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Open Thread 129.5

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

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980 Responses to Open Thread 129.5

  1. Why So Many Articles Are Wrong

    Suppose you are an academic who wants to get published in order to get tenure. To get published you need to do research that produces a novel result. If a result is true, it is quite likely that someone over the past century or so has already discovered it and published it. That is much less likely is the result is false.

    So if you can produce what looks like good evidence for a false result, the odds that it will be novel, hence publishable, hence will contribute to your career, is much higher than for a true result

    Add in the various ways that have been discussed here in which one can find evidence for a false result, and …

    • b_jonas says:

      Academics have it good. We’ve worked on research projects where the research grant required us to document exactly what innovative novel results we’ll achieve the next year. (This is in Europe.)

      • dark orchid says:

        Many years ago, my professor said the secret to getting grants was to do some work in private, then apply for a grant to do that work, and use the time bought that way to do some more work in private that you’ll apply for in your next grant (and repeat).

        It seems like research councils are catching on.

  2. Well... says:

    Why is there a picture of Milton Friedman in this article about far-right Youtubers? The inclusion of JBLobsterman is almost something I can wrap my head around, but Milton Friedman? That seems like a pretty clear error. Surprised (well, not really) that nobody at the NYT caught it.

    • Matt M says:

      It may be uncharitable, but it’s not an “error” in either sense that you might declare it to be one.

      1. As someone who travels in those circles, I can tell you that Friedman’s “Free to Choose” videos are, in fact, quite popular among right-leaning libertarians. His most famous one may be the one where he deals with discrimination, directly arguing against the “equal pay” logic with an argument to the effect of “If it was true that women made less than men, most corporations would start hiring women exclusively.”

      2. It’s not an error in the other sense either… in that they fully know that Milton Friedman isn’t some radical alt-right figure. But they are lumping him in with such figures on purpose in order to de-legitimize anyone who deviates from the progressive orthodoxy in any way. The fact that Milton Friedman isn’t a literal Nazi should in no way imply or suggest that he isn’t someone the New York Times thinks should be banned from YouTube. They want him gone, too.

      • dick says:

        So, including Friedman was both unremarkable and reasonable, and also evidence of a conspiracy against Friedman by someone working at the Times?

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t see the implied contradiction.
          It’s a perfectly reasonable action iff your goal is to control the thoughts of the masses within a narrow window.

          • dick says:

            They’re not contradictory, but usually an ordinary explanation refutes an extraordinary one. If someone posts a picture of a cloud that looks like Donald Trump as evidence that the CIA has invented a device to control the weather, I would expect some responses like, “that’s just a cloud, you’re nuts” and others like “that cloud looks artificial, you might be on to something” but I would not expect anyone to say, “I think that’s just a normal cloud AND you’re right about the CIA weather device.”

            Also, if someone at the NYT wants to slander Milton Friedman by including him in a list of right-wing trolls, they probably ought to have included his name in the piece, oughtn’t they?

          • Matt M says:

            dick,

            I’m curious, how do you think they arrived at a sample of the pictures? Did they truly take a totally random sample of every Youtube video this kid ever watched?

            Seems unlikely. Seems almost certain that some conscious picking and choosing was involved. Friedman was chosen for a reason.

            The most innocent reason I could think of might be something like “we want to provide a full view of the types of things people who get radicalized tend to watch, which isn’t JUST hardcore Nazis, but also includes reasonable and respectable economists such as Milton Friedman.” But that particular nuance doesn’t quite come through, especially in an article that’s specifically about a linear progression of increasing extremism.

          • Dan L says:

            It might just be an accident of JavaScript, but someone at NYT might have actually put thought into Friedman (and Peterson) being among the first to fade out, just as “far-right” comes on screen. But my prior agrees with albatross below.

          • dick says:

            I’m curious, how do you think they arrived at a sample of the pictures? Did they truly take a totally random sample of every Youtube video this kid ever watched?

            My guess would be that they asked the graphic designers to make an asset out of the list of videos, and the designers picked stills that juxtaposed nicely.

            Honestly, it’s hard to even take this seriously. I’m imagining a meeting of the “Committee to de-legitimize anyone who deviates from the progressive orthodoxy in any way” over at the Times HQ.

            A: “Guys, listen. I think we need to take Milton Friedman down a notch. What if we try to associate him with some unsavory characters?”

            B: “Yeah! I’ve heard a lot of really controversial right-wingers are very keen on his policies, we could write an article about some of the worst of them, making the connection between their odious beliefs and Friedman’s economics.”

            A: “Eh, that sounds like a lot of work. I was just thinking about slipping a reference to him in to an unrelated article about right-wing trolls.”

            B: “Okay, yeah, that could work, too. Like, include his name in a list with Alex Jones and Steven Crowder, so they’re associated algorithmically by search engines?”

            A: “No, even subtler than that. How about just putting his picture in a montage of far-right commentators?”

            B: “…”

            A: “And then add a label to it saying that not all of the people in the picture are far-right commentators.”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            dick, I don’t think it’s that they were trying to take down Friedman specifically. I think it’s that they suffer from such extreme outgroup homogeneity bias that they can’t tell the difference between Friedman and Alex Jones.

          • Matt M says:

            Honestly, it’s hard to even take this seriously. I’m imagining a meeting of the “Committee to de-legitimize anyone who deviates from the progressive orthodoxy in any way” over at the Times HQ.

            The great thing about hiring a workforce of 95% hardcore progressives is that such committees are unnecessary. The committee to de-legitimize anyone who is guilty of wrongthink totally does exist, out in the open, in broad daylight. They just call themselves “the New York Times editorial board.”

            And no, I don’t think the main purpose of the article was to find a really roundabout way to attack Milton Friedman specifically.

            However, I *do* think that blasting YouTube for allowing wrongthink is just a small step in their ongoing war to de-legitimize ideas like, say, Capitalism and Freedom. What a coincidence, that happens to be the exact title of one of Friedman’s most influential works!

            Friedman is often (mainly by the left, not the right) caricatured as far more right-wing and libertarian than he actually was. I’ve had progressives say to me before, without the slightest sense of irony, “You libertarians just worship Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman.” Many progressives don’t understand the difference between say, Friedman and Mises, if they even know who Mises is at all…

            It is, therefore, completely unsurprising to me that a group of progressives would produce such a piece, include Milton Friedman in the montage of “radical right-wing crazies”, and not really give it a second thought.

          • albatross11 says:

            To put this into perspective, suppose you have a newspaper whose entire editorial and journalistic staff are straight white protestant men. Without any conspiracy at all, I predict that you will see news articles that treat gays, non-Christians, and nonwhites as less legitimate and normal than WASPs. They’re likely to see something sinister in a bunch of Orthodox Jews or blacks organizing for some purpose. You’d probably get a big improvement in quality of coverage from that newspaper if you added a couple nonwhites and a couple women and maybe a Jew and a Catholic or two. They’d be less likely to see everyone who wasn’t a WASP as a weird scary outsider.

            IMO, this is a lot of what you see in modern media outlets. The set of journalists and editors mostly shares a worldview and background, and it shows in their coverage.

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            To put this into perspective, suppose you have a newspaper whose entire editorial and journalistic staff are straight white protestant men. Without any conspiracy at all, I predict that you will see news articles that treat gays, non-Christians, and nonwhites as less legitimate and normal than WASPs.

            Ironically, more or less the opposite is true, where the white liberals that are dominant in the media tend to strongly believe in white oppression of black people, even if they themselves are white; tend to believe in male oppression of women, even if they themselves are male; tend to be very negative about America, even if they are themselves American; etc.

            If newspapers would hire a bunch of randomly selected black people, they might plausibly become more negative about black people, gays, etc; if they would dare to speak out, which is doubtful, since there would be pressure to hide the dirty laundry and conform to the existing journalist culture.

            Note that Simpson’s paradox allows for a (non-randomly selected) subgroup to have the opposite beliefs to the larger group.

            What you are doing is identity politics: the assumption that identity matches allegiances, which ignores that allegiance can also exist to a subgroup (see ‘narcissism of small differences’) and that identities can have conflicting ‘demands.’

          • Dan L says:

            IMO, this is a lot of what you see in modern media outlets. The set of journalists and editors mostly shares a worldview and background, and it shows in their coverage.

            On one hand, this is obviously a bad dynamic and it’s important for a variety of positions to be represented in papers of record.

            On the other hand, it’s a punchy factoid that both Republicans and Democrats are underrepresented among new journalism graduates. Ok sure, 90% expected isn’t nearly an issue in the way 25% of expected is, but it belies the notion that this is a simple left v. right issue.

            And on the gripping hand, this is still one of my favorite things Scott has written:

            Whoever you are, my “talking to real people in the Midwest” credentials are better than yours. I am a psychiatrist. I work in Michigan. My job is pretty much talking to former industrial workers about all the ways their lives have gone wrong, eight hours a day, every day. I am aware that these people are very angry.

            But is it the level of anger where 46% of them will vote Trump? Or the level of anger where 48% of them will vote Trump? Because Hillary got about 47% of the vote in Michigan, so those two points are the difference between Trump winning the state and becoming President, versus losing the state and fading into ignominy. I do not think there is any level of deep connection to the collective consciousness of Michigan that allows you to distinguish between a 48%-Trump level of anger versus a 46%-Trump level of anger. Which means that even if you psychoanalyze Michiganders eight hours a day you still have to read the polls like everyone else. And the polls said that it was more like a 46% level of anger. And they were wrong.

            But shouldn’t people who left their Beltway offices have at least realized that there was a significant amount of anger in the American people, and so Trump had a fighting chance? Yes. But all the polls also showed that there were a lot of Trump voters and that he had a fighting chance. If you were so confused that you didn’t realize that lots of people were angry and Trump had a fighting chance, I’m not sure that leaving your Beltway office would have helped much. In fact, I’m glad you didn’t. You probably would have wandered dazed into the street and gotten hit by a truck or something.

    • albatross11 says:

      The unpaid intern who put together that montage didn’t know who Milton Friedman was?

    • Plumber says:

      @Well…,
      The caption said:

      “A sampling of the more than 12,000 videos that Caleb Cain watched going back to 2015, many but not all of which were from far-right commentators”

      So I assume Mr. Friedman is a representative of “not all”, they may be others, all I saw in the picture was a lot of faces, none of which I recognize, but 99% of my YouTube use is listening to songs, and the majority of political YouTube content I listen to is because of links from here, most of which I look at the length of the video and ignore (same with podcasts), so I’m no expert of any political YouTubers, much less far right ones.

      Frankly I’m amazed you could spot anyone in what looks to me like a sea of tiny faces, anyway for all I know most everyone pictured in the “sampling” could be giving advice on playing Bridge.

      EDIT: I read the rest of the essay, and see a story of a young man first convinced by watching a lot of right-wing videos, and then convinced by watching a lot of left-wing videos.

      I’m really not sure what to make of a tale of someone so eager for human voices, who’s opinions are so malleable.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      A Milton Friedman video is ultimately no different from a David Duke video: they both steal opinion-making power which is legitimately the property of the New York Times.

    • BBA says:

      His associations with Pinochet make him “alt-right-adjacent” in the current parlance. There is, of course, so much more to his work than a brief affiliation with an admittedly awful foreign government, but those cooties are super-contagious.

  3. BBA says:

    From Katie Herzog: Repent, Resent, or Reinvent: How to Survive a Pile-On

    I guess it’s good that someone managed to find a rewarding existence after being put through the internet hate machine (left-wing edition). I wonder if it has to take four years and changing to an entirely different field of employment in order to move on after that kind of thing.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      God, I read the original essay. It’s totally harmless. There’s one arguably insensitive comment and that’s only if you take it out of context. How do you get from writing this to having your life destroyed?

    • Deiseach says:

      Going off at a tangent here, but in relation to previous comment discussion about “is skill in reading and writing any use when applying for jobs or does it contribute to success in a job?”:

      He wasn’t a programmer or a developer, but he had something most programmers and developers don’t: the ability to write and to speak. This skill, which wasn’t all that remarkable in his previous world, was novel in the world of tech, and it meant that he had something to offer.

      So that is one example of being able to turn a humanities skill into something valuable in a technical sphere.

      • The Nybbler says:

        This skill, however, is more specialized than most humanities people make it out to be. Pretty much all good developers can write and speak… to other techies. The rare skill is being able to write usefully about tech to non-techies, or for a non-techie writer to understand tech well enough to write about it. Someone might be able to write code, write technical designs, discuss technical problems with other developers, and also discuss, present and/or write about non-tech things with both other techies and non-techies, and STILL lack that particular skill.

        • acymetric says:

          I consider this my biggest strength as a developer (which may be damning with faint praise, that my biggest strength isn’t actually developing, but whatever).

        • Viliam says:

          Pretty much all good developers can write and speak… to other techies.

          Speak, maybe. Write… uhm… in my experience, most programmers are unable to write documentation for their code. In companies I worked for, you could usually simply find out which parts of code were written by me, because those were the ones with clarifying comments.

          And then there is the skill of “providing the big picture, without drowning your audience in hundreds of details”, which many people lack; including most techies.

          • MorningGaul says:

            There is an argument for minimal (if any) comments in code, which i read first in “Clean Code” by Robert C. Martin.

            In short, nobody will read it, it wont be updated when the code is, and most of what it says could probably be put in the naming of variables and functions.

          • Aapje says:

            Yeah, I’m a big fan of self-documenting code.

            For me, documentation in code is a red flag for excessive complexity. If people don’t understand what your method does by reading the method name, simplify the method (or improve the method name). If people can’t grok your code by reading it, refactor it to be clearer. Etc.

            Comments are rarely kept up to date well, so they can actually become counterproductive. Having self-documenting code makes it much harder for the code to deceive you, than for comments to do so.

          • acymetric says:

            That’s nice if you’re building code from the ground up, or working on code developed exclusively by people who always follow best practices. In reality, even well functioning code is going to be full of kludges, hotfixes, and stuff that made sense or at least worked at the time but didn’t scale well or accommodate additional use cases.

            Given that those things happen, comments are useful as a note for the next guy to come through essentially saying “look, this code below looks weird, but it has to be that way because of the weird code elsewhere and we don’t have time to refactor the whole thing to make it read more cleanly”.

            Or even “this code looks weird, but it has to be that way because there is a bug in [native function] and this is the only way around it for now”.

            Also, some clients demand comments in the code, and that probably just isn’t a hill worth dying on.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Code should be self-documenting to the extent it can be.

            But if you have never written code complex enough that design decisions weren’t immediately apparent upon revisiting the code, your code has been quite simple. Comments explaining why you chose to do things this way rather than that way save a great deal of time later on.

            When you have a large legacy codebase written over 15+ years, you really appreciate both self documenting code and comments, whether you need to track down a production emergency or just implement new features.

          • acymetric says:

            Right. I should clarify that I also believe code should be self documenting as much as possible.

            When I go into some old part of the software I work on and find something like

            d = c.a[1];

            for(i=0; i<q.length; i++) {
            v = s * at;
            if(e == t) ry = m + wd;
            }

            and so forth it makes me want to freaking scream. We aren’t paying by the byte folks.

          • Aapje says:

            @acymetric

            Sure, my point is that comments should be a last resort and not to be used unless clarifying the code itself is not feasible.

          • albatross11 says:

            IMO, it helps if you think of comments as notes to your future self, warning him about confusing bits in the code or requried conditions that aren’t obvious.

          • Aapje says:

            Unless it is a one-man project, other people will deal with your code. So it has to be legible to others, not just future you.

          • acymetric says:

            @Aapje

            That seems like a point in favor of the additional explanation afforded by comments.

          • Viliam says:

            Guys, it is simple:

            The function name says WHAT.
            The function code says HOW.
            The function comment says WHY.

            If there is absolutely no reason to explain why, then the comment is of course not needed. (If the function is called “getUserName”, do not write a comment saying merely: “This function returns the name of the user.”) But if you insist that all code is like this, I strongly suspect you have never worked on a project more complex than a high-school homework.

            And sometimes the explanation required more than two or three words, so you really don’t want to fit it all into the function name.

            @MorningGaul, @Aapje:
            In my experience, when people insist that their code is “self-documenting”, it is usually only a status move. When someone else needs to use their code, that person needs to spend time analyzing the code, the code called from that code, existing usages of the code, etc, to find out how the author actually meant this function to be used.

            I am not saying that writing self-documenting code in a real-life complex project is entirely impossible. (I don’t like making general claims like this.) But the meme of “self-documenting code” is frequently abused. When used by a high-status developer, it becomes an unfalsifiable statement. If you don’t understand the guru’s code, it’s because you are stupid, duh. But if the guru doesn’t understand your code, it’s because you wrote a bad code and you need to rewrite it until the guru understands it. Thus guru’s idiosyncratic preferences become the norm, which reinforces the status of the guru as the one who understands and follows the norm best. Everyone has to learn the guru’s favorite idioms, and stop using the idioms guru isn’t experienced with, because “they make the code more difficult to understand”.

            Again, I’m not saying there aren’t objectively better and worse ways to write code. I’m just saying it is tempting for the highest-status team member to insist that their subjective preferences happen to be the objective truth. The practice and definition of writing “self-documenting code” is usually one of these truths. (Where “self-documenting” means: the guru understands how this works, usually because he wrote it himself.)

      • Matt M says:

        I think the overall point remains though, that “humanities skills can be valuable in tech” does NOT imply “more people should major in humanities.”

        Someone can develop “humanities skills” while still majoring in a far more obviously productive and economically sound field.

        • For what it’s worth, I developed my writing skills while majoring in chemistry and physics and then doing a doctorate in physics. One important part of that was doing a monthly column with an 800 word limit as the token libertarian on a conservative student magazine.

          • albatross11 says:

            IMO the most important thing is to write a lot, and especially to write stuff where you’re trying to convince other people and want to be clear and communicate with them.

      • AG says:

        The thread you’re talking about started by noting that majoring in the humanities appear to be useless. You don’t need to get a degree in the humanities (or take any of their classes, apparently, since most everyone is learning on the job) to accrue the reading and writing skills the humanities claim to teach.

        • Deiseach says:

          Appears to be’ is what is doing all the work here.

          Sure, if you picked one of the technical developers and asked them at the start “so do you want to do a degree in English or in maths?” they’d have picked maths (or some other STEM related field) for pretty much the same reasons you give – who needs a degree to larn readin’ an’ ritin’ when me all talk good?

          But when this guy, who got the boot for daring to say that not all aspiring writers are unsung geniuses, met the techie people it turned out mutually beneficial for them both – he was able to apply the skills he had developed and learned in a field he would never have considered, and they found something useful that they were not able to produce themselves (and likewise would not have considered before starting and developing their project).

          And since the misfortunate gentleman drew the ire of his students and colleagues for precisely this – that such skills aren’t picked up off the ground, do need to be taught, and not everyone can accrue them – then I think that the wider point stands: humanities subjects do have value even in a dollars-and-cents sense, and it’s not necessarily the wiser choice to go “Yeah but maths is hard, that means if I do maths I’m Really Smart! Any fule can speak the English gooder!”

          • AG says:

            No, it’s that teaching a STEM major to write on the job is way less resource-intensive than teaching an English major to STEM on the job.

            Why is it that STEM majors can write just as many good works of fiction, but you don’t have as many equivalent examples of humanities majors spearheading scientific discoveries?

            It’s exactly because everyone needs to read and write, that someone specialize in reading and writing is folly. Pointing out that everyone needs to read and write only makes the existence of reading and writing majors only more pathetic.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Why is it that STEM majors can write just as many good works of fiction, but you don’t have as many equivalent examples of humanities majors spearheading scientific discoveries?

            That’s not really a valid comparison, because spearheading scientific discoveries nowadays requires access to up-to-date labs and piles of funding, both of which you can only get if you’re a STEM major. Back in the days when there were still discoveries that didn’t require advanced laboratory equipment to make, plenty of scientific advances were spearheaded by non-STEM people (of course, using the phrase STEM to refer to them is probably anachronistic, but you know what I mean).

            It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a hindsight bias at work, because people whose most influential work was in (what would now be regarded as) science tend to get categorised as scientists, even if most of their work was in other areas. E.g., Isaac Newton spent more time studying the Bible than studying physics, but because his physical studies proved more influential than his Biblical studies he’s generally regarded as a scientist rather than a theologian.

  4. Auric Ulvin says:

    So I’ve just been rereading some old SSC posts and came across
    https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/08/30/military-strikes-are-an-extremely-cheap-way-to-help-foreigners/

    While it’s easy to criticise from hindsight, do people seriously still consider Libya, (or Western military intervention overseas generally) to be a success, let alone cheap? As far as I know, the country is still in a second civil war, oil production is lessened, along with business activity and almost every other metric of development. The fact that millions of people are fleeing Libya, or through Libya, to Europe is not a good indicator of a job well done. It looks like we’ve managed to expensively harm foreigners, hurting ourselves in the process.

    Syria is somewhat similar. US airstrikes and military aid do not seem to have improved the Syrian situation. Funding rebel groups in Syria strengthened resistance to Assad, who is admittedly a nasty piece of work. However, can we say that the job’s done? Millions of refugees to Europe, the almost complete destruction of the country, a significant death toll, regional instability, rapidly diverging interests with Turkey and a proxy war with Russia? Has this been a significant improvement? In all probability, Assad/Russia will win and we’ll have status quo ante bellum.

    A contrasting model would be non-intervention in overseas countries, no matter what happens. While this is politically impossible, it would have a number of positive benefits. It would help dissuade dictators from acquiring nuclear weapons, lessen the deadly cycle of terrorism-intervention-terrorism and save a deal of money and lives. If we assured all the dictators of the Middle East that they could oppress their population in peace (not just Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states) would we be worse off? A brutal crackdown on dissenters is probably better than a festering civil war that inflames the whole region. Eventually, we should see a South Korea or Taiwan-style outbreak of democracy, as opposed to a return to Salafism.

    Another model is more robust intervention, a mix of Marshal-plan and Macarthur-style direct rule. This would necessitate prolonged deployment of tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of troops, a sustained campaign without the exit-dates that have proven to encourage terrorists like nothing else. I’m not sure this would be possible. Do we still have the capability to take over and rebuild whole countries? Iraq was not a promising example, nor is Afghanistan.

    • cassander says:

      Afghanistan is just about the worst possible country in the world for nationbuilding, but iraq in 2010, and today for that matter, is more or less the most that could have been reasonably achieved in 2003. It’s stable, democratic, relatively peaceful, and the only country arab country that can claim to be all three of those things. it was achieved at a cost to the US of something like 25,000 dollars per iraqi. We’ve spent more money, and made less progress on on less laudable goals than hanging saddam, and it would have been cheaper if we’d been more of an occupying force from the start.

      • Auric Ulvin says:

        I’ve been looking for some sources on the state of Iraq and it doesn’t seem to be in a very strong position. Cato ranks it 159/162 for freedom:

        https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/human-freedom-index-files/human-freedom-index-2018-revised.pdf

        Reporters without borders rank it 156th out of 180 for press freedom:

        https://rsf.org/en/ranking#

        Freedom house ranks it 31/100, just below Turkey:

        https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2018

        There are some differences of opinion here, possibly due to data being out of date. Still it doesn’t look very free, even by Middle Eastern standards. Kuwait stands on top, for the Arab world.

        I’m also not sure about the merits of saying a country is reasonably peaceful at any snapshot in time. Surely we should be considering peacefulness over a longer period, such as 2008-18, or 1998-2008? Hitler’s Germany was fairly peaceful from 33-39, but obviously we judge it over the whole of its lifespan. I appreciate that the democratic Iraq is still fairly young and it’s difficult to measure its properties, still I don’t expect IS to be the last major issue it faces.

      • salvorhardin says:

        Would you really say Iraq is more stable, peaceful, or democratic than Tunisia? If so, why?

      • Jaskologist says:

        That process also involved the genocide of their Christian population, which is down below 10% of its original levels.

      • Enkidum says:

        The modern Iraqi state has not existed long enough to be judged stable, and even during this brief period it has gone through major existential threats. It is somewhat democratic, though this doesn’t seem to have helped it all that much.

        Virtually every single other Arab country is more stable and more peaceful, with the obvious exceptions (Syria and Lybia come to mind) being in their current states largely due to Western intervention.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        relatively peaceful

        Seriously? It’s less than two years since the end of an official civil war, and death tolls from the ongoing insurgency are still pretty high. Based on death tolls you can reasonably claim it is more peaceful than Syria, Yemen and possibly Somalia. If you also consider existence of a Do Not Travel advisory from the US State department, you could maybe argue that it’s more peaceful than Libya. That still makes it less peaceful than the other 17 members of the Arab league, and indeed almost every other country in the world.

        I’m pretty dubious about the other two as well. But even granting them for the sake of argument, they don’t seem to have made Iraq a nice place to live (relative to stipulated-relatively unstable/undemocratic UAE/Saudi Arabia/Egypt/Morocco/basically every other Arab country).

        • cassander says:

          I wouldn’t call the isis invasion a civil war, but yes, they’ve achieved the relative peace they had before the invasion. And now that the invasion is over, I don’t see iraq being a worse place than any arab state with a similar level of GDP per capita, and with a brighter future, and that’s an enormous improvement relative to 2002.

          • albatross11 says:

            How much of the pre-2002 state was due to our embargo? I mean, Iraq was messed up from the expensive stalemate war with Iran, the lost war with us, and various bits of internal unrest/uprisings, so maybe it would have been just as bad off either way, but that’s not clear to me.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Relative peace in comparison to what exactly? That source lists thousands of civilian deaths each year. At best, that’s relatively peaceful in comparison to Mexico (if you count narcos as civilians) and the ongoing wars in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, but it’s more violent than literally every other country in the world, including Somalia (with an ongoing civil war).

            Controlling for GDP per capita is a pretty big difference from your original claim. It still doesn’t make it correct though. In fact, I think it might weaken it; Iraq actually has a very high GDP per capita for how terrible it is. Upthread you say you don’t know much about Tunisia, can I infer from that you also don’t know much about Morocco, Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt etc.? If so, on what basis are you claiming that Iraq is a better place than them?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Most nations in the world are relatively peaceful compared to major civil war. Maybe that’s damning with faint praise, but I don’t see the issue. The current level of violence is nothing like the violence in Afghanistan or the US experience in 2006, and is decreasing.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Defining “relative peace” in that way is delightfully nonsensical, since the phrase was used above as part of a justification for war in Iraq. If I set fire to your house, then after the fire is extinguished the house will be “relatively safer” than during the fire. Using this as an argument in favour of starting the fire would be quite funny.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Defining “relative peace” in that way is delightfully nonsensical, since the phrase was used above as part of a justification for war in Iraq. If I set fire to your house, then after the fire is extinguished the house will be “relatively safer” than during the fire. Using this as an argument in favour of starting the fire would be quite funny.

            No, the claimed justification is that Iraq is stable, democratic, AND relatively peaeceful. . The OP may have incorrectly stated that Iraq is the only nation in the Middle East
            like this (who the hells cares about Tunisia or Morocco? Those are not Middle Eastern nations), but Iraq has a relatively high freedom score for the Middle East, is nominally democratic, and is well positioned to have decreasing violence. It is NOT in a civil war.

            The counter scenario where Saddam Hussein was left in charge would certainly have an Iraq that is NOT a democracy, and would rank even lower in its civil rights, probably close to Syria or Saudi Arabia, or North Korea.

          • cassander says:

            @albatross11 says:

            How much of the pre-2002 state was due to our embargo? I

            It had more to do with saddam cheating the embargo and using the oil for food money to buy missiles and palaces.

            @thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Relative peace in comparison to what exactly?

            Other countries in the region. Iraq has a violent death rate of something like 8 per 100k, consideraly lower than mexico or brazil.

            Controlling for GDP per capita is a pretty big difference from your original claim.

            No it isn’t. I made 2 claims, that iraq was in about as good a place as you could expect from the view 2003, and that it’s the only stable, democratic, relatively peaceful country in the arab world. GDP speaks to “as good as can be expected.” Iraqi gdp per capita is quite low, ~5k per. Brazil is twice that, and mexico almost twice that, saudi arabia is 4 times.

            Tunisia, can I infer from that you also don’t know much about Morocco, Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt etc.? If so, on what basis are you claiming that Iraq is a better place than them?

            I didn’t say Iraq was better than all those countries, I said iraq was doing about as well as could be expected, and is the only peaceful, stable, democratic arab country. It certainly is doing better than Egypt, which I do know something about.

            Defining “relative peace” in that way is delightfully nonsensical, since the phrase was used above as part of a justification for war in Iraq.

            A Definite Beta Guy’s response here is mine. iraq is relatively peaceful compared to similar countries, not compared to itself a few years ago. Well, it is peaceful compared to itself a few years ago, but as you say, that’s damning with faint praise.

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            I don’t think morocco is usually considered an arab country, and Tunisia I was thinking was more berber, but maybe it should count. If so, iraq is one of 2 democratic arab countries.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy
            OP mentioned Arab states, which are not the same as Middle Eastern ones.

            It is NOT in a civil war.

            No. But they do have approximately the most violent non-war in the world. Viewing this as a positive is very odd.

            The counter scenario where Saddam Hussein was left in charge would certainly have an Iraq that is NOT a democracy, and would rank even lower in its civil rights, probably close to Syria or Saudi Arabia, or North Korea.

            North Korea is uniquely terrible for ideological reasons. Syria is largely terrible because of the civil war. Bringing up Saudi Arabia is weird; I’m pretty sure almost all Iraqis would trade their nominal democracy for Saudi wealth in an instant.

            @cassander

            Other countries in the region. Iraq has a violent death rate of something like 8 per 100k, consideraly lower than mexico or brazil.

            Source? I’m pretty sure that’s not true (or at least the inference you’re drawing from it isn’t, on multiple levels). Using that rate gives a lower number for total violence deaths than the civilian death statistics you linked above. So either it’s specifically a homicide rate and should be approximately doubled to get total civilian death rate for the “peaceful” pre-ISIS period, or it’s simply inaccurate.

            But even if that were the true rate, it wouldn’t make Iraq less violent than comparable countries. We’re talking Arab and/or Middle Eastern states; neither Mexico nor Brazil fall into that category. Certainly Saudi Arabia is also not a reasonable point of comparison due to its difference in GDP, that’s why I listed Morocco, Lebanon, Algeria and Egypt in a previous response. By all the sources I’ve found, these countries (and also Tunisia, Jordan etc.) have vastly lower homicide rates than Iraq (and indeed the US)! According to Wikipedia, all of them have a rate below 4 and many of them are below 2.

            No it isn’t. I made 2 claims, that iraq was in about as good a place as you could expect from the view 2003, and that it’s the only stable, democratic, relatively peaceful country in the arab world. GDP speaks to “as good as can be expected.” Iraqi gdp per capita is quite low, ~5k per. Brazil is twice that, and mexico almost twice that, saudi arabia is 4 times.

            Yes it is, because GDP per capita is a major component of general goodness. If some intervention halves GDP per capita but only causes a 10% decrease in democracy, you’ve improved the latter when controlling for the former but have obviously made things worse in general. But this is irrelevant here, because I’m not saying you’re wrong because Iraq is worse than the rich GCC states; I’m saying it’s worse than various Arab countries with lower GDP per capita.

            I didn’t say Iraq was better than all those countries, I said iraq was doing about as well as could be expected, and is the only peaceful, stable, democratic arab country.

            You’ve not provided any convincing evidence for that claim.

            It certainly is doing better than Egypt, which I do know something about.

            Maybe you should tell the tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Egypt that. Likewise, the US State department would probably like to know that so they can swap the respective travel advisories.

    • Akrasian says:

      I would favor non intervention but with the one exception of genocide. When a weaker country is killing masses of its own population, we can be more confident that an intervention will have positive utility. Iran, China, Russia should be left alone to exercise power in their natural spheres of influence. Myanmar should be threatened credibly with invasion from an international coalition.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        The problem with intervening in the case of imminent genocide, as the case of Libya showed, is that pro-intervention factions within the government and media can easily spin any form of conflict or repression as the prelude to genocide.

        In early 2011, the course of the Libyan Revolution had turned decidedly in favor of Gaddafi and it’s likely that without the NATO no-fly zone and bombing campaign he would have regained control of the country. One of the flimsy justifications for NATO involvement was that Gaddafi had referred to the revolutionaries as “rats” and “cockroaches,” dehumanizing language judged to be similar to that used in the prelude to the Rwandan genocide.

        Gaddafi was an evil man and he certainly deserved to die, but calling the people who sought to kill him and eventually succeeded vermin is hardly a crime worthy of a multinational military intervention. The idea that there was an imminent threat of genocide was pure spin by factions which saw the Arab Spring as the long-hoped-for democratization of the Middle East and were desperate to keep the momentum going.

        • Matt M says:

          Possibly a separate rant, but part of the problem here is that the term “genocide” has suffered a huge amount of scope creep, such that it is now almost as meaningless as “racism.”

          A bunch of very serious people have spent the last month trying to tell us, with a straight face, that there is a genocide being practiced right now in Canada

          • albatross11 says:

            OTOH, it’s safer to protest an imaginary genocide in Canada than a real one in China….

          • Urstoff says:

            I agree, we should invade Canada.

          • Protagoras says:

            I agree, we should invade Canada.

            War Plan Red seems to contain a number of somewhat out of date elements. Do we have an udpated plan? Surely this isn’t the sort of thing we would want to just improvise.

          • acymetric says:

            A bunch of very serious people have spent the last month trying to tell us, with a straight face, that there is a genocide being practiced right now in Canada…

            Maybe I just need to follow the news more, but who is telling who that? Nobody is telling me…

          • Randy M says:

            Maybe I just need to follow the news more,

            I don’t see how that possibly follows.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:
            The request is for a citation to reports of a currently active genocide in Canada.

            (If said citation points to something about some previously done harm to First Nations … you will find me unsurprised)

          • Matt M says:

            From the Washington Post: “Canada grapples with a charge of ‘genocide.’ For indigenous people, there’s no debate”

            “There’s no debate” is even more of a hyperbolic reaction than I would expect from a rag as trashy as the Washington Post!

            And yes, it is about indigenous people, but it’s not really focused so much on 19th century atrocities as it is on current crime statistics:

            The inquiry was in response to an epidemic of anywhere from roughly 1,200 to 4,000 indigenous women and girls, and gay, lesbian, trans and gender-nonconforming people who have gone missing or been murdered since 1980.

            What the article fails to mention, of course, (but that right-wing Twitter will quickly inform you of) is that the vast majority of indigenous murder victims are killed by… other indigenous people.

            Say what you will about the evils of colonialism or about the adverse circumstances that indigenous Canadians face today… but to lump this in the same general category as the holocaust is exceedingly irresponsible and qualifies as a gross misuse of the English language.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I encourage people to actually read the article, which, as I expected, is focused on the prior harms and their ongoing legacy as reflected in current policy.

      • Isn’t a better solution in the case of genocide to let the targeted group move out of the country? It’s what is currently happening in Venezuela in response to pressures well short of deliberate genocide.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          “Letting people emigrate” can amount to “facilitating ethnic cleansing”, which may be better than murderous genocide but doesn’t really seem like a good solution.

