here, a sign of good taste. If you read it and liked it, complete the system Solar Cycle and read Wolfe’s Book of the Short Sun is on the same level of quality, though in a very different way. You do need to read the 1200-page prologue called The Book of the Long Sun first, however.

      For non-fiction, Field Marshal Slim’s Defeat into Victory, a memoir about the author’s role as field commander of the Commonwealth forces in the China-Burma-India of WW2. Not only is the memoir thorough, honest, and illuminating of a relatively obscure corner of the war, but I found it very interesting on a meta-level how well Slim managed to walk the tightrope of tact and honesty concerning delicate matters like Indian attitudes towards the Japanese, military intelligence, the alliance with Chinese nationalists, and other subjects.

      • Simulated Knave says:

        I wonder if Slim’s memoir would go well with Quartered Safe Out Here, George McDonald Fraser’s memoir of the same war from his perspective (he was a private)? It’s a good read, in a number of different ways.

        His various other books are interesting and enjoyable as well.

      • Deiseach says:

        In my early twenties I went on a Hermann Hesse binge. I liked The Glass Bead Game, though I can’t claim I understood it 🙂

        • Lambert says:

          Does anyone really understand Hesse?

          The short stories like Knulp and Siddartha are good, because they fit nicely in one’s pocket whilst one wanders around Southern Germany.

    • onyomi says:

      Has anyone here read the Chinese novel Story of the Stone/Dream of the Red Chamber? The David Hawkes translation is quite good. How about Plum in the Golden Vase (Jin ping mei)? A full translation by David Tod Roy now exists.

      A very funny short novel I can recommend is The Carnal Prayer Mat by Li Yu, translation by Patrick Hanan.

      • Assuming that Plum in the Golden Vase is the same thing as Golden Lotus, yes. The version I originally read had the pornographic parts in Latin, however, which I can’t really read.

        • onyomi says:

          It is the same. Must have been the old Egerton translation. The Roy translation is significantly better, and not just because it translates the dirty bits into English, though I don’t think it rises to the literary quality of the Hawkes translation of Story of the Stone.

          For someone interested in a premodern Chinese erotic story, I recommend Carnal Prayer Mat over Plum in the Golden Vase; much shorter, more fun, and yet still of more than prurient interest. Plum in the Golden Vase is interesting from a material culture perspective (great window on late-Ming Dynasty elite life) and from the perspective of development of the novel as an art form in China (does many things new, including adapting an episode of Outlaws of the Marsh, which had been based on popular drama and storytelling, to tell a household drama that belongs very much to the realm of printed fiction), but Story of the Stone surpasses it in so many ways, I’d recommend it ahead of Plum for someone looking for a Chinese household drama/window on late imperial elite life.

      • Deiseach says:

        I read a translation of Dream of the Red Chamber and it is a great inside look into the decline of an aristocratic family partly because of hostile outside forces but in large part due to rotting from within; they spend money like water without much caring where it comes from and presuming that it will always be there, there’s only a few of the extended family who are aware of the reality of the situation and are trying to hold it all together, and eventually it all crashes down.

        I was inspired to try it due to a reference in one of Barry Hughart’s “Master Li and Number Ten Ox” novels about “The problem with ‘the crown jewel of Chinese literature’ [Dream of the Red Chamber] is that it has two thousand pages and an equal number of characters, and the hero is an effeminate ass who should have either been spanked or decapitated, both ends being equally objectionable.”

        I’d heartily recommend the Master Li and Number Ten Ox books to anyone who hasn’t read them before.

        • Nornagest says:

          Master Li and Number Ten Ox

          Those are the guys that the Confucian judge and his assistant in The Diamond Age were based on, right? I haven’t read them, but maybe I should.

          • Civilis says:

            I think the characters in the Diamond Age were based on the Judge Dee series. I made that mistake when looking for books myself, but fortunately, the Master Li and Number Ten Ox stories were incredibly fun to read.

          • Both Judge Dee and Master Li are good books, but wildly different.

        • onyomi says:

          I guess what makes Dream of the Red Chamber such a classic is that it is many different things at once, so you can read it more than once and keep getting many new senses of what it’s “about”: decline of a great family, Buddhistic exploration of dreams, reality, and fungibility of social roles, love story between young people with a lot of interiority, coming of age story, meditation on public-private/political-personal/duty-sentiment dichotomy, frame story for the author to record a bunch of the poetry he and his female friends wrote on various occasions, etc. etc.

          Pace the quote about its length, it is very long, but I think it’s also quite suitable for reading in bits and pieces, not necessarily cover-to-cover. Yet at the same time it avoids being highly repetitive in the way e.g. Three Kingdoms, Outlaws of the Marsh, and Journey to the West tend to be, due to their oral-performance provenance (something of the quality of a long-running tv show where you come back next week to find out what our heroes will do next).

    • piato says:

      ‘What Belongs To You’ (Garth Greenwell) is the most beautiful novel about desire I’ve ever read. It just felt honest about it in a way that other things I’ve read weren’t.

      ‘Lolly Willowes’ (Sylvia Townsend Warner) is totally unexpected and I can never quite believe it’s real, it’s all 1920’s graceful middle-class decline until it just gets so gleefully weird, I’ve never read anything else like it.

      ‘A Dance To The Music Of Time’ (Anthony Powell) is the funniest series of books I’ve ever read, but I don’t think I can recommend it in good conscience if you aren’t British, it’s too specific.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Too loud a solitude by Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal.

      White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov.

      Beetle in the Anthill by Strugatsky brothers.

      Perhaps Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. Most famous of this selection, but still underappreciated.

      • No signal says:

        Perhaps Solaris by Stanislaw Lem.

        … or nearly anything by Lem. Contact by Sagan read after His Master’s Voice was so pitifully inferior, I still remember the distaste after 25 years… And then you have Golem XIV, Summa Technologiae, A Perfect Vacuum, The Futurological Congress, Observation on the Spot. Even “worse” stuff like Eden or Return from the Stars is quite good and fun to read.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I read His Master’s Voice a few months ago, and frankly I didn’t care for it. It had some interesting ideas, but the characters were mostly one-dimensional, and the revelation at the end was something of a letdown. What made you appreciate it so much?

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I found lot of Lem´s works full of interesting ideas, but too “dry” and lacking in character development. Solaris of course does not suffer from this problem.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Yes. I have spreadsheet of the books I’ve read to prevent double reads, but also to note the authors I like. I don’t even remember Lem, but my notes say about “Return from the Stars,” “writes like HG Wells, not much happens.” Not on my list for further books.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Under the Sun of Satan, 1926, by Georges Bernanos. A somewhat stream-of-consciousness novel (perfectly readable, it’s not Joyce- or even Faulkner-levels of stream-of-consciousness) written in a very catholic and mystical slant. Absolutely astonishing prose in the original French (I don’t know how the two avalaible English translations compare).

    • SamChevre says:

      Willa Cather’s novelette, The Bohemian Girl; I very much enjoy Cather, and I think this story is her masterwork. It’s about decisions–and paying for them–and memory–and family–and place. And fundamentally, it’s about particular people, and captures them well.

      ETA: not a favorite, exactly, and not promoted as fiction, but I expect I’m one of the few SSC’ers to have read Hislop’s The Two Babylons cover to cover. If you are looking for anti-Catholic history with lots of details, only the most important of which are made up, it fits the bill.

    • cassander says:

      The Silmarillion. I’ll even at SSC where I’d bet at least 90% have read lord of the rings, fewer than 5% had read the Silmarillion.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        I dunno. I read it in middle school just to be able to say I could—I got a little out of it, but not very much. I suspect that when you sum over passionate Tolkien lovers, students obligated by study, self-proclaimed intellectuals trying to live up to local social expectations or self-image-imposed requirements, and everything else, you might slip past 5%.

        • johan_larson says:

          On his next survey, Scott could include some questions about what books his audience has read.

        • cassander says:

          If you like tolkien, or high tragedy, I’d suggest re-reading it. You’ll get a lot more out of a second reading, even at a large remove.

      • Evan Þ says:

        If Silmarillion‘s too well-known, how about History of Middle-Earth IV: Lays of Beleriand? It’s pretty much all the known fragments of Tolkien’s poetry about the First Age, including an alliterative version of the story of Turin and a rhyming version of the story of Beren and Luthien (including Lewis’s in-character commentary on an early draft.) If you like Tolkien’s poetry, the book’s well-worth reading.

        Or if even that’s too well-known, how about History of Middle-Earth VI: The Return of the Shadow? It’s the first drafts of the first part of Fellowship of the Ring, with Christopher Tolkien’s commentary. I thought it was worth reading to get a look at Tolkien as a writer and how he struggled toward the ideas and tone we eventually see perfected in the published book.

        • hls2003 says:

          I highly recommend the book-length treatments of The Children of Hurin, Beren and Luthien, and The Fall of Gondolin. For someone who has read all the volumes of The History of Middle-Earth, they are more familiar but nevertheless improved by additional more recent scholarship, as well as by a greater focus on the evolution of J.R.R.’s thoughts on those specific “pillar works” in the mythos.

          Christopher Tolkien will be greatly missed.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I entirely agree about Children of Hurin, but what more recent scholarship do you see in Beren and Luthien? I appreciated Christopher Tolkien’s preface and the art, and making the texts more available within the same covers is worthy of great praise, but I didn’t see anything else new in there for myself.

          • hls2003 says:

            My recollection is that Christopher had updated his analysis of the order of appearance of certain fragments and scenes, and I thought overall it was just a more coherent framing of the editorial process, but without going back and comparing it line-by-line with History I couldn’t tell you for sure.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’ll go you one better, cassander, I’ve read the entirety of The History of Middle-earth, all twelve volumes (yes, even the parts where Christopher Tolkien gives three different versions of the same fragmentary sentence) 🙂

        There’s actually quite a lot of people on Tumblr who are familiar with it, even (if you’d call it ironically or not) someone who is a major fan of Morgoth and Sauron and does fan-art of them and constructs AUs around them and the like. Good times, good times!

        • cassander says:

          I’ve read a fair bit of those, but I certainly haven’t read them cover to cover. My hat goes off to you!

          I’ve also spent some time on the tumblr community. I like their commitment to headcannon and analysis/extrapolation. I have almost no interest in fan fiction, but I am interested your overlong textual analysis proving how Pengolodh was totally biased against Caranthir or building up a whole theory of dwarven dining ritual from a few sentences of the hobbit. A lot of tolkien communities are ludicrously puritan about shutting down anything that wasn’t explicitly written by the man himself. Unfortunately, tumlr is a shit platform that makes it very difficult to find what I’m looking for, which seriously limits my involvement.

        • Deiseach says:

          but I am interested your overlong textual analysis proving how Pengolodh was totally biased against Caranthir

          Pengolodh is problematic (as the young people nowadays say) but on the other hand I am biased against Caranthir (and Curufin – all that politicking against Finrod may have been very clever and of course they were bound by their Oath, but messing with Finrod who is one of the few bearable Noldor irritates me greatly).

          Speaking of Tumblr, I enjoyed it a few years ago when people were using Akkadian to approximate Valarin, that just hit all my historical and fiction and language bells at once.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Is Sauron a cat in this pro-evil version?

          • Evan Þ says:

            If Sauron’s written as Morgoth’s favorite pet cat, that might actually make me want to read that Sauron and Morgoth-focused AU.

    • WashedOut says:

      Crime and Punishment. I’ve talked about it a lot here, but only a few people seem to have read it, despite it being both a masterpiece and very readable.

      • sentientbeings says:

        Lower than five percent? Maybe I’m biased from having originally read it in high school (as assigned reading), but I would guess more than 5% among a well-read group.

        One of my favorite lines in the book is on, I think, the first page. It’s something like “[Raskolnikov] was crushed by poverty.”

        On every reading but the very first, I’ve found it to be unintentionally hilarious, because how could anyone craft as succinctly such an oppressively Russian mood around a character?

