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.

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939 Responses to Open Thread 126.75

  1. proyas says:

    I know a 22-year-old guy who is about to graduate from college with a bachelors degree, and he’s also in Air Force ROTC. He’s going into the Air Force this summer, but instead of being commissioned as an officer as you’d expect, he’s going in as an enlisted airman (“E-3”).

    What could be going on here?

    • greenwoodjw says:

      2 of my brothers scored high enough on the ASVAB that they were offered officer with their choice of specialty and they both enlisted.

      I asked them myself and never got an answer.

    • johan_larson says:

      Could the required service period for enlisted personnel be shorter than for officers? Maybe this fellow is eager to finish his service as quickly as possible.

      • bean says:

        I don’t think so. You have a specific service obligation you get by doing ROTC, and there’s no reason to assume that they’d let you out early if you enlisted.

        • woah77 says:

          No, probably what they’re doing is avoiding the stupid long hours associated with paperwork of being an officer. Unless you’re a pilot, you probably spend way too much time being a bureaucrat for most people to enjoy.

    • bean says:

      He turned out to be terrible at golf.

      More seriously, there are a couple of reasons someone could pick enlisted over officer. Maybe he really wants to go into a specific field, and either he couldn’t get an officer slot in that field (say, test scores weren’t high enough/”needs of the service”) or there aren’t officer slots doing what he wanted (fixing airplanes, for instance, or maybe the officer progression in the field is “do it on your first tour, then shuffle papers forever”). Or maybe he didn’t want to have to put up with the burdens of being an officer, which are not trivial. Leadership isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there’s a lot of paperwork and responsibility.

    • Erusian says:

      I know a few people who avoided the officer corps because they don’t like managing people or they feel it’s not ‘real’ work. Enlisted people also get more respect in certain communities than officers. I’ve seen it happen enough to know it’s a (rare) thing but I can’t say I understand it myself.

    • Incurian says:

      Maybe he didn’t actually graduate, but he’s still on the hook to pay back the college money. Have seen this happen more than once.

      ETA: Also, possibly he couldn’t get the job he wanted, and preferred to take an enlisted job he’s interested in vs an officer job that he’s not.

    • Another Throw says:

      Assuming he successful obtained a bachelors degree, and actually wanted to be an officer he probably failed his ROTC classes.

      They wont stop you from graduating but they are actually classes that you need to, like, pass in order to obtain a commission. (Either blowing off an academic class, or failing the PT test are good candidates here.) If you don’t obtain a commission you are still on the hook for your service obligation as an enlisted member. I don’t really know, but it always seems like everyone is complaining that they are falling behind on recruitment goals so it seems unlikely to me that there were too many ROTC graduates for the needs of the Air Force and aspiring cadets were involuntarily deferred to an enlistment. This always strikes me as one of those things that is technically possible but never actually happens.

  2. johan_larson says:

    Overnight, a sorcerer has stolen your naughty bits. Where your penis, scrotum, and testicles (alternately: vulva, vagina, and womb) were is a tiny hole, useful only for urination. A letter in today’s mail informs you that your bits could be returned to you for a sum of US$100,000 and includes instructions for submitting payment.

    Do you pay the ransom for your genitals?

    • Randy M says:

      I don’t have that much money at hand, and without the testosterone I’m not sure I could action hero them back. I suppose I could look into hormone supplements–but would that leave me with an unfulfilled libido? It’s quite the pickle.
      I’m not planning on having any more children as is, though, so I don’t have that concern. But it’s too big an affront to ignore, so I go to the police and hope they can recover the goods, or at least take down the sorcerer. If they get destroyed in the process, I guess I lead a diminished life henceforth.

      Now, if you want to get really mean, the sorcerer will maintain your feeling in the jewels even while he has them in his possession, and give you periodic smacks if you don’t pay. Avoiding that pain would be worth the bankruptcy/loan/whatever.

      Do they give loans for ransom? I have to imagine there’s a special form for that, but reproductive system might need to be penciled in for the “person or item to be ransomed for” question.

    • meh says:

      you obviously never pay the first ransom offer. I would get him on the phone to talk, see what his motivation is and what he’s after, and negotiate him down. in the meantime I could write a song about the experience https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIUk08iYZKE

      • acymetric says:

        That YouTube link was exactly what I expected and the first thing I thought of when I read Johan’s post. A classic.

    • rlms says:

      Is the sorcerer trustworthy?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      No, because there is no sorcerer. It was actually a priest and a barber who put me under anesthesia and tried to make me blame a sorcerer because I’m insane.

    • Urstoff says:

      Depends on what my wife says.

    • acymetric says:

      I immediately start working on a compelling GoFundMe.

    • Nornagest says:

      I mean, yes, if I have to. But the first thing I’d do is try to get a line on a West African witch doctor; they seem to have some experience with this sort of thing.

      I just hope the witch doctor can find them before the cat does.

    • Rowan says:

      No, because (besides not having the money) if you pay off one schlong-stealing sorcerer, that’s an open invitation to other magic assholes to mess with me in the same way. Basic game theory.

      Also, apparently magic is a real thing that people can do. Having a wang is important to me, possibly to the tune of $100k of utility, but compared to the possibility of actual arcane powers, it’s a secondary concern. Better use of the money would be to bribe a powerful wizard to take me on as an apprentice, or some other such investment as appropriate. And there’s a few ways that that could be the route to getting my dick back, or a suitable replacement.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Better use of the money would be to bribe a powerful wizard to take me on as an apprentice, or some other such investment as appropriate.

        “Hi Doctor Strange, I’m Doctor Strangest, and boy do I have a weird tale of why you should take me as an apprentice…”

        • woah77 says:

          Make that “Hi Doctor Strange, I’m Tom Stranger and I have a tale to tell you.” and I am behind it 100%

          • dick says:

            “No! My dick!” Tom cried nomadically.

          • johan_larson says:

            If the plan is revenge, you should probably expect to be dickless for life. There’s really no reason for the sorcerer to keep your bits once it’s clear you won’t be paying him.

            You might also think about what someone who can steal your genitals without killing you can do if he actually wants to hurt you.

          • woah77 says:

            My goal was for Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent, to recover my dick. Because he deals with exotic cases like that all the time.

          • Aapje says:

            @johan_larson

            If he can remove and re-attach genitals, the sorcerer can sell my bits to someone else.

            For obvious reasons (NSFW), my genitals would be quite valuable.

            So I merely have to figure out who he sold them to and get them back.

          • Lambert says:

            Sold to Lrrr as an aphrodisiac, of course.

          • Randy M says:

            Really curious about Aapje’s link, but I’ll heed the NSFW warning.
            I secretly hope it’s nudes of a Gorilla, though.

          • Aapje says:

            No, just a lamp in shape of bearded satyr with a giant penis from Pompeii.

            Didn’t feel like googling for, or sharing monkey dick picks. They tend to be unimpressive anyway.

            Besides, I like the implication that my penis would be valuable because it makes for a good lamp.

          • Randy M says:

            I can see that Gorilla in your avatar look at me disgruntled as you downplay his penis.

            I mean verbally. Downplay sounds wrong in this context.

          • Aapje says:

            ‘Fun’ story: there was a woman who thought that she had a special bond with the ape from my avatar, because he would ‘smile’ back when she smiled at him. However, the woman was unaware that apes also bare their teeth as a threat and can interpret human smiles as a threat.

            The woman visited him many times a week, increasingly pissing him off, until he jumped over the water-filled ditch separating his enclosure from the public to attack her. She ended up with over a hundred bites and broken bones.

            So the lesson is that an ape that seems disgruntled may actually like you a lot more than one that is ‘smiling.’

          • Randy M says:

            Sure, maybe, but an ape who gazes at you calmly while relating the story of him beating a woman up seems to be giving a not altogether friendly message.
            😉

      • Lambert says:

        True.
        It’s a situation that adds new meaning to the word Dane*geld*.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money… but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my genitals go now, that will be the end of it – I will not look for you, I will not pursue you… but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you… and I will kill you.

    • Deiseach says:

      Do you pay the ransom for your genitals?

      “Hey, you took my vulva, vagina and womb but left my ovaries! Come back and finish the job!”

      Aside from the fact that I don’t have a hundred grand or anything near to it, no. Never used for teleological ends and I’d be better off without ’em at this hour of my life.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I mean, it sounds like it left my prostate….

    • dick says:

      I probably would pay, but I agree with some other posters that I would be more excited about finding out how magic works than about getting my bits ‘n bobs back.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      My future porn career: is it 1) completely destroyed, or 2) actually worth something now?

      • johan_larson says:

        Unless this sorcerer stole many many dongs, your porn-star value has probably gone up. John Wayne Bobbitt did some porn work to pay his medical bills after Lorena did her scissors-work. You can probably find a similar deal.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Yes. But whether I get my bits back or not, this sorcerer is in for the treatment the Spider gave to the sorcerer who took his naughty bits (if I can arrange it.)

    • Baeraad says:

      Nah. Damn things never done me any good, and at this point in my life they’re not even working particularly well anymore. No way are they worth that kind of money, even to me.

    • LadyJane says:

      I’m hardly thrilled with the default configuration I got stuck with, and I’ve already thought about getting the hardware switched out eventually. This is just more of an incentive to do it sooner rather than later. And I could get that particular surgery done for about a quarter of the money that the sorcerer is asking for.

      • Aapje says:

        Don’t they need the old hardware for the surgery?

        • LadyJane says:

          Yeah, my answer was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Fortunately, I’m not too worried about this scenario! And in a world where genital-stealing magic exists, gender-swapping magic is probably a thing too.

          For a more serious answer, I’m sure they’d be able to do something with nothing there, but I can’t imagine the results would be particularly good, and they might need to take flesh from other parts of the body (similar to the procedure for female-to-male sexual reassignment). Generally speaking, the more material they have to work with, the better.

          • Lambert says:

            I’m sure a transwoman and a transman could approximate to gender swapping magic by agreeing to steal each others’ genitals.

            Worldbuilding:
            Highly advanced transplant magic. Someone with a really nice nose or voice or something could sell it for a large sum of money.
            Can’t transplant from the dead or dying properly, so you need healthy ‘donors’.
            Is this getting dark? I feel like this is getting dark. Farming?

          • Rana Dexsin says:

            @Lambert

            That depends on whether they’d be able to cross-attach them and have them function as parts of each other’s bodies, or whether they’d just have two sets of detached genitals and no way to do anything with them (or other subtler or more exotic states of course). (And of course, that doesn’t handle the rest of gender experience and presentation, but we weren’t assuming it would anyway, and if it’s magic then maybe it goes deeper than that.)

            Also, I know at least one transwoman-transman pair of close friends who would regularly make “trade you” jokes with a strong element of truth to them.

  3. robirahman says:

    There will be a meetup at 7pm this Saturday, May 4th at my apartment in Fairfax, Virginia. Details can be found on the Washington SSC meetup forum.

  4. RavenclawPrefect says:

    There’s a Twin Cities meetup this Saturday, the second ever after one back in 2017. We’ll meet at The Knoll, a park on the UMN campus, at 3PM this Saturday (May 4). Contact rot13 tenunzfahzorevfovt at gmail for more info!

  5. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    This is usually a good place to come to for advice.

    SSCers, I am preparing to live outside my home country for an extended period of time for the first time in my life (specifically, I’m moving from the Midwest to South Korea for at least a year. I’ll be teaching English, but I don’t know yet what school or even province I’ll be assigned to). What are some things I should know before I go? Handy lifehacks? Pitfalls to avoid? Ways to make the moving process easier?

    • jgr314 says:

      Learn to play baduk (aka go/weiqi) and learn the Korean terms for it (seki is a Japanese term for two groups with mutual life, but apparently a very rude swear in Korean). Play lots of games with random strangers in Korea as a way to meet new people.

      Build up your tolerance for spicy food before going and be ready to eat as much soon dubu jigae as you can.

      While there, find someone to teach you how to make many kinds of ban chan so you can satisfy your own cravings when you return to the US.

    • Erusian says:

      Koreans love it when Americans run up to them and scream “Oppam Gangnam Style” while doing a terrible dance.

      Learn Korean. Other than that, it depends on where you’re going in Korea. Where are you going to be teaching? If it’s in a big city, what sort of neighborhood?

    • sfoil says:

      Start studying Korean now. It’s a very difficult language, but the worst part is that Koreans have a really hard time understanding foreign accents. Try to get the basics down since you’ll be pretty much at square one when you actually attempt to say something. At the absolute minimum, learn the alphabet: that at least is very easy and will provide huge marginal returns. If you don’t learn at least a smattering of the language, you’ll be stuck in a deceptively tiny expat bubble.

      Try to keep the amount of stuff you’re taking with you to the absolute minimum level.

      Any red colored food is spicy, because the redness comes from hot peppers instead of tomatoes, and even if it does come from tomatoes they’ll have added peppers to it.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Pitfalls to avoid?

      Soju. It’s high in alcohol (compared to beer and wine), and some Koreans seem to drink it like it’s water. Don’t be like my long-ago boss and try to match that.

      • sfoil says:

        I wasn’t going to mention drinking but:
        Domestic “light” beers are the most popular drink and are pretty standard.
        Soju is indeed awful. The stuff is basically watered-down well vodka. At ~30% alcohol, it doesn’t taste strong, but people drink it with meals as a thirst quencher which leads to extreme intoxication + hangovers. Its sole use is as a cost-effective way to get drunk.
        Makgeolli, a fermented (soju is distilled) rice drink is IMO the king of traditional Korean alcohols, I liked it enough that I now make my own since can’t be found at a reasonable price overseas. The type flavored with chestnuts is the best.
        Any imported alcohol (except grape wine, which Korea doesn’t produce) is subject to hefty excise taxes. If you just can’t do without it, make friends with American military members — they can get the stuff on their bases tax-free.

  6. DragonMilk says:

    I did not know Saudi Arabia was #3 by military expenditures, and at nearly 9% of their GDP. Oman tops the list for % of GDP though. Why do these countries spend so much when other places with US bases like Japan/Germany are at around 1%?

    Sovereignty?

    My guess is the funding for the Yemen war is all looped into the defense budget and obsfucated…What are the outcomes and timelines there?

    • John Schilling says:

      Lots of princelings with enough time on their hands to get up to no end of mischief, but can be distracted by giving them shiny F-15s and the like to fly around in. M-1 tanks will do for the idle gentry.

      Also, they do have regional enemies that would like the House of Saud extinctified and its assets placed under better management. For cultural reasons including but not limited to the fact that you really can’t put princelings under military discipline (well, some people can, but not the Saudis, the human-factors side of their armed forces is always going to be well below par. There are rapidly-diminishing returns to trying to fix that with better hardware, but it’s not like they’re short of money to try and push those limits.

      • Nornagest says:

        Brings a new meaning to “knights of the air”.

      • Eponymous says:

        How much of that is to pay for shiny equipment, and how much is cushy officer sinecures for princelings? Is it just another way to give oil money to the politically connected while ensuring the political loyalty of the officer corps?

        (I ask from a place of total ignorance here).

        • John Schilling says:

          I think the princelings mostly get their money through other channels, but there’s definitely an element of paying off the (often newly-created) upper middle class through cushy military jobs.

          Another big chunk goes to foreign service contracts, because approximately none of the locals are really up to maintaining the F-15 than a princeling is going to fly.

          • cassander says:

            on the other hand, hiring locals to maintain the jets might be a good way to cut down on the number of princelings.

          • johan_larson says:

            Part of the Saudi social contract is that the locals don’t have to do anything hard, dirty, or distasteful. Aircraft maintenance is two of those things. The country has a lot of foreign laborers working at all levels of society to do the crap-work. Heck, this is a country that imports doctors. Apparently a big part of the military’s mechanics are Pakistani.

    • rubberduck says:

      Saudi Arabia: According to this interesting video (skip to 3:35 for section on Saudi Arabia), it is primarily for crushing internal dissent. And probably to be prepared in case of war/proxy war with Iran.

      (disclaimer: not any authority on the Middle East, video creator isn’t an authority either)

    • Eric Rall says:

      I’d guess that part of it is that so much of Saudi Arabia’s GDP (and especially of its government revenue) comes from oil drilling. A hypothetical invasion of Germany or Japan would have a hard time taking control without wrecking their respective economies and would face steep occupation/enforcement costs to keep control and collect revenues. But an invader who could grab control of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields would just have to replace any drilling equipment the retreating Saudi forces took with them or destroyed.

      Germany, Japan, and Saudi Arabia are all under security guarantees from the United States, but I suspect the former two put more trust in those guarantees than the latter. This is especially true for domestic security threats: I doubt Germany or Japan have any real fear of a coup or revolution, but the Saudis probably have a moderate degree of worry. And the Arab Spring (particularly the Egyptian Revolution of 2011) shows the US to be an unreliable ally for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East against domestic threats. A bigger and better-equipped military has more ability to support the regime, and a well-paid military with top-of-the-line equipment is less likely to feel disgruntled with their political masters.

