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Open Thread 126.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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759 Responses to Open Thread 126.5

  1. eigenmoon says:

    OK, suppose you’re an opera singer and you’d like to reduce CO2 emissions. How on Earth does ending your career contribute to your goal?

    It seems reasonable to assume that the demand for listening to opera is constant. Ideally, every village would have enough great opera singers and nobody would have to fly. The reason singers have to fly is that they’re scarce. By pulling herself out of the workforce, Ernman has increased scarcity, so now somebody else has to fly longer to sing to the audience she abandoned. Overall she has increased CO2 emissions, no?

    • eigenmoon says:

      Sorry, I meant to reply to that.

    • John Schilling says:

      OK, suppose you’re an opera singer and you’d like to reduce CO2 emissions.

      You almost certainly don’t want to do any such thing; wanting to reduce CO2 emissions is a consequentialist thing, consequentialsim is rare and disproportionately concentrated among nerdy STEM types and philosophers, which artists are very much unlike.

      If you are an opera singer who wants to be (or be seen as) environmentally virtuous, or as obedient to the Rules of Environmentally Sound Behavior, then ending the jet-setting part of your career accomplishes that even if some other unvirtuous, rule-breaking artist goes and emits CO2 in your place.

      In the very unlikely event that you are a consequentialist opera singer who actually wants to reduce CO2 emissions, then you will probably note that the first-order consequences of your personal behavior are small compared to the second-order consequences of other people’s behavior as influenced by your artistic career. In which case, if there’s a TV camera pointed at you, ending your career and saying that you are doing it because of the CO2 can reinforce a virtuous norm or implied rule of “no flying on jet planes if you can possibly help it” among many other people, some of whom will be skipping jet-plane flights that won’t be immediately taken up by others.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        wanting to reduce CO2 emissions is a consequentialist thing,

        Not necessarily; I can quite easily think of deontological, virtue ethical or divine command reasons for doing so.

        • John Schilling says:

          Those are generally going to be reasons to reduce one’s own personal CO2 emission, or to take actions whose immediate first-order effect is to reduce CO2 emission. whereas reducing mathematical net global CO2 emission is mostly going to be a consequentialist thing. Trying to account for second-order effects like substitution calls for math, and consequentialism is pretty much the only ethical system that requires mathematical aptitude among its adherents.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’ve come across plenty of non-consequentialists who think that societies have obligations as well as individuals. I’ve also come across plenty of non-consequentialists who think that the example your behaviour is likely to have on others is a morally relevant consideration.

            Plus, the notion that consequentialism “requires mathematical aptitude” seems dubious to me. Maybe the sort of consequentialism practised by frictionless spherical cows does, but in the real world accurately quantifying the results of an action is often either impractical or outright impossible, rendering questions of mathematical aptitude moot.

          • John Schilling says:

            Maybe the sort of consequentialism practised by frictionless spherical cows does, but in the real world accurately quantifying the results of an action is often either impractical or outright impossible, rendering questions of mathematical aptitude moot.

            Rendering consequentialism moot. “One should do the action which leads to the greatest good for the greatest number, but we don’t actually know what that is, so whatevs”. Consequentialism is for people who think they can do the math, albeit usually because they believe spherical-cow approximations are meaningful rather than because they believe themselves to be mathematical geniuses.

            The non-consequentialists systems that say to set a good example by one’s deeds, do so by e.g. making this intrinsically virtuous whether or not a particular case has been determined to lead to net good outcomes.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The non-consequentialists systems that say to set a good example by one’s deeds, do so by e.g. making this intrinsically virtuous whether or not a particular case has been determined to lead to net good outcomes.

            But what’s that got to do anything? If you think that it is intrinsically virtuous to encourage other people to reduce their CO2 emissions, what would stop you from ending your career and telling everyone it’s to reduce CO2 levels, just like your consequentialist opera singer?

  2. vV_Vv says:

    Cocaine, long banned pesticides and other pollutants found in freshwater shrimps in a river in rural England.

    “The potential for any effect on the creatures was “likely to be low”, they said.”

    So they say, but given the mysterious trends of generational hormonal and BMI changes in humans and animals, I’m worried that environmentalism focused too much on climate changes and plastic bag in the ocean while overlooking something which might be even more dangerous.

    • Eponymous says:

      generational…BMI changes in humans

      Isn’t that easily explained by diet & exercise? I’m not opposed to their being another explanation, but Occam’s Razor…

        • baconbits9 says:

          Specifically linking to animals living in close proximity to humans getting fatter doesn’t refute the hypothesis.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Even lab rats are getting fatter, despite the fact that in theory their diet should be the same.

          • Randy M says:

            Maybe they keep changing the composition of lab-rat chow in order to keep the patent?
            (clicking through to the studies doesn’t make clear just how constant the rat diet was)

          • baconbits9 says:

            Lab rats and zoo animals (another one mentioned) are being selected for by people. You have to think that activity levels are independent of genetics and environment to assume that they must be immune.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Isn’t that easily explained by diet & exercise?

        Exercise is mostly irrelevant unless you train at professional athlete level, diet is the obvious proximate cause, but it’s probably not the ultimate cause, because diet is self-regulated and most fat people don’t gain weight continuously, they seem to have a set point weight like fit people, the difference is that their set point weight is higher.

        Also pets, lab animals and wildlife are also getting fatter, and there are observable hormonal changes in humans and animals, and it’s known that hormones regulate weight, therefore the hypothesis of environmental endocrine disruption is plausible.

        • Nornagest says:

          If you run five miles a day, which is pretty serious but nowhere near professional athlete level, you’re burning about 500 calories a day doing it. That’s a Big Mac.

          • acymetric says:

            There’s also the trend towards completely sedentary lifestyles. The difference between moving around at low level of exertion most of the day (not exercise, just general movement) and being almost completely sedentary is pretty large.

            It isn’t so much “diet and exercise” so much as “diet and do-you-move-you-body-very-often”.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The sedentary lifestyle is sounding more and more impactful to me every day. I am starting to think that our 6 month old has a significantly more active lifestyle than a typical 6 month old and believe that is a real reason for her easy going personality, decent sleep cycles and general good health (along with our other kids as well).

        • Eponymous says:

          Exercise is mostly irrelevant unless you train at professional athlete level

          I have heard this many times, but I’m not sure it’s correct. Usually I hear this in the context of whether diet or exercise is a better strategy for weight loss, in which case we’re really talking about someone’s activity for, say, 3-5 hours per week. However, when we’re talking about sectoral differences, we’re contrasting the lifestyle of a blue-collar worker 40 years ago, or a farmer 80 years ago, with a modern office-worker. That’s about activity level 40+ hours per week.

          Anecodotally, I know several people who have lost large amounts of weight, for whom exercise played a key role (by their account), though all of them also modified their diets. And I have heard from people working in blue collar fields (especially construction) about how physically exhausting their work is, and how much they need to eat to recover.

          However, I did say diet *and* exercise. Certainly there have been changes on the diet front as well. I remember that Scott had a few posts about this a year or so ago where he cited studies arguing that the modern western diet is uniquely awful at circumventing the body’s natural self-regulatory mechanisms and inducing weight gain.

          Also pets, lab animals and wildlife are also getting fatter,

          I agree that this is evidence against the simplistic diet/exercise thesis. However, there are alternative explanations, particularly given that animals are likely eating human leftovers. And dogs may be getting less exercise because their owners are getting less exercise.

          there are observable hormonal changes in humans and animals, and it’s known that hormones regulate weight

          Fat also causes hormonal changes/disruption.

          therefore the hypothesis of environmental endocrine disruption is plausible.

          I agree that it’s plausible, and I support research into it. However, I still think the simple explanations deserves the bulk of the probability.

        • baconbits9 says:

          This has not been my experience, I can lose about 5lbs by walking a mile more a day than I currently do, and can drop 5 lbs by playing frisbee an extra day a week (noticed from increasing from 0-1 times, 1-2 times and 2-3 times, multiple observations of each).

          What I have noticed is that I will not continue to lose weight beyond that point.

  3. Hoopyfreud says:

    Epistemic status: galaxy forehead shitpost

    For the preference utilitarians out there, assuming people’s preferences can be manipulated in some way, is it good to brainwash people into having preferences that can be maximally efficiently fulfilled?

    • Protagoras says:

      In principle? There would certainly be hypothetical circumstances where this would be appropriate. In practice, Mill’s point that people are even less reliable at judging what’s good for others than at judging what’s good for themselves is always going to be a strike against any plan based on manipulating people for their own good, and this one seems especially risky in the relevant respects.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Aaah, but we’re much better at answering questions about efficiency than answering questions about goodness. This seems like a point in favor, not against. We can even… consults rationalwiki build a friendly AI to… reads the sequences simulate arbitrary societies in order to determine which preferences are most efficient, thereby… buys the Latin translation of Carnap’s collected works resolving the pseudoproblem presented by treating preferences as meaningful entities and… follows @real_david_hume on Twitter resolving the only relevant tension between is and ought.

        (I’m truly sorry and I acknowledge that this is terrible, but I’m not sorry enough to prefer not to post this)

        • Protagoras says:

          Since the project to assemble a collected works for Carnap has stalled in this universe, I can only assume that you have access to alternate realities in order to have found the Latin translation. I would be eternally grateful (and would actually pay a lot!) if you could get me a copy of the English edition from that universe. Assuming Carnap wrote the same things in that universe; if that universe has a less philosophically talented Carnap, the deal is off.

    • Soy Lecithin says:

      But people would prefer not to be brainwashed.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        But we can fix that.

        • albatross11 says:

          +1

        • Eponymous says:

          Indeed. Why should the currently-existing self exercise its tyranny over all possibly-existing future selves? Possible future entities count for something!

      • Walter says:

        For now

        • woah77 says:

          To be honest, it’s not actually that people don’t want to be brainwashed. It’s that they don’t want to be aware of the brainwashing. Brainwashing by media and internet is A-Ok so long as it is subtle.

      • Plumber says:

        @Soy Lecithin

        “But people would prefer not to be brainwashed”

        While many may not want to be brainwashed, many others seek it out and even pay for it: hypnotherapy, self help books, “happy” pills, motivational seminars, et cetera, plus there’s those who endure it to stay employed (“team building exercises”).
        I’d even wager that if brainwashing was more effective and the attempts weren’t so often a waste of time there’d be even more volunteers.

        • dick says:

          Arguing about semantics on the internet is the Most Boring Thing In The World, but I don’t think it’s fair to describe intentional change like self-help books as brainwashing. The term Robert Anton Wilson uses for it is meta-programming, which I think is pretty apt.

    • broblawsky says:

      Any utilitarian philosophy that can justify forcibly wireheading everyone has failed.

    • rlms says:

      No, assuming most currently existing people have preferences against that.

    • b_jonas says:

      No, quite the opposite. We should brainwash them to want unnecessary luxury products and services, just like current advertisments tend to do.

      At least that is my opinion, because I still think that in an utopia, people would get everything they need for free, but they’ll still work to be able to pay for things they want but don’t need. So if people want things that are hard to get, that keeps the economy working better.

      • Randy M says:

        I’m not sure if I agree, but fortunately no brainwashing required for this scheme. Only question is if the strength of the desires outweighs the distaste for work; a lot of that depends on what you consider luxury and necessary. For certain definitions, we’re there.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        If it makes the economy work better, is it not definitionally maximally efficient?

        The only reason we don’t live in a utopia right now is that we don’t advertise enough.

    • Eponymous says:

      Not so galaxy-brained — a very real concern. Dynamic preferences are a serious issue. As are questions of (for want of a better word) non-virtuous preferences — that is, preferences people have that they (or society) decide are bad.

      I’ve had several conversations with philosophers and researchers in my field who are working on these topics, and have considered working on them myself (post-tenure). I think they are quite important, and have large ramifications.

    • AG says:

      If only they’d just let everyone get addicted to opium! /s

      • Nick says:

        Nah, we should achieve postscarcity before wireheading, obviously.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        That would be quite inefficient, since opium makes it harder to efficiently produce opium.

        No, what we need is for people to get addicted to productivity.

  4. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So Japan’s Heisei era ends at midnight on April 30, as Emperor Akihito abdicates. He is the first Emperor of Japan to abdicate in more than 200 years, and the first in I-don’t-know to never claim divinity.
    His heir, Crown Prince Naruhito, is already 59.

    • FLWAB says:

      The longest imperial line in history: thanks to having no real political power for most of their dynasty! I wonder what would happen if Naruhito, or someone else down the line, did claim divinity. Japan is such a secular nation, yet also so attached to tradition: it would be interesting, to say the least. I doubt it would happen anytime soon, though.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I remember one of my college history professors talking about how the two oldest continuously-extant institutions in human history are the Throne of Saint Peter (the Papacy) and the Chrysanthemum Throne (the Japanese monarchy). And since the origins of both are sparsely-documented and shrouded in legend, it’s hard to say with confidence which one is older.

        • cassander says:

          If you’re going by hard extant evidence, I’m pretty sure it’s the papacy. Or, at least, the Bishopric of Rome.

        • brad says:

          What about the Dukedom granted to decedents of Confucius? Should at least be in the running.

    • vV_Vv says:

      His heir, Crown Prince Naruhito, is already 59.

      I almost read it as “Naruto” 🙂

      Btw, the age seems reasonable, for reference Queen Elizabeth is 93 and her heir is 70, but then recent events suggest that the British struggle with long-term institutional planning.

    • Another Throw says:

      While he may never have explicitly claimed divinity, didn’t he go ahead and do the personal transubstantiation ceremony during his coronation, anyway, despite being extra-constitutional and of very shaky legality?

  5. TheFlyingFish says:

    Just ran across this article, which reminded me a lot of Scott’s recent post on ketamine. What specifically intrigued me is that from reading this article, I didn’t get the sense that the regulations surrounding new drugs were all that burdensome. It sounds like clinical trials only account for about half of the final cost (after adjusting for discount rate and probability of failure, yadda yadda.)

    Also, this:

    My wife and I found out seven years ago that she inherited a fatal genetic mutation that causes prion disease, and in response we both quit our old jobs, began re-training as scientists, and set out to find a drug for her disease.

    I can’t help but be impressed by that kind of attitude.

    • maintain says:

      I wonder if they could have done better by earning-to-give.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Depends what their old jobs were, and how well they could deal with the principal-agent problem.

  6. Broad-based Game of Thrones spoilers:

    After the latest episode, everyone is talking about how the failure of the tactics of the Living. But what about the White Walkers? My first thought was that without having to worry about logistically concerns, they could have easily laid seige Winterfell and waited for everyone to starve out. There are a few plausible reasons why the Night King wouldn’t do this. We know that they had prepared provisions to last throughout the whole winter. Of course, the Dothraki and Unsullied came and they weren’t prepared for that, but it would still last a while. And the longer the White Walkers wait, the longer Winterfell has the opportunity to receive reinforcements from the South.

    Maybe the White Walkers could have simply bypassed Winterfell and attacked the surrounding areas to build up their armies even more. But with Bran being so important, maybe the Night King wants to eliminate him as soon as possible.

    So the White Walkers invade. Imagine that the Living have a more competent strategy. What should the White Walkers have done? During the cover of night, the Night King should have taken his dragon, and snuck up on the inhabitants of Winterfell and killed some of them with his blue fire. Before he retreats, raise the dead of not only those he just killed, but those in the crypts and have them rush to open the gates while the main army approaches the castle. If that succeeds, then the advantage of having walls is negated and the armies of Living fall.

    • Randy M says:

      Of course, the Dothraki and Unsullied came and they weren’t prepared for that, but it would still last a while.

      Weren’t these massive, massive armies? How big is winterfell, that it can store a season’s provisions for all these men?
      Guess it’s a good thing there’s lots of ice around.

    • J Mann says:

      It’s not clear how often the Night King can raise the dead. Based on the fact that he’s not constantly doing it, it’s probably safest to fanwank that he can only do it once per battle, or that there’s some cost to doing it more often that he doesn’t want to pay. (He may also have trouble raising the dead inside Winterfell before the wall is breached, since it’s an old castle and probably magic).

      Based on what we know, a siege is a perfect strategy, so we pretty much have to assume he has goals or reasoning that we don’t understand, or write it off as just a show.

      • Randy M says:

        Based on the fact that he’s not constantly doing it, it’s probably safest to fanwank that he can only do it once per battle

        Where’s dndrsn to complain about dissociated mechanics when you need him? 😉

        • dndnrsn says:

          Not caught up on the episodes until a couple days ago. Me, I think the GM is fudging to keep PCs alive; whenever the slo-mo kicks in, I think that’s clearly someone changing DCs retroactively or whatever.

      • meh says:

        (He may also have trouble raising the dead inside Winterfell before the wall is breached, since it’s an old castle and probably magic).

        Weren’t 2 raised in Castle Black?

        • Nornagest says:

          Castle Black is an old castle for most people in-setting, but not by the Night’s Watch’s standards — the Nightfort is supposed to be twice as old. In any case, it’s barely even a castle (it doesn’t, for example, have curtain walls), and is implied to have become the Watch’s headquarters only when its numbers dropped to the point where maintaining its major forts started getting impractical.

        • J Mann says:

          Majority opinion is they were raised before the Watch brought them inside the Castle – I don’t remember in the show, but in the books, the rangers notice the corpses’ blue eyes when they find them.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      If we leave aside Bran for a moment, there is no real reason I can think of to attack Winterfell at all. Winter is coming here, and there’s no way the living stockpiled enough supplies in Winterfell to feed all of their refugees, soldiers, horses, and dragons. At the same time, I have an army that literally has no need for supply lines, giving it unlimited (if slow) strategic mobility. Given this, it seems like a damnfool idea to attack the defenders on ground of their choosing, with all their force-multipliers of walls, siege engines, and dragons available.

      So, in those circumstances, the Dead should have bypassed Winterfell entirely. Leave the defenders in there to rot and instead ravage the North. It seems impossible that every civilian refugee reached Winterfell before the Dead got there. Population of the North pre-war was about a million (according to the wiki), which means there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of potential recruits out in the countryside. The armies of the living can either come out and confront the Dead in the open field, or starve in their castle.

      With no supply lines, even bolder moves are possible, such as striking all the way south towards King’s Landing and the rich lands of the south. The only organized military force left after the wars is Cersei’s Golden Company, which will concentrate at the capital – leaving the rest of the Seven Kingdoms ripe for the plucking. Swell the ranks of the dead by several million more and the war is essentially over. Thus, bypassing Winterfell will force the living to engage the army of the dead in the open field – where they’ll be overwhelmed even more quickly.

      So let’s come back to Bran. The show hardly bothers itself with giving an explanation of why he must be killed or captured, but apparently he’s strategically essential, so the Night King is forced to attack Winterfell.

      First option – it seems fantastically unlikely relief is coming, and again, the living still have supply problems. So the first resort should be a conventional blockade.

      But maybe delay gives Bran/the living time to come up with a counterstroke, so the castle must be taken by storm. How should the Dead go about this?

      Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot different to do here. Any assault on a defended position is going to cost heavy casualties, especially when the defenders are on the whole much better armed and equipped. Furthermore, the dead army seems pretty homogenous – pretty much entirely light infantry, with a small handful of White Walkers of unknown capabilities, and Viserion. The tactical advantages aren’t as overwhelming as the strategic advantages the Dead hold, but are still notable – namely, completely unbreakable infantry and the ability to add the enemy dead to their own ranks. With a massive edge in numbers and morale, I think the best option is a frontal assault all along the walls to leverage those advantages.

      The Dead do have two force-multipliers to aid an assault:

      1)The resurrection of any dead within the walls. Assuming the living pre-emptively sterilized the crypts, that means at best this can be used on recent casualties. So, hold this in reserve until there’s a breakthrough somewhere and the morale of the defenders is wobbling, then use it to tip the balance.

      2)Viserion. Dragonfire can totally negate the walls; however, the living possess artillery and two dragons of their own. Plus, I’m assuming dragonglass melts wights, as it was shown to do previously, meaning one dragonglass arrow means I’m fresh out of dragon. With just the one dragon, I hesitate to commit Viserion too early. He might be better off as a dragon-in-being, using the threat of him to keep Drogon and Rhaegon from effectively intervening. Once my infantry have neutralized enemy siege engines and are grinding away at the defenders, I might be willing to commit him as a coup de grace (perhaps in conjunction with the resurrection).

      This seems uncreative, but tactically the Dead don’t really have all that many options. Their true edge lies in their limitless numbers, crushing morale advantage, and unlimited mobility.

      • cassander says:

        dragonglass seems to melt the others, not the undead that they raise. In the books, at least, the two are clearly distinguished in what we see of them, though the characters (in what I consider some impressively good worldbuilding) remain confused on this point. The dragon clearly isn’t a standard wight, but I don’t think a dragonglass arrow will kill it.

    • aristides says:

      Siege is the obvious answer that the McGuffin of Bran prevents, but other options. First, the army of the dead has one weakness, and that’s if the general kills they instantly die. Priority needs to protect him. It’s implied that he himself must kill Bran, but there is no real understanding of the rules. If possible, the winning strategy is kidnapping Bran and bringing him to the Night King in a secure location. There army was clearly strong enough to overwhelm Theon without him, and they could have easily dragged him anywhere.

      Let’s assume this is impossible, maybe if any other Wright touches him they die. Then they need to protect the Night King as Thoroughly as possible. The Dragon is a good start, but when he was dismounted he abandoned his guards. He needed to be encircled by Wrights the entire time, and perhaps have the giant lead the rear to prevent surprise ambushes from behind. I get using him to break the door, but his talents were wasted by just smashing a few soldiers. Overestimating his own skill in combat was his fatal mistake in the end.

    • LesHapablap says:

      There’s no point to a siege when the Night King can easily overrun the castle with no risk to his army. A siege may give the weather a chance to clear (not sure on the rules on this), allowing the two living dragons the opportunity to harass the NK army, and potentially kill zombie Viserion, which would be a big problem for NK.

      Also, and I’m not so sure about this, but how possible would it have been for them to have a siege, when the living armies are all outside the castle ready to fight? If it is clear that the living army intends to fight it out outside the castle, then doesn’t holding back in a siege position just mean that the living army will get to choose the time for the battle (day time, with good weather)?

      • If it is clear that the living army intends to fight it out outside the castle,

        I’m assuming a hypothetical where the living aren’t total idiots and actually use their castle correctly.

        • John Schilling says:

          Given the stated plan, and the possibility that the enemy might simply besiege or bypass Winterfell, the Living need to offer enough of an open battle that the Night King can’t ignore them and will be too busy to pay too close attention to his Admiral Ackbar Alarm w/re Bran in the Godswood. But certainly they should stay within safe retreating distance of their castle, and fall back to it as soon as the Dead are sufficiently committed to that part of the battle.

    • Clutzy says:

      I actually think, given the WW two main advantages (no need for supply lines/rest and overwhelming numbers) they chose a very sensible option up until the point that the Night King decided to take himself and seeming all his generals (white walkers) on a walk towards Bran without Viserion’s protection.

      I don’t think sieging or bypassing Winterfell is all that good of an option. You arrive at night which minimizes Bran’s massive scouting advantage. Lets say you don’t attack, but rather plunder the rest of the north first. Dany and Jon should make any such efforts a net negative to your troop gain. Indeed this is very high risk because losing a white walker = losing an entire battalion/army, but you have to split them up to efficiently harry all the lands of the north for maximum gain of undead.

      The siege is also strongest at night with snowstorm cover to mitigate the 2v1 dragon advantage the living had. Also, the NK might have been prudent to hold himself back during the main engagement, but his weight army appeared quite useless against the dragons, so he had to engage in that fashion to neutralize them.

      • One problem with a siege is that the White Walkers use the winter to help them. The longer they wait, the less advantage they get from that.

        • Randy M says:

          At what point in winter did this season take place?
          (That’s a weird sentence)

        • Doctor Mist says:

          the White Walkers use the winter to help them

          Yeah, but in this world, winter sometimes lasts years. And it’s not clear to me that the Night King and his minions are exploiting winter so much as that they are causing it.

    • vV_Vv says:

      The Night King was confident in the overwhelming superiority of his army, which strongly outnumbered the defenders and could be replenished with their deceased. He made the right call by not exposing his white walkers, since they were needed to keep the wights functional. His mistake was exposing himself while he could have had his wights kill or capture Bran, but in fairness Arya struck out of nowhere in the middle of his army. You can’t plan for the writers cheating.

  7. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2019/04/30/718348115/is-buying-a-house-overrated

    Backs up the theory that there’s no such thing as a stably underpriced investment.

    • Murphy says:

      I don’t know about you but for me the big advantage of owning a house is not having to deal with other people’s shit.

      No more shitty housemates fucking things up.

      No more landlord trying to maximise ROI while minimizing investment.

      If I want to put up a shelf I just put up a shelf.

      Not having to worry that the landlord will randomly decide to evict everyone and sell the property.

      Being able to get a pet.

      • j1000000 says:

        “No more landlord trying to maximise ROI while minimizing investment.”

        I still have landlords and I can’t stand this. Can anyone here correct my economically ignorant view that landlords are a social bad and shouldn’t exist and only serve to drive up prices?

        • greenwoodjw says:

          Why don’t you own your home?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Not j1000000, but: priced out.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            So, would you be better or worse off without an apartment to rent?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I dunno, some landlord-induced stress is driving me towards self-harm. I think about killing myself a lot.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Suicide is not a normal reaction to stress. Also, being homeless is significantly more stressful

          • John Schilling says:

            If landlords did not exist, where do you expect you would presently be living, and why do you expect that anyone would have built and maintained that place for you to live in?

            These are serious questions for which the answer is not necessarily “in the gutter”, but they do need to be addressed if you are going to claim that landlords are a net negative for the world in general or for you in particular.

          • j1000000 says:

            @johnschilling — I live in an old, small apartment in an expensive area. If my current landlord didn’t exist, well, it’d certainly still be here. And if a very rich person hadn’t bought it just to profit off of it, a slightly less rich person would be able to own it. I, in turn, wouldn’t live here, but if prices in nearby neighborhoods went down as a result of less demand from people richer than me who want to be landlords, I could probably afford a small apartment there.

            So I don’t see what good the landlord is doing in that equation.

            Again, I am not even arguing here, this is more an ELI5 request.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            E: I apologise. I’m usually better at keeping this sort of thing out of my comments.

          • Plumber says:

            @j1000000 

            “…I am not even arguing here, this is more an ELI5 request”

            What is an “ELI5 request”?

            A web search indicates it’s something computer programming related, but that doesn’t seem applicable.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Explain [something to me] Like I’m Five [years old]”.

            It’s a Reddit thing.

          • dick says:

            @hoopyfreud – Your landlord is just some schmuck playing the cards he was dealt, like the rest of us. Your problems are not intractable, and I would miss you if you stopped posting.

          • Nick says:

            “ELI5” means “Explain Like I’m 5”; it’s a request for explanations in simple terms. I thought it was a reddit term, but it may have originated elsewhere.

          • J Mann says:

            @j1000000 – I’ll take a shot at an ELI5 in a comment to your main post.

          • Plumber says:

            @hoopyfreud,
            I’m worried for you.

            @Nornagest,
            @Nick,
            Thanks!

          • J Mann says:

            @Hoopyfreud – can we help? Advice is free and maybe good, and we might be able to do more than that.

          • albatross11 says:

            dick: +1

          • John Schilling says:

            I’ll take a shot at an ELI5 in a comment to your main post.

            Ditto, and +1 to “can we help?”

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @All

            Like I said, I’m usually better about keeping my mouth shut. I’m not in danger of anything. I’m kinda fucked up, but that’s neither new nor should it be alarming. Again, I apologise.

        • Randy M says:

          I can’t afford a house and it rains.
          Occasionally, but it does.

        • SamChevre says:

          I would hate to have to own a house anywhere I wanted to live unless I wanted to live in a hotel room.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Anecdata: I have a great landlady and I hereby want to thank her. More seriously, even despite the fact that I sometimes think about myself as something of a liberal socialist (I like e.g. many political positions of Bernie Sanders), even for me it is hardly conceivable in a free society to ban renting of residences. It could and imho should be somewhat regulated, but I do not think it is viable or desirable to abolish it.

          • albatross11 says:

            Before we bought our house, we had a landlord who was perfectly decent and nice. My one qualm with him was that he was an old man who had a lot of health problems, but still would come out to repair minor things himself–this motivated me to do the repairs myself rather than make this sick old guy come out and do them for me.

        • Do you live in a place where there are restrictions on the landlord’s ability to set rent?

          I ask because the existence of rent control changes the incentives of landlords. Without it, any quality improvement that is worth more to the tenant than it costs the landlord is, in the long run, worth making, since it increases the amount the apartment will rent for.

          Put in rent control, and that is no longer true. If an apartment has a market rent of $1000/month but is controlled at $800, then reductions in quality which still leave the rent at which supply equals demand above $800 cost the landlord nothing, and improvements that raise the quality of the apartment provide no benefit to him.

          Without rent control, there may still be problems due to errors by the landlord, or attempts to take advantage of the short term, in which rents are fixed and moving is costly to the tenant—a sunk cost problem. But they are smaller and more transitory than the situation with rent control.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            But they are smaller and more transitory than the situation with rent control.

            This seems like the sort of claim that needs to be substantiated by more than prax and quantified in order to be meaningful.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Rent control exacerbates the situation but I don’t think it causes it. The end users of a property are the only ones who have any incentive to make improvements to it that are economically net-negative, because they get to enjoy the improvements.

            For instance, if I want to replace my builder-quality appliances with shiny new ones for $5000, my house may only go up in value by $2000, but maybe I think paying the extra $3000 is fine because I like shiny appliances. However, if I’m renting, and paying $5000 to upgrade the appliances is only going to result in a $2000 improvement in value to the property (or an additional $2000 in rent over the lifetime of the appliances), the landlord won’t do it. The landlord may allow me to do it, but at that point I’m not paying a net of $3000. I’m paying the entire $5000, plus I could pay another $2000 if the landlord raises my rent because the apartment now has better appliances. If I don’t care to pay that, he kicks me out and brings in tenants who will, and I lose the enjoyment of the shiny appliances.

            It would be possible to have complicated contractural structures to alleviate this, but they’re rare, probably because of the complexity and because of the difficulty of negotiating it.

          • Murphy says:

            For confounders throw in some more:

            Many places have some kind of social housing, at least in the UK many councils have decided keeping dedicated social housing property to be sub-optimal and instead pay rent to landlords to house tenants.

            There are restrictions, like the council setting the max they’ll pay at some price point that’s in the bottom few deciles for market rates in the local area but any landlords who accept this are then somewhat unlinked from supply and demand if they can find the price point that’s the councils limit, then they only need to keep the property just barely up to code.

            Also lot of landlords aren’t the brightest knives in the cutlery drawer and don’t behave perfectly rationally.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Nybbler

            There is little stopping you from buying higher quality goods, swapping them out and taking them with you when you move, or you could sign a long term lease.

            The disincentive to do this, and the main disincentive that most people don’t understand is that the primary issue with being a landlord is the transitory nature of renters. Our first renter stuck around for 6 years and he was given a near green light (just had to ask permission for big changes) on improvements once we figured he was going to be there for more than a year or two. He repainted the house and put in a small patio (we provided all the materials), and put holes in every room to mount TVs (seriously I think it was a TV in every room except the bathroom).

            When he moved out we had to rebuild the patio (he hadn’t done a great job and we literally had to move every stone and redo the shape, so a multi-day project), fill every hole for those TV mounts, paint every room and replace all the carpets. The costs of materials, time, plus lost rental income while everything was repaired/replaced would be a disaster financially if it happened every year or two, and this is ignoring the upgrades/maintenance we did during this period (most of the windows replaced, new soil line, new roof, new electric, new stove, new fridge).

            Lots of rentals are geared toward transient populations, individuals who are going to just decide to move one day and you don’t know when so basically everything is set up to survive financially if you decide to move out the second your lease is up. Walls a painted a color that can easily be painted over with one coat barring significant damage, no TVs or shelving that requires anchors because that is at least a full day off the market, if not two, to patch, sand, let dry, paint, let dry and second coat.

            This is compounded by the fact that many leases are signed at similar times of the year, so you might have 10 units (we don’t, only the 1.25) with college graduates in them who all signed leases that started at the end of their academic year and you might have half your building or more empty out suddenly one year. To survive in that environment you have to push at least somewhat towards efficiency, somewhat towards keeping your properties in similar conditions and somewhat towards restrictions on the renters. Obviously some landlords go way beyond into criminal territory, but the time mismatch is the major reason for many issues that renters complain about.

        • dick says:

          Can anyone here correct my economically ignorant view that landlords are a social bad and shouldn’t exist and only serve to drive up prices?

          What are you proposing to replace them?

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Just like every other problem with housing, you are attributing the pain in the wrong place. Your rental situation sucks because your urban planners are bad at their job. There is one, and only one way to keep the price of housing in check – and that is to keep the supply high. Own, rent, public? These things, ultimately, do not matter. Only thing that does is how much housing is available within a decent travel-time of the things that make the city worth living in.

          There are legal things that matter at the margin – laws against letting residences sit empty are, for example, a pretty good idea because it prevents most forms of market manipulation, but ultimately, the answer to overly high housing costs is always going to have to be “More stones piled high”.

        • J Mann says:

          @j1000000

          The short answer is that (a) every other solution that has been tried is worse overall and (b) paying the landlord is what causes homes to be available.

          1) Somebody has to build houses and take the risk of loss, and landlords usually don’t make any more money doing that than they would make in any other investment.

          Being a renter has a few main advantages over buying. (1) you don’t have to come up with $100K-$1M to build or buy the house (2) if you decide to move because of job or romantic situations or whatever, you’re free to do so without selling the house, and (3) you don’t have to maintain the house or pay for sudden and unexpected repairs – if the house needs a $2,500 furnace repair or a $15,000 roof repair, that’s not your problem.

          A landlord comes up with the money to buy or build a house or apartment building, advertises it to tenants, has someone fix it when it breaks. takes the rik that no one will want to live there for weeks or months, that tenants will trash the place, that they’ll sue her when someone else breaks into the place and assaults them, and so on.

          And at the end of the day, barring sudden changes in the market, the landlord probably makes about as much money on that investment (plus their time) as they would at any other investment, once you adjust for risk. If not, we could expect house and land prices to go up until the next generation of landlords didn’t make any more money, after risk and effort, than they could make anywhere else.

          2) As far as we can tell, all other systems are either objectively worse for residents themselves, or work by spreading the pain to other people

          Many many many people have tried other systems, and the few that work for residents work only by increasing suffering of someone else.

          – When the government provides housing directly, it does a bad job of getting the kinds of housing people want at the prices they want, mostly because if information problems. At a basic level of abstraction, any kind of nice public housing you can think of is probably being paid for at great cost by taxpayers who don’t live there and could be provided more efficiently by just having taxpayers in the Midwest pay for direct subsidy checks to San Francisco renters. [Insert Russian joke about apartments here].

          – Attempts to regulate renting, like rent control, usually provide a temporary benefit for the current residents, but punish new people who want homes much more. As a result, rent control is almost always revoked once an area realizes they are running out of housing altogether. Basically, once you outlaw renting at a market price, it becomes much more economically rational to sell condos or otherwise sell units. Then condo buyers get stuck coming up with the down payment and losing money if they need to move or if there are property value changes, and people who otherwise would have rented end up living somewhere without rent control and commuting however far it takes.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            This is also wrong. The government always, and everywhere controls the housing market. Sometimes it controls it in favor of construction firms / developers (This, is, in fact, why the south has so reasonable housing prices. The southern gop is owned lock stock and barrel by building interests, which results in there actually being enough housing in Texas) and sometimes in the favor of current property owners.

            It is just that mostly, politicians elect to pull on levers not connected to anything, because pulling the levers that do things piss people off. Affordable housing is simple. You put down roads, power and sewage, you issue the zoning permit, or alter existing permits to permit denser land use, and housing magically happens. Then prices go down because supply is up. Repeat until people can actually afford to live there.

            Rent control and all the rest are what politicians do when they want to pretend to do something, instead of actually doing something, because actually doing something will make property owners squeal and banks crack.

            Direct government construction of housing, near as I can tell only ever happens when the “and then housing magically appears” fails to work for some reason. Which it sometimes does.

            But the market? The market never solves this. Except by buying politicians.

          • J Mann says:

            @Thomas Jorgensen – I agree that government has a lot of levers to pull to make housing more or less affordable (usually by constraining the supply and types of housing that are possible).

            However, the question I was trying to answer was “Can anyone here correct my economically ignorant view that landlords are a social bad and shouldn’t exist and only serve to drive up prices”

            I think for any given state of government controlled zoning and regulation that permits renting, landlords serve the functions I discussed.

          • Murphy says:

            every other solution that has been tried is worse overall

            I’m reminded of a number of cases in history where a lot of farmers were stuck renting land from aristocrats.

            When farmers were given a legal right to buy the land they’d been farming for generations there was a significant boom in productivity because, surprise surprise, they then had incentives to maintain the land better and they were fundamentally more competent at doing so than the inbred son of the local lord.

            Not everyone provides value just by existing. Lots of systems are suboptimal.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            We could explore policies that make buying and selling houses less expensive, so more people could own the places they are at and then swap to someplace else for not as much money.

            Underwriting the new property is one major cost. But in Canada, once you have your first mortgage, you can take it to a new property (obviously with limits). Governments deliberately tax transfers of property significantly, seeing them as a revenue source. These rates could be reduced, or made per-year like the property tax. Title insurance is a racket. You probably can’t significantly reduce inspection fees (but maybe an insurance company could try to guarantee a house’s condition? Seems ripe for gaming but I’m thinking out loud).

            NB: I’m not saying we need to establish these policies, or that we they don’t have trade-offs. But a lot of the reasons transferring a property is expensive are the result of deliberate short- or long-term policy decisions.

          • J Mann says:

            I’m reminded of a number of cases in history where a lot of farmers were stuck renting land from aristocrats.

            When farmers were given a legal right to buy the land they’d been farming for generations there was a significant boom in productivity.

            That’s true – in modern markets, I’m assuming it isn’t hard for a renter with the funds to buy housing at the same rate that landlords buy housing.

            If there are legal obstacles to renters buying or if you’re in some kind of company town where one entity owns all the housing and won’t sell, then there are good arguments for that state of affairs to stop.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is also wrong. The government always, and everywhere controls the housing market

            Nonsense, markets have more control than governments.

        • John Schilling says:

          Others have pointed out that landlords provide the capital that ensures an apartment will be built in the first place, and the operating cash flow to maintain it. But even stipulated that the apartment exists, and is magically zero-maintenance, you still need a landlord or something like it.

          Because, lots of people want to live in that apartment, and someone has to decide which one actually does. Even if we imagine that there are as many apartments as people, there will always be people who want more than one and there will be people who want the best apartment rather than the average one, etc. At zero cost, demand will be impractically high. And most of these people will be nice and decent folk who will reason or feel, “OK, but Bob is already living in that apartment, so obviously I can’t just kick him out”. Some won’t. Some will be better than you at violence, some will be better at navigating bureaucracy, some will be more charismatic, and some will have lots of friends who will back them up. Someday, someone is going to come home and find all their stuff on the sidewalk, the locks changed, and someone saying “you don’t live here any more, GTFO”.

          Sometimes it’s the landlord who did that, and sometimes he had good reason and sometimes he was just being an asshole. But, as a landlord, he’s the only asshole who can do that, and there’s limits to when he can do that. Anyone else tries to do that, and the landlord just tells the police, “Look, here’s the property deed that says I own this building, and here’s me saying that Bob is my tenant who pays me cash money every month and that other guy over there isn’t, so go arrest that other guy for breaking into my apartment and throwing my tenant’s stuff out on the street”.

          Absent landlords, or something like them, any asshole can take your apartment and throw you out on the street, if they think they can bribe or charm the police better than you or finesse the paperwork better than you or just beat you to death and hide the body before the police get there.