        • andrewflicker says:

          Third paragraph. Here’s the start of the novel:

          On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.

          He had successfully avoided meeting his landlady on the staircase. His garret was under the roof of a high, five-storied house and was more like a cupboard than a room. The landlady who provided him with garret, dinners, and attendance, lived on the floor below, and every time he went out he was obliged to pass her kitchen, the door of which invariably stood open. And each time he passed, the young man had a sick, frightened feeling, which made him scowl and feel ashamed. He was hopelessly in debt to his landlady, and was afraid of meeting her.

          This was not because he was cowardly and abject, quite the contrary; but for some time past he had been in an overstrained irritable condition, verging on hypochondria. He had become so completely absorbed in himself, and isolated from his fellows that he dreaded meeting, not only his landlady, but anyone at all. He was crushed by poverty, but the anxieties of his position had of late ceased to weigh upon him. He had given up attending to matters of practical importance; he had lost all desire to do so. Nothing that any landlady could do had a real terror for him. But to be stopped on the stairs, to be forced to listen to her trivial, irrelevant gossip, to pestering demands for payment, threats and complaints, and to rack his brains for excuses, to prevaricate, to lie—no, rather than that, he would creep down the stairs like a cat and slip out unseen.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I read it in high school but have zero memory of it.

      • Nick says:

        I read it last year and it was very good.

    • sfoil says:

      Inspired by SamChevre, some non-novel recommendations:

      Faith of Our Fathers, Philip K. Dick. This was originally published in the Dangerous Visions Anthology, but despite PKD being virtually a household name and Visions being one of the better-known SF collections hardly anyone seems to have read it. It’s the stand-out story in a pretty strong anthology, and PKD’s best short-form work.

      Songs of the Dying Earth
      is an homage anthology to Jack Vance’s Dying Earth collected and published shortly after his death. If you like Vance’s setting, this is a very strong anthology, with each author (including several big names) putting their own spin on the concept.

      Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad

    • Tarpitz says:

      The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene.

      The Sound of Heavy Rain by Penelope Skinner.

    • Walter says:

      “The Napoleon of Notting Hill” is my favorite G.K. Chesterton book. It is on Gutenberg so you can read it right now, for free.

      • EchoChaos says:

        It is absolutely magnificent and I’ve reread it several times because I enjoy it so much, but I would suspect (hope?) that over 5% of SSC readers have read it.

        • Certainly I have. And I offer very high odds that Deiseach has. Counting posts instead of posters, does that come to 5%?

          • Deiseach says:

            You would win that bet, Mr. Friedman 🙂

            I’d also like to recommend The Club of Queer Trades, a short-story collection as summarised here by Wikipedia:

            The framing narrative by “Cherub” Swinburne describes his quest for The Club of Queer Trades with his friend Basil Grant, a retired judge, and Rupert Grant, a private detective who is Basil’s younger brother. Each of the stories describes their encounter with one of the trades.

            And a sample quote from one of the stories to see if you’d like it:

            Major Brown was a V.C., and an able and distinguished soldier, but he was anything but a warlike person. Like many among the iron men who recovered British India, he was a man with the natural beliefs and tastes of an old maid. In his dress he was dapper and yet demure; in his habits he was precise to the point of the exact adjustment of a tea-cup. One enthusiasm he had, which was of the nature of a religion—the cultivation of pansies. And when he talked about his collection, his blue eyes glittered like a child’s at a new toy, the eyes that had remained untroubled when the troops were roaring victory round Roberts at Candahar.

            …He married Miss Jameson, the lady with the red hair and the green garments. She was an actress, employed (with many others) by the Romance Agency; and her marriage with the prim old veteran caused some stir in her languid and intellectualized set. She always replied very quietly that she had met scores of men who acted splendidly in the charades provided for them by Northover, but that she had only met one man who went down into a coal-cellar when he really thought it contained a murderer.

            The Major and she are living as happily as birds, in an absurd villa, and the former has taken to smoking. Otherwise he is unchanged—except, perhaps, there are moments when, alert and full of feminine unselfishness as the Major is by nature, he falls into a trance of abstraction. Then his wife recognizes with a concealed smile, by the blind look in his blue eyes, that he is wondering what were the title-deeds, and why he was not allowed to mention jackals. But, like so many old soldiers, Brown is religious, and believes that he will realize the rest of those purple adventures in a better world.

            The Club of Queer Trades is from 1905 and The Paradoxes of Mr Pond is from 1937, and they’re available for free on Project Gutenberg.

          • Nick says:

            I’ve read it, which makes 5, but I wasn’t much a fan of it. I like The Ball and the Cross and The Man Who Was Thursday better.

    • aristides says:

      Anything by Murakami. Surreal romance is a relatively obscure genre that I’ve found I love. 1Q84 is my favorite of them, but it is so long and odd that I’d recommend Sputnik Sweetheart by Murakami as a less time consuming entry to the author. You can read 1Q84 as a follow up if you like it.

      Since Murakami is a NYT best selling author, though I’d bet below the 5% level, I’ll also add Another by Yukito Ayatsuji. Better known for the gory, fan service anime, the novel it was based on was actually a satisfying mystery novel, that uses tricks common in Japanese mysteries but rarer in American mysteries. It’s not a literary masterpiece, but I’d recommend it to anyone that finds the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction” too formulaic and simple.

    • J Mann says:

      The 5% rule is tough.

      – William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair.
      – Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Fencing Master
      – Roger Zelazny, A Rose for Ecclesiastes (Read it while very young; not sure how I would feel about it now).
      – Is The Cambist and Lord Iron above 5%? It definitely *should* be.
      – Grant Morrison, All-Star Superman isn’t as good as a lot of stuff on this list, but I can’t describe how much I like it.
      Brave New World and Lolita (annotated version) are popular, but *might* fall under the 5% line.

      • Nornagest says:

        Brave New World is too common as assigned reading in high school, and Lolita, while almost never assigned in school for obvious reasons, is probably still too famous. (n=1, but I’ve read both.) Everything else on your list probably passes muster, though.

      • The Cambist and Lord Iron is one of the works in my work in progress–a collection of short works of literature with interesting economic insights, along with my commentary. It’s one of the ones for which my comment essay is done and up.

      • SamChevre says:

        I’ve read Vanity Fair, but none of the others.

      • Plumber says:

        @J Mann The Cambist and Lord Iron appeared in quite a few anthologies (including at least two “Year’s Best”), I read it (it’s a fave!), and I’d guess that I’m less well read than most SSC’ers.

        I read some of Brave New World as an almost teenager or young teenager (12-ish), but not all.

        I haven’t read any of the rest of your list, but I saw the Lolita movie.

    • carvenvisage says:

      The camels are coming by W.E. Johns. (energetic action and an anthropoligical window on a warlike but noble/civilised culture which the author (a fighter pilot in WW1) attests is/was real.)

      Book of the new sun by Gene Wolfe. (weird therapeutic effect, similiar to “The Stranger”, produced by following a first person view which remains almost-solipsistically untouched by tumultous and overwhelming events, starting with the viewpoint characters adoption by the guild of an iconically grisly profession. YMMV)

      Some first books of fantasy-adventure series set in original worlds:

      Night watch by Sergei lukyanenko
      Magician by Raymond Feist
      Jhereg by Steven Brust
      Nine Princes in Amber by Roger zelazny (but maybe 5% of SSC readers have read it)
      magician’s guild by trudi canavan, or priestess of the white
      Prince of Fools by Mark lawrence
      midnight falcon by David Gemmell (*actually book 2 but reasons)
      The way of kings by Brandon Sanderson
      The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance (*actually a standalone novella, but good intro to the author-many of whose stories are set in similiar distinctive settings)

      -if it doesn’t click, you might still enjoy the world building, and conversely if you really like it, there’s more where it came from.

      Chinese cartoons:

      One Piece (manga)
      Baccano! (anime)
      Spirited away (animated movie)

      • EchoChaos says:

        > Night watch by Sergei lukyanenko

        Fantastic book and fantastic series coming from a really different worldview.

      • J Mann says:

        Read Nine Princes, Book of the New Son, read One Piece* and seen Spirited Away.

        * All issues!

    • Aapje says:

      I’m going to cheat a little and give the best of Dutch-language literature (all of which has English translations):

      Kaas by Willem Elsschot; about a cheese salesman. Very witty and sharp novella.

      Character by Bordewijk; great Bildungsroman of a son with a very, very stern father.

      The Darkroom of Damocles by W.F. Hermans; To quote a review: “The novel, written in a spare, even desiccated style, becomes starkly existentialist, bringing to mind Camus and the Sartre of Les Chemins de la Liberté. Crackling with tension at the same time as a philosophical cynicism – or perhaps just an uninterested amorality – about motives and actions, this is an edgy, uneasy novel about the human condition, effortlessly disguised as a thriller.”

      Max Havelaar by Multatuli; a novelized critique of the Dutch colonization of the Dutch Indies (Indonesia)

  2. JulieK says:

    Following up on the discussion of health and diet in a previous thread:
    I’m in my early forties. A few years ago my body apparently decided to reset its idea of what my normal weight should be to about 20 pounds higher than it used to be.
    1) Is this weight gain bad for my health?
    2) How difficult should I anticipate it to be to lose it?

    • johan_larson says:

      I believe the answer to (2) is that to change your weight permanently you need to change your diet and lifestyle permanently. Exactly how large a change is required is hard to say without knowing how you eat and live now, but you might for instance have to cut your favorite calorie-laden treat to 1/10th as frequent and start walking (an extra) 5 km per day. Apparently pretty much everyone fails at long-term weight loss.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Preface: I’m a 20-something male so what is effective for me will be less effective for an older woman [through no fault of your own]

      In the summer of 2012 I weighed > 200lbs, over the summer vacation I basically gave up any starchy foods. And I continued this diet basically into the summer of 2013, at which point i was ~155 pounds. Note that the weight loss was not linear nor was it continuously downward. So most of the weight was lost in the 1st 3 months. I gained most of it back very slowly over the next 4 years but that was mostly from very irregular and unhealthy eating patterns.

      If the weight gain wasn’t the result of any change in diet or activity level, and is within 20lbs of healthy bodyweight then losing it will be quite a bit more difficult. I can’t say how healthy it would be because i imagine that depends on what your regular diet consists of. In my case right now (I’ve gotten my eating under control) I need to lose about 25lbs to return to a healthy body weight but that is realistic in my case simply because my diet was so bad these last 3 years.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sounds like the infamous “middle aged spread” and this is a reasonable explanation why it happens (yes it’s the Mirror and it’s a terrible layout but the writing is surprisingly non-sensational, if you ignore the clickbait links interspersed throughout).

      Short version: yes, in this case it is your hormones.

      And yes, losing weight gets harder as you get older. If your diet is already reasonable, then messing around with it too much won’t help – reduce starches/carbs and more fibre from vegetable sources is about as helpful as it gets. More exercise and targeted to specific muscle groups (e.g. firming up those tummy muscles) seems to be the solution, but mainly you’ll never be as skinny and fit as when you were younger (unless you have fantastic genes which mean you’ll always be skinny throughout your life, like the bird-boned lucky few).

    • hilitai says:

      In my own case, eating more slowly and deliberately (do I really need another helping?) caused me to eat less, which allowed me to drop about 15 pounds over the course of a year. I didn’t really change my overall diet, just ate less of it.

      I’m in my fifties, and I notice that the amount of calories required for me to maintain weight has been dropping pretty steadily. A lot of days recently, I don’t eat anything but dinner.

    • benjdenny says:

      OK, so there’s math for this, and it’s not perfect, but it’s the best we have. I’m going to assume you weighed 150 pounds, and now you weigh 170, only because that’s the most recent math I’ve done. For the purposes of this calculation, we are going to say you are average American height, so 5’4″, and you are 43 years old. We are also assuming you are basically steady at your new weight, I.E. neither gaining or losing weight at the moment.

