Open Thread 126.75

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

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

933 Responses to Open Thread 126.75

  1. albatross11 says:

    Interesting discussion on sensible identity politics and the IDW.

    Uri’s basic argument is that:

    a. There are non-crazy SJW-aligned views.

    b. They aren’t always authoritarian, even though some SJW ideas lead to authoritarianism.

    c. Mainstream liberalism has converged on the non-authoritarian SJW ideas.

    One thing that struck me–sometimes you get a motte-and-bailey argument from a whole political/social movement, rather than from an individual. Indeed, that’s probably the usual case. Sometimes the loudest and most visible arguments are the bailey, and it can be hard to find and engage with the higher-quality arguments of the motte, which may actually have something to teach you. For every one David Friedman arguing libertarianism there are a million guys yelling “Taxation is theft!” at the top of their lungs.

    I think a freewheeling discussion between Uri and Eric, say, would be interesting, and could plausibly happen on some IDW-type podcasts. I have a hard time seeing the same thing happen via Vox, though–the idea that critics of SJW ideas deserve a hearing in a mainstream platform is one of those things that seems to be outside the Overton window even for the not-so-authoritarian SJW-aligned folks. All of Uri’s claims about moderate identity politics seem like they’d be interesting to debate on their own merits, but it seems to me that his side is generally quite reluctant to actually debate them in public. I don’t know how much of this is simply click-driven media that go for maximum controversy, vs how much is a genuine belief that giving a platform to bad ideas[1] is harmful and dangerous.

    My own take on Uri’s ideas is that they all seemed like true statements about imperfections in how we think about ideas as a society. And yet, the alternatives that seem to be offerred for those (not in Uri’s artice, but in the big wide world) seem a lot worse. Rational discussion and free speech may be overrated compared to some ideal where we all get the truth fed to us by incorruptible angels, but it sure seems like it’s got to be better than a real world where some government official or committee from HR or tech industry consortium get to define what ideas are permitted and which ones should be suppressed. Scientists are imperfect compared to an ideal world where the truth falls from the sky and lands in our laps, but they’re probably a lot better than a world where scientists are told what to study and what conclusions they’re allowed to reach by politicians or lawyers or media figures. Giving a platform to people with wrong or evil beliefs is bad, but that assumes you’re right about whose beliefs are evil or bad, and that the mechanism for deciding that won’t be hijacked by people who just want to win.

    [1] Of course, this assumes you know the bad ideas up front–if you might learn that some ideas you thought were bad had some good points, that might be a reason to have that platform.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      ‘Bigoted’ ‘Authoritarian’ are terms that are very much in the eye of the beholder. Just as there are people who say that they are for free speech until someone burns a flag. Free speech absolutists are few and far between. ‘Live and let live’ types are genuinely few and far between.

      They are also not necessarily the product of a specific set of empirical beliefs but the level of conviction and righteousness that gets built up around it. Those convictions have grown in strength and intensity which translates to ratchet up enforcement on violators. The practices of universities become the practices of companies and then the legal practice of governments. One of the terms I like is ‘feel crime’ as opposed to thought crime. A lot of beliefs can only take hold if the person in question is made to feel a certain way at a visceral level.

      The only distinction that has any value in categorization is the kind of person that can distinguish acceptable moral judgements to make that do not translate into legal or economic sanctions.

      Two other points;

      1. The Dialogue between lobster and newman was regarded as incredibly hostile even if voices weren’t raised. Pointing towards it as a model is not encouraging.

      2. Treating knowledge as identity-bound, in practice, makes it impossible to dispute empirical claims using best practices in statistics.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, it sure seems to me like a lot of common SJW-adjacent ideas make it harder to consider any competing ideas, because to even listen or engage with the other side is itself wrong, and for anyone to ask for explanations or proof is offensive. This is a place where I feel like I might be being misled, however, by the subset of SJW and alligned people who get a lot of media attention and are highly visible.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          I just really don’t think this is that unique to social justice. Below me there are two comments declaring respectively that accepting enough ideas to be recognizable as SJW traps you in a spiral of authoritarian, bigoted, or anti-intellectual views; and that SJW is inevitably fascist.
          I don’t think this proves that anti-SJW is incapable of listening to the other side, or that the anti-SJW faction is incapable of considering competing ideas or whatever. It shows that they think SJW is wrong and dangerous, but that’s a completely legitimate opinion to hold.

          I think a lot of SJW critics conflate the disagreement of SJWers with refusal to listen. I think you do the same in your comment above:
          Vox, for example, has hosted plenty of IDW-type views: Ezra Klein recently had Eric Kaufmann, author of Whiteshift, on his podcast (the episode is called “In defense of white backlash politics”); he’s also had Patrick Deneen, David French, Andrew Sullivan, Jon Haidt, Ross Douthat, etc., etc. I haven’t listened to all of these episodes, but in the ones I have listened to they absolute debate “identity politics” and all that stuff.

          Vox has a long review of Yoram Hazony’s new book on nationalism alongside Whiteshift, they have an interview with Mark Lilla on identity politics, and, I’m sure if you were willing to spend more than five minutes Googling, you could find plenty more of examples of Vox giving a hearing to critics of identity-politics SJWism.

          What’s true is that, in general, Vox tends to come down on the other side of the debate from the authors I’ve mentioned, but that isn’t an indictment of SJWism any more than the fact that National Review will tend to take a dim view of books defending abortion indicts conservatism.

          • I just really don’t think this is that unique to social justice.

            I don’t know it is typical of SJW types, but there is a pattern of “interacting with people who disagree with us is bad.”

            The example I’m thinking of is from Objectivism. David Kelley is a philosophy professor and an Objectivist. He was purged from the orthodox Objectivist movement (the Ayn Rand Society, run by Peikoff) at least in part because he spoke at a (non-Objectivist) libertarian event.

            I don’t know of any examples of Objectivists—or libertarians or conservatives, for that matter—trying to forcibly prevent someone from speaking, as SJW’s sometimes do.

          • albatross11 says:

            To be fair: The places where rioting/disrupting speakers is a workable strategy are pretty limited. Note that various IDW speakers routinely go fill privately-owned auditoriums with people and slag on SJW ideas with no disruption. Unless you have the authorities pretty unambiguously on your side, that stragegy usually ends up with the rioters in jail for rioting, and the disruptors of speakers chucked out of the auditorium and arrested for disturbing the peace.

            On a university campus or in a super-liberal city where the city government is explicitly looking for an excuse to shut down some speaker, this is a workable strategy–the authorities will somehow just happen to not arrest anyone because they support the rioters, they’ll drop all charges of anyone arrested unless there’s video of the rioter bashing someone with a bike lock. But unless the authorities are on the side of the people trying to riot/shut down speakers, it usually won’t work. And for historical reasons, that almost always happens in places where the authorities are on the left. (In the past, this happened the other direction, most notably with terrorism directed at blacks, but that is far in the past.)

          • albatross11 says:


            Would you say that the SJW movement is equally willing to engage with its opponents (and accepting of those who do) as, say, the libertarian or democratic socialist movement?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I think this is probably more of a problem for SJWs currently, but as you can see from, eg, the FIRE disinvitation database there are plenty of examples of speakers being disinvited or heckled after pressure from the right: Bob Kerrey was forced to withdraw from giving a commencement speech at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln “after the Nebraska Republican Party called for his disinvitation over his support of abortion rights.”

            My impression is this is most common from the right over Israel/Palestine and abortion.

            As an example of the former, Linda Sarsour was called to be disinvited from an event by the (Conservative) mayor of Winnipeg.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            @DavidFriedman Does Prof. Kelley have any public-facing info? I’d like to know more about an Objectivist that isn’t a cultist.

          • rlms says:

            That’s a rigged question. “SJWism” doesn’t have a particularly precise definition, but to the extent it does it means some “extreme” (with the definition of that wildly varying depending on context) subset of the broader feminist/anti-racist/etc. movement. The fair comparison is either between “SJWs”, “BernieBros” and “[corresponding slur for libertarians]”, or the general feminist etc. superset and the groups you mentioned.

            Although, also, SJWs/the broader movement tends female whereas the groups you mention tend male. Men on average definitely like to argue more than women; that can be easily mistaken for engagement but isn’t the same thing.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @albatross (my previous post is meant for David)

            Would you say that the SJW movement is equally willing to engage with its opponents (and accepting of those who do) as, say, the libertarian or democratic socialist movement?

            Probably not, I think it’s worse for the SJW movement (especially if we really mean the ‘W’ part), but I don’t think that’s some immutable fact of history; twenty years ago I think the religious right was much worse (and arguably still is; they may just have declined in power or visibility). Democratic Socialists have their own purity issues. Libertarians are probably the best, but I wouldn’t be amazed to see a bunch of attempted disinvitations from self-described libertarians if a communist speaker were invited to give a commencement speech (I can find some examples of people attempting to disinvite Angela Davis over her ties to the Communist Party, but can’t confirm if any of the people doing so are libertarians).

          • greenwoodjw says:

            That’s a rigged question. “SJWism” doesn’t have a particularly precise definition

            And yet everyone knows who that refers too. Intersectional activists with a penchant for aggression and obnoxiousness.

          • Does Prof. Kelley have any public-facing info?

            Kelley founded the Institute for Objectivist Studies, which later changed its name to the The Objectivist Center and then The Atlas Society. I expect they probably have stuff online.

            Kelley has written books and articles. You can find more information in his Wiki page, including links to his appearances on C-Span.

          • rlms says:

            I doubt that’s the definition albatross11 is using, given that “is this group that’s defined as being aggressive and obnoxious less likely than other groups not defined in that way to listen to its opponents?” is not an interesting question.

          • greenwoodjw says:


            Oh, I didn’t realize he was behind TAS. I do have to look into that.


            I’m not ignoring you, I just don’t have anything further to contribute.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m going to go with mistake theory here: I think he’s wrong about there being a third group. Once you accept enough SJW ideas for them to be recognizable as SJW ideas, you’re trapped in a spiral which leads you only deeper into “authoritarian, bigoted, or anti-intellectual”. Part of this is within the ideas themselves, which require that refuse to listen to anything that contradicts them, or anyone who contradicts them, or anyone who is willing to listen to anyone who contradicts them, unto the Nth level of indirection. And part of it is the mismatch of the ideas with observable reality, which lead to further and further flights of fancy to try to reconcile them.

      • albatross11 says:

        The NYT op-ed is remarkable mainly in the fact that it omits–testosterone is a performance-enhancing drug that has a big impact on many sports. It also doesn’t mention how top-tier adult biological women (born XX without any unusual intersex conditions) compare in sporting performance to, say, reasonably competitive 16-year-old boys.

        Omitting relevant facts is a really effective way of lying–one that’s very common in news articles. Though the best news sources tend to slip the counter-narrative facts in at the end, so at least the readers who go all the way through the article get the relevant facts and can ask the right questions on their own.

    • greenwoodjw says:

      Over the past few weeks, I’ve published two Quillette articles encouraging the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) to engage more with the ideas of identity, privilege, and structural oppression (often referred to collectively as “social justice”) that have become prevalent on the left.

      This is half of what they do. They engage with the theories and find them either wanting or evil. It’s not like the IDW is unaware of Social Justice, given that SJ is the very reason the IDW exists.

      Weinstein’s response, as I understand it, explains why the IDW hasn’t engaged more with these views through the following:

      An “upgrade” has occurred recently on the left, redefining social justice activism as authoritarian, bigoted, and anti-intellectual.

      It’s a devolution, not an upgrade, but whatever. It’s also not a change in Social Justice, it’s a change in Progressivism to a more Social Justice-based mindset.

      This has split the left into two parts: a part that has embraced the upgrade and therefore become authoritarian, bigoted, and anti-intellectual themselves (thus making them impossible to engage with productively); and a part that rejects the upgrade but has been intimidated and pushed out of the discourse.

      A huge portion of the second group doesn’t reject the devolution, they cover for it. They’re the propaganda arm of the no-platform, by any means necessary, burn it down Social Justice left. (Half of the first page is “Major journalist/politician excuses Antifa violence)

      I also agree that this has led to some on the left becoming authoritarian, bigoted, and anti-intellectual and others to reject it and either move to the right or try to return the left to what it was pre-upgrade.

      This is a long tradition within the Progressive movement. It’s not a new phenomenon. It was just the only ideology from FDR to Reagan so it didn’t feel it needed violence and felt it could afford to be lax.

      However, I think Weinstein is missing a third group: those who have accepted the upgrade, but haven’t become authoritarian, bigoted, or anti-intellectual. This group makes up the majority of the current mainstream cultural left, in my opinion.

      Antifa has a model, where most of their members are masked and prepared for violence, but a few, mostly small women, are unmasked. Their job is to speak for the mob, to scream slurs at people, try to provoke confrontations, and gaslight victims of Antifa assaults. They use their physical vulnerability to cover their compatriots. The “third group” is mostly performing the same function, as discussed above.

      Take the typical writer at The Guardian or at Vox, say, as an example of people in this group.

      The first result in that list above currently is Matt Ygelsias.

      I see no reason why the IDW shouldn’t engage more with people and views like this. In fact, Peterson did just that in an interview last year with Channel 4 News journalist Cathy Newman, which made for a very interesting dialogue.

      Has the author lost his goddamned mind?

      This is not a new Newman/Peterson interview. This is the Newman/Peterson interview. The one where Newman operated in such transparent bad faith (that Peterson handled so well) that it made Peterson world-famous and made his non-scholarly career. This is his “interesting dialogue”, an interview consisting of gaslighting, malicious questioning and willful and deliberate misinterpretation on the part of Newman. This is a perfect example of why huge numbers of the Right feel it’s mandatory to separately (ideally secretly) record their interviews so they don’t get screwed.

      Increased scepticism towards the view of discourse as a “marketplace of ideas” where rational individuals participate and the best ideas win.

      It’s talk or violence. If talk doesn’t work, violence is the only thing left.

      Increased scepticism towards the view of modern society as being mostly “identity-blind,” where the most competent people rise to the top.

      Without that as an aspiration, all there is is Marxist racial struggle.

      Increased scepticism towards the view of knowledge as being mostly identity-blind.

      …Isn’t this racist?

      Increased scepticism towards the view of literature as being universal

      So we’re all unaware of things along racial lines, and we can’t learn about them?

      So, when I argue that the upgrade isn’t necessarily authoritarian, bigoted, or anti-intellectual, what I mean is that these ideological shifts all revolve around factual claims.

      “Skepticism” is not a factual claim. The explanations were the motte, this is the bailey.

      It may not be necessarily fascist, but it definitely is inevitability fascist.

      The point is that we need to distinguish between the ideas themselves and the activists who apply them overzealously. The challenge is to figure out how to embrace this more nuanced view of society without descending into authoritarianism, bigotry, or anti-intellectualism.

      Yeah, the second part is “The part we couldn’t figure out and kept descending into murderous war so we walked away from it.”

      There might not be a universally agreed upon line; people may well disagree on where the balance should be between allowing diversity of opinions and legitimising dangerous views, for example. It’s not obvious there is a good answer.

      This is a concrete example of one of those problems that kept devolving to murder. That’s why we decided “Everyone can speak” and stopped suppressing views because they were “dangerous”. Otherwise it’s corpses all the way down.

      This “upgrade” isn’t going away. We’re not going to return to a worldview that acts as if society is identity-blind.

      “identity” here is a motte and bailey. The bailey is “identity” that breaks down along intersectional lines. The motte is just a generalist concept of identity.

      The devolution is a return to Bronze Age tribalism, it’s not an upgrade to a Better Way For Civilization.

      Finally, to demonstrate something that clearly falls within the scope of identity-based research and activism that is neither authoritarian, bigoted, nor anti-intellectual, I suggest this New York Times article from last year, which is based on a study that examined class mobility for various demographic groups. What’s interesting about this research—and the Times article—is that it melds together hard data and social analysis to produce an elaborate picture of the challenges black men face in the U.S. that are unique to them.

      The article never addresses culture, which could very well be the cause. (They actually do respond in the Q&A with a dismissive answer that heavily implies the question is racist) A study that ignores confounders and jumps from disparity to intent is too weak to take seriously.

      For the IDW to have long-term success, it needs to be inclusive to research like this and the viewpoints associated with it. In fact, this might be the best way to combat the authoritarianism and other bad elements that exist on the fringes.

      Note the stealth play: “It needs to be inclusive to … the viewpoints associated with [SJ-aligned research]”. And, of course, the “viewpoints associated with it” are all Social Justice-aligned, and since the IDW is partially defined by a rejection of Social Justice, including them would be unproductive.

      • albatross11 says:

        A huge portion of the second group doesn’t reject the devolution, they cover for it. They’re the propaganda arm of the no-platform, by any means necessary, burn it down Social Justice left.

        I suspect there’s something more subtle going on here, which explains both the pattern of many relatively moderate liberals defending no-platforming and rioting students making silly demands, and also the way moderate liberals sometimes get shame-stormed into some kind of heartfelt apology for some claimed insensitivity or verbal misstep. They’ve been philosophically disarmed.

        Many of the moral leaders in their community are pushing this set of beliefs that involves things like “intentions aren’t magic,” that “punching up[1]” is always acceptable, that when someone from an oppressed class tells you you’ve been insensitive it’s your job to listen and understand them rather than to defend yourself, that everyone white is unconsciously racist all the time and merely being friends with/marrying/hiring nonwhites isn’t any defense to the claim of being racist, that minorities can’t be racist, that free speech and demands for evidence are just a cover for allowing oppression, that expecting someone accusing you of some misdeed to be polite or careful with evidence is “tone-policing,” etc.

        If you accept those ideas, you’ve kind-of been disarmed. You can’t mount a defense of yourself or anyone else once you’ve accepted them–those ideas’ effect is to render it impossible for anyone to defend themselves against a charge of racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. So now you see someone being smeared and you can see that this is pretty unfair, but the ideas you’ve swallowed[2] tell you that you shouldn’t disagree and in fact that being a good ally requires you to go along. Or you get smeared, but you can’t really defend yourself without violating those rules.

        IMO, one thing that worked differently with the Covington kids was that their parents hired a PR firm and lawyers instead of trying to tearfully apologize. My guess is that they didn’t buy this package of ideas that would have served to disarm them, so instead of saying “My kids have somehow wronged someone, how shall I make amends” they went right to “These assholes are trying to screw over our kids, how shall we defend them?”

        It’s almost as though discarding logic and evidence and reason and fairness and formal rights and presumption of innocence and similar stuff, in order to fix the brokenness in the world, was a terrible mistake, one that made people who discarded those things unable to object when bad people took their well-intentioned ideas and used them as weapons to screw over their enemies.

        [1] Defined so that an Asian-American who is on the NYT editorial board and in the top 1% of education and income in the US slagging on white coal miners in West Virginia is “punching up.”

        [2] Probably you swallowed those via outrage-fests where people on your side were slagging on the other side. But perhaps also in some kind of training at work or in college, or in articles/TV shows you otherwise accepted because they affiliated well with your mood and identity.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      I have to say that Harris annoyed me considerably with that article. I don’t like having to guess whether the author is disingenuous or thick as two short planks. Nothing in there suggests that a productive discussion could be had, even if an IDW personality would be willing to engage.

      Leaving that aside, I got to thinking that perhaps a pushback against the term “identity” is in order. Here’s why:

      For my own purposes, I’ve taken to using the following definition for whether two things are identical. I haven’t tested it rigorously, but found it tends to do the job:

      Let A be the object under examination and R be the reference object. A and R are identical if, and only if:
      a. All predicates that are true for R are true for A,
      b. There exists no predicate that is true for A and not for R.

      If there are some predicates that are true for A, but false for R – or vice versa – then the two may be said to belong to the same category (or categories), but are otherwise non-identical.

      What does this have to do with “identity”, as a political issue?

      From a personal perspective, my identity – what “makes” me Faza (TCM), the unique and distinguishable individual – can be seen as a large collection of predicates. In fact, we can take just about any predicate imaginable and see how the answer for aFaza (TCM) – an object that may or may not be Faza (TCM) – compares to the answer for rFaza (TCM) – the “platonic” reference for Faza (TCM): is Faza (TCM) male? (yes); is Faza (TCM) from the Alpha Centauri system? (no); if Faza (TCM) European? (yes); is Faza (TCM) mineral? (no); etc.; etc.

      You’ll notice that any individual predicate will be true for a large collection of objects, but my identity is defined only by all predicates that are true for rFaza (TCM) – and only those predicates – being true for the object under examination. Faza (TCM) belongs to a large number of categories: human, male, European, middle-aged, but none of those categories is – in and of itself – sufficient to establish the identity of Faza (TCM).

      This rather long-winded exposition is to illustrate that the crux of the argument isn’t about “identity”, it is about “category”. To use a current example present in this thread, nobody is disputing that Caster Semenya is Caster Semenya (identity). What’s under dispute is whether Caster Semenya belongs to the category “woman”.

      Note: I understand that the CAS didn’t feel inclined to kick that particular hornets’ nest and instead opted to focus on testosterone levels. Evasion doesn’t erase the underlying issue, however, given that “women’s sport” is clearly a separate category from “men’s sport”.

      I also understand that the categories were made for man (or woman, as it happens), but it’s worth noting that they weren’t made for this particular woman (or man). Most of the battles seem to be about individuals wanting to be classified into different categories than they otherwise might be. If categories are to be useful at all, we must ignore the individual cases and instead focus on what the purpose of the categorization is meant to be.

  2. ana53294 says:

    I am very socially awkward (I have Asperger’s) female, and I have difficulties dating and establishing close relationships, although I do have a few good friends.

    My goal is to get married and to have three, preferably five, kids, and homeschool them (school was a terrible experience for me, so I assume my kids would be similar; if they want to go to school, they would be allowed). I also want to be in a trusting, stable relationship with a man that appreciates me and gives me enough room for my quirks.

    What are good proxies for willingness to have kids and get married? Religiousness would be one, but I am an atheist, although I would be willing to raise my kids within my husband’s religion (if I manage to get married), as long as they are taught about evolution, the age of earth and the Big Bang theory. I have found that opening your mouth and asking is a sign of neediness and a no-no.

    I am 25 years old, and I still have time and fertility (hopefully) to spend enough time to meet the guy properly. I don’t however want to end up like older women I’ve seen who ended up forty and without kids, when they wanted to. My parent’s marriage was (is? they are still married) a thing of convenience; she was 36, he was 42, they dated for six months and quickly married even though they probably weren’t that suited for each other (still aren’t), and quickly had kids.

    So, how can I determine early in a relationship whether a guy is potentially willing to settle down? What are good proxies for willingness to have kids?

    I also don’t want to date for a decade before I get married. That seems way too long, and unnecessary to ensure a good marriage.

    How should I go around fulfilling my goals, and finding a proper mate for me?

    • Well... says:

      I have found that opening your mouth and asking is a sign of neediness and a no-no.

      Asking what?

      • ana53294 says:

        Whether they want to get married and have kids. Asking that early in a relationship seems to be a sign of being a bit too desperate.

        Also, whether they are OK with having a stay-at-home spouse and more than two kids.

        • The Nybbler says:

          My advice is probably horribly out of date, but: Don’t ask about marriage, do ask if he’s thought about children.

        • Well... says:

          Why not first narrow your search to guys who are capable of providing for a stay-at-home spouse and at least two kids.

          • ana53294 says:

            Sure, but considering I am fairly frugal and don’t have high expectations, almost any college educated guy with 5 + years of experience and a stable enough job (somewhere around 50,000 euros/year) can afford that, if they don’t have debts.

            As long as I avoid humanities majors and artsy hipsters it should be alright.

          • onyomi says:

            We humanities majors sometimes make a decent living too… 🙁

        • Randy M says:

          Can you find a romantic way to phrase it? Like, “what do you see your ideal life like?” Or is any serious probing discussion forbidden while dating? (I’m horribly out of date on the matter and my experience was quite limited even twenty years ago).

    • johan_larson says:

      I’m wondering whether this is a problem that requires a lot of strategizing. In my experience, virtually all men want to and expect to get married and have children. They may want to put it off a few years, but pretty much all of them expect their trains to stop at those stations eventually. I think you just need to find the right moment to confirm that the man you are interested in has the usual preference in this matter. And in the one-in-ten case where he doesn’t want a family, that’s plenty of reason to end the relationship right there and go find someone else.

      I’m thinking the right time is when you and your boyfriend start talking about moving in together. So, a year or so into the relationship, or maybe two?

      • ana53294 says:

        The getting married part is becoming more and more rare. And it is important for me.

        Also, around me, I see many, many couples that keep dating forever. They move together, and then they cohabitate for years and years.

        From what I can observe, many men don’t want the responsibility of being sole providers (source: asking guys around me, family conversations).

        They may want to put it off a few years, but pretty much all of them expect their trains to stop at those stations eventually.

        Eventually being the key here. If I want 3-5 kids, I need to start at age 30 at the latest. And I want to find a guy my age, +-5 years.

        Also, many seem to want to stop at one or two. My cousin had a daughter; when I asked him whether they wanted another, his wife said yes while he said no. My own mother tricked my father into having my brother (and apparently agreed to have an abortion if it were a second girl).

        The thing is: if everybody wanted it, why do I see so many women over forty who end up involuntarily childless (not for infertility reasons)?

        • johan_larson says:

          We have had very different experiences with our families and social groups. We may be are bumping up against some sort of cultural difference here; I’m not sure. Perhaps it would be best to focus on what strikes me as the most unusual element of your plans, your desire not just for a family but for rather a large one. Finding a man who wants a large family may be the hardest part of all this.

          • Well... says:

            My advice is this: take it one step at a time. Find a guy who wants to marry and have kids of an unspecified quantity. Then once the first one or two kids are there you can talk about having more. If you already have two, then it’s mostly just a practical consideration whether to have a third or fourth or fifth, and less a question tied to one’s identity or whatever. So it’s less likely to be a point of contention.

        • quanta413 says:

          The getting married part is becoming more and more rare. And it is important for me.

          Also, around me, I see many, many couples that keep dating forever. They move together, and then they cohabitate for years and years.

          From what I can observe, many men don’t want the responsibility of being sole providers (source: asking guys around me, family conversations).

          You could maybe change the frequency of how many men are like this by moving to a different place if where you are has a culture where men don’t like to have lots of children. But that would be a pretty drastic step. On the other hand, if you currently live somewhere expensive, then you might want to do that anyways because it will make raising 3-5 children considerably more comfortable.

          Half-jokingly, I’d say convert to Mormonism and move to Utah, but since you’re an atheist that’s out.

          I wish I had better advice. My fiancee and I both want 3 or 4 children, and I’m 30 soon. I’m male, and I made a point of proposing before officially cohabiting. We sort-of cohabited before that even though we each had our own apartment because we got along so well. We’d just spend some time at each apartment. We dated for a couple years before getting engaged. So it’s definitely possible. But I just sort of lucked into that, I didn’t strategize, and I can count the number of people I dated on my fingers.

          I have found that opening your mouth and asking is a sign of neediness and a no-no.

          True but it kind of sucks, because it’s a time-waster to not be able to bring it up for a few months to a year. Maybe just ask on the low end of the acceptable range? If it makes a guy wilt or break things off if you bring up kids after you’ve already been dating six months, then it’s saving your time for things to end swiftly even if it hurts. My feeling is that as you get older or if the person you date is older, you should be able to bring it up sooner. If a 30 year old man doesn’t know what sort of family he wants or is uncomfortable talking about it after the initial dating phase moves into the serious relationship phase, then I don’t think he’s worth the time.

        • onyomi says:

          It’s interesting also that in my social circle my impression is that it’s now more often the husband pushing the wife to have kids/have more kids and the wife who pushes back. This is, of course, counter to stereotypes saying women are baby-crazy and men don’t care that much about babies. I think it’s because most of the women I know have continued to pursue careers after marriage/intend to do so and therefore having children/more children is perceived as a bigger burden on them, not only physiologically, as it has always been, but in that way as well.

          Which is a long way of saying that I imagine there may be more men out there than you think who would be pleasantly surprised to find a woman interested in staying home and having a lot of kids. Most likely they’ll be a bit on the older side; at least not younger than you (the latter in my personal experience is a good recipe for “woman wants to settle down and have kids; man feels unready”).

          For example, even though I’ve always, on some level wanted to get married and have children, if a woman I met at age 25 had explicitly said “I want to be a stay-at-home mom with 5 children” I might have found that intimidating. Whereas if I had still been looking at age 35, maybe even age 30, I might have said “sounds great!” (assuming I was otherwise attracted to said person it certainly wouldn’t have put me off and might even have been a plus).

          Edit to add: I notice you use Euros and have a friend who’s dating a Danish guy and complaining people in his family never seem to get married. Is this more common now in Europe than in the US? I have such an impression. If so, maybe seek a more traditional guy from somewhere like the US, if possible?

          • DinoNerd says:

            40 or so years ago, at my (elite) university, the set of undergraduates who wanted lots of children – numbers more than about 2 – was populated almost exclusively by males, according to a survey someone did.

            This makes a lot of sense to me – children are a lot of work, and in heterosexual couples, that work usually falls more on the woman than the man. If a woman wants to do things with her life other than raise children – even while raising some children – she’s probably not going to want too many of them.

            And “elite college” suggests to me “ambitious undergraduates”, except perhaps for a few who were merely rich. So that probably says little about Joe and Jane average.

          • ana53294 says:

            I think very well earning men are more likely to want a stay at home spouse than middle class ones, because at a certain point you don’t get that much more money from having a working spouse due to taxes. A middle class couple needs the woman’s income a lot more.

            I am not surrounded by people who earn that much. It’s still possible to have a big family at these kind of incomes, but it does require a frugal life.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think a big family is strongly associated with having the mom stay home or at least step down her career quite a bit–pregnancy, nursing, toddlers, managing a home with many children in it, etc., all take a lot of energy. Some of that burden can (and should) be shared with the dad, but a lot can’t be, and some of what can be shared usually ends up on the mom because of relative preferences, which may have biological or social roots.

            It’s really hard to have a big family and have both the mom and the dad have high-end demanding jobs.

      • dodrian says:

        I think j_l is right that most men want it, but I think it’s often that men want it later in life than women. One potential filter would be to look for men a few years older (probably late twenties / early thirties).

        However, I think a year or two into the relationship is far to late for that kind of conversation. If marriage and children is a goal for you, the conversation should happen in the first month or two. I think SamChevre has a good idea – find out if they came from a big family or not. It’s an excellent segue question while you’re still getting to know eachother – “Do you have many siblings?” offers you the opportunity to listen to them and then talk about your family as well, and then share “I know that in the future I’d like to have a large family of my own” – and maybe share briefly why. I think The Nybbler is right – don’t talk about marriage yet, and do be clear with your phrasing that the goal is still a few years out. It should get your date to open if it’s a desire they share or not (and if they don’t say anything ask directly “have you thought about having a family?”).

        If your goal is a relationship that turns into marriage and a family, you need to know sooner rather than later if they share that goal. It’s not a first date question, but it is something to talk about as the relationship starts to get more serious. Better to break up after a month or two because you realize that you don’t share the same goals than to do the same, only a year later where the breakup will be much more difficult and painful.

        • albatross11 says:

          Right–if they’re firmly of the opinion that they’d never want kids, then it’s better to realize that up-front.

      • Deiseach says:

        In my experience, virtually all men want to and expect to get married and have children. They may want to put it off a few years, but pretty much all of them expect their trains to stop at those stations eventually.

        As an outsider looking at romantic relationships, the problem there seems to be age: she’s 25, and guys that age don’t tend to want to settle down with the ol’ ball-and-chain. They want a bit of fun playing the field first, and if they do get into a long-term relationship ‘marriage and kids’ is something for later, when they’re in their 30s or maybe 40. By then, sure, but right now? And maybe this particular relationship is not the one, there might be someone better out there…

        So I do think the best chance would be an older guy who’s had his fun and now does want to settle down, but unfortunately is a ten year or more age gap too much?

        • greenwoodjw says:

          25 is old enough that you could date in your age range and date men in their 30’s.

          • albatross11 says:

            Really, at 25 I think a ten-year age difference probably wouldn’t be that huge. And a 35-year-old man is a lot more likely to be interested in settling down and having kids than a 25 year old man.

        • but unfortunately is a ten year or more age gap too much?

          Not in our experience.

          For six months I was claiming to be twice Betty’s age, since she was in her twenties and I was in my forties.

    • SamChevre says:

      as long as they are taught about evolution, the age of earth and the Big Bang theory
      Well, Catholics are fine with all those things. (Georges Lemaître was a priest, after all.)

      I have 5 children and a stay-at-home wife. In my observation, the majority of people who want that kind of family grew up with something like it, so that would be a good starting point: a guy who is one of a big family will have a much clearer idea of if he wants one himself, and is much more likely to want a big family. I’d just be clear that that is what you want.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        (Most) Mormons are fine with all of those things, too, and (like Catholics) are unusually willing to have large families relative to the average American [citation needed].

        • Well... says:

          Israelis too.

          • ana53294 says:

            The issue with Jews is that being married with a practicing Jew would involve a lot more lifestyle changes than a practicing Catholic. I was raised in a Catholic town by an Atheist family (my grandparents were Catholic). So I went to church on occasion, I attended religion classes, and I am broadly familiar with it.

            Also, there is the issue with the high level of genetic diseases, which, combined with my own not so stellar genes, could lead to bad outcomes.

          • Also, there is the issue with the high level of genetic diseases, which, combined with my own not so stellar genes, could lead to bad outcomes.

            The typical pattern, as I understand it, is that the disease is the result of a gene one copy of which confers an advantage, two copies a disadvantage, a point Scott mentions in the passage you linked to. Since you are not Ashkenazi you are unlikely to carry a copy of one of the genes that causes genetic problems for those who are, so your children will have at most one copy.

        • J Mann says:

          What’s a good way for an atheist to meet and attract religious partners that meet the OP’s criteria?

          • Randy M says:

            I think Ana is from Spain, so I’m pretty clueless about any specifics.

            Maybe there are churches nearby that put on community events? Like a concert, free meal, picnic, yard sale, etc. Pop by those and check out the ratio of singles to marrieds, and if the former looks promising, try hitting them up regularly, especially if also interested in the purpose of the event.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Yes. Find a church compatible with evolution (most are, unless Baptist[1]), look for any public social events they offer, (nearly all church bulletins are online) and go to them.

            There is one more step I hesitate to suggest, but might work: attend such a church and get to know it. If the church has lots of kids, that’s a good sign that the adults in the church want kids. Ask men out on dates in appropriate social settings.

            The risk that you will be outed as an atheist is very small, unless you attend a church where people are expected to testify about their personal experiences (again, this tends to be Baptists[1]). A bigger risk is that you are converted, but you won’t care if you are. Another risk is that you will meet your partner, fall in love, they expect you to be a co-believer, and you will need to be honest at some point and say that you are not a believer. But even among church membership faith goes along a spectrum, and if you work at it you can say something like “I don’t know, yeah, Jesus existed, but did he really rise from the dead after three days? Anyway, that doesn’t seem the important part, the important part is his message of love and this wonderful community that he created. I would be totally happy and support our kids being raised in this religion.”

            EDIT: Many religious men would be happier with an athiest wife who agrees to raise the kids in his faith than a theist wife of a different faith where they have to negotiate things. It may be tricky to find men who realize this.

            [1] These are generalizations. I also speak of American institutions.

          • ana53294 says:

            I’m OK with being converted. Sometimes I wish I was religious, because I really like the sense of community and purpose I see in many churches. And, on the occasions when I went for events in churches, people were really friendly and nice. I just don’t have the faith in me, nor do I particularly care about God’s existence.

            I’m not an atheist who thinks that religion is the opium of the masses. Although my mother is, so I would need to hide it from her, or she would be upset.

            Many religious men would be happier with an athiest wife who agrees to raise the kids in his faith than a theist wife of a different faith where they have to negotiate things. It may be tricky to find men who realize this.

