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Open Thread 122.25

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633 Responses to Open Thread 122.25

  1. proyas says:

    Are people “getting dumber”?

    The widespread view seems to be “Yes,” but I’ve been unable to make up my mind for the following reasons:
    -I haven’t lived long enough to be able to notice a trend. Moreover, I haven’t been in any kind of job that would let me grasp the intelligence of the broader population. If I were a teacher at the same school for my career, I might be able to make credible observations after 20-30 years.
    -But even if were in such a position well-suited to making such observations, by own biases and imperfect memories would erode the quality of my observations. Anecdotes are only worth so much.
    -Finally, I–and most of the other adults who believe “people are getting dumber”–am naturally biased against younger people. Every generation thinks the generation younger than they are is “worse.” The world is always headed downhill.

    This means that, to answer the original question, we can’t rely on anecdotes from ourselves or other people, and instead should look at the data on how human intelligence is trending. But even that strategy is fraught with problems:
    -IQ scores and standardized test scores have been re-baselined many times over the years. Scores from the “New SAT” can’t be directly compared with scores from the “Old SAT.”
    -Any longitudinal decrease in test scores could be attributable to larger shares of young people taking the tests. A below-average high school student in 1999 probably wouldn’t have taken the SAT because he would have written off college and instead been focused on going to trade school or starting a blue-collar job right away. Today, he would take the SAT because more people have bought into the belief that everyone “needs” to go to college. His poor SAT score would be recorded, lowering the SAT score average for his high school class, making it deceptively appear that his class was “dumber” than the 1999 class.
    -Any longitudinal increase in test scores could be attributable to a cultural shift towards competitiveness, helicopter parenting, and the obsession with getting into the best possible college. Students spend more time studying for the SATs and their parents spend more money on tutoring. The result is higher SAT scores, but this isn’t the same thing as having the students “get smarter.” Almost everything they learn in preparation for taking the SAT is forgotten weeks or months later.
    -The widespread practice of grade inflation renders temporal trends in high school and even college GPA scores unreliable measures.
    -College attendance and graduation rates are also only rough gauges for population-wide intelligence. As anyone who has attended a non-elite university directly knows, there are many people in college who don’t belong there, and who graduate by studying “easy” subjects. Getting a college education–at least in the U.S.–strikes me as a very costly way to make many students only slightly smarter, and I can imagine much more efficient ways of doing it.

    One thing I’m more confident about is that biological factors that lower human intelligence–such as poor prenatal and neonatal nutrition and medical care and childhood exposure to neurological toxins like lead paint–have become less severe. However, I think we’ve probably reached a plateau on this front, and no further, state-directed improvement is possible (yes, I know what happened in Flint).

    Also, it’s problematic for me to even define what counts as “smart” or “dumb.” What quality am I measuring?
    -Number of memorized facts?
    -Ability to make correct inferences based on previously known facts?
    -Judgement and critical thinking?
    -Ability to use technology?
    -Knowledge of current events?

    So since I can’t make up my mind, what do you guys think? Are people getting dumber?

    The final thing I’d like to say is that, while I’m not a teacher, I haven’t seen a shred of evidence that our methods of teaching students have improved at all since I was a child. None of the fad ideas work. Also, I think the total number of “smart” people in the world probably increased (and might still be increasing) thanks to China’s industrialization. Many high-IQ people who previously only had a lifetime of farm labor or factory jobs to look forward to are now able to become skilled technicians or scientists thanks to improved public education and access to foreign universities. The increasing number of inventions, science papers and advanced manufactured goods coming from China speaks to this.

    • Protagoras says:

      The Flynn effect suggests that people are getting smarter. This seems easily reconcilable with my observations; the world seems to have gotten more complex, and having a more challenging environment has generally led to people being slightly better at coping with complexity, but unfortunately not quite enough to keep up. So in some respects they seem less able to cope overall, though they can do some things few of their ancestors would have been able to do.

    • Dack says:

      People lean on tech.

      We used to memorize all kinds of phone numbers. Now our phones remember more than we ever could, so no one bothers memorizing numbers anymore. (At least I know I only remember phone numbers that I learned before I got a cell phone.) And aside from the rare instance when you lose or break a phone, you are better off for it.

      But does that headspace get repurposed to memorize something else? Or does it atrophy? I don’t know.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        I memorized my wife’s phone number after I got a smartphone, but I guess that’s an exception that proves the rule.

      • INH5 says:

        I’m barely old enough to remember a time when most people didn’t own cell phones, and back then people wrote phone numbers down. When I was a little kid, the landline phones had papers with all of the important numbers printed out placed next to them on the counter. And while I don’t have any direct experience with this, I’m given to understand that adults had “little black books” with phone numbers written down that they would carry with them everywhere. You also had to be sure to bring a pen, in case you needed to write down a new number, and plenty of change in case you had to use a payphone.

        • Protagoras says:

          I wrote numbers down, but back before cell phones I remembered dozens of numbers.

          • INH5 says:

            That’s probably because you had to manually enter the number every time you made a call. If you do that often enough, you’ll end up memorizing stuff even if you never specifically tried to.

      • AG says:

        Yes, the memory gets re-purposed. I remember a study that showed that younger people remembers how to navigate the file paths to get to the file location of the information they needed instead.
        Similarly, when books came into being, you could remember where you could get the book (the way to the library, the title of the book, the section of the library/book store) instead of the book contents exactly. Or in my meta case, I remember that I heard about this study on the radio.

    • Plumber says:

      @proyas 

      “Are people “getting dumber”?

      The widespread view seems to be “Yes,” but I’ve been unable to make up my mind for the following reasons:
      -I haven’t lived long enough to be able to notice a trend. Moreover, I haven’t been in any kind of job that would let me grasp the intelligence of the broader population….”

      I was born in 1968, have worked retail, construction, and building repairs, most of my interactions with other people are with my fellow “blue-collar” workers and the deputies and inmates in San Francisco County Jail #4 where I do most of my plumbing fixture repairs, and I’d guess that many have become a bit stupider with the de facto legalization of marijuana use, but that’s probably just marginal. 

      Of more interest to me is that the test score gap between black and white students narrowed between 1976 and the late 1980’s, and then it began to widen again, and I definitely have guesses as to why, and yes I do support “Affirmative Action” and regard the post 1970’s retreat from it as wrong, as I do Charles Murray’s all-too-convenient excuses for that retreat. 

      • I don’t see how reducing affirmative action, which was happening in colleges, could explain an increase in the black/white gap in SAT scores, which are taken before college. It could conceivably go the other way, if the existence of affirmative action made black students more willing to apply to college than they otherwise would have, since that would probably lower the average ability of those taking the test.

        Also, I don’t think the pattern you describe would fit the history of affirmative action, even if affirmative action in the UC system somehow improved the test scores of black high school students. In California, the ballot initiative that was supposed to result in race blind admission passed in 1996, which is about a decade after, by your account, the trend reversed, and it seems to have taken a couple of years to actually take effect.

        And, finally, the figures on the test gap are national. The ballot initiative was for California alone. Do you have evidence that actual affirmative action, measured by something like the SAT gap between admitted black students and admitted white students, was reduced on a national scale, and when? It’s possible, but I don’t know if it’s true.

        What, by the way, are you referring to as “Charles Murray’s all-too-convenient excuses for that retreat” and where are they? Are you familiar with Thomas Sowell’s arguments about the negative effects of affirmative action? The controversy in California law schools over the subject?

        • Plumber says:

          @DavidFriedman,
          I think we’re using different definition of “Affirmative Action”.
          What I mean is the desegregation and the “War on Poverty” support of which decreased in the 1980’s.
          A lower grade standard for University admission is way too late in a persons life, more effective intervention would start much earlier to address differences in educational and material resources as growing up in poverty causes brain damage, and I’m not familiar with Thomas Sowell’s work, “Afirmartive Action” at the college level is for too few, and it’s too late, positive intervention before Kindergarten would be more effective.

          • “Affirmative action” is most often used to mean a policy of favoring members of a disadvantaged group in employment or college admissions.

            Head Start was an attempt to intervene with poor children very young. My impression is that it didn’t turn out to have much effect, but I could easily be mistaken.

            Sowell’s argument was that affirmative action meant that a black student who was well above average in mathematical ability and would have done well studying engineering at a reasonably good school got accepted to MIT, where almost of the other students were substantially more able, and got a worse education as a result.

            The more recent controversy in California law schools involved someone arguing the same thing there–that a black student who would have gotten a good education at a middle level law school got accepted to Stanford or Bolt (Berkley Law School), where he was at the bottom of the class, and was less likely to pass the bar exam as a result. That at least fits my casual observation as a professor at a law school a step or two down from Stanford. It was an open secret that the easy way of improving our bar passage rate would be to raise the standards for admitting minority students—which we were generally unwilling to do.

          • Clutzy says:

            David’s colloquial definition of AA is correct. It basically means advantaging someone because of race/gender after high school.

            Also his anecdote about preschool is generally correct. The biggest randomized studies all show no effects of preschool after grade 3.

        • Plumber says:

          What I mean by “All too convenient” is claims of genetic superiority and inferiority instead of different lived environments explaining the capacity to learn thus reducing efforts to teach.

          “IQ” is an all-to-convenient excuse to mostly only bother to educate the children of the educated.

          I saw for myself during high school when I was transferred the difference between the mostly white “Advanced” track and the mostly black “Intermediate” track and it was most definitely not in dubious claims of student “aptitude”, instead it was which class was given books and assigned reading and which wasn’t, seperate was very much un-equal.

          I haven’t forgotten and I haven’t forgiven, and I well remember who were deemed “worthy” of books as well as who of us weren’t. 

          Plain as day it was who were from more privileged neighborhoods and who weren’t, and it will take a much better story than “genetic aptitude” to convince me that we in the “Intermediate” track weren’t worthy of more than warehousing, and that I wasn’t worthy of more education, as it wasn’t the students doing as to which class they were in, and how educational resources were divided, I knew unequal rationing when I saw it. 

          The black-white students test score gap narrowed between 1976 and 1988, and then increased afterwards and it seems to me that differences in environment explains that much better than “genetic aptitude”.

          • I understand your feeling from your experience, but I don’t see why you are blaming Murray for it. Have you actually read The Bell Curve? If so, what do they (there were two authors) say that you are blaming them for?

            The authors argue that IQ is in part heritable, in part due to environment. The evidence for the former is, I believe, overwhelming, from, among other things, studies of identical twins separated at birth.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman, 
            I read The Bell Curve over a decade ago so I may well mis-remember it (chiefly I remember a statement in it along the line of: “If You’re reading this book then you are from an upper middle-class suburb or neighborhood”,  and I thought “Not this reader!”), but mostly I react not against the book itself but against arguments that cite its findings as a reason to not do more to educate the children of the uneducated. 

            To be clear I don’t think everyone should go to a four-year college (though I do think some of what is taught in college should be taught at the age of High School instead), what steams me up is that those who aren’t “college bound” aren’t taught much instead (at least not in the Berkeley Unified School District of the 1980’s), the difference between “Intermediate” (as there was no lower level an obvious euphemism) and “Advanced” wasn’t one of being taught at a lower rather than a higher pace, it was a stark difference of being taught little-to-nothing at all instead of something.

            Fine, don’t bother to teach the “Intermediates” the Dickens and Shakespeare that the “Advanced” get to read, but some useful skills could still have been taught: auto-mechanics, cooking, the simple trigonometry used by carpenters, Ohm’s law, the refrigeration cycle, welding – something useful instead of how to turn your mind off waiting for the seconds to run out. I have a good guess as to why “shop” classes weren’t offered: they’re more expensive than academic classes and parents who are lawyers won’t make a stink if they’re not offered, so instead those not deemed worthy of being taught are shunted to warehousing until the clock runs out instead of anything of future use.

            In another thread I mentioned how there’s a shortage of welders, a skill with which one may earn enough to house and feed a family, and the teenage years are an ideal time to learn the skill, but this society has collectively decided to not bother to teach much of anything to a significant subset of the Nation’s youth, yet most State’s highest paid government employees are University basketball and football coaches.

            As to Head Start, the data is mixed, some local programs do show an improvement in attendees futures, most don’t. What does seem to net better results than Head Start is pre-natal healthcare and nutrition counseling for the mother, but I wonder how much of that is from what I’ll call the “pilot program effect” in which idealistic and competant people try something out, it works, but not when scaled up with new people. 

            As it stands now most youth now do go on to “some college” but, ill prepared and unable to pay to support themselves while attending, most don’t earn a diploma.

            Back in the 1980’s, besides seeing the difference between “tracks” in my school, I could walk to U.C. Berkeley and peak into the libraries and restrooms and see for myself the lavish resources they had compared to my schools, and I remain offended.

            That private schools may have more rankles far less than the far from equal educations that are taxpayer supported.

            Were I King of California I’d free High School students from being warehoused for four years, close the Universities, re-distribute the U.C. and C.S.U. resources to “adults schools”, regional occupation programs, community colleges, and public libraries, let younger teenagers learn useful skills in those places and/or start trade apprenticeships earlier, and in general have less educational resources devoted to the children of the educated and more to the “least among us”, “IQ” scores and “aptitude” be damned.

          • but against arguments that cite its findings as a reason to not do more to educate the children of the uneducated.

            What arguments cite what of its findings that way?

            What I remember from the book is the worry that the combination of meritocracy plus assortative mating was going to create a society with a large difference in ability as well as training between the elite and the masses. That was something authors saw as a problem, and pretending the factors that made it happen, one of which was that intelligence was to a significant degree heritable, wasn’t going to prevent it.

            So far as the educational system is concerned, I think the whole K-12 system is based on mistaken ideas of how to educate kids. I also think that many too many are going to college.

            Where I think we part company is your socialism–your assumption that the way to get people educated or trained in useful skills is to have government schools do it. I think apprenticeship of some sort makes much more sense for things like welding, and two things that block that at the moment are compulsory schooling and laws against child labor.

            The unions you are fond of could as easily be problem as solution. On the one hand, they have the resources for apprenticeship programs, and they want their craft to continue to exist. On the other hand, every apprentice is a future competitor–craft unions have a long history of trying to hold down membership in the craft in order to hold up wages, with the American Medical Association a striking example.

            You might end up with a system where apprenticeship is available, but only to the children of present union members. That’s better than nothing, but it’s potentially the origin of a caste system.

          • Clutzy says:

            Generally, the problem with the education system is that it gives itself more credit than it deserves. If we made 3 islands and took a bunch of University of Chicago grads, and a bunch of Eastern Illinois Grads, and a bunch of HS dropouts and put them on 3 different islands, then set up equivalent schools for all 3 islands, what would happen is the 3 islands would greatly diverge. And this is because most of what matters in a person’s life happens before they are 3 years old. This includes genes, and also super early socialization. The rest ends up being peer groups.

            And this doesn’t mean the smartest person wont come from dropout island, just like its possible for the best marathoner on earth to be from China.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman, 
            While I’m fond of the idea of a “restoration of the guild system”, judging by my experience (and well documented history) your fears of “hereditary castes” doing different crafts is more than plausible. 

            I got into my trade by passing the aptitude tests administered by the Santa Clara County Plumbers and Stesmfitters Union apprenticeship program (yes I realize the irony given what I’ve been arguing in this thread) and they accepted the candidates based on how well they did on the tests, the other four Counties local unions I tested for also required tests, but unlike the Santa Clara County Plumbers union they all demanded an interview in which you had to explain what made you a good candidate, and at the interview for the San Mateo County apprenticeship they question “Who do you know?” was explicitly asked.

            Years ago tests weren’t even administered, I’ve read of some local craft unions where you were not admitted unless you had kin from a particular county in Ireland, and in many others being “couched for” was the only way in.

            Some (usually industrial) unions under the influence of the CPUSA deliberately racially integrated themselves (auto-workers and Pacific coast Stevedores), but for many craft unions it was government intervention that led to test admissions. 

            Besides the different countries plumbers unions apprenticeships, I also tested for the Alameda County electricians and I noted how there tests empathized English language reading comprehension more, in addition to the arithmetic, “spatial relations” and “mechanical aptitude” tests, and I speculated that may be why there were more women and less non-whites in that craft compared to others.

          • albatross11 says:

            Plumber:

            The whole point of standardized tests is to do the opposite of what you’re objecting to–you test everyone, and use the results to track the smartest kids into advanced classes and eventually to make sure the smartest kids get sent to college. Before the widespread use of standardized tests for college admissions, my understanding is that your family and social class mattered a *lot* more for what school you attended.

          • BillyZoom says:

            @Plumber

            I’m a couple years older than you, and grew up in Baltimore, but I have to say my experiences were greatly different than yours. I went to both Baltimore City (k-7) and Baltimore County (8-12) schools. And all the classes (low, mid and high) had much more in common with your Intermediate track than your advanced track.

            At my schools, kids were hanging out smoking starting in about 7th grade. Selling their Mom’s ‘ludes by 8th. The elementary school was built in the 50’s, so at the time not too old, but not well maintained. The textbooks were often ancient, and usually full of student “artwork”, mostly drawings of genitalia. There was virtually never any homework. But the teachers were by and large pretty nice, and they did try to teach. There was pretty much no expectation from the students that any more than that was expected from the school. It was just a place you went for a while each day. Maybe learned something, maybe not.

            I guess what I’m saying is that it was pretty chill; you could apply yourself and learn stuff (there were those of us who did) or not. We had lots of kids who had been held back 2-3 years. There were kids who skipped a grade. There were fights (but not like the gang oriented ones that came later). But there wasn’t really much difference between the top classes and the bottom as far as resources went.

            So it seems more like your advanced track was the new thing – like “let’s try to increase resources to the top students” more than “we don’t care about the intermediate ones”. Because it used to be schools didn’t particularly “care” about any of the students.

          • Plumber says:

            @BillyZoom,
            That’s an interesting take, maybe the “Adadvanced” track was the change.

            to be specific, my transfer from “Intermediate” into “Advanced” was in the middle of the semester during the 1982/1983 school year when I was in 9th grade, and elementary and Junior High School were much as you described your experience.

            Weed was endemic starting in Juniors High School, maybe even more than in High School, everything was very “hippie”, except with fistfights, and while I was suprise punched into unconsciousness one day in high school (and I didn’t know any of those who beat me up, nor had I spoken any words to them), in general it was more peaceful than elementary and Junior High School, mostly a waste of time, I tested out early and took community college classes for a year before I had to get a job and pay rent.

            My older son is almost the same age I was when I entered high school and we pulled him out of Middle School and have him go to community college classes instead

          • DinoNerd says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I remember 2 arguments in the book.

            One was about assortive mating + upward mobility leading to a brain drain among those in lower class occupations.

            The other was about race, heredity, race, and IQ. And race again.

            The first part seemed interesting. The second part seemed to be a very American kind of axe grinding.

            If he’d stopped with the first part, I’d have liked the book, and it probably wouldn’t be a byword of villainy among some portion of those who’ve heard of it – some of whom may even have read it.

          • albatross11 says:

            DinoNerd:

            One chapter was about race and IQ, but that’s basically what 99% of the public discussion is about. Most of the book is documenting the ways in which IQ correlates with life outcomes, based on analyzing the NLSY79 dataset.

          • albatross11 says:

            There’s not some law of nature that public schools in poor areas have to be Lord of the Flies re-enactments or ungovernable messes. That’s a policy decision, just like letting homeless people take over your public spaces is a policy decision.

        • JonathanD says:

          Affirmative action as referenced now typically refers to colleges, because colleges are still trying to find ways to do it, but in the era Plumber is referencing, there was a good deal of affirmative action at the job level. There was significant pushback against this sort of thing, and it’s more or less gone by the wayside.* Affirmative action getting people better jobs could obviously affect the life outcomes of their children, and this sort of thing stopping or slowing down could explain why things stopped getting better.

          So a plausible explanation, assuming Plumber’s dates are right, is that by the middle 70s, redlining and buying on contract had come to an end, vigorous affirmative action was in full swing, and busing programs in schools were widespread, and these changes resulted in improvements in the material circumstances of the black community and the narrowing of the gap. By the late 80s, busing programs are declared to have failed and affirmative action (for jobs) is gone or so reduced as to be meaningless, and so the narrowing stops or begins to reverse.

          *From memory and impressions, I don’t really have time to google this stuff right now.

    • DinoNerd says:

      It’s hard to define either “dumb” or “smart” adequately. The proportion of people capable of doing many of the things routinely taught in my childhood is clearly down, and ditto for the proportion of people capable of doing some of the things routinely taught to smarter youth at that time.

      Many would say those skills are currently useless and point at things that more moderns can do, suggesting the older skills and knowledge have rightly been downgraded to rare hobbies.

      I’ll take the null hypothesis – they aren’t smarter or dumber, on average. They are just differently specialized, and reacting to changing incentives.

    • BBA says:

      It’s more that people were never all that smart to begin with. Stupidity used to be easier to keep hidden, but now the social media panopticon makes it clear that we are all idiots.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I think it’s clear that people have been getting smarter, at least in academics, based on the Flynn effect. Although I think that has plateaued in the last decade or so?

      It is kind of amazing that with all the research on learning we’ve had over the last century, and the many many natural experiments there’ve been, that educational methods have not improved. Does that mean there truly aren’t better methods of education? Or maybe that each method varies so much between different students that we can’t come up with a uniformly better method, even if some methods might be better for some students.

      • ana53294 says:

        Or maybe that each method varies so much between different students that we can’t come up with a uniformly better method, even if some methods might be better for some students.

        We have, after all, learned how to teach dyslexics to read*. There are many better ways to teach math than root memorisation. The issue is in the desire to teach everybody exactly the same way, without taking into account actual differences in learning abilities.

        *The issue comes with early detection and the cost of one-to-one tutoring required for these kids.

      • proyas says:

        It is kind of amazing that with all the research on learning we’ve had over the last century, and the many many natural experiments there’ve been, that educational methods have not improved. Does that mean there truly aren’t better methods of education? Or maybe that each method varies so much between different students that we can’t come up with a uniformly better method, even if some methods might be better for some students.

        I think there are better methods of education, but they are too expensive to implement.

        • albatross11 says:

          proyas:

          The way it looks to me, public discussion of education is a huge glob of misinformation and wishful thinking and willful blindness, and that tends to make it a lot harder for serious progress to be made.

          Some obvious-to-me stuff (which means it must be super-obvious to real experts):

          a. How smart your students are coming in matters a *lot* for how well they do at any measurable task–standardized tests, college admissions, college graduation, academic competitions, etc.

          b. How well-behaved your students are coming in matters a *lot* for how well the actual classes will go–one or two disruptive students can shut down a class for a whole year, if the teacher/administration can’t or won’t get them under control.

          c. Cherry-picking your students w.r.t. (a) and (b) is probably a better way to improve your school’s performance than any kind of clever new educational method.

          I think those three combine to make it very hard to see improvements in educational techniques in the wild. If I’m looking at which schools do best, they’re almost certainly going to be the schools with the best students–and that will be true whether those schools are doing some clever unconventional thing to educate their kids, or look exactly like a standard school with teachers in front of 30-kid classes and textbooks and tests and all the rest.

          • Clutzy says:

            More or less I agree. A big problem in education discussions is people thinking they can take apples and make lemonade. Its a major policy failing because we have this system that’s job is just to kind of shuffle kids through and reveal how smart they are, not a system that imparts great value. Yet everyone thinks they can use this system to fix all the social problems they perceive.

        • baconbits9 says:

          It depends on what you mean by implement, and what you mean by better methods of education.

          Homeschooling make it clear that you can get solid educational outcomes with limited outlays. The actual amount of education you need to give a 6 – 10 year old is small, they aren’t mastering highly technical subjects or specializing in a way that requires an expert instructor. You can teach your kids to read by getting them to hang out with kids who can already read. Kids generally like showing off what they can do and they also generally like to be able to do what other kids can. This isn’t the ‘best’ way to teach kids to read but it is a cheap way that could easily be supplemented and would free up resources.

          The trouble is that schools are set up to provide child care + education in confined spaces. You are going to learn how to read and write and add, but also we have to keep you here 6-8 hours a day.

          • proyas says:

            It depends on what you mean by implement, and what you mean by better methods of education.

            Homeschooling make it clear that you can get solid educational outcomes with limited outlays.
            I wasn’t thinking of homeschooling.

            Also, homeschooling isn’t cheap once you consider the opportunity cost of a family member (typically a parent) having to forego a paying job to stay at home to teach. A family that chooses to homeschool their children also doesn’t get refunded the portion of their taxes that support the local public school they could otherwise be sending their children to, which should also be considered.

            Homeschooling also only provides a good education if the family member in charge is a good teacher, and most adult’s aren’t. It’s a solution that therefore only works for a small minority of families.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Also, homeschooling isn’t cheap once you consider the opportunity cost of a family member (typically a parent) having to forego a paying job to stay at home to teach.

            Homeschooling demonstrates how education can be cheap, most home-schoolers aren’t structuring 5-7 hours of lessons a day, many get away with an hour a day of ‘work’. I don’t disagree here except that it is the daycare aspect that is expensive (ie time consuming) not the actual teaching.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Also, homeschooling isn’t cheap once you consider the opportunity cost of a family member (typically a parent) having to forego a paying job to stay at home to teach.

            Consider this hypothetical:

            Second income of $40,000.
            Daycare costs of $40/day X 250 working days = $10,000
            Taxes on income = $10,000
            Additional clothing/gas/vehicle/etc. = $5,000
            Strain of second working adult = Variable, mostly non-monetary.

            For most working families, a second job isn’t nearly as lucrative as it might seem. Add in the emotional and mental strain of having no one at home, and then paying someone else to raise your kids, and it’s not hard to see how it might be a wash at best. If you had to pay a housekeeper, an accountant, and a personal shopper, you would be behind from working. With a second full time job, now somebody tired from a long day of work has to do those things.

            Same thing with the fact that you already pay taxes for the schooling you aren’t getting. It’s a cost either way, so it can be discounted against either choice.

          • Plumber says:

            In “home-schooling” our 14 year-old son there’s a bit more in out-of-pocket expenses, mostly in computer repairs and replacement, but also in transportation as we outsource some classes to a local community college that’s further away than the middle school.

            I’d be inclined to have him just go to the nearby Catholic school which is close to our house, but my wife vetoes that idea.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            most home-schoolers aren’t structuring 5-7 hours of lessons a day, many get away with an hour a day of ‘work’.

            ^This. Very little education happens in a normal school day, whether in a home or in a school building.

      • albatross11 says:

        It’s clear that people do better on some of the subtests used in IQ tests every year, or did until recently. It’s not clear whether that means higher intelligence over time. It might, or it might mean something else (like greater familiarity with the tasks tested in the IQ tests, leading to higher scores with no rise in actual intelligence). I think this is an open research question, though it’s not my field.

  2. nick1c says:

    I was reading your update on SSRIs from November. I think the main reason that there is such a discordance between the perceived clinical efficacy of SSRIs and their effect in studies is that the studies were not made to evaluate clinical efficacy in the first place. The studies were designed to show that the drug worked statistically significantly better than placebo (mostly regression to the mean in this case) so that the drug would be approved by the FDA. The studies consistently did this. The studies were never intended to accurately measure the benefit of going to a psychiatrist and taking medication for depression. However, the way Kirsch and co writes about this, it’s as if the effect measured in the studies is the actual clinical benefit experienced by patients. This is absurd, when patients go to a psychiatrist, they don’t get a drug at a given dose with no possibility of further ajustement or change.

    In the Krystal paper, they created a set of interim response criteria that could be evaluated at two weeks. As you said, this was a fancy statiscal way of dividing people into this those that did well and thise that did not. 3/4 were in the group that did well (met the interim response criteria at two weeks), 66% of them went on to meet the clinical response criteria at 8 weeks. In the 1/4 that didn’t do well/did not meet the interim criteria, none of them went on to a clinical response at 8 weeks. This is really important information, even if the psychiatrist doesn’t have a prediction model as precise as the one in the study, he clearly does have one. He can then go and change the drug when he sees that the patient isn’t responding.

    I work as a hematologist and we spent decades trying to come up with predictive models that would allow us to better target treatments, to give just the right amount of chemo to maximize the effect without too many side effects. This kinda worked. However, what works way better is giving two cycles (out of six) and looking at what happened. If it’s working, we keep the same drug, and if not, we change. Turns out the best way of knowing what will happen tomorrow is looking at what’s happened yesterday…

    Anyways, if we compare the interim criteria at two weeks to a scan done after two round of chemo, a lack of a response has a negative predictive value of 100% for a lack of response after 8 weeks. In the study, the drug stays the same for 8 weeks with no clinical response. in the real world, the drug is changed by the psychiatrist. The second line treatment has a 50% chances of working at two weeks (making this up based on numbers I’m used to). Then a third line has 25% chance etc. In this way, three lines of therapy could be tried, and 9% of patients don’t respond to 3 lines of treatment (maybe two SSRIs and a atypical? It’s been a while)

    In addition, going back to the group that does well, 1/3 doesn’t have a clinical response at 8 weeks. This could be because 8 weeks is too short, UptoDate says that people keep getting better after 12-16 weeks. The longer timeframe would benefit SSRIs over the placebo, regression to the mean works less and less the closer we get to the mean. Indeed, the slope of the placebo curve gets more flat around week 6 while the treatment group’s stays the same. Using the same logic as before, an interim test at four weeks in the doing well subgroup could then be done, with the patients not meeting the criteria having their dose increased. If at any time a patient suddenly got worse (relapsed?), the drug could be changed.

    This model of constantly evaluating the response, keeping more efficacious but more toxic drugs for the patients that need them and who don’t respond to frontline therapies, minimizing the time spent on drugs that don’t help and titrating the dose for the best response sounds kinda like medicine? It sounds exactly like what you described doing in your post and it’s what’s i do day to day. This is what doctors and patients mean when’s they say “SSRIs work”, they don’t mean “Celexa 20 with absolutely no ajustements works”. However, the latter is exactly what, for all the fancy statistics, the meta-analysis are evaluating. Using some real back of the envelope type calculations, HAMD at the start are at 19, go to 11 with placebo and 9 with treatment. Using the approach outlined above, I get about a 6.5-7. So that’s about double the effect?

    I think that this model goes a long way to explaining the difference between clinical perception and the studies. The studies evaluate each individual tool, not the entire method.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      All psychiatrists say that if one SSRI doesn’t work, another one might work. But why should I believe that? That’s very different than “keeping more efficacious but more toxic drugs” in reserve. Since the noise is so big, they’re probably fooling themselves that different SSRIs have different results. Since that is the protocol everyone uses, it would be very valuable to do an experiment to see what the protocol actually does. The kind of experiment that you seem to say hematology actually does, but psychology does not.

    • Lambert says:

      80% confidence: Majority of meat produced in US would not pass UK food standards by 2021-01-01.
      (i.e. UK standards remain substantially ‘higher’)

      It’s the kind of thing the media would have a field day on, especially given the current administration.
      (and then another the moment someone got sick from a US chicken, whether or not it was due to changes in food standards)

    • eyeballfrog says:

      The EU argues that chlorine washes could increase the risk of bacterial-based diseases such as salmonella on the grounds that dirty abattoirs with sloppy standards would rely on it as a decontaminant rather than making sure their basic hygiene protocols were up to scratch.

      There are also concerns that such “washes” would be used by less scrupulous meat processing plants to increase the shelf-life of meat, making it appear fresher than it really is.

      That’s a really weird objection.

      • Lambert says:

        Note that this isn’t really about chlorine.
        It’s about a million and one other things that are too technical for the public at large to know or care about.
        Chlorine is just an easily understood symbol for all those things.

      • localdeity says:

        Yeah, it’s sort of like arguing that if you let people wear seat belts then they’ll drive more carelessly. Which is probably true to a smallish extent, but the net effect on automobile fatalities and injuries is probably a reduction.

        • According to the old Peltzman article that attempted to measure just that effect, the increase in accidents roughly balanced the decrease in deaths per accident. A statistically insignificant decrease in occupant deaths, a stastically insignificant increase in pedestrian deaths.

          There is a Wiki article on the general issue.

          • bean says:

            I have serious questions about the Peltzman effect. If it was true that people, say, ride bicycles in a riskier manner because they feel safer while wearing a helmet so that the death rate stays the same, then we should see an increase in injuries. Last time I looked, we don’t, and I can’t come up with a good explanation beyond “helmets are ineffective and don’t change behavior”. I can’t speak to the car side, but this is one of those fields that seems ripe to fail replication when more careful controls are in place.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            “helmets are ineffective and don’t change behavior”

            My hypothesis would be helmets are insufficiently effective. A helmet can keep you from dying in a tumble but you’re still gonna scraped up all to hell. Whereas if you don’t get thrown through a windshield, a lot of car accidents you can just walk away from, especially with modern safety-designed vehicles

            Supporting hypothesis, epistemological level Wild Guess: many more people have fallen off of bikes than have gotten into car accidents, so take (relatively) fewer risks with bikes

          • albatross11 says:

            One confounder here is that even if you survive an accident, you pay a lot of other costs–getting banged around[1], having to get a new car, having your insurance rates go up, maybe getting a ticket for your part in the accident, etc. The seatbelts/airbags can only be acting on the part of the risk of driving aggressively that involves death or serious injury.

            [1] I had a car-totaling accident a few years back, and while I wasn’t injured, it was extremely unpleasant. (I particularly remember whatever loose object from the back seat smacked me on the head during the accident.)

          • bean says:

            My hypothesis would be helmets are insufficiently effective. A helmet can keep you from dying in a tumble but you’re still gonna scraped up all to hell.

            That’s exactly my point, though. If we believe in risk compensation, then the number of people who are “scraped up all to hell” in bike accidents should go up as helmet use goes up. And the last time I looked, it hasn’t.

          • Aapje says:

            Bicycle helmets are probably extremely ineffective. Due to restrictions on weight and cooling, they are roughly designed to protect from a fall from a static bicycle, which is not that much energy. If you crash going downhill at 30+ mph, the energy is many times more, as kinetic energy increases with the square of the velocity.

            It’s likely that for most serious accidents, the absorbed energy by the helmet doesn’t make that much difference.

            Furthermore, the obstacle has to be hit in the right way. Helmets don’t help if you go face first.

            They are not comparable to seat belts, whose actual function is not to absorb crash energy, but to fixate you within the car, so the crumple zone and other safety features can do their job.

          • The Nybbler says:

            According to this meta-analysis which is often quoted, “The use of bicycle helmets was found to reduce head injury by 48%, serious head injury by 60%, traumatic brain injury by 53%, face injury by 23%, and the total number of killed or seriously injured cyclists by 34%.”

            This meta-analysis explicitly disclaims any conclusions about behavioral adaptation.

          • I have serious questions about the Peltzman effect.

            Peltzman didn’t claim that there was any theoretical reason to expect the increase in accidents to just balance the decrease in deaths per accident–that was just the statistical result.

            The theoretical argument was that you would expect the accident rate to go up as a result of the cost of accidents in safer cars being lower, hence calculating lives saved, as was then being done, by assuming the accident rate was unaffected would overestimate lives saved.

            He was looking at auto accidents, not bike accidents, and I don’t think there was any reason to think the safety improvements would have a larger effect on deaths than on injuries. I don’t know if he ever looked at the later bike data.

          • Aapje says:

            @The Nybbler

            An issue is that helmet-wearers are known to be considerably more risk averse in the first place, probably due to selection effects (a risk averse person is more willing to bear the cost of wearing a helmet). Your meta-study notes a result which is consistent with this:

            Other studies show that crashes with helmeted cyclists on average are less serious than crashes with unhelmeted cyclists, even when cyclists with head injury are excluded from the comparison (Spaite et al., 1991), and that helmeted cyclists on average show less high-risk behaviour than unhelmeted cyclists

            They argue that they reduce this issue by making a comparison between injury types, rather than looking at absolute numbers, but that assumes that more severe crashes result in similar types of injuries than less serious crashes, which seems unlikely to me.

            In the conclusion, the study explicitly notes that no hard conclusions can be drawn about selection effects:

            The results from the present study do not allow conclusions about possible effects of bicycle helmet use on behaviour adaptation or selection effects.

            Anyway, the issue remains that all these studies are inconsistent with whole population data. Helmet laws didn’t seem to have reduced the head injuries in Australia, New Zealand and parts of Canada. A more than doubling of helmet use in the US coincided with a 10% increase in head injuries.

            Of course it is possible that there were other changes that offset these huge benefits that your study claims, but I suspect that those benefits are largely false. My guess is that any effects are more likely to be in the single-digit range than multi-digit.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Really makes no sense to me. If food producers are lax in their GMP earlier in the process, they still will have a larger number of food-borne illnesses and you can still target those.

        Another argument was that poor GMP might not affect foodborne illness, but could affect pathogen transfer on the farm itself. Think swine flu. But I still don’t see the issue, enforce the GMPs like you would normally enforce the GMPs.

        There’s an extreme case where it might make sense, which is where it is really hard to monitor GMP practice, and GMP practice alone gives you better results than chlorine wash alone. Ex:
        No GMP: 1/100 ill
        Good GMP: 1/1000 ill
        Chlorine: 1/900 ill
        GMP+chlorine: 1/1100 ill

        You can’t monitor GMPs except for the results: 1% of people get sick instead of .1%. It’s really obvious, really fast when companies are not following GMP. But if you have chlorine washes, it becomes dramatically more difficult to identify who is following GMPs. This wouldn’t be an issue if chlorine washes were better than the GMPs, but they aren’t, so just ban the chlorine washes. You just have to accept that eventually someone will fail the GMPs and a whole bunch of people will get sick that otherwise wouldn’t

        Enforcement is really hard for governments, so I can see the appeal for a short-cut, but I can’t see this argument ever flying in our food plants.

  3. Kestrellius says:

    I just came across this interesting and somewhat baffling article.

    (Note: for me, there was a youtube video embed blocking a couple paragraphs of text. Not sure if it’ll appear for anybody else, but if it does — I got rid of it with uBlock Origin.)

    This article bothers me. Half of what this guy says is incredibly similar to my own thoughts on the matter, and the other half is bonkers. He jumps, without hesitation, between clear, insightful arguments that helpfully encapsulate well-evidenced (sometimes obvious) truths…and wild authoritative declarations about the fundamental nature of reality with only the scantest of support.

    Hoffman (well, mostly Hoffman. I’m just going to refer to the the article’s writer and Hoffman collectively as “Hoffman”, since the two don’t seem to disagree on anything. But I do want to be clear that some of the argumentation is in the text of the article itself, not Hoffman’s quotes) spends much of his time making the argument that the external reality could be — and most likely is — extremely unlike our perception of it. I’m entirely on board with this. I mean, to a certain extent it’s trivially obvious — we can’t see most of the electromagnetic spectrum, for example.

    But then the article leaps to the conclusion that since our view of the nature of objective reality is badly twisted and subject to change based on perspective, that…objective reality must have no nature at all. Perhaps the best example:

    Snakes and trains, like the particles of physics, have no objective, observer-independent features.

    Okay. Even if that was true, how could you possibly know?

    Hoffman repeatedly makes assertions like this — that quantum physics have proven that there are no “publically accessible objects”, based on things like the observer effect. From early in the article:

    Experiment after experiment has shown — defying common sense — that if we assume that the particles that make up ordinary objects have an objective, observer-independent existence, we get the wrong answers. The central lesson of quantum physics is clear: There are no public objects sitting out there in some preexisting space.

    Now, I will gladly admit that my understanding of quantum physics is really quite poor, but I have never before heard anyone claim that experiments with quantum mechanics so definitively indicate the complete unreality of external objects. As far as I know, the implications of those experiments — while incredibly significant — are not nearly so far-reaching, and don’t necessarily interact directly with the phenomenon of consciousness. For example, it doesn’t seem at all clear that observer effects are actually caused by conscious observation, rather than being a side effect of the measurement techniques used. Granted, observation and measurement are to a degree inextricable — a conscious person obviously can’t access a measurement without observing it — but that doesn’t mean they should be conflated.

    Then we get to Hoffman’s model of consciousness. It seems quite sound to me, even insightful, except that then he does this:

    Here’s the striking thing about that. I can pull the W out of the model and stick a conscious agent in its place and get a circuit of conscious agents. In fact, you can have whole networks of arbitrary complexity. And that’s the world.

    (As a side note: I think Hoffman’s choice of the word “agent” here is just a misuse of the term, and that he actually means “observer”. If not, the word choice worries me. An entity that observes is not necessarily an entity capable of effecting change, and the implication that conscious entities should be chiefly considered active and not passive points in a direction that I really don’t like. I’m probably just being paranoid, though.)

    So, the weak version of this claim is panpsychism. (That’s probably not a sentence you hear very often.) Basically this is saying that the world — the external environment, outside of human minds — is conscious in much the same manner as human minds. As presented, this would not be a very interesting claim. For one thing, it has nothing to do with the thesis of the article. For another, it’s incredibly easy to assert and incredibly difficult to prove, and it has little bearing on anything, with the possible exception of speculative ethics. (Incidentally, I actually think that this version of the claim is probably true, but I won’t get into that too much here.)

    The strong version — the version that seems to line up with everything the article has been claiming so far — is that there is no external environment at all, and that reality is a network of eight billion Boltzmann-brain humans drifting in a void and hallucinating an elaborate shared dream as they poke each other. This is preposterous. For starters, Hoffman’s primary argument here is based on the mechanics of evolution — the way humans have adapted to our environment. You cannot have evolution without an environment to define its parameters.

    Nor does it make sense to say that our void-drifting humans all collectively served as each others’ environments, defining each other by their interactions as they evolved. The problem is that there has to be a reason for humans to be doing that in the first place. Without an environment to define us, we’d have no attributes to begin with — no goals, no intent, no development, and no reason to interact, nor any framework under which to do so. There has to be a fundamental principle which sets the paradigm within which life — and, eventually, humans — can grow.

    In our case, the principle is entropy*. The nature of our universe is death, and so humans gained their identity in opposition to it. We’re the ones who survive death. We’re the Things That Struggle Against Entropy (And Also Occasionally Against Each Other, Because Nature Will Murder Us If We Don’t Fight For Her Amusement). That’s the fundamental story of mankind: the universe tries to destroy us, and we fight back.

    Now, here’s why Hoffman’s apparent line of reasoning bothers me so much. The spontaneous-Boltzmann-brains-generating-the-world-through-interactions model doesn’t make any sense, because the formless minds would have no basis for interacting…unless you smuggle in the assumption that the nature and goal of a conscious mind is, innately, to gain power over other conscious minds***. Then, our Boltzmann network is a battleground, a competition. Those are conditions under which humanlike minds could evolve. This is a situation in which our world could be mutually hallucinated, in order to facilitate competition. It makes sense, sort of.

    It makes some sense, but it also changes our identity. We’re no longer the Things That Struggle Against Death. Now we’re the Things That Compete For Power. We’ve gone from being brethren — allies in the grand struggle against nature, who sometimes fight one another because of the cruelty and power of our enemy — to ontological enemies whose only goal is to dominate each other. And in this model, all the suffering we undergo? That’s not a property of the universe. It doesn’t come from nature. It’s happening to you because another human wants it to happen to you, because he’s your enemy. All you have to do to end the evil, to make things perfect, is to find your enemy…and kill him.

    Now. Are these the paranoid alarmist ramblings of a neurotic nutjob, best disregarded by the reasonable reader? Almost certainly. I’m just writing this whole thing because I wanted to know your thoughts on the article, and I thought I’d illuminate in some detail why I found the thing so arresting. So you get to be privy to the inner workings of my brain for a little while. Enjoy!

    But back to the topic at hand. I know, obviously, that horrifying implications have no impact on the truth value of a claim. My point in explaining where Hoffman’s line of reasoning seems to lead isn’t to disprove his claims, but to establish why I think they’re worth concerning myself with. I certainly don’t believe that we should dismiss the argument and render it unthinkable because of its implications; quite the opposite, really.

    I do think the claim is wrong, though, for a variety of other reasons. For one, there’s the causality issue. Why would spontaneously-generated amorphous Boltzmann brains care about gaining power over each other — or, indeed, care about anything at all? Now, on its own this isn’t a strong argument, because it applies just as much to the other interpretation: why would the universe be entropic? This is just the unsolved-and-possibly-unsolveable first cause issue.

    However, I do think it makes more sense for reality to arise from simplicity than from complexity — for the universe as we know it to unfold itself from a single principle, rather than a complicated system like power dynamics emerging fully-formed from nothingness. And in the case of human competition, the objective-reality interpretation gives us a clear proximate cause, even if the ultimate cause is — as with everything — unknown. There’s very little reason to believe that human pursuit of interpersonal power is the result of a power-based utility function that’s innate to consciousness, and a great deal of reason to believe that power is an instrumental goal sought by humans for the purpose of acting upon their inhuman environment in desirable ways.

    It also doesn’t make much sense — if the world is a user-interface for Boltzmann-brain interactions — that most people spontaneously die without any action by other humans. Unless, of course, the deaths of other people are part of the illusion as well, and we’re all actually immortal. Maybe the deaths really happen, but we reincarnate? Wait a second, I think I’m reinventing Buddhism.

    It’s possible that none of the arguments I’m trying to rebut were actually intended by Hoffman or the writer of the article, and that I’m reacting to shadows in my own imagination. I suppose that would be appropriate. On the other hand, there are certain schools of thought that I can say with rather more certainty would put forward the Boltzmann-network-competing-over-power model — a fact around which I’ve sort of been dancing. But maybe this can serve as a rebuttal to some of those ideas.

    Anyway. I hope it’s been an interesting read, and I hope you guys have things to say about the article.

    *And now we come to our daily episode** of “Kestrellius rants about the evils of thermodynamics”.

    **Actually our premiere, since up until now I’ve mostly managed to restrain myself.

    ***I know this is a bit of a leap, but I think it makes sense. Evolution would seem to require competition, which in turn requires something over which to compete — and if there’s no external environment, then the only scarce resource that actually exists is interpersonal power.

    • Incurian says:

      I have not found quanta to be much more than clickbait. I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about claims made there.

    • Deiseach says:

      Experiment after experiment has shown — defying common sense — that if we assume that the particles that make up ordinary objects have an objective, observer-independent existence, we get the wrong answers. The central lesson of quantum physics is clear: There are no public objects sitting out there in some preexisting space.

      Short answer to this is: so tootlin’ what? I don’t need snakes or trains to have an observer-independent existence. First, there ain’t no snakes in Ireland, so whoop-de-doo there, mate. Second, I don’t care if the train, once in the warehouse at night, collapses into a fuzzy cloud of probability functions or stays in a train-shaped object, all I need is for it to look, sound, and move like a train if I need to get from A to B on it in the day time.

      Whatever the ultimate reality or non-reality of nature may be, for all practical purposes that we can access in the material world so long as the observer effect holds, now we’re sucking diesel.

      Anything at a higher level than that, you need either philosophy or religion, take your pick. Hinduism and Buddhism have your back on the “Hey dude, did you know like, there’s no objective reality, like it’s all maya, far-out man!” and as for the rest of it, as a Catholic I can assure you: God. The objective reality coheres because God constantly observes it and that keeps all things in being. He is the Ultimate and Sole Reality, everything else is contingent and has no independent existence and is totally dependent upon Him to exist; should He withdraw His attention from it (even from an evildoer in the course of committing sins) for the merest fraction of a second it would completely cease to be. I learned this when I was eight or nine in catechism class, you’re welcome.

      Father Ronald Knox did a two-part limerick on this entire thing around 1924 or so:

      There once was a man who said: “God
      Must think it exceedingly odd
      If he finds that this tree
      Continues to be
      When there’s no one about in the Quad.”

      Dear Sir,
      Your astonishment’s odd:
      I am always about in the Quad.
      And that’s why the tree
      Will continue to be,
      Since observed by

      Yours faithfully,
      God.

      Honestly, this “Baby’s First Metaphysics” type of article is all very well, but I’m pretty sure the author still expects to get paid in money for it and will go eat his dinner after writing it, objective reality not really existing or no.

    • Deiseach says:

      So, the weak version of this claim is panpsychism. (That’s probably not a sentence you hear very often.)

      Surprisingly more often than I would have expected to hear it, though that may be a function of the places online that I hang around 🙂

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      Nothing he says seems particularly well-supported or even interesting. I would disregard everything in the article, and more generally everything posted in Quanta Magazine.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Now, I will gladly admit that my understanding of quantum physics is really quite poor, but I have never before heard anyone claim that experiments with quantum mechanics so definitively indicate the complete unreality of external objects.

      Whenever any non-physicist makes a nontrivial claim about quantum physics, everything they’ve said should be ignored.

  4. Ventrue Capital says:

    Speaking of A.I., has anyone else seen this post at Cracked: “5 Creepy Things A.I. Has Started Doing On Its Own” ?

  5. johan_larson says:

    The Swiss don’t exactly have a navy; just a handful of small patrol boats on their larger lakes, operated by the Swiss Army. But they do have a merchant marine, based at Basel, a city on the Rhine, connecting to the port of Rotterdam and from there to the global network of sea-borne trade. They even have some ocean-going ships.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merchant_Marine_of_Switzerland

    • bean says:

      That’s very interesting, and something I knew nothing about. I may have to do some more digging to find out how the legal arrangements for this work. You have ships “homeported” in Liberia who never go there, and Swiss ships “homeported” in Basel who can’t.

  6. Well... says:

    Seems to me there ought to be a way to create an AI that can be fed, say, the entire music collection of Pandora or Spotify and recreate any song in the style of any other song. Has anything remotely like this been done already?

    (Asking because I’m hankering for either a bossa nova or Baroque choral version of “Black Cow” by Steely Dan.)

    • You don’t need an A.I. Tom Lehrer did it decades ago.

      All it takes is someone with his talent.

      • brad says:

        𝅘𝅥𝅮 First we got the bomb and that was good,
        ‘Cause we love peace and motherhood. 𝅘𝅥𝅮

        • SamChevre says:


          We’ll try to stay serene and calm,
          When Alabama gets the bomb.

          My favorite–it’s much funnier now that I’m catholic–is:
          Two, four, six, eight
          Time to transubstantiate

          • Nick says:

            I love The Vatican Rag. Can still sing it by heart.

            There’s a story I read—no idea whether it’s true—that when Lehrer performed that song at a restaurant, Ricardo Montalban was in attendance and, offended, stood up and said, “How dare you insult my religion! I love my religion! I’d die for it!” to which Lehrer responded, “That’s fine by me, as long as you don’t do it here.” 😛

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nick: Imagine if he had died for the faith in the middle of a restaurant. Ricardo of Montalban*, patron saint of dining out. Catholics would rub medallions of him before eating greasy hamburgers, praying to be spared heart attacks.

            *Fun fact: this is the name of a hero in the Charlemagne romances, brother of the paladin Rinaldo.

          • Nick says:

            So, list of people who faced the wrath of Khan: James T. Kirk, Tom Lehrer, the Moors.

  7. proyas says:

    What’s the deal with room-temperature superconductors?

    1) Do the laws of science even allow for their existence?

    2) Are we making progress towards creating them (e.g. – are new superconductors progressively cheaper and higher-temperature than older ones?)?

    3) Does anyone want to predict when we’ll invent a room-temperature superconductor that is cheap enough for commercial use? What do you base your estimate on?

    • Chalid says:

      1) No law of physics against it.

      2) We are making progress. There has been a big jump in the temperature record over the past year or so, with the highest temperature credibly reported around 250 K. The new superconductors are ludicrously impractical though; they requires > 1M atmospheres of pressure to work which is far harder to maintain than cryogenic temperatures are.

      If you restrict yourself to materials that work under normal pressures then we have ceramic superconductors (discovered 1986). The record for those is around 130K. This record has been rising but has kind of asymptoted and I’m inclined to believe that that family of superconductors won’t get anywhere near room temperature barring some major revolution.)

      3) In the near term we will see ceramic superconductors spread further; they will be useful anywhere you need really strong magnets and we already see them in some specialized applications (MRI, laboratory magnets, power transmission). Relative to conventional superconductors, they are much easier to cool (reaching 9K for a conventional superconductor requires a much more complex and expensive cooling apparatus than reaching say 77K for a ceramic superconductor. The problem with ceramics is that it’s really hard to make a decent wire out of them, however, I’m told the problems are being overcome. I could imagine a world in 20 years where they were common in industrial settings, though obviously they will never be useful as household items.

      Given recent rapid progress I do think we’ll see a room temperature superconductor someday. I wouldn’t be totally stunned if it happened tomorrow. But it took 20+ years to even begin to commercialize ceramic superconductors. The new high-pressure superconductors look like they’d be way way harder to commercialize.

      • Eltargrim says:

        My understanding of ceramic superconductors is that they have a difficult time maintaining homogeneous magnetic fields at high field strengths. This makes them unsuitable for the main static field in MRI or NMR use. Maybe the cryoshims use them? Not sure.

        Also, the cooling apparatus for NMR/MRI isn’t particularly complex, it’s just expensive to have to refill LHe.

        • Chalid says:

          There are small MRIs suitable for arms and legs at the demonstration project phase.

          Modern MRIs have zero boiloff and use cryocoolers, because LHe is so expensive.

          • Eltargrim says:

            Ah, to have the grant money for a modern instrument. The facility I’m at goes through something like $70 000 of cryogens a year for only a few instruments.

            I’m more current with NMR instrument development, rather than MRI, as I don’t use MRI. Are the small-scale instruments using high-temperature superconductors? The equivalently sized units in the NMR field, benchtop spectrometers, typically use permanent magnets or conventional electromagnets. Field strengths are near 1.5 T, which I understand is suitable/typical for proton MRI? My specialty usually requires field strengths well in excess of 9.4 T, and if you would give me regular access to a >21 T instrument I would jump on it. My understanding of current NMR instrument development is that while high-temperature superconductors are being researched for high-field applications, not a ton of progress has been made.

    • John Schilling says:

      Note that superconductors are not infinitely super; there are limits to the magnetic field density (and thus the current density) they can experience and remain superconductive. This critical field density decreases with temperature. So even if room-temperature superconductors are someday developed, there is no guarantee or even likelihood that they would be useful for large-scale effects like lossless power transmission or ginormously powerful magnets. Those may have to be left to the cryogenic superconductors we are accustomed to.

      Applications where it would be useful to have a little bit of electric current flowing with zero resistance at room temperature, are left as an exercise for the student.

  8. Just saw two interesting videos on the channel of the Marxist, Paul Cockshott. Is the labor theory of value empirically proven by input/output tables? Video on the transformation problem in relation to this, citing the work of Farjoun and Machover.

    The idea is that in the long run, average prices can be predicted by the average labor time. That’s predicted by the law of value, or the labor theory of value. Value and prices are not the same, but in the long run they are supposed to converge, and since labor time dictates value, then labor time must be related to prices, in average terms, in aggregate. My issue at first was that when he graphed labor against price using the I/O tables he’s actually comparing wages to prices, and this cropped up in the second video too. Apart from the part about capital intensity*, this seems like a totally trivial observation to me that products must be sold for more than they cost to make. However, in the comments, Cockshott claims he’s getting labor time simply enough in this fashion: “most countries give wages paid per sector as the labour input, to get person years you have to divide by the average annual wage”.

    I don’t agree that this proves the ethical case for socialism, but it might prove the empirical case for the labor theory of value. Average long run prices correlating to labor time shows that labor is the whole deal, but how this labor is arranged to produce that result is dependent on capitalist plans, and so some surplus extraction is justifiable on that basis, and we’ll never really know how much this is the case unless we compare what a system run on workplace level democracy and/or collective national plans produces by comparison. Surplus is inherently necessary to go beyond a steady state economy and for each firm to expand over time, so the moral question is far more murky and can’t be addressed with a simple slam dunk of labor equating to value and then this equating to prices in the long run. However, if it’s true then it should be investigated rigorously on its own terms and without worrying so much about the politics of it, or the fact that socialists use it to bolster a certain ethical claim (that they often try to present as not involving morality at all). If it’s true, it’s true, and I’m not seeing any immediate errors after watching those videos.

    *Capital intensive industries having lower rates of profit is surprising to me. I’d intuitively expect this to be wrong. Capitalism contains an inbuilt contradiction between automation and wages, yes, and if technological unemployment was total, then there’d be zero profits with zero wages (absent some kind of basic income to keep the cycle going), but the analysis of capital intensity here isn’t really about total technological unemployment, but about firms that have higher capital intensity per se versus firms that have higher labor intensity. I wouldn’t expect these firms to have lower profits, but higher profits, A: because the profits of firms aren’t linked to the wages they pay their own workers but to the wages that exist in society AKA the money supply, and B: because they should have lower unit costs to produce due to greater mechanisation. Why would firms have continually mechanized if it lost them profits?

    If 100% of firms were 100% mechanized then it’s easy to see that the rate of profit would be zero, but if 20% of firms were 100% mechanized, it’s not obvious why they would recieve lower profits than other firms, because their consumers comprise of the wagebase of the entire society. I’d intuitively, therefore, expect some kind of tipping point or threshold type relationship and not one linear and consistent, but if that’s what the data says, then there’s something wrong with my thought experiment, because that’s what the data says.

    Anyone care to help me untangle this? Is he intepreting the data wrong or is his empirical conclusion correct? Please save the tedious moral conclusions for another 50 culture war threads.

    • baconbits9 says:

      If you are representing it correctly then his evidence points toward Marx being incorrect. Marx claimed that value came from labor and that capitalists then appropriated part of that value for themselves, and beyond that capitalists would appropriate more and more of that share as that tended towards monopolistic practices. If the author has shown that average prices are driven by average labor time then he can join the long list of people who have dis-proven Marx’s conclusions.

      • If you are representing it correctly

        You should watch the vids as they are quite short. I play stuff on 2x speed which is a useful feature.

        and beyond that capitalists would appropriate more and more of that share as that tended towards monopolistic practices.

        I wasn’t aware of this part of the theory.

        If the author has shown that average prices are driven by average labor time then he can join the long list of people who have dis-proven Marx’s conclusions.

        I don’t understand. If the idea is that more labor time tends to lead towards higher prices and therefore higher rates of profit for those industries, then why would proof of this disprove some other stuff Marx said about monopolies? Marx can be wrong overall and the labour theory of value (I understand that Ricardo’s theory is somewhat different from Marx’s “law of value” but they seem equivocated in the video) could still be 100% correct. Lots of things Marx said were wrong, but are these two claims wrong(?):
        1: average labor time is positively correlated to average prices
        2: capital intensive industries have a lower rate of profit compared to labor intensive industries because of this.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I’ve listened to far to many Marxist explanations of things in my life, adding 5-15 mins every time someone links another something supporting Marx is not something I think I need to understand where the likely errors are.

          If the idea is that more labor time tends to lead towards higher prices and therefore higher rates of profit for those industries, then why would proof of this disprove some other stuff Marx said about monopolies?

          Marx’s labor theory of value claimed that there were prices and there was ‘societal value’, and that these were two separate things. Value was how much a good was worth to in an abstract sense, prices were how much capitalists could make you pay for a good. The two were separate concepts and have to be to keep other parts of his theory afloat, specifically if the amount of labor needed sets the price of a good then there will be competition between capitalists for labor and drive the price of labor up towards its ‘value’ if wages are below that value.

          Or to put it another way

          If profits are dependent on prices, and prices are dependent on the amount of labor used then capitalists have a profit incentive to find more and more uses for labor allowing more exploitation of labor’s value since stealing 99 cents an hour from 2 people is better than stealing 1 dollar an hour from 1 person. So you either have an uncomfortable tension where you have to claim that labor is immune to the forces of supply and demand, or you have to claim that prices are not dependent on the amount of labor.

        • Marx’s labor theory of value claimed that there were prices and there was ‘societal value’, and that these were two separate things. Value was how much a good was worth to in an abstract sense, prices were how much capitalists could make you pay for a good. The two were separate concepts and have to be to keep other parts of his theory afloat, specifically if the amount of labor needed sets the price of a good then there will be competition between capitalists for labor and drive the price of labor up towards its ‘value’ if wages are below that value.

          Well, the idea is that they are separate and not directly related in the short term, but value is supposed to converge with price in the long run due to some transforming factor. When I questioned why capital intensive industries would have lower rates of profit in the opening post, this is getting at the same thing you’re getting at from the other end of the issue. If labor makes industries more profitable, then why don’t profit seeking capitalists switch from capital intensive industries to labor intensive ones. It might be that I don’t understand Marxism well enough, but it seems to be the core argument around the declining rate of profit.

          If profits are dependent on prices, and prices are dependent on the amount of labor used then capitalists have a profit incentive to find more and more uses for labor allowing more exploitation of labor’s value since stealing 99 cents an hour from 2 people is better than stealing 1 dollar an hour from 1 person. So you either have an uncomfortable tension where you have to claim that labor is immune to the forces of supply and demand, or you have to claim that prices are not dependent on the amount of labor.

          Theoretically, this seems indisputable. I can’t argue against it, but if there empirically is a link after all, then the theory and all our objections have to be thrown in the bin no matter how attached we are to them, so what I’m really interested in is whether Paul Cockshott and the economists he cites are actually making any high level mistakes I’m not equipped to grasp in their interpretation of the data.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Problem with labor theory of value is that it is underdefined. It is trivially true in a sense that (almost) all market purchased consumption requires some production, i.e. labor, but is most definitely not superior alternative to textbook economic theory of markets based on supply and demand.

  9. baconbits9 says:

    I never realized how good of a movie The Godfather is until watching half last night. I blame many things, but just watching a few critical videos on bad movies made it clear how god damn good the first half of that movie is. The scene in the hosipital with Enzo and Micheal really opened my eyes a lot.

  10. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So a friend of mine suggested watching the Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon together, and is it just me, or is this series poorly conceived? We have a war lasting I guess three years, where every battle is irrelevant because Palpatine could have fed the other side the intel needed to win. We’re supposed to root for the side that fights with millions of clones of the same guy (plus Jedi), against the army of cute droids.

    • Erusian says:

      Setting aside all that, some of the messages are… questionable. The show looks pretty approvingly on things we agree are real life war crimes. Certainly, Star Wars doesn’t have the Geneva Conventions. But child soldiers, burning people to death… execution of surrendering droids is played for comedy, even when they beg!

      • acymetric says:

        I’m pretty sure that is a big part of why they used a droid army. Cutting through swaths of actual sentient beings would have been pretty grim, but they’re just droids so its ok.

        • Erusian says:

          I don’t think the lesson is made better by the idea that it’s okay because they’re different. If anything, that’s worse, no?

          • Dack says:

            I think you’d need to make an argument that the battle droids qualify as people. That is not self-evident, since I don’t see any of them saying “I don’t want to be a soldier, I’d prefer to be a lumberjack sculptor.” And then wander off and sculpt something….instead of mindlessly following orders and acting as property. Albeit with some sort of hollow imitation of free will at moments when it might make an opponent that has it at their mercy hesitate to finish it off.

          • Erusian says:

            I think you’d need to make an argument that the battle droids qualify as people. That is not self-evident, since I don’t see any of them saying “I don’t want to be a soldier, I’d prefer to be a lumberjack sculptor.” And then wander off and sculpt something….instead of mindlessly following orders and acting as property. Albeit with some sort of hollow imitation of free will at moments when it might make an opponent that has it at their mercy hesitate to finish it off.

            Is the default position that enemy soldiers are inhuman and we have to prove their humanity by showing them abandoning the fight? By that standard, any soldier, even a conscript, who does not desert is not human.

            And yes, we do see Battle Droids in the absence of their commander or after reprogramming doing non-violent things while retaining their personalities.

          • Jiro says:

            Is the default position that enemy soldiers are inhuman and we have to prove their humanity by showing them abandoning the fight?

            Using the word “soldier” begs the question. If droids aren’t human, they’re more like missiles or tanks than they are people or “soldiers”. And it would be stupid to take the default position that a missile is human.

          • Erusian says:

            Using the word “soldier” begs the question. If droids aren’t human, they’re more like missiles or tanks than they are people or “soldiers”. And it would be stupid to take the default position that a missile is human.

            Not-human does not mean equivalent to an inanimate object in a universe with alien or sentient robots. Missiles do not speak to us or beg for their lives. If they did, I think we would rethink launching them. Perhaps we would, but then kamikaze attacks are also a thing.

          • John Schilling says:

            Not-human does not mean equivalent to an inanimate object in a universe with alien or sentient robots.

            Right, but it also doesn’t mean equivalent to a person in a universe with rocks and simple machines. Hence, Dack’s assertion that you need to make an argument that battle droids qualify as people. That argument may be easy to make, but it isn’t the default – else you’re not allowed to breathe because the oxygen molecules you are mercilessly tearing apart might be “people”.

            Missiles do not speak to us or beg for their lives.

            I can trivially equip a missile with a loudspeaker shouting “please don’t kill me!” If I do, does that make it morally questionable for you to shoot it down when you see it moving vaguely in your direction?

            Again, the argument may be easy to make, but it has to be made. And if we’re in anything approaching a grey area w/re that argument, I as a designer of non-sentient military automatons will be incentivized to paint faces on them and give them a chinese-room generator of “please don’t kill me” requests.

          • Dack says:

            Is the default position that enemy soldiers are inhuman and we have to prove their humanity by showing them abandoning the fight?

            Not at all. The default position is that machines/robots are not people/nonsapient and we have to prove their personhood/sapience by showing them doing something other than what they are told/algorithm’d to do.

            Also what John Schilling said.

          • Erusian says:

            Right, but it also doesn’t mean equivalent to a person in a universe with rocks and simple machines. Hence, Dack’s assertion that you need to make an argument that battle droids qualify as people. That argument may be easy to make, but it isn’t the default – else you’re not allowed to breathe because the oxygen molecules you are mercilessly tearing apart might be “people”.

            I’m afraid I refuse to concede that the default is we don’t treat something that basically acts human as human. You must make an argument the Battledroids, who have personalities and communicate intelligently (even while alone with each other) and show a sense of self-preservation, are not worthy of human rights.

            Also, you are repeatedly committing sophistry by saying I am arguing about inanimate objects. I have been clear from the start I am talking about things that pass something like the Turing test. A rock that passes the Turing test also qualifies, if such a thing could be imagined.

            I can trivially equip a missile with a loudspeaker shouting “please don’t kill me!” If I do, does that make it morally questionable for you to shoot it down when you see it moving vaguely in your direction?

            I can trivially ask the missile to stop and then shoot it down if it continues to chirp please don’t kill me. The missile will continue to repeat its prerecorded message while a Battledroid would respond in a way that passes the Turing test. This is so absurdly simple that I have trouble believing you are not being deliberately obtuse.

            And no, it doesn’t make it morally ambiguous. If the missile is shouting ‘please don’t kill me’ then stops hurtling towards me and idles in the air, then yes, it becomes morally ambiguous. It is not morally ambiguous to shoot a human or a missile shouting ‘please don’t kill me’ while it is barreling at you with explosives. See, for example, suicide bombers. It also not morally ambiguous to kill battledroids in combat.

            Not at all. The default position is that machines/robots are not people/nonsapient and we have to prove their personhood/sapience by showing them doing something other than what they are told/algorithm’d to do.

            I see. So, let’s say we go into space and meet robots. Those robots learn English and we learn they have hobbies, preferences, etc. Robotic ones, but still. Humans can go and hold conversations with them, meet them, befriend them, etc. They also happen to have a ship full of platinum, gold, and high tehcnology.

            By your logic, we are justified in killing them all to get at it. After all, the default is that they’re non-sapient. The fact they have traded with us in good faith and acted like intelligent beings and beg for you not to kill their friends or themselves as you gun them down to get at the treasure is irrelevant. Maybe that’s what their programmers algorithm’d them to do. Why should we pay killing them any more mind than we’d pay the door that locks the safe?

          • DinoNerd says:

            @Erusian

            By your logic, we are justified in killing them all to get at it. After all, the default is that they’re non-sapient. The fact they have traded with us in good faith and acted like intelligent beings and beg for you not to kill their friends or themselves as you gun them down to get at the treasure is irrelevant.

            sounds like the way humans have historically treated each other. E.g. the “discoverers” of various inhabited lands in and after the Age of Exploration. They had moral justifications too.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m afraid I refuse to concede that the default is we don’t treat something that basically acts human as human.

            “Basically acts as human” is begging the question. There is a class of things that basically act as human (humans, wookies, Commander Data) and are generally presumed morally equal to humans. There is a much much much larger class of things that do not basically act as human (guns, trucks, rocks, oxygen molecules) and are generally presumed to have no moral significance except insofar as they are valuable to humans or the like. Putting something in the “basically acts as human” category is not the default and does require MAKING THE ARGUMENT.

            The argument may, as I have repeatedly noted, be easy to make. But you have to make it, and offer some degree of support.

            And in doing that, you have to account for the fact that makers of weapons generally and of infantry-replacement autonomous weapons particularly, will have incentives to make them appear and act somewhat human even if they are in fact non-sentient machines. That being the case, the particular argument most advanced for their alleged humanity in this discussion, that they beg for mercy when about to be shot, is a particularly weak one.

            I don’t watch the cartoons, but from what I’ve seen elsewhere in the Star Wars canon, it shouldn’t be too hard to put forth a convincing argument that droids generally are sentient and entitled to human rights. But you do have to make the case, and you really should do it better than I am seeing here.

          • Erusian says:

            I’m sorry John, but you’re simply talking past me without listening.

            You have acknowledged there is a class of things that are not human yet are sentient and deserve human rights in Star Wars. I say battledroids are in that class. You say I must prove it. I point out they act in a human-like manner and repeatedly cite specific characteristics and that we should, in that case, default to treating them like human.

            You then accuse me of begging the question, which is of course absurd. I am only begging the question if the question is whether the battledroids exhibit intelligent behavior. You haven’t denied that. You also claim that I am defending a mere simulacra of human behavior as the definition of humanity, an idea that you came up with and have repeated and which I have specifically denied.

            My position, which I will repeat as simply as I can for you, is that when confronted with something that appears human we must treat it like it is human until we have evidence otherwise. I say the battledroids act human. So we should default to treating them as having human rights.

            You have claimed all sorts of absurd things from this premise, most notably that I would not shoot down a missile with a vocal box attached. Yet I would shoot a human that was imminently going to crash into me with explosives attached, so there’s no definitional principle to be gained from the example. It’s not an argument ab absurdam it’s a strawman.

          • Dack says:

            I see. So, let’s say we go into space and meet robots. Those robots learn English and we learn they have hobbies, preferences, etc. Robotic ones, but still. Humans can go and hold conversations with them, meet them, befriend them, etc. They also happen to have a ship full of platinum, gold, and high tehcnology.

            By your logic, we are justified in killing them all to get at it. After all, the default is that they’re non-sapient. The fact they have traded with us in good faith and acted like intelligent beings and beg for you not to kill their friends or themselves as you gun them down to get at the treasure is irrelevant. Maybe that’s what their programmers algorithm’d them to do. Why should we pay killing them any more mind than we’d pay the door that locks the safe?

            A precautionary principle would not be unwarranted in dealing with unknown entities.

            That being said, the SW battle droids are known and have little to nothing in common with your hypothetical unknown robots.

            Furthermore, even if we are able to make certain that the hypothetical space robots are merely programmed to pantomime human tropes and therefore definitely non-sapient, that does not mean that you are justified in destroying them.

            Just as I would say you are not justified in burning down a forest just because the trees are not sapient or I would say that you are not justified in killing all of the cows just because they are not sapient (even if you really really want to amass their innards.)

            Just because a thing is not sapient does not mean you are justified in doing whatever you want with it.

        • bullseye says:

          Protagonist droids throughout Star Wars plainly speak and behave as people. C-3PO and R2-D2 are *characters*.

          As for how flesh-and-blood characters treat droids, they really don’t treat them as machines. They treat them the way racists treat “lesser” humans. In A New Hope, when C-3PO goes into a bar, the bartender is angry at C-3PO himself for showing up, not his owner for bringing him. In Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan tells his friend at the diner that droids don’t think, and they both snicker. (Saying my laptop doesn’t think would not provoke that reaction.)

          If I met a robot that appeared to be sentient in real life, I’d be suspicious; my experience and general knowledge of the world tells me that such things don’t exist. But the Jedi have very different experience and have every reason to believe that their enemies are as self-aware as the droids the Jedi own and work with every day. And when they treat those enemies dishonorably, they probably use the same excuses that they have for owning sentient beings.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Watching Season 1 now. The death of battle droids is usually full of pathos. They surrender and beg, or they die in battle but get off a forlorn quip in a cute voice first…
        And yes, child soldier Ashoka is one of the main characters.

        • acymetric says:

          Well…fiction (especially fiction aimed at children) is full of this. Peter Parker is essentially a child soldier, along with nearly any teen superhero.

          • albatross11 says:

            To say nothing of Harry Potter.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Amazing how dangerous it is to be a Hogwarts student, isn’t it?

          • albatross11 says:

            To be fair, being a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher isn’t such a safe profession, either.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Shonen anime is even worse. Shows like Naruto and Saint Seiya routinely depict thirteen-year-old child soldiers killing each other in bloody battles to decide the fate of the world. The reason for this, of course, is that they are aimed at thirteen-year-old boys.

            Magical girl shojo anime does this to some extent, too, although combat there tends more towards bloodless carnage than the graphic depiction of violence in shonen. Usagi from Sailor Moon is fourteen, as are the three protagonists of Magic Knight Rayearth.

          • bullseye says:

            My first impression of Clone Wars was that it was a children’s show for exactly this reason.

          • Erusian says:

            Well…fiction (especially fiction aimed at children) is full of this. Peter Parker is essentially a child soldier, along with nearly any teen superhero.

            I recall one episode where a bunch of clone cadets, basically children, are told it is their duty to fight regardless of their age. It’s not just an implicit part of the background but something the show explicitly justifies. Harry Potter or Naruto feels like they just happen to be 13 because it targets 13 year olds. There’s no point where Dumbledore sits there and gives Harry a speech about how children should fight. It’s their duty too!

      • Tarpitz says:

        Lucas is a raging carbon fascist, as is quite evident from the prequels, never mind the cartoon. I don’t think he’s even considered the question.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It’s hard to see in the early seasons, but what you’re talking about is the main theme. The Clone Wars is a story about how well-intentioned compromise can lead to corruption.

      Pretty much every episode, minus the odious Jar Jar episodes, has one or both of the following elements:
      1. The Separatists are doing something unconscionable which the Jedi and/or the Senate can’t ignore.
      2. There’s a way to stop the Separatists but the Jedi and/or the Senate need to compromise one of their principles in order to do it.

      Over the series, the war serves as the justification for the Jedi to ignore people in need (including their own Padawans), to work with unsavory people like criminals and pirates, to torture prisoners, and to knowingly spread the war to neutral worlds. They don’t want to do these things but they don’t see an alternative: ending the war as quickly as possible comes before their principles.

      The Senate does the same thing, but with less self-awareness. They concentrate more and more power to the Chancellor to preserve their freedom, figuring that they can put everything back to normal once the war ends. By the end of the series, the Republic is the Empire in all but name: given that the Senate isn’t disbanded until Episode IV, it wouldn’t surprise me if all of the senators we see in the Clone Wars continued playing the same game right up until the destruction of Alderaan (and in Rebels we actually get to see them doing exactly that).

      The Clone Wars has a lot of problems, but that core is pretty well done in my opinion.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The Clone Wars is a story about how well-intentioned compromise can lead to corruption.

        Pretty much every episode, minus the odious Jar Jar episodes, has one or both of the following elements:
        1. The Separatists are doing something unconscionable which the Jedi and/or the Senate can’t ignore.
        2. There’s a way to stop the Separatists but the Jedi and/or the Senate need to compromise one of their principles in order to do it.

        Well, do the Jedi’s compromises build up to “They’re so corrupt that the galactic population will believe they deserve execution”? Because as Generals in a war Palpatine started while being leader of the other side, they’re just his puppets. Their corruption has to benefit him, or it’s a waste of time. Plus from a Doylist POV, “the Seperatists do something unconscionable, so the Jedi do something morally corrupting and kill lots of cute droids” is a questionable setup.

        Lastly, why were there Jar-Jar episodes?!

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Well, do the Jedi’s compromises build up to “They’re so corrupt that the galactic population will believe they deserve execution”? Because as Generals in a war Palpatine started while being leader of the other side, they’re just his puppets. Their corruption has to benefit him, or it’s a waste of time.

          It’s less that the public thinks that they’re corrupt and need to be destroyed and more that their moral corruption leads to their destruction. Think like a Greek tragedy: their hubris leads to their fall.

          Anakin is the central example. The dude is a psycho: even putting aside that he routinely disobeys direct orders, he’s constantly flying off the handle and having weird violent outbursts. Obi Wan and the Jedi Council repeatedly acknowledge how his behavior is totally out of line. But since he gets the job done they just sort of shrug it off. That blasé attitude single-handedly ends the Jedi Order: without Darth Vader, Mace Windu cuts off Chancellor Palpatine’s head and there’s no Order 66, no Empire, and no destruction of the Jedi Temple.

          Plus from a Doylist POV, “the Seperatists do something unconscionable, so the Jedi do something morally corrupting and kill lots of cute droids” is a questionable setup.

          I mean, they really ease you into the moral ambiguity.

          In season one it’s played almost completely straight: good Clones and Jedi versus evil Droids and Sith. By the end of the series, you have episodes where Captain Rex and other named Clones reluctantly frag a traitorous Jedi General and Ashoka is training insurgents to use fear as a weapon on Separatist worlds. It’s slow but very hard to miss as the series goes on.

          Lastly, why were there Jar-Jar episodes?!

          I wish I knew…

          George Lucas just couldn’t help himself, I guess.

          • bullseye says:

            Lastly, why were there Jar-Jar episodes?!

            I wish I knew…

            George Lucas just couldn’t help himself, I guess.

            I watched the commentary for the Clone Wars movie. There was something dumb in the movie (I forget what), and people on the commentary made sure to pin it on Lucas while spinning it as his unique genius or something.

        • bullseye says:

          The point of the war is to concentrate power in Palpatine’s hands, to give him an army, and to corrupt Anakin. The corruption of the rest of the Jedi order, while probably amusing to Palpatine, isn’t really the point.

    • sfoil says:

      I’m pretty certain that what you described is the reason the prequel material made “The Clone Wars” into “clones vs droids” instead of the logical step of the separatists replacing inept battle droids with clones, and then pitting them against a Republic that had to resort to increasingly desperate measures in order to avoid building their own clone army.

    • BBA says:

      The entire Star Wars franchise is poorly conceived. It’s all about throwing a bunch of random cool stuff on screen, if you’re thinking about it you’re missing the point.

      Tagged: things I will regret writing

  11. proyas says:

    Einstein died in 1955. Between the DNA in his preserved brain samples, DNA he left on things like licked stamps and envelopes, and DNA he passed down to descendants who are still alive, could we piece together Einstein’s full genome?

  12. realitychemist says:

    Today in “you can’t trust anything you see online to be real anymore” news: http://whichfaceisreal.com

    I did a quick 20-sample test, and I can guess the real face ~80% of the time. However, that is almost always due to some non-face factor, e.g. the background of the image, or one of the people is wearing dramatic face paint that the AI would probably never try to generate.

    I’m curious what anyone who has more experience than me in AI development (read: anyone working in AI development) thinks about this.

    • albertborrow says:

      I can get 100% on a sample of about forty. It’s mostly because I know what AIs tend to get wrong – they don’t generate extra people, they don’t usually have consistent backgrounds, clothes are typically a little distorted. For the stuff that an amateur usually doesn’t know to spot, you can look at glasses – AI can figure out the thick rims of glasses, or sunglasses, but they struggle on the fine details of lens distortion or reflection. Additionally, the line between background and face are sometimes muddy, or they repeat. Or there’s a little hiccup in the artwork. EDIT: Make that 100% out of 100. It’s really fun to go through these. The AI generated pictures also sometimes forget to set the eye color as the same, or they create little hair “loops” that you wouldn’t expect from someone with straight hair. Or the eyes are pointing in different directions. Or one ear ring is a different shape from the other.

      If you want to have some fun with AI face generators, you can try MakeGirlsMoe which is an anime face generator, with customization options. What’s really cool about this one is that you can lock the seed and change the settings to show how the AI makes multiple variations of one face template.

      • Nornagest says:

        Yeah, after a little practice this isn’t hard. Its ability to generate faces is very impressive, but that’s about all it can do: it’s not good at backgrounds, clothes, accessories, or the boundaries between objects. It’s a lot easier to tell if the person’s got long (and especially curly) hair, because if the hair kind of smudges into the background around the edges rather than trailing off into clear little wisps, it’s a fake ten times out of ten.

        Real backgrounds are often out of focus, too, but there’s a particular type of out of focus that’s very distinctively AI: it looks sort of like brush strokes in an impressionist painting.

      • Jiro says:

        Is there anything which lets you specify details such as hair color and length without being based off of anime?

        • albertborrow says:

          Take a look at this video. By sorting the various inputs by how drastic the changes to the facial structure are, you can create sliders that modify the most important attributes. I don’t know how the anime website does it, but I imagine that they did something like this.

      • toastengineer says:

        Am I the only one who can see the weird lines it draws on the skin? It’s not always there, but most of the time there’s this subtle DeepDream-esque network of curved lines on the skin in the fake image.

        Some tickle in my brain tells me the expressions are wrong occasionally, as well.

    • aristides says:

      I have no background in the field and got 30% correct, significantly worse than chance. I’m very impressed with the faces.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      I was able to do it ~100% of the time, but only after figuring out to ignore the face. The errors are in the background, and evidently there are some real people with very unfortunate faces.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Thanks for the tip, fam. Just got 10/10 right using your method.

      • Aapje says:

        The errors are in the background

        I disagree. I noticed unnatural blemishes in the skin on very many of the fake images. I probably got about 50% right based on that alone. When the blemishes were not there or minimally so, I looked for other issues.

    • Kestrellius says:

      I just got a picture of a woman wearing a hat that was also hair. It was rather disturbing to see when I wasn’t expecting it.

  13. theredsheep says:

    To what extent do you think it’s fair to say that liberals tend to fear stagnation, while conservatives tend to fear chaos, based on equally defensible but incompatible readings of history? This has been floating around in my head for some time, and I’m not sure if it’s insightful, really obvious, or dumb.

    We all start with the agreed facts: history is full of horrible things happening, and until relatively recently violence, disease, hunger, and whatever you choose to call the fourth horseman were free to roam at will. Today isn’t perfect, but things seem to be a lot better for the average person than they were. This is (mostly) not controversial. But you can take this in two directions.

    If you’re liberal (or progressive, or leftist), you see it as: things have been getting better quite rapidly, and we’ve made impressive progress. Clearly we have to keep it up, and see how much more improvement we can get. Old ideas and social structures were built to perpetuate a bad, old way of living, or at best to adapt to conditions no longer present, and should be regarded with skepticism. If we aren’t careful, these ossified notions could drag us backward into the bad old days, all to suit the interests of a few bad actors or to mollify the fears of people who can’t see the big picture.

    If you’re conservative (or rightist, or whatever), you see it as: we managed, after an intensive effort, to stabilize the situation. We’re like shipwrecked sailors who managed to assemble a raft out of flotsam. The important thing is to keep the raft in one piece–it could fall apart at any time. This isn’t to say the raft can’t be changed at all, but we’d better be damned sure that anything we change isn’t going to make it spring a leak. All public order is built on centuries of subtle improvements and elaborate systems set up to make society more fair and just. Anyone who’s trying to change things willy-nilly is either reckless, ignorant, or selfish.

    I was raised liberal, but my temperament inclines me to conservatism. I’ve seen others make claims somewhat similar to this–Scott had a post about how conservatism is people who are always preparing for the zombie apocalypse, and there’s that old study about how conservatives tend to be more fearful–but never exactly and explicitly this.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      I’m leaning towards obvious, at least for the group of people who don’t automatically assume their opponents are simply self-serving. It’s easy to look at a recent college grad and realize that they have a very strong incentive to want debt forgiveness. It’s also easy to look at a 50-something executive in their prime earning years and see their desire to reduce taxes.

      Beyond those base personal preferences for how to order society, your insight seems fairly good.

      (I would make one change on the conservative side – it’s not a rickety raft that we are on, but a 19th century Man-of-War. It’s a strong and sturdy ship, but still runs the risk of war, storm, or other disaster. It also requires constant maintenance to keep it running well. We need order to keep the crew in line, and make sure that they do their duties instead of drinking and gambling. Otherwise the ship fails to function and we (including the crew) are all worse off).

      • bean says:

        (I would make one change on the conservative side – it’s not a rickety raft that we are on, but a 19th century Man-of-War. It’s a strong and sturdy ship, but still runs the risk of war, storm, or other disaster. It also requires constant maintenance to keep it running well. We need order to keep the crew in line, and make sure that they do their duties instead of drinking and gambling. Otherwise the ship fails to function and we (including the crew) are all worse off).

        You clearly need to read more Patrick O’Brian. Ships of that era took a lot of work to keep running. They leaked, if you got the sails wrong it was easy to lose bits or get capsized, and they rotted.

    • Nick says:

      If this were true, wouldn’t the conservatives be trying to defend that very recently built raft, and the things that got that raft built? This seems like an analogy for the conflict between progressives and classical liberals, but not necessarily for progressives and other kinds of conservatives. But I think a lot of conservatives are (and should be!) asking what of value we might have inherited from the prior thousands of years of darkness and misery. Unless I’m misunderstanding, and you’re suggesting that it took those thousands of years to get the things that built that raft.

      • theredsheep says:

        Shouldn’t effortpost lest I be late for work, but I think different kinds of conservatives have different ideas about which parts of the past were more important. Your classical liberals look at the long line connecting the Magna Carta to John Locke to Thomas Jefferson and beyond; your SoCons are more invested in the civilizing aspects of Judaism and Christianity. The more economically inclined look back and say, “wow, what a great job capitalism did creating wealth.” Whichever it is, the tension is between civilization as robust vs. fragile, and whether the old forms are responsible for escaping the horrors of the past, or if they were causing the horror in the first place.

        Probably this is obvious, now that I’ve written it out and have a chance to look at it. Oh well.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Largely I agree with the 3 axis thing: conservatives see the conflict as civilization vs. barbarism, libertarians as coercion vs. liberty and liberals as care vs. harm.

      I like liberty and dislike coercion, and I prefer care to harm, but if some harm and coercion are necessary in support of civilization, then so be it.

      • salvorhardin says:

        I think (and have said to Kling in the past) that this neglects the extent to which many liberals and some libertarians view conservatism as barbaric, and liberal social attitudes in particular as an extraordinary triumph of modern civilization which must be defended against barbarous traditionalist attempts to destroy it. This line of thinking has probably become more common with the rise of Trump, who is certainly easy to cast as a barbarian, whether one agrees that this casting is fair or not.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Feels right, but I think the idea that conservatives see intense effort to get to a good point is actually wrong. Often they claim the point they want, or want to keep, is simply natural – as well as traditional.

      Also, Burke (as in Burkian conservative) maybe got here first.

      • SamChevre says:

        A not-nitpick: I think the conservative idea of “natural” is often misunderstood. (One of my goals is to come up with a way of saying this as clear as “free as in speech, or free as in beer?”)

        Entropy is natural in one sense: it’s typical of the natural world, it’s commonly observed, etc. But that’s not what anyone who’s thinking in Thomist/Platonic/”natural law” terms means by “natural.” Natural is this context means “in accordance with its nature”/”fulfilling it’s purpose perfectly.”

      • theredsheep says:

        Yeah, people do a lot of terrible things by nature. As for Burke, yes, you’re right. I’m thinking out loud here. Well, it started a discussion.

    • Plumber says:

      @theredsheep 

      “To what extent do you think it’s fair to say that liberals tend to fear stagnation, while conservatives tend to fear chaos…”

      Seems to me to be a convincing analysis, except I don’t find those now called “political liberals” in the U.S.A. to be all that liberal (using a dictionary definition of “liberal”), and I really don’t find those called “political conservatives” in the U.S.A. very conservative at all (again using a dictionary definition).

      In my limited reading of history, big radical change mostly makes things worse, especially for the generation experiencing them, the rise of, and (to a lesser extent) the fall of Communist Party rule in the Russian Empire are shinning examples of this to me.

      The big changes the U.S.A. experienced from 1933 to 1973 are a lucky counter-example, as is China after the death of Mao, but I think since the likely ceiling of better is less extreme than the floor of worse, so I think being cautious about change is prudent. 

      In my self analysis I think I’m a mildly left-leaning reactionary (those of you who’ve read my past posts please feel free to correct me), and aiming for the pre oil embargo early months of 1913 status quo is my preferred policy direction.

      In trying to think about the changes in my lifetime that have been good in the U.S.A., I suppose the creation of the E.P.A. (less rivers catching fire), less on-the-job deaths since OSHA, the reduction in poverty from 1968 (when I was born) to 1973, the rise in wages until 1973, and after a drop the rise in wages until 2000, and then after a drop, the rise in wages since 2014, the rise of test scores of black-American students from the 1960’s until the mid 1980’s, more people getting to see a Physician since 2009, and the drop in murder rates, were good things. 

      Unfortunately maintaining a good status quo isn’t assured, as circumstances change, which does require some reforms, but in doing reforms it’s best to find models, but also to realize that “one-size-doesn’t-fit-all”, what works in one place and time doesn’t assuredly work in another.

      Some years ago I read a book that rated how happy different nations are and, if I recall correctly, the happiest nation in Europe was Denmark, and the happiest Nation in Asia was Singapore, and other than both being relatively small nation-states, Denmark and Singapore seem like very different models to me, Denmark is democratically ruled, and has a more egalitarian economy than the U.S.A. (but less than Cuba), Singapore is more authoritarian, but is more free-market than the U.S.A.

      I do think local and State autonomy is desirable, not just because different things will work well in different places, but also to provide examples for each other, for instance someone born poor in Salt Lake City, Utah is more likely to rise out of poverty than someone born in Atlanta, Georgia.

      Since happiness is subjective some objective measures on if things are better or worse are useful, and I believe life-expectancy and swings in birthrates are a clue.

      From 2000 to 2016, both the birth rate and life expectancy dropped in the U.S.A., which I think shows that people were less hopeful, so I think things got worse for too many in those years (and yes I know that the emancipation and increased education of women also tends to also lower birthrates so that shouldn’t be the only judge of well-being), policies to increase those along with other measures of well-being (disability, labor force participation, suicide rates, institutionalization rates, et cetera) should be made, but carefully and pragmatically, whether it leads us to Denmark, or Singapore.

      • 2000 to 2016, both the birth rate and life expectancy dropped in the U.S.A.

        I don’t believe that is correct. I haven’t found the figure for 2000, but Googling around, in 2003 life expectancy at birth was 77.4 (Table 11). In 2016 it was 78.6.

        • Plumber says:

          @DavidFriedman, 
          You’re right, I was wrong, I mis-remembered, it was a subset of  Americans (whites) that had increases in deaths from rising drug and alcohol overdoses, suicides, and disease from chronic alcoholism in 2014 compared to 2000, but overall life expectancy for Americans as an aggregate was still up.

          My apologies. 

          It’s only in the last three years that overall life expectancy has dropped in the U.S.A.

          So (judging by the causes of death) increasing despair among whites from 2000 to 2014, then increasing “despair caused deaths” amongst Americans 2015 to 2018.

          • On your general view that things have been getting worse, that people do worse than their parents, you might be interested in this piece arguing the opposite.

            The claim, based on several studies of panel data–following the same people through time rather than looking at the income distribution through time–is that a large majority of people do better than their parents and that the fraction who do is larger for lower income people.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman,
            Thanks very much for the link!

            I don’t know how to suss out if it’s take is more or less true than The New York Times/et cetera take, but if true that’s surprising and encouraging.

    • 10240 says:

      This analysis makes it sound like conservatives agree that the progressives’ goals would be actually good, and they also agree that the progressives’ proposed methods would probably work, but the risk that they would have bad results is too high. In reality there are large differences in
      • what they think is good (e.g. Is homosexuality immoral? Is it a good or a bad thing if it’s accepted?)
      • the relative importance of different things (e.g. equality vs average prosperity)
      • whether they think the probable result of various policies would be (e.g. whether socialist economic measures would result in a significant drop in productivity).

      • Clutzy says:

        I agree significantly. One of the defining parts of modern discourse appears to be progressives saying, “no one could possibly object to [insert idea here]” and then conservatives slowly raising their hands and saying, well, actually yea I don’t think that’s all that good of an idea.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        I see three levels that we could approach this question at, with different results.

        -Terminal goals
        -Philosophical approach
        -Policy

        There seems to be a significant amount of overlap on terminal goals. Happy life, self-actualization, basic necessities (food, clothing, and shelter), etc. are very similar between conservatives and progressives. Remember, this is goals, methods are covered below.

        Philosophy has some very clear differences, but also a fair amount of overlap. Certain kinds of Freedom and Democracy rate fairly high on both sides. Respect for individual’s desires is another.

        Policy couldn’t be much more opposed.

        If a progressive says “I think it would be better for people to have enough food” there isn’t any objection from the right. That’s the way I read the OP. If the goals are good, then it’s worth considering plans proposed in order to achieve the goals. That seems to be where everything breaks apart. The conservatives conclude – “This idea is unworkable” and/or “This would cause more harm than good.” Rarely have I heard a conservative disagree with terminal goals, but often have I heard strong disagreement on ways to achieve those goals.

        I’m thinking of the old canard: “A person in their 20s who isn’t [progressive] has no heart, a person in their 40s who isn’t a conservative has no brain.” Conservatives say this often, as it seems to match their own understanding. That says to me that [at least some] conservatives tend to agree with the goals of the progressives, and sympathize with those goals. Reality exists, though, which is why those goals can’t always be realized, especially at the cost of great change or more loss than gain.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Depends on your conservative – and your liberal.

        Some definitely consider some members of the other categry beyond-the-pale evil, in both directions.

      • theredsheep says:

        The examples given sound like downstream effects to me; homosexuality is forbidden by a lot of old moral systems, while creating true equality involves tearing old rules and traditions to shreds, and socialism doubly so. In all three, there’s a deep-rooted fear of rocking the boat.

        Like I said, this may be all perfectly obvious, which may be why nobody brings it up, IDK.

        • 10240 says:

          These beliefs may be downstream from a belief that traditional systems are usually good in general, and that tearing them down is wrong in general, and this is the root of belief in traditional moral or economic systems for some conservatives, but I don’t think it’s universal. Some just have the opinion about the specific issues at hand that the conservative side is right.

    • cassander says:

      I think that’s not a bad proxy, but ultimately the better break down is order vs. anarchy. the left is the leveling impulse, the desire to tear down hierarchies and tradition. the right is the orderly impulse, the desire to preserve them. this breakout also explains why no one is entirely comfortable with capitalism. the left doesn’t like how it’s constantly building up explicit hierarchies of wealth, the right how it’s always disrupting old ones.

      • Plumber says:

        @cassander

        “…this breakout also explains why no one is entirely comfortable with capitalism. the left doesn’t like how it’s constantly building up explicit hierarchies of wealth, the right how it’s always disrupting old ones”

        Seems like an argument for why “Libertarian” should be regarded as distinct from “Left” and “Right”.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Why is hierarchy more orderly?

        Will my classroom behave better if each child has an individual place in a ladder of value/worth power?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      With all due respect to the niche of good faith anti-war paleocons and right-libertarians, the conservative/rightist side has never been “anti-chaos” in my lifetime. Look at a list of not just every war John McCain voted for, but every war he wanted to fight. It’s like a barbarian kingdom that can’t go a couple years without wanting to crush someone. Our raft of flotsam is on a river of blood, and we’re constantly mumbling “wish a hater would” and looking to make sure none of the hands of people on the river are giving us an excuse to do some violence. Diplomatic efforts (the core of creating an island of stability and everyone getting along) are constantly mocked as weak, just formalities we have to power through to legitimate our casus belli. You don’t hear something like “We should reduce Mecca and Medina to a glass plain” from a side that just wants to keep to it’s own and preserve order, and I heard that from any number of people on the right throughout the Bush years. Far from looking to not change things too quickly or avoid a leak, conservatives/rightists are harbingers of chaos – change rules to shut down the last abortion clinic in the state! Cut off benefits people depend on, abruptly! Shut down the government! “Shock Therapy!” Get rid of/privatize Social Security! Incarcerate people because of the substances they take to relax! etc. etc.

      • cassander says:

        You seen to be engaging with a caricature of right wing thought, not the actual thing.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          When I insist there’s difference between leftists and liberals and you can’t just pool it altogether to “The Left” I get pushback that it’s not really relevant because the SJWs are the ones actually in the real world pushing the Democrats and what the movement stands for.

          By those standards of discussion that posters here have created, I am perfectly comfortable talking about the real world of how conservatives/rightists act and not the lofty ideas that don’t really hold much sway and haven’t for decades. Vicious warmongers and people looking to create chaos to make a quick buck always win out, not tidbits of wisdom from Edmund Burke or William F Buckley. Even Donald J Trump gets immense pushback from conservative/rightist thinkers every time he suggests maybe drawing down the Forever War 5 or 10%. It’s obvious that far more people on that side are clustered with McCain/Cheney views on what is acceptable chaos than Ron Paul or Pat Buchanan types

          • DinoNerd says:

            I’m beginning to think that only discussion of specific beliefs or policies are useful, and any thread which mentions larger category terms should be ignored – along with frequent users of those terms.

          • albatross11 says:

            Trump also gets pushback from the liberal establishment when he talks about those things. Because interventionist foreign policy is the establishment consensus of how we ought to be doing things. It may be bad policy (I think so), but it’s not just a product of Republicans or conservatives.

          • cassander says:

            By those standards of discussion that posters here have created, I am perfectly comfortable talking about the real world of how conservatives/rightists act and not the lofty ideas that don’t really hold much sway and haven’t for decades.

            You aren’t articulating what the conservative movement is doing, you’re articulating, uncharitably, the way those things are described by their critics. No one’s quoting burke here, but you’re trying to judge the entire republican party by the (usually ignored) preferences of the most hawkish republican in the senate, and describing their other policies as incharitably as possible.

            tell me, can you pass the ideological turing test? Why do think republicans want to privatize SS or support the war on drugs? Because I know why, and they are all for reasons that are about order and stability.

          • Plumber says:

            @ilikekittycat

            “When I insist there’s difference between leftists and liberals and you can’t just pool it altogether to “The Left” I get pushback…”

             Self-identified “Leftists” (“Maoists” and the like) hated Liberals as “reformists”, probably more than they hated the “Right”, I presume that it’s commenters who don’t remember the 1970’s and/or have an appaling ignorance of recent history who post such statements.

            Tell them that the widow of Marcus Aurelius Foster could give an example of the difference.

            “…it’s not really relevant because the SJWs are the ones actually in the real world pushing the Democrats…”

            Now I have to show my ignorance of modernity, what “SJW’s, and what policy decisions are they driving?

            The closest I can think of a “Social Justice Warrior” driving policy is Martin Luther King Jr., and recordings of phone conversations between him and President Johnson, as well as desperate accounts of their meetings, show a collaboration, with each advising the other on tactics to reach a common goal (they later split over the Vietnam war).

      • theredsheep says:

        And being uncharitable even to the caricature.

      • John Schilling says:

        With all due respect to the niche of good faith anti-war paleocons and right-libertarians, the conservative/rightist side has never been “anti-chaos” in my lifetime. Look at a list of not just every war John McCain voted for, but every war he wanted to fight.

        You’d have to ask the shade of John McCain to be sure, but I’m pretty sure that in all of those real and hypothetical wars, he wanted to quickly and relatively painlessly overthrow a mercurial dictator who was seen as sowing terror and chaos and establish a nice, calm, predictable modern democratic state to replace his regime.

        We have discussed here at length how unreasonable this expectation is, but it is a common and sincere one. For example, even after ten years of the Global War on Terror, many of the smart rationalists here held the sincere belief that we could and should do such a thing in Libya. Such a belief may be factually erroneous, but it is not inconsistent with a conservative desire for stability and order.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          A porn star could donate all of her proceeds to religious or abstinence charities; however, once she started talking about genuinely being anti-sex and only fucking for virginity any person with common sense can point out how incoherent that endeavor is

        • albatross11 says:

          For a lot of those questions, the political dispute is largely about what policy will lead to more/less chaos. If you argue for drug legalization or non-interventionist foreign policy, the argument is probably going to turn on whether legalizing drugs (or not toppling dictators) is ultimately going to lead to more or less chaos than keeping them illegal (or continuing to topple dictators).

          Also, it’s worth noting that mainstream liberals are on board with both the war on drugs and the interventionist foreign policy. Also with policing the borders, extensive regulation of industry, etc. Presumably that’s because most people of both wings of the establishment think that those policies will lead to less chaos and generally better outcomes than the alternatives.

  14. maintain says:

    Supposedly spacial memory is one of the few types of intelligence that can be improved with training.

    How much can it be improved?

    I see a few different training apps available. Has anyone turned themselves into a Tesla by grinding on a spacial memory training app for an hour a day?

    Gwern wrote this FAQ about his mostly failed attempts to improve working memory, but then tantalizingly mentions some scientific studies about how spacial memory can be improved.

    I’m wondering if anyone has done more research on this.

  15. sandoratthezoo says:

    I saw a headline on HN: License plate detection without machine learning

    I haven’t read the article.

    That’s a fascinating headline, though, right? Like, maybe two years ago, if you did license plate detection without machine learning, probably what you’d do is add a little ML in some non-essential part of it so that your headline could say, “License plate detection with machine learning.”. That was just the way the incentives aligned.

    But now you can distinguish yourself by not using ML. And maybe that’s at least partially because ML’s downsides don’t seem to be going away?

    What if the risk in bad AI is not “overfitting a utility function by any means necessary,” but just “being inscrutable and occasionally making a completely unsociable decision, and because you’re inscrutable for any sufficiently complex decision it gets harder and harder to tell whether your decision was insane”?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      “being inscrutable and occasionally making a completely unsociable decision, and because you’re inscrutable for any sufficiently complex decision it gets harder and harder to tell whether your decision was insane”?

      That sounds like a human.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Sure. And I think that some party of what we value about traditional computer decision making is exactly that it’s inhuman. Predictable. Even if it fails it fails in understandable ways.

    • albatross11 says:

      Note that this is one of the ways humans routinely get screwed by superhuman intelligent things like bureaucracies and markets that we employ now–everything is humming along nicely but then you get some weird sudden downturn for reasons nobody can exactly explain, or it turns out that ordering the bureaucracy to do X somehow also causes it to do Y and you can’t figure out any way to stop it.

  16. Atlas says:

    So I saw Noah Baumbach’s film The Squid and the Whale. I thought that it was excellent, largely on the merits of Baumbach’s script and Jeff Daniels’ performance. I took it as corroborating evidence for a bunch of my recently acquired theories of human behavior….but of course I would think that, wouldn’t I? So I’m curious to hear what other people think, as I want to follow Bertrand Russell’s admonition to effect of “always study what the facts say, not what you want them to say.”

    1) There is no objective criteria for judging “good” art; less philosophically, it is extremely hard to predict which artists/works of art will be popular and which won’t. This is a problem because, as Fred Waitzkin observed in Searching for Bobby Fischer, while you simply cannot delude yourself into, say, thinking that you are a vastly better chess player than you actually are, at least not without suffering an intense burden of cognitive dissonance, you can genuinely and fairly believe that your talent as an artist is unappreciated. You can, hopefully, dissuade a young man with an overly high estimation of his athletic ability from running into an emotional/career cul-de-sac by reference to objective facts—the way that, for instance, David Foster Wallace realized that he wasn’t good enough at tennis to be a pro. But you can’t really prove to him that his writing isn’t good enough to be recognized as a successor to David Foster Wallace one day, so he may very well persist in his folly.

    This is demonstrated in the film by Jeff Daniels’ character, Bernard, meeting with disappointment in his career as a novelist while maintaining an ego better fitted for a more successful writer.

    2) Somewhat as a corollary of the above, the attempt to gain status through being “cultured”—whether in the form of knowledge about literature, music, film, comics or video games—is a truly Quixotic quest—though I fear that may be too kind to would-be sophisticates, as perhaps you could argue that there was something ultimately redeeming or valuable in Don Quixote’s journeys. (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t read the novel.) The part that comes from my above contention is that, since there’s no objective basis for saying that one work of art is better than another, one’s preferences about art are just unfounded assertions all the way down. You can be more aggressive about these assertions; you can be more eloquent about them; you can expound upon them in greater detail; but they are nonetheless just assertions of personal preference that are not “true” outside of your own mind. We can debate the value of being a “nerd” in general, but if you’re a nerd about, say, a branch of natural science, history or trains, at least you know some actual, objective facts about the world that you can use to satisfyingly BTFO someone who doesn’t know them. Whereas if you’ve tried to cultivate “good taste,” people can completely shamelessly ignore the Deep Lore facts you know without paying a price for doing so.

    This is demonstrated in the film by both Bernard and Walt (his elder son, played by Jesse Eisenberg); Bernard enjoys making assertions about which works of art are better than others, a trait which Walt consciously emulates. Their struggle to have “correct” opinions about literature doesn’t win either of them a lot of points.

    Additionally, the pursuit of status through culture is futile because…most people just don’t think it’s all that impressive that you’ve passively consumed a work of art, even a challenging and esoteric one. Demonstrating knowledge is somewhat more impressive—I think of the description of Robert Redford’s character in Three Days of the Condor “This guy reads everything!” when he comes up with some relevant knowledge—but knowledge of art is less likely to be useful—and especially less likely to be practically useful— than knowledge of other domains. I feel that being able to do something is more impressive to most people than knowing something in the abstract.

    I may ask for advice about this at greater length some other time, but looking forward at my 20s, I think I’d like to spend more time learning how to better do stuff like land navigation, first aid, firearm usage and maintenance, combat sports, home repair, mountaineering, et cetera, and less time consuming art. I emphatically mean art across the board here; not just the media you might look down upon, but TV from the “Golden Age” of television, “Great Books” from the literary “masters” of the past, films from the greatest auteurs of cinema, and so on. Not to say that I won’t consume any, just that I won’t be deluded into thinking that there’s some beneficent effect from reading a “great,” challenging work of fiction to become cultured as opposed to universally acknowledged pleasurable wastes of time like video games.

    Demonstrated in the film by Bernard’s desperate, futile pleading to his younger son, Frank, about philistinism. And, relatedly, the way that Ivan, an avowed philistine, replaces him as a lover for Joan, and, even more devastating, the way that Ivan replaces him as a father figure for Frank. Also by how Walt gets way more positive female attention from performing a song in front of a large audience in the talent show and winning than he did from talking about literature.

    3) You have to be very careful about being complacent with women, because there’s no law in today’s society saying that a woman who is willing to accept you as a partner today will always be willing to do so in the future. (Certainly the reverse is true as well.) I may elaborate on this more some other time, but I think the mental model of love as “spontaneous reciprocal affection for just existing” is less useful than a “shopping in a competitive evolutionary marketplace” model. Once you’re doing well in the competition, then members of the opposite sex suddenly realize that they’re willing to love you for just existing. If you start indulging yourself and falling behind in the competition, you might walk into an “I mysteriously just don’t feel like being in a relationship with you anymore” ambush.

    Demonstrated in the film most centrally by the dissolution of Bernard and Joan’s marriage. I believe that Bernard is probably correct when he says that Joan’s infidelity was the result of his career being less successful than she thought it would be when she married him. Steve Sailer has an uncanny knack for seeing subtly conservative messages in Blue State films, and he comments that many critics failed to realize that the unfaithful mother is the villain of the film, whose inability to accept a dull but dutiful provider husband is what tears the family apart. Also by Walt’s difficulty to rekindle a relationship with Sophie and inability to start one with Lili, and by Lili quickly getting bored of Bernard.

    • Randy M says:

      There is no objective criteria for judging “good” art; less philosophically, it is extremely hard to predict which artists/works of art will be popular and which won’t.

      There might not be objective standards for what is most pleasing artistically, but you can set objective criteria to determine talent, at the least.
      If an modern artist can’t recreate to some approximation a more conventional painting, how likely are his abstract pieces to really be intentional? If a composer can’t take an unfamiliar piece and give you a sheet music for it, how likely are they to communicate their vision accurately? If a writer can’t communicate the simple details of a scene, how are they going to be good at communicating mood and theme and so on?

      I think I’d like to spend more time learning how to better do stuff like land navigation, first aid, firearm usage and maintenance, combat sports, home repair, mountaineering, et cetera, and less time consuming art.

      What are you optimizing for? This seems to be setting up your life to avoid set-backs, which is prudent, but there’s more to joy, virtue, and wisdom than prudence, undervalued as it is currently.
      But I can’t say what art would do for you personally on that front, to be honest, and you don’t seem poorly read, especially for you age as someone “looking forward to” his twenties.
      (By the way, this is similar to what I was trying to get at in ruminations last November.)

      I may elaborate on this more some other time, but I think the mental model of love as “spontaneous reciprocal affection for just existing” is less useful than a “shopping in a competitive evolutionary marketplace” model.

      Agreed that love in any meaningful sense should be distinct from affection, and you should not make romantic commitments to someone who defines theirs as such.
      My personal definition is something along the lines of “an attitude of overvaluing the object of the love, deliberately maintained and creating tendencies to act in such a way as to make it more accurate.”

      • theredsheep says:

        With art, there’s greater room for self-deception, and because it’s seen as deeply personal, people are more likely to soften the blow instead of telling you outright that you’re no good. Alternatively, they could view it as better purely because you’re connected to it and they like you personally. It takes little time and effort to whip together an inept story or a bad painting, compared to the time it takes to, say, build something out of wood that won’t immediately fall apart. Finally, we have a stock trope of unappreciated creative genius. Put it all together and you have an enormous body of struggling artists in any medium of sufficient popularity, all competing to be noticed against the mediocre crowd.

      • J says:

        If an modern artist can’t recreate to some approximation a more conventional painting, how likely are his abstract pieces to really be intentional?

        Not a useless heuristic, but not great either. Pine Top and Tom Waits are no great operatic singers. Frankie Manning was no ballerino.

    • Zephalinda says:

      I haven’t seen The Squid and the Whale. I do think you should be very wary of assuming that because it successfully debunks a very specific kind of late-20th-century hipster art posturing, it therefore demonstrates the radical subjectivity of aesthetic value and conclusively proves that art is a waste of time.

      Present-day ideas about the value of art/ the social status of artistic production and consumption are, in many ways, disintegrating zombie versions of Romantic concepts that weren’t all that coherent in the first place. They’re easy to pull to pieces, but focusing on that success is weakmanning what’s actually a very robust, centuries-old tradition of arguments about the social and personal value of art. I mean, it’s clearly fine on a personal level if you want to focus on getting good at knot-tying, but you should be aware that The Squid and the Whale by no means exhausts the available arguments for the value of reading poetry as well.

      • Nick says:

        Yes, we had an entire discussion literally last week about why fiction is valuable. It ended with “these are some great points” and “I will try to respond to everyone.” Today it’s “I won’t be deluded.” I can’t tell whether Atlas is aiming that comment at everyone who disagree, or just people who think there’s some ineffable quality to consuming art, but I’m also not sure the latter even exists or that the former has been fully engaged with.

    • AG says:

      Taking the consequentialist approach to your life wrt these issues depends on how your “people vs. things” meter goes, extroversion vs. introversion and such.

      People more heavily weighted on the “things/introversion” side find pleasure in being a nerd independent of how it affects their relationships. It is pleasurable to consume and analyze their choice of fascination subject in and of itself. Things like “accomplishment” and “status” are mere bonuses, not the main event.

      People more heavily weighted on the “people/extroversion” side treat things as the means to the people ends, and “things” includes status and accomplishments. The pursuit of status through culture is not futile, it is just the Goodhart’s Law measure measure turned target turned useless, failing to measure the actual thing, which is relationships.
      The TV show Halt and Catch Fire has this as a primary theme. It’s nominally about people in the tech industry creating new tech, but as they reiterate again and again, “The computer’s not the thing. They’re the thing that gets you to the thing.”

      But the thing about Goodhart’s Law is, measures aren’t automatically useless, so long as you don’t make them a target. There’s nothing wrong with being a connoisseur on pictures of Biden eating sandwiches, so long as you don’t let it interfere with what you actually want in the larger picture. In that, the point of connecting with other people is to find that give-and-take of what they really want. Perhaps if Bernard had facilitated increasing Joan’s own status instead of tying it to his own accomplishments, then his flagging career wouldn’t have been as important to the health of their relationship. Or if they had built a social circle whose members weren’t competing for status on their careers, instead of something like the well-being of their children, or the ability to carry a conversation across a wide variety of topics.

      You may build a social circle on people who do things as their primary mode of interaction, rather than talk about things. For that, then focusing on learning to do more things instead of consuming more facts will serve you well. But there are even more relationships where it really is just about the ability to make meaningless small talk on the regular, and has little to do with doing things at all.

      “Say, which end of a choco-cornet do you start from?”

    • Deiseach says:

      The part that comes from my above contention is that, since there’s no objective basis for saying that one work of art is better than another, one’s preferences about art are just unfounded assertions all the way down.

      C. S. Lewis has a book about that very question.

      Atlas, what all this comes across to me as you saying as regards non-fiction and fiction is like “I can measure out a pound of nails, or a pound of cheese, or a pound of feathers to stuff a cushion. Those are all good practical useful things, and I approve of good practical useful things. You have a standard measurement that everyone agrees on, and I like standard measurements that everyone agrees on. You can follow directions as to what you want your pound of feathers for, and once you have stuffed your cushion, there it is – a concrete object that can be used in a realistic manner. But who the devil can measure out a pound of beauty or a pound of joy? It’s all nonsense and subjective and should be done away with!”

      We’ve got a fundamental disagreement and I don’t think we’re ever going to all move from one side to the other, so the best we can do is build a bridge across the gulf.

      • Randy M says:

        But who the devil can measure out a pound of beauty or a pound of joy?

        Careful, Deiseach, you’re going to bring out the rationalist inquisitors.

        [disclaimer: I am not saying rationalism behaves like the Inquisition. I am merely pointing out that one of Scott’s beliefs is that you should indeed attempt to measure that, and do arithmetic with it to boot.]

    • AG says:

      tl;dr Atlas could greatly simplify their heuristic by using the KonMari method.

      “Does it spark joy in your life?”

  17. Well... says:

    Since there are many vegetarians and vegans who read and comment here, let’s talk about cannibalism.

    I think it’s obvious that if you were going to eat humans as a dietary choice, and morals are already out the window, babies and toddlers would produce the choicest meat. (OK, technically this might be true regardless of whether you were going to eat them, but I digress.) Pick one up and hold it, and it becomes clear there’s a lot of tender, succulent cuts in there — the shoulders, the thighs, the cheeks…mouthwatering. (What parent hasn’t had this thought at least a few times, if not made it the central recurring theme of most babytalk?) Would anyone contest this?

    But what I really want to know is, SSC, what public figure do you think would taste the best? Who would taste the worst? Provide solid reasoning.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I feel like this is likely drunkposting, but since I’m not 100% sober I’ll answer. Donald Trump is definitely among the worst. Age of the animal makes meat worse, as does testosterone, and he’s old and all evidence indicates a lifetime of high-T.

      So for best, you’re going to have to go for someone young and female (since castrato are no longer available). Healthy and athletic, but not overly thin nor doping, seems best. Maybe J. Law?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I feel like this is likely drunkposting, but since I’m not 100% sober I’ll answer.

        Why are you guys drunkposting to a rationalist forum? =|

        But to stay on topic, it seems that beef cows, to give one example of domestic animals, are kept at minimum 20% but no more than 25% body fat… presumably the lower it gets, the more it tastes and textures like game. So you can rule out female athletes (14-20%), looking for the youngest famous women of the next body type up, called “fit.”

      • Well... says:

        I don’t know if Trump would be among the very worst; he certainly doesn’t look like he’d taste good.

        I think The Canadian Lobsterman would taste worse than Trump.

    • Nornagest says:

      what public figure do you think would taste the best?

      You know how kobe beef cattle are fed until there’s fat running between their muscle fibers even in otherwise lean cuts, and given pure water and the finest feed, and massaged daily, and generally lead a life of luxury?

      What I’m saying is, it’s gotta be William Howard Taft.

    • lvlln says:

      I think it’s obvious that if you were going to eat humans as a dietary choice, and morals are already out the window, babies and toddlers would produce the choicest meat. (OK, technically this might be true regardless of whether you were going to eat them, but I digress.) Pick one up and hold it, and it becomes clear there’s a lot of tender, succulent cuts in there — the shoulders, the thighs, the cheeks…mouthwatering. (What parent hasn’t had this thought at least a few times, if not made it the central recurring theme of most babytalk?) Would anyone contest this?

      Captain America from Snowpiercer confirms this.

      Also, having watched What We Do in the Shadows a couple days ago, I think what Vladislav said about a preference for drinking virgin blood is appropriate here: “I think of it like this. If you’re going to eat a sandwich…you would just enjoy it more if you knew no-one had fucked it.”

    • AG says:

      Pffft, y’all heathens pretending the subtle differences matter, when you can just overwhelm any quality difference by using ground meat and adding copious spices, sauce, and external grease.

      Delicious roadkill squirrel BBQ is delicious.

    • Deiseach says:

      babies and toddlers would produce the choicest meat

      It would appear Americans are experts on the subject 🙂

      From “A Modest Proposal” by Dean Swift:

      I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy Child well Nursed is at a year Old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food, whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust.

      …A Child will make two Dishes at an Entertainment for Friends, and when the Family dines alone, the fore or hind Quarter will make a reasonable Dish, and seasoned with a little Pepper or Salt will be very good Boiled on the fourth Day, especially in Winter.

      I have reckoned upon a Medium, that a Child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar Year if tollerably nursed encreaseth to 28 Pounds.

      …I have already computed the Charge of nursing a Beggars Child (in which list I reckon all Cottagers, Labourers, and four fifths of the Farmers) to be about two Shillings per Annum, Rags included; and I believe no Gentleman would repine to give Ten Shillings for the Carcass of a good fat Child, which, as I have said will make four Dishes of excellent Nutritive Meat, when he hath only some particular friend, or his own Family to Dine with him. Thus the Squire will learn to be a good Landlord, and grow popular among his Tenants, the Mother will have Eight Shillings neat profit, and be fit for Work till she produceth another Child.

      Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the Times require) may flay the Carcass; the Skin of which, Artificially dressed, will make admirable Gloves for Ladies, and Summer Boots for fine Gentlemen.

      A very worthy Person, a true Lover of his Country, and whose Virtues I highly esteem, was lately pleased, in discoursing on this matter, to offer a refinement upon my Scheme. He said, that many Gentlemen of this Kingdom, having of late destroyed their Deer, he conceived that the want of Venison might be well supplyed by the Bodies of young Lads and Maidens, not exceeding fourteen Years of Age, nor under twelve; so great a Number of both Sexes in every County being now ready to Starve, for want of Work and Service: And these to be disposed of by their Parents if alive, or otherwise by their nearest Relations. But with due deference to so excellent a friend, and so deserving a Patriot, I cannot be altogether in his Sentiments, for as to the Males, my American acquaintance assured me from frequent Experience, that their flesh was generally Tough and Lean, like that of our School-boys, by continual exercise, and their Taste disagreeable, and to Fatten them would not answer the Charge. Then as to the Females, it would, I think, with humble Submission, be a loss to the Publick, because they soon would become Breeders themselves: And besides it is not improbable that some scrupulous People might be apt to Censure such a Practice, (although indeed very unjustly) as a little bordering upon Cruelty, which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any Project, how well soever intended.

      But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Sallmanaazor, a Native of the Island Formosa, who came from thence to London, above twenty Years ago, and in Conversation told my friend, that in his Country when any young Person happened to be put to Death, the Executioner sold the Carcass to Persons of Quality, as a prime Dainty, and that, in his Time, the Body of a plump Girl of fifteen, who was crucifyed for an attempt to Poison the Emperor, was sold to his Imperial Majesty’s prime Minister of State, and other great Mandarins of the Court, in Joints from the Gibbet, at four hundred Crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young Girls in this Town, who, without one single Groat to their Fortunes, cannot stir abroad without a Chair, and appear at a Play-House, and Assemblies in Foreign fineries, which they never will Pay for; the Kingdom would not be the worse.

    • AG says:

      At the least, “spend his days walking around” means that the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ would be pretty gamey.

  18. brad says:

    The homeless came up in the last OT and it got a little heated. So I thought I’d continue the discussion here in the non-integer thread. (Actually it was a bit of a tangent, the original post was about beggars, which at least in NYC I suspect is mostly disjoint from unsheltered homeless.)

    Manhattan has a weekday daytime population of around 4 million people. Somewhere in the low single digit thousands of people, at most, are living on the streets, subways, subway stations, and parks of Manhattan. These 1 in a 1000 are significantly lowering the quality of life of the other 999, and for all these millions of destroyed utils they aren’t even getting that much utility themselves over the next best alternative. NYC is under a consent degree and obliged to provide a shelter bed to every person that needs one. The are legitimate reasons to not especially love the shelter system, but it isn’t like the sidewalk is club med either. If there were such a thing as utilitarian mortal sin, surely these guys choices would qualify.

    Now some might argue if we only provided this or that additional service then the problem would go away. But the fact of the matter is that we (NYC) already provides a heck of lot. And it isn’t possible to look at any additional programs as only applying to these few thousand people. If the city were to provide benefits such that looking like you were in this population resulted in a better living situation than that of the sheltered homeless or even the working poor than all of a sudden there’d be a heck of a lot more people that would be administratively indistinguishable. Also, it’s not even clear that any level of spending would sufficient if it didn’t come with some kind of oversight backed up by compulsion. If you can’t evict someone (because then you’re back to square zero) how do you deal with behavior that makes the apartment building extremely unpleasant for everyone else?

    The bottom line is that I don’t think there’s any reasonable carrot solution here. The stick solution (i.e. some kind of institutionalization — jail or mental institutions) and the status quo are the only realistic options. I read Scott’s Burdens, and frankly I don’t buy it. Mostly because this throw away line “He might get in a fight and end up with a spear through his gut, but in that case his problems would be over anyway.” is the whole ballgame. I also understand that there’s a sort-of instinctual revulsion at kicking people who are already down, but I think letting those instincts wholly determine policy that impacts millions of people is foolish.

    What are the other arguments in favor of the status quo (or arguments that I’m wrong about there not being a realistic carrot solution)?

    • Plumber says:

      @brad,

      It sounds like New York City provides more services than here (the homeless here far outnumber the number of shelter beds) but I imagine that the status quo is still cheaper upfront than institutionalization, even in New York City.

      Isn’t that why our streets are filled with screams and used needles, the price?

      • Statismagician says:

        Note that NYC has about half the homeless population and ~115% the non-homeless population of the Bay Area. It is a much less pleasant place to be homeless due to having a) weather, and b) New Yorkers rather than San Franciscans.

      • brad says:

        My read of the situation in NYC is that it isn’t primarily cost that blocks institutionalization, but rather 1) vis-a-vis mental institutions a backlash against them dating back to widespread reporting on the horrific conditions in many of them during the 1980s and 2) vis-a-vis jail a younger, at 5-10 years old, backlash against broken windows policing.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Your problem is that the people who disagree with us have very different premises than we do.

      The idea that eviction is an acceptable way of dealing with misbehavior, at least for any misbehavior short of a violent felony, is definitely not shared. It’s not a terribly realistic attitude, but there are a lot of people who will simply never accept that someone can behave badly enough to rightfully end up on the street but not in prison. This attitude also extends to public spaces like sidewalks, subways, parks and libraries as well as to businesses open to the public like cafes.

      There’s a good quote that I think sums up where this attitude comes from:

      Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.

      The people who are old enough to remember Squeegee Guys and how awful living in the city used to be, or who listen to their older relatives’ experiences, know how bad things can get without aggressive enforcement. But the people who moved to or grew up in the city as it is today don’t connect the seemingly cruel treatment of the homeless with how pleasant it is to live here overall. I’m afraid that the only way they’ll learn is to repeat the last century’s mistakes and rediscover our solutions.

      • albatross11 says:

        brad:

        I think it’s a very hard problem. And I think the thing you mention at the end is the biggest reason why: for any local government, the more services you provide for homeless people, the more you will draw them from other places. That is pretty much guaranteed to lead to higher costs and a lower quality of life for voters/taxpayers/non-homeless residents.

        Add to that the bizarre societal decision we’ve made to yield up control of a lot of public spaces to crazy people and aggressive panhandlers, and the quality of life impact becomes much bigger.

        • brad says:

          I rarely agree with Nabil ad Dajjal about anything, but here I can’t find much to disagree with.

          It seems like this is a hard problem mostly because of the large number of voters thinking with their hearts instead of their heads. Which is why I was a little bit surprised about the breakdown of opinions on panhandlers in the prior thread. Out in the world is one thing, but on SSC I don’t expect to find myself in the steely eyed realist half of a discussion very often.

          Perhaps, like Plumber often says, it has a lot to do with where people live.

  19. Lillian says:

    You all remember the big bust of several Asian massage parlours in South Florida? The one that was presented by the police, and breathlessly repeated by a credulous media, to have been huge sex trafficking rings with sex slavery and coercion. Some of us expressed scepticism on the grounds that the police are lying liars who lie. Well Elizabeth Nolan Brown, one of the few journalists who actually seems interested in engaging in real journalism by investigating police claims, has published a follow-up article on the subject. The short version the information in police documents and county records fails to support the narrative. All the evidence points to this being just regular ol’ boring prostitution, and the police are still lying liars who lie. Some quotes:

    Police from Vero Beach said in a press release that one woman had been arrested for human trafficking, and Florida news outlets are still running with that story. But a simple check of county court records shows that this is not the case. Like her colleagues, the woman is charged with engaging in prostitution herself, “deriving support” from prostitution, and “racketeering,” which sounds serious but just means working with others to accomplish something illegal.

    All of the women who were arrested in these stings are being charged with prostitution themselves. They’re also facing felony charges for participating in and earning money from each other’s sex work. In this way, police have found a sort of loophole that allows them to bring felony charges against sex workers simply for working together.

    Some of the women arrested were managers or owners at one of the 10 spas targeted, but others simply worked there themselves, giving massages and sometimes something extra, and occasionally accompanied their managers on errands like going to the store or bank. (Police suggest these instances of them traveling together could mean workers were victims who couldn’t be let out of eyesight, and yet they also charge the workers with felony crimes for going along on these tasks.)

    The stings in Indian River Beach and Orange counties netted more than 100 solicitation arrests for customers plus the arrest of six people (five women, one man) associated with the massage businesses. The man is accused of serving as a driver for women who worked temporarily at the spas while visiting from out of town; he has been charged with racketeering. The women are charged with prostitution, racketeering, and deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution. One is also charged with “unlawful transport for the purpose of prostitution.”

    There is no evidence in initial complaints, the arrest affidavits, the arrest warrants, or subsequent court documents that any of those arrested were using force or deception at the massage businesses. On the warrants, the victim is listed as the State of Florida.

    Police originally relied on two details to spin the trafficking narrative in the press: Some of the women were living at the massage parlors, and they “weren’t allowed to leave.” But Martin County Sheriff William Snyder later admitted that the part about not being allowed to leave was false.

    Included as evidence that they lived there was the presence of “food and condiments” in a kitchen fridge—pretty standard for workplace kitchens, no? In addition, one of the places had two extra rooms, in which police found beds made with sheets and pillows and dressers holding personal belongings. Police later told reporters these women were sleeping on “cots” and in “squalor,” but that’s not what their official report says. (It’s also worth noting that the one woman police say for sure was briefly staying at one of the spas is also facing the most prostitution charges, so in practice police don’t really seem to think sleeping there equates to victimhood.)

    In any event, the fact that some women may have temporarily lived in the spare bedrooms needn’t speak to anything untoward. Police suggest that some of the workers came in for a short time from other U.S. cities; these rooms could have been temporary crash pads while they were there.

    Deadspin also offers skeptical looks at law enforcement claims. While the NYPost reports that the two women Robert Kraft was seeing were the ones actually running the establishment.

    Perhaps more details will come out vindicating some part of the police narrative, but i’m not holding my breath. Also it’s great to see the police entertaining themselves with sex and porn all paid for with taxpayer dollars because it was part of an undercover investigation. Great use of law enforcement resources.

    • Clutzy says:

      I love a good investigation. However, just as background, ENB is creepily obsessed with sex workers.

      • Lillian says:

        That’s like saying Paul Krugman is creepily obsessed with economics. Journalists have niches and subjects of expertise. Sex work became hers mostly because nobody else was willing to take a critical approach to the subject, and thus far she’s been doing a great job of it.

      • Protagoras says:

        Yeah, not sure what you mean by a creepy obsession. Does she get her facts wrong? If so, tell us where, and if not, that’s better than most journalists and we should be glad there’s at least one person covering these kinds of stories who reports them accurately.

        • Clutzy says:

          Her facts in this article are yet to be disproven, but there was a recent border smuggling case where she essentially spun the same tale. 8/12 girls involved were under 15.

      • dick says:

        I love a good investigation. However, just as background, ENB is creepily obsessed with sex workers.

        This seems like a pretty crass thing to say. Reason is explicitly in favor of legalizing prostitution, and I think they complain about exaggerated reports of “trafficking victims” in the same way and for the same reason that pot legalization sites used to regularly complain about exaggerated reports of pot busts.

        Would you defend this phrasing if she showed up here in the comments? This is a pretty popular blog and it’s not outside the realm of possibility; and even if it weren’t, it’d be nice to act as if it were.

    • Garrett says:

      these rooms could have been temporary crash pads while they were there

      So they committed something worse than prostitution: zoning violations!

    • Walter says:

      I remain dubious that there exists a single ‘asian massage parlor’ that isn’t just a brothel after a certain hour in the afternoon. Like, this is some low hanging fruit to pluck, cops. Were your numbers down this month?

      • dick says:

        I have heard from an acquaintance, a Chief of Police in a mid-sized US city, that many cops have noticed that arresting hookers does not actually eliminate prostitution. When they raid a place, it’s often because of some specific thing over and above prostitution – girls getting beaten up, johns getting robbed, or neighbors complaining – and when they do a big raid on streetwalkers, it is preceded by a discussion of which section of town they will likely move to and whether that would be better or worse than the status quo.

        • Lillian says:

          The thing is that right now there’s something of a moral panic around sex trafficking, complete with random women on Facebook breathlessly sharing stories about how they were almost kidnapped in the Walmart parking lot or whatever. So doing big prostitution busts and screaming SEX TRAFFICKING is a good way to get national headlines and bring in the big bucks. Not just Federal big bucks either, as i recall there’s some rich bint in Washington state who pretty much bribed local police and districts attorneys into doing more busts.

          • dick says:

            What’s the difference between “random women on Facebook breathlessly sharing stories about how they were almost kidnapped in the Walmart parking lot or whatever” and you posting “i recall there’s some rich bint in Washington state who pretty much bribed local police and districts attorneys into doing more busts”?

          • @Dick:

            One difference is that, if his memory is correct, he should be able to find information online supporting it. That isn’t true of the random women breathlessly sharing stories.

          • Lillian says:

            Dick if you wanted a source you could have just asked. Swanee Hunt giving money to King County Prosecutor Attorney’s Office through her anti-sex work organization Demand Abolition is a matter of public record. Though finding the article was irritatingly difficult since it didn’t come up when i searched using her name.

  20. Nick says:

    Folks, I found something too delightful not to be shared.

    You may remember a few weeks ago I offered the correct interpretation of Scooby Doo. Well, I was reading an essay by Helen Andrews today on Catholic scifi author RA Lafferty which makes a surprising claim about the “heritage of scifi”:

    The heritage of science fiction is, after all, not only anti-Christian but specifically anti-Catholic. Its origins are in the Gothic novel circa Frankenstein, and there is a reason the two most famous Gothic parodies both have the word “abbey” in the title. Catholic superstition was the substance of the Gothic frisson, inquisitorial tortures and convent debaucheries its stock terrors. Far from trafficking in the supernatural themselves, Gothic novels more often ended with a grand debunking, showing off their Protestant good sense by revealing how it was all done with trapdoors and lookalikes. In the more recent SF subgenre of alternate history, the most popular scenario after “What if the Nazis had won World War II?” is “What if England had remained Catholic?” According to novels like Pavane, Times Without Number, and The Alteration, the answer has a lot to do with backwardness and castration.

    I won’t comment on the accuracy of saying Frankenstein is the origin of science fiction; I want to focus instead on Andrews’ description of the Gothic novel. There is a long-standing consensus, from what I have seen, of the anti-Catholicism of the genre. Gothic architecture, a regular feature of the Gothic novel’s setting, was a stand-in for the medieval age, which is taken to be an era of oppression and superstition. Clergy particularly are regularly portrayed as weak or evil; The Monk, it seems, was especially influential here. Its author, Matthew Lewis, systematically offends the Catholic sensibility from every angle:

    The Monk is one of many Gothic novels that criticises the Catholic Church and Catholic tradition…. The vow of celibacy, which many Protestant writers at the time condemned as unnatural, contributes significantly to Ambrosio’s repressed sexuality, which in turn leads to the heinous acts he commits against Antonia.[37] Agnes’s breaking of her vow is seen by the Prioress as an unforgivable crime, which drives her to punish Agnes so severely. Lewis also appears to mock Catholic superstition through use of iconoclasts[38] repeatedly over the course of the novel, such as when Lorenzo moves a statue of the virgin St. Clare to reveal the chamber in which Agnes is being kept prisoner. This demystification of idols makes light of Catholic superstition in relation to statues and sacred objects…. Depictions of Catholic clergy as villains who feel empowered to do as they please in the name of the divine is a continuing theme among Protestants today as it was in Lewis’s time.

    Priests are bad. Nuns are bad. Statues are bad. Celibacy is really bad, so bad it causes rape! The anti-Catholic line is picked up in plenty of other Gothic novels; Melmoth the Wanderer is one, featuring, among other things, the Inquisition and mean, tricky monks. Melmoth also, notably, features a “little debunking”: the goddess Immalee is in reality a castaway.

    This second element, the debunking or explaining away of the seemingly supernatural, really interests me. Wikipedia (in a frustratingly citationless discussion) calls this “The Supernatural Explained,” writing that it was a feature common to women’s Gothic fiction, a way of exploring female fears and issues indirectly. Writes Wikipedia again,

    Following the characteristic Gothic Bildungsroman-like plot sequence, the Female Gothic allowed its readers to graduate from “adolescence to maturity,”[97] in the face of the realized impossibilities of the supernatural. As female protagonists in novels like Adeline in The Romance of the Forest learn that their superstitious fantasies and terrors are replaced with natural cause and reasonable doubt, the reader may understand the true position of the heroine in the novel:
    “The heroine possesses the romantic temperament that perceives strangeness where others see none. Her sensibility, therefore, prevents her from knowing that her true plight is her condition, the disability of being female.”[97]

    Now Scooby Doo is, so far as setting and plot, a dead ringer for Gothic fiction. Mystery Inc.’s haunts are abandoned castles and rustic backwaters. These are populated by the same (ambiguously) malevolent adults. Suspense is built on encounters with supernatural creatures such as ghosts or zombies. At the end, the “ghost” is revealed to be a common crook, and the genre imitation is complete.

    But not so, as I pointed out a few weeks ago: there’s always something left unexplained, and sometimes the gang notices and sometimes they don’t. Examples can be multiplied; I offer a clear one here. This explodes the idea that this is Gothic fiction played straight: we have, if nothing else, a subversion. It’s particularly acute because Scooby and the gang, in the original series, are just a bunch of kids, and in fact the franchise functions as one big Bildungsroman, as those series follow them into adulthood.

    But far from seeing rationalism finally win the day, these series invariably have real monsters! Zombie Island has real zombies and an evil cat god. Witch’s Ghost has magic and ghosts. Alien Invaders has actual aliens. This trilogy—which by the way folks is the greatest animated trilogy of all time—is the only natural outgrowth of the original series’ liminal supernatural elements. Bumbling from haunted castle to mystic grove, these bunch of kids missed one monster after another, hyperfocused as they were on the mysteries they could solve, like the proverbial drunk under the lamppost. For when they were children, they spoke as children, thought as children, acted as children; but when they became men, they put away childish things, including the desire to appear Very Rational and Explain Everything like good little atheists. So the franchise transitioned, after the original series, away from a mere subversion of Gothic naturalism and toward a fulfillment of this latent theme.

    So how does this relate to Gothic anti-Catholicism? The genre’s repudiation of the supernatural was part and parcel of its criticism of Catholicism. Protestant good sense, and the secular materialism it has engendered in the West, is, we are led to believe, the sure antidote to those medievalist papists with their missals and monasteries. But in its elaborate subversion and final contradiction of this, the inescapable conclusion, folks, is that Scooby Doo is a Catholic work.

    So put away your hoary naturalism, your natural causes and reasonable doubt, and take up your scapular, a crucifix, and some Scooby Snacks—because the demons of this world won’t cast out themselves.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Ah, but you’re ignoring the complication that the Vatican II modernization moved the Roman Catholic Church toward the Protestant attitudes you criticize, away from the supernaturalism of dog-headed rational animals.

    • Dan L says:

      This is a good post. But what does it imply about Ghostbusters?

    • dodrian says:

      More of this type of posts please.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Amen!

    • baconbits9 says:

      But not so, as I pointed out a few weeks ago: there’s always something left unexplained, and sometimes the gang notices and sometimes they don’t. Examples can be multiplied; I offer a clear one here.

      You can interpret these events another way though, iirc all of the super-natual stuff stops as soon as the bad guy is caught. You can view all the disembodied hand stuff as simply figments of their overactive imaginations that disappear when the perp is caught. Particularly because they tend to happen when they are on their own or in pairs, but not when all 5 of them are together.

    • Deiseach says:

      But some early Gothic fiction did have real supernatural elements; there were real ancestral curses which the heroine was involved in breaking, or real ghosts giving real warnings. At the very least, the supernatural element was Divine Providence which helped clear up the old (fake) mysteries. It was the development and refinement of the genre which led from the original popular ghost-story elements to the debunking elements.

      It could therefore be argued that the development of the trajectory of Original Scooby-Doo (where it’s all the Villain of the Week unmasking and debunking) to the introduction of first ambiguous and then whole-heartedly embraced supernatural elements mirrored the trajectory of the decline of the post-Enlightenment Rationalist social view from the debunking of the supernatural, including religion, to the return of the numinous via the New Age movements, from the craze for Eastern Mystic Wisdom via Westernised adaptations of Buddhism and Hinduism to all the trappings of the New Age: witchcraft, neo-paganism, astrology, crystal healing and the like. The “spiritual but not religious” revenge of the driven-out element which returns, in a simulacrum of the restless spirit haunting the ruins of the post-war and Cold War West, to fill the void left by the dissatisfaction with the rational and scientific progress worldview which filled the material needs but had no answer to “what is the meaning of life?” save greater consumerism.

      Scooby-Doo is not Catholic, it’s the Protestant Pietism having its resurgence over Reason, which is seen to be unable to deal with the realities outside its ossified template of “this must all be a fake, there must be a rational explanation, it has to be a man in a mask” and thus fails in its self-appointed task of dispelling the darkness of superstition and fear; its trite solutions of “see how the trick was done” fall short of the real answer and leave the unwary even more vulnerable to the depradations of the malign forces once they have the false reassurance that the problem has been tackled and brought to a successful conclusion.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        And this week’s Queen of No-Fun Award goes to…

        • Nick says:

          I think Deiseach is having a lot of fun, actually. 😀

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            All right, it looked to me like she was arguing, and I’m thinking “just take the win for the home team! That last line about the scapular the crucifix and the Scooby-snacks is the best thing I’ve read in weeks!”

        • Deiseach says:

          Conrad, Scooby-Doo alone might be tolerable. Even Scooby-Dum could be endured. But alas, accepting the Scooby-Doo family tree means accepting Scrappy-Doo, and although we’ll acknowledge Crusaders, Inquisitors, Borgia Popes and the Jesuits, that is a step too far.

          The Lutherans are a liturgical denomination as well, they can take Scrappy and like it. Besides, Martin “I’m Smarter Than The Pope, Me, How Could This Possibly Turn Out Bad And Lead To The Wars Of Religion” Luther owes us a big favour!

  21. Le Maistre Chat says:

    A Lovecraft mythos theory:

    In “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” III (written Nov-Dec 1931), a local opposed to the Deep One cult exposits to the protagonist about how it was introduced to Innsmouth from Polynesia, and what other Polynesians did to the cult’s island:
    “In some places they was little stones strewed abaout—like charms—with somethin’ on ’em like what ye call a swastika naowadays. Prob’ly them was the Old Ones’ signs. Folks all wiped aout…” Later in the chapter, he adds:
    “All in the band of the faithful—Order o’ Dagon—an’ the children shud never die, but go back to the Mother Hydra an’ Father Dagon what we all come from onct—Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn—”

    In At the Mountains of Madness, written earlier in 1931, the first evidence of the crinoid Old Ones dug up is described as “Have found peculiar soapstone fragment… Shaped like five-pointed star with tips broken off, and signs of other cleavage at inward angles and in centre of surface.” So what do you get if you take the five-pointed geometric shape and restore the cleaved angle at 90 degrees? Like a swastika with five arms instead of four.
    Later the narrator sees sculptures depicting the Old Ones fighting two species of enemies, first “the fabulous pre-human spawn of Cthulhu” and later the Mi-Go. Lovecraft created the latter in his story “The Whisperer in Darkness”, which includes a recording of praise to their gods:
    “ever the praises of Great Cthulhu, of Tsathoggua, and of Him Who is not to be Named. Ever Their praises, and abundance to the Black Goat of the Woods. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young! … (tri)butes to Him in the Gulf, Azathoth, He of Whom Thou hast taught us marv(els) . . . on the wings of night out beyond space, out beyond the . . . to That whereof Yuggoth is the youngest child, rolling alone in black aether at the rim . . . go out among men and find the ways thereof, that He in the Gulf may know. To Nyarlathotep, Mighty Messenger, must all things be told.”

    So Cthulhu is part of a pantheon that includes Tsathoggua, Shub-Niggurath, Azathoth, Nyarlathotep and “Him Who is not to be Named.” The Old Ones did not worship these gods and had a symbol that can ward off their followers (or at least Cthulhu’s). Some humans know the symbol, despite the gulf of time between the disappearance of the Old Ones from most of Earth’s land and oceans and the rise of humanity. Perhaps the swastika is an incorrect and therefore useless variation?

    So far, so clear. But what do you make of this passage by narrator Wilmarth’s informant Akeley in “The Whisperer in Darkness”?
    “The Outer Beings are perhaps the most marvellous organic things in or beyond all space and time—members of a cosmos-wide race of which all other life-forms are merely degenerate variants. They are more vegetable than animal, if these terms can be applied to the sort of matter composing them…”
    Are the crinoid Old Ones really descendants of Mi-Go, who colonized Earth in hopes of finding isolation from the gods? Or are they unrelated and elder, and the Mi-Go on Earth are lying?

    • Nick says:

      How much of this is based on Lovecraft’s writing specifically vs. his coterie? My impression is that others, like Clark Ashton Smith, were major contributors to the mythos, including other elder gods (viz., creatures on a par with Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, etc., but that doesn’t have to imply “elder god” is a thing if you like). I’ve seen pantheons online, and Wikipedia credits Derleth with formalizing the mythos, but I don’t think I’ve read anything from him, so I don’t know how far that gets from Lovecraft’s original vision.

    • broblawsky says:

      The Mi-Go definitely worship Cthulhu; if the Elder Things are fighting against it, it would suggest that the schism between the Things and the Outer Ones is quite serious. Given that the Elder Things fought Cthulhu to a stalemate, it asks the question of why the Mi-Go – with the resources of multiple star systems to draw on – would worship Cthulhu, when the Elder Things demonstrated equivalent power.

      I like the idea that the Elder Sign is a symbolic representation of a cross-section of the body of an Elder Thing, though. Maybe the existing Elder Signs work by leeching off some kind of hyper-dimensional infrastructure the Elder Things created; possibly some kind of tulpa or soul-symbol the Elder Things created to defend themselves against intruders, like an artificial god.

      • John Schilling says:

        What’s the canonical evidence for the Mi-Go worshiping Cthulhu? I don’t recall that, and a quick google doesn’t show anything.

        The Elder Things definitely warred with the Mi-Go, and with Cthulhu; they warred with just about everyone in the Mythos, or at least the Earthly parts thereof. The Elder Things come across as a perfectly reasonable group of technologically advanced aliens who found an uninhabited Earth which they colonized, Elderiformed, and have been trying to hold against various invading cosmic horrors for the past few billion years while being slowly beaten back. I don’t recall their ever worshiping anyone.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          What’s the canonical evidence for the Mi-Go worshiping Cthulhu? I don’t recall that, and a quick google doesn’t show anything.

          In “The Whisperer in Darkness”, they make Akeley recite the Cthulhu and Tsathoggua Creed onto a phonograph record.

          “ever the praises of Great Cthulhu, of Tsathoggua, and of Him Who is not to be Named.”

          The Elder Things come across as a perfectly reasonable group of technologically advanced aliens who found an uninhabited Earth which they colonized, Elderiformed, and have been trying to hold against various invading cosmic horrors for the past few billion years while being slowly beaten back. I don’t recall their ever worshiping anyone.

          You’re correct that there’s no mention of them worshiping anyone in At the Mountains of Madness. It makes sense that they’d be atheists (maltheists?) if they fought Cthulhu to a standstill and the Mythos gods are to be worshiped collectively as the creed from “The Whisperer in Darkness” implies.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The Mi-Go definitely worship Cthulhu; if the Elder Things are fighting against it, it would suggest that the schism between the Things and the Outer Ones is quite serious. Given that the Elder Things fought Cthulhu to a stalemate, it asks the question of why the Mi-Go – with the resources of multiple star systems to draw on – would worship Cthulhu, when the Elder Things demonstrated equivalent power.

        It is puzzling, isn’t it?

        And I’m totally agreeing that the Elder Sign is a sketch of an Elder Thing’s cross-section just accurate enough to work as a soul-symbol leeching off some warding power they had.

  22. dick says:

    I hope it’s not controversial to say that many of the worst accusations made against the 20th century’s worst despots (Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, etc) seem to be pretty widely accepted as true regarding North Korea. What would a successful regime-change in North Korea look like?

    I shouldn’t propose anything since I know very very little about it, but as an opening bid, I proffer “Bomb the NK leadership into smithereens, announce that NK’s territory is now part of South Korea, wait three days for the NK infantry to fall apart, and then march in with a shit-ton of food (and maybe a few million little framed pictures of the SK president to help the masses adjust) and hope for the best”.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      “Hope for the best” as a policy for rebuilding oppressive dictatorships has a pretty bad track record.

      • dick says:

        Granted, which is why I was against going in to Iraq, but we did it anyway, and (barring the cynical “it was about oil” explanation) it seems like the case for invading NK is no weaker.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          Maybe in absolute terms, but the fiasco of trying to rebuild the Iraqi government in our image may be recent enough for us not to want to try again too soon.

    • The Nybbler says:

      That seems likely to escalate to nuclear war right after step 1. Even if that doesn’t happen, I expect the NK infantry doesn’t fall apart; someone grabs the reins.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Which accusations are we talking about, and how much more marginally worse is it under the current leader than prior ones?

      Selfishly, outside of China, which country has real interest in regime change and helping the NK people?

      • bullseye says:

        South Korea. Even aside from the patriotic desire to reunite their country, they have a hostile neighbor aiming artillery at their capital and occasionally firing on their ships.

    • John Schilling says:

      Doing this almost certainly results in a few to a few dozen nuclear and thermonuclear warheads landing on South Korea, Japan, and possibly the United States. Also lots of nerve gas on South Korea and Japan. This will likely impair both the ability and the willingness to “march in with a shit-ton of food”. Then the bit where the NK infantry “falls apart”, means only that they stop offering immediate, organized resistance, instead falling back into the cities and mountains to await the opportune moment to engage in guerrilla warfare in the name of either patriotic nationalism or selfish warlordism. If the people you send north with the shit-ton of food are also carrying enough firepower to not be immediately robbed blind by petty warlords, they will look an awful lot like an army, and China’s reaction to western-aligned armies marching up to the Yalu river is well-known. Also, and particularly if the US eats a nuke, there will be great pressure to use at least a few nuclear weapons of our own against the North Korean leadership and military, to the great detriment of North Korean civilians who live vulnerably on the surface above and around the leadership’s deep underground bunkers.

      That being the case, and being more obviously the case the farther you go down the path, the most likely result of attempting such a plan is to bomb the North Korean leadership halfway to smithereens , change our mind about this being worth the cost, and declare victory saying “Now surely the North Korean infantry will collapse and the North Korean people will rise up against their leaders in a populist democratic uprising, and then we will march north with the food (but without the part where people shoot at us with everything from AK-47s to thermonuclear ICBMs), we’ve done our part, yay us!” This will not in fact result in the North Korean people implementing a populist democracy, but rather their being stuck in a Mad Max hellscape ruled by various warlords. And even odds the head warlord is still Kim Jong Un.

      What was the problem we were trying to fix again?

      • dick says:

        Doing this almost certainly results in a few to a few dozen nuclear and thermonuclear warheads landing on South Korea, Japan, and possibly the United States.

        How certain are we of this? I thought the general consensus was that NK’s nuclear ability was presumed to be far less than they claim, and possibly nonexistent.

        China’s reaction to western-aligned armies marching up to the Yalu river is well-known.

        That’s a good point and I hadn’t thought about that.

        What was the problem we were trying to fix again?

        The whole “murderous dictator oppressing millions and causing untold human misery” thing. This was prompted by me watching an old Eddie Izzard routine last night, where, in discussing Stalin and Pol Pot and Hitler, he said something like, “If you want to kill a few million people and still live to a ripe old age, you need to stick to your own citizens.” Isolationism is a reasonable position, but for those that aren’t isolationist, e.g. people that favor deposing Saddam or Qaddafi or Bashir, it seems like the case for deposing Kim Jong-un is a lot easier to make.

        • albatross11 says:

          So, how did those much lower-risk, much easier-looking humanitarian interventions turn out? Why would the higher-risk, really hard-looking one be a good bet?

        • Lambert says:

          NK’s nuclear capabilities exist, unless they were actually setting off 50 kt of TNT under the mountain.

          Seismologists tend to notice when you dump that much energy into the ground.

          Might just be a layer cake, instead of a ‘true’ H-bomb, but I’d not like to be hit by one all the same.

          And figuring out the rough capabilities of a missile that’s just been tested, while exactly rocket science, isn’t exactly rocket science.

        • John Schilling says:

          We’re really pretty certain.

          And I was too conservative. Those were written six months before seismographs around the world unambiguously detected a 6.1 magnitude “earthquake” under a geologically stable mountain riddled with North Korean tunnels. I had expected that to take years, not months, but they now do have thermonuclear weapons. Or at least 200-kiloton weapons and the physics are really not the important point at that level.

          Also the three successful tests of two new models of mobile ICBM, one demonstrating the performance to deliver their thermonuclear warhead to targets across most of CONUS. I wasn’t expecting that until next year.

          And the discovery of additional uranium enrichment sites, leading the Defense Intelligence Agency to estimate that North Korea’s arsenal was 30-60 warheads, not 10-30. That was a year and a half ago, and North Korea can now produce about ten nuclear warheads per year.

          2017 was a busy year for North Korea. They’ve been playing nice for the past year or so, but if they get pushed into the vengeance corner, they can deliver a world of hurt to their enemies. They have nuclear and thermonuclear weapons that work, not underground physics experiments but actual missile warheads. They’ve offered to demonstrate that point if we insist. They have missiles to deliver those warheads against any of their enemies, specifically including POTUS. And they have mobile transporters to shuffle those missiles between numerous hardened shelters, plus possibly a ballistic missile submarine or two, in case we get any ideas about a preemptive strike.

          We, for our part, still have people dismissing the threat as a bunch of ignorant commie peons who don’t understand technology like our boys and can’t possibly make nuclear missiles that work. I’m going to be really peeved if you all provoke them to the point where I get to say “I told you so”. But I do this for a living, and I’m telling you so.

          • dick says:

            Hrmph. It sounds like I should’ve posted this a decade or so ago.

          • John Schilling says:

            We should have solved this problem a decade or so ago, instead of punting. Really, any time before 2011 might have worked. Too late now.

          • hls2003 says:

            @John Schilling

            Assume you were President from, say, Bill Clinton’s tenure onward.[1] A major goal, though not your only goal, is to solve the NK problem before it is too late. You have American interests at heart, but you are not politically very constrained – so if you are Clinton, you would not waver on NK for fear of a “soft on commies” gibe. But you are constrained by political reality in the sense that, e.g., Americans will not accept American war dead in the tens of thousands. What policies or strategies would you have chosen to try to resolve the problem before it is too late?

            [1] Go back further if you need to, I guess, but for example “change strategy in the Korean War” is not exactly what I’m curious about.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’d use 9/11 as my opportunity, and refrain from the temptation to include North Korea as the token non-Islamic member of the “Axis of Evil”(*). Then offer Kim Jong Il approximately the same deal we gave Gaddafi in 2002. No more weapons of mass destruction, no more international terrorism or military adventurism, dial back the domestic evil a bit, and we’ll re-integrate you with the world community as one of the Official Good Guys, or at least good-enough guys. This would require the approval of South Korea at very least, and it would have required some local tailoring e.g. an official peace treaty and more economic development assistance, but North Korea was already leaning in that direction in ’01 and they’d probably have gone for it.

            Then don’t arrange to kill either Gaddafi or Kim. Kilodeath level violence and repression is going to be inherent in any career as a Reformed Evil Dictator, and will be exaggerated as Imminent Genocide by cynical propagandists and clickbaity journalists. Unless there’s hard evidence that the imminent genocide is real, leave it be – taking down a Reformed Evil Dictator over that sort of thing is a trick that works once in a generation, at the expense of every other dictator of that generation remaining maximally evil and nuking up as best they can.

            Also, not taking down Gaddafi in early 2011, means we get another shot at the “are you sure you don’t want this deal?” with Kim Jong Un when he takes over in late 2011. Jong Il may have been too set in his ways to truly reform in ’01/02, but Jong Un seems to have placed a high priority on economic reform from day one. Just, not as high a priority as regime security, which after the death of Gaddafi requires nuking up.

            * Also, putting Iran on that list hasn’t done anybody any good at all, so how about retconning the whole AoE concept out of existence.

    • Enkidum says:

      “Bomb the NK leadership into smithereens” was the preferred strategy of the US during the Korean War. It didn’t work very well.

      • Nornagest says:

        Decapitation strikes are a lot easier when you have precision-guided weapons. Not easy: there’s still a big intelligence bottleneck. But it used to be that you could cover something (like the Führerbunker) in a couple meters of concrete and it’d be proof against anything short of a well-targeted nuke. That hasn’t been true since the Eighties, though, and with GPS-guided weapons you don’t even need to paint the target.

        The South Koreans know that, which is why they’re big into cruise missiles. But the North Koreans know that too, and are probably taking countermeasures.

    • cassander says:

      best case? China supports an internal coup that puts a more tractable kim on the throne who is dedicated towards a deng style reforms. Korea opens up and begins accepting outside (even if largely chinese) investment. It quickly becomes a defacto province of china, but per capita GDP and standard of living start to quickly catch up with chinese levels. When the inevitable Tiananmen Square style incident happens, it’s quickly crushed with a death toll, at worst, in the hundreds. This is bad press for china, but the korean reforms and modernization continue down whatever path china is going down.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        NK already is a defacto province of China. Kim acts as Xi directs. Kim’s sabre rattling and Trump’s negotiations are just a proxy in the trade war with China.

        • John Schilling says:

          NK already is a defacto province of China.

          This is as wrong as saying that Israel is a de facto province of the United States. It is appealing for people who hate Israel to believe so, particularly if they believe they have some leverage over the United States that doesn’t work directly against Israel, but it isn’t actually true.

          Kim acts as Xi directs.

          I’m going to want to see your evidence on that.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            North Korea would collapse completely without trade with China. China is over 80% of North Korea’s both imports and exports. China gets something for that, and it is control over what North Korea does and does not do.

            And why on earth are you trying to tie statements about the relationship between China and North Korea to anti-semitism? This does not seem charitable or honest.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            China is over 80% of North Korea’s both imports and exports. China gets something for that

            Money & goods, presumably. That’s generally how trade works.

          • John Schilling says:

            Money, goods, an orderly and peaceful border rather than an unpoliced humanitarian catastrophe with millions of refugees, a useful buffer between that border and South Korea, a useful distraction for the Japanese and Americans, and an example of the principle that one can trade with China from a position of material weakness without being reduced to the status of a puppet.

            China is not in fact going to cause North Korea to collapse completely just because Kim doesn’t play the role of Xi’s puppet. That would cause great harm to China. And since Kim knows this, he does not in fact feel any great pressure to play the role of a puppet, and is not in fact a puppet.

            @Conrad: That “anti-semitism” crack, exhausted my tolerance for your crap.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            My crap?! You busted with out with basically “people who make arguments like yours are like nazis.” Worst Argument in the World stuff. And over a fairly non-threatening non-CW statement about countries none of us have much to do with. Your insinuation was not acceptable.

          • Aftagley says:

            Conrad, I’d recommend re-reading John’s initial post. He wasn’t saying making any allusions to dog whistley anti-semitism and nazism, he was using Israel as a convenient example.

            His comparison of Israel to North Korea is pretty apt, i think. Both nations maintain their own domestic and foreign policy, but have historically been dependent on a superpower (US for Isreal, China for NK) for protection and favorable trading agreements. Despite this, however, the countries retain their own independence.

            Just as Israel is capable and willing to make decisions that the US does not agree with, so to does NK make decisions that China would prefer not to have happen. Saying that either of these two nations is just a province of their respective superpower is being overly reductive.

            Edit: What Gobbobobble said below. Bonus points for our mutual use of the word ‘apt’.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            You busted with out with basically “people who make arguments like yours are like nazis.”

            That’s a fairly strained reading.

            I for one thought the US:Isreal :: China:NK comparison was pretty apt. You’re missing the point by zeroing in on “people who hate Israel”. Phrasing as “opponents of Israel” could have been marginally better, I suppose?

          • John Schilling says:

            WHat Aftagley and Gobbobobble said.

            Also, last time I checked, Nazis usually claim that the US is a puppet of Israel, not the other way around.

          • bean says:

            My crap?! You busted with out with basically “people who make arguments like yours are like nazis.” Worst Argument in the World stuff.

            No, he really didn’t. He used an analogy that, so far as I know, is a good one, and didn’t compare you or anyone else to Nazis. It is possible to be displeased with Israel without being anti-Semitic, and most people who are actually anti-Semitic would probably say that the US is a puppet of Israel, not the other way around.

            So yeah, I’m going to say that he has every right to call you on it when you make a really boneheaded statement.

            Edit: Ninjaed by several others. But seriously, apply charity, go back and re-read the OP, and be willing to admit when you’re wrong.

          • Clutzy says:

            Its not really all that apt. Israel crushed its local enemies on its own the last time it was tested. The only reason it needs the US is because antisemitism is so rampant in the region + Europe that it credibly fears a war for survival against 10+ neighboring nations with the rest of the world turning a blind eye.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I will take you at your word that you did not mean to imply that I am as one who hates Israel and believes they have some leverage of the United States. I am moderately pro-Israel.

          • Aftagley says:

            @Clutzy

            I’ve rewritten your argument from the North Korean perspective to show you the comparison is actually pretty apt:

            North Korea has the military capacity now to crush its local enemies. The only reason it needs China is because anticommunism (or anti-Kimunism) is so rampant in the region + Europe that it credibly fears a war for survival against 6+ neighboring nations with the rest of the world turning a blind eye.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The narrative for the people who hate Israel is usually the other way around, that the US is a puppet state of Israel.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t really want to argue further with John, but he said

            people who hate Israel to believe so, particularly if they believe they have some leverage over the United States

            That is the “US is a puppet of Israel” belief.

          • bean says:

            I think the “they” in that statement refers to “people who hate Israel” not to Israel. In other words people who hate Israel think that Israel is a US puppet, particularly if they think this means they can get the US to fix the things Israel is doing that they don’t like.

          • Clutzy says:

            @Clutzy

            I’ve rewritten your argument from the North Korean perspective to show you the comparison is actually pretty apt:

            North Korea has the military capacity now to crush its local enemies. The only reason it needs China is because anticommunism (or anti-Kimunism) is so rampant in the region + Europe that it credibly fears a war for survival against 6+ neighboring nations with the rest of the world turning a blind eye.

            Yes, but you have written something that is untrue. North Korea would lose a war against SK, Japan, China, etc if the opposing country tried to win.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Conrad: (never mind, I think I just set a new ninja record)

            (My sense of US-Israel relations has mostly taken the form of big brother, little brother. The US sticks up for Israel when the chips are down, but when the chips aren’t, Israel gets itself in independent trouble every now and then. It becomes public, the US lumbers over, the two have a somewhat public argument about it, the US cuffs Israel upside the head, Israel flips US the bird, and then it’s all pretty much out of their systems. I can see China-NK being pretty similar.)

          • hls2003 says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            I can see China-NK being pretty similar.

            I agree with you that there is a similarity – I understand the point about a “junior partner” ally – but I would point out that one major difference is that Israel can be pretty darn sure that the U.S. Army is not going to literally invade and overrun them pretty much regardless of what they do. I don’t think North Korea would be nearly that sanguine about the Red Army, particularly since the Red Army overrunning the peninsula is largely why a North Korea exists at all.

            Personally, I think it’s moderately likely that the North Koreans want their nuclear deterrent more as insurance against their Chinese “ally” than U.S. aggression. It would be very impolitic for them to say so.

          • North Korea would lose a war against SK, Japan, China, etc if the opposing country tried to win.

            North Korea would lose a war against China. It would win a war against South Korea or Japan, assuming nobody else intervenes, because it has a nuclear arsenal and they don’t.

            Think about how much damage 30-60 nuclear weapons and a few thermonuclear would do to a small, densely populated, country.

          • Clutzy says:

            North Korea would lose a war against China. It would win a war against South Korea or Japan, assuming nobody else intervenes, because it has a nuclear arsenal and they don’t.

            Think about how much damage 30-60 nuclear weapons and a few thermonuclear would do to a small, densely populated, country

            They don’t have nearly that many. Its likely they accidentally destroyed much of their nuclear capacity recently and have never shown the ability to deploy them, nor have they shown an analogous ability in rocketry. It is not a conservative estimate to put the over/under on successful nukes landing in Japan or in SK significantly past the DMZ at 1.

          • It is not a conservative estimate to put the over/under on successful nukes landing in Japan or in SK significantly past the DMZ at 1.

            That does not seem to be the opinion of our local expert.

          • Clutzy says:

            Which expert?

            The last estimate I saw was that they had, maybe, 5 working devices, but their rockets remain notoriously reliable.

          • @Klutzy:

            John Schilling. Most recently here and here.

        • DragonMilk says:

          NK is more of a headache for China than the US. The current ruler assassinated China’s preferred leader, and NK is more like a spoiled grandchild playing with nukes than a province.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m assuming NK assassinating Kim’s brother was an attempt to buy some insurance against China deciding that Kim needs to be replaced with a more tractable member of the family.

        • Aftagley says:

          The first part of your argument has already been addressed, but I’d like to talk about your second point, that the US/NK friction right now is just a proxy of the chinese trade war.

          This idea seems bananas to me. We went to war against North Korea and are still technically in a state of conflict. Despite the lack of recent shooting, the US has thousands of troops and billions of dollars invested in maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula.

          At least the last 4 Presidents, maybe more that I’m just not aware of, have seen NK getting Nukes as being on of the largest dangers to both American and global security. North Korea on the other hand, potentially accurately, sees having nukes as being crucial to ensure the continued existence of the Kim regime.

          Not being conflict-oriented here, but you’re looking at all of this and drawing the conclusion that this is all just a sideshow to how much soybeans china will buy, and how strongly they’ll protect IP rights?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t understand why this is seen as baffling. North Korea is entirely dependent on China for its existence. They could have regime change tomorrow if they wanted to by cutting off trade and throwing their support behind some other general. And yet China has allowed their next door neighbor who appears unhinged to develop nuclear weapons. Why? Because North Korea is useful to them in their geopolitical maneuvering, as a distraction and as a bargaining chip.

            Why everybody’s jumping down my throat for pointing out this very obvious situation is beyond me.

          • cassander says:

            @conrad Honcho

            That north korea is dependent on china does not mean that it’s a chinese province. China could have regime change in an awful hurry, if it wanted, but only by taking actions that, at best, have highly unpredictable consequences that would imperil other things they want, like not having millions of north koreans fleeing across the border. that the chinese have not taken the highly risky path you suggest does not mean that the Norks are behaving in a way that China wants in all matters.

          • broblawsky says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            The US could probably throw Mexico or Canada into chaos and collapse their governments by closing off all trade with either nation. I don’t think any reasonable person would argue that Mexico or Canada are US provinces.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Other people have more-or-less covered this, but just wanted to register my objection to this line of thinking.

      Every police action and regime change since WWII has been sold with the same story: a quick shock and awe campaign after which we’ll be greeted as liberators, and the boys will be home by Christmas. And it has never, not even once, actually worked out that way.

      If we’re going to have a full-scale nuclear and conventional war with North Korea, quite possibly with China, we had better have a damn good reason for it. And that means tanks rolling south towards Seoul or a nuke hitting Guam, not the mere continued existence of North Korean gulags. We’re talking about killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people and turning the entire Korean peninsula into a warzone where the best case scenario is the occupation of North Korea, possibly indefinitely.

      That’s not in the interests of the American people, nor the Korean people, and certainly not the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino peoples who would get dragged into it.

      • cassander says:

        Every police action and regime change since WWII has been sold with the same story: a quick shock and awe campaign after which we’ll be greeted as liberators, and the boys will be home by Christmas. And it has never, not even once, actually worked out that way.

        It worked that way in Grenada. But that’s damning with pretty faint praise.

      • Walter says:

        I mean, not to be that guy, but isn’t ‘the continued existence of North Korean gulags’ a damn good reason for war? Like, I get the yay-relativism vibe and all, but surely we can still straightforwardly condemn open evil.

        • broblawsky says:

          Not if war means the deaths of millions on both sides, IMHO.

          • Walter says:

            But, like, the Union was the good guys in the Civil War, right? Cue famous Lincoln line about blood drawn by the lash being payed for by that drawn by the sword?

          • EchoChaos says:

            But, like, the Union was the good guys in the Civil War, right?

            Nope.

            Look how the British got rid of slavery without the death of a million+ men.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @EchoChaos, the British were able to do that over planters’ strenuous objections because the plantations were in colonies that didn’t have representation in Parliament and represented only a small share of the national economy. Neither of those was the case in the United States. The South seceded as soon as the Republican Party got into power; even if they’d stayed, they would definitely have seceded long before an abolition bill was in any place to be passed.

            So, sadly, the British model would not have worked in the United States.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Look how the British got rid of slavery without the death of a million+ men.

            Approximately half of the US’ constituent States decided that that road was unbearable and when they didn’t get their way they threw the biggest temper tantrum the continent has ever seen

          • EchoChaos says:

            Then take the Brazilian model.

            Brazil had a larger share of its economy dedicated to slavery and even some of the literal same people as the Confederacy and still managed it.

            Lincoln wasn’t the man who got rid of slavery. He was the only one in the Western world who couldn’t do it without bloodshed.

          • John Schilling says:

            Cue famous Lincoln line about blood drawn by the lash being payed for by that drawn by the sword?

            If Jefferson Davis had had an arsenal of thermonuclear weapons, we might not be so enthusiastic in our hagiography of Lincoln.

          • Lillian says:

            Lincoln wasn’t the man who got rid of slavery. He was the only one in the Western world who couldn’t do it without bloodshed.

            Alternative take: The Confederates were the only people in the Western world to go to war to preserve slavery. Reminder that most of the Confederacy seceded before Lincoln took office, on a platform not of ending slavery, but merely preventing its expansion. It’s unclear to me what he could have done to preserve the peace. If he had allowed secession, then in the words of Sherman, the United States would, “…reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war.”

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Lillian

            The Confederates were the only people in the Western world to go to war to preserve slavery.

            The Confederates didn’t start the war. They just left. It’s like blaming a battered wife because her husband beats her when she tries to walk out the door.

            Reminder that most of the Confederacy seceded before Lincoln took office, on a platform not of ending slavery, but merely preventing its expansion.

            Leaving before the man who promises to ruin you gets to ruin you is smart. The platform isn’t all that matters either. His speeches before and during the campaign matter as well. Nobody believed that Lincoln was really in favor of “slavery forever”.

            It’s unclear to me what he could have done to preserve the peace.

            Actually, this one I know. Lincoln was approached by Virginia Democrats who didn’t want to leave and they asked for concessions to stay. Lincoln refused. Virginia could have very plausibly stayed in the Union (after all, the Western part was so pro-Union it left to stay). If it did, there is no way North Carolina leaves either.

            A rump Confederacy led by South Carolina can just be blockaded and bought out like Rhode Island was threatened with when it was trying to get out of the Constitution.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            The Confederates didn’t start the war. They just left. It’s like blaming a battered wife because her husband beats her when she tries to walk out the door.

            So just to be clear here: Lincoln bad because couldn’t end slavery without violence. But taking a nonviolent road to ending slavery is equivalent to domestic violence.

            ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Gobbobobble

            What? The Confederates left. What non-violent method was tried to keep them and end slavery?

            If a wife wants to leave because she and her husband don’t see eye to eye on a moral issue, beating her until she stays isn’t the right answer, do we agree?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            The structure of your arguments resembles not so much criticizing Lincoln for ending slavery violently but more so for ending slavery at all.

            Stopping the South from leaving -> bad
            Ending(/getting elected to end) slavery -> South is a battered wife well within her rights to leave

            So the EchoChaos-approved choices are either a) don’t end slavery or b) let the South go – which, spoilers, doesn’t end slavery.

            What non-violent method was tried to keep them and end slavery?

            AIUI, once the slave-owning states’ power in Congress (i.e. their population relative to the free states) dwindled to the point they could no longer demand an infinite series of Compromises (which, spoilers, don’t end slavery), nothing less than a Constitutional Amendment enshrining slavery (which, spoilers, doesn’t end slavery) would have kept the South in the Union.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Gobbobobble

            I gave an actual political path to preventing the war in one of my earlier posts, as you might’ve noticed. I know you did, because you quoted the post.

            But at the time of Lincoln there was no viable political path to ending slavery immediately other than killing a million people. Spoiler alert: That’s worse than slavery.

            But in a decade or two, even Brazil, which had a larger, more entrenched and more politically powerful slaveholder class, had ended slavery peacefully.

            So the choice is between a million people dead and ending slavery now or not a million people dead and ending slavery in twenty years.

            THAT IS AN EASY CHOICE.

            I am not for slavery. I think chattel slavery as practiced in the United States was immoral and its ending was a good thing. But it was not a better thing than killing a million people.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            But in a decade or two, even Brazil, which had a larger, more entrenched and more politically powerful slaveholder class, had ended slavery peacefully.

            Brazil ended slavery in 1888. That is 33 years after the Civil War ended. I would not be surprised if the US would have ended slavery in a more peaceful manner by then too. But it certainly isn’t a clear choice to me either way that maintaining slavery another 33 years would be better or worse than the terrible war that happened. Both are pretty bad.

            Edit: oops, 23 years, my math sucks on Friday night. But my point stands.

          • abystander says:

            @EchoChaos

            What kind of concessions did Virginia want not to secede?

            Also starting in 1864 Brazil fought a war with Paraguay and paid owners to free slaves to fight in the war. While in the confederacy, a proposal allowed freed slaves to fight was shot down despite the precarious situation of the confederacy.

            So I would say that in the South the slave institution was more entrenched than in Brazil, and the South was not going to follow the Brazilian model.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            Twenty-three years, which does change your point dramatically, since that is “a decade or two”. And I will take twenty years of being a slave every time over a million people dying, the vast majority of them not slaveowners (on either the Union or Confederate side).

            @abystander

            For Lincoln to not provoke South Carolina by leaving troops at Fort Sumter (which Seward had privately promised them) and for peace and compromise to be discussed. Here is a cursory overview.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_in_the_American_Civil_War

            A single Virginia Democrat member of the Cabinet probably would have directly prevented secession by the single most important state in the South.

          • SamChevre says:

            The Confederates didn’t start the war. They just left. It’s like blaming a battered wife because her husband beats her when she tries to walk out the door.

            This. “I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.”

          • abystander says:

            @EchoChaos

            The peace conference of Jan 19 wanted the right to expand the slavery into the southwest territories. The Virginia convention of 1861 wanted the right to seceded and equal recognition of slavery in both territories and non-slave states among many other demands.

            It doesn’t look like Virginia would stand by for a blockade of the 6 state confederacy that would violate their right to secede or accept a compromise that didn’t allow expansion of slavery. So I don’t see Virginia eventually not joining the confederacy.

            Even if a compromise was made by the passage of the Corwin amendment to guarantee slavery in the present states without expansion, I don’t see slavery ending voluntarily by the South before the 20th century. As previously mentioned, since the Brazil was willing to free slaves to be soldiers, while at the same time period the South felt “If slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”

        • Nornagest says:

          This has nothing to do with relativism. Take A to be the number of people killed (or imprisoned for life, which is probably just as bad) each year in North Korea. Take B to be the estimated time in years until the regime’s collapse or liberalization. Take C to be the number of people — in North Korea, but also in Tokyo, Seoul, San Diego, Honolulu, Washington DC, etc. — that we’d expect to be shot, blown up, gassed, or irradiated in case of war.

          If A * B < C, then there is no utilitarian case for war. And the last time you could make a case for a C that wasn't given in megadeaths was in 2015.

          Kim Jong Un is a very bad guy who runs a very bad regime. If you put me in a room with Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson, Kim Jong Un, and a gun with two bullets, I’d shoot Kim twice. But deciding who to start a war with on the basis of who the bad guys are is exactly how we got Iraq.

          • Walter says:

            Alright, morbid curiosity time, what do you personally fill in for A and C, and ergo what value of B would be necessary to get you on board?

          • Nornagest says:

            As a very rough ballpark figure Amnesty International thinks that about 200,000 people are political prisoners in North Korea. Figure a life expectancy of 10 years in a North Korean prison camp and you get 20,000 a year. If we double that to account for purges, executions, avoidable famine and the like, we get 40,000 for A.

            North Korea has about 15 to 50 deployable fusion weapons right now. Let’s say 30. If we figure we can shoot half of those down with GMD (for ICBMs aimed at the US) or SM-3 or THAAD (for medium- or intermediate-range weapons aimed at South Korea or Japan), then we’re looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 nuclear weapons landing on friendly soil, most likely on American, Japanese, and South Korean cities associated with defense or government functions. They’ll probably be trying to cripple our ability to project power rather than to maximize casualties, but that’s not much comfort: San Diego is a likely target, for example, because of the Navy and Marine facilities there. I don’t have the expertise to do a real targeting workup but I’d ballpark it in the single-digit millions of dead in the initial nuclear strike. Then there’d be a retaliatory strike, and then the actual war.

            If we say 5 million, which I’d say is conservative, then that gives a value for B of 125.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            You’re missing two other important variables in your equation: a discounting factor deaths in the future and a weight that captures how we view American deaths versus the deaths of foreigners.

            If ten thousand North Koreans are murdered by their regime every year for a century, that’s a huge tragedy. But killing one million North Koreans today isn’t equally bad; it’s much, much worse. The future is uncertain and any analysis needs to acknowledge that.

            Likewise, a war where one hundred thousand Americans and nine hundred thousand foreigners die is also much, much worse because it’s worse for us. Deathtollls are something that not even the most strident egalitarians should be eager about equalizing.

            But yeah, the principle is sound.

            Edited to fix bad math.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, if I was doing this for real instead of making a quick point in a blog comment, I’d be using a much more complicated equation. But most of the complicating factors would be pushing away from war, not towards it, and this is enough to make the point.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          You’re talking about starting a war which could easily kill millions of innocent civilians, including American civilians, and has the potential to spread across the entirety of East Asia. That’s unleashing a lot of evil on the world, in my opinion much more than the North Korean government is currently committing.

          • albatross11 says:

            At what point would we also feel obliged to go to war with China to prevent the horrible mistreatment of the Uighurs?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @albatross11,

            “Luckily” I don’t think we’d have to choose. There’s a good chance that a war with one means fighting the other anyway.

          • albatross11 says:

            “It became necessary to destroy the planet to save it.”

  23. What city has had the greatest importance for the longest amount of time? “Importance” is vague but I generally mean being a capital of some state or being an important center for commerce, learning, religion, or the arts. I would list these as possible contenders:

    Beijing
    Damascus
    Aleppo
    Jerusalem
    Athens
    Samarkand
    Beirut
    Rome

    Thoughts?

    • 10240 says:

      More candidates:
      Rome
      Constantinople/Byzantium/Istanbul
      Jericho
      Some Mezopotamian cities

      Two superlatives in the same sentence (“greatest importance for the longest amount”) don’t make precise sense (unless we mean which city held the title of most important in the world for the longest time). If both importance and length are considered, Rome probably wins. If length is prioritized, Jericho or Mezopotamian cities such as Ur may win as they lasted several thousand years, though I don’t know how long they were particularly important.

      • Nick says:

        Wasn’t Baghdad a center of learning for a long while? Alexandria might be a good option too.

      • Randy M says:

        Should we weight it by population?
        Rank cities by impact*person*years?
        What’s the unit for importance?

        • 10240 says:

          Perhaps count importance in terms of how many people (or what percentage of the World’s population) it has an impact on. Counting both the population of the city and its importance sounds like double counting.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            If we are measuring significance by person-hours impacted, then the population explosion in the last three hundred years suggests London, Berlin, Paris, and Washington DC deserve consideration as well.

    • EchoChaos says:

      That’s a tough one. Beijing is probably the strongest contender there, although it had periods where it wasn’t even the most important city in China, let along in larger areas.

      Jerusalem clearly doesn’t qualify. For the first several thousand years it was the major capital of a very small kingdom and very small religion. It wasn’t even the capital of the Roman province. By the time Christianity is a big enough deal that Jerusalem matters to lots of people, Rome and Constantinople are much bigger deals even religiously.

      Honestly Constantinople seems like the obvious number 1 to me. It was the capital of one or another Empire from 330 AD to 1913 and remains a major religious and cultural center and world city. It’s more important to Europe than Beijing was to China, and lasted longer than any of the rest as a top tier city.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      Adding to the potentials list (in no particular order):

      London
      Paris
      Mecca
      Babylon/Baghdad
      Delhi
      Kyoto
      Mexico City (on the same site as Tenochtitlán)
      New York City
      Washington D.C.
      Cairo
      Persepolis
      Venice

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        Personally, I’m leaning towards London of the current lists. It’s old enough to be a contender for age, and it’s one of the absolute top spots for importance. It was the center of the biggest world-spanning empire in history (I think the Mongols was larger, but more localized?) and it’s progeny (US, Canada, Australia, etc.) are also world-level important.

        It’s currently the capital of a world-leading country, and one of the world’s top financial and cultural centers.

        ETA: I’m valuing worldwide importance over regional importance, and over longevity.

      • I don’t know enough about Delhi but most of these are far too young. Persepolis and Babylon(which I wouldn’t consider contiguous with Baghdad) were abandoned. London is the only one that has had enough importance to make up for its relative youth.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          Since you’re the OP I’ll defer to you on relative importance of age verses other criteria. As I noted in my self-reply, I consider worldwide importance relatively higher than longevity. I do note that most of your original examples have extreme longevity, if very muted importance outside of their immediate region and relevant historical era.

          By my metric, the only city on your list that makes sense is Rome, as it had lasting importance over a wide area.

          Fair enough to separating Babylon from Baghdad.

        • theredsheep says:

          There’s a fair amount of continuity, IIRC, between Babylon of the ancients, Ctesiphon of the Sassanids, and Baghdad of the Muslims. It depends how picky you’re willing to be on what defines the essence or nature of a city.

          • I am sufficiently picky to regard the fact that Babylon was about 53 miles away from the present location of Baghdad as implying that they were different cities.

          • theredsheep says:

            Ah. I thought it was closer than that. Ctesiphon is closer, though, and it’s striking that three such crucial cities were clustered so near together. Fifty miles doesn’t seem like so much over more than a thousand years.

      • SamChevre says:

        I think if you count Babylon/Baghdad as one, it is hard to beat.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Babylon/Baghdad, a city so big it spans from the Tigris to the Euphrates.

    • Nornagest says:

      Sounds like it’s time to link one of my favorite Wikipedia articles.

      Babylon and Thebes look like strong contenders.

    • Walter says:

      Rome would be my guess, off the top of my head. It has the time when it was the center of the Roman Republic/Empire, followed up by whatever credit you give it for being the center of Catholicism.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Constantinople was the center of the Roman Empire for longer, a center for Christianity for just as long, and then followed it up by being the center for the Ottoman Empire and an Islamic center for five centuries.

        • 10240 says:

          But the first two overlap for a longer period.

        • Walter says:

          Wait, Constantinople was the center of the Roman Empire for longer than Rome? Can that possibly be right?

          • Alejandro says:

            Rome was the center of the Roman empire from its beginning (753 BC if you take the traditional date of the citie’s foundation, though it wasn’t an empire until several centuries later) until the foundation of Constantinople in 324 AD.

            Constantinople was the center from 324 AD to 1453 AD. (Nominally shared with Rome until 476 AD, but clearly more important than Rome for most of that time.) Even if you count Rome as starting in 753 BC, Constantinople still wins by 50ish years.

          • theredsheep says:

            To be fair, after 1204 or so the “empire” was a sad little rump state, and Constantinople largely irrelevant.

        • In Rome’s defense, it was much more dominant at its height than Constantinople was at its own. Rome was the largest city in the world for three-four hundred years. Constantinople has more of an advantage if you give more weight to being an important city rather than the most important city over a certain time and place.

        • bullseye says:

          Constantinople is important because of Rome. That alone puts Rome ahead of Constantinople in my book.

          Also, Rome is the headquarters of the religion of over a billion people, and has been for well over a thousand years, and that’s not even the first thing people think of when they hear the city’s name.

          The global calendar is a minor revision of the Roman calendar (and even that revision was done at the direction of a guy who lived in Rome). The closest thing we have to a global alphabet is also Roman.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Constantinople is important because of Rome. That alone puts Rome ahead of Constantinople in my book.

            That’s as silly as saying that New York is important because of Boston.

            Different parts of a state are important at different times, and that doesn’t raise the importance of their predecessor.

            Also, Rome is the headquarters of the religion of over a billion people, and has been for well over a thousand years, and that’s not even the first thing people think of when they hear the city’s name.

            And Constantinople was the headquarters of a religion (Sunni Islam) with over a billion people while simultaneously being the headquarters of another religion of hundreds of millions of people (Orthodox Christianity).

            And the major doctrinal statement of Christianity that all Christians believe was made in Constantinople, as were many of the major early theological councils. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Constantinople

          • DeWitt says:

            And Constantinople was the headquarters of a religion (Sunni Islam) with over a billion people while simultaneously being the headquarters of another religion of hundreds of millions of people (Orthodox Christianity).

            Neither of these statements is true; only around the year 1804 or so was there even a billion humans, and Constantinople stopped being any nation’s capital by the 1910s. It’s not physically possible for there to have been a billion Sunni muslims for the time Constantinople was so importantant city, and the amount of Orthodox Christians similarly hadn’t reached hundreds of millions of people(it may not even be that many today, measuring is hard.)

          • EchoChaos says:

            Huh? Sunni Islam has over a billion adherents, and Istanbul was the seat of the Shaykh al-Islam, and still is, although adherence to his orders has faded with Ottoman preeminence, it is still tremendously important.

            Orthodox Christians have about 200 million adherents today, and Constantinople is still their seat.

            As a religious center, it is easily the equivalent of Rome, and surpassed Rome for many centuries.

          • DeWitt says:

            Sunni Islam didn’t when Constantinople had such importance. If it is the center of Sunni Islam today, it is that on an extremely large technicality that virtually nobody is going to care about.

            Which, for what it’s worth, is also true for its Orthodox pretenses, and has been the case for well over five centuries by now.

          • Sunni Islam has over a billion adherents, and Istanbul was the seat of the Shaykh al-Islam, and still is, although adherence to his orders has faded with Ottoman preeminence, it is still tremendously important.

            The Grand Mufti had authority in the Ottoman Empire, not over Sunni Muslims elsewhere. And the office was abolished with the end of the Ottoman Empire.

            Insofar as there was a Sunni equivalent of the Pope it was the Caliph. No Caliph has been accepted by all or most Sunni’s at least since the establishment of the western Umayyads. The Ottoman Sultans eventually claimed the caliphate, but that claim was abandoned with the fall of the Ottoman Empire–I’m not sure how widely it was accepted before that.

          • bullseye says:

            Constantinople is important because of Rome. That alone puts Rome ahead of Constantinople in my book.

            That’s as silly as saying that New York is important because of Boston.

            Without Rome there would have been no Roman Empire. Without the Roman Empire, Byzantium would have been far less important than it is.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            In that light, “New York is important because of London” seems fairly reasonable, even.

          • albatross11 says:

            That’s probably also true of New York, London, Paris, etc. Western civilization would look unrecognizably different without the Roman Empire.

          • Another Throw says:

            “New York is important because of London”

            AHEM! New Amsterdam is important because of… um, a confederation of which The Hague was probably the de facto leader.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Beijing is apparently 3,000 years old, with the walled settlement originally called Jicheng (capital of Ji). During the Warring States period, Ji was conquered by Yan, which moved its capital there. When China became China, it was demoted to capital of a prefecture. It was razed by the Mongols, whose capital was nearby but not Beijing itself. It only became Beijing (“North capital”), a peer of Nanjing (“South capital”) with the rise of the Ming Dynasty.

      The oldest Tell on the outskirts of Damascus is dated as far back as ~6300 BC, with continuous occupation since then. That’s a lot of time, but not much importance beyond Syria. Aleppo has a similar situation, but is more than a millennium younger.

      The Southeast Hill of Jerusalem became the site of an Early Bronze Age I village and lacked even regional importance until the Amarna Period (Urušalim) or maybe Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (Rušalim), but of course it’s gained global importance in the last 2000 years.

      Athens was only a small walled town in Mycenaean times, first becoming an important polis in Archaic Greece and then the main cultural center in the Classical. It was symbolically revered until… the end of the Roman Principate?

      Meanwhile Rome was supposedly founded in 753, started to flourish a couple centuries after Athens, arguably had an equal cultural Golden Age, was the capital of a much larger state, and became a Christian holy city.

      Samarkand isn’t even in the running.

      Beirut in Lebanon is in an interesting situation: the country has been important for 5,000 years, but originally the main city was Byblos, which was eclipsed around 1,000 BC by Tyre, Sidon was its greatest city somewhere in there, and Beirut apparently didn’t become the main city until the Roman period or shortly before.

    • Plumber says:

      @Wrong Species

      “What city has had the greatest importance for the longest amount of time?…”

      Lots of good canidates have been mentioned but a conspicuous one hasn’t been:

      Imrryr, The Dreaming City, on Meliboné, The Dragon Isle…

      “I remember Meliniboné. Not the empire, obviously, but it’s aftermath, its débris: mangled scraps of filigree from brooch or breastplate, tatters of checkered silk accumulating in the gutters of Tottenham Court Road.  Exquisite and depraved, Melbinonéan culture had been shattered by a grand catastrophe before recorded history began–probably sometime during the mid-1940s–buts its shards and relics were still evident in London’s tangled streets as late as 1968. You could still find reasonably priced bronze effigies of Arioch amongst the stalls on Portobello Road, and when I interviewed Dave Brock of Hawkins for the English music paper Sounds in 1981 he showed me the black runesword fragment he’d been using as a plenty since the bands first album. Though the cruel and glorious civilization of Meliniboné was by then vanished as if it had never been, its flavours and its atmospheres endured, a perfume lingering for decades in the basements and back alleys of the capital. Even the empire’s laid off gods and demons were effectively absorbed into the ordinary British social structure; its Law Lords rapidly became a cornerstone of the judicial system while its Chaos Lords went, for the most part, into industry or government. Former Melnibonéan Lord of Chaos Sir Giles Pyaray, for instance, currently occupied a seat at the Department of Trade and Industry, while his company Pyaray Holdings has been recently awarded major contracts as part of the ongoing reconstruction of Iraq. 

      Despite Melniboné’s pervaisive influence, however, you find few public figures ready to acknowledge their huge debtw to this all-but-forgotten world, perhaps because the willful decadence and tortured romance that Melniboné exemplified has fallen out of favor with….”

      Other candidates for cities of great and historic importance include:

      Gondor

      Lankhmar

      Greyhawk

      Palo Alto

      and

      Ankh-Morpork

      • S_J says:

        Pedantically, Gondor isn’t a city…but the region of Gondor contained the cities of Osgiliath, Minas Anor, and Minas Ithil.

        These last two are better known by updated names, Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith.

        Of the three, Minas Tirith was the longest-lasting.

        Personally, I’d favor Rivendell as influential, even though the armies led by the king of Osgiliath were likely larger.

        • Plumber says:

          @S_J

          Quite right, Rivendell should definitely be included, I feel shame.

          • cassander says:

            Menegroth and Minas Tirith probably both have a better claim. Rivendell is older than Minas Tirith, but was probably less important for most of the 3rd age. And Menegroth was the center of elvendom in beleriand for the entire imprisonment of melkor, and of one of the two or three largest realms during most first age.

  24. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Can anyone recommend a book covering archaeological cultures of Eurasia? Can be limited to the Bronze and prehistoric Iron ages.
    I look up this stuff all the time, but find it poorly organized.

  25. DragonMilk says:

    I am generally in favor of *legal* immigration and not so much open borders but “tolled” borders. For those who are for more limited legal immigration, am I missing any of your concerns, and would the proposed solutions (not prescriptive, more illustrative) address them?

    1. Taking advantage of welfare
    Countries like Sweden have generous welfare benefits that are being strained by the influx of new arrivals, leading long-time residents feeling shafted at having paid into the system for so long just to have free-loaders lap up the benefits too.
    What if welfare is limited only to citizens, citizenship can only be acquired after [5] years of residency, and residents pay an additional income tax?

    2. Lack of integration with host society
    This one is obvious – people tend to stick with what’s familiar, particularly in an alien land, and it’s easier to try and pursue the familiar over adopting to the new culture. So there are little italy’s and chinatowns, but on the other hand, poor Muslim enclaves in places like France are no more than ghettos somewhat comparable to inner cities in the US.
    What if a requirement of maintaining residency is to pass native language and culture written tests, and a tax assessed for residents living more than [2] years in designated neighborhoods (e.g., determined by % of non-citizens living in a particular block)

    3. Suppressing cost of labor
    Supply of labor goes up, price paid for the labor goes down. Enough said.
    I have to say, I’m the least sympathetic to this point, and I think part of the issue is illegal rather than legal immigration. First, why should the lottery of where one is born disqualify opportunity to relocate and find meaningful employment? I personally think Americans have gone soft and deserve a little kick in the butt.
    That being said, I would more strictly enforce illegal immigration by having punitive fines on anyone [not just corporations] who hires them. At the same time, I think it should be much easier to have legal immigrant status, and more importantly, legal worker status. There are plenty of restrictive visas already to protect the “native” population, and I’d make it easier to transition to legally employable.

    Thoughts?

    • Walter says:

      That all sounds fine. But, like, I think you fail to appreciate how little trust we share.

      We (conservatives) don’t believe that you (progressives that is) can make promises on behalf of your future selves. If we give you something today in exchange for the promises you outline in 1/2, you will change your mind almost instantly (or, more charitably, be replaced by progressives who aren’t bound by this deal), and the folks we let in will still be here.

      Therefore, given what we expect of your future selves, we cannot make deals with your present selves.

      Back when Scott was Yvaine on livejournal I think he did a post on how corporal punishment went away that was essentially covering the same dynamic.

      • DragonMilk says:

        What if the taxes were structured in form of a loan to pay back instead, on which defaulting means deportation?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          And when the person deported is a crying mother who fell behind on her loan payments because the economy went south? Are we going to be allowed to deport her and her kids without a dozen CNN reports about how heartless conservatives are and Democrats calling to abolish ICE?

          I would need to have a strong feeling that the government (not even “the left,” but the Uniparty neocons/libs) would try to enforce the immigration rules in good faith.

          Instead, there isn’t much sense talking about legal immigration rules when illegal immigration enforcement is being handled so poorly and all attempts to improve it are stymied. Assume we adopt whatever your exact rules for immigration are. There will be people who do not meet the standards you lay out. So we will say to them, “sorry, you don’t meet DragonMilk’s standards. You may not enter the country.” And they will then say “screw you, gringo” and drag children through the desert anyway. What do we do about those people?

          Did Scott write a little story or example about a guy who makes a deal with a demon for power or knowledge or something, but he has to renounce God or something, and now without any sort of enforcement mechanism in the contract the demon just drags him to hell for torment anyway? Or am I thinking of something else? Basically that. Without enforcement, the rules of legal immigration are meaningless.

          • aphyer says:

            I don’t think anyone has ever confused Scott with Jack Chick before. Maybe leave this one off your resume, Scott.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Was it? Maybe Scott related the story? I really think I heard that from Scott, but I’m getting old, and the memory ain’t what it used to be…

          • aphyer says:

            I think so, will see if I can find it later today.

            (And if I’m wrong and Scott did write it, then I guess I am the one confusing him with jack chick)

          • Nornagest says:

            Did Scott write a little story or example about a guy who makes a deal with a demon for power or knowledge or something, but he has to renounce God or something, and now without any sort of enforcement mechanism in the contract the demon just drags him to hell for torment anyway?

            Assuming it’s not Jack Chick, that sounds more like Eliezer’s style than Scott’s. Can’t cite anything though.

          • Randy M says:

            Depends on whether or not the demons name was a pun or an alliteration.

          • rahien.din says:

            Sheesh. I think we have different ideas about what “acting in good faith” means.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            rahien.din, what do you mean?

        • Walter says:

          I don’t see what that changes.

          Like, we are unable to deport people who overstay their visas. Why would we expect to be more successful at deporting people who default on their loans?

          • DragonMilk says:

            Hmm, so this sounds like a matter of enforcement, and again why I didn’t say these were necessarily prescriptive.

            What if deportations became partially privatized (at least the rounding people up part) so that certain agencies are licensed to collect info and make arrests if they obtain a warrant?

            I do agree that enforcement of existing laws is extremely problematic, but symptomatic of an improperly functioning government. As I understand it, you’re not opposed to proposals if they were actually executed, but against the current state of affairs?

            As an aside, I wanted to limit the discussion to legal immigration, as I’m on the other side of the fence on illegal immigrants, that they make life much harder for legal ones.

          • John Schilling says:

            What if deportations became partially privatized (at least the rounding people up part) so that certain agencies are licensed to collect info and make arrests if they obtain a warrant?

            With the no-bail movement playing an increasing role in criminal justice reform, we’ll have literal bounty hunters with time on their hands and looking for a new and profitable role to play. We could set them loose in the barrios, looking for illegal immigrants to round up and ship out. But I’m skeptical that the optics of that would meet with progressive approval, and I’d wager that within a decade the program would be shut down by media-augmented popular demand.

          • Walter says:

            @DragonMilk

            “I do agree that enforcement of existing laws is extremely problematic, but symptomatic of an improperly functioning government. As I understand it, you’re not opposed to proposals if they were actually executed, but against the current state of affairs?”

            Yes, that’s correct. I’d be in support if they could actually be executed, but would have to be opposed to them if presented currently, because I don’t believe that the pro immigration side of the aisle can keep such commitments.

          • DragonMilk says:

            @ Walter, funny enough, despite my personal views on legal immigration, as a practical matter, I distrust government so much that I too do not support any immigration “reform” proposals currently out there.

            Was intended to understand how much of the opposition was philosophical vs. practical

      • JPNunez says:

        This attitude makes impossible any deal whatsoever.

        Of course people in the future will ask for more rights. That’s how progress works. And it’s not like conservatives would keep their end of “the deal”, as proved by Trump trying to move the overton window onto birthright citizenship.

        _Nobody_ can promise their political successors will abide to the same rules you set today. That’s an impossible standard of trust to meet.

        • The Nybbler says:

          This attitude makes impossible any deal whatsoever.

          Yes, and?

          _Nobody_ can promise their political successors will abide to the same rules you set today. That’s an impossible standard of trust to meet.

          The difference in this case is that the compromise itself makes its violation inevitable.

          • JPNunez says:

            Well when Scott complains he cannot create a forum where people of all sides can converse, I am gonna point at impossible-standards-of-trust as a culprit.

          • The Nybbler says:

            You’re going to have to spell that out for me. I agree that forums where people of all sides can converse cannot exist (because there are sides whose position it is that they must not converse in forums where certain opposing views are permitted), but I don’t see how it’s a matter of impossible standards of trust.

          • JPNunez says:

            It is impossible to promise that future voters will uphold any _ANY_ bill you agree today to.

            We (conservatives) don’t believe that you (progressives that is) can make promises on behalf of your future selves. If we give you something today in exchange for the promises you outline in 1/2, you will change your mind almost instantly (or, more charitably, be replaced by progressives who aren’t bound by this deal), and the folks we let in will still be here.

            Therefore, given what we expect of your future selves, we cannot make deals with your present selves.

          • abystander says:

            Instead of throwing up hands and saying we don’t trust each other so we can’t make a deal. We can try to adjust the conditions so less trust is necessary and then build trust. In this case we can propose an initial low number of immigrants and base increase of the number on how well they pass the citizenship tests in 3-4 years as well as economic indicators to minimize the likelihood of large welfare outlays.

          • Aapje says:

            @JPNunez

            Any deal about what we do in the future inherently requires a commitment for the future. That is what a political deal is in the first place: a commitment about what both sides will do and accept in the future.

            If I promise you to come clean your entire house for $X/hour and yet on my first work day I demand more money and tell you that I’m not going to clean the toilet, you will presumable feel deceived and mistreated.

            Of course, you won’t expect me to never ask for a raise, but there is a period after making a deal where you expect the deal to remain in force. The very reason for making the deal is so you won’t have to constantly renegotiate the salary or what the person will do in exchange for that salary.

            When a reasonable period is not respected by the person you make a deal with, this reduces the value of the deal, which can go so far that you may be unwilling to take me on to clean your house and that certain people are unwilling to make a political deal with other people.

            Note that reputation effects may also play a role here. If you have heard from others that I refuse to honor the deal or have already experienced such refusals personally, you may not be willing to give me another chance, especially when making a new deal is in itself costly.

            Digging oneself out of such a low-reputation hole is hard, especially when the person/group doesn’t think that their poor reputation is reasonable. I think that this is the case here.

            Many on the left have convinced themselves that migration law is immoral and to be resisted at every opportunity. Yet such anarchist refusal to abide by the law has consequences: it means that the other side can now lose twice: they can lose because the law goes against their wishes or they can lose because the law won’t be upheld. This makes it incredibly hard to negotiate new laws, because you can’t expect to actually get what the law says you should get, it can be a lot less.

            Many have told you (now and earlier) how pro-migration people can start to restore trust and increase the willingness to make new deals: upholding the current laws.

            It is impossible to promise that future voters will uphold any _ANY_ bill you agree today to.

            Voters don’t make law, because we don’t have a direct democracy.

            Politicians can certainly uphold their promises or those made by their predecessors.

            Honest politicians can seek to change deals, but then tell their voters that they must then also be aware that giving up a deal means that the other side may then no longer want to honor the parts of the compromise that they dislike & that being too flaky means that the ability to find compromises will go down.

        • EchoChaos says:

          The biggest problem with a compromise is not just that people won’t abide by it in the future, it’s that the people we are negotiating against are directly ignoring the current rules, which strongly encourages us to believe they will continue to violate the new future rules.

          • Randy M says:

            Right; believing the other side to the arguing in bad faith may well make compromise impossible, but that fact doesn’t make them trustworthy.
            And both sides think the status quo will be better than complying without reciprocity.

          • albatross11 says:

            It wouldn’t matter if they were, though–you’re not negotiating with an individual, you’re negotiating with an amorphous political movement. Groups are not individuals. You might be able to make a deal with Stenny Hoyer or Mitch McConnel, but you can’t make a deal with anti-Immigration voters or pro-immigration voters as a group.

          • SamChevre says:

            the people we are negotiating against are directly ignoring the current rules

            And have been doing so for 30 years.

            That’s my opening bid: give me your plan for getting the number of illegal immigrants and dependents of illegal immigrants down to what it was when Clinton was elected and then we’ll talk about making legal immigration easier.

        • Jiro says:

          This attitude makes impossible any deal whatsoever.

          Not quite. The problem is that you’re exchanging a concession that takes place today for something else that takes place in the future. Future plans are a lot easier to retract than plans that already happened–it’s asymmetrical.

          And not all deals are this asymmetrical.

          (This is also one reason why successfully building a wall is a clever idea. The wall’s still going to be there in the future preventing illegal immigration unless a future administration tears it down, and tearing it down requires that they actively and explicitly support open borders, not just try to sneak open borders in through the back door.)

          • Clutzy says:

            I agree with this point. Any deals on an issue such as this have to give people on both sides enforcement mechanisms that that strong and hard to dismantle.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            (This is also one reason why successfully building a wall is a clever idea. The wall’s still going to be there in the future preventing illegal immigration unless a future administration tears it down, and tearing it down requires that they actively and explicitly support open borders, not just try to sneak open borders in through the back door.)

            I don’t know about that; they could just cut funding for border patrols down to the level where people can go over/under/through the walls without anybody stopping them, thereby making it functionally useless.

      • Dan L says:

        We (conservatives) don’t believe that you (progressives that is) can make promises on behalf of your future selves. If we give you something today in exchange for the promises you outline in 1/2, you will change your mind almost instantly (or, more charitably, be replaced by progressives who aren’t bound by this deal), and the folks we let in will still be here.

        In the US system, it is very difficult for a political coalition of strength X to bind a future coalition of strength X+Y. That is a feature, not a bug. But there are plenty of ways for it to bind a coalition of X-Z.

        Is the true objection simply “there is no policy that would both be supported by both conservatives and a stable majority”? And that’s preventing action in that direction? Again, feature not bug.

        • Mustard Tiger says:

          I think there are or have been large coalitions that support a given action – say building physical border barriers years ago – but part of the nature of Progressivism is to change, and now there are loud and powerful voices against those actions, even among those who supported them before. Hard to make a binding deal with people who prioritize change.

          There seem to be middle paths that many Americans agree on, but don’t get much voice or traction among politicians. A lot of people I know, for example, are fine with building a border wall and increased immigration law enforcement in exchange for amnesty for illegal aliens already here. It’s the order of operations that people argue over, but if people were convinced both would actually happen concurrently or at least close to that, there could be broad support.

          But nobody trusts the other side to live up to their part of the deal, and the loudest people won’t accept a deal. So people pick a team and get entrenched. And that’s how politicians get popular.

      • 10240 says:

        Back when Scott was Yvaine on livejournal I think he did a post on how corporal punishment went away that was essentially covering the same dynamic.

        @Walter Sounds interesting, can you give some clues/keywords what to search for in the archive?

    • EchoChaos says:

      One thing that you might miss is that a lot of your proposals are existing law in many Western countries.

      For example, point 1 is already the law in the United States. What you’re asking for is a substantial liberalization of existing law on how long you have to wait to become a citizen. Why would conservatives do that? That’s not a compromise, that’s just you moving the law in the direction you want for free.

      Point 2 is also already law. You are required to integrate into the United States to naturalize, and we test for that by requiring a cultural test in English. The problem with Chinatowns and cetera tends to arise because of birthright citizenship, not because of sufficient requirements to become a citizen. Clearly our concerns have not been fully addressed by this.

      Point 3 is basically just a pure culture war disconnect where we’re talking different cultural languages. To me, a nation is only relevant if it advantages those who are its children over those who aren’t. I don’t believe in the “lottery of where one is born” as if there is a cosmic wheel flinging souls around. Children are a choice and should be given benefits by their parent nation.

      • The problem with Chinatowns and cetera tends to arise because of birthright citizenship

        That seems implausible. My impression is that the children of immigrants are usually fluent in English. If they stay in Chinatown or the equivalent, it’s because their relatives are there, and they are more comfortable with people from their culture, but not that they haven’t learned the host culture.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In addition to the issues brought up by others, there’s the democracy issue. When enough immigrants are brought in under this liberalized regime, they become citizens and ally with the existing pro-immigration party to alter the deal. The lack of any ability to make a binding commitment ruins compromise plans.

      • Dan L says:

        It is not obvious that immigrants are reliably in favor of more immigration, especially after controlling for various demographics. (Age is the big one.) I’d appreciate more detailed data if you could find it, but any thesis that relies on “the pro-immigration party” being supported by a consistently identifiable group on the decade scale is… dubious.

        • The Nybbler says:

          It is not obvious that immigrants are reliably in favor of more immigration, especially after controlling for various demographics. (Age is the big one.)

          Controls don’t matter. If you bring in voters who are more in favor of immigration than the current population, whether because they are immigrants themselves or because they are young, you support the pro-immigration side.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Most controls don’t matter but the fun thing about age is that it changes, predictably, over time. If you import a bunch of surly pro-immigration teens, by the time they’re wise old men they’ll hate immigration as much as the rest of us.

          • The Nybbler says:

            By then it will be too late, AOC will be running the country.

          • DeWitt says:

            We can but imagine the horror of it all. Truly an apocalyptic and terrifying future.

          • Plumber says:

            @DeWitt

            “We can but imagine the horror of it all. Truly an apocalyptic and terrifying future”

            If the Presidential State-of-the-Union address gets done in the form of an interpretive dance I’d call it a plus.

          • Dan L says:

            If you bring in voters who are more in favor of immigration than the current population, whether because they are immigrants themselves or because they are young, you support the pro-immigration side.

            Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting you to bite the anti-natal bullet. If you’re comfortable with your argument applying to parents in addition to immigrants (maybe even more strongly?) then while I still disagree with you, you’ve earned points for consistency.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m neither anti-natal nor pro-natal. Parenting shifts voting patterns in 18 years — except by then the parents voting patterns may have shifted as well, and perhaps the grandparents aren’t voting at all, leading to net no change if the population is at replacement levels. Immigration shifts voting patterns as soon as the new immigrants become citizens; even if it’s entirely due to age, there’s no aging population offsetting the new immigrants.

            Yes, if it’s entirely due to age, it will even out eventually, but by then AOC is running the country, everything I’ve ever earned has been confiscated, and I’m in a concentration camp for the stale, pale, and male. (OK, the concentration camp may be a little much. But I’d rather not have to work for the rest of my life so those “unwilling to work” can continue to not do so)

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Is Alexandria Ocaiso-Cortez representative of her co-ethnics? She recently said:

          We have to have respect for children, respect for families, respect for human rights and respect for the right of human mobility. Because it is a right. It is a right. Because we are standing on native land, and Latino people are descendants of native people. And we cannot be told and criminalized simply for our identity or our status. Period.

          If the immigrants are like her, and believe they have a “right” to the land because of their blood…I think we can fairly reliably predict how blood-and-soil racists are going to vote. And it’s not going to be for limited migration and assimilation.

          • DeWitt says:

            Why would you believe anything a politician says? Especially one you don’t even agree with?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Do you believe David Duke when he says he likes white people and hates Jews? I take him at his word on that one.

            Do you have any evidence AOC is lying about her racial preferences?

          • DeWitt says:

            She’s a politician who’s very good with the media and knows what to say to get her base to love her. Why wouldn’t she say these things? It makes people on your side seethe, absolutely, but that’s a feature, not a bug, and whatever the woman’s true beliefs are happen to be beyond you as much as they are beyond me.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Should I believe anything you say about what your beliefs are? Should I believe that you believe that we can’t know what AOC believes despite what she says shes believes? Seems pretty unbelievable to me.

          • DeWitt says:

            Maybe, maybe not. But assuming that there’s any amount of people with beliefs X or Y should rest on more than a politician’s claims, and should easily be verified regardless.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            any thesis that relies on “the pro-immigration party” being supported by a consistently identifiable group on the decade scale is… dubious.

            “What about this example of a prominent politician?”
            “No, that doesn’t work because all it implies is that her base supports it”

          • INH5 says:

            AOC is of Puerto Rican descent, and Puerto Ricans are all already US citizens, so this doesn’t seem like a terribly relevant question. If by “co-ethnics” you mean all Latinos, in my experience the various Latin American nationalities do not think of each other as co-ethnics. Ask a Mexican what he/she thinks of Guatemalans sometime.

          • dick says:

            Is Alexandria Ocaiso-Cortez representative of her co-ethnics?

            Are you of yours?

    • Plumber says:

      @DragonMilk

      “…welfare…”

      I think I responded to part of this in another thread, and (judging by when me, my wife, and son briefly had a SNAP card, usually still called “food stamps”, when the case worker decides you “don’t look American”, as she decided my wife didn’t,) you have to prove citizenship to receive benefits, plus I really don’t want a bunch of immigrants here who are made even more desperate because of the like of a social safety net and turn to begging, crime, and working for lower wages.

      “…integration…”

      As for assimilation, most immigrants children seem pretty well “Americanized”, five years ago most of immediate co-workers were immigrants, now most of them are U.S.A. born but half of them are the children of immigrants (they tell me), and except for knowing some different recipes, and occasionally flying overseas to visit relatives, they’re much the same as those who’s ancestors came to the U.S.A. earlier. 

      There is an issue of which American culture they assimilate to, as judging by economic class mobility (how likely a kid born poor will escape poverty as an adult) the “desert west Yankee” culture of Salt Lake City, Utah seems the best to be assimilated to, while a poor kid in the “Dixie” culture of Atlanta, Georgia is more likely to stay poor.

      “…cost of labor…”

      I’m personally opposed to much more immigration to the San Francisco bay area (despite my wife growing up in the foreign land of Seattle, Washington) because the rent is too damn high (compared to wages), and traffic is too damn much.

      Immigrants colonizing in-land areas with the empty houses built in the mid-2000’s seem more acceptable to me (and when I worked in Hollister for a while I heard Spanish spoken as often as English, so I imagine there’s a bit of that already, just as Asian languages are often heard in San Francisco), and since before the U.S.A. conquered it, California was part of Mexico (and before that Nueva España/New Spain) it’s hard to say that “they” don’t belong here, but the bay area is still too crowded.

      Though I suppose colonizing say Detroit, with it’s empty houses, would make assimilation slower than settling in an area with more American born residents per square mile. 

      An issue with importing “skilled labor” to me is that I think it reduces the liklihood that employers and schools will bother to educate those born here, and the issue with importing “un-skilled” labor is that I think less educated Americans have already had falling living standards for the last 45 years and I don’t want them to face yet more competition.

    • Well... says:

      How does your proposal slow down the speed and intensity of immigration to manageable levels, so that people in the host society don’t feel like their country is changing too fast? Or do you think it would have that effect anyway?

      • DragonMilk says:

        I’d personally have a quota + auction system paired with partially privatized deportations of those in the country illegally (essentially allow firms to gather info to obtain arrest warrants and bring them to processing centers).

        Implementing the thought requires…more thought. I often think government for some reason undervalues incentives and doesn’t design policies that would ever work as a result – I’d pull financial levers heavily.

    • Clutzy says:

      5 years for citizenship seems very quick. We require children to live 18 years in this country before we give them all the trappings of citizenship…

      • DragonMilk says:

        They were in brackets as a placeholder to outline the concept, based on decisions of how citizens vote.

      • Evan Þ says:

        No, we don’t. My good friend was born in the Philippines to an American citizen, moved to the States with his family as a teenager, and started voting right on schedule at age 18. The minimum age for voting is more a maturity level than an acculturation level.

        • Clutzy says:

          Yes, that appears to be a privilege of being an immigrant. IMO the acculturation is at least as important. “Every generation, civilization is invaded by barbarians” as it is.

    • dndnrsn says:

      1. What is “welfare”? Unemployment benefits? Or broader “social welfare” programs like health care, education, etc? All of these things have a public benefit in addition to the private benefit: without unemployment benefits, the chance that someone will look for criminal means to get money increases. Without some level of health care to everyone, public health problems appear or get worse. If recent immigrants are able to get access to continuing-education programs, they will be better able to get jobs, etc etc. Additionally, if you have birthright citizenship the way the US has, you face the problem of explaining to the public why the parents of Americans are being denied access to public services, which hurts their kids, who are Americans (or whatever). (If you don’t have birthright citizenship, or something close to it – let’s say, citizenship for those born to two permanent residents, you end up with a second generation that is disenfranchised and pissed off – which hasn’t worked great for some parts of Europe).

      2. Seems like it would be a nightmare to implement. Who decides who gets to live where? Might as well bring in internal passports (never a sign of freedom and openness). Lack of integration isn’t really primarily due to ethnic groups bunching together like that, but due to stuff like having disenfranchised and pissed off noncitizen second generations. Plenty of ethnic enclaves either cycle in terms of the ethnicity or cultural group or whatever (there are plenty of places where there are parts of town that were once Jewish or Italian immigrant dominated, and now are dominated by other groups, and will be dominated by still others in 50 years) or that cycle people through them (the first generation stays in Chinatown where they don’t have to be fluent in English, and this doesn’t seem to hurt anyone – is it a problem that there are unintegrated people in Chinatown? The only negative experiences I have had in the local Chinatown have been getting hassled by drunks hanging outside the booze store, and the drunks weren’t Chinese). There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s how these things work – plenty of groups that are now 100% American went through a phase where they were Scary Foreigners Who Don’t Integrate.

      3. Is it conclusive that it works this way with the immigration system the US or wherever currently has? If we’re talking about the US specifically, illegal immigration is never going to be fixed because people on both sides of the aisle benefit from it one way or another, those who don’t have relatively little say except in voting for politicians who generally don’t or can’t deliver, etc, and the public doesn’t have the taste (probably a good thing) for the rather ugly stuff that enforcing border restrictions thoroughly on a land border that long would take.

      • without unemployment benefits, the chance that someone will look for criminal means to get money increases.

        As does the chance that he will look for legal means.

        If anything, you have it backwards. Unemployment benefits are a disincentive to get a legal job, because then you can collect them. But illegal earnings don’t show up in the radar, so they supplement unemployment benefits rather than replacing them.

        • dndnrsn says:

          In theory, yes. Empirically, is there any evidence of this? There’s various reasons to not want to find illegal sources of income, and barriers to earning X legally might be higher for immigrants.

    • eigenmoon says:

      I’m a migrant into EU.

      1. The citizenship in your proposal is more or less the same as European permanent residence.

      An additional income tax is an interesting proposal. I’m currently sitting in a high-tax EU nation because it’s easier to migrate into one, but I’ll move to a low-tax country as soon as I can because taxation is theft and all that. So in effect I do pay a surcharge for migration.

      What worries me about this proposal is that once it goes political, there won’t be any price discovery mechanism that’s remotely sane.

      2. Most EU countries do require language and culture tests.

      Once the immigrants realize that more immigrants in the same district means more taxation, they might become very conservative. And possibly aggressive towards newcomers.

      3. That’s how EU works, more or less, but enforcing legal immigration is a hard problem.

      In EU, illegal immigrants can’t apply to the police for protection because they will be arrested on the spot. So they have three choices:
      (a) return to their country
      (b) live without any protection and be defenseless against every crook
      (c) get a gun, form a gang, protect the homies

      Note that the punishment for (b) is (a), and the punishment for (c) is usually also (a) provided that the gang behaves. In this situation, (c) is the logical choice for those who can afford it. The natives seem to mind it for some reason though.

      US has so many illegal immigrants that I suspect EU-style enforcement will create no-go zones bigger than any European one.

    • edmundgennings says:

      I am where hesitant of the idea of the “lottery of where one is born.” If that is the trivial where where my parents where they gave birth to me then yes that is morally unimportant. Who I am comes from my parents not from my location of birth. If this is a question of the lottery of who my parents are, then I do not think such a think exists. I am necessarily born from my parents. At the point one removes that constraint I am no more tied to other humans conceived at roughly the same time I was give or take fifty years than I am to all humans ever conceived.

    • By-Ends says:

      What does “the lottery of where one was born” mean in this context? People are citizens of the country in which their parents live or are citizens at birth. (There are various edge cases but this principle generally applies.) No accident or randomness is involved. Like many other things in life, citizenship at birth is an inheritance we receive from our parents and ancestors.

      The concept of “accident of birth” or “lottery of where one wasn’t born” only works if you believe that you are something more than the genetic contributions of your parents (i.e. an immortal soul or something similar, so not a materialist/atheist viewpoint) and don’t believe that the family into which you were born was determined by Someone (i.e. not Christianity and not the other Abrahamic religion AFAIK). The whole concept seems very gnostic.

      • DragonMilk says:

        So actually, on a personal level, I think every Christian is called to remedy injustice, in particular caring for the impoverished and marginalized, both in their own neighborhood as well acting toward foreigners. The topic of social justice is now loaded given the existence of SJWs, but it’s still something to strive for *on a personal level*.

        The birth lottery is more to illustrate that I did not choose which era, nation, class, and genetic traits I start life with, and that such circumstance often subject individuals to varying degrees of disadvantages whether through or economic circumstances or outright injustice. So when it comes to immigration, I am in on a personal level favor of mobility, particularly for refugees.

        On a practical level, I’m cynical about government and special interests ever implementing a sound immigration policy so I’m just curious about others’ personal views. Nations should abide by rule of law and it is ridiculous that current laws are not enforced. Laws are amoral and were passed by elected officials and were intended to be executed. So on the one hand, I would up enforcement of illegal immigration laws, but on the other, believe that part of the issue is that the path to legal immigration is quite onerous (look at what and how long it takes for a refugee to be granted that status), and would try to hammer out a compromise on both fronts, totally acknowledging the mistrust in terms of execution and trying to design incentives around that.

        • EchoChaos says:

          The birth lottery is more to illustrate that I did not choose which era, nation, class, and genetic traits I start life with

          This is a religious belief that I don’t share. Do you feel it is a common one?

          • DragonMilk says:

            Could you clarify? Perhaps lottery was a poor way to put it, but I’m trying to say that I had no control over any of those factors, so considering my current life position relative to the vast majority of humanity throughout history, it’s as if I won the lottery…or at least one of those instant scratch offs.

          • EchoChaos says:

            There isn’t any lottery involved. Your nation, class and genetics are all the result of intentional choices by people to determine you.

            For a Christian, that is a spiritual act between a man and a woman that God blessed with the creation of a new soul. Your soul could not exist in any other place, so calling your creation a lottery doesn’t make sense to me or, so far as I am aware, any theologically sound Christian.

            I know that the Jewish belief is that souls choose their parents themselves from the Chamber of Guff, and I am fairly certain that Buddhists believe something similar.

            I am not familiar with Muslim beliefs, but I would be very surprised if that included any sort of randomness to a soul’s arrival.

          • DragonMilk says:

            So let me say I don’t particularly strong theological views on pre-birth soul dynamics, but what is your basis for stating my soul created in accompaniment with coitus?

            God says to Jeremiah (1:5), “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born…”

            Generally, the verses speak about God knowing someone before birth, and it’s arguable that for many of the writers, conception stages were more mysterious so the all-around point is that God knows a person before their physical entry into the world…

            Gal 1:15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace

            Ephesians 1:4 Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…

            Anyway, I re-emphasize that I’m not saying the process itself is a lottery, it’s that my physical manifestation is clearly not my own choice or due to anything I have done to merit it. Frankly, that’s God’s business and not mine, but recognizing that my existence is by grace rather than earned, much like salvation, it follows that if I am grateful for that, I should heed exhortations to take care of the poor and oppressed.

          • EchoChaos says:

            The doctrinal support for the soul coming later comes from creation itself, where the body is formed first, then the soul is breathed into it in Genesis 2:7.

            There is indeed a divide among Christians as to whether the creation of the soul is co-existent with the creation of the body, earlier or later.

            However, in none of those that I am aware of does God randomly assign souls.

            As for you making the choice, in Jewish and “pre-body” Christian thought, you do in fact make that choice, although you don’t remember it. In co-creation thought, your parents make that choice for you. But in no case is it “clearly not my own choice or due to anything I have done to merit it.”

            In the pre-body case, you talked with God and accepted it, but do not remember the conversation.

            I am not using this as an argument against charity in any way. I practice charity myself and am thankful for God’s gifts to me.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @DragonMilk

            Let me try to translate what (I think) the conservatives are trying to tell you.

            Let’s assume that we have a utilitarian goal of increasing average happiness. Things that help us to go towards the goal are:
            – development
            – redistribution from rich to poor
            – giving birth to children that are happier than average
            – death of people who are unhappier than average

            Let’s discard the last one and focus on birth. The problem is that people of different cultures have very different ideas of how many babies to make.

            This might make wealth redistribution a bad idea. Suppose that in the culture A every family makes 6 babies. You hear about two poor people from culture A who have no food and are about to die. You decide to feed them both for life. They survive and make 6 babies, who all die from starvation. Thus your help converted 2 starvations to 6 starvations and 2 survivors, almost certainly bringing down the average utility.

            Let’s suppose that in the culture B a family has 1.5 children on average. Does it even make any sense to say that culture A and culture B are working for the same goal?

            Optimizing for the average happiness is weird. You have to admit that poor people who make babies are doing the Wrong Thing, roughly like a rich person who evades all taxes and doesn’t do charity. Most people won’t go there.

            There seem to be 3 major solutions:

            The left: Ignore the birth problem entirely. People are just randomly popping into existence. Talk about the lottery etc.

            The libertarian: Let’s not optimize for average happiness. Let’s optimize for individual freedom instead. Free people will use their freedom to find their own happiness. By the way, taxation brings the utility down. Boo taxation!

            The conservative: Let’s optimize for average happiness in our country, at least it’s something that we can do. Their country is unhappy? Well, bad for them, but they should do their own thing. We should watch closely the demographics of our country lest those foreigners outbreed us (conservatives have written entire books about that).

        • The birth lottery is more to illustrate that I did not choose which era, nation, class, and genetic traits I start life with, and that such circumstance often subject individuals to varying degrees of disadvantages whether through or economic circumstances or outright injustice.

          The problem with putting it this way is that it implies that there is a you separable from all of those things. Take genetic traits. If you are a psychopath because of your genes, you are still a psychopath. If you are a generous, honest, and helpful person because of your genes, you are still a generous, honest, and helpful person. Most people feel that someone who is, and acts as, a psychopath deserves worse outcomes than someone who is, and acts as, generous, honest and helpful.

          To put the same point differently, you also did not choose to be a human being rather than a bird, a mosquito, or a rock. Is it unjust that human beings get different rights than those things?

        • albatross11 says:

          It seems like exactly the same argument that applies to benefits of citizenship also applies to benefits of inherited wealth. It was no action of yours that led your parents to leave you a house when they died. I don’t think it follows that you are obliged to sell your house and divide the proceeds among all the people of the world who were less fortunate. And as a practical matter, allowing people to leave their kids some wealth probably creates good incentives for people to try to create/accumulate/preserve wealth, even beyond what they can use in their lifetimes. That seems like a good thing overall.

          Similarly, it was no choice of yours that led you to be born a citizen of the US. I don’t think it follows that you are obliged to support granting citizenship to everyone who wasn’t that lucky. And as a practical matter, allowing nations to exist probably creates good incentives for people to support better policies in order to make things better for nation that their kids will inherit.

    • aristides says:

      On point 2, who writes the tests? We have citizenship tests now, and though they are harder to pass than 12th grade civics, I notice that a lot of US citizens are not as integrated as much of the country would like. I think the goal should be to integrate immigrants as much as the Irish are integrated now, though I admit that racism on the natives part is one of the biggest obstacles to that. If the English language requirements is full fluency, that actually might be enough, but currently you do not need fluency to pass the American citizenship test in English.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I admit that racism on the natives part is one of the biggest obstacles to that.

        Is it? Asian-Americans are very well integrated, and they are historically substantially higher recipients of racism than white Hispanics, who aren’t as well integrated.

        • Nornagest says:

          white Hispanics, who aren’t as well integrated.

          I meet a lot of Hispanics who don’t seem well integrated, but they always turn out to be immigrants when I get to know them. All the native-born Hispanic Americans I know of my age or younger speak and act exactly like white and Asian Americans from the same areas, whether or not English was their first language.

          (Same’s true for the kids of African immigrants, incidentally.)

  26. gbdub says:

    I’m curious if the Rationalsphere has named or discussed the following phenomenon: news outlet puts out a story about “person who did bad/controversial thing” that is factually accurate but frames the issue such that the active party is not the person-who-did-thing but rather the critics of that person.

    Toy example: Alice and Bob are running for class president. An anonymous student digs up two year old cell phone video of Bob stuffing a nerd into a locker. This goes viral among the student body and becomes an issue in the campaign. Charlie, editor of the school paper, writes the headline, “Alice Supporters Attack Bob Over Leaked Bullying Video”. This headline is 100% factually accurate. But it has a few strong effects on how the overall story will be perceived.

    1) It makes the issue explicitly partisan. Bob supporters who would otherwise be bothered by bullying are going to be put on defensive.
    2) It reframes the active party – the story is not that Bob got caught bullying, but rather that Alice supporters are criticizing Bob.
    3) It uses language that builds sympathy for the party being criticized. Bob is the victim of an “attack” (a strong verb with possible negative connotation) over a video that was “leaked” (again a negative connotation that conjures up sympathy). What he’s being criticized for is left vague (just a video of “bullying” – who was doing the actual bullying and how severe it was is not clear)

    Anyway I think this sort of thing is a common way bias in media can manifest and feed the Toxoplasma.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      In the conservative blogosphere it’s known as “Republicans Pounce”.

      • Deiseach says:

        In media headlines dealing with religion, it’s often “Vatican/the Pope slams”. Or stories written where the liberal/progressive policies (see the current United Methodist ruffling of feathers) is presented as the moderate, sensible, centrist policy and the traditional/orthodox view is presented as “fundamentalists” (and we all know, Fundies = BAD).

    • Nick says:

      (Content war: extremely CW angle on this.)
      There’s a meme now in conservative circles of “Republicans pounce” or “conservatives pounce” headlines. The idea, according to these conservatives, is that when someone on the left does or says something wrong, the real story apparently isn’t that they did or said it, but that The Other Side is outraged by it.

      From the data I’ve seen tossed around, these headlines totally get used of folks on the left too. But it does seem to be getting more common, or at least there have been more high profile cases of it lately, and so it’s become a meme. I remember the first one I really noticed for what it was late last year, when Archbishop Vigano published accusations against Pope Francis: “Francis takes high road as conservatives pounce, taking criticisms public.” The most recent really bad one was “Until this week, Del. Kathy Tran was known for nursing her daughter on the House floor. Now Republicans are calling her a baby killer.”

    • Chalid says:

      “Twitter mobs attack some person who offended them” is a major topic of SSC discussion, no?

      • Randy M says:

        Yes, although that’s because if we are criticizing the twitter mobs, we find the response disproportionate, like national humiliation for smiling at a native.

        In the hypothetical case of “critics pounce on congressman’s monkey fighting ring”, we find the provoking offense as deserving of the focus because the response it deserves is legal or professional censure and thus find moving the focus onto the criticism of it as missing–or even intentionally obscuring–the real story.

        Which category a particular use falls into is subjective, but we could probably come to agreement about where the emphasis should lie in a lot of instances.

      • Nick says:

        There are several differences, some maybe mitigating this and some not, but the big one I see is that I can and do object to the Twitter mob for being a Twitter mob. I don’t object to the news for being news.

      • 10240 says:

        There seem to be two variants of the phenomenon: one where the story is ostensibly about the original offense but written as “X attack person who did the offense”, and one where the attack by some group is the main story, and it’s argued that the attack is wrong (either because one doesn’t regard the original offense as wrong, or because one considers the response inappropriate). Your example is the latter kind.

        • albatross11 says:

          In general, headline writers don’t think their job is honestly informing you, they’re either trying to write clickbait or trying to spin the story to keep the owners/donors/advertisers/sources/readers happy. I kind-of wish for a news aggregation service that would have a human read the article and summarize it for me, and not even show me the headline.

    • actualitems says:

      If my memory serves, this was how the aftermath of the Jordan Peterson/Cathy Newman interview played out in the mainstream media.

      Those sympathetic to Peterson saw him handle a hostile interviewer (Newman) fairly well, even stumping her pretty embarrassingly (for her) at one point. They all got excited to see the media coverage be all about bias/look what people like Peterson have to deal with during interviews. And that’s what they got to see in the IDW-friendly media. And a bunch of “so you’re saying?” jokes got made online.

      Bur the mainstream media led with the narrative of Cathy Newman being harassed online after she interviewed Jordan Peterson.

    • Well... says:

      I’m not part of the rationalsphere except that I read/comment on this blog, but I think what you’re describing is simply “journalistic practice”. Journalists aren’t trained as ontologists or forensic scientists; they’re trained as storytellers, plus despite what they may tell themselves, they are not in the business of conveying the facts of an event in clear terms; they are (and always have been) in the business of selling ads.

    • uau says:

      While I agree that such headlines can be used for bias, not all such headlines are necessarily wrong. In your example, the video itself could be a minor incident which would not receive (significant) coverage in the paper. But if it triggers attacks, those attacks may well be more newsworthy regardless of their exact cause, and in this case such headlines seem valid.

    • fion says:

      Interestingly, my frustration with such headlines is almost always the other way around, i.e. I get annoyed when “my side” says/does something and all the headlines are “[the other side] criticises [my side] for saying/doing the thing”. I worry that it promotes sympathy for the criticiser and makes the reader agree with the criticism of the criticised.

      Or are we discussing two different phenomena?

      The steelman of both is probably that the news outlets report the most recent thing. So maybe the website did have a story on “person does thing” and then an hour later it gets updated to “other person criticises first person”.

  27. J Mann says:

    I honestly don’t get why Michael Cohen is so mad at Trump. I think Trump is a pretty awful person, but Cohen worked for the guy for umpteen years and made a ton of money. He got convicted for tax evasion relating to income from his taxi medallions, for committing bank fraud by failing to reveal personal debts in an application for a loan, for brokering the Stormy Daniels payment, and for lying to Congress about the Moscow Trump Tower negotiations.

    OK, I can see cooperating with Mueller for a plea deal – that’s common sense self-interest, and if information about Trump is within the crime-fraud exception to criminality, Cohen doesn’t have an obligation to keep it secret.

    But why the public crusade against Trump? It seems like Cohen got what he bargained for – the chance to make millions of dollars through shady and sometimes criminal behavior. Trump certainly didn’t send Cohen coded messages to commit tax fraud on his personal income or to lie in his personal loan applications.

    It’s true that standing too close to Trump is bad luck for people like Cohen or Manafort, who might have gotten away with their non-Trump-related crimes for years more. Is it just that, or is it years of abuse leading to a “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore break”, or is it Lanny Davis or what?

    Has anybody seen anything reputable that would shed some light on it?

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Is it sufficient to imagine that the reaction is all part of the plea deal?

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        Rather than making a requirement that he be really mean to Trump as part of the plea, it seems much more plausible that he would be attempting to show good faith that he really has turned against Trump in order to convince someone* that he switched sides for real. Presumably he would do that if he felt that better treatment might be available if he were on a stronger team.

        *-Democrats, Mueller, maybe others

      • J Mann says:

        I honestly doubt the Mueller team would include a public crusade against Trump in a plea deal. (Or I could be wrong about the “deep state,” but I don’t think I am). Plus he’s already been sentenced.

        Mueller has been fairly tight-lipped and anti-leak, as compared to, say, McCabe or Comey – it’s hard to believe he would launch this barely guided PR missile.

        On the other hand, it’s possible that Cohen or his lawyer thinks that this will earn him some points when he applies for early release, or when prosecutors decide whether or not to charge him with additional crimes.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      My suspicion is that he’s being leaned on for political purposes and is trying to avoid/delay jail time.

      There was no need to plead guilty to the campaign finance violation. Paying off a mistress is not a campaign expenditure[1], and it certainly is not a campaign contribution when you’re the candidate’s lawyer and getting reimbursed for the expense. Joe Lobbyist paying off your mistress might be a bribe. But your own lawyer? That you’re reimbursing? Naw.

      He’s also not that smart, as there was no need for him to lie to Congress about the Moscow deal. The deal was dead, and that he tried a time or two to revive it in 2016 is not inconsistent with Trump’s public statements that there was nothing going on with Russian real estate deals.

      He wants to stay out of jail for a little while longer, and the Democrats were willing to delay his jail time if he comes and says nasty stuff about Trump. Basically he’s a not very bright weasel being used for political purposes by congressional Democrats.

      [1] I’m quite certain if there were a canceled check out of the official campaign account “To: Stormy For: Whore Payments Signed: Donald” the media would be screaming how awful it is to consider payments to mistresses a legitimate campaign expenditure.

    • John Schilling says:

      I honestly don’t get why Michael Cohen is so mad at Trump.

      You mean, aside from the fact that Cohen is about to got to prison for federal crimes that Donald Trump could easily pardon him for, but hasn’t?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Easily?

      • J Mann says:

        I guess the lack of a pardon could be it. Cohen’s main crimes are personal – he hid income from his taxi medallions and didn’t pay taxes on it, and he concealed debt when applying for a bank loan.* It’s true that those crimes probably wouldn’t have been discovered if he wasn’t close to Trump,** but it strikes me as hard to argue for a pardon.

        I can see that it might not feel that way to Cohen, though – thanks for the suggestion, and you may well be right.

        * Manafort got got for the same thing. I wonder how common “failing to disclose all debt when applying for a loan” is?

        ** Arguably, the prime mover in Cohen’s demise (other than the crimes) was the decision to fight to the end to enforce the Stormy Daniels gag agreement. It let Avenatti stay in the news and push the campaign finance line. Maybe Cohen blames Trump for that as well.

    • hls2003 says:

      I honestly don’t get why Michael Cohen is so mad at Trump.

      I think this is framing the question wrong. It’s not at all certain Cohen is mad at Trump, other than in a generic “this is what brought me down” sense. It is clear that Cohen is acting mad at Trump, which could be for a number of plausible self-interested reasons.

      1) As others have noted, it signals ongoing cooperation with prosecutors. Even if it’s not explicitly in the plea deal, it doesn’t hurt down the road of prison time to try to get somebody in authority looking out for you. Prison is a nasty place that can be made more nasty depending on placement; you can get more or fewer privileges; it might count for checking the “remorse” box of any future good behavior reviews. Etc.

      2) It might make future prosecutions less likely. The House Democrats are going to be going after Trump with everything they have. There may be more Cohen shadiness in there, but they will overlook it if he’s “on their team.”

      3) It puts him in a sympathetic place for the dominant cultural organs such as the media. Again, increased spotlight is a good thing for a prisoner. It may also be good for his family. He’s got at least one daughter who was with him at the hearing; maybe she becomes a more sympathetic figure for getting opportunities as “daughter of repentant fixer Cohen” rather than “daughter of defiant Trumpist Cohen”.

      4) There’s really no reason not to. Signing the plea deal, he’s burned his bridges with Trump. That’s one half of the power axis in this country. He’s anathema to them; he can’t go back. The only place left is the other half of the spectrum that hates Trump. Whatever benefits there may be, even if it’s very few, he loses nothing by signaling his membership in the Resistance after he has already forfeited any chance of the other side’s goodwill.

      Separately, not in direct answer, I was a little unclear how the substance, as opposed to the optics, of his testimony was bad for Trump? He denied Russia strongly in terms of a liaison in Prague. His comments on Stone / Trump / WikiLeaks seemed to confirm that Trump had no clue what was coming (the quote was, I believe, “Wouldn’t that be great?” in a context after they teased public release, but well after the actual hack). His headline statement was that Trump told him to lie to Congress, but the substance was “Trump never told me to lie to Congress, I just knew.” His thing about the Trump Jr. meeting had no information about which meeting was being discussed. The Stormy Daniels payments confirmed that this was an ongoing personal practice unrelated to the campaign, which makes campaign finance tough to prove (makes Donald look like a sleaze, but seems like everyone knew that). I tried reading critical sources, but I didn’t really get much damaging substance, other than general gossip and insults. Am I missing it or obtuse? What did you think were the most damaging statements, and what specifically did they prove?

      • J Mann says:

        Thanks, that makes sense.

        As to damage, I tend to agree. It’s a couple more tacks in the yarn-covered murder-board of suspicious connections that anti-Trump folks are maintaining. I’d say the biggest ones are:

        – If Trump knew that Cohen was trying to keep the Trump Tower negotiations alive in 2016 and Trump lied publicly, that’s not great, but probably not a crime. If Trump knew Cohen was lying under oath and didn’t stop him, that’s worse.

        – Regarding the payoff, did Cohen say that Trump had a practice of paying off mistresses before the campaign started? If so, that’s good for Trump. If not, then it’s at least theoretically possible to argue that Trump should be charged with conduct similar to John Edwards.

        • hls2003 says:

          On the Trump Tower negotiations, I think it very much depends on your priors. If you’re already confident that Russia was a huge deal occupying most of Donald Trump’s headspace, that it was the most important thing in the world to him, then it looks kinda bad. If you assume that Trump is ADD and has a hundred irons in the fire, which he keeps track of poorly, then he might well think “there’s nothing going on in Russia” because there nobody’s building anything or spending any money; Cohen’s comments then just look like the dregs of a failed deal.

          On the payoffs, I haven’t read the whole transcript but I thought I saw some snippet from Cohen saying that he had been doing that whole payoff song-and-dance since at least 2007. Which tells you that Trump is a pig, but it strikes me that’s mostly baked in at this point. (I mean, does even the most ardent Trump supporter really believe “he didn’t sleep with Stormy while married, he just paid her not to falsely pretend that she did”? Which is, I believe, Trump’s official public line.)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I mean, does even the most ardent Trump supporter really believe “he didn’t sleep with Stormy while married, he just paid her not to falsely pretend that she did”? Which is, I believe, Trump’s official public line.

            I don’t know. And not because of the infidelity or whatever, it’s just that the women Trump tends to sleep with have all been much, much higher quality. Models. Playmates. There’s maybe a conquest aspect to it? But there’s no conquest is an over-the-hill porn star.

            I’m not surprised at all that Trump would cheat or screw around, but…with Stormy Daniels?

            Also…and man I really wish I didn’t know these things, but in her book Stormy said Trump’s penis reminded her of Toad from the Mario franchise. But included in the DNC release was Hillary’s opposition research on Trump that claimed he had…I don’t want to talk about this…a 9 inch penis. I don’t know what the truth is, but it seems to me one could ask Trump’s ex-girlfriends if Daniels’ description is a plausible one.

          • Protagoras says:

            The affair is supposed to have happened in 2006, when Daniels was in her mid 20s. She’s never exactly been my type, but she seems to have been quite popular in those days (and Trump’s tastes seem rather different from mine based on the other well known examples).

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ll admit, paying off a pornstar who had his bastard is *exactly* the sort of scandal I’d have expected from a Trump presidency.

          • Deiseach says:

            Gee, thanks, Conrad: I have never had any desire to consider the Presidential Swagger Stick, no matter who the president of which nation.

            Having learned all this, I will make haste to forget it.

            (Good God, if the Clinton campaign thing is true, people really do dig up anything they can use about everything, don’t they?)

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t know what the truth is

            There’s got to be a good analogy to the old ‘three blind men describe an elephant’ bit, but I can’t make it tastefully.

          • hls2003 says:

            There’s a lesson here about being careful what you ask for. Oof. I will concede that @Conrad is probably the closest to a plausible argument against it that I’ve heard – and I kinda wish I hadn’t heard it.

          • J Mann says:

            @hls2003 – Agreed, from what I understand of the Edwards prosecution, the key issue may be whether Trump paid off paramours to keep quiet as a general practice, or whether he only started doing so once he started running for office. If Trump has been doing this for a while, that’s pretty good evidence that the payments had a substantial non-campaign related purpose.

            @Conrad – um, asking for a friend, but is 9 inches considered disqualifying for the Presidency?

          • albatross11 says:

            …and if so, in which direction?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I know you’re joking and all, but “opposition research” doesn’t just mean “things that are bad.” It means you write down absolutely everything you can find, good bad or indifferent about the opposition. Even if it’s something good, maybe it contradicts something else they say and you can use it to discredit them.

            Also, if you’re trying to fathom the presidential penis rules, consider what we know about LBJ.

          • bullseye says:

            I think if Trump had a 9 inch penis we would have heard about it from Trump himself.

          • Garrett says:

            > negotiations

            I think part of the issue, too, is what is meant by negotiations. On one hand, you have the TV negotiations where Trump flies in with an airplane full of lawyers to sit across from Putin and his bud full of lawyers, all trying to figure out how they are going to structure the deal to get maximally rich.

            On the other hand, it could involve Trump’s flunkies faxing over a new proposal to some local real estate development company every few weeks, merely tweaking the numbers a bit and continually getting back a “we’re not interested, and please don’t contact again” message. Is the corporate version of stalking considered a “negotiation”?

    • Deiseach says:

      Given that he appears to be looking at doing jail time, possibly he feels hard done by – you’re the President, you’re in power, you should have protected me from this especially since I did all these favours and dodgy deals on your behalf.

      In a way, he has a point. He’s collateral damage from the Mueller investigation trying to get Trump, and as yet Trump remains un-got. The whole campaign finance thing is a bit forced – the law seems to be rather convoluted (I’ve read explanations that had Trump written the cheque to Daniels directly it would have been fine, but Cohen making the payment and later being repaid by Trump is seen as a contribution to the campaign) and it does seem to be trying to get someone out of Trump’s campaign on a technicality (I can see why Trump wanted a third party to pay off the ex-mistress, since if she had a signed cheque in his own hand on his own account to wave around as proof that would shred any last figment of deniability, but as things turned out she didn’t keep her mouth shut since she was too greedy, or the payoff was too small, to prevent her from shopping the story around anyway. So far as I am aware, she neither spurned the ‘bribe’ from Cohen nor paid back the money).

      The misuse of funds also rests on the allegation that this was paid to influence the outcome of the campaign, which is fair enough as far as it goes, but it also means that the implication or assumption there is that Trump wouldn’t have done this if he hadn’t been running for President, and that doesn’t seem viable since, according to the Wikipedia article, Daniels was trying to sell the story of the affair in 2011 and Cohen (presumably on Trump’s instructions) got the story quashed by threatening to sue the magazine. If Trump got her to sign a non-disclosure agreement after the affair ended, then it seems hard to argue that the hush-money payment was solely because of the presidential campaign.

      Maybe it’s “constant dripping wears away the stone” and the hope is by chipping away his (former) supporters by small charges, eventually the layer of protection on the big charges (COLLUSION WITH RUSSIA) will be worn down and Trump will be brought down.

      But really, ‘rich married guy has affair with person who is quite aware of the quid pro quo she is supposed to provide, then buys her silence afterwards, but ex-mistress still sells off the story because this is the usual end to the career of grandes horizontales who have to peddle scandalous memoirs when they can no longer peddle their flesh’ goes back to Wellington’s “publish and be damned” and even before that, why is anyone still pretending to be shocked, shocked I tell you?

    • baconbits9 says:

      Hes a guy who lied and cheated as best he could and you are surprised that he has personality flaws?

      • J Mann says:

        Fair enough. I confess my model of criminality is highly informed by Columbo, where once Peter Falk laid out the evidence, the criminal would usually just say “OK, you got me,” and leave quietly with the police.

    • dick says:

      I am mystified that anyone is mystified by this. He was doing shady things and got caught, his boss disavowed him and said he’s a scumbag, and now he’s telling anyone that will listen that his old boss is the one who’s a scumbag. The elaborate alternate explanations, secret deals and threats and so forth, sound silly.

      • J Mann says:

        Yeah, I was overthinking it. Everybody’s suggestions were very helpful, and appreciated.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        his boss disavowed him and said he’s a scumbag, and now he’s telling anyone that will listen that his old boss is the one who’s a scumbag

        That’s what got people mystified: what are the odds against both those guys telling the truth at the same time?

        • John Schilling says:

          The odds of their both being scumbags are pretty high, and therefore the odds of their both telling the truth when they say the other guy is a scumbag are pretty high.

          Possibly one or both of them are lying about exactly how the other guy is a scumbag, so you’re going to want to look for consistency, collaboration, and circumstantial evidence to support their respective testimony.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Has anybody seen anything reputable that would shed some light on it?

      Here’s something interesting from Lynne Patton, long-time Trump aide who appeared behind Rep. Mark Meadows at the Cohen hearing (the black woman that the Democrat implied Meadows was a racist for “using her as a prop”):

      3) Many of you may already know that I considered Michael Cohen to be one of my very best friends. Countless people can confirm that we were virtually inseparable during my employment at Trump – and that he is, single-handedly – responsible for introducing me to the Trump family and effectively changing my entire life. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my heart still breaks for him and for his family, with whom I had grown extremely close.

      4) What many of you may not be aware of is the fact that I can personally confirm that the ONLY reason Michael Cohen “turned on” the President of the United States is because Mueller threatened to throw his wife in jail for up to 30 years. Period. She is the co-guarantor of a $20M personal loan that Mueller discovered Michael secured back in 2015 by falsely inflating the value of his taxi medallions – effectively making her part & parcel to the federal charge of “Making False Statements to a Financial Institution,” to which Cohen ultimately plead guilty. This is also the reason why Cohen’s longtime taxi medallion partner, Evgeny “Gene” Freidman, was granted immunity.

      Take of it what you will, but someone much closer to any of these people than anyone here says Cohen turned on Trump because of threats from Mueller.

      • DeWitt says:

        Of course she’s gonna say that. If you want to discredit the man’s testimony and not have to deal with it you don’t say it’s legitimate, it’s all because of threats from those traitors because surely there’s only smoke and no fire here.

        • baconbits9 says:

          She would also say that if its the truth.

          In fact she has far more reason to say that if its the truth than if its a lie. Statements like this are generally unhelpful, especially when the OP says “take that for what you will” implying it isn’t a clear reconciliation.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Why didn’t Michael Flynn’s son get indicted for FARA violations for lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government? Maybe because Flynn Sr. pled guilty? Why isn’t Cohen’s wife indicted if she was a co-conspirator for his crimes? Isn’t this what prosecutors do, and what everybody wants Mueller to do? Squeeze people around Trump to get them to turn on Trump? Why’d they send 29 heavily armed agents to arrest 66 year old Roger Stone in his pajamas? I’m sure that wasn’t an intimidation tactic at all.

          What Patton says seem to fit in with everything else we know about how Mueller operates, so I don’t know why it seems far-fetched to you.

          • I am now imagining the following scenario—how plausible it is I don’t know.

            Trump’s people use this story as a reason not to believe what Cohen says. Mueller’s people deny it.

            Trump’s people challenge Mueller to grant Cohen’s wife immunity on that charge. If they refuse, Trump’s people offer that as evidence that the story is true. If they agree and Cohen doesn’t change his testimony, Trump’s side looks bad. If Cohen does change his testimony, Mueller’s side looks very bad indeed. All legal issues aside, threatening a man’s wife in order to get him to commit perjury on your behalf makes Mueller, in the public eye, a clear villain.

            Logically speaking, of course, it doesn’t have to be perjury—the evidence in my hypothetical is consistent with the threat being used to make Cohen tell the truth. But that isn’t how it would come across.

        • Of course she’s gonna say that.

          On the other hand, there is real world evidence. Was she the co-signer? Is she at risk of serious criminal charges as a result?

          If the answer to those questions is “yes” then Mueller has a very strong threat he can use against Cohen, in which case we have an explanation for Cohen’s behavior. We don’t know if the explanation is true, but it answers all of the arguments of the form “he has already plead guilty, so can’t be acting under threat now.”

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I just finished reading Bob Woodward’s “Fear” which has a lot of inside baseball from Trump’s legal team. An honestly scary amount for what should be confidential, but, eh, that’s life in Trump world.

            John Dowd, Trump’s lawyer for interfacing with Mueller, worked with the strategy of not pissing of Mueller, and even though they could insist on executive privilege (which may or may not have worked), having a good rapport with Mueller was better, and so they simply turned over everything. And Dowd reviewed all the things, and was adamant that they would show no crimes committed by Trump. He insisted there was no shredded documents or deleted emails or erased audiotape or orders to lie or any of the other traditional elements of white-collar crime coverup that usually get people caught.

            But Dowd was insistent that Trump not testify, because Trump couldn’t go 5 minutes without being a fucking liar about something.

            Mueller successfully used the perjury trap on several Trump associates, and Dowd later came to the conclusion that he had been played by Mueller, and figured Mueller’s goal was to get Trump into a perjury trap, too. Dowd was happy for Trump to provide written answers to all questions, but figured that if Trump testified, he would perjure himself, and if he didn’t testify, he would be fine. Because of this, Dowd spent a lot of time trying to talk Trump out of testifying. It was very tough because Trump wanted to do it.

            In all of Woodward’s reporting, there is a lot of ugly shit and incompetence in the White House. (It seems every single person who wasn’t Trump was pissed off at Trump’s weasel words on Charlottesville.) But Russian collusion didn’t come up.

      • CatCube says:

        I think it’s very, very clear that what you’re saying is true, but as Ken White (at Popehat) is fond of pointing out, the reason it’s very clearly true is because this is what the FBI does. To everybody. All the time. This isn’t something they’re doing special for Trump.

        Are they prosecuting some mobster for racketeering? The underling on the stand testifying against him isn’t there because he had a change of heart and now feels bad about the protection racket he was the enforcer for; the FBI (metaphorically) has the witness’s nuts in a vise through criminal charges they can prove against him. While I’m sure generally they’d prefer to get the underling under their foot through major crimes, they’ll cheerfully ask somebody tricksy questions calculated to induce inconsistencies or grab somebody up suddenly and ask questions that will panic them into easily-proven falsehoods then charge them with lying to the government (18 USC 1001), or, as you’ve noted, find a family member they can charge. Either way, they now have a felony to hold over their head to flip them against the person “up the food chain.”

        It’s hard for me to get too worked up about Cohen here, or Trump generally, because he’s made a long career of surrounding himself with shady assholes and has never appeared to be too bothered when they do shady asshole things–one of my major gripes with the Clintons (both Bill- and Hillary-types).

        If you want to argue that all this is bad, that’s fine, but this should be something that’s generally bad, not just because it’s being used against a particular defendant.

        • The problem is that, whether or not it is bad, it produces bad evidence. If Cohen is testifying because of a threat to himself or his wife, there is no reason to believe him.

          The problem doesn’t exist with regard to physical evidence–getting a mobster to tell you where the body is hidden or turn over a recording of the conversation where the murder was planned is just as good if done by threat as if done voluntarily. But it makes testimony unsupported by evidence, which much of Cohen’s is, worthless.

          • theredsheep says:

            Yeah, it’s kind of like the old argument about whether waterboarding works; if you feel like you’re being repeatedly drowned, you’ll confess to killing the Lindbergh baby if that’s what it takes to make it stop. This is obviously less severe, but under such circumstances I could easily see a man throwing out wild accusations to save his neck.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think this is a big issue in a lot of cases–not just high-profile political ones. Ideally, this case makes people think about the problem of coerced confessions from prosecutors’ threats. But then, stuff like the Duke Lacrosse Rape hoax case doesn’t seem to have led many people to recognize that prosecutors can and do railroad innocent people. (If the guys accused of the rape had only had the money for public defenders, they’d still be in prison, and Nifong would probably be a senator.).

        • Clutzy says:

          And as Kevin McCarthy at National Review has repeatedly pointed out, you are leaving out something very important in your equation:

          You use the lying charges as leverage to get the underlying to plea to the conspiracy that you want to charge the big boss with. Which is what Mueller has generally failed to do.

  28. JulieK says:

    People Who Don’t Want to Work
    A factory manager describes his difficulty finding employees, blaming a culture that encourages college as the only respectable life choice (and for those who have studied engineering in college, pushes them towards computing rather than manufacturing).

    • Nick says:

      I saw this yesterday. It’s coming out of Rod’s defense a few days ago of JD Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy a few days ago. It might interest folks to read Dormin111’s review of the book: a big element is that employers in those areas are looking for employees but can’t find anyone reliable.

      • woah77 says:

        Working as an engineer in a manufacturing business, I can see why people don’t want to work in the production side of things. To be honest, I can see why people don’t want to work the engineering side of the manufacturing business either. It’s long hours of trying to get poorly documented machines up and running with managers breathing down your neck to get something shipped that isn’t working properly because marketing is selling checks your product can’t actually cash.

        • LHN says:

          Isn’t that also true for software engineering?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            But the pay is higher for programmers in tech, and there’s usually a lot of additional perks.

          • woah77 says:

            I’m not completely certain, but it’s not my experience that software engineers end on their hands and knees, fiddling with nuts and bolts around sharp pieces of machined steel trying to find the sources of a tiny water leak. Or building brand new cables to try to find a way to run them where noise from the motors doesn’t couple with your signal path.

            I’m certain software engineers work long hours for stuff that marketing sells which wasn’t realistic to deliver in the first place. What is categorically different is that a software engineer isn’t going to look like their hands were maimed by some small wild animal when they finally do go home.

          • Björn says:

            @woah77

            Oh yes, software is exactly like that. You have to petition your supervisors wether you have to meet the specifications in version 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, 2.0, 2.1, with 1.3 being the youngest document. Or you debug a program with 200.000 lines of code that no one ever cleaned up, and you end up finding out the problem is thousand lines of dummy code followed by return 0;.

          • Nick says:

            @Björn

            I think woah’s post is literal, not figurative: of course we’re figuratively on our hands and knees slaving over a complicated machine, but engineers sometimes literally are.

          • woah77 says:

            Yeah, I mean it in a very literal sense. I’m not denying that software is an intensely frustrating occupation, but I can’t recall my father ever coming home from developing software with cuts all over his hands. I do that on a reasonably regularly basis.

        • acymetric says:

          Having come to software as a second career after working in manufacturing (not as an engineer), I’ll confirm pretty much all of this. Your last sentence pretty much applies to everyone in the company other than administrative/financial and sales (although the financial folks certainly have their own set of problems).

          • woah77 says:

            I wasn’t trying to pretend it’s just production or engineering, that’s just who I’m most familiar with (since I belong to the latter and support the former). I don’t yet have tons of experience, but for the past 9 months I’ve seen exactly this: Marketing makes a plan that has no bearing on reality and everyone else puts in long hours to realize their plan. None of the other departments seem to have the authority to tell marketing that they should roll that plan up and smoke it.

          • acymetric says:

            Oh I know, I was just expanding on your post, not criticizing it or trying to contradict it (I came from the logistics side, which was considered part of manufacturing but of course we didn’t actually make anything). If the odds weren’t so astronomically low (and I didn’t already know that other manufacturing based businesses have the same issues) I would wonder if we were talking about the same company!

          • woah77 says:

            I’d be surprised if we were talking about the same company because my company is tiny and makes industrial ultrasound (a fascinating if frustrating technology). But I think that this problem is endemic to western style manufacturing.

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, we were a fairly large company (or at least a mid-sized branch of a very large company) doing industrial thermal processing. I do think your characterization of why people aren’t attracted to manufacturing jobs upthread is pretty accurate (as someone who moved from manufacturing to software), although there are aspects of the manufacturing environment that I definitely miss.

          • woah77 says:

            I will say that beyond a shadow of a doubt, making a machine work properly and behave as it’s designed is a beautiful and satisfying experience. But getting there and to the drum that marketing beats is a frustrating and stressful task that doesn’t surprise me in any way that people find unpopular and undesirable.

        • Deiseach says:

          a big element is that employers in those areas are looking for employees but can’t find anyone reliable

          That seems to be the problem; working-class parents are going to push their kids, if they’re at all academically able, to go for college and the entrée into the middle-class life where it’s “clean indoor work with no heavy lifting” where there are perks and where, if the entire plant gets outsourced to China or India because the cost of making widgets is one-quarter the cost there, then you still have a chance of not being sacked or if made redundant, finding another office/white collar work job.

          This leaves the potential pool of manual workers as those less academically able, and the very worst of those are going to be the ones who, for whatever reason, are not dependable to show up regularly on time, sober, and put in the full day – especially for work that’s hard, dirty, and maybe not paying as well as it used to in the hey-day of unionised labour.

    • ana53294 says:

      It is true that we could boost pay & benefits somewhat, but I would point out that the rate is not known to applicants, and so we should expect a large number of applicants turning us down if it was the payrate holding them back.

      This is what I don’t get. If they are having trouble hiring, why don’t they advertise the rates also? As a job seeker, not knowing how much they pay, and having to go through the interview process in order to learn how much I can get, is annoying.

      I have seen plenty of job offers that state a fork X-Y per hour/month depending on experience/qualifications. So if you already have a job that pays X or less, you may try to apply for that job. Why waste time looking for another job if you are OK with the one you have if you don’t see the perspective of better conditions?

      • Randy M says:

        I guess employers feel that they would lose more in bargaining power through information asymmetry than they would gain from an increased applicant pool or on the other end, wasting less time with candidates who won’t work for the amount offered.
        I recently applied for a job half the country away. I called them up first to find out the salary, because application process is non-trivial and I don’t want to go through all that just to realize it isn’t worth my time, but the HR was quite adamant that they would never reveal that information.

        • ana53294 says:

          This strategy makes sense when you have no trouble recruiting. I get it, it is easier to give a lowball offer when you haven’t stated the rate range from the beginning. It is a strategy that made sense in 2009, but not now.

          Are you applying for that job?

          • Randy M says:

            Already did, but didn’t hear back yet.
            Although after thinking about it, I’m really tempted to start replying to the questions about my current salary in such situations with “I’m sorry, I can’t discuss that until an offer is made. Professional policy.”

            Not quite tempted enough to risk being written off as a snarky asshole, though.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Asking about current salary is increasingly becoming taboo. The last batch of interviews I had, virtually no one asked for it.

            Now, not everyone gets the memo. My friend interviewed for a company that made a job offer conditional on him providing his W-2 and a current paystub. Sooooo, he told them to go fuck themselves. And I do not mean literally, he literally told them to go fuck themselves.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            My friend interviewed for a company that made a job offer conditional on him providing his W-2 and a current paystub.

            I can understand a number of reasons to want to know what someone made previously. I can’t fathom being this strict about it, especially in the current legal environment of more states banning the practice entirely.

            I can only imagine they lose a decent number of potential employees over this.

          • Nornagest says:

            My friend interviewed for a company that made a job offer conditional on him providing his W-2 and a current paystub. Sooooo, he told them to go fuck themselves. And I do not mean literally, he literally told them to go fuck themselves.

            Ten out of ten for style, minus… probably two or three for good sense.

      • Deiseach says:

        I would point out that the rate is not known to applicants

        Yeah, I doubt that. If it’s local applicants for the shop-floor work, they’ll have a reasonable idea of what the going rate is because someone will have a cousin or friend already working there. They’ll also have a good idea of what conditions are like.

        Anytime you see “We could pay more, but we don’t want to, but we have no idea why we can’t get anyone to come work for us or stick around if they do come work for us”, it’s a fairly good bet that they pay as low as they can get away with, working conditions are shitty, and the local pool of applicants know this so they either get strangers who have no idea (and quit as soon as they’re in the door and find out what it’s like) or the worst of the locals who are nearly unemployable (and who quit or get fired).

    • psmith says:

      At the end of last year, the farm was short 50 workers needed to help peel, package and roast garlic. Within two weeks of upping wages in January, applications flooded in. Now the company has a wait-list 150 people long.

      “I knew it would help a little bit, but I had no idea that it would solve our labor problem,” Christopher said.

      crazy how supply and demand do dat

      • EchoChaos says:

        That invisible hand doing its thing.

      • Deiseach says:

        What – you mean – you don’t say – paying people more makes a job attractive?

        Who could possibly have guessed that? Wow, somebody ring up the economics departments of all the major universities and reveal this one weird trick to solve hiring logjams to them!

      • baconbits9 says:

        If you follow the article they had to raise bottom end pay by 30% to get an increase in applications, they went from basically no new applicants to way more than they need with no in between. This is a very lumpy distribution and while its fun to point out supply and demand there is basically no way for them to really guess at what level of pay they would have been able to break to the other side of the elasticity.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          Especially considering the most important factor in whether someone would apply is the rates they could get at other jobs. Since that can also change, there’s no guarantee that any particular number would have been the break point if the market reacted around them. (Though they should have been able to do some market research on their labor pool and found out at least a rough approximation of what employees could get in the area).

          • woah77 says:

            I’d like to mention that while supply and demand is usually charted on a curve, that seems to be a simplified model of how people view their labor’s value. If I (and my peers) think manufacturing work needs to pay me X before it is worth my time, no number below X will gather any interest from me. As soon as it passes X, you’ll suddenly see a lot of interest. I guess what I’m saying is that supply and demand has thresholds in practice (and while I’m certain a theory covers this I’m not educated enough to know about it) and so the fact that it took a certain number to generate any interest and that when it crossed it there was a lot of interest doesn’t surprise me at all.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Agreed. The problem with the simple smooth curve model is that it doesn’t try to estimate why a certain dollar figure matters to an individual. It’s the same reason that stores sell items at $X.99 instead of $[X+1].00.

            In addition the my example of other job’s wages, there’s also considerations such as

            1) Does the wage meet my material needs?
            2) Is the wage high enough to offset a loss in public benefits (including unemployment from a previous job)?
            3) Is the wage insulting to me, since I am clearly worth [$X] and base my self-perception on that number?
            4) Is that wage higher or lower than relevant comparisons (such as my spouse, child, cousin, friend)?

            Most of these numbers are going to result in a pretty solid threshold, below which the job is “not worth it” but above it is highly desirable.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Expecting market supply and demand curves to apply to individual (non-monopolistic) sellers and individual (non-monopsonistic) buyers is a misapplication of the theory.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @ Paul

            I understand your point, but I think you are missing the distinction being made here.

            If the largest employer in an area employs 20%+ of all people (company town kind of arrangement), then their wage becomes a really strong breakpoint. Anyone offering less than that wage would find it pretty difficult to find good employees. Anyone offering more than that wage may suddenly find that they have a TON more applicants than they need.

            This also applies, if less clearly, when the clearing wage between multiple companies in an area floats around a similar wage.

            My post was looking at different arrangements that could also cause a breakpoint in job desirability. For instance, a common experience when a (relative to the market) high paying company lays off workers is that those workers refuse lower-paying work, as unemployment likely pays a similar or even higher rate than being offered elsewhere. A breakpoint of “more than unemployment” would therefore exist for whatever subset of the population is looking at that. (I know a case like this from personal experience, when a local factory shut down a few years back and very few of their employees took jobs until their unemployment was running out).

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Mr. Doolittle

            Your description only works if you assume a static environment, if population is fixed and total employment doesn’t change. However if there are people who are unemployed, out of the labor force, entering the labor force, will move into the area, will move away from the area or if the major employer is cutting jobs, adding jobs, another business is opening/closing etc then it falls apart. You have to introduce all kinds of frictions to make it so that small shifts don’t impact small portions of the workforce/potential workforce.

            If you go back to the original article you can see that the major issue reported is housing costs. A $13 wage was enough to convince people to add a long commute from lower cost of living areas, but there appears to be an inability to add lower cost of living housing without the commute.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @baconbits

            I’m not seeing a point of disagreement here. It looks like you are adding back in more complexity that was removed for the sake of clarity. Yes, in real application there are rarely single huge employers that provide a static base wage for an area. In practice, there are going to be people applying at every variation and for a variety of reasons. You can’t really predict that a semi-retired person decides they just want something to do and will work for $7.25. Or the SAHM wants to earn a little part time money, or the million variations that exist in a complex economy. This is more true the larger the relevant population base becomes, such that a city will likely have a pretty steady supply and demand curve between all businesses. That said, the individual experience of each employer may be breakpoints where offering $12.50 is pulling nobody [read: few people, mostly on the margins], but suddenly $13 pulls large numbers. Maybe there’s a local business paying $12 where switching jobs isn’t worth it for <$0.50, but $1 is.

            Consider the example in the article. $13 is enough to bring people from out of area. Presumably there is a higher number that allows people to live more locally. Inbetween those numbers is a gulf where raising rates will have a very modest impact on additional applicants. Then, suddenly, the breakpoint of "can hire local labor" means a whole new group of people start applying. On the margins, there are people who will apply at $13.50 from out of area that would not at $13, but that's a relatively small number compared to a whole new region opening up.

            If wages keep going up, there's another breakpoint where the company decides that it's too expensive and they move the company. That's also not a smooth transition, because you can't just partly move a production floor.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Mr. Doolittle

            My objection is that you have phrased it as if the frictions are based on the employer or employee, whereas I see the frictions as being externally imposed (ie building regulations/restrictions) and that the lumpiness of curves are not factors based on monopoly/monopsomy.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Garlic? This article reads more like the onion;

        Agribusiness shocked to discover that labor supply curves are upward sloping.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I hate to be that guy, but this is a simplification of a complex problem. The article itself states that the industry has raised its wages by something like 25%, and it still having trouble staffing. What are your predictions for the labor force if they increase by another 25%? 5%? What would have been your predictions if they had NOT increased their wages by 25%?

        You’re also comparing unskilled wage labor to skilled wage labor as described in the article. You can pay someone to pick and roast garlic, and you can attract more workers by raising wages, but you can’t just increase the short-run supply of skilled workers by increasing wages. You need an industry pipeline. Just blindly raising the wage and ignoring good sourcing, mentoring, retention, and talent management practices is bad management and will screw you over. At an industry level, you could end up with a glut of skilled employees in 10-15 years since everyone will try getting the new certifications, which you will not be able to take advantage of since you will be stuck with an expensive legacy work force. You will then have your lunch eaten by the new start-up that hires the cheap young employees, or big companies that find creative ways to shed their legacy work force and hire cheap new employees.

    • Walter says:

      This is mostly absent in the coding industry, but my siblings tell me it is omnipresent in basically everything else.

      I have personally seen 2 (!!) people finally get jobs after long periods unemployed and simply…not go? One of them got drunk the night before his first day at a gas station and missed his first shift, presumed that he’d been fired and never contacted them again. The other simply retired to her room and didn’t come out for a week, then resumed her life as though nothing had happened.

    • I wonder if the fear of automation could be lowering jobs, even if it’s not directly doing so yet. I know people who talk about certain jobs in terms of it not being a good job because they don’t know how long it will last before robots take it, even if that’s not the reality of current automation. The automation meme has been spreading for some years now.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        I think that has been one of the issues with long haul trucking. It takes time to get a CDL (investment) and it’s an unpleasant job. But those things have been true for quite some time without trucking being so hard to fill as it is now. Walmart is offering $90,000/year for truckers.

        The only theories that make sense to me are 1) society thinks that the demands of trucking are less tenable than they used to be (higher family importance, maintaining community engagement, maintaining health?) or 2) fear of long term ability to keep working, (=automation?).

        Mapping out the effects of #1 seem quite difficult, but I can’t at all rule them out. #2 certainly seems real, and is more tangible to describe why there has been a recent difficulty in filling these positions.

        • J Mann says:

          Presumably, with every month that goes by, we’re a month closer to self driving trucks. (Sometimes more, sometimes less of course, as we get new information on tech and regulatory development). As result, the CDL seems like a lot better investment 5 years ago than 5 years from now.

        • SamChevre says:

          Informally, I hear that actual realized trucker pay has gone down significantly with the much tighter 2014 hour rules. So posted rates keep going up, but actual pay hasn’t gotten back up because the miles have gone down so sharply. (Anecdotally, the hours cut weekly mileage for an aggressive driver by 20%, which cuts pay for an OO by about 30%.)

        • Garrett says:

          A quick search online shows that it’s 160+ hours of training to get the certification, and there are evening and weekend classes available which take as little as 4 weeks.
          Granted, there’s some cost associated with that. But if someone is currently working as a gas station attendant and wants a boost, it doesn’t look to be that difficult. Sure, the job might not be around for a long time, but it’s a pretty significant bump for the short term, at least.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Right, that’s why I’m thinking something changed in the calculus for people who might otherwise have joined that career. #1 is a real possibility, but I’m wary of just accepting that without some further proof.

            Sam’s contribution that because of the loss of workable hours the job pays less (and actually sucks more, because they can’t keep driving=more time away from home) does seem plausible as well, though it would still be a massive upgrade from a gas station attendant.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        For engineering? No way. The point at which you automate plant engineering and maintenance is the point where we have reached singularity. Even if you automate the plant more, you still need MORE engineers and maintenance laborers because you are more reliant on your capital. Also, many plants typically use legacy machines from decades ago.

        For production jobs, also no. Our experience is much like the experience in the article, production staff employees are heavily Hispanic, to the extent that Spanish is an extremely in-demand skill for supervisors (quite a number of people cannot communicate fluently in English). These are not the kinds of people that have options to find other, non-automatable jobs.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I think the first problem is not recognizing that we in a tight labor market, particularly for the kind of skilled labor that the manager wants. He is talking about relatively skilled engineering/maintenance positions*, and particularly that his engineers need to know how to actually problem-solve real machines, not just play around on auto-cad. Those kinds of employees are going to be tough to get unless we enter a full-blown Depression. We’ve been at 5% or less unemployment since 2016, the kinds of people he wants are the kinds that have rates closer to 2 or 3%.

      And, yeah, if you want “problem-solving,” you won’t get that from a fresh college graduate. You need to do what big companies do, which is hire recent college graduates for more than they are worth, and show them the ropes so they can do business the way you want them to do business. Sorry, dems the breaks.

      So, partly, this employer is complaining that he wants the best, and he cannot get the best. Join the club, man. As for production employees, I sort of agree, you can pay quite handsome wages and it is frustrating that so few natural Americans are interested in the work, particularly since production work is not extremely difficult. THIS guy is probably exaggerating: platinum plans for $80 a month? Individual coverage for free? Yeah, my bullshit meter is going off. Platinum family plans are north of $25,000 per year, that’s a huge sum of money to just give to someone, and not even my high-skilled union friends have coverage plans like that.

      FWIW, we are in a similar situation. Midwest city, suburb, situated next to good transportation, above-market wages. We do not have trouble staffing the production floor, although the employees aren’t particularly good, and 3rd shift is always a bit of a struggle. We currently have openings in salaried positions, but that’s because salaried college graduates are not interested in working in a factory when they could be working in downtown Chicago with all the perks that said companies give. We do have struggles in engineering, but that seems specific to management rather than wage or willingness to work.

      *as an aside, I have limited plant experience. From what I hear from plant engineers, combining engineering/maintenance into a single position is a major red flag. They believe that the two entities are entirely separate and combining the two inevitably leads to assigning engineering staff to maintenance tasks

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I am very skeptical of articles like this. In my experience, the usual “can’t find anyone to do this” schtick usually turns out to they are looking for an experienced person in some unique field, they don’t want to pay more than unskilled wages for it, and is is only a temporary need anyway, so they’ll lay off the guy next year. The linked article doesn’t give enough details to determine how much of this is going on. I certainly remember reading similar articles back when I was a 20 something and would take any of these jobs if they would’ve hired me.

      But of course a confounding factor is the tight job market, so there might actually be jobs out there that are available to those with no experience that aren’t being snatched up because most everyone already has a job. Of course even now, if they offered $25/hour with no experience, they’re going to get interest.

    • broblawsky says:

      The last company I worked for had both American and Chinese contract manufacturers; the Chinese manufacturers worked out much better than the American ones due to the superior availability of tooling engineers in China (enabling the rapid assembly and modification of production lines) rather than for anything related to labor costs. Tooling engineering does not pay well in the US; this is probably the biggest reason why our manufacturing has fallen behind the expected growth curve.

      • Deiseach says:

        Tooling engineering does not pay well in the US

        Is this a chicken-and-egg problem? “Well, might as well not pay more for an American since our Chinese guy can do it for us cheaper/faster”, so wages don’t grow, so Americans don’t go into tooling engineering since that’s less desirable by comparison with other jobs, so then you have to use a Chinese guy because you can’t get the American, so “well might as well not pay more for an American since our Chinese guy can do it for us cheaper/faster”?

  29. johan_larson says:

    Let’s suppose the US decided it had had enough of the rest of the world’s messes, and closed its borders to all travel and trade. The US is a big place with a lot of people and natural resources, so it could probably maintain something like its present standard of living without trade. But in what area of life would it be hardest to maintain current levels of service and consumption?

    • dndnrsn says:

      The arts would definitely suffer. Some sports would see the talent go way down. I question your statement that the US could maintain something like its present standard of living without trade: even the proponents of autarky tend not to claim that.

      • Randy M says:

        Sports is usually competition between two people or teams. I suspect the games would be equally exciting between the best teams made of current US citizens as the best teams drawn from all potential citizens, even if the level of athleticism in the latter case was slightly higher on some objective scale.

        Not sure that arts are really all that different, either.

        I respect arguments for trade based on lowering the cost of goods, but when you discuss such subjective fields, it seems significantly weaker.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Why do people prefer to watch major league over minor league sports? Two, say, 10/10 boxers boxing, is a very different thing to watch than two 5/10. Etc. It would hurt some sports more than others.

          The economic impact is of course greater and more quantifiable, but I know less about economics than I do about, say, MMA. MMA would suck if America was walled off from the rest of the world. Can’t we think about the children cage fights?

          • Randy M says:

            Why do people prefer to watch major league over minor league sports?

            I’d wager marketing has a lot to do with it.

            After all, people do turn out in droves to college football. Or high school football if there’s no local college or pro team.

            I’m not sure what 10/10 is a measurement of in boxing, but I have a hard time believing you can’t find 80th or 90th percentile in strength and stamina in the US to at least get consistently 8/10 boxers.

            Plus there’s the hedonic treadmill. People like seeing champs now, but that doesn’t mean the enjoyed watching local fights less before.

          • psmith says:

            Two, say, 10/10 boxers boxing, is a very different thing to watch than two 5/10.

            This is at best tangentially related to the main topic, but Sergio de la Pava talks about this a bit in his excellent piece “A Day’s Sail“:

            If we’re to then talk about greatness in relation to this pursuit we’ll have to make a perhaps counterintuitive distinction right at the outset. Bach, Gould, Tolstoy, Woolf, are giants so we rightly turn to their work to experience greatness in their fields. Not generally so in boxing. A partial list of the pursuit’s giants is something like Louis, Robinson, Ali, Duran, and Armstrong. All brilliant, all have signature moments, but with the exception of Ali’s “Thrilla in Manila” none can match moments produced by far lesser personages. The reason is that two individuals in a boxing ring are fighting, and greatness there seems less a product of skill and talent than of concepts like will and tenacity—precisely the attributes you’ll need, not skillful intelligence, if diagnosed with cancer for example.

            Two recent examples are shown to the right. On May 18, 2002, Arturo Gatti fought Micky Ward in a ten-round nontitle bout. If that means something to you now, realize that at the time it meant very little beyond the promise of an entertaining scrap. Gatti was thirty years old with four losses and Ward was thirty-six with eleven. That’s where the promise came in, because truth is every professional boxer (about twenty thousand worldwide) looks astounding on a heavy bag. To paraphrase Bruce Lee though, bags don’t hit back.

            See, the pursuit’s dirty little secret is that its truly elite practitioners simply don’t get hit cleanly that often. By cleanly I mean the kind of cinematically flush, head-snapping bombs someone like Rocky Balboa specializes in absorbing.2 The most technically proficient boxer of our lifetime, Floyd Mayweather Jr., has fought professionally forty-one times and has had that happen to him maybe thrice. So if you want to see that kind of greatness go to his fights because he’s the Tolstoy of boxing and you will see highest-level, once-in-a-lifetime, skill. But if you want to see another kind of greatness you need to go down at least one level, maybe two, and that’s the level where Gatti–Ward took place, a level where fighters do get hit cleanly in something at least approaching Hollywood etc., and, because getting hit hard by another person who is good at hitting is no fun, a level where we feel we learn something visceral about the people involved.3

          • edmundgennings says:

            This is sport and person dependent but I like a good number of people actually prefer to watch 8/10 teams play 8/10 teams in football. College football is far more interesting for me to watch than professional football even when I do not know the teams. I would even prefer watching highschool football to professional.

          • dndnrsn says:

            A slobberknocker or a low-rent baseball game where the fielding is bad can be exciting, sure. But there’s a market for seeing people who are really good at what they do perform.

            Local baseball suffered significantly when cars made it possible for Americans more easily to get to major league games, when the proliferation of radios and TVs made it easier to watch those games from home, etc. People clearly prefer to watch major league games, and if that’s just because of marketing, well, it’s still their preference. High school and university football are a different thing, but isn’t the “lifespan” of a football player pretty short? How much do their skills advance past a certain point? I don’t know much about football, gotta say.

            As for boxing, if it’s American-only, you don’t get Ward-Gatti, Gatti being Italian-Canadian. Neither Gatti nor Ward are in the GOAT running, but they weren’t bums either. Without international talent to draw from, the talent pool gets a lot smaller.

            (And I’m an MMA fan, anyway – I don’t think anyone would be able to be as good at everything in MMA as Mayweather or whoever is in boxing, with the result that it’s always going to be more interesting to watch.)

          • Dack says:

            Sports and arts are something where (most) people are going to gravitate to the highest proficiency performances that they have available to them.

            So if borders were closed, I would expect the lower/minor league sports (or rather, the same league with minor league talent) to soak up about about the same amount of demand as the current pro league. Though it is worth noting that while some sports import a lot of talent (NHL) there are sports that are almost all domestic players (NFL).

            On a similar note, people of not very many generations ago were super excited to have any kind of music at all. (Break out that fiddle, grandpa!)

          • dndnrsn says:

            There’s next to no American football outside the US, so I’m not that surprised about the NFL.

          • John Schilling says:

            The NFL is all of 2.6% foreign-born, and football is still the most popular spectator sport in the United States. Major-league baseball is 27%. Basketball, 29% but was below 10% through 2000 and only two of ESPN’s current top-ten rated players are foreign-born.

            The sports Americans like to watch, are played mostly by Americans and do not attract a great deal of foreign talent. I am extremely skeptical of the claim that the quality would go “way down” if the borders were closed.

          • Clutzy says:

            I’ve always been a proponent of the theory that if we killed the 50 best NBA players and wiped everyone’s memories of that killing people would probably like the league more.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @John Schilling

            A talent pool losing a quarter of its members seems like a major hit to me. Additionally, do those numbers count Puerto Rico as part of the US, and Puerto Rican players as Americans? I’m not sure how Puerto Rico is/should be counted.

          • Dack says:

            Additionally, do those numbers count Puerto Rico as part of the US, and Puerto Rican players as Americans? I’m not sure how Puerto Rico is/should be counted.

            Umm…what else could you even possibly count them as?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Puerto Ricans? I’m not versed on how exactly the whole Puerto Rican situation works, which is the reason I asked the question in the first place. They’re American citizens, but for all I know some baseball writer person might have counted them as “foreign” – I don’t know.

          • BBA says:

            Colonies/overseas territories/etc. are sometimes considered their own countries for sports purposes. Puerto Rico fields its own teams for the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Pokemon.

    • 10240 says:

      It certainly couldn’t maintain its present standard of living, at least on average: if there were no gains from trade, there would be no trade. That is, GDP per capita would decrease; income distribution would change, so it’s possible that some classes/professions would suffer less drop than others.

      Areas that would be the most affected include
      — Anything where global economies of scale are the most important: e.g. microchips and other high tech where most of the cost is design and manufacturing machinery, and which are then sold to the entire world; pharmaceuticals.
      — Any manufacturing that depends on a lot of low skill labor that can be outsourced.

      • Well... says:

        Exactly. I, too, reject the original premise.

        • johan_larson says:

          Could you be a little more specific? How much hardship are you expecting because of the move to autarchy? A 25% drop in GDP is the equivalent of turning back the clock to 1997, a world of cars, planes, air conditioning, and even the internet and cell phones, but without smartphones or internet video. But I’m willing to call the days of the later Clinton administration something like the present standard of living in the US. Are you expecting greater hardship than that?