      And related to John’s observations about shiny toys to keep princelings distracted, a strong, prestigious military provides lots of opportunities for the regime to give ambitious young men a constructive outlet for their ambitions. Germany and Japan, in addition to having less reason to fear what ambitious young men might get up to if left to their own devices, also have much stronger private-sector economies with plenty of places for the ambitious (men and women) to pursue wealth, power, and status without threatening the regime.

      • Eponymous says:

        A hypothetical invasion of Germany or Japan would have a hard time taking control without wrecking their respective economies and would face steep occupation/enforcement costs to keep control and collect revenues.

        I assume an invasion of Germany or Japan would “have a hard time” for much the same reason that an invasion of TX or CA would have a hard time, despite their relatively low expenditures on defense as a share of state GDP.

        • Eric Rall says:

          I assume an invasion of Germany or Japan would “have a hard time” for much the same reason that an invasion of TX or CA would have a hard time, despite their relatively low expenditures on defense as a share of state GDP.

          If you mean that the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines are very likely to fight to defend Germany, Japan, Texas, or California against a foreign would-be conqueror, that’s true. But it’s also true of Saudi Arabia, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent.

          But that’s not what I was think of. I was thinking more along the lines of the process of conquering Germany or Japan (even if only defended by their own respective militaries) would do more damage to their tax bases (wrecked infrastructure, destroyed capital equipment, and the loss of institutional knowledge and human capital of people killed in the invasion or fleeing the country to escape it) than the process of conquering Saudi Arabia would to its oil fields.

      • 10240 says:

        Another effect of the fact that most of their government revenue comes from oil is that it’s not as unpopular to spend it on military gear as when the money comes from taxation, as the population doesn’t feel as much like it’s their money that’s being spent. It also has less negative economic effect than high taxes.

        • Eric Rall says:

          I’d considered a hypothesis along similar lines, although focusing on legibility (oil wells, once they exist, are pretty easy to find and tax/nationalize) rather than popularity. But I decided not to write about it, since Saudi total government spending (about 43% of GDP, although that might be off since I couldn’t find spending and GDP numbers from the same source) is pretty much in line with Germany’s (44%) or Japan’s (39%). So they don’t appear to have more money to spend relative to their economy, although it’s possible that the source of the money has a psychological effect on what to spend it on even if the total is the same.

          Ideally, I’d want to separate out political system effects (democratic vs autocratic) and geopolitical effects from oil revenues, but I don’t see any good natural experiments for that. The most oil-heavy economy I could find among rich, democratic European countries was Norway, but their “oil rents” are only 3.8% of GDP, compared to 23.1% of GDP in Saudi Arabia. Norway is one of the bigger-spending OECD countries overall, but their total government spending relative to GDP is smaller than Sweden, Finland, or Denmark. Norway does have a bigger military budget (1.6% of GDP) than the other Scandinavian countries (1.0%, 1.4%, and 1.2% respectively), so that’s a tentative bit of evidence in favor of your political economy hypothesis, but the sample size and the amount of oil revenue are too small to draw conclusions with any confidence.

    • Eponymous says:

      As an aside, whenever I see the extremely high absolute military spending by the US, particularly in comparison to our client states, I wonder whether our empire really is worth it. I mean, sure, it’s given us peace in Europe, which did the world some good. But was our old policy of neutrality and defending freedom of commerce really such a bad deal in comparison? Or, heck, what was wrong with the Monroe Doctrine?

      My friends in the IC assure me there’s no secret group of brilliant strategists at state or DOD who know more than I do or have this all worked out.

      • Atlas says:

        As an aside, whenever I see the extremely high absolute military spending by the US, particularly in comparison to our client states, I wonder whether our empire really is worth it.

        I’m definitely inclined to agree with you overall about empire, but it’s worth noting that US military spending as a % of GDP is much less disproportionate, though still on the higher side, than it seems in absolute terms.

        You might find Professor Stephen Walt’s recent book The Hell of Good Intentions interesting if you’re looking for a solid critique, from a pragmatic mainstream perspective, of the US empire.

        • Eponymous says:

          it’s worth noting that US military spending as a % of GDP is much less disproportionate

          Sure, but given that we have very limited land borders, are protected by two great oceans, share a hemisphere with exactly zero other great military powers, and have a very high GDP, one might expect our military spending to be quite a bit lower than average as a share of GDP.

          You might find Professor Stephen Walt’s recent book The Hell of Good Intentions interesting

          After taking a quick look, I think he doesn’t give enough attention to the “bumbling idiots” theory in explaining US foreign policy. I think it has a lot to recommend it.

          Also, looking ahead, some capacity for species-wide coordination may soon be called for. So I’m not sure we should completely get out of the global hegemony business.

          • Atlas says:

            Sure, but given that we have very limited land borders, are protected by two great oceans, share a hemisphere with exactly zero other great military powers, and have a very high GDP, one might expect our military spending to be quite a bit lower than average as a share of GDP.

            Indeed.

            After taking a quick look, I think he doesn’t give enough attention to the “bumbling idiots” theory in explaining US foreign policy. I think it has a lot to recommend it.

            On the contrary, I’d say that’s precisely Walt’s thesis!

          • Eponymous says:

            On the contrary, I’d say that’s precisely Walt’s thesis!

            Hmm, I may check out his book then. I’ll follow my usual practice of putting it on my amazon wish list and waiting for a price drop so I can get it for cheap.

      • bean says:

        Because when our foreign policy was isolationist, Britain was shouldering the burden of keeping big wars from breaking out. They haven’t been able to afford it since the 40s, so it’s fallen to us. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’d be particularly happy with anyone else who could take it over. Think about China’s behavior in the South China Sea, and extend it worldwide.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        A bit flippant: You want to defend freedom of commerce against the Soviets, with no allies? After conceding all of Europe, China, Southeast Asia, Japan, and the Middle East to the Soviet bloc?

        Who exactly are you trading with at this point anyways? Mars? Jesus?

        • John Schilling says:

          Similarly flippant: I’d be happy to defend freedom of commerce against the Soviets with an incontinent Boy Scout and two pre-schoolers armed with sporks. And I’ll hold off the Carthaginians, the Assyrians, and all those troublesome Diadochi while I’m at it.

      • zzzzort says:

        Though I don’t agree with it, and it’s now quite old, I found this article interesting. Essentially argues that a lot of conflict and military spending comes from competing with rivals of roughly equal power for hegemony. So if the US is far and away on top, no one will bother to compete for global hegemony, and if the US can guarantee peace in large swathes of the world there’s no reason for those countries to spend money on their militaries. This is overall much more efficient, the question is how much of this value the US captures and how much leaks out.

        • John Schilling says:

          Pax [X] for any level of X that doesn’t involve nigh-Hitlerian levels of tyranny and/or demands for extortionate tribute, is definitely a nice thing to have if you favor peace, prosperity, and the like. The question is whether it is worth X’s while to maintain it if they can’t charge extortionate tribute to counter the free-rider effect.

          Sometimes it really is worth the cost. Not clear that we are living in one of those times. But for at least a generation, either X = 0 or X = USA & friends. And X = 0 is likely to involve mushroom clouds.

    • Tenacious D says:

      A couple of factors I haven’t seen mentioned yet are that there are regions in Saudi Arabia that have a Shi’ite majority–including where the main oil fields are–and the cultural factor. The Arabian peninsula (I wouldn’t say this is true of the whole Arab world) is like Borderer culture on steroids. Raiding other tribes for livestock was still a thing there into the twentieth century. Having weapons to display (note the ceremonial daggers that are worn with traditional clothing) is important for the prestige of a clan or tribe.

      Mercenaries have been a key part of the GCC strategy in Yemen, so for all the money they’ve been spending it’s hard to tell how much of a home-grown army they could actually field.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Related to that, Saudi Arabia was unified violently (mostly during WW1 and the following decade) from several Ottoman provinces and clients states. Although I have no idea how much separate national identity there was for Rashid/Shammar, Al Hasa, Asir, and Hejaz had and how much (if any) of that has persisted through 90-100 years of Saudi rule.

        Although I did look up which parts of Saudi Arabia have Shi’ite majorities or large Shi’ite minorities, and it looks like it lines up pretty closely with Al Hasa, the strip the Saudis conquered from Kuwait in 1922 (after the British had taken it from the Ottomans and assigned it to Kuwait in 1918). So that much at least seems likely to have some residual separate identity from the rest of the Saudi Kingdom.

  7. aexl says:

    German funpunk band “Die Ärzte” (The Physicians) brought out a new track called “Abschied” (Farewell). It has a reference to AI so I thought you might enjoy it. Lyrics are © Die Ärzte, taken from genius.com, translation by myself (sorry :D).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqKSWIRK9dg (Vegetarian)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Yck9CZyyDk (Vegan)

    [Intro]
    I can’t remember if it was Kabul
    Or maybe in Kandahar
    A wise man, he spoke to me
    And what he said, I’m telling you

    [Verse 1: Farin Urlaub]
    Sometimes it’s just time to leave
    But when the day has come, nobody will let you know
    I know it’s hard for you to see
    And you’re asking me sadly: Is it really time?
    I’m saying you: We shined bright
    And a lot we did exists
    We will be remembered for some time
    You need to be strong now, here – take my hand

    [Refrain 1: Farin Urlaub]
    Come on, let’s go extinct
    Because it’s better for the world
    The last drink is on the house
    Our hours are numbered
    Everything’s better than another day
    On which we’re ruining this planet
    Come on, let’s go extinct
    Nothing better could happen to Earth

    [Verse 2: Farin Urlaub]
    We’re asking computers for solutions
    For our ecological problem
    AI suggested immediate decay
    So that at least animals survive
    Elephants will thank us
    And soon our cities will be grass-covered
    And all the nice money in the banks
    The rats will have it as muck

    [Refrain 2: Farin Urlaub]
    Come on, let’s go extinct
    Because it’s better for the world
    The last pogo is danced
    The last tree is felled soon
    The anthropocene needs to end (ten, nine, eight)
    I’m sure: Darwin would be delighted (seven, six, five)
    Come on, let’s go extinct (four, three, two, one)
    Maybe the dinosaurs will come back
    [End]

    Does anybody have any links to German rationality/-ism pages? Ist es okay, wenn ich Deutsch spreche? Just to generate some search results for fellow Germans as I’d like to talk about it in my mother tongue. 🙂 Contact me at aexl fowley at web de.

    • Protagoras says:

      Ist es okay, wenn ich Deutsch spreche?

      As far as I’m concerned, it’s fine if you don’t expect me to speak German when I reply. My German is very rusty, and at this point seeing a German word will usually stimulate my memory enough for me to recall what it means, but I am very bad at dredging up the words I need to say something myself.

    • Heterosteus says:

      Does anybody have any links to German rationality/-ism pages?

      The Berlin group is fairly active I think.

      Various big cities have mailing lists / online groups to discuss this sort of thing.

      And there’s the European community weekend (LWCW).

  8. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    So I just thought of a weird thought experiment that I want to run by people here.

    (It involves abortion, genetic modification, eugenics and arguably cloning so this is the warning to hide the comment if you don’t want to read about that stuff.)

    Background: For some time we’ve been able to create mouse lines from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) via a process called tetraploid complementation. One use of this assay is as a gold-standard test for mouse iPSC pluripotency: that is, if they can give rise to an organism like embryonic stem cells. Another is to generate transgenic lines for research purposes. As far as I know it’s never been used on humans, that would be pretty big news, but in principle there’s no reason why it couldn’t be with enough work optimizing the assay.

    The thought experiment is as follows:

    A couple conceives a child but, during the early stages of pregnancy, discovers that it has a congenital disorder which will lead to an early death in childhood. They abort, culture ES cells from the fetal tissue, use gene editing to correct the congenital disorder, then use a combination of tetraploid complementation and IVF to implant the modified cells back into the woman’s uterus. The baby is carried to term and is born, seemingly healthy.

    In this scenario, would you say that the child born is the same person as the person who would have been born if the fetus had never been aborted? Or is this a different person who was created at some point during the process? That is, is this akin to a surgical procedure to correct a defect or is it more like replacing a sick child with a different apparently healthy child.

    Bonus theological question: if you believe in souls, does this child have the same soul that the original child had when it was aborted / would have had if it hadn’t been aborted?

    I can’t answer the first question in any sensible way, and I don’t believe in souls so I’m not qualified to answer the bonus question.

    • Unsaintly says:

      Only touching on the first part here
      Trivially no. There is a genetic difference between hypothetical future person A and hypothetical future person B. Without some continuity between the two, they aren’t the same person. And since the fetal cells weren’t a person when they were altered, there’s no personhood continuity.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Knocking out a gene can involve changing as little as a single nucleotide, much less than the difference between monozygotic twins or even between any two cells in your body through random somatic mutations. So the genetic difference is potentially quite minimal.

        The personhood continuity argument that you bring up is a good one though.

    • Randy M says:

      You aren’t doing too much different than what is done by nature in monozygotic twins, are you? Excepting the colossal research and engineering achievements and all that.
      So I’ll go with not the same person, which is basically the same as not the same soul when speaking of humans.

      But they will probably behave very similarly. Other than asking why all the researchers and philosophers are hanging around watching them.

    • lvlln says:

      In this scenario, would you say that the child born is the same person as the person who would have been born if the fetus had never been aborted? Or is this a different person who was created at some point during the process? That is, is this akin to a surgical procedure to correct a defect or is it more like replacing a sick child with a different apparently healthy child.

      I’d say it’s a different person, because I see the specific physical brain as being important for distinguishing between individuals. If we modified your hypothetical a bit such that a tissue sample of the original fetus was acquired without harming it and it was carried to term, and then the parents made that corrected psueo-clone such that it was born before the original baby died from its congenital disorder, then I think there’s no question that those 2 are 2 different people. I think aborting one of them before they were born doesn’t change my conception of those 2 as 2 different individuals, even if 1 of them never came to actually exist.

    • quanta413 says:

      To the first question I’d say no. I think the definition of “same person” should require some continuity of experience. There also isn’t anything stopping the couple from making two babies this way from the same original fetal tissue sample is there? I wouldn’t want to say there are then two of the “same person” currently in existence.

      I can’t answer the second question either since I also don’t believe in souls. Even if I was a Christian or member of some other group who believed in souls, I’d probably still think they were either material in some way or think of them as an emergent phenomena. The idea of God bothers me much less than the idea of noninteracting not-matter stuff that somehow stays in sync with matter-stuff.

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      Personhood isn’t actually a fundamental ontological unit, and weird enough situations like this one or some that Parfit describes in this paper can reveal the fuzzy boundaries of the concept.

      There’s not an answer to the question “is this the same person”, any more than there is to the question of the ship of Theseus or “is this molecule of water in the middle of the Misissippi part of Iowa or Illinois”. You can define some notion of personhood to obtain one answer or the other, but I don’t think it’s a useful category boundary to draw.

      • JPNunez says:

        The Wiggins operation experiment is cool and all, but it is too simplistic, as when destroying the neurons and synapses -I assume in some cases the neurons would survive a synapse being cut- to divide the brain, you are destroying a lot of what the person was. A lot of the identity comes from how those connections were made. When fusing them back together, it’s hard to say how much you are encoding by simply reconnecting stuff back together.

        It’s particularly serious when the later experiment comes up, when straight up fusing two people.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          A fair point, but not enough to sap his argument. As he says, people have had whole hemispheres removed, and while we would never claim they are unchanged, we have no problem claiming that they are the same person.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m tempted though. How many of Phineas Gage’s friends probably remarked “He’s not the man he used to be” after observing his radical personality shift after his accident? That’s a story that makes me really wonder about what a soul could be.
            How many people have resolved upon introspection to be a different person going forward?
            What a ‘person’ is has many different qualities, for different purposes, and don’t always overlap.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            He’s not the man he used to be

            Sure, but they mean that metaphorically. They don’t, for example, argue that his heirs should get his estate or that a wake should be held for Phineas Gage.

            I’ll freely grant that to mean such a thing literally is defensible. But if you started acting on your literal understanding, you would at least raise a lot of eyebrows.

          • Randy M says:

            Because of not wanting to create perverse incentives, we can’t exactly grant amnesty to amnesiacs. But it some tangible senses, it’s possible for a body to lose continuity with the past in some of the aspects which are relevant to personhood.
            Your recollection of past events is a big part of who you are, as is your personality, as is the body you inhabit (give or take even fairly dramatic changes).
            Person is about as meaningful a term as race or gender; that is to say, very much so in the main but with imprecise boundaries and occasional edge cases that make it hard to state precisely what is essential.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I’m no longer sure we’re in disagreement. Parfit’s essay tries to tease apart the various threads, and concludes (correctly, I think) that the boundaries are a lot more imprecise than we think. Our intuition that personal identity is a well-defined thing is contingent — it has worked pretty well most of the time over history, and a lot of its consequences are socially advantageous. But his alternative formulation, if one could really assimilate it, offers pretty much the same advantages, plus a couple more.

            I think it’s not a very important distinction now, but might become one in the future. When the time comes that I can make a backup of my mind, or remerge with a copy that has been off exploring Titan, something like what he says is probably the way I’ll think about it.

