OT128: Opentos Thread

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

1. Comments of the week: scchm presents an apparently original theory that buspirone works on D4 receptors (but see the whole thread, including my comments). And Murphy gives some pointers for determining when to believe claims of large effects from single genes.

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

765 Responses to OT128: Opentos Thread

  1. scottmauldin says:

    Any recommendations for a short (<250pgs) history of Denmark? I'm visiting Copenhagen in a couple of weeks and would like some depth and background for my travels there.

    • troof says:

      Same request for Singapore ! Besides history, any recommandations for a better understanding of present Singapore would be appreciated.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Any particular aspect of the history you’re interested in? Vikings? Bog bodies? Maritime trade and shipping?

      I don’t have any books to recommend, but I do have a museum recommendation for while you’re there: the Viking ship museum in Roskilde. It is only half an hour from Copenhagen by train and it has a few well-preserved longships that were recovered from the bottom of the fjord there, along with modern reconstructions (which you can join a short excursion on) and some interpretive displays. The Maritime museum in Helsingor is also easily reached from Copenhagen by train if you want to see some exhibits and artifacts about more recent seafaring (past ~200 years).

      If these are aspects of the Danish history you’re interested in, these museums are worth seeing, imo.

  2. johan_larson says:

    You are a life coach and your latest client is a young man on a mission. He is blessed with all the favors fortune may bestow: he is young, healthy, athletic, good-looking, charming, persuasive, clever, diligent, highly educated, wealthy, well-connected, and a citizen of a major first-world nation. He is also deeply committed to the ideals of the Fascist movement as it was in the late 30s and early 40s, with a few edits to accommodate what happened shortly thereafter. Your client wishes to live according to his ideals and to give the world a good hard shove in their direction. How will you advise him to do so?

    • IdleKing says:

      So, um, what are the “few edits”?

      My conscience would not let me give good-faith advice to a fascist, but if you were to ask how to give deliberately-bad advice to sabotage his project, I’d happily discuss that.

      • HomarusSimpson says:

        To play devil’s advocate, if it had said “He is also deeply committed to the ideals of the Communist movement as it was in the late 30s and early 40s” would you’re answer be any different? If so why. If this were 1950 (full Mccarthyite era, different orthodoxy to today) would your answer be different? If we judge it purely on quantity of deaths the communists were far worse than the Fascists.

        Disclosure, I am neither.

        • acymetric says:

          I’m pretty sure this is why others have suggested this is too CW for the non-CW thread.

          • Watchman says:

            I’d suggest this is not CW, not least because I don’t think anyone here involved in such thing self-identifies as fascist. The communism versus fascist race to the bottom might be a CW issue, but I suspect most commentators (including a lot of communists) would regard both Nazism and Stalinism as seriously wrong, so the question of which is worse is unlikely to attract a heated argument.

          • Deiseach says:

            Agreeing with acymetric, once we start arguing about which pile of skulls was higher, the pile piled up by Communism or the one piled up by Fascism, then we are definitely into Culture War territory.

            Disclosure: it’s a freakin’ pile of skulls, qualitatively it doesn’t make a difference if it’s ten or ten thousand, when you start piling up skulls This Is Bad and Bad Whoever Does It.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’d suggest this is not CW, not least because I don’t think anyone here involved in such thing self-identifies as fascist.

            Doesn’t matter. Too much temptation to sneak in a dig at the other side.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Disclosure: it’s a freakin’ pile of skulls, qualitatively it doesn’t make a difference if it’s ten or ten thousand, when you start piling up skulls This Is Bad and Bad Whoever Does It.

            Gonna have qualms with that next hidden OT, if I remember…
            (As the earlier Maistre would say, even the true religion has piled up more than ten skulls.)

          • Watchman says:

            Doesn’t matter. Too much temptation to sneak in a dig at the other side.

            Apart from bad jokes from Aapje and myself no-one seems to have done this. Plus as a line of logic, can’t we close down just about any discussion if it might lead to the possibility of people taking a dig at those they disagree with politically? So far there’s been a lot of warning of culture warfare, and no sign of any actual conflict…

          • Nornagest says:

            Plus as a line of logic, can’t we close down just about any discussion if it might lead to the possibility of people taking a dig at those they disagree with politically?

            As long as by “we” you mean “the ineffable consensus of the commentariat”, sure. Nobody here except Scott has the power to close discussion down unilaterally.

            It’s true that in this case there hasn’t been much actual sparring, but it’s a little disingenuous to take that as evidence that it’s harmless when a bunch of people have specifically been trying to preempt that sort of sparring.

        • albatross11 says:

          It might be interesting to find out what his actual values are that lead him to support fascism in some form or other. Is he a blood-and-soil nationalist who is convinced by the arguments for centrally-planned economies by the socialists? Is he someone who believes maintaining order is much more important than freedom (“better a thousand years of tyranny than one night of anarchy”) and has constructed a notion of how government should work based on that? Is he convinced that racial groups are the fundamental unit by which people should or do organize and struggle, and he wants to make sure his ends up on top? Is he inclined toward conservatism but sees that his society’s existing order is simply unworkable and doesn’t make sense anymore, and is looking for a replacement order that makes more sense?

          I’d want to do the same with a dedicated Communist. I’m assuming that his political/social beliefs are more than just a team he’s committed to–they reflect some fundamental beliefs and values of his. And I’d try to tease those out.

          Centrally-planned economies were tried several times, and they didn’t work out well–something both fascists and communists might want to know so they could find better ways to achieve their actual goals. Nazi Germany in particular demonstrated the many ways that having a strong figure at the top and a powerful state allows for the guy at the top to run the country into the ground–in this case, getting it into an unwinnable war on two fronts, alienating and driving away a big chunk of its top scientists, engineers, and industrialists because they’re the wrong ethnic group, etc. (By contrast, the fascist regimes in Spain and Chile didn’t look nearly so horrible, despite having their share of dead and tortured and jailed dissidents–it’s probably worth asking why.)

      • Jiro says:

        Giving advice that sabotages him is a norm I don’t want society to have; it has consequences far beyond just a couple of fascists, and we’ve already seen in our society that a norm of no-platforming fascists creates a superweapon that you can use to destroy anyone who you can get away with calling a fascist.

        So I’d be very careful about what I’d do. If he wants to fairly directly do something odious (how do I kill Jews), I’d refuse without sabotage. If it was something like “how do I protest in favor of fascism in a way that keeps me from getting fired or being arrested”, I might help him anyway. And if he genuinely wants to work through the system (get people to vote for a Constitutional amendment which says it’s okay to kill Jews), which would be very unlikely for an actual fascist, there’s no danger from him anyway unless fascism is so popular that we’re already screwed.

    • Nick says:

      I advise him to study very hard for his art school entrance exam.

    • Deiseach says:

      What kind of Fascism is he inclined towards? Is he, for example, a Falangist? And if so, pro- or anti-Franco?

    • The Nybbler says:

      This prompt is 2edgy4 the .00 thread.

    • Watchman says:

      Undertake an extensive training in marketing, as that’s going to be a very tough sell.

      Pity this isn’t a culture wars thread, as there’s a good Trump joke in there…

    • DinoNerd says:

      Looks to me like this should be on a CW thread.

    • Dack says:

      The easy technically correct answer would be “move to a fascist nation and assist them.”

      But since nationalism is a part of fascism, presumably the client would only be interested in fascizing wherever he is from.

      • Aapje says:

        The easy technically correct answer would be “move to a fascist nation and assist them.”

        But what if he’s already in the US?


      • albatross11 says:

        Is there any example of internationalist fascism?

        I mean, the Nazis were theoretically pan-Aryan, but I think that meant all the Aryans were supposed to end up taking orders from Germany. And a lot of anti-Communist movements involved fascists in different countries working together. For that matter, the Nazis and Italian fascists supported Franco in the Spanish civil war.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Petain’s “National Revolution”? They were happy to work together with Nazis but still (sincerely, AFAIK) insisted on maintaining French honor and as much independence as the Nazis would let them.

        • rlms says:

          Modern white nationalists tend to be (unrooted cosmopolitan) globalists.

    • cassander says:

      Accept that, like almost everyone else, you have effectively zero ability to alter the politics of your nation and move on.

    • LadyJane says:

      There is no scenario in which I’d be willing to give him earnest advice on how to move society in a more Fascist direction. My ethical opposition to Fascism is strong enough to outweigh any sense of obligation I would have towards paying clients.

      Of course, the truly ethical course of action would be to refuse him as a client so I’m not taking his money in the first place, but this scenario seems to presuppose that I already took him on board, or that I don’t get a personal choice in the matter. In which case, I would first try to persuade him to abandon his Fascist beliefs, and failing that, give him deliberately bad advice to sabotage his political aims.

      • Clutzy says:

        What if you are convinced that Fascism is rising with or without you, and you are likely to be this person’s only advisor with your worldview?

        • LadyJane says:

          In that case I’d try to steer him more toward Fascism in the sense of “egalitarian but harshly meritocratic totalitarian utilitarianism rooted in secular civic nationalism” and away from Fascism in the sense of “radical militaristic authoritarian traditionalism rooted in religious fundamentalism and/or ethno-nationalism.” If I’m going to be stuck with a Fascist dictatorship no matter what, I can at least push for a form of Fascism that’s fairly tolerant of racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual/gender minorities. At that point it’s just harm reduction.

          Of course, that’s a rather different scenario than the original one.

          • Clutzy says:

            I only posed the question, because I assumed that addendum in the original. If it wasn’t, the original isn’t really all that interesting.

          • johan_larson says:

            What do we want?

            Egalitarian but harshly meritocratic totalitarian utilitarianism rooted in secular civic nationalism!

            When do we want it?


            Needs a pithier slogan.

          • albatross11 says:


            In that case, you’re shooting for harm reduction, right? You’re trying to reroute his fascist dictatorship into a muscular version of Lee Kwan Yoo’s Singapore. Convince him that his fascist goals don’t need torture chambers and secret police–ordinary jails and police and courts along with laws about undermining public order / libeling the state will do. Convince him (using Singapore as an example) that honest independent courts are worth the annoyance that sometimes judges will overrule the bossman’s orders, because they bring in so much more business and reduce corruption so much. Ideally, sell him on the idea of his fascist state as a caretaker until conditions for more freedom and democracy can be reestablished, using Franco and Pinochet as examples. (Also maybe Taiwan and South Korea.) Talk up the PR advantages of using exile over execution, financial incentives over coercion, and allowing some level of local democratic leadership within limits.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Albatross11: That actually reminds me of a conversation I was having with my girlfriend a few weeks back. She was saying that fascism could actually be a desirable form of government under the right circumstances, if 1.) it was inclusive towards all of a nation’s peoples, and didn’t try to subjugate or exterminate certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups, 2.) it was a temporary form of government designed to restore order during a period of crisis, and would give way to a more democratic system once that crisis was over, and 3.) the person or people in charge were unwilling to abuse their power for personal gain, and willing to step down when it was time to restore democracy. She brought up South Korea under Park and Turkey under Ataturk as her main examples; Chile under Pinochet, Spain under Franco, and Portugal under Salazar are also good examples, as is modern Singapore. (I’m not that familiar with Taiwan’s history, I imagine the situation was similar to South Korea’s?)

          • cassander says:

            @LadyJane says:

            Fascism as practiced by people who called themselves fascist was always explicitly anti-capitalist. Modern Singapore, Pinochet’s Chile, and Park’s Korea were not fascist in any meaningful sense of the word. They were right wing and authoritarian, sure, but that fascism means a lot more than that.

          • Nornagest says:

            If the government of modern Singapore intends to transition to a more liberal system once some ill-defined crisis is over, it’s news to me.

            That’s not to say it’s a bad system, only that it doesn’t meet those criteria.

      • johan_larson says:

        I guess there are two ways to go about this earnestly. One is to try to make this fellow harmless, probably by giving him enough rope to hang himself. Even very capable people are pretty harmless if they’re in prison for twenty years.

        The other approach is to find a way for him to be useful, focusing on goals and views that the rest of us also hold.

        To that end, what are the parts of Fascism that the rest of us can live with? Plenty of us are ok with the nationalism, right? “I love my people and my country. I will act in their interests come what may, in good times and in bad,” is a pretty innocuous, even noble, statement to many of us. Fascists tend to have pretty traditional notions of man- and woman-hood, like contemporary conservatives. But they are pretty darn sex-positive, like modern liberals. They are also fond of public works and tend to be concerned about the plight of the bottom tiers of their societies, namely common workers, farmers, miners, and soldiers. Those parts go just fine with Great Society liberals.

        I’m not sure what this adds up to. But maybe there is some area of life where we can put up with a capable Fascist. CEOs of big companies can get away with being plenty autocratic, and as long as they are successful, we tend to be ok with it. Maybe this guy would be content to be the next Larry Ellison.

        • albatross11 says:

          OTOH, an explicitly fascist billionaire in control of a powerful company isn’t an obviously safe outcome, either.

    • sharper13 says:

      Caveat: This may sound a little flippant and CW-ish at the start, but it’s a serious attempt to answer the question.

      The advice I’d give would be to join the Democratic Party (or their country’s local equiv. left-leaning PC/pro-victim/environmental Party) and work toward creating relationships in the Party to the end of being elected at least a Governor or Senator, which should be doable given their provided background.

      These parties currently tend to be more Internationalist-focused than Nationalist-focused, but they fit the fascist agenda quite well otherwise, especially if you stipulate focusing on what someone who grew up as “highly educated, wealthy, well-connected” would consider the “good” parts. There is a decent chance that if more Nationalist groups continue their recent streak of governmental wins around the world, his Internationalist Party will take a turn in a more Nationalist direction to compensate and regain power, which he’ll be perfectly positioned at that point as a prominent member to take charge of, getting them fully back to fascism and in power.

      It’s a bit of a long shot, but but may be the best shot.

      BTW, personally I object to the Nationalist anti-immigrant, pro-trade barriers, etc… tendencies as well as the other fascist-which-are-rooted-in-socialist tendencies, so this wouldn’t be a course I would personally pursue nor actually advise someone else to pursue.

      • LadyJane says:

        What makes you consider the Democratic Party more fascist than the Republican Party? Or the American Nazi Party, for that matter? In the latter case, I suppose there’s a very strong argument to be made that they have absolutely no chance of electoral success, but what makes the Dems better than the GOP for the purposes of this hypothetical Fascist’s goals?

        • sharper13 says:

          Ignore the media labels, instead look at the actual policies. Without getting too culture-war-y, the fascists were nationalists who came out of socialist groups. Read their platforms. Economically, at present they’d be allied with the extreme left in most countries. They and the Communists hated each other over whether the Nationalists or the Internationalists were going to be in charge, but their proposed economic platform was very similar in terms of government control of the economy “for the people”.

          So the current GOP is better suited just from a Nationalist perspective, but it still has a relatively large free market libertarian wing which is already throwing a fit opposed to the Nationalist side. If the GOP swings somewhere, it’ll be anti-Trump on those issues and back to a conservative or libertarian direction. There are already plenty of Republicans who make noises in that direction.

          The current Dems are happy to have the government regulating, subsidizing, controlling entire industries, as many as they can grab, so our theoretical fascist would just have to make the case that they need to tilt more National than International than they currently do. With the Party history (progressives, pro-tariffs, pro-union, for example), it’s easier to see them doing that and amping up the societal interference in response to recent electoral trends than to see the GOP abandoning free markets and small government, at least in name (we know many of the leaders aren’t actually there, but the rank-and-file Party is).

          As for other Parties, yeah, I discount them in the U.S. as a route to power at all. The route here is to influence one of the existing two Parties in your direction, or at least split one with the majority ending up on your side.

        • Clutzy says:

          what makes the Dems better than the GOP for the purposes of this hypothetical Fascist’s goals?

          This is probably the key. You have media cover to implement the majority of your agenda until you start the process of cracking down on dissent, also you have ideological cover for your positions on centralized economic planning and gun control.

          The Republican politician often has fascist instincts, but he has extreme trouble succeeding because of these forces. FDR, on the other hand, did a Mussolini impression for 12 years. He was only held back by SCOTUS and the American people. If he had been 25% better at persuasion, we probably would be living in a Fascist country right now.

          • SamChevre says:

            You have media cover to implement the majority of your agenda until you start the process of cracking down on dissent

            The media will be fine with cracking down on dissent–just make sure it isn’t dissent to things they care about. I’m not sure how to get them to change what they care about, but they have a reliable record in the US, presently, of not caring about crackdowns on dissent when the crackdowns are by liberals. (Which have been widespread and very effective.)

      • HeelBearCub says:


        This topic is bad CW and you should feel bad.

      • Watchman says:

        Wouldn’t work in Europe in the main, as there is no major Democratic Party equivalent in most cases. The left-wing parties are rooted in actual socialist theories (think Elizabeth Warren as a norm, not an out rider) and generally not those same theories that underlie fascism. I might not like these parties but they aren’t Fascist in any real sense, whereas some of the right-wing parties do have that worrying balance of nationalism and interventionalism, and what appears to a fairly hostile observer a general moral flexibility.

        And to be fair to the Democrats, shouldn’t we put them in the Federalist bracket (ironically considering the party’s early history) rather than the Fascist? Neither are necessarily ideal political positions, but one is a better term for US history and is not a playground insult too boot. Arguing that the Democrats Federalist alignment might open them up for Fascist influence would be a lot less contentious than arguing they are prone to fascism.

    • Plumber says:

      As I said to a young (well, younger than me) new employee who I strongly suspected of either having such tendencies or wanting to seem like he did “Keep that talk out of the public hallways and especially don’t be overheard by the DA’s and Public Defenders, you might get away with it in front of the cops, but lawyers and the general public will drop a dime on you and you’ll lose the job”.

      He was a good worker otherwise, and our boss sent him to the Emergency Call Center away from the public buildings, and then he transfered back to where he worked before he came to work for our department.

      Otherwise to the hypothetical question, tell them to read more history and assume they’ll grow out of it, or at least not bug me for awhile, these guys seem to want to share these ideas with me I guess because I “fit their demographic”, the last one to share that tyoe of musing then told one of our ex-soviet co-workers that “The plumber is a communist!”, which I’m not (except when I’m tired, grumpy and have had a lot of coffee), to which I responded: “Communism totally worked….

      ….for the Comanche, it’s only the French, and the Russians, and the Koreans, and the Chinese who get it wrong!”, which at least got a laugh from the old Russian.

      30 years ago it was young ladies who wanted to talk to me about Anarchism, 15 years ago it was old men and Marxism, and now it’s young men and Nationalism.

      Who and what next?

    • The obvious first question is what he means by “fascism.” Some commenters seem to assume it implies anti-semitism, which historically is not correct. As an economist, I think of fascism as government control of the means of production combined with at least nominal private ownership, but I wouldn’t assume that’s what he means.

      Once that question is answered, one obvious approach is to write, or encourage others to write, fiction that makes his version of fascism look attractive—the approach used by Shaw and Rand for promoting their political visions. A movie might be an alternative approach.

    • “Communism totally worked….

      ….for the Comanche,


      The Comanche were private property anarchists, although not libertarian ones.

      • Plumber says:


        Duly noted, if I ever repeat a similar joke I’ll substitute “Comanche” with “the Bushmen of the Kalahari” (or whomever you suggest, “The Shakers” is, alas, too obscure).

        Now I have a start for an “Anarchism totally worked” joke instead, but unfortunately I can’t plausibly include “the French” in it, which is a deficit in joke telling.

  3. Sortition says:

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to read or review my book of poetry, Almighty by Degrees.

    To everyone who hasn’t checked it out yet, consider giving it a look over. It’s accessible rhyming verse about astronomy, hope, love, and horror. Check out the eponymous poem in the description: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NHLXCDJ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=almighty+by+degrees&qid=1549636377&s=Kindle+Store&sr=1-1-catcorr

  4. guzey says:

    I got an Emergent Ventures grant to visit SF and Boston (SF around June 5-20, Boston around June 20-27). If you’re in one of those cities, I would love to meet up!

    Bonus points if you work (worked) in life sciences or/and find my essay on scientific patronage intriguing and/or enjoy my best of twitter newsletter 🙂

    • SamChevre says:

      I will probably be in Boston June 25.

      We also have a regular Western Mass meet-up, and could probably schedule one while you are in Boston if you wanted to come to one. (It’s a 2-hour drive if you have a car.)

  5. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    There’s a question I’ve been kicking around. Could it ever make sense to send a human expert on an interstellar space journey to an existing colony?

    Even if you assume travel near the speed of light, I can’t think of a situation where sending an expert could make sense. Possibly if there are much better experts and much better understanding of long term situations than we’ve got now.


    Some people in that discussion suggested sending an AI instead….

    ” Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.”
    –Andrew Tanenbaum, 1981

    So, does it make more sense to send AI out at light speed, or can you send it more efficiently and reliably on physical media?


    • sclmlw says:

      It might make sense to send a group of people to a small colony to improve genetic diversity. A small founder population could be augmented with this approach.

      Of course, this could also accidentally wipe everyone out with disease, like when Europeans first encountered the New World. You’d have to begin by selecting dinner populations with diverse HLA to keep from accidentally wing everyone out with visitors.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Diverse populations, I hope.

        Wouldn’t it make more sense to just send sperm?

        • Watchman says:

          Not if you have a shortage of genetic variation in your female population. And the sperm only technique sort of implies that female colonists would be required to breed, whilst sending fresh humans at least makes what might be a necessity appear more voluntary.

        • sclmlw says:

          Agreed, people aren’t machines. An engineering approach might be less well received.

          • sclmlw says:

            I basically reversed my opinion on this below. If it’s provided as a fertility option for couples having difficulty conceiving that’s a different story, and could be a really good idea. Easy way to send generically diverse populations given payload limitations.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Or just send digital DNA. It’s only around 3GB, including junk DNA.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Fair points about sperm only, though I don’t think it implies coerced reproduction for the women of the colony.

          It presumably would be easier to send frozen eggs and sperm than to send live people.

          Sending digital DNA might be good. I’m not sure what the odds are of people surviving but no longer having the tech to go from digital DNA to something they can use.

          • sclmlw says:

            I think the problem with digital is that it’s not the same as sending the DNA with all its acetylations, histone modifications, and other epigenetic information. Recording, then recreating all that is a huge undertaking, more than just synthesizing a few billion base pairs (also s huge undertaking).

            I could see sending sperm as a really good way to provide fertility options for colonists, while ensuring genetic diversity is periodically enriched. Since you’re sending only the sperm there’s no concern about disease spread through a small founder population, but you still get genetic diversity you’ll need for any colony ship.

            Assuming you’re sending enough resources to enable IVF, this should be an essential aspect of any interstellar colonial effort, I’d think.

    • bullseye says:

      It would make sense if:

      AI isn’t good enough. This seems unlikely to me because I think that we’ll probably have good AI before interstellar colonies.


      You have a reason to send a person, and that person also happens to be an expert. I don’t think that’s really what you’re asking, though. The reason could be genetic diversity, as sclmlw noted, or maybe they need a priest, or maybe the expert just wanted to go and space travel is cheap enough for that.

    • Jakub Łopuszański says:

      Perhaps it would make sense as a part of the expert’s training – after all to be an expert she might need experience. This is however very close to “expert wanted to go anyway”.

    • beleester says:

      If a problem will last more than 10 years or so, and it takes more than 10 years or so to train up to world-class in the relevant skills, then it’s possible for the closest colonies (Proxima Centauri is 4.2 ly away, so it takes about 9 years for them to ask for an expert and then get one on a near-lightspeed ship). Possibly some sort of slow-motion apocalypse, like “we fucked up the terraforming process and in about 20 years our planet’s atmosphere will become unliveable and we could really use a world-class geoengineering expert to fix things.”

      It could also be something non-urgent but simply out of reach for a colony that’s still establishing themselves. “There’s a Weird Space Anomaly near our planet and it looks really cool, but we don’t have a world-class particle physicist who can make sense of it. How about sending one with some lab equipment on the next ship?”

      Completely irreplaceable skills are also a possibility. If a 22nd-century Da Vinci wants to go paint landscapes on Alpha Centauri, well, you could ask one of the colony’s local artists to paint a landscape for you instead, but it won’t be a Da Vinci. A little contrived, but you could build a sci-fi novel around it.

    • toastengineer says:

      So, does it make more sense to send AI out at light speed, or can you send it more efficiently and reliably on physical media?

      This is actually a really simple question, assuming the number of bytes you can store on a starship full of disks is effectively unlimited: divide the size of your AI in bytes by the number of bytes you can radio in the time it takes the ship to get there. If the quotient is less than 1, send the ship, otherwise use the radio.

      That said, all our current communication technology relies on the ability to be able to say

      “Here is message #100. He&#^#essage^$%^$%^. Here is message #102. Here is message #103.”

      “I have successfully received message #100. I have successfully received message number #102. I hav$$%^@#%#$%#essage #103.”

      “Here is message #101 (again). Here is message #103 (again). Here is message #104…”

      and thereby speak absurdly fast because it doesn’t matter if you aren’t heard clearly.

      Interstellar radio might well end up having absurdly low baud, because if you’re 4.2 ly away, it takes the sender 4.2 years to realize you may not have gotten the message and 4.2 years to try again. You may well be better off taking 5 seconds to send each 1 and each 0 to be absolutely sure Proxima Centauri gets each one the first time. Error-tolerant encoding can save you from losing the whole message if one bit gets misread but then you have to send some two digit percent more bits in total to provide that safety net.

      But I bet people who know more than I do have more developed opinions on this.

      • actinide meta says:

        Erasure codes can handle an X% loss rate with (very little more than) X% overhead. Fountain codes are a neat variant that convert a list of k messages into an infinite stream of messages, such that any k messages from the stream can probably reconstruct the original k messages (and eg k+2 messages would do so with near certainty).

        I’m sure you could work out a variant where new messages can be added over time, and all excess capacity on the channel is used to maximum error correcting effect (focusing on the blocks least likely to have been received already). It would not surprise me if this, too, is already worked out.

    • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

      If we are talking realistically, without breaking the light barrier, it wouldn’t make sense to send anyone anywhere – they will never come back to report and benefit those whom they leave behind. The only beneficiaries of such a travel would be travellers themselves who will get to start a new life on a distant planet, so that all depends on whenever someone wishes to emigrate to a distant planet. I suppose depending on how much progress has happened on Earth between departures, it might benefit the colonists, but that’s hardly situation.

      I’ve got an impression that overwhelming share of sci-fi about human diaspora on distant planets tend to portrait Earth unfavourably.

    • Randy M says:

      You probably can’t get anywhere useful to be fast enough to matter.
      Assuming some breakthrough in interstellar travel, it’s still probably more efficient to send information–I’d say send an ai, but why wouldn’t the colony already have one/some?

      The most plausible situation where I’d send a person is requires:
      We don’t have instantaneous communications; sending a person isn’t much slower than sending data.
      A problem occurs in the colony that for some reason people off planet are better equipped to handle–maybe they don’t have a geneticist and there is an alien virus or something. And somehow it would be harder to train somebody to become competent than to send somebody, because travel is that implausibly fast.
      Solving the problem will require an investigation or study such that it can’t be fixed by “tech support” via a couple of messages. By the time communications go back and forth, it’ll be too late and longer than transit time.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Randy M: Assume a long view. The home planet is better off with thriving colonies, so reporting back isn’t the point.

    • Butlerian says:

      Advantages of physically sending a conscious agent (human or AI) rather than a message:

      * Colony is suffering from a complex problem which can’t just be answered in one data burst, it requires a long back-and-forth on-site of “Try A, get unexpected response B, try C, get response D…”. If spaceflight is cheap and fast, eventually it gets to the point where it’s more efficient to send a guy.

      Advantages of sending a human rather than an AI:

      * The problem is theologically, artistically, or qualia based
      * AI technology in this future advanced much more slowly than starship technology so there’s still no fully general AI and humans are genuinely smarter
      * The society has cultural mores which demand sending an aristocratic Noble
      * The society read Bostrom and has a strong “Thou shalt not create a machine in the image of the human mind” taboo

  6. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Series of Unsurprising Results in Economics

    “We publish scientifically important and carefully-executed studies with statistically insignificant or otherwise unsurprising results. Studies from all fields of Economics will be considered. SURE is an open-access journal and there are no submission charges.”

    • Kinrany says:

      Do they allow surprising results?

      • sclmlw says:

        I was wondering the same thing. Like if you couldn’t get published elsewhere is someone guarding submissions, saying “You can’t publish here. These cancer research results are both surprising and statistically significant!”

        And can you appeal that? “Actually, there’s no way this is biologically significant. Let me back in.”

      • HeelBearCub says:

        If the results are surprising other journals will publish. The issue this addresses, AFAIK, is not being able to publish results which aren’t in some way novel. This means there is a strong disincentive to replicate any previous research.

    • Watchman says:

      Looks like a good idea. I’d say all subject areas need something like this (from the point of view of someone wanting to do a paper stating that a river was not navigable until some sixteenth-century entrepreneurs made it so, just as the historical record says).

    • Argos says:

      Next up:

      All major journals have affirmative action quotas for boring results , replications and preregistrations.

      I actually think this would be a good thing.

      • albatross11 says:

        In particular, having at least one slot set aside in each issue for a preregistered replication, which will be accepted regardless of outcome as long as the research and final paper are of acceptable quality, seems really smart.

        • Aapje says:

          The downside with such things is that it can become a justification to treat it as an upper bound: “we got our mandatory boring paper, so we can fill the rest of the journal with p-hacked, exciting results!”

    • Jiro says:

      “Statistically insignificant” and “unsurprising” are vastly different things. “Unsurprising” is very useful if you’re replicating a result. “Statistically insignificant” is useless for most purposes, although you might do further research based on the result.

    • b_jonas says:

      Nice, but Scott’s “Meditations On Moloch” article (“https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/”), point 12, specifically says that such a journal can’t be stable.

  7. sclmlw says:

    What’s the future of cancer research? Anyone else going to ASCO ay the end of the month? Which presentations are you most interested in seeing?

  8. Jeremiah says:

    I do the SSC Podcast, and lately I’ve been thinking about the process of going back and recording older “classic” posts. At this point I’ve done the following:

    Meditations on Moloch
    Beware the Man of One Study
    I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup
    Book Review: Albion’s Seed

    That’s not a lot, and I feel I should do more, but also I don’t have a bunch of people hounding me for anything either. So my current system is to record an older episode if I know I’m going to be out of town, and then drop that while I’m out of town as a placatory gesture.

    I can continue to do this, or I could be more systematic (eg one a month). Or I could abandon the project entirely, and just focus on the new stuff. Also, if I did end up doing a lot of these it might be worth having a second feed.

    Finally, do people think it would be beneficial to have a link to the audio version of a post at the top or bottom of the actual post, particularly with the classics? This would obviously be entirely up to Scott, and thus far I haven’t brought it up because I figured if he thought it was a good idea he’d let me know, but as long as I’m soliciting feedback…

    You are also welcome to complain (or compliment) the podcast, but I already know I have a somewhat nasally voice, and that I could do more re-recordings to eliminate small errors, but I’m also at the point where each additional minute spent brings very tiny returns.

    • Sortition says:

      I personally find the project of recording the especially notable posts to be very desirable, and have sought out similar things in the past.

    • Yaleocon says:

      Some suggestions:

      How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes (if you want to include fiction)
      Cardiologists and Chinese Robbers
      Beware Isolated Demands for Rigor
      Reactionary Philosophy in a Nutshell and/or the Anti-Reactionary FAQ (although I’m not sure how you voice record a graph…)
      The Wonderful Thing about Triggers

    • Nameless337 says:

      I think the link would be a great idea. I’ve been reading this blog a couple of years now and this is the first I’ve heard of the podcast. I’ve had Siri read articles to me before. Obviously up to Scott though.

    • rootcanals says:


      (First time commenting)

      I discovered SSC 6 months ago and discovered your audio version shortly thereafter. I have been meaning to thank you for hard work in recording and putting out the podcast version. It is really excellent and has transformed my hour of daily driving into a really enjoyable time. Your voice is an acquired taste and I have grown to appreciate it.

      I have also been wondering if it would ever be feasible to have all the archives recorded as audio versions. I can imagine this is a ton of work for one person – have you ever thought about bringing another person on board to record? I, for one, think it would be great, as I have dream on catching up on all the archived posts, but am short on free reading time. Of course, if that’s not possible, than some best-hits from the archive would definitely be appreciated as well.

      Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

      +1 that having a link to the audio version would help spread the word.

      • Jeremiah says:

        “Acquired taste” that’s probably a good way to describe it. Thanks for the kind words. Doing all of the archives would truly be a massive project, but who knows, stranger things have happened…

    • aristides says:

      I never new about the SSC podcast, but I would love it if you continued doing the classics. My wife prefers auditory learning, so even when I link the articles to her, she rarely reads them. Hopefully if she listens while driving she will get more out of it.

  9. Keilone says:


    I am new to SSC and would be interested in simply knowing what these classic posts are.

  10. Moorlock says:

    I’m looking for advice about starting a peer-supported self improvement group, akin to the “rationality dojos” but with a broader focus: working on the intellectual virtues, but also the social (e.g. gratitude, tact, helpfulness) and temperamental virtues (e.g. courage, hope, serenity).

    We’re in the early stages of working out how to go about this and are toying with a bunch of possibly useful processes. If you know of any other examples of similar projects we might learn from, I’d love to hear.

    • Viliam says:

      I would recommend giving potential members some kind of homework, for example to prepare a report about yourself with examples of how you succeeded and failed in given virtues. Not only will the homework relate to your goals, but it will also filter out the people who only want to talk but not to do any actual work. You will be better without them.

      You should meet in person once in a while, or at least have a video conference. Typing takes a lot of time, and provides less bonding. You want people to feel that they are each other’s peer group. Otherwise your brain will treat the group activities less seriously. In addition to personal meetings, you can use some web tool to provide reports on your daily or weekly goals. But don’t talk too much on the web, otherwise you practice procrastination. Just give data.

      The classical method of developing virtues is to keep a log. Have a piece of paper with you all the time, and take notes when you succeeded and when you failed. To make it simple, make a calendar with two boxes for each day: put a line in one of them when you succeed, and in the other when you fail. To avoid too much paperwork, you should probably choose one virtue each week, and only focus on that.

      This will give you topics for your later meetings. You can debate about what is each specific virtue, or share experience about your own successes and failures at given virtue. You can share motivating quotes, etc.

      • Moorlock says:

        Sounds like we’re on similar pages… in this case, pages of Ben Franklin’s autobiography. (“Have a piece of paper with you all the time, and take notes when you succeeded and when you failed… choose one virtue each week, and only focus on that.”) Good ol’ Ben left us a nice record of how he went about acquiring and practicing his chosen set of virtues. Seemed to work for him, and his wisdom seems well-worth attending to. Thanks for your suggestion!

    • SamChevre says:

      I’d look closely at how religious groups do this, and how it works (and fails disastrously). This sort of practice/support group is very common in the Christian world (it may be in other religions too, but I do not know either way.)