          Is there anything better than a landlord for performing this function? Maybe, but what are the options?

          Private ownership? Great if you can afford it. The police show up to settle the dispute and you show them the deed saying “I own this house”, and that’s usually the end of it. But you don’t get to live anywhere until you can make at least the down payment on a house.

          The government owns everything and assigns everyone apartments? That will on average cost about as much in taxes as the current system does in rent, substituting bureaucratic overhead for private profit. And it means you have to ask someone like Deiseach to let you have an apartment and hope she gives you one you are OK with. Seriously, that used to be her job, she’s talked extensively about it, and she’s not describing a utopia. Sometimes she just says “No you can’t have an apartment, go back and live with your parents”.

          Squatters rights, where when the police show up they figure out who was living there first and arrest the newcomer? Great for people who presently have homes where they want to live, sucks for newcomers or for people who want to move, and eventually the buildings fall apart and nobody has much reason to build new ones? Also, it’s a breach of faith with the people who paid good money to build the current round of apartments with the expectation of renting them out.

          Company towns where employers maintain housing for their workers and their families? That works; I hope I don’t have to explain the problems.

          Kinship groups, where even when you leave your house empty while you go to work, your clan’s got your back and woe to any outsider who tries to move in? That also works, and is great if you’ve got lots of powerful relatives and don’t want to move away from the family home.

          Something else that I’m missing?

          And then we circle back to the part where apartments don’t just magically exist and do require maintenance. Because landlords are highly motivated to build more apartments, make them nice and appealing, and maintain them in good condition, in a way that the other solutions really don’t provide.

        • abystander says:

          @j1000000

          The ELI5 is that the rent is set by rich people who want to live in the area and are willing to pay many thousands of dollars in rent or mortgage payments to live in the area,

          not by the rich person who are bought the apartment and decides to charge many thousands of dollars of rent to make up for the money they spent to but the apartment.

          And cheaper apartments are not built because of limited land and construction costs. In San Francisco “affordable” housing developers are talking about construction costs of $750,000 a unit of housing.

          https://www.sfexaminer.com/the-city/funding-gap-plagues-treasure-island-affordable-housing-projects/

          Six years ago the cost to build an outside stairway 2 floors high cost over $16,000 + $2000 in permit and engineering costs.

        • sharper13 says:

          May I suggest that if you dislike doing business with your landlord that much, creating a mid-term plan to “fire” your landlord and hire another one?

          Surely its not the only place available for rent? Why stay if you dislike it that much?

          • j1000000 says:

            1. Realtor fee is a month rent in my area
            2. I have no idea if my current landlord would take some of my security deposit when I left
            3. I’d have to give a new security deposit to my new landlord which they could then take some of for almost any reason
            4. There are fees associated with moving even if you don’t hire movers (potential need to rent a truck, need to pay for city parking permits, the stress of the move itself is probably not worth it)
            5. The rental process I went through in my area was far more intense and competitive than I ever would have expected after spending a decade living in crappy areas, but I moved to a nicer area because I wanted to be close to where I work b/c public transportation was so unreliable and unpleasant. I was told by a real estate agent who helped me out that it was because extremely rich people from the suburbs were renting pied a terres and Air BnB was restricting supply, but I have no idea if either of those were true (especially the latter).
            5. My landlord is not that bad, relative to every other landlord I’ve ever had — he’s just generically cheap

        • vV_Vv says:

          Can anyone here correct my economically ignorant view that landlords are a social bad and shouldn’t exist and only serve to drive up prices?

          Many people plan to live in a given city for a short time, buying and selling a house has large transaction costs in terms of money, effort and time, hence it is not efficient to do it every few months/years.

          Many other people lack the wealth and stable income required to get a mortgage, so it would be difficult for then to buy a house even if they planned to stay for long term.

          Landlords enable these people to have accommodation.

      • acymetric says:

        This is why I frequently try to make the case for viewing a house more as a consumable good and less as an asset to leverage to squire other assets or a stable high-value long term investment, especially when discussing the relative merits of owning vs. renting.

        • AG says:

          I wonder if the Japanese model is more effective here? They have regulations and pricing that incentivize every new owner of the land to tear the house down and re-build it from scratch, which seems in line with a “house is a consumable, not appreciating asset” view.
          (The constant re-building is also a boon to architects and construction companies.)

        • Eternaltraveler says:

          Much of housing is built as a consumble good that will degrade over time. Some construction will last for hundreds of years. In the present market these two things are often priced similarly. This is more evidence that the current market is not free.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This does not follow. First of all, the premises are unlikely to be true; basically all housing degrades over time without maintenance. There may be some exceptions but not where there’s rain. Current housing construction techniques haven’t been around long enough to say whether they’ll last hundreds of years with maintenance, but there’s no reason to believe they won’t.

            Second, the maintenance cost of that hundreds-of-years house may be no lower, over any timeframe, than the “consumable” house. If by the time the consumable house needs to be rebuilt, enough extra maintenance has been put into the other house that the excess would be sufficient to rebuild the consumable one, there was no win.

            Third, the house may become functionally obsolete anyway. Consider Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate. It certainly has lasted 100s of years. But it’s a 10/0 — 10 bedrooms, no baths (no indoor plumbing at all). Nobody wants that. It has no air conditioning, obviously, and heat was provided by fireplaces. It it weren’t historic we’d tear it down and build something more practical.

          • Aapje says:

            @The Nybbler

            I live in a country with quite a few old buildings that are hundreds of years old, many with immense historic value, that have been retrofitted with plumbing and electricity. Of course, it damages the historic value, but people generally consider(ed) it necessary to keep the building usable and thereby making it doable to preserve it.

            For example, the church in which the Dutch royals are entombed (and whose construction began in 1396 and ended in 1496) has been renovated with toilets and underfloor heating. Admittedly this is not that old a building (it’s called the New Church for a reason) and I personally worked in a far older church, but it is nevertheless considerable older than Mount Vernon.

            Mount Vernon seems like a bit of a special case in that the site was both famous before indoor plumbing became popular and yet fairly early on owned by a poor family who couldn’t keep it in the family, but didn’t sell it in time or couldn’t sell it, to a rich new owner. So this forced a choice between transforming it into a museum or destroying it.

            This seems like a relatively rare occurrence, because both wealth and tourism was far less common back then, so few dedicated museums could be supported by society back then.

            Many other buildings with historic relevance were simply used and upgraded (either by the original owners or new ones), or they were destroyed.

            A somewhat similar case to Mount Vernon is the Brontë Parsonage Museum, the former house of the famous literary sisters, who were from a relatively poor family. The house was turned into a museum before plumbing became commonplace and if you visit it and have to pee, you have to go to the parking in the vicinity, where you can use a (modern) outhouse.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Aapje

            I live in a country with quite a few old buildings that are hundreds of years old, many with immense historic value, that have been retrofitted with plumbing and electricity. Of course, it damages the historic value, but people generally consider(ed) it necessary to keep the building usable and thereby making it doable to preserve it.

            Can confirm- I live in one of these buildings. I think it was retrofitted- or at any rate renovated- by the current owners, who live in one of the apartments they divided it into.

            I have heard of people being annoyed at buildings they own being designated as monuments because it limits what they can do to them- for instance, my apartment doesn’t have double glazed windows.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Aapje

            The point isn’t that you can’t retrofit the buildings (although as AlphaGamma notes, historical commissions often won’t let you, so if you find yourself in possession of a building which might be designated historic at some point, there’s a strong incentive to destroy it immediately). The point is that it’s expensive. So your “built to last” building may not cost much (if anything) less over the long run to maintain compared to your “consumable” building.

          • Aapje says:

            @AlphaGamma

            Monument status typically requires preserving the outside look and sometimes also elements on the inside.

            An issue with double glazing is that it changes the look significantly. There are solutions to this, like special thin double glazing, which has thinner glass and less space between the panes. So it doesn’t isolate as well as regular double glazing, but fits more easily in existing window panes. It is also made with an irregular surface like old glass used to have, which makes it appropriate for properly old buildings.

            An alternative is to use secondary glazing, where a glass pane is placed behind the fancy window. This also works for glass in lead panes.

            Neither are as good as regular double glazing, but are way better than just having a pane of regular glass.

          • Aapje says:

            @The Nybbler

            If you aren’t allowed to retrofit the inside, you usually have a very special building. Not just a very old house. It’s unlikely that these will gain monument status suddenly and without the owners wanting it (because these buildings tend to be bought for their specialness).

            The cost can usually be offset with subsidies and tax rebates to such an extent that rebuilding doesn’t make sense.

            Now, I agree that building to last beyond a certain point is typically* not worth it and that at some point it becomes cheaper to rebuild, but that is not because you can’t renovate old buildings to fairly high standards. You can. It’s just quite expensive.

            * With the caveat that some people build and/or seek to own buildings that look special and will gain a special status for their looks. There is a high chance that people will want to preserve these for their looks, even when rebuilding might be superior purely from a functional point of view. This is a valid choice. Not everything that we do has to be functional and efficient.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Aapje on glazing-On further thought, that makes sense. The bedroom windows in my apartment have secondary glazing, the study window (which doesn’t face the street) has modern double glazing.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Historical regulations vary from country to country and across the US. Some parts of the US, all (surviving) houses over a certain age are subject to some sort of preservation regulation. More commonly, all houses in a certain area (whether the particular house is of historic value or not) are subject to “historic district” regulation. These can be quite intrusive.

          • Garrett says:

            Might I suggest that you consider present-worth analysis when looking at these things? Assuming that your house would be worth $1M, at a 5% discount rate, the present value after 50 years would only be about $87k.

            In other words, at a 5% discount rate, you would have to be able to convert your house from “disposable after 50 years” to “permanent” for less than 9% extra.

          • Eternaltraveler says:

            First of all, the premises are unlikely to be true; basically all housing degrades over time without maintenance.

            Yes. I did not speak precisely. Apologies. The rates of degradation may be markedly different, but in the end entropy will always win.

            Second, the maintenance cost of that hundreds-of-years house may be no lower, over any timeframe, than the “consumable” house. If by the time the consumable house needs to be rebuilt, enough extra maintenance has been put into the other house that the excess would be sufficient to rebuild the consumable one, there was no win.

            This may be true in a world without cost disease or modern zoning.

            Unfortunately cost disease means tearing down and rebuilding old housing is generally much more expensive on an inflation adjusted basis than repair of an existing structure. Modern zoning means you generally arent allowed to rebuild at all or you must rebuild something objectively inferior (because present zoning is for single family housing for example). This also ignores that quality materials that were once available often dont exist anymore (old growth timber is often extremely rot and insect resistant, lime mortar though structurally weaker, is flexible and self heals etc.). I acknowledge thay mordern structural engineering can be superior, but this doesnt seem to be the case with most residental construction due to costs.

            Your third point I believe has been addressed by others.

          • The Nybbler says:

            (old growth timber is often extremely rot and insect resistant, lime mortar though structurally weaker, is flexible and self heals etc.)

            Old growth timber is great, but if you want to hold up a house, dimensional lumber and/or engineered beams do the job just fine. Lime mortar is the reason Philadelphia rowhouses (or rather, their outer facades) _don’t_ last hundreds of years; the stuff dissolves and the walls collapse, if retrofits aren’t done. And renovating old housing so it’s something you’d like to live in, as opposed to living in a museum, can be as expensive as rebuilding.

            Your claim is that “housing that will last” is priced similarly to “consumable” housing. Personally I haven’t seen this; they’re usually simply not comparable, being in different areas and different sizes, often in different conditions. But if you find an instance, I would be willing to bet that if you dug into it you would find some good reasons as well.

            Me, I’ll just sit here in my almost 60 year old “consumable” house and note that it hasn’t quite fallen down yet.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Yeah, the people who buy and sell houses as an investment vehicle drive the madness cycles at the expense of folks who just want someplace stable to live

      • Chalid says:

        I’ve spent the last 10 years or so renting in large apartment buildings owned by large corporations. I don’t see why this isn’t more common. You get professional maintenance staff who are incentivized to do a good job, a landlord that is in the business for the long term and which cares about its reputation, and large common building amenities that would be ridiculously impractical or duplicative for single families (e.g. I can have a pool, in-building gym, and enormous roof deck because I share the cost with a couple hundred other people).

        • The Nybbler says:

          Lots of people rent in the big corporate buildings. But they have the big corporate failings instead of the ideosyncracies of small landlords. When they’re new and trying to attract people, the maintenance staff are responsive, the pool and the gym are great, etc. When they’re full, and get a bit older and the developer has moved on to the next shiny new building, they cut the maintenance staff, the pool is closed more often than it is open, the gym equipment breaks and is not repaired, the roof deck gets permanently closed “for safety reasons”, etc.

          • Chalid says:

            And then people leave and go across the street to the next big corporate-owned apartment building. As long as moving cost << rent then the market generally works. (And having lots of big competitor buildings close by helps keep moving cost low, both in terms of strict monetary cost and more importantly in terms of disruption to your life.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            People do move, but the rent is higher in the newer building and they’re stuck with the costs of moving. Of course if the corporate landlords kept the maintenance up in the old building, rents would be higher there; that’s why this happens, most people in the old building prefer the lower rent and the declining amenities to a higher rent and full amenities.

          • Chalid says:

            Sure, but then people are more-or-less rationally making an informed choice to have cheaper rents for worse services. There’s nothing wrong with that picture – everyone can look at the menu of options and optimize for what they value.

            By contrast the experience with an individual landlord is very unpredictable.

    • Eternaltraveler says:

      I’m a landlord. I have three properties. 2 in CO, 1 in CA.

      The housing market in CA is ridiculous. I considered buying a multiplex (where I live in one unit) the only viable method to owning any property in CA. This is because the per unit price of multiplexes is much lower than single family homes. This is almost entirely driven by down payment percentages. Multiplexes are 20/25% down. Single family homes are often 5%. I lived in a trailer in the woods for years in order to save for the down payment and commuted far. A single family home across the street from me, half the overall size, of similar construction, in similar condition, sold for about 10% more than I bought my triplex for within a couple months. The reason for this discrepancy is because the government secures single family home loans but not my loan. This drives single family home prices into the stratosphere. This is the same reason higher education is expensive. It would also help if new construction was (more)legal. As a landlord and property owner I would welcome opening up of new construction. This would enable me to buy land on all the empty hills and build housing. As an owner builder I would not be subject to the same cost driver of new construction as most others (credentialism) and would likely make a good profit. I would also be happy if credentialism in construction went away but would likely invest elsewhere, this is exceedingly unlikely however.

      My triplex is a good investment, however it requires a lot of sweat equity. If i paid contractors to do all that I have to do it would not be a viable investment. This is due to credentialism. Credentialism drives cost disease with contractors. For now its still legal to work on my own home. Most tasks are trivial (most simple plumbing and electricial work take an afternoon and can be learned in 10 minutes and I always wildly exceeed code because really the cost of materials is trivial). I fix everything and have improved the property greatly. Paying someone would cost 10x. As a general rule the costs of all the tools you need to do something a million times forever cost less than half of paying someone for whatever it is once.

      Flippers can sometimes get away with hiring crews to do the work when they get lucky, but this is very risky. My strategy is very much not that; a property must cash flow, and this is very obtainable when you do all the work. The owner before me lost money even though the property appreciated 20% (And ive mostly torn out the shoddy bandaids he paid contractors to do that broke his investment and fixed the things right).

      I do not charge as much rent as the market can bear because that makes tenants unreliable and ends up costing more. I do however have to charge more than I actually want to charge with this calculus alone in CA due to the large threat that rent control will be enacted in my area(it is not yet, but will be any time). I charge lower relative to the market in CO where such a threat is not imminent. When rent control is enacted I will have no choice but to charge as much as I can whenever I have the opportunity; this is not ideal.

      I’ve had some bad tenants over the years including one that trashed the place sufficiently that my lowest quote for fixing it was 25k (i fixed it myself for 2 or 3 and flew to CO for a week to do it). Im better at vetting them now and I check references. Bad credit is not a problem for tenants in CO as they tend to pay their rent even if they miss payments on other things and its straight forward and quick to evict for non-payment of rent in CO (and in CO on the odd occasion that has happened anyway Ive worked with them because turning a unit is costly and time consuming). In CA the eviction process is far more onerous so I cant afford to give people the benefit of the doubt and only rent to people with impecable credit and perfect references (and more). This is not ideal.

      I thought some here might enjoy learning a bit about my anecdotal incentives as a landlord having property in two markedly different areas. Ultimately I expect CO to become more like CA as CA people flee to CO and vote for it to become CA jr.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This was informative.

        Is being a LL your only job?

        • Eternaltraveler says:

          No. I work full time or greater otherwise. I’m in CA because for some stupid reason this is where you have to be to found startups (for the most part) despite the hellish business climate.

      • Murphy says:

        A place we used to rent, the landlord was similar: everything was done either by himself or by some guy he knew.

        you know the kind of person convinced that they can do a good job with 10 minutes of youtube videos.

        Anyway, while we were there we both started getting sick, lots of coughs and general lung stuff.

        When we moved out we finally figured out why.

        Some of his shitty amature plumbing had been leaking into a wall behind one of the vents and it was filled with rot and damp and fungus.

        Given that we easily might never have noticed the cause, makes you wonder how many old or otherwise poorly people die or suffer long term health damage from that kind of shoddy “I can do anything, I don’t need no stinkin experience” arrogance from shady/cheapass landlords.

        it also makes you realise why so many municipalities require work to be done by professionals rather than Bob who thinks he knows everything after watching a how-to video.

        An apartment before that was less subtle. Shortly before we moved out we discovered the electric shower had been hooked up by the landladies husband. Using the wrong circuit. When it started failing it started shooting boiling water and super-heated steam. Luckily it missed.

        But who needs electricians. That’s just credentialism.

        TL;DR: The reason there’s so many rules about how work must be done by landlords is similar to why there’s so many safety rules on construction sites.

        The rules are written in blood.

        • albatross11 says:

          Murphy:

          There are clearly times people do crappy work, credentialed or not. (The credentialed people probably know what they’re doing but may not care; the uncredentialed people may not know or care. And since credentials are only correlated with knowing what you’re doing, there are incompetent people with the credentials and extremely competent people without them out there.) There are also clearly a lot of jobs that any competent person can do with a little care. And there’s plenty of cheap new construction that s very shoddy work done by people who presumably knew how to do it right, but DGAF.

          The way we deal with that in practice is to have some rules about what work must be permitted and inspected by the city/county building inspector, and sometimes rules about specific stuff that has to be done or checked by a credentialed person. That’s imperfect, but it seems like a reasonable tradeoff.

        • Eternaltraveler says:

          The rules are written in blood.

          Shoddy work is shoddy work. It sounds like you have had some incompetent landlords. In a world without exponetially increasing property values they couldn’t exist for long. When I took possession of my property there were numerous problems like you suggest, they were, however, done by professionals that the previous incompetent landlord hired. You would also be gravely mistaken to think that I don’t follow the rules. As I said, owners are allowed to fix their own house (and I’ve spent time living in each unit to do just that) and as I also said I always exceed requirements because I never want to deal with whatever it is ever again. I’ve even picked up a few certifications and you would not be pleased with many of the others that passed those classes.

          I also want my property to be nice, because its mine.

          I think in general there is a shortage of competent people, which is at least also partially due to credentialism (as people arent even allowed to learn anything). The people with the greatest incentive to keep their property in working order are long term owners.

  8. acymetric says:

    Now that tax season is over (except for you extension-filers, of course) I have a couple questions/thoughts. These are probably self-evident, but I can’t find any single source that really dives into it.
    A lot of people are not happy with the changes to deductions as it relates to mortgage interest and state/local taxes (property, income, etc). Personally (as a renter) I came out a fair bit ahead. I’m curious to figure out how many people really came out ahead/behind.

    First, a two pronged question: Is there a good breakdown anywhere of how much property (in the monetary sense, not size) and how high an income someone would need in order to come out ahead/behind under the new plan (obviously this will vary by location). I have to imagine some lower income home-owners with lower-value homes still came out ahead (especially in areas with reasonable state income and property taxes) but I can’t find an analysis that indicates one way or the other. Naturally I would hope for a reliable source, ideally but not necessarily a relatively unbiased one as well. On the flip-side, are there any classes of non-land owners that somehow managed to come out behind?

    Second related question: how is the home ownership rate calculated? The home ownership rates are fairly easy to find, but it isn’t clear to me how to map that out to the population. Are two unrelated people renting a single housing unit together considered 1 household or 2? In other words, I can find the percentage of “households” that own a home but I am having trouble translating that into “% of voting age adults that own a home” which is probably not terribly far off from the household percentage but maybe enough to matter when evaluating impact of tax code changes on voting preferences.

    • SamChevre says:

      Here’s a really quick calculation, leaving out charitable donations (which would reduce the income/asset level at which the changes were harmful), for “married filing jointly.”

      The old standard deduction was $12,000; the new standard deduction is $24,000.
      The old rule allowed all state and local taxes to be deducted if you itemized; the new rules limit that deduction to $10,000.
      The old rule allowed mortgage interest to be deducted for mortgages up to $1 million; the new limit is $750,000.

      Thus, you would need to pay $22,000 in state and local taxes ($12,000 additional deduction, plus the $10,000 you can still deduct) before you are worse off due to the changes.

      Anecdotally, as a homeowner in a high-tax state, household incomes around $125,000 seemed to be the point at which the impact became negative–but it wasn’t much for incomes under $200,000.

      • The Nybbler says:

        What you’re missing in that analysis is the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Because of AMT, under the old system, you’d lose the benefit of the SALT deduction anyway at some income level.

      • SamChevre says:

        As The Nybbler notes, I’m not including AMT impacts–I simply don’t know enough. I’m also not including charitable deductions, which can have a big impact–they are much less likely to be deductible now if they’re the typical small, routine giving that’s typical of middle-class households who are religious.

        For an example, take a household earning $150K in Worcester MA, with a median-priced house worth $250k.

        Property tax would be about $3300 (from the link)
        State tax would be about $7700
        Mortage interest assuming 20% equity would be $8000.

        Old itemized deduction: $19,000
        New itemized deduction: $18,000

        So the standard deduction of $24,000 would reduce taxes (but much less than the reduction for someone who lived in a lower-tax state).

        Now add in $7500 of charitable giving. In the old system, it was all marginally deductible; in the new system, only $500 is marginally deductible.

        • Jake says:

          That charitable giving figure is a big difference. I think as the dust settles on the changes, some charities are going to have a lot harder time convincing small-ish donors that the tax breaks are worth it, since a lot fewer people are going to itemize.

          The real winners of the changes are people with lots of kids. The $2k refundable credit per kid completely offset my tax liabilities this year, which is insane. Anecdata from my friends seems to be that married couples without kids got hit the hardest by changes in withholding causing them to owe more at tax time than they expected, but I don’t know how that translates to total tax liability.

          • SamChevre says:

            The real winners of the changes are people with lots of kids. The $2k refundable credit per kid completely offset my tax liabilities this year, which is insane.

            I thought the $2k refundable credit (vs the old $1K credit) just offset the impact of losing the incremental personal deduction for children. (Source–have 5 kids.)

            Also, in my calculation above, I forgot the personal exemption.

          • Jake says:

            @SamChevre

            Depending on which tax bracket you are in, the change from a $4050 exemption in 2017 to an extra $1k refundable credit in 2018 could be worth a range of values:

            $1k, if you already were paying 0 tax, and just qualify for an additional credit

            $514 = ($1k – $4050*12%) if you are in the 12% tax bracket (for married couples, this is up to $77.4k after at least a $24k standard deduction, so the median family would fall in this bracket)

            $18 = ($1k – $4050*24%) This is where you about break even, but requires a household AGI of $165-310k

            -$498.50 = ($1k – $4050*37%) if you are in the top 37% bracket.

            For me, this worked out to an extra $2k I wasn’t really planning on, which was great!

        • SamChevre says:

          I forgot the personal exemption of $4150 per person. Adding it in, the standard deduction + exemption in the old system was higher–but itemizing was in addition to the personal exemption. For children, a higher tax credit largely offset the effect of losing personal exemptions.

          So the family above:
          Old itemized deduction + 2 personal exemptions: $19,000 + $8,300 = $27,300 of untaxed income
          New standard deduction: $24,000 of untaxed income

          But the same marginal effect on charitable donations.

  9. Ms. Morgendorffer says:

    I’m finishing the first book of “We Are Legion” (We Are Bob) and find it fantastic. At first I thought it would be a perfect fit for most people here and searched a little to see if it had been discussed in the past. It has, twice :
    tscharf did in OT65 answering with his top 3 (I’ll try three body problem after I get my hands on Anatem thanks to him)
    Four warmish posts in 79.75.
    I’m really curious about that. Admittedly I’m on the spectrum, a computer engineer etc so not really a representative sample and a prime target for the book, but I thought the themes and treatment would be a huge success with this crowd.

    I went in the book blind and really enjoyed discovering it while thinking it would be about something else entirely, so I’m relunctant about giving a pitch. I guess people curious about it can google it in no time.
    So, SSC, in the case it went unnoticed but would please most people here, what’s your take on it : for those who read it, did you like it ? Would you recommend it to a fellow nerd ? (please rot13 spoilers, especially about vol2 as I’ll have to wait a few weeks before getting my hands on it !)
    I for one am really enjoying it, I find the treatment of the subject very innovating and refreshing, and the writing light-hearted but still natural and relatable (caveat, I’m on the french translation so it could be an artifact of the translator being better than the author).

    • woah77 says:

      I thought it was an excellent novel. I’ve suggested it to several people in the past. I think the method for exploring the galaxy is possibly the only practical one that will exist for many centuries to come.

    • Murphy says:

      I liked it but…

      1: but it was a little too wish-fulfillment with everything feeling a little too easy for him. Sort of like “the people of the future must cower for I am A PROGRAMMER!”, there’s exactly one occasion where someone out-techs him… but it doesn’t have any real impact.

      2: his enemies don’t seem terribly inventive or tactical and the solutions that are painted as shocking everyone… are kinda obvious things that were the first thing you thought of on page 2 of book 1 if you’re inclined to think about this things this way.

      it kinda needs the Quirrell treatment for the opponents. I’d have loved to see bob up against some genuinely intelligent adversaries.

      3: Under-uses the tech outlined. With FTL communication bobs don’t need to hang around anywhere, just build a beacon and they can run anything they leave behind as if it was next door.

      I guess I liked the protagonist…. but I think the story would have been better if his opponents hadn’t been kinda dumb foils.

      Hell, the “politics” sections feel like a power fantasy with the various leaders acting like pointy haired boss and bob rolling his eyes while being in a position of basically absolute power while all the politicians try to alienate him.

      • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

        Yep, I agree 100% that I liked it as a wish fulfillment piece and not as a deeply interesting analysis of consequences brought by new tech or of politics. It definitely has the ‘guilty pleasure’ vibe to me. Still, I’m a huge fan of stuff like the first three Die Hard and Demolition Man !

    • broblawsky says:

      Based on a plot summary, this basically sounds like an isekai anime with transhumanist sci-fi elements instead of JRPG fantasy elements. Is that fair?

      • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

        It’s more mainly trans-humanist sci-fi written like good fanfic, but I wouldn’t call that an isekai. Maybe in books 2 and 3, I’ve yet to read them.

    • I read the entire series, and I think reread it once, so yes, I liked it.

      I thought there was one technical error—the inability to communicate when one person was moving much faster than the other. There is an upper limit to how fast an uploaded person can think but no lower limit to how slowly he can.

      Not great literature, but an enjoyable read.

    • Basil Elton says:

      Glad you asked! Finished that book recently and wanted to make a post of complains about it, but never got around to doing so.

      I’m precisely on the spectrum, and I have a loooot of issues with the book, I only managed to finish the first volume. Or, rather, it’s one big issue. The author takes a great idea which in mane aspects is basically a dream of any geek or futurist or transhumanist (I believe the protagonist even says so directly in-universe) – and then he completely ruins it by being as reckless with math, physics, and every other science he touches, as possible without declaring that Sun orbits Earth. And not only most of those arbitrary distortions to the science could be easily avoided – they’re not even consistent! That is, even if you pretend to believe that the world works the way the author thinks it does, you still can’t help seeing missed obvious solutions or gaping holes size of the entire plot!

      Yes, I agree that the same is true about most of the fictional universes – but here the target audience is exactly the kind of people who are going to notice and care about such things. And also the book at first looks like it attempts to be kind of hardish sci-fi – only to screw it all later with the mistakes a school kid could’ve avoided, as far as I can tell – mostly just because the author was to lazy or careless to do his homework.

      • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

        I took it as a fun powertrip and had no expectation of hard sci-fi (specially when I saw he would not delve into the specifics of the [NV grpuabybtl, fb-pnyyrq fhofcnpr gurbel be vzcyvpngvbaf bs vafgnagnarbhf pbzzhavpngvba ba gur rkvfgrapr bs n cevivyrtrq ersrerapr senzr]) but I see as it could have been a huge turn off. Would you care to elaborate a bit about the biggest offenders if you’re talking about something else ?

        • Basil Elton says:

          Come on, I didn’t even dream of those to be done right! What I’m mostly upset about is the protagonist failing not even to invent, but to apply, the pointy stick and a hoe level technologies.

          Naq V zrna, yvgrenyyl! Ur pnaabg znahsnpgher rabhtu qebarf gb svtug bss tbevyybvqf ol fubivat gurz ernyyl uneq naq guvaxf bs whzcvat nyy gur jnl hc gb svernezf – vafgrnq bs whfg nqqvat fbzr fcvxr be phggvat rqtr gb gur qebarf gb fgho be fynfu tbevyybvqf! Qrfcvgr gur snpg gung rira cevzvgvir qrygnaf unf guvf grpuabybtl – uryy ur pbhyq’ir whfg gnxr gurve fcrnef jvgu gur znavchyngbef qebvqf qb unir nyernql (gurl genafcbegrq syvag fbzrubj) naq whfg uhag gur tbevyybvqf jvgu gurz. V’z abg rira zragvbavat nyy gur bgure bcgvbaf orgjrra guvf naq svernezf, juvpu pna or dhvpxyl naq rnfvyl vzcyrzragrq.

          Abj, ubrf. Ba Rnegu gurer jnf n crevbq jura gurl qvqa’g unir rabhtu sbbq sbe gur abegurea pbybavrf. Naq vg’f rkcynvarq gung whfg tebjvat gung sbbq fbzrcynpr ryfr vfa’g na bcgvba orpnhfr bgure cynprf qba’g unir vasenfgehpgher. Ohg vg’f snezvat jr gnyxvat nobhg, abg tbqqnza ahpyrne pneevref ohvyqvat! Vs lbh fvghngvba vf “tebj fbzr sbbq be qvr”, gur bayl guvatf lbh ernyyl arrq vf bar sernxvat ubr cre nqhyg, fbzr frrqf naq fbzr snezynaq. Naq vg’f rkcyvpvgyl fgngrq gurl unir gur ynggre 2! (Bx, V’z rknttrengvat n ovg, lbh’yy nyfb arrq fbzr tneontr gb ohvyq n funpx bhg bs, gb fgber lbh sbbq bire jvagre. Ohg ba gur cbfgncbpnylcgvp Rnegu, gung fubhyqa’g or va fubeg fhccyl) Ohg fbzrubj gurl qba’g unir erfbheprf sbe gung, be abezny frg bs znahny ntevphygheny gbbyf, be genpgbef naq uneirfgre, be snezvat ebobgf – ohg gurl qb unir erfbheprf gb ohvyq tbqqnza fcnpr fgngvbaf jvgu znal fdhnerq xvybzrgref bs snez ynaqf! Naq fhccbfr V oryvrir gung, fhccbfr va guvf havirefr ohvyqvat fcnpr fgngvbaf vf fbzrubj rnfvre guna fubiryf naq fvpxyrf. Rira gura vg qbrfa’g znxr frafr! Orpnhfr vg jvaf abguvat, vs lbh chg nyy lbhe snezynaq hc vagb beovg vg qbrfa’g zrna vg’f tbvat gb snez vgfrys, lbh fgvyy arrq gb ohvyq nyy gur vasenfgehpgher vafvqr gubfr fcnpr fgngvbaf! Bayl abj lbh pnaabg hfr crbcyr nf jbexsbepr fb nyy gur ybjre grpu bcgvbaf ner bhg.

          Gurfr gjb ner fb fghcvq gung bguref ner xvaq bs qjnesrq ol gurz. Yvxr ubj ur pnaabg vairag ynfref (nygubhtu gung jnf xvaq bs qbar va 1960 naq ur unf npprff gb nyy gur uhzna xabjyrqtr naq ol nyy gur yvxryvubbq qebarf naq nhgb-snpgbevrf naq gur fuvc zhfg unir cyragl bs ynfre gbbyf va gurz naljnl) ohg pna vairag pbzcyrgryl arj grpuabybtvrf fhpu nf cynfzn thaf be SGY pbzzhavpngvbaf. Be ubj (pbzcbfvgr!) gbby znxvat vagryyvtrag enpr vf qevira gb gur rkgvapgvba ol cerqngbef. Be ncrk cerqngbef tngurevat va cnpxf bs uhaqerqf. Be gur jubyr abafrafvpny shff nebhaq gur rkcybfvirf (fbzrguvat geniryyvat ng 0.00001 fcrrq bs yvtug pneevrf nf zngpu raretl nf vgf bja jrvtug va GAG. Tvira gur fcrrqf gurl ebhgvaryl geniry, vg fubhyq or arvgure cnegvphyneyl hfrshy, abe cnegvphyneyl fpnel sbe gur cebgntbavfg gb unir rkcybfvirf ba obneq). Be ubj gurl pnaabg svaq nal zrgny va gur Fbyne Flfgrz. Be ubj nyjnlf biresvyyrq gbqb yvfgf pbrkvfg jvgu gur novyvgl gb pybpx hc bar’f cebprffvat fcrrq juvpu vf bayl hfrq ba gur bppnfvbaf (naq vfa’g zragvbarq gb unir nal qbjafvqrf jungfbrire).

          I could continue, especially if I open the book or just think for a while, but that’s a lot already. Thanks for giving me a chance to let it all out. I agree with you about the powertrip, but for me it was completely spoiled by “why don’t you just do X idiot” feeling.

          • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

            I finished the book yesterday night, and
            V shyyl nterr ba gur jubyr jrncbavmngvba fghss. Rira npprcgvat gur cerzvfr gung ur unf na veengvbany srne bs rkcybfvirf, gur jrncbavmngvba cneg jnf birenyy jrnx, obeqrevat fvyyl jura svtugvat tbevyybïqf nf lbh fnvq. Nqqvat phggvat rqtrf gb uvf grpu (Un!) jbhyq unir tbar n ybat jnl. V jnf nyfb qvfnccbvagrq ol gur fhqqra novyvgl gb fubbg cynfzn enlf jura ur rkcyvpvgyl fnlf gung gurl tb jvgu gurve rapncfhyngvat zntargvp svryq : vs lbh pna fubbg fhcrefgebat zntargvp svryqf ng eryngvivfgvp fcrrqf naq jnag gb gnxr qbja na VN, whfg qb gung naq sel vgf flfgrzf.
            Qvggb ba gur raq bs gur rnegu pevfvf cneg, ur ernyyl jnagrq gb yrnir ab bgure bcgvba guna zvtengvba sbe uvf cybg ohg fubhyq unir whfg fnvq gung nyy gur erfg bs snezynaq jnf enqvbnpgvir rabhtu gb abg or n lrne yratgu bcgvba.

            V qba’g pbzcyrgryl nterr jvgu gur yrffre cbvagf gubhtu : (rkprcg ynfre, be, ntnva, gur jubyr jrncbavmngvba fghss) gur vafgnag-pbz grpu vf qrevirq sebz gur arj ‘fhofcnpr gurbel’ naq ur fnlf va gur svefg cneg gung erfrnepu ba vgf nccyvpngvbaf unq orra sbphfrq ba cebchyfvba, gur enqne orvat n (sebz jung gur nhgube fnlf) vzzrqvngr qrevingvir, ohg gung gurer zhfg unir orra bgure ybj-unatvat sehvgf. Ng yrnfg vg sryg pburerag gb zr.
            Gur rkgerzr pyrirearff bs gur fcvqreobl, naq gur snpg gung gurl nyy frrz gb unir orra vapncnoyr bs perngvat pbzcbfvgr gbbyf orsber uvz juvyr orvat punfrq qbja n ohapu bs cebgrva frrxre bzaviberf qvq frrz irel pbagevirq ohg ng yrnfg abg zrpunavpnyyl vzcbffvoyr (V’z ab mbbybtvfg, vtabenapr vf oyvff V thrff). V qba’g erpnyy gurz orvat hanoyr gb svaq nal zrgny va gur fbyne flfgrz, gung jnf va Zvyb’f flfgrz sne njnl jvgu gur ***haxabja guerng bs FT1 ercyvpngbem*** ohg V znl unir zvffrq fbzrguvat. Svanyyl ba gur gb-qb yvfg, jnfa’g vg bayl culfvpny gnfxf gung jrer pybttvat vg ? V nterr gur jubyr gurbergvpny erfrnepu pbhyq unir orra unaqrq orggre tvira gur novyvgl gb fcrrq hc, naq chg fbzr qebarf ba gur fvqr gb eha n yno, ohg rkprcg sbe pbqvat gur IE zbqhyr gurer’f abg zhpu V sryg nppryrengvat jbhyq unir urycrq va gur gbqb yvfg.

            Thank you for posting your thoughts about this, I liked it.

          • Basil Elton says:

            Lrf V nterr gung vairagvat vafgnag-pbz vf svar va vgfrys, V bayl zragvbarq vg orpnhfr vg fgerffrf ubj vzcynhfvoyr jnf gur vanovyvgl gb er-vairag ynfref. Nf sbe Nepuvzrqrf, V qba’g zvaq rkgerzr pyrirearff ng nyy, ohg V qb zvaq gur snpg gung n fncvrag fcrpvrf jnf qevira gb gur rkgvapgvba ol cerqngbef. Ba rnegu, vg unccrarq gur bgure jnl nebhaq cerggl zhpu rireljurer, naq ol gur cbvag uhznaf vairagrq pbzcbfvgr gbbyf (VVEP gur grpuabybtl bs znxvat syvag fcrnef jnf xabja ohg sbetbggra va gur obbx, naq gur byq qrygna gnhtug Nepuvzrqrf fbzr nfcrpgf bs vg) jr’ir nyernql fcernq npebff zbfg bs gur tybor naq jrer unccvyl qevivat zrtnsnhan gb gur rkgvapgvba. Abg vafvfgvat ba rpbybtvpny cynhfvovyvgl bs tbevyybvqf gubhtu, V’z abg n mbbybtvfg rvgure.

            Nobhg zrgny, gurl unq vg gb ohvyq “whfg A fuvcf”, V qba’g erzrzore gur rknpg ahzore. Va snpg ab znggre ubj guvpx jnyyf lbh ohvyq gur ernqvyl npprffvoyr zrgny va gur fbyne flfgrz vf jnl nobir jung’f arrqrq gb ohvyq rabhtu fuvcf sbe ovyyvbaf bs crbcyr naq fgvyy unir cyragl yrsg – gur Rnegu’f pehfg vf 5% veba. Naq nyy gur ahpyrne rkcybfvbaf jba’g ernyyl qb zhpu gb vg – gurl’yy zbfgyl whfg oernx fghss naq xvyy crbcyr jvgu enqvngvba, ohg abg rincbengr vg bhg bs rkvfgrapr. Ol gur fnzr gbxra, vg’f evqvphybhf ubj gurl frrz gb unir yvzvgrq fhccyl va cerggl zhpu rirel flfgrz – fcnpr uhtr, gurl fubhyq unir rabhtu erfbheprf gb ohvyq ovyyvbaf bs obof rira va gur flfgrzf.