      What we want to find out is how much your metabolism has shifted – essentially, if your body is maintaining a higher weight at the same calories, we can approximate how many less calories it’s using to get by now, and then have a firm approximation of how much less you have to eat to create the same weight equilibrium as before. 20 pounds is not in actuality a lot of extra weight in terms of the intake calories required to maintain the weight; the amount of changes needed to drop the weight are pretty slight.

      First we calculate something called your BMR; that’s Basil Metabolic Rate, and it’s the amount of calories you would burn just to exist and not gain or lose if you laid in bed all day. It’s an approximation. At your age, we’d expect to see something ~1400 calories for this value. Then we run it through something called the Harris Benedict equation, which is another approximation that applies a multiplier to your BMR. At light exercise(one level above sedentary, so light exercise 1-3 times a week) we do BMR x 1.375. That’s 1975ish. If we do this for a person 20lbs heavier, or 170, we get 2065. If we do both for Sedentary(no real exercise, just livin’) we get 1680 and 1800. I’m 200 lbs 33 y/0 male, so I get 2770 and 2941 at moderate exercise levels using the same method.

      Your low weight value is 96% of your high value at moderate exercise, and 93% at sedentary(rounding to the nearest whole number, though, so it’s more like a 2.2% difference. Exercise is the difference here – your metabolism can’t ignore physics, so the caloric cost of exercise is pretty much the same between 16 and 80, all things the same. I’m at 94%, and I’m about as different from you as I can get besides being younger.

      So basically, assuming that your metabolism is actually the culprit here, you are looking at having to eat, at most, about 200 calories less per day to return to your previous weight(although this will take a while; think a rate of just under 2 pounds a month). Or you could do enough exercise to make up the difference, as well; 200 calories is not a lot of calories to burn as long as you are willing to be kind of out of breath for 15-30 minutes a day.

      The other thing to consider is this: because we are talking about relatively low differences in terms of what you can eat, it’s entirely possible this isn’t an issue of metabolism in the first place. You could be eating just very slightly more, or exercising very slightly less, and getting the same effect. Luckily, the solution is the same in any event. If you were willing to spend 30 pretty intense minutes a morning on an exercise bike(or better, a real one) a day, you’d more than make up the deficit.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      There are roughly two ways to lose weight. Calorie counting is 100% effective if you have the willpower, and adjustable to the weight loss rate you desire. Ad libidum needs more adjustment and it’s slower, but it’s easier to maintain long term.

      If you go ad libidum, I strongly suggest you do the following:
      – never be hungry
      – track caloric density – ideally per volume, but if you like cold numbers, per weight. You want under 100 cals / 100g for weight loss – play around to find the rate for maintenance.
      – add instead of removing. target about 800g of vegetables and fruits per day (exclude starches).
      – keep filling snacks close by – oranges or apples.
      – lower the need for willpower – don’t keep food withing reach or sight, if possible not even in the house, make sure the easiest meal to eat is also the healthiest etc
      – research low caloric density foods. they exist, but you need to look for them. Cream soups, for example.
      – you know the saying “different stomach for desert?”. Turns out there is a different stomach for protein – you’re still hungry until the body had both its calories and its protein. Easiest fix is a pure protein shake for breakfast (something like casein) – low cal, filling, and easy to prepare – if you’re ok with powders. Avoid protein bars, they’re mostly carbs.

      The above is easy to do, to the point of being no brainer. If you’re willing to go a bit extra, a golden cost-benefit move is to remove processed carbs, and in particular wheat (rice is okish). No bread, pizza, pasta etc. I’m putting this as an extra because most people really balk at it. If you do the above, it should be ok without it.

  3. johan_larson says:

    As far as I know, no modern national government claims to be fascist. But you don’t have to say you’re fascist to do typically fascist things, such as oppressing minority groups and running heavy-handed internal security forces. And some governments definitely do such things, which raises a question: which country does them the most and is therefore the most fascist right now?

    • metacelsus says:

      North Korea? They’re pretty oppressive.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        But more or less across-the-board oppressive, rather than designating a certain outgroup or set of outgroups as the Alien Enemy Within, which seems to be a hallmark of fascism. Indeed, that seems to me one of the key differences between fascism and communism: under fascist regimes, people who are not part of an official outgroup and not politically active typically do not live in fear; under communism, and under the occasional communist-emulating personality-cult regime like that of Saddam Hussein, everyone must fear ideological denunciation all the time.

        • broblawsky says:

          North Korea kind of invented its own racial groups to oppress though; look at the Songbun system.

        • albatross11 says:

          Is oppressing an internal enemy within the hallmark of fascism? It’s probably a common thing done by fascist governments (dictatorships tend in that direction), but:

          a. It seems just as common in other dictatorships–communist, theocratic, cults of personality with little ideology.

          b. It’s not clear to me that it’s bound much to the underlying ideas of fascism, though maybe I’m just misunderstanding them.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Did Mussolini’s Italy have an enemy within outgroup? Who was it?

          • Erusian says:

            Did Mussolini’s Italy have an enemy within outgroup? Who was it?

            Mussolini’s regime was highly prejudiced against the Roma but lacked Hitler’s idea that the Roma were a threat. More ‘human vermin’ less ‘masterminds secretly controlling the world’. While they were legally disabled, Mussolini never attempted (or planned) to exterminate them.

            A closer group, one that does show up in Mussolini’s speeches, was domestic subversives. Democrats, Communists, etc, who were enemies of Fascism and the Revolution. They were also imagined to be a conspiracy of people protecting selfish interests at the expense of the Italian people. They were sometimes called Carthaginians, plutocrats, etc. But they had no real racial element. Indeed, until Mussolini became an adjunct of Hitler he was explicitly anti-racist.

            But while this trait (fear of internal subversion by hostile groups) is almost universal in fascism, it’s not really limited to fascism. Communist regimes tend to manifest it even more extremely. The invention of the Kulaks, the terror famines, the Great Purges, etc. It also exists in democracies, though I’m not aware of any democracy that went to the extremes of dictatorships. It’s certainly possible to see the HUAC as a sort of purge. But you could go before HUAC and be found innocent. And HUAC never killed anyone or deported entire towns.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I don’t think an “Enemy Within” outgroup is a necessary or sufficient condition for labelling a government as Fascist, and I think Albatross11 is correct in pointout out that the behavior is pretty common in non-Fascist authoritarian regimes.

          To the extent that the behavior is near-universal among Fascist states (and I agree that it generally is), I think it’s being driven by the intersection of Totalitarian ideology with extreme Nationalism and Traditionalism. If you see yourself as the appointed Guardian of the Slavic/Germanic/Spanish Catholic/[Insert National Identity Here] tradition, and you believe that it is your duty to ensure that this sacred traditional culture is preserved free of outside interference or taint, being hostile to and oppressive towards cultural minorities and political/cultural reformers follows pretty naturally.

    • Erusian says:

      There are prominent political groups that descend directly from movements that called themselves Fascist still around. Likewise, there are groups that once called themselves Fascist and quietly dropped the term. They’re widely regarded as left-wingers these days. The Peronists take their name from Peron, who famously protested the Nuremberg trials and was trained as a fascist agent in Italy, for example.

      Anyway, I’d say China fits the bill most closely. It’s socialist (and all fascism at least claims to be socialist), expansionist, flouts international norms, is intensely nationalistic, subordinates and oppresses minorities, moralistic, traditional, increasingly harkens back to a mythologized past, and has a revanchist narrative it’s pushed with things like the Century of Humiliation.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        China and Russia would be the obvious Big Two by all those criteria. How would we decide which one is more fascist?

        • Erusian says:

          That’s a bit like asking whether Hitler or Mussolini were bigger fascists. Rather than getting caught up in the highly theoretical question, I think it’s more useful to say one of them is vastly more effective and threatening.

        • Civilis says:

          For my personal heuristics, the central defining characteristic of fascism when compared to other ideologies is that fascism puts the authoritarian regime as the desired ideological end point of the state, rather than as a temporary step in the process towards a non-authoritarian state. “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state” and “One people, one Reich, one Fuhrer (leader)” are what I think are the two most relevant historical quotes from Fascist leaders. In fascism, in order for the state to work properly, a strongman (or a small, strong group) will always be needed to run the state, and, naturally, the fascists see themselves as the only people for the job (since they recognize the “problem”).

          All the other characteristics run from there. You can allow private enterprise as long as it supports the state (meaning the fascists) but if necessary, the state is fully justified in stepping in and assuming direct control. Minorities that don’t submit to the majority and political opponents threaten the unity and hence the health of the state and must be suppressed for the common good.

          This would make China the more proper fascist regime, as the Chinese Communist Party seems to consider its position as ideologically defined to rule China, as opposed to Russia, which doesn’t present its authoritarian ruler as being mandated by ideology (and, in fact, covers him with a fig leaf of a supposed multi-party democracy, even though it is a sham).

          • SamChevre says:

            I’m posting to register an argument: Hitler was not a fascist, he was a National Socialist. The Fascists (Mussolini, Franco, etc) were much less focused on race, and much less socialist (they were hierarchical in principle, not against principle) and analysis that lumps the two togethe ris just confusing.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @SamChevre, how socialist was Hitler in practice? The Nazi party platform was to some degree as a sop to the socialist elements in the party, but Hitler abandoned it pretty much the moment he got into power.

            I totally agree that Mussolini and Franco and their ilk cared much less about race.

          • SamChevre says:

            “How Socialist were the Nazis in practice” is a very hard question to answer. Certainly, there was a significant amount of redistribution in 1930’s Germany; Sweezy (1939) estimates that inequality slightly increased, while other analyses focusing more on wages identify the impact of rearmament as redistributive.

          • Civilis says:

            I’m posting to register an argument: Hitler was not a fascist, he was a National Socialist. The Fascists (Mussolini, Franco, etc) were much less focused on race, and much less socialist (they were hierarchical in principle, not against principle) and analysis that lumps the two together is just confusing.

            Based on the discussion here, people seem to think that the group of states consisting of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, and perhaps Peronist Argentina, Putin’s Russia, 21st century Communist China and Juche-ist North Korea is a useful grouping for discussion purposes. The post above mine asks “That’s a bit like asking whether Hitler or Mussolini were bigger fascists.” ‘Fascist’ might not be the right word, especially capitalized, but there seems to be a consensus that there is enough commonality to make the categorization useful.

          • albatross11 says:

            The fascist states that come immediately to mind (I haven’t studied this at all) are Italy and Germany in WW2, Spain under Franco, and Chile under Pinochet. Maybe Guatemala, Argentina, and Brazil during their military dictatorships. I think of those, Germany and Guatemala had large-scale racially targeted persecution and genocide, but I don’t think the others did. I’m probably missing a bunch of examples, though.

          • Erusian says:

            Based on the discussion here, people seem to think that the group of states consisting of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, and perhaps Peronist Argentina, Putin’s Russia, 21st century Communist China and Juche-ist North Korea is a useful grouping for discussion purposes. The post above mine asks “That’s a bit like asking whether Hitler or Mussolini were bigger fascists.” ‘Fascist’ might not be the right word, especially capitalized, but there seems to be a consensus that there is enough commonality to make the categorization useful.

            There is an argument to be made that Fascism and Nazism were different movements. This is often called the Race-State Fascism theory because it breaks them down into Race Fascism (Nazism etc) and State Fascism (Italy etc).

            There are other classifications as well. The idea it’s a form of socialist dictatorship has very old roots, for example.

          • Civilis says:

            There is an argument to be made that Fascism and Nazism were different movements. This is often called the Race-State Fascism theory because it breaks them down into Race Fascism (Nazism etc) and State Fascism (Italy etc).

            Besides the Nazis (and perhaps some of the Nazi-puppet regimes), what other examples of Race Fascism are there? A group of one is useless for categorization purposes. For that matter, why is the Race-State distinction important?