          • JPNunez says:

            My problem is not with dividing, but with fusing.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Fusing is certainly the one that seems hardest to accomplish technically. But I don’t see any reason it would be technically impossible, which makes it fodder for questions about what it would mean.

            If, as he posits, I could replicate myself, do two different sets of actions, and then fuse back into one mind with memories of both sets of actions, I don’t see any reason to worry about whether I have somehow died somewhere in the process, any more than I worry when I wake up in the morning.

            But if that’s so, consistency would seem to require that we treat in the same manner two previously different individuals Alice and Bob who chose to fuse. The resulting individual would have the full memories of Alice (and Bob), and would probably feel pretty annoyed at being told that Alice (and Bob) was dead.

            But if you were left cold by Parfit’s paper, it’s silly of me to stumble around trying to summarize (a few of) its thrusts.

          • JPNunez says:

            My point is that the fusion process is very ill defined, and that generating those links between the halves of the brains will encode _a_lot_ of what the resulting person is.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Given the procedure described, I’d say the child born is a clone of the aborted fetus, not identical with it. If instead you found some system to edit all the cells of the fetus, that would be “the same child”. I don’t think it matters in more than a philosophical sense though, and you could probably come up with clever even-closer-to-the-edge cases.

      As for the soul, I don’t believe in it either.

    • metacelsus says:

      As far as I know it’s never been used on humans, that would be pretty big news, but in principle there’s no reason why it couldn’t be with enough work optimizing the assay.

      Stem cell researcher here. It couldn’t work, at least not with human stem cells as we currently know them.

      They abort, culture ES cells from the fetal tissue

      ES cells are derived from pre-implantation blastocysts, not from fetal tissue. However, they could derive iPS cells from the fetus, so this wouldn’t mean the end of the plan.

      What would kill the plan is that human ES/iPS cells do not work the same way as mouse ES cells. For reasons that are not completely understood, human ES/iPS cells are more equivalent to mouse epiblast-like stem cells; i.e. they’re in a primed pluripotent rather than naive pluripotent state. Primed pluripotent cells generally are very poor at contributing to chimeras, and for human ES/iPS cells there have been a few interspecies chimera tests to back this up. (Also, even in mice, there’s wide variability in the chimera competency of different iPS cell lines.)

      Now, there are some efforts to convert human ES cells to a naive pluripotent state, but as far as I know there haven’t been any chimera experiments with these cells so it’s hard to say whether they’re truly chimera competent or not.

      In any case, if the plan worked, the resulting baby would be equivalent to a clone of the fetus made by somatic cell nuclear transfer.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I think I most agree with Ravenclaw: what this thought experiment does is show some of the ways our concept of “unique personhood” can come apart. Usually, genetic identity and continuity of existence and a whole bunch of other things go hand-in-hand, so we get used to thinking of them as all being equally good markers of sameness-of-person. But now we’re pulling those apart and peoples’ intuitions will pull in different ideas.

      lvlln’s point that if you could keep the original fetus alive until after the implantation is a good one: I think it suggests to me that my preferred use of the phrase “same person” wouldn’t cover this case, but I don’t think this is a disagreement over a factual matter. It’s a disagreement over the best way to use the phrase “same person”.

      Also, I don’t believe in souls so have no opinion on that part.

    • Secretly French says:

      Whilst you’re thinking about this, are Chimeras one person with one soul?

    • b_jonas says:

      Either the question doesn’t make sense, or they’re not the same person.

      The question wouldn’t make sense if the first fetus was so early in pregnancy that she isn’t yet a person. You can’t really tell any properties that let you specifically recognize her as an individual person, and nobody would notice the change if a wizard switched her with a genetically similar fetus of the same age.

      If the first fetus is already old enough that she is a person, then the second fetus is not the same person. I say this because the second fetus was grown from a single cell, or at most a very small number of cells, and at that stage they’re definitely not a person yet. The situation is similar to identical twins, which occurs often enough in humans. In their case, a fertilized zigote splits at the stage when it’s just a single cell or very few cells, and develops to twins who clearly aren’t the same person.

    • JPNunez says:

      I don’t think it’s the same person, and I doubt most people would think it is the same person.

      About the souls, AFAIK most organized christian religions would say it’s a different soul. I don’t think christianism is v big on reincarnation of souls? Dunno about other religions, but gonna side with different soul / person.

    • Dack says:

      If you did all the same things, except hadn’t killed the first child, no one would question whether the two, standing side by side, are the same person with the same soul. Obviously they are not.

      What would make you think that killing that original could change this?

  9. Clutzy says:

    I don’t know how many people here are vaguely interested in sports, but I have a discussion in my mind that I will post regardless.

    On the radio I recently heard a discussion about a shouting match in the NBA, and it evolved/devolved in to a discussion about “locker room culture”. As these discussions always go, one person ends up defending it based on “sports being different” while the other grandstands and says “its a workplace, that behavior has no place in a workplace.” The discussion itself is obviously inane and boring, but the underlying assumption interests me:

    What evidence is there that the less macho, quieter, modern traditional office environment is superior for getting work done? As far as I can tell, there is no such evidence. Indeed, often when a company gets accused of having an unhealthy culture (which almost always is something like a locker room culture, just less extreme) that company is usually quite successful and often high growth. So whats the evidence? Why is this assumption so widespread?

    • Another Throw says:

      Because it gets you sued.

      • Clutzy says:

        But again, that law is based on the assumption that it is bad. Which is, again, without evidence.

        • beleester says:

          Presumably, people wouldn’t sue if they were happy in that environment.

          • Clutzy says:

            Sometimes an environment that makes a small amount of people really unhappy makes the majority more happy. The locker room is an obvious example. My wrestling and soccer teams and high school would have had a majority of people be less happy if there was an HR department.

          • Secretly French says:

            Being unhappy about some injustice is not the only incentive to sue; getting a boatload of money for basically nothing is a big one too. If it’s sat there on the table, and here I am grinding every day trying to not lose my home and family, then yeah I might be persuaded by economic realities that workplace sexism has brutally crushed my self-esteem or whatever. Owie.

        • zzzzort says:

          The laws against workplace harassment do not have the goal of workplace efficiency. Harassment is seen as bad because it causes harm to people and work place cultures matter in that they are encouraging or permissive of that harm. There are a lot of very productive business models (lie about what’s in your product, poison the environment, kidnap people and make them work for you) that we’ve decided are bad. For the record, I would say that having an ass-slapping culture would be less productive, but that’s not the reason it’s not allowed.

    • quanta413 says:

      Indeed, often when a company gets accused of having an unhealthy culture (which almost always is something like a locker room culture, just less extreme) that company is usually quite successful and often high growth.

      Couldn’t that just be selection bias though? It’s not very interesting to report “this company had a shitty environment, so all its employees left, and then it tanked.” And people who might have a successful civil suit aren’t going to waste their time if they have no chance of recovering money.

    • meh says:

      to elaborate on ‘getting sued’, what is good the company isn’t always deemed good for workers, so there are protections.

      as an example of what quanta is talking about, look no further than the ‘open office plan’

    • Nornagest says:

      What evidence is there that the less macho, quieter, modern traditional office environment is superior for getting work done?

      None, but not everything in office culture is there to optimize for productivity. Some is there to balance productivity with other goals, like employee retention or PR. A lot is signaling. A lot is tradition. And a lot more is, basically, fads and superstition.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Don’t forget chasing short-term profits & savings regardless of the long-term implications!

        • Nornagest says:

          I don’t think the culture chasing short-term profits at the cost of long-term consequences, if and where it exists, is the same one keeping offices relatively quiet and non-macho. Sales people are the least quiet and most macho office workers I meet, and also the most oriented towards quarterly results.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Oh, I agree. I just meant it’s another big component of “not everything in office culture is there to optimize for productivity”. Open office plans are the central example I had in mind and foster neither quietude nor productivity (but don’t let my execs hear me saying there might be more than correlation at work there, that’s not very “team player spirit”).

          • Nornagest says:

            Open office plans were what I had in mind when I said “fads and superstition”; they might have some marginal short-term benefits in terms of cramming more people into a floor plan, but I don’t think that’s what’s driving the trend, I think it’s mainly just that Google does it (for whatever inscrutable reasons, but Google has deep enough pockets that I doubt it’s money) and so everyone else followed the leader.

          • cassander says:

            @Nornagest

            I used to have a similar attitude towards open offices, but then my employer decided to implement one, and I was kind of shocked at the effect that it had at improving cross team cooperation. It’s not magic, we had leadership pushing for more cooperation beforehand, but the close proximity definitely has helped. Being able to see other people in the office definitely lowers psychological of to going over and talking to people who aren’t on your team, even compared to having them on just another hall.

            There are downsides, noise is a factor and it would be a disaster if everyone who wasn’t on my team didn’t work remotely more often than not, but I definitely won’t doubt the power of co-location in the future.

          • DinoNerd says:

            I’m of two minds about the open office thing.

            I was recently moved from what was effectively a single person office (dual with no office mate) to one person in a 12 person pod.

            My productivity at anything requiring concentration is down to about 50% of what it was two months ago, and does not seem to be rising as I get used to the environment. I’m happier, because I enjoy my coworkers and get opportunities to learn from them – I was feeling very isolated before, as I was one of a very few left over in a mostly empty building – but every time I have something important to actually do I have problems with stress. (About all I can do at what feels to me like a normal level is answer emails, and prioritize tasks – i.e. the management-like and helpdesk-like aspects of my basically engineering job.)

            The thing is, I don’t think management is measuring me on engineering efficiency. Gettings less done seems to be perfectly OK with them, so long as the half I actually accomplish is well chosen. They care – a lot – that I’m not bitching about the environment, or anything else. So mentioning the 50% productivity drop is totally taboo – but “punting” half my workload to the next release (or later) seems to be perfectly OK.

            I’m trying hard to see this as “OK, they aren’t paying me to get work done – they are paying me to be nice, push innovations (new is good), and successfully solve crises – not routine day to day engineering. If I *do* routine engineering – and particularly if I sacrifice visibility etc. to get it done – then I’m clearly a low level flunky, not worth whatever they are already paying me, and sure to get a poor annual review.

            I don’t understand how the company benefits from me and my peers having these incentives. But it’s easy to see how my manager benefits ;-( Possibly having less work being done even allows her to seem/be more powerful, making other teams into suppliants needing her favour to get their work prioritized, rather than expecting all reasonable requests to be routinely accomplished. and of course, she “needs more staff” because of the amount being pushed out to later releases.

            I suspect these incentives apply all the way up my management chain, and may even somehow actually benefit the company in ways I’m simply not seeing.

            At any rate, if I want good annual raises, I need to play the social butterfly, and not let my desire to do what feels to me like good work get in the way of doing what I’m apparantly paid for.

            And it’s much better for my sanity if I presume that management – all the way up to the CEO – has read the research, and knows the long-established effects of noise and interruptions, and is making a conscious engineering tradeoff in favour of something that I simply can’t figure out.

            Good thing I like these people. Bullshitting with them and/or playing silly status games with them is a whole pile more fun than actually trying to create functional code in the environment we have.

          • nkurz says:

            @DinoNerd re “I’m of two minds about the open office thing”

            That’s a wonderfully insightful comment, and well expressed. Thank you. Perhaps if you could expand on it at the top level for the next OT, we’d get to see others responses to it.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Dinonerd

            If management has a real reason then the most likely one is reducing turnover. In a tight labor market it is very costly to lose quality employees as you are either waiting long stretches to replace them or stuck higher inferior replacements and trying to make do.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What is the company getting done?
      Maybe companies are an arm of the state, trying to supply bullshit jobs. Maybe they are accomplishing their purpose.

      • bullseye says:

        They’re out to make money. You don’t make money by paying people for useless work. “Bullshit jobs” are either mistakes on the company’s part or not actually bullshit.

    • Well... says:

      I don’t like this term “locker room culture”. I go to the gym at my office 5 days a week, and you know what goes on in the men’s locker room? “Minimum viable activity” is the phrase that comes to mind. Adjectives like “rushed”, “hushed”, and “passive” come to mind too. And thank goodness for that! Other gym locker rooms I’ve visited regularly — in the student union at college, in apartment complexes, in hotels, and in LA Fitness-style gyms — have been similar.

      But of course, the term “locker room culture” is meant to describe the culture of a high school or junior high school boys’ locker room. Which of course isn’t all that different from the culture of junior high or high school boys outside of the locker room. Which means that workplaces with that kind of culture probably have a lot of people working there who are male and junior high or high school aged. Or close to that age and maybe likely to still have somewhat of the same mentality for various reasons.

      Not a big mystery what’s going on, I think.

      • Nornagest says:

        “Minimum viable activity” is the phrase that comes to mind. Adjectives like “rushed”, “hushed”, and “passive” come to mind too.

        Except for old guys. Old guys don’t give a shit. They won’t make crude jokes or draw dicks on anything — I think — but they will park their pale, wrinkly, bare asses on the benches, chat up the other old guys, and play with their phones for fifteen minutes while I’m trying to use that space to change.

        Not that I’m resentful or anything.

        • Well... says:

          That’s true. They’ll chat with anyone, not just other old guys, as if they’re fully clothed standing by the coffee machine. But it’s still just water cooler conversation, not “I grabbed her by the pussy” or whatever.

      • Clutzy says:

        Also college aged sports teams and pro sports teams. And the on-court environment even among middle aged men playing pickup. Basically anything competitive where there is physical activity involved.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        But you’re not engaged in a competitive team activity that you bond over with the guys in your office gym.

        • Well... says:

          OK but that’s sort of my point. The people who bond over competitive team activities that include time spent in gym locker rooms are very likely to be males between the ages of 14 and 24, and their behavior in the gym locker room is much more similar to the behavior of that same group outside the gym locker room than it is similar to the (average) behavior of all men outside that age range when those men are inside a gym locker room.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I was shitposting last thread, btw.

      “Not appropriate for the workplace” is, as often as not, an attempt to square the circle of “people I spend most of my life with are bad,” “those people aren’t my friends and I have no opportunity to socially fight/tax them into having good opinions,” and “it’s inhumane to expect people to spend most of their lives behaving like robots.” If there’s not an enforced ideology (and despite what some commenters here would have you believe, in most workplaces, there actually isn’t), you just tell people to act like robots in very specific ways.

      In some ways, those expectations have been liberalized. It’s now mostly-acceptable to refer casually to the existence of a same-sex relationship at work, for example. In others, they’ve contracted. It’s mostly-not-acceptable to talk about the niceness of the ass of the last girl you picked up.

      In any case, “what’s appropriate for the workplace” is charitably about “not being an asshole” and uncharitably about maximizing the company’s access to competent employees/freedom from the press. It’s barely if at all about productivity.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Indeed, often when a company gets accused of having an unhealthy culture (which almost always is something like a locker room culture, just less extreme) that company is usually quite successful and often high growth.

      This is probably largely survivorship bias. When a failing company has a locker room culture, nobody cares, because it’s failing.

      • Clutzy says:

        Maybe, but why are we not allowed to test that hypothesis. Why can’t there be tame law firm and ass slapping beer drinkin law firm?

        above Hoopyfreud speculated that it may “maximiz[e] the company’s access to competent employees”, but what if it actually reduces it because a bunch of great attorneys want to be ass slapping beer drinkers, but instead are not (or out of the industry) and thus are unproductive.

        In other words, what if “Billions” is true, and the reason we have workplace laws is basically as a subsidy to whiners as they would be out-competed in the market without such laws?

        • rlms says:

          that’d be wack dude

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            +1

            “I’d be a great attorney if only I could tell everyone about my magnum dong” is… a weird concept.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t understand why that’s a weird concept. If people can enjoy work and bond with their co-workers, they might choose to work longer hours and otherwise enjoy their time at work no more.

            Some people want yoga classes, some people want ping-pong tables, some people want to talk about their magnum dong.

          • Aapje says:

            Or they can sing about dongs.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @ADBG

            Some people want yoga classes, some people want ping-pong tables, some people want to talk about their magnum dong.

            The “happy fun world” workplace freaks me out and I think it’s deeply unhealthy. I think alienating workplaces are also unhealthy, to be clear, but theme park companies seem like the worst of all worlds. I don’t think break room ping pong tables shouldn’t exist, to be clear – I just think that employer-provided services ultimately serve corporate pseudofascism and have to be dealt with carefully. “Appropriate for the workplace” is workable to a degree inversely proportional to how much your workplace eats your life.

            Something that throws this tension into sharp relief: “make friends with and spend lots of time with your coworkers, come to HR if you have interpersonal problems, and don’t date any of them.”

            ????????

          • Clutzy says:

            @hoopy

            “I’d be a great attorney if only I could tell everyone about my magnum dong” is… a weird concept.

            When you say it like this I am doubly convinced of its viability as a concept.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Clutzy

            Well don’t let me stop you then ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    • DinoNerd says:

      Hmm – what kind of work? And by what kind of people? I’d be astonished to find that any particular environment is better in all contexts.

    • LesHapablap says:

      I really don’t think “unhealthy business culture” and “locker room culture” has nearly as much overlap as you’re suggesting. At our company we talk about some of our competitors’ unhealthy cultures, referring to the following things:
      -nasty gossiping among coworkers
      -not caring at all about the company, doing the minimum
      -lack of teamwork and helping each other out
      -mistakes are punished
      -a boss that sexually harasses female staff
      I don’t know how you’re defining ‘locker room culture’ but I don’t think it lines up with the above.

      Our company is considered to have a very healthy culture, and we all talk a lot of shit to each other nearly constantly. There is no ideological restriction at all, though we try and hire decent people. There’s plenty of banter between everyone including the CEO, lots of battle of the sexes type talk. Our healthy culture boils down to:
      -good social banter that is not mean spirited
      -teamwork, everyone helps each other, no one is afraid to ask for help
      -mistakes are not punished, incident reporting is encouraged

      • Clutzy says:

        The only one of those that might overlap is the sexual harassment. Indeed, all those other traits are example of how “HR culture” has gone too far.

        • LesHapablap says:

          What do you mean by that? That HR departments often create a hostile, political work environment? That wouldn’t surprise me though I have no direct experience with it.

          I read something recently about how companies are eschewing alcohol at their Christmas parties thanks to HR paranoia. I find that quite infantalizing and stifling, like I imagine being in a cult would be: friendly on the surface, with undertones of severe punishment for getting out of line. Like Hoopyfreud says above:

          Something that throws this tension into sharp relief: “make friends with and spend lots of time with your coworkers, come to HR if you have interpersonal problems, and don’t date any of them.”

          • Clutzy says:

            -nasty gossiping among coworkers
            -not caring at all about the company, doing the minimum
            -lack of teamwork and helping each other out
            -mistakes are punished
            -a boss that sexually harasses female staff

            Gossiping: Gossips are the ones most protected by HR culture as in a normal environment they would get chewed out publicly and soon fired. In the HR enviro the gossip runs to HR after being yelled at, says the environment is hostile to the poor gossip and is now unfirable.

            Doing the Min: Also protected by HR culture. Most min quota systems exist to protect people from discriminatory firing. But this also means they are easily manipulated.

            Lack of teamwork: Bro/Locker room culture is the definitional place for teamwork to be fostered. High fives, ass slaps, and cussing is how teams bond. Not having those, plus having everyone walking on eggshells about a “creepy look” or “inappropriate touch” destroys any semblance of team. This is why such companies are always looking to game the system with new office setups to “foster teamwork”. The more closed system also makes people paranoid about who gets credit (or the fall in case of failure).

            Mistakes Punished: Don’t really know what you mean here. Punishing mistakes, particularly cumulative ones is needed to ensure your workforce isn’t full of dunces.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Mistakes Punished: Don’t really know what you mean here. Punishing mistakes, particularly cumulative ones is needed to ensure your workforce isn’t full of dunces.

            There’s a story from one of the major tech firms where an older executive submitted her resignation after a major investment went bust. The CEO of the firm told her that if the company was never failing, they weren’t taking enough risks.

            Punishing honest mistakes encourages paranoia and a defensive mentality. Forgiving mistakes builds team coherence.

          • LesHapablap says:

            How to deal with mistakes is a pretty big topic. There’s a few problems with punishing people for mistakes:
            -it encourages employees to hide mistakes. Management needs to know about mistakes in order to make sure they don’t happen again, and to identify systematic errors
            -it lets management off the hook for what is likely a training or supervision issue. In extreme cases management will throw an employee under the bus for something that was clearly management’s fault
            -typically people learn the most from their mistakes, so if you fire employees who fuck up then sometimes you’ll be getting rid of your most ‘experienced’ employees
            -a business where everyone is afraid to piss off the boss can stifle innovative thinking. an employee might have an outside the box solution to something, but not want to bother because it isn’t worth the personal risk

            I can give you lots of examples of this sort of thing from the helicopter and light aircraft industry.

            The downside as you point out is that sometimes employees really are incompetent and need to get drummed out.

          • Clutzy says:

            Right, but that doesn’t necessarily strike me as “punishing mistakes” more like a “zero tolerance” for any errors. Which is definitely a problem for an offense, but it certainly wouldn’t be something stemming from a sports-like culture. Mistakes there are expected and forgiven, your typical coach will also force you to forgive mistakes by refs and teammates. At worse they make you run sprints, which is no different than a good chewing out and the implicit assumption to put in a few extra hours in a less HR’y work environment.

          • Plumber says:

            In the private sector I was told “If you don’t have any leaks that shows that you aren’t working fast enough”.

            When I started with The City I was warned “They don’t count what you do, they count how many mistakes you make”.

          • acymetric says:

            @Clutzy

            Right, but that doesn’t necessarily strike me as “punishing mistakes” more like a “zero tolerance” for any errors.

            It makes more sense if you clearly delineate “mistakes” from “bad/incompetent behavior”. Other than that it seems like you are arguing semantics, it seems pretty clear that “punishing mistakes” was intended to mean zero or near zero tolerance. I don’t think any companies refuse to punish for any mistakes whatsoever regardless of frequency or egregiousness.

            Which is definitely a problem for an offense, but it certainly wouldn’t be something stemming from a sports-like culture.

            Correct, but reread the posts…this was the original point being made. The suggestion isn’t that overly harsh punishment stems from sports-like culture, but the opposite. From upthread (emphasis mine):

            -nasty gossiping among coworkers
            -not caring at all about the company, doing the minimum
            -lack of teamwork and helping each other out
            -mistakes are punished
            -a boss that sexually harasses female staff
            I don’t know how you’re defining ‘locker room culture’ but I don’t think it lines up with the above.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      “Locker Room Culture” is not the primary driver of “bad culture” at the workplace. One of the major pop-business books is “Five Flaws of Teams” or “Five Mistakes Teams Make” or whatever, and he points out that the most dysfunctional cultures are often church-group cultures. They aren’t locker-room at all, in fact they are too nice to hold people accountable and have an honest discussion about different priorities, so they can’t get anything done, are highly political, and turn into back-biting.

      Locker Room Culture at work may drive some employees off, but as long as you get other key things right, you can easily outperform Chuch Group Culture.

      We had a locker room culture at my first job, because we had a group of young and mid 20s male temps, that no one policed. That’s what the Fortune 50 wanted to hire, and they could hire us cheap during the Great Recesson. The temps behaved exactly how you think they would, but they were much more effective and efficient than the 10-20-30 years “Experience” employees who costed the company 3-4 times as much.

      Also, as other posters have pointed out, male locker rooms don’t necessarily have a lot of Locker Room culture, particularly among younger groups, who just want to get out of there as soon as possible.

      Unlike others, I see a lot of Locker Room among the guys I know. There are certain guys who Locker Room Culture does not reach, because they are spoil-sports that would ruin the fun of Locker Room Culture. These are relatively few in number, but they might incorrectly believe Locker Room Culture does not exist amongst their friends.

    • broblawsky says:

      As an alternative hypothesis to the apparent success of “Locker Room Culture” companies, maybe high-risk high-reward industries (the obvious one being finance) attract people who perpetuate “Locker Room Culture”. This would dovetail nicely with the suggestion from others that “Locker Room Culture” companies that fail go unnoticed.

    • acymetric says:

      I feel like some people are misunderstanding the term “Locker Room Culture” at various points in this thread that are leading to confusion. Locker Room Culture refers specifically to sports team locker rooms. Talking about what goes on in the locker room of your local 24 Hour Fitness (or equivalent) isn’t really relevant to what is being discussed.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Spitballin’ here, ‘coz I don’t have the time to trawl the literature right now, but could it be that “locker room culture” (subject to acymetric’s caveat) is optimizing/optimized for a high-testosterone environment?

      It seems to me that a lot of the features of locker room culture are consistent with what we would expect from putting a lot of high-testosterone men together in one place (the effects of testosterone in competitive sports – and why we would expect high testosterone in competitive athletes – have been discussed at length elsewhere in this open thread).

      A more interesting question is whether this kind of culture actually helps the “expression” of high-testosterone levels in a way that benefits performance. I would inch towards a definite “maybe”.

      Like I said, I haven’t got the time to go on a reading binge right now, but I’m wondering whether “locker room culture” may not, in fact, be a good thing – if you want to win games, at least.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        When you say that, it’s so obvious that I’m surprised nobody said it earlier. It’s the kind of thing we have been conditioned not to say.

    • zzzzort says:

      The term “locker room culture” is not well defined, but certainly places with more gendered behavior, cultural symbols of masculinity, male superiority, and sexual bravado are thought to lead to more sexual harassment, and more sexual harassment has negative impacts on productivity, see e.g. Willness et al. “A meta-analysis of the antecedents and consequences of workplace sexual harassment”.

    • Plumber says:

      @Clutzy

      “….What evidence is there that the less macho, quieter, modern traditional office environment is superior for getting work done? As far as I can tell, there is no such evidence. Indeed, often when a company gets accused of having an unhealthy culture (which almost always is something like a locker room culture, just less extreme) that company is usually quite successful and often high growth. So whats the evidence? Why is this assumption so widespread?”

      My guess is that it’s from an assumption that time spent “talking like a sailor” is time spent not actually working.

      I’ve never worked in an “office environment” but in my experience working construction, repairs, and retail both the most and the least productive talk blue more than average, as do front-line supervisors, I haven’t spent enough time with back office supervisors (who are more likely to be college grad women) to hazard a guess, but I suspect they cusd less, based on tales from the military where sergeants cuss more than both privates and captains.

    • Etoile says:

      When I see “locker room culture” come up, it’s usually in the context of someone (female) complaining about something being too male in some way in a group or workplace, and “locker room culture” is used as a weak defense.

      I hate these conversations because 1) guys, girls hate fart jokes and being ignored, and talked over, and otherwise not treated as girls. And 2) girls: just because the western modern world is good at hidng dirt and grit and ugliness from you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and isn’t necessary for the world to function and give you nice things. And then you go looking at how the sausage is made, and get offended, and try to reshape everything into your sterile, polite, corporate idyll.

      Thus, girls, stay out of the locker room and let it be; don’t try to infiltrate all male spaces and areas of interest and then get offended by what you find. Or else respect the culture you entered like a foreigner should in a host country.
      Guys, in some domains, the girls are allowed in and you kind of have to deal with it, so just don’t be assholes ffs.

  10. hash872 says:

    So does, uh….. anyone want to discuss West African athletic superiority due to genetic reasons? I find it a fascinating topic that is super super under-covered in society. I wasn’t 100% sure it’d actually be OK to discuss here, but I do see a lot of race & IQ talk among other commenters, and anyways I literally have nowhere else in either my online or offline life to discuss the topic. (As a supremely ungifted athlete myself, I find the intersection of sports and genetics interesting).

    Supposedly those of West African descent (and not the East Africans) have a mutation around the ACTN3 gene which correlates with explosiveness & superior athletic performance- more specifically, that they lack a mutation that causes ACTN3 to misfire. I cannot personally judge the truth of this statement, I just find the obvious success of African athletes difficult to explain without resorting to genetics:

    African Americans are 13% of the US population and make up about 68% of the NFL and 74% of the NBA

    “Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Kitts, Barbados, Grenada, Netherlands Antilles and the Bahamas in the Caribbean and Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Namibia…. have each produced more elite male sprinters than all of white Europe and Asia combined.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2012/08/12/the-dna-olympics-jamaicans-win-sprinting-genetic-lottery-and-why-we-should-all-care/#42f919812a2e

    These statistics are extraordinary! Yes, there can be small regions or countries that super-specialize in one sport and so are way over-represented. But as an American, the statistic around how 13% of the US population makes up two-thirds to three-quarters of our most vaunted sports cannot possibly be explained that way. Youth participation in basketball and football are extremely high, professional athletes are very well-compensated, and the superstars are national heroes- no one can convince me that black youth participation is so much higher in football and basketball that it would cause them to be over-represented in these sports by a factor of 5-6.

    I did my best to search and find alternate explanations, which I mostly found very unconvincing. Is there something that I’m missing from a genetic/biological angle? Or is West African athletic superiority just a taboo topic that we’re not allowed to discuss for reasons of political correctness?

    • hash872 says:

      I have to say, as a sports fan it certainly makes me excited about integrating more native Africans into existing sports. If the roughly 41 million African Americans in the US dominate our sports, I’m definitely interested to see what kind of even better athletes exist in Africa’s population of 1.2 billion. Yes, some of them are east Africans, and yes west Africans are probably over-represented in the Americas due to the legacy of slavery- but the sheer numbers would suggest that there’s a lot of untapped potential there (the NBA is busy opening up training academies & minor leagues in Africa now, to channel future players)

      • Murphy says:

        hey, bioinformatician here.

        From a quick search, looks fairly real but may be overstated in the popular press:

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1180686/

        There is increasing evidence for strong genetic influences on athletic performance and for an evolutionary “trade-off” between performance traits for speed and endurance activities. We have recently demonstrated that the skeletal-muscle actin-binding protein α-actinin-3 is absent in 18% of healthy white individuals because of homozygosity for a common stop-codon polymorphism in the ACTN3 gene, R577X. α-Actinin-3 is specifically expressed in fast-twitch myofibers responsible for generating force at high velocity. The absence of a disease phenotype secondary to α-actinin-3 deficiency is likely due to compensation by the homologous protein, α-actinin-2. However, the high degree of evolutionary conservation of ACTN3 suggests function(s) independent of ACTN2. Here, we demonstrate highly significant associations between ACTN3 genotype and athletic performance. Both male and female elite sprint athletes have significantly higher frequencies of the 577R allele than do controls. This suggests that the presence of α-actinin-3 has a beneficial effect on the function of skeletal muscle in generating forceful contractions at high velocity, and provides an evolutionary advantage because of increased sprint performance. There is also a genotype effect in female sprint and endurance athletes, with higher than expected numbers of 577RX heterozygotes among sprint athletes and lower than expected numbers among endurance athletes. The lack of a similar effect in males suggests that the ACTN3 genotype affects athletic performance differently in males and females. The differential effects in sprint and endurance athletes suggests that the R577X polymorphism may have been maintained in the human population by balancing natural selection.

        https://www.snpedia.com/index.php/Rs1815739

        Though I was curious how common the mutation is so I had a look at it in a dataset I have of exomes. We haven’t done ethnicity deriving yet but most are white british.

        So about in line with the paper above: about 19% of them have the mutation that

        chr11 66560624 stop_gained Hom 19%
        chr11 66560624 stop_gained Het 46%

        So that still leaves 35% of the population with 2 working copies of the gene.

        Based on the public database Gnomad it looks like the allele frequency for the mutant premature stop version is…

        in africa : 11%,
        eur: 43%
        East Asian:44%
        South Asian:58%
        North american: 57%

        So there’s probably more to it.

        The US probably has some other factors: it had a few hundred years of people being treated like cattle, including brutal selective breeding by slavemasters who want strong laborers.

        African genetics are actually fascinating.

        There’s a recent paper here:

        https://www.nature.com/articles/s41588-018-0273-y

        The gist of it is that we’ve known for a long time that the current human reference’s aren’t complete, they’re based on a comparatively small number of people, mostly from outside Africa.

        But there’s more genetic diversity within Africa than between all human populations on earth outside Africa.

        They identified 300 million bases worth of sequences that are part of the african pan-genome that aren’t in the references. For comparison the whole human genome is around 3 billion bases … so we’re talking 10% of the entire human genome that just isn’t there in the reference build for non-africans.

        And it’s not all non-coding either. 387 of the new sections fall within 315 protein coding genes. There’s only about 30K protein coding genes so a full 1% of protein coding genes with sections that just aren’t there in most non-african’s.

        I’m looking forward to coming years because there’s new versions of the reference’s genomes that take this stuff into account better, that include these alternate sections of the genome.

        From the point of view of understanding various genetic diseases, africa is significantly under-studied in genetics.

        • Walter says:

          Good post, thank you for writing it.

        • hash872 says:

          Great comment, thank you

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Are there any sports which combine demands for speed and endurance?

          Offhand, there’s the triathlon which demands endurance at different sports and the biathlon which I guess combines strength and precision….

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Are there any sports which combine demands for speed and endurance?

            Footraces longer than 200 meters?

          • Tarpitz says:

            Soccer, pretty obviously. I mean, many other ballgames do too, but if you want to find someone who needs to be both blisteringly fast over the first 10 yards and able to keep trucking for serious distances, I would say a soccer fullback or wing-back is the gold standard.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            Road cycling. Stages/events typically range from 100-300 kilometers (60-180 miles), yet quite often end in a sprint from a large or small group.

            So winning at many stages/events requires endurance to end up near the finish with a large or small group, but then sprint ability to actually win. Cyclists with very good endurance but a poor sprint often end up with a lot of top placings, but few wins.

            A famous picture that illustrates the significance of endurance for road cycling is one that shows the legs of a top road cycling sprinter and the legs of a top indoor cycling sprinter. Probably NSFW, as the picture is of people in their underpants.