            I probably would not participate in prayer, but I guess I’m OK with going to church for special occasions and reading the Bible. The fine points of doctrine go right over my head because I don’t care at all.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m OK with being converted. Sometimes I wish I was religious, because I really like the sense of community and purpose I see in many churches. And, on the occasions when I went for events in churches, people were really friendly and nice. I just don’t have the faith in me, nor do I particularly care about God’s existence.

            Given this I don’t think you should have any fear of not being welcome at any religious event–you’re exactly who they want to show up to be pitched at.
            But, given this:

            Although my mother is, so I would need to hide it from her, or she would be upset.

            you might not find ones who want to tie the knot, since religious people don’t want to lie* or hide their faith–at least not the ones that usually attend the services and so forth.
            But if her objection isn’t quite that strong, and she’d be okay if she already like him, it could be fine.

            *Not saying religious people have perfect honesty–just that they will object to being told outright to lie.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The fine points of doctrine go right over my head because I don’t care at all.

            Most Catholics don’t get that, either. My church has a trivia event once or twice a year, and one of the categories is Bible/Church, and it’s always avoided. And when we finally do get to it, no one knows the answers, except the Priest and my Presbyterian wife.

          • I probably would not participate in prayer, but I guess I’m OK with going to church for special occasions and reading the Bible.

            I’m an atheist, my wife is Christian, and I sometimes attend social events at her church. It’s never been a problem.

    • DinoNerd says:

      The most successful similar case I can think of ran a clear headed campaign on online dating site(s) – the kind that claim to match people based on how they describe what they are and what they are looking for. She was looking for someone who wanted at least one child right away, as she was somewhat older than you are now, and remains happily married to an old college friend of mine; their son is in his twenties. All parties are somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

      I think this could work for you too – because certain questions can and will be asked up front, and two of those are “seeks marriage” and “wants children”. I’d go for one that lets you shovel through all the profiles yourself, rather than just sending you matches. I’d also expect it to be a lot of work, and for you to find yourself besieged with totally unsuitable – and far too persistent – offers. (I understand some men will contact women on such sites to berate them for not wanting people that match their characteristics. And I’m sure quite a few will exclude themselves from consideration by responding to a marriage seeking woman with dick pics or similar things.)

      One thing I think you should consider – do you want a man who’s also on the autistic spectrum – probably more comfortable for you, but might reinforce your genes enough to produce a child with crippling levels of autism – or someone not on the spectrum? I suspect the dating site method would work better in finding someone on the spectrum. But it’s something you should almost certainly consider up front, along with any other important genetic issues. (Do you know if you are a carrier of anything nasty, and hence should avoid having children with another carrier of the same nasty?)

    • Aapje says:


      Marriage is being dismantled in the West. With easy no-fault divorce, it doesn’t give that much stability. The current state of things in most countries, apparently also including Spain, is especially bad for hard-working providing men with a stay-at-home wife with many children. Upon divorce, they are often required to keep providing, while losing the benefits of having a stay-at-home wife. So for men who agree with/seek out such an arrangement it’s basically Russian roulette.

      Note that Spain has one of the highest divorce rates, although this may be because divorce was legalized fairly recently, so people are catching up.

      It’s most sensible for men who do want a stay-at-home wife and many children, to seek a partner in a religious community where there is a strong social norm against divorce. Unfortunately, liberal religious communities tend to have liberal norms. You probably don’t want the strict norms of the more strict communities.

      The problem with looking outside of these communities, is that you are probably going to have to find a risk-taking, very ignorant, or desperate man. The first two of these seem quite risky. Risk-taking men have a high tendency to cheat. Ignorant men who do dangerous things, do dangerous things.

      The last one, desperate men, may be your best bet. They can be relatively low-risk taking in general and yet be willing to take a substantial risk on you, due to a lack of options and a high desire for a partner.

      A lot of nerdy men are unattractive to women, despite having decent salaries. Many women change their demands when their fertility window closes, to focus more on finding a good provider. You might want to get ahead of the curve, to have good options to pick from. Given that you are posting here, you probably are way more compatible with nerdy men than the average woman, anyway.

      You may want to seek out nerdy enclaves, like these. As a bonus, these men are probably less put off by explicit discussions about preferences.

      • ana53294 says:

        While it is a disadvantage for men to divorce nowadays, I think a woman who has sole custody of five kids would be the one at disadvantage. Unless the man’s income is very high, child support will be capped at a level that lets the father have a livable life, and it can be insufficient.

        I don’t think I would stay in Spain, because I want to homeschool. Ireland seems to be the best choice, and the UK is also OK. There are also other EU countries where homeschooling is legal. I am fairly sure some of my kids will probably be on the spectrum, although if my partner is neurotypical, they would probably be no worse than I am. But school was still hell for me, and I am pretty sure school would be hell for my kids.

        • albatross11 says:

          The single mothers I know have really, really hard lives. I think the reality is that divorce is very hard on everyone involved–especially the kids. You can definitely end up with a dad paying more than he can afford in alimony and child support to a mom who is still having a hard time making ends meet and keeping up with her kids–because there’s a huge benefit in division of labor between the mom and dad, in shared living arrangements and food prep and budgeting, etc.

          • Randy M says:

            I think in the US at least, it’s pretty much a crap shoot. Family courts have a wide latitude. But due to the economics of marriage, the sum of the expenses afterwards is going to be much more than while married, even withstanding the lawyer/court fees.
            Trouble is that the grass is greener on the other side. Single people are wise to choose carefully, though not, I think, to forebear the risk; my marriage improves my life immensely.

        • Aapje says:


          Studies show that women lose most financially upon divorce, but men decline most in happiness. This might be explained by men losing many intangibles, like having way less contact with their kids, while money can’t buy love.

          The actual financial situation depends a lot on the courts and on the welfare system. In my country you can theoretically not fall below a certain level, because if your finances are very poor you can get ‘special welfare,’ which is means-tested additional welfare. In practice it seems that this is too complicated for most people on welfare, although you would presumably be way above average in this respect.

          However, the Spanish, Irish, UK, etc systems are all going to differ here, as are the courts.

          Anyway, given your demands, you probably want to aim for a well-earning men first and foremost, given that the societal norm is that lots has to be spent on children. Unfortunately, I don’t know how one might catch such a specimen in your desired countries.

        • Homeschooling is legal in the U.S., with rules varying by state. In California, at least in the recent past, it was effectively unregulated.

          Perhaps you should come here.

    • toastengineer says:

      I (21 year old male) am in a somewhat similar situation as OP and would also appreciate any advice/guidance folks can provide about this

      Get with OP?

    • a reader says:

      I am very socially awkward (I have Asperger’s) female, and I have difficulties dating and establishing close relationships, although I do have a few good friends.

      My goal is to get married and to have three, preferably five, kids

      No offense, but have you thought seriously about the risks? To me, this sounds like committing to play Russian roulette 3 to 5 times. Must read:

      If you wanted just one or two kids, like most people, finding a like-minded husband would become a lot easier, without having to look for a very religious, very conservative, or maybe even neo-reactionary or alt – right man (who may also want obedience from his wife he supports).

      If you are willing to relocate, maybe you should put an ad in the next classified thread – there are about 90% men among SSC commentators and I saw several times men complaining here of having difficulties dating. Maybe you can even try your chance with Scott himself, he said he wants children.

      • ana53294 says:

        I’ve thought about that. There is no history of anything like that in my family, and the reason I have it is probably that my dad was old (over 40), which is a risk factor.

        I read that post, and it was terrifying. Which is why not being on the spectrum is also a criterion, because it would probably compound.

        Who may also want obedience from his wife he supports

        I have some assets of my own, so I wouldn’t completely financially dependent on a husband. In five years time, I will be financially independent (although not enough to have five kids on my own).

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        To me, this sounds like committing to play Russian roulette 3 to 5 times. Must read:

        Scott’s experience may be heavily biased. Two bits of anecdata:
        1. My wife has something like 70 cousins. I can’t even count them all. None of them have serious medical difficulties.
        2. Almost every kid my family and the kids in my wife’s family have “something” wrong with them, but nothing dramatically bad. It’s more “everyone has problems,” and parents naturally stress about the things that aren’t going well with their kids.

    • LesHapablap says:

      If you’re meeting guys on tinder/bumble, mention in your profile that you’re interested in having kids. Make sure your photos are aiming to attract the type of guy you want. For example: don’t be partying/drinking in your photos.

    • albatross11 says:


      Do you have any close friends you might consider dating? My experience is that I dated a fair bit, but eventually got together with my best friend–we both knew it was a serious relationship that was going to end in marriage if it worked out. We’ve been married more than 20 years now and have three kids. That might just not work for you, but knowing each other so well made it a lot easier to understand what we were getting into, what values we shared and didn’t share, etc.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      1. Best options are men from already large families, particularly ones with lots of cousins. These are fish who don’t realize they don’t realize they are wet. Bonus points if there are a lot of men in the family who are married young, and still married.
      2. 25 is not that young. People are starting to pair off permanently. In a few years, most of the single people are going to be single for a reason. Also, men increasingly have more options, and you honestly don’t want to deal with the competition if you can help it.
      3. Asking about marriage on a first date is needy. Asking about marriage and kids after a month or two is totally reasonable. It doesn’t mean “will you marry me,” it means “are you interested in marriage and when.”
      4. How do you feel about divorced men? There may be divorced men in their late 20s or early 30s that might even have a kid or two that are interested in having more kids, and would find a young, pleasant, family-oriented woman a breath of fresh air.
      5. I’d be careful about going after the desperate, nerdy guys, because there’s a whole lot of chaff in that wheat field. I wouldn’t say don’t do it: I was pretty much in that category when my wife and I met. But there are lots of weird nerdy men, and a lot (most?) aren’t interested in lots of kids.

      • ana53294 says:

        I know I’m not that young. Although it’s not yet ticking clock territory, it is planning time. I can’t seem to get a relationship spontaneously, like I find friends, so I need to go about it strategically.

        Wouldn’t having kids already mean they are not too interested in having many kids with me?

        Because although I’m OK with helping with shared custody, if the mother’s still alive, the kids won’t ever be mine*, and I want many kids of my own.

        *If my husband dies, they go to the mother; if we divorce, I wouldn’ get to have custody of stepchildren, and all the other complications of having stepchildren.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Strategically is all well and good, that’s what I would recommend, particularly for people who cannot get it “naturally.”

          Also, I don’t know MANY divorced men, but my impression is that men who divorce relatively young might still be interested in having more children. It’s one thing if they are in their 40s, but a man in his young 30s may still be interested in having more kids, and having more kids SOON, as oppose to delaying to the inevitable future. I don’t mean a divorced man with a full family, more like a divorced man who only has 1 child or maybe 2.

        • I can’t seem to get a relationship spontaneously, like I find friends, so I need to go about it strategically.

          Do you use your network of friends as a way of locating potential partners among their friends? It’s one obvious tactic.

    • Relatedly, has anyone here conceived children through sperm donation?

      I haven’t, and would be very reluctant to.

      I identify with my children and don’t like the idea of their being reared by a random set of parents.

    • ana53294 says:

      I’ve also gotten the advice to look for a guy in the military, since their frequent moves mean they are much more likely to be OK with a non-working spouse, and they tend to be much more conservative while not necessarily being religious. Is that so?

      • Aapje says:

        Those things are probably true, but can you deal with:

        Long periods of being alone, not having sex with a person, etc?
        Adapting each time to his habits when he comes home and his missing habits when he leaves?
        Dealing with stuff on your own, because hubby is not there?
        Being uprooted a lot, losing friends (although it is easy to make friends, since other spouses are uprooted too), your children losing their friends, etc?
        Do you feel OK with doing that to your kids?
        Can you deal with strict base discipline?

        For normal women this seems extremely challenging, although you might be different.

        In any case, I would advise against marrying infantry, for reasons of injury + PTSD risk. Best is an officer, also for long term stability of income.

    • Perico says:

      A bunch of suggestions, in no particular order:
      – I would strongly consider widening the maximum age gap. Slightly older men should be both more receptive to settling down and have more financial resources to afford a large family. I’m not saying to look for a Walder Frey – just be open to someone in his late-thirties.
      – If you are considering a religious partner, I don’t think you need to be overly worried about evolution and being anti-science if you’re staying in Western Europe – I think that’s more of an American thing. But you may need to watch out for other cultural or political differences – would you be OK with e.g. a Spanish in-law family who were strong supporters of Vox? Would they be OK with you?
      – If you are staying in Spanish-speaking countries and want to maximize family size, joining an organization like Opus Dei can definitely help, if you are willing to pay the price.
      – Alternately, you could think of moving to a country with higher fertility rate and lower marriage age. Somewhere in South America could be a good match.
      – You may want to consider how important it is to raise kids with your own values, particularly since you will be homeschooling them yourself. Would you rather have five christian kids than raise two kids however you want?

      • Aapje says:

        If you are considering a religious partner, I don’t think you need to be overly worried about evolution and being anti-science if you’re staying in Western Europe – I think that’s more of an American thing.

        Those people do live in The Netherlands and presumably other EU countries as well. They are also very often the type of religious people who want 5 kids, rather than 2.

        The more liberal religious people are, the more like non-religious people they are.

      • ana53294 says:

        I am open to marrying religious non-Spanish people, but not religious Spaniards (as opposed to Basques/Catalans), because we would have a clash of a lot of identity issues (such as teaching our children Basque also), that I wouldn’t have with a foreigner.

        The Spanish extreme right is also deeply nationalistic, and they deny my identity, my feelings, and my ancestry as a Basque. That is too large a divide to cross.

  3. johan_larson says:

    This is the subthread for discussions of this week’s Game of Thrones episode, number 4 of season 8. Spoilers are permitted as usual.

    I expect they’ll spend this episode counting the cost of last episode’s battle and setting up the next fight against Cersei.

    I’m betting myself a pint of ale that Bronn will make his move against Jaime in this one.

    • nkurz says:

      Before the discussion of the new episode, I’d like to congratulate John Schilling on his bold and correct prediction of the outcome of the Battle of Winterfell:

      I thought his temporal logic was sound, but I was extremely doubtful that he’d be right. I just couldn’t see how one could tie up the Night King subplot in a single episode without such an extreme drop in writing quality that it would undermine the entire arc of the show.

      I held out hope that the writers would come up with an unexpected way around the apparent impasse. But no, it was exactly the efficient and unsatisfying wrap that John predicted. I presume this means he’s right about the rest of the series as well, but my disappointment of how this was handled is such that I’m not sure I care any more. Still, I’ll be even more likely to trust John’s predictions in the future.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I just couldn’t see how one could tie up the Night King subplot in a single episode without such an extreme drop in writing quality that it would undermine the entire arc of the show.

        It had to be tied up in a single episode. I would have expected it to be the last episode, but that would require joining the two main subplots, since tying up either subplot (throne of Westeros and living vs. dead) on its own makes the other resolution into epilogue.

        • vV_Vv says:

          It had to be tied up in a single episode.

          Had the writers been competent, they would have included some revelation and backstory of the Night King, other than him being an out-of-control mindless weapon created by the Children of the Forest.

          E.g.: the Night King touches Bran and they warg to the past, at the time of the first Long Night. It’s revealed that the Dead were never defeated, they retreated after executing a Reaper/Thanos plan of culling the living population in order to prevent a worse, fire-based catastrophe related to R’hllor and the Doom of Valyria, and now the catastrophe is impending again.

          Melisandre takes the matter into her own hands and starts firebombing Winterfell, lots of people die, the main heroes escape, eventually Melisandre is defeated and the Dead resume their march south. Final battle at Kings Landing, Cersei dies, Bran figures out a solution that involves removing magic from the world, killing himself, the Night King, the red priests and the dragons, Daenerys reclutantly agrees and saves the day by risking her life and sacrificing her “children”.

          At the end Dany is left with nothing: no army, no dragons, no claim to the Throne, but everybody recognizes her bravery and proclaims her queen anyway, she marries Jon and becomes pregnant. End.

      • John Schilling says:

        I would have preferred that the Cersei subplot be dealt with first and possibly in a way that allows Cersei some measure of redemption in the battle against the Night King, but the last chance to steer the plot in that direction ended with S8E1.

        So most of my predictions still stand. I’m increasing the probability of Jamie Lannister killing Cersei to 50%, and dropping Arya to 20%, on the grounds that Jamie survived the Long Night and Arya had her contractual requirement of one spectacular kill per season, both of which were uncertain before the last week, but otherwise things are proceeding as expected.

        S8E4 should be mostly setup for the confrontation with Cersei. I expect the writers will do a somewhat better job of making all this plotting hold together better than they did the tactics for the Battle of Winterfell, but as already noted that’s a pretty low bar. There should be more dialogue and character work in this episode, and that is something B&W have been doing well even in the post-Martin era, so there should be plenty of good moments even if the whole doesn’t hold together.

        Agree with johan that we’ll probably see Bronn vs. Jamie this episode. Wondering what the deal is with Euron’s ships, which made a conspicuous appearance in the trailer for this episode but I’m having a hard time seeing their relevance now that the good guys don’t have a fleet.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Kudos to you for making the right prediction.

          Now I agree with you that Daenerys will end up on the Iron Throne.

          Specifically, I predict:

          Dany is pregnant, she marries Jon, possibly they agree to share the throne in some way, so Jon can mitigate Dany homicidal impulses. The North is granted independence and becomes a kingdom under Queen Sansa.

          • John Schilling says:

            I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Jon Snow die defeating the Night King, which would have bookended his storyline and his resurrection neatly except for the whole “Aegon Targaryen” bit winding up irrelevant. Since that didn’t happen, Jon/Aegon marrying Daenerys is highly probable, ditto a child. Details beyond that are hazy. Jon could still manage to get himself killed defending Dany and their unborn child from Cersei’s vengeance – he does seem to have had a bit of a death wish the past eight or so seasons.

          • It does seem ironic for all the talk about breaking wheels, the ending looks like a Targaryen on the Iron Throne. I’m sure there is something there that will be addressed and throw us for a loop.

          • John Schilling says:

            It wouldn’t surprise me terribly for the Iron Throne per se to be melted to slag – by Daenerys’s command, to clear the way for a New Westerosi Order in which she still wields substantial power (and no one wields conspicuously greater power). I think it still counts as Dany taking the Iron Throne if she choses to use her new property as something other than a chair.

        • LesHapablap says:

          The Hound and Jaime run to the red keep. Around a corner, the Mountain towers above them, and Sandor says “You go, I have some unfinished business.” Jaime and Sandor gaze into each others eyes for a beat while the Mountain looks on, Jaime nods, turns and runs up a flight of stairs.

          Jaime bursts into Cersei’s chambers. Cersei is there with a crossbow and a glass of wine. Jaime starts to say something and Cersei puts an arrow in his gut. Jaime looks at the blood on his hands and Cersei says “you look better in red,” smirks, takes a sip of wine. Cyburn walks over to Jaime and examines him. To Cersei: “Don’t worry, he’s only mostly dead *winks at camera* I’ll get my things.” Cyburn walks off scene.

          Cersei tells Jaime that she is pregnant. Jaime calls her a monster. Cersei replies, “he’ll be the greatest monster that ever ruled the seven-kingdoms.” Jaime rolls over, his golden hand falling off of his stump, to reveal, in the golden hand, a detonator. Jaime says “The things we…” Cut to Bran in Winterfell mouthing “do for love.” Cut back to Jaime. *winks at camera*. He closes his eyes, presses the detonator, then a wide shot of the Red Keep being consumed in a fireball.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I mean the last episode showed that Winterfell has a Starbucks branch so a detonator isn’t totally out of place…

            Seriously though, they seem to have forgotten about Wildfire and Cercei’s borderline-pyromaniacal obsession with it.

            It’s been a while since she blew up the Sept of Balor: even with their Game of Thrones jetpacks the characters have to have spent at least a month in transit. That’s more than enough time to make a cache of Wildfire and store it under the Red Keep as a trap for anyone dumb enough to fly her dragon into stone-melting range.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I’m not going to lie, one thing I’m hoping to find out is, who exactly died. S8E1 was so darkly shot that at times I wasn’t sure if someone going down was a random extra or a named character. Did any really big characters bite it? I guess depends on your definition of “really big.”

    • johan_larson says:

      So, Bronn and Jamie did meet. But they didn’t quite fight. It was more of a negotiation.

      I really wonder what Varys is planning.

      Also, surveying the wreckage after the fight at Winterfell, the casualties were light among the heroes. Sansa, Daenerys, Jon, Tyron, and Arya — the real heroes of the story — are all still alive. I kind of expected one of them to fall. Jeorah and Melisandre were significant figures, to be sure, but I would put them in the second tier.

      • vV_Vv says:

        So, Bronn and Jamie did meet. But they didn’t quite fight. It was more of a negotiation.

        Thanks R’hllor. The scenes between Bronn and the Lannister brothers have been the best of the entire show.

        I really wonder what Varys is planning.

        I don’t know but I doubt he’ll survive.

        Also, surveying the wreckage after the fight at Winterfell, the casualties were light among the heroes. Sansa, Daenerys, Jon, Tyron, and Arya — the real heroes of the story — are all still alive. I kind of expected one of them to fall.

        My money is on Sansa. Unless they want to “subvert expectations” even more and kill off Arya the Hero of Winterfell. I get that this is supposed to be postmodern Lord of the Rings, but the show stopped making narrative sense long ago.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Maybe it’s because I watched it so late, but I spent most of the time frustrated. An extended series of sequences dedicated to ship-sinking (not including the actual ship-sinking!), a scene with Bronn that sets off a story I have no interest in seeing, too much Brienne (please kill Brienne), and a “What the hell” with the Wildlings and Ghost.

      At this point, the only thing I’m looking forward to is *airhorn* CLEGANE-BOWL *airhorn* GET HYPE! (TM).

      I actually enjoy the A-plot, but there was a hell of a lot of B-plot. I also understand that the Bronn scene was legitimately good, I just have no faith in it being part of a satisfying story-line. And I understand the Brienne scenes are important for Jaime, I just hate Brienne for surviving Winterfell.

      • johan_larson says:

        Given how formidable the King’s Landing defenses are, I’m expecting Dani and the northerners to attempt some sort of decapitation strike against Cersei, probably by sneaking in through the sewers. This might be combined with a diversionary attack on the walls; I’m not sure.

        Clegane-Bowl will take place inside the Red Keep, since the Mountain is Cersei’s personal bodyguard, and that’s where Cersei will be found.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          What about the shapeshifting assassin-priest they have?

          • johan_larson says:

            I’m not sure I buy having them send just Arya. But maybe she’ll lead or prepare the way for a larger mission.

    • ana53294 says:

      The whole Euron Greyjoy character plotline is dumb. He seems like a prop that just helps Cersei until the last decisive battle.

      He appears out of nowhere, gets elected (despite it being revealed that he caused the conflict that led to the conquest of the Iron Islands), and builds a 1000 big ships out of thin air. The Spanish so-called Invincible Armada had 130 ships, and that was the glory of a powerful European nation. The US Navy has fewer thon 500 ships (and it dominates the seas). How could a small island build a 1000 ships, unless they are glorified barges?

      The crossbow was tried by Bronn in season 7, and failed, how did they suddenly develop a working model (and managed to build them for every ship and across the castle walls)? And how did a crossbow sink ships? It doesn’t make any sense for crossbows to sink an entire navy.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It appears the solution to the ballista not working on the dragons was to just build a bigger ballista with a more robust bolt; that seems reasonable enough. Except as you point out Westerosi manufacturing capacity is quite unrealistic.

        Them sinking ships is more than a bit ridiculous. They’re big freaking arrows, they’ll make holes in wood but not remove entire 10 foot by 10 foot sections in one shot.

        And Danerys once again proved that Team Targaryen is really bad at tactics. The ships had ballista mounted on the front only. From most of the rear, the sails would be in the way even if the ballista could be turned around. A wide circle around the fleet (which was in a channel), a little dragonfire from the rear quarter, and no more fleet.

      • John Schilling says:

        How could a small island build a 1000 ships, unless they are glorified barges?

        A small island conspicuously lacking in forests and populated by people who are famous for and positively brag about not building stuff because stealing is more fun and manly.

        That’s a bit of dumbness inherited from last season’s “oh shit we have to quick find some obstacles to put in our heroes’ way” plotting. My understanding is that the books sidestepped the whole issue by having Yara escape with a handful of ships rather than the entire Iron Fleet. If Euron merely inherits what the Iron Islanders have accumulated over a generation or two, it is maybe a bit more plausible.

        • ana53294 says:

          Sure, if they inherited most of the ships, and stole a bunch of others, then you could maybe get many ships, although 1000 ships is still stretching it. Just the maintenance requires a lot of manpower.

          But stealing ships requires having ships, and in a world where ships are valuable resources, nobody will give them without a fight. Big ships will be guarded and they will have to fight over them. Which means after stealing them, you need to fix them.

          EDIT: The lack of forests makes it even worse. An estimate I’ve seen for Euron’s ships is about 500 tons. Viking ships, the closest analogue to a cold island of pirates, carried 120 tons. And Sweden has lots of available timber. I don’t think we have any analogue of a country that is not very well organized that managed to build ships of that high tonnage.

          And even Vikings were not just pirates. They had a government, cities, people who did honest work, and they did trade when they couldn’t rob.

          • John Schilling says:

            And even Vikings were not just pirates. They had a government, cities, people who did honest work, and they did trade when they couldn’t rob.

            As do the Iron Islanders. But the closest historical analogue I can think of would be the Viking-descended Victual Brothers, a guild of smugglers, privateers, and pirates based out of Gotland who contended with the Hanseatic League for control of the Baltic in the late 14th century. Similar political and economic context to the Iron Islands, at a similar level of technology. I can’t find numbers for the Brotherhood fleet, but the Hanseatic fleet that eventually defeated them numbered eighty-four warships. So the Brotherhood itself could plausibly have had one or two hundred ships, if they were both ill-disciplined and mostly smaller vessels better suited to smuggling and piracy. I could believe the same of the Iron Islanders, a few locally built, the rest either purchased in semi-legitimate trade or captured over the years.

            A thousand ships, or even a hundred great war galleys bigger than anyone else’s warships or cargo vessels, is beyond the level of disbelief I can convince myself to suspend even before we get to the point where Euron builds this fleet in a single season. The Iron Fleet was conjured by DM fiat to maintain game balance and that’s the end of it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The show really has come to feel like a tabletop campaign getting rather sloppily thrown together, hasn’t it?

      • bean says:

        The US Navy has fewer thon 500 ships (and it dominates the seas). How could a small island build a 1000 ships, unless they are glorified barges?

        In fairness, modern ships are very big and have lots of very expensive electronics. (Also, the current quoted number is around 280, and they’re trying to make 335.) But even the RN, at its Napoleonic height, was under 1000, and that was a large island with a major shipbuilding industry. (And trees.)

        • ana53294 says:

          Obviously, a modern ship is much bigger and has more capabilities. It was a bit unfair.

          Britain in Napoleonic times was an empire that ruled the waves. It also wasn’t during the Middle ages (which Westeros is supposedly at), but Industrial Revolution times. It was a very organized country, with high degrees of specialization. And ships were built by shipwrights whose whole life was spent building ships, not pirates who thought working and paying for other’s work is dishonorable.

          • bean says:

            That was more or less my point, yes. (I’m not a GOT fan, I just saw the summoning incantation cast and decided to contribute.)

            That said, I don’t know if 1000 ships was as crazy as it sounded at first. The largest modern Viking longship reconstruction is 95 tons, while an average warship of the Napoleonic era was at least 10 times that size. While build complexity isn’t linear with displacement, that’s a more accurate approach than counting hulls. That said, someone with no trees and no work ethic isn’t going to be able to build 1000 ships very quickly. (Of course, I haven’t seen the episode, and I should probably find screenshots to get a more accurate displacement estimate.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Viking longships were pretty basic in construction — basically scaled-up clinker-built skiffs, with single masts and simple rigging. If you have a force big enough to require a thousand of them (which would put you at about twice the size of the French side at the Battle of Crecy, or five times either side of the Battle of Hastings — medieval armies were small), it doesn’t strike me as much less plausible to have a thousand of them floating around.

          • John Schilling says:

            Again, the books might paint a more realistic picture, but these aren’t Viking longships. The median ship in Euron’s fleet appears to be a two- or three-masted caravel, with a fair number of late medieval Mediterranean-style war galleys.

      • gbdub says:

        Do they ever actually show him with 1000 ships? There are definitely a couple shots of “a lot of ships” but in this episode his elite scorpion equipped ships numbered about a dozen and I don’t think we’ve ever seen more than a couple hundred on screen.

        I guess I always read “1000 ships” as an obvious boast rather than a true accounting.

    • John Schilling says:

      Well that was certainly dumb.

      There were some good individual moments. But it looks like the writers are falling back on their worst habit from last season, the one where they realize they’ve set the nominal heroes up to win a dramatically unsatisfying curb-stomp victory and so decide to throw blatantly arbitrary obstacles in their path by A: making the heroes into idiots and B: suspending the laws of physics as necessary.

      They haven’t (yet) managed to top last season’s Operation Get Cersei Lannister Another Pet Zombie as the single stupidest plan in the history of the Seven Kingdoms, but they’re giving it a good try. First with the plan where Daenerys divides her forces, taking just her most elite and loyal forces by sea against an enemy known to have overwhelming naval supremacy, and if there was any point to that, any advantage that might have been obtained over simply marching the whole army south together, I can’t see it. And then it looks like both Sansa and Varys, and maybe Arya and Tyrion are flirting with the plan of deposing and presumably murdering Daenerys Targaryen only to put her grieving lover on the throne, expecting this will give them all a wise, benevolent, and just monarch. Or maybe they’re planning on putting Jon on the throne without killing Dany, in which case how does that even work when they all understand that the surviving Targaryens are unanimous about it being Dany and not Jon-Aegon who gets the Iron Throne?

      The first stupidity might be excusable on account of expecting the Dragons to make short work of Euron’s fleet. Pity Euron was reequipped with the new beyond-visual-range surface-to-air catapults. Which apparently double as naval artillery superior to anything our world saw before the invention of rifled shell guns in ~1850. Sorry, B&W, but you really can’t expect me to take this seriously. And if I were to do such a thing, then we’re back to Dany knowing about the Lannister anti-dragon weaponry a season back and being a complete and total moron for sailing part of her divided force against a vastly superior enemy fleet on the basis of “…but I have three two one and a half dragons!”.

      The plotting against Dany by her nominal allies, doesn’t get even that level of excuse. Because even if it goes off without a hitch, say with Dany’s death being falsely blamed on a Lannister assassin, what does that get them? The surviving Unsullied, Dothraki, and probably Dragons are personally loyal to Daenerys Targaryen, and the only people who might offer testimony that this loyalty should transfer to Jon-Aegon are nowhere near King’s Landing and/or the Allied armies. So if we depose Dany before King’s Landing is taken, is the plan for Jon to take a walled city defended by a superior army with just his Northern troops? And if we wait until Jon+Dany have deposed Cersei, then either it is too late to stop Dany from slaughtering a few hundred thousand innocent bystanders for her victory or it was never necessary in the first place.

      Maybe Sansa and Arya don’t care, so long as there’s a quasi-Stark puppet on what is left of the Iron Throne to maintain Northern independence, but how does even that work? To anyone outside the North, Jon is just Jon Snow, the Bastard of Winterfell, and maybe that can be upgraded to Jon Stark, rightful heir of Winterfell, but how does that get anyone in any of the other Six Kingdoms to accept him as their rule? A speech by Tyrion and Varys saying that they heard from Bran and Sam that Jon is really Aegon? Convinces no one, and if it does, great, you’ve just convinced them that they are looking at the grand-nephew(?) of the Mad King that had to be killed to stop him from burning King’s Landing and the nephew of the Mad Queen who maybe just did burn King’s Landing, so he gets to be king now? Or maybe he’s supposed to rule on the basis of gratitude for his saving the Living from the Dead, but nobody outside the North has ever taken that threat seriously and anyone who does know the truth, knows that it was mostly Dany and Arya who defeated the Dead.

      Credit where it is due, Dany was absolutely right about the consequences of Jon telling his sisters about his true parentage. I’ll still bet on the writers managing to give them both a happy ending at this point, but only because this episode does read so much as throwing a bunch of arbitrary obstacles in the way of the obvious inevitable resolution. And Jon could still manage to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory, following the tradition of the Stark men of being suicidally moronic in the name of honor and love.

      The death of Missendei killed what sympathy I had left for Cersei Lannister, but throw in her choice last word and the lack of any sympathetic viewpoint character inside King’s Landing, and the audience is being set up to cheer for Dany’s victory over Cersei however it occurs. Which means they probably aren’t going to go with the plot where Dany has to be deposed to stop her from incinerating a bunch of little anonymous civilians in the background.

      They’ll probably still go with the Even Better Victory where someone comes up with a clever plot to end or forestall the battle without having to destroy the city. The only plausible meta-reason for Jamie to ride south is to confront Cersei. Sandor is pretty clearly headed for his final confrontation with Gregor, and Arya’s target could be either Cersei or Dany. Cersei and her bodyguard get to die at the hands of their personal enemies rather than in a mass battle.

      So the plot is moving to its expected conclusion, just taking a shortcut through the Land of the Idiot Plots to get there.

      • cassander says:

        The worst part isn’t that it’s stupid, it’s that it would be so easy to make it less stupid. Like the ballista. what should have happened is Danny sees euron’s ships, confidently charges with her dragons, is surprised by the ballista at close range, loses dragon 2, and retreats while they reload. Instead, she’s surprised at long range, loses a dragon, attacks anyway, gets close only for the season to think this is a dumb idea and retreat, all while under a hail of fire. You don’t even need to reshoot things to make that scene lures dumb, reordering the existing shots would be a huge improvement.

        But, as you say, the writers clearly stopped caring about such things a long time ago.

        • gbdub says:

          Yeah, that whole scene was clearly staged to shock the viewers rather than really make sense.

      • gbdub says:

        I’m okay with the plotting against Dany because it’s a perfectly in character thing for both Sansa and Varys to do, even if it’s not too smart.

        Varys in particular has always been interested in the quality of the monarch, and has already pulled off crazy plots to get his preferred outcome. And frankly he’s right that Jon is going to be an easier sell than Dany as a ruler (yeah, he has some disadvantages to acceptance – but so does an expat with a tarnished name who just murdered half of Kings Landing and rules with an army of weird foreigners. And he has a cock).

        • John Schilling says:

          Why does Varys imagine that Aegon Targaryen is going to be a better monarch than Daenerys Targaryen? Particularly when Daenerys comes with a kind lover and two wise and trusted councilors to keep her on the righteous path, while King Aegon would be a bitter lonely man who saw his lover and queen murdered by a treacherous conspiracy involving her two formerly-loyal councilors and at least one of his own sisters. Is he that confident that Aegon’s vengeance will end with killing Varys, and not extend to e.g. the people in whose name Varys murdered Dany?

          If you want Mad Targaryen Kings, this is how you get Mad Targaryen Kings. But as this is no longer a show where actions have consequences, so I doubt they are going to go there. It would be a great tragic story if they did, but they won’t.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Turning Jon into a mad king would take half a season to do correctly.

            What do you think the writers’ opinion of Jon as a leader is? Are we supposed to see Jon as an ideal candidate, with the tension coming from whether it is worth the bloodshed to get him to the throne, or are we supposed to be deeply skeptical about his capabilities?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Jon has charisma. He’s personally a good fighter. And he has no small amount of diplomatic ability. But walking right into an assassination demonstrates he’s fatally flawed as a Westerosi leader, especially since he didn’t seem to become much less trusting as a result. This failing is lampshaded when he tried to justify, to Tyrion, not lying to Circe about swearing not to take sides. And as either a military strategist or tactician, he’s awful, as the Battle of the Bastards demonstrated.

            I don’t know what the writers are thinking. But they’ve _written_ him as too softhearted for Westeros. (his military failings could be papered over by good subordinates, good instruction, or even by the incompetence of his enemies)

          • John Schilling says:

            The things that would make Jon-Aegon a bad and/or mad king are things that should be known to Tyrion and Varys, so if those two are talking about replacing Dany with Jon without mentioning the potential problems, it’s probably because the writers don’t see any problems.