            Naq nobhg gbqb yvfgf – abg fher, V oryvrir gurl unq pbafgnag pbzcynvaf nobhg cebgntbavfg’f yhpx bs gvzr, ohg znl or jebat ba gung bar.

    • Jon S says:

      I liked, but didn’t love the book. Ultimately decided to read book 2, but it was a close call, and I enjoyed books 2 and 3 a little more than the 1st one. I thought the narrator of the English audiobook was great.

  10. AlesZiegler says:

    Related to previous post, how much confidence should we have in estimated GDP statistics from very distant periods, e.g. Roman Empire, Song China etc.?

    • Watchman says:

      None to be blunt. We can’t have total confidence in our current figures, which not only miss out some sectors of economic activity (generally the illegal or off-the-books ones) but also are focused on a single unit of value, monetary equivalent, and therefore do not value leisure activities beyond the price people pay for them.

      Now consider that for Romans that the vast majority of the population were involved in agricultural production, in a non-market economy (trade existed, but the major flows of resources in the Roman Empire were taxation, including in kind (and the produce of the imperial fisc) one way and pay (often in kind) and resources for army and administration the other way. Trade mostly piggy backed state reallocation of resources. This means money was primarily a unit of taxation and payment, not a representation of market value.

      We don’t have very much price information, or even a good idea of what average agricultural produce was, and where we have one bit of relevant information we generally don’t have the other: we can’t realistically guess therefore what the average man in the field was producing never mind value it. We can’t even estimate the number of people to any degree of accuracy. So any estimate is based on highly isolated and contextual evidence combined with a lot of guesswork around multipliers.

      Also the Roman Empire was an extremely polarised society in terms of wealth distribution. I’m not sure a global average like GDP would tell us anything about the condition of the rich or the poor. This is not to say estimating relative wealth of provinces (the basis of the most complete reconstruction I know, that of Maddison) is a bad idea, but to use Roman ‘GDP’ as a comparison to modern GDP certainly is, as we’re comparing a guesstimate based on very incomplete evidence with a detailed economic calculation.

      I assume pretty much the same holds for the Chinese examples sometimes cited, cbut I’ve never worked in this area.

    • cassander says:

      I’d agree with watchman, effectively none. Ditto long term inflation calculations. About the only cash figures worth comparing over that time are the price of staples (e.g. 1lb of bread) or the wages of craftsmen/soldiers. For almost anything else, the evidence is too fragmentary almost everywhere, with too much of the economy existing effectively outside markets.

      • Clutzy says:

        Inflation, growth, and interest calculations all are absolutely hilarious on long term scales. One time I read a reparations post and it did all those calculations. A paraphrase that is only slightly more ridiculous went like this:

        Slaves should have been paid $xx per hour in 1600-1865, they worked this many hours a year, etc etc.

        Adjusted for inflation and 3% interest starting then, slaves are now owed, $500Trillion dollars.

  11. LesHapablap says:

    Large passenger jets have largely converged on a similar design: two or four engines slung below a low wing, with rear horizontal and vertical stabilizers. How different could airliners look in an alternate universe? Assuming similar requirements for routes and passenger numbers.

    If they would look largely the same, then what about an alternate universe with lesser or greater air density at sea level?

    • Aapje says:

      The most logical is a flying wing or blended wing body. These may still become a success in our universe.

      Lesser air density would mean more wing surface and vice versa. Really low air density may require shooting planes in the air with catapults and such; or mean that you’d switch to rocket propulsion.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        That’s a pretty aircraft from the outside. It looks to me as though much of the passenger space is nowhere near a window, which I’ll bet would be problematic, marketing-wise.

        • Protagoras says:

          That is identified as one of the issues, but the empirical evidence seems to suggest people will put up with anything for a slightly lower fare, so I’m still kind of surprised nobody has gone in this direction yet (blended wing bodies improve fuel efficiency). I expect they will get around to it.

          • kaakitwitaasota says:

            It sounds like there might be legal barriers involved in the inertia of the existing designs, then. For example–where do you put the emergency exits on a blended-wing plane?

          • Urstoff says:

            Wouldn’t currently existing airport infrastructure be the biggest hurdle? That doesn’t look like would remotely fit at a normal terminal.

          • Aapje says:

            @kaakitwitaasota

            In the proposed Boeing X-48 design, the exits are in front of the wing.

            The main issue seems to be internal routing, to prevent long queues & possibly the lack of an exit at the rear.

            @Urstoff

            I’m not sure why not. Current planes are hard to accommodate because of their wide wings. This is why you tend to have these long passenger boarding bridges, because you want passengers to enter on the side, but there is a huge wing in the way, preventing you from parking the plane close to the terminal.

            Of course you can park the planes at an angle, which is a bit more efficient, but then the planes still need sufficient space between them. So you get large terminals.

            Blended wing bodies are more compact, because the body generates lift and because the wing is deeper, rather than wider. So you can park closer to the terminal and/or park the planes closer together.

        • Aapje says:

          @Doctor Mist

          A solution I’ve seen suggested is to use camera’s and displays. If I recall correctly, you can already get such a view in some planes, from the entertainment system. I can even imagine them renting out VR headsets, letting people look to all sides. This would be superior to a window and a new way to fleece customers. So win-win 😛

          However, just like Protagoras, I suspect that this is one of these things that people complain about a lot, yet if you give them a choice between a cheaper airfare and a view, they’ll pick the cheaper option.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      An idea that gets brought up but never seems to get anywhere are passenger cabins separable from the wings/engines/cockpit.

      In theory at least this would improve the speed with which flights could be performed if the two components were interchangeable but likely to benefit from such a thing it would require *all* serviceable aircraft to be integrated into that design. I’m sure there are also engineering issues that make this design impractical.

      • acymetric says:

        Can you expand on why this would make flights faster? Wouldn’t the time required to make the component switches likely outweigh any gains in other areas (it isn’t even clear to me where that time is expected to be gained)?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Screams in engineer

        OK, but even beyond the scope of the new asshole John Schilling is going to rip into you using better qualifications than mine, the fuselage is like, the bit of the plane that everything else is connected to. That means you need cranes and shit to do this. And airport ground crews are meant to be the ones doing it. Even if this is humanly possible to do in less than the ~40 minutes it takes to turn around a plane now (it’s not), it’s definitely more expensive and definitely more unsafe.

        • John Schilling says:

          It’s not an absolutely unworkable idea, and I’ve seen it proposed before – but for military cargo, not commercial passenger travel. The basic problem is that, as you note, the fuselage is the key structural element. One that is particularly efficient by way of distributing the loads almost uniformly across the skin. So whether you try to keep the “payload module” on the main load path or not, having it attach to the rest of the aircraft at a few discrete mounting points is going to result in structural inefficiency, increased weight, and so decreased fuel economy. That’s probably going to be a deal-breaker.

          And it’s not going to buy you much in turnaround time, because you’ve got to test every one of those attachment points before you fly. Automated self-test will help, but it probably won’t be a panacea. Also, you’ve still got to refuel the airplane and test or inspect all the other flight-critical systems as well, so even if Scotty can beam the passengers into their seats instantaneously, I don’t think there’s enough room for improvement for this to be worth the cost.

          If someone is going to try it, I’d bet on a twin-boom, high-tail configuration so you can just wheel the payload module in from the rear and make the connections at grade, as it were.

      • johan_larson says:

        The only aircraft I know that has a separable passenger compartment is the Sikorsky Skycrane.

        https://www.sikorskyarchives.com/images/images%20S-64%20TARHE/S-64%204edit.jpg

        It’s a nifty idea. I’ve had it myself while waiting to board planes. It probably fails for some boring reason like weight considerations or ability to exit the aircraft in an emergency.

        How much longer does it take to turn around a passenger aircraft than a cargo aircraft of the same size? That’s probably a decent bound on the improvement you could hope for.

        • LesHapablap says:

          If we’re talking helicopters, sling-load passenger compartments would give very fast turnarounds. Not legal to take people on the sling these days, though it was common in the 70s and 80s for people to ride on the sling (many people were killed doing this).

          Short video of christmas tree hauling in a helicopter shows short turnarounds: link text

      • bean says:

        There are two big problems: making it work, and weight. Making it work is obviously very annoying, but not, in principle, impossible. Weight is what’s going to kill you. You’ll need the plane (as opposed to the cargo/passenger module) to be able to stand up independently, and the same for the module. This is going to mean that the fuel burn penalties are probably going to swamp any savings you get from reduced turnaround time.

    • bean says:

      Everyone has settled on tube-and-wing for a reason. It’s reasonably efficient and easy to build. You can get very slightly better fuel economy by going to a blended wing, but you have to worry about windows and emergency evacuation, and it makes construction a lot more complicated. Particularly if you want to do what they do today and offer a couple different sizes of plane. With a tube fuselage, you just add more frames. Good luck doing that with a blended wing.

      There’s also logic for a bunch of the more subtle choices. Low wing keeps the spar below the cabin instead of having it reducing headroom, and reduces how much noise the passengers hear. (Also, it’s better for landing gear.) Wing-mounted engines are near the CG, so the plane isn’t likely to sit on its tail when mostly empty.

      • John Schilling says:

        The big potential trades all seem to involve passenger experience vs. transport efficiency. Turboprops on high-aspect unswept wings would I think be cheaper per passenger-mile, but louder and take longer and once jets exist turboprops are obviously downmarket and harder to sell. Blended wing-body aircraft would probably be cheaper per passenger-mile, but almost nobody gets window seats. As you note, there are advantages to a high wing, but it messes up cabin layout.

        Conventional wisdom is that airlines are ruthlessly shoehorning passengers into experiences a factory-farmed chicken would refuse to tolerate, in the name of corporate profits, but the reality is that this is mostly advertising and/or hyperbole and that the industry has settled for what we call “economy class” for solid market reasons and it isn’t likely to change much. If you’re going to sell the product the current market demands, then as you note we’re on pretty solid ground packaging it in long skinny cylinders atop los swept wings and a pair of turbofans. If there’s a significant market demand for something substantially different, e.g. a 50% increase in travel time for a 30% decrease in ticket price is something people want, then you might see different designs.

        And if the market ever decides to stop settling for those tediously slow subsonic jets that only the poorest of the poor would ever be caught dead on, that too will change the optimal design.

        • Nornagest says:

          I fly to Eastern Washington sometimes. When I do, I tend to get crammed into a regional airliner with high unswept wings and turboprops — usually a Bombardier Q400, I believe. Are those cost-saving measures, since the routes they serve are low-capacity and demand’s probably spiky? Or is there another reason for it, like short-field takeoff and landing?

          • bean says:

            Both, I think. The Q400 derives from a STOL design, but turboprops in general are more efficient at small scales, particularly for the sort of routes Alaska flies. (I assume that’s who you’re with, given the aviation market in Eastern Washington.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Could be both, depending on the route. Small cities typically have short runways and spiky demand, so they want small aircraft (to avoid empty seats) probably with STOL capability. Short-distance routes, even between large cities, a jet would only spend maybe 20 minutes at cruising altitude where their speed would kick in, so it may not be worth paying the extra fuel for that speed.

      • LesHapablap says:

        The clearest example of passenger comfort/efficiency is the fact that there are windows on the current passenger airliners. It would be lighter (fuel efficient) and cheaper to produce aircraft without windows but the pax still get ’em.

        You’d think some airline would try and find a niche market for ‘eco flights’ with those sorts of compromises, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens within the next decade, though that may come more through electric propulsion.

        • bean says:

          I can’t see that ever being viable from a monetary standpoint. The problem is that the passenger airplanes are certified with the windows, and taking them fully off is going to take a fair bit of money to recertify. Also, it may be a regulatory requirement. I know RyanAir still has window shades because the Irish aviation authorities won’t let them get rid of them.
          Also, doing this kills resale value for the plane. I wouldn’t want to fly on an airliner without windows, because I love looking out of them. I suspect a lot of people share this view, so the airline is going to be stuck with a plane they can’t resell.
          Remember, everything in airlines is driven by money and regulations.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Would it be possible to replace windows with convincing Cameras?

            I do like windows on planes but they also tend to behave like magnifying glasses in the sun for a fair number of the passengers, never mind the glare.

          • bean says:

            Emirates recently went to 1-1-1 with their special suites in First Class. The center suites have virtual windows. Apparently they work pretty well. But I’m not sure that they’re a good substitute in general. The problem is that screens aren’t of trivial weight, and they take both power and maintenance. Overall, you’re probably better with windows.

          • b_jonas says:

            I agree about certification. Airplane staff these days ask us to pull the window blinds up during takeoff, thus opening the view out the window. If that’s a rule, then replacing the windows with walls can’t be an option.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            They want the window blinds up so that the flight attendants know what’s going on outside the plane, which is important if some safety incident happens.

            But they could design around that. It is zero-cost to have the shades open during take-off, so why not? But if it were actually saving some amount of money to have them closed[1], that might push it.

            bean’s point about “can’t resell the plane to someone else” is more important. Just how much savings are we talking about here?

            [1] I’ve been on flights where they ask us to close the blinds during a layover, because it is sunny and that helps the inside of the plane stay cool.

          • bean says:

            I’m not 100% sure of the origins of that rule, but I think it’s an emergency evacuation thing. It should greatly reduce the chances of someone opening a door that isn’t safe to open if there’s a crash. But yeah, that’s another potential problem with getting rid of windows.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Many biz jets have fuselage mounted engines at the rear, and there used to be airliners with that configuration. There are advantages there with handling engine failures and FOD (foreign object debris). Is that just CG issues? And noise?

        Where do canard type aircraft fit into this?

        • bean says:

          Canards mess up airflow over the wing without offering any particular advantage to airliners, so they’re out. As for engines, I think there are fairly serious structural penalties to rear engines, particularly large-diameter ones like you see on modern airliners. (This has changed substantially since the last rear-engined mainline jets came out.) Not to mention that they’re harder to do maintenance on, and are going to be less efficient because they’re probably picking up disturbed air from the fuselage. FOD considerations override this on regional jets, but not on big ones.

  12. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Jordan Peele’s Us is an excellent horror film if you want something gory and frightening and don’t insist on it making excessive amounts of sense. I enjoyed it a lot (for weird values of enjoy) even though I liked Get Out better.

    I went in only knowing that it was a doppleganger movie. Warning– I saw the movie weeks ago and have missed some details and/or forgotten them.

    A middle class black family is faced by a group of people who look just like them. The group is implacably threatening. Also wearing red jump suits and armed with big gold scissors.

    Eventually, we learn that the dopplegangers are the result of a government project and they are at least somewhat telepathically linked to above ground people. The dopplegangers are called the tethered.

    And there are rabbits. The tethered apparently live by eating raw rabbits.

    After a while, we find that it’s not just this one family, there’s a doppleganger uprising. Possibly a doppleganger apocalypse. This being ssc, discussion of the geopolitical effects of an American doppleganger apocalypse are welcome.

    Jordan Peele has said that the movie is about excluded people. There’s a striking moment when the tethered family is asked “Who are you?” and the answer is “We’re Americans.” I suppose they do have birthright citizenship, depending on what you mean by being born. There was a while when I was wondering whether this was an anti-immigrant movie, but that seemed totally implausible, and that’s not how the movie was intended.

    Anyway, There’s a case for welcoming harmless people. There’s a case for welcoming mostly harmless people.

    I can’t see a case for feeling bad about defending yourself against utterly inimical people even if they’re much worse off than you are. I don’t know what course of action, if any, Peele would recommend– maybe the idea is just to feel bad.

    To put it mildly, this is not about a moral universe– the aboveground people (with one possible exception) don’t know anything about the tethered, let alone have any responsibility for their plight.

    We’re not supposed to be interested in who feeds the rabbits– or why the rabbits aren’t cooked. I like to think the tethered had shears because they sewed their own jumpsuits.

    Anyway, I’m writing about this flippantly because it’s a habit, but I’m horrified by morality which seems to have no room for human flourishing.

    • Frog-like Sensations says:

      Your first paragraph exactly matches my own impression of the film.

      As you note, the messaging seemed muddled. The “We’re Americans” scene pretty clearly set the tethered up to be a representation of the underclass, and I felt the movie wanted us to sympathize with them and ultimately see their cause as largely justified. And yet the tethered are terrible throughout the movie. Only a single one of them displays any signs of having enough agency, intelligence, or decency to be thought of as a person. Why should we root for them?

      The ending twist (obvious SPOILER WARNING) muddled the message further. We find out that the Adelaide we know is really the tethered version, having swapped places with her in childhood. And tonally the movie plays this off as a standard horror “oh no, the evil one won!” sort of twist. But wasn’t part of the point supposed to be that tethered aren’t the evil ones, however poorly their portrayed actions lived up to that?

      Beyond that, Us failed where Get Out largely succeeded in both pacing and in mixing horror and comedy. Peele’s first film managed that mix so successfully in large part because he makes sure not to have characters make light of unambiguously terrifying events. Once the main character knows what his girlfriend’s family is up to, he’s not cracking jokes. Us on the other hand pauses in the middle to have its main family relax by the corpses of their former friends and tell jokes. Not “so nervous all you can do is laugh” jokes, but “I don’t take these events or the tragedies resulting from them remotely seriously” jokes.

      This issue fed into the movie’s pace problem. If the protagonists aren’t taking the threat seriously at this point, how am I supposed to? Up until that point, Us had been a master class in escalating tension, culminating in the first home invasion. But everything from there until the ending failed to live up to that level of tension. And while the ending was fun to watch, it really didn’t make any sense as already discussed.

      • MrApophenia says:

        ENDING SPOILER!

        I think the point of the ending twist wasn’t that evil won, it was to show that there truly was no difference between the Tethered and the rest of us other than upbringing.

        Take a Tethered up out of the ground as a kid, get them therapy to help them learn to talk, and they will be a completely normal, well-socialized human being who just represses their unpleasant childhood. Meanwhile the normal child she replaced, forced to live among the Tethered, will go just as mad.

        The Tethered really are exactly the same people as their doppelgängers, but driven insane by the horrific conditions they live in. There is otherwise no difference.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          I’d have a hard time enjoying a movie that hard such a premise. One can suspend disbelief in the case of a plot point or premise that is clearly fictional, but it’s hard to enjoy something when the producer assumes you are to take that premise as a factual allegory.

        • Frog-like Sensations says:

          That makes more sense thematically, but I’m just going off the tone. It’d be nice if I could watch a clip of it to confirm my initial impression, but the face that she makes after the reveal combined with the way her son looks at her definitely gave off “she’s been evil the whole time!” vibes.

    • Aapje says:

      @Nancy Lebovitz

      The dopplegangers are similar to the people they are linked to, but exaggerated. Gabe is an amiable ruffian, his alter ego a lumbering brute. Zora is a runner, her alter ego moves double fast. Jason likes to play with fire, his alter ego is a pyromaniac. So these people are not so much the other, they are ‘us.’

      Isn’t the point of the movie that by refusing to confront and fix our dark side, we let it it fester until it overwhelms our good side?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Those are interesting points– there’s a lot going on in that movie.

        I’d have been interested in doppleganers which were people’s repressed selves, but that would have been a very different movie. Perhaps someday it will be made.

    • Walter says:

      It is a bit on the nose, but the general consensus among my friend group is that this movie, like Get Out, is also about race.

      The Tethered (african americans) have worse living standards because long ago they were forced underground and experimented on (read, enslaved). This is not a fault in themselves, witness the baby swap experiment. It is the echoes of this original sin (slavery). The uprising could have been avoided if the surface dwellers (white people) had let themselves realize the systems that were keeping the Tethered down (cue Mr. Coates stuff about housing practices), and done something about it (paid reparations).

      • J Mann says:

        I guess I’m bringing overclass morality to the situation, but if the above ground family had nothing to do with the tethered situation, and if the tethered are a threat to them now, then defending themselves strikes me as regrettable but completely justifiable.

        I mean, maybe if C.H.U.D.S. were raised in nice homes, they would be wonderful people, and I’d be open to long-run efforts to improve C.H.U.D. living standards, but if they’re trying to drag me and my family into the sewer and eat us, I don’t see a moral problem with self-defense, or even a conflict.

        • Walter says:

          I think the point isn’t that you shouldn’t defend yourself in a race war, but rather that you should support Tethered uplift programs now, so that there won’t be one?

          • J Mann says:

            Most of the people in the movie have no idea the untethered exist, right? I don’t currently feel any obligation to explore the sewers and mines of America in case there are victims of a secret government experiment there who need assistance.

            Given Adelaide’s situation,you could see the movie as playing on anxiety felt by successful African-Americans who feel guilty about assimilating into status quo American culture. I don’t know Peele well enough to say if that’s him, but it might be where some of the movie is coming from.

          • Walter says:

            So, if you buy into Mr. Coates article on reparations, or BLM stuff, you know the tethered exist (or, like, to the same degree that you wouldn’t interrogate your privilege your movie version doesn’t look under the boardwalk), yeah?

            I think the point of the movie is if we, the movie goers, ignore the lingering effects of slavery, then we are like the surface dwellers in the movie, who ignore the plight of the tethered until a massive conflict erupts, and are then bewildered about where such animosity could have come from.

            That is, of course, just my interpretation, but it felt kind of like the naive one, you know? Like, a ‘this is what it is saying on the face of it’ kind of deal.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Adelaide was the only above grounder who knew about the tethered.

            Perhaps there could be an interesting movie about the people who were actually responsible for creating the tethered.

            Or the person who finds a very mysterious large budget item and tracks it down.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I think it’s fair to say that Get Out is about race, but has more general application to those times when you can’t trust the people around you.

        Us is about race, but not in a simple way. It’s important to Peele to make a horror movie which is centered on a black family. The surface people are not all white.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Does this seem likely? I know that monsters like orcs are sometimes used as stand-ins for African Americans, as in Bright, but I just find it hard to believe that Peele would depict his own people as murderous underground-dwellers who consume raw meat. I admit I haven’t seen the film but that would surprise me a lot.

        Beyond that, it’s not like white people are literally unaware that African Americans exist. The allegory fails because nobody has any idea that there are Tethered Untethered whoevers until they start murdering people. And if the point was to announce their existence, surely showing up and introducing themselves would be more likely to succeed than trying to kill their doppelgangers while masked?

        • Walter says:

          Like, the allegory is between the folks who don’t know what goes on under their boardwalk vs. people in the suburbs who don’t know what the police are getting up to in the inner cities.

          Me scrolling past the latest BLM video is like movie walter not bothering to find out if beneath his feat red jumpsuit movie walter is eating a rabbit and sharpening his gold weapon.

          I mean, dude softened the audience surrogates from uncaring about the suffering of the underclass to unaware of it, but, like, that follows, yeah? I mean, he is writing for a white suburban audience, the movie can’t dunk on us too hard.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Why would anyone “bother to find out” if there was a government cloning project that resulted in a massive population of mutes with gold scissors living underground? It’s not a tragic flaw not to investigate every possible absurdity a screenwriter could come up with.

            I mean, he is writing for a white suburban audience, the movie can’t dunk on us too hard.

            Wasn’t his last movie literally about suburban white people murdering black people so that they could transplant white brains into black bodies? Dunking on suburban white people seems like it’s gotten him a lot of money and critical acclaim so far.

          • J Mann says:

            @Nabil & Walter

            IMHO, Peele is better understood as writing African American anxieties as horror. (See also my response to you below). If he’s writing for white people, he’s writing as an interpreter of what he sees as the AA experience. like Coates.

            So Get Out is about fear of white people at some level, like It Came From Outer Space, Who Goes There? and Invasion of the Body Snatchers is about communist infiltration, or Godzilla is about the US military.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            If I look at it from the African American anxieties angle, then getting killed as a result of someone’s implacable hatred might be in play, though that leaves out the underclass angle.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Peele said that one of the germs of the movie was him thinking he saw himself on the other side of a subway platform and finding that very disquieting.

            I think he’s going for general human emotional triggers as well as portraying racial issues.

        • Randy M says:

          I just find it hard to believe that Peele would depict his own people as murderous underground-dwellers who consume raw meat.

          He could be going for the argument along the lines of “Underclass has disfunctions, sure, but they’re due to being ignored and they can’t really be blamed, even if they were this bad.”
          Or, alternatively, “You basically treat us like you do these monsters–but we aren’t like these monsters and you treat us the same.”

          Jus’ spitballing, haven’t seen it. I don’t know if your allegories are always going to make sense if you insist on putting them in the horror genre, ya’know?

          • Tarpitz says:

            Yeah, Us‘s fundamental problem is that the demands of the allegory and the demands of the horror movie don’t line up. Once families other than our heroes have doppelgangers, it becomes a much less scary and more generic zombie apocalypse, but in order to hammer Peele’s central theme of an underclass whose struggles are the product of nurture not nature it has to go that way. Speaking as someone who directed a lot of horror (on stage, in my case) before I worked out that I didn’t actually like it very much, Peele strikes me as someone in a similar situation. I don’t expect him to continue in the genre indefinitely, to put it mildly.

            That’s not to say that Us and (especially) Get Out aren’t overall well-made, enjoyable films. But I do think it’s the explanation for a lot of their flaws.

          • AG says:

            @Tarpitz:

            Have you watched any of his Twilight Zone yet?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve watched the first one and thought it was pretty mediocre.

            GRRM spoke about how hard it was to come up with twist endings which can surprise modern audiences.

        • J Mann says:

          It works a little bit if you psychoanalyze it as being about Jordan Peele’s own sense of betraying his community by having lots of conventional success and white fans. (No idea if Peele actually feels that way, but I’m reminded of some pieces on Chappelle’s dropout).

          — Spoilers for the movie, obviously —

          Most of the family and their friends don’t know any more about the tethered than the kids in Cabin in the Woods know about what’s going on in that movie, but Adelaide in particular is (apparently) an tethered herself, who switched places with her more fortunate look-alike and is now living the life of consumer goods, white friends, and a place in the capitalist rat race.

          She’s the only person you can tell a clear moral allegory about – arguably everyone else gets punished just for being consumerist and not thinking about where their boats and cigars and whatever come from, but she at some point knew how the tethered live and stopped thinking about it.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            How is consumerism connected to the underground existence of the Tethered? I didn’t get the impression from what I’ve read that they’re manufacturing things for the surface-dwellers like the symbiotic relationship between the Morlocks and Eloi.

            There’s a compelling argument that it’s wrong to consume luxury goods when you could be using that money to help your subterranean clone a la Singer’s drowning child. But even that requires some awareness that you were cloned: even if you refrained from any luxuries at all, you still wouldn’t be able to direct those resources to your clone without knowing that such a person existed.

          • J Mann says:

            At one level, it’s not connected any more than teens having sex is what causes the slasher to kill them first. But the sense of moral transgression leading to punishment is what makes a lot of horror movies work – it’s not just that terrible things are happening, it’s that the terrible things play into our intuition that maybe we deserve it.

            I’m basing my analysis mostly on this review, which argues that the main character, Adelaide, starts out in a consumerist environment that makes her uncomfortable. She senses that being a yuppie is wrong, even if she doesn’t know why, then a bunch of tethered show up and start terrorizing all the yuppies.

            At another level, and I’m completely talking out of my rear, because I couldn’t be much less qualified to talk about the black experience in America, maybe there’s an element of “Hey, I’m living in this society that I know is structurally oppressive and injust to Tethered, but I’m tethered (even if I don’t think about it consciously, and society keeps rewarding me with fancy cars and boats and things that are supposed to make me happy, and somehow they don’t make me as happy as I thought they would, so there’s a part of me that feels like I don’t belong, and feels anxious and guilty about accepting all the fruits of success from a system I believe is unjust.”

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            For what it’s worth, Us doesn’t look like a critique of consumerism.

            The complaint is that the tethered don’t get the comfort and pleasures that the aboveground people get.

    • J Mann says:

      Prior to this, my takeaway from the previews was just that Us looked far too scary for me to see. After googling, I thought this review by Eileen Jones in Jacobin has a lot to chew on.

      My 2 cents as someone who has never seen the movie.

      1) I’m reminded of an old show I loved, the reality competition America’s Next Great Artist. What was fascinating about the show was you could watch the savvier contestants deliberately creating product that pushed the judges’ “This is important art” buttons. (Most successful was protest art designed to draw attention to fairly narrow causes.) Jones accuses Peele of basically doing that.

      2) Ultimately, IMHO, memorable horror movies succeed because they (a) push some intuitive button in their viewers, and (b) are freaking scary. Since those are both kind of subjective, I don’t have a way to argue with someone who says that Us is a brilliant success or a dismal failure.

  13. onyomi says:

    What are your priors on believing famous people are secretly terrible people? Is it “where there’s smoke there’s fire” or “there’s so much incentive for journalists to report scandal you should assume allegations are false until proven true by a preponderance of evidence”?

    Does it depend on the type of allegation (e.g. sexual, versus corruption, etc.)? Does it depend on the type of famous person (politician versus Hollywood star)? Or do you try to just go purely on the strength of evidence presented (but this doesn’t get around the question of how to rate prior probability)?

    On the one hand “where there’s smoke there’s fire” seems to have been a pretty good guide to a lot of allegations against e.g. Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, and Harvey Weinstein. At the same time I’m also quite willing to believe witch hunts are a thing.

    Related, when one instance of misconduct (e.g. Lewinsky) proves true beyond a reasonable doubt, how much does that affect your appraisal of other, potentially less serious but also maybe less superficially plausible stories (e.g. Broaddrick)?

    • Well... says:

      I believe famous people tend to be secretly quite normal, but maybe slightly tainted by fame in a rather specific way, which I’ll explain below. This is partly based on experience with the famous people I personally know, and partly based on my intuition.

      The way famous people are slightly tainted by fame: being famous means you spend a large percentage of your waking hours surrounded by people who either overtly or subconsciously are sucking up to you. In some industries, those people are doing it because it is an explicit part of their job description (e.g. personal assistant to Mr. Pitt) while in other industries those people are doing it because they aspire to take your place or at least get some of that sweet spotlight reflected onto themselves. Or for some, your fame is just inherently attractive. One way or another, the result is often that famous people don’t hear “no” a lot.

      Humans who don’t hear “no” enough don’t necessarily become narcissists or maniacs or whatever, but they do sometimes overreact, and/or react oddly, when they do finally hear it, especially if it comes from someone they care about.

      PS. My answer was not given with sexual harassment scandals in mind; it’s just about the extent to which famous people are generally terrible or not terrible.

      • Tarpitz says:

        The famous people I have interacted with enough to have an opinion on are pretty much all actors. Most of them I would characterize as nice but slightly peculiar and highly strung. This is not terribly surprising, given a lifestyle that consists of alternating periods of constant sycophancy (when working) and near-existential dread that you’ll never be wanted again (when not), in a career that I suspect already selects for unusually sensitive people prone to anxiety and depression. The one I know best (and to be clear, we’re here still talking about someone I’ve worked on a couple of projects with and chatted to a little at a couple of social functions, not someone I could call up and go for a pint) is and has been since I first met him a model of sanity, professionalism and thoughtfulness, but he says that when he first became really famous, in his early 30s, he behaved in an egotistical and obnoxious way he’s now thoroughly ashamed of. I suspect it’s very easy indeed – especially for younger people – to allow fame to go to your head. And I hear plenty of stories of really bad behaviour on the part of famous people I don’t know who have worked with non-famous people I do – stories I’m inclined to believe.

    • cassander says:

      wealth and power remove constraints and allow people to act as they want to act. Most people are pretty lousy, and removing constraints isn’t going to make them better, but most of them shouldn’t be assumed to be terrible, just think how you’d behave if you never had to worry about job security and were constantly surrounded with people sucking up to you.

      There’s an exception for politicians, who should all but be considered guilty until proven innocent on matters of corruption and abuse of power.

    • Basil Elton says:

      Fairly high, unless we’re talking of some specific kind of fame which implies strong selection against immoral people (think of Mahatma Gandhi or some religious leaders kind of celebrities).

      Getting very famous, however random, is also competitive as hell. Someone willing to throw their morality under the bus, or having none to begin with, gets a considerable competitive advantage against someone restricted by it, all else being equal. That in addition to the considerations above about the tainting effect of fame.

      • onyomi says:

        I have a high prior on religious leaders abusing their fame for sex and/or money. Except maybe the pope. He has enough bling already and is nowadays usually too old to be very horny (I assume?).

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Are the famous people in my outgroup?

      The media is not dealing well with its on-going decline. If the only way to have a career is to Do Something Big they are going to be hunting for scalps with ever more desperation. The fact that people don’t want to pay for their news is not helping.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Since most of them are mostly famous for something they’ve achieved, I’m having a moderately large prior on them being better than average, overall.

      The exception would be indulging – if they have the power to satisfy their desires and in their circles that action isn’t seen as terribly immoral, they’re more likely than the average joe to do it. That’s not an indictment on their moral character, but on the context which allows it.

      After all, the way an evolutionist once commented on Clinton’s affair – the question is definitely not why he did it, that much is obvious. Biologically, the whole effort of getting to where he is has the goal of being able to do exactly this kind of thing.

    • JPNunez says:

      Depends on the kind of famous. It seems CEOs have a tendency towards psychopatic behavior, so there’s that. Artists will probably be eccentric, etc, etc.

      Old rich people probably did whatever sexual thing they are being accused of, particularly as the number of accusations increases. Let’s say a 40% basic for generic rich man, with a couple of accusations, maybe less when there’s only one (but lately it seems the accusations pile on quickly). The guy is a pastor, priest, religious leader? chances are good it’s guilty. 90%? maybe more.

      Michael Jackson? it was p clear the dude did it back around…Black or White I think? Moonwalker movie should have been a telltale.

      Lewinsky of course raises the chances of other instances of misconduct. But I honestly haven’t followed beyond.

      Never followed Bill Cosby’s allegations until it all blew up recently with the latest court case. Have to admit surprise. Probably due to the character he always portrayed as a family man.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Have to admit surprise. Probably due to the character he always portrayed as a family man.

        Following up on this and onyomi’s point, a large percentage of (successful) abusers are going to purposefully cultivate nice external images. My extended family recently had a Nice Uncle get exposed as a creep, and I would have put him at the bottom of the list.

        “A lot of X are Y” is not the same as “A lot of Y are X”, however.

    • Randy M says:

      Like others said, famous people are mostly like us, only without the accountability that constrains a lot of our worse actions. Some might be moral exemplars regardless (I hear Keanu Reeves is pretty cool in person); most are probably slightly worse because of it, unless they’ve managed to surround themselves with wise counselors.

      Being famous might select for a certain neediness for attention or approval, withstanding those that are famous for actual accomplishments in fields other than entertainment, perhaps–but then, even then the ones we know about are probably famous at least partly because they knew how to and wanted to parley that accomplishment into public renown if they are known outside their field, like, say, Steve Jobs. They are therefore probably a bit more susceptible to peer pressure or public fads.

      That’s all theoretical, though, despite the examples, since I make at least a small effort to remain unaware of the actions and character of famous people, with some obvious exceptions.

      • Like others said, famous people are mostly like us, only without the accountability that constrains a lot of our worse actions.

        I’m not sure that’s true. Someone who is famous and rich is less vulnerable than other people to some risks. On the other hand, someone who is famous, rich or not, has a lot more people paying attention to him than other people, so is at more risk of having bad behavior, or what some view as bad behavior, noticed and criticized. If Bill Clinton’s interaction with Monica Lewinsky at occurred when he was not a prominent public figure it’s much less likely that it would have come to light.

        And, to the extent that famous people are famous in large part because they want to be—sometimes but not always true—they may be more vulnerable to having people believe bad things about them than others are, because they care more about their reputation.

    • Walter says:

      I’m basically skeptical on believing that people are secretly terrible, but that skepticism can be overcome.

      One thing I try to do is keep myself mindful of the edge cases. That is, even if someone is righteous they can err inadvertently, their accusers aren’t automatically wrong if there is a way that they could be both moral and in error. Oppositely, nothing stops you from falsely accusing a scumbag. Even if someone is generally a scoundrel they may not have done a particular thing.

      • Aapje says:

        I’m basically skeptical on believing that people are secretly terrible, but that skepticism can be overcome.

        People are not secretly terrible (nor good), but try to find a balance between altruism and selfishness. Arguably this is much more healthy for themselves and better for society than if they were purely self-sacrificing.

        A fair society is then one where people give and take in roughly equal amounts (if we ignore redistribution).

        Because people have limited empathy, understanding, etc, they are poor at judging whether they are being fair. So instead, they take their cue from others. This works as long as these signals are reliable.

        A problem is that some famous people are surrounded by sycophants and/or a large fanbase, which means that they get much less negative feedback. So they can then easily think that they are behaving ‘normally,’ which actually being giant d-bags.

    • Chalid says:

      Famous people are obviously not like normal people. On average they are some combination of more talented and hard-working, more ruthless, more risk-loving, and more charismatic. That’s how they got to be famous in the first place. It’s easy to imagine how that personality type might be scandal-prone.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I think for me it depends on why they are famous, and what particular terribleness we’re discussing.

      Some sorts of fame seem likely to be positively correlated with some types of wrongdoing. Others, not so much. Also, the base rate of various types of wrongdoing is non-zero, famous or not.

      I also tend to figure that the journalists have plenty of real scandals to report, and don’t need to be inventive – but that some of them may be less than scrupulous about fact checking when the scandal looks juicy – and if the scandal is to someone’s political advantage, there’s a reasonable chance that someone will be inventive. Also, making a mountain out of a mole hill is SOP for both politicians and journalists.

      And finally, there are a set of “journalists” who I wouldn’t believe if they told me water was wet. The National Enquirer comes to mind in that context.

      Also, most scandals are petty, rather than terrible.

    • aristides says:

      I look at criteria to be selected, incentives once there, what motivates them to get their. Examples, most CEO are selected for their leadership ability and intelligence, have the incentives to raise stocks in the short term, and are motivated by greed for money. I expect them to be slightly better people on average, but the terrible ones would embezzle money, lobby in favor of their business, and take short sighted actions.

      Movie stars are selected for their beauty and ability to lie, have the incentives to project fame, and are motivated by other’s approval, often as a means to the end of money or sex. I expect them to be on average worse than average, and the terrible ones to lie to everyone close, have multiple affairs, and possibly rape people.

      These could be two ends of the continuum, and I expect politicians to be somewhere in the middle, though at least some politicians are motivated to help others, but that is balanced by ones that want power to control others.

      • albatross11 says:

        I have relatively low confidence in reporters’ honesty or competence or care in reporting celebrity scandal stories. I assume celebrities are mostly like everyone else except for the cloud of syncophants, but that’s probably pretty corrosive.

        However, I also think that some ways of becoming famous involve filters that limit what kind of person can get there. For example, I think it is extremely hard for a national-level successful politician to have many non-negotiable principles–being unwilling to compromise on some points of principle tends to limit your ability to advance. To the extent that success in politics requires raising money, every politician will be beholden to major donors and will have said and done things that look pretty smarmy to raise money. Many professional sports are in practice impossible to succeed in without using performance-enhancing drugs, so I assume that (for example) anyone involved in bike-racing has spent the last few years juicing in various ways. (And a lot of people in sports where muscle mass is a big win tend to exhibit something suspiciously like ‘roid rage.). Guys whose public image (needed to make them money) involves being a male sex symbol will, if they’re gay, be closeted to protect their image and thus their income stream. And so on.

        Also, there are personal motivations that shape which people end up in various fame-inducing situations. For example, some people seek power primarily because they get a lot of joy from exercising power over others–that gets you both “petty tyrant” scandals (think John Bolton) and sex scandals (think Harvey Weinstein). People who live for attention and the spotlight tend to be the kind of shallow appearance-oriented people you’d expect–think Donald Trump or most actors. Folks who are driven to get rich at all costs will be extremely materialistic and focused on money. And almost everyone who is highly successful at a demanding thing will be extremely focused on that thing, often to the exclusion of a lot of what you’d think would be in a well-rounded person’s life.