      Here’s a UMC reference, and here’s one from the conservative Protestant world.

    • Blueberry pie says:

      Have you heard about “Encounter” or “T-Groups” – I have some very good experience with those https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-groups

    • Well... says:

      “AA but for ‘being a good person'”.

      I had a similar idea myself, for “staying off the internet except for email occasionally”. (I was going pretty good for 2 or 3 days there but now here I am…)

  11. Imagine you’re worldbuilding and you want your people to be slightly different from us in a way that’s noticeable but subtle. For example, maybe they have better vision than we do or they are slightly more prone to anger. What difference would you make?

    • Nick P. says:

      Sci-fi setting:

      They can conceptualize and understand more than three spacial dimensions.

      While everyone else uses computers to plot out FTL jump routes they can manually intuit them and navigate without computer assistance.

    • Furslid says:

      For being prone to anger. Have an incredibly polite society. Because people are prone to anger, they try to avoid provoking each other. Have news reports and rumors of occasional outbursts of violence, but have the provocations be small by our standards.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’ve never published a creative work, but as a DM I still do a fair amount of world-building and think about it a lot.

      My strong opinion is that you shouldn’t include alien species or fantasy races just for the sake of novelty or to satisfy genre conventions, they should be there because they’re serving some thematic or mechanical purpose. The same applies to making cosmetic alterations to existing species or races, like “my elves all have bark for skin.” Every chunk of setting information that your players need to keep track of effectively takes away one chunk of story or gameplay information.

      So I’d turn the question around: what kind of story is this, and why does it require people to be subtly different? Because if the answer is “it doesn’t,” then I would say not to write them that way.

      • It’s just a question. I don’t have a story in mind.

      • Kestrellius says:

        My strong opinion is that you shouldn’t include alien species or fantasy races just for the sake of novelty or to satisfy genre conventions, they should be there because they’re serving some thematic or mechanical purpose.

        Interesting. My opinion is the opposite: unless there’s a specific reason a story needs to be about humans, it should be about a carefully-crafted, thoroughly inhuman alien species.

        Yes, I’m serious. Although I don’t really hold anyone except myself to that standard, and even then my position has softened a bit over the years.

        • Nornagest says:

          I do like xenofiction, but it’s hard to do well, and it can’t help but funge against things like plot and characterization. Either one strikes me as a good enough reason not to do it in most cases.

          Watership Down is a classic, but it would be nothing special if it wasn’t about rabbits, and it would be very hard to write a more complex plot or deeper characters while keeping it about rabbits. Human readers have a hard enough time keeping track of basic rabbit psychology; you can’t expect them to understand its subtleties.

          • Kestrellius says:

            I do like xenofiction, but it’s hard to do well, and it can’t help but funge against things like plot and characterization. Either one strikes me as a good enough reason not to do it in most cases.

            I don’t know. I have found that the really really compelling emotional moments (by which I mostly mean crushing depression, and the release thereof) do crop more consistently in my non-xenofiction than in my xenofiction.

            There’s this effect that used to happen to me pretty regularly where I had a really hard time going back and editing my work because reading it is so depressing that I get concerned I’m going to start wanting to kill myself. Naturally I view this as a mark of quality, but it doesn’t tend to happen with xenofic. It’s still engaging, but it doesn’t quite have the horrible crushing realism of something that hits really close to home.

            Still, though — I think, in principle, we ought to be able to sympathize with anything that has a utility function. ISTM that’s the irreducible basis of conscious experience as we know it, and…intuitively, it seems like it should be sufficient.

            Beyond that, it’s just a matter of making it clear enough how all the stuff surrounding that utility function works. Which is…really difficult, obviously, but I tend to regard anything that looks like a limit on my creativity as a challenge, not a law.

          • albatross11 says:

            The best aliens in SF are different enough from humans to be plausible as aliens, but are also still intelligible. The spiders from _A Deepness in the Sky_ were intelligible, but it wasn’t clear how much of that came from the translators mapping their own nature onto them. The tines in _A Fire Upon the Deep_ and _The Children of the Sky_ also were intelligible but nonhuman in an interesting way. Cherryh has done a bunch of aliens like this (the Regul, Mri, Hani, Shstho, Kif, etc.) Asimov did a pretty good job with the aliens in _The Gods Themselves_.

      • Nick says:

        My strong opinion is that you shouldn’t include alien species or fantasy races just for the sake of novelty or to satisfy genre conventions, they should be there because they’re serving some thematic or mechanical purpose. The same applies to making cosmetic alterations to existing species or races, like “my elves all have bark for skin.” Every chunk of setting information that your players need to keep track of effectively takes away one chunk of story or gameplay information.

        Do you believe this about all fiction, or just pen and paper fiction where players have to keep these details in their heads? Maybe I’m misunderstanding you here, but I think fiction is almost always better off with more creativity on display, not less.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I first really noticed it while running tabletop RPGs but I feel like it applies to speculative fiction generally.

          I would also take issue with your implied definition of creativity. If I re-wrote King Lear but replaced all of the characters with intelligent spiders and made occasional nods to them being spiders when the characters did things like sit in chairs, would that be more creative than the original play? Everything compelling in the story would still come from Shakespeare; the only thing I’ve added is exposition about the kinds of chairs intelligent spiders might design. The change adds nothing, and so it’s worth nothing.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I disagree. Too much unrelated creativity can distract and confuse the audience. Would Julius Caesar have been improved if the plot of Romeo and Juliet was simultaneously interwoven with it? After all, it’d show off more of Shakespeare’s creativity! No, both plays are better as separate plays.

          Similarly, a good story about spider aliens won’t just be “a normal plot, but this time they’re spider aliens!” (Cf. TVTropes’ “Recycled IN SPACE!”) Rather, the plot should play off their alien natures, much like Watership Down does with rabbits’ rabbit-ness. If you have a normal story idea that’ll work perfectly fine with humans, tell it about humans, and put your spider aliens in a different story.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            My brain is fried from too much beer, too little sleep, and a terrible finale of a beloved series so this is going to be a dumb question:

            We didn’t independently settle on Shakespeare and spider people right? Because if we did I should delete my comment, yours is better written.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal, no, I saw your comment and albatross11’s upthread and decided to run with the example. Thanks for the praise, but I think we explain the point in two complementary ways.

    • Alan Crowe says:

      Polyembryony. Most people are identical triplets, or identical quadruplets. Its been like that since forever, so people have the psychology and sense of personal identity that goes with that. It shows up in grammar. Instead of having three pronouns (I, you, him) there are four (body-I, collective-I, you, him). The kin selection stuff really shows through, and people think of themselves as one person distributed around 3 or 4 bodies.

      The suggestion is not just to be weird. Rather, it attempts to flesh out the insight that the sense of self is an evolved instinct. http://www.hulver.com/scoop/story/2008/12/14/10333/990

      • albatross11 says:

        In the _Memory of Earth_ series, one of the species is always born as twins, and has something of this pattern. And _Glory Season_ is largely about a human society mostly made up of families of clones.

        • Randy M says:

          Beat me to it, although that goes beyond “like humans except for subtle difference” in that the species in question is descended from (probably) genetically engineered bats.

    • Mary says:

      What sort of a story is this the setting for? Pick the one most story relevant.

    • Brett says:

      I’d go with a more distinct “mating period” where they are fertile vs non-fertile. Noticeable difference, but not as obvious at first look as something like an extra sense or sharper eye-sight.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Harry Turtledove does this with the Race (aka Lizards) in his Worldwar series. On their homeworld, their society is set up for everything descending into chaos during mating season as people copulate in the street or fight over mates. The rest of the time, they are essentially asexual.

        Of course, once they get to Earth this all goes wrong…

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The Left Hand of Darkness has a more elaborate version of something like that.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      They don’t see red and do see some ultraviolet.

      They’re obligate carnivorous omnivores.

      They never invented singing. Words are spoken over vocals and/or instrumentals.

      They play card games on motorcycles.

      They’re roughly half as heavy (per volume).

      They don’t experience videos as continuous (and therefore find them mostly pointless)

      • Another Throw says:

        They don’t experience videos as continuous (and therefore find them mostly pointless)

        I’m not sure it is actually understood why we see motion instead of individual frames, but some ideas in this area are the flicker fusion threshold or persistence of vision more generally. There are a bunch of optical illusions like the wagon wheel effect that all play in the same general area.

        The flicker fusion threshold, the rate at which a blinking light appears continuous, is usually reported to be 60-90 Hz for humans. Most displays, like TV’s and movies, blink at rates in this range, even if the underlying video is recorded at a different rate. Movies, for example, tend to be recorded at 24 frames per second; when played, individual frames are blinked multiple times in order to exceed the flicker fusion threshold. However, when recorded at much less than 24 frames per second the motion is perceptibly jerky and no longer appears continuous.

        Crucially, different animals appear to have different flicker fusion rates. It would not be implausible to have an alien species, even a moderately humanoid one, to have a flicker fusion rate (or whatever maybe related process causes video frame fusion) higher than humans and therefore find our video pointless. Or even high enough that, even if they wanted to, the practical limitations in, e.g., bandwidth mean it isn’t worth the effort to make video.

        • JPNunez says:

          Maybe our video is useless to them, but then again maybe they make the universe’s more dizzying Powerpoint presentations.

    • Murphy says:

      I think it’s important to think about how it links into the rest of your worldbuilding because you’re telling a small story with whatever the difference is.

      Any difference you pick implies a history that led to that difference.

      they can all see UV? -> what the hell killed off all the people who couldn’t see UV

      all have an extreme phobia of the dark? -> ditto

      They can all think in 4D? What led to them needing that ability to survive?

      • fion says:

        they can all see UV? -> what the hell killed off all the people who couldn’t see UV

        Doesn’t this just imply that they evolved around a star that had a higher intensity of UV rays? Our eyes are pretty much adapted to the brightest part of our star’s spectrum.

        • Murphy says:

          There are plenty of earth creatures that can see UV light.

          Even the human eye can with some changes to the cornea. (people with artificial corneas can gain the ability to see UV , though it’s actually just triggering the closest receptors)

          But to get a species that can see UV it typically has to be doing something for them.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Everyone can breath water, but it’s not very useful since we’re still much better off on land where we can use fire and electronics etc.

      • If that’s the case, wouldn’t you still expect to find entire civilizations underwater? It would function like marginal land, where it’s not our first choice but something we can make a living out of. We don’t exactly thrive in the desert or the tundra and yet there are sophisticated cultures in both.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          What are they going to build stuff out of underwater?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Well, for starters they can make seashell bras.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That sounds like that would chafe.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Rock. Isn’t mortarless building a thing?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Sure. But assume you could breathe underwater. Would you want to live in some dark stone structure underwater, or would you rather live in your current home, with your heating and air and TV and computer and fewer sharks? So being able to breathe underwater wouldn’t really change your life much.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            There might be advantages to living underwater. One is that the good land is too expensive. Can it work to live underwater near bays?

            Maybe breathing water feels good. Maybe the temperature control is valuable compared to the variability you get o land.

            Maybe the beauty is worth it (think living in a coral reef) and there’s some way of shooing the sharks, etc. away.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      They can hold 10 +/- 5 chunks in mind rather than 7 +/- 3.

      This would definitely be a subtle difference, but I don’t know whether a human could write the story.

      Connective tissue that heals better.

      People generally stay healthy and women are able to reproduce for an extra 20 years.

      • Murphy says:

        tweeking reproductive ages can make for some interesting looks at social implications.

        Shift sexual maturity (but not other ages of growth and maturity) and you might get quite a different looking social structure.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      What difference would you make?

      Give them a HUD & UI to their own immediate biological / metabolic / glandular / emotional state.

      (Yes, I ripped this off directly from Egan’s “Quarantine”. I WANT IT, and I wish everyone else had it too.)

    • arbitraryvalue says:

      One scenario presented in a science-fiction computer game I played was an entire society (with a population in the billions) where everyone was a copy of the wealthy, eccentric genius who founded it. Not just a clone, but literally a copy with all the same memories that the original had when he started the society. The copies would diverge over time, but IIRC they couldn’t make new templates; if they wanted more individuals they had to make more based on the original template.

      The twist was that this worked out very well, or at least well enough that they were a playable faction in a 4X space game.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Imagine you’re worldbuilding and you want your people to be slightly different from us in a way that’s noticeable but subtle.

      I think I’d look at what we know of Neanderthal psychology. Those were actual humans who were enough like us to hold funerals and make clothes, but lacked other features of behavioral modernity like wearing jewelry and apparently had weaker gender roles (women hunted).

    • honoredb says:

      They instinctively use their sense of smell more and sight a little less, and that makes them slightly more prone (the way I think dogs are) to perceiving things as continuous distributions rather than discrete objects. This makes them more prone to certain fallacies, like getting hung up on a place where something valuable used to be but isn’t anymore, and less prone to purity-mindset type thinking.

    • Aapje says:

      Average IQ is 120.

      • Plumber says:

        It’s been decades since I read it but Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave had both humans and animals intelligence increase, IIRC it was a good read.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I read it last year. Anderson had a very engaging idea with good worldbuilding, but the story was lacking. The characters are two-dimensional at best, and there’s no conflict besides their internally trying to make sense of things – which isn’t framed that engagingly.

          Someone should try to tell the story better, I think.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          There’s a solution to the humans being the only superintelligent species in the galaxy. Use suspended animation and wait until more superintelligent species show up.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            I vaguely recall a sci-fi story where humanity went exploring and found only ruins of past civilizations. They explored the ruins, translated the language, and learned that intelligent species show up rarely enough that every species finds itself alone in the universe, gets bored with it, and heads out to go into suspended animation around a black hole until the universe is more populated.

            It ends on the note that humanity will probably join them. I don’t remember why they didn’t just come back out after 3-4 more species showed up.

          • albatross11 says:

            In _A Fire Upon the Deep_ Vinge had the zones of thought–it was possible to travel into a region of space in which organic brains were less and less capable of functioning, and eventually were unable to sustain any kind of meaningful thought. As your ramscoop travels closer and closer to the center of the galaxy, your crew transitions from being bright humans to being about as bright as a chimpanzee.

          • John Schilling says:

            Use suspended animation and wait

            Why wait?

            It ends on the note that humanity will probably join them.

            I would prefer to imagine that humanity will populate the galaxy and maybe the universe with a diversity of interesting friends and maybe even some interesting enemies, then decide that the lazy bums who didn’t want to do any of the work but enjoy the benefits anyway can go right on suspending their animation.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            In Brain Wave, species naturally evolve to an average intelligence of 100 IQ.

            There’s a sharp-edged beam coming out of the center of the galaxy(?) which suppresses some chemical interactions enough to lower intelligence. If the beam hits at the right time, species evolve brains which will be more capable when they get past the beam.

            Remembering a bit more of the book, the beam can be recreated artificially, so superintelligent species can be created, but you’d still want suspended animation to wait for it to work.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            @John Schilling:

            I would prefer to imagine that humanity will populate the galaxy and maybe the universe with a diversity of interesting friends and maybe even some interesting enemies, then decide that the lazy bums who didn’t want to do any of the work but enjoy the benefits anyway can go right on suspending their animation.

            I think the idea was you do all that, go through all the fun variations on it, and then it’s still an absurd amount of time before the next intelligent species shows up. So then you head to the black hole to wait. Sort of like a Culture civilization Subliming, except presumably faster since the Culture universe is way more interesting than the lonely one.

            Seems like “build your own species” would be a good way to solve that though. I’m not sure it was a particularly clever book.

  12. Nav says:

    Been doing research on nicotine. Came across some surprising results in regards to its effects on sleep and its antidepressant properties, in particular the results I cited here. Wondering: has anyone done their own research or have thoughts to share?

  13. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Video gamers: do you know of any other games like Fire Emblem: Awakening and FE: Fates? That is, RPGs with tactical grid fights where units standing next to each other bond with downtime conversations, up to the point where they want to get married and make baby units?

    • Malarious says:

      That is remarkably specific, so I don’t think there are any games *exactly* like that. (Which is a little surprising, you’d kind of expect a Western indie dev to clone that part of FE sooner or later). Valkyria Chronicles has the bonding conversations though it’s not grid-based, and no marriage/children, and I think the relationships are preset(?)

      Massive Chalice is pretty similar in the broad strokes, with maybe a bit more of a focus on genealogy (you send your heroes out on XCOM-style tactical missions and then breed them to produce the next generation of heroes, repeat for hundreds of years); I think the concept was fantastic but not executed particularly well. No bonding conversations because everyone is procedurally generated.

      Record of Agarest War does the marriage, and has grid-based tactical fights. Each of the games comprises several “generations” where you take on the role of your previous character’s descendant. Bonding only happens between the protagonist and a selection of party members, though, and through out of combat events rather than over the course of battle. Thematically, probably not what you’re looking for.

      From my knowledge of fandoms, I’d wager that “tactical RPGs where you can ship your soldiers” is probably an under satisfied niche. The new Fire Emblem game is probably your best bet.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        That is remarkably specific, so I don’t think there are any games *exactly* like that. (Which is a little surprising, you’d kind of expect a Western indie dev to clone that part of FE sooner or later)

        I know, right? Shipping is such a large percentage of fandom, you’d think more games (that are more than mere dating sims) would let you ship the characters on your side. To me at least, the exact mechanic of making them bond by fighting adjacent is less important.

        Valkyria Chronicles has the bonding conversations though it’s not grid-based, and no marriage/children, and I think the relationships are preset(?)

        Preset relationships would be a deal-breaker. Massive Chalice sounds like just the ticket, except for “not executed particularly well.” Normally I’m a supporter of proc-gen, but having a writer to handcraft conversations between characters just like in a book or film is important.

        • silver_swift says:

          Massive Chalice sounds like just the ticket, except for “not executed particularly well.” Normally I’m a supporter of proc-gen, but having a writer to handcraft conversations between characters just like in a book or film is important.

          If you’re interested in the story aspect of it, Massive Chalice might not be a good option. All that happens is that you decide two characters will get married and a few years later you see the babies starting to pop up (or not, depending on the couple). There is no romance, relationship building or bonuses for fielding two units that like each other and as soon as a character marries, you can’t use them in fights anymore.

          It’s still a really good game. It has a fantastic concept that is hurt somewhat by kinda meh execution, but it still averages out to a game that I very much enjoyed sinking a bunch of time into.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I haven’t gotten into Into the Breach yet, but when I do I’m going to pretend my giant robots are sexytiming between battles.

      • pdbarnlsey says:

        That’s basically exactly my take on Massive Chalice. It had the bones of a really interesting X-com variant, but at some point they ran out of money, interest or imagination and just didn’t bother introducing enough variation in character classes or enemies to make the whole thing worth playing through to the end, let along creating any replay value.

        Perhaps they were saving all the variants for sequels and expansions and didn’t do enough to create a big enough hit to warrant them.

        • Randy M says:

          I think MC is worth playing, but it is definitely the flip side of what MC is asking for, as it focuses on genetics rather than relationships.

          Once upon a time I was on the development team for a game that would fit your criteria, but it lasted a couple of months. :/

          But I do really like the almost non-existent genre of generational scope tactics game!

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Once upon a time I was on the development team for a game that would fit your criteria, but it lasted a couple of months. :/

            Oh, what game development skills do you have? I feel like there’s an opportunity in this place to put an indie dev team together.

          • Randy M says:

            … none. Hence, the short term of the project.

            Okay, not quite none, but design and writing are a dime free a dozen, and programming is a bit more critical.

            The project I was referring to was the follow up to the Fall from Heaven Civ mod.

    • beleester says:

      Valkyria Chronicles is a game I usually describe as “Fire Emblem but with guns.” It has a very strong anime aesthetic, and a system where your soldiers have different personality quirks that make them more or less effective in different situations, and if they’re standing near a soldier that they like then they’ll attack together. Despite not being on a grid, and being set in Fantasy WWII, it feels much more Fire Emblem-y than, say, XCOM does.

      It doesn’t have characters marrying and making baby units, though.

      Also, someone made a mod for XCOM 2 that allows soldiers to make babies and then send them back in time to join your squad Fire Emblem style, which doesn’t really fit your bill but I thought was worth sharing.

    • akc09 says:

      Oh hey!

      Not trying to be self-promotey, but I’m working on an indie game that is almost exactly that. It’s called Wildermyth, and it’s in beta right now.

      RPG, tactical grid combat, heroes with randomly-generated personalities who talk to & develop relationships with each other in comic-style events surrounding the actual fights. They can also have kids who join the company later (though we haven’t gotten the tech in to make the kids actually a cross between two parent lovers yet, so they’re just based on a single hero for now).

      Our inspiration was “X-Com style gameplay, but with deeper character personalities and more focus on what they might get up to in between battles.”

      Anyway, we’re still constantly improving it at this point, but I read what you wrote and was like “Wait, that sounds like Wildermyth!”

      • toastengineer says:

        I’m surprised how few games that aren’t direct send ups of XCOM copy XCOMs tactical combat gameplay.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        RPG, tactical grid combat, heroes with randomly-generated personalities who talk to & develop relationships with each other in comic-style events surrounding the actual fights. They can also have kids who join the company later

        Thanks, but how did you generate the relationships for pairs of randomly-generated personalities? This seems like a situation where you basically have to write parts of a novel and plug them into the video game to be compelling.

    • Shion Arita says:

      Well the obvious but accurate answer is to play the other Fire Emblem games. Most of them don’t have the specific feature of making baby units, but Genealogy of the Holy War does, and in my opinion implements it the best.

    • Narcindin says:

      I saw a game on twitch that seemed like this. Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark

      • RiOrius says:

        I’m only six hours in or so so maybe this comes later, but I don’t believe it has relationships and baby-making. Plus the flow of combat isn’t very Fire Emblem-y: the game is really just a poor man’s Final Fantasy Tactics.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      Seconding the “play the other Fire Emblem games” suggestion, obvious though it is. The other games are less dating sim in the sense that you can’t pair any two characters together, but your supports still affect who is married in the endgame credits. And the support conversations are much better, imo (probably because they didn’t have to waste time making literally every combination). My personal favorite is Path of Radiance, but Sacred Stones is probably what I’d suggest playing next after Fates/Awakening.

      FE Heroes for mobile, though it does not have support conversations, is astoundingly good for a mobile game! It’s basically Fire Emblem combined with a gacha game. And the game devs do a very good job of keeping things interesting through special events and also through game updates. I had to uninstall it because I was wasting too much time on it.

      As for non-Fire Emblem games… Shining Force I and II are both fun and fit the ‘tactical grid fight’ qualification. They feel and play a lot like Fire Emblem, minus the permanent character death. Advance Wars does as well, though I haven’t personally played that one. If you’re willing to branch out of ‘tactical grid fights’ into simply ‘turn based RPGs’, there are many more possibilities that open up.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        If you’re willing to branch out of ‘tactical grid fights’ into simply ‘turn based RPGs’, there are many more possibilities that open up.

        Yes, definitely: any RPG where you control more than, like, four characters and can ship them in any combinations.

    • BBA says:

      That’s kinda Fire Emblem’s gimmick and I don’t know that other game devs are going to want to rip it off. Among other things, it relies on having a finite set of characters so that all the necessary interactions can be scripted in advance. For something like FFT or Disgaea with their huge armies of generic characters this seems a lot less workable – a procedurally generated romance arc doesn’t sound too appealing.

      • Randy M says:

        a procedurally generated romance arc doesn’t sound too appealing.

        I think it could be, if it was presented as something that was happening in the background. You as the leader is just presented with snippets, and your choices have mostly indirect influence on the events.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        a procedurally generated romance arc doesn’t sound too appealing.

        It could be if it emulated the wackiness of Crusader Kings 2 bugs (?) like the king relishing the taboo prospect of seducing his own wife.

        Just tune it for procedurally-generated trashy soap opera plots instead of expecting serious romance stories and the RNG will work with you.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I love how the open world nature of CK2 has led people to set challenges for themselves based around a bug or Easter Egg, like breeding horse or bear heirs to eliminate humans as Earth’s ruling class.

        • BBA says:

          Just given the vast multitude of creatures in Disgaea, who knows what horrific monstrosities might result from letting the algorithms run wild. No thanks, dood.

      • vV_Vv says:

        a procedurally generated romance arc doesn’t sound too appealing.

        1. Fine tune GPT-2 on thousands romance novels
        2. ????
        3. Profit

        • Nick says:

          I can’t wait for Sims 7, where all interactions can be generated on the fly, except sometimes your Sim says her favorite kind of music is “One hundred percent.”*

          *Actual Talk to Transformer response, ofc

          ETA: Incidentally, while we’re talking about genres that ought to have more games, where are the Sims clones?

          • toastengineer says:

            What would they do that the mainline Sims series doesn’t?

          • Nick says:

            I’ve given some thought to this, but I don’t have access to my discord rants, sorry. If I remember I will respond after work.

  14. nobody.really says:

    In his book review of Twelve Rules for Life, Scott Alexander makes a variety of comparisons to C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, which Alexander also reviewed. Alas, the link to that review does not work (for me).

    Thus, Alexander could do an easy day’s blogging simply by re-posting his prior review of The Great Divorce, and then putting his feet up.

    (Ok, ok, sure, Alexander probably already has his feet up WHATEVER he’s blogging about. But this would STILL be easy compared to a normal day’s worth of effort, alright? Jeez….)

  15. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Your mission is to improve the quality of life in sub-Saharan Africa. You have control of a budget of $5 billion a year for the next 50 years. What should you do?

    • Dack says:

      Build infrastructure. Preferably infrastructure that is looting resistant/not worth looting.

      • CatCube says:

        The problem there is unless you’re planning on being out there tying a rebar cage by yourself, you’re going to have to work through others. Which is currently where all of the money is disappearing under current programs to improve infrastructure.

        • ana53294 says:

          You hire a Chinese company. They seem to be quite good at actually building stuff in Africa, probably because they don’t have many scruples about bribing locals.

          • Whatever says:

            The Empire of Dust is a movie worth watching, I think. You can watch it free on youtube. It is precisely about a Chinese company building infrastructure in the Congo. Very interesting interactions between people of very different backgrounds and cultures.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think your strategy should be to get some corner of sub-Saharan Africa to go through major improvements, and then see those improvements spread through the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, by imitation or conquest or any other mechanism that will work.

      I’d split my efforts two ways:

      a. Find some pretty functional parts of SSA and try to help them in one-time ways that won’t make them dependent, but will help them be more successful long-term. This help should probably be mostly secret, and should look like investment but maybe with some willingness to take a lower rate of return up front for long term good outcomes.

      b. Use your wealth openly to strike at the biggest problems in SSA–endemic disease and malnutrition. (There’s also corruption and war and ethnic conflict, but those look harder to fix with dollars from outside.) Spend resources on driving anophiles mosquitoes into extinction, vaccinating children against everything you can, etc.

      If (a) is successful, then you’ll have some success stories in SSA. At that point, quietly back them in taking over their neighbors by cultural influence or arms, as long as they look to be actually exporting their working system outside their own country.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Pick a handful of cities with promising trends (e.g. Accra, Gaborone, Kigali, plus maybe a couple more from Francophone countries) and establish a university with campuses in each of them. $5B per year is the budget of Harvard so you’ll be able to recruit high-calibre faculty from the beginning. The purpose is not just education but to set up a talent pipeline–fifty years is almost 3 generations, so taking the time to find the right people at the start will probably pay off. Graduates will be incentivized to stay in Sub-Saharan Africa through things like business start-up capital (through accelerator centres attached to the university campuses) that is dependent on doing so. The university would also have some sort of honour code that hopefully many graduates will carry with them into their professional lives.

    • sharper13 says:

      Your budget can cover the entire governmental expenditures of 4-5 African nations.

      So the obvious first step to me is to fund the market-based political opposition in a group of geographically connected countries to create an indigenous reform movement so they (with education, arms, political bribery, whatever is required) take over the governments and create places where (ironically) bribery/corruption is taboo, the rule of law is respected, the private economy isn’t interfered with, and the people are protected.

      Once you turn that into a successful example so that it’s self-sustaining, you repeat, which will be even easier because of their demonstrations.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Start a business-facilitation service in major cities and online. Design it to offer (initially free) services in cutting, or at least transparently avoiding, bureaucracy and corruption. If needed, also mix it with ways of protecting property. Don’t be too hang up on being 100% legal – i.e. if bribes are necessary, take care of the bribe paying.

      Example: say X wants to buy a car and offer simple transport services. Practical barriers are, for example, time to create the company, required licenses and various bribes associated. Have strategies to drastically reduce each of that, up to simply phantom-hiring X for a couple of months until all the forms are ready.

      Have a number of business models prepared as kits – ideally those both easy to start and at least somewhat strategically useful (you don’t want 1000 hostels and Shawarma places).

      Do this initially for free, then for a small charge to keep things scalable.


      In parallel, and with a different brand, start an NGO to help enforce laws. Most developing countries have at least somewhat sane legislation, but they lack the institutions, culture or political will to enforce them. Break the equilibrium, even in not-nice ways – make sure the most damaging patterns are exposed and drowned in paperwork. Depending on local law, there should be a number of available mechanisms: starting with attempting criminal charges, civil damages, complaints, freedom of information requests, investigative journalism. The goals would be publicity and raising the cost of corruption – or at least strategically selected corruption patterns.

    • Bugmaster says:

      $5 billion is not nearly enough to compete with China, who’d been basically buying out chunks of Africa for a while now with their “Belt and Road Initiative”. Your best bet would probably be to spend your budget on bribing Chinese officials to speed up their rollout of the initiative, and to steer it in the direction you want. Obviously you won’t be able to do anything abut the inevitable human rights violations, but you might be able to reduce hunger, disease, and other symptoms of endemic poverty.

    • Watchman says:

      Look at current trends and realise I could do the job for nothing? But assuming I have to spend the money the two biggest drags on growth in SSA that don’t involve politicians are high levels of subsistence farming and low availability of capital. So I’d set up low-interest loans, particularly focused on producing industrial agriculture, local credit unions to allow access to Bank accounts, and educational funding to up skill the peasantry who are getting pushed off the land by their better-capitalised neighbours (maybe set some money aside to research the unintended consequences of doing this, since I don’t want to produce the African Khemer Rouge by mistake).

      Oh, and provide endowments for a few leading regional universities to reduce the dependence on governments who have to balance funding higher education with feeding people and militarised uprisings.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I’m surprised that nobody’s talking about UBIs or some other form of just giving out money. If it’s a problem everywhere that bureaucracy multiplies, and a problem in a lot of the countries this would be intended to help is corrupt bureaucracy (and police, military, etc), anything too complicated to administer would be a problem. Setting up programs seems to be the way a lot of foreign aid currently functions – does it work? Would throwing more money at it help? (Not a rhetorical question; maybe more money to foreign aid as currently practiced would benefit from more thrown money.)

      On the other hand, I have no idea what would happen to a poor chunk of a continent if you gave everyone in it five bucks US a year. Would that mean anything? There’s some places it would be a decent increase to GDP per capita. Nor do I know how a more focused UBI would work – you could give everyone an amount that would be a major increase to GDP per capita. How would that affect the economy? I don’t know enough to predict that.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        The two main problems with just handing out money to people are:

        1. Unless there’s excess supply of goods in the market, or excess unutilized production capacity that we can ramp up really quickly, you still have the same people competing for the same resources with the same baseline purchasing power. In other words, you’ll probably get runaway inflation.

        (This can be averted somewhat through imports, but that’s going to increase the cost proportionally to distance and infrastructure – or lack thereof.)

        2. One way to preserve the value of the handout is to concentrate it in a small number of hands; traditionally: warlords, bandits, dictators, corrupt politicians.

        • bean says:

          I can think of a third: giving out money isn’t free of overhead, either. In the modern US, “mail every citizen a check” is fairly straightforward. There’s already a bureaucracy in place that knows where we live, and adding in the processing to mail the checks is relatively cheap. No so in sub-Saharan Africa. How do we know that lots of those checks won’t get issued to fictitious people and end up in the pockets of the very corrupt bureaucrats we’re trying to avoid? UBI requires legibility, which is not common in those areas.

        • dndnrsn says:

          So, what’s the economically-literate way of just straight up giving people money?

          • Bugmaster says:

            There really isn’t one, because in order for your scheme to work, money has to actually be worth something; and you must be able to keep it (as well as your life) long enough to spend it. In many poor and/or authoritarian countries, this is simply not the case.

        • baconbits9 says:

          1. Unless there’s excess supply of goods in the market, or excess unutilized production capacity that we can ramp up really quickly, you still have the same people competing for the same resources with the same baseline purchasing power. In other words, you’ll probably get runaway inflation.

          This is only true/expected if you are printing and giving away money, taxing and transferring shouldn’t have this (specific) issue.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Not necessarily. Inflation, generally speaking, is the result of excess demand at the current market price.

            It’s pretty straightforward: there are only so many goods and services to buy in the market at any point in time and one of the limiting factors is that suppliers only produce as much as they think they might be able to sell [insert usual caveats about perfect information and rational actors here]. How much they’ll be able to sell, in turn, depends on how much money consumers have to spend.

            If consumers suddenly have a lot more money, we have a problem. The demand curve has shifted, but supply is fixed in the short term. For the consumer, this means a bidding war against other consumers for the limited quantity of goods and services in supply.

            If supply is able to expand to match demand – and do so rapidly – we’re mostly ok. If it isn’t (and bear in mind that the price increases affect suppliers as well), we get a positive feedback loop (sellers sell at higher prices, so now they have more money to spend on purchases, but the amount of things to buy hasn’t changed).

            In the case under examination, we’re bringing the money in from outside – which is equivalent to printing it – but this isn’t such a big deal as might seem. Whose pocket the money ends up in is actually the important bit.

            To show how tax-and-transfer would have exactly the same effect, let’s consider Scrooge McDuck.

            If there’s one thing Uncle Scrooge is known for, it’s the size of his money bin. That money has essentially been taken out of circulation. It’s not affecting the market because it isn’t being spent.

            Let’s now send in the tax men to remove all of that cash and hand it out in equal shares to everyone else. Suddenly, everyone has extra money to spend and will probably be looking to do so. The amount of stuff that they could spend it on hasn’t changed, though, and its prices were set in a market where all of that cash was safely stored away in the money bin.

            In this case, you’ll get inflation just as surely as if you were to print an equivalent amount of dollars and leave Scrooge’s fortune in the money bin.

            Conversely, if we were to print money and pump it directly into the money bin, it wouldn’t have an inflationary effect until Scrooge actually tried to spend it.

      • vV_Vv says:

        On the other hand, I have no idea what would happen to a poor chunk of a continent if you gave everyone in it five bucks US a year.

        That’s a few days of their income, at most. It’s not going to make a difference.

        • dndnrsn says:

          There’s some parts where, unless the numbers I’m getting are completely wrong, five bucks is more like a couple weeks. Still, yeah, not that much – but that was the dumbest version (equal amount of money to everyone in the region, all billion of them).