            The indoor cyclist doesn’t require much endurance, because his events are pure sprinting and very short (750 meters/2500 feet). His best results are actually from the team sprint where he shares the effort of sprinting those 750 meters with 2 others, which requires even less endurance than doing it solo.

            PS. There are also opportunities for poor sprinters to win in road cycling because of the diversity in stages/events. Time trials strongly benefit those with great endurance, as well as stages that end with a big and steep climb.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            American Ninja might count– at least it’s much more endurance than you’re need for a sprint.

        • bullseye says:

          But there’s more genetic diversity within Africa than between all human populations on earth outside Africa.

          Do African-Americans count as within Africa or outside of it? What about white South Africans?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Well, North Africans have traditionally been counted as “white” or Mediterranean as far back as we have Egyptian color art. See, frex, a famous tomb painting of Seti I, where Libyans and Canaanites are lily-white while the Egyptians saw themselves as brown and Nubians as black. Then there are the Khoisan ethnic groups, with very different genetics and a somewhat different skin color from the West African-ish Bantu who replaced them. Not sure about Pygmy genetics.
            So even without AAs or white South Africans, it seems like Africa wins.

          • Lambert says:

            I think this only counts ‘native’ populations.
            i.e. what things were like before the Slave Trade and New Imperialism and all that.

          • Murphy says:

            Do African-Americans count as within Africa or outside of it?

            They’re somewhat as their own thing because as a population there’s enough mixture with white north americans and they’re from a big of a mixed bag of founding populations etc

            As a group they weren’t grabbed evenly from throughout africa so it’s more like if you plucked samples from a few locations and then mixed them all together with europeans.

            White south africans are also a bit similar. Lots of people who are pale skinned but who’s recent ancestry includes lots of africans but again, weird little founder population where if you’re doing a GWAS study you can’t just treat them as europeans most of the time.

            When i say genetic diversity I might be better to say genetic distance.

            For example the San people are more distant genetically from most of the other populations in african than a european would be from a maori or japanese person.

            https://pjt111.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/li09tree.jpg

            The way the graph works is that the closer to the root the brance the larger the distance.

            So an italian is closer to a bedouine than a biaka pygmie is to a San

          • Douglas Knight says:

            When i say genetic diversity I might be better to say genetic distance.

            Those are two completely different things.

            When people say

            But there’s more genetic diversity within Africa than between all human populations on earth outside Africa.

            they mean neutral diversity. Well, most of them don’t mean anything. But the people they’re quoting mean neutral diversity. Yoruba have more neutral diversity than anyone outside Africa. That’s a statement just about Yoruba, thus has nothing to do with the small distance from Yoruba to Bantu or the large distance form Yoruba to San.

    • greenwoodjw says:

      The US example is of no value for this, because of the confounding factors of economics and culture. Poor people living in the inner city generally have poor prospects outside of athletic achievement for a variety of reasons. The inner cities are mostly black. That leaves a lot of people striving for the long-shot chance of making it in pro-sports as opposed to, say, being a lawyer. (Or even a welder)

      • baconbits9 says:

        If I recall correctly there recently was a study that concluded middle class blacks in the US were the most over-represented group (ie kids that grew up middle class) in professional leagues.

      • hash872 says:

        As mentioned above, African American participation in the NFL/NBA is off by a factor of 5-6. They don’t participate at a rate that’s say, 20 or 30 or 50% higher than whites- it’s much much higher. Given that basketball & football are very popular among white students too, I find it hard to believe a difference that dramatic is just economic or cultural. (Are poor whites over-represented in professional sports? There are many more poor whites than the entire African American population of the US).

        I suspect that really poor communities (of any color) lack the resources to field teams. You have to have a functioning gym or football field (how much does it cost to maintain a field year round?) Pay a coach’s salary, pay for helmets and cleats and pads for football, pay for buses and bus drivers on very off-peak hours (weekends, Friday evenings) to drive them around. I doubt the absolute poorest communities have those type of resources

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Yes, what greenwoodjw said sounds plausible for basketball, but not football. Football is much, much more expensive to play than basketball, and requires a lot more open space than you’re likely to find in the inner cities.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think for a game like basketball or soccer or baseball, social forces are likely to confound the hell out of any attempt to find genetic predispositions to play a sport well. Also, the only such genetic dispositions that will be visible to us are ones correlated strongly with race/appearance.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          View from across the ocean: Basketball is dominated by african americans because that is the One True inner city sport. The hoop seems to be nigh on a religion. Whole lot of kids practicing for countless hours creates a huge talent mass to build a sport on top of.

          Same reason why the US womens soccer team is a juggernaut, and pretty darn white – It is the sport that subsection of the population plays. White men, by contrast, do not look to have any similar consensus about what The Sport is.

          Hand Egg is dominated by AA because, well, they are the ones desperate enough to kill themselves with steroids and head trauma for a chance to lift their family out of poverty.

          • Randy M says:

            Hand Egg is dominated by the same group, because, well, they are the ones desperate enough to kill themselves with steroids and head trauma for a chance to lift their family out of poverty.

            That’s a view from way, way across the ocean.
            In all many of those largely white fly-over states, Football is also religion, or at least a sacrament. It is the One True rural sport. (edit: exaggeration, but not, I suspect, more than the quote)

            You also have desperate poverty in lots of these places. If one demographic uses steroids at a higher rate, it isn’t because it it the one with the monopoly on poverty–remember the base rates. Even if if the AA population has a higher rate of poverty, they’re still like just 1/5 of the absolute numbers, and plenty of those whites are in football-worshiping rural communities where the jobs have withered up and blown away.

            (For example, in Kansas, blacks poverty rate is 3 times the white rate, but there are 14 times as many whites, so there are way more poor whites than poor blacks. And… huh, in Kansas college basketball is more popular than football. Take football loving Iowa, then, has the white population 30x the black population, and while the poverty discrepancy is higher at 7 vs 29, that’s not enough to save your theory.)

            And anyway, I doubt your causality–either white or black young men are willing to risk bodily injury for the kind of fame and money that being a pro athlete brings–desperation need not enter into it. Is there some study showing that more football players are from humble origins more often than other kinds of athletes?

            I think concerns over concussions in football are fairly recent, probably recent enough to not have much bearing on the current make-up of the pro leagues. Although the reality of the trauma probably contributes to keeping the maximum age low.

            edit:

            White men, by contrast, do not look to have any similar consensus about what The Sport is.

            White men shouldn’t need a consensus–there’s a lot more of them. They could (barring international recruits) divide their interests among the top four or five and still have parity in the one that blacks focused on because of the relative sizes of the populations.

          • Nornagest says:

            Same reason why the US womens soccer team is a juggernaut, and pretty darn white – It is the sport that subsection of the population plays.

            Women’s soccer isn’t that big in the US — nowhere near as big a deal as basketball is among black urban men, or football is among white rural men. It’s played, sure — I know a couple of women on amateur soccer teams — but few American women grow up dreaming of being soccer stars, unless they’re pretty big jocks to begin with, and there are plenty of other sports that American women play in quantity. Track, swimming, basketball. I know a lot of roller derby players but that’s probably just my social scene.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s played, sure — I know a couple of women on amateur soccer teams

            How many women do you know who play on amateur anything-but-soccer teams?

            I took Thomas Jorgensen’s claim to be, essentially, that if a girl in the United States has no interest in any specific sport but determines or is told that she should play some sport, soccer is the default for the sport she will most likely play. Not that there is necessarily any great passion for it, indeed possibly the opposite in that the sport’s broad prominence makes for a lower activation energy for the non-passionate.

            The athletic Schelling point for middle-class American girls, so to speak, just as American football is the athletic Schelling point for rural white American males and basketball for inner-city black males. As a result of which the American professional womens’ soccer league will be able to draw players from the high tail of a much larger bell curve than, and will play at a higher level than, any other womens’ sport in the United States. Or any soccer/association football league in a nation where soccer isn’t the athletic Schelling point for schoolgirls (or where it is but the absolute size of the athletic-schoolgirl population is much smaller than the United States).

            This appears to me to be true, though that isn’t based on any deep study.

          • Nornagest says:

            How many women do you know who play on amateur anything-but-soccer teams?

            About half a dozen, off the top of my head? Two track, one basketball, one rugby, one baseball, one powerlifting. Excluding women I know through the sports I’ve actually played (fencing and various flavors of martial arts), for obvious reasons, and also excluding roller derby, which is strictly a quirky West Coast hipster girls’ thing AFAICT.

            That seems consistent with my take where it’s big, but not The One True Sport.

          • Clutzy says:

            Women’s soccer is a juggernaut because no one else even tried.

          • Randy M says:

            At my college, women’s basketball and women’s soccer were both pretty well attended; seems like basketball was the more popular, but I wasn’t an expert even then.

            Lacrosse is popular in some circles, water polo possibly as well, but not as much as those two. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of pro or college soccer players of either sex were Hispanic, though it doesn’t seem like Hispanic cultures put much emphasis on women competing. Wikipedia for Football in Mexico :”The first women’s professional football league began play during the 2017–18 Liga MX Femenil season.It set new world records for attendance at a women’s professional football match.” Seems like not comparable to men’s, but not nothing.

          • AG says:

            justice for softball 🙁

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            Excluding women I know through the sports I’ve actually played (fencing and various flavors of martial arts), for obvious reasons, and also excluding roller derby, which is strictly a quirky West Coast hipster girls’ thing AFAICT.

            I’ve gotten handouts from a local roller derby league, and my reaction is basically a flat “huh.”

          • Aapje says:

            @Nornagest

            Women’s soccer isn’t a dominant sport for women anywhere, AFAIK.

            In the US, soccer may be a relatively common sport for women who do competitive sports, but I bet that a way higher percentage of American men play football than women play soccer.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            You guys are missing a step – the white guys in the middle of the country who have high-school football as the One True Religion graduate and end up as used car salesman or electricians or factory foremen or whatever. Those are options largely foreclosed to the ghetto.

          • Randy M says:

            Most do, sure, because professional sports player is not an option available to very many people of any sort. Do you have some reason to think that the very good white players (who probably aren’t any less willing to bang heads or ‘roid up than others) would prefer to be a salesman to being a linebacker or what have you?
            Also, why are those lines of work unavailable to the ghetto?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Most do, sure, because professional sports player is not an option available to very many people of any sort. Do you have some reason to think that the very good white players (who probably aren’t any less willing to bang heads or ‘roid up than others) would prefer to be a salesman to being a linebacker or what have you?

            Choose 1:

            With a 20-sided die, if you roll 5 20s in a row you will be successful

            vs:

            With a 20-sided die, if you roll above a 3 you will be successful

            Also, why are those lines of work unavailable to the ghetto?

            Lack of entry options, garbage education, absence of role models, credentialism, “acting white”, cultural attitudes about work.

            It can be overcome by people with exceptional natural character, hence “largely foreclosed” as opposed to “unavailable”.

          • Randy M says:

            Or, how about:
            With a 20-sided die, if you roll 5 20s in a row you will be [very rich, pick up women easy, enjoy your career, be famous]
            vs:
            With a 20-sided die, if you roll above a 3 you will be [possibly having a stable middle class life]

            And, you have to choose when you are young, impulsive, and bad at math.

            I don’t think pro sports star is a likely option; it’s not even a life I’d want. But it is the dream of a lot of young guys, and you guys are making it look like a choice that white boys will obviously turn their noses up at. This is silly projection.

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M

            Our host’s Social Justice For The Highly-Demanding-Of-Rigor post has some interesting links on the subject.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            (Epistemic status: weak but plausible)

            The globalization that killed so many of the job opportunities of the white-working-class in the past 20 years? It killed the job opportunities of the black-working-class in the 10-20 years just before. (The WWC turned to opioids, the BWC turned to crack, although people debate which is cause and which is effect.)

            And it’s hard to be a car salesman when your community is economically crushed.

          • Randy M says:

            The globalization that killed so many of the job opportunities of the white-working-class in the past 20 years? It killed the job opportunities of the black-working-class in the 10-20 years just before

            So if we look back to the 80’s there won’t be nearly so many blacks proportionately in the NFL?
            Well, wikipedia says “However, despite the NFL’s segregationist policies, after the league merged with the more tolerant AFL in 1970, more than 30% of the merged league’s players were African American.[citation needed]” and “At the start of the 2014 season, NFL surveys revealed that the league was approximately 68% African-American”

            So I suppose that it’s possible that globalization killing factory jobs is what is pushing people into this high status, high pay, enjoyable profession. Hopefully someday this discrepancy will be remedied.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            And, you have to choose when you are young, impulsive, and bad at math.

            I don’t think pro sports star is a likely option; it’s not even a life I’d want. But it is the dream of a lot of young guys, and you guys are making it look like a choice that white boys will obviously turn their noses up at. This is silly projection.

            It’s also a misinterpretation. Yes, many young men are bad at math and want the first choice, until their fathers slap them upside the head and they take the second instead. Or they’re already working in their field and have an affinity for it. Or their home life isn’t awful so they don’t want to bail on it. Or they’re not bad at math. Or it’s not appealing and they have more options.

            My point here is that the incentives are different so you will get different behaviors.

          • acymetric says:

            @Aapje

            That is probably true, but also probably confounded by the fact that football teams are larger than soccer teams by probably 2x at minimum and up to 5 or 6x.

          • J Mann says:

            @greenwoodjw

            You guys are missing a step – the white guys in the middle of the country who have high-school football as the One True Religion graduate and end up as used car salesman or electricians or factory foremen or whatever. Those are options largely foreclosed to the ghetto

            I think the question for football is why does the defensive line have significantly higher African American representation that the offensive line, and why are running and corner backs almost exclusively African American? I honestly don’t know the answer, but it looks like a challenge for a number of the possible stories.

          • John Schilling says:

            So I suppose that it’s possible that globalization killing factory jobs is what is pushing people into this high status, high pay, enjoyable profession.

            Into a tournament wherein a tiny minority will find their way to a high status, high pay enjoyable profession, and from which the vast majority will emerge with a collection of pleasant memories and chronic injuries but no better economic prospects than when they started.

            Hopefully someday this discrepancy will be remedied.

            Hopefully we can find a way to do this with less in the way of chronic injuries and less time taken away from developing broadly useful job skills.

          • Clutzy says:

            To be honest, I don’t think the social explanations of Black/White splits in NFL/NBA make any sense at all.

            A sports scholarship is probably a top 3 most coveted thing for white high school students and their parents. Not only is student debt at crippling levels for the 40k-80k income range (you get few grants), but you get into schools so much easier (see USC scandal) and can pass more easily with the extra tutoring.

            A poor black kid would get 90% of the benefit of a scholarship just by passing with decent grades and a middling SAT.

            No, its not parents slapping kids upside they head and telling them to stop chasing the dream of playing in the NFL and come work at the car lot. In fact Basketball and Football are two of the lowest time investment sports. Hockey & Baseball are much whiter and require much more time. Soccer is the same.

          • Randy M says:

            Into a tournament wherein a tiny minority will find their way to a high status, high pay enjoyable profession, and from which the vast majority will emerge with a collection of pleasant memories and chronic injuries but no better economic prospects than when they started.

            The point isn’t that it’s good for everybody. The point is that the offer is tempting enough on the high end that I don’t buy that only blacks are so desperate as to attempt this, given that way more white boys love football (by virtue of there being way more white boys).

            Hopefully we can find a way to do this with less in the way of chronic injuries and less time taken away from developing broadly useful job skills.

            Sure. I don’t think the sports worship is necessarily useful. But I don’t buy black success there as evidence of their deteriorating prospects in America; that’s just reaching for the contrarian explanation because people on this board think sports is boorish, versus how a great many see it, as their dream job.
            Maybe greenwoodjw is right, and white boys have fathers that push more sensible options, while black dads don’t expect their boys to make it in the world otherwise. But that seems no more convincing a story than “Africans are genetically disposed to put on muscles easier” or something similar.

          • Nornagest says:

            Realistically, time high school boys spend playing football would otherwise be spent playing Fortnite, so I really only care about the injury angle.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Realistically, time high school boys spend playing football would otherwise be spent playing Fortnite, so I really only care about the injury angle.

            Yeah, this. Sports are a great alternative to video games for that demographic, so at most we should only substitute another sport for one that causes head trauma.

          • albatross11 says:

            Edward:

            I am pretty sure it was the same change to the economy that affected the whole working class–when the well-paid factory jobs went away, they didn’t just go away for blacks or whites, they went away for everyone.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, these racism/society just-so stories seem even less convincing than the more usual run of race/genetics just-so stories.

      • J Mann says:

        Football seems to have radically different participation by position. It’s possible that there’s a social explanation for it, but it would have to be a really interesting one.

      • albatross11 says:

        I seem to recall that Olympic sprinting events are almost always won be people of West African descent, from many different countries. And marathons tend to be dominated from people descended from one part of East Africa, again even when they grew up on different countries. That makes me strongly suspect there’s some genetic basis to that pattern. (Also, running is a sport you can do without a whole lot of societal support or plant or anything–it’s not like ice skating, say.).

        Presumably what happened there was that both natural selection and random forces in evolution (mutation and drift) happened upon something like an optimal body type for sprinting in one place (probably still happening only for a small minority even in the group that dominates the event), and for marathons in another place, and then the incredible filtering process of finding the very best sprinters/marathon runners for the Olympics managed to find the set of people with that optimal body type and get them into the right kind of running shoes.

        • gbdub says:

          I would say running events are pretty likely to be genetics dominated – pretty much everyone knows how to run, and while technique is not important I don’t think marathon running or sprinting require quite the “lifetime to master” that other sports do.

          E.g. in football (of any variety) “be fast” is an advantage, and pro players will be in the upper percentiles of speed and endurance, but it’s not like you could just hand Usain Bolt a pair of shin guards and expect him to be a great soccer player.

          I doubt luge is dominated by genetics – there are probably some inborn traits that help, but it’s more of an esoteric, lifetime-to-master skill, so it is dominated by people from a few regions that grew up around it.

          • gbdub says:

            Meant to say “while technique is not UNimportant”

          • baconbits9 says:

            It depends on your definition of ‘upper percentiles’ but I doubt that soccer players are upper echelon in speed and endurance. I was specifically talking to a former soccer player last night who went out for a cross country meet in high school and figured it would be a breeze since he was the fittest and faster on his soccer team, but he got smoked because constant running is a totally different event that soccer. Someone like Bolt would have to retrain to be a soccer player because even though his speed would be a great asset the limited number of runs, and specifically on demand runs, he could make at that speed would limit his prowess pretty heavily before you got to the ball skill portion.

          • sharper13 says:

            @baconbits:
            I can confirm this. While soccer players are probably the closest to cross country runners in terms of being in shape, they’re more suited by calf/leg muscle formation for middle-distance sprinter, i.e. 800m.

            I say this because I played cross country, track&field and soccer. Because of the way the sports seasons lined up (fall/winter/spring, respectively), several soccer players who wanted to stay in shape did the same.

            I was a good cross country runner (Generally #2 on a team which regularly won the league and went to State in CA), but I also played club soccer during the cross country season. Because I was doing cross country workouts as well as soccer practice, at the end of club soccer games I dominated because the other players slowed down somewhat in unison during the game as they tired, but I simply wasn’t tired yet, so could out-run them all. I’m pretty sure that’s why I got an invite to try out for the Olympic development soccer team. It certainly wasn’t my ball skills at the time.

            I played soccer from 5 years old through College plus semi-pro, so that was my main “star” sport. For cross-country, I had terrible pacing, tending to alternately run fast, run slow, then my kick was about twice as long as anyone else’s. That came from a combination of a long-term back issue and my soccer muscles. In contrast, while I could run the 200m and Long Jump competitively (primarily sprinting events), I dominated in the 800m (endurance sprint – basically all “kick” at higher levels) and Triple-Jump (some speed, but mostly leg muscle and leg coordination/technique skills). I set school records in both jumping events and the 800m, but ended up 6th in CA for triple-jump.

            In terms of Football, it’s definitely the most popular sport, with basketball a close second. Basketball has a lot of similarities to soccer, but with smaller teams/courts and height advantages coming from the basket.

            Football is an interesting case because different body types, heights and weights are specialized/advantaged for different positions. Tall, smart, acceleration/repeated sprinting, I was a decent wide receiver/defensive back. The Tongan and Samoan guys I knew were massive, and thus good for the offensive/defensive line. Defensive line in general requires more speed/mobility than offensive because you have to rush and get around/past the offensive line. Backs favor speed and turning agility, plus strength for impact pushing. The heavier backs specialize in the short-yardage situations. The lighter/smarter backs who can throw well specialize as QBs, etc… Guys can’t change their height, but they can study and get “smarter” in many ways and they can for sure drop/add 15-30 pounds in order to move between similar positions (defensive end to/from linebacker, or linebacker to/from safety, as examples).

    • dick says:

      AFAIK it hasn’t been discussed in depth here and I think the reason is a) lack of interesting things to say about it, and b) while not taboo itself exactly, it is adjacent to a very taboo subject (ethnicity and IQ).

      • hash872 says:

        Is ethnicity and IQ really that taboo here? I dunno man, I’ve been an SSC regular for like a year and a half now, I see people pretty regularly discussing it

        • Eponymous says:

          It’s not strictly verboten, but I get the sense it’s not particularly welcome. I certainly try not to bring it up.

          • hash872 says:

            I mean, I’m certainly not advocating for it (IQ & race discussion, that is. I mostly think IQ is pseudoscientific nonsense anyways, a modern phrenology). But Scott is pretty liberal (ha ha) about what he allows. There was a guy openly advocating for white nationalism an OT or two ago, that seemed to be acceptable and was discussed at length

          • mc_dark says:

            @hash872

            that seemed to be acceptable and was discussed at length

            He got hit with the banhammer actually, though part of that was the frequency/outside perception and the commentariat disagreed with the ban (I was on the side of some mod action fwiw)

          • dick says:

            I don’t think race/IQ is taboo as in banned, but I would bet money you’d get banned for bringing it up repeatedly without something true/necessary/kind to say about it. You would if I was wielding the hammer, anyway.

          • Eponymous says:

            I mostly think IQ is pseudoscientific nonsense anyways, a modern phrenology

            You’re wrong, of course. I recommend Stuart Ritchie’s book for an easy introduction, or Earl Hunt’s book for a more in depth treatment.

          • albatross11 says:

            If phrenology had been as useful for predicting academic success, workplace performance, and life outcomes as IQ tests are, we’d all still be having our skulls read for bumps. And rightly so.

            Knowing about IQ statistics by race makes a lot of apparent mysteries and burning issues suddenly resolve themselves. (For example, why is the black/white performance gap in education so intractible, even when the parents’ income and wealth are the same? How come all those articles about the racist selection process for NYC’s top magnet schools that are excluding blacks always have a final paragraph noting that more than half the students in those schools are now Asian[1]? Why did the Ivy League find it necessary, decades ago, to impose a limit on Jewish applicants, but not Irish or Italian ones? Why are there so few black mathematicians, and no black Fields medalists?)

            Contrary to a common talking point, knowing this doesn’t require you to put on a swastika armband and start goose stepping–you can just recognize that reality is shaped the way it is, not the way you wish it were. And then you can work out how to behave decently in a world where we’re not all equal in abilities.

            [1] Not included earlier in the article because that would mess up the narrative.

          • hash872 says:

            I’m confused how the same person who wrote

            social forces are likely to confound the hell out of any attempt to find genetic predispositions to play a sport well

            is also advocating for racial IQ links? Wouldn’t….. wouldn’t the same argument about social forces also apply here too….?

            Part of what I find so unrealistic/pseudoscientific about IQ enthusiasm is the idea that higher IQ positively correlates with Literally Everything Good. I’d find the arguments more persuasive if they weren’t so…. broad. My personal experience would be that workplace performance/life outcomes are more correlated with drive and work ethic than raw intelligence

          • The Nybbler says:

            My personal experience would be that workplace performance/life outcomes are more correlated with drive and work ethic than raw intelligence

            How much of that is due to restriction of range in your experience, though?

            (I admit I’m doubtful of the “IQ correlates with everything” enthusiasts; I think they’re overstating it. But overstating a real phenomenon)

          • Part of what I find so unrealistic/pseudoscientific about IQ enthusiasm is the idea that higher IQ positively correlates with Literally Everything Good.

            “Positively correlates with” doesn’t mean “is the only determinant of.” If income or marital success or something else important is 20% IQ and 80% something else, it still correlates with IQ.

            My personal experience would be that workplace performance/life outcomes are more correlated with drive and work ethic than raw intelligence

            That isn’t inconsistent with those things correlating with IQ.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            hash872-

            I’m confused how the same person who wrote…

            I would guess their point is that IQ is more analogous to, say, general athleticism or physical robustness than to ability in a specific sport. Also, physical robustness goes way, way farther back in the evolutionary tree than general intelligence, so it’s much easier to believe that the latter is governed by One Weird Trick.

            Part of what I find so unrealistic/pseudoscientific about IQ enthusiasm is the idea that higher IQ positively correlates with Literally Everything Good.

            Well, put that way, the idea is of course absurd. IQ is not particularly correlated, for instance, with niceness, good looks, patriotism, or dexterity. But as albatros11 correctly observes, it correlates very well with academic success, workplace performance, and life outcomes. You can disbelieve that if you like, but most of us would rather believe things that are true.

            I can sympathize with somebody who argues that IQ is misnamed, that there are people who are plenty intelligent but score low on an IQ test and people who score high but are pretty dumb about some things. (I don’t know that either is true, but I can imagine the argument.) Fine, rename it ASWPLOQ. But then you’re left with the nuisance that the test wasn’t designed specifically to estimate ASWPLO, but was rather a good-faith attempt to capture what we mean by “intelligence”, and apparently the fact that it is a good predictor of ASWLPO was just a happy coincidence.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            IQ is not particularly correlated, for instance, with niceness, good looks, patriotism, or dexterity.

            If I understand the arguments about IQ, the proponents would say that IQ is positively correlated with all of those. I think we would have to round off nice and patriot to “pro-social”.

            I could be misrepresenting the argument though.

          • Lambert says:

            There have been some really big studies on this right?
            So you can get p<0.05 even from small effect sizes.

          • Eponymous says:

            Part of what I find so unrealistic/pseudoscientific about IQ enthusiasm is the idea that higher IQ positively correlates with Literally Everything Good. I’d find the arguments more persuasive if they weren’t so…. broad.

            Whereas I think the persuasiveness of claims should be judged on the basis of the empirical evidence, rather than a priori incredulity.

          • HomarusSimpson says:

            My personal experience would be that workplace performance/life outcomes are more correlated with drive and work ethic than raw intelligence

            I remember reading recently that trait conscientiousness, by comparison with IQ, has about double the correlation with work/ academic success. Wish I could give the source, but I forget, maybe Robert Plomin (Blueprint)

          • quanta413 says:

            If I understand the arguments about IQ, the proponents would say that IQ is positively correlated with all of those. I think we would have to round off nice and patriot to “pro-social”.

            Probably. Even as someone who thinks IQ is typically underrated as an explanatory factor, it seems to me like a lot of weaker correlations are likely a side effect of something else. And not in an interesting way as far as IQ goes.

            Correlations with dexterity or good looks would be unsurprising. Good looks typically means looking “normal” for a human in a certain sense. Certain disorders will lower your IQ and make your looks deviate from what’s expected. But the disorder is causing the drop in IQ and the change in looks. I don’t see why I’d expect IQ to cause good looks or vice versa.

            Dexterity seems like it should be related to details about the nervous system so I guess that one is causally more interesting. I’m not sure how many tests you’d need and how well they’d correlate if you wanted to try making some generalized measure corresponding roughly to the concept of dexterity.

            Part of what I find so unrealistic/pseudoscientific about IQ enthusiasm is the idea that higher IQ positively correlates with Literally Everything Good. I’d find the arguments more persuasive if they weren’t so…. broad. My personal experience would be that workplace performance/life outcomes are more correlated with drive and work ethic than raw intelligence

            The credible sources I’ve seen claim this don’t feel as broad as I think it might look at first. Or at least not as meaningful.

            Like if IQ correlates at .1-.3 with a bunch of other positive things, it’s “explaining” (in the not-so-explanatory statistical sense) a small minority of the variations you see. Maybe it’s a strong correlation at a population level compared to a lot of crap people come up with, and has more plausible causal relationships to things like income than priming does to whatever is supposedly being primed. But in an absolute sense, IQ is not telling you much about those correlated traits in most individuals.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t see why I’d expect IQ to cause good looks or vice versa.

            Mutational load’s got a pretty good case going for it, but that’s about all I can think of.

          • albatross11 says:

            hash872:

            You don’t have to know *why* there’s a difference in average IQ between blacks and whites (and between whites and Asians) to know that it exists and what its implications are. Is the ultimate root of that difference genetic, cultural, environmental, or something else? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else really does, either. There are plausible arguments for why that difference is probably mostly genetic in origin, and plausible arguments for why it’s probably not mostly genetic in origin.

            But the average IQ difference exists, and IQ scores seem to mean about the same thing in blacks and whites, and we can use that to predict a bunch of things that turn out to be exactly what the world actually looks like.

          • quanta413 says:

            Mutational load’s got a pretty good case going for it, but that’s about all I can think of.

            Personally, I might classify that as a third factor causing changes in looks and IQ. But another way to put it might be that unusual decreases in IQ or changes in looks are both contributors to mutational load, since mutational load is roughly defined in terms of decreases in reproductive fitness due to mutations.

            It’s probably kind of both. Most genes affect many things and most mutations are negative. Ergo, most of the de novo mutations a human has will typically make them very slightly less smart and be considered very slightly less good looking by other humans. But it’s hard to know if the two effects mostly come from the same set of mutations since we’d expect these effects to be extremely subtle for most individual mutations in humans.

          • albatross11 says:

            This Twitter thread lists a bunch of useful things to know about IQ, including many things it correlates with.

          • Randy M says:

            But another way to put it might be that unusual decreases in IQ or changes in looks are both contributors to mutational load, since mutational load is roughly defined in terms of decreases in reproductive fitness due to mutations.

            Are you saying that someone with lower appeal due to IQ or looks is going to tend to mate later in life, thus passing on more mutations (and thus possibly even lower IQ & worse looks) to their next generation? That’s an interesting turnaround, and kind of frightening given the trend in child-bearing.

          • albatross11 says:

            The way I understand it, a lot of stuff (like height and IQ) can be seen as a normal distribution plus some outliers on the left that show up because something went wrong. So you have some people who end up very short or who have a very low IQ because they just got a shitty roll of the dice–there’s nothing particularly wrong with them other than that attribute being unusually low. But you also have people who had some kind of major genetic or developmental or environmental problem land on them–for those folks, you will see a correlation between IQ and all kinds of other stuff. For example, someone with Downs is going to have a lower than average IQ, and also probably be pretty short, have serious heart problems, get early-onset Alzheimers, etc. For another example, if your mother was starving when you were still in her womb, I gather there can be a lot of consequences for you later on.

            You can also get something like this if there are some genes that land on a bunch of related things–like if some gene that screws up your thinking also makes you more likely to develop schizophrenia.

            And then there’s the mutational load idea. I’ll give my layman’s summary here, but Murphy or someone should correct me if I go off the rails:

            a. Every individual has some new mutations–copying errors of one kind or another. There are constantly new mutations coming into the population because of this.

            b. If a mutation has any effect at all you (many don’t), it’s very likely to be negative, for the same reason that hitting your car engine with a rock is unlikely to make it work better. The rare mutations that somehow make something work better ultimately are the engine of evolution, but such mutations are rare[0].

            c. Mutations with a large negative effect get selected out quickly. That is, if you have a mutation that causes your heart not to work right, then you probably don’t even manage to be born alive, and so that mutation is never passed on.

            d. Mutations with a small negative effect get selected out, but more slowly. If you’re carrying some mutation that makes you a little less {tall, smart, strong, healthy, sane}, then you are at a small disadvantage in having offspring, so we should expect you, overall, to have slightly fewer offspring than someone without that mutation. (Maybe you’re slightly more likely to get eaten by a lion than I am.) Given enough time, those mutations will usually go away[1].

            e. If you think about this, there’s a constant process of new bad mutations showing up and being filtered out of the population. At any given time, the population has some “mutational load” of these slightly bad mutations. If all of them went away, probably the whole population would be quite a bit healthier, smarter, etc.

            f. At any given time, some people will happen to have more of these slightly-bad mutations. Those people will probably have depressed height, IQ, healthiness, etc. So that’s another way you can get IQ: height and related correlations.

            g. You could imagine some populations having higher mutational load than others, but I don’t know of any evidence of this actually happening.

            [0] And this is complicated a bit by the fact that you have two or more copies of each gene, so the mutant gene may not have any affect until someone gets two copies of it.

            [1] But not always–in small populations, the effect of selection can kind-of be swamped by random events.

          • quanta413 says:

            Are you saying that someone with lower appeal due to IQ or looks is going to tend to mate later in life, thus passing on more mutations (and thus possibly even lower IQ & worse looks) to their next generation? That’s an interesting turnaround, and kind of frightening given the trend in child-bearing.

            I think that’d be more of a second order effect, and I think it’s actually the opposite and smarter people tend to mate later. I just mean that being less good looking and less smart means you’d probably have somewhat less mating success. In the fairly recent past at least.

            All bets are off since the 1900s or so as far as being smart mattering much. Being good looking though seems like it’s still an obvious plus for reproducing. But modern humans are in a weird place. Their distribution of number of children per mother is getting narrower. Forcing that sort of situation on a population is actually a way of generating mutational load in the laboratory.

            There’s an interesting paper by the population geneticist Michael Lynch on the likely impacts of mutational load in humans.

          • Randy M says:

            But modern humans are in a weird place. Their distribution of number of children per mother is getting narrower. Forcing that sort of situation on a population is actually a way of generating mutational load in the laboratory.

            I’m trying to understand this. Narrow distribution means fewer outliers, meaning more women having 2-3 children, less with many? Why does that increase mutational load?

            Gametes accumulate mutation with age, right? Is there some other mechanism at play?

            @albatross11
            That all makes sense and is well explained. I read quanta as suggesting a causal link from low IQ/low attractiveness to mutational load and was trying to make sense of that.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Part of what I find so unrealistic/pseudoscientific about IQ enthusiasm is the idea that higher IQ positively correlates with Literally Everything Good. I’d find the arguments more persuasive if they weren’t so…. broad. My personal experience would be that workplace performance/life outcomes are more correlated with drive and work ethic than raw intelligence

            Field relevant research will tell you what proportion of the variation in some metric is explained by psychometric G or Contentiousness or any other measurable trait. Personal experience is not a substitute for large longitudinal studies especially since many people in a given field of work have peers that operate in a similar test score stratum. [Which leads to range restriction which lowers the observed correlation coefficient]

            The fact that it explains statistically significant variation in various life outcomes is an observation, not a hypothesis. It is usually the largest if not among the largest predictors known but it also usually explains less than half the variation. So there is no contradiction in saying that it is ‘The single most important’ but also ‘not as important as everything else’

            The lack of public familiarity with the magnitude of the research is a product of the taboo and people’s distaste of psychometrics, and not the other way around. The distaste drives the supression of Publicizing research which drives public ignorance which increases the level of distaste; because assumptions about reality get formed by the kinds of anecdotes that people are permitted to share amongst each other.

          • quanta413 says:

            I’m trying to understand this. Narrow distribution means fewer outliers, meaning more women having 2-3 children, less with many? Why does that increase mutational load?

            Gametes accumulate mutation with age, right? Is there some other mechanism at play?

            I probably explained poorly because it might sound like I’m saying the number of children matters at an individual level. That doesn’t matter. Each child will still have roughly the same probability of having a certain number of mutations. Mutations accumulate in every lineage of any species over time. But you don’t see species normally get less well-adapted over time even though most mutations are bad because the individuals with more bad mutations reproduce less. This leads to a balance between the speed at which good mutations increase in frequency in a population and the introduction of new bad mutations into the population. Living organisms that always accumulate more than one mutation per generation (like humans) almost have to undergo constant positive selection for beneficial mutations to counteract the pile up of negative mutations.

            When everyone is reproducing the same amount, by definition no one is less reproductively successful. But in another sense, the sort of things that would make you more reproductively successful in most environments (good health, speed, strength, smarts, beauty, etc.) will start to decrease in the population due to the accumulation of mutations.

            It’s not that having a certain number of children increases the mutational load gained in a particular individual right now. It’s that the number of children being fixed is a sign that selection against deleterious mutations is weakening. You can impose this condition in the lab by changing the environment so that every individual reproduces the same amount.

            In the long run though, this can’t continue forever. In the lab, populations where you disable natural selection for too long by screwing with the dynamics of reproduction have a tendency to get sick or die off altogether. That or you eventually end up unable to force the individuals in the population to all reproduce equally because some trait is too important and is being selected for despite your best efforts.

            Humans are still undergoing some natural selection right now. They’re not like a lab population of mice or flies where natural selection has been forcibly arrested for multiple generations. But the situation in human populations (in the West at least) is closer to that than it used to be.

          • Randy M says:

            Sorry for being dense, I get you now. Fewer women who otherwise might have none now having more, because we are good at taking care of those with poor genetic lot. Compassion making us stupider.

            Do you have a link to show that decreased variance (particularly at the low end)? Most charts I find on a quick search basically just show the average total fertility decreasing. Or are you mostly considering modern vs premodern (or even historical vs prehistorical), rather than 21st century trends?

          • quanta413 says:

            Sorry for being dense, I get you now. Fewer women who otherwise might have none now having more, because we are good at taking care of those with poor genetic lot. Compassion making us stupider.

            I don’t think that was dense. The direction of causation in evolving populations can go many ways and is pretty subtle. My original writing was unclear.

            If my understanding is correct, the effect of people who would have had 0 children now having some may be the primary reason for some of the negative changes in traits we associate with mutational load but not for other changes. I’d bet we have weaker immune systems than our recent ancestors because we can now save people who would’ve died in childhood more often. But for intelligence or conscientious, if I’m understanding the idea, it’s partly that in some past situations humans having more of those traits than normal probably would’ve had more children than normal. Nowadays, they have the same number of children.

            So I’d bet compassion is making our immune systems weaker relatively quickly, but if compassion is making us stupider it’s only very, very slowly. We’re more getting stupider because smarter people have less children. Which makes me think “Who’s so smart then? You have one job.” But I don’t think that’s been going on long enough to do much yet. Plus improved health nutrition boosted the average a lot very fast not long ago.

            Do you have a link to show that decreased variance (particularly at the low end)? Most charts I find on a quick search basically just show the average total fertility decreasing. Or are you mostly considering modern vs premodern (or even historical vs prehistorical), rather than 21st century trends?

            My knowledge on humans specifically is relatively limited, I’m relying on the paper I linked above and bits and pieces of things I’ve read in the past. When I try searching, I have the same trouble as you finding a nice graph of the variance in family size over time. I’ll search a bit more later tonight.

            The variance decreasing seems like it almost has to follow the mean decreasing for this case though. You can’t have negative numbers of children. So for the variance to increase while the mean decreased, you’d need both more families with 0 children and more families with 3 or 4 or 5 children. That doesn’t match the picture I have in my head of the U.S. or Western Europe now as compared to in the past, but of course I could be wrong.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            The natural end point of the mutational load theory is the conclusion that safely engineering a (weakly) superhuman population is trivial. You do not have to understand what the genes do, you just identify all genes which are less than, oh, say 10, 20 generations old and revert the lot of them to known-good versions. Homo Sapiens (Debugged). This seems very likely to be tried at least at pilot level because there is no very likely way for it to go wrong, and if the resulting children are impressive enough, well, that is the end of natural selection, full stop, in any direction, because now everybodys genome will get the treatment, and any further shifts in genetic composition will only happen when we do understand things well enough to make directed changes.

          • Randy M says:

            So I’d bet compassion is making our immune systems weaker relatively quickly, but if compassion is making us stupider it’s only very, very slowly. We’re more getting stupider because smarter people have less children. Which makes me think “Who’s so smart then? You have one job.”

            It’s a pretty good problem for utilitarians to tackle, actually. Calculate the amount of good an educated smart person can do now, versus later. At some point you want to cash out your genetic winnings into ways to improve the lives of the populace through innovation. But if you don’t encourage them to stick with the gross domestic product (that’s innuendo*) you’re eating your seed corn (that’s just a metaphor).

            Of course, after you calculate the perfect equilibrium, something along the lines of Babies = (IQ-100)/10 per person or such, you realize that even if you have the perfect ratio of years reproducing to years innovating, try setting up society to achieve that without screwing the whole thing up with perverse incentives.

            *I can’t be the first person to call babies “gross domestic product” can I? ‘Cause that’s gold.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Evolution is very slow, technology is instant. There is no concern the human genome will long term “degrade” because the human genepool will have a filter system applied to it long before that can happen. It is – as per my previous post very easy to do. You dont even really need to understand anything about the functioning of our genes at any deep level to stop the accumulation of bad mutations, you can just stop the accumulation of all mutations.

          • albatross11 says:

            Thomas:

            Thus Greg Cochran’s speculation about people eventually doing that with some non-human hominid or a chimpanzee or something, and getting a big surprise….

          • Murphy says:

            @hash872

            My personal experience would be that workplace performance/life outcomes are more correlated with drive and work ethic than raw intelligence

            IQ being important or corrlating with things doesn’t mean it’s the only important thing.

            Between 2 people, one who’s driven with good work ethic… and smart and one who’s s driven with good work ethic… and thick as 2 short planks… who wins more on average? If you had 100 of each type in a sitution which group would you expect to see succeed more often on average over the long term?

            Certain disorders will lower your IQ and make your looks deviate from what’s expected. But the disorder is causing the drop in IQ and the change in looks. I don’t see why I’d expect IQ to cause good looks or vice versa.

            Might depend: if highly successful people mate with highly pretty people a lot you can end up with a lot of pretty people who are also smart/capable people even if the traits have different genetic causes. (though expect a weaker correlation)

            You don’t have to know *why* there’s a difference in average IQ between blacks and whites

            I think it makes a big difference for policy.

            Lets imagine that none of it was genetic. Lets imagine it’s all environment. Bad neighbourhoods with heavy metal contamination, badly funded schools, etc etc.

            Bob scores high on his IQ test, Alan scores low.

            Bob does well in life. Alan does badly in life.

            If it’s all down to environment then Alan has had this inflicted on him by social policies that put his parents somewhere contaminated by heavy metals in a place with shitty schools.

            So we should fix the schools and the water as a moral imperative.

            If the heavy metal exposure isnt’ actually going anything important then it’s less of an issue.

            If the schools make a big difference it’s a big deal to fix the bad ones. If they make little difference then it’s less of an issue.

            I take the position that there’s no rule of the universe against race-IQ links… but there’s also status quo bias and people love easy answers that dictate no moral imperative to fix things.

            If someone with no link to either group turns up claiming that it’s terribly interesting that there’s these 2 neighbouring tribes where one group mostly have a crap alcohol dehydrogenase gene and some other variant that’s linked to lower-IQ …. hence part of an explanation why one group have worse addiction problems and worse life outcomes…

            I trust that more vs

            someone turning up pointing to a study showing that their own ethic group is awesome and also that the underclass in their own society just happen to have a genetic cause for being the underclass in their society.

            @albatross11

            You could imagine some populations having higher mutational load than others, but I don’t know of any evidence of this actually happening.

            In principle I don’t see much wrong with your argument. One way to get a group with a higher background level of deleterious mutations is to give one group a very easy life. For example look at some of the aristocratic classes. for many generations kids could survive even if they had issues.

            Though that would imply that wealthier populations would end up with higher mutational load.

            @Randy M

            Why does that increase mutational load?

            Have 8 kids, 6 die. vs have 2 kids and make sure both survive no matter what. Healthiest kids most likely to survive.

          • albatross11 says:

            Murphy:

            Actually, I think the critical question for policy isn’t whether the IQ difference is genetic in origin, it’s whether there’s anything we can do about it. For example, it could turn out that the IQ difference is driven by slightly different nutritional needs for blacks relative to whites–for example, if blacks living in northern climates aren’t getting enough vitamin D. That’s genetic in origin, but really easy to fix. It could also turn out that the IQ difference is entirely cultural, but that the only way to fix it is to massively change American black culture, perhaps in ways that would look like stamping out most of that culture–that’s cultural in origin, but probably very hard to fix in any kind of non-horrible way.

            If you think there’s a chance that the IQ gap is fixable by some kind of policy we can actually do (whatever its origin), then it seems like you should want to massively encourage research into the IQ gap at every level, because raising the average IQ of an eighth of our population by like 3/4 of a standard deviation would be an enormous improvement in the world. Deciding that nobody should talk about the gap except in specialist publications and that newspapers and mainstream popular sources should lie about its existence is a good way of making sure that, if there is a way to close that gap, it remains unknown, or if discovered, it ends up very difficult to justify doing anything about.

            At any rate, you don’t need to know the cause of a racial gap in IQ or anything else, to be able to make good predictions about near-term stuff. Knowing the IQ statistics by race means being able to make a good prediction about what will happen if, say, math olympiads in the US reserve 1/8 of their positions for black kids, or if super-selective magnet schools decide that their entering class must now “look like America” and let the academic chips (and test scores) fall where they may. If you want accurate predictions about the consequences of those policies, you want to ask the horrible evil human b-odiversity types who know IQ statsitics, not the humane decent right-thinking folks who would never dream of reading _The Bell Curve_.

          • albatross11 says:

            Murphy:

            I take the position that there’s no rule of the universe against race-IQ links… but there’s also status quo bias and people love easy answers that dictate no moral imperative to fix things.

            This is a real issue, but in mainstream circles right now, the status quo is *massively* skewed toward environmental explanations, even to the point of more-or-less accusing school officials of covert racism to explain why black kids continue doing worse in schools than white kids–even in schools where most of the teachers and administrators are black.

          • albatross11 says:

            One possibility w.r.t. mutational load: There’s a common pattern of nomadic herders sweeping in and conquering the hell out of farmers. One possibility is that life’s harder as nomadic herders, so the herders are tougher thanks to both biological and social evolution. Though another possibility is that most of the selection happening to the farmers involves disease, rather than strength/size/fearlessness.

        • Murphy says:

          As someone in genetics: there’s plenty of interesting and real stuff… but I roll my eyes when people try to genetics-ify their existing beliefs without much reference to what’s actually real.

          Being in genetics is like being in a room with a load of people who keep saying things like “holy shit! Holy shit! this tribe here have a mutation that make them immune to this whole range of nasty diseases but it also interacts with this thing that affects height and that’s why they’re super-short! How awesome is that!”

          https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/2010-12-09

          But there’s 2 rooms adjacent to ours.

          In one of those rooms there’s a load of people wearing swastika armbands shouting stuff about genetics that has basically no relationship with what we’re actually studying…. and in the other room there’s a group of horrible people who keep screaming that we’re evil because of what the swastika armbands guys are saying and their goal seems to be to wipe us out to spite the swastika armband people.

          • Eponymous says:

            While I agree that there are people with swastika arm bands, so to speak, there are also a lot of people genuinely interested in following the evidence and understanding the societal implications of population genetics.

            Setting aside the most inflammatory subjects (race/gender): there is simply the question of heritability of individual cognitive differences (IQ, but also things like conscientiousness, propensity to addiction, criminality, etc), and how this interacts with various social outcomes, class, income inequality, etc.

          • albatross11 says:

            Those two other rooms are the ones who are loud and get a lot of attention. There are also a lot of people who are neither Nazis nor SJWs who just want to learn the cool stuff the geneticists are working out. But we don’t make a lot of noise, so it’s easy to miss us.

    • SamChevre says:

      Interestingly, this discussion highlights how diverse “African” is. The long-distance running sports are incredibly dominated by East Africans–mostly Kenyans.

      I would not be surprised by youth participation explaining more than you might expect in American sports, though. Football and basketball are much more relatively important in the black community; not that whites don’t play, but a white kid is more likely to think that soccer and baseball are also plausible options than an African-American kid (source: my nephew is African-American, in a mixed-race school)–and being good at soccer and at football/basketball aren’t compatible.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I would be interested in discussing it, but the number of potential con-founders makes it really difficult to come to any kind of conclusion.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      While I think a biological explanation likely, my understanding is that every particular proposed biological explanation has been shot down, including this one. Probably one should fix a biological explanation before looking for genes. Also, single gene explanations are pretty unlikely.

    • Eponymous says:

      It’s definitely a bit taboo to discuss, not because the thing itself is the least bit controversial (I think just about everyone believes it), but because of the implications: if a difference in one area is granted, then what about other areas?

      I think most people who can see past the end of their own noses, and have not lead extraordinarily sheltered lives, believe it. It’s nearly impossible to miss, particularly growing up in a diverse neighborhood. I remember black kids doing back flips and handsprings on the playground, whereas basically no white kids could do that. And then there was gym class.

    • Atlas says:

      I’m not sure how good it is/how well it holds up, but a journalist, Jon Entine, wrote a book about this a couple decades ago. See also this Steve Sailer review of another book tangentially discussing these issues.

    • mc_dark says:

      African Americans are 13% of the US population and make up about 68% of the NFL and 74% of the NBA

      That’s absolutely not universal among sports. Looking at the other two sports in America’s Big Four, Major League Baseball was “only” ~proportional through the 90s and has since dropped to just 6% of players, and for Hockey… well just check the length of Wikipedia’s Black NHL Players list. Outside of the Big Four, black Americans are underrepresented in stuff like soccer and marathon running (page 9). Some like hockey have obvious economic explanations (renting ice rinks ain’t cheap) and you could argue baseball has a fundamentally different skillset (ehh). But it’s hard to see how a huge genetic advantage that equally manifests in football and basketball somehow doesn’t help out in soccer, even if it’s a lesser multiple.

      In general, beware these types of racial post hoc justifications, there are skulls everywhere. Basketball was pretty Jewish dominated through the 1940s, and folks had some *cough* interesting theories as to why.

      In his 1938 book A Farewell to Sport, sportswriter Paul Gallico clearly distinguished Jews and other white athletes when he wrote “basketball appeals to the Hebrew with his oriental background [because] the game places a premium on an alert scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging, and general smart aleckness.” “

      (I can’t find it, but I swore I read a historical analysis that opined shortness was a basketball advantage!)

      Now the 1930s basketball circuit wasn’t a perfectly competitive environment, but you can see how easy it is to apply preexisting stereotypes in a hilariously incorrect manner if you’re not careful.

      • Tarpitz says:

        (American) football and basketball place higher premiums on anaerobic athleticism relative to the other sports named. Look at the positional breakdown in the NFL: lots of white quarterbacks and offensive linemen; zero white corners and very few white running backs.