        OTOH, a large fraction of people do dumb or weird or nasty things w.r.t. sex, and rich, famous, beautiful, and powerful people have more opportunities to get whatever sex they would like than most other people. So sex scandals aren’t shocking. (Lots of non-famous people have sex scandals, but usually the only people who hear about them are divorce lawyers and close family members.).

      • most CEO … are motivated by greed for money.

        I’m not at all sure that is true. It’s easy to imagine other motives.

        Also, you are presumably thinking of CEO’s of very large corporations. I expect those are a small minority of all CEO’s.

  14. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Just to double check, I’d like to write about Jordan Peele’s movie Us– is there anyone here who cares about spoilers at this point?

    • Well... says:

      I don’t. I seek them out so I can focus on the more interesting aspects of narrative media.

    • Plumber says:

      @Nancy Lebovitz,
      I’ve never heard of the film, and because of the reverse order (new threads on top) I already read the spoilers, but modern horror movies aren’t my pint of ale (the last one I saw was Dark Water and that was more than enough!), so I’d be unlikely to have seen it anyway.

      • acymetric says:

        Oh man, I watched that with a girl I was dating in high school whenever it first hit Blockbuster…a truly awful film. To clear my good(?) name I’ll point out that I did not pick the movie.

        I’m not big on horror but I imagine pretty much any movie you pick will be better, either by actually being a better movie or at least by being bad in the funny kind of way.

    • Randy M says:

      Personally I don’t let a chance of harming the viewing experience of a film I might see spoil a decent discussion about it.

  15. BBA says:

    A few months ago, Amélie Wen Zhao cancelled the publication of her debut novel Blood Heir following massive outcry on the Internet about its supposed racial insensitivity. Today the NYT reported that she’s reversing her decision and plans to go ahead and publish anyway.

    • Plumber says:

      @BBA,
      From that link I learned two new terms “cancel culture” and “sensitivity reader” that I wished I hadn’t.

      New ompanions to “Twitter mob”, among new terms I wish weren’t.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      YA publishing is, by all appearances, a hothouse culture of crazy.

      We should be wary of drawing any broad lessons from this very tiny, incestuous world, however.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Not everything is crazy, but when a field is crazy, it’s invariably crazy in a left-wing way. That’s the interesting part.

        • Nornagest says:

          Eh, that’s the flavor of modern moral panic, but it’s not a law of nature. I’m old enough to remember when devils became ba’atezu and pentagrams were scrubbed from Magic cards for fear of offending Christian parents’ groups — and when those “explicit lyrics” stickers started popping up on everything, which was less right- or left-wing and more bipartisan authoritarianism.

          Chances are the pendulum will swing back that way at some point. It just happens to be on the left right now.

          • Randy M says:

            At least prior outrageous outrage over all that ‘corrupting of the children’ stuff was regarding accusations that, if true, might possibly matter. If we believe in mass produced products leading to suicide or damnation of a generation of young people, we would be right to oppose it.

            The latest craze of sturm und drang over the micro offenses of a borrowed cultural item or non-inclusive joke is, while at least having the virtue of occasionally being grounded in an actual occurrence, indicative of a morbidly overactive cultural immune response, a chronic inflammation of the prevailing sense of immorality revealing a moral compass spinning like a top.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            At least prior outrageous outrage over all that ‘corrupting of the children’ stuff was regarding accusations that, if true, might possibly matter.

            I think you are assuming the conclusion here.

            You assume that people concerned about micro-aggressions don’t think that real harm can come of them. However it’s fairly well established that, as social creatures, the social environment is important to us. Micro-aggressions at least have a plausible path to harm. We know that societies have hierarchies that are self perpetuating. We observe them as a regular feature of most human societies.

            Whereas “sky magic will damn my children to eternal torture” … If you are saying that rests on firmer ground than micro-aggressions, I think you are just favoring your preferred conclusion.

            Basically this looks like a kind of confirmation bias to me. You already “know” that belief eternal damnation is reasonable, so you assume anyone holding further beliefs based on that one are behaving reasonably.

            Now, you can say the belief in the supernatural is a regular feature of human societies, and I agree that’s true. but it doesn’t makes this kind of moral panic rational.

          • Randy M says:

            I think you are assuming the conclusion here.

            What gave it away, the “if true?” 😉

            I get that being immersed in a sea of micro-aggression is, well, aggravating. But what is the just response to one individual instance of cultural appropriation? Surely about 1/1000 of an actual instance of aggression, let alone the punishment due cavorting with Satan and cursing the livestock. It’s the ‘curdling the milk’ caliber evil.

            but it doesn’t makes this kind of moral panic rational.

            I didn’t say it was rational; more that it was proportional to the weight of the, in this case, absurd accusation–I say this as someone who was forbidden from playing Dragon Warrior IV on my NES because I learned the phrase “tarot cards” from it.

            To use another example, if Brett Kavanaugh did everything he’s accused of, he’s a scumbag deserving of exile; it’s just that we daren’t sacrifice due process for the suspicion of it.
            Elevatorgate guy, on the otherhand, made a social faux paux at worst and didn’t deserve mention. I think most of these are of the latter seriousness.

          • Randy M says:

            I will admit to having a hard time taking seriously the kafka trap this allegations present, where somone is damned for not having sufficient minority representation in a work and damned for writing about minorities one is not a part of along any dimensions, with only tenuous links, if any, to any harm alleged.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Elevator guy’s name *wasn’t* mentioned.

            Is it necessarily bad to mention minor and medium aggrravations?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:
            Why invent intermittent wiper blades? Why promote the use of seat belts? Why stop people for driving recklessly?

            Fuck it, why even get out of bed in the morning?

            Or, to put the shoe on the other foot, why are YOU calling out people who call out micro-aggressions?

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I remember the moral panic about D&D when I was a kid, too. As well as various moral panics about Satanic messages hidden in rock music.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:
            In addition, it’s not that “if true” part I am objecting to, but the “might possibly matter.”

          • Randy M says:

            @Nancy, fair point, that probably wasn’t the best example. I was trying to find something in the same sphere as Kavanough. Maybe Luis CK? Or let’s go with Covington boys, or Justinne Sacco, or kimono girl, or whatever else.

            Why invent intermittent wiper blades? Why promote the use of seat belts? Why stop people for driving recklessly?

            Those are actual problems. Fixing them is actual good.
            Making a fuss so someone else doesn’t publish a book about another culture is not an actual good.

            edit: Although you are probably right that the people behind this have some kind of monetary motivation, like competing books or trying to make their name off controversy or something.

            Fuck it, why even get out of bed in the morning?

            That’s where the breakfast is.

            Or, to put the shoe on the other foot, why are YOU calling out people who call out micro-aggressions?

            Sorry, those shoes don’t fit me. I haven’t named names, I’ve given my impression of two similar trends. If you want to explain the equivalency, knock yourself out.

            In addition, it’s not that “if true” part I am objecting to, but the “might possibly matter.”

            I didn’t think you were objecting to it, I thought you were missing it. Of course I was assuming the conclusion–explicitly, for the sake of argument. If DnD was causing kids to kill themselves, or if kids were falling under the sway to evil, than it deserves some level of moral outrage. We’re against witch hunts because we don’t believe in witches (and the whole due process thing).
            Whereas if someone writes a lousy book using inspiration from the history of African enslavement without being African…. what?

            McKinney maintains that the book perpetuates anti-blackness even after all this [this being the actual claims being pretty tenuous]

            That’s… gabbledegook.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:
            Let me put it this way … I accept that people who are worried about Satanic D&D, wizards and witches in fiction, backwards messages in rock music or gay teachers corrupting the youth with their gay agenda are expressing genuine fears and think that the consequences are genuine.

            I think they are very wrong, and irrational, but I understand how they got to that emotional position.

            You seem unable to model people who have concerns about being subtly harassed or insulted based on their societal position. I think that’s a failure of sympathy, empathy and imagination on your part and it makes it harder to actually have conversations about these kinds of topics.

            I also have a feeling that you actually don’t have a problem being concerned about certain kinds of behavior, call them micro-aggressions, towards Christians involving thinks like saying Happy Holidays. You might not agree with it, but I’m guessing you understand it.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            You seem unable to model people who have concerns about being subtly harassed or insulted based on their societal position. I think that’s a failure of sympathy, empathy and imagination on your part and it makes it harder to actually have conversations about these kinds of topics.

            If the Devil is real and playing Dragon Quest IV will result in eternal hellfire, it is reasonable to try to ban it.

            If someone made an inappropriate comment and made someone uncomfortable in an elevator, it is not reasonable to destroy his career/life/public reputation, let alone malicious interpretations of most of the examples of “microaggressions” I’ve encountered.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @greenwoodjw:

            Do you understand that you aren’t formulating two equivalent statements?

          • Randy M says:

            @HeelBearCub

            War on Christmas here has come up before. You can evaluate my opinion from that brief post, it hasn’t changed:

            while getting annoyed at anyone who hypothetically tells you to not say “Merry Christmas” seems pretty fair, getting annoyed at any who tells you “Happy Holidays” seems pretty grinchy itself.

            (ironically in that thread Brad presages the “Easter Worshipper” meme by calling himself a “Hanukkah celebrator”.)
            Back to the discussion at hand,

            You seem unable to model people who have concerns about being subtly harassed or insulted based on their societal position.

            Like I said, I think in this instance–what this thread is about, searching for insensitive prose in someone else’s manuscript and calling public attention to it with the aim that they or their publisher avoid publication–I think that they are intentionally constructing a Kafka trap with the goal of expanding available opportunities for themselves as either writers or professional sensitivity readers.

            My model of them is that this action is justified because some group they are a part of is systematically oppressed by the larger publishing houses, and if someone is accidentally caught up in that despite no intention or even authority to discriminate, it is nevertheless just because of that person’s ignorance and privilege.

            I’ll grant if these people are right in their entire worldview which I have trouble understanding, some actual offense worthy of righteous anger was probably committed.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Ok, what would be equivalent?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            If the Devil is real and playing Dragon Quest IV will result in eternal hellfire, it is reasonable to try to ban it.

            If someone made an inappropriate comment and made someone uncomfortable in an elevator, it is not reasonable to destroy his career/life/public reputation, let alone malicious interpretations of most of the examples of “microaggressions” I’ve encountered.

            On the other hand, if racism is real and terrible and reading a book that (whatever is alleged of this book, I don’t care enough to investigate the details) will lead to more racism, then it’s reasonable to try and ban it!

            And if someone makes a videogame that made some religious people uncomfortable, it is not reasonable to destroy their public reputation.

            The issue is that religious people are more likely to buy your framing of the issue, but for obvious reasons the converse is true of a social justice person.

            In other words: you’re stacking the deck by deliberately minimizing the possible harm of microaggressions, presumably because you don’t believe in those harms. But the people who talk about microaggressions do! They take the possibility of racist (or sexist or whatever) aggression against minorities as seriously as a religious person takes the possibility of hellfire for a video game. You might find this ridiculous, but then, the secular will find the idea of eternal hellfire over a video game equally ridiculous.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            On the other hand, if racism is real and terrible and reading a book that (whatever is alleged of this book, I don’t care enough to investigate the details) will lead to more racism, then it’s reasonable to try and ban it!

            I would push back against that statement, even if the claims were an accurate reflection of the situation.

            Instead, the claims specifically about Blood Heir are that in a magitech world where some types of people are regularly arrested as cheap labor/enslaved, and the type of person is divided based on magic, not race, it was described as “colorblind”, which is always heretical.

            One of the freed slaves later sacrifices herself to save the protag’s life. The Witchhunters decided that character was black, even though there were clues she wasn’t. This was Very Bad because it enforces a “racist narrative”.

            There were also a number of false/trivial factual claims that could be easily dismissed but are further evidence the complaints weren’t serious.

            So yes, I don’t believe that claims have a similar scale. One claim is that the media will literally cause you to be tortured for eternity. The other claim is that the book, if read a certain way, might possibly contribute to an environment with imagery that could be seen as racist.

          • albatross11 says:

            Just because you believe that the dangers of (unconscious racism/demonic influence/communist infiltrators) are real, doesn’t mean that any specific claim about those dangers is real. The Soviet Union really was working hard to infiltrate its spies into sensitive positions in the US government at exactly the same time that politicians were using bogus claims of someone being a Communist sympathizer to win elections. In much the same way, it’s possible to believe that cultural appropriation or lack of representation are real problems, even though someone is using accusations of those things to derail a rival to win some local political battle.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            So yes, I don’t believe that claims have a similar scale. One claim is that the media will literally cause you to be tortured for eternity. The other claim is that the book, if read a certain way, might possibly contribute to an environment with imagery that could be seen as racist.

            You keep doing this: this “if read a certain way”, “could be seen as”, “might possibly contribute to” is language that you are editorializing into the social justice position in a way that you don’t into the conservative Christian position. Importantly, those qualifications aren’t how the SJers themselves would characterize their position.

            To be more clear: in your initial post, you take the conservative Christian position at face value: “if playing Dragon Quest IV will result in eternal hellfire” is buying the strongest possible framing of the conservative Christian position. You accept their major premise as a conditional, and then draw the conclusion.

            To compare to social justice, you should take the strongest possible framing of their position, which I’d guess is something like, “if reading unwoke books contributes to the racist doctrine of white supremacy and perpetuates racial injustice”–and if those are the stakes, then yeah, maybe you should be worried about the book!

            But by presenting the Christian conservative argument with no qualifications, and insisting on qualifying away the seriousness of the SJ charge, you are putting your thumb on the scales.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            The Christian claim is direct and simple: Devil worship will result in negative outcomes. X is Devil worship.

            The SJ claim is neither direct nor simple. I cannot summarize it cleanly without qualifiers. The closest I can come is “Books that contain groups that can be seen as stand-ins for races must treat those fictional groups with the same standards as the races they stand in for and never have POC-expy race individuals sacrifice themselves for a white-expy person, because otherwise it will contribute to a general climate where similar material is acceptable.”

            Also, I’m not trying to steelman their position, but reflect the position of those attacking the book.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            It’s only direct if you think “playing a video game” constitutes “devil worship”. Otherwise, you need to explain how playing a video game is sufficiently worshipful of the devil to merit eternal damnation. I haven’t played Dragon Quest IV, which was your example: what about it would you say constitutes “devil worship”?

            EDIT:
            To sharpen the point, allow me to summarize the SJ position directly: Promoting racism results in negative outcomes. X is promoting racism.

            And, the issue isn’t that you ought to come up with the most favourable interpretation of the SJ claim. We are evaluating HBC’s argument that Randy M is assuming the conclusion when he says “At least prior outrageous outrage over all that ‘corrupting of the children’ stuff was regarding accusations that, if true, might possibly matter.”

            I am trying to show that HBC is correct, and that you and others continue to make this mistake: your argument assumes its conclusion by building the SJ argument in such a way that the effects don’t matter. But this is due to your choice of framing, and is not inherent in the two positions.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I stripped it out to X. I haven’t played it either, but someone mentioned it had tarot cards in it, those’re generally seen as pulling on/honoring powers other than God and the only other powers are demonic.

            Part of the issue is that “racism” has such a broad definition it can be applied to anything, making the formulation “X is racist” completely meaningless.

            To step away from the example and steelman a hypothetical:

            Promoting racial superiority is bad. Terrible book promotes racial superiority.

            That would be a simpler claim, unfortunately it’s not the one here.

            But to the original question – I can model these people fine. “Burning witches increases my status and employment prospects, ergo, witches are everywhere.”

            Trying to take the excuse at face value creates this mess.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            You may have missed the edit to may previous post but compare your “Devil Worship leads to bad outcomes. X is devil worship” to what you are now describing: your “X” turns out to be “playing a video game that has tarot cards, which, because tarot cards may or may not involve calling on other powers, and the only possible other powers are demons, might count as ‘worshipping’ those gods”.

            In other words, unpacking your X makes it look not quite so direct.
            Contrast with the following direct statement of the SJ position:

            Promoting racism has bad outcomes. Y is racism.

            If you allow me to hide as much in Y as you have hidden in X, then this looks comparably direct. But your comparison between the two involves the former, concise statement of the conservative Christian position, and the longer unpacked statement of the SJ position.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I caught the edit.

            We’ve gotten lost in the specific weeds here. Did you have a larger point, or is it just hitting me over the head with epistemological hygiene? You’ve never addressed the actual case or offered an example that would accurately reflect the criticism of the book. I’ve tried. I cannot create a statement that is 1) Accurate and 2) Reasonable. (Because the actions of the community and their complaints are unreasonable and insane, even assuming the claims are true)

          • Randy M says:

            Promoting racism results in negative outcomes. X is promoting racism.

            But that’s the sticking point. They’re not showing their work sufficiently. It’s all underpants gnome logic. Your formulation attributes the same mystical powers to racism that superstitious Christians attributed to demons.

            For the Satanic panic, you have to grant that there exist supernatural entities that can influence you mentally if you draw their attention, and that in playing D&D, you are doing so. If you believe the first part, the second part is probably close enough to true to be worrying. Alright, there’s a mechanism, and the end result will be your teen dead, like that one on TV.

            In this instance, a woman wrote a book that had slavery. Then, because racism, something bad.
            If you grant that racism is a supernatural force, sure, they’re equivalent. Otherwise (well, even still), I’m going to want to see some plausible mechanisms for how that evil manifests and some actual examples of it doing so before I trust the motives of the guy with the racism detector.
            And even still, the charge is only “contributes (somehow, to some degree) to an environments where racism is seen as more acceptable.”
            Again, unless you believe x-ism is some supernatural entity with agency, merely invoking it is not enough. And I don’t think that’s the overt claim.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @greenwoodjw

            Did you have a larger point, or is it just hitting me over the head with epistemological hygiene?

            As I said, the point we are arguing is whether Randy M was making a circular argument, and whether your attempts to bolster him were doing the same. So, I guess in a sense this is just me insisting on epistemological hygiene, but to my mind that’s the entire stakes of what we’re discussing here.
            If you’re willing to agree that the original argument is circular, and that to compare the SJWs getting mad at YA fiction with the religious right getting mad at Harry Potter we need to treat the two sets of claims equally, which has not yet been done, then I have nothing else I want to argue.

            @RandyM

            But that’s the sticking point. They’re not showing their work sufficiently. It’s all underpants gnome logic. Your formulation attributes the same mystical powers to racism that superstitious Christians attributed to demons.

            I agree that
            1. this YA novel isn’t woke enough
            2. ???
            3. white supremacy!

            isn’t very convincing, but neither is
            a. this video game has tarot
            b. ????
            c. eternal damnation!

            You are acting as if the missing step b) is obvious, and perhaps to someone from a certain religious background it is, but to someone from a SJ background the missing step 2) might be equally obvious.

            This doesn’t mean that ultimately you can’t find a step that b) is more plausible than any possible step 2), or anything like that, but your argument keeps implicitly granting the existence of a plausible step b) without doing the same for step 2), and from this you keep drawing the conclusion that the second syllogism is more plausible–but you’ve baked that conclusion in!

            When you say ” If you believe the first part, the second part is probably close enough to be worrying” you’re granting a huge amount: if I grant the existence of the supernatural, then playing a game is “close enough to be worrying” to attracting demons who will kill me?!

            Imagine if I argued as follows: suppose you believe that racism and white supremacy are real forces that can be inculcated in the impressionable young by reading the wrong literature; young people so indocrinated are likely to go off and commit terrible injustices against minorities. Would you allow me that “reading unwoke YA fiction is close enough to be worrying”? I doubt it, but this is basically the argument you’re making.

          • Randy M says:

            Imagine if I argued as follows: suppose you believe that racism and white supremacy are real forces

            That’s what I’m saying. The analogy holds if you literally believe that x-isms are malevolent agents. Which is what the ideology resembles, but I didn’t think anyone explicitly did.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @Randy

            You’re hanging too much on my use of the word “forces” here; I don’t mean “force” like a mystical supernatural force, I just mean, suppose you believe that the more people who believe in the ideology of white supremacy, the more it will lead to bad outcomes. Then, you won’t want there to be books that inculcate belief in white supremacy, perhaps especially books targeted at impressionable youths.

            In fact, I suspect you probably do hold this belief, or at least, don’t find it ridiculous: if a YA author tried to publish a kiddie version of the Turner Diaries, I don’t think anyone would be confused about the reason for any ensuing outrage.

          • Randy M says:

            Eugene, I think you are getting too far removed from the actual kinds of books being objected to, and the specifics of the YA censoring I was deriding.
            We aren’t talking mein Kampf, we are talking about a book that had slavery in it.

            The kind of things being objected to are not in any way contributing to racism. And the bad outcomes are way too underspecified and lacking examples.

            Tell you what, though, I’m willing to walk back granting as much legitimacy to the Satanic Panic crowd as you seem to think I am if you go back and see what is actually provoking these reactions–details of which you are admittedly ignorant of.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            As I said previously, I have no interest in defending the reasoning of the people who are condemning various YA novels; my whole point here has been to argue that your initial comparison of the two cases and whether one or the other would actually matter if true was circular: you were granting a premise to the people who thought DnD was satanic but weren’t granting the analogous premise to the SJWs fretting over racism, and then used that premise to conclude that the former had a better point than the latter. If you’ll agree that you ought not to have granted that premise in the first case unless you were willing to grant the analogous premise in the second case, then I have nothing more to add.

          • Randy M says:

            you were granting a premise to the people who thought DnD was satanic but weren’t granting the analogous premise to the SJWs fretting over racism

            I think our disagreement is that you are basically wrapping all of their entire worldview up into ‘their premises’ and saying these modern censor’s actions make sense granting that. I’m still pretty doubtful, and also find that package deal to be rather larger than the other.

            What do you have to grant for opposing this book to be reasonable?
            That this author’s hypothetical culture in her fictional novel is reliably interpreted as a black expy, despite her disclaiming it.
            That having such a proxy is actually demeaning to blacks.
            That such a thing encourages readers to internalize anti-black feelings in some significant degree.
            That having done so, it will create negative repercussions for them to some significant degree.
            That informally punishing this unintentional error is therefore justified.

            That’s a long, tenuous chain. I guess the equivalent would be:
            Malevolent entities resembling the fictional depictions exist.
            Consuming that fiction will draw their attention and allow them to eternally or at least mortally harm you.
            Therefore, these works need to be banned.

            Eh, maybe that’s equivalently stupid. The former seems like it is asking for more while offering less in the way of mechanistic explanation, unless, like we posited above, we are to view racism as a literal spiritual agent.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I think our disagreement is that you are basically wrapping all of their entire worldview up into ‘their premises’ and saying these modern censor’s actions make sense granting that.

            You started this whole discussion by saying “If we believe in mass produced products leading to suicide or damnation of a generation of young people, we would be right to oppose it.” What HBC and I have been trying to point out is that the same is true for SJWs. Compare

            “if we believe in massed produced products leading to widespread racism and prejudice of a generation of young people, we would be right to oppose this”.

            It was your original framing that granted the conditional “if”, and I am only trying to show that the same “if” could have been granted to SJWs, but never was, and more importantly was never even considered.
            As I said elsewhere, I’m sure it’s possible to argue that the demon concerns follow more logically from the granting of the conditional than the social justice ones, but no one even tried to make that argument: people kept asserting that so long as you bought the concerns of demon-worried parents, you had to admit they had a point, and then went on to point out all the reasons you didn’t have to buy the concerns of racism-worried YA-authors. But this was not treating the two claims in the same fashion. You either had to evaluate both sets of claims skeptically, or grant the initial premise for both claims. You can’t do the first for one, and the latter for the other. But this is what everyone did in the entire discussion.

            If you want my actual opinion, it is that both sets of claims are stupid: this is why I don’t even care what the content of the SJW claim is, any more than I care to know the specifics of what concerned Christian parents thought DnD or DragonQuest would do to their children. They are both completely unreasonable concerns–but in both cases it is true that if you grant them the harms that will follow, then the concerns become reasonable.

          • Randy M says:

            You either had to evaluate both sets of claims skeptically, or grant the initial premise for both claims. You can’t do the first for one, and the latter for the other. But this is what everyone did in the entire discussion.

            I still disagree that this is what I did. I grant the SJW concerns. But they are objecting to a small individual incident for “contributing” to a culture of X, which is a much smaller concern than a product that, all on it’s own, drives someone to suicide.
            Now, I don’t think that DnD drives anyone to suicide. I also don’t think having racism in a book contributes to a culture of racism. But even granting both! the first is much more serious than the second. It’s the difference between negligible homicide due to driving drunk and hitting someone with your car, and negligible homicide by having an oil leak in your car that, combined with the icy roads, fog, and a different drunk driver, leads to a car accident. Treating the oil leak with the same rancor as the drunk driving is whack.

            Anyway, though, despite not buying your criticism of my rant, I do retract it because I realized the symmetry–both are trying to pass off purity concerns as harm concerns despite absent evidence and poor logic.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Eugene:

            “if we believe in massed produced products leading to widespread racism and prejudice of a generation of young people, we would be right to oppose this”.

            True, but it’s important to consider the degree to which this book specifically might lead to harm. As far as I can tell, nobody is claiming that simply reading Blood Heir is in itself going to make young people get out the nooses and go a-lynching, so presumably the concern is that it will lead to more microaggressions or contribute to a culture of racism. But precisely because it’s just one contributor amongst many, the impact of this book in particular is going to be quite small. And whilst I’m too young to remember the DND panic, I gather from what people have said in this threat that people thought that just playing DND would be enough to get you possessed by demons or sent to Hell, whereas otherwise you wouldn’t be. This, of course, makes a very large and very noticeably difference to your quality of life. So assuming arguendo that everything the anti-Blood Heir and anti-DND people are saying is true, I still think it fair to say that the DND accusations matter much more than the Blood Heir accusations.

        • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

          I agree with Nornagest. Moreover, even in the past few years I’ve heard stories about what goes on in certain conservative theology departments that really do sound like the right-wing equivalent of this left-wing craziness. (Of course, theology as a whole isn’t all left or all right; my understanding is that it varies by department. But still.)

        • quanta413 says:

          Also agree with Nornagest. I grew up seeing a lot more right wing crazy although I think I’m younger so I didn’t catch the peak of it. Panics about Pokemon (because evolution) and Harry Potter (because magic).

          Now I’ve lived in left-wing crazy bubbles for over a decade and may for the rest of my life, so that grates more.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          This is Scott’s Mrs. Grundy hypothesis. Fair enough.
          I for one welcome our new right-wing overlords. stares at wristwatch

        • greenwoodjw says:

          No one picked up on the flip from backstabbing and suppressing entire books from the ingroup because of politics to crusaders fighting against religious heresy from the outgroup?

          Christians demanding Satan not be celebrated makes sense, at minimum from their perspective. Progressive activists attacking a Progressive book for being inclusive does not.

          When a field is crazy, it’s crazy in a left-wing way.

          • Nornagest says:

            From a social justice perspective, this YA stuff is precisely a crusade against heretics corrupting the youth. They wouldn’t use the words, but that’s what they mean.

            As to ingroup vs. outgroup, remember that Ozzy Osborne is a Christian.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            From a social justice perspective, this YA stuff is precisely a crusade against heretics corrupting the youth. They wouldn’t use the words, but that’s what they mean.

            Kinda, but it doesn’t make sense to crusade against co-religionists in the same way it does to crusade against another religion.

            As to ingroup vs. outgroup, remember that Ozzy Osborne is a Christian.

            Not on stage, which is all anyone cared about at the time.

          • Nornagest says:

            They look like co-religionists to us, but that’s because we don’t care about their doctrinal differences. To them, those differences are real, large, and important.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            This particular YA conflict isn’t about doctrinal differences. If it were, the author wouldn’t have initially accepted the criticism.

          • John Schilling says:

            Kinda, but it doesn’t make sense to crusade against co-religionists in the same way it does to crusade against another religion.

            Right, so Catholics should never have waged war against Protestants in a world that contained Muslims, because Catholics and Protestants are “co-religionists” and Muslims are “another religion”. Oh, wait, people keep telling me that Catholics and Muslims are the same religion, so they should never have waged war against one another because there are Hindus out there.

            Nice theory, but if I’m a Catholic in Ireland looking to make sure my position is secure, a Protestant might recruit my neighbors to his variant brand of our “shared religion” in a way that a Muslim probably can’t might invite his Protestant friends over in England to help take over my nice country in a way no Hindu conqueror ever could, and so is a bigger real threat to my position than the people from what are unambiguously other religions. But if there’s someone peddling a heretical variant of Catholicism specifically tailored to appeal to my mainstream-Catholic neighbors, that person is a bigger threat still.

            Before telling other people that they should live together in peace because they have the “same religion”, check the fine print on the labels and ask them what they feel about the prospects for peaceful coexistence. Generally speaking, they’ll feel the least prospect for peaceful coexistence with apostates and heretics, and they probably aren’t wrong about that.

          • Nornagest says:

            This particular YA conflict isn’t about doctrinal differences. If it were, the author wouldn’t have initially accepted the criticism.

            In this case I think some of SJ’s ideological tics are obscuring what’s really going on. The author is generally sympathetic to SJ and wants to be a Decent Human Being by its lights, but probably isn’t heavily invested in a specific flavor of it. In that situation, when called out, SJ expects you to Listen And Believe, which is what she initially did.

            But Listen And Believe isn’t a panacea, and people that are heavily invested in a specific flavor of SJ might have very strong, very specific beefs with others that can’t be assuaged by it. The rifts between the different schools of thought under the SJ umbrella go pretty deep, and often do extend to casually sympathetic people (google “white feminism” for an endless parade of examples, or, preferably, don’t).

          • Randy M says:

            They look like co-religionists to us, but that’s because we don’t care about their doctrinal differences. To them, those differences are real, large, and important.

            This one, and the previous one discussed here where it was an actual sensitivity reader who was being criticized, do seem pretty intra-party, hence Zhao’s readiness to apologize.
            But identity can always be cut smaller, I suppose.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            It might be that there are Important Doctrinal Differences between the YA author and the mob, but honestly it just looked like a crab bucket to me. Nobody talked about the differences, they just objected to having non-white characters in the book.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Nornagest,
            You’re going back and forth between a couple different things. One is doctrinal differences between factions. That exists, but it doesn’t seem relevant to these stories. Another is moderate vs extremist. I guess that’s a reasonable thing to suppose is happening here, but you don’t have to be an outsider to have trouble seeing preference falsification!

            But I think that there is a third thing that is more important. What about the different example of the sensitivity reader who pulled his own novel? That’s not moderate vs extremist. Was it a conflict between factions? Again, I don’t see the author or anyone else defending him on esoteric grounds. But I think it more likely that that the relevant issue is that the complaints are designed to make it easy to attack and hard to defend, a classic witch hunt. And that the sensitivity readers (and especially aspiring sensitivity readers) have incentives to ratchet up the complaints to create demand for their work. But that doesn’t apply to the sensitivity reader when he turns to write his own book.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Part of the problem is that there’s no such thing as an objective insult-o-meter.

            All you can use is your own emotions (which can be influenced) and your estimates of other people’s emotions (which can be just plain wrong, can be influenced, and involve choosing whose emotions to care about).

            I don’t think this particular case is entirely a matter of doctrine. The doctrine is that representation matters and microaggressions matter, but the details of applying these doctrines are idiosyncratic.

          • sharper13 says:

            Here’s one piece of the puzzle to explain the difference.

            When a right-wing author gets accused of cultural appropriation in their book, they yawn and go back to reading the million other things left-wing people who don’t agree with them have said about them, like calling them racist/misogynist/sexist/a metaphorical slaver, whatever. So they ignore it and it has no effect.

            When a left-wing author who buys into the left-wing perspective gets accused of cultural appropriation, they panic and pull their book. To the point where someone who last month was the accuser can this month become the accusee and thus must hide their head in shame.

            Their outgroup no longer cares what they say about them. The sky didn’t fall and the wolf never came.

          • albatross11 says:

            More broadly, if a devout Catholic I know points a finger at me and claims I’m not a good Catholic for reasons X, Y, and Z, I probably care about that, since I am actually a Catholic and want to be a good one. If the same guy points a finger at my (Jewish atheist) office-mate and says the same thing, my office mate will nod in agreement that he’s not any kind of Catholic at all, and go back to what he was doing before.

            Non-SJW people care about being mobbed or no-platformed or fired due to accusations of insufficient wokeness, but we don’t actually feel bad about not being woke–for the same reason my office-mate doesn’t care about the fact that he never attends Mass, goes to confession, or prays the rosary. SJW people care about that stuff–if you accuse them of cultural appropriation or erasing trans people or unconscious bias against women, they’ll probably spend some time soul-searching and trying to work out whether or not they need to change their ways.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Their outgroup no longer cares what they say about them. The sky didn’t fall and the wolf never came.

            The sky did fall, the wolf did come. There aren’t any mainstream publishers publishing “politically incorrect” YA novels. In a few years there won’t be any publishing “politically incorrect” SF&F. There may be non-mainstream publishers publishing “Christian Youth” or “Adult Contemporary” or something along those lines, and there are already non-mainstream SF&F publishers, but you’ll not see such books in the NYT bestsellers lists.

          • albatross11 says:

            So why isn’t this a market opportunity? I mean, there’s clearly a market for non-PC (or at least non-SJW) YA fiction, so why doesn’t someone try to capture that market and make some money?

          • Randy M says:

            Part of the problem is that there’s no such thing as an objective insult-o-meter.

            This is largely the explanation for reasonable people who are anti-PC (as opposed to people who just want to be jerks, who do exist). We need a rule set that is knowable, and either not, or only explicitly, changed.

            @sharper13, albatross11
            I think you’re right, but I think there are also probably lots of people in the middle who just try to be good people and get caught up in the shifting sands. It’s similar to the old post (untitled?) about Scott Aaronson being traumatized because he spent effort trying to be a good ally but was then called out for misogyny.

            @The Nybbler & albatross11 ,
            Some people do. See Baen, I think, and Vox Day’s publishing house, though I don’t know if either deals in YA specifically. The problems with this are the network effects (big publishing houses can advertise, use connections to get you on best-seller lists, etc.) and the witch-hunter free zone problems Scott has written about before (or in other words, do you want to write for Vox Day?).

            The other monkey wrench is the ongoing digital revolution in publishing and competition with free on-line works and other forms of media (blogs, video games, all tweets, whatever). The pie for publishing is shrinking (… is my impression, numbers may prove me wrong), and thus the infighting more intense.

          • Deiseach says:

            there’s clearly a market for non-PC (or at least non-SJW) YA fiction, so why doesn’t someone try to capture that market and make some money?

            Um.

            You may possibly have heard in the SF/F field of a little group called the Sad Puppies.

            You know, the racist misogynistic homophobic transphobic fascist religious zealots I forget what all they were called?

            And that was before the Rabid Puppies came along to join in the fun:

            Some feel the stark terms Irene [Gallo, Tor Books editor] applied to the Sad and Rabid Puppies movements in her FaceBook post—racist, misogynist, homophobic, neo-nazi—were too harsh and too broadly applied. That she spoke out of turn and had no business criticizing the Sad and Rabid Puppies campaign while promoting a Tor book. They protest that their views are not extreme, and using such terms unfairly maligns them, by lumping them in with someone they don’t support. Some members of the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns have indeed distanced themselves from Beale, and perhaps they were initially unaware of just how extreme his views were.

            When you have (or rather, had – the Nielsen Haydens, at least Teresa, seem to have gotten the boot now) editors at a particular publishing house who are vehemently anti-Puppy and you’re identified as one of the Puppies, I’ll give you three guesses how far along your submitted work of staggering genius is going to get.

          • sharper13 says:

            There is a market opportunity for non-SJW books in certain genres which have been taken over. It’s one of the (many, mostly financial and abuse-related) reasons more and more midlist authors are turning into Indies.

            At this point, just about the only non-SJW folks published by the big 5 are either in a dedicated imprint to segregate them out (like right-wing political books), or else bigger name authors who have been grandfathered in because of their longstanding sales.

            From 2014 to 2016, the Big 5 share of ebook earnings went from 42% to 22%. The Big 5 (plus Baen) market share of SF and Romance bestsellers is down to 30%. For fantasy it’s 37%. They still mostly dominate mystery/thriller/suspense at 68% share, but that’s also been reducing.

          • John Schilling says:

            At this point, just about the only non-SJW folks published by the big 5 are either in a dedicated imprint to segregate them out (like right-wing political books), or else bigger name authors who have been grandfathered in because of their longstanding sales.

            I’m certain you can define your terms narrowly enough to make this true, but The Martian is a non-SJW book by a new author published near the height of the Puppy controversy by Penguin under their non-specialized Crown imprint. And nobody had heard of “James Corey” when Leviathan Wakes was published by Hachette via Orbit in pre-Puppy but post-Racefail 2011.

            Is there some number of examples I have to cite, or more generally just what standard are you going to impose for accepting falsification of your claim?

            Social Justice may have effectively seized control of the Hugos, and arguably of MacMillan’s “TOR” imprint, but not of SF publishing generally.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        YA is in bad shape and we probably shouldn’t pay attention to it because that will make us think that it is representative of the rest of the world. But if we do pay attention to it, if we did see the original story, then it is good to know the resolution, to know that it isn’t as bad as it previously seemed.

        • AG says:

          Yep. Same with James Gunn and GotG.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            James Gunn is a particularly egregious case, since he demanded Rosanne Barr get fired for what she said on the internet. Disney rehiring him just shows that mega-corporations live by “no enemies to the left, no friends to the right.”

    • theredsheep says:

      IIRC the original controversy was about people reading as black a character who is described in the novel as having “aquamarine” eyes. Also one of the people who dogpiled her later got dogpiled for having a Muslim villain in his book about gay teenagers in wartime Serbia or something. I get the feeling that this whole thing is due to burn out sooner or later. Probably sooner. The publishing houses can’t be happy with having their profits sabotaged by an unpredictable cycle of junior-high drama.

      • Aapje says:

        The publishing houses can’t be happy with having their profits sabotaged by an unpredictable cycle of junior-high drama.

        That depends on whether these outrages work as good publicity or not. Lots of parties interested in publicity have seemingly intentionally been courting controversy, sometimes by trying to trigger or playing up a supposed traditionalist backlash & sometimes by trying to trigger or play up a progressive backlash.

        Perhaps even the negative outrage is a lot better than having no attention, when many people buy the book to see what the fuss is all about.

        • theredsheep says:

          But the storm seems localized to:

          1. The YA-fic Twitter Gestapo and their followers, and
          2. People who smirk or frown at 1.

          It flies under everyone else’s radar. Blood Heir was written by an otherwise orthodox SJ type who strayed over a highly subjective line; it’s therefore of no interest to a 2 like me. The interest would therefore have to come from disloyal 1’s who read the condemnation from their peer group but decide to read it anyway.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I remember 10 years ago there was something similar in climatology, and there’s something similar going on now in the field of sex research. This is just magnified by the existing pettiness of YA community.

          • albatross11 says:

            I very strongly suspect that Twitter et al massively amplifies the tendency for this kind of ingroup bullying/purity spiral thing to happen.

    • Walter says:

      In the web serial writer’s discord the general consensus was that this was all a marketing scheme. I expect her book will sell MUCH better than it would have if there had never been any controversy.

      • theredsheep says:

        Are you talking about the one that’s webfictionguide-affiliated?

      • Randy M says:

        I suppose you have a way of testing that hypothesis–does that sort of thing occur much to writers who aren’t marketing their books for profit–ie, you web serial writers?
        Or is there still the temptation to court controversy to reap clicks?

        • theredsheep says:

          I’m given to understand that, among the ones who make it big, the trick is to get on Royal Road (for boy-centric fic) or Wattpad (the girlier stuff), and use various underhanded tricks to build yourself up while subtly tearing others down. I stick to WFG, which is smaller but less dysfunctional at present.

          Courting controversy isn’t so good because sufficiently horrible stuff can get your story taken down by moderators. I hear that happened recently with some guy who kept writing rape fantasies on RR.