          • acymetric says:

            True, but “violent intervention to end genocide” doesn’t really seem like a great solution either because

            a) It may not stop the genocide, at least not quickly
            b) Lives will definitely be lost, probably less than if the genocide continued but not a low enough number that it rounds to 0
            c) Whether it stops the genocide or not it is guaranteed to cost money and destabilize the (probably already unstable) region causing a cascade of other issues

            If your priority is “prevent ethnic cleansing in any form” then military intervention is probably the ticket (hopefully you have a plan for how to establish a new government afterwards). If your priority is “prevent deaths” military intervention, at least on a large scale, is less desirable.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I suspect if the world started a policy of “we’ll help the displaced group move out” then a lot more groups would start trying to force out their hated neighbors. This is an iterated game.

          • Aapje says:

            Also, if the intended destination stops cooperating, the source country may already have committed to getting rid of the displeasing group, escalating to a genocide to make good on their campaign promise.

        • acymetric says:

          It would certainly seem so. The constraints there would seem to be “is the government/perpetrator of the genocide actively preventing people from leaving” and “are other places willing to let them in”, the answers to which probably vary by time and place.

        • John Schilling says:

          Isn’t a better solution in the case of genocide to let the targeted group move out of the country?

          That is the large-scale equivalent of “if someone ever makes a serious death threat or rape threat against you, you should just go into the witness relocation program because if we ask the police to go arrest the thugs that might end in a gunfight”.

          It results in loss of a large fraction of the targeted group’s material capital, which can’t all be packed up and moved. It results in the loss of a smaller but still significant fraction of their human capital, which won’t all translate into the new economic environment. It results in massive disruption of social support networks, which are hugely valuable to people who are losing everything else. It may disrupt social trust in whatever community the refugees relocate to. And for all of this harm, it actively incentivizes genocide, or at least ethnic cleansing, by telling perpetrator and victim both “we’re not going to get involved, if the victims don’t cleanse themselves out of the region, yeah, go ahead and kill them all”. Ultimately, this cedes the vast majority of the world’s land area to the control of genocidalists.

          The preferred solution is to kill the people who threaten or commit genocide. And to at least hurt real bad the people who fake being victims of genocide in the hopes that we will kill their enemies for them. If this is too difficult for us to sort out, then yes, as a last resort the people who are faced with genocide at someone else’s hand or voluntary ethnic cleansing should probably chose the latter. But we shouldn’t say that is our preferred solution.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I still do consider intervention in Libya as overall success. Without it Libya might well ended up as Syria, with massive bloodbath, waves of refugees further destablizing EU, Russian military bases and/or much stronger militant salafist presence on the ground in Libya than it is today.

      Btw. this does not imply that Libyan style intervention in Syria would be a good idea. Too many different variables.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I mean we got the bloodbath, waves of refugees, and strengthened jihadists already in this timeline. I’m having a hard time seeing that situation get worse if Gaddafi had been allowed to win in May or June of 2011: maybe more blood would have been shed, but even that isn’t a given.

        As for the Russian bases that’s just a strange hypothetical. Russia and China both recognized the National Transitional Council well before Gaddafi died, so I don’t see Putin throwing in with Gaddafi the way he did with Assad. I suspect, but am not confident, that a big part of this is that Syria has more useful ports for whatever force-projection Russia is contemplating.

        • albatross11 says:

          The critical error in the Libyan intervention, IMO, was demonstrating that making peace with the US and handing over your WMDs doesn’t protect you from US bombs. It would have been cheaper and more humane to just take out full-page ads in all the world’s newspapers encouraging all rogue states to get nukes as soon as possible.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, we have yet to experience the “full consequences” of the Libyan intervention.

            If North Korea, for example, acquires and uses nuclear weapons, the intervention in Libya gets at least a partial share of that death count, for sending the message to the Kim family of “Without nukes, this could happen to you.”

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I confess that I have low confidence in my judgment on this, but still current Syria is far worse case than Libya.

      • albatross11 says:

        Can you point to any US interventions you think didn’t go well? I mean, this kind of argument is always available. Maybe if the Allies hadn’t saddled Germany with high reparation payments, humiliated them, and broken up Austria-Hungary into a bunch of too-small-to-defend-themselves states, things would have ended up *even worse* in the 40s.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Can you point to any US interventions you think didn’t go well?

          Sure, Vietnam and second Iraq were imho obvious disasters.

          Also, Austria-Hungary broke down by itself, not by decree of Allies. But that is quite a tangent.

          • cassander says:

            it didn’t break down until after woodrow wilson decreed that he wouldn’t negotiate with the empire as a whole. It might have fallen apart on its own, but the allies certainly sped it along.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @cassander

            Oh, if you wish, you might start discussion about The Fall of Austria-Hungary in next open thread. It is a massive rabbit hole.

      • cassander says:

        Without it Libya might well ended up as Syria, with massive bloodbath, waves of refugees further destablizing EU, Russian military bases and/or much stronger militant salafist presence on the ground in Libya than it is today.

        You just described the libya we have today. Without the intervention, Gadaffi would have wrapped up the civil war and gone back to being his crazy, though reforming, self. Instead we have a civil war that’s been going on for most of a decade with no end in sight that IS generating waves of refugees. It’s only less bad than syria because it has a lot fewer people and a lot more space. And that’s before we even consider the problems that ensue from our pattern of throwing reformist regimes under a bus.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I do not have refutations, since my confidence level here is low, just some facts somewhat complicating the picture. Very CW. My understanding of the situation is limited and depends on fairly hysterical and biased media coverage (both from conservative and liberal perspective).

          Migrants coming to Europe from Libya mostly aren ́t Libyans, but other Africans. At one point many Syrians were also among them. Gadaffi acted as an advanced border guard of the EU by locking up migrants from Subsaharan Africa bound for Europe in what could be charitably described as internment camps with very harsh conditions. Now, after massive political backlash to surge in immigration, EU and its members are applying diplomatic pressure on some Libyan faction(s) to stop migrants, and it is working. In Libya, migrants are again being held in internment camps with very harsh conditions. EU again has advanced border guard in Libya. Immigration is down to slightly more than pre-surge levels, with EU countries, Italy leading the way, pushing for further improvements in border enforcement such as making it harder for humanitarian organizations to rescue people from the sea.

          If Libya would be worse mess than it is today, there would be far more migrants, both Libyans and others, and political backlash associated with them would probably be even worse. Which is an unsettling thought given its power now. Of course I cannot prove that situation in Libya would be worse without NATO intervention, but it is also not given that without it, Gadaffi would be able to cleanly suppress Libyan revolution.

      • John Schilling says:

        I still do consider intervention in Libya as overall success. Without it Libya might well ended up as Syria, with massive bloodbath, waves of refugees further destablizing EU, Russian military bases and/or much stronger militant salafist presence on the ground in Libya than it is today.

        And without it Libya might have ended up a happy place with flowering meadows and rainbow skies, and rivers made of chocolate, where the children danced and laughed and played with gumdrop smiles. “Might have” is infinitely flexible, and you can justify anything if you posit an imaginary horror that is worse than whatever it is you are trying to justify and say “that might have happened instead”.

        What actually happened in Libya is that about a thousand people were killed in the course of the Libyan government utterly routing the rebels, with the army remaining loyal throughout. There was little prospect for extended conflict, there was no threat of retaliatory genocide by the government, and no evidence of impending genocide beyond the cries of “save us from impending genocide by killing all our enemies!” from the otherwise-defeated rebels. There was no more reason to expect a “massive bloodbath with waves of refugees” than there was in Egypt after the government crushed the Muslim Brotherhood at about the same time, in Jordan after Black September, or for that matter in China after Tiananmen square.

        The reason we did get all of those things in Syria was that, in July of 2011, elements of the Syrian army defected and joined the protesters. So, in July of 2011 in Syria, military officers were able to look at the situation and say “the winning move is to fight against the government instead of for it”. Gee, I wonder what might have happened shortly before July 2011 that might have caused Syrian army officers to come to that conclusion?

        I consider the intervention in Libya to be such a massive clusterfuck that it has led to civil wars killing tens or hundreds of thousands of people in two countries, one of them not even bordering Libya, along with massive refugee outflows and militant inflows, etc, and all in the name of “preventing” a wholly imaginary catastrophe that conspicuously did not occur in any of the other countries affected by the Arab Spring.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      I think Scott changed his mind about this, although I can’t find a clear indication of it.

  5. ana53294 says:

    Pro-nuclear arguments frequently state that nuclear is the best way to lessen CO2 production.

    I don’t deny that climate change is real, and if we don’t do something about it, Florida and Bangladesh will probably be underwater in a hundred years, unless they build some dams like Belgium/the Netherlands. But avoiding climate change never was my own environmental priority. And the US can build dams if they want, and if Bangladesh becomes rich enough, they will also be able to build them (which is why I think economic growth for developing countries is more important than avoiding climate change).

    I care about reducing coal, having less cars (especially diesel) in cities because I don’t want my lungs to look like this, and I don’t want to be unable to take my nephews to the park because the air is so full of particulates that it’s hazardous.

    I believe a mix of solar/wind/tidal/hydro plus back up natural gas stations can produce enough electricity to live without cutting our spending. Natural gas burns very cleanly; it will produce CO2, but not noxious gasses. So I believe we should get rid of coal, substitute it with gas, and substitute nuclear with gas also, while trying to use as much alternative energies as possible.

    Environmentalism has been taken over by all these people who care about CO2, and it seems impossible to get people like me, who don’t care about CO2, but do care about clean air, to get our message through. Environmentalists seem to focus on getting rid of anything that produces CO2 instead of getting clean air.

    Is it that environmentalists who care about breathable air but don’t care about climate change get drowned, or is everybody really that worried about climate change? Because I frequently wonder how much people actually worry about climate change; in my case, I usually don’t express my opinions on this, and I wonder how many people actually feel like me.

    • cassander says:

      Environmentalism has been taken over by all these people who care about CO2, and it seems impossible to get people like me, who don’t care about CO2, but do care about clean air, to get our message through. Environmentalists seem to focus on getting rid of anything that produces CO2 instead of getting clean air.

      They’re also pretty focused on getting rid of nuclear, which makes neither CO2 nor dirty air.

      • ana53294 says:

        My entire post was about how I don’t want nuclear and don’t find it inconsistent with my own personal environmental goals, and I somehow forgot to mention that last point.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m not sure the type of environmentalist you are talking about ever existed. Classic environmentalists certainly didn’t like coal. Nor nuclear. But they also didn’t like oil or natural gas (especially if obtained through fracking) all that much. They don’t like hydro, and they’re for solar and wind as long as they aren’t practical; if it appears they are becoming practical they object to the damage to the desert or the transmission lines or the dead birds or the changing wind patterns. Climate change environmentalists are mostly exactly the same only with different emphasis; very few are willing to bite the nuclear bullet. Mostly what they seem to want is fewer people and lower standards of living.

      • ana53294 says:

        I’ve met quite a few people that argue for nuclear because of climate change, but that’s probably because of the bubble I live in.

        I have never met a person that thinks like me, except for my family.

        In practical terms, environmentalist who care about clean air have two choices: a) produce CO2 by burning gas, avoid nuclear and do fracking, or b) use nuclear, avoid CO2 and fracking. I choose a); but the people I meet frequently seem to assume that option a) is untenable, or don’t discuss it at all.

        Anti-environmentalists, who frequently point at nuclear, don’t seem to propose my suggested middle ground.

        • Pepe says:

          Thing is, option b pleases (or should please) the climate change crew and the clean air crew. Option a pleases the clean air crew, but not the climate change crew.

          Maybe a big part of why option a is not discussed is because it is already happening. Coal is already being replaced by natural gas, so if that is your preferred outcome, well then there is no need to tweak anything.

        • Pepe says:

          If anything, when it comes to clean air vs CO2, I think that the more interesting discussion is the one on car (that run on IC engines) regulations. Any regulation directed at reducing CO2 emissions is directly at odds with decreasing pollutant emissions. So you really do have to choose one or the other.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        [I]f it appears [solar and wind power] are becoming practical [environmentalists] object to the damage to the desert or the transmission lines or the dead birds or the changing wind patterns.

        Could we get a citation for this, please? I’m not convinced the pro-renewable and pro-inefficient-renewable crowds are actually the same (one might be a tiny subset of the other at best); this feels too close to a distributed hypocrisy fallacy.

      • fion says:

        I think “standard of living” can obfuscate the issue somewhat. Does a high standard of living mean you get to fly every year just to go on a nice holiday? Does it mean you and your spouse get to own two personal fossil-fuel road vehicles just so that you never have to set foot on a bus? Does it mean you get to whittle your life away in front of the largest television your salary can get you? Does it mean you have both central heating and air conditioning in your house such that you never have to put on a jumper or sweat a little? Does it mean you get to eat animals several times a week?

        I don’t so much consider that a high standard of living as an unsustainable life. If you’re living unsustainably you tighten your belt. Ideally both on a personal and collective level.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yes, all of those are part of a high standard of living. Spending my life waiting for buses, then coming home and watching on my tiny little TV videos of places I’ll never be able to go (or perhaps no TV and reading books about same), while shivering in the dark under all the blankets I have, or sweltering in the heat, and to top this all off having to eat plants… yes, all these things are part of a much lower standard of living.

        • albatross11 says:

          fion:

          What’s sustainable depends on technology and the size and productivity of your economy. Sustainable in 1600 is a well-made peasant’s home and just enough grain stored to make it through the winter. Sustainable in 2019 is probably personal vehicles, air travel, consumer electronics, long lifespans, etc. And if that’s not sustainable, then we need to raise the price of whichever of those things is not sustainable so we change our decisions.

          • fion says:

            I tentatively agree that personal vehicles, air travel, consumer electronics etc should be sustainable in 2019, but somehow it doesn’t seem to be in practice. CO2 is being added to the atmosphere quicker than it can be removed, the rainforests are being cut down faster than they can grow, soil is being eroded faster than it can be replenished etc.

            I realise I’ve not demonstrated causality between the way we live and the unsustainable practices we carry out on large scales, and it’s a question that certainly needs to be explored (and I’m sure it has been to some extent), but the point is that the way humanity is currently using the planet is unsustainable and we will need to change that soon.

            And if that’s not sustainable, then we need to raise the price of whichever of those things is not sustainable so we change our decisions.

            Agreed.

          • CO2 is being added to the atmosphere quicker than it can be removed, the rainforests are being cut down faster than they can grow, soil is being eroded faster than it can be replenished etc.

            CO2 is being added, which means average temperatures are increasing and crop yields are increasing. That results in change, but not obviously negative change. Currently, cold kills a lot more people than heat, and human land use is restricted mostly by cold, not heat—the equator is populated, the poles are not.

            I know very little about rain forests, but is there any part of our current standard of living that depends on cutting them down, or is it just that cutting them down is in the interest of the people doing it? If the latter, the process will stop when they run out of rain forest that it is profitable to cut down and the life style of the rest of us will continue as before.

            I am suspicious about the “soil is being eroded” claims, since versions of that go back more than a century, during which time agricultural output as continued to increase.

            For my critique of “sustainable,” see this talk. As best I can tell sustainability is either empty rhetoric or a bad idea.

    • Pepe says:

      Would you mind explaining why you are against nuclear? I sympathize with the idea of wanting clean air, and I do thing that any type of environmentalism that is not focused on climate change is drowned nowadays. Nuclear does not produce airborn pollutants though, so if you want clean air first and foremost, it is not clear why you are against it.

      • ana53294 says:

        I have two reasons to be against nuclear a) family members were affected by Chernobyl, and b) I am very afraid of tail risk, or black swans, where you get radioactive clouds over the whole Europe.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          a) family members were affected by Chernobyl

          Huh, aren’t you in Spain? Where were they at the time of the disaster? (Not challenging your point, looking for data on how wide the damage from Chernobyl spread)

          • ana53294 says:

            My mother’s side is Russian.

            They were near Kiev at the time, and developed cancer later. I didn’t get to meet them personally, but it is a wound in my family.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          I can understand the tail risk.

          But non-catastrophic side effects seems to greatly favor nuclear. Over the last century, I am sure there have been millions, probably hundreds of millions of folks who died because of fossil fuels, due to pollution, mining, and accidents. I bet your family has had more bad effects from fossil fuels than nukes, as has every other person on the globe. It is just a lot harder to identify these risks.

          And I think even the greatly loved new kids on the block — solar and wind — I think have much greater side effects than nukes. Solar has caustic chemicals, much more construction risk (because many smaller projects), along with repairs (falling off roofs, etc.). Wind is newer so harder to judge the risks. I suspect that adding a lot of new turbines will somewhat affect the wind currents, an obviously a hazard to birds, but I am not sure about health hazards to people. Probably a lot more construction / repair risks than nukes, if not so much as solar.

    • DinoNerd says:

      It seems to me that much of the original impulse for environmental cleanup and regulation came from people who simply didn’t want eyesores, or illness, where it would affect them.

      I wasn’t paying attention when the enabling legislation for the EPA passed, in a country I didn’t expect I’d ever live in. But while there certainly had been people who wanted to preserve the natural environment for its own sake, I don’t think they were the main supporters.

      But that was then, and this is now – different common knowledge, and different political alignments. Damned if I know what current people actually believe, as compared to what can be said in public without being shouted down.

      • quanta413 says:

        The air was much, much dirtier in many cities in the U.S. in the past (in terms of particulate emissions). I get the impression that that probably had a large influence on mid to late 20th century environmental legislation in the U.S. and it’s relative popularity (compared to the 90s and after). The environment has improved from the perspective of obvious externalities. How much of the rules would pass a cost/benefit analysis I don’t know. Hopefully, someone else with more historical knowledge can expand/correct me.

        • DinoNerd says:

          I’m somewhat idly curious as to how the air in any of the areas currently having significant annual fire seasons, during those fire seasons compares, with what was causing concern in 1970 or so. Today’s the second bad air day in a row, and we’re not even into fire season.

          Last year I had a pseudo-cold for a week or two, because of smoke blown from fairly distant fires, and I’m not AFAIK at all sensitive to these problems. It was notably worse in most of the rest of this urban area, and of course worse still where the fires actually were.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m not quite sure what you’re asking, but LA air is far better than 20 years ago, fire season or otherwise.

          • quanta413 says:

            I think the comparison point is “Fire-season now” to “Best day of the year 50 years ago”.

            It’s an interesting question. Which I am too lazy to look into and will hope someone more hard-working or clueful can enlighten me about.

          • Randy M says:

            Okay, well from experience, the worst day during a fire is worse than the best day during the higher pollution years, sure. There are still occasionally days when you don’t want to go out due to ash in the air from fires, and growing up there were still plenty of days it was fine to play out.

            Wind and rain have a lot to do with the day to day. But the gunk built up pretty quick back then.

        • Protagoras says:

          Sounds right to me. Certainly one of the reasons I’m concerned about environmental issues is that I remember when the air was pretty bad in some of our cities, and I really don’t want to see any backsliding.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Spend some time in Chinese cities, and you’ll understand the desire for clean air very quickly. I’m not at all surprised it drove a lot of environmental legislation.

          Another big driver in the earlier environmental movement was conservationists like Teddy Roosevelt, who wanted to preserve nature not for its own sake, but to make sure that their grandkids would also be able to go into the wilds and shoot bears.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      When I’ve heard this argument it was largely about China, not the US. China generates 1.5 times more energy then the US do, 2/3 of that from coal – that is they generate from coal roughly as much as the entire USs output, and growing. They also have less money to spend, so they simply can’t afford to build enough of clean power plants, even if it were doable in principle (have no idea if it is). Economic growth yeah, but it’ll be a very long time until it gets China to the point where it can subside solely or mostly off the clean sources. And lot less people will die along the way from lung cancer and other smog-related diseases if cheap nuclear energy will be used during that time. This applies to the lesser extent to India insofar it’s also a big huge experiencing quick technological growth and not having too much money to spend.

      • ana53294 says:

        China already buys lots and lots of liquefied gas.

        I don’t think that liquefied gas is a practical solution to giving electricity to a billion people. You need gas pipelines for that.

        Europe has gas pipelines from Russia, Azerbaijan, Algiers. Russia is risky, which is why I think we should focus on Algiers and Azerbaijan instead of building the Nord Stream. I guess China can build pipelines from Russia, but it would be an enormous investment, and a huge geopolitical long-term risk. Sure, Xi and Putin are friends now; but so were Stalin and Mao, and that didn’t last.

        So I don’t think my argument applies to countries that don’t have cheap gas through pipelines. Europe has those pipelines, and the US also. But section of the world where they don’t, such as Japan, should go nuclear (which they did).

        • Is there a reason why China can’t produce natural gas via fracking, as the U.S. does? No suitable sites?

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          @ana53294
          Yeah, brief googling suggests that they’re already importing about 10% of global natural gas production. And that only accounts for 3.2% of their energy generation. So in order to replace all their coal generation with gas they’d need to buy twice more gas than is currently being produced.

          @DavidFriedman
          As per numbers above, I doubt it’s even technologically possible to produce that much gas in China via fracking. Let alone economical feasibility. But admittedly I don’t know anything about gas extraction so it’s just a common-sense guess.

    • Clutzy says:

      I am going to posit an explanation that I believe to have a high % chance of being true, while also acknowledging that it is EXTREMELY uncharitable:

      The Majority of “environmentalists” are pragmatic anti-Capitalists. When a river is on fire, that is a good thing to blame on capitalism, if you want to win. If you can convince people the world is gonna get hot, that is a good reason to dismantle capitalism. I do not doubt the existence of sincere people, but the proposed policies never align with those of a sincere person.

      And that is why you have very few allies: Your solutions would actually be quite cheap, and wouldn’t cause a crippling of capitalism.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      The smallest explanation that fits the facts is scope insensitivity. Take a bayesian machine and give it reliable evidence that dirty air kills X people per year – it will immediately update on that. Do the same with a human, and it will almost ignore the evidence completely.

      Climate change is probably seen by humans as a global event, and thus immune to any scope distortion. Nuclear risks have very fuzzy scopes, but are extremely salient. So you end up with the greatest killer being ignored.

    • Urstoff says:

      In wealthy countries like the US, it seems to me that the “air pollution” problem is much less severe than it was 40 years ago, and except for the occasional day in LA, doesn’t really seem to be a noticeable nuisance. I would guess that this is behind the shift in focus. Air pollution is largely solved (along with a few other classic environmental concerns like acid rain), climate change is not.

      • ana53294 says:

        In wealthy European countries like the UK and Spain, big cities like Madrid and London keep getting in trouble for surpassing legal maximum pollution levels. A couple of dry, still days are enough to increase air particulates to critical levels.

        And rich countries like South Kore, which live close to China, have big issues with their air quality. When I visited Seoul, I had trouble breathing some days.

        I don’t think the issue is solved, even in rich countries, for poor communities, who breathe much more polluted air.

    • and if we don’t do something about it, Florida and Bangladesh will probably be underwater in a hundred years,

      Even if you use the high end estimates of the most recent IPCC report, which give sea level rise of about a meter (the high end of the range for the high emissions scenario) for the end of this century, and allow a little more to make it a full century, that statement is a wild exaggeration.

      To see how wild, take a look at the Flood Maps Page, which shows how coastlines shift with sea level rise. Set it for one meter, zoom in on Florida and Bangladesh. For Bangladesh, the effect is visible but very small. For Florida, unless you zoom in very close, it’s invisible.

      At 13 meters, something like a quarter of Florida and perhaps half of Bangaldesh is underwater. To get close to flooding all of Florida takes 40 meters.

      You are exaggerating the effect by about an order of magnitude—considerably more if you don’t choose the very high end of the IPCC projections. I am reminded of Governor Brown’s saying that a 4 foot rise in sea level would force the relocation of LAX—which is more than a hundred feet above sea level.

    • fion says:

      There are a lot of different types of environmentalists, and in my opinion there are people upthread of me who have claimed that the particular type of environmentalist that annoys them is “most environmentalists”.

      My main concern is climate breakdown. We’re going to drive many species to extinction, we’re going to make parts of our planet uninhabitable and there’s a non-negligible chance we’re going to bring about positive feedback that will get rapidly out of hand. I’m not going to dwell on that, because that’s not my main point, but I just want to be clear about where I’m coming from.

      Clean air is also a concern of mine. It’s a little less urgent than global heating, because it just causes health problems to millions of city-dwellers rather than possibly causing uncontrollable global damage, but it is still urgent, and it’s convenient that we can kill two birds with one stone to some extent. So yeah, electrification of road vehicles and rapidly halting coal-fired power stations are very high priorities. Although reducing air pollution in cities might be more difficult than that. For one thing, brakes and tires produce particulates on the same order of magnitude as diesel exhaust fumes: link.

      I don’t share your aversion to nuclear. I think in the very long term it may be replaced by renewables, but right now I think it’s an important weapon in our arsenal of getting off coal (which gas isn’t ideal for, because CO2 is worse than black swan meltdowns in my opinion). I disagree somewhat with your impression that you’re unusual in this regard among environmentalists, though you acknowledge it may be an effect of your bubble. Most of the environmentalists I meet are pretty uncomfortable about nuclear. They often bring up the locally-polluting effects of uranium mining, though I think this is a poor argument, and like you they are concerned about low-probability, high-severity accidents.

      • we’re going to make parts of our planet uninhabitable

        And make much larger parts inhabitable.

        Look at a globe and see how much area is empty or nearly empty due to heat, how much to cold. And greenhouse gas warming increases temperatures more in cold times and places than in hot, due to the interaction with water vapor.

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Article asks why you haven’t heard of Nigerian Prince Nico Mbarga.

  7. AG says:

    Writing prompt: Pitch your outline for the newest hit TV series “The Davids Friedman.”

    My contribution: a classic “they fight crime” procedural… at first.
    Our plucky protagonist, David Z. Friedman, is a young man fresh out of college. He is recruited to join the ranks of The Friedmen, a secret order. Over 3 seasons and 26 episodes, our protagonist will undergo a slow burn Campbellian journey, working with Davids A through his own Z in their quest to change the world. Episode 4 will win an Emmy.
    Season 4 will shock viewers when the order fractures under internal conflicts, the show suddenly going super serialized and re-branding as “Davids vs. Friedmans.” Season 5 will deal with the fallout, the order finding its way anew, with the critically acclaimed “Friedman vs. Nature” arc.
    The show will then be cancelled after season 6, viewers complaining that they had jumped the shark, when The Friedmen are suddenly confronted with battling invaders from a parallel universe, Davids Alpha through Zedd.

    • Randy M says:

      It’s a more cerebral Dollhouse reboot.
      “I need someone to abassad Israel, quick!”
      “No problem, just let me get our M model warmed up.”

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      My favorite episode is still the one where David Q. Friedman travels back in time to help the Tsar in his internecine power struggle with the Czar.

    • Aapje says:

      @AG

      It’s going to be semi-fictional (with the emphasis on fictional):

      Father & Nobel prize winner (in economy) David Friedman Sr leads a double life as a child molester. Everyone suspects his son who is professional clown, David Kaye Friedman, from helping him. Plot twist: he is innocent and the true perpetrator is another son, David Jesse Friedman. Plot twist 2: The entire case against the father and son falls apart as the witnesses admit to being pressured by the police and it turns out that both are victims of pedophile hysteria.

      Mother Davinia Friedman collaborated with her husband. After his arrest, she keeps publishing Nobel prize level economic research, which reveals to the world that she was the real genius. Feminists hold marches for her. Hillary Clinton has a cameo. This pressure results in the Nobel Prize committee taking the prize away from her husband and giving it to her, in an unprecedented move. Plot twist: it turns out that David Friedman Sr was writing in prison, on toilet paper, and smuggled it out by folding paper airplanes and sending them over the wall. The Nobel committee gives him back his prize and resign collectively.

      David D. Friedman is an economist who struggles with the fact that his father is a Nobel prize winner and he isn’t. He therefor has feelings of inadequacy, which he deals with by participating in medieval dueling and writing posts on a forum with very weird people.

      David Melech Friedman is a lawyer and ambassador to Israel for an erratic President, called Hank Weinstein. David M. Friedman gets arrested for giving secret military information to Israel. Plot twist: it was actually the President who ordered him to do so. President Weinstein gets impeached and David Melech Friedman is more or less vindicated. Plot twist: it turns out that the evidence was given to the media by David D. Friedman, who becomes so popular that he is elected President, solving his feelings of inadequacy.

      David Dafydd ab Hugh Friedman is a science fiction writer who changes his faith to Islam, getting in a huge conflict with David Melech Friedman, who calls him a traitor to the Jews. David D. Friedman tries to reconcile the two by reading the Koran to build a bridge. Plot twist: he himself starts to struggle with his faith. Plot twist 2: he faked this to get closer to Dafydd, who changes faith to the very liberal salafiyyism.

      David Jason Friedman is a child actor, most known for a child role on Little House on the Prairie. The experience caused arrested development and now at age 45, he still acts like a 12 year old farm boy. Plot twist: he is faking it and actually is Mencius Moldbug.

      David Jazz Friedman is a vibraphone musician who constantly has to explain to everyone what a vibraphone is. He is the Jar Jar Friedman of our TV series, providing levity by playing inappropriate music at dramatic moments.

      David Frank Friedman is the director of Sexploitation and Naziploitation films, like ‘Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS.’ He tries to keep this secret by using a nom de plume, but his true identity is revealed when a fanatic fan tracks him down and shows up at his door in Nazi uniform. Plot twist: David Frank Friedman was molested by Max Mosely, during a Nazi sex party and his movies are a way to cope. After this comes out, the healing power of truth liberates David Frank Friedman and he starts making acclaimed movies, resulting in an Oscar for: “Ilsa: She-Wolf of antifa.”

      David Frank Friedman also likes to constantly make fun of David D. Friedman for his middle name ‘Director,’ despite him never having directed a movie, resulting in mutual antagonism. Plot twist: David D. Friedman actually directs a movie under a nom de plume as well, a critically acclaimed version of Atlas Shrugged. This is revealed at the same Oscar event, where both “Ilsa: She-Wolf of antifa” and the adaptation of Atlas Shrugged get an Oscar, resulting in a dramatic moment onstage where David Frank Friedman realizes he was an asshole and runs onstage to apologize & the brothers reconcile onstage (lots of crying). The camera pans to Rutger Hauer in the audience who cries and mouths: “like tears in rain” for a bit of nerd meta-humor.

      David Honor Friedman is a judge who ends up presiding over the case against his father, resulting in many dramatic and unprofessional moments.

      David Benioff Friedman is the screenwriter behind a very popular TV adaptation of a set of epic fantasy novels that has sold billions of copies. He becomes arrogant and abusive due to fame. Plot twist: when the book material runs out, the quality of the TV series takes a dramatic dive, revealing that he is a very poor writer. Plot twist 2: after he is fired, it is revealed that he outsourced the screenwriting to a sweat shop in Bangladesh. Benioff is sued and loses his entire fortune. Cue: dramatic arc of redemption, going from living under a bridge to a new career as a Hollywood executive, where his sociopathic tendencies make him hugely successful.

      That should be enough material for the first 10 seasons.

      • AG says:

        The new prestige model a la Orphan black is to stuff all of this into the first season, then have no idea what to do for the second season, except for the vague feeling that you need to increase the plot twist density from season 1.

  8. Le Maistre Chat says:

    In 2002, American Public Broadcasting produced Liberty’s Kids, a cartoon depicting the American Revolution from the perspective of two teenagers, Whig orphan James Hiller and Tory Sarah Philips, who gets caught up in the conflict because she left London to search for her lost explorer father.
    It attracted a lot of celebrity voices, including Walter Cronkite as Benjamin Franklin, Billy Krystal as John Adams, Ben Stiller as Thomas Jefferson, Warren Buffett as James Madison (?!), Dustin Hoffman as Benedict Arnold, Liam Neeson as John Paul Jones, Ralph Fiennes as Lord Cornwallis, Sylvester Stallone as Paul Revere, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Baron von Steuben, and Whoopi Goldberg as gender-bending Continental soldier Deborah Samson.

    The awkward thing about this setup is that, since the Whig victory is our country’s origin myth, Sarah has to play Colmes to James’s Hannity, rather than going around talking like Samuel Johnson or M. Oldbug.

  9. uau says:

    Was trying to post a remark about answering a question in the previous now-dead open thread, but it refuses to appear. “Post Comment” seems to succeed, there is just no post visible on the page afterwards. Any idea what could cause that? Retrying showed “duplicate post” even though the previous one certainly wasn’t visible.

    • theredsheep says:

      Some words are secretly censored and the site will refuse to post any comments containing them (but it won’t tell you). Check your post content for any common pop-culture term that tends to attract really toxic online debate, and replace it with a euphemism. Scott’s fine with open dialogue, but for the sake of his sanity he has us circumlocute the more hot-button stuff.

      • uau says:

        I knew there are such banned words, but don’t recognize any likely to be on such a list. Let’s see if I can post a quote of my last attempted post:

        In the previous open thread there was a question about the game-theoretic answer to a Jeopardy game situation. I added an answer there. Mentioning it in this thread since the previous one is mostly dead already.

        For some reason this post didn’t appear on the first attempt. Trying again with slightly changed wording…

        Edit: seems that it worked, without changing any words. To check whether it depends on being a quote, a repeat outside quote marks:

        In the previous open thread there was a question about the game-theoretic answer to a Jeopardy game situation. I added an answer there. Mentioning it in this thread since the previous one is mostly dead already.

        For some reason this post didn’t appear on the first attempt. Trying again with slightly changed wording…

  10. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Jordan Peterson and his daughter on what they eat

    Two things I learned– the carnivore diet includes vegetables as well as meat, and Peterson was really meticulous about not saying he had the solution for everyone.

  11. compeltechnic says:

    Several prominent members of the early retirement community use ACA healthcare plans, which provide heavily subsidized insurance to these households headed by 30-year-old retired millionaires. Do you think these individuals are doing something immoral?

    My opinion: it is not immoral for these individuals to game an already distressed system that would otherwise be almost impossible to navigate without being taken advantage of.

    • Randy M says:

      I think that they are being free riders of a system designed with the expectation that such people are a statistical minority, but it’s hard to fault someone for finding aspects of our complex legal and regulatory environment to take advantage of so long as it is within the law. Edit–Since so much of the law is designed to be incentives, after all!

      It’s going against the spirit of the law, but the law works by the letter

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Impossible to say. If they were working and purchasing employer-managed insurance, said insurance would also be subsidized by the government. Perhaps they could purchase minimum plans, but the government has legislated massive benefits and removed that option. Perhaps they could not buy insurance at all, but the government has also removed that option.

      Because it’s health insurance, their options are ridiculously constrained by the government, so is it really unfair if the government subsidizes plans they are being nudged into, by that same government?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      While I think that FIRE is a somewhat silly life goal, there’s no denying that these guys paid way more money into the system over their short careers then they’re likely to get back in subsidized health insurance. Especially given that they’re young guys who bike everywhere their healthcare costs are almost certainly lower than the median American.

