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OT126: Ovum Thread

Happy Easter and Passover! This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. Matt Arnold is resuming his work on an Unsong audiobook. Existing chapters here, Patreon to support him here.

2. An NYC rationalist group is holding a special spring Slate Star Codex meetup Saturday, May 4th, 3-7 PM, at 180 Maiden Lane in Manhattan. All readers in and around NYC are invited. There will also apparently be some sort of optional networking thing; see here for details.

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825 Responses to OT126: Ovum Thread

  1. wearsshoes says:

    For anyone who might see this, the SSC Meetup in NYC today (currently happening) has moved from 180 Maiden Pl to 60 Wall St Atrium. It is an indoors public space about 5 minutes walk from the previous venue. If you are lost, my phone # is 650-534-7354.

  2. Silverlock says:

    I have taken to watching some math channels on YouTube and thought I might as well tout a couple of them here. If they have been mentioned here before — and they probably have — then I apologize.

    My two current favorites are Mathologer and 3Blue1Brown. 3Blue1Brown does some excellent visualizations of mathematical topics (including some terrific calculus videos) and Mathologer is very clear and lucid in his explanations.

    Eddie Woo is good, too, and brings some energy to the party, and Numberphile has some fine moments, too.

  3. Uribe says:

    Imagine that it becomes unlawful for companies to discriminate in their hiring and promoting practices based on education. What are the consequences?

    • woah77 says:

      By “Discriminate based on education” do you mean “Degrees”? Or knowledge? Or certifications? Because some fields discriminate based upon these things for good reason, see Doctors, Civil Engineers, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, etc. Unless certification is not what you mean, I can’t see that working out too well.

      • Uribe says:

        I mean all formal education including certifications.

        • woah77 says:

          I guess I’m confused as to how it’ll be enforced. If people without degrees don’t get hired then… what? How do you prove you’re qualified? How do you prove you’re discriminated against? Do you make it so that putting your education on a resume is illegal? That sounds like a good way to criminalize most of your populace, and also a good way to make job interviews even more taxing. Maybe you could elaborate upon what you think it will look like?

          • Uribe says:

            I should be more specific. It would be illegal for a company to base hiring practices on where someone went to school, at any level of schooling, and whether or not they attended or graduated from any level of schooling.

            However, nothing would prevent a company from, for instance, having their own entrance examinations to determine the qualifications of an applicant. Companies would have to administer such examinations themselves and could not farm them out to 3rd parties.

            It wouldn’t be illegal to put your education on a resume but the company would be legally required to reject you as an applicant if you did.

            A company could use your work history.

          • acymetric says:

            I definitely don’t like the idea of having third parties involved (which would sound suspiciously like certifications). That said, this would seem to put a much greater burden on smaller businesses to have to develop these various tests.

            Ultimately, I don’t think this is a workable idea. I could probably be convinced if you limited it to not being able to discriminate based on where they went to school but could still discriminate based on level of education (high school, AS, BS, masters, PhD, etc.) except then it becomes difficult to enforce and easy/tempting to litigate for spurned employees as noted by sandoratthezoo elsewhere.

          • bean says:

            @Uribe

            While I’m not unsympathethic to an attack on pure degree credentialism (the stuff Scott talked about in “Against Tulip Subsidies” where you need a bathelor’s in something to be a firefighter), including certifications is not a good idea. I’ll use examples from engineering (my own field, and one where I think you’ll agree that the degree has a pretty decent correlation with actually being qualified to do the job).

            1. “Replace education with testing” makes a bit of sense. The bit where you demand that each company has to do its own testing doesn’t. A small, boutique engineering company might be able to hire based on the manager’s gut after interviewing a few likely candidates, although they run the risk of getting someone with a dangerous hole in their knowledge. A giant like Boeing can detail a team to write the sort of exam that you’d need to really test an engineer, and probably has the clout to get applicants to actually take it. But someone in the mid-range is in really bad shape. They can’t spare the people to write a monster test, or get applicants to take it on spec because it won’t transfer, and management doesn’t want to delegate that much risk of getting sued down to the hiring managers anyway. Having the company accept something like the Fundamentals of Engineering exam (which already exists and most engineers take in undergrad anyway) as a replacement for a degree solves this problem neatly.

            2. It’s going to be borderline impossible to keep “so tell me about some projects you worked on” out of an interview, and there’s no way for an applicant to answer that without giving details about educational status. “Oh, I was on the satellite team at…uh…, I was on a satellite team in this town which just happens to contain an engineering school. I was the chief engineer, and we participated in the University Nanosat Program run by the Air Force. We got 1st in our division at the competition.” At the same time, it’s hard to get similarly-good engineering experience outside of college. Maybe some high school robotics competitions offer that, but if you’re going into, say, civil engineering, then you’re out of luck for self-study.

            Just to be clear, I’m not saying that a degree is an inviolable part of engineering (or any other field, for that matter) or that we wouldn’t benefit by letting people self-study and take a big set of exams to figure out if they know the field. That, plus maybe some stuff like “tell me about your engineering projects” might be a good replacement for the current system. But you’ll have to be careful how you structure it, because it’s really easy to screw up.

          • Lambert says:

            We’re not farming out examinations.
            We’re just hiring contractors to do the heavy lifting.
            And consultants to design things.
            And renting the equipment.
            And the exam hall.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            +1 to Bean, and the FE is not really taken for some fields. Also, the demand for 1 test per job interview significantly decreases the power of labor in ways that strike me as likely to be bad.

          • albatross11 says:

            My guess is that everyone falls back on professional certifications for stuff that needs it (MD, CPA, PE, teaching certificate, bar membership). Some of that may require the schooling directly, while other stuff requires taking a high-stakes test that the schooling prepares you for.

            I’m not sure how people would replace the “literate and functional enough to get a degree” requirement–probably find a way to give you a slightly-disguised IQ test.

          • rlms says:

            It wouldn’t be illegal to put your education on a resume but the company would be legally required to reject you as an applicant if you did.

            This would be significantly different from currently laws against discriminating based on race/gender/etc., which are enforced by the ability of people to sue if they think they’ve been not hired for a protected reason.

          • albatross11 says:

            As an alternative, how about having a high school diploma return to meaning something like “literate, functional, and with a good basic grasp of essential academic subjects like math, grammar, history, and science.” Then, you could use the provided-free-by-the-government level of education as a qualification for jobs, instead of the four-years-later, funded-by-gimmicky-loans level of education.

            This would require not graduating 50% or so of the students, and would probably need to allow for substantial numbers of students dropping out at 15 or so when it was obvious they weren’t going to be graduating.

            The reason this wouldn’t be acceptable is the same reason that’s led us to our current world. Any measure of how smart and functional people have will be used to sort applicants for jobs/further education. If that measure is worth anything, some substantial fraction of people won’t be able to get it, outside of Lake Wobegon[1]. The people who don’t get it will be somewhat skewed toward poor kids, and will be heavily racially skewed. Everyone will recognize that those poor kids who didn’t get the high school diploma are doomed to shitty jobs and a hard life, and will demand (as they did) that we somehow make it so that way more kids get that degree. Lowering graduation requirements, ignoring the fact that some kids seldom showed up to class their last year of school, etc., is the easy way to do that. And so we arrive back where we started. Want to prove you’re really smart, not just acceptably literate and functional? Get a masters. Maybe even a PhD.

            [1] Where the children are all above average.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you also forbid third-party certifications, you’re requiring that all employers do in-house development of professional certifications, including that of lawyers, engineers, doctors, accountants, actuaries, etc., of which they maybe hire a handful apiece.

            Solution #1: There are HR companies that provide the testing of professional competence for you. You contract with them to measure the person’s competence, and he takes the required tests. To save time and prospective-employee effort, those HR companies also cache the test results for each prospective hire. And they run a side business in test prep for those tests. Many of those HR companies offer living arrangements for young people studying for those tests so they can get jobs. Most are rather selective about which prospective hires they’ll take, and some are *really* selective. Most will only give their tests to the people who went to their four-year test-prep courses. Many HR companies even have football teams.

            Solution #2: Most accountants/engineers/doctors/etc/ go to work for one of a smallish number of specialized accountantcy/engineering/medical contracting agencies, who verify the competence of their employees before hiring them out.

          • John Schilling says:

            What bean says. More generally:

            If the plan is that every applicant takes an unambiguously-scored multiple-choice test and the employer hires the top-scoring applicant or goes to jail, then you’re going to wind up with safety-critical jobs being done by incompetent buffoons whose only virtue is that they test well (or cheat). And some of them will be prime violations of the no-asshole rule, degrading the performance of whatever team of otherwise competent people they are assigned to.

            If the plan allows the employer the discretion to hire from the test-score midlist, then the employer is going to know where the applicant spent their last four years even if it isn’t on the resume. To the extent that there’s any difficulty or uncertainty in that, “who you know” becomes an even more important credential. And short of requiring people to hire off the top of the test-score list, there’s no real way to enforce “no peeking at their education”.

          • bean says:

            I just thought of another dodge. All of the major industry players set up a non-profit. It’s tasked with something bland like “developing skills in the X industry”. In reality, what it does is testing. You sit the test, and if you pass, are eligible to volunteer there doing some make-work. The terms to be in good standing are really minimal. An hour or two a week of something that can be done remotely. But this goes in “work experience”, which employers are allowed to see, no matter how stringent the rules on certifications.

            Edit:
            Actually, there’s an even easier dodge. Universities start handing out volunteer remote tutoring work to those who successfully graduate with the relevant degree. We’ve now smuggled both the university and the degree onto the resume, which just means all we’ve done is deny the employer a look at things like GPA and specializations.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I once worked for a stealth startup where the issue of discriminatory hiring arose. A VP said, not in public, “We can’t be discriminatory: we only hire people we know.” At the time it actually took me by surprise that this raised some eyebrows and was considered something he should be careful not to say outside.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Probably a minor drag on overall productivity driven mainly by giving people another tort to use that is vague and difficult to adjudicate. Companies use proxies for education that have about the same overall signalling value as education per se does. Education continues to be valued.

    • johan_larson says:

      I think groups representing professions doing life-critical work would very quickly draw up regimens for verifying skills and knowledge, probably based on written tests where possible. Where it isn’t, practical demonstrations could be used, like we do for earning your driver’s license. And the government would put the force of law behind these regimens.

      There are some professions where things are done this way right now. You can go to school to learn to become an actuary, if you want, but it’s passing the certification tests that counts.

      This might be slightly better than what we have now, since it would separate the training institutions and the certifying institutions, avoiding some conflicts of interest.

    • AG says:

      SAT scores become the new filter point. If not SAT, then some third party universal “job aptitude exam” will get developed that everyone will de-facto have to take and report their scores in applications, or they won’t get seriously considered. LSATs or the engineering certification exam made universal.

      Job applications will ask about your extracurriculars, and it just so happens that all Harvard graduates will be a member in this one club that theoretically could admit members from other schools, but yet has 97% Harvard alumni, and all MIT graduates will be a member of this one engineering society that has maybe 1% Caltech grads in it, etc.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Wouldn’t that depend on whether this was about methods of picking people vs about equal outcomes?

      For methods of picking people – nothing much beyond changes in resumes and interviews, particularly of entry level people.

      For equality of outcomes – huge changes, many of them frightfully bad, since in many areas, a preponderance of people without the relevant degree(s) are incapable of doing the job, or in many cases even of learning it.

    • Viliam says:

      Teaching should be separated from testing. It makes sense to hire people based on their knowledge and skills (predicted by the test outcomes), but it should be irrelevant how exactly the knowledge and skills were gained. If someone can learn everything online, as opposed to going to an expensive university, that should be an argument against the expensive university, not against the smart student.

      Just like if you have a driving license, no one is asking you which institution prepared you for the tests. You have the skill, you have the certificate of the skill, end of story.

      • Just like if you have a driving license, no one is asking you which institution prepared you for the tests.

        True in the U.S.

        I was told that in Brazil, in order to get a driving license you have to take many hours of classes from an approved instructor.

        • albatross11 says:

          In Maryland, you have to take a certain number of hours of private driving instruction before you get your license, at least if you’re under 18. My son went through this process recently, so I know about the under-18 rules, but not how it works if you’re 25.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            You still need the official instruction time (both in-class and on-road) but you need fewer hours of supervised experience and need to hold your permit for less time after 25.

        • BBA says:

          That’s the rule in some US states too. But once you have a license, nobody looks behind the license to where you went to driving school, even though the driving school certificate is a prerequisite to the license.

          On the other hand, people care about where someone went to law school or med school a great deal, even though legally they’re all equivalent once you’ve passed the bar exam/USMLE.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Nobody looks at your driving school for driving your own car.

            For some kinds of employers, trucks, and cargos, they *DO* look at where you did the training to get your CDL, especially if your CDL is new and you don’t have a fat logbook to show them.

            For high value target and personal security drivers, many employers very definitely want to know were you trained and who you trained under.

  4. johan_larson says:

    Wikipedia has lists of bestselling novels in the US (as determined by Publishers Weekly) going all the way back to 1895.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Publishers_Weekly_list_of_bestselling_novels_in_the_United_States_in_the_1890s

    It’s a vast parade of forgotten works and authors, with rare exceptions, until the 50s.

    • The page you link to only covers 1895-1899—where are the other years?

      Out of ten books a year there is typically one book still remembered, plus another by an author still remembered.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Its not very surprising, most media is forgotten and most popular media hits the average. With all the talk about the Simpsons here recently what isn’t mentioned is that the show was never even in the top 20 in Nielson ratings and was only in the top 29 once (30th 3 times).

      • AG says:

        I have this theory that long running works must necessarily be a level of mediocre. Masterpieces burn brightly for a moment — their higher quality comes from a density of quality that is unsustainable in the long term.

        So the things that run for years and years and years, Law and Orders, your Doctor Whos, your Simpsons, your soap operas, your Supernaturals, your Narutos, they cannot be masterpieces, only just good enough. (This also applies to why certain works build up the largest fandoms: the imperfections drive more engagement than simply the good stuff.)

        • Nick says:

          An obvious exception is Frasier, with 11 seasons which averaged in the mid-teens but as high as #3 for season 6 on the Nielsen ratings, and one of the funniest sitcoms of all time.

        • Walter says:

          Does The Wire qualify for being a long running work by being 5 years? I feel like it was really really good, but also that 5 years is a pretty long time.

          • Clutzy says:

            The Wire was only like 12 episodes a season, so its pretty short. Also, a lot of people don’t even include season 5 in its “greatness”, although I suspect that is because journalists don’t like such an accurate depiction of their hackery being shown.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The Simpsons was brilliant for years, maybe as many as 8-9, and then became mediocre.

        • slojently says:

          My guess is that:

          – Most works in general don’t run very long, and that’s mostly orthogonal to quality
          – When great things do run long, there’s regression toward the mean

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Greatness requires you to have something to say. The Wire, for example, was about the drug war. This limits length-of-greatness, as opposed to just length of being entertaining to how long it takes the creators to run out of meaningful commentary to make on their subject, or run out of subjects where they have anything to say worth listening to.

  5. Quintus Fabius Minimus Cunctator says:

    Is there some way to unreport a post? I tend to click randomly while scrolling and accidentally reported an extremely harmless post.

    • Protagoras says:

      Happens all the time. The system isn’t automated; a report only has consequences if Scott thinks there’s actually a problem with the post. So the worst you’ve done is waste a bit of his time, which is unfortunate, but he probably won’t hold it against you (again, it happens all the time).

  6. BBA says:

    Emmanuel Macron is proposing to shut down the ENA, the elite graduate school that he and many other leaders in French society attended.

    The French education system is pretty different from that of any English-speaking country, and between that and the language barrier I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out the equivalents here. It’s kind of like Yale Law School or Harvard Business School in its selectivity and prestige, but there are numerous elite law and business schools and only one ENA. Or it’s like a military academy for the civil service, except that the whole concept of an “elite civil servant” is hard to picture in the American mind. Our civil service tops out somewhere around “Assistant to the Deputy Undersecretary”, all the government jobs that really matter are political appointees… anyway.

    The ENA was supposed to be meritocratic and democratize the upper ranks of the French government. Instead it has a reputation of being clubby and insular, only accessible to the upper and upper-middle classes, prone to groupthink, indifferent to the plight of the common people… in other words, it’s the Ivy League, only more so. In the ’90s, the ENA moved from Paris to Strasbourg in order to get closer to the EU (and further from France) in its mindset, which pretty much speaks for itself.

    But it seems to me that closing the school is an extreme step just to placate the Yellow Vests – who probably won’t stop rioting until a Le Pen is president, anyway.

    Any French people here to tell me what I’m getting wrong?

    • albatross11 says:

      Are the yellow vests mostly Le Pen supporters? I had the impression they were a mix of lots of different groups who are all unhappy with the general direction of things in France for different reasons.

      • BBA says:

        As far as I can tell, the movement is broadly against the political establishment. The only strongly anti-establishment figures with a shot at winning anything are the Le Pen family.

      • Pepe says:

        Plenty of Mélenchon and Ruffin supporters among them.

    • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

      Hi, I don’t think that you’re getting anything wrong about the ENA. Their website is currently down so I won’t be able to fact check everything and may be wrong on some details. It’s a public school preparing our top civil servants. You can apply to one of the entry exam (there are several depending on your current diplomas) at most three times, whatever your age. As you said, the ENA is supposed to be meritocratic and to democratize the upper ranks of the French government.
      The project to close the ENA (and the ENM, specialised for the justice part of our civil servant) was indeed announced by our President during a speech recorded monday fifteen, but postponed due to the Notre-Dame fire, that was a direct answer to the YVM. The rational is to give every young a chance to become a part of the next generation of leaders and decision makers. This was not a demand of the yellow vests in any way. I think he’s trying to use the movement to promote his own agenda (shocking) of weakening our national institutions and facilitating a revolving door mechanism between the private and public sector.
      As this school is free (in fact students, whatever their age, accepted in the ENA are considered as in training and paid!) and accessible on merit with an exam entry, I fail to see how nuking it helps our youngs that are not rich and / or well-connected get into leadership roles in our country. Not to say that the school is perfect, but I think destroying it will lead to more cronism, and is not something wanted by any notable subgroup in the yellow vests.

      Also, I don’t think the yellow vests will continue to riot until LePen is elected. They’ll continue until
      1/ Macron resigns (whatever the resulting vote for the new president)
      2/ Macron changes his communication and policies, and stops cutting parts of our country to sell it for quick cash (FdJ being the most recent exemple to my knowledge).

      The YVM is not a far-right movement, it’s mainly a reaction against open cronyism with a coulis of anti-EUism. There’s indeed a huge effort by our beloved local MSM to depict them as a bunch of stupid looters, money grabbers, and far-right racist bigots. This tactic is getting very ineffective by the years.

      • Macron changes his communication and policies, and stops cutting parts of our country to sell it for quick cash (FdJ being the most recent exemple to my knowledge).

        What is FdJ? In what sense is Macron selling it for quick cash?

        • Heterosteus says:

          I don’t really get why it’s bad to sell off the state-owned lottery and betting agency. Is it worse to be scammed by a private company than scammed by the government?

          • LHN says:

            I don’t know the specifics of the French deal, but we’ve had some similar ones locally. The problem is more or less a principal-agent one: a politician sells a permanent (or very long term) monopoly for immediate cash usable during their own term, at the expense of the longer term interests of the polity.

            (In our case, the revenues from the city’s parking meters were sold off for 99 years.)

            That’s not an inherent consequence of that sort of transaction. It’s certainly possible that outsourcing a function for a franchise fee is more efficient than the government running it directly, and that it can be sold fairly for something like net present value, which could then be invested or saved for an overall advantage to the public.

            But when all the benefits are paid up front (and generally immediately spent), while the costs incurred fall mostly past the officeholder’s time horizon, one doesn’t have to be that cynical to suspect that responsible stewardship isn’t what’s going on.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            In principle, it’s fine; in practice, the people currently in power are likely to sell it cheap to their cronies to secure their own long-term well-being.

          • Heterosteus says:

            I think my confusion is less to do with the idea of being sceptical about public-private franchising in general and more to do with the specific thing being franchised. It’s quite possible I’m misunderstanding this, but my impression is that what’s being sold here isn’t some useful public good like parking meters or train lines, but rather the entity that does lotteries and scratch cards and suchlike – i.e. basically a way to make money by scamming low-income people.

            Given this isn’t a public good in the first place, there isn’t a concern that the public good will be allowed to decay in private hands, right?

          • LHN says:

            State lottery monopolies as I understand them are basically a lesser evil compromise. Between the libertarian “if people choose to bet on the numbers and they’re not hurting anyone else, let them” and the paternal “numbers games produce no positive good, are predatory upon the desperate and ignorant, and their losses result in costs to their families and the social safety net, so ban them”, we have “well, people are going to bet on the numbers, so let’s at least make sure that the money goes to a good cause”.

            (In the US at least usually earmarked specifically for education, with the fungibility of money being pointedly ignored.)

            I’d say transferring the monopoly to a private entity for a one time fee weakens the underpinnings of that compromise a lot. Whatever arguments there might be for a state monopoly on lotteries, it’s hard to see most of them apply to the state’s defending a single company’s monopoly on same.

          • brmic says:

            There’s also the simple issue of advertising and induction to chronic gambling. With a state monopoly restraint in advertising or lack thereof can be pinned on elected officials who are in theory accountable to their voters. With a private entity the impetus is obviously to do as much as you can get away with to make more money, with the state then either having to micromanage the lottery’s ads anyway, or saddled with societal costs of increasing gambling addiction and even more poor people being unable to stretch their cash to the next payday.

          • Heterosteus says:

            @LHN

            Okay, that makes sense. I think I’m still less concerned about this than about e.g. selling off essential public services, but the concern about making a lesser-evil compromise less lesser seems fair.

            @brmic

            I feel that either the state should ban advertising on gambling altogether (which seems similarly justifiable to banning cigarette ads, however justifiable you think that is) or not. I don’t think the argument that “well, people will gamble anyway so let’s limit the damage by making it a government monopoly” extends to “and then lets have the government monopoly actively encourage people to gamble because it raises money for the state” — the latter being how these things often seem to go.

          • brmic says:

            @ Heterosteus
            Agreed in principle and you’re not wrong about usual practice and yet politicians do campaign on banning all gambling ads, so there’s a constituency there. I’d say it’s probably easier to keep advertising for gambling in check when the state does it than when a private monopoly does it, because in the latter case you need hard to craft laws and unwilling legislators can point to the law and say they’re helpless to change it, whereas under a state run lottery you’re closer to a ‘know it when I see it’ standard and politicians sit on the boards (or appoint board members) so there’s both a quicker fix available and the people in charge are more responsible to the public.

          • LHN says:

            @brmic I agree that states establishing lotteries on the lesser evil principle and then advertising the heck out of it also undermines the idea that it’s supposed to be about controlling the harm. It’s a general problem with combining some other government purpose with a funding source. (See also fines and forfeitures, where the ostensible civic purpose of the process is frequently– invariably?– replaced by revenue maximization.)

          • I’d say it’s probably easier to keep advertising for gambling in check when the state does it than when a private monopoly does it

            On the other hand, the state has a freer hand than a private firm to lie to its customers.

            The worst case I can recall of dishonest advertising was for the New York state lottery. The ad, as best I remember it, said:

            “Our odds are better than the numbers’ odds. Our numbers are better than theirs, too.”

            The second half was meaningless. The first half was a flat lie. The house cut on the lottery, which you could calculate from the schedule of payouts, was much higher than in the (illegal) numbers game.

            The state was lying about its competition but the competition couldn’t sue, both because the state was protected by sovereign immunity and because the competition was illegal.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The actors in a private company have to worry about fines and jail time if they violate the law.

            Government employees don’t.

            Probably the biggest lie I see is states in the southeast that call it an “education lottery” right in the title. As if money weren’t fungible.

            I’m not an ancap arguing for free-market gambling. I think it’s a vice that is a serious problem for many people. I think the state shouldn’t be preying on those people to raise funds.

    • Machine Interface says:

      With the caveat that the announcement was a leaked announcement that was supposed to go live on the day the Notre Dame fire happened and was thus cancelled, so there might be some context missing to what was actually reported by the media, and we’ll see what the full announcement actually is on thursday — the announcement has surprised many media observers, which are puzzled about exactly what this is meant to accomplished.

      Many see it as a token gesture to populists, though not necessarily the Yellow Vests who indeed weren’t asking specifically for this, but more traditional left and right wing populist represented by Mélanchon and Le Pen, who indeed have often complained about ENA. They’re also sceptical that this would accomplish anything at all — if the ENA is to be supressed, that will be to be replaced by a different school with the same goal, supposedly more egalitarian, but many expect that in practice it would be the exact same thing under a different label.

      One interesting thing that some people have pointed out though, supressing the ENA might actually be perfectly cohesive with Macron’s vision of politics — while Macron himself is an ENA graduate, most of his ministers are not, in same fashion that many of Macron’s parties elected representative are not career politicians but rather “representatives of civil life” with no political experience prior to their involvement with Macron (although in practice still heavily skewed demographically toward upper middle classes and beyond).

      At this point I don’t think the Yellow Vests really matter — they’re an increasingly small movement that is radicalizing itself out of existence, with many of the original “leaders” having dropped out due to death threats and other attacks from the more extremist sides of the movement. Macon’s more concerned with French public opinion at large (which has in majority turned against the YV, but still is generally unfavorable to Macron too), and is basically trying to turn the upcoming European Election into a referendum over his own policies, hence maybe an attempt to appeal to growing populist pressure (which doesn’t necessarily line up with the more rural-specific concerns of the YV).

      • BBA says:

        if the ENA is to be supressed, that will be to be replaced by a different school with the same goal, supposedly more egalitarian, but many expect that in practice it would be the exact same thing under a different label.

        Why, though? Is it necessary to have a specific school that top civil servants must attend? Do other countries have equivalent institutions? The US certainly doesn’t, but our civil service may be uniquely low-status.

        Just speaking as an American, I’m intrigued by the notion of disbanding the Ivies to help solve the problem of a self-perpetuating out-of-touch elite class, but ultimately I think there will always be elites and they will always have institutions to identify themselves by. (And to be clear: I’m an Ivy grad and an out-of-touch elite, so I get where Macron is coming from.)

        • Machine Interface says:

          It might just be that credentialism is an even more rampant problem in France than it is in the US; we just expect formal schooling and diplomas from everyone, including politicians, civil servants, journalists.

          I’ve read a major problem in French companies nowadays is that they have largely stopped promoting internally and instead hear young people fresh out of management schools at high responsability positions; thus low level employees have almost no opportunity to rise socially anymore, no matter how well they work and how much experience they have.

  7. ana53294 says:

    I recently found this fascinating Youtube channel on bizarrely specialized Japanese cooking tools. This video is on a machine that cracks the egg, separates the yolk from the white, and whisks the white. It is only useful to make one dish for one person; it doesn’t seem to scale well, and it looks like a nightmare to clean. Cracking an egg and whisking the white manually seems so much easier.

    So what is the limit of specialization, beyond which stuff becomes useless?

    From trying all kinds of kitchen utensils that promise to make life easier, I have found the following ones actually save me time.

    Potato peelers. I tend to find this type more comfortable than these ones (not recommending any brands).

    The instantpot. The rice cooker+pressure cooker together save lots of space (I don’t use the slow cooker function, because I don’t know what to use it for). Being able to program it also lets me go about my business without the house burning down.

    I’ve found that vegetable slicers like this one allows me to slice onions quickly and has minimal hassle in cleaning, unlike electric slicers, which I only find useful for cooking for an army (because they are a nightmare to clean, take up lots of space, and are usually too much trouble).

    I tend to find most egg whiskers annoying, and use a single chopstick to beat eggs for omelettes.

    My favourite wine bottle openers are the ones with arms, like this one, the most comfortable.

    For can openers, I’ve tried all kinds of complicated devices, but the simplest ones seem to work best for me. Silicon spatulas are amazing devices. Cleaning brushes help me avoid touching gross stuff when cleaning (I hate using gloves under water; it is even more unpleasant than touching dirty dishes).

    I haven’t found a design of an apple corer that works for me. For walnuts and hazelnuts, the primitive stone (or shoe), works best (although this needs to be done outside, otherwise you get tiny pieces of shell in all kinds of corners).

    Which kitchen devices offer a good equilibrium of being easy to clean, not taking up too much space, and making life easier?

    • Quintus Fabius Minimus Cunctator says:

      These are not too annoying in drawers, pretty simple to clean, and are a simple and quick way to cut apples and core them all in one. They are also pretty safe for kids.

      Also, huh, I feel like two chopsticks are better than one for whisking eggs.

      • Matt says:

        My luck with a similar (identical?) product was not so good. My wife was using it on an apple and the blade assembly separated from the handle violently, resulting in her nearly cutting herself badly.

        On the other hand, none of the one-star reviews on the one you linked to had the same problem, mostly just complaints about not being sharp enough to cut without a lot of force, which is another problem I had with mine (and probably why it broke the way it did)

        We went back to using a knife to cut up apples…

        • I use an old fashioned apple peeling and slicing gadget. Dorothy Brady, an economic historian who was a family friend, made a habit of searching versions of the design out in New England museums to see how it changed over time. Her conclusion was that the design stayed the same, but over time more of it was metal, less wood, presumably reflecting a change in the relative cost of iron and labor.

          It gives much thinner slices than the one QFMC links to, which is useful for making dried apples, ideally apple chips—sufficiently dry to be crunchy. And it peels as well as slicing and coring.

    • Aapje says:

      For walnuts and hazelnuts, the primitive stone (or shoe), works best (although this needs to be done outside, otherwise you get tiny pieces of shell in all kinds of corners).

      How does that work best when the shell flies everywhere? Who wants to go outside to crack nuts? Don’t you have cold winters and/or very warm summers where you don’t want to go outside to prepare food?

      A nut cracker like this works well for me. With good control/placing, walnuts tend to open neatly. Hazelnuts are more difficult and really need to be held in place with one hand to prevent them slipping out. Placement is also very important.

      • ana53294 says:

        I’ve used those. I still have bits flying everywhere, plus it ends up hurting my hand after intense use.

        Obviously, I pick a nice, sunny day, sit outside, and crack a ton of walnuts. Then I vacuum pack them, and they last fresh for quite long.

        • johan_larson says:

          I still have bits flying everywhere…

          Do you wrap your free hand — the one that isn’t holding the handles — around the nut? I found that contains nearly all of the bits that might otherwise go flying.

        • Aapje says:

          @ana53294

          What I’ve found to be very useful to cracking walnuts is to have the nut cracker work on the edges of the two halves, like so. These edges are a weak spot and the nut often cracks partially or fully along the edge.

          If you already did this and it didn’t work, perhaps you lack hand strength?

          It seems to me that a surplus of strength tends to allow for a more gradual and slow application of force, while giving better feedback to feel what is happening, so you don’t need to use more strength than the bare minimum to crack the case*, which usually prevents the kind of violence that causes debris to fly away.

          Some people need two hands to squeeze the nut cracker, which seems rather hopeless, because you can’t moderate the force then.

          * This is far more difficult with hazelnuts since their case lacks the major weaknesses that the walnut case has & because the case is so smooth that they far more easily slip out of nut crackers. So I have to hold the nut in the nut cracker with one hand to keep it from slipping and to catch the debris.

        • ana53294 says:

          I already crack them like that. But covering the hand means that the bits fly right into my skin, and that’s what hurts.

          Then there are really tiny bits that escape through the fingers.

      • noyann says:

        I use one of this type. Shells stay (mostly) in the cracker, and it doubles as gripper for tough screw caps.
        Only fail ever was with paranuts that were too fresh with the shell still elastic. But the big head allows using it as a hammer — no chance, nuts!

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I learned recently that walnuts can actually be opened by hand, though it takes a fair bit of pressure.

    • Murphy says:

      electric hand mixer like this:

      https://www.wilko.com/assets/bWFzdGVyfGltYWdlc3w0MzQ2MXxpbWFnZS9qcGVnfGltYWdlcy9oNmYvaDZmLzg4MjMzNjg4NDMyOTQuanBnfDhiN2FiMzRmZTViMTVlM2E3YTExN2I3ODllODMwZDRmZGY4YWNiZGIxNzUzMzRhMjJkZTFlNGUyMWY0ZGNlM2M=/0228910-1.jpg

      Because life is too short to whisk cream etc by hand. The whisks pop out and go in the dishwasher.

      On that note: diswasher is the best thing we ever bought.

      A really solid blender suitable/strongenough to blend ice.

      • ana53294 says:

        Diswasher is the best thing we ever bought.

        I’m with you on that. Dishwashing is one of the most conflictive home tasks, the one that most fights are about.

        Sadly, I’m at the mercy of the landlords, because kitchens in rental houses either have a dishwasher, or don’t have space for it (and you need to get the plumbing also, so it’s not like you can put it anywhere).

        • Murphy says:

          When we finally bought it was one of the first things we got.

          We had no money at the time, post purchase, so it’s a second hand one that we picked up for close to nothing from a house renovation.

          we were talking about what we’d most urgently replace if something broke and dishwasher was second only to washing machine.

          In retrospect it’s shocking so many rentals lack one.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            I wonder if it has to do with the misconception that dishwashers are wasteful compared to washing by hand.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Sometimes it’s space, sometimes it’s maintenance costs. Dishwashers are another thing to break that the landlord has to maintain, and tenants break _everything_. Worse, when dishwashers break they can result in water all over the place, which can be even more costly (especially if there’s other apartments below).

        • baconbits9 says:

          You can buy a portable dishwasher- just a dishwasher on wheels that you screw onto your faucet when you want to use it. Inferior in many ways but superior to no dishwasher and you can take it if you move out.

        • AG says:

          @ana53294

          https://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-buy-a-portable-dishwasher/

          There are models that hook up to your sink, depending on your faucet type.

          • ana53294 says:

            I’ve heard of them, but are they worth it? How much more work is to use a counter top one than a standing one?

            Do they work with single-hole faucets?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I had one growing up (Family of 10 kids at max) It held up fine, it just tied up the sink for long periods.

          • AG says:

            @ana53294

            The article goes into the pros and cons. Countertop has a smaller capacity than portable, but that goes with taking up less space. So it seems like you should go with portable unless your apartment layout really makes storage of the portable inconvenient.

        • Plumber says:

          @ana53294,

          When we moved out of rentals and into our house in 2012 which had a kitchen that was remodeled about ten years earlier and came with a dishwasher (which we never found an instruction manual for) and a “wine refrigerator” (which keeps things slightly cool), and we unplugged both and use them only for storage.

    • SamChevre says:

      Kitchen devices I use that aren’t in every kitchen (that is, not knives, measuring spoons, etc).

      Mortar and pestle for grinding spices
      Lemon squeezer
      Microplane for lemon zest, grating nutmeg, etc
      Kitchen-Aid mixer – makes bread much easier and less messy.

    • broblawsky says:

      I really, really like zucchini noodles, so I own a spiralizer.