        • Walter says:

          I think the basic, like, ‘web serial < paid for novel ' discrepancy is so big that it destroys the ability to measure what you are looking for. NYTimes articles just wont' happen about a web serial author, not unless stuff gets a lot more mainstream (crossed fingers).

          • Randy M says:

            Crossing fingers that you will make it mainstream, or will continue to evade the eye of the NYT et al?

          • Walter says:

            I’d guess that the answer to that depends on whether the web serial author in question has a day job or not/how full their patreon is.

  16. ana53294 says:

    I’m sure many of you have heard of the young climate activist Greta Thurnberg. But as I was reading this article about her, I was struck by this:

    Thunberg’s own awakening to the climate crisis a few years ago caused upheaval in her family. Her mother, the well known opera singer Malena Ernman, has given up her international career because of the climate effects of aviation.

    Now, this sounds to me like the daughter bullied her mother into quitting her hard-won career for the peace at home. I cannot believe that her upper-class highly educated mom learnt how much CO2 planes produced when her daughter did. Becoming an opera singer is not easy; thousands of hours of practice have to be spent, and many, many people fail in the way. And she quit it because planes produce lots of CO2?

    Since when has it been OK for kids to bully their parents into abandoning everything? I think this idea of abandoning your dreams, your career and even your identity for your kids is wrong. Kids should learn to respect their parents, and even when they disagree, they shouldn’t impose their choices on them.

    Is this where the world is going to? This kind of thing makes me so much more sympathetic to family values conservatives. Because ideals, however nice, should not come at the cost of destroying the people around you.

    • acymetric says:

      My (admittedly cynical) gut reaction is that this has nothing to do with her ending her international career. More likely she just didn’t want to do that anymore, or had some other reason to stop.

      My (admittedly cynical) secondary reaction after a few seconds of thought is that her parents are playing this up for publicity and “quitting because of CO2 from planes” is just part of that (because it sounds good, signaling “hey we’re soooooo into climate change!”

      Just to be clear, I fully believe in climate change and a need to do something about it. I’m just extremely cynical whenever it comes to parents of kids who are in the public eye. I seriously doubt the mom is being bullied here.

      • ana53294 says:

        I find it believable that the daughter wore her mom out until she gave up travelling.

        I do agree that something needs to be done about climate change, but I tend to have a people first priority. If the price of stopping climate change is giving up on your goals and dreams, not having children, etc., it doesn’t seem something sustainable, that many people will follow.

        In the end, the sacrifices one person makes won’t change much in the great scale. If you scare people off environmentalism with your extremism, you may scare people off, leading to more CO2 produced, since they will think that they can’t possibly live like you.

      • quanta413 says:

        I’m with acymetric. I highly doubt the daughter bullied the parents. I think it more likely the reverse is true, and the parents have encouraged their daughter in this craziness.

      • bean says:

        This was my take, too. She’s not giving up all performances, she’s just giving up those she has to take a plane to. At the same time, she’s substantially raised her profile in Europe, which probably isn’t a bad thing for her career-wise.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      That’s not bullying. This is bullying:

      Her teachers were telling her to turn off the lights and save paper, then flying off to New York for a holiday.

      Better her coherent optimization than the teachers’ pure abuse of power.

      Did Ernman give up her domestic career?

      • acymetric says:

        I don’t think you can really call that bullying or abuse of power…it is possible to believe it is good to do small things to reduce waste/footprint while also believe it is ok to take trips on planes occasionally.

        Also, the wording (from the article, not attributing this to you) makes it sound like her teachers are flying all around the world on holiday all the time which seems…unlikely.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          “all the time” meaning once a year

          Sure, the teachers probably do believe that it’s good for children do small things that they are told and for teachers to consume big things as they desire.

          If the teachers believed that the purpose of beliefs were to make cost-benefit calculations, they would desire correct beliefs and welcome Greta’s arithmetic.

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            Turning off the lights and saving paper are extremely low cost though. They’re mostly-free actions (beyond thinking about doing them).

            It’s unclear that Greta is actually doing cost-benefit analysis. If she were, she’d probably be asking Sweden to lower its carbon tax from its current €120/ton to something more in range with Nordhaus’ $40 estimate.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Sure, she isn’t doing a sophisticated analysis, which is why I said “arithmetic.” I mean just observing that a single transatlantic round trip is ~10% of their yearly footprint, a much larger proportion of their directly controlled footprint.

          • A1987dM says:

            Turning off the lights is also extremely low benefit, though (unless it’s incandescent lightbulbs in the summer).

          • baconbits9 says:

            Sure, she isn’t doing a sophisticated analysis, which is why I said “arithmetic.” I mean just observing that a single transatlantic round trip is ~10% of their yearly footprint, a much larger proportion of their directly controlled footprint.

            Individual footprints are fairly meaningless. It only takes two people flying to see her mother perform domestically for every flight she would have taken for her quitting flying to increase C02 emissions. Individual actions are wildly overrated for addressing climate change and lots of them are probably on net harmful.

      • ana53294 says:

        As nice as the Stockholm Opera is, it’s not a world-class opera, and the number of operas they have there is not enough to have a full career, especially if you refuse to travel.

        Usually, producing an opera is costly; there’s a lot of training, and practice, and costume making involved. The cost is usually not worth it for 3-4 representations, which is why smaller groups travel. An opera like the Met sells all tickets; the Stockholm one doesn’t (except for Christmas specials and such).

        Giving up travelling is a significant sacrifice in an opera singer’s career. Now, she could be sick of it for her own reasons, but it could also be that she had to give up because of her daughter’s emotional manipulation.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Isn’t it how about the half of the environmentalism propaganda works? The last summer you couldn’t spit in California without hitting some ads about drought, and how we should preserve water. And I gather it’s a pretty common situation. But all the showers I’ve seen here didn’t even have goddamn volume control – how’s one supposed to preserve water with them, go filthy for days?

        Disclaimer: I am on board with environmentalism, that’s why it pisses me off so much.

        • I am on board with environmentalism,

          Does that mean you think what happens to the environment is a legitimate and important issue or that you are on board with the present environmentalist movement? The latter includes a great deal of hyperbolic rhetoric, past false predictions, and attempts at emotional manipulation.

          • Basil Elton says:

            The former mostly. Or, more specifically – I do think that there’s a lot of problems with the environment, and ideally something should be done about it, but they are far from being my top priority. So even though I agree that the modern mainstream in this area has plenty of problems, I often use it as a proxy for the correct course of actions, unless I have more reliable information from other sources (like, about GMO or nuclear power).

            By the way, IIRC you mentioned something along the lines that even though global warming is likely, it may not be quite that catastrophic, or even net beneficial. Can you link some articles or posts arguing this position?

          • you mentioned something along the lines that even though global warming is likely, it may not be quite that catastrophic, or even net beneficial. Can you link some articles or posts arguing this position?

            I’ve discussed the question a good deal on my blog. This post gives a summary of the argument. If you search the blog using “warming” or “AGW” or “climate” as your key word you can find lots of others.

            I’ve discussed climate as part of a more general issue in a number of talks, such as this one.

            The short argument is that climate change has both good and bad effects, both are quite uncertain, and there is no particular reason to expect the bad effects to be larger than the good, although they could be.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            … And, (not to hehash this debate with David, but for information), in addition to the ambiguity of the effects David talks about, I believe that he mostly agrees with me that the effect on natural ecosystems is likely to be strongly negative, at least in the next-few-thousand-years run. What size of effect you expect that to have is up to you, but FWIW it seems like an extremely important factor to me.

          • I agree that there is going to be a negative effect on natural ecosystems.

            The one general argument for negative effects of climate change, in either direction, is the sunk cost problem. Imagine a different climate which would be just as good for us as the present climate, if it had existed forever. Changing from our climate to that one would impose costs because we are currently optimized against our current environment, hence decisions such as what crops to grow where, how much to insulate our houses, et multae caetera, would be wrong for the new environment, inferior to the decisions we would have made if we had always been in that environment. So even if you ignore all the reasons one environment might be better or worse, change is presumptively bad.

            In my view, that’s a minor problem for humans, because the change in question is very slow–roughly a foot a century of SLR and a degree C a century of warming so far. Slow change isn’t very costly–farmers will change crop varieties several times for other reasons over the period over which climate change would affect what variety is optimal. Houses will be torn down, built, changed—a degree of warming doesn’t much change optimal insulation, and a century is a long time. Changes due to technology and other non-climate causes, such as power getting cheaper or more expensive, are likely to be larger and faster.

            But that will not be true for all other species. Non-human species have to do their adjustment by some combination of evolution and shifting habitat, processes that may be a good deal slower than human adjustment to change. Trees, most obviously, don’t move very fast.

            So I think the cost of change is clearly a more serious issue for other species. How serious it is I don’t know, and I doubt anyone else does. And I don’t know if it is ameliorated by ways in which the change is towards a more desirable environment for other species or reinforced by ways in which it is towards a less desirable environment—probably different for different species.

            A long answer, but I thought it was worth making clear the logic of the situation.

    • Tenacious D says:

      I’ve read that before the school strike, Greta went on a hunger strike (at the age of 11 I think). That’s really sad. Malnourishment at such a critical age has lifelong impacts on health (she looks kind of stunted, not just genetically short, right?). And if similar self-harm behaviours recur or escalate it will be a bad thing that she’s held up as a global role model for youth.

      • vV_Vv says:

        I’ve read that before the school strike, Greta went on a hunger strike (at the age of 11 I think).

        I can’t find anything about this on Google.

        (she looks kind of stunted, not just genetically short, right?).

        She looks like she’s 12-13 while she’s actually 16, maybe she will have a late growth spurt, maybe she’ll stay like this. Btw I think this is part of her appeal: she looks more like a child rather than a woman, hence she gets the innocence bonus while presumably having cognitive abilities more or less appropriate for her age (Asperger’s notwithstanding).

        • Beck says:

          It’s covered somewhat here, but I don’t think the book the article references is out in English yet.
          It sounds as if her and her sister have had a rough time of it.

          Greta is eleven years old and has gone two months without eating. Her heart rate and blood pressure show clear signs of starvation. She has stopped speaking to anyone but her parents and younger sister, Beata.

    • meh says:

      I think this idea of abandoning your dreams, your career and even your identity for your kids is wrong.

      I assume you don’t have kids?

      This happens regardless of if the kid is a bully, and regardless of how much respect they have.

      • It may happen in some families some of the time, but I don’t think it is the norm. It did not happen in either of the families I have been part of.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Parents should be prepared and willing to abandon any or all of those for their kids, but not because the little snots demand it. Just because we work for their benefit and would die for them doesn’t mean they’re in charge.

      • Well... says:

        I agree with David Friedman’s sentiments here. My experience has been that I have always enjoyed a lot of churn when it comes to my dreams and pursuits. In fact, I probably have more dreams than time to pursue them, and more keep presenting themselves all the time.

        Pursuing some of my dreams has worked out well, pursuing some of my others hasn’t. Being a parent might have factored into some of the successes and some of the failures, but it isn’t obvious whether this is true in each case, or to what extent.

    • Plumber says:

      @ana53294,
      Until she was mentioned in a recent thread, I’d never read of this Greta girl, and I don’t much feel the need to learn more about an odd family far away in a very big world that likely has even weirder tales that I’m ignorant of.

      What’s the fascination?

      As for that jet travel greatly emits Co2, in some sense I think that’s correct, but perhaps more importantly there’s no replacement technology of comparable speed. Replacing coal burning power plant with gas burning ones reduces emissions, as does replacing gas burning ones with nuclear power plants (like the French did), diesel freight trains are already pretty efficient, so I imagine that greater use of them instead of trucks would reduce emissions, better insulation to reduce burning fuel for heat, et cetera – but there’s nothing to replace jets for going far fast.

      A carbon emissions tax on fuels based on how “dirty” they are seems an obvious solution if reducing emissions is the goal, but I’m doubtful that voters will approve that, and whether it would be worth it’s cost I simply can’t judge. 

      • Aapje says:

        She is being turned into a star for the climate change movement, so a lot of the fascination is over why others are fascinated by her.

        • acymetric says:

          Yeah…as someone who believes strongly in taking steps to reduce emissions/limit greenhouse gasses etc. I’m not really happy about that particular turn of events.

    • raw says:

      A reason for her behavior could be that she is diagnosed with Asperger and OCD. It is also mentioned in the article that: “She sees her condition not as a disability but as a gift which has helped open her eyes to the climate crisis.”

      • acymetric says:

        Yeah, I don’t think you can really have a discussion on her behavior and its merits without bringing that into it. I had some thoughts I considered posting in that vein, but having only an extreme surface level understanding of either disorder I felt like my comments might come off as pithy or even actively mean so I held back.

      • ana53294 says:

        Having Aspergers can result in behaviour that hurts others, sure. I am also on the spectrum, so I know how it works.

        My point is mainly that parents should not let their kids dictate so much or decide so much when they are this young.

        A fifteen year old should not be travelling to Davos on train or going around Europe joining strikes. Avoiding climate change is not reason enough for allowing this dysfunction.

        • vV_Vv says:

          A fifteen year old should not be travelling to Davos on train or going around Europe joining strikes. Avoiding climate change is not reason enough for allowing this dysfunction.

          It’s not like any obstinate teenage activist gets invited to speak at Davos. She is what she is because her famous parents are propping her up.

    • j1000000 says:

      I’d join others who think the causality is probably reversed here, that the parents encouraged the kid, but who knows. Either way, this is off topic but a lot of stuff these days reminds me of American Pastoral by Philip Roth. A history teacher I had in high school loved the gimmicky idea that WW1 and WW2 were just one long war — nowadays I feel like the 60s never ended, they just took a break.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Are we sure that this is a case of the child bullying the mother, and not vice versa? Normally when children get involved in politics it’s because they’ve been encouraged (or “encouraged”) by their parents to do so.

  17. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    I have a political question inspired by recent discussion of the Mueller report and earlier speculation about the New York Attorney General. This isn’t really a Trump question specifically though, it’s more about politics and history generally.

    One argument that I’ve heard fairly often is that one of the key ingredients in the success of democracies is because they allow peaceful transfers of power. If a dictator loses power, he’s likely to lose his head soon after. If an elected head of state loses power, he will still live out the rest of his life as a free and quite likely wealthy man. So dictators cling to power as though because their lives depend on it while elected heads of state will generally leave office without a fuss.

    We know that half of this equation holds true, because dictators who have been credibly guaranteed good treatment have stepped down without a fuss. I’m more interested in the other half of the equation, what happens when elected heads of state are credibly threatened with imprisonment or worse if they leave office.

    Again, while this is Trump-inspired this isn’t really about him specifically. It’s more about how people in power react to this kind of incentive-structure generally rather than trying to get into his head specifically.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Nixon seems like the only example in recent US history, but he arranged for a pardon. Go back further and there’s Aaron Burr, who was still under a cloud when he left office as Vice President. He didn’t hold on to power but rather ran off and fomented some revolution. Not sure if any general lessons can be derived from that, especially given that he was VP and not President.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Yeah, I was more thinking about examples from outside of the US. Nixon’s pardon means that he never had reason to fear prosecution, and Burr was never a head of state.

        That said, Burr’s trial for treason was absolutely bizarre. He apparently turned himself in and was released by judges twice, was then arrested as he tried to leave the country and arraigned four times before a federal grand jury would indict him, acquitted in a trial presided over by Chief Justice Marshall, and finally arrested and acquitted for an unrelated misdemeanor charge. It really does sound like something that would happen in a banana republic.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          From outside the US, some possible examples include: Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Ehud Olmert and Moshe Katzav in Israel, Lula da Silva in Brazil, Jacques Chirac in France, and Jacob Zuma in South Africa.

          These are all examples where ultimately the transference of power happened peacefully, although I’m not enough of a political expert on the countries involved to decide whether these were all legitimate transfers of power.

          In contrast, Julius Caesar is an example that’s been mentioned elsewhere of a leader in a democratic polity who initiated civil war to keep from being prosecuted by his enemies. I can’t think of another off-hand, but I’m sure there are.

        • ana53294 says:

          There is a very long list of presidents who were jailed. Some of them where jailed as a result of a coup, but there are many that happened in a functioning democracy.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      I’m more interested in the other half of the equation, what happens when elected heads of state are credibly threatened with imprisonment or worse if they leave office.

      IANAH but wasn’t this a source of strain on the Roman Republic? If I remember correctly being an office-holder gave some sort of legal immunity but the lawyers could descend if you lost office before pre-emptively dealing with them.

      • bullseye says:

        A Roman with the position of “dictator” was immune to prosecution from anything he did while dictator. Dictators were appointed by the Senate to temporarily rule during emergencies. Sometimes someone (most famously, Caesar) would take over by force, becoming a dictator in modern sense, and force the Senate to appoint them dictator.

        I don’t remember reading about any other position having immunity.

        • Protagoras says:

          Consuls had immunity while they were consuls (or at least there was no judicial body independent of and superior to the consuls which could prosecute them), but ex-consuls did not have any protection from later prosecution for what they did while consul. Thus, the short terms and the prohibition on consecutive terms were intended to make it possible to hold consuls accountable. Presumably that’s what Gobbobobble was referring to.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Just to complete the reference, I suspect the “source of strain” Gobbobobble is referring to is the role this played in Caesar’s decision to initiate a civil war by crossing the Rubicon. Caesar had previously been unsuccessfully prosecuted by his political enemies, and had evaded further prosecutions by having his term in Gaul extended.

            Caesar anticipated further prosecutions at the end of his new five-year term, and so hoped to stand for Consul in absentia to keep his immunity from prosecution. The Senate insisted he had to return to Rome in person, and disband his army. Caesar tried to negotiate these conditions down, but ultimately, the opposing faction scuttled all compromises and Caesar decided he had no option but to fight it out.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            You’re both correct as to what I was getting at, thanks for fleshing out what my patchy memory did not 🙂

            Also (with memory caveats again) I think Marius qualifies for the “or worse” portion of the OP? “I need this 7th consulship or else Sulla’s army will win and put my head on a spike” (which happened anyway but hey he tried)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Caesar, Netanyahu
      I feel like there should be a lot more examples.

      • Clutzy says:

        You should probably inspect French history. I’m not an expert, but my suspicion is it might be fruitful.

    • Erusian says:

      The immediate pattern is that they abuse their power to put a supporter in charge. But it’s a strong step towards a dictatorial pattern. If Trump believes prosecution is imminent at the end of his second term, the safest route is either to resign in exchange for his VP pardoning him or to use government authority to make sure a decently friendly Republican follows him.

      If the Left does decide to go after Trump legally for politically motivated reasons, that would be a rather important norm broken. One that is getting around the spirit, if not the letter, of the law that a president can’t be prosecuted for actions taken during their presidency.

      Speaking more generally, elections in the United States are supposed to be relatively low stakes. They are supposed to determine things for two years with their farthest-reaching effects being six years. And there’s a mess of institutions for anything to wind its way through. This means, whatever one party does, their dominance will be fleeting. And there are certain things they simply can’t do at all. It’s this lowering of stakes, rather than democracy per se, that makes things more peaceful. Look at France, Poland, or the Italian Merchant Republics if you want to see high stakes democracies, where a single election could lead to entire families getting wiped out.

      • bullseye says:

        One that is getting around the spirit, if not the letter, of the law that a president can’t be prosecuted for actions taken during their presidency.

        I don’t think we have any such law. If we did, why did Ford pardon Nixon?

        It’s my understanding, from reading about Mueller, that it’s ambiguous whether the President can be prosecuted while in office (Mueller thinks he can’t), but once he’s out he can be prosecuted for what he did during his presidency. I don’t think this has ever happened, but I think it’s more political considerations than the law. A President who prosecutes a predecessor from the other party will always look like a partisan hack, and also will limit his own ability to commit crimes.

        • brad says:

          A sitting President certainly cannot be prosecuted by a state while in office for reasons akin to those in McCulloch v. Maryland. The weight of scholarly opinion, at least as of four years ago, is that he can’t be prosecuted federally either. But there’s no act immunity, at least not criminally.

        • AG says:

          I wonder if there’s strong incentive for a Republican successor to go after Trump, though. Would it engender a bunch of goodwill to him to get his agenda passed?

          • Erusian says:

            I don’t see how this would work. Trump isn’t that popular on the right but impeaching him is a left-wing project. The right is fine with Romney or Meadows fighting with Trump because Romney and Meadows object to Trump for right-wing reasons. But they’ve punished anyone who sides with the left wing. Also, it’s unlikely Democrats will support a Republican in these partisan times.

          • AG says:

            Not impeaching him, which burns political capital they could be using for something else (either side), but prosecuting Trump after he leaves office.
            My impression is that most Republicans, as establishment DC-ers, hate Trump from stomping all over certain DC norms, and not paying his dues to the establishment. They’re just stuck with him because he still has an impact on their chances of reelection.

            Even if it annoys a certain segment of the populace, a Republican going after a post-presidency Trump may garner a lot appreciation from fellow politicians on both sides. Democrats for obvious reasons, and Republicans would have less incentive to oppose it, since Trump would no longer control their performance at the polls. And then both could tout this as a display of bipartisanship to the folks at home.

          • Plumber says:

            @AG

            “…Republicans would have less incentive to oppose it, since Trump would no longer control their performance at the polls…

            AFAIK Trump is still popular with Republicans, so why wouldn’t other Republican office holders hurt the support they get from Republicans if they attack Trump?

          • Erusian says:

            My impression is that most Republicans, as establishment DC-ers, hate Trump from stomping all over certain DC norms, and not paying his dues to the establishment. They’re just stuck with him because he still has an impact on their chances of reelection.

            Your impression is wrong. While there are anti-Trump Republicans, the vast majority of Republicans prefer him infinitely to Hillary Clinton. Likewise, he has reasonably high favorability ratings among Republicans.

            Even if it annoys a certain segment of the populace, a Republican going after a post-presidency Trump may garner a lot appreciation from fellow politicians on both sides. Democrats for obvious reasons, and Republicans would have less incentive to oppose it, since Trump would no longer control their performance at the polls. And then both could tout this as a display of bipartisanship to the folks at home.

            That certain segment of the base is a huge portion of the Republican base. Also, if we’re in an increasingly partisan environment (which we are) then Democratic appreciation is pretty worthless. Also, the idea that Trump’s influence goes away the moment he’s not president is completely absurd. Did Bernie or Clinton’s go away after they didn’t get in? How about Obama’s after he was done?

          • J Mann says:

            I wonder if there’s strong incentive for a Republican successor to go after Trump, though. Would it engender a bunch of goodwill to him to get his agenda passed?

            I don’t see any incentive unless the crime were so obvious as to convince even Trump supporters.

            If the crime is arguable, you are talking about 2 years of litigation against an expensive array of lawyers, with an uncertain outcome that depends largely on how judges rule on the close legal questions, together with which 12 people end up on the jury. Anywhere from 10%-50% of your base goes ballistic and either stays home in elections or starts to support even nuttier candidates.

            It’s much better tactically to leave it alone and let the relevant states prosecute, to the extent there’s some evidence.

          • AG says:

            While there are anti-Trump Republicans, the vast majority of Republicans prefer him infinitely to Hillary Clinton.

            No, no, no, no, this is still thinking in terms of the current situation, in which Trump indeed is the alternative to a Democrat.
            But if a Republican succeeds him as president, that threat (of a Democrat alternative) is no longer there.
            And even for the candidates that current supporters will move on to (remembering also that many of them voted for Obama twice), do you really think they would care that much about someone who is no longer in power? They supported Trump because they thought he could get them what they want. He will no longer have that capacity. They will be giving their focus to someone else who promises to get them what they want.
            Bernie is still a Senator. Clinton is beloved by the establishment. These are different things. The situation here is a loose cannon person who annoys the out-of-touch DC elites, who would take pleasure in putting down the outsider upstart for disturbing their playground, once they can get away with it.

          • Erusian says:

            No, no, no, no, this is still thinking in terms of the current situation, in which Trump indeed is the alternative to a Democrat.
            But if a Republican succeeds him as president, that threat (of a Democrat alternative) is no longer there.

            And even for the candidates that current supporters will move on to (remembering also that many of them voted for Obama twice), do you really think they would care that much about someone who is no longer in power? They supported Trump because they thought he could get them what they want. He will no longer have that capacity. They will be giving their focus to someone else who promises to get them what they want.

            Bernie is still a Senator. Clinton is beloved by the establishment. These are different things. The situation here is a loose cannon person who annoys the out-of-touch DC elites, who would take pleasure in putting down the outsider upstart for disturbing their playground, once they can get away with it.

            True, if a Republican succeeds Trump then Trump doesn’t get to say he’s better than Hillary. But you don’t seem to understand how political influence functions. The organizations, people, policies, and all that will live on, as will a sense of relief at having someone on their side win. This happened multiple time: the Bush foundations still existed to support Bush Jr and Jeb. The Clinton people supported Hillary. A lot of the Obama people went with Joe to Delaware. The end of the office is not the end of the institution. If you want an outsider, look at Bernie who was a massive outsider. Or Rand Paul.

            The Freedom Caucus is a great example. They’re the people who came out of the Tea Party. They’re still around and monumentally powerful because of their base and fundraising ability. The establishment hates them, so much so that when the Freedom Caucus stopped the repeal of Obamacare the Democrats still took the time to attack them.

          • Clutzy says:

            @EUrasian

            I don’t see how this would work. Trump isn’t that popular on the right but impeaching him is a left-wing project. The right is fine with Romney or Meadows fighting with Trump because Romney and Meadows object to Trump for right-wing reasons. But they’ve punished anyone who sides with the left wing. Also, it’s unlikely Democrats will support a Republican in these partisan times.

            This appears to be a severely incorrect categorization of the right. Picking Romney is your big mistake. The right doesn’t appreciate his criticism of Trump at all. Rand Paul’s instances of not voting with Trump, mostly appreciated. The McCain/Flake/Romney contingent is hated more on the Right than the Left currently.

          • Erusian says:

            This appears to be a severely incorrect categorization of the right. Picking Romney is your big mistake. The right doesn’t appreciate his criticism of Trump at all. Rand Paul’s instances of not voting with Trump, mostly appreciated. The McCain/Flake/Romney contingent is hated more on the Right than the Left currently.

            Perhaps you know something I don’t. Because McCain, Flake, and Romney are not from the same political factions in the least from my experience. Romney is a Mormon who’s popular with the religious right and, to a lesser extent, Wall Street. McCain was popular with business, urban republicans, and the military. Flake wasn’t defying Trump because his base supported him. It was because he was retiring.

            Sure, Trump world loathes Romney as swampy. But then, the Mormons and many evangelicals are not Trump fans, no matter how much certain factions on the left crow about their hypocrisy. Several major evangelical organizations declined to endorse him and the Mormons have been rather critical.

          • Clutzy says:

            I’d say they are similarly swampy, with Romney having more political cred with the right, but he’s burning through that quite quickly now. He remains popular with Mormons and particularly in Utah because they are an enclave, and they still openly proselytize. The reason Trump has become so overwhelmingly popular with the rank and file right (including evangelicals) is because they feel besieged. This means only a small portion of National Review actually reflects them. You have to search out Victor Davis Hanson there, or go to some of the less established sites. If someone doesn’t have a track record of questioning Mueller’s legitimacy before the Barr summary, insisted people not speculate about the cause of the Sri Lanka attacks, or still obsesses over Charlottesville, it is strong evidence that person is not one that connects with the base.

          • Erusian says:

            I’d say they are similarly swampy, with Romney having more political cred with the right, but he’s burning through that quite quickly now. He remains popular with Mormons and particularly in Utah because they are an enclave, and they still openly proselytize. The reason Trump has become so overwhelmingly popular with the rank and file right (including evangelicals) is because they feel besieged. This means only a small portion of National Review actually reflects them. You have to search out Victor Davis Hanson there, or go to some of the less established sites. If someone doesn’t have a track record of questioning Mueller’s legitimacy before the Barr summary, insisted people not speculate about the cause of the Sri Lanka attacks, or still obsesses over Charlottesville, it is strong evidence that person is not one that connects with the base.

            I deal extensively with the religious right. They might like Trump policies but they don’t like Trump or feel comfortable in Trump world. They view him instrumentally: they’ll use him to achieve their goals.

            In contrast, Romney retains their esteem as basically a good, moral person. He’s somewhat been usurped by Pence but the two aren’t fighting with each other so there’s room for two boyscouts.

            You’re right they feel under siege. But I think they see Trump as a compromise rather than relief. A relief would be getting someone like Romney, Pence, or even Bush II back into office.

          • Clutzy says:

            I deal extensively with the religious right. They might like Trump policies but they don’t like Trump or feel comfortable in Trump world. They view him instrumentally: they’ll use him to achieve their goals.

            In contrast, Romney retains their esteem as basically a good, moral person. He’s somewhat been usurped by Pence but the two aren’t fighting with each other so there’s room for two boyscouts.

            You’re right they feel under siege. But I think they see Trump as a compromise rather than relief. A relief would be getting someone like Romney, Pence, or even Bush II back into office.

            A fairly decent summation aside from I don’t think most would be happy with Romney or Bush II. That’s why they all went Trump/Cruz in the primary. Those were the only two that showed the backbone desired by that demographic. The Trump/Cruz split ended being along your lines where the ones who go to church most often voted Cruz, while Christmas/Easter Christians went for Trump as he was more effective rhetorically, and they could more stomach his personal problems.

        • Erusian says:

          I don’t think we have any such law. If we did, why did Ford pardon Nixon?

          Nixon wasn’t prosecuted. He was impeached, which is a different process that obviously does apply to a President. Ford pardoned Nixon so that Nixon wouldn’t pardon himself (which was felt to set a bad precedent) and because people were going to sue him.

          The thing is, while people (like Mueller and Clinton) believe that you can’t prosecute a president for such things, it’s never been tested in court. (Clinton’s legal argument against Trump, for example, turns on the fact he committed crimes as a candidate.) Likewise, the Presidency theoretically does not recognize the War Powers act but has just happened to listen to it to avoid a fight with Congress. Sometimes you avoid going all the way to the mat to preserve your legal position.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Nixon was not impeached.

            A pardon (hell, an acquittal) does not protect you from being sued.

          • Erusian says:

            Nixon was not impeached.

            Technically Nixon never was anything. He was never charged or sued or impeached. Yet I think most people would agree he was guilty of something.

            A pardon (hell, an acquittal) does not protect you from being sued.
            Again, technically no. It just prevents you from suffering any punishment. They could sue you, prove you guilty, and then do nothing.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Erusian-

            Well, I’m digressing from bullseye’s original point. I agree that Nixon was guilty of something, but the argument was that if (as you claimed) a president can’t be prosecuted for actions taken during their presidency, then Ford’s pardon of Nixon was pretty redundant. Since I believe you agree, I guess your claim is that it protected him from a post-resignation impeachment, but it’s hard to imagine that being in the cards, since the only consequence of an impeachment and conviction is removal from office. And according to Wikipedia, “With President Nixon’s resignation, Congress dropped its impeachment proceedings against him. Criminal prosecution was still a possibility both on the federal and state level.” This was before the pardon.

            You seem sure enough of your claim about the effects of a pardon to make me wonder if I’ve got it wrong, but my understanding is that, say, a Presidential pardon covers “offenses against the United States” but wouldn’t have any effect on even a state or municipal crime; any lawsuit that might be filed on a pardonee would be civil law rather than criminal, and I would have guessed that a pardon would have no effect on that. I added “(hell, an acquittal )” because I feel sure I have heard of people acquitted of a crime but who lost a civil judgement for exactly the same act, and I assume that a pardon would be no more effective than an acquittal in protecting you from that sort of thing. On the other hand, as Wikipedia says, he might have been arraigned for a state crime, and apparently was not; I don’t know whether this was because the pardon actually precluded that or because any eligible state prosecutor was taking their cues from Ford’s action.

            I would be very interested if anybody who actually knows about law would weigh in.

          • any lawsuit that might be filed on a pardonee would be civil law rather than criminal, and I would have guessed that a pardon would have no effect on that.

            I can’t speak to current doctrine, but Blackstone is quite clear that the Crown cannot pardon someone convicted in a case to which the Crown is not a party. He is talking about an Appeal of Felony, a private criminal prosecution, which still existed in English law in the 18th century although was in practice pretty much gone, but he is pointing out that it has the same status, with regard to a royal pardon, as a tort suit.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        If the relative power of the judicial system and permanent bureaucracy is strengthened then I can see a situation where elections for relatively weak offices are seen as death matches because of the power to appoint people that are difficult for a successor to remove.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Trump loudly threatened to go after Hilary Clinton legally. I still remember the “lock her up” chants from the Republican convention. They were one of the many reasons decided that even after decades in the country, I’d never really think or feel like an American.

        As it happens, he didn’t actually do so. But making threats of this kind is an already-broken norm.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I always thought the canny move for Trump would have been to pardon Hillary as soon as he took office. Whether she wanted it or not.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t think that’s actually possible? It was my understanding that in order to effect a pardon, the pardoned had to proactively admit their guilt…

          • Nornagest says:

            Closest parallel would be the Nixon pardon: Nixon never admitted guilt, but did accept Ford’s pardon. There’s a school of thought saying that accepting a pardon imputes guilt (see Burdick v. US), but it does not require an explicit admission.

            That said, Nixon did have the option of rejecting it, and it’s very likely that Hillary would.

          • Randy M says:

            That said, Nixon did have the option of rejecting it, and it’s very likely that Hillary would.

            I wonder. Oh, there’s no way she would have admitted to wrong-doing, but I bet a statement would be very carefully phrased so as to attempt to make sure that she could claim prosecution was impossible later. like, “There were no crimes committed which require this kind of offer, but I am glad that President Trump has decided to put this witch hunt behind us all.”

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Good points, but I still think it would have been a canny move. Sure, technically Hillary could refuse the pardon, which by Burdick v U.S. would seem to mean that she just did not introduce it in court — but it’s pretty clear Hillary is not going to be called to court.

            To put it another way, Trump (via his Justice Department) had two choices: try to indict Hillary, or choose not to try to indict Hillary. In the latter case, he could say, “Well, Hillary did nothing indictable”; he could say, “Well, she’s guilty as sin but we don’t think we could get a conviction”; or he could say, “She is pardoned”. The optics of the last are highly Presidential, and leaves the world with the feeling, “She’s guilty as sin but we’re not a banana republic that tries to jail our political enemies.”

          • cassander says:

            This would have been a good move. The same strategy also works well for the logan act violations that seem to crop up from time to time.

          • dick says:

            And if Hillary tells him to shove his pardon up his ass and indict her, what then? The problem with bluffs is they can get called.

          • Clutzy says:

            And if Hillary tells him to shove his pardon up his ass and indict her, what then? The problem with bluffs is they can get called.

            She’d probably get convicted or plea out. Mueller proved how easy it is to prosecute even incredibly thin cases.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I believe Mueller’s plan was to get Trump to talk to investigators, at which point he would lie, and then the gig would be up.

            Most people can’t talk to investigators without lying. Trump can’t go 5 minutes 30 seconds without making shit up. It’s part of his brand. Normally this doesn’t matter, legally, because you are allowed to make shit up. But not when under oath, or when talking to investigators.

            Back to the original point: Clinton would never be caught this way. Everything Clinton (either one) says goes through a team of lawyers. They might make a deliberate and calculated lie. But they’ll never be caught accidentally by §1001.

          • dick says:

            She’d probably get convicted or plea out. Mueller proved how easy it is to prosecute even incredibly thin cases.

            …. if Trump responded by indicting her, which he has already opted not to do. Allowing your opponent to force you to do something you don’t want to do is sort of the opposite of canny.

        • Erusian says:

          As I recall, Kerry didn’t dismiss the idea of charging Bush as a war criminal. Obama did on constitutional grounds but to some tut tutting. Trump is much more upfront with this sort of thing but, like most norms, it eroded rather than was shattered.

          I’m not sure what the relevance is though. Hillary Clinton was never president and would not benefit from its privileges. You’re right that using your new office to investigate your former rival would, of course, be further erosion.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Assume, for a second, that a member of the previous administration had worked to avoid government accountability and record-keeping laws in a way that exposed high-level, classified information to hostile foreign powers. Assume also that this official had been corruptly protected by the previous administration by only having a precursory investigation that concluded that they wouldn’t prosecute.

            Strip out the actual people and the question of if, should that official get a pass because they ran for president?

          • Erusian says:

            @greenwoodjw

            The important point isn’t the justice of it exactly. It’s whether engaging in political activity prompted the investigation. That has a chilling effect. Likewise, Trump was shady before he ran for president but if the recent zeal in prosecuting him is because he entered politics, that’s problematic.

  18. DragonMilk says:

    Anyone have recommendations on podcasts that cover international poverty/refugee/crisis situations both currently and historically?

    I remember some about Yemeni water, etc., as well as Best-of lists, but am unaware of ongoing podcasts on the matter.

    • Heterosteus says:

      It’s not specifically about the subject, but The Inquiry podcast from the BBC world service has some very good episodes on various refugee/international-relations crises, as well as a wide range of other subjects.

  19. albatross11 says:

    If you’re interested in the opioid epidemic, there are interviews with Sally Satel (a psychiatrist who works on addiction) on a couple recent podcasts:

    Sam Harris’ _Making Sense_ podcast

    Jonah Goldberg’s _The Remnant_ podcast

    Both of these interviews continue the trend of getting a high-quality discussion with a genuine expert instead via a podcast. OTOH, they’re both with the same expert; I’m looking around for other good sources of information on the opiod epidemic, as well.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Do you recommend one podcast over the other?

      It’s good that she is pushing back, but maybe not far enough.

    • GregS says:

      Here is a good report by The Cato Institute.

      I had a small hand in helping put that paper together. I see Douglas Knight linked to a blogpost I wrote a while ago which outlines many of the same arguments. I have a bunch of other posts on this topic at the same blog, if you like.

      I listened to The Remnant podcast with Sally Satel when someone shared it with me recently. She says a lot of things that are right. Bravo to her for pointing out that, yes, opioids are effective at treating chronic pain. And bravo to her for hailing vaping as a cure for cigarette smoking. But she goes wrong when she describes the past few decades as a kind of de facto legalization of opioids. I’ve heard other people tell this story, but I don’t think it’s true. In fact I don’t find it remotely credible. I don’t think it was ever the case that you could just go to your doctor and ask for opioids and they’d prescribe them to you, not without a good reason. She even describes “pill mills” in Florida, and tells a story of people hopping on flights to go to these clinics to get their fix. That actually suggests that opioids were hard to get, and that the “pill mill” phenomenon was very local and constrained. And anyway there were crackdowns on doctors with supposedly loose prescribing practices over that whole period. She also talks about meth and how she thinks it’s “neurotoxic”, but then admits that the meth people were using in the 90s was cooked up in someone’s garage rather than being pharmaceutical-grade. It’s like she comes within an inch of saying “prohibition is the problem” but can’t bring herself to make that leap. Also, on the meth thing, some people are on ADHD medicines, which are essentially identical to methamphetamines, basically 24 hours a day. If this is safe enough for school children, it’s hard to believe that meth per se is “neurotoxic.” Definitely listen to the podcast, though. It’s a good discussion overall.

      See Jacob Sullum’s piece No Relief in Sight, published over 20 years ago, and Ronald Liby’s paper Treating Doctors as Dealers published in 2005. The sheer tonnage of opioids prescribed definitely increased (by X3 or X4) over the past 20 or 30 years, but plainly there were restrictions and crack-downs on prescribers, and these restrictions were a huge problem for some chronic pain patients.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I remain baffled by the whole thing. Most of the bad results of the opiod epidemic come from illegal drugs with no quality control. The ‘solution’ is to make it harder and harder for people to get legal drugs, whether they are addicts seeking a fix, thrillers seeking a high, or pain sufferers seeking relief. Two of those categories wind up suffering – either for lack of the drug, or because they move to the black market. The thrill seekers benefit – unless they too turn to the black market. Why do we need to sacrifice people with chronic pain – or pre-existing addictions – to protect would-be druggies from themselves?