            Quibbles over what to name the resulting category aside, I think there is a valid category for states where one-party authoritarian rule is openly intended to be the permanent condition because the people in charge think it gets the best results (certainly, it does for them…). This category seems to clearly include both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as clear examples.

          • Erusian says:

            Besides the Nazis (and perhaps some of the Nazi-puppet regimes), what other examples of Race Fascism are there? A group of one is useless for categorization purposes. For that matter, why is the Race-State distinction important?

            While all the race-fascist states were in Europe (and not all of them installed by Nazi power), there were a great number of other race-fascist movements. Chinese fascism had a strong racial element, for example.

            The distinction is usually that State Fascism deifies the state and obedience to it. It’s usually relatively anti-racist (though not pro-minority) because all such divisions distract from loyalty to the state. It is explicitly within a set political entity. Race fascism doesn’t really care about the state and sees it, at best, as an expression of a race. They both see the world as competitions to the point of annihilation but State Fascists believe those competitions are between states (and the people who lose are absorbed into another state as subjects) while the Race Fascists believe they are between races (and the people who lose die out… or are helped along into dying out).

            Quibbles over what to name the resulting category aside, I think there is a valid category for states where one-party authoritarian rule is openly intended to be the permanent condition because the people in charge think it gets the best results (certainly, it does for them…). This category seems to clearly include both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as clear examples.

            I broadly agree, and think the Soviet Union should be in there as well. I tend to use the term totalitarian regimes.

      • rlms says:

        Who is widely considering Peron left-wing? That’s not my experience.

        • Erusian says:

          Peron is… debatable, but it’s definitely fair to say there’s a strong argument to say he was right wing. The Justicalists are generally centrists that tend to the left, though with relatively right and left wing factions. They are currently in Citizen’s Unity, which is considered center-left.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I think that framing oppressing minority groups and running heavy-handed internal security forces as “Fascist” things is failing to have a good definition of fascism. All Fascist governments are Totalitarian in the classic sense (the State seeking TOTAL control over all aspects of life/culture within its border) and Authoritarian, but not all Authoritarian measures are “Fascist”.

      I don’t know that we have ANY truly “fascist” states in existence right now. North Korea probably comes closest but I’m not at all sure it would qualify. Maaaaybe Russia a little bit, but again, not really. I would argue that a clearly Fascist government is one which is:

      1) Totalitarian: To quote Mussolini, “Everything in The State, nothing against The State, nothing outside The State.”.
      2) Collectivist: Discounting the value of the individual and emphasizing the need of the individual to sublimate their identity in service to the collective. In Communism this is “The People”. In Fascism this is “The State”. Because of this, Fascism distinguishes between good, productive, useful citizens in good standing, and those who are not, either because of criminality, or lacking the right ideology, or not economically productive/useful to the state, or lacking the right cultural heritage, or some combination of the above. And because it’s collectivist and doesn’t value individuals, the Fascist State will tend to be ruthless with how it deals with those it classifies as undesirable, for whatever reason.
      3) Nationalist: Fascism views the natural state of the world as discrete Nations of people defined by common culture (and generally ethnicity/race along with that culture) and traditional heritage. A foundational part of a Fascist state’s ideology is that the Fascist State is the ultimate champion of, arbiter of, and expression of that national heritage. This means that that Fascist states tend to be:
      4) Culturally Conservative/Reactionary: Because they are bound up in the idea of the Fascist state as the ultimate expression of [Nation] Heritage, they tend to be very concerned with preserving the traditions of that culture. They are deeply hostile to any sort of progress or reform that seems to undermine those traditions, or that seems to come from outside.
      5) Economically Populist: That’s not the best term, but it’s the best one I can come up with. The economic policy of a Fascist government is more interventionist than free market “conservatives”. It supports nationalization of key industries for the security of the state, protectionist trade policies (after all, the goal of The State is to protect the XXX Nation, and if the XXX Nation sees production of Y as part of its traditions, it will damn well have a Y industry no matter what laws, tariffs, and market distortions the State has to impose to make it so), often a limited social safety net (but only for the good/useful members of society). I think a fascist economy looks more like a “left-wing” economy than a “right-wing” economy by modern standards of discourse, but I think their decisionmaking is mostly orthogonal to the Left-Right perspectives. A Fascist doesn’t care about equality of opportunity or equality of outcome, or fairness to the disadvantaged or oppressed. A Fascist cares about maximizing the benefit of the economy to The State and to a lesser extent those aforementioned good/useful members of the Nation the State is supposed to be the apotheosis of.
      6) Realpolitik to Bellicose in its Foreign Policy: This falls out of the Nationalistic worldview. The World is a collection of Nations, different peoples with different cultures and values. They can, at best, jockey for power and position, perhaps strike temporary bargains with one another for interest. But you can never BEFRIEND another Nation. After all, they’re not YOUR people. So the foreign policy posture of a Fascist state embraces at most temporary, strategic alliances, certain in the decision that the moment it becomes more advantageous to turn on your former allies, you will, because they are not Your People. The assumption is that likewise other Nations and States MUST do the same, so a strong military and the will to use it is paramount. Life is STruggle and Conflict is Inevitable.

      I can add more traits. Umberto Eco had something like 14. But I think that those 6 are the basic Necessary conditions for a State to fulfill to call it Fascist.

      • cassander says:

        Eco’s definition is nonsense, I can use it to describe bernie sanders as fascist if I choose.

        I’d disagree with 6, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, none had particularly aggressive foreign policies while fascist.

        And 5 I’d make part of 2 and 3, avoid the name problem all together.

        • broblawsky says:

          Franco worked really hard to maintain control of the Spanish Empire, though. He just failed.

          • cassander says:

            by his lights, that was domestic policy. Holding on to what you got, sure, but I think you’re only going to see fascists as aggressive when the national mood is feeling revanchist.

      • Simulated Knave says:

        I, too, would disagree at least somewhat with the last one. Even Hitler was willing to befriend other nations when it suited him. And as Cassander pointed out, most other fascist states didn’t have an aggressive foreign policy – indeed, looking at the Nazi’s foreign policy, they invade people in roughly the following order:

        1) People who have our traditional land that has our people on it.
        2) People who have our traditional land.
        3) People who have stuff we want/need to defend the aforementioned.

        Note that the definition of “traditional land” can definitely be rather loose. But still – the Nazis invaded and occupied France, but only “conquered” Alsace-Lorraine. Technically, France kept the rest. Italy had a plan to rule large chunks of Southern Europe, but didn’t want them absorbed into Italy. And the level of mutual support between Fascist countries was significant. Realpolitik, definitely. Bellicose, I’m not so sure.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @Cassander, @Simulated knave

        Note that I specified a policy spectrum from “realpolitik” to “Bellicose”. Realpolitik does not mean “no alliances ever”. It does mean that any alliances must be seen as strategic responses to specific needs and circumstances. If your needs and circumstances change, you change your allies accordingly. So my model of a Fascist government that is both stably and competently run is that you should expect a Fascist state to make strategic alliances if and when it feels they are to their advantage, but only for so long as they feel they are to their advantage and always remembering the old saw that States do not have “Friends”, only “Interests”. I cannot envision a Fascist state ending up in a modern US-Israeli or Anglo-US style relationship in the US role, for example. I think that’s pretty consistent with the behavior of Spain and Portugal given their relative strength and their circumstances during their time under Fascist government.

        At the other end of the spectrum, “Bellicose” does not mean “invades their neighbors at the first opportunity”. What I mean by the term is that on the practical/operational level the modal Fascist state is going to use military force if and when it believes it to be the most efficient and effective way of getting what it wants, without regard to concerns like “Just War theory” or the reactions of the international community. For an example of what sort of “bellicose” behavior you might expect out of a state like this short of outright war, I’d point to Russia’s tactics in Georgia and Ukraine, although as I said before I don’t think modern Russia meets all the criteria necessary to be considered a Fascist state: that’s a purely behavioral/tactical example.

        • cassander says:

          I think the difference in foreign policy between a fascist and non-fascist state would largely be a matter of rhetoric rather than policy. Modern EU states, for example, all talk a good game about pooling sovereignty and unity and so forth, but they don’t pull any punches when there’s money on the table.

          I think fascist foreign policy would look like an extreme version of classic Gaullism, loudly sounding off about the unique destiny/character of the nation and making a lot of noise about charting an independent course, but basically playing ball as much as anyone else does.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I’ve always thought of fascist as “socially conservative, fiscally liberal”.

        That fits with most of the fascist states I can think of (Germany, Italy, Spain, Taiwan, etc.).

        The need for social conservatism is what differentiates it from the radical socialist states, which tended to want to completely overthrow social structures.

        Which is why I think that modern China has moved from Communist to Fascist as they have gotten increasingly socially conservative.

        • SamChevre says:

          I find that definition problematicly anachronistic. Fascist movements LOOK socially conservative because they aren’t egalitarian, but they were not at all focused on conserving social structures. They were sometimes anti-Catholic (Mussolini), almost always anti-gentry (the Junkers were famously hostile to Hitler). The “corporations (associations) must serve the public interest” idea, which has had a critical impact on American law via the Courts and the Civil Rights Acts, is very anti-conservative if you define “conservative” as the “little platoons” grouping.

          • EchoChaos says:

            > They were sometimes anti-Catholic (Mussolini),

            My impression was that Mussolini was personally anti-Catholic, but that Italian fascism was pro-Catholic.


            > almost always anti-gentry (the Junkers were famously hostile to Hitler).

            The Junkers were the reason Hitler came to power. They were dissatisfied with the current parties and gave Hitler a shot. There certainly were a lot of Junkers that made up the assassination plot against Hitler, but that was because the Junkers were the majority of the High Command. And it was in 1944 when it was clear what a disaster the war had become.

            > The “corporations (associations) must serve the public interest” idea, which has had a critical impact on American law via the Courts and the Civil Rights Acts

            I feel that is the fiscally liberal portion of fascism.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The specifically Prussian Junkers, or Junkers more generally? I’m pretty sure that by the 1920s-30s “Junker” referred specifically to the Prussian ones, and there were non-Prussians who let Hitler get in (for example, Papen was a noble, but a Westphalian one) and who tried to blow him up (Stauffenberg was a Swabian or a Bavarian).

            Plus, were they giving him a shot? The conservatives who let Hitler in as Chancellor seem to have thought that they’d be able to keep him under their thumb fairly easily.

          • EchoChaos says:

            > The specifically Prussian Junkers, or Junkers more generally?

            Both? It was Hindenburg who appointed him Chancellor, after all.

            > The conservatives who let Hitler in as Chancellor seem to have thought that they’d be able to keep him under their thumb fairly easily.

            Which was untrue, sure, but doesn’t mean they didn’t support him. And the reason that so many of them were instrumental in slowing his more horrible policies or in high-up plots to kill him is that they were still the ones who could affect policy and were high-up in order to plot.

            There weren’t any Russian nobles plotting for or against Lenin or Stalin in the Soviet government.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Is thinking you can use someone as a pawn (whether you’re right or wrong) the same thing as supporting them? The aristocrats were the same as the capitalists – they didn’t want fascism, but they thought it could be used to drive off the commies then discarded.

            National socialism was certainly less anti-aristocrat than the revolution in Russia. I wonder to what extent the anti-aristocrat stuff they did do was aimed more at getting rid of competing loyalty-claims, for example, they got rid of non-national socialist student groups such as fraternities.

    • EchoChaos says:

      The Kuomingtang used to call itself fascist (although they’re not in power right now), but dropped the term when it was considered gauche. They have shifted to a Democratic policy, but as far as I know never renounced being fascist.

      I would say that Communist China is the most fascist government currently.

      Which leads to the realpolitik irony of a democratic country that claims to be fascist opposing a fascist country that claims to be communist.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Fascism is extremely hard to define – the evidence being that the Wikipedia page has about 20 different definitions (with a lot of overlap). I wouldn’t call an authoritarian or totalitarian government fascist: the USSR existed before fascism becomes a noticeable thing, and it oppressed various minorities, had extremely heavy-handed security forces, etc. Was it fascist? It can’t be. One might as well start talking about the Catholic church at various points as “fascist.” If it’s used this way, all “fascist” means is “unpleasant authoritarian.”