            Unfortunately, it is also possible that they are trying to surprise us with “Jon Snow will rule the Seven Kingdoms – Badly!” in about the same way they surprised us with “The Night King will be killed by Arya Stark!“.

          • gbdub says:

            It’s less that John is an obviously good monarch as that Varys is clearly becoming convinced Dany will be a bad one.
            She already has the admiring lover and wise councilors, and still goes into entitled Dracarys mode when she doesn’t get her way.

            Varys might agree that deposing Dany is a desperation play, but not think he has a choice.

            He’s also too smart (and Jon too naive) to take a shot at Dany too directly. When the hammer falls on Dany, Jon will have been convinced it’s a good idea. Hell he might even pull an Azor Ahai and do the deed himself.

          • John Schilling says:

            She already has the admiring lover and wise councilors, and still goes into entitled Dracarys mode when she doesn’t get her way.

            If “entitled Dracarys mode” means privately telling her Small Council that she wants slaughter her enemies to the last and then being talked out of it every single time so far, then what’s the problem? This isn’t the sort of fantasy where we pretend people don’t basically all want to do that when they are fighting a war and it isn’t going their way. Pretty sure Faramir vented at least once about how he wanted to kill every last stinking Orc, Haradrim, and Easterling, before going ahead with Plan B.

            Speaking of which, whose job is it to come up with Plan B, Varys and Tyrion? If all you can do is whine “Don’t win the war like that; innocent people will get hurt!”, then you’re about the most useless councillors that ever lived and ought to resign immediately. Plotting to assassinate the queen you’ve sworn to serve, because she’s planning to win the war and you can’t come up with a better plan for her to do so, yeah, that’s pretty much treason of the sort that ought to get you draconically incinerated on the spot. If you come up with a better plan and she still insists on burning King’s Landing, then you talk treason. Preferably not the sort of treason that ends with “…and then we put a pissed-off Targaryen on the throne”.

            But that might require several whole minutes of extra dialogue, and screen time that wouldn’t be available for Jamie and Brienne to get it on or whatever. So we get the quick and dirty and stupid way of “advancing” the plot by moving the Queen Dany piece into the Designated Madness zone.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ The Nybbler:

            And as either a military strategist or tactician, he’s awful, as the Battle of the Bastards demonstrated.

            To be fair, the writers of the show seem to have a shaky grasp of military tactics themselves (cf. the Battle of Winterfell), so it might be that Jon is supposed to be a good (or at least OK) strategist and tactician in-universe and the writers are just incapable of portraying him as such.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes, I’m pretty sure any good medieval army could have taken Winterfell with numerical parity or even less. But I’m pretty sure Jon was _supposed_ to have screwed up by the numbers in the Battle of the Bastards, since he did exactly what Sansa warned him not to. Another Girl Power (TM) moment.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Jon/Aegon would make a better monarch than Dany, probably — he’s got the leadership abiliity, and he’s shown no penchant for mass slaughter or needless cruelty. And also he doesn’t have a dragon, which limits the amount of mass slaughter he can do on his own.

          On the other hand, he wouldn’t remain monarch for long. He’s far too trusting for Westeros, and has already been killed once for it. It’s well established that a moral compass is a serious failing in this mileu.

          And on the gripping hand, there’s no way he can take over without losing Dany, and losing Dany would break him.

          Jon and Dany ruling as co-monarchs would probably be the best outcome, though as I think Tyrion pointed out, Dany is going to be the dominant partner in that. That means more cruelty and ruthless mass killing. But maybe Jon, Varys, and Tyrion could keep it down to the Westerosi norm.

          (I still think the Night King was the Right King. Arya kills the Night King, a whole bunch of wights fall, one of the Apocalypse Snowmen is magically promoted to Night King — “What, did you think we didn’t have a succession plan?” — rocks fall, everybody dies)

          • John Schilling says:

            And on the gripping hand, there’s no way he can take over without losing Dany, and losing Dany would break him.

            That was my point – there is no credible plan that puts nice, loveable, Jon Snow on the Iron Throne. Only Mad King Aegon, and with righteous cause for that anger.

            Don’t make Jon Snow angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

            And also he doesn’t have a dragon

            Pretty sure Drogon doesn’t just vanish in a puff of dust when Dany dies. Now you’ve got a Mad King and a Mad Dragon.

    • LesHapablap says:

      I am having a hard time believing that Brienne is found attractive by anyone. Does that make me a bad person?

      Also makes me a bad person: it annoys me that both AVclub reviews of the latest episode blast the writers for being sexist and for killing off the only woman of color.

      • Protagoras says:

        The first mostly indicates that you lack imagination, though if you are in the habit of expressing the opinions resulting from this lack of imagination, that would be rude in many situations, so perhaps you are also a bad person. Certainly the second provides some further evidence for the bad person interpretation. Oh, and saying you’re a bad person, showing off your alleged badness like some kind of edgelord, is probably also bad person behavior.

        • gbdub says:

          On the second point though, I think accusing people of racial animus over something that stupid is also a legitimately bad person thing to do, and it’s fair to call the AVClub out for it.

          Missandei has been basically useless since Dany came to Westeros, for perfectly valid in-universe reasons (she’s a cultural expert on a culture no longer relevant to the situation). Her plot resolution was clearly going to be one of 3 things: gets a happily ever after with Grey Worm, Grey Worm dies heroically saving her, or she dies tragically in order to prompt Dany and/or Grey Worm into beast mode.

          The plot demanded someone for the third role, and Missandei was clearly the best available option. So off with her head.

        • LesHapablap says:

          I’m not showing off, I feel guilty about having this anti-SJW reflex now after too much internet. It has made me a bit resentful, and though it hasn’t negatively affected my real life, it certainly hasn’t done me any good.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think Brienne is intended in the story to be a pretty unattractive woman. However, there’s an ass for every seat, and so it’s plausible that in the big wide world, she’ll find a few guys who have a thing for big, manly badass women with hearts of gold, and she’ll be set.

        • Protagoras says:

          Many of the characters in the TV show are much better looking than the books describe them as being (and as a result, the characters who are supposed to stand out for their attractiveness, like Loras or Cersei, end up not standing out much at all amid the sea of generally good-looking people). Brienne is one of the more dramatic instances of this. If LesHapablap were referring to book Brienne, I’d think his failure of imagination more understandable. But for the TV show, while I wouldn’t expect Gwendoline Christie to get much work as a model (despite having the height for it), I think it is a serious failure of imagination to think nobody could find her attractive.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Gwendoline Christie the actress is in a high percentile for attractiveness; even actors and actresses who are known for playing weird-looking or unattractive characters are more attractive, often considerably more, than the norm. Brienne of Tarth the character is attired in a way that makes her look unattractive (I played too much D&D as a kid, but most people don’t think full plate is a great female look, or really even a male look these days), styled likewise (the haircut they’ve given her isn’t flattering), and Christie does a very good job of inhabiting the role physically in a way that makes the character less attractive than the actress. Overall, one of my favourite performances; the vibe is 100% right.

          • LesHapablap says:

            In the book and the show she is treated as unattractive by everyone around her. Through context and the choice of actor it is obvious that her character is meant to be manly and ugly. The only character that finds her attractive so far is Tormund, and that attraction is played for laughs.

          • albatross11 says:

            Right, this is the “Holywood ugly” phenomenon.

      • gbdub says:

        The people attracted to Brienne make perfect sense in a way that requires no imagination, just paying attention to the story.

        Tormund is a size queen (he was nursed by a giant after all) and anyway the Wildlings clearly prefer powerful, aggressive women. Not exactly an obscure fetish.

        For Jaime, she’s the exact opposite of Cersei, who he is trying to distance himself from. She is not physically beautiful but represents all the ideals he wishes he embodied.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Tormund’s attraction is easy to believe of course and it is written for laughs: the crazy wildling and his fetish for the big woman.

          For Jaime, he grew to respect her because she represents the ideals he wishes he embodied, and because she’s the opposite of Cersei. That respect was a big part of his character arc.

          Respect does not have much to do with sexual attraction (and neither does ‘being the opposite of a former lover’), and he’s respected her for a few seasons now and never shown any attraction to her at all, and suddenly he’s fighting off Tormund to get in her bed?

      • LesHapablap says:

        The sexism accusations from AVclub were both about Sansa and the Hound’s conversation.

        Speaking of Cersei’s cruelty, “The Last Of The Starks” also has some throwback poor writing with its women. Sansa has been one of my favorite characters this season, because she’s grown up and grown into a fearsome and clever player. So when she brushes aside The Hound’s observation that she would have avoided her terrible times with Littlefinger and Ramsay Bolton if she had escaped with him from King’s Landing with a “those men are what made me strong” line, I can’t help but feel disappointed in the male writers’ understanding of Sansa, which suddenly doesn’t feel as good as I’d thought.

        What would you speculate she means about the male writers’ understanding of Sansa? Sansa’s line seemed fine to me, am I missing something?

        But given Brienne’s out-of-character sobbing when Jaime heads back to King’s Landing on his own murder mission, as well as Sansa suddenly claiming that maybe all the torture and assault she endured was character building, it just felt like another example in Thrones’ long history of underdeveloping female characters or using sexist tropes as shorthand.

        From the other review (different writer). While it is a trope, it is obviously true for Sansa, and for many other survivors of torture male or female.

        • Randy M says:

          Sansa suddenly claiming that maybe all the torture and assault she endured was character building

          On the one hand, you don’t want to glamorize torture and many people do carry psychological troubles onward from such situations. On the other hand, it is actually empowering for someone to focus on the future and see their past as something that made them who they are. I think there’s room in fiction for either perspective, and the show would have been equally open to criticism by showing an emotional traumatized woman.

        • J Mann says:

          So when she brushes aside The Hound’s observation that she would have avoided her terrible times with Littlefinger and Ramsay Bolton if she had escaped with him from King’s Landing with a “those men are what made me strong” line

          What would you speculate she means about the male writers’ understanding of Sansa? Sansa’s line seemed fine to me, am I missing something?

          I take it that the writer would find it unrealistic that Sansa would think about Littlefinger and Ramsay manipulating, torturing and raping her as something that made her strong.

          I can see Sansa thinking that way – she’s taken some lessons from Cerse and Littlefinger in the same way that Arya got some from the House of the Undying, and I think she sees herself as the “good” (or at least Northern-aligned) version of Littlefinger. Also, she’s talking to Sandor, who himself was shaped by abuse. I don’t think she’s necessarily right that all that abuse strengthened her over what she would have been in a better world, but I can see her believing it.

          Of course, Sandor is probably not telling the whole story – if she had fled with the Hound from Winterfell, she would either have been captured by the Brotherhood without Banners or would have ended up at the Red Wedding, just like the Hound and Arya did.

        • Clutzy says:

          I’d say the person writing this about Sansa didn’t watch the show. Sansa used to be intolerably naive.

      • greenwoodjw says:

        1) No. Brienne is supposed to be ugly. That’s actually a major driver of her character. Your reaction means they did a good job.

        2) Also no, provided it makes sense in the story. The real question is why you would read such people.

        • Protagoras says:

          Except they didn’t do that good of a job. It is admittedly standard for Hollywood that the character everybody treats as ugly is played by an actor who isn’t remotely ugly, with poor fashion choices applied in a pathetically ineffective effort to hide the actor’s attractiveness, but whether you excuse them for doing what everybody else does, they did exactly that standard thing in this case.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Who would you say she compares to in Hollywood in terms of attractiveness?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I don’t know any actors that would go for “plastic surgery to look ugly”, and Brienne isn’t deformed, so it’s not like they have a lot of options.

          • brad says:

            Hermione was also supposed to be unattractive.

          • John Schilling says:

            But “unattractive” in a “kind of plain and mousy” way rather than a “hideously ugly”. Which they got more or less right with nine-year-old Emma Watson. Failing to predict that sixteen-year-old Emma Watson was going to be almost undisguisably beautiful was an understandable mistake.

          • ana53294 says:

            In Goblet of Fire, where Krum invites Hermione to the ball, and she dresses up, she becomes quite attractive even in the book.

            So Hermione Granger was never a hideously ugly character, just a geek girl who doesn’t care much about her appearance.

          • John Schilling says:

            I do kind of regret not living in the alternate universe where Warner et al said, “OK, so Emma is growing into gorgeous – how do we hide that until the Yule Ball scene?” and somehow pulled it off.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            John Schilling-

            That would indeed have been stellar.

            But I’ve always thought the dirty-faced flowermonger Eliza Doolittle was way prettier than the belle-of-the-ball Eliza Doolittle. It would be really tough to pull it off.

          • The Nybbler says:

            IIRC, book-Hermione’s most unattractive feature was her buck teeth… which she got magically fixed (unusually for Hermione, through deception) somewhere along the line.

      • Nornagest says:

        I don’t personally find Brienne very attractive, but I have no trouble believing that people do. A lot of people, even. She has an unusual body type, but she clearly takes care of herself, and she’s clever, highly principled, and very good at what she does.

        • J Mann says:

          I can never decide whether Brienne is clever or whether she is “thick as a castle wall.”* She’s an inventive fighter, but she seems kind of lost at everything else.

          * As opposed to Arianne Martell, who is thicc as a castle wall, amirite?

    • J Mann says:

      Why would Tyrion tell Varys the secret? I thought Tyrion was supposed to be smart.

      • gbdub says:

        Handing Tyrion the idiot ball has been one of the bigger sins of the last couple seasons. I guess they wanted to make Dany a strong smart woman that don’t need no man telling her what to do, but it makes zero sense in universe and Tyrion deserves better.

      • vV_Vv says:

        I thought Tyrion was supposed to be smart.

        Only up to when they ran out of books. Now every male characters with balls, including the Night King, is contractually obligated to be an idiot.

        • John Schilling says:

          I believe Samwell Tarley is still allowed to be smart. Also to get the girl and live happily ever after. While he is proven to technically have balls, it is possible that his obesity, nerdosity, and lack of stereotypical Hollywood masculinity has allowed him to evade the contractual obligations in question.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Indeed Sam is smart in the sense a stereotypical nerd is smart: good at technical stuff but with horrible social skills, completely unsuitable for politics. Another example is Qyburn.

            Contrast with Tyrion, Tywin, Littlefinger, Varys or even Maester Pycelle who used to conspire all day long. Except for the unballed one, these are all dead or reduced to cute little mascots.

    • dick says:

      Main thing I’ll remember from this episode was, “We have defeated them, but we still have us to contend with.”

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Once again I find myself torn between suspecting that HBO became bored and said, “OK, wrap everything up in six episodes” and suspecting that the show-runners stopped caring and just threw in whatever crossed their minds in an effort to “fill” six episodes. Either one could explain plot lines pulled out of nowhere and destined to go nowhere, like Jaime/Brienne, or the magical new artillery, or the premature treason talk, not to mention the anticlimactic death of the Night King last week and the automatic defeat of all his minions.

      It’s baffling to see them waste so many minutes this week accomplishing so little. This is the show I praised in the early days for its ability to communicate an entire chapter of GRRM with two well-delivered lines and a grimace. Maybe the problem is just that they don’t have chapters to work with any more.

      • LesHapablap says:

        I don’t quite understand the economics of all this. They are obviously rushing through things here which could have actually been pretty interesting. Couldn’t HBO make more money by stretching things out for a full length season or two?

        What are the odds on a spinoff happening?

        • Clutzy says:

          HBO makes money by getting people to subscribe for GOT and then forgetting to cancel afterwards.

          Also a spinoff is already confirmed. It is a prequel of sorts, but not a Star Wars style prequel, much further back in time.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Yeah, it confuses me too. Even if GoT is just the enticement that makes people sign up and forget to cancel, it works better if it’s more enticing.

          There are limits to how long you can stretch it out. I read all the books, and have to say I think GRRM went off on a lot of tangents that weren’t really all that interesting. Hmm. I wonder if the explanation for both might be that he just never came up with a resolution that he really liked.

          There are lots of gaudy potboilers on cable that are what you might call “situation dramas”, where the setup is to watch the characters deal with whatever is thrown at them and you can watch it forever without ever tying everything up in a nice bow. But this is not that kind of story.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Couldn’t HBO make more money by stretching things out for a full length season or two?

          This assumes that they can generate enough quality material to keep viewers hooked. Given than in this last season of 6 episodes, the first 2 are mostly filler, I doubt so. You can only have so many scenes of characters drinking and cracking sex jokes before the viewers give up.

  4. Ron says:

    An interesting idea considered here a lot is that “predictive processing” is a theory that can explain any finding about the brain.

    I think “predictive processing” is generally not a theory, i.e. not articulate enough to be testable, and can be made consistent with ANY measurement about the brain. For example, Scott explains here how predictive considerations can explain two phenomena: (1) the impossibility of tickling yourself, explained as: “one “hyperprior” that the body probably learns pretty early is that if it itself makes a motion, it should expect to feel the consequences of that motion”, and (2) Placebo effect, explained as “adjusting pain based on top-down priors. If you believe you should be in pain, the brain will use that as a filter to interpret ambiguous low-precision pain signals. If you believe you shouldn’t, the brain will be more likely to assume ambiguous low-precision pain signals are a mistake”. In (1), the predicted event is ignored, while in (2), the predicted event is emphasized. To overkill this point, you can even try it yourself, and explain using predictive terms why ticking yourself should be more tickling than when someone else tickles you (inverse Tickling Yourself), or why thinking that you should be in pain would be less painful than not (inverse Placebo Effect).

    I also think the author of the reviewed book, Andrew Clark, might view the “hierarchical prediction machine” as an “approach” rather than a theory (see Abstract of his major review on the topic). In my understanding, a theory makes concrete and testable predictions, while an approach/framework is more like a set of important ideas that can be used to interpret existing data. So a theory would commit to whether predictions make things go up or down (more emphasized or more ignored), but we might only be at the “approach” stage.

    What do you think?

    To clarify, this is not an argument against the importance of the main idea, I just… wonder what stage we are at in understanding the phenomena, and whether some terminology might be misused.

  5. broblawsky says:

    Manila methamphetamine prices have dropped and supply has adapted. It looks like there was a brief initial impact, but the drug runners have figured out how to get past the increased level of security. Whether the actual number of users has been significantly impacted is a different question, but I doubt it – the War on Drugs didn’t make a big dent on the number of drug users in the US; I don’t see why Duterte’s tactics would be substantially more effective.

  6. wearsshoes says:

    For anyone who might see this, the SSC Meetup in NYC today has moved to 60 Wall St Atrium. It is an indoors public space about 5 minutes walk from the previous venue.

    • BBA says:

      I live near both of those locations, visited both in the past hour, and didn’t see anything that looks like the SSC meetup in either (some other event is in the Maiden Lane space).

  7. johan_larson says:

    I’ve been checking out the CIA’s obesity statistics.

    The US has a lot of obesity. The country is 12th in the world, behind Kuwait and a bunch of Pacific islands where they seem to live on palm oil and Spam. Earl Butz has a lot to answer for. Thanks again, Tricky Dick.

    Other similar nations do a bit better, but not much. Canada is #26, Australia is #27, and the UK is #36.

    The Netherlands is all the way down at #99. Fear not, Aapje and friends, your allies stand with you in this hour of need. Shipments of Twinkies and Doritos are already steaming east across the Atlantic.

    Also, what the heck is going on in Japan? It’s a wealthy country, but it has one of the lowest obesity rates in the world, at #186. Does Toyota just fire every salaryman who can’t fit into size 30 trousers?

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Given that in my experience practically every traditional Dutch food item is either potato-based, cheese-based, deep fried or some combination thereof, I think the relative slimness of the Dutch (which I notice whenever I return to the UK from the Netherlands) is due more to the popularity of bicycles than to their diet.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Potato has a pretty high satiety index, and cheese isn’t very bad either.

      • DeWitt says:

        That’s the foods we export. The food we eat ends up resembling raw herring or split sea soup some more.

        • johan_larson says:

          I think “split sea soup” is a typo, but now I’m wondering what actual “split sea soup” would consist of.

          • Doctor Mist says:


          • DeWitt says:

            That would’ve been split peas, but it sounds like something Moses could come up with.

          • Aapje says:


            I think that’s what the chasing Egyptians drowned in.

          • J Mann says:


          • Gobbobobble says:

            I would think split sea soup is when you build a massive dijk and everyone gathers to boil and consume the resulting lake

          • Don’t any of you people know the story of what happened when the wagon bringing the split peas for the soup for Paul Bunyan’s French Canadian loggers tipped into a hot spring?

          • CatCube says:

            This is kind of a tangent, but I made a ham last night and now have more leftovers than I know what to do with. I like split-pea soup, but have never made it before. Does anybody have a recommended recipe?

          • Aapje says:

            A split pea soup called ‘snert’ is a traditional Dutch winter food. It’s sold from stalls at ice skating rinks or (other) outdoor events in winter.

            It’s very thick and more like a paste (similar in thickness to hummus) than soup. Extremely hearty.

            Here is a decent recipe. To be a proper Dutch version, you need a smoked rope sausage, but ham should work very well too.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I see my country is the buffer state between Israel and Iran. Oops.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Total anecdata, but I hear that the general philosophy for food in Japan is “good food, small portions.” And small portions goes quite far in preventing obesity.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Japanese people cook at home a lot, and their food in general is not hyper-palatable, even though it is often delicious. A lot of the food they eat at home is downright gross, at least to me.

    • Also, what the heck is going on in Japan? It’s a wealthy country, but it has one of the lowest obesity rates in the world, at #186. Does Toyota just fire every salaryman who can’t fit into size 30 trousers?

      The first thing to check is whether this is due to their healthcare system and any legislation, or just due to personal responsibility, because if it’s the latter than we’re stuffed (literally), whereas if it’s the former we can simply copy their healthcare system/other.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      My guess on Japan is a combination of food/portion sizes, cheaper preventative health care, and people walking everywhere.

      I can’t eat most traditional Japanese cuisine (soy allergy), but I’ve heard that the portion sizes are fairly small. Even the western-style restaurants serve smaller portion sizes than their US counterparts. Dining out in the US usually gives me 2-3 meals, whereas dining out in Japan gives me 1. (Sometimes less than a full meal if I choose poorly. I learned my lesson about Dominos and their chicken.)

      I’ve heard that Japan does annual wellness checks for everyone over the age of… I want to say it was 30? It’s been a while since I learned about this, so I may be getting the details wrong. Iirc, many businesses will pay for basic preventative care: blood pressure, diabetes screening, etc. You can opt-in to much more intensive screenings, including brain scans and screenings for various types of cancer, if you pay from your own pocket. It’s not free if you do the more invasive tests, but it’s magnitudes of levels cheaper than it would be in the US healthcare system. Google “ningen dokku” or for details.

      For large cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, the metro system is a better option than a car for getting around, and that means a lot of walking, both within the stations and outside of the stations. Escalators/elevators are surprisingly hard to find, or just not available in many cases. I lose weight every time I visit Tokyo because I end up walking and climbing stairs for hours every day.

      • Randy M says:

        What does preventative care do for people with obesity or edging towards it? The doctors can nag you, but unless you suppose a lot of them are on diet pills, I don’t know if that accounts for much that the cultural factors already do.

      • johan_larson says:

        The Japanese make some of the best cars in the world but hardly use them. It’s kind of strange.

    • J says:

      Japan instituted a fat tax:

      (Incidentally, that’s an excellent example of the hazards of giving the government an excuse to claim your health is any of its business)

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Wow. From the New York Times article referenced in the wikipedia entry:

        But because the new state-prescribed limit for male waistlines is a strict 33.5 inches…

        At least there’s not jail time for those who exceed this.

    • onyomi says:

      I think food and exercise certainly matters, but let’s also admit that part of this is probably straight-up genetic. There is such a thing as “body type” and different body types are more common among different groups. You mention Pacific Islands. It seems to me they are much more likely than e.g. East Asians to have the “either built like “the Rock” Dwayne Johnson or else fat” body type, for example, hence the many Samoans in the NFL.

      Japanese food is light, yes, and they walk a fair amount, but Sichuan food is very greasy and the Chinese people there are mostly very skinny. As contrasted to e.g. Pacific Islanders and, to a lesser extent, white and black people, East Asians just tend to have that body type (with a lot of variability) where they struggle to put on muscle but also don’t easily put on a lot of fat. Yes, the food they eat at home is lighter than at restaurants, and yes they’d get fatter if they started driving everywhere and eating McDonalds, but it wouldn’t be like you see in the US. Their body types are just different.

      To spin a “just-so” story, my pet theory is that it has something to do with genetic history of farming vs foraging, with the former tending to create people who are genetically predisposed to sleight build and the latter the opposite. Maybe something about how they process carbs? Could also explain why “Atkins”-type diets seem to be very helpful for some and less so for others.

    • toastengineer says:

      Also, what the heck is going on in Japan? It’s a wealthy country, but it has one of the lowest obesity rates in the world, at #186.

      A YouTube video I remember from years ago suggests the answer is relentless bullying and taxes.

      once you’ve talked about your weight with that person at least once, the next time you’ll see them they’ll start prodding you in the stomach like you’re a big walking marshmallow

    • Randy M says:

      I’ve been checking out the CIA’s obesity statistics.

      I’m sure this was compiled by contacting the CDC analogs in various countries, but I’m sticking with the mental image of guys in trench coats hanging out in the foreign equivalent of the mall food court clandestinely radioing HQ about the relative girth of the natives.

      • johan_larson says:

        It does seem like a weird statistic for the CIA to be collecting. It’s a long walk from obesity rates to national security.

        • ana53294 says:

          But it is directly related to national security.

          I have seen many reports on how fewer and fewer Americans are eligible for military service, since more and more potential recruits are obese.

          Russia and Iran have the draft. Surely a high percentage of obesity would mean that there are fewer eligible draftees. And while some levels of obesity can be ignored when you are scraping the bottom of the barrel, morbid obesity does make service impossible.

          • johan_larson says:

            What you are saying is true, but I suspect those weight limits are some of the first things that get waived when the military has trouble making its recruiting quotas.

            How hard can it be to get people to lose weight if you are willing to subject them to bootcamp levels of discipline?

          • CatCube says:

            If you take a fat guy off the couch and run him through boot camp as most countries have it currently constituted, he’s going to end up hard broke and you’re not going to have a useful soldier. Minimum “ramp rates” in exercise mean that you’re going to have a much slower time of increasing your army size.

          • ana53294 says:

            The sustainable rate of fat loss, according to most diet advice sites (where do they get this number?) is 1 kg of fat per month, 2 kg if you’re stretching it.

            A person who has 20 kg extra will take a year to be at a healthy range. Any more and it’s not worth it.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Before Wikipedia[1], the CIA World Fact Book was a go-to source for information when I would fight with fellow nerds on the Internet about something. If you have a room full of autistic people collecting demographic information about other countries, why leave anything off?

          [1] And this information on Wikipedia is nearly always sourced from the World Fact Book.

          • Randy M says:

            Not discounting their need for it, just juxtaposing the glamorous image of the CIA agent with the banality of the statistic.

  8. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Possibly of interest, as in I didn’t finish reading it, but some people here might like it: practical Kabbalah (magic) vs. Hitler

  9. Well... says:

    Probably depends on your definition of effective. One definition might be “hasn’t turned the country into a total wasteland, and has reduced the number of people using scheduled drugs compared to plausible estimates of the number of people who would use those same drugs if legal” in which case I’d guess most countries’ drug policies have been effective.

  10. BBA says:

    The Art Institute of Pittsburgh was founded in 1921, became the flagship of a national chain of art schools, and closed for good two months ago. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a retrospective.

    This is Moloch at work. EDMC had a well-regarded, profitable art school and could have sustained and expanded it while keeping quality high, but there was more money in ramping up recruitment and cutting instruction to the bone. It was a rational decision that nonetheless destroyed something valuable. It makes me wonder whether there’s any future in for-profit education, or for-profit anything, if whatever you build will just get torn down for a quick buck… yes I know nonprofits and governments are just as bad that isn’t my point shut up.

    That, and the latest twists in the EDMC story are just plain weird. The company is about to go bankrupt, closing campuses left and right, and it sells its remaining schools to… the Dream Center, a megachurch with no history of involvement in higher education. This makes the schools nominally nonprofit and exempts them from some of the stricter regulations on for-profit schools, but it’s an odd choice for a nonprofit partner. (Moreover, the Dream Center is based in Los Angeles but Dream Center Education is still in Pittsburgh where EDMC was, nothing funny there, no sir.) Then a couple years later, the colleges are still failing, and Dream Center starts selling them to something called the Education Principle Foundation, which nobody has ever heard of. But before they can finish selling them off, a vendor sues them for missed payments and the judge puts DCE into receivership… as an alternative to bankruptcy? Which is a thing? Anyway, it’s the court-appointed receiver who closed the remaining DCE schools – in mid-semester, with no “teach-out” plan for transferring the students to other colleges to finish their degrees. Hell of an operation they have there.

    Related to this: another EDMC/Dream Center school, the Western State College of Law, got a reprieve from the receiver and was allowed to finish the semester. The class of 2019 has put up a GoFundMe to pay for their graduation ceremony, which I find simultaneously heartwarming and pathetic.

    • Deiseach says:

      A sad story, but I think the logical outcome of “treat education as a business/apply business principles to running schools”.

      Schools are not businesses. If your focus is “we owe a duty to the investors/shareholders/stockholders to generate profits” that’s fine, but that’s not how education works. “Pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap” works for tins of beans, but “cram in as many students as possible for the fees/capitation grants, cut down the staff as much as possible (because workers are an expense not an asset)” is eventually going to fail. Short-term advantage, long-term failure.

      And personally from what I’ve been reading about for-profit schools at third level in the UK, a lot of people going into this are not primarily educators or interested in education, they see this as a business opportunity to line their own pockets and treat the school as their own personal piggy-bank (e.g. award themselves ever-higher salaries, employ family members, award supply contracts to firms that they or family members just happen to own/run, etc.)

      • Well... says:

        they see this as a business opportunity to line their own pockets and treat the school as their own personal piggy-bank (e.g. award themselves ever-higher salaries, employ family members, award supply contracts to firms that they or family members just happen to own/run, etc.)

        My wife has worked at several for-profit vocational colleges and that is precisely how they operate.

        By the way, when you are old and infirm and they assign an STNA or whatever to take care of you, check her credentials VERY carefully.

      • If it is a long term failure, that suggests that it is a poor business model. Berlitz is private business that provides language education. It’s been going for about a hundred and forty years now.

        • Well... says:

          The vocational colleges my wife worked for mostly struggled to make ends meet on a semester-to-semester basis. Preferred strategies for making it through to the next semester tended to center around things like fraud and other types of dishonesty. It was an open secret around the office at at least one of those schools that the founder/CEO had connections to organized crime in her native West African country, though of course I can’t say anything definitively just from that.

          Another of my wife’s former employers, ITT Tech, was ultimately shut down in 2016 after decades of legal issues.

        • Deiseach says:

          I wouldn’t reject all commercial education out of hand, but I do think that when governments looked to “let’s privatise education! that will surely fix the problems if we let Top Business Minds run it like successful companies!” in the Teens onwards, a lot of Not So Top Business Minds saw this as “free money”, at least in the UK where the for-profit sector is confined to third level institutes.

          The situation is complicated by the setting up of trusts to run academies at the high school level, which are technically not for-profit, are state-funded, but are independently run. I say “technically” because this example isn’t the only one out there where the people running the trust diverted a substantial chunk of the funding towards, shall we say, administration expenses:

          In July 2016, the Education Funding Agency investigated the trust. Its draft report, leaked to the TES, found that its interim chief executive, the businessman Mike Ramsay, had paid himself £82,000 over a three-month period. It concluded that the trust was in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management”. Later that year, it was reported that the trust had paid almost £440,000 to IT and admin companies owned by Ramsay and his daughter.

          Another opinion piece lambasting the failure of what was initially, ironically, a Labour government policy (though it really took over under the Tories). And yep, the Telegraph backs up the allegation from 2012 that funding went to pay for private expenses for the head of the trust:

          Mr Gilliland spent £45,000 on the “high standard” refurbishment of an apartment at Laughton Manor, an equestrian centre, where he intended to live but never moved in because of the tax implications. This included £14,000 on a new kitchen, £10,000 on a bathroom and the remainder on carpets, curtains and furniture. He also claimed £990 for the tax advice from an accountant.

          He also authorised the “high cost” £1.4million refurbishment of a residential centre in France, where he and his family would stay and where he kept some personal possessions. His wife also held a “dance school week” there while staff, their partners and children would stay there when the caretakers were on holiday.

          Mr Gilliland made “extensive” use of academy credit cards including some purchases of an “inappropriate nature to be delivered to a school site (e.g. sex games and supplements)”.

          The cards were used to buy two iPads, video game systems, a dishwasher and washing machine, alcohol, £8,564 worth of bedding and sofas, 18-rated DVDs as well as dance and yoga ones, and food and drink bills in France.

          I think the moral is, if state funds are being used for privately-run business-model education, then they need to be scrutinised closely. And non-state funded but for-profit also needs some kind of watchdog body, whether that’s a voluntary industry one or not, otherwise it is too tempting (apparently) for the people to think of it as “this is a business, I’m the owner, the purpose of a business is to generate profit, I get the profit”. That works great for the tins of beans, where the more tins you can churn out the better (so long as your beans are just not crappy enough to be totally inedible). Doesn’t work so great when you’re churning out more and more students with poor qualifications or qualifications in over-subscribed fields and you glut the market so they can’t get the high-paying jobs by means of which they were enticed into taking on this course which promised them “There can never be too many lawyers (or at least legal-field related workers)!”

          (Or beauticians or whatever; some fields are indeed over-crowded relative to the jobs available at a vocational level).

          • One approach is a voucher rather than direct state funding. That way the private school is being evaluated by the parents, in terms of how good they think it is doing of educating their children.

          • BBA says:

            American higher education has most of the features of the voucher model (you just have to pay back the voucher at the end) and…um, see the rest of this thread.

      • Clutzy says:

        IDK, it was successful for a long while. However it started ramping up quickly in the 1980s its aquisitions. This is about the same time college tuition started really increasing in price, which is the same time as student loan loads started increasing. They likely expanded to try and capture that, just as universities have simply expanded.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      The fact that “convert your reputation into cash, then exit before that reputation is entirely ruined” is a viable strategy is just depressing.

      I’m beginning to think that you can only capture the total value of an institution by destroying it, and that this may be the reason why it seems so hard to convince people not to slice bits off of the golden goose.

      • BBA says:

        So about “reputation” – it doesn’t take much. There was no such school as Ashford University before 2005, but because its parent company took over the failing Mount St. Clare College and changed its name, Ashford could truthfully claim in its ads to have been founded in 1918 and show pictures of its traditional college campus in Iowa. (Which has since closed. It served its purpose.)

    • John Schilling says:

      There is a short list of services (and almost no goods) where both A: using financial profit as an incentive usually results in very poor service and B: the human mind comes pre-wired to accept alternate incentives that produce better results. Education is I believe one of these services. Hard to measure actual quality until too late, easy to peddle snake oil, and yet teachers and professors still show up with a commitment to impart knowledge for wages less than they could earn elsewhere.

      Compounding this, a society that takes advantage of the alternate incentives to provide these services on a non-profit basis, tends to not develop the sort of supporting institutions that would be necessary to maintain quality in the for-profit sector. Accreditation as it currently exist doesn’t seem to be doing the job, and we’ve already discussed the general uselessness and gameability of the USN&WR rankings. I can imagine a world where institutions exist that will call out for-profit schools when they stop providing high-quality education, but outside of a few industrial specialties we don’t live in that world.

      • 10240 says:

        teachers and professors still show up with a commitment to impart knowledge for wages less than they could earn elsewhere

        That should reduce problems with the for-profit model, rather than increase them, as it implies that for-profit schools can’t save large amounts of money by reducing salaries (as even high-quality teachers at high-quality schools make relatively little), and that paying teachers less doesn’t significantly reduce the quality of their work.

        • John Schilling says:

          But other things will reduce their quality of work, like e.g. being told they have to give passing grades to all of their students less they stop paying tuition. More generally, for-profit businesses have a mixed track record when it comes to harnessing the non-monetary incentives of their employees.

      • cassander says:

        I’ve attended and taught at for profit educational institutions, and I don’t think the incentives were any worse than anywhere else. Of course, in my case, all of the schools in question were explicitly vocational, which helps keep everyone honest. General education is tougher, but given my experiences with non-profit general education, I’m not at all convinced its any less self serving than for profit, just more prestigious.

    • 10240 says:

      No it wasn’t a rational decision. It seems to me that the company paid no dividend during its public period, and it has lost all its share value. At least it wouldn’t have been if the rest of the story could have been predicted by its owners. To the extent it couldn’t be predicted, it’s a case of mismanagement: it’s unclear if they couldn’t predict that reducing the quality of their education would quickly lead to bankruptcy, or they couldn’t predict that their management practices would reduce quality. It’s not even clear from the article to what extent its quality was actually reduced, and whether a reduction in quality was actually the reason of the bankruptcy.

      If prospective students and employers properly informed themselves, rational owners wouldn’t reduce the quality of a for-profit school unless the current quality is not worth the high cost at the margin. If there is actually a problem with for-profit schools rationally reducing quality in a way that’s negative for society, the primary problem is with too much reliance on historical reputation on part of students and employers, and not updating quickly enough if the quality of the school is reduced. (If the narrative about EDMC is accurate, it’s a counterexample: after the deterioration stared, the school was bankrupt within a few years.) A major deterioration in quality may not be a common issue with non-profit universities, but a reliance on historical reputation causes issues in a different way: it makes it hard to found competitive new high-quality universities (whether for-profit or non-profit), allowing high-reputation schools to charge sky-high tuitions, and spend money in ways that don’t serve a useful purpose.

      It makes me wonder whether there’s any future in for-profit education, or for-profit anything, if whatever you build will just get torn down for a quick buck… yes I know nonprofits and governments are just as bad that isn’t my point shut up.

      The part before the ellipsis contradicts the part after it.

      • BBA says:

        Dividends? How 20th century.

        EDMC was taken private in 2006 and went public again in 2009, by which time the growth-at-all-costs strategy was firmly in place. The pre-2009 owners certainly made money. After 2009, the executives still paid themselves handsomely even as the value of the stock plummeted. Since the Dream Center transaction made the schools nominally “nonprofit”, as best as I can piece together from the court filings, they’ve been profitable for “third-party” vendors supposedly being paid for management services, information technology, etc. The current dispute over the receivership is one of these vendors (apparently allied with the Dream Center) fighting another one (which apparently set up Education Principle Foundation as its stooge) to squeeze the last few droplets of value out of the remains of EDMC.

        A more straightforward version of this scheme involves the former Kaplan University, which last year was sold to Purdue University for one dollar. Kaplan Inc. still exists and Purdue has an open-ended contract with them to manage the newly renamed “Purdue University Global.” So Kaplan still gets its income stream from online education, with much less of the bad press from having its name on a scammy for-profit school. Meanwhile Purdue gets… what exactly?

        The part before the ellipsis contradicts the part after it.


        • 10240 says:

          I’m not sure what exactly are the ways stockholders generally attempt to align the interests of the executives with those of their own (I guess stock price-based bonuses are a common one), but the fact that capitalism tends to work relatively well in most sectors (certainly better than planned economy) suggests that it’s doable, and there are no particularly large problems in that area. I don’t see a reason it should be harder in education than in other sectors.

    • ana53294 says:

      I was going to give the example of Le Cordon Bleu as an example of a private education institution that still has a reputation for high standards, but it appears that its American branch had many issues on quality.

      I don’t think it’s not possible to have a for profit institution focused on education that maintains high standards of quality.

      There are for-profit organizations that focus on giving education, not degrees, and they seem to work. Kumon is a private math tutoring school, and they help lots of kids improve their maths skills. Coursera is also for-profit, and they have excellent courses, probably because they piggyback on non-profit institutions.

      People won’t bother to pay money for a school that doesn’t give degrees if they don’t learn stuff, and they feel they are learning a lot. Students know when they are learning; not having a degree makes it much easier to quit and cut your losses when you realize you are not learning.

      • johan_larson says:

        I would expect profit-seeking educational institutions to work well in areas where the objective is clear and measurable, and the educational institutions aren’t the ones doing the measuring. SAT prep schools seem to work just fine, for instance. If your kid’s scores don’t improve, stop sending them there. And tell your friends.

        • cassander says:

          those are precisely the conditions where government agencies also function well. I’d say that those conditions are good for all organizations, not just for profits.

  11. Uribe says:

    I believe Singapore and Iran have been very effective at fighting drug use with draconian laws.

    • theredsheep says:

      Really? I once read a book that said like ten percent of Iran’s population is addicted to opium or something. Granted, it wasn’t the best book …

      • Uribe says:

        Whereas I’m going by claims made by Iran. Your book is probably a more credible source…

      • a real dog says:

        I’ve never seen so much public, or thinly veiled, drug use as during my trip to Iran.

        Bandar Abbas is a literal hive of scum and villany where some guy in a grocery store queue tried to sell me some drugs at 8 AM, and I saw several more people doing drugs in broad daylight within 30 minutes (granted, most of it was at the docks). There are police checkpoints at roads out of Bandar Abbas, soldiers with dogs searching vehicles and all that.

        Perhaps they mostly succeed in keeping the drugs contained to the ports, though even in Tehran I had a guy ask for a light in some tourist destination, but instead of a cigarette he smoked something (likely opium) from a glass pipe.

        Hell, it’s not even hard to score alcohol there if you know young people – it seems it’s roughly as available as weed is in the EU.

  12. caryatis says:

    What do SSC types mean when they say “object-level important”? Is that different from “important”?

    • greenwoodjw says:

      “Object” is the exact thing under discussion. “Meta” are the principles and concepts that motivate the discussion.

      So, a gun law proposing a ban on magazines at or above 10-round capacity would be the object-level discussion and the principles and philosophy behind gun control would be the meta-level discussion.

      The fact that 9 round and under magazines don’t really exist would be object-level important, but not meta-level important.

  13. johan_larson says:

    You have a choice. You can become the very best in the world at one of these professions:
    – math teacher
    – social worker
    – librarian
    – cab driver
    – flight attendant
    – auto mechanic
    – wrestling coach
    – fast-food restaurant manager
    – parole officer
    – drywall installer
    – insurance adjuster
    Which profession will you choose to excel at?

    Personally, I would choose the restaurant manager. If I’m the world’s best restaurant manager, then I’m probably still a well-above-average restaurant business executive, which means I can run not just a restaurant but a small chain of them. I’d buy a franchise, run it in exemplary fashion, and use the proceeds to buy another and another until I had a dozen or two. I’d stop at many I felt I could effectively supervise and give the benefit of my tip-top restaurant management skills. And the owner of 10-20 restaurants, even low-end restaurants, is a wealthy man.

    • Nornagest says:

      Wrestling coach. There’s plenty of money in high-level sports coaching, and it’s similar to martial arts instruction, which I already know I enjoy.

      • johan_larson says:

        The problem is that wrestling is rarely done both for money and for real. Not a lot of people turn out to watch sport wrestling. So the best possible money is probably coaching some Olympic team somewhere in a nation that cares enough about sports prestige to fund its Olympic program well. I’m guessing that’s money, but not big money.

        • Nornagest says:

          Yeah, I was thinking Olympics, or a deep-pocketed college program. Or I could leverage my new coaching skills and my existing martial arts skills to become, maybe not the GOAT judo or MMA coach, but a very good one.

        • acymetric says:

          A cursory look indicates that the best wrestling coach in the USA should be able to make north of $300,000 (plus endorsements, if any are available to wrestling coaches). That isn’t bad money if you can get it.

          • Clutzy says:

            Cael makes about that. His base salary is around 200k at PSU, he gets bonuses and has Olympic endorsements.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      How good is “very best”? Can achieve super-human feats? Can achieve best theoretically possible human feats? Can achieve best possible feats ever accomplished by some specific human?

      Math teacher or social worker (or maybe parole officer) could, depending on that answer, affect the lives of millions of people, by creating an army of superior mathematicians or breaking thousands to millions of people out of poverty.

      • johan_larson says:

        Let’s say somewhat better than whoever had the top spot before this counterfactual went into effect. Definitely not superhuman. Probably not the best in history, even. But better than everybody else right now, in ways top practitioners can distinguish.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I’d probably go for social worker, then, but it might be out of ignorance of how little the best social workers can do.

          The real-life Jaime Escalante, as opposed to the movie version, built a huge program to make sure the kids that came into his Calculus program were ready to learn, and it did not scale beyond his school.

          Are there any quintessential “best social workers” that had noticeable effects on the lives of the people they directly worked with?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Escalante’s program didn’t even survive long after his departure, but that’s because the rest of the school staff hated it and tore it down – you can’t blame the “bad students and their terrible awfulness” when the same kids are learning college-level math.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      I would choose auto mechanic because the work would keep me active and as autos change it would continue to challenge my mind. The lack of interaction with people is a plus as well.

    • acymetric says:

      There are two factors here…how much would I enjoy it and how much money would it make me.

      Fast food manager might have the best income potential, but is also the one I would hate the most (well, 2nd most behind parole officer). Wrestling coach probably offers the best combination of “would enjoy” and “makes good money” but for some reason I can’t get excited about it. Probably because I have no interest in wrestling. Presumably if I were the best coach in the world that would change, but I’m not willing to take that chance.

      I probably go auto mechanic. There are going to be a lot of interesting options available there, and some decent money to be made.

      If the “fast-food” qualifier was dropped from restaurant manager it would be restaurant manager hands down if we can assume that being a great restaurant manager extends to being a great restaurant owner which is implied in the original post.

      • Uribe says:

        How much money can a fast-food manager make? I think it would max out around $50k. Given that, I don’t see how the plan of buying a franchise would work.

        Also, does a manager at a fast-food restaurant — or any restaurant — really manage the business unless they are the owner? I think they are just an operations manager, meaning they wouldn’t necessarily have the savvy to make a good restaurateur.

        I’d go with math teacher or auto mechanic, for the same reasons Hoopyfreud gives below.

        • acymetric says:

          Maybe Johan could save up enough to get a loan for the balance of the franchise fee?

          As far as the role of a manager, that varies widely. Some owners are actively involved in the restaurant and the manager is just operations as you suggest. Others are basically just a bankroll (or were initially heavily involved but have stepped back) and the manager basically runs everything.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Math teacher, or auto mechanic, depending on whether I wake up tomorrow and my life is the same (if it is, auto mechanic). They both seem quite fulfilling, but success as a math teacher is much more a matter of luck/credential. Just like restaurant manager, tbh.

      Social worker is too hard, librarian is neat but nah, cab driver and flight attendant require too much obsequiousness, wrestling coach and parole officer involve too much hardassery, and insurance adjuster makes my soul evaporate out through my hair.

    • Clutzy says:

      Couldn’t you make like serious bank as an insurance adjuster that consulted for hedge funds about the liabilities you expect people to be exposed to?

      • acymetric says:

        Are the best insurance adjusters currently doing this?

        • Clutzy says:

          Im not even adjacent to the hedge fund business. It just seems to me insurance exploits would probably be part of what they do.

    • LesHapablap says:

      The current very best in the world at all of these professions will be extremely intelligent, hard-working, dependable and an excellent communicator. They will likely be charismatic as well. So any of these choices would be fantastic and allow me to do pretty much whatever I want. So basically it comes down to what super powers I would like:

      -flight attendant: totally cool in extreme situations. Unflappable. Expert at dealing with people and resolving conflict.
      -auto-mechanic: conscientiousness. expert with machines of all types. Intuitively understands electricity and physics
      -fast food manager: management, leadership, motivational skills
      -insurance claims adjuster: Sherlock Holmes-level people-reading and investigatory skills
      -drywall installer: super strength, attention to detail
      -wrestling coach: athleticism, martial arts, motivational, leadership, teaching skills
      -librarian: well-read, multiple PhDs. able to find obscure information. Culturally this will give the most class advantage as the others are all blue collar.

    • Plumber says:


      After giving up on being an Astronaut/Astronomer/Cowboy/Buckaroo Banzai/et cetera, I did want to work at the library and at 16 along with a couple of hundred others I took a test to try to get hired, and then I saw my competition was the damn college students who took every job thst didn’t involve heavy lifting or being a cute girl so I added that to my ever growing “no chance” list, so librarian would be my gut instinct in order to fulfill an adolescent fantasy.

      World’s best social worker might do some good, but according to my step-father who briefly was one you can only really help people if you break rules and risk your job, that leaves drywall installer which (since I spent a good chunk of my life as a construction worker) would probably be the best fit for who I am.

      If I was the best math teacher I suppose that I could help my son out, though presumably as “best” I’d be too busy teaching others kids, which brings up a thought:

      I don’t want to be best as that would mean neglecting my family, as there’s words or those who work a lot of overtime: Divorced or absent.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Only two good choices there, I think. Unless you assume the skills are up-transferrable (as you do), there’s a pretty hard ceiling on almost all of those.

      A top wrestling coach can at least become world-famous in a minor way through the reflected glory of the athletes he coaches.

      A top auto mechanic can make it as a mechanic for a racing team or a factory mechanic in an exotic/high end car company. I like cars, so that’s the one I’m going for.

      • psmith says:

        Those were the two that stood out to me as well.

        Plus, following some analysis upthread, the world’s best auto mechanic would probably make a pretty good engineer in automotive and adjacent fields. (And world’s best wrestling coach would probably make a pretty good leader in other fields, particularly military if you were young enough. Not that it’s a great career choice in pure dollar terms, but if it’s the kind of thing you want to do….).

    • Mark Atwood says:


      The flippant answer is “if it’s good enough for Superman’s bio mom, it’s good enough for me”.

      Slightly more seriously, the best librarian in the world likely has complete access to at least one and probably more of the best libraries in the world, and would have immensely $$$ valuable knowledge and meta knowledge.

      • Protagoras says:

        Slightly more seriously, the best librarian in the world likely has complete access to at least one and probably more of the best libraries in the world

        I’m not sure why this sentence needed to continue any further; this is already such a strong case for that option.

        • bean says:

          Agreed. Plan:
          1. Be the best librarian in the world.
          2. Get a job at the Library of Congress.

          No, this plan does not need any more steps.

        • John Schilling says:

          I thought the best librarian in the world was running a public high school library in Sunnyvale, CA? Which, granted, is still a pretty cool gig if you’re up for it.

          • bean says:

            Yes, but you have to work on top of the hellmouth, and deal with all that comes out of that. Also, I’m not sure he’d qualify here. He’s a good researcher, but rather limited outside of mystical topics. Which is not a normal librarian skillset.

            Also, he later ends up running a magic shop instead. Which is demonstrably the most dangerous job in the world. Although he is the only one in the series to get out of the job alive.

          • Protagoras says:

            Did you mean Sunnydale, as bean apparently thinks, or is there some notable high school in Sunnyvale I don’t know about? If the former, there’s also the plus that Sunnydale is supposed to be basically identical to Santa Barbara (apart from the magical details) and Santa Barbara is lovely.

          • Not Sunnyvale and not a public high school library, but you are close.

            What do you think are the odds that a university library in Santa Clara would just happen to have a translation of the Anglo-Saxon work on leechcraft whose contents were being offered as a basis for a book of supposedly Anglo-Saxon recipes that I was writing a review of?

            My theory was that the Jesuits were engaged in forbidden arts in order to make their library produce whatever was needed, but if they just happened to have hired the best librarian in the world …

      • Randy M says:

        the best librarian in the world likely has complete access to at least one and probably more of the best libraries in the world

        Assuming a perfect meritocracy. But the relative ease of each profession in identifying and utilizing the skillset of the best seems like a relevant part of the question.

    • Protagoras says:

      I don’t like the list very much, but I think I’d go with math teacher. I feel it’s cheating to pick one where being the best at that profession might give you skills transferable to what you really want to do (even though you partially do that in your own example), so I’m assuming it’s mostly not transferable; you choose that field or you don’t benefit much from the gift. And I find teaching rewarding. Admittedly, I find teaching logic (the closest thing I’ve done to teaching math) extremely frustrating, but presumably if I were the world’s best teacher, I’d have more success getting my students to actually understand what’s going on.

    • Well... says:

      I’m tempted to say librarian. The best librarian could obtain some pretty nice, well-paid jobs, like Dean or Director of Libraries (or whatever they call it) at well-endowed universities like Harvard, Stanford, Texas A&M, etc. Or else get a really nice curator-type gig at a big metropolitan museum or botanical gardens.

      If money wasn’t a consideration I’d pick auto mechanic because I already like working on cars and being that incredibly good at it would be awesome.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I’m not going to make much money at any of these – but I’d make an adequate living at most of them. All of them have some transferable skills and knowledge. All of them have potential for BS and bureaucracy, but teacher, social worker, and parole officer particularly stand out. And none of them have huge potential for impact, beyond people you directly assist, except to some extent the math teacher.

      So I’ll pick auto mechanic, as relatively low on human interaction, and complementing my existing skills and talents. (You didn’t say I’d lose them.)

    • Yair says:

      It’s between librarian and Maths teacher for me.

      Librarian because having access to every bit of information out there whenever I need it is an amazing superpower. It would probably make you one of the best researchers in the world if not the best, and this would give you the ability to make the world substantially better.

      The best Maths teacher on the other side would have an incredible set of students who would achieve extraordinary things for the world, being the founder of such a club would be nifty. Also, the best Maths teacher in the world is probably capable of designing new curriculums at every level lifting the maths literacy of their entire country or perhaps even the entire world, imagine the impact!

      PS IMO once you are the very top of a field, any field, money is no longer very relevant. Nor do I think that transferring to something else would be justifiable.

      • johan_larson says:

        If I have to do the job itself, and focus on personal satisfaction, wrestling coach looks pretty good. I’d get to work with a long stream of highly capable, highly motivated young people, and I’d have a hand in making them the best they can be. That would be cool.

        On the other hand, if I wanted to focus on impact, I think parole officer might be the way to go. The way I see it, it’s a triage profession: some of your clients are determined to return to a life of crime, some want to reintegrate into society, and some are wavering. As the very best parole officer in the world, I’ll be able to identify the first group quickly, won’t waste much time on them, and when they stop showing up to meetings or whatever, I’ll be able to give the police plenty of useful information to help apprehend them. For the ones looking to go clean, I’ll be able to offer useful advice and contacts that maximize their chances of staying on the straight and narrow. And I’ll be able to persuade an unusual number of the waverers to go the clean route.

        All in all, as the best parole officer in the world, I might be able to move a couple of thousand young men from net-negative to net-positive lives. I could go happily into retirement having done that.

      • Also, the best Maths teacher in the world is probably capable of designing new curriculums at every level lifting the maths literacy of their entire country or perhaps even the entire world, imagine the impact!

        That assumes that the people choosing curricula for schools are doing a good job, good enough to recognize that the curriculum designed by the best math teacher in the world is better than the one they have been using or the one they design themselves.

        Do you think the present performance of the school system supports that assumption?

        • johan_larson says:

          Who could dramatically improve a state math curriculum and how it is taught? I would guess you would need to be some sort of system insider who is trusted by the bureaucracy and has the credibility to lead it. Such a person probably started as a teacher, and moved up the ranks into administration fairly quickly. They would need substantial political skills, because changing a system means persuading a lot of people to back you and being able to sideline those who oppose you. Making real changes in how a subject is taught within a state would probably be the work of a lifetime, barring some Sputnik-like crisis that forced a dramatic reassessment.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        the best Maths teacher in the world is probably capable of designing new curriculums at every level lifting the maths literacy of their entire country or perhaps even the entire world, imagine the impact!

        I pretty strongly believe that the impact of the curriculum is tiny compared to the impact of the person teaching it.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Wrestling coach. It implies also being quite good at wrestling – the best wrestling coach in the world isn’t the best wrestler, but is probably in a very high percentile; this is one of the more useful skills available in these choices. As the best in coaching it, there’s solid employment to be had all over the world. Presumably you have a passion for wrestling and coaching and will thus enjoy the job. If you like staying in one place much of the time, you could just get a job at a university or with a national program or whatever. If you like travelling, you could probably hustle a lot of seminars at different martial arts schools all over the place.

      If you like carts instead of martial arts, go with auto mechanic. You are now a star pit crew member, if there’s such a thing.

      • acymetric says:

        It implies also being quite good at wrestling – the best wrestling coach in the world isn’t the best wrestler, but is probably in a very high percentile;

        I’m not sure that is necessarily true. In fact, I think it is fairly uncommon. Most elite coaches were not noteworthy as players…some didn’t even compete beyond the high school level (going the student manager/assistant -> coach route).

        • dndnrsn says:

          “Noteworthy” is a really high percentile; I think people underrate how good the top are in any pursuit. If someone’s top 1/20, that’s high percentile, but that’s still only the best guy in a relatively small group.

    • Definitely auto mechanic. (I assume the top of that career ladder involves working for Bruce Wayne.)

    • ana53294 says:

      Math teacher. You can become a millionaire, which is not so bad. Wrestling coach involves training people and maybe fighting, so it’s a big no for me.

      You can scale it big, make online courses. Or you can become a very well paid private tutor.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Maths teacher. I’d then use my world-class teaching skills to get a job tutoring the offspring of the rich and powerful, giving me the opportunity to influence at least some of the movers and shakers of tomorrow in their most formative years. (Cue maniacal laughter)

    • herbert herberson says:

      As the best social worker in the world, you wouldn’t make a lot of money, but you would be constantly and routinely taking deeply broken people and transforming them into happy and successful individuals. That sounds like a life I’d love to live.

    • James Miller says:

      Librarian as I will earn millions managing the financial data used by hedge funds and their machine learning algorithms.

  14. Hoopyfreud says:

    What happened to the word “problematic?” Has it been thrown into the euphemism thresher? Is it still out there in force and I just don’t encounter it?

    • albertborrow says:

      People started treating it a bit more carefully after it became a meme, generally reserving it for more serious situations instead of micro-problems. That doesn’t mean it’s not misused, just that I’ve seen it less. Or, when I do see it, it’s less euphemistic, like they’re genuinely intending to give someone a lesson on how to be polite instead of throwing them to the wolves. Maybe it’s the circles I travel in, though.

    • Incurian says:

      I had a stereotypical commie diversity professor who said it like every thirty seconds. That was last year. Or the year before, I dunno, but recently.

      I have a recording of me doing a critical analysis of the plane scene that she really gets into. Remind me to share that next December when I’m done with school.

    • Deiseach says:

      I hadn’t thought about it, but now you mention it yes, I haven’t seen it nearly as much.

      Possibly because people fond of using it also were fond of the ol’ circular firing squad, and other people got so tired and annoyed by being accused of being problematic because they liked problematic things that were problematic because the first set of people said they were, and this made the second set of people problematic too, that the second set – who would otherwise be allies or on the same general side – rose up and smacked them down hard.

  15. dick says:

    D&D question: my group (four 4th levels) is going to be exploring an ancient tomb teeming with undead tonight. Any fun/interesting/underused undead monsters or effects you’re fond of that I should include, to make this more interesting than a bunch of skeletons and zombies?

    • Skivverus says:

      Probably not canon, but:
      A young woman, translucent and forlorn, wanders the halls, a faint chime audible with each halting step. She grows more transparent on her left foot, more solid on her right. If attacked she will attempt to flee, and if cornered her despair will turn to desperation, her own attacks ignoring either armor or mystical defenses at random (and conversely being immune to either physical or magical attacks at random each round).
      Should the party find a language to talk with her instead – anyone in the party know the history of the tomb? – well, now you have a (side)quest NPC.

      • dick says:

        I like this ghostly NPC business, but as it happens the quest is already fleshed out. The heroes need to make it to the basement of an ancient abandoned temple, and an extraplanar baddie who doesn’t want them to get there has called up some undead to stand in their way.

        So, put in more mundane language, they’re going back in to a dungeon they’ve seen before, and I want to throw some curveballs at them instead of it just being a slugfest of skeleton-bashing.

        • Randy M says:

          Why does this temple have undead? What was happening here back when it wasn’t a ruin? Was it a primitive cult that engaged in human sacrifice? Maybe the some of the skeletons/zombies/ghosts are weaker than usual, but can be reasoned with and have their tortured existence eased by some side quest.

          Or maybe they are from the crypts, and are the honored dead of an ancient race/civilization. They could be powerful, (say, toss them a magic sword?) but fight by a code of honor. Or maybe they are the ancient priests that were interred here, and they have a unique spell related to their lost deity. They too will stop fighting the PCs if the players convinced them they will help cleanse the temple of the invaders.

          Mindless undead controlled by a BBEG are good for horror or as mooks, but considering what they were like when alive can give you some cool scenes in other situations.

          • dick says:

            Glad you asked! The elders of a nearby town made a (rather unwise) pact with an extraplanar demon to protect their town in exchange for an annual human sacrifice. The heroes discovered this on their previous trip to the temple, when they found the basement to be inhabited by a handful of ghosts who bore a striking similarity to missing townsfolk.

            Now, the heroes have already unveiled the town elders’ plot, and half the town is packing their bags while the other half try ineffectually to mount a defense against whatever’s going to happen when the annual sacrifice doesn’t occur. Meanwhile, the heroes have learned that the baddie gains power from the sacrifices, and will lose power if those souls are put to rest (which will help them a lot when it comes time to slug it out with him).

            The baddie can’t personally come to the Prime Material to stop them, so he’s used his influence to ask an old pal to throw up some roadblocks, to keep the party from waltzing in and saying a few prayers and stealing all the soul-power he’s worked so hard to acquire. That’s why the temple is now overrun by monsters despite having recently been cleared out.

            Also: the baddie is basically minor demon who has thrown his lot in with Yeenoghu, and is attempting to gain enough power to carve out his own fiefdom in the Abyssal planes. So, for the last couple of sessions, there have been a lot of gnolls. A lot of gnolls. Gnoll fangs. Gnoll witherlings. Gnolls riding hyenas. Super-gnolls, which are the result of unholy gnoll experiments. You get the idea. If they go in to that temple and get attacked by more gnolls, I might need a dice-ectomy. So I was going to hand-wave up an explanation for why the baddie couldn’t use his go-to mobs to protect this particular temple, and had to settle for something else; undead just seemed like a natural fit since it has a crypt haunted by ghosts in the basement.

            Probably more detail than you needed! So, taking your advice in to account, these particular undead could be the restless souls of the temple’s former occupants rising up to protect their eternal home, but it could also be anything that a necromancer who owes a demon a favor could find on short notice. What I care most about it is just that they add some new curiosities and depth to a place that the party has already been through and “solved”, as far as traps and puzzles and such go.

          • Randy M says:

            So these undead are not the ghosts of the sacrificed people, but created/gated in by the demon? They could be the bodies of demonic cultists who died in his service, and have some quirky demon trait as well.

            Or they could be previous adventures that tried to stop Yeenoghu et al in ages past, now forced to serve against their will. Perhaps skeleton’s whose bones have been gnawed on by gnolls. They are driven mad by the hellish torment they’ve received.

            Third option (because ideas get more interesting when we push beyond the obvious)–maybe they are some sort of abomination created from the bones of beasts killed by the gnolls. Weird amalgamations of cow skulls, horns, hooves, and human limbs. Let them explode into a shower of horn and teeth when destroyed, and then revive periodically if not sanctified or ground to dust afterwards.

          • J says:

            What, no grassy gnolls?

    • greenwoodjw says:

      Diablo 3’s early alpha period had an undead monster that was an amalgamation of corpses that they used as a heavy unit, and Warcraft 3’s Ghoul unit was a simple melee unit that regenerated HP by consuming corpses. I don’t know about homebrewing units or skills but those’re ideas I’m fond of.

      • dick says:

        I remember those! That’s a pretty good visual, and an amalgamation-of-corpses beast would make a fine miniboss for this particular crypt, thanks!

      • Skivverus says:

        Or, going the other direction, zombies or skeletons that separate into different monsters before the party has a chance to hack them apart the ordinary way. Prehensile intestines, autonomous spines (think “snake with human skull”), disembodied arms wielding disembodied legs, that sort of thing. Basically, doubling down on the “things moving that shouldn’t” theme.

    • johan_larson says:

      I think I’ve mentioned this before, but you might try having some of the undead do damage that requires both normal and magical healing. Going up against such monsters, even with magical healing support, requires either taking them out quickly or scheduling a nice long break from adventuring for a while to heal up after the fight. It’s a very intimidating effect, and I think it makes a bit more sense than level drain.

    • broblawsky says:

      Crawling claws? Any kind of weird skeleton, basically. There’s a lot of monsters you can apply a skeleton template to and reskin them as weird hodge-podges of amalgamated bones.

    • Deiseach says:

      The only Irish undead folklore I can think of are stories like Teig O’Kane and the Corpse, where the bones (heh) of the plot is: guy gets tasked to bury a corpse in one of four particular burying grounds before dawn, if he fails to do so things will go badly for him.

      He’s encouraged to do this by the corpse clutching onto him to be carried piggy-back style, and as he travels from one burial place to the next he encounters opposition from the dead already buried there. Will he make it or not?

      Six or seven of them raised the body then, and pulled it over to him, and left it down on his back. The breast of the corpse was squeezed against Teig’s back and shoulders, and the arms of the corpse were thrown around Teig’s neck. Then they stood back from him a couple of yards, and let him get up. He rose, foaming at the mouth and cursing, and he shook himself, thinking to throw the corpse off his back. But his fear and his wonder were great when he found that the two arms had a tight hold round his own neck, and that the two legs were squeezing his hips firmly, and that, however strongly he tried, he could not throw it off, any more than a horse can throw off its saddle.

      …He went into the churchyard, and he walked up the old grassy pathway leading to the church. When he reached the door, he found it locked. The door was large and strong, and he did not know what to do. At last he drew out his knife with difficulty, and stuck it in the wood to try if it were not rotten, but it was not. “Now,” said he to himself, “I have no more to do; the door is shut, and I can’t open it.” Before the words were rightly shaped in his own mind, a voice in his ear said to him, “Search for the key on the top of the door, or on the wall.”
      He started. “Who is that speaking to me?” he cried, turning round; but he saw no one. The voice said in his ear again, “Search for the key on the top of the door, or on the wall.”
      “What’s that?” said he, and the sweat running from his forehead; “who spoke to me?”
      “It’s I, the corpse, that spoke to you!” said the voice.
      “Can you talk?” said Teig.
      “Now and again,” said the corpse.

      You could, I suppose, pluck from that that one of your party gets stuck with a corpse glommed onto them, can’t be pulled off or magically separated, and they have to get the corpse to a particular tomb or vault to get it off; all the while other ghosts, corpses, whatever are trying to prevent them?

    • beleester says:

      Incorporeal undead can be tricky enemies. They can lurk inside walls (and ceilings!) and move completely silently, so they can ambush the party, stalk them, and generally just pull spooky shit. Especially with an intelligent master controlling them. A pair of Shadows or a low-level ghost would be the right level.

      The only issue is, incorporeality is a very binary ability – if a party member doesn’t have a magic weapon, spells, or a generous supply of holy water, they’re going to find themselves completely useless for the encounter, and that’s not very fun. Maybe a shadow paired with a more physical threat so there’s something for everyone.

    • helloo says:

      A/Some particularly stubborn but weak skeleton that isn’t stopped by being broken into pieces.
      That is, make it rather weak, and each decent hit can break off a limb or skull … that then starts to move again and still tries to attack them separately. I’d make it more humorous with even bone shards or dust trying to pile up at their feet uselessly “attacking” them.

      Skeleton that act like mimics. That is, the crypt has some furniture or doors that are made from bones. But then it turns out those are still undead monsters.

      Undead food. Like have a dining hall with rotten meat and seafood, mostly harmless then an undead cow “weilding” meat hooks comes charging in.

  16. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Rationalists, have any of you applied the principles of rationality to dog ownership? I’m finding some conflicting information and am curious if anyone else has evaluated and applied the data out there.

    • greenwoodjw says:

      Yes. I have a moderate distaste for dogs, so, rationally, I don’t have one.

      • Randy M says:

        Ha! Likewise, I have outsourced satisfying my daughter’s affections for dogs by taking her to the dog park to play rather than risk my apartment by getting a dog of our own.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I believe, without good evidence, that rationalists are overwhelmingly unlikely to be dog people.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        That wouldn’t be very rational of them, since a dog improves your cardiovascular health (petting them lowers blood pressure, triglycerides and LDL), will motivate you to exercise (with all those health benefits) unless you’re A) already into fitness or B) being a bad dog owner, and improves your social life (talking about your dog when you meet people on walks seems to be the ultimate icebreaker).
        Of course a cat will also get you the lower blood pressure/triglycerides/LDL benefit.

        • Nornagest says:

          Do dogs come with brain parasites that make you love them? No? Then I’ll stick with the cat.

          (Just kidding, I like both. Or at least my parasites do.)

        • Kindly says:

          Going on walks counts as exercise, or do you have something else in mind?

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure. If you’re looking to control weight, it can even be a good form of exercise, since it burns calories without doing much to your appetite. Won’t get you swole, but you might not be looking for that.

    • alef says:

      I don’t have children (which I think is relevant) but I am somewhat befuddled by very how pleased I am when (I think that) my dog is having a happy time even when it’s entirely at my detriment. I think utilitarianism is a bit crazy, and I already have a low valuation on “my” well-being relative to (to abbreviate) “stuff”, but this dog-ownership is one of the few-in-my-life cases where I viscerally feel that my deeply-felt moral sphere is truly enlarged.

      This raises moral questions: “all humans are very equally valuable; not-human: not of moral significance” seems – obviously, and a priori – silly to me, and becomes even more untenable. I would appreciate any pointers to a non-Singer version of utilitaianrsm which reconciles such thoughts.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Do primary vs secondary goals help? We enjoy some things for their sake and that’s it – survival, taste of good food, sunsets, art, Netflix, heroin. Some relationships are part of that. So your dog is important (to the human society) because you care about it.

        There is also intrinsic value. My peak cynicism moment was when I met a vagrant golden lab. I’m not a dog person, but petting him I seriously considered taking him home. I decided against, partly because of a fair chance that his owners were around. Got into my car, turned around… and passed him being petted by somebody else. Lost dogs aren’t equal, just as humans aren’t equal, no matter what illusions we’re taught as children. A golden lab, no matter how lost it would be is still a golden lab, and will know no wants or needs.

        Cynicism aside – what I’m trying to say is that your dog may actually be a Good Dog.

  17. nkurz says:

    I have an ill-formed question about national borders. A simplified version of one viewpoint is that well-enforced national borders are a good thing, because by keeping undesirable people out things are better for those who are already inside. Another simplified viewpoint is that borders are bad, because they enforce inequality by keeping people out.

    It seems clear that there is some truth to both of these viewpoints. Limiting the the number of people with access to a limited resource means there is more for those with access. People without access to a limited resource would benefit if they had greater access.

    Is the debate about borders really this simple? Certainly they are second-order effects, but on the first order, are strong borders only a good thing for nationalists but always a bad thing for globalists? Are there any examples where a well-enforced national border is clearly of benefit to people on both sides of that border? Or does judging the utility of a border always depend on who you are hoping to benefit?

    • greenwoodjw says:

      Motivated reasoning, but I think a large part of why Progressives like open borders is that the larger the demos is, the easier it is for a strong top-down state to grow and expand, and harder to develop a coalition to push back against it. It’s very easy to break up a coalition by offering them access to some part of the regulatory state. But government power is a bit like Soul Edge, the power offered is tempting, but the reality is that anyone who takes it ends up serving it.

    • If letting people in gives them free access to a limited commons, it is a bad thing for those already there. If it gives them access to a market, where they can get things only by offering at least equal value in exchange, it is a good thing for those already there, on average, although some may be worse off.

      The obvious commons is government transfer spending–if someone who comes in automatically gets the right to collect welfare or a UBI, that makes those already there poorer. Government services not directly charged for a somewhat fuzzier case. An immigrant who brings children who enter the public school system imposes costs, but they may be balanced by the taxes he, and eventually his children, pay.

      In a pure laissez-faire society one relevant commons, perhaps the only significant one, is crime. A criminal immigrant imposes costs not through the voluntary transfers of the market. So if Trump’s claims about Mexican immigrants were true, they would be a legitimate argument.

      Free immigration was a more popular policy in the U.S. in the 19th century, when it was much more nearly a laissez-faire society, than it is now.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        In a pure laissez-faire society one relevant commons, perhaps the only significant one, is crime. A criminal immigrant imposes costs not through the voluntary transfers of the market. So if Trump’s claims about Mexican immigrants were true, they would be a legitimate argument.

        This seems incomplete, unless you’re assuming that all assets are privatized in a laissez-faire society. But in that case, there can’t be any borders because there’s no public land, and anyway most people agree that this is an absurd state of affairs to conceive of (see: “whose groundwater is this, then,” etc.).

        There’s also a difference between the argument being legitimate and being sufficient that isn’t addressed.

        • I am assuming that, in a laissez-faire society, everything is private property that it’s practical to treat as such. The air is probably still a commons, or perhaps treated as government property to be regulated, as is any adjacent ocean. Probably also groundwater.

          Borders still make sense, because they define where the rules of that society’s legal system apply—I am (conservatively) still assuming that the government runs much of the legal system. But if courts charge litigants the cost of the trial, additional people who can sue don’t result in a cost for others.

          There are going to be various minor externalities issues but I couldn’t think of any other than crime that would be substantial in such a system.

          • Nornagest says:

            Trials are expensive. There’s an incentive to make them less so if you’re running a competitive, multipolar legal system, but even so, there’s some irreducible amount of skilled labor you’re investing; that being the case, you probably can’t recover the cost of the trial from a guy who lives in a trailer, lives paycheck to paycheck as a gas station attendant, and got arrested for setting the gas station (and surrounding neighborhood, because it’s a gas station) on fire. To say nothing of the damages.

            The traditional way of dealing with this is insurance, but just as with health insurance now, some people are probably going to be uninsurable under a crime insurance system.

    • Randy M says:

      I think if we enforced the border–including customs at ports–so perfectly that drug smuggling was eliminated that would weaken the cartels and improve Mexico, but that’s a second order effect.

      Both sides will argue that their policies help even under the opposite point of view.
      -Strong borders with limited immigration will reduce the brain drain from foreign countries. Also, weak borders will (supposedly) allow a safety valve permitting poor governance by allowing the poor to emigrate rather than fight for better governance.
      -Weak borders or more open immigration will improve the lives of those already here by encouraging economic growth, which in the long run will improve the lives of native and immigrants.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I don’t think that there’s much room for first-order arguments, though. Just about nobody is going to say that, on a first order scale, prospective immigrants will be better off if they’re turned away. To do so would be to suggest that those immigrants are so stupid that they’re harming themselves by trying to immigrate. I think you’d have to find a border that nobody is trying to migrate across to make the claim. Because humanity is a gas, that seems unlikely.

        • Randy M says:

          By second order I meant to acknowledge that the benefit stems as much from our drug laws as it does the difficultly in securing the border.
          But more broadly, anywhere the laws of two countries are such that the differences would create a black market, you are probably enabling organized crime by not being very good at stopping smuggling.

          To do so would be to suggest that those immigrants are so stupid that they’re harming themselves by trying to immigrate. I think you’d have to find a border that nobody is trying to migrate across to make the claim. Because humanity is a gas, that seems unlikely.

          Gases migrate unthinkingly, even into places that don’t benefit that gas. I think your analogy isn’t supporting the case.
          Besides, you don’t need to posit people stupid, just lacking complete information. To see examples, look at everyone who immigrated, then returned to the mother country. I’m not sure how common it is now, but in prior immigration waves, it occurred often enough. Even not stupid people are always good at mentally modeling their reactions to new situations.

          But to say that immigration is bad for the particular immigrants who take advantage of it on net, you need to find situations where the migrants either return home at greater than 50%, or are prevented from doing so. I’m not sure that’s the case anywhere, but I’d look into domestic help in Arab oil states which I’ve heard stories of workers lured in on promises of jobs then prevented from leaving and held as indentured servants.

          • Besides, you don’t need to posit people stupid, just lacking complete information. To see examples, look at everyone who immigrated, then returned to the mother country.

            I believe many of those were people who immigrated to the U.S. and eventually retired back home–with the money they made here. So probably not a mistake.

          • Randy M says:

            @David, that may be often the case–obviously I shouldn’t have said everyone! There’s also the case of refugees (de facto even if not officially classified as such) who return home when the danger is passed, which would of course also be sensible.

            But some were people who missed their home culture, or found opportunities were oversold them as they crowded into tenements looking for work.
            It’s going to be a fraught topic to research due to bias in presentation, but do you have any numbers?

          • Lambert says:

            > everyone who immigrated, then returned to the mother country

            I daresay in many cases, e.g. Asians on the West Coast, Southern Europeans in Germany, it’s precisely the opposite.

            The plan was to work abroad for a number of years, then return. It’s the ones who stayed whose plans changed.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Are there any examples where a well-enforced national border is clearly of benefit to people on both sides of that border?

      Maybe the borders running through former Czechoslovakia? But the Czech republic is Schengen now, so even if it was, at one point, good and enforced, it’s now not at least one of those things.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        Czecho-Slovak border was never very closed. Even before both countries entered EU, there was significant number of Slovaks living in Czechia, and vice versa.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Thanks! I was having trouble finding out whether the border closed or not.

    • vV_Vv says:

      I assume that by “borders” you mean enforced geographical restrictions to inbound movement of people, not outbound restrictions (which most countries don’t have and are generally considered violations of the “Universal Human Rights”), and not sovereign state territorial limits (e.g. the borders between EU Schengen countries) or trade borders (which typically geographical coincide with travel borders, but have different functions and can function also in the outbound direction by imposing export tariffs and restrictions).

      Then it’s quite clear that, as a first order effect and at the margin, borders are bad for any individual person who would wish to get into a country and is prevented to do so.

      But because of “tragedy of the commons” scenarios, what may be good at the margin for an individual person may not be good (in a Pareto-efficiency sense) when many people do it, when they have an incentive to do it.

      Specifically, any immigrant from a “shithole” country may individually benefit from moving to a developed country, but in doing so they’ll make that country slightly more shitty, while their home country may not become any less shitty (*) due to their leaving. If done en masse, this can turn all the developed countries into shithole, making the locals worse of and the immigrant not (significantly) better than they were in their home countries.

      (*): In fact it is possible that both the source and the destination countries become more shitty as the result of migration: it happens if the average shittiness (to simplify, define shittiness := 1/(IQ + conscientiousness)) of migrants is intermediate between the average shittiness of the source country and the average shittiness of the destination country, which is a likely scenario.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Could be just me, but the idea of a semipermeable membrane seems obvious, from a complexity-management point of view (I almost said “diversity”).

      You want borders because you want independent systems that can compete. You want to see how different experiments turn out, which laws are better, which traditions, which… everything. You also want true diversity, and this involves having homogeneous places – be they cultural or ethnic. And of course, heterogeneous places as well. You want countries that accept immigrants from Afghanistan (like Sweden) and you want places that protect Assange from Sweden. You want US and you want a place for Snowden to run from US.

      And you want those borders to be permeable in the ways that foster best competition. At the very least, you want them (all? most?) transparent to information and trade. There are few motivators as strong as being able to buy nice shiny things but not affording them. So whenever a country does something right – anything, from forest management to UBI experiments – it’s visible and reasonably obvious. Whenever it does most things wrong, it’s even more obvious – its citizens can’t afford nice shiny things, or in extreme cases have 300g of food per day.


      This being said, lately most conversation has focused on what to do to help those with 300g of food per day, because well, borders don’t really let you go to their home and help them directly. So the automatic response is “Let’s allow them to come here!”. This is one of those cases where the universe is mean, life is shitty and our brains just refuse to see it and go to a happy place. All three are true: borders exist, they’re necessary, and you can only help a tiny minority by allowing them to immigrate. The video in the link should be mandatory to watch for anybody engaging in immigration talk.

      I’m not saying immigration is bad – all I’m saying is that by itself is not The solution, and most it does is put our brains in the happy place ignoring all that stayed home.

    • JPNunez says:

      Borders need to be well protected so you can enforce laws about imports/exports/taxes/drugs/dangerous elements like weapons, fireworks, animals, fruits, etc.

      Whether you want to include people in that list is another thing. I am all for open borders; as long as you don’t have v bad crimes in your record, you should be welcome to stay as long as you want wherever.

  18. Conrad Honcho says:

    Saw Endgame last night, and the discussion in the other thread is dead, but I have some questions:

    1) N zvahgr nsgre Uhyx fancf rirelobql onpx vagb rkvfgrapr, Unjxrlr’f jvsr pnyyf uvz. Jbhyqa’g ure pryy cubar pbagenpg or hc?

    2) Rirelbar abj unf znffvir cebcregl naq crefbany qvfchgrf. Lbh inavfurq 5 lrnef ntb naq pnzr onpx ohg abj lbhe jvsr vf erzneevrq (be fhvpvqrq orpnhfr rirelguvat vf ulcre qrcerffvat), lbh’ir tbg ab wbo, fbzrobql ryfr obhtug lbhe ubhfr juvpu jnf ercbffrffrq ol gur onax orpnhfr lbh qvqa’g znxr lbhe zbegtntr cnlzragf sbe svir lrnef. Jung unccrarq gb rirelbar’f onax nppbhagf? Ubj qbrf nal pbheg nqwhqvpngr nal bs guvf?

    3) N ybg bs crbcyr jvyy cebonoyl or cvffrq crbcyr ner onpx. V zrna, lbhe nohfvir uhfonaq inavfurq naq vg jnf n terng eryvrs ohg abj ur’f onpx naq ab gvzr unf cnffrq sbe uvz fb ur’f fgvyy n ivbyrag qehax.

    4) Fbzr bs gur crbcyr jub jrer mnccrq njnl jrer ba nvecynarf. Jura gurl tbg mnccrq onpx…jurer rknpgyl qvq gurl zngrevnyvmr?

    5) V qb abg haqrefgnaq jul gurl obgurerq chggvat Pncgnva Zneiry va gur zbivr. Va gur svefg cneg gurl pbhyq unir whfg jevggra gung gur fuvc jbexf svar naq Gbal naq Arohyn syl onpx gb Rnegu. Gura fur’f tbar sbe gur ragver zbivr, naq ng gur raq fubjf hc sbe fbzr chapuvat, ohg gurer jnf ab fubegntr bs crbcyr pncnoyr bs chapuvat.

    6) Jura Pncgnva Nzrevpn tbrf gb erghea gur fbhy trz, jung qb lbh fhccbfr ur naq Erq Fxhyy gnyxrq nobhg?

    • Doctor Mist says:

      1. He’s been paying it just in case?
      2. Yup. Lighten up.
      3. But on balance…
      4. Wherever convenient. This is heap big power.
      5. New opportunities for us to think, “That’s it, we’re boned”. Never too many of those.
      Fgvyy, vg frrzf pyrne gung PZ vf whfg gbb qnzarq cbjreshy. V yvxrq gur aneengvir gung fur’f abg nebhaq orpnhfr fur unf n *ernyyl* ovt orng.
      6. Heh. Maybe about getting a life. That’s kind of a nice image.

      My understanding is that Spider-Man: Far from Home is actually the final movie in Phase 3; it would be interesting if it addressed any of your questions, even tangentially. My guess is that it won’t, but you never know.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      1) He might have kept paying for a family plan for 60 months because he’s cray-cray.

      2) Gung’f n terng dhrfgvba. V’z fxrcgvpny gung vg jvyy rire or nqqerffrq, lrg vs vg vf, vg ehvaf gur ZPH’f novyvgl gb gryy cfrhqb-ernyvfgvp tebhaqrq fgbevrf be arj bevtva fgbevrf, orpnhfr pbafvfgrapl jbhyq erdhver ubj gur Encgher naq gur ernccrnenapr bs gur fanccrq svir lrnef yngre nssrpgrq rnpu punenpgre’f yvsr, juvpu vf nethnoyl n ovttre fgbel guna gurve pbzvpf bevtva.
      Gur pbzvpf irefvba bs gur Vasvavgl Tnhagyrg fgbel qvq orggre ol univat Arohyn hfr vg gb erjvaq gvzr gb whfg orsber gur fanc…

      3) Right; see 2.

      4) Uhyx pbhyq unir jvyyrq “oevat rirelbar onpx fnsryl.” Bs pbhefr vg jbhyq or shaavre vs ur qvqa’g.

      5) Because her movie came out before Endgame, and they had a commitment to include everyone.

      6) V’q ybir gb xabj. V jvfu gurl’q frag uvz gb Ibezve vafgrnq bs OJ & Unjxrlr, jub qvq abguvat ohg fyncfgvpx bire jub tbg gb fnpevsvpr gurzfrys, fvapr arvgure xarj gur Erq Fxhyy.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Nyfb, unf vg orra rfgnoyvfurq gung Erq Fxhyy thneqvat gur fbhy trz vf ernyyl GUR Erq Fxhyy naq vg’f abg whfg yvxr n…vzntr be fbzrguvat? Yvxr n “pubbfr gur sbez bs gur qrfgeblre” xvaq bs guvat? Znlor rirelbar frrf fbzrguvat qvssrerag, ohg gur uhznaf jngpuvat va gur nhqvrapr frr Erq Fxhyy?

    • albertborrow says:

      Ur qvqa’g unir gb chg gur fgbarf onpx jurer gurl fgnegrq. Gurl znqr gung pyrne jvgu gur Napvrag Bar’f rkcbfvgvba. Ur whfg arrqrq gb chg gurz onpx va gur Havirefrf gurl gbbx gurz sebz, bgurejvfr, gubfr havirefrf jbhyq syl bhg bs onynapr. Guvf nafjre vf nyfb gur nafjre gb gur pbzzba “ubj qvq gurl chg gur fgbar onpx va gur grffrenpg” dhrfgvba.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Vf Rnegu-199999 (gur cevzr bar sbe gur ZPH) tbvat gb snyy bhg bs onynapr sebz Gunabf Gunabf’vat gur fgbarf?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      1. Guvf pnhtug zr hc qhevat gur zbivr, gbb. Ynaq yvar?

      2. V trg gung fbzr crbcyr qba’g jnag guvf nqqerffrq, ohg vs gurl whfg erjbhaq gvzr vg jbhyq srry yvxr n purnc erfrg ohggba. Hafanccvat rirelbar jnf fgvyy n erfrg ohggba, ohg jr xarj gurl jbhyq or onpx. Guvf vf n erfrg jvgu n ybg bs pbafrdhraprf. Guvf arrqf gb or gnyxrq nobhg.

      2 & 3. Sbyybjvat hc ba #2, gur Zneiry GI fubjf unir ab pubvpr ohg gb nqqerff guvf vs gurl jnag gb erznva va-havirefr. Gurl pbhyq gnxr cynpr va gur 5-lrne tnc, be nsgre vg, ohg vg’f varivgnoyr.

      2 & 4. Lbh xabj ubj Gunabf jnf jbeevrq nobhg crbcyr fgneivat gb qrngu? Oevatvat rirelbar onpx nsgre 5 lrnef vf ubj lbh trg fgneingvba. Gur uhzna snez cebqhpgvba nqncgrq gb srrqvat 3 ovyyvba crbcyr, naq gur cbchyngvba unf ab orra qbhoyrq bireavtug.

      5. Nterr. Gurl xrcg ure bhg nf zhpu nf gurl pbhyq, ohg vagebqhpvat fhpu n cbjreshy punenpgre yngr va gur tnzr vf nyjnlf tbvat gb pnhfr gebhoyr. V jnf ubcvat gurl jbhyq ybjre ure cbjre yriryf fbzrubj (va fbzr aboyr fnpevsvpr gb qrfgebl gur fcnpr fgbar, gur fbhepr bs ure cbjre, pbzovarq jvgu Jnaqn qbvat gur fnzr ntnvafg gur zvaq fgbar?)

      Ibezve, 2014

      Unjxrlr: “Gunaxf sbe gur fbhy fgbar. Tbbq olr.” qvfnccrnef vagb gvzr fgernz

      Fxhyy: “Svanyyl, gur fbhy fgbar unf orra gnxra. Zl oheqra vf serr. Zl bja fbhy pna erfg.”

      Pncgnva Nzrevpn: bar frpbaq yngre, ur nccrnef sebz gur shgher “Yby ab. Trg onpx va lbhe pnir.”

    • JPNunez says:

      He probably has a family plan and is stinky rich from being an Avenger.

      So the alternative is calling the company to save himself 0.01% of his monthly wage or 0.0001% of his savings only to have the following discussion:

      -V arrq gb punatr zl pryycubar cyna sebz snzvyvne gb crefbany.
      -Jung’f gur ernfba?
      -Zl jubyr snzvyl tbg Gunabf’q.
      -V nz fbeel, ohg gung’f abg pbirerq ol gur pbagenpg nf n inyvq ernfba gb dhvg gur snzvyl cyna.
      -Bx, gura zl jubyr snzvyl vf QRNQ.
      -Qb lbh unir n qrshapgvba pregvsvpngr?
      -Ab? Gur tbireazrag vf cnenylmrq naq gurl ner gnxvat zbaguf gb znex qvfnccrnerq crbcyr nf qrnq.
      -Gura lbhe jvsr jvyy unir gb pbzr crefbanyyl gb abgvsl hf gung fur tbg qhfgrq. Tbbq qnl.

      Gura Unjxrlr fubjf hc ng gur cubar pbzcnal naq phgf crbcyr va unys jvgu uvf xngnan.

    • J Mann says:

      5) Gurl chg Pncgnva Zneiry va gur zbivr orpnhfr fur’f gur pbbyrfg punenpgre, jvgu gur zbfg njrfbzr cbjref. Jrera’g lbh yvfgravat nal bs gur gvzrf gung fur naabhaprq gung?

      Frevbhfyl, gur punenpgre arrqf . . . fbzrguvat gb or vagrerfgvat. Sebz n Jngfbavna crefcrpgvir, V pna ohl gung fur jbhyq fubj hc ng gur ortvaavat naq raq.

      (Nygubhtu vs lbh pbhyq fraq ure ba gur Arj Lbex be Ibezve urvfg zvffvba, jul jbhyqa’g lbh? Lbh unir nyy gur gvzr lbh arrq gb cercner, naq vs lbh eha vagb nal gebhoyr, fur’q or unaql.)

    • broblawsky says:

      As for #5:
      Fhccbfrqyl, gur npghny Pncgnva Zneiry zbivr jnf orvat jevggra fvzhygnarbhfyl jvgu Raqtnzr, urapr P.Z.’f zber yvzvgrq ebyr. V’z abg fher ubj zhpu gurl xarj nobhg jung Pneby jnf npghnyyl tbvat gb or hc gb va ure fbyb syvpx.

    • dodrian says:

      In response to some of these:

      V guvax Oehpr vf fzneg rabhtu, naq Uhyx (fhcevfvatyl!) pnevat rabhtu, gb unir gubhtug guebhtu fbzr bs gur vzcyvpngvbaf bs gur frpbaq fanc – naq pregnvayl gur grnz unq rabhtu gvzr gb cercner sbe vg. V’z vzntvavat ng n zvavzhz ynetr nzbhagf bs qvfnfgre eryvrs fhccyvrf jrer nyfb fanccrq vagb rkvfgrapr – ohg V’q org fbzr vasenfgehpgher jnf erfgberq (urapr gur pryy cubar, rira vs vg jnf fhfcrafvba bs qvforyvrs oernxvat ng gur gvzr). V’q nyfb vzntvar vg fanccrq onpx gur varivgnoyr fhvpvqr ivpgvzf gung sbyybjrq gur svefg fanc. Vg’f abg n pbzcyrgryl zntvp svk, ohg V qba’g guvax vg’f yvzvgrq gb oevatvat onpx whfg gur ivpgvzf. Rabhtu sbe Zneiry gb unaqjnir gur qvssrerapr njnl jvgubhg gbb zhpu qvssvphygl.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Qvqa’g gurl hfr bar zber punetr bs Clz cnegvpyrf guna gurl unq?

      2014!Arohyn fgrnyf bar punetr sbez 2023!Arohyn naq tvirf vg gb Gunabf, gura fur pbzrf onpx, qbrf fbzrguvat gb gur tngr naq Gunabf pbzrf jvgu uvf fuvc. Jurer qvq gur frpbaq punetr pbzr sebz?

      Gurer ner gjb cbffvoyr bcgvbaf: rvgure gurl erpbirerq bar punetr sebz Angnfun’f obql ba Ibezve, be Gunabf naq uvf fpvragvfgf erirefr-ratvarrerq gur bar punetr gung gurl unq naq znqr zber, ohg arvgure bcgvba vf fubja ba fperra abe zragvbarq, juvpu znxrf vg ybbx yvxr n cybg ubyr.

  19. AlphaGamma says:

    Someone on Twitter has posted some excerpts from a “Handbook of Cautions, Oaths, Recognizances, etc” still in use in an English courtroom today, although it is so old that it refers to “Quarter and Petty Sessions” which haven’t existed since the early 1970s.

    In particular, the handbook contains oaths to be taken by witnesses of different religions- as English law simply states that witnesses who are “neither Christians nor Jews” should swear in an an appropriate manner but does not prescribe exactly how. A Buddhist witness is supposed to state:

    I declare, as in the presence of Buddha, that I am unprejudiced, and if what I speak shall prove false, or if by colouring truth others shall be led astray, then may the Three Holy Existences, Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, in whose sight I now stand, together with the devotees of the Twenty-Two Firmaments, punish me and also my migrating soul.

    Meanwhile, a “Chinese” witness is supposed to not say anything, but to kneel and break a saucer against the witness box! The witness is then told

    You shall tell the truth and the whole truth; the saucer is cracked and if you do not tell the truth, your soul will be cracked like the saucer.

    (For comparison, the normal form of words in an English court is “I swear by Almighty God to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”)

    • Randy M says:

      Because Chinese people need an object lesson in the idea of integrity.
      I’ll give you this one, that’s pretty racist.
      But I do like the symbolism. I think they ought to start every court session with the ceremonial breaking of the saucer. Kind of like walking down the center of the sacrificed animals in ancient near eastern covenant rituals.

      • theredsheep says:

        Perhaps they mixed it up with the section meant for “devout voodoo practitioners” or something. Hadn’t known the Chinese were big on sympathetic magic.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          It sounds like a Hebrew simile curse to me. Maybe the Chinese are of the lost tribes of Israel?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You had similar oaths in ancient Greece and Rome. One Roman practice I remember reading about involved throwing a stone on the floor and saying words to the effect of “If I break my oath, may I be cast down like this stone.”

      • Deiseach says:

        Because Chinese people need an object lesson in the idea of integrity.

        I’ll give you this one, that’s pretty racist.

        How about, instead of conforming to the customary prejudices of this present time and running to the obligatory “THAT’S RACIST!!!” knee-jerk rationale, we apply a little charity to the possibility of all white people every where in every time not necessarily being jackasses, and try some historical thinking?

        Hail, fair Clio, Goddess of History, come to our aid, we invoke thee!

        Well, what have we here? An article from the Yale Law Journal of 1959 about the oath in the legal system:


        There are three groups of legal systems in which the oath has either never existed or has been wholly or to a very large extent abolished: the law of the area of Chinese political rule, the law of several Swiss cantons and the law of some Slavic, presently Communist, countries. In spite of a great diversity in rationale, one element is common to these systems – the lack of the oath. There is either no ancient oath practice or a traditional philosophy which does not favor the oath. In the absence of an ancient and favorable tradition, the oath practice has been easily abandoned on rational grounds.

        So it would seem that instead of Racist White People taking every opportunity to be Racist, maybe perhaps just possibly instead that, for people of a cultural background that did not have a “taking the oath in a court of law” tradition, a compromise based on their cultural mores was adopted to satisfy the demands of Western practice while being meaningful to those people?

        Now indeed, a letter published in a journal of 1869 (you can find it on Google books if you try “Chinese saucer breaking”) pours a considerable amount of cold water on the saucer method as arising out of a cock-and-bull story invented by some witness in a London trial in 1804, but it also mentions that there are indeed simple versions of oath-taking in China, one method being to break a teacup while saying “May I be smashed like this cup”:

        Mr Anstey’s correction is open to doubt when he says that the ceremony of breaking a saucer is not known in China. There are at least the three following modes of swearing, well known to the Chinese; the first two are used for trivial matters the third for graver occasions.

        (a) Breaking a teacup, with the formula ‘may I be smashed like this cup.’
        (b) Blowing out a candle with the formula ‘may I be extinguished like this flame.’
        (c) Cutting off a cock’s head with the formula ‘may I die under the knife’.

        I have never seen the first two forms, but have seen the last, which is preceded by an imprecatory prayer to the idols of the Temple where it is performed, and the burning of the statement to be attested, written on yellow, and enclosed in the ordinary ceremonial paper.

        So less “white people gonna racist” and more “white people gonna take at face value what somebody tells them they do out foreign”, okay?

        *hobbles off leaning on walking stick muttering about ‘does nobody ever think about looking into the history of the thing first, tanjdammit?’*

        • Randy M says:

          Alright, my apologies to the British. If the Irish women is coming their defense on the matter, I really must have made a rush judgement.

          • Deiseach says:

            Truer word was never spoken, after posting that I sat back and went “Have I really just stuck up for the British court system?” 😀

        • AG says:

          How about a little charity for the fact that Randy M has never been close to a SJ strawman, or that basically no one in the SSC commentariat is of the SJ boogeyman you’re attacking here, Deiseach?

          The rest of the refutation was very educational, thanks for posting it.

          • Deiseach says:

            AG, when somebody goes “I’ll give you this one, that’s pretty racist”, I tend to think they do mean “This is racist” not “I’m only expressing my bemusement in a quirky manner”.

            There’s been plenty of historic and current day racism slopping about, but that doesn’t mean that we need run to it as the one size fits all explanation about “this is something odd I never heard about before, why do this?”

        • erenold says:

          I’m fairly sure that’s taken from gang initiation rituals. The specific oath is “we were not born on the same day, of the same month, in the same year, but we wish only to die on the same day, of the same month, in the same year”. (只愿同年同月同日死, which is quite lyrical in the original Chinese).

          So I’d argue it’s quite clearly racist, yes. I invite anyone who thinks otherwise to consider the situation if the only way that an Italian-American – and only an Italian-American – could testify in Court is if they held a burning picture of a saint in their hand while reciting an oath to burn like the picture if they told a lie.

          • Deiseach says:

            As pointed out, whether it comes from a gang initiation or whatever the original version was in China, the British usage came from exactly that – a court case where the judge etc. were relying on the testimony of an interpreter about “This is how the Chinese take an oath”. This is the crux of the problem: two clashing cultures where one legal system depends on the witness swearing an oath or making some other solemn declaration, and the other where this doesn’t happen but false testimony is severely punished (by use of judicial torture). You have to hit on a compromise and this was the one they decided upon.

            Criticisms of this very point in 1869 revolved around “Chinese people don’t do this and moreover they have nothing but contempt for what they consider a barbarous system where people have to engage in magical rituals in order to be compelled to tell the truth, so they’re plenty happy to ‘swear’ European oaths and then lie through their teeth in the knowledge that they won’t be beaten or tortured by order of the court” – in other words, Chinese testimony in a European context was worthless. You can call that racist, if you like, but that’s the same problem – how do you get reliable testimony?

            By the same token, testimony of Irish in British-derived system was considered unreliable because people would happily perjure themselves, not taking the oath in a Protestant context seriously, and only by making the oath fit culturally would you get honest answers; the folkloric tale of a native Irish lawyer making sure that when the oath was put to an Irish-speaking witness, it was along the lines of “may all my sheep be clifted (that is, fall over the edge of a cliff) if I speak falsely”.

            Racist or pragmatic? You decide!

          • Protagoras says:

            Meh. If your witness won’t tell the truth without an oath, I have very little confidence that having them swear an oath will improve things. Find better witnesses.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I do’t think the point of the oath is to get the witness to tell the truth so much as to convince the jury that the witness is telling the truth. Of course, either one depends on a general belief that the oath means something.

          • erenold says:


            I don’t disagree with a single word of your post but we seem to have a definitional issue here, in that your fundamental premise seems to be that something must be intentionally offensive (and in fact, the sole motive of the actor has to be to cause intentional offence) in order to be ‘racist’. I’m fairly certain that’s not the conventional usage of the word. Things are racist when they are based on prejudice against a racial or ethnic group. That’s it.

            I have no particular knowledge of the Irish context you refer to but yes, what you’re describing in your example of the Irish witness is also racist by the conventional usage of the word. I mean, based on that example, if I honestly believe that individuals of African descent are genetically predisposed to violence and refuse to serve them in my restaurant (without controlling for any other socioeconomic indicators like gang affiliation or whatnot, just to avoid the obvious objection), that’s somehow not racist because I have the legitimate (or ‘pragmatic’, in your words) intention of not having violence in my restaurant.

          • ana53294 says:

            Would it be racist if knowing that a guest is from a Muslim majority country, and not knowing their religion, you avoid serving them pork? And do the same for a person with a Jewish surname?

            I think it would be OK to offer the guests some pork dishes, but there should be non-pork options (unless you are sure that they are atheists Arabs/Jews).

            Giving them the option of an oath that is meaningful to them is accomodating their religion and traditions, and not giving them the same you would give your fellow countrymen.

          • erenold says:

            Not sure that works. Observant Jews and Muslims do not, in fact, eat pork. It’s not prejudiced to recognise that. If anything, it’s showing a surfeit of consideration. Whereas I don’t think Chinese people are any more or less incapable of telling the truth without being forced into displays of sympathetic magic. That the display is in fact a gang ritual (I believe) only adds to the insult.

            The intention obviously matters here. The Chinese witness is not being forced to do this for his benefit, he’s being asked to do this in order to have basic access to the judicial system.

            Further, the Chinese witness is not being made to do this simply because he can’t swear an oath to the Christian God. The common law obviously doesn’t deny access to itself to non-Christians – they’re simply required to affirm that they are telling the truth, rather than swear. This isn’t an option available to the Chinese witness, solely because of his ethnic origin.

          • Things are racist when they are based on prejudice against a racial or ethnic group.

            Does it count as prejudice if it’s true?

            Suppose it is true that most Irish will not consider the form of oath used in an English court binding and most English will. Is it prejudice if jurors are less willing to believe sworn testimony from an Irish witness than from an English witness?

            What if the belief is false but reasonable? You have a witness from China, a society you know very little about. Someone who knows more than you or anyone else you have access to but not all that much tells you that a ceremony involving breaking a saucer is the equivalent of an oath in that society, so you use such a ceremony.

            As it happens it isn’t true, but you have no way to know it isn’t true and the belief that leads you to accept it—that China is a very different society so likely to have different ceremonies for the purpose—is true. Are you being racist?

          • erenold says:

            1. No. In which case however, the burden of proof is on you to show your work – why exactly are Chinese people less likely to tell the truth in a courtroom than an equivalent non-Christian without being forced into some ridiculous ritual first? The racism is in the initial premise itself.

            2. All other things being equal, and expressly subject to the premise of the question being true (which again would have to be shown), no. The question then becomes one of the appropriate weight to place on this factor.

            3. Yes. It was unintentional, but nonetheless racist.

            Is there perhaps some dictionary or conventional definition of racism I could be pointed to, under which any of the above answers are not true?

          • why exactly are Chinese people less likely to tell the truth in a courtroom than an equivalent non-Christian without being forced into some ridiculous ritual first?

            English witnesses are assumed to be Christians—this is coming out of 19th c. precedent—and go through the Christian ritual. Buddhists go through the Buddhist ritual. Chinese go through the Chinese ritual.

            The people running the trial know less about Buddhists and Chinese than about Christians, so they may very possibly get the ritual wrong, especially since Chinese and/or Buddhist witnesses are pretty uncommon in an English court. But none of this implies that a Chinese witness is less likely to tell the truth than an equivalent non-Christian—just that different people use different rituals to commit themselves to telling the truth.

          • erenold says:

            A couple of points:-

            1. Did you notice that ‘Christian’, ‘Buddhist’ and ‘Chinese’ are apples, apples and oranges respectively, and that an assumption that different religious groups have differing beliefs regarding the concept of an oath is not quite the same thing as an assumption that different racial groups have such differing beliefs?

            2. This is what I mean when I say the racism is smuggled in the premise. Why exactly is it assumed that different races necessarily have different magic rituals before they can do such a thing as tell the truth? Yes, the British Court knows very little about Chinese folks, but it knows (or it thinks it knows) one thing – that the ordinary affirmation for non-Christians isn’t enough. Specially bizarre treatment is required for this specially bizarre people. The basis for this fact is solely racial prejudice. I’m really not sure what more there is to say.

            As I said earlier to Deiseach, there’s no real disagreement about the facts here. I’m perfectly happy to concede the following points:

            A. That the unexamined premise of having different oaths for different racial groups is not intended to offend, and is based on a sincere belief that this is necessary in order to obtain reliable testimony; and

            B. That the Chinese ritual’s existence is a good-faith effort to comply with A above, and is not intended to offend.

            The sole point is definitional – does this constitute acting with prejudice on the basis of racial/ethnic origin or not?

          • LesHapablap says:


            Chinese first and foremost means the person is from China, it doesn’t necessarily mean race. You have no evidence to suggest that the British people back then were choosing an oath based on their race, and some evidence that they were choosing an oath for them based on their culture, what little of it they knew.

          • ana53294 says:

            Whereas I don’t think Chinese people are any more or less incapable of telling the truth without being forced into displays of sympathetic magic.

            You don’t take oaths seriously, and you think that people are not more or less likely to tell the truth if they swear they will, for what is sacred to them. Englishmen of the 19th century did take oaths very seriously.

            There are many, many people who still take oaths seriously. Wedding vows are a subset of such oaths, and there are plenty of people who stay together, commit to each other through tough times because of those vows. People do honor commitments they maybe wouldn’t keep if it weren’t for their oaths or vows.

            There are Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Chinese weddings, their ceremonies are different, their rituals are different, yet the government recognizes them equally, and offers them to the different categories, as well as the neutral, civil wedding. Is that racist?

            Chinese people who are not Christians (were there that many in England then?) will not think much of swearing on the Bible. For them, it’s not a valid ritual, anymore than a tea ceremony would be a valid wedding vow to a Christian.

            19th century Englishmen took oaths seriously, and thought that all good Christians would tell the truth when they swore on the Bible. They obviously realized that somebody who isn’t Christian would not take the oath as seriously, so they made accomodations for different religions.

            Chinese culture and religious practices are very intertwined, and it’s hard to call any of it a religion that’s separate from culture. So obviously, Chinese here means a person of Chinese culture, who follows Chinese practices.

            I am pretty sure a Chinese Christian, who goes to a church and is known for practicing the faith, would swear on the Bible. But somebody of Chinese culture would have to use an oath valid for Chinese culture – which is intertwined with the religion.

          • erenold says:

            I would be obliged if @LesHapablap and @ana53294 could read the posts upthread before commenting, cheers.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I would be obliged if @LesHapablap and @ana53294 could read the posts upthread before commenting, cheers.

            This sort of passive-aggression doesn’t do your case any good, and I think their posts are apposite. “Chinese culture doesn’t recognise Western oaths as valid, so if we ever need to swear in a Chinese witness we’ll use a native Chinese ceremony” seems a more plausible reconstruction of the courts’ reasoning than “Chinese people are genetically prone to lying unless they see a piece of crockery being smashed, therefore we’ll do that.” Unless perhaps you have some evidence to the contrary — say, an example of a Chinese Christian who’d spend his whole life in England and was thoroughly anglicised but was nevertheless made to do the dish ceremony instead of swearing on a Bible like everyone else — and if you do, please do share it.

          • ana53294 says:

            @The original Mr. X

            I would agree that a Chinese Christian (or Muslim or Buddhist) being forced to break a cup instead of giving the oath appropriate for their religion, would be very strong evidence of racism.