      Of course I say this with no personal understanding of why anyone would want to abuse opiods – I personally hate being on pain meds that mess with my mind, and get off them a fast as possible. There may be a set of people who can’t resist their allure, even a majority – that I simply don’t see – as in https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/03/17/what-universal-human-experiences-are-you-missing-without-realizing-it/

      • albatross11 says:

        Specifically, the rash of overdoses that has led to this whole crisis coming to public attention and becoming a moral panic is, as I understand it, due to the fact that the drug dealers can get Fentanyl (a much more potent opiod) cheap, and so they cut their expensive heroin with fillers and then add Fentanyl to get to the desired potency. And when they screw up the dosing, they kill off their customers. If the market were aboveground, this wouldn’t be happening. There would be more users, and thus more addicts, but also fewer overdoses and less incidental crime surrounding the drug trade.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        People have been freaking out about an opioid epidemic since ~1995. For most of that time pill deaths exceeded street deaths. Maybe 2x as much when pill deaths plateaued in 2010. 10k maybe 15k deaths per year. That’s worth talking about.

        • acymetric says:

          I was going to say pretty much the same thing. The opioid epidemic was a huge deal well before street drugs started getting regularly laced (spiked?) with Fentanyl. In fact, I would suggest the opioid crisis centered around “legal” pills is what drove the use of Fentanyl.

          • albatross11 says:

            I heard about the issue before, but the panic seems like it is driven by the overdose deaths, which are mainly a result of the fentanyl.

          • GregS says:

            I have some trends of deaths by substance 1999-2017 here, from the CDC, along with some commentary. There was a switch-over from ICD-9 to ICD-10 in 1999, which makes it hard to directly compare these figures to anything prior.

            I have another post here discussing the various trends of different substances here.

            Something that might be underappreciated is how hard it actually is to make a “cause of death” determination. I think there might be a spurious trend in the prescription opioid deaths, although I certainly would not make the argument that the very recent rise in heroin/fentanyl deaths is a spurious trend. I think that latter trend is very real. I excerpted a bunch of passages from Karch’s Pathology of Drug Abuse in this post. I think part of the rise of prescription opioid deaths in the official CDC numbers is tainted by bad reporting, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. This is hard to quantify, but my educated guess is that it’s important. With a larger population of people constantly on high-dose opioids, some of them are going to die from mysterious causes (fatal arrhythmia, etc.), and some of those deaths are going to be labeled as a “drug overdose” just because it’s a convenient answer. I do a back-of-the-envelope in one of the above links, and my take-away is that a small rate of misattributing the cause of death (1-5% error rate) could explain a huge fraction of the rise in recent decades. I’d love to quantify this better, if that’s possible.

          • acymetric says:

            @GregS

            I don’t think anyone would make the case, or is trying to make the case, that Fentanyl has not lead to a large increase in opioid deaths. That doesn’t mean that there was also a problem with “legal” opioids and the related addiction/overdose issues that came along with it.

            Again I’ll point out that without the increase in opioid consumption that was driven by practices of Pharm companies and various less scrupulous (or even just ignorant/naive) medical professionals in the 90s/2000s the demand for street opioids which has lead us to the current Fentanyl problem might never have risen to the level it has.

            How many people buying Fentanyl laced drugs started off on pills coming from a “legit” pharmacy, or were introduced to opioids by someone that was?

            Fentanyl has made things much, much worse, but it is the result of the Pharmaceutical driven opioid epidemic, not the cause of it.

          • GregS says:

            @acymetric

            What you are describing is what I call the “standard narrative” of the opioid epidemic. Roughly speaking, that legal prescriptions raised demand for opioids and led to the current crisis. This is the story that German Lopez tells at Vox and Sam Quinones tells in Dreamland.

            If you carefully read my comments here and at my blog, plus the Cato paper, this narrative is what I’m responding to, and in great detail. I realize that a lot of people think that’s what happened, but I’m arguing that that’s the wrong story. (Above, Douglas Knight linked to a long post of mine arguing against that story.) For example, opioid abuse was stagnant or declining by several different measures on (at least two) different data sets over a period when legal prescriptions did something like triple or quadruple. There are a lot of other problems with that story, too. Like that an increasing number of users are starting their illicit drug use with heroin/fentanyl, rather than starting with pills. And, as I argue above, the crack-down has been pretty much continuous over the past few decades, with opioid patients being kicked off their legal supply throughout that period. That didn’t start in ~2010 (or whenever we want to date the start of the heroin epidemic). The timing is off, and the “more opioids led to more addicts” link in the chain of causation just isn’t there.

    • IrishDude says:

      Econtalk episode with Sam Quinones:
      “How did heroin spread beyond big cities in America? What’s the connection between heroin and America’s opioid problem? Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the explosion in heroin use and how one small Mexican town changed how heroin was produced and sold in America. That in turn became entangled with the growth in the use of pain-killers as recreational drugs. Drawing on the investigative reporting that culminated in his book, Quinones lays out the recent history and economics of the growth in heroin and pain-killer usage and the lost lives along the way.”

  20. WarOnReasons says:

    Can someone explain why is there such a large spread in the interest rate that the US banks are paying on savings? For instance, the Bank of America pays 0.02% interest on a 1 year CD, while Sallie Mae and Allie banks pay above 2.7%. Also, how can their interest rate be higher than the treasury bond yield?

    • ana53294 says:

      The interest a bank gives is usually related to how much it needs cash assets on its books.

      And usually, the bank needing a lot of cash is not a very good sign. Banco Popular (which was absorbed by Santander) offered 1% more than competitors for a couple of years before it went into serious trouble.

      Of course, bank accounts are insured. I am not sure how fast the FDIC is, but in Spain, the FDG can take months or even a year to return the money, and the whole reason people have money in cash is because they need liquidity.

    • jgr314 says:

      Bank CD interest rates higher than t-bill yields is what I would normally expect, especially for an institution that is seeking to attract new deposits:
      (a) because of higher credit risk, as a lender, it is reasonable for me to expect a higher yield on bank paper
      (b) banks aren’t reinvesting in t-bills, they are making commercial and retail loans which are much higher interest rate than t-bills, so there’s still a positive net interest margin for them.

      FWIW, I’ve found that treasurydirect makes it so easy access Treasury securities (inc T-bills) that convenience favors t-bills rather than bank CDs.

      For the super-low rates at BofA (and, I think, JPM Chase, perhaps others) there are some technical reasons why a bank might want to/be able to do this, but I don’t know what’s at work here. The headline observation is that BofA is so well funded, they essentially want to discourage new deposits.

      20 years ago, established banks found that a very large fraction of their deposit base was very price insensitive. Here, “established” means that the bank wasn’t actively seeking to grow its balance sheet, so could rely on existing deposits rather than having to attract new depositors. I think price sensitivity generally rose into the 2008 financial crisis, but it may have fallen again post-crisis as depositors got conditioned to 0 rates over a long period of time. I haven’t been directly involved in this part of the system for a while, so that’s only a guess about recent/current behavior.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Back in the dark ages, I recall reading that treasury savings bonds, intended for consumers, were a bad deal, but other treasury securities – generally requiring larger amounts of capital – were a good deal. Is this still true? Can anyone point me to a reasonable guide to the varieties of treasury securities, advantages and disadvantages, etc. (I’ve been browsing treasurydirect.gov this morning. And apparantly there are (now?) “savings bonds” and “treasury bonds”, plus a small beastiary of things like TIPs and FRNs that I don’t recall from decades ago casual reading.) Obviously there’s information to be found on treasurydirect.gov which I haven’t exhausted, but I generally look sideways at information gathered solely from a seller – it’s not going to point out drawbacks 🙁

        • DragonMilk says:

          Funds came in and eliminated the difference – you gave them money and for a tiny fee you got to get treasury securities for a little bit of capital.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I haven’t investigated to see whether this is true or not, but I think

        Old way:
        * bank borrows from depositor at 3%
        * bank leads to lendee at 6%
        * hit the links by 5pm

        New way:
        * bank does money transfer services at cost
        * bank hopes to make money from fees, like cheap hotels hoping you will hit the minibar, even accidentally

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Well I assume you’re asking about savings rather than CDs.

      I assumed the banks or bank equivalents offering 2.25% are doing it through money markets which when last I checked earn the same or a little bit more than that.

      I also assumed it was a combination of a desire for some institutions to attract deposits [whereas others have no such desire] plus maybe some expectation of higher interest rates in the future. But I am no expert.

    • Jon S says:

      Edit to add: Matt Levine’s column today has a relevant quote:
      “Two broad models of financial services are:
      1) The way to succeed is to work hard to delight customers by giving them a good service at a lower price than anyone else; or
      2) The way to succeed is to find clever ways to make money off your customers that they might not notice.”

      Bank of America (& others) get to maintain moderate deposit balances without having to pay interest. Since they’ve got a set of customers who don’t mind effectively paying them over 2% annual fees, they’re happy to collect that money. As long as they’ve got that rate-insensitive customer base, they’ve got an incentive to gouge them.

      Sometimes you’ll even see similar results intra-bank: they’ll pay no interest in one account type, but pay competitive interest on a differently-named (but functionally identical) account type. Rate-sensitive customers will make the minimal effort to switch to the better account type, and the bank will maximally charge anyone who doesn’t put in that effort.

    • baconbits9 says:

      There are actually two separate banking systems right now. The Federal Reserve is paying 2.4% on excess reserves on 1.5 trillion dollars worth of reserves, the majority of which are held by large, domestic banks like BoA. BoA cut its new mortgage lending by ~25% in the 4th quarter of 2018, they aren’t expanding their loan division right now so any new money they bring in is mostly going to be parked at the Fed.

      BoA is basically paying out a 2-2.5% dividend rate right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if you went through the numbers and discovered that they are basically paying out the payments from the Fed as dividends.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        BoA is basically paying out a 2-2.5% dividend rate right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if you went through the numbers and discovered that they are basically paying out the payments from the Fed as dividends.

        Hilariously, a bank tried to start up by offering that deal explicitly and got shot down by regulators:

        https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-09-06/fed-rejects-bank-for-being-too-safe

        But someone came up with a much simpler and amazing solution. It’s this:

        Start a bank;
        Take deposits;
        Invest 100 percent of those deposits in reserves at the Fed; and
        Pass the interest on to your depositors.

        It is called TNB USA Inc. (for “The Narrow Bank”), it is run by the former head of research at the New York Fed, and it is simultaneously a dumb simple one-sentence idea and the most interesting bit of financial engineering that I’ve seen this year.

        I haven’t followed up to see how things shook out.

      • Eponymous says:

        2.4% is also the rate on short-term government bonds. So anyone can earn this return by parking their money in treasuries.

        And the idea that the return on equity in a large bank equals the current short-term safe rate — um, what else would you expect it to be?

        • baconbits9 says:

          I didn’t mention rate of return on equity, I mentioned their dividend rate. I also mentioned that large banks dominate the excess reserves held by the Fed, and you wouldn’t expect a return for doing nothing with deposits, and yet here we are.

          Banks and short term treasuries are not the same thing, banks have an unlimited capacity to hold money, treasuries are limited in supply. CD rates do not follow treasury rates, and the gap between 30 year treasury rates and 30 year mortgage rates varies a fair amount across time.

          • Eponymous says:

            I didn’t mention rate of return on equity, I mentioned their dividend rate.

            For constant equity prices, these are the same thing. If you own $100 of equity which pays a $2.4 dividend, your return on equity is 2.4%.

            I also mentioned that large banks dominate the excess reserves held by the Fed, and you wouldn’t expect a return for doing nothing with deposits, and yet here we are.

            Banks always have/had the option of parking money in short-term treasuries, which are basically equivalent to excess reserves (once they pay interest). This isn’t “doing nothing” — it’s lending to the US government.

            Banks and short term treasuries are not the same thing, banks have an unlimited capacity to hold money, treasuries are limited in supply.

            I agree that banks are not the same thing as treasuries, though the difference is not always obvious. (Under a simplistic theory they are the same thing). Banks don’t have unlimited capacity to do anything; I’m not sure what you mean by “hold money” here.

            Treasuries are limited in supply — true. Though again, their rate should equal other riskless short-term instruments by arbitrage. Also, short-term rates are set by the Fed in their conduct of monetary policy, and they can alter both the rate on reserves and the quantity of treasuries in circulation to achieve their target.

            CD rates do not follow treasury rates, and the gap between 30 year treasury rates and 30 year mortgage rates varies a fair amount across time.

            The rates are closely linked. Obviously there are time-varying risk premia.

  21. dndnrsn says:

    What does the best research reveal about how actually easy or hard it is to lose excess fat weight? I’ve seen stuff purporting to show that it’s extremely low-percentage in the term of 3-5 years, defining success as losing % of bodyweight and keeping it off? However, I’m not really equipped to discuss what is presented as evidence competently.

    Not how to do this, but whether it’s something that a reasonable number of people can achieve.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      From personal experience and from what little literature I’ve read, the difficulty comes from consistently adhering to the kind of lifestyle both before and after weight loss and not from implementing it.

      In my own case I lost ~50lbs in 6 months by cutting most starches and all sweetened drinks from my diet, I wasn’t counting calories but for the first 3 months I was definitely at an extreme deficit. I gained 70% of that back because of moving from a university with a good cafeteria to living alone and not having as much of a will to continue.

    • Matt says:

      I have a similar story to RalMirrorAd

      Ten years ago I lost 60 lbs in about 5 months, then gained back about 10 almost immediately because I thought I had gone too far. I held that weight for about 4 years and slowly started gaining it back. I was rock climbing a lot and having low weight matters. Right now I’m still 20 lbs under my highest weight, so I never gained it ‘all’ back. If I was given an opportunity to make a ‘no-effort’ change right now I would probably choose to lose about 10-15 from where I am at, but I wouldn’t really want to get back down to my lowest weight again.

      I think if I had never made the effort initially, there is every possibility that right now I would be much, much, heavier than I was at my heaviest, instead of 20 lbs lighter. I was on a bad trajectory, health-wise.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      You can’t ask how easy without asking how to do it. The average results show that the average methods are hard, but maybe there are easier methods.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Are you trying to calibrate how much effort is needed?

      You can do it if you can prioritize it over other things in your life, but those other things might be of more importance.

      I’m sure lots of people, say, quit using SRS software, because it’s not worth the bother. It’s still one of the best methods out there of learning things.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I know how much effort is needed; I’ve been both heavier and lighter than I am now. I’m more trying to calibrate, how much have I achieved? If the stuff I’ve seen is correct and single digits of people take x% off and keep it off for y years, then I’m doing quite well – I just am not as light as I have been when I’m more careful about diet. If the stuff I’ve read is correct, then I’m doing well and should feel good about it. But if that stuff is bogus, I don’t want to rest on my laurels.

  22. sharper13 says:

    In regards to the moderation-related question Scott posted in another thread:
    If the objective is to continue a “fair” moderation of comments, while reducing the burden on Scott, one solution might be to induce groups to police their own. In that situation, multiple links would be available to report a comment, which would then email a particular comment moderation team. The moderation teams could be formed along tribal lines, such as red/blue/gray, then the report link would be Report Red, Blue, Gray, Other with each a separate link. At that point, the goal would be that the Red Team would moderate Red Team comments which don’t comply with the commenting rules, but wouldn’t do so out of any animus toward the viewpoint of the comment, which is the danger if you let say, a set of red team admin moderate blue team comments.

    One decent way to choose the moderators would be to select individuals with a pre-existing record of posting polite, kind and necessary/useful comments from the perspective of that team. The “Other” link would still go to Scott as the catchall for no discernible common viewpoint and a certain small percentage(1-2%?, probably depends on volume) of the other reportings would ALSO go to Scott (in addition to the specific moderation team) as a quality control check and as a check on if people are reporting correctly or not. Then if he sees out of line moderation or excessively wrong reporting, he can take appropriate action in regards to the individuals involved, such as “Hey, libertarians, you need to crack down more on X!” (because we know it’ll be the libertarians by definition going too easy on people).

    So, community standards enforced by moderators who have demonstrated they understand them, and who also have minimal POV bias to distort their moderation.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I strongly prefer the reign of terror.

      • sharper13 says:

        Oh, I agree the current reign of terror works great, for us, the readers and commentators.

        I’m skeptical that if it didn’t have some sort of flaws for Scott and impact his life negatively in some way, he’d be posting comments asking about alternative methods.

      • Deiseach says:

        I second the current reign of terror, because at least there is only One True Caliph carrying it out. The proposed policy would set up a bunch of competing little Committees of Public Safety, and very soon after the tumbrils would start rolling.

        Tribe Colour is not going to ‘police’ Tribe Colour; we of a certain hue won’t find another person of our hue’s comments objectionable, it’ll be the other hue people that will want to report this egregious uncharitable aggression. We’ll think they’re thin-skinned, they’ll think we’re bigots and bad people (and vice versa).

        So you’ll have a plethora of “why isn’t anyone on Team Ochre doing anything about this really bad poster making really bad comments? are you all in agreement with this bad horrible view?” between various Teams all complaining about what the people on that particular other Team think is okay (maybe at worst a bit brusque in how it was phrased), and then trying to report each other, and complaining to the One True Caliph to ban That Guy, and the whole of Team Ochre while you’re at it, since they plainly can’t be trusted and are incapable of policing their own members. Then every Team circles the wagons and huddles down to defend themselves against the perceived aggression and unwarranted “they’re trying to get us all kicked off here so they can take over” of the other Teams.

        No, thank you.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      At that point, the goal would be that the Red Team would moderate Red Team comments

      Beware of incentives. People will want to report to the opposite team, and the opposite team will want to moderate. Try to make it work like that by design and you have a better shot.

      • sharper13 says:

        Dealing with that incentive was one of the purposes to the quality control check. If someone is reporting to the opposite team and that team is moderating instead of declining, having a few of those end up with Scott as well makes it instantly obvious to him that person X should be unable to report and that if team Y moderated instead of declining, they aren’t to be trusted.

        If it were secret, then the incentives will line up as you say, but if there is visibility for Scott into the process, then it’s a really obvious attempt to game the system and thus simple to deal with quickly, which in turn discourages it from being attempted.

        If you’re reporting to the opposite team of the comment, then that incentivizes over-moderation on factors other than the actual comment quality, even moderating comments which make good arguments you’d just as soon others aren’t exposed to, while if you’re moderating your own team, that incentivizes desiring good arguments and good comments to represent your team well among the commentariat.

        At the same time, its a lot easier psychologically to accept a kind rebuke from a friend who is on your same side letting you know you crossed the line, than accept an escalating war of attacks from the “other” side smacking you down.

        The goal for me is to reduce the burden on Scott to moderate, while increasing the incentives for good comments rather than bad ones, as defined in the commenting rules.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Sorry, I was just before coffee on the previous comment and didn’t have the neurons to elaborate. I thought that you can add a control mechanism, but all extra mechanisms are pieces that can fail. Also it’s not really just the moderator’s incentive you have to consider – reporters themselves will want do the “reportiest” action, and that’s not done by going to the commenter’s friends. And everything happens in a context in which there is hardly any solid metric on which tribe the comment belongs to – how you distinguish Grey from Red/Blue is half the time a matter of context and half the time a matter of degree. I’m moderately pro-trump, pro-religion, socially progressive and atheist – which tribe am I exactly?

          Which brings us to the final nail in the coffin (sorry) – you really really don’t want to help along tribal divide – see Robbers Cave experiment.

    • Aapje says:

      @sharper13

      I don’t want opinions to be neatly sorted into red/blue/gray, where each tribe has an orthodoxy that you have to express, lest you be purged.

      • Plumber says:

        @Aapje
        +1

        In going over our host’s list of “Red”/”Blue”/”Grey” attributes, I see where I have affinities with things on both the “Red” and “Blue” tribes and very little with the “Grey” (except that I read SSC).

        In looking over the list again, “Red” just looks like Republican voting male, “Blue” like Democratic voting female (thus as a male who votes for Democrats I’m cross “tribes”), and “Grey” looks like “youngster who”s heavily into “tech” and reads a lot of on-line stuff, plus maybe one retired professor in the south bay”.

        I liked the Albion’s Seed model better, but even that one isn’t that useable to sort commenters.

      • sharper13 says:

        I suppose I should point out that the system was designed for comments (i.e. the view that specific comment was expressing going to a group of admins who already agree with that comment’s viewpoint), which tend to be about a single topic, not a system for rating/judging people, and that it explicitly included an “other” category as well as the potential for various categories not listed as examples.

        Certainly most people don’t agree with anyone else about everything, if they did they wouldn’t be individuals.

  23. Basil Elton says:

    Tangential to the previous question: can anyone try to explain intellectual appeal of superhero movies? Granted they can look good, but that seems to be about it for me, yet looks like there’s a lot of fairly intelligent people who care about the universes and plots involved, even though none of them appears to make any sense, at least on the surface. Is there some deep meaning and metaphors people find, or is it some kind of status signaling by being able to appreciate something useless and not particularly engaging, or what?

    • VirgilKurkjian says:

      Not a huge superhero fan, but I think the general appeal is that superheroes are like thought experiments. They’re speculative fiction in which one of the elements of a character is turned up to 11.

      Take a look at this essay, which (implicitly) endorses the “Extreme Circumstances + Realistic Person” model of superheroes.

      • Basil Elton says:

        It doesn’t ring true to me. A thought experiment is when, as you said, we change one element but keep all the others and see where logic leads us. In superhero movies, the entire world seem to warp and twist in order for them to be able to use their superpower in a cool-looking manner.

        I’ve scanned through the essay but it doesn’t make a strong (or any) case for it, just states that it’s so and even then it says that Batman is the opposite and he’s one of the most popular.

    • John Schilling says:

      Superhero movies aren’t about intellectual appeal. At their best, they add entertaining flash to stories whose intellectual appeal lies elsewhere but might not be sufficient to keep a mainstream movie audience enthralled for two hours or so and could even bore some people who would otherwise appreciate the intellectual aspects. As I’ve mentioned here before, the story of a black African nation deciding whether to run guns to oppressed African-Americans, or of a warrior raised in the tradition of heroic combat coming to terms with the horrors of 20th-century total war, have real potential. The one where a child from another planet is raised among humans, capable of masquerading as one but possessed of powers beyond mortal men, ditto. And the last time I remember the subject being discussed here, the theory was advanced that superhero stories were about the human reaction to unearned power.

      At their worst, which IMO is becoming disturbingly common, superhero movies are about derailing intellectually interesting stories via the contractual requirement that all conflict be settled by determining which side’s champion can defeat the other in a glorified fistfight. And I’m skeptical about the bit where, apparently, every time a screenwriter decides to explore the human reaction to unearned power, the power takes the form of arbitrary unique superhuman abilities rather than e.g. inherited wealth or political office, and everyone agrees that the human response to unearned power is to dress up in a costume to secretly beat up criminals.

      • I’m still waiting for the superhero movie where the hero, understanding the magnitude of their power, decides to single handedly overthrow the North Korean government. I know Watchmen had politics in it but everything thing else is just super villain antagonists.

        • MrApophenia says:

          That story has been done so many times in the comics it has developed its own set of cliches, so it’s probably only a matter of time until someone does it in a movie.

          I’d watch the hell out of a Marvel-produced Squadron Supreme movie. That was an 80s Marvel comic set on alternate Earth where the superheroes were all barely-disguised analogues of the DC Comics heroes, where Superman and the Justice League decide to conquer the Earth to save it.

        • AG says:

          I mean, they already did the version where the budding hero angling to overthrow the unfair government succeeded, and then was immediate overthrown himself, in Black Panther.

          • Superhero movies are about protecting the status quo. Black Panther was only different in that the villain was sympathetic in his goals. In the end, the hero beats the villain and instead of doing anything subversive, simply gives more to charity. Imagine a different ending where the hero wins and says that while they aren’t going with the worldwide revolution plan, they’re going to build a Subsaharan African empire. The next Black Panther movie is about the political implications of having this new enormous African power.

          • AG says:

            Yeah, even James Bond has never successfully destroyed a government. At this point, he and Ethan Hunt have demonstrated that they have the ability to do so.
            And you’d think spies would be a category of hero allowed to be proactive against an enemy entity.

        • Eponymous says:

          Yeah, I’m no expert on the genre, but it’s pretty interesting that the standard trope is that the bad guy is a mastermind with plans to take over the world, while the good guy is the defender of the status quo.

          Actually, this is a pretty common trope across many kinds of epic fiction, now that I think about it. Great Ambition = Evil.

          • Randy M says:

            That’s actually a real problem in super hero & fantasy fiction–the protagonist is reactive, and the antagonist is proactive, and the audience tends to identify with the person moving the plot forward, possibly requiring various kick the dog moments.

          • Nornagest says:

            Most genre fiction, really. Spy stories (at least the tuxedo-and-martini kind) pit a reactive protagonist against an active conspiracy or mastermind, mystery stories are driven by the crime, horror stories have the protagonists just trying to stay alive against the monster. The only major exception is adventure stories. Some SF too, but it’s too diverse plot-wise to generalize over.

            An interesting exception is that most of the really good superhero fiction outside of film and comics uses villains as viewpoint characters. But that might just be because superhero fiction outside the DC/Marvel milieu almost has to be a commentary on it, and it’s easy to do that by flipping the roles around.

          • AG says:

            Probably because it really wouldn’t age well if it turned out that your ambitions did horribly in the real world. Imagine if there had been a Captain Fascism superhero before the World Wars. Those proactive adventure serials often suffer from colonialist connotations, for example. Depict the adventure from the perspective of the colonized, and you’re right back to a reactive hero.

            Usually you can only have a proactive protagonist where aiming for the top isn’t evil within a constrained system, e.g. a sports league.

            This also brings up that having an ambitious hero puts a ticking clock on the stories you can tell. With a reactive hero, you can always return to stability, setting the stage for the next new obstacle. With a proactive hero, it’s a tricky balance between them never achieving their goal (and so coming off as impotent), the story ending once they’ve achieved their goal, and the complications after they’ve achieved their goal feeling dissatisfying to the reader (e.g. the Moonlighting curse).

          • Nornagest says:

            …it really wouldn’t age well if it turned out that your ambitions did horribly in the real world. Imagine if there had been a Captain Fascism superhero…

            I don’t think authors generally look that far ahead.

            The point about proactive heroes causing plotting problems in a serialized format is well-taken, though.

          • Randy M says:

            I wonder which annoys readers/viewers more:
            “Here’s yet another obstacle preventing our hero from reaching his goal”
            or
            “Here’s yet another crisis our hero has to solve.”

            Star Trek did the proactive thing well. If you have a traveler, they can come upon various injustices or problems that need solving, formulate a plan, and then move on to the next.

            Stories usually start with an inciting incident, whatever kicks off the story and motivates the protagonist. If there’s going to be a villain, he’ll probably be behind it, making the hero reactive. Otherwise you have to explain why this is starting here, in both a character motivation sense, and a structural sense. What makes the current situation intolerable such that the protagonist attempts to change things? If there’s no inciting incident, the hero might come across as more proactive, but their motivation might also be harder to connect with–unless we’re deep in their head, which is harder in film.

            Passivity definitely not an all or nothing consideration. You can have the story set off by a villain’s scheme, but then the hero take action against them–that’s still mostly proactive; alternatively, you can have the hero dragged along by the plot. That’s one of my complaints about the (generally pretty brilliant) book Quicksilver; I had a hard time getting into it because Daniel didn’t seem to have any goals in the flashback portion that made up much of the tale.

          • AG says:

            @Nornagest

            It’s more that it’s much easier to have your hero demonstrate the ideology in a reactive manner, in the “if everyone acted like our hero it would be a perfect society) way.
            The proactive hero is doing things to move the world towards their desired utopia, not simply embodying their values.

            “And then they ushered in the tech-utopia by proactively releasing information on the internet” stories have not aged well. Star Trek will never satisfactorily depict how some plucky proactive heroes made the post-scarcity Federation come into being.

      • Basil Elton says:

        all conflict be settled by determining which side’s champion can defeat the other in a glorified fistfight

        Eeeeexcuse me, is there a superhero movie that doesn’t do that? Except for Watchmen mentioned above (“I traded it 35 minutes ago”), which is non-coincidentally the one single superhero movie I actually like.

        As for the skepticism, yeah, I do share it with you.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          That’s no coincidence. Watchmen was a satire poking fun at the idea underlying a lot of these movies.

        • John Schilling says:

          Eeeeexcuse me, is there a superhero movie that doesn’t do that?

          Not any more, I think. Which is why I don’t watch superhero movies any more.

          But, as you note, Watchmen, Dr. Strange. Going back to the very beginning, the first Christopher Reeve Superman. Probably a few others I’m missing.

        • JPNunez says:

          In The Dark Knight, the main conflicts are solved by the people in the ships not exploding each other, and Batman taking the blame of murdering Harvey Dent. Of course the Joker and Twoface still need to be subdued, but the actual victory is not defined by fisticuffs.

          • Matt says:

            In the Dark Knight, can we at least agree that the Joker lied (because that’s consistent with every other time he presented the world with a choice) and the detonators on the boats were not going to act as promised? That is, pressing the button was either going to blow up both boats OR MORE LIKELY would have blown up the boat of the button-pressers.

            For evidence, see Joker’s offer to let Batman save one of Dent or Dawes, but switching them so he saves the one he chose to let die, or just before the climax when the police snipers are about to save the ‘hostages’ by shooting all of Joker’s goons but the goons are actually the restrained hostages.

          • JPNunez says:

            I don’t think we know if the Joker lied? I assume there was more chaos by letting the survivors of either boat live with survivor guilt by actually wiring up the boats as said, instead of the survivors going “wow that other boat was full of jerks”.

            It seems the deadline to blow up _both_ boats was going to be activated manually by the Joker himself, instead of being on a dead man switch somewhere.

            So that part necessitated fisticuffs, but only cause the Joker was incompetent.

        • cassander says:

          Dr. Strange is the only Marvel movie that doesn’t end with saving the day by punching the bad guy in the face. Well, infinity war ends with them failing to punch him in the face sufficiently hard, I suppose.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, Thor attempts to fatally punch him in the chest, but since that’s not an insta-kill like decapitation, he can still snap his god-fingers.

          • JPNunez says:

            Civil War ends with the heroes fighting between themselves, and the bad guy just goes to prison. The bad guy basically wins, except for the whole going to jail part.

        • MrApophenia says:

          The original Superman features the hero not engaging in a single bit of violence in the entire movie. (The same is true of the Brandon Routh one.)

          Spider-Man has the hero lose the big climactic fistfight with the villain, win a moral victory instead (and then the villain inadvertently kills himself.)

          Spider-Man 2 has the hero win by getting the insane villain to regain his senses and save the city from his own doomsday device.

          Wonder Woman has the big climactic fight with the villain and then discovers that this accomplished nothing and the villain wasn’t lying, he legitimately had nothing to do with what was happening, and she still needs to find a way to solve the actual problem.

          Ant-Man 2 ends with a rescue mission to save a stranded person, Dr. Strange ends with the hero realizing he can’t beat the bad guy in a fight and needing to do something else instead. The villain Civil War never fights a hero once.

          The villain in the Winter Soldier is beaten by posting a bunch of documents on WikiLeaks. (Yes, really.)

          In short, I think you may be overgeneralizing.

          • Matt says:

            The villain in the Winter Soldier is beaten by posting a bunch of documents on WikiLeaks. (Yes, really.)

            Alternatively, the Mastermind villain is beaten with the Wikileak drop, and the Mastermind’s Dragon is defeated when the hero refuses to fight him.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Superhero movies where the good guy wins by punching harder tend to be the exceptions, and don’t have a good payoff. X-Men Apocalypse comes to mind. They had a lot of nice set-up but the ending was just “everyone shoot at the same time until the writer decides that’s enough.”

          • acymetric says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            Well…it wasn’t so much “everyone shoot at the same time until the writer decides that’s enough” so much as “everyone shoot at the same time, but it isn’t enough, oh by the way Jean Grey is crazy, don’t worry we’ll explore that later come to our next movie please”.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Wonder Woman has the big climactic fight with the villain and then discovers that this accomplished nothing and the villain wasn’t lying, he legitimately had nothing to do with what was happening, and she still needs to find a way to solve the actual problem.

            While I agree, I should point out that immediately after killing Ares, there’s a scene showing the Germans in the area laying down their weapons, and the movie immediately cuts to the end of the war.

            Ares clearly says he isn’t behind this and was just feeding ideas, but in that scene the movie REALLY wants you to think defeating him in a fistfight was the key to resolving everything.

            The movie would have worked a lot better if they didn’t bother with Ares and just ended it after Ludendorff.

          • cassander says:

            @moonfirestorm says:

            While I agree, I should point out that immediately after killing Ares, there’s a scene showing the Germans in the area laying down their weapons, and the movie immediately cuts to the end of the war.

            YES! Thank you. I don’t know why more people aren’t annoyed at how blatantly the text and subtext of the movie contradict one another.

          • John Schilling says:

            That was my criticism here when Wonder Woman first came out, and my reason for giving up on comic-book superhero movies from then on. Whatever the text of the story, however interesting or clever or entertaining it might be, the subtext is required to be “…and then there was a big fistfight which the good guys won, and they lived happily ever after”.

            For a definition of “subtext” where “sub” means “showcased by twenty minutes of special effects and choreography that probably consumed half the movie’s budget and will make up half of its advertising”.

            The villain in the Winter Soldier is beaten by posting a bunch of documents on WikiLeaks. (Yes, really.)

            And then Captain America has an elaborately choreographed fight with the eponymous Winter Soldier while three helicarriers shoot each other out of the sky, and then they all live happily ever after.

          • AG says:

            @John Schilling

            You should be able to enjoy Ant-man and the Wasp.
            Thor: Ragnarok also resulted in their “winning” by abandoning the fight. (For that matter Thor only wins against a named character once in that film, in the beginning. For the rest of the film, he keeps losing, at best taking out some of the minions on the Rainbow Bridge.)
            People have already mentioned Dr. Strange.

            I’m not saying that you’re wrong, but it seems that as superhero films as a category matures, they are beginning to catch up on finding other types of plot resolutions.

          • dick says:

            Tangentially, it looks to me like by far the worst offender of the “whole plot hinges on the main character winning a fistfight” problem is the new Star Trek movies.

          • cassander says:

            @dick

            Not just the new ones, every TNG movie ended with the bad guy getting punched in the face too.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        And I’m skeptical about the bit where, apparently, every time a screenwriter decides to explore the human reaction to unearned power, the power takes the form of arbitrary unique superhuman abilities rather than e.g. inherited wealth or political office

        I am not up-to-date with the superhero movies, but I can’t resist making a couple of points based on general pop culture understanding of caped avenger lore:

        Batman is one of the archetypal superheroes. In case of Bruce Wayne, the unearned power did in fact come in form of the Wayne family fortune (Wayne is capable of administering his inherited wealth, so he is not an unworthy heir, per se). And his response to dress up in a batsuit and beat up criminals is less of a response to the wealth, but about a personal vendetta against “crime” and making a point against ineffective regular judicial system. Large amounts of ink has been poured in debates whether Batman’s brand of vigilantism (especially after Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series) is a proponent of authoritarianism. (Maybe he should make big donations to church after-school activities, fund pro-UBI political campaigns and fight against lead exposure?)

        Superman and many others with true superhuman abilities spend quite much time fighting against supervillains. While the object-level descriptions of the plots may sound a bit silly and unsophisticated (I am not personally interested in watching modern superhero movies, so this is conjecture), maybe the setup could be viewed as an implicit metaphor that the unearned power should be used to good ends, especially to negate the effects of people and beings who use their power to unjust ends. (Or rethinking, to hell with implicit. “With great power there comes great responsibility” is about as explicit statement as it can get.)

        Then there’s franchises like Iron Man and X-Men and many others, where there’s probably more unique angles to the matter, but I don’t know enough about those particular characters to comment upon them.

        Finally, masked vigilantes (and other heroes) without any inhumanly superior powers or abilities (either by birth or technology) used to be quite common in pulp (and occasionally other) literature, so I posit that maybe the superhuman abilities of superheroes are not necessarily the central to why the genre is popular. Consider Zorro, Lone Ranger, Will Eisner’s Spirit or Scarlet Pimpernel. They are mostly “ordinary” humans, simply with superior skills. (Addendum. Or wait, Spirit is not that good at anything else than being a sympathetic punching bag who persists and eventually gets the criminal.) Edmond Dantès possibly qualifies, though he is mostly interested in his personal enemies. And then you have pulp characters who do not wear masks, but still “fight against crime” or solve crimes (every detective story in existence, including pulp-ish stuff that includes Sherlock Holmes and Sexton Blake, Dick Tracy and Philip Marlowe on one direction, and more “realistic” crime dramas and police procedurals on other hand: think about Morse, Donna Leon or Stieg Larsson). And then there’s pulp characters who don’t exactly solve crimes but otherwise have adventures and do good deeds (Tarzan). And then there are the generic action heroes.

        Why I started writing this list? People in general like fiction that has heroes who fight against injustice and end up in occasional fisticuffs with their foes. Superhuman abilities make the thing more visually interesting and bring some novelty and variation into justification why this particular protagonist excels at fighting the rampant injustice of the world. (For example, all detective stories involve people who are good at being detectives. There is only so many ways you can do that differently. Hey, what if the protagonist instead can fly or has cool gadgets?)

        • Matt says:

          Your history of superpowered heroes that people love to hear stories about can go back further. Gilgamesh, Hercules, Beowulf…

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Gilgamesh was king of Uruk, Hercules the usurped king of Mycenae(?), and Beowulf king of the Geats. It may not be a coincidence that superheroes get more interesting when the writer allows them to take political power.

          • Nick says:

            Hold on, Beowulf was only a prince at the start of the story, right? And only a king at the end, when he fights the other creature?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, Beowulf was a wandering prince when he fights Grendel and Mommy, then there’s a time-skip in the poem to his kingship of the Geats.

        • John Schilling says:

          I posit that maybe the superhuman abilities of superheroes are not necessarily the central to why the genre is popular. Consider Zorro, Lone Ranger, Will Eisner’s Spirit or Scarlet Pimpernel. They are mostly “ordinary” humans, simply with superior skills.

          All of those, with the possible exception of Spirit, precede Action Comics #1. Same goes for most of your other examples. It looks like, as soon as it became “respectable” for popular criminal-face-punching(*) heroes to have ridiculously implausible superpowers, nobody much wanted the realistic sort. I’d like to see some data on the relative popularity of the human CFPHs pre-1939 to the superhuman CFPHs of subsequent eras, but it would be difficult to deconvolve the effects of media shifts (print to radio to television in particular).

          While the object-level descriptions of the plots may sound a bit silly and unsophisticated, maybe the setup could be viewed as an implicit metaphor that the unearned power should be used to good ends, especially to negate the effects of people and beings who use their power to unjust ends.

          When you have on the order of a hundred producers all choosing the same implicit metaphor, and all choosing the same “good end” of beating people up with really flashy FX and choreography but this is OK because the people who are being beaten up are costumed freaks engaged in cartoonishly blatant evil, I’m inclined to think that no, there isn’t really any deep clever thinking going on and it’s mostly just people finding glorified guilt-free fistfights to be vicariously entertaining.

          People in general like fiction that has heroes who fight against injustice and end up in occasional fisticuffs with their foes.

          “Occasional?” We’re talking about the genre where the heroes basically never defeat their foes by any means other than fisticuffs in the final act, after a bit of introductory fisticuffs at the start and a big but inconclusive bout in the middle.

          * As opposed to primarily investigative heroes in e.g. the mystery genre, where I suspect it becomes difficult to tell a good story about an investigator with superhuman intellect or telepathic powers or whatnot.

    • Superheroes tales today are the equivalent of stories about gods in the past. They’re morality tales with larger-than-life characters. Why wouldn’t they appeal to the average person?