      I think Paxton’s definition is the best, and I recommend his book highly; what I got from it is that fascism is hard for leftists, liberals, and conservatives to define, because those are all ideologies based in some sort of intellectual tradition. Fascism’s intellectual tradition is much slimmer and is often retroactive, and this makes perfect sense when the central point is grasped: fascism is emotional, mystical, etc. Its rise in the 20s in Italy and Germany didn’t come out of someone sitting down and thinking things through, it came out of embittered veterans and so forth, who thought either their country had been screwed by the victors (Germany) or that they were on the winning side, they’d suffered, and they get piddly little territorial gains? Throw some other stuff in (theories of history as clashes of races, antisemitism especially the biological sort, etc) and then pour it onto a bunch of guys who fought in the war or were just too young to fight, and who would have been happier maybe if the war had never ended.

      You could boil national socialism in Germany, if you had to do it very briefly, into two numbers: 1914 and 1918. In 1914, their mythology went, the nation was unified by war, with all the good members of the nation putting aside class differences and such to fight the real enemy. In 1918, they believed, they lost only because they were stabbed in the back by internal foes, who the Nazis did not see as members of the nation: either by nature (a German Jew might be a decorated veteran of the front and in every way a patriot, but to the Nazis, this was an internal enemy; it is not rare to look up a Holocaust victim and found that he was awarded an Iron Cross in WWI) or by choice (communists, socialists, trade unionists, etc) – of course, the Nazis linked the two. In order to claim their place in the sun (Germany unified relatively late and so got last pick of African colonies, which they lost after WWI; subsequently ultra-nationalists would decide that instead they had to conquer eastwards) they had to root out internal enemies in order to create a national regeneration and enable external victory in a struggle of peoples.

      (I know less about Italian fascism; the Italians were so hapless in WWII and Mussolini went down so humiliatingly that most people take national socialism as the central example of fascism; it’s debatable whether Spain under Franco was technically fascist – it’s easy to see him as an authoritarian conservative who managed to sideline and absorb the fascists into a more traditional military-conservative-authoritarian government)

      • brad says:

        Fascism is extremely hard to define – the evidence being that the Wikipedia page has about 20 different definitions (with a lot of overlap). I wouldn’t call an authoritarian or totalitarian government fascist: the USSR existed before fascism becomes a noticeable thing, and it oppressed various minorities, had extremely heavy-handed security forces, etc. Was it fascist? It can’t be. One might as well start talking about the Catholic church at various points as “fascist.” If it’s used this way, all “fascist” means is “unpleasant authoritarian.”

        Is there are a corollary to the Categories Were Made for Man, that some categories just aren’t useful? What’s the downside to confining “fascism” to the historical context only? There are still plenty of ways we can express our disapproval of North Korea or Donald Trump.

        • bean says:

          I would be entirely in favor of this. In fact, I’m starting to get worried by the dilution of “Nazi”. The actual Nazis managed to achieve a degree of evil that I think is probably unmatched, ever, and applying the term to anyone who isn’t engaged in deliberate, industrialized genocide seems rather wrongheaded.

        • dndnrsn says:


          It’s not that fascism is a useless category. Understanding it is vital to understanding a couple of Europe’s nastier decades, and maybe thus being able to prevent that sort of thing from happening again. It’s possible to look at people now and say “this person is a fascist” or “this is a bit fashy” or “this contains things which appeal to the same impulses as fascism” (for example, Saving Private Ryan is not a fascist movie, and Spielberg is hardly a fascist, but it’s got a lot of things that are iffy when you think about them: the intellectual who doesn’t want to murder a POW is portrayed as ineffectual and foolish, ultimately failing to save a squadmate, and his murder of that same POW is cathartic; mercy to the enemy is a luxury not available in hard times; war is terrible but it binds men together strongly).

          However, it definitely gets used too easily. Donald Trump isn’t a fascist, he’s a populist huckster with a strong authoritarian streak. North Korea is a communist dictatorship that somehow has a monarchy. It’s interesting how commonly “authoritarian” gets turned into “fascist.”

          • brad says:

            I understand and agree that fascism is critical to understanding 20th century history, I’m not suggesting we stop using the term in historical context.

            It’s the next part I don’t think I agree with. Sure, there are people around today that we could probably make a good case that they are fascist, even using a good definition, but not terribly many. And getting people to use a good definition seems like a lost battle. It would be better to just draw a line under the term and move on to other words less likely to be misused.

            That doubly goes for “fashy” which I’m not sure there is even a good definition to fall back on to begin with.

          • dndnrsn says:

            What is a good term then, for stuff that appeals to the same sorts of usually-negative, fairly atavistic impulses that fascism appeals to?

            I think a lot of the time, “fascist” gets applied to authoritarianism, and that’s bad, because they’re different things. Authoritarianism of whatever sort (it’s also confusing that “fascist” gets applied to left-authoritarians) is bad, but it isn’t profoundly and inherently dangerous like ideologies (fascism, vanguardist world-revolution communism) which demand action. Franco was able to just be the dictator of Spain; Mussolini and Hitler would likely have lost power if they hadn’t gone to war, and national socialist Germany especially was like a shark – needing to conquer in order to fuel conquest. (Internet research informs me that only some sharks need to swim in order to survive; I elect to save the metaphor by saying that sharks which can stop swimming are authoritarian right).

          • brad says:

            Is Putin’s Russia fascist to your mind?

            If so, do the benefits of accurately naming it so outweigh the inevitable semantic debates it will spawn?

            If not, then is the term really relevant to contemporary geopolitics? If not them, who?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Putin’s Russia certainly isn’t fascist; it’s an authoritarian conservative state. Amusingly, while authoritarian conservatives in the 20s and 30s would fearmonger against the USSR, since the USSR is “the good old days” to Russians who miss their country being at the head of a superpower, here we have an authoritarian conservative government which looks fondly back on the days of the USSR as a superpower.

            I don’t think there are any states right now that are fascist. Some far-right types are open fascists, and some bear a stronger resemblance to fascists than would-be authoritarians. A fascism we might not easily recognize as such might pop up.

            Let’s put it this way: I think it’s useful, even if it isn’t used. Most people who get called “fascists” today are authoritarians of some variety or another; it is useful to know how to differentiate a right-wing authoritarian from a fascist, because the latter are considerably more dangerous.

          • brad says:

            They are expansionist, nationalist, and authoritarian. They are obsessed with their past glories and lost status. The economy is state oriented without being even in theory re-distributive. They have a cult of personality around their leader.

            If they don’t count as fascist, then I just don’t see why we need to keep the word around in contemporary usage. We aren’t ever going to have an exact match for Nazi Germany. Even the other fascist powers of the 20th century weren’t an exact match for Nazi Germany.

          • Reading this thread, I’m struck by the fact that I think of “fascist” (and “socialist”) in economic terms, which are almost entirely absent in the way other people here think of “fascist.” I would say that fascism is a system in which the economy is controlled by the state with nominal private ownership. The capitalist gets to collect income from his factory, but he has to run it as the rulers tell him.

            From that standpoint, it seems natural to describe the First New Deal as fascist in nature, and some of those involved, including FDR, expressed admiration for what Mussolini had been doing in Italy.

            But that had very little to do with the features that people here are using to define fascism.

          • dndnrsn says:


            But their expansionism consists of them meddling in the affairs of others in the same way as any real power does, and they’re authoritarian, not totalitarian. The Nazis went beyond wanting to reclaim land that had once been German, to unify areas where the population was ethnically German, etc – they wanted to conquer to areas where German authority had never touched. The Italian fascists had dreams of controlling the area that Italy once did, but that’s not revanchist in the same way – those places were lost to Rome well over a thousand years before; there was no ethnic Italian population in North Africa in the same way there were ethnic German populations in Eastern Europe, for example. From what I’ve read, the Putin government wants people to cheer along but is OK if they just keep silent and not say anything against the Putin government; the fascist government of Italy and the national socialist government of Germany were obsessed with getting everyone they considered a real, loyal German onside (especially the Nazis, who believed that WWI went against Germany because the home front wasn’t sufficiently behind the war). If one defines Putin’s Russia as fascist, then one has to redefine a lot of right-authoritarian states historically as fascist.


            The degree to which the nazi economy, at least, was controlled by the state is… complicated. It was not centrally controlled to the same degree, or with the same degree of success, as the Allied powers all did. Part of the reason for this was Hitler’s belief that survival of the fittest applied to institutional hierarchies and so forth, and an apparent tendency to set subordinates against each other (by doing stuff like giving overlapping responsibility to the same people) in order to keep anyone from being able to challenge his authority. A result was infighting both in the government and between industries; the German war economy was always the weakest point of the German war effort, and this made it worse.

        • J Mann says:

          What’s the downside to confining “fascism” to the historical context only?

          I would be in favor of this, because I think it detracts from clarity and spawns unhelpful debates, and also because I can’t spell it.

          The only downsides I can see are that (a) it’s impossible; and (2) is that if you attempt it, you surrender the modern definition of “fascism” to the people who refuse to abandon it.

          There’s no agreement on what it means – it’s like calling someone a Whig, but with stakes. They’re not literally a Whig, but do they have sufficient amounts of the essential characteristics of Whigs? And what if Jonah Goldberg writes a book that argues that liberals are the true whigs, and internet randos won’t stop quoting from it. It will be chaos!

      • onyomi says:

        I find this odd as I don’t find fascism hard to define at all, nor more amorphous and emotion-based than socialism, though probably more prone to mysticism instead of scientism.

        If Marxist socialism/communism is “workers of the world unite” (an appeal to governance by class unity), then fascism is just “people of [ethnicity] unite.”

        If fascism seems more inclined to mysticism and the like, I think it’s just because appealing to “blood and soil” rather than class interest is going to lend itself to bringing up ancient empires, old religions, etc.

        Libertarians have a point when they criticize fascists and socialists as two sides of the collectivist coin. But then, most (all?) political ideologies are about uniting around some idea; libertarianism may just be the only one uniting around the idea “let’s just let each other work it out voluntarily without the politics.”

        But left wing critics of fascism also have a good reason to call it right wing, since appeals to ethnicity and tradition are generally perceived as conservative/reactionary, even if there’s generally at least some degree of fantasy (about the past) involved. But I think socialism is also prone to fantasy, albeit usually more future-oriented (yet also sometimes given to Rousseau-ish fantasies).

        • Jaskologist says:

          I feel like your definition would make almost all historical nations fascist (“nation” originally referred more to ethnicity than political borders, after all). That seems way way too broad.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Yeah, fascism in the sense of Hitler and Mussolini has something of a modernist dimension to it that isn’t captured in defining it as simply ethnic nationalism, or even extreme ethnic nationalism. Since Hitler and Mussolini have become the archetypal examples of fascism, I think you need to capture something of that modernist spirit in your definition.

            On the other hand, the wider variety of parties and governments that have identified as fascists have plenty of governments that look more traditionally conservative ethnic nationalist; Franco co-opted his country’s Fascist party after its leader was murdered in jail, so to some extent his regime ought to count as Fascist, but in important ways it looks more like traditional conservatism with some Fascist branding, and support from the more ideologically Fascist countries of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            Isn’t nationalism modern? Up until a certain point in European history, most people didn’t seem to mind being part of multiethnic, multilingual states. The nation-state idea is a fairly recent thing, as I understand it, at least in the European context. The biology- and conspiracy-based antisemitism that the Nazis exhibited was heavily a late-19th-century thing; it is a different beast than the religiously-motivated anti-Judaism which is older (of course, it laid the ground for biology/conspiracy antisemitism).

            Consider, say, how the traditional Catholic anti-Jewish mindset accepted Jewish converts and their descendants as Christians, as long as they weren’t suspected of continuing Jewish practices in secret. During the war, you had Christian authorities objecting to the oppression and persecution of Jews who had converted to Christianity – the Nazis, who decided who was who based on biological-racist notions, did not agree that one could cease being a Jew.

            The division based on ethnic grounds – rather than religious or cultural – was a modern thing. Poles and Czechs and so on who were decided to have “German blood” (based largely on eyeballing them based on complexion and phrenology) were considered Germans or at least Germanizable. Jews with German names whose families had been in Germany for ages, even those who had converted, were deemed alien.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Isn’t nationalism modern? Up until a certain point in European history, most people didn’t seem to mind being part of multiethnic, multilingual states.

            My favorite example of this is how Greek mythology became the mythology of European culture (not counting the Bible), and the Greek Heroic Age basically starts with exiles from Egypt founding city-states.
            “OK Greek-speakers, you’re my subjects now!” “Yay!”

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            “Isn’t nationalism modern? Up until a certain point in European history, most people didn’t seem to mind being part of multiethnic, multilingual states.”

            Nationalism as a specific case-phenomenon, I would agree. Political conflicts falling along ethnic lines though seems a constant.

            But I’m inclined to think that until the modern period, most ordinary people’s interactions with the state was limited to his or her immediate overlord or as a member of a city state. The “relevant society” would most often be mono-ethnic, mono-religious, and mono-lingual, [like the ideal nation state]. The fact that your overlord owes his allegiance to king or emperor of another culture/ethnic group/religion is very insignificant in impacting to the day to day affairs of your own life.

            The other potential problem is that since many nominally nationalist parties have irridentist claims that they, if permitted, end up controlling territory that isn’t occupied by co-ethnics. Unless every nationalist agrees that present ethnic representation is always determinant of the limits of borders, one man’s nationalism becomes another man’s multiculturalism. And so even when we speak of historic empires that spanned multiple ethnic groups it begs the question whether it was a similar phenomenon at play initially. Most empires I am familiar with usually have a core [ruling] ethnic group that subjugates its neighbors for one reason or another.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Isn’t nationalism modern?

            Yes, definitely, I probably should have said something like “ethnic chauvinism” rather than ethnic nationalism to characterize onyomi’s “people of [ethnicity] unite”.

            Consider, say, how the traditional Catholic anti-Jewish mindset accepted Jewish converts and their descendants as Christians, as long as they weren’t suspected of continuing Jewish practices in secret.

            While this is broadly true, and the point I’m going to make is completely off-topic, I think a lot of people see the origins of modern racial classification in Inquisition-era Spain: for example, forbidding descendants of converted Jews from holding certain offices.

            Anyway, you’re right that “modernism” isn’t exactly right as the distinction between Italian and German fascism and other varieties, since any fascism that incorporated nationalism is to some extent modern. Maybe it’s just that Nazism and Italian Fascism were more self-consciously modernist? I don’t know.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Based on the place and time, you had places that were as mono-whatever as they would be under a nation state, as well as places that were relatively diverse, to the point that a common language was needed.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            I think that in Spain, the persecution of converts to Christianity was predicated on the idea that they were still secretly practicing their old religions, wasn’t it?

            I know less about Italian fascism, but German fascism had a strong anti-modernist element that made its way into policy, rather than just rhetoric. Primarily in the field of agricultural policy – there were a lot of policies that I think were dialled back or abandoned, which were based more on the work of fringe types like Darre than modern agricultural practice.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Originally, yes, but it developed into a sort of caste system where those of impure blood faced various restrictions that persisted in some cases for hundreds of years.

            Yeah, I don’t want to claim anything too strong about German or Italian fascism, but I think there is something in their ideology and practice that distinguishes them from more boring traditionalist-type fascists like Franco; maybe modernism isn’t it, and I’m thinking too much about the Futurists.

            Pseudoerasmus in his discussion of fascism refers to “modernist touches” which set Hitler and Mussolini apart, but maybe I’m overweighting some stylistic “touches” that don’t really belie anything deeper.

          • onyomi says:


            On the historical part I disagree: I don’t think most historical governments were built on any theory of ethnic solidarity. Most historical governments probably were, in reality, relatively homogeneous as compared to the larger nation states of today, but it wasn’t a ruling ideology and you also have a lot more examples of multi-ethnic empires in the past.

            Today, yes, but I think most governments today are a little bit fascist? Yes democracies claim legitimacy by appeal to the will of “the people,” but what defines the borders of “the people” but ethnicity, culture, or, at least, some kind of perception of shared heritage (and the people who fight such a definition sometimes call themselves “antifa”)? It’s similar to the question of how much socialism you can have before you’re a “socialist” country.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            I think making comparisons to Franco makes things difficult, because Franco’s regime was only dubiously fascist – he was actually able to do what the German conservatives wanted to do, and what some Eastern European authoritarian-right governments were also able to do, sideline the fascists (other Eastern European governments just suppressed them one way or another – imagine if the Bavarian authorities did to Hitler in 1923 what the Romanian government did to Codreanu). Give them enough lip service that they’d be on side, but ultimately, Franco’s Spain was a fairly bog-standard right-wing authoritarian government.

            However, who knows what would have happened if Franco had been dumb enough to get involved in a war alongside Germany, or how Mussolini’s regime would be viewed today if he’d been smart enough not to? The greatest crimes of fascist Italy and national socialist Germany were committed while making war, or were enabled by the war – if you look at the death toll of national socialism year by year, it gets much higher in 1939, and then even moreso in 1941 onwards with the invasion of the USSR (and thus intentional starvation of Soviet civilians and POWs) and the accompanying beginning of indiscriminate mass murders of Jews.

            Perhaps that’s what separates Franco’s Spain from Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy – he didn’t want war, whereas they were raring to go.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Marxist ideologies – I think there’s some non-Marxist socialists, although I don’t think there’s any non-Marxist communists, but in any case the vast majority of people who fit into the socialist/commie box are Marxists one way or another – aren’t just “workers of the world unite” – there’s a whole system of economic theories, there’s a historical model (in which capitalism is a necessary stepping stone on the way to communism), etc.

          There’s certainly people who adopt socialism or whatever for emotional reasons, but at its core, the originating stuff is very “rationalist” in the generic sense, and so is the stuff that Lenin wrote, etc. It’s very “this is a scientific model of how economics and history work, and so we should…” whereas fascism is more likely to start with the “should” and then derive the “is” from that.

          “Workers of the world unite!” is a slogan. You’re correct that the comparable slogan in fascism would be something like “loyal members of [nation/ethnicity] unite!” What I’m saying is that this hypothetical fascist slogan carries far more of the heart and guts of fascism than “workers of the world unite!” conveys of socialism, etc.

  4. justdiane says:

    Til we have faces by CS Lewis

  5. arlie says:

    Advertising vs Product Expenditure:

    I have a fairly strong belief that after a certain point, money spent on advertising implies lesser spending on product quality, customer service, etc. I.e. If company A and B produce something similar, at similar prices, and A advertises more, then B’s product is better.

    A corollary of that is that a really big advertising flood tends to imply that something is seriously wrong, or will be, at least when there’s no new product involved.

    So far, the corollary has caused me to drop Wells Fargo like a hot rock, well before they were caught defrauding customers, so I’m currently predicting a major scandal involving Comcast Business, some time within the next decade.

    Can anyone supply evidence that tends to contradict the major principle – that more advertising implies a worse customer experience (worse product and/or worse service)?

    • 10240 says:

      The “same price” requirement is important for concluding that the more advertised product is worse. A common situation is products with a similar quality, one of them is advertised more, and sold at a higher price (because people influenced by the ads will still buy it.)

      • arlie says:

        Intel vs AMD comes to mind – for the longest while, any computer with an AMD CPU was going to have better performance at the same price, or equivalent performance at a lower price, compared to one from with an Intel cpu.

        I’m not sure whether this is still true – but it was a very good bet for several decades.

        • Another Throw says:

          I don’t know if that is a good example. I am under the impression that AMD CPU’s have always been technically inferior and therefore (among other things) use more electricity and produce more waste heat. In effect you’re trading up front cost for total cost of ownership.

          Depending on when you are talking about, this may or may not been a viable option. When these tradeoffs are smaller this effect may be hardly noticeable, but when they grow AMD is obliged to market aggressively to niche users. E.g., overclockers. When you’ve sextupled the voltage and are pouring LN2 into the case faster than you can screw the lids off of dewers* to keep the whole thing from catching on fire… efficiency at factory spec is not nearly as much of a concern.

          Which is to say they have always marketed extensively, promoting the (upfront) price to performance ratio or the overclocking experience depending on the exigencies of the current market. You just may not have noticed it.

          * Yes, I realize that they’re not usually (ever?) actually screwed on, it is a figure of speech.

          • arlie says:

            Interesting. This is the first time I’ve heard that, but I don’t tend to frequent information spaces for serious gear heads. It could be common knowledge currently, and I might not have noticed.

            Also, I’ve always been interested in single desktop systems – not either racks full of identical systems, or anything battery operated. So I wouldn’t generally care about extra heat or power consumption, unless it was extreme. (I.e. I could easily not notice this kind of difference.)

            One thing I do know however is that decades ago, when I first came to this conclusion about the two companies, Intel did not advertise any such difference – at least not to purchasers of desktop systems – instead they came up with “Intel Inside” as an advertising strategy. As far as I could determine, this was some kind of magical thinking, where the label made the chip and anything containing it more desirable – not because of any specific attributes, but because it was from Intel.

            I’m not wired to find that kind of branding exercise persuasive – I concluded that that if Intel had had any actual advantages, beyond their name, they would have advertised those advantages. (That could be wrong, if the majority of potential purchasers respond well to that kind of campaign, and badly to specific technical claims. But at the time, I still thought I was normal in my reactions to advertising, so any strategy that didn’t work on me had to be laughably bad.)

            And on the third hand – if you are the right kind of techie, compare intel’s original 64 bit architecture, with the one AMD came up with. IA 64, aka Itanium, is long dead. AMD64, also know as x86_64 is the standard architecture for intel/amd 64 bit systems – to the point that some younger techies mistakenly think that Intel originated it.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      I have a fairly strong belief that after a certain point, money spent on advertising implies lesser spending on product quality, customer service, etc. I.e. If company A and B produce something similar, at similar prices, and A advertises more, then B’s product is better.

      I tend to believe the precise opposite – I assume highly-advertised products are better products than apparently-similar poorly-advertised ones. The economic theory behind this expectation is to think of an expensive ad campaign as a form of performance bond. (relevant econ paper)

      Companies have inside information – they know how good the product is and they know how financially sound the company is. A company about to go under can’t afford to spend a million bucks on a Superbowl ad because they won’t be around long enough to collect. If the product sucks, exposing a wider variety of people to it is unlikely to be a worthwhile investment. So sure, there’s an occasional Hail Mary ad effort that pays off, but in general spending a lot on advertising makes the most sense when the company is financially sound AND the product quality control is excellent. The sounder the product and the company, the more they can reasonably afford to spend on it, so ad spending constitutes a conspicuous display of confidence in the quality and longevity of the product.

      So how is it that a company can spend more on advertising while not spending less on product quality, customer service, etc? That is possible because advertising a high-quality good pays for itself via generating enough extra revenue to more than offset the cost of the ad. Companies start out doing this at a small scale with a few small local ads, gradually building up bigger budgets to buy more and bigger ads. Kind of like “letting it ride” at the roulette table – the fact that somebody is placing REALLY BIG ad bets now means they’ve won a lot of their prior bets, which means people really DID like the product being advertised enough to want to buy more when regularly reminded of its existence.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I assume highly-advertised products are better products than apparently-similar poorly-advertised ones.

        I’ve found the exact opposite to be true IRL, which is hard for me to square with the theory. Experience suggests that the majority of advertisements consist of either emotional manipulation or lies, which doesn’t square with the premise that

        For consumers to rely on advertising, advertisers must find it more profitable to provide the promised quality than to cheat

        In fact, I think the assumption that all content beyond trivially verifiable factual information (location, hours, products, prices – and sometimes prices are even lies, like for insurance products) in an advertisement is a lie is a Schelling point that the market has centered around. I definitely assume that all claims about performance or value in an advertisement are lies.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          I definitely assume that all claims about performance or value in an advertisement are lies.

          From a signaling standpoint the ad itself is the claim. Not what it explicitly says, but what it is…which is a performance bond. Regardless of any text in the ad, the central thing the ad is really saying is “Our company/product has been around for a while and is really successful and expects to keep being successful in the future by continuing to sell a product people want to buy.” Anything else is gravy. When Red Bull sponsors somebody jumping out of a balloon, that’s most of what they’re saying by it: gee, think about how expensive it was to come up with this ad and film and broadcast it!

          If a company spends a lot advertising a product people find disappointing, that money is wasted and the company might go bankrupt. The facf that a company can afford to make such bets and is allowed to do so by their board says they stand by the product. “We exist and have succeeded and expect to succeed and persevere henceforward” isn’t the only quality we want in the products we buy but it is certainly a quality we want in the products we buy.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            bonding mechanisms are more efficient signalling devices than purely conspicuous expenditures. Signals that operate through a bonding effect impose much of their cost only if a firm cheats. In contrast, signals that operate strictly through conspicuous acquisition of a costly signal impose their costs fully on those who deliver quality as well as on those who cheat

            Overall, advertising is unlikely to signal quality unless advertising is more durable and its durability is more sensitive to whether the firm honors its promises than other signalling options

            That’s straight out of the paper you linked. The problem is that advertising isn’t wasted if people are disappointed, both because my observations indicate that it’s true both that advertising is non-durable and that its efficacy isn’t particularly limited by the quality of the product. That means that advertising for a product that’s disappointing isn’t worthless, at least insofar as the expected returns from the sales resulting entirely from advertising are larger than the cost of advertising.

            As far as I can tell, you haven’t presented any evidence for this not to be true, and my experience indicates that it’s likely to be, because the durability of advertising is impacted by the degree to which all companies follow through on their advertised claims. And (again, by my experience) they don’t follow through on those claims very much at all.

          • Glen Raphael says:


            Imagine there are two soda companies, Sadness Cola and Happy Cola. Ads for either cola prompt some people exposed to the ad to buy and try the product, so let’s say you see one initial sale per thousand ad exposures. Let’s further stipulate that either company earns about 10 cents in profit per can purchase.

            Sadness Cola is so disappointing that people who are prompted to try it usually only try one and never drink it again.

            Happy Cola is so rewarding that people who are prompted to try it tend to decide they like it, tell friends about it, and order more.

            Due to repeat sales and good word-of-mouth, the average new Happy Cola customer will generate FIVE soda sales this quarter. Due to no repeat sales and poor word-of-mouth, the average new Sadness Cola customer only generates ONE soda sale this quarter.

            Now here’s the tricky bit: advertising rates aren’t fixed; they are set by a market process. If Happy Cola is making 50 cents per thousand ad exposures and Sadness Cola is only making 10 cents per thousand ad exposures, Happy Cola can outbid Sadness for the best ad space. If the market rate for ad space is, say, 20 cents per thousand ad exposures, Happy Cola can still afford to place zillions of ads at a profit while Sadness Cola loses money on every ad they buy.

            Even if the market rate for ads is low enough that Sadness Cola can profit by buying SOME ads, Happy Cola profits much MORE per ad which means Happy can afford to ramp up much faster. Wherever diminishing returns sets in for the “buy lots of ads” market strategy, it’s at a much higher absolute level of ad buys for Happy than for Sad.

            In the market I’ve just described, providing actual value (rather than cheating) is a dominant strategy for advertisers. In a market with both cheaters and value-providers, the value-providers can afford to place more and better ads, so placing ads constitutes Bayesian evidence for being a value-provider.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Glen Raphael

            … assuming, of course, that there’s not a more efficient bonding process for Happy Cola to turn to. If advertising bonds weakly, Happy Cola will probably invest more into more efficient bonding mechanisms. Coupons and introductory pricing schemes are suggested by your paper. The value providers may be able to afford more ads, but that doesn’t guarantee that the marginal value-for-dollar of advertising is greater for them than it is for the non-value-providers. Cheating can still be the dominant strategy in the advertising space if non-cheaters have more efficient mechanisms to turn to.

      • onyomi says:

        Related, but more obvious, bank buildings, in addition to presumably having a secure vault most customers never see, tend to have really nice fixtures: marble, mahogany, etc. The message they want to send, and which I think gets communicated else it wouldn’t be so common, is not “we’re wasting your money on nice furniture and neo-classical architecture,” it’s “we’re not going to disappear overnight with your money because we put so much money into this building”+”we are thinking very long-term and so it’s worth it to us to buy nice things that last.”

    • Plumber says:


      “Advertising vs Product Expenditure:

      I have a fairly strong belief that after a certain point, money spent on advertising implies lesser spending on product quality, customer service, etc….”

      I have a similar “heuristic” involving who and what to vote for, if my union and my wife haven’t given instructions I just vote against whatever most ads I’ve heard on the radio have told me to support.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        How does this interact with an increasingly intrusive media that tries to match its advertisements to what it thinks you want to hear?

        • Plumber says:

          @Joseph Greenwood,

          If you mean targeted “on-line” advertising, the couple of times that I’ve forgotten to go “Incognito” or “In-Private” have resulted in when I use “Google Chrome” as a browser my occasionally seeing ads relating to Dungeons & Dragons, and Led Zeppelin, plus stuff that indicates that Google just doesn’t know me very well yet.

          As for broadcast radio ads, I tend to assume that the more money going to support something the less I’ll like it (and when I bother to research something that’s usually the case).

          A hiccup is when it’s Unions supplying the funding, so if I hear a lot of ads that align with what my union endorsed then I have to research….
          …unless my wife gives me voting orders.

          As far as ever “telling me what I want to hear”, I quiver in anticipation!

          • toastengineer says:

            f you mean targeted “on-line” advertising, the couple of times that I’ve forgotten to go “Incognito” or “In-Private”

            Unfortunately that isn’t good enough anymore and hasn’t been for quite a while.

            Getting ads that make no sense isn’t much of an indicator; I don’t do much to protect my anonymity and I get Spanish-language tampon ads all the time. What I assume is happening there is that the company selling the product paid a titanic amount to the advertising company, and the ad company quietly took the money without informing them that they don’t actually have that many Spanish-speaking women to show the ad to, so I get it instead.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Facebook started showing ads to my wife of a gift I bought her, well before I gave it to her. I don’t even have a Facebook account and we don’t use the same devices. That was the last straw for me and I started locking everything down.

    • Thegnskald says:

      I’d need some examples.

      But I think you’re confusing things a little bit when you just think of “advertising”. I think advertising comes in four broad flavors:

      Informative: “This product exists now and you can purchase it”. Taco Bell does a lot of informative advertising, and their commercials tend to be, basically, “Hey, we have this thing now, if you want to try it.” People generally do; Taco Bell seems to strive for a stream of novelty, and, whatever your opinion of their quality, I think they do a reasonable job at delivering on novelty. Most local commercials are effectively informative, as well; “Hey, our restaurant exists, come check us out”.

      Iconic: “Here’s something we want to associate with our brand.” Coke and Pepsi both lean very heavily into this style of advertising, which is sort of trying to claim social territory. The goal appears to create consumers who are loyal to your brand out of a sense of cultural affiliation.

      Entertainment: “Here’s something we think you’ll enjoy watching, and also we have a product.” GEICO is probably the central example here. I think there are two goals here, one being “Don’t annoy your consumers with advertising”, and the other being “Maybe this will go viral / people will talk about it over the water cooler”. The former certainly “works” on me, insofar as I don’t have an overtly negative attitude towards GEICO purely from their advertisements, which I do have towards many other companies. For the latter purpose, I’ve certainly shared what amount to commercials for, for example, industrial crushing machines, so I’m not going to immediately claim to be immune – but I’m not really the target audience for any of the advertisements I’ve shared, so I don’t know if they ever actually connect with their intended recipients.

      Persuasive: This is, I think, what people think of, when they generally think of advertisement. It’s both the most common, and possibly the least effective, because it’s generally accepted to all be a lie – or, more commonly, to focus on something that was true until very recently: Wal-Mart really stepped up their “low prices” advertising rhetoric after other stores (Target, Costco) started getting efficient enough to compete with them on that basis.

      You seem to be describing Persuasive advertising, which I agree has gotten really ineffective recently. Taco Bell telling me their food is good would just make me question why they feel the need to tell me that; I understand why they are telling me about their new Cheeseburger Pizza Burrito, and even that part of the reason they created it was so that they could tell me about it. I don’t mind them inventing new things so they can advertise to me so I will come to their store and buy the new advertised thing (and also an assortment of their standard items), it’s kind of a neat business model.

      Most advertisements seem to fly somewhere in the middle of two or more of these categories. M&M’s holiday commercials are somewhere between iconic and entertainment. Most local advertisements are between Informative (Hey, we exist) and Persuasive (Lowest prices in the tricounty area!). But I think when you start dividing out the purpose of the commercials, the apparent link between worse products and services will fade a bit in pretty much every category except Persuasive.

      • arlie says:

        That’s a good taxonomy. Thank you.

        Informative advertising is potentially useful, if well chosen. And if it isn’t spammed to the point where everyone not living under a rock has heard it 50 times already. I think this must be what people like our own David Friedman are thinking of when they wonder why anyone would be annoyed to receive advertisements for things they were actualy likely to buy.

        I’m not sure if I can distinguish persuasive from iconic. In general, I think I’m supposed to want the product because the ads include pictures of attractive landscapes, or attractive potential sexual partners, or some famous entertainer I’m supposed to respect/like. (Sometimes I can’t even figure out what the product actually is/does from a company’s web page, never mind from their ads 🙁 Or more likely, what, other than the name, distinguishes it from its competition.)

        I don’t encounter much of the entertainment type. I don’t think it shows up as direct mail or even on web pages. It’s probably biggest on television, or in print media.

        • Garrett says:

          product because the ads include pictures of attractive landscapes, or attractive potential sexual partners, or some famous entertainer

          I’m of the cynical nature which holds that if I choose to act on the ad, I should be able to buy *everything* in the advertisement.

      • toastengineer says:

        Where in your taxonomy does Big Bill Hell’s fit?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      What specific cases do you see this like this? In particular, what financial institution did you switch to after you left Wells Fargo?

      I don’t see how you are going to get honest-to-god “all else equal” comparisons. Products in a marketplace are like species in a biome, they adapt to fit sustainable niches. And just because you don’t see a difference between products doesn’t mean other people don’t: a lot of people see a real difference between Pepsi and Coke and won’t drink the other. Companies that market more are going to be different, and you (and most rationalist, and most people) seem to think this means more dishonest, but I think it means a better understanding of the market, better supplier and vendor relationships, demonstrated corporate bureaucratic competence, etc.

      To give you some examples using mass market products, vs. other mass market products, which are on my mind because Super Bowl:
      -I see a lot more Bud Lite commercials than I see other cheap-beer commercials. They aren’t any worse, and I prefer their drink more than most other products in that genre.
      -I see McDonald’s a lot more than Burger King. They are similarly priced. Burger King is shit. McDonald’s is good.
      -I see a lot more Toyota commercials than I see Chrysler commercials. Actually, I see no commercials from the stupid new bailed out Chrylser corporate formation. That’s because they suck.
      -I see more Jewel-Osco commercials than commercials for the other, smaller grocery chains around here. Jewel isn’t really obviously superior, but it’s not really worse.

      Now you may say Bud Light is crap, and it is crap compared to some other beers, but most of those beers are more expensive an in entirely different buckets, and until recently weren’t widely available. Bud Light is available everywhere, because is it more popular and has a better marketing team that gets it placed in more spaces. Also, I actually like Goose Island, which is now owned by InBev, more than a lot of craft beers.

      In general, I think “advertising is indicative of a problem” is an idea too easy for a rationalist to fall into, and something you should establish some intellectual hygiene against. Also, to have a “strong belief” is a little odd, especially when you are not immediately aware of any counter-examples. I have a strong belief that democracy is the best form of government, but that’s only because I am very aware of the normally suggested counter-examples.

      • arlie says:

        In the case of Wells Fargo, I went to the most convenient credit union available. I wasn’t predicting scandal; I was just heartily sick of a combination of repeated offers of mortgage insurance (always a bad deal, AFAICT – if you need it, you’ll be better off with standard term insurance) and bizarrely presented refinance offers. My later generalization – after seeing the news stories – was that if they can’t or won’t compete on price, or service, or particular products, etc. – and don’t know when to stop with offers an existing customer has repeatedly refused – their internal incentives must be horrifically badly screwed up.

  6. zinjanthropus says:

    Take a Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis. And I’d second Till We Have Faces despite flaws. It has one sentence that always gets me. A woman writes of standing by her father’s deathbed decades before. He can no longer speak, but looks at her with an expression of dumb terror: “As he looked at me, so I looked at him; but all my fear was lest he should live.”

  7. Theodoric says:

    I have had to make several repairs to my boiler/heating system. A few weeks ago, I had to replace the backflow valve and expansion tank. A few days ago, I had to replace the thermocouple. At what point does it make sense to just replace the entire boiler? This is what I have now (Weil-McLain Gold CGa).

    • Plumber says:


      “…At what point does it make sense to just replace the entire boiler?”

      When it rusts out, or some salesman convinces you that the “savings” from “energy-efficiency” (or a smaller size) are worth it, otherwise I’ve seen boilers from the 1920’s still working with just component replacement.

      I highly recommend the books and forum of as a resource to learn more.

  8. 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.

          • 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:


        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:


            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:


            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:


            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:


            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:

          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:


            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.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I have some friends that do six-figure annual sports betting (they are essentially compulsive gamblers, and bet on random crap like under-18 Serbian basketball), and they do not believe there is really much an ability to get an edge in sports gambling. How would you even get an informational edge? “Data science” is basically handwaving, especially in an era where major sports are heavily data-driven. And, yeah, Joe Schmoe from Nebraska may not know crap, but he’s not the market maker in sports betting anymore than Wall Street.

      The one exception they say exists are high-volume pre-season sports, especially NFL pre-season. Some betters really do bet on teams based on regular season performance, which is not the same as pre-season performance.

      • hash872 says:

        How do they make six figures if they don’t have an informational edge? (Or should I not ask about how one makes a profit on U-18 Serbian basketball…. does it involve a heavily tattooed muscled guy named Mirko out on parole who I wouldn’t cross if my life depended on it….)

      • baconbits9 says:

        One thing that is underrated for a lot of non gamblers is the cost of keeping a bankroll. I would speculate that I could probably make 100k a year sports betting if I had a $1 million bankroll and put the time in, but that is also about what I would make with $1 million dollars invested in fairly safe bonds (typically, perhaps not the past 5 years) plus working a regular job those hours. Making $100,000 on a $100,000 bankroll would require far more work, time and risk.

    • Chalid says:

      If you’re betting your own money, I think probably the best way to get rich is real estate. The market is very inefficient, the typical market participant is pretty dumb and isn’t particularly trying to profit-maximize, it’s possible to get an informational advantage (and legal to use it), and you have access to high leverage.

      Someone who’s good at it can make a lot of money. The problem is of course that each individual transaction takes a lot of resources, so it’s hard to *get* good at it, because it’s expensive to get experience.

    • WashedOut says:

      I vaguely considered crypto trading… I can try to get in and get out at the right time?

      Yes. I’ve made almost all my gains by just riding the volatility of bullshit projects and selling when i’m up. Just don’t day-trade if you don’t know what you’re doing. Maybe spread 80% of yourself out over BTC and ETH to hold, and 20% into a couple of shitcoins of your choice for trading – pick ones that have bottomed out but still have volume on the BTC pair, shouldn’t be hard to find – and dollar-cost average into a position. Sell when it pumps and move on.

      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?)

      Coinbase is just a fiat on-ramp. All it needs to do is handle your initial transaction from fiat into your choice of crypto trading pair, whether it’s BTC or ETH or USDT or whatever. Once you’ve converted fiat to crypto, you get your funds straight off coinbase and either a) onto Binance markets or b) onto your cold storage wallet or c) both. Binance is currently the most trustworthy exchange by far.

      The fact that Coinbase doesn’t support shorting crypto is more a positive than a negative, since most naive people who margin trade get liquidated which is bad for volume. I wouldn’t even consider shorting a crypto unless I was already a multi-millionaire and I knew what the market-makers were doing.

      So I’m keeping an eye on crypto trading, but not really dipping a toe in yet.

      Fair enough. Wait and see what happens to the price of BTC once the Mtgox creditors get their hundreds of thousands of BTC back from the hack. If they do the right thing and sell privately for a fixed price, then ~$3500 might be the bottom. If enough of them sell on the market, expect an absolute bloodbath.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I talked to someone who made money timing shitcoins…but he said that he would have done better just putting his money in bitcoin. Have you compared your performance against simple alternative strategies, like just bitcoin or btc+eth or market cap indexing?

      • hash872 says:

        I guess my point was that I don’t trust Binance or any other non-US or EU regulated exchange. How do you know they’re not going to just steal your money or get hacked? What exactly would you do in response if they just stole literally all of your money and stopped responding? Send them like an angry e-mail or something? If it’s a significant chunk of your net worth it seems insanely risky to me.

        Regulation in general/rule of law developed countries regulatory systems are a good thing for investors, for incredibly obvious reasons. The whole history of finance is scams & outright thefts & such

      • WashedOut says:

        Douglas Knight:

        …but he said that he would have done better just putting his money in bitcoin. Have you compared your performance against simple alternative strategies, like just bitcoin or btc+eth or market cap indexing?

        Depends when he started accumulating. If he started in late 2017 (peak hype) he’d be down about 80-90%. I started accumulating when BTC first dipped below 6500, so i’m definitely down on BTC but my losses are offset by shitcoin trades. 80% of my portfolio is BTC and BNB, which I don’t trade, just accumulate. I play with the remaining 20%. I should also state that I don’t rely on this to make money, it’s just a hobby and I can afford to lose everything.


        I guess my point was that I don’t trust Binance or any other non-US or EU regulated exchange. How do you know they’re not going to just steal your money or get hacked? What exactly would you do in response if they just stole literally all of your money and stopped responding?

        The only funds that should reside on an exchange are funds that you are actively trading with, i.e. open orders, which for me is about 500 USD. Everything else is in a cold storage wallet.

        As I mentioned earlier, mtgox got compromised in 2014 which resulted in a class action awarding damage payments in fiat plus the rehabilitation of all stolen BTC to the creditors, who will this year be roughly 15x up on their portfolio at the time of the hack. In crypto terms this happened a century ago, when people were irresponsible and there were hardly any reliable exchanges, and those that did exist were run by hobbyists. Binance is a completely different animal, run by self-made multimillionaires who are solely interested in increasing adoption. If Binance got hacked, rehabilitation would be swift and the fallout would be significantly less due to widespread cold-storage use.

    • Walter says:

      Looks like your worldview allows for exchanges that just steal everyone’s money, right? (Since you are concerned that will happen to you if you leave Coinbase). So just operate one of those :).

    • Elementaldex says:

      I’m actually experimenting with something related to this. I have a small information advantage within pharmaceutical development/use which I believe should give me a small edge in knowing which drugs are going to get through clinical trials. Over the last two years I have spent ~3% of my income purchasing microcap pharmaceuticals which have been up a max of ~150% and are currently down ~25%. If at the end of this year I am up >75% I will probably double the amount of money that I allocate to this.

      • hash872 says:

        That’s awesome man! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Please let us know how it goes over time

  9. 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.

  10. 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

        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.

        The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

        Nay, that I mean to do.

        • Tarpitz says:

          As a student, I did an adaptation of Acts 4 and 5 of Part 2 and Act 1 of part 3. That line reliably got cheers from the audience.

    • 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.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Unless the Wizengamot lords want a system they can corrupt, instead of incorruptible Magic enforcing the actual written word.

    • 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.

  11. 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:


            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.

  12. 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.

      • brad says:

        It’s OPT (optional practical training). People that graduate with STEM degrees get 3 years of eligibility.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Ah, that explains how a couple of my former coworkers could get hired and work for a year or two while still on student visas!

    • 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.

  13. 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?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I don’t have domain experience at all, but I’m getting strong Theranos vibes here. My colleagues say there are a lot of different things that are called “cancer” so something that can cure all of them is likely snake oil.

      • sfoil says:

        The usual joke is that there are plenty of medicines that are toxic to cancer cells. For instance, hydrofluoric acid. The trick is to find one that is only toxic to tumor cells.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Also no experience, but the claim seems almost-plausible, in that it proposes a fairly specific solution with potentially broad uses. Note that the description doesn’t imply a cure to all types of cancers immediately – it is more like “new delivery mechanism for new class of medicines” than “magic bullet”, and if your cancer isn’t treatable by the library of medicines that currently exists, it won’t help you.

        ETA: Which is to say, it is more of a delivery mechanism than anything else, and a good delivery mechanism is the most powerful thing you can add to the cancer-fighting arsenal.

      • broblawsky says:

        Theranos was far more realistic and far more subtle. This is more like Andrea Rossi.

    • Statismagician says:

      I have some adjacent-domain knowledge, and I am very,very, very skeptical. However, if there was going to be anything which really did have this kind of potential, this is the sort of thing it would be, so – fingers crossed, we can only hope. A reminder that we ought to be pro-curing-cancer more than we are anti-shortcuts, all else equal.

      • Statismagician says:

        I take it as read that the various cancers are, you know, different; my reading is that they think they have a generalizable method for training virii to attack cancer cells, which would be absolutely game-changing.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    • 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.

  16. The Nybbler says:

    Cape Fear (1991) is much better than Cape Fear (1962).

  17. 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.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Yup, the first full-length sequel was The Fall of a Nation (1916), sequel to the now-infamous The Birth of a Nation.

  18. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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:


          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.

    • 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. 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?

        • SamChevre says:

          He met her at a church event.

          The Amish/Mennonite world has good networks for introducing young people.

      • 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.

  19. 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.

    • 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:


          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.

  20. 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.

    • 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:


          “…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.

    • 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.

    • 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).

  21. 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.

    • 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.

  22. 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

  23. 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.

    • toastengineer says:

      I don’t watch much of this sort of thing either, but the dub of Ghost Stories is pretty great as well, albiet not so much as an enhancement of the source material…

    • J Mann says:

      I think a dub can be better (or worse) pretty easily – if you get good writers for the translation, it probably depends on the talent of the actors and director.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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:


            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:


            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:


            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:



      • 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.

        • 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:


          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:


          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:


          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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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)

    • aristides says:

      Oh my god, Legend of the Seeker was a horrible movie! Since I never read the books I blamed the director. Ifthe book was worse than the movie, how’d it ever get green lit?

      • AG says:

        Legend of the Seeker, the TV show wasn’t like the books very much, but I really enjoyed it, as the next iteration of the Xena formula.

  29. cassander says:

    Fight Club the movie is better than the book, and even the author agrees.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I don’t agree and the author is crazy. (Listen to the Joe Rogan interview at your own peril.)

  30. baconbits9 says:

    I think the book version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide is the best version and it was not the first.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

    This is great! Reminds me of what drew me to SSC in my youth: smart insightporn/futurism. A Short History of the Third Millennium is wonderful! Why aren’t more people writing stuff like this anymore?

  35. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.)

    • 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?)

  36. 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:


          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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.