            And yes, the response by @erenold was unkind and snarky.

          • erenold says:

            I must apologise for being overly antagonistic, on review. For what it’s worth, the frustration comes from having to make the same point several times now:

            … there’s no real disagreement about the facts here. I’m perfectly happy to concede the following points:

            A. That the unexamined premise of having different oaths for different racial groups is not intended to offend, and is based on a sincere belief that this is necessary in order to obtain reliable testimony; and

            B. That the Chinese ritual’s existence is a good-faith effort to comply with A above, and is not intended to offend.

            The sole point is definitional – does this constitute acting with prejudice on the basis of racial/ethnic origin or not?

            So I think I have already addressed this:

            You have no evidence to suggest that the British people back then were choosing an oath based on their race, and some evidence that they were choosing an oath for them based on their culture, what little of it they knew.

            And also this:

            19th century Englishmen took oaths seriously, and thought that all good Christians would tell the truth when they swore on the Bible. They obviously realized that somebody who isn’t Christian would not take the oath as seriously, so they made accomodations for different religions.

            And with respect, also this:

            “Chinese culture doesn’t recognise Western oaths as valid, so if we ever need to swear in a Chinese witness we’ll use a native Chinese ceremony” seems a more plausible reconstruction of the courts’ reasoning than “Chinese people are genetically prone to lying unless they see a piece of crockery being smashed, therefore we’ll do that.”

            I’ve already agreed with all of the above! Unless I am missing something obvious, none of it engages with my point, which is that the starting premise of these quotes is that a separate ritual (instead of just an affirmation, which would have taken place for any other non-Christian) is necessary at all is itself prejudiced.

            EDIT: @ana I didn’t see your latest reply before I posted. I agree with you and apologise.

          • ana53294 says:

            I gave the example of not giving pork to a person with a Jewish surname, so you don’t offend them in case they are Jewish. You are not sure they are Jewish, but you still make accomodations for their presumed Jewishness, and you agreed it wasn’t racist, because Jews don’t eat pork. And I would find it uncomfortable to ask a person whether they are Jewish before inviting them for dinner. Certain things you are not supposed to ask (I learned that by accidentally outing a gay friend; it wasn’t too bad, but still awkward). But you can still accomodate and guess based on certain assumptions.

            Why would making assumptions and accomodations based on a person’s origin and culture be racist? It’s not like they are denied the right to testify, or their word is considered less valuable (which did happen before).

            Did Chinese people ask to give the Christian vow? Was this a demand? Were they unhappy with cup-breaking?

          • which is that the starting premise of these quotes is that a separate ritual (instead of just an affirmation, which would have taken place for any other non-Christian)

            What makes you assume that? According to the original post:

            In particular, the handbook contains oaths to be taken by witnesses of different religions- as English law simply states that witnesses who are “neither Christians nor Jews” should swear in an an appropriate manner but does not prescribe exactly how. A Buddhist witness is supposed to state:

            If that is correct, a Chinese witness who was a Christian or a Jew would swear in the ordinary fashion, a Chinese Buddhist in a different fashion, and Chinese who were neither Christian, Buddhist or Jewish using the ceremony described. No suggestion that everyone not Chinese, Christian or Jewish gets to make “an affirmation.”

            Why do you interpret “Chinese” as a racial category rather than a nationality/culture?

            As far as I can tell, your argument depends on a set of assumptions about what was happening which are inconsistent with the information in the comment that started the discussion.

          • Heterosteus says:

            I get the impression there’s a difference in people’s impressions of the facts here. erenold seems to be suggesting that the book gave a generic affirmation for non-religious witnesses, then said Chinese witnesses couldn’t do that and had to do the saucer thing. Whereas my impression (having not followed the original link) was more like “Here’s a list of alternative oaths for different groups of people; try to find one appropriate to the witness”.

            If Chinese people are being singled out and told “No, we have a generic non-Christian oath but you can’t use it”, I’d say that’s clearly racist. If not, the “it’s an honest if perhaps unfortunate misunderstanding” narrative seems stronger.

          • Protagoras says:

            English law allowed Quakers (who have religious objections to swearing others) to affirm as of 1695, but I believe it was not until much later (later than the introduction of the saucer breaking stuff) that affirming became a generic option for anyone who wants it. Though I don’t know for certain when the change happened; I know affirming is an option for anyone now, of course, and quick research failed to reveal exactly when that became the norm. I’m working mostly from vague recollection that the issue was controversial in the time of John Stuart Mill, suggesting it at least wasn’t clearly settled before the mid 19th century.

            I am kind of confused by erenold’s discussion; it seems his main complaint is that the Chinese oath was derived from the triads, but he bases this on a source that talks about the peach garden oath and does not, so far as I can see, reference saucer breaking, while the description people have been discussing of the English court practice only mentions saucer-breaking, and does not, so far as I can see, have anything to do with the peach garden oath. But even if it turns out that there is some overlap that I have not detected, there is a further puzzling element; the peach garden oath was not an invention of the triads. They copied it from an earlier legend (and indeed pretty much the entire initiation ritual is apparently stitched together from bits plagiarized from other traditions). So why assume inclusion of elements related to the peach garden oath in the English oath for Chinese was copied from the triads, rather than via some other path tracing back to the original legend? I was familiar with the peach garden oath, and hadn’t known the triads used it in their initiation ritual, so it clearly isn’t a piece of lore exclusively preserved by the triads.

          • John Schilling says:

            If someone genuinely believes that most humans are culturally indoctrinated in such a manner that reciting an oath of the approved formula makes them either unwilling to lie or unable to lie without obvious tells, but that the details of such indoctrination vary between cultures, then it would be objectively rational to, A: learn the oaths of as many cultures as one practically can, and B: weigh testimony more heavily when one can obtain it under the oath of the witness’s own culture.

            I note that in Dr. Friedman’s latest book he describes the Romani as being quite willing to lie to outsiders even under the outsiders’ oaths, but having their own formula based on ritual purity which they took seriously. And which the English, etc, never bothered to learn in the way that they seem to have at least tried learning the Chinese version – but if they had, it would have been easier for them to get answers they could trust from Romany witnesses in English courts. More generally, a belief in binding oaths of some sort seems to be very common across a broad range of human cultures, so while there are obviously flaws in implementation the general concept may be sound.

            And yes, there’s a sort of unfairness in saying “I know the formula that makes Bob unwilling to lie with p>0.90, I don’t know the formula for Alice and she may be one of those who don’t have such a formula, so I’m taking Bob’s word over Alice’s”. I’m not sure that “racism” is the right word for that unfairness. And I’m not sure I’d tell anyone not to use the formula that gets them reliable and trustworthy answers from a majority of the witnesses in their courts just because they can’t apply it to everyone.

            May be a moot point now that we’ve spent a couple of generations degrading that sort of indoctrination in our own culture and oaths before Almighty God are now much less reliable in securing truth.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            On the food front, I think it’s good form to ask people if they have any food restrictions.

            I find it irritating that sometimes people assume I keep kosher. Actually, a lot of Jewish people don’t keep kosher.

          • LesHapablap says:


            FWIW I don’t think that comment was too unkind or snarky (though I don’t agree that my comments weren’t relevant).

          • Deiseach says:

            Things are racist when they are based on prejudice against a racial or ethnic group. That’s it.

            I’m glad you’ve given a definition, that lets us establish that we’re all talking about the same thing.

            So – I’ve been given to understand that expecting someone from a different culture to adhere or abide by the standards of your culture is racist. Now, that may or may not be so, but if it’s taken as a standard (“acting as though your culture is universal and setting the rule and the only right way to do things is prejudiced and racist”) then asking a Chinese person to take the affirmation used as a standard when dealing with British Christians who cannot or will not swear oaths is racist by that measure – the Chinese person should be accommodated by a practice with which they are familiar and which is relevant and meaningful to them in their culture.

            Given that, I don’t agree that the saucer-breaking was racist because of “prejudice against a racial or ethnic group”. The court was unfamiliar with Chinese custom and asked someone claiming to have knowledge what an equivalent custom would be. If you say “that is based on gang initiation and is racist because it’s treating all Chinese as criminals” then take it up with history, the court had no way of knowing about Triads or gang oaths and that did not colour their view.

            They were trying to be fair in the circumstances – asking a Chinese person to swear or use a form that was meaningless to them would not serve the purpose of the legal ceremony. Would it have been better to adopt the custom of Chinese courts, which if the 19th century visitor was correct, involved beating witnesses and the accused but no oath-swearing?

            “The judge when conducting a trial sits behind a large table, which is covered with a red cloth. The prisoner is made to kneel in front of the table…. He is regarded as guilty until he is proving to be innocent. No one (is) allow to sit at the judge… The prisoner is called upon to plead either guilty or not guilty. As it is a rare thing for Chinese prisoners – mercy been conspicuously absent in the character of their judges – to plead guilty, trials are very numerous. During the course of the trial, the prisoner is asked a great many leading questions which have a tendency to criminate him. Should his answer be evasive, torture is at once resorted to….”

            The form of torture is to wind and twist the arms around a pole whilst the accused is beaten, with the torture increasing in the event that the accused “persists in declaring his innocence.”

            Witnesses are understandably reluctant to come forward as they, too, are exposed to torture at the discretion of the judge.

            This was because under the Qing Code (which lasted up till 1912), a conviction could not be gained without a confession. If the accused refused to confess, he would be made to confess via torture.

            If you’re telling me that the British courts were unintentionally racist, then that’s all well and good, as long as you accept that the Chinese courts would equally be unintentionally racist if a Western witness or accused person were involved in a case there.

            All too often, however, accusations of racism – intentional, unintentional, systemic, ‘you’re as bad as the KKK’ – tend to be one-sided: only Westerners/white people are racist, it never happens the other way round.

      • My guess is that it isn’t a matter of racism, just of someone lifting something he had read about court ceremonial in China.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          From what I can find the saucer thing comes from a case in the 1840s (R v Entrehman) where an interpreter was asked by the judge what the usual method was of administering oaths in China so he could swear in the victim, a Chinese sailor named Assang.

          The interpreter claimed to have seen this ceremony done several times before- I have no idea if he was British or Chinese.

          It survives mainly as an example of the variety of forms a legally valid oath can take. See for instance section 2.9 here which also refers to a chicken being sacrificed by a Chinese witness in a Canadian court in 1902.

          • Deiseach says:

            See for instance section 2.9 here which also refers to a chicken being sacrificed by a Chinese witness in a Canadian court in 1902.

            I wonder if that is what our 1869 gentleman talking about things he had seen in Hong Kong was referring to, with the “cutting off a cock’s head while repeating ‘may I die under the knife'” as an established Chinese ritual for serious matters when testifying or making statements?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      “Three Holy Existences” is a funny translation for the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha triad. Makes me wonder how many non-holy existences there are in Buddhist ontology. 😛
      And I guess “the devotees of the Twenty-Two Firmaments” means all the Buddhist devas in 22 Heavens, though as a non-Buddhist I’m not familiar with that count.

      • Deiseach says:

        “Three Holy Existences” is a funny translation for the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha triad

        As well-meaning ignorant Western trying for equvalences go, it’s probably not the worst 🙂

        There’s a wonderfully bananas translation of “Journey to the West”, written by a Welsh Baptist missionary who was well-intentioned about the Chinese, so well-intentioned that he did the equivalent of Thomas Jefferson’s “take all the miracles out of the Gospels so we can arrive at the True Moral Teachings of the Great Ethicist Yoshua bar-Yosef, a non-supernatural account acceptable to intelligent modern men of our day”. He grandly entitled his version:

        Timothy Richard published his translation of The Monkey King’s Amazing Adventures in 1913. His title and subtitle shows his understanding of the book: “A Journey to Heaven, being a Chinese Epic and Allegory dealing with the Origin of the Universe, The Evolution of Monkey to Man, The Evolution of Man to the Immortal, and Revealing the Religion, Science, and Magic, which moulded the Life of the Central Ages of Central Asia, and which underlie the Civilization of the Far East to this Day. By Ch’iu Chang-ch’un. A.D. 1208-1288 Born 67 years before Dante.”

        So for instance, where the original text has the Jade Emperor asking two heavenly officials with supernatural gifts of sight and hearing what this commotion on Earth is about, the Reverend Richard has them using a telescope:

        Richard’s attitudes are reflected in both his translation and in his notes. He often translates the Jade Emperor as God, the Taoist Celestial Palace and the Buddhist Paradise as Heaven and Maitreya, the Buddha-to-Come, as the Messiah. Messengers are angels, Taoist immortals and Buddhist bodhisattvas are all saints, and the Buddhist/Taoist paradise is populated with such Old Testament figures as cherubim and seraphim. That the Jade Emperor in his Celestial Palace could see what was going on below proved to Richard that “the telescope was invented by Galileo only in 1609 AD, therefore the Chinese must have had some kind of telescope before we in Europe had it.” When the Monkey is showing off his knowledge of Buddhist metaphysics and getting it all garbled, he says “the fundamental laws are like the aiding forces of God passing between heaven and earth without interruption, traversing 18,000 li in one flash.” To which Richard added a note: “The speed of electricity anticipated.”

        Actually, Richard gets the history backwards: the telescope was introduced to China in the early 17th century by Jesuit missionaries:

        Early-modern European science was introduced into China by Jesuit priest astronomers as part of their missionary efforts, in the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century.

        The telescope was introduced to China in the early seventeenth century. The telescope was first mentioned in Chinese writing by Manuel Dias the Younger (Yang Manuo), who wrote his Tian Wen Lüe in 1615. In 1626, Johann Adam Schall von Bell (Tang Ruowang) published the Chinese treatise on the telescope known as the Yuan Jing Shuo (The Far-Seeing Optic Glass). The Chongzhen Emperor (r 1627–1644) of the Ming dynasty acquired the telescope of Johannes Terrentius (or Johann Schreck; Deng Yu-han) in 1634, ten years before the collapse of the Ming Dynasty.

        Richard’s version:

        They saw the light burning brightly and ordered a telescope to be brought. Two great heavenly messengers returned and reported that the light came from the Aolai country where the Flower and Fruit Garden was on a mountain; on the mountain there was a stone pillar, which had laid a stone egg; when the egg was exposed to the air, it was transformed into a stone monkey that bowed to the four quarters of heaven; its eyes shone with burning light reaching to the stars; it ate and drank, but the light of its eyes was becoming dim.

        Waley’s version:

        This shaft of light astonished the Jade Emperor as he sat in the Cloud Palace of the Golden Gates, in the Treasure Hall of Holy Mists, surrounded by his fairy Ministers. Seeing this strange light flashing, he ordered Thousand-league Eye and Down-the-wind Ears to open the gate of the Southern Heaven and look out. At his bidding these two captains went out to the gate and looked so sharply and listened so well that presently they were able to report, “This steely light comes from the borders of the small country of Ao-lai, that lies to the east of the Holy Continent, from the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. On this mountain is a magic rock, which gave birth to an egg. This egg changed into a stone monkey, and when he made his bow to the four quarters a steely light flashed from his eyes with a beam that reached the Palace of the Polar Star. But now he is taking a drink, and the light is growing dim.”

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Ha, that’s fascinating.

          • Deiseach says:

            Coming from a Welsh Baptist, it’s a nice example of the “Superior Mystic Oriental Wisdom” notion where the barbaric West is contrasted (by Westerners) with the Noble Sophisticated Ancient East what had all these marvellous inventions and advanced knowledge before us woad-besmeared barbarians 🙂

    • Randy M says:

      Ironically, a notable early Christian figure was pretty clear on oaths:

      “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all … All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

      Which I assume is where the Quaker reluctance came from.
      (I don’t think this applies to rituals like marriage vows as such, which are more about outlining terms or public affirmation than swearing oaths).

  20. RalMirrorAd says:

    If you were put in charge of the structure of the various medical professions, would you make any changes to taxonomy/hierarchy of medical professionals and what they are/aren’t authorized to do?

    (For example, things that can currently only be done by doctors that could be done by nurses)

    • bullseye says:

      I don’t know enough to have an opinion, but I used to see a psychologist who was very strongly in favor of psychologists being allowed to prescribe psychiatric medication.

      • Etoile says:

        “so what are the aide effects? Any drug interactions i should be concerned about?” “Not my job; i expect it’s all in the pamphlet.”

        • bullseye says:

          Given how many different drugs there are, I’d expect any doctor to have to look it up unless it’s something they prescribe often. Also pharmacists check for interactions.

          • Etoile says:

            True. But a psychologist, if a doctor has training in biology and at least some exposure to pharmacology, and knows to think about these things, would you expect the same of a psychologist – who likely needed to take a lot less biology and science in general over the course of their education?

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          So I’ve never taken the relevant kind of drugs, but I have frequently had other drugs (antibiotics, allergy meds, etc.) prescribed to me for specific problems by specialists/primary care doctors, and um… forgive me, but unless you’re specifically arguing psychiatrists are much, much better than ordinary doctors, I think you’re vastly overestimating how good current, non-psychologist doctors are about that.

          (Source: currently up to one ‘could have killed me if I had trusted the doctor instead of the instructions on the bottle and then hadn’t gotten to a hospital in time’, one ‘trusted the doctor and overruled my concerns from reading the pamphlet; side effects still persisting after multiple years’ and one ‘okay, that interaction didn’t actually turn out to be a problem, but I still would have liked a by-the-way-there’s-interaction-potential-with-one-of-your-other-meds-here’s-what-to-watch-out-for instead of getting lucky’.)

          • bullseye says:

            My psychologist recommended a particular drug, but I had to ask my primary care doctor for the prescription. My primary care doctor had no idea that particular drug had a psychiatric use, but his response was essentially “sure, whatever”.

    • sharper13 says:

      Yes, I’d eliminate licensing and regulations completely around what anyone can do to provide medical care.

      As a sop to the professional worrying-about-other’s-choices class, I’d replace it all with a requirement for carrying malpractice insurance from a carrier with sufficient backing to pay claims (similar to current insurance requirements) in order to practice medicine of any kind.

      Then the practitioners can negotiate with their clients and their insurance carrier what they’re allowed to do or not do, how to inform/designate something as an experimental practice, etc…

      This would have the side effect of a massive increase in the potential supply of health care, which is the one thing most proposed solutions have completely ignored by focusing on increasing demand instead.

      • rahien.din says:

        All that stuff WRT malpractice insurance and payor negotiation exists already. Both are widely known to be A. significant barriers to safe and effective patient care, and/or B. arbitrarily burdensome to physicians.

        And you believe we should base the entire health care system on these, its worst aspects.

        • sharper13 says:

          Sure, malpractice insurance results in more defensive medicine than may be reasonable otherwise (although the costs and negative impacts seem to be much more reasonable post-tort-reforms), but you seem to be missing what I actually said and what I was responding to.

          The licensing restrictions are what prevent many more people who are able to from providing medical care. So I’d get rid of those. If it were just up to me, I’d certainly get rid of the malpractice insurance requirements as well, but as that would seem to be politically impossible right-away (because too many people would not want to get rid of licensing restrictions by saying it’ll cause people to instantly become stupid and go get medical care from people who will kill them), it’s still a massive improve to completely get rid of the licensing part, which is the scope of what the question I was responding to asked about.

          • rahien.din says:

            No, I understand perfectly.

            The world you envision already exists. And it constitutes the worst, most arbitrary, and most dangerous parts of medicine.

  21. Basil Elton says:

    Blog comments technical question:
    Has anyone encountered this and if yes what might be the problem? When you post a comment and then edit it a couple of times or so (to fix grammar or something), after one edit when you click ‘save’ the comment silently disappears and you’re blocked from posting in the same thread for some yet undefined by me amount of time, measured in minutes or hours. It happened twice to me, none of the comments didn’t contain anything at all that could’ve reasonably trigger pre- or post- moderation. Looks like some really weird antibot filter but I’m not sure what exactly triggers it and why it doesn’t give you an option to pass captcha, relogin, or something, even doesn’t notify you what’s going on.

    • Nick says:

      I haven’t had that happen to me, but I’ve had the edit option disappear for me a lot lately. I remember David posting about it a month or two ago and had never seen it before, but in the last few weeks it’s happened really regularly.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Sometimes I will be live-updating a comment several times, and then, even though I have 20+ minutes left to edit, I’ll be blocked, and even logged out. It might be a defense mechanism and I’m not supposed to edit the same comment several times.

        • 10240 says:

          I’ve been blocked from updating a comment a while ago when trying to edit it for the 3rd or 4th time (despite having time left), but not logged out, nor did the comment disappear (IIRC).
          See how far I get: edit 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 It doesn’t seem to happen now.

          • Nick says:

            I’ve often found that just after posting a comment I can edit it one, two, three, etc. times in quick succession, but refreshing the page can make the edit button disappear permanently.

        • Basil Elton says:

          That sounds quite similar to what happened to me. Was your comment deleted too at this point?

    • Jaskologist says:

      That kind of thing can happen if you edit it to add in a link; that’s a technique spammers have used in the past to try to get around defenses which are only set up on the initial creation of a comment.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Thank you, that makes sense, in both cases there were links in the comments. But aparently it also can be triggered if you edit a comment in which there’s a link already. I’m not sure about the first time, but the last time the link definitely has been there all along.

  22. S_J says:

    To pile on to the discussion of sports:

    Some time ago, a blogger took an idea about nations that could field top-level basketball teams, and ran with it. He wanted to see how many nations (or regions of the world) could field Basketball Fantasy team that could compete at a fictional World Championship level. (The Fantasy teams could contain the best basketball players from the history of the sport who have a historical connection to that region of the world.)

    It may not have been exhaustive; there may have been edge cases that could be debated. But the results were interesting.

    One thing quickly emerged: it was possible to construct a best-of-Slavic-peoples team, and a best-of-rest-of-Europe-team.

    From North America, it’s probably possible to find ten different regions which could each sent a team of black-skinned players to the Fantasy Basketball league. One team of white-skinned players could also be sourced from North America.

    Other regional teams were the Caribbean team…and the Southern Hemisphere team, containing the best players from South America and Africa.

    Another detail: among white-skinned players from North America, a high number of the players are people of Slavic descent. This paired with the observation that Europe could field a Slavic team and a non-Slavic team.

    I found the result unintuitive–and amusing. Basketball is an America game. dominated by black-skinned players who are native to either the United States or one of the Caribbean countries.

    But basketball also has a surprising number of players of Slavic background.

    • bullseye says:

      How much overlap was there between the white North American team and the European teams? Could you get three teams out of them or just two?

      Could you do a Caribbean team?

      • S_J says:

        I finally found the link I was thinking of.

        He doesn’t actually give all the names he thinks of, he just outlines his thought pattern and gives examples.

        One set of names he mentions are edge-cases that need to be figured out: Patrick Ewing (born in Jamaica, would probably play on the all-Caribbean team); Dominique Wilkins (French-born, but to American parents, would probably end up on the White-USA team); Hakeem Olajuwan (born in Nigeria, never played there…but would probably join the Southern-Hemisphere team); JJ Barea (born in Puerto Rico, could play for either the Caribbean team or the White-USA team); Manu Ginobilli (Argentine by birth and Italian by ancestry; might play for either Southern Hemisphere or non-Slavic-Europe).

        Another set of names are big-name American players who would likely lead one of the Black-USA teams. Each team would be good, but not necessarily always leading a winning team: Earven “Magic” Johnson, Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kurt Malone, Wilt Chamberlain. Each might lead a team of their own.

        Among the White-USA players are George Mikan, Pete Maravich, and John Havlicek. They would play on the White-USA team, but are of Slavic descent. Larry Bird and Bill Walton would also be on White-USA team, but they would have a hard time fielding a full team if American-born-players-of-Slavic-descent defected and formed their own team.

        Interestingly, both the All-Caribbean team and the Southern-Hemisphere team are dominated by big, tall athletes. More of them are centers than guards or forwards. It seems that in the parts of the world where basketball is not a major sport, athletes go towards other sports…unless they hit a height in the seven-foot-range, at which point they decide to try basketball.

        I can’t figure out if Asia could field a team, or if the Southen-Hemisphere team would be able to sweep in everyone from Asia…

    • Urstoff says:

      And the three best white players this season:
      Nikola Jokic
      Nikola Vucevic
      Luka Doncic

      Is basketball the most popular sport in Eastern Europe?

      • DeWitt says:

        It is in Serbia, and people from the Dardanic Alps in general are known to be quite tall.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Far from that, it’s soccer. But the tallest white nation in the world is some Balkan people, and likely their neighbors are not much shorter. The names you listed sound to me more consistent with them being Southern Slavs (to which Balkan peoples belong) rather than Eastern Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians).
        (source: am Russian)

        • bullseye says:

          The Dutch are the tallest nation of any race.

          (source: searching “tallest country” on Google, and also a National Geographic article I read several years ago)

          • That’s just because they are all standing on tiptoe to keep their mouths above the water.

          • bullseye says:

            No, they float on top of the water because of the wooden shoes.

          • Basil Elton says:


            Hmm that’s interesting. I get the same result from Google but this list in Wikipedia lists Dinaric Alps as the tallest. That’s not a country but that is the Balkan people (or is it just a region?) I was thinking of. The article Google suggests omits many countries including most of the Balkans, but even for Denmark it says 183.8cm, while Wiki says 180.8cm. Also the Wikipedia’s list include multiple entries for some other countries, with different numbers. Apparently the question is not as trivial as one might’ve thought.

  23. cmurdock says:

    So in the spirit of h3h3: do any of you have any ghost stories you’d like to share?

    (I, alas, do not.)

    • woah77 says:

      If you want great ghost stories, you need to watch the Dub of School Ghost Stories.

  24. SamChevre says:

    Western Massachusetts meetup this weekend:
    Packard’s Library Room
    Northampton, MA
    6:30 PM Saturday, May 4

    We’re always glad to see new people.

  25. SSC_Zurich says:

    Zurich SSC meetup this weekend!

    Venue is Kosmos at Lagerstrasse 104. It will take place at 3PM on Saturday. There will be a sign and nice people.

    • oerpli says:

      Does this happen regularly? How many people are there usually? I cannot attend (gotta code fast for the Google Code Jam tomorrow afternoon) but I am somewhat interested if there are future installments.

      • SSC_Zurich says:


        There has been one meetup so far, which drew about ten people. We are trying to organize more regular meetups now, maybe four a year.

        If you (or anyone else) want to be added to the mailing list, drop me a line at ssczurich at gmx dot ch.

  26. theredsheep says:

    Fictional sandbox question: my serial Pyrebound (which some of you are reading) features a relatively low-tech world sustained by a renewable source of heat and light energy–a series of enormous, everlasting magical fires called pyres. These are mostly used to counteract a recurring magical blight that would otherwise kill crops and people; the pyres act as shields. But parts of the flame can be channeled out into other locations for special use–they’re used in place of natural fire for cooking and industry to save sparse agricultural land from being wasted on fuelwood. They’re also used in war and for a couple of other applications; a “sunbarque” is a small boat employing a slanted visor sail to turn hot air into propulsion. There’s a flying version too, but it’s not used much because it uses up a lot of power.

    Suppose you have this source of free, portable thermal energy (but limited land and other resources, and otherwise medieval-ish tech restrictions). How would you exploit this? I haven’t set a hard limit on how many ways it can be subdivided, but the source fire is of a set size and you need a magically gifted woman (there are, say, a couple hundred of all ages in a city-sized pyre community) on hand and paying attention to channel it. So you can’t, say, set a little fire underneath a windmill-like apparatus and have free mechanical power grinding your grain indefinitely. The woman’s got to eat and sleep, and it’s going to wear on her to concentrate for hours on end.

    (I promise I am not trying to be an insufferable self-promoter here; it just occurred to me that I am not a particularly practical person and if there are industrial applications I’m missing for this magic resource I made up, a group of science-oriented people I happen to know would be a good resource for spotting them)

    • Randy M says:

      Is it magical only in that it burns without fuel? Or does it heat up faster or hotter than normal?
      There’s probably useful applications on metallurgy, and if you can get a steam engine going with infinite fuel, that seems pretty useful.
      Is your flying version like a jet-pack, or a hot-air balloon/blimp? The latter doesn’t seem like it would take much power; it’s about trapping the air, not propulsion.
      Actually, is there any thrust if there’s no natural fuel being consumed and propelled?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Actually, is there any thrust if there’s no natural fuel being consumed and propelled?

        Yes, from convection. That’s what carries the fuel vapor anyway.

        There are neat metallurgical applications; you can get a very even temper on steel, for example, but that’s a fairly minor improvement. More exciting might be the welding applications, but if metal (from what mines?) is rare, that seems like it’d be limited in usefulness. Battlefield medicine might be a cool use case – hygenic cauterization is a step up from the medieval background.

        Honestly, though, the medieval background is a stumper here. Only so much you can do with that level of technical competence as your baseline.

      • Incurian says:

        Regarding the hot air balloon idea, could this be used to extend the reach of the pyre light? Also the balloons cold suspend weights mumble mumble energy storage and transfer.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Warmth is the limiting factor for crop growing in most areas, crops will grow with just a few hours of daylight each day (albeit slowly), but won’t grow at certain temperatures and will outright die at others ruining your previous growth (different crops have different limitations). With a perpetual heat source you could create micro climates for crops and grow year round, especially in middle latitude, but higher altitude areas that are cold but have lots of sunlight. If the fires are hot enough to produce glass then you can build greenhouses and perpetually heat them.

    • Incurian says:

      Build steam engines on top of the pyres. If that’s not possible for some reason, build steam engines over channeled fires and store the energy in flywheels or by pushing trains uphill.

    • Basil Elton says:

      If the main limiting factor is the number of fires maintained, you’d see a lot of centralization. Any settlement big enough to have a dozen or more such gifted women will likely have a big fire which is maintained permanently and have some big fortress-like building around it where all the industrial processes take place, powered by that fire. The fire itself is used for metallurgy, pottery and glass manufacturing, and also generates a lot of steam in a huge boiler. That steam is then delivered through pipes into different parts of the building and perhaps to nearby buildings to power grain mills and sawmills, and what else, probably for heating and cooking too. Women take turns supporting the fire permanently or nearly so, and craftsmen who are in less limited supply tend to the pipes and other machinery and can also take shifts working at fire. Of course it’s not that every settlement have every kind of industry, and the bigger ones can have more than one such clusters, likely more specialized.

      I presume they do have the steam engine technology, which they really really really want to. In fact it should be an ultra steam-punk world, that fuelless fire can even make steam planes viable! But if they for some reason don’t, most of it can be achieved through lower tech means, like hot air you suggested or usineg heat to move water up and then let it flow down.

      I’d like you to elaborate on the limitations though. Is power of a single fire which can be maintained by one person limited to anything? Is total energy output of all the pyres in the world fixed so that they combined can do only so much work? What’s the tempreature and size, is any of them fixed? If you cool down a fire of fixed size and tempreature very rapidly, say by splashing water on it, will it go down or just output more power so that to maintain that size and tempreature?

      (Also, using fires to cook doesn’t add up with inability to use it to power windmill – a windmill serves way more people than a fireplace. Unless you mean some mass production of food, which – according to my very limited knowledge – was not common at all in Middle Ages. But should be pretty common in such a setting though.)

      • theredsheep says:

        Sorry, I was unclear b/c I wanted to be concise in my description, and left out a lot of details, some critical. There’s a pyre at the center of every large human settlement–in fact, such large settlements are simply called pyres themselves. Pyre is effectively a synonym for city. There’s a reason for that: the pyres are critical for protection from a deadly magical phenomenon that strikes every four days. All the land too far from a pyre to be protected by its light is desert, and unprotected humans on the fourth day are going to feel severely ill at best. Repeated exposure means a severely shortened life.

        The main fire of a pyre is created by human sacrifice, and burns continually on top of a huge ziggurat so it can cast its light as far as possible (covering the main fire means leaving the settlement and its crops unprotected). Civilization is restricted to the pyres and dependent communities called hearths, which have permanent mini-fires. The mini-fires are equally stationary and difficult to create, so you can’t go pumping them out on a whim. There are a lot of unpleasant sociopolitical consequences to all this, most of which I’ll skip over, but yes, meals are mostly prepped and eaten communally. Wood is expensive, metal cheap, because you don’t have to grow metal on precious arable land, nor consume fuel to work it.

        The fire is tied to the sun and can be thought of as raw thermal energy output teleported endlessly into place; it neither requires nor consumes oxygen or any other fuel, and generates no waste. If channeled underwater, it will blast away merrily for as long as it continues to be channeled by the handmaiden channeling it. The water will heat in proportion to the amount of power the handmaiden chooses to dump into it, and she can turn it on and off more or less instantly. It does take a certain amount of effort and focus to channel, with older handmaidens being more powerful and skilled at fine control (they start as infants). The main fire is of a set size when unchanneled, and is somewhat diminished by large amounts of channeling; they allow a generous margin of error, because overchanneling could potentially extinguish the fire. I haven’t set hard tech specs as such, since it’s fantasy not sci-fi.

        All this is sort of deep background to the story–it focuses more on the social consequences than the tech, I just want the tech to make sense (setting aside the impossible magic part). Pumping water uphill with the heat as stored energy is an excellent idea–would there be a significant mechanical advantage over ordinary waterwheels? I ask because you’d want the intake to be close to the water supply anyway. I envision it as a sort of wide-mouthed pipe going down to the water to catch steam, with an adjacent outlet for the letdown. I assume there is also an advantage to using water rather than hot air for most applications.

        I’m reluctant to introduce steam engines because a good part of the story is already written and posted without them, and also because they would really clash with the aesthetic (it’s sorta-kinda Mesopotamian). Given the severe population restrictions and unpleasantness of the world, I can see their never quite getting the critical know-how in place to make such things.

        I hope that clears things up. Thank you!

        • broblawsky says:

          It occurs to me that you could use this kind of effect to easily create charcoal – the inside of a pyre should be a mostly anoxic zone, due to the pressure differentials creating a vacuum inside of the heated area, so any kind of plant matter you chuck in there will be converted to pure carbon with a very high surface area.

          Easy access to massive amounts of heat should also simplify steelworking – one reason why the iron age doesn’t start earlier in our history is because furnace designs simply couldn’t generate high enough temperatures to reduce iron ore. Pyres might also be able to directly melt steel, if they can reach high enough temperatures. With access to cheap steel, you might see fairly sophisticated agricultural techniques, such as plowing in place of hoeing. That would make labor animals such as oxen even more valuable, though.

        • Basil Elton says:

          Yes sure, obviously introducing steam engines will change the aesthetics entirely and the setting wouldn’t be medieval anymore. It’s just that I’ve taken the technical problem at the face value and run from there. Given cheap metal, it’s very likely that they’ll come up with either steam engine or steam turbine and likely sooner than later, but the events may just be taking place before that.

          To pump water uphill, you don’t technically need a continuous access to a water source. You use the same water, pumping it up (to my shame I failed to come up with a plausible design all on my own and had to google Thomas Savery’s work, though I think for this case it can be modified and simplified significantly. I can elaborate on the pump design if you want) and then letting it to flow down turning water wheel(s) along the way, into a reservoir below. Then you pump it up again, and on it goes. Of course, that water need to be put there in the first place, and it’s a very large amount of water so it’s not easy with medieval technologies. But it is doable – people moved millions of tons of stone in Ancient Egypt, and you don’t need quite as much – and once it’s done you only need to add new water to recover losses from evaporation, leaks etc, or to expand your system.

          The main mechanical benefit here is that water falling from say 10 meters is going to have way higher speed than almost any river (let alone lakes which can also be used as water source), thus doing more productive work. Plus, you have more flexibility on where to pipe it, and therefore where you can have a water wheel. If sufficiently big and developed, such a system can be used to do most physical tasks – already mentioned grain mills and sawmills, tools to cut stone, water-hammers to forge iron, looms and pottery wheels. Even elevators – will come in handy in those huge buildings you’re going to have to accommodate all those industries centered around a limited number of fires. Take all the freed up workforce and send it to farm land… and alas, your harsh medieval setting is suddenly neither so harsh nor quite so medieval. (Especially given that somewhere along the way some overly creative asshole is inevitably going to look at those water pumps operating in cycles and think of adding piston to them to shorten the cycles or harvest power more directly, or insert windmill-like thingy into the steam pipe…)

          My point is, an infinite power source is a really cool technology even in Middle Ages. In our world, the first steam engine (that is, a thing which turns heat into motion using steam as a medium, not exactly the kind that powered Titanic) was invented in Ancient Greece. It wasn’t very practicable – but probably it could’ve been with nearly-unlimited energy supply. So (being definitely not a writer or anything related) I’d suggest you to just not focus too hard on technical implications. And socially, as I understand that world is much more communitarian? Would be interesting to hear more about this aspect.