      That said, my moral premises differ greatly from those of the people who demanded and received the ACA. For them it’s not about getting back something proportional to what you paid in, it’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” So I can see why others would find it immoral even if I think it’s just foolish.

    • Drew says:

      This Norms of Membership for Voluntary Groups article clarified my thinking on a bunch of topics. Something similar applies here, but for “Communal Goods” instead of “Voluntary Groups.”

      Tax Deductions run on a “Civic Norms” thing. There are some basic rules. The rules are clear and written down. If you qualify, then you can take the deduction, or not, at your own preferences.

      This means that no one’s going to call you dishonorable for choosing a standard deduction vs itemization. It’s up to you. And if the program goes sideways, we blame the people who wrote the rules, not the people who used the standard deduction.

      Privately-run Food Banks are different. They might (technically) be open to everyone, but it’s clear that food banks are a limited resource. There’s no expectation that you have a “right” to use food bank. So, I’d think poorly of a Stock-Broker who explained that their “Life Hack” was using food banks to reduce their grocery bill.

      Food-Stamp programs fall somewhere in between. They’re intended to be a resource for people who really need it, but they’re also written as an explicitly codified right. Here, I think the “scarce” factor is that the public has a finite amount of goodwill. We’re working together to achieve an end. If the program is abused (eg. by stock brokers who make a $1 salary while having millions restricted stock), then it will die. So, I’d think there’s some obligation to restrain yourself.

      The ACA healthcare plans seem more like tax deductions than foodstamp programs. Obama decided that participation was mandatory and massively overhauled the system, with the intention of changing stuff for everyone.

      Once we’ve all been forced to participate in taxes / aca, then I don’t think the government gets to appeal to a notion of voluntary good will. As citizens, they have to comply with the relevant laws. So long as they’re doing that, I think they’ve met their obligations.

      And if they feel that a deal is “too good” then they should send the extra to a charitable organization.

      • Garrett says:

        > a Stock-Broker who … was using food banks to reduce their grocery bill.

        Fantastic idea! I just checked out the ~8 food banks along my commute and they all seem to list that they have proof-of-income requirements.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Every proof-of-income cutoff is a marginal income tax, and every requirement to file forms is a tax on the people who have trouble filing forms.

          I bitch a lot about UBI here. But one thing Universal Benefits get right is that people just get the benefit.

    • Jiro says:

      They don’t get to opt out of government expenditures that are particularly harmful to them based on their unusual circumstances. Why should they be required to opt out of ones that are particularly beneficial to them based on their unusual circumstances?

    • Plumber says:

      @compeltechnic,
      If they’re illegally accessing the ACA subsidies than maybe, but otherwise I don’t think that they’re anymore immoral than a parent who can afford to send their kids to private schools but uses the public schools instead, uses public parks instead of a country club, et cetera – those are public goods paid for by taxes for the benefit of the commonweal (and I’d be fine with every citizen receiving food stamps as well).

      If however they complain a lot about taxes because of other people’s use of such things they should be shunned and pelted with garbage, but I have a beef with the fellow government employees that I know who complain about their taxes, where do they think their wages come from?

      • Jiro says:

        I have a beef with the fellow government employees that I know who complain about their taxes, where do they think their wages come from?

        They may think that government use of taxes distorts the market and that in the absence of this distortion there would be more private employers, at which they would have had a job instead. As long as the hypothetical private salary is at least as high as the government salary, they’re not being hypocritical.

        • albatross11 says:

          Or maybe they just think that their jobs are worthwhile, but that much of what the government does is not worthwhile or that much of the money collected is wasted. Consider the example of a schoolteacher in a city that’s well-known for public corruption. She might reasonably think that she’s doing her job as well as she can and deserves her pay, but that a lot of the city’s revenue (including taxes collected on her) is going to cronies of the mayor in corrupt deals. I don’t see any contradiction there.

    • John Schilling says:

      If you don’t get a choice in whether to pay for the program via taxes as specified in statutory law, then neither the government nor the electorate gets any choice in whether or not you use the program in the manner allowed by statutory law. And who else has standing to complain?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      It entirely depends on whether the tax-dodge they are using to avoid showing income is moral. The ACA is just a distraction.

      Otherwise, “I want to retire to pursue my passion for art”, “I want to retire early for my mental health” and “I want to retire early to pursue my love of laying in a hammock” don’t seem particularly different to me.

      • compeltechnic says:

        For all of them that I am aware of, there is no tax-dodge (a word sometimes abused to mean tax avoidance rather than tax evasion). There is only income minimization (tax avoidance).

        For example, if you and your wife live together in a paid off house, and your only income is qualified dividends and capital gains from your portfolio, you can live quite well (and pay no taxes) on $40,000 per year. At this level the 30 year old couple would get $209 of subsidies per month, and pay $270 per month themselves.

        https://www.kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/ is the usual calculator I use to calculate this, but the webpage isn’t working for me today. The google cached version is showing results though.

        There are also substantial tax cliffs because of this. For older families especially, $1 of marginal income can cause you to lose more than $10,000 of subsidies when you cross the 400% of poverty income threshold. A 60 year old couple loses $7272 of annual subsidies when their income goes from $65,840 to $65,841.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Yes, and I am assuming (I know, I know) that because of the facts that you just outlined, agrressively managing ones apparent, taxable income is something that people interested in these kinds of things are doing.

          That kind of aggressive sheltering, to prevent cash going in your pocket from counting as income, isn’t always moral. Or even sometimes legal.

          Hence my previous statement. It wasn’t intended as an assumption that people are hiding things immorally, just a qualifying predicate.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What sheltering? No cash is going in their pocket that is not counted as income. If they have literally $1M in savings, pulling 40k out in a year is simply the 4% supposedly-safe rate of withdrawal.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:
            “Pulling out”?

            These are not tax sheltered QRPs, to my knowledge. It’s not how much you draw from the account, but rather how much cash the account accrues that matters. Are people buying perpetual annuities? That seems potentially risky, given the fact that tax law can change.

            If they have managed to put them in tax sheltered accounts and are drawing before retirement age without penalty, that’s … also interesting.

          • The Nybbler says:

            These are not tax sheltered QRPs, to my knowledge. It’s not how much you draw from the account, but rather how much cash the account accrues that matters.

            The income was “qualified dividends and capital gains from your portfolio”. The dividends are income; the capital gains only become income if you realize them. There’s no tax on long term capital gains or qualified dividends if your income is less than about $75,000 (for married filing jointly). There’s no sheltering here, only deferment of income, which indeed comes with risk (both of loss and of tax law changes).

            (a wiser person would realize the full untaxed amount, or nearly so, even if they only meant to spend part of it, and then re-invest it avoiding wash-sale issues, so as to reduce their future tax liability as well)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Ok. I think I see what you mean by pulling out money now, realized capital gains. Regardless of whether the qualified dividends are taxed, I believe they are still income for purposes of calculating the ACA subsidy?

            Do these people have 100% of their equity in stock? And are trying to live off the current proceeds? Or is it more likely that they have a medium term cash bumper that they replenish?

            In any case, you are still going to manage what you do in a given year to stay under your income targets if your goal is to get ACA subsidies (the original question). If you have a smaller retirement egg, you won’t have to do much to stay below that target. The more money you have actually accumulated, the more aggressive you would need to be to meet that target. In the absurd, if, say, Jeff Bezos “retires” and then claims an ACA subsidy, I think you would say this presents problems.

          • ana53294 says:

            FIRE enthusiasts tend to max their pre-tax accounts, so they put a lot of money in after-tax sheltered accounts, such as Roth IRAs.

            So when they retire, they get their income from Roth IRAs. They roll their 401 k into an IRA, and use the IRA ladder; their only taxable income is the conversion; they already paid money on most of their savings.

            These are all legal and known loopholes. The US tax code seems like a byzantine nightmare, and I don’t see why anybody should pay more income tax than they need to.

            And if Jeff Bezos qualifies for ACA after retirement, and he claims it, I don’t think that much will be lost; he paid a lot more in taxes than he can ever get back. It would just mean you need to reform the law.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @ana53294:
            ACA marketplace policies aren’t available, let alone subsidized, to people who can draw money from tax-sheltered retirement accounts without penalty, as you are over 65 and on Medicare.

            The original question is about whether early retirees with millions of dollars at their disposal are acting immorally by purchasing subsidized ACA plans from the marketplace. To me that simply boils down to whether their stated income is arrived at by immoral means.

            If early retiree Jeff Bezos has billions of dollars in net worth, is paying cash for Lamborghinis and moon rocket rides (with blackjack and hookers) and still managing to claim a low enough income to get a subsidized plan, I’m going to guess he engaging in some immoral accounting trickery.

            If someone else is retired at 45 and living off a million or two in net worth (in a non-retirement account) invested in a Vanguard income fund and their income is low enough qualify for some subsidies, that isn’t immoral on their part.

            A wealth tax potentially might make for an overall more moral system, but that’s a separate argument, as far as I’m concerned.

          • dick says:

            I didn’t understand some of what Nybbler and HBC were saying here, so maybe someone can dumb it down for me: if I own stock worth $5M which I bought for $1M, and I sell $50K of it, I know that I have to pay taxes on the gains ($40K), but does that $40K count as “income” for low-income programs like ACA subsidies? My impression was that it didn’t – it’s capital gains, not income.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dick:
            According to healthcare.gov, capital gains and other investment gains all count as income for purposes of the calculating ACA subsidies.

          • dick says:

            Oh. Then I guess I still agree there’s nothing immoral about this, but moreso? I mean, living on $40K/yr is living on $40K/yr, regardless of whether you earned that $40K this year or a decade ago.

    • sidereal says:

      Are the young and healthy morally obligated to subsidize healthcare for the old and infirm?

      Because I think that’s really the angle here. These are young people who don’t really need it; even though they are obeying the law it’s somehow offensive that a redistributionary policy isn’t redistributing resources in a way that feels intuitively fair.

      Their actuarial risk is tiny (don’t actually use much healthcare), and they paid a shitton of a taxes on the front end. So it’s not even like they are free-loading per-se, they just aren’t carrying society enough, even though they could be.

      Similarly I expect we’ll start to see healthy people (not necessarily fire, just any who would otherwise get it through the healthcare marketplace) moving to non-ACA compliant plans. Now that the individual mandate is kaput, and the trump administration loosened restrictions on these plans, there’s a strong case for anyone with no preexisting conditions getting them at a tiny fraction of the cost, making the adverse selection death spiral much worse.

      • Matt M says:

        These are young people who don’t really need it

        If the ACA didn’t also include a “it is illegal not to buy health insurance” component, as well as a “every plan most cover everything under the sun” rules, then many of these people probably wouldn’t have any at all (or would have limited, catastrophic insurance).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The ACA is an enormous legal text interacting with a huge opaque industry and it’s not obvious to be that any young healthy person who gives a health insurance corporation money every month for “subsidized” rather than an “non-subsidized” health insurance is failing to subsidize older, more infirm demographics. Maybe his or her cash difference would go to more expensive catering for the executives instead.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The young healthy “subsidy” to the old or ill is completely different from a taxpayer subsidy going from the well-off to the poor.

        To the extent that these young healthy people are purchasing insurance, even subsidized insurance, they are part of the pool that subsidizes the old and ill.

  12. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://phys.org/news/2019-06-narrows-advanced-life-universe.html

    If you check for atmospheres which allow for complex life, there are a lot fewer potentially habitable planets than if you just look for liquid water.

    • albatross11 says:

      It’s hard to have much confidence in our notion of what conditions are necessary/sufficient for advanced life to arise, because we have pretty decent (but still imperfect) information about only one instance in which advanced life arose.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        I’ve heard a very good argument that we actually can say quite a lot about where life is or isn’t possible from chemical considerations. The thing is, any chemical life needs large polymeric molecules to carry information and a solvent for the reactions to run in. And we know quite a lot about those, which substances polymerize under which conditions, what solves what etc. According to that argument, even though there’s some interesting substitutions both for polymers and for a solvent, most of those are fairly unlikely in terms of abundance of the required elements, conditions under which they occur or complexity of the chemical pathways involved.

        I’m absolutely not a chemicyst myself so can’t evaluate how valid this all is, but the basic assumptions look pretty solid – you need something complex to carry information to permit self-replication and inheritance, and you need some medium in which reagents can reach high enough concentrations but move freely at the same time – something more or less liquid-ish.

        If course that only applies to chemical life, but afaik none ever demonstrated that any other is possible.

  13. Uribe says:

    I normally argue we need more nuclear plants to reduce CO2 emissions, and find myself infuriated by environmentalists who want to eliminate both fossil and nuke plants as soon as possible without considering that there are tradeoffs involved.

    The one thing I learned watching Chernobyl is that the potential for a much greater disaster existed. I also recently read that 3 Mile Island could have been a lot worse if we had been a bit less lucky.

    One model that often comes to my mind is: safety->complacency->recklessness. Space Shuttle crashes and Major Oil Spills seem to be examples of that pattern, in which a disaster increases safety for several decades, but complacency inevitably sets in at some point at some link in the chain, and then the odds of disaster striking again rises.

    Or are there really good reasons to believe we won’t have a nuclear meltdown at a power plant in the US?

    Or are the odds of a meltdown small enough that it’s better to accept that minuscule risk vs. the greater odds of CO2 related global warming havoc?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I sometimes feel bad for quoting Taleb so much here. It’s not just about the odds, it’s about the magnitude of the risk – some accidents aren’t “insurable”, i.e. just one event’s consequences are bad enough to break things. The way he puts it: have a bucket of pebbles poured in your head and you might get a few bruises. Have a rock the same weight dropped from the same height, and you’re dead.

      So where you want too look is how bad a nuclear accident can get. It’s up for debate, and I’m very much not a nuclear engineer, but my take is that Fukushima was a success: it was the oldest kind of plant still in operation, that should have been closed a long ago, but wasn’t mostly due to what looks a lot like plain corruption, hit by a literal 100 year tsunami. And the result was bad, but in the end of a magnitude that’s fixable with money. Lots of money, of course, but still you can put a number on it and make risk benefit calculations.

      Which is why newer generation plants are necessary – they mitigate not just probabilities of an accident, but worst case scenario consequences.

      • Clutzy says:

        As someone who entertains, but doesn’t really understand Taleb’s arguments, why do you think they are correct (if you do)?

        It seems to me that he has taken a mild statistical disagreement about a small number of areas, and has applied it as an attack against everything he dislikes without discrimination.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Are you asking about this particular topic, or in general? Mostly he’s writing about ways to correctly think about randomness, so the ground covered is pretty wide.

          • Clutzy says:

            Well I think it applies to nuclear power, but also applies to his seeming worldview on everything. It seems to me, that he thinks everything needs to be modeled to emphasize outliers. And sometimes outliers are important, but also there is a lot in this world that, IMO, occurs in the middle. And there are lots of things that apply in the middle. Things that apply and are important to know. Like a caloric intake number that works for 80% of people so they avoid obesity. If you find a height/calorie number that has like a .75 correlation, Taleb will call you a pseudo-scientific charlatan.

            And I think that if I found something like that, it would be really helpful for people to know. And it doesn’t matter that The Rock eats 10000 calories of fish a day.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Clutzy

            Hm. How do you know about him? I’ve mostly read the books and some Medium articles – I understand he tends to be more confrontational in other formats.

            Anyways, he’s the guy who invented the words Mediocristan (when Gaussian distributions apply and averages are relevant) and Extremistan (where power laws apply and averages can change dramatically with the addition of just one item in the series). In _some_ environments outliers can be just around the corner, but definitely not in all of them.

            And calories per day is definitely Mediocristan. The Rock and Michael Phelps are outliers, but outliers in a gaussian distribution sense – they eat less than 5x the average. Try the same thing with money in the bank, or clients for a company, or followers on instagram, and the concept of average itself becomes an all terrain buggy with too stiff suspensions.

            That’s most of what he writes about – ways of thinking about randomness that help you make sense of it.

          • Clutzy says:

            Im versed in those terms.

            My point is that Taleb seems to have begun mocking anyone who operates in the “mediocrstan” space as of late. His anti-IQ rants to this extent strike me as borderline psychotic.

        • albatross11 says:

          I have found Taleb’s appearences on Russ Roberts’ _Econtalk_ podcast to be really interesting. Taleb’s public persona is a blowhard who tends to try to win arguments by intimidation and Eulering, and he’s definitely a hard conflict theorist in his public life. But listening to him interviewed by Roberts, I could pick up some really worthwhile insights and ideas.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        It’s not just about the odds, it’s about the magnitude of the risk – some accidents aren’t “insurable”, i.e. just one event’s consequences are bad enough to break things. The way he puts it: have a bucket of pebbles poured in your head and you might get a few bruises. Have a rock the same weight dropped from the same height, and you’re dead.

        And yet, people take out life insurance…

        I’m not sure this is a sensible way of thinking about stuff, at all. That’s how you find yourself making bets with Pascal and the thing about Pascal’s Wagers is that for every Pascal’s Wager there’s an infinite number of equal and totally orthogonal Pascal’s Wagers (plus, quite likely, an equal and opposite one).

        In other words: when you’re dead, you’re done, and in the long run we’re all dead. Oddly, this certainty of death at some point in the future doesn’t really tell us anything useful about the probability of death (=some manner of catastrophic failure) right now (=as a result of whatever decision we’re currently making). Planning for the unplanned (and unplannable) just isn’t a fruitful exercise, no matter how bad the result could possibly be (I can imagine quite a lot). The best we can do is apply our best knowledge to identify likely (for a given value of likely) failure scenarios and how we can guard against/mitigate those. Expected value/loss calculations can be something of a guide.

        If you want to avoid unexpected, catastrophic failure at all costs, suicide’s your best bet.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I don’t think you need to make a sharp divide into Rollo’s Basilisc and stubbing your toe. There are plenty of survivable catastrophes that nevertheless are not insurable – pretty much anything that shrinks the world’s economy by 10%, for example. And not all of them are Black Swans.

          I think this is the original argument against nuclear power, isn’t it? A coal plant can go boom, but things are much much worse when a nuclear plant goes boom.

          So my point is: how bad is it, exactly, when a current generation nuclear plant fails spectacularly? Previous generation? Next generation? If we get to the point where the damage is insurable, or maybe even comparable favorably to a coal plant, we have green light. If we’re not there yet, that’s a strong argument against nuclear energy.

          And we can do this without looking too closely at the probability of an accident, but solely at the consequences.

        • Aapje says:

          @Faza (TCM)

          And yet, people take out life insurance…

          For their dependents.

          Risks are often not considered on the individual, but on the collective level, where a certain chance of death is considered (un)acceptable and/or where the health of the community is important.

        • nameless1 says:

          Life insurance is about helping a non-working spouse and above all the kids once the main breadwinner of a family dies.

          It is not hard to estimate a chance of dying before all the kids are through college and how much money they need + a comfortable retirement for the spouse. This makes perfect sense.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          Everyone, please assume for a moment that I know what life insurance is for. Principle of charity and all.

          The salient point is that once you’re dead, you’re not going to have to live with the fact that you’re dead. More broadly, a catastrophe – once it hits – tends to erase all prior considerations by dint of being catastrophic.

          Radu, I admit it was a bit of a glib dismissal – that’s just my style. However, please consider that if you choose to look only at consequences, Pascal scenarios are pretty much inevitable. You can always construct a possible world where the outcome is bad enough. The question becomes “how likely is this world?”

          Chernobyl could have been a lot worse, but it is also the case that the Chernobyl we got was – by the commonly assumed standard of what catastrophic failure in a nuclear reactor would mean – a bit of a damp squib. Fukushima moreso.

          It’s not like we have absolutely no idea of what happens when nuclear reactions get out of hand. We’ve dropped a bunch of bombs, for heaven’s sake, a couple of them on actual people in an actual war. We might not want to start doing it for kicks, but I think it fair to say that a “nuclear holocaust” scenario as a result of power plant failure is exceedingly unlikely. It’s not like Hiroshima and Nagasaki are barren wastelands. Nor is the Bikini Atoll and the U.S. bombed the ever-loving crap out of that one.

          To address the question of insurability: selling insurance is a bet against the insurer having to ever pay a dime and insurance companies aren’t known for their love of gambling. Something being insurable tells us only that it is considered extremely unlikely (in a given period of time).

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Faza

            I think you’re building my case very well, so I’ll take that to mean we mostly agree 🙂

            However, please consider that if you choose to look only at consequences, Pascal scenarios are pretty much inevitable.

            Except here. I’ll quote yourself back: “It’s not like we have absolutely no idea of what happens when nuclear reactions get out of hand.” Fukushima can’t turn into a black hole for any reasonable scenario. In theory, yes, we’re all Boltzman Heads etc etc. But in practice Pascal’s wager has limits – theoretical limits described by the total energy involved, engineering limits etc.

            If you want to have fun with a totally counter-intuitive scenario, look up Taleb’s argument against GMO (yes, against). It’ll give you a new appreciation of probability vs consequences, in practical, real world conditions.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I think you’re building my case very well, so I’ll take that to mean we mostly agree

            How so? Perhaps we are, in fact, in violent agreement.

            I’ll quote yourself back: “It’s not like we have absolutely no idea of what happens when nuclear reactions get out of hand.” Fukushima can’t turn into a black hole for any reasonable scenario.

            But that works both ways, you see. One man’s reasonable scenario is another man’s wild flight of fancy.

            In other words, you can’t simply say that “this scenario would be Really Bad”. You actually have to say “this scenario would be Really Bad and we can’t dismiss the possibility of it happening out of hand” (as we would have done with “Fukushima becomes a black hole”).

            How would you propose to persuade someone that they should not dismiss your Really Bad scenario out of hand, if they weren’t already convinced?

          • gbdub says:

            I don’t think “insurable” is the right standard, unless something like a major hurricane counts as fully insurable in your mind (so like, recoverable without breaking a major functional government, instead of something an actual insurance corporation could absorb).

            Fukushima happened in the middle of an earthquake / tsunami that killed somewhere between 15 and 20 thousand people. In a rational world it would be a forgotten footnote. We pretty clearly live with much more significant natural (any major hurricane or earthquake) and man made (any war) risks all the time.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            How would you propose to persuade someone that they should not dismiss your Really Bad scenario out of hand, if they weren’t already convinced?

            Well, I think material limits are a good starting point. If someone told me Chernobyl lost R amount of radioactive material and generated C cases of cancer, so it’s at least conceivable that 10xR would generate 10xC.

            There was a comparison above between total radioactive material there and at Hiroshima – I don’t think that as valid a comparison, because an atomic bomb is radioactive material weaponized, whereas Chernobyl is radioactive material stored as safely as possible. It would be a bit like comparing bullets with lead poisoning.

            Hm. In the end I think Outside View remains the gold standard for when you’re unsure or unqualified. The number and kind of fuckups we had in nuclear industry, same with other industries, how successful we are in not fucking up when it’s really important (eg aviation, submarines) etc.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            The number and kind of fuckups we had in nuclear industry, same with other industries, how successful we are in not fucking up when it’s really important (eg aviation, submarines) etc.

            Don’t know about submarines, but if aviation is anything to go by, we’re pretty fucking excellent! Seriously, if you consider all the things that can go wrong in flight, the number of planes in the air at any given point in time, and the fact that “catastrophic” is generally the default, when a plane does actually go down – it’s amazing how good we are at not getting people killed.

            That doesn’t mean you won’t get a Black Swan event (since you brought Taleb into this), every now and again. My go to example for aviation is Pan Am Flight 103, with 11 people killed on the ground – people who were doing nothing but minding their own business, in their own homes. You don’t get more Black Swan than that.

            And yet, I’d question the sense of anyone seriously suggesting that we cease all aviation because it’s not impossible that someone will be killed if plane debris falls on their house. Nor do I expect there to be much of a market for “plane falls on house” insurance, for that matter.

            If someone told me Chernobyl lost R amount of radioactive material and generated C cases of cancer, so it’s at least conceivable that 10xR would generate 10xC.

            People have tried to estimate the excess cancers resulting from Chernobyl. Any such estimates need to be taken with a grain of salt, for reasons explained in the wiki article. I, for one, consider it completely unsurprising that people who have an anti-nuclear political position are also putting forward the highest estimates.

            That said, I’d like to put forward a more radical position: in the context of a 7.5B world population and three decades post disaster, a couple of thousand or even several tens of thousands essentially rounds to zero. Looking up the crude mortality rate in the CIA World Factbook, it’s estimated at 7.7/1000, globally, for last year. The population was 7.5B people, meaning roughly 57.75 million people died worldwide in the last year alone. We literally wouldn’t notice any excess deaths unless we looked really hard for them – especially not over 30 years and counting.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That said, I’d like to put forward a more radical position: in the context of a 7.5B world population and three decades post disaster, a couple of thousand or even several tens of thousands essentially rounds to zero.

            This is a HUGE mistake that I see being made here all the time.

            The correct magnitude of effect isn’t the effect of the single event. The correct magnitude is the sum of ALL the events we can prevent by considering preventing events of this magnitude. Sure, cost justification needs to be made on a case by case basis, but simply ignoring individual risks because the total impact of that event is small is not the right way to do it.

            Otherwise we are all running around not wearing seatbelts.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            The correct magnitude of effect isn’t the effect of the single event. The correct magnitude is the sum of ALL the events we can prevent by considering preventing events of this magnitude. Sure, cost justification needs to be made on a case by case basis, but simply ignoring individual risks because the total impact of that event is small is not the right way to do it.

            Au contraire, it is exactly the right way to do it.

            Otherwise we’re regulating or banning all sorts of stuff that has some measurable negative effect. Including stuff you’d rather not see banned.

            Seat belts are an interesting case, because it’s not necessarily clear what the net effect is. On the one hand:

            It is generally accepted that, in comparing like-for-like accidents, a vehicle occupant not wearing a properly fitted seat belt has a significantly and substantially higher chance of death and serious injury. One large observation studying using US data showed that the odds ratio of crash death is 0.46 with a three-point belt, when compared with no belt. In another study that examined injuries presenting to the ER pre- and post-seat belt law introduction, it was found that 40% more escaped injury and 35% more escaped mild and moderate injuries.

            But on the other hand:

            In one trial subjects were asked to drive go-karts around a track under various conditions. It was found that subjects who started driving unbelted drove consistently faster when subsequently belted. Similarly, a study of habitual non-seatbelt wearers driving in freeway conditions found evidence that they had adapted to seatbelt use by adopting higher driving speeds and closer following distances. A 2001 analysis of US crash data aimed to establish the effects of seatbelt legislation on driving fatalities and found that previous estimates of seatbelts effectiveness had been significantly overstated. According to the analysis, seatbelts decreased fatalities by 1.35% for each 10% increase in seatbelt use. The study controlled for endogenous motivations of seat belt use, because that creates an artificial correlation between seat belt use and fatalities, leading to the conclusion that seatbelts cause fatalities. For example, drivers in high risk areas are more likely to use seat belts, and are more likely to be in accidents, creating a non-causal correlation between seatbelt use and mortality. After accounting for the endogeneity of seatbelt usage, Cohen and Einav found no evidence that the risk compensation effect makes seatbelt wearing drivers more dangerous, a finding at variance with other research.

            It may well be that seat belts reduce the chance of death/serious injury if you get in an accident, but also increase the chance of getting in an accident in the first place.

            The net effect may well be a wash.

            We don’t really care anyway, ‘coz we’ve gotten used to them and the cost is minimal.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @HeelBearCub

            The correct magnitude of effect isn’t the effect of the single event. The correct magnitude is the sum of ALL the events we can prevent by considering preventing events of this magnitude.

            Except in the context of nuclear accidents, they’re almost the same. We’ve had exactly two accidents with real consequences.

            So Faza is pretty correct in comparing benefits of nuclear energy (globally) with downsides of nuclear energy (globally). Cleaner air (again, globally) has good chance of saving a lot more lives than nuclear takes, even if we keep having Fukushima events.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Radu:
            This is making the same error again.

            You can’t consider “nuclear energy” by itself but rather you need to consider all of these kinds of diffuse risks together. So “preventing radiation pollution” and “cleaner air” (and thousands of other things) should all be done and that’s how you get to very broad reduction in overall risk.

            The trade off argument, where nuclear energy results in cleaner air , is a valid argument, but it’s not a refutation of what I am saying. It’s the non-tradeoff argument that I’m arguing against, the one where the effect is “a drop in the bucket” so why bother with it. That one applies to the dirty air just as well, so you never get to the trade-off argument.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            HBC:

            It’s the non-tradeoff argument that I’m arguing against, the one where the effect is “a drop in the bucket” so why bother with it.

            The argument I’m making isn’t quite a “drop in the bucket” one, it is rather that for all intents and purposes those excess cancers/deaths don’t exist.

            Lots of people die every day. Unless someone dies of acute radiation poisoning, the link between their death and a specific nuclear event must be shown, not assumed. The further you get from the event, both temporally and spatially, the more tenuous the connection. Sure, the incident may have affected their eventual time of death; so did everything else in their life.

            Assume for a moment, HBC, that I am discussing these matters with you on the internet and that the discussion causes my blood pressure to rise out of sheer despair and exasperation (it hasn’t). High blood pressure is implicated in a number of leading causes of mortality, so let’s further assume that this temporary pressure spike has served to accelerate the date of my future death from a heart attack.

            Let’s further assume that there were a number of lurking readers who experienced a similar blood pressure spike and also dropped dead, say, five minutes earlier than they otherwise would have.

            My question to you is this: if ten such people die earlier than they otherwise would have, should you be tried for a single count of murder or ten?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Faza:
            Let me answer a question with a question … does that mean people with high blood pressure should not learn mindful stress reduction techniques? Does that mean we shouldn’t regulate particulates? Lead levels? Lead levels due to soil contamination?

            There are diffuse causes of increased risk. They can be mitigated. The benefits are similarly diffuse.

            If stated as a matter of principal that we won’t pursue THIS diffuse benefit, then you have to give up ALL diffuse benefits together.

            Otherwise you are just down to cost-benefit calculation which is certainly imprecise, but that doesn’t make it non-existent.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            If stated as a matter of principal that we won’t pursue THIS diffuse benefit, then you have to give up ALL diffuse benefits together.

            Otherwise you are just down to cost-benefit calculation which is certainly imprecise, but that doesn’t make it non-existent.

            Bingo!

            Which is why I said this at the very beginning:

            Planning for the unplanned (and unplannable) just isn’t a fruitful exercise, no matter how bad the result could possibly be (I can imagine quite a lot). The best we can do is apply our best knowledge to identify likely (for a given value of likely) failure scenarios and how we can guard against/mitigate those. Expected value/loss calculations can be something of a guide.

            In contrast, this is a bad approach:

            The correct magnitude of effect isn’t the effect of the single event. The correct magnitude is the sum of ALL the events we can prevent by considering preventing events of this magnitude.

            When you start thinking along those lines, you’re half-way to the Benevolent World Exploder already. Literally all human suffering can be prevented by ensuring no humans exist to suffer. If you’re into soft options, David Benatar has a modest proposal.

            (FWIW, I basically agree with Benatar, but that’s besides the point.)

            Given how insignificant the results of two massive nuclear power plant failures were – to the point where if you found yourself in a world where either of these may or may not have happened, you couldn’t tell which option was true without asking directly (for my purposes here, checking if there’s an exclusion zone is asking directly) – and the Cold War context under which existing anti-nuclear stances were developed (I believe many of the people who started out then are still alive and active today), my position at this point is that opposition to nuclear power has little, if anything, to do with actual risks involved.

        • and the thing about Pascal’s Wagers is that for every Pascal’s Wager there’s an infinite number of equal and totally orthogonal Pascal’s Wagers (plus, quite likely, an equal and opposite one).

          My standard example is that, while there is some very small probability that global warming could have some really catastrophic effect, there is also some very small probability that global warming is all that keeps the current interglacial going and preventing it will result in another glaciation.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            No. Bad example. Stop twisting everything in your unceasing quest to sow doubt about AGW.

            Climate change is complex. It’s not paranormal, supernatural or magic. There are no infinities involved.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Complex, or non-linearly complex? Because in the second case it’s the same as playing the lotto.

            Anyways, I’m just being contrarian here. Personally I don’t dispute global warming. It’s just that I only worry about the catastrophic effects part, because for the rest, I am confident that current rate of economic growth will more than offset any downsides. We’ll just be living in a somewhat different climate, with some winners, some losers and a hellof a lot more money overall to spend on living comfortably.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Climate change is complex.

            I don’t see how that refutes DavidFriedman’s claim that GW might cause something bad, but might also be preventing something bad. All it seems to confirm is that I’m unlikely to be able to know what any given action will cause with respect to climate.

          • Matt M says:

            All it seems to confirm is that I’m unlikely to be able to know what any given action will cause with respect to climate.

            Which would imply a strong bias against any complicated or expensive actions. The “expected return” on something with costs that are known to be high, and benefits that are totally unknown (but may in fact be negative), is itself negative.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Paul @Matt:

            You don’t seem to understand Pascal’s wager. It implies doing something that seems exceedingly unlikely to generate a desired result, simply because the pay off is so big. You stop having to calculate the likelihood of the event because infinity times anything over zero is still infinity.

            Climate change is definitely not in the realm of things which are exceedingly improbable. Trying to treat it as if it were is highly disingenuous.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            You don’t seem to understand Pascal’s wager. It implies doing something that seems exceedingly [improbable] to generate a result simply because the pay off is so big.

            I think we both understand what Pascal’s wager is, and you misstated it somewhat above. It doesn’t imply doing something seemingly improbable, but rather hedging against an improbable event because the payoff is huge if I do, and/or the negative payoff is huge if I don’t.

            The disagreement here appears to be on the referents. You say “climate change” is the event in question (and that it furthermore shouldn’t be). I don’t think it is; I think the event is CAGW. I see no disingenuity there.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            No, the part I’m objecting is the idea that we don’t have ballpark ideas of probabilities and that the people who care about AGW are simply shouting “catastrophe” so they don’t have to bother with calculating likelihood.

            The original statement was that there were an infinite number of possible gods and religions, each with infinite payoffs, rendering PW moot. Neither AGW nor “CAGW” map on to that argument.

          • Matt M says:

            Climate change is definitely not in the realm of things which are exceedingly improbable.

            I’m not talking about the probability of climate change existing.

            I’m talking about the probability that you can guarantee, with any particular confidence, that any particular policy you desire to curb climate change will result in net positive benefits to humanity.

            Especially given that the IPCC consensus as of today seems to suggest that, as of today, some small amount of limited warming (assuming we had the ability to stop it on a dime if we so desired) would provide net benefits to humanity.

            “Climate change is bad and might lead to very bad things” is only half of the scenario. Even if I stipulate that it is 100% true, it does not therefore logically follow that any particular policy that people claim will reduce the risk of climate change is good. The government sucks at implementing policies to achieve its desired ends on issues far more well understood and less complex than climate change. Why should we suddenly trust that now, they’ve totally mastered that skill?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            You aren’t responding to my argument but some other one you would rather debate.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            HBC:

            The original statement was that there were an infinite number of possible gods and religions, each with infinite payoffs, rendering PW moot. Neither AGW nor “CAGW” map on to that argument.