      • Basil Elton says:

        Because they don’t say anything particularly new about morality, nor in particularly new manner? (please correct me if I’m wrong on this one, I’m very far from being an expert on the topic)

        • Murphy says:

          don’t say anything particularly new about morality, nor in particularly new manner?

          Do you expect them to?

          Almost no stories say anything truly new about morality.

          I did once however have the pleasure of attending a talk by some fairly popular authors where they talked about mining folklore and history for ideas.

          Lets look at an example.

          Deadpool.

          To a large extent deadpool is an almost standard cookie-cutter trickster god.

          He’s got a lot in common with the (non MCU) mythological version of loki. Or Anansi.

          Or bugs bunny.

          Of course writers *could* just use the standard mythological figures… but that comes with a lot of baggage.

          To draw a comparison, terry pratchett in his discworld stories has a lot of plots revolve around the concepts of racial historic conflicts, cultural clashes etc

          he could have just written stories based in the real world about racist toffs treatment of black people… but then everything comes with extra baggage.

          So instead it can be easier to make the same point well in a story with trolls made of rock and dwarves who live in mines in in the sides of mountains.

          District 9 managed to tell a story that’s ultimately about racist, dehumanizing mistreatment of refugees, and keep the audience interested, by making the refugees insectile aliens who aren’t human but who are people.

          Alive In Joburg’s footage of people being interviewed about aliens, by using real interviews.

          I was asking black South Africans about black Nigerians and Zimbabweans. That’s actually where the idea came from was there are aliens living in South Africa, I asked “What do you feel about Zimbabwean Africans living here?” And those answers — they weren’t actors, those are real answers…

          Literature didn’t peak with Emily Brontë or Shakespeare.

          Everything is derivative, telling old stories in new ways.

          • My favorite example of a current issue done well in a different context is by C.J.Cherryh. One of the Chanur books is about gender differences and prejudice in a non-human species (Hani, based on lions) where there really are large physical gender differences. You eventually realize that the tendency to blind rage in the males, which is the reason they are not allowed on space ships, is shared by the females—it’s just that, for reasons that make sense in that society, the males are trained to use that tendency, the females to suppress it—and we have seen the female protagonist, through several books, doing so.

            It works in the story and doesn’t feel like someone trying to make modern political points.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yes! Cherryh does a really good job of making aliens who are both genuinely alien and still comprehensible enough to be interesting. In particular, that series has not only the Hani (sentient lions, more-or-less) but also the Mahendosat and Kif and Shsto, each interestingly alien in a different way. And then you get the methane breathers, who are just weird.

        • Do you expect all entertainment to have something new to say intellectually? Because they rarely do and people don’t usually expect them to.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      There is a point in young life where you want to apply your intelligence and experience and turn it into agency – and you find out that pretty much all low hanging fruits have been picked and the world is made of molasses. Smarter you are earlier it comes and harder it hits.

      Superhero stories (outside the obvious feel good angle) are about a world where problems are actually solvable.

      Also obligatory Worm reference.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Thank you, this explanation probably makes the most sense to me.

        And yes, Worm is already on top of my to read list.

    • onyomi says:

      I’m increasingly convinced superhero movies are a manifestation of “universal culture” in that part of the reason they are so successful is that they’re increasingly stripped of any culturally particular context. They can thus be enjoyed equally by audiences in the US and China, but only in terms of super broad, widely intelligible themes like love, death, explosions, and other ass kicking. They are the McDonalds and Coke of movies: some foods and beverages require you develop a taste for them, but everyone likes fat and sugar.

      • Basil Elton says:

        I agree with you but it doesn’t answer why? Like, sugar and fat are calorie dense and were very valuable in the ancestral adaptation environment. But you can strip many things of a cultural context, that doesn’t explain why superheroes? (Radu’s answer probably does, at least to some extent)

        • onyomi says:

          I think superheroes lend themselves to very generic stories easily understood and appreciated by many audiences. Like if your hero is a Cold War British spy, a colonial Hong Kong policeman, a Great Depression-era Alabama lawyer, an Edo period Samurai, etc. etc. then all those come with a certain amount of context and background knowledge demanded of the audience in the way “bitten by a radioactive spider” doesn’t. What’s more the superhero movie genre has been heavily dominated by origin stories (and sequels if they’re profitable), so we can’t even take for granted the radioactive spider bit because that’s part of the movie.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Some superhero movies are just adolescent wish-fulfillment/power fantasies. The awful movie “Jumper” comes to mind, where the first lines are a voiceover saying something to the effect of “I used to be a loser just like you, then I developed super powers.”

    • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

      Maybe you are conflating too much two things: the movie itself and the world / arc / characters it depicts ? Superhero movies tend to be flashier, easier to share with colleagues and family, but also shallower depictions of concepts explored in comics and wikis around them. I’d say the intellectual appeal is often with the base material, not the movie itself.

    • johan_larson says:

      I don’t think the appeal is intellectual. It could be; there are intellectually rich issues to be explored in that space. I think it’s more about power-tripping by proxy. It’s a chance for people who are not special and not powerful to imagine for a few happy hours what it would be like to be both. It’s no wonder the genre appeals to teenagers and children, who are about as powerless as people come.

      • LesHapablap says:

        There should be a Bechdel-style test for movies regarding violence: if a character solves a problem through violence or a threat of violence, the test fails.

        I reckon 95% of mainstream movies would fail. Either violence is a easy crutch for writers to fall back on, or violence is a lot more prevalent in other people’s lives than mine.

        • Nornagest says:

          Movies don’t have a lot of violence in them because violence is a good crutch for the writers or because viewers’ lives are violent, they have a lot of violence in them because viewers like watching the type of stories where violence solves problems.

          Or at least can plausibly be read to. Realistically, the cops would show up fifteen minutes after the end of a lot of action movies and arrest everybody for murder, but that’s not fun to think about.

        • woah77 says:

          I think it’s more “violence is a way to stimulate adrenaline in excitement rather than fear” which is not a common thing in most people’s lives. But this is a movie. They aren’t just anyone, they’re main characters. It reminds me of the anime protagonist meme. There are particular styles of anime hair that let you know This Guy, Right HERE, They’re Important. Everyone else might be perfectly normal looking. Violence is like that. The fact that a person gets into a fist fight five minutes into the movie lets you know, right off, this isn’t some ordinary dude, they’re special.

        • AG says:

          I mean, there’s a whole genre of media where all problems are solved through having sex, but is that a crutch?

          • Aapje says:

            Crutch sex is a sub genre.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’ve experienced considerably more sex than violence in my life, and on the whole it has been considerably more beneficial, so this genre seems a lot more reasonable to me.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      can anyone try to explain intellectual appeal of superhero action movies?

      We could scratch movies and just say stories, but as movies are a moving visual medium, they are particularly good at conveying action. Superhero movies today are just the westerns of the 40s and 50s. Schwarzenegger, Stallone and their ilk dominated the 80s. “Kung-Fu” movies have dominated the Chinese scene for a long time.

      “Some kind of movie is the highly prevalent action movie” is more the default than the exception. It’s unremarkable.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Yes, but action movies isn’t a part of the geek stereotype, as far as I know never was. Or, for example, I don’t remember ever seeing people here pondering on what turn The Expendables 4 might take, but they do discuss superhero movies. Even though, as you noted, there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful difference other than aesthetics. Hence the question.

        To think about it, the power tripping theory also explains mostly popularity amongst the general audience.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think you are crossing some streams here, so to speak.

          The serial nature of the current Marvel universe movies is desirable because of overall trends in the media landscape. There have been other times where serializability was valued in movies, and that gave us things like Roy Rogers, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and others. In fact Star Wars owes a huge debt to those earlier serials, as Lucas was trying to recreate the feeling of joining a longer story in the middle because you didn’t go to the movies the last few weeks.

          The particular amenability of the Marvel IP to serialization is simply driven by the previous nature of the comic industry.

          I say all this because “overarching narrative” is what is required to get people into dense “what did happen, what is happening, what will happen” conversations. But those kinds of conversations occur all the time, in all sorts of fandoms, whether it is Star Wars and Harry Potter … or Gray’s Anatomy and the Bachelor.

        • Plumber says:

          @Basil Elton

          “…isn’t a part of the geek stereotype, as far as I know never was…”

          All the discussion of anime and Marvel comics universe movies reminds me of my fall.

          I remember watching The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad through the back window of my parents VW Bug while they watched something else through the front window at the drive in, when we got a television I watched every episode of Star Trek multiple times, I held the antenna up and contorted myself in order to see bits of Doctor Who, and The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, thrilled when The Hobbit cartoon was broadcast one night, and saw Star Wars in the theatre multiple times that same year, waited in long lines to see Raiders of the Lost Ark (which I still think is the best adventure movie EVUH!!!), and Michael Keaton as Bat Man, eagerly read books from the school library by Asimov, Heinlein, and Howard, played Dungeons & Dragons, and I saw Galaxy Express 999, Akira, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at the movie theatre, but something has been lost, when my son watched X-Men (I don’t even know which!), Naruto, and Bleach, I’m just not interested. 

          When the old stuff I loved comes on (Sinbad, Star Trek, Jason and the Argonauts, and The First Men in the Moon), I’m delighted, but my son mocks their jerky stop-motion effects, and I find CGI headache inducing, and the new films unmemorable, though I well remember Blade Runnet, Dragon Slayer, Excalibur, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Road Warrior.

          Starting in ’83 with The Return of the Jedi I could tell the magic was waning, unlike Star Wars, and Empire, I just couldn’t enjoy it like my little brother still could.

          When discussions turn to old Fantasy, Science-Fiction, and “Table Top” role-playing games, I can chime in but I’m ignorant of video games,  allmost all anime, and stuff on cable television that my wife didn’t get DVD’s from the library of, and I feel a bit like what it must be like to visit a place that you grew up in, but is now unrecognizable.

          A little sad about that.

          • Nick says:

            but something has been lost, when my son watched X-Men (I don’t even know which!), Naruto, and Bleach, I’m just not interested.

            You should watch Batman The Animated Series with him. I used to watch it when I was little, but I watched it again in 2017 and it holds up.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The superior FOX seasons of Batman The Animated Series aired when I was really little and I grew up with that DC animated universe (I think it lasted through 2006). Big chunks of it hold up as superior to superhero films that cost more than $100 million to make.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            World’s Finest is 100x better than Batman v. Superman

          • AG says:

            What doesn’t catch your attention in the anime you’ve cited? Is it the pacing? The comedy? Naruto and Bleach are pretty uneven shows! Ask your son for recommendations of the best episodes, don’t force yourself through the duds.

            If you want a show closer to the style of the old adventure serials, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure may be more to your taste. It’s based on a comic that started in 1987 and is still running, most of the characters are named after old music artists, and is a series of bombastic fights that play out more like puzzles than traditional combat.
            Attack on Titan and Code Geass have similar appeal.

            Anime that are explicitly going for a kind of “Cool American attitude” include Baccano!, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Blood Blockade Battlefront, with the latter outright set in NYC.

            Record of Lodoss War adapts a novel series that was itself based on an actual Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Rune Soldier is supposedly set in the same world. The same author also did Record of Grancrest War recently. Apparently, though, there’s a joke that everyone wants to run a campaign like Record of Lodoss War but ends up running Slayers instead. So watch Slayers if you wanna experience that kind of more typical (derailed) tabletop experience in anime form. And there’s Rage of Bahamut, too.
            On the Scifi side, you’ve got Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Crest of the Stars.
            On the…Taiwanese puppetry side, you’ve got Thunderbolt Fantasy. Some people compare it to Jojo’s, some people obviously find more Wuxia touchstones, but the writer of the show blatantly included a couple of his own tabletop characters in the 2nd season, heh.

            Interest at an older age is often a choice that has to be made. You have to decide to be open to new stories.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            If you’re comfortable with exceptionally foul language and heavy (but realistic) gore, check out Castlevania

          • Nornagest says:

            Anime that are explicitly going for a kind of “Cool American attitude” include Baccano!, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo…

            Best example of this is Black Lagoon, I think. The whole show is basically a love letter to American action movies from the Eighties and early Nineties. It’s set in Thailand, but most of the cast is American.

          • Plumber says:

            @AG

            “What doesn’t catch your attention in the anime you’ve cited? Is it the pacing? The comedy? Naruto and Bleach are pretty uneven shows! Ask your son for recommendations of the best episodes, don’t force yourself through the duds”

            The Bleach and Naruto stuff that my son used to watch had headache inducing and nightmarish visuals (especially the snake guy in some Naruto’s) and too many of the characters seemed to be mostly motivated by power lust and/or sadism, plus many times the episodes just seemed to be flashbacks to tragic back-stories and then duels.

            I only dimly remember that the anime films I watched as a youth, but I remember the stories also being hard for me to understand, though Nausicaä was strangely beautiful enough to make up for a plot that I couldn’t follow. 

            After the disappointment I felt in The Return of the Jedi,  I lost much desire to see subsequent Star Wars films, when Harry Potter became popular I managed to read two and a hald of the books, and two of the films, but I can’t sustain any interest, I never did manage to watch Return of the King, and the most recent science fiction film that impressed me was Primer, and the most memorable to me that was made after the ’80’s was Gattaca, with the rise of Cyberpunk literary science fiction lost much of it’s appeal to me and I subsequently read far more fantasy, and eventually my subscription to the magazines lapsed, and really except for Susanna Clarke’s novel and short stories, Ted Chiang’s Hell is the Absence of God, and The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics by Daniel Abraham, nothing has seized my imagination as much as 20th century works.

            I still don’t care too much about spectator sports, but I’m middling at best in computer usage, though I know much of that is just due to my age I feel some loss in identify.

          • AG says:

            “too many of the characters seemed to be mostly motivated by power lust and/or sadism, plus many times the episodes just seemed to be flashbacks to tragic back-stories and then duels” is about right, but that’s an issue endemic to most long running children’s animation shows, a by-product of limited budget. The old He-Man/GI Joe/Tranformers shows wouldn’t have been any better.

            But based on the shows you listed from your own youth, it seems like you just may not be into animation much, anyways, and that’s fine.

            I’d guess that the new geek media that might most engage you wouldn’t be any of the traditional forms (TV, movies, books), but video games. Since you like Raiders so much, give some of the new Tomb Raider games a try! And then from there, you can branch out to the likes of Mass Effect, God of War, Don’t Starve, A Dark Room, Universal Paperclips…

          • Nornagest says:

            I liked the Tomb Raider reboot (well, the first game; I haven’t finished the second and haven’t bought the third), but it’s not exactly short on nightmarish visuals or poorly justified sadism from the villains.

          • AG says:

            Raiders, Road Warrior, and Doctor Who also have plenty of nightmarish imagery and sadism. “Headache-inducing” seems to be more of the issue, than the imagery being nightmarish alone.

            The main thing is that games would force a level of engagement simply through playing, even if the storytelling elements aren’t fully effective.

            So perhaps Plumber should focus on more social games to start with, instead of solo RPGs. Play Overcooked with his son, Portal 2, cooperative Cuphead, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, etc.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        DC and Marvel have been trying to sell their IP to the mass media for as long as they’ve had it. Maybe what’s remarkable is that CGI advanced enough to make depictions of super-powered action affordable enough to become dominant rather than something occasional?

        • Nick says:

          But if you compare the superhero movies that bombed with the ones that didn’t, was CGI the difference? What about the talent or the directing or the writing? The Dark Knight trilogy was one of the earliest big successes, and I think that was mostly writing and talent, and not much to do with CGI. I don’t think Catwoman relied much on CGI either, and that was a failure.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            A Batman movie is kind of a different beast from one about a guy/Gal with flashy super-powers. If it uses CGI at all, it’ll be used to accomplish the same goals as in any other action movie.
            The first two entries in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy succeeded based on writing/themes. What it has in common with (some) other superhero films is the Hero-as-Messiah theme. In Batman Begins, Ra’s was training Bruce to apocalyptically destroy Gotham so a New Earth could develop without the wicked, and in The Dark Knight the conflict is resolved by him taking on the sins of the city as a scapegoat.
            Other examples of the Christ-figure superhero include Superman (1978) and Thor, where he’s already a god but has to prove himself worthy to the (All)father by offering to give his life for humans.

          • Matt says:

            Was there a ‘good’ superhero movie before Donner’s Superman and Superman II? I don’t think so, and it’s mostly because the special effects weren’t up to the challenge. After those two movies, we don’t get another until Batman in 1989. Batman doesn’t need great SFX – he doesn’t fly, isn’t super-strong, etc. When they started bringing his super-powered rogues gallery into the series is when the series suffered – again because the SFX wasn’t ready.

            Finally, CGI was ‘good enough’ if you had a decent budget and the only thing that mattered was weather you could write a compelling story and hire decent acting talent. MCU hits almost nothing but home runs, here. Marvel outside the MCU is hit-and-miss, and so is DC.

            One of the criticisms of Catwoman is that the CGI was no good, by the way.

          • acymetric says:

            CGI isn’t essential, but it is helpful. Another key element unrelated to action sequences is that CGI helps allow suits/outfits to look cool, instead of like Halloween costumes. Modern materials/design that may not have been available x years ago also goes a long way to help with this in instances where the suit isn’t CGI.

            Without those things, it is hard to make heroes look “cool” on the big screen in live action.

          • Nick says:

            One of the criticisms of Catwoman is that the CGI was no good, by the way.

            Mea culpa, then! It’s been a few years since I saw it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            For a long time superhero movies were made just to keep IP contracts fresh, and deliberately as low-budget as possible.

            Like other forms of art, superhero movies get good if you apply effort and resources. X-Men kicked off the current superhero movie era. Prior to that, there was a sea of dreck, with Superman and Burton’s Batman rising out of the waters. (The sequels start to drop in quality, sometimes precipitously.)

            Also, the world was ready for shared universe stories, having been prepped by TV becoming serialized. Shared universe is a hard thing to do well, but comic books have been practicing the concept for 30+ years and are experts at it. Right time, right place, right people.

          • JPNunez says:

            I think what did the 80s/90s Batman movies in, is that they were almost as campy as Adam West’s incarnation from the 60s, but people pretended they weren’t.

            Then the charade was obvious by Batman 3 (Forever?) and the franchise died. People wanted the serious dark Batman from The Dark Knight Returns comic I guess?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @JPNunez:
            I think you don’t have the history of those Batman movies correct.

            Both Batman and Batman Returns are directed by Tim Burton and starred Michael Keaton. They both have a certain kind of grim-dark kitsch that is Burton’s signature. Arguably he was the perfect director to marry the popular conception of Batman from the Adam West TV series with the much darker conception of Batman from the comics as a whole. The villians in Nicholson, Devito, Pfeiffer, and Kerry give inspired performances (and are cast very well).

            Batman Forever and Batman & Robin are directed by Joel Schumaker and start first Val Kilmer and then George Clooney as Batman. There is essentially no continuity from the Burton movies and they are arguably just schlocky cash grabs. Everything about those films felt mailed in and trite. IMHO.

          • JPNunez says:

            I don’t disagree that the direction changed a little once Burton left Batman, but I saw 1989 Batman a few years ago and it’s full of ridiculous shit like the Joker and his gang dancing into the museum.

            Then you have Batman Returns where Catwoman gets home and says hey honey, I am home…oh yeah I am not married. And then Danny de Vito straps rockets to the backs of penguins and shit.

            I’d say it is darker than West’s, but it is still really really silly. The jump from Burton to Schumacher is not that big, honestly. Forever is closer to Returns than Batman and Robin, I think, tho.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @JPNunez:

            it’s full of ridiculous shit like the Joker and his gang dancing into the museum.

            I have to wonder if you ever seen any other Burton movies?

            I mean, he followed up with a movie about a recluse that has scissors for hands. Ridiculous and macabre combined is his stock in trade. It may not be your cuppa, but a hack he isn’t.

            And the henchmen of the villain dancing into a heist is exactly the kind of thing that the TV series would do, as well.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think what did the 80s/90s Batman movies in, is that they were almost as campy as Adam West’s incarnation from the 60s, but people pretended they weren’t.

            This is simply false. Not liking the Burton/Keaton Batman movies is a matter of taste. Claiming that there is no difference between them and the Adam West TV version, that people are just pretending so as a part of some ruse, is outgroup homogeneity bias where the outgroup is apparently fans of any Batman other than the One True Nolan/Bale Trilogy.

          • J Mann says:

            I think what did the 80s/90s Batman movies in, is that they were almost as campy as Adam West’s incarnation from the 60s, but people pretended they weren’t.

            I guess it depends on how you define “campy,” but for the record, I disagree.

            IMHO, the Burton Batman movies had a strong directorial point of view that arguably borders on magical realism in parts, so I can see that they’re not for everybody, but what separates them from camp for me is:

            – The story is not a joke to the characters. I think Michael Keaton gives an incredibly nuanced and realistic (given the constraints) portrayal of Bruce Wayne as a person. His might be the only performance I can think of where Batman feels like Bruce Wayne wearing a disguise instead of the other way around. I think Catwoman and Christopher Walken’s characters also read like real people who had realistic reasons for finding themselves in a comic book universe.

            – I like the dancing. Nicholson plays the Joker as someone who thinks that nothing matters, except maybe being funny. (And he’s not very funny.) He’s not hateful or a super terrorist – he so nihilist that even that would be beneath him.

          • JPNunez says:

            I like camp. Adam West is the best Batman for me. The thing is that back then there was a strong anti camp sentiment, for whatever reason, and Burton latched onto this.

            I dunno if Catwoman was portrayed seriously in Returns. She is a vapid and stupid secretary of the bad guy, and I am not sure how she got there. She is cool when she becomes Catwoman, but the Selina side is completely senseless in ways that the Adam West version surpasses. To be fair, the old version did not have an origin story for anyone, but I have trouble thinking it’d be worse than in Returns.

          • J Mann says:

            I read Burton’s Selina Kyle as a normal person who has an origin.

            It’s sort of a given that if you suffer enough trauma in Gotham City post-Batman, you are then freed from internal constraints and process your trauma by putting on a costume and committing or fighting crime. (Usually committing).

            IMHO, Kyle was a mook being pulled along in Christopher Walken’s wake, and dying gave her the push to become a super-being. I bought it.

    • acymetric says:

      It is fun and it is a distraction from day to day life, I don’t think you need to go any deeper than that. Even smart people like to have fun and escape from mundane reality occasionally.

      • Basil Elton says:

        True, but that’s the “fun” part that I don’t get. Though maybe such things are just nearly impossible to explain, like appeal of some kind of music say.

        • Matt says:

          One of the reasons the Marvel movies appeal to me is that I loved all these stories when I was a teenager in the 80s, and I always wished they could make good live-action movies with my favorite characters, while understanding that it simply couldn’t be done.

          Another one is how much fun it is that my kids and their friends love the movies and watching them / talking about them gives us another way to bond. Gives me a few ‘cool’ points. Even my wife enjoys the movies somewhat, though she was a bit disgruntled by sng Gube.

    • Civilis says:

      Related to HeelBearCub’s comment, Superhero movies generally exist at a juncture of three separate sets of conventions: film, action, and the superhero genre. As such, they inherit the problems of all three.

      If there is an intellectual component to the action genre, it’s in sequences where the protagonist is at a theoretical disadvantage and needs to come up with a winning move under pressure. Take the climax of Die Hard, reduced to its simplest form: our hero, John McClane, is up against two armed terrorists with a hostage and needs to come up with a sequence of moves that will kill both while keeping himself and the hostage alive. In fact, the real intellectual challenge is for the author/screenwriter in writing a solution that seems obvious only when it is actually used and is as natural and simple as possible; as people reading / watching, we’re here to intellectually appreciate the writer’s work in crafting the problem and solution (and making it entertaining).

      The superhero genre just expands the available set for crafting problems and solutions, while making the examples easier to understand for the audience. In a martial arts fight, the audience probably can’t tell which of the two fighters has an advantage in a fight. At best, they might be able to understand that one fighter is bigger and hence probably stronger and with more reach, or that one fighter is injured from previous fights. On the other hand, when done well, superhero stories set up the characters with easily comprehensible powers, motivations and weaknesses, set the stage for the fight, and put the protagonist at a noticeable disadvantage, yet give them an opportunity to win.

      I don’t know how much film as media adds or detracts from the overall intellectual picture, aside from perhaps requiring more of a Lowest Common Denominator approach to what the audience needs to know or can figure out on their own.

    • At somewhat of a tangent …

      I’ve never watched a superhero movie but my son writes, among other things, superhero fiction, and I have read and enjoyed that.

      Part of the attraction, which I don’t think has been mentioned here and may not exist as much for movies, is the puzzle element. Given that character A has one set of powers and B another, how can B use his powers to defeat A? The author gets to invent the powers to make that an interesting problem, with opportunities for ingenuity by both sides.

      • Atlas says:

        Part of the attraction, which I don’t think has been mentioned here and may not exist as much for movies, is the puzzle element. Given that character A has one set of powers and B another, how can B use his powers to defeat A? The author gets to invent the powers to make that an interesting problem, with opportunities for ingenuity by both sides.

        That was certainly one of my favorite parts of shonen manga as a child. Regrettably, I don’t think that Western superhero comics/movies tend to explore this dynamic as well as their Japanese counterparts. (Though I infer from your comment that your son’s writing may be an exception to this.)

        • Nick says:

          I think part of it’s the way things are directed. How much American stuff, superhero or not, uses the “talking is a free action” rule, or its close cousin, “extremely drawn out brainstorming entirely in my head”?

          I think we still see clever stuff, but if the audience won’t be able to follow it without explaining, that constrains how clever you can be.

          I’d kind of like to see an American show in the vein of Yugioh or maybe those gambling anime. There’s often no clock on those games, so there’s no reason the hero can’t spend as long as he needs to inside his own head, or the villain can’t monologue on the final turn only to be undone by his own hubris.

          • AG says:

            The Guy Ritchie Sherlock films (starring RDJ, hah) did this. One of the trademarks is Sherlock, outside of time, going over the best tactical sequence to end a particular fight, listing the various effects in slow motion, and then executing in real time.

            As for the appeal of puzzle shows, the ratings just aren’t there. Competence porn procedurals are dropped in favor of serialized DRAMZ. Mainstream TV audiences just don’t show the interest, they don’t like watching super smart characters in favor of messy emotional disasters. Even your traditional “solve the murder of the week” shows often find contrivances to put a clock on the games to up stakes.

          • onyomi says:

            What I don’t like about superhero movie action is that it is a: usually uninspired/generic, and b, strangely yawn-inducing/unimpactful, in part because it feels like nothing is at stake. When Iron Man and the Hulk are throwing buildings at one another there is no chance either of them will suffer any serious injury, much less die. If an important character is to die he will be sure to do so in a heart-wrenching scene of self sacrifice or something like that, not because the Hulk threw an apartment complex at him.

            Over-reliance on CGI also just makes things feel insubstantial in a way that e.g. Mad Max Fury Road does not.

            Then again, on the above superhero films are just the most frequent recent offenders. I’ve been being bored by action movies pretty much my whole life (and not because I don’t like action movies; just that most of the action in most action movies bores me), I think, but the ratio of inspired (say Die Hard) to uninspired action seems to be getting worse lately (may be partially a “only classics hold up, allowing you to forget all the uninspired stuff made when you were a kid,” effect, though).

        • J Mann says:

          I recall a fair amount of puzzle solving in US comics as a kid. Spiderman often did this – when facing Sandman, an opponent made of animated sand, or the Juggernaut, an invulnerable tank of unbelievable strength, how do you stop them? What do you do about a powerful out of control friend?* (Harry Osborne, JJ Jameson Jr., Kurt Connors, etc.?) Gwen Stacy, his most iconic moment, stems from a failure to stop a puzzle. Similarly, silver age Batman played very strongly to his skills as a detective and an escape artist, and he was frequently solving puzzles or escaping them.

          Shonen’s similar. Sometimes, you get Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, where the heroes are constantly solving puzzles set by their opponent’s weird powers, and sometime you get DBZ. (Not that I don’t love both).

          * IIRC, gur svefg gvzr, ur pngpurf Fnaqzna va n inphhz pyrnare, naq ur jbhyq fbyvqvsl Fnaqzna be Ulqebzna jvgu przrag rgp. sebz gvzr gb gvzr. Ur unq Whttreanhg punfr uvz bagb n jrg pbapergr sbhaqngvba, jroorq bhg naq whfg yrg uvz fvax gb gur obggbz.

          • AG says:

            In some ways, the Buffy model ruined this approach to plotting. That is, to make the external conflict a metaphor for the internal conflict. Finding a clever physic trick to beat the enemy gets evaluated as facile compared to the protagonist growing a person in order to defeat their enemy.

            One exception to this is the heist genre, since even the character growth necessarily gets translated into a tangible thieving/grifting competence.

          • Randy M says:

            Finding a clever physic trick to beat the enemy gets evaluated as facile compared to the protagonist growing a person in order to defeat their enemy.

            I think you meant growing as a person, but the way you have it sounds even better.

          • AG says:

            How about those Ant-man movies, eh

    • beleester says:

      First off, I think the intellectual appeal of a movie and the actual plot of the movie are only loosely connected. You can have two movies with very similar plots that explore vastly different themes. For example, Pacific Rim and Evangelion are both about people piloting giant robots to kill giant monsters. But one of them is about people coming together as a team to kick ass, and the other is about how forcing children to fight in life-or-death battles fucks them up psychologically.

      And “Why are people so deep into this fandom?” is a question that’s not particularly related to either the plot of the movies or their themes – it’s more about the setting and characters and how they spark people’s attention. I mean, I’ve seen a pretty massive fandom, full of some of the most varied and creative fanfic I’ve seen, based on a mediocre Japanese light novel series that was never completed. But it has an interesting setting and some plot hooks that are really easy to launch from, so fans grabbed that ball and just sprinted with it.

      Superhero stories are set in a shared universe where many types of stories can be told, designed for serialization, and with recurring characters that we can delve into over time as we see them in different situations. It’s practically designed to develop a fandom.

      (I actually have a theory that okay-but-could-be-better stories are better for starting fandoms than perfect, tightly-plotted and well-told stories, because they give you more to build off of. A story that says its piece and wraps up perfectly doesn’t need any attention from fans, but one that’s almost perfect but has issues is going to fill up pages and pages of debate as fans try to make sense of it, justify plot holes, come up with theories and headcanon to fill in missing details, and so on.)

  24. Atlas says:

    What did folks think of Avengers: Endgame? (You should probably ROT13 your comments if you’re going to discuss spoilers.) Briefly,—I’ll maybe elucidate later—I was personally fairly disappointed/unimpressed for the most part. This seems to be a minority opinion, but I’m glad that everyone else seems to be really enjoying it. (The theater audience I saw it with was easily the most vocal I’ve ever been seated among.)

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Meh. There were some interesting elements, but overall the movie felt disappointing. The biggest problem is the misplaced tone throughout the middle of the movie. It feels more like Oceans 11 than a movie set in the aftermath of half the universe dying.

      Not that ALL the movie was like that, but enough that it felt misplaced and confused.

    • Nick says:

      I really liked it. If I have a sticking point, it’s jurgure gur gvzr geniry jbexrq. V’z bxnl jvgu gur Niratref 1 gvzryvar, vapyhqvat Ybxv ehaavat bss jvgu gur grffrenpg; Oehpr’f cebzvfr gb gur Napvrag Bar vf gung gur fgbarf jbhyq or erghearq gb gurve erfcrpgvir gvzryvarf, naq Ybxv qbrfa’g yrnir gurve gvzryvar jvgu gur fgbar. V’z bxnl jvgu gur Thneqvnaf gvzryvar sbe gur fnzr ernfba—arvgure Gunabf naq sevraqf orvat qhfgrq abe Tnzben fheivivat vagresrerf jvgu gurve fgbarf. Qnex Jbeyq gvzryvar vf yvxrjvfr svar, fvapr Pnc erghearq Zwbyave gbb.

      Gur vssl cneg vf Pnc fgnlvat onpx va gvzr jvgu Crttl. Ur’f erghearq gur fgbar gb Yruvtu, fb nf ybat nf ur qbrfa’g pnhfr nal evccyrf V thrff vg’f bxnl? Ohg vg’f uneq gb oryvrir ur qvqa’g pnhfr nal evccyrf.

      What was everyone’s favorite humorous bit? I think the humor was worked into the script better this time; it mostly occurs in less serious or tense scenes, so it feels less shoehorned the way a lot of Infinity War’s jokes did. Zl snibevgr vf rvgure “Unvy Ulqen” be gur fprar jurer Fpbgg ybfrf uvf gnpb.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        V qba’g guvax gurer ner zrnavatshy evccyrf. Lbh pna’g punatr lbhe shgher ol nygrevat lbhe cnfg, lbh whfg perngr qvssrerag ernyvgvrf naq qvssrerag gvzryvarf. Pnc fubhyqa’g rira or gurer ng gur raq, orpnhfr ur jnf arire gurer.

        Gur ceboyrz jvgu gur fgbarf vf gung gurl qrsraq ernyvgl. Yvxr, jvgubhg gur Gvzr Fgbar, Qbeznzh jbhyq unir nyernql gnxra bire gur Havirefr va gur riragf bs Qbpgbe Fgenatr.

        Fb, gur havirefr bs gur Niratref vf abj va qrrc qnatre, orpnhfr gurl unir ab vasvavgl fgbarf gb cebgrpg gur havirefr. V fhccbfrq guvf vf jul Cunfr 4 unf gur Vauhznaf naq Fvyire Fhesre, gb ercerfrag fbzr ernyyl uhtr guerngf.

      • JPNunez says:

        In general the humor fell flat for me. Maybe because the whole movie is p sober due to the whole half-the-universe-got-dusted part. The funniest part, that largely dodges this is Sng Gube. Nyfb jura Gbal pnyyf uvz Yrobjfxl.

        V srry gung Pncf yvivat nyy uvf yvsr jvgu Crttl svgf jnl orggre guna gur jubyr “perngvat gvzryvarf” guvat. Vg frrzf gb svg c cresrpgyl jvgu gur bgure zbivrf, nf jura Crttl qbrf abg anzr ure uhfonaq ng n pbhcyr bs zbivrf.

        V nz tbaan gnxr gur pbairefngvba Uhyx jvgu Gvyqn Fjvagba nf pbeebobengvba gung gurer ner oneryl nal fcyvg gvzryvarf, nf Uhyx ergheavat gur Gvzr Fgbar vf fubja gb znxr gur qnex gvzryvar qvfnccrne. V thrff gung va gur raq gurer ner gjb havirefrf, n Fgbaryrff, jvgu n qrnq Gunabf fubja va gur zbivrf, naq na hafrra bar, jvgu Fgbarf naq jurer Gunabf qvfnccrnerq. Orlbaq gung V nz tbaan tb jvgu “gur gvzryvarf zretrq onpx/erjebgr uvfgbel va fhogyr jnlf”.

        • Nick says:

          V srry gung Pncf yvivat nyy uvf yvsr jvgu Crttl svgf jnl orggre guna gur jubyr “perngvat gvzryvarf” guvat. Vg frrzf gb svg c cresrpgyl jvgu gur bgure zbivrf, nf jura Crttl qbrf abg anzr ure uhfonaq ng n pbhcyr bs zbivrf.

          Ah, I’ve only seen about half the movies total, so I must have missed these bits or not paid close enough attention.

          V thrff gung va gur raq gurer ner gjb havirefrf, n Fgbaryrff, jvgu n qrnq Gunabf fubja va gur zbivrf, naq na hafrra bar, jvgu Fgbarf naq jurer Gunabf qvfnccrnerq. Orlbaq gung V nz tbaan tb jvgu “gur gvzryvarf zretrq onpx/erjebgr uvfgbel va fhogyr jnlf”.

          V urneq gurer’f tbvat gb or n Ybxv fcvabss, fb V guvax uvz znxvat bss jvgu gur grffrenpg va gur Arj Lbex gvzryvar vf tbvat gb or gur onfvf sbe gung fubj.

    • JPNunez says:

      I am honestly tired of gvzr geniry. Ng yrnfg gur “trarengr zhygvcyr gvzryvarf jvgubhg pbafrdhraprf” inevrgl. Tvir zr Onpx gb gur Shgher havirefr erjevgvat, be Ovyy naq Grq haanzbinoyr uvfgbel, ohg shpx bss jvgu fcyvggvat gvzryvarf. Gurl ebo gur fgbel bs nal vzcbegnapr.

      Gung fnvq, gur raq bs Pncgnva Nzrevpn tebjvat byq jvgu uvf ybir jnf pbby. Sng Gube jnf pbby. Pncgnva if Pncgnva jnf pbby. Gur svany onggyr jnf orggre guna gur bar va Vasvavgl Jne.

      Gur zbivr jnf jnl gbb shpxvat ybat, gub. V vzntvar vg zhfg unir orra cbffvoyr gb rqvg vg gb 150 zvahgrf jvgubhg ybfvat zhpu. Znlor erzbir nyy gur wbxrf ng gur rkcrafr bs Nagzna naq gung’f nyernql n fbyvq 5 zvahgrf yrff.

      Birenyy V pbhyq frr ubj gurl gbhpurq ba nyy gur rzbgvbany cnegf gurl jnagrq gb gbhpu, ohg nyfb gur vagrerfg ng fbzr cbvagf (gur Gube/Ebpxrg zvffvba jnf ynetryl haabccbfrq, Eubqrl/Arohyn pbhyq unir tbar snfgre, rgp) jnirerq n ybg.

      Nyfb qvfnccbvagrq va abg univat n cbfg perqvgf fprar fubjvat fbzrguvat arj. Gurl pbhyq rnfvyl raq gur zbivr frevrf urer sbe nyy gur shgher vg fhttrfgf.

      Liked Infinity War 1 more. Serviceable movie. Too long.

      • Nick says:

        Tvir zr Onpx gb gur Shgher havirefr erjevgvat, be Ovyy naq Grq haanzbinoyr uvfgbel, ohg shpx bss jvgu fcyvggvat gvzryvarf. Gurl ebo gur fgbel bs nal vzcbegnapr.

        V qba’g guvax gung’f snve. Gur cbvag bs Oehpr’f cebzvfr gb gur Napvrag Bar, V jbhyq guvax, vf gung vg qbrf znggre jung unccraf gb gur bgure gvzryvarf. Vs fur tvirf uvz gur Gvzr fgbar naq qbrfa’g pbzr onpx, Qbeznzzh fgbzcf gung gvzryvar yngre. Gung’f fgvyy ernyyl onq!

        • JPNunez says:

          That’s kind of fair, but they really don’t care much about it. It’s largely cause Hulk unq gb znxr gung cebzvfr gb trg gur Gvzr Fgbar, ohg gurl ernyyl qvqa’g pner bevtvanyyl nobhg jub gurl shpxrq bire, juvpu jnf tybffrq bire va gurve cynaf. V guvax gung Uhyx naq Onaare qvq abg ernyyl xabj rknpgyl ubj gvzr geniry jbexrq, juvyr gur zntvpvnaf (Gvyqn Fjvagba, Qe Fgenatr naq Gube’f zbgure) xabj orggre.

          Ohg Gube fgrnyf Zwbyave sebz uvzfrys, naq uvf zbgure fnlf abguvat?. Bx znlor V qba’g erzrzore jryy, ohg V qba’g guvax gurl cynaarq ergheavat gur fgbarf bapr nyy jnf bire, naq gung jnf vagebqhprq bayl ol Uhyx. Fb Gube jnf whfg orvat vzcehqrag. Vs nalguvat, gurl qvqa’g frrz gb unir rabhtu Clz cnegvpyrf sbe vg (naq bayl unir gurz pnhfr Pncf naq Gbal geniry shegure onpx naq teno gurz, jura Uhyx unq abg ernyyl zragvbarq vg gb gurz).