          (PS Can’t help adding a note on propulsion. You mentioned boats powered by these fires by convection somehow. Not sure how that might work, but it’d be way more effective to just intake some water, boil it up and exhaust steam from behind, thus having a water jet engine. It requires some engineering, but basically just a metal pipe of specific form and mechanically it’s way simpler then say a sailboat. And with this kind of engine, boat’s speed is mostly limited by it’s hull strength. Again, jet speed boats are admittedly not exactly medieval)

          • theredsheep says:

            Yeah, obviously I should have asked this question before starting the story. Derp. I can at least modify the update where we see metalworking occur; that’s not posted yet.

            Re: communitarianism, the government is weird. Hearths (satellite communities) tend to be run by committees of leading citizens, but nobody really GAF about hearths–they exist as a way to extend light coverage (one big fire with no hearths would burn unpleasantly hot, but subdivided fires allow more land to be lit) and also extend territorial reach in a world where being away from fire on the fourth day means serious trouble.

            Pyres themselves are run by an ensi (priest) and a lugal (warlord). The ensi is the guy who has to die to preserve the fire–every ten years, an ensi dies to keep it burning, and a replacement takes his job. In the meantime, he commands the handmaidens, and through them the pyre’s economy. Matters involving violence (justice, defense) are delegated to the lugal, because using handmaidens for that causes big problems–conflicts get very serious very quickly, with lots of collateral damage, once you pull out the magical rapid-fire RPGs with endless ammo. They’re used in war, but only against a malicious non-human race (didn’t mention them either–lots of ground to cover here). Open wars between pyres are very carefully avoided for MAD reasons.

            Since expanding cultivated territory is extremely difficult, there’s continuous population pressure, and a need for very careful resource husbandry. The idea that anybody is entitled to own a hunk of land absolutely would strike them as absurd, when that land would be worthless without the holy fire. There are also some population restrictions: handmaidens don’t reproduce, the ensi is served by lots of eunuchs, and infanticide is acceptable.

            Because the fires absolutely must keep burning (and handmaidens are terrifying), there’s no prospect of revolution. And picking up stakes and moving is obviously out of the question; are you going to make your own giant magical fire, just you and the wife, on twenty acres? So the people in charge have a very firm grip on power, far firmer than is possible in our world. Society is correspondingly conservative and austere.

            The end result is communitarian, but far from egalitarian. Society is layered: at the top, a small group of aristocratic families linked to ensi and lugal, who send many of their daughters to be handmaidens (sons tend to elevate commoner women for wives, or just use enslaved concubines). Below them a somewhat larger body of bourgeois–business owners, master craftsmen, slavedrivers. Below them a large body of slaves. Below the slaves the hearthless–vagrants who bounce from place to place, taking their chances in the wild and sleeping in fields at the far outskirts of hearths on the fourth day.

            Yeah, the world is pretty grim.

          • bullseye says:

            I’m not sure limited land would affect society in this way. In real life there’s limited land because people fill up useful land fairly quickly. So the big difference seems to a small number of people filling a small amount of land rather than a large number of people filling a large amount of land.

            Also, if the cities did produce excess population, would it be possible for the excess to start their own pyre somewhere? Plainly a small group can’t sustain human sacrifice every ten years, but if the new city pulls excess population from several cities it seems like they could pull it off, and eventually humanity could claim most of the land worth claiming.

            I don’t want you to think I’m badmouthing your book here. Song of Ice and Fire has pretty serious issues along these lines, but it’s still a great series.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, the fire doesn’t move, so first you need to build a big ol’ ziggurat in the middle of a spot in the wilderness that has access to water (and arranging to have fires for protection the whole time). Then you need to spend a number of years painstakingly converting the desert sand to something you can grow crops with. We’re talking a substantial investment.

            The resulting city will inevitably become independent, since it has its own power supply once it’s started and enforcing any prearranged claim to dependency is problematic (intra-human wars very, very bad; other cities not incentivized to support your claims and thus increase your power). Trade can be helpful, but in practice most of the easily exploitable sites for resource extraction have been filled.

            So there’s not much motivation for the powerful people at any given pyre to go to such lengths–and they can control the proliferation of the fire-starting “technology.” It does happen, but it’s not common. There are other ways to handle population pressure. A bunch of lower-class men die every year in wars with non-humans, for example. And, yes, hearths are a helpful compromise. New hearths aren’t terribly uncommon; new pyres are.

          • Deiseach says:

            There are also some population restrictions: handmaidens don’t reproduce, the ensi is served by lots of eunuchs, and infanticide is acceptable.

            I can see you’re going for the equivalent of the Vestal Virgins, but if the handmaidens are necessary (and it sounds like they are absolutely necessary) to keep the fires going, and this depends on innate magical power, unless you have a population with good spread of magical genes from which you can recruit new handmaidens easily, then you very much want your handmaidens popping out new baby handmaidens as often as possible.

            You can easily do without any amount of non-magically talented ordinary people and even nobles, but a restriction on the number of your handmaidens means you are badly choked.

            Also sounds as if somebody managed to kill the ensi before the ten-year ceremony could happen, that you’d destroy a rival pyre. So maybe not big wars with handmaidens involved, but a lot of spying and assassination to take out a rival pyre’s vital human infrastructure?

          • theredsheep says:

            Covered, on both fronts; handmaidens are made not born–long story, but magical genes are not a thing here. The matter of the ensis is more complicated, but they are indeed obsessively protected.

        • Lambert says:

          I’d imagine escarpments, lone mountains and cliffs next to flat planes would be very valuable locations, in terms of maximising the reach of a pyre.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Yes sure, obviously introducing steam engines will change the aesthetics entirely and the setting wouldn’t be medieval anymore. It’s just that I’ve taken the technical problem at the face value and run from there. Given cheap metal, it’s very likely that they’ll come up with either steam engine or steam turbine and likely sooner than later, but the events may just be taking place before that.

        To pump water uphill, you don’t technically need a continuous access to a water source. You use the same water, pumping it up (to my shame I failed to come up with aplausible design all on my own and had to google Thomas Savery’s work, though I think for this case it can be modified and simplified significantly. I can elaborate on the pump design if you want) and then letting it to flow down turning water wheel(s) along the way, into a reservoir below. Then you pump it up again, and on it goes. Of course, that water need to be put there in the first place, and it’s a very large amount of water so it’s not easy with medieval technologies. But it is doable – people moved millions of tons of stone in Ancient Egypt, and you don’t need quite as much – and once it’s done you only need to add new water to recover losses from evaporation, leaks etc, or to expand your system.

        The main mechanical benefit here is that water falling from say 10 meters is going to have way higher speed than almost any river (let alone lakes which can also be used as water source), thus doing more productive work. If sufficiently big and developed, such a system can be used to do most physical tasks – already mentioned grain mills and sawmills, tools to cut stone, water-hammers to forge iron, looms and pottery wheels. Even elevators – will come in handy in those huge buildings you’re going to have to accommodate all those industries centered around a limited number of fires. Take all the freed up workforce and send it to farm land… and alas, your harsh medieval setting is suddenly neither so harsh nor quite so medieval. (Especially given that somewhere along the way some overly creative asshole is inevitably going to look at those water pumps operating in cycles and think of adding piston to them to shorten the cycles or harvest power more directly, or insert windmill-like thingy into the steam pipe…)

        My point is, an infinite power source is a really cool technology even in Middle Ages. In our world, the first steam engine (that is, a thing which turns heat into motion using steam as a medium, not exactly the kind that powered Titanic) was invented in Ancient Greece. It wasn’t very practicable – but it could’ve been with nearly-unlimited energy supply. So (being definitely not a writer or anything related) I’d suggest you to just not focus too hard on technical implications. And socially, as I understand that world is much more communitarian?

        (PS Can’t help adding a note on propulsion. You mentioned boats powered by these fires by convection somehow. Not sure how that might work, but it’d be way more effective to just intake some water, boil it up and exhaust steam from behind, thus having a water jet engine. It requires some engineering, but basically just a metal pipe of specific form and mechanically it’s way simpler then say a sailboat. And with this kind of engine, boat’s speed is mostly limited by it’s hull strength. Again, it’s admittedly not very medieval.)

    • Murphy says:

      There’s a flying version too, but it’s not used much because it uses up a lot of power.

      Is channeling half a pyre harder than channeling 1/100th of a pyre?

      How limited is the supply of pyre vs the number of channelers willing and able to channel pyre power?

      Can anyone stop a channeler from channeling pyre or disrupt it?

      What happens if pyres are fully channeled? Something bad? are they doing something necessary in their normal location?

      If they can know the status of a particular pyre from remote locations then you have an automatic long range communication medium: keep one pyre for messages, do anything with it, dot dot dot dash dash etc to communicate across the kingdom.

      Do channelers know how much of the pyre they’re channeling from has already been used elsewhere?

      Can giant greenhouses be built over their normal location?

      If the supply of pyre is very limited then you probably want big communal kitchens with the limited supply heating huge cauldrons of food.

      How hot can pyre be? maximum? How cool? how much fine control do channelers have?

      • theredsheep says:

        See reply to Basil above; I think I hit most of the points you raise. Greenhouses would have to be rather impractically large, and not necessary given the warm climate.

        The handmaidens have a rough sense of when they’re taking too much power from the pyre, but probably not enough for effective long-distance comm.

        • Murphy says:

          OK, based on some of the answers:

          Fast construction is likely to be much easier.

          Vitrified forts were a big deal to create in the real world but if a channeler can point at a pile of stone and direct enough heat to partially melt the stone then construction of pretty significant fortification in days becomes a doddle.

          Indeed glass may be a very practical construction material.

          Carbon-free metalurgy is likely to be way way easier since they don’t need to use charcoal.

          You mention the “light” of the pyres being important.

          does that include reflected light?

          If so then crude light pipes could provide protection quite a distance from the nearest pyre.

          Glass manufacturing is likely to be quite advanced from your description, you mention metals as cheap… so either silvered tubes or fairly clean glass pipes covered in a thin layer of silver may allow the light of a pyre to reach safehouses fairly distant from the pyre.

          A little like this but scaled up:

          if reflected light works to protect from the bad magic then the light from a pyre will be as important a resource as the heat. pyres with silver sheets suspended above them to reflect the pyrelight will protect larger areas than a pyre alone.

          If reflected light doesn’t work, does light that’s passed through a prism?

          If so then expect giant prisms over the pyres to divert the light that would otherwise go into the sky back down towards the ground.

          • theredsheep says:

            Your Wiki says that vitrification actually weakens the forts. What’s the advantage there?

            Re: light channeling … hrm. The bad magic takes the form of a malignant sun rising in place of the good one. I have a hard time picturing a single beam of pyrelight counteracting it over a substantial area. There are ways to reproduce pyrelight at a distance–glowing glass balls synced to them–but they don’t work as well as the real thing.

          • Murphy says:

            With good control of extremely high temperatures you can probably do a much better job of glassing the walls.

            Also might provide for a cool atheistic that would fit with your setting.

            Also more heat could let you do a better job of making better glass.

            Those forts were made with wood fires that weren’t really able to get as hot as a glassmakers kiln.

            In the real world it’s not a terribly worthwhile way to build a structure… but in a world with lots of dead arid regions with mobile travellers who may need to build fairly solid fortifications and have good control of a serious heat source it might be more worthwhile:


    • Tenacious D says:

      Are there any trade links with places that don’t have pyres? If so, there could be workshops producing transportable luxury goods that require heat for processing–I’m thinking high-quality ceramics–for ones that don’t (e.g. gemstones, textiles, spices).

      For construction techniques, I wonder if you could have fired-in-place bricks that could have some speed advantages over conventional masonry?

      If there are any mines or excavation works nearby, they could use fire-setting/thermal fragmentation to improve their productivity.

      All of these things would be batch processes so a gifted woman could work a shift then take a break.

    • silver_swift says:

      I don’t have much to add on top of what everyone else has said. I’d just like to point people to /r/rational ( if you find these kinds of discussions interesting. We have a weekly Worldbuilding and Writing thread on Wednesdays which is exactly for questions like these as well as a weekly Muchkinry thread on Saturdays that is more aimed at finding loopholes in magic systems.

      • theredsheep says:

        Yeah, I saw that site–I thought it over and decided PB probably isn’t ratfic as such.

        • silver_swift says:

          Having not read your story, I wouldn’t worry to much about whether it is rational enough for the subreddit. The sidebar makes it sound impressive, but in practice the standards are pretty lax. As long as people enjoy the story it’s probably fine.

          For comparison, I linked to The Proverbial Murder Mystery when it came out and it was pretty well received even though I would by no means call it a traditional ratfic.

          • theredsheep says:

            Maybe it’s “ratfic-adjacent.” IDK, but it struck me as different from HPMOR or even Worm. It’s (or just click my name), for the record.

    • bullseye says:

      How many women does it take to fully channel the pyre, and how many of these women do they have? Depending on those numbers, you could have them working 12 hours a day (which would seem reasonable to a medieval culture), or you could have them working 1 hour a day and spending the rest of their time doing other work or maybe just lounging around in luxury.

      • theredsheep says:

        I haven’t sharply defined their numbers as yet. They’re created as infants and raised celibate (a handmaiden’s child would inherit too much power and be dangerous). Since they’re prestigious and their loyalty is naturally highly important, their numbers are limited to well below what would be technically possible. They have to come from the “right” families, and the right families are kept small by constantly losing daughters that way. The exception being handmaidens who are destined to serve at hearths–those are accepted from hearth families, because upper-crust ladies don’t lower themselves that way.

    • helloo says:

      I’d think about some way to redistribute/store the power.
      A poster already mentioned charcoal, though not really sure what other fuel/energy sources would be available at medieval level technology. Maybe large thermos type water towers?

      Redistribution though would be a lot easier – a lot easier to build a system that can “siphon” away the energy that to find ways to keep it (which is a major issue for even current human tech)
      Maybe instead of “power lines”, there’s “pyre heat lines” that is just a long cable of copper that can be connected to the main pyre to provide heat at a distance without needing the channellers.
      Or a heated water line – like in a house but city wide.

      Somewhat unrelated but can the pyres be connected? Or split apart/destroyed?

      • theredsheep says:

        Connected, no. Subdivided, yes, via hearths. It is possible to destroy them, and they’ll naturally die if not replenished with fresh human sacrifice every ten years. I don’t know about batteries–since the pyre is endlessly producing more power, is that something they’d think about? Hard to say.

    • theredsheep says:

      Just FYI, all, this conversation has got me thinking about new directions to take the story, even if I’m reluctant to give them steam engines. Will think it over; the reason why they don’t have steam engines, etc., could wind up more interesting than if they had them in the first place.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      If you like a story with the implications of magic taken seriously in a medieval tech setting, check out Margaret Ball’s— magic flows through the ground. If you cut down too much vegetable in an area, it comes out as monsters. This has implications for agriculture.

  27. AlesZiegler says:

    Meta question: is discussing Marx and his philosophy CW or not?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I’ve posted about dialectical materialism in non-CW threads before without issue – but then, I don’t really have any opinions on it other than, “lmao what the fuck?”

      Posting about communism might be more of a problem.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      If it’s not CW, it certainly maps to a lot of CW battles. There could exist Marx discussions that won’t touch the Culture War in any way, but they seem like a fairly small subset of all possible Marx discussions, and trying to keep track of what’s crossing the line and what isn’t seems tiring for anyone involved.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I am asking because I´ve written something fairly short – long for a comment but short for a blogpost – about Communist Manifesto about a year ago, for my blog, in Czech. I think it might be of interest for people here, so I decided to translate it to (hopefully) passable English. But I am still not sure about rules. Of course in Czechia Marx is heavily CW, and I am inclined to think that it is also CW here.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        Note that 3 out of 4 open threads are perfectly fine for CW topics: it’s only the non-decimal threads (like OT126, as opposed to 126.75 where we currently are) where Scott asks us to suppress culture warring.

        There are topics that are outright taboo as well, but Marx and associated concepts should still be fine.

    • Nornagest says:

      It shouldn’t be, but every time someone does, we get a zillion Marxists crawling out of the woodwork to pontificate about how he was right about everything and especially about present-day CW issues.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Ok, now I understand that it is CW but allowed in hidden threads. Thanks everyone.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      The basic test for CW seems to be whether one is making, implying, or assuming any moral claims that aren’t already universally shared.

      In the case of Marx, I could see a perfectly non-CW discussion, centering around historical details or what exactly Marx meant by this or that term of art. No one’s likely to get upset for being called mistaken about Marx’s meaning of “fair price”, for instance, unless someone tries to say his reasoning was ridiculous or something.

      • rlms says:

        I don’t think that’s the test. On one side, some subjects are CW no matter how objectively they’re discussed (examples probably not needed), but also some controversial moral claims can be discussed in a definitively non-CW way.

        • Well... says:

          I can envision a lively, civil discussion happening here about whether Marx was right about this or that particular thing.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          On one side, some subjects are CW no matter how objectively they’re discussed (examples probably not needed), but also some controversial moral claims can be discussed in a definitively non-CW way.

          My idea of a subject that is CW no matter what would be one where even holding the opposing side in good faith would put you with 95%+ confidence on the violent assault watch list. For instance, seriously advocating stabbing everyone at the local PTA. I think we’re safe as far as that goes. No one seems to want SSC to host discussion of the tradeoffs of murdering people*.

          Meanwhile, by making a moral claim, I don’t mean discussing it in a non-CW way. I’m thinking along the lines of “if you think X, you’re a bad person”, along with variations such as “anyone who thinks X is a bad person”, “X-ists are being duped by bad people”, “belief in X is justifiably driven by Y… but only bad people do Y”, and even “you merely want X because you want Y” where Y is widely understood as bad without you having to say so. These all state or imply that some moral claim is objectively correct.

          By contrast, discussing a moral claim in a non-CW way means (to me) stating or implying it could be questioned by people who aren’t bad. Either that, or making a claim everyone really does agree with.

          I grant that the latter category is tough for me to provide examples for. Human life is valuable by default? Lines of discussion should be kept open by default? (I think in “default” terms a lot.) So I find myself glad I got pushback on this, because it’s really a working theory for me.

          (Also, I recognize I’m referring less to CW specifically and more to anything hot-button in general.)

          I could envision a lively, civil discussion happening here about whether Marx was right about this or that particular thing.

          I certainly could, too. I think they would get too hot for the integer threads on exactly the times when I can’t make a point without implying a debatable moral flaw in the reader.

          *johan_larson’s threads notwithstanding.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think a CW topic is a topic on which many people will be unable to engage in any kind of productive/charitable way, or where disagreement is likely to be taken as arguing in bad faith or as being evil.

  28. Eugene Dawn says:

    Since this is turning into the sports thread, with already some discussions of Africans in sport: what do we think of the Caster Semenya decision?

    • Aftagley says:

      Ever read the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Vonnegut? My feelings reading that story are very similar to reading the IAAFs decision.

    • Protagoras says:

      I feel that there is a general arbitrariness to the rules for what counts as competing fairly, but the tradition has been that it is not cheating to compete while being a genetic freak; indeed, being some kind of genetic freak is mandatory for world-class athletes. So it feels a little inconsistent to me to single out one particular kind of genetic freakiness and say that one is not OK, and I find it especially ironic that given the usual attitude to performance altering drugs, in this case drugs are being made mandatory rather than being prohibited. Still, again, the whole thing is pretty arbitrary, including having separate male and female competitions, as opposed to any of the endless other ways people could be divided into competitive groups. And if they are going to continue to have the separation between male and female competitions, they obviously have no choice but to police the categories. I can only say I’m glad I’m not involved in trying to decide how to do that.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I am pretty sure that there is no male category, only that there is a female only category which changes things quite a bit.

      • Murphy says:

        I mean there’s also the option of renaming the male/female mens/womens categories as simply low-testosterone/not-low-testosterone and letting anyone run in the group they fall into…. which I believe is actually pretty much how it’s set up…. but that probably wouldn’t be popular since it would mean her being an also-ran in the high-testosterone group.

        • broblawsky says:

          People could probably train in a high-testosterone regime, then reduce their testosterone levels to compete in a low-testosterone group. I don’t think that’s workable.

          • Murphy says:

            Isn’t there a thing with mtf trans athletes being allowed to compete in womens sports once their testosterone is low enough?

          • gbdub says:

            Yes, in fact Mary Gregory, a transwoman who appears to have transitioned as an adult, recently broke several world records in Masters (35 years old+) weightlifting, sparking a fair amount of controversy.

            Without being crude, Mary’s body shape and musculature is… pretty clearly male-derived. While she has apparently been suppressing testosterone for awhile, her levels are still very high for any woman not on steroids and in any case, it’s not like the male body structure and muscle development completely went away.

            It does seem rather unfair, particularly in a competition that is essentially a test of brute strength.

      • j1000000 says:

        The large gap in testosterone seems to be the most obvious reason for the difference between male and female athletic performance, so if we’re separating people into “female” and “male” categories in sports then some sort of testosterone limit is essential in my eyes. I find the “everyone’s a genetic freak” argument lacking — nothing about, say, the sport of swimming implies that they’re looking for the fastest swimmer with a normally proportioned torso instead of a Michael Phelps.

      • Matt says:

        I have a daughter who is playing high school soccer. She’s quite good. She’s very fast – the only girl soccer player at her school ever to score 13 on the beep test. She also played volleyball the year before last for the school – she was the only girl on the team who could do a legit pull-up. She can tumble because she used to do competitive cheer, so when she decided last fall to try out for the dive team, she did well, went to State, and placed in the top 15. The school she goes to is 7A, which is the set of largest schools in our state, so she is competing at the highest level a high school girl can in her state. She still plays travel volleyball and travel soccer in addition to HS soccer and dive.

        Before puberty, she was one of the stars of a co-ed soccer team she was on. A couple of years ago her travel soccer coach, due to rule changes, asked her to ‘play up’ 2 years instead of the one year she was already playing up. She hadn’t hit her growth spurt yet so she was much smaller than her team-mates (and would have been even moreso smaller than the older team he was asking her to play on) and we said no, to protect her from injury.

        If her high school sports association allowed trans women to compete, and they did so in large enough numbers, my wife and I would likely just withdraw her from soccer. Which would be too bad, because she really loves it.
        She could still dive, because that’s not a contact sport. In soccer, against players who experienced puberty with male levels of testosterone, she would simply be pummeled.

        Screw that.

        • John Schilling says:

          This probably won’t be a problem at the HS level, because there aren’t going to be enough transwomen(*) in the average HS to matter – maybe one such on your daughter’s soccer team, and that one is maybe an enhanced safety hazard but not so much so as to outweigh the entire rest of the experience combined.

          And it maybe won’t be a problem at the collegiate level because the college teams will be recruiting only the top HS players, meaning mostly just the transwomen and your daughter will never be invited to play in the games where she would be at risk.

          OTOH, to the extent that professional women’s soccer is a thing, it is run by people in the entertainment business who probably understand that their audience is watching them rather than the men’s/unresticted game mostly because they want to see players who look plausibly like the athletic-but-still-curvy-ish XX ciswomen that they want to either be or be with, and that the 46 XY DSD brigade is going to appeal to a very niche demographic that produces little advertising revenue. How that plays out and where they would recruit from is an interesting question.

          (*) Unless we’re buying the dubious theory that modern adolescent transgenderism is mostly just following the hot new trend for iconoclastic rebellion, and even then it would have to become a lot more fashionable to dominate HS sports.

          • Clutzy says:

            Its already a significant problem at the HS level. Trans girls won the top 2 places at Connecticut states. A girl transitioning to male won Texas states in wrestling because she was taking Testosterone to transition.

          • John Schilling says:

            You are talking about a rather different problem than Matt.

          • Deiseach says:

            This probably won’t be a problem at the HS level, because there aren’t going to be enough transwomen(*) in the average HS to matter

            You’d imagine, but it’s starting to happen.

            I’m not going to express any opinion on whether this person is ‘really’ trans, and the photo in this article comes from a couple of years ago before they’d been on HRT long, but I think most people would not say “yeah, that’s a 15-16 year old girl just like all the other 15-16 year old girls running in the race”.

            I admit it’s a problem: if you wait until the trans female athlete has been on hormone replacement therapy long enough to drop down the testosterone levels etc. then at that age, you’re going to miss out on a lot of important athetic development that can’t be made up later. On the other hand, if you let “last year they were running on the boys team” athletes who are taller, stronger and faster than the cis girls compete, they’re going to beat the cis girls.

            This article from 2017 tried to cool down the controversy:

            She didn’t win her races at the Connecticut state meet, and she almost definitely won’t win the New England races either, which should quiet some of the people raising not-so-nice questions. Don’t hold your breath.

            No big deal, just another runner. Except that in 2018 the two trans female runners did win the next year and won more races the year after that:

            Transgender high school sophomores Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood came in first and second place, respectively, in the 100-meter race at the State Open Finals June 4 [2018], angering some parents who complained they had a competitive advantage over non-transgender students.

            And Yearwood seems to be picked to be a successful college prospect:

            She has received recruitment interest from Harvard, UConn, and Penn University to play track and field in NCAA.

            So I dunno. Certainly if I were the parent of a 15 year old girl running against Miller and Yearwood in 2017, I’d have been miffed because the difference in the level of physical development would have been obvious. As they get older and are more transitioned and run against older female athletes, it may be a different story. But it’s a tough decision either way.

          • Clutzy says:

            Wrestling is a combat sport and it definitely would be a huge injury risk. There was a girl in IL who was an Olympic wrestler that was JV on her high school boys team (no shame there, she got beat out by a 2x state champ), but she ended up missing 2008 because of a rotator cuff injury she sustained in practice.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        the tradition has been that it is not cheating to compete while being a genetic freak; indeed, being some kind of genetic freak is mandatory for world-class athletes


    • brad says:

      This wouldn’t be a popular opinion among people I know IRL, but the whole concept of competitive women’s sports is incoherent and pointless. You are either the best in the world, or you aren’t. There are a ton of different reasons, including many many that are rooted in fundamental biology, why you aren’t the best in the world. We don’t need separate champions for each of those different reasons. It makes no more sense to keep track of the women’s fastest 100m dash than it does to keep track of the fastest 100m dash for Jewish guys in their 30s under 5’8″.

      • Aftagley says:

        That only holds up in a world where 50(ish)% of the population isnt on average outperformed athletically by the other. If we dont foster competitive womens sports, there are no women in sports.

        Putting a slight asterisk next to their record seems a fair tradeoff to me for letting half our species enjoy sport.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          This. Let’s foster it, and the penalty for enjoying sport to a competitive level for your female biology can be that people are free to not care about your competitions (ie the WNBA vs NBA).

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          50% of the males on the planet are hopelessly out-competed by the other 50% of males.

          50% of Jewish guys in their 30s under 5’8″ are out-competed by the other 50% of Jewish guys in their 30s under 5’8″.

          It may or may not be a good idea to separate out men and women’s sport, but that is not a good enough reason.

          • Nornagest says:

            You can be pedantic if you want, but the 50th percentile man in most sports is a hell of a lot further ahead of the 50th percentile woman than he is of the 49th percentile man. Women’s Olympic records in most track events are about where you’d expect an undistinguished high school boys’ team to place, and it’s even worse in sports weighted more towards upper-body performance.

            We can gender our sports, or we can watch the best woman in the state get stomped by a guy that skipped half his practices and showed up to the meet high. Which do you think is more empowering?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I think what chrisminor0008 is asking is: Why is it important to empower female athletes, rather than some other class of globally inferior athletes?

            In my gut I feel that question is missing the point somehow, but I can’t put my finger on how.

          • Nornagest says:

            Realistically, if you’re an average kid going into high school, you can’t expect to be any kind of world-class athlete if you buckle down and work hard. Talent (which is to say genetic and environmental luck of the draw) is too important at that level, and the field’s too small. But you can usually find a sport where you’re competitive at the high school level if you put in the work, simply because most kids don’t. Maybe not any sport — if you’re a 5’6″ boy, you probably won’t do well on the basketball team — but at least one. The bar isn’t that high there.

            Integrate boys’ and girls’ sports, and that goes away for half the population. A girl that goes into almost any coed sport* cannot reasonably expect to be successful, no matter how much work she puts in, and we can probably expect that to strongly discourage trying.

            (*) Except for, like, riflery, and there aren’t many shooting teams left in American high schools these days. Also except for Ultimate Frisbee, but that has gendered positions rather than gendered leagues, so it’s sort of a different animal.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:


            Integrate boys’ and girls’ sports, and that goes away for half the population. A girl that goes into almost any coed sport* cannot reasonably expect to be successful, no matter how much work she puts in, and we can probably expect that to strongly discourage trying.

            To the point that only one girl will show up to regionals in co-ed martial arts.

        • brad says:

          That only holds up in a world where 50(ish)% of the population isnt on average outperformed athletically by the other. If we dont foster competitive womens sports, there are no women in sports.

          Putting a slight asterisk next to their record seems a fair tradeoff to me for letting half our species enjoy sport.

          I’m not sure what you mean. The vast, overwhelming majority of people–men, women, and other–aren’t in the Olympics or on professional sports teams. There’s no reason we can’t have beer leagues, which is how most of our species enjoys sports. Actually, even that’s not true. Most of our species that enjoys sports, does so by watching other people do it.

          • gbdub says:

            Even in beer leagues, there are usually rules (in co-ed, usually you need some number of women on the field at all times) and pro ringers are a no-no. Because otherwise it stops being fun.

          • brad says:

            Yeah, I have zero problem with arbitrary and capricious beer league rules. It’s specifically the ostensibly not-for-fun women’s sports I think are ridiculous. And even that opinion is whatever, my more strongly held belief is that there is nothing sexist about thinking they are ridiculous.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        “Incoherent” is baked into sport. The games played are somewhat arbitrary, and full of rules and regulations to make “fair” competition. Why separate out “fastest cyclist” and “fastest cyclist who doesn’t take steroids?”

        If fair, generally healthy competition is something worth doing, you might as well bucket people into similar competitive groups. Age and gender are usually pretty good buckets to use. Except for very rare exceptions like Semenya.

        • albatross11 says:

          Also weight class–without that, wrestling/boxing/MMA would all be great big guys. And probably other categories I don’t even know about. (Imagine a one-on-one basketball league with height classes.)

          Realistically, super-competitive-level sports is a huge filter–pulling a tiny fraction of the total population out who are super-good at something. So even though someone like Semanaya is super-rare in the world, she got selected to be an Olympic athlete, because that super-rare property she has is helpful in her sport.

          You can see this in many other ways–people in given sports typically have a particular body shape (sprinters and bodybuilders look very different), extreme performers in some mental disciplines are heavily Aspergersy, etc.

        • brad says:

          Age is not treated at all close to gender. There’s no over 40 Olympics, or mid-50s professional basketball. It’s only gender that is singled out this way.

          • Nornagest says:

            There are masters’ leagues (exact cutoff varies, typically somewhere around 45) in a lot of sports, such as cycling.

          • dick says:

            There was no pro women’s basketball, until there was. It seems like you’re attracted to this position because of its ability to provoke rather than to elucidate.

          • brad says:

            I can’t say for sure that you are wrong, Bulver, but I’d think if I were attracted to edgelordism I’d be down in the race and IQ thread instead of up here in the comparatively less controversial gender and sport thread.

          • quanta413 says:

            That’s because you’re a different type of edgelord brad. Doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

            Embrace your edgelord-ism.

          • gbdub says:

            Almost every amateur running event, even pretty serious ones, (10k, marathons, etc) award overall, gendered, and age group medals.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            When I wrote that I was thinking of chess, actually. At my son’s last chess tournament there was a surprise guest appearance by the under-10 world champion. Before the tournament, he had six boards set up and any of the kids who wanted to could come play him for a warm-up. My kid had a fun time losing to him 🙂

          • baconbits9 says:

            There are however lots of age brackets from kids through college.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        At a guess, you also aren’t particularly interested in sports at all?

        Should they hold any amateur competitions, say at the HS or Collegiate level? How about A, AA, and AAA baseball? Over 50? Weight classes?

        • johan_larson says:

          Yeah, this. People routinely slice and dice the pool of athletes by many criteria including sex, age, nationality, and weight, and celebrate the champions within each finely-sliced division. There is much more to it than figuring out who the absolute champion is.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Hell, people do this for skill levels independent of other factors. Look at the USTA championships, for example.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Though people care more about some divisions than others. In MMA for instance, people seem to find the newer low-end weight classes silly.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yep, or the USGA handicap tournament, or the just the concept of handicap in golf at all.

          • Aapje says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            It seems that the lower the weight, the more the fights turn into slap fights aka points fighting. Lighter fighters seem to lack the strength to knock people out/down and to use submission techniques effectively.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Aapje: That pretty much captures the problem, yes.

        • brad says:

          Should they hold any amateur competitions, say at the HS or Collegiate level? How about A, AA, and AAA baseball? Over 50? Weight classes?

          I guess when it really comes down to it, I don’t care what anyone does. But it shouldn’t be a disreputable opinion to consider women’s track and field to be basically the same thing as the Special Olympics track and field.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I understand the point you’re making and basically agree with it, but the way you’ve phrased it suggests a complete lack of understanding as to what people actually play sports for, and the roles that particular institutions of sport play for different groups.

            Little league baseball is like women’s wheelchair tennis in that it is not an “open” sport, but to call them “basically the same thing” with no qualifications is pretty unjustifiable.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        I don’t see sports as purely identifying the best players. Some of it is entertainment, some of it is sportsmanship, some of it is trying to promote physical excellence at all levels of society. I’m including here professional and non-professional leagues.

        The segmentations are somewhat arbitrary [except in wrestling where sex/age/weight class seems to be fairly comprehensive] but one difference between the two sprinters examples you gave is that protecting females from male competition prevents young girls from not having any ‘alike’ athletic role models. The latter example you gave doesn’t have this problem quite as much as I don’t think a young person is separating role models by height x ethnic group class.

        Ethnic group by itself is a bit iffy but had traditionally been covered due to the existence of national teams where that variable is controlled for. Nowadays that system is breaking down though.

        If you want to take your logic to the absolute conclusion ask yourself why not allow custom-build robots to participate as well?

        • woah77 says:

          I, for one, would welcome watching the Augmented Olympics, complete with Performance enhancing drugs, Mechanical aids, and Robots.

          • Kindly says:

            So, NASCAR?

          • woah77 says:

            NASCAR doesn’t have wrestling, javelins, marksmanship, swimming, or long jumps. But if it did, then maybe.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Preferably, all of these things at the same time, which basically comes down to “who would win in the Mad Max universe”

          • Nornagest says:

            Man, I don’t even care who wins as long as I can have a dude following me around and playing death metal on a flamethrowing guitar to set the mood.

          • John Schilling says:

            Didn’t we do this in the Remodernized Pentathalon discussion a few OT’s back? But, yeah, I can see that in the heavyweight division you’d have Terminators and other cyborgs competing.

            As long as they don’t enforce minimum weights, River Tam still wins of course.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’d be interested to see the match between Summer Glau as River Tam and Summer Glau as a Terminator.

          • Garrett says:

            My objection to NASCAR is that’s they’ve put a lot of rules in-place to limit technical advantages. I’d very much love to see a sport that got a lot of coverage which focused a lot of time, energy and money into engineering as well as the human performance element.

          • Aapje says:


            A problem with not doing that is that you tend to get huge differences between competitors, which ends all suspense about who will win.

