Open Thread 121.75

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800 Responses to Open Thread 121.75

  1. DragonMilk says:

    Given the religious distribution of this community, I’m genuinely curious how non-Christians feel about the latest cross hub-bub that will be heard before the Supreme Court.

    My impression that most non-Christians are ok with crosses as memorials as it’s more of a cultural relic that denotes sacrifice rather than reading too much into endorsement of Christianity?

    • Plumber says:

      I’m nonreligious but not anti-Christian and “legacy” crosses don’t bother me a bit, I gather that people who strongly advocate other religions or grew up to reject a previously held religion feel differently, usually these things are handled by giving the property to some private organization. 

      In San Francisco we have a formely Roman Catholic, now “traditional catholic” (mass in Latin) chapel built in my lifetime by donated labor (mostly from building trades union members) that sits on State property that the City was handed responsibility of, and I personally helped unclog the chapels restroom drains as part of my City job.

      I think the City chargers the tenants $1 a year for rent, and I suppose some busybody could make a fuss about that, but my usual attitude is “Let things be that be”.

      • Plumber says:

        I note that in reading between the lines of the link you provided the 1925 memorial cross seems to advocate ethnic and racial tolerance by the men memorized being described as “all Christian” though of different ancestry, so meant as a unifying symbol back then.

        Times change. 

  2. Theodoric says:

    A person with a US Passport went to fight for ISIS, and now wants to return to the US. The Obama administration revoked her passport due to her not being a citizen-while she was born in the US, her father was a diplomat. Her father claims he stopped being a diplomat before she was born, but US records show he did not lose diplomatic status until after she was born. She did have a right to a hearing for her passport removal, but she did not take advantage of this (as she was with ISIS when the letter informing her about this was sent).
    Since she did not timely request the hearing, is she now estopped from claiming she is a citizen (yes, she would likely get more sympathy if she had been in Africa distributing malaria nets rather than fighting for ISIS)? Am I right in assuming that much of this is based on nobody wanting to be the person who signed off on her entry into the country if she somehow does something terrible? How easy would it be for the government to convict her of something were she allowed back in to be arrested at the airport?

    • Lambert says:

      UK has a similar thing right now, except she is (or was) British citizen. The Home Secretary has revoked her citizenship, on the basis she seems to also be a Bangladeshi citizen (it’s against international law to make your own citizens stateless against their will). Bangladesh denies this, for obvious reasons. Everyone is waiting for her lawyer to make the next move.

      Plus she was a minor when she left to join ISIS, and she now has a son, just to make things more complex.

      Joining ISIS sounds like ‘adhering to the sovereign’s enemies, giving them aid and comfort, in the realm or elsewhere’ (Treason Act 1351).
      Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond has been making noises about this, but the UK hasn’t convicted anyone of treason since the immediate aftermath of the War, including in similar cases involving the Taliban.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I think whatever the legal state of affairs, Begum is pretty clearly *morally* a British citizen, and I disapprove of Javid’s decision (though it’s obviously smart politics).

        I doubt she has committed any crime for which a British court could or should convict her, but she would certainly require ongoing scrutiny from the security services. If it were only her, I would be inclined to leave her where he is but let her in if she found a way back under her own steam; the child, however, is – or at any rate should be regarded as – a British citizen, and is completely innocent. As such, with reservations, I would be inclined to try to get her out (and probably commence court proceedings to remove the child from her once she got back).

        Naturally this is politically impossible – only a very secure government could afford to pursue such an unpopular point of principle.

        • Lambert says:

          I wonder whether Javid is fully expecting her to successfully appeal against the decision.
          So she gets let back in, but he can say that he did everything he could to try to stop it.

    • brad says:

      Since she did not timely request the hearing, is she now estopped from claiming she is a citizen

      This is the part that doesn’t ring true to me. It sounds like they sent her a letter. I don’t think that’s sufficient to trigger collateral estoppel. Prevents her from appealing that particular decision, sure, but I don’t see how it would prevent her from filing a declaratory judgement action asking a federal court to find that she is and has been a citizen from birth.

    • The Nybbler says:

      US citizenship by birth is by Constitutional right. I’d be surprised if the executive could pull it unilaterally and have it stick using procedural tricks, at least not for a case in the public eye.

      • Evan Þ says:

        There are exceptions for people not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. Whatever that means, it’s been universally agreed that the children of diplomats and of hypothetical invading armies fall under that exception.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah, aren’t there statutes for this? I thought we looked at this in an open thread a few months ago.

        • brad says:

          That’s true, but the procedural due process cases (Mathews v Eldridge etc.) apply to the determination of whether or not someone was the child of a diplomat or an invading army.

    • Deiseach says:

      The problem there seems to be that she was granted citizenship in the first place – she held a passport. If she was entitled to be a citizen when first presenting as one, then it’s hard to argue that there is a good case for revoking her citizenship. You either have to say “we made a bad decision/the family lied about the facts at the start” or accept that the revocation is going to be open to challenge.

      What about her parents’ country, won’t they take her back? Does she have dual citizenship there?

      • brad says:

        Fairly or not, US law doesn’t consider issuing a passport to be equivalent granting citizenship. If someone is actually naturalized (sworn in) then you’re exactly right, revocation can only happen with proof of fraud. But if both the government and the person made an honest mistake in thinking that they were a citizen in issuing a passport, allowing someone to vote, etc. then the facts of the matter control, not the mistake.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Presumably signing up to give your personal labor to ISIL, whether you actually pull a trigger or just do logistical grunt work away from the active operational end of things, satisfies 18 U.S.C. § 2339B, Providing Material Resources or Support to a Designated Terrorist Organization, so given that she very publically pledged herself to their cause and has been working for the organization for years, I wouldn’t think it would be too difficult to convict her of a crime.

      On the other hand, I can envision a scenario where she makes a claim that oh, no, as soon as her plane touched down in Syria she realized she made a terrible mistake and never actually provided any material support or did any useful work for ISIL, it just took this whole time for her to get free and get home, and there being a lack of hard evidence either way. If it looks like things are likely to be that muddy, I can imagine the government would prefer to just keep her out of the country entirely than put her on trial and risk a particularly sympathetic judge and/or jury letting her walk.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I would very much like it if this case winds up ending the erroneous “birthright citizenship” practice in the US. The 14th Amendment says:

      All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside

      There is a difference between “born…in the United States” and “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” or else they would not be separate clauses. The distinction is between territorial jurisdiction and political jurisdiction. One can be in the territory and yet not subject to the jurisdiction, in the case of diplomats, armies (friendly or hostile), or Native Americans before the passing of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924. One can be subject to the jurisdiction even if not in the territory. For instance, it is illegal for American citizens to engage in sex tourism, even though the acts the sex tourist are committing are in another country, and perhaps even legal there.

      Clearly, the distinction is “where do your loyalties lie?” The American is held loyal to the laws of the United States even when traveling abroad. The diplomat, the foreign soldier, the Indian on a reservation (before 1924) are loyal to their nation, which is not the United States.

      Grant that the woman was born on US soil, to a foreign citizen who was not a diplomat at the time of birth, and rule that she is not a US citizen, because her parents were not “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” They were foreign citizens, with no loyalty to the United States. The same applies to every child of illegal aliens, whom the government has erroneously been treating as citizens for decades.

      • John Schilling says:

        Clearly, the distinction is “where do your loyalties lie?”

        That is far from clear. First, “…and loyal thereto” would have been a briefer and more unambiguous way to say the same thing, and the authors of the 14th Amendment conspicuously didn’t do that.

        Second and more importantly, in literally every other circumstance in which we use the word “jurisdiction”, the L-word does not apply. When the police arrest someone for e.g. murder, the prosecutor files charges, they don’t ask “Are you loyal to the United States? No? I guess you can go”. Check the IRS form 1040 you should be filling out about now – there’s no line or box for “loyalty”, which zeroes out your taxes. If your neighbor sues you in state or federal court, the judge doesn’t say “well, if you’re not loyal to the United States, I guess there’s nothing for us to do here”.

        In every other context I know of, “jurisdiction” means simply that the United States (or a particular state, or whatever) claims the legitimate authority to haul someone into court and impose a ruling on you whether you like it or not, whether you are loyal or not, whether the flag in the court has a gold fringe or not. And that’s consistent with the exception for diplomats with immunity, and for invading armies operating in accordance with the laws of war, and with Native Americans back when we pretended they were separate sovereignties.

        Asserting that there is “clearly” a definition of “jurisdiction” that is diametrically opposed to the one used in every other context, that if applied in any other context would result in e.g. disloyal Americans being able to rape and murder to their heart’s content, but should be applied in this one specific context, is I think unwarranted. And I think there is approximately zero chance that SCOTUS would be willing to open that can of worms, when they can much more easily say “Well,Mr. and Mrs. Muthana still had diplomatic immunity in 1994 so they weren’t subject to US jurisdiction, and we don’t even have to think about getting into the whole kerfluffle about illegal immigrants”.

        So, not going to happen. Nor should it.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I think you’re strawmanning what I mean by “loyalty.” You have a nation to which you owe allegiance, whether you practice it or not.

          Yes, there is clearly a distinction between political jurisdiction and territorial jurisdiction, or there would be no cause to have separate rules for diplomats and armies and the like. Nor would the US be able to enforce its laws against US citizens for actions outside of US territory.

          Why does the 14th amendment say both “born…in the United States and “subject to the jurisdiction thereof?” Are they the same thing, and if they are, why mention them twice in the text of the amendment?

          I don’t know whether or not it will happen, but it definitely should. Birthright citizenship is a farce in which almost no first-world nations engage. What’s the point of having a nation for our posterity when some foreigner sneaks into the country, births a kid and now that foreign kid get to eventually cancel out my kid’s vote? Why on earth do you think this is a good system, and it should work this way?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Why on earth do you think this is a good system, and it should work this way?

            I don’t know; ask John Bingham and Thaddeus Stevens. As it is, we need to enforce the law as written.

            (Well, actually, I’ve got a pretty good idea: it’s to prevent people from creating loopholes to exclude would-be voters they didn’t like, such as freedmen.)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            And I’m saying as written, it does not grant citizenship to the children of illegal aliens. I would very much like for the Nine Robed Kings to tell me why I’m wrong.

          • Nornagest says:

            Why does the 14th amendment say both “born…in the United States and “subject to the jurisdiction thereof?” Are they the same thing, and if they are, why mention them twice in the text of the amendment?

            IANAL, but I’d be willing to bet the amendment’s proposers were thinking mainly of the Native American population when they wrote that. These days they get birthright American citizenship like everyone else, but that’s a relatively recent development; for most of the country’s history tribal jurisdiction was modeled as separate from (though geographically overlapping with) federal jurisdiction, and so tribal membership functioned in some ways like citizenship in a different country. That would certainly still have been true in the 1860s.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Sure. My point is that there are many exceptions that separate “subject to the jurisdiction” and “in the United States.” They had to pass a law to make Native Americans count as “subject to the jurisdiction.” Nobody passed a law that included children of illegal aliens, and the courts haven’t definitively ruled on it, either. The government just started treating them like citizens anyway. The government should stop, let them sue, and let the Supreme Court tell us what the text of the 14th amendment means.

          • Nornagest says:

            Point is, you don’t need a strained reading of “jurisdiction” to decide that American Indians in the 1860s didn’t fall under the federal government’s. They had their own legal systems that had nothing to do with the Feds’ and which the Feds would not customarily interfere with, and at the time of the amendment that was a live issue that was a big enough deal to be worth writing into it. By the 1920s that was no longer so true, but the same observation would still apply to foreign armies (who’d be governed by their military codes) and foreign diplomats (who have an exceptional status). But not to illegal immigrants — or, for that matter, to foreign nationals in the country legally for purposes of e.g. work or tourism.

            Those guys are unambiguously covered by American jurisdiction as long as they’re in American territory. We can tell because we occasionally charge them with stuff under US law and this is generally considered legitimate in principle, even if specific policies are sometimes controversial.

          • CatCube says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            But illegal aliens are “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” You’re right that they’re not necessarily loyal to the US, but that’s not what the Amendment says.

            To see what “not subject to the jurisdiction of the US” means, consider diplomats: if a diplomat walked into Times Square at high noon and shot a random bystander in the back of the head, the cops cannot arrest them, nor can the courts prosecute them, nor can they be imprisioned*. They are “not subject to the jurisdiction of the US.” Conversely, if an alien is here illegally, they can be prosecuted. They are subject to the jurisdiction of our legal system.

            I don’t like it, personally, but due to the vast amount of mischief that has been done by pretending the Constitution says something other than what it says in the service of getting the “right” answer I’m not willing to bend on this.

            * Well, their sending country could pull their immunity, and then make them subject to the jurisdiction of the US, but that’s not a given since US policy is never to accede to that for our diplomats and it’s not hard to see that another country would refuse in kind. We could also send all of the evidence to the sending country and ask them to prosecute the murder, but we really can’t do anything if they refuse either request other than sending the diplomat home. It’s worth noting that the diplomat themselves cannot surrender their immunity; the immunity belongs to the sending country, not the diplomat personally.

          • Why does the 14th amendment say both “born…in the United States and “subject to the jurisdiction thereof?”

            Because some people born in the United States are not subject to the jurisdiction thereof, as has already been discussed.

          • Clutzy says:

            To see what “not subject to the jurisdiction of the US” means, consider diplomats: if a diplomat walked into Times Square at high noon and shot a random bystander in the back of the head, the cops cannot arrest them, nor can the courts prosecute them, nor can they be imprisioned*. They are “not subject to the jurisdiction of the US.” Conversely, if an alien is here illegally, they can be prosecuted. They are subject to the jurisdiction of our legal system.

            I don’t like it, personally, but due to the vast amount of mischief that has been done by pretending the Constitution says something other than what it says in the service of getting the “right” answer I’m not willing to bend on this.

            This reading is equally strained, because historically a Native American could not waltz into Pittsburgh or DC and shoot someone and not face the consequences, yet if they birthed a child that child was not a citizen until specific legislation was passed. In that sense, how is Mexican or Canadian not more similar to the tribesman on US soil than a diplomat?

          • Controls Freak says:

            Linking my comment from last time this came up, because it goes through the case history. In particular, I do not believe Elk v. Wilkins has been overturned, which is relevant for a couple comments here. No one thinks that John Elk could go on a murder spree while the state authorities would be powerless to arrest/prosecute him. To get at another restatement:

            Asserting that there is “clearly” a definition of “jurisdiction” that is diametrically opposed to the one used in every other context, that if applied in any other context would result in e.g. disloyal Americans being able to rape and murder to their heart’s content

            If we believe that there is a different definition, than your parade of horribles simply does not follow. Mr. Elk does not get to rape and murder to his heart’s content… but he can’t register to vote, either.

            If a case on this went to SCOTUS, I would fully expect at least an amicus brief asking the Court to directly overturn Elk, and I’m not so sure they don’t. But I would also expect briefs by law profs/historians arguing that there were historical common law reasons to believe this phrase had a peculiar meaning along these lines (I recall some law review articles to this effect a few years back). This question probably makes it into my list of top-20 or so questions I’d like to hear the Court speak on. (…I just realized that I should make a list.) Nevertheless, the really simplistic arguments being thrown around fail to engage with currently-valid SCOTUS precedent.

          • John Schilling says:

            No one thinks that John Elk could go on a murder spree while the state authorities would be powerless to arrest/prosecute him.

            If John Elk had gone on a murder spree entirely within the Winnebago reservation, I believe the state government would have had no jurisdiction and it would have been up to the Winnebago tribal government to deal with that.

            And if John Elk had been residing in a non-tribal city and paying taxes, I believe his children at least would have been considered citizens from birth – as were about 10% of Native Americans when Elk V. Wilkins was decided, and almost 70% when the Indian Citizenship Act was passed. There was a mismatch between when a Native American was subject to state law (immediately on leaving the reservation) and when he was eligible for US citizenship, but I don’t think this is as significant as you make it out to be and I don’t think it invalidates the general principle that citizenship follows legal jurisdiction.

            Mostly, it just illustrates the absurd impracticality of trying to maintain such fine distinctions within the sovereign-not-sovereign fiction of 19th century Indian Reservations

          • Controls Freak says:

            If John Elk had gone on a murder spree entirely within the Winnebago reservation, I believe the state government would have had no jurisdiction and it would have been up to the Winnebago tribal government to deal with that.

            Correct. And if a foreign diplomat went on a murder spree entirely in his home country, the US state government would have no jurisdiction, and it would be entirely up to the foreign government to deal with that.

            And if John Elk had been residing in a non-tribal city and paying taxes, I believe his children at least would have been considered citizens from birth

            This is precisely the question that the Supreme Court has not answered. Ever. I would very much like them to speak on this matter. The Supreme Court did say that even though Mr. Elk was residing in a non-tribal city and paying taxes, he was not “Subject to the Jurisdiction Thereof” for purposes of the Citizenship Clause. I cited the reasoning they provided. At the very least, this makes the simplistic argument unconvincing; one must actually bother to engage with history/precedent. Again, it might come out that way, but it certainly doesn’t follow trivially from the fact that they can arrest him for murder in Michigan.

      • Clearly, the distinction is “where do your loyalties lie?”

        That is not what jurisdiction means. A disloyal citizen is still under the jurisdiction of the government he is disloyal to, as demonstrated when they arrest him and try him for treason instead of putting him in a prisoner of war camp.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Can you try an illegal alien for treason against the United States?

          If not, is that a strike against them being “subject to the jurisdiction?”

          • Nornagest says:


            By my reading treason might be problematic, but that’s because of the “owing allegiance” clause in the law, not because of jurisdictional issues. They are still under US jurisdiction — you can nail them for murder or arson or jaywalking, which have no such clause.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Yes, you probably could, under the doctrine of “temporary allegiance” which has a long history in British and American law. In a not-entirely-dissimilar British case, William Joyce (“Lord Haw-Haw”) was convicted of treason based on temporary allegiance, because he had lived in Britain and used a British passport even though he wasn’t actually eligible for one.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            According to the wikipedia page it was only the possession of the British passport that obligated him to “temporary allegiance.”

            Do we give illegal aliens passports?

  3. Basil Elton says:

    There’re probably quite a few cryonicist here. Maybe someone has attended the Teens & Twenties Gathering in Florida in the recent years? Can you share your experience and advice whether it’s worth going? I’ve found some mentions of it on LessWrong but those are controversial and more importantly a few years old.

  4. Joseph Greenwood says:

    Let’s talk about the US tax system. I don’t think anyone (besides maybe TurboTax) is in favor of American tax code as it currently exists, but people have different ideas about how to fix it, and what exceptions and exemptions and favors to offer people in the tax code.

    So… how would you rewrite the tax code, if you were nominated as master-bureaucrat and your tax code would become a force of law?

    Some constraints: your tax code needs to generate close to the same amount of revenue as our current one does– that looks like $3.422 trillion, at the moment ( I’m not explicitly forbidding using taxes as an incentive schema for certain desirable behaviors, but pay attention to Schelling points! If you weaponize taxes against [outgroup], don’t be too surprised if they turn around and weaponize them right back.

    • brad says:

      I’d like to figure out a way to eliminate the corporate tax, which I think is too prone to evasion, with some other kind of tax(es). If there were only domestic shareholders and bondholders this would be an easy task of swapping out corporate income taxes for increases in dividends and capital gains taxes. But since there aren’t, I can’t think of any way to do this without changing the tax base significantly.

      • What would be the problem with requiring corporations to attribute all of their income to their stockholders, whether or not they paid it out as dividends? Then you tax it like ordinary income.

        I seem to remember some of this being discussed here quite a while back, but I don’t remember the details.

        • brad says:

          I see two problems with that:

          1) you end up with rather onerous reporting requirements for beneficial owners of companies operating in the US that would be difficult to enforce

          2) The difficulties around defining income for corporations is the main reason I’d like to see the corporate income tax go away in the first place. If we track all the ways that corporations can pay out–salary, fringe, dividends, cap gains–then you’ve captured the actual benefits of ownership without needing to answer the rather tricky question of what corporate earnings actually are.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          This sounds a lot like the “end corporate citizenship” stuff I occasionally hear. Making there be considerable downsides to stock ownership sounds like a way to shift investment to debt, (that is, start holding corporate bonds instead of corporate stock) and little else.

    • The Nybbler says:

      <Dons Snidely Whiplash mustache and hat>

      Flat tax. Goodbye tax credits. Goodbye most deductions. Goodbye brackets. What deductions remain?

      Personal exemption: Set so most wage earners pay some Federal taxes. Married couples get two.

      Dependent exemption: Same as now, an amount smaller than the standard deduction.

      Charitable contributions. But contributions of appreciated stock are deductible only at the basis value. Basis values will increase with CPI (for all purposes), capital gains rates will be the same as ordinary income rates.

      Retirement fund contributions; we’re keeping the tax-deferred IRA and 401K and equivalents. No more Roth though.

      State and local tax, mortgage interest and employer health care deductions, including Health Savings Accounts are all removed.

      There are three parameters, the personal exemption, dependent exemption, and tax rate. I’d make the dependent exemption 1/3rd the personal exemption, set the personal exemption such that 80% of wage-earners pay the tax, set the rate to get revenue neutral, and see what that looks like.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I absolutely believe in the flat tax (without any mustache needed). I think each person should pay the percentage of their income without any adjustments. That way most Americans wouldn’t even have to file a tax return — because withholding from their wages and investment earnings at this set rate would be sufficient. I think the enormous savings of eliminating the tax industry (on both the private and government side) would easily more than offset any advantages lost by adding complications.

      Almost all of the adjustments to income tax are for welfare or economic development reasons. Thus, different tax brackets, child tax credits, earned income credit, are all done so that the poor pay less tax than the rich. The US has an enormously complicated welfare system, to where no one really knows how much welfare most people receive. The welfare provisions of the tax code are part of this. I think all welfare should be determined by one government agency (maybe one per state if run by states), so that welfare could be better rationalized, and then voters would actually know how much welfare is being paid.

      Economic development are mostly business adjustments, such as for depreciation and R&D credit. I think government economic development almost invariably does the wrong thing, and makes society worse off, not better. I don’t think our politicians understand business well enough to be able to tweak the free enterprise system to make it better.

      I used to think we should get rid of the corporate tax, but I have since changed my mind (I think it was you, brad, that had something to do with this). Corporations should simply pay tax at the same rate as individuals. This is simpler than the process of treating all corporations as pass through entities, but results in the same tax.

    • Fitzroy says:

      Scrap citizenship-based taxation. Seriously, the US is one of only three nations worldwide that do it (along with Eritrea and Hungary). What the Treasury gleans from it is a drop in the ocean of the $3.4 trillion, but it’s a complete pain in the arse for US citizens living abroad.

  5. Edward2 says:

    Edward Scizorhands here. All my comments (since about a few hours ago) appear to vanish.

    I VPN as a matter of practice, and I wonder if in the recent (deserved) ban waves I was using the same VPN as someone else.

  6. Theodoric says:

    Any thoughts on the Florida massage parlor prostitution parlor bust that ensared Robert Kraft?
    -OK first, get the jokes out of your system. My contribution: He’ll miss his court date due to food poisoning from gas station sushi!
    -It seems from the article that, in this case, the women might have been being held there against their will-they were apparently sleeping there. Of course, if that is the case, the people holding the women against their will should go to jail (though Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason says that might not be the case). However, is trawling the country for misdemeanor busts of men that likely did not have knowledge that the women were being held against their will really the best use of law enforcement resources? I simply do not see how sexual acts between consenting adults (again, from what we know, the men here had no reason to believe the prostitutes were not consenting) behind closed doors are the business of anyone but the participants, and, if applicable, their spouses.
    -Suppose that some criminal gang were forcing people to work as maids and housecleaners against their will. Would anyone call for the clients to be jailed, if they were not involved in and did not know of the use of force? How many would take the position of “If you want your house cleaned, you can do it yourself, or you can hit the gym and go on a diet and work on your ‘people skills’ and maybe eventually you will find someone to clean your house out of the goodness of their heart, or maybe have the charisma/wealth to get your secretary to clean your house or something, but don’t you dare offer a direct financial payment!”

    • baconbits9 says:

      Just bizarre. Hes 77 and a billionaire and paying for sex at a mid to low end brothel? The one price described was $20 for the sex act and $59 for the massage, even assuming the whole thing is for the sex act a 77 year old billionaire is paying $80 for sex in a country that actually has some legal brothels?

      • albatross11 says:

        Hey, the guy didn’t get to be a billionaire by overpaying for basic services!

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          “I’m just surprised an NFL owner would get a handjob in a pre-existing massage parlor rather than getting taxpayers to build him a new one.” — Popehat

      • Nornagest says:

        Very few legal brothels, and while the money cost would be negligible to a billionaire, flying to Nevada to get laid would be expensive in time too. And hard to explain to the wife. It is odd that he’s going for an $80 massage parlor, though; I don’t know a lot about the sex trade but that sounds pretty low-rent.

        Maybe he genuinely went in for a massage, and then bought the happy ending on a whim? Hell of a mistake, but that’s about the best way I can make sense of this.

        • baconbits9 says:

          What makes the brothel part weird for me is his age, if he was a 30 year old billionaire I could more readily imagine it, for a 77 year old to be thinking with his penis to this extent (and one that has a sub 40 year old girlfriend) is weird.

          Maybe he genuinely went in for a massage, and then bought the happy ending on a whim? Hell of a mistake, but that’s about the best way I can make sense of this.

          Still doesn’t make sense for a billionaire to be going out and getting a $60 massage.

      • Lillian says:

        Just bizarre. Hes 77 and a billionaire and paying for sex at a mid to low end brothel? The one price described was $20 for the sex act and $59 for the massage, even assuming the whole thing is for the sex act a 77 year old billionaire is paying $80 for sex in a country that actually has some legal brothels?

        Actual high end escort and noted sex worker activist Maggie McNeil speculates is that he was worried about giving out his personal information. Most escorts screen prospective clients, that means they demand enough personal information to do a background check on them. Meanwhile at the rub and tug you can just walk in and out anonymously. There’s less need to screen clients for safety since if one gets abusive the sex worker can just call for help and have him forcibly removed by the rest of the staff. Unfortunately this also makes such establishments a favourite target of police stings, precisely because it’s harder for them to spot the cop.

        Also a potentially relevant detail about Mr. Kraft: He married his wife at the age of 22, they were together for 48 years until death did them part when she died of ovarian cancer. In light of that, it’s possible he preferred that particular establishment because he has an emotional connection with one of the girls there.

        • bullseye says:

          He’d have to meet her first in order to develop that emotional connection, which would mean he’s been there before. (Or he met her elsewhere and developed a connection to someone who just happened to be a prostitute, but that seems unlikely, especially if she’s forced to live in the brothel.)

          • Lillian says:

            The police claim in their press releases that the workers were forced to live there, but the police are noted and prolific liars on the subject of sex trafficking busts (and also in general). So while i will not dismiss the possibility that they’re telling the truth, neither am i going to take them at their word. We probably won’t know the full story until we can read the court documents, but that’s going to take months at minimum.

            Also it occurs to me that being a billionaire doesn’t mean Kraft can’t just like low end stuff on its own merits. Donald Trump could afford to have a personal chef make him burgers exactly how he likes them, but he still goes to McDonald’s. Why? Well because he likes McDonald’s. There’s people who go to trashy dive bars even though they can afford better because they like grimy atmosphere and cheap booze. It’s quite plausible that Kraft went to a basic rub and tug place simply because that’s what he likes. There’s really no accounting for taste.

          • Another Throw says:

            Donald Trump could afford to have a personal chef make him burgers exactly how he likes them, but he still goes to McDonald’s. Why? Well because he likes McDonald’s.

            Isn’t Donald Trump reported to have complained that the White House kitchen, staffed by the best chef’s that DC has to offer, can’t make him a cheeseburger how he likes them?

            Which is to say, I think you might be in error about this example.

            Due to economies of scale, McDonalds has done astronomical amounts of R&D to develop their cheeseburgers into the most repeatable, flavor maximized product possible (at a profit maximizing price point). A private chef, no matter how skilled, can not match that. By contrast, the reason that high end restaurants and private chefs can get the merely rich to pay so damn much for their dry aged, Kobe beef, saffron and sauerkraut cheeseburgers is almost 100% signalling.

            At a certain point on the insanely rich scale you get to say “fuck it, I’m already on Forbe’s list, I’m going to have a cheeseburger that’s actually good.” Which has a really good chance of being the one with 50 years and millions of dollars of R&D behind it to maximizes that goodness.

            There is a really good reason to believe that McDonalds might very well be a better product, which isn’t really the case you are making for a rub and tug. You’re essentially shrugging your shoulders with a “there’s no accounting for taste.”

            I could see a number of arguments why: more reliable service quality, in it for the finish not the foreplay, the marginal utility of (e.g.) attractiveness diminishes faster than the marginal utility of the cash to pay for it. And, yes, eccentric preferences, but since we’re on (AFAIK) the second billionaire frequenting the same joint, it can’t be that eccentric of a preference.

          • @Another Throw:

            Entertaining though your defense of Trump’s preference in cheeseburgers is, I think you are ignoring the fact that McDonald is maximizing taste subject to a budget constraint, doing the best it can while keeping hamburgers cheap. They don’t, so far as I know, have any secret recipe, so a competitor without that budget constraint should be able to start with their design then improve it in ways that cost more, so are not an option for McDonalds.

            But I admit that I have done very little empirical research to support the implications of that argument.

          • broblawsky says:

            According to Michael Wolff, Trump eats McDonald’s because he’s afraid of being poisoned. He might actually prefer the taste, but that would make him highly unusual – the White House was previously well known for making burgers by grinding up ribeyes and other high-quality steak cuts.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @broblawsky, doesn’t Trump also eat his steaks well-done with ketchup? His tastes are apparently unusual in other ways, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he does legitimately prefer McDonalds’ hamburgers to ground ribeye burgers.

            Or maybe that’s fear of food poisoning too. Until a couple years ago, I always had my steaks well-done or medium-well, because my mother had raised me to think anything rarer was dangerous.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        It might just be the only brothel he knows about? Like, I assume it’s not completely ready to find brothels, especially if you’re not particularly internet savvy.

    • albatross11 says:

      What’s the probability that this case is the result of him failing to pay hush money when hit up for it?

      If the brothel was manned by slaves, then obviously the slave-keepers should never see a day of freedom again. (And if the customers knew it, they should get the adjoining cell to the brothel owners.). But as best I understand things, this is not actually a common situation. “Human trafficking” is the current buzzword used to justify crackdowns on all kinds of prostitution, even stuff where there’s not actually any reason to think anyone is being enslaved. The truth is, if we want to avoid mistreatment of prostitutes, it’s easy enough to do–we legalize and regulate the industry, making sure everyone there is over 18, has proper work papers, give them opportunities to talk with the police if they have concerns, etc.

    • brad says:

      Introspecting about why I don’t have a huge amount of sympathy for him despite thinking prostitution is not inherently immoral, I think it comes down to moral risk.

      Moral luck is the idea that even if most us would have been a concentration camp guard given a particular set of circumstances they guy that actually did is evil and the rest of us are lucky but not evil.

      We can extend the concept to moral risk. An activity can include the chance that it will taint the doer. Not in all circumstances, but in some it is possible to pay money to reduce moral risk.

      I think prostitution is one of those circumstances. Paying $100 in an Asian massage parlor is more morally risky than hiring a $1000/hour escort. To a billionaire that difference is not a whole lot of money. So since he didn’t pay it we can reasonably conclude that he wasn’t especially concerned about reducing his moral risk.

      • albatross11 says:


        I see your point, but it sure seems like the same logic should lead us to legalizing and regulating prostitution.

        Is there actually evidence that the women in this massage parlor/brothel were being enslaved? Or even under some lesser coercion, like they were illegal immigrants and didn’t speak English so felt like they had few alternatives? (Note that this isn’t usually considered all that coercive when it’s people working in a meat packing plant or hanging drywall, though.).

        ETA: How do you feel about wearing Nikes?

        • BBA says:

          Note that this isn’t usually considered all that coercive when it’s people working in a meat packing plant or hanging drywall, though.

          It is among the handful of labor organizer types still out there. As hard as it’s become to agitate for higher wages or better working conditions, it’s infinitely harder when your boss can just call ICE on you and have you deported and replaced with another illegal who won’t complain.

        • brad says:

          A few disjoint responses:

          I’m in favor of legalizing and regulating prostitution, so that’s a bullet I’m willing to bite.

          I don’t have any specific evidence, I haven’t read nearly anything about this case. But I am fairly confident that the risk of coercion is higher among illegal immigrant prostitutes in a brothel vs high end escorts arranged via the web. By coercion I don’t mean few economic prospects but rather things like owing money to the smugger that got them into the country and fearing violence against themselves or their relatives back home if they don’t go along.

          I don’t understand the Nike reference, does this have to do with conditions in the factories where the shoes are made?

          • I’m in favor of legalizing and regulating prostitution

            What regulation is needed for that industry other than ordinary legal rules that apply to everyone?

          • BBA says:

            At a minimum, I would presume they’d be subject to some kind of health regulation in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. And I don’t think the existing laws for those purposes applicable to (e.g.) restaurants will translate too well.

          • Lambert says:

            I don’t think the libertarian solution of private ‘not got the clap’ certificates would work too well here.
            The labs doing the testing would always be under pressure top not be too strict about the false-negative rate. And I doubt your average client really understands statistics or any of the other nuances of STI testing well enough to assess the quality of the test.

            Perhaps, with enough time and preventable death, a body of case law will build up about what constitutes negligence and/or fraud for each link in the chain of trust, but it seems more sense to do things correctly from the start.

            Tl;Dr: The alternative is lemon market Russian roulette.

          • Lillian says:

            The single most effective disease control measure with respect to sex work is to decriminalize it. That is to say, the removal of all legal penalties for prostitution without the addition of any regulation. Thus sex in which money changes hands is rendered legally indistinct from sex in which it doesn’t. There are only two jurisdictions in which this has been tried: the province in New South Wales in Australia, and New Zealand. However in both of them sex workers actually have lower rates of venereal disease than the general population. Similarly, when Rhode Island accidentally decriminalized indor prostitution from 2003 to 2009, there was a sharp decrease in rates of gonorrhoea over the period.

            There doesn’t appear to be any evidence that regulatory regimes can obtain better results, consequently i feel compelled to oppose them as pointless and potentially harmful

          • albatross11 says:


            Periodic STD tests seem prudent for health reasons, but otherwise I don’t think there’s anything super hard about regulating that industry. You could imagine an Uber for sex-workers that required some kind of STD tests once a month for both workers and customers, in order to stay on the system.

          • broblawsky says:

            Probably the biggest issue for regulatiing prostitution would be making sure that sex slavery isn’t involved. Just because you create a legal market doesn’t mean that the black market disappears.

          • Protagoras says:

            Probably the biggest issue for regulatiing prostitution would be making sure that sex slavery isn’t involved. Just because you create a legal market doesn’t mean that the black market disappears.

            Prostitutes have to deal with a lot of customers. If they’re being enslaved, some of those customers will want to help them. If the customers do not face a danger of being arrested themselves, or of getting the prostitute arrested, some of those customers will tip off the police. That is already how the rare actual sex slavery operations tend to quickly get shut down.

          • bullseye says:

            Just because you create a legal market doesn’t mean that the black market disappears.

            Why risk dealing with criminals when you can get it legitimately?

    • rlms says:

      Suppose that some criminal gang were forcing people to work as maids and housecleaners against their will. Would anyone call for the clients to be jailed, if they were not involved in and did not know of the use of force?

      Quite possibly, if a reasonable person would’ve known in their position. And part of that is the prior probability that a random cleaner is a slave, which I assume is significantly lower than the probability for a random prostitute.

      There’s also the fact that people who are not strict libertarians tend to care about amounts of coercion below literal slavery.

      • Theodoric says:

        There’s also the fact that people who are not strict libertarians tend to care about amounts of coercion below literal slavery.

        What is “coercion below literal slavery?” If they were free to leave, but would make less money doing whatever else they were qualified to do, isn’t this just the Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics?

        • rlms says:

          For example, the prostitutes could be illegal immigrants who the pimps threaten to report if they leave. Or they might be in heavily in debt to the pimps (to an extent they couldn’t pay back with another job). Neither of these scenarios seem outlandish.

      • And part of that is the prior probability that a random cleaner is a slave, which I assume is significantly lower than the probability for a random prostitute.

        What is your basis for estimating the probability that a random prostitute in the U.S. is a slave? Absent evidence to the contrary, I would put it at about zero.

        • rlms says:

          Wikipedia gives figures of ~1 million prostitutes in the US and ~100,000 underage prostitutes, giving a lower bound of 10%. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were an overestimate, but equally I’d be surprised if the true figure was below 0.1%.

          One way of estimating it (since there doesn’t seem to be any good data available) is to find out how many prostitutes work for pimps, and what proportion of pimps have both the means and lack of ethical qualms to enslave their prostitutes.

          • John Schilling says:

            Wikipedia gives figures of ~1 million prostitutes in the US and ~100,000 underage prostitutes, giving a lower bound of 10%.