          Znlor V zvffrq n pbairefngvba. Be znlor Uhyx whfg pnyyrq gurz ol pryycubar naq gbyq gurz url oebf, V cebzvfrq gb tvir onpx gur fgbarf, jr arrq zber Clz cnegvpyrf.

          Bu V zvffrq n tbbq wbxr. Cnfg Uhyx pbzcynvavat nobhg gur fgnvef.

          • Nick says:

            Ah, that’s a really good point. Lbh’er evtug gung gur bguref qba’g pner nobhg gur gvzryvarf, ng yrnfg abg pbafvfgragyl, naq V qba’g guvax Uhyx zragvbaf gur “jr unir gb erghea gurz” orsber Pnc naq Gbal tb gb trg zber cnegvpyrf. Ohg V guvax Qe Fgenatr ng yrnfg jbhyq unir uryq gurz gb vg, evtug? Yvxr fhccbfr gur Napvrag Bar jnf cbjreanccvat guebhtu Niratref 1 naq Uhyx fgrnyf vg, naq gura gurl trg rirelbar ryfr vapyhqvat Fgenatr onpx yngre. V guvax ur jbhyq unir gbyq gurz nsgrejneqf gurl unir gb erghea gur fgbarf naljnl.

            Ohg V tenag V’z trggvat jryy vagb pbhagresnpghny gurbevmvat urer.

          • JPNunez says:

            I guess they counted on bringing back Qe Fgenatr naq nfxvat sbe thvqnapr. Qhaab.

          • Matt says:

            Gurl qvqa’g unir Clz Cnegvpyrf orpnhfr Clz tbg fanccrq. (naq Ubcr naq Wnarg – V nffhzr nal bs gur guerr pbhyq znxr zber?) Bapr lbh trg nal bs gur Clzf onpx, lbh trg ubg naq pbyq ehaavat Clz Cnegvpyrf ntnva.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Liked Infinity War 1 more. Serviceable movie. Too long.

        I like this, with a slight modification. Endgame is fine, with a few really cool scenes. I’d give it a 5/10.
        However, Infinity War was awesome. I think I’ve seen it about 7 times. And now, I feel like I never want to watch Infinity War again.

        So, 3/10.

        • JPNunez says:

          I think the main problem with rewatching Infinity War now is that the final section in Endgame is better.

      • Atlas says:

        Liked Infinity War 1 more. Serviceable movie. Too long.

        Agreed in that I—to my surprise—preferred last year’s film to this year’s.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      It wasn’t bad, but it changes the status quo so much going forward naq va gur cnfg that I think I’m done with Marvel.
      Univat unys gur crbcyr va gur havirefr qvfnccrne sebz 2018 gb 2023 gura ernccrne ng gur ntr gurl jrer qhfgrq vf n uhtr tnzr-punatre gung V qba’g gehfg shgher jevgref gb nqqerff… ohg vs gurl qb nqqerff vg, vg jvyy or vzcbffvoyr gb jevgr tebhaqrq npgvba zbivrf gung whfg unccra gb gnxr cynpr va n funerq havirefr. Fb vg’f n Pngpu-22 gurl vasyvpgrq ba gurzfryirf jvgu onq jevgvat ng gur pyvznk.
      Vg’f nyfb bhg bs punenpgre sbe Fgrir gb tb onpx va gvzr gb gur ’40f gb zneel n qverpgbe bs FUVRYQ naq yvir bhg uvf yvsr qbvat nofbyhgryl abguvat nobhg Ulqen. Be gur Ivrganz Jne, be 9/11, be…

      • JPNunez says:

        I assume that Pncf gbyq Crttl fbzr fghss -lbh pnaabg rkcrpg uvz gb yvr nyy uvf yvsr gb gur bar ovt ybir bs uvf yvsr- naq Crttl qvq rabhtu gb qrgre Ulqen hagvy gur Jvagre Fbyqvre zbivr. Juvpu vf n ybg bs gvzr, nyy guvatf fnvq.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I didn’t think they’d could pull it off but it was everything I wanted, even though I didn’t know I wanted it.

      Plotholes are starting to creep up the more I think about it[1], but that doesn’t need to destroy the feelings from watching it.

      [1] V’z fgvyy abg fher ubj Pnc jnf gurer ng gur raq.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        V’z fgvyy abg fher ubj Pnc jnf gurer ng gur raq.

        Ur jnf nyjnlf Ze. Znetnerg Pnegre va gur cevzr gvzryvar.
        Which is itself baffling, but whatever.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Gung’f n sha rkcynangvba. Fur unq n zlfgrel uhfonaq jub jnf arire zragvbarq. Nyfb, Clz tbg cvffrq jura FUVRYQ fgbyr uvf Clz cnegvpyrf (rira gubhtu vg jnf Fgrir) naq gurer jnf nyernql oybbq ng gur Fbhy Fgbar fuevar (sebz Angnfun).

          Ohg guvf vf ntnvafg gur ehyrf Onaare ynvq bhg, juvpu V unir gb gnxr ng snpr inyhr.

          • JPNunez says:

            V fhfcrpg Onaare naq Fgnex qvqa’g svther bhg nyy gur gvzr geniry qrgnvyf.

            Obgu gur byq Fbeprebe Fhcerzr naq Gube’f Zbgure npg yvxr Qe Oebja gb Uhyx/Gube’f Znegl ZpSyl va pregnva jnlf (rkcynvavat ubj ure bja gvzryvar vf shpxrq abj, naq abg jnagvat gb xabj gur shgher).

            Gube’f Zbgure fnlf fur jnf envfrq ol jvgpurf be fbzrguvat, naq rirelobql jub vf jvfr nobhg gvzr geniry unf zntvp pbaarpgvbaf (nxn obgu Gvyqn Fjvagba naq Qe Fgenatr).

    • moonfirestorm says:

      Thanos continues to annoy me.

      His whole thing is that the universe is going to hit Malthusian resource constraints, and the only solution he can devise is killing half the sentient life in the universe.

      Fb jura cerfragrq jvgu pyrne rivqrapr gung gvzr geniry vf cbffvoyr, qbrf ur fgneg erivfvat uvf cyna, fvapr guvf rssrpgviryl erzbirf nyy erfbhepr pbafgenvagf nf ybat nf lbh pna puhea bhg Clz Cnegvpyrf? Abcr, ur whfg pbagvahrf jvgu gur cyna.

      Ab “url znlor jr pna hfr n srj rkgen gvzryvarf gb fcernq bhg gur cbchyngvba bs gur havirefr n ovg”, ab “Uhu, V jbaqre vs gurer’f n jnl gb genafcbeg erfbheprf npebff gvzryvarf”, ab “pna jr whfg obbgfgenc nyy gur arprffnel grpuabybtl sbe fhfgnvanoyr pvivyvmngvba vzzrqvngryl?”. Whfg UREBRF NER GNXVAT FGBARF, FGBC GURZ!

      • greenwoodjw says:

        Well, his nickname is The Mad Titan, so… justification?

      • Nick says:

        This occurred to me too. Va snvearff, ur nyernql unq gur Gvzr fgbar, ab? Ur pbhyq unir erjbhaq gur havirefr fb rirelbar pbhyq rawbl vg nf znal gvzrf nf gurl yvxr, V jbhyq guvax.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The problem is that Cinematic Thanos was introduced as a stinger by Joss Whedon, who thought it would be cool to use Comics Thanos some day.
        However, this Thanos ended up being nothing like Comics Thanos, except for being a big purple man obsessed with the same MacGuffins. Apparently Jim Starlin created Thanos as a god embodying the Freudian death-drive after studying Freud in college. He even has a brother named Eros (and he was Zeus’s nephew until someone at Marvel edited history). Logically therefore, it seems his whole goal in chasing the Cosmic Cube and Soul Gem was to kill people. The Infinity Gauntlet comic shows him getting his hand on an Infinity Gem embodying each of the 6 fundamental elements of reality: space, time, power, mind, souls (er…) and… reality (comic book ontology is moronic). Stupid, but it was supposed to be about the effect of omnipotence on an unbalanced mind (hence “the Mad Titan”).
        Once the screenwriter changed everything about the Bad Grape Man, keeping the same MacGuffins and plot beats was doomed to make no sense.

        • Nornagest says:

          getting his hand on an Infinity Gem embodying each of the 6 fundamental elements of reality: space, time, power, mind, souls (er…) and… reality (comic book ontology is moronic).

          Moronic, yeah, but I always got a kick out of those crossovers. It’s fun watching Marvel writers try to wrangle the six dozen omnipotent rocks, magic artifacts, Kirbyesque tech doodads, and ambiguously divine background characters they’ve introduced over four decades of canon without killing everyone’s suspension of disbelief.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Moronic, yeah, but I always got a kick out of those crossovers. It’s fun watching Marvel writers try to wrangle the six dozen omnipotent rocks, magic artifacts, Kirbyesque tech doodads, and ambiguously divine background characters they’ve introduced over four decades of canon without killing everyone’s suspension of disbelief.

            Not gonna disagree with you. It is fun to watch the Norse, Greek, etc. gods Kirby used in his version of Thor, his tech doodads, at least one version of Satan, the abstract background gods from Ditko’s Doctor Strange (the Living Tribunal, Eternity, etc) and more all get wrangled into a story.

        • JPNunez says:

          I think that yeah, the problem is that Thanos originally was obsessed with lady death, but for whatever reason, the cinematic universe didn’t like this motivation.

          There’s also the part where Thanos qrfgeblf gur fgbarf n srj qnlf nsgre unyivat gur cbchyngvba, ohg jung, qbrf ur rkcrpg gung yvsr jvyy fgnl gung jnl sberire? Jr frr gur Rnegu fgnlvat va fbzr xvaq bs n ehg, ohg va n srj trarengvbaf cbchyngvba jvyy erpbire gb gung byq cbvag ntnva, fb gung’f xvaq bs n irel fubeg grez cynaavat.

          Gotta chalk it up to the-purple-dude-was-crazy.

          • beleester says:

            I think that yeah, the problem is that Thanos originally was obsessed with lady death, but for whatever reason, the cinematic universe didn’t like this motivation.

            First, there’s the pragmatic reason that introducing Lady Death means bringing in even more backstory, since none of the other movies have mentioned her or extended into that branch of Marvel’s cosmology.

            And second, while I haven’t read the comics, “because he’s obsessed with Death” sounds like an even worse motivation. It feels like one of those stock villain cliches, where the villains just want to destroy the world because they’re Evil, not because they’ve got some understandable, human motive that destroying the world will advance.

            Resource constraints was dumb, but it was human enough that the heroes could debate it, and it fit in well with the story’s theme of making sacrifice plays. But if you’re opposing a villain who loves Death, what’s there to debate? “Actually, I think being alive is better”?

          • JPNunez says:

            I mean the guy is called Thanos. If you tell me he is obsessed with Death, that checks out.

            I get what you are saying, but I still think it could have been made to work. They had Thanos at the end of what? 5 movies? There was time to introduce the concept of the guy being obsessed with Death. They had a decade.

            The whole Malthussian argument he uses is also not an understandable human motive either. The characters don’t really spend any time debating it at all. There is like one scene trying to justify it in Infinity War but that’s it. Nobody in the avengers side goes hey let’s listen to what this Thanos guy is saying, this seems reasonable.

            As far as motivations go they could have done better. Not necessarily Lady Death, but better. Particularly as this halfnocide is a one time only thing. Thanos didn’t even set it up so it would happen again once population recovered, so what’s the fucking point. I know he is mad, but he seems otherwise competent.

          • woah77 says:

            Particularly as this halfnocide is a one time only thing.

            Wouldn’t it be better phrased as a semicide? You know, to keep the roots correct?

          • JPNunez says:

            I guess you are right, halfnocide won’t sound good on television.

        • Jiro says:

          Contrary to popular belief, Thanos did have the same motive in the comics, it just wasn’t his only motive.

    • J Mann says:

      I thought it was fine but not great.

      1) It was way too long. I know they have loads and loads of characters, but still.

      2) It had too much Pncgnva Zneiry. V jnag gb yvxr ure, naq V qvq yvxr ure pbzvp punenpgre jnl onpx jura, ohg fur arrqf zber bs n crefbanyvgl guna whfg “gryy rirelbar ubj cbjreshy lbh ner, gura oybj rirelguvat hc.” Ng yrnfg gurl znxr sha bs Pnoyr va Qrnqcbby VV, ohg fur’f yvxr Pnoyr cynlrq pbzcyrgryl frevbhfyl.

      3) It had not nearly enough Onaare Uhyx. Gube tbg gb tb unz qhevat gur svtug, ohg cbbe Oehpr jnf cerggl zhpu whfg ehaavat nebhaq va gur onpxtebhaq. Pnabavpnyyl, Onaare Uhyx vf n travhf, naq ur’f fgebatre guna entr Uhyx, orpnhfr Onaare trgf NATEVRE. Vs lbh fubj zr Onaare Uhyx, V jnag gb frr uvz trg CVFFRQ BSS naq gnxr fbzrobql ncneg, nyy gur juvyr rkcynvavat jung ur’f qbvat yvxr Wbfrcu Wbrfgne.

    • mdet says:

      Late: Endgame was a good finale* to the franchise, but I gotta say I prefer Infinity War — VJ’f Gunabf jnf n trahvaryl vagvzvqngvat nagntbavfg vzb, obgu orpnhfr ur’f fb evqvphybhfyl cbjreshy naq orpnhfr Pnyz Rivy vf xvaq bs hafrggyvat. Ur nyfb unq na vagrerfgvat eryngvbafuvc jvgu gur urebrf, fvapr ur jnfa’g qverpgyl qevira ol znyvpr — yvxr jura ur cnlf uvf erfcrpgf gb Gbal Fgnex nsgre funaxvat uvz, be jura ur jngpurf Fpneyrg Jvgpu xvyy ure oblsevraq naq whfg erfcbaqf jvgu “V, gbb, xabj ubj vg srryf gb ybfr n ybirq bar” orsber grnevat Ivfvba’f urnq bcra. Ntnva, gung xvaq bs Pnyz Rivy, gur snhk-flzcngul, jnf hafrggyvat.

      Gunabf npghnyyl unf n irel fznyy ebyr va Raqtnzr, jvgu znlor ~15zva bs fperra gvzr. Naq zbfg bs gung gvzr ur’f Cnfg Gunabf, jub pbzrf npebff nf whfg fgenvtugsbejneqyl natel & rivy, jvgu abar bs gur ahnaprf bs VJ’f Gunabf. Gurer’f ernyyl ab prageny nagntbavfg sbe zbfg bs gur zbivr, naq gur jubyr frpbaq npg vf whfg shaal furanavtnaf jvgu ovgf bs punenpgre zbzragf fcevaxyrq va.

      Gung orvat fnvq, gur punenpgre qrirybczrag sbe Gbal Fgnex & Pnc, nybat jvgu Nag Zna, Unjxrlr, naq Arohyn’f zbzragf, fbyq gur zbivr. Gur jubyr Npg 1 jnf irel harkcrpgrq naq terng. Oynpx Jvqbj naq Unjxrlr svtugvat bire jub jvyy qvr jnf gur jbefg fprar bs gur zbivr, n irel-havagragvbanyyl uvynevbhf zbzrag.

      *I know there will be more movies, but Endgame is still intended to provide closure to the Phase 1 heroes, which it mostly does well

      • J Mann says:

        Yeah, I like Thanos best nf fbzr xvaq bs mra jneevbe zbax, naq V jnf ubcvat ur jbhyq nccebnpu gur svany svtug jvgu erterg naq erfcrpg, ohg gura V thrff Gbal’f svany jva jbhyqa’g unir orra nf fngvfslvat.

        One more Thanos question: nccneragyl, ur pna flagurfvmr Clz cnegvpyrf, orpnhfr ur’f pncnoyr bs gvzr geniry bapr ur ernqf Arohyn’f zrzbevrf. Qbrfa’g gung zrna ur pbhyq rzovttra uvf jubyr nezl?

        • Gobbobobble says:

          V guvax ur fgrnyf Arohyn’f cnegvpyr? Juvpu envfrf gur shegure ubyr bs: vs ur pbhyq oevat na ragver pncvgny fuvc naq nezl guebhtu ba bar cnegvpyr, jul qvqa’g gur Niratref hfr 1 cnegvpyr cre grnz naq or noyr gb znxr zhygvcyr gevcf?

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          V qba’g unir n terng nafjre, ohg V guvax vg’f n pbzovangvba bs Gunabf univat uvf nqinaprq grpu ba obgu fvqrf gur cbegny, naq abg pnevat vs ur qrfgeblf gur cbegny va gur cebprff.

          Gur grnz nyfb frrzrq gb or noyr gb hfr Clz cnegvpyrf sbe neovgenel fuevaxvat naq rzovttravat (obgu Fpbgg Ynat, naq gur Orargne) frcnengryl sebz gur Irel Yvzvgrq Fhccyl gurl unq sbe gvzr geniryyvat, juvpu pbashfrq zr qhevat gur zbivr.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Just saw it last night so I finally got to come back here and un-rot13 all the comments.

            V guvax vg’f Gunabf unf nqinaprq grpu. Yvxr Ebpxrg gryyf Gbal “lbh’er bayl n travhf ba rnegu.”

  25. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    GMs, how do you make your combat encounters more interesting? I think I have been throwing easy encounters at my Level 2 party. Like, I had a couple scarecrows I thought might pose a bit of a challenge, but they rolled poorly on their attack rolls, and the party dispatched them in just a few rounds. I threw in some corn fields and a couple of kids to save, but there was no real tension when just a few party members were able to thrash the competition.

    I have a couple of encounters prepared for Friday that I hope might be interesting (context that they are in a swamp):
    1. If they camp overnight in the bogs, a group of stirges is going to dive-bomb whoever is on watch. Right now I have 2 groups of 4 coming in, that will randomly attack. I am hoping their flight and blood-sucking abilities might make them a bit scary.
    2. A group of crocodiles that will approach from below water and try to roll their boats or at least knock one of their lighter gnomes/halflings out.
    3. A field of insect nests that will spawn swarms if they get too close. The goal is more to navigate the field, but they can go axe crazy too. If they just sprint across the field, they’ll come into a quick-sand pit.
    4. A group of Bullywugs will be lying in ambush for them at the center of the swamp. I am going to have a hugggggeee group and have some gut-checks if the party does well, but I am going to try to have them jump directly into boats and jump on top of trees, and have a group of Bullywugs sneaking through the water that will try to board their boats if they fight from said boats.

    • broblawsky says:

      Ignorance of the capabilities of your enemy increases the level of tension. Try to obfuscate the nature of the monster or create uncertainty as to capabilities; reskinning existing monsters to look like something else helps a lot.

    • Yaleocon says:

      I don’t have too much experience, but I can offer my two cents and let more experienced people correct my errors.

      Your 4 plans sound like they come from the 5e MM, so I’ll assume that’s what we’re working with. (It’s also what I’m currently running.) There are two related, but distinct questions: how can GMs make encounters balanced, and how can we make encounters interesting? It sounds like you’re asking about both at once, but I’ll deal with them one at a time.

      First, on balance. Tip 1 is to talk to your players. What are their risk tolerances? Are they ok with a chance of someone dying in fights? If you’re worried the encounters so far leave them bored and they have higher risk tolerance, then yeah, ramp it up. But make sure they’re actually bored first, and that they’re ok with more risk to their precious characters which they put so much time into. This is the most important thing.

      Once you know what risk level you’re aiming for, tip 2 is to use Kobold Fight Club to get there. Put in number of players and level, add in the monsters you’re thinking about (or search for monsters at the right CR) and balance it to be easy, medium, hard, or deadly. It takes into account who outnumbers whom and is usually a good guide as to what you can expect.

      Tip 3 is to balance the encounter in the context of the day as a whole, not in a vacuum. I can’t find the cite for this, but I think 5e “medium” is rated for multiple (like, 5+) combat encounters per day, like when your party is crawling through a dungeon. But if a lot of the day is spent in town doing rp, shopping, or puzzling, and they can burn all their spell slots/abilities on one combat encounter, 5e medium is a piece of cake. On a day like that, for their one combat I’ll throw something at them that makes the cut for “deadly”, while avoiding monsters that can one-shot them. (For the record—deadly means “at least one potential player death”, not “potential TPK.”) I think that level of challenge is similar to the challenge of managing spell slots and consumables through a bunch of “medium” encounters.

      And on making encounters interesting… that’s just so much tougher and requires a lot of creativity. One thing I’d suggest, tentatively, is to never have them just fight goblins. Make there be some interesting mechanic they have to figure out, or which surprises them in the midst of combat. Maybe the mimic has the ability “Swallow Whole” (as with giant frogs), as the party discovers once the halfling ends up inside it. Maybe there’s one monster summoning more (whether by magic or by yelling) and they have to figure out how to get rid of it ASAP without provoking lots of AOO’s from the mooks it’s calling. Something to make them have to think tactically about what to do on their turns–aid the trapped halfling? sprint up to the summoner?–other than standing still and attacking with their main weapon/cantrip.

      Most of the monsters already in the MM have something interesting about them which you can use. So really, just pay attention to the leads the MM gives you, and be willing to get a bit creative with that starting point. Put them in an environment which plays to that strength. Have them ambush your characters in a way that puts the monsters at an advantage. Even mix up the abilities, create some synergies that weren’t there before. Fudge the numbers so that their quirky ability is now the main damage-dealing ability they have, and the combat is all played around that.

      For the record, though, most things in the MM are already interesting enough, so you don’t have to be too creative. (At the very least, from the encounters you have drafted already, it sounds like you have the requisite level of ingenuity.) Those are all just suggestions for if you feel stuck, the next encounter feels kinda basic, and you want to spice it up.

      Hope some stuff here helps. Good luck!

    • Ventrue Capital says:

      A problem was posed here: “Goblin Fights In D&D Are The Worst”.

      Some excellent solutions which I strongly recommend, and practice myself, are at:

      “Fighting Goblins in a Creative Wasteland”.

      “Repetitive battles in dnd”.

      “OSR-Style Challenges: “Rulings Not Rules” is Insufficient” <– WARNING: THIS LINK IS NSFW BECAUSE THE FIRST SENTENCE OF THE POST USES THE F-WORD.

      Here is a *really advanced* issue: “Familiarity and Contempt”

    • Yaleocon says:

      (First time I posted this it got eaten by the filter—taking out HTML tags, hopefully this gets through)

      The beasties in your 4 plans sound like they come from the 5e Monster Manual, so I’ll assume 5e is what we’re working with. (It’s also what I’m currently running.) There are two related, but distinct questions: how can GMs make encounters balanced, and how can we make encounters interesting? It sounds like you’re asking about both at once, but I’ll deal with them one at a time.

      First, on balance. Tip 1 is to talk to your players. What are their risk tolerances? Are they ok with a chance of someone dying in fights? If you’re worried the encounters so far leave them bored and they have higher risk tolerance, then yeah, ramp it up. But make sure they’re actually bored first, and that they’re ok with more risk to their precious characters which they put so much time into. This is the most important thing.

      Once you know what risk level you’re aiming for, tip 2 is to use Kobold Fight Club (google it, removed link because of spam filter) to get there. Put in number of players and level, add in the monsters you’re thinking about (or search for monsters at the right CR) and balance it to be easy, medium, hard, or deadly. It takes into account who outnumbers whom and is usually a good guide as to what you can expect.

      Tip 3 is to balance the encounter in the context of the day as a whole, not in a vacuum. I can’t find the cite for this, but I think 5e “medium” is rated for multiple (like, 5+) combat encounters per day, like when your party is crawling through a dungeon. But if a lot of the day is spent in town doing rp, shopping, or puzzling, and they can burn all their spell slots/abilities on one combat encounter, 5e medium is a piece of cake. On a day like that, for their one combat I’ll throw something at them that makes the cut for “deadly”, while avoiding monsters that can one-shot them. (For the record—deadly means “at least one potential player death”, not “potential TPK.”) I think that level of challenge is similar to the challenge of managing spell slots and consumables through a bunch of “medium” encounters.

      And on making encounters interesting… that’s just much tougher, and even requires creativity. One thing I’d suggest, tentatively, is to never have them just fight goblins. Make there be some interesting mechanic they have to figure out, or which surprises them in the midst of combat. Maybe the mimic has the ability “Swallow Whole” (as with giant frogs), which the party only discovers once the halfling ends up inside it. Maybe there’s one monster summoning more (whether by magic or by yelling) and they have to figure out how to get rid of it ASAP without provoking lots of AOO’s from the mooks it’s calling. Something to make them have to think tactically about what to do on their turns—aid the trapped halfling? sprint up to the summoner?—other than standing still and attacking with their main weapon/cantrip.

      Most of the monsters already in the MM have something interesting about them which you can use. So really, just pay attention to the leads the MM gives you, and be willing to get a bit creative with that starting point. Put them in an environment which plays to that strength. Have them ambush your characters in a way that puts the monsters at an advantage. Even mix up the abilities, create some synergies that weren’t there before. Fudge the numbers so that their quirky ability is now the main damage-dealing ability they have, and the combat is all played around that.

      For the record, though, most things in the MM are already interesting enough, so you don’t have to be too creative. (At the very least, from the encounters you have drafted already, it sounds like you have the requisite level of ingenuity.) Those are all just suggestions for if you feel stuck, the next encounter feels kinda basic, and you want to spice it up.

      Hope some stuff here helps, and that people more experienced than me can step in to clarify where I’ve misstepped. Good luck!

      • Yaleocon says:

        And I guess more specifically for the few encounters you have planned:

        1) Good call having the stirges attack at night. Make sure to penalize characters without darkvision if they fail to get some light going. And spread the stirges out—they shouldn’t all die to one cast of a druid’s flaming sphere.

        2) Crocs can be cool. Be prepared for what will happen if someone casts “speak with animals;” maybe even have simple personalities prepped for them, information they can give.

        3) I really like the idea of navigating an insect swarm minefield. And there are so many possibilities in terms of how to make “insects” interesting, and have them give interesting loot. Bees that shout insults and deal psychic damage (a la cutting words), whose honey gives a temporary bonus to charisma? Sure; go nuts.

        4) The monster manual says bullywugs love stealing magic items, and ruining them over time with their attentions. Give one bullywug, let’s say, an ivory wand of magic missile with a few charges left; the players can recover it, but it’s covered in tooth marks and has a 1/3 chance to backfire. Maybe another has +1 armor, with a minor curse due to wear and tear. That could make a bullywug encounter both more difficult and more interesting.

        • J Mann says:

          One thing I’ve never seen is a DM punishing players for having light. In the dark, a couple dark elves with stealth and longbow proficiency could potentially demolish a team that required light to maneuver – they could see the lighted enemies at any distance, and with 120′ darkvision, they could even successfully avoid most enemies with normal darkvision.

          I’m running Dungeon of the Mad Mage in Roll20 later this year, and am excited to see how light plays out.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        One thing I’d suggest, tentatively, is to never have them just fight goblins. Make there be some interesting mechanic they have to figure out, or which surprises them in the midst of combat.

        Seconding this, as a player. I find it more fun to have to balance multiple axes of moderate threat (keep the gobs from making off with captives, deal with the camp being on fire, you’re fighting on a ship in the middle of a storm, you want to look better than the team of NPCs accompanying you [or you want one of them to get conveniently tragically offed in the scuffle], stop the demonic ritual that will complete if you take the time to properly deal with all the guards, etc) than deal with a giant bag of hit points and fireballs that we just smash our dice together until one side breaks. The latter can work for WoW, but I prefer a tabletop game to call for out-of-the-box solutions to balancing all the various tactical concerns.

        Now you still need (some) mooks that aren’t pushovers. But I’ve generally felt like the stakes are highest when there are multiple problems that need handling. Running low on HP due to the baddies soaking tons of damage and hitting back harder is dangerous but less engrossing.

        YMMV, of course.

    • DeWitt says:

      Well, firstly, these encounters all seem like they were very monolithic. It’s always going to be less interesting to fight a wing of bats as compared to a mix of enemoes – the bullywug encounter is a good example of a fight where maybe the bullywugs have a shaman or two, archers, brutes, what have you.

      My personal go-to measure for making things interesting is terrain. When running the excellent module red hand of doom, the most memorable fight wasn’t the climax or anything related to it; it was a fight set on the belltower of an otherwise submerged church, with a dragon carrying a skilled archer flying in to challenge the party. The interplay of height, a lack of cover, and the dragon being able to tackle someone into the water and also swim away was very cool.

      So yes, use terrain! A bridge spanning lava where a genie demands exorbitant toll. A natural pool of acid where someone very crafty placed a clay golem. A field of ice with a white dragon diving in and out of the water below. Look to monsters’ immunities, abilities, what have you, and think of how the world might be shaped to their advantage, then do exactly that.

    • RDNinja says:

      I think changing the battlefield is a huge help, and having them fight from boats is a step in the right direction. One of my favorite combats was from a Pathfinder scenario that happened while racing down a mountain on dogsleds. It completely changed the tactics of the fight.

      In your case, take full advantage of the swamp setting. Have enemies hide underwater and in the reeds. Have them attack from the trees above. Maybe there’s a mangrove treant involved, whose movements are pushing the boats around, which would require concentration checks for spellcasters, etc.

    • Walter says:

      ‘Interesting’ is a tough one. Like, the central question of D&D is ‘how do I get the players to care about what is happening right now’? That’s down to your group dynamic, to how much they identify with their characters, how well they perceive the situation you’ve described, dozen other things.

      If you mean ‘interesting’ in the sense of ‘the party are in more peril’, well, it isn’t like you are about to run out of monsters. Just put a few more on em. One thing the DM never has trouble with is putting the party in jeopardy by straightforwardly throwing monsters at them. If that’s what they want, give it to them.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Two-fold:
        1. Make the combats a bit more dangerous without super-seriously threatening them. These are newbies on their first campaign…they don’t really want to see their characters die quite yet.
        2. Something other than just lining up into a row and stabbing each other. Right now my big focus is on terrain and some unexpected things to give them some different combat choices. So the Bullywugs will use their standing jump to get on top of trees and some will be hiding in swamp water, the crocs will be attacking them while they are stuck in the boats, stuff like that.

        I really don’t want to accidentally kill a PC, though, which is a possibility with Lvl 2 characters and big mobs.

        • John Schilling says:

          For the always-boring but often unavoidable “goblin fight”, and especially against low-level characters, I’ve tended to either,

          A: Have the “goblins” form a shield wall or other strong defense blocking the PCs from something/someplace they need but reluctant to advance to what would in fact be their certain doom, or

          B: Have them attack with javelins(*) while doing their best to keep out of reach of the PCs and usually settle for driving the PCs off.

          In the former case, and so long as the “goblins” appear formidable enough that the players don’t go full Leeroy Jenkins, you’re giving them an open-ended tactical puzzle to solve on their own initiative. In the latter, it can be more of a frustration than a puzzle, but shouldn’t be either boring or lethal – and if they aren’t on an infinite featureless plain, “how do we force them into melee where we can win decisively” becomes a puzzle.

          In either case, risk unintended PC death is minimized if you can make it clear the PCs will be able to retreat.

          * Not bows, because most of your PCs probably won’t be practically effective at archery distances.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Fewer, more dangerous encounters. The fear of losing a character will make the encounters feel interesting to the players, even if the encounters are rather boring. I will admit to having thrown together a couple last-minute boss fights that were, mechanically, extremely boring, but the players were engaged, especially the frontline combatants – because there was a fear of death coming down to each enemy attack roll more than a few times. It follows if the encounter itself is mechanically interesting it will be doubly interesting if the PCs’ lives are in the balance.

      Further: what’s your philosophy here, what’s your game going for? Why do crocodiles attack – do wild animals usually attack groups of armed people? What are the bullywugs doing besides “waiting to ambush the PCs”? Are the encounters intended first and foremost to present a tactical challenge – is it a letdown for you and the players if they avoid a tactical challenge by sneaking by it or whatever? What level of lethality are you comfortable with – my advice only works if part of the social contract of your game is that PCs have a non-zero chance of death in most any combat unless they stack the odds in their favour.

    • J Mann says:

      Some random suggestions:

      1) My main solution is to keep upping the battle difficulty until they’re a challenge.

      2) Action economy is a huge thing. When your party outnumbers the monsters, it magnifies their strength more than you think. The whole party vs a dragon is still a fun fight, but most fights benefit from adding some low CR flunkies.

      3) Have the enemies use the terrain creatively, and soon the PCs will pick it up.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      My Discord players will tell you that I run Old School DnD gridless and roll in the open. This has two consequences for combat encounters that won’t apply to all systems or styles (like, you could run B/X DnD with a grid map).
      1. Even when things don’t seem exciting enough to me, it turns out that it usually was, because players know these characters they’ve been developing for tens of sessions could die if that’s what the dice show. In order to get negative feedback, I have to do something like use a huge mob of unarmored humans with no bows again. It doesn’t take an elaborate set-piece battle to keep tension up: just swap out a mob of humans for one of skeletons and make it even bigger since the Cleric will be turning, or if one cyclops wasn’t so hard use a husband and wife team next time.
      2. I don’t use unforeseen attacks or environmental hazards as a “gotcha”. I have a player IRL whose catch phrase is “geography is important”, and since my Discord players are happy not using a grid, I don’t want any of their characters to die to something they could have avoided if they’d been looking at a map.

  26. ana53294 says:

    Spanish elections happened today, and the results are in.

    The left has won; in number of votes, the right has similar votes, but because our electoral system benefits the most voted party of a circumscription, the moderate left has the most representatives. They still don’t get an absolute majority, but they will be able to govern without making deals with Catalan independentists, who could require a pardon for votes.

    Catalan separatists have gained significantly, but because they are not the key votes, they won’t matter as much. The independentist party in the Basque country has also won more representatives.

    So it seems overall that the appearance of the extreme right-wing party in Congress has generally harmed the right wing block in Spain (that was quite predictable), we will get very extreme debates in Congress, but the policies and laws that will be made will be left wing, less unionist and centrist than otherwise. Talk will become more extreme, we will spend lots of time killing zombies, but in general everything will stay the same.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      What does left wing mean in Spain? I keep hearing that in Europe left vs right is mostly about pro or anti immigrants. IS that true in Spain? Will the left be more favorable to Catalan or Basque separatists?

      Will there be any practical difference in how Spain is governed?

      • ana53294 says:

        Left wing means feminist, pro-LGBTQI (the PSOE was the party that approved gay marriage back in 2005, the third country to do so) and pro-choice in social matters. Right wing is opposite.

        They also support higher taxes, more social support, higher minimum wages, unions, etc. Right wing also opposes that.

        In relation to immigrants, they are more welcoming and tolerant than right-wing parties. But part of it is that there is a very active pro-immigrant movement, and they seem to shout louder than everybody else. Left-wingers on the street support moderate, legal immigration. But in general, Spain is much more tolerant of immigration than the US; you just need to live illegally for three years and get a legal job in order to qualify for temporary residence.

        So very similar to the Democratic party in the US.

        For the Catalan and Basque issue, it’s complicated, but the left wingers are more friendly towards linguistic diversity and to more local autonomy.

        In Spain, the constitution dictates that territories have different levels of autonomy, in accordance with what was negotiated. The agreements are called Statutes of Autonomy. They are re-negotiated between the national and regional government regularly.

        The whole shitshow with the Catalan independence intensifying started with the re-negotiated Catalan Statute of Autonomy of 2006. The right wing party took them to court, and the court deemed that many parts (even those that other communities had on their statutes) were unconstitutional (in 2010; Spanish courts are not famous for their speed). This, in a context of huge cuts to funding in autonomous communities. So the right wing created and intensified this whole issue.

        When it comes to the Basque, it’s different. We have a lot more autonomy than the Catalans. We have our own tax agency, and we collect taxes (income, payroll, inheritance, housing, sales, corporate) and spend them locally (exception is made for some taxes such as import taxes). Then the money we pay to the Spanish government for non-transferred services.

        The amount of money paid is determined every five years, in a billateral negotiation. Because it needs to be bilateral, the Basques only negotiate when they have an advantage in Madrid. For the time the right-wing party had absolute majority, the did not re-negotiate, for example. So the Basques are frequently key votes in Congress. Both right and left wing traditional parties negotiate with Basques when they need support. The issue is that the two new right wing parties are against the agreements made with the Basques.

        This time, Basque nationalist will be key, but Catalans will not. This means that the left wing party will negotiate with Basques more than Catalans.

  27. Corona says:

    Hi SSC, I need your help. How do you make friends? My girlfriend is pretty introverted, and I’m pretty much the only person she interacts with on a regular basis. Not having many (or any) friends really takes a toll on her, to the extent that it’s significantly lowering her quality of life. I really wanted to help her make friends, but I don’t know how. I have quite a few friends, but only because I lived in the same dorm with them for several years. I am (or used to be) rather introverted, so I have no idea how this happened, nor could I reproduce this in the future. I can’t purposely make friends, so I don’t know how to help my girlfriend purposely make friends. I’ve tried introducing her to my friends, but they end up being more acquaintances, and I think it grates on her that they’re more friends with me than her (since I inevitably get more attention from them and she feels left out). Does anyone have any advice? She’s in college, but she’s relatively young for her program so she can’t really relate to anybody at her classes. It sounds like she has acquaintances at her job, but no real friends. For example, she can casually talk to her coworkers when we happen to meet them around town, but they’re not close enough to go out of their way to do things together. And between school and work, she doesn’t have a ton of free time (although she has some). Her hobbies mostly take place alone in her home: watching movies, Youtube, or browsing the web. She _does_ like to be outdoors but doesn’t get the opportunity much, at least at the moment.

    Does anyone have any advice? How do people make friends in the real world? Specifically, how do introverts make friends?

    • cassander says:

      your age and professions are going to matter significantly in this question.

    • Yaleocon says:

      One approach is to join a group related to her interests (the outdoors? whatever she spends time looking at online?) and meet people there. Once at that stage, going from “acquaintances” to “friends” is still a jump; but usually you just ask if they’d like to hang out sometime. Ideally, it happens organically.

      This is probably easier to do at college than elsewhere.

      • Nick says:

        This. It sounds like movies, Youtube, and browsing the web isn’t nearly all that she enjoys but just what she’s been doing lately. The right answer here is to pursue other hobbies where she can make friends.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I was in this situation with my ex and the best advice that I can give you is that this isn’t a problem that you can solve for her. If she’s not going to take the initiative to hang out with her classmates and co-workers then she’s not going to have much of a social circle regardless of what you do.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      I really wanted to help her make friends

      To “help” someone is another way of saying, “I think this person would be better off if they were more like me.” You need to figure out why you want to control her and make her more like yourself. Essentially, whether she has friends in none of your business.

      Her hobbies mostly take place alone in her home: watching movies, Youtube, or browsing the web. She _does_ like to be outdoors but doesn’t get the opportunity much, at least at the moment.

      If she wanted to be outdoors she would be outdoors instead of movies, Youtube and web browsing. We do what we want to do. If she wanted friends she would have them.

      • Yaleocon says:

        Not having many (or any) friends really takes a toll on her, to the extent that it’s significantly lowering her quality of life.

        I think your read is clearly incorrect. The OP didn’t come off as controlling or presumptive at all. Rather, he’s attempting to get her something she wants (even if he hasn’t found a good way to make that happen yet).

        • HowardHolmes says:

          He did not say she wanted to make friends. He thinks her quality of life is lower than his. This he makes explicit. He has friends; she doesn’t. Her quality of life is suffering. To help someone you have to think you are better than they are.

          • Everyone else is getting the impression that she wants his help. You should probably ask yourself why you assume he’s trying to control her when no one else does.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Wrong Species

            I guess I missed that survey you did to find out what everyone thinks.

            Everyone else is getting the impression that she wants his help.

            I did not say he did not want to help her. I said that “helping someone” means:
            1) You think it is true that their life would be better if it were more like yours.
            2) You think you are better than they are so you have something to offer.
            3) Attempting to control them to agree that you are better and that they should be more like you.

          • Basil Elton says: