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Links 3/19: Linkguini

The Obama Presidential Library is starting to come together. It’s very modern-looking, but not in a bad way. Related: did you know that Dan Quayle has the only (?) unofficial vice-presidential library? And that Jefferson Davis has a presidential library of his own? (albeit sponsored by Mississippi, not the US)

Ben Landau-Taylor is a stirrup denialist.

How did the descendants of the Mayan Indians end up in the Eastern Orthodox Church?

The Center for Effective Altruism has been offering monthly prizes for the best posts on effective altruism. See the November, December, and January winners.

Scientist Mark Edwards became a hero when he first discovered and exposed toxic levels of lead in Flint, Michigan. For the past few years, he’s been saying that the water is better now and the crisis is over, “and that turned him from a hero into a pariah”.

Does Parental Quality Matter? Study using three sources of parental variation that are mostly immune to genetic confounding find that “the strong parent-child correlation in education is largely causal”. For example, “the parent-child correlation in education is stronger with the parent that spends more time with the child”.

Although most big cities have many “sister cities”, Paris and Rome both have legally enshrined sister city monogamy, because “only Paris is worthy of Rome; only Rome is worthy of Paris”.

80,000 Hours’ advice on going into a career in AI policy. “If you’re a thoughtful American interested in developing expertise and technical abilities in the domain of AI policy, then this may be one of your highest impact options, particularly if you have been to or can get into a top grad school in law, policy, international relations or machine learning.”

I’ve written before about how people underestimate the interpersonal differences in visual imagination, but I was surprised by this poll which apparently found that many people imagine in black-and-white, in outlines, or just in faded pastel colors. Huh? For me a shape as simple as a red star would be near-perfect (though it feels somehow insubstantial, or perhaps strobing in and out at a very fast rate.)

Almost a third of the world’s Bitcoin mining happens in a rural area of Washington State where a bunch of hydroelectric dams make electricity extra-cheap. How crypto is transforming the Mid-Columbia Basin.

Far-right anti-Muslim Dutch politician converts to Islam. Says he tried to write a book proving Islam was bad, but the research went the opposite way he expected. Maybe the most impressive example of open-mindedness of all time – but some followers are still holding out hope it’s just a weird stunt.

Because everyone is terrible and everything sucks forever, some people are trying to factory-farm octopuses.

Before and after pictures of tech leaders like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Sergey Brin suggest they’re taking supplemental testosterone. And though it may help them keep looking young, Palladium points out that there might be other effects from having some of our most powerful businessmen on a hormone that increases risk-taking and ambition. They ask whether the new availability of testosterone supplements is prolonging Silicon Valley businessmen’s “brash entrepreneur” phase well past the point where they would normally become mature respectable elders. But it also hints at an almost opposite take: average testosterone levels have been falling for decades, so at this point these businessmen would be the only “normal” (by 1950s standards) men out there, and everyone else would be unprecedently risk-averse and boring. Paging Peter Thiel and everyone else who takes about how things “just worked better” in Eisenhower’s day.

New study: ID laws have not stopped any voter fraud, but they also haven’t disenfranchised anyone or had disproportionate race-based effects. They just do nothing and don’t matter. (EDIT: Here’s another study that does find disenfranchisement)

A parable on the difficulty of science: P. Apterus is a strikingly-colored insect. Researchers who studied them successfully in Europe moved to Harvard and found their insects failed to metamorphisize properly. Eventually they tracked this to the paper towels lining their cage; in the US, these are made with wood from a species of fir with anti-insect hormones that survive the paper-making process.

Reason: Against global poverty decline denialism.

Also from Reason: Celebrate, Don’t Mourn, The End Of What’s Always Been A Bad Plan (on California high-speed rail). Related: before the end, even the politician behind the rail initiative denounced it as “almost a crime”. And Cato presents the generalized case against trains. “The bottom line is that states and cities should not even ask whether urban or intercity passenger rail projects are feasible. I can tell you at the start that they are not: unless you are in Tokyo or Hong Kong, buses, cars, and planes are always superior to passenger rail.” Interested to hear the local transit geeks’ opinion on this.

Related (I am lying, it’s not really related at all): the metaphysics of public transit.

In happier California-canceling-things news, the University of California has declined to renew its Danegeld subscription to academic journal rent-seeker publisher Elsevier. This is a bold move which has the chance to start a virtuous feedback loop, but it’s going to be a big hassle for California academics who are no longer able to access a lot of the journals in their fields (hopefully they all know how to use sci-hub).

It’s fun to beat up on PETA, but first at least read PETA’s argument that some of the worst stories about them are deliberately spread by meat industry lobby groups.

Related: Ozy is offering a $500 bounty for a good guide on how to best switch from factory-farmed fish to more animal-friendly wild-caught fish.

This letter from the New York State budget director has gone viral; it describes how terrible a choice rejecting Amazon’s HQ was for New York’s finances. I’m sure the budget director is right that the economic benefits Amazon would have brought to the state were much greater than the subsidies necessary to lure them there, but he misses the point: subsidizing them is still defecting against other states in a negative-sum way. Doing it is the economically correct choice in the same way that paying Danegeld or bribing corrupt politicians is the economically correct choice, and refusing to do so is a self-sacrificing but morally admirable step towards a better world (if done in a way that encourages other states to participate in the new equilibrium).

Did you know: a terrorist group made up of Holocaust survivors vowed to kill six million Germans in revenge for Nazi atrocities, but were caught and arrested after only non-fatally poisoning two thousand.

China’s SesameCredit social monitoring system, widely portrayed as dystopian, has an 80% approval rate in China (vs. 19% neutral and 1% disapproval). The researchers admit that although all data is confidential and they are not affiliated with the Chinese government, their participants might not believe that confidently enough to answer honestly.

I know how much you guys love attacking EAs for “pathological altruism” or whatever terms you’re using nowadays, so here’s an article where rationalist community member John Beshir describes his experience getting malaria on purpose to help researchers test a vaccine.

New Orleans has reduced its homeless population by 90% (albeit after a post-Katrina high). Their secret? Giving them homes.

The orchestra study – one of the most famous studies proving gender discrimination, cited over a thousand times – doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny (and here’s a r/TheMotte reader independently noticing the same thing). And another famous study proving gender discrimination in tech, recently cited in the New York Times, appears not to actually exist. I would call this a new low, but it really isn’t, it’s pretty par for the course. Meanwhile, there’s a mountain of good evidence showing gender discrimination is not a major driver of gender imbalance in tech, and it might as well be a local election in Timbuktu for all the media coverage it gets.

The Stranger‘s list of errors and corrections for 2018 (comedy).

Entendrepreneur (which may have named itself) is a really really neat online pun and portmanteau generator.

A new generation of nuclear energy startups are pushing liquid molten salt reactors, scalable safe nuclear reactors that don’t produce waste and can’t melt down. Potential as a green energy solution is obvious. But what happened to the hype around thorium five years ago?

Did you know there’s now a working Ebola vaccine?

You probably knew that the “wasabi” around today mostly isn’t real wasabi, but did you know the same is true of soy sauce? This BBC feature on the attempt to save real soy sauce from extinction is annoyingly-designed but very good. It’s also very Japanese: “To lock the planks into place, Fujii Seiokesho’s craftsmen told Yamamoto not to use glue, but bamboo. After talking to a neighbour, Yamamoto learned that his grandfather had planted a bamboo grove decades earlier for exactly that reason, knowing that someone in the family would one day need to build more barrels.” Real soy sauce from this guy’s company is apparently available on Amazon; I’m going to get some and try it and report back.

Some evidence against the theory that missing fathers cause earlier menarche.

Before you point to sugar as the Lone Dietary Villain, keep in mind that the British may eat less sugar today than they did in 1913, when obesity was very rare.

John Nerst of EverythingStudies’ political compass.

We’ve reached max environmental determinism! We’re reaching levels of environmental determinism that shouldn’t even be possible! Does Positive Thinking In Pregnancy Boost Children’s Math Skills?

This article on The Takeover Of The American Mind is a pretty standard-issue anti-SJW piece, but I’m linking it for the second graph, which shows SJWness of Google searches by state. The leaders are Rhode Island, Vermont, Maryland, Connecticut, and Massachussets – which (aside from Maryland) I take as evidence for the neo-Puritan hypothesis.

I wonder how things are going in the alternate universe where Donald Trump ended up as First Lady of Venezuela.

New study uses genetics to determine that the correlation between brain size and intelligence is causal.

r/TheMotte on the Cardinal George Pell case.

I know it’s off-brand of me to like this, but these colorful scarves representing local climates over time are really pretty and an interesting teaching aid on climate change.

Know Your GABA Receptor Subunits. Cannot 100% vouch that this is all true, but on a quick skim it looks basically right to me, and a lot more comprehensible than anything else I’ve read on the subject.

Bryan Caplan has won yet another bet, this one on US vs. EU unemployment.

Did you know: The first cellular automaton was given by the Archangel Uriel to John Dee in the 1500s, and was only fully decoded by Jim Reeds (note nominative determinism, especially if Jim = Gym = γυμνός!) in 1996.

Sarah Constantin, who used to work in the personalized medicine industry, describes which parts of it she’s disillusioned with, and which parts still might work.

For a fun time, compare Nathan Robinson’s review of Ray Dalio’s Principles with Peter McCluskey’s review of the same book. It’s less that they disagree on any particular point and more that they have totally different personalities and totally different ideas about what a book review is supposed to do.

This 17th century anti-Dutch pamphlet really goes all in on the subtitles, subsubtitles, and subsubsubtitles. Also, note the figure on the left; possible origin story for the Trump family?

Know your crosses!

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560 Responses to Links 3/19: Linkguini

  1. Brett says:

    Interested to hear the local transit geeks’ opinion on this.

    I’m skeptical. “Cars, buses, and planes” have quite a fair amount of subsidized infrastructure as well for their use, so when you factor that in I’m not sure how it matches up. I could believe that it’s much easier to expand bus or air service these days than to build new rail lines in the US.

    New Orleans has reduced its homeless population by 90% (albeit after a post-Katrina high). Their secret? Giving them homes.

    I can believe it. Utah bragged for a while that they had a “housing first” policy that got long-term chronic homeless numbers way down, although I’ve read criticisms of it arguing that they simply changed the definition of the problem rather than solving it.

    On a similar note, I found an excellent article in a home paper (the Deseret News) about a residential hotel (i.e. people being able to live in one-room places with common bath/kitchen facilities). Apparently they used to be extremely common in cities and housed not just many poor people, but much better off folks as well (Calvin Coolidge and his wife stayed in one until he became a governor).

    Of course, like many forms of housing that were available for poor folk, they got restricted mostly out of existence after the early 20th century by zoning and city regulatory codes.

    A new generation of nuclear energy startups are pushing liquid molten salt reactors, scalable safe nuclear reactors that don’t produce waste and can’t melt down. Potential as a green energy solution is obvious. But what happened to the hype around thorium five years ago?

    Thorium power is a lot more of an “unknown” in terms of operation and cost, and apparently there were concerns that it could be a “dual use” technology that would enable nuclear weapon capability.

    I hope the molten salt reactors pan out, although as with anything nuclear the regulatory environment for it is really hard.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Agree that it isn’t really valid to compare the costs of cars and rail without taking into account the vast amount of money that has been spent/will need to be spent on building and maintaining roads. Most cities have free or subsidized parking in downtown areas or near major attractions, or require businesses to supply X amount of parking, which is effectively a subsidy for cars. Whole cities and regions are configured around cars being the primary mode of transportation.

      • Clutzy says:

        The cato article quite clearly took into account the cost of maintaining and building roads.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          You mean, this part?

          By comparison, airlines require very little infrastructure and while highway infrastructure is relatively inexpensive: for the cost of one mile of high-speed rail, California could build eight to ten miles of four-lane freeway.

          That lacks a comparison of how many people can fit on that much highway at a time, particularly during rush hour.

          A lot of rail projects are silly and overpriced political boondoggles. But in the US especially we have a lot of cities designed around cars, and only now after all the roads have been built with subsidies do we start holding public infrastructure to any sort of standards.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, since we’re talking about high-speed rail between major metro areas here, rush-hour traffic isn’t the right point of comparison — there aren’t going to be many people signing up for a two-hour-and-thirty-minute, hundred-dollar daily commute between downtown SF and downtown LA. That’s more the kind of thing you do for a weekend vacation or a short business trip at the very least. And there’s usually no significant congestion on I-5, so we’re not bottlenecking on capacity.

            A high-speed rail line between, say, San Jose and San Francisco would be a much easier sell on capacity grounds (by my calculations it’d add as much capacity as another six-lane highway). Unfortunately, though, Peninsula land costs arbitrarily more than artichoke farms near Bakersfield, and its current owners are infinitely more NIMBY.

          • Clutzy says:

            We have cities designed around cars because cars are really good at moving people and people want to move. On demand.

            As you can see in this reason analysis of busses, they aren’t all that energy efficient compared to cars except at peak hours on certain routes (namely the small part of the time they are bringing people from right outside a business center (like the Loop in Chicago) into it, or out of it. Thus, even an energy efficient bussing idea (or light rail which is largely the same) would utilize massive parking lots just outside business centers that people drive to, then they catch a train or bus into the loop/Manhattan.

            This tweetstorm citing the article makes the limitations of transit even more clear. And the reality of Europe being more “transit friendly” isn’t really about transit, its about the cities being more walking friendly. And one thing I think most people forget about the US vs. Europe is the extremely temperate climate in Europe which helps the walking/biking culture. Paris and London are much nicer this time of year than Chicago & Boston, despite being much higher in latitude. Instinctively people remember the maps from their Middle School days and think, “dang those people must be freezing if I am”, but really they are probably having a day like a Californian.

            So sure, maybe LA and SoCal are a big missed opportunity for rail and public transit in America, but its extremely stupid to try and generalize from one locality.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            We have cities designed around cars because cars are really good at moving people and people want to move. On demand.

            Only cars are really fucking bad at moving people. They’re very good at moving a single person in isolation, but generalize into traffic jams and neverending search for parking space. We have cities designed around them because… Moloch, basically.

            even an energy efficient bussing idea (or light rail which is largely the same) would utilize massive parking lots just outside business centers that people drive to, then they catch a train or bus into the loop/Manhattan

            I don’t think you’re in a disagreement with public transport proponents here regarding park and ride facilities.
            Now, for exurban commuting… Commuter in a car may not be less energy efficient than a couple in a late-evening bus. But the “inefficient” late-evening bus gives the commuters exactly the certainty that they’ll always be able to get home that allows them to ditch the car entirely (and save shitloads of money as a bonus). The answer to that Reason article that complains that estimations are based on increased bus and decreased car usage? Yes, obviously, that’s the fucking point. Public transit sees increased patronage once it’s proven to actually work.

            the reality of Europe being more “transit friendly” isn’t really about transit, its about the cities being more walking friendly

            Here’s the thing, there is one and only one simple method to make the cities walking friendly, and it’s throwing away cars.

            Paris and London are much nicer this time of year than Chicago & Boston

            Paris and London are hardly even role models when it comes to city transport. Try Copenhagen, the biking mecca, or Oslo, which recently made its entire city center essentially car-free. Both with weather directly comparable to that of the northern USA.

          • JulieK says:

            Trains and buses are good at moving a single, unencumbered person. Where a car really shines is when the person also has a bunch of bags of groceries, or a couple of kids plus a baby in a stroller. (I don’t have a car, so I’ve used buses in those circumstances plenty of times.)

          • eccdogg says:

            @Hoopdawg

            Try Copenhagen, the biking mecca, or Oslo, which recently made its entire city center essentially car-free. Both with weather directly comparable to that of the northern USA.

            Those climates are not really comparable.

            Chicago is colder than Oslo Mean Jan temp of -4.0 C vs -2.9C and also much more prone to cold snaps record low -32C vs -26 C for Oslo. But it is also way hotter than Oslo in the summer. Mean Jul temp 24.4 C vs 17.7C for Oslo. And again Chicago much more prone to heat waves record high in Chicago 43C Oslo 34.6C

            Same goes for Boston vs Copenhagen

            January Boston Mean -1.7C vs Copenhagen 1.4 C
            All Time Low -25C vs -26C (so this is close)

            Jul Mean Boston 23C Copenhagen 14.3C
            Alltime High 40C vs 33C

            Europe really does have a much more favorable climate for biking/walking. For any given winter mean the summer mean will be much cooler and generally the temperature variance will be lower in any given month.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Only cars are really fucking bad at moving people. They’re very good at moving a single person in isolation, but generalize into traffic jams and neverending search for parking space. We have cities designed around them because… Moloch, basically.

            Traffic jams and never-ending searches for parking are their main failure mode. They’re still really good at moving people. NYC has by far the highest public transit share of any metropolitan area in the US… and the longest (by time) commutes, by far. And commutes are where public transit is the best compared to cars — lots of individual people going to fixed locations at fixed times, usually unencumbered.

            Now, for exurban commuting… Commuter in a car may not be less energy efficient than a couple in a late-evening bus. But the “inefficient” late-evening bus gives the commuters exactly the certainty that they’ll always be able to get home that allows them to ditch the car entirely

            Yes. But all those inefficient mostly-empty buses (and deadheading runs, etc) bring down the energy efficiency of commuter bus systems to that of cars, or below, overall.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            I think we have cities designed around cars for a lot of idiosyncratic reasons rather than because cars are really that amazing at moving people around. Most of my travel is unencumbered, or lightly encumbered. The cases when I actually need the carrying capacity of my car are not what justifies my having it; I have it because the city I live in is so spread out without meaningful mass transit. But I’ve visited and lived in cities, even in the US, with much better mass transit.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Most of my travel is unencumbered, or lightly encumbered.

            ie: You don’t have kids.

            Any mass transit system which does not account for the encumbrance of 3 small children is not a sustainable system, from the standpoint of society.

          • Clutzy says:

            Jask does have a really good point. A lot of public transit enthusiasm does seem to come from the stereotypical childless/few children and a nanny demographics.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            What exactly prevents children from being taken onto a train? It’s not like there are no costs to using a car (you need a car seat, for example).

            edit: nybbler, do you have more specific break down? Because I suspect the longest commutes are all the people driving into the city from the suburbs, causing “rush hour” to last about 4 hours in the morning and another 4 in the evening.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ve taken small children on the DC metro a fair number of times, and it’s doable, but a bit of a pain in the ass.

          • The Nybbler says:

            nybbler, do you have more specific break down? Because I suspect the longest commutes are all the people driving into the city from the suburbs, causing “rush hour” to last about 4 hours in the morning and another 4 in the evening.

            Here is one such breakdown

            Walkers: 14.6 min.
            Drivers: 29.2 min
            Subway: 47.7 min
            Bus/Trolley: 49.9 min
            Commuter Rail: 71.9 min

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I did lots of public transit when I was single. I didn’t understand the problems of doing it as a family then, which I do now.

            One issue is cost. $8 for a train ticket into the city is not that bad, compared to finding parking. $32 makes me wonder why I would bother.

            If I am taking a station wagon with my whole family, I am already way below average in terms of congestion and carbon output, and the cost savings are on my side, too. $200 is a fine plane ticket when I am young. But $800 to fly a family of 4 is a lot compared to just driving 8 hours, and less stressful.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I have two young kids. Before I had kids, I took BART and Caltrain a fair amount (regularly on commute, and occasionally in other ways). Since having kids, I’ve basically never used transit.

            The walks at the edge of transit are much more painful with young kids than they are with adults. If you have to walk 1/10 to 1/6 of a mile as a healthy adult, no problem, it’s probably not noticeable. If you do it with a toddler, it’s 3x slower, and just aggravating. If you do it carrying a baby, you rapidly discover that carrying babies any distance is pretty hard, unless you have a carrier of one kind or another. Even if parking is hard for your destination, you can often drop off one adult with a kid, then drive off to park as the other adult.

            Speaking of carriers of one kind or another, you can put all those in your car. Each one is a significant burden if you’re traveling without your mobile storage depot. You can also put diaper bags, wipes, spare outfits, and snacks in your car. Carrying all of those is a pain in the ass.

            Uber or equivalent services provides you with backup flexibility if you’re an adult traveling by transit — say it starts raining or the transit is massively delayed. You can’t take those if you’re traveling with young kids, due to car seats.

            Want to take a stroller? Stairs — like the ones up and down to all BART stations — just became a massive inconvenience.

            There are other concerns about hygiene of your kids, safety, just pure mental energy of corralling your family, and more. Any one of these problems could be pretty trivially overcome. Altogether, they’re just so much of a burden that of course we’re going to take the car.

          • baconbits9 says:

            What exactly prevents children from being taken onto a train? It’s not like there are no costs to using a car (you need a car seat, for example).

            Other have mentioned a few things, but in general its flexibility that is at a premium with kids. If you have ever rushed out the door and just made a train that saved you 20-30 mins of wait time, or sprinted a block or run down a few flights of stairs to the subway, try doing that with a 40 lb kid whose top speed is 7 mph, or who announces “I need to poop” when you are about to leave or X, Y or Z. These aren’t hard things to deal with, but they are very time restrictive, and building large buffers in on both ends means you spend a lot of trips waiting with a moderately bored kid for 20 mins at a train station. If you have ever met someone with uncertain plans or uncertain weather its far easier to do with kids when you have a trunk to pack.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            @eccdogg

            Those climates are not really comparable.

            They certainly are for the purposes of an argument about city transport in winter weather.

            @The Nybbler

            NYC has by far the highest public transit share of any metropolitan area in the US… and the longest (by time) commutes, by far.

            NYC is the biggest metropolitan area in the US, by far. Longer commute times follow directly from that, and I’m pretty sure higher public transit share and its other specifics do also.

            But all those inefficient mostly-empty buses (and deadheading runs, etc) bring down the energy efficiency of commuter bus systems to that of cars, or below, overall.

            Not for current systems, and, again, not for potentially enlarged systems unless you assume their ridership won’t rise along with their improved reliability. (To be sure, I am all for cutting down genuinely inefficient lines. But I’ve seen enough examples of dismantling of feeder lines and courses based on their ridership in isolation that at this point I can only interpret any such suggestion as an attempt to sabotage public transit systems.)

            @sandoratthezoo

            Before I had kids, I took BART and Caltrain a fair amount (regularly on commute, and occasionally in other ways). Since having kids, I’ve basically never used transit.

            Do you actually need to commute often (e.g. to work) with your kids? Because that sounds like a problem in itself, one that no transport system alone can solve.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Not for current systems

            Yes, for current systems. Rail is more energy efficient than cars (a figure dominated by the NYC subway system), but buses aren’t.

            and, again, not for potentially enlarged systems unless you assume their ridership won’t rise along with their improved reliability.

            I’ll assume their reliability won’t improve. Because that’s the usual pattern.

          • Johannes D says:

            @JulieK

            The average number of occupants in a personal car is roughly 1.5. Most car trips don’t carry that much cargo either. If cars were only used for transporting more than one people and/or nontrivial amounts of goods, things would look very different.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            One thing about kids is that public transportation systems allow them to become independent earlier on, saving parents the hassle of chauffeuring them everywhere. Once they are old enough to use buses and stuff on their own, the public transportation model begins to be less of a hassle than the private transportation one.

          • Clutzy says:

            @The Red Foliot

            Only if you and your peer group agree on the age of independent play, and also only if you are generally correct at assessing threats that may come to your children.

            In failure mode 1 you are dragged into court by child protective services for letting your kids be unaccompanied. In failure mode 2 there are a lot of actual real threats and your child is molested/killed.

            These problems are particularly prevalent in our modern era because most communities are not tightly knit as they used to be (via Churches, Scouts, Elks, etc). In grade school (and this started at grade 1) me and my friend from 3 doors down would walk to school without adults every day (about 1/2 mile). When my sister entered school she joined us; his younger brother (16 years younger) never walked to school. That is because of changes in norms because there was no longer a community. Firstly, There was no longer a walking group, secondly there its because if you let your kid walk you would get reported to the school.

    • quaelegit says:

      I thought Huntington Beach (in Orange County, CA) started a similar pilot program a few years ago (that it, giving homeless people small houses), but when I tried to find reporting on it last summer I couldn’t find anything that sounded like that so no idea if it really happened or had any success. Probably I didn’t do a very good job searching though — does anyone else know about this?

      • LesHapablap says:

        You might be thinking of this Reason story about an LA musician who built tiny homes for the homeless and ended up being shut down by the city:

        https://reason.com/reasontv/2016/12/09/los-angeles-homeless-tiny-houses

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Southern California boosted spending on the homeless a few years ago and had, unsurprisingly, a big influx of homeless from other parts of the country. Orange County, for example, is filling up with drug addicts from the midwest who come out for residential addiction therapy, then when their insurance runs out, they realize they like the weather so they go to Walmart and buy a tent.

        The homeless tend to own more stuff these days than they used to: parts of downtown Los Angeles now look like Base Camp at Mt. Everest due to all the tents pitched on the sidewalk. I’m not sure how they keep other homeless from stealing their stuff, but otherwise Urban Camping in SoCal doesn’t look like all that hard of a life.

        • The Red Foliot says:

          … but otherwise Urban Camping in SoCal doesn’t look like all that hard of a life.

          It looks better than homeless shelters, does it not? Rather than build homeless shelters, they should just dedicate areas to the homeless to pitch tents in. Find some means for regulating and policing it, and the homeless can lead decent lives without bothering broader society very much with their plight.

  2. suntzuanime says:

    Did you know: a terrorist group made up of Holocaust survivors vowed to kill six million Germans in revenge for Nazi atrocities, but were caught and arrested after poisoning only two thousand.

    Maybe worth noting that the poisoning was non-fatal. The way the sentence is structured it read as them killing two thousand Germans and I was shocked I hadn’t heard about it. I felt a little click-baited after clicking through (though I’m sure you had no malign intent).

    • Kaitian says:

      As I remember the case, it is unclear how many people died as a result of the poisoning. The people they ended up successfully poisoning were prisoners, so presumably some may have died of other causes too.
      Estimates of how many people died from the poison range from “zero” to “hundreds”, though Wikipedia lists zero, which seems most likely.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      After the Great War, Armenians organized an operation to hunt down and assassinate individual Ottoman leaders responsible for the Armenian genocide of 1915: Operation Nemesis. Wikipedia lists six assassinations including ex-Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha, who was shot in Berlin by a young Armenian who dropped his gun and waited to be arrested. A German jury acquitted him after 2 hours deliberation:

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

  3. deciusbrutus says:

    From the molten salt reactor:

    If the power failed and the gas flow stopped, or if the reactor got too hot, the plug would melt and gravity would drain the contents into an underground holding tank. The mix would then cool, solidify and remain in the tank until the crisis was over — salts, fuel, fission products and all.

    No explanation is given as to how the fuel would be reduced below critical density by virtue of being dropped into a holding tank. Does the holding tank have hafnium baffles?

    • Null Hypothesis says:

      No explanation is needed because the fuel is never at a critical density to begin with. Even if you put it all in a spherical tank.

      It’s the same trick done with current reactors. The fuel assembly is actually sub-critical on its own. It’s only able to reach an above-unity neutron efficiency with the help of a moderator. In current reactors, that is light or heavy water. In a molten salt reactor, that would likely be solid graphite in the core. While the coolant/fuel is running along the plumbing to the pumps and heat exchanges – or is dropped into the drain tank – it is not near any moderators and thus cannot sustain any fission. The drain tanks don’t work by changing the geometry, but by simply separating fuel from moderator.

      • deciusbrutus says:

        How do you make the graphite a better moderator than the water?
        I could see how the tank could be arranged to maximize the fraction of fast neutrons that escape, but the only options that conserve number of nucleons are escape and non-fissile absorption of neutrons.

        • deciusbrutus says:

          Okay, after further research I figured out that the salt isn’t in solution, just above it’s melting point.

          Which just makes me wonder how the secondary plant works, since those temperatures are far too hot to run a saturated steam plant that operates at a pressure that is even remotely feasible, and superheating steam is rather hard to control.

          I also question how well the molten salt can hold the dissolved gaseous fission products in solution during normal operation at extreme temperature and low pressure. If there is a leak or controlled dump of an active reactor, what is going to stop the dissolved/entrained/gaseous iodine from aerosolizing the coolant and escaping?

          • Chipsa says:

            Use a entirely gas phase plant, instead of a liquid/gas phase. Namely, use supercritical CO2. This also avoids potential for reactions between your power working fluid and the molten salt secondary coolant.

            Superheating steam might be hard to control, but it’s done on most power plants that run on steam, simply because it’s much nicer on the turbines. So if you do use steam, it’s going to be superheated.

            And I believe the point is that the fission products don’t tend to stay in solution. But it’s not like it’s boiling, so it won’t aerosolize the coolant. You will have to worry about capturing the gaseous products, but that’s a much simpler task (and one you’re already going to have to deal with). And the risks from accidental gaseous fission product release are much smaller (and with a properly gas sealed reactor containment vessel, much harder to have occur).

    • Garrett says:

      The proposed schematics that I’ve seen have usually involved multiple chambers below into which a fraction goes due to the geometry. This means that even if moderator somehow falls down as well there’s a sub-critical mass.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      It would be nice to be able to build nuclear power plants in remote deserts with no water needed for cooling. Here in California, for example, there are quite a few unpopulated places, but the three nuke power plants ever built here were in pretty desirable locations.

      • AlphaCeph says:

        @steve

        Basic physics: in order to generate power from any type of thermal power plant you need a way to get rid of the heat. Water is excellent for cooling which is why power plants like to be near a river or the sea.

        In a hot desert with no water you would do best to build a lot of solar panels.

    • AlphaCeph says:

      You can optimise the geometry of the holding tank to maximise heat dissipation and kill the neutron economy. This is quite obvious.

  4. Michael Watts says:

    The first cellular automaton was given by the Archangel Uriel to John Dee in the 1500s, and was only fully decoded by Jim Reeds (note nominative determinism, especially if Jim = Gym = γυμνός!) in 1996.

    I don’t get whatever nominative determinism is supposed to be there. “Jim” is a Semitic name of disputed origin traditionally interpreted as “holder of the heel”. But taking the suggested equation to Greek at face value… what do cellular automata have to do with nudity?

  5. From the stirrup article:

    The more difficult question is why Europe transitioned from infantry-based armies to cavalry-based armies, if not for stirrups. I’m not sure. It could be a combination of technological factors: larger horses, improved saddles, better armorsmithing, horseshoes, and the temporary loss of the compound bow, together with stirrups, producing a combined effect greater than the sum of its parts. It’s possible, but I don’t trust this type of explanation. Strategic considerations are usually Pareto-distributed in importance, and one major factor tends to overwhelm many medium-size factors.

    “Temporary loss of the compound bow”

    What do they mean by this? I can’t find any information on it.

    • Robert Jones says:

      He means composite bow. Per Wikipedia “In literature of the early 20th century, before the invention of compound bows, composite bows were described as “compound”.”

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Oh wow, I remember being really confused by this, and thinking other people were just making dumb mistakes. Thank you.

      • I figured that out, but what did he mean by “temporary loss”. Is he saying that there was a period in history where knowledge of the composite bow was lost to European civilization and then rediscovered? I don’t recall ever reading about such a thing.

        • Composite bows were known throughout Europe in antiquity (IIRC spread by the Roman armies), but later the technology disappears, I would guess around the time of the collapse of Western Rome. They stay lost for a very long time, e.g. the famous English longbows are not composite bows, which is why they have to be so long. The composite bow remains in use elsewhere; AFAIK it’s only the Europeans who revert to inferior bows.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            How sure are you that southern Europe ever lost the recurve bow? I lean towards Aapje’s claim, that northern Europe never used recurve bows for weather reasons. In fact, I believe that the English longbow was composite (ie, glued), just not recurve.

            I don’t have a lot of faith in it, but when search google images for “carolingian archer” or “ebbo archer” I get recurve bows.

          • The longbow was composite in a sense, but not glued. As I understand it, the yew stave had two layers, one of them being the heartwood.

            I’ve seen Italian renaissance pictures that show what look like composite bows.

            When I search images for “Carolingian Archer” I get three pictures of miniatures and one picture of someone presumably doing historical recreation. His bow looks like a composite recurve, but I have no idea what the evidence is for it.

          • This clarifies things, thanks.

          • Lillian says:

            One thing to keep in mind about Medieval European armies is that there were usually no central arsenals for equipping the soldiery. When you raised an army from a given location, you would get a force that would fight in the local custom, whatever that custom was. This was generally well suited to the local conditions, but could be inconvenient if you needed to fight elsewhere.

            To give an example: After the Hohenstaufen Emperor Charles VI conquered Norman Sicily on behalf of his wife in the late 12th century, he moved a large number of the local Moors to the mainland. There they were permitted to live according to their laws and customs, in exchange for providing him with a corps of trained archers wielding composite bows. Why? Because the Italians and Germans in his armies didn’t use bows, they used crossbows.

            It’s not that the Italians and Germans didn’t know how to make composite bows, even at the time there were crossbows with composite staves. Rather it’s more a matter that Italy and Germany were highly disunited, and consequently every asshole with a title and a bit of land had gone and fortified himself upon it. Warfare in that time and place was extremely siege centric, and crossbows are very well suited for fighting in sieges. So their local custom was for missile troops to be crossbowmen. If Charles wanted archers, he had to raise archers from a people who had a cultural tradition of archery, and that was the Moors.

    • Aapje says:

      Someone misplaced it, it was later found in the couch.

      Seriously though, it seems that Asian steppe warriors invented it, it was adopted by the Chinese, Assyrians, Egyptians, Arabs, Persians and such, but not by Europeans, aside from making crossbows. So I don’t think that the statement is accurate, as it was never actually lost, but rather, not adopted very much by Europeans in the first place.

      The main reasons seems to be that the glue was sensitive to humidity, so the bows tended to fall apart in Northern regions. Crossbows are easier to keep dry than composite bows, so Northern Europeans did make those from composites.

      • So we just didn’t make them so much. Losing the knowledge and then reacquiring it would imply something much more drastic happened.

        • Composite bows were being made in the Islamic world through that period, and there was plenty of interaction with Europe, so I don’t see how the knowledge could have been lost.

          • Technological diffusion between the medieval Islamic world and Western Europe is bizarrely slow and patchy, e.g. it takes something like 500 years for papermaking to spread across the Mediterranean. I don’t know what the barrier was, but it seems like *something* made this hard.

      • zzzzort says:

        Does it come down to what gets considered european? The romans and byzantines seemed to have used compound bows (e.g. “The 6th-century Byzantine military manual, the Strategikon, advised the cavalry of the Byzantine army, many of whom were armed with composite bows, to keep their bows in leather cases to keep them dry.”)

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    The cavalry charge against massed infantry is almost unheard of in antiquity but becomes an extremely important tactic from the early middle ages until well after the ubiquity of firearms.

    Oh, it gets weirder than the author lets on. Sumerian infantry fought in phalanx formation (see e.g. Stele of the Vultures). Then chariot armies superseded phalanx armies. If chariots were used to charge at all, they would have been much less efficient than a couple of cavalry with the overhand lance. Chariots were made obsolete by the introduction of cavalry to civilization from the steppe, starting with Assyria by 853 BC.
    So if shock cavalry is a poor match for massed infantry until the development of stirrups and the couched lance, what’s the deal with the Sumerians that chariotry became dominant over massed infantry?

    • joncb says:

      My money is on the whole kerfuffle being a multi-factor problem.

      * I’m not sure of it’s provenance but i heard one of the problems with Phalanx tactics is that they’re terrible for movement. I.e. you take your phalanx and set up on the battlefield, the enemy chariots go around your shiny phalanx and sack your undefended (or lightly defended) city. So there might be an apples to oranges comparison. Also, comparing body mechanics between horse and chariot is also probably apples to oranges… I imagine a lot of the extra power from the horse is consumed by the chariot mechanism.

      * What the Western Europeans called “cavalry” is EXPENSIVE… a decent trained warhorse that isn’t going to throw you (or become completely uncontrollable) at the first loud noise(A.K.A Battle) is “GDP of an entire village” levels to create and maintain, especially when you’re talking about armour for the horse and then armour and weapons for the guy sitting on top. I could easily believe that simple economics was a hard blocker to enough cavalry to become dominant regardless of Stirrups.

      Also note that this is different to mongolian cavalry. Their cavalry didn’t need the training (they were a bows length from the battle) and didn’t need the equipment. But then Mongolian cavalry was an attrition machine, you didn’t run their cavalry into the backs of infantry you stayed outside of their effective range and destroyed them with arrows.

      * I also think there’s a difference between dominant (as in 11th C French heavy cavalry) and effective (as in Namibian cavalry circa 218 BCE). Anyone arguing that you didn’t charge cavalry into infantry before 300AD needs to look at the Punic wars again (Spoilers: most of the big routs in the 2nd Punic Wars involved one side charging Namibian cavalry into the backsides of the enemy line).

      • m.alex.matt says:

        Also note that this is different to mongolian cavalry. Their cavalry didn’t need the training (they were a bows length from the battle) and didn’t need the equipment. But then Mongolian cavalry was an attrition machine, you didn’t run their cavalry into the backs of infantry you stayed outside of their effective range and destroyed them with arrows.

        The Mongols did heavy lancers, too. One of their main tactics was to draw an enemy infantry block out of tight formation by pretending to retreat until the enemy infantry moved then turning around and pouncing on them with heavy lance once they lost cohesion.

        I don’t know how much truck I put in that blog post. ‘The Romans were a heavy infantry army until Gothic horsemen thrashed them at Adrianople and then the Dark Ages of medieval cavalry dominance began’ hasn’t been the historical consensus since the 19th century, at least, and I don’t think any serious historian is going to apply a completely monocausal analysis to the relationship between medieval heavy cavalry in Europe and the stirrup.

        First of all, heavy cavalry had a role before and after this era. The Sassanian cataphracts are the most famous example (partly because of the unit’s latter-day incarnation with the Byzantines) in the ancient world, and heavy lancers of one sort or another remained useful up through the Crimean War in the 19th century. Alexander was famous for his use of combined arms, using the Macedonian phalanx as a solid base to maneuver cavalry around (and to provoke weaknesses in enemy lines, as famously done at Guagamela). In fact, one of the important weaknesses of phalanxes mentioned above, that they could be extremely static formations, was *mostly* a problem of the degeneration of phalanx-cavalry combined arms tactics in the period of the Successors, whose descendants mostly forgot how to do phalanxes correctly. The maneuverable Roman mandibles ate them for lunch because they no longer had well deployed cavalry to screen their flanks (and because the Romans got good on drawing phalanxes onto broken ground where their tight formations couldn’t maintain cohesion).

        The one thing that really makes me doubt the interestingness of the blog post’s author’s opinions, though, is his continued use of *Carolingian* to describe the medieval dominance of heavy cavalry. The armies of the Carolingians *were* infantry armies. The rise of the independent, land-owning, horse-riding knight belongs to a period centuries after Charlemagne’s death and the grand tragedy of his grandsons. There’s a contemporary reference I’m having trouble remembering the exact phrasing of well enough to track down to knowing that the armies of the Emperor have arrived because they are a sea of men surrounding all the walls of a castle.

        There’s *something* to the author’s noting of the difficulty of raising effective infantry (an infantry formation capable of consistently repulsing cavalry shock *has* to be well disciplined), but even then he’s missing most of the point. In the same era that medieval European arms were turning towards heavy cavalry the most, the Byzantines were more than capable of raising large, disciplined armies of infantry, yet they still relied heavily on charges by extremely heavily armed and armored cataphract cavalry formations (the main difference between them and Western European knights being that cataphracts were professional soldiers, trained to ‘charge’ at a slow, equal pace in a relative silence for intimidation and formation reasons).

        What happened in Western Europe from ~1000 through ~1350 was probably a combination of factors. Disciplined infantry could still be important (see: the success of the shield wall at the Battle of Hastings in stopping the cream of the Norman nobility until Harold’s death caused the formation to start to break), but really good, disciplined infantry became increasingly rare as time went on. Combined with the decline of a monetary economy and its slow recovery over the course of this period (making it more difficult to raise ANY kind of professional, disciplined army), the stirrup (yes, this) making cavalry charges even more effective than they had been in the past, and the collapse of central authority over much of Western and Central Europe (making it utterly impossible to maintain a professional, disciplined army), you get mounted, fighting, landowning warrior aristocrats as a dominant class. They weren’t everything but, to the extent they *were* something, the stirrup certainly played a role. So did a lot of other things.

        • mendax says:

          mandibles

          maniples, surely. though mandibles would also be good for eating formations…

          great post, thank you.

          • m.alex.matt says:

            Yeah, I get lost on that one a lot. I read it as mandibles when I first saw it decades ago and have had immense trouble seeing it correctly ever since.

          • Deiseach says:

            And when you say “maniples”, I think of this!

          • Canard says:

            @deiseach: I thought for sure the link was going to go to this!

            Because clearly that’s where my mind goes when I see “maniples”

        • a problem of the degeneration of phalanx-cavalry combined arms tactics in the period of the Successors, whose descendants mostly forgot how to do phalanxes correctly.

          I’m skeptical of this claim. The Battle of Cynoscephalae was only 120 years after Alexander’s death, the Successor states had plenty of military practice in the century to follow, and they were all aware of Alexander’s campaigns. Macedonia was significantly drained by this time. Maybe they just didn’t have enough resources to obtain and provide for enough horses?

          • DeWitt says:

            You are correct in this claim. Horses are highly expensive to train, the equipment of a horseman is more expensive to forge, and the people who would be your horsemen are much more difficult to keep in line than the people to march in your phalanx. In comparison, a pole with a pointy piece of iron at the end is much, much cheaper for anyone to obtain.

          • m.alex.matt says:

            Phillip V was several generations away from Alexander nevertheless. His father would not have known any of the Successors. 120 years is a long time.

            Still, you’re right. ‘Forgot’ is a strong phrasing; ‘stopped, for some reason’ is better. The real claim is that the Macedonian military machine in 320 would have been a different creature for the Romans to face than in 200.

          • @Dewitt

            It sounds reasonable but do we know that it was the case? Were 3rd century Macedonians bemoaning their lack of calvary?

          • DeWitt says:

            We know it was the case, yes. The successor states in general were strapped for manpower and cash very often, as the ancient Greeks were some extremely warlike people, and they hadn’t figured out clever ways to get more troops as the Romans did.

        • Good point on the timing of feudalism vs heavy cavalry. I’ll have to look into that more and see how it affects the argument. Any sources you’d suggest?

          >‘The Romans were a heavy infantry army until Gothic horsemen thrashed them at Adrianople and then the Dark Ages of medieval cavalry dominance began’ hasn’t been the historical consensus since the 19th century, at least, and I don’t think any serious historian is going to apply a completely monocausal analysis to the relationship between medieval heavy cavalry in Europe and the stirrup.

          This doesn’t match what I’ve read. The narrative you describe seems very common until maybe the 1990s or so (see e.g. “Medieval Technology and Social Change”, or some of the people Carroll Quigley cites in “Weapons Systems and Political Stability”), and serious historians incorrectly posit monocausal relationships all the time.

          As an aside, I don’t see much reason to weight the contemporary historical consensus higher than the historical consensus of the 19th century, except where novel archeological work has provided important evidence, which I don’t think is the case here.

      • DeWitt says:

        i heard one of the problems with Phalanx tactics is that they’re terrible for movement. I.e. you take your phalanx and set up on the battlefield, the enemy chariots go around your shiny phalanx and sack your undefended (or lightly defended) city.

        No, because phalangites don’t march to and fro in formation, and armies with chariots aren’t all guys on chariots, because that’s really expensive and stupid.

        Namibian cavalry circa 218 BCE

        I don’t know what the Namibians were up to in those days, but you’re probably thinking of the northern African Numidians here.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Namibian cavalry circa 218 BCE

          I don’t know what the Namibians were up to in those days, but you’re probably thinking of the northern African Numidians here.

          The Bantu didn’t reach Namibia until the second millennium AD, so they’d be up to being Khoekhoe-speaking Stone Age nomads visibly distinct from the black African race.

          Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to sketch an alternate history where Khoekhoe pastoralists fought as cavalry in the Punic Wars.

          • A very charismatic and bold Phoenician is sailing from North Africa west of the Strait of Gibralter and gets blown off course. Lost, he decides to just keep going as far south as he can. Once he reaches the Cape of Good Hope, he turns around, picks up some Namibians as mercenaries on the way, and returns triumphant to Phoenicia, right as the Hannibal is consolidating support in Spain.

      • spkaca says:

        Namibian cavalry

        Numidian cavalry (Namibia is the other end of Africa). They are one of the best mercenary units available in Rome Total War.

    • sfoil says:

      Then chariot armies superseded phalanx armies

      I’m not familiar with Sumerian military history, but I doubt that “chariots superseded the phalanx” is accurate. What most likely happened is that after chariots appeared, elites fought from chariots while the bulk of military manpower were infantrymen who fought in phalanxes. Said elites wrote all of the history, and boasts about chariot prowess relegated the exploits of the infantry to the background. I think you can get a whiff of this from the Old Testament. Maybe so many military leaders got obsessed with being awesome charioteers that the infantry became something of a rabble — I doubt this very much, phalanx tactics aren’t hard, although it’s possible that the quality of infantry units did decline if enough of the best warriors were skimmed off — this is an eternal problem in military organization, actually.

      • DeWitt says:

        Maybe so many military leaders got obsessed with being awesome charioteers that the infantry became something of a rabble — I doubt this very much, phalanx tactics aren’t hard, although it’s possible that the quality of infantry units did decline if enough of the best warriors were skimmed off

        This is something the Qin noticed happened in China, which is why they proceeded to focus on infantry, crossbows, and strict discipline rather than heroics, chariots, and the like.

        It seems to have worked out for them decently well.

      • JPNunez says:

        I don’t know; the quintessential tall tale of military prowess, the Iliad, is p fair on the infantry and while the elite do use chariots, they mostly get down from them to fight one on one. Chariots are mostly for getting around, chasing people and carrying hurt people.

        Tho it does diminish the part the _regular_ infantry does, true.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          To be fair, Homer was writing at a time when chariots hadn’t been part of Greek warfare for several hundred years, so his descriptions of how they were used might not be accurate. Though Caesar does describe the Britons as using the chariots like battlefield taxis, so it’s not impossible that the Mycenaeans had done the same.

    • Lillian says:

      Even weirder: Some aspect of the high speed, couched lance cavalry charge seems to have been cultural rather than technical.

      In the AD 1080s, during the reign of Emperor Alexios Komnenos, the Sicilian Normans invaded the Balkans. In the subsequent fighting Byzantine cavalry found itself having considerable difficulties in fights against their Norman counterparts. The Greek horsemen were generally better armed and armoured, yet over and over again the Normans knights would simply smash and scatter their formations. In one critical battle Alexios himself was speared by two Normans coming from opposite directions because his personal cavalry unit had been so thoroughly thrashed the enemy was quite literally all around him. He survived because Byzantine lamellar cuirasases were just that good, but in subsequent battles Alexios was forced to adopt a strategy of avoiding pitched cavalry engagements.

      As far as we can tell, the critical advantage the Normans had was that whereas the Greek cavalry charged at a trot or canter, they charged in at a full gallop. The big question is what was it that Normans had that let them do high speed charges that the Greeks did not. It wasn’t the the Normans were better equipped, both sides had saddles, stirrups, lances, and swords, and the Greeks had better armour. It doesn’t appear to have been the horses, because subsequent project by the Komnenoi to improve their cavalry did not involve breeding better horses or importing them from Western Europe. Instead what they imported was men and customs. They simply started hiring Latin knights to serve in their army while encouraging the local cavalrymen to start dressing and fighting like them. Emperor Manuel, Alexios’ grandson, even introduced jousting. That is what finally allowed the Greek cavalry to stand its own against the Latins.

  7. rossry says:

    [S]ubsidizing [Amazon] is still defecting against other states in a negative-sum way. Doing it is the economically correct choice in the same way that paying Danegeld or bribing corrupt politicians is the economically correct choice, and refusing to do so is a self-sacrificing but morally admirable step towards a better world

    I want to point out that this isn’t obvious from first principles — if the externalities that Amazon would produce by landing in different locales differ significantly, then some kind of incentive will need to flow between the local government and Amazon corporate in order to align incentives and put Amazon in the place where it will produce the most social benefit.

    It is even a priori possible (though it’s out-of-scope of this coment to argue that it’s true) that (A*) the place that Amazon “should” go would enjoy sufficiently more-positive externalities than (A0) the place Amazon would go if it received no subsidies from anyone that even net of subsidies A* does better than A0 ever would.

    tl;dr fixing all market prices at 0 isn’t necessarily in the collusive-monopsonist’s interest (in the case of seller-side substitutes, as here), much less globally welfare-maximizing.

    • mdv1959 says:

      I agree with rossry. Furthermore how are states competing to win Amazon’s HQ2 with tax incentives any different than Amazon offering discounts in order to compete with Microsoft and Google in order to win a big fat government contract? That’s what competition is all about. In a perfect world it would incentivize states to invest their tax dollars wisely in infrastructure and services in order to be in a position to attract businesses.

      • Sortale says:

        I think you are missing the point.

        Competition should be used to promote the public good, instead of the public good be used to promote competition.

        that is to say, asking big companies to compete [to their detriment] would promote the public good.

        Asking states [I may note, can be liken to the people’s representative] to compete [to their detriment] would, in contrary, NOT promote the public good.

        TL,DR: Competition should not be the end in itself but be employed as the mean for more Public Good.

        • dyfed says:

          It’s not clear that collecting less tax to attract businesses and development is to the detriment of any state.

          • rlms says:

            No, and it seems pretty likely that the opposite is true (that states are better off with tax cuts and more business than neither). But with amount of business held constant, collecting less tax seems pretty obviously negative.

          • Sortale says:

            @Dyfed

            I am unqualified to say whether more or less tax, in general, is better for the public good, and therefore it is not my argument,

            my answer was based on “Last week tonight with John Oliver” statement that Amazon needs a 2nd HQ anyway and States acting as competing agents instead of Monopoly agents in this particular situation would be to the detriment of the States and [since I consider the States to represent the people] to the detriment of the people.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          @ Sortale

          There seems to be an unspoken axiom in your argument. I am reading it to be “Corporations keeping money in their pocket is [negative/not-positive].” I’m not sure we can make a blanket statement that a corporation paying more or less taxes is always good or always bad.

          Taking that axiom away, we’re left with the more neutral position that the competition between states is neither good nor bad, in regards to the Public Good, but can be good if used to help companies prioritize their locations to where they are best needed. If a state recognizes a greater need for a new company HQ, and tells the company (through tax incentives) that their state has the best use, then that seems to meet the Public Good just fine. Of course, a state could just be undercutting other states that truly do have a better need, but that’s not built into the baseline of the discussion.

          • If you assume that the governments concerned are acting in the interest of their citizens, governments competing with each other is presumptively good for the same reasons competition is good in other contexts, as per the Thibault model. It gives each government an incentive to provide services if and only if the value to those benefited is at least as great as the cost of providing them, just like ordinary competition among firms.

            If you don’t assume that, the result is much less clear. The local politicians may bribe a firm at the expense of their own taxpayers in order to get benefits that go to the politicians, not their citizens.

          • goedlmax says:

            I think David means the Tiebout model, not the Thibault model.

          • I think you are correct.

          • Sortale says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            I largely agree with you

            I am relying more on the idea of bargaining power of Monopolies compare to Competing Entities.

            And I much prefer the people to act more as Monopolies to extract as high a bargaining power as possible, instead of acting like Competing Entities and give power to Corporates. [this does come up against the coordination problem]

            as you can see I am not treating Corporates as people, in my world view Corporates does indeed have some benefit for most people in it, however, most of the benefits go to a few individuals and I can not call it the public good. [this statement could be false]

            I hate this style of comment, is there nowhere else we can have this discussion?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            And I much prefer the people to act more as Monopolies to extract as high a bargaining power as possible, instead of acting like Competing Entities and give power to Corporates. [this does come up against the coordination problem]

            Ah, okay. I can see that you are discussing the coordination problem with rossry below, so I’ll leave that out of my response for the most part. For what it’s worth, I agree with rossry that the coordination problem may be intractable and could make the bidding/undercutting strategy necessary.

            I tend to think of all individuals on the same level, whether they coordinate as a “government” or a “corporation” or even as an individual. I can understand the viewpoint that “government” is supposed to recognize a larger common good, but in practice that’s not always the case. This is especially true when we’re talking about two different state governments. Rhode Island and Montana don’t really have that much in common, and neither one of them has any incentive to seek the “common good” that encompasses all relevant people. In that case, a Seattle based corporation trying to build an HQ with those two destinations in mind may actually have a better position to evaluate “common good” than either government. Even in regards to the Federal government, which should have a better view of the common good than a state, is racked by partisan infighting and self-seeking behavior from politicians. I’m not saying that this is always true, but I am very hesitant to give a government a higher status in this question than a corporation. At least the corporation’s motives are more transparent. Therefore, trying to give a state government a monopoly position is not an unalloyed good in my mind.

          • Sortale says:

            Glad to see that we largely agree, and I assure you that there are points you made that changed part of my position.

            However, I am mildly confused by your argument
            Say, we have a known crook who stand up and say “I am a crook, with no interest in benefiting anyone but myself” and an unknown man who supposes to represent the public good

            At this juncture, you said: “I would rather trust the crook since I know his motivation and he is honest about it”
            My obvious Bias against corporation aside, I agree that Government benefit should not be treated as unalloyed Good. And any extra info on the specifics could swing the judgment scale one way or the other. However, without further information, your decision to favor the corporations over governments baffled me, to say the least.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Sorry if I confused you there – I wouldn’t always pick the corporation over the state, and knowing their motivation doesn’t make that motivation acceptable on its face.

            I do find value in understanding motivations, though. If a crook told me he was going to rob me, then I would value understanding his position (while still calling the police!). I don’t have such a negative view of corporations that I equate them with crooks, so without the negative baggage I’m left with “I better understand their goals, and therefore can better negotiate my goals.” I’m not always sure that an amorphous “government” even has what could be called “goals” since it’s a very political environment with conflicting and often unspoken priorities.

          • Say, we have a known crook who stand up and say “I am a crook, with no interest in benefiting anyone but myself” and an unknown man who supposes to represent the public good

            I haven’t been following this long thread, but that comment struck me. The argument for a market system, going back at least to Adam Smith, is that it provides a set of institutions under which someone acting only to benefit himself in fact benefits the society as a whole.

            If someone is acting only to benefit himself, and the way he interacts with me is only through voluntary transactions, such as selling me things, that gives me a good, although not perfect, reason to think his actions will be in my benefit. If someone is interacting with my through the political mechanism–collecting taxes and spending the money–I have no reason to believe that, and his claim to be out only for the public good doesn’t give me one.

            The Amazon case is more complicated because it is interacting with governments, not customers. But its ability to expand in a way that holds down its costs is likely to benefit me, since my interaction with Amazon is voluntary. And making city governments interact with some of those they deal with, in this case Amazon, in a way closer to a voluntary market interaction, competing with each other to offer the most attractive deal that still makes Amazon’s agreement in their interest, provides at least some incentive for them to do a good job.

            The extreme case, which I mentioned earlier, is the Tibout model, which imagines a local government competing for mobile citizen/taxpayers. Anything the government does which costs taxpayers more than it is worth to them tends to push them out, reducing the tax base. Anything the government does which benefits taxpayers more than it costs them tends to pull people in. Thus government actors have an incentive, not depending on the political system, to do a good job—like firms in a competitive marketplace.

          • Sortale says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            we are largely in alignment, just quibbling about the exact percentage now.

            I am just saying that having a choice to cooperate and/or promote the benefit of a known selfish actor or an unknown actor, I would most likely choose the unknown actor in most cases unless there are mitigating circumstances. I do see the benefit of knowing the incentive of your interlocutor, but I see your reduction of corporate interest into “understandable” alarming. I believe there are so many ways to be selfish that saying “they are selfish” would not encapsulate the entirety of the corporates’ goals. And therefore nullified the majority of the benefit from the knowledge anyway.

            From my read, you seem much more ambivalence than I believe warranted. Could be I am reading wrong, could be it’s just a personal take on the situation. We are close enough in agreement, I am willing to stop here unless you want to continue, of course.

            @DavidFriedman

            I agree that not all Governments are interest aligned with their citizen. However, if this competition between Governments and Corporations does not have the public interest at heart, then it is moot to argue whether more or less competition would make it better, since you would be f*** either way. The only solution then is to make a “Guvernment” by alternative means [say revolution] to protect the public good, but this is neither here or there.

            Let me amend my argument then, say that the Government largely represent the public interest as is reputed to happen in the USA, then the rest of my argument follows.

            Let me be the first to acknowledge my ignorance in matters of economic, please do correct me if I am wrong.

            From my understanding of capitalism, it is not only the freedom of interaction that aligns the selfish interest of actors to the public good but the free market which promotes competition that curtails the power of competing actors, preventing them from gorging the public good while providing a mean to bypass the coordination problem without communication.

            for example, company A and B both compete for your money, hurting themselves in the process [compare to monopoly] to deliver the most efficient market and best benefit to you.

            compare to this situation State A and B both compete for Amazon money, hurting themselves in the process [compare to monopoly] to deliver the most efficient market and best benefit to Amazon.

            I agree that at the same time State A and B both compete for the public approval, hurting themselves in the process [compare to monopoly] to deliver the most efficient market and best benefit to the public. [Tiebout model]

            However, since State A and B are both actors in both markets I can not say that their actions are “most efficient market and best benefit to the public” as is what we want in the 2nd market, but would be suboptimal due to 1st market pressure. I agree that the 2nd market pressure is what lead States to seek the 1st market in the first place, but it doesn’t mean that States should strive to make the 2nd market as efficient as possible, as the Budget master’s letter seems to imply [IIRC he demand to be able to compete more fiercely]. Indeed, it is in the States’ interest to make the 1st market as inefficiently in favor of the states as possible and we should support this because, in this particular situation in the USA States’ interest is somewhat aligned with the public interest, allegedly.

            Hence my suggestion to act as Monopoly in the 1st market, to deliver the promise of the 2nd market. I do not know if acting as a Monopoly in the 1st market would lead to acting as Monopoly in the 2nd market though I don’t understand how it would happen.

            I think there is a mild implication on your part that both markets is one and should be as efficient as possible which I disagree, do correct me if I am wrong though.

          • I think there is a mild implication on your part that both markets is one and should be as efficient as possible which I disagree, do correct me if I am wrong though.

            Economic efficiency is a proxy for utility maximization, so desirable for both decisions of Amazon and decisions of local governments.

            Amazon is interacting with its customers on a competitive market, although of course not perfectly competitive, so its interest is mostly aligned with ours, although not perfectly.

            If all taxpayers and their assets were perfectly mobile, governments would be competing to provide the most attractive bundle of taxes and services, which would again align their interest with ours. The one arguable exception is that, in that situation, governments could not engage in income redistribution, which some would regard as an undesirable feature. The result would still be economically efficient, but that gets to a way in which economic efficiency is an imperfect proxy for utility maximization–it ignores the difference in the value of a dollar to different people.

            In the real world, taxpayers and their assets are not perfectly mobile, which makes it possible for a local government to exploit some for the benefit of others. I’m arguing that where they are mobile, competition among governments gives them at least some incentive to provide for some taxpayers an optimal bundle of taxes and services, since otherwise a different government will bid those taxpayers away from them.

            More generally, I don’t assume that government actors are any more public spirited than private actors. They just have a different set of incentives. Private actors can only get my money if they offer me something in exchange that I regard as at least worth the price. Government actors don’t have that constraint, except to the degree that I can reject their deal by moving, which is a lot more difficult than simply buying from a different supplier.

            The one exception is that I can reject their deal in advance, before I move there, because at that point choosing one location instead of another is not costly.

          • Sortale says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I agree that most of my problem with this whole issue is that of utility maximization as most incentives that go to corporations would most likely end up in the hand of a few wealthy individuals who would gain less value per dollar compared to others. And so to me more money to the general public [by lower tax require maybe] would be more public good.

            I also want to explore the question of assuming the states represent the people and the public good, what would the states’ optimal action here? to band together to extract the most public good by mean of monopoly or to act as competing actors to bypass coordination problem.

            I agree that in a maximally competitive market, Amazon interest would be largely aligned with the public good [aside from certain acts such as socialize cost, privatize gain e.g. dumping poison waste into rivers]. However, all competing actors would want and try to become Monopolies to extract maximum benefit. For example Amazon acquisition of Diaper.com which is a textbook case of predatory pricing here:
            https://www.businessinsider.com.au/amazon-diapers-price-war-2010-11?r=US&IR=T
            after the acquisition, prices go right back up:
            https://gigaom.com/2014/09/29/amazon-cuts-the-benefits-again-in-amazon-mom-its-prime-program-for-parents/
            this show that to retain a maximally competitive market, rules must be applied [usually by governments to solve the coordination problem] to prevent similar cases.

            I am also concerned about your simplification of distaste toward the government. I agree that pick any random government and you are likely to find that just as representative of the public good as any private actor. However, my argument predicated on a specific type of government, the USA one which is not the best, but quite serviceable considering its method of establishment [representative democracy] and reputation [rank 25 here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index [the best metric I can find, better ones welcomed]]. Through these metrics, it seems that this government is at least loosely aligned with the public good and that one can naively assume that in this particular case, the gain of the government is mostly the gain of the public good.

            You can also negotiate with the Government through more means than economic transactions [ outside of removing yourself from the locale,] e.g. vote, threat of revolution, running for office yourself, talk with your representative admittedly these would be more effective in more democratic countries, say Norway or Australia. You would not have these means to influence private actors.

            Also as argued in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Inadequate Equilibria, free market with maximal competition alone may not be enough to reach maximal efficiency. Due to certain initial states, the system even though competitive is still inefficient and require coordinate action to move to a different initial state where competition can move the system to maximum efficiency. I am uncertain whether this would apply here, however.
            I am unable to give an example of Inadequate Equilibria in short enough form [many apologies]

            I concede some of my points [I am changing my mind, so this is not moving the goal post, this is exploring my thought process]. So let me change my objection then.

            That Amazon is portraited and invited to be a monopoly in this market as per the letter and it is not to maximize utility.

            for example, the letter cites a $3 billion incentive for $27 billion revenue. Which translate to 1/9 or about 11% tax break on all tax combined [can not be translated to the actual percentage of tax break for the corporation, since all workers are still taxed normally which further worsen the “utility maximization”]. for a free market, all corporations should be allowed to compete for this tax break instead of only Amazon and other states should then compete to offer the most efficient tax break while still retaining tax revenue from corporates and non-corporate entities and approval rating. The letter, as I perceive it, only argue for States to compete for Amazon and neglect to implement a mechanism that forces Amazon to also compete which is an essential component for a healthy market. Though I am uncertain as to what is the optimal amount of corporate tax and whether the free market is the optimal way to get there.

        • rossry says:

          @Sortale, to be clear, my point is that even if [Amazon pays less tax] is not in the public good, [cities compete to attract Amazon] might be in the overall public good, because it incentivizes Amazon to go to a place where there’s so much public good being produced that the local government would want to [pay incentives and get Amazon], rather than Amazon just optimizing for its own good.

          As I note above, if there’s one place where Amazon would produce a lot more public good but where it wouldn’t “naturally” go under its own interests alone, it’s theoretically possible for the incentives process to lead to increased public good even considering the incentive payments as pure loss. On the other hand, if Amazon produces the exact same amount of public good (exclusive of incentives) in Austin, Crystal City, Long Island City, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston, etc., then there’s no public-good-benefit to Amazon picking a better place to go, and the only effect is to transfer dollars from some locale to Amazon and normalize the process.

          • Sortale says:

            @Rossry

            I agree with you that if tax incentive is used to encourage Amazon to go to the place with the best chance to create public good then it is a good thing.

            But in reality, this is not what happens.

            Assumed what you stated is what supposed to happen, reality would be that States get together to discuss where Amazon would naturally set up 2nd HQ [point A] and where the HQ would produce the most public good [point B], then offer the minimum amount of incentive for Amazone to move from point A to point B.

            This did not happen

            As per my observation, States A only care about citizen A, State B only care about citizen B, and C to C, etc,

            and each State competes with each other for Amazon’s HQ for the benefit of their citizen to the detriment of the combined citizens.

            I understand your point that the State that gives out the most incentive, would expect the most benefit, and that competition is a way to coordinate without communication to find out the maximal point of public benefit.

            I see several shortfalls:

            1. States compete on perceived benefit for their own citizen [or so I believe], not on combined all citizen of all states which is where I define my Public good
            2. Do we agree that Monopolies have more power to extract concession in bargains than Competing entities? if it is true then The people should act as a monopoly instead of competing entities to extract the greatest concession. [this does run into the problem of coordination which I have to handwave away at this juncture]
            3. Even if your statement is true then in a maximally competing environment, most of the public good gain would have to be used as incentives [else a different state would use their as incentives]. Though incentive may trickle down in other ways than a direct tax, I am willing to concede this point as neutral [could swing one way or the other]. I remain suspicious that the public good could be maximally gain this way.

          • rossry says:

            > 1. States compete on perceived benefit for their own citizen [or so I believe], not on combined all citizen of all states

            I’m confused. I’m assuming that Amazon setting up HQ2 in locale X0 will have net-positive externalities in locale X0, X1, X2,…, and that the total incentive offered to them to set up in locale X0 will reflect something of the total (net-positive) externalities from all of the affected locales together. Are you claiming that there are some positive externalities that are accruing to locales (states or other government-represented entities) that can’t be incentive-aligned in this way? Or is this a claim about opportunity costs or other negative externalities?

            2. I agree that state and local governments, colluding as a single omniscient monopolist, could incentivize Amazon to locate to the socially-optimal locale more cheaply than in competitive equilibrium. I (A) intuitively believe the coordination problem to be intractable (apart from possibly the equilibrium of “no incentives at all”, which I think could be defended but has serious efficiency issues) and (B) find it even more implausible to handwave a solution to the calculation problem, which famously…has issues.

            3. I agree that the empirical question of whether the positive effect on welfare from efficiency outweighs the negative effect from locales outbidding each other hasn’t been proven either way by my comment. I didn’t intend it to be, and tried to signpost this fact. Rather, I thought that Scott’s treatment of the matter was one-sided and lacking, and wanted to point out that there was another side at all, especially since his original statement was addressed so morally broadly and unequivocally.

          • Sortale says:

            Thank you for your kind replies, I have learned much and hope to learn more from you. I would expand my arguments as follow:

            1. I would repeat what Scott said above: “subsidizing them [the corporations] is still defecting against other states in a negative-sum way.” in short, participating in a race to the bottom is inherently harmful to all participants [did he edit the post? I remember it slightly different].
            Also this competition may select for the “Strongest” state [i.e. the one that can most afford to give incentive] instead of the “Best” state [i.e. the state where the HQ would produce the most public good]. Therefore reducing the overall public good.

            2. The knowledge I possess on coordination problem [and/or calculation problem] is not even worth speaking of so I would concede all points that you have reasons to believe you are more knowledgable than me. I would only say this in my defense:

            – You yourself admitted that a more optimal solution exists. I believe that we should always try to move the equilibrium to a more optimal solution. The current solution should be treated as a necessary evil. This doesn’t sound like the New York State budget director’s letter. [a solution that I believe is better at least than the current one is instead of promising incentive to Amazon, promise the same incentive should Amazon choose one state, divided to other states to not incentivize Amazon. Each state was already willing to lose that money already, and giving it to other states/Americans would be better optic than giving to Amazon. Assuming Amazon have to make a HQ anyway. This does have the problem of free rider i.e. states that have no stake in attracting Amazon joining to get the incentive and many more problems I have not anticipated]
            – Allegedly, the Government is supposed to be a solution, or part of one, to the coordination problem. Imagine my surprise when a member of such organization urges us to forgo coordination to engage in ever-fiercer competition [regardless of the public good if my point 1 stand]. This is like a sewing machine jump into your closet to unmake your clothes. Is it me or have we enter into bizarro world?

            3. I’d admit that things are not so black and white and Scott make it out in the post, but surely you would agree that most likely the choice to increasingly incentivize corporations would be suboptimal in gaining public good and therefore, in general, should be criticized, unless there are other factors hitherto unmentioned.

    • J Mann says:

      There’s an analogy here to discriminatory pricing that I haven’t quite worked out.

      “Discriminatory pricing” isn’t quite as bad as it sounds — it’s the term economists use to describe markets where the seller charges different amounts based on the buyer’s perceived willingness or ability to pay, like a used car lot or arguable modern private universities in the US. The idea is that the seller is trying to capture as much as possible of the “consumer surplus” of a transaction – if a 2012 Prius is worth $10,000 to you and $12,000 to your cousin, and the dealer can sell them to each of you at that price (and can get them for less than $10,000), then the dealer is better off than she would be if she just set the price at either $10K or $12K.

      That said, and while there might be some positive social value to discriminatory pricing, it’s usually pretty bad. It increases transaction costs by requiring the parties to haggle as they try to conceal their reservation price and discover the other person’s, and there’s a sense that it’s unfair for Bob to pay $2K more for a car than Bill.

      • I wouldn’t say that discriminatory pricing is “usually pretty bad.” Haggling costs aside, it can either increase or decrease economic efficiency. It increases it because it makes it possible for a customer whose value for the good is less than the price that maximizes revenue for a single price monopoly but more than marginal cost of the good to get the good. It decreases it because, if the price discrimination is imperfect, it may allocate the good inefficiently, giving a unit to someone who value it at $1 instead of someone who values it at $2.

        • J Mann says:

          Thanks – I was struggling to put the positive case into words. I guess my intuition was that it’s usually pretty bad compared to a competitive price, but that adds a lot.

          We don’t normally see many monopolies, right? If we assume a mix of competitive markets and monopolistic competition, does that change the analysis?

          • The logic of price discrimination is essentially the same for firms in monopolistic competition. Consider Apple’s educational pricing. Or income based scholarships to universities.

            As the latter example suggests, egalitarian sentiments may make price discrimination more attractive, not less, since higher income people are typically willing to pay higher prices.

          • rossry says:

            If it helps, if you set the dealer’s cost of a car at $9k in your example, then you see that the dealer prefers to sell one car at $11.5k (to Bob) than to sell two cars at $9.5k. So if they have to set a single price, Bill gets no car.

            But if the dealer can charge Bob $11.5k and Bill $9.5k, then they enjoy greater profits and Bill enjoys the use of a car.

            (Disclaimer: this example doesn’t do a good job of showing the “bad” transfer from consumer surplus to producer surplus that you’re worried about.)

      • rossry says:

        Here’s a potential analogy to price-discrimination: Locales typically charge a single “price” to businesses that “buy” a local location. This is a high-profile case where locales (offered to, and in some cases agreed to) charge different prices for (arguably) the same good to different “buyers”.

        In this setup, the local governments are each acting as a (local) monopolist, and engaging in price discrimination towards their own ends. (However, they’re in competition with each other, so “their own ends” are at least in part to undercut each other on the competitive deals, while perhaps not doing that on uncompetitive deals.)

        So I agree that there are some things about this that feel uncomfortable, but consider the equilibrium where each locale has to fix a single “price”. Locales with a bunch of captive business that can’t easily leave will charge a high price, and won’t attract Amazon. Locales with little existing business (and so nothing to lose) will cut their single price in the hopes of attracting Amazon…and will have to use old-fashioned stop-them-at-the-door discrimination to keep away companies who want to pay the low price but aren’t bringing the same externalities.

        So in this equilibrium we have a landscape of high-tax cities full of immobile, stagnant businesses, plus some nice, dynamic, low-tax places that only want to cater to externality-producing businesses (like those in high tech), plus some places that accept the rest? More segregation and inequality, and rather than a bunch of haggling on price and infrastructure improvements (which has its benefits for efficiency), a bunch of haggling on “character”. Which…to me mostly seems worse?

      • Ketil says:

        like a used car lot or arguable modern private universities in the US

        Interesting. My impression is that universities (and hospitals) set their labeled price to some absurd amount, and then most customers/clients get substantial discounts – I guess that’s how discriminative pricing usually works. I just hadn’t drawn the parallel to locations bidding for industry.

        I think it is mostly a negative, especially when concerning politics. The resistance to Amazon seems funded in a particularly negative view due to the visibility of the company and its CEO, more than any actual negative impact. In any case, politicians will be concerned with winning elections, and thus favor popular and visible companies with their benefits, and the many less noticable or politically valuable companies will be left to foot the bill for the privileges of the few.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      It is hard for a major corporation to move (less so these days, but still) so it is easy for a municipality to squeeze it. My home city of Detroit, when it was facing financial troubles, tried the same thing on their local industry, with predictable results. When the Amazon story first broke, some people on SSC comment threads were explicit that New York should entice them for now, then change the deal to squeeze Amazon. If the local politicians could not even stay on script long enough to do part one of the plan, I imagine Amazon didn’t have any faith about part two.

      I don’t like major companies being able to individually lobby, because it becomes more about government picking winners and losers than applying a equal policy that is good for everyone. But I also don’t like municipalities treating their local industry like a piñata, where the harder they beat it the more candy falls out.

    • Etoile says:

      A note that we refer to NY’s tax incentives to Amazon as “subsidies”, but – as the whole incident showed – they are qualitatively different. Yes, both involve the government getting less revenue in taxes than some projected number, but a subsidy assumes a number up-front, or an amount of money the government has given to some entity; a tax cut, rebate, whatever only pans out after the taxed entity actually generates value being taxed.

      I understand why economists like to equate tax cuts and subsidies, or subsidies as taxes on others…. But there’s something at least a little pernicious about that view. It’s like, if the government was going to take 40% of your income and changed its mind to 35% today (made up numbers!), they “subsidized you”? What?

      • Aapje says:

        There is zero effective difference between paying 40% and getting 5% in subsidy vs getting a direct discount to 35%.

        You are looking at the wrong thing anyway. What makes something a subsidy is someone being advantaged in return for certain behavior. If taxes would be cut across the board by 5%, it would not be a subsidy, but a tax cut.

        • ana53294 says:

          There is a big difference, though.

          For example, in policies that support fertility, there is a big, huge difference in giving, say, 10,000 euros per kid per year, or exempting 10,000 euros per kid/year from your taxes.

          Considering a lot of people don’t even make enough to pay 10,000 euros in taxes a year, that is a huge difference.

          In order for Amazon to benefit in a tax cut worth 3 billion, they first have to generate enough income that generates 3 billion. With a 20% tax, that would be 15 billion in revenue for that location.

        • Skivverus says:

          Zero money, maybe, but not zero time; the time adds up. 35% of 50,000 is a lot easier to compute than 40% of 50,000, minus 5% of 50,000, minus 20% of 40%, minus 5,000, plus 25% of 5,000.

  8. Null Hypothesis says:

    A new generation of nuclear energy startups are pushing liquid molten salt reactors, scalable safe nuclear reactors that don’t produce waste and can’t melt down. Potential as a green energy solution is obvious. But what happened to the hype around thorium five years ago?

    They’re one and the same, essentially. The idea of a ‘Thorium Reactor’ for good and ill has become somewhat of an internet meme. Mostly it’s an opinion expressed by people who watched some (very good) youtube videos originating from Kirk Sorenson back in the early teens – but who failed to understand the real point of the lectures or the principles of nuclear reactors in general.

    When people say ‘Thorium reactor’, the major benefits of that idea don’t come from the thorium, but from the reactor being a liquid fuel reactor that dissolves the fuel into a molten salt. Such a reactor can run on thorium, uranium, or plutonium. The main benefit they offer is not the fuel type, but the fact that they run at ambient pressures.

    Nuclear reactors generally need three things to run – a fuel, a coolant, and a moderator. Chernobyl proved (though we already knew this, which is why the US reactors never were at risk of failing like Chernobyl) that a single liquid must serve two of these roles, or bad things happen. Chernobyl was a cascade of failures, but one of the major issues was that it used graphite for a moderator while using water for a coolant. When it got too hot, the coolant evaporated which actually improved how well the graphite could moderate the reaction (less hydrogen to eat up neutrons) and that allowed the reactor to become explosively critical.

    By contrast, in a US lightwater reactor, the water serves as both coolant and moderator. When the system heats up, the water becomes less dense, moderates less, and reduces the power output. Boiling water reactors dial this up to 11, as steam bubbles form which reduces the density of water by 1000x whenever it changes phase, making the system VERY responsive and very stable. If the system started running away and pipes were to burst and all the water were to evaporate, the nuclear reaction would stop immediately because all the moderator would be gone. The fuel would start to melt itself from the leftover radioactive decay, but no new fission would occur and no new very-hot radioactive isotopes would be generated.

    The problem with lightwater reactors, however, is that using water really sucks. Anyone that uses a fridge or a heat-pump in their house can understand why. Those machines operate on the principle that it is more efficient to move heat than to generate it. You can move a lot of heat for a little work. Physics being the conservative bitch that she is, the opposite holds true. You can only derive a little bit of usable work in exchange for moving a lot of heat. The maximum efficiency of work collected as heat moves from a hot to a cold environment is (th – tc) / th , known as the Carnot Efficiency. If you tried to generate heat from water boiling at 100C (373K) exchanging with the outdoors (~27C or 300K) you’d get a maximum theoretical efficiency of under 20%. You’d need to generate 5GW of heat just to make 1GWe, and that’s ignoring all the other large efficiency losses in the system.

    And yet we need water to be a liquid to act as coolant and moderator. So engineers pressurize the hell out of the water in the system, up to 2000psi or 90-120 atmospheres, so that the water doesn’t boil until ~300C and the Carnot efficiency reaches ~45%. Still terrible, but much less terrible. On the other hand, now we need giant 9″ thick solid steel reactors that have to be forged all at once (because good luck welding 9″ steel) and we need a bunch of high, medium and low-pressure water injection systems (and separate, redundant backups) to get water back into the system in the event of some kind of release. And in the very, very, rare event that the fuel gets uncovered long enough to melt, and the primary coolant loop breaks or is deliberately vented to the outside, the superheated water flashes to steam and carries the radioactive particles into the air, producing ‘fallout’. Those massive concrete containment structures that can win in a fight against a Boeing 747? They’re not built to contain a nuclear explosion. One cannot physically occur. They’re there to contain a steam flash or a hydrogen explosion. Because water doesn’t like being pressurized, and water molecules getting smacked around with high energy neutrons and gamma rays are liable to break apart and produce hydrogen and oxygen gas.

    Yeah… it’s kind of a mess. All this redundancy and high-quality material and manufacturing and all these safety checks are why nuclear power is so damn expensive.

    So molten salt reactors do a few major things that changes all of that. First, it uses molten salt as a coolant, which doesn’t even melt until over 400C and is liquid until about 1500C. So it will run at much higher, much more efficient temperatures. And it can run at entirely ambient pressure. That means the plumbing for the reactor will be closer to your home plumbing than current nuclear reactors (and still be less likely to break). That means if a pipe bursts somewhere the salt just spills onto the floor and hardens (or plugs the leak itself). You don’t need any redundant cooling systems because the coolant isn’t going to evaporate and uncover the fuel. I can’t stress how much operating at ambient pressure changes the whole game.

    Liquid fueled reactors go a step beyond this. Instead of making the liquid component a moderator+coolant, it makes it a fuel+coolant and lets the moderator be solid. The reason these systems cannot ‘melt down’ is because the fuel is already melted. It’s the same reason that gliders are so safe. The worst possible thing to happen in a plane is total engine failure – and gliders start with that as a given!

    The fuel dissolved into the salt means you still get the same negative thermal coefficient. As the system heats up, the fuel gets less dense, the rate of reaction goes sub-critical and rapidly decreases until the fuel cools enough to become dense enough to become super-critical and heat back up. Nice and stable. The coolant being a molten salt like Fluoride means that the nasty fission products like strontium and cesium actually bond to the fluoride and won’t go anywhere even if the reactor opens up to the outside. You know that boiling water challenge where people throw boiling water into the air when it’s freezing outside, and it becomes steam? Now try doing that with lava and tell me how much the material spreads. Plus having the fuel in solution instead of as solid pellets clad in zirconium means that gaseous fission products like iodine-131 and xenon-135 can constantly be removed by bubbling out instead of being left to build up, trapped inside fuel pellets. There’s also a nice benefit that the fuel is continually mixed.

    Most importantly, they cannot suffer the one failure mode that is still possible with current reactors. In the event of total power loss, the coolant pumps will not run in a regular reactor. While fission will be stopped immediately in this case (electromagnets holding control rods will fail and the rods will drop into place) the reactor will still produce about ~7% of regular heat from nuclear decay. 7% of several gigawatts is a lot of heat. If left long enough, enough water will turn to steam that the fuel rods will become uncovered, and then they’ll heat up to super hot temperatures (2000C+) and melt. If enough fuel melts, it will drop to the floor and begin to melt through the reactor. This is what happened at Fukushima.

    In a liquid fueled reactor, a fail-safe drain device like a freeze plug can be used. In the event of total blackout, the fuel is not stuck producing heat in a fuel rod configuration. It can be moved. And it moves to large drain tanks that can passively remove that heat. Meanwhile the coolant itself won’t evaporate, so the fuel will always be diluted. The reactor is never going to have a containment breech because the fuel will be physically incapable of ever getting hot enough. Again, not that a breech would be such a significant event with an ambient-pressure coolant system that doesn’t flash into a gas and does not have a large stock of gaseous fission products built up.

    You get all of that from a fluid-fueled reactor, regardless of what kind of fuel.

    The benefits of thorium are basically the following:

    1. It’s incredibly abundant.
    2. It can be bred in the thermal spectrum.
    3. It’s logistically harder to make a nuclear weapon from the material than from bred plutonium.
    4. It produces no long-lived trans-uranics (Plutonium, Americium, etc.) It only produces Plutonium-238 which is what we use to power space probes.

    These are nice benefits, and not to be underplayed. But given that the marginal cost of uranium-235 right now is about a cent per kwh, there isn’t a big impetus to make breeder reactors right now. At most you’ll save 1 cent per kwh in fuel in exchange for more costly complexity. The nuclear waste consideration is nice, but the ‘nuclear waste crisis’ is a completely overblown situation in the first place, so it’s again not as important. Proliferation concerns, likewise, aren’t that big of a deal – they’re certainly of little benefit for domestic nuclear. That’s only a major plus if we’re exporting the technology.

    ‘Thorium’ gets mixed in with molten salt reactors not because Thorium is a super-amazing-wonder-fuel, but actually because thorium absolutely sucks in any kind of solid-fuel configuration. To breed it into Uranium-233 (the actual fuel we get from thorium) you need to hit it with a neutron and breed it. It becomes protactinium-233 and then becomes U233 with a halflife on the order of a month. And it produces a bunch of U232 (very got hard-gamma emitter. Kills anyone that gets close to it). So it’s an absolute pisser to reprocess the solid fuel. India has been struggling with it for decades. (Also a pisser to try to make a nuclear warhead out of it because it will kill the people processing and assembling it.) Anyway – a fluid reactor means that you can actually chemically process it in-situ because it’s in a liquid state.

    So Thorium becomes very feasible in a liquid-fuel reactor, and then you get the fringe benefits of thorium as a fuel. Which are nice benefits – but again – not the main feature of this kind of system. The main part is that it truly is melt-down proof, and a lot safer and less complicated (and thus hopefully much cheaper) because it is running at ambient pressure and you are able to move the fuel in the event of a crisis, without any risk of the fuel becoming fallout. You get these same benefits burning U235 or Pu239 in the same kind of reactor.

    • Aapje says:

      This Reddit comment by (another?) nuclear physicist seems like a good companion piece to yours.

      That person also notes that practical problems of dealing with liquid fuel may be a major issue.

      • Null Hypothesis says:

        Not a nuclear physicist – systems and controls engineer here. I just have a personal interest in nuclear power and weapons.

        I like 233C’s post. What he says is very accurate as to the process problem with Thorium, and why it only makes sense in a liquid system where you can do the chemical processing in-situ. That said, I think he goes a bit overboard with how problematic he makes out thorium to be, in terms of leaks and protactinium problems.

        Some back of the napkin math says the protactinium will only be at a concentration on the order of 150mg per liter, with the salt and the pipes providing shielding. So in the event of it dripping out of the system, you’re still not getting that much of it. A salt deposit inside the reactor formed from a drip could be remotely scooped up or melted and sucked up. And replacing the pipe itself would involve draining the pipe and potentially cycling fresh fuel-less salt through the system to clean it out. While you’d have trace amounts of protactinium and other radionuclides on the inside of the pipe, I doubt you’d have 10 milliliters worth of it frozen on the inside. If this is a huge concern, you could also double-build your plumbing so in the event of a leak, you can just redirect the flow to the good pipes. Depending on the life time of the plant, this might be better than doing any sort of maintenance.

        As for the general corrosion problem of molten salts, the Oakridge MSRE experiement did a good job proving that this wasn’t a problem. Corrosion is a relative property. Water is heavily corrosive if your pipes are made of sugar. Oakridge developed Hasteloy-N for their MSRE, and after running the reactor for 4 years and something like 13000 active hours (about a year and a half) they saw no corrosion on the interior of their pipes. And recall that was with 40+ year old material science.

        Now, whether that means the material (or a better material) today would work without corroding for 3 year, or 5 years, or 10 years, or 20 years or 40 years is an open question. I’d honestly be surprised if it could last for 40 or 60 years like today’s Lightwater plants. But the point is the evidence from the MSRE at Oakridge suggests that corrosion is no longer a fundamental problem of the system, but now simply an economical consideration in terms of lifespan and cost tradeoffs. For instance, many designs being proposed today have a lifetime limited to about 8 years due to their graphite, at which point they propose throwing the reactor away (economically speaking – there would obviously be great opportunity for re-purposing or recycling, but they’re assuming no cost benefit.)

        A lot of what people bring up as ‘problems’ are problems in the way that your car’s catalytic converter has a problem with burning up its platinum catalyst. Or with your car constantly needing gasoline which it needs to carry around with it. In the one sense, they are problems in that they make things more difficult and more expensive and there is value in mitigating them. But they aren’t show-stoppers. Just part of the constant series of trade-offs involved in any endeavor.

        Again, I’m not over-sold on the use of Thorium. It does add currently unnecessary complexity. It’d be nice to use, but all I really care about is using Molten Salt reactors. Stick with Uranium-235 and Pu239 burners for now, and work out the thorium breeder over time.

        • Dedicating Ruckus says:

          Would it be the case, then, that you could use basically the same reactor for U-235 burning, U-238 breeding or thorium breeding, if you got the right molten salt setup? (Modulo the presumably different reprocessing requirements for each case.)

          • Null Hypothesis says:

            Not quite. Breeding generally means that you need a minimum neutron efficiency greater than 2, while burning just requires an efficiency of 1. This extra requirement can change a lot of other parameters and introduce some restrictions.

            For one, while you can conceivably breed thorium sustainably in the thermal spectrum, it’s not feasible to do the same thing with breeding plutonium. There isn’t really enough neutron efficiency available. That’s why you’ll commonly hear the term ‘fast-breeder reactor’ as though fast-breeder is all one word. Because it generally only makes sense to breed U238 into plutonium in the fast spectrum, where the material quantities are much greater, but the neutron efficiency is higher.

            If you made a single-fluid reactor meant to run off of [breeding] thorium, then that same reactor should be capable of just directly burning U235 or Pu239 if you inserted it in place of the thorium. But it’s not a given that a reactor only designed to burn U235 or Pu239 would be capable of sustainably breeding thorium.

    • EGI says:

      In a liquid fueled reactor, a fail-safe drain device like a freeze plug can be used. In the event of total blackout, the fuel is not stuck producing heat in a fuel rod configuration. It can be moved. And it moves to large drain tanks that can passively remove that heat.

      Why can this holding tank passively remove a couple hundred MW from the molten salt soup while a reactor containment building / holding tank cannot do this equally well for molten corium after a meltdown? My guess would be due to having a much smaller inventory of hot fission products due to constant removal. But this would only move the problem of meltdown in case of cooling failure to the fission product containment structure. Or is there anything I am overlooking at that point?

      Meanwhile the coolant itself won’t evaporate, so the fuel will always be diluted.

      Why? A couple 100 MW should be plenty to make a few tonnes of salt boil when cooling fails… Also you do not even have the option of open cycle cooling (pumping water in and venting steam) at the expense of some release of radioactive material.

      I mean don’t get me wrong, this system has major benefits especially in operating at ambient pressure and doing away with water but I do not see how any fission system ever can get around the fact that a few GW of nuclear fire in your reactor will produce a few 100 MW of radioactive afterglow that needs to be cooled until it decays away.

      Also these arguments that THIS new reactor type cannot have a Chernobyl style power excursion needs to stop. No water moderated reactor can have those which is why they are quite safe as recently demonstrated by Fukushima holding the overwhelming majority of it’s radioactive inventory despite a huge natural disaster and major design and management fuckups. (Almost) any plane can glide the question is if it’ll reach a suitable runway (cold shutdown) in time to borrow your analogy.

      • Null Hypothesis says:

        The reason that fuel melts and fails in current reactors is because the fuel rods are long and skinny, offering lots of surface area which permits water to carry away its full heat production of several Gigawatts. However if the water evaporates, the fuel becomes uncovered. It’s touching nothing but steam, which is a terrible heat conductor. So it heats up, melts, and then falls to the bottom of the reactor.

        Even if there is still liquid water lower down in the reactor, the material melts together forming a single blob. That’s a very dis-favorable set-up in terms of surface area to volume, especially when compared with the long thin fuel assemblies. That’s why it’s possible for the corium to slowly melt through the containment structure.

        Now, how that relates to a molten-salt set-up. The problem with the solid fuel set-up is simply that you cannot move the fuel. You cannot get it out of it’s current shape of long thin rods in contact with nothing but stagnant gas. A molten salt in a drain tank would be in contact with steel walls, and could have almost arbitrary amounts of surface area.

        As for how this is different than the corium scenario you outlined – a drain tank would have something like a water blanket around it, which would passively drive convention and permit cooling. You’re quite right to say that there’s no reason PWRs can’t do this same thing. Go look up the AP-1000 to see a similar set-up of passive cooling in the event of total black-out.

        Molten Salt’s advantage here is that you can move the fuel to be in different locations or geometric configurations. Generally in a reactor you only want to lose heat through your heat-exchangers, for the sake of efficiency. So you’re stuck having to balance insulating your reactor and yet allowing the reactor to passively draw heat away. In an MSR you can have gravity automatically move your fuel from a system designed to be relatively insulated to one designed to reject as much heat as possible.

        As far as that dilution thing goes, an at-scale MSR producing maybe 600MWth (100 to 250MEe) is going to have a fuel salt volume on the order of a hundred cubic meters or more. So we’re talking hundreds of tons of salt, not just a few. That’s quite significant compared with the limited mass of the corium in terms of passive power density from nuclear decay.

        On the Chernobyl thing, I agree with you entirely. And I said as much – PWRs were never in danger of a Chernobyl-style event in the first place because of the coolant/moderator both being the same liquid. And I agree that Fukushima was more an example of robustness rather than of frailty and danger. If we had been making new reactors rather than just using old designs for the past 40 years – even new water-based reactors – the passive cooling issue would not be nearly so big. It’s a failure mode of the old Gen 2 reactors and is significantly mitigated in the Gen3 and Gen3.5 designs.

        • EGI says:

          As far as that dilution thing goes, an at-scale MSR producing maybe 600MWth (100 to 250MEe) is going to have a fuel salt volume on the order of a hundred cubic meters or more.

          OK, that explains a lot. I would have guessed 2 orders of magnitude lower just to get a decent fuel concentration to achieve criticality without investing in dozens of tonnes of Uranium. But I guess all things considered fuel is relatively cheap after all.

          • EGI says:

            Upon reflection assuming only a few tonnes of salt in a GW reactor was really stupid. Somehow I assumed a fuel mass and concentration similar to a solid core reactor which of course does not make any sense.

          • Null Hypothesis says:

            Don’t fret it. I always have to remind myself of the scale when I start looking at reactor diagrams. Those things are massive.

            If you want -a- reference, I look at ThorCon’s plans simply because they readily provide their approximate numbers and dimensions. And while designs can vary widely, things like fuel consumption, power density, thermodynamics etc should all be in the same ballpark.

            Their design is claiming about a 700C operating temperature, burning about 120Kg of uranium a year to produce 560MWt with a reactor core roughly 5 meters across and 5 meters tall. (Hence the 100 cubic meters) They also make comments to the effect of breeding thorium in their designs, but I’m pretty sure I recall a presentation where they said their first demo and possible scale-plant would just use enriched U235.

            I don’t necessarily think their approach is the best (though it has features that I like.) The main thing is that they provide good numbers to get your bearing on size, fuel consumption, etc. Their website is worth a read-through for that.

          • EGI says:

            Interesting read, thank you. I didn’t really get how they plan on getting rid of residual heat in case the membrane wall cooling fails. So if the heat exchanger / plumbing / pond / cooling tower gets smashed / fails and does not get repaired very quickly it is meltdown time? Or can they somehow get rid of enough heat through the surrounding earth/rock? Can not really imagine that but maybe I’m overlooking something?

            Also It’s really funny (in an sad way) to imagine how Greenpeace et al. will react once they start shipping their cans of hot soup around the seven seas… 🙂

          • Lambert says:

            What’s the total heat output?
            Could you just have a big inert tank of salt under the reactor and dump the fuel there in the event of a problem, so it has too much heat capacity to melt the container?

        • deciusbrutus says:

          Another difference is that the fuel is already molten, and the core already has to be able to handle fuel of that temperature.

          A better analogy would be that we can’t have a Chernobyl-style meltdown with any modern reactor for the same reason that modern freighters don’t have to reef in their sails during hurricanes.

          • EGI says:

            Another difference is that the fuel is already molten, and the core already has to be able to handle fuel of that temperature.

            That is not really true. While you cannot have a core meltdown in the strict sense in a liquid salt reactor since the core is already molten, adding more heat to the salt without removing it will at some point melt the reactor vessel and boil the salt (which is very bad, meltdown bad). And there is an ENORMOUS amount of energy stored in the fission products of a power reactor after some time of operation. If you do not conduct that heat away in time, the reactor content will get almost arbitrarily hot, much, much hotter than you can design any material to handle. Also both reactor types use basically the same materials – concrete and steel – to contain their contents which will both fail somewhere between 750 and 1500 °C depending on the exact material and mechanical properties needed. To give you a very rough back of the envelope perspective, if you have a residual activity of 10 MW averaged over the first month after shutdown in a reactor with 100 tonnes of fuel salt with a heat capacity of 1 kJ / kg*K and you do not loose any heat, your salt temperature would rise a stunning 260000 K!

            The biggest factor that mitigates the meltdown problem in a molten salt reactor is not that the reactor is “designed to handle molten stuff at that temperatures” which is flat out impossible with any material held together by chemical bonds but that the fuel is much more dilute than in a solid core reactor, giving you more heat capacity and thus more time and more surface area to cool and that you can move the fuel to a place more conductive (pun intended) to passive cooling.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Thank you. I learned much.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Some of these molten salt startups use thorium and some don’t.

    • John Schilling says:

      3. It’s logistically harder to make a nuclear weapon from the material than from bred plutonium.

      +1 on everything else in your excellent writeup, but I don’t think this is true. It easier to make a nuclear weapon out of isotopically pure U233 than from any sort of plutonium. It is logistically very difficult to make a nuclear weapon out of the mess of only-mostly-U233 that comes out of a solid fuel thorium breeder reactor, but a molten salt breeder reactor allows more flexibility in the breeding and reprocessing steps that greatly mitigate that problem. The optimal techniques are non-obvious and I think Sorenson missed them altogether, but I’m pretty sure that by the time clever proliferators are finished hacking the system, liquid-fuel thorium breeder reactors will be a bigger proliferation threat than any uranium fuel cycle.

      Which is a good reason, if maybe not the only reason, for thorium to have fallen off the radar. Build liquid-fuel reactors if the benefits are worth the development hassle, yes, but as you note they’ll run perfectly well on uranium. We’ve got absolutely no shortage of uranium in the near (~10 year) term. If there’s a shortage of uranium in the mid (~100 year) term, it’s because we’re basically not allowed to run breeder reactors and that’s justified by non-proliferation concerns that apply at least as strongly to thorium. And while we’ll definitely want thorium breeders if we’re trying to run a long-term (~1000 year) fission economy, almost nobody does technology development with that sort of timescale in mind.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Say more about u233?

        I was under the impression that generally it’s much easier, if dirty as hell, to chemically separate Pu from U than centrifugally separate 238 from 235, which is why American bombs are mostly Pu based. Are you claiming that a thorium breeder produces weapons grade enriched uranium without further refinement? (I know nothing about the 233 isotope, so…)

        • John Schilling says:

          It produces mostly U233 and uses only chemical processing(*) to do so, which is a fissile material arguably better than plutonium for making nuclear weapons. If you use a solid-fuel reactor where you can’t cycle the fuel in and out of the core every day, the U233 will be contaminated with U232, which would work fine in a weapon but is so intensely radioactive that you basically can’t build a weapon out of it without killing yourself.

          With a liquid salt reactor, you have finer control over the process and can drastically reduce the U232 content.

          * Of a radioactive molten fluoride salt solution, so we’re not talking kitchen-sink chemistry here.

          • bean says:

            I’m seeing a weird connection to the W80-0, which was made with special plutonium that had a low fraction of Pu-240, which emits a lot of gamma radiation. This was because it was going on Tomahawk missiles which might be carried in a submarine, and the crew would be in close proximity to the warheads. It looks like the surface ship versions of the Tomahawk got the W80-0 too, probably for logistical reasons. The low-Pu-240 Plutonium was really expensive because you could only make it by irradiating the U-238 breeder material for a much shorter time than usual to limit conversion of Pu-239 into Pu-240.

          • John Schilling says:

            Approximately the same principle, except that U-232 two or three orders of magnitude worse than Pu-240.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            The (n,2n) path to turn U-233 into U-232 isn’t the only problematic reaction, though. You can also get (n,2n) captures from both the Th-232 and the Pa-233, both of which will eventually decay to U-232–and you can’t very well filter those isotopes out, because they have the same Z as your breeder reactants.

            U-232 is nasty to handle (and especially machine), but the real problem is that it’s a powerful pre-detonator. Unless you can keep it to <50 ppm, you'll get a fizzle. Contrast this with the Pu-240 impurity problem, where you need to keep it to <65,000 ppm.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Basic question: Does a moderator increase or decrease reactions? I thought it decreased reactions, but reading your explanation makes it sound like it increases them.

      • Lambert says:

        Neutron capture is highly dependant on the energy of the neutrons. Different nuclei are most likely to absorb at different energies.
        The neutrons made by U235 have too much energy, so moderators are used to slow the neutrons down to the point where they can be absorbed more readily, thus increasing the number of reactions.

      • Null Hypothesis says:

        The answer is Yes.

        This analogy is not physically correct, but it gives the right intuition:

        Consider that you are God, and you have a planet full of heathens that you want to deliver some wrath unto. So you decide to throw an asteroid at them.

        You have two options. One, you can throw the asteroid REALLY FAST. If it hits the planet, it is certain to completely annihilate it. However you have a good chance of missing. Instead, if you just lob the asteroid towards them, the gravity of the planet itself will be able to more significantly bend the path of the asteroid and help ensure a hit. The trade-off is that the asteroid will be less energetic and will not guarantee the total destruction on the planet.

        The same goes with Neutrons. High-energy neutrons have a very very high probability of causing a fission if it hits an atom. But it has ~100x less of a chance to actually hit anything. Which means you need a much greater quantity of material to ensure a neutron hits something and doesn’t just miss all your fission targets and end up wasted, floating off in deep space. Alternatively, a thermal spectrum neutron has a ~100x greater chance to hit, but may have a 1/3 chance of just getting absorbed by an atom it hits and not actually cause a fission

        Note: the actual fission and absorption and hit rates can vary widely for individual isotopes. the 30% and 100x are just rough representative numbers.

        It’s a probability thing.

        (Average Number of fission targets in a straight line) x (Chance of hitting an individual target) x (Chance of causing a fission on hit) x (Neutrons produced from a fission). If this number is equal to 1 your system is critical and it will sustain its rate of reactions. less than 1 is sub-critical and the reaction exponentially winds down to nothing. Greater than 1 and it is super-critical, exponentially growing. A moderator will increase the chance of a neutron hitting an individual fission target at the cost of a lower chance of fission and a lower average no. of neutrons per successful fission. Whether this makes the system sub-critical or super-critical depends on the specific set-up.

    • Garrett says:

      From previous dives, there are other disadvantages to the molten-salt reactors not covered here:
      * A bunch of the salts used materials react poorly with water. So you trade off having to work at high pressures in exchange for forms hydrofluoric acid if exposed to water/water vapor.
      * Requires a reprocessing plant on-site. Basically, the liquid fuel needs to be continually reprocessed or else it gets gummed up with nuclear decay products after a few days. So in addition to your nuclear working reliably you need a high-temperature chemical refinery working continuously as well.

      • Null Hypothesis says:

        There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages I couldn’t even begin to cover – but my post was already embarrassingly long and there didn’t seem to be a hide-quote syntax available here.

        But on the point of the reprocessing plant. That’s not necessarily true. The advantage of a liquid-fuel set-up is that you CAN do chemical reprocessing. Which could be great for harvesting short-lived radioisotopes for medical purposes. Bismuth 212 is one such candidate doctors would love to experiment with for targeted alpha therapy.

        But one is not required, unless by design. As you say, in the course of fissioning fuel, daughter products are created and some of those will absorb neutrons or mess up the system in other ways that make it difficult or impossible to sustain a reaction. But that is already occurring in solid-fuel reactors. Ask any nuclear operator about Xenon-135 and prepare to hear a lot of profanity.

        And when it occurs there, the daughter products are stuck in the fuel pellets, along the fuel fuel, making a heterogeneous fruit-cake which will vary from point to point. Thus reactor designs need to include enough fuel to tolerate this buildup, until they can’t anymore and they need to switch out their fuel.

        But in a fluid-fueled reactor, the fuel is constantly mixed and is homogeneous. So you don’t have the same pitting issues or heterogeneous burn-up of fuel and creation of dis-favorable daughter products. Additionally, gaseous daughter products like Xenon-135 will just off-gas, removing itself and it’s annoyingly giant absorption cross-section without any reprocessing necessary.

        The hope for liquid fueled reactors is that this mixing and easy separation of detrimental fission products will make it so a reactor can constantly run with a lower fuel load than is typical in a solid-fueled reactor. But adding in the chemical reprocessing to do that is a deliberate choice, not a fundamental requirement.

        • Dedicating Ruckus says:

          If radioactive Xe-135 off-gases (which presumably takes it out of the high-neutron zone that makes most of it turn to Xe-136 instead), how do you handle its decay products? Where would it off-gas to?

          • Null Hypothesis says:

            Generally speaking you would siphon it off to a storage tank and just let the gasses decay there. For instance Iodine-131 would turn into stable Xenon-131 over the course of a few months, which you could then just release to the environment, or collect it and sell it.

            You’re right that siphoning off Xenon-135 raises an issue, but I don’t think it’s a large one. If the Xe135 isn’t allowed to steal neutrons to become Xe136 and eventually stable barium 136, it’ll decay into cesium-135, which is a 2.3 million year half-life isotope. Not too radioactive all things consider. You might produce 50kg annually of the stuff from a 1GWe. You could perhaps put it in a box and bury it out in the desert.

            Or if you don’t want to do that, you can put it back into the reactor, where the cesium will absorb a neutron and follow a similar decay chain as Xe136 into Barium 136. So in the end you get the same result (stable barium) and are no worse off than a solid fuel set-up. But by letting the Xe135 build up outside the reactor rather than within it, you should reduce the effects of it’s god-awful feedback on reactivity.

            If you want to keep barium from accumulating in the reactor, then a third option might be separately exposing the cesium to neutron flux at an on-sight or off-site processing plant seperately. Or heck, you could potentially pipe the Xe135 or Cs135 through a blanket around the reactor core, where it can absorb stray neutrons without screwing with the reactivity.

            There are a lot of possible answers. Because molten salt reactors open up a cool, relatively unexplored branch of chemical engineering where you’re separating potentially dozens of elements that are all dramatically changing their chemical properties in according with time, neutron flux, and statistics. With several different competing goals. Like quickly separating out short-lived medical isotopes, or improving the reactor performance, or minimizing waste, etc.

            All I can say is that if this field takes off, and colleges down the road start offering a new nuclear physics/chemical engineering hybrid degree, it will be a tragedy if they don’t dub it an Alchemical Engineering degree.

        • Garrett says:

          Huh. Thanks for that. I was under the impression that in-situ reprocessing was required. If not, that has a significant impact in my mind on the viability thereof.

    • deciusbrutus says:

      What secondary system can you run off of a primary that freezes at 400C? The best resources I have suggest that “673 K saturated steam” doesn’t describe an actual thing. And the secondary coolant is separated from the fuel by the heat exchanger, so it’s subject to enough neutron flux to be too contaminated to vent in any non-catastrophic situation, so an ordinary steam plant (with e.g. steam traps to vent condensation) is excluded.

      • Lambert says:

        How much tritium is it really going to make, given that it takes two neutron absorbtions?
        And you’re right that the critical point of water is below 673k.
        But doesn’t everything run superheated nowadays ?
        Some googling shows that modern coal plants often run well into the supercritical region, hitting 900k and tens of MPa.

        I’m not saying the metallurgy won’t be hard, but it shouldn’t be impossible.

  9. Sniffnoy says:

    On Nerst’s political compass essay:

    I’ve pushed here before my own triangular, non-axis-based model (although I think I haven’t really described it very well or properly expanded on it), but I want to point out that Nerst’s essay gets one key thing right: Decoupling. I like to say “orthogonality”, but, same thing — orthogonality, decoupling, unbundling, separation of concerns… one might even say hugging the query. Whatever you call it.

    The thing is that Nerst is a bit too narrow — he just talks about one type of decoupling, which, as he notes, might also be called individualism. But decoupling, or orthogonality, is much broader than that.

    I would go so far as to claim that starting from a broad principle of orthogonality is enough to rederive a lot of liberalism (in the loosely-classical sense). (Since I don’t want to write a whole essay here, working out how is left as an exercise to the reader. 😛 ) Not all of it, but a hell of a lot. So many liberal principles are really just special cases of orthogonality. But orthogonality doesn’t seem to be often recognized as a liberal principle. It should be, and as a fundamental one at that.

    (Or to put it differently, a key insight of liberalism is that not everything is related to everything else. To me the other corners of the triangle look like people who are constantly trying to drag in information that just isn’t relevant to the question.)

    I guess one of my basic disagreements with Nerst, if I’m understanding him correctly, may be that I don’t take modern American conservatism, as expressed by the Republican party, as actually having some coherent ideology that’s being expressed — to me it just looks like a completely awkward mashup of some elements of liberalism and some elements of traditionalism/authoritarianism that really don’t go together, so I’m not very willing to draw inferences from it and tend to just discard it. (Have you noticed how even though Republicans claim to be individualist, they’re very often actually “familyist”, so to speak?) And unsurprisingly I don’t see the Democrats (or modern American liberalism) as some sort of coherent pole either, though they’re better at making their different parts seem cohesive. But I basically tend to ignore such stuff and look for coherent extremes to explain things as interpolations between, and I basically detect three of those.

    • Aapje says:

      Any coalition that includes about half of the population/voters can’t be coherent, as the ways in which people differ are greater than 2.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        ideologically no, strategically yes.

        “Smash your enemy and grab his stuff”, defining ‘stuff’ both materially and non can easily generate a 50/50 coalition with pretty strong allegiances on both sides. Fragmentation only occurs after the smashers are deciding how to split the bounty.