    • I like the kind of thermometer that consists of a probe on a cable, designed to go into the oven. I think it’s mainly intended for roasting meat, but I use it for making bread. Set it to give an alarm when the internal temperature of the bread reaches 200°F, and you know when your bread is done.

      I have a mixer, an ancient Braun not the currently popular Kitchen Aid, but I don’t use it for bread. In my experience, bread making takes very little work, just time. My favorite recipe is a sourdough raisin bread that I usually serve at the meetups we host, but there are also some very low work recipes in the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, although they do take more than five minutes. You make a very wet dough, with no kneading required, put it in the refrigerator, and when you want a loaf of fresh bread you take out a lump, let it rise for half an hour or so, and bake it.

    • AG says:

      I’ve used the steam basket that comes with my rice cooker/slow cooker a few times, but the other specialized kitchen tool I use is the pot drainer: https://www.iqliving.com/products/trudeau-hand-held-pot-drainer-hand-held-pot-strainer-sold-individually-available-in-assorted-colours

      The microwave lid cover is also great.

      • Nornagest says:

        That does look like a better alternative to the colander. I rarely cook pasta because cleaning the damn thing is so much of a pain.

        On the other hand, I need more kitchen gadgets like I need a hole in my head.

        • The Nybbler says:

          That does look like a better alternative to the colander.

          That’s not going to work as shown for pasta. First of all, the water’s HOT. You hold it like that and you will burn your hand. You need a potholder. Second, water and wet pasta are heavy, so you’re going to end up with spaghetti in the sink if you try to hold it at one end only.

          I have a strainer lid for a large pot; it has plastic handles on opposite sides which are supposed to be able to be used to hold it on, but I find I need to really squeeze them (and use potholders) to keep the lid on. Probably there are better designs but they still will hold the strainer at more than one point.

          • AG says:

            What? I have definitely used the pot drainer as shown for pasta. My pot’s handle has insulation on it, so you just hold the pot drainer and pot handle together. It’s even easier if your pot has handles on both sides.
            If you look at the smaller pictures below the main one, you’ll see that the drainer has a longer handle on one side.

        • albatross11 says:

          A wire colander is a pain to clean, but a stainless steel colander with smallish holes i(I’m thinking maybe 2-3 mm) is easy to clean right after you’ve used it to drain pasta, and not that terrible even the next morning.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Inversion Blender, saves space and can be used for more than a regular blender, easier to clean than a traditional blender.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Microplane Zester

      Works very nicely and hold a moderate amount of zest. I’m not sure how much I’m going to use it, but orange zest works very well with asparagus.

    • Silverlock says:

      Strangely enough, I find the little egg cookers (like this guy) to be pretty nifty. I hear you say, “But why would I use that when I can just boil the eggs the way it has always been done?” The answer is that the eggs peel ridiculously easy. Before I got this thing, the only way I found to get eggs that would reliably peel with no trouble was to peel them while they were still hot. This gadget pretty much steam the little beggars in their shells. (You punch holes in the shells with a pin — included — as you load them into the device.)

      Outside of that, a microplane grater is a must for parmesan and for citrus zesting is a must. And maybe some Command Hooks for hanging pots on the walls.

      • AG says:

        The secret to peeling hard boiled eggs is to immediately immerse them in ice water after boiling (and to crack the shells under said ice water). CTE makes the peeling easy-peasy after that.

        • Silverlock says:

          Tried that. Didn’t work for me. I finally just ran some experiments one time when I had a few cartons of old eggs and hit upon the “peel ’em while they’re hot” bit.

          Other things I tried that had little effect:
          Swirl the pot around to get the eggs to hit each other and crack the shells.
          Add salt/baking soda/vinegar/thorium/unobtainium to the water.
          Playing stereotypical stripper music while peeling them.

          Peeling them cold and under water did do a little better than the above methods, but peeling them hot worked way better for me. But the cooker works best of all.
          (Except for the time I let the eggs sit in the cooker with the lid off for a while. Gotta leave the lid on until it’s peeling time.)

          • AG says:

            I mean, I guess you gotta doing the ice water dunk in conjunction with a few other techniques, which is to crack the shell into smaller bits all along the circumference, before tearing the membrane. This should enable the circumference bit to peel in a single membrane belt, and then the remaining two parts all but fall off after that.

            But I did the “peel ’em while they’re hot” version just this weekend, and it was much harder imo.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          The secret is to boil them the right way. See this. It’s kind of baroque, but it makes flawless hard-boiled eggs suitable for deviling (where peeling them cleanly is critical).

    • baconbits9 says:

      I think the largest time saver (once you are past the oven/refrigerator/dishwasher) is the stand mixer if you do a lot of cooking, the big savings being that you can do two things at the same time. I wouldn’t turn it on to mash potatoes if that is all I was doing, but if I am cooking a large meal and have other things to do I’ll tip the boiled potatoes in there with the other ingredients and turn it on with the mixing paddle. Likewise I don’ think I have ever used it for making scrambled eggs in the morning but always do when I am beating eggs for quiche where I have a crust to make and cheese/bacon/vegetables to prepare for the filling. This is what sets it way above the hand held beaters, it actually opens up your hands for 90% of the time the food is making to do something else which is the real savings.

    • Mustard Tiger says:

      I like the little silicone/rubber tubes meant for peeling garlic. They’re not incredibly amazing perfection, but they are better than peeling entirely by hand.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The old trick for peeling garlic is to crush it with the flat of a large knife, it just flakes off and if you are crushing/chopping it anyway it starts it off nicely for you.

      • sharper13 says:

        Your comment reminded me of these silicon pot holders, which also work great to open lids/jars and peel garlic, plus you just toss them in the dishwasher when you need to clean them.

  8. aiju says:

    Can anyone here recommend a private psychiatrist around Cambridge, UK?
    I have weird complicated problems and I really need to talk to someone competent for once.

    Basically:
    I’ve been on MAOI for the past two years, to try and treat my depression, which worked with some limited success.
    I started meditation a few months ago, after reading Scott’s favourable posts on it and kind of out of sheer desperation, and over one to two months it basically fixed the mood/negative thoughts part of my depression.
    I ended up somewhat hypomanic (very productive, more social, etc.)
    At some point I had an episode of dissociation/depersonalisation (presumably triggered by sensory overload).
    After that, I had a ton of really weird neurological symptoms for a while (mostly related to speech and coordination).
    I was also super sensitive to external stimuli; at some point even reading books was too much.
    I’ve had doctors rule out anything physical (brain MRI is fine; blood tests are fine, except for some vitamin deficiencies).
    I probably should have gone to see a psychiatrist at this point but didn’t (complicated reasons).
    I discontinued the MAOI over four weeks and the symptoms gradually disappeared.
    I’m now off MAOI for three weeks or so; my mood is pretty stable so it doesn’t feel like my depression is back.
    However, I have some serious cognitive problems related to executive function.
    Any complex planning/decision making just doesn’t work.
    Or rather, it works for a short while, then I sort of run out of mental juice and have to rest.
    Things that don’t require me to keep a large-scale plan in mind seem to work just fine, though.

    Sorry if this post is inappropriate. Or disorganised. I just don’t know what to do anymore. Go back on MAOI? Wait for things to normalise?

    I’ve done a lot of reading and I don’t even know where I fit in anymore.
    Depression? Bipolar II? ADHD? Autism?

  9. It’s universal for humans to construct narratives. But is it even possible for an advanced species to not have them? I could imagine an intelligent asocial species that has strong problem solving skills and lacks narratives, but without coordination it doesn’t seem like it could do something as sophisticated as building a rocket to outer space.

    • albatross11 says:

      Would coordinated action toward solving a problem need a narrative structure, though? We often tend to think in narratives, including imputing motives to inanimate objects. (The electron wants to move toward the positive charge.) I don’t see why that would be necessary for coordinated action.

      What if I could communicate with you only by giving you a picture of what I want the results of your efforts to be. I think a large group of people doing that, organized into the right structure, could do large coordinated things. (I get a big picture, and I give you smaller ones. And maybe I can send back up pictures of how things are going wrong.)

      • Ants can build structures without language but there are certainly limits to that coordination. I don’t see how pictures on their own could be used to build a rocket. If you had sufficiently advanced pictures, you would get a language. And I don’t see how you could have a fully developed language without also having narratives.

        Think of all the narratives that led us to space. Scientific theories, the idea of technological progress, nationalism, etc. Some of those could be dropped and you would still have the ability to build rockets. But all of them?

        • albatross11 says:

          I think maybe we mean different things by “narrative”.

          Like, if I want to explain Newton’s laws to you, I don’t need a narrative structure to do that. I probably need the ability to make something like sentences with verbs, or pictures with animation/in a time sequence. But I don’t need to have any characters with motivations or a story arc that makes sense or any of the stuff I think of as being part of a narrative structure.

          Newton thinking of gravity because an apple fell on his head is a narrative. F = (m1*m2)/(r^2 G) isn’t; I also wouldn’t think of “the apple fell out of the tree” as much of a narrative.

          • If I explained the Big Bang Theory to you, would you consider that a narrative? There’s no characters or motivations but it is a series of events connected to each other in a cohesive manner.

          • Nick says:

            I think “cohesive” is doing a lot of work there. We have expectations about stories that we don’t for mere recitations of events. Just look at how recitations of events get molded (some things left out, other things added) to be more like a story.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m thinking “narrative” in the sense of narrative bias, the human liking/memory for stories that hang together. Any mode of communication that could express actions and cause-and-effect could explain the Big Bang, but not all of those would fit into much of a narrative structure. OTOH, a good popularization of the Big Bang would have a narrative structure of some kind, so it was memorable and enjoyable to hear.

          • How do you differentiate between the narrative of the Big Bang Theory vs the Big Bang theory that isn’t a narrative? Remember that it’s not just a mere recitation of events that happened in the past, but a model that is used to make falsifiable predictions today.

          • Or we can look at it from another direction. Take something that is unquestionably a narrative, the creation of the world by God as recorded in the Bible. What is the minimum amount of change needed to make it not a narrative anymore?

        • DinoNerd says:

          As a child, I had a Meccano set (Erector set to Americans), which came with a book of instructions for building various models. The instructions were entirely lists of parts and diagrams of what various assemblies should look like. (Simpler models only showed a diagram of the final product.)

          This worked quite well. I can’t see why it wouldn’t scale up to a co-operative project.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I made up an alien species for a roleplaying game that didn’t care about narratives about the past/didn’t remember the past in narrative form. But they cared a lot about narratives about the present/future.

      I think that in order to take action towards arbitrary and far-off goals, you need to be able to visualize how that goal benefits you. Which sounds like a narrative to me, at least a primitive one. You could possibly feel some sort of instinctive gravity towards some future state without any real conscious thought about what that gravity is from or what it means, but I don’t think it’s plausible that you’d feel that towards enough of the multitude of intermediate goals necessary to develop something like a modern civilization without some kind of ability to say, “Well, ultimately, I’d like to be able to do Z, and I can see how doing A, B, and C can get me to Z.”

      • albatross11 says:

        I think we need to:

        a. Distinguish thinking from communications

        b. Allow for communications from very smart central nodes to much less smart worker nodes, as well as maybe communications from one smart central node to another to plan large projects.

  10. SkyBlu says:

    TIL that in ancient china, agricultural loans provided to farmers to purchase seeds could have interest rates of 50-70% for less than a year. These loans were eventually replaced by the Green Shoots program, which had the government provide compulsory loans at a 20% interest rate. These rates of return are almost unthinkable now; What changed between ancient times and now that allowed previous investments to provide these ridiculous returns?

    • There was a legal upper limit on interest rates of 3% a month, at least in the final dynasty, which is the one I know most about. I don’t know if there were exceptions for the sorts of loans you describe. What is your source?

      The obvious thing to explain high interest rates would be a shortage of capital.

    • Erusian says:

      You can still find deals like this today. Investors give up a lot of return for their lack of risk and diversification. For example, payday loans have 400% annual interest. Big investors don’t get in because each individual transaction is so small and there’s no efficient way to aggregate them.

      I’m not aware of China’s circumstances specifically, but most farmers keep their seed for the next year. So the need to purchase seed would indicate economic distress. Plus seed is extremely cheap compared to the sale price of wheat. Today wheat seeds cost $10-$20 per acre. They have about $200 (generously) of other costs, not include land value. And it generates $752.4 of wheat. If you cut out all the modern stuff, I’d estimate it at about $200 instead. But without the modern stuff, you lose almost all of those other costs (which is fertilizer, water fees, etc).

      So let’s say you’re a Chinese farmer in dire straits. Someone offers to loan you $20 an acre in exchange for $40 in a year’s time. This is a very good deal for you. If you don’t have seed, you make nothing. If you have seed and the year goes normally (which is a risk), you’ll make $200 per acre minus the banker’s $40. That leaves $160 to cover your other costs and to take as personal income. For a Chinese peasant, that’s probably their personal labor or the labor of their family plus some fixed capital costs (land, ploughs, etc).

      • Protagoras says:

        The payday loan companies are not making 400% returns. Defaults and paying for collection efforts eat into some of it, and I seem to remember a source identifying marketing as a major expense for them. But just in general administrative costs are not a linear function of the size of a loan; there’s a minimum cost for administering any loan, which means making a lot of small loans costs much more in administrative expenses than making a few large loans. This sort of thing may be what you are alluding to when you say “there’s no efficient way to aggregate them,” but that seems a strange and uninformative way of describing the relevant factors.

        With respect to the Chinese farmer, it isn’t really to the point whether $20 now for $40 in a year would be a good deal for the farmer if there were no better options. The question is, rather, why are there no better options? 100% annual return is fantastic; there should be hordes of people trying to get in on that, and the competition among them should drive the rates down. Unless, as is presumably the case, various associated expenses eat up most of the returns; defaults, administrative costs, and so forth.

        • Clutzy says:

          Payday lenders do have insane default rates, and overhead eats into it as well.

          Micro lending is just generally not profitable because of overhead. It costs more to vet a guy for a $1000 loan in India than you can reasonably earn in interest. This is why churches and other social organizations were so important to economic development when America was poorer.

          • albatross11 says:

            If payday loans were making 400% returns, lots more people would get into the business and eat away at those high profit margins till they were making a reasonable risk-adjusted rate of return. If that didn’t happen, it would be an interesting situation that wanted an explanation, because 400% returns are a *really strong* incentive for people to enter a business.

          • ana53294 says:

            The explanation could be that the ways loan shark use to get 400% returns are quite illegal. I’ve heard that cocaine trafficking also offers returns like that.

            So the only explanation for returns this high is high risk, and a risk this high involves highly illegal stuff.

            Or they actually get lower returns, because they are eaten by the non-payers and enforcement costs.

        • dick says:

          The question is, rather, why are there no better options?

          My first thought was maybe these are tenant farmers who have no choice but to buy seed from the landowner. Certainly there has to be some sort of distortion.

        • Erusian says:

          This sort of thing may be what you are alluding to when you say “there’s no efficient way to aggregate them,” but that seems a strange and uninformative way of describing the relevant factors.

          I’m sorry you find it so. The issue is that, unlike subprime mortgages or car loans, there’s not a great risk model for Wall Street so they can’t be bundled and sold on the exchange. You’re right that administrative fees on a bunch of small loans are part of the problem but they’re not the entire problm.

          The question is, rather, why are there no better options? 100% annual return is fantastic; there should be hordes of people trying to get in on that, and the competition among them should drive the rates down. Unless, as is presumably the case, various associated expenses eat up most of the returns; defaults, administrative costs, and so forth.

          In practical terms, it’s usually a combination of special knowledge and the fact that capital gets to go where it wants. A bank would rather have ten million dollar loans than a hundred thousand hundred dollar loans because of the fixed costs of each loan. They do this even at the expense of better returns. They also tend to avoid risk at a relatively extreme rate due to the internal incentives of a bank. Look at home construction loans, which are extremely safe by finance standards. Yet the banks still prefer mortgages, which are even safer but have much worse returns.

          Why aren’t people tripping over themselves to offer seed? Well, because if you’re making $20 a year per farmer, you need a lot of farmers to make it worthwhile. You might not even have enough to cover fixed costs associated with running the business out of a local village.

        • Murphy says:

          Some go up to 6000% APR

          The highest I’ve seen in the UK is 16734509% APR, yes: 16 million percent APR.

          At some point it’s simply preying on people who don’t understand interest, addicts and/or who have poor impulse control.

    • SkyBlu says:

      For clarification, this was during the Song dynasty, and I just heard it in lecture today and have not followed up on sources.

  11. Vitor says:

    So, a couple of weeks back I mentioned in passing that I’m active in the demoscene, a subculture that’s about making art with computers. Well, last weekend was the biggest demoparty of the year, and I worked on a production that was released there! This is generated from an 8 kilobyte executable running in real time on a desktop computer. It was a ton of fun to work on! You can see all the amazing productions done at this party here (with youtube links for most of them).

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      That is amazing. Great work!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I’m not asking you to effortpost or anything (but you can if you want!) but can you give the simplest explanation of how the hell you cram all of that into 8k? What’s the trick?

      • woah77 says:

        I can give a basic and incomplete explanation (not as the author but as the one who has looked into similar things). Procedural generation is where code is used to create graphics and animations without explicitly specifying textures and colors. The advantage in this is it’s small in size, the disadvantage is that it requires your hardware to do lots of work. As the description of the video mentioned, it would take a serious graphics card to render it at any reasonable rate. This is because creating the images takes a lot of computing power to render them while created images that are stored in memory take far less time to transcribe to the screen. Much less computation.

        I’m certain that Vitor can go into more details, but that’s the short of how it works. Code is just text where as images are arrays of thousands of integer values. What ends up on the screen could be the same in both cases, but the pre-rendered images are huge up front, but fast to load, whereas procedurally generated images are tiny up front, but take a “long time” to “load”.

      • Vitor says:

        Ok, effortpost time!

        The fundamental problem of computer graphics is: for each pixel on the screen, determine which object is visible at this pixel, and what color it has (is it in shadow? at what angle is the light hitting the surface? etc.). Solving this problem is called “rendering”, i.e., turning an abstract representation of the geometry into an actual image. It’s helpful to imagine a “virtual camera” floating in the air somewhere in our scene, and we want to figure out what this camera sees. For simplicity, let’s just think about how to render a single sphere.

        The usual way of doing 3d graphics uses an “explicit” representation of the geometry. Our sphere then would be represented as a list of triangles, which, taken together, approximately describe its surface. This is called a polygon mesh, and a modern graphics card is super good at rendering huge meshes with millions of triangles. This representation uses a lot of space though (you need lots of triangles to get a smooth sphere), which is why the latest games take up dozens of gigabytes on your hard drive.

        Alternatively, we can use an “implicit” representation, which is a function that tells us (for each point in 3d space) how far away from the surface of the sphere we are. This is actually trivial high-school math: the function f(x, y, z) = sqrt(x^2 + y^2 + z^2) – 1 represents a sphere of radius 1 centered at the origin. We call this representation a distance field. However, rendering this is a bit trickier. We basically have to start at our virtual camera, shoot a ray at a slightly different angle for each pixel, and figure out the first point where the ray hits the sphere. This involves marching along the ray in small steps, until the function f tells us that we are very close to the surface. This type of rendering is called raytracing / raymarching, and I’m just describing one of many variations. So, we have a very simple and compact function, but in order to render it we have to call this function hundreds of times per pixel per frame (1/30th of a second). That’s on the order of a billion calls to f per second. Luckily, this is the second thing graphics cards are really good at. The computation at each pixel is independent of all the others, so we can do everything in parallel, and a high end GPU these days has over 3000 processors.

        Now, here comes the magic. Not only is a distance field representation very compact, but there are lots of simple transformations we can do to completely change the shape. For example, we can take our sphere, and compress the space it lives in. By this I mean that along one of the axes, instead of counting …, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, … we count …, -2, -1, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 2, … (we of course apply this distortion in a continuous manner). This yields a “pill” or “capsule” shape: the middle part of the sphere gets stretched, because the function f “thinks” it’s actually at the center of the sphere for quite a stretch of space. If we then additionally modulate the radius of the sphere depending where we are along this axis, we can “pinch” the capsule at some points. That’s how the abdomen of the dragonfly is made. There are many more transformations of this type that can be done, for example adding a mirror duplicate of an object, or taking two objects and blending them together in a smooth way (with a kind of rounded transition between the objects rather than a hard seam), etc. All our models (the dragonfly, butterfly, rocks and plants) are mostly made out of spheres that are manipulated in this way. And since we have this very nice mathematical representation, it’s easy to add small animations like a heartbeat, trembling of the wings, etc, with only a few lines of code.

        The coloring and background (sky, trees, clouds) are made with similar implicit modeling techniques. The music is created with a very compact soft synth written in assembly language. The whole thing is then compressed with a specialized algorithm (arithmetic coding with model search). We use programs written by other people in the demoscene to achieve the latter two things.

        • albatross11 says:

          Thanks for the effortpost–this is really interesting!

        • rlms says:

          What causes the spots that appear momentarily (e.g. at 0:05)?

          • Vitor says:

            Unfortunately we didn’t have time to fully investigate the matter. For unknown reasons some of the pixels end up black and don’t write any depth data. This is possibly caused by clipping through the geometry, which is hard to avoid when you have a distance field with lots of distortions, i.e. it’s not a “true” distance field, but rather only an approximation and thus we need to apply some heuristics to determine step size during marching, and we tuned this on the aggressive side due to performance constraints.

            These bad pixels get picked up by our depth-of-field postprocessing pass and amplified, which is the correct thing for the DoF pass to do, since the pixel has very different depth data than its neighbors, and so should be blurred. The final result is turning a tiny glitch into a very visible one.

          • rlms says:

            Interesting, thanks!

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Thank you very much for effortposting! You answered my questions.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      The demoscene goes back at least to the 1980s – I remember downloading demos from BBSes that long ago, and going to a demoparty in Montreal in the 1990s. Even then, they were packing amazing amounts of FX into 8-16K, running super fast on EGA cards, complete with music.

      The music, of course, was the only major thing not procedurally generated, but it was often in MIDI format, using whatever instrument samples were on your computer, and arguably just as creative as the GFX. I particularly remember one composer, Skaven, who went on to compose a 45-minute soundtrack for the Popcap game Bejeweled 2. (Naturally, someone posted that song to YouTube. It’s well worth the listen IMO.) His sound became the signature sound of demos for me. I think he’s still putting out a mix every now and then.

      He wasn’t the only one. there were a handful of fairly prolific demo musicians coming out of Scandinavia’s demoscene. I recall some of their work in Star Control 2, which fit the zany spacey feel of those alien races so well that I can’t help but believe they played an important role in making that game a cult classic.

      I expected a lot of demo artistry to fall upon difficult times as graphics technology boomed and assembly language hacks were no longer the way to get the most out of a card. So it’s good to see that subculture is still alive and well.

      • Vitor says:

        Well, the scene has fallen on difficult times, in the sense that the present abundance of AAA games/movies makes the visuals of demos stand out less by comparison, specially for laypeople who don’t really appreciate the underlying tech. That puts the focus way more on style and design. Even an 8k needs to have a coherent story these days, it can’t just be a jumble of cool effects. In some sense that’s a good thing, because it has forced the scene to mature as an art movement.

        And well, if you look at us as a community of like-minded people coming together to have fun and show off their cool little hacks to each other, none of that stuff matters. The scene spirit lives on!

        • SnapDragon says:

          I used to be a demoscene fanboy! Even wrote this back in highschool, though sadly it never got released anywhere.

          And yeah, the scene is very different from when I was growing up in the 80s. In those days demos had graphics that were absolutely amazing compared to any other source (including videogames). That started to change once FPSs like Doom began to incorporate “advanced” 3D effects. Before long, graphics turned into a major selling point of AAA games. The demoscene mostly transitioned from being about “hey, look at all these neat graphics algorithms running on CPUs” to “hey, look at all this amazing artistic stuff we can do with graphics cards”. Since I had no artistic talent, I ended up drifting away, sadly.

          Vitor, I’m blown away by what you managed to cram into 8k! 😀

    • Mustard Tiger says:

      Awesome!

      I encountered demos maybe 25-30 years ago when some of it was ASCII text on VGA or MCGA DOS machines. Fading ASCII text to black was a neat trick. Direct screen writes were fast and looked good.

      The graphic demos were really impressive, too. It wasn’t just that they were so small, but they were pushing the capabilities of the hardware beyond what we realized was possible.

      Anyway, I didn’t code demos, but I used some of their ideas and innovations in my own programs.

      I’ve always been impressed by the extreme efficiency! Thanks for sharing this – maybe I’ll crack open an 80×86 assembler book and see if I can rekindle my old skills and interest.

  12. LadyJane says:

    Been away for a while, just caught up on the past few weeks’ worth of SSC posts. I was going over the comments on the Universal Basic Income post, and I noticed a lot of people seemed confused over the fact that some capitalist libertarians support UBI. Some posters argued that UBI is diametrically opposed to libertarian ideals, and considered it to be a form of pure socialism, since it entailed a redistribution of wealth.

    I’ll admit, I find myself a bit perplexed by these arguments. Yes, if the only two options are “pure capitalist utopia with no taxes” and “social democracy where taxes are used to fund UBI,” obviously the first one is a lot more libertarian. But those aren’t the only two options (and if we’re being realistic about modern politics, the first one isn’t really a viable option at all, at least not without a full-scale revolution or total governmental collapse).

    In practical terms, the options are “social democracy where taxes are used to fund various welfare programs for people who meet certain specific requirements” (i.e. the current system) and “social democracy where taxes are used to fund UBI.” And I don’t really see how the second is any more socialist or less libertarian than the first. If anything, the second is slightly more libertarian, since it’s more fair and less deliberately redistributive. You can argue that a UBI would cost more, but that’s debatable (it wouldn’t require nearly as much of a bureaucratic infrastructure, which would free up a lot of money). And at any rate, that’s not a difference in kind, merely a difference in degree (and probably not that much of one).

    If it were only ancaps and minarchists who were opposed to UBI, that would make sense. But it seems like plenty of moderate libertarians who are more or less fine with the current welfare system (or at least begrudgingly accepting of it) still view UBI as antithetical to their principles. I can understand that stance from a conservative perspective, since conservatism is more focused on ensuring that people get what they deserve. To a “compassionate conservative,” helping people who are genuinely down on their luck is fine, but enabling lazy people to avoid work by giving everyone free money is going too far. But libertarianism doesn’t really concern itself with what people deserve, it’s just opposed to government welfare programs because they’re funded by taxation. If a billionaire voluntarily decided to give away his fortune to a bunch of random loafers who didn’t feel like working, that would be fine from a libertarian perspective. So again, I don’t see why libertarians view UBI as being significantly worse than the welfare programs we have now.

    • sorrento says:

      As a conservative (although not a libertarian), I don’t like UBI because it would involve a massive expansion in government spending and power.

      I also don’t believe for a second that traditional welfare will go away. People will feel that it’s unfair for old and young, rich and poor to get the same UBI. So in practice UBI will just be a bigger form of the current welfare program, with all the problems that implies.

      • LadyJane says:

        I can see how it would involve an increase in government spending, but I don’t understand how it would entail an increase in government power. The government wouldn’t be doing anything that it doesn’t currently do now.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah, I’m not sure what sorrento means there. If we just had one check being paid indiscriminately, wouldn’t that make welfare programs less intrusive and paternalistic? That seems like a win for personal freedom and privacy in at least one sense of the word(s).

          • Deiseach says:

            If we just had one check being paid indiscriminately, wouldn’t that make welfare programs less intrusive and paternalistic?

            I saw this news story, and I think that answers your question. The minute somebody uses their UBI cheque to OD their sobbing family will be in the media demanding Something Must Be Done.

            That is going to mean government will still be involved in some kinds of means testing, or paying your UBI cheque straight to your landlord so you can’t take the rent money and spend it on drugs or gambling, and the like.

            (I’m very sorry for the woman in the story, but her son was a grown man and an adult, and unless she had had him involuntarily committed, this is what addicts will do: spend every last cent on getting high).

        • albatross11 says:

          +1

          This is a key point–the libertarian benefit of the UBI isn’t that it makes the government budget smaller, but rather that it gives the state less power over individuals’ decisions, relative to existing poverty programs which tend to have lots of conditions and rules for eligibility. Those both give bureaucrats a lot of power over recipients, and also create poverty traps where you lose your free medical care and end up in a terrible state if you ever accumulate more than $1000 in your bank account, or where you lose money by taking a raise at work, or where you are financially wiser not to marry the father of your kid, or whatever.

          The interesting argument from a libertarian perspective is whether this is a good tradeoff–more money goes through the government’s hands, and there’s substantial redistribution of wealth, but the state’s power over how that money is spent is almost nonexistent. If you think no welfare is an attainable alternative, you may prefer that. If you think UBI will inevitably balloon until it’s a massive redistribution program that eats the budget, or if you think the power to reward friends and punish enemies by tweaking the UBI rules a bit (No spending UBI money on cigarettes, liquor, porn, or guns! No UBI money for convicted drug offenders!) will be too much for legislatures to resist, those are strong reasons to oppose it.

        • sorrento says:

          More government spending inherently means more government power. Money always comes with strings attached in the long term.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I never understood, nor liked, that UBI is automatically considered by most to be the equivalent of minimum wages. I’d be perfectly ok with an UBI that’s at least a couple of sizes to small, even if it seems useless in the beginning. Once it grows a bit, you start seeing people adapt to it and making it work – how, I have no idea, and that’s the point. Maybe you’ll find communes alive again. Maybe people will move to really cheap places and live there (even abroad?). Maybe something completely new and unexpected.

      • etheric42 says:

        A national minimum wage is terrible for low-cost-of-living areas.

        A national UBI would send people back to those areas.

        Would we see a decrease in urbanization as people flee to rural environments? Would the deurbanization hurt the environment benefits of clustering and letting a lot of space go wild? Would the people that flee the cities become more culturally rural (and red?) or would the rural areas become more culturally urban (and blue)?

      • 10240 says:

        What many of us who oppose UBI are afraid of is that (as you have alluded to) even if it starts small, it would eventually grow bigger. That’s pretty much the plan of even those who propose starting small. And there would be a ratchet effect where, once enacted, it would be politically impossible to reduce or eliminate, even if it turns out to have terrible effects.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I’m one of them. It’s scary to think of politicians making their careers on “raise the UBI” like it’s as simple as signing a piece of paper. Already way too many people act as if wealth is there for the taking and it’s just the greedy capitalists that are keeping it from everybody.

          Huh. I might restart reading the Honor Harrington series, between all the UBI talk and somebody mentioning last week that it’s a quite good description of the military.

        • baconbits9 says:

          My guess is that the ratchet effect will be much stronger that even opponents fear. Small scale UBI’s will have small scale problems that won’t be obvious or immediate, then a bunch of studies will come out about how the UBI saved $X in payday loan interest, or saved y lives or added Z% to GDP growth. Papers will be spit out claiming how much more efficient a large UBI is and people waving a handful of papers calling their opponents anti-science will lead the charge toward much larger UBIs.

        • Viliam says:

          I am afraid of the positive feedback loop: increasing UBI — more people choose to stop working and only rely on UBI — more votes in favor of increasing UBI — increasing UBI… until the whole system collapses because the total UBI exceeds the total tax.

          Which sucks, because I would like the idea of UBI. If it could be implemented without giving people the option to increase it arbitrarily, I think it would be great. But we need to break this loop somewhere.

          • Aapje says:

            Those who don’t benefit from the UBI are going to get increasingly upset then though. So whether your scenario comes true depends heavily on the actual percentages.

            If the UBI-dependent (actual voters) grow from 15% to 30%, the backlash is probably going to defeat the advocates.

            Note that the opposition doesn’t necessarily just come from the top. Many at the bottom may also get very upset about all the money going to middle class people, while they see no improvement.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In practical terms, the options are “social democracy where taxes are used to fund various welfare programs for people who meet certain specific requirements” (i.e. the current system) and “social democracy where taxes are used to fund UBI.”

      No, the options are the first, and the first plus a UBI. The idea of getting rid of welfare and having only UBI is floated often enough (perhaps originating in Milton Friedman’s mathematically-equivalent Negative Income Tax), but it’ll never happen. Yang isn’t even proposing it; he’s proposing medicare for all, PLUS a UBI, plus all the current welfare programs with individuals getting the option of picking UBI or current welfare.

      The cost of this would be nothing less than astronomical even by Federal Government standards; you keep all the overhead of all the current welfare programs, you spend strictly more on the recipients (because those who would get less would go to UBI), you pay UBI to all the people not on welfare now, and you get medicare-for-all on top of that.

      (is UBI a hot-button political topic? I really don’t know; it’s political but it’s also a pretty common rationalist proposal)

      • etheric42 says:

        When he says things like “or current welfare” I have to ask questions like: “Does EITC count as current welfare? What about a variety of tax deductions? What about the minimum standard deduction? Child tax credit.” All of those are a form of welfare in that the benefit people who make less

        Also, does this solve Scott’s “singularity is canceled” problem? Do people start having a more children for those UBI checks?

        I know if I am currently holding off on number 3 until my next raise comes through and having a UBI check attached to that would stop me from waiting, but I was already planning on it anyway.

        • 10240 says:

          I know if I am currently holding off on number 3 until my next raise comes through and having a UBI check attached to that would stop me from waiting

          Are you at an income level where UBI would plausibly exceed the tax increase you would be paying (given that UBI proposals would increase, or at least definitely not reduce, income redistribution)?

          • etheric42 says:

            Depends on what the Yang plan means by “other welfare”. I’m kind of in the middle. Rich enough to be comfortable, own my own home and have a stay-at-home spouse. Poor enough to benefit from a variety of programs easily called welfare (CHIP) and ones not as frequently called such but basically are (EITC and a variety of tax deductions).

            I see now he isn’t considering under-18 as eligible for the UBI. That leads to all sorts of other questions, but at least avoids the “have kids to get a bigger check” fear.

            EDIT: Or to be more clear: I would be a clear beneficiary if the only cost to myself is the 10% VAT (excluding any net harm to the economy). Do I receive enough other benefits to equal 24k (self+spouse)-VAT? Probably not, but I am still curious what “other welfare” includes specifically.

    • Erusian says:

      In practical terms, the options are “social democracy where taxes are used to fund various welfare programs for people who meet certain specific requirements” (i.e. the current system) and “social democracy where taxes are used to fund UBI.”

      I think this is overly generous to UBI. I think the current options are: “social democracy where taxes are used to fund various welfare programs slightly less” and “social democracy where taxes are used to fund various welfare programs slightly more” and “social democracy where taxes are used to fund various welfare programs, including a UBI” maybe.

      If you see libertarian ideals as requiring an anti-welfare stance, then being pro-almost any welfare doesn’t track. This is especially true if they accept the conservative argument that UBI will constantly grow and be hideously expensive. If I were a libertarian, I would oppose it unless there was some extremely strong form of guarantee. Maybe something like a constitutional amendment setting the exact amount and banning all other forms of welfare. Anything less is just signing up for the government to use force to take more and more money, something libertarians hate.

      Anyway, I’m not a libertarian and I’m not anti-welfare. I think specific programs are bad and that the current system creates avoidable perverse incentives. I think economic incentives get ignored in these debates a lot because it’s really the biggest challenge to the idea. If you could redistribute money without changing incentives at all, welfare loses a lot of its downsides. Of course, that’s a fantasy world.

      I instead oppose UBI because it doesn’t solve the problems it purports to solve. There’s also a fair amount of utopianism in it. Most of the advocates I see tend to veer into things like Scott Alexander’s post about liberating humanity from having to work. Which is worrying on a number of levels.

      Back when we were doing the adversarial collaborations (which my partner disappeared from), I laid out many of the policy, social, and economic ills UBI would cause and several cheaper welfare programs or welfare reforms that would do better. (In fact, I think there’s a very strong socialist and left wing argument to be made against UBI.) The problem is they’re all relatively boring and none of them lead to a utopia where people can spend all day commenting on the internet.

      • Incurian says:

        Back when we were doing the adversarial collaborations (which my partner disappeared from), I laid out many of the policy, social, and economic ills UBI would cause and several cheaper welfare programs or welfare reforms that would do better.

        Where could we read this?

        • Erusian says:

          I didn’t publish it because it felt wrong to write a long anti-UBI effortpost for what was supposed to be a balanced debate. I still have my notes and could make that effortpost if there’s interest.

          I do think there’s some value in it. In particular, I make extensive arguments that even though I agree welfare and government intervention can be good, UBI is a bad way to do it. I feel like a lot of opposition to UBI has been from the conservative sector and rolled into general opposition to welfare. And while I accept their criticisms of UBI as basically valid, I don’t oppose all welfare or even increasing welfare automatically.

          • Aapje says:

            I suggest you publish it. The balanced debate can then come from people who respond to your effortpost.

    • dick says:

      I basically agree with this, and my main takewaway from the previous UBI threads is that they were largely an argument between people who think UBI means “$30K/yr/person paid for by a massive new tax on something or other” and the people who think UBI means “$4K/yr/person, paid for by getting rid of $4k/yr/person worth of other spending”. I wish we had different terms for them but semantic hygiene is not a big focus here.

      Also I’ve only seen a couple actual proposals (like, that spell out where the money is coming from and where it’s going and on what timeline) and they were all of the second variety, and from right/libertarian-leaning sources. But a lot of the hand-wavey “What will work be like in 2060?” articles seem to be more about the first kind, and from left-leaning sources.

      • John Schilling says:

        Don’t forget the people for whom UBI means “$1K/yr/person with strings attached because once the camel gets its nose into the tent, the True UBI will inevitably follow!”

        And who are divided among themselves as to whether the True UBI is the $30K or the $4K version.

    • Clutzy says:

      The libertarian anti-UBI position is actually quite simple:

      We don’t have that level of faith in humanity. We know that the reasons welfare is weird and complicated are because people in the past didn’t have faith in humanity. We don’t like the complicated system, but we know that if you replaced it with a UBI on day 1, by day 2 all the major newspapers would be running stories about someone who spent all their UBI, and by day 15 someone would be on the front page begging for rent, or food, because they don’t have any UBI money left.

      And by day 30 they’d have a signed bill giving them food and shelter on top of the UBI.

      • albatross11 says:

        Another potential issue with UBI is that the way we currently know how to define our place in the world is with work. That’s not the only way to do it, there’s not some inherent law of nature that says that’s how it should be done, but in our society, your job often provides you with a sense of a place in the world and some meaning. To the extent UBI causes that to go away, we simply have no idea what will replace it. Art, poetry, science, math, music, open-source software–those are things that a tiny minority of people will create when freed from the constraints of work. But most people almost certainly won’t do any of those things. What will they do? Obvious guesses involve drinking, doing drugs, recreational sex, various hobbies/sports, video games, etc.

        We previously created extensive welfare programs to fix genuine ills in our society, and we did fix some of them–but we created a bunch of problems at the same time. What will happen when we replace them with UBI? That’s not obvious to me.

        One thing that seems like a substantial risk w.r.t. UBI is that once put in place on a large scale for a decade or so, it will be impossible to get rid of, even if at that point we can see lots of reasons why we’d like to end it. Imagine you have a generation of 30-year-olds of whom, say, 30% have never had any job at all, and have planned their lives around living on UBI. You now announce to them that UBI’s going away. How do they react?

    • Walter says:

      I think the key is in the ‘begrudgingly accepting of it’.

      Like, do we all agree that a UBI will turn basically instantly into welfare expansion?

      I mean, under the yang gang’s plan people get 12k unless they already get more on welfare, in which case they can keep that. So the plan gives me (rich white guy) 12k a year, and a disabled homeless person nothing. The optics on that are, uh, not great.

      So the general read on it is that this is a medical marijuana situation, and that a picosecond after Bill Gates gets a check there will be a proposal that actually working people getting money and nonworking people who already have assistance not getting money is racist, lets swap that up a bit.

      If you agree with the above, then it all falls into place. Like, libertarians aren’t approving of welfare, it is just a battle that they lost. They aren’t hypocrites for opposing a welfare expansion.

      • etheric42 says:

        In a normal UBI proposal, Bill Gates would get a check for 12k and also his tax bill would go up by 12k or more. The universal is semantics in the same way that payroll taxes are different than income taxes.

        Yang’s proposal says a VAT instead of changes to the income tax. I don’t know if Bill Gates would end up paying more than 12k/year from a 10% VAT or not to be honest.

        EDIT: Also, not all libertarians are against welfare. Different people have different definitions of what a minimally necessary state looks like.

  13. bean says:

    I’ve been on the road recently, visiting LA for the 30th anniversary of the Turret II explosion. Despite this, Naval Gazing has continued to post as usual, and here is your biweekly links roundup:

    I’ve taken a look at a few of the many chaplains who have displayed extraordinary faith in the trials of combat, specifically four who gave up their lifejackets when their ship was torpedoed.

    I haven’t previously discussed the development of the naval shell, a gap I’ve begun to rectify, with looks at shells in both the muzzle-loading era and the breech-loaders through WWI.

    My series on the Falklands War continues. After the British got ashore, they were subject to an air attack so intense that I wasn’t able to cover even the first day in my first post on it.

    One of the people I saw this weekend was Iowa’s tour lead, Jim Pobog. He gave me permission to post some of his sea stories, including one of a major mistake in the engineering spaces.

    And as always, there’s the Naval Gazing open thread.

  14. Lillian says:

    I recently came across this song, and it hit me pretty hard in the nostalgia, despite it being the first time i’d listened to it. Apparently it’s from a 2012 mobile rythm game called Cytus, which i’ve never even heard of, but it reminds me a lot of early 2000s era videogame soundtracks. There’s shades of Castlevania, Ace Combat, Star Ocean, Metal Gear Solid, and many others in there. Since a bunch of you are videogamers, i figured some of you might enjoy it as well. If you don’t have the time for the extended version, here is the original two and a half minute one.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      That was really good. I definitely picked up what you meant about MGS and Castlevania but it’s been so long since I played Star Ocean I can’t remember the music.

      Speaking of excellent music in video games, I beat Cuphead last night (for some reason I didn’t want to buy it on Xbox and it was finally released on Switch last week so I picked it up). Obviously the music and animation are phenomenal, but mainly I just wanted an excuse to mention that I beat Cuphead, so everyone will know how good I am at video games. Did I mention I beat Cuphead?

      • Nick says:

        Did I mention I beat Cuphead?

        I hear you, man. I just beat Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy a few weeks ago and I’m pretty proud of myself.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          But…why..?

          • Nick says:

            Well for one, the feeling of getting better at something that’s stupidly, unfairly difficult is very pleasant! But more importantly, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned in not giving up. In Getting Over It, as awful as the controls are, and as cruel as the map design is, you are your own worst enemy. There is no puzzle so difficult that you won’t screw it up five times more often by flailing idiotically; there is no part of the map so tedious that it won’t take longer because you ragequit and sulked; there is no cheap shot by Bennett so tasteless that you won’t learn to tune it out. If you’ve beaten the game, it’s because at some point you learned to control yourself.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I am quite disappointed that inflammation in my hands has prevented me from progressing on Sekiro…

    • Lillian says:

      The most stand out piece in Star Ocean ’till the End of Time is the battle music. Your hear it constantly, and yet it never fails to get you pumped up for the fight. However the music for exploration in dungeons and wilderness is also pretty good.

  15. Scott Alexander says:

    A beg for CSS/WordPress help:

    On my blog posts, the images are always less wide than the text. This is true even if the pixel size of the images when I upload them is really the same size as the text, or even larger than the text. The blog autoresizes them to be smaller than the text. I have screenshotted an example here, seems to mostly happen on Firefox.

    Can anyone tell me how to make this stop happening? Or if it’s complicated, I am willing to give some CSS expert access to the blog if they will help me fix it (and we can talk about price).

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      WordPress is autoscaling the images by altering the image url with ?w=557. This is a nearly impossible problem to google and I don’t know wordpress, but this doesn’t appear to be dynamically resized or anything like that – which probably means it needs a tickbox fix that’s specific to your setup. Not a CSS problem.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Thanks, that gave me the idea to search through code until I found the number “557”, and change it to a higher number, and that worked.

    • 10240 says:

      If you can’t fix it, please link the images to a full-size version. That’s a pretty standard UI arrangement, I think.

  16. Atlas says:

    What is the difference between Colonel Kurtz and Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore? Why is the latter acceptable to the army, but not the former? What does Kurtz understand about Vietnam that Kilgore doesn’t?

    • cassander says:

      Kilgore is fighting the high tech, mobile war the army wants because that’s what it thinks it needs to win the real war in europe should the time come. He conducts his airborne assaults more or less by the book, the way every colonel is supposed to, making him interchangeable with every other high flying colonel in the army, which is precisely what the brass wants. He even seems to have just the right level of eccentricity should be ever become a famous general.

      Kurtz’ argument is that the high-tech interchangeable army is counterproductive in Vietnam, because the goal isn’t killing northern soldiers, but protecting the southern civilians from them. For that, you need is long service snake eaters that would be useless against hordes of Red Army tanks. And what’s worse he’s proving he’s right by actually implementing it his methods with far more success than anything the big army did down south, this is a threat that the brass cannot abide.

      • Atlas says:

        That’s an interesting and persuasive observation, but I still think that there might have been some deeper philosophical difference between Kurtz and Kilgore that Coppola/Milius intended to convey but that I didn’t get. (Though the difference in perspective of the two might mean that if there was such an intention it got heavily muddled by the final product.)

        • cassander says:

          Very possible. I don’t know how much the writers knew or cared about internal army politics during the Vietnam war, and they probably weren’t trying to make a deep comment on bureaucratic politics in military services. But that’s what I see in the story.

    • Well... says:

      I always figured this was the point: the Army, and by extension the entire American force, should want Kurtz, and the absurdity is they choose Kilgore instead. The movie (and the Conrad story it’s based on) have a theme of two-ness: yin and yang, the civilized and the wild, lightness and darkness, truth and lies, what is naked and what is covered up. There is a certain inherent lie in civilization, in language (was it Socrates who talked about that?), in what we think of as the decent and proper thing. And there is an inherent truth in savagery, in pure action, and in “the horror”. The Army chose Kilgore over Kurtz for the same reason they flew Playboy bunnies out into the middle of the jungle to put on a show.

  17. Hoopyfreud says:

    I’ve been thinking about the ending of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – the manga, not the movie. Like a lot of works I enjoy, it’s something of an embodiment of apostasy – the connection between Miyazaki’s dissilusionment with central planning and the narrative of Nausicaa is well documented. There’s an ethical dilemma along those lines that Nausicaa is faced with at the very end, and it’s one I strongly agree with her resolution to. I wonder, though, about everyone else’s take on it.

    Spoilers for Nausicaa follow.

    Gur uhznaf bs Anhfvpnn’f jbeyq ner gur ovbratvarrerq perngvbaf bs napvrag uhznaf, whfg nf gur frn bs pbeehcgvba (gur cbvfbabhf sberfg) vf. Gung’f jul syvzfl znfxf pna xrrc gurz fnsr, jul gurl unir crphyvne jnfgvat qvfrnfrf, naq znl unir fbzrguvat gb qb jvgu gur cflpuvp cbjref fbzr bs gurz unir. Va snpg, “abezny” uhznaf pnaabg fheivir va gur chevsvrq ynaqf jvguva gur frn bs pbeehcgvba – gurve ovbybtl unf orra fb rkgrafviryl zbqvsvrq gung gurl rkvfg va n xvaq bs flzovbfvf jvgu gur pbeehcgvba. Jvgubhg vg, gurl’yy qvr, naq vs gur Frn vf nyybjrq gb crefvfg va pyrnafvat gur jbeyq, gurl’yy riraghnyyl tb rkgvapg.

    Gur Pelcg bs Fuhjn vf n qrivpr/inhyg pbagebyyrq ol na negvsvpvny vagryyvtrapr, gur Znfgre bs gur Pelcg, yrsg oruvaq ol napvrag uhznaf. Vg ubhfrf gur rzoelbf bs gung oltbar enpr va nqqvgvba gb grpuabytvpny frpergf sebz gur napvrag jbeyq. Gur Znfgre bs gur Pelcg unf n fcrpvny eryngvbafuvc jvgu gur Qbebx Rzcrebef, jub rkcybvg vgf grpuabybtl sbe zvyvgnel zvtug. Nygubhtu gur rknpg angher bs gur Pelcg vf haxabja, vg vf xabja gung gur Qbebxf unir fgenatr cbjref, naq gurersber gurve ynaqf ner n gnetrg sbe pbadhrfg. Guhf, ol funevat grpuabybtl jvgu gur Qbebxf, gur Znfgre srrqf gurve qrcraqrapr ba vg; vg cebzvfrf cebfcrevgl naq oevatf ehva (abgr gung rira vs lbh qba’g nterr jvgu guvf pbapyhfvba, guvf vf gur senzvat tvira ol Zvlnmnxv naq zber-be-yrff nqzvggrq gb ol gur Znfgre).

    Ng gur raq bs gur znatn, Anhfvpnn yrneaf nyy bs gur nobir naq pbzrf gb Fuhjn, gur ubyl pvgl bs gur Qbebxf. Univat yrnearq bs gur napvragf’ cyna naq frra (naq jrcg ng gur ornhgl bs) gur chevsvrq ynaqf jvguva gur sberfg, fur erwrpgf gurz nyy nf “fnepbzngn naq svygu.” Fur pnyyf gur napvragf’ hajvyyvatarff gb qvr “gur hygvzngr qrzbafgengvba bs gur pbagrzcg sbe yvsr.” Fur npphfrf gur Znfgre bs rasbepvat fgnfvf ba gur jbeyq, fgvsyvat punatr, naq fragrapvat uhznavgl-nf-vg-rkvfgf gb n fbeg bs unys-yvsr nf cnjaf bs gur qrnq.

    Fb, fur qrfgeblf gur pelcg. Va qbvat fb, fur pbzzvgf trabpvqr. Fur frgf uhzna xabjyrqtr naq cbjre onpx gubhfnaqf bs lrnef. Fur fgenlf sebz gur cngu naq cyhatrf gur jbeyq vagb qnexarff. Fur znl unir pbafvtarq gur uhzna enpr gb rkgvapgvba.

    V guvax fur qvq gur evtug guvat. V guvax fur qvq gur guvat gung tnir uhznavgl cbjre.

    End spoilers.

    I don’t know what power in the Nietzschean sense is. This might be surprising, because it’s one of the things I really deeply care about. I know it when I feel it, and I don’t have a problem with not being able to describe that feeling – I think that’s prefectly normal. But I’d like to understand what increases power. There’s a lot of writing out there on that front, but I suspect that in addition to the feeling of agency it might have to do with what Freud might call the death drive. To put it in the context of some of the things Scott has talked about, I think that maybe power is the anti-Fristonian impulse – the desire to create defiable expectations. To dare the universe to defy the order you impose on it. To test new hypotheses and identify new patterns. To learn to value new things – to change one’s self.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a daredevil. I don’t do stupid things just to see what happens. But I do have a weirdly intense attraction to emergent behaviors and a weirdly intense aversion to stasis. I don’t expecially like making sure bets, which is odd if my brain is supposed to be a prediction machine. I feel like there’s something here that I can’t quite wrap my head around, but I want to understand my conviction that Nausicaa was right better, and why exactly it matters to me. Because I have this niggling feeling that a lot of my personality is wrapped up in it – everything from a love of ecology and disdain of utilitarianism to a fear of immortality and nervousness about a planned economy.

    Anyway, if anyone else has thought about this or wants to psychoanalyze me, of just wants to talk about Nausicaa, I’d be happy for it.

    • Shion Arita says:

      Sorry that my comment is a little bit tangential to the post, but I got to say I’m quite pleasantly surprised at how in the nausicaa movie (I haven’t read the manga), about 90% of what is spoilered is implied well enough indirectly that one can infer it from just the content of the movie. I always thought I might have been reading too much into it, but when most of my educated guesses as to the nature of things were right, it really increases my opinion of the movie for being able to give that much information indirectly and in its short movie-length runtime.

  18. Eugene Dawn says:

    Inspired by a thread elsewhere in the comments, when (if ever) did the Simpsons go downhill, in your opinion? What was the last good season/episode? The first season/episode where you realized something was wrong? Any opinions on what caused the downfall?

    • Benji says:

      I watched a great video on the death of the Simpsons! Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqFNbCcyFkk

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        I agree with a lot of the video, but I’m not sure it captured all of my feelings on the subject. I agree that the characters became more one-dimensional, and I absolutely hate jerkass Homer, but I’m not convinced he’s an innovation of the later seasons; same for the celebrity-worship, which you can see as early as the (very good) softball episode from season 3. But somehow this episode is less offensive to me than the worst offenders from later seasons. Is there some principled reason I feel this way? Are the other features of golden-era Simpsons doing the heavy lifting here in a way that they can’t in later seasons?
        The same is true for the increasing zaniness of the show, which I think is pretty pronounced by season 4 or so, and is definitely in high gear for season 5, which seems to be the highest-rated season. Again, why does the zaniness of the monorail episode not bother me, but the zaniness of many a later-season episode does? Is it the conjunction of all of these factors together?

        One thing the video didn’t mention, which I have heard, is that increased advertising time squeezed the show to shorter lengths, leaving less room for b-plots, which were often used to great effect in the old episodes.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I will watch the rest later, but he makes major mistakes early on. The Simpsons did not lead the TV sitcom counter-culture, Roseanne was already the #1 show on TV and winning Emmy’s while Married with Children had been on for a couple of seasons.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        That video pisses me off for two reasons.

        1. It presumes Lisa is supposed to be Skeptical Atheist and not obsessed with celebrities. Very early on, Lisa was the Smart One but still a girl. She was addicted to the Corey Hotline. She was afraid of going to hell for stealing cable. She guilted Bart into studying for the test after he prayed for a snow day. Ironically, they want Lisa to be the one-dimensional caricature she was from (hand waving here) seasons 7-14, epitomized by the embarrassing Stephen Jay Gould episode.

        2. Complaining about the laugh track on Big Bang Theory and showing what it’s like if they remove it. Holy hell, this is insane.

        a. Of course it’s weird if you remove the laugh track. It was filmed with that in mind. Take the music out of Tom Cruise’s scene in Risky Business https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFg4N_rYixk and of course it’s weird. Imagine over the next 15 years people decide that movies shouldn’t have background music, and afterwards people “prove” it’s a good idea by taking current movies and removing the background music. Of course it will be weird! They were filmed with that in mind.

        b. It’s not just criticizing BBT, but also nearly every critically-acclaimed sitcom over 10 years old. Cheers, Seinfeld, All in the Family, Friends, Three’s Company, Cosby, Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H. Get off my lawn! laughter

        (Caveat: I watched that video two years ago and I didn’t want to lose a second half-hour of my life rewatching it just now.)

        • eyeballfrog says:

          The “mute the laughtrack and see what happens” videos annoy me because I’m genuinely curious what the shows would be like without the laugh track, but without editing out the pauses it’s pointless.

          • AG says:

            Given that laugh tracks are excerpted from the live reactions to I Love Lucy, it would be fascinating to see what the old live sitcoms would be like with the audience reactions edited out.

            The transition period of live comedy acts going to film might be a clue, how the rhythms of the Marx Brothers might have evolved, or the differences in timing between a (successful) live SNL skit and a digital short.

            But, basically, the laugh track is replaced by reaction shots (including the person who delivered the gag kind of reacting to their own joke, a la Groucho smirking after delivering a line of snark). You could convert The Good Place into a laugh track sitcom by removing the reaction shots to any particular gag with pauses + laugh track.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It was best when it was vignettes on the Tracy Ullman Show.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        Is there anything in particular you don’t like about the transition to full-length episodes?

        • The Nybbler says:

          No, I’m just grumpy. I haven’t seen the show in probably 10 years and don’t really remember when it started going down hill.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I am just a little too young to have caught the Ullman shorts when they came out, but I watched them for the first time about a decade ago when I got back into the Simpsons out of nostalgia, and they really are delightful.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      First signs of trouble: 8×23 “Homer’s Enemy” and 9×2 “The Principal and the Pauper”
      Last good “season”: Season 9
      Last episode I quote from and thought was somewhat funny: 11×5 “E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)”
      The one/two punch that convinced me it was never gonna be good again: 11×13 “Saddlesore Galactica” and 11×19 “Kill the Alligator and Run”
      Should have been the finale: 11×22 “Behind the Laughter”

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        I hated Saddlesore Galactica and Kill the Alligator when they came out! However, the first one that I really noticed a decline was…E-I-E-I (Annoyed Grunt). On the other hand, I’ve rewatched all of those episodes recently, and the first two really are atrocious, and the last is at least tolerable (the Zorro movie is pretty funny, if nothing else).

      • j1000000 says:

        I agree exactly — 9 is the last season and 10 is the start of the not-nearly-as-good-but-still-watchable era.

        This is a Simpsons shower thought I’ve had though: comedy ages quickly and poorly, so maybe in some bizarre twist, by staying on the air so long, today’s abysmal episodes are in some objective sense funnier than season 5 episodes. It’s like that thing where if a father could get in spaceship traveling at the speed of light for decades when he came back to Earth he would be younger than the son. Or however that goes.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          comedy ages quickly and poorly, so maybe in some bizarre twist, by staying on the air so long, today’s abysmal episodes are in some objective sense funnier than season 5 episodes.

          I agree in the sense that early Simpsons really is a product of its time, but comparing season 4 to season 11 (the last season with which I’m familiar), 4 is so much better. I don’t know the new episodes, and I’m sure my opinion is tainted by nostalgia, but I really can’t imagine the old stuff is worse.

          Comedy doesn’t age that terribly, after all: I still think old Monty Python stuff is funny.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Homer started doing this sort of sing-songy vocal pattern associated with a certain structure of lame joke on the show. To me it’s the clearest departure from the original Homer character. Here’s an example from the Grimes episode. Grimes sees the photo of Homer in space and yells about it, and Homer says “Sure. You’ve never been?”:

        https://youtu.be/LabsMfuvhkw?t=147

        That’s probably not going to make sense but its the only way I can explain it.

    • Well... says:

      I remember it being really funny (e.g. the one where they outlaw booze), then it sucked (e.g. the ones where they seemed to rely really heavily on cameos…I remember one in particular with Tony Hawk that was horrible), then I watched some more recent episodes from maybe the last 5 seasons and it was really funny again although not quite as funny as it once was.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        Season 8 is the prohibition one, and the cameos really start to get heavy-handed in around season 10 (the Tony Hawk one is season 14), so you seem to roughly align with the consensus that 8 or 9 is the tipping point.

    • proyas says:

      I thought Season 6 was the last funny one. The dropoff in quality starting in Season 7 was very sharp.

      I haven’t watched a Simpsons episode in over ten years and don’t plan on changing that.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        Interesting, I don’t know anyone else who thinks there’s a big drop between 6 and 7, and so far as I know the writers stayed mostly the same; I think the showrunners too?

        What do you like about 6 that you don’t like about 7? Or, what are some good season 6 episodes and some bad season 7s?

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          I’m wrong about the showrunners; I thought Oakley and Weinstein started in 7 not 6.

    • sorrento says:

      I kept watching until about season 13. I remember thinking it was good up to at least 10, maybe 11.

      They just started getting lazier about the plots, and even reusing a lot of plot hooks. And then, they had clips shows, which were even lazier (I don’t remember when this started exactly…)

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        The first clip show is in Season 4, and is actually pretty funny in my opinion. But I agree the show got much lazier as it went on.

    • meh says:

      https://simpsons.fandom.com/wiki/Conan_O%27Brien

      [Conan] left The Simpsons in 1993 to host Late Night With Conan O’Brien

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        Interesting…Conan left I think around the same time Sam Simon did, and a few other writers too (Jon Vitti, maybe?), and I think there is definitely a shift in tone from Season 4 to Season 5.

        On the other hand, Conan is only fully credited for I think 3 episodes: Monorail, All-You-Can-Eat seafood restaurant, and Homer goes to college. Presumably his leaving the writers’ room had an effect on episodes that he isn’t credited as full author for, but do you think his absence is that detectable from later seasons?

        • meh says:

          Maybe not pin it all on Conan, but the group of writers in general. The golden years Simpsons are (imo) better than anything else out there, but you look at what happened to the show, and it seems like Matt Groening does not really deserve much credit. Compare it to South Park that has been able to make great seasons decades after it first aired. (yes some years can be bad, but there was no sense that they had fundamentally shifted and would never be able to make a great season again) (this is from the perspective of the last 7 or so years.. i think maybe now they finally have thrown in the towel)

    • LadyJane says:

      As someone else mentioned, the Frank Grimes episode in Season 8 was probably the earliest warning sign, it was a lot darker than usual and the ending made me uncomfortable. The Season 9 episode where Principal Skinner was revealed to be an impostor was another one that just felt wrong, even as a pre-teen I thought the premise was too ridiculous and contrived for the show.

      I’d say the death of Maude Flanders in Season 11 was the most notable turning point, though. After that, the show just wasn’t the same. It took on a subtly bleaker tone, it didn’t have the heart that it used to. The other major turning point was the Season 11 finale, where Troy McClure hosts a documentary portraying the Simpsons as actors in a sitcom. That was the episode where it became clear that even the show’s style of humor had changed. Instead of jokes driven by the characters and their interactions, we got jokes that simply used the characters as interchangeable mouthpieces. In short, The Simpsons had become a knock-off of Family Guy (which is rather ironic, since Family Guy originally started as a knock-off of The Simpsons).

      But for me personally, the moment where I really stopped liking the show was the Season 13 episode where Moe gets his bar turned into a posh hipster nightclub. There was nothing particularly wrong with the concept or the plot or even the jokes, everything just felt off. There was more crude humor based around sex and violence (there was a gag where Homer gets his thumb cut off trying to imitate The Fonz), the characters felt less real and more like either one-dimensional stereotypes or zero-dimensional joke props. It was the first episode of Season 13 that I saw, so that might be why it sticks out in my memory despite being a fairly unmemorable episode; it was the first time I was exposed to the show’s new style of humor. I stopped watching shortly after that.

    • Incurian says:

      I have not gone back to watch them all to confirm, but I remember as a kid thinking s10e10, Viva Ned Flanders, where Homer takes Ned to Vegas and they both marry waitresses, was not very good. Up until that point I don’t think I had identified any episodes I didn’t like.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        I also hated this one when it came out, and was shocked to discover it was written by David Stern who’d written some great episodes in Seasons 2-4, including Kamp Krusty.

        I think this and a few other examples make it clear that it can’t just have been a change in writers, since even great writers produced some real dreck in the later seasons.

  19. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Some banking tips I have learned from experience, that I wish someone had told me when I was 18:

    1. Keep several thousand dollars in your checking account (if you don’t have several thousand dollars in the bank, keep ALL of your money on your checking account except the minimum the bank forces you to keep on a savings account). Avoiding the hassle of constantly transferring money from your savings accounts to your checking account to cover expenses (and, more to the point, avoiding the fees you will get nailed with when you inevitable mess up) is TOTALLY worth the pitiful interest you get from keeping a few thousand dollars on your savings account.

    2. Never, ever, sign up for overdraft protection. Much better to have a payment declined at the supermarket and to have leave your purchases and figure out what’s going on than to have the bank charge you $35 for the service of moving a small amount money from your savings account to your checking account to cover the expense (especially since you won’t even realize this has happened for a while, so you will probably go out and use your card again and overdraft your account again and get hit with another $35 fee). If you currently have overdraft protection, log into your account right now and opt out. It’s nothing but a scam.

    3. Join a credit union instead of a bank. They tend to have smaller fees (for things like overdrafts) or no fees (for things like setting up an account).

    • The Nybbler says:

      If you can get free overdraft protection (transfer from savings), the first two are no longer a problem. Though savings accounts still have terrible interest.

      If you’re reasonably financially responsible, you can avoid the overdraft issue by using credit cards instead of debit whenever possible. Then you can keep money in any reasonably liquid account (e.g. a money market paying slightly less measly interest) and avoid overdraft by transferring the money to checking before scheduling the bill payment (or paying directly from the other account, if possible). Doing this is the exact opposite of conventional advice, and will burn you severely if you’re not the right kind of person to benefit from it.

    • zoozoc says:

      For #3, an online bank can be an alternative to a credit union. They usually have quite decent interest rates on their savings accounts (currently 2.2% for Ally). Of course you will not have access to a physical branch.

      #4, if you plan on buying a house anytime soon, get a credit card and use it for routine/normal purchases (to build a credit history), but ALWAYS pay everything off. If you do not have the self-control to pay everything off, then you shouldn’t use one. Not sure how to build a credit history without a credit card though (student loans?).

      • dodrian says:

        Put a few recurring, predictable monthly bills on a credit card (cell phone, Netflix, etc). Set up autopay. Cut up physical card.

    • brad says:

      If you are making good money and have student loans, consider First Republic. They refi’ed my student loans at a considerably better rate than the SoFi-s of the world were offering.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Note that First Republic requires you to deposit and hold a balance of at least $5000 and will not allow you to refinance with them if you’re not in California, Portland, New York, Palm Beach, Jackson, or Boston.

        Yes, I’m bitter.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      A better life hack: never have a savings account; they’re pointless.

      Keep the amount you mentioned (scaled for your expenses; I leave about 6-8 weeks there) in your checking and autodraw the rest to actual investments (vanguard index funds or similar; I use betterment.)

      • Doctor Mist says:

        There are banks — I think Wells Fargo is one — that give you free checking if you open a savings account, even if the savings account has only a token amount. Otherwise I agree that a savings account is pretty pointless.

        • toastengineer says:

          Most internet banks give you free checking with interest – better interest than physical banks, too.

          • The Nybbler says:

            However, when I need large numbers of green pieces of paper or a cashier’s check, the Internet banks aren’t as useful.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Most internet banks give you free checking with interest

            That’s true. My experience with the phenomenon is about ten years old and predates the big wave of internet banks. I was ostly offering an explanation of why jaimeastorga2000 might have been in that position.

      • zoozoc says:

        It can be “pointless” to have a savings account if you are in a brick-and-mortar bank. But it is definitely not pointless to have a 2-3 months’ worth of money available on hand for emergencies or big cost items. You definitely do not want to find yourself having to withdraw money from your investment account during a recession.

    • A1987dM says:

      I just timed myself transferring €1 from my savings account to my checking account and back using my smartphone. It took me 31 seconds.

    • Mustard Tiger says:

      If you use a credit card, set it up to auto-pay the minimum payment every month from your bank. Still go in and make the full payment before the due date to avoid interest, but in case you forget, at least you won’t be hit with a late fee and a late payment mark on your credit report.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Nearly every credit card does e-billing and you can either set up your bank to push out the amount necessary to pay off the bill, or set your credit card to pull the amount out of your account to pay off the bill. This lets you maintain the interest-free float.

        • Mustard Tiger says:

          You’re right. My fear is that I would be super irresponsible and put more on my credit card than I had in the linked checking account and also forget to transfer from my savings to checking in time to cover the scheduled debit. If I did that and had it set up to pay the full balance, I’d overdraw my checking. So for me, the minimum payment auto-debit and just stopping to manually pay the entire month’s balance when I get the “your payment is due in 10 days” text seemed like an appropriate compromise.

          It also forces (or at least gives me the opportunity) to look at the CC balance and statement before paying it in full, in case there’s been any shenanigans (fraud).

  20. tayfie says:

    Hello everyone:

    To anyone who was interested in a regular Dallas meetup, we are working to put another one together in mid-May. Please email tayfie@pm.me and I will send the link to a poll to figure out what times work for the most people.

    We have a Discord now for more casual chats: https://discord.gg/SSH5PU

  21. Benji says:

    Hi, I’m very new to SSC but I’ve been really enjoying reading for the past few months. I have a thought experiment which I think the community would very much enjoy. It has taken up quite a bit of my own time since I came up with it. Here’s the gist:

    The problem of sorting a list of integers is ubiquitous in intro programming lessons, and there is an incredibly deep field dedicated to optimizing the efficiency of sorting. What has been ignored almost completely is the study of inefficient sorting. As a lark, I tried writing algorithms which are fully functional, but very very inefficient. To my delight I was able to rapidly come up with a number of algorithms which had never been published before, and maybe never discovered.

    Even more surprising is the great deal of depth and nuance that is required to think of real ‘slow’ algorithms. If there’s any interest, here’s a link to more detail.

    There are a lot of reasons why pessimal sorting has a great deal of room to grow, particularly as a subset of thought exploring the utility of ‘worst case’. I’m very excited to hear any thoughts you might have.

    • tossrock says:

      You may be interested in this paper by Lerma on the topic, this blog post with badsort /worstsort implementations, or this HN discussion of said blog post.

    • Nornagest says:

      My favorite badsort implementation goes like this: first mine some Bitcoin, then use the Bitcoin to pay a human on Mechanical Turk to sort your input.

      • Benji says:

        This is definitely conventionally slow, but technically you only need to repeat the process once, giving a big O efficiency of O(1) no matter how big your list, so you could argue this is a very efficient algorithm.

        • Nornagest says:

          Only if the amount of Bitcoin you have to pay the poor schmuck on MTurk is constant in your input, which doesn’t seem very likely. And then it’ll take said schmuck some amount of time to actually do it. So it’s really more like O(probably N) or O(?), whichever is higher. Worst case is the guy takes your money and runs, which I’m not sure how you’d express in big-O.

          • sharper13 says:

            You actually typically two to three people to sort your input on MT in parallel, so that you can do error-correction and only pay those who get the output correct. (Start with three for new sorters, then once you have sorters with a track record, you can shrink it down to two for a reliable/unreliable comparison.)

    • sty_silver says:

      The obvious way would be to brute force all possible orders, right? That gives O(n!) average case but unfortunately O(n) best case.

      • Benji says:

        A bit worse is Bogosort, which has O((n+1)!) even for an already sorted list if you shuffle before checking the sort. My dream is to come up with a technique even less efficient. My logic is that deliberately poor decision making seems to be worse than guessing. This is really just a hunch.