            They map better than you’re inclined to think.

            Here’s what I consider to be a summary of the reasoning behind climate change mitigation. Let me know if you disagree:
            1. CO2 is a known greenhouse gas,

            2. Human industry (broadly understood) is emitting large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, primarily – but not exclusively – through combustion of fossil fuels,

            3. The presence of excess (compared to natural sources) CO2 is contributing to the warming of the planet, both directly and through complex feedback effects that accelerate the warming beyond what would be attainable with excess CO2 alone,

            4. The increase in global average temperatures leads to wide scale disruptions, including, but not limited to: sea-level rise, changes in weather patterns, extreme weather events, change in species ranges and/or viability, etc.

            5. The combined effect of all the aforementioned disruptions will be catastrophic for humanity,

            6. The aforementioned changes can be mitigated, delayed or reversed through CO2 emission reductions,

            7. The costs of emission reductions are known to be high, but are still outweighed by the costs of failing to mitigate.

            8. Therefore, emission reductions should be a priority, regardless of costs.

            You’ll note that the argument starts from things that are pretty much undisputed (CO2 is a greenhouse gas; humans are emitting CO2) and gradually moves towards complete uncertainty.

            You said it yourself:

            Climate change is complex.

            What exactly do we mean by complex system?

            Complex systems are systems whose behavior is intrinsically difficult to model due to the dependencies, competitions, relationships, or other types of interactions between their parts or between a given system and its environment.

            Complex systems aren’t just complicated. The actual behaviour of complex systems cannot be predicted from merely a knowledge of its properties – that’s what makes them complex in the first place. We know everything there is to know about how Conway’s Life iterates, for example, but there’s nothing in the rules of the game that specifies gliders, let alone some of the more esoteric constructs. You can’t get from here to there without actually running the game and seeing what it does (hint: if you’re iterating the moves in your head, you’re still running the game).

            Climate change mitigation policy rests on the assumption that not only can we predict the behaviour of complex systems that we haven’t studied very well (climate is one thing, but the actual prognoses concern basically the entire planet as a system, with atmosphere, hydrology and biosphere interacting with one another) with a sufficient degree of certainty to be able to put a dollar amount on specific outcomes, but we are also able to predict it sufficiently well to avoid shooting ourselves in the foot whilst implementing the policy.

            I’d be a lot more concerned if my general approach wasn’t that when a scientist puts forward political proposals, they’re no longer acting as a scientist, but rather as a politician.

            I know how to calibrate my confidence in politicians.

            On a more practical note, one thing we can be pretty much certain of is this: it takes energy to get anything done (not accepting this premise means we must chuck out everything we know about physical sciences and start over) and having more energy at your disposal means being able to do more things. Therefore, any policy that limits available energy (even just by making it more expensive) is actively harmful unless proven otherwise.

            To understand why this is true, consider that even if the predicted climate change outcomes turn out to be essentially correct, having lots of cheap energy available makes it possible to minimize the human cost. Conversely, if mitigation policies that limit available energy do not prevent the bad outcomes – because we got our climate science politics wrong – the effects will be worse, because we’ll have less energy available to counteract them.

            These are eminently practical considerations that we understand. If a famine hits, for example, you’re much better off if the fuel needed to ship food in is cheap, rather than expensive. If it gets too hot, turn on the AC. Too cold? Turn on the heating. Water shortage? Redirect it from somewhere, or build a desalination plant. Every single solution to every single problem will be easier with cheap/abundant energy and harder with expensive/limited energy.

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTM that #5 is considerably beyond mainstream climate forecasts.

          • Climate change is complex. It’s not paranormal, supernatural or magic. There are no infinities involved.

            Nothing I wrote requires that climate change be any of those things, or that any infinities are involved.

            Half a mile of ice over the present locations of London and Chicago and a sea level drop of about 300 feet is a larger catastrophe than anything plausibly linked to warming—and we know it can happen because it has happened repeatedly.

            If you have an argument for why my very low probability very high cost consequence of preventing global warming has a probability of zero, feel free to offer it. You might also consider whether your comment meets any of the three desiderata for comments that you occasionally invoke against comments you don’t like.

          • Climate change is definitely not in the realm of things which are exceedingly improbable.

            I agree. What I referred to was:

            some very small probability that global warming could have some really catastrophic effect

            The sort of catastrophic climate change claims about which fuel a lot of the rhetoric is exceedingly improbable.

            Low probability high cost outcomes provide a large fraction of the costs in Nordhaus’ calculations and he still comes up with pretty small numbers for expected cost. My favorite one, from a New York Review of Books piece attacking a WSJ op-ed criticizing climate catastrophism, is that the cost of waiting fifty years to do anything about AGW instead of taking the optimal action immediately

            is $2.3 trillion in 2005 prices. If we bring that number to today’s economy and prices, the loss from waiting is $4.1 trillion. Wars have been started over smaller sums.

            It sounds like a big number until you realize it is spread out over the globe and most of a century, making it equivalent to reducing world GNP over that period by about .05%.

            For source and details, see here.

          • In his response to my post, HBC wrote:

            No. Bad example. Stop twisting everything in your unceasing quest to sow doubt about AGW.

            Climate change is complex. It’s not paranormal, supernatural or magic. There are no infinities involved.

            I doubt you will claim that accusing me of “twisting everything” is kind. Would you like to argue that the implication of your comment—that my argument depended on climate change being paranormal, supernatural, or magic—is true? I have already pointed out, in my response to you in this thread, that the low probability/high cost negative effect of preventing warming that I mentioned is none of those things, just a climate related change that has happened repeatedly in the past.

            Perhaps you can claim that attacking me by an untrue claim about my argument was necessary?

            If not, you are batting zero for three.

          • Dan L says:

            @ David:

            This was a thread about Pascal’s Wager. Now it is not. Pointing out the differences between the Wager and AGW was true, necessary, and unsuccessful.

            (I believe you have dramatically misinterpreted HBC’s comment when you say it implies the exact opposite of its text.)

          • @Dan L:

            Could you explain? My reading of the exchange was:

            One argument for doing something about global warming is that there is some very small chance of some catastrophically bad result, and one should play safe

            To which my response was:

            You can’t play safe, because preventing global warming also has some very small chance of a catastrophically bad result–for instance a glaciation, if AGW is what has been holding back the end of the current interglacial.

            To which HBC replied, first by accusing me of “twisting everything in your unceasing quest to sow doubt about AGW” and then by saying that

            Climate change is complex. It’s not paranormal, supernatural or magic. There are no infinities involved.

            Since he was replying to my comment, that statement ought to be relevant to my comment. My reading was that he thought my example would have to be “paranormal, supernatural or magic,” hence not the equivalent of catastrophic results from AGW, which are not any of those things.

            Alternatively, he might have missed the fact that I was offering a parallel to catastrophic consequences of AGW, not to the existence of AGW, which is not at all unlikely. The parallel to AGW having predictable bad effects, such as more very hot days and higher sea level, is the fact that it will have predictable good effects, such as fewer very cold days and increased crop yields due to CO2 fertilization.

            He offered no defense of what he had posted in response to my pointing out that it was wrong, from which I concluded that he had no defense, had simply wanted to say something hostile.

            But if you have a reading of his comment, as a response to mine, which makes it defensible, I would be interested to hear it.

            So far as there being no infinities involved, I agree. Neither a glaciation nor the destruction of civilization due to AGW is an infinite cost. Either would be a very large cost.

          • @@Dan L:
            If you look at the indenting of the comments, you can see that HBC wasn’t responding to whomever made the initial Pascal’s wager point, he was responding to me.

            Is your reading of his comment that he wasn’t saying anything at all about my argument, merely saying that it wasn’t relevant to a discussion of Pascal’s wager? One could claim that Pascal’s argument involved an infinity, but most cases where people refer to Pascal’s wager involve a very large cost with very low probability. HBC himself, higher up in the thread, wrote (about Pascal’s wager):

            It implies doing something that seems exceedingly unlikely to generate a desired result, simply because the pay off is so big.

            That corresponds both to preventing warming because warming might have catastrophic results and to not preventing warming because preventing warming might have catastrophic results.

    • ana53294 says:

      The Soviets basically buried Chernobyl in bodies. Young recruits were forced to go and work there against their own will.

      But in Europe we live in a much, much more complacent society that does not accept sending our soldiers to die. Because who will we send, to a sure death, if not the people who signed up for it? But most of NATO countries, except the US, are unwilling to risk their soldiers lives. So much so, that they are willing to abandon US marines because the zone is too “hot”. This isn’t just one country; it’s a disease that affects all country.

      So who will we march to a sure death in the case of another Chernobyl? Are our armies with our fat soldiers with their comfortable lives willing to do so? Is it a reasonable price we can demand from them just for reducing CO2, when surely there are other ways?

      Chernobyl was a horrible fuck up; but if the Soviets didn’t act and didn’t send people there, it could have been worse. We are human; fuck ups will happen, and we are not willing to do what the Soviets did anymore. Is it possible to solve another Chernobyl (although that zone still hasn’t been cleaned) without sending people to die?

      • John Schilling says:

        But in Europe we live in a much, much more complacent society that does not accept sending our soldiers to die. Because who will we send, to a sure death, if not the people who signed up for it?

        That’s what robots are for. Just remember to activate their patriotism circuits first.

        • ana53294 says:

          Don’t robots get damaged by radiation?

          • hls2003 says:

            Certain forms of radiation can certainly mess with electronics. The mechanical hardware should be fine in any likely environment outside an actual core and/or massive exposure times. My understanding is that (1) the majority of radiation environments that would be hazardous to humans are still fairly low on an “absolute exposure” scale and would be unlikely to cause much trouble for the electronics; (2) robots can carry a lot of shielding that would be impractical for a human, especially for limited critical areas; and (3) if a robot does become severely damaged, you can throw it away.

            But I’m no expert, so open to correction.

          • albatross11 says:

            You also don’t worry about the robots getting cancer in 20 years, or having kids with weird health problems due to genetic damage.

          • Randy M says:

            How susceptible is code to changes in radiation?
            I don’t expect it to function as a mutagen, really, but could it damage portions while still leaving other functionality intact?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Radiation can cause both transient errors in and permanent damage to electronics. Your code might change, or when your processor goes to load some code or data it loads the wrong value. Or when it goes to write some value it gets changed. Analog devices can experience all sorts of trouble as well, from noise to destruction.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Asimov’s positronic robots are much *more* vulnerable to radiation than humans, which is why the NS-2 ‘Nestor’ was produced with a modified First Law so it wouldn’t dash into areas with radiation in order to save the humans there from a slightly increased risk of cancer at the cost of destroying itself.

            Lieutenant-Commander Data also has a positronic brain, but apparently one without such a vulnerability.

          • John Schilling says:

            Literally everything gets damaged by radiation, if there’s enough radiation of the wrong kind. Qualitative descriptions of this are interesting but off target. Quantitatively, even crappy consumer-grade microelectronics is generally unaffected by ionizing radiation until the total dose is at least an order of magnitude greater than the lethal-to-humans level.

          • Dan L says:

            Quantitatively, even crappy consumer-grade microelectronics is generally unaffected by ionizing radiation until the total dose is at least an order of magnitude greater than the lethal-to-humans level.

            Recently demonstrated, to boot.

        • helloo says:

          Japan is probably one of the best suited countries to push out robots to deal with this- in terms of technology, willingness, and push for automation.

          From what I know, they did try to use robots for the Fukushima cleanup with limited success.
          So I don’t expect anyone to do much better with the current tech.

      • Zeno of Citium says:

        Worry not – the whole world isn’t the like Soviet Union in 1986. During the Fukushima nuclear disaster, hundreds of people volunteered for the cleanup efforts: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-13598607 . Yes, the danger was an order of magnitude less – the volunteers will get cancer, eventually, not die of radiation poisoning in a few days. But if you’re worried about the human spirit having decayed to slime in the last 30 years, it hasn’t.
        And we have better protections against radiation than the Soviets in the 1980s (I think – I’m not an expert here). And, as John Schilling mentioned, robots help a lot.

        • sidereal says:

          That strikes me as a (possibly uniquely) japanese thing, with their strong cultural emphasis on honor and sacrifice.

          • ana53294 says:

            Yes, Japan seems like a very unique culture to me. I honestly don’t think we would get enough volunteers if something as fucked up as Chernobyl.

          • albatross11 says:

            The US and Spain both routinely get big fires and big floods, and it sure seems like both countries get a lot of first responders who take significant risks to their own lives to try to help out. I’d expect the same to be true of nuclear meltdown cleanup and recovery in a crisis.

          • ana53294 says:

            Spain has a nuclear power moratorium (it expired, but building a new station is political suicide). We are slowly getting rid of all the older stations.

            Fires and floods are inevitable. Nuclear catastrophes are not. People can swim. You can wear flame retardant clothes. You can pore water over fire. What exactly do you pour over nuclear waste?

            If Spain gets invaded, and somebody attacks us, our army will defend us. But creating problems for ourselves by going abroad is not popular. The fire is the foreign invasion; building a nuclear station is invading Afghanistan/Korea/Vietnam looking for trouble.

          • cassander says:

            @ana53294 says:

            Fires and floods are inevitable. Nuclear catastrophes are not.

            Nonsense. We could avoid fires almost entirely if we started lighting them, and floods if we lived on top of mountains! This is pure luddism.

            People can swim. You can wear flame retardant clothes. You can pore water over fire. What exactly do you pour over nuclear waste?

            Lead, among other things.

            building a nuclear station is invading Afghanistan/Korea/Vietnam looking for trouble.

            I thought pumping out CO2 until the seas rise was looking for trouble. I suppose you could just give up electricity all together, though…

          • AG says:

            A good chunk of the US fire responders are convicts, so not exactly volunteers.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        >The Soviets basically buried Chernobyl in bodies.
        Because that’s what the Soviets do, they’ve won WW2 in pretty much the same way. The western countries can, in turn, bury a catastrophe like that in money, probably by spending enough of them to make sure it won’t go so bad in the first place.

      • Lillian says:

        The Soviets basically buried Chernobyl in bodies. Young recruits were forced to go and work there against their own will.

        You say that like it’s a bad thing (okay the second part is kind of bad). Using staggeringly large numbers of liquidators was the right thing to do. By deploying so many clean-up crews the Soviets made it possible to each individual liquidator to work for only a brief period of time before being replaced, thereby minimizing exposure to radiation. From what i recall, studies among the hundreds of thousands of Chernobyl liquidators have found no increased incidence of morality among them relative the background population, precisely because average exposures were so low. So they didn’t actually send anybody to their deaths in the clean-up phase.

    • nadbor says:

      I haven’t watched the show but I saw someone quoting it talking about ‘tens of millions of deaths’ or ‘wiping out half of Europe’.

      Was that really ever on the table? The story I used to hear in the nineties when more information started coming out was that Poland, not to mention western Europe was never in any danger. And that soviets did the worst possible thing by trying to cool the reactor with water.

      I don’t put much trust in my vague memories of what my physics professors said more than a decade ago in a hallway but I trust a TV drama even less.

      What was the worst thing that could realistically have happened? What if no effort was made to mitigate the disaster?

      • Protagoras says:

        The TV show does do a considerable amount of exaggeration (which hardly seems like it was necessary, given what actually happened). But the reactor contained a couple hundred tons of fuel. Compare that to less than a hundred kilograms for the Hiroshima bomb; although of course the uranium in a bomb is more highly enriched, with the reactor we’re still looking at potentially around a thousand times as much radiation as the bomb produced. That is pretty significant, but still not wiping out half of Europe significant. And to reach that potential, something like the doomsday scenario the show considered (a second, much larger steam explosion distributing everything much more widely) would probably have to happen; otherwise a lot of the radiation would remain confined to the immediate area around the plant. I do not know if such a second steam explosion was ever likely, or if that’s just one of the show’s exaggerations.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Compare that to less than a hundred kilograms for the Hiroshima bomb; although of course the uranium in a bomb is more highly enriched, with the reactor we’re still looking at potentially around a thousand times as much radiation as the bomb produced.

          This comparison doesn’t work even as a rule of thumb. U-238 and U-235 simply aren’t all that radioactive. You can pick up an unused fuel rod in your hand without being injured. It’s the fission products which are a major radiation danger.

        • albatross11 says:

          So the worst case there would have been that a lot of the fuel from Chernobyl would have been scattered into the atmosphere by a big explosion, right? But what would the actual consequences have been? My sense is we’d be looking at a statistically noticable rise in some kinds of cancer for the next generation or two in the affected area, and probably everyone would stop buying dairy products from the affected area and maybe they’d import food there for quite awhile. This is bad, but not civilization-threatening.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I have been trying to find a good source online that discusses this, if anyone has anything to point to.

            From what little I did find, at the very least it seems that the HBO show didn’t invent the idea that if the second explosion had occurred it would have rendered large parts of Europe uninhabitable- the same claim shows up in several other articles over the past several years, and apparently also in ‘Midnight in Chernobyl’, a book on the disaster from earlier this year that seems to be getting positive reviews.

            None of my quick Googling turned up the original source of this idea, though.

    • gbdub says:

      Chernobyl was a remarkably bad reactor design with remarkably bad containment being operated in a profoundly stupid way. I don’t think Chernobyl, let alone anything worse, could happen at any current or planned nuclear plant without actual malfeasance on the part of the operators (not even terrorists, unless they like literally take over the plant and blow it all with nuclear bombs from the inside out).

      Which is what frustrates me about the show. It has the effect of nuclear scaremongering based on exaggerated hypotheticals that, even if they weren’t exaggerated, are decades out of date. Meanwhile coal plants spew actual poison constantly and most people don’t bat an eye.

      Fukushima is probably today’s plausible worst case, and even that was an old design where a ton had to go wrong (including a once a century tsunami) to produce zero radiation deaths and an expensive but pretty contained cleanup. Seriously, the evacuation probably killed more people than the excess radiation cancers would.

      • MrApophenia says:

        But the more common nuclear power becomes, the more likely outright malfeasance becomes.

        I’ve mentioned here before that I grew up near the West Valley Demonstration project – so named because it was supposed to demonstrate how safely and easily the government could clean up a nuclear fuck-up. Well, it did indeed demonstrate that… decades and billions of dollars later, it remains one of the most toxic places in America.

        West Valley wasn’t even a power plant – it’s an artifact of the government’s first experiment with letting a private company do nuclear waste recovery.

        The result was that they cut every corner they could find to save money, to a degree that endangered the surrounding community and should have been prosecuted as a crime.

        Every expansion of nuclear power increases the odds of a plant being run by assholes like the ones who ran West Valley (or Chernobyl for that matter). So the question is, how bad can things go when your plant is being run by idiots, criminals, or both?

        • helloo says:

          So how bad are airplanes?

          It’s not like they’ve had perfect compliance or track records.
          It’s been said that every single item on those checklists had a trail of blood or smoke behind them.
          Plenty of times those have been caused by failures on the crew or sloppiness/cheapness on everyone from flight control to the manufacturers.
          Besides that, there’s been terrorists attacks, hijackers, idiots and mentally ill people of all sorts that caused all kinds of incidents with airplanes.

          How do we balance the damages of airplanes and the benefits they provide and at what point should they be banned or restricted?
          Moreover how should any particular incident like say M370 or the recent 737 Max should affect the entire industry?

          • MrApophenia says:

            That’s kind of the issue, though. When everything goes catastrophically wrong with an airplane, a few hundred people die.

            When everything goes catastrophically wrong with a nuclear power plant, the cost is potentially far greater.

            Or maybe not! If the position here is “we have this solved well enough that even if a plant is run by bad actors and/or idiots, we can’t get another Chernobyl,” great!

            I am just saying you need to price in the idea that you’ll get plants run as badly as Chernobyl was, so whatever the worst thing is that can happen, you probably need to assume it will.

          • The Nybbler says:

            How do we balance the damages of airplanes and the benefits they provide and at what point should they be banned or restricted?

            Not to worry, responsible large corporations like Boeing get to do what they want with million-pound aircraft, but irresponsible individuals with five-pound aircraft are to be harshly restricted.

          • bean says:

            Not to worry, responsible large corporations like Boeing get to do what they want with million-pound aircraft, but irresponsible individuals with five-pound aircraft are to be harshly restricted.

            Seriously, if you want to see “harshly restricted”, try looking at any part of the FARs that apply to airliners. Boeing puts a lot of work into making air travel safe. It doesn’t always work, but unlike you, I actually know something about the subject, and they do an incredible job.

          • acymetric says:

            Submitting an official request for moratorium on drone regulation discussion.

    • The Nybbler says:

      There seems to be some disagreement if the megaton-range Chernobyl explosion described in the miniseries (and actually feared by the Soviets) could actually have happened. It also appears the reactor never did melt all the way through the floor, so it would not have happened.

      Or are there really good reasons to believe we won’t have a nuclear meltdown at a power plant in the US?

      Assuming we don’t shut them all down, I expect we’ll eventually have another one. But not like Chernobyl. US power reactor design just doesn’t allow for anything that bad.

      Or are the odds of a meltdown small enough that it’s better to accept that minuscule risk vs. the greater odds of CO2 related global warming havoc?

      This is why it’s no good to mess around with infinities when doing cost benefit analysis. More extreme climate hawks claim CO2 related global warming is a medium term existential threat. If that were true, and the only choices were everybody dies or we risk a few Chernobyls by building a whole bunch of RBMK reactors (in this counterfactual they’re the only kind we know how to build), we should build the reactors. We would also have to consider the third choice of ending industrial society, but I’m pretty sure “risking Chernobyls” wins there too.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        There seems to be some disagreement if the megaton-range Chernobyl explosion described in the miniseries (and actually feared by the Soviets) could actually have happened. It also appears the reactor never did melt all the way through the floor, so it would not have happened.

        At least in the show, that was two different thresholds. The massive explosion was if the meltdown reached the water tanks before they were drained. The risk of melting all the way through the floor was to poison the water table from the Dnieper down to the Black Sea. The meltdown did hit the tanks (after they were drained) but did not reach the part the miners were sent in to shore up.

        Feel free to correct if this is something the show jumbled up

    • John Schilling says:

      The one thing I learned watching Chernobyl is that the potential for a much greater disaster existed.

      The only thing you learned watching “Chernobyl” is that HBO thought you would find it more entertaining to watch a story about people heroically striving to prevent a much greater disaster than one about people failing to stop a historic one. HBO is not an educational service, and does not pretend to be.

      And even if “Chernobyl” had been an accurate educational film, you would have learned nothing of relevance to nuclear power plants that aren’t dual-hatted as weapons-grade plutonium breeder reactors.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Most everyone I have recommended Chernobyl to has come away saying how scary nuclear power is. Can you expand on why not, or point to something I can read about it?

        • Lillian says:

          You know, i have a suspicion that if they made a documentary or mini-series about the Bophal Disaster in India, which killed thousands of people, and injured hundreds of thousands, people wouldn’t come away talking about how scary pesticides are. They wouldn’t start to freak out about routine fumigation and still happily keep cans of Raid in their kitchens. Instead they’d be angry about the negligence and malfeasance on the part of Union Carbide India.

        • gbdub says:

          It helps to put radiation in context

          “The dose makes the poison” applies equally to radiation as it does to arsenic. But for some reason people freak the hell out about any amount of radiation from nuclear power or bombs, while ignoring natural sources of radiation (background radiation, bananas) or other human sources of radiation (coal power plants, mammograms).

  14. Well... says:

    I need to use a website like Legalzoom but I don’t know any of its competitors and I want to shop around first. What other sites/services should I consider, and why should I consider them?

    • Clutzy says:

      What form do you need?

      *NOT LEGAL ADVICE JUST A FRIENDLY SUGGESTION*

      • Well... says:

        Last will & testament
        Living will
        Medical power of attorney*
        Financial power of attorney*

        *If needed separately from living will?

        Also: to what extent do I need to maintain these documents? Do lawyers know how to write them in clever ways that scale with my personal finances/medical situation, or do I need to go in and make changes every time I (e.g.) get a pay raise or get diagnosed with something serious (never have so far, knock on wood)? And if the latter, are these documents created in a way I can update it myself or do I need to hire a lawyer each time?

        • hls2003 says:

          This will sound like cartelization, but you should talk to an attorney who specializes in these items. Yes, they are largely forms, but they are state-specific and their relative uniformity means that a lawyer should be able to do that whole package for you for less than $1,000. I believe that the risk of loss from cobbling something together yourself, if done incorrectly, is substantial enough that it outweighs the few hundred dollars of savings. Also, depending on your situation, you may not even know that you ought to look at certain documents (e.g. should you create a living trust or an irrevocable trust for your kids, if any? How should you structure your beneficiary designations on life insurance or financial assets?)

          That being said:

          Property power of attorney – in the states I have looked at (which is admittedly only about three) this is usually a statutory form that can be located and taken word-for-word from the state’s compiled code of laws.

          Medical POA – same

          Living Will – While I am not focused in this area of law, this is actually usually a non-binding document that is basically a statement of your general intentions about medical care. I’m pretty sure it is not binding in the way that a medical POA is, and if you are extremely cost-conscious, you could potentially accomplish some of the same by having thorough conversations and/or written instructions to your family members / significant others so that there is no confusion should you be incapacitated.

          Will – if you’re cost-conscious enough to consider LegalZoom, then you also might not need a will, if your state’s intestacy laws already do what you want, and also assuming you don’t have sufficient property to make proper estate planning advisable. For example, for many years I did not have a will, because I was married with no children, and my intention was for everything to go to my wife. Under my state’s intestacy statute, the default was that if I died, everything went to my wife. Thus while it was potentially creating extra hassle for her in the event of my demise (having to file intestate in probate court), I could at least be assured that my basic wish (wife gets everything) would prevail.

          As to maintenance of the documents, a properly drafted estate plan will suffice for minor alterations in circumstances. It should be updated only in case of major life events, having children (or additional children) being the most common, with divorce / remarriage, life-altering financial windfall, and business planning being some other major times people look at updating. So no, a raise wouldn’t require an update. If you do have one of those major events, then yes, you would generally want to go back to a lawyer to get an update (e.g. to add additional children into your documents).

          • Well... says:

            Thanks.

            less than $1,000

            Goodness, I hope so! I wasn’t really looking to spend more than about $200 on this, preferably a lot less.

            I’ll look into the other things you listed (e.g. state-provided forms).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            How worried are you? Is there someone you think would will fight your will? If so, get the professional and be done with it. If you just want to make sure your kids have a nice Schelling point along with to divide your estate, DIY can work.

          • Well... says:

            @Edward Scizorhands:

            Mainly the latter, but you never know what will happen. Family dramas often erupt suddenly, and it seems like someone dying is a likely potential catalyst for such a thing.

        • dick says:

          “I didn’t need any help, I just used a template I found online,” said Tom of his own free will.

  15. Le Maistre Chat says:

    “You are formally invited… to the creation of my new galaxy!” — King Bowser Koopa

    Your mission is to rationally describe how a sapient organism would achieve the ability to create an entire galaxy. If it takes magic, rationalize the magic.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I hereby incorporate by reference Asimov’s The Last Question

    • beleester says:

      Conceptually, it’s simple. You gather up enough matter that it will collapse into stars and planets, and then you wait a few billion years. The challenge is in execution.

      The first is tricky because, by definition, it takes an entire galaxy’s worth of matter to create a galaxy. And disassembling one galaxy to make another one is kind of pointless. So you need to find a new supply of matter, maybe with some sort of magic energy-to-mass converter. The Mario universe usually has some sort of celestial-themed magic power source readily available in batches of 120, so Bowser can probably pull this off.

      Next, you need time. Technically you could pull this off by inventing immortality and waiting, but no self-respecting Koopa King would wait a billion years between inviting people to his new galaxy and actually having something to show off. Even if you have machines that can assemble planets and stars from your matter supply (tricky, since stars are a very hazardous working environment), there’s 250 billion stars in the galaxy, so that’s going to take a while. Time-accelerating magic is probably your best bet, but some strategically placed black holes could possibly give you some time dilation in a more scientific way. Or you could magically increase the force of gravity to make stars and planets condense faster than normal. While Super Mario Galaxy doesn’t feature any time magic, it does feature numerous miniature black holes to serve as bottomless pits, as well as other gravity-manipulation gimmicks which Bowser could repurpose to reduce the apparent time it takes to create his galaxy.

      That said, the “galaxies” in Super Mario Galaxy barely qualify as solar systems, so Bowser can probably make one with a fraction of these resources.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Conceptually, it’s simple. You gather up enough matter that it will collapse into stars and planets, and then you wait a few billion years. The challenge is in execution.

        The first is tricky because, by definition, it takes an entire galaxy’s worth of matter to create a galaxy. And disassembling one galaxy to make another one is kind of pointless.

        Exactly. You have to have the technology/magic to spit MC^2 energy into the vacuum of space for values of M equal to “gigastars”. Short of creating energy ex nihilo like capital-G God, that’s going to be a matter of collecting silly numbers of magic energy sources and waiting on the order of a billion years.

        The Mario universe usually has some sort of celestial-themed magic power source readily available in batches of 120, so Bowser can probably pull this off.

        There we go.

        Next, you need time. Technically you could pull this off by inventing immortality and waiting, but no self-respecting Koopa King would wait a billion years between inviting people to his new galaxy and actually having something to show off.

        “You are formally invited… to my new galaxy! Save the Date: Koopember 1, 1,000,000,010 After Mario.”

        you could magically increase the force of gravity to make stars and planets condense faster than normal. While Super Mario Galaxy doesn’t feature any time magic, it does feature numerous miniature black holes to serve as bottomless pits, as well as other gravity-manipulation gimmicks which Bowser could repurpose to reduce the apparent time it takes to create his galaxy.

        Nice.

        That said, the “galaxies” in Super Mario Galaxy barely qualify as solar systems, so Bowser can probably make one with a fraction of these resources.

        Aye that’s the rub, isn’t it? If a galaxy must have >100 billion stars, a real galaxy isn’t possible in a video game without massive procedural generation, and uncurated procedural content is against the spirit of the Mario series.
        No Mario’s Sky.

    • Well... says:

      The sapient organism is a godlike creature of inconceivable size.[*] It experiences spacetime with as much vividness as we might perceive a mild breeze. This organism understands the laws of thermodynamics intuitively, and is capable of manipulating its environment (its ENTIRE environment) in a way that creates eddies in the expansion of the universe, sort of like like eddies made in water by a canoe paddle. These eddies create violent collisions of so much mass it kicks out swirling clouds of debris that fizzle into galaxies.

      *In case I need to rationalize the “magic” of the existence of such an organism: it evolved from other organisms. Compared to even the much simpler ancestors of this organism, we — even with our most cutting edge technology — have the simplicity of viruses.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      … and he clicked Randomize on Conway’s Game of Life.

    • Incurian says:

      The plot of Fall.

    • AG says:

      Have any of y’all played Little Alchemy?

  16. Clutzy says:

    I was driving today, and came to the realization that I have no idea where my driving skill is in the population.

    Pros:
    Only one collision in my career, occurred at age 16 when I was cutting weight and I was extremely sleep deprived.
    Can parallel park.
    Definitely better than my girlfriend and mom as a driver and at knowing directions.
    Very good at marathon drives late at night.

    Cons:
    Probably below average at merging (or at least I’m always feel uncomfortable).
    Easily bested by my dad as a driver and knowing directions.
    Poor at stick shift, although able to do.
    Too defensive with the brake and distractable by things in my peripheral vision.

    So there you have it. Where do you think I rank? I’m gonna say the “Population” is US Residents holding a drivers license.

    • bullseye says:

      I don’t think most Americans can parallel park, or drive stick at all. I don’t know how well those two abilities correlate to overall driving skill.

      I had to parallel park for my driver’s test, but I soon forgot. My mother is from a state that didn’t require it so she’s never done it.

    • Well... says:

      I submit this as another datapoint but also because maybe something here will provoke fun/interesting discussion. You could probably separate this out into stuff like skills, habits, achievements, etc. but I’ve just combined them all.

      Pros:
      – Can drive stick just fine.
      – Can parallel park just fine, even in pretty tight spots.
      – I almost always back into parking spots or pull through if possible.
      – Comfortable driving off-road, in snow, etc.
      – Have operated everything from 2-stroke motorcycles to 6-ton grip trucks towing trailers.
      – Just about never speed on city or residential streets.
      – Always turn my headlights on when I start the car (my car does not have the ones that come on automatically).
      – I don’t drive around with no muffler, one headlight, squealing belts or brakes, etc. — I get those kinds of things fixed FAST if they come up.
      – I drive pretty conservatively.
      – Always bring the turn signals, waves, eye contact, etc. I’m one of those squares who uses turn signals even if I’m completely alone on the road.
      – I absolutely never flick anyone off. Not trying to get shot.
      – I instinctively turn the stereo off whenever someone else gets in the car, and I have excellent taste in music in case we decide to turn the stereo on again.

      Cons:
      – I’ve received a handful of tickets (a handful for speeding, all more than a dozen years ago, and one illegal left turn about five years ago, and given how carefully I checked to make sure there were no cars or people nearby (missing only the cop) it was effectively a victimless crime.
      – I was in one accident nearly ten years ago, a gentle fenderbender in a parking lot that (iirc) the insurance companies decided was my fault. I think sometimes I can be a bit oblivious. Not often, but sometimes.
      – I can do occasional aggressive maneuvers if I need to but I’m definitely not skilled at racing/stunt driving etc., so I’m probably not the best guy in an emergency or to get you away from zombies in a post-apocalyptic dune buggy.
      – Sometimes at long red lights I’ll shift into neutral and turn my engine off. I am almost always ready to go again before it turns green, but there have been a few times where the car behind me had to wait an extra second.
      – Two people who’ve ridden a lot with me have complained that I slowly veer within my lane on the freeway and almost enter adjacent lanes when I do so. I don’t believe them, but I present it anyway for the sake of completeness.

      Unsure if it’s obviously a good or bad thing:
      – I basically never honk unless it’s a “hey you almost killed me” situation.
      – I rarely go over the posted speed limit on the freeway and usually stay at around 60 (partly for fuel efficiency reasons, partly for other more philosophical reasons having to do with things like safety, the value of my time in relation to the risks imposed on my health by going faster, enjoying the journey as much as the destination, and so on).

      • Clutzy says:

        Your list made me think you were far superior to me aside from 2 data points:

        – I drive pretty conservatively.
        – I rarely go over the posted speed limit on the freeway and usually stay at around 60 (partly for fuel efficiency reasons, partly for other more philosophical reasons having to do with things like safety, the value of my time in relation to the risks imposed on my health by going faster, enjoying the journey as much as the destination, and so on).

        Slow driving, particularly on the freeway, is a top indicator to me of a bad driver. Indeed, obeying speed limits on those is typically unsafe and detrimental to traffic. If those two weren’t on there, I’d have put you in the top 20% for sure. Probably top 10%. But because of that I think you are in limbo with me.