        And the soccer thing is unique to the US and presumably the product of other even more athletically demanding sports being more lucrative for young Americans. In England, black English people are hugely over-represented in professional soccer: black people are something like 5% of the English population but 50% of last year’s World Cup squad, and in France the trend is even more apparent. And again, disproportionately strikers, wingers and fullbacks – the positions where speed matters more – and rarely goalkeepers.

        Or look at cricket: why are so many of the best fast bowlers in history from a few tiny, broke islands in the Carribbean, and so few from India?

        • baconbits9 says:

          What % of those World Cup players are basically nationalized citizens so that they can then play on the team for England? European teams have been importing players from other countries for a long time, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to have a continent of 1.2 billion dominate a team for a country with 60-70 million people. This is not the case so much for the US.

          • sohois says:

            Raheem Sterling is the only England football player that wasn’t born in England from recent call ups. He moved to the country when he was 5 from Jamaica.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            Many more players have switched away from England to another nation than the other way around, actually.

            Furthermore, if you look at the players that switched, none of them became good players before they lived in England, who can be said to have been poached. They were all either born in England or migrated there before they became top tier players or even started playing.

            It’s absolutely not true that a significant number of African players change their nationality to play for European teams.

            The typical non-white soccer player in a European national team is either a migrant who came at a young age or descended from migrants. In both cases, they were raised and given soccer training in the country that they play for.

            It is also quite common for such migrants or descendants from migrants to choose to play for the country were they or their parents were born, but where they themselves were not raised. I think that a better case can be made that non-European countries poach players that were turned into good players in Europe, than vice versa.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It’s absolutely not true that a significant number of African players change their nationality to play for European teams.

            My comment was hastily written, and I was mentally meshing a few concepts.

            Broadly there have been a large number of non Europeans who have played in the European soccer leagues, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a disproportionate number of former professional soccer players who had children as citizens of those countries, or that people with soccer talent were emigrating to these countries to give their kids a better shot at developing talent.

            The main difference I wanted to highlight is that in the US the split is heavily between groups that have both been in the US for multiple generations and doesn’t come from the type of selection bias that could (not definitely is) be at work with something like the English National Team.

          • paulharvey165 says:

            For a player to compete for a national team there are many hoops to jump through to prevent exactly that. European professional clubs do import players, but national teams do not. Most of the players on European national teams were born in the country they play for.

            Now many of those players are also eligible to play for another country through their parents. For example, Kyle Walker was born in Sheffield but could have played for Jamaica. He chose England instead.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            Quite a few African players return to their native country. For example, George Weah is one of the greatest African players & he returned to Liberia after retiring. He is now President of Liberia.

            Nwankwo Kanu similarly went back to his home country and also wants to run for President.

            Others do stay and their children do have a greater chance to become a player for the national team, but this seems to have very small, if any, impact on the current national teams. Perhaps this will change in the future.

        • paulharvey165 says:

          You can zoom in even closer when it comes to soccer in the UK; a huge number of the top players are coming from tiny parts of the country. For example, in 2016 5% of the English players in the Premier League came from Croyden, a London suburb with just .6% of the UK’s total population.

          There’s clearly a combination of factors that goes into creating great athletes. I don’t see why genetics couldn’t be a part of it. That said, imagine there was a neighborhood of kids who played flute all day for fun, were surrounded by flute experts, and based their social lives primarily around the flute. If these kids grew up and became massively over represented in professional flute players no one would blink an eye, much less suggest an ethnic advantage to flute playing.

          The over representation of certain ethnicities in certain disciplines may have more to do with the makeup of the “hotbeds” of those disciplines that any inherent genetic advantage.

          • DeWitt says:

            In 2014, 9 out of 23 players of the Dutch national team went to the same high school.

            For reference, football is the most popular sport over here by a wide margin, and the country has about 17 million people. For 40% of top-tier players to be from the same school* very likely means there is a lot you can do with culture and environment that sheer genetics won’t capture.

            *It’s not a school full of black kids either, before you ask.

          • acymetric says:

            @DeWitt

            Is there anything about the school that would draw in elite soccer talent (in other words, would all of those players have attended that school if they didn’t play soccer at a high level)?

            In the US, a lot of elite basketball players attend the same high schools, because those high schools are really basketball academies.

          • Tarpitz says:

            So… a school that is explicitly intended for elite sportspeople, to which one of the country’s three biggest soccer clubs (Feyenoord) presumably pushes its youth team players, produces a lot of professional soccer players? What on earth is that supposed to prove?

          • DeWitt says:

            Is there anything about the school that would draw in elite soccer talent (in other words, would all of those players have attended that school if they didn’t play soccer at a high level)?

            In the US, a lot of elite basketball players attend the same high schools, because those high schools are really basketball academies.

            Yes, and this is much less common over here than it is in the US. About five percent of Dutch people live in or near Rotterdam; when about forty percent of the national team is from the same school, it’s solid proof that environment does a lot to determine athletic success.

            What on earth is that supposed to prove?

            See the response above; if sports were determined very genetically, you’d not expect environment to have so outsized of an effect.

          • Aapje says:

            @DeWitt

            The causality is mostly the inverse of what you argue.

            The Rotterdam-based Feyenoord Academy is the best Dutch youth academy for soccer players. So many of the most talented Dutch youths end up at the academy and often move to Rotterdam to be close to the academy.

            Thorbecke Vo is the largest top sports-oriented high school of The Netherlands and is also in Rotterdam. They structure their education to be maximally compatible with the demands of top sports. In fact, Feyenoord Academy and Thorbecke Vo cooperate since 1995. For example, Thorbecke gives lessons at the Feyenoord Academy location, so kids don’t have to travel as much.

            So kids who want to succeed at the Feyenoord Academy tend to end up getting their schooling from Thorbecke Vo. It’s not that Thorbecke takes in random kids and turns them into great talents. The great talents come to Thorbecke.

          • paulharvey165 says:

            In regards to the Thorbecke Vo discussion, I think that it shows that sports success has less to do with genetic factors and more to do with environmental factors. For so many players to come from one place makes sense; it concentrates talent and training and naturally produces far better players. Look at the Dutch national team.

            In their starting 11 in their last match against Germany they had quite a bit of diversity. 5 of the starting 11 had no other nationality besides Dutch; they are tall, white, and blond, the traditional Dutch phenotype. Four players had Surinamese heritage; all of them would not be considered white if you saw them on the street. One had Aruban heritage, and another Ghanaian. So which of those ethnicities has the best advantage when it comes to sports?

            In the end, athletic performance depends on the inherent abilities of the participant (which seems to be fairly evenly distributed) and the quality of the development (which is definitely not). The quality of development is higher in areas with significantly more interest, and that interest can be specific to a particular culture. That leads to over representation of some cultures in some sports.

          • Incurian says:

            100% of humans on the moon were astronauts, proving the moon generates astronauts.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Incurian

            Incentives matter. Without the moon, there would be no astronauts on the moon. Therefore there is a causal link between the two. ObvIuOSly.

          • Aapje says:

            @paulharvey165

            Sports differ. Some are extremely dependent on raw physical ability, while others, like soccer, are far more dependent on skills.

            It seems likely to me that skills are far less dependent on genetics than specific raw physical abilities. In one location, finding food might require sprinting and in another, long distance running, but I expect that in all places, fine motor skills were important.

          • DeWitt says:

            Do people actually move to attend Thorbecke? We’re talking about kids aged 12-17 here. How common of a phenomenon is this? Of the whole nine out of 23 statistic, how many moved to attend it?

          • Lambert says:

            It’s probably not as much of a deal to move there, considering the whole of the Netherlands is within 2.5 hours’ drive of Rotterdam.

          • acymetric says:

            In the USA, some top high school talent moves hundreds or thousands of miles to attend a different high school for sports related reasons (I know of at least 2 examples of Indiana to North Carolina off the top of my head, but there are tons of other examples). Obviously that doesn’t mean the practice is common elsewhere, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it were.

          • Aapje says:

            @DeWitt

            De Guzman migrated from Canada to Europe specifically to get the best soccer education, at the age of 12. His parents followed him.

            I think that you severely underestimate how serious these kids tend to be about their chance at soccer glory and how much parents are willing to accommodate this.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        If differences at the professional level are driven by interest early on you could compare representation from junior – highschool – post secondary levels. Not likely something anyone could or would have attempted in the 40s.

        I suspect in many cases they are, I just don’t think it fully explains the variation.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m concerned about the claim that we can localize this to ACTN3. Aren’t single-gene explanations for differences in complex traits usually wrong? Does any geneticist want to weigh in on how plausible that could be?

      • edmundgennings says:

        It would be very weird for a single gene to explain population wide differences in a complex trait that is beneficial in both environments. Baring bottlenecks, no population is going to have a very high percentage of a single purely deleterious mutation. Different populations that have different levels of selection for some trait will indeed have different levels of population wide mutations harmful to that trait. Natural selection will play whack a hole at different speeds depending on how important a trait is and so in populations where some trait is less important there will be more deleterious mutations in equilibrium. Given the universal premodern usefulness of speed, I strongly imagine that this is the result of different trade offs. This might simply be greater speed capacity results in slightly higher caloric needs or it might be something else. But if this were the case, especially in the long run one would expect a wide range of different genes to be responsible. Subsaharan African populations have a large number of different genes which play a role in their greater malarial resistance. In small populations over a short period of time a single gene can play a big role but it is implausible for large populations over a long period of time.

        • Eponymous says:

          I assume added muscle mass presents a pretty straightforward tradeoff between greater power output and caloric demands. Animals (and individuals) vary widely on this, so it seems likely there are many such variants in selective balance.

          Incidentally, more archaic hominids were substantially more robust than modern homo sapiens, and archaic homo sapiens were more robust than moderns, so this balance has shifted recently.

          Malaria resistance is an interesting comparison: there are presumably many genes, but we know of a few big ones, including sickle cell.

          Obviously big effect size mutations tend to be loss of function alleles. A variant that causes myostatin deficiency would be a natural candidate here. I believe such variants are known in animals (Bull whippets and Belgian Blue cattle), and have been reported in humans.

        • albatross11 says:

          +1 (though I’m not a geneticist, so add grains of salt to taste)

          My guess is that when you get through all the filters to find the people at the very top of the performance specs for human bodies, you’ll find a whole bunch of specific alleles that appear in most of them, each adding a little bit to the total effect of making them better at whatever they’re doing.

      • Eponymous says:

        Anecdotally, my mother in law took one of those consumer DNA tests, and they reported (among other things) that she had “a gene often found in elite athletes”. It’s quite possible it was ACTN3.

        This checks out: her father was a competitive bodybuilder, her niece was a statewide star track athlete, and my wife is very athletic.

        • Murphy says:

          It’s a pretty common allele. In north americans the allele frequency is about 57% for the non-sprinter version.

          So you’d expect about 30%-ish of the population to have 2 premature-stop copies of the gene, 20%-ish percent to have 2 non-mutant versions and about half the population to have one of each.

      • Murphy says:

        I’ll wade in.

        So it’s safe to say that it definitely doesn’t explain everything.

        Sampling from elite sprinters, there was an association: they were much less likely overall to carry 2 copies of the premature-stop ACTN3 mutation.

        but there were still a fair few elite sprinters who carried 2 copies of the mutation.

        If it was a major hindrance we wouldn’t expect to see that.

        Which implies it’s some kind of a disadvantage to have if you want to become an elite sprinter…. but it’s not the difference between being 5 foot 6 and wanting to get into the NBA vs being 7 foot.

        it’s more like the difference between being 6 foot 10 and wanting to get into the NBA vs being 7 foot.

        ie: it’s a real effect but people blow it all out of proportion in the popular press.

        https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/47/9/550.full.pdf?47%2F9%2F550=

        α-Actinin-3α-Actinin-3 is an actin-binding protein and a key component ofthe sarcomeric Z-line in skeletal muscle. Expression ofACTN3(at11q13.1) is limited to type II (ie, fast, mostly glycolytic) musclefibres which can generate more force at high velocity.Homozygosity for the common nonsense polymorphism R577X(rs1815739) in theACTN3gene results in deficiency ofACTN3ina large proportion of the global population.86Yanget al87exam-ined the R577X genotype frequencies in three African populations(Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia) in comparison with non-Africanpopulations (Europe, Asia and Australia). Extremely low 577XXgenotype frequencies were observed in Kenyan and Nigerian ath-letes versus controls (1% vs 1% and 0% vs 0%, respectively), andthey were much lower than in any other non-African populations,that is, frequency of the 577XX genotype of 18% in AustralianCaucasians, 10% in Aboriginal Australians, 18% in SpanishCaucasians and 25% in Japanese). These results also implied thattheACTN3deficiency was not a major influence on performancein African athletes. This polymorphism does not appear to resultin pathology, although it could alter muscle function.88–92Furthermore, a strong association has been reported between theACTN3R577X polymorphism and elite athletic performance inCaucasian populations.55 93–98The 577XX genotype was found at a lower frequency in eliteAustralian sprint/power athletes relative to controls,55and thisfinding was replicated in the Finnish,96Greek,97Israeli99andRussian athletes.94In particular, in a study of 429 elite whiteathletes from 14 different sporting disciplines and 436 controls,the sprint athlete group showed a higher frequency of the577RR genotype (50%) and a lower frequency of the 577RXgenotype (45%), compared with controls (30% and 52%,respectively), while the elite endurance athletes displayed ahigher frequency of the 577XX genotype (24%) than controls(18%)55; however, the sample sizes in the truly elite subgroupsare very small, and therefore, any conclusions drawn from themare prone to a high risk of type I error and should be treatedwith caution. Interestingly, MacArthuret al100developed anexcitingACTN3knockout (KO) mouse model in order to inves-tigate the mechanisms underlyingACTN3deficiency. Theseauthors found that the KO mice had similar musclefibre propor-tions as the wild type but reduced muscle mass, which appearedto be accounted for by the reducedfibre diameter of thefast-twitch muscle observed in KO mice.100In addition to altera-tions in musclefibre size, increased activity of muscle aerobicenzymes, longer muscle contracting time and shorter recoveryperiod from fatigue were attributed to the characteristics of theACTN3KO mouse. Thus, the phenotypes of theACTN3KOmouse mimic the gene association studies performed in humansand provide a plausible explanation for the reduced sprint/power capacity and improved endurance performance inhumans with theACTN3577XX genotype.

    • edmundgennings says:

      The olympics are an interesting example of ethnic variations. Many sports are near homogenous in terms of the ethnic origin of the top 40 contestants in a sport. But it is not the case that one ethnicity dominates all sports. Regardless of where they are from, all competitive sprinters are West African. While far less homogenous, swimming tends to be very disproportionately European. I think a majority of swimmers competing for African countries were of European ancestry.
      One population being even a tenth of a standard deviation better at something means that they will form a large majority at a high enough level.

  11. 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.

            Wikipedia:

            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)

  12. Atlas says:

    TE Lawrence on Syria, 1926 (from Seven Pillars of Wisdom):

    Time seemed to have proclaimed the impossibility of autonomous union for such a land. In history, Syria had been a corridor between sea and desert, joining Africa to Asia, Arabia to Europe. It had been a prize-ring, a vassal, of Anatolia, of Greece, of Rome, of Egypt, of Arabia, of Persia, of Mesopotamia. When given a momentary independence by the weakness of neighbours it had fiercely resolved into discordant northern, southern, eastern and western ‘kingdoms’ with the area at best of Yorkshire, at worst of Rutland; for if Syria was by nature a vassal country it was also by habit a country of tireless agitation and incessant revolt.

    • 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    Recommendations?

    • 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!”

  16. 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.

          edit:
          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.

  17. 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

        Indeed!

    • 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:

            @Nornagest:

            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:

            @Hoopyfreud:
            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:

            @Garrett

            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:

            @Garret

            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:

            @Hoopyfreud

            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:

            @Conrad

            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:

            @Lambert

            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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEqp3tN7muE

          • 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:

          No.

          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:

            @rlms

            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:

            @Aapje
            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.”)

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

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

          Carbon-free metalurgy is likely to be way way easier since they don’t need to use charcoal.

          https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264885948_Powder_Metallurgy_Manufacturing_of_Carbon-Free_Precipitation_Hardened_High_Speed_Steels

          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:

          https://keylitefenetredetoit.fr/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/sunlite-flexi-product.jpg

          https://buildingsfieldtest.nrel.gov/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/tubular%20daylighting.JPG?itok=Tgye5keP

          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:

            https://inhabitat.com/the-solar-powered-sinter-3d-printer-turns-desert-sand-into-glass/

    • 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 (https://www.reddit.com/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 pyrebound.wordpress.com (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 https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Translation-Margaret-Ball/dp/0671876880— 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.

  20. 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:

        Hi

        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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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:

            @bullseye

            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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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:

        THE TRADITION OF LEGAL SYSTEMS WITHOUT THE OATH

        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:

            @Deiseach:

            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:

            erenold,

            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:

            erenold,

            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).

  27. 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?)

      6.
      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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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 R