        • sty_silver says:

          What about, enumerate all Turing machines. Run the first for one step, then the first two for two steps, then the first three for three steps etc. until one outputs the sorted list

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’m a fan of Sleep Sort due to its out-of-the-box thinking.

      • Don P. says:

        I’d say Sleep Sort comes down to farming your sorting problem out to whatever code in your OS sorts sleeping tasks by wakeup time. Having said that, the spirit of the problem doesn’t seem to allow for anything at all being out of bounds, so…

    • J says:

      My favorite is stack(overflow) sort: https://gkoberger.github.io/stacksort/

    • dodrian says:

      Pi sort. Generate digits of pi while checking if the digits make up an item in your list, and if the next digits make up another item, and if those items are in order, etc etc until you find a sequence that matches.

      This only works if pi is known to contain all sequences of all numbers – I’m not sure if that’s proven or not. If not, I’m sure there is a calculable number where that is true.

      • helloo says:

        Pi does contain all possible sequences of positive numbers in its decimal representation.

        However, checking the digits of pi might make it ambiguous and possibly never reach a sort.
        For example, if your list consists of (11,1) and it checks in order, then it’ll never complete.
        Easiest way I can think of to correct it (which might not be the “right” way given the nature of the solutions) is to first change the base of pi into the # of elements in that set and simply check on its position in the list.

        One hugely inefficient sub-method I thought of while writing this that uses pi is as follows:
        For the comparison of whether a number is greater than another, instead of the “normal” method to see if their difference is >0, while generating digits of pi, keep a count of the length of repeated 9s (so for the first few digits will be 00000100…), see if it equals A or B first.

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          > Pi does contain all possible sequences of positive numbers in its decimal representation.

          This is widely believed to be true, but unproven.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      James Sort. Named for an old boss who would complain about things but not fix them.

      James Sort checks if the list is sorted. If not, it sighs very loudly, waits a few minutes, and then starts over. Because maybe someone came by in the mean time to sort the list.

    • fion says:

      xkcd made some jokes along these lines

  22. Scott Alexander says:

    What do people think of a system where commenters who don’t like the civility rules could opt-in to a no-civility regimen by eg putting a red N somewhere on their avatars? Then everyone with a red N could be as uncivil as they wanted to other red-N commenters and I wouldn’t ban them. Good idea or bad idea?

    • Nornagest says:

      I don’t like it. People being jerks to other people in my sight isn’t as bad as people being jerks to me, but it’s still pretty aversive.

      If you wanted to create a subreddit or set of threads or something for Slate Star Thunderdome, which I could just ignore, that would be okay. But I gotta say there’s nothing stopping anyone here from just going ahead and doing that, if there was a serious demand for it.

    • John Schilling says:

      That would I think create an environment that potential new contributors would see as unpleasant and unworthy of their attention, unless they themselves wanted to be part of the uncivil group.

    • Ketil says:

      I there actually a lot of opposition to being civil? Usually, the difficulty seems to be to accurately delineate tabooed topics and culture war material from the generally acceptable stuff.

    • savebandit says:

      As someone who routinely says they would like people to be nice to me, but who doesn’t actually change my behavior unless people are a bit forceful/mean about their criticism, I’m all for it. I hate overly-sanitized civility rules. People like me need an emotional push to learn. Plus it’s hard to learn how passionate people are about a topic when they have to hide their emotion to fit civility rules.

      • noyann says:

        Can’t they be passionate without being rude or mean? It works in other areas of life… or so I’m told.

        @Scott:
        Allowed no-civility will bleed into the general mood and sooner or later affect everybodies temper. Just like the general spirit at a party ‘tunes’ every guest a little. A complete show/hide protocol for non-civility debaters will not help (and be like a hidden thread within an open thread).

        • savebandit says:

          I haven’t ever seen that work. My experience has been that the “you can be passionate without being angry” people really mean that you can be passionate about being happy, or sorrowful, which is unhelpful when you’re angry. But when you’re angry, you are limited to some polite, dry phrasing about how that makes you feel upset and would it be too much to ask to have a dialogue? Or something else robotic and dry.

          Meanness has stuck around because it’s dead useful. Most people don’t respond well to nice, polite requests (me included). Although there are plenty of people who think they respond well to nice, polite requests.

          • Well... says:

            Meanness is useful for getting people to steer clear of you. Sometimes it’s also useful in scarring a message into someone (e.g. like what drill sergeants do, and sometimes thesis advisers). But in a place where the whole point is to interact and exchange ideas, it’s just poison.

            My experience has been that when people are mean it doesn’t convey passion, it just conveys an inability to separate their egos from the things that they’re passionate about. Not being mean has nothing to do with stifling emotion and everything to do with actually wanting to talk about stuff with other people. When you look for effective ways to exchange ideas about things you’re passionate about, you find that meanness gets in the way.

          • savebandit says:

            Are/were you in academia? I get the bit about drill sergeants, but thesis advisors? They’re some kind of general exception to the rule of not using meanness to scar a message into someone?

            I mean, if we asked a Subway store manager and they said “Sometimes it’s also useful in scarring a message into someone (e.g. like what drill sergeants do, and sometimes Subway regional managers).” it would seem that’s just another way of saying meanness is useful. Everyone is going to find their own special case where meanness is useful in their own discipline.

    • Plumber says:

      @Scott Alexander,
      I think a more general tone of incivility would result not just among the “Red-N’s” (why N?) as people would just go by overall tone without noticing who was responding to whom.

      I’m not opposed to an experiment on those lines though, maybe corralled to a limited number of threads.

      • noyann says:

        Are you sure the commentariat can recover gracefully?

        • Plumber says:

          @noyann,
          I expect few to actually sign up to be “Red-N”, though it would be amusing to have annual Purge/Thunderdome threads, but yeah it’s probably wise not to risk it..

          But what if uncivil posts had to rhyme?

          • My gnome on WoW for quite some time
            Only spoke in lines that rhyme

            But I have no particular desire to be uncivil.

          • Well... says:

            Forced rhyming (with consistent meter, of course) actually wouldn’t be a bad compromise.

            Alternatively, there could be a rule where you can be as uncivil as you want so long as ye formulate thy arrrrrguments in a ridiculous pirate accent or some such thing.

          • noyann says:

            Anything could work that interrupts the ‘hammer it in – hit send’ sequence to force a costly edit.

            Having to sublimate anger into aesthetics, that promises subthreads with the grit of a Shakespearean play. For such a rule, I herewith propose the name “Deiseach rule”.

          • sharper13 says:

            @Well…

            I’m pretty sure that’d be easy to automate.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sometimes I do really want to yell at people but I don’t think that’s a habit that should be encouraged for me, so no.

      In fact, I got banned for doing something very like this way back and yeah, probably not a good idea to give me an excuse to get into the pig-sty and start wallowing in the mud!

      EDIT: In fact fact, didn’t I pick up a couple of bans for yelling and shouting? So to quote Evelyn Waugh, if this is what I’m like with religion, imagine what I’d be like without it. Slate Star Thunderdome (thanks for the name, Nornagest) might work for others but it would be disastrous for me.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      Has anyone been agitating for less civility? If not, I don’t think it’s worth it. If you like the civility rules, well, it’s your blog, and you should only consider changing them if a significant proportion of commenters seem to want them changed. If they don’t, it feels to me like fixing what ain’t broken.

    • AG says:

      Only if the default view of the comment section hides all content by red-N commenters. You must opt-in to making red-N comments visible, and this must be done each visit to any comment section, including by red-N commenters themselves.

      • Jefferson says:

        I like the idea of choosing the visibility of such comments, so conditional on the policy being implemented, +1 to that

        • Incurian says:

          Same, except I think you should be forced to pre-commit to an option, with a long cool down timer to change your mind, and you can only see what’s been written after your opt-in date. Also, visible references to invisible posts are forbidden.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Bad idea. I don´t feel there is a shortage of uncivil discussion spaces on the web; quite the opposite.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        Civil discussion of contentious issues is hard, but it’s also very much worthwhile.

    • broblawsky says:

      The comments section will end up filthy with Nazis within days. I will stake actual money on this.

      • Well... says:

        “Where are those filthy Jews hiding?” asked Tom, who did not see.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Oh, that’s truly lovely.

        • broblawsky says:

          I honestly think that this site, as well as the rationalist community as a whole, is best served by keeping the worst elements of the internet out, regardless of whether or not they claim to be part of the community.

    • Jiro says:

      That may end up being like making an asylum full of mental patients and political dissidents, with both of those classified into the same category, unless you’re very careful not to lump together things that are too different into “civility”.

      It’s also tempting to say “well, since the people who do X could always put the scarlet letter in their avatar, I don’t need to be so charitable in convicting people of and punishing X”. That’s the real danger of such a thing, and as a human, you are as subject to this as anyone else.

    • yodelyak says:

      I do not support this.

      I like the quip, “how you do anything, is how you do everything.” It points at an important truth, even if it is obviously not true if taken as a literal fact. (I take pride in working “past completion” in some settings, such as generating options or building relationships, but I don’t work “past completion” when loading the dishwasher.)

      The truth is that my behavior online is close to unitary. It’s not that I can’t identify style differences between posts I make under my name on my social media wall, versus under a penname on a forum like this one, but the difference between me-in-one-setting and me-in-another-setting is *smaller* than the difference between me-in-any-setting and another person-in-any-setting. I expect that close-to-unitary-ness-of-online-behavior is true for most other people as well, even the ones whose online behavior is much different than mine. My opinion is that the thing you should aim to achieve in setting rules for this setting is to make it a place where it will be personally rewarding for people you think have true/useful things to say to go ahead and put in the effort to say those true/useful things here, rather than saying them elsewhere or not at all.

      I think an imprecise “I know it when I see it” but absolute floor for “true, nice, necessary” is an elegant and time-honored way to police a conversational space. I think it is not improved by allowing some to opt out of being treated nicely, or having to be nice to some people. Crocker’s rules have great application in acute use, particularly when talented workers seek feedback on their work in an objective STEM-type arena for achievement. Someone else wrote more and better on this point here. To my mind, “acute feedback about objective achievement” is about the exact opposite of what SSC conversation is/does. We’re much more in the vein of monkeys hanging out socially while patting ourselves on the back for “contributing” to a “conversation.” The dominant problems are the things on display in this CollegeHumor video imagining a business meeting proceeding like an online chat, and the dominant solutions are things like stable userIDs and the slow accumulation of informal status for regular, high-value commenters who listen, interact, ask good questions, etc.–not just dunk on outgroups or etc. An option to use “Ns” to import Crocker’s rules wholesale, on an ongoing basis, doesn’t make sense for what goes on here.

    • rahien.din says:

      Bad idea. There’s no way you could hope to police yet another valiant epicycle of courtesy enforcement.

      We do want some incivility. For one, there are some among us who make exceptional points uncivilly. For two, rationality is, in an important sense, licensed incivility.

    • Well... says:

      At first I was opposed, but someone upthread suggested all uncivil commenters should be compelled to rhyme. Take it a step further: they should be compelled to only write in limmericks. Given this requirement, I would enthusiastically support the idea.

      • Plumber says:

        @Well…
        There was an SSC’er
        whose posts kept getting meaner
        who was sad to find
        that no points they had in mind
        could get past the thread cleaner

        • Well... says:

          Certain topics were first proscribed
          So the comments could be civilized
          From those marked with an “N”
          They oozed forth again
          At least the markless remained unsurprised

      • Deiseach says:

        On a site with the new Scarlet Letter
        ‘Twas hoped it would make discourse better
        But we’re chagrined to find
        Some folks are unkind
        If civility is made their debtor

      • AG says:

        Pineapple pizza
        Is a perfectly fine pie
        That’s right I said it

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        Change! Change! O form of man,
        Free the prince forever damned!
        Free the might from fleshy mire,
        Boil the blood in heart of fire!
        Gone, gone the form of man —
        Rise the Demon — Etrigan!

        • Ventrue Capital says:

          I knew the bride when she used to do the pony,
          I knew the bride when she used to do the stroll.
          I knew the bride when she used to want to party,
          I knew the bride when she used to rock and roll.

      • Incurian says:

        I move that this rule (and similar rules in the same sprit) be informally adopted by the commentariat regardless of official status.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Unless we’re about to have an extreme new definition of “civility”, complete with bans for non-compliance, I’m against it. I don’t want to read people being nasty to each other.

      If we must do something like this, we probably also need to make seeing the uncivil posts opt-in – or at worst, opt-out. And, unfortunately, also replies to them, so as to keep threads coherent. I don’t see this working well.

    • Eternaltraveler says:

      I support Crocker’s rules, and think in that form it can work well.

      Run an experiment in an open thread or three and see if the doom fortold comes to pass and abort if so. I suspect it won’t.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      I’m not a fan.

      You’re basically just taking another forum where everyone is nasty to each other (of which we already have plenty), and throwing it on top of this one. If you don’t hide red-N posts it’ll make the forum feel hostile even if those posts are never targeted to a non-red-N poster. If you do hide red-N posts, why is this system even here, as opposed to those red-N posters making their nasty posts elsewhere?

      In addition, I worry that this will be used as an opportunity to redefine what “uncivil” means and in doing so detract from the value of the existing comment section.

    • Nick says:

      I don’t like it. We don’t need another excuse to be nasty to each other, we’d have endless trouble making sure newcomers know how it works, the community would inevitably be tarred with its worst excesses (which would surely be worse than our current worst excesses), and if you want something like this you can always have it elsewhere, like a regular reddit thread or something.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I don’t think it would work mingled in with the normal comments. You’d have to construct a dungeon instead where the noncivil get banished to, and the model citizens visit only by choice.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      One of the things I like about SSC is it forces me to be civil, or corrects my incivility when I don’t even realize I’m being uncivil. Civility is a feature of SSC, not a bug.

    • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

      Wouldn’t that kill the true/nice/necessary principle that helped shape this community, as stated elsewhere in the thread?
      I’d also be very curious to hear about the thoughts that lead to you considering this modification!

      • brad says:

        A slightly aggressive but I think fair summary:

        Scott (and others here) have an ideological commitment to having an open forum. At the same time Scott (and others here) (and 99.9+% of all human being) have a negative reaction to certain kinds of speech.

        How to square this circle? The first pass method was to define a certain set of aesthetic preferences regarding what is bothersome as “uncivil” and saying that kind of speech doesn’t count when looking at whether a forum is open or not. But Scott is a bright guy that has an unusually strong drive to intellectual consistency so this fudge is not entirely satisfactory to him. And so here we are.

        (I’m leaving to the side the issue of speech that it is feared will bring external consequences. That’s orthogonal.)

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Scott (and others here) have an ideological commitment to having an open forum. At the same time Scott (and others here) […] have a negative reaction to certain kinds of speech. How to square this circle?

          Well, I guess the first task would be to enumerate all the reasons we’ve seen for some sort of speech being considered uncivil, or otherwise unwanted enough to warrant censorship. OTTOMH (and leaving out “clear and present danger” speech):

          * Topic T drowns out every other topic, making the site appear boring or skewed to anyone who likes other topics, too.

          * Position P attracts too many people who misunderstand the free speech principle, conclude the site host advocates P, and then make the site host’s life difficult.

          * Position P moves the Overton window more than can be offset by whoever’s arguing the other side that day.

          * Comment C is one or less of true, necessary, and kind.

          Is there any other speech that’s considered censorable?

          • brad says:

            P1 is what I’m leaving to one side. There were a few exceptions, but I recall nearly everyone agreeing or at least understanding Scott’s play there.

            As for the rest, I don’t think T, P2 and C are sufficient to span the entire space of reasons anyone might want to censor. I’m also not sure what a richer (or any) taxonomy will get us.

  23. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Every once in a while, I remember that there are works from before World War II still under copyright and I am filled with shock and outrage.

    I’m not against copyright. In fact, I think copyright is an absolutely genius invention. If everyone can use your ideas once you publish them, how do you incentive the production of intellectual property? The standard response from copyright abolitionists is either “you don’t, people will create for the joy of creating and maybe get a few bucks on patreon/kickstarter” (which, okay, you might get a few books that way but no full-time authors and definitely no blockbuster movies or AAA games with $BIGNUM budgets) or “the government should compensate people for creating works”, which, no, bro, have you ever seen what government funded art looks like? It’s stupid and ugly and a perfect example of what Scott talked about here.

    Copyright solves the problem of privatizing ideas by granting the originator a time-limited monopoly. It works pretty well; if you write a book that doesn’t sell, you don’t get any money, and if you write a book that lots of people want to buy, you get lots of money, and since “something people want to pay for” is a pretty good proxy for “something that produces value”, copyright allows a decentralized market to reward valuable intellectual work and ignore valueless work without bureaucrats deciding how much value to assign each work, a process that would undoubtedly be subject to subversion and capture.

    The problem is simply that the length of copyright has been extended far past the point where it fulfills this purpose by a small number of powerful rent-seekers, most notably Disney. That this is the case is particularly obvious from retroactive copyright extensions, since you cannot possible incentivize the creation of works that have already been created. The optimal length of time for copyright is probably something like 10 years from the date of publication; no studio is going to invest money to make a work that it doesn’t anticipate will make profit within a decade. GRRM doesn’t get paid for the first season of Game of Thrones because it premiered in 2011 and he published A Game of Thrones in 1996? Boo fucking hoo.

    Instead, copyright is 95 years for work for hire, and 70 years after the death of creator for single-author works like books, which is an abomination.

    (Does a thread on copyright count as culture war? I hope not.)

    • If everyone can use your ideas once you publish them, how do you incentive the production of intellectual property?

      Copyright does not protect ideas. Everyone can use your ideas once you publish them. What other people cannot do, without violating your copyright, is copy your expression of those ideas.

      Patent protects ideas.

      • The Nybbler says:

        In theory, copyright does not protect ideas. In practice, things like copyrights on characters and settings mean it does.

        In theory, patent does not protect ideas either; it protects inventions. In practice, patent law has been expanded so much that you can make a claim like “An invention which implements IDEA”, and it covers ANY invention which implements IDEA.

        • John Schilling says:

          In theory, copyright does not protect ideas. In practice, things like copyrights on characters and settings mean it does.

          I think you are using “idea” in a manner fundamentally different than the rest of us. By the time you get to specific characters and settings, you are talking about implementation rather than idea, and implementation absolutely is and ought to be protected.

          “Bespectacled English schoolboy with an abusive home life is secretly possessed of great magical power, prophesied to be the focal point of a great battle between Good and Evil, and so recruited into a magical world that secretly coexists with mundane England”, is an idea. At least two authors have independently created successful fantasy series based on that idea, and copyright won’t stop you from joining their ranks.

          Having the magical world be focused on the classical archetype of an English boarding school with a Gandalfesqe headmaster, a big kindly groundskeeper, and a mysteriously dark teacher of dark magics, having the schoolboy’s best friends be a loyal but inept boy from a large magical family and a nerdy genius girl from the mundane world, the forces of Evil lead by a Dark Wizard who tried and failed to kill the schoolboy hero as an infant and hasn’t been seen since, is not an “idea”. That’s an implementation, even if you don’t actually use the same names.

          And if someone’s objective in doing something like that is that Harry Potter fans will be able to join in this continuation of the story without their having to learn or the new author having to create detailed characters and setting, then they absolutely don’t get to claim that all they want to borrow is an “idea”.

          • Deiseach says:

            I agree about the big corporations being able to stretch out copyright forever and a day, but on the other hand – suppose Mickey Mouse was out of copyright this minute. And suppose someone made porn of the character (yeah, I know: Rule 34) but let’s say someone made T-shirts with Mickey and Minnie, um, makin’ bacon.

            There would be a ton of outrage from parents about Disney allowing this filth to be seen by their innocent little kids, and it would do Disney no good to explain “This isn’t us, this is a completely different company, and we can’t do anything about it because the characters are free to use”. Right now this doesn’t happen (much or in volume) because Disney can sic the lawyers onto anyone trying it, so there’s something to be said for “if you’re going to get the blame or be held responsible anyway, you might as well have the control”.

            On the other hand, I do see the argument that “you’ve already made your millions off this, now you’re just being greedy”. I think a 10 year copyright would be too little, though; there should be an intermediate ground between “you have a decade to make your money and too bad if the book becomes a hit after that time” and “you can keep pushing out the expiration date forever to squeeze more blood out of the turnip”: it’s one thing to strike it rich with something like Harry Potter (and even that took a lot of selling it around for Rowling before Bloomsbury picked it up, and Bloomsbury are not Ye Olde Titanicke Publishing House either, or at least not before the Potter series meant they were driving tipper trucks full of cash to the bank) and you could argue “okay, you have made a fortune after a decade, that’s enough” but then again – nobody really knows what’s going to be a huge hit beforehand (I’m sure the eight other publishers that refused the first Harry Potter book were quietly sobbing into large glasses of hard liquor when it took off), and what about the author who has a mild success and the book(s) mean a steady trickle, not flood, of income over the years? Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings during the Second World War but only began to see any real money during the 60s when the American paperbacks started selling (and again, he and his publishers had to battle with a pirate edition put out by Ace Books where he didn’t receive a penny while trying to get an authorised version through Ballantine Books as fast as possible):

            From a letter of 1962

            [Tolkien’s aunt appears to have suggested that she return a cheque he had sent her, so that the money could be spent on buying a wheelchair for Tolkien’s wife Edith, who was suffering from arthritis.]

            As for your noble and self-sacrificing suggestion. Cash the cheque, please! And spend it. One cannot attach conditions to a gift; but I should be best pleased, if it was spent soon, and on yourself. It is a very small sum. Taken only from my present abundance, over and above the needs of Edith and myself, and of my children. Edith happily does not need a chair; and I could give her one if she did. (It is an astonishing situation, and I hope I am sufficiently grateful to God. Only a little while ago I was wondering if we should be able to go on living here, on my inadequate pension. I have never been able to give before, and I have received unrepayable gifts in the past. …. I receive as a septuagenarian a retirement pension, of which I feel it proper to give away at least what the Tax collectors leave in my hands (a National one, I mean: I refused the University pension, and took the lump sum and invested it in a trust managed by my bank). All this, simply to assure you that the little gift was a personal pleasure, hardly worthy of much thanks; also to assure you that I can help more if needed. Saving universal catastrophe, I am not likely to be hard up again in my time. This is the advice of a very shrewd old publisher.

            From a letter of 1965

            I think it unlikely that we shall move from Oxford. Anywhere in sight of the sea proves too vastly expensive, while the service problem (our chief trouble) is as bad or worse than here. I am not ‘rolling in gold’, but by continuing to work I am (so far) continuing to have an income about the same as a professor-in-cathedra, which leaves me with a margin above my needs nowadays. If I had not had singular good fortune with my ‘unprofessional’ work, I should now be eking out a penurious existence on a perishable annuity of not ‘half-pay’ but more like ¼ pay. Literary capital is not, however, by its originator realizable. If an author sells any of his rights the proceeds (unlike those of other property) are reckoned to be part of his income for the year, and I. tax and Surtax pocket all or nearly all of them. So I certainly cannot provide the thousands now asked for a flat or bungalow near the sea. However, on the income-front things still go well. My campaign in U.S.A. has gone well. ‘Ace Books’ are in quite a spot, and many institutions have banned all their products. They are selling their pirate edition quite well, but it is being discovered to be very badly and erroneously printed; and I am getting such an advt. from the rumpus that I expect my ‘authorized’ paper-back will in fact sell more copies than it would, if there had been no trouble or competition.

          • Jiro says:

            There would be a ton of outrage from parents about Disney allowing this filth to be seen by their innocent little kids

            That’s because of the existing norms which give copyright holders a monopoly. Parents only would think Disney is responsible for Mickey Mouse porn shirts because they live in a world where they have gotten used to the idea of corporations being responsible for their own characters. If they lived in a world where you could freely get Superman, Star Trek, and Bugs Bunny porn shirts, they wouldn’t think this.

          • Protagoras says:

            The Mickey Mouse porn shirt might well be a protected parody under existing U.S. law, or at least could probably be made into one if someone were trying; I don’t think copyright is the main reason you don’t see such things. How many porn shirts do you encounter of non-copyrighted characters?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            At least two authors

            Who’s the other one? I feel I should know.

          • Deiseach says:

            If they lived in a world where you could freely get Superman, Star Trek, and Bugs Bunny porn shirts, they wouldn’t think this.

            Well, I based that argument on an impassioned caller to a radio phone-in show some years back in Ireland, where a mother had seen a NSFW Simpsons T-shirt and was outraged, Joe, are we supposed to let our kids run around wearing this kind of obscenity?

            Despite the best efforts of the host and various other callers to tell her this was a rip-off version and not by the official copyright holders and they had nothing to do with it, she persisted in “But why don’t [the responsible bodies] stop this?” and would not/could not be told that some Chinese sweatshop knocking off fakes could not give a straw for legality or decency or outraged Irish mothers.

            I think the same would still happen, given that Mickey is a Disney creation, even in a copyright free world – “but why don’t Disney stop this happening?” and not getting through to them that Disney can’t do a damn thing about somebody using their original character to make a smutty T-shirt or poster or online video once it’s in the public domain.

          • ana53294 says:

            Many people don’t care who has the actual responsibility over stuff.

            Madrid City Hall has this very nice collaborative citizen platform where citizens propose their ideas for stuff the city should do. They have to have a technical team, because people regularly demand the City Hall do stuff they don’t have responsibility or autonomy over, like building schools (this is government responsibility). This kind of thing happens all the time. And people will complain when the city doesn’t do stuff that is not their responsibility. Somebody should be responsible!!!

            People don’t really care who is responsible, if there is a big corporation, they will blame them.

            It doesn’t actually matter whether Disney (or whomever) can do anything, or is responsible for what’s happening. People won’t care. Somebody has to be responsible, and it’s not them, so who is?

          • John Schilling says:

            Who’s the other one? I feel I should know.

            Neil Gaiman, “The Books of Magic”, 1990. Then handed over to other writers in the DC/Vertigo stable for continuation through I believe 2004.

          • LHN says:

            Tim Hunter even had an owl. If TBoM had come out after Harry Potter hit it would certainly have been accused of ripping it off. I think it sometimes was anyway by people not familiar with the chronology.

            (I haven’t heard any accusations the other way, presumably because Jo Rowling really doesn’t show any signs of familiarity with or affinity for geek culture generally or comics in particular.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Neil Gaiman, “The Books of Magic”, 1990.

            Will Stanton from the “Dark is Rising” sequence is also a pretty good match, although I don’t remember if he wears glasses.

          • 10240 says:

            There would be a ton of outrage from parents about Disney allowing this filth to be seen by their innocent little kids, and it would do Disney no good to explain “This isn’t us, this is a completely different company, and we can’t do anything about it because the characters are free to use”.

            If that would happen, what would be the consequence? Perhaps Disney would see slightly reduced sales as a few parents would ban their children from it — but then again, the same thing would happen to any other popular characters as well, and I doubt a significant number of parents would go on to ban their children from watching any cartoon or any other popular media forever.

    • ana53294 says:

      While I agree that life+70 is too much, 10 years is too little.

      While Rowling became a billionaire, you have to take into account that she is the only writer who has done so.

      Also, contracts for early-career creators tend to be lousy. The richest Beatle is Paul McCarthy, because he continued creating after the Beatles disbanded, and they got almost nothing for the copyright from their works. In the USA, the original creators can get their copyright back 35 years after they signed up their contract. This way, creators that were screwed up can recover some of the money they should have received.

      Also, you do realize that sometimes it takes 10 years for Hollywood to get around to produce something, right? From what I have heard from authors describing the experience, a producer will get an option, shop around, they buy the right, then the suit in charge gets fired, and the next one sweeps all his predecessor’s projects, ‘coz this is Hollywood.

      Hollywood already screws many authors. Tess Gerritsen once signed the rights to her book Gravity, and then the project fizzled out. Warner Bros. then proceeded to buy the company that she had sold the rights to, and they didn’t give her credit for the movie (Alfonso Cuaron is supposedly the sole author of the script). When she sued them for breach of contract, they somehow managed to argue that while they owned the rights (and the copyright), they didn’t have the moral obligations the contract hold them to, and the 9th circuit judge allow them to have the cake and eat it too.

      Copyright does not only mean money, it also means moral rights (which are stronger in the EU, and they can’t be given away, however abusive the contract, unless it’s work for hire). So for example, GRR Martin has decided he doesn’t want ghostwriters to finish his series. It’s his right, and if the 10 year copyright applied, anybody would be able to finish the series for him. To see your beloved characters been used in somebody else’s book hurts. There are tons and tons of erotic and kinky books in the Harry Potter universe. Rowling allows fanfiction for noncommertial stuff. But it would be perfectly logical if she got offended if somebody published erotica on Harry Potter and made money of it, and it appeared on the shelves together with her books. It’s a children’s book, after all.

      So while I agree with you that copyright is too long, I think it should be something like life+25 years (so even a child born after the author’s death can grow up and go to college with the income of their estate). And work made for hire should be something like patents, 20 years.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        Almost all book profits accrue within the first six years of publication. The rare book which keeps selling for longer than that will typically have made its author quite a large pile within those six years. Any additional span beyond six years is about two things : Spin-off media licenses, and avoiding creating a large sub culture which just waits out a short copy-right.
        The first is the most important of these, because movies and so on take years to get off the ground, so if the term is just those six years, people absolutely will wait it out.

        However, both of those concerns go away entirely at a term of 15 years or so – the movie and television business wants the built in audience, so they are not going to wait a decade plus to save the relatively minor sum of money a book deal costs compared to the production costs of a movie.

        • ana53294 says:

          Almost all book profits accrue within the first six years of publication.

          A lot of the modern writers who make the big bucks write book series. Rowling, Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy, GRR Martin, and even sci-fi writers (less bucks), such as David Weber, or Lois Bujold, all write series.

          The time span from publication first book to last book in a series is frequently more than 25 years. Series use the same characters, universe, setting. The reason these authors can keep making money with them is partly because they keep exclusive rights to the characters.

          So writers should retain the copyright for their characters if they keep publishing works in that series. Which would then create the perverse incentive of a writer publishing a short story (or whatever minimum is necessary) every X years, to retain copyright.

          I am not sure how much Rowling, GRR Martin, or the Tolkien estate get, but it is definitely not peanuts.

        • The rare book which keeps selling for longer than that will typically have made its author quite a large pile within those six years.

          The Machinery of Freedom did not, alas, make me a large pile at any point. It was published in 1973 and is currently selling about forty or fifty copies a month in the print version—my agent did the kindle and I haven’t kept track of its sales, but I think they are larger.

          Admittedly, that’s the third edition.

        • sharper13 says:

          Almost all book profits accrue within the first six years of publication.

          It used to be true that for the majority of new books, everything they sold was within the first few months, because after that if they weren’t selling well, they’d be off the bookstore shelves. The more knowledgeable authors ensured they got revision rights once the publisher stopped actually publishing their book.

          This has all changed as fast as writers are shifting to Indie publishing and to POD and Ebooks. Without someone needing to stock physical copies somewhere, authors can keep their books available essentially forever, leading to a massive increase in available books (not the only factor in play) as well as turning your statement about six years inaccurate.

          This has also made series in fiction much more lucrative, because readers can now consistently buy the whole series and binge-read it and you no longer have publishers killing a series after the first few books, leaving the readers hanging and the author trying to find a new pen name to submit under to a new publisher.

      • Nornagest says:

        Life + 25 is too long. I think I’d be happiest with a flat 25 years or so (so that a successful work written late in the author’s life can still make money for the estate, but a young writer and his children can’t milk his work for most of a century), but I’d settle for life or 25, whichever is longer.

        • ana53294 says:

          Life or 25 years, whichever one is longer, does sound reasonable.

          Of course, all of this is daydreaming, and it will never happen.

          My main issue is that I think removing copyright protections will mean that creators will get screwed and the studios/publishers will be fine. Because whenever they are squeezed, they screw creators even more.

          I’ve heard that screenwriters frequently have to write up to ten drafts of a script (when the union standard is a draft+revision).

          Writers already don’t get paid frequently. Studios steal from creators all the time. They say that getting stolen from is a sign that you are creating stuff worth stealing.

        • uau says:

          but I’d settle for life or 25, whichever is longer.

          I think a sudden cutoff at death would be problematic due to uncertainty. With “20 years” or “life + 20” you know when it’ll expire 20 years in advance. But it’d be bad if you couldn’t know for sure what the situation is a couple of months from now.

      • Eric Rall says:

        The richest Beatle is Paul McCarthy, because he continued creating after the Beatles disbanded, and they got almost nothing for the copyright from their works.

        I mostly agree with your core point here, but have some historical quibbles with your example. The Beatles did get very low royalty shares from their early works, but they did a lot better in their later joint career after their initial contract expired in 1967 and they negotiated a new one as established megastars.

        And all of the Beatles did have significant solo careers, and all of them were/are quite rich. Paul McCartney is currently the richest (~$1.2 billion), and I think he had the longest and most successful post-Beatles career, although there’s an argument for John Lennon being more financially successful (net worth ~$800 million at the time of his death in 1980). Ringo Starr’s net worth is around $350 million, and George Harrison’s was around $400 million when he died in 2001.

        So while I agree with you that copyright is too long, I think it should be something like life+25 years (so even a child born after the author’s death can grow up and go to college with the income of their estate). And work made for hire should be something like patents, 20 years.

        I agree that that would be a substantial improvement over the current regime. My ideal would be something like 20 years from first publication, renewable for 10-20 years at a time up to something like 60 years total. But while that sort of regime has worked pretty well in the past, it doesn’t really work now that the Internet has made “publication” a far fuzzier concept than it used to be. I haven’t figured out a good solution to that yet.

        • It would be useful if there was a reasonably short initial term, perhaps ten or twenty years, but the copyright was renewable for a reasonably small fee. That way books that were no longer selling would go into the public domain, eliminating the problem of finding and negotiating with the copyright holder of a book whose author died twenty years ago.

          • Eric Rall says:

            That’s pretty much my reasoning for requiring renewal: if renewing your copyright isn’t worth a trivial inconvenience and a fee, that’s a pretty clear signal that there’s little or no harm from letting it pass into the public domain.

            I’m undecided about how big the fee should be. A nominal fee to cover processing costs is one option, and an appealing one from the standpoint of minimizing the value of copyrights that would be released to the public domain earlier than current law.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I like the periodic renewal in theory, and it would put totally abandoned works into the public domain.

            But what number do you have in mind for the fee? Some works are very simple and some are complex. Should Star Wars pay the same to keep its copyright going as a 14-line sonnet?

          • AG says:

            I’d go with the fee being percentage of something. Perhaps percentage of its earnings during its previous copyright period? Renewal of something that is ever more popular pays a higher fee, and so is under more pressure to be released to public domain.
            (Plus the nominal base fee to cover processing costs)

          • Jake says:

            I like the idea of an exponential fee schedule for renewing copyrights. Something like $10 for the first 10 years, $100 for the next 10, $1,000 for the next 10, etc. This lets Disney still pay $bignum to keep control of Mickey, but allows other works to go public much more quickly.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            That’s good in theory, too, but we still need to come up with prices that are fair across different domains. Should Disney pay the same amount for the Nth extension for Star Wars and Ansel Adams pays for the Nth extension of one of his photographs? What if Adams put all the photographs into a book instead of keeping them separate? Same fee? If so, what stops a company from making one giant omnibus of everything they own in one giant collection and extending that forever?