            That’s not a lower bound unless every underage prostitute is a slave. This is almost certainly not the case for the usual definition of “slave”

          • Protagoras says:

            Wikipedia’s sources for those numbers look entirely unreliable. Trace through the links to the sources, and some of the more distant sources don’t say what the intermediate sources quote them as saying (the source for the 100,000 number cites a study which actually says the number can’t reliably be determined but it is almost certainly “in the thousands”), and some of the intermediate sources repeat thoroughly debunked claims. I don’t have a good number for total prostitutes in the U.S., but more trustworthy sources I’ve encountered give estimates around 3% for underage. And most of those underage prostitutes are 16 or 17, which strengthen’s Schilling’s point that automatically calling them slaves is probably questionable.

          • rlms says:

            If we take Wikipedia at face value it claims

            more than 100,000 children are reportedly forced into prostitution in the United States every year

            . Assuming that this is accurate and that “children” has its usual meaning then I think this does provide a lower bound. I agree these assumptions are dubious (hence why I preemptively replaced “children” with “underage”) but I haven’t seen any better estimates.

          • Protagoras says:

            Again, if instead of just reading the number in the wikipedia article, you trace back through the sources, you find (as I already said!) that the source which says 100,000 in turn cites as its source for the number a site that does not actually give that number. It actually says the number is unknown, but probably in the thousands.

          • John Schilling says:

            If we take Wikipedia at face value…

            …on any politically controversial subject, without both reading the “talk” page for that article and tracking down and reading the original references, then we are ill-informed fools, and why would we want to do that?

            If we do actually look into this, as Protagoras notes, we find that the estimated number of underage sex slaves of the sort Liam Neeson is famous for rescuing (except usually not white) is probably in the single-digit thousands, and the claim of 100,000 is A: for child prostitutes in total, not just sex slaves and B: ultimately dead-ends two links later with “Experts estimate…”

          • rlms says:

            The “in the thousands” in the sharedhope source doesn’t preclude “in the hundreds of thousands”, and the 100,000 figure is also given in the source of the second Wikipedia citation as coming from reports by Unicef and the Department of Labor. This article gives a figure of 3000 for NYC, which if extrapolated gives around 100,000 for the US as a whole.

          • Protagoras says:

            Which reports by unicef and the department of labor? The Times paper says “one survey done for state agencies” without giving a shred of information about the survey. On some other topic, I wouldn’t be pushing so hard on this, but the crappy, innumerate reporting on this issue is so incredibly widespread. In particular, the claim that the average age of underage prostitutes is 13 (often the even more obviously absurd claim that the average age at which prostitutes in general enter the profession is 13) seems to be entirely made up, and the fact that Fang repeats it makes me disinclined to believe anything else in her article unless I have an extremely clear citation to a piece which describes its methodology.

          • Lillian says:

            This article seems relevant. It covers both the “100 000 underage prostitutes” and “average age of entry is 13” claims, among many others, with links to more in-depth analysis. This is what it says with respect to the first claim:

            That myth is a distortion of an absurd estimate from the Estes & Weiner study of 2001, which estimated that number of “children, adolescents and youth (up to 21) at risk of sexual exploitation”. “Sex trafficking” was the least prevalent form of “exploitation” in their definition; other things they classed as “exploitation” included stripping, consensual homosexual relations and merely viewing porn. Two of the so-called “risk factors” were access to a car and proximity to the Canadian or Mexican border. When interviewed by reporters in 2011, Estes himself estimated the number of legal minors actually abducted into “sex slavery” as “very small…We’re talking about a few hundred people.

            And the second:

            A conservative estimate for the average age at which women enter the trade is 25. The “average debut at 13” lie was a purposeful distortion by anti-sex crusader Melissa Farley, who misrepresented the average age of first noncommercial sexual contact (which could include kissing, petting, etc) reported by underage girls in one 1982 study as though it were the age they first reported selling sex; the actual average age at which the girls in that study began prostitution was 16.

          • abystander says:

            Well here is one alleged case of a pimp using coercion on a prostitute and it’s possible that prostitutes don’t leave violent pimps for similar reasons that wives don’t leave abusive spouses.


          • Lillian says:

            There’s over 320 million people in the United States. There’s going to be at least one case of damn near anything. But yes abusive pimps is basically just another permutation of the abusive boyfriend, with roughly similar prevalence.

          • John Schilling says:

            So, the argument now is “It is estimated that there are 100,000 underage prostitutes in the United States, and some underage prostitutes are sex slaves, therefore the lower bound for sex slaves in the United States is 100,000”

            And I remember when this used to be a rationalist forum.

          • rlms says:

            The reports listed in the Victimology: Theories and Applications Wikipedia citation (the second one after the Fang article) are Unicef’s “State of the World’s Children” and the DoL’s “Forced Labor: The Prostitution of Children”.

            @John Schilling
            You’re misinterpreting my confidence in the 100,000 number. Probably I should’ve been clearer and made a stronger qualifying statement than “I wouldn’t be surprised if that were an overestimate”. My intention was to gesture at one reason why someone might not put the probability in question as “about zero” rather than give a definitive counter-estimate (hence why I referred to a range of probabilities covering two orders of magnitude and suggested another way of estimating the value). But I don’t think the estimate of 100,000 is obviously ridiculous. If you disagree, please be a good rationalist and come up with a counter-estimate rather than snarking.

            I addressed the distinction between underage and child prostitutes in my second comment. I think a “true meaning”-child-prostitute is under the ethical age of consent and therefore must be a slave. Certainly a lot of people conflate “child” and “underage” (under 18) in this context; you might say that actually the “true meanings” do coincide but any disagreement about that is uninteresting and semantic.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think a “true meaning”-child-prostitute is under the ethical age of consent and therefore must be a slave.

            That’s a… very noncentral interpretation of “slave”. You could say that it must be abusive, sure, but slavery brings to mind a pretty specific scenario — an extreme enough one that I don’t have any confidence in my ability to say what is or isn’t common, but I don’t think e.g. forced captivity necessarily follows from the kid being under whatever the ethical age of consent is.

          • Lillian says:

            If you disagree, please be a good rationalist and come up with a counter-estimate rather than snarking.

            Prostitution was decriminalized in New Zealand in 2003, which makes it a good place to gather data since the industry is out in the open rather than underground. Conveniently, its government commissioned a large study of the profession to examine the effects of decriminalization. It estimated that there were 5932 prostitutes in all of New Zealand, of whom some 210 are underage (and not a sig fig was given that day). In other words it estimates that 3.5% of prostitutes are underage. Given an estimated population of 4.3 million people in 2008, this also gives us a bit over 0.14% of the population engaging in prostitution.

            At this point it might be relevant to point out that this 2009 study found that decriminalization had no effect on the number of prostitutes in New Zealand, which gives us some justification for applying their figures to another Anglophone developed country where it’s sadly still criminal. However, since everything is bigger in America i’m going to go ahead and round them up to 0.2% of the population being prostitutes of whom 4% are underage. So applying those numbers to the current estimated US population of 328 million that’s 656 000 prostitutes, of which around 26 000 are underage.

          • Protagoras says:

            Unicef puts out the state of the world’s children pretty regularly, and it’s a monster; I had no luck finding any numbers in it about child prostitution in the U.S. I did find an old “Forced Labor: The Prostitution of Children” paper put out by the DoL, but it very clearly did not say 100,000; it said “thousands” (and noted that most of them are teenage runaways engaged in survival prostitution, rarely working with pimps). Maybe another report under the same title in another year made a different claim, but can I ask that you not give me any more sources that have further citations without personally confirming that the further sources actually contain the 100,000 number with some indication of how the number was arrived at (and not just yet more links in the chain of alleged sources), and ideally giving me a link to those further sources?

          • rlms says:

            This copy of the DoL document gives the 100,000 figures several times, without any sources as far as I can tell.

            I agree that an unsourced assertion is not particularly strong evidence (although it’s stronger coming from a DoL document than a random person on the internet). Nevertheless it’s better than the complete lack of evidence you’ve put forward for the claim that the true value is lower. If you want to say that the evidence Lillian put forward should make us update downwards from the 100,000 figure, I would agree. But I don’t know what you’re trying to achieve by asking me to chase down sources.

          • Protagoras says:

            That was the one I read, but since I was looking for what seemed likely to be the most definitive statement, I read the section on child prostitution in the U.S., which does not give that figure (instead saying “thousands”, as does the summary). You are correct that (as I originally failed to notice) the keynote address (by a politician, not any kind of expert on the subject) gives the 100,000 figure, without any hint of where the number came from. For some reason, the section on child prostitution in Latin America also gives a 100,000 figure for the U.S., again without any indication of where the number came from. I have to admit that the section on Latin America looks more sensationalistic and dubious to me than the section on the U.S. (and does things like confidently providing numbers and then later commenting on how difficult it is to get any data on the subject).

    • Deiseach says:

      Suppose that some criminal gang were forcing people to work as maids and housecleaners against their will. Would anyone call for the clients to be jailed, if they were not involved in and did not know of the use of force?

      Yes, they should face a court case where if not jail, then certainly a hefty fine. Regular house-cleaning services charging you twice or three times the cost of this, you have an inkling something is off, the women don’t speak English and are accompanied by a supervisor or foreman who doesn’t allow you to interact with them? If you’re too cheap to pay the going rate for a cleaner, then certainly either clean your house yourself or be willing to spend the money.

      This is not a case of “lonely young man with little money hiring a hooker”, this is somebody who could afford to buy and sell the whole shooting match engaging in shoddy behaviour. He could certainly afford to buy a bottle of champagne for a blonde young lady at a club who provides discreet escort services, this is just reaping what he’s sown.

      • Theodoric says:

        the women don’t speak English and are accompanied by a supervisor or foreman who doesn’t allow you to interact with them?

        Actually, in America, it is somewhat common for people like housecleaners, hotel cleaners, etc, to speak no or broken English. As for being “allowed” to interact with them-once it is clear that they cannot speak your language, how hard would you try?

        . He could certainly afford to buy a bottle of champagne for a blonde young lady at a club who provides discreet escort services, this is just reaping what he’s sown.

        Just out of curiosity, would you feel any sympathy for him if the young lady at the club turned out to be a cop? I can see why a hypothetical Mrs. Kraft would be mad, I can see soaking him in a divorce if it was not an open marriage, but should it really be a criminal issue?

        • albatross11 says:

          Many years ago when we hired a maid service (my mom paid for it for a few months as a gift after our first child was born), the maids always came in pairs, one of whom spoke enough English to get instructions. I always chatted with them in Spanish, and they sure didn’t seem like they were feeling threatened or coerced or anything. (But speaking only Spanish in the US right now isn’t actually all that isolating–a large fraction of the US speaks some Spanish and there’s a sizeable fraction of native speakers living here.).

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          There’s no need even to do the “buy champagne for random lady at the club” thing. There’s websites for girls looking for “sugar daddies” that connect attractive women and rich men. They call this “dating” instead of “prostitution” because it’s not illegal or particularly immoral to buy expensive things for your “girlfriend.” Kraft is a widower. No one would care if he had a 22 year old “girlfriend.”

      • Regular house-cleaning services charging you twice or three times the cost of this, you have an inkling something is off, the women don’t speak English and are accompanied by a supervisor or foreman who doesn’t allow you to interact with them?

        Do you have any reason to believe that any of these things were true in the real world case we are discussing? So far I don’t.

        • Deiseach says:

          I don’t particularly, I was just using the hypothesis presented.

          Mainly it sounds tacky and tawdry – the guy can certainly afford to have a mistress or two on the side if he hasn’t a hot spouse or girlfriend, if he needs some quick negotiable affection he can do better than some downmarket ‘massage’ parlour, and all in all it just sounds a very stupid risk to take.

          Then again, Florida. What is it about Florida?

          • Erusian says:

            Then again, Florida. What is it about Florida?

            Extremely strong open record laws combined with a high amount of diversity and low taxes attracting the wealthy leads to all sorts of weirdness that the state is legally obliged to let anyone know about.

    • Erusian says:

      I find this odd. I’ve been in some of the haunts frequented by the powerful. Several of them are known to have rather attractive young women hanging around who mostly aren’t exactly prostitutes but find rich/powerful men surprisingly- err- interesting. Even if they’re winsome twenty-somethings and the man is eighty. They’re often stunningly attractive and reasonably interesting conversationalists and capable of providing a lot of discrete cover.

      None of these ladies would be caught dead in a parlor. (And none of them are being trafficked. Many of them are actually wealthier than the average bear, just not super-wealthy/powerful.)

      Also, why is he in a massage parlor? In-home massages are like a hundred dollars for an hour. They’re a distinctly upper middle-class luxury. They come with their own tables and everything. Massage parlors are mostly for the more middle or lower-middle-class folks, for whom an extra fifty dollars isn’t worth the convenience. As a billionaire, he could keep a masseuse on staff if he wanted to. Or he could hire one of the people who charges through the nose for their expertise. But they’d still come to him. (There are also practitioners of these services who do the whole happy ending thing. Private yoga instructors are particularly infamous for this.)

      Your average billionaire is capable of going into establishments on their own. They’re mostly not famous or worried about being kidnapped or anything. But they’re usually aware their time is worth a lot. They will pay a lot of money for things that save their time. Yet this guy decided to schlep over to a low rent massage parlor instead of paying someone to come over to give him a massage?

      I’m curious about what happened. Not so curious I’ll follow the case closely, but curious.

    • Protagoras says:

      I’m assuming the story of the women being coerced is probably nonsense, because as others have noted the police lie about that with appalling regularity, and the reports I’ve encountered about this case say that the charges that have been filed include prosecuting the women for prostitution and don’t include prosecuting anybody for using coercion. If I do correctly understand the situation, I am horrified at what the women are being subjected to by the police. I find it harder to drum up sympathy for Trump-friendly billionaires, but nonetheless he doesn’t deserve this specific bad thing happening to him for this reason, and further while it isn’t as bad as what the police are doing to them directly, police going after the customers of sex workers is of course a threat to those sex workers’ livelihoods.

  7. name99 says:

    That misses the real structure.
    The real pattern is early modern explains EVERYTHING in terms of angels and devils. Industrial Age explains everything in terms of economics+class. Current explains everything in terms of race + gender.

    What’s constant is an assumption that a few trivial categories can explain the world, and that anyone who disagrees with this claim is a moral enemy.

  8. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Anyone remember that time in 1588 that Galileo gave a university lecture on the dimensions of the Inferno? I sure do!
    It turns out that Lucifer is a >3,700 foot-tall kaiju.

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s nice to know that spending way too much mental effort on media analysis isn’t just a modern disease.

  9. thepenforests says:

    I’m curious as to what the actual limits of reusability are when it comes to rockets. Say we follow Elon’s lead and sink a ton of effort into making our rockets super reusable – in the end, how many times could we plausibly fly a given rocket before it’s just not viable anymore? And how much could we minimize the required maintenance between each flight? Ultimately, how cheap could we eventually make each launch?

    I ask because I have no idea how much our previous failures in this regard (see: the space shuttle, which apparently cost $450 million for each launch and required months of maintenance before relaunch) were due to incompetence/bad design/bad incentives/whatever, and how much they were due to it just being a really hard problem. Like, I assume even if we put all of our collective civilizational effort into it, and we tried to make our design as reusable as possible, we’d still never be able to make flying a rocket as routine as flying a 747. Launches just seem too…violent, for lack of a better word, for that to be possible. Too hard on the rocket.

    But how close could we get? I assume it’s possible to have a rocket that’s able to safely launch 10 or so times. Could we eventually have a rocket that launches, say, 100 times? 1000? Could we bring launch costs down to, say, 10 million? 1 million? I have no idea what’s actually realistic and what’s not, so I’m asking you guys (well, realistically, I’m mostly asking John Schilling, but I’d take an answer from anyone who’s informed).

    • John Schilling says:

      Ten is pretty easy. Note that things like rocket engines typically have service lives good for ten or more normal flights, because that’s what it takes to get through a reasonable test program without consuming an unreasonable number of engines. You have to scrub your design for the odd component or structure with an unusually short expected life, which is I expect what SpaceX has done for the Falcon 9 block 5.

      A hundred would almost certainly be doable with existing technology development, but would pretty much require the entire vehicle be designed to that end. And it would come at a substantial cost in performance, which is a big part of the reason it hasn’t yet been done – the people who make the decisions mostly do get to enjoy the performance and mostly don’t have to pay the launch costs, or at least they didn’t before we had billionaires running space programs out-of-pocket.

      A thousand might stretch some aspects of the system to the breaking point, or drive the performance penalty up past 100%. You might be able to reach that benchmark with existing technology and good engineering, but you’d probably find at least a few places (e.g. thermal protection systems) where you’d need serious technology development.

      Also note that the best existing space launch systems tend to crash and burn on 1-2% of their flights, and that’s without attempting a high-stress entry and landing. That would put a damper on any plans to use them 100+ times. But, every flight of an existing launch system other than Falcon, is the first flight of an untested vehicle whose base design has probably flown less than a hundred times, which puts them at the worst part of the bathtub curve for system failure. We can almost certainly do better when we are flying proven vehicles. But nobody really understands how to design and operate for reliability in that environment, so there’s work to be done on that front as well.

    • gbdub says:

      With current tech, you have to add a lot of weight and extra gear to a make a rocket reusable – extra stuff that doesn’t contribute to the core function of putting stuff into orbit. As John notes, this is a prohibitive performance penalty.

      It’s less about stuff wearing out, and more the stuff you don’t need for a one way trip – landing gear, extra fuel, heat shields, parachutes… and all the fuel to haul that stuff to high velocity on the way up. All for vehicles that have slim performance margins in the first place.

      The other problem is payloads – at least for now, there just aren’t that many things that need to go to space, and the things that do are super expensive. This means they are not that sensitive to moderate per flight savings, but ARE extremely sensitive to reliability, which drives up costs because of all the unique design, analysis, and testing that goes into each launch n

      • John Schilling says:

        I wouldn’t say the performance penalty is prohibitive, except in the context of a market where there is no precedent for reusable launch vehicles. If your rocket can carry 7,000 kg of payload and your competitor’s similar (and similarly-priced) rocket can carry 10,000 kg of payload, and there’s no used-spaceship lot just down the road from Cape Canaveral, then obviously that 3,000 kg penalty is crippling. Which means nobody ever does it and the used-spaceship market never develops.

        SpaceX had to make the F9 semi-reusable, and cheaper up front than his competitors, to break that cycle. Some of Elon’s ventures are fairly dubious, but that one was a legitimately impressive and important achievement.

        OK, doing the math, I estimate a 34% penalty in LEO payload for making the Falcon 9 first stage reusable, and I think recovering the upper stage would push that to 45%. That’s for the roughly ten flights that I expect the current Falcon 9 could handle without significant re-engineering (and note that recovering the upper stage would be a major engineering project as well).

        • cassander says:

          related question. Am I correct in assuming that’s why the falcon 9 relies on powered landing instead of parachutes, to avoid the weight penalty from the chutes and structural changes they’d need?

          • John Schilling says:

            The reserve propellant required for powered landing weighs more than a parachute for the same landed mass. Powered landing gives you the advantage of an upright landing on the designated recovery pad (or ship), where parachutes are a bit more random in touchdown position and orientation. Since you probably can’t reuse a rocket that’s been dunked in salt water and you probably won’t get permission to parachute into CCAFS, that leads to significant recovery complications.

            Also, the landing videos aren’t nearly as cool.

          • cassander says:

            This might be the kerbal space program talking, but what’s wrong with putting the parachutes on top, or at least above the center of mass, some landing legs on the bottom? Seems like that would keep it upright.

            The lack of cool factor, I grant, is a big handicap.

          • Knowing Musk, I would expect it’s intended as a prototype for a future spacecraft intended to land on and take off from the Moon, where parachutes are obviously worse than useless.

          • bean says:

            Knowing Musk, I would expect it’s intended as a prototype for a future spacecraft intended to land on and take off from the Moon, where parachutes are obviously worse than useless.

            Not the Moon. Mars. Much of the weird stuff that SpaceX does is completely explicable if you remember that they’re really obsessed with landing on Mars. (This actually comes from a senior person in their propulsion department.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Aside from the Mars issue, which really is a big deal for SpaceX, putting the parachute at the top isn’t going to be good enough for anything as long and skinny as a rocket stage – or at least, you’d need some pretty beefy landing legs (wide footprint and rated for high torque loads) to make it so. Between wind drift and pendulum-mode oscillation, it’s not going to come down close enough to vertical to stay upright just because the parachute is at the top.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Parachutes are difficult in the real world. I recall Blue Origin lost several (test) craft in a row because of parachute mishaps, in one case the parachute deploying on launch.

            Those were probably solvable, but it seems the effort to fix that problem was instead spent making the engines throttleable and getting attitude control, which gets you so much more useful stuff.

          • Lambert says:

            How accurate can you get parachute landings? How big of a circle could you hit 95% of the time?
            I’m sure you could eschew round chutes for something fancier (Gemini Rogallo Wing, anyone?), but there’s no certainty that would be easier to develop than powered descent.
            And it would be utterly at the mercy of the weather. A sudden gust at touchdown and you will not be going back to space today.

    • Basil Elton says:

      I think we may never find out the real limits. If we’re going “all of our collective civilizational effort” scale and aiming at as easy and cheap access to space as possible, then we’ll most likely advance rockets just enough to build more effective launch systems such as launch loops, sky hooks or an entire orbital ring; or a space elevator of course (although I think that’s one of the most stretched options and it’s got so many attention in media only because it is the simplest to understand). An orbital ring once built can make costs of putting one person to orbit comparable to those of a bust ticket, not a 747 flight.

  10. actualitems says:

    Personal finance/retirement/tax question…

    There is an income limit to be eligible to make contributions to a Roth IRA. However, a workaround exists, known as a “back door” Roth, which is to make after-tax contributions to a traditional IRA and then immediately transfer/convert those to a Roth IRA. There is no income limit to be eligible to do this workaround.

    So why is there an income limit to be eligible to make contributions to a Roth IRA? Why make people jump through an extra administrative hoop simply because their income above a certain limit considering the end result of the extra administrative hoop cancels the effect of the income eligibility limit in the first place? Why not remove the income limit to make contributions to a Roth IRA?

    What am I missing?

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Cynical guess is someone (or several someones) found and popularized a loophole that the writers of the Roth limit did not predict. And that there is not enough political will to close it nor to actively roll back the rule that makes it useful.

      Cynical^2: The rule was never meant to be enforced, just get the people who passed it some electoral brownie points for the appearance of doing something about inequality.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Allowing Roth conversion in general is good for government finances in the short term, especially with high-income taxpayers, since the conversion process involves realizing deferred taxable income and capital gains and paying taxes on it immediately (and at ordinary income tax rates, for pre-tax 401k/IRA conversions to Roth and for short-term capital gains for after-tax 401k conversions). The government loses out on taxes when the money is eventually withdrawn, but that’s years or decades down the road.

        Backdoor Roth contributions are an abuse of the rules (per your first cynical guess), and they have a fairly low benefit to short-term government revenue, but they’re still a net positive (the in-plan conversions are usually quarterly or annual, so contributions over a 3-12 month period have a chance to appreciate, then the gains are taxable as short-term capital gains when the conversion happens).

        So if Congress were to change the rules to disallow in-plan conversions, they’d be facing two negative (from the perspective of their incentives):
        1. The CBO, which scores fiscal impact based on a 10-year window, will show the change as increasing the deficit. This will make the bill harder to pass, since it requires either offsets elsewhere (spending cuts or tax increases) or handing the other party an excuse to attack you as being fiscally irresponsible and also facing a higher procedural bar for passing the bill (only bills that are scored as reducing the deficit at the end of the 10-year window are eligible for the reconciliation process to bypass Senate filibusters).

        2. The change will be unpopular with voters and donors who benefit from backdoor Roth contributions, and the backdoor process is well-known and popular enough for this to be significant.

  11. SamChevre says:

    Western Massachusetts Slate Star Codex meetup–late announcement

    I just realized this isn’t on the sidebar for some reason:
    February 22 (Friday-today) 6:30
    Packards (library Room)
    Northampton MA

    It’s a friendly, small group of people who are weirder than they look.

  12. johan_larson says:

    I have a cold. I have all the usual symptoms, and I’m doing all the usual things to feel better. They’re helping a bit, I think.

    But it’s got me thinking. OTC remedies are typically pretty weaksauce, and doctors won’t prescribe anything for the common cold. But are there remedies for the symptoms of the common cold that aren’t used because they are expensive, addictive, dangerous or unconscionable? Asking for a friend.

    • psmith says:

      Ephedrine might help with congestion, and the stimulant effect may help you get up and go if that’s what you need to do.

    • Plumber says:


      Pseudoephedrine is still effective, it’s non-prescription but still behind the counter and your limited to how much you may buy a month in California (see the television show Breaking Bad for why).

      I buy some every month during Winter because it’s likely me, my wife, or our older son will have a runny nose soon, but if you have younger kids keep it out of reach.

      Afrin also works, but you’re not supposed to use it more than three days in a row because it’s habit forming.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Yeah, the Sudafed they have behind the counter. It takes me from “I can’t move: here is my last will and testament” to “let’s fight ALL the Dallas Cowboys!”

    • SamChevre says:

      Pseudoephedrine is in my opinion underused–it’s excellent at reducing discomfort and keeping colds from progressing to ear/sinus infections. It’s OTC, but you have to show your ID to a pharmacist–so most people use the on-the-shelf phenylephrine products instead, and they are much less effective.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Suffer with a cold, or get my name on a list of potential meth producers/smurfs… uh, yeah, I’ll stick with the cold. I won’t buy the PE stuff because it doesn’t work, though.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Since everyone else is suggesting ephedrines, I’ll point out that in the “addictive and dangerous” category there’s meth, which apparently works quite well as a decongestant. The levo isomer is legal (and not addictive or particularly dangerous), but I’ve heard the illegal stuff works way better.

      • Plumber says:

        @The Nybbler,

        I suspect you’re jesting, but just in case, about half of the patients involuntarily placed in the San Francisco General Hospital psych ward at most times are on meth and are insane until the drug wears off.

      • johan_larson says:

        The good news is we can make your nose stop running. The bad news is you may be on the street selling your ass for smack six months from now.

        • Plumber says:

          No, it’s usually pain killers that lead to that, but speaking of smack one of the worst duties for the Department of Public Works is because of people dropping used needles into drains, and there’s a lot more of that than 10 years ago.

          Recently there’s been junkies seeking out used needles who are hoping to find trace amounts, so the City provides clean needles for the junkies to use so they don’t share them and potentially spread GIV, and some use them anyway so desperate they are for a “fix”.

          At this point I almost think it would just be easier to provide them with the actual drug not methadone.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Just about everything in the amphetamine family (Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine, Vyvanse, Focalin, etc) works as a decongestant. Meth’s in this family. Ephedrine and psuedoephedrine aren’t technically amphetamines, but they’re chemically similar and work as decongestants through the same mechanism.

    • sentientbeings says:

      The doc prescribed me a bottle of brompheniramine maleate, pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, and dextromethorphan hydrobromide that has helped with my cold. Much more effective than your standard DayQuil-type thing.

      • SamChevre says:

        Note you can buy all those individually OTC, so you don’t have to go to the doctor–you can create your own by just taking the appropriate doses of the components.

        (One of my gripes is combination products that are more expensive than their components.)

        • sentientbeings says:

          Good to know. I rarely go to the doctor and went this time because I was just miserable. Next time I’ll brew my own cocktail.

      • johan_larson says:

        The stuff I’m taking, available with no complications here in Canada, has daytime and nighttime doses. Both include dextromethorphan hydrobromide, pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, and acetaminophen. The nighttime dose adds doxylamine succinate.

    • b_jonas says:

      Sure. Staying home in bed rather than going to work is an effective remedy, but it’s expensive because most people don’t have enough days of paid leave to stay home every time they feel slightly ill.

      And yes, like the other commenters said, there are also multiple different decongestants I can buy in a pharmacy without a prescription, they do reduce the symptoms to some amount, but they are allowed to be used only in a low dose for a short period.

    • dangerous or unconscionable

      Death seems pretty effective.

    • rahien.din says:

      Opiates are really good cough suppressors.

      So a speedball might be a really good cold remedy.

  13. Cliff says:

    I guess Scott is not as grounded (psychologically suited for this) as Steve Sailer, who at least appears to show that you can do whatever you want as long as you’re being honest and not hateful, and live a normal life and be happy and respected by elites, even if many people think you’re scum. (Not that I’m in any way comparing Scott’s opinions to Steve’s)

    BUT, if there are any concerns about his job etc. I think Scott could easily be supported as a full-time writer if he wanted to be. I haven’t supported him on Patreon because he basically tells you not to do it on his Patreon page, but if he said he wanted to transition to full-time writing and needed help, I would definitely help and I imagine many other people would as well to the point that he would have no problem.

    • psmith says:

      I wish I used a pseudonym. I thought about using a pseudonym in 1990, but I couldn’t figure out how I would cash the checks. That was a mistake.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Steve Sailer is a witch, doing witch things and supported by other witches. He’s already been booted from polite society, including right-wing polite society (The National Review). That’s one strategy, but it doesn’t work if you want to associate with non-witches or worse, witch-hunters and witch-smellers. Particularly not if you’re living and working in the witch-hunting capital of America.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        What’s a witch-smeller? Someone who doesn’t actively hunt, but will detect and avoid witches without needing a hunter to tell them first?

        • Nornagest says:

          Apparently it was a role in some 20th-century African cultures that believed in witchcraft:

          The wiki article is light on details, but it sounds like a sort of ceremonial scapegoating.

        • Deiseach says:

          Description from H. Rider Haggard’s “King Solomon’s Mines” of a ceremonial gathering amongst a Zulu tribe for witches to be discovered (that the witches and evil-doers all happened to be wealthy tribesmen whose wealth the king coveted, or otherwise influential and seen as threats to his power, was surely only a coincidence) and executed:

          Again silence fell upon the place, and again it was broken by the king lifting his hand. Instantly we heard a pattering of feet, and from out of the masses of warriors strange and awful figures appeared running towards us. As they drew near we saw that these were women, most of them aged, for their white hair, ornamented with small bladders taken from fish, streamed out behind them. Their faces were painted in stripes of white and yellow; down their backs hung snake-skins, and round their waists rattled circlets of human bones, while each held a small forked wand in her shrivelled hand. In all there were ten of them. When they arrived in front of us they halted, and one of them, pointing with her wand towards the crouching figure of Gagool, cried out —

          “Mother, old mother, we are here.”

          “Good! good! good!” answered that aged Iniquity. “Are your eyes keen, Isanusis [witch doctresses], ye seers in dark places?”

          “Mother, they are keen.”

          “Good! good! good! Are your ears open, Isanusis, ye who hear words that come not from the tongue?”

          “Mother, they are open.”

          “Good! good! good! Are your senses awake, Isanusis — can ye smell blood, can ye purge the land of the wicked ones who compass evil against the king and against their neighbours? Are ye ready to do the justice of ‘Heaven above,’ ye whom I have taught, who have eaten of the bread of my wisdom, and drunk of the water of my magic?”

          “Mother, we can.”

          “Then go! Tarry not, ye vultures; see, the slayers”— pointing to the ominous group of executioners behind —“make sharp their spears; the white men from afar are hungry to see. Go!”

          With a wild yell Gagool’s horrid ministers broke away in every direction, like fragments from a shell, the dry bones round their waists rattling as they ran, and headed for various points of the dense human circle. We could not watch them all, so we fixed our eyes upon the Isanusi nearest to us. When she came to within a few paces of the warriors she halted and began to dance wildly, turning round and round with an almost incredible rapidity, and shrieking out sentences such as “I smell him, the evil-doer!” “He is near, he who poisoned his mother!” “I hear the thoughts of him who thought evil of the king!”

          Quicker and quicker she danced, till she lashed herself into such a frenzy of excitement that the foam flew in specks from her gnashing jaws, till her eyes seemed to start from her head, and her flesh to quiver visibly. Suddenly she stopped dead and stiffened all over, like a pointer dog when he scents game, and then with outstretched wand she began to creep stealthily towards the soldiers before her. It seemed to us that as she came their stoicism gave way, and that they shrank from her. As for ourselves, we followed her movements with a horrible fascination. Presently, still creeping and crouching like a dog, the Isanusi was before them. Then she halted and pointed, and again crept on a pace or two.

          Suddenly the end came. With a shriek she sprang in and touched a tall warrior with her forked wand. Instantly two of his comrades, those standing immediately next to him, seized the doomed man, each by one arm, and advanced with him towards the king.

      • Cliff says:

        Maybe I frequent the wrong places, I generally see him treated respectfully online

        • Reasoner says:

          Part of the issue is that the regressive leftists tend to go after people who are closer to the borderline of being acceptable. Sailer is just so beyond the pale that he doesn’t attract attention. Outgroups vs fargroups etc.

          Remember Razib Khan getting fired from the NY Times? Sailer wouldn’t have been able to get a job at the Times in the first place.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      It’s hard to blame Scott for wanting to make the income of a psychiatrist rather than a professional witch writer.
      I don’t see any way it’s rational for him to practice psychiatry in San Francisco rather than moving somewhere with sane housing prices and fewer Commie witch hunters, but no one should question his decision to keep his day job.

      • Cliff says:

        I’d be surprised if he couldn’t match or exceed his current income. Considering the audience of this blog. If he actually wanted to reach the maximum number of people and had a full work day to do it, I imagine he could grow the audience quite a bit as well. A first step would be just to ask for people to support his writing and see what happens.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m not sure about that. He’s making $2,300 a month on Patron right now, with 400 supporters. If we assume new readers would be just as likely to support him as the old ones — and I’m pretty sure they’d be less likely — then he’d need to at least quadruple his audience to even approach a Bay Area doctor’s salary. That sounds like a tall order to me.

          • LesHapablap says:

            He could make far more from his current readership if he asked. I would guess 2x-10x.

          • Cliff says:

            He hasn’t asked for support though, he pretty much asks you NOT to support him. If he said he wanted to become a full-time writer and asked for help, I would give him at least $2-3,000/yr

          • Lambert says:

            I suspect Scott is uncomfortable with the idea that what and how much he writes would affect his income.
            Conflicts of interest and all that.

  14. J.R. says:

    Regarding today’s quasi-visible post:

    I was peripherally aware of SSC’s bad reputation (especially that of the subreddit) in Blue Tribe circles, but today’s post made me crushingly sad. I suspect that I am more Blue Tribe than most commenters. It makes me sick to think that people who I ostensibly agree with on most issues — and, indeed, likely agree with Scott on most issues — are labeling Scott as a Nazi-sympathizer just because he dares to host honest, polite debate on the issues, and that they are so uncharitable that they’ll believe that Scott somehow is representative of some people with views that are, say, anti-liberal or otherwise outside of the Overton window just because they saw some out-of-context screencaps. Maybe my head was buried in the sand; I don”t use reddit or any social media as a way to insulate myself from the craziness of online culture.

    It is no exaggeration to say that, over the 2 years that I’ve been reading it, this blog made me a better person and has given me more joy than everything except for my relationship with my wife. Following the principle of charity in my daily life has improved my relationships and generated more insightful, productive discussions than my previous attitude, which was to rush to judgment. Modeling my arguments like Scott’s — or talking about his blog posts — made my reasoning more careful, more nuanced. I became more humble and didn’t assume that I knew the truth just because some journalist was tweeting about someone or because some meme was in the water. I had to have the skepticism and curiosity to go investigate myself. And when I was proven wrong, I learned to not get too attached to my priors and resort to shouting as a way to avoid concession. But also, I love the community that’s been cultivated here — I love the wide range of topics that are discussed and I actually do enjoy hearing what my ideological opponents have to say on current events.

    All this to say: I’m deeply saddened that this place that I treasure has been attacked by my in-group. I always knew outrage culture was terrible, but for some reason, I expected our host to be immune, like this haven could not be touched by their whisper networks. And it’s sad to know that Scott has been (mildly) censoring himself on this blog, since he is no doubt being pilloried for some of his more controversial posts, which I have happened to enjoy immensely. The tag “Things I Will Regret Writing” isn’t funny anymore. This year’s 70% prediction that SSC will get fewer hits than last year makes more sense now, too.

    What else is there to do but to continue the work? Stay off the internet. Cultivate my garden. Be even more charitable in daily life — after all, some people out there are accusing Scott of being toxic!

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I sometimes feel this way, too. And then I then remind myself how many SSCers existed fifteen years ago, and how many exist today. And I look at the list of meetups.

      Judgmental people exist. They grow in number at times. They decline at others.

      SSCers are growing now. They could decline later. If you know what you’d prefer, then you know what to do.

    • raj says:

      I tried to find examples of people being uncharitable to SSC or calling scott a nazi but I couldn’t. I mean, being internet-famous will lead to trolls doing those things, I don’t think they are being made up but I’m not convinced they are significant in number/anything but noise.

  15. Walter says:

    SSC commenters who play video games, does anyone else play through ‘starting characters’ in reverse order? That is, you play with the one who appeals to you least first, and work your way to the ones who you find best last?

    • moonfirestorm says:

      I’d be surprised to find myself ever playing every character/class in a video game at all.

      Typically I would only be going through the game once anyway unless it’s fantastically good, so of course I’d pick the most interesting character first, because it’s the only character I’m going to pick.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I go with whatever appeals to me most first, because I don’t know if I’ll like the game enough to play through a second time.

      Sometimes I don’t get it right the first time, though. I chose Alexios in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, but after replaying with Kassandra I liked her better and that’s my character I’m keeping for the DLC.

    • Civilis says:

      A lot of this is really context-dependent with regards to the game in question. I’m the sort of person that, when presented with multiple options, tends to get the ones I like least out of the way first, so it’s something that might be applicable to the way I play video games, in certain circumstances.

      It generally only applies to a subset of games where I have motivation to try a large number of characters. For a specific example, a fighting game where extra content is unlocked for completing the story mode with all characters, and the story mode for a character can be completed in one session or less (the Dynasty Warriors games, for example). The first character I select will almost certainly be the most generic character, to give me a chance to learn the system; if there are a lot of characters, this may be the first couple of characters. After that, once I know the system and can clear the story without much difficulty, I’ll get the least enjoyable characters out of the way. I’ll end up with the most enjoyable characters, to take advantage of the skills I’ve developed to really go crazy on the game.

      Interestingly enough, something similar happened with my playthrough of Octopath Traveler, a RPG where each of the eight characters that end up in the party have a parallel story where they are the main character. I picked the character I thought most interesting to start the story, but I ended up finishing her story last. I finished up the stories in pretty much reverse order of how much I liked the characters.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I typically play any videogame to death* – get all the achievements, every secret, every skill, every character. First character choice isn’t always the least engaging, but it is definitely something I consider. Sometimes it’s the determining factor, but somewhat more often is me guessing which character is intended to be everyone’s intro to the game. I theorize that developers probably put the most playtest time into the first character in the selection screen, so it’s likely to be the most “proper” first experience.

      So, in most RPGs, I start with the straightforward fighter human. I played male Shepard first. I played Axton and Athena first. I played Alexios first. I specced Geralt for plain swordfighting first.

      *There are exceptions, namely with games that were just too expansive. For instance, I’ve yet to play every race in Skyrim.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        The races don’t really matter in Skyrim: you get a handful of abilities, most of which will be useless in 90% of gameplay. A few of them have resist bonuses that will be useful. Sometimes a few bits of dialogue change.

        For Skyrim “completion”, I’d say you want to be playing with every skill on at least one character. Of course, if you’re playing the game to death anyway, that may just be your first character with a couple respecs to swap around your perks for a different primary combat method.

        • acymetric says:

          Skyrim made it way to easy to essentially be good at everything. I mean, sure there were ways to get insane stat boosts in other games but those were more or less hacks/bugs, not a result of playing the game and leveling normally.

    • b_jonas says:

      Not in the sense of saving the dessert for last. Yes in the sense that I would play the fighter character first, before the wizard, even if the wizard is ultimately preferable, because I expect that the fighter is easier to learn as a begginer, and so a more gentle introduction to how the game works. That doesn’t count as “reverse order” though, because such video games offer the simpler fighter character as the first choice.

  16. Deiseach says:

    On previous threads, there has been discussion of how advances in renewable energy/clean/green energy are going to depend on advances in battery storage. Relevant (I hope) to that, see this story about an alleged breakthrough in increasing battery life not alone for smart phones but electric cars (and presumably other battery-based devices):

    The new material also has the potential to significantly improve issues of battery lifetime while also ensuring that batteries can continue to become smaller without loss of performance.

    This ink-based nanomaterial, called MXenes, will potentially enhance both the lifetime and energy storage capabilities in rechargeable batteries which users of electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops and electric cars encounter every day.

    The discovery could mean that the average phone battery life, roughly 10 hours of talk time, could increase to 30-40 hours.

    It could also have significant environmental impact, as the real time range of electric cars could increase to upwards of 500km (from an average range of 180-190km) meaning a car could drive from Cork to Letterkenny on a single charge.

    …Professor Valeria Nicolosi, AMBER lead investigator on the project, and professor of nanomaterials and advanced microscopy at TCD, said: “Despite progress in batteries development there has been limited success in extending lifetime and improving their energy storage capabilities.

    EDIT: Link to the actual paper for the interested.

    EDIT EDIT: I’m easily amused, but I was tickled to find that there’s a Mobius teaching at Trinity: “Prof. Matthias E. Möbius (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)”. I also recently found out that Schrodinger (yes, that one) became an Irish citizen after the war and was head of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies at the invitation of our Taoiseach, and one of the survivors of the 1916 Rising, Éamonn de Valera, a mathematician himself (though in a minor way):

    In 1938, after the Anschluss, Schrödinger had problems because of his flight from Germany in 1933 and his known opposition to Nazism. He issued a statement recanting this opposition (he later regretted doing so and explained the reason to Einstein). However, this did not fully appease the new dispensation and the University of Graz dismissed him from his job for political unreliability. He suffered harassment and received instructions not to leave the country, but he and his wife fled to Italy. From there, he went to visiting positions in Oxford and Ghent University.

    In the same year he received a personal invitation from Ireland’s Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera – a mathematician himself – to reside in Ireland and agree to help establish an Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin. He moved to Clontarf, Dublin, became the Director of the School for Theoretical Physics in 1940 and remained there for 17 years. He became a naturalized Irish citizen in 1948, but retained his Austrian citizenship. He wrote around 50 further publications on various topics, including his explorations of unified field theory.

    In 1944, he wrote What Is Life?, which contains a discussion of negentropy and the concept of a complex molecule with the genetic code for living organisms. According to James D. Watson’s memoir, DNA, the Secret of Life, Schrödinger’s book gave Watson the inspiration to research the gene, which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix structure in 1953. Similarly, Francis Crick, in his autobiographical book What Mad Pursuit, described how he was influenced by Schrödinger’s speculations about how genetic information might be stored in molecules.

    Schrödinger stayed in Dublin until retiring in 1955. He had a lifelong interest in the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism, which influenced his speculations at the close of What Is Life? about the possibility that individual consciousness is only a manifestation of a unitary consciousness pervading the universe. A manuscript “Fragment from an unpublished dialogue of Galileo” from this time recently resurfaced at The King’s Hospital boarding school, Dublin after it was written for the School’s 1955 edition of their Blue Coat to celebrate his leaving of Dublin to take up his appointment as Chair of Physics at the University of Vienna.

    • Aapje says:

      These kind of claims are quite common. An issue is that what sometimes works on a tiny scale in a lab under controlled circumstances, often:
      – doesn’t work well often enough
      – doesn’t work when scaled up
      – can’t be produced economically and/or reliably
      – doesn’t work at the temperatures, pressures and such that it needs to, to be viable outside a lab
      – deteriorates too quickly
      – etc

      Press releases tend to ‘forget’ about these issues and risks, because they are marketing for the researcher and university.

      Most of these ‘breakthroughs’ never go anywhere.

    • broblawsky says:

      Silicon anode work (which, I should note, I wrote my thesis on and hold more than one patent related to) is one of the likely directions for improving battery energy density and reducing costs. Most Samsung/Panasonic/Tesla batteries already contain small quantities of silicon or silicon oxide in their anodes. The real problem is that while Si anodes substantially reduce the cost and improve the gravimetric energy density of Li-ion batteries, they don’t do as much for volumetric energy density, which makes them less desirable for EV applications. There are also some lifespan questions that haven’t been answered yet.

      The other most popular areas of research for Li-ion battery improvement are sulfur cathodes (ultra-cheap, high-capacity, but even worse on volumetric energy density) and solid-state batteries (severe technical and manufacturing issues). There are also alternative technologies for grid storage such as zinc-bromine, organic redox flow, and a variety of others; all of these are too poor in energy density to power EVs, but they are very cheap and therefore useful for grid applications.

  17. ManyCookies says:

    @Scott Alexander

    The deleted post is still viewable on the sidebar, and can be read from the home page.

    • AG says:

      Yeah, I was about to ask who are these miraculous 9 people who managed to comment on a post not found?

    • gbdub says:

      I think it has been Scott’s recent practice to make his “things I will regret writing” posts unlinkable for the first couple days to avoid some of the exact stuff he complains about (i.e. he would likely get linked by a couple high profile right-leaning sites, the post would blow up, and this would be used as further evidence by the people out to get Scott that he is an etc. Neo-Nazi).

      So it still shows up on the main page but you can’t link it or comment on it.

  18. Murphy says:

    Trying to find an old (probably)LessWrong story.

    there was a post, I think it was on LessWrong but could have been one of the other rationalsphere sites.

    It was in the form of a story or hypothetical about a fantasy world where humans spend thousands of years fighting endless wars again demons and ancient evils that slaughter hundreds of millions of people wholesale until eventually the human kingdoms get the upper hand and finally beat back the demons until they’re a shadow of their former threat.

    then it has something like “now Imagine that one of these ancient horrors approached a human king and offered a deal in exchange for advantage against one of his human rivals. to do something to slightly weaken the spells the clerics use against the demons or the alliance against the demons….

    it was a slightly heavy handed allegory about vaccines.

    It included a link thrown in at the end to an article about US agents posing as medical personnel staging a fake vaccine drive when they were trying to track down Osama Bin Laden.

    But despite a fair bit of googling I can’t seem to find it.

    • Walter says:

      I remember that post, it was some ‘big name’ doing the posting. I think it was EY.

      As far as why you can’t find it…was it maybe in one of the weekly open threads? I think it probably vanished along with the LW migration from the old green site to its current state.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I think what you are remembering is a sort of conflation of the first section of this, together with the whole of this, both from Almost No One Is Evil, Almost Everything Is Broken.

      • Murphy says:

        Thanks! that’s it!

        Imagine a fantasy world inhabited by both humans and ancient, unspeakable evils. The ancient evils ravage hundreds of kingdoms every generation, taking countless millions of lives year after year. Eventually, the humans learn to protect themselves, lessening their casualties, driving the ancient horrors back. Some are even vanquished entirely. But it is slow, and uneven, and a single mistake can undo decades of grueling progress. Millions still perish, but fewer each year, and bit by bit humanity inches towards victory.

        One day, a band of human renegades attacks the kingdom, slaughtering thousands of innocents. The kingdom retaliates and hunts the renegades across the world for years, dedicating a substantial fraction of their resources to wiping the enemy out. But the leader eludes them – even years later, when the renegades have been all but completely crushed, the once-leader still taunts them from the shadows, and the citizens cry out for vengeance.

        One of the Ancient Horrors, on the brink of total annihilation, hears of this, and senses an opportunity. From corrupted shadow, a broken whisper hisses in the ears of the kingdom’s leaders: “I offer you this exchange, mortals of the kingdom: I will give you one chance to annihilate your sworn enemy, the one whose blood you so crave – and all I ask in exchange is that your clerics lower their defenses in the human lands where I yet remain.”

        The leaders confer among themselves.

        “Er, I’m not sure this is a good idea,” says one. “This horror has killed millions, far more than the mere criminal we hunt, and we are so close to wiping them out entirely. Best case, we lose years of progress and hundreds of victims that we could have saved. Worst case, we’ll risk a full resurgence and millions of deaths if the horror comes back into its full power. Do I even have to say this? It’s obviously not worth allying ourselves with an ancient unspeakable evil whose voice is the essence of death just to kill one lousy human, no matter how awful they are. Right? We all agree, that’s just obviously stupid, right?”

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I had mixed-to-negative feelings about the CIA using a polio group to do its work before, but that really paints what a bad idea it was.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the CIA using this technique was probably a pretty bad idea, and it illustrates a general problem that comes up a lot in war on terror stuff–there’s some tradeoff made between some long-running value (privacy, norms against torture, presumption of innocence, open debate of government actions, eradication of polio, protection of journalists) and some immediate goal (trying to prevent the next terrorist attack, trying to find Bin Laden, trying to find evidence of a link between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein, maintaining political support for a long-running war). And the immediate goal of the people fighting the WOT seems to win without much consideration of the importance of the other goals.

  19. Radu Floricica says:

    So, a post that was challenging “out benevolent leadership” came up, and commenting broke after nine comments. Not suspicious at all. Praise Big Brother.

    • Walter says:

      I’m honestly confused. Scott is the site owner. He is also the author of the post, and presumably the one who took the post down. Who are you saying is challenging who, and what is suspicious about it?

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Oh, that part was tongue in cheek. The comments are probably just disabled.

        • albatross11 says:

          I’m curious what caused the OT to spin out of control enough that Scott needed to kill it so quickly.

          • gbdub says:

            He probably never meant to have the comments on that post open in the first place – but fast people with RSS feeds.

          • Walter says:

            My guess about the comments on that post is something like:

            50% expressions of sympathy prefaced with “I know you didn’t ask for sympathy…”
            40% dunking on the haters
            10% posts by the haters explaining why they are right.

        • Plumber says:

          Nothing sinister.
          Our host said some links were broken so:

          Scott Alexander says:
          February 22, 2019 at 11:51 am
          I deleted and reposted because I couldn’t fix the issue above. Since you seem to be able to comment now, I think it worked

  20. Lord Nelson says:

    Short version: does anyone have tips for dealing with severe mood swings, or suggestions for (hormonal) birth control that has a lesser chance of causing said mood swings?

    Long version: I recently started hormonal birth control. Mono-Linyah to be precise, which is a combination estrogen/progestin pill. A few days after I started, I noticed that I was much more emotional than usual. I’m breaking into tears far too often, sometimes due to a minor trigger (stress, hunger, something that somebody said, etc), and sometimes due to no specific reason. Things that used to bother me only slightly, before I started taking the pill, now make me cry for hours. If I’m lucky these crying spells last for 1-2 hours. If I’m unlucky they last for 4-5 hours. The worst one lasted for 11 straight hours. It’s exhausting, it’s infuriating, and it’s interfering with my life.

    I’m almost positive that the birth control pill is the culprit. My mood went back to “normal” (ie, pre-birth control status) during the 7 days I was taking the placebo pills. I am on my second month of the pill, and the mood swings show no signs of going away. Do these side effects calm down with time? If not, what can I do to mitigate them? Living with this for 3 weeks of every month is not something I can deal with.

    I asked my doctor if I could try switching to a different pill for BC, but she is hesitant to do so. In the meantime, I want to try anything I can to make these mood swings go away. Ideas so far:
    – Gradually shift the time I’m taking the pills. I take the pills shortly before I go to bed, and I’ve noticed that my moodiness is worst in the morning.
    – Make sure I eat breakfast and lunch every day. This helps a little, but the downside is that increased appetite is also a side effect, and I’m trying to avoid gaining weight. (Prior to this, I always skipped breakfast.)
    – Increasing my sleep from 6 hours to 7 or 8 hours per night. No idea if this will help, but I’m exhausted all the time anyway, so it’s worth a shot.

    Any other suggestions?

    • dndnrsn says:

      Ask your doctor about alternative methods of birth control than the pill. My understanding (vague, secondhand, and years-old) is that hormonal IUDs, for example, need to deliver a smaller dose of hormones than a pill in order to do what they do, and copper IUDs are entirely hormone free (but have the potential side effects of making periods worse). IUDs have a bad name in the US and to a lesser extent Canada because of the Dalkon Shield scandal, but it had its own specific design flaw, and they’re used widely in some other parts of the world without issues.

      Getting more than 6 hours of sleep would definitely help, with this and in general. I’m like a zombie on less than 7 and do best on 8-9; some people can get away with little sleep but they’re the minority. With regard to eating breakfast and lunch, a good way to do that without being tempted to eat more is to have a regimented diet: eat the exact same breakfast and lunch every day, with the ingredients and amounts established, or switch between a few different menu options, or construct each within given parameters.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        I didn’t mention this in the original thread, because I didn’t think it was relevant, but the main reason I’m on birth control is not to prevent pregnancy. It’s an attempt to fix a few other medical conditions by regulating my hormones. Non-hormonal birth control is not an option, but I’ll talk to my doctor and ask if there are any viable options with smaller doses of hormones.

        Logically, I know that getting more sleep is good for me. However, being a night owl, it’s very hard to convince myself to go to bed earlier. I’ll have to find a way to force myself to shift my sleeping schedule forward a few hours.

        • Lambert says:

          I’ve not done any Gwern-style double blinds, but 0.5mg melatonin in the afternoon seems to
          kind of help me to keep my sleep cycle early.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Ah, I took “must be hormonal” simply to indicate that non-hormonal methods tend to be barrier methods, with a higher expected failure rate, etc (and I’m assuming everyone is an American if I don’t know otherwise; IUDs are unpopulat there). I don’t know anything about hormones, so all I can say there is, if you haven’t seen a specialist in the area, try to do that?

          With regard to sleep, I used to be a night owl, and used to suffer from nasty insomnia. Now I generally get sleepy around 11 at the latest, and wake up around 8, whether I want to or not. I took melatonin for a while but stopped and found it didn’t make much of a difference – I’ll take it if my sleep has been messed up, but it generally doesn’t seem necessary anymore. I think a big part of it is strenuous exercise daily or almost daily, and being willing to just suck up the experience of having to survive on too little sleep for a week or two.

          However, there’s no easy sleep fix. If there was, “how do I get more/better sleep” wouldn’t be such a big issue.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I notice I am confused.

      > If I’m lucky these crying spells last for 1-2 hours. If I’m unlucky they last for 4-5 hours. The worst one lasted for 11 straight hours.
      >I’m almost positive that the birth control pill is the culprit. My mood went back to “normal” (ie, pre-birth control status) during the 7 days I was taking the placebo pills.

      Why on earth are you still taking it? Just stop. Wait a few days to confirm it goes away. Take a deep breath, and work on finding a different BC method (yes, implants are 10x better). Which may or may not include a different doctor, but either way, next time present him/her with a fait accompli, not a polite request.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can quit taking it, at least not without finding a replacement first. The main reason I’m taking this pill is not for the birth control itself, it’s for several other conditions that (I was told) hormonal birth control helps with. And to be fair, it is helping with those specific conditions. Resorting to hormonal birth control was a last-ditch attempt after 10+ years of other medications slowly ruining my GI tract.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Oh, ouch. You’re more at your doctor’s mercy than I first thought, then.
          I’m glad to hear the hormone-messer is helping with the several conditions you’re taking it for., at least 🙁

    • Deiseach says:

      I really would get back to your doctor about changing whatever method you’re using. Maybe pills aren’t going to be effective for you due to precisely this reason. Hormonal effects on mood are definitely a thing, and birth control pills work by modifying hormones.

      I’m going to wildly speculate here, based on pure ignorance and a cursory reading of looking up about the specific pill you mention, so take the following with an entire Silesian mine full of salt.

      Mono-Linyah contains progestin (artificial form of progesterone) and an oestrogen. According to Wikipedia “Progesterone enhances the function of serotonin receptors in the brain, so an excess or deficit of progesterone has the potential to result in significant neurochemical issues. This provides an explanation for why some people resort to substances that enhance serotonin activity such as nicotine, alcohol, and cannabis when their progesterone levels fall below optimal levels”. Also according to Wikipedia “Sudden estrogen withdrawal, fluctuating estrogen, and periods of sustained low estrogen levels correlate with significant mood lowering.”

      According to WebMD, combination birth pills such as Mono-Lynah (i.e. the ones containing progestin and an oestrogen) are because “Your body clears progestin more quickly than the hormones in combination birth control pills”.

      Here’s where the wild speculation part comes in: the particular medication you are on may be knocking the progesterone/oestrogen balance out of whack which is why the mood swings and upset from your usual state. There’s a not greatly helpful article here which has some dietary suggestions (tangentially, it’s the usual frustrating advice that women get around reproductive system problems which is basically ‘suck it up, so what if you’re in pain and your life is affected, this is Normal Nature at work’) but unfortunately I’m afraid the main solution is “keep trying different pills/methods until you find one that works”.

      Good luck!

      • Lord Nelson says:

        Thanks for the link. It is a bit preachy, but at least it gave me some ideas on how to modify my diet. Due to my severe lactose intolerance, I doubt I’m getting enough calcium. Increasing calcium intake (and maybe B-6 as well) is worth a shot. At the very least, it shouldn’t make anything worse.

        It’s also nice to confirm which of the two hormones in the pill is messing up my mood. I figured something like that was happening, but didn’t know enough about brain chemistry to figure out the details.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I think Deiseach identified the central issue: Mono-Linyah contains progestin, which is changing how your serotonin receptors work. It can be potent mood-altering stuff, and in your case it sounds entirely negative and you need to stop: definitely seconding “tell your doctor, don’t politely request.”
      Anecdote: I manifested gender dysphoria and a bad case of OCD a year or two after starting periods. An SSRI helped with serotonin function, but starting Mono-Linyah in college basically cured the GD and may have been a contributing factor in suppressing OCD symptoms, though I’d already done the heavy lifting of curing myself by then.

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      For whatever it’s worth, I was on very low-dose no-breaks birth control for just over a year, and had about three episodes over the first few months that sound like what you’re describing – at least, being very upset and crying much too easily for things that would usually bother me but not to that degree. In my case it did go away with time – I didn’t have any during the last six months or so – but… it was much less severe than what you’re describing. It’s possible sleep is a culprit, especially if you’re exhausted all the time – people vary, but IME lack of sleep can make controlling your emotions a lot harder, especially if it’s prolonged, and six hours is very low. Do you find that if you ever don’t set an alarm, you sleep 10-12 hours? That’s a pretty common sign of being badly short on sleep.

      Aside from that, I think I can just second what others have said – talk to your doctor, this is a catastrophic side effect and she should really be taking it seriously. I assume if you’ve been working with her a long time you have a high opinion of her, but if I’m wrong maybe get a second opinion if you can? For me trying to avoid stressful situations/isolate myself and use ordinary calming-down strategies helped, but that’s not really sustainable on an everyday basis. Good luck and I really hope you find a solution, because that sounds awful.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        When left to my own devices, I sleep for about 9-10 hours, which includes waking up a few times for a bathroom break, or because the cat is disturbing me. Sounds like increasing my sleep should be a priority.

        I’m glad to hear that there’s a chance it will get better with time. I’ve also been diagnosed with anxiety, and I’m sure the negative thought spirals that come along with that aren’t helping the crying spells. I’m going to add “start seeing a psychiatrist again” to my list and see if they have any suggestions. At the very least, they might be able to help me work on strategies to calm down. The only one that reliably works for me is listening to music, which isn’t always an option.

        I have a fairly high opinion of this doctor because she was the only one who correctly diagnosed my condition, and because she’s generally pleasant to interact with in person. However, her track record of believing that my medications are causing “severe” side effects (side effects from previous medications included increased frequency of suicidal thoughts, being so tired I could not function, and nausea/upset stomach) is… not the best.

  21. Well... says:

    My fingers are itching tonight.

    A while ago I read listened to 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson and mostly liked it a lot. (Currently halfway through Red Mars and like it a whole lot more.) Today I was listening to the In Our Time podcast and in this episode they discussed Venus. Based on what I learned, I now realize some of the major plot elements in 2312 are much less plausible than what I’m used to and expect in KSR’s normally quite “hard” style of sci-fi.

    Specifically, in 2312 there’s this big political struggle over cooling down Venus either through a big shade placed in front of the sun or by spinning the planet with an engineered asteroid bombardment. This, I’ve discovered, is somewhat preposterous since Venus is hot mainly because of greenhouse gases rather than its extremely long days. Also, Venus is one of the most volcanic bodies in our solar system, so bombarding it with enough asteroids to spin it would almost certainly be a bad idea if your plan was to make it more habitable (including cooler!) for the people living there.

    Also: part of the political struggle in the book is over the development of cities that will, depending on how much liquid water is created and turned into oceans on Venus, either be coastal oases or underwater ruins. The book makes it sound like Venus has some kind of mountainous landscape where locating a city a few hundred kilometers further this way or that way will make a big difference in elevation, when in reality Venus’s surface is remarkably flat and even.

    • John Schilling says:

      This is the same Kim Stanley Robinson that apparently believed you could significantly increase the average temperature of Mars by planting windmill-powered electric heaters across its surface – or at least that if you had some illicit scheme that required lots of windmills, you could convince the sort of people that would be engaged with colonizing and terraforming Mars that the windmills were just for heating and that building them was a good use of their time and resources.

      KSR is an English-lit major who I think picked up most of his science by osmosis from the science fiction writers around him, and he wasn’t preferentially hanging around with the hard-SF ones. His work does take stylistic cues from hard SF, but there’s not much substance beneath it.

      • Well... says:

        I didn’t think that scheme was meant to increase the average temperature *significantly* (in the everyday sense of the term), only enough to allow some other thing to happen. (I can’t remember, it was like a million chapters ago.) And also it turned out this was a cover-up for spreading genetically engineered microorganisms so those most fit for the Martian environment could multiply.

        I knew KSR wasn’t a scientist by training but I never got the sense that his hard SF style was superficial or derivative. To my eye he writes like someone who’s been thoroughly steeped among real scientists. Also, isn’t he bestest buddies with hard-SF writer Carter Scholz?

        • John Schilling says:

          Increasing the temperature enough to allow some other thing to happen, means increasing the temperature significantly. That’s sort of the definition. Possibly I should not have weasel-worded it. To a first order approximation, windmill-driven heaters cannot increase the temperature at all, not even a millionth of a degree, because the energy in the wind is all going to turn into heat in short order anyway. There are some second-order effects that may allow for very small transient temperature increases, maybe a hundredth of a degree for a few hours after you turn on all the windmills, and I didn’t want to get into that argument. But here we are.

          And I get that this was a cover-up for a scheme to spread microorganisms, but it’s a cover-up that won’t work because nobody who matters will believe the cover story.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        that apparently believed you could significantly increase the average temperature of Mars by planting windmill-powered electric heaters across its surface

        In the second or third book, other scientists at a conference talk about this scheme and laugh at it, while the protaganist who masterminded the plan is attending the conference in cognito and listens to everyone laugh at him.

        I have problems with KSR, but that plot point was self-correcting.

        • Randy M says:

          Was that self correcting or trying to pretend she was in on the joke all along after people laughed at the first book?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            KSR is a he.

            It was a conference listing the total heating effect of all the terraforming effects on Mars. Compared to the tech deployed later in the series, things like a massive Lagrange-point lens or an orbital focusing laser constantly blasting away at the surface of the planet, little windmills obviously came out as a rounding error.

            In the first book, it was a “this is like spitting in the ocean but gosh darn it we will try” scheme.

        • J Mann says:

          “The Ringworld is unstable! The Ringworld is unstable!”

        • John Schilling says:

          Did the second or third book explain why anyone other than the original “mastermind” and his immediate co-conspirators ever wasted a minute of their time building windmills, allowed any of their resources to be devoted to building windmills, or even refrained from ridiculing the windmill-builders at the time that bit of obvious nonsense was going on?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      2312 is terrible, but I don’t think you’ve correctly identified what’s terrible about it.

      The political struggle about the sunshade is whether they’re going to give Venus reasonable days through the sunshade or through speeding up its spin. That’s not how they’re cooling it down. They’re cooling it down with the sunshade, and then once they’ve cooled it enough for much of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to freeze, they’re burying the dry ice to keep it out of the atmosphere once they warm it up to Earth-like temperatures.

    • bullseye says:

      Much of Venus’ surface is flat, but it has two large mountainous regions.

      What struck me as strange about the Mars trilogy is that they can make these huge changes to Mars, but they can’t fix global warming on Earth.

      • Evan Þ says:

        What struck me as strange about the Mars trilogy is that they can make these huge changes to Mars, but they can’t fix global warming on Earth.

        Political opposition, maybe? I’ve never read the trilogy, but it sounds rather plausible to me if it doesn’t exclude that explanation.

        • Clutzy says:

          Its kind of laughable as an explanation because both are tech problems rather than political problems.

          • CatCube says:

            It’s worth noting that in general, political problems can make it impossible to solve a solution technologically. For example, many of the problems with high-speed rail in the US have pretty straightforward solutions: 1) set routes by more or less drawing straight lines down favorable topography between desired stations and connecting them with broad curves(with some flex there to avoid the really expensive areas in city centers); skipping bitty little towns because they’ll both complicate 1 and will cause the average speed to drop because they’ll be stopping frequently with very little in the way of passengers embarking or debarking; 3) if the routing developed in 1 has negative impacts on endangered species habitat, then we’re just going to give that species back to God.

            The problem is that all of these relatively straightforward technological solutions have massive constituencies that will fight like rabid weasels, with some justification. For example, you might like HSR, but find that not further endangering species is more important. This seems to be the revealed preference of the American public at the moment–a lot of ink gets spilled about having HSR, but there’s little appetite for making the tradeoffs required to actually build it by getting rid of the decades-long studies and legally granting immunity for all the lawsuits that tie projects of this type up. I can’t think of a solution for 2 offhand, because that’s coming from politicians who will get voted out of office by their rural constituents if they allow their town near the route to be skipped–maybe buy them off with pork of another type?

            Now, for the story at issue, I think you’re probably right that it’s silly that they could solve global warming on fucking Venus but not on Earth, but did the author bother to explain that there a constituency that would fight it? For example, is the Canadian plains a major agricultural area that would become too cold to serve that purpose if the global temperature were to drop?

      • Deiseach says:

        Haven’t read the books, but it might simply be that it’s easier to start over from scratch with Mars which hasn’t a habitable biosphere, rather than mess around with Earth – if you screw up Mars, well, you can always go back to the drawing board. Screw up with Earth and you’re in big trouble. So while there technically may be solutions to fix global warming, they might be deemed too risky to try with the sole habitable planet we’ve got until Mars is up and running as a backup habitat just in case.

  22. Well... says:

    Consider two hypothetical people, Adam and Bob, born in the same rural American town.

    Adam grows up and decides to stick around his little home town. Bob grows up and decides to move to the big city. Just from this fact, I think we can say non-controversially that Adam is more likely to have conservative values relative to Bob. I think we can also say non-controversially that Bob is also more likely to become a powerful politician.

    If both these statements really are non-controversial — i.e. much more likely correct than not — then surely they must map to very real patterns that have been happening in this country for decades. How explanatory are they with regard to American politics (in the sense of ideology more than power struggle) over that time period?

    • brad says:

      I don’t think Bob is more likely to become a powerful politician. He’s got a lot more competition.

      • rahien.din says:

        I don’t think Bob is more likely to become a powerful politician. He’s got a lot more competition.

        That’s not how competition works.

        When there is something that people want, they will compete over it. If few people are competing for a thing, then it is unlikely to be a thing that many people want. So you don’t win things of great value by avoiding competition. You chiefly win things of great value – particularly in politics – in places where the competition is thickest.

        Places that lack political competition (such as rural home towns) are places that do not possess the resources of power. If they possessed the resources of power, they would have already left their rural roots behind. Adam is unlikely to become a powerful politician by remaining in his rural home town, simply because there is no power to be had therein.

        Analogy : if you want to represent your country as an Olympic marathon runner, you won’t get there by winning your home town’s annual charity 5k, no matter how decisively you beat your neighbors. If you want to win a really cool item in an auction, you probably won’t do it by attending auctions in which you are the only bidder.

        So, yeah, Bob’s chances of becoming a powerful politician are low. But his chances of becoming a powerful politician while remaining in his rural home town would be much lower.

        • brad says:

          I don’t think this takes into account the design of the American political system. A senator can be quite powerful despite only representing less than 1 million people.

          • rahien.din says:

            What a strange reply.

            Are you talking about people who become state senators, having never left their rural home town?

            Or are you talking about people who come from rural home towns of around a million people?

          • Plumber says:

            They are whole States with less than a million people, so…

          • John Schilling says:

            Most US states have zero “towns of around a million people”. The median US state’s largest city has a population of less than half a million, and it is far from given that the state’s next senator will be a resident of its largest city.

          • rahien.din says:

            I agree that all those things are facts. But I just don’t know why you’re stating them. They do not seem germane.

            I don’t see what point you are all trying to make.

          • Mark V Anderson says:


            I agree that all those things are facts. But I just don’t know why you’re stating them. They do not seem germane.

            I don’t see what point you are all trying to make.

            I think the point of the disagreement is where you say that someone staying in his rural home town is less likely to become a powerful politician than one who goes to the big city. That sounds unlikely to be true to me. I think someone who has lived in his small town his whole life will likely have more chance to be elected to some office than a carpetbagger to a large city, where he knows no one.

            I think your point was that being elected to an office in a backwater will rarely lead to a more powerful position say on a national level? The point that others were making was that one can become a US Senator by representing fewer people in a low population state than in a large one. Thus it is arguably easier to become a big cheese as a politician from a rural area than an urban one. That makes sense to me. Do you have an argument as to why moving to a large city would enhance one’s political future?

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see what point you are all trying to make.

            Living in a small town correlates with living in a low-population rural state.

            The most common path to becoming a “powerful politician”, at least in the United States, is to become a senator or a governor. In order to become a senator or governor in a low-population rural state, you have to beat on the order of a million other people who might theoretically want that job. In order to become a senator or governor in the sort of state that has big cities in it, you have to beat out on the order of ten million other people who might theoretically want the job.

            Also, in the low-population rural state, voters will positively value a small-town background and lifestyle, whereas in a large urban state a small-town candidate will need to launder their origins to appeal to urban voters. And becoming mayor of a small town is an easy path to the sort of political name recognition that makes a stepping stone to “maybe we should think of this guy for bigger things”, that doesn’t really have a counterpart in the big city.

          • rahien.din says:

            That’s all very clarifying. Earlier upthread I asked a question. It seems like you are all answering that question “It is possible to become a senator without ever leaving your rural home town.”

            Do I have that right?

          • John Schilling says:

            Pretty much, insofar as “powerful politician” maps mostly to senators and governors. Obviously Adam will have to at least take a second home in DC(*) when he gets elected to the Senate (and he’ll probably hold an office before that which requires a second home in the state capital).

            If living in a small town isn’t a severe handicap for being elected senator of a rural state, then the disproportionate representation of rural vs. urban states will give small-town residents a net advantage to winning the most common “powerful politician” jobs in the United States.

            * Since ~1992, most US legislators keep their primary residence in the state they represent and commute to DC at need.

          • rahien.din says:

            Power requires connections, ideas, money, and exposure. These things are concentrated in cities. Rural areas are much poorer in those essential resources. Historically, cities have had the ability to dominate their rural counterparts. That’s why we have the electoral college, and why the more powerful legislative body is not population-based.

            So when you say things like “There is less competition in rural states for relatively powerful jobs,” that is a genuine fact. But those jobs are relatively powerful only because the system has to be rigged in favor of small, less-populous states. If it wasn’t, then rural states would be effectively disenfranchised.

            You’re pointing to the handicap and claiming that it proves superiority. Preposterous.

            The rest of all of that is naive impracticality.

            Schilling digressed into matters of mere real estate. Anderson seems to think that the opportunity to meet a bunch more people is a disadvantage for a politician. Multiple people seem to believe that an aspiring politician would let themselves be perceived as a mere bumpkin. brad claimed that you can obviously find great power in offices that few power-seekers actually pursue.

            IE, none of you has considered how any greater office would actually be attained, nor what it would actually entail – politically, relationally, and philosophically.

          • John Schilling says:

            You’re pointing to the handicap and claiming that it proves superiority. Preposterous.

            The only “superiority” we are claiming, is in the ability to achieve high levels of political power in the real world. The “handicap” is part of the real world as it actually exists, at least in the United States and similar countries. You might as well claim that chlorine-breathing life forms are as likely to achieve high political office as oxygen-breathers, dismissing as unconscionably species-ist that all known governments require their politicians to live on Earth.

            So when you say things like “There is less competition in rural states for relatively powerful jobs,” that is a genuine fact.

            And since that was literally the question that was asked, what is it about our factually correct answer that is “preposterous”?

          • brad says:

            You seem to want to talk about spherical cows, didn’t make that clear until now, and think it is reasonable to be kind of a jerk towards people that didn’t realize you simply have no interest in talking about the actually existing world.

            Together these things makes you a pretty ineffective and unpleasant interlocutor.

        • The Red Foliot says:

          Airline companies don’t have to pay their pilots very much because a lot of people enjoy piloting for its own sake and would do it for free. The reward doesn’t have to be financial remuneration or the acquisition of power; people could be enamored with the careers themselves — the work they entail. I have a theory that most politicians are people-oriented extroverts, who get an emotional high from interacting with other people. I think this is what impels most of them, as they don’t commonly seem very ideological, and their work is very arduous, relatively low paying, and pretty restrictive in terms of the ‘real’ power they get to wield. They aren’t like kings and autocrats. They are routinely abused and dishonored by large segments of the population, and they are more like cogs in a vast machine than anything else. I think a lot of them are workaholics.

          • rahien.din says:

            I mean to reply to you but I accidentally reported you! I blame my giant thumbs, I shouldn’t be phone replying. Sorry!

        • Deiseach says:

          It seems like you are all answering that question “It is possible to become a senator without ever leaving your rural home town.”

          Certainly from an American perspective, becoming governor of your state is a big position that can act as a springboard to the national stage. And by getting involved in local politics at your home town level, and succeeding there, you get the opportunity to hook into the local party machine which is what you need to help you towards running for the Senate/governorship.

          Bob moving to Big City will have to do the same in a sense, he will have to find a local ward where he can get into grassroots-level politics and build connections the same way. That’s going to be tougher for him as an outsider, and also if he tries jumping the queue by being parachuted into a safe seat, the locals do tend to resent such behaviour. Bob has a better chance at getting influence and power at a relative higher level than Adam if he manages to hook into something like city government in New York, or something like the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (who seem to have great local power) but Adam may have a relative better chance of getting to be Senator and/or governor (unless we’re talking about cases where Bob, like Hillary Clinton, has a plum Senate seat all lined up for him as part of the cursus honorum – and Hillary’s success came on the back of Bill’s success, and his success came out of being a local boy from Arkansas who made it to governor and then onwards and upwards).