        • Well... says:

          I did say “rarely go over” about my freeway speed. The times where I do go over, it’s because traffic is such that it’s clearly safer to keep up. I just happen to typically be driving in light traffic when it’s easy for the occasional car to pass me. And I should have added that I don’t hang out in the middle or left lanes when I’m going 60, and I don’t tailgate semis.

          Maybe “strategize effectively on when to drive and when to stay put” is another indicator of good driving? 🙂

        • Well... says:

          obeying speed limits on those [freeways] is typically unsafe and detrimental to traffic

          I’m probably needlessly repeating myself here, but I think this statement depends a whole heck of a lot on where and when you’re driving. At the places and times I tend to be on the highway, going the speed limit or even a little under in the rightmost lane is simply the opposite of dangerous.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I don’t think just one metric is enough. I’m pretty confident experience and performance-wise, but on the other hand the number of accidents in my driving history is definitely above average. About thee of them are sleep-related including one that was bad and could have been extremely bad, so right now I’m under a personal prohibition to driving tired that’s on a level with driving drunk.

    • johan_larson says:

      How frequently you crash your car is probably a good measure of your skill as a driver. You say you have crashed your car once. How long have you been driving? Also, does that mean you only had one serious crash plus some more minor incidents, or one crash total including everything?

      According to this source the average driver files an insurance claim for a collision every 17.9 years.

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/moneybuilder/2011/07/27/how-many-times-will-you-crash-your-car/#437cd4744e62

      Are you doing better or worse than that?

    • Incurian says:

      Really depends what’s important to you. I think there are many ways to define driving skill, and they may be a bit correlated, but usually certain emphases are developed through practice to the exclusion of others.

      Some candidate priorities are safety, comfort, speed, lawfulness, courtesy, fuel efficiency, and control. If I were to look for an underlying “g” for “general driving skill” I think it would be some combination of situational awareness and spatial prediction, since knowing what’s happening and what’s going to happen are useful for all the priorities. They’re not necessary, of course, but I think without them you can at best specialize in one or two priorities at the expense of others.

      The fact that you even ask the question probably puts you on the top half of drivers. That you have trouble merging, get distracted, and brake easily imply you may be at the bottom of the top half.

    • Randy M says:

      I’d wager it correlates pretty closely with age/experience, obviously up until any mental or physical capabilities start to go.

      For myself, I think I used to be a bit below average for my age, and now I’m a bit above average. I had an accident which was my fault–rear ended someone on the freeway due to following too close–about ten years ago; since then I’ve driven up and down the country and gotten more experience.

  17. theredsheep says:

    So, uh, I suspect I take my hatred of the Disney movie Frozen way too seriously. Most people just find the songs infuriating, and I don’t disagree, but I have a complex theory (which you will probably skip over) of why it’s a morally bad movie. It will contain spoilers for this years-old kids’ movie.

    There’s a famous GK Chesterton quote I’m not going to dig up in the original, but which is often cited via Neil Gaiman’s paraphrase: “the beauty of fairy tales is that they teach us dragons can be slain.” All children have certain insecurities about the world, and fairy tales reassert that there is a final order at work in the world which will defeat chaos and darkness. But Frozen brings up three really big, scary dragons–dragons which many children have to face–and utterly fails to take them seriously. I feel it would have been better to leave the damn dragons out than to trivialize them.

    First dragon, childhood trauma. Elsa is a metaphor for something–homosexuality or disability, take your pick–whose well-meaning parents teach her that the answer to her problems is to pretend she’s not a horrible freak. She goes totally berserk and nearly wipes out a kingdom, then … uh … literally slaps her forehead, says, “of course! Love!” and gains perfect control of the powers that have been overwhelming her for the entire film. Wut.

    Second dragon, family estrangement. Elsa has ruined Anna’s life for what appears to be no reason. She’s bitter about this to roughly the same extent that you would expect for a much milder toxic dynamic, e.g. one of them being cast as “the pretty one” and the other as “the brainy one.” In the end, they have a firm bond despite Elsa becoming a neurotic shut-in and forcing Anna to live like a recluse for her entire adolescence.

    I can more or less forgive those two on the grounds of It’s A Kids’ Movie. It would be artistically better if they gave the problems more depth, and I don’t think older kids couldn’t take it, but it would be too intense for the five-year-olds they actually aimed at. But dragon three–abusive relationships–they didn’t just softpedal, they gave it basically the worst possible resolution. Men are physically tougher than women, and Hans in particular can dismember giant ice monsters in two seconds. Anna deals with his cruelty by first punching him in the face–it’s cool, she’s a princess so there are loads of guards to keep him from escalating–then immediately moving on to another relationship with a different dude she’s known for only slightly longer than she’d known Hans. The only way it could be worse role modeling is if she decided to get revenge by sleeping with all seven of his brothers, which is out of the question in a kids’ movie.

    Okay, that’s my beef with Frozen. The aggravating jingles mask its inability to handle its own themes with the respect they deserve. Thoughts?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      There are lots of reasons to hate Frozen. My favorite is what Olaf surviving in summer represents: there are no trade-offs in the world, because women are just that magical!
      Disney should be ashamed of itself for replacing a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale in the collective consciousness with this trash. Andersen is a really interesting author, whose tales are darker and scarier to children than folk tales, which end with the hero whole and the oppressor dead or bloodied.

      • theredsheep says:

        You could read that a bunch of ways, setting aside whatever the creators meant by it–which is a genuinely open question, since it had like five writers and quite a messy creative process IIRC. I think Olaf’s supposed to represent the uncorrupted and healthy core of their relationship or some such.

        I briefly toyed with mapping out a darker extended version of Frozen in my head, where she actually marries Hans and discovers slowly that he’s a monster, the minister of jokecountry is a real complex character with an actual role in the plot, and everybody has to work towards redemption. Didn’t bother to flesh it out, though.

    • Deiseach says:

      The trolls. They’re presented as cute forest and/or ice monsters who are quirky but harmless, but (a) troll magic is what got the royal family into this mess in the first place (b) they seem to have kidnapped Kristoff as a child and kept him away from his parents, and nobody seems to find this alarming? That there are magic-wielding child-nappers running around the kingdom?

      • quaelegit says:

        They’re also really fucking annoying. I only started to hate most of the Frozen songs after my roommate played them on repeat for the last two weeks of the semester (thank Anna), but the trolls song I hated immediately.

        Olaf is also terrible, and worse b/c of his larger presence in the movie and merchandising, but the trolls managed to pack more annoyance into a smaller screentime.

        Since I feel the need to say something positive too, I’ll mention that I did like seeing a Disney film about sisters. Lilo and Stitch did it much better though, so I’ll just re-watch that 😛

        Edit: I also like Elsa as a character and her taste in costumes, architecture. Cold does bother me, but I like to see it on screen 😛

      • Matt M says:

        Kristoff’s status as a child is pretty unclear. In the opening sequence, he’s essentially left entirely to his own devices as a very small child to engage in a significantly dangerous occupation mainly practiced exclusively by adult men.

        I took this to imply that he was an orphan with no family to speak of. Either that, or the ice farmers practice a rather extreme version of free-range parenting…

        • theredsheep says:

          In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, Alonzo Wilder helps his father and the other men with ice harvesting at around age ten. And nearly gets whipped bloody for doing something dangerous (he’s let off the hook because it’s his birthday IIRC). So, not that unrealistic, maybe?

        • Deiseach says:

          Kristoff’s status as a child is pretty unclear.

          That’s true, it’s hard to know if he’s tagging along after his father or is an orphan hanging around the grown men to learn how to be an ice harvester.

          But the sinister part, which gets played off as heart-warming, is that he plainly does belong in the human town; he simply can’t resist following after the royal family to see what happens when they go to plead for the trolls to help them, and a female troll notices him and Sven and says she’s going to keep them.

          Well, she does keep them. There’s nothing there to say it’s voluntary on Kristoff’s part or that he didn’t want to go back to the human town, and when we meet grown-up Kristoff he’s plainly got some problems (using a fake voice to imitate his reindeer so he can have conversations with himself – that seems rather indicative that he’s so starved for companionship amongst the trolls, who seem to be neglectful and slap-dash, that he literally has to invent his own).

          The trolls are child-nappers and not very careful about the ‘pets’ they ‘adopt’, but we’re supposed to find them quirkly and charming? And this is a kids’ movie? (“Yes, little Timmy and Sally, if you wander off from the grown-ups into the woods, the monsters will take you away forever!” is probably the traditional fairytale moral message, but it sure gets dressed up in a lot of glitter in this movie).

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Another Frozen problem: Everyone goes nuts over Let It Go without realizing it’s a fucking villain song whose suggestions are explicitly repudiated by the film’s thesis.

      Best part of Frozen: the trolls have causality-violating powers to rewrite history. Seriously, it’s the only thing that makes sense. The parents were terrified of dealing with the trolls, and only would do so when nothing else could save their daughter. Anna was healed, and somehow in a way like she never had been injured (or even knew about it.) Later, they tell us “Get the fiance out of the way, and the whole thing can be fixed!” and suddenly Hans, who had shown no evidence of being deceitful whatsoever, is revealed to not love her and never did.

      That is, now he hadn’t. Originally he had loved her! The trolls rewrote history, because, like the wormhole Prophets in DS9, they don’t live in linear time, and don’t understand why everyone else cares about that causality thing. The simplest way to allow Anna and Kristof to marry was to change Hans’ past and make him no longer a suitable lover. Why would anyone object?

      In conclusion, Frozen is the second best Disney movie of the modern era [1], because nothing else has fantastic time manipulation. Still doesn’t match the overall consistent themes and tight plotting of Tangled (also the wonderful voice acting of Zach Levi!).

      Not originally my idea, but I will endorse it to the death.

      [1] Somewhere 2000ish. Not getting into ranking the 90s movies right now.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Ok, this is also a good fan theory.

      • quaelegit says:

        Cool theory! I’m sticking this one with Darth Jar Jar as “definitely not what the creators intended, but so fun that I’d prefer to live in a universe where they did”

        (Also now I’m wondering what would happen if the trolls-in-this-theory met the heptapods from Arrival)

        Also re: villain song, I’ve seen discussion in various places about why Disney doesn’t make good (as in, enjoyable with grandiose songs) villains anymore. Maybe they can, but they took an great potential villain but turned her into a protagonist.

        Agreed that Tangled is a much better (and Really Good) movie. But if we’re going since “2000-ish”, I’ve got to put Lilo and Stich, The Emperor’s New Groove, Big Hero 6, Wreck-it-Ralph, The Princess and the Frog, and possibly Moana ahead of Frozen. (I’m not counting anything from Pixar even post-merger.) Time-manipulation is cool but doesn’t outweigh the things I liked in these movies.

        • Matt M says:

          Also re: villain song, I’ve seen discussion in various places about why Disney doesn’t make good (as in, enjoyable with grandiose songs) villains anymore. Maybe they can, but they took an great potential villain but turned her into a protagonist.

          Disney held out longer than most, but in general, modern society seems to have rejected “clear heroes fight clear villians” as an outdated and quaint relic of the past. These days, for a narrative to be considered properly complex, everyone must possess various “shades of grey.”

          This probably affects Disney villians more than heroes, since heroes typically can sing about whatever, while villain songs are almost always nothing more than a boast of “I am evil and enjoy doing evil things for evil reasons!” There’s really not much of a place for that anymore in the modern narrative…

          • Jaskologist says:

            The best Disney villain songs aren’t “I’m just evil for evil’s sake.” Let’s review:

            The Little Mermaid, “Poor Unfortunate Souls”: Far from singing about her evil, Ursula is claiming to have mended her ways, and now be all about helping the less fortunate. She’s lying, but this is her sales pitch to Ariel. She’s even clever enough to admit to having been bad in the past.

            Lion King, “Be Prepared”: The plan to kill the rightful king is evil sure, but the motivations are perfectly normal: ambition on Scar’s part, and hunger on the Hyena’s part. The song manages to boil complex political negotiations (Scar needs the hyena’s help for his coup, and promises them looser immigration policy in exchange) down into about 3 minutes of one of the best villain songs.

            Beauty and the Beast, “Gaston”: This song isn’t about being evil at all, at least not in a direct way. It’s superficially everybody telling Gaston how great he is. None of the qualities they list are bad, or even untrue. The problem is simply that Gaston is being puffed up with pride, which we all know as the root of all sin. Gaston isn’t evil for evil’s sake, and has many heroic qualities, but his pride is his downfall.

          • cassander says:

            @Jacksologist

            Gaston’s not the villain, he’s the hero of a tragic tale about an aristocratic monster that abducts women to sate his lusts, and gaston’s noble, if doomed, efforts to lay it.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @cassander

            Gaston, the choice of the people, represents rule by democracy; Beast represents rule by a dictator, a point that is driven home by depicting his subjects as literal household objects owned by him. The reactionaries at Disney are no fools; they know that neither system is perfect, so they strive to show that both have flaws, but only one is able to counter those flaws.

            As Gaston’s system is entirely based off popularity, there are no breaks that can be applied to his pride, which just gets puffed up further. Their populism (for what is Democracy but institutionalized populism?) inevitably ends in a pitchfork-wielding mob and runaway pride ending in a Fall that mirrors that of the first sin.

            Beast, though he nominally owns his subject, is enmeshed in an aristocratic system in which he also has duties towards them, and so they are able to act as a check on him and guide him towards a more civilized approach. He too has flaws to overcomes, but with the help of those around him, he is able to. In the end, we learn that if we find the aristocratic system monstrous, it is only because dark magic has been applied to make it appear so; in truth the Prince is more handsome, kind, and gentle than his competition.

          • AG says:

            Huh, so the classic Disney villain song is actually an innovation of the Disney Renaissance, then. You don’t have them for Snow White/Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella. Although, Jafar only gets the Prince Ali reprise, not his own song, either.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Disney cunningly laid the groundwork for a defense by making Song of the South, which teaches us that Black American culture is so superior to its White counterpart as to justify even what would otherwise be the crime of appropriation. Naturally they’ve kept it under wraps all these years rather than muddy the reactionary message of their other movies, but now that we’re exposing those for what they are I suppose they’ll have to re-release it.

          • LHN says:

            Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame may be a mediocre outing whose ultimate message is that while it’s totally what’s inside your heart that counts, honest, of course that pretty girl you like will fall in love with the handsome boy instead because that’s the proper course of things. (And there’s no point in even looking for a serious connection to Victor Hugo’s story or themes.)

            But its villain song, “Hellfire”, is an amazing portrayal of spiritual pride and frustrated lust curdling into self-righteous malice for a G-rated film.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=U3NoDEu7kpg

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @LHN: “It’s not my fault if, in God’s plan, He made the Devil SO MUCH STRONGER THAN A MAN!

          • Deiseach says:

            Gaston’s not the villain, he’s the hero of a tragic tale about an aristocratic monster that abducts women to sate his lusts, and gaston’s noble, if doomed, efforts to lay it.

            Belle is the real villain. She has an inflated sense of her own superiority to the rest of the villagers, and goes around singing a mean song about them. Gaston is an ordinary guy who fits well into his environment and has devoted time and effort to being the best that he can be, and the admiration of the village is his rightful due.

            Belle thinks she is so much better than him, and that she deserves power and status. So she latches on to a cursed aristocrat and manipulates him while he is under the influence of malign powers, stoking his paranoia about the villagers (who understandably think he’s a monster because, well, he is a monster) and presenting herself as the only person who understands and will help him. Thus, when the curse is broken, she has established psychological dependence by the Prince on her and she uses him as a catspaw to take her revenge on all the ‘little people’ who she considers held her back and never gave her the fawning respect and flattery about her intelligence and superiority that she considers her right 🙂

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I have nothing to contribute to the Beauty and the Beast discourse apart from this, in case anyone enjoys it.

          • Immortal Lurker says:

            @Jaskologist

            While the Beast does represent Aristocracy and Gaston the People, the story is more nuanced than that, and more bittersweet. You see, you have left the principal character: Maurice. Also, the rose, and the castle itself.

            Maurice represents science. Belle represents progress and the things it brings, such as literacy and women’s rights.

            The castle is power, and the rose is divine right of kings/the mandate of heaven/the socially recognized right to have power.

            Initially, the people are mistrustful and suspicious of Belle. See for example Hypatia of Alexandria. Gaston knows that Belle is important, but keeps thinking that she is going to further his values as they currently exist. That is why all his attempts to marry her fail.

            So anyway Maurice (science) tries to go about doing its thing, but he gets too near to the castle (power). The Beast (Aristocracy), is having none of this, and takes science for himself, turning it to his own ends.

            Belle comes along, because of course progress follows science.

            The Beast recognizes that the rose (the mandate of heaven) will completely wither soon unless he embraces progress. He doesn’t understand it at first, but he eventually starts to learn.

            The people see the aristocracy getting all the benefits of progress without sharing, and rise up, attempting to seize the castle/power. They fail miserably, and their leadership dies without ever understanding what they were trying to achieve.

            Progress then mostly changes the appearance of power without getting rid of it, or changing who has it. The people are happier though, even if they still don’t really understand progress.

          • Dan L says:

            I’m sorry, I’m sure there were more comments later in the chain but I just got stuck at cassander’s:

            a tragic tale about an aristocratic monster that abducts women to sate his lusts, and gaston’s noble, if doomed, efforts to lay it.

            ಠ_ಠ

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            No one does that like Gaston either.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            When all you have is Gaston, everything is an egg.

          • Lillian says:

            I’m sorry, I’m sure there were more comments later in the chain but I just got stuck at cassander’s:

            a tragic tale about an aristocratic monster that abducts women to sate his lusts, and gaston’s noble, if doomed, efforts to lay it.

            ಠ_ಠ

            You’d be surprised at how common a mistake that is.

      • Deiseach says:

        Later, they tell us “Get the fiance out of the way, and the whole thing can be fixed!” and suddenly Hans, who had shown no evidence of being deceitful whatsoever, is revealed to not love her and never did.

        Yeah, that was another part I thought portrayed the trolls in a sinister light (unless it was the writers/Disney corporation being low-key sarcastic about fans and how entitled they can get) – Elsa Anna and Kristoff are not any kind of romantic potential as yet, they’ve barely met, and Elsa Anna has already got a boyfriend on the go, but that makes no difference to the trolls – they get the idea that a wedding would be fun and that Elsa Anna and Kristoff would be a cute couple, so it doesn’t matter what the two humans think or want, the trolls are going to treat them like dolls and make them do what the trolls want.

        Honestly, the trolls being time-manipulating on top of magic-using makes sense!

        And don’t get me started on Hans – the twist about the obvious-seeming Bad Guy being a decoy and the Nice Guy being the real baddie was clever, but they ruined it by making Hans simply a stereotypical villain. Hans had potential for a Tragic Backstory and Redemption Arc just like Anna Elsa’s backstory and arc, and he would have been a much deeper character if allowed to be conflicted and grey-area morally (he’s the youngest of eight brothers, probably has been sent as representative to the kingdom with the exact instructions to make a matrimonial alliance with the queen if at all possible, and him falling genuinely for Elsa Anna in rebellion to the duties imposed on him goes right along with Disney movies “follow your heart” plots, but no – they needed a Bad Guy so Kristoff could be the Good Guy, and then they chickened out or messed up on the Happy Ending so we didn’t get the expected wedding after all).

        Heck, if they wanted Anna/Kristoff, why not have Elsa/Hans as a double wedding? Hans can understand Elsa’s conflict over her duties and her desires, being controlled (in no matter how well-meaning a fashion) by one’s family and the damaging attempts to break free of that, while Anna and Kristoff can be the innocent friendly rough-and-tumble couple. Redemption and happy endings all round!

      • Deiseach says:

        Another Frozen problem: Everyone goes nuts over Let It Go without realizing it’s a fucking villain song whose suggestions are explicitly repudiated by the film’s thesis.

        I agree that Let It Go is a deliberate copy of Defying Gravity. I hate Wicked with a passion and think Defying Gravity is a stupid song (if you defy gravity, you get squished – try jumping off your roof boldly defying gravity, gravity ain’t gonna be impressed by your chutzpah).

        But these kind of “villain songs if sung by anyone but the rebellious heroine” songs do seem to be coded as Girl Power and Strong Independent Woman and it drives me nuts. Yeah, let’s all stick it to The Man! Question Authority! Heck’s sake, people, the 60s were fifty years ago, you lot are the Authority now!

    • Jaskologist says:

      As Andrew points out, “Let it go” is a villain’s song (this is undeniable; “no right, no wrong, no rules for me” is an actual line in it). It is also universally recognized as a feminist song. Once you put 2 and 2 together, it becomes clear that Frozen is in fact a very clever subversion of feminism.

      Think about it. What are the consequences of Elsa embracing feminism? A curse falls upon her entire kingdom. The movie is telling us that civilization literally cannot function without both men and women fulfilling their roles, which include duties to other people. The Ice Queen is completely oblivious to all of this, believing that being alone makes her “free.”

      What else happens once Elsa gives up on “being the good girl?” Well, she starts to create life (a clear metaphor for single motherhood). But because she isn’t being responsible anymore, she does so unthinkingly and poorly. As a result, one of her children is a suicidal idiot, the other is a homicidal moron.

      They wrap it up a bit hastily, probably because they couldn’t believe they were actually getting Disney to produce such a reactionary film, but the moral in the end is that Elsa was completely wrong, and you need to embrace true, sacrificial love in order to be really free, or both your immediate family and your civilization are doomed.

      The only way they could have been less subtle is by naming it “Frigid” instead.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I chortled heartily.

      • Randy M says:

        The question is if any of that matters when little girls are just singing “let it go” to themselves over and over again for the next several months, without connecting it to the consequences or ensuing trouble.
        (Maybe I’m jaded because of the hearing “Let it go” over and over again for several months 😉 )

        • Matt M says:

          The question is if any of that matters when little girls are just singing “let it go” to themselves over and over again for the next several months, without connecting it to the consequences or ensuing trouble.

          I’ve been struggling with this question a lot lately.

          On the one hand, the more I delve deeply into the types of messages portrayed by modern media, the more sick and disturbing I find most of them. Surely it *must* be doing damage to society, even if only operating on something of a subconscious level for most people.

          On the other hand, it really does seem like a whole lot of people get through life thinking that “Every Breath You Take” really is a song describing a healthy romantic relationship, and that “Born in the USA” really is a celebration of American exceptionalism and patriotism, to take two particularly famous (and fairly obvious) examples…

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I think this is exactly why Disney made the right call to turn Elsa into a heroine. “Let it Go” is clearly a villain song, but clearly whoever sings that song is going to be adored by the nation.

            It’s a stupid Disney movie, and clearly, reading into the movie, Hans should have won. Anna and Elsa are terrible rulers, and Hans’ coup d’état was the best option to get some decent governance in place.

          • March says:

            I think kids are just oblivious. That’s why the ‘Suck Fairy’ is a thing – when you go back to a beloved piece of media as an adult an find out that it is horrible AND that it must have been horrible all along (because it’s not likely someone’s gone back in time and replaced all instances of it by this cruel mockery of a childhood fave).

            I used to LOOOOOVE the Thundercats when I was 8-10 years old or so. Went back when I was 25 and it was complete drivel. Not even ‘less cool’ but inane and incomprehensible. And my favorite cowboys & indians stories fared even worse. Sure, they’d now be called problematic anyway. But I remembered them as deeply human and meaningful, but upon reread they were superficial racist claptrap.

            That said, theredsheep’s first point strikes me as weird. The instigating incident wasn’t Elsa’s powers running wild, it was younger child’s exuberance being a little too much for slightly older child who, scrambling to keep up, slipped and accidentally hurt younger child. Any trauma therapist worth his or her salt would’ve been able to reframe that for her as ‘honey, it’s not your POWERS you should be afraid of, and you’re not evil for having them. Sometimes when kids play, accidents happen. Next time you wanna play, wake up a grown-up to come with you, OK? In the meantime, can you show me that pretty snow flower again?’

            For lack of a therapist, ‘LOVE’ might do the same.

          • theredsheep says:

            It doesn’t much matter what instigated what; Let It Go is “Fuuuuuhuuuuck you Mom and Daaaaaad, my powers violate thermodynamics and it’s coooooool after aaaaaaalll.” She resents her parents’ discipline and refuses to obey it anymore, because she figures they were asking the impossible. Even when she finds out she’s going to kill everyone, she whimpers that she doesn’t know how to control it. The damage is done, it would seem.

            But then she … what? What happens? She spontaneously reverses the trauma caused by her constant, costly struggle and ultimate inability to meet her dead parents’ utterly unrealistic expectations? IRL that kind of thing only gets partially fixed by years of therapy. There’d be scars, false starts, and mistakes along the way. Not “derp, I got it now” and everything’s clear. If you’re going to venture into the dark regions of the human soul like that, you really should show them at least a little bit like they really are.

          • Randy M says:

            Whaddaya want, Worm, the animated series?

            (The answer to that is yes, btw)

          • Jaskologist says:

            The sequel will be all about the famine that resulted from the 1-2 punch of all their crops dying in the fields at the same time that all commerce is cut off with their largest trading partner.

          • Matt M says:

            at the same time that all commerce is cut off with their largest trading partner.

          • bean says:

            at the same time that all commerce is cut off with their largest trading partner.

            That confuses me. The correct response to “you tried to kill our sovereign” in that age is not a trade embargo, it’s war.

          • March says:

            Heh, people vary.

            So many things in my life have gotten better by just, ahem, letting them go.

          • Randy M says:

            That’s true that one can get psychologically entangled or caught up in unhelpful rules. But if everyone lets go of all concept of right or wrong, as in

            “It’s time to see what I can do
            To test the limits and break through
            No right, no wrong, no rules for me
            I’m free”

            That’s a very anti-civilization message. And it doesn’t work even within the context of the story–it’s admirable that Elsa tries to isolate her dangerous powers from the community if she can’t control them, but by reveling in them she plunges the kingdom into winter.
            It’s basically the same arc as Peter Parker, where they learn that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, the difference being his sin was indifference whereas hers was as a more active menace, and her most memorable lines are from the early, menacing scenes.

          • AG says:

            Look, people love singing the villain songs in general, because they’re just damn fun songs. Pretty much no one sings those aspirational “I want” songs by the milquetoast protagonists in those movies. Little Mermaid, BATB, Aladdin, Hercules are the main examples, but are you side-eyeing anyone who sings “Just Can’t Wait to be King” or “Hakuna Matata,” either?

          • LHN says:

            Pretty much no one sings those aspirational “I want” songs by the milquetoast protagonists in those movies.

            I don’t know– a lot of Disney’s “I want” songs have legs. “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is probably in Disney’s top ten emblematic songs that they’ll play at the drop of a hat. “Belle” is well-remembered (and frequently parodied given its theme of “Hi, neighbors! I’m better than all of you since I *read* while you’re all doing boring productive work!”). “Part of Your World” is Ashman and Mencken firing on all cylinders. I like it rather better than “Poor Unfortunate Souls” myself.

            (I also quite like “How Far I’ll Go”, “Reflection”, and “For the First Time in Forever”, but I’ll grant they’re probably not timeless classics to the same extent.)

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Pretty sure all those movies get side-eyed, if not always entirely seriously. Ariel is a little brat, Belle and Beast are not healthy, Hercules is barely remembered (though I love it).
            Lion King, I don’t know. I think most people recognize that the Simba was a bit immature, and the movie really calls it.

            However, Frozen was framed as “a very important” movie for its empowering themes, and “very important for little girls,” and Let It Go was explicitly singled out as being a Very Important Song.

            And then it got played non-stop, and it was everywhere, becoming an omnipresent cultural phenomenon rivaled only by agriculture, language, and tool-making, making it very, very, VERY annoying.

          • Randy M says:

            A Whole New World from Aladdin is possibly one of the best Disney songs ever.

            Generally the villains are enjoying themselves more in the films until the climax, which translates to a more fun song to sing. Compare Ursula’s with Ariel’s, Gaston’s with Belle’s (although as protagonist’s go, Belle has it pretty good at the start of that film).
            Simba’s “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King!” is an exception, and the song is fun to sing, not less so than Scar’s.

            Hmm, that reminds me, Hakuna Matatta is pretty much the same as Let it Go, isn’t it? Albeit freeing the hero from a different set of expectations–doing something versus not doing something.

            @A Definite Beta Guy You would have “loved” the Frozen party my wife and her friends threw when the girls were into that. They got two of those in person character performers to come, I don’t think it was a birthday or any other special occasion. Anyway, I wasn’t there but the picture is hilarious, about 30 little Elsas aged 2-6, along with my red-head dressed as Anna.

          • albatross11 says:

            When I saw Frozen, I saw the whole thing as an allegory about mental illness, perhaps bound tightly to some kind of tremendous talent. Think of a really amazing writer who also sometimes suffers from crushing depression.

          • LHN says:

            Hmm, that reminds me, Hakuna Matatta is pretty much the same as Let it Go, isn’t it? Albeit freeing the hero from a different set of expectations–doing something versus not doing something.

            They’re highly parallel, with both protagonists having run out in terror and feeling the relief of being out from under, but both having to learn better, return, and take up their responsibilities before the end of the story.

            (The Jungle Book is more episodic, but there’s arguably a similar relationship between “Bare Necessities” and Mowgli choosing to join human society at the end of the film.)

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s basically the same arc as Peter Parker, where they learn that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, the difference being his sin was indifference whereas hers was as a more active menace,

            Well, except for the bit where Aunt May and Uncle Ben basically locked Peter in his room throughout his adolescence and taught him to be ashamed of himself for his lack of self-control. Elsa would have made a decent antihero if she’d had a proper villain for counterpoint; unfortunately they made her parents kind and well-intentioned but misguided and then killed them off before the story proper begins.

          • albatross11 says:

            jaskologist:

            Ah, but that’s where having a queen with the power to plunge any country into endless winter comes in. That’s a nice harvest you’ve got coming in, neighboring country. Be a shame if something happened to it….

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I guess everyone’s forgotten the songs from Disney’s Tarzan, huh? This one’s pretty catchy:

            Son of Man, look to the sky
            Lift your spirit, set it free
            Some day you’ll walk tall with pride
            Son of Man, a man in time you’ll be

            Though why they put a song about Jesus Christ filtered through the philosophy of Heidegger on the soundtrack, I don’t know.

          • Plumber says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy says

            “…However, Frozen was framed as “a very important” movie for its empowering themes, and “very important for little girls,” and Let It Go was explicitly singled out as being a Very Important Song.

            And then it got played non-stop, and it was everywhere, becoming an omnipresent cultural phenomenon rivaled only by agriculture, language, and tool-making, making it very, very, VERY annoying”

            Not quite “everywhere”, I’ve no idea of how the songs go, my chief impression of “Frozen” is seeing lots of Norwegian-ish costumes and dolls (plus the character in the blue sparkly dress who I assume is the equivalent to Anderson’s “Ice Queen”) in the toy aisle on the way to the “Hot Wheels” cars my son wanted to see.

            The characters looked cute and a fad among young adults in ten to twenty years for Scandinavian folk costumes would be amusing.

            Otherwise it’s a kids movie I didn’t see (I think the last kids film I watched was either “Big Hero 6”, “Planes”, parts of “Despicable Me”, or some “Naruto” thing as my son was a fan).

          • Two McMillion says:

            Look, people love singing the villain songs in general, because they’re just damn fun songs. Pretty much no one sings those aspirational “I want” songs by the milquetoast protagonists in those movies. Little Mermaid, BATB, Aladdin, Hercules are the main examples, but are you side-eyeing anyone who sings “Just Can’t Wait to be King” or “Hakuna Matata,” either?

            “Go the Distance” is the best Disney song ever and I will fight you over this.

          • Deiseach says:

            Elsa would have made a decent antihero if she’d had a proper villain for counterpoint

            Oh, the movie was just crying out for a good manipulative chamberlain or steward in the mould of Jafar. Who the heck was ruling the kingdom between the time the parents died and Elsa came of age to be queen, given that she spent most of her time locked up in her room? There had to be somebody acting as regent or prime minister!

            Somebody who could take advantage of the power vacuum, who could plot – for the good of the nation, of course – about seizing the throne from the neurotic and somewhat unstable and completely inexperienced young queen, someone who could be a real old-fashioned moustache-twirling villain. Hans was no good because his villainy (such as it was) was revealed too late towards the end, so he never built up the head of steam required to be strong and substantial enough to stand against The Queen of Winter.

          • LHN says:

            As How It Should Have Ended observed, Elsa’s experience would be a perfectly typical formative origin story for an X-Man. Or a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, depending on which way she went. But a disastrous power release and initial bad reaction to being hated and feared as a result isn’t an insurmountable obstacle to an ultimately heroic path.

            (The X-Men were prepared to forgive Jean Grey for eating a star, after all. Even if the Shi’ar were a little less inclined to, well, let it go.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’ve only seen it once, but I remember even on that one viewing noticing what John Schilling said: those parents don’t seem very good. I thought something like “well, they are royalty, so they will of course get their kid some counseling, and figure out not to keep her locked under the cupboard for the next decade, right?”

          • John Schilling says:

            Oh, the movie was just crying out for a good manipulative chamberlain or steward in the mould of Jafar. Who the heck was ruling the kingdom between the time the parents died and Elsa came of age to be queen, given that she spent most of her time locked up in her room?

            Yes, that would have been the basis for a stronger story I think. The Evil Regent does most of the heavy lifting on the “let’s make sure the child queen grows up psychologically crippled” front so that he can keep ruling, giving us a proper villain to hate instead of pinning that on vaguely sympathetic dead parents. We can still keep Hans as the love interest who is supposedly going to help Anna overthrow the Evil Regent but is revealed as his partner in crime. Since he isn’t carrying the full weight of the villain role, it’s OK to keep him hidden until the endgame.
            And since we’re supposed to be at least vaguely sympathetic to Elsa when she goes on her wicked-witch power trip, we can at least see it as righteous vengeance against a clear Villain What Done Her Wrong.

            Well, OK, and also against all the innocent citizens of the kingdom, but that’s par for the course in fairy tales.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @LHN:

            As How It Should Have Ended observed, Elsa’s experience would be a perfectly typical formative origin story for an X-Man. Or a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, depending on which way she went.

            Yeah, this wasn’t a Hans Christian Andersen story (and I’ll die on the hill that calling it “based on” was an insult to him), it was Disney’s attempt to do an X-Men story before they had the IP rights.

          • Randy M says:

            Oh, wow, there’s cross-over potential now, isn’t there?

          • John Schilling says:

            X Girls: Dark Elsa

            Coming soon to a theater near you.

          • Tenacious D says:

            @ Two McMillion:

            “Go the Distance” is the best Disney song ever and I will fight you over this.

            I submit this for your consideration.

          • cassander says:

            @Tenacious D and Two McMillion:

            “Go the Distance” is the best Disney song ever and I will fight you over this.

            I submit this for your consideration.

            Ahem

          • Tenacious D says:

            @ cassander:

            There is an xkcd for that.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        Now that you mention it, perhaps we’re not giving Disney enough credit…

        At the risk of going off the rails a bit, one of the more… ahem… controversial aspects of The Last Jedi was the fact that certain bits of the script and production could be… ahem… seen as referencing certain political topics current at the time of production.

        A while back I stopped to consider that the Rebel Alliance of the original trilogy was a fairly conventional, male-dominated military force. Sure, you had women in central political (Mon Mothma) and military (Leia) leadership positions, but they were exceptions to the rule. The Rebel Alliance wasn’t particularly woke by anybody’s standard.

        The Resistance of the latest movies is woke indeed and the film-makers seem to have gone through some pains to ensure we don’t miss this bit.

        Compare and contrast situations post Empire and TLJ: in the first, the RA has managed to successfully disengage from an Imperial attack against their central military base, with most of their personnel and materiel intact. Their support amongst the galactic populace remains sound.

        By the end of TLJ, the Resistance manpower is reduced to pretty much “what you can fit on the Falcon”, their fleet is gone and everyone in the galaxy has told them to pretty much go to hell.

        If Disney intended the moral of the story to be “don’t let aging widows and purple-haired womyn run your military campaigns”, they couldn’t have made a more convincing case.

        Has Disney been trolling us all along?

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think this is probably just a result of incompetent writers who are separately woke and insistent on deconstruction of the originals. However, if Episode IX features a patriarchal figure who rebuilds the Resistance into a force to be reckoned with, I’ll have to reconsider.

          • Randy M says:

            I wouldn’t be surprised to see them back off the deconstruction to try and make some money and rebuild some fan trust, but are there any patriarchs left to rebuild? Are we going to end with Chewbacca being elected Emperor?

          • theredsheep says:

            I didn’t see TLJ–I lost interest in the series after TFA–but from synopses I’ve seen, it sure seems like Nybbler is correct. Where Marvel went to great pains to coordinate its CU over the long term, Star Wars had JJ Abrams make one highly derivative movie, and then let whathisface reverse course and burn it all down with the deconstructive sequel. I don’t get the impression that anyone competent is actually in charge of this thing.

          • albatross11 says:

            I can’t discern enough coherency in the new star wars movies to extract much deeper intent or ideology.

          • acymetric says:

            I’m not necessarily even sure the movie was explicitly trying to be “woke”. Having female leaders is fine, but since they were terribly written (along with most of the movie) it felt like they were shoehorned in for “wokeness”. If the movie had been good, I don’t think this would have been a problem, or at least wouldn’t have gained the traction it did (I don’t have a problem with it either way, I just don’t like it because it was a bad movie).

            As far as the deconstruction…again the main problem is that the movie is bad. Had the movie been good, they might have gotten away with it…EXCEPT that they made one huge mistake: making it the tagline of the damn movie. Leaving the past of Star Wars behind could be a fine theme, even if it isn’t the one I want. Beating the audience over the head with it by making it the freaking tagline is

            a) ham-fisted
            b) bad writing
            c) ruins any positive effect that doing it might have had.

          • Randy M says:

            Leaving the past of Star Wars behind could be a fine theme, even if it isn’t the one I want

            Rather questionable from a business perspective.
            “Let’s pay 4 billion dollars for this franchise from the past, and make a sequel to these beloved movies about how we have to let go of the past.”

          • Jiro says:

            Having female leaders is fine, but since they were terribly written (along with most of the movie) it felt like they were shoehorned in for “wokeness”.

            But they also did have all or almost all white males on the side of the Empire, which makes it look a lot more woke.

            Also, there are different types of bad writing and several of the ones they used seemed to be woke-specific ones. (Or maybe Mary Sue-specific ones.)

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I still don’t understand how Disney could have brought approximately infinite resources to the job of writing a sequel to such an iconic series, and still not bothered to find someone who could write a coherent, internally-consistent script that also made sense with what had happened in the previous movies. I mean, I get how things can go wrong with the casting or acting or special effects or post-production and can mess things up, but there are a lot of really good writers out there who would have killed for the chance to write the star wars sequels. Getting a coherent, non-stupid plot that’s not an incoherent rehash of A New Hope and is also not filled to the brim with plot holes and implausibilites should have been the *easy* part. So why didn’t they bother?

            My best guess is that the people making decisions wrt the new Star Wars sequels couldn’t make themselves take it seriously or respect its fans–they’d accept any shit with the star wars label on it, so who cares if it’s incoherent and silly? But why would you put someone with that attitude in charge of a gazillion dollar property that they were predictably going to run into the ground?

          • theredsheep says:

            The Empire has always been all white males, and British-accented white males at that; Captain Chromebosom was actually the first deviation from that trend (not counting the prequels where there was no Empire yet). Whereas the Rebels were much more diverse in the terms of that universe–the second death star got blown up by a black guy with an alien copilot, following orders from an alien admiral, who took his orders from a female human leader. Down below, Endor was won by its indigenous tribespeople, while the final good-and-evil monomachy was won by a guy trained by an alien Jedi Master.

            I haven’t seen TLJ, but the SW universe has always had the general slant of inclusive good versus exclusive bad. Which was noted in the EU (now rebranded Legends) stories starting in the nineties; the brilliant Grand Admiral Thrawn was held back because he was an alien, and likewise Admiral Daala only got as far as she did due to Tarkin’s patronage.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @theredsheep:

            The Empire has always been all white males, and British-accented white males at that; Captain Chromebosom was actually the first deviation from that trend (not counting the prequels where there was no Empire yet).

            … and this makes it really hard to buy into Star Wars as a coherent universe like its fans do, not just a dumb spectacle that might be worth spending $10 and an afternoon to see every three years. A white supremacist galactic civilization? You’ve got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do…

          • theredsheep says:

            There are very few aspects of Star Wars that will stand up to rational examination for ten seconds. That’s not the point. Star Trek tries harder but is still dumb, with all the humanoid aliens, implausibly designed spaceships that can bend the universe in half for travel purposes, constant catastrophic engineering failures, etc. Star Wars doesn’t bother because it’s not that kind of story.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I wonder if the Star Wars movies got screwed up because they were high-profile, and lots of people wanted to put their thumbs into the pie. There was no Kevin Fiege that could be given the project without pissing off a lot of other people.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, I still don’t understand how Disney could have brought approximately infinite resources to the job of writing a sequel to such an iconic series, and still not bothered to find someone who could write a coherent, internally-consistent script that also made sense with what had happened in the previous movies.

            Aside from stuff run by five or six directors who still have auteur power and therefore aren’t allowed anywhere near a tentpole movie, modern scripts are basically written by committee. A lot about film makes more sense once you realize this.

        • Tenacious D says:

          A lot of TLJ could have been improved by one simple change: have Admiral Ackbar or Mon Mothma in the place of Vice Admiral Holdo. This would have accomplished at least 3 things:
          1) building tension during the chase scene because it’s actually believable that they have a plan but it’s hard to see what it is
          2) it would have framed Poe’s actions in the way they were intended to come across, as an impatient hotshot who won’t listen to the wisdom of experienced leadership, instead of someone with no demonstrated competence (to the audience anyway) going “respect my authority” to a hero who endured torture for the resistance
          3) much more emotional impact when the plan came together.

          • cassander says:

            I think replacing holdo with Leia wold have worked even better.

          • Clutzy says:

            Replacing Holdo with a respected general or Leia like @cassander suggests doesn’t solve much.

            The issue is the plan objectively sucks. The writers kinda sorta try to imply that Poe’s mini rebellion causes the failure, but that is false. Holdo’s suicide maneuver ruins 100% of Star Wars space battles regardless of who executes it.

            By folding Holdo into an existing respected character, you just generate complaints about ruining the legacy of that character. Because her actions are not defendable.

      • Jiro says:

        this is undeniable; “no right, no wrong, no rules for me” is an actual line in it

        I can see a feminist interpretation of that where “the rules” means “the rules that are used to oppress me should be thrown out” without literally meaning that she should be able to murder someone and not go to jail. (Of course, the vagueness of which rules she is referring to can also be used for a motte and bailey.)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I can see a feminist interpretation of that where “the rules” means “the rules that are used to oppress me should be thrown out” without literally meaning that she should be able to murder someone and not go to jail. (Of course, the vagueness of which rules she is referring to can also be used for a motte and bailey.)

          Yyyeah, you don’t say.

    • CatCube says:

      I actually like the movie on balance. But I do think there were a lot of places where the writers and director copped out.

      For background, I saw it completely devoid of any marketing–trailers, reviews, posters, nothing. I knew vaguely that it was based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale.

      It played at the base theater when I was deployed, so it was either that or stare at the fuckin’ wall of the hooch for two hours*. I should note that I have a long fondness for Disney movies, and would have seen it stateside, but probably having seen more of the marketing hype.

      The biggest example of copping out stands out with “Let it Go.” Only knowing that the ice sorceress was the villainess of the tale, I was watching that as “Holy shit, we’re watching a witch-queen lose her mind in real-time” Then ice overtakes the kingdom, and they’re on a quest to redeem or kill Anna’s sister…except LOLJK she doesn’t realize that she’s bewitching the kingdom and it’s all a misunderstanding. That sequence was much stronger when it was a villain theme, than some “beee yerself” nonsense. There was a lot that could have been said about the corrupting influence of power, if they’d had the guts to stick with it.

      One thing that definitely improves on rewatch is “Love is an Open Door.” Those kinds of meet-cute songs always rub me the wrong way as slightly creepy, where once you know that he’s the villain, you realize that the song really is creepy–he’s very deliberately leading her on by being her Prince Charming.

      That is a good point you made about how hitting Hans could only work for a literal princess, and one I hadn’t noticed. A normal woman would have gotten a retaliatory beating into a coma by the personality type he represents in real life.

      * More here for the “no shit, there I was” vibe. I was deployed to Kuwait–so more like “deployed”–and they do have more entertainment options on major bases anyway.

      Edit: Of course I forget to refresh after reading new comments and writing my post to find other discussion of “Let it Go” as a villain song.

      • Dan L says:

        The biggest example of copping out stands out with “Let it Go.” Only knowing that the ice sorceress was the villainess of the tale, I was watching that as “Holy shit, we’re watching a witch-queen lose her mind in real-time” Then ice overtakes the kingdom, and they’re on a quest to redeem or kill Anna’s sister…except LOLJK she doesn’t realize that she’s bewitching the kingdom and it’s all a misunderstanding. That sequence was much stronger when it was a villain theme, than some “beee yerself” nonsense. There was a lot that could have been said about the corrupting influence of power, if they’d had the guts to stick with it.

        I went in knowing very little, except that one of the leads was Idina Menzel. My reaction was closer to “Holy shit, they’re doing a direct remake of Defying Gravity.”

        “…fuckin’ sweet. That woman is a national treasure.”

        • Deiseach says:

          My reaction was closer to “Holy shit, they’re doing a direct remake of Defying Gravity.”

          “…fuckin’ sweet. That woman is a national treasure.”

          My reaction was diametrically opposite, and while Ms Menzel may be a great musical singer (I don’t know enough to know), by the umpteenth time I’d heard “Defying Gravity” and read the umpteenth post about Wicked squeeing over Elphaba, I was about ready to stick a bag over her head and bury her in a hole (sorry, Ms Menzel! Nothing against you personally!)

          • Dan L says:

            She’s one of the best in the world in a specific type of delivery, one that’s very difficult to nail and sounds like crap if you miss – I’d be astonished if Frozen’s music wasn’t written specifically for her. Compare Take On Me‘s high E, and that Let It Go calls for the same note something like eight times with no vibrato. (And Defying Gravity went a half-step further!)

            oooorr… it could just be that repetition drives anything into the ground. That sounds like something The Mouse would be on board with exploiting for toxoplasma reasons.

    • Walter says:

      So, like, as a moral story, it is crazy to me that the parents are gone when the movie gets in gear. They are the ones who make the interesting choices. They are the ones Elsa’s rebellion is really directed against, the ones for whom she is performing mental health / being straight / not using ice magic.

      Anna softens things up immensely. Take her out. Focus the story on Elsa & her parents. She can’t take it anymore, the evil boyfriend plays on this, etc.

  18. PedroS says:

    Tiananmen Square was 30 years ago. I find myself strangely conflicted: I obviously condemn the bloodshed but I wonder: what is the morally correct way to deal with a month-long disruption of a major city centre by a few thousand people? Wasn’t the CCP response similar to that of the US Gov viz. the Bonus Army protests in 1932?

    In short: what is the morally and philosophically consistent way for a government to deal with localized protests which cause disturbances in major thoroughfares, chokepoints, and symbolic seats of power? Unless I go full ancap, I confess I feel myself compelled to grant the authorities the right to maintain (at least) as much public order as needed for common citizens to go about their daily lives without being disrupted by protestors (who should nonetheless be allowed to demonstrate freely for as long as they want provided they do not interfere with thir co-citizens). But when protestors refuse to move from the occupied chokepoints, what can I (if I were the government) do to preserve the rights of protestors, citizenry-at-large, and ordeely function of state institutions?

    • cassander says:

      I will straight up say the Chinese government did the right thing. We know from hindsight that 30 years since have been the best in pretty much all of Chinese history, with hundreds of millions of people being lifted out of poverty. Now, would it be nice if the Chinese government wasn’t an authoritarian state, but that’s a pretty good record, and when I look at the people in Tienanmen, I don’t see a movement that’s likely to lead to a nice liberal democracy, I see a bunch of kids who were itching for their turn to be red guards. I think it is vanishingly unlikely that a revolutionary change of government in 1989 would have led to a better 30 years for china, and that while the CCP did what they did for selfish reasons, their decision has been vindicated by the subsequent 30 years.

      • Uribe says:

        I’d want to wait another 30 years before determining whether the last 30 years was a good path for China to have taken. The catch-up growth didn’t require an authoritarian government. Now, with Xi doubling down on the authoritarianism and allowing less freedom in the economy, it’s looking like the CCP may have learned the wrong lesson from its recent history.

        About 1970 the Soviet Union could have looked back on itself and thought it had had a good run, but there still lay plenty of trouble ahead.

        when I look at the people in Tienanmen, I don’t see a movement that’s likely to lead to a nice liberal democracy, I see a bunch of kids who were itching for their turn to be red guards.

        What made these protesters look so different from the ones in Wenceslas Square the same year?

        • cassander says:

          I’d want to wait another 30 years before determining whether the last 30 years was a good path for China to have taken. The catch-up growth didn’t require an authoritarian government.

          China didn’t just have catchup growth, it had more, faster, than any country in history. Its performance was exceptional and that’s only partly due to how far behind it was. Plenty of countries failed to do any. Now, I don’t think that an authoritarian government was necessary for this at all, but I do think a stable one was.

          Now maybe it will all go to crap in the next 30 years, but if it does, I’ll be more inclined to blame the people making decisions today than the ones who made them 30 years ago. We can’t escape history, of course, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all determining.

          Now, with Xi doubling down on the authoritarianism and allowing less freedom in the economy, it’s looking like the CCP may have learned the wrong lesson from its recent history.

          I definitely agree, but that Xi isn’t right to do it again doesn’t mean Deng wasn’t right in 1989

          What made these protesters look so different from the ones in Wenceslas Square the same year?

          They were a lot younger, on average, they grew up in a world shaped by the red guards and couldn’t help but be influenced by it, and there were a lot of anti-liberal anti-capitalist elements.

          • Matt M says:

            I met a few Indian nationals in business school whose opinion was something like “The greatest mistake India has made over the last several decades was not being more like China!”

            My confused response of, “Wait… what?” was met with a lot of “Look at all the progress they’ve made! Look at their GDP statistics! Now look at ours! That could have been us!”

            I didn’t really have a good answer to that…

    • Uribe says:

      what is the morally and philosophically consistent way for a government to deal with localized protests which cause disturbances in major thoroughfares, chokepoints, and symbolic seats of power?

      I don’t believe this question has a correct answer, because in some cases it is better for the government to capitulate rather than the protesters.

      • Clutzy says:

        Really? I find most protestors to be lacking in a coherent worldview at best, and vainglorious authoritarians most of the rest of the time. There is like a 3-5% subset of protestors that are coherent and not simply searching to replace the existing transgressions with those of their own design.

    • Jiro says:

      I would say “the moral way for a legitimate government to deal with an insurrection is to suppress it. However, the government of China is not a legitimate government, so they have no moral right to do this.” An unelected dictatorship doesn’t get to appeal to community norms; if it respected community norms it would either be elected, or out of office.

      At most, I would allow the unelected dictatorship to morally do things we can be pretty certain would be done even by a democracy, such as preventing ordinary murder and theft or building roads.

  19. PedroS says:

    Regarding the uncommentable post of this week, I wonder how the model of cultural evolution posited deals with the ostracization (in some groups) of people who adopt cultural markers of other, more succesful groups, whether that is inner-city gang kids who bully the hard-working kids who are “acting white” or people who accuse “alternative” musicians of “selling out” when they craft a tune which propels them to some kind of widespread name recognition. I think these instances put the lie to the contention that cultural evolution is somehow guaranteed (albeit slowly) to provide better overall solutions than rational discourse. AFAICT cultural evolution as described in the anthropologist’s book might as well be a random walk in the solution space and the positive results are a simple matter of exhaustive selection by nature akin to cherry-picking the few positive cultural adoptions from the mass of catastrophic adoption of anti-adaptive behaviors which we cannnot see due to the extiction of those groups.

    • Viliam says:

      So, if I understand it correctly, the problem is that less successful groups sometimes make their less-than-optimal behavior a part of their identity, which makes it a costly signal of loyalty to the group, which makes the group keep the behavior. Which goes against the hypothesis that more successful behavior gets copied.

      Perhaps this is a specific problem of current society, where different cultures live along each other, using the same welfare system. In less enlightened situation I suppose there are two likely outcomes:

      a) you keep your stupid behavior, you get outcompeted. Maybe some other group kills you, or maybe you just keep slowly losing your territory until there is nothing left. Having less power has consequences.

      b) it turns out that somehow you outcompete the other groups, e.g. because despite all bad things, you manage to reproduce faster and have enough children survive and become warriors. I guess that actually makes your strategy better from the evolutionary point of view, even if it worse by other criteria. Evolution doesn’t care about your suffering, as long as you survive.

      But I suspect that in reality a frequent outcome would be some “b2” scenario, where you refuse to copy some parts, but copy other parts (perhaps those less politically relevant), and with some luck that creates the strategy that is superior from evolutionary perspective.

      Also, c), your behavior may actually be superior for some limited ecological niche. So you survive there, but cannot expand beyond… unless your descendants decide to change their habits (maybe not all of them, but a subgroup that splits off the main group).

      • Matt M says:

        the problem is that less successful groups sometimes make their less-than-optimal behavior a part of their identity, which makes it a costly signal of loyalty to the group, which makes the group keep the behavior

        IMO, the “less than optimal behavior” has to be proven itself.

        Take, for example, a street gang whose initiation requires new members to murder an innocent civilian.

        At first glance, this seems like less than optimal behavior. Murdering a random person offers no tangible benefit to the gang, but many potential costs. It might attract police attention. The murdered may end up belonging to a rival gang, or to a powerful family, etc.

        But as we know, there actually is logic to this system. The basic logic is that requiring new members to murder is an effective method of screening out undercover police (who presumably wouldn’t murder an innocent). The gang may have engaged in a rational calculus that the risk of recruiting an undercover cop into the gang is much higher than the risks inherent with the occasional random murder.

        • John Schilling says:

          Take, for example, a street gang whose initiation requires new members to murder an innocent civilian.

          You understand that this doesn’t happen except in fiction and urban legends, right?

          But as we know, there actually is logic to this system.

          You’ve got the sign right but are way off on the scale. The benefits to the gang are almost entirely captured at a level far below “murder of an innocent civilian”, whereas the costs increase enormously at that point.

          • acymetric says:

            It doesn’t happen frequently, and there are a lot of bogus urban legends circling around on Facebook/Twitter/whatever, but it is a thing that happens.

          • John Schilling says:

            It doesn’t happen frequently, and there are a lot of bogus urban legends circling around on Facebook/Twitter/whatever, but it is a thing that happens.

            Citation needed. I’ve seen killing rival gang members semi-credibly alleged, but never innocent civilians.

          • ana53294 says:

            It could be plausible when the person who enters the gang is suspicious (so they require a guy who could be a cop to kill somebody as proof that he’s not a cop, or something like that).

            But a gang so evil where every member of the gang has killed a person would be eliminated by any functional government. Just being a member of such a gang is proof of criminality.

  20. Atlas says:

    Any XCOM 2 tips?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Templars with Reaper will singlehandedly win you the game, and can pretty easily replace your Ranger if you’re lucky enough to get one.

      Reapers are very good on maps with things that blow up.

      I recommend saving guaranteed damage (Gremlins, grenades, and heavy weapons) for last, unless you need to blow up terrain.

      Ammo is a good use of an item slot. Meme beacons are better.

      Repeaters may ruin the fun for you. Or not. your choice.

      Always bring one Sniper.

      Grenadiers and Skirmishers really get hurt by their low aim on harder difficulties. They still have their uses, but I’d only take one.

      Stasis might be the best thing in the game.

      The Archon King is the spawn of Satan.

      Order of priority for slaying is Chryssalids > Rulers = Chosen > !SPOILERS! > Mechtoids > Archons > Gatekeepers > Stunlancers > Else > Sectoids. In the early game, that means stunlancers are the single most important thing to kill asap.

      Use this: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1494089482. I also recommend A Better Advent, even starting from vanilla.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Use the character creator to make a character pool of all your friends. That way whenever your units inevitably dies to some bullshit it’ll hurt that much more, making for a much stronger emotional experience.

    • metacelsus says:

      I beat the main campaign a few weeks ago. Successful missions generally require killing all the aliens in a pod before they have a chance to shoot back. Damage is way more important than armor for your soldiers. Grenades are your friends (especially acid grenades, which are good vs. armored enemies). Always bring a Specialist for hacking things.

      Stunlancers are really annoying, kill them with extreme prejudice.

    • Walter says:

      If you are ever shooting at an enemy in cover, something is weird. Preferentially use ‘always works’ items like bombs and such.

      Move rapidly, throw grenades constantly. You should end your missions out of grenades, out of the zappies, out of any other single use items you bring.

      When you find a new pod they will split up just enough where you can’t grenade 2. The rocket can often hit all 3, which will also destroy their cover.

      It is rarely useful to cling to cover. Your ‘cover’ is that all the enemies die on your turn.

      The first person goes the furthest. Never take the chance of encountering a pod when you’ve already used half your dudes. The only character who should have a chance of setting off a pod is the first one to activate.

  21. DragonMilk says:

    So some Christian organizations have more or less cited Trump as a reason to name change “evangelical” due to guilt by association.

    What does “evangelical”, “fundamentalist”, “orthodox”, “conservative”, and “liberal” suggest to you in the context of a Christian self-description? To me:

    evangelical – actively proclaim salvation by faith alone, or traditional protestant
    fundamentalist – taking bible literally, but often selectively and to meet the goals of the charismatic leader leading the heresy
    orthodox – little case o meaning they accept Bible as word of God and inerrant, with human reason subordinate to it
    conservative – wishy-washy way of identifying with socially conservative mores due to citing various things with the bible, but in recognizing own shortcomings doesn’t want to be called out for being hypocritical; truth over grace in the dichotomy
    liberal – jesus as a moral teacher, everyone’s loved, let’s all get along breed of bible’s a good guidebook but I’m self-reliant sort of heresy; grace over truth in the dichotomy

    • Randy M says:

      Maybe I’m overly literal (heh) but I see evangelical as meaning focused on conversion. Could overlap with other categories, but tends to cluster with ones also believing strongly that much of Bible is true.

      Fundamentalist means holding the essentials as unchanging. Connotations here probably mean more than denotations; I’m not sure if the word has been applied non-pejoratively in some time.

      Orthodox means holding to accepted doctrine, which isn’t really meaningful outside of enduring churches. I guess you can be a protestant orthodox if you hold that the Catholics have strayed from the original teachings.

      Conservative doesn’t really have a specific meaning to me in terms of Christian belief of behavior. It could mean changing doctrine slower than liberals, or that one also holds to republican/red tribe values.

      Liberal means basically unbound by tradition or text; at best, take their values & doctrines based on reason; at worst, copy the broader culture or whims. If someone self-described as a liberal Christian, I would think they probably held a belief in God and a historical Christ, but I’m not certain what else they believe in up to and including the resurrection.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Evangelical: prioritizes sharing the Gospel with others so they don’t go to Hell. While Catholic/Orthodox evangelists long predate them, this is has Protestant associations. Heaven and Hell are seen as binary and accepting Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior will get a person you know to Heaven: little concept of the sin of Presumption, mortal sin, or divinization.

      fundamentalist – taking bible literally, but often selectively and to meet the goals of the charismatic leader leading the heresy

      Ha, well played!

      Orthodox: uncompromising priests who have beards and can get married. The Patriarchy. Russians and persecuted minorities. Christian life as a process of divinization, not binary escape from Hell.

      Conservative: Socially conservative. Protestants who refuse to make their theology more like Leftism and Catholics who don’t like Pope Francis.

      liberal – jesus as a moral teacher, everyone’s loved, let’s all get along breed of bible’s a good guidebook but I’m self-reliant sort of heresy

      Ha, also perfect!

    • Jaskologist says:

      Does Trump even self-identify as an evangelical?

      As a self-description, I see them as meaning the following:

      evangelical: Generic American non-Mainline Protestant. Baptists, independents, Pentecostals would all qualify. Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Orthodox would not. Probably believes Jesus literally died and came back to life, but it could just be a cultural descriptor for them.

      fundamentalist: Same as above, but likes to tweak liberals.

      orthodox: Serious enough about their faith to use this label; knows and affirms the Nicene Creed. Believes Jesus literally died and came back to life, believes all that stuff about keeping it in your pants, too. Could also be Evangelical, Catholic and big-O Orthodox.

      conservative: Evangelical who votes for Republicans.

      liberal: One foot out the door. When Christian doctrine conflicts with Liberal doctrine, they will side with the latter.

    • JustToSay says:

      Well I don’t think anyone using the terms as a “self-description” is going to include suggestions that it’s heretical 🙂

      That aside, here’s what I think someone is intending to tell me about themselves if they use one of these terms. Note that that’s not exactly the same as what I might actually be thinking or what I take the terms to mean when someone outside the church uses them.

      evangelical – sort of mainline Protestantism 2.0, perhaps part of a large church that calls itself non-denominational, into Beth Moore and K-Love and worship teams, believes in the sinners prayer model of conversion, does sermon-based church services and small groups and lots of age-segregated ministry, believes strongly in personal Bible study and prayer, spends a lot of time worrying about grace vs legalism, heavy focus on evangelism, into purity, tries to be “in the culture but not of the culture”

      fundamentalist – prioritizes taking the Bible literally, resistant to cultural or doctrinal or stylistic change, likely to be YEC, feel strongly about baptism (not of babies and probably by immersion), worries a lot about how active the Holy Spirit still is or isn’t, really likes the book of Acts, very into having their kids memorize scripture, worries a lot about making God happy and will do a lot of inconvenient things to do so, most likely to confront another Christian for perceived doctrinal or sin issues

      orthodox – If we don’t mean Orthodox orthodox, I’m fuzziest here, because I don’t hear it much offline. I guess reading books by the early church fathers, having explicit thoughts on doctrinal issues that they can back up with a lot of study and reason, thinking divorce and contraception are wrong for internally consistent and connected reasons, taking the details regarding the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of their specific tradition seriously, feeling more kinship with the orthodox of other Christian traditions than with uninformed or lackadaisical members of their own tradition

      conservative – not a term I hear people use to describe their own type of Christianity, but rather their cultural or political views

      liberal – prioritizes being inclusive and welcoming to all, really concerned others would consider them unloving or intolerant, focused on social justice and helping the poor, kindness as the highest virtue, very concerned with their image in broader culture, into meaning and identity, lots of “our community embraces you with a celebration of God’s love,” the Bible has some very nice principles for living your best life, and Jesus was a good teacher prone to smashing through cultural expectations

      • DragonMilk says:

        Oh, I phrased it clumsily. The “self-description” are the singular words in quote. Question is what you associate these single words as, which you’ve done.

    • John Schilling says:

      I suspect that the traditional, etymologically correct definition of “evangelical” may be in the process of evolving towards a common usage of “wants to force everyone to live by their religion’s rules” , in which case I would understand that protestant churches that just want to try and persuade people might feel a need for a name change. I am skeptical that Trump is responsible for this linguistic evolution, but he may have catalyzed a recognition of it in people who until now were ignoring it or hoping it would go away.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        This. In some cases escalating to “Defined by misogyny, greed and homophobia above the gospels”.
        The prosperity gospel looks.. Well, Satanic, from the outside, to be frank.

    • Erusian says:

      Evangelical: Part of a Protestant religious tradition (but not a specific set of theological tenets or churches) that focuses on conversion, even of the already Christian (born again), activism towards various causes, the crucifiction, relatively strong biblicalism, and living in a particular faith-based way.

      Fundamentalist: One of the churches that sided with the Fundamentalists during the early 20th century Fundamentalist-Modernist debates or their descendants.

      Orthodox: Loosely, a church that, at some point, split from the Catholic Church that is not Protestant. More strictly, anyone who attends a Church that is in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The two groups largely overlap.

      Conservative: Aligned with the political right culturally/religiously/politically.

      Liberal: Aligned with the political left culturally/religiously/politically.

    • Tenacious D says:

      A salient point about the evangelical label is that in practice it is quite ecumenical. There isn’t any one denomination that has the numbers to make the label more exclusive, so a lot of inter-denominational organizations are generically evangelical rather than specifically e.g. Baptist. The statement of belief from an organization like Intervarsity is much shorter than the 39 Articles, to give an example of the flexibility.

      Fundamentalist beliefs may not differ much from some of the other labels (evangelical, conservative, maybe small-o orthodox in some cases) but the label carries a connotation of a more isolationist posture–both with respect to the secular world (abstaining from voting would not be unheard of) and even to denominations with similar theology.

      Conservative as a self-description often comes into play as a modifier for other labels that encompass a wide spectrum of theological/political views. For example, “conservative Anglican/Episcopalian” would clarify the default assumptions someone would have about the unmodified denominational label. If I had to guess, “progressive” sees more use than “liberal” as the counterpart to this usage.

    • DinoNerd says:

      evangelical – missionary; but also generic non-liberal protestant. Higher than normal odds of “speaking in tongues” and similar (but see “pentecostal”)

      fundamentalist – want everyone doing everything exactly the way they believe their religion commands; if Christian, Biblical literalism, like as not based on taking literally some inaccurate transition into archaic English.

      orthodox – if Christian, Eastern/Russian/Greek orthodox – split from (Roman) catholicism (or vice versa) long before Luther was a gleam in his great great great grandaddy’s eye. If unspecified, then the most non-modern strain of Judaism

      conservative – wants their religion to be based on a (typically imagined) past version of it; likely more interested in politics than religion. (Quite different if Jewish.)

      liberal – everything from “accepts some 19th century Bibilical literary criticism (e.g. the P, J, E strands in the Pentateuch)” to some kind of agnostic humanist nonetheless holding religious services. More likely than most of the others to believe in a religious duty to provide charitable services, minster to the disadvantaged, or take political positions to those ends. May be Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, etc.

      Oops – I went beyond Christian and self-description here. But several of these adjectives don’t strike me as limited to Christian groups.

    • Phigment says:

      evangelical – Believe in evangelizing, i.e. trying to convert non-Christians. Christians who are trying to help you.
      fundamentalist – Believe in relatively traditional and straightforward theology
      orthodox – Like Catholics, but Greek and no Pope.
      conservative – Socially/politically conservative
      liberal – Socially/politically liberal

      Any Christian group that spends a lot of energy sending out missionaries and proselytizing is evangelical. Baptists, Methodists, Church of Christ, etc. commonly have evangelically-focused congregations. Roman Catholic Church also has some evangelical branches on its tree, although it has a lot of other branches, too.

      There’s a lot of overlap between fundamentalists and conservatives, and between evangelicals and conservatives, and between fundamentalists and evangelicals, but it’s not perfect overlap. Calvinists are fundamentalist but not evangelical, for instance.

      Generally, within Christianity, the split is between Christians who think the Church should be taking care of Christians as highest priority, and converting non-Christians at lower priority, and Christians who think the Church should be converting non-Christians as highest priority, and everything else as a lower priority. The second camp is evangelical. The first camp has no specific name; they’re just everybody else.

  22. albatross11 says:

    Note: This is a CW topic for a CW-allowed thread, but one that’s meta enough that hopefully it can give us a reasonable light/heat ratio in a discussion.

    There’s a somewhat widespread notion in the world that’s a little like ideological cooties. It says if you talked to some bad person X, then anyone who talks to you is somehow associated with bad person X. This is specifically applied to journalists and interviewers/podcasters. Recently there was this online kerfluffle where some guy at Vox[0] convinced Peter Buttlieg not to go on Dave Rubin’s show, because Rubin had previously interviewed various unserious or bad[1] people. A common refrain in no-platforming battles is that it would be wrong for some respected journalistic outlet to “give a platform” to some bad or unserious person, but there’s also the notion that when some journalist takes such people seriously and honestly talks to them, they’re tainted–like Bari Weiss.

    I’ve been trying to untangle this. I think there are some people whose whole value is as good interviewers. Dave Rubin isn’t a deep thinker, but he’s a really good interviewer, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of his interviews. But the point of being a good interviewer isn’t mainly in challenging the interviewee, or arguing with them, or filtering out the bad ideas and making sure only the good ones get a platform–it’s letting the interviewee’s ideas and personality and beliefs show through. Rubin seems to do that pretty well, and he’s said he self-consciously models himself on Larry King–another guy who would interview anyone and let the interviewee get his own ideas out. It seems like there’s a lot of value in having an honest interview with someone, even if their ideas are bad ones. It’s a kind of news reporting, and being honest is a lot more important than filtering things out to make sure the listeners get the right ideas or beliefs.

    There’s also a spectrum of interview / discussion / debate. Sam Harris tends toward the debate side–this often means that his interviews are meatier than Rubin’s, but also has the failure mode that sometimes they turn into an argument in which you don’t really get to hear what the interviewee believes. Tyler Cowan tends more toward the interview/discussion side, as does Russ Roberts. At the other extreme is the attack/ambush interview–what Cathy Newman was trying to do with Jordan Peterson, or what 60 Minutes used to specialize in.

    The other side of this is that when you take a clown seriously, I have to decide whether that means I should take him more seriously, or take you less seriously. Do a serious in-depth show on astrology, and I’m likely to be less interested in other possibly out-there topics you want to cover that I know less about. One reason why Sam Harris doing his interview with Charles Murray had so much impact is that Harris is absolutely a serious thinker, and a lot of the attacks on race/IQ discussions come down to trying to dismiss IQ tests as modern-day phrenology or talking about racist pseudoscience. Harris is all about mocking pseudoscience, so when he took race and IQ seriously and discussed it in depth, it sent a “take this seriously” message that I suspect was pretty uncomfortable for a lot of people who think that topic should simply never be allowed to come up in public.

    To the extent we want to be able to learn about the world, we need people who will go talk to noteworthy people and give them an honest opportunity to express their ideas and beliefs and personality. I think the belief that by talking to someone bad or unserious, you become tainted, is pretty deeply wrongheaded. Dave Rubin or Joe Rogan talking to you doesn’t mean you should be taken seriously, but if you’ve got something interesting to say, both guys are likely to let you say it. I think it’s kind-of poisonous for journalism to have this notion floating around–it means that no journalist will dare actually try to understand the ideas or beliefs or anyone on the wrong side, and so will never report them. And Buttlieg deciding not to talk to Rubin lowered my opinion of him a bit. (I don’t know much about Buttlieg, so my opinion couldn’t change much.).

    [0] Honestly, this looked a lot like trying to spike a competitor. But then, my opinion of Vox is fairly low.

    [1] Alex Jones, Stephen Molynioux, and Candace Owens are the ones I remember. Of them, Molynioux is IMO a serious thinker who’s also at least somewhere close to being a white nationalist, whereas Jones is a clown and Owens is mostly a partisan provocateur. But I’m not a fan of any of these folks, so I’ve only seen a little of their work and may be misjudging them.

    • Jiro says:

      This is a case of mistake theory versus conflict theory with you leaning too much towards mistake theory. Or being too charitable. Or as I mentioned in another thread, a case of not being willing enough to notice evil.

      Yes, there’s value in having an honest interview with someone. Yes, doing so helps you learn about the world. But the people promulgating this idea don’t *want* to help you learn about the world; they want a weapon to use against their enemies. They spread this notion because spreading this notion gives them that weapon. If you don’t recognize this, you won’t understand what’s going on.

      • albatross11 says:

        I am sure some people pushing the “intellectual cooties” idea are sincere in thinking that talking to Stephen Molynioux taints you morally, and I’m sure others are just saying what they think will help them win today’s political struggle.

        So should we accept this idea? To decide that, we need to know more than the motives of the folks pushing the idea–we need to know if the idea is right, and what the consequences of adopting their proposed behaviors would be.

        • Matt M says:

          If you think that someone’s ideas are so objectionable that only a morally deficient person would even speak to them, I think you’ve already conceded that you aren’t particularly interested in “knowing whether the idea is right.”

          By the point that you’re engaging in guilt-by-association tactics (or even thoughts), you have already closed your mind to the prospect of being wrong.

          The type of person who gets mad that anyone even talks to Charles Murray at all is never going to be convinced that Charles Murray is right. No matter what great points they make, what evidence they produce, or what awesome interviewer speaks to them.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I mean, I don’t think it’s right? Here on SSC every political stripe has talked to every other political stripe including political stripes highly highly likely to have Full Blown Cooties and it doesn’t seem like anybody’s come down with festering cootie infections?

          • Matt M says:

            I dunno… hasn’t Scott previously posted about how the fact that he hosts a site where people of every political stripe are allowed to talk to each other has resulted in numerous threats against his career, his physical person, and the repeated insistence that he’s actually a secret Nazi?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Sure, but that’s just cootiephobia. I haven’t seen much of any shift in Scott’s political views, so, no, cooties do not seem particularly contagious.

          • Viliam says:

            I haven’t seen much of any shift in Scott’s political views

            There are two basic ways to shift the Overton window. Either people shift their opinions in some direction; or everyone’s opinion remains the same, but people in some direction get more spotlight and people in the opposite direction get silenced.

            In a parallel reality, where Scott decided to surround himself only with woke purethinkers, his opinions may be the same as in our reality, but he probably writes less… at least, about political topics. (The whole “things I will regret writing” category would have zero reward and all punishment.)

          • JPNunez says:

            Well, it is different for Scott than for each individual poster here, since he is the head of the forum.

            What’s more, the reputational damage each of us can get from our peers from saying “yeah I post at SSC.com regularly”, and someone pointing out “hey, but isn’t that a den of [opposite tribe]” is way lower than the damage than someone would take from going to Alex Jones’ show, so our exposure for cooties is much much lower.

        • ricemilk4298 says:

          I am sure some people pushing the “intellectual cooties” idea are sincere in thinking that talking to Stephen Molynioux taints you morally, and I’m sure others are just saying what they think will help them win today’s political struggle.

          They don’t just say it because they think it will help them win, they believe it because they think it will help them win.

      • nameless1 says:

        There is also the idea that in politics personal relationships matter more than ideas. That politics is a game of coalitions. Which on the electoral level apparently is. So some people, rightly or wrongly, might treat other things as a game of coalitions.

        You know, there is this typical Aspie, autistic spectrum attitude of being tone-deaf to anything but the literal meaning of ideas, tone-deaf to context, personal relationships etc. What if there is an opposite of it?

        That is, what if there is such a thing an an “extremely neurotypical” attitude where people dismiss ideas and their literal meanings, and take everything as personal relationships, as coalitions, as team-building and as competition between teams? Thus dismissing all ideas as just coalition-building messages without considering their content?

        • AG says:

          That’s the whole mistake/conflict theory thing.

          • Viliam says:

            So, that would mean…

            mistake theory = aspergers
            conflict theory = everyone else

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Viliam: That’s existentially scary.

          • AG says:

            No, as nameless1 put it, conflict theory is an “extremely neurotypical” attitude. Most people are spanning the spectrum of attitudes.
            The irony being that to be “extremely neurotypical” is actually a form of neurodivergence, but confirmation bias making them think that they are the height of normality.

            But not that many people actually play the Game of Thrones, even if they get lots of splash damage from it.

        • BBA says:

          I think what you call the “extremely neurotypical” attitude is a more accurate model of politics than anything that assumes ideas and policies matter. Mitch McConnell is the most powerful person in America, and he couldn’t get to where he is today by believing in ideas.

          As an aspie-adjacent person who’s interested in policy, I find this infinitely depressing.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          What if there is an opposite of it?

          I think you’re going to enjoy the nerd – wamb spectrum with normies in the middle 🙂

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      [0] Honestly, this looked a lot like trying to spike a competitor. But then, my opinion of Vox is fairly low.

      Yes, I think that’s exactly what was going on. Which is unfortunate because I would have very much liked to have watched Dave Rubin interview Mayor Pete.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Try convincing the Chinese government not to make who you associate with a factor in your social credit score!

      There and I suspect here, the secondary motive may to give the anathema idea or cause as little visibility as possible by villifying any thought crime of it

    • mrdomino says:

      The other side of this is that when you take a clown seriously, I have to decide whether that means I should take him more seriously, or take you less seriously. Do a serious in-depth show on astrology, and I’m likely to be less interested in other possibly out-there topics you want to cover that I know less about.

      I wonder if you don’t often end up doing both-that if a Serious Person goes on clown show both the clown gains status and the Serious Person loses status. Or even if a high status clown is interviewed by a low status clown the lower status clown still gains. I think its the raising of the status of the clown that bothers people and the lowering of their own status is what makes would be interview subjects shy.

      To wade into the CW: The current President of the United States has been interviewed by Alex Jones on Infowars, by Howard Stern and Hannity. I think that…is less than ideal. I am not sure the solution is to have him go on several “dirtbag left” interviews (Chapo?) or TMZ.

      Having the President (or serious presidential contender on) is a huge coup, no matter who it is. Even if you think Limbaugh and Hannity are both “clowns” I think its safe to say that Hannity is more “serious” high status clown than Rush Limbaugh, since one of them often interviews the POTUS and the other doesn’t. Then when Hannity (who, like Rubin is not a journalist) uses his platform to push Seth Rich conspiracy theories I think its fair to wag your finger at him and the President and wonder why Trump didn’t sit for an interview with the WSJ instead. I think Howard Stern would cop to being a clown, an entertainer, but he also has a ton of interactions with Trump so at a certain point when he says he thinks Trump ran as a pr stunt or wants to be loved I have to take him seriously, perhaps more seriously than a mainstream reporter who doesn’t have that history of interaction.

      At a certain point with enough of this it gets hard to objectively tell who is a clown and a serious person. I imagine if I sneered at Alex Jones an Alex Jones fan we are now at a point where they can point out that the President of the United States and a founding member of the “Intellectual Dark Web” both have talked to him. Can my favorite boring centrist Serious Person claim the same?

      • Clutzy says:

        If Hannity is included in the “Clown” segment there is little left in the non-clown category.

        He is an Op-Ed guy, one with an obvious POV that he does not try to hide with an air of neutrality. That makes him one of the more honest Op-Ed guys on the market, because we have people on the Right (George Will, Tom Nichols) who pretend they are mere truth seekers, and on the Left (Krugman, Brooks, CNN primetime). The MSNBC and FOX people are the least tainted IMO, because they actually assign roles to people . They have new shows, that are usually boring with people like Brett Baier, Chris Wallace, and Nicole Wallace who bring on other people to vet them. Then they have obviously opinion pieces like Hannity and Tucker and Maddow and Hayes. Sometimes they kinda blend things with people like Chris Matthews and Chuck Todd and Cavuto, but that I think can’t be avoided, and I don’t think we should. Those guys show their colors often, and people know them even if the show has a news-y feel.

        I’d rather have Hillary go on Hannity and Trump go on Maddow than either appear on any CNN show currently airing. I think that is what would make things actually interesting.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        wonder why Trump didn’t sit for an interview with the WSJ instead.

        He sits down with the “serious” journalists too, but nine out of ten times it’s all gotcha ambush stuff. “You’ve been accused of being a racist. On a scale of ‘very racist’ to ‘hyper mega racist,’ how racist racist racist? Say you’re a racist.” They’re not looking to discuss ideas, they’re looking for soundbites they can cut up to “prove” their predetermined conclusion. Seriously, Alex Jones asked better questions of Donald Trump than Barbara Walters.

        • Dan L says:

          “You’ve been accused of being a racist. On a scale of ‘very racist’ to ‘hyper mega racist,’ how racist racist racist? Say you’re a racist.” They’re not looking to discuss ideas, they’re looking for soundbites they can cut up to “prove” their predetermined conclusion.

          Do you have a citation for that quote, or is this a distressing case of irony?

          More broadly, it’s a toxic dynamic to lead with an outlandish claim then retreat to an extreme-but-unremarkable defense to “support” it. Motte and Bailey, at best.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            You got me Dan. I was hoping to snow everyone into believing that “You’ve been accused of being a racist. On a scale of ‘very racist’ to ‘hyper mega racist,’ how racist racist racist? Say you’re a racist.” was a real question by a real journalist. Everyone on this website was convinced that was a literal quote, and not an exaggeration to call attention to the gist of the mainstream media interview process and goals. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if you alone hadn’t seen through my clever ruse.

          • Dan L says:

            Less rhetorical bullshit then, please.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It’s not “rhetorical bullshit.” It’s an illustration. An interviewer will just keep asking about criticism rather than the candidate’s ideas. Like Morning Joe constantly asking Trump to “disavow” racists during the campaign. This is not an honest attempt to talk to Trump about his ideas. It’s an attempt to further associate Trump with “racists” and put him on the defensive, and then later other media outlets can write stories about how Trump didn’t disavow the racists in the exact way they wanted, raising troubling implications.

            Is that better for you, Dan? Are you satisfied with that tone, or is there some other way I need to say that to suit your sensibilities?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Like Morning Joe constantly asking Trump to “disavow” racists during the campaign.

            Because it’s super easy to do, everyone knows how to do it, and Trump consciously and conspicuously made a big deal about not doing it. This is not complicated.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Conrad:

            It’s better in that you’re pointing to what plausibly might be an event that actually happened, though I’d still prefer a cite.

            But this version of the argument gets the rote rebuttal that disingenuous demands to disavow are not at all a new thing, even if you add in a predatory media conspiracy. That’s an old argument I’m not interested in pursuing.

            I’m not just being argumentative here for the sake of it – it’s really important that the version of your claim based in reality is uninteresting by virtue of an obvious counter (whatever the quality may be), whereas to get something one-sided you reached for lies and hyperbole. That’s bad.

      • albatross11 says:

        My sense is that most TV talking heads are less serious thinkers than Dave Rubin, but I’ve mostly opted out of TV news for the last several years, so maybe they’ve gotten more informed/smarter/more serious since then. Journalists, authors, and public intellectuals routinely go on a bunch of talk shows to push their candidacy, book, or ideas. Most of those talk shows have a mix of serious and clownish guests, and it’s not clear that the talking heads know which is which.

    • brad says:

      I guess I have a somewhat mixed view here.

      On the one hand, I don’t share the prevailing sentiment that there’s anything so great and ennobling about interviewing people that, from whatever your own point of view is, are evil and/or nuts. As we’ve discussed before, I think an aesthetic taste for novelty is larely the tail wagging the dog.

      On the other hand, I’m here and I’ve engaged at least a little bit with some characters that are IMO fairly loathsome. So it would pretty difficult for me to come out in favor of the idea that any engagement with bad people.

      On the gripping hand, I don’t have a public platform. It does seem that there are two scenarios where this could matter a lot: 1) if you interview almost all respectable people and then one holocaust denier you are implying a certain amount of credibility for the holocaust denier and maybe that in itself is pretty despicable and I don’t want to come on your show, 2) if you interview holocaust deniers, flat earth supporters, anti-vaxxers, then do I really want to be interviewee number 4 on that list?

      • albatross11 says:

        brad:

        Yeah, I can see that. My sense is that your scenario #1 was why so many people were upset with Sam Harris interviewing Charles Murray–for Harris to take Murray seriously was a strong signal, because he’s a serious thinker who doesn’t go in for interviewing clowns for the entertainment value. I think this was reasonable, because I think Murray’s ideas are worth listening to and that the whole “IQ is racist pseudoscience” line is nonsense tossed out to avoid having to deal with inconvenient facts.

        And I’d say that #2 is an issue for someone like Dave Rubin or Joe Rogan, who will interview a wide range of people, looking for an interesting and entertaining discussion regardless of whether it should at all be taken seriously. For Rubin (I don’t generally listen to Rogan, but have listened to a fair number of Rubin’s podcasts), the issue isn’t that he’s normally interviewing clowns, it’s that he *sometimes* interviews clowns or provocateurs, while usually trying to have a serious show. I mean, if you look at his shows, most of them are trying to address real stuff. Rubin’s not Sam Harris or Eric Weinstein or Jordan Peterson, but he seems to spend a lot of his shows honestly trying to engage with real ideas. That puts him far ahead of the standard cable news talking head, as far as I can tell. And I think the idea that Rubin is so tainted by talking to Jones/Owens/Molynioux among his hundreds of shows that no respectable politician should talk to him is nuts.

    • Walter says:

      Thesis: I tend to agree. Like, anyone who is arguing against ‘giving someone a platform’ is debating from the past, where we didn’t have the internet. Nowadays everyone has a platform, and it is bigger and more public than anything that ever existed before.

      Vox: Also agree. They are activists for the Democratic party first, news people second. If it had a chance to get a candidate with a (D) next to their name elected they would lie to their readers in a heartbeat.

      Rubin: Given that I agree with the thesis above, I’m generally going to be tolerant on him interviewing the Alex Joneses of the world. He remains as credible as any other talking head to me.

      • Matt M says:

        Thesis: I tend to agree. Like, anyone who is arguing against ‘giving someone a platform’ is debating from the past, where we didn’t have the internet. Nowadays everyone has a platform

        Don’t worry, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are all hard at work to ensure this won’t be the case for long.

        Earlier we were discussing “CW issues that you’ve recently changed your mind on.” Well, here’s another for me. I used to believe the Internet represented the vast decentralization of information and would be transformative in enabling free speech around the world.

        I now think that was a mere blip in the historical record, and that within the next 10 years or so, the Internet will be as heavily restricted as broadcast TV was in the 1960s.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I disagree with this. I think the internet views censorship as a fault and routes around it. People will build and expand competing platforms, and no it won’t all be witches as youtube and the like become increasingly totalitarian. At some point PewDiePie will get tired of this shit and go make PewTube, 100 million people will follow him and he’ll be the one profiting off everybody else’s content for a change.

          • Matt M says:

            At some point PewDiePie will get tired of this shit and go make PewTube

            How can he, when no banks will process his transactions? When no hosts will sell him a domain? When no social media networks will allow him to buy or sell ads? When no smartphone manufacturers will allow his app on their app stores?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t think that’ll happen when his platform has 100M people.

          • theredsheep says:

            There is a very real limit to how much you can repress with that kind of soft power. Anybody willing to do business with PDP when others will not will have a massive influx of customers, and obeying scorched-earth demands from zealots is ultimately a losing deal because you can’t count on the zealots to stay committed long-term–they purge internally at least as often as they attack others–and businesses don’t like banking on unpredictability.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There is a very real limit to how much you can repress with that kind of soft power.

            At the bottom of it, it’s not soft power, it’s hard power. The payment oligarchy won’t deal with you, and you can’t make a new payment system without them because of government barriers to entry.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, first off, Visa and Mastercard are competitors, and it doesn’t make sense for them to stay in lockstep here. Second, if they try to sit on this a large body of followers can find ways to retaliate. Third, if they do try to retaliate, they’re considerably scarier as enemies than the vocal minority on Twitter the banker crowd are aiming to appease. PDP’s got to have a large group of dedicated fans with skills at jacking up networks, for example. Credit card companies do not need to be dealing with enraged online terrorists.

          • Matt M says:

            Anybody willing to do business with PDP when others will not will have a massive influx of customers, and obeying scorched-earth demands from zealots is ultimately a losing deal because you can’t count on the zealots to stay committed

            Uh huh. That’s why Facebook and Twitter have both collapsed, and Gab is now the most popular social network, right?

            Well, first off, Visa and Mastercard are competitors, and it doesn’t make sense for them to stay in lockstep here.

            And yet, all of the people who are blocked by one are almost always blocked by the other. Facebook and Twitter are ostensibly competitors as well. Google and Apple too. And yet, not only do they always ban the same people/apps as each other, they frequently announce such bans on the same day.

          • Walter says:

            I feel like y’all are maybe underestimating the power and hostility of progressiveness a bit.

            Like, remember that The Establishment isn’t actually a conspiracy or whatever, it is just people with convictions doing their best to usher in fully automated luxury gay space communism. They aren’t going to stick to one plan with the PDPs of the world. They hit from every angle simultaneously.

            R. Kelly is a black dude who isn’t a conservative, meaning he is roughly a billion times more resistant to their weapons than PDP. How long till dude is in jail? Dude’s girlfriends got interviewed and said it was all fine, and the other team didn’t blink, they were like “he is Killgrave, anyone who says he isn’t a monster is just under his control. Them saying he isn’t abusing them is evidence that he is.’

            How well do you think PDP beats that?
            Rando1@earthlink.net: “PDP showed a picture of a piano, which has 88 keys, he is dog whistling his white supremacist minions.”
            The Atlantic : “Social media allegations swirl around accused white nationalist PDP”
            Vox: “PDP released another video without addressing the controversy which surrounds him, this attempt at presenting an appearance of normality is obviously a primitive form of gaslighting, as though he can make reality disappear by sticking his head in the sand.”
            NYTimes: “PDP, a social media professional generally known for his Nazi views and sexist behavior, continues to be an obvious example of the need for a progressive oversight of supposedly neutral platforms such as youtube, twitter, etc.”

            Ozy, on their side, is presently dunking on Blanchard. Which, for sure, but the interesting part is that they are doing it for the fact that dude once capitulated to the social justice movement. This is some straight up Antaran stuff. Surrender is a further offense.

            Oldbug’s description of Joe McCarthy vs. Hollywood feels relevant here. PDP’s support is a hundred million broad and an inch deep. He isn’t a competitor to social justice, he’s its prey.

          • theredsheep says:

            The situation is still developing. Trump has been president for all of two and a half years, and all this stuff was pitiful background noise before that. PewDiePie has not tried to emigrate, and the biggest revolt you’ve seen is, what, Jordan Peterson and a couple of others declining to use Patreon or some such? The Last Jedi bombing at the box office? At present, it’s low-cost to whack a couple of moles. This will not remain the case indefinitely.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It makes sense for Visa and MasterCard to compete. But it also makes sense for them to collude to keep out even more competitors.

            And it’s pretty easy for the the government can decide You Suck and dictate that financial institutions don’t cooperate with you, Or Else. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Choke_Point

            On the positive side, there is a patreon competitor that’s been set up whose primary audience is people who are too edgy for patreon. It’s been operating for a few months and no one has crashed them yet. So there is hope.

          • Matt M says:

            On the positive side, there is a patreon competitor that’s been set up whose primary audience is people who are too edgy for patreon. It’s been operating for a few months and no one has crashed them yet. So there is hope.

            And before this one, there were 10 other previous ones that people did crash. So there’s no particular reason to have hope (although hope is sometimes inherently irrational, so have it if you want, I guess…)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I know Hatreon got killed in the cradle, but what are the others you are thinking of? (SubscribeStar and Podia and Minds and Steady and Collide all still exist, too, but never really were meant to be the online equivalent of Banned Book Week.)

    • BBA says:

      The thing is this: some ideas really aren’t worth debating. (To avoid pressing anyone’s berserk buttons, I’ll just say Stalinism is one. We can agree on that, right?) For decades, we’ve had “sanitary curtain” and “no platform” policies, formal and informal, to keep those ideas out of the public sphere – and now thanks to the internet they’ve all failed. What we’re seeing is attempts at enforcing the old, failed order, which can’t work anymore. I’d guess we’re due to turn towards more direct, heavyhanded policing of speech, except they’ve had that in Europe forever and now it’s failed there too.

      Humanity may just have to go through another period of totalitarianism because the lessons of the last one have faded as it recedes from living memory. Same as it ever was.

      • albatross11 says:

        BBA:

        Big media companies used to have a lot of power to do gatekeeping on what ideas and facts would be presented to the public. Youtube, Twitter, podcasts, blogs, and the internet have all undermined a lot of that power. It’s pretty unsurprising to me that those big media companies are unhappy about this massive loss of power and influence, and also that lots of people are scrambling to find ways to capture some of that power themselves.

        The problem isn’t that Stalinists are allowed to speak, it’s that the wrong people with the wrong ideas (from the perspective of various past and would-be gatekeepers) are getting too much of an audience. There’s nothing especially far-right in what Dave Rubin or Jordan Peterson says, and they’re not remotely Stalinists or Nazis or any of that. But they’re very popular, and they’re saying stuff that a lot of gatekeepers don’t think should be said. That’s why there’s a push to shut them up.

        My claim is that if you side with the gatekeepers here, you’re probably making the world a worse place. Maybe that’s not true if you’re supporting no-platforming actual Nazis/Stalinists, but it seems almost certainly true if you’re supporting no-platforming moderately conservative or anti-SJW liberal IDW types. If idea gatekeeping is a power someone has, it seems very unlikely that the people holding that power will be anyone you’d want to trust with it. Probably it ends up being some unaccountable bit of bureaucracy inside a few huge companies deciding what ideas may have widespread discussion. There is zero reason to think they’ll do that job well, and a lot of reason to think they’ll make a terrible hash of it.

  23. CarlosRamirez says:

    Have any utilitarian thinkers, or anyone in the rationalist community, tried to engage with Crime and Punishment? It seems like it should be concerning to either of them that one of the greatest works of world literature is a tear down of utilitarianism, and even rationalism (the 19th century definition) and atheism.

    • Two McMillion says:

      I would love to read this if it’s happened!

    • Procrastinating Prepper says:

      It’s been a looong time since I read that book and I was never much for literary discussion anyway, so take this with a grain of salt…

      But wasn’t it established that the protagonist only thought he was a unique and historically important person? And that due to his introverted nature, he never really voiced this belief to anybody or got any kind of reality check? It’s not much of a teardown of utilitarianism if the character’s whole causal model of “do one evil thing” -> “increase the utility of myself and everyone I know” was flawed in a way that was obvious to the reader from the very beginning.

      If there’s some rationalist themes to be taken from that book I think they’d be, in order:
      – You can’t rationalize yourself out of feeling guilt or other strong emotions
      – Self-assessment is hard
      – Predicting your own life course is hard, and subject to Planning Fallacy

    • Viliam says:

      I am not going to read several kilograms of books, so instead I just post my prediction that the “tear down of atheism” will be a variation on the classical “without fear of hell, people would just be randomly murdering left and right, because beneath the thin layer of religion, everyone is secretly a psychopath incapable of being nice even towards their kids and friends”.

      Utilitarianism… well, reading the Wikipedia summary, Raskolnikov kills a woman to take her money, and then forgets to actually take the money (because he is distracted by killing an unexpected witness). And afterwards he behaves completely suspiciously, so he gets caught, duh. I wonder what utility function is maximized by this. Of course you can make a belief seem stupid by writing a character who proclaims the belief, but acts stupid.

      (How about an alternative story, where Raskolnikov kills two women, then uses the money to cure cancer of hundred kids, finally gets caught and executed, but proudly proclaims that saving hundred lives at the cost of three is still a good deal. Write it from the perspective of a mother of one of those children; who learns about the background and wonders whether she would sincerely prefer a world where her child dies along many other children. — I am not approving the alt-Raskolnikov here; just saying that this story would address a less strawman version of utilitarianism.)

    • WashedOut says:

      “Tried to engage with” is a pretty low bar for what is legitimately one of the best works of literature ever written, but yes I am in one or both of those communities.

      Roughly speaking, Raskolnikov is a man who believes that the power of his own intellect and capacity for critical thought are enough, on their own, for him to be fully self-actualized. To him, the concepts of God and religious metaphysics are a pure hindrance to reaching his potential, and are the stuff of fools and suckers.
      The double-murder is used as the starting-point for a thought-experiment Raskolnikov is running on himself regarding the true origin of moral constraints on human behaviour, and by his own standards he fails the experiment. The rest of the book describes the gradual, painful process of sacrifice and repentance, assisted by his deeply-religious love interest.

      If the book is a “tear-down” of atheism etc., it can be seen clearly in the contrast between poor Sonia’s epistemic humility and admirable resolve in the face of crushing destitution, vs. Raskolnikov’s smug fedora-tipping atheism and intellectual hubris, total self-centered arrogance and the disconnect between his reasoning faculties and his psychological health. Dostoevsky (through Rask.) demonstrates how easy it is to formulate very powerful arguments against God and religion – but that doing so leaves you with all the important work of self-development still ahead of you.

      Utilitarianism… well, reading the Wikipedia summary, Raskolnikov kills a woman to take her money, and then forgets to actually take the money (because he is distracted by killing an unexpected witness). And afterwards he behaves completely suspiciously, so he gets caught, duh. I wonder what utility function is maximized by this. Of course you can make a belief seem stupid by writing a character who proclaims the belief, but acts stupid.

      This is so far off the mark, even for something gleaned from 5 mins on wikipedia. Ironically, you’ve done to C&P what you appear to condemn Dostoevsky for doing to utilitarianism. Read the book, or a proper summary thereof.

      • Jiro says:

        “Tried to engage with” is a pretty low bar for what is legitimately one of the best works of literature ever written

        It’s a safe bet that the people who decided that it was one of the best works of literature ever written wouldn’t have cared if it depicted a biased version of utilitarianism. Classic works of literature don’t have to depict ideas fairly; they just have to depict ideas that are liked by those people with the influence to make them classics.

        CS Lewis is a classic literature writer too, but we all can probably name at least one outright bad argument made by him in his fiction.

    • Protagoras says:

      Pretty much all of Dostoevsky’s characters make terrible choices. As an atheist, I actually like his atheist characters; they’re much more interesting and plausible than, say, Tolstoy’s non-religious characters. But they’re Dostoevsky characters, so they also make terrible choices. I’m OK with that, but like others in this thread I hardly see any of them as providing evidence against atheism, or utilitarianism, or rationalism, or anything else.

    • Randy M says:

      Argument from fiction is only ever as convincing as you find every relevant detail plausible.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’ll throw my lot in with the others who say that they would just be arguing with fictional evidence, which hardly needs to be confronted.

      To me, the more challenging part is the fact that C&P includes a side character who sure seems an awful lot like modern leftist polyamorous tumblrists. And that would be historical evidence that such types already had a go at things some 150 years ago, and how did that work out for Russia?

  24. helloo says:

    You are an AI of a space-faring vessel that has been sent to terraform and turbo-start the biosphere of a remote planet.

    However, due to an accident/mixup/some other contrived reason, when you arrive, you are only able to produce a single organism species. That is, you can’t make and spread both bacteria and moss. No tricky giant bag of self-sufficient organelles. Yes, that includes the typical human model with its gut bacteria. Mitochondria and chlorophyll like organelles are fine.

    The environment of the planet can be whatever that is desired but cannot already contain existing lifeforms. You have some terraforming abilities but these are limited and it will have to be your organisms that maintain the steady-state of their ecosystem.

    The end state does NOT have to be suitable for humans though you’re welcome to try and make it so.
    What kind of organism will you choose and what kind of abilities will it have?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I make the environment of the planet similar to Earth prior to the Great Oxygenation Event, except that I seed small areas of the oceans with radioactive compounds to encourage mutation. My organism is a blue-green algae. Stick with what worked, right?

      • helloo says:

        Didn’t they almost kill themselves with the Great Oxygenation Event?

      • Lambert says:

        Using a eukaryote might speed things along.
        Maybe an algae. Something capable of sexual reproduction, to get them to evolve faster.
        Mitochondria and chloroplasts were important innovations that took gigayears to evolve. (Great Filter candidate?)
        Giving them a load of useful genes that don’t get expressed might also help guide evolution. So they don’t have to evolve lignin from scratch, just accidentally start making it. Melanin also sounds useful.

        Heterotrophy had better evolve before long, or else all the nutrients and carbon get locked up in giant deposits of dead stuff, unable to decay.

        Hopefully, a Cambrian Explosion would happen within a few hundreds of millions of years.

    • deltafosb says:

      Kinda related: how fast would a message inserted into DNA of an organism be removed from the genome?

  25. Ninety-Three says:

    I’d like to take issue with something in the comments-disabled “Addendum To “Enormous Nutshell”: Competing Selectors”. Scott criticizes ReoNeaction for “left” and “right” being terrible terms for what it describes, but I think he’s using “culture” about as terribly.

    Suppose dictatorship A passes a $15 minimum wage and dictatorship B has a $5 minimum wage, and suppose the economists are right about high minimum wage being bad. The economy of B does better than A, A tries to figure out why, correctly hits on the minimum wage thing, copies B, and the world gets more prosperous, yay cultural evolution. You’re describing law. “How can we design a system to find the best laws and economic policies?” is an interesting question, but that’s a million miles away from what most people will think you mean by “cultural evolution”.

    • Viliam says:

      Even primitive tribes have laws, set by their leaders. In the previous article, when the leaders decided that “women should take better care of the pigs, and feed them more food. To find extra time for this, women should spend less time gossiping”, it probably didn’t make everyone happy. But they presumably had the power to enforce the behavior.

      Cultural evolution is the evolution of (written and unwritten) laws.

  26. imoimo says:

    I think I just inadvertently learned that the latest post’s topic is still auto-banned…

  27. dodrian says:

    Have you ever had a paranormal encounter? Ghosts, the supernatural, cryptozoology, or something else that you can’t rationally explain?

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      No.

    • Enkidum says:

      No, and every story I’ve ever heard of them strikes me as incredibly suspect, and if I did have such an experience I’d tend to doubt myself.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Yes :)) (sorry to break the chain of nos).

      Venice, a decade a go, me and my friends see a gondolier that seems to have … well.. breasts. (broad daylight, nobody drunk). He/she’s some distance away and there’s no dry path there, so we quickly go around to try and confirm. Finally go around the next corner and where the gondola should have gone and… it’s a dead end. Literal dead end – the channel ends in a big wall. We’re left just scratching our heads, and with another piece of evidence added to “Venice is magic”. Yeah, I love that place.

      This being said, Occam obviously suggests we simply miscalculated something, rather than a gondola with wings existing. Gondolier with.. ahem female gondolier on the other hand seems to be in the realm of the possible – wikipedia later confirmed there was exactly one practicing at the time.

    • Paperclip Minimizer says:

      No.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Yes, but every time I talk about it in a place like this, I always get accused of hallucinating/lying and it’s very annoying.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sort of? More a weird experience than anything else, which probably has a rational explanation (of the “you only imagined it” variety). Too trivial really to describe.

    • Jiro says:

      Does “can’t rationally explain” mean “has no proven rational explanation” or “has no possible rational explanation”?

    • CarlosRamirez says:

      We all have, since no one can rationally explain qualia.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        +1

      • Protagoras says:

        The fact that you don’t accept, or perhaps understand, the explanations does not cause them to cease to exist.

        • Adrian says:

          So there is an explanation of qualia that you accept? Link, please?

          • Protagoras says:

            It is probably not the best discussion to be found, but for egoistic reasons I am fond of this discussion. It does at least cite some of the more important discussions by others if it is insufficient on its own.

          • CarlosRamirez says:

            @Protagoras

            I’m not sure why brains and their functioning keep getting brought up by the materialist side. There is no such thing as a “brain” or “neuron”: these are just abstractions we use to reason about certain agglomerations of sub-atomic particles, which are the thing that really exists.

            It is ultimately physics that needs to produce an account of phenomenal states, if materialism is to survive.

          • Protagoras says:

            Do you also think physicists need to explain earthquakes in terms of subatomic particles in order for materialism to survive, or do you accept in that case that it’s enough for geologists to explain them in terms of tectonic plates and magma and rocks and such (which are, of course, made of subatomic particles)?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Protagoras

            I have to admit that I just can’t follow the argument the paper is making. If I’m reading it right, its argument for functionalism is that phenomenal differences can only arise from functional differences, on the basis that examples of dissimilar phenomenal experience are predicated on functional difference, and that two people with similar functional structures subjected to the same stimulus will perceive things identically, phenomenally speaking. But I think that a fleshed-out theory of functionalism is needed to make this argument work. I don’t think a functions-as-Platonic-structures approach makes sense here, because we’re talking about individual minds, and if those are assumed to be Platonic there’s not much interesting to say about qualia anyway. The argument seems inappropriate for discussing reductive materialist functionalism, since there’s no reason to expect functions (defined as brain configurations) to be anything but idiosyncratic, and then “are identical brains in identical configurations are phenomenologically identical?” is all you’re left with, and that’s a stupid argument that’s been at an impasse for generations that we can’t conclude anything about anyway. A description of functions that relates to phenomenal perception seems to involve begging the question, unless you have a cleverer way to do it than I’ve thought of in the last few minutes. And a description of functions that relate to gross cause and effect has glaring weaknesses.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I don’t think a functions-as-Platonic-structures approach makes sense here, because we’re talking about individual minds, and if those are assumed to be Platonic there’s not much interesting to say about qualia anyway. The argument seems inappropriate for discussing reductive materialist functionalism, since there’s no reason to expect functions (defined as brain configurations) to be anything but idiosyncratic, and then “are identical brains in identical configurations are phenomenologically identical?” is all you’re left with,

            This. If individual minds are Platonic, neat, but then why should I be a reductive materialist atheist? But if each mind is just an epiphenomenon of a unique brain, we know nothing about qualia except that hypothetical identical brains in identical configurations are phenomenologically identical, and nothing about the empirical world where no two brains are identical (as far as I know). Maybe my brain configuration is the very first in this reductively material universe of interacting atoms to have the phenomena of qualia and every other configuration has produced a p-zombie.

          • Kestrellius says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Maybe my brain configuration is the very first in this reductively material universe of interacting atoms to have the phenomena of qualia and every other configuration has produced a p-zombie.

            I can verify that this is not the case.

          • quanta413 says:

            these are just abstractions we use to reason about certain agglomerations of sub-atomic particles, which are the thing that really exists.

            Sub-atomic particles are just abstractions we use to reason about the local configuration of certain underlying fields. Particles and fields we do not observe directly but rather use to model the results of experiments.

            There’s no philosophically easy distinction between the category “electrons” and “neurons” as far as the reality of either goes. There’s a physical distinction in scale (mass, number of consituent subatomic particles, number of properties that need to be specified to make theoretical predictions, etc.), but I’m not convinced that means there should be a philosophical distinction.

            It is ultimately physics that needs to produce an account of phenomenal states, if materialism is to survive.

            That’s ridiculous. Physics can’t even directly produce an account of chemistry even if we’re pretty far along that project in some directions and think that’s it’s probably possible. But I haven’t heard any philosophers embrace a non-material theory of chemistry in order to deal with this problem.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Hoopyfreud, I don’t really follow your objection. I will say that it is not the purpose of the argument to prove to a skeptic that functionalism is the only way things could be (you can’t prove anything to a skeptic). It is to show that functionalism has resources to talk about issues that critics have claimed it cannot talk about, and that the fact that functionalism does have stories to tell, while rival theories basically offer magic, seems to give the advantage to functionalism.

    • Nick says:

      Nope. A few friends have described some. The one I find hardest to discount is from a med student friend. He ran into a classmate of his in a rather bizarre encounter one morning, odd especially because that student hadn’t been to class in some time. It turned out that student had just died; the announcement was made later that day. I have no way to explain it besides 1) hallucination, or 2) ghosts.

      • Adrian says:

        What about 3) a false memory? The memory of the encounter doesn’t have to be entirely fabricated – an incorrect date would be sufficient to explain the inconsistency.

        • Nick says:

          He told it to me at a meal (I think lunch), just after the announcement had gone out and both of us found out. So there’s no way it’s his false memory. I’ll grant it’s possible the false memory is mine.

    • johan_larson says:

      Personally? No. The closest call I’ve had is a friend who told me a colleague of his, an Air Force pilot, told him he had seen a literal UFO, something in the sky that didn’t appear to be a natural phenomenon or a mundane aircraft.

    • Walter says:

      No, but even if I had, I wouldn’t trust myself.

      I have vivid memories, some of the only ones of my childhood, of inventing a monster that sat on top of the garage in order to get out of doing some chores there. I remember my childish cunning, as I anticipated and came up with reasons that no one else would have seen it, check carefully to see what rooms all of the adults were in, etc.

      I also remember the monster itself, just like I made it up, sitting sphinx-like atop the garage. That memory feels exactly as real as the others, entirely indistinguishable from my other memories from around that time. If I didn’t remember setting the forgery up I’d believe it had really happened.

      So I’ve lived my life knowing that I have the capacity to remember stuff that never happened. When I read about the reliability of eyewitness testimony it wasn’t any kind of surprise to me. I know that we are pattern seekers in a world of noise. We are besieged at all times by phantoms.

      (There is, of course, an alternate explanation for this turn of events…)

    • DragonMilk says:

      Yes, but no comment as even among friends it’s dismissed as false memory or even vitamin deficiency

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh, I forgot this when I made my first comment which was about a different experience, but to this day I’m fairly convinced I encountered a pooka when I was seven/eight.

      Not the ‘giant invisible rabbit’ type in the Jimmy Stewart movie, the traditional type in its goat form. All things considered, I got off lightly from the encounter (just some mild traditional Panic), but at least it wasn’t the more usual horse-type which are a lot more dangerous.

    • nameless1 says:

      I always felt like I should be able to do something like magic, that is manipulate invisible energies in the air by wiggling my fingers or suchlike, or suck energy into my palms or push energy out of it. Because when I wiggle my fingers it feels like actually being able to feel stuff in the air as if it is was slightly fluid. But I think this is just something being a little fucked up with my kinetic feedback system. It just sends up some false positive signals.

      And I know there is something a little fucked up with the part of the brain that controls my fingers, my handwriting is terrible but the worst part is being unable to sign my name in a consistent way. It is embarrassing that the bank makes me practice every time until I get it something close to the original signature.

      • acymetric says:

        Your bank actually checks your signature against something for a match, and rejects it if it isn’t close enough? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bank actually compare signatures for any kind of transaction before.

  28. ariel says:

    Who should actually do a PhD? I have a lot of friends in PhD programs, and almost none of them seem to like it, and my friends who’ve completed their PhD’s aren’t even using them (e.g. getting a math PhD and then working in journalism). I can see the value in starting a PhD so as to get paid to do a masters (and then dropping out), or as a way to gain an American visa. But are there any jobs that actually require a PhD, or that benefit from having done a PhD instead of having gotten 5+ years of industry experience? Probably there are some super gatekeep’y professions like in medicine (oh, I guess becoming a professor is like this… although even that holy grail seems pretty crummy compared to the kind of job someone that smart could get). And I guess “PhD from Harvard” sounds impressive enough that the signaling value can still be worth it? The final reason I can think of is if the top, top labs are all in academia (e.g. basic bio research?) Overall this comes out to maybe 5% of the people actually doing PhD’s…

    • johan_larson says:

      You should get a PhD if the job you want requires you to have one, either formally or de facto. Period.

      The jobs that require you to have one are professorships and some industrial research positions. I think some employers looking for quanty financial analysts and machine learning people also look for PhDs, but I expect there are others in this forum who can comment on that more knowledgeably.

      Pursuing a PhD for any other reason is typically a bad deal. You can make much more money in industry than working as a research assistant, and five to seven years of work experience is typically more valuable than a PhD. Working conditions are better, too.

      • Chalid says:

        It’s much easier to get hired as a finance quant with a PhD, but it’s not impossible for an undergrad to break in. If you want to be a quant and can get a decent job out of undergrad that’s definitely what you should do. (Problem is there are a lot of bad jobs, especially for undergrads, and that can put you onto a bad career path generally.)

      • Working conditions are better, too.

        I got a PhD that I didn’t end up using, which fits the arguments being made here. But so far as working conditions, they were much more attractive than I think a standard 9-5 job would have been. Classes aside I set my own schedule, and I was learning interesting things.

        Similarly for being a professor, which is probably the most common job a PhD is supposed to qualify someone for. Perhaps things have gotten much worse more recently. But I found it, on the whole, an enjoyable career. I got to teach interesting things, try to solve interesting puzzles, write books and articles. There are probably other things I could have done that would have paid more, but I’m not sure they would have been more enjoyable. I like to say that being a professor is better than working for a living—except when you are grading exams.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Nobody should. It’s a huge mistake.

      Everyone told us that it will be a mistake so we don’t have an excuse for not having listened. But goddamn, everyone who’s smart and motivated enough to get into a top STEM PhD program has so many better options that it’s not even funny. It’s like flypaper for geeks.

      Maybe I’ll change my mind in a few years when I can force co-workers at my non-academic job to call me “Doctor [REDACTED]” but right now I just want to die. That’s not dark millennial humor, I’m 99% serious.

      • Lillian says:

        One of my friends has a Ph.D. in Biology, he is gainfully employed selling car insurance, nobody at work calls him Doctor.

      • quanta413 says:

        Nobody told me 🙁 Maybe one or two people I didn’t know well said something and I forgot. That’s about it. My father didn’t warn me even though his father had warned him (and my grandfather didn’t think to warn me either, although it would have been hard for him to know in time; I only see him a couple times a year).

        But I made sure to tell any undergrads I worked with, mentored, or taught “Seriously. Just Don’t. Unless maaaaybe if your goal is to teach at a liberal arts college. You’ll be required to have the Ph.D. although it will have little relevance to teaching.” Although I don’t encourage that choice either even if it’s not as tough as landing a tenure-track professorship at an R1.

        I mean, it’s not the worst choice in the world, but it’s a pretty poor one for most people who make it. I enjoyed large parts of my research, but it just took too damn long, the payoff is too low, and well… many other complaints.

      • Walter says:

        I hope you feel better. Remember that drastic lifestyle changes are way safer than death.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Thanks. I’m going to be ok, I have a good support network and lots of psychiatric medicine.

          It’s just been a very rude awakening. This is what I had always wanted to do since I was a little kid, and I still love science including the topic of my thesis. I can get through the rest of my PhD, and at this point it looks better to finish than to leave with a master’s degree, but I can’t and won’t continue any further in academia past this.

          • Walter says:

            Good luck. I urge you to quit and do other stuff if the alternative is ever killing yourself.

      • Kestrellius says:

        “The Adventures of Doctor [REDACTED], [DATA EXPUNGED] Extraordinaire”

        Has a nice ring to it.

      • nameless1 says:

        Better get out of it than die. I know a physics guy dropping out of PhD. He did nothing for half a year and then got a decently paid teaching job at a boarding school in the UK. Because he always wanted to teach, not research. If he wanted to research, that would have been okay, too. He told me not finishing PhD is still a plus on one’s resume at looking for a job as opposed to not even trying. It shows that you are ambitious and capable, you just changed your mind which is a normal human thing.

    • Enkidum says:

      I’m an academic from a family of academics who more or less believes in higher education as having intrinsic value, and I guess my answer is “about 80% less people than currently get one”.

      Universities shouldn’t be job training, and they’re shit at it anyways. Most 25-year-olds in the western world have never spent more than a summer out of school since they were 4, and this is a terrible way to grow up.

      Universities should be research institutes, and teaching people who are interested about knowledge for its own sake. But I’d say the majority of people aren’t interested in knowledge for its own sake, and a non-trivial portion of the rest aren’t really smart enough to get much out of the process. I think the most popular major is Business, which is a bad joke. You want to learn business? Go do some.

      So yeah, speaking as someone on the inside, it’s not worth coming in here unless this is what you want, and for most of you it isn’t.

      • quanta413 says:

        But I’d say the majority of people aren’t interested in knowledge for its own sake, and a non-trivial portion of the rest aren’t really smart enough to get much out of the process.

        Even if you do fulfill those prerequisites of loving research and being smart, it’s probably still a no. You have to want to do those things really badly. Like to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars lost. And then you have to deal with the possibility of being fucked over for academic politics reasons (thank god, not something that I was ever at risk of) and the fact that most professors are not very good at managing people. Graduate students are typically pretty smart and conscientious, so professors can do this without everything going straight to hell, but I figure that a professor who is skilled at management would do a lot better than average. Too many projects zombie shuffle from grad student to grad student that aren’t worth doing, too many experiments are done that could have been anticipated to have been a waste of time (or could have been made not a waste by a more coherent plan and some tweaking), and process tends to be nonexistent so basic shit often gets done poorly.

        If you’re lucky, a big lab will have a lab manager and more techs which helps, but a lot of labs don’t have that.

        • Enkidum says:

          Eh, I think you’re overstating the loss. Most people I know coming out of their phd get a pretty decent job – is it as good as what they would have got otherwise – perhaps not, but it’s not that far off. You usually get some kind of training that will benefit you. That being said, I’d still advise against it unless you want to do pure research. Which isn’t an option at most companies.

          • quanta413 says:

            I mean you lose hundreds of thousands because the typical grad stipend is ~20k but if you’re smart enough to get a Ph.D. you probably could have gotten a job at ~60k (or potentially more) out of college. 40k/year times 6 years is 240k. Subtract taxes but add back in compounding on the stock market and you’re probably back in about the same range of loss.

            Ph.D. salaries are higher than just out of college, but I don’t think it’s causal. I think 6 years of industry experience for the same person would be better.

            My comp-sci friends left college and landed six figure jobs immediately (they were more skilled than average, their hourly rates before graduating already corresponded to six figures). My other friends who were suckers like me and majored in math or physics then moved on to Ph.D.’s delayed our lives for years.

      • Shion Arita says:

        Recently got my PhD. I agree with everything you’ve said here.

      • Randy M says:

        Don’t forget the “interested and not smart enough” quadrant.

        • Enkidum says:

          Yeah, in many ways they’re the most depressing. Because we love doing this stuff, and we want to believe that anyone who also loves it must be equally good at it, despite the vast quantities of evidence to the contrary.

    • StableTrace says:

      Just to get the opposite point of view down, I am currently pretty far into a PhD in math and I would say it is worth it as long as you like the subject even if you don’t get any practical benefit—just as a form of consumption. You get to spend your days thinking about whatever interests you the most with minimal deadlines and other responsibilities. You are constantly interacting with many smart, accomplished peers that are guaranteed to have a a lot of shared interests. You have privileged access to famous professors. You even get a bunch of free travel through conferences.

      This is something that I would be willing to pay for, but the best part is that you get paid instead. While it is far from the money you could make otherwise, it is a surprisingly high amount and definitely enough to live comfortably by a young person’s standards (at a some schools, two grad student stipends can approach the median US household income)

      • Enkidum says:

        Yes, this is the correct positive view.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        This is a big part of why I finished my PhD in math, despite eventually getting very frustrated with my thinking not actually translating into successful proofs of important new results and with the constraints of the academic job market. But “like the subject” is too weak a condition here. If it is a thing you think of as your potential Calling in Life and that you are self-motivated to play around with on your own in your spare time, it is a thing you could likely successfully do a PhD in. Otherwise probably not.

        On the other hand, pure math fit that description for me before I got my PhD in it and no longer does, in large part because of the frustrations I encountered in grad school. That’s a shame, and it’s why I’m not even considering doing a graduate degree in my current avocation-slash-calling, music composition. I never want to ruin anything I love that much again.

        On the other*2 hand, my PhD proved to be a great source of networking for my current wonderful job, even though it was not even remotely a job requirement. On the other*3 hand, had I jumped ship midway through my PhD to go work at said wonderful job, I’d have gotten lower strike price options and made quite a bit more money. On the other*4 hand, I’m doing well enough anyway not to regret the choice.

        So, all in all, the advice I would give to someone in a situation like mine is: by all means try it if your intrinsic motivation is super strong, but understand the many ways it can be rocky and avoid the sunk cost fallacy when considering whether to finish.

    • imoimo says:

      I’ll be a more positive voice here. Currently finishing a physics PhD, and I’ve felt good about my decision all the way through, despite gripes with my particular program. I expect to get a job doing physics that requires a PhD, which despite that there’s not a ton of them (especially in industry), is from what I’ve seen generally possible for a motivated person finishing a PhD at a decent (top 50?) college. Even if I hadn’t stayed in physics after the PhD, I’ve really enjoyed the intellectual growth during my program and can’t imagine post-bachelor me not doing it. It’s going to be a breath of fresh air re-joining the workforce, but this time I’ll be at a much more exciting level, with more options than “software developer.”

      Of course I know people regretting their PhD or people who dropped out cause it was a bad fit. And for lots of jobs experience will be a faster route to the same place. To do a PhD I’d recommend you have at least 2/3 of the following:

      1. A passion for the subject
      2. A plan for after the degree (that requires it)
      3. A conscientious personality

      For instance I came in with the passion and personality, but almost zero plan. Things are working out for me (I’m gonna use my PhD well) but even if I ended up a software developer after (as some people do) it would’ve felt worth it. (Concurring with @StableTrace here)

      Instead you could have passion and a plan (“I’m gonna be a nuclear engineer”) and this should hopefully eke you through a program despite lacking the personality for a PhD. Then you have a cozy, fun, unique job for the rest of your life, which is probably worth it.

      Finally you could have the plan and personality but lack passion. It’s just a thing to do for you, [insert field] jobs seem high-paying and acceptable. In many fields this person is better off going straight to industry in consulting or engineering (assuming you’re STEM), but they’ll probably do fine in a PhD and use it well afterwards.

      I think failure modes usually come from having no plan and insufficient passion or personality to make up for it. You’ll be your own best judge here.

      Best of luck!

    • Anatid says:

      Perspective based on experience in physics:

      If you want to be a professor at a university, you need a PhD. But some things to note before pursuing a PhD for this reason:
      – tenure track jobs at decent universities are extremely competitive. There’s probably a greater than 10-to-1 ratio between new PhDs per year and new tenure track openings. So you need to be in the top few percent of new PhDs.
      – Even if everything goes well, getting a tenured position involves something like 12-15 years of very hard work (5 years of school, 2-5 years of postdocs, 5 years as an assistant professor). My impression was that the people who succeed work most weekends, because either they really like it or they’re really driven people.
      – Plenty of people get 10 years into this (school + postdocs), but never get a tenure-track job or other permanent academic research position.
      – If you go this route you don’t get to decide where you live. Because everything is very competitive, you apply to every job opening in the country (or in the world) in your field and accept whatever you get.

      In the sciences, PhD students don’t pay tuition and in fact get paid a modest stipend. So if you expect to enjoy grad school and just want to learn more stuff, you can get a PhD “for free” in the sciences. This is what I did and I liked it (I agree with the stuff StableTrace wrote above). Of course there is the big opportunity cost of whatever you could have been earning in a real job.

      (And once you have had a real job, that opportunity cost will be a lot more salient. If you get a real job, and then later get the idea that you might like to go back to school just to learn stuff, it may be more painful to do so than if you had done it right out of college, because the money and experience you are giving up will be more obvious).

      I work in quantitative finance. In this field there are a few companies that really want you to have a PhD, but plenty of jobs that don’t require one. If a PhD is not strictly required, it will still make your resume more attractive, but only somewhat, and only if it is in the rough cluster of physics/math/stats/CS (“quantitative disciplines”). I think basically (a) a PhD signals intelligence (b) people hope that a PhD has taught you to do independent research.

      At least in my field, if you can get a good job out of college, then 5 years of experience is worth much more in terms of earning power than a PhD is.

      I think it might be a good idea for someone considering going to grad school to also seriously apply for regular jobs. Then weigh the most attractive job offer against the most attractive grad school acceptance.

      This is not something I did. But with perfect hindsight, if I had been offered my current job instead of grad school, the correct decision would have been to take the job. I enjoyed grad school, but my job is even better, and pays a lot more than what grad students make.

      • quanta413 says:

        – Even if everything goes well, getting a tenured position involves something like 12-15 years of very hard work (5 years of school, 2-5 years of postdocs, 5 years as an assistant professor). My impression was that the people who succeed work most weekends, because either they really like it or they’re really driven people.

        I feel like this really needs to be emphasized. Also 5 years of school is on the short side at the department where I am. 6 is more typical and 7 is pretty common.

        You have to be either 4 or 5 sigma out in ability and/or a goddamn machine (and still 3 sigma out at least in physics) to become a professor at an R1. Like if you aren’t already typically doing 60 hour workweeks- efficient 60 hour work weeks, not 40 hours working and 20 at work but browsing reddit- you are not machine enough.

        3 sigma in physics is not good enough on its own as far as I can tell. I’m about 3 sigma from the mean in intelligence but have only average or a little better than average work ethic, and I’m torched with a month or so to go before I finish my Ph.D. No way in hell would I make it through to becoming a professor.

        And even if you are a genius working 60 hour weeks, none of that is guarantee. You could still not make it. And the moving has been hell on the personal and family lives of many young academics whom I’ve known something about.

        • Nicholas Weininger says:

          All of this is exactly true in mathematics as well and very important to consider. It can leave you with the curious feeling of being like a career minor league baseball player: better at the thing than 99.9% of people will ever be, yet still inadequate in the circles in which you aspire to run.

    • Elephant says:

      There are several good comments already. I am less cynical than some of those who have responded so far, though I do think that there are too many Ph.D. students and too many Ph.D. degrees awarded, in every field. Background: I’m a STEM professor at a research university.

      Some terrible but unfortunately very common reasons to go to grad school are: -1- delaying making real choices about what to do with one’s life; -2- a fondness for courses and the warm feeling that comes from completing homework assignments. (Seriously, many students seemed stunned that graduate school is not about this, and are incredulous and unhappy that courses are unimportant.) -3- Poorly researched plans to become a professor.

      There are two really good reasons to do a Ph.D. -1- You want to spend a few years, regardless of future benefit, discovering or inventing something fundamentally new. That, after all, is what a Ph.D. means — you demonstrate the ability to do research, and hopefully contribute something to the grand total of human knowledge. Personally, I find this very motivating, and I’m surprised it hasn’t come up in comments so far. I’ve been surprised at the low fraction of graduate students who seem motivated by this, however, that is, who really, passionately, care about making robust new insights. (Of course, most scientific output is banal, and much of it is wrong, but that’s a separate issue.) -2- There’s some specific career path you’re very focused on for which a Ph.D. is necessary (and sufficient). Note that this is rare — there are few career paths like this. Simply viewing a Ph.D. as some vague career-enhancing thing to do is pointless, and won’t help one’s happiness or one’s career (relative to not getting a Ph.D. and getting 5-7 years of work experience).

      • quanta413 says:

        Personally, I find this very motivating, and I’m surprised it hasn’t come up in comments so far. I’ve been surprised at the low fraction of graduate students who seem motivated by this, however, that is, who really, passionately, care about making robust new insights.

        I think it didn’t come up because every professor brings that up to bright young undergrads… and neglects to bring up all the other stuff. I know I was at least trying to balance out what I view as the horribly biased push bright undergrads get towards getting a Ph.D.

        For what it’s worth, finishing writing up all the work I did in the hope someone will benefit from it is probably the only thing getting me to finish, so I agree it is an important motivation. I don’t think I could manage to finish at this point if I just got the piece of paper even though I’m literally 98% done. And I really mean literally. I finished my defense and am on revisions to my last thesis chapter, but due to some awkward timing, I’m publishing my first author papers after the defense. Which is definitely suboptimal. One of them if I had more focus could’ve been completed a year ago probably, whereas the other was just a tough row to hoe.

        But I’ve also known grad students who didn’t seem interested in research much at all. Which I also found very weird.

        (Of course, most scientific output is banal, and much of it is wrong, but that’s a separate issue.)

        Part of the problem with generating insights as a motivation is that as a student, even if you read key papers and have some idea about the field, you’re just not in the strongest position to figure out if what you’ll be working on with a professor on is either banal or wrong until you’re a year or two deep into working on it.

        Although personally, I don’t mind the banal much. Sometimes, I wish I could find an answer to a not very original question more easily in the literature.

      • Enkidum says:

        Yeah, this. I’m in a late post-doc now, and very much the drive of doing the research is what keeps me here.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I couldn’t stand it. I’m ABD in Electrical Engineering. Did all the course work, passed the qualifying exams, but when it came time to do that dissertation…nope, out. I don’t regret it.

    • John Schilling says:

      The sweet spot in engineering is probably the MS; if you start with just a BS then you get your start in industry doing a different kind of engineering and the experience that comes with that doesn’t open all the doors and BS+3yrs != MS.

      The Ph.D. opens a few doors that the MS doesn’t (most obviously all the “professor of engineering” jobs, but also some research work), and it’s good for a 10-15% salary increase in the rest, so if you can get one debt-free and without giving a decade of your life to a professor who just wants cheap labor and prestige, and if you actually like being a grad student, go for it(*).

      Actually, I think that last sentence is a pretty good overall guideline. If someone else values your pursuit of a Ph.D. enough to pay for it, and if the professor you are going to be studying with has a track record for getting their students out the door in no more than six years, then that’s a good indication that your getting a Ph.D. may be a good idea.

      * Unless you’re an intern working for my department, in which case knock it off and come work for us full time already.

    • SystematizedLoser says:

      I recently finished a PhD in machine learning at an R1 institution. I have severely mixed feelings about the experience. On one hand, my degree allowed me to get a non-academic research scientist position while allowing me to forge a variety of friendships I suspect I will maintain for years or decades. It also gave me a glimpse into what the frontier of research looks like. On the other hand, I was forced to sacrifice a relationship I was deeply invested in and funneled me into looking for jobs in areas far from my family. My actual degree, up to and including the dissertation process, was surprisingly painless. I knew going in that I wasn’t looking for anything academic, so I never tried to kill myself with long work weeks.

  29. cassander says:

    So who else wasn’t impressed with season 5 of Black Mirror? I’m pretty sure they were the 3 worst episodes in the show’s history.

    • ariel says:

      I really liked the trans porno episode, or the trans porno scenes anyway. I got halfway through the uber kidnapping episode before giving up. It has like ten minutes of content, and the episode is an hour long?!? Haven’t peeked at episode three yet.

    • sty_silver says:

      I thought all three of them were mid-tear for Black Mirror standards – perhaps slightly below mid-tier. Which is to say, pretty great.

      • cassander says:

        I don’t understand this. The second was about the evils of texting while driving! And 2 of the three had happy endings. There was none of the tragic falls of the best earlier episodes.

        • sty_silver says:

          I was talking about quality specifically, they can be different but roughly equally good.

          I think there’s a “doesn’t take themselves seriously” category for BM episodes which so far consisted of just USS Callister. With the Ashley Too episode, that category now consists of two episodes. They both have an exceedingly unlikely plot, they both have pretty silly science fiction, and they both have a very satisfying over-the-top happy ending. They’re clearly much more similar to each other than they are to anything else. So it’s not the biggest departure to make another episode in that style.

          I think the meditaiton stuff in the texting episode was very tasteful, and it’s sort of made relevant by the fact that Jack Dorsey (CEO of twitter) also goes on silent retreats. The critique on social media isn’t just nuanced, I think it’s actually accurate. That makes it pretty special. So, yeah, I appreciate that one for the commentary angle that I think is very unusually spot on. It’s important that it takes place in 2018 rather than the near future. But I have a pretty easy time seeing how that one can feel underwhelming.

          Well, and the first one probably needs the least amount of justifying. So yeah, the set of things I like has changed, but my appreciation has stayed roughly constant.

    • Opposite end of the spectrum here – thought it was the best season so far. I reckon it’s a lot about what one is even hoping to see in the episodes.

      For example (not to imply this is what you’re looking for, but I’ve seen people lament the absence of this in the latest season, so it comes to mind), I’m not looking for any of the episodes to teach me a moral lesson or ask cool sci-fi ethics questions (I get much better material from fiction, e.g. Greg Egan).

      On the other hand, I legit found Smithereens the best ep’ so far, because to my viewing, it just seemed the most plausible on several levels (although admittedly not all), and I took a lot of enjoyment out of that. Was very surprised to see a lot of hate for this one; one of those rare times I can’t relate at all, but I guess YMMV.

      (That said, I did love the episodes White Bear and Metalhead from previous seasons, independent of their plausibility.)

  30. Anaxagoras says:

    I’ve lately started growing some crystals. So far, I’ve made bismuth and copper, and both have gone quite well. This seems to be the lowest hanging fruit, and I’d appreciate people’s thoughts on the next steps.

    The leading contender for a next step is opal (yes, this isn’t technically a crystal). I found a reasonable-seeming technique here (https://ourpastimes.com/grow-opals-5453934.html) that uses pretty much just household supplies — does this actually seem like it might work? I know growing opals is possible from reading a couple patents on it (such as here: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=13&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=opal.TI.&OS=TTL/opal&RS=TTL/opal), but I don’t know if this simpler method would actually work. I could get the TEOS substance, and hopefully I won’t poison myself or anything. Another article (here: http://www.attawaygems.com/NMFG/Program_speaker__scott_willson_Opal.html) seems to suggest this isn’t as easy as it looks.

    An interesting early source I found on opal-making was a creationist website. Creationists are always looking to prove that billions of years are not necessary to make the world as we see it. One Australian creationist geologist, Len Cram, tried to debunk the notion that opals require a long time to form by making them himself. According to the creationist websites, he succeeded. And I actually think they’re telling the truth here. Certainly, I’ve not seen any dispute of his claims (though possibly due to obscurity?) and there is a bunch of synthetic opal being made and sold that I gather is chemically identical to the real stuff. Another source that did not prove useful was these weirdly creepy YouTube videos of a guy with a very sinister laugh and voice evaluating a bunch of opals.

    I’m also considering trying rubies. These seems simple enough: take aluminum oxide (which can be bought cheap online), mix in some titanium oxide (also cheap enough), and then heat it really, really hot. I’d probably need a hydrogen-oxygen blowtorch, which seems potentially dangerous. I’d love to set up something using the Verneuil Process (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verneuil_process), but that again seems hard and dangerous.

    Lastly, I could maybe do aluminum crystals. I can do a replacement reaction that switches the dissolved copper salt solution I’m using for a dissolved aluminum salt. I think I could maybe do the exact same process I use for growing copper crystals, just substituting aluminum for the copper. I don’t know if this would work, or if aluminum crystals are really worth it anyhow.

    Anyone know about this? Anyone else grown crystals?

    • Erusian says:

      Can I just register my interest? I don’t have any experience but I’d love to take this up as a hobby. I have experience in making jewelry so I’d love to grow some of my own gems.

    • I’m also considering trying rubies. These seems simple enough: take aluminum oxide (which can be bought cheap online), mix in some titanium oxide (also cheap enough), and then heat it really, really hot.

      The usual form of synthetic corundum is a boule, not a crystal, so my guess is that growing crystals of ruby takes more than just heat.

      • Protagoras says:

        A boule seems to be a shape of crystal, not an alternative to a crystal.

        • The ones I have seen are a smooth curve. Crystals are normally polyhedra.

          Boule n. A pear-shaped synthetic sapphire, ruby, or other alumina-based gem, produced by fusing and tinting alumina.

          • Another Throw says:

            Take it as you may, but Wikipedia says a boule is a single crystal in that it lacks internal grain boundaries.

          • Lambert says:

            When crystals naturally grow in a polyhedron, it’s because they’re immersed in a substance where more crystal will condense out.
            (Water rich in sillicate ions around quarz, humid air around snowflakes, molten bismuth around solid bismuth.)
            it’s energetically favourable for it to condense in a way that forms polyhedra. (don’t ask me why, go find a chemist or something)
            The critical thing is that the crystal does not fill up all the space or medium available for it to grow.

            A boule, on the other hand, is made by dropping molten stuff on a seed crystal. All of the molten medium crystalises, and the shape of the boule is the result of the shape the molten alumina or whatever forms.

            You can probably see the distinction most easily with bismuth. (you can buy ingots for cheap online and melt it on a stove)
            If you let a fraction of the bismuth solidify, and then remove the solid from the liquid, you get fascinating shapes. If you let the whole thing cool, it’s still crystalline inside, but the whole solid is just the shape of whatever ladle you made it in.

          • Mea Culpa.

            Having been corrected by several people here and my geologist/mineralogist wife, I concede that a boule is a crystal in a technical sense. I interpreted “growing crystals” as meaning producing crystal shaped crystals–what happens if you start with a super saturated sugar solution, say, and leave it.

    • broblawsky says:

      I’m a materials scientist, and I’ve done a lot of materials synthesis in the past.

      The synthetic opal production process in the patent will probably work if done correctly. However, avoid using any precursor that has a methyl or methyoxy group; stick with TEOS, it’s pretty safe. I have difficulty believing that the ion exchange process described in the ourpasttimes.com link will work well, but it doesn’t sound particularly difficult or expensive. However, I would recommend extreme caution if you try to burn aluminum powder. The temperatures produced can melt steel.

      With regards to growing rubies: most likely, the technique you describe will yield an opaque, possibly vaguely ruby-colored mass without any meaningful translucency. Producing optically transparent gemstones requires an extremely low density of defects in their crystal structure, which is difficult to achieve with just a blowtorch. Creating an optically transparent boule (or one adequate for semiconductor processing, in the case of a silicon boule) requires extremely even heating, not just high temperatures; differences in solidification rates will produce crystal defects that will prevent transparency. If you’re at all concerned about your ability to safely handle a blowtorch, I would advise that you not try this.

      Aluminum growth won’t work with the process you describe, simply because there are no aluminum salts that can be safely dissolved and reprecipitated from an aqueous solution. Aluminum dissolution and reprecipitation requires nonaqueous solvents.

      Sorry to be such a bummer.

      • Anaxagoras says:

        I have no intention of burning aluminum; that seems dangerous even to my inexperienced eye. I’m pretty sure that’s just to get aluminum oxide, which I can buy online for pretty cheap.

        Regarding the aluminum: what have I produced? I started with a solution of copper sulfate dissolved in water, added some aluminum foil, then a pinch of salt, and waited for the reaction to pretty much complete. The copper came out of the solution to replace the aluminum in the foil, which seems to have vanished. I assume it’s now dissolved in the solution. Am I wrong about this? Or will it not reprecipitate properly? What would happen?

        Do you know of any other non water-soluble crystals that might be within reach of an amateur?

        • mustacheion says:

          I believe in that reaction you produced soluble aluminum hydroxide, not aluminum oxide. I imagine you can make a hydroxide crystal just fine, though I do not know much about the properties of aluminum hydroxide, it certainly isn’t going to be as cool as actual sapphire.

          Also, sapphire melts at an extremely hot temperature, well above that of steel. It is extremely difficult to handle, because so few materials remain solid at those temperatures. In theory an oxyhydrogen torch flame can reach a high enough temperature to melt it, but I suspect you would have a lot of trouble getting your heating setup efficient enough to actually heat the alumina enough to melt it. Especially without also destroying your crucible.

        • broblawsky says:

          You need to fuse the aluminum oxide nanoparticles produced by bringing together to produce an opal. Aluminum oxide powder probably won’t work.

          You could try making a Diana’s Tree. Any of the old alchemical demonstrations should be well within the grasp of a modern amateur.

  31. Atlas says:

    Speculative conjecture:

    Is it just me, or is reading comprehension (and/or writing ability) not actually a very useful skill to have in the current labor market?

    You know, growing up I heard a lot about how important being well-read, knowing how to write clearly, etc. were in Today’s Job Market. But I look at data on lifetime earnings by major , and I can’t help but notice that quantitative majors like engineering, computer science and physics are at the top while majors like English language and literature, history and sociology are at the middle or bottom. (I’m an economics and political science double major.) I think about fields where reading and writing are important skills, and they all seem to…kind of suck and be oversupplied these days?

    Thankfully, law school enrollment has fallen a bit (by ~30%) since Professor Paul Campos published his book Don’t Go to Law School, but it looks suspiciously to me like the decline has plateaued and is starting to reverse. According to the BLS:

    Despite the projected growth in new jobs for lawyers, competition for jobs should continue to be strong because more students are graduating from law school each year than there are jobs available. According to the American Bar Association’s National Lawyer Population Survey, a compilation of data collected by state bar associations or licensing agencies, there were over 1.3 million resident and active attorneys as of December 2016. Some law school graduates who have been unable to find permanent positions turn to temporary staffing firms that place attorneys in short-term jobs. These firms allow companies to hire lawyers as needed and permit beginning lawyers to develop practical e