          • AG says:

            Isn’t Disney already doing that, via the live action remakes?

            But, ooh, how about a combination of concepts? The fee is a percentage of the last copyright period’s earnings, but the percentage rises over time? (plus nominal base fee to cover processing costs)

            This incentivizes creators to get the most on their return early on, but that they can still hold on to the copy in low-earnings years if they really think they can hit it big later on, but there’s still mounting pressure to release the work after a while.

            Ergo, Disney is making way more money on Star Wars than Adams on photos, but is also paying more.

            As for the issue of re-releasing the actual same thing into new compilations, then how is the copyright handled on current “Best of” compilation albums? Seems like you can simply prohibit “n+1” copyrights. You can only newly copyright the “+1” part, while “n” is subject to the scaling rate from its original registration.

          • These schemes are way too complicated. If the idea is simply to let works go into the public domain when the copyright owner is no longer paying attention to them, a $100 charge for each ten years should do it.

          • AG says:

            The idea is to both cover the case of a work the creator is done with, but also to prevent the current Disney debacle.

      • John Schilling says:

        The entire “Life plus X” formula is IMO broken because it tries to solve two different problems (long-lived author dies in poverty, short-lived-author’s children live in poverty) at the same time, and leads to perverse results when the author writes early, lives long, and doesn’t die in poverty. “Life or X, whichever is longer”, is probably better. But if ‘X’ is on the order of a generation, then “life” is probably redundant.

        But ‘X’ really needs to be in the 25-50 year range. First, because some forms of copyrightable IP really do generate their biggest returns more than a decade after creation. Second, because there are also perverse incentives when e.g. filmmakers producing an adaptation of a popular book realize they can cut the author out of the loop but still remain in the popularity window if they hold out just a few more years. And third, because there will be telegenic authors and authors’ children living or dying in poverty who can and will be used to drive “Life+50, ForTheChildren!” back into law if you don’t.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Second, because there are also perverse incentives when e.g. filmmakers producing an adaptation of a popular book realize they can cut the author out of the loop but still remain in the popularity window if they hold out just a few more years.

          Only if you have a cartel of filmmakers. If not then waiting until the work is out of copyright means that every other studio can, and should be, putting out their own version when the copyright expires. The only way the author gets cut out entirely in this situation is if every studio views the authors involvement as being negative to the point of losing all the value in being a few years ahead of the competition.

          • ana53294 says:

            When it comes to screwing the writers, screenwriters, and their workers in general, film studios do tend to behave like cartels. “You will never find work in this town”. That’s how Harvey Weinstein got away with his behaviour for so long.

            They are cartels.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Those cartels exist with the copyright framework, you have to posit they would exist without it.

          • ana53294 says:

            They exist because they have all the money and the writers don’t. I can’t imagine a world where that doesn’t happen.

            Also, the ninth circuit tends to favor studios a lot.

            Besides, writers, and producers, and directors, only ever get money when the movie is made. It’s called Hollywood accounting, where no movie ever has made any money. So it’s not like copyright of books, where authors keep getting paid; for movies, everyone involved get a once off fee, and that’s it. Because movies are still supposedly recovering losses, so they won’t ever pay royalties.

            So even if you limit movie copyright to a year, or five, after release, writers will still get screwed by these cartels (assuming studios don’t get bankrupt).

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, I think if you had a ten year copyright and the book was still selling, a movie studio could come along and be perfectly happy to wait “Two years and it’ll be out of copyright and we won’t have to pay a penny to the author” – see the Narnia movies or the current series of Marvel universe movies where the original characters were created fifty or more years ago.

            I know there are also situations where an author gave the copyright to a charity or good cause in order to give them a continuing funding stream, like Great Ormonde Street Children’s Hospital having the copyright to Peter Pan.

        • SamChevre says:

          I have long thought that the best solution to many problems is to make copyright renewable, with relatively short terms, escalating costs, and a requirement that the work be publicly available on reasonable commercial terms.

          My system would be something like 1 year automatic, 10 year extension if registered, $100 to reregister for another 10 years, $1000 for the second 10 years, doubling every 10 years after that. So copyright for 10 years would cost $100–but copyright for 40 years would cost $7000, and for 50 would cost $15,000.

          • I don’t see why you want the cost to escalate. Nor do I see any reason to insist that the work be available on “reasonable commercial terms,” whatever that means—I observe that econ texts now routinely list for over a hundred dollars.

          • ana53294 says:

            The reason why copyright is given without registration is because of the Berne convention. There’s no way to change that anymore. Making a new agreement among 176 countries seems unrealistic.

            The US joined in 1989, so I guess they could just leave, but the US is the country with the longest copyright terms, so I don’t think the Berne convention is the problem.

            The only advantage registration gives you in the US is proof of authorship and statutory damages.

          • SamChevre says:

            @David Friedman

            Escalating costs-my reasoning is that the longer something has been available, the more of its value is in derivatives, repurposing, and so forth. The increasing cost of renewing copyrights is intended to help channel the benefits of the original work to the author, while reducing the problem that derivative work may have more value to the public but not to the author. (This is more visible with music than with books.)

            “Must be available on reasonable commercial terms”– the goal is to prevent copyright being used to take works out of public circulation. This goes to the point of copyright. If the goal is to increase the stock of human knowledge, something that’s copyrighted but not available to the public is not meeting that goal. An econ textbook available for typical econ textbook prices is fine; what I’m targeting is Song of the South and out of print books.

          • BBA says:

            the US is the country with the longest copyright terms

            Mexico currently has life + 100. For what it’s worth, I believe life + 70 originated in Germany and every other country to adopt it has just been “harmonizing.”

            The US had a long history of very weak IP enforcement, especially for works of foreign origin. Now that we’re the intellectual powerhouse we’ve started imposing our laws on the rest of the world, but we can’t force China to do our dirty work. And in a few decades, who knows? It might be China forcing us to respect their intellectual property.

          • “Must be available on reasonable commercial terms”– the goal is to prevent copyright being used to take works out of public circulation.

            My gut reaction, from morality not economics, is that if the creator wants to take his work out of public circulation he should be free to do so.

          • SamChevre says:

            @David Friedman

            This disagreement seems to be a difference in goals–I agree that if part of the goal is to enable authors to say “I don’t believe this anymore and want it out of circulation” my system would be counter-productive.

          • ana53294 says:

            There was a lot of controversy when Go set a Watchman was published. People were worried that somebody used Harper Lee’s fragile state to take advantage of her.

            I think that a copyright reduction that would deny people in the same situation the right to not publish, or remove from circulation, something they did not want, would be wrong.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I strongly oppose that. Allowing people to uncreate things ignores that works that were once created have an impact on future works. We should be able to analyze the current situation by going back and looking at our past.

            Note that copyright doesn’t merely extend to fiction, but to non-fiction as well. ‘Uncreating’ also allows for the scrubbing of displeasing scientific findings.

            With copyright being passed on to others than the author, this gets even worse. Imagine that your (grand)child inherits the copyright to The Machinery of Freedom, but is/becomes rabidly anti-libertarian and decides to take it out of circulation, despite demand for it, presumably against your will.

          • ‘Uncreating’ also allows for the scrubbing of displeasing scientific findings.

            I don’t see how. Copies of the book or journal will still exist and can be cited. All the copyright holder can do is keep additional copies from being printed.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            How do scientist access journals nowadays? Through their computer. Many journals are not even physically available in the university library.

            So what happens if copyright holders revoke the right to sell/spread the study? It is effectively gone, except for some printed copies that may float around, which may no longer be duplicated either. These few printed copies will tend to gradually disappear & deteriorate.

            As you well know, if demand exceeds supply, then prices will increase until many people give up on trying to own the thing due to the prohibitive price, which brings demand in line with supply.

            The study/book/etc is effectively made unavailable for the people who could have owned the product for its normal price or for the cost of reproduction (if copyright should have ended), but won’t buy it for the high cost, caused by the attempt to memory hole it.

            With studies specifically, researchers have to write to an audience. If they cite a work that is prohibitive to access, then there is a substantial chance that their study is rejected by reviewers for being impossible to verify.

          • AG says:

            Yep. Imagine the nightmare that is current eBook DRM, expanded to everything: https://boingboing.net/2019/04/02/burning-libraries.html

          • ana53294 says:

            We could also eliminate copyright for scientific articles. I don’t think it serves much purpose.

            The journals own the copyright, not the author. Authors weren’t even allowed to share free copies of their article for some time (this has been fixed).

            Also, copyright protects form, not the idea; so any discovery from an article will be free to share, if you paraphrase it.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see how. Copies of the book or journal will still exist and can be cited.

            A work can only be referenced cited by someone who has read it. If the work in question is only available in dead-tree form for $1000+ from Amazon or Abebooks or a many-hour drive to the one library in the tricounty area that has it shelved, it may simply not be read by the people who need it.

            This has definitely been the case on at least some occasions even under the present copyright regime, where the obstacle is “just” tracking down the author(‘s heirs) to wave a check at. John Clark’s Ignition was famously difficult to find for decades, due to mere apathy rather than actual opposition, and I would not care to guess how many Stupid Propellant Tricks were needlessly duplicated for failure to read Clark’s compendium of “Yes we tried that, no it didn’t work, here’s why, here’s who to talk to if you think you know better”. I know of other cases, in several fields. Allowing authors to e.g. affirmatively pull stuff down off the web, would make this worse and would not further the alleged socially beneficial purpose of copyright.

          • bean says:

            John Clark’s Ignition was famously difficult to find for decades, due to mere apathy rather than actual opposition, and I would not care to guess how many Stupid Propellant Tricks were needlessly duplicated for failure to read Clark’s compendium of “Yes we tried that, no it didn’t work, here’s why, here’s who to talk to if you think you know better”.

            Speaking of Ignition, it is now back in print, and it’s a great read. I’ve read a PDF several times, but I ordered a physical copy anyway.

          • 10240 says:

            @Aapje Copyright only protects the actual work, not the ideas in it. If a work is important enough that withdrawing it would have serous drawbacks, then anyone who can access even one copy can summarize or rewrite its contents in his own words, to allow others to access it.

          • LHN says:

            It also seems likely that with a more effective copyright enforcement regime, “Ignition!” would never have come back into print. Its reemergence is almost certainly the result of the interest raised and demonstrated via the circulation of the PDF in violation of copyright.

          • John Schilling says:

            then anyone who can access even one copy can summarize or rewrite its contents in his own words, to allow others to access it.

            This would require a great deal of effort, and for what reward?

          • ana53294 says:

            That’s what you do when you cite the work; you summarize key facts from it.

            So if a paper by Johnson et al., 2035, describes cold fusion, and I cite the paper in my paper, using it to support allegation X, Y, Z, that means that Johnson et al. (2035) says X, Y, Z. Of course, you would have to trust my understanding of it, but that would happen with any summary.

            In science, there is an entire incentive system to summarize other people’s work.

          • John Schilling says:

            Typical scientific practice is to summarize a subset of key facts from the cited work, and build on them with your own original work, being ultimately rewarded with credit and renown for said original but supported work. Which can then be monetized in the form of grants for further research, if you need a more tangible reward.

            What I understood to be proposed, was that someone would summarize all the important facts of a prior work, essentially rewriting or editing it into something not covered by the original author’s copyright, and adding nothing substantially new. If so, that’s an awful lot of work for which the traditional reward structure is mostly useless.

            If that’s not what is being proposed, then I’m not seeing the value. “Ignition” is valuable because it is covers every Stupid Propellant Trick in one place; the fact that there exists a set of a hundred and sixty three academic papers each of which summarizes a few bits from Clark and which collectively have the whole thing, is not nearly as useful.

          • 10240 says:

            This would require a great deal of effort, and for what reward?

            The fame or satisfaction of having uncovered a sinister conspiracy to hide some important (and, for someone, embarrassing) document. I guess that’s the sort of situation Aapje alluded to and, once again, it’s a rare situation. Making a work inaccessible through lack of attention is a different problem, and it could be solved through some of the proposed cheap (or even free) re-registration schemes.

          • Aapje says:

            @10240

            The fame or satisfaction of having uncovered a sinister conspiracy to hide some important (and, for someone, embarrassing) document. I guess that’s the sort of situation Aapje alluded to and, once again, it’s a rare situation.

            The point is that no conspiracy is needed when the author can use the power of law to uncreate his works. The machine that brings down the hammer doesn’t need to be convinced that the work is evil, but merely that the author doesn’t want it distributed and that it is distributed by someone.

            We already increasingly seem to become a society where wrongthinkers are targeted to make them recant their sins.

            Making this pointless by making it impossible for people to uncreate their own works actually benefits the heterodox, as attacking them doesn’t achieve the goal of the censorious.

            This is also why the current trend of journals unpublishing papers that were accepted before is worrying, because it makes going after the journals a good strategy if you don’t want certain arguments made or facts published.

          • 10240 says:

            @Aapje Issues where “wrongthinkers” are targeted are hot button issues, where a researcher being pressured to make his work unavailable would definitely make for a juicy story Quillette or something.

            Someone with heterodox views can already publish content under some free content license that makes it impossible for him to later make it unavailable. This doesn’t work in cases where a copyright transfer agreement is required, such as most scientific journals — though most journals nowadays allow self-archiving on sites like arXiv, and arXiv does require one to give them an irrevocable, non-exclusive right to distribute the paper.

      • ana53294 says:

        It’s not just about money. It’s about moral rights and identity too.

        Kevin Kwan, the writer of the book Crazy rich Asians, on which the movie is based, was offered a shitload of money by Netflix. And he refused it, because he wanted a big-screen movie that was about Asian-Americans, because he wanted people to feel identified. He took a gamble on it (and won, but that’s beside the point). Apparently, many suits also wanted to make Rachel white (and he defended his character).

        Hollywood already has a problem with whitewashing. Wouldn’t the problem become bigger if the authors can’t defend their creations from all sorts of changes like that?

        If copyright does ever become 25 years only, moral rights should be separated, and be retained for life+70, so screwy things like that don’t happen. Some things movie producers do with books are just offensive (and it’s not just the whitewashing; there are also gender changes and all kinds of weird things).

        And Potter-themed pornos should not be made. And I think they would, if they were in the public domain, even though it’s a children’s book.

        • Machine Interface says:

          In the French system, moral rights are in fact separated from proprietary rights.

          Proprietary rights are death + 70 years (or death + 100 years if the author died on active service), but moral rights are in perpetuity.

          Moral rights entail the possibility for the author or their heirs to oppose any adaptation which they deem could prejudice the image of the original work — and that even if the financial rights have been payed.

          This doesn’t actually come up all that often, but I can think of two examples:

          In 2001, François Cérésa wrote a sequel to Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables (long fallen into public domain by that point). He was subsequently sued by Victor Hugo’s heirs. The court ruled against them — they recognized the moral right of the heirs, but considered that the sequel was not betraying or perverting the spirit of the original novel, and thus was not causing a prejudice.

          In 2006, the heirs of French singer Georges Brassens (who died in 1981) sued rapper and actor Joeystar over a cover he made of Brassens’ song “Gare au gorille” on his first solo album. The cover was made in respect of proprietary rights, but they were objecting to Brassens’ name being associated with Joeystarr at all, as the latter has a rather infamous reputation due to a continuing history of violent and unhinged behavior. The courts ruled in their favor and subsequent releases of the album no longer contain the cover.

          • ana53294 says:

            That seems nice, although you do need sympathetic courts.

            The problem is when courts seem to prefer powerful companies.

            Perpetuity seems excessive, though. Life+100 years sounds more than enough.

      • Jiro says:

        In the USA, the original creators can get their copyright back 35 years after they signed up their contract.

        That’s not correct. The rule is that they can get their copyright back when the copyright under the earlier rule would have expired, so it’s after 56 years and 75 years.

        It’s also very rare for this to happen because “works for hire” are considered to have been created by the corporation, so they never go back to the actual creator.

        The rights to Superman are one of the few cases this has come into effect.

        • ana53294 says:

          Work made for hire belongs to the one who hired, yes.

          I meant creators who gave up their copyright in some horrible contract, but it wasn’t a work for hire (I should have clarified it).

          Here is an article from the NYT, talking about artists who have recovered their rights.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Copyright does not only mean money, it also means moral rights (which are stronger in the EU, and they can’t be given away, however abusive the contract, unless it’s work for hire). So for example, GRR Martin has decided he doesn’t want ghostwriters to finish his series. It’s his right, and if the 10 year copyright applied, anybody would be able to finish the series for him. To see your beloved characters been used in somebody else’s book hurts. There are tons and tons of erotic and kinky books in the Harry Potter universe. Rowling allows fanfiction for noncommertial stuff. But it would be perfectly logical if she got offended if somebody published erotica on Harry Potter and made money of it, and it appeared on the shelves together with her books. It’s a children’s book, after all.

        Why, exactly, should we care whether GRRM doesn’t want anyone else to finish his series? Why does his desire entail an positive obligation on the part of society to use force to stop anybody else from publishing their own A Song of Ice and Fire endings? Likewise, accepting the existence and legality of pornography as a given, why exactly is Harry Potter porn any worse than any other porn? Because it will hurt Rowling’s feelings? Don’t care. Only reason we should give them control over what other people do with their work, commandeering the policing and enforcement resources of society to do so, is because it is necessary to incentivize them to write the books in the first place. Once the minimum threshold for that has been met, what was once a necessary evil will, if continued, become plain evil.

        • ana53294 says:

          Because the work of artists is more than a property.

          Many artists don’t want their work to be associated with some political movements, or with some companies.

          Being associated with certain things, such as porn, may impede the ability of creators to create. Having your work used for other things is enormously upsetting.

          Do you understand why people get upset at cultural appropriation? Artistic appopriation is the same, but for the creation of an individual person, not a group of people.

          Creators put a lot of personal stuff into their work; their feelings, their ideals, their identity. To see it trashed, to be unable to protect it, would be very hurtful to their ability to publish that work.

          For me, copyright is a practical way of allowing creators to make money off their work, and to incentivize creation of art.

          Moral rights is a sacred value for me, though. It’s about not having a song that symbolizes freedom be used in commertials, or about not having the Holy Host being used to write the word “pederasty”. It isn’t based on any practical reason to incentivize creation, but on people being able to defend what’s sacred for them, their art, and their identity.

          • Nornagest says:

            In the age of fanfic, I’d say that centering copyright on moral rights isn’t just locking the stable door after the horse is gone; the horse fled decades ago, made a bunch of money counting cards in Vegas, married a croupier, settled down, and its weird mutant half-horse children now have stables of their own.

          • ana53294 says:

            Having your work desacrated in some obscure place of the internet vs having it out there, in the big screen, on television, on t-shirts, commercials, etc., is different.

            Fanfiction is limited to parts of the internet precisely because of copyright. So while many here are familiar with fanfiction, there are many people out there who have only read the books, but haven’t seen the fanfiction, because they don’t go through those corners of the internet.

            If a writer writes a story about a lesbian girl coming out, and pours her heart into the story, because she’s gay, and then a Hollywood producer makes a film about that, but, you know, without the gay part, that’s a lot worse than some obscure fanfiction with your characters being made straight. Because a movie can eclipse a book completely, and your book will be associated with the movie. Whereas people reading fanfiction know it’s a fanfic, people who watch a movie (and never get around to reading the book), will not realize what your book is about.

            The only people who read fanfiction are fans of the work who have re-read their favorite books a hundred times and they know what it’s really about.

          • ana53294 says:

            For example, many fans were offended when Tom Cruise was cast as Jack Reacher. It seems like Lee Child didn’t have much control over casting, even though he had the copyright.

            There might be some really offensive fanfiction on Jack Reacher in some dark corner of the internet. There are pedophile versions of Bambi, so offensive versions of anything popular exist in some obscure corner of the internet.

            But having it in movies, on TV, out there, in the real world, to a much wider audience than the one that reads a book, is much worse.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            For a not-as-politically-charged example, perhaps, consider Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson has famously refused any and all merchandising deals, and the fact that his strips are the principal medium through which Calvin and Hobbes lives on is something I’m extremely thankful for. It does a lot to preserve the sense of sincerity. Anything else would feel… I don’t know. Kind of off-putting. I mean, sure, I wouldn’t buy it, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t see it. And I’d rather not see it. And the author, and most of his fans, would rather not see it too.

            That’s not to say I think that copyright is always good, but that I think that it’s true that the author’s control over their art meaningfully affects the way that art exists in the zeitgeist. If people love Calvin and Hobbes in a way they don’t love Peanuts, I’m happy to ascribe that at least in part to the existence of massive amounts of Snoopy merchandise and TV specials. There’s an intangible there that seems quite important.

          • Douglas Knight says:
          • Odovacer says:

            Some of the talk about moral rights reminds me of James M. Cain’s feelings on Hollywood’s take on his novels:

            All the early novels were made into movies. (Hollywood made $12-million from Cain; Cain made $100,000.) He [Cain] has seen only two of the movies made from his books. “There are some foods some people just don’t like. I just don’t like movies. People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.”

            Though, I’m not certain what this supports, copyright vs not. He was paid for use of his work, but didn’t seem to care about the other versions.

          • Rana Dexsin says:

            I do like the idea of much more time-limited constraint for economic incentive purposes on reproducing works, and then moral rights being a separate thing which can be extended further out—indeed that’s a case where life+N makes a lot more sense, though I don’t think it should be extended arbitrarily far, and I have pretty serious qualms about the tradeoffs of more stringent enforcement depending on the surrounding culture. Would it maybe help to use the European models of copyright as a starting point for this, even though the US model seems to dominate Internet discussions most of the time?

        • Deiseach says:

          Only reason we should give them control over what other people do with their work, commandeering the policing and enforcement resources of society to do so, is because it is necessary to incentivize them to write the books in the first place.

          To put it bluntly, it’s their property so they have an interest in what other people try to do with it. If you used this argument as to why you should be entitled to walk in my front gate and set up a stall selling lemonade on my lawn, I’d go out and borrow some dogs to run you off.

          If I invent, create or make something, it’s mine. I can choose to sell it or keep it, and I can choose what conditions to put on the sale. You have no right to steal my famous Strawberry Jam recipe and pass off your inferior preserves as my work, coasting off the value I’ve created and ruining the reputation of my goods when people eat your bad product, go “Yuck, is this that famous Strawberry Jam I’ve heard so much about? It’s awful and I’m telling everyone it’s awful!”.

          I tend to think the sensible position is the one Tolkien spoke about regarding a possible film adaption (back in 1957) of The Lord of the Rings: either sell the rights once and for all for a gigantic pile of cash, and give up any say in what they do with the work, or retain artistic control:

          Stanley U. &: I have agreed on our policy : Art or Cash. Either very profitable terms indeed ; or absolute author’s veto on objectionable features or alterations.

          But I don’t think you renounce your artistic rights over your work merely because it is a commercial product, especially if you haven’t sold the rights to “Okay, go ahead and make Snarry chan porn Youtube videos”.

    • kauffj says:

      > you might get a few books that way but no full-time authors and definitely no blockbuster movies or AAA games with $BIGNUM budgets

      Proponents of dominant assurance contracts would argue that they would enable such goods to be produced even in a world without copyright.

      Have you looked at these? If so, could you elaborate on your reasoning as to why they would not allow AAA films to be produced? It seems feasible to get tens of millions of people to pre-pay $5-$10 for an Avengers film, especially if they got twice that amount should the film never be produced.

      • John Schilling says:

        The expected gross revenue of a movie is a long-tailed distribution function. The achievable return for an assurance contract is a box with the top right corner on some part of that curve. The size of the box is always going to be smaller than the integrated area of the distribution, so the net profit of the movie to the producers will be diminished by assurance contracts.

        Furthermore, the set of people who will pay in advance for an Avengers film, is smaller than the set of people who will pay for an Avengers film after it has been produced, advertised, reviewed, and released for their friends to tell them how good it is. This further reduces the profitability of movies made under assurance contracts.

        And making them “dominant”, doesn’t address those problems but does add risk for whoever is guaranteeing the contract. It seems unlikely that “AAA films” as you understand them could be produced under this model, and certain that they will be smaller and less numerous than is presently the case.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          It also ignores bad actors who show the film in their own theaters for significantly lower costs once it is produced.

        • ana53294 says:

          Furthermore, the set of people who will pay in advance for an Avengers film, is smaller than the set of people who will pay for an Avengers film after it has been produced, advertised, reviewed, and released for their friends to tell them how good it is. This further reduces the profitability of movies made under assurance contracts.

          This, plus the issue is that a lot of movies that get funded at some stage don’t get made.

          Somebody has to pay for the book rights (if any), for the script (and the rewrites), the casting, the props, location scouting, etc. This process can take a couple of years.

          It would be unrealistic to expect an audience to pay for a movie without having at least an idea of how it will look, some kind of trailer, the cast set, the script written, the director chosen.

          And a lot of the costs for studios are all those projects that didn’t get made, for which there was no right actor, or director, or producer, or the screenwriters went on a strike, or 9/11 happens, or the markets collapse, or all kinds of things happen.

          You would still need studios to make a package to pitch to viewers. Viewers cannot be expected to wait more than a year or so. So Kickstarter kind of campaigns only work for already advanced stuff, not pie-in-the-sky I’ve-got-no-idea-how-to-make-it kind of thing.

          From what I’ve read about the Lord of the Rings, just the time and money it took to make all the props was incredible.

        • kauffj says:

          The specific claim being addressed was that “definitely no blockbuster movies or AAA games with $BIGNUM budgets” would be produced in a world without copyright.

          I think you are correct that fewer big budget films would be produced via DACs, as well as that any given film would have lower profitability.

          It is not clear, at least to me, that the implication of the previous statement is that zero would be produced.

          • John Schilling says:

            The specific claim being addressed was that “definitely no blockbuster movies or AAA games with $BIGNUM budgets” would be produced in a world without copyright.

            That claim is uninteresting and not worth discussing if taken absolutely literally, and I do not believe it was meant absolutely literally. That said, you have not shown that the number of blockbuster movies that would likely be produced under your regime is greater than zero. Would you care to make a non-handwaving quantitative assessment of the funding potential for dominant assurance contracts in the entertainment industry?

            That the number of blockbuster movies and AAA games would be greatly diminished, seems certain and is easier to argue. And is interesting even if the residual value is not literally zero.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Chiming in to clarify that I did not literally mean zero. Maybe the internet can get together every few years to fund Star Citizen or something, but that’s different from the present situation where multiple blockbuster movies and AAA games come out every year like clockwork.

          • AG says:

            Blockbuster productions would shift to a “must watch live!” model of production. Things like the Oscars and live musicals and live concerts and sports broadcasts still have $BIGNUM budgets while not worry too much about copyright (they often straight-up put the footage for free on youtube later), because the return comes from enticing the audience to watch as a social obligation.

            As per the anime and music models, media is also often made very accessible in service of promoting another product that is the actual bread-and-butter revenue source. “Buy the merch/source material!”

    • greenwoodjw says:

      Why does copyright need a time limit (instead of, say, a usage or recurring registration requirement) at all?

      This I’ve never understood. Patents I get, inventions tend to build on inventions so it’d be a disaster if every item needed to pay for all of the patents involved since 1787.

      But copyright? If Disney is still telling Mickey Mouse stories, why should anyone else get to use their character? Why do you need to tell stories about Mickey Mouse instead of another character? There isn’t anything similar to patents where you need X invention to do Y. Wanting to use Mickey Mouse/X-Men/Harry Potter is about drawing on the work and audience of someone else to prop up your own writing.

      I can understand saying “the original creator hasn’t used it in ages so go ahead” but why “The original creative organization is still using this character buuuuuuuut X years have passed so everyone else can use it too”?

      • AG says:

        Because copyright is such a modern invention?

        Who invented King Arthur? Robin Hood? Red Riding Hood? Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella/Aladdin/Snow White/Little Mermaid? Do we want to be in a world where the Shakespeare estate has a monopoly on Shakespeare productions? Where only the Catholic Church is allowed to print the Bible? Where Lancelot never exists because he’s a Mary Sue OC insert by some French bard, and so there goes the whole Holy Grail hunt concept, too, whoops, bye-bye Indiana Jones and Monty Python.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          1) Does it matter if the stories are all about King Arthur, instead of Superman/Captain Marvel/Icon/whoever? Does Superman or Arthur have more stories?

          2) Would the Shakespeare estate have survived as an entity all this time? Would they have maintained the rights through the centuries?

          3) A lot of the Bible is drawn from oral history prior to publication. It would be really hard for the Catholics to stake a legal claim to a monopoly of the entire document.

          4) Why would you assume that Lancelot would be dismissed and not written in-house? Or created independently and brought like the Milestone Media superheroes?

          • AG says:

            If copyright has no time limit, than the “estate of whoever originated King Arthur” would have control over which knights and adventures are allowed to interact with the franchise. There would be similar control over the creation of various Merry Men.

            Odds are, they would never let the likes of Malory or White get their hands on the stories. Or, you know, having some upstart French creation get to canonically cuck the Once and Future King of Britain. Or let the whole thing get appropriated by Christianity.

            I highly doubt that the mythologies of these heroes would be nearly as rich as they are today, if someone had had creative control over them. The Iliad itself is like a giant crossover fanfic, as is Jason and the Argonauts. The Arthurian mythology has a sprawling history across nations and centuries, enabled by the fact that no one had to refer back to the creators for permission to tell their story at the local inn.
            Meanwhile, we’ve seen the repeated suppression of new stories occur in under the copyright regime, due to copyright. Modern folk culture (epitomized in fanfiction) has developed in spite of copyright, never helped by it.

            I don’t understand what you’re trying to get with 2).

          • Aapje says:

            @greenwoodjw

            Would the Shakespeare estate have survived as an entity all this time? Would they have maintained the rights through the centuries?

            It would probably be even worse if the rights-holders are unclear. Companies typically refuse to print works or make derived works if the copyright is unclear.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I’m suggesting a copyright with no time limit for copyrights in active use, defined as some sort of commercial exploitation within limited time horizons. If not used within that time horizon, it expires and enters public domain. This would eliminate “no one is sure of the copyright”, because in order for the copyright to be attenuated like that it would’ve had to have gone unused for some time.

            Likewise, a story without a clear author wouldn’t have anyone who could lay claim to it. So folk tales that sprung up and grew organically and/or stock characters wouldn’t be claimable either.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Likewise, a story without a clear author wouldn’t have anyone who could lay claim to it. So folk tales that sprung up and grew organically and/or stock characters wouldn’t be claimable either.

            In practice, what happens is that someone who makes and copyrights a derivative of these “stories without a clear author” uses their copyright to claim all other such derivatives. Also see the “arrangements” game in music, where the music rights organizations claim so many “arrangements” to out-of-copyright music that you can’t actually use your own (because it will be too similar to one of theirs) unless you can somehow prove that it is a pre-existing public domain arrangement.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I wouldn’t mind a regime where a creator got, say, the first 25 years automatically, and then got the next 25 years only if they registered the work at a government website where it ought to be searchable by someone doing a reasonable amount of effort.

            I’m avoiding the question of whether they should be able to indefinitely renew.

            I fear we will see IP squatters that just buy up expiring IP — perhaps without actually buying it, because the original author cannot be found, no one can prove they didn’t buy it up — so this might be something that works for a few years and then stops working.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            @The Nybbler

            Allow copyrights for the recordings, and for arrangements that are recognizably different from the source piece. If they ever sue someone for playing the original, or another very different arrangement, they forfeit the copyright. (This would be transparent – they’d have to make the argument you did, that playing the original infringes their copyright because their arrangement is so close to the original.)

            This is a separate problem from the one my reform is attempting to address.

          • ana53294 says:

            Lana DelRey was sued by Radiohead over “Creep”, and Radiohead was sued by The Hollies for the song they sued Lana DelRey over (who won the lawsuit against Radiohead).

            So it seems like derivatives will be suing derivatives in an eternal loop.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I fear we will see IP squatters that just buy up expiring IP — perhaps without actually buying it, because the original author cannot be found, no one can prove they didn’t buy it up — so this might be something that works for a few years and then stops working.

            Don’t you have to register sales of copyrights, to prevent exactly this?

            Anyway, they wouldn’t be able to just hold the IP, they’d have to do something with it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Allow copyrights for the recordings, and for arrangements that are recognizably different from the source piece. If they ever sue someone for playing the original, or another very different arrangement, they forfeit the copyright. (This would be transparent – they’d have to make the argument you did, that playing the original infringes their copyright because their arrangement is so close to the original.)

            This just leaves everyone tied up in court. The music org has copyrights on hundreds or thousands of possible arrangements of each piece. You make an arrangement, they sue, saying it’s too near 20 of their arrangements — and it really is. You claim your arrangement is actually derived directly from some public domain original… but how do you prove it?

            This is a separate problem from the one my reform is attempting to address.

            No, it’s a failure mode (and a currently existing one at that).

          • greenwoodjw says:

            So it seems like derivatives will be suing derivatives in an eternal loop.

            Ha!

            Actually, I listened to The Air That I Breathe and that situation is much similar to Ice Ice Baby or Ghostbusters than Lavigne’s Girlfriend, as examples.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            This just leaves everyone tied up in court. The music org has copyrights on hundreds or thousands of possible arrangements of each piece. You make an arrangement, they sue, saying it’s too near 20 of their arrangements — and it really is. You claim your arrangement is actually derived directly from some public domain original… but how do you prove it?

            Any copyright dispute will end up in court. If the claim is that this arrangement is similar to two dozen of theirs, then clearly none of them are significantly different to the original composition and none of them should be protected.

            No, it’s a failure mode (and a currently existing one at that).

            If it already exists it obviously has nothing to do with my proposal. It’s not reasonable to attach “every problem with copyright ever” to a proposal to fix one part of it.

          • Aapje says:

            This decreasing ability to make music that is caused by infinite copyrights is a good example of the implicitly increasing regulation that is caused by having these long terms. The copyright laws that were manageable when the copyright law required you to make something that was unique for the last 2 or 3 decades becomes a nightmare when you have to ensure that your work doesn’t violate or seem to violate a hundred years of artistic production, much of which is culturally dead.

            They only live on in the automated tools that search for copyright violations.

            This is a form of cost disease, as well as unearned rent seeking.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Youtube encourages monetization rather than takedown. Wrong monetization hurts the true creators, but the viewers hardly notice, so youtube and the false owners don’t face much reputational harm. But the few owners who demand takedowns cause a lot of damage via the false positives.

        • Nornagest says:

          If it means I never have to hear a Monty Python’s Holy Grail reference again, I’m tempted to take that trade.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This is conflating copyright used to protect Mickey Mouse, and copyright used to protect the earning potential of Steamboat Willie.

        I wouldn’t mind a regime where Disney is granted a monopoly on Mickey Mouse, so only they can make new Mickey Mouse shows, but they don’t have exclusive rights over Steamboat Willie any more. And maybe trademarks already do that, or right-of-publicity does, or one of them could be adapted just enough to get that.

        • AG says:

          And I still hate the thought of Disney having the monopoly over making new Mickey Mouse content, either, because the old folk culture model that created such enduring mythologies is still impossible under that regime.

          Shakespeare himself would be unable to produce a good portion of his most enduring work, if he couldn’t access all of the characters he borrowed from other people.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          Why is Steamboat Willie that important? I know Reason points to it as an example of How Terrible Copyright Is, but… why?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s just Mickey’s first appearance. You can substitute something else from that era if you want.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I know that. Why do you care whether Disney has rights to it or not?

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Steamboat Willie is the first appearance of Mickey Mouse. Once it’s in the public domain, you can create derivative works based on it — so you could make new original derivative works starring Mickey Mouse without being Disney. That’s why Disney was so devoted to defending it.

          • LHN says:

            Though such a work could only use elements of Mickey Mouse that appeared in Steamboat Willie, and couldn’t use Disney’s active Mickey Mouse-related trademarks on packaging or in advertising.

            (Similarly, on the day Action Comics #1 goes out of copyright, you can do what you like with a Superman who doesn’t fly or have X-ray vision, wears a small S in a triangle, doesn’t work for the Daily Planet, has none of his villains and of his supporting cast only Lois Lane. And you can’t use the more-familiar S-symbol or the traditional 3-D curved letters spelling out “Superman” on the cover because those are trademarks owned by DC Comics.)

            Just how much of a problem that would really be for Disney in practice is debateable. Mickey in particular is much more important to them as a brand symbol than as a character, and that’s mostly protected by trademark law. But Disney’s efforts to put off the fateful day as long as possible say that they’d prefer not to have to bother working out the details.

            (More recently, they’ve been putting out a whole lot of “classic Mickey” merchandise that seem clearly aimed at making doubly sure that the Steamboat Willie-style Mickey look is covered by their trademarks.)

          • greenwoodjw says:

            This doesn’t answer the question of why people want it to be public domain. Of course Disney doesn’t want to lose the character that represents their company. But why do people fight on this specific issue?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s the synecdoche for all the other works being held back from the public domain.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Then it’s a terrible choice, since a major point of fighting on Steamboat is an end-run to void the copyright on Mickey himself. It’s a copyright in active use, not Star Trek: Armada or SimTower (both abandonware).

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m pretty sure you can make a new comic book hero who has many of the powers of superman or iron man without violating any copyright, as long as you make them distinct. Just as many people have made stories about kids from our world with supernatural powers going to special schools to train them in their use, without infringing on the Harry Potter copyrights, or semi-utopian militaristic space opera that doesn’t infringe on Star Trek’s copyrights.

            What I think you’re allowed to do when the Steamboat Willie copyrights end is make free copies/showings of Steamboat Willie.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            These days you can make someone with pretty much the same powers as Superman, even if not intended as parody, as long as he’s not Superman. But there was a time you could not.

            https://www.polygon.com/comics/2019/4/4/17888520/two-captain-marvel-shazam-dc-warner-bros-comics

          • LHN says:

            Maybe. In the Fawcett case, things were complicated by the testimony that C.C. Beck had admitted to intentionally copying Superman (which Beck denied, but the trial court believed). Fawcett also settled before it had exhausted its appeals because superheroes were basically dead as of the early 50s (give or take Superman himself, buoyed by the TV series, and a handful of others), and the effort to continue printing Captain Marvel stories wasn’t worth the legal costs.

          • Don P. says:

            Note the cover of the laser disc of Fleischer Superman cartoons, where the cartoons are out of copyright, but Superman’s costume is of course a trademark:

            https://www.amazon.com/Superman-Cartoons-Max-Dave-Fleischer/dp/B001MJUFNK

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            So we are already there? There is Superman IP in the public domain, yet any schmoe cannot make Superman comics.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman_(1940s_cartoons)#Later_history

          • greenwoodjw says:

            This is a genuinely interesting digression, but it doesn’t answer the question as to why people care whether they can use Steamboat Willie* without permission.

            *Insert generic example here

          • AG says:

            Because Disney’s efforts to protect Steamboat Willie is the reason current copyright is as ridiculously long as it is?

            I’d have supported Disney getting a special exemption if it meant that copyright for everything else was its original duration. There are so many works that aren’t active, but are still inaccessible, because Disney pushed for universal extension of copyright.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Then a reasonable solution would be “For as long as the copyright is being exploited” with usage requirement every so often, instead of a special exemption for Disney, no?

          • AG says:

            As per the Captain Marvel link, this just leads to half-hearted releases just to maintain copyright, doing the bare minimum to meet “active” status.

            See also the contortions Doctor Who has to do to maintain their access to the Daleks, or how Sony put out those awful Amazing Spiderman movies just to prevent Marvel from getting that character back for movie purposes. I bet the most recent Fantastic 4 film is a similar situation, putting out a piece of garbage just to retain rights.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Feature, not bug. It raises the commitment required to keep the IP. The goal is to compel the IP holder to signify “Yes, I am still interested in X IP”

          • Matt says:

            See also the contortions Doctor Who has to do to maintain their access to the Daleks, or how Sony put out those awful Amazing Spiderman movies just to prevent Marvel from getting that character back for movie purposes. I bet the most recent Fantastic 4 film is a similar situation, putting out a piece of garbage just to retain rights.

            The 1994 Fantastic Four film is probably one of the best examples possible of this problem.

          • AG says:

            @greenwoodjw

            I don’t think the tradeoff of “yes I am supposedly interested in hoarding this IP so I will continue putting out half-assed garbage for it” is worth it, compared to letting it lapse into public domain, and the value so many more people can derive from that.

            At what point is it ridiculous for everyone to still be paying a patent license to the estate of the descendants of the guy who invented the wheel?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I excluded patents from the get-go.

            I’m not proposing “produce or lose”. Simply continuing to sell things previously published under the IP would be sufficient to keep it. Only things that are truly abandoned by their creators should be public domain. You want a more aggressive public domain today, but why?

          • AG says:

            I’m using patents as a comparison.

            There comes a point at which creative works produce more value if everyone has access to using it (creating derivative works and such), just as there comes a point where society is better off for people being able to use the wheel without paying a licensing fee.
            I think that more things should move from Intellectual Property to Intellectual Commons. That doesn’t even prevent the original creators from continuing to create with their work, just that it doesn’t impose an extra cost on others doing so, as well.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I rejected the comparison to patents because the key differences make the comparison unproductive in this context.

            As for “more people creating value”, I don’t think that’s true. 50 Shades was a Twilight fanfic with the serial numbers filed off that went big. It’s not hard to create value while being inspired by something without the something’s IP.

          • AG says:

            And 50 Shades only exists because Stephanie Meyer was gracious enough not to take it to court. It’s exactly a case that happened in spite of IP Law, not enhanced by it.

            It can be argued that culture development has been strongly weakened by the IP regime, because of the loss of a free cultural commons. Again, the existing cases of current cultural commons tend to exist in spite of IP law, where someone has deigned not to enforce their rights. But the opposite case, of IP law abuse, is very apparent. That’s why I want a more aggressive public domain now. What little we have of it has already proven its value, and who knows how much better it could have been if Disney hadn’t locked off everything from the 20s on?

          • albatross11 says:

            How close is 50 Shades to Twilight? I mean, are there characters or settings that are close enough a lawsuit would be successful?

      • An alternative argument for a time limit on an invention is that someone else would probably have made it eventually, so the value provided by the initial inventor is only the value of the invention up to the point when someone would have made it.

        A different way of putting this is that when you make an invention and patent it, you are depleting the commons of inventions to be made–now someone else can’t make the same invention and use it. In principle that applies to copyright as well, but for traditional copyright the commons of books to be written is so enormous that what I deplete by writing a book is de minimums—nobody else would have written that book any time in the next millenium. That’s less true as copyright interpretation broadens to include things such as look and feel.

        Some may be interested in the discussion of this in my Law’s Order.

    • johan_larson says:

      How strong is the actual evidence that the current copyright rules are doing harm? Obviously this is a hard question to answer, because some of the harm may come from absences — remixes and adaptations that just don’t happen because of licensing fees and paperwork. But let’s try. Can anyone point to tortured adaptations that would have been straightforward if the artists could have used older works plainly? Or how about near-adaptations that flew too close to the sun and were brought crashing down by lawsuits? Or works that haven’t been republished because of disputes over licensing fees? I understand the notion that extending copyright too far can do harm. The principle of the thing is not in question. But I’d like to see more concrete evidence of the harm that is being alleged.

      From the consumer perspective, things seem pretty good. I buy plenty of books and watch a lot of movies, and I can only recall a few instances where I found it difficult to get access to older works that I wanted to read or watch, either because of price or availability. “Tour of Duty” went some time before being made available on DVDs, and then with replacement music. “Malcolm in the Middle”, too. I had to get a used copy of “Dreamsnake” because no one had published an e-book. So it has happened a few times. But usually I can find what I want at a price I’m satisfied with. If the current copyright rules are doing me harm, I don’t see much evidence for it.

      • ana53294 says:

        There are current regulations that are harmful to freedom of expression. The EU Copyright directive is one such example, with Article 13 being especially problematic.

        However, this doesn’t come from length of copyright or any such things. The issue is that fragments of a film, or a song, can be used perfectly legally for critique (it is fair use). But how liability works in the internet (are they liable if they don’t remove reported content, or are they liable if any content gets on their platform at all?), establishes how strict the algorithms will be.

        Google scanning books and allowing for search in them, and allowing to read a small fragment, was deemed fair use in the US (although I am not sure how that will work in the EU). A company like Google can spend time in litigation; most internet users who make fair use don’t have the resources to prove their use is fair.

        Youtube videos get removed all the time, and they have to litigate, even when it is fair use.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          So, I understand that your problem with article 17 (used to be 13) is that YouTube algorithms may start blocking certain types of content?

          Initial question: have you actually read the text?

          That aside, YouTube can currently take down any and all content for any reason or no reason whatsoever. The copyright directive doesn’t change this.

          What the currently adopted text does give an uploader of non-infringing content (this includes permitted, non-authorized uses) a right to dispute take-downs, which must be subject to human review (art. 17.9) – which is more protection than you get against yer standard, garden-variety deplatforming.

          Patting myself on the back: I was just about to say some very harsh words about Google Books, but managed to stop myself. I probably should bow out of the discussion. It’s too depressing for words.

          • Aapje says:

            @Faza (TCM)

            The question is what this means: “they should make their best efforts in accordance with high industry standards of professional diligence to avoid the availability on their services of unauthorised works and other subject matter, as identified by the relevant rightholders.”

            If the courts rule that these “high industry standards of professional diligence” consist of filtering systems, then this law makes filtering mandatory.

            It seems likely that the courts will rule this, because the experts they would ask would be on the one hand from Youtube and such, who already use filtering & on the other side, Disney and such, who obviously demand filtering.

            No one who strongly favors fair use, satire, etc is going to get asked by the courts for their input, because those people are not part of this elite that makes and interprets these laws. If they were, we wouldn’t have the copyright laws and the jurisprudence we have, in the first place.

            So the likely outcome is one that we already have now on YouTube and such, where satire and fair use are theoretically legal, but practically severely hampered, but then made mandatory by law.

            PS. Note that the distinction that is made between large content-sharing service providers and small ones quite strongly steers the interpretation of the law towards a requirement for automation of the process, because if the law would merely be interpreted as requiring the service providers to respond promptly to take-down request, no such distinction would be needed.

          • rlms says:

            That aside, YouTube can currently take down any and all content for any reason or no reason whatsoever. The copyright directive doesn’t change this.

            Yes, and this them exercising their right to freedom of association, which is right and proper. On the other hand, if they take down content because the government tells them to, that’s government censorship. Things can be OK for actors in a free market engaging in mutually beneficial trades and simultaneously not OK for governments.

          • ana53294 says:

            I read the proposal.

            1 Those measures, such as the use of effective content recognition technologies, shall be appropriate and proportionate. The service providers shall provide rightholders with adequate information on the functioning and the deployment of the measures, as well as, when relevant, adequate reporting on the recognition and use of the works and other subject – matter.

            3 Member States shall facilitate, where appropriate, the cooperation between the information society service providers and rightholders through stakeholder dialogues to define best practices, such as appropriate and proportionate content recognition technologies, taking into account, among others, the nature of the services, the availability of the technologies and their effectiveness in light of technological developments

            Youtube can and does remove content for its own reasons. This law forces youtube to have strict blocking algorithms, though.

            My problem is that responsibility is placed before the fact, not after the fact. So platforms need to make sure that no content breaches copyright, because once it’s uploaded, taking it off doesn’t take responsibility; they need to be pro-active. And being pro-active means casting a wide net, and removing lots of fair use content, and being very censoring.

            And sure, you now have recourse in the case your content gets taken down. But the whole reason your content was taken down is because the directive places much stricter requirements.

            Who but a professional Youtuber, a person who has the time to deal with this, will bother going through arbitration?

            A lot of content will also be pre-censored in the creation step: people will think twice before making fair use content based on copyrightable content, especially if the copyright owners are unclear or hard to reach. This means censorship.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            This is going against my better judgement, but here goes:

            @ana53294
            Your information is months out of date and only vaguely resembles what was actually passed. Please read the adopted text (the recitals are important, too, I’m sorry to say).

            My problem is that responsibility is placed before the fact, not after the fact. So platforms need to make sure that no content breaches copyright, because once it’s uploaded, taking it off doesn’t take responsibility; they need to be pro-active. And being pro-active means casting a wide net, and removing lots of fair use content, and being very censoring.

            How is that different from any other publisher? The point of the directive is to have the same rules apply online as offline.

            I seriously doubt that arbitration will be any more difficult than sending DMCA counter-notices is at present – mostly because nobody’s particularly interested in making it so: YouTube wants it to be not it’s problem, lawmakers don’t want to have “you broke the internet” levelled at them and most major rights holders don’t want worse optics than they already have.

            The reason this directive exists at all is because people have shown over decades that they cannot be reasonable and will infringe/profit from infringing copyrights without any moderation or restraint if given half-a-chance. Want someone to blame? Blame the file-sharers.

            @AG
            Boing Boing and Techdirt, huh? Oh well… how bad could it be?

            Oh…

            What does the Techdirt story have to do with copyright or the new directive?

            Next.

            The Boing Boing story has a bit more meat to it, apart from being mostly alarmist hypotheticals. Where it does have a point is in pointing out actual abuses of the system.

            I’d be a lot more concerned if not for the fact that any system can be abused. DMCA safe harbour abuse is how we got to where we are today.

            It so happens that the directive does anticipate such scenarios, in article 17 item 9:

            Where rightholders request to have access to their specific works or other subject matter disabled or those works or other subject matter removed, they shall duly justify the reasons for their requests.

            It doesn’t stop trolls from breaking the law – or claiming to own rights to something they don’t own – enforcement does.

            @rlms:

            Things can be OK for actors in a free market engaging in mutually beneficial trades and simultaneously not OK for governments.

            But that’s not what’s happening here, is it?

            We have four market actors here: the rights holder, the uploader, the content provider service and the viewer. The only thing the government is doing is making sure that the first doesn’t get shafted for the benefit of the remaining three parties. This is no different than any other bit of law regulating contracts, etc.

            @Aapje:

            If the courts rule that these “high industry standards of professional diligence” consist of filtering systems, then this law makes filtering mandatory.

            It seems likely that the courts will rule this, because the experts they would ask would be on the one hand from YouTube and such, who already use filtering & on the other side, Disney and such, who obviously demand filtering.

            Yes, I also think it likely.

            However, I also believe that the preference will be towards false negatives, rather than false positives.

            This is for a couple of reasons:
            1. Getting filters to identify typical “fair” uses as infringing is actually pretty hard – given the amount of transformation involved. The further you get from an exact copy, the more complex your filter has to be.

            2. No significant player actually wants filters that emphasise false positives – not even the rights holders (because optics). What the rights holders do want is filters that will stop works being uploaded wholesale onto YouTube and such and staying down post-notice only as long as it takes to upload them again.

            3. The directive emphasises protection for permitted uses repeatedly – the entire item 7 of article 17 is devoted to this issue. A filtering mechanism that blocks quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody or pastiche will be non-compliant with the directive and any laws adopted thereunder.

            Now, it’s possible, however unlikely, that nobody’s going to make a fuss if implementation of the directive isn’t compliant with this particular part, but if that’s the case – there’s no problem to be addressed.

            And now I must sincerely apologize and really take my leave of this thread. I don’t expect to convince you of anything and discussing the subject isn’t doing me any good either. I felt you deserved a reply to your points. I’m sorry if it is unsatisfactory.

          • AG says:

            The Techdirt story isn’t directly about copyright. However, it is an instance of how book scanning and archival projects across the board are being targetted by any variety of laws to stop their work. Copyright law abuse is definitely one of those tools. If the EU is happy using this law to be so trigger happy in taking down archival content, they absolutely will be just as trigger happy using the Copyright Directive to do it, too.

            any system can be abused

            Which is an argument for not handing even more power to people who are already abusing it. Legal text that presumably gives innocents the right to appeal or for accusers to justify their claims have empirically been hand-waved, and the damage done to innocents is much more common and critical than it is to corporations making the mistake. Few media-hosting companies can afford to have the manpower to review individual claims as per item 9, much less the litigation over whether or not the justification for the claims is hogwash or not, so they will default to automated systems that are over-zealous. We have already seen this, and the Copyright Directive only makes that even more of a necessity. Proper enforcement of the law isn’t feasible.

            No government or corporation has proven that they can implement the Copyright Directive in good faith, so the text of the law pretty much doesn’t matter. It should be opposed on the grounds of its inevitably bad results.

          • ana53294 says:

            4. If no authorisation is granted, online content-sharing service providers shall be liable for unauthorised acts of communication to the public, including making available to the public, of copyright-protected works and other subject matter, unless the service providers demonstrate that they have:

            (a) made best efforts to obtain an authorisation, and

            (b) made, in accordance with high industry standards of professional diligence, best efforts to ensure the unavailability of specific works and other subject matter for which the rightholders have provided the service providers with the relevant and necessary information; and in any event

            Copyright holders are not going to give Youtube a blanket permission to have its content used in all kinds of videos, so there will never be authorisation.

            This means, again, that ContentID will be used to filter out all videos that contain recognizable pieces of songs/videos, and every fair use will have to be justified and debated, instead of the current situation, where sometimes you don’t have to go through the whole rigamarole.

            Publishers do publish fair use materials, and they actually have lawyers and people who can argue about it. Individual youtubers who do it for fun are unlikely to have the resources.

            And, although the article does state that:

            Member States shall ensure that users in each Member State are able to rely on any of the following existing exceptions or limitations when uploading and making available content generated by users on online content-sharing services:

            (a) quotation, criticism, review;

            (b) use for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche.

            There is no punishment or liability for making fair use onerous, and there is liability to allow even a single video that breaks copyright. Which means that platforms will be so strict that many fair uses will be caught.

          • AG says:

            There is no punishment or liability for making fair use onerous, and there is no liability to allow even a single video that breaks copyright. Which means that platforms will be so strict that many fair uses will be caught.

            YUP. The only copyright law I’d trust at this point is one that significantly penalizes entities who make false claims of copyright violation without requiring onerous litigation on the part of the accused, and/or one where the system of appeal is as fast-acted-upon as the system of filing a claim.

          • Aapje says:

            @Faza (TCM)

            Youtube has taken down videos with randomly generated noise. So I don’t believe that their filters are conservative nor do I believe that their incentives are to be conservative.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        From the consumer perspective, things seem pretty good. I buy plenty of books and watch a lot of movies, and I can only recall a few instances where I found it difficult to get access to older works that I wanted to read or watch, either because of price or availability.

        Every time you have to pay money for an old book instead of downloading it to your Kindle from Project Gutenberg for free, that’s harm. The same is true when you have to pay for an old movie instead of downloading it from the Internet Archive.

        “Tour of Duty” went some time before being made available on DVDs, and then with replacement music. “Malcolm in the Middle”, too. I had to get a used copy of “Dreamsnake” because no one had published an e-book. So it has happened a few times. But usually I can find what I want at a price I’m satisfied with. If the current copyright rules are doing me harm, I don’t see much evidence for it.

        Suppose I want my future children to watch Henry’s Amazing Animals or A.J.’s Time Travelers or F.R.O.G? These are all old edutainment shows I used to watch on Discovery Kids in Latin America.

        Henry’s Amazing Animals? Only on VHS. Used. With prices ranging from $5 to $50. For 30 minute tapes.

        AJ’s Time Traveler’s? Same story.

        Friends of Research and Odd Gadgets? $50 an episode. Or you can buy all 13 episodes half-hour episodes for $475; what a bargain!

        On the other hand, Ghostwriter and Popular Mechanics For Kids belong to the same reference class, and are available at reasonable prices. But as you can see from these examples, it is very much luck of the draw whether or not any one obscure show will continue to the available at a fair price in the future.

        And these are all American shows. Lots of foreign stuff never gets licensed over here in the first place. What if I want to legally watch Choujuu Sentai Liveman or 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother? I’m fucked, because both were licensed in Peru, where I watched them, but never in the United States.

        And what of video games? You remember how above we could only find certain shows in VHS? Well, non-PC video games are even worse, because new consoles come out every 5 years. Which means that as time increases without bound, the probability that you have a console capable of playing an old game approaches zero. And the export issue applies to games, too! If I want to play Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, the only way I can do that is by downloading a Japanese ROM and applying an English fan-translation patch (both the ROM and the translation being copyright violations), because it has never been officially released in the West (and if it had been released, surviving copies would be selling for hundreds of dollars, and I wouldn’t have a Super Nintendo to play them with even if I got my hands on one).

        • Nick says:

          A friend of mine had a policy of only pirating things he couldn’t buy. One case was Hellsing Ultimate; he watched it illegally because he couldn’t find a way to purchase it legally.

          I just checked Amazon and they have the series for the surprisingly reasonable price of $49.99… except that’s a pre-order for some new venture, so who knows what the price was before, if it was even available.

        • Which means that as time increases without bound, the probability that you have a console capable of playing an old game approaches zero.

          I thought there were emulators, running on ordinary computers, for all popular consoles. Am I mistaken?

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Shamus Young has a relevant blog post touching on that very issue up today.

            The gist is that the technical challenges in emulating the PS2 (for example) still have not been fully solved:

            Also, it would be nice if we weren’t relying on decades-old devices for access to the greatest console library in the history of the medium. Assuming the individual components are still manufactured somewhere, they ought to be pretty cheap by now. If they aren’t, then that’s all the more reason to make some more before the machines start dying off in significant numbers.

            (This is based on the assumption that emulation isn’t good enough. I know the emulation scene has traditionally had a hard time getting a proper reproduction of PS2 behavior. It’s been a few years since I looked, but the last time I gave PS2 emulation a go there were still a lot of odd timing problems and rendering glitches. Then again, Sony has access to the full specs and don’t need to engage in any messy reverse-engineering, so maybe they’ll have more success emulating PS2 behavior on modern devices. I don’t know enough to predict that, so for now I’m assuming emulation is off the table and we need comparable hardware for access to those old games.)

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I thought there were emulators, running on ordinary computers, for all popular consoles. Am I mistaken?

            Suppose I have an original copy of Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals for the Super Nintendo (available for a measly $90; just $30 more than a modern AAA game!). How does a Super Nintendo emulator help? I can’t just pop the cartridge into my computer and start playing; ordinary computers don’t have Super Nintendo ports. I have to download the ROM (which, contrary to what some people believe, is illegal even if I do own the original) and run it with the emulator. At which point, we’re back to violating copyright in order to be able to consume old games.

          • liate says:

            @jaimeastorga2000
            The legal solution is to get something like the Retrode—it’s basically a box that lets you read data off of cartridges from a few different old systems via USB. (This is, of course, how people get roms to put on the internet.)

            I bet they make less expensive things like this for just SNES cartridges, too

          • Nick says:

            I have friends in jaimeastorga’s position, and they just gave up and downloaded the ROMs instead of reading off their own copies.

          • AG says:

            @liate

            The Retrode only applies to a narrow subset of obsolete game formats, and as consoles further progress, making a Retrode-equivalent product for newer formats will become illegal, as those will have DRM, and getting around DRM is illegal.
            So even if a game maker decides to let some PS4 game lapse into public domain, accessing those games will be impossible once Sony decides to stop supporting the PS4.

        • BBA says:

          You think that’s rough, try being an MST3K fan. Each of its 200+ episodes is built around an existing B-movie, but only a handful of the movies are public domain and the rest are subject to the monetary and other demands of the underlying copyright holders. So individual episodes go into and out of print all the time, some are unlikely to ever see official release again (Toho doesn’t want anyone mocking Godzilla), and you can just forget about a complete box set. Not that anyone would watch all 300+ hours of material, it’d just be nice to be able to, y’know?

          Luckily, there are…*ahem*…other resources available.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Or works that haven’t been republished because of disputes over licensing fees?

        Science fiction is full of these; not so much disputes over the fees, but uncertainty as to who the current rights-holders are. If the original publisher went bankrupt and the author is dead, it can be very hard to tease this out. Same for old 8-bit computer games (many of which survive through piracy).

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Tanya Grotter

        Nina Paley tried to make legal art, but it turned out to be impossible, so she gave up and now makes de facto illegal art.

        Nearly every stylistic decision you see about the channel …was reverse-engineered from YouTube’s Copyright ID

        Hoopyfreud defends legal malpractice on the grounds that we occasionally give obeisance to the right people.

        • ana53294 says:

          There are many Russian rip offs of Harry Potter.

          Russia in general tends to be very relaxed about copyright.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Hoopyfreud defends legal malpractice on the grounds that we occasionally give obeisance to the right people.

          That’s actually quite hurtful in its utter lack of charity, especially given that you dropped a one-word comment and made no further attempts to engage with what I was saying.

      • AG says:

        Edward Scizorhands posted above about how Fawcett Comics had to cease publication of Captain Marvel because the legal battles against DC would overwhelm the decreasing revenue they were getting from their comic sales. (But in the absence of those legal battles, could have been just enough to keep afloat)

        The first episode of anime Osoumatsu-san was heavy in pop culture references and parodies. So much so that it is no longer legally available anywhere, struck down by copyright, as Japan doesn’t have a parody exception in their law.

        Destruction of non-profit art creation: Anne Rice vs. fanfiction

        11 Incredible Fan Games That Were Legally Taken Down
        “Game developers, like Terry Cavanagh, Rami Ismail of Vlambeer and Mike Bithell have received flags on videos of their own games, for alleged breaches of copyright against the makers of the soundtracks. Some artists had been hit with copyright claims against their own videos.
        DMCA used to target Ad blocking
        DMCA used against a negative video game review
        Music CD DRM worked by installing a rootkit
        The NFL is a dick about allowing groups to watch games together

        The anti-Right-To-Repair and anti-tinkering pushes in tech are based in abusing copyright, thanks to DMCA section 1201, epitomized in the John Deere tractor software nonsense. 1201 also imposes potential criminal and civil liability on security researchers who investigate and disclose bugs without manufacturer approval, leading to the suppression of whistleblowers. Unlocking your phone to work with different providers was illegal for a while, thanks to the DMCA.

    • Every once in a while, I remember that there are works from before World War II still under copyright and I am filled with shock and outrage.

      And I read that sentence and realize how old I am. I was born before the end of WW II.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Alright, having been disparaged in the comments, I’ll lay out my position.

      Something about copyright broke recently. I think we went through a Kuhnian paradigmatic shift without realizing it, and I don’t like it on this side.

      Somehow, we went from “don’t sell things you don’t own” with commonly understood definitions of “sell” and “own” to the current paradigm in which copyright holders seek to extract maximum value out of their holdings by using the presence of any copyrighted material as a basis for claiming those rights. Yes, that’s how they’re formally defined. No, I don’t think they should be. The cost of negotiation for media use rights is so (irreducibly) expensive that I don’t think it’s possible to [libertarian] one’s way into a useful solution while retaining copyright in its current form.

      Consider that mixtape culture was a thing at one point, and that Endtroducing… not only saw the light of day but was one of the best and most-loved albums of the 1990s. It’s composed almost entirely of samples. I don’t think it could be made today. Certainly not by an unknown like DJ Shadow was. I used to make mixtapes for fun (and have recently been thinking about getting back into it), and I can confirm both that I used large amounts of copyrighted material… and that I sincerely felt like I was making something new. I never sold mixtapes – they were played and duplicated for free for close friends. I feel like the conception of copyright we have should allow for this – that it did once allow for this – but I have no idea how to formalize it. See also: photocopying pages from D&D manuals.

      I sometimes think the internet broke it. The internet got rid of “art for friends,” on the assumption that a wider audience is inherently better. But it feels like there’s a missing concept here. Something about unidirectional semipermeable cultural membranes, isolation from the backdrop, distance from the monoculture, eternal September. It used to be that you had to push uphill to get something a wide audience; now you have to push uphill to keep it small. The death of derivative art is only a manifestation. I don’t know what can be done to fix it; I think intellectual property needs to be rethought. The CC license seemed like a promising alternative about 7 years ago, but the world keeps forcing IP into existing legal systems. The dependency is built into the superstructure. It scares and depresses me.

      E: posted to the new OT – https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/04/24/open-thread-126-25/#comment-745446

  24. dndnrsn says:

    Hello, and welcome to the twenty-first installment of my Biblical scholarship effortpost series. We’ve looked at the entire canonical Hebrew Bible, and this post is going to be a lot less focused than usual; feel free to chime in about whatever, ask questions, etc. I’ll be sharing my own opinion here more than I normally do in the top-level posts (which are an attempt to summarize the scholarly views). The usual caveat still stands: I’m not an expert; I didn’t stay in school long enough for that.

    I’ve really enjoyed writing the effortpost series so far, and it’s the first time I’ve approached the Hebrew Bible as something I was teaching others about, rather than writing essays for people more expert than I. Giving a general overview made me think about some things that I mostly didn’t consider back in school. Plus, in school, I mostly focused on the New Testament – the Hebrew Bible and the year of Hebrew I took were very much a secondary thing. Finally, everyone taking the “Intro to Hebrew Bible” type courses tends to be on the same page – it forced me to think about things when I was explaining and defending the scholarly consensus.

    Overall, I would say that my personal reaction to having written this series is one of intrigued frustration. We will likely never know what exactly happened, late in the second millennium (I think the earliest feasible date is probably the best one, having updated in this direction while doing this series) that led to the emergence of the Hebrew religion as a distinct thing, and speculation as to its roots is just that – speculation. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that can’t have happened as it’s written, but concluding “it’s just made up” doesn’t make sense either. The Exodus story is maybe the best example of this: it doesn’t make sense for a people to give a figure with a foreign-derived name pride of place, and it doesn’t make sense to just make up a story about one’s ancestors having been runaway slaves. Something must have actually happened to bring this story about. Whatever it is, it’s lost in the mists of time, and we’ll probably never know unless there’s some fabulous archaeological discovery. This is true of a lot of things we’ve covered.

    It’s also true of a lot having to do with the next topic: the New Testament. Early Christianity (or what would become early Christianity – scholars argue over terminology, because of course they do) contains some equally puzzling bits. We have more to go on, due to it being closer to our time (and thus more texts surviving), and due to Roman sources, but there’s still stuff where the closest we can get is scholarly guessing, reconstructions of lost texts, and the like.

    Expect the series to start up again in May. The first post will either be some historical background, the Gospel of Mark, or both if I can fit them into one post.

    I want to thank everyone who’s commented – whether you had something to add, or had questions to ask, or challenged some scholarly point, or complimented the series (if you did all four, you’re especially thanked). Major gratitude to bean for proofreading the posts, also.

    So, if anyone’s got any further questions about the Hebrew Bible, fire away. As always, if there’s some error, let me know, ideally within the edit window.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Additionally – a little bit of a hassle for me, so I didn’t do it by default, but I can put all the links together here if people want. Anyone interested?

    • yodelyak says:

      I would definitely appreciate a compendium of links also. Thank for all your posts!

    • S_J says:

      Not really a question, but a comment about something that caught my eye many years ago. It’s a hint about the timing of the transition from Bronze Age to Iron Age for the people of Israel.

      In 1 Samuel chapter 13, early in the narrative of the rule of King Saul, there is an explanation given about levels of technology:

      Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!” So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plow points, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened….So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them.

      Past this point, there are no explanations or comments about blacksmiths, or various levels of technology.

      Long story short, the narrative introduces David shortly afterwards. He has early success in several ways, but is then driven away by Saul. David spends some time traveling the wilderness, then lives under the protection of the Philistines [1], and later manages to claim the king-ship of Israel after Saul dies.

      Afterwards, David’s leadership of Israel seems to be one military success after another.

      I always wondered whether David (or one of the men who joined him during his exile from the court of Saul) learned the trade of a blacksmith somewhere along the way…and David parlayed that into building a successful army. [2]

      Whether or not that is the case, it is an interesting comment about the relative levels of technology between the people of Israel and the people in the Philistine cities.

      [1] Come to think of it, the Philistines played the role of Outside Oppressors on a regular basis…through the narrative of Judges and the lifetime of Saul in 1 Samuel. But they almost disappear as enemies after David comes to power. Further, a Philistine leader from Tyre is named as a trading partner with Solomon by the time Solomon rises to power!

      It appears that David’s long stay in Philistine lands may have given him the ability to negotiate with the Philistines better, to the point that the people of Israel don’t have to worry about the Philistines. It’s even possible that the Philistines considered David (and his dynasty) to be vassals, since David worked under one of their kings before ascending to rule Israel.

      [2] The narrative does its best to describe David as a much better soldier and military leader than Saul. Several of his elite soldiers and army leaders are also named, and given some credit.
      It’s possible to argue that the editor of both parts of Samuel was exaggerating the success of David. Similar to your comments about Moses: it’s hard to claim that David was totally fictional.

      • bullseye says:

        Searching for “blacksmith” doesn’t turn up much. Searching for “iron” or “bronze” turns up plenty.

        It looks to me like the Hebrews were already Iron Age in the time of Moses. They are promised iron and copper under their new land, and commanded to build a stone altar without using iron tools, implying that they had iron tools. I can’t find a reference to the Hebrews owning any bronze other than sacred objects, loot from other peoples, and a helmet Saul gives David. Goliath, on the other hand, is covered in bronze with weapons of both metals, and the Philistines use bronze shackles on Samson.

        My guess is that all of this was in the part of the Iron Age when iron was still weaker than bronze; the advantage of iron was that it was cheap. So the Philistines and Saul put their strongest armor on their champions, and the Philistines use their strongest shackles on a man of legendary strength.

        So how would the Hebrews not have blacksmiths in 1 Samuel? I figure the Philistines had been ruling them long enough, and banning Hebrew blacksmiths long enough, that none of the Hebrews remembered how to do it.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I imagine that this is a job for archaeologists – off the top of my head, I don’t know when evidence of iron starts showing up, or whether they had less iron than the rest of the region. Biblical archaeology (or archaeology in general) isn’t really my strong suit – remind me in a week or two, and I’ll see what I can rustle up when I’m back with my books. I do know that the non-Biblical evidence we have suggests a different relationship between the societies in the region than the text presents.

        I’d agree that David doesn’t seem fictional. He’s morally ambiguous and complicated – in a way that later interpreters clearly had trouble with. The comparison to Moses is apt – just as it doesn’t make sense to invent an important figure with a foreign name, or the whole slavery story, it doesn’t make sense to make up a foundational figure who is, frankly, more than a bit of a rogue.

  25. I’ve read that bayonet charges rarely led to many deaths as one side would either be caught by surprise and run/surrender or both sides would still end up shooting each other even when they were close and the bayonet would be more effective. Is this true? And if so, is it because we moderns are just that more afraid of running towards a sword or is it something else?

    • AG says:

      More like, soldiers weren’t nearly as disciplined, so they didn’t actually want to kill and be killed in turn.

      • “Disciplined” is a weird word to use here. Do you think that various barbarian tribes throughout history were more disciplined than 19th century armies?

        • itex says:

          Depends on what you’re comparing to. I assume the OP meant that soldiers weren’t as disciplined as we would expect a professional soldier to be.

          My dilettante’s understanding of historical warfare is that the vast majority of soldiers prior to the late 20th century were hastily trained volunteers, conscripts, or militia. Professional standing armies are expensive.

        • Eric Rall says:

          It’s also a matter of how trained you are and what you’ve been trained for. Not “disciplined” so much as “trained and ready overcome the natural aversion to risk getting stabbed”.

          Medieval, classical, and ancient armies (whether “civilized” or “barbarian”) were typically formed around a core of professionals (most commonly an aristocracy that doubles as a warrior caste, but also might include mercenaries, armed retainers, or Roman-style professional soldiers) who had trained for combat from late childhood. This was often padded out with militias, peasant levies, and the like. Only the former were really expected to be disciplined to any significant extent. They would typically have years or even a decade or two of training and experience, and in most cases a large fraction of that training and experience would be focused on melee combat.

          Mass gunpowder armies (especially once you get to the stage of flintlocks, ring bayonets, and paper cartridges) often operate differently. It’s a lot easier to learn how to use a musket effectively than a sword, pike, or halberd, and there are fewer psychological hurdles to overcome for blasting away over a smoky battlefield at a mass of people dozens of yards away vs running right up to them and trying to stab them while they’re trying to stab you. There was still a place for melee combat, and trained and experienced professionals were still worth having, but a militia/conscript/levee unit with 6-12 weeks of training is a lot more effective on the battlefield in the gunpowder era that it was before. The mix of armies tended to change, relying more on volunteers or conscripts to make much larger armies, and requiring shorter terms of enlistment even from long-serving professionals.

          In general, the biggest advantage of professionals in the flintlock era was in melee combat. They were also typically better at shooting (faster reloading, more uniform volleys, better aim) and marching, but the differences were starkest for melee combat, which professionals had time to train and prepare for much more than militia or short-service volunteers/conscripts. They were much more likely to stand their ground against a bayonet or cavalry charge, they were more likely to make a charge of their own while maintaining unit cohesion and morale, and they were much more effective at the actual stabbing when the other guys stuck around to fight it out.

          I, too, have heard claims that usually a bayonet charge lead to the defenders running away or surrendering rather than a mass melee. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect a large part of that is that veteran/professional units did more charging and the shorter-serving units they faced lacked the training and discipline to receive the charge (and that this was often a rational decision, since the pros would have had a huge advantage even if they stood and fought).

        • AG says:

          itex and Eric Rall are correct. I meant something like the mental discipline to fight up close.
          Even our current professional soldiers require a whole lot of training to get them prepared for the mental stresses of combat.

          Barbarian tribes would have been more subject to selection effects.

          • DeWitt says:

            Barbarian tribal combat also wasn’t particularly deadly or even focused on melees at time. Pre-Shaka Zulu mostly involved a whole lot of javelins being tossed and not much else, for example.

          • I´m still very skeptical of this claim. Most of the time in world history, armies would be made up of amateurs who, in little time, would be at the front lines with someone wielding a spear in their face. When Caesar invaded Gaul, he wasn´t fighting a tiny minority of men, he was fighting thousands of them who banded together to drive the Romans away and they didn´t even have a tight formation to keep them from running away. Obviously, armies needs some kind of training to be most effective but it seems very modern to require training to be able to kill someone.

          • Incurian says:

            Even our current professional soldiers require a whole lot of training to get them prepared for the mental stresses of combat.

            I don’t think anyone has subjected this claim to an RCT. Grossman is often cited, but even as a teenager I remember thinking his evidence was rather thin.

          • Eric Rall says:

            When Caesar invaded Gaul, he wasn´t fighting a tiny minority of men, he was fighting thousands of them who banded together to drive the Romans away and they didn´t even have a tight formation to keep them from running away.

            Quickly skimming wikipedia, it looks like modern estimates of the Gallic armies’ strengths at most of the major battles of Caesar’s campaign were in the tens of thousands, peaking at 70-100k at the Battle of Alesia (unless I missed a bigger battle). If the total population of Gaul was about 5 million (estimates seem to be all over the map), that implies a total army strength of something like 10-20% of the military-age male population depending on demographics and how much of the army fought in any one battle. That’s way too much to all be even semi-pros, but it would fit for a core of warrior aristocrats and their followers padded out by levies or volunteers from the general population.

            There are two standard tricks for leveraging a veteran force mixed with green troops. One is to use the veterans as a cadre, mixed in with the green troops in senior/leadership roles (officers and NCOs in a modern context) to lead by example and rally the green soldiers if the waver. This is often the go-to method if the combined force has time to work up before battle. The more brutal quick-and-dirty method is to put the veterans in separate units behind the green units with orders to kill the first men who run (or to “encourage” stragglers with advancing spearpoints during an advance). I know the Romans used both methods. I’m not sure about the Gauls.

          • AG says:

            @Wrong Species
            We’re not talking about anyone requiring training to kill, we’re talking about if they were relatively more able to kill than the people in the bayonet charges. Perhaps those people hit the sweet spot in history between “people in ancient armies had already gone through a survival filter (and also had shields against the stabby things)” and “professional soldiers in modern armies going through Full Metal Jacket sergeants yelling at them, and have more effective guns so there are few bayonet charges” where they were picked from a populace just wealthy enough that they could have survived and were a part of the army as a squeamish person.

    • sfoil says:

      I don’t know if it’s quite accurate to say that bayonet charges rarely led to many deaths, but it’s certain that few people have been killed by bayonets.

      The thing to keep in mind is that people generally won’t do things that are 100% likely to get them killed. Despite depictions of scores of men falling at each volley, a line of soldiers with muskets receiving fire at typical combat ranges probably sustained a couple of casualties a minute at most. What are typical combat ranges? Whatever distance you won’t take more than a couple of casualties a minute under fire. This seems to have been 50-100 yards, sometimes less.

      Imagine what happens during an assault during the musket era Instead of standing at 50 yards and exchanging fire, one side (probably with numbers on its side, at least locally) starts moving forward. Each defending soldier can probably fire once or twice before this happens. The attackers sustain more losses from this fire than at their previous position, and one of three things happens: either they back up in more or less order, they stop and start shooting again, or they keep moving. If they keep moving, at some point quite soon the defender finds himself with an empty weapon and faced by imminent physical contact with a larger group of men. He knows he can’t survive that, so he runs away. If he does decide to hang around, maybe he can stick one or two of the attackers before getting stuck himself, with no change to the ultimate outcome.

      Notice that this assumes that a large body of attackers make it to the defending position intact. There seem to have been times when the attacker and defender were roughly on par right at the point of contact, and significant actual hand-to-hand fighting ensued. For instance, the “Bloody Angle” at Cold Harbor in the American Civil War. Bayonet fighting also seems to have figured heavily in combat in confined spaces such as inside buildings, which did happen in this era as in today, as at the Chateau d’Hougoumont at Waterloo (arguably these are the same phenomena).

      You do need to be careful about some of the very low figures for bayonet casualties — some of those are based on “wounds treated”, and if bayonet wounds are likely to leave one Dead Right There, it would undercount them.

      Don’t buy theories about a lack of willingness to kill — pre-gunpowder armies killed a lot of people in hand-to-hand combat, and even the transitional “pike and shot” armies of mixed musketeers and pikemen clearly did a lot of killing with their pikes. The difference is that the fire of those mixed units was much less effective at preventing hand-to-hand combat from occurring.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      At a guess, maybe lack of shield/armour? Facing an enemy charge is frightening enough, but when there’s nothing but a brightly-coloured woollen jacket between your guts and an enemy polearm…

    • Protagoras says:

      I’m not sure what the proportion of exact causes of death was, but I find this somewhat unlikely for Napoleonic battle, given the combination of facts that death rates were quite high in Napoleonic battles, and infantry charges appear to have been extremely important. I suppose it’s possible that even in those cases the overwhleming majority of the actual deaths could have been from causes other than the bayonets, but I’m more inclined to suspect that this varied greatly in different periods; I’ve heard WWI soldiers sometimes showed the pattern you suggest of trying to shoot or even trying to reload their rifles when using their bayonets would have been more effective.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I’ve heard the same claims as Wrong Species, and mostly about the flintlock era (roughly the late 17th century through the mid 19th century) in general, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it about the Napoleonic wars in particular. I just double-checked Wikipedia, and they repeat that claim about the Napoleonic wars, citing Antoine-Henri Jomini (a Swiss-born general who served under Napoleon) as their source:

        Antoine-Henri Jomini, a celebrated military author who served in numerous armies during the Napoleonic period, stated that the majority of bayonet charges in the open resulted with one side fleeing before any contact was made. Combat with bayonets did occur, but mostly on a small scale when units of opposing sides encountered each other in a confined environment, such as during the storming of fortifications or during ambush skirmishes in broken terrain.[37]

    • bean says:

      From what I remember of military psychology (I think the book was Acts of War or something of that nature, it’s been a while), people really don’t like stabbing or getting stabbed. The best way to silently kill someone is to stab them in the kidneys. It’s so painful the victim can’t cry out before he dies. Slitting the throat is less effective, but people prefer to do it. The same is true of bayonet charges, so the recipient almost always runs away. The quote I remember is “Every nation in Europe says ‘no one can stand before our bayonet charges’ and they’re all correct.”

  26. David Speyer says:

    A game: You can reset history to any moment. That moment will then reoccur, and you can not influence it directly, but all random events will be “rerolled” with their native probabilities. Thus, you can got to the conception of Alexei Nikolaevich and hope for him not to acquire hemophilia (50% odds that he is female and non-hemophiliac, 25% that he is a healthy male, 25% you get the same bad draw again). Or you can go back to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and hope that he turns down a different street or that Princip misses.

    In other words, what is humanity’s worst bit of bad luck?

    • metacelsus says:

      The antigenic shift that led to the 1918 pandemic flu virus is a good candidate.

      Although I’m not sure it would be a good idea to “reset” history to that point, given that one couldn’t predict how the present would turn out (for example, JFK didn’t win the 1960 election and the Cuban Missile Crisis turned into World War 3).

      • cassander says:

        If kennedy doesn’t get elected then there probably is no cuban missile crisis, because khrushchev decided to put missiles in cuba because he thought kennedy was weak when they met in person.

    • albatross11 says:

      I’d be afraid to do any moment before the cold war, because I think a cold war was almost inevitable thanks to the nature of nukes and rockets, and I think we made several saving throws against nuclear holocaust during the cold war that we probably couldn’t repeat.

    • noyann says:

      Well, it’s not worst luck (but we can’t even imagine the alternatives, obv. — would be an intersting read):

      The split-second in which Alexander the Great was shielded from a deathly blow by a friend (‘comrade-in-arms’ — how did they call it then?) in a battle early in his life. No Hellenism, no antiquity, no scholastics… A completely different world history.

      ED: typo

      • I’m not so sure. Most of the Hellenistic people were eventually absorbed in to their respective societies and those that weren’t would be absorbed by the Romans. Most of the scholars from the time would have probably just gone to Athens instead of Alexandria. Now if you could keep Alexander alive long enough to fight the Romans, or at least long enough that his son might able to do so, that could make a huge difference.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          IDK, Alexander’s conquests caused a big spread of Greek culture in the east, the effects of which were felt as far afield as India, not to mention the new kingdoms that arose after the collapse of his empire. No Alexander would have a big impact on the subsequent cultural and political history of the region.

          • The spread of Hellenistic culture is overrated. It didn’t really spread to non-Greeks in Asia(outside of the Jews who developed a close relationship with Alexandria) and those Greeks would cease to be relevant after a few hundred years.

            Politically, all those kingdoms would fall to the Romans anyways, so it doesn’t make much of a difference in the long run.

            You might be able to get something from the Jewish people. They were very prominent and the Old Testament was translated in to Greek during this time. Maybe without the Hellenistic kingdoms, they have less influence and Christianity doesn’t spread outside of Israel, but that’s kind of convoluted.

          • noyann says:

            Besides the spread of the invader culture, an empire facilitates exchange of ideas, tools, techniques, goods. And mixing and migration. Inter-fertilization on all levels.
            The ‘scholars from the time [who] would have probably just gone to Athens instead of Alexandria’ — would all of them have come, if they originated from far away, with their then outlandish ideas and concepts, heuristics and attitudes?
            I think (but cannot prove) that there must have been subtle but strong influences of which we have too little archeological/historical evidence.

          • Here’s what historian Peter Green has to say in his book on the time period, Alexander the Actium:

            When all these factors are taken into account, a radically modified picture of a Hellenization emerges, restricted, for the most part, to some curious instances of architectural and glyptic hybridization; some social assimilation among non-Greek rulers and in the administrative sector of the major kingdoms (particularly the Ptolemaic); a few religious syncretizations that transmuted their borrowings out of all recognition(e.g., Isis and Sarapis); and the establishment of the Attic koine as a useful international language, primarily for administrative and commercial purposes, but also, later for religious propaganda. This does not mean that the Greek and Macedonian colonists failed to have a profound impact on the societies they controlled, particularly through the widespread colonization of the Seleucid empire but this impact was, first and foremost, economic and demographic rather than cultural. As we shall see, it is hard to track the conscious diffusion of Greek intellectual ideas in the Hellenistic East with any real confidence, and of genuine literary interpenetration between Greek and other cultures there is virtually no trace.

            It’s not nothing, but it’s hardly a contestant for the biggest worldwide changes in history.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        There were several times Alexander was almost killed, but from your description I suspect you’re thinking of the Battle of the River Granicus in western Anatolia, where Alexander was almost killed by a Persian cavalryman but saved by his Companion (hetairos; the term used for the royal bodyguards [and also, in the feminine gender, for high-class prostitutes]) Clitus the Black. (Alexander later ended up killing this same Clitus in a drunken argument.)

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        In one of the What If? books, there’s a good chapter on what would have happened if Cleitus had failed to save Alexander at the Granicus.

        The author, as I recall, imagined a stable co-existence between a Persian East and a Roman West ultimately developing. I’m not sure how he envisioned the migrations in the 4th and 5th centuries would have affected this state of affairs.

        Actually, turns out there’s a PDF, so anyone can check it out for themselves.

        • noyann says:

          Could have been where I got the idea. Or from someone citing it at length. Long time ago… Thanks for the PDF!

    • Eric Rall says:

      In other words, what is humanity’s worst bit of bad luck?

      Put in those terms, probably either Genghis Khan’s career getting off the ground from a very rocky start or Y. pestis mutating to infect humans. But I hesitate to press a reset button on either of those, since both are early enough that resetting all random effects after that would have a huge risk of indirectly preventing or delaying the industrial revolution. As bad as Genghis and the Black Death were, they’re better than the possibility of delaying for centuries the escape of a large fraction of mankind from crushing absolute poverty. And besides which, I’m not sure they wouldn’t have been replaced by other conquerors and plagues respectively.

      Similar concerns stop me from preventing Martin Luther from getting (almost?) struck by lightning and resolving to become a monk, in hopes of preventing the 30 Years War, the French Wars of Religion, the English Civil War, and other bloody and destructive turmoil resulting from the Protestant Reformation playing out the way it did. If it wasn’t Luther, the grounds were fertile for someone else lighting a spark, and 1) it could have been as bad or worse than OTL, and 2) either the change itself or later random events could have derailed the rise of modernity.

      • albatross11 says:

        Was something like the industrial revolution inevitable sooner or later? Or did that take a lot of die rolls going the right way? How would we tell?

        • Nornagest says:

          It’s basically impossible to say for sure, but I’m leaning towards “lucky”, partly because it didn’t happen in China. That had a lot of the preconditions down: well-developed trade networks, abundant resources, strong scholarly and artisanal classes, good metallurgy (it and neighboring countries were way ahead of Europe for most of their history). But it never materialized, despite having plenty of time to.

          • noyann says:

            The Romans had most (all?) what the Renaissance had, in terms of technology. Maybe some difference in ship construction (esp. the sail configurations)… but else -?
            Fast progress is not inevitable. Slow progress, though?

          • John Schilling says:

            Their metallurgy was greatly inferior to that of Renaissance Europe, which is going to be a problem for any alternate history that imagines a Roman Industrial Revolution.

          • Protagoras says:

            But China seems to have performed especially poorly when occupied by paranoid foreign conquerors, and from 1200 on they spent a lot of time either being occupied by paranoid foreign conquerors or recovering from having been occupied by paranoid foreign conquerors. So it seems possible that getting rid of Genghis Khan would have resulted in continued progress in China. And even if it didn’t, I find it hard to see how getting rid of Genghis Khan could prevent the industrial revolution in Europe.

            And noyann, the Romans did not have everything the Renaissance had in terms of technology. The medieval period added various agricultural improvements (including superior ploughs), blast furnaces arrived in Europe providing improved metallurgy, a variety of different types of mills or improvements to previous approaches were introduced, gunpowder (obviously), paper, spectacles, improved techniques for working with textiles, and there’s lots of assorted minor stuff that still adds up. And while a couple of architectural tricks may have been lost, there were far more new tricks developed between Roman and renaissance times; the Romans couldn’t have built a cathedral.

          • Eric Rall says:

            The Romans were missing a fair amount of agricultural technology compared to Renaissance Europe, most notably horse collars, moldboard plows, and three-field crop rotation. These combined to increase agricultural yield by about a factor of three.

            Edit: Protagoras beat me to the post, along with some major examples in other areas.

          • noyann says:

            @Protagoras, @Eric
            Thank you. I really need to read more.

      • Nornagest says:

        If it hadn’t been Genghis Khan, it would have been somebody else. “Steppe raiders kick everybody’s asses for a few years before falling apart or being assimilated” is one of those things that happened every few centuries until the background changed enough to make it impossible, and that wouldn’t happen until the aftermath of the Black Death if not the colonization of the Americas.

        Y. pestis does look like a genuine unlucky break, but it also changed European culture enough that I’m not sure the Industrial Revolution would have happened on schedule if it hadn’t.

        • Eric Rall says:

          If it hadn’t been Genghis Khan, it would have been somebody else.

          Genghis’s two big differences from previous generations of steppe raiders were 1) pretty much unifying the entire steppe so everyone is inside the tent pissing outwards, and 2) some fairly major innovations in military organization and operational doctrine compared to traditional steppe warfare. I’m not sure how much #1 follows automatically from #2 and how much of #2 was inevitable under the circumstances vs Genghis’s personal genius. So while I’m sure he would have a replacement within a few generations, and it’s possible his replacement would have been as bad or worse, it’s also possible his replacement would have been an order of magnitude or so less destructive.

          Y. pestis does look like a genuine unlucky break, but it also changed European culture enough that I’m by not sure the Industrial Revolution would have happened on schedule if it hadn’t.

          The more so since last I heard, the prevailing theory is that the Plague of Justinian was also a strain of Y. pestis. It that’s correct, it’s a much earlier point-of-departure than the Black Death, and one with much more wide-reaching implications for Europe’s development.

    • noyann says:

      There has been an interesting moment in recent times.
      A panzer unit was waiting for Hitler to present and fire salute. They had live ammo loaded. Having to wait for a lenghty time they started horsing around, aiming at random targets. Hitlers convoy had to come through a narrow hollow way with no leeway. And as one of the panzer gunners told in an interview in the late 90es or 00es, he, by pure chance, had aimed exactly at the point where Hitlers car appeared, having to drive straight at the panzer. He had the car exactly in the cross hairs and only would have to pull the trigger. The interviewee sounded like he never really came to terms with that memory. (Source: WDR, a German NPR station).
      I do not remember what year that was, and thus, what a difference it would have made.

  27. Sortition says:

    The first few reviews are coming in, and it looks like people are really enjoying my first book of poems. So thankful for the support of my friends and family, but it’s especially encouraging to see strangers leaving very encouraging messages.

    Almighty by Degrees is a book of verse that is both accessible and introspective, with 34 poems on hope, horror, humanism, and love. If you have kindle unlimited, you can pick up the ebook for free!

  28. Hamish Todd says:

    I am an R&D researcher working on virtual reality. I have written this list of bets about the future of VR/AR:

    https://medium.com/@hamishpetertodd/bets-on-things-vr-ar-mr-that-will-change-for-better-and-for-worse-6ccdf3ee0722

    A criticism this article has received is that the bets are not rigorously defined enough to check whether they happened or not. This is a fair criticism, but my intention with the article is to be concise. Being rigorous about each bet will at least triple the number of words needed to describe it. So the rigorous treatment is something we can bring in if any of yez want to take me up on them!

    • JPNunez says:

      Yeah these are vague.

      (1) can be tested as a VR product breaking into the top 20 (or top whatever) best selling game/movie/tv show/whatever of the year.

      Gotta be careful cause some games have been adding VR modes. Notably, Mario Odyssey and BotW added one, but surely nobody counts that as VR’s big break. Gonna add that the experience should not be significantly changed if it’s a VR/2D product, and that it should be trivially possible to go through the whole thing in VR (BotW let’s you play the whole game, but you gotta hold up the set against your head yourself, which is insane).

      (2), (3) no idea how to test this.

      (4) Polls of life quality in cities suspiciously improves across the board after significant adoption of AR. Honestly this is kind of pointless. At the point we are running enough AR to start ignoring trash on the street, AR already imposed itself.

      (5) Significant drop in shares of cooking utensils companies. prolly 10%, after important adoption of 3D printing.

      (6) Polls again. Tho I can’t remember a poll that puts privacy as too important a value recently.

      (7) Massive adoption of XR in schools. Hard to measure impact, as everything in education. But should wait a couple of years to see if people stop using it after the initial hype.

      (8) % of personal communication done in XR raises above 10% or whatever threshold. Keep in mind that Facetime seems to be somewhat popular so maybe we could see something similar.

      (9) probably someone did this study with smartphones?

      (10) vague. Prolly a duplicate of (8)

      (11) measurable. % of telecommuting rises, and price of real state around companies that adopt it drops. Prolly Silicon Valley will lead on this. Maybe number of startups trying to create XR work environments. Dunno what the baseline is, there’s probably some right now so you may want to check that before establishing a threshold.

      Gonna go with IBM adopts XR telecommuting, as IBM is now the archetypical slowpoke. May not be necessarily a sign of success, see Watson and Blockchain.

      (12) (13) (14) vague.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      You have named two goals that conflict. You could achieve both goals by writing two essays, one concise and one rigorous. If medium is specifically for concise essays, you could publish the rigorous one elsewhere.

    • Bastiat says:

      My question is how this would apply to office work. I don’t need my work to look cooler but I think I could use 50% more of my brain at work if I could drill down through screens and have data represented with a third dimension without losing losing the context. When you flip between screens, there’s no visual reference for what level you’re at. Similarly with windows or tabs, everything has the same visual weight. A lot of mental processing is just keeping track of your “location” in the data. I’d see the most practical benefit in being able to view and manipulate data like Tony Stark in Iron Man, or Tom Cruise in Minority Report where you can drill down into data, rise back out of it, throw it around, stick it on a wall, or set it side by side with other data, etc.

      Is anyone working on this right now?

  29. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Heinlein knew about tell me three times. Boeing ignored the concept– they had an autopilot which could override the human pilots as a result of *one* faulty sensor. The article also describes the institutional failure which allowed this to happen.

    I do wonder why the plane only failed occasionally rather than all the time.

    https://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/aviation/how-the-boeing-737-max-disaster-looks-to-a-software-developer?fbclid=IwAR1gABwyeuaN4PuzhR5uKCDoXGDoeQjdteIFomiHkwBuQyM6KrGnxd2j2Dk

    • Incurian says:

      iirc, this safety could be overridden by saying “I tell you three times.”

    • The Nybbler says:

      The problem I have with that article is it descends into ridiculous conspirational thinking, which makes me distrust the rest without doing a lot more research. The MCAS was not “hush-hush”.

      It does seem very odd that the MCAS depended on one sensor (somewhere I read that it alternates each flight, might not be true) when there are two. I guess that avoids the issue of handling disagreement, but at least in retrospect that’s a really “What were you thinking?” issue.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I think that link may be inaccurate and/or misleading about the nature of the override. It says that MCAS creates forces on the control column; no other source I’ve seen agrees with this. What it does do is create nose-down trim.

      Now, it’s true in a sense that nose-down trim ‘overrides’ the pilot pulling back on the stick–the pilot is trying to raise the nose, and the MCAS-induced trim change prevents that. But ultimately trim and column control are different things. If the pilot tries to counteract the trim change by inputting nose-up trim, the pilot wins automatically in the short term, although in a broken-sensor situation MCAS will try again later unless turned off (which the pilot can also easily do).

      It’s sort of like if a car automatically engaged the handbrake and the driver floored the gas but didn’t try to push the handbrake back down. Calling that “overriding the driver’s inputs” is a half-truth at best.

      This is ultimately why there have only been two crashes despite multiple reports of MCAS misbehavior: there is still a slice of cheese between spurious MCAS activation and a crash.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Hijacking, but what do our aviation experts think about this Voxplainer? https://www.vox.com/videos/2019/4/15/18306644/boeing-737-max-crash-video

      This is a week or two old. But I thought it would be brought up here already so I held off. (Or maybe I missed the discussion.)

  30. TheRationalDebt says:

    Has anyone seen an essay anywhere else on the internet that seeks to persuade other people on an emotive subject? SSC is the only blog I saw trying to persuade people to vote Clinton.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      As examples, I think that Nathan Robinson on the left and David French on the right both see themselves as sometimes writing for those.who.disagree with them. I’m not a.big fan of either man – I think they’re both hypocrites of the first water who apply radically different standards to judging their own side’s behaviour and the other side’s, and I disagree with them both more often than I agree – but I do think they’re both genuinely making at least some effort to do more than choir-preach, and for that many sins may be at least partially forgiven.

    • b_jonas says:

      Yes, David Madore wrote an essay about this in 2017 for politics in particular. It’s at “http://www.madore.org/~david/weblog/d.2017-10-24.2474.html#d.2017-10-24.2474” .

    • HeelBearCub says:

      This question seems a little underspecified, given the specific example.

      Newspapers have endorsements every election.

  31. cmurdock says:

    Question related to metacontrarianism:

    Everyone knows America won the Space Race. Some people say that actually Russia won the space race, because they got every first except for the Moon, and “America won the Space Race” is a goalpost-moving maneuver done by Americans after the fact. But I’ve occasionally seen people that say “No, the contrarians are wrong– the stated goal from the start very much was getting to the Moon, and everyone knew it.” Myself knowing very little about the matter, I don’t know who is correct. Anyone happen to know?

    • Erusian says:

      Neither side really won the space race exactly. The original goal was, ultimately, to gain an advantage similar to airpower for military applications. The goal was not prestige, it was a practical advantage. The US and USSR ultimately agreed to not militarize space instead. I’d argue the US ‘won’ less because it beat the Soviet Union than because of asymmetry. Both the US and USSR had spy satellites but this was much more damaging for the USSR than the US, since the Soviets required more secrecy to operate than the US.

      However, the space race was started when the US said it would launch a satellite in 1958 and the Soviet Union responded they would do it first. Which they did. It’s traditionally dated to end sometime in the 1970s when treaties of cooperation reduced competition, following that demilitarization agreement.

      • Butlerian says:

        Both the US and USSR had spy satellites but this was much more damaging for the USSR than the US, since the Soviets required more secrecy to operate than the US.

        The word “operate” seems to be carrying the world on it’s shoulders here. Could you elaborate on exactly what operations you are describing here, and why American prying eyes were so detrimental to said operations?

        • Erusian says:

          Sure. To give a simple example, the USSR had entire cities it tried to keep secret. It also lied extensively about the location of more things than the US. So the Soviet Union had more secrets to keep. In a scenario where secrets are harder to keep, the Soviet Union has to invest more to keep its secrets or let them come out.

      • b_jonas says:

        My interpretation is that both the US and the Soviet Union won the space race, because they both managed to lunch working communications satellites. As a result, in the 90s already, we could watch satellite television. Also, already in the 90s, people can buy satellite phones that let them receive phone calls anywhere on earth as long as they’re on the surface, except that the calls cost a hundred times as much as an ordinary call. This latter still sounds futuristic to me, even if Inmarsat already existed when I was a child.

    • John Schilling says:

      “Space Race” generally refers to the prestige and propaganda aspects of space exploration in the late 1950s through early 1970s. In that context, the Soviets won early and spectacular victories with Sputnik and Gagarin, but from 1961 on the public face of that race was First To The Moon and nobody cares that the Russians had the first space walk or the first space station or any of that. The only reason people cared then, was their contribution to the general perception that the Russians might be first to the Moon.

      In terms of the practical applications of space technology that came along the way, the US had better communications satellites, better navigation satellites, better reconnaissance satellite, better missile warning satellites, and had them first. The Russians had more such satellites, but that was mostly because theirs had shorter lives and less coverage and even with more satellites being launched had less overall capability. The few places where they had an unambiguous lead were the ones which turned out to be mostly useless (manned military space stations), or where some terrestrial asymmetry made them mostly useless to the Americans (radar ocean reconnaissance).

  32. Well... says:

    I thought I learned once that pigs are fairly closely related to horses. If this photo of a warthog doesn’t make you think of a horse, I say you must not be seeing it right.

    But a few internet searches aren’t returning any confirmation of what I thought I knew. I assume my search string is just not good, so instead maybe a human who knows can read this post and tell me if I’m way off base.

    • OutsideContextProblem says:

      Horses are odd toed, and pigs are even toed – so not particularly closely related. You might be thinking of the hippopotamus, which translates to “river horse”. Hippos are also even toed.

      I don’t think that photo looks particularly horse-like tbh. Maybe the mane of hair is superficially equine?

    • fnord says:

      Pigs and horses are both ungulates, but I don’t think they’re more closely related than that.

    • Three Year Lurker says:

      @Well…

      Look for a blog or podcast named “Tetrapod Zoology”. My brother listens to them all the time and they discuss the cladistic relations between animals. Just adding “clade” to your search terms might turn up some relation tree.

      I don’t have any actual knowledge on the subject, but that seems like a place to start.

    • Heterosteus says:

      Mammalian phylogeny isn’t at all my field, but googling around suggests some conflict (unsurprisingly) in the exact arrangement of the tree, and in particular whether or not ungulates form a valid group; I’ve found multiple papers in decent journals suggesting the Perissodactyla (including horses) might be closer to the Carnivora (cats, dogs etc.) than the Artiodactyla (including pigs etc.), while others support the more established tree with all the ungulates grouped together. I’m not qualified to have an opinion on which of these is more likely.

      In either case, the most recent common ancestor of pigs and horses seems to have been somewhere in the 70-90 Mya range. Whether this counts as “closely related” depends on your definition of “close”. I would say that “look at this photo, doesn’t it look similar” is often a pretty unreliable heuristic.

      https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.2015.0140
      https://genome.cshlp.org/content/17/4/413.full.pdf+html

  33. OutsideContextProblem says:

    I have an investing question/thought, which I’m sure has been covered before.

    I’ve recently been interested in investing the majority of my wealth into index funds with a small bond exposure to offset excessive volatility. On paper, this seems an excellent idea. I have no need for the money in the short term, and everyone assures me that over the long run the market will trend upwards provided I continue investing over time. What history we have seems to support this.

    However, I am concerned that this may be ‘picking up pennies in front of a bulldozer’. Although I will likely receive decent returns, there might be larger problems outside the context of classic models.

    One thing that concerns me is that the stock market has only really existed in its current form for maybe 65 years. Other markets, like Japan, have stagnated for 30 years. How confident can we be that the pattern of the last 65 years will continue? The market does seem to be changing. What was basically 14 years between peaks last decade is far longer than any previous. What if the next gap is 30 years?

    The other black swan is ‘model’ risk. Even assuming that everything is fine with the markets – what are the chances that I lose access to my brokerage, my broker goes bankrupt and I lose my investments, I’ve fallen victim to an elaborate scam, or I’ve fundamentally misunderstood the legal or economic framework in which I’m operating?

    Even a 1-2% chance of any of these might negate the 3% return premium I can expect from index investing over a long term bank account.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Warren Buffet has said that when he dies, everything goes 90-10 into an S&P 500 index fund and bonds, even the part that goes to his wife (who he’s had more time to teach his skills than anyone else). That’s how hard he thinks it is to beat the market.
      ‘model’ risk should be tiny if your index fund is purchased through the likes of Fidelity or Vanguard.

      • OutsideContextProblem says:

        It’s not so much about beating the market, more that the market may – for example – be undergoing a huge equity bubble pumped by central bank purchases, artificially low interest rates, and a glut of retail index investing which might burst in 10 years time, leading to a stagnant market over the next 40 years.

        Unfortunately I can’t directly invest in Vanguard, my only low fee options are slightly dubious platforms that have only been around for 3-4 years, with slightly opaque trust structures.

        I’m mostly confident in this, I just want to account for additional risks which don’t seem to be discussed as much.

        • BlazingGuy says:

          Why can’t you open a brokerage account w/ Vanguard? You don’t need to be an accredited investor or anything to buy stock/bond funds.

        • Jon S says:

          In the United States, this risk is insured by the SIPC for up to $500K.

          But like BlazingGuy suggested, anyone can open a Vanguard account. If you’ve got money stuck in a 401k with weak options, there are probably some hoops you can jump through to transfer the money to Vanguard, though maybe it’s not worth the effort.

        • ana53294 says:

          If you aren’t in the US, the only country that lets you open an account in Vanguard for amounts under 100,000 is the UK.

          But you can buy Vanguard ETFs, which have fees as low as the actual Vanguard funds. You can buy them through most brokers (watch the transaction fees).

      • baconbits9 says:

        Warren Buffet has said that when he dies, everything goes 90-10 into an S&P 500 index fund and bonds, even the part that goes to his wife (who he’s had more time to teach his skills than anyone else). That’s how hard he thinks it is to beat the market.