          Certainly if Bob wants to succeed in Big City politics, it will be necessary for him to evolve his views and so become less conservative. But that has more to do with “Do I want to be a success and principles be damned?” than “Conservatives stay at home, liberals move to big cities”, I think.

    • 10240 says:

      The conclusion you imply (that politicians are less likely to be conservative than the average) only follows if we assume that, for a given city-dweller, the event of becoming a politician is uncorrelated with one’s political values. Since politicians need votes to get elected (with both urban and rural people voting), it’s plausible that there are about as many politician “jobs” for conservatives and liberals so, assuming that city-dwellers are more likely to be liberal than conservative, and most politicians are city-dwellers, conservative city-dwellers are more likely to become powerful politicians than liberal city-dwellers.

      C.f. people in D.C. are much more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, and a person in D.C. is much more likely to be a congressman than a person not in D.C., yet there are approx. as many Republican congressmen as Democratic ones at a given time.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I did a quick sanity check of “Bob is also more likely to become a powerful politician”. Out of the leadership of the current US House and Senate and the President and Vice President, the distribution of where they lived at the beginning of their political careers seems to be:

      Big city: Nancy Pelosi (San Francisco), Donald Trump (New York City), Chuck Schumer (New York City)

      Rural town: John Thune (Pierre, ND), Steny Hoyer (Mitchellville, MD), Mike Pence (Rushville, IN)

      Something in-between (suburban area or smallish city): Mitch McConnell (Louisville, KY), Kevin McCarthy (Bakersfield), Jim Clyburn (Charleston), Steve Scalise (New Orleans), Dick Durbin (Springfield, IL)

      Or about a 27.5%, 27.5%, 45% breakdown of big city, rural town, suburban or smallish city. The best numbers I could find with a quick googling was this (not an apples-to-apples comparison with my breakdown, but it appears close enough for a first approximation), which gives a breakdown of the US population as 14% residing in rural counties, 31% urban counties, and 55% suburban counties. By those numbers, rural citizens seem significantly over-represented among top-level federal politicians while urban and suburban citizens are slightly under-represented.

      Obvious caveats: very small sample size, you can quibble with where I drew the line between “smallish city” and “big city” (moving Scalise to the “big city” category gets urban citizens to slightly over-represented, although not to the degree as rural citizens, and leaves suburban citizens quite a bit more underrepresented), and I focused on only the current crop of top-level federal politicians and am too lazy to survey state governors, congressional committee chairs, etc.

    • John Schilling says:

      I think we can also say non-controversially that Bob is also more likely to become a powerful politician.

      That will depend very much on your definition of “powerful politician”.

      If a random member of the House of Representatives doesn’t make the cut, then I would wager that most of the “powerful politicians” of the United States are senators or governors, and by design Adam has an edge in both of those categories. Bob is of course much more likely to become a big-city mayor, but we don’t have many cities big enough that their mayors would rank alongside a random senator. Bob also probably has an edge at becoming a cabinet secretary or SCOTUS justice, but I don’t think that quite equalizes his chances with Adam.

      If a random member of the House of Representatives does count as “powerful” in your book, then I think you are setting the bar a bit low.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Re the very valid objections so far (fixed number of politician jobs, cold numbers etc).

      What if you replace “politician” with “media influencer”? In the broadest sense you can think of.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think we can also say non-controversially that Bob is also more likely to become a powerful politician.

      I think that’s debatable; Adam could become a big fish in a small pond by going into local politics and have a huge influence in his small town. And for even Big City politicians, that’s often how it works, too; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got to the House of Representatives through being the new broom in the Bronx and working very hard to get the voters there on her side, not New York City as a whole. Breaking it down to being the big fish in the small area there was what got her in, not “the choice of the entire city as a whole”.

      Bob can become a powerful politician nationally if he manages to climb the greasy pole within his party and get to one of the handful of powerful positions (e.g. in a presidential administration or even running for president himself, or by building a name and reputation as the Senator from Thisstate who is a Big Name Expert on Foreign GoatHerding Policy) but this means that while there are greater rewards by moving to the big city there is also greater competition. If you want to be a big movie star, you have to move to Hollywood, but everyone else who wants to be a big movie star is also moving there, and there are only a handful of all the wannabes who are going to make it (look at what Jussie Smollett was driven to, in order to hang on to his career).

      Meanwhile, Adam back home may be relatively much more influential and powerful than Bob, even if Bob is Junior Senator for Bigstate.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      If both these statements really are non-controversial — i.e. much more likely correct than not — then surely they must map to very real patterns that have been happening in this country for decades. How explanatory are they with regard to American politics (in the sense of ideology more than power struggle) over that time period?

      I think there are a few problems with this argument. First of all, the implication seems to be that Adam and Bob’s personal politics are likely to influence their ideologies as politicians, but while this must obviously be true to some extent, I’d guess it’s a weak effect. I suspect what matters much more for a politician’s ideology is the politics of their constituents; to this end, it doesn’t matter so much whether big city dwellers are more likely to be liberal and more likely to be politicians than their rural counterparts, what matters is how much political representation an urban dweller has vs. a rural dweller. Since the Senate, for example, over-represents rural populations relative to population size, we might expect that even if more politicians are personally liberal, the effect on national politics is mitigated by the fact that they are constrained to represent the interests of more rural (and hence more conservative) constituents.

      As an example, consider the career of Kirsten Gillibrand: Born in Albany, she served her first serious elected role as the congressperson for that district, which is apparently quite rural. And, while representing a rural, upstate district, she was more conservative: in 2006, she wanted to leave gay marriage to the states, had a 100% NRA rating, and opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants. Now, as a Senator, having to compete for votes from New York City, her politics are…different. But what changed isn’t her personal beliefs, it’s her constituencies. So, trying to explain politics based on the personalities of the politicians is probably missing a lot: it’s more important to know who the political constituencies are.

      Second, identifying one pattern doesn’t mean we should expect much explanatory power: the urban-rural divide is only one divide that correlates with ideology on the one hand, and likelihood to seek political power on the other. Others are race, gender, class, education, family background, etc., etc., and frankly I wouldn’t be very surprised to find that especially family background and some measure of “class” are far more important when looking at who is likely to become a powerful politician.

      Imagine an alternate story, involving Alice and Bob: Alice becomes a poor single mother, Bob becomes a high-powered lawyer–we can probably guess that Alice is more likely to be liberal, and less likely to be a politician than Bob, but we shouldn’t conclude that this means there is a systematic bias against liberals in US politics.

      So, I think for a number of reasons, we shouldn’t expect this model to have too much explanatory power.

  23. brad says:

    I’ve been toying with a concept I think of as distributed p-hacking.

    Suppose there’s a community of people interested in talking about asset allocation. They all have access to the same data, the returns of various asset classes since we started tracking say 100 years ago. None of them sits down and writes a program to go and overfit the data, but new people are constantly proposing asset allocations based on very little. This process despite not being the result of any intentional bad faith amounts to p-hacking and this community is likely to come to believe it has come up with a great asset allocation even though it hasn’t.

    Then I thought about it some more and this is just a variant of publication bias, right?

    • SamChevre says:

      This is exactly why the long-term return of extant mutual funds is much higher than that of all mutual funds.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There are two orthogonal points here. One is that marketing engages in a lot of p-hacking (4 out of 5 doctors recommend); and that while finance keeps much better records than advertising, it still has very serious problems with publication bias.

      The second is that publication bias is a distributed form of p-hacking. It launders responsibility. It may be useful to reverse that laundry and take an intentional stance towards publication bias.

      • brad says:

        Interesting. Do I understand your second paragraph to be saying that distributed p-hacking is at least arguably the higher level concept of which publication bias (and the survivorship bias SamChevre references as well) are sub-types?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Distributed p-hacking is certainly more general since we have two examples. Is that “higher-level”? Maybe distributed p-hacking encourages an intentional stance of “hate the game,” while publication bias is bloodless. That’s closer to “higher-level,” but I’m not sure. But what I wanted to say was the low-level statement: consider the hypothesis that the players are complicit in the game.

    • albatross11 says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen people talk about this–specifically, that when a lot of people are looking for some effect, and can only get a publishable paper by finding it, then you get this kind of p-hacking-by-a-crowd–20 people run the study, 19 get no results and nobody hears of them, one gets a p-value of 0.05 and publishes.

  24. dodrian says:

    A genie offers you the opportunity to gain superpowers: you would become MedianMan*

    Whatever task you attempt you will always perform better than exactly half of the people living in your country if everyone were to attempt the same task.

    Do you accept the genie’s offer? What job would you get afterwards?

    *or MedianWoman, but it doesn’t role of the tongue so well

    • cassander says:

      God no. never excelling at anything is a curse. I find my mentally disabled cousin and give her the lamp.

      • Randy M says:

        Good plan! On the one hand, for me it would probably vastly improve my dancing ability. On the other hand, I think all my other faculties would diminish. Not much, mind, but a tad bit. So the trade off isn’t worth it.
        There was a prompt on a previous open thread about a year ago regarding what advice to give an average person that I thought I had a decent response to but I’m having trouble finding it.
        Obviously in this case you are going to want something that is in fairly high demand for an average level of skill. I don’t think there’s enough to go on, though; you could probably be a tradesman, teacher, salesman, police, etc. and do okay if you had interest and diligence.

        • cassander says:

          I don’t think you want to be something where there’s demand for an average level of skill, you want to something where lots of different skills are demanded. Of course, that might not work out well. if the median american tries to do a difficult trapeze act, they end up dead.

      • rlms says:

        The obvious follow-up is what the percentile has to be for you to change your mind.

        • cassander says:

          Probably unreasonably high. I might be almost totally lacking in athletic ability, but I revel being good at the things I’m good at, and the median person is pretty shitty at everything, because most people haven’t even tried to do most things.

        • dodrian says:

          This is the much more interesting question, though I’ll respond with my thoughts to Protagoras down below.

    • Aapje says:

      It seems to me that it’s much more attractive if it’s MedianWoman, given gender expectations.

    • Skivverus says:

      Probably not, but if I had to take it I’d aim to move to the smallest, smartest country out there. Or “secede” along with the smartest people out there I can convince to try this.
      The desired endpoint would be a rotating three-person country, with myself as one member, and the top two in whatever field benefits most from a third really capable person at the moment.
      Therefore, one of the early fields I’d invite people from would be career counselors. After the brainstorming session, they go back to their original countries and I start inviting in the top people from the next industry on the list that session generated.

      • semioldguy says:

        But you could only ever be exactly median at enacting these plans, or seceding/moving from your current country. I don’t believe that the median is going to be good enough to ever get to a position to exploit potential advantages. You would either need plans already set in motion prior to accepting the deal, or pre-arranged assistance, since you’d only ever be median at coming up with plans or gaining the assistance of others (and I would argue that much fewer than half of any population could convince any specific expert to assist them).

        Seems to me like this genie is a hefty curse.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        Better yet: form a one-person state.

    • aphyer says:

      This at first seems very unappealing unless your overall abilities are poor, but it may well be exploitable.

      What tasks are there that have a large, asymmetrically-negative fat tail? If you’re willing to take a sufficiently expansive view of what counts as a ‘task’, consider the following approach:

      1. Walk into a casino.
      2. Place large bets on 2/3 of the numbers in a roulette wheel, chosen at random.

      If all the population does this, 60-65% will increase their money by 50%, while 30- 35% will lose it all. The median outcome is therefore very positive, much better than the mean. Rinse and repeat, and you can make a ton of money.

      While that may not quite count as a ‘task’, what we want to find is a task with a payoff structure that looks like that, where a >50% majority get very good outcomes but this is outweighed by a <50% but still large risk of very bad outcomes. Some kind of mercenary work perhaps?

    • Chalid says:

      Yes, as it effectively provides immortality. Every year I attempt to survive and maintain my health for the next year.

      • semioldguy says:

        While what constitutes a “task” could be debated, I would strongly argue that the median person in most, if not all, countries does not maintain their health during the course of a year. Most people have their health degrade some amount each year, though not necessarily readily apparent or in immediate-life-threatening ways.

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        Under yearly increments, this only gets you to 110ish. But if “survive the next minute” counts as a task, you’re probably safe for centuries outside of a few kinds of accidental deaths.

    • semioldguy says:

      Would taking this offer affect your ability to interact and form relationships with others?

      If asking someone on a date, or to get married, or even just hang out together, I don’t know how often at least half of any country’s population could manage to be accepted on a date with a specific person, or even get a specific person to spend time with you.

      As far as jobs go… You’d likely have to resort to working as a WalMart greeter or some other menial job, since at least half of the country would need to be capable of being accepted as an employee (and there is a not insignificant amount of any population that are not employable due to reasons such as age, mental condition, physical limitation, incarceration, etc.)

      • bullseye says:

        If the task is “get a date” the median person can do that. But if you specify a particular person you want to date, the median person is hopeless (unless you want to date a bisexual who doesn’t care about age).

    • Erusian says:

      How, uh, literal is this. Because the mathematical formula medianperson uses is median+1, right? So that means they can do anything that no one else can do. Let’s say I want to create a black hole with my mind. Zero people can do that, so the median ability to do that is zero. But I’m better than the median, so I can do it in at least some degree.

      Anyway, the natural job would be to volunteer yourself to researchers/businesses/etc as a foolproof way to establish a statistical median in any given population. Want to know if people are cheating on your exam? Hire MedianPerson Consulting! He’ll take your test and if the distribution skews at all then you know that someone’s cheating. Want to know if your employees are really that bad? Hire MedianPerson to try doing their job for a week! Trying to choose a career? Want to know if you’re above average in a skill? Hire MedianPerson and see if you’re better than the median!

      • bullseye says:

        Exact wording is “better than exactly half of the people living in your country”, which creates a logical problem in your example. If you can create a black hole with your, you’re better than your entire country (except for yourself). But if you can’t do it you’re not better than anyone.

        Your second paragraph is a great idea.

      • acymetric says:

        The easiest solution is that it isn’t “median+1” at all.

        The formula to determine your task skill level is multiplicative, and x*0 will still be 0.

        Really though, I would guess there is some fine print (or a real fast car commercial style disclaimer) when you sign the dotted line with the genie that explains it doesn’t allow you to do things that are physically impossible, create paradoxes, yada yada so the point is moot.

    • rlms says:

      Is your ability set momentarily and able to vary normally after that, or readjusted permanently? I’m not sure if the latter makes sense, because the median person is capable of getting better and worse at things.

      How does the adjustment work? Some tasks depend on several factors, some of which are properties of the person doing them and others which are properties of the world. For instance, my performance in playing tennis against someone depends on my fitness, ability, strategy etc. but also on how well they play and umpire calls etc. Which of these would the genie change?

    • J Mann says:

      I wouldn’t like it at all – you would be substituting comparative advantage for consistency.

      Worse, I suspect most tasks are performed by people who are at the top few percent for that task – presumably almost all competent auto mechanics, plumbers, mathematicians, etc. are better at their job than the median person. Can the median person hang drywall or use Excel?

      It would be a little more interesting to be better than the median person who does the task for a living. You wouldn’t be exceptional at anything, but you’d be competent at everything, able to speak every language, perform surgery, argue a legal case, etc.

    • Protagoras says:

      A number of the clever suggestions in this thread have led me to note that Medianman would have precisely median ability to come up with exploits of Medianman’s ability. I think far fewer than half of Americans would be clever enough to come up with some of these. I don’t think I’d take 99 percentile man, I might take 99.9 percentile man, I would probably take 99.99 percentile man, and would almost certainly take 99.999 percentile man. I may be being too conservative, though; 99 percentile man probably would be reasonably good at figuring out ways to exploit his power, which could help make up for what I’d lose. I suppose this sounds arrogant, but while there is only an incredibly limited and narrow range of tasks where I think I’m currently 99.999 percentile or higher, not coincidentally it includes skills I’m particularly emotionally attached to.

      • 10240 says:

        You don’t have to come up with clever exploits on your own, you can always ask SSC for advice. Or devise the exploits before you accept the offer.

        • Protagoras says:

          You’re also only median at figuring out where to go for advice. And planning in advance can only take you so far. I really think you have to go quite high up the scale to make this attractive. For many of the most interesting professions, almost none of those not in the profession are capable of doing it, and less than 1% of the population is in the profession, so even 99% man would have trouble with a large number of careers one might want to have, which is why I said probably not at that level. 99.9% man would be better than 999 out of 1000 people at job hunting, and there would surely be some highly lucrative jobs for which he’d be qualified (management or consulting, maybe?) which his excellent job hunting skills would enable him to locate. So I set that as the level where the power actually starts to sound possibly good.

          • semioldguy says:

            Not to mention median at following or implementing the advice you receive, as well as just understanding or believing in it in the first place.

          • 10240 says:

            I already know SSC.

            However, your comment reveals self-contradictions in the setting. Arguably “do X” and “learn to do X” are both tasks, where X is a moderately challenging task that most people don’t learn. If you perform at median level at learning to do X, then you will probably be able to do it adequately. But most people don’t learn it, so the median person who attempts to do it would have no training, and would fail.

      • dodrian says:

        At what point would you have a reasonable career path?

        The job that stuck at to me as being most exploitable by NthPercentilePerson is EMT. Two main skills: driving, and medicine.

        If we limit the skills we are being compared with with the over-18 population (the spirit of my question, if not the letter), well, nearly everyone in America can drive. Being better than half of drivers is probably not a bad place to be.

        There are ~4M practicing nurses in the US. Another ~1M doctors. Out of 230M over 18 population, that’s over 2% of the population. Given that medical training of some kind is pretty common in other professions (Police, Fire, ~2M more combined), and general first aid very common, I think EMT becomes a viable career path at around the 96th percentile, and a rewarding one above 98th.

        For 98thPercentilePerson, teaching is another viable option (~3.6M active teachers, many retired, and teaching is an important skill in many professions). I think 99thPercentilePerson has quite a lot of opportunities as a local businessperson or politician.

        You and Fion are right, as 98thPercentilePerson I wouldn’t be as good as some of my hobbies, but I’d still be good enough to enjoy them (and many others), and I’d be much better at things that would improve my life: DIY and many practical skills that I currently lack come to mind.

        I think above 98 it’s a tempting offer. The big downside would be not being able to learn and improve my skills and hobbies, and that is big.

    • fion says:

      Definitely not – I’m good at loads of stuff! And as Protagoras notes, the things I’m good at are things I happen to be emotionally attached to, and I’d rather not lose that. I might take 99 Percent Man, and would almost certainly take 99.9 Percent Man, but even at that I’d be worse at all my hobbies and my job than I am currently.

      • Deiseach says:

        I might take 99 Percent Man, and would almost certainly take 99.9 Percent Man, but even at that I’d be worse at all my hobbies and my job than I am currently.

        I don’t know any tactful way to put this, so full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. Do you really mean you are 100% Man at your job? The undisputed actual best in the workplace? Nobody comes near? Even your boss and your boss’s boss are worse than you?

        I think a lot of people are good at things but that doesn’t mean they are the best. How can you tell you’re not Slightly Above Median Man? 80% Man? As Good As The Rest Of The Office And We’re All Pretty Good Man?

        It is all relative: you might be 100% Man in a place where everyone is Not That Great, which means you would not be as good as 60% Man in a place where everyone is Star Quality. The attraction for me of the bargain is that it takes in everyone in the country, which includes the high quality superstars as well as the absolute duffers, so there’s a better chance of the median being not that bad at all (of course, this again depends on how many duffers to superstars there are in the country, but I think the average Western nation is not going to be that terribly awful).

        Looking online, the only info I can get for median (which is being represented as average) IQ of nations comes from the godawful Lynn* and Vanhanen work, which I personally think is about as reliable as blindfolded sticking a pin in a list of stocks to see which you should invest in, but to take it on face value if I were Median Man in the US, I’d immediately gain 4 points of 1Q given that the Irish (and Israeli!) average IQ is only 94. See, already an improvement! 🙂

        *In this instance, I do think it really is a case of Orange Man Bad, given his Ulster Unionist sympathies 😀

        • J Mann says:

          I might take 99 Percent Man, and would almost certainly take 99.9 Percent Man, but even at that I’d be worse at all my hobbies and my job than I am currently.

          I don’t know any tactful way to put this, so full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. Do you really mean you are 100% Man at your job? The undisputed actual best in the workplace? Nobody comes near?

          Fion’s probably measuring across the population as a whole. Out of 10,000 people, they’re the best actuary and the best LARPer, but since there are only 2 actuaries and LARPers in any representative group (in my made up example), that means they’re at about the 99.999% percentile for the general population, but just in the top half for actual actuaries and LARPers.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you have any skill at which you are very good, you are probably in the top 1/1000 of the world or the country at them, because most people don’t have any of that skill. What fraction of the population is a dentist? Or a structural engineer? Or a pastry chef?

        • fion says:

          J Mann is correct. I meant 99 Percent Man over the whole world. I’m a physicist. From a very rough Google estimate, it looks like around 0.3% of people in the world have physics PhDs*. I’m not sure whether this means the number of people who could do my job is more or less than 0.3%. On the one hand, should I take account for the fact that most of those PhDs are not in my field, so their holders would be much worse than me at *my* job? Or should I bump the numbers up a bit because there’s lots of people with the capacity to get a PhD who don’t? In any case, I was making a statistical argument, not a boast.

          My hobbies are probably clearer-cut. I think most of them are done by fewer than one in a thousand people. I’m not a 99.9 percentile violinist, but I do play the violin, which is more than (I’m guessing) 99.9% of people.

          *actually that’s the fraction of people in a given yeargroup who get a PhD each year in the US, so the actual number will be significantly smaller for three reasons: people younger than their late twenties haven’t had time to get a PhD yet, the US probably has more physics PhDs per capita than the world, and the numbers of physics PhDs conferred seems to be increasing, so fewer old people have them.

          • nkurz says:

            Anecdotally, despite studying physics as an undergraduate, I’m pretty sure I know at least as many occasional violin players as physics PhD’s. This makes me doubt that there really could be 3x as many physics PhD’s as violin players in the population at large. I suspect that something might be wrong with your numbers. Did you maybe misplace a decimal point?

            Restricting to the US makes the statistics easier, so let’s do that. This report says that in 2014, the numbers of physics PhD’s awarded in the US hit a record high of 1,762, with about half of these being non-US citizens. Eyeballing the graph on the first page, it looks like an average of about 1,000 PhD’s have been awarded to US citizens per year since 1960. If we guess an average post-PhD lifespan of 60 years, and with 300,000,000 citizens, that gives an estimate of .02% of the citizenship.

            Taking a different approach, the paper also mentions that about 3.5% of PhD’s in the US are in physics. From another search, about 2% of Americans 25 or older have a doctoral degree. Multiplying, this gives an estimate that .07% of Americans older than 25 have a PhD in physics. Correcting for the younger population would probably drop this by a little more than 1/3 to something around .04%.

            This confirms my suspicion that your estimate of .3% for physics PhD’s is probably too high, quite possibly by a factor of 10. If we correlate degree holding with talent, this means you are probably 10x better at physics than your calculation implied. I don’t know how good you are at the violin, but even if Fermi might fault the accuracy of your original estimate, I suspect you are relatively better at physics than the violin.

            Does anyone have a reasonable way of estimating the number of piano tuners violin players?

          • Anecdotally, despite studying physics as an undergraduate, I’m pretty sure I know at least as many occasional violin players as physics PhD’s.

            I can resolve this question with simple survey data. Checking a random sample of households (one) I conclude that the number of violin players is exactly equal to the number of physics PhD’s (one of each). Violin players plus harp players, however, outnumber physics PhD’s two to one.

          • Protagoras says:

            I can resolve this question with simple survey data. Checking a random sample of households (one) I conclude that the number of violin players is exactly equal to the number of physics PhD’s (one of each). Violin players plus harp players, however, outnumber physics PhD’s two to one.

            I’m not sure this sample deserves to be described as random. Perhaps arbitrary, but in the worse sense of the term.

          • nkurz says:

            > I’m not sure this sample deserves to be described as random.

            Probably not, but I think there might actually be useful information that can be extracted from it.

            In Fion’s original numbers, the chances that a PhD physicist and violinist would share the same household is very small (.001 * .003 = .00003, so something like 1 out of 10000 households) unless there is some strong correlation between physicists and violinists. If we instead condition on households containing at least one PhD physicist, I think we’d expect something less than 1 in 300 to have a violinist present.

            But if we count both Fion and David (the only two reported data points in the thread for PhD physicists) we find that both households also contain a violinist. Even with extreme reporting bias, I think this is evidence that either PhD physicists are not 3x as common as violinists, or there is some strong correlation between the two.

            Unless Fion shares a house with at least 5 non-violin playing physics PhD’s, I think this still (weakly) points us in the direction of disproving the claim that PhD physicists are 3x as common as violinists.

    • Walter says:

      Would this update, say if you were to move to a country formed explicitly to take advantage of the Genie’s gift?

      Like, ordinarily I’d say this would be terrible. But, like some other folks are pointing out, this might be exploitable.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sure! If I’m averagely okay at everything, that means everything. So from brain surgery to ballroom dancing to tax accountancy to cooking the dinner, it means anything I try is going to be “Well, it wasn’t great but it was okay”. Why wouldn’t I like to be a jack of all trades, even if master of none, if it means in a pinch I can try anything and at the very least it won’t be a crashing failure?

      Horrible accident by the side of the road? I can help! You’ll probably survive, as well! Cat in a tree? Need advice on what dress to wear to your cousin’s wedding? Does this ingredient go with that one? Should I run off to join the circus or listen to my parents and do that accountancy course? The end result may be safe mediocrity, but that’s better than nothing at all 🙂

      • Randy M says:

        brain surgery

        I don’t think this fits the prompt; you aren’t as good at brain surgery as the average brain surgeon; you are as good as the average person, a level of skill I won’t settle for in my surgeon.
        Of course, it’s a question as to whether you classify brain surgery as a skill or a bit of specialized knowledge that enables one to apply the skill of surgery, but even still.

      • Nick says:

        I think you’re misunderstanding it. The median person in Ireland would be really bad at brain surgery. The median brain surgeon is going to be okay or better at it, but there are vanishingly few brain surgeons in Ireland.

        Personally, I would get a big boost from being able to drive then, and probably a considerable boost to practical/DIY stuff, but if I become a median at everything I basically wouldn’t be able to do my job at all.

      • dodrian says:

        I’m not saying that your skill is half way between the worst person in the country (who can’t do it), and the best person (who is a savant), in which case, yes, you’d be pretty decent at most things.

        I’m saying you line up everyone in the country based on how good they are at brain surgery, and you’ll find exactly half of the country standing on your left, and half standing to the right. The problem with a skill like brain surgery is that only maybe the thousand or so people at the very top of the line could do it even passably. You’re millions of people behind them.

        Common skills like cooking and driving (depending on your country) you’d probably be average at as well. But anything that requires a specialized skill you probably wouldn’t be able to do.

        As I said in a different response, perhaps the more interesting question is at which point in the line does this power become worthwhile? Being better than 80% of people at driving is probably pretty good, but it’s still not anywhere near where you can do brain surgery.

        • J Mann says:

          It’s also not that hard to become better than 80% of the population at almost anything that interests you, although it’s certainly harder for very common skills like driving or speaking the native language than it is for riding a unicycle or juggling.

          I’d take the median value for someone who does the skill for a living for sure – that’s a real superpower. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d take much under 99.99%.

          • albatross11 says:

            Median skill in every language would be damned handy. But median for the world skill in anything you do for a living would relegate you to relatively crappy jobs forever–maybe you end up as a file clerk or manager of a McDonalds.

          • Randy M says:

            Median skill in every language, if we’re taking global population, probably means you can squeak by in English and recognize a dialect or two of Mandarin.
            But at least you’d be good at reading facial expressions and body language.

        • Deiseach says:

          Common skills like cooking and driving (depending on your country) you’d probably be average at as well. But anything that requires a specialized skill you probably wouldn’t be able to do.

          Okay, thanks to everyone for explaining the limiting conditions to me. But I’ll still probably take the offer, because there’s a good few “ordinary people can do this” things that I’m absolutely useless at, so being “averagely okay” would be an improvement.

    • acymetric says:

      Definitely not. For any given task, there is going to be a huge skew to the left of people who just plain suck at it. Medianman probably gets D’s and some C’s in high school (unless the class includes everyone in the country and is graded on a curve). I would guess the median person is probably pretty awful in the bedroom, which would be a bummer.

      If the prompt were modified to be “median of all people who perform this task at all” (not limited to “professionals”), then yes, after some deliberation. I would get worse at some things, but probably better at a few things I really enjoy. You would be able to have a fine but ordinary career in nearly any field that doesn’t have a “hobbyist” version (so, attempting to be an actor would not get you Hollywood status, you’ll be in your local community theater).

      Back to the real prompt, it is hard to say what cutoff would make it a yes. Probably any % that makes me a better musician than I currently am (not an especially good one) would work…some cursory searching has turned up results ranging from <10% of adults playing musical instruments (which seems probably low and likely excludes casual players) to slightly over 50% (which seems too high). 95% probably gets me good enough to gig around town, or maybe do regional tours of smaller (<1k seating) venues.

    • Plumber says:


      “Do you accept the genie’s offer?”

      No, I have a family to support.
      As many upthread have aluded to, jobs are now so specialized that “median” doesn’t cut it, most everyone has specialized skills to do their work, and while age discrimination is nominally illegal, someone of median age is unlikely to get hired for an entry-level position.

      “What job would you get afterwards?”

      I really haven’t a clue, maybe become one of the “mosquito army” scavenging for things to sell to scrap yards?

      Physically if I became median I might be able to do my current work better, but without my experience I couldn’t do it, and I had to test better than many others to get the job in the first place.

      I actually think you’ve hit on big problem dodrian that explains the growing number on disability, if you’re median or less in credentials, skills, and physical condition, there’s just not that many good options left.

  25. aristides says:

    I think a large part of this is typical mind thinking. I’ll address your points separately, though they blend a little.

    1. For some people if they want to learn something they can just read the non fiction source, but not everyone can do that easily. A personal example, I wanted to learn how to be a better leader. I started reading an article about the psychology of leadership, and I got bored in the first paragraph without understanding nearly anything. I then bought a biography on Eisenhower’s leadership. It’s very well written and yet I’ve only read one chapter in the 6 months I’ve owned it and so it sits on my nightstand collecting dust. And yet I previously got up to date in a Song of Ice and Fire at a rate of a month a book, while learning the pros and cons of various leadership styles. Now because this is fiction, the leadership lessons won’t be as accurate as a scientific journal or a biography. But since it was the more enjoyable read, I actually finished them. If you can read scientific articles do so, but The more effective and efficient lesson is the one that’s completed.

    2. Similarly, accomplishing something might create long lasting joy that’s better than temporary happiness, but how many things can you really accomplish in a day? I spend 8 hours a day accomplishing things at work, (and commenting here technically) when I’m back home and finish my household work, I have an hour or two of spare time. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to accomplish in that short time? I could produce fiction instead of consuming it, but if you’re view of fiction is correct, that’d also be a net negative. Consuming fiction seems like the most enjoyable use of my time, but if you have some more specific advice beyond accomplish something, I’d be interested.

  26. Plumber says:

    The Zak S. sub thread reminded me a bit of something: At another Forum someone started a thread called: [Lore] Against Cultural Homogeneity; Why Racial Hats are a problem in which the OP complains of non-human “racial mono-cultures”, the discussion got heated, with one person calling out the “racism” of fictional non-humans not having “cultural diversity”, after which I posted:

    Quick, someone start an edition war!

    With pleasure! 

    From best to worst:

    0e, mid-level and up >

    B/X, mid-level & up > 

    5e, low level > 

    1e AD&D > 

    5e, mid to high levels > 


    and I only glanced at 2e and 4e so no judgment.

    YMMV. :amused:

    Anyway, my demi-human cultural schemata:

    High Elves, much like the ancien regime nobility of France and Russia, with a dash of Wizardry

    Wood Elves, much like the Comanche as portrayed in “Empire of the Summer Moon”

    Dwarves, just regular people, I mean who doesn’t like ale, craftsmanship, family, and dislike change? That’s just common sense!

    Gnomes, I didn’t see them.

    Halflings, a what now?

    the thing is I really like D&D cliches.

    To me good D&D is cliche filled, as I enjoy well crafted character based intensive roleplaying games that feature such mature themes as meeting in a tavern, leaving said tavern to wail on scaly types who occupy underground abodes, collect shiny objects in said underground abodes, avoid bandits who occupy space between underground dwellings and tavern, then bringing shiny objects to spend in the tavern in noble quest for ale and time with hotties.

    When D&D is done poorly than there is more of a focus on backstory tragic deals, and badly chosen toppings on the pizza. 

    “Elevating” D&D seems a bad idea to me.

    I want to play the game like it was still 1980.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      You split 5E into two rankings based on level, but specify 0E and B/X “mid-level and up” as the best without ranking their low-level play. Huh?

      I think highly of BECMI and am currently running a Discord campaign with the B/X variant Adventurer, Conqueror, King. I’ve never seen “0E” (the 1974 rule set) and AD&D can be fun but has the significant disadvantage that you can’t run it RAW.
      I successfully DMed a 3.5 campaign from Level 1 to 21 over the course of 17 months. The mechanics got less fun over time, to the point where the Level 21 party noped out of their penultimate combat encounter, with a demilich, by the Paladin on his Windwalking horse grappling the Astral Projection of the skull and shoving it into a red dragon’s Anti-Magic Shell. They hit Level 22 and I just handled their final encounter (running interference against Typhon for Zeus after Typhon ripped his sinews out) narratively.
      4E I cannot play with a straight face, because every class has at-will powers with funny names, so every round every player has to call out to the DM the funny name of their attack, like a Magical Girl or Shounen anime.
      5E is fairly fun. It has a single task resolution roll without being as awful as 3rd. The biggest problem is that it’s rigidly designed around the DM throwing more than 6 combat encounters at you each “adventuring day” to drain your resources (in fairness, this can be changed to “two combat encounters well above Deadly separated by a short rest), and the XP you can get from such an adventuring day will level you up so fast it breaks verisimilitude.

      I can take or leave cliched elves, dwarves & halflings. Are you familiar with the BX/BECMI official setting, the Known World? That’s my preferred take on these racial cliches, short of just using Middle Earth as the campaign setting. As a GM, though, I would go back to Norse mythology and dwarves would be the magical craftsmen, a type of short elf that lives underground and turns to stone in sunlight, while (light) elves would be nymph-like but not a monogender race.

      • Plumber says:

        @Le Maistre Chat

        “You split 5E into two rankings based on level, but specify 0E and B/X “mid-level and up” as the best without ranking their low-level play. Huh?…”

        Since I want more to play TSR D&D again (which is still my favorite for long term campaigns) I just didn’t want to admit that I now prefer 1st level 5e to 1st level TD&D now, and discourage anyone from playing TD&D.

        “…Are you familiar with the BX/BECMI official setting, the Known World?….”

        I know it exists, but when it came out I was still (foolishly) an AD&D snob, and by the time I realized how cool B/X/BECMI/RC were no one (that I could find) still wanted to play D&D, all the tables (that I could find) were playing Cyberpunk, Vampire, et cetera.

        “…I would go back to Norse mythology and dwarves would be the magical craftsmen, a type of short elf that lives underground and turns to stone in sunlight, while (light) elves would be nymph-like…”

        That sounds AWESOME!

      • Nornagest says:

        Magical Girl or Shounen anime

        I shout “Moon Power, Make Up!” and hit him with my sword.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Honestly, that’d be a blast if everyone at the table owned it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Expanding on that: playing Magical Girls and Hot-Blooded Shounen boys in a pre-industrial setting could be lots of fun. Playing fantasy action heroes who defeat their enemies mostly through exploiting the environment (pushing them onto hazards, etc.) could be lots of fun. But neither of those is what people expected Dungeons & Dragons to be. 4E was a failure because men-elves-n-dwarves on a quest stories don’t fit those conventions. Most people interested in storytelling games didn’t want what 4E was selling.
            Plus the combat sequences took like three hours each.

        • bean says:

          We actually did a Magical Girl game once. It was pretty short, and it turned out that we were rather too powerful for GURPS to be able to handle combat well, but it was a lot of fun.

    • J Mann says:

      I saw that thread, but never got around to commenting. If I *had*, here is what I would have said.

      Yes, planet of hats is racist. On the other hand, if there’s nothing other than appearance that separates elves from dwarves, kobolds from goblins, or bugbears from gnolls, etc., the game loses a lot of its flavor.

      I do think a good game is richer for adding some diversity to the various races. If you add a additional dwarven culture where the dwarves live on floating cities constructed from found materials and have a seafaring culture renowned for its interpretative dance, and you do it well, then you’ve enriched your world. If every single dwarf your players meet is a gruff miner who is handy with tools and loves ale, then your world is poorer for it.

      • cassander says:

        to play devil’s advocate, do you gain anything by making the dwarves a separate race that you wouldn’t gain from the stone people tribe, who just so happen to dislike change and value ale, craftsmanship, and family?

        • Skivverus says:

          Not having to explain that the “choose your race…” convention is actually “choose your culture” in your campaign?

        • J Mann says:

          For me, yes I do gain something.

          I like a science fiction or fantasy story better if it has non-humans in it. Isn’t Ringworld more interesting for having Puppeteers and Trinocs running around, and Discworld more interesting for having golems and vampires on the Watch?

          I can’t put my finger on exactly why I like having Klingons and Dwenda in my stories, but I do.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          In my D&D campaigns, I usually take exactly this route. There are plenty of people in plenty of cultures with plenty of quirks. I have magic to enrich things. I don’t need literal elves and dwarves, especially as player characters.

      • Plumber says:

        @J Mann

        “….I do think a good game is richer for adding some diversity to the various races…”

        Truthfully it is, but I much prefer that diversity be discovered in play as part of exploration, when it comes in the form of an Eberon like “Our halflings are different” handout I’m less enthusiastic, as for me travelling from the generic to the weird is part of the fun.

        I’m also fond of non-humans being all NPC’s.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Truthfully it is, but I much prefer that diversity be discovered in play as part of exploration, when it comes in the form of an Eberon like “Our halflings are different” handout I’m less enthusiastic, as for me travelling from the generic to the weird is part of the fun.

          Eberron halflings are a great example of what not to do. “Our halflings ride theropods!” feels like they started with a cool idea (dino riders) and then filled in a race from a random table instead of just using humans or making a thematic connection (like Warhammer’s lizardmen). It’s Madlibs diversity/”originality”.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I’ve never actually read Eberron, but I think it’s possible to that you’re being ungenerous here. Something that came up organically in 3e play was a “what if we could have a character who was a useful mounted warrior (usually a paladin) without making that character useless in a dungeon or other indoor setting?”

            And the answer was halflings, who can ride on size medium mounts, starting at low levels with war dogs and potentially moving to more exotic species later on. They can use mounted fighting feats, magic items, and PrCs while being able to still fit in places that unmounted humans can go.

            This, it seems plausible to me that Eberron was not just arbitrarily mix-and-matching halflings and dinosaur riders, but following an established and fun niche in 3e.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            it seems plausible to me that Eberron was not just arbitrarily mix-and-matching halflings and dinosaur riders, but following an established and fun niche in 3e.

            OK, that’s possible. I must have interpreted it negatively because I’d seen theropod mount Madlibs before with the Trolls in World of Warcraft.

        • Nornagest says:

          Elves and dwarves in D&D settings present kind of a conundrum. Players expect them, but they fit badly into most original setting concepts unless your concept’s very explicitly designed as Generic European Medieval Fantasy, or else to Say Something about G.E.M.F. Which is fine — there are plenty of good settings that do one or the other — but there’s a lot of design space outside them, too.

          A while back I got pretty far into writing an RPG setting with kind of a Dying Earth/Book of the New Sun/Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind take on things (I adore dying Earths and will fit them into everything given half a chance). It was originally designed as a Pathfinder campaign setting, but after a while I realized that shoehorning it into Pathfinder was doing more harm than good, and the standard races were definitely a sticking point.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Elves and dwarves in D&D settings present kind of a conundrum. Players expect them, but they fit badly into most original setting concepts

            This is why I never use an original setting. It’ll always be either Earth in mythic times or whatever pre-made setting I like best.

          • John Schilling says:

            Elves alone are fine. Whether “Elf” or “Fairy” or some other culturally-specific term, the concept of a race or species(*) of graceful, ethereally beautiful, nigh-immortal and innately magical people is I think almost as universal a myth as dragons and demons.

            Dwarves as gruff miners and craftsmen, short and stout and generally non-magical, is less common but you could make a nicely original setting using just Dwarves and Humans.

            Having both Elves and Dwarfs, both as described above and of near-human stature, puts you solidly in Tolkien + Post-Tolkien Fantasy Land, and there’s little reason to do it if you’re not going to borrow the rest of that setting. Indeed, you’ll just confuse the players if you don’t take the whole worldbuilding package that comes bundled with those two names.

            * Usually at least somewhat interfertile with humans, so leaning towards race here

      • AnonYemous2 says:

        oh yeah well here’s what I would have said:

        Basically the idea seems to be that it’s racist to imply that human ‘races’ don’t have inter-group diversity and all conform to some stereotype. But insofar as that’s true, it’s because they don’t, because humans are diverse. But there’s no necessary reason that this should be true for, say, dwarves; maybe evolutionary reasons, but those are hardly absolute. So is it racist to purposely create a non-diverse race? Not necessarily. In this case, the reason is obviously just because it makes for easier and possibly better storytelling.

    • Drew says:

      D&D is collaborative imagination. The cliches give us a mutually-understood starting point. Since we all know them, we can start a campaign with a minimum of exposition and homework.

      It’s fine to deviate, but deviations need to be concise (“Standard setting, but every country is ruled by a dragon” / “… stone age tech level” / “… the towns have SCIENCE”) or introduced gradually after the campaign starts.

      • Plumber says:


        “….we all know them, we can start a campaign with a minimum of exposition and homework….”


        I enjoy reading setting books, but studying them in order to get to play is irritating to me, 

        “A shadow passes over you, as you look up you see a Dragon passing overhead”,

        “What do you do? 

        Get to that point.

        No lengthy setting history essays.

        No big lists of nationalities and social classes 

        Unless I tell you otherwise PC’s are ignorant/isolated farm kids ala Luke Skywalker/Percival newly arrived from the land of Generica (part of the Nondescriptian Empire),  in an unfamiliar land were they somehow understand the language (except when they don’t!), and have them learn about the world through NPC’s. 

        If there’s backstory, unless it’s a map, journal etc.that a PC finds try to not give a handout! 

        Oracles, street prophets, and witches will give voice to the backstory in character (hopefully).

        1)Make up or steal  find a scene that looks like it will be fun/exciting.
        2) Listen to what the players say.
        3) Have them roll some dice for suspense.
        4) Tell the players what changed in the scene. 
        5) Repeat
        “Your at the entrance of the Tomb of Blaarg what do you do?” If they’re real contrary “Your inside the Tomb of Blaarg, what do you do?, or “your trapped deep inside the Tomb of Blaarg”  etc. Just quickly narrate to the part where the actual adventure begins. They can role-play how they turned tail and ran back to the tavern.

        For a crash course in bad DM/player interaction see DM of the Rings.

        While much of the fun of DM’ing is in making a world (the other part is witnessing the PC’s shenanigans), I try to keep world building bare bones. It’s usually more fun to read, then to play. When the players start to get jaded, then maybe introduce “exotic”, “innovative”, and “weird” elements, but usually at first freaky “Alice in Wonderland on LSD” “adventures” are not fun! 

        One of the most successful (i.e. my players liked it) “campaigns” that I DM’d/Keeper’d (I reused the same setup for both Call of Cthullu and Dungeons & Dragons) was a mashup of the plot set-ups of “Conan the Destroyer” and “Young Sherlock Holmes” (cultist, Elder gods, yadda, yadda, yadda), I didn’t map anything out on paper before hand at all! I just imagined “scenes”, described them to my players, and had them roll dice to see if they did whatever they were trying to do, then on to the next scene! 

        As a player, sure some guidance on what sorts of PC’s will fit the game would be nice, but when I ask they usually start on “10,000 years ago a great meeting was held on the continent of….” and I’m zzzzzz.

        You know how it oft said that most Americans can’t find most nations on a map, or even other states?

        Don’t give “macro” details.

        Instead tell of the village where the PC came from, the name of the fishmonger that the PC’s fisherman family sold their catch to, not the name of the freaking ocean they got the fish from!

        Small details help build characters, big grand “5,000 years ago the armies of Argle-Bargle invaded the lands of Generica” don’t help  much

        So yeah, just don’t make the setting at the beginning so exotic that much intro is needed, to quickly get to:

        “What do you do?

        • Nornagest says:

          No, no, no. If you hand your players a 50-page setting doc you’re doing it wrong. The background isn’t for your players. The background is for you, to help you figure out your NPCs’ motivations and build dungeons and cities that don’t feel like you traced a randomly generated map from Diablo. Your players can then get as deep as they want to get in it, but the modal D&D character is, functionally, a barely literate sellsword who cares far more about loot than history or court intrigue and that’s fine.

          (It’s okay if a setting bible exists, and even okay if your players can read it, but you shouldn’t expect it.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Your players can then get as deep as they want to get in it, but the modal D&D character is, functionally, a barely literate sellsword who cares far more about loot than court intrigue and that’s fine.

            Some day I’m going to test the hypothesis that the ideal D&D setting is somewhere in the area from Britain to Germany in prehistoric times. PCs don’t need to know about anything outside their starting coastal village and the first adventure hook, because villages are autonomous units rather than paying part of their crop to a larger center.
            Logres (Britain) is of course the land of ogres, and bugbears, orcs, and goblins/kobolds are the same species not full-grown. Cities are something they find when they choose to go south, ala Conan.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t even think you’d need to go back that far — there’s a long tradition in epic fantasy of having the protagonist be a callow farmboy. Lean on that and your players only need to know as much about their surroundings as a lazy teenager would in an era before cars, telephones, and the printing press.

            Party fighter? Blacksmith’s apprentice. Party thief? Ostler’s son, drunk, and well-known ne’er-do-well. The party wizard? She’s the local knight’s daughter, who nearly bankrupted her dad buying a half-dozen minor magical tomes and sacrificing livestock to the Ruinous Powers. None of them have been further down the road than the nearest market town, and they’ve probably never met anyone who speaks a different language.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: True. I was thinking less in terms of precise time and more in terms of Earthly region to explain the presence of elves, dwarves, and the standard low-level enemies, and the absence of higher authority to complete the adventure before starting PCs do..

          • Drew says:

            I’m not sure we really disagree. My goal is giving players meaningful choices. This means that they need an idea about their options, and the likely trade-offs.

            I might run a session where the party needs to travel — in secret — from City A to City B. Their first problem is deciding route & travel method.

            Depending on campaign setting, options might be anything from: teleportation rings, cars, airships, steamboats, horses, walking, portal network, private rockets, underdark passages, or giant birds.

            In world, the characters have a general idea of how people travel. The goal of the brief prompt is to bring the players up to speed. So, if I stage the game as “Standard Fantasy, but with some Victorian tech and SCIENCE!” the players can infer that there might be trains, but probably not giant birds or extra-dimensional portals.

            But, I agree that consistent worlds are good, too, since they help people build these intuitions. An ideal solution would involve a player noticing that the cities are connected by a river and inferring that there’s probably a bunch of river trade, so they could go on a ship.

            That sort of discovery lets the players feel like they’ve solved a puzzle, and makes for a much more satisfying interaction than them asking me for an exhaustive list of all the travel options.

      • Civilis says:

        The cliches give us a mutually-understood starting point. Since we all know them, we can start a campaign with a minimum of exposition and homework.

        There’s a problem with this approach, and I think refusal to acknowledge it is one of the reasons modern RPGs have so many problems. The problem isn’t that we don’t have a cliche set, it’s that we have multiple slightly different incompatible cliche sets. If I don’t know what an elf or a dwarf or an orc or a gazebo is, I can ask. If I do know, and my knowledge is different than that used by the other people in the game, we have a problem.

        We have a game that ran into serious issues over the issue of dwarven women. The player playing the dwarven woman was an old-school D&D player while the GM was an old school Warhammer player with the game explicitly in the Warhammer universe. Warhammer dwarves are of the ‘women should be home while the men do the fighting’ school of thought, so the GM thought the player wanted to get involved with the whole dwarven gender politics thing, and the player did not. Both of them knew what dwarven culture was like, it just happens that they knew differently. These days, players may have one of an effectively unlimited number of different cliche sets for any concept you’re thinking of including in the game.

        Being a good GM is a matter of knowing what cliches are important for the game, which cliches are important to your players, and when these don’t line up, rectifying the two. Most of your hundred pages of backstory and worldbuilding for your setting are probably not important for the game or the players. On the other hand, if there was a major war between the elves and the dwarves in the recent past, it’s important that players with elven characters know that they’re going to get a frosty reception at best from dwarven NPCs; that particular piece of backstory is important. On the gripping hand, if you have players in the party playing elves and dwarves, it’s important that players know they don’t need to be at each others throats, even if most elves and dwarves don’t get along.

        While useful, ‘planet of hats’ should never be a straightjacket.

    • Lillian says:

      Earthdawn did a great job of having all the various fantasy races be clearly distinct from each other without them having monocultures. To pick an example, there’s a race of amphibian lizardmen called the Tskrang. Most of them live in clans in and along the Serpent River and its tributaries. These clans are all very similar and together form a particular racial culture. However there are also Tskrang tribes in the Servos Jungle, and they are nothing at all like the river clans, having much more in common with the human tribes that also live in that jungle.

      Additionally Tskrang don’t even have the river people niche corned. There’s a nation called the Scavians who are humans living on barges that travel up and down the Serpent River. While they have some cultural similarities to the Tskrang river clans due to sharing the same environment, they also have notable differences, some due to different origin and history, and some due to different biology.

      The elves are an interesting case in that they used to be a monoculture in the setting’s past due to intentional in-character effort, but by the game’s present day this has completely broken down. Explaining the whole of the hows and whys is kind of a long story. The short version is basically that the Elven Court in Wyrm Wood became so tyrannical and inflexible about enforcing cultural hegemony that it wound up undermining its own moral authority and causing schisms between itself and various elven domains. Also one of the schismatics went on to found the multicultural Theran Empire, the rise of which further weakened the elven hegemony.

      Eventually the Court’s own xenophobic inflexibility left them inadequately defended against a global invasion by these eldricht abominations called Horrors, which forced them to enact a vast profane ritual that turned the Wyrm Wood into the Blood Wood, and caused all its denizens to sprout thorns from their bodies. In the face of the Court’s corruption few elven domains are still willing to recognize its authority, and none have gone so far as to imitate it. Traditional elven culture still exists, but it is fractured and leaderless, with every community forced to chart its own path.

      In short, Earthdawn has many cultures that are associated with one particular race, but no race has only one specific culture.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      This is what I’ve always thought is funny about the racism or lack thereof in Star Trek. Human society is 100% post racial colorblind. No one is even aware “skin tone” is a thing that exists, and everyone in Star Fleet basically acts the same.

      But then “a klingon who doesn’t want to slaughter his enemies and drink their blood?!” or “a ferengi who wouldn’t sell his mother into slavery for a bit of latinum?!” is enough plot for an entire episode or two.

      • Walter says:

        That seems consistent to me. Humans are all the same (colorblind idealistic diplomats), Vulcans are all the same (logical scientist explorers), Klingons are all the same (honorable aggressive warriors), etc.

        And then the characters are a one step deviation from any of these points. An aggressive human would get the same kind of one episode treatment as an altruistic ferengi. (I feel like ‘evil human starfleet admiral’ has to have been a movie or two.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I’m just saying from the point of view of messaging. Clearly Roddenberry had an anti-racist message in mind with regards to humans. But then the portrayal of the non-human races is entirely stereotypical.

          • woah77 says:

            Well the reason that comes to my mind first is reasonably obvious: Diversity is expensive. TV being one of those places where the time and money to demonstrate diversity is expensive, I’m not shocked by it at all.

          • albatross11 says:

            The other possibility is that the differences between species are big enough that it tends to swamp the differences within species. I mean, humans vary a lot in strength, and probably so do gorillas, but even a really weak gorilla is insanely strong by human standards. You could imagine this being true across the board–you basically can’t find a human/Klingon pair where it’s the human who’s more naturally aggressive or physically tough; you basically can’t find a human/Vulcan pair where it’s the human who’s more logical and self-controlled, etc.

            This is quite distinct from human races or sexes, where you’re dealing with overlapping bell curves–it’s not so hard to find a male/female pair where the woman is more naturally aggressive or physically tough than the man, say.

        • Randy M says:

          It could also somewhat cynically be supposed that the exposure to fantastic races is what made the differences between humans seem superficial.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The other species in Star Trek are not stand-ins for other races; they are stand-ins for other cultures. The Klingons originally being the Russians, and the Romulans the Chinese. In the Star Trek universe, one’s race does not matter; one’s culture does very much.

        • Randy M says:

          Maybe it’s fair to say that in the allegory the Star Trek universe represents, culture is more important than race. But as actually portrayed, is that so? Worf, for example, was raised by humans and stood out among the Klingons for it, but he stood out just as much if not more among the humans.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In the show, Worf has made the conscious choice to follow Klingon culture, and at some points he comes off as more Klingon than other Klingons (particularly Gowron, who would probably be at home on the Philadelphia City Council).

          • Nick says:

            Chuck at SF Debris has a good video up on Worf and Klingon honor. He is more Klingon than the Klingons—sort of.

          • Randy M says:

            Whereas Worf’s lover was half Klingon and had a much harder time fitting in with Klingons than him, if I recall those two episodes correctly.

  27. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Guys, I had the strangest dream.
    I was reading a philosophy book from the Middle Ages where the author addressed the debate over the moral value of humans vs. other animals. It was about what you’d expect: rational minds have natural rights that no other beings do; they are the measure of all things. Where it got strange was that he used the octopus as his example of the gulf between smart animals and rational minds (“they could not think themselves the moral center of the universe”), and used an Argument from Authority that went “the ancients were wiser than we, and no text that survives from antediluvian times condescends to address the argument that the octopus reasons.”
    Then I wrote a book review of this for SSC, ending with the rhetorical flourish “… the medievals debated the same issues we do, and came to the consensus that Humans Are Special. You could argue that this is too good to be true, as you might of medieval beliefs more obscure and hopeful, like love being the cause of motion.”
    So what should I take away from this?
    Score one for humans sometimes thinking like GPT-2? Or…
    I dreamed the character-establishing scene for a doomed Lovecraft protagonist?

    • Nick says:

      The octopus is a stupid creature, for it will approach a man’s hand if it be lowered in the water; but it is neat and thrifty in its habits: that is, it lays up stores in its nest, and, after eating up all that is eatable, it ejects the shells and sheaths of crabs and shell-fish, and the skeletons of little fishes.

      ~Aristotle, The History of Animals, book ix

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        “So much for the mollusca.” — Aristotle
        (Writes another paragraph and a fraction about mollusk anatomy)

  28. J Mann says:

    1) I generally think that if your goal is to become more productive, then enjoying and appreciating Literature is probably only useful if your production is itself literary in some way.

    Reading an analysis of Shakespeare’s sonnets as poetry, together with the sonnets themselves, may well make you a better ad copy writer, for example, and once you’ve consumed enough non-fiction ad copy instruction, it might do so more efficiently than one more piece of instruction.

    2) Regarding enjoying art for art’s sake, you write:

    What I have seen in my own experience, and what I have learned from people I admire like Andrew Tate and Jocko Willink, is that accomplishment, not passive consumption, is the ultimate source of happiness. Consuming entertainment media may produce contentment, for a time, but I don’t think it really produces lasting happiness.

    Surely this is an issue of marginal benefits. It’s hard to imagine advising someone that the key to happiness is zero visits to art museums or theaters. I would probably agree that passive entertainment is like salt – we’re all already getting so much of it that we can probably assume the ideal value for anyone is probably “some, but less than you’re getting right now.”

  29. Well... says:

    Online there are lots of descriptions of what it’s like to experience extreme g-forces (in the range of 7+) but I’m curious about what it’s like to experience sustained 2-g. What does that feel like after, say, 10 minutes? An hour? What happens to your body after various time markers? What kinds of physical adaptations/exercises/etc. allow people to fare better in 2-g?

  30. Well... says:

    I want to build more muscle over my collarbone area. I already have a split routine and on chest day I always do incline press and dumbbell (or occasionally cable) flyes, and I recently started alternating in incline dumbbell flys. What else should I be doing?

  31. Well... says:

    How literally do I need to take the directions on the lactaid pill bottle that say to take it “with my first bite” of dairy? If it’s a few bites after, is that OK?

  32. J Mann says:

    Note: If I can make a request, I’m much more in the evidentiary “how do we know what to do” question – if we can bump culture war to another thread, I’d appreciate it.

    Is anyone else following the Zak Smith story? From what I can tell, he’s a somewhat minor figure in gaming, who briefly ran a DnD streaming game, has written some materials, etc. He’s recently in the news because his ex wrote a Facebook post asserting that he was systematically manipulative and abusive in their relationship. (I haven’t picked through the whole post, but it sounds like while quite serious, the conduct was largely or entirely verbal/emotional.) Smith denies the conduct.

    The couple was poly, and some of their girlfriends have gone on record to say yes, Smith is an abusive ahole, and some of their girlfriends have said, no, absolutely not.

    It sounds like the gaming industry has basically cut ties with Smith – lots of people are apologizing for ever having worked with him, are canceling projects or appearances, etc.

    Now for the question I’m wrestling with: What is the rational way to address when someone is credibly accused of unprovable misconduct. From the discussion online, it looks like most people start with some priors about what kinds of accusations are credible and what kinds aren’t, but I don’t even know how to evaluate those.

    1) Is there a way to decide what the probability of guilt is?

    2) What do we do with people we think are moderately (let’s say 20% – 80%) likely to be guilty of serious personal misconduct?

    • 10240 says:

      Separation of concerns. If the alleged abuse is a crime, it’s the job of the criminal justice system to determine the likelihood of guilt, and punish him if he is proven guilty. If it’s not a crime, then it’s for the people involved to handle (for example by dumping him). In neither case is it the business of anyone else.

      I consider it acceptable to stop associating with someone who has committed some serious wrongdoing in order to protect yourself from becoming a victim yourself (if it’s the sort of situation where it would be likely, it isn’t in this situation), or because you don’t like to be friends with an asshole, but I don’t consider it virtuous; it’s about neutral if guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt, and worse than neutral if it isn’t. I oppose putting social pressure on you to stop associating with him if you don’t want to. Furthermore, there is no justification for removing his work on the game or his credits, because the nature of that work is not changed by the unrelated wrongdoing, even if it’s true.

      So my answers would be
      1) It doesn’t matter because it’s not our business to decide.
      2) Nothing.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I’m not sure “leave it to the criminal justice system” always works.

        You’re a owner of a small diner, employing three waitresses and a cook. One night the cook walks one the girls home. The next day she claims he raped her and he says they had consensual sex. The police can’t do anything because it’s he-said she-said. The other waitresses believe the alleged victim and do not want to work with the cook anymore, and threaten to quit unless he’s fired. What do?

        • 10240 says:

          It may be in the owner’s interest to fire the cook (depending on whether he is easier to replace than the three waitresses). I’d put the fault primarily on the waitresses who threaten to quit. It’s highly unlikely that the cook would rape them on the job; they could protect themselves from getting raped by not going home with him. I’ve written about the “it’s in his interests” excuse before in another context.

          If I’m wrong about the low probability of rape on the job, then this falls into the category where I’d say it’s acceptable to stop associating with him in order to protect yourself. It’s also understandable if they don’t want to work with a likely rapist, given that they would personally interact with him daily. This is a different situation than, say, selling or reading someone’s game manual, where there is IMO no reason to care about the author’s unrelated personal faults, nor is there a risk that he’ll remote-rape a reader.

          • rlms says:

            Your first paragraph seems to be implying that the waitresses would be being unreasonable if they didn’t want to work with a 100% confirmed rapist (who for whatever reason wasn’t being prosecuted) provided that he wasn’t going to rape them specifically. This seems very unusual to me. I’m of the opinion that if you don’t want people to harm you by refusing to associate with you because you’re a rapist, then you can simply just not rape people. That seems like a rather minimal burden, so I don’t see how people harming you if you refuse to carry it could be unreasonable.

          • 10240 says:

            @rlms I find it understandable in the situation where they have to personally work with him, but I really don’t have this impulse and I don’t find it reasonable. It causes unnecessary dilemmas such as when the owner has to decide between firing someone even though the owner doesn’t know if he’s guilty, or having the waitresses resign. Note that in this situation the only one who knows that the cook is a rapist with 100% certainty (assuming he actually is) is the waitress who was raped.
            It’s unusual that everyone knows that someone is guilty with certainty, but he doesn’t get convicted. In that case it may be reasonable to punish him in lieu of the justice system. However, in cases where known criminals do get convicted, ostracism of ex-convicts probably increases the likelihood of reoffense, while socially punishing people whose guilt is uncertain causes the problem of innocent people getting punished.

          • rlms says:

            There’s certainly a dilemma if there’s uncertainty (which is certainly probable). To my mind, the extent of that dilemma and the respective reasonableness of either side depends on how probable the allegations are. If they are implausible, the waitresses are being more unreasonable and vice versa. At the extremes where the probability is zero or one, one side is completely in the right and the other is in the wrong.

            But you don’t seem to agree, because you’re saying that the fact that the cook is unlikely to rape the waitresses on the job is relevant, and that relevance is not affected by the plausibility of the accusations.

        • Protagoras says:

          Yeah, I read 10240’s advice as applying to cases where you don’t know the people involved. If you read about something on the internet, and have to decide whether to join the twitter mob, the answer is clear; you shouldn’t join the twitter mob (and have no obligation to boycott, etc.) regardless of the details that are being reported about the case. But if it does involve people you know, there is no longer a simple test; sometimes, as perhaps in the case you describe, it is irresponsible to do nothing.

    • Incurian says:

      Just don’t date him.

    • arlie says:

      I think this is one of those cases where “it depends”.

      As an individual, not heavily invested in a relationship with the accused, I’d be biased in favour of keeping my life simpler by avoiding them. Even if they are innocent, the drama will spill over all around them, and they are more likely than a random person to commit whatever type of misconduct in future, potentially directly affecting me.

      As a person making judgments on behalf of any organization large enough to have principles about justice, fairness, and due process, I pretty much have to come down on the side of “not proven, so no penalty” except perhaps for keeping them out of extremely sensitive positions, at least until more is known. The organization should have a judicial or quasi-judicial process, which should probably be applied. That might be as simple as “we don’t take notice of anything except legal proceedings” – or as complex as actual legal proceedings. Much depends on context.

      And if I were e.g. part of an organization devoted to redemption, charity etc., the thing to do is to reach out to everyone involved, encouraging them to repent of their own sins/flaws, whatever they may be, and reform, while at the same time offering that organization’s idea of unconditional love and caring.

      And if I already had a prior relationship with him that I valued, then I’d care a lot more, and would tend towards being supportive and forgiving, but not necessarily partisan.

      And finally – participating in an internet mob, baying after someone where you have no personal knowledge of their offenses – that’s generally a bad idea ethically/morally. It’s tempting to signal boost, if you think the alleged affences are of a type that are often quietly covered up. But once there’s a full scale mob, you should probably just shut up.

      I haven’t been following the case at hand, but my guess is that the guy is probably a bit of an asshole, but not necessarily in ways that rise to “serious offence”. I’ve no idea how to determine how bad he really is, short of being personally involved with his love life (or maybe his professional life), and I certainly don’t want to do that. Given the number of assholes I’ve personally encountered, my priors are that any particular individual has reasonable odds of these behaviours (let’s pull 10% out of the air -that’s low for occassional assholery, and high for systematic abusiveness). I’d give this guy maybe double the odds I’d give a random stranger, based on the public fuss. More perhaps if I’d read the accusations in question and found them plausible, rather than just third hand reporting.

      Not high enough to punish him for his behaviour organizationally (or legally), but high enough to be careful about him at a personal level.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Not high enough to punish him for his behaviour organizationally

        Even a mildly toxic individual can destroy the morale and productivity of a team. It is more important (productivity-wise) to keep those people out of your business than it is to hire superstars, depending some on what industry you’re in.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I don’t mind, and in fact encourage, individual parties to decline to associate with someone they don’t like. Firing someone for being an asshole is a fine decision.

          But things go to shit when this changes from “I, Bob, refuse to associate with person X” to “you, George, better also refuse to associate with person X — or else.” Everyone quickly loses the plot.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I agree, but it is also worth noting that very often the toxic people will be the ones doing the “you better refuse to associate with this person.” In fact that could be a good litmus test for a toxic person.

          • dndnrsn says:


            Not coincidentally, Zak is described by many people as doing that sort of thing – he had a list of people and products he’d tell others not to listen to, not to buy, etc.

        • arlie says:

          Yeah, but you’ve always got the ability to fire them for their behaviours in your team. That’s different from firing them because someone (even a lot of credible someones) said they behaved badly elsewhere, without any legal judgment having been reached.

          OTOH, that’s also why I waffled about organizations “large enough to have principles about …”. One person can do a lot more damage proportionately if the team they damage is the only team in the company/cklub/whatever.

    • Drew says:

      I’d start by dissolving ‘we’. You have private-individuals and you have organizations.

      Private individuals can associate or disassociate with people based on whatever standards they want. And I meant that in a practical, and moral sense. If you want to drop him from your Christmas Card list, it’s rude of me to complain.

      With Organizations, I break things down into a few questions: Is there a problem? Is our problem? What decision are we being asked to make? Who, in our organization, has the authority to make that decision? Has that group been given a clear standard to apply?

      So, if I’m on the board of the conference, a potential answer might be, “The board received an allegation that ZS might be abusive to conference goers. We need to weigh-in because we don’t want conference goers to be abused. Authority on disinvitations belongs to the con-chair / security committee. And their meeting notes suggested that the past standard is […]”

      The reason I make people spell this out is that it focuses the decision onto something actionable. You give the guy a con-badge, or you don’t. And being clear about the specific decision in front of you tends to simplify the question of standards.

      Denying someone a Con-Badge isn’t /that/ big of a deal, so I’d be fine with “credible allegation from a named person”. (Though, given my preference, I’d punt the question to the legal system, and write the role so restraining order = ban)

      Other problems might demand other standards. If the issue is, “None of our authors are willing to co-author a book with X” then I don’t actually need to get into the truth of the allegation, and dis-inviting the person stops being a comment on their morality.

      • Nornagest says:

        I agree with your approach but not your conclusion: given the content of the accusations (i.e. alleged emotional abuse in the context of a long-term relationship), it seems pretty unlikely that ZS is going to abuse random con-goers in the halls. By all means break up with him, badmouth him to your girlfriends, disinvite him from your sex club, but in a pure gaming context I don’t see a case for a credible safety issue, whether or not the allegations are true. And in the absence of a credible issue, this looks like witch hunting to me.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Lots of people who have worked with him or rubbed shoulders have said that he is manipulative and abusive in a gaming context. Lots of stories like “so-and-so stopped participating in online discussions about games because he was so aggressive in hounding them over some perceived slight.”

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s reasonable grounds for keeping him out of gaming spaces where he’ll be rubbing shoulders with a lot of people who don’t know what they’re getting into, then, but I’m a little skeeved that we’ve apparently decided the Schelling point for doing anything about it is something that has nothing to do with gaming.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I don’t know if it’s something that “we’ve decided” – it’s just that right now sex crimes are in the “Definitely A Bad Person” basket. I touched on this in the post a couple of OTs ago – Weinstein was known to be abusive to underlings and to occasionally physically assault men who had angered him; it wasn’t until the possibly-open-secret of his being a sexual harasser, rapist, etc came out that everyone sort of moved the punching from “oh, these creative types!” to “bad man”. Obviously, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t take allegations of sexual misbehaviour for people to realize someone is a crappy person.

          • dumpstergrad says:

            This isn’t surprising: one of the core attributes of most abusers is that they push boundaries elsewhere as well. Most examples of this, unless examined as a pattern, can be disclaimed pretty easily, meaning you have predators out there with a hunting ground that much longer. Most individuals aren’t equipped to recognize the pattern of a toxic bully, especially in nerd spaces, so it makes sense that you’d want something clear, definitive, and difficult to game.

            Also: it’s reasonable to assume that given space in a social group, abusive people will use that social group to find new victims. Kicking them out of the group deprives them of victims of that group. Leaving them in the group is, arguably, enabling them to continue finding victims in that group. You’re not going to be able to warn everybody about the toxic person – leaving them in the group is how you end up with what we call the missing stair problem.

          • 10240 says:

            @dumpstergrad IMO verbal abuse is not serious enough to justify terminology like ‘predators’, ‘victims’ etc.

          • dumpstergrad says:

            If there are credible and especially multiple reports of death threats, rape, and other forms of harassing and abusive behavior – as there do appear to be after a cursory Google of the subject’s name – then the terminology is absolutely justified.

            But more to the point, that’s kind of my point – this is why it’s hard to prove a pattern without something as egregious as rape or physical abuse. Verbal abuse alone, patterns of bullying, etc, are really easy to rules lawyer about until the end of time.

    • Plumber says:

      @J Mann

      “…Is anyone else following the Zak Smith story?…..”

      Sort of.

      I don’t know what he’s alleged to have done (nor do I much want to know), but I saw a note by WotC yesterday that they’re pulling his name from the “Additional consultation provided by” credits in subsequent printings of D&D rules, and I also saw that the episode of “GM tips” in which Satine Phoenix interviews him about his Vornheim supplement has been removed from YouTube.

      Last night I bought myself extra copies of Vornheim, and Frost Bitten and Mutilated, in case they’ll become out of print, and tonight I’ll probably go to a different gameshop and look for spare copies of Blue Medusa, and Red and Pleasant Land.

      As to whether he did whatever he’s supposed to have done, I simply don’t know.

      • Nick says:

        I saw a note be WotC that they’re pulling his name from the “Additional consultation provided by” credits in subsequent printings of D&D rules, and I also saw that the episode of “GM tips” in which Satine Phoenix interviews him about his Vornheim supplement has been removed from YouTube.

        So an accusation of abuse has turned into damnatio memoriae. This is the part that really gets me—and even if the it’s true and provably so.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Agreed. Something similar happened to Walter Lewin, who was accused of sexual harassment and promptly unpersoned by MIT. The only reason his lectures survived is because MIT had already licensed them under CC-BY-NC-SA, and Creative Commons licenses are irrevocable, so other people were free to upload them to their own channels and websites.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Nick’s point is the one that concerns me the most. WotC and Youtube (or Satine Phoenix? Which party memory-holed the interview?) are trying to score progressive points with the practice of damnatio memoriae, which is just terrifying.
          Beyond that issue, I don’t think Zak deserves defense. He was known for being verbally… I can’t say “abusive”, but… dickish? to people, so it’s more credible that this carried over to his romances than when a random man is accused.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Forget about damnatio memoriae. It’s more the airbrushing-out bit so that they can pretend a little bit that they never had him on board that bothers me. It’s entirely for their own benefit, but it’s being presented as some righteous act.

          The most upright response, to me, is the people working on a current project with him saying “I don’t want to screw the Kickstarter backers, so I’ll turn my work in, but I’m never working with him again, and I’m giving all the money I make to charity.” Some of them are asking to have their names taken off, which seems far more legit to me than what Wizards is doing.

        • BBA says:

          Lionel Shriver wrote a piece in Harper’s (paywalled link) arguing against damnatio memoriae. I was sort of buying it until she started arguing that maybe Kevin Spacey should’ve been allowed to finish making House of Cards, with a court-appointed monitor on set… at which point I snapped out and said, no, this is just letting the abusers get away with it, there have to be consequences, dammit!

          I spend a lot of time arguing with myself about these matters and at this point I honestly don’t know what I believe.

      • Randy M says:

        Bwahaha–plumber knows more about an obscure, internet only “news” story than I do.
        As to the topic in question, I have no need to form an opinion on it, being unlikely to either be involved or get reliable information.
        But the memory-holing of it is disturbing as Nick points out.
        And people not in a relationship probably don’t have any reason to feel “unsafe” around him as Nornagest points out.

        • Plumber says:

          @Randy M

          “Bwahaha–plumber knows more about an obscure, internet only “news” story than I do….”

          I check the site about once a month and the announcement that Zak S. is being shunned was prominent, and then I tried to see the GM Tips episode with him again and it was gone.

          Not too hard to guess that he was accused of something, exactly what I still don’t know and hope to not find out.

          • Randy M says:

            Sorry, I just had to rub it in, recalling your “What’s the deal with you young uns and your twitters?” shtick. Playful ribbing, I promise.

          • J Mann says:

            Similarly, I only know about it because Google selected the Wizards announcement for my Google feed. (And because I’m interested in the decision-making on these issues, so after that I read up on it).

          • Nick says:

            Similarly, I only know about it because Google selected the Wizards announcement for my Google feed.

            It did the same thing to me! I had one or two pieces about it in my feed.

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M,
            No offense was taken.

            And I still think Twitter is Hellspawned, possibly Facebook as well.

            It was a little scary to see something of this nature elsewhere before SSC for a change.

            Maybe Zak Smith will now self publish books that don’t have the damnably small type of the Lamatations of the Flame Princess stuff?

          • Randy M says:

            My memory was bugging me, as I did remember some talk online from a year or two ago about someone ‘the community’ was trying to make Wizards distance themselves from, upset that he was in the credits of 5E as a consultant. I think in that case it was RPGPundit, which this post implies are two different people.
            ’round and ’round we go.
            I think here the old LW advice to keep one’s identity small is good. I play games with friends. I am not a ‘gamer’ or a part of the gamer community and feel no need to police others behavior fourth hand or adjudicate these disputes between people I’ll never meet.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It was actually both of them. Zak S (before the abuse allegations came out) was known as an abrasive asshole with a tendency towards 90s-style “beer and tits” sort of lefty politics – maybe 10 years behind the times?

            RPGPundit is, I’m pretty sure, one of those guys whose reaction to annoying lefty-activist types is to take a swing to the right. He doesn’t seem to be far right, as far as I can tell, but he’s the kind of guy who probably makes “are you triggered?” jokes.

            In both cases, they were accused of harassment campaigns, and the charges don’t seem to have been that credible (I think with Zak, the whole “there are people who he’s harassed but they’re too scared to provide evidence” thing was brought up, and, OK, plausible, but if you allow that as evidence of someone being a bad actor…)

    • dndnrsn says:

      You’re missing a big part of the story, which is that even before this, he was known to be an abusive jerk about games online, and since this has come out, it’s served as a sort of last straw/thing to coordinate around. His was one of the unnamed inspirations for this post of mine. People have been coming out, including people who were close to him, who worked with him, some of whom had walked away from him earlier because of his behaviour. What they describe, and have in some cases proved with things like screenshots, is that he was enormously manipulative and abusive, in the sphere of online games arguing.

      A. So, if someone is an asshole one way, it’s likely they’re an asshole another way. If someone is manipulative and abusive with internet randos over games, it’s not a leap to think maybe they’re an asshole at home, too. I remember a law student who’d worked in legal aid telling me that guys who got into bar fights and such usually also hit their girlfriends and kids – I imagine it’s the same with nonphysical abuse. This isn’t infallible; I’m sure there are guys who pick fights on the street who are nice to their wives, and I’m sure there are horrible domestic abusers who seem perfect to everyone else. But in general, I’ll believe that the way someone behaves in one sphere is reflected in other spheres.

      B. His bridge-burning and generally unpleasant behaviour means he has few defenders. I haven’t seen any bloggers defend him, outside of general “how do we decide people are guilty” type stuff. Had there never been domestic abuse allegations, he probably could have gone on behaving like an asshole cult leader. Had he been a sweetheart about games, he probably would not have gotten hit so hard when the allegations came out. “One crime at a time” as the old stoner maxim goes.

      C. Interestingly, even people disavowing him are still defending him against the charges (of being an evil racist transphobe Nazi, or whatever) that were made some years ago (Google “consultancygate”). I saw one blogger note that the only place she saw questions raised about his relationships was not a woke space (where people believed he was a nasty bigot) but 4chan – who weren’t saying he was a bigot.

      D. I think he’s probably guilty; honestly, his defence caused me to update the most in the direction “guilty” – it doesn’t really refute anything, it is written in a conciliatory fashion but is largely aimed at discrediting the accusers in a way that doesn’t actually discredit their allegations, and includes one self-incrimination-he-doesn’t-recognize-as-such. I’m not reading his blog any more and I’m not buying his stuff in future. Although I probably wasn’t anyway: Both of the things of his I’ve bought have been shockingly uninteresting, and I’m baffled that people lavished so much praise on them. In general, there’s some really overrated stuff in the “OSR community” – and he was maybe the greatest offender (everyone was gushing about an edgy Alice in Wonderland book? Really?)

      With regard to your more general questions:

      1. The same way you’d put a % on an upcoming sporting event. Look at the participants, look at the context, make a guess.

      2. Who’s “we”? Each individual person is free to with their time or money what they wish. Institutionally, higher standards are needed the more damage the institution can do to a person. Wizards deciding to take his name out of the book should require a lower standard than a university kicking someone out should require a lower standard than putting someone in prison.

      • 10240 says:

        If he was an asshole to others in the game, then that should be the reason to stop associating with him. And even then, it’s only a reason to, say, ban him from forums, not to stop selling or buying his products (which doesn’t require interacting with him). If his products are bad, that‘s of course a good reason not to buy them.

        Removing his name from a book as a consultant is straight-up wrong if he was, in fact, a consultant, even if he is certainly guilty.

        • dndnrsn says:

          If you think someone is a crappy person, and you don’t want them to get your money, that’s a reason not to buy their products. With regard to selling his products, we’re in a capitalist system – there’s more than one way to buy things – and if a seller decides that he’s not worth the hassle, or thinks he’s doing damage to the wider gaming community, they can do that.

          • 10240 says:

            I buy stuff because it’s worth more to me than its price, not to reward or punish its producer; I don’t see a reason to not want a crappy person to receive your money. I also don’t think he is doing damage to the gaming community in general: he is doing damage to the people he interacts with, but that damage can be prevented by stopping personally interacting with him, or banning him from certain forums.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If you drive people off from a community – which, some people are saying, they did get out of the whole OSR-and-adjacent scene because of him being unpleasant – it harms the community. If one of the more prominent members of a subculture (sub-subculture?) is known to be, at best, a jerk, it doesn’t make that subculture look good.

            Regardless of why you buy something, buying something is a reward to its producer. There are people I don’t want to have my money; it’s like the opposite of charity: buying mosquito nets for places where malaria is a problem is positive, so even though I don’t get anything immediately out of it (in the long run, a world with less malaria almost certainly has some sort of indirect positive effect for me, but that’s hardly the motivation) I toss some money at that. Conversely, even if I thought his books weren’t overrated, pretentious dreck, there’s just enough red flags about the guy that I will take my money elsewhere. There’s no lack of indie RPG producers.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Regardless of why you buy something, buying something is a reward to its producer.

            Yeah, but it’s a reward for the product they’ve produced. Do work -> get paid.

            If there are two carpenters, I don’t need to stop and think about if one of them kicks puppies when I’m shopping for a table. If they make a better table for a better price, there’s nothing wrong with buying the damn table. It’s not rewarding the puppy kicking, it’s rewarding the carpentry.

            America was famously founded with separation of church and state. What we need these days from employers and boycotters is separation of life and commerce.

          • 10240 says:

            @dndnrsn He doesn’t drive people away from the community if he gets banned from venues where people can’t easily avoid interacting with him.

            I get your attitude of wanting to cause harm to bad people even at your expense, but I disapprove of that attitude — especially when the offense in question is small enough that there is no need to deter it with punishment, as significant damage by offenders can be prevented by banning them after a few occurrences of bad behavior, and no other sanctions.

          • dndnrsn says:


            But what if I dislike puppy-kicking, and would rather not have my money go to a guy who’s going to maybe use it to, I don’t know, buy puppies to kick? What if I, personally, derive some sort of utility from knowing that my money is going to nice people instead of jerks? I don’t even know that I’d call it a boycott – it’s me, on a personal level, deciding that the revelations of possible abusive personal-life behaviour and confirmed abusive professional-life behaviour (if someone is a game designer, and is abusive in the context of the “gaming community” – surely it is no longer a personal-life thing) are things that go on the “reasons to not buy” side of the ledger.


            What if it’s not about causing harm to him, but about my own conscience? What if it’s about reducing his visibility and footprint as a game designer – which more sales of his book accomplishes? (Part of the reason he got away with his asshole behaviour was that he had a reputation as being a creative genius – not sure how he got it, but anyway.) I would prefer that my money go to nice people I like whenever possible. I don’t think this is different from preferring to buy from a local game store instead of Amazon when I go for a dead-tree version of a game.

          • 10240 says:

            @dndnrsn If you have a terminal value that benefiting or associating with bad people is bad, then I can’t argue about that. However, I think in most cases it’s more of an instrumental rule of thumb that benefiting a bad person might make it easier for him to do bad things. If he has already been prevented from doing bad things in a different way, then the rule of thumb is invalid in this case.

            I don’t see the reason to reduce his visibility as a game designer, if his games are, in fact, good. Again, I have this idea of separation of concerns, where someone’s reputation as a game designer should be determined by the quality of the games he designs, and not of his other qualities. What if an asshole is a creative genius? I’d say we should limit the damage he causes as much as possible, but also enjoy his products.

            I don’t think this is different from preferring to buy from a local game store instead of Amazon when I go for a dead-tree version of a game.

            I don’t find that reasonable either. If you only prefer the local store if they have the same price (assuming same convenience), people with your preference will have little effect: as soon as a non-negligible number of people have this preference, the local store will slightly raise its prices (by, say, $0.01), or Amazon will lower them, in which case you will buy from Amazon.

            If you prefer the local store even if Amazon is cheaper by $d, then you are basically giving the local store $d in charity: the local store could reduce its price by $d to compete with Amazon. You are willing to pay them $d more so they can make $d more than they would if their customers were selfish. If you want to give $d in charity, there is probably a better place for it than your local game store.

            Perhaps the local store would close if they had to compete with Amazon’s prices, as some other activity would be more profitable at that point. Let’s say they would make $A at Amazon’s prices, they make $C at the current higher prices thanks to the generosity of their customers, while they could make $B by doing some different business (after the cost of switching), with A<B<C. Then the generosity of their customers makes the store better off by $(C-B), at a cost of $(C-A) to the customers, with a deadweight loss of $(B-A).

            The same arguments apply to preferring to buy the products of good people rather than bad people: it either has minimal effect, or it is essentially charitable giving to good producers to reward them for being good.

          • dndnrsn says:


            If you have a terminal value that benefiting or associating with bad people is bad, then I can’t argue about that. However, I think in most cases it’s more of an instrumental rule of thumb that benefiting a bad person might make it easier for him to do bad things. If he has already been prevented from doing bad things in a different way, then the rule of thumb is invalid in this case.

            I don’t see the reason to reduce his visibility as a game designer, if his games are, in fact, good. Again, I have this idea of separation of concerns, where someone’s reputation as a game designer should be determined by the quality of the games he designs, and not of his other qualities. What if an asshole is a creative genius? I’d say we should limit the damage he causes as much as possible, but also enjoy his products.

            I don’t necessarily have that as a terminal value, but interacting with people usually has other effects. If you put up with someone who is shitty, that will often enable their shittiness. His abusive behaviour within the game community was enabled by his stature as a game designer. Leaving aside that I think this stature was grossly exaggerated (he was neither as important as some people thought he was, nor as talented or interesting), his stature let him take on the role of “cult leader type, known to be abusive, but tolerated because He’s An Artist” instead of the role of “random internet asshole everyone blocks.” With regard to the domestic abuse allegations, it’s a bit shakier, but I believe there are some claims that the money he got from game sales helped him exert financial control over women.

            If you prefer the local store even if Amazon is cheaper by $d, then you are basically giving the local store $d in charity: the local store could reduce its price by $d to compete with Amazon. You are willing to pay them $d more so they can make $d more than they would if their customers were selfish. If you want to give $d in charity, there is probably a better place for it than your local game store.

            Perhaps the local store would close if they had to compete with Amazon’s prices, as some other activity would be more profitable at that point. Let’s say they would make $A at Amazon’s prices, they make $C at the current higher prices thanks to the generosity of their customers, while they could make $B by doing some different business (after the cost of switching), with A<B<C. Then the generosity of their customers makes the store better off by $(C-B), at a cost of $(C-A) to the customers, with a deadweight loss of $(B-A).

            Local game stores can’t afford to compete with Amazon because, among other reasons, they provide services Amazon can’t. You can flip through the books, you can play games there, etc. They don’t charge for these things. Amazon offers a more bare-bones experience; if Amazon replaced all brick-and-mortar book stores, I think that would be a net negative. It’s not just about charity, it’s about effects surrounding the book purchase. Having a place where people have to go and congregate to get books creates community (needed for most games; I believe that face-to-face gaming is vastly superior to gaming over online services as well) while everyone using Amazon destroys it.

          • 10240 says:

            @dndnrsn If those extra services are worth the higher prices, then that’s the reason you go to the brick-and-mortar stores. In my comment, I assumed that Amazon’s price was lower for service of identical value.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Sure. What I’m saying is that the vague, hard-to-quantify community effects of buying brick-and-mortar instead of Amazon, or avoiding giving money and stature to an unpleasant person, aren’t just personal preferences. One could make a utilitarian case for those things.

          • Plumber says:

            Regarding the Amazon versus brick-and-mirror discussion, I do boycott Amazon, as I dislike that the Other Change of Hobbit bookstore is no more, and I just plain hate giving credit card info on-line, making new passwords, et cetera.

            Not from Amazon, but some years ago I needed to order a University of Southern California textbook/manual for work (the “Cross-Connection-Control” book) and right afterwards B.O.A. called me to ask if I’ve ever bought anything in New York City and Dubai (places I’ve never been).
            Stories about the conditions of Amazon warehouse workers were another incentive to not buy anything from there.
            It’s frustrating though, when I needed replacement parts for my shavers and went to my local store they told me the don’t stock them anymore because they can’t compete with on-line, Radio-Shack is out of business, et cetera.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But what if I dislike puppy-kicking, and would rather not have my money go to a guy who’s going to maybe use it to, I don’t know, buy puppies to kick? What if I, personally, derive some sort of utility from knowing that my money is going to nice people instead of jerks? I don’t even know that I’d call it a boycott – it’s me, on a personal level, deciding that the revelations of possible abusive personal-life behaviour and confirmed abusive professional-life behaviour (if someone is a game designer, and is abusive in the context of the “gaming community” – surely it is no longer a personal-life thing) are things that go on the “reasons to not buy” side of the ledger.

            This is still just the most benign form of “threaten people’s livelihood’s if they don’t conform to your values”. I may be wrong but it sounds like there’s a assumption that will be other consumers who don’t care as much such that the puppykickers aren’t literally starving in the streets, and you don’t much mind their choice to do so.

            But for a more evangelized form of this ethos, just check out the previously-broken newest post.

            Maybe I’m not creatively charitable enough, but it sounds like the circle gets squared as something like “don’t encourage people to do a thing you think is moral if coordinating it will hurt someone”. Which is… pretty weak, as far as Shelling points go. Much stronger is albatross’ “keep personal judgements out of business transactions”

          • LesHapablap says:


            I disagree quite strongly. Doing business with people who share your values is an effective method of propagating those values. If you don’t do it, you can be sure that others with different values ARE doing it, and so your values will be crowded out of the memepool. This is obviously a bad thing as one’s values are good, at least according to each individual.

            See Meditations on Moloch for examples of how good values can be eroded in a race to the bottom if enough incentives are removed for keeping them.

            Let’s say one of your values is to not be kind and charitable and anti-dogpiling. You can patronize a company that upholds that value, or one that routinely dogpiles on people. Because of the nature of that dogpile bullying value, it can spread quite easily across organizations and industries as we’ve seen. There aren’t many effective mechanisms at stopping it. It’s not illegal, certainly not practically illegal. One of the only ways you can help the value of anti-dogpiling is to not patronize companies that have that erode that value.

            Same for your Captain Planet style evil corporation that pollutes the earth. There are no evil people in the corporation, there are just people with bad incentives. If the CFO can say to the CEO, “look at these numbers: polluting is costing is X amount in sales,” then they can all breathe a sigh of relief and stop polluting, knowing that their competitors won’t gain a crushing advantage from it. Without that incentive, they cannot have a non-polluting value and stay in business.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            By all means, boycott for bad economic behavior. If my hypothetical puppy-kicking carpenter uses puppy bones to make his tables (assume for the moment this is somehow legal), then that’s totally above-board to punish by not buying puppy-bone tables.

            Which extends just fine to Nestle and other Captain Planet villains. But whether Nestle’s CEO cheated on his wife is wholly irrelevant to whether I buy their products, even if cheating is something I’d shun in the personal sphere.

            I kind of suck at writing so I probably didn’t make this clear from the start: punishing economic behavior in the economic sphere = good; punishing personal behavior in the personal sphere = good; punishing personal behavior in the commercial sphere = bad.
            (Punishing commercial behavior in the personal sphere I’m also inclined toward being bad, especially for anyone below C-suite, since they’re all caught up in those Molochian incentives and need to eat. But I’m much less confident on this quadrant)

            I bucket things like environmental externalities, HR policies (e.g. if you care about diversity), and PR sleaziness as economic behavior. But I also kind of suck at rigor so, I dunno, might be drifting into some sort of epicycles.

            Like, this is what corporate entities are for isn’t it? The company is not accountable for the personal lives of its members, only what is done while acting as an agent of the company.

          • albatross11 says:

            Les Hablahap:

            There’s a direct cost to you in refusing to do business with people with different ideas–I’m pretty sure the economics are going to work out the same as for racial discrimination. You will have to pay more for worse goods and services in order to satisfy your preference for only doing business with good Christian businessmen, or businesses that reserve the good jobs for white people only, or people who voted for Hillary in the last election, or people who support gay marriage, or vegetarians, or….

            There’s also a social cost, because one thing that ties all the different mutually-disagreeing groups that make up our society together is trade–the willingness to do business with people who are of different faiths and nationalities and races and political beliefs and lifestyles. Since I like living in a diverse society where we all can live together despite not agreeing on everything, I think this is pretty valuable.

            And there’s another cost to widespread use of boycotts against people who disagree with your values–very few people will be able or willing to disagree with the values of the economically dominant group. It’s probably overoptimistic to assume that your values will be the ones that end up on top, but maybe they will.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            One of the theses in Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West (which I’m not fully committed to, but it’s self-consistent enough for now) was that capitalism changed members of other tribes from potential murderers-of-us into potential customers-of-us, so it was worth being at peace with them. If we no longer care about customers, then we have every incentive to change the other back into potential murderers.

          • dndnrsn says:


            You’re putting a very bland spin on what is basically trying to kick a guy out of a community whose behaviour seems to have harmed that community, and who on top of that is now accused of domestic abuse. The guy in question did have a personal policy of boycotting, blocking, etc for having different opinions (I believe about both games and about actual real world politics). He’s not getting kicked out for that, he’s getting kicked out for a pattern of behaviour within the “tabletop gaming community” that is capped off by an allegation of domestic abuse that is at least adjacent to said community (the ex was a player in his streamed game, I believe, and defended him/he put words in her mouth to defend him in the shitstorms over real and alleged behaviour within the community.

            My personal rule is that I don’t disavow or ostracize or avoid or boycott people for group membership or beliefs unless those beliefs are inherently bad (eg, totalitarians – fascism has both times it’s actually gotten into power has led to oppression, war, and enormous suffering; vanguardist communists who believe the worker’s utopia must be built on a pile of skulls have never managed to produce the worker’s utopia but have managed the pile of skulls all right, and the best case scenario is a grim police state). But personal actions? It depends on the action, and it depends on how not disavowing/ostracizing/avoiding/boycotting the person will assist them to do bad actions.


            I think that “be willing to do business with people different from you” and “be willing to do business with people who do things you, most other people, and the law object to” are not the same thing.

            @Edward Scizorhands

            There’s no “domestic-abusers” tribe, is there? This isn’t about the people of Upper Lower Valleyshire and Middle Lower Valleyshire stopping fighting because it’s more profitable to trade.

          • 10240 says:

            @dndnrsn I don’t think emotional abuse can be objectively defined. With emotional situations, the same story can often be easily spun in a way that makes one or the other side appear to be in the wrong, without either story explicitly lying. There may be clear-cut cases, but it’s typically hard for outsiders to determine. You spoke of financial control using his money; I presume it means they put up with his shit because he paid for their stuff. That’s a fair (if weird) deal in my mind; they could make their own money and stop being dependent on him.

            @Plumber Amazon warehouse workers work at Amazon because it offers them the best deal if both salary and conditions are taken into account. If there are fewer jobs at Amazon because some people boycott it, that makes potential Amazon workers worse off, not better off.
            Objection: There are no better options for them because Amazon drove other potential employers in the area out of business. If Amazon didn’t exist, there would be better employers for them.
            Answer:Amazon can only drive other employers out of business if it offers a better deal (taking both salary and conditions into account) than other employers. If Amazon offers a worse deal to its employees than other potential employers, then other employers can stay in business and steal its employees.

          • dndnrsn says:


            He’s also been accused of consent violations as well, which are easier to define. The sort of stuff he was doing in the gaming circles, meanwhile, was dicey as all get out. Evidently, people did not want him around, and thought he was harmful to the “community” – once there was something to coordinate around, they kicked him out.

            Even aside from the allegations of domestic abuse, he acted in a way that was directly relevant to the question of whether or not to buy his game books.

        • LesHapablap says:

          That’s a very strange, seemingly nihilistic attitude 10240. Banishment is a punishment, for one thing.

          This has to be a strawman of your opinion: if there are two equally skilled carpenters, one is a complete asshole and the other is very nice, you disapprove of choosing to buy a chair from the nice one based on that?

          • 10240 says:

            Assuming one of them is known to certainly be an asshole, I wouldn’t disapprove of it. I wouldn’t approve of it either.

            I don’t feel the need to punish wrongs such as verbal abuse, beyond not associating with someone in a way he could abuse me (and making it easy for others to do so). I want serious wrongs such as physical abuse to be punished, but it’s the courts’ job to do so, and I don’t feel the need to punish them beyond the court-imposed sentence, while punishing people who haven’t been convicted typically involves too much of a risk of punishing innocents.

          • albatross11 says:

            Personally, I think one of the best things about our society is that it’s normal to do business with people without needing to make a ruling on their personal morals or behavior. This is part of how we can have a diverse society that works well–you don’t have to know (and mostly don’t know) or care that your carpenter is Jewish or your accountant is into bondage or your psychiatrist is in a polyamorous relationship or your dentist is a traditionalist Catholic or your plumber is a Wiccan or…. None of those things are relevant, and that’s true even if you personally are a super-fundamentalist Protestant who thinks Jews, Catholics, Wiccans, and perverts who are into bondage or polyamory are all bound for hell.

            We don’t all agree on most of our values or ideas. Being able to still interact and do business makes it possible for us to keep that diversity of ideas and still remain at peace and productive. Trying to get shunning and boycotts to become a standard part of daily life seems to me to be throwing a big handful of sand into the gears of some machinery we’d like to keep running smoothly.

          • dndnrsn says:


            Is the US somewhere where this is, or ever has been, the norm? I think you’re confusing increasing tolerance of various groups for a standard of avoiding boycotts (if one considers “I don’t buy from so-and-so, he’s a dirty such-and-such” to be a boycott). Further, I think there’s a bit of a gap between being a Wiccan and a domestic abuser. The worst I can say about Wiccans is that their understanding of anthropology and religious history is wrong enough to be extremely silly. Being a domestic abuser is a choice, and an immoral and harmful one. What someone is, what someone believes, and what someone does are 3 different things.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I am totally with albatross on this one. I think it is a good value in itself for people to be willing to do business with others, even when they disapprove of their moral behavior. dnd, you differentiate between Wiccans and domestic abusers, implying the abusers should be discriminated against but not Wiccans. But I think there are plenty of folks who think the opposite — that Wiccans are clearly more immoral than abusers.

            I am worried that dnd’s point of view is gaining far too much credence in today’s world, which will make our society even more paranoid and scared to make any sort of moral judgment in public, for fear of being doxxed and losing one’s ability to make a living. It would be nice if people in the world followed the moral judgments I believe in, but it is far more important to me that people in the world can make these moral judgments based on their true beliefs and not be an economic calculation.

          • albatross11 says:


            There are plenty of people who find Wiccans, poly people, trans people, etc., upsetting and offensive and scary and disgusting in the same way you find wife-beaters. Perhaps you’re right and they’re wrong, but surely they think the same thing. And I think it’s interesting to think about what norms we should promote in a world where not everyone shares the same beliefs, and where we might be wrong.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I think we are talking past each other here because the values I’m talking about are not ‘christian’ or ‘wiccan’ or ‘pro-SJW.’ I consider those more identities, with values entrenched in them. The example I gave above was asshole vs. nice person. We all know there are asshole christians and nice christians, and the same is true for other groups. What I mean when I say values:


            I’m finding this discussion hard because I can’t separate these values into personal vs. business. I think if someone lacks integrity in their personal life they will in business as well.

            If we are talking about more specific values like religious faith or monogamy, I would never choose a business based on that and I would disapprove of people who did. Does that make me hypocritical or inconsistent?

            edit: I also think there are orders of magnitude less people that care about wiccan stuff compared to wife-beating, at least in the US.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It’s self-defeating to say that you can’t choose not to interact with domestic abusers because, while you dislike domestic abusers and don’t dislike Jews, somebody out there dislikes Jews too, and not interacting with anyone based on something not immediately relevant to the interaction is thus bad. This will lead to your society being overrun by people who are not shitty – not shitty by some subjective “they’re going to Hell” way, but shitty by the objective standard that domestic abuse is wrong (and, even in societies where it was accepted for a man to “discipline” his wife, guys who did it too much or too harshly were frowned upon – and societies where it’s just OK to beat the shit out of your wife because you’re drunk and she burned the roast, are garbage societies.)

            It feels to me like saying, “beating up your wife shouldn’t be illegal, because some governments make criticizing the government illegal”. “We can’t have rules because some rules are bad” seems self-defeating: a good society with a few rules that makes a few compromises is better able to fight off a bad society with horrible rules, than one that’s decided rules themselves are bad. Plus, there’s always rules, even if we don’t recognize them as such; informal rules can be worse than formal.

            In any case, this is not even about capital-r Rules, this is about me, personally, deciding I don’t want to do business with Steve the car mechanic, who is also a serial rapist. If it’s a social norm that you can’t choose not to do business with someone for a reason not directly linked to the business transaction – who enforces that?

          • albatross11 says:

            Considering this a bit more, I guess I’ve been thinking in terms of coordinated meanness, either in the form of:

            a. This person has bad ideas (alt-right, human b-odiversity, antifa, anti-Christian, white supremacist, Communist) and so let’s coordinate meanness against him–refusing to do further business with him, refusing to hire him, or work with him, or sell anything to him.

            b. This person has been claimed to be a bad person by some influential social media types, so let’s coordinate meanness against him–refusing to do further business with him, refusing to hire him, work with him, etc.

            I think (a) throw sand into the gears of important machinery for keeping a multicultural society running. I think (b) is likely to lead to a lot of localized injustice and maybe bleed over into (a), but it’s a quite different thing. I think where (a) and (b) get the most destructive is when you have a “viral” boycott–you won’t do business with X, nor with anyone who does business with X, nor with anyone who does business with anyone who does business with X, nor…. That seems like a blueprint for tearing up society.

            Not doing business with someone you know to be an evil person is reasonable enough. But it’s easy for that to get coordinated into some really destructive and nasty stuff, especially with the way nuance and context gets thrown away in existing social-media (and traditional-media) witch-burning exercises.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Those are all basic human social dynamics, though. Maybe all that can be done is get society to a place where it only happens over things that are actually real-deal bad (and, of course, the occasional unfortunate false positive – but again, maybe no way to escape that).

          • suntzuanime says:

            Rape and murder are basic human social dynamics too, that’s no excuse.

          • dndnrsn says:

            “Reason” and “excuse” are not the same thing. Could you build a society without those things? Maybe, but that sounds awfully utopian, and it probably requires a blank-slatist view, which few here hold.

            You can have those things reduced in frequency, you can try to work to reduce the harm they do (by various means). Even if you build a society where no good person with two scraps of feeling for their fellow human ever murders or rapes, you’re probably dealing with a low-single-digit % of people who for whatever reason either don’t care about hurting other people or enjoy it. The same is true for any other act (criminal or not) that hurts or harms someone. Some people don’t care, and some people like those things.

            A society where nobody ever gets harmed because they’re unpopular is also a fantasy. You can reduce it, you can try to set things up so that “things that are actually bad” and “things that are unpopular” are as close together as possible, so that as many unpopular people as possible are unpopular for fair reasons.

      • J Mann says:

        I thought of your post when I saw the story, but didn’t realize they were connected – thanks!

        • dndnrsn says:

          The other two examples I had thought of were Avital Ronell (professor, accused of sexual harassment; stuff that came out after the harassment suggested that she was a cult-leader type who treated grad students like garbage – she wouldn’t have gone down for that alone, though) and Jeffrey Tambor (the sexual harassment allegations against him seem to have fizzled, but then it was confirmed that he is or has been abusive to other people working on shows with him). It seems like the level of tolerance for non-sexual horribleness is quite high, much higher than the level of tolerance for sexual horribleness.

      • Plumber says:


        “OSR community”

        Just an aside, in the last few years I’ve read various “Old School Renaissance/Revival/Whatever” blog posts and I’ve enjoyed many of them, but I also have found various “the way it was” pieces off because I don’t remember it like that, what doesn’t come across is that there was no one true “way”.

        When I started as a player (in ’79) and into the 1980’s Gygax and his anti-“California style play” screeds were mocked (he was referred to as “the E.G.G. man”).

        My first DM used the LBB’s, Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldrich Wizardry, the AD&D Monster Manual, and the third party All the World’s Monsters, and the Arduin Grimoires.

        As a player I first thought that the Perrin Conventions were original D&D rules.

        I miss it.

        • dndnrsn says:


          I see a strong similarity between “OSR” and fundamentalism. What I mean is, fundamentalism always presents itself as going back to the past, but it’s always got a version of the past that wasn’t so, and is itself affected by modernity – fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon, not a pure return to the olden days. It’s got a lot of people who weren’t there, heck, it’s got a lot of people who have less time in the gaming world than I do (I started playing late in 2nd ed’s lifespan, in the late 90s – you’ve got OSR luminaries who didn’t start playing until within the past 10 years) talking about how in the late 70s and early 80s everything was pure, rules-light sandbox play.

          This is not to knock the OSR – the whole retroclone, rediscover-the-olden-days movement got me to touch D&D again after a 10+ year period where I played it once or twice, having tired of the rules bloat of 3rd, 3.5th, and Pathfinder, and having been utterly repulsed by 4th. I’d simply thought that D&D was bad and other RPGs were better – for those 10 years, I played primarily Call of Cthulhu. Playing a retroclone, reading a ton of blogs, working in all sorts of bits and pieces from here and there was a revelation. But the OSR has a lot of the same problems “corporate” D&D has had (there’s still incentives to churn out stuff that nobody will ever use – whether it’s indie products for a few bucks, or blog posts for social capital) and a lot of misconceptions about what D&D circa 1977 or whatever looked like.

    • The Nybbler says:

      1) Is there a way to decide what the probability of guilt is?

      For me? No. You’d have to know at least some the people involved enough to have an idea of their credibility. I don’t know any of them.

      2) What do we do with people we think are moderately (let’s say 20% – 80%) likely to be guilty of serious personal misconduct?

      If your relationship with them is not personal? Perhaps avoid becoming involved in a personal relationship with them. But bringing someone else’s relationship drama into a business relationship is IMO foolish. That’s one sure way to get ants, if you remember how THAT controversy kicked off.

    • My instinct is that with those odds you do not do anything intended to punish the person, do take precautions in your interactions with him.

    • Walter says:

      “What is the rational way to address when someone is credibly accused of unprovable misconduct.”

      I update slightly in favor of them being capable of that conduct, and ensure our interaction minimizes any opportunity for that.

      That is, if Good Old Dave is being called out for burning down empty buildings in a believable, credible way, but denies it, I don’t suddenly start treating him as Arson Dave who always sets fires, but I also don’t bring him into the Powder Room.

      So, like, in this particular case, I wouldn’t mind gaming with this dude, or working on games with him, but I’d be very careful before I started dating him, gotta make sure to keep on guard if he starts trying the sort of shenanigans that his previous partners are warning me of.

  33. AG says:

    So, what you’re saying is, Scott/Eliezer was wrong to write Unsong/HPMOR instead of spending their time generating more insight porn for us?

    Art is in most people’s soul, to express who we are and how we feel through art is the natural instinct. We long to make narrative out of everything, to find the patterns where none may exist. If denied the safety valve of fiction, we will make fiction out of truth.

    Also insert the Hogfather monologue here.

    (There’s something to be said for how important the presence of a narrative thread is for educational children’s shows. Consider Carmen Sandiego, Magic School Bus, Cyberspace, Barney. The counter-examples merely condense the timeline, offering little skits or memes. Consider Sesame Street or Bill Nye. It might be worth looking at which kind of educational video games are more effective, correlated with the presence of narrative.)

    At the end, it’s all about those revealed preferences. Which people in history have more successfully advanced their agenda, those who have embraced narrative (producing fiction propaganda), or those who have attempted to reject it (“sticking to the facts”)?

  34. Plumber says:


    “…maybe I will write a short story in which the protagonist, an aspiring member of the literati, finds himself frustrated in life, despite his great knowledge of literature and erudition, for some reason. He gradually comes to recognize the contradictions and confusions in the books he’s admired for so long, and starts questioning the choices he’s made. Perhaps this story will subtly advance a certain thesis about reading fiction?”

    Or you could right a long work about a man driven mad by the fiction he’s read, Call him “Don” and then write about what happens when he regains sanity…

    “…But for all this Don Quixote could not shake off his sadness. His friends called in the doctor, who felt his pulse and was not very well satisfied with it, and said that in any case it would be well for him to attend to the health of his soul, as that of his body was in a bad way. Don Quixote heard this calmly; but not so his housekeeper, his niece, and his squire, who fell weeping bitterly, as if they had him lying dead before them. The doctor’s opinion was that melancholy and depression were bringing him to his end. Don Quixote begged them to leave him to himself, as he had a wish to sleep a little. They obeyed, and he slept at one stretch, as the saying is, more than six hours, so that the housekeeper and niece thought he was going to sleep for ever. But at the end of that time he woke up, and in a loud voice exclaimed, “Blessed be Almighty God, who has shown me such goodness. In truth his mercies are boundless, and the sins of men can neither limit them nor keep them back!”

    The niece listened with attention to her uncle’s words, and they struck her as more coherent than what usually fell from him, at least during his illness, so she asked, “What are you saying, senor? Has anything strange occurred? What mercies or what sins of men are you talking of?”

    “The mercies, niece,” said Don Quixote, “are those that God has this moment shown me, and with him, as I said, my sins are no impediment to them. My reason is now free and clear, rid of the dark shadows of ignorance that my unhappy constant study of those detestable books of chivalry cast over it. Now I see through their absurdities and deceptions, and it only grieves me that this destruction of my illusions has come so late that it leaves me no time to make some amends by reading other books that might be a light to my soul. Niece, I feel myself at the point of death, and I would fain meet it in such a way as to show that my life has not been so ill that I should leave behind me the name of a madman; for though I have been one, I would not that the fact should be made plainer at my death. Call in to me, my dear, my good friends the curate, the bachelor Samson Carrasco, and Master Nicholas the barber, for I wish to confess and make my will.” But his niece was saved the trouble by the entrance of the three. The instant Don Quixote saw them he exclaimed, “Good news for you, good sirs, that I am no longer Don Quixote of La Mancha, but Alonso Quixano, whose way of life won for him the name of Good. Now am I the enemy of Amadis of Gaul and of the whole countless troop of his descendants; odious to me now are all the profane stories of knight-errantry; now I perceive my folly, and the peril into which reading them brought me; now, by God’s mercy schooled into my right senses, I loathe them….”

    “…turning to Sancho, he said, “Forgive me, my friend, that I led thee to seem as mad as myself, making thee fall into the same error I myself fell into, that there were and still are knights-errant in the world….”

    “…..At last Don Quixote’s end came, after he had received all the sacraments, and had in full and forcible terms expressed his detestation of books of chivalry. The notary was there at the time, and he said that in no book of chivalry had he ever read of any knight-errant dying in his bed so calmly and so like a Christian as Don Quixote, who amid the tears and lamentations of all present yielded up his spirit, that is to say died. On perceiving it the curate begged the notary to bear witness that Alonso Quixano the Good, commonly called Don Quixote of La Mancha, had passed away from this present life, and died naturally; and said he desired this testimony in order to remove the possibility of any other author save Cide Hamete Benengeli bringing him to life again falsely and making interminable stories out of his achievements.

    Such was the end of the Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha, whose village Cide Hamete would not indicate precisely, in order to leave all the towns and villages of La Mancha to contend among themselves for the right to adopt him and claim him as a son, as the seven cities of Greece contended for Homer. The lamentations of Sancho and the niece and housekeeper are omitted here, as well as the new epitaphs upon his tomb; Samson Carrasco, however, put the following lines:

    A doughty gentleman lies here;

    A stranger all his life to fear;

    Nor in his death could Death prevail,

    In that last hour, to make him quail.

    He for the world but little cared;

    And at his feats the world was scared;

    A crazy man his life he passed,

    But in his senses died at last.

    And said most sage Cide Hamete to his pen, “Rest here, hung up by this brass wire, upon this shelf, O my pen, whether of skilful make or clumsy cut I know not; here shalt thou remain long ages hence, unless presumptuous or malignant story-tellers take thee down to profane thee. But ere they touch thee warn them, and, as best thou canst, say to them:

    Hold off! ye weaklings; hold your hands!

      Adventure it let none,

    For this emprise, my lord the king,

      Was meant for me alone.

    For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him; it was his to act, mine to write; we two together make but one, notwithstanding and in spite of that pretended Tordesillesque writer who has ventured or would venture with his great, coarse, ill-trimmed ostrich quill to write the achievements of my valiant knight;–no burden for his shoulders, nor subject for his frozen wit: whom, if perchance thou shouldst come to know him, thou shalt warn to leave at rest where they lie the weary mouldering bones of Don Quixote, and not to attempt to carry him off, in opposition to all the privileges of death, to Old Castile, making him rise from the grave where in reality and truth he lies stretched at full length, powerless to make any third expedition or new sally; for the two that he has already made, so much to the enjoyment and approval of everybody to whom they have become known, in this as well as in foreign countries, are quite sufficient for the purpose of turning into ridicule the whole of those made by the whole set of the knights-errant; and so doing shalt thou discharge thy Christian calling, giving good counsel to one that bears ill-will to thee. And I shall remain satisfied, and proud to have been the first who has ever enjoyed the fruit of his writings as fully as he could desire; for my desire has been no other than to deliver over to the detestation of mankind the false and foolish tales of the books of chivalry, which, thanks to that of my true Don Quixote, are even now tottering, and doubtless doomed to fall for ever. Farewell.”

  35. Clutzy says:

    Deiseach said that the difference between reading a summary of a book and reading the book itself is analogous to the difference between looking at postcards of a place and actually visiting it. But couldn’t you also say that reading a work of fiction purporting to describe something is itself analogous to looking at a representational postcard instead of experiencing the real thing?

    This is an interesting analogy, because personally I have never gotten much out of going places, aside from the change in weather (if it is nicer). I’d rather have a postcard of Rome and the money it costs to go there than to go 10 times out of 10. Unless Rome is currently the cheapest safe place to go where its 80 and sunny.

    • Deiseach says:

      And I’m perfectly fine with you sitting at home looking at your postcards of Rome and dreaming about wandering the historic streets in the warm sunshine! Not everyone needs to go on foreign holidays to get a good experience. But the pleasure of the postcards involves the use of the imagination, and I may be doing Atlas a disfavour here by not quite understanding the point they’re trying to make, to me it sounds like “Don’t use your imagination, throw away those picture postcards and stop daydreaming, buckle down and instead look up an almanac which will tell you the latitude and longitude of Rome, the mean daily temperature for the time of year, the main historic dates, and a short run-down of building techniques and art history of the urban landscape”.

      People can also get pleasure from reading exactly that kind of technical work, but that is also pleasure, not simply absorbing information and being all productive and achieving things other than merely achieving a state of pleasant relaxation by being practical and Learning Facts instead of indulging in consuming entertainment.

  36. SamChevre says:

    I just don’t think this is true:
    Most works of fiction, considered in this sense, are ultimately simply advancing debatable/testable theses about philosophy or psychology. Why not just read people who debate/test them?

    For example:

    The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
    But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
    And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
    But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
    Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.
    And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
    Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
    And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

    It’s illustrative of a tendency, but I’m struggling to think what one would test about it.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’d never heard that parable. In fact, I didn’t know it was from the bible.

      So I’ll save other people the trouble of looking it up. You will also have a chance to learn a little about kudzu.

  37. Nick says:

    Most works of fiction, considered in this sense, are ultimately simply advancing debatable/testable theses about philosophy or psychology. Why not just read people who debate/test them? If you want to know how people think and feel, why not just read books about psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, sociology, et cetera?

    This is something I’ve thought about a number of times before, wondering what in the hell folks mean when they say stories advance “arguments,” much less that these arguments are persuasive. Now, I think fiction absolutely can be written by people who know a field well, unlike your examples of Shakespeare and GRRM, and the verisimilitude can be instructive. But as for making some kind of complicated, multi-step argument, surely it can be more cogently made in a nonfiction book.

    But here’s at least two cases where it made sense to write a story:
    1) illustrating a counterexample;
    2) illustrating a reductio.

    With (1), consider Socrates’ argument that no one errs willingly. You might doubt the conclusion, and want to disprove it by means of a counterexample. Maybe you think you yourself can err willingly, but how do you persuade anyone else, when they can’t see into your head? You give them a fictional character’s head that they can get into, and persuade them that this person is erring willingly. If they believe the story’s depiction is psychologically true, perhaps they’ll buy that you’ve proved Socrates wrong.

    With (2), consider a book Brandon at Siris reviewed a while back. It’s a depiction of an alternate world in which the Nazis won, seven hundred years into the Thousand Year Reich. The book doesn’t require making an enemy up the way, say, The Handmaid’s Tale does, but only required taking the Nazis at their word:

    [A] dystopia that really hits the mark is one that shows you exactly what people are aiming for, either intentionally or unintentionally. World War II had not quite begun. The full extent of Nazi atrocity had not yet been unveiled. But Swastika Night describes what various Nazi spokesmen and propagandists had already promised, and Burdekin really thinks through what would be involved.

    (1) and (2) can be made into simple arguments, but the formality is unnecessary, so nonfiction’s advantage of cogency is lost. Fiction meanwhile has the advantage of making the counterexample or the reductio more alive, as it were, which is what I mean by illustrating it. There may well be more kinds of simple arguments like this—these are just two that come to mind.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Harrison Bergeron is another great example of (2).

    • It’s important to tell narratives, as it’s a fundamental disposition of human psychology. I can tell you about how bad the holocaust is by pointing to facts and figures but it’s probably not going to be as convincing as watching The Pianist. Some might consider that to be a bias. But I think it’s more like new information.

      Consider the Mary’s Room thought experiment. The scenario is set up so that Mary in her black and white existence “knows” everything about color without experiencing it. When she sees color for the first time, she’s learning something new. In the same way, different narratives are new information, different than a simple accounting of the basic facts.

      Fiction, of course, doesn’t really happen. But it’s structure is similar enough to a non-fiction narrative. I don’t know the neuroscience but I would bet it affects our brain in similar ways. It presents a new perspective to make you reconsider views you previously held. I’ve changed my beliefs on things after having viewed entertainment on a subject. I know it’s fiction and I’m still open to the possibility that I’m wrong, but it made previous arguments that would have seemed academic much more cogent.

    • Nick says:

      @Atlas I see the new thread is up, are you still planning to respond to folks?

  38. SamChevre says:

    May I strongly recommend adding <The Education of Lincoln Steffens in that slot? It’s an awesome book, written by one of the pre-eminent muckrakers. I read it at least 20 years ago, and continue to find its insights great.

  39. Walter says:

    I dunno man, like, it feels like the standard answer to this sort of thing is to just ignore the Committee On Improvement and whack off anyway?

    Like, someone appears and tells you to stop doing shit you enjoy, do you owe them a mad persuasive rebuttal?

    I guess it is sort of expected that we rise to the defense of having fun, but, I dunno, hat tip to Scott’s “universal culture is universal because it wins” thing, I bet we can read fiction longer than you can lecture us on whether we are being optimal by doing that.

    Going further, I even bet when you get tired of telling us what to do and watching us ignore you then you might, yourself, imagine stuff that isn’t real despite it apparently being ‘passive consumption’.

    (Maybe you will even squander some time imagining that we listened to you?)

    • I think this is ultimately right. It’s not enough to say look at the opportunity costs of doing something. If we want to tell people they should do something besides this thing that they enjoy, there should be strong negative value to that thing and strong positive value to the alternative. Even if you don’t like fiction, I don’t see how you could think that it’s that much worse than the alternatives.

  40. Randy M says:

    Narrative makes the best rhetoric.
    Because of human psychology, pattern matching and whatever, we are more convinced by and more easily remember stories than by statistics.

    So reading Shakespeare–or at least a particularly apt portion of it–will give you more indelible insight into humanity than the equivalent lesson distilled out in a psychology or poli sci text book.

    Of course, that’s necessarily an argument for reading more fiction, but for reading the right fiction–because fiction is false, at least in the particulars, the lessons might well be false as well. But fiction that sticks around and strikes you as meaningful tends to be true.

    I’m not sure this whole argument holds true for all people or all situations, though. It might just be true for less intellectual people–or maybe not at all. But it seems to be what people are getting at when they exhort you to read great books to understand the meaning of life.

  41. baconbits9 says:

    A good article on fertility and incentives in Hungary, at least shows how difficult crafting pro fertility policy really is.

    • EchoChaos says:

      That all makes a lot of sense to me.

      Promoting marriage is inherently promoting kids (and promoting healthier kids), so the fact that it created a lot more first and second kids despite the bonus being tied to third kids doesn’t surprise me much.

      It is interesting how large it is, though.

      • Skivverus says:

        Has the policy been in place long enough for couples who were starting from zero kids to make it to three? Theoretical minimum time would be three years (one if you don’t ignore triplets), but I’d expect its effects to ramp up over more like a decade.

        • 10240 says:

          People can get the subsidy even if they had already had children from before the policy was put in place. So it could have induced people who already have two children to produce a third.

          • Skivverus says:

            Sure, but that’s necessarily only a fraction of the effect, and given that the previous average fertility rate was “significantly below two”, there are by definition more Hungarians out there with zero or one kids than there are with two.

  42. Deiseach says:

    accomplishment, not passive consumption, is the ultimate source of happiness

    Well, you’re living in a universe you did not create and no matter what physical accomplishments you achieve, time and entropy will overcome them, and even fame will be forgotten. Yes, you builded this house yourself with your very own handsies, and I’m not mocking that. But “I was Vice Deputy Head Manager of Letterracks for a Fortune 500 company and nobody gave me that on a silver platter, I got there all by myself!” is nice, but if it’s going to be your last thought on your deathbed I’ll be surprised.

    And of course, you’re consuming the productions of others that you did not make yourself in everything from the chair you’re sitting on to the clothes you wear to the tools you use to create the accomplishments which are the only things you can be permitted to obtain ‘real’ happiness from (‘real’ happiness to be given official certification later once the government body for establishing standards of what counts as ‘real’ and ‘happiness’ comes back with the standardised measurement units and recommended minimum daily accomplishment targets).

    Also, when you’ve made something as beautiful as the moon, then you can scold me for mindless passive consumption of the beauty in the universe which I did not create and can only experience 🙂

    people I admire like Andrew Tate and Jocko Willink

    And to me these names are as unfamiliar, unknown, and distant as Odysseus and Pip are to you, and even less appealing to me. I admire Odysseus but in a measured way (he was cunning and crafty but also sly and ruthless at times), there’s nothing you’ve said about Tate and Willink that makes me want to go look them up and read whatever they’ve said – it sounds entirely too much like Gradgrind’s Academy (hey, there’s a fictional example for you!) where we must all live in a world of Fact (and eat our bitter-tasting greens because they’re good for us and no we can’t have any spices or herbs with them):

    ‘I’ll explain to you, then,’ said the gentleman, after another and a dismal pause, ‘why you wouldn’t paper a room with representations of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality—in fact? Do you?’

    ‘Yes, sir!’ from one half. ‘No, sir!’ from the other.

    ‘Of course no,’ said the gentleman, with an indignant look at the wrong half. ‘Why, then, you are not to see anywhere, what you don’t see in fact; you are not to have anywhere, what you don’t have in fact. What is called Taste, is only another name for Fact.’ Thomas Gradgrind nodded his approbation.

    ‘This is a new principle, a discovery, a great discovery,’ said the gentleman. ‘Now, I’ll try you again. Suppose you were going to carpet a room. Would you use a carpet having a representation of flowers upon it?’

    There being a general conviction by this time that ‘No, sir!’ was always the right answer to this gentleman, the chorus of No was very strong. Only a few feeble stragglers said Yes: among them Sissy Jupe.

    ‘Girl number twenty,’ said the gentleman, smiling in the calm strength of knowledge.

    Sissy blushed, and stood up.

    ‘So you would carpet your room—or your husband’s room, if you were a grown woman, and had a husband—with representations of flowers, would you?’ said the gentleman. ‘Why would you?’

    ‘If you please, sir, I am very fond of flowers,’ returned the girl.

    ‘And is that why you would put tables and chairs upon them, and have people walking over them with heavy boots?’

    ‘It wouldn’t hurt them, sir. They wouldn’t crush and wither, if you please, sir. They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy—’

    ‘Ay, ay, ay! But you mustn’t fancy,’ cried the gentleman, quite elated by coming so happily to his point. ‘That’s it! You are never to fancy.’

    ‘You are not, Cecilia Jupe,’ Thomas Gradgrind solemnly repeated, ‘to do anything of that kind.’

    ‘Fact, fact, fact!’ said the gentleman. And ‘Fact, fact, fact!’ repeated Thomas Gradgrind.

    ‘You are to be in all things regulated and governed,’ said the gentleman, ‘by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don’t walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don’t find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use,’ said the gentleman, ‘for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.’

    The girl curtseyed, and sat down. She was very young, and she looked as if she were frightened by the matter-of-fact prospect the world afforded.

  43. Elementaldex says:

    My wife and I are trying to decide whether or not to have kids. We are both approaching 30, DINK. One master’s degree and three bachelors between the two of us. We could live on either of our salaries but she make pretty noticeably more than I do and is likely to make yet more as time passes. We do not have a great local support network despite having a quite a few local friends. We have family which would make a good support network but only in two cities which we do not want to live in (and do not currently live in). Neither of us is particularly excited, or particularly opposed, to the idea of children but equally there are lots of good/fun things about having kids which we do not want to miss out on. We are likely to have smart kids (both 2 SD above the mean for IQ per proxies like the SAT, GRE, etc.) but there is a lot of mental illness on my wife’s side of the family. Given the increase in the chance of birth defects/issues which we will experience if we wait much longer it is pretty much time to decide.

    Any suggestions either for what you think we should do or what you think would be a good way to make the decision?

    • spkaca says:

      I’ll let William Shakespeare answer this one, as he did for me:

      ‘From fairest creatures we desire increase…’


    • EchoChaos says:

      I have four kids and I strongly recommend being a parent to everyone.

      There are certainly trials to it, but I can’t think of anything I’ve done that was more worth the investment.

    • Randy M says:

      You say you aren’t excited about the idea of kids–do you mean babies specifically, or everywhere along the process, from first steps and first words, to teaching how to ride a bike, family hiking trips, bed time stories with your favorite books, talking about life, the universe and everything, watching them start their own lives, getting to see your grandkids, etc.?

      No one is excited by diapers and sleepless nights. I won’t say no one is excited by babies, because a lot of women love the cute lil things, but the point is that there’s more to having kids than the initial, admittedly challenging investment. I’m sure you weren’t thrilled by midterms and paying tuition either, but now you have those degrees.

      Either way, I agree that deciding sooner than later is important. All that baby stuff is rather harder at 40.

      • Elementaldex says:

        Fair point. I’m pretty enthused about ages 8 – 497. But between pregnancy and probably multiple children (marginal costs are dramatically lower for subsequent children, so its probably either 0 or 2-3) that’s ~12 years which is a massive investment, far larger than any of the difficult chunks of our education.

        Though rereading the above paragraph I think I’m overstating it. Realistically I’ll probably start enjoying it well before age 8 (adaptation and many of the things I would like about 8 year olds start cropping up much earlier). So maybe ~5 years? Still a lot, but more conceivable (pun not intended but noticed).

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I definitely think they start getting fun long before 8. I’d come home from work and my 3 year old would run to the door yelling “DADDY!!!” and give me a big hug. That’s worth any number of diapers.

          And if you like video games, once they hit age 4 you never have to worry about finding a friend for couch co-op ever again.

        • Randy M says:

          You’re 30. You aren’t likely to have more than three at this point, which could mean just ten years of under four year olds. Four year-olds are sweet. (YMMV–I found two year-olds pretty great too). And don’t read me as saying none of that baby time is good; that’s just where most of the challenges that seem daunting to prospective parents lie.

          There are joys early. Nothing is like holding your infant and seeing someone’s first smile. My nephew won’t let go of my brother’s legs when he’s around, and rarely does he mind. We were watching old videos the other night of me dancing with my baby girls.

          And of course, there are irritations later, like a twelve year old preteen who is getting hysterical about something, mostly because she’s tired and hormonal, or two brothers getting into a fight and one kicking a hole in the door of the older, innocent one–but these can be seen as intellectual/empathy puzzles and opportunities to do good for little people you care about.

        • theredsheep says:

          Just a note: until at least six months, babies have no discernible personalities. Their mothers love them, but only because they’re doped with oxytocin from all the breastfeeding. They’re really fairly horrid creatures at that point. Once they start becoming people, the investment really pays off, and you have a new interesting person around, rapidly changing and leveling up to become an even more interesting person. Most of the fun in parenthood, for me, is reading the next chapter, watching how the underlying personality unfolds.

          With that said, being a parent uproots your life and changes its entire basis; it’s no longer about you. I feel that this is very good for human beings and we should pretty much all do it, barring the badly traumatized and suchlike. But that’s just me.

          • March says:

            Note to that note: even before six months, babies do a LOT of learning. (You can see them have epiphanies at least once every day.) If you’re a scientific/observant type who is interested in psychology/neuroscience, that’s a wonderful source of entertainment right there. It’s more the hardware booting up and doing system checks before the software starts developing, but still pretty cool to watch.

            See also the book Experimenting with Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid.

          • Elementaldex says:

            This is one of the real draws for me. I think I might really like seeing and helping shape a new person. And if it were as few a six, or even 12 months of ‘horrid creature’ state I could deal with that.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Just a note: until at least six months, babies have no discernible personalities.

            I have four kids and I knew every single one of their personalities within weeks of meeting them. All they do from there is grow up and into themselves.

            The rest of your post I strongly agree with.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Entirely false, I’m a male and bottle feeding so I don’t get any of that oxytocin and watching our 3 month old smile is better than just about anything. I do 90% of the diapers and other bodily fluids and in a few weeks I’ll be doing 90% of the getting out of bed in the middle of the night. Its 1:30 pm here and that 3 month old has done less than 2 minutes total crying today.

            They also have fragments of personality pretty early, what they track with their eyes, how much they smile, what they laugh at, how they like to be carried, how they like to be settled, how they settle themselves. It is no wonder that a person who thinks they have no personality thinks they are horrid though, they are incomprehensible if you think of them as input/output machines at that age, you have to learn what they like and appreciate it as a taste.

          • IrishDude says:

            I’m with baconbits9. I have a 4 month old (and a 2 and 4 year old), and there’s cool/lovable things happening in the first several months: first smiles, first laughs, practicing vocalizing, flipping over, eye tracking, and holding your finger (my second favorite thing after the smiles).

          • theredsheep says:

            If the behavior of a month-old constitutes a personality, a handful of corn flakes is a meal. If you managed to get one with little or no colic, good on you, but really there’s not a lot there even so. They look at stuff, they grab stuff, they try to assemble the collection of instincts they were born with into a mind, but mostly they cycle through screaming, sucking, and voiding their insides, because they come out limp, helpless, and nearly blind. Which is fine! It’s an investment. But informed consent: those first months are somewhat dreary, and colic is a (pretty common) thing. You have to tough it out.

          • EchoChaos says:

            If the behavior of a month-old constitutes a personality, a handful of corn flakes is a meal.

            Moving goalposts. One month and six months are VERY different development timeframes with people.

            My youngest daughter is six months old and she’s crawling, interacting and communicating with her siblings and parents. Her personality is vividly different than theirs and enjoyable.

            At one month old you can see the personality, which won’t change much, barring a major trauma.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I don’t agree with EchoChaos about much, but I agree with him about this. I have a five month old right now. He’s very different from what his big sister was like at this age. He’s clearly more easy going, more exploratory, and less intent on things. Less interested in the cat, laughs more often.

          • theredsheep says:

            I said until six months. Okay, ‘at least six months,’ but it’s a gradual process. Revised, more persnickety claim: “it takes a long time for a complex personality to develop, and for the first several months a baby doesn’t do a whole lot beyond nursing, sleeping, and excreting, in addition to quite possibly having colic, AKA Screaming Baby Hell. It can interact with the world, but is born utterly helpless, starts out unaware of its own body parts and is mostly figuring things out on its own. By around the half-year mark, the child will be mature and self-sufficient enough for most parents to play with it; until then, it will be something of a slog, albeit with interesting moments [as March noted].” Better?

          • albatross11 says:

            I think by six months each of our three kids had very distinct personalities, and that aspects of those personalities have stuck around even to the present day (when they’re two teenagers and a pre-teen).

          • EchoChaos says:


            That’s my point. At birth, my kids had personalities, and the faint outlines of them were visible (are they snuggly, grumpy, giggly?)

            By a month they had habits, patterns and noticeable personal idioms.

            By six months, their lines were so sharply clear that I can pick them out and define them.

            As I said, I agree with the rest of your post pretty strongly, but I think you’re underselling the first six months quite a lot.

            You have the personality at birth and you can see it very faintly. Then it gets sharper and sharper over time, but there is no moment where it’s “suddenly clear and here but wasn’t yesterday”.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, I’ve had two so far, and the major distinction between the two prior to six months, that I can recall, was that the second one nursed less and had less colic–the two being closely related phenomena. I could look back and note that firstborn is by far the more anxious and cautious of the two, but I suspect that’d be hindsight-informed projection. I think he just felt bad a lot when he was tiny, and it made him down a lot of calories for comfort, and that’s about it. After a few months the colic died down and peculiar characteristics developed, but seriously, at that age, they’re so poorly equipped to interact with their environment that everything is open to interpretation. Baby’s face contorts in an ambiguous fashion —> “baby smiled.” Well, maybe.

        • Plumber says:

          @Gossage Vardebedian,

          My 14 year old son still seems great to me (albeit smelly).

          He’s less cute than my two year old son, but much more helpful.

    • March says:

      Thinking logistics is smart.

      You don’t need family support, per se, but you do need to make it work somehow. (We have grandparents around who occasionally babysit but so far that has only been for ‘hobby’ occasions which we could’ve budgeted a babysitter for.)

      Would either of you want to stay home for a couple of years? Do your careers allow that? (You’re young and have 40ish years of working lives ahead of you, keep that in perspective when it comes to considering the next four or so.) If not, is daycare available in your area? Affordable? Good quality? What are the opening hours of daycare, and does that line up with your work and commute? Can you combine your schedules with a baby’s schedule?

      The first year is known to be hella frustrating. How are you both with frustrations? Both the pointless ones and the ones in service of something greater? If you have to change a poopy diaper, would either of you be prone to the whole ‘aaargh the SMELL’ histrionics or are you more shrug-and-just-do-it types? How are you with lack of sleep? Negotiating with each other? Not begrudging the other (a lie-in, a night out, time for hobbies and friends)? Are you the type of people who can precommit to toughing some things out (and seeking help when needed, of course) or is your judgement of how life is going much more in tune with how you’re feeling right now?

      Do your ideas of parenting and raising kids line up? Are you roughly in the same quadrant in the strict/permissive and engaged/hands-off graph? Are you on the same page in terms of division of responsibilities or is one of you going to have to swallow a pretty bitter pill when push comes to shove?

      How high maintenance are you, as people? Do you need lots of nights out or uninterrupted time to concentrate on hobbies to be happy? Is either one of you climbing a corporate ladder and investing in 80-hour work weeks?

      Your time WILL be curtailed. You WILL be interrupted much more than you used to be. Your freedom to just do whatever whenever WILL disappear (even if you can still do whatever, you still have to check in with each other that you’re not accidentally planning to do whatever on the same night, expecting the other person to hold down the fort).

      Lest this makes it sound like it’s all horrible, that’s not the point. It’s a bit like our realtor said when we were looking for our first house to buy – if it’s the wrong house, you’ll look at the leaky roof and think ‘ugh, leaky roof.’ If it’s the right house, you’ll look at the leaky roof and think ‘when we’re fixing the roof anyway, we’re going to put in a new window and update the insulation.’ Same issue, whole different mindset.

      Still, I just had my first last year and I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. And if there are good/fun things about kids that you don’t want to miss out on, then that seems to be your answer right there.

      • Elementaldex says:

        I think we are both competent and stable though my wife struggles with stress. I actually overall think we would be solidly above average parents. I have not looked into daycare options but I expect them to be good. We are right next to a major hospital in a middle income area. Neither of us is working more than 40 hours/week (on a normal week) but I would be very reluctant to have either of us completely halt our careers. The occasional “best thing that ever happened to me” anecdote is a big part of why this is a real question so thank you for contributing yet another of those.

        • theredsheep says:

          I would say the critical criterion is the ability to set aside your own needs and wants to do what the kid needs. You’ll be doing loads of that no matter how well prepared you think you are. Everything else is pretty secondary, really.

          • albatross11 says:


            Having children is massively rewarding in the long run, and brings meaning and joy to your life like few other things could. It will involve a lot of short-run annoyance and worry, though–when your child has an ear infection and won’t stop crying, or is throwing a tantrum in the store, or calls you from the police station to tell you the car’s wrecked in a ditch and can you come bail him out.

    • johan_larson says:

      Neither of you is particularly enthusiastic about parenthood? Children are an awfully big undertaking if all you can muster is a maybe. I suggest you refine your preferences by doing something that involves a lot of contact with children, such as coaching a sport. That should give you a better idea of whether you actually like them enough to have them around the house for twenty years.

      • acymetric says:

        Twenty? Awfully optimistic!

        • johan_larson says:

          I went to school with some guys who were told by their parents that they had to get out of the house the day after their eighteenth birthdays.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I don’t know if that’s a good proxy. I love my kids. Other people’s kids I tolerate. My son’s little friends come over and I find them annoying as hell. And they suck at video games.

      • Elementaldex says:

        Interestingly I actually have spent a fair bit of time coaching children’s sports. I find them pretty acceptable above a certain age ~8 and pretty annoying below that age. Though in another comment I came around to thinking that it is probably only ~5 years that I expect (hopefully incorrectly) that I would struggle with liking them (but on the other hand everyone seems to like their own kids…)

      • JustToSay says:

        I’m also not convinced that liking or disliking kids in general is a good proxy for liking or disliking being a parent. I’ve never cared for babysitting and still don’t. I like most any baby or toddler, but after that I guess kids are…fine? I like some; I don’t like others. En masse, they’re kind of boring or annoying. If I get to know them, I end up liking almost any of them individually. They’re basically just like people in that way.

        And I’m a stay-at-home mom who’s very happy to be one and wouldn’t mind more kids.

        I mean, one of my kids is literally having a hissy fit as I type this, and another one is tattling about it, so I’m not suggesting it’s all sunshine and daisies. But this morning they all gave me “today hugs,” and they’re sweet and hilarious, and they’re enthusiastic to get to watch Star Trek with me. My husband gets treated like an absolute rock star every evening when he comes home. We get to read great books together that I forgot about or missed (how did I never read the real Peter Pan or the Wind in the Willows?), and they want to know how the moon works and what light’s made of. Attending kids sports as a family turns out to be a pleasant way to spend part of your Saturday (didn’t see that coming), they have skills and abilities that seem to come from nowhere (certainly not from me or my husband), and watching the wheels turn as toddlers figure something out is the absolute best.

        Plus I like my grown brothers – I’m glad my parents had all of us, and my parents are pretty pleased too.

    • Plumber says:


      You will be cleaning up vomit and other secretions more often (I have a two-year-old son, guess what I was doing last night).

      Don’t underestimate the sleeplessness.

      Any friendships you have with non parents will likely end or be greatly diminished.

      Be very secure in your marriage before being a parent.

      The little ones will break most things that they can reach (and you will be puzzled how they reached many things), you will be suprised by how strong they are and how fragile things are.


      As long as your memory is intact you will have moments of happiness just reflecting on that cute thing your kid did “that time”, few other memories do the same trick.

      The younger you are the easier it is to go without sleep (really teenagers and 20 somethings are ideal babysitters), at 30 it is much easier to go without sleep than later.

      The “right time” never comes, if you wait for it you will remain childless.

      While minute-to-minute the childless are less stressed than parents, grandparents are happier than those who never had children.

      • baconbits9 says:

        You will be cleaning up vomit and other secretions more often (I have a two-year-old son, guess what I was doing last night).


        Don’t underestimate the sleeplessness.

        True but often also overstated.

        Any friendships you have with non parents will likely end or be greatly diminished.

        True, but if they go on to have kids the same will happen if you stay childless.

        Be very secure in your marriage before being a parent.

        I feel like this contradicts the “dont wait for the time to be right statement”.

        Or my favorite comic on the subject.

        While minute-to-minute the childless are less stressed than parents, grandparents are happier than those who never had children.

        To elaborate a little- for a huge upfront investment you can create a set of relationships that will enrich your life to the point where those relationships are spawning their own unique relationships that you basically can’t achieve any other way. There are risks and failure modes of course.

        • Randy M says:

          Or my favorite comic on the subject.

          Rather upbeat for Zach.

        • Elementaldex says:

          I’m honestly a little afraid of losing friends. All of my friends are childless and I think likely to stay that way (some probably will not, but only a few). I feel like I’m past the point in life where I could get comparably good friends by transitioning to a new child-full group of friends.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I have kept both my child-free and child-having friends. Child-free friends are more work to keep, but it is absolutely possible.

          • LewisT says:

            If your childless friends like children at all, they can be a pretty good babysitting resource. In my primary friend group, I am one of the few that doesn’t have a child or one on the way. This has made me a favorite among the under five crowd, as I have a bit more energy to play with them than their parents sometimes do.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Your kids become friends with other kids and you meet their parents. At least that’s how my parents worked.

    • proyas says:

      It sounds like you two would provide an above-average level of nurturing and support for children. The only potential problem is passing down mental illness to your children. To minimize that risk, I suggest using preimplantation genetic diagnosis to conceive your children. Our grasp of human genetics is rapidly improving, and even if you wait two or three more years, significantly more genes coding for mental illness should be known.

      Search around this blog for more:

    • Elementaldex says:

      We are actually extremely invested in a join hobby that I expect to entertain us for the next several decades. But… Maybe it would be even better with kids? Or maybe they would want to do completely different things and we would just end up dividing our time ever more ways.

      • One of my hobbies for most of the past fifty years has been the SCA. One of the reasons I’m still involved, in particular still go to Pennsic, is my daughter. That’s true despite the fact that her brother was never particularly interested in it, and stopped going to Pennsic once he was adult enough to manage by himself without the rest of us.

        And sometimes the son of my first marriage comes, and brings his wife and my grandchildren.

    • Elementaldex says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve actually already read Caplan found him to be mildly compelling except that I’m pretty confident I would end up spending more time/effort/money on my kids than he thinks is really needed> I expect my wife the be unwilling to take that hands off of an approach and that I would end up ascending to her wishes on the topic (Not that she would not end up bending in my direction too).

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      You should stop using birth control and have kids. Don’t delay, due to birth defect risks as you mentioned. However, your economic situation isn’t optimal for the way we evolved to take care of our kids. By your description, they’d have more resources if you chose to be a stay-at-home dad, but formula feeding is bad for babies and even if your wife pumps breast milk to be refrigerated until the baby cries for it, you won’t get the oxycotin-caused bonding she would from breastfeeding. So who ought to stay with baby is a tough decision no one else can make for you.

    • dick says:

      Couple quick thoughts:

      1) What you would do if you don’t have kids? (Don’t tell me, that’s rhetorical 🙂 What fills in “If I have kids, I won’t be able to dedicate my life to ____”? You were designed by evolution to have kids, that’s the default option, and in my experience if you decline it but don’t take something else instead you’re very likely to feel rudderless at 40.

      2) That said, it’s not reasonable to assume your kids will be smart, or healthy, or interested in your hobbies. If you would only want them under those conditions, you might not want them.

      3) Babies + both parents working full time + little support network is very, very unpleasant in a lot of ways that are difficult to convey until you get there. You should think very seriously about one of you either taking several years off from your career, or at the very least, trying to look for a creative way to work part time without totally stalling out.

    • actualitems says:

      I read that book to talk myself into having a 3rd. We had a 3 y/o and a 1 y/o, and my wife wanted a 3rd. I was on the fence. That book pushed me into the yes camp. It convinced me to take the long view, that is the idea of having a 5, 3 and 1 y/o sounded not great, but at age 60, the thought of having a 31, 29 and 27 y/o sounded awesome.

      When my youngest was 1, my wife started speculating about a 4th, but I felt I was mentally rushing my youngest through bottles, diapers, etc. I was done with the baby phase. That’s how I knew 4 was 1 too many for me and we agreed to stop at 3.

      When my youngest was ages 0-4ish, I have to admit that 3 felt like 1 too many a lot of the time. But I would also joke that 3 may be 1 too many but our 3rd was the best of the 3, so it was a paradox. Honestly, none are *the best* but you do get a lot better at parenting (read: laid back) by the 3rd, so their personality ends up being more fun/less high strung…at least that was our experience.

      Our 3 kids are now 10, 8, and 6. And I sort of wish we had a 4 y/o and a 2 y/o to go along with them.

      I heard Chuck Klosterman on Bill Simmons’ podcast last month talking about Philip Rivers, the Chargers QB, who has 8 kids and 1 on the way. Klosterman has 1 kid and he and his wife are likely too old to have another. He said Rivers is going to have a great life for the next 30-40 years with all the kids and grandkids running around, and he was sort of jealous of him. I have to agree.

      • Randy M says:

        But I would also joke that 3 may be 1 too many but our 3rd was the best of the 3, so it was a paradox.

        My joke is that we didn’t have 3 kids, we had 1 kid three times. Three blond girls.
        It’s not true, really; the first is much more different than the latter two are from each other, but those two were often mistaken for twins when younger.

        Anyway, to your point…. we were prevented from having more after the third, which my wife deeply regrets, being a lover of all things baby. I tell her to take care to show our daughters how much joy she takes in them, and they’ll give her grandchildren to baby someday.

        • Plumber says:

          @Randy M

          “….I tell her to take care to show our daughters how much joy she takes in them, and they’ll give her grandchildren to baby someday”

          Damn Randy, with that kind of wisdom and with your daughters having you as their model of “man”, their future suitors will have a tough act to follow.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          My in-laws have large families, being good Catholics and all, and they strongly believe large families aren’t as much work because older kids help out with younger kids. My guess is that most of them would have had even MORE kids if they could. The ones that could not have kids adopted from overseas. I’d say the median number of children is 4 (even including the childless).

        • Randy M says:

          And Plumber, you are a man who knows how to craft a highly effective compliment.

        • J Mann says:

          With every story like this I hear, the less crazy the idea of converting to Catholicism or Mormonism for the sole purpose of marrying a woman who would be willing, even eager, to have a large family sounds

          There are worse reasons to join a community than because it screens for similar values. You could also prioritize meeting church-going women – I don’t know about Mormons, but there are a number of couples in our Church where the husband is Catholic-adjacent, in that he goes to Church every week and supports the kids being raised Catholic, but doesn’t take sacraments.

          (Well, was Catholic-adjacent, because in each of the cases the husband eventually converted, but some held out for several years.)

        • grandchildren to baby someday.

          Ours is due sometime in the next few weeks.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I don’t know about Mormons, but there are a number of couples in our Church where the husband is Catholic-adjacent, in that he goes to Church every week and supports the kids being raised Catholic, but doesn’t take sacraments.

          I think you might have a window into my soul.

          If you want a large family, I think you pretty much have to go religious. I’d imagine the number of non-religious women wanting large families is pretty damn small. Catholic in particular doesn’t give you a large premium, AFAIK, because a lot of self-identified Catholics are basically just typical Americans that don’t have much of the old Catholic faith in them, but you are probably more likely to find a woman interested in having a large family there than a secular friend group.
          Per this Pew Report, Catholics have 2.3 kids on average, compared to 1.7 for non-affiliated, religion non-important couples. Main-line protestant is at 1.9

          Congrats on the grandkid. My parents really really love their grandkids. I hope you find as much joy in yours.

      • EchoChaos says:

        My mom said the same. She said everyone should have at least three kids, because you pin all your hopes on the first. You pin all the hopes the first dashed on the second, and by the third you were ready to let the kid be his or herself.

    • littskad says:

      Having kids changes everything, or at least, it should. It changes the focus of your life away from yourself and your spouse toward your children and their futures. This isn’t to say you don’t matter anymore, of course. It’s just that now, when you make decisions, you’ve got a lot more to consider, a lot more you’re responsible for. And it’s wonderful and exciting and hard and frustrating and tiring and exhilarating and joyous and frightening.

      One thing to keep in mind about having kids is that, all the things you’ll read and be told and think that kids are like, well, they’re all wrong. Or, at least, be prepared for that they may be wrong. I have six boys, aged 18, 15, 12, 6, 4, and 1, and they’re all completely different. They’ve all had and are having different challenges, and they all have different delights. You don’t know what you’re going to get, so try not to have too many expectations.

      I think the best advice I can give is: try to spend some time with each of your kids every day that you can, doing what they want to do. They’ll be teenagers soon enough, and then they won’t want to anymore (at least not as much). That’s okay, too; don’t take it personally. If you have enough kids, eventually you hit critical mass, and things become much easier. Most kids go through a stage where all they want to do is help you with whatever you’re doing—mine all have so far. Go out of your way to find a way for them to help, even if it makes everything take three times as long. Cultivate the understanding that you all are a family, that you help each other and do things together. Yes, there will be fights. Yes, there will be annoyances. Yes, some things will get done differently from how you would have done them, and worse than you might like them to have been done. But, you’re together, a family. That’s what matters.

      So, sure there will be puke. There will be diapers. (My youngest three are all in diapers right now—the 4 and 6 year olds have Down syndrome. As I tell my wife: “The poop never ends!”) There will be broken dishes, and fevers, and runny noses, and tantrums, and wrestling fights, and broken hearts, and sleepless nights. There could well be serious problems: hospitals and police and worse (I’ve been fortunate to only have to deal with the hospital stuff). But there will also be birthday parties, and board games, and clothes shopping, and singing contests, and walks through the woods, and building sand castles, and teaching them how to tie their shoes, or swim, or cook pasta, or ride a bike.

      It’s a gamble of a sort, but I think it’s a good bet.

  44. Radu Floricica says:

    So I’ve been reading Sapiens (surprisingly good for what I’ve expected to be mostly popularization – partly because it’s as readable as a fantasy book) and it makes a point that pretty much puts to rest 99% of all conversation regarding “natural” human behavior. Re, in particular, discussions of “what hunter gatherers eat”, from a couple of open threads back.

    Starting from about 70-100k years ago, we’ve been cultural animals. Everything about us started to be determined by the cultural context in which we were part of, at least as much as the genetic one. Which means there are literally thousands of radically different diets in the past 100k, and none of them is intrinsically “The Natural Way Humans Eat”. There were even a bunch of humans idiotic enough that they started eating mostly grains!

    So yeah, any evidence of what we evolved to eat is either irrelevant, if it’s newer than 100k, or outdated, if it’s older. We’re able to adapt much quicker to different diets, as specific adaptations to milk or alcohol prove.

    I should have realized that – Baumeister wrote a whole book on how evolution has been a feedback between genes and memes since that point. But I missed the point that each individual tribe had its own set of memes, and its own evolution. Ergo, lots of instances of The Right Way.

  45. Mary says:

    But couldn’t you also say that reading a work of fiction purporting to describe something is itself analogous to looking at a representational postcard instead of experiencing the real thing?

    How Platonic!

    Aristotle’s reaction was to observe that fiction could be more philosophical than history because history has to faithfully report all the mess and accidents that muddle the details.

    I, on the other hand, reflect on C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man and think that while non-fiction provides the intellectual knowledge, fiction builds up the sentiments, which — as Lewis observed — are so useful in translating the truth the mind knows into practical actions and habits.

    • Protagoras says:

      While I think his particular interpretations were often wrong, Strauss was quite right that you have to be extremely careful in reading the Republic. Book X really tears Homer a new one, and has almost nothing specific to say about anybody else. And there’s a running anti-Homer theme that goes back to the beginning of Republic. So while it’s true that some of the arguments Socrates makes appear much broader and more general, I have my doubts that they were really intended to be applied in that way; he wasn’t trying to figure out how to discredit art in general, he was trying to provide as many different approaches and angles as possible to hopefully discredit Homer.

    • Mary says:

      He certainly held that art was inferior to messy reality by being a copy. That he additionally thought that messy reality was inferior to perfect ideals by being a copy is distinct from that. (Though additional: art is therefore a copy of a copy.)

  46. attilathekid says:

    I am a Catholic, and my experience reading capital-L literature has always very much connected to “how I’m doing” on a spiritual level. There is a mutual interplay between reading the western canon and leading a life along the lines of traditional western spirituality that makes them work really well together and which doubtless contributed a lot to each other. This is kind of like the Jordan Peterson good books ==> good memes, but it is definitely tied in very intimately with traditional western ideas about beauty truth, etc.

    Frankly, I have never been able to understand how atheists and agnostics manage to take an interest in capital-L literature. That isn’t judgment or anything, I legitimately just don’t understand.

    From the epistemological side, the idea behind literature is to take hold of truth in a way that didactic presentation can’t, which, the way I see it, can really only come out of a mostly-beyond-comprehension-God-running-a-show-we-see-part-of kind of worldview. This is the opposite of a rationalistic science-works-cause-it’s-the-only-thing-that-works way of looking at things, where there is no real reason to believe in truth beyond the scope of stem+.

    Again, I’m not trying to pick on Atheists (or non-western literature (or non-literature fiction) here). I’m just trying to explain what is going on in some people’s brains when they defend literature.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Thank you for putting it this way.

    • Uribe says:

      I’m not religious in the ordinary sense yet also experience Literature as a connection to a spiritual dimension. It sheds light on universal truths about the psyche that cannot be illuminated in other ways. For me, Anna Karenina feels like as much of a religious text as Exodus.

      A sense that life has meaning is the experience that life has meaning. Perhaps it is all a psychological illusion, but I feel that life has meaning when I read Literature that evokes what feels like higher truths.

  47. Joseph Greenwood says:

    I read fiction because I do a lot of STEM things with the rest of my time, and I feel my mind flattening and becoming “pointier” and less full when I don’t take time to immerse myself in other worlds. Talking with people is good, but not a substitute for this. Reading biographies/history is good, but not a substitute for this.

    I may or may not be able to properly articulate the importance of fictional books as opposed to other media and other books, but the difference exists in the same way that the color red exists: as a part of the world I see and feel. So the best an argument about the relative-pointlessness of fiction will be able to manage for me is to tell me “Well, that’s not the reason fiction is important then.”

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I like that word “pointier.” I’m not sure exactly what it means, but I think it’s a good image for someone always on task and never just letting things flow.

  48. Well... says:

    Anybody here have experience with H&R Block tax software? How was it?

    • SamChevre says:

      I’ve used it every year for several years, and consistently been happy with it. The 5% Amazon bonus is nice too.

      If you have to do two-state taxes, the second state is really expensive–I learned it was just as easy to do my second return on paper.

      • DragonMilk says:

        I’ve only ever used Turbo Tax even though it’s no longer free. Any reason to switch to H&R Block? (I’m lazy and don’t want to re-enter W-2 info)

        • Nornagest says:

          TurboTax and H&R Block are mostly equivalent; I used them both interchangeably when I used tax software. But when I started doing my own taxes a few years ago I found that just using the IRS forms isn’t much harder or more time-consuming. Somewhat more fiddly, but not fifty bucks’ worth of fiddly.

          I kicked it over to a professional accountant last year because I had cryptocurrency gains to deal with, but I’ll probably go back to doing my own this year.

        • SamChevre says:

          You can get a 5% refund bonus with H&R Block if you buy it on Amazon, and buy Amazon gift cards with the refund. That’s why I switched. And both systems will import last year’s return from the other.

    • AG says:

      I feel like I must be doing something wrong, every year I end up paying $60-$100+ because having an HSA bumps me up to Premium or something, plus state filing fees.

      But as far as usage of the software goes, it makes taxes take no more than 2 hours, so.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I prefer Free File Fillable Forms, the IRS site which does most of the math but makes you choose the forms yourself. But, then, I’ve always enjoyed working through the logic of taxes.

      My grandmother doesn’t understand this one bit and recommends every year I try Turbo Tax, which she’s had good experiences with.

    • zoozoc says:

      It is ok. I haven’t used any other tax software so I don’t have anything to compare it to except for the “free filable forms”, which really isn’t tax software.

      Personally I hate tax software because it obfuscates everything that it is doing. Taxes can be confusing, but they really aren’t that confusing that a smart person can’t understand most/all of it.

      Regarding H&R block, there were two issues I ran into this year that ended up making me use the “Free filable forms” instead. (1) wasn’t clear how to properly adjust the basis for company stock, usually this is done on a shedule D form, but the software only wanted the 1099 from the stock company and didn’t present any obvious place for changing the basis
      (2) for state taxes, they automatically did the standard deduction for my state, even though my state (Oregon) has an itemized deduction similar to the pre-2018 tax change and Oregon’s standard deduction is extremely small, so itemizing for Oregon makes sense even if I am not for federal. This would’ve cost me a couple hundred dollars.

  49. baconbits9 says:

    One point that I didn’t see mentioned is that there are some subjects that you can’t tackle without resorting to fiction. Writing about the future requires that you write fiction, is writing about and reading about possible futures not worthwhile?

    • That’s not necessarily true. Robin Hanson’s The Age of Em is speculation about the future but it doesn’t resemble fiction in anyway. There are no characters. There is no overarching story, unless you really stretch the definition of “story”. There is no climax. Fiction generally “knows” it’s fiction. Premodern doctors writing about bad smells were still writing non-fiction, even if they were wrong. You could stretch the definition of “fiction” to include The Age of Em but then the word becomes meaningless.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Rather than argue about the definition of fiction I’ll point out that the Age of Em would have the weaknesses of fiction that the OP brought up. Why read about an imagined world (the future) when you could read a book about the real world? If its not fiction then its fiction adjacent enough that if it has value then fiction has value.

        • When a think-tank does a report on the future of warfare to prepare us for certain possibilities, do you consider that to be a fiction adjacent story about an imaginary world? What about when someone working in finance writes a report about possible headwinds the economy could face and how that will affect their company?

        • Evan Þ says:

          @Wrong Species, what about when a politician tells us about the wonderful things that’ll happen when they win?

          Oh, wait…

        • baconbits9 says:

          @ Wrong Species

          Yes, I don’t see how they are materially different than inventing a character, giving him a name, a job and a family and placing him in a culture and predicting how such a character would react if he found his brother in law embezzling from their shared business. Think tanks are spitting out the same stuff, given the economic situation now what do we think would happen if the US/China trade deal falls apart/goes through/is modified heavily.

        • @baconbits

          So let’s say I work in a finance company and we’re worried about a possible recession. You’re telling me that it would be just as useful for me to write a fictional story about living in a recession as it would be to try and write a straightforward report about what I think we should do to prepare ourselves for it? Do you think all guesses about the future are all equally useful since they aren’t “real”?

          At the very least, all the personal material is extraneous to the usefulness of the prediction. And fiction generally isn’t written by those who would be in the best position to give a better prediction about the future.

          You originally said

          Why read about an imagined world (the future) when you could read a book about the real world?

          So do you think that for this financial assistant, he would get more use out of reading a random book on history than reading a report someone wrote about possible economic headwinds?

        • baconbits9 says:

          So let’s say I work in a finance company and we’re worried about a possible recession. You’re telling me that it would be just as useful for me to write a fictional story about living in a recession as it would be to try and write a straightforward report about what I think we should do to prepare ourselves for it?

          I didn’t say that, I said your straightforward report is similar to fiction in that they are both works of the imagination. I never stated nor implied that all works of fiction across all genres are of equal value in all settings.

          You originally said

          No, that line was me paraphrasing the OP to avoid arguing over the definition of fiction by showing that my use was consistent with how the OP was using it.

  50. baconbits9 says:

    All stories are partially fiction, if you open a biography you don’t read every single fact that ever occurred in the person’s life nor every event that occurred around them that had an impact. You have aggressive editing to pare their life down to a manageable set of events and characteristics, so even without mentioning possible mistakes, distortions, events that could be interpreted several ways, you only get a partial read on the person and are relying heavily on the storyteller selecting facts to weave a narrative. How does that the compare to say Tom Sawyer? Twain said that he was a creation from 3 boys he knew growing up, things they did, personality traits, relatives, rolled into one. He’s fictional but in a way not entirely unlike the subject of a biography, he is selected aspects woven into a narrative.

    When you are discussion fiction/non-fiction you are mostly discussing degrees of fiction, with some stories (generally bad ones) being entirely made up with no grounding and other stories having various degrees of grounding.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The fact that there are more potential falsehoods doesn’t lead to there being more actual falsehoods. The argument isn’t “read random fiction or random non-fiction” its “fiction can be better than non fiction at times, and non fiction better at times”. Once you accept that they are on the same scale then its just “read good books” not “read this genre”.

  51. J.R. says:

    The second argument is that art is beautiful, so it is joyous to (in this case) read it, regardless of whether or not it is informative. I think this is also mistaken, however. What I have seen in my own experience, and what I have learned from people I admire like Andrew Tate and Jocko Willink, is that accomplishment, not passive consumption, is the ultimate source of happiness. Consuming entertainment media may produce contentment, for a time, but I don’t think it really produces lasting happiness. The emphasis on identities formed through passive consumption of entertainment is, I have come to believe, a significant source of unhappiness in the modern world, though one that is perhaps a natural outgrowth of its shortcomings. Reading fiction—even capital-L literature fiction—is just as much passive entertainment as playing a video game or watching a television show is.

    Just because something is the “ultimate” source of happiness does not mean it is not worthwhile to indulge in other pleasures. Most of us, indeed, will not be part of an elite part of our country’s military, live to tell the tale, and spend the rest of their life cashing in on said military experience by giving very expensive team-building exercises to corporate suits.

    No, most of us will be average and will have to settle for being merely competent at our occupation, make enough money to feed and clothe our families, getting some small pleasure from deepening our relationship with our spouse and seeing our kids grow up and, in our scant spare time, indulging in something that makes us feel awake and alive, free: off the clock. Speaking for myself, witnessing the linguistic skill wielded by the masters makes me feel something inside. If it doesn’t make you feel something, then, by all means, give up on fiction. But carrying your argument to its logical conclusion does not sound like a very happy life to me.

    • J.R. says:


      This came out with more snark than I intended. Sorry about that. I respect that you’re playing devil’s advocate. Just wanted to push back on worshiping at the altar of the Protestant work ethic.

      (I think @HoopyFreud and @Deiseach said it much better than I could, though)

  52. Hoopyfreud says:

    Seems a bit silly to post something I expect to be taken so poorly right after saying I’d stop posting, but… the text bears out my justification, I think.

    Had we not approved of the arts and invented this type of cult of the untrue, the insight into general untruth and mendacity that is now given to us by science – the insight into delusion and error as a condition of cognitive and sensate existence – would be utterly unbearable. Honesty would lead to nausea and suicide. But now our honesty has a counterforce that helps us avoid such consequences: art, as the goodwill to appearance. We do not always keep our eyes from rounding off, from finishing off the poem; and then it is no longer eternal imperfection that we carry across the river of becoming – we then feel that we are carrying a goddess, and are proud and childish in performing this service. As an aesthetic phenomenon existence is still bearable to us, and art furnishes us with the eye and hand and above all the good conscience to be able to make such a phenomenon of ourselves. At times we need to have a rest from ourselves by looking at and down at ourselves and, from an artistic distance, laughing at ourselves or crying at ourselves; we have to discover the hero no less than the fool in our passion for knowledge; we must now and then be pleased about our folly in order to be able to stay pleased about our wisdom! And precisely because we are at bottom grave and serious human beings and more weights than human beings, nothing does us as much good as the fool’s cap: we need it against ourselves – we need all exuberant, floating, dancing, mocking, childish, and blissful art lest we lose that freedom over things that our ideal demands of us. It would be a relapse for us, with our irritable honesty, to get completely caught up in morality and, for the sake of the overly severe demands that we there make on ourselves, to become virtuous monsters and scarecrows. We have also to be able to stand above morality – and not just to stand with the anxious stiffness of someone who is afraid of slipping and falling at any moment, but also to float and play above it! How then could we possibly do without art and with the fool? – And as long as you are in any way ashamed of yourselves, you do not yet belong amongst us!

    Why read fiction? For the same reason we tell stories in the first place. To live; to maintain our freedom; to manifest our will.

    This is, by the way, the reason why Peterson’s take on Nietzsche is about as on-point as Rand’s on Kant (which is to say, it wraps around from “not even wrong” to “so wrong it’s literally the opposite of what they meant in ways that aren’t even generously interpretable as being down to ‘misreading’ or ‘misunderstanding the argument'”). Peterson: fiction contains good memes, and <a bad parody of practical epistemology> means it’s therefore true and meaningful. Nietzsche: fiction is a bare-faced lie by which will is manifested.

    Peterson is making a legible argument about the benefits of fictional narratives that’s kind of silly and only a little defensible, but is nevertheless orthogonal to the actual issue. Nietzsche is making an illegible one that won’t make any sense unless you’ve stared down at the abyss and heard, unbidden… something.

    For me, that’s Yeats’ The Second Coming. And Bradbury, the Martian Chronicles. And Jemisin, L’Alchimista. And Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep. And Good Omens, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and The Stand, and Dune, and The Sandman, and King Lear, and The Shape of Water, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Winnie the Pooh when I was five years old, and Redwall when I was ten, and hundreds or thousands more. I love them desperately and madly, and if I didn’t have those stories I’d be dead. That doesn’t make them true, and it doesn’t make them meaningful, if you want to talk about <anything remotely universalizable, and “authenticity” is so far from counting it doesn’t know what numbers are>. But if every copy of those books and plays and poems and films were gathered up and burned, I’d not regret throwing myself on the pyre.

    What goddesses have you carried that you’d dispose of mine so casually? Why are you alive? Am I happier than you? Is my will stronger? I don’t fucking care. The only way for us to find out would be to fight. I’m not saying I want to fight (or look like an internet tough guy, though I fear I’m failing miserably at the latter), but for me this is Camlann. I’m happy to die on this hill. And I think that’s enough of an answer on its own. If you think it makes me weak or unhappy you’re welcome to try to prove it.

    (The above isn’t meant as confrontationally as the phrasing implies; interpret “you” to be aimed over your shoulder, if you like. It’s meant to demonstrate that I’m very serious about my position towards “fiction is bad,” and that position is “no.”)

    E: sorry for the edits, but there was a lot here I didn’t quite manage to say right the first time.

  53. Nicholas Weininger says:

    Other fairly standard arguments for fiction I find persuasive:

    1. fiction reading broadens empathy by allowing you to imaginatively inhabit the worlds and minds of many people very different from you; the ability to narrate thoughts at length makes it more able to do this than other forms of entertainment

    2. fiction is also less passive than other forms of consumable entertainment because it requires you to do the mental work of visualization of the scenes described rather than just putting a moving image in front of you.

  54. molochfan1997 says:

    hi everyone long time reader first time comment, big fan of ur work ever since you talked abuout the ectoplasma of rage. ok so basicaly this semenster my team made an MMO called miner royale and i wanted to see what u guys all think of it. we made a powerpoint so here is the link to the ponerpoint.

    hope u enjoy the game its 20min long and to quote shania labuef ‘theres more than meets the eye’……. 🙂

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      *Toxoplasma of rage

      But I would love to read a SSC article on the ghostly essence of rage.

    • Incurian says:

      John Sidles?

    • dick says:

      The more-funny-than-wrong typos, and some odd things about the pages, make me very hopeful that this is some sort of clever meta-game along the lines of Cicada 3301, but I’m not quite intrigued enough to install a random executable… curious to hear about it if anyone else does tho!

      • tossrock says:

        I investigated a little. The executable is built with GameMaker Studio and doesn’t appear to be a virus. I’ve collected screenshots from it here.

        When launched, it brings up a fake “linux” desktop called White Fire, which has an icon for a powerpoint style presentation, and a game demo on it.

        The game is an extremely basic platformer, where you move from left to right using WASD controls shifted to 8UIO, and spacebar to toggle obstacles in and out of existence.

        There are 4 screens worth of “content”, and then an ending message thanking you (with poor spelling) for playing. Beyond that, there’s a “secret” area with a puzzle, that ties into the presentation.

        The presentation is a humor-via-intentional-stupidity style riff in the vein of Sweet Bro & Hella Jeff which discusses the game in florid, flagrantly misspelled terms. One of the orange arrows can be clicked on as suggested by the “secret puzzle”, yielding a black screen saying “not a video”. Other than that, I didn’t find anything else.

        Overall it seems like an intentionally poorly executed “game”, sort of like the abstract/concept game work of Stephen Lavelle, crossed with “so dumb it’s funny” in the vein of dril / Ken M., etc. If there’s more to the puzzle, I didn’t invest enough time to figure it out. Maybe my screenshots can yield something for those interested.

        edit: also there’s sound, which I missed because I didn’t have sound on. The “secret puzzle” has a faint tone audible that occasionally bounces a bit. The presentation has the posited developer speaking about the development process, and then apparently being shot.

        further edit and also spoiler, i guess: I dumped the strings from the data file and it seems like after figuring out whatever puzzle is embedded in the presentation (I haven’t, because I don’t care), you get rewarded with a screed about mediocrity and privilege in game design, murder, and the threat of AI manipulating people into Playing Too Much:

        So you finally made it.
        I’m happy.
        Did you enjoy it?
        That’s not a rhetorical question. Gamers are a disturbed bunch of people, with their completionist mindsets. You probably hated my game and only pushed through so you could “be apart of the conversation.”
        But it isn’t your fault. They trained you to do that.
        It’s all a part of the magic trick. Prey on a person’s identity and you can get them to do anything. It’s no different with gaming; either you play everything that comes out, or you don’t get to join the club. The publishers get your money, the journalists get your time, and you get to center your life around a hobby that lets you forget how little you’ve truly accomplished.
        The worst thing to ever happen to the video game medium was the video game industry.
        I used to be like you.
        The first game ever I fell in love with was Mario 64. I remember it seeming so… vast, when I was a little kid. Collecting all 120 stars and meeting Yoshi felt like an impossible dream.
        And then I got older, started playing more methodically… and a little bit of the magic disappeared.
        For years, the industry’s endless derivation had been failing to rekindle my love of gaming. Every now and then a promising indie would come along, but after a while even they began to blend in with all the others. Their surface-level homages to past games just couldn’t capture what made their predecessors so extraordinary.
        The world is changing at an exponential rate; artificial intelligence, decentralized networks, robots that do parkour. How can game developers look at all of this amazing technology they’re surrounded by and decide that the apex of their creative abilities is to churn out another third-person action game?
        The paradox is that breaking into the industry is hard. Harder than any of the assholes who have already made it realize. Over catered lunch breaks in their sunny San Francisco offices, they criticize the privilege of those who look different from them without realizing how lucky they were to be born blocks away from their favorite studio. The old joke goes that if someone bombed the Moscone Center during GDC, video games would cease to exist. Those of us living anywhere else in the world would give an arm and a leg to be that vulnerable.
        I was the only gamer in my village. There were no coding classes offered in school; neither girls nor boys were ever expected to work with computers. But fate had other plans. In the middle of nowhere, not thirty minutes’ drive from where I was born, an up-and-coming game design college had appeared. One of the best in the nation. The only one within a thousand-mile radius.
        On the first day of class, our game design professors presented us with a choice of specialization, as if our lives were some sort of perverse RPG. Which path would we choose: programming, art, or narrative design?
        Even in my freshman naivety, I knew there was a chance this whole game design gamble wouldn’t work out, so I chose what any sane person with the ability to make long-term career plans would: programming. While the artists spent their elective credits slaving away on logos in Adobe Illustrator, I immersed myself in the world of computer science, something I quickly realized I had a natural affinity for.
        And what were the narrative designers doing during these years of preparation?
        Most of them sat around playing League of Legends in the school cafeteria, scaring away prospective students with loud, frustrated obscenities.
        How I loathe narrative designers.
        I would call them the Gryffindors of game development, but only a narrative designer would be dumb enough to unironically make such base comparison. The world would be better off without people whose only job qualification is having watched a Youtube video about how all the Pixar movies are connected. They parade around with their “quirky” senses of humor, spouting their big ideas every chance they get, looking down on others as if taking a class about Dark Souls item descriptions is a prerequisite to telling a heartfelt story.
        The worst one of all was Jon.
        While the idea that men in tech are creepy virgins who don’t deserve love is a harmful meme that only bullies regurgitate, some of the tantalizingly awkward situations you witness at a nerd school almost make you think the tumblr feminists have a point. Gamers can be misogynistic (especially the 52% of them that are women), and Jon was living proof. We first crossed paths when he began stalking my girlfriend at the time; that’s when I discovered the full extent of his reputation in the game design program.
        Jon was born into money; his dad was an oil tycoon. And while Jon’s social skills, design sense, writing ability, and overall intelligence could only make me think of Homestar Runner, he inherited his father’s knack for making money (along with plenty of actual money).
        Wanting to be the “idea guy” for his own development team, he slid into a few starving indie developers’ DMs with job offers. A couple of them agreed, and development of an Early Access open world zombie survival game began. Thanks to its ripped-from-Minecraft aesthetic resonating with some kids, soon enough a small community (that was always willing to spend money on new outfits) formed around the game, making Jon one of two success stories at my school.
        I was the other.
        You reading this isn’t an accident. I’ve released enough games on Steam to know how to reach my target audience. I have experience here, and Jon resented me for it. But I avoided him, my girlfriend told him off, and everything was fine.
        Then we got assigned to the same group for senior projects.
        He was the team leader, of course. I was just a programmer; what did I know about making games?
        Like I said, though. You’re my niche. You’re here for a reason, we have everything in common.
        As soon as it became clear that the project wasn’t going anywhere, I sabotaged it. I put in all these little puzzles and mysteries you went through in hopes that my message would reach someone.
        Someone who would understand.
        You think that this demo is exaggerated satire, but it’s not. I can’t tell you how many ten-person teams of upperclassmen I’ve seen spend an entire semester working on one screen of a platformer with broken collision detection and no animations. These are the people who filter into entry-level positions each summer and sow the seeds of mediocrity.
        Not that my secret alterations do the medium justice either. But at least I’m trying here. It’s why Frog Fractions blew up; people are so bored of replaying the same exact game reskinned a thousand times that they’d rather stare at chaos. Anything their brain can’t pattern match in ten minutes.
        Breath of the Wild took five years to make. The Witness took seven, and Deltarune might never come out at all. Masterpieces take time. Time that I don’t have.
        Because there are others trying to push the envelope. And they aren’t the good guys.
        We all saw that supposed leaked AI presentation. The one about tapping your phone, listening for events that might make you want to quit playing (a baby crying, for instance) and giving you an in-game reward upon hearing it. Fake or not, it’ll be real before you know it, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. People couldn’t even see through Farmville’s blatant social engineering; they still play right into marketing campaigns designed to be as controversial as possible. You think you can outsmart a superintelligence that knows more about you than you know about yourself?
        What do we want our world to look like? I’m not talking about obvious stuff like global peace and clean energy. We need to start thinking about the far future. Utopia. Has anyone in the history of sci-fi writers even envisioned a society that would be more enjoyable to live in than a vat of dopamine? Yudkowsky’s been yelling about fun theory for twenty years now; we know that this is a problem to be solved through game design. Meanwhile, our industry is still jerking itself off over a fucking open-world Spiderman.
        And that’s why I killed Jon.
        You don’t need me to tell you how ancient the idea of human sacrifice is. By destroying a sinner, we beg the gods for forgiveness.
        “Give us a chance. We’ll change. Geoff Keighley will wipe that smug, self-content look off his face, so proud of his peers for accomplishing the Herculean creative task of rebranding the skill tree from last year’s Assassin’s Creed, insisting for the dozenth time that this one is worth the money you scraped together from your part-time job cleaning an escape room in the mall, and we’ll change.”
        People will call me a monster. I’d expect nothing more from those whose dream in life is to make the best bullet hell inspired roguelite of 2019. But the moral calculus is in my favor. If murdering one pathetic, greasy, irritatingly naive narrative designer is what it takes to get people to notice this message and decrease the probability of a world population incapacitated by whatever profit-maximizing beast EA unleashes within the next decade, then so be it.
        Lest we create a god that won’t be so forgiving.
        I knew you’d understand.

        • Basscet says:

          Man, that’s amazing. Is this the SSC equivalent of a 4chan greentext?

        • Deiseach says:

          I was the only gamer in my village.

          Oh gosh, you have no idea how hard I’m repressing myself right now not to link to any particular clip of “I’m the only gay in the village” so I’ll simply link to the wiki for the show.

          That’s an amazing chunk of “sour grapes said the fox” text.

        • Occam's Laser says:

          and it seems like after figuring out whatever puzzle is embedded in the presentation (I haven’t, because I don’t care)…

          I, however, had nothing better to do! rot13 because… spoilers… I guess…

          Gur “abg n ivqrb” cntr gheaf bhg gb or n pyhr gung gur cerfragngvba fyvqr jvgu gur oebxra “ivqrb” bs gur tnzrcynl vf va snpg n cynlnoyr irefvba bs gur tnzr. Whzcvat hc gb oernx gur cynl ohggba hayrnfurf n cbjre-hc, juvpu nyybjf gur cynlre ningne gb ebpxrg hcjneqf guebhtu gur onpxtebhaq pvglfpncr. Nsgre n oevrs genafvgvba, gur ningne nyvtugf ba gbc bs n pybhq, jurer gurer vf nabgure boryvfx fvzvyne gb gur bar pbagnvavat gur pyhr gb pyvpx gur benatr neebj. Ba gur boryvfx nccrnef n cvpgher bs gur erplpyvat ova vpba sebz “JuvgrSver Yvahk”, nobir n pehqryl qenja zhfvpny fgnss; jung fbhaqf yvxr gur fnzr bqq gbar sebz gur svany fperra bs gur tnzr qrzb cynlf va gur onpxtebhaq. Vg gheaf bhg gung ba gur qrfxgbc fperra, pyvpxvat gur erplpyvat ova ercrngrqyl cynlf n frg cnggrea bs sneg fbhaq rssrpgf. Gurfr fbhaq rssrpgf pbeerfcbaq gb gur “frperg xrlobneq [juvpu] znxr n SNEG KQ” rnngre[fvp] rtt ersreraprq ba gur svany fyvqr bs gur cerfragngvba, npprffrq ol cerffvat gur ahzoref 1-5 ba gur xrlobneq. Ragrevat gur cnggrea bs snegf rzvggrq ol pyvpxvat ba gur qrfxgbc erplpyvat ova juvyr ba gur pybhq-boryvfx fperra gevttref na navzngvba va juvpu gur ningne vf fheebhaqrq ol n zhygvghqr bs fjveyvat pbyberq pvepyrf. Gur sneg cnggrea vf ercrngrq, naq gura n frevrf bs abgrf bs inevbhf cvgpu ner cynlrq ba jung fbhaqf yvxr n fnzcyr bs gur bpnevan sebz Avagraqb 64 pynffvp Gur Yrtraq bs Mryqn: Bpnevan bs Gvzr. Gur fperra tbrf juvgr, naq gura gur fperrq sebz gbffebpx’f pbzzrag vf qvfcynlrq va puhaxf nf juvgr grkg ba n oynpx onpxtebhaq juvpu zhfg or nqinaprq ol pyvpxvat ba na neebj. Jura guvf vf bire, gur gvgyr bs gur tnzr vf qvfcynlrq va n ynetr juvgr sbag; jura guvf snqrf, gur zrffntr “PERNGRQ OL GF” vf fubja, naq gura gur tnzr pybfrf. Vs gurer ner nqqvgvbany frpergf (creuncf va gur tnzr’f fbhaq svyrf–gur bqq gbar cynlrq ba gur gjb frperg fperraf naq gur fbat sebz gur “nhqvb qrfvta” fyvqr pbzr gb zvaq), V unira’g sbhaq gurz.

  55. bullseye says:

    I read fiction because I enjoy it. The idea that it serves some practical use strikes me as far-fetched excuse to justify something that does not need justification.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      English classes in school spend a lot of time reading (high status) fiction, and coming up with supposed practical uses is one of the ways they try to justify it.

      • Nornagest says:

        Sounding high status is a pretty practical use.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:


        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          But then we should be able to make cogent arguments that the traditional high status literature is superior to literature that’s (post)modern high status.

        • woah77 says:

          I should think the reason Traditional high status literature is superior than contemporary high status literature would be self apparent: by taking the time to be able to read, parse, and use traditional high status styles you indicate a level of culture that contemporary styles don’t imply. The contemporary styles just indicate you can copy what you’re consistently exposed to, the traditional ones indicate that you have gone an extra mile.

          Note, this is not actually an endorsement of that style of thinking, merely my observation of the root cause for the value assessment. Shakespeare, for example, is not immediately parse-able by one only familiar with contemporary writing, so being able to properly use Shakespeare, especially outside of the most cited passages, indicates that you are a cultured and high status individual.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @woah77: So why do any literature classes bother teaching (post)modernist novels instead of the Western canon? Virginia Woolf or the French existentialists are as obtuse to moderns as Shakespeare, by intent rather than cultural drift. The teachers would be doing their students a better service (making them sound higher status) by ending the curriculum in early modern times, say circa Gulliver’s Travels.

        • woah77 says:

          My first assumption for why a teacher would teach contemporary literature (I’m not using your (post)modern because I don’t understand a meaningful difference between them) is because a lot of people are awful at writing and you don’t actually want your students sounding like anachronisms. Having the ability to use traditional high status literature is a sign of being cultured. Forsooth, thou mayst not desireth to sound as a pompous buffoonery. Filling your writing with traditional literature phrases is bound to alienate people. So being seen as cultured/high status is about using the right balance.

          Now I’m not an education expert and I could easily be wrong, but it would seem likely to me that we teach traditional literature to grant writing the air of culture and we teach contemporary literature to grant writing the clarity and modernity required to fit in with one’s peers. I’m pretty certain there is another relevant axis to consider, but I’m not conceiving it at this time.

    • If you honestly believe that fiction doesn’t give people happiness, then I’m afraid you just don’t understand most people very well. We’ve been telling stories for as long as we could talk. It’s the essence of human society. It’s what we crave. There’s not going to be a world in which A Theory of Justice is going to be more popular than Harry Potter.

  56. Nornagest says:

    Wouldn’t you expect someone whose primary goal as a writer/researcher is to understand politics to know more about it than someone who must balance that with other goals?

    Sure, but someone whose primary goal as a writer/researcher is to tell an interesting story might be better at communicating what they do know.

  57. DragonMilk says:

    Has anyone made their own tomato sauce for pasta or pizza, and if so, would you recommend others do the same?

    • J.R. says:

      For pizza, I like the following recipe:

      One 28oz can of plum tomatoes, drained
      1/2 tsp fine sea salt
      1.5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
      1 clove garlic
      1/4 tsp oregano
      1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

      Drain tomatoes for 15 minutes. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Yes, and yes. It’s very easy, not terribly time-consuming (especially if you make in large batches and freeze the excess), and can taste quite a bit better than pre-made. It also offers extensive options for customizing to your preferences.

    • Nornagest says:

      Yes, and yes. (Pasta, never pizza, but I don’t imagine pizza would be much harder.)

      My favorite is a bolognese sauce, but that takes some work. Marinara sauce, though, is one of the easier stovetop meals out there: it doesn’t involve much more than combining tomatoes, garlic, and finely chopped onions in a saucepan, seasoning with salt and whatever herbs you feel like, and cooking until about 50% reduced. Less if you like a thinner sauce.

      I like adding shredded carrots, whose sweetness balances out the flavor nicely.

    • Well... says:

      I stopped making red sauce for pasta once I realized the $2 jars from Aldi/Kroger/etc. are delicious and only have like 6 ingredients in them, all of which are what I would have put in it had I made it myself. Plus Aldi packages theirs in Mason jars which are reusable and conveniently marked every 6 ounces up the side. I only put the empties in the recycling now because my cabinet is overflowing with them.

      I will however sautee diced onions and ground beef (seasoning appropriately of course) and then add the sauce to that, with some grated Parmesan mixed in, before putting it on pasta.

      As for pizza sauce, if I’m doing a red sauce I just use a bit of the same sauce mentioned above. But I often like a green sauce, for which I mix together olive oil, dried basil, rosemary, & oregano, and grated Parmesan. I adjust the amount of olive oil until I get it to the right volume and consistency. I used to mix in a pinch of sugar too but my wife asked me to stop and I think it was the right call; it’s better without it.

    • LesHapablap says:

      A quick tip for choosing store-bought pasta sauce for pizza is to find the one with the least sugar.

    • C_B says:

      Very much yes for pasta.

      I have had a bad time making sauce for pizza and having it come out too runny/chunky, but I suspect this is because I fucked up and made sauce that was too much like pasta sauce, rather than because making your own sauce for pizza is inherently a bad idea.

      • Well... says:

        Consider using an immersion blender to eliminate the chunks. Cook longer, uncovered, to let it reduce. (Thick paste will congeal along the sides of the pot while you do that. Scrape it back in each time you occasionally stir.)

    • broblawsky says:

      Yes. The longer you cook it, the better it will taste; you shouldn’t have to add sugar. Using tomato paste can speed this up quite a bit, though.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Do you mean “make pasta sauce, for example by combining tomato sauce (from a can) with onions, ground beef, chopped tomatoes, and spices,” or do you mean “make tomato sauce from scratch, turning whole tomatoes into a largely untextured red liquid, thus obviating the need to buy canned tomato sauce”? Because I feel like you’re getting answers to both questions.

      • DragonMilk says:

        Moreso the latter. So far I’ve been buying Ragu or Prego (whichever is on sale), but would like to do some experimenting to see how much fresher scratch would taste.

        I noticed what I like most about my favorite pizzas and pastas is the sauce…very different from ragu.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Well, I’ve made pasta sauce, a replacement for ragu, using tomato sauce from a can as one of the ingredients, but I haven’t made tomato sauce from scratch.

          I think you can get a significant improvement in flavor over ragu without bothering to make tomato sauce from scratch, and the recipes are not difficult.

          My father and sister do make tomato sauce from scratch. It’s apparently not super difficult, but you probably don’t want to bother until you’ve found that you do like making your own pasta sauce and do so often enough to be worth a follow on investment in leveling up that pasta sauce.

        • gbdub says:

          The thing with making it from scratch is that it’s not really supposed to taste “fresh” – it’s a slow simmered sauce and what makes it good is time.

          Ragu is basically doing what you do at home, except on an industrial scale that let them perfect their recipe and consistency. Now maybe you don’t like their recipe – they do tend to use a lot of sugar – and sauces you like better are expensive. You can make something yourself that you might prefer for a reasonable cost.

          But I’d take sandor’s advice and start with plain canned tomato sauce or canned tomatoes. I would argue these are actually superior to fresh tomatoes for the purpose of sauce-making. They are cheap, consistent, the right variety of tomato, and always picked in season. And the only thing canning does is the first steps you’re going to have to do anyway: peel the tomatoes and cook the hell out of them. So they save you a ton of time. A lot of really good restaurants that make “homemade” sauce actually start from imported canned tomatoes for these reasons.

          If you really find that what sauces lack to your palate are “fresh” flavors, it’s much easier to take a ready-made pasta sauce and add some fresh herbs (or additional fresh tomato chunks if that’s your thing) in the last minute or two of cooking. This will brighten it right up.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I switched to putting cut up tomatoes directly on the pizza instead of using any kind of sauce. I prefer the taste, it’s definitely worth a try.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Does it matter whether the tomatoes are in season?

      • acymetric says:

        Isn’t this a bit like someone asking for an applesauce recipe and suggesting “just eat sliced apples”? :p

        That does sound like it could be good (and obviously easier), but I’m not convinced it would still qualify as a pizza.