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            If you want to improve someone’s well-being in the long term, you need to give them investing money, not consumption money.

            If you give a poor man money to buy food today, he still won’t have money to buy food tomorrow. If you keep subsidising his consumption, you may relieve his present-day troubles, but you’ll have done nothing for his baseline situation, other than make him dependent on you for charity.

            If you want to lift a poor man out of poverty, you must equip him with the means to improve his lot. That means investment and is orders of magnitude more expensive.

            Every time I’ve done calculations along these lines, I always got the same result: for any fixed amount of money in charity, we can either offer some stress relief to many people, or measurably improve the future prospects of a few people.

    • Sortale says:

      hire a private security company, fund an invasion under the guise of liberation, targeting a resource rich area [Diamon, oil or luxury good (banana plantation anyone?)]. Become an absolute dictator as reactionary encouraged.
      Naturally, according to the reactionary principle, I would want the people to be most productive so I would do good to the people. The enforcement would be private military company fueled by resource I seized. The people would see how beneficial it is to follow me and therefore won’t revolt. Perfectly stable and sustainable, as all thing should be.

    • Riothamus says:

      Contra the other respondents, I feel like sub-Saharan Africa is filled with opportunities to capitalize on the insights of Seeing Like a State, and Legal Systems Very Different From Ours, and The Secret of Our Success.

      To wit, the first thing I would do is gather maximally-nuanced information about every local group, language, family structure, tribe, etc.

      With this information, I would deploy a program designed to translate important concepts into local cultural contexts. The first target will be the safe processing of manioc, and the second would be HIV treatment and prevention.

      It feels like at least half of what we consider to be corruption is actually just people doing things the way they used to do them, but this time from inside an armed bureaucracy of national scope. Since the “just give it up and be British or German already” strategy has failed for the last century or so, we will abandon it and re-consider institutions with kin-group loyalty and gift giving built in as assumptions. So the next thing that I would do is try to find a way to fit concepts of commerce to the local groups, such that families or villages or tribes could engage in modern commerce, distribute risk, etc. as families or villages or tribes. Put another way: invent new organizational forms that are culturally-obvious locally but compatible with the modern ones the market is used to (and each other).

      Towards avoiding the possible trap described in The Case Against Education, a strongly intentional development of human-capital-purist programs/practices to compete with regular schools. There’s a twofold goal: first actual skill development; second preservation of flexibility in getting value from those skills.

      I would also like to find a way to deploy a broad, soft method of minimizing local and regional conflicts, which eat resources. Something in the vein of making sure that there are always multiple Tracks of Diplomacy available.

      With these I think we could make continuous progress on: preserving social value; more easily adding new commercial value; building more value-generating capacity; minimizing value loss through conflict.

      • cassander says:

        >To wit, the first thing I would do is gather maximally-nuanced information about every local group, language, family structure, tribe, etc.

        If you think you can do this, you need to re-read seeing like a state.

        So the next thing that I would do is try to find a way to fit concepts of commerce to the local groups, such that families or villages or tribes could engage in modern commerce, distribute risk, etc. as families or villages or tribes. Put another way: invent new organizational forms that are culturally-obvious locally but compatible with the modern ones the market is used to (and each other).

        Again, the whole point of seeing like a state is about how efforts to do this sort of thing tend to collapse spectacularly.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Good comment +1

        • Riothamus says:

          We have a completely different reading of James C Scott’s thesis, and I am confused how you arrived at yours.

          What I am proposing is inverting the relationship: the goal is to make things about the outside legible to the locals. I am not proposing anything like scientific forestry, or an interstate highway system, or new methods of surveying, or getting everyone to learn English, or central planning of new cities. These are the kinds of examples leaned on in the book; from where do you get the conclusion that this is like working with local people to develop new local institutions?

          • cassander says:

            Scott is all about how hard it is to make systems legible from above. All the cases he discusses have rulers trying to make their human terrain legible, and how difficult it is. You can build, e.g. a database of who is whose cousin, for example, but it doesn’t give you the information you get by actually being in the system. Your database won’t capture who likes/dislikes/is angry with/admires/is jealous of/owes favors to whom. that sort of knowledge is incredibly difficult to quantify and systematize.

            you’re talking about building institutions that teach modern notions of commerce to the locals, how is that not exactly the sort of top down social engineering scott is talking about? Yes, you say you’re going to do it taking into account a sufficient level of local nuance, but everyone who failed in the attempts that scott is talking about thought they were doing that too.

          • Nick says:

            Yeah, I have to say with cassander that “the first thing I would do is gather maximally-nuanced information about every local group, language, family structure, tribe, etc.” sounds like the opposite of capitalizing on the insights of Seeing Like a State. Maximally-nuanced information is practically impossible to gather—I’m not sure even Facebook could do it on $5 billion a year, and Facebook already has enormous amounts of information about us.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m reminded of a couple of Gordon Dickson stories about humans whose temperaments matched the alien cultures they were sent to interact with.

          • Nick says:

            I’m reminded of a couple of Gordon Dickson stories about humans whose temperaments matched the alien cultures they were sent to interact with.

            Are you sure they weren’t suffering from the Forer effect? 😀

            Actually, come to think of it, that could be a basis for a darkly amusing scifi story. Two cultures alien to each other meet, and at first they think they think they have this great basis for friendship, but it’s only because the descriptions they share with each other are extraordinarily vague. (Perhaps it’s a translation error.) And when a small conflict arises, it balloons out of control as they realize their differences are enormous and bridging them will take, like, real work.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Reasonably sure there was a good personality match. As I recall, the only books were Spacial Delivery and Spacepaw.

            As might be expected, the personality type is Does Not Work Well with Bureaucracies. (from memory)

          • Riothamus says:

            Aha – I have failed to be sufficiently transparent. Maybe I should have said “gather the most-nuanced information that exists,” to specify that I am talking about things like anthropological work, detailed histories and economics books, ethnographies, etc. and finding as many of those local trackers as possible.

            The point of this information is to let us participate in the system directly, and we need to figure out things like what language people speak and what their lives are currently like to do that.

            The rest of the work relies on being inside the system, and this would be translation in both the literal and cultural senses; rather than talk at everyone in an lecture spoken in English, once we have figured out how people figure things out for themselves locally we’d try to bridge the gap. The motivating example for me here is a gambit I read once for getting people to use condoms: after getting the usual dismal response rates from the sex-ed classes, one group of people talked with the village leadership and staged an impromptu festival/parade, which featured the local wisdom spirit carrying condoms around. As I recall, they approximately doubled the normal response rate. My notion is that with more dakka, this could communicate more things more concretely.

            A negative example from when I was in Iraq – the US Army was in the habit of hiring local labor for a lot of projects. For security reasons, they had to do background checks on the people they hired. A common problem we ran into was this: frequently a guy’s brother or cousin would show up and try to work his shift. Naturally, this gave the Army fits, because no background checks had been run on these people and we didn’t know who they were, so we sent them away and fired the people who frequently didn’t show. This in turn gave the local community fits, because for people in Baghdad it is totally normal to have your family fulfill your obligations for you; indeed the family is the actual seat of obligations in their view.

            It would not have been difficult to extend background checks to the local family group. Then the Army would have gotten to check out large chunks of the population, and at the same time better relations would have been maintained between us and the local community. Alas, due to our assumption that contracts with individuals are the Only Way, we rolled on systematically snubbing every family in the area.

            The converse of this, in the direction of “new organizational forms” I mentioned, is we had pretty good success with family businesses. Literally just a business where all the sons worked. This means that when Sami Khitab showed up to work Mohammed Khitab’s shift, he got rebuked, but when both Sami and Mohammed work for Khitab Family Contracting LLC, it went fine.

            Of course I only learned all this later when the problem stuck in my head and I went looking for a solution. Up front, no one even attempts that kind of legwork.

            you say you’re going to do it taking into account a sufficient level of local nuance, but everyone who failed in the attempts that scott is talking about thought they were doing that too.

            I disagree, except insofar as they thought that “none” was the appropriate amount. In lots of cases, like place names and measurement methods, obliterating the local nuance was as much the goal as anything else. In cases like Brasilia, the idea was to prevent any local nuance from ever arising in the first place.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      There’s some reason to think that development aid doesn’t work.

      https://sirolli.com/– Includes a hilarious video of getting Africans to grow Italian vegetables in Africa, and discussion of what to do instead.

      Sirolli recommends helping people who are already entrepreneurial, who are quite a small proportion of the population.

      Don’t try to motivate people or start projects. Do supply help, mostly networking rather than money.

      I suspect most of the money would be spent on finding people who are psychologically capable of helping without trying to take charge.

  16. CheshireCat says:

    What are my options for trying MAOIs, as someone with little income and basically no insurance coverage of MAOIs?

    From what I can tell, my insurance will only consider covering MAOIs if almost every other option has been tried, and I’ve “only” tried 5 medications without response. I live in California and am insured through Medi-cal.

    I wanted to try Parnate, as apparently it’s just the best overall choice. However, out of pocket Parnate is really expensive – we’re talking $120 per month for a starting dose, with a coupon. If I want to go above the extremely low starting dose, the price scales linearly from there. Bottom line is I can’t afford it.

    Second choice is Nardil, as it’s a decent medication and “only” costs $25 a month OoP for a starting dose. But I have had elevated liver enzymes in the past and Nardil can potentially cause liver issues, so if my doc isn’t on board then that option is off the table.

    I’m looking for a drug that’s dopaminergic because my primary symptom is emotional numbness/anhedonia, and dopamine systems seem to be implicated in that issue. I don’t respond much to Wellbutrin, so if I can’t try Parnate or Nardil, where does that leave me?

    • twocents says:

      At risk of stating the obvious, has your doctor actually tried getting Parnate approved? In my experience, after five prior med trials I can usually get just about anything reasonable approved. (And there’s certainly a subset of people who respond better to an MAOI than to newer antidepressants, so this sounds reasonable.) Five prior trials counts, for all intents and purposes, as having “tried everything.” Your doc may have to submit a form and at worst maybe an appeal after that, but I’d be surprised if a psychiatrist can’t get it covered with enough cajoling.

      If you really can’t get it covered, it’s possible that the Emsam patch is on formulary, since there’s still a pharma company with an interest in selling it. Or, adding a stimulant to an antidepressant is dopaminergic and has some supporting evidence. You could discuss with your psychiatrist if either of those is a good option for you.

      • CheshireCat says:

        Yeah unfortunately I’ve been through the whole prior auth process for Parnate. After a monthlong and very frustrating process, the fee-for-service program rejected the TAR request due to a lack of information regarding why this med was needed.

        I think that means that communication broke down somewhere, because like you said, 5 prior meds should be enough information to warrant approval. But I don’t know where or why the break in communication occurred. I’ve already called my doc’s office, pharmacy and insurance a few times and basically just got the phone call equivalent of shrugs every time. (I don’t really have the “let me speak to your manager” kind of personality, so I have a hard time forcing these processes along.) I do have an appointment with my doc coming up in 2 days though, I’ll try to ask about it then.

        Emsam is unfortunately part of the same carve-out program, so it has the same problem. Selegiline itself doesn’t though – I might try convincing my doc to prescribe me that for “restless leg syndrome” or something and take it sublingually, since it apparently is much more bioavailable sublingually and acts as a nonselective MAOI at higher doses.

        I’ve tried various kinds of stimulants before because of an ADHD comorbidity, they don’t do much to treat the underlying symptoms of depression. And eventually they all started making me feel terrible every time I took them, so I had to stop. I’m still not sure what that’s about.

  17. onyomi says:

    Does anyone have any tips on finding living arrangements that won’t be noisy, especially in big cities where neighbors are unavoidable? I know Scott is especially sensitive to noise and so has mentioned this issue before, though I don’t know if he ever found some good solutions or if others have ideas.

    I don’t think I’m as sensitive to sound as Scott says he is, but I have encountered a series of apartments in cities (and even one house in the country!) where noise became a real problem, often in a way that seemed impossible to predict at the time (e.g. you move into a place and it seems very peaceful then three months later a dump truck changes its route to pass near your house and drop large containers at 4 in the morning).

    Thus far I have only ever rented so at least there has been the option to move, annoying as that is. As the time when I think I might like to buy draws closer my concern about this is even greater.

    My best thought would be to just knock on doors and talk to potential neighbors in an attempt to discover any issues that may not be apparent?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Stay far away from any main roads. Highly prioritize cul-de-sacs, and after that one-way-streets.
      Visit the place early morning, about 1-2 hours before working hours, and see if the road is used by the residents only, or if by any chance it’s also a shortcut with much heavier traffic.
      Look for speed bumps near the windows – they mean “break, bum-bum, throttle”.

      Dogs, and occasionally roosters can really ruin your time (though somewhat surprisingly after a couple of years I’m 100% acclimated to the next door dog, but not to cars).

      To shoot two birds at once, get an air purifier in your bedroom. Cleaner air and white noise – it will take a few days to get used to it, but after that it will also mask some of the random noises.

      • WashedOut says:

        Highly prioritize cul-de-sacs

        This will optimise for a reduction in through-traffic noise, yes, but cul de sacs often comprise townhouses grouped very closely together in a semicircular arc, with close neighbours behind. From the point of view of the acoustics of everyday life, this is a very loud configuration. Car doors, garages, conversations in courtyards, music – it all tends to get reverberated around in a little amphitheater. Modern house designs featuring large featureless panels of flat concrete are a big contributor to this.

        I speak from experience, both in cul de sac living and civil infrastructure design.

        My advice would be to move to an old neighborhood with lots of trees and hedges, and an older demographic. This is generally a good proxy for quiet.

    • a real dog says:

      Your best thought is very much correct. NEVER buy anything without talking to neighbors, I’ve dodged multiple bullets this way myself.

      With renting it’s not worth it, usually, depending on the balance between your risk tolerance and social anxiety.

      • silver_swift says:

        Out of curiosity, how do these conversations usually go? Do you just ring the doorbell and ask “Hey, do you know any reason not to buy the house next door?”?

        • zoozoc says:

          When I was buying a house, we just asked the neighbors general questions about the neighborhood. I wouldn’t recommend explicitly asking “is this a bad house/neighborhood”, at least not at first. Probably start with general questions first like, “what is this neighborhood like?” or “Have you liked living here?” Then maybe something explicitly negative like like “Is there anything you don’t like about this area?”.

          Also, I recommend searching online for crime/police reports of the area. There was a house we were looking at that was near some apartments, but looking online, there were a ton of police reports from the apartments and businesses nearby so we decided against the house.

        • a real dog says:

          You usually have at least one thing you’re worried about. Maybe the noise levels, or is the neighborhood safe, or problems with the building owners association (do you have that kind of thing in the US? for multi-family buildings), etc. Once they answer you can steer the conversation into a more open-ended direction, or just leave if they seem annoyed with you.

          Also this may be obvious but be as nonthreatening and polite as you can, don’t enter their home unless asked to, and in general show respect. Some people will give you a minute of their time, others will be happy to air their grievances for half an hour (at last, someone listens!).

    • salvorhardin says:

      Very basic correlate: new construction is often less noisy than older buildings due to better insulation, multi pane better sealed windows etc. One of the quietest dwellings of anyone in my urban social circle is a mid rise apartment with thick concrete walls between units and good windows. If you are buying older you can consider budgeting for new windows and upgraded insulation.

    • Plumber says:


      “Does anyone have any tips on finding living arrangements that won’t be noisy, especially in big cities where neighbors are unavoidable?….”

      Sleep in a motor vehicle when the noise from neighbors gets too much to bear, pop the tires of the noises neighbors cars repeatedly to encourage them to move away, save for decades, buy a house right after a financial collapse, breath sigh of relief.

      Those who say “Money can’t buy happiness” are liars!

      Living in a house in a quiet neighborhood is a big improvement, so is a short commute, balancing them, and collecting the money to do either is difficult and if I had an easy way to suggest that I’d publish it.

    • sorrento says:

      Just wear something like this and you won’t hear any dump trucks at night. I wear these to bed sometimes if needed. It is not uncomfortable.

      • onyomi says:

        This looks a lot more effective than my earplugs!

        • Douglas Knight says:

          That’s my first thought, but it’s wrong. On the whole, earplugs claim to reduce noise as much as earplugs, indeed, more. For example, this link lists earplugs as 22-33 dB and earmuffs as 20-30 dB. On Amazon, I do find earmuffs that claim higher levels of protection, but I’m suspicious. The previous link is one site making the claims about both products, so I think that they are comparable claims, while individual products on Amazon may be lying.

          Anyhow, you can combine earmuffs with earplugs.

  18. WashedOut says:

    ~Thinking out loud about experimental tax systems~

    I’ve heard several comments IRL recently to the tune of “I wish the system allowed me to allocate my tax dollars to the causes I want to support” and “I want to be able to ensure that none of my tax dollars go to X cause.” Is anyone familiar with that various ways this has been assessed (even ‘just’ academically), proposed or implemented before?

    Consider a sliding scale with the hard version of this at one end – ALL of your tax money is allocatable by you – and at the other end a version where the govt defines core spending areas and gives you the remainder to allocate. Moving along this scale increases or reduces the component of your tax money that is allocatable – essentially by govt defining what is ‘core’ and what isn’t.

    In the soft case, I’m picturing a system where each financial year the govt. says (put extremely simplistically, for the sake of the exercise):

    “You will pay $50k in income tax this year. We need X% for police, courts, and national defense; we need Y% for critical infrastructure upgrades; and Z% for healthcare and welfare. This gives you $3k to allocate across the following areas, or you can choose none and redistribute $3k across the core.
    Foreign Aid, Arts Grants, Climate Change Research, Trade School Funding, Methamphetamine Task Force, Eurovision Song Contest Application, etc. etc.

    The negative version asks the taxpayer to select one or several spending items from a list that they do not want to support.

    There are lots of caveats and technical snags here to get caught up on, such as the feedback loop between government spending habits & priorties, tax bracket design, and taxable income. But nonetheless a taxation equivalent of “direct democracy” interests me, if only as a wild-eyed libertarian thought-experiment.

    Does a fun discussion of systems like this exist? If not, can we entertain it here?

    • sharper13 says:

      A similar idea has certainly been tossed around before. A system where you were required to pay $X in tax, but you got to allocate it to the budget you wanted to would remove a lot of the moral considerations against the current system for many people. To make it easy, maybe allow groups to publish example allocations based on percentages, so you could subscribe to the X Party budget, or the Y org budget with your own minor tweaks. It would fit in well with a balanced budget plan, because you’d always only spend what people allocated themselves.

      Of course, what most politicians and bureaucrats like about the current system is that they get to determine the funding priorities rather than you doing it, so it’s likely take a serious revolt or constitutional update to accomplish it. Perhaps if a a few cities and then States tried it out first?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Scope insensitivity. Plus, you’d be drowned in advertising-like appeals for this cause or that. *Shudder*. Dystopian.

      It would place a rather large burden on me to inform myself on the best way to use my money.

      Also, it would take back arguably the largest advantage of modernity – the state knows best. That’s something that’s out of fashion to say now, but only because nowadays everybody already knows to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, mostly because the state did that a few generations back. But there are still plenty of situations where a bird eye’s view is important enough to overcome even what’s probably close to an order of magnitude of waste and corruption.

      On the plus side, voting with your paycheck would move huge amounts of money away from welfare. More mothers forced to stay married or find a working husband, more two parent families, better adjusted population 20 years from now.

      • Watchman says:

        More domestic abuse, more mental illnesses, more forced prostitution and the like. There’s a downside to every upside, which is why the assumption government knows best has to be qualified with sometimes…

      • Jiro says:

        I’d probably want to pick something like “generally go according to what the current senator says, except for ___ and __, which I want allocated differently”, rather than trying to micromanage every single item.

        Of course, it isn’t clear how many voters would do that. A relatively small number of voters allocating everything to X can really mess things up. This may just fail because voters aren’t smart enough.

        Also, I would be very suspicious of any system which resembles voting with your paycheck. One of the reasons people vote is to ensure their rights, and people without money still deserve rights.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          people without money still deserve rights.

          So what do you do when they vote themselves the right to your money?

          It’s not an idle comment either. One could cynically simplify the history of successful nations as 1. get rich/dominant by being competent 2. enjoying being rich/dominant and 3. fall while less competent people squabble over what to do with the existing riches, instead of working on creating (or plundering) wealth

          • rlms says:

            One could simplify history in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean one would be correct in doing so.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think there’s always a tension between the people who want to:

            a. Get a bigger slice of the pie by making the pie bigger.

            b. Get a bigger slice of the pie by making their slice bigger at someone else’s expense.

            Voting yourself goodies at public expense is an example of (b), but far from the only one, and not IMO the biggest danger of this kind of strategy.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Eh, wasn’t very serious about it. Just wanted to bring it up as a valid point of view.

            But, albatross11, that’s also a very cynical way of seeing things… the nice, political way to describe that tension is by calling 2. “people that want a fairer distribution of the pie”.

            Jokes aside, I’m really curious if those statistics that say x% of socialists don’t have jobs and still live with their parents are at least somewhat accurate. It would put a different tinge on their arguments.

          • Jiro says:

            a. Get a bigger slice of the pie by making the pie bigger.

            b. Get a bigger slice of the pie by making their slice bigger at someone else’s expense.

            If you want police procedures that make it less likely the police will make innocent people confess, does that count as making the pie bigger, or making your slice bigger?

            If you want the zoning laws to be loosened so you can open a store, is that making the pie bigger, or making your slice bigger?

            If it is the 1950s, and you want to be permitted to marry someone of another race, does that count as making the pie bigger, or making your slice bigger?

            If you don’t like the NSA spying on US citizens and in some fit of insanity actually think a politician can affect that, and you vote accordingly, is that voting to make the pie bigger, or your slice?

            These questions have answers, but they’re pretty much irrelevant. What matters is the rights violation. I don’t really care if loosening the zoning laws counts as making my slice bigger (because other stores will find it harder to compete with an extra store in their neighborhood), or making the pie bigger (maybe the number of stores will just result in more commerce period). I just want to be able to sell things without men with guns coming to lock me up.

          • cassander says:

            @Radu Floricica says:

            But, albatross11, that’s also a very cynical way of seeing things… the nice, political way to describe that tension is by calling 2. “people that want a fairer distribution of the pie”

            Nice perhaps, but decidedly less accurate.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I know you said it’s irrelevant, but I gotta try responding:

            If you want police procedures that make it less likely the police will make innocent people confess, does that count as making the pie bigger, or making your slice bigger?

            Pie bigger.

            If you want the zoning laws to be loosened so you can open a store, is that making the pie bigger, or making your slice bigger?

            Pie bigger.

            If it is the 1950s, and you want to be permitted to marry someone of another race, does that count as making the pie bigger, or making your slice bigger?

            Uh… depends on which level… actually nevermind, pie bigger on both.

            If you don’t like the NSA spying on US citizens and in some fit of insanity actually think a politician can affect that, and you vote accordingly, is that voting to make the pie bigger, or your slice?

            Undetermined. Too many ifs for a meaningful answer.

            Loosening the zoning laws makes the pie bigger because it will almost always create more economic value. The argument for zoning laws is of life quality, not economic wealth, and goes like this: if you have an auto shop making noise, or a factory polluting right where you live, this decreases the quality of life to a significant degree – up to where the edible pie is actually decreasing. AFAIK, the pendulum in current society is very far in the opposite direction. We’re basically picking mosquitoes out of our pies by throwing out slices. See NIMBY.

          • albatross11 says:


            Sure, there are political controversies that aren’t about redistributing wealth, or that are about what policies will make the pie bigger vs smaller.

            In general, I think making the pie bigger is almost always the best way to improve human welfare overall. Divvying up the pie more equitably may or may not make people better off, depending on how it’s done and what the side-effects are. But if the pie gets bigger, it’s going to be a lot easier for almost everyone to end up better off over time.

    • Nornagest says:

      Well, on the plus side, a lot of puppies would get saved. On the minus side, there are a lot of less sexy but more important things to spend money on.

    • PedroS says:

      We a have a very small scale version of this in Portugal: every taxpayer may allocate 0.5% of their income tax to a charity of their choice. If no choice is made, that amount is allocated to the national budget. Contra Radu’s expectation, we are not drowned in advertising for each cause: most charities here are local and so small that they have no ability to spend much in advertising anyway.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        We have that as well, I think around 2-3%. It’s probably dependent on the amount – we have some publicity, but not a lot.

        It’s also funny how the process of choosing a charity gets more or less bureaucratic depending on how the government needs money 😀

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        Similar situation in Poland: you may allocate up to 1% of your annual income tax to an eligible public benefit organization (charity, essentially, though the definition is somewhat broader than what most people would think of as a charity, I believe). A list of eligible entities is kept by the Court Register and made available each year.

        Unlike what you describe, this does result in massive advertising pushes around March/April (the annual tax return filing deadline is the 30th of April). Mind you, it’s mostly the big charities that do this, but I expect there are more local drives, as well, and I’m just not seeing them.

        One of the big reliefs, come 1st of May, (other than the start-of-year madness that comes from working in an accountacy practice coming to an end) is that I’m back to just random bums trying to shake me down for money.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Unlike what you describe, this does result in massive advertising pushes around March/April

          Must be easier to chose, which leads to more (most?) people actually doing it.

          If/when we’ll ever get such a simple field to fill in an online form, we’ll probably have more publicity as well.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            So what’s the procedure like in your neck of the woods?

            Over here, the tax return form has fields for the Court Register number (this one gets displayed front and center in the aforementioned advertising, as you can imagine), the amount to be donated (cannot exceed 1% of tax), plus for an optional specific goal (e.g. certain charities may have a number of named beneficiaries, such as specific sick children).

            It is simple enough and if your taste in charity is conventional, you certainly have no shortage of options.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I don’t deal with the taxes myself. It varies quite a bit from year to year, but I couldn’t tell you what’s the procedure right now.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Presumably, someone does your taxes for you? If so, don’t they ask whether you want to make use of this right and how?

            I’m somewhat surprised, because these questions are standard when preparing people’s annual returns over here.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Tried googling, didn’t find much. We have a new way of declaring incomes for individuals, I’ll take a look at the form when the time comes in a month or two.

            For companies it looks like a form you need to fill in writing. I’m not involved in this process, so I don’t know the details.

      • ana53294 says:

        In Spain, it’s 0.7%. There are two boxes: one for the Catholic church, one for social needs, for a total of 1.4%.

        It is a huge bonus for the Catholic church: they get 11 billion a year.

        In Germany, it’s on top of your taxes; in Spain, it’s substracted from your taxes.

    • Murphy says:

      If you go with the hard version where people allocate all of it then you run face first into the dog shelter problem:

      There’s a range of problems where a large fraction of the population assume that Someone Else (TM) is already dealing with the boring but important issue… hence it’s fine for them to allocate everything to a “cute” cause.

      So back before social safety nets there were stories of new york dog shelters taking in orphaned children and classifying them as “small malnourised creatures” because the dog shelters were much better funded than the orphanages.

      Because everyone loves puppies and is convinced they’re somehow special in loving puppies more than anyone else and they’ll mostly agree that orphan children need to be fed too and they may agree that the orphans are more important in real terms… but they’ll also see that other mass of taxpayers and what they’d like is for themselves to get the warm fuzzies from helping hundreds of cute puppes and some other anonymous person to foot the bill for all the boring things that don’t generate warm fuzzies.

      Unfortunately lots of important things are utterly unsexy. The dog shelters and donkey sanctuary get amazing funding but when it comes to building yet another boring piece of infrastructure there are no warm fuzzies to be had from “funded 0.3% of the cost of a road that can carry heavier freight” even if the real positive human impact is way higher.

      Imagine if you tried to run a company where all customers could allocate exactly where all revenue from that customer went. “Cleaning the parking garage? no no no! I want our money from us to be spent on something cool!”

      • Deiseach says:

        Because everyone loves puppies and is convinced they’re somehow special in loving puppies more than anyone else and they’ll mostly agree that orphan children need to be fed too and they may agree that the orphans are more important in real terms

        Oh my gosh yes, the amount of “Help a poor little donkey in Foreignistan” ads I used to see in a particular British magazine, where it was all about the poor little donkeys being overworked by their peasant farmer owners (and this white middleaged Englishwoman was going to set up donkey sanctuaries) – my reaction to that was “Bitch, what about the poor peasant farmers and their families?” because if they’re overworking their one beast of burden, it’s because they are literally living so close to the wire that a penny extra of work extracted means life or death. I’d be more concerned with the real live human beings in such poverty first, the donkeys second when the people weren’t in squalid conditions.

        But the English notoriously* prefer animals to people, so what do you expect? 🙂

        *1821 the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals founded, 1840 obtained Royal status
        1883 first local society, after an American model, for Prevention of Cruelty to Children founded, now the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 1895 obtained Royal charter

        So the puppies and kitties and horsies got sympathy sixty years before the kids 🙂

        • arbitraryvalue says:

          But the English notoriously* prefer animals to people, so what do you expect? 🙂

          Is this unusual? I expect that most people’s “revealed preferences” are for cute animals over humans who aren’t particularly cute, even though openly admitting this is unseemly.

        • Watchman says:

          Remember that the people the English had to consider as examples of humanity were the English. Some might say this explains the pattern…

          • Don P. says:

            Compare: “Sartre said that hell is other people, but remember that he was surrounded by Frenchmen.”

      • albatross11 says:

        I think this has the same problem as bean brought up for an anarchist military funded by billionaires’ vanity projects–everyone loves fighter jets and aircraft carriers, nobody loves spare parts depots or expensive maintenance or training.

        • Jiro says:

          Or software made by people writing it in their spare time. Everyone likes writing certain kinds of software, and nobody likes writing spreadsheet programs, or doing documentation or user interface improvements or fixing many bugs.

    • Watchman says:

      If we take the soft version of selecting which cause you’d like funding to go to, is there an argument for actually doing this (other than funding the Catholic Church in Spain if that’s your thing)? Wouldn’t the costs of the state collecting and transferring the money likely cut into if not negate any benefits of additional funding for the third-sector?

      And that’s before we get to the problem of gate-keeping. Who selects the organisations who can get funded, and how do we ensure no political bias or corruption in the process. It’s easy to see how this might turn into a way of channeling funds to favoured campaigns or become another area where bug charities try to muscle out competition.

      I think it might be better to leave people with more control over their own money, but I may have missed something important in all of this?

      • ana53294 says:

        There are people who genuinely do not want to contribute to some cause and may even refuse to pay taxes because they don’t want to contribute to that cause.

        I think it is more about your money not going to some uses than it going to some uses. The main things that people may be willing to go to jail for by openly not paying taxes would be war. Conscientious objection to military taxation is a thing.

        I’m not sure how effective this is, because money is fungible, and many people refusing to pay for the military would just increase the percentage spent on the military. Or they could save money by cutting pensions to veterans and still buying those nice fighter jets.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      To the degree that individuals choose where their tax dollars to, we are codifying into law that rich people have more say in government. Is this a problem?

    • greenwoodjw says:

      In the US, that would basically boil down to “We only actually need X% of your taxes and we’re taking the rest because we can.”

      That would go over… poorly

    • DinoNerd says:

      One of the places I worked offered an opportunity to donate to a local charity integrator. You could designate particular charities to not receive money from you.

      That sounded good on paper, until I found that individual blacklisting of a charity had no effect on the amount that charity received – except possibly in the extreme case where almost everyone blacklisted that particular charity, such that the total collected from everyone else was less than the aggregator had planned to give them.

      I stopped using the aggregator, because contributing directly to a subset of the charties did not as obviously influence the amount that went to my blacklist.

      The above tax scheme has exactly the same limitation – I wouldn’t feel my hands were clean even if my money didn’t support the government doing whatever bad thing I objected to, and I wouldn’t feel I was helping whatever IMO good cause they supported, if supporting only those good causes just meant they got less from less choosy tax payers.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        This is a good point. Money is fungible, so saying “These particular dollars weren’t used for this purpose” is very rarely relevant in any substantive way.

    • John Schilling says:

      If you run all or most of your society’s tax revenue through this sort of process, your society will collapse into anarchy due to critical infrastructure and operations being ignored. Small possibility that the anarchy will be the happy fun anarcho-capitalism that e.g. David Friedman promotes; not sure whether having a chaotic semi-state occupying the same geography helps or hurts that transition.

      If you keep a reasonable fraction the budget in the “No, we need technocrats and professional politicians to supervise this or everything will go to hell” category, then the winningest political move and the focus of all politics will be putting your tribe’s priorities in the non-discretionary bin while the other tribe’s priorities are exiled into “only with your discretionary dollars” land.

      Also, if the state is allowed to pay for things with borrowed money and the taxpayers are allowed to opt not to pay off the debts, the economy will collapse. If debt payment is non-discretionary, then see above but you’ve got another avenue to sneak your tribe’s priorities into the non-discretionary bin. And we’ve already got that, in most US state and local jurisdictions, with voter-approved bond issues. Vote for the warm fuzzy of new schools for adorable underprivileged moppets, and oops, it’s now mandatory for someone else to eventually pay for it (unless MMT, in which case why are we talking about this at all?). We can see how this works right now; do you want more?

      “I want to be able to ensure that none of my tax dollars go to X cause” is probably a lost cause, but if you somehow manage a stable system where people are able to put a decent fraction – maybe even half – of their tax money into things they support, then that support becomes as strong a basis for cementing tribal divisions as party-line voting presently is. Red Tribe puts 100% of its discretionary money into defense, law enforcement, and border walls because the libs can’t be trusted to defend the republic and 0% into health, education, and social safety nets because the namby-pamby liberals already pay too much for those things, Blue Tribe will do the reverse, and they’ll be wrong about far too many of their core assumptions but none of them will bother to check. But will be made acutely aware of the other side’s errors, which will be used as an excuse to argue for putting more things in the non-discretionary budget.

      No matter how you do it, NASA will probably come out ahead. Red Tribe will like the jingoistic national glory of Von Braunian flags-and-footprints missions and Beating the Chinese, while Blue Tribe wants the Saganite visions of wonder and IFLS and lots of Earth observation to prove that Red Tribe is killing the Earth through pollution and global warming. Both of them will regretfully decide that fiscal prudence requires “cutting” NASA’s budget to maybe 2-3% of federal expenditures.

      TL,DR: I like this plan and I’m excited to be a part of it. There’s a small chance that it will give us working anarcho-capitalism, which I think would be pretty cool. If not, NASA’s budget actually increases by a factor of five, and even with the usual wastage we should be able to siphon off enough of that to build the fleet of spaceships that will carry me safely away from the planet you’re doing this on.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Year 2: Mars colony.
        Year 3: Everyone (on both planets) dies of a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.

    • honoredb says:

      I haven’t really dug into it, but I heard a pitch for Liberal Radicalism recently as a scheme for donor-driven allocation. People can donate directly to a cause, and then receive matching funding from a larger pool, with the funding being proportionate like in Quadratic Voting.

      • WashedOut says:

        Woah, that paper was written by Vitalik Buterin, they guy behind the Ethereum blockchain project. Love it when I find out that a mad genius in a tiny niche has also been working on ideas in unrelated fields.

    • Erusian says:

      I’m not sure I’m comfortable on a purely philosophical level with allowing people to opt out of the state. The United States already lets you allocate its budget by electing representatives. If there is an allocation you don’t like, convince your fellow citizens to vote for representatives who will abolish it. If you can’t win, then that too is the republican democracy working. The point of democracy is not some libertarian non-aggression thing. Democracies can and do use coercion to do things like collect taxes and enforce laws.

      On a practical level, there would immediately be huge political fights to determine whether something is discretionary or mandatory. You mention health and welfare as things the government would force you to pay for. The Republicans would fight that like hell. I could see the Democrats fighting over funding the military too.

      Likewise, it would greatly decrease the redistributive nature of government programs. The wealthy will favor giving money to things that benefit them. (“Park maintenance? Great! Amphetamines… eh.”) And it allow all sorts of bad actors. If your system were implemented, I can imagine things like the Chamber of Commerce waging campaigns to overfund things like the SBA and underfund regulatory agencies. Which don’t have a natural constituency: the AFL-CIO would make sure the NLRB gets its funds but they don’t really care about regulations as regulations.

      And if things as small as the minor regulatory agencies are mandatory, what exactly is left? The sort of spending you’re describing (things like science, parks, etc) is generously 200 billion dollars. That’s $1,400 per taxpayer. But that’s not evenly distributed: the average American would only allocate $474. Half of all Americans would allocate less.

      Since that’s well within the charitable deduction, it appears people could effectively recreate this system by donating about 5% of their income to charity and deducting it.

    • eigenmoon says:

      This proposal assumes that Eurovision and other Arts are inessential to the life of the state so they can be played around with. I wish that was true, but I would argue otherwise.

      Imagine a guy pointing a gun at you, saying: “Gimme your purse cause I really like soccer so I need your money to buy a ticket”. Is that criminal? Obviously. Now multiply that by 10^6: a million guys point a gun at you, saying: “Give us your purse cause we really like soccer so we need your taxes to maintain the stadium”. Is that criminal? Well, for libertarians – obviously. For the rest – usually not, so they need to come up with some explanation as to why that’s not criminal.

      That explanation might be as simple as “we cattle should totally trust the farmer because he’s smarter than us and also he cares about our health which clearly shows he has only good intentions”. But you know what works even better than such an explanation? No explanation at all, only signaling. Just walk and talk as if taking people’s money at gunpoint has exactly zero moral cost. The more frivolous a publicly funded project is, the stronger the signal.

      This is why governments may allow people to control their money in unimportant matters (like charity), but never in important ones (like soccer or Eurovision).

      • WashedOut says:

        I’m not sure I quite follow your argument, but i’m interested enough in your conclusion to ask you to elaborate/rephrase. “The more frivolous a publicly funded project is, the stronger the signal”…the signal of what? The state’s antipathy toward citiizens? Why is this better than a coherent explanation?

        • eigenmoon says:

          OK, I was referencing the whole Hanson’s Elephant in the Brain / X is not about Y thing. I’ll elaborate.

          Humans are wired to constantly signal their loyalty to the tribe. The problem is that doing something reasonable is not signaling anything, so humans are pushed towards weird stuff.

          Sometimes the signal takes the form of morally evaluating some action in a particular way. Take abortions, for example. One tribe asserts that they have zero moral cost and pushes for 9th month abortions to be considered totally fine. The other tribe asserts that they have the moral cost of a murder and pushes for their ban. Now what if someone says something like this: let’s assume that the cost might be somewhere between 0 and 1, and might depend on whether the fetus developed brain waves, and so on. “Whoa, dude! Have you been listening to them? Are you really with us anymore?” No votes for that guy, I’m afraid.

          The two most important ways to signal your moral weights is to 1) act on them; 2) be outraged at those horrible people who have different weights. We don’t have enough libertarians around for (2), so (1) it is. The idea here is similar to revealed preferences, except the point is to reveal what you want to signal. For example, if an ancient man wants to indicate that he values the attention of a deity to be more than a hundred bulls’ worth, he goes and sacrifices hundred bulls to the deity.

          To indicate that robbing people is completely fine, giving robbed money to the poor is not effective at all because it doesn’t reveal much preferences. The ideal way to signal that robbing is 100% OK would be robbing someone and then burning the money. It’s even better if you support your military industry in the process and some other country does the burning.

          I’m not saying that people consciously think something like “how will I signal today that taxation is not theft?”. It’s more like “it’s so great that our high-trust, family-like society can feel yet another moment of unity by rooting together for our beloved country in this interesting competition thoughtfully organized by our competent government in a totally appropriate use of public money”.

    • Plumber says:


      “Thinking out loud about experimental tax systems~

      I’ve heard several comments IRL recently to the tune of “I wish the system allowed me to allocate my tax dollars to the causes I want to support” and “I want to be able to ensure that none of my tax dollars go to X cause.” Is anyone familiar with that various ways this has been assessed (even ‘just’ academically), proposed or implemented before?….”

      As far as I know charitable contributions are already tax deductible, as for changing budget priorities I think most of the U.S. Federal government budget goes towards checks to the elderly, their healthcare, and nursing homes, the next biggest budget item is the military, then interest on the debt, with the rest being a small fraction. 

      Most of the California and local governments budgets go towards jails, prisons, and schools with not much left after that.

      As for the scheme, I tend not to trust changes that haven’t been tested by another State (Massachusetts had a recent change that seemed to work) or Canada first, and as for myself I can’t think of any charity that would do more good with the money than the dues I already pay my union and what I pay in taxes for the government to do.

      Could what government does now be done more efficiently?

      Sure, but having worked both for the government and for private industry I’m doubtful that private industry would do much more in the public interest (though the colossal salaries paid to public Universities basketball and football coaches show that government priorities are off as well), maybe school vouchers would be better, but most change is bad and I don’t trust it, as at least “The Devil’s we know” we already have practice dealing with, fresh Hells we have to learn new ways to handle, and I’m tired of learning experiences. 

      • cassander says:

        (though the colossal salaries paid to public Universities basketball and football coaches show that government priorities are off as well),

        those large sports programs are one of the very few things that government does that actually make money.

        >maybe school vouchers would be better, but most change is bad and I don’t trust it,

        How can you not trust the school you chose to send your kids to less than the one you’re required to send them to?

        • Plumber says:

          I guess I wasn’t clear enough, school vouchers are the radical scheme that I’m most tempted by, but I’d still like to see them tried successfully somewhere else (ideally another State or Canada, Europe and elsewhere are too different to judge) first.

          In a way we already have vouchers as we enrolled our 14 year-old son in a “Charter School for homeschooling”, so the State of California still pays for books and classes, and most of the classes he atrends are at the local “community college” and private class/school for computer coding, theirs hoops and it’s not widely known, but it’s happening for us, despite minors in theory being lowest priority for enrollment he’s been able to get his U.C. requirements so far, and at a younger age than the District school would, and if my teenage experience is any guide the teaching at the community college is better.

          There’s a nearby Catholic school as well, and we thought of paying for that, but the focus there is Athletics, which isn’t his interest.

        • Plumber says:


          “…those large sports programs are one of the very few things that government does that actually make money….”

          I’ve worked 10 months for a “For Profit” (landlord) government agency, and I don’t think that’s a good role for government, it creates incentives best left to the private sector.

          If the University of California acts and is incentivized to act like a private enterprise it should lose it’s public status and start paying taxes to local governments and obey zoning laws like other private enterprises.

          Admittedly a radical change to impose, but U.C. has changed itself radically in the last 50 years.

          • Nick says:

            That the sports programs generate profit for a nonprofit college means that those programs are subsidizing the ones that don’t, like the library. You probably consider some of the latter to be good programs.

          • cassander says:

            Basically, what nick says. I agree that the government, in general, it terrible at making money. I certainly wouldn’t advise any government to try. However, big U sports teams are a small area where they have managed to triumph over the usual constraints and are quite profitable. those big salaries aren’t coming from tax payers, they’re more than paid for by watching college football and basketball on TV, with relatively little disruption to the rest of university life.

        • zoozoc says:


          From what I understand, most school’s sports programs do not in fact make money for the school (at least not in a straight-forward, quantifiable way). There are some schools that make money with some programs. But even those schools only make money on the really popular programs. The unpopular ones are a net drain on the school.

          Who pays for the sports programs is a combination of sales (ticket, merchandise, etc), student tuition/fees, donors (Phil Knight and UofO is a great example), and public funding.

          I think the main argument for sports is that it increases the prestige and alumni donor money to the school and that is enough to offset the costs.

          • cassander says:

            Most programs do not make money. The big D1 basketball and football teams do though, and to the best of my knowledge, those are the ones that have the highly salaried coaches.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        As far as I know charitable contributions are already tax deductible

        A tax deduction is very much not the same thing as a tax credit.

    • onyomi says:

      I very much like the idea, but it seems to leave the government open to the charge: “why are you doing non-essential things?” (Like that joke when the government shuts down and all “non-essential services” shut down and people quip “why is the government doing non-essential things?”).

      It’s sort of a joke but also sort of serious. Ethically speaking I know most people aren’t as libertarian as I am, but a big part of the whole “it’s okay to force people to pay taxes” ethical case is the corollary “because this is the price we must pay for living in a civilized society.” For the government to say e.g. “you must pay us $50,000 this year but you have a lot of discretion about how you allocate $10,000 of that” too strongly prompts the question/retort “so you actually only need me to pay $40,000? How about I “donate” the remaining $10,000 to a charity I set up for sending my kid to college?” etc.

  19. benjdenny says:

    I’m looking for some general guidelines regarding reworking my resume. A slightly anonymized version of it is here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JVL-Pq_Bqxz0orPOBZDTywLcEUI-JVl1dJskh1PZo1o/edit?usp=sharing. I’m applying for administrative assistant/office manager type jobs in the 40-60k range.

    Something about this is definitely suppressing the amount of callbacks I get, and I think it’s more than my dicey “did all sorts of shit” work history. What glaring mistakes am I blind to here?

    • sharper13 says:

      I’d consider you for a position, but I might value certain skills you obviously have more than others might. The downsides I see when looking at your resume with my hiring manager hat on:
      1. I’d be afraid you weren’t going to stick around very long in any sort of administrative assistant role. You’ve averaged a new job every year for the last couple of years and when you graduate with an accounting degree, presumably you’re going to go looking for a new job as an accountant.
      2. You appear to only have at most two years of actual administrative assistant/officer manager type experience and you don’t appear to have any office manager/admin assistant experience at an actual business office. If that’s the job you’re applying for, you may want to consider rewriting some of the job stuff to emphasize your responsibilities which better directly apply. You don’t really look like a long term “office manager” type to me, more like it’s just something you’re doing for now.

      You could mitigate #1 but looking for more contract/temp company positions, but they may not pay as well, depending on the market. You could also look for accounting firm positions and re-position your resume that you want an admin job at an accounting firm as a foot in the door to work as an accountant, but obviously that’s going to be a smaller target market and thus take longer to hit.

      You might also consider looking for an accounting/clerk-type position at a small business which doesn’t require an actual formal accountant doing a combination minor IT help plus things like invoicing, payroll, receivables, etc… That may be more available than an actual office manager/exec assistant type position. Your pay may vary more, but consider as well that after you graduate you’ll be applying for (hopefully) accounting jobs and something more accounting-focused now, even at grunt levels, may look better for seeking that job in the future.

      • benjdenny says:

        I don’t in fact want to be an accountant, It’s just that most hiring managers seem to value having a bachelors in the way that 50’s hiring managers valued being white – not having it means a hard pass. So I’m trying to get a hard business degree, thinking it’s the next best thing.

        I agree I’ve borked myself in the job history department – the insurance job didn’t work out for stress/health reasons, and the next job was a temp thing that I couldn’t make go any longer. The silver lining on the job history is I’m still employed, so it looks better the longer I’m unsuccessful at moving out and up.

        Do you think it would help if I added some summary copy saying something along the lines of “seeking a career in Adminstrative/Executive assisting, and pursuing a business degree for added utility”?

        • sharper13 says:

          Yes, making clearer your ultimate goal may help. A “business” degree also sounds different than an “accounting” degree, despite the one perhaps being a subset of the other, accounting sounds more specialized/pigeonholing for you if that’s not an actual specialty you’re targeting. For business in general, of course, and MBA is going to be what they’ll eventually want you to have. Do you really want to be an Admin/assistant forever, or is it a stepping stone to management/executive jobs instead?

          Also, you probably want two different versions (at least) of your resume, one geared for Office Manager/Administrative and the other geared toward Executive Assistant/Administrative to use in applying for each type of job respectively. Then you take the appropriate version and ensure that everything they ask for in the job advert is listed somewhere prominently in your experience. Don’t make it tough for HR at all to figure out if you meet the specific job reqs or not, even if you begin with a cover letter explaining your goals and exactly how you meet the requirements with your background.

          • benjdenny says:

            I am trying to be an Executive Assistant, eventually, with Office Manager as an acceptable side branch. I have no desire at all to be in management or to be an actual executive, although there’s no way to say that without sounding weird. In terms of executives or high-end managers I’ve known, it seems like they sacrifice an abnormal amount of their lives to the job.

            I’m now thinking about it through this conversation and probably am going to just start de-emphasizing office manager in my job search – I was including it mainly because it’s one of really only two direct jobs that generally lead out of AA positions, and I’m desperate to increase salary amounts, but it’s not really what I want to do.

            At the very least I’m going to add the “won’t run out on you” copy and alter my job experience entries to remove non-AA type stuff and heavier emphasize my AA-type history.

            Thank you very much for responding, I appreciate your time a great deal.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          Consider changing how you describe your degree in your resume as “Business, with an Accounting Emphasis”. A BS or BA in Business is generally seen as the quintessential “I got a 4 year degree for job credentialism reasons, not out of any subject interest”. And nobody is going to credibly accuse you of resume fraud for that.

          • benjdenny says:

            Is the idea here to still be mitigating the “this guy is going to leave us to be an accountant” impulse?

      • sclmlw says:

        Not answering your question directly, but more by way of general advice: It’s incredibly important to make sure you tailor your resume to the specific position you want. If the job description says they want someone good on the phones, emphasizing clerical work won’t get you noticed and vice versa.

        I only bring this up because you mention looking for help with a specific resume, but hopefully this is only a general template that you put work into modifying for each application.

        • benjdenny says:

          I typically change it up a little bit for each, but not as much as I was doing January or so – modifying it for each wasn’t really getting me out of the “basically no calls” status so I became discouraged on that front. Doesn’t mean you are wrong, and I’ll refocus on that as you say.

    • Murphy says:

      Couple of minor things that aren’t big but kinda niggle at me:

      “• Tracks office expenses and monitors operating budget. Reconciles all office card accounts monthly, 0% error rate ”

      something about the “0% error rate” bit bugs me, especially since it’s like the third sentence. it doesn’t feel like what you’d normally see on a CV. possibly because it’s not too informative, 1/1? 1,000,000 out of 1,000,000? how hard is it to avoid errors? I’d probably cut it off after the word “monthly”.

      Mentioning individual excel functions like “VLOOKUP”, also not awful… just a bit too specific. It’s like if instead of saying I knew Java I listed functions like “Sort()”, I’d stick to mentioning advanced excel and macros in general.

      For the : Owner/Operator section… it feels weakly phrased. If you were running your own buisness then “demonstrated consistent self-motivation and excellent time management skills” feels far too fluffy. I’d almost be inclined to change this section to a brief description of what the buisness did if you were an owner. Was this some kind of teenage-job?

      • Demonstrated consistent self-motivation and excellent time management skills
      • Developed company spreadsheets to track expenses, income and accounts payable/receivable
      • Maintained customer contact schedule, set appointments and organized routes
      • Marketed services through online advertising and face-to-face marketing

      Also to get past the bots I’d add a section on any technogies you’re reasonably familiar with and comfortable talking about but I’m in a more tech-focused area so I’m not sure how much this carries over to admining side though friends working in office admin have gone far by upgrading their data handling/processing skills.

      There’s presumably some tech or area of knowledge you’ve already learned from your in-progress degree but I have no idea what they are from this.

      • Deiseach says:

        Also to get past the bots I’d add a section on any technogies you’re reasonably familiar with and comfortable talking about but I’m in a more tech-focused area so I’m not sure how much this carries over to admining side though friends working in office admin have gone far by upgrading their data handling/processing skills.

        I’d strongly agree with this; you seem to have excellent Excel skills so make a big deal of those – most office/admin jobs expect that you’ll have reasonable competence with the Office suite, so if you’ve got anything like the Microsoft Office Specialist awards stick those in (they’re not hard to get, I have three and if I can do it, any idiot can).

        That also goes for any particular software packages you may have experience using – I don’t know if, for instance, SAGE accounting and payroll is used widely in the US, but that kind of generic package is often used by businesses so if you already know how to use them, then you don’t have to be trained in and that helps your application be more attractive. This also means you can work your accountancy degree in there; you may not want to be an accountant as such, but knowing what the heck you’re doing because you’re familiar with the basic principles of accounting (so you know what a nominal ledger is, for instance) is a big advantage.

        Tie that in with your cash handling and record keeping and reconciliation – you’re selling that you can handle basic office accounts (and maybe payroll too) in an administrative support environment to go along with the rest of your skills in customer service, scheduling and diary keeping, dealing with the public and team liaison.

        I pulled this ad at random off the web – note that as you say, they want a bachelor’s degree – and also note that they’re looking for proficiency in Apple programmes, but the things they’re looking for in that job description, you’ve got them in your CV, and the “Willingness to continually learn about the business, our teams and how we operate; apply the knowledge to ongoing tasks” is what you blah about at interview, going for the degree in accounting shows you are constantly upskilling and the wide range of jobs you’ve done have given you exposure to several skillsets and a broad selection of environments to apply them so you can use all this in the job for YourCompany.

        You just have to tweak your resumé to fit with what the particular job description is asking for, put emphasis on the bits they want (“hey, I can support a team, plan meetings, etc.” and show that from your previous jobs) and put in concrete examples of your skills (e.g. “I am proficient in using WhateverCalendarSoftware for planning and tracking meetings” rather than simply “I planned meetings at LastJob”), especially the Excel and any other Office suite qualifications you have.

      • benjdenny says:

        Oddly, “we specifically want vlookup” is more common on job descriptions than you would initially think – that was a modification for a particular ad that stuck around. I’ll cut it for future stuff where it isn’t specifically mentioned.

        The owner/operator thing was a legitimate, if small, business. Probably 4-6 employees at the biggest. Thinking about it, it makes less sense because the “have a weird family where I was working full-time in pest control from 14 onward” is omitted.

        The only “standard software” that seems to coincide with my job on a regular basis is mac/pc familiarity and office suite/docs. The next closest thing would be salesforce(maybe one job out of ten mentions it, I’ve got plans to learn the program in-depth this year), and after that is various travel booking programs (no consistency job offering to job offering on which one is used) and various accounting programs (quickbooks is the only one you’d see the name on, and that’s about 1/20th of ads). I know what you are saying, but it’s a little different than most fields, I think. I’m putting more of a priority on learning salesforce and quickbooks(to a greater degree) this year, though.

        • Elementaldex says:

          WRT the VLOOKUP thing. I pretty frequently hire for positions that require excel and I’ve started specifically asking people to describe VLOOKUP to me because everyone says they are an expert at excel but disturbingly few of them can tell me what VLOOKUP is. I would leave it in.

          Also: I see that you are in AZ, if you are interested in moving to Tucson I’m likely to be hiring for a bunch of positions a month or three from now and could at least interview you. Several of them look like they fit your stated goals. If interested I’ll give you a way to send me your full resume.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            VLOOKUP is the last mainline skill I don’t have in Excel. How can I best learn about it?

          • acymetric says:

            Is VLOOKUP so difficult to use that you have to screen people for it?

            In other words, if someone were otherwise a good candidate but hadn’t used VLOOKUP, would the prospect of having to teach them to use a simple Excel function be so daunting that it moves them into the “no” pile?

          • SamChevre says:

            VLOOKUP is easy to learn if you already know Excel well, but it’s frequently used as a proxy for “knows Excel well, rather than thinking they do.”

            If you say “I can write a VLOOKUP, but I generally use INDEX(MATCH because blah blah blah” it would require amazing stupidity by an employer to count that as a disqualification. What they are looking to screen out is the people who think they know Excel, but who can only use it as a calculator.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            VLOOKUP is easy to learn if you already know Excel well, but it’s frequently used as a proxy for “knows Excel well, rather than thinking they do.”


            In other words, if someone were otherwise a (1) good candidate but (2) hadn’t used VLOOKUP

            The Venn Diagram on this is small enough as to be non-existent, especially compared to the number of candidates who CAN use Excel well.

            It’s not just teaching VLOOKUPs, it’s what Sam said about being able to use Excel well, having some familiarty of its strengths and weakness, and being able to use it for novel tasks, instead of having me sit there and talk you through everything.

          • Elementaldex says:

            Exactly what SamChevre said. Its not that I specifically care that they can do VLOOKUP but being able to do it correlates extremely well with being generally proficient or better with Excel. And it’s common enough (among proficient+ users) that I don’t think I get false negatives where people are proficient but don’t know VLOOKUP. So yes, if you want to seem proficient at Excel, be able to use VLOOKUP.

          • cassander says:


            I’d learn index(match()), because it’s more flexible. If anyone asks about vlookup, just say you use that instead. it does all the same things. SamChevre has it exactly right.

          • J Mann says:

            I’m in the opposite position – I am good at functions and logic, and once upon a time did a lot with Excel macros, but don’t know how to create or use a PivotTable. That shortfall comes up more often than I think.

        • cassander says:

          When I interview people I ask them specifically if they know how to use index(match()) or vlookup as my first test of how well they know excel. Almost everyone says they know how to use excel and almost everyone doesn’t know what those are, so it’s a very good discriminator. I think your phrasing “(pivot tables, macro creation, VLOOKUP, etc.)” is really good and I would absolutely take notice of that everyone else who says familiar with excel but can’t create a pivot table.

    • Watchman says:

      Is it usual in the US for resumes to require the reader to infer your skills? I hire similar level jobs on occasion in the UK, and I’d discount this because it tells me what you do in the context of another organisation’s systems, which is of limited value to me, whilst saying nothing about transferable skills. A varied employment history is good if you can show its given you a lot of skills and experience you can apply.

      As any role of this nature is going to require independent communication I’d guess the low take-up on your resume is partially due to the fact you’re not telling potential employers what you bring to the table. Don’t be modest and let people know why they 2ant to employ you.

      • benjdenny says:

        I had trialed what is called a “skills based” resume at some point – essentially it lists your transferable skills independent of jobs, and then the jobs/time in position more or less as an afterthought. I was never able to get replies from it, at all. I think I might have been working poorly with the format in some way.

        As you and others have mentioned it seems I need a key skills and objective section at the least, so that will get added in today.

    • Well... says:

      Somewhat echoing what others have said:

      Add a section to the beginning that is the word “Objective:” in bold, followed by a single, clear sentence on what your immediate career objective is. (E.g. “A mid-level position as an administrative assistant in the X industry” etc.)

      A section listing (with bullet points) the key skills you bring to the table. You can call this “Skills” or “Fluencies” or something. Cover the basics of course but make sure you add whatever particular skills you think make you stand out, plus relevant technologies you’re proficient in, plus one or two that are above-and-beyond if there are any.

      Revise the bullets under your various units of experience. Write them with the mindset of “I’m a busy executive. What sorts of things am I looking for in an assistant?” Figure out which of those you did at each job, and write them, as clearly as you can.

  20. JASSCC says:

    I’ve lately been wondering if anyone can recommend economics treating on fun qua fun — not as leisure generally.

    The framework for my thinking is that I think I’ve observed cyclical periods when it’s more or less common and respected for people to pursue pure fun as opposed to fun through other goals. For example, in low fun respectability times, you have to cloak your fun in some approved goal, like getting fit, or finding a spouse or s.o., or having a hobby that develops your talents. In times when fun is more respected, there’s less pressure on people to structure even their leisure according to social norms. I have an idea that this is tied to the economy, but also other factors, e.g. it’s not as common for unstructured fun to be respectable when wars are going on, I think. And I’m not sure if it’s a leading or lagging indicator of a good economy. I suspect it might be either at different times.

    I realize this is fairly vague, and I wouldn’t have a clue where to start looking into this. I would love it if someone wrote a book for intelligent non-experts on this.

    • benjdenny says:

      I’d recommend you try using the search phrase “history of leisure” – it turns up good scholarly results very quickly. Probably the closest you are going to get – it’s more a social science thing than an economics thing.

      • JASSCC says:

        Thanks. I think this is an under-explored area, and “leisure” generally doesn’t get at what I’m interested in, which is more about societal attitudes toward fun for fun’s sake.

  21. BBA says:

    The NY Times has a (paywalled) story on the rise and fall of taxi medallion prices and the cab drivers left on the hook to pay off exorbitant loans. The popular narrative is that Uber and Lyft killed taxis but the story makes it read more like a classic speculative bubble that would’ve popped even without Uber to speed things along. Medallion prices have fallen by roughly 90% but taxi revenues are only down 10% in the Uber era. Other tidbits – the bubble was initially fueled mainly by nonprofit credit unions (so much for the profit motive being the root of all evil) but towards the end was mainly the work of larger commercial banks (so much for the profit motive being the root of all good).

    I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t rehash the overdone taxi-vs-Uber arguments in this subthread but I fear that may be too much to ask.

    • SamChevre says:

      I don’t have access, but how many medallions were owned by drivers? My impression was that very few cab drivers owned a medallion–they leased them from investors. (In other words, I wonder if the article focusing on “drivers with loans worth more than their medallion” is focusing on a sympathetic, but very unrepresentative, segment of the people who lost money.)

      • sclmlw says:

        That’s how this kind of speculative bubble works, isn’t it? Institutions make huge investments and take massive hits or go under, but the individuals inside the institutions are partially shielded from long term catastrophic risks. Meanwhile a small percentage of individuals gets caught up in the bubble. They don’t have the technical expertise to know they’re in over their heads, or the ability to extract themselves.

      • BBA says:

        Until very recently, about 1/3 of NYC medallions were designated as “driver-owned.” The owner had to be a natural person, could only own one medallion, and had to drive the taxi for a certain number of shifts per week (but could lease to another driver for other shifts). This restriction was abolished after the bubble burst.

    • j1000000 says:

      The loans do seem insane and it’s a sad story in general, and I can believe a correction would’ve come. But in general I guess I don’t understand why you think this contradicts the Uber/Lyft narrative — I still think Uber/Lyft did the bulk of the work of the 80% plummet in prices.

      The ridesharing version of UberX came out in 2013 and, in my area at least (major city but not NYC), didn’t reach total ubiquity until 2014 (not to mention the later Uber Pool). That’s right when the NYC medallion market plummeted. I know NYT says yellow cab revenue is only down 10%, but that stat starts in 2011, when Uber was just a Black Car service. I would imagine 2017-2018 revenue was down more than 10% over 2007-2008 (although maybe 2008 was a terrible year for taxis).

      • DragonMilk says:

        Just like stocks, the underlying asset should ultimately have a sane return on investment. At $1MM per medallion, which simply gives the owner the right to announce to the world that they are a licensed taxi, one needs to consider how much that is worth even in a monopolistic market given cash flows and other comparable investments.

        If you suppose interest on such a medallion loan is 10%, you need to cover $100k/year just in interest payments. At $5k/month pre-tax for driving income, how long do you think this market can last?

        But if the underlying medallion price is 200k, suddenly 20k/year is more reasonable.

        • j1000000 says:

          Well I’m presumably missing something, but with the numbers you’re giving there I’d think the market can last barely more than zero months, so I’m not totally sure how all these lenders became so rich.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Speculative bubble, not worrying about cash flow or basics because “of course this is the value, look at what people are paying for it.”

            The mere existence of Uber/Lyft may have reminded someone that “wait a minute, these can fall in value” and that cascades to a massive price correction.

        • zzzzort says:

          Well collateralized loans would have an interest rate of half that, and a medallion can support 3 full time workers working in shifts. If they’re each pulling in 5k a month, then roughly 25% of earnings are covering interest. For comparison, this is about the same cut that uber takes.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Would be curious what the actual loan terms were on average. Like the subprime crisis, journalists may find the most sensational excesses, but that won’t be representative of what an average loan looked like, what down payment, interest rate, debt-to-income, etc.

      That being said, I read through the whole thing and it makes me more libertarian – regulators in bed with lenders for an artificial product created by regulators.

    • Anthony says:

      Taxi gross revenue is down only 10%, but what’s their margin? I could easily see a 10% decline in gross revenue leading to a 90% decline in net revenue.

      In San Francisco, most medallions are held by cab owners, who leased their cabs to the drivers. Fewer than 10% attach to the driver.

  22. Shion Arita says:

    One of my favorite things is recursion, so I decided to try a fun recursive experiment with GPT2, inspired by an experiment in the last OT about trying to guess real or fake hitler speeches.

    In this game, I will give six text passages, three of them written by GPT2, and three of them written by me. The trick here, however (and the lol recursion) is that in my passages I am trying to write like GPT2. So we have a human creating text that is trying to stylisitcally imitate text created by an AI trying to stylistically imitate text created by humans. Try to see if you can determine which of these are written by GPT2 and which are written by me attempting to imitate the style of GPT2.

    This is the tool I used to create the GPT2 passages. Some of the GPT2 passages are edited for clarity (for example removing truncated terminal expressions, removed the prompt,)

    Thus the passage is quoted as a warning to every man of power, as a rule, who is trying to become wise. For if what is taken for granted to you would not be taken for granted, would you not find yourself to be wiser? For to take these blessings without seeking to see what is lost would be to forget that we are human beings.

    To the Lord say, ‘What must I know, before I act? When I set all in motion, then I know that my action is for the glory of God. How much worse is it than the act of man when evil is in his way! What can be said of such acts? The Lord also says, ‘If anyone becomes a lawgiver, and says to his brothers, “Be my friend”, and if his brothers do such a thing, I will remember him.’ So why do you think the world is so full of bad men? The fact is, many acts are not evil, for many are good in themselves. One man speaks very loudly. To others, there should be silence.

    In terms of conflict and violence, the Middle East is a more difficult area than the First World War could ever have been for those who lived through it. In terms of geography, the area covers a far greater proportion of the planet’s landmass. Yet in terms of population, many of the same dynamics that characterized the First and Second World Wars persist.

    The rise of the modern, mass-based, global economy requires a massive influx of new, cheap labor–primarily from abroad–to meet the ever-growing demands of that economy. In other words, if any significant portion of that labor can be brought over to the United States, the economic interests of the entire world are at stake. This may sound like idle talk, but those same pressures on U.S. political, economic, and military power bring with it increased demands for international solidarity.

    As is often the case, in both World Wars some portion of the U.S.-Russian/Indian balance of powers was tipped or tipped towards an open conflict.

    A man must find it within himself the ability to learn to control his surroundings. Given that, he must find other options with which to enforce dominance and control. Machiavellian scheming is not so exclusively vast as to cover one’s capabilities completely, however misinformation can enable much vaster potentials than truth. Audacious ones seem to believe that the government of the United States must continue to be benevolent if peace is to be upheld across the world stage. However, the possibility of a coup d’etat will always threaten leadership in developing nations.

    The influence of American culture on the rest of the world has met with mixed success. Some nations have embraced influence from the U.S., while others remain isolated and underdeveloped. Economic development in western nations has continued to occur for the past 50 years, while in other areas, progress has been slow.

    According to the agency’s plan, these new automated trains would operate from Chicago–Lake Shore Drive until they reached speeds of around 30 miles an hour (40 kilometers an hour, or 57 mph). At that point, they would pass under a bridge over the Chicago River, which feeds into Lake Michigan. The city has already installed more than a dozen tracks along that stretch, including a bridge over the city’s lakefront that runs under the new elevated railroad.

    “This will allow us to provide a more reliable connection between the city and the regional rail service, so there’s no need for this system to come up with a completely new track,” says Bill Hebert, the senior transportation planner for the Illinois Department of Transportation and the author of the study.

    Dumbledore said, “I would feel much better if I could teach that.” There was a twinkle in his eye as he brushed something that looked like silver off of his robes.

    Harry was no longer in the common room, but was leaving the Library. Hermione hadn’t been completely honest with him about which books he was supposed to read, so he had to try to find them on his own. Albus had said that he would give her something nice afterward.

    After wandering around the castle, Hermione was sitting at the Gryffindor table with an angry look on her face.

    “Why didn’t you come to get me like you promised?” she asked.

    “I… I think I ought to apologize,” Harry replied. He hadn’t thought about that for a while now, and even though he was hungry, he had to talk to Dumbledore that night.

    The apparatus was set up so that gaseous oxygen would flow over the catalyst at room temperature, until complete consuption of the starting material. The reaction was monitored every hour until a black color developed in the flask, indicating the production of a large amount of ions. The researchers then stopped the production of hydrogen gas after 45 minutes, giving the reaction mixture adequate time to cool down after adding the base. A precipitate of ammonium salts was visible in the reaction mixture. The mechanism of action is unknown, but warrants further study. From the fact that the starting material is reduced over the course of the reaction, we postulate that a tetrahedral intermediate is forming, and controlling the regiochemistry of the product.

    gur svefg, frpbaq, naq sbhgu cnffntrf ner ol tcg. Gur guveq, svsgu, naq fvkgu ner zvar.

    • zakamutt says:

      V thrffrq gung gur sbhegu, svsgu, naq fvkgu jrer jevggra ol lbh; gur fvkgu jnf fbeg bs rnfl zbqr orpnhfr bs gur glcb va vg gubhtu (cynhfvoyr ohg hayvxryl va TCG-2 trarengrq guvatf). Gur svsgu V sryg yvxr lbh jrer gelvat rkcyvpvgyl gb zvzvp gur fgbel jevgvat fglyr TCG-2 hfrf fbzrgvzrf.

      V nyfb pbafvqrerq “V jnf xvqqvat naq V jebgr nyy bs gurfr, npghnyyl” n cbffvoyr ulcbgurfvf; znlor V’ir tbggra gbb hfrq gb gung fbeg bs guvat…

      • mcpalenik says:

        It wasn’t too hard to figure out how to read this (my first guess ended up being right, because it still looks like English words and the single letter ones are easy to identify), but I assume this is some kind of standard community thing. Does it originate from somewhere? Or is it just assumed that the readers here are fairly smart and can figure this out.

        • Nick says:

          It is a community thing. A lot of folks use rot13.com to encode and decode.

          • rlms says:

            Picking a random substitution cipher each time could be fun though.

          • acymetric says:

            I would love to find a browser plugin that will decode rot13 on the fly or something. I haven’t actually looked, so it may be something that is readily available.

            This would have been especially helpful when I went to look back at the Avengers threads after finally seeing the movie and had to decode every freaking comment.

          • Nick says:

            At that point I think it’s best to copy a whole series of posts in sequence and stick them in the text box. I don’t think there’s a character limit. It looks like there are Chrome plugins, but I don’t know if they’re any good.

        • Rana Dexsin says:

          ROT13’s been used for spoilers since the early days of the Internet. It’s just that a lot of other areas of the Internet sprung up that never inherited the tradition.

    • Rana Dexsin says:

      My first guess after reading the passages through once, writing down probability-of-GPT2 estimates, and then sorting them by that, was 2/3 correct: I guessed the digits of 6343267 ÷ 15359 as the GPT2 text and the digits of 289549288 ÷ 444094 as the human imitation.

      • Shion Arita says:

        I’m not sure quite what you mean here. What do those numbers represent?

        • Nick says:

          If you punch the division into a calculator, the digits of the result is the numbers he is guessing for each. That is to say, the result of one division is (not really) 123 and the other 456.

          • Rana Dexsin says:

            That’s correct (aside from the “he” part 😛). The arithmetic is there to obscure the digits of my guesses from immediate view while allowing someone to retrieve them with a small effort, much like ROT13 is being used elsewhere for alphabetic text.

    • Two McMillion says:

      I got 2/3. The last two that you wrote seem to have stronger narrative (not sure if that’s the right word) underpinnings then the GPT-2 stuff.

      The first one you wrote is much closer to word salad and harder to tell apart.

    • alchemy29 says:

      My guess is 2 , 3 and 5 are GPT2

  23. Laukhi says:

    I’ve recently started to become interested in military history and strategy, largely stimulated by having come across a bunch of writings on WWII. Can anybody point me towards any books, textbooks, online courses, or anything similar that might be helpful? I know very little, so I’m interested in basic 101 type things.

    • Perturabo says:

      The Bob Dole Institute has some recorded lectures on youtube given by military historians from the US Army War College which are pretty good. https://www.youtube.com/user/Doleman2007/playlists. I would start with the lectures by Dr. Rob Citino or Dr. Jonathan House as they are their most engaging lecturers. Most of lecturers have written books on the topics they present on so you could get those if you want more detail.

      David Glantz and Jonathan House have also written a broad survey on the fighting on the Eastern Front between Germany and the Soviet Union which is where WWII was won and lost. The title is “When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler”. This is better than many of the earlier histories as it integrates German and Soviet perspectives. The issue with older accounts of the war in the West is that they were based on the accounts of the German generals captured by the western allies. These accounts tend to deflect responsibility for German errors and atrocities from the Generals in the Wehrmacht solely on to Hitler. While Soviet accounts of the war during the cold war were considered unreliable as these were heavily censored by the Soviet Union to avoid embarrassment for important political figures.

    • cassander says:

      The most important two books to read on WW2 are Adam Tooze’s “Wages of Destruction” and Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully’s “Shattered Sword”. Each explain more than any other book why the war in their their respective theaters played out the way that it did. Neither is really what I’d call a 101 level, but assuming that you have a basic grounding in the war’s events both should be accessible.

    • bean says:

      For a ground-level view, Bill Mauldin’s Up Front is excellent. Mauldin started his career as an infantryman, and went on to become the most celebrated cartoonist of the war. Up Front was published in 1945, and it’s a great picture of young men at war. Plus, lots of great Willie and Joe cartoons.

      Cassander’s suggestions are good ones. Shattered Sword is an excellent book, and while I haven’t gotten through Wages of Destruction, it’s highly recommended by everyone, and I liked the parts I did read.

      Another good WWII strategy book is Richard Frank’s Downfall, about the decision to drop the atomic bomb and the last days of the Pacific War. Written on a reasonably popular level, unlike the other two. For the USN in WWII, consider Samuel Eliot Morrison’s The Two Ocean War, a 1-volume condensation of his 14-volume History of US Naval Operations in WWII. (This is actually another one I haven’t read, but I have read the 14-volume set, and it’s excellent, if slightly dated.)

      Are you specifically interested only in WWII, or more in strategy in general? If so, try to find a copy of Norman Friedman’s Seapower as Strategy.

      And lastly, I’m an amateur naval historian, and write a blog where I do a lot of 101-ish level naval history stuff, although it tends to skew rather technical.

      • bean says:

        Another good book to start with is John Keegan’s The Second World War, which covers five major battles in reasonable detail.

        If you have to do video instead of books (a subject I agree with cassander on), then I’d recommend the documentary series Victory at Sea. It’s a 50s series composed entirely of footage shot by various navies during the war, and gives a good high-level view of the war. You should be able to find it on YouTube.

    • dndnrsn says:

      cassander’s recommended Wages of Destruction, read that. Nazi Germany started the war in Europe and held the initiative into the end of 1942, so it’s probably learning about Hitler and Nazi Germany. Kershaw’s biography is good, also will provide a lot of coverage of the Nazi state and so forth, and is available in one or two volumes. I enjoyed Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler by Gellately recently, and it has the bonus you get USSR coverage too.

    • proyas says:

      Watch “The World at War” documentary series on YouTube.

      I also recommend watching the higher-rated movies and TV series about WWII, in historical/chronological order, and then reading Wikipedia articles after each one to learn the facts. Here’s a list of important and critically acclaimed films that roughly correspond to each year of WWII:

      The Pianist

      Darkest Hour

      Tora! Tora! Tora!

      The Thin Red Line
      Schindler’s List
      Empire of the Sun

      The Tuskegee Airmen
      Come and See

      Saving Private Ryan
      A Bridge Too Far

      Downfall (der Untergang)

      I also recommend watching the TV series “Band of Brothers” (1944-45) and “The Pacific” (1942-45).

      • cassander says:

        I want to weigh in against using movies, or even documentaries, to learn about topics that you care about. Film is not a good medium for serious learning of complex topics. A two hour film is a short story or article, not a novel or serious book. It transmits far less factual information, but transmits it much more powerfully. It’s almost too effective, fixing ideas in our heads much more firmly than things we read, which is problematic when you’re first learning about a topic. Documentaries are a good idea for topics you don’t really care much about, that you want an emotional take on, or where you already have enough of a basis of knowledge that you can smell out mistakes. I don’t think they’re a good medium if you’re just starting out.

        • I’m not sure I agree. Pretty much any person is more likely to remember something concrete than abstract and films reify events to a greater extent than a history book. After seeing Saving Private Ryan, I think people would remember more from a book on D-Day than Stalingrad. You are right that movies movies can be anti-informative but some are fairly accurate, like Dunkirk and The Pianist.

        • proyas says:

          I think motion pictures are the right format for him to learn about WWII, given that he knows very little about the conflict. Note that I also recommended he read the Wikipedia articles alongside each movie or TV series episode to strengthen his understanding of what he saw. Most of the works I recommended are also critically acclaimed, and he will gain ancillary benefits from watching them.

          By completing the regimen I’ve recommended, he will form a foundation of knowledge about WWII that he can build upon later with more in-depth documentaries and dense books.

    • SamChevre says:

      They are distinctly partisan, but I found Churchill’s History of the Second World War very helpful. The little maps showing key features of the geography, and the descriptions of why particular tactics were chosen, were clear and easy to follow.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I own/read this, and my thinking is “When writing a history of the Second World War, being partisan is considered morally obligatory, so why not take it from the head of a Good Guy government?”

  24. Elliot says:

    I’m struggling to name an app we’re developing that gives people in the UK practical help accessing mental health treatment, and includes info and advice on symptoms, self-help, etc..

    Toyed with “Headstart” & “Pathfinder”, but my lawyers tell me these will trigger trademark disputes. Has anyone got any ideas, or know anyone I can pay to come up with a good name? Offering £60 if anyone comes up with something we can use.

    • nameless1 says:

      Does the UK still have a good sense of humor, or that got phased out in favor of never-offend-anyone cautiousness? Because it could be something like “Bonkers” or “Off The Trolley” or “Gaga” etc. Or to emphasize the healing: Back From Lunch etc.

      • Elliot says:

        It’s a nice idea, but I think the people who would respond well to descriptions like that would already be comfortable with their own mental health and so probably happy to register and get treatment, while our audience is people who haven’t registered with services. So I think it might alienate some of the people we’re hoping to help.

    • WashedOut says:


    • Watchman says:

      You’ve not given enough information here. What is the profile of your intended users? And is there any backers who might not want edgy or similar names? It’s easy to make up names in general, but yours presumably has a specific purpose which you want the name to represent.

      Marketing is a professional hazard for me (rather than a skill as such) but I’d suggest if you have a generic market go for something generic (perhaps with a useful acronym) and a specific market, you need to get a field of ideas and trial it on the market.

      As a potential user, the app sounds useful. The wonders of our NHS mean accessing services can be tricky or slow without the requisite knowledge or experience. Will you let us know when it’s ready?

      • Elliot says:

        The intended user is someone who isn’t currently accessing treatment, though it might be useful to those who are as well. The app is supposed to centralise a lot of the chaos that comes before treatment, so it features symptom-quizzes to decide if you might benefit from help; a GPS-based local-doctor-finder; concise information on conditions, their treatment, and low-risk self-help strategies; and we plan to add a simple 1-a-day reminder system (at the beginning this will be “Fill out the GP regisrtation form” etc., later it’ll be opt-in stuff like “Do 30 minutes of exercise”).

        The funders don’t care much about what I do with the money, but the current funding is pretty limited and we’ll be looking for more. We’d also like support from universities and other groups in promoting the app when it’s done, so we don’t want to alienate potential funders (or users, for that matter).

        I’ll definitely post about it on here when it’s ready. Currently there are 4 SSC users actively working on it, so that’s cool.

    • johan_larson says:

      Can it be humorous? UnfuckYourHead. Or if that’s too harsh, maybe FixYourHead.

    • Kuiperdolin says:


    • sclmlw says:

      MindDepot / MinDepot

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Make it explicit: “Get Mental Health Help”

    • Aqua says:

      WellBean, and your icon is a bean

    • knite says:

      Helping Hand(s)
      Two Heads Are Better Than One
      Head Together
      Head and Heart

    • aristides says:

      I don’t know UK law, but I think that would be enough to avoid the trademark disputes, allow you to use the name you wanted, and follow mobile app conventions.

    • honoredb says:

      Are we still posting GPT-2 stuff? Because suggesting names is one use for it, if you tweak the params so that it gives many short suggestions instead of one long one.

      Model prompt >>> We’re developing an app that gives people in the UK practical help accessing mental health treatment, and includes info and advice on symptoms, self-help, etc…
      >>>We’re currently calling it ”
      ======================================== SAMPLE 1 ========================================
      The Holy Grail” with a $6 million (£5.5 million; p25m) save
      ======================================== SAMPLE 2 ========================================
      the British Dialing Service using Your Health Care Guide”—it allows people who are experiencing symptoms to download
      ======================================== SAMPLE 3 ========================================
      emergency crack.”
      Our first Major Project that was successfully funded was called 101 Continent, which sought
      ======================================== SAMPLE 4 ========================================
      Up – with the madness with local psychiatrists and mental health nurses helping people.”
      Lastly, a huge
      ======================================== SAMPLE 5 ========================================
      Codswallop’s Dentistry App” and have already realised a paying customer account costs £28
      ======================================== SAMPLE 6 ========================================
      The MHC app +— or Speak Away,” which means it’s offline and as it were in the
      ======================================== SAMPLE 7 ========================================
      our brain.”
      The idea in developing a friendly app is that we want to let mental health professionals
      ======================================== SAMPLE 8 ========================================
      mental mental health support,” but we’re still open for more customisations and related design opportunities. As
      ======================================== SAMPLE 9 ========================================
      The Quizlet”.
      So what’s in it for you? Click here to get in touch
      ======================================== SAMPLE 10 ========================================
      I sense TY gas and I’m dying” because we’ve linked the symptoms to premature stopping—we
      ======================================== SAMPLE 11 ========================================
      Parents give brilliant help keeping children safe and healthy”

      We understand what you’re writing
      ======================================== SAMPLE 12 ========================================
      BetterMentalHealth”.Top Mate in Christchurch talks about freeing Kafka in

      ======================================== SAMPLE 13 ========================================
      The Compassionate Suicide Guide” Basically this is more a resource our community offers on communicating with someone
      ======================================== SAMPLE 14 ========================================
      Mental Therapist”, but would be happy to meet in person if we can help.
      ======================================== SAMPLE 15 ========================================
      Things to Do,” because the best part is that people should be able to chat with their GP about
      ======================================== SAMPLE 16 ========================================
      Safe In The Kit”: a store of useful resources ranging from discussions about events, providers, forums,
      ======================================== SAMPLE 17 ========================================
      Talking Knowing Thinking”. You can find more details and details about YOUR sample 24 * 24 moments below…
      ======================================== SAMPLE 18 ========================================
      Immunizeab”, which came about when an employee was recruited while she was still trying to become
      ======================================== SAMPLE 19 ========================================
      British Depression Cook Off”. We’re opening up access to reliable and easily accessible mental health information to help
      ======================================== SAMPLE 20 ========================================
      SSRS,” after the disease and debilitating illness the so-called “eating disorders” arose from.

      • honoredb says:

        Same prompt but with top_k set to 40 (restricting it to more sensible predictions):

        Model prompt >>> We’re developing an app that gives people in the UK practical help accessing mental health treatment, and includes info and advice on symptoms, self-help, etc…
        >>>We’re currently calling it ”
        ======================================== SAMPLE 1 ========================================
        Mental Care in the UK.” We’ve got a working prototype out and will be showing it at
        ======================================== SAMPLE 2 ========================================
        *We were thinking of offering a
        ======================================== SAMPLE 3 ========================================
        UK MALEOVER”.
        It’s basically a mobile app where you check in to an outpatient
        ======================================== SAMPLE 4 ========================================
        Minds Up” which is “a brain map that tracks people’s thoughts and behaviour› and
        ======================================== SAMPLE 5 ========================================
        the self-reflection app”… but we want to change that in the long term to be
        ======================================== SAMPLE 6 ========================================
        Stigma Free,” so don’t let that fool you: its going to be useful.
        ======================================== SAMPLE 7 ========================================
        the mental illness app”, and we hope to launch it by summer next year. (We’re actually
        ======================================== SAMPLE 8 ========================================
        App for the Mental Health” and hope to get it to your door soon. We’re hoping to
        ======================================== SAMPLE 9 ========================================
        Lifeline and the World” – and you can help us develop it by joining as a Patreon
        ======================================== SAMPLE 10 ========================================
        I Know What You’re Going Through, You Feel Very Good” The app can also be downloaded on
        ======================================== SAMPLE 11 ========================================
        Find Mental Health Treatment or Find a Mental Health Counsellor”, and are looking to test it out
        ======================================== SAMPLE 12 ========================================
        Talking Treatment”, and you can join us on Twitter: @TalkToMe.
        We’re trying
        ======================================== SAMPLE 13 ========================================
        Triage Me”, and we’d like to share the details of what it’s about with you.
        ======================================== SAMPLE 14 ========================================
        Our Mood”, but that’s just about it, as the “app” we’re developing can be
        ======================================== SAMPLE 15 ========================================
        My Mental Health Crisis App” but I’ll let you decide if that’s a word in the mouth
        ======================================== SAMPLE 16 ========================================
        CAMERAS™”, and will be releasing a website later tonight. It’ll provide useful information
        ======================================== SAMPLE 17 ========================================
        the mental health chat app”.
        It’s currently in development. It won’t be called the chat
        ======================================== SAMPLE 18 ========================================
        Mental Health Incentive Loan” and if you agree to take on an interest rate (we
        ======================================== SAMPLE 19 ========================================
        BEDDED”. In the first stage in the US, a person is diagnosed with depression,
        ======================================== SAMPLE 20 ========================================
        a mental health awareness app for adults”, but we’re open to sharing ideas on whether it needs to

  25. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links:

    My look at the Spanish-American War continues with the tale of the hunt for the Spanish squadron dispatched to reinforce Cuba, and the complete mess that can occur when points on land can talk to each other much faster than ships at sea.

    Lord Nelson visited the Japanese battleship Mikasa in December, and we teamed up to show and discuss some of her photos from the visit.

    As it’s been a year since I started my series on the Falklands War, I wrote up a glossary of all the ships, aircraft types and weapons to make it easier to follow. I also posted Part 14, covering the second half of the Argentine air attacks on the first day of the landing.

    Battleships were involved in naval aviation from the earliest days of heavier-than-air operations at sea, and I’ve looked at the history of the airplane aboard the battleship through the early 20s as part 1 of a new series.

    Iowa wasn’t actually my first museum ship, and I’ve hunted through the family archives for photos of my time at Blueback, Texas, and U-505.

    Lastly, as always, Naval Gazing has its own Open Thread.

  26. Blueberry pie says:

    I noted the crowd here generally believes genes have a lot of influence on many important life outcomes. AFAIK this is mostly based on twin studies on heritability of those outcomes. One thing that is bugging me about this approach is that twin studies (or GWAS for that matter) do not tell us about the mechanism of the heritability.

    A particular example: a lot of life outcomes are plausibly influenced by physical appearance – how teachers treat you, which partner you get, which promotions you get… Some studies even claim (though I am slightly skeptical) that beautiful kids get notably better treatment from parents starting at birth. If early environment is important this could explain even the heritability of mental health problems and so on.

    Assuming physical appearance is a hidden moderator between genes and other outcomes, the traits are still technically heritable, but the interpretation changes a lot – that your looks are heavily driven by genes is hardly a controversial position. Are you aware of any research that provides evidence for or against some hidden moderators in heritability (preferably but not necessarily discussing physical appearance)?

    • sclmlw says:

      My understanding is that this is partially controlled for by comparing identical versus fraternal twins.

    • Andrew Klaassen says:

      that your looks are heavily driven by genes is hardly a controversial position.

      How those looks are interpreted is often moderated by socioeconomic status, though – someone with expensively maintained skin and hair will be perceived as more attractive than someone with the same genetically-determined facial structure but skin and hair that show a hard life. Your face on meth doesn’t look good.

      Elizabeth McClintock talks a bit about this, e.g. in this interview:


      “It would be very hard to separate out class and attractiveness,” McClintock said, “because they’re just so fundamentally linked. I can’t control for that—but I don’t see how anybody could.”

      This makes the attractiveness=better treatment connection very difficult to untangle. Are people treating you well because you look like you have attractiveness-causing genes, or because you look like you have rich parents?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I don’t understand what you mean. Obviously everything genetic influences your life outcomes through moderators, until-and-unless we get to a Gattaca situation where someone literally looks at your genome and then makes decisions about you.

      Is your question more like, “What if the mechanism of inheritance is not intelligence/personality traits, but rather less-controversially-genetically-heritable ‘physical’ traits?”

      • Blueberry pie says:

        > Is your question more like, “What if the mechanism of inheritance is not intelligence/personality traits, but rather less-controversially-genetically-heritable ‘physical’ traits?”

        Yes, this is what I had in mind.

    • a reader says:

      That hypothesis was verified and it doesn’t seem true:

      Twin research critics assert that similar treatment of monozygotic (MZ) twins results from their matched physical appearance, and that their similar treatment explains their within-pair behavioral similarities. A genetic explanation of MZ twins’ resemblance is, thereby, dismissed. To address this challenge, Segal (2013) found a lack of similarity in personality and self-esteem in pairs of unrelated look-alike individuals. The present study describes a constructive replication of that work, confirming these findings.

      Unrelated look-alikes: Replicated study of personality similarity and qualitative findings on social relatedness

      • Blueberry pie says:

        That’s exactly the kind of research I was looking for. Thanks for the link!

        • gwern says:

          There’s also ‘mistaken zygosity’ research (eg https://www.gwern.net/docs/genetics/heritable/1979-scarr.pdf ). Sometimes same-sex DZ twins are believed by everyone to actually be identical MZ twins, because they look similar enough. But direct genetic testing (or use of a combination of subtler features like blood tests) can reveal they were actually DZ all along. If appearance (or social expectations and treatment by parents etc) were driving the greater similarity of identical twins and not genes, then mistaken DZs should be more similar than regular DZs. They’re not.

          More loosely, if appearance mediated the effects of all genes, you’d expect genetic correlations to light up like a Christmas tree with everything being related to various measures of skin/eye/hair color, height, BMI, and anything which could be considered ‘appearance’. But I’ve never noticed any particular overrepresentation in the genetic correlation literature or the big heatmaps of genetic correlations between every which thing.

      • Nornagest says:

        Reminds me of all the old conventional wisdom about coat color and personality in cats.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      Williams syndrome. Delete some small part of a chromosome and heritability gets thrown out of the window.
      The children look like the’ve got the “Williamson syndrome”-look and don’t look like much like their parents.
      So you could say that would “moderate” heritability.

      • albatross11 says:

        That’s true for a bunch of genetic disorders. But this makes me curious about whether there are MZ twins where one of the twins has some genetic disorder but the other doesn’t. ISTR that there are variants of Downs where only a subset of cells have three copies of chromosome 21, depending on where in the development of the embryo the error happened, so this might be possible. It would be interesting (and sad and depressing) to see a pair of identical twins where one of them had Downs and the other didn’t. Anyone know if this ever happens?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          This based on this and this is about a pair of identical twins, one with Down’s, the other without. Wikipedia claims that 1-2% of Down’s is due to post-fertilization effect, so 1-2% of identical twins with Down’s should be discordant. But googling makes it seem to me rarer than that.

          Another mechanism is chimerism. If you have triplets, identical+fraternal and two of them merge into a chimera, you have something intermediate between MZ and DZ that can be mistaken for MZ, but could be discordant for chromosome number. Or you could have chimerism before splitting, so that both twins are chimera, genetically identical, but the ratio of the two genotypes vary, producing macroscale differences. (Some other link said that chimerism is < 1/1000, though. So as a cause of mosaic Down's probably less relevant than post-fertilization Down's.)

  27. Andrew Klaassen says:

    Lifespan Less Heritable than Previously Thought: “Estimates predict that somewhere between 15 percent and 30 percent of the variability in human lifespan is due to genetics. But in a study published in Genetics today (November 6), researchers have shown that those are likely overestimates and that assortative mating—that is, people choosing partners with traits that resemble their own—can account for most of what looks like heritability. …

    “Using statistical models that accounted for mate choice, they estimated the heritability of longevity at about 7 percent, well below previous estimates.”

    • Randy M says:

      assortative mating—that is, people choosing partners with traits that resemble their own—can account for most of what looks like heritability.

      Maybe I have to read the whole thing… but how does attributing something to mating make it less heritable?

      • Andrew Klaassen says:

        Maybe I have to read the whole thing… but how does attributing something to mating make it less heritable?

        You live longer if you marry someone who lives longer. You don’t get any genes from the person you marry. Does that make sense of it?

  28. baconbits9 says:

    Long reply to the manufacturing/tarriff discussion in the previous thread.

    @ Faza (TCM)

    I don’t think your graph does what you think it does – at best, all it tells us is what we already know (manufacturing jobs are gone).

    The graph I linked shows the decline of manufacturing jobs as a percent of employment in the US, what is shows is the decline of manufacturing relative to the US economy and the timing of the decline. Economics is largely the study of using scarce resources, in the US labor force participation rate started an upswing in the late 1960s, and the size of the labor force also increased by more than 50% from 1970 to 1990. The 6 percentage point increase in labor force participation meant ~8 million more people in the labor force in 1990 than would have been there with the same demographic shifts at the 1970 rate, and the labor force added over 40 million potential workers in that time span.

    During this time frame manufacturing jobs in the US failed to keep up with the larger labor force, I would describe it as noisy, but flat or declining, with the local peak in 1969 being higher than almost all of the 80s.

    We can also toss in a graph of the sales value of all manufactured goods in the US and see that it more than quadruples from 1970 to 1990.

    These are the basic facts. The story proposed by the pro tariff crowd is something along the lines of 1. Free trade agreements opened up lower wage workers who competed with US workers. 2. US manufacturers effectively moved operations overseas. 3. US manufacturing employees lost their jobs because of this.

    This is contradicted by the evidence presented in the following ways.

    1. If total manufacturing jobs were flat of falling during a period of massive expansion of the labor force then it is likely to nearly certain than a slower expansion is going to see a decrease in total manufacturing jobs. This lines up nicely with the data. Manufacturing jobs and total employment with total employment divided by 7 to get them on the same scale. Here you see that manufacturing jobs drop off as total labor stops increasing right around 2000.

    2. We see no real decline in manufacturing employment after free trade agreements in 1987, or 1994, or relating to any tariff changes from 1970 on. There is basically one large data point with a big decline around 2000 with trade relations and China, but causally it gives no explanatory power to any other decline.

    3. We see a much smaller drop off in the value of manufactured goods sold in the US around 2000 relative to the employment drop off, ball park a 7% decline from peak to trough in total manufactured goods and a 17% decline total employment, and we see a bounce back roughly to the previous trend for manufactured goods but a continued decline in employment (much slower rate of decline) until the GR in 2008.

    All of the data are consistent with the observation that US manufacturing was decreasing its dependence on labor with or without free trade agreements, with some room to argue that China’s influence around 2000 represented a once off that pulled forward some manufacturing UE.

    I notice your emphasis on free trade agreements, but I would caution against only looking at things like NAFTA. GATT (WTO) has been a thing since 1947. Tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers have been undergoing constant reductions roughly from the end of WWII.

    Correct, but we don’t see job losses, or a decline in the share of manufacturing of employment. If lower tariffs are causing lower manufacturing employment then why does the shift only happen in 1970?

    Counterpoint graph.

    This graph is nonsense. Why is there a ‘high tariff’, ‘low tariff’ and ‘Bretton Woods’ section? This might make sense if there was some massive tariff reduction in 1970, but in that case you don’t need 3 sections, just one high tariff and one low tariff section. Keeping BW in there implies that it was the end of BW that caused the trade deficit, not a shift in tariffs, presenting this on its own for the opposite argument is nuts.

    @ Conrad Honcho

    After accusing Pat Buchanan of being “disingenuous” (about what you’ve never explained)

    I have no recollection of mentioning Pat Buchanan, and searching that thread can’t find what you are referencing.

    claiming that America, which heavily tariffed foreign products was unquestionably built on free trade because they didn’t tariffs goods from other parts of the same country is…well it’s something all right.

    The US was not a monolith throughout history, admitting new states and territories was functionally the same as signing a free trade agreement with them from a tariff perspective. Arguing that the US was not built on free(er) trade means you have to argue that the US would have been better off not admitting new territories or forcing them to accept tariffs on interstate trade when they were admitted. It has the same logical effect as signing a FTA with a foriegn power from the perspective of current us manufacturing employees.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Pat Buchanan wrote the article you called disingenuous.

      • baconbits9 says:

        In which case I did address it.

        To recap, this quote (now expanded)

        That the Smoot-Hawley Tariff caused the Depression of the 1930s is a New Deal myth in which America’s schoolchildren have been indoctrinated for decades.

        The Depression began with the crash of the stock market in 1929, nine months before Smoot-Hawley became law

        Can only be interpreted as refuting the argument that Smoot-Hawley caused the stock market crash, since no such argument exists it is a misleading statement to open with.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          From the wikipedia page on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff:

          The consensus view among economists and economic historians is that the passage of the Smoot–Hawley Tariff exacerbated the Great Depression,[16] although there is disagreement as to how much.

          Clearly, such an argument exists. I’ve certainly heard it before, so it was wise of Buchanan to head that one off at the pass by correctly attributing the depression to the crash and then Fed inaction.

          Would you like to walk back your claim that Buchanan is intentionally disingenuous?

          • 10240 says:

            Economists say the Smoot–Hawley Tariff exacebrated the depression. Buchanan says “schoolchildren are indoctrinated” that the tariff caused the depression, which he then dismisses as obviously wrong on the basis the depression predated the tariff. That’s a strawman.

          • baconbits9 says:

            No. Buchanan implies that the argument exists that Smoot Hawley caused the stock market crash.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            A stock market crash doesn’t cause a depression. A depression is a long-term economic downturn. There will be a crash in there, combined with policies that cause or fail to address the long-term downturn. Buchanan is saying the tariff caused neither the crash (since the crash predated the tariff) nor the long-term troubles (he blames those on Fed policy which makes an awful lot more sense than saying that protecting industries causes them not to grow).

            It looks like you’re taking an uncharitable read of a sentence, picking at nits and then accusing someone of willful dishonesty. Is this supposed to convince me that tariffs are bad now?

          • baconbits9 says:

            What is the point of this line?

            That the Smoot-Hawley Tariff caused the Depression of the 1930s is a New Deal myth in which America’s schoolchildren have been indoctrinated for decades.

            Except to establish the claim that some people believe that Smoot-Hawley caused the depression?

            What is the point of the line that immediately follows it

            The Depression began with the crash of the stock market in 1929, nine months before Smoot-Hawley became law.

            In this context? Buchanan makes only two claims about Smoot-Hawley, he claims that school children are indoctrinated into believing it caused the depression and he states that it came into law 9 months after the stock market crash. He makes no other claims about Smoot-Hawley. Therefore either his point is that S-H could not have caused the depression because it came before the crash OR he provides zero evidence that S-H didn’t cause the depression, and is just stating that it is a myth. Neither of these is acceptable, one is a straw man and the other is simply assertion without evidence.

            Is this supposed to convince me that tariffs are bad now?

            My goal is to get people to stop listening to hacks who cherry pick data to make claims.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Free trade is the policy of fading and failing powers, past their prime. In the half-century following passage of the Corn Laws, the British showed the folly of free trade.

        They began the second half of the 19th century with an economy twice that of the USA and ended it with an economy half of ours, and equaled by a Germany, which had, under Bismarck, adopted what was known as the American System.

        I can only assume that by passage he means repeal.

        Beyond that the US population roughly tripled from 1850 to 1900, while (depending on your source) the population of the UK less than doubled. The US population in 1900 was roughly double the UK population, and the German population was 35-40% larger.

        Estimates of GDP per capita don’t have the UK falling behind Germany or France during the latter half of the 19th century, and Germany and France don’t gain any ground on a per capita basis until around 1850. This only leaves the US, whose gains were far, far smaller in terms of GDP/capita, and can also be explained by other factors such as the Westward expansion during that period.

        The best case is that Buchanan has the economic knowledge of a freshman taking Econ 101 and the worst case is that he is intentionally picking his dates/numbers/measures to support his thesis, either way he shouldn’t be trusted.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Germany and France don’t gain any ground on a per capita basis until around 1850.

          That would be the “second half of the 19th century” that he was talking about.

          Since we finally have a President who understands the purpose of an economy is to serve the people and not the other way around, here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to have tariffs and protect our industries. Domestic production will rise, imports will fall, GDP will rise, wages will rise, workforce participation will rise, housing starts and home ownership will rise, family formation will increase, birth rates will increase, opioid use will decrease. Life will be good. And in six shorts years the bad man will be gone and the neocon/lib stooge who replaces him will get back to the program of sacrificing American sovereignty and the American worker on the alter of global capitalism in service of foreign authoritarians and we can all get right back to consuming slightly cheaper Chinese garbage.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That would be the “second half of the 19th century” that he was talking about.

            Sorry, that was a typo. 1950.

          • DeWitt says:

            Prove it.

            You’re arguing with people bringing charts and statistics while banking on someone who’s arguing with strawmen nobody cares to defend. You’re making very strong statements about a great many things, so I’d like to see very strong evidence in support of them all.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I can’t prove things that haven’t happened yet.

            But it should be pretty obvious. If you put tariffs on imports, domestic production goes up to substitute, agreed?

            If production goes up, more employees are needed, yes? So that increases competition for labor, driving wages up, agreed? And if wages are higher, people who were sitting out on “disability” are enticed to come back to the workforce, increasing labor participation rates, right? And if men have jobs and money, women are more likely to want to marry them, no? And then they’ll need a house? So maybe home building and home ownership rates increase? And if you have married people in a home with a steady income, babies tend to happen? And people with stable homes and meaningful lives tend to not abuse drugs as much?

            I can’t prove it, but wait and see.

            * Edited to remove unnecessarily confrontational exasperation.

          • AG says:

            If you put tariffs on imports, domestic production goes up to substitute, agreed?

            Nope. Instead, the execs decide that the cost tradeoff will never be worth it. The product becomes simply more expensive, or even no longer available. Quality of life reduced for the classes that can no longer afford these increased-price amenities.

          • 10240 says:

            @Conrad Honcho , Production increases in the sectors affected by the tariffs, but total production doesn’t necessarily increase. As wages start to increase, some production in some other sectors that is currently profitable starts to become unprofitable. Production for export is especially likely to go down, as other countries won’t be willing to buy stuff from the US for higher prices than today.

            Nominal wages in the US go up somewhat, but so do prices. You talk in dismissive terms about the effect of free trade on prices (“for a little temporary saving on cheaper gadgets”), and in aggrandizing terms about the effect on wages — even though any increase in wages from tariffs comes entirely from other Americans paying more for what you produce.

            In fact, the increase in prices often exceeds the increase in wages. Let’s say you need to sell an item for $24 to make as much from it as in your current job. Let’s say the item is now imported for $20. A tariff is added, so it costs $30 to import it. You start making the item, and sell it for $29. You make $5 more per item than in your previous job, yet the American customer pays $9 more. That’s how tariffs are bad for the country as a whole: those who gain, gain less than others lose. Of course the same person can be on both sides in different transactions, so it’s possible that from some tariffs, no one benefits.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If the US increases tariffs on skub, domestic skub production will increase. But domestic production in industries that use skub as an input will decrease.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If you put tariffs on imports, domestic production goes up to substitute, agreed?

            If you impose tariffs on imports, that will appear as a rise in price to the consumers of those imports. Those consumers will not simply demand the domestic substitute.

            For example, they might chose another imported substitute. It’s not clear that if you impose tariffs, that they cover all possible imports, and in truth, you often have reason to hit one source and not others. So you might impose a tariff on Chinese rice, and in response, American rice eaters scatter toward Vietnamese rice, Indian rice, Peruvian quinoa, and Italian wheat. Likewise for kitchen utensils, textiles, toys, etc. So to some extent you’ve just bumped up demand for alternative imports. Some domestic goods might sell better, too, but that’s only if the deal for those domestics beats the deal for all other imports.

            Some domestic consumers may substitute nothing for certain imports – their alternative is to do without. So imports have dropped by some portion which is matched by zero rise in domestic demand. In other words, domestic goods will compete with not only alternative imports, but also the option of doing without.

            Domestic consumers are not the only players involved in a tariff. International exporters create their goods using other imports in turn. Those imports might be coming from the US. Since those imports are in less demand, demand for those US inputs drops in turn. So US producers will be worse off. We expect that much of those inputs aren’t from the US, but if not, they come from some other nation, and those nations may in turn use US inputs, and so on. If we were able to walk these chains all the way to “first level” extraction (farming, lumber, mining, drilling), we might find that it hurts the US more than it hurts other nations, or that it hurts less. Either way, production chains are adversely affected in many directions, and impoverish international consumers as well, which reduces their future demand for US goods.

            Overall, then, the benefit to domestic producers is reduced by at least three things: alternative international producers, consumers choosing to do without, and reduced demand for US inputs to tariffed goods. All you’ve done by imposing tariffs is protect the short-term interests of one type of US producers at the expense of the long-term interests of other US producers – very possibly including the producers you’re trying to protect. All the downstream effects you predict – labor participation, family growth, housing demand, etc. – are coming for a few, at the expense of all those downstream effects for the rest. You’re not helping the economy overall, because you’re expending resources to enforce tariffs that don’t turn into any wealth later. They just shift that wealth a bit while destroying some of it.

            One of the worst outcomes of this is that by the time said downstream effects occur, they are so spread out that there will be no clear cause – everyone will be impoverished without knowing exactly why. Or possibly believing that that’s just how things are supposed to be. And even if they know, you and yours will be long gone, believing you’d done a good thing. So the reliance on tariffs is likely to remain stable for a long time.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If you put tariffs on imports, domestic production goes up to substitute, agreed?

            No. Demand is a function of price, and tariffs effect prices. Domestic production could go up, stay the same or decrease.

            If production goes up, more employees are needed, yes?

            No, employment might go up, or more capital might be consumed, or a combination of both.

            So that increases competition for labor, driving wages up, agreed?

            No, real wages are a function of prices, tariffs effect prices and so real wages can decrease even given your other assumptions.

          • If you put tariffs on imports, domestic production goes up to substitute, agreed?

            Domestic production of the particular goods you have imposed tariffs on probably increases. Domestic production of export goods goes down.

            People trying to work out these things in their heads mostly ignore the fact that the exchange rate is the price at which quantity demanded and quantity supplied are equal in a foreign exchange market, and changes when you change the domestic demand for foreign currency used to buy imports. They implicitly assume that the exchange rate is somehow fixed.

            You impose tariffs on steel to block Japanese (say) imports. Americans now want to buy fewer yen for dollars, since those yen were to buy Japanese steel. Since the demand for yen has fallen, the price of yen goes down, meaning that it takes more yen to buy a dollar. So American wheat is now more expensive to the Japanese, so they buy less of it. U.S. steel employment goes up, U.S. farm employment goes down.

            The reason we have a trade deficit isn’t that foreigners can produce things more cheaply than we can, because the statement is meaningless until you have an exchange rate–our costs are in dollars, theirs in yen (or …). And the exchange rate is the rate at which foreigners want to buy as many dollars as Americans want to sell. The reason we have a trade deficit is that we are importing capital–some of the dollars foreigners buy are used to buy U.S. bonds or land or stock, not U.S. export goods.

  29. Well... says:

    I consider myself strongly in favor of the 10th Amendment but had this contrary thought today and wanted to explore it.

    (Note: this post talks about ideology but is not directly an argument for an ideological position, at least not a “hot button” one, so I don’t think it should tread on CW.)

    The notion of having laws determined at the state rather than federal level is that people can live under laws that best suit their values or ideology rather than those of people who live somewhere very different, or else people can move to where the laws best suit their values or ideology. It’s remarkable to me that this concept came about at a time when moving was much more difficult and costly than it is now — and it’s not exactly trivial now.

    In terms of how people are distributed, the current pattern seems to be that most states have deep blue areas where their major cities or large state colleges are, then lighter blue or light red areas around that, and then deeper reds everywhere else. In other words, there’s a good deal of ideological diversity within each state.

    But if people actually moved wherever the laws best suited their values, wouldn’t we just end up with echo-chamber states that are entirely red or blue (or something else)? And is the fact that we don’t have this a point of evidence that the 10th Amendment doesn’t really work?

    • JPNunez says:

      But back then people did move across countries to populate america, so it didn’t seem so farfetched.

      There’s also Scott’s favorite hobby horse, that thing about which UK community colonized which part of the US explaining current politics.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      A few thoughts:

      1. If states don’t have power over other states, the fact that each is an echo chamber doesn’t really matter. The problem is actually that there is a large prize to be captured, the federal government, driving the states to fight with each other, not the existence of echo chambers.

      2. “Not being an echo chamber” and “diversity of opinion” are values that people can select their choice of location for. If everyone *wants* an echo chamber, it would be difficult to prevent them from forming.

      • Well... says:

        2. I imagine that not wanting to live in an echo chamber and wanting/not wanting to live under certain laws are often competing goals, and that the latter probably would normally win for most people. Do you think current statewide ideological diversity can be explained by people remaining in states with laws they disagree with/lack of laws they would agree with because they’d rather have ideological diversity?

    • arbitraryvalue says:

      Value differences appear to have very little effect on lifestyles, except to the extent that expressed values serve as a display of social allegiance. I think that where people live is determined primarily by inertia, and secondarily by non-partisan concerns (jobs, good schools, safety, etc). Values are a distant third.

      • Well... says:

        That seems right to me. Doesn’t this suggest, though, that the 10th Amendment is inherently very weak? If there’s an idea that the 10th Amendment allows people to live under laws they endorse or else move to where there are laws they endorse, but people actually almost never move for those reasons…

    • edmundgennings says:

      I suspect an important aspect of this is that people were more than just red tribe blue tribe. New York state is very different than Texas politically in ways that are not just red tribe versus blue tribe.

      • Well... says:

        Can you elaborate on why that’s important?

        • sclmlw says:

          Look at States like Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Water rights in these states are very important political issues, whereas they’re not really understood elsewhere. I’ve lived in both Arizona and Ohio. The people of Ohio don’t really register what water rights or water issues are about because access to water isn’t really an issue.

          Meanwhile Vegas has to adjudicate with farmers who have lived in their farms for generations and suddenly don’t get the water they normally get. It makes no sense to work out that issue at a federal level, nor should Nevada’s solutions apply to New Mexico.

          I agree that “if you don’t like it you can just move” is a dumb argument, since it doesn’t really work that way in practice. The original idea, as I understand it, was a combination of allowing for governance closest to the people and using states as ‘laboratories of democracy’ to test out ideas at limited scales.

        • edmundgennings says:

          There may have been ideological sorting historically and probably was to an extent but it is difficult for us to detect and understand now. But at the same time this makes modern ideological resorting a bit harder. The New York Republican who cares deeply about the local political conditions he lives under might not be terribly happy in Texas.
          On the other hand the relative youth of current tribal coalitions suggests that we are not necessarily in an equilibrium.

    • rtypeinhell says:

      Do you have compelling historical reason to believe the intent of the 10th amendment was to suggest or encourage values-based assortative relocation? It seems to me more likely that, in entering into a pact between thirteen already independently governed entities, the representatives of those entities would wish to ensure whatever outstanding governance which was unique or uniquely favorable to their sovereignty would not become subject to attack through power of the union. The colonies were quite different – demographically, culturally, and economically – and had every reason to expect the newly created federal government to be used by each state to legislate in its own image. Consider, for instance, the Civil War.

      The US Constitution wasn’t a document written by best friends over teas and beers about ideas they thought sounded nice. It’s worth looking into the copious documentation of its drafting if you want a definitive answer to your question.

      • Well... says:

        Do you have compelling historical reason to believe the intent of the 10th amendment was to suggest or encourage values-based assortative relocation?

        I don’t believe this was the intent; I believe it would be the logical outcome if people actually lived their lives according to the spirit of the 10th Amendment though. The original intent was no doubt as you describe.

    • eigenmoon says:

      There’s a book about it. Also an article about the book. Those guys don’t buy it but those double down.

      If echo chambers make people happy, why not? But I’m not an American so I don’t really care if US tears down into two countries. If everybody’s happier, then I’d say it’s an improvement. But US people seem to dislike this option for some reason.

      • bullseye says:

        There are lots of reasons besides politics to choose where you live. I live in the one place where I could find a job. If I could live anywhere I’d move back to my home state where my parents and friends live, even though it’s run by the bad party.

        If we were to separate into two countries there would be an awful lot of people stuck in the country run by the party they hate. Also having one sovereign nation consisting largely of cities scattered across a continent, and another sovereign nation consisting largely of the countryside surrounding each city, doesn’t sound viable.

    • WarOnReasons says:

      wouldn’t we just end up with echo-chamber states that are entirely red or blue (or something else)?

      People are more likely to live in an echo chamber under the current system. For example, people with radical socialist or ethno-nationalist views often limit their reading to sources that conform to their ideology and discuss politics only with the like-minded individuals. Allowing them to self-segregate into their own communities would actually force them to confront a very effective political opponent – the reality itself. Historic experience shows that as long as people are free to leave and there are no external coercion or subsidies, socialist communities disintegrate within at most one generation.

      And is the fact that we don’t have this a point of evidence that the 10th Amendment doesn’t really work?

      The 10th Amendment doesn’t really work because the people in charge of enforcing it (the federal government and the supreme court) have no interest in doing so.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      For another take on this idea, and the problems inherent.

      Illinois’ rural politicians want to remove Chicago from Illinois and make it the 51st state.

      Then we have 538, showing that the kind of sorting we are talking about is even more hyperlocal. Everywhere from Jackson, MS to NYC to Springfield, MO is politically segregated.

      I think the answer to your question is mostly that we tend to choose from the local options for places that are most likely to satisfy us, and that’s because the local options are the well known options. Moving to even a different part of the same state involves a fair amount of uncertainty about whether you will like where you move, a different kind of uncertainty than is involved with moving to a different neighborhood in the same metro area.

      To the the hyper-mobile this will sounds nuts, but most people just don’t move very far by choice.

      • Well... says:

        That makes sense. (And in my life I’ve been hyper mobile, not always 100% by choice.)

      • Plumber says:

        +1 to all that, and as one data point: I’m hyper immobile, I hate moving, and dislike change, I still frequent the a bookstore and game shop that I’d frequented in the late 1970’s and am greatly annoyed that others have gone out of business, when I’ve had too much coffee or tea and get in a radical mood I imagine utopian ways that would prevent “the creative destruction” of capitalism, and progress.

        Central Planning was terrible at delivering proper materials to the hands of those who needed it, but I admire they way the Soviets kept making a copy of a 1937 German motorcycle until at least the ’90’s ( I think it’s still made!), the British and the Indians also gloriously kept making ’50’s and ’60’s designed motor vehicles for decades.

        I want as much as possible in amber, and I don’t want to move.

        I strongly tempted by the idea of taxing Silicon Valley out of existence and slowing or stopping the in-migration, how to do that without turning into Detroit style out migration I just haven’t sussed, but I want as little disruption as possible and none of this “lifetime of learning and branding yourself” stuff, less in and out migration and physical change appeals to me, and no I don’t want to move someplace that’s more static, I want where I was born to stop changing so fast.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Can you really conceive of a way to do this now that the people who experienced what you did and lived through what you lived are going away? It almost seems worse to keep the trappings of your own history around with none of the context than it does to let them go; it’d be like trapping yourself and your children in a kitsch museum.

          Here lies one whose name was writ in water

          isn’t just applicable to poets, you know.

          • Deiseach says:

            I understand Plumber, I have the same tendency myself (I hate change, haven’t moved, and would like to freeze everything as it was when I was much younger).

            It’s the temptation Tolkien’s Elves fell into, wanting to hold things static and unchanging while living in the mortal realms where change did happen (and why ultimately they could only really happily live in Valinor which was created to be sempiternal).

            It’s also why I see the pitfall of transhumanism: I can equally ask do you really think people who will live eternally (as they hope) wouldn’t also fall into the ‘trapping in a museum’ mindset? No matter how flexible and open-minded you are, eventually the stream of change would be too alien and you’d either have the society fixed by the originals who first were uploaded/defeated death in the kind of structure congenial to them, with all the problems of that kind of static fixed society for any new entities coming into existence and chafing under the leaden weight of the elders’ centuries, or people eventually dropping out of the mainstream of the society that continued to evolve and move on, past the point that they could continue to adapt, and in that case either becoming fossils in amber reliving over and over their own set of memories separate from the world around them, or changing parts of themselves so radically to fit in and keep up with the changes that there isn’t much continuity between ‘original’ them and ‘now’ them, so that they might as well have died and let a new person be born in their place instead of becoming an upload immortal.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            I can equally ask do you really think people who will live eternally (as they hope) wouldn’t also fall into the ‘trapping in a museum’ mindset?

            I agree with you completely, actually, and am a big fan of death.

          • Nick says:

            When it comes to being a “big fan of death,” I always wondered what the Yudkwoskian answer would be to the problem of stasis (of individuals and the culture by extension) once you eliminate death. My best guess is that that’s just one of the problems Yudkowsky’s actual philosophy/rationality was trying to solve. A character in Scott Westerfeld’s The Risen Empire made an argument for death being good for basically this reason.

    • aristides says:

      I don’t think it shows that it doesn’t work, only that whatever sorts conservative rural; liberal urban is stronger than what sorts conservative red state; liberal blue state. I’ll use myself as an example, I’m conservative, and I turned down job offers to double my annual salary in a city, and took a rural job offer two hours away. This was all in a blue state, because the red states weren’t hiring. I’m much happier earning a fraction of the money in the county, and I think that’s a common conservative opinion.

      • Well... says:

        But let’s say states were free to set their own laws on abortion and your blue state allowed abortion and enshrined it as a right in the state constitution. If you consider this state-sanctioned murder, would you move to a red state where abortion was illegal?

        • Evan Þ says:

          As another pro-lifer, that in itself would not be a motivating factor for me to move. I’m confident that me and my hypothetical future wife would not get abortions no matter where we live, I’m confident that my moving there would not make my Blue neighbors any more likely to go get them, and I don’t consider allowing abortion to morally pollute the state in general. Seeing large pro-abortion billboards would be saddening and mildly irksome, but it wouldn’t rise to the point of motivating me to move.

          Now in this hypothetical states’ rights world, I suspect other Blue-State laws would get me to move, but an integer-numbered thread isn’t the best place to talk about that.

    • jgr314 says:

      My personal preference is to use federalism as a way to allow 50 labs to test different policy mixes and try to determine what works/doesn’t. I understand this isn’t how it works in practice.

      An anecdote to contribute to your data set about people moving where the laws match values or ideology: I am personally hyper-mobile (lived in 7 US states, 7 foreign countries) and none of my moves were an attempt to better match with the ideology/values. I’m not saying that would never be the case, indeed there are countries I would never consider for those reasons. However, the differences between most places are too small to matter and, for me, that applies to all US states.

      • Plumber says:


        “…I am personally hyper-mobile (lived in 7 US states, 7 foreign countries)…”

        I’m the opposite, for 99.9% of my life I’ve slept within 20 miles of the hospital that I was born in, though I did spend a Hellish decade working 35 to 93 miles away in “Silicon Valley”, which I hope never to repeat, the air and water taste wrong there snd it’s usually too damn hot, and learning how to orient myself without familiar landmarks was annoying, but I didn’t know another way to pay the ever rising rent.

        Now I work 15 miles from home and it still seems too far to me.

        • Deiseach says:

          the air and water taste wrong there

          Yes! You get it! 😀

          I once lived inland for six months and I thought it’d kill me; ever since, back to living on the coast. Much too different to what I knew and liked.

    • zzzzort says:

      At the risk of employing compensation reasoning, the rise of mobility that lets people move from one place to another also makes those places more economically integrated through flows of goods and services. This creates an ever larger incentive for regulation at the national level, and diminishing returns for decisions made at the local level. California (e.g. environmental rules) and Texas (e.g. textbook contents) can throw their weight around, but most states have to take what the market will give them. And if a state tries anything too out of line culturally, economic pressure from surrounding states has had a big effect.

  30. AG says:

    A long, long time ago, the inhabitants of a galaxy far, far away had the technological means to traverse parsecs and visit various systems within their galaxy in trivial amounts of time (such that they weren’t de-syncing with other inhabitants’ timelines).

    What Great Filter has prevented them from showing up in our system to disprove the Fermi Paradox?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Their galaxy collapsed under the force of disinterest before they traveled outside it.

    • Watchman says:

      There’s no evidence they could travel between galaxies though. Interstellar travel was fine, but there was presumably a maximum distance that could be travelled.

    • Nick says:

      It’s known as the Fourth Wall.

    • Well... says:

      The answer’s in the OP, innit? They had the technology to visit systems in THEIR “far, far away” galaxy, not to cross intergalactic space and visit ours.

      But discarding that, another reason could be that when they look out into the cosmos they just didn’t notice us. Our sun’s a medium-sized star halfway down a spiral arm in a dazzling spiral galaxy far, far away from them. Plus, a long, long time ago we weren’t sending out any orderly radio transmissions.

      Let’s say they could get to the Milky Way in a trivial amount of time without relativistic effects, and decided for some reason to do so; even if they visited Alpha Centauri we could have easily missed it.

    • Eric Rall says:

      What Great Filter has prevented them from showing up in our system to disprove the Fermi Paradox?

      Cosmic inflation. As I understand it, at least some currently-prevailing theories of the early universe hold that the very early universe expanded much, much faster than the speed of light, to such a degree that even now, 14-ish billion years later, light has only had time to reach us from a small fraction of the early post-inflation universe. Alan Guth, who first proposed cosmic inflation, claimed in his 1997 book on the subject that the entire universe may be as much as 3*10^23 times the radius of the observable universe, and there are

      If our interstellar aliens had a means of FTL travel with a fundamental speed limit of a billion times the speed of light and no serious logistical limitations, that would allow them to cross a Milky Way sized galaxy in about half an hour (if I did the math right), but it would only allow them to travel about 0.005% of the radius of the universe (by Guth’s estimate) over the course of 14 billion years of continuous travel in a straight line.

    • honoredb says:

      Unbeknownst to them, their FTL drive relied on non-local side effects of the activities of two competing lineages of wizards. Since each lineage tirelessly strove to eliminate the other, unaware of the benefits their conflict brought, it was inevitable that eventually one of them would succeed in driving the other to extinction, fragmenting their society in an eyeblink and ending its potential for rapid expansion.

      • bean says:

        Oh, is that why the Sith keep coming back instead of someone sitting down and THINKING UP A NEW PLOT?

        • acymetric says:

          To be fair, the word Sith hasn’t been used once in the new movies as far as I can recall.

          Also to be fair, the battle between the Jedi and the Sith is somewhat the point of the whole saga…it would be like complaining that in Harry Potter they just keep making books about the kids going to school instead of coming up with a new plot. Its kind of the thing.

          • bean says:

            First, I reject Disney’s attempt to reboot the canon.

            Second, they came up with lots of interesting and unique stuff in the 90s, none of which involved the Sith. Even the Yuuzhan Vong were not Sith. But after that series wrapped up, everything that wasn’t Sith was recycled from previous books. It was intensely frustrating. This is supposed to be a huge universe, and yet every secret base is on Hoth.

          • acymetric says:

            This is supposed to be a huge universe, and yet every secret base is on Hoth.

            I definitely agree that even the EU didn’t always do a great job of making a huge universe actually be…huge. Probably a good call on rejecting Disney’s canon, though. It doesn’t appear to be especially good, certainly not an improvement on the old/real canon.

          • bean says:

            Scale is actually one of the things I’ll give Disney credit for. They’re recycling plots, but not planets.

          • RalMirrorAd says:


            The planets used in the sequels have different names but the joke is that they are essentially taking the old planets and renaming them just as they renamed the plot points in ANH.

            Lucas himself was quite impressive in the number and variety of planets he showed in the prequels, several of which were created using giant miniatures.

            The unspoken premise of TFA is that nothing that happened in the OT is of any consequence since everyone is back at square one.

            TLJ’s originality consists in burning the OT’s protagonist in effigy, retconning how the force works, and ending with a toy commercial.

    • gbdub says:

      If you’re talking about Star Wars (or similar “hyperdrive” or “warp” FTL systems squally shown in sci fi) the travel time is not really “trivial”. Intersystem trips take hours or days, thus a trip to another galaxy (or maybe anything other than “the galaxy next door”) would be prohibitively long, and you’d have to plan to not find anything and have enough in reserve for a return journey.

      Instantaneous travel to anywhere in the universe would be a totally different story.

      • AG says:

        you’d have to plan to not find anything and have enough in reserve for a return journey

        Doesn’t that allow for an unmanned probe without a return trip? Albeit then we run into Well…’s point that the probability of finding our system specifically sharply goes down.

      • bean says:

        I once worked out, using an RPG book’s tables for travel time and a galactic map, that a hyperdrive could probably make about 150 parsecs an hour. Which is enough to make the galaxy a pretty small place, but not enough to make gallivanting around to other galaxies easy.

        Plus, the last time they tried it, it didn’t end well.

        • acymetric says:

          That would seem to work pretty well for most* of the movies (though slightly less well for the TV shows which seemed to ignore travel time entirely).

    • antilles says:

      There’s exactly one example of inter-galaxy travel in the (now non-canonical) Star Wars Expanded Universe, the Yuuzhan Vong (and some other races) constructed a massive fleet to escape their dying galaxy. Their journey to the main Star Wars galaxy took “millennia” (I was unable to find more specific numbers). This suggests that the limitation on intergalactic travel is a logistical one; perhaps there is some physical threshold on the upper “speed” limit of hyperspace travel which makes it nearly impossible for civilizations to attempt even with substantial investment of resources.

      Anyway since you’ve already assumed Star Wars is realistic, and dozens of spacefaring alien races make an appearance in the Star Wars galaxy, the Great Filter is already incompatible with that premise.

      • AG says:

        Nonetheless, it has presumably been millennia since “a long, long time ago.”

        • acymetric says:

          That is only meaningful if we were say, the nearest galaxy to the Star Wars galaxy. If “far, far away” means the furthest visible galaxy we would be looking at (rough, conservative estimate based on the Yuuzhan Vong assuming millenia is only 2,000 years) ~10-11 million years of travel, and the travel time approaches infinity if we allow the Star Wars galaxy to be outside our observable universe.

          And this all assumes they are bee-lining for our galaxy. If they stop and colonize other galaxies on the way, only moving to the next galaxy when theirs starts dying or is full we have to add that time in as well.

    • Butlerian says:

      A) Scientific problems: The interstellar medium is much thicker than the intergalactic medium. If your FTL is fuelled by some variety of hydrogen ramjet, the intergalactic medium may be too tenuous to traverse
      B) Motivational problems: if it takes an ephocally long time to explore / exploit the hundreds of billions of solar systems in one galaxy, the galactic society might have yet to run out if “internal frontier” to colonisers, rendering extragalactic exploration superfluous.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Let’s say we could do that now, and let’s even say that after seeing the 10,000th solar system we still aren’t bored. We’d go there, take a look, but it would be … vulgar, honestly, to make a big phallic monument on each piece of rock just to mark that we’ve visited it. We’d leave it as it was, because we’re not jerks. So there’s no way to tell if they’ve been here or not.

      Plus, realistically, you’ve seen 1,000,000 solar systems, you kinda start feeling that you’ve seen them all.

    • Murphy says:

      A few options: economics.

      Why have we only ever been to the moon a few times with small missions primarily funded for the sake of propaganda? Economics. Even if the surface of the moon was covered in gold bricks and diamonds it wouldn’t be economic to fly there, shovel them in the hatch and fly back.

      There are practical speed limits thanks to the fine mist of gas and dust between the stars if you don’t want your spaceship to melt or explode.

      So the speed limits on making it any notable distance make it impractical to have a there and back again mission in any sane timeframe.

      This makes it uneconomic to invest heavily in missions to other stars because there can never be a realistic payoff.

      It’s kinda more worrying that we’ve never seen anyone’s von-neuman probes and may imply they’re not realistically possible.

      • AG says:

        But in the Star Wars universe, they either have a whole slew of planets improbably within the habitable zone in each of their systems, or they have a means of terraforming, which changes the economics side of things.

        • acymetric says:

          Do they? How many systems have multiple habitable planets (or what is your working definition of habitable)? A lot of “habitable” planets appear to be just on the edge one way or another of the habitable zone, for what its worth.

      • acymetric says:

        It’s kinda more worrying that we’ve never seen anyone’s von-neuman probes and may imply they’re not realistically possible.

        Is that worrying? Why do people want von-neumann probes so badly, and assume that all other civilizations will as well? I am super into space exploration, but lack of von-neumann probes worries me not a bit.

        • Murphy says:

          Their absence implies that either they cannot work (which would also have bad implications for long assistance space travel) or that somehow in all the billions of galaxies and trillions of stars… nobody has ever built any because if they do work and anyone does build any… then they end up everywhere.

          I don’t *want* them. But not seeing them is like going to an island and not seeing any bugs. I don’t want to get bitten by insects but their complete absence has implications about the ecosystem.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Size? Mass inhibits travel so they basically exist as particles and remain functionally undetectable to us despite traveling through our system whenever they want.

  31. IrishDude says:

    I had a leak on my toilet and through google discovered the potential causes and through youtube found the “how to” fix tutorial. I assume I saved $100+ by doing it myself, which piqued my curiosity about how much consumer savings youtube tutorials have produced. Is anyone aware of research on this topic?

    • dick says:

      This is more tangentially amusing than strictly relevant, but this seems like a good place to mention that Killer Mike, for his Netflix show, produced a series of pornographic DIY how-to videos, showed them to a group of applicants seeking jobs in the trades, and measured their before/after performance on tasks like installing a deadbolt and wiring a light switch. (Small sample and no control group, but it made for good TV)

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        produced a series of pornographic DIY how-to videos, showed them to a group of applicants seeking jobs in the trades


        • dick says:

          The show is hilarious and very much worth watching, but Mike is a quirky mix of libertarian, left liberal, black power, and provocation for its own sake that I’m guessing will keep you from making it very far in. In another episode, he starts out asking why the Mafia is seen as more acceptable than black gangs and what the black version would be of an Italian restaurant with gangster marketing would look like, and ends proposing “Crip a Cola”, which seems to be an actual product that will be for sale later this year.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Oh okay. I just assumed “pornographic” was a typo. I’m still confused, though. Did they have naked people doing home repair or something?

          • dick says:

            Yep, he hired porn actors and produced porn videos (one straight, one gay, one bi) that incorporated DIY instruction (e.g. a guy fucking a woman while she explains how GCI outlets work) and then showed them to real people seeking job skills in a community college class. Obviously it was somewhat for shock value, but in service of a reasonable point (promoting the trades as a viable career choice). In the gang episode, he didn’t just complain about how the Hells Angels can sell t-shirts and the Crips can’t, he actually went out and recruited some gang members, helped them incorporate a business and pick a product, went with them to the bank for a loan, etc. It’s not clear if it’ll actually get to market, but the guy certainly doesn’t half-step.

            Like I said, it makes for good TV. But if Killer Mike is like the love-child of Snoop Dogg and Michael Moore, I suspect the Michael Moore half will keep you from getting through the first episode (which is about the death of black-owned business districts and pretty heavy on racial justice themes).

      • acymetric says:

        Were the DIY videos ever released? For research purposes 😉

      • IrishDude says:

        I heard some of Killer Mike on Joe Rogan and he seemed like an interesting dude. I’ll add that show to my Netflix list, thanks!

    • j1000000 says:

      I don’t know any research, but judging from the occasional disastrous Reddit DIY post where people unknowingly take down a load-bearing wall or build a disastrously against-code porch, seems possible a lot of people have also lost plenty of money through internet-inspired DIY

      • acymetric says:

        I mean…that seems like stupid people doing stupid stuff. It seems like those would be the kind of people that were going to do dumb stuff anyway.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Maybe, but people have been screwing up DIY for longer than there’s been an Internet. So the Internet would only be a net negative if either it encouraged negative-value DIY more than positive-value DIY, or DIY was already net-negative and it failed to encourage positive-value DIY enough more than negative-DIY to tip the balance positive.

        (don’t ask me though, I learned to sweat pipe based on written instructions and trying it. As far as I know, none of my sweated joints has leaked. As far as I know.)

      • IrishDude says:

        True, availability of tutorial videos might inspire overconfidence in some that leads to disaster. Though good tutorial videos should give an overview of potential pitfalls to watch out for if applicable. Also, I assume the vast majority of tutorials that people use at home involve lower stakes projects.

  32. Yair says:

    A theme emerging in some science fiction books atmo is states/clans not bounded by geography. Hives or Affinities that you belong to, pay taxes to, get services from without being limited by the people that live in your area (for example see The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson, the Terra Ignota series by Ada Palmer, Snow Crash, and I think the Infomocracy series).

    Do people think such a thing could develop? advantages? Disadvantages? Thoughts?

    Also which Terra Ignota Hive would you join?

    • yodelyak says:

      Yeah, these already exist. Some examples, roughly from least to most (IMHO):

      Alumni associations. Professional associations.
      High-level employees of FAANG, or really any big transnational company w/ powerful lobbyists in a dozen countries’ capitols.
      Rotary, Elks, Masons

      native speakers of any nation’s language, in order to really be native speakers, are most of the way there to being able to pass for coreligionists with people who speak that language


    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Microstates in Infomocracy are geographic.

      • AG says:

        But they can be wholly disconnected geographically. The same coalition can have microstates on different continents with no land bridge.

    • Erusian says:

      If I understand your description, this was how law worked in early medieval Europe. The system was called personal law. Basically, if you were a Roman you were judged in Roman courts, paid Roman taxes, and had Roman privileges. If you were a Goth, you were judged in Gothic courts, paid Gothic taxes, and had Gothic privileges. And so on. Whichever tribe ruled got to settle inter-community disputes. This was an individual rather than a community thing: if you were a Goth the only non-Gothic law you’d ever be subjected to was if it got kicked up to higher courts, even if you were in a Roman estate when the event happened. Same for taxes etcetera.

      Likewise, people carried sovereignty with them. Titles were things like King of the Franks and King of the Britains. This was because the monarch led a particular people rather than ruling a geographic area (though they probably had one of those too). If some of the Franks left and settled somewhere else, absent explicit allegiance to someone else, they remained subjects of the King of the Franks. Even if they pledged allegiance to another people, the King could have some responsibility towards them and they to him. This idea is pretty strongly imprinted in western culture though, lasting at least into the colonial era.

      Individual groups would have sovereignty over certain areas. They would then negotiate or force arrangements with the various groups in the territory.

      • Watchman says:

        As far as can be seen personal law only applied in Italy, and even there selectively. It’s not as if early-medieval lawcodes were treated the same way as our own either, so choosing to live under Alamannic law didn’t mean that you got to refer to Alamannic law in court, but simply that you were liable to have the court treat you in a way they felt appropriate for an Alaman.

        And kingdoms were territorial even if the rulers titles were ethnic, because early-medieval rulers weren’t stupid enough to let groups of people with loyalty to another ruler run round what they felt was their territory. In fact the only historical examples I can think of when a ruler dependent on military strength (so most rulers up to the appearance of popular democracy in that territory) would have followers of another ruler within their territory and not be at war are cases of shared sovereignty. And even these were limited: Kings of the Franks might share kingdoms with their brothers, but there were clear boundaries defining who ruled what.

        I think legal personality was an idea from a particular society which was applied by nineteenth-century German scholars more generally as part of their general idea of a tribal phase of Germanic society giving way to territorial fiefdoms at some point in the Carolingian or Ottonian periods. And yes, this does look very similar to Marx’s historical transition from ancient society to feudalism, which isn’t a coincidence.

        • Lillian says:

          Dual law codes also existed in the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain and France, with the old inhabitants being subject to Roman laws (leges romanae), and the Germanic tribes being subject to Visigothic laws (leges barbarorum). This changed in 654 under King Recceswinth, who promulgated the Liber Iudiciorum, the Book of Judges, which integrated both law codes and eliminated the legal distinction between romani and gothi, making everyone hispani subject to the same laws.

        • Erusian says:

          As far as can be seen personal law only applied in Italy, and even there selectively.

          This is wrong. It was the norm for most post-Roman polities. It existed in Spain, France, and Italy. It may have been absent from Britain but this is, itself, considered notable. It was displaced as the period went on.

          Now, the idea that the Germans would have ever considered themselves as tribal and then suddenly feudal is obviously a gross simplification. And the Marxist analysis in particular imagines an economic system the old Germans probably didn’t have.

          It’s not as if early-medieval law codes were treated the same way as our own either, so choosing to live under Alamannic law didn’t mean that you got to refer to Alamannic law in court, but simply that you were liable to have the court treat you in a way they felt appropriate for an Alaman.

          On the contrary, the tribes wrote down law codes as part of a great codification effort. The traditions, likewise, were relatively strong and not as arbitrary as you seem to make them out. It wasn’t, “Oh he’s an Alaman, they’re all murderers.” It was a system of precedence and code. We know this because we have written codes that have survived as well as court cases where we know what arguments were made (or what the authors thought would be portrayed as ‘regular’ arguments).

          And kingdoms were territorial even if the rulers titles were ethnic, because early-medieval rulers weren’t stupid enough to let groups of people with loyalty to another ruler run round what they felt was their territory.

          I didn’t go into this but you’re overlooking the complexity of early medieval ideas of sovereignty. The tribe would own an area but simply being outside that area did not make you not a part of that tribe. If someone entered your territory and refused to submit to the rule of your tribe, yes, that meant a war. But simply because they entered your territory they weren’t on their way to become assimilated into your tribe. Thus you could and did have situations where, for example, a group of Franks might be living in the Boii tribe’s lands and still considered themselves Franks. They would then have some loyalty to their Frankish identity and a pledge of loyalty and a place within the legal systems of the Boii rulers of the area. They might even have obligations to fight on behalf of both, a system which persisted into later times. Some people would, by feudal oath, be obliged to send forces to both sides of a conflict. Then and earlier, often times they decided to back just one though.

          In fact the only historical examples I can think of when a ruler dependent on military strength (so most rulers up to the appearance of popular democracy in that territory) would have followers of another ruler within their territory and not be at war are cases of shared sovereignty. And even these were limited: Kings of the Franks might share kingdoms with their brothers, but there were clear boundaries defining who ruled what.

          If you mean literal shared sovereignty like condominiums, that’s a much later phenomenon. If you mean things like there being five dukes of Hanover but one duchy of Hanover, that was a peculiar German thing where all a lord’s sons inherited all his lands and titles but then parceled them out among themselves. This led to such absurdities as there being two barons who each owned half a castle. Usually one of them didn’t survive this arrangement. But that too is something of a later development.

          If you want early medieval examples, look at the Saxon settlement arrangements or the St. Brice’s Day Massacre or the practicalities of how Frankish thirding was carried out. They all point to a rather coherent system that does, as you say, have territorial polities. But this doesn’t mean they had exclusive sovereignty in the way we imagine it today.

          The absolute idea of sovereignty you have is very modern. As late as the early 18th century, the King of England and the Netherlands quarreled over the English and Scott population in the Netherlands and the King of England reserved some right to have a say in the appointment of their leaders. Yet the King of England had no claim of sovereignty over Amsterdam or the Dutch military.

          • zzzzort says:

            The Ottomans also had a system of personal laws, the millet (nation) system, though more concerned with religion than ethnicity. This helped support large internal diasporas with relative autonomy. The system more or less survives in several former Ottoman provinces.

            In general, ethno-linguistic diasporas have often been important (though unpopular) merchants and entrepreneurs, e.g. the jews in europe, armenians in the ottoman empire, and chinese in southeast asia.

    • C_B says:

      I find Utopia extremely compelling, but I’m not a voker and would be unwilling to take the Utopian oath. I really like the Humanists as characters and as an organization, but I’m not especially sold on their core philosophy of exalting individual excellence. None of the other hives appeal to me at all.

      Given that none of them are a perfect fit, and that I’m somewhat allergic to flag-waving in general, I’d probably end up as a graylaw hiveless.

      • bullseye says:

        What’s a voker?

        • Nick says:

          It’s a term from Ada Palmer’s series Terra Ignota; it means someone who practices a vocation, as opposed to someone who merely does a job or hobby. Usually it designates someone who treats their job like it’s a calling, putting in more effort than someone otherwise would.

      • jonshea says:

        The Utopian oath includes a pledge to take all the rest & play you need for your productivity. So yes, I sleep 8 hrs a night & prioritize self-care. Hence the wait between books 3&4, but 4’s the better for it.

        From Ada Palmer’s twitter.

    • Walter says:

      Masons, of course. Adult Supervision.

    • John Schilling says:

      As yodelyak notes, you can already join organizations that offer services and support beyond those of the State in exchange for loyalty and obedience (including $$$) beyond the State.

      But opting out of the part where your geographic neighbors(*) get to throw you in jail if they disapprove of your decision to carry a handgun / procure an abortion / whatever, does not seem plausible. Palmer quietly but explicitly notes this in her series, where each city enforces the basic laws of one hive on visitors of all hives. And in historic polylegal systems like e.g. the Ottoman Empire, Jews and Christians could live by their own laws but I believe they all lived under “If you blaspheme against Islam in public you’re going down” law.

      And opting out of taxes that pay for the common infrastructure and defense of the geographic territory you occupy, doesn’t seem workable. You can probably have them laundered through your “affinity group” if that group has an arrangement with the geographic sovereign, but that arrangement will include “collects at least as much tax as the geographic sovereign would, and if it doesn’t turn that much over to said sovereign it’s because they’re directly paying for some of what the sovereign otherwise would have”

      Science fiction that posits ordinary people actually being able to opt out of their geographic neighbors’ taxes and criminal laws, I don’t think I’ve ever seen done plausibly well.

      * The most powerful subset thereof, at least, which may not equate to the most numerous subset thereof

      • rlms says:

        But opting out of the part where your geographic neighbors(*) get to throw you in jail if they disapprove of your decision to carry a handgun / procure an abortion / whatever, does not seem plausible. Palmer quietly but explicitly notes this in her series, where each city enforces the basic laws of one hive on visitors of all hives.

        I think this is the point of the series: you can only get round this problem with some sort of transport that means geography isn’t really relevant.

        • John Schilling says:

          But geography is relevant, at least to approximately the extent that it is now. You get into an aircraft, the aircraft delivers you to a location in a city, there’s an announcement on the PA saying, “Remember, this city is part of [Nation X] and you have to obey the laws of [X] even if you are a citizen of / just came from [Nation Y], have a nice day”. True for travelers today, true for travelers in Palmer’s imagined future.

          In the Palmerverse, the traveler may have overflown many more borders in the course of a flight between two cities, but that seems to be a trifling detail.

          • rlms says:

            I don’t think it is, because the flying cars reduce friction to almost zero. It doesn’t matter if the jurisdiction of your nominal home bans weed and prostitutes if you can get to Amsterdam in a few minutes (and you also have the conceit in Terra Ignota where areas under the jurisdiction of a Hive only ban people from doing [x] rather than people who do[x]).

            Being post-scarcity-ish also helps with taxes, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Even today you can live somewhere and pay taxes (or controversially, not) elsewhere (e.g. British non-doms).

          • John Schilling says:

            If you are a citizen of a “non-geographic nation” that disallows e.g. prostitution, then you are not allowed to hire prostitutes even if you do go to Amsterdam. And if you are a citizen of a non-geographic nation that allows prostitution, why are you living in a geographic location that bans it and is full of people who want to ban it?

            At most, you’re saying this arrangement makes it easier for Dutch citizens who have reason to work in NYC to fly “home” to hire prostitutes because there will likely be a Dutch enclave or quasi-anarchy-zone somewhere close to New York. But IIRC prostitution is quasi-legal in Canada, which is less than an hour’s flying time away, so this doesn’t seem like a transformative change.

      • SamChevre says:

        But opting out of the part where your geographic neighbors…

        This opt-out is pretty exactly what privilege is, properly–you are bound by private law, rather than the “normal” legal code (see “attorney-client privilege”, “clerical privilege”).

        I’d disagree that this doesn’t exist: it seems to me to be pretty common. Colleges routinely and openly condone and incite illegal activities, and impede legal activities they disapprove of (e.g. Silent Sam, Solomon Amendment).

        • John Schilling says:

          To the limited extent that colleges have different rules than the surrounding communities, they do so as distinct geographic enclaves, a college campus and maybe an adjacent residential district where the campus police have authority. The “Silent Sam” you refer to, was a statue on the UNC campus. Pretty sure if a bunch of UNC students go around vandalizing statues across North Carolina generally, they are going to wind up in a North Carolina criminal court and saying “…but we’re UNC students, your laws don’t apply to us!” will get them nowhere.

          At the object level, a North Carolina criminal court may still give a pass to people vandalizing the Wrong Sort of Statue, but that’s a separate issue. There’s no “college-student privilege”.

          Nor, for that matter, is there much in the way of other sorts of “privilege” that allow people to go around committing what would otherwise be crimes in their own right, as opposed to just not testifying about someone else’s crimes.

          • SamChevre says:

            I think we’re in vehement agreement-it’s geographical, not personal.

            In most cases, though, the college is technically not a separate legal jurisdiction (just like my house is not–the same criminal laws apply on-campus as off technically)–but practically it’s often treated by police and courts as if it were. It’s the college that has the privilege, not the students.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think there is some college student privilege– vandalism after games, for example.

          • acymetric says:

            That isn’t unique to students though, that happens with professional games as well. It might even be worse.

            Plus (depending on what you’re talking about) people do end up getting in trouble for that kind of thing.

          • Theodoric says:

            Nor, for that matter, is there much in the way of other sorts of “privilege” that allow people to go around committing what would otherwise be crimes in their own right, as opposed to just not testifying about someone else’s crimes.

            Even there, if, say, a lawyer gets a subpoena for information they think is subject to attorney-client privilege, they can’t just blow it off. They have to bring a motion to quash the subpoena and abide the court’s decision. Same with other kinds of privilege that preclude testimony.

    • Riothamus says:

      You will be pleased to hear exactly this is already underway. Bitnation is, as far as I know, the flagship implementation.

      Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitnation
      The homepage: https://tse.bitnation.co/
      Here’s an opinion piece in New Statesman that also mentions some government-lead initiatives that are related. In the future you might be able to be Estonian or Azerbaijani without moving.

    • vV_Vv says:

      This was the case in ancient, pre-agricultural societies, but I don’t think it can work for any single-planet technologically advanced society for two reasons:

      1) The economy depends on scarce, geographically fixed resources (e.g. fertile land, coltan mines) and infrastructure (e.g. roads, bridges, internet cables, data centers), which need to be allocated, regulated, and possibly constructed, maintained and defended by a local government.

      2) On a first-order approximation the cost of defending a contiguous geographical region grows with its perimeter, while the resources that the region provides grow with its surface area. Due to the linear-square region, this favors large contiguous states. There are lots of local modifiers both in terms of border defendability (e.g. natural barriers) and land productivity, and there are costs to transfer information and resources to the border, thus the equilibrium isn’t yet a single planet-wide polity, though it might be when communication and transport costs become negligible, but the general historical trend is for polities to become larger as technology progresses.

      In a sci-fi/futuristic setting however, a space-faring civilization might be composed of planets or star systems each with a single local government and joined together into patchwork federations or empires that geographically overlap. This because space is mostly empty, and defending 3D borders in the middle of nowhere would be probably impractical and useless.

      • albatross11 says:

        The contiguous border thing works for invasions, but not so much for attacks that are prevented by deterrence. Once I have nukes that can hit anywhere on Earth within 30 minutes or so, I can deter attacks on any piece of land. However, that requires:

        a. Being able to identify the source of an attack.

        b. Credible commitment to use my deterrent to defend even some small unimportant little island base somewhere.

        In a world where lots of players can launch very hard-to-attribute attacks, deterrence doesn’t work. But then you have to ask how any economies of scale in defending against those attacks might work. In some sense, all iOS users look like one “nation” being defended from attack by a protection organization that can’t send fighter jets or launch missiles, but that can work pretty hard at keeping its code-signing keys secure, providing high-security code and hardware, patching security holes promptly when found, etc. OTOH, all that stuff is great for keeping your iPad from joining someone’s botnet, but doesn’t do a thing to help you out against invading tanks or someone nuking you.

        ETA: There is no law of nature that says that viable political arrangements will track with viable defensive arrangements in all cases. It’s possible that at some level of technology, there’s no viable way to defend your political entity from unattributable attacks from minor players (think Al Qaida rather than China), and then lots of things will just flat stop working.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          In my more depressive moods, this is what I attribute the great silence to. Personal and small group destructive potential scales with mastery over the physical universe, and way before you get far enough up that scale to do star travel, groups of a few dozen and then finally individuals can wreak epic levels of damage, and that is it, bye, bye planet. Aliens sufficiently zen / sane to not die from handing everyone the horns of armageddon are also too zen / sane to bother colonizing the cosmos, because you can always just make the dyson swarm nicer instead.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          There is no law of nature that says that viable political arrangements will track with viable defensive arrangements in all cases

          Well, no, but it is true by definition that unviable arrangements won’t … vi.

          Of course, you have to qualify “unviable” by some time frame. So I should only make such a claim in the long run, if politics changes slower than technology, so that politics adapts to technology, ie, that there is a long run.

    • Well... says:

      But weren’t those claves geographically bounded?

    • bullseye says:

      Reading that page, I don’t think it actually describes a world with several non-geographic nation-states. It describes a one-world government in which several major power blocs have self-government of their internal affairs. It looks like the whole thing would break down if one the Hives stopped playing nice with the United Free Alliance.

      As for which one I’d join, the Cousins and Utopia have good ideals and are doing good work, but I wouldn’t like their restrictions. Mitsubishi has good ideals, but with voting rights tied to land ownership it’s explicitly run by rich people which I find objectionable.

      The Humanists look the most democratic (at least out of the Hives whose form of government is mentioned), I’m not their kind of person, but how much would that matter? Would there be an expectation that I live among other Humanists? Would their laws discriminate against people who don’t fit their mold?

      I’d probably go with gray law Hiveless. And I’d worry about the Blacklaws; anyone who willing makes themselves legal to murder is nuts, and is probably also a danger to people they aren’t supposed to kill.

    • Do people think such a thing could develop?

      Considering that you are posting the question to a non-geographical affinity, …

      No taxes, although some of us contribute via Patreon.

      In saga period Iceland the godord, the set of thingmen connected to a godi, was a non-geographical affinity. It defined what court you could be sued in, and members of the godord paid the thingtax, a contribution to the costs of those members who attended the Althing.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      “clans not bounded by geography”
      You mean the Indian caste system?
      Sorry, can’t really explain it well. But different castes in the same place follow very different rules and have very different cultures. It’s not about hierarchy alone.
      Got that explained to me from a very insightful Twitter-writeup, that got into the difference between Western Nationalism and Indian Nationalism.

    • sentientbeings says:

      You might be interested in the term panarchy. The Wikipedia page is more of a historical discussion of the term, but if you search for it elsewhere, specifically for what the wiki page refers to as “the political philosophy of panarchism” you will find discussions of non-geographically-bound-government structures, oftentimes from a libertarian or anarchist orientation with the mindset that it would provide an enhanced version of “voting with your feet.”

    • Tamar says:

      Terra Ignota Hive – none. Ideally I’d live on a reservation so that I could practice my religion. If that were for some reason off the table, probably Greylaw Hiveless but with an outside consideration of Gordian I suppose, MBTI has always been fun at least and they’re probably the least evil option. I’m currently getting my PhD in a biomedical science field, love scifi, have a couple of scifantasy novels I want to write – and the idea of joining Utopia is abhorrent to me. I’d say maybe that speaks well of Ada Palmer’s writing approach (that the Hive that on the surface seems like it “should” appeal to me is actually more complex and doesn’t always attract a specific type). Interesting that she seems to consider herself a would-be Utopian – not sure what to make of that although given the way the books are written it doesn’t come as much of surprise. But to start, no way in hell can I look at Apollo Mojave as a hero or role-model (nor can I see Utopia as the redemption and saving of Cato Weeksbooth).

  33. Do telepaths only see what your are explicitly thinking or can they pick up what goes on in the subconscious as well?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      MRI-style telepathy only gets what you’re thinking about right now (doesn’t matter if conscious or subconscious).

      Bayesian-style AI telepathy gets everything about you, including stuff that’s not active right now. It’s initially fuzzy, but gets clearer and clearer up to creating a functionally identicalsimilar model.

      Speaking of, I think Bayes is a very very underrated trope in fiction, considering we’re on the verge of seeing it work. Consider Newcomb’s problem – with google-amounts of statistical info, it’s going to happen in reality. Won’t be “knows the future” as much as “is right with 99.9% precision”, which for practical purposes will be good enough.

      The trick is that each piece of info you get about an individual brings huge amounts of model-based data from your existing priors. Say you have entity “X”. You find out it’s a human – once small piece of info, huge amounts of predictive value. Find out he’s a 39 year old, then male, then programmer – again, lots of extra info you already have about each model. The title of the last book he read, any info about one of his good friends, a tidbit about his political views – each brings loads of statistical info you already have.

      Heh. I’m predicting a fun game 20 years from now. What’s the least amount of info you need about a person and be able to Turing-test simulate them? 1k? 2k? Most of which would be names of friends and places.

      • Bugmaster says:

        MRI-style telepathy only gets what you’re thinking about right now… Bayesian-style AI telepathy gets everything about you, including stuff that’s not active right now.

        AFAIK neither one of these things exist in reality, so I find the phrasing a little weird.

        Speaking of, I think Bayes is a very very underrated trope in fiction

        Eh, it depends on how you look at it. For example, Asimov didn’t specifically name-drop Bayes in his Foundation series, but he did present a nigh-omniscient oracle that works by statistical inference (as opposed to magic or divine revelation). In general, the idea of statistically predicting the future with absurd degrees of accuracy is a recurring theme in cyberpunk fiction.

        What’s the least amount of info you need about a person and be able to Turing-test simulate them?

        Assuming you already have a Turing-grade AI (which no one currently knows how to build) ? Well, it depends on what you mean. If you want your AI to simulate the average 39-year-old male programmer, then you don’t need a lot of info. If you want to simulate a specific person, with such degree of fidelity that his own friends and relatives wouldn’t be able to tell the simulation from the original, then you’d potentially need a lot more data, depending on how close you want to get. For example, I personally have certain vivid memories — ranging from childhood to present day — that are shared by my friends and family members; any one of them would notice if “I” suddenly didn’t recall any such details.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          +1 to this; there’s a good reason why psychohistory worked on the scale of civilization, not individuals.

        • acymetric says:

          How often do those things come up though? The AI could probably make it a good while impersonating you if people aren’t actively trying to trip it up and out it as an AI impersonation. The AI might also be able to use vague but affirmative responses in those situations that make it sound like it recalls the events even though it doesn’t (actual people do this all the time, no reason an AI couldn’t if we’re postulating this level of AI to begin with).

          • Bugmaster says:

            Well, if I’m the kind of person who gives vague but affirmative responses to most conversations, then I suppose it would work 🙂

            Otherwise, though, it would run into issues quickly. I don’t know about you, but when I talk to people who are close to me, we usually refer to our shared history together quite a lot. We reference a lot of in-jokes, shared acquaintances, projects that we are working on together, etc. Ultimately, our shared memories shape all of our interactions.

            For example, while the AI might be able to deduce e.g. my favorite restaurant from statistical data, it might not be able to infer that one time my buddy spilled a bowl of sauce all over himself there in a memorable and hilarious manner; nor the fact that I might be secretly jealous of my buddy (and would therefore act accordingly) for being able to handle the situation without losing his composure.

            As I said above, simulating some average version of someone like me would be a lot easier. Simulating my actual self closely enough to fool humans who know me might require tremendous amounts of data, some of which might be devilishly hard to procure.

          • Radu Floricica says:


            Good point. I was thinking about something like casual chat conversations. But yeah, the gap between winging it and actually replacing that person is pretty large.

          • Meister says:

            The AI could probably make it a good while impersonating you if people aren’t actively trying to trip it up and out it as an AI impersonation

            The Turing test is, as I understand it, explicitly constructed to be adversarial. Judges can use any means necessary to try and separate the humans from the nonhumans. If I were judging the test of an AI simulating a close friend, the first thing I’d ask about are mundane events only they could remember.

      • MRI-style telepathy only gets what you’re thinking about right now (doesn’t matter if conscious or subconscious).

        I’m not sure I understand this. Imagine someone is using an MRI to see if you are having the “wrong” kind of thoughts, committing a kind of thought crime. If you consciously think of something else while someone is using advanced MRI telepathy, would they pick up your thought crime even if it was in the back of your mind?

        • JPNunez says:

          Depends of what you mean by the back of your mind.

          Most current “telepathy” depends on the neurons being active at the time. fMRI is pretty rough, counting on blood flows in the brain. But assuming better techniques are developed, you would need to be thinking about that time you murdered your butler or whatever. If your subconscious is thinking about the crime, it also needs to be doing it actively, as obviously your subconcious isn’t gonna be thinking about all the things you did all your life during every moment.

          Re: Bayes Telepathy. Dunno.

          If you fed Worm to, say, GPT-2, you would get out some very good imitations of Wildbow’s style. I choose Worm because it is massive enough to believe it would be able to train an AI by itself to a good enough level.

          But you would never be able to get Worm 2, and the correct answers about what the hell were the Endbringers, etc, etc.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Telepaths only read the surface. Telebaths read the subconscious.

  34. liskantope says:

    Happy 2^7th open thread! I was just looking back at the 2^6th open thread where I remembered that I had posted on some topic, and sure enough, that was the one where I asked for people’s opinions on Accutane. Indeed this was something I considered on and off from around 2003 through 2018, and finally, the same number of open threads later, I’m doing it.

    It turns out that the dermotologist I wound up with super laid back where isotretinoin (the non-brand-name moniker for the same thing) is concerned aside from insisting on starting with the lowest possible dose — I don’t even have to go in for blood tests. (I live in Italy.) Side effects have been pretty minimal so far, and the desired effect happened very quickly with little suffering compared to what some users go through. If you’d asked me 64 open threads ago, I never would have imagined with all the fears that I had then that I’d actually be fighting for an increased dosage and that my biggest fear now is what will happen when I go off it. (I’m still a little nervous that I might wind up regretting how far I’m pushing this, but we’ll see.)

    Anyone else want to share their experience with this very potent drug? I browse Accutane forums from time to time and hear all kinds of horror stories (often that I suspect and hope are quite unlikely), but compared to the SSC crowd I’m not that confident that they’re correctly assessing these changes and the likelihood that Accutane is the direct cause of them.

    • C_B says:

      My experience:
      – Significant drying, peeling, and cracking of my skin for the entire time I was on it, as well as recurring headaches (high confidence these were genuine drug side effects)
      – Worsening of depression and anxiety, along with novel sexual dysfunction (low confidence that these were drug side effects; confounded with college relationship drama that could easily have been the cause of all of that)
      – No issues with liver or cholesterol dysfunction (they make you get blood tested for this every month)
      – Fully, permanently cured my severe, chronic, cystic acne of ~7 years after a 6-month course.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Awesome stuff. My face used to look like a civil war battlefield. A 3 month course (I think?) of Accutane took my acne down to essentially zero. 10/10, would do again.

      My only side-effect was severe skin dryness. By the end of the course, my arms looked like they had severe dandruff.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Similar. I essentially have no acne now. Lots of dryness at the time. I still suffer from dry skin, but I have no idea if it’s related or not. But my face was horrible, and milder treatments had been tried first.

    • OriginalSeeing says:

      It helped remove my severe acne when I was in high school. I would definitely do it again. Having a face full of red pustules is practically lovecraftian by definition.

      I took it when I was in high school so I don’t know what side effects it really had on me. It didn’t work immediately and maybe had some decent progress over the course of something like a year? I don’t remember it all clearly, but I do attribute my massive decrease in acne directly to it. If I had taken additional actions like using anti-bacterial soap, sleeping on a (new) towel every night, only shaving with soap instead of shaving cream, washing my face multiple times per day, etc. then I think I would have decreased my acne even faster.

      Severe acne is honestly just a horrible thing for a kid (or adult) to have. It’s a real curse on a person’s confidence and self-impression. Also FYI, Scott has a post where he mentions that the studies relating Accutane to increasing depression and suicide didn’t replicate.

    • zoozoc says:

      It has been a while since I had Accutane (it was 10+ years ago), but I do remember having flaking and itchy skin. But it did a wonderful job getting all of my acne to go away. My sister also had Accutane and she also didn’t have any major issues.

    • j1000000 says:

      I took a low dose of it when I was in high school. I don’t know if I’m clinically depressed but I am definitely a melancholy person. I’ve often tried to look back in my head at my life before Accutane to realistically assess if it’s in any way a cause of this, and my guess (based on my memories and my similarities to close relatives) is that I was born this way and that Accutane did nothing but clear my skin. All the same, I personally will try to avoid giving my children such drugs — low probability but potentially life ruining side effects scare me.

    • Telemythides says:

      Took it for 6 months near the end of high school. It got rid of my acne completely while I was on it with no significant side-effects, though I might have ended up with dry skin if I hadn’t been compulsively moisturising in anticipation. Acne came back after I stopped but not nearly as bad as before.

    • a real dog says:

      On the upside, completely cured acne, that was otherwise treatment-resistant. It’s been three years since ending the 9-month isotretinoin course, and I actually forgot I ever had an acne problem.

      On the downside, I have serious dry eye problems (I used to have a minor one before isotretinoin though) which make it impossible for me to wear contact lenses anymore – which is a damn shame because glasses give me headache, so I kind of got used to living in a slightly blurry world, and glasses are there just for driving and watching movies. I’m not 100% positive it’s caused by isotretinoin but apparently it can lead to some of your meibomian glands atrophying…

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      From 2003 to 2018? Damn, sorry. You kinda wasted your youth there. My 6 year older brother is often mistaken for my twin. So I could look into the future, basically and see that his acne doesn’t go away. And he tried pretty much all the non-iso stuff.
      I did two rounds. The second one was with really imperefect adherence, iirc.
      I had dry skin and not much else happening. Also very broken lips. But my lips have always broken during winter time, just not quite so much.
      I don’t have perfects skin now, some minor marks/acne scars are still there. Nothing new comes up, unless I’m very stressed and the new stuff goes away after.
      There’s like three acne scars left on my temple. Helpful actually, cause I can like….. check my inflammation levels with them 🙂
      I only had a moderate case, but it really bugged me.
      [epistemic status: mainly believing this, that I’ve never seen the obvious points below brought up, when researching about psych-dangers for myself. So figuring that what little support there is, is junk science.
      Not that I checked the math or went super-deep there.]
      I doubt that isotrotenioin has any inherent actual psychological effects. I think it’s because of selection, signalling and women.
      It’s supposed to be this incredibly risky drug and yeah……it is riskier than what you’d usually consider for a cosmetic problem (though I doubt that having lots of scars, pimples and breakouts could possibly be healthy, your skin isn’t just merely an article of clothing!).
      But a lot of the risk comes from getting pregnant on it. And no doc understandably wants to ever have to deal with that situation.
      Signalling that it’s dangerous only means the people who take it, willl be having the most severe cases and being the most desperate people.
      And thru selection we’ve got people who’d be way more depressed and fragile, anyway.
      (also the young, the vain, the pressured-into-it by family)
      And depressed people occasionally get worse. Or kill themselves.
      It’s just believe that they were pushed over the edge by the side-effects being nasty.
      It has to happen on the margins.
      So one should expect an increased base rate of people killing themselves or becoming depressed.
      [also….. depression is a very common thing to just happen anyway. Way more common than the harsher possible physical side-effects.]

      • liskantope says:

        My case wasn’t all that severe either (I’d say for some periods when I was much younger it was on the severe side of moderate, but never quite as bad as a lot of the pictures one sees on Accutane forums). For me, it just felt like slow low-grade pain for too many years, and I figured once I realized I was into my 30’s that I’d had enough.

        I also — deep down in my gut and partly thanks to what’s been suggested by sources that strike me as intellectually honest — never really believed that Accutane would cause depression for me. And so far it hasn’t affected my mood, or at least definitely not for the worse. (I might say something similar with regard to my libido, actually.) Maybe going into it mostly unworried about mental effects helps.

  35. ana53294 says:

    So Google banned Huawei, and huge losses are expected for Huawei.

    Will this kind of instability mean higher vertical integration of electronics companies? AFAIK, Huawei already produces its own chips, although not the top of the market latest technology that they can only buy from Intel or Qualcomm.

    This will probably mean that China will try to build its own Qualcomm or Intel. Do they have the capabilities without stealing technology? Will the Chinese market alone (and other countries that could fall under US sanctions: Iran, Russia) be enough for making a Qualcomm?

    • brad says:

      Why ‘without stealing technology’ when we all know that’s the plan?

      • ana53294 says:

        Well, because I assume that US companies are not stupid enough to trust their bleeding edge developments to China. That may be a naive assumption.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          Several Companies had made complaints about the Chinese Government not respecting IP rights, I suspect that some of them at some point had a ‘fool me once’ moment involving their IP.

          • ana53294 says:

            Sure, a Chinese company may manage to steal a bleeding edge technology from its equivalent US company once. But to stay in the bleeding edge, they have to develop stuff of their own, like the Koreans did. Can they do that?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            “Once?” Chinese technology theft is rampant. It seems like every other day some worker at a US company is arrested/expelled for stealing trade secrets for the Chinese.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s been known for decades that China does this (China isn’t the only country which uses state apparatus for industrial espionage, but as far as I know the scale at which they do it isn’t approached by any other country). US companies who deal with China and Chinese companies anyway are doing so because they think whatever they get out of it is worth it.

        • John Schilling says:

          Well, because I assume that US companies are not stupid enough to trust their bleeding edge developments to China.

          Most of them will become stupid if you offer them enough money – and it’s not clear that it even counts as “stupid” if the result is that they get big buckets of money and Huawei gets bleeding-edge tech that they can basically only sell in non-competing markets due to competing sanctions regimes. Plan A is that FAANG sell 5G smartphones in the “Free World” but nothing in the Expanded Sanctionsverse(*) while Huangwei sells crappy 4G smartphones in the ES but nothing in the FW. Plan B is just like Plan A except that Huangwei is selling 5G stuff in the Sanctionsverse and FAANG gets buckets of money from the Chinese. Why are Google et al not going to go as far towards Plan B as they can get away with?

          Also, as Conrad notes, US companies are absolutely “stupid enough” to trust their bleeding edge developments to Chinese-Americans who were just kidding about the “American” part. Which again isn’t so much stupidity as understandable lack of concern and a way to launder Plan B. Here, FAANG, use these cheap talented engineers and just look the other way as “your” tech starts cropping up in markets you couldn’t sell to anyway.

          * Possibly soon to include China where Tech is concerned

        • brad says:

          Well, because I assume that US companies are not stupid enough to trust their bleeding edge developments to China. That may be a naive assumption.

          Obviously anything that’s in China is going be grabbed by the government and given to your competitors, but that’s not the full extent of Chinese state sponsored corporate espionage by a long shot. And I don’t think not being stupid is at all sufficient to block the worldwide efforts of an major state level spying apparatus.

      • Walter says:

        You took my comment!

        But seriously it is a huge problem. If you partner with a chinese factory to make your product (everyone does), then don’t be shocked at what happens next.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Around 10 years ago I was at a small company that used a Chinese partner to make our hardware. (All COTS stuff, none of our IP in there.) They repeatedly offered to, for free, “take care of” loading the software images for us so we didn’t need to bother with that.

          We never agreed. Although if some middle manager at MegaCorp had done so, they would probably have never suffered any negative consequence for it (“hey, man, we got the contract saying they wouldn’t, and they indemnified us, and legal signed off”), and only positive rewards from doing the job with less headcount.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Wouldn’t a simpler plan be for Huawei to go out of business, have the Chinese equivalent of “substantially all the assets of” it be bought up by another company not under sanctions, and life to continue as normal? They’d need different executives to not make it too obvious, that’s all.

    • broblawsky says:

      Higher levels of integration are already here, as far as software goes – Huawei has already promised to develop their own version of Android to run on their phones. This will probably result in worse service and less cross-platform compatibility.

    • OriginalSeeing says:

      “Google reverses decision to cut ties with Huawei after US eases trade restrictions”


      This may or may not turn out to be a thing. I’ll let you guys decipher it all.

    • johan_larson says:

      This will probably mean that China will try to build its own Qualcomm or Intel. Do they have the capabilities without stealing technology?

      Probably. Both my father and brother work in scientific research, and they tell me the Chinese now have both the people and the institutions to do meaningful scientific research in both computing and biology. And the trend is upward. At this point the typical science or engineering postdoc in North America is Chinese. Turning that scientific expertise into practical engineering is at most a matter of time.

  36. In the transhuman future, people’s minds contain digital information which can be read. You and I alike might see the thought crime as an unlikely dystopia dreamed up by paranoid libertarians, but it seems as though the already existing laws would necessarily create thought crime once the paradigm they are operating in is one in which the information in minds can be transferred and read in the same way that the information in computers can be.

    What’s your prediction for how this goes down? How would this shake out? What about those people who had sexual encounters before the age of consent, for example? They may in certain jurisdictions be protected by Romeo and Juliet laws, perhaps, but their memory isn’t, and if their memory becomes functionally equivalent to data stored on a computer, it will also be legally equivalent, and therefore they are necessarily guilty of possession of child pornography. Would there be a grace period for deleting this stuff from your memory? What about the fact that pedophiles could simply imagine high definition child pornography if allowed to upgrade themselves?

    Also, what about copyright law? If I have a perfect transhuman memory, and I watch a movie, I can carry it around with me forever, so unless regular memory wipes are enforced by law, things quickly become dicey.

    Transhuman memory would also mean that every interaction in public would be a form of surveillance. People are bothered by others filming them all the time, and even attack cameramen and people holding phones in certain cases. Although it is not illegal to film in public spaces in most first world countries, the attacks on Google glass wearers show how the public feels about such things. How would this work for anything you are not supposed to photograph? How would this work in courts where taking photographs is considered contempt of court? In the UK, Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it an offence to take a photograph of a nature that could be useful for someone engaging in terroristic activities.

    I don’t think any of these problems will stop technology, because technology always wins, but it seems as though once you cross the boundary beyond which seeing things and imagining things becomes functionally equivalent to recording and storing them on a device, we pretty much have to rethink our entire society.

    • syrrim says:

      Suppose you want to photocopy a 10 dollar bill to use in a report. You will have great difficulty, as the photocopier rejects your bill! How does it know? Higher denomination bills have a pattern of dots on them, generally integrated into the design, which the photocopier sees, and associates with currency.

      Suppose that you have seen something that you aren’t allowed to show other people. You turn on your ubiquitous neural interface to exfiltrate the relevant images. Hold on, the machine rejects them! How does it know? A small pattern of dots hidden in the thing you were looking at, be it a poster on the wall, or embedded in the movie, has enabled the machine to recognize the image as forbidden. This incident has been reported.

      Suppose I have a drive that I want to take past airport security without incident. Unencrypted, they might look through my private photos, and find something disagreeable. If I encrypt it, they will detain me until I decrypt it. However, I might make use of a “hidden volume” to truly disguise my data: I create an unencrypted volume, and fill it with benign information. I leave some space at the end, where I place the hidden volume. Nowhere is it recorded where the hidden volume starts and ends, so I need to memorize this information, on top of the encryption key. Now my private information will look no different to airport security than an erased drive.

      We are supposing that humans have been thoroughly upgraded. Perhaps they have been upgraded in some way that enables privacy. Some component of their mind is hidden away where neural links can’t touch it. This stores their most private secrets. They have the regular section of their mind, filled with benign thoughts of the weather and the ball game. Then they have a secret portion, that only knowledge from the hidden portion can unearth, which stores all their private deeds. Statute bans the existence of the secret portion, or at least failure to reveal it in investigation, except… no one can prove, for a particular person, that it even exists!

      In many parts of the world today, it is considered normal for some segment of the population to wear a mask over their face, in order to avoid social interaction. This has an obvious downside today of preventing all social interaction, rather than merely surveillance. However, a person equipped with state of the art AR could overcome this. They would be able to selectively show their face to some people, while leaving everyone else in the dark. Fashion could be revealed selectively too; wear some boring clothing to fit in, use AR to show certain people what you really want to be wearing.

      • Laukhi says:

        It’s interesting that you mention hidden volumes in this context. Although I don’t have a high opinion of my own ability to speculate about transhumanist futures, I do know that hidden volumes are essentially pointless in the vast majority of contexts.

        It seems that you are assuming that hidden volumes cannot be detected, but this is not even close to the truth. They will certainly not engender less suspicion than erased data; there is no reason that normal erasure of data would necessitate overwriting with random bits.

        We are assuming that some hostile state-level actor has access to the drive. If they have this, then any simple analysis (which can and will be automated) of the data will reveal that there is a strange segment of random data in located in the middle or behind something else consisting of structured data. An exception to this is if steganography is used, but that has its own multitudes of drawbacks.

        At this point the attacker knows that there is either random data, or that you have an encrypted volume. Either they cannot force you to give them the key because of legal restrictions, or they can. If they cannot, then there is no benefit to having a hidden volume compared to a normal encrypted volume, and many downsides depending on the exact scheme used.

        If they can, then there is no particular reason why “I just wiped that partition with random data, honest” will be more convincing than “I just forgot my crypto key, I swear”. Cryptographic plausible deniability fails once it comes into contact with the real world.

        Your proposition that nobody will be able to prove the existence of the transhumanist hidden volume is, I think, incorrect, because it is already assumed that some hostile actor had access to your brain (to install the “normal” equipment). As always, once an attacker has physical access, everything is lost.

        Of course, there is an easy remedy, and that is to not allow an apparently *malicious* entity the ability to install strange technology into your brain. Stallman is vindicated once again, it seems…

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          A hidden volume within a normal encrypted volume would solve that problem, right? That would allow you to give up the key to the normal volume while maintaining plausible deniability about the hidden one. TrueCrypt and its successor VeraCrypt have this feature built in.

          • Laukhi says:

            It would probably be cryptographically possible, although it depends on the exact scheme used. But what are you going to do upon encounter with a hostile state-level actor? You can try to deceive them by giving them the key to the “normal” encrypted volume, but then they will be able to see detect the still-encrypted hidden volume as a chunk of random inaccessible data. Or you can, once again, refuse; at that point either they’re allowed to lock you up or not.

            I think that the original scenario proposed assumed that they’d already have some form of non-trivial access, at which point everything is already lost unless they aren’t willing to expend effort attacking you or they are incompetent.

          • Nornagest says:

            Disk encryption doesn’t work by decrypting the whole filesystem at once; that would take forever and be totally unnecessary. Data at rest still looks like a blob of random bytes on the disk; it’s decrypted when the filesystem accesses it.

            This is typically implemented by running everything through a symmetric encryption algorithm that uses the disk offset as one of its arguments, or which doesn’t bother to encrypt metadata at all and just encrypts the individual files, but there’s nothing keeping you from hiding a second volume in the free space of an encrypted volume. It’d look the same on disk, and the filesystem doesn’t care what’s there if it’s marked free. The first volume might have to be write-once, though, or it’d end up scribbling over the second one if you write enough to it.

        • Stallman is vindicated once again, it seems…

          Open source transhumanism? It would be far far far more dangerous to the individual in the short term, but far far far more beneficial to them in the long term because a corporation isn’t in control of all their upgrades.

          • John Schilling says:

            Once all we had to worry about from the open-source community was Heartbleed; I’m really really not looking forward to Brainbleed.

          • Laukhi says:

            Stallman talks a lot about the ethical principles of “free software”, and speaks fairly little about practical benefits of “open source”. It’s been a long time since I’ve read his writings, but I don’t believe that he would have been opposed to some kind of regulatory oversight. Allowing for that, I’m not sure what the difference between the dangers of proprietary versus free medical systems. Perhaps it’s important to have a concrete entity to sue and prosecute in case of disaster? But this is fairly easily remedied, I think.

            I think it is fair to point out that proprietary systems have often had vulnerabilities as bad if not worse than heartbleed, although heartbleed does expose the myth of magical open-source security benefits. The whole debacle with speculative execution is evidence enough of that.

    • Rowan says:

      Personally, because Hanson’s em future scares me, I’m rooting for “we get AGI Foom before uploads”, in which case the eschaton is immanentised before we have to worry about this, although I can’t confidently predict that aspect of how things shake out.

      That said, an uploaded person’s memory may be data stored on a computer, but it’s not really any kind of image or video file, and it’s a matter of speculative fiction whether “human memories copied and transferred between uploaded humans like mp3s” turns out to be a thing that’s possible given the structure of the brain. Carving out an exception, either on that basis or just on carrying over precedent about human minds and memories and letting that overrule laws governing computer data (because, unless we end up in a horrible dystopia, an upload is primarily a human being with human rights, and secondarily a computer program), seems the natural way forward.

      And even if we can eventually transfer memories like files, an interval would let us get a body of legal precedent protecting uploaded humans’ freedom of thought, and it’d just be that new transferring technology that would face legal issues.

      • Personally, because Hanson’s em future scares me, I’m rooting for “we get AGI Foom before uploads”, in which case the eschaton is immanentised before we have to worry about this, although I can’t confidently predict that aspect of how things shake out

        This is interesting because Foom scares me a lot more than ems. Ems are likely survivable but chaos inducing, whereas Foom is very likely not survivable if you put low odds on us cracking the friendliness problem. I’d rather have legal, economic, and values upheaval than AI paperclipping. Not that I don’t support the effort, but if anything, I’d put more confidence in a low ceiling for the laws of physics saving us than the machinations of Eliezer Yudkowsky.

        That said, an uploaded person’s memory may be data stored on a computer, but it’s not really any kind of image or video file, and it’s a matter of speculative fiction whether “human memories copied and transferred between uploaded humans like mp3s” turns out to be a thing that’s possible given the structure of the brain. Carving out an exception, either on that basis or just on carrying over precedent about human minds and memories and letting that overrule laws governing computer data (because, unless we end up in a horrible dystopia, an upload is primarily a human being with human rights, and secondarily a computer program), seems the natural way forward.

        And even if we can eventually transfer memories like files, an interval would let us get a body of legal precedent protecting uploaded humans’ freedom of thought, and it’d just be that new transferring technology that would face legal issues.

        I agree this is the right way though. If people gradually change parts of their brain to become more computer-like, the fact that it is a person doing so should be carried over.

    • honoredb says:

      The Quantum Thief is a fun novel set partly in a society that has been successfully rebuilt around these issues. Everybody’s mind is encrypted, but the encryption is necessarily imperfect because you still need to be able to think, so the more someone learns about you the greater the risk that they’ll be able to see more of your memories than you’ve chosen to make public.

    • hushpiper says:

      Child pornography is actually a really good example to explore for this. In the US, at least, the spirit of the law is to define and prosecute according to the harm caused in its production. Was a child abused in its creation? Then bad. Is it so photorealistic that we can’t tell for sure whether a child was abused? Then bad. Is it super creepy but just a drawing or something and thus nobody was abused? Then probably obscene, but not defined as child pornography. Assuming that the transhumanist future still conceives of “harm” in a similar way, that probably wouldn’t change.

      However, even in the present there’s already issues with that which the law hasn’t addressed. Kids kiiiind of have a tendency to take sexual photographs of themselves to send to their boyfriends or girlfriends–which iirc makes up the largest chunk of child pornography out there. With the law as it stands, the kids who do that are technically guilty of both creating and distributing child pornography. They aren’t often charged with that as far as I know, since those who carry out the law have some leeway for discretion, but they are nevertheless guilty and some have been prosecuted for it. (And unfortunately those pictures often end up in archives of child pornography distributed alongside the pictures of child sex abuse–along with perfectly normal facebook photos of parents bathing their toddlers or taking them to the park. You’re welcome, I’m sure you’ve been edified by this knowledge.)

      This is a decent approximation of the possibility you mentioned, of people who had sexual encounters before the age of consent possessing their recorded memories of those encounters. Assuming the intent of the laws stay the same (focused on actual harm to children in the production of the material), the laws would probably eventually be changed to specify that only recorded memories of child sex abuse are disallowed, and consensual encounters are not illegal. And until those changes are made, there would be some collateral damage and prosecutions that make for good headlines (as there already has been with the above situation), but law enforcement would mostly exercise discretion. [Edit: Actually on second thought, I think it’s more likely that “recorded memories of consensual underage sexual encounters are not child pornography” would be established by court rulings than by new laws. Either way the legal system would adjust eventually.]

      Most things that can be copyrighted–anything that can be digitized, which is most things–is already post-scarcity, and copyright has been becoming increasingly meaningless. People’s actions are increasingly surveilled and permanently available either to the public or to private corporations (or the government), which has already caused tons of chaos that we haven’t fully dealt with yet.

      Basically what I’m saying is, I don’t think the situation you’re describing would be a massive societal paradigm shift; it sounds like just an intensification of the issues we are already dealing with.

    • ec429 says:

      What about the fact that pedophiles could simply imagine high definition child pornography if allowed to upgrade themselves?

      Perhaps I’m being obtuse, but what’s the problem here? Unless their ‘imagination’ now has sufficient processing power that the simulated children are sentient, I don’t see why we should object to them doing so (it’s better than them doing it for real, after all. See also violent video games, etc).
      Or is the problem that the thinkpol can’t distinguish between the imagined and real-memory versions? Because in that case they can’t establish “beyond reasonable doubt” that an offence was committed, which should mean they can’t prosecute the real ones either.

      I think the general solution to the problems you raise is to observe that illegal-numbers laws are already a bad idea that should be abolished, and transhumanism just raises the stakes.

      • John Schilling says:

        Perhaps I’m being obtuse, but what’s the problem here? Unless their ‘imagination’ now has sufficient processing power that the simulated children are sentient, I don’t see why we should object to them doing so

        But lots of other people do object, and violently at need. They aren’t going to be persuaded by “it does no harm” or “it is better than doing it for real”, because they aren’t consequentialists. But many of them can fake consequentialism well enough to come up with e.g. “…anyone who watches it on video, eventually will do it for real, so hooray for the laws that make it so we can lock them up at the watch-it-on-video” stage and make each other believe that’s really true. You understand this is how most people work, right?

        If you wish to create a world where it is known that some people (but not which people) are watching high-tech brain-video kiddie porn in the “privacy” of their own heads, lots of people are going to want to veto that – and if it’s technically implausible to veto just the “kiddie porn” part, then doing away with the whole “privacy of their own heads” part will have to suffice. There are more of these people than there are transhumanist consequentialists, they have more votes and more guns than we do so what’s your plan?

        I think the general solution to the problems you raise is to observe that illegal-numbers laws are already a bad idea that should be abolished

        And when we see you actually do this, we will know that your plan is a workable one. Until then, your optimism re libertarian transhumanism ought to be scaled back a bit.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          They aren’t going to be persuaded by “it does no harm” or “it is better than doing it for real”, because they aren’t consequentialists. But many of them can fake consequentialism well enough to come up with e.g. “…anyone who watches it on video, eventually will do it for real, so hooray for the laws that make it so we can lock them up at the watch-it-on-video” stage and make each other believe that’s really true. You understand this is how most people work, right?

          If you wish to create a world where it is known that some people (but not which people) are watching high-tech brain-video kiddie porn in the “privacy” of their own heads, lots of people are going to want to veto that – and if it’s technically implausible to veto just the “kiddie porn” part, then doing away with the whole “privacy of their own heads” part will have to suffice.

          You understand that we live in a world where loli exists and is legal, at least in the US, right? Nobody (who matters) is campaigning on overturning Ashcroft v FSC, which is evidence that people who are not “transhumanist consequentialists”are still fully capable of appreciating and rejecting the tradeoff you’re describing. Not everyone who disagrees with you is stupid and/or evil.

          Yes, there are places on the internet that ban that sort of content, and those bans are supported for the reasons you discuss. But you’re pretending that your outgroup is A-OK with blowing past all the decisions we’ve come to as a society on the ability of governments to overreach themselves and then vivisecting everyone’s brains. That claim doesn’t reflect reality.

        • ec429 says:

          And when we see you actually do this, we will know that your plan is a workable one. Until then, your optimism re libertarian transhumanism ought to be scaled back a bit.

          I think there was a double misunderstanding here. I thought Forward Synthesis was saying “these are hard problems, we don’t know what’s just here” and I was replying “my theory of justice has no difficulty applying to this question”. You seem to (a) be saying he meant there are hard political problems brought up by these technologies, and (b) think I said “nah, it’ll be an easy win”.

          It didn’t help that I put a “to observe” into a sentence where it really didn’t belong.

          You understand this is how most people work, right?

          Yeah, well, to borrow a phrase from esr, “welcome to reason #43b why I’m an anarchist.” The claim that a plurality of neurotypical monkeys is a mandate for any kind of executive power over anyone else or justifies presuming one’s assent to a nebulous ‘social contract’ becomes extra scary when one considers “how most people work”. Bringing in the possibility that that executive power might include full read-write access to one’s brain increases the scariness level further, but doesn’t really qualitatively change much. Hence “just raises the stakes”.

    • rlms says:

      That’s easy. If you want a challenge, put the case for killer robots that eat people.

      • Kestrellius says:

        On second thought, redacted for uncharitability. (Toward the article writer, not rlms.)

    • Butlerian says:

      You say that sensibly-programmed robots will be much more ethical in warfare than humans, with, I think, no evidence. “Humans are bad” does not disproves “Well-intentioned but buggy AI is very bad”.

      And that’s before we even get to any X-risk considerations.

      “If this is to be the case, it must be done in ways that recognise the nearly absolute moral and practical imperatives to remove frail and suffering humans, their slow and flawed decisions, and their terrible ethical record from future battlefields.”

      I’d put a finite but arbitrarily large value of disutility on “UFAI breaks out, everyone dies”. So one (or ten (or ten thousand)) human-committed massacres are small potatoes compared to 0.01% increase in Skynet based existential risk.

    • Skynet based existential risk

      This is an argument for not putting AI (or stupid glitchy twitchy people) in charge of nuclear weapons, but I think we can absorb the risk when we consider non-WMDs. If a robot shoots me, that’s exactly as dangerous as if a human shoots me, and there’s plenty of time to absorb errors and gradually make the robots at least as good if not better at recognizing valid targets.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Most paradigms for combat robotics are silly, because they boil down to trying to make robots soldiers. Robots are not soldiers, and you should let them be robots.

      Thus, you do not build big machines with guns, you build very tiny and well camouflaged machines with cameras in really big numbers, and a somewhat smaller number of slightly larger machines that are basically flying hypodermic needles. Non-lethality is a very viable option for just about all circumstances if what you are risking is the loss of a 70 euro piece of plastic, batteries and integrated circuits.

  37. DragonMilk says:

    Outside of pizza, what are your favorite things to make with pizza dough?

    • aphyer says:


    • aristides says:

      Calzones. I actually find that they are significantly better than a pizza if you are making them in a standard oven. A good pizza oven is specifically designed for pizzas.

      • DragonMilk says:

        What are your favorite things to put in calzones? I’m heavily experimental and worry I may put things in that don’t actually cook, and often will cook items before putting them inside pizza dough for baking.

        • Nick says:

          There was a pizza place near my college campus that made a great four cheese calzone. Their best, though, was the salsa chicken—chicken, black olives, salsa, cheddar, and gouda. And I don’t even like olives much!

          • DragonMilk says:

            So it sounds like the secret is heavy on cheese and lighter on sauces within the calzone itself?

          • AG says:

            Makes sense. Calzones are just turnovers writ large, and turnovers are just uppity bread dumplings, and dumplings can do badly if there’s too much moisture in the filling.
            (Soup dumplings first freeze their liquids, but also cook in boiling water, such that the skin cooks and so solidifies faster than the filling melts. Obviously this isn’t a valid mechanism for the baking mechanism.)

            Given that fusion pizzas (such as a masala pizza) are getting popular, surely there’s a lot of room for a samosa-calzone experiment?

  38. Another Throw says:

    When discussions of the probability of alien life visiting Earth, or whatever, comes up I am always reminded of Elite: Dangerous. It is a game that rewards being the first person to explore a star system and/or planet, with a full scale procedural generated copy of the Milky Way galaxy, instantaneous travel between systems (or, really, however long the loading screen takes), and substantial fraction of c travel within a system.

    In the last 4 (?) years, with an average of 4,500 players (on steam) at any given time, they have explored 0.036% of the galaxy.

    Take it for what you will.

    • sclmlw says:

      Let’s assume the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct, but instead developed intelligence, like the movie The Good Dinosaur. Say it took them an extra million years from the extinction event to develop intelligence, then another million years to take them from the stone age to the information age, then another million years from the information age to interstellar travel.

      Suppose they exactly followed the exploratory progress of the game you mentioned and never increased their rate of exploration (through population expansion/production of new ships at each new star system, etc.). If we extrapolate a linear rate of exploration of 0.036% per 4 years, or 0.009% per year, it would have taken them a little over ten thousand years to explore/colonize the whole galaxy. In other words, a contemporary dinosaur civilization on any of the billions of other planets in the galaxy would have explored and colonized Earth a little less than 62 million years ago under these conditions.

      Let’s make this a little more realistic. Let’s say it takes 1,000 years for these dinosaurs to travel to the nearest star for the first time – our closest star is 5 light years away. In fact, let’s say we cap technology at being able to spread about 5 light years every 1,000 years (top speed spacecraft can’t exceed 0.5% c in this scenario). The universe is really big, after all. But instead of randomly selecting stars, we’d expect the dinosaurs to spread out in all directions at the same time. So imagine a circle (squashed sphere) expanding outward at this ultra-slow pace.

      It would take about 10 million years for the dinosaurs to spread throughout the galaxy. If it took them three million years from the missed-extinction event to develop the technology for interstellar flight, they would have explored and colonized even the most remote Earth-like planet 52 million years ago.

    • Dack says:

      So those players (at that rate) could fully explore the entire galaxy in only ~11k years?

      And if aliens with equivalent capability existed a billion years ago, then they could have completely explored the galaxy 90k times by now. Or once at 1/90k the speed of light.

      We currently have a space craft from the 1970s going 1/18k the speed of light.

      • acymetric says:

        I continue to believe people are overestimating the desire of civilizations to undertake exploration missions lasting longer than a generation, let alone lasting longer than the longevity of the civilization itself. We also seem to be ascribing the exponential growth of von-neumann probes to manned craft which seems like an error.

        • John Schilling says:

          No, the math still works even if you assume that A: civilizations can only undertake single-generation exploration missions and B: civilization is 90% likely to collapse before undertaking even one such mission and 100% certain to collapse immediately after doing so, so long as C: it only takes ten thousand years or so for the survivors to build a new technologically advanced civilization from the wreckage of the old.

          • acymetric says:

            Are we assuming that any planet we expand to is capable of supporting a technologically advanced civilization?

          • sclmlw says:

            Agreed. There’s just a lot of time out there to work with. And to the point about whether people are ‘interested’ in long-term exploration with low-probability payoff, that perfectly matches the history of human exploration.

            That’s not to say most people will be willing to undertake long voyages out into the ether. That’s to say that if you have a civilization of one billion people, there are going to be plenty of 0.01% outliers willing to go on a dangerous long-term journey out into space. (0.01% of one billion is still 100,000 people, and it’s likely humans are more adventurous than that – even for long-run space flights)

            Combine that with a strong human propensity for procreation and we’ll easily colonize an empty universe in a couple million years – even if we plateau technologically in the near future, and even if we stop at each star system along the way for a few thousand years at a time.

          • John Schilling says:

            Are we assuming that any planet we expand to is capable of supporting a technologically advanced civilization?

            Any planet, moon, or asteroid belt can support a civilization advanced enough to build starships. The more interesting question is whether it can support a civilization fallen from such heights – Mad Max on Mars might be workable, particularly if the initial settlers did some fix-up work before falling on hard times – but that would be about the limit.

            Checking my notes, it looks like my implied assumption came to one long-term inhabitable world per four star systems, but it shouldn’t be too sensitive to that number shifting an order of magnitude in either direction. Particularly if we allow for civilizations to occasionally survive long enough to send out a second wave of colonists before collapsing and needing to rebuild.

            Galaxies are old beyond old; civilizations like those we know of rise and fall and flitter about like mayflies(*) on that timescale. And if in that vast sandbox an actual stable starfaring civilization evolves even once, then it’s over and done in a galactic instant.

            * Note that actual mayflies colonized the whole of the Earth in a tiny fraction of the Earth’s history.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Any planet, moon, or asteroid belt can support a civilization advanced enough to build starships.


            If that’s the case why don’t we have a permanent presence on Earth, Mars and the Asteroid belt right now? We don’t even have self sufficient bases at the South Pole, right? Let alone a civilization.

            Or are you saying that we don’t actually have starships, or even the possibility of building starships, right now?

            If the second is the case, there seems to be an assumption of unknown technology hidden in there.

          • sclmlw says:

            The limiting factor is energy extraction. Theoretically, there’s enough energy anywhere there is matter, so long as you know how to convert from one to the other (e=mc^2). So there’s enough dust in interstellar space to keep civilizations alive on the trip from one place to the next. Then, even if all you had was a small moon you could still extract enough energy out of it to sustain a civilization far enough to get to the next star system. That’s because you get a LOT of energy out of even a small amount of matter.

            All of this ultimately entails a certain amount of speculation. Obviously humanity has never developed interstellar space flight, but that doesn’t a priori mean it’s impossible. The question is whether the basic math and physics prevent it from happening. Even if we’re restrictive about top speeds for spacecraft, given sufficient technology it seems interstellar travel is possible.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Obviously humanity has never developed interstellar space

            Well, Voyager is on its way to .. somewhere.

            The fact that Voyager isn’t consider “interstellar travel” says something about what we actually mean when we say interstellar travel. Talk about how sentient dinosaur would long ago have tiled the galaxy seems to ignore this?

            Also Von Neumann probes seem like the kind of things people who worry about “paper-clipping” the universe should be terrified of even mentioning. Right up there with Roko’s basilisk.

          • John Schilling says:

            The fact that Voyager isn’t consider “interstellar travel” says something about what we actually mean when we say interstellar travel.

            What almost everybody means when they say “travel”, interstellar or otherwise, is people voyaging to a place where they can either do things and then return home, or live a happy and fulfilling lives. “People” can be defined very loosely in this context, but Voyager’s 16-bit, 64K processor never was one and never will be.

            We do not now have the technological ability for people to voyage to other stars in any useful sense. We are much closer to having the technological ability for people to live happy and productive lives on the sorts of worlds we vaguely see orbiting other stars, if we ignore the question of how they get there. It seems likely that we will develop the former technology in no more than a few centuries, and the latter sometime in this century.

          • acymetric says:

            I would accept that any planet/moon/asteroid belt could support a colony. That it could support a thriving civilization is a step too far IMO. The destination has to have the correct quantities and types of matter, in a (reasonably) accessible location (i.e. not a mile under the surface).

            The requirements to sustain a small colony and the requirements to promote a thriving, rapidly expanding civilization would seem to be significantly different.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            What almost everybody means when they say “travel”, interstellar or otherwise, is people voyaging to a place where they can either do things and then return home, or live a happy and fulfilling lives

            I’d agree this is what people mean … but let’s examine a few ideas in there.

            1) Return home – I don’t think any individual is returning home from any stars absent breaking laws of physics as we currently understand them. Assuming we could break the laws of physics as we understand them, with very short duration travel to a new star system, it’s not clear that we would necessarily have the ability to have a civilization on an asteroid belt. Keeping people alive for months or years in space is really different than keeping them and their descendants alive for generations.

            2) Live happy and fulfilling lives – so, absent something like FTL travel, I think we are now in the “space Ark” territory, with colony ships going out. That implies the ability to live in space on a ship for something like generations. It’s not apparent to me that this implies being able to build a new environment from scratch once you get where you are going. Not unless you are just assuming that this is what is necessary in order to live happy and fulfilled lives, which … well, that is basically assuming the conclusion, yes?

          • sclmlw says:

            @acymetric: I’d agree with that. It would be difficult to form a colony on a very small rock, or in the absence of carbon, oxygen, and other elements needed to support colonial expansion. Presumably interstellar travelers would be able to determine whether a nearby star has planets, as well as some basic information about planetary makeup, prior to journeying out to it. It’s possible an inhospitable star system would be on the way to a putatively hospitable one. In that case they could ‘fuel up’ and repair using local materials if the star doesn’t have sufficient materials to form a habitable colony.

            The key here would be that they couldn’t use the star system for population expansion, but they could use the system resources as a springboard to continue voyaging.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I would accept that any planet/moon/asteroid belt could support a colony. That it could support a thriving civilization is a step too far IMO. The destination has to have the correct quantities and types of matter, in a (reasonably) accessible location (i.e. not a mile under the surface).


            All that’s needed is the right knowledge. With the right knowledge people could build an orbital from the atoms floating in interstellar space.

          • acymetric says:

            Right, so if we assume that this civilization has access to magic alchemy the Infinity Gauntlet any potential act that hasn’t been explicitly and conclusively proven impossible.

          • sclmlw says:

            We could choose to assume the colony has access only to today’s technology we’ve already commercially implemented in space (because maybe we’ve discovered some technologies that can’t be mass-produced, or that are only feasible terrestrially), but then we’re just asking the question, “Can current-tech humans engage in interstellar travel?” And the answer to that is obviously “No.”

            Then again, in 1960 we might have asked the same type of question about a more local project: “Can current-tech humans travel to the moon?” And the answer to that is also obviously “No.” Yet we still went.

            So clearly the question is about what is likely feasible in the future, or would be feasible given the same laws of physics and a civilization with 100 million years longer to work out the details. We might ask whether near-future humans could develop technology to travel to the moon in 1960, to which the answer would have been “maybe?” We could also say, “Theoretically it is certainly possible,” which would inform our intuitions better about whether travel to other celestial bodies is practical for more advanced civilizations.

            Today we could ask about whether we can travel to Mars:
            Current-tech: No
            Near-future-tech: Maybe
            Theoretically: Yes

            There is much less certainty about something like interstellar travel:
            Current-tech: No
            Near-future-tech: No
            Theoretically: Maybe?

            Here theoretical limits are the only interesting thing to discuss. It’s fairly obvious to point out “but we don’t know how to do that yet.” It’s slightly less obvious to point out “theory doesn’t always translate into practical implementation.”

            Of course we have to make assumptions when we’re talking about the theoretical possibility of interstellar travel. It’s much more useful to point out the implicit assumptions we make than it is to point out known gaps in engineering capabilities. For example, you might point out, “you’re assuming that once you accelerate fast enough you’ll be able to sustain the same speed throughout the flight between systems. However, you’ll still be slowed down by interstellar dust along the way. It’s not dense enough to provide a useful source of material to mine, but the distance is vast enough for it to slow you down over time. This could make fuel depletion a serious limitation of interstellar flights.”

            But saying, “We don’t currently have fusion power plants capable of producing more energy than they use” or that “even if such a plant were created it’s not small enough to put on a space ship to power it” also makes an assumption: namely that we won’t ever develop such technology.

          • acymetric says:


            So, I agree. Certainly we don’t want to limit the discussion to what is possible today, or even what is likely possible in the near-future. We just can’t go so far the other way either, or the discussion just turns into a tautology: “Assuming a civilization is capable of interstellar travel, the civilization is capable of traveling of interstellar travel”. This is the main line of thinking I’m trying to argue against.

            Maybe it helps to frame it this way: developing the necessary technology may or may not be possible (what is necessary and how likely is it to be possible is the fun/interesting part of this discussion IMO). It is certainly not inevitable, which seems to be the implied assumption from some of the comments I’ve replied to (not yours).

            The other fun part of the discussion is whether, if we grant interstellar travel, that would/could lead to constant*, exponential expansion and why/why not (but again here, the tautology argument of “if technology allows rapid expansion in all directions with no resource constraints, then we can expand rapidly in all directions with no resource constraints” is boring).

            *The unintuitive, Universal scale type of constant

          • sclmlw says:


            I think you’ve hit on the crucial assumption that the whole debate hinges on: “if” it’s possible to develop technology X. We can break it down into what we do know. The problem, as I see it, boils down to the following fundamentals:

            1. There are vast distances between stars.
            2. It takes a lot of energy to accelerate mass fast relative to the speed of light.
            3. Humans take a certain amount of energy to keep them awake/sane/happy per unit of time.
            4. Entropy still applies during interstellar travel.

            Since we’ve never done interstellar travel, we don’t know if it’s possible. However, if it’s possible, it would require one of the following two strategies, each of which requires technology we’re not currently capable of:

            a. We have the tech sufficient to accelerate to an appreciable fraction of the speed of light and the journey is (relatively) short. This requires us to either bend space or rely on an as-yet-unknown loophole in the speed of light. Since the whole point of a feasibility discussion is determining what’s possible from a certain set of givens, it’s bad form to assume away some of the strongest givens (the laws of the universe) we’ve been given. Even so, sometimes we assume limitations from those laws that we can get around in other ways.

            b. We only have the tech to accelerate to a small fraction of the speed of light and the journey is longer. This presents a major entropy problem, since having enough energy to complete the journey suddenly becomes a major problem. Theoretically, mass is also made of huge amounts of energy, so any mass you encounter along the way could be counted as additional energy that could be used for propulsion, and since mass has a lot of energy you don’t have to take much in order to sustain all your needs.

            But that assumes you can take enough equipment with you to extract energy from mass – not an easy feat – and that you can get it from any kind of matter (whereas right now we can only do this with certain types of specialized, rare matter like specific isotopes of uranium, or heavy water). Under conventional methods of propulsion, thrust is derived from the object being accelerated, and therefore the more mass you want to accelerate the more fuel you need to bring along … which also counts as mass that needs to be accelerated prior to using it as fuel, so it needs additional fuel to accelerate it, an on and on. This puts an upper bound on how much you can take with you (determined primarily by how much propulsion you get from your fuel per unit of fuel mass).

            So there are engineering challenges, but I don’t think we can answer how most of these would be solved. But I also think there’s reason for optimism that they can be solved. For example, one way around the initial propulsion issue is to derive most of your initial acceleration at the point of origin, not from something you take along with you. Since travel to the final destination requires only maintenance acceleration (due to collision with microscopic debris along the way) using the resource-rich environment near the star would make the most sense. The real problem would be deceleration at your destination.

            The ultimate answer to Fermi’s paradox might be, “it’s just not possible to engineer travel between stars” but from where I sit there doesn’t seem to be a hard theoretical reason to believe that explanation.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            We could probably accelerate something up to 4% the speed of light. This makes the trip to Alpha Centauri about 100 years. It is not unreasonable to think we could extend lifespans to this number, so it would be a ~1.5 generation trip. (I am not a transhumanist who thinks we are about to stop aging or upload into computers but living to 120 is not nuts, and is allowed by God.) If we are talking about other species, then we have no scientific reason to think they are bound by this number.

            The baseline fuel would be nuclear. It can store nearly 1E8 MJ/kg. Just as a starting number, the ISS uses 100KW to keep 6 people alive. Let’s double that as a WAG. So each kilogram is about 100 person-years of fuel. If we need 100 people, that means 10,000 kg or 10 metric tons of nuclear fuel.

            This requires some technological assumptions, but a lot less than bending space.

            (Antimatter is theoretically possible, but it costs, using current knowledge, about E9 more energy to create than you get out. I could easily see that E9 number coming down in the future but I have no reason to expect it. Maybe society could tolerate that cost to colonize another star system; I don’t know.)

            This assumes you have to travel from one planetary system to another in one big jump. It might work to just slowly spread out through the Oort cloud of one system so far you reach the Oort cloud of the next system.

          • sclmlw says:

            I don’t know if nuclear is a good fuel source. One of the biggest problems with it is it’s corrosive, and the other is the potential failure rate (a huge concern once your travel time exceeds 50 years). I think if you’re going to send people off on a 100 year journey you’re likely to get the more fringe adventurers than the main mass of society (kind of like European explorers in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries making crazy voyages where few of them returned). Therefore, it’s less likely you’re going to monopolize a large percent of the Earth’s supply of rare transuranic elements to shoot a ship off on an unknown quest.

            As to the lifespan issue, I’m less optimistic about extending that than I am about other technological questions. There is a difference between life expectancy and life span. To date, we’ve made great strides in life expectancy by limiting infant mortality, with much more limited gains in life span by working on old age diseases. That suggests that a colony ship whose travel time exceeds 50 years will mostly be comprised of travelers who know Earth but never know the destination, and their offspring who know their destination but never knew Earth.

            To the extent we can send a lot of stuff into deep space, the more we accelerate the slower we’ll ultimately be going. All that healthcare equipment might extend the time of the journey.

            The problem with going out into the Oort cloud is you get a lot less energy from the sun. And it’s not a linear decrease the farther out you go. It’s best to start the acceleration as close to the inner solar system as possible, otherwise local entropy causes you to shed energy faster than you take it in – which is the biggest mathematical problem on an interstellar journey.

        • sclmlw says:

          Perhaps one of the best possible methods for sustaining a voyage into deep interstellar space is to shoot out ‘care packages’ all along the way. Kind of like sending a bunch of useful Voyager-like spacecraft between star systems. If your colony ship is faster than the care packages, you could easily grab them along the path from one star to the other, thereby allowing the resources from Earth to ‘bridge’ the journey through the long cold night of space. These care packages would be slowed down by space dust, but that doesn’t matter too much.

          If the ultimate goal is simply to ‘get there’, this method of sending advance shipments along the way would easily accomplish this task. So long as you can load a few people onto a colony ship capable of sustaining life long enough (with planned re-supplies provided along the journey) you could make it between stars.

          Another possible benefit of this approach would be using the re-supplies to aid in acceleration. Since a supply vessel could be unmanned, it would require less equipment and therefore less weight. It would then be feasible to accelerate the re-supply vessel to much faster than the original colony ship, which could pick up speed when it captures the re-supply vessel. It could gain even more speed by jettisoning the re-supply vessel back in the opposite direction (not necessarily for recovery by Earth).

          The biggest problem with this approach is aiming, given the distances involved.

          • ec429 says:

            This made me think of the Bussard buzz-bomb, one of Jordin Kare’s wackier ideas (now there’s a phrase to make your hair stand on end!)
            As far as I can tell, it falls into the “mere engineering problem” bucket, rather than requiring any new science; OTOH it would take a lot of engineering 😉

          • sclmlw says:

            I think there may be some new discoveries required to achieve the needed precision, or to ensure course corrections are handled in the absence of humans present.

  39. proyas says:

    Does anyone have experience installing or servicing PEX water pipes?

    If so, how would you compare them to copper and CPVC pipes?

    • Plumber says:

      Actually no, it wasn’t code yet for the San Jose area when I worked new construction down there; and I don’t know if it’s code for San Francisco yet (but I don’t think it is, we’ve never used it in the Department of Public Works), and most of the new piping I install is still copper and cast iron. My boss who lives up north where it’s allowed say he has had good luck with the PEX he’s used on his house. From what I can tell the PEX fittings that don’t require expensive crimping tools are pricey, but the pipe itself is relatively cheap.

      The only pipe that I’m thoroughly impressed with for longevity is the “red” brass pipe that mostly was briefly used for water supply piping in thr 1950’s, it’s still avalible and real expensive but I’ve used it for a few salt air and chemical applications where pipe failure was endemic, the main problem (besides the expense) is that the copper thieves will go for it, so painting it black where it’s visible (so they ignore it) is wise.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I didn’t realize copper theft was prevalent enough in the United States to weigh into your calculations there! How common is it? Any idea if it’s more common in the Bay Area than other parts of the country?

        • Plumber says:

          @Evan Þ,

          I honestly have no idea of how the rate of theft compared, but it was common enough when I working for the Port of San Francisco, that replacing stolen pipe, and hiding if the new pipe was copper with paint and plastic sleeves was something we did.

        • toastengineer says:

          I’m surprised you didn’t know, I thought copper theft was just, like, criminal background radiation everyone knows about, like graffiti or like radio theft was in the 90s.

          People get zapped all the time trying to steal the copper out of recently abandoned buildings that haven’t had the power shut off yet.

        • CatCube says:

          Like @Plumber, I don’t know about the relative rates, but we typically encase conduits for control and power wiring for dam gates in concrete to avoid theft. We’ve also had major issues with pilfering of ferrous metals left in boneyards that only need to be used every 5-10 years for stuff like unwatering penstocks, gates, etc.

        • DarkTigger says:

          Scrap metal theft as a whole is an big problem, since it is a easy way to make to money. You do not need a fence, since most junkyards do not ask any questions when you bring them stuff. You also don’t need any know-how like you need to steal a car.