  10. Tedd says:

    Regarding the orchestra study – this is the usual kind of “doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny”, i.e., the central claim (blinding helped women get hired) is not demonstrated to typical standards of significance, despite the evidence being in that direction. In this case the small effective sample size means they probably could not have achieved significance even if there were large real effects.

    As is common, the authors do not make this remotely clear in their abstract, introduction, or conclusion. In fact they give quite the opposite impression.

    There are subgroups (different phases of the audition process) in which there is a statistically significant effect, though probably not after performing corrections for multiple comparisons.

    The relevant parts of the paper are on page 734 and 735 of [the paper](https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/aer.90.4.715), describing the results for two different approaches to investigating effects of blinding on hiring.

    Women are about 5 percentage points more likely to be hired than are men in a completely blind audition, although the effect is not statistically significant. The effect is nil, however, when there is a semifinal round, perhaps as a result of the unusual effects of the semifinal round. The impact for all rounds [columns (5) and (6)] is about 1 percentage point, although the standard errors are large and thus the effect is not statistically significant. Given that the probability of winning an audition is less than 3 percent, we would need more data than we currently have to estimate a statistically significant effect, and even a 1-percentage-point increase is large, as we later demonstrate.

    and

    The coefficient on blind in column (1) is positive, although not significant at any usual level of confidence.

    • J Mann says:

      Was there ever an attempt to replicate?

      Given the weirdness in the results – as a whole, women who elect to do non-blind do better than women who elect to do blind,and in semi-finals, even women who do both blind and non-blind do much better in non-blind, the study seems to cry out for “we need to do more research,” not “it is well established that women do better in blind orchestra auditions.”

      • Tedd says:

        Not to my knowledge. It’s going to be hard to replicate, though: this was a natural experiment occasioned by orchestras choosing to switch on their own, and the authors had privileged access to (and did not publish) the raw data.

    • Kuiperdolin says:

      If the sample size is too small for significance in the overall study, how can it be large enough in the subgroups?

      • Tedd says:

        “Subgroup” isn’t exactly the wrong word. “Sub-effect”? The full hiring process is composed of several phases (though not always the same phases were used by all orchestras). Each phase can be considered separately, but they’ll have almost as many people as the full process.

        Anyway, it’s possible in general if the effect is larger in a subgroup than in the whole group. Significance is a function of effect size, not just sample size.

        • Kuiperdolin says:

          Right, but you said “In this case the small effective sample size means they probably could not have achieved significance even if there were large real effects” (emphasis mine).

          Or do you mean the effect can be larger in the sub-case than it can realistically be overall?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      despite the evidence being in that direction

      No, the evidence was in the opposite direction.

      • Tedd says:

        No, it wasn’t. Read the paper, not the medium post. Or just read the part I quoted: “The impact for all rounds is about 1 percentage point”. That’s in the positive direction.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Why not read the medium piece? Because it quotes something you want to censor? You could argue that the part you quote is better than the other part. In fact, the medium piece does that, unlike you who just lies about it.

          • Tedd says:

            Jesus christ.

            Read the paper rather than the medium post because the medium post is based on the paper and, of necessity, leaves out a lot of detail, and contains nothing that the paper does not.

          • John Schilling says:

            OK, but the one-sentence “part you quoted” leaves out even more detail and I am guessing contains nothing that the paper did not. And you were saying that just reading that sentence would be preferable to reading the Medium article.

            The sort of pedantry where you dismiss everyone who hasn’t read the full academic paper, OK, I get that (and ignore it and move on). But the ranking where reading the original paper counts as well-informed, reading the thousand-word summary article by the guy with the hard-science Ph.D. and the 333 citations on Google Scholar would leave one ill-informed, but reading one sentence by some guy named “Tedd” again makes one well-informed, seems to me to be something other than a defense of reason and knowledge.

          • Tedd says:

            You are reading a lot more into a two-line post than was there. If you are willing to trust the sentence I quoted from the paper is accurate, it alone suffices to establish the claim I was making. If you are not, you should read the whole paper, at which point I expect you’ll come to the same conclusion. There is nothing wrong with the medium post, but it doesn’t make a call on which direction evidence from the paper points on balance.

  11. eterevsky says:

    > unless you are in Tokyo or Hong Kong, buses, cars, and planes are always superior to passenger rail.

    I live in Switzerland, and extensive public rail system here is awesome. You can get by rail even to small towns with say 5000 inhabitants. The biggest city in Switzerland has the population of less than 400’000.

    The public transportation here is so good, that in 4 years that I’ve lived here I didn’t bother to buy a car.

    • niohiki says:

      As another Swiss-dweller, I can confirm that the rail system here is absolute happiness. It goes everywhere, it’s reliable, it’s frequent, it’s (very) comfortable, it’s well-connected (France, I’m thinking of you). One can work or read on those trains without any problem, and it even has the plus of letting you enjoy the Swiss landscape.

      But the feeling I get from the post, is that they mean “superior” in a very narrow sense of economic efficiency (km per cent!). What they state may as well be the case even in Switzerland, seeing the price of standard tickets. Of course there’s the half-fare and so on, and the fact that you can get any train whenever you want… but you do have to pay for it. You can get the same movement, in potentially less time, for less money, with other options (car-sharing…).

      But because I’m all for stopping Moloch as much as we can, and since it is anyway by far not my main sink of income (I’d imagine that’s your case too), I’m happy to use trains for their many layers of convenience. I mean, if for some reason there was an extremely cheap and fast way of transportation that involved getting hit in the head every 20 seconds, I would not take it. I don’t think it’d be very popular either.

      The problem is the assumption that (utility points/cent) is directly proportional to (km/cent).

      • sweetnavelorange says:

        Another common oversight in this kind of pop-analysis of rail vs. air travel is the focus on terminal-to-terminal costs rather than door-to-door. A plane can only take you as far as the airport, and (for major cities at least) airports are usually further from your origin or destination than the railway station; and the necessary extra legs of the journey take place over much more expensive suburban or urban infrastructure, which is built into the cost of the train but not the plane.

        • niohiki says:

          Well, to not completely straw-man their position, that applies to planes, not so much buses or carsharing. My answer to that would be that anyone who tells me that spending five hours in a bus is the same as spending five hours in trains, clearly has never been for five hours in a bus. Let alone tried to work on a bus.

          An even bigger concern with planes, the way I see it, are externalities derived from the reduced choice. That is, if by taking a plane I need to arrive the previous day because there’s just not a good connection, and I need to pay an extra hotel night at my destination, well, not great. It can also be measured as a cost of opportunity because of needing to take extra holidays/just happening at a generally inconvenient time.

          This is for sure part of the reason plane tickets can be so cheap – the schedules are designed to maximize passengers per flight, fluctuate around the year, and prices are set to encourage flying on usually low density dates. Part of what you are paying for with trains is the knowledge that every day at 7:13 AM you will be able to get exactly the train you want, no matter the amount of passengers or the feelings of the train company.

          It quite seems as if there was a niche for buses (shorter distance, but cheap and convenient), another for trains (convenient and long distance, but expensive), and another for planes (cheap(-er) and long distance, but inconvenient). Gasp! It’s almost as if the market was regulating itself according to demand!

        • acymetric says:

          Well, one thing that tends to be ignored when promoting rail is the need for parking. Airports deal with this by having large campuses with tons of parking. Much harder to accomplish with a rail line having many stops. And no, people aren’t going to want to walk to a bus stop, take a bus to the train, then ride the train, then take a bus from the train to work (a plan that means there is a lot of room for failure modes/delays/missed connections).

          • Aapje says:

            In my country a lot of people solve this issue with biking to and from the station. You can either park your own bike there or rent a bike.

          • acymetric says:

            How long would the typical bike-commute be?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            One extremely obvious failure mode with a bike-centric option is the disabled and anyone too old or out of shape to ride a bike.

            Also, weather.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Mr. Doolittle: Good bicycle infrastructure also works for electric scooters, wheelchairs etc. And electric-assisted bicycles are becoming increasingly popular.

          • niohiki says:

            I don’t think that is really an issue. I mean, the best case scenario is that you avoid the “walk to a bus stop” bit by directly going to your garage (if it’s hopefully in your house, and not somewhere else) and getting your car. From there it’s basically the same (drive in traffic, make in time to the station, find a parking spot [probably comparable to “walk to the bus stop”], take train, take another bus, arrive). Partly because you’re usually not allowed to take your car with you in the train.

            Now, you could argue that you are better off in such a situation if you just take the car all the way from your house to your workplace. I actually agree! But that’s not a parking problem.

            Also, as @JPNunez mentions below, it depends on how bad is your access to the closest station, and how close it can deliver you to your actual destination. I have not found what you describe a problem at all in several European countries where I have used the rail network extensively. That, and going to work is not the only/main purpose of the rail network. I guess that is quite different when one has the discussion about those lines for big USA cities that are probably meant to help people commute for their job, with the added problem that there are much larger suburban sprawls.

            @Mr. Doolittle
            If I really wanted to criticize @Aapje’s solution, I’d say it’s not functional for heavily rainy/snowy seasons. But even then, it’s a very good idea when feasible, which is most of the time for most of the people. I can’t really see why we should be more inefficient as a whole because some subgroup cannot do a particular thing. I mean, no one here is planning to ban buses, private transportation, or whatever other standard options there are for those of reduced mobility. And while we’re at it, more people using bikes means less congested public transportation, less traffic density and more parking space available (or conversely, less money spent on any of those things), all available for those who need it (say, the elderly or disabled). I don’t know, it kind of strikes me as criticizing bridges because people with vertigo cannot cross them.

          • eccdogg says:

            There is just such a difference in density between most European cities or even towns and US ones. Biking would not be a reasonable option in most American cities.

          • acymetric says:

            @niohiki

            …find a parking spot [probably comparable to “walk to the bus stop”], take train, take another bus, arrive). Partly because you’re usually not allowed to take your car with you in the train.

            Now, you could argue that you are better off in such a situation if you just take the car all the way from your house to your workplace. I actually agree! But that’s not a parking problem.

            You’re taking parking infrastructure for granted. I’m saying car parking is not part of the plan for the light rail. The parking problem isn’t “taking the time to find a parking spot,” its “there is no parking available because it isn’t part of the plan”. Implicitly, they want you to use one of the other transportation options to get to the rail instead. If you want to create parking, you need additional land and funds to handle that (flat parking requires more land but lower construction costs, deck parking reduces land needs but requires more construction).

            @eccdogg

            There is just such a difference in density between most European cities or even towns and US ones. Biking would not be a reasonable option in most American cities.

            Exactly. In the NC case, a lot of people would be biking 5+ miles at each end. Which would be a great health initiative, but is unlikely to get a lot of buy in.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I don’t know, it kind of strikes me as criticizing bridges because people with vertigo cannot cross them.

            That’s fair, and depends heavily on how much we depend on biking as an option. I live in an area with bad winter weather and an unusually large elderly population, so a bike-centric option is going to be very underutilized. To the point that we would need a fully functioning alternative, capable of handling all of the needs. At that point you’re not really solving anything with bikes.

            I’m sure some west coast cities with more pleasant weather year-round would find the option much more palatable.

          • acymetric says:

            I think part of the disconnect is that niohiki is assuming a system optimized or at least palatable for biking. If you don’t have good biking routes, or the people you need to serve are spread out and not enough of them are within biking range (or, as mentioned, there is consistent weather that makes biking impractical or impossible), the biking solution falls apart.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m sure some west coast cities with more pleasant weather year-round would find the option much more palatable.

            Which cities are these?

            I live and work in the Los Angeles area, prefer to use a bicycle in my commute, but I do sometimes have to drive on account of rain (e.g. yesterday). Which means I have to have a car, and my employer has to have enough parking space for everyone to put their cars, and the roads have to be capable of handling the traffic on days when all the bicyclists decided to drive because it’s raining for everybody all at once, and really you have to put in all the investment to give everyone a fully capable bicycle-independent transit system.

            That being the case even in Southern California, bicycles can be a marginal nice-to-have but it’s hard to see them being transformative.

          • arbitraryvalue says:

            @John Schilling

            Perhaps this is a bit off-topic, but biking in the rain without getting wet is actually surprisingly simple if you’re prepared for it. I wear an uninsulated ski jacket with a hood and ski pants over my normal clothing, and if my shoes aren’t waterproof I put plastic bags over my feet and tuck them into the pants. It looks silly, but I can take it all off once I arrive.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Biking is also more feasible in relatively flat areas.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m not sure what counts as light rail (not suitable for freight?), but Philadelphia Regional Rail (serves the suburbs) has a lot of parking near the stations. For that matter, the major station at 30th St. has a lot of parking.

            None of this means you could put new train stations in cities and easily have room for parking.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            @Nancy:
            My experience with Philadelphia Regional Rail is that any time you’d want to use them, the parking lots for suburb stations are essentially full. That might mean the needs of the current commuters are filled (although I doubt that), but it certainly doesn’t leave much room for expansion. And I have yet to see a rail station with empty space adjacent to it, so you’re looking at eminent-domaining some houses at least to expand that capability.

            I was lucky enough to be within walking distance (albeit able-bodied person walking distance) of a Regional Rail stop at my previous apartment, and it was wonderful: really my favorite way of having access to a city.

          • Plumber says:

            All this talk of bicycling to a train reminds me of one of my favorite videos: Cyclists Special, which makes post-war austerity-era Britain look AWESOME!

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Fair enough. I don’t have a car, so I just noticed the large parking lots were there without tracking how full they are.

          • niohiki says:

            @acymetric, @eccdogg, @Mr. Doolittle, @John Schilling

            Don’t get me wrong, again, I totally agree that there are many times rail is not a good solution! And since it always involves serious public spending, I can easily see myself being against it in plenty of cases (from what I get, such as the California rail project at the origin of the whole debate). I just wanted to challenge the notion that rail is always a bad idea because it offers poor km/cent, as stated in the third link on the topic. There are more variables to consider, and as a fact, I have enjoyed several systems (admittedly, in densely populated European regions) where everyone seems to be very happy about their existence.

            To put it another way, my opinion about the optimality of everyone moving around by car depends a lot on whether we are talking about the middle of North Dakota, or Rome.

          • Quixote says:

            In New York and London you can take the subway (tube in london) to the airport. I think the same is true in Paris and Tokyo but I took cabs there.

          • zzzzort says:

            Even when I owned a car I would take public transport to airports, just because they tend to be reasonably well served and then I don’t need to pay for long term parking. And when I visit cities I tend not to rent a car, so I often use public transport on that end as well. And airport parking is now overbuilt, as uber is dominant over driving in many cases

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Quixote: In Paris, the Metro doesn’t go to any of the airports yet, but the RER (high-frequency suburban rail) connects both CdeG and Orly with the centre- in the case of Orly you have to take either an automatic light rail line or a bus to reach an RER station, but the Metro is being extended to reach Orly.

            “Paris” Beauvais has limited public transport links, but that’s what you get for flying Ryanair.

          • Aapje says:

            3/4 of the Dutch bicycle commutes are less than 7.5 km.

            As for the disabled, two wheeled solutions are extremely adaptable. They can be adapted for the armless, legless, people with equilibrium problems, etc.

            An plausible alternative are (electric) scooters, especially for longer distances.

            An intermediate between scooters and bikes is the electric bike, which is a major advantage when it comes to speed (some go 45 km/h aka 28 mph), sweating, ability to take on undulating terrain, lack of fitness, etc.

            We also have snow (although less often due to climate change) & we aggressively plow/salt the roads. Of course, the feasibility of this depends on population density & the ability of the government to get things done (which seems lower in the US).

            As for Chicago or other urban and suburban places having too low of a density, Switzerland has a density that is a fraction of Chicago’s (city or metropolitan). So these complaints about ‘can’t’ seem to actually be ‘won’t.’

            Note that it is an option to make policy that results in greater population density, especially as urbanization is still continuing.

            @Acymetric

            In the NC case, a lot of people would be biking 5+ miles at each end. Which would be a great health initiative, but is unlikely to get a lot of buy in.

            1. You are not going to fix the obesity crisis with that attitude

            2. Electric support makes 5 miles a breeze. Ever since those got popular, elderly Dutch people are far more often making fairly long trips by bike.

            3. Where is that ‘can do’ attitude that Americans are known for?

          • eccdogg says:

            @Aapje

            Isn’t the correct comparison Switzerland to the State of Illinois? Switzerland would be much denser.

            Chicago is in fact dense, but they also have rail mass transit (though probably not as good as Zurich)

          • JulieK says:

            I recently flew from Israel to New York, took trains to a NY suburb, and then a cab for the last few miles. Going back, I took a taxi-van from the airport to Jerusalem, and a bus from Jerusalem to a nearby town.
            My husband and kids tried to come meet me at the airport, but our youngest threw up on the bus to Jerusalem, causing them to miss the last train from Jerusalem to the airport.

          • brad says:

            > Much harder to accomplish with a rail line having many stops.

            I don’t see why it need be so bad in a commuter rail situation. Especially if the NIMBYs of suburbia are willing to deal with a parking garage or three. In fact, those stations make for a good opportunity to put in some local retail as there’s plenty of extra parking just at the times when people aren’t at work.

      • Floccina says:

        For many people on many trips an important question is, is the airport closer to car rental place than the train station?

    • JPNunez says:

      This must be a network effect, though, where the value of a network is ~square the number of nodes.

      If you live in Switzerland or many parts of Europe, there are trains in a ton of cities and towns, and thus the value of the network is high.

      If you are building a train joining two cities, the value is ridiculously low, particularly nowadays when it competes with already established transport options.

      So either go big or go home. Build a whole network of rail or just don’t bother. So the GND including building railways nationwide may be a good idea. Individual cities/states building railways is a losing proposition and any competent analysis will show the return is low. The whole nation all coming together and building railways at the same time is much better.

      That’s ignoring the weird cost part, from skimming the news I get the idea that the cost of building high speed rail in that part of California is very expensive compared to doing it in China or Europe.

      • acymetric says:

        We’re having this problem in North Carolina right now, where a proposal to build a light rail between Durham (Duke) and Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina) is on the rocks after Duke declined to offer funding and land grants to the project. Looking at the project and proposed routes, it appears to offer little to no benefit to anybody at the cost of massive traffic delays during several years of construction (not to mention the wasted money constructing it).

        Keep in mind Durham is a relatively small (though growing) city, and Chapel Hill is basically a town with a major university/hospital in it. If it doesn’t make sense for the huge cities in CA, I can’t imagine why it would make sense here.

        • eccdogg says:

          I live in Raleigh and that project has always seemed absurd to me. There was maybe MAYBE a case to be made for connecting Durham to Raleigh through RDU, Research Triangle Park, and Cary. But once Raleigh backed out it seemed incredibly silly fo Chapel Hill and Durham to say “we’ll show you and build a line between our two cities”

      • Aapje says:

        @JPNunez

        Public transport can be multi-modality. For example, you can travel part of the way by bus and part of the way by train. That gives you network effects without requiring you to run the trains everywhere.

        Trains are only efficient with high utilization. Sending trains to 5000 people towns has to be way far more expensive than running buses between those towns and a railway hub. Furthermore, having that many stops means that travel times are very high, which means that the trains are going to be poor for traveling long distances.

        I live in one of the most dense countries and a key consideration is to link the various modalities. For example, train stations have bus stops close by, they typically have bike parking, some have bike rental, some have car parking (for park and ride) and some have a metro near by.

        In some more rural areas, there are now on-call bus services, that don’t run a regular service, but that pick you up if you call.

        I looked at a comparison between countries and Switserland achieves a very high service level, but at a high cost (in subsidies). The Netherlands has a slightly lower service level, but at a way lower cost.

        However, of course the circumstances also play a role in the cost efficiency.

        • JPNunez says:

          Oh yeah, one of the best things about train stations is that most of the time you can build them in the center or close to the center of the city; airports will tend to be more in the periphery.

          It’s even possible to put a subway to the train station so you just switch from one kind of train to another.

          Not that there aren’t airports with a subway station serving them, but an airport near the center is rare.

          It’s fair that many (most?) travels will be multi-modal, but that still makes single line design a losing proposition. I think the California one was a couple of lines, but it was still too small; and sure, you can expect to send trains to all the little towns; look at the map of trains in Switzerland

          https://www.sbb.ch/content/dam/infrastruktur/trafimage/karten/karte-netzkarte-schweiz.pdf.sbbdownload.pdf

          It’s insane. Switzerland has 1800 stations in a fraction of the area of California. Population density is an issue, but yeah, eventually the plan could involve eventually sending trains to most of the little towns. Sure, you cannot expect California to match Switzerland’s investment in trains that has spanned more than a century, but the point is that, yes, the little towns can be reached. Sure, they can be served by bus in the meantime.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I really wish the romanticism for trains could be moved onto buses. I can’t imagine a train line ever being built in any sane way to get me from my home to work, but a bus could take me door-to-door and, even if takes longer, would free me up to do other things during the commute.

          • John Schilling says:

            Oh yeah, one of the best things about train stations is that most of the time you can build them in the center or close to the center of the city; airports will tend to be more in the periphery.

            OK, but a train station in isolation is basically just an overspecified shopping mall. And building train tracks that will have to roughly bisect a city, is at least as big a NIMBY problem as building a new runway.

            Whatever web of track you laid down in your city prior to ~1960, should not be constrained by a shortage of station space. That much is true. But if you laid down single-track and you need double-track, or high speed, or worse if you need to support new districts with new lines that weren’t on your 1960 plan, you’re going to face problems.

            Problems that, e.g., California’s abortive high-speed rail proposal dealt with by planning the “high speed” part to run between San Jose and Sylmar, not San Francisco and Los Angeles, which is to say even farther from downtown than those cities’ respective major airports.

          • Dedicating Ruckus says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            No one is ever going to be romantic about buses, because buses are awful.

            Easier to deploy than trains, by a lot, but still awful.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Buses don’t have to be awful. The Google bus works fine.

            Have a bus drive around my neighborhood, picking up a list of pre-approved people at-or-very-near their house. Drive downtown to the office district and drop people off at-or-very-near their office. Do not pick up homeless people.

            It’s unsexy, but it gets the job done.

          • Theodoric says:

            Have a bus drive around my neighborhood, picking up a list of pre-approved people at-or-very-near their house. Drive downtown to the office district and drop people off at-or-very-near their office. Do not pick up homeless people.

            Isn’t this basically Lyft Line (not exactly pre-approved people, but the need for a credit card to pay should filter out the scary/crazy homeless)?

          • Lambert says:

            Trains are still fundamentally better, because they don’t suddenly go around corners.
            Also, not suddenly going around corners means they can be much longer, and more pleasantly spacious.

          • Aapje says:

            @JPNunez

            Swiss rail handles 30% of commutes, which is incredibly high and probably the only reason why it is still fairly affordable for their society.

            I don’t think that can be achieved as easily as multi-modal solutions. It seems like a chicken and egg problem. You can only get such a high share with a high density of railways and even then are dependent on a strong cultural shift, but who is going to spend so much money on railways on the speculative notion that the culture may then adapt so much. If it doesn’t, you will end up scrapping many of those railway lines again (scrapping lines has happened in many places).

            Multimodal solutions are also more robust to innovation and cultural change.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      I think a lot of people don’t have a good idea of just how spread out the US is, so I’m just going to point out that Switzerland seems to have a population density of about 200/km^2, or roughly 6 times that of the US. Perhaps more demonstrably, if it were a state, it would rank 6th, between Maryland and Delaware. Only about 10% of the population lives in a state more dense than your country. Zurich, despite being “small”, is more dense than every large city in the US except NYC, SF, and Boston.

      Some of our big cities could use better design with more transit, but a country-spanning network of rail is really just silly.

  12. manwhoisthursday says:

    “It’s very modern-looking, but not in a bad way.”

    It’s appalling, sorry. Someone once remarked that Third World favelas are nicer to look at than almost all new public buildings in modern countries. They were right.

  13. j r says:

    I’m sure the budget director is right that the economic benefits Amazon would have brought to the state were much greater than the subsidies necessary to lure them there, but he misses the point: subsidizing them is still defecting against other states in a negative-sum way.

    Yes and no. There are really two separate critiques of the Amazon deal. The one you describe is the neoliberal/libertarian critique, which is contra crony capitalist deals but generally pro-development. However, the Amazon deal was mostly defeated by lefty, DSA types, whose opposition is based in anti-corporate sentiment and is generally skeptical of this kind of development even when it doesn’t get subsidies and clawbacks.

    And I note your point about moving to a better equilibrium, but let’s acknowledge the reality of the present equilibrium. Here is a point that I’ve see no one make but Kevin Erdman: NYC, like most places, has put in place a whole web of regulatory and political barriers that make it prohibitively expensive and almost impossible to build anything new; this gives governments the ability to pick and choose the development they want by offering subsidies. It’s the equivalent of the store that marks the price up by 40% to advertise a 20%-off sale.

    Getting rid of the subsidies without fixing the regulatory problem doesn’t solve the problem. It just makes all but a tiny sliver of development uneconomical.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Moreover, because the Amazon deal was defeated by lefty DSA types, the lefty DSA lesson is what will be taken away, not the liberal anti-crony one.

    • skybrian says:

      It may be that NYC did everyone a favor just because Amazon will benefit other places more. After all, NYC has the second-highest housing costs in the country.

      Or to put it another way, there seems to be a natural tendency for businesses to concentrate in only a few cities, causing growth problems there while other places suffer from lack of jobs. Maybe we should oppose this in favor of spreading the wealth?

      • Ghillie Dhu says:

        “We” who? “Oppose” how?

        • WayUpstate says:

          Precisely, and precisely the questions I bring up in this conversation IRL. The states compete against each other because…well…humans. That and the increasingly tribal identity being taken on by the various regions. The recent news in Central NY includes two efforts to separate everything north of Westchester County into a new state even when faced with the fact that the ‘new’ state would be among the most impoverished states in the country that would have to increase taxes in order to make up for the subsidy lost when NYC and environs has its own state.
          You can walk into the local economic development agency here and with the promise of creating only a few jobs can get numerous tax exemptions on top of those offered by the state, e.g.:
          https://www.tax.ny.gov/bus/manufacturing-incentives.htm
          Don’t want to pay any property taxes for awhile, just pick a vacant building and renovate it.
          Amazon says the real competition is for “talent,” and they go to where that “talent” is located. I find that spurious. “Talent” will go to where it’s best paid and utilized. Within 2 hours of me I see a dozen universities including Cornell, Syracuse, Univ of Rochester, and Colgate plus the many state schools and smaller private colleges (Hamilton, etc). So clearly, “talent” is available yet big businesses continue to avoid the old rust belt so there must be other reasons.
          The lure of the Big City is certainly an age-old reason though I’ve seen no good discussion on how the smaller cities can leverage that for their own good. Having lived in NYC and DC (Manhattan and Dupont respectively using public transit thanks), I understand the allure but the opportunities were no less daunting than those I find in my smaller city and the barriers to entry seem easier to overcome in the hinterlands due to aforementioned incentives. Yes, profits will grow more slowly but so will costs.
          I don’t object to states and cities competing to attract businesses with the accompanying knock-on effects in improvements to infrastructure but despite all the incentives places like the-rest-of-NY with its cheap talent, excess infrastructure, abundant water, cheap(ish) utilities remain mired in just holding on to what they have.
          While I’m on this, I think the rust belt is also hung up on the sunk cost fallacy. There are many cities that should just shrink their boundaries and abandon the unnecessary infrastructure with incentives to more densely rebuild their cores. Want to live ‘in the country?’ Fine, just not on the backs of those that must pay to maintain infrastructure to areas of decreasing population densities. Making the cities more ‘attractive’ may not show up in the balance sheet in the near term but may make the ‘talent’ more likely to stick around/come back/try it out. Given the lackluster effects of all the monetary incentives, perhaps its time to try out something else.

  14. theredsheep says:

    “How did the descendants of the Mayan Indians end up in the Eastern Orthodox Church?”

    Weird story involving one really determined/discontented/disillusioned Catholic priest with a really large flock, IIRC. He found Orthodoxy, found it convincing, and talked over the whole group, who thought he was so awesome that they said, “okay!” I once met Jesse Brandow, one of the missionaries we’ve got down there–possibly the only one, can’t recall–trying to teach them the faith after the priest died. Last I heard, he was getting ready to marry the nurse we sent to take care of the community.

    I’d like to thank you for persistently bringing my religion to the public’s attention, and for remembering that we are, in fact, a completely different faith from the Orthodox Jews. This is way better than I’m used to.

  15. eric23 says:

    Re the anti train article.

    About 2/3 of the article is an argument that big projects almost always have cost and schedule overruns. This is a non sequitor, because it equally applies to roads or airports, which would have to be built to absorb the growing travel demand in California.

    The remainder is an argument that “air travel is far less expensive than train travel”, “even though Amtrak receives much bigger subsidies”. There are many things wrong with this argument.

    1) It overestimates the cost of rail on HSR corridors. Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (DC to Boston) receives no subsidies, and in fact generates a large profit. It’s the rural lines (i.e. Chicago to Seattle) which need subsidies to operate, but nobody proposes building HSR there. Also, Amtrak’s fares are federally constrained (the minimum fare must be more than a certain percentage of the first class maximum) which also causes higher prices for the average consumer (I believe European HSR is less than half the ticket price per mile, compared to the Northeast Corridor). Also, the Northeast Corridor is medium speed rather than high speed, which increases operating costs (trains are expensive, and each one covers fewer miles per day). Also Amtrak is restricted by arcane rules of the Federal Railroad Administration which require trains to be much heavier and thus more expensive than passenger trains in other developed countries.

    2) It underestimates the cost of flight, by including long-range flights (which are cheaper per mile) along with HSR-corridor flights (which are much more expensive per mile, because much of the time and fuel are spent getting to altitude and landing, rather than traveling horizontally). I also suspect that it drastically underestimates the subsidy given to jet fuel, the supply of which is secured by extremely expensive military action in the Middle East.

    3) It ignores that there simply is little to no space in coastal California to build new airports or freeways as demand rises. This is a geometric constraint which, in time, will place a rather hard limit on travel capacity and lead to significant cost increases for both driving and flying once the limit is reached.

    • Aapje says:

      Airplane fuel is also taxed much less than road fuel. I’m not sure how the tax compares to tax on electricity for rail.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I know that in the UK diesel trains run on ”red diesel” which is designated for off-road use and not taxed as much as fuel for trucks or buses.

        (The tax on red diesel is about 11p per litre, compared to 58p per litre for diesel for use in road vehicles).

        British railways pay VAT, but no other taxes, on electricity used to run their trains.

        • Aapje says:

          Trains used to run red diesel in my country, but this was ended in 2013. So now the diesel trains use expensive diesel. Only commercial shipping can still use red diesel.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      If you want to avoid cost overruns, buy a bus.

      Yes, I would like dedicated express bus lanes in some places, which need built and would be subject to overruns. Although

      1. my city already has some dedicated bus lanes, so they just need to make the bus routes good and convenient.

      2. even without dedicated bus lanes, you can still entice people to ride them by making them nice experiences; then, if bus ridership increases, you can have a place to create dedicated bus lanes.

      And if the buses don’t work out, you can sell the bus back on the open market, instead of having to maintain a white elephant for 40 years.

    • Ghillie Dhu says:

      About 2/3 of the article is an argument that big projects almost always have cost and schedule overruns. This is a non sequitor, because it equally applies to roads or airports, which would have to be built to absorb the growing travel demand in California.

      vs.

      The reason high-speed rail is expensive is that it requires a lot of precision infrastructure that is costly to build and costly to maintain. By comparison, airlines require very little infrastructure and while highway infrastructure is relatively inexpensive

      • eric23 says:

        HSR is a solved problem. Every developed country except the US manages to build and operate its HSR “precision infrastructure” for reasonable costs and without complications. It’s not complicated any more than airport terminals are complicated (which they can be if your management is sufficiently incompetent, but that’s not a problem with the technology).

    • sharper13 says:

      I also suspect that it drastically underestimates the subsidy given to jet fuel, the supply of which is secured by extremely expensive military action in the Middle East.

      Caveat: I hear people say things like this, and they’ve never made much sense to me.

      Can you explain to me in a simple manner the mechanism by which you believe wars in the middle east increase the amount of jet fuel (or oil products in general) able to be purchased by people in the United States? I ask, because if anything, I’d intuitively expect wars in a geographic location to reduce the supply of commodities like oil in that region, due to destruction, interruptions in transportation, etc…, not to increase supply.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        As evidence against, Trump hates the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because we aren’t getting anything out of it. In Bob Woodward’s book, he’s practically mercantilist in his outlook, and he’s yelling at his staff that we are paying blood and money for nothing in return.

        His staff, who did not want to pull out for a variety of reasons, could not tell him any way we extracted more or better resources. It was what Trump wanted to hear, and if it was true they are the people in the world best able to know it. Instead, they kept on talking about strategic relations or stopping the next ISIS and stuff like that.

        (The book also has a story about a rumor that the Chinese were somehow extracting the ore in Afghanistan and the administration’s reaction to that. It was false: even though Afghanistan has lots of mineral wealth in theory, they have no infrastructure to extract it, and most of it is in Taliban controlled areas anyway.)

      • WayUpstate says:

        Oil is a global commodity and the prices are dictated by global supply and demand. The demand at your local pump (or airport) is insignificant. I’m as opposed to our continued involvement in the Middle East militarily as anyone but if a wider war raged in the Middle East and lessened global supplies of crude oil, you’d see the price of oil increase globally for at least months/years as production ramped up elsewhere. ‘Bottling up’ the Gulf and mining the straight of Hormuz would shut down a substantial part of Middle East production for an indefinite period. Europe is much more susceptible to this kind of supply shock than the US would be, but we’d feel the effects at the pump pretty quickly.

      • eric23 says:

        A large percentage of US military spending – both in permanent bases and deployments, and in occasional wars – is focused on the Middle East. What could the purpose of all this spending be except to protect the US oil supply? You might answer “terrorism”, but most of this spending was in place long before 9/11.

        Anyway, like most military investment, this spending is intended to *prevent* war, either by deterrence, or by a preventative war that is hoped to be less costly than the enemy’s projected future actions. The US’ long-range goal is that as much as possible of the Middle East’s oil supply is controlled by friendly countries which will not cut of the US’ oil supply on a whim. That provides economic security for the US economy, whose growth is historically dependent on the low price of oil.

        • The US’ long-range goal is that as much as possible of the Middle East’s oil supply is controlled by friendly countries which will not cut of the US’ oil supply on a whim.

          Oil is fungible, and the U.S. is itself a major producer. In order not to have the U.S. oil supply cut off, all it takes is to have enough other producers to fill the gap between production and consumption willing to sell to us—which requires only a fraction of world output.

          Currently, the largest source of foreign oil for the U.S. is Canada. More than all of the OPEC countries combined.

          • eric23 says:

            You are correct, that most of the US’ oil comes from nearby sources – the US itself, Canada, Mexico etc.

            However, the market price of this oil is the same as the price of oil in the rest of the world. If Middle Eastern countries cut off their oil supplies (as they did in 1973), this will raise oil prices worldwide, as the European and other countries which DO use Middle Eastern oil will become bidders for Canadian oil. This will hurt the US economy (as it did in 1973).

          • However, the market price of this oil is the same as the price of oil in the rest of the world.

            Correct.

            What you wrote was:

            The US’ long-range goal is that as much as possible of the Middle East’s oil supply is controlled by friendly countries which will not cut of the US’ oil supply on a whim.

            You are now talking, not about countries cutting off the US oil supply, but about countries stopping production entirely, cutting off the world oil supply.

            The trouble with doing that is that it also cuts off a major, in some cases the major, source of revenue to the oil producing country. That isn’t a believable threat. Reducing supplies in order to push up prices is believable, but only when there is a reasonably strong cartel controlling enough production to make monopoly pricing practical, which I don’t think is the case at present. I would not expect the Saudi and the Iranians, to take the most obvious example, to cooperate, let alone the British, the Danes, the Canadians, the Mexicans, Venezuela, … .

        • Nornagest says:

          What could the purpose of all this spending be except to protect the US oil supply?

          I think geography’s underappreciated here. The Middle East is close enough to both Western Europe and Russia, physically and economically, that any significant military presence there is going to make one or the other nervous; along with it being relatively unstable (for any number of reasons), that makes it natural ground for proxy wars. But it’s also close enough that the fallout from wars there can spill over, in the form of refugees and supply shocks (and, in the worst case, potentially literal fallout), which points the other way. The tension between those two incentives is probably a lot of what makes the region so geopolitically weird.

          The Cuban Missile Crisis is a good example; that whole mess was kicked off by moving intermediate-range ballistic missiles into Turkey.

        • PedroS says:

          I do not think the US worries about Middle East oil-producing countries in order to have cheap oil: regardless of how cheap it is to extract it, Middle East oil costs as much (to the consumer) as the last barrel of the most expensively extracted oil from any other place, since that is the price the market isnwilling to pay. I think the US worry is that some unfriendly ruler will have access to the revenue provided by that oil and use it to counter US strategic interests.

      • cassander says:

        We invaded and occupied an Iraq governed by dictator who’s chief foreign policy problem the previous decade was trying to convince the US to let it sell more oil. We removed Gaddafi, who was friendly to the US and selling all he could, and replaced him with multi-sided civil war. we intervened in syria, which produces very little oil, and in ways that gravely endangered iraq, which does produce oil.

        If oil access is driving US intervention in the middle east, we’re disastrously incompetent at it.

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      arcane rules of the Federal Railroad Administration which require trains to be much heavier and thus more expensive

      I’m not going to accept that as valid defense of rail, unless the rail proposals include fixing the stupid regulations. Too often, proposals hinge on the real-world problems of their “competition”, while offering up in comparison a utopian view of what they dream of, rather than a realistic view of what is likely to happen in the real world.

      there simply is little to no space in coastal California to build new airports or freeways as demand rises.

      It seems to me that while you can level an argument about space against other modes of transit, it’s rail that is most susceptible to it.

      Rail is more demanding in its selection of land for its tracks (i.e., you can build roads in places you can’t lay track). And it also requires land for stations – and by definition that land will be closest to expensive areas.

      Airports should be easiest of all of these. They require a single compact site, not many miles of track and the many eminent domain issues that will arise. There will likely be NIMBY issues to deal with, but I’m not sure that’s any greater than with rail.

      • eric23 says:

        I’m not going to accept that as valid defense of rail, unless the rail proposals include fixing the stupid regulations.

        Actually, they were fixed just this year. But the heavy trains that were already bought will remain in service for a while.

        It seems to me that while you can level an argument about space against other modes of transit, it’s rail that is most susceptible to it.

        On the contrary: roads have to be much wider than railways, since there are so many fewer passengers per vehicle. Airports are only in one location, but everyone has to get to the airport somehow, either by rail or road, so we get back to the same issue. And new airports require an absolutely gigantic, flat, undeveloped area to be built on. No such areas exist within an hour’s drive of central LA or SF.

  16. Rohan Crawley says:

    About that fish farming… does anyone know much about the conditions fish are farmed in? Is it comparable to the conditions of factory farmed livestock? It seems unlikely to me that fish could be/would need to be kept in such cramped conditions, and if they aren’t I’m unsure where the suffering comes from.

    Also, environmentally speaking I realise that it is generally catastrophic when many wild fish have to be caught to feed the farmed fish, but are herbivorous fish ever farmed? And if so, is it environmentally more scrupulous to eat farmed herbivorous fish over carnivorous wild fish?

    • Aapje says:

      They are kept in cramped conditions, which are usually quite dirty. They are often fed antibiotics to keep them healthy. The amount of suffering this generates is hotly debated, with claims ranging from no suffering to severe suffering.

      Farming commonly is higher density than natural conditions, which is more cost-effective. Your default assumption should be that anything that is farmed is higher density than in nature, IMO.

      • Vitor says:

        Can confirm overly high density of industrial fish farming. A decade ago, in a classical tragedy of the commons, cramped conditions caused a massive epidemic of ISA virus (infectious salmon anemia) in Chile which, roughly speaking, lead to the collapse of the entire industry, and it still hasn’t recovered as of today.

      • acymetric says:

        I’m not overly concerned about cramped fish, but there are good reasons to prefer fresh-caught fish to farmed fish. The antibiotics are one. I’ve also seen it suggested that wild-caught have more of the nutrients that people are looking for when they eat fish due to their natural diet.

        One big thing for some people is that farmed Salmon is generally died to give it the pink color (wild salmon gets its pink color from some part of its diet that isn’t there for the farmed variety). Probably not a big deal for most people, but some people can be allergic to the dye and others just prefer not to eat dyes when not necessary.

        • 10240 says:

          Based on a quick internet search, the “dye” they add to the feed of farmed salmon is the same compound (astaxanthin) as what gives wild salmon its color.

          • acymetric says:

            Blah…it appears you are correct, although there is apparently some debate about whether the synthetic version is really the same as the natural version (primarily the debate is between a company that uses algae to produce the natural version and a company that does whatever they do to make the synthetic version).

    • SamChevre says:

      Herbivorous fish are commonly farmed–tilapia is probably the most common.

    • Ketil says:

      I only have some knowledge about salmon farming, but I expect farmers will fill their farms as much as possible – or rather, to whatever level optimizes profits. So it is usually quite dense, a large pen (~150 m circumference) can hold 200 000 fish or more. The trend is towards larger pens further from shore, due to high requirement of water flow and dispersal of excess nutrients and sewage.

      The largest aquaculture species is Chinese carp, which I think are herbivorous. There is a large drive to include more plant proteins and fats also for salmon, I think salmon is grown on less fish than its weight these days – but there could be some trickery with dry weight fish in the feed vs wet weight fish product, I’m not sure.

      And about antibiotics, I have no idea what the status is for other species, but salmon is vaccinated against the most common infectious diseases, and salmon aquaculture har been practically antibiotics free for something like 30 years.

      That said, I’d much rather use antibiotics on fish than on mammals, since fish pathogens are much less likely to transfer resistance to our pathogens and cause resistant human diseases.

      Anyway, the OP was mostly concerned about suffering, and I guess it depends how much you think fish suffer, and how much worse it is to be a fish in a pen compared to a fish in the ocean. Perhaps shrimps (available both from aquaculture and fisheries) or mussels (ditto) are more acceptable?

      • Aapje says:

        An issue I have with the claim that chickens and fish suffer due to cramping is that it seems to be an anthropomorphist claim. When left to their own devices, these animals seem to often desire being fairly close proximity. So I don’t accept the a priori assumption that cramping is bad, that many activists seem be take as given.

        For chickens, research suggests that free ranged chickens don’t have less stress than cages ones. Main stressors seem to be excess heat and excess group sizes. So this suggests than an optimal chicken farm for the animals might be a climate controlled facility with spaces sized to the normal social group size for chickens.

        This is very much not what animal activists are fighting for, though.

        For fish, I’m not aware of research that actually figured out what causes stress in fish, so most claims seems highly speculative.

        • ChrisA says:

          I wonder if breeding fish (or chickens) that like being farmed and then eaten is a more ethical solution than trying to get wild fish (or free-range chickens). Then we could have all of the benefits of farming (with consequential higher utility for humans) and no ethical concerns. It shouldn’t be too hard to determine which animals of any generation are less stressed being farmed and then eaten – just breed those ones. Or perhaps I am missing the point – the idea is not to solve the ethical issue it is to signal virtue?

          • Lambert says:

            Someone’s been reading too much tHHGttG.

          • Aapje says:

            @ChrisA

            A 2012 study has been done on Dutch pigs, finding that it should be possible to breed pigs with high sociability (less tendency to nibble on other pigs).

            I don’t see much follow-up though.

  17. Alkatyn says:

    > China’s SesameCredit social monitoring system, widely portrayed as dystopian, has an 80% approval rate in China (vs. 19% neutral and 1% disapproval). The researchers admit that although all data is confidential and they are not affiliated with the Chinese government, their participants might not believe that confidently enough to answer honestly.

    The general consensus among academics and journalists is that any public opinion polling in China is going to be laughably inaccurate. Public opinion about a service that exists to monitor behavior is going o be especially so. Looking at the methodology, they seem to have collected all the data via online polls, advertised on various websites. Which is going to be even worse than most polling, as the government in China is quite open about monitoring internet activity, and so it is generally assumed not to be private. (Page 7 of the pdf).

    Its not just about pragmatic worries about whether the data will be leaked, there’s also deeper cultural issues about what you say in private vs public. There’s a strong norm, even among educated English speaking Chinese people, that you don’t talk down China to outsiders, even if in private they will bitch about everything. (Analogous to the general rule that its okay to make fun of your own family members, but not for others to make fun of them).

  18. ana53294 says:

    Like brewing authentic shoyu itself, it’s a slow and strenuous process. That’s what led so many brewers to give up long ago. And while Yamamoto will likely never be able to make enough kioke to save traditional soy sauce and Washoku cuisine in his lifetime, there are three main reasons why he presses on.

    With every new kioke that Yamamoto makes, he writes his name and the names of his three young children on an inside panel of the cedar wood before sealing it shut. They, in turn, leave their handprints on the underside of each barrel. Yamamoto’s daughter has started running into the family storehouse to ask if she can taste her father’s shoyu. His oldest son, who Yamamoto hopes will one day take over the family craft, now eagerly leads him into his great-grandfather’s bamboo grove to search for shoots.

    By the time Yamamoto’s newest kioke are fully caked in the family’s centuries-old bacteria, he may be gone. By the time they finally split apart to reveal the family names written inside, his children and grandchildren may be, too. But Yamamoto hopes that whoever discovers them in the future realises something he learned long ago: “The reason I can consume this soy sauce today is because somebody I didn’t know hundreds of years ago made it.”

    Which shows how strong an incentive being able to leave your kids an inheritance is. Would that man still do all the work it takes to revive an ancient tradition in order to make this unique sauce if he couldn’t leave it to his children? Would his grandfather have planted the bamboo forest to produce the barrels?

    In the UK, forestry is an industry managed by big funds. In Spain, commercial forests are managed by families. Why would a private person plant a forest if they can’t enjoy the fruits of their labour or give it to their children? Forests can be sold young, but they have a huge discount, so you are basically selling the land and don’t get anything for young trees.

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave all really long term things to big funds.

    • sfoil says:

      It’s trivially obvious that confiscatory inheritance taxes are about just about grabbing stuff for redistribution to the grabbers and their clients. The timeline of the “tax assessment” is because for maximum justification you need to grab the stuff in between the time the old owner puts it down and the new owner picks it up and starts doing something productive with it.

  19. kybernetikos says:

    I wonder if the reduction in testosterone is related to the wage decoupling you also talked about recently.

    If finding people prepared to take bold risks is becoming harder, they are naturally going to demand a larger slice of the rewards when those risks pay off. My impression of the markets for a while has been that there’s an awful lot of capital desperately trying to find good returns, and with relatively few places to go. All that capital demands people who will take risks.

    Not sure how to test it really – I fully expect a high proportion of people at the top to have unusually high levels of testosterone, as the increased competitiveness it engenders probably produces greater motivation to perform well, so it’ll be difficult to disentangle the factors.

  20. kboon says:

    Maybe the most impressive example of open-mindedness of all time – but some followers are still holding out hope it’s just a weird stunt.

    Did you read to the end of the article? This is the second time this has happened.

  21. Peter says:

    The thing about pockets on Kenyan police uniforms might not be real – as in, a google for “keyna police pockets” (no quotes) gets various hits alleging it to be fake.

    Which is a bit of a shame as I have a pet obsession about pockets, but oh well.

  22. Aapje says:

    I’m a bit confused by that anti-Dutch pamphlet. I can see how one might attack a group by saying that they are golems shaped from horse turds, but why make the horse so awesome? That seems to undermine the point, somewhat.

    Anyway, note that the war(s) between the English and Dutch resulted in a lot of pejorative English expressions, like:

    Double Dutch meaning gibberish.

    Dutch uncle for a harsh critic.

    Dutch courage is what you get when drinking.

    Dutch treat is when you are invited for a meal and are expected to pay for your own meal.

    Dutch leave is defecting.

    Dutch oven is a way to warm yourself in bed, in a way that smells unpleasantly.

    Dutch agreement, a deal between two drunks.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      And eventually we ended up with this.

    • Dutch oven is a way to warm yourself in bed, in a way that smells unpleasantly.

      That might have been the meaning at some time in the past, but it isn’t what “dutch oven” means now.

      • acymetric says:

        No, that is the common slang usage (at least in the US). Aapje was putting in…the politest possible phrasing and you may be missing the actual meaning behind it.

        • I’ve never heard that usage in the US, and I’ve commonly seen the term used to refer to a kind of cast iron pot. Perhaps different slang in different subcultures?

          • acymetric says:

            It might (respectfully!) be an age thing? I have no idea when it took on that usage although I don’t think its especially new (at least back to the 90s). I don’t know what culture it would be associated with, other than “people who are crass enough to talk about dutch-ovening their friends/girlfriends/wives (or actually do it)”.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If you are older, or camp, you know it as the cast iron pot.

          • Plumber says:

            I’m 50 years old (so in my 20’s in the ’90’s) and I’ve only heard “Dutch Oven” as meaning the cooking pot.

            I was amused to see that Le Creuset labeled their version as a “French oven” on the box it came in.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            I’ve heard both meanings: people who were teenagers in the era of the Internet will know the more crude meaning (possibly it was well-known earlier, but this is a lower bound at least), and people who cook and have need of it will know the cooking meaning.

          • Dedicating Ruckus says:

            I am young and Internet-native, and I’ve only ever heard of the cooking pot. (Great way to make bread.)

          • acymetric says:

            I mean I am familiar with both meanings (despite being an adequate but not avid cook). Dates back at least to the early 90s so not an Internet thing.

            Edit: After a brief search, it may date back at least to a 1974 National Lampoon publication.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t know what you guys are eating that you can cook bread with your own internal ovens.

          • Hyperfocus says:

            I’ve never heard of someone producing bread internally, but there’s something even better you can make internally with the same ingredients: beer. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto-brewery_syndrome

            Also, I’m familiar with both definitions of Dutch oven. The cooking meaning I learned from boy scouts, and I picked up the flatulence meaning from growing up in the 90s.

    • 10240 says:

      These we know, but what do you Dutch say about the English?

      • Aapje says:

        I looked it up and there are literally no sayings about the English, aside from a few in local dialects. I guess that we responded with cannonballs.

  23. woah77 says:

    Just a small comment on PETA. They could be absolutely correct that the meat industry could be spreading the worst stories about PETA, but if those stories are true that isn’t a defense. Just like when the DNC leak occurred, people were bothered by the leak, but bothered far more by what was revealed. You can’t say “Guys you need to care about the animals” while executing animals by the tens of thousands. Maybe those animals need to be euthanized, but it looks like hypocrisy from where I sit. If we really have a “pet” overpopulation problem, then maybe pushing for all animals to live isn’t a good idea?

    • arbitraryvalue says:

      If we really have a “pet” overpopulation problem, then maybe pushing for all animals to live isn’t a good idea?

      Who’s pushing for all animals to live? PETA’s position is more nuanced than that (and I admit I wouldn’t usually use the word “nuanced” to describe PETA). They openly admit that they euthanize a lot of animals, they explain why they do it, and their explanation appears to be consistent with their overall philosophy. The ultimate goal is a world with no unwanted pets, but in the meanwhile triage is unavoidable.

    • raj says:

      I don’t see the issue with PETA euthanizing animals. Maybe you disagree with consequentialist ethics of it, but it’s not really inconsistent or hypocritical. It’s more like: “Guys these animals are in a state of suffering, stop bringing them into an existence of pure suffering, also we are going to stop their suffering in the only feasible way we can”

    • Dedicating Ruckus says:

      The normal criticism I hear of PETA is that their shelters have a way higher kill rate than other ones. If it’s true that they accept a lot of really problematic cases that others would simply turn away, that’s relevant information.

      I have not looked into this issue in any depth, nor do I desire to; so take this for what it’s worth.

    • niko says:

      Most people take the position that killing animals for whatever reason you want is fine as long as it doesn’t cause any pain – or that’s what they say when it comes to farmed animals. So to get up in arms about euthanizing dogs but not slaughtering pigs is the hypocrisy here. PETA is more anti-suffering than it is anti-death.

      • acymetric says:

        It isn’t hypocrisy if you categorize livestock/animals used for food as different than household pets. There may not be a good rationalist defense of that position, but society is composed mostly of people who aren’t rationalists and that doesn’t quite rise to the level of hypocrisy.

        Also remember that “people who don’t like PETA” isn’t some unified block. Some people are “leave me alone I don’t care about animals, I just want my steak”. Others agree about livestock conditions/factory farming and may even be vegetarians as a result but are strongly opposed to kill shelters. No hypocrisy there, and of course people in both groups tend to find that PETA’s methods of spreading their message are…sub-optimal.

        • niko says:

          You’re right, the only people who can criticize PETA on this particular issue are like, abolitionist vegans who adopt a bunch of animals from open admission shelters.

      • 10240 says:

        For some people the criticism may be not that PETA is wrong for killing animals than that they are hypocritical for killing animals while generally appearing to oppose killing animals even if it doesn’t cause pain.

        • niko says:

          The other comments and the original article explain why PETA’s position isn’t “all animals need to live”, so people would have to engage with that to argue that PETA is hypocritical.

          • 10240 says:

            Yes, those who accuse PETA of hypocrisy may be wrong, but they are not hypocritical themselves. Also, even if PETA’s official position isn’t “all animals need to live”, some of their campaigns may give off the impression that that is their position.

  24. fwiffo says:

    Two voter fraud studies dropped at almost exactly the same time. One is the one you linked, which finds no effect of strict voter id laws. The other one uses a tighter methodology but just focuses on a different state, and finds the opposite: “We employ anonymized administrative data to measure the law’s impact by comparing voting behavior among those with drivers’ licenses versus those without, before versus after the law. Turnout, registration, and voting conditional on registration fell for those without licenses after the law passed.” https://www.nber.org/papers/w25503

    Since the studies are so similar, I would have expected most people writing about this subject to mention both studies in the same breath. But nearly everybody only mentions one. On my twitter, which is mostly academic and leftist, nearly all the mentions are of the Rhode Island study, which finds that voter id laws disenfranchise voters. On my blogs, which are mostly center right, nearly all the mentions are of the national study, which finds that voter id laws don’t matter. Interesting, right?

    Apologies to Scott for the suggestion of bias if you linked the other study in an earlier set of links — but it seems like it would be appropriate to mention both studies up here.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      Rhode Island is a consistently left-leaning state, correct? Curious that a left-leaning state would pass Voter ID in the first place, and that it, rather than the national sample, would find disenfranchisement.

      I’m not suggesting fraud or anything suspicious, just noting the counter-intuitive results.

      • J Mann says:

        This is pretty interesting background on the Rhode Island law, although it doesn’t shed much light on why the studies might have reached different conclusions.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          Thanks. It is always interesting to see members of a political group that are being honest about the narrative, rather than blindly following it. Not a lot in the article to help us determine the question, but still nice.

      • Protagoras says:

        Rhode Island is dominated by the Democratic party, but the extent of the left lean shouldn’t be exaggerated. Rhode Island politics are strange. In many ways the state seems to be more conservative than others in the region, but the Republican party never seems to get very far; the occasional cases of individual Republicans having success are almost always people who aren’t close to their party. I do not know enough local history to fully understand how this situation has developed.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Added, thanks.

    • S_J says:

      Of note: the Rhode Island study looks at “voters without a drivers licenses” vs “voters with a drivers licenses”, while the other study apparently studies “minority voters” and “poor voters”.

      Most voters without a drivers license are poor, but I don’t think that most poor voters lack a drivers license.

      My first thought is that the compounding variable is the distinction between poor/minority voters and non-drivers-license-bearing voters.

  25. peacetreefrog says:

    Has anyone else here read Principles? I liked it lot — one of the best books I’ve read recently — but that is almost all based on the section Life Principles. Dalio’s autobiography was OK, but not that interesting and the Work section (which Robinson and McCluskey seem to focus more on) is so far removed from my large co/fairly bureaucratic/white collar/midwest/programming job that it seemed more theoretically interesting than anything that relevant to my own work. If I was in charge of my own organization (like Robinson is) I might revisit it.

    Interesting, some people who have had similar positive reactions (e.g. Derek Sivers) also just read/focused on the Life Principles section. I had the same experience that he mentioned about wanting to highlight almost every paragraph/read it again.

    • gloriousg999 says:

      I’ve read a large portion of it. It’s definitely not in my top list of reads. So, the Life Principles section, to me at least, seemed like a lot of fairly 101 ideas, combined with bad philosophy on evolution, demeaning visualizations, and… debunked psychology like Myers Briggs & right/left brain dichotomizing???

      I am actually confused that people really like it?? The Sequences are significantly more profound. Even as far as business books go, I’d tend to promote Clayton Christensen’s “How Will You Measure Your Life?” as far more profound. I’d also go with Winning by Jack Welch or How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. For pure entertainment, I’m also more willing to put up with the open pseudo-profundity of Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power rather than Principles, as it at least plays more on the imagination.

      I mean, I get that it could just be that Principles does a lot of things awkwardly/badly in areas where I’m very likely to ding it, but I classify it in the “Business guru wants to say pseudo-profound things to seem wise” genre, over the more practical/direct/interesting books.

      • Nornagest says:

        Way I understand it, Myers-Briggs isn’t debunked so much as it’s a folk taxonomy. It’s an ad-hoc classification that hasn’t gotten much research attention, both because real psychologists have their own classifications and because they have better things to do than shoot down folklore, but for the same reason it hasn’t really been discredited as such.

        It’s probably not the ideal way to carve up the personality space, but it probably points to something. Or at least parts of it do.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          As a map of personality space, MBTI has been studied enough to be bunked. E is E. N is pretty much openness. T/F is Things/People. However, P/J is ripe for exploration.

          • Nornagest says:

            P/J kinda-sorta fits Agreeableness, but I’m not sure how much stake I want to put in that.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            My understanding is that if you’re going to pair MBTI with OCEAN, you should pair agreeableness with F and conscientiousness with J. But you shouldn’t do that because the correlations are pretty low.

          • gloriousg999 says:

            So Myers Briggs isn’t complete garbage. It is a taxonomy that can be useful, but anybody who treats it seriously is worthy of distrust, as it’s not a good personality model. It is “debunked” in the sense that basic understandings of good psychometrics identify this as not as good.

            I think one thing that may be worth stepping back on is the MBTI as written, vs MBTI dimensions. The dimensions have some correlation with Big 5 dimensions, therefore are not deeply problematic (it’s not a 1-1 correlation though, so some junk is entering the mix). But, “ENFJ” really is more of a pain because if an individual is on the cusp of ANY of the 4 dimensions, the type assigned may change on retest, and so the assignment is somewhat garbage from that.

            That being said, even if we want to quibble about the MBTI, from a signalling standpoint, it’s not that smart to go public on the MBTI as a major piece mentioned in your brag book. It still implies a lack of knowledge, as there are many articles citing the problems with it as a psychometric. Citing it is sort of a sign you want to be perceived as concerned about psychometrics, but really aren’t good at them.

      • peacetreefrog says:

        I agree with you about even the Life Principles not doing well in the areas you mentioned, he also had some stuff on machine learning that didn’t sound all that informed, though maybe it’s more relevant to a hedge fund manager.

        I guess, for me the other parts made up for it. Sure there was some 101 stuff (“make decisions as expected value calculations”) but there were also a lot of stuff I hadn’t thought about in that way before that was valuable. Two examples:

        – Thinking of yourself as a worker operating within a machine, and recognize that you have roles both as a worker in your machine and the designer of it. Dalio argues that it’s much more important you’re a good designer of your life than a good worker in it (though he also says good work habits are important too).

        – Recognizing that levels exist for all subjects which aren’t just assortment of facts to be browsed randomly. When lines of reasoning/communication are muddled during a discussion, a lot of time it’s because people haven’t tied sub level and details back to higher level points. Dalio talks about the importance of recognizing which level you’e on in a discussion, and if you need to go deeper (e.g. is Myers-Brigg BS or not) the importance of connecting that back to the main points were on initially (is Principles BS or not).

        I’m not sure either of these things were “new”, but thinking about them like this was useful to me.

        Of your other books the only other one I’ve read is Scott Adams, and while it was definitely good and in a lot of ways more pleasant reading overall, I probably had fewer real lasting, similar impactful insights.

        • gloriousg999 says:

          Ok, I am glad you clarified. I appreciate your perspective. I think the Sequences get to the same type of conclusions with better writing, and a stronger overall conceptual apparatus.(not saying it’s the pinnacle, as EY’s opposition to academic philosophy is worth skepticism)

          That being said, both of these identified points are in Principles and are valid points. It is to the credit of Principles that it exposed you to these concepts. I am still worried that a lot of people will take really bad concepts out from this book, even if they get good concepts.

  26. Grinsekuchen says:

    Unfortunately the Kenyan police uniform story seems to be misleading / a hoax. https://africacheck.org/fbcheck/no-kenya-isnt-removing-pockets-from-police-uniforms-to-fight-corruption/

  27. Quixote says:

    Neither Reason nor Cato should be quoted on issues of public policy without significant disclaimers. For the most part they start with budget minimization and work backward from there, ignoring or fudging as needed to get to their target conclusion and then adjusting based on the needs of donors or advertisers.

    Edit: as is often he case online, that came out a bit harsher and more pointed than I intended. I’m going to leave it because I do stand by the point to be somewhat wary of these sources.

    • Neither Reason nor Cato should be quoted on issues of public policy without significant disclaimers.

      Do you think that’s more true of them than of any other source of information?

      Can you point at specific examples of Reason taking a different position than you would otherwise expect due to “the needs of donors or advertisers”?

    • J Mann says:

      I wouldn’t recommend Reason or Cato if you like arguments from authority, but I’m not sure I’d recommend anyone. IMHO, it’s best to view their arguments as a steelman for one side, then test them.

      Cato’s argument seems to be that airplanes are staggeringly cheaper per mile than trains.

      It is kind of funny to assume that the answer to “Hey, we invented a kind of train that flies, travels at twice the speed, doesn’t need tracks, and is cheaper to operate.” would be “No thanks.”

  28. caryatis says:

    It’s an overstatement to say that molten salt reactors “don’t produce waste.” Every nuclear power source produces nuclear waste, but the molten salt reactors potentially produce less long-lived waste because they reprocess the fuel. Article says potentially ~300 years of storage would be required instead of millions of years. That’s good, but speculative. All of this is still at an early stage.

    • Garrett says:

      They reprocess the fuel because if they don’t they can’t work.
      Current reactor designs can be operated without reprocessing. They also can be operated with reprocessing. It just so happens that for a combination of political and economic reasons reprocessing isn’t done in this country. But it could be done so and has been done in the past.

  29. Deiseach says:

    How did the descendants of the Mayan Indians end up in the Eastern Orthodox Church?

    Reading the linked article, it’s the Usual Suspects: schismatic/heretical Catholic groups break off and set up on their own as Real Catholic Church and/or go hunting for legitimacy by hooking up with an established denomination. The Eastern Orthodox would want to be very careful and make sure they keep tight oversight, because these little breakaways tend to go their own way and get very liberal later (e.g. see the Old Catholic Church – broke away over papal infallibility – they were agin’ it – and ended up being all “women priests? gay and lesbian priests? every progressive Protestant denomination shibboleth you like? yep that’s us! only we’re the real conservative original Catholics unlike those modernist Romans, remember!”). Liberal Protestant denominations also love to take a sprinkling of Orthodoxy (they go mad for writing icons) because it gives them all the thrill of Tradition without the inconvenience of having to give up any of their progressivism.

    Never mind all that, what I really want to know is why did the Antiochians hand over the (converted) monastery and orphanage to the Serbians? 🙂

    Paris and Rome both have legally enshrined sister city monogamy, because “only Paris is worthy of Rome; only Rome is worthy of Paris”

    The perfect chance to link to the 1862 sculpture of Italy Grateful To France!

    And though it may help them keep looking young, Palladium points out that there might be other effects from having some of our most powerful businessmen on a hormone that increases risk-taking and ambition.

    Well, let’s see: Bezos – in the middle of an even-if-amicable-it’ll-cost-him divorce because after twenty-five years of marriage and four kids, he decided to play away with the next-door neighbour; Musk – I think everybody is ruing the day he discovered Twitter; Brin – I haven’t heard anything crazy or scandalous about him, so possibly it’s all natural levels of testosterone and/or he’s too sensible to do anything crazy or scandalous 🙂

    PETA’s argument that some of the worst stories about them

    Possibly, but they don’t help themselves with some of the genuine idiotic campaigns they run (I was convinced the sea kittens thing was a spoof but no, it was all too real). Great, I am now 30% stupider after re-visiting that steaming pile of nonsense.

    I know how much you guys love attacking EAs for “pathological altruism”

    ‘Tis true this is one of the remaining pleasures of my declining years 😀

    Does Positive Thinking in Pregnancy Boost Children’s Maths Skills?

    Everybody who ever pointed and laughed at our superstitious ancestors for thinking things like birthmarks were caused by craving strawberries, go stand in a corner and hang your head. We’re every bit as superstitious and dumb and have no right to chronological snobbery.

    To return the favour, a link of my own: a fragment of a previously unknown 15th century Irish translation of the 11th century Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, the famous Persian physician, was recently discovered.

  30. Jon S says:

    While I only skimmed the article “Why we have over-rated Cool Earth”, I’m underwhelmed. In particular, by section 3a (and the associated appendix 3). The point of Cool Earth, as I understood it, was to bid up the supply of forest, increasing the cost for loggers, and reducing the equilibrium amount of logging. If this is breaking down, is it because the price of forests is insensitive to the size of the supply? Or because the demand for logging is insensitive to the price? To me this seems like it should be a big part of the discussion.

  31. Aftagley says:

    Interesting point on Testosterone.

    What’s the commentariat’s overall opinion of Testosterone supplements? Anyone have enough experience with it to provide a recommendation? I realize that just focusing on the most successful businessmen of our time introduces a bit of a selection bias, but from your summary and the linked article, I can’t really see a reason not to try and start taking it.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Aside from supplements, are there any recommendations for diet or other lifestyle changes that can increase testosterone?

    • ex-PFC Wintergreen says:

      I’m not a doctor but my understanding is that supplementing with testosterone is pretty serious and can have some nasty effects if you don’t know what you’re doing.

      I’ve read that supplementing with testosterone decreases your body’s production and increases sensitivity, so coming off of it can create a really nasty adjustment period where your body is making much less than it used to and it’s much less sensitive to the testosterone being made.

      Anyway, men (and maybe women?) can increase testosterone and human growth hormone levels through training (lifting heavy weights), eating well, and intermittent fasting.

  32. eqdw says:

    Interested to hear the local transit geeks’ opinion on this.

    I like trains. I really like trains. I’ve only gotten to ride a train once, it was Amtrak from Denver to SF, and I swear to god it was one of the best experiences of my life.

    But the idea that trains are somehow an economically good idea in the US is _insane_.

    The short version of my argument: Flying is actually really cheap. And once you factor in the time value of money, it’s unambiguous.

    To use real-world numbers: When I planned my denver train party, a one-way train ticket from Denver to SF was $220, plus an additional $250 for a sleeper car because the ride was 33 hours long. Meanwhile, a one-way flight was $250.

    The flight is two hours long. The train ride was 33 hours long. The train ride required me to take an additional two days of time off. Assuming the current California minimum wage of $11/hr, taking two full time days off is 16 * 11 = $176 in additional implicit costs. Now consider that the kind of person travelling from Denver to SF is not very likely to be a minimum wage worker, but more likely to have a middle- or upper-middle class salary, and that number explodes. Using a typical software engineer wage rate of $50/hr, that’s an additional $800 in time costs.

    I believe this will always be the case, because of the way that infrastructure requirements scale with travel distance. America is _really big_ relative to most of the places in the world that do trains right. In America, to run trains between two cities requires a _lot_ of rail infrastructure, and that infrastructure requirement scales with travel distance. That means you need that much more steel, you need that much more labour. You need some kind of logistics network (gas stations, grocery stores, hotels, etc) to support the workforce that will build and, later, maintain that infrastructure. That infrastructure is also vulnerable to attack; turns out that various anarchists and eco-terrorists actually attack rail infrastructure pretty regularly and while it’s not enough to pose a serious safety risk, it’s an additional cost.

    Meanwhile, with planes, the amount of infrastructure scales only with the desired _bandwidth_, not the travel distance. Whether you’re flying 50 miles or 5000 miles, the airport doesn’t need to get any bigger or smaller; the size of the airport is only dependent on how many people are going to be travelling on that link per unit time. So for a place with large distances to cross, and especially when those distances are relatively hard to traverse (eg West East in the US; there’s mountains in the way), planes are going to be favoured over trains.

    At the end of the day, a one-way plane trip between any two major cities in the US costs at most like $300 during normal times of the year. Given the significantly longer time it would take a train to cross those distances, how much cheaper does this have to get before people would take trains over planes? Do you think it’s possible to make it that much cheaper?

    California high speed rail was supposed to cost something like $100Bn. One way flights SF -> LA are like a hundred bucks. If we assume people would preferentially take the train if it cost, say, $50, you would need 2 billion trips before the system breaks even, and that assumes zero maintenance and operating costs. In order for a traveller to trade 2 hours for $50. It’s not going to happen.

    • Dedicating Ruckus says:

      In the US, making a dense-enough-to-be-useful rail network is only economically reasonable in some highly-populated areas (mostly East Coast, I think?) It won’t ever make sense for the whole country, even though individual lines like the California Zephyr are really cool (it’s among the best tourist-y experiences I’ve ever had).

      That said, we can’t manage it even in those highly-populated areas, where it would be a good idea, because of our construction cost disease. It seems like this is largely down to the US, compared to other countries, having many more different layers of jurisdictions and thus many more parties with a potential veto, who all must be assuaged and/or paid off. (One downside of subsidiarity, perhaps? Though it’s at least equally probable we’re just doing it wrong.)

      • Jack Sorensen2 says:

        As someone put it:

        But the true privileged status of automotive projects in the United States isn’t the willingness to spend money on them; it’s the willingness to actually make drivers’ interests the priority.

        Politicians see train projects as changes to hand out largesse, produce jobs, satisfy local politicians, etc – it’s nobody’s job to make sure we’re building a rail system that takes people from A to B quickly, efficiently and, cheaply. But when we build highways we do it much more straightforwardly for the benefit of the people who use the highways.

    • Jack Sorensen2 says:

      But the idea that trains are somehow an economically good idea in the US is _insane_.

      Trains are good in some areas. It would be a mistake to build a nationwide HSR system that, say, took people from Denver to SF.

      Your experience is unusual – those Amtrak trains running long-distance routes outside the Northeast (and 1 or 2 other spots) are slow, they run on freight-owned rail, they run on massive losses, and nobody is even trying to improve them.

      In the Northeast, among people who take the train or plan between NY and DC, the train has a 75% market share, even though it’s also much slower than similar systems in other countries and is extra expensive in order to cross-subsidize all the money-losing routes that Amtrak has to run because of Congress.

      America is _really big_ relative to most of the places in the world that do trains right. In America, to run trains between two cities requires a _lot_ of rail infrastructure, and that infrastructure requirement scales with travel distance.

      But I think we can have useful high speed rail systems on the East Coast, California, and maybe a couple other places (perhaps Texas, Florida, Midwest centered on Chicago).

      Like, if you took the Northeast corridor and imagined it as its own country, it would be as dense as the European countries with big high speed rail networks. Even California is as dense as Spain, which has the 2nd most extensive high speed rail system in the world after China.

      The fact that the Dakotas are sparsely populated doesn’t change it.

      Now consider that the kind of person travelling from Denver to SF is not very likely to be a minimum wage worker, but more likely to have a middle- or upper-middle class salary, and that number explodes.

      FWIW when I’ve travelled in the Northeast corridor during working hours I’ve preferred the train. Taking into account going to the airport, waiting in line, etc, it’s about the same amount of time, and it’s easier to work while travelling via train for a variety of reasons.

      California high speed rail was supposed to cost something like $100Bn. One way flights SF -> LA are like a hundred bucks. If we assume people would preferentially take the train if it cost, say, $50, you would need 2 billion trips before the system breaks even, and that assumes zero maintenance and operating costs. In order for a traveller to trade 2 hours for $50. It’s not going to happen.

      The issue with the CA thing is the same cost overruns that affect all train construction in the US. IIRC we pay like 10 times as much per mile as Spain does. By the way, look at a picture of the Spanish line from Madrid to Barcelona (~10 years old) here, and look at the CA system under construction here over what looks like empty land.

      Anyway, there are 7.3 million airplane trips per year between SF and LA. Taking your $50 number, the 75% market share I mentioned for NY-DC, then that’s about $275 million per year. If it costs $77 billion then it would take 280 years to break even. But if we paid Spanish prices that are 10% as much it would take 28 years. That doesn’t include factors like replacing car rides, or increasing population, or intermediate trips (i.e. places between SF and LA).

      • JPNunez says:

        So what’s the deal with the higher costs for rail in the US?

        I get it for, say, nuclear plants, where regulation will make things even impossible to build, but rail?

        It’s even more expensive than Europe and I doubt Europe has less regulations for rail building.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          The US certainly did have stricter regulations for trains until recently- for instance, the very strict FRA impact safety standards, which have now been modernised. It’s debatable whether these did much for safety- they didn’t allow trains to have crumple zones as they do in other countries- but they did make trains heavier and more expensive to operate, and made it much harder to import them off-the-shelf from other countries.

          I also wonder if the main issue was the cost and difficulty of acquiring the land.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            It seems unlikely that land is more expensive here, unless Europe doesn’t have the requirement to compensate owners for land that it seizes?

          • Nornagest says:

            The land itself probably isn’t more expensive, but acquiring it could be, if there’s more latitude in the States for contesting land seizures. Fighting it out in court can easily be more expensive than paying market price for a parcel of land.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            My understanding is that the ability of private agents to contest eminent domain seizures for an actual public works project (that is, the land isn’t going to be handed over to a private company for their own interests) is extremely low.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            According to this blog I posted elsewhere, where a guy is chasing down cost disease, it’s not land costs that drives up American costs.

            In Japan, as Walter Hook explains in a Transportation Research Board paper from 1994, urban landowners enjoy strong property rights protections. This drives up the cost of construction: land acquisition is 75-80% of highway construction cost in Japan, compared with 25% in the US; for rail, both sets of numbers are lower, as it requires narrower rights-of-way than highways. In Japan, acquiring buildings for eminent domain is also quite difficult, unlike in the US. Tokyo is toward the upper end of rail construction costs outside the Anglosphere, and the smaller cities in Japan seem to be at best in the middle, whereas the Shinkansen’s construction cost seems relatively low for how much tunneling is required.

            https://pedestrianobservations.com/2016/11/05/excuses-for-high-construction-costs/

  33. Lambert says:

    I’m kind of suspicious of the whole ‘PETA are mustache-twirling cartoon villains’, on the basis that cartoon villains are rare outside of cartoons.
    Anybody know what’s going on there?

    • acymetric says:

      I’m not sure how to phrase this charitably, but I think PETA is generally presented as “self righteous assholes who use weird/extreme measures to make their points” moreso than “mustache-twirling cartoon villains,” the former of which is very common outside of cartoons (and not unique to PETA).

    • Aftagley says:

      PETA takes the, likely correct if occasionally annoying, tactic of directing their messaging only at people who agree with them. People who have made the value judgement that the life of an animal is greater than almost anything.

      PETA doesn’t try to convert anyone over to their cause, they try to be as flashy and controversial as possible so that they can activate the small but motivated percentage of the population that already agrees with them and is most likely to donate/volunteer.

      IMO, that’s why they wrote the article that Scott linked to. If you notice, PETA isn’t claiming that ALL their bad publicity is a result of propaganda, just that the story that they euthanize a bunch of animals. This knowledge, if accepted, wouldn’t likely matter to people who don’t care that much about animals but WOULD significantly turn away their core group of support. Thus, this is the narrative their willing to contest, while they don’t give a shit about improving their overall negative brand.

      • Deiseach says:

        If you notice, PETA isn’t claiming that ALL their bad publicity is a result of propaganda, just that the story that they euthanize a bunch of animals.

        Which they brought on themselves; if part of their strategy is to appeal to young people with the “but the cute fuzzy-wuzzy sweet soft animals!” emotional appeal then they’re going to get the same emotional backlash when it turns out they’re euthanising the cute fuzzy-wuzzy animals. They may have actual good reasons to do this (if it’s true that they take the unadoptable, unwanted, sickly and dying animals no other shelter will take, and this being PETA I treat any claims they make as less credible than ‘Kubrick faked the moon landing’), but given that they don’t base their campaigns on “here are seven good reasons” but “the cute furry-humans*!” heartstrings-tugging, then it’s “live by the sword, die by the sword”.

        *No, not that kind of furry

  34. Alex Zavoluk says:

    Isn’t the period from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages exactly when horses became much more common and widely used in general? I seem to recall this fact from the “Were there Dark Ages?” posts/comments, from at least one book I’ve read, and from some comments on the subreddit. Animals were almost unused in antiquity for farming, construction, or war, but were widely used in all of those by the Middle Ages.

    The American Civil War is the only case I can think of where a smart scholar might get the wrong answer.

    I would assume they’re referring to the extreme consistency of built-up defenses absolutely wrecking massed infantry charges, which were up to that point a staple tactic. Does anyone have a different explanation?

    • Dedicating Ruckus says:

      The Civil War was a strange in-between case, because while by that time we didn’t yet have decent automatic firearms (I think there were a few mitrailleuse-type weapons used in a couple of battles), we did have much better and faster-firing artillery and rifles than I believe in any previous war. Notable in particular were the Minie ball and much wider-spread use of canister and grape ammunition (I think the big technological innovation allowing the latter was better metallurgy, making guns less likely to explode and kill their crews).

      These aren’t machine guns, but they are a similar sort of “massive antipersonnel area-denial firepower”, which lead to similar tactical considerations.

      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        It was probably the first major war to showcase the Minie ball, smokeless powder, rifles (as opposed to smoothbore muskets), and rudimentary rapid-fire technology (like breech loading and the maxim gun). The last was relatively narrowly applied though; as far as “what was the average soldier’s experience like”, neither of those were big factors, which is why I assumed they meant that a future historian would conclude the Civil War did have machine guns when, for most practical purposes, it did not.

        These technologies were what allowed for the extreme effectiveness of fortified defenses I mentioned above; rather than having to wait until the attacking force reaches 75 yards, you can reasonably fire from probably 300 yards away.

  35. nochules says:

    Although Maryland was famously founded as a Catholic refuge, it soon became a haven for Puritans that were not fans of the increasing Anglicanism of Virginia in the mid 17th century. Annapolis was founded by Puritans and was originally called Providence. That it eventually became the capitol city is reflective of the balance of power formally shifting in the late 17th century. So Maryland fits perfectly into your original hypothesis.

    • LHN says:

      Well, I learned something today.

      The Protestant Revolution of 1689, sometimes called Coode’s Rebellion after one of its leaders, John Coode, took place in the Province of Maryland when Puritans, by then a substantial majority in the colony, revolted against the proprietary government led by the Roman Catholic Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore.

      The rebellion followed the “Glorious Revolution” in England of 1688, which saw the Protestant Monarchs William III and Mary II, replace the English, Catholic monarch, King James II. The Lords Baltimore lost control of their proprietary colony, and for the next 25 years, Maryland would be ruled directly by the British Crown.

      The Protestant Revolution also saw the effective end of Maryland’s early experiments with religious toleration, as Catholicism was outlawed, and Roman Catholics forbidden from holding public office. Religious toleration would not be restored in Maryland until after the American Revolution.

      I’d only learned about its being founded as a Catholic colony, and Maryland didn’t tend to be at the forefront in what I’d read about later colonial history.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_Revolution_(Maryland)

  36. John Schilling says:

    I’m actually surprised that “stirrup denialist” is (presently) a thing. That stirrups were not the Critical Enabling Technology for heavy cavalry has been I think well-understood for many years at least in the military history community, and while I keep seeing “stirrup -> heavy cavalry FtW!” in pop culture I hadn’t thought anyone was taking that any more seriously than e.g. “Columbus vs. the Flat-Earthers of 1492!”.

    But as to why cavalry rose to dominance in late- or post-Roman Europe, I don’t see any reason to look beyond the fundamental asymmetry of infantry vs. cavalry. Disciplined infantry vs. undisciplined cavalry means the cavalry runs away to fight another day. Disciplined cavalry vs. undisciplined infantry, means the infantry gets run down and killed to the last man. If you’re not confident of your ability to field consistently well-disciplined troops, but you do have good horses, you put your best men on horses so you don’t lose them all when their discipline occasionally fails (and you can kill your enemy once and for all if their discipline fails even once). If you don’t make this obvious decision, well, evolution happens.

    The Romans spread good horses throughout the Empire, because even when they had consistently good infantry, heavy cavalry was useful as an auxiliary force. But cavalry’s rise to military dominance (in Europe, at least) begins at about the time of the degradation of social institutions we correctly call a Dark Age – and we observe the knights et al more frequently dismounting to fight on foot as the “Dark Ages” turn into the High Middle Ages.

    • Aftagley says:

      The Romans spread good horses throughout the Empire, because even when they had consistently good infantry, heavy cavalry was useful as an auxiliary force. But cavalry’s rise to military dominance (in Europe, at least) begins at about the time of the degradation of social institutions we correctly call a Dark Age – and we observe the knights et al more frequently dismounting to fight on foot as the “Dark Ages” turn into the High Middle Ages.

      Maybe I missed the obvious point, but does this imply that a man fighting on horseback isn’t fundamentally superior to a man on foot? Maybe I’ve played to much Warhammer Fantasty, but my prior on this would have been a mounted force is going to be able to outfight any non-calvary force that isn’t explicitly designed to counter calvary charges (IE spear/pikeman).

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        But didn’t most infantry fight with spears? Swords were side arms, not weapons of war.

        • Aftagley says:

          ‘doh. Good point. So, anti-cavalry weaponry was widespread enough that it became pointless to use them for anything other than auxiliary/reserve forces. Thus, mounted infantry becme increasingly prevelant. Thanks!

      • John Schilling says:

        that isn’t explicitly designed to counter calvary charges (IE spear/pikeman)

        We’ve been through this before. Pre-gunpowder infantry fought with pointy sticks; the fancy knives were backup pieces. The ones who weren’t spear/pikemen were mostly archers, and you didn’t want to try to charging them on horse back either. Well, not the disciplined ones at least.

        Everybody brought pointy sticks of one sort or another, and a disciplined group of men on foot is better at turning a bunch of pointy sticks into a lethally irresistable force and/or immovable object than men on horseback can ever be. Horses aren’t stupid enough to impale themselves on such even if their riders are fool enough to demand it, so good disciplined infantry almost always beats any cavalry. This attribute is not limited to specific or specialized types of infantry, it just requires working as a team and not running away.

        Well, that and not being the sort of fool that thinks a sword is a primary battlefield weapon. For historical reasons, a few populations of that sort have played a disproportionate influence on some aspects of our culture, but they mostly aren’t relevant to the infantry-vs-cavalry contest.

        • m.alex.matt says:

          [BLOCKQUOTE]This attribute is not limited to specific or specialized types of infantry, it just requires working as a team and not running away.[/BLOCKQUOTE]

          Which is, historically, kind of a specific and specialized trait. Working as a team in formation is something that requires training and discipline, something that wasn’t always feasible in many times and places. In fact, you might point to this as another factor pushing towards a mounted military aristocracy as dominant battlefield factor in the Middle Ages: If your society can only afford to have a relatively small number of its members training and practicing disciplined fighting, you want to maximize the force multipliers they have at their disposal, hence making them cavalry instead of infantry.

          And the overall point about infantry is, perhaps, too strong. Yes, disciplined infantry can indeed stand up to most any cavalry charge if it is in formation and knows what it is doing. But this, like all warfare, is a back-and-forth struggle of counter and counter-to-counters. Cavalry had ways to attempt to disrupt tight infantry formation prior to charging home. I mentioned this with the Mongols above (the feigned retreat to draw infantry out of formation), but another favorite tactic (and common across more than just this example) of disciplined cavalry can be found in the Byzantine take on the cataphract.

          The Nicephorian Cataphract was armed with both bow and lance and trained and use a shower of arrows to disrupt an enemy infantry formation before charging home with the lance. They would ride into arrow range, fire a volley or two, then form up into a wedge and charge towards the softened formation. It worked well enough that a relatively small number of cataphracts (usually ~500 out of a ‘standard’ army size of 10,000) were considered the decisive weapon in the offensive Byzantine military of the 10th and 11th centuries.

          Similar tactics can be found in cavalry units through time and space. In the more modern era, this is essentially how heavy cavalry (think: Cuirassiers) was supposed to work. They would use a bundle of pistols and a carousel formation to fire a few continuous volleys into an enemy infantry formation to soften it and then charge in with sabers to break it.

          The overall tactics have changed (because the scale of warfare has changed, and we’ve invented the regular concept of operations which didn’t exist in such a concrete way in the past), but this is even related to the way blitzkrieg is supposed to work. A concentration of force is brought onto a specific point on the enemy line to soften it or a break a hole large enough for an armored formation to charge through. They aren’t charging to actually break the enemy formation anymore (their job is to attack the enemy’s logistics, instead), but it’s a cousin of the idea that firepower can be used to weaken an enemy formation and make it more vulnerable to shock than it would otherwise be.

      • sfoil says:

        He is, but a man on a horse consumes much more resources (training and fodder) than a man on foot. Donald Engels (Logistics of the Macedonian War) says one horse needed about as much food as ten men, and it was a rule of thumb in the Civil War that a mounted trooper needed about two years of training/experience to be much good in a serious campaign. Ten (or five for that matter) men could easily defeat a horsemen if they coordinate among each other. Of course, the horseman also has the huge advantage that if he doesn’t like the odds, he can run away.

  37. For a fun time, compare Nathan Robinson’s review of Ray Dalio’s Principles with Peter McCluskey’s review of the same book.

    Thanks for the comparison. I agree with about 90% of what Robinson writes about Dalio, while disagreeing with about half of Robinson’s implications.

    The difference appears to be mostly due to targeting a different set of readers (CFAR-associated people versus people who envy successful hedge fund managers?).

    You’ve inspired me to generate this sentence that I might have added if I were trying to appeal to a wider audience: Dalio’s practice of recording meetings reminds me of Richard Nixon’s practice of recording meetings – Orwellian, but in a way that creates new risks that could easily bite the top dog.

    – Peter McCluskey

  38. VNodosaurus says:

    The Cato Institute opposing an expensive government program should cause approximately zero updating of priors.

    As to California HSR specifically, to my best understanding it was a combination of (1) shady contractors and (2) compromises with NIMBYs and other special interests at every level, the combination of which eventually led to a project doing far less than was promised at a far greater cost.

    • J Mann says:

      VNodosauraus, why do you think they cancelled the CA project instead of just reforming it to get rid of the shady contractors and unreasonable compromises?

      • VNodosaurus says:

        Again, not an expert in this particular case, but intuitively, a project mired in shady contractors and unreasonable compromises is going to have to be started over basically from scratch anyway to get rid of them, and politically it’s a lot easier to cancel it than to tell the voters that you’re going to try again. (Plus, trying again requires actually doing something differently to not get the same result.)

  39. psmith says:

    In re conversion to Islam: Houellebecq right again.

    • j r says:

      Was Houellebecq right or is van Klaveren simply doing some next level trolling that was inspired by Submission?

      • Aapje says:

        Some information:

        This is actually the second person from Wilders’ party that converted to Islam. Arnoud van Doorn converted in 2012.

        Van Klaveren wrote a book that got a very poor review in my (center-left) newspaper. Apparently the book was very biased in favor of Islam, making the argument that rather common Islamic beliefs are very uncommon.

  40. Jeff R says:

    Last link: some of those crosses are lot cooler than others. St. John comes out way ahead of the Maltese in the cross design sweepstakes. I wonder if there are arguments about this among saints in the afterlife, sorta like when Steve Buscemi and Quentin Tarantino complain about the fake names they’re given in Reservoir Dogs.

  41. Plumber says:

    “…New study uses genetics to determine that the correlation between brain size and intelligence is causal…”

    That explains much, I have nerdy tastes but a tiny head.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sherlock Holmes was right again!

      From “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”:

      “I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that I am unable to follow you. For example, how did you deduce that this man was intellectual?”

      For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head. It came right over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose. “It is a question of cubic capacity,” said he; “a man with so large a brain must have something in it.”

    • albatross11 says:

      It’s a pretty small correlation, though.

  42. kipling_sapling says:

    Just in case there are people not clicking all the links who stop by the comments, I wanted to post the full title of the anti-Dutch tract, with formatting preserved (except for the long s’s):

    The Dutch-mens PEDIGREE,
    OR
    A Relation, Shewing how they were first Bred, and Descended from a HORSE-TURD, which was enclosed in a BUTTER-BOX.
    Together with a most exact Description of that great, huge, large, horrible, terrible, hideous, fearful, filthy, ugly, monstrous, misshapen, prodigious, preposterous Horse that shit the fame Turd; who had two Faces on one head, the one somwhat resembling the face of a man, the other the face of a horse, the rest of his body was like the body of an Horse, saving that on his shoulders he had two great Fish finns, like the finns of Whales, but far more large: He lived somtime on land, but most in water; His Dyet was Fish, Roots, Herbs, &c. A very dreadful Accident befel him, the fear whereof set him into such a fit of shiting, that he died thereof: His body was immediately carried with multitudes of Divels into Hell, where it remains to this day.
    Also how the Germans following the directions of a Conjurerer, made a very great Box, and smeared the In-side with Butter, and how it was filled with the dung which the said monstrous hose shit; Out of which dung within nine days space sprung forth men, women, and children; the Off-spring whereof are yet alive to this day, and now commonly known by the name of DUTCHMEN; As this following Relation will plainly manifest.

  43. Anonymous Bosch says:

    Before and after pictures of tech leaders like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Sergey Brin suggest they’re taking supplemental testosterone. And though it may help them keep looking young, Palladium points out that there might be other effects from having some of our most powerful businessmen on a hormone that increases risk-taking and ambition. They ask whether the new availability of testosterone supplements is prolonging Silicon Valley businessmen’s “brash entrepreneur” phase well past the point where they would normally become mature respectable elders. But it also hints at an almost opposite take: average testosterone levels have been falling for decades, so at this point these businessmen would be the only “normal” (by 1950s standards) men out there, and everyone else would be unprecedently risk-averse and boring. Paging Peter Thiel and everyone else who takes about how things “just worked better” in Eisenhower’s day.

    Given the thousands of interventions available to rich people, from full-time personal trainers and nutritionists to high-quality cosmetic surgery and hair plugs to the near-infinite non-testosterone forms of supplementation, I don’t see what reason there is to credit Palladium’s Palladium-friendly assertion that “probably a few of these guys are juicing” based on absolutely nothing except some before/after pictures.

    And even having privileged that hypothesis, I definitely don’t see the reason to extend it out into a ridiculous just-so story about SV CEOs being the only men who haven’t lost their True Alpha Essence or whatever, not least because there’s a serious problem with cause preceding effect (since the risky, market-disrupting insights that made these guys rich in the first place would have occurred during their schlubby balding phases).

    But I hope Thiel-sempai notices you.

  44. Eponymous says:

    Re: Trains.

    I’ve always had a strong intuition that *surely* trains are super efficient, since a train hauls thousands of people at one go instead of those same people sitting in thousands of individual cars. But it seems this intuition isn’t quite correct, and perhaps at best trains are just a bit more efficient than cars, such that the difference can be plausibly swamped by other considerations (inflexibility of routes, transit to the station, convenience, implicit subsidies for autos, etc).

    I’ve also heard the claim that, while passenger rail is only really profitable on certain high-traffic routes, freight trains are a super efficient way to ship things. But even this seems inconsistent with the volume of long-haul trucks on the roads.

    So why is my intuition wrong?

    • Aftagley says:

      Freight trains are super efficient ways to ship things very long distances. They are harder/more expensive to load and unload though, and will almost certainly require transhipment, so they only really get cost effective when we’re talking substantial distances. For anything under that, trucks have the edge.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        The cargo industry is highly competitive and more-or-less rational.

        • Aftagley says:

          Yeah, I’m admittedly more familiar with the maritime side of it than the terrestrial, but that’s always been my impression. Freight has been commoditized to the extent that anything more than slightly suboptimal gets out-evolved real quick.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      A well-utilized train system with high ridership will be pretty efficient. But since trains require a lot more from their passengers than cars (place and time requirements, limited possible routes, etc.), then some segment of the population will opt for the flexibility offered by cars, even if slightly more expensive or less efficient.

      Freight is less picky about sitting at a depo and waiting for the more efficient routing, and it’s more likely to have a full rail car (which you can attach or detach from a train) for all trips. This maximizes the efficiency of the freight train.

    • Dedicating Ruckus says:

      Trains are super-efficient once their infrastructure is in place, and assuming that infrastructure is well-designed for the use you’re requesting of it. That infrastructure is a serious upfront capital investment that needs to be mostly done before you get much value out.

      We don’t have the infrastructure in place, nor does it make sense to put it in place in the US outside some especially dense regions. More, for various more-or-less mysterious reasons the US is unable to build such infrastructure at the same prices other countries manage, but needs multiple times the money. Thus, under current US conditions trains are usually not a good idea, because they’ll more-or-less foreseeably become the same kind of stupid disaster the California project was.

    • Clutzy says:

      The main reason for that intuition being incorrect is ridership. A train doesn’t end up leaving the station every 15 minutes fully loaded to the brim. So, sure, that one train for the one go is more efficient, but then the station and the line (which needed to be built and need to be maintained) just kind of do nothing for some long period of time.

      • Dedicating Ruckus says:

        This has benefits as well, though; it means that as you increase throughput through the system, the latency doesn’t increase accordingly. (Indeed, if you add more trains to handle more riders it actually decreases.)

        The biggest problem with freeways is that they can’t get much beyond 50% of their designed throughput without starting to slow traffic and drive latency up.

        • Clutzy says:

          That is a theoretical benefit, but one that is rarely realized. That is because most people actually aren’t that interested in going between two points on a map in America. And oftentimes, if they are, they are going with 3 other people, so a car isn’t all that bad an option b/c you can share gas costs, or not have to take a bunch of children on a train.

          • David Speyer says:

            I guess all families are different, but I have three kids (7.8, 3.5 and 0.3) and for distances between 60 and 400 miles, I would vastly rather go in a train than a car. A train means that they can walk around and change positions, I can spend my full energy playing or reading with them, there is room to spread out snacks and books, and there are bathrooms without stopping. A car means telling them to sit still and let me concentrate on the road. My longest drives with kids are Salt Lake City – Las Vegas, Ann Arbor – Toronto and Ann Arbor – Urbana-Champaign, all of which were rough; my longest train rides are Ann Arbor-Chicago, Boston-New Haven and New Haven-NYC, all of which were fun.

            For errands in a city, I find subway/bus vs car to be an unclear tradeoff : mass transit provides more things to interest them and doesn’t make them stiff from sitting still, but there is more waiting and more worry about annoying other people. (Currently live in Ann Arbor; have lived and taken mass transit with kids in Boston and Toronto.)

          • Clutzy says:

            Those are the kind of stereotypical routes that are inefficient because not enough people want to go from Boston to Ann Arbor. And if enough people wanted to use those routes for them to work out your comfort level would be greatly reduced.

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTM that the bigger problem in the US is that you usually need a car once you get to your destination. So your choices are:

            a. Drive your car, and have your own car with you when you get there.

            b. Take a train, and rent a car when you get there.

          • Clutzy says:

            I think thats an gross oversimplification. Sometimes you need a car when you get somewhere, but that applies to planes or trains, and people take planes all the time. And even though planes are a low margin business, they don’t hemorrhage out like every rail project seems to, and people are willing to do private air travel, its not all government stuff.

          • albatross11 says:

            If I’m looking at a trip that I could plausibly make either by car or by train/plane, then the fact that driving gets my *my* car with all my stuff conveniently located inside to my destination matters a lot. That’s much nicer than having a rental car I have to go pick up and then load all my stuff into, as well as cheaper.

            Now, if the distance is long enough to make the drive a huge pain, then the plane or high-speed train would be a worthwhile, even if I had to rent a car on the other end. But passenger trains in the US don’t actually travel much faster than cars, so most trips that are workable by train are also workable by car.

  45. DragonMilk says:

    The soy sauce story is very interesting, but I think 18oz may be a better value, and I’ll wait for the price to drop again.

  46. Freddie deBoer says:

    It is literally unambiguously impossible for New York to exist at its scale without passenger rale. It would be literally – literally – impossible to replace that capacity with buses. And it’s absurd even for the Koch Foundation to say so.

    Of course, people have voted with their feet, and moved away from leftt NYC and towards the libertarian hinterlands. That’s why and on Arizona is so expensive and in NYC is so cheap.

    • DeservingPorcupine says:

      I think you took the list of exceptions to the rule to be exhaustive. I’d wager heavily that the author would agree that NYC falls into the same category as the listed cities.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I have known a few people, in real life (not on the Internet) who claimed that NYC could function just fine without a subway. I think they are entirely wrong, but I know there are some people out there who state that.

        Like you, I’m pretty sure when the article said “unless you are Tokyo or Hong Kong” they meant that as a descriptive term that would include NYC. But “NYC could work without subways” is not a total strawman position to rebut.

        • Clutzy says:

          I think NYC could be fine without the subway if it imposed a very high tax on cars traveling in the city during peak hours, thereby creating an easy streamlined environment for the increased bus traffic.

      • rlms says:

        Disagree, otherwise why would they name two East Asian cities rather than somewhere like NYC that would be more relevant to an American audience?

    • Ghillie Dhu says:

      When you say passenger rail, are you referring to intracity (mostly subway, I think?), intercity (commuter), or both?

    • JayT says:

      It’s a good thing that they built the subway when it was actually feasible to do it then! It’s no secret that it is much, much harder to build something like this in America as compared to other countries. To the point that it is almost silly to even try. The latest New York City subway expansion cost $4.5 billion to create 17 miles of track. The NYC subways system has 850 miles of track. Now, not all of the track of the subway would cost as much as the recent addition, but it still would have been, what, triple the cost of the California rail that is never going to be finished?

    • INH5 says:

      I agree with your general point, but Arizona seems like a bad example. Manhattan is an island. Phoenix is in the middle of a desert. It’s easy to avoid problems with NIMBYs if you can just keep developing dirt-cheap desert land and spreading further and further out. Supply matters too.

      • JayT says:

        Well, it also shows a lack of understanding of other people’s views, and the actual facts. People have been voting with their feet, the Phoenix area has grown by almost 50% over the last 20 years, and it’s largely because it is so cheap to live there, and part of the reason it’s so cheap is because of the laissez-faire building rules. The fastest growing cities are almost all places like Phoenix.

        • rlms says:

          Why would growth matter? What does that capture that price doesn’t?

          • Dedicating Ruckus says:

            Growth means that more people are coming to live there. An increase in population must lead to either growth or price increases; the two funge against each other. If growth is largely unrestricted as in the Western states, as opposed to highly restricted on the coasts, then you’d expect much smaller increases in price for a given increase in population.

          • JayT says:

            Growth matters because the OP said this:

            Of course, people have voted with their feet, and moved away from leftt NYC and towards the libertarian hinterlands. That’s why and on Arizona is so expensive and in NYC is so cheap.

            The NYC MSA’s population growth over the last ~20 years is 14%. The US as a whole grew by 17%. Phoenix grew by 46%. People are voting with their feet.

          • rlms says:

            People moving to Phoenix doesn’t show that they prefer Phoenix to New York, it shows that they prefer Phoenix plus some amount of money to New York. The fact that I eat lentils rather than caviar doesn’t demonstrate I prefer eating the former, but rather that I prefer having money to not.

          • acymetric says:

            There are lot of other preferences that come into play there, too. Jobs, weather, culture, location of family (either getting close to or getting further from), differences in state/local laws, and probably about 100 others.

          • andrewflicker says:

            I, and a lot of other people I know that moved to Phoenix, did so because their companies moved and they followed the job, OR because they followed family that was following a company move.

            I don’t have stats for it, but a ton of companies have moved jobs out here in the last decade.

          • JayT says:

            I’m feeling like none of you understand the meaning of “vote with your feet”. It means you move because some other place better suits you. Something that is obviously happening with Arizona, since the population has been growing so rapidly.

      • sharper13 says:

        FYI, Phoenix is about as restricted for building in geographic terms as the bay area is.

        The greater urban area is surrounded by various reservations and then BLM land, neither of which allow new construction by developers.

        So while it’s in the middle of a desert, that doesn’t mean you can legally just expand wherever you want.

        • INH5 says:

          Yes, there are barriers, but they’re much more spread out than in the Bay Area, which means that there’s a lot more land available to build on. And because most of that land is barren desert, it tends to be pretty cheap. I have no doubt that Phoenix has less restrictive building rules than the Bay, but I don’t think you can ignore geography either.

          Also, there’s nothing stopping developers from building on reservation land if they can make a deal with the tribe. The Salt River Indian Community resrvation bordering Scottsdale, has, among other things, a highway, a casino, an aquarium, a sports stadium, and several shopping centers on its land, all of them open to the general public. Which frees up land in Scottsdale itself for more residences.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Nobody lives there anymore, it’s too dense”

    • toastengineer says:

      Necessary or not, Chicago’s light rail system is really, really nice. I lived there for years and never wished I had a car once.

      • acymetric says:

        I found Chicago’s transit system to be the best of any city I’ve been to (rail, bus, cab). Admittedly I didn’t use the subway much in New York so I may be missing something there.

  47. kevin says:

    First off, let’s decouple the question of light rail from bullet trains. Different problems.

    Bullet trains compete against planes. At the same time, the amount of time spent getting to an airport and seated on a plane needs to be taken into account. When I was in Spain, the light rail infrastructure fed into the bullet train infrastructure so time spent getting onto a train where your time was your own was negligable.

    Light rail competes with single-occupancy cars. Different level of opportunity cost savings combined with much lower infrastructure costs.

    The analyses cited ignore carbon savings against other methods taking into account economic effects of global warming.

    Further, the analyses cited ignore the opportunity costs of single person car commuting. When I used to have to visit the home office periodically, driving myself to the home office directly lost me 4-5 hours of time. But when I took the train, I only lost 1 hour of time driving to the train station. I could work on the train. If the train station had been closer, my opportunity costs could have approached zero.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      According to Wikipedia, cars average 3500 BTU per passenger-mile, planes 2800, and trains 2500. 10% is a decent savings, but maybe there is a cheaper way to cut 10%. Especially one that doesn’t involve substantial upfront costs (both economic and environmental) when we aren’t sure we will get the payoff at the end.

      • eric23 says:

        There is a lot of variation in those numbers. A train can be 100% full or 50% full. A plane can climb to altitude and then land 30 minutes later, or it can cruise for many hours at a low fuel consumption rate. Without more details, a 10% difference is meaningless.

    • Skivverus says:

      Further, the analyses cited ignore the opportunity costs of single person car commuting. When I used to have to visit the home office periodically, driving myself to the home office directly lost me 4-5 hours of time. But when I took the train, I only lost 1 hour of time driving to the train station.

      Probably because they can go into the weeds of dueling anecdata.
      For example, driving myself to the office directly takes twenty minutes, and I don’t think rail is going anywhere near either my office or my house anytime soon; certainly not within walking distance of either one.

    • Loriot says:

      When I went on vacation to Germany, I was amazed to discover that I could wake up in the morning, decide on a whim to travel to another city halfway across the country, and half an hour later, I was sitting on an inter-city train. That would never be possible with airplanes.

    • Lambert says:

      The issue’s not CO2, its all the nasty oxides of nitrogen and particulates being released in an urban environment, rather than scrubbed away in a power station.

      @loriot

      Any cities you’d recommend, preferably in the South?
      I did that on a smaller scale in Stuttgart sometimes. Just getting on the next U-Bahn that was going somewhere that looked interesting. Gives you a wonderful sense of freedom.

      The other thing German public transport showed me is that the majority of users having season tickets is the way to go. So much less time queuing whilst everybody pays to get on the bus.

      • Aapje says:

        The other thing German public transport showed me is that the majority of users having season tickets is the way to go. So much less time queuing whilst everybody pays to get on the bus.

        Several countries now have credit card-style systems where you can pay very quickly per ride. You simply swipe your card at the entrance and exit gates. The appropriate fee is then calculated and deducted.

        • Lambert says:

          Yeah. London has that, and they’re talking about rolling it out to other parts of the country.

        • CatCube says:

          In addition to the one in London that @Lambert talks about, they also use this system in Washington, DC for the Metro. Portland has a swipe card for theirs as well, but it differs from the London and Washington systems by not requiring you to go through a turnstile, nor paying by distance (you pay by time).

          All of these are convenient.

    • eccdogg says:

      But I am not sure bullet trains compete all that favorably with planes.

      Kyoto to Tokyo on is about the same distance as Raleigh NC to Washington DC.

      The Bullet train takes 3:20 to make the Kyoto to Tokyo trip.

      Raleigh NC to Washington DC takes 1:05. (Flights from Kyoto to Tokyo are also around 1:10)

      Now yes you have security and boarding that takes longer with flying but still that is not 2 hours and you have some of that with trains as well. Also the answer might be improve the boarding/security process on planes.

      Sure a bullet train puts you right in the CBD, but not everyone is going there and for sure many folks don’t live there at least in the US. And some airports like DCA and LGA are actually pretty close to the city center.

      • BillyZoom says:

        As a little anecdote, prior to 9/11 and TSA, there was a Delta shuttle operating between LGA and National in DC. I was working in Tyson’s Corners at the time and lived on the UWS in Manhattan. I could make the trip, door to door, in less than an hour. I was leaving early, so travel to LGA was only about 12 minutes. And you could arrive at the airport 10 minutes before departure, and just walk on.

        So planes can work for short trips, presuming you have an airport not way away from the population center, but security prevents it.

        • Ketil says:

          So planes can work for short trips, presuming you have an airport not way away from the population center, but security prevents it.

          Makes one wonder, what is the actual economic cost of all this security theater? One great thing about something like Hyperloop, is that it effectively merges two cities into one – and larger is more productive, as a rule. This is a matter of degree, so a large city choking on impossible traffic is less efficient and productive than a smaller one with efficient transportation. If make-believe security imposes an extra hour on travel, surely that adversely affects the economy?

        • eccdogg says:

          Yep I used to take that shuttle the opposite direction. DC->NYC. Was super easy and if I remember correctly tickets were very flexible meaning you could show up early or late and still get on the next flight that left every hour. I lived in Arlington, so DCA was closer to my apartment than Union Station.

          • albatross11 says:

            I wonder how many other parts of our world are distorted by useless but necessary crap like TSA security.

          • BillyZoom says:

            IIRC, in the morning during peak times, they left every half hour. And yes, your ticket could be used on a later plane at no additional cost. At LGA, the shuttles left from the marine air terminal, which is separate from the main LGA terminal. The distance from the entrance of the MAT to the plane was only about 100 yards. So you could cut it really close.

          • eccdogg says:

            This discussion makes me wonder if you could not construct an airplane system between LA and SF that was able to replicate some of the benefits of rail.

            What if you paired a Bus Rapid Transit line with frequent flights like the DCA to LGA flights. Build a bus terminal in the CBD of each city and allow folks to check in and clear security in the bus terminal. Then the bus travels on its own dedicated road directly to the plane.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        Volume. Japan has train stations handling in excess of a billion passengers a year. The largest airports in existence are a tenth of that. That is, Japan and China build highspeed rail because they have internal travel requirements that simply cannot be met by air-travel – airports of sufficient throughput simply cannot be built.

  48. glorkvorn says:

    The catch with all bullet-train-vs-airplane debates is that they don’t actually go to the same place. Sure, they go to the same city, but only if you equate “city” with the greater metropolitian area. Going to Penn Station in the center of Manhattan is not at all the same as going to JFK airport. And one is not necessarily better than the other- if you’re on a business trip than you might prefer going to the office parks in the exurbs of the city where airports are usually located, rather than going downtown to do tourist stuff. You could have a train and an airplane going between the same two cities, and they’d both work better for different people.

    The other catch is that we’re now stuck with a huge mess of security theater in all our airports, whereas trains are blessedly free from that. In theory we could improve security at airports to make it less nightmarish, but I’m not sure that will ever happen, so you have to add an extra hour to the plane time just to get through security and actually get on the plane.

    • Loriot says:

      Whenever people comment about airplanes being faster than trains, I always wonder if they forgot about how they’re supposed to arrive at the airport two hours early. Sure, you wouldn’t go across the US in a train, but when I fly, I often spend more time outside the plane than on it.

      • CatCube says:

        My point of comparison for planes/trains travel time has been to go to Google Maps and compare estimated travel times for trains from LA-Chicago (1d, 19hr) to Paris-Moscow (1d, 6hr)–because these are about the same distance.

        Europe seems to do a little bit better*, but even cutting it from 43 hours to 30 it’s still bonkers to even consider the train, unless you just love trains. Which I understand, because I’ve spent an entire Saturday sitting by the tracks photographing trains, but I don’t love trains enough to consume most of my scheduled vacation traveling on them instead of spending time with my family at the destination.

        * When I started using this comparison a few years ago, there was only a couple hours difference.

        • bean says:

          Which I understand, because I’ve spent an entire Saturday sitting by the tracks photographing trains

          Wait. You’re one of those people? But you seemed so normal….

          Train people terrify me. Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s certainly not that I’m scared by people who have possibly-unhealthy fascinations with machines, particularly machines for moving about. I have no room to throw stones there. But train people seem to take it to the next level, and I really, really don’t want to become one.

          For proof, look to Wikipedia. If there is one topic where the articles are consistently excellent, it’s rail. Everything rail-related has a big, well-written and comprehensive wiki article. On most topics, I often run across articles that are not very good, but I’ve never seen one if trains are involved. And that scares me a lot, because who is writing these things?

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m not a train person myself, but I don’t see what’s so scary about such people. David Kellogg Lewis was a train person, and if I thought there was any chance it would let me write philosophy as well as he did, I’d try to become one.

          • bean says:

            As much as anything, it’s fear of becoming infected on my part. I already have a perfectly good vehicle-focused hobby, complete with a roomful of books to go with it, and I really, really don’t want another one. And I also suspect that rail has some special properties that tend to lead to a higher level of obsession than most other things. I’m not sure what they are, and I really don’t want to find out.

          • Lambert says:

            It’s just Bean’s usual anti-ground propaganda. 😉

            Though I must admit, if you’re going to be a nerd about some form of transport, I’m sure you can find something better than modern trains. (Steam trains, maglev and Dr Zhivago armoured trains are, otoh, ok.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            And that scares me a lot, because who is writing these things?

            People much like yourself, only with trains instead of battleships? I don’t think you have to worry about becoming one; a man may only serve one master and you have yours.

        • ana53294 says:

          But there is a difference in comfort, too.

          So, if you want to go Moscow to St Pt, you can spend two hours going to the airport, pass the control, arrive to the airport, fly for an hour and a half, spend another two hours arriving to the city. 4-5 hours. And then, because the trip is exhausting, if you want to do any business, you have to go the day before and get a hotel.

          Or you can take the overnight train, (22:30 to 07:00; they time the arrival so it is not too early), and you arrive well rested*, and you can go around to do whatever you wanted to do. So for any trip 8 hours or less, a good overnight train could be more convenient, as long as it’s the same price as the plane ticket (saves you the hotel).

          *Overnight trains are quite clean. I actually sleep very well on trains; I find the movement calming.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I’m skeptical that we could, in the real world, improve the airport experience, but it sure seems more likely than building HSR.

      In theory, it’s easy: Security can be made easier both with more resources and getting rid of many of the parts that are just theater. And modern information technology ought to let people know exactly how much time they need at the airport before they even start their commute there.

      But in theory, building HSR is easy, too.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, this makes me wonder how much other stuff in our society is imposing a tax on everything we do for dumb-but-politically-untouchable reasons. 10% loss of efficiency here, 20% there, and soon you’re talking real costs.

    • bindubasketball says:

      I have TSA pre-check so I will often show up 245 minutes before departure to make it onto a plane, but assume for a second that I had to show up an hour before departure (no checked bag but no expedited security). I live in Boston and specifically work in West Cambridge, from which it is roughly 30 minutes to either South Station or Logan airport.

      Say for whatever reason I needed to be in lower Manhattan – for me that journey is 0.5 (commute to logan) + 1 (airport time) + 1 (flight time) + 1 hour (deplaning and Path to Wall St) = 3.5 hours door to door. Compare that to the train – 0.5 (commute to South Station) + 0.25 (waiting time at South Station – in my experience it’s nearly impossible to time to show up exactly 2-3 mins before departure) + 3.5 hrs (train ride) + 0.5 (getting to lower manhattan by uber or subway) = 4.75 hours.

      If I’m checking a bag, I’ll perhaps need to budget 1.5-1.75 hours (again assuming no TSA Pre) but again that’s only going to be for longer flights like Boston – LA, where the 7.5 hours of flight would be 10-12 hours on any conceivable HSR option.

      The fundamental truth is that flights average speed (including takeoff and landing) is 400+ mph, whereas no train is realistically going to average anything better than 275 mph in the absolute best case. For anything over 100 miles, the train is quickly going to get uncompetitive.

      The other thing to keep in mind is that HSR is most effective on CBD to CBD travel, but even in the densest US towns save NYC, much of the population does not live in CBDs and offices are comparably spaced out. So the HSR payoff is going to be low in a US context.

      • eric23 says:

        There is a great graph here (page 6) which shows that a majority of travelers will prefer rail to air whenever the rail trip is shorter than about 4 hours. That’s about 600 miles for a typical HSR train. Approximately the distance from NYC to Charlotte, NC.

    • brad says:

      I think one of the best cases for high speed rail are from an airport to the CBD. JFK to grand central is 1:15 with multiple transfers by public transit. And physically it isn’t that far away which makes expansion there impossible. EWR is about the same distance away from midtown (same air traffic control zone) and can be reached in just under an hour. If you went out the same distance from midtown NYC as NRT is from Tokyo’s CBD you could reach Westchester County Airport. That’s in a different atc zone and has room to expand. But today you’d be looking at a two hour nightmare multimodal public transit trip. Figuring out a way (admittedly difficult) to do a reliable single seat high speed ride from HPN to grand central could reduce air delays nationwide and even globally.

      Next best case after that is to increase the capacity and average speed of commuter rail to bring further flung suburbs into practical commuting range. Ronkonkoma, 50 miles out from Manhattan, is an a minimum of 80 minutes on the LIRR plus the door to door time on both ends. Cut that in half, by increasing the number of express trains throughout the system and the average speed between stops, and you’d open up a lot more housing for people that prefer the single family home lifestyle.

      City-to-city high speed rail, even in the best case of the NE corridor, strikes me as unlocking a lot less value. NYC to Philly in an hour or NYC to DC in two would certainly open up possibilities that don’t exist today, but I’m not sure what the total value of those new options would be.

      • eric23 says:

        The high speed of HSR is only useful for city-to-city trips. City-to-airport trips are an order of magnitude shorter, so the time savings of HSR are minimal.

        For example, Paris has a rail line which covers the 15 miles from the airport to downtown in 24 minutes. This is a regular suburban rail line like the LIRR (but better run). It has an average speed of 38mph, which seems pretty lame. But a taxi to central Paris during the day takes about 45 minutes (with traffic), so the train is more than competitive.

        • brad says:

          JFK is 15 miles out. You don’t need particularly high speed there, just single seat (and luggage racks). But if you want to promote Westchester County or Long Island MacArthur to a full fledged international airport than you’ll need a little more speed. Not 200 mph necessarily but 60 would be table stakes.

  49. Nearly Takuan says:

    It may not be quite to the same degree, but there was that Lee Strobel guy who claimed a similar experience to van Klaveren’s, under similar circumstances.

  50. JayT says:

    Is the Obama Library coming together? I thought it was mired in legal issues.

    • Yea you betcha. Legal issues, public opposition both neighborhood-based and citywide, etc. Kind of hilarious that the architecture magazine wouldn’t even mention any of that.

      Some of that is NIMBY stuff and some of it is more substantive. Some of it is about the “Presidential Center” itself and some of it is about the companion plan of tearing out two inexpensive public golf courses and closing some streets to build a Tiger Woods PGA-level course. (And you can count me among those who think that the last part is just about the stupidest fucking idea anybody’s had for Chicago’s park system in quite a while.)

      A lot of the resistance here in Chicago from people and organizations who would otherwise welcome and celebrate anything Obama is because they picked the Jackson Park site rather than the Washington Park one. I won’t bore you with why that disappointed a lot of Obama fans locally, but the actual reason for the choice appears to have a lot do to with the stupid golf course thing. Which, unfortunately, is an idea that seems to have come from the former president personally (that’s per interviews with Tiger Woods).

      Note also that what is proposed is not a presidential library — the Obama papers will all be housed at the National Archives. That is because the Obama Foundation does not wish to comply with the record-keeping and access requirements that go along with actual presidential records. The “Obama Presidential Center” in Chicago will if built just have a digitized copies of presidential papers which visitors can look at on computers in the center, which will be different from normal National Archives online access in some way that I’m sure is really important for some reason other than reducing local operating costs. So what they are proposing to build is simply a presidential version of Dollywood: a theme park celebrating a particular person.

  51. aarongertler says:

    Clarifying the “prizes” link: The EA Forum Prize is funded by the Centre for Effective Altruism, not by myself or any other individuals. The voters are myself, Julia Wise, Rob Wiblin, Denise Melchin, Peter Hurford, and Joey Savoie (between us, we currently work at four different EA organizations).

  52. The Nybbler says:

    One important thing to note about the Amazon NYC thing is that, according to the letter, the incentives offered were not a result of negotiation, but rather existing incentives open to any employer.

    The city and state ‘gave’ Amazon nothing. Amazon was to build their headquarters with union jobs and pay the city and state $27 billion in revenues. The city, through existing as-of-right tax credits, and the state through Excelsior Tax credits – a program approved by the same legislators railing against it – would provide up to $3 billion in tax relief, IF Amazon created the 25,000-40,000 jobs and thus generated $27 billion in revenue.

    You can model this as subsidies. But you can also model it as just an excessively complex tax regime.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Almost, but not quite. The state didn’t take any action to create boutique credits for Amazon. But not anyone can waltz up and claim these existing credits. If they could, surely Amazon would. We know that there’s a negotiation, because Gianaris threatened to veto it. That’s probably what Mujica meant by saying that Excelsior isn’t “as-of-right.” And even the city credits may be legally open to any employer, but laws don’t enforce themselves. Isn’t there an ongoing scandal about the Excelsior credits, that no one ever verified the number of jobs, so that the legislators could hand them out by fiat?

  53. BBA says:

    It would help the argument for rail transit if there had been a single useful rail line built in decades. Instead the Federal Transit Administration hands out grant money for cute little downtown streetcar systems that cater to tourists but are useless for actually getting anywhere. Here’s a hint: if the streetcar is sharing its lane with cars, it’s just a really expensive bus that can’t change its route. But hey, they look cool and retro and local politicians can hold ribbon-cuttings, and that’s all that matters, right?

    A similar fad a few decades ago gave us the equally useless elevated “people movers” in Detroit and Miami. I guess streetcars aren’t quite as expensive as those, so that’s something.

    As for intercity rail, yes, it’s pointless outside the Northeast. In the Northeast, you could turn the Acela into a proper high-speed line with some marginal improvements, but marginal improvements are boring and don’t let you hold ribbon-cuttings or announce how many jobs you’re creating, so they don’t happen.

    • Loriot says:

      I’m sure there are plenty of useful rail lines built in the last few decades if you look outside the US. And the northeastern US is dense enoguh to support a lot of rail. It’s probably a matter of cultural inertia, regulation, and political will.

    • eric23 says:

      Cute little streetcars are indeed worthless for transportation (they are essentially a very expensive form of landscaping, which can encourage development around them). People movers are about equally useless.

      But there have in fact been some extremely useful rail lines built in the last few years, not to mention decades. The Second Avenue Subway in NYC (2017) relieved the crush loads on the busiest subway line in the US (the 4/5/6). The extension of the Seattle light rail (2016) helped the city’s traffic to actually decrease even as its economy and population have boomed. The Silver Line from DC to Tysons Corner, VA (2014) created an efficient transit connection to the 12th largest employment center in the US.

  54. byonge says:

    Because everyone is terrible and everything sucks forever, some people are trying to factory-farm octopuses.

    Is there a TLDR or ELI15 of how Scott thinks about consuming animal products?

    My knee jerk intuition is that an octopus has pretty similar sentience to a pig and I haven’t any serious pushback against eating bacon on ethical grounds in normal everyday life.

  55. Radu Floricica says:

    > China’s SesameCredit social monitoring system, widely portrayed as dystopian, has an 80% approval rate in China (vs. 19% neutral and 1% disapproval).

    Did a quick search in the comments, and nobody compared it to Uber yet. It’s more or less the same kind of enforced politeness you get from knowing you’ll rate the driver and he’ll rate you, and I absolutely love it. I’m aware of the distopian overtones and the ways it can go wrong and the risks involved, and I can’t help but feel that to the Chinese, the present benefits are well worth it.

    Two other data points (from a guy that’s never been to China, so grain of salt, etc). First, I understand Chinese tourists aren’t very well regarded in the rest of Asia. My guess here is that China went through a very rapid urbanization, and not all customs got upgraded in time. Which may leave part of the society very unhappy with how another part of the society behaves.

    Second, in private conversations with Chinese that are either moving or visiting abroad, there isn’t really much criticism of the government. At least once I got explicit high praise for homogeneity – not that particular policies are good or bad, but the fact that an overarching principle of Chinese government is to smooth differences across population. The very opposite of diversity.

  56. ARabbiAndAFrog says:

    I still don’t understand how do Americans live without photo ID. Is that scene where Homer comes to post office, claims he’s mister Burns, asks for his mail and is only foiled by his inability to remember Burns’ name accurate representation of how identification works in the USA?

    • Both drivers’ licenses, which are the most common form of ID, and passports, have photographs on them.

      • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        Well, yes. But apparently you aren’t expected to have one by default, i.e. when going to vote.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Also the case in the UK.

          To collect your mail from a post office, they accept either a driving licence, passport or a long list of other documents:

          We’ll accept any of these:
          • Birth certificate
          • Building society book
          • Cheque book
          • Cheque guarantee card
          • Council tax payment book
          • Credit card
          • Credit card statement (no older than 6 months)
          • Debit card
          • Full driving licence
          • Marriage certificate
          • Military photo ID
          • Police Warrant Card
          • Foreign national identity card
          • National Savings bank book
          • Valid passport
          • Paid utilities bill (no older than 6 months)
          • Standard acknowledgement letter (SAL) issued by the Home Office for asylum seekers
          • Trade union card

          If you’re under the age of 18 and can’t provide any of the above, we’ll take one of the following too (originals, not copies):
          • Medical card
          • National Insurance card
          • Savings book

          When you go to vote, you are not asked for ID. You are only allowed to vote at one specific polling station (unless you have applied to vote by post or by proxy), where the staff have a list of everyone eligible to vote there. Your name is crossed off when you get your ballot.

          It would, in principle, be possible to quickly glance at the list and read off the name and address of an eligible voter who had not voted yet. Even if the poll workers didn’t notice, there is the risk that this person would later turn up and attempt to vote, in which case there are safeguards. Specifically, ballot papers are numbered, and who received which ballot paper is recorded. These records are sealed, cannot be unsealed without a court order, and are normally destroyed a year after the election.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            So what exactly would happen if, say, I start going to each polling station with a list of names of people that probably won’t come and pretend to be them? With a bus full of people, I bet I could tip the scale quite a bit.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The scam I heard about was, you’re an ethnic community leader and you have some unreliable fellows in your community who you can get registered in a registration drive but can’t count on to get off their barstools and actually go vote on Election Day. So what you do is, you take your more motivated voters/loyal flunkies, have them vote in one location under their own names and in more locations under the names of these unreliable fellows. And since you’re a community leader you can sort of informally keep tabs on the guys through your network and if any of them comes down with a sudden bout of reliability and tries to go vote after you’ve already voted for them you can step in and dissuade them.

            I heard stories of people pulling this scheme as a thing done by a friend-of-a-friend, so not the most compelling testimony, but in principle it seems like the sort of scam you’d pull under this system. As far as voter fraud goes it’s not the worst thing you can think of, it’s similar in effect to the legal get-out-the-vote schemes that try to make unreliable members of your community more reliable voters. It’s not like the unreliable fellows were going to suddenly start researching the candidates, thinking for themselves, and voting differently from how their community leader told them to vote anyway.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            @ARabbitAndAFrog: we don’t even detect that.

            I’m not sure it’s a big problem. I’m not sure it’s a small problem.

            I would like us to audit that after-the-fact in a statistically significant way, the same way we audit other parts of the election process after-the-fact.

            Note that absentee ballots have all the problems you just mentioned plus more. Google “ballot harvesting” and get ready to shake your head.

          • DeWitt says:

            When you go to vote, you are not asked for ID. You are only allowed to vote at one specific polling station (unless you have applied to vote by post or by proxy), where the staff have a list of everyone eligible to vote there. Your name is crossed off when you get your ballot.

            But why?

            I’m just across the North Sea, in the Netherlands, and we get voting passes sent to our home addresses about a month prior to election. You can walk into any polling station, hand in the pass, show your ID, and then vote.

            Why do you only get to go to one station? What if the polling station I’m supposed to go to is at some retirement home but I take the train to work and there’s a more convenient one on the way there?

          • bean says:

            @DeWitt

            Local elections. In American democracy, we elect everyone down to the town dog-catcher, which means that the polling station next to my work might share only two or three candidates with the one next to my house. 2/3 of my houses have been in different counties from my job.

            (Yes, we could solve this by splitting national and local elections, like I’m sure they do in most of the rest of the world. But that has other problems.)

          • acymetric says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            See NC district 9 as one of the most recent examples.

          • DeWitt says:

            @Bean

            We have local elections, too, but there’s a minimum municipality size, and even the one I’m in, which is on the extreme lower end of said size, has upwards of ten stations. Only being allowed to vote at one just sounds annoying.

          • Loriot says:

            California has a “permanent vote by mail option” open to everyone. Before each election, they mail you a ballot, which you can fill in at your leisure and then mail in or drop off at any number of locations. That seems even easier than the Netherlands example.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If the idea is to overwhelm the proponents of Voter-ID with things that are even more prone to fraud, they win.

          • Clutzy says:

            But why?

            I’m just across the North Sea, in the Netherlands, and we get voting passes sent to our home addresses about a month prior to election. You can walk into any polling station, hand in the pass, show your ID, and then vote.

            Why do you only get to go to one station? What if the polling station I’m supposed to go to is at some retirement home but I take the train to work and there’s a more convenient one on the way there?

            The reason is because your system would be struck down as unconstitutional by 1/2 district courts, 1/2 appeals courts, and probably 3/6 supreme court judges in our country. So it is not passed because thats a lot of political capital to expend considering the media pushback (which will be overwhelmingly negative if we look at trends).

            Simply requiring pre-registration is considered an affront to many groups here. An ID is a no-go (I live in a Dem-Controlled state and every time I go to the polling place I forget and take out my ID, only for the polling workers to enthusiastically tell me to put it away). Thus, the only control is a super outdated control that says you got to vote in 1 location that is assigned to your place of residence.

    • CatCube says:

      I’m an American, and I don’t understand how all these people are getting by without IDs everywhere but voting. Hell, getting reduced fares on most transit systems I’m familiar with (Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Oregon) requires having an ID.

      AFAIK, the post office would demand an ID in that situation. I’ve had to pick up my mail from there before and they sure wanted one. I guess, to be fair, I don’t know what they’d have done if I said I didn’t have and ID and didn’t know how to go about getting one.

      You’ll also need an ID if you’re under 30 and buying booze or cigarettes. About the only place I know of where people throw a fit about requiring IDs is at the voting booth.

    • John Schilling says:

      Is that scene where Homer comes to post office, claims he’s mister Burns, asks for his mail and is only foiled by his inability to remember Burns’ name accurate representation of how identification works in the USA?

      No, it is not. With the possible exception of towns small enough that the post-office clerk knows everyone by sight, the post office will not hand over mail to someone without a photo ID.

      Also, you explicitly can’t rent a hotel room without a photo ID in most of the United States, and you will have difficulty renting an apartment, and you can’t open a bank account, so unless you are planning to be a homeless street person or to live in the sort of community where you can get a dubiously-legal sublet by word of mouth and work cash jobs, you need a photo ID to live in the United States.

      Americans like to pretend this isn’t the case, that “papers, please” is an Orwellian or Naziesque thing that only enserfed Europeans do and True Free Men(tm) would never stand for, but that really only means that we pretend that our national ID card is a “driver’s license(*)” that is coincidentally sometimes used for other stuff. And some of us throw a hissy fit if someone tries to impose a photo ID requirement for voting even though we’ve made it mandatory for just about everything else one little step at a time.

      * Every state authority that issues drivers’ licenses, also issues “State ID cards” that are just like drivers’ licenses except for the fine print saying “does not actually authorize bearer to drive a car”.

      • albatross11 says:

        This whole fight is just about the parties’ guesses about who is benefited by tweaking various voting rules. Democrats guess that making voting harder in any way will slightly hurt them, Republicans guess it will slightly help them. I am quite skeptical that either one is right or knows what they’re doing, though.

        The claim that there’s no measurable effect of these laws seems entirely plausible to me. A huge CW issue where everyone calls the other side nasty names and claims they have evil motives[1] and the actual issue has no relevance, seems to fit the spirit of the age very well.

        [1] They do, both sides, but probably not the comic-book evil motives you’re trying to paint on them.

      • mtl1882 says:

        I hope I’m right in my assessment of the situation, but if I’m way off, please correct me, because I am interested in who exactly lacks IDs.

        But my understanding is that yes, most of these people live in word-of-mouth communities, and while they are not significant percentage-wise, there are a lot more than many people might think, and heavily concentrated in certain areas. Many of these communities are in the rural south. They “get by,” but not in the sense that most people think of as “getting by.” They get enough work and shelter to “keep body and soul together,” as the saying goes.

        They do not stay at hotels, rent apartments, have bank accounts, drive to shopping malls, etc. They do not operate in the “sphere” most Americans think of as being the only available one. It is not one most Americans would ever willingly go outside of. Many do not seek medical care. The statistics on bank accounts and things like that are pretty surprising. Some of them are in part off-the-grid type people–born into those circumstances, and proud of their independence, so they don’t fall into any “safety nets.” There are some people who live what appear to be lives of pure suffering who do not ask for help–that’s just the way it is, and has been for generations.

        There places in Appalachia where few children have birth certificates. A non-trivial number of children do not have birth certificates, and it is easy to say “I don’t understand — you can’t do anything without an SSN or birth certificate nowadays,” but that is exactly right–they don’t do anything that requires such permission. These things are required for participating in “modern society,” but some people don’t participate. And if a kid wants to get a birth certificate and participate, it takes some time and effort.

        And my understanding is that a lot of these communities have descended in the post-war south, and it’s not hard to understand why this condition has arisen, or, more accurately, why it never changed when it changed elsewhere. It was rather the default. Because of the issues with voting discrimination in these areas, largely racial but some economic etc., there is a strong feeling in the U.S. against voting “requirements,” because they are easy to “game” and were flagrantly gamed for 100 years, in a manner clearly not innocently aimed at making sure elections were legitimate. We have such strong norms for a reason–we can break them, but there is a reason why there is resistance to seemingly reasonable things. They are perceived as over-corrections to issues, and they are, but that is because the issues are so easily exploited and it is a slippery slope.

        And because of the concentration of these communities, for local elections, this does or at one point did matter quite a bit. These people have an influence on that level even if they are too small to have a national impact. And at least at one point, that influence mattered quite a bit. And they have a recognized right to have a say in those communities even if they don’t participate in the mainstream. It is likely many of these people do not vote; but the possibility that they might is an important consideration, especially if something arises that affects them directly.

        While I believe that some level of regular abuse happens, I think the no-ID people are far less likely to be party operatives than they are people born in historically poor and independent communities. They’re not people trying to dodge the systems so much as they are people who never entered it. We can fix it with some ID assistance program, as some have suggested, if we choose to. But the history of this is not a merely administrative matter. And getting any ID without proper documents is tough–I think people really underestimate how many people don’t have them in certain communities.

        • ana53294 says:

          But if they don’t have the other documents required to get photo ID, how can they register to vote?

          You need proof of citizenship to register to vote, right? And if those documents are enough for voter registration, they should be enough for getting an ID.

          • mtl1882 says:

            I’m not sure how it works–this is an odd question, now that I think of it. They seem to do it based on residency/census type information, which is why you have to go home to vote etc. I can’t remember how I did it, but it was not a significant process.

            If I remember correctly, prior to the Civil War, some places did not require citizenship for voting. It was based on residency. Our concept of citizenship really wasn’t a thing until the amendments that resulted from the war, though I realize the word featured prominently in foundational documents. It just wasn’t defined well. Some states had citizenship requirements, others did not, and often citizens just meant people who lived there, and it was unclear if there was a federal citizenship, since states did not mutually recognize each other’s definitions.

            Naturalization was very easy. And some states recognized black Americans as citizens, and some did not, etc. There was debate as to what citizenship meant with regards to women. Plus record-keeping and documentation was iffy in a lot of places, so I don’t think it was traditionally that hard to do. Poll workers more or less knew who people were. It seems like if these things were needed to register, that would more or less take care of the problem. But it doesn’t. It is also possible that for elderly people, they no longer drive or and may not have much access to transportation, so they have an expired license and aren’t quite sure how to fix it. I know that seems a bit extreme, but elderly people can be nervous and unsure, and if they don’t have someone who can help them out, many of them will not have IDs.

        • John Schilling says:

          I hope I’m right in my assessment of the situation, but if I’m way off, please correct me, because I am interested in who exactly lacks IDs.

          I think you are way off on the numbers, describing something that is real but tiny. Specifically, the combination of

          There are a lot more than many people might think

          Many of these communities are in the rural south.

          They do not stay at hotels, rent apartments, have bank accounts, drive to shopping malls,

          Strikes me as implausible because…

          and it’s not hard to understand why this condition has arisen, or, more accurately, why it never changed when it changed elsewhere.

          …one thing that absolutely did change, between ~1910 and ~1960, was that pretty much all the poor people in Appalachia got cars and/or trucks, and consequently all the e.g. general stores whose only virtue was being the only general store within ten miles of fifty dirt-poor farmers, went out of business. They haven’t come back. And, see the cross-thread discussion, we haven’t built much in the way of public transit in the rural South.

          Even the dirt-poor hillbillies of Appalachia are driving cars at least occasionally, and almost certainly have drivers’ licenses. They may live “off the grid” 99% of the time, but being able to drive into town for the necessary last percent is critical to making that work.

          Rural Alaska, you could make that case because s/car/snowmobile and you don’t need a drivers’ license for a snowmobile (I think). And if you tell me there’s a barrio in Los Angeles where a bunch of hispanic day-laborers live within walking distance of everyplace including the parking lot where their employer du jour drives them to the job site in his truck, sure. But that one gets us into the question of whether the real objective is to make it easy for noncitizens to vote.

          The reason America’s default national ID is the drivers’ license is that we discovered we needed a national ID right about the time we’d finished motorizing just about the entire population. So if the claim is that there is a large population that lacks drivers’ licenses on account of poverty and off-griddedness, I do want to see numbers and sources.

          • albatross11 says:

            An interesting question I wonder about but have no idea how to research: There is a certain fraction of people who are in eternal, unrepayable, inescapable debt. I know this happens with child-support debt–it’s quite possible for a guy who dropped out of high school at 16 and can barely read to have four separate child support judgments against him. There is no job he’s ever going to get that will pay enough for him to even keep up with the payments, let alone also eat. I don’t think he can get out of that debt in bankruptcy, either. The result is that any above-ground job he takes is probably going to end up eventually garnishing half his wages, forever. I think it’s also possible to get into this kind of situation with fines and fees, and given the existence of some cities that fund their government on fines and fees, there are presumably people who are in the same position w.r.t. those debts–you owe more than you’ll ever make, because your sole qualification for a job is the GED you earned in prison, which more-or-less prepares you for a minimum wage job that’s barely enough to keep you fed.

            I wonder how large this class of people is, and what they look like, and where/how they live. Voting isn’t really any of their biggest dozen problems, but not being able to get an ID without somehow bringing the law down on themselves probably is.

          • John Schilling says:

            An interesting question I wonder about but have no idea how to research: There is a certain fraction of people who are in eternal, unrepayable, inescapable debt.

            I believe the fraction of people in inescapable debt is (in the US) quite small, and what you are mostly seeing is people who would rather flee than make the sacrifices required to legally discharge their debt. Yes, I’ve heard the scare stories about child support, and I’d ask that if this is what you want to talk about you open a new topic on a new OT.

            Because it’s kind of orthogonal to the issue here. Granted there is some number of people who are trapped in debt. No matter how deeply in debt someone is, they will find life much easier with ID, and particularly a drivers’ license. Furthermore,

            but not being able to get an ID without somehow bringing the law down on themselves probably is.

            Being in debt is not generally a crime. And the police do not stake out DMV offices to arrest either debtors or criminals. There are some states which allow for suspending the drivers’ licenses of people who persistently fail to pay child support, but even in those states I’m pretty sure that if you walk into the DMV with $20 and a birth certificate (or whatever the specific requirements are), then you walk out with a state ID card.

            Meanwhile, the people who are truly off-grid and have no use at all for ID cards, are likely to be debt-free. Or at least free of any debt the legal system will recognize, because nobody will extend you that sort of credit without ID.

            So, while I’d like to see numbers on how many people are living without ID, asking how many people are living deeply in debt is almost certainly the wrong way to go about it – from both directions.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I wonder how large this class of people is, and what they look like, and where/how they live. Voting isn’t really any of their biggest dozen problems, but not being able to get an ID without somehow bringing the law down on themselves probably is.

            The system has made the policy decision to torture these people pour encourager les autres, so I don’t think any part or it is going to be really upset if they can’t vote either. They’re unsympathetic, and sympathy is a lot of what matters today.

            (while being in debt is in general not a crime, being in arrears on child support usually is, and taxes sometimes. Any ill that comes to these people is entirely intentional and desired on the part of the system)

          • mtl1882 says:

            I agree the numbers are tiny on a national level, and really on any level. But in terms of the discussion, I’m not sure if that’s very relevant. If the question was “how many ID-less voters are committing voting fraud?” and I was saying most of them were probably Appalachians, that would sound like a pretty bad explanation. That tiny group of Appalachians probably has even fewer actual voters. But the question is “who doesn’t have an ID in this day and age?” with the implication often being someone up to no good, and even likely to commit voting fraud. I think the answer is less exciting. I don’t know how much fraudulent voting goes on or who the perpetrators are. But the norms are in place to protect that tiny group of people from having their rights violated, and in terms of sheer numbers it’s at the very least hundreds of people, and they are all located in specific areas. So in local elections, it could make a difference.

            I think local elections hold a lot less interest than they used to, because of how things have kind of centralized and systems are so much easier to integrate, etc. But when people kind of ran their own community, it mattered. And I agree things got way better by 1960. Way better. But not everyone got swept up in it, and people who were born prior to 1960 probably had a much greater chance of retaining older habits. Elderly people are probably the most likely to be in this position. Within another generation or two, this might be much less of an issue. But it hasn’t been that long, and social atomization and other post-1960 issues may have caused a regression in certain areas.

            Something like DUI enforcement can make a huge difference in who bothers to get a license or interact with a larger community. That has changed incredibly in a few decades. I would guess a fair number of Appalachians who drive are not actually licensed to do so–that is true anywhere, but probably more so there, especially if they rarely drive into town. I’m not saying it is rampant, just that a certain number probably exist in certain communities. Some very insular religious communities of all denominations undoubtedly have similar issues.

            I agree with you about Alaska and the day laborers. I do think, however, that voting is considered so fundamental a right, that we have to be prepared to face an argument that “even though we well understand this makes it easier for non-citizens to vote, we prefer that to any American citizen being deprived of that right.” Along those lines, it’s not about whether it could be abused, but how much abuse to tolerate. I’m not saying this is what I support, but the it is designed to give the benefit of the doubt along the lines of “I’d rather have 10 guilty people go free than one innocent person convicted.” There are good arguments to be made that this is dangerous and inefficient, among other things, but we decided to take those risks in order to avoid others. This can change, but it is a recognized trade-off that not all ID-opponents are pretending isn’t there. I agree some are, just as proponents are arguing that this is a simple demand that won’t prevent any qualified American citizen from voting, but that’s because the average person tends to think that they can have everything both ways. I agree with you that the number is not at all large, but the potential for exploiting this system is a different issue from who actually lacks an ID today.

        • albatross11 says:

          What fraction of the off-the-grid/no ID people vote?

          • mtl1882 says:

            I would guess very few of them. But the right to vote is considered so important that you can’t dismiss out of hand based on that, or at least traditionally there has been a strong norm about that, and people seem confused as to why that could ever be the case. It’s like norms around free speech or the rights of defendants–they are intentionally extreme to guard the rights of minority, sometimes a very small and unsympathetic one.

            I think a lot of people think the no-ID rule came out of nowhere and its proponents are extremists who have no common sense or want to steal votes. Whether or not things should be changed, there is a reason this has not yet been implemented. The issue then becomes about whether these people “deserve” the exception, or if there are sufficient numbers to warrant it. But these kind of “common sense” decisions are sensitive in a rights-based context, and have a history of abuse. I’m not saying whether it is wrong or right, just that the stakes are such that common sense, majority wins arguments don’t hold the weight they do elsewhere.

        • acymetric says:

          But my understanding is that yes, most of these people live in word-of-mouth communities, and while they are not significant percentage-wise, there are a lot more than many people might think, and heavily concentrated in certain areas. Many of these communities are in the rural south.

          I think you would be surprised at the number of people living in such communities in urban and quasi-urban (small-mid sized cities) as well.

    • BillyZoom says:

      I think living w/o a photo ID would cause some issues, but you can go a really long time without needing one if you don’t fly or get a new job at a company that cares about such things. Other than travelling, I don’t think I’ve needed my ID in, well at least 10 years, probably noticeably longer. Flights, decent hotels, rental cars all require ID, but beyond that, not so much.

      I don’t carry my ID w/ me when I’m not travelling. As I don’t have a car, my experience is probably a bit non-central though.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        In theory you don’t need a photo ID for a new job, at least for the I-9 form. I think E-Verify changes that, despite saying in big bold betters on the I-9 form that the employer must accept whatever is supplied.

      • TheContinentalOp says:

        Some of the times/places I’ve been required to show ID in the past five years:

        Enter the Montgomery County (PA) Courthouse to read a will
        Board the Cape May-Lewes Ferry on a bicycle
        Buy Sudafed at Walgreen’s
        When I went to see an Eye Specialist whose practice I had never visited before
        When I needed to change my Amtrak ticket in person at 30th Street Station ticket counter
        Buying a gun
        Renewing my library card

        • acymetric says:

          Is it hard to imagine groups of people who don’t do any of those things?

          Also, a point of clarification: You had to present your ID to enter the courthouse, or after you were in the courthouse to prove your identity for the purposes of the will?

      • John Schilling says:

        You absolutely need a photo ID to open a bank account in the United States, and most of the places you could cash a paycheck without having an account will also insist on ID. It’s not impossible to avoid being destitute and starving without ID, but it is a severe economic handicap.

    • BBA says:

      90-something percent of Americans have photo IDs. Most of the ones who don’t are extremely poor, disabled, and/or intentionally living off the grid. I doubt you’re going to see any of them posting here or anywhere like here.

      In the context of voting specifically, as I said in a previous thread, ID requirements are a backdoor poll tax. A requirement to pay a fee of roughly $12 a year (adjusted for inflation, that’s the amount of the Virginia poll tax struck down in 1966) would be acceptable for most other purposes, but not for voting. And that’s about how much state governments charge for an ID card, even before you factor in the opportunity cost of taking a few hours off work to go to the DMV. For you and me, these costs aren’t much, but for the poor, they add up quickly.

      • Nornagest says:

        Seems like a reasonable compromise would be to institute a voter ID requirement but bar state governments from charging for ID, then. Or offer an alternative, free national ID, if that’s politically feasible — even putting your photo on a Social Security card might be enough. It’d still cost something in time, but so does voting.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Every Voter ID law I’ve seen in the past 10 years has already included requirements for free ID. The objection moves to the part where you said “It’s still cost something in time.”

        • brad says:

          I think this proposal leaves the poor and disabled practically speaking much better off than they are today. Okay they can vote now but they can’t do any of the other things an ID is required for. Under this alternative they get a free ID which they can use to vote and do all those other things.

          There are some edge cases around free having to do with repeatedly losing the ID and being home-bound but I think they can be addressed. I don’t think there’s much that can be done about the ideologically/religiously motivated objectors to the concept of an ID. Maybe some kind of cumbersome judicial bypass system.

          The US postal service is in a good position to be the service delivery end point for this–they have more dispersed locations than any other single entity I can think of by a long shot, they also a mobile workforce that goes to most people’s homes, and they already have some expertise in this area through their involvement in the passport process.

      • sharper13 says:

        Not necessarily. Most States with a voter-ID requirement either have a free State ID option, or else accept non-photo options, like birth certificates, Social Security cards, bank statements, and utility bills. In that case the biggest cost seems to be just being able to validate your identity/citizenship at all in some manner, which should be a requirement for initially registering to vote anyway.

        In terms of the poor, most of the welfare programs require some sort of proof of identity as well, accepting many alternate documents in a similar fashion, so it’s tough to imagine very many people who are so responsible they want to vote, but just can’t because they just don’t have access to any piece of paper with their name on it.

        • John Schilling says:

          To be fair, many of those pieces of paper (e.g. birth certificates) don’t have photos. So if one can register to vote, and collect welfare and otherwise eke out a marginal existence, using birth certificates and the like, but need a photo ID to vote, then any state that charges a fee for a photo ID is implementing a poll tax, and those are Right Out for good and sound historical reasons.

          I am skeptical that this is a materially significant problem, but I am sympathetic to the view that it sets an ugly precedent that ought not be set. So the obvious political judo is to eliminate the fee on photo IDs at the same time you implement the photo ID requirement for voting, if you think that’s necessary.

          And in the other direction, to the extent that this problem really exists, it is one of the very few cases where a political party or advocacy group can legally buy votes, for maybe $20 per election, by funding a get-our-tribe’s-poor-people-ID drive. So if you’re on the other side trying to implement an ID requirement, that’s an opportunity you’ll want to deny your enemies by making sure the ID is free.

      • A1987dM says:

        What, do state IDs (and/or driver’s licenses) only last one year in the US?

  57. albatross11 says:

    I continue to be impressed with the high quality of conversations available on podcasts. It’s painful to contrast these conversations with TV talking heads shows or radio interviews, which are mostly just way dumber. A few I think might be of interest to people here:

    An econtalk episode about crony capitalism. What’s interesting about this is that it’s a discussion between two strong supporters of free markets, talking about the tendency of successful businesses to intertwine themselves with the political system in damaging ways. They also discussed the 2008 bailouts as a major blow to the credibility of free market supporters, as a lot of nominally pro-free-market people strongly supported the bailouts for knowing-where-your-bread-is-buttered reasons. Very strongly recommended–the discussion captures some of the smarter critiques I’ve seen of capitalism on evolutionary or game theory terms.

    This Econtalk episode with Catherine Semcer talked about how a lot of conservation efforts in Africa are supported by allowing (and charging for) trophy hunting, and how this has been harmed by a new US law forbidding possession of certain kinds of trophies. Really fascinating!

    Dave Rubin interviewed two Objectivist thinkers and discussed philosophy for an hour or so. I don’t usually think of Rubin as much of a deep thinker, but it was just fun listening to a discussion of ideas at some depth that wasn’t mainly about culture-war issues. (The interviewees kept redirecting him away from “let’s bash on SJWs” to meatier ideas.) I think he’s doing a series of these interviews, and I hope they go a bit further in depth. And even when I wish he was a deeper thinker, the truth is that having real conversations about ideas is enormously valuable.

    Jordan Peterson interviewing James Pennebaker. IMO, Peterson’s really fun to listen to when he’s interviewing someone in his field, and this is a guy whose work Peterson’s built on with his own research. I would have liked Peterson to back off a little more and let Pennebaker talk, but listening to this was exactly like listening to two serious researchers talking about their area of specialty, but trying t keep the jargon to a minimum and explain concepts so nonspecialists listening can keep up.

    David Sloan Wilson being interviewed by Michael Shermer. David Sloan Wilson is a major advocate of group selection in evolution, and is a serious evolutionary thinker. The podcast was interesting throughout, though I found Shermer’s attempts to move into bashing religious people and religion kind-of annoying in the first 15 minutes or so. (Shermer’s tribe is atheists and his outgroup is religious people, I think.) Fun and thought-provoking.

    Note that at all of these podcasts are discussions about *ideas*, not about *tribe*. There don’t have much bashing of the outgroup[1] or easy political digs, just discussion of important ideas by smart people who take them seriously. I feel like I learn *enormously* more listening to these than I do reading news articles in most cases–probably because most of what’s in the news isn’t very important long-term, and also news coverage is usually quite shallow.

    Also note that this is basically a free education for anyone who wants it, with no admissions requirements, no tests you have to pass to be let in, and no tuition. IMO, this has the possibility of changing the world far more radically than almost anything else going on right now. Podcasts, like blogs and Twitter and Youtube, allow basically anyone to start creating content without any permission–if the content is sufficiently annoying to the right people, they can be taken off various channels, but that’s *way* less of a bar to open discussion than getting an hour a week TV or radio show or newspaper column.

    [1] Rubin is very susceptible to this temptation. And Peterson is about ten times more interesting when he’s talking about psychology than when he’s making political / tribal arguments.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I’ll second that recent EconTalk about crony capitalism. In general, EconTalk is worth listening to. There are a few episodes that are clunkers, but the modal episode is quite good- I’ve recommended their recent episode on placebos to several friends, as well.

    • lvlln says:

      Jordan Peterson interviewing James Pennebaker. IMO, Peterson’s really fun to listen to when he’s interviewing someone in his field, and this is a guy whose work Peterson’s built on with his own research. I would have liked Peterson to back off a little more and let Pennebaker talk, but listening to this was exactly like listening to two serious researchers talking about their area of specialty, but trying t keep the jargon to a minimum and explain concepts so nonspecialists listening can keep up.

      From checking out various videos of Peterson’s, I too have found that he’s at his best when he’s doing the interviewing, rather than being interviewed. In fact, I’d say that he’s probably the best interviewer I’ve seen in recent times, tending to ask very insightful questions that display a real educated inquisitiveness of the topic at hand. I really enjoyed his interview of Bjorn Lomborg who runs some institution for global improvement and his interview of Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt who wrote The Coddling of the American Mind, a book about what they perceive as bad results from good intentions in raising kids in America safely.

      Honestly, I wish he’d start a Rubin or Rogan-esque interview show where he just has on a different interesting guest every week or something instead of his current role of mainly being the interviewee and giving lectures on tour. I feel like his thoughts and opinions have largely already gotten out there and he has little new to say these days, and he seems to be really good at bringing out the best in the people he interviews.

    • Also note that this is basically a free education for anyone who wants it, with no admissions requirements, no tests you have to pass to be let in, and no tuition.

      This is the same theory on which I web my books when my publisher lets me. I’m imagining a very smart eighteen year old in Delhi or Beijing who would never encounter the ideas if he had to pay for them, as a book or a course, but can encounter them for free online.

      • albatross11 says:

        David:

        +1. Thanks for doing that–it’s a net win for mankind!

        There was a wonderful tweet awhile back by The Stoic Emperor:

        The internet provides access to an education that the aristocracy of old couldn’t have imagined.

        It also provides the perfect attack vector for marketers to exploit cognitive vulnerabilities and dominate your attention.

        A world-class education is free for the undistractable.

        I think this is very true. The people who do well in this environment will be the ones who overcome the distractions (which are manufactured at scale to draw clicks/eyeballs) and make use of this incredible flow of information that’s available everywhere.

    • Ketil says:

      Thanks! Added Econtalk to my podcast subscriptions (which so far include 99% invisible, Dan Carlin’s hard core history, Freakonomics radio, Conversations with Tyler, and Reply All).

    • Tenacious D says:

      The Semcer episode is in my queue. EconTalk has had other conservation-related episodes in the past and they’ve always been interesting.

  58. realitychemist says:

    For me a shape as simple as a red star would be near-perfect (though it feels somehow insubstantial, or perhaps strobing in and out at a very fast rate.)

    I’m sure you’re aware of this because you reviewed the book, but this strobing effects sounds a heck of a lot like how our consciousness is described in Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddah. I’ve been trying to up my meditation game, and I think I’ve observed this myself, but given the frequency of the pulsing I thought I was noticing it may have just been my heartbeat.

  59. Squirrel of Doom says:

    Testosterone levels might have fallen since the 50s, but so have lead levels.

    Both are strong causes of impulsive and violent behavior. Could the effects of one trend be confused with the other?

  60. xagaros says:

    The Oakland article is bad. Not only does the graph show an increase in # of police from a low around 2012 (which somehow they don’t mention), Oakland has been mercilessly gentrifying and people are getting pushed out. I’d wager the second item is more important to a dropping crime rate than the first. If this topic interests people, the same objections are not true (or at the very least, not AS true) in Richmond just to the north, and there’s a more interesting story about police work that actively identifies at-risk people there.

  61. Edward Scizorhands says:

    https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/03/03/why-american-costs-are-so-high-work-in-progress/

    Why are costs so high? I hope he’s read Scott’s collection.

  62. Kindly says:

    Most wasabi is not “real wasabi” because it’s made out of the wrong horseradish plant.

    Soy sauce, on the other hand, is definitely still made out of soy, so I think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s “not real soy sauce” because it hasn’t been fermented enough.

  63. Radu Floricica says:

    Re: planes vs trains. There is a piece of math I don’t think I’ve seen here yet. Planes come with a penalty of boarding times and airport distance, but with an advantage of speed. From this we can calculate optimum distance to switch from one to another.

    Averages would be great here, but I’m going to pull the numbers out of my ass, and from the experience I have traveling in Europe. Airports seem to be about 30 minutes farther than train stations (x2), and boarding times about 1h longer. So a nice round 2h penalty over trains, that seems ok in my experience.

    Cruising speed for planes are about 800 km/h. For trains, it varies a lot, so let’s take 3 arbitrary speeds and see where we get:

    177 km for 80 kph (local passenger, not well maintained)
    370 km for 150 kph
    800 km for 300 kph (high speed).

    Any greater distance, and the plane starts having an advantage in time. This being said, trains do offer significant advantages in comfort, baggage size and consistent schedule and pricing, while planes may offer lower prices – in certain contexts, as they price discriminate like there’s no tomorrow.

    But it does make it pretty obvious how trains would be very popular for countries like Swizerland (350 km across), France or Germany, where for most distances decently maintained railways win, but not so much for US. High speed rail could, in theory, make the cut for “local” destinations.

    • A1987dM says:

      As a European who travels around a lot I can confirm all of that, but the proposed new railway would be in California — and the distance between SF and LA is more or less the same as between Rome and Milan, which not many people would consider doing by plane unless they had a connecting flight or got an unusually low price.

      EDIT: I opened the article and the proposed railway was from Merced to Bakersfield. That’s 263 km by road, according to Google Maps. The only times I’ve flown such short distances were over water, over the Andes, or as part of a combined flight ticket from A through B to C which was cheaper than just B to C (which basically only ever happens when A or C is in the US, IME).

      • John Schilling says:

        EDIT: I opened the article and the proposed railway was from Merced to Bakersfield.

        That’s the second fallback “oh crap we’ll look like complete losers if we don’t build some sort of bullet train thingy” proposal, and should not be taken as anything anyone actually wanted for any reason other than saving face.

        Plan A was high-speed rail Los Angeles to San Francisco, which would have been genuinely useful but required going through lots of rich urbanites’ back yards at both ends.

        Plan B was IIRC Sylmar to San Jose with a commuter rail connection to downtown LA and San Francisco respectively, and maybe even running the bullet train on commuter-rail tracks at commuter-rail speeds so you get the photo op of a bullet train pulling in to Union Station. This only affects outlying suburban back yards and some farmers in between, so it was less obviously impossible via NIMBY – and also less useful because you’re now an hour away from where you want to be at each end. But you can imagine you’ll upgrade it to Plan A someday.

        Merced to Bakersfield is a very recent Plan C because the suburbanites and farmers between San Jose and Merced, Sylmar and Bakersfield, had NIMBY’d plan B out of existence. And it’s not clear that even Plan C is feasible, because e.g. the folks in Merced and Bakersfield who were willing to tolerate the disruption were doing so in the expectation of easy access to major cities.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The US has other issues for trains as well. Not as much is concentrated in central cities, so the “distance from CBD” factor is less important (and there’s places like Albany, where the station isnt anywhere near the CBD or anything else). And there’s this third mode of travel, the car, which is better than both for many trips which would otherwise be in the “train” sweet spot — it takes you point to point and carries more luggage at lower cost, with better flexibility.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Yep, and I just checked – we have almost twice your price of gasoline. $0.7 per liter vs $1.3 where I live. Taxes, mostly. But it does make us think twice before driving – I think it takes about 2 people in the car to make it about even to trains, while you can just hop in and drive away. Prices for flying are all over the place, from $10 to $100 for the same trip depending on how the stars align and when you buy the ticket.

  64. Worley says:

    There’s nothing strange about a fanatic of one variety turning into a fanatic of the opposite variety. That was one of the main points of The True Believer. (Hitler gave instructions that nobody should be excluded from the Nazi party for being a former Communist.)

  65. anonymousskimmer says:

    Re: Red star visualization

    Sometime after waking up while lying in bed, I was finally able to picture the red star by having a buzzsaw cut a star shaped hole, and then filling the hole with red paint from a pail.

    But trying to visualize a static red star was damn near impossible.

    All else held equal it seems at least some kinds of visualization are easier with my eyes open.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Fascinating. I am not even sure I understand what other people mean by “visualizing” something, but what you describe is a mental process that for me is totally impossible.

  66. johan_larson says:

    As I understand it, neither the US nor Canada maintains a comprehensive lists of its citizens. There are some databases, such as the census and tax records, that are very close to comprehensive, but even they aren’t fully integrated with other records such as driver’s licenses. Instead, we establish identity using complicated and not particularly secure document-based processes.

    And that seems a bit strange. Citizenship in a first-world nation is valuable, seven-figures valuable in most cases. But we have no way of knowing who our fellow citizens even are. Meanwhile even very tiny private clubs maintain membership lists.

    How much would it cost to set up such a registry and keep it accurate in all but very special cases?

    • mtl1882 says:

      Yes, I think this is one of the biggest issues. For something that is the subject of so much vital debate, we don’t have a good grasp on it. But the U.S. is huge and has certain norms that make this more or less impossible absent major changes. It is easy for a private club–everyone who joins wants to be there. There are plenty of Americans opposed to the idea of national “registration” for various reasons, even if they will sign up for non-integrated things that can be used to trace them just as well. A whole lot of people will not bother filling out a census, and some oppose the idea altogether. There’s the issue of registering for the draft etc. I’m not saying these are necessarily good reasons, just that as a practical matter, tracking citizens is impossible unless we decide to become or enforce a government that does much more surveillance that it does already. And it wasn’t even imaginable until pretty recently, with the proliferation of integrated systems and requirements, and things like flying regulations etc.

    • rlms says:

      Cost isn’t the main issue; it’s political feasibility when there are e.g. groups of Americans who think national ID cards would fulfil apocalyptic prophecies.

  67. kevin says:

    But what happened to the hype around thorium five years ago?

    Thorium reactors are still a thing. But new reactor designs take a long time to get approval for. For example where I live there’s an operating research reactor at the local uni but scaling up while matching the regulatory requirements takes years of time and effort.

    NuScale Power is a private limited liability company headquartered in Tigard, Oregon that designs and markets small modular reactors (SMRs). As of 2014, the Department of Energy projected its technology would be commercially available around the year 2025.t

  68. Tenacious D says:

    re: Dr. Marc Edwards, I read several of his papers during my master’s research. My recollection is that they were written with a clarity that is (unfortunately) not a given in academic literature.
    Also, I’m a member of a professional organization that he’s part of (the AWWA) and haven’t heard anything negative about him in those quarters, so fears that his professional reputation has been ruined are probably overblown.

  69. sharper13 says:

    Edit: Curses… should be a reply to @Edward Scizorhand earlier, related to this recent interesting additional info on cost disease, as applied to subways.

    One part is that a disproportionate portion of the excess subways costs are for the stations, mostly for building them too large and building them without cutting a hole above them.

    Another part is a failure of US transit authorities and politicians being willing to look at successful examples in the rest of the world, including more successful contracting procedures, blamed in part on the lack of incentives for US politicians to keep costs down.

    • brad says:

      I think I may have read this before and it influenced my thinking. The new second avenue stations are way too big and nice. They’re great and all but I’d much rather have ugly cramped warrens and two more stops.

    • Aapje says:

      If you can still edit the comment, you can delete it as well & then repost in the right spot.

      • sharper13 says:

        Thanks. By the time I read your reply it was too late, but I’ll keep that in mind for next time. Didn’t previously notice the Delete button on the edit screen.

  70. AlphaCeph says:

    One thing I’m interested in is whether self-driving busses and cars will make trains obsolete.

    I haven’t modelled this mathematically but it seems like having one single transport network that routes people around with varying sizes of self-driving vehicles is better than having a road network and a rail network.

    Maybe a transport nerd can comment?

    • rlms says:

      What would the benefit of self-driving buses be? AFAIK, bus drivers aren’t paid enough for it to significantly change the economics.

      • AlphaCeph says:

        > What would the benefit of self-driving buses be? AFAIK, bus drivers aren’t paid enough for it to significantly change the economics.

        You are apparently just completely wrong about this. E.g. this link(PDF) states that the wage costs are 50-70% of the cost in the UK: http://www.tas.uk.net/content/images/Session4-Costs-SteveWarburton.pdf

        Also, this is for a bus with a capacity of 30-50 people. But I think that an ideal single-system transport network would have different sizes of vehicles, ranging from 2 person to 50 person. Obviously if it’s already 50-70% of the cost for large vehicles, it will be totally dominant for smaller vehicles.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          FWIW, your link says that drivers cost 40% and other labor another 20%, for a total of 60%.

        • rlms says:

          Interesting! So I think the difference is that I working from a figure of ~£20,000 driver salaries and one driver per bus. The first assumption seems to be shared by that source, but surprisingly the second one isn’t. Presumably the idea is that one bus is driven 7 days a week for more than 8 hours each, whereas each driver only works a ~40 hour week. But I’m not convinced that this per-bus-per-year analysis is the appropriate thing to do in this case. What we care about is the cost of running a bus per hour, in which case there’s only one driver.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Its more than one bus driver per hour of bus driven for several reasons.

            1. If a bus breaks down you need a second bus to pick up the passengers, requiring a number of on duty bus drivers for emergencies.

            2. There are other responsibilities of bus drivers, besides training, re-certification, any paperwork they are required to do.

            3. There is no perfect hand-off between bus drivers where a bus pulls in and hands the keys to the next driver who is simultaneously clocking in.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            What we care about is the cost of running a bus per hour,

            This is true, but baconbits is right. The correct way to calculate this is to total all labor dollars for the operation and divide that into all bus hours run, which will give you an average.

            At the very least you will need an administrative staff, a maintenance staff, etc. that are necessary but not “bus driver” labor. Doing it this way gets you a true cost, verses a napkin estimate, and also saves you a bunch of trouble trying to figure out bus driver vacation coverage schedules or whatever other oddities you may have no idea what to account for.

          • John Schilling says:

            This is true, but baconbits is right. The correct way to calculate this is to total all labor dollars for the operation and divide that into all bus hours run, which will give you an average.

            But the question at hand was the economic impact of self-driving buses, which means we’re really only interested in bus-driver labor. Including the paid hours of bus drivers who are on standby, doing shift handovers, taking their mandatory annual sexual harassment training, etc, etc. But not including the labor of the maintenance staff, and not including admin labor except to the extent that it associated with administering the bus drivers specifically.

            You could probably get a good approximation by dividing bus-driver wages + benefits by bus hours run, and assuming that the admin people will all find some other way to justify their continued existence.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Hm, good point. That might make an overall better approximation, as those admin employees do have a stubborn way of staying on even when their job no longer serves the original purpose. We would also need to estimate the new line of programmers and technicians working on the self-driving part, which would be difficult for us to do right now.

            I would put much less confidence in the final number from such a calculation, though.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        We need more and smaller buses. Buses are typically optimized for rush hour, where you have 30 people going from point A to point B all at once, but running big buses that are mostly empty is worse than not having buses at all.

        So removing the labor component of that would help us have more buses, which can do a wider variety of routes (from where people actually live to where people actually work), and shorten waiting times along common routes.

    • 10240 says:

      Why would self-driving vehicles affect whether trains are competitive? The reason I can think of is that buses and cars need more driver time than trains, so with driverless vehicles, buses and cars would have slightly less disadvantage/more advantage compared to trains. But I don’t know if, in the case of buses, the driver’s salary is a significant enough part of the cost to tip over the scales in most cases.

      • AlphaCeph says:

        > But I don’t know if, in the case of buses, the driver’s salary is a significant enough part of the cost to tip over the scales in most cases.

        See my comment a above. The cost of the drivers accounts for 50-70% of the total cost.

        > Why would self-driving vehicles affect whether trains are competitive?

        IMO it’s not just the cost of the drivers. Human drivers are also highly suboptimal and our limitations cause massive issues with the road transport system.

        If we got all the human off the roads, we could eliminate most traffic signals and you wouldn’t have to stop at any point on your journey – your vehicle would intelligently avoid other smart vehicles by steering, speeding up and slowing down slightly. You could also go faster.

        Smart cars + road pricing could completely eliminate traffic jams (traffic jams, btw, are a very wasteful tragedy of the commons that could be avoided with road pricing).

        In countries with a rail/subway network, those routes could be transformed into more roads and the rail/subway trains could be removed. But the type of service that those trains used to provide could still be provided – just with busses running on the tracks or in the subway tunnels. And yes, they will be electric so ICE exhaust won’t be a problem. You could probably even have dual-use wheels that can go on either rails or asphalt (and the rails would all be a standard gauge).

        The advantage of a single system subsuming all rail routes, subways and roads is that driverless vehicles will mean that the overall system can be optimized. If there is a problem with a subway tunnel in a city, the passengers on the subway can route around it using a road without any hassle. The traffic on the road network can be adjusted, and if necessary journey prices can go up slightly for a limited time which kicks off those users who least need to travel. That’s much better than the current situation where if one section of subway breaks, then the entire subway line is rendered useless because the subway cars can’t traverse roads.

        If you are at a subway station late at night the journey price is infinite, because the subway/train doesn’t run after a certain time. Some other times you have to suffer a long wait. But if the trains were replaced with electric guided busses, you could always travel, albeit in a smaller vehicle (and paying more for it).

        • Radu Floricica says:

          There’s an order of magnitude difference between automating part of the traffic and replacing all the traffic with self-driving. Honestly, I’m not even sure I want to go there, from a strictly personal preference PoV, and I’m more open and tech-inclined than average.

          Also, my priors are heavily into costs being mostly fuel, maintenance, manufacturing etc, with drivers well under 1/4, so I’ll need more than one data point saying that drivers are expensive. Like others pointed out, it’s quite likely that those are total salaries paid.

          This being said, Uber is obviously the first choice for automation, then Uber Pool, then a slightly scaled-up version of Uber Pool, then… god knows where you can go from there. Hopefully in a better direction than classic buses.

    • CatCube says:

      The part that I can’t figure out is why we’re sure that practical self-driving cars are just around the corner when we don’t have self-driving trains. They seem to me to be a much simpler problem, because the only emergency decision the AI has to make is to slam on the brakes. Everything else for decisionmaking is already mostly there with in-cab signaling and positive train control.

      And count me as one of the people who will immediately stop taking the train once I have a self-driving car. Literally the only advantage the train (or bus) has over driving myself is that I don’t have to stress out driving in traffic. The instant my vehicle’s computer can do that for me the train can fuck right off. As a matter of fact, I’ll probably move from my convenient-to-mass-transit apartment to a place I’d rather actually live, if it didn’t mean that I’d have an awful commute.

      • AlphaCeph says:

        I think we do have* self-driving trains, but we lack self-destructing drivers’ unions. Train drivers are now pretty much 100% parasites.

        (*in the sense that we could make them quite easily if it weren’t for resistance from train drivers’ unions)

        > And count me as one of the people who will immediately stop taking the train once I have a self-driving car. Literally the only advantage the train (or bus) has over driving myself is that I don’t have to stress out driving in traffic. The instant my vehicle’s computer can do that for me the train can fuck right off.

        And when everyone does the same thing, we will have all these underutilized train lines. So it will make sense to turn them into roads, or some kind of quasi road/rail. (Steel tracks have less rolling resistance than tyres on asphalt, so it might make sense for your self-driving car to be able to attach to rails for long journeys on certain heavily utilized routes). Some really busy routes might even have tunnels with reduced air pressure to increase vehicle speed, a la hyperloop.

        • CatCube says:

          I don’t know how much the unions really have to do with it. I recall a post on a rail message board a while back from a train crewmember talking about how the (then?) CEO of BNSF is dreaming about turning his railroad into a “1:1 scale Lionel set”. If they had the ability to do that, it’s hard to see how the unions could stop them; after all, their main leverage is the ability to bring all traffic to a halt by refusing to work. If they were unnecessary, when contract renewal time came up, management could just show them two middle fingers and then show them the door.

          They may be able to fend it off for a while, as firemen were a thing for a long time after the demise of steam, but if the technology is there then it’s only a matter of time. Brakemen and switchmen are very rare these days now that most mainline switching is done by the dispatcher and braking is under the direct control of the engineer, and firemen are long gone.

          • AlphaCeph says:

            From Quora:

            “That said, one of the main reasons the system hasn’t been replaced with self-driving trains is that the tube drivers have one of the most powerful and active unions left in the UK. They can and will strike if their interests are threatened, and their strikes are powerful and effective immediately. ”

            https://www.quora.com/Why-doesnt-TFL-implement-driverless-trains-on-all-lines

            See also wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automation_of_the_London_Underground

            There is an issue that automating from scratch is a lot easier than retrofitting. But from reading through wikipedia, it is clear that time is most definitely up for subway drivers. For example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_automated_urban_metro_subway_systems#Grade-of-Automation_4_(GoA4)

          • The Nybbler says:

            BNSF is a freight railroad. They’re in business to make money. Most passenger rail systems are run by municipalities. Their transportation purpose is often secondary to being a jobs program. So while they could be automated using current technology, they won’t be.

          • CatCube says:

            @The Nybbler

            Agreed, but recall that my original question was why the technology for self-driving cars will apparently arrive before self-driving trains despite the latter seeming like an easier problem to me. Whether it shows up first on freight or transit doesn’t really affect the technology development, though the freight roads certainly have different incentives.

          • John Schilling says:

            That said, one of the main reasons the system hasn’t been replaced with self-driving trains is that the tube drivers have one of the most powerful and active unions left in the UK. They can and will strike if their interests are threatened, and their strikes are powerful and effective immediately.

            All together now: Mission. Fucking. Accomplished.

          • sharper13 says:

            It gets worse. NY Subways have a train operator and a conductor, while virtually everywhere else in the world goes ahead and has the guy driving push the buttons to open and close the doors.

            They tried to go to one person trains in 2007 as part of a signals upgrade, but the Transportation Workers’ Union successfully held them off.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I know we have really good technology for self-driving vehicles, but when I think about what this will actually be used for, in my mind I see something very light rail-like. I just find it very implausible that people will have the same number of cars and travel along the same routes, with automation being the only real difference. It could massively improve certain aspects of transportation, but at least until people who remember real driving die, some people are going to want to actually drive, and will view automated, relatively non-flexible vehicles/routes as a real annoyance, if not an outrage. There would probably be some level of separate track for a while. That’s the least of the conflicts that might arise, but a lot of people like some aspects of really driving, a significant number *loves* really driving and would oppose conversion. If that element is gone, it seems like most of the appeal of having one car for each adult would significantly decrease, despite aspects of convenience associated with cars. The feedbacks and incentives produced by a society of self-driving vehicles seem radically different to me from what we see now.

      • AlphaCeph says:

        > automated, relatively non-flexible vehicles/routes as a real annoyance

        why would the routes not be flexible? Just tell the vehicle to go from A to B via your phone and it will take you.

        • mtl1882 says:

          Just tell the vehicle to go from A to B via your phone and it will take you.

          To me, that is the opposite of flexible.

          I realize I am oversimplifying and there is room for debate here. But there are a lot of ways to go from A to B that can’t just be programmed in. Waze-like technology corrects for a lot of this, by saying “depending on current conditions, find me the quickest way to get from where I am *right now* (a shifting variable I’ll call X) to B.” Someone can end up all over the place needing something rerouted based on various issues. But what I really mean is that many people like the human factor–being able to try and beat the light, swerve around someone, cut someone off, tailgate others into going faster, even just being able to flip people off. It’s the human desire to play games.

          They are aggressive drivers naturally aggravated by whatever “gets in their way,” reasonable or not, and if they don’t have a person to flip off and rant about, they will rage at the self-driving vehicles that don’t play by the “rules of the road” as they understand them. They’re not into efficiency calculations, nor are they receptive to the idea that self-driving is desirable largely because it discourages those behaviors. I’m not saying all drivers are like this, but there are a lot of them, and they’d be the loudest voices.

          And it is safe to assume such machines will run into situations where they get stuck in place (something strange trigger a motion sensor such that it cannot move forward, or won’t without a human repeatedly overriding it), without the natural human flexibility. These things are more aggravating to people when deliberately set up that way, rational or not. There is no doubt that our current state of driving is wildly dangerous and the status quo cannot stay exactly where it is, but I think it will be a long and contentious transition to significant automation. Whatever the cost-benefit analysis says, people throw a fit about dealing with automated check out machines and automated customer service numbers all the time, and with good reason. It probably does cut down on costs and on time devoted to basic things that you could press a number to hear (store hours), but having to program in options produces very unnatural interactions. Eventually, people tend to adjust, but it is not easy, and driving is an issue that affects everyone in a major way, so you can’t just try it out and see how it goes.

          Flexible and efficient/personalized are very different, IMO. I mean a more minute-to-minute natural flexibility.

          • sharper13 says:

            You may be interested to hear that the current model which seems to be evolving for passenger cars is to run automated, but if the car isn’t sure about a situation, a remote human operator takes over using cameras and remote controls. That way they can get X% of the way there, but still have a system to handle the unusual.

            The initial model for freight trucks seems to be lots of automation on long haul routes to central locations in particular cities, transitioning to human drivers on the local route from there to specific pick-up/drop-off points, as that’s where you need the humans. They’re also starting the long haul automation with things like one driver in a lead vehicle and a bunch of automated trucks following him, so you still have a human to plan and deal with the higher level cognitive parts while the automation really just has to keep a truck on the freeway and between the lines.

          • Aapje says:

            That seems really challenging, though. That person then gets looped in just as the car gets overwhelmed, but actually has a much harder challenge than the car, not seeing the run-up to the very challenging situation.

            Isn’t it going to be too late when that person has gained their bearings?

          • mtl1882 says:

            @sharper13

            I have no doubt that partial automation will happen quickly (like ones that cars already have — collision avoidance, parallel parking), but what you are describing sounds largely pointless to me. Not entirely–I am sure there are situations where self-driving works–like on a parallel track, as a train, as I mentioned.

            The longhaul trucks seem especially well-suited to self-driving, though I still see it as linking them up into a train on a parallel track. Even though it will remove the errors that truck drivers often make, 18 wheelers are really dangerous and I don’t know that self-driving among everyone else is the best either, at least not anytime soon. It would save a lot of money, so I think some development in that area will happen soon, although I’m not sure the amount of joblessness would make up for extra profits and possible increased convenience.

            But “taking over” the car as needed seems like, on the whole, problematic in every direction. That type of attention going in and out may make someone miss when they need to intervene, but even beyond that, it is frustrating for most people–it’s more comfortable to just sustain focus, if you can’t be totally passive like on a bus. The override seems especially necessary when it comes to things a car can’t judge–say you notice the car in front of you has a tenuously secured couch tied on top of it, and you realize the straps are going to break. Or say you notice a trunk in front of you is starting to catch fire. Those are dangers a person needs to notice and react to instantly–and that drivers around them hopefully notice and swerve out of their way. If everyone has to suddenly grab the controls and have been paying such close attention, that seems unlikely to work well. The need to actually drive is what keeps people really focused on what is in front of them.

            There are some super efficient people who would welcome any chance to use technology like this, but I think most people would be wary, and more than that, liability seems really uncertain as to all aspects. Logically, it may be easy to decide, but that’s now how people are. They’re used to the dangers of the road. They are far more likely to get upset about things they are not used to or that seem more significant/planned, even if they are safer overall. I don’t deny there are many benefits to self driving vehicles, or that they aren’t likely to be used in the very near future and probably much more extensively as time goes on. But the social and legal factors involved, just the human/practicality factor overall, are such that I’ve never believed we’ll see widely used self-driving cars (in the sense of most people using them daily) in the next 20 years. You never know, but at the very least, these issues *will* arise. Maybe we’ll find some way to quickly address them and it’ll be prevalent before long…My dad runs a car-related business, and that lobby would fight back hard, because even if the cars still need gas/maintenance, half the customers come by on a whim to talk shop. These people *love* driving. They’re the Prince Phillip type who needs to drive at 94 and who still resisted. Even if they don’t own such a business, this would be beyond intolerable.

  71. RavenclawPrefect says:

    I was really surprised by the mental visualization twitter poll, so I tried replicating it on /r/SampleSize, and got a much more reasonable 90% of respondents who could see it just fine (screenshot). Could be bias due to a title of “try imagining a red star”, but I can’t see why that would be any different than the tweet, and I don’t know why Reddit demographics would be substantially different.

    Anyway, I’m very confused about this disparity, but given a few studies suggesting <5% of people have aphantasia I’m inclined to trust my results more than the Twitter poll.

  72. lkbm says:

    I tried looking for more details on the bitcoin/cryptocurrency mining in Washington State (that article is from Mach 2018), and found various Oct-Nov 2018 articles about Giga Watt, one of the primary companies involved there, filing for bankrupsy.[0][1]

    So now I’m curious how it’s going in that region.

    [0] https://www.seattletimes.com/business/pioneer-of-eastern-washington-cryptocurrency-boom-falls-on-hard-times/

    [1] https://www.coindesk.com/bitcoin-mining-firm-giga-watt-declares-bankruptcy-owing-millions

  73. dreeves says:

    I think I must be in the top 1% of SSC superfans but can’t figure out why it would be off-brand for you to like those scarves (or, if sarcastic, why on-brand)!