        This is meaningless for many reasons, his wife is in her 70s, there is no reason for her, or Warren, to attempt to beat the market and his net worth is far harder to manage than anyone else’s.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      Even a 1-2% chance of any of these might negate the 3% return premium I can expect from index investing over a long term bank account.

      Are you accounting for the model risks of a bank account? If you’re getting a 2-3% yield from the bank (ie. if you beat inflation) it almost certainly involves time deposits, and those expose you to inflation rate change risk. This is not (completely) hypothetical, as the 1970s demonstrate (how likely it is to happen again is hard to quantify).

      • OutsideContextProblem says:

        That’s true. And in theory my bank could also collapse and I would be an unsecured creditor. I think that’s less likely that other risks, but certainly not impossible.

        Happily i’m hedged against inflation risk by having an enormous, but non-interest accumulating, debt.

      • Christophe Biocca says:

        On second thought, it would be interesting to pattern match “Index-tracking low-fee ETFs are great” against “Mortgage-backed-securities are great” and see how far the analogy carries:

        – Lower perceived risk due to diversification: Check.
        – Rapidly growing form of investment which used not to exist: Check.
        – Fancy financial engineering: Partly. The base principle is simple, but the use of total-return swaps to turn taxable dividend income into deferred capital gains introduces complexity. The risk of default is near-nil since the counterparty holds the underlying stock, but that might change (the counterparty might decide to bet against the market, under-collateralizing its swap to effectively have a short position against the S&P).
        – Exploitable rules: Unclear. In a theoretical model where 50% of the S&P is held by automatically managed index-ETFs, becoming part of the S&P 500 would result in a large price bump as ETFs rebalance their funds. The more discretion involved in deciding who to include in an index, the more gameable the system becomes. At an extreme, Nasdaq Inc. could drain the ETFs by repeatedly listing and de-listing companies, acquiring long/short positions right before doing so. It’s however unclear how much this can actually be exploited in practice.
        – Regulatory encouragement: Nope. Instead of encouraging index funds, the SEC has started investigating them, not for being risky for the investors but by leading to “common ownership” which could disincentivize competition.

        That’s my best attempt, but I’m almost certainly overlooking other axes for comparison.

        • OutsideContextProblem says:

          I wasn’t around back then, but where retail investors/retirement fund managers as heavily into mortgage backed securities as they are into passive index investing today?

        • Matthias says:

          Mortgage backed securities were a great invention. The fed kicked off a recession, but if you held your so-called toxic assets until maturity, you actually did fairly well.

          One bank famously paid bonuses in toxic assets. Was an awesome move: got them off their balance sheets, great PR, and the recipients even ended up getting crazy big bonuses in the end because holding them to maturity was actually fine.

          Their price just crashed in between (very much like equities did) because central banks insisted on making nominal GDP collapse.

          • baconbits9 says:

            but if you held your so-called toxic assets until maturity, you actually did fairly well.

            A meaningless statement as the financial system is not built this way. Everyone can’t just hold things until maturity under the current setup, and that is part of why the recession was a deep and long as it was.

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            but if you held your so-called toxic assets until maturity, you actually did fairly well.

            Which tranche though? The securitization worked in the sense that the very best tranches were not impacted, but all the middle-risk mezzanine tranches in CMLTI 2006-NC2 got wiped out completely, for example.

            The problem isn’t usually the core design, but the way in which it changed the incentives of the people packaging them, invalidating the assumptions of the people buying them.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Part of the problem is incentives, but part is just the banking system. Any bank that held these assets using depositors money had to raise capital when they dropped in market value. Banks were dumping them because they couldn’t afford the costs of raising the amount of capital they needed so that they could hold them to maturity, the Fed (who ‘made’ a ton of money on their purchases) has no such issue.

          • brad says:

            > Mortgage backed securities were a great invention.

            Hmm.

            Think about an American mortgage:

            30 year fixed rate, no prepayment penalty, iliquid collateral, high (5x) to extremely high (20x) leverage ratios, special (expensive) procedures to declare a default and seize the collateral

            Without the promise of government intervention in any kind of market downturn, what spread over the risk free rate would you want to make such a borrower friendly loan?

            Looked at that way, all (domestic) mortgage investment is a bet on the continued dominance of rent seeking incumbents. Maybe not a terrible bet, but I don’t think I’d call something to make it easier to take that bet “a great invention”.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ brad

            You left out half of the incentives. Those mortgages are primarily owner/occupant which means a default will cause the borrower to incur thousands of dollars worth of losses, possibly tens of thousands if they have customized their home at all, which meant that the banks and homeowners interests were largely aligned. During the mortgage crisis the sector that had the highest delinquency rate were second homes bought as investment/speculative properties that didn’t have this structure built in.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            brad is right that the 30-year fixed-rate doesn’t exist in nature.

            Andrew Yang should run on getting rid of the 30-year fixed. It’s insane. But getting rid of it is un-American.

          • Ghillie Dhu says:

            Andrew Yang should run on getting rid of the 30-year fixed. It’s insane. But getting rid of it is un-American.

            “Getting rid” implies active suppression, which would be strongly resisted; thankfully, it’s unnecessary. Get Fannie & Freddie out of conservatorship by winding them down altogether (perhaps by implementing a multi-year ramp in the conforming loan limit), and there won’t be a structural preference in the secondary market (to the extent that one continues to exist) for 30-year fixeds.

          • AG says:

            Wouldn’t a building boom (in the right places) also fix the issue? The 30 year fixed is necessary because few people have the cash on hand to pay larger installments. Lower the housing prices and make more cash available to the people, and they can handle more fluctuating monthly costs and/or pay off their house in a shorter amount of time.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I haven’t done an exhaustive search, but the US is probably the only country where you can find a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Every other country seems to be able to build buildings just fine without it.

          • AG says:

            Other countries also have lower rates of cost disease, so the money they could use to pay for housing isn’t getting swallowed up by healthcare and/or education loan payments. Most Americans can’t afford to pay much more than than they current do per month on housing. (In addition, high rental rates for a lack of available competing apartments preventing them from gathering enough down to also lower their monthly payment amount.)

          • Ghillie Dhu says:

            Prices for houses are higher because of the availability of the 30-year fixed; without it demand is lower so prices will drop (supply is relatively inelastic, so quantity shouldn’t move much).

            It does mean you’d want to ease out the existence of the 30-year fixed, or current homeowners who are suddenly underwater will revolt and get it (or equivalent) reimplemented.

            ETA: less favorable loan terms on lower prices would lead to similar monthly payments, which is the typical binding constraint.

          • AG says:

            I guess we’re just talking about differences in mechanism at this point. I agree that perhaps the 30 year should go away. My original comment was to say that one means of phasing it out is to enable a building boom (in the right locations), such that housing prices no longer need 30 years to pay off.

            Demand is dependent on a) population and b) availability of other types of housing. I’m not picky about whether the building boom is in houses or in apartments. The advantage of the 30 year to many people right now is due to rent increases. Easing that pressure would also lower demand.

            Similarly, even if I agree that tulip subsidies are bad re: education, simply stopping them is untenable so long as the credential race is still at its inflated state. Making it easier for people to get jobs makes it possible to make college more inessential to the general populace, and so possible for the government to stop providing such subsidies.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Wouldn’t a building boom (in the right places) also fix the issue? The 30 year fixed is necessary because few people have the cash on hand to pay larger installments. Lower the housing prices and make more cash available to the people, and they can handle more fluctuating monthly costs and/or pay off their house in a shorter amount of time.

            This isn’t really possible, housing is simply expensive and is almost always going to require financing to get people into homes. Hell, most people can’t even afford cars, and you want them to buy homes out of pocket?

            Historically, instead of long-term fixed loans, we would finance using short-term loans with balloon payments. So your house would still cost $200k, but most of that was due as, say, a $180k ballon payment at the 5 year mark. You would then refinance with a new 5 year loan. This is somewhat similar to how Canadian mortgages work (along with a whole host of other things that are banker-friendly, like recourse loans).

            The US got away from this back during the Great Depression. Quite frankly, it’s not going to make a huge difference, the political incentives in the US are going to result in us ending at the same end result that we do now, because Americans enjoy said results and it is economically viable. It’s not a big deal, either, except in the minds of a relatively small group of wonks who are disproportionaely loud on the internet.

          • John Schilling says:

            This isn’t really possible, housing is simply expensive and is almost always going to require financing to get people into homes. Hell, most people can’t even afford cars, and you want them to buy homes out of pocket?

            I believe he wants them to buy homes with financing on a period of substantially less than 30 years. This should be plausible based solely on the construction costs of modest homes; the question is to what extent the price of the land those homes are usually built on has been inflated by the availability of 30-year mortgages and the like.

          • brad says:

            I agree with the posters saying that we need 30 year mortgages to pay for the expensive homes is exactly backwards (wet roads cause rain). Home prices are this insane because the 30 year mortgage is available. If there was widespread availability of 50 year mortgages at similarly subsidized rates house prices would shoot up accordingly, until the monthly payments were exactly what they are now except for 50 years instead of 30.

            Subsidizing a thirty year mortgage does absolutely nothing for the first time buyer. On the contrary it hurts him. 100% of the benefit goes to incumbent homeowners.

            I agree that getting rid of Fannie and Freddie is a good way to get rid of the 30 year mortgage (also Ginny, FHA, VHA, etc. and never let the fed buy MBSs again). But on top of that, I think there are also certain bank capital adequacy rules that favor holding mortgages that should be reformed too.

            Finally, I don’t think the pre-great depression argument rings true. Take a look at the case schiller index going back to the 1890s. It was an entirely different regime*. One that we should try to get back. Housing it a basic need that everyone has, the less it costs the richer everyone is, not the more.

            *Like so many other things, looking at time series strongly points the finger at the Boomers as the cause of the disastrous state change. But post hoc ergo and all that.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Canada doesn’t have the 30-year fixed. Rather, a fixed term up to 5 years but amortized as a 25 or 30 year mortgage (so much like a 5 year with balloon payment, though they don’t seem to call it that). House prices are not cheaper.

          • brad says:

            Canada doesn’t have the 30-year fixed. Rather, a fixed term up to 5 years but amortized as a 25 or 30 year mortgage (so much like a 5 year with balloon payment, though they don’t seem to call it that). House prices are not cheaper.

            I’m not sure I follow. A 30 year ARM with the rate fixed for the first five years isn’t much like a five year with a balloon payment. The critical feature of a balloon mortgage is that it doesn’t have to be rolled over.

          • ana53294 says:

            I’m not sure I follow. A 30 year ARM with the rate fixed for the first five years isn’t much like a five year with a balloon payment. The critical feature of a balloon mortgage is that it doesn’t have to be rolled over.

            Every five years, banks renegotiate rates with customers. So customers would frequently refinance at another bank if their bank drives a hard bargain.

            But now the Bank of Canada has tightened conditions to qualify for a mortgage. Since houses have slumped (because Canada is trying to make a soft landing), that means that many people won’t qualify for a new loan at their institution. Which means their bank has them on their knees, and can get with the maximally abusive legal behaviour, because they can’t walk away.

            In some ways, it is like a ballooon payment.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m not sure I follow. A 30 year ARM with the rate fixed for the first five years isn’t much like a five year with a balloon payment. The critical feature of a balloon mortgage is that it doesn’t have to be rolled over.

            Canadian mortgages are not 30 (or 25) year ARMs with a fixed rate for five years. When the term is over, either the lender or borrower may decline to renew; otherwise, they may renew for a new term and a new interest rate, fixed for the length of the new term.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The solution is a variable rate set to some index. LIBOR + 200 basis points or whatever, recalculated on defined day X each 5 years.

            (Note the clever way I dodge the question of LIBOR being manipulated.)

          • brad says:

            @The Nybbler

            That sounds exactly like a balloon payment then. Thanks for the info, I wasn’t aware the Canadian mortgage market worked like that.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The critical feature of a balloon mortgage is that it doesn’t have to be rolled over.

            Neither do any (most) mortgages in the US. Prepayment penalties are low to non existent in most cases, and you can pay off your mortgage at any time that you have the cash available to do so. This includes refinancing with another bank.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @baconbits9

            With typical US fixed-rate residential mortgages, the lender can never demand payment in full except in cases of default. With Canadian mortgages (or US balloon mortgages), the lender can demand payment in full of the remaining in principal at the end of the term.

            Canadian mortgages also typically have high pre-payment penalties. But partially offsetting that, they’re actually portable to another house.

    • Erusian says:

      Premodern stock markets have existed for about eight hundred years. Modern stock markets have existed for three or four hundred years, depending on your definition of ‘modern’. Equity markets have existed basically forever. So predictions that it will continue to exist and go up are more solid than even 1%. (Also, the spread should be more than 3% unless your fund is terrible.)

      What are the chances of the stock market completely collapsing and ceasing to exist? Probably less than Bernie Sanders putting on a red-starred beret and sending soldiers in to shut it down.

      What are the chances it’s disrupted by an event that is socially catastrophic like World War 3? Well, it’s pretty good if that happens (though not guaranteed). But then the question is what is the chance of that?

      What are the chances it starts to slowly return less on equity? That’s reasonably probable, though the historical pattern has been in the opposite direction.

      You’ll notice these scenarios are basically apocalyptic. And it would have to be of that magnitude. The Dutch Stock Exchange technically stopped operating in 2000. But that was only because it merged with some others: it was not a negative event for investors. It survived massive wars, occupations, massive wars, and a debt so huge it led the government to have multiple bankruptcy crises. All of these multiple times.

      Anyway, ‘beating the market’ in the sense of getting a better return than an index fund is not only possible but not particularly hard. What’s hard is doing it at scale or without increased risk. That’s why it’s usually suggested people put it in index funds. If you use that $100,000 to start a bakery and it gets successful, you will absolutely crush the Stock Market. Do you want to handle managing a bakery? Do you know how to make one a success?

      However, these sorts of investments also tend to outperform in times of strife. If you really believe the US is going to collapse, your financial future is better secured by owning something like a bakery than stocks (or gold).

      You can basically model the collapse of the US and its trade networks by assuming everyone gets radically poorer and consumes like a person of that income class. Additionally, that things will get more expensive, even to the point of being unavailable, except for some asset classes like labor. If you want to prepare for the bulldozer, decide how big of a bulldozer it is and find a business that’s relevant accordingly.

    • Matthias says:

      A bank deposit is just a special kind of debt.

      By the way, they even have exchange traded funds for bonds these days. You might want to look into them for more diversification at low cost.

      If you are worried about risk, buy some (index of) sovereign debts, too. And for even more extreme risks: buy some silver and bury it in your backyard. (Or copper or gold.)

    • sidereal says:

      For the first risk, my sense is you are right. There is a deep amount of somewhat unacknowledged risk in index fund investing and possibly an asset bubble (everything is priced higher than it’s worth because there’s so much capital looking for somewhere to go). Unfortunately it’s still quite likely the best game in town.

      As for your second point (model risk), I don’t think there’s anything you can do to escape that, in general, ever.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      If the indexes go to shit, nothing you can put your money into instead is going to be any safer. Gold? Gold goes up when people are worried about the future, and falls when the present is shit – because people liqudate their gold emergency stashes.

      Cash? Cash are backed by the real economy, if the real economy is contracting, but the amount of money is not, you get inflation.

      Ect, ect. The only futures in which the indexes take huge hits, and you are not screwed regardless of what you do are far, far too strange to hedge for. We are talking about futures where someone makes a revolutionary breakthrough in economic cybernetics, and we all shift to a computerized planned economy, or there are several insanely major shifts in the mode of production in very rapid succession such that most existing companies go under faster than the indexes can shift, because they have no expertise in nano-assembly manufacturing or steam punk fusion generator construction.

      • cassander says:

        This has always been my answer. If you’re worried about a long term decline in index funds, then you should be guying canned goods and ammo.

      • DinoNerd says:

        OTOH, it’s possible for there to be long term adjustments of relative wealth between countries, without total collapse. If you are thinking of entirely domestic index funds, you might want to think again. Domestic US funds profit to an extent from non-US sources – lots of multi-nationals count as “domestic” – but it’s watered down.

      • baconbits9 says:

        This is almost all incorrect.

        Cash? Cash are backed by the real economy, if the real economy is contracting, but the amount of money is not, you get inflation.

        Actual cash never contracts during recessions and yet inflation has persistently been low or negative during recessions in the US since the end of stagflation. Treasuries, which are cash-like, have increased in volume during multiple recessions without a decrease in their value, in fact the most recent recession in the US saw an increase in value during the recession with a huge increase in issuance!

        This statement is incorrect both at a theoretical and empirical level, a simplistic quality theory of money is incorrect and has been known to be incorrect for a long time.

        If the indexes go to shit, nothing you can put your money into instead is going to be any safer. Gold? Gold goes up when people are worried about the future, and falls when the present is shit – because people liqudate their gold emergency stashes.

        Like above this is also incorrect. Gold was increasing in value through 2011 in the last crisis and the only way you lost out with gold would have been buying in early 2008 and then selling in early 2009 or buying after 2010 and selling after 2012.

        Historically this is incorrect as well for collapses, there was hyperinflation in paper marks in the Wiemar Republic but DEFLATION in terms of gold marks, and this is typical and perhaps universal (don’t have the data set to claim the latter though) in hyper-inflations.

      • gdanning says:

        But, if the economy is contracting, the money supply seems unlikely to remain the same, since fewer loans are being made and hence less money is being created. Doesnt the rate of inflation generally drop during a recession?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        If the indexes go to shit, nothing you can put your money into instead is going to be any safer.

        I’m not saying you are wrong. But this is how people blew off the ideas that they should worry about a credit crunch or a nationwide collapse in housing prices.

        What it would take would be
        1. it becomes Common Knowledge that a certain investment never fails
        2. because of #1, a lot of things that aren’t good investments get invested into anyway [1]
        3. the correction happens

        Matt Levine has an ongoing series about index funds becoming prominent, and how index funds are actually needing to make some judgment calls, like refusing to invest in stocks with little/no public voting stock. This is 100% against the whole concept of index funds, but index funds can be vulnerable to being “forced” to buy shit if people package it up just right. It’s an interesting problem with a lot of internal paradoxes.

        [1] Prices can become unhooked from values. The market will correct irrationality eventually, but it can take some time.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Matt Levine has an ongoing series about index funds becoming prominent, and how index funds are actually needing to make some judgment calls, like refusing to invest in stocks with little/no public voting stock. This is 100% against the whole concept of index funds, but index funds can be vulnerable to being “forced” to buy shit if people package it up just right. It’s an interesting problem with a lot of internal paradoxes.

          To put it bluntly- index funds worked when they were a small part of the market, why wouldn’t they work exactly the same when they are the dominant portion of the market?

    • rlms says:

      If you only have a 3% spread between index funds and a bank account, either you’ve picked a terrible fund or a fantastic bank account.

    • Yair says:

      I am not very knowledgable, but I am wondering why no one has mentioned real estate? What is the easiest way to invest in funds that invest in residential properties in big, world cities? Because to my admittedly ignorant eyes, stock markets may collapse, but surely living in cities like New York, Berlin, Tokyo or Melbourne will never go out of fashion?

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        major cities have housing markets that heat and cool with the higher reaches of the economy. A collapse of the indexes will most certainly crash them too.

        Fully general form of the argument: Indexes are a bet on the overall health of the economy. You cannot hedge that by betting on a narrower cross-sections of the economy. Heck, the snarky “Cans and bullets” hedge is not even a reliable hedge, because there are many ways for the economy to tank without actually disrupting food production or civilization.

      • ana53294 says:

        REITs are the best way to buy a piece of diversified real estate (commercial and residential). They tend to pay regular dividends, and even if the value goes down, dividends tend to stay steady.

        There are question on how long this will last, though. The London commercial real estate seems to be harder and harder to fill up, because nobody can afford the rents, and firms are squeezing employees into less and less space (hence the open-space offices).

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Real estate is a market that can’t be shorted, so it’s generally very good for bubbles and very bad for safety.

      • j1000000 says:

        If we’re worrying about low-probability but catastrophic risks in the long-term, much of Manhattan could end up under water eventually.

        • How long term are you thinking in? For the rest of the century, at the high end of the IPCC estimates (about a meter of SLR), New York is well above water.

          Of course, it’s always possible that those estimates are much too conservative. Or you may be thinking in terms of a long run of several centuries–but that doesn’t seem relevant here, unless you are including the possibility of radical life extension.

      • John Schilling says:

        stock markets may collapse, but surely living in cities like New York, Berlin, Tokyo or Melbourne will never go out of fashion?

        Living in big cities has gone out of fashion in the past; Rome’s population declined by roughly an order of magnitude between 450 AD and 550 AD. The sort of catastrophe necessary to collapse stock markets without compensation, puts that sort of thing back on the table.

        But, more than that, what matters is not just the demand for real estate in big cities, but your ability to collect rent from whatever squatters and/or socialists took control of your valuable Manhattan real estate when you weren’t looking. Absentee landlords have never been popular, and are usually not high on the list of people whose property rights are safeguarded in a crisis.

        OTOH, real estate that you and your family own, occupy, work, and can rent out while keeping under direct supervision, is an entirely different and more secure sort of asset. But one that imposes more burdensome constraints on you as an owner, and one that doesn’t subdivide neatly into “I have $8,000 to invest this quarter” chunks.

    • Walter says:

      I dunno what you expect us to tell you here. You’ve articulated the issues pretty well.

      You can:
      1. Leave the money in the bank.
      2. Put the money in index funds.
      3. Actively invest.

      I’d recommend 3, but a chorus of people will be along to tell you that 2 is the only way.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      You’re not wrong. To add to your worries, there is also the possibility that over a 30 year period the index raises, but you absolutely need the money in a shit period (like a war).

      If you like the subject, a very useful read is the book Antifragile by Taleb. Well worth reading it all (and reading twice), but the most relevant part to this discussion is that there are 3 categories:
      – fragile is that which breaks easily when conditions change (like a china cup, or investments in just a few cutting edge companies)
      – resilient is that which breaks with difficulty (like a rock, or index funds, or gold)
      – antifragile is that which gains in value when conditions change. Shorting selected funds, for example.

      You definitely don’t want fragile, but the proper mix of resilient and antifragile is an interesting thing to ponder.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        A short position against index funds is the worst possible investment – Because there is very, very low probability it will be honored. If the index funds are tanking, the sort of financial firm which would sell you such a position will be dead and gone. They know this. Anyone offering to sell you this product is immediately booking it as “pure profit, no significant future liability” because there is no universe in which they will pay out.

        • baconbits9 says:

          This is not true at all, there is very low probability that a complete wipe out will be completely honored but that isn’t necessary for these bets. Almost every type of bet like this requires collateral to be posted and increased as positions move against these institutions, so the only ways that you don’t get honored is some combination of the following
          1. The financial crisis is so deep that the intermediaries go bust and aren’t around to enforce.
          2. The sum total short positions end up exceeding the firms value by an order of magnitude or so.
          3. The government freezes prices or otherwise prevents the conditions that would allow you to collect.

  34. Ambi says:

    I’m a big ultimate frisbee player so I was pleasantly surprised last week when my friend told me that Slate Star Codex had gotten mentioned on Ultiworld’s podcast Deep Look, Ultiworld being the biggest ultimate frisbee news site. The topic of conversation was what the host thought was a good example of a scissor statement, from the post Sort By Controversial.

    The situation:
    Ultimate tournaments are normally setup over the weekend with roughly 3-4 pool play games on Saturday followed by 3-4 games of bracket and/or consolation games on Sunday. BYU has a men’s team that has been in the top 10 in the country the past couple years, but due to religious reasons is not able to compete on Sundays. That means that they will go to these high level tournaments, play against teams on their pool and then just forfeit their bracket games on Sunday.

    To make this more complicated, the 20 spots at the national college tournament are filled out with strength bids. There are 10 regions throughout the country. The winner of each region goes to Nationals, but if the teams in your region were ranked high enough based on the regular season then your region will earn a strength bid and the top 2+ teams in that regional tournament go to Nationals.

    BYU has been good enough lately to earn an extra strength bid from their region to go to nationals but because they can’t play on Sunday, they won’t attend. That then takes away a strength bid from another region that would have gotten it if BYU hadn’t been ranked above them.

    The scissor statement was a letter put out by BYU’s team that asked everyone in their region to decline the opportunity to play at nationals which would leave 19 teams at nationals instead of 20. So if BYU finished second and there were two bids, they would decline and the third place team could play at Nationals. If they decline it goes down the list and hypothetically, everyone could say no and no one would play

    They asked for this as a act of protest against the USA Ultimate governing body that won’t accommodate their inability to play on Sunday. Apparently, other sports accommodate this, but doing so would mean other teams would have to play a tournament on a weekday when students from would be missing class or split the tournament up into two different weekends which doubles travel costs for college students that are often paying for it themselves.

    It’s a situation that sucks for a high caliber team to not be able to play for championships but fixing the situation would impose significant costs on the teams they play against.

    • OutsideContextProblem says:

      It seems very obvious to me that the tournament should be played on the weekend. Is this it being a good scissor statement, or does no-one disagree?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Well, clearly the BYU team disagrees…

        • OutsideContextProblem says:

          Yeah, but they don’t count. They are directly negatively affected by this, so I can see why they would disagree. Scissor statements are meant to be things where it seems incredible than anyone would disagree, and that they must obviously be morally wrong idiots.

      • Ambi says:

        Haha, hard to tell right? I think there was one tournament that got played Friday-Saturday so not everyone agrees. I’m in the camp for playing the games on the weekend myself. Absent these conditions, I can’t imagine anyone running a tournament any other way.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Tournaments should be played Tuesday–Wednesday because classes are bad for students.

      • Walter says:

        I disagree, they should not exclude one of the good teams if the goal is to find out which team is best.

    • mobile says:

      When BYU makes the (men’s or women’s) NCAA college basketball tournament, they are always placed in a subregional and regional bracket that plays Thursday-Saturday instead of Friday-Sunday.

      For tournaments on three-day weekends where BYU is likely to get a bid, perhaps every once in a while a tournament can run on Friday-Saturday or Saturday-Monday. Or pool play on Saturday and Sunday, championship bracket on Monday, with BYU’s pool play games front loaded on Saturday.

    • gbdub says:

      Clearly, God does not want BYU to win an Ultimate tournament. Perhaps they should stop seeking secular glory amongst nonbelievers? Sounds like idolatry if you ask me.

  35. hash872 says:

    I recently had a two week cold that sort of knocked me out of commission and was extremely annoying, and it got me wondering- have there been any advances in either preventing or mitigating the common cold, or just immune system boosters in general? I’m not really aware of anything that’s been actually proven to boost the immune system (yes I know there’s a lot of pseudoscience claims in this area), but I find that SSC is a good source of medical/scientific information. If I have two colds a year and each lasts two weeks (this never happens to me, but just as a hypothetical)- then I’ve lost a month out of the year to illness, which is pretty unfortunate. Anything to either prevent colds or speed up their treatment seems like a pretty significant health advance.

    (FWIW, typically when I get sick it’s only for 3-4 days and then my immune system defeats it)

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I went from most colds being 7+ days and catching what looked like all of them, to just 1-2 significant ones a year and the rest just 2-3 days of moderate symptoms. What I did was a flu shot each autumn, and enough vitamin D to raise my blood levels to what anybody would say are decent levels (ww.vitamindcouncil.org for example). I intend to continue this, and also add more natural vit D (aka sun exposure) instead of supplements. Apparently that’s the source of the conflicting studies vs vit D.

      There is also some evidence that high doses of vitamin D (~40-50000 UI) help shorten the duration of a cold.

    • ZeroGravitas says:

      NutritionFacts.org has covered the effect of diet on immune function several times, I believe. Here is an example looking at the research on several types of foods: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/using-the-produce-aisle-to-boost-immune-function/ And a more specific one, about broccoli: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-broccoli-receptor-our-first-line-of-defense-2/
      I think that our perception of the severity of colds have two factors — how long it takes for your body to fight off the infection, and how much inflammation you experience while it happens. Research seems to indicate that a plant-based diet can be beneficial in both ways. And plant foods seem to not just make the immune system more or less active, but more active in the right ways — better at fighting infection, but less likely to react to allergens like pollen.
      But anyway, aside from colds, there seems to be a ton of benefit to avoiding animal foods and processed foods, and sticking to a whole-food, plant based diet for avoiding heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, etc. I always felt I should eat healthier, but never did, because I didn’t understand just how black-and-white the difference is between a good diet and a bad one in terms of one’s health and longevity.

    • aashiq says:

      I had a similar experience to Radu.
      I like to use this site for nutrition / supplements advice, since they link to research and are fairly honest about the quality of the evidence: https://examine.com/nutrition/supplements-for-cold-and-flu/

      I get a sore throat before full-fledged illness usually. When that happens, I suck on zinc supplements (nasty but works for me), take elderberry syrup, and umcka. I haven’t gotten a proper cold in a while.

    • A1987dM says:

      It’d have to be a very severe cold to count 100% of the time it lasts as “lost”…

    • Winter Shaker says:

      For what it’s worth, I seem to have been getting colds less regularly since I started lifting weights, though that is entirely anecdotal, n of 1 … and I don’t think I have been getting noticeably fewer mouth ulcers.

  36. FrankistGeorgist says:

    I’m soon to be the owner of a proper, scary, unfinished East Coast American row house basement. I grew up in the Rockies with a cheery walk-out basement that was indistinguishable from the rest of the house, so the prospect of having a part of the house that’s empty and decorated in the stereotypical fashion of serial killers is new and confusing to me. I’d like some tips if anyone has any, and what to watch out for.

    Some odd traits of the basement:
    It used to have little windowlets, but they were stuccoed over. I imagine I should open them back up somehow just to let light and air circulation happen.

    Consequently, it’s quite damp. Is there a dehumidifier anyone recommends? Preferably one I can hook up to the plumbing and don’t have to drain? What weapons do I have in the war against earthly dampness?

    The ceiling is quite tall compared to many basements I’ve encountered, but I’m taller, at 6’9” I have to duck constantly. It’s not a drop ceiling, so I imagine there’s no hope there. Is there some sort of low-lying opium den aesthetic one can make out of a low ceilinged room, or does the space just stay a creepy, rusty, chthonic nightmare?

    It apparently produces precisely 1 radon. I’m told you can have up to 4 radons. I can’t tell if that’s just when the government cares to intervene or if I should really be trying to mitigate my 1 radon.

    There’s a sort of gate/cellar that goes up to the street that seems very invadable. I know if someone wants to break in they’ll just put a rock through the window (and statistically, nobody ever really breaks in and especially nobody does it while the people are home) but it does give me a sense of psychic vulnerability regardless. Am I missing the utility of this cellar door thing or can I seal it up from the forces of water and man?

    What am I not thinking of that will fuck me if I don’t take care of it in this basement?

    • johan_larson says:

      I think you should try try your level best make the basement look like lounge that hasn’t been updated since 1975: shag carpets, odd furniture in orange/brown/mustard, a period-correct hi-fi set, jazz records, and a bar with deeply unfashionable booze.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Trying to dehumidify a damp basement is generally a losing proposition. If you use a dehumidifer you just make it hot (and if it’s not adequate, hot and still damp) and it will cost you a fortune in electricity. An actual air conditioner can avoid the heat but still costs a fortune. Essentially you’re trying to dry the land. The way to dry a basement is to keep the water out in the first place. This can get expensive — from french drains to waterproofed inner walls with a drained space in between. But basically you need to find out why it is wet first.

      • Eternaltraveler says:

        I think you can dehumidify the basement. What you want is a desiccant dehumidifier. It will make a little heat but not much. I have this one which I use to dehumidify my open earth crawlspace. It went from 85+% humidity to less than 20% (you can set it to whatever you want). I have a sump to pump the water produced to the nearest drain.

        Other methods are much more expensive and at the very least a dehumidifier will buy time to explore more permanent methods others have mentioned down thread. If you have poor ventilation the other source would be the moisture you produce. Improving ventilation is the way to go there.

        • Cliff says:

          You just close up all the vents to your crawlspace and use a dehumidifier? Was there already power under there? How much did it cost you to get all this set up? People spend a lot of money to encapsulate their crawlspace so this is interesting if you can do it for a lot less and it works.

        • sharper13 says:

          Thanks for this link. Having moved last year from the desert to a place where it rains and the humidity in the summer is annoying, I’ve been looking into dehumidifiers lately. I was holding back a bit because of the heat issue (which my AC would then need to deal with), but it appears the desiccant style doesn’t produce as much heat. I’ll pursue that path a little farther as summer approaches….

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Air conditioners remove moisture from the air themselves, though not as much as a dehumidifier. Keep that in mind.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I know in Florida that it’s a bad idea to set the A/C too low to try to dry things out. Making your house noticeably colder than the outside actually causes condensation to increase.

          • sharper13 says:

            @greenwoodjw,

            Yep, thanks.

            @Edward Scizorhands,

            Yeah, I’ve a got a dehumidifier set to arrive on Monday. Planning to put it in a central location and set it to 40% humidity (may adjust that over time), so it’ll run until the air reaches that, then shut itself off. That way the AC can run based on a reasonable temperature (like 75-76), and while that’ll help the humidity level as well, the dehumidifier will kick in with an assist whenever humidity goes unusually high due to weather conditions.

    • CatCube says:

      Seconding @The Nybbler, you’re in for a tough time. Concrete is a semi-permeable membrane, so as long as you have the water table against the wall, you’re going to get some water coming in. The traditional methods (which The Nybbler discussed) all involve getting the water table down or installing a permanent waterproof membrane. Depending on the cost of excavation for traditional methods–or the possibility, depending on property lines–you might also consider electroosmotic methods. That fact sheet is from 2010, but note that it discussed installation costs of around $189 per square foot of wall. That should give you an idea of how complex what you’re asking can be. It also won’t work with bulk flow, just through-wall seepage.

      All of these methods will require a contractor with experience. The excavation methods require expertise to do efficiently and to avoid causing destruction of your (or your neighbor’s) property. The electroosmotic method requires expertise, because rusting is also an electric phenomenon, and if you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing when installing the system you might cause problems with the reinforcement in the wall.

      • FrankistGeorgist says:

        I suspect it’s not *that* damp. Local contractors and house inspectors so far seem to think the basement is par the course for the area or slightly worse. I just assumed the dispersed cost of dehumidifying was preferable to mold and possible downstream moisture effects.

        Of course I also find East Coast summers to be humid nightmares, so I may be oversensitive to humidity in general growing up as I did in some kind of Avalon where summers were pleasant things people looked forward to.

        • CatCube says:

          Doing nothing could very well be the right move, financially. I’m basing it off the fact that if you’re looking for advice you’re really concerned that the humidity is going to cause major issues. Fixing the humidity at its source is probably going to be in the hundreds of dollars per linear foot of wall. It might be that you just plan on fixing humidity damage every couple of decades. Or, as you’ve said, maybe you’re overly cautious and there won’t be any problems. At the end of the day, it’s just a life-cycle cost analysis.

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            I will continue to take the temperature of people I have look at the basement as I try to make it not terrifying. I enjoy these sorts of things. Many nested lists of priorities and cost-benefit analyses in home ownership.