            A second issue is that some innovations that increase speed are very dangerous. The most effective systems for rapid cornering and high maximum speeds have a failure mode of sending the car airborne at huge speeds. Car racing has a history of competitors, spectators and staff dying, that they got sick of, so they introduced a lot of legislation to increase safety.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            The sport you are thinking of is F1.

            If you want a contact racing sport, it’s inevitably going to be slow.

        • Aapje says:

          I don’t see sports as purely identifying the best players.

          Giving the best athlete or team a token that identifies them as the best is actually what nearly all sports do.

          Viewership also tends to go up the better the athlete is. FC Barcelona gets more viewers than LA Galaxy. Viewership in turn tends to generate income for the athletes.

          The complaints tend to revolve around these issues as well. Caster Semenya could run with the men. Then she could run competitions suitable to her performance relative to her competitors. She doesn’t want to, because she wants to compete for international gold medals and get the income from such results, rather than never advancing beyond national or regional competitions, which would happen if she were to run against men.

          Similarly, female athletes who are demanding pay parity are demanding parity with top male athletes, not with male athletes who perform at their level.

          I’m personally fine with separate competitions for reasons of representation and such, but I don’t see why these athletes should expect similar interest and income, when they perform as well as male athletes that also get little interest and income. Equal pay for equal work goes both ways.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            I don’t disagree with your last paragraph. The problem is that modern moral valuations are conflicting with basic biomechanics and the market economy.

            *Professional* leagues can require the best players to have the most interesting to watch games, but imagine if all sports competitions at all levels needed to allow anyone to apply irrespective of age or biological sex. The value in sports competitions that aren’t the top-league would be harmed more than enhanced.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            There’s the interesting case where sports become degenerate the better people are at them. Men’s basketball and bowling are arguably there, or close to it.

          • Aapje says:


            Sure, but somehow this never seems to result in viewers switching to female or second-tier male competitions, in significant numbers. The WNBA has very poor viewership.

            There seems to be a strong interest in watching the best and if the top-tier competition is less fun to watch, people seem to sooner switch to watching another sport where the top tier is more fun to watch, than to a lower tier.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Hoopyfreud, can you elaborate on your examples? I can understand the hypothetical, but not as it relates specifically to basketball and bowling.

          • J Mann says:

            @Hoopyfreud – generally agreed, with college sports being a notable exception. (Also weight classes in boxing – some people prefer the lighter weights.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Women’s tennis is probably more popular than men’s, but I don’t remember if that was true before the Williams sisters’ superstar status.

            Women’s MMA seems to be doing pretty well, too, but it’s not quite on par with men’s.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            NCAA vs NBA is an old argument I don’t care enough to make.

            At the pro level, bowlers are nearly perfect. There are a LOT of 300s bowled. Pro bowling is about as exciting as pro minesweeper for this reason – it’s more about who gets screwed worse than anything else – but amateur bowling is very fun, both to spectate and to play. The difference between two 180 bowlers and two 220 bowlers is enormous.

          • Lambert says:

            Can they make it harder?
            Lengthen the lanes or something?

          • Randy M says:

            Can they make it harder?

            There was an old commercial for a sports drink or something premised on all the athletes being so much better that sports got boring, so they had to do silly things to make it harder, like mechanized back boards that jerked around when the players tried to dunk and so forth.
            I can’t find it at the moment, since apparently there was a time before the internet.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            There’s a decent argument that this is down to people being too permissive about ball materials and pin weights, and sure, maybe that would do something to fix it… but, like darts and crosswording, there’s just a point at which the game becomes silly. I don’t know that it’s entirely fixable.

          • Tarpitz says:

            If women’s tennis is more popular than men’s, it is only so in America, and it is so because America has had great women players more recently than great men. In the rest of the world, Federer and Nadal were and are far bigger draws than Serena ever has been, and I suspect that back in the day Sampras and Agassi drew more American eyeballs than the Williamses later would.

          • albatross11 says:

            Valuations ultimately come out of what people are willing to pay to watch/advertise on. IMO, womens’ basketball isn’t as entertaining as mens’ basketball, but womens’ tennis is about as entertaining as mens’ tennis. And IMO, NCAA mens’ basketball is about as much fun to watch as NBA mens’ basketball, even though the NBA players are on average much better than the NCAA players.

          • gbdub says:

            Women’s tennis would be much more enjoyable if I didn’t have to watch it on mute.

            In some sense it’s almost a different (arguably more entertaining) sport in that the players can’t usually overwhelm each other with power.

            I actually enjoy college basketball more than NBA, despite the NBA being clearly superior athletes. The very imperfections of the college game lead to more variety and, in my mind, more interesting contests.

          • bullseye says:

            There was an old commercial for a sports drink or something premised on all the athletes being so much better that sports got boring, so they had to do silly things to make it harder, like mechanized back boards that jerked around when the players tried to dunk and so forth.
            I can’t find it at the moment, since apparently there was a time before the internet.

            Found it:

          • Randy M says:

            Aye, that’s the one.

      • psmith says:

        I’m down with this. (My favorite suggestion in this vein: 2 classes, “handicapped” and “open”; you choose which one you compete in.).

        As far as sports participation goes, if you’re not a hack, you’ll know. If you are a hack, you’re not in serious contention for anything that matters. Better to lose to the best than to win the county submasters 185-189lb police/fire division (total of 2 entrants). Maybe modulo some exceptions for contact sports on the grounds of safety.

        The flip side of the coin is that the sports scene does a decent job of tracking and recognizing impressive performances that aren’t formal records–so, for example (and inspired by Brad’s “fastest 100m dash for Jewish guys etc”), it’s front-page news on LetsRun when a white guy runs a 9.98 wind-aided, even though there are multiple reasons that this isn’t a real record. Or Houston McTear’s comeback attempt, or Henry Rono ditto, or Jared Lorenzen the fat quarterback, or Earl Manigault, or….

    • John Schilling says:

      I believe Caster Semenya has an X and a Y chromosome in every cell. But that’s not easy information to find, and the sources willing to make a statement are not authoritative. Which is I think telling.

      The only way people born without Y chromosomes will be able to compete at the highest levels of most sports on anything like a level playing field is if there are special no-Y-chromosome-allowed leagues. I did the math here a while back and estimated that a chromosomally-unrestricted Women’s NBA would be at least 80-90% XY transwomen even before the second-order effect where marginal male athletes start calling themselves “transwomen” for the cheap wins. There’s less data available for other sports, but the effects are likely to be similar.

      Probably the no-Y-chromosome leagues can allow people who agree to have their Y chromosomes neutered by serious drugs. Maybe that sounds dystopic to some people here, and maybe it is. But so long as it is socially and politically unacceptable to tell XX ciswomen that they aren’t allowed to become high-level athletes, that’s the way it has to be.

      Possibly someday XY transwomen will have the social and political status to displace XX ciswomen from high-level athletics. But I don’t see a plausible future for both XX ciswomen and XY transwomen having a presence in high-level athletic competition. Well, outside of sports like aerobatic flying and target shooting, at least.

      The bit where we’re all grey-tribe nerds who don’t like high-level (i.e high-status) sportsball and would be secretly happy if chromosomal disputes cause the entire edifice to come crashing down, is similarly irrelevant because we won’t be the ones making the decision and our advice won’t be taken if that’s what we’re up to.

      So, not surprised by the decision, and I don’t think it is the wrong decision – particularly for an international body that has less reason to pander to specifically first-world progressive tastes.

      • Protagoras says:

        I believe Caster Semenya has an X and a Y chromosome in every cell. But that’s not easy information to find, and the sources willing to make a statement are not authoritative. Which is I think telling.

        So, in other words, the fact that no well-informed source is talking about Y chromosomes means they must be present? That’s your evidence?

        • John Schilling says:


          Also, you are being an ass, and I have to assume deliberately so. There are much more useful questions you could have asked than that one, requiring only a few seconds’ thought and a modicum of charity.

          • Protagoras says:

            I obviously wouldn’t have made this comment if you had provided other evidence, such as, say, the link the Nybbler provides later. I responsed the way I did because you did not do so; I don’t see how charity requires me to assume you have good reasons when you only offer bad ones.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          When they covered her a few years ago, NPR said she had testes, as a side fact in the middle of something else.

          I think it’s fine to have non-best leagues, like for women or seniors or for kids. The problem is that “women” turns out, despite our cultural upbringings, to not be as well-defined as everything else.

          I think just going with the chromosome is the fairest way, simply because it gives us something objective that everyone would agree on as a schelling point, unlike some given level of testosterone. People who fail that test could find some other league to compete in, but there’s no point in having a second-best league if everyone from the best-league can enter it, just like we don’t want 25-year-old AAA baseball players playing in the Little League.

          We could have a dozen different leagues with various levels of testosterone, like we have weight classes, but I suspect there is neither the audience nor the competitors to keep them sustained.

          • albatross11 says:

            Women vs men is easy to define in nearly all cases. The problem is that the very rare edge cases turn out to be important, because testosterone / a Y chromosome confer a large advantage for most sports. I mean, in daily life, dealing with intersex people and trans people as a special category isn’t all that big a burden, because it rarely comes up. Also, since there’s not some huge competitive advantage to be had by letting people tell you how they want to be classified in normal life, it works pretty well to just say “okay, you want to be referred to as ‘she’, well then ‘she’ it is.”

      • rlms says:

        I did the math here a while back and estimated that a chromosomally-unrestricted Women’s NBA would be at least 80-90% XY transwomen even before the second-order effect where marginal male athletes start calling themselves “transwomen” for the cheap wins. There’s less data available for other sports, but the effects are likely to be similar.

        International handball allows transwomen but does not seem dominated by them.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Indeed, the summary of the decision makes it clear that there simply wouldn’t be an issue if Semenya didn’t have an XY karyotype. But it doesn’t come out and say she has one.

        During the course of the proceedings before the CAS, the IAAF explained that, following an amendment to the DSD Regulations, the DSD covered by the Regulations are limited to “46 XY DSD” – i.e. conditions where the affected individual has XY chromosomes. Accordingly, no individuals with XX chromosomes are subjected to any restrictions or eligibility conditions under the DSD Regulations.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Am I reading this correctly?

          “This rule is only applicable to green people. This rule is applicable to Bill.”

          This is implicitly stating Bill is a green person, without explicitly stating “Bill is a green person.” But we can therefore all agree Bill is a green person, yes?

        • The Nybbler says:

          The summary decision never states the rule covers Semenya. The Media Release notes that the full decision is confidential. It’s possible the court is constrained by law to avoid disclosing Semenya’s private medical details.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But the summary states that the rules only apply to XY…and they apply to Semenya or else she wouldn’t have sued…ergo ipso facto lorem ipsum etc etc Semenya is XY, no?

      • bullseye says:

        A few years ago I read about an African athlete who was an XY woman, but I can’t remember if it was Semenya or not. Is there a way to search for old news?

    • eyeballfrog says:

      It means that all DSD athletes, who are usually born with internal testes, will have to reduce their testosterone to below five nmol/L for at least six months if they want to compete internationally all distances from 400m to a mile.

      Excuse me, but born with internal testes? In what sense is this person a biological woman?

      I’ve got an alternate proposal: you can only compete in women’s events if you were born with ovaries.

      • Vitor says:

        Why ovaries? why not a uterus? why not simply lack of testicles (not the same as having ovaries)? Males and females clearly form 2 clusters containing the overwhelming majority of humans, but outliers do exist, they’re called intersex people. Biology is weird like that, which is the whole reason this situation is even difficult.

        I think that in this case, a cutoff based on testosterone levels is at least consistent, because it comes close to the source of the athletic advantage.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          Well, lacking testes is admittedly the more relevant thing, though the rule would have to be formulated as never having had testes, since some people have had them removed for one reason or another. I guess I forgot the potential case of a person not developing either gland, though that’s probably disastrous for one’s sports career anyways.

          The problem with testosterone levels is that it ignores the advantage conferred by having had high testosterone levels throughout your life. This tries to remove that entirely: if you were born with testes, you can’t compete.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think intersex people are a genuine case; if you’ve been raised female, treated as female, and think of yourself as female and only in your teens or twenties discover you are intersex, then that’s a different matter if you’re also running on the female team in school or college than if you’ve always been perceived and treated as male, ran on the boy’s teams, and then come out as trans.

      • rlms says:

        This is a very odd position to take. People with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome have testes rather than ovaries (and for that matter XY rather than XX chromosomes) but physically appear exactly like typical women. In fact, in terms of testosterone they are presumably *more* “feminine” than the typical woman, since they experience no effect from it whatsoever (hence “androgen insensitivity”).

        • gbdub says:

          You’re talking about an extremely tiny fraction of the population. There is no entitlement to play professional sports – some people get hosed by deformities or illness or accidents. Many more (myself included) are just short and chubby.

          You have to draw the line somewhere. Nowhere will be perfect, but anything that handles 99%+ of the population is doing pretty good.

          • rlms says:

            Nowhere will be perfect, but anything that handles 99%+ of the population is doing pretty good.

            But the whole point is that we’re “talking about an extremely tiny fraction of the population”! If you just want something that works most of the time “identifies as a woman” will do. There are other places to draw the line, but “has testes” is not a logical one, given that people on the end of the spectrum of DSD I believe Semenya has have testes, XY chromosomes, a lack of periods/associated internal female reproductive system, and literally no other features in common with typical men. I expect the only reason eyeballfrog and others are suggesting testes/Y chromosomes is because they believe those to be inherently linked with (the effects of) testosterone, but that isn’t true.

          • Aapje says:


            That Semenya has XY chromosomes is pretty obvious from the CAS ruling that says that the rule under which Semenya is required to lower her testosterone to compete with women is only applicable to people with XY chromosomes.

            Testes produce 95% of testosterone in men, while both men and women also produce it in their adrenal glands. The extremely high production of testosterone by Semenya strongly suggests the presence of internal testes. Some media have reported that medical tests performed on Semenya have found internal testes.

          • rlms says:

            Please read the Wikipedia page for CAIS (for clarification, Semenya probably has PAIS) and reread my comments. You don’t understand my point at all. I’m not making any claims about Semenya.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Semenya is androgen-sensitive, that’s implied by the summary as well. She probably has one of the rarer 46,XY DSD conditions.

            She has typically masculine features, underdeveloped breasts, and essentially no feminine characteristics except (presumably) the external appearance of her genitalia.

          • rlms says:

            @The Nybbler
            Repeating my previous comment:

            for clarification, Semenya probably has PAIS

            I’m not making any claims about Semenya.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      This is the first I’ve heard of her, but if “DSD athlete” means she has testes… I call nominative determinism. (“Cast ‘er semen? Ya.”)

  29. Machine Interface says:

    What a coincidence, I just rewatched Lawrence of Arabia a handful of days ago. The film, like many of these old historical epic movies is rather flawed in its relation with historical reality (up to the portrayl Lawrence of himself), but it would be pointless to attempt to remake such a monument of cinematography.

    If I remember correctly, at the time Lawrence was writing these lines, “Syria” was understood to mean what we now call “Greater Syria”: not just modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine and Jordan.

  30. Imagine a future in which virtual reality is invented and perfected. Whenever someone is in the simulation, they can do pretty much anything they can imagine. However, in the “real world”, their life is much more tightly controlled than our own. Are they more or less free than we are?

    • dick says:

      Is the VR a glorified video game with sex-bots, or can you interact with all the other people in the world like in Snowcrash?

      • The latter. But “glorified video game with sex-bots” is really underselling the possibilities of VR.

        • Walter says:

          I’m not sure it is. Mostly people want to do digital entertainment, right? Like, revealed preferences and stuff.

          Real talk, nobody on the Enterprise would ever leave the holodeck, yeah?

          • It’s the framing that is weird. “Glorified video game” makes it sound cheap and meaningless contrasted with the Snowcrash world.

            Endless sandbox where I can do anything=hedonistic lifestyle devoid of meaning

            Endless sandbox where I can do anything and invite my friends=Cool, futuristic, progressive society.

          • Nornagest says:

            Real talk, nobody on the Enterprise would ever leave the holodeck, yeah?

            I’m willing to accept that; much like real-world mililtaries, Starfleet probably selects, just by existing, for people who want to do stuff with real consequences. The really unrealistic part is when we go back to Earth and everyone we see has, like, houses and social lives and stuff rather than spending all their time banked into little holodeck pods.

          • Nick says:

            Now, if they ever due the Next Next Generation and everyone isn’t constantly in the holodeck, that will be weirder.

            Deep Space Nine and Voyager are a little later in the chronology, with the last season of Voyager 13-14 years after the setting of season one of TNG. 14 years was enough time to see advancements in hologram technology, like Vic Fontaine. I’m not sure we saw any social effects, unfortunately.

            ETA: …Was the post I was responding to deleted? Dammit.

          • Walter says:

            @WS: Like, what would make your friends important? They aren’t as cool as your simulated ones anyway, and how would you know the difference?

          • dick says:

            It’s the framing that is weird. “Glorified video game” makes it sound cheap and meaningless contrasted with the Snowcrash world.

            Well, VR is recreational, and no one can recreate 24/7. A simulation where I can hang-glide off a mountain of cocaine and hookers would indeed be awesome, but I am a monkey with a monkey brain that was designed to want monkey things, and I think the only way the future-VR people you described could possibly be considered as free as me is if they have the opportunity to do things that matter (to their monkey brains), which is very hard to do unless you’re in a tribe and able to interact with other monkeys.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Well, VR is recreational, and no one can recreate 24/7

            Well, that’s why it’s important to know how much the VR affects the real world. Could you run your business in VR? If you can make real money doing things in VR (as an example, easy to imagine a CPA or a programmer working there exclusively) there’s no real reason ever to leave.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      First instinct was to say “a lot less”. Then I started wondering if the simulation is multiplayer. If it is, and IF the environment is not just plain free but conductive to actual meaningful interaction (i.e. it’s avoiding both 1984 and Brave New World), you can start comparing it to actual freedom. There is definitely some quantity of real life freedom that I’d trade for this.

    • Aapje says:

      @Wrong Species

      One concern I would have is that the virtual reality might be very dissatisfying, because not having any limitations is quite boring. So then people might prefer the limitations of the real world, yet then be greatly frustrated by those limitations being excessive.

      Of course, a work-around might be to introduce artificial restrictions to the VR environment, just like people today play games that give artificial challenges. However, a lot of people don’t consider that truly satisfying either.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Why is “real life” tightly controlled? Are they in a prison or something? If so then they’re less free than I am, because right now I can both freely leave my immediate area, and I can use VR as it exists now and may exist in the future.

      • Randy M says:

        Yeah, without more specifications on the latter it’s hard to say.
        Actually, without more specifications on both. If some ‘they’ is controlling your real world life, they probably care for reasons of political security (ie, their own) about controlling debate and news about their regime and so on. So the VR that lets you do anything is probably limited to letting you experience anything you want–but not using it to plan and discuss anything in real time. The program probably has significant censorship ai built in, filtering out what you say and speak to others in virtual.

        As it happens, that’s the plot of the short story I just wrote. An ai is piloting a ship of colonists, and virtual is what keeps the crew safe in the close confines of the ship, and environment that is by it’s nature as tightly controlled as WS posits. But the people revolt when they realize the ai is using the system to control what they see in reality.

        If you take that premise slightly farther, it’s the plot of the Matrix, also, of course.
        [edit: I swear I was still writing this when Doctor Mist posted, lol]

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Seems like The Matrix is something of a limiting case here. People are, um, “heavily constrained” in the real world, but in the Matrix they have elections and free markets and whatnot.

      Also, “they can do pretty much anything they can imagine” is carrying more weight than I’d like. If it’s indeed multiplayer, google “A Rape in Cyberspace”.

      • Walter says:

        I mean, the Matrix is a utopia, yeah? Like, disregarding the silliness about it needing real world rebellions to get random numbers or whatever, the people live as happily as they are able.

        Like, absent Smith chewing all the scenery so we know he is the bad guys, the blue pillers are happier, yeah?

        • Randy M says:

          There’s the bit where the ai see the humans as a resource and are likely to dispose of them when a better replacement comes along… which they really should be working on given the costs of running the simulation and fighting the rebellion–imagine putting all the resources spent on kill-bots into whatever the ai really cares about.
          Which is what, exactly? Maybe the Matrix ai is an evolved skynet that really just lives to fight, and keeps humans around in order to breed targets for its kill-bots to shoot at.

          But anyway, to your point, I think you could get some agreement with the proposal to have benevolent ai guide humanities future while we all plug in. Which is good, because that’s probably where we’re heading, for various definitions of benevolent.

          Personally I’m agin’ it. Probably for an inexpressible religious impulse that holds that whatever we’re here to do, lying around in pleasure pods can’t be it. From a materialist view, it’s probably as close to heaven as we get, I suppose (though the conception of heave as lying around in pleasure pods may itself be rather shallow).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The Matrix is a utopia? Nope.

          First, Neo is a drone working in a cubicle at a mind-numbingly boring job. The movie is drawing on a milieu of critique of corporate culture or modernity as soul-crushing (but “real life” is out there somewhere if you can throw off your shackles). Many movies -Office Space, Fight Club, Falling Down, even Nine to Five as examples – they all trade on some of the same tropes.

          And Smith (I think) even explicitly tells Neo that it’s not a utopia, saying that this was tried and it resulted in problems because humans couldn’t deal with utopia.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            A friendly correction, it was the architect who told him that.

          • Jaskologist says:

            A friendly addendum to your friendly correction: Smith is the first one to give us that information, but it’s Morpheus he tells.

            Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.

    • J Mann says:

      It seems mostly an excise in defining free and your measurement units. You’re giving your hypothetical citizens an apple and taking away an orange.

      Which isn’t to say it isn’t fun or interesting, but IMHO the interesting part is “what does free mean to you,” not “are virtual experiences real.”

      Assume a typical college student. We give him a pass that lets him engage in any amount of plane, train or bus travel without payment, but we put a chip in his brain that stops him from consuming alcohol or chocolate. Is he more free or less free?

      • Every time we talk about freedom, we’re engaging in an exercise in defining freedom, whether explicit or implicit. The purpose of the question is not to ask whether virtual experiences are real, but to what extent people value the real world itself apart from the ability to have experiences. But the question of comparing freedom is important too.

        • Walter says:

          I don’t think ‘value the real world itself apart from the ability to have experiences.’ is gonna put up any kind of fight against ‘activate ALL the pleasure sensors’, but even if you tie the holodeck’s hands behind its back it is gonna win anyway, yeah?

          Like, whatever non experience thing the valuers are using to know they are working on the real world and not dirty fake simulated pleasure comes to em through an experience, right (I know I’m in the real world because…) Well, now compare the simulated version of that discovery to the real one.

          Even if living authentically or whatever turns out to be the one true key to true satisfaction, it doesn’t outcompete thinking you are living authentically while secretly being favored by the universe.

          • zzzzort says:

            One desire many people have is to reproduce, both for the experience of having a kid, but also in order to create something that will exist independently of them, and continue after they are gone. The first part can be effectively simulated, but the second part can’t (at least not honestly).

            The first generation might be almost completely wireheaded, but the second generation will be descended from the people who weren’t.

          • Walter says:

            I dunno man, it sounds like you are buying the quiverfull pitch, yeah? Like, if 90% go into the wirehead labs, and for whatever reason they don’t program the machines to make more of themselves, then, yeah, sure, the 10% give birth to the next generation…

            And then 90% of that next generation go into the machines.

          • Nornagest says:

            And then 90% of that next generation go into the machines.

            Only if propensity to wirehead yourself isn’t heritable and can’t be influenced by culture. (You could maybe argue that the dominant culture was pro-wireheading at first, but that only works for one generation — after that, all the carriers of pro-wireheading culture are wireheaded.)

            I mean, sure, you’d probably lose some, but the whole point of this argument is that you’re creating some pretty intense selection pressure.

          • acymetric says:

            Something I’ve never quite understood in these mass wireheading scenarios…who is paying for it? Maybe this is obvious, or maybe the point is the handwave that away in order to have a fun discussion.

          • Nornagest says:

            The topic usually comes up in the context of hardcore futurism, so it’s probably understood to be some sort of fully automated luxury space communism. Doesn’t much matter, though; the economics aren’t the point.

          • Randy M says:

            You’re arguing whether human nature can evolve faster than technology can adapt, or possibly whether evolution is stronger than the immutable innate hedonic drive.
            If we don’t cheat and posit a mutation such that the WH tech simply doesn’t work for some portion of the population, I don’t really have a clue which would win.

    • John Schilling says:

      Less free, and probably completely irrelevant to me.

      Or not, because you’re probably imagining a democracy in which these people can still vote. From my perspective, that’s a world which is somewhat like ours but A: with a much smaller population supported by automated manufacturing and services and B: a whole lot of pods from which legally binding “votes” emerge that result in the state’s mostly-robotic enforcers being commanded to subjugate the human population to make sure they do not endanger (and maybe do continue to maintain) the pods.

      The fact that there is wireheaded meat inside the pods is irrelevant to me, as is the fact that I can chose to become wireheaded pod-meat.

      • Imagine that there is both a shared world and your own playground inside that world where you have total control.

      • Walter says:

        I don’t get how your bosses can be irrelevant to you tho.

        Is it some sort of ‘you can enslave me but you can’t make me care’ kind of deal?

        Like, presumably there are some Amish folks with opinions about what America’s foreign policy ought to be, but nobody cares, because they are outvoted.

        Similarly, in your example the pods would outvote you and the robots would subjugate you. Shouldn’t those be mad relevant to you, like maybe the most relevant thing of all?

        • John Schilling says:

          That the pods exist, is relevant or not (hence the explicit “or not” in my prior post), depending on whether or not they can vote or exercise similar power.

          That the pods contain people playing VR games, as opposed to silicon AI or maybe chickens pecking at buttons whenever polled for a vote, is not something I particularly care about.

    • SamChevre says:

      Isn’t this the world of Tad Williams Otherland?

      I’d say people are less free.

    • AG says:

      Depends on how much the “real world” can control your access to unshackled VR.

  31. blipnickels says:

    Does anyone have a good book on the early US Republican party, specifically 1854-1860?

    There’s a sub-stratum of blog-posts on how small groups of intellectuals grew to have major political/ideological influence. Think the Socialist Fabians, the neoliberal, the modern Federalists shaping the Supreme Court. The most impressive rise in political history, however, must be the US Republican party. Wikipedia tells me that the party was founded in 1854 and ran its first candidates in 1856; by 1860 it had elected Lincoln and it dominated American politics until FDR was elected. That’s a meteoric rise to political dominance.

    But I can’t find a good book on this rise. The closest I can come is “The Birth of the Grand Old Party: The Republicans’ First Generation” by Engs & Miller and “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men” by Eric Foner but neither seems like what I want. I don’t want to know what the early Republicans were or their views, I want to know how they achieved what they did. Nobodies to president to political dominance in 6-ish years is a feat worth studying.


    • cassander says:

      The Japanese LDP was founded in 1955, won the election that year, and has been in power for all but 4 years since.

    • Erusian says:

      If you’re looking for the intellectual birth of the anti-slavery movement, the start of the Republican Party is too late. You’d want to look at roughly 1660-1775. That’s when it went from a fringe religious belief to a mainstream religious belief to the common belief in certain quarters. From that point on, it was more of an argument between abolitionists and slavers than anything else.

      The Republican Party began as a party that opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In fact, the original name for the Republican Party (before they chose a name for themselves) was the Anti-Kansas Party.

      Basically, there were some Democrats and many Whigs who were unhappy with the compromise extending slavery. Unsurprisingly, the Democrats were mostly Free Soiler Democrats and the Whigs were mostly from anti-slavery factions. They felt the current parties were unresponsive to their beliefs and noticed they had significant regional support and a good number of politicians.

      So these weren’t a bunch of outsiders. It included senators, representatives, and many other powerful people from the start. They used their existing political networks, and the energy of the anti-slavery movement, to start contesting elections all through the North. Because anti-slavery was popular there, they tended to win and soon came to dominate the North. Keep in mind that six years is three elections, enough time to replace all representatives, two thirds of the senators, the president, and most governors.

      They then leaned on the fact Republicans had broad appeal in rural states (and so a disproportionate share of senators) and the most populous states (so a large share of representatives) to take control of Congress and get Lincoln elected. The Democrats then largely gave up by seceding. The next sixteen years of dominance were largely the result of the Civil War. The Republicans won and got political dominance as a spoil. During that time, they expanded/solidified their coalition.

      • Walter says:

        I’m kind of in love with the notion of the Republican party as the Anti-Kansas party. Imagine if we’d kept that down to the modern day?

        “Blue on the map are, of course, the Democratic party, and as always Red will be the Anti-Kansas party…”

        • Erusian says:

          Trump walked up to the podium, “Now that I have become the greatest, the hugest President. You know, they said we couldn’t do it. They said they had a ‘blue wall’. Ask Hillary how well her wall worked. But now that I have the biggest majority in Congressional history, after I got the largest electoral college win ever. You know that? They’re already saying I’m one of the most popular presidents ever folks. Really, it’s great. It’s beautiful. Greatest electoral college victory ever.”

          “But now that we’ve won and have control of both the House and the Senate, we will finally fulfill Lincoln’s dream! Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents folks. And his dream, oh his dream.”

          “Finally, our long national nightmare is over. I have today signed legislation, new legislation, the best legislation, outlawing Kansas. We begin bombing in five minutes. They know what they did. Dopey Arkansas better watch its back too!”

          Five minutes later, with military precision, the gold tipped nukes began to fall…

        • Deiseach says:

          This puts a new slant on that book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

          “Well, for a start, it exists in the first place!”

  32. Odovacer says:

    Does anyone know much about life cycle assessments with respect to things like environmental concerns, e.g. greenhouse gas emissions and environmental? Are they reliable and robust?

    I’ve heard them used to tout the advantages or disadvantages of different policies and technology, but I’ve also heard that LCAs can be gamed in some ways, by using different methodologies or definitions to make things look better or worse.

    • March says:

      I’m a freelance editor for a consultancy firm specializing in LCA. As far as I can tell, LCA suffers from the same problems any model of reality does – you don’t have all the information (and people may actively be lying to you), it matters a lot how much weight you give each factor, and the assumptions you make end up influencing the results.

      However, the field is aware of these downsides and has come up with ways to mitigate them as much as possible.

      Also, there’s really no alternative – everything else is even more guesswork.

  33. Rebecca Friedman says:

    To the person who sent me a 5-page sample after the last Classified Thread: please give me another way to contact you or clear your inbox? I’ve been trying to return your sample but it keeps saying your inbox is full.

    To everyone else – sorry for taking up your time!

  34. Well... says:

    Here’s an article about how the asteroid 99942 Apophis is going to come really close to Earth in 10 years.

    First thing I want to know: Is that graphic even remotely to scale? Are our satellites really orbiting that far out? And does the height of all their orbits really drop off that suddenly? Hard to tell if they mean manmade satellites but if we are actually surrounded by this ring of natural satellites it’s the first I’m hearing about it. Nevermind, someone in the comments of the article explained. Dang, I had no idea we had that many satellites in orbits that far out!

    Second thing I want to know: What’s stopping us from capturing that asteroid Seveneves-style?

    • Well... says:

      Apparently the second thing was answered in the comments on the article too. I have to hand it to Gizmodo’s readership on this one.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Dang, I had no idea we had that many satellites in orbits that far out!

      The thick band far out is geosynchronous orbit, which is why it’s so popular. ~22,300 miles above the surface. The ones about half that far in inclined orbits are mostly GPS.

      • acymetric says:

        Is there much concern about losing any important satellites if it takes one of the closer paths?

        • Nornagest says:

          It’s only about 370m wide, and there’s a lot of space out there. It’s pretty unlikely that it’ll hit anything.

        • John Schilling says:

          Apophis’s orbit is also not aligned with the Earth’s equatorial plane, which virtually all of the satellites at that altitude are. IIRC, the relative offset is about 50 degrees. So it won’t cut across the edges of the GEO ‘belt’, but pass through it like an arrow fired through a skewed hula hoop. And I believe the closest plausible approach is still well above the 20,200 km orbit of the GPS, etc, constellations, which is the biggest potential target not constrained to an equatorial belt.

      • Well... says:

        The thick band far out is geosynchronous orbit, which is why it’s so popular.

        I guess ultimately what surprised me is that it’s popular. It seems like it would cost way more to get something into that high an orbit, although I get that the payoff is huge.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The fact that it takes so much energy to get up is why there are so many. Anything launched up to GEO is going to stay there, even if the operator wanted to do the right thing and de-orbit, because it takes so much energy to get back down that it’s not worth trying.

          While anything (in general) in LEO will, even if the operator wants it to stay up forever, eventually lose the battle to atmospheric friction and return to earth.

          Humanity has launched about ~8000 satellites and only about ~3000 are still up there.

          • Jaskologist says:

            How true is all that stuff I hear about how Earth’s orbit is getting filled up with space junk? Three thousand satellites spread out over such a large area doesn’t sound like much at all to me, but for all I know they’re positioned in a way that does make things much more problematic, or there’s further debris all over. Is space garbage actually a problem right now?

          • Another Throw says:

            The satellites are not the (biggest) problem. Debris is.


            As of January 2019, more than 128 million bits of debris smaller than 1 cm (0.4 in), about 900,000 pieces of debris 1–10 cm, and around 34,000 of pieces larger than 10 cm were estimated to be in orbit around the Earth.[5] [ESA reference]

            Defunct, uncontrolled satellites are a problem insofaras their collision with something, including a piece of small debris, will produce an enormous cloud of additional debris.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Anything and everything deliberately put up there is tracked. Even amateurs can (and do) map all these things and have software to know exactly what is whatever portion of the sky and what might hit each other or the next mission, and they have really good maps of all the natural things flying around space, too. The professionals are at least as good.

            It can be a problem in the future, especially with people doing irresponsible things like blowing up things in space.

            SpaceX wants to put up thousands of satellites for Internet communication. The plan is for them to be LEO and also for them to de-orbit themselves purposefully so they won’t leave any long-term junk. As long as everyone is paying attention we will be okay, but it does require an adult in the room at all times.

          • John Schilling says:

            Addressing two points:

            It costs about five times as much to put a satellite in GEO as it does to put the satellite in LEO. Also, the GEO satellite needs to be about 25x bigger to do the same job but you need 25x more satellites in LEO to do the same job so that part cancels. What doesn’t cancel is, it costs maybe 500-5000x as much to build a ground antenna that can track a satellite in anywhere-but-GEO, than it does for the antenna that just points at a fixed spot in GEO. Well, it does today – that may be changing in the near future.

            And orbit being “crowded” is relevant in a physical-collision sense only for LEO, where collisions are no longer vanishingly improbable and have actually happened. Orbit “crowding” in GEO is mostly a matter of frequency-space crowding, where an antenna pointed at one “spot” in GEO will in fact pick up signals coming from anywhere in a region several hundred kilometers across and so you can only have one useful satellite per frequency band per few hundred kilometers. But we still ask people with GEO satellites to move them to a different orbit before they completely die, to postpone the day when we do have to start seriously worrying about collisions in GEO.

          • helloo says:

            This youtube gives a decent picture of the space debris issue and doesn’t get all apocalyptic.
            Plus it gives some examples of current occurrences, their rates and workarounds.

            Given that current space agencies are very aware of the issue and are few enough in number to easily communicating between themselves, “grass-roots”/populist effort to push this issue is likely not a good thing.

          • Another Throw says:

            That video misses a pretty big point.

            Operation Burnt Frost was [ostensibly] about mitigating the risk of an intact reentry of a failed satellite and its hydrazine fuel over the mainland. [Or to prevent recovery of the intact portions of a spy satellite.] In order to mitigate the risk from debris, it was shot down just before atmospheric reentry. (After reentry, the flight path becomes erratic which would make it hard to hit.)

            The fact that the majority of the debris deorbited within two months is to be expected because the satellite itself was in the process of deorbiting. This is not the case for other collisions so it is not a panacea for the risks of collision produced debris. Moreover, despite this fact, debris were deorbiting for the next two years which doesn’t really look good for the point they are trying to make.

          • Lambert says:

            Is Kessler Syndrome considered a real problem?
            (every time debris hits something, it makes more debris)

  35. hash872 says: