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Open Thread 129.75

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740 Responses to Open Thread 129.75

  1. Theodoric says:

    I read a review on Wirecutter about “flight crew luggage.” Apparently, some luggage companies will only sell their suitcases to people that can produce an airline employee ID. Why would they have this restriction? We’re talking about suitcases, not, say, chemicals that can be used to make meth. Would the companies not want as many sales as possible? Would flight crew members really think “Uh oh, I just saw a business traveler with a suitcase from ABC Company, better buy my next suitcase from XYZ Company!”? Or is Wirecutter wrong and this type of luggage has always been easily available from Amazon?

    • Deiseach says:

      Why would they have this restriction?

      Off the top of my head, going by the Nick Cave rule that “people ain’t no good”:

      (a) they give discounts to real flight crew, this means people who aren’t flight crew try and get discounts by swearing blind “oh no, I totally work for an airline cross my heart” so they had to institute “nice try but no ID no discount”
      (b) ditto for above, but then people who got the discounted flight crew luggage turned around and sold it for full whack on eBay and the likes, maybe even more than full whack for “official flight crew luggage of Airline, cross my heart would I lie to you?”
      (c) people trying to pass themselves off as flight crew in other situations (like, I dunno, trying to con their way onto airplanes?) with “look, I really am flight crew, I’ve got the proper luggage and everything”

      Basically, if someone somewhere can see an opportunity to make a profit, they will try it, and naive businesses that go “sure I believe you, perfect stranger!” will soon go out of business.

  2. BBA says:

    [CW: CW]

    Here’s a deeply depressing piece from Sam Kriss on how YouTube is innately a [witch] platform and the only way to get rid of the [witches] is to shut it down entirely.

    I don’t totally buy the arguments about the nature of web video, but I do agree that (a) it’s impossible to moderate such a large platform, (b) moderation is strictly necessary to avoid abuse and harassment, and therefore (c) we’re fucked. And that’s even before we get to the question of cracking down on extremist political content.

    It makes me miss the decentralized internet, back when we were a bunch of disconnected PHPbb and vBulletin installations. Leakage from one community to another was limited. You might be aware that St*rmfr*nt was out there, but if you never visited their forum, you never had to care about them. Whereas now, everything is part of centralized social media platforms with algorithmic recommendations, so no matter how little you want to seek out the [witches], you might find them or they might find you. This is why we care so much more about “adjacency” now. If there’s no longer a bright line separating the extremists from the far edge of the Overton window, if it’s so easy to slip from Weinstein to Peterson to Molyneux to Anglin, well, we just need to treat Weinstein like Anglin to prevent further slippage. And then people read Weinstein and see how totally reasonable he sounds, and conclude there’s nothing wrong with anyone else who’s been deplatformed either…

    I don’t like the notion of heavyhanded regulation and censorship, but I don’t think there’s any alternative to it. I used to believe “the answer to speech is more speech” but how would more speech have prevented the Christchurch massacre? And yeah, the centralized gatekeepers of the mainstream media cheered the Iraq invasion. But if YouTube was around, would that have stopped it, or just cheered it on like everyone else?

    (Here’s where I get my digs in at Horrible Banned Discourse proponents by pointing out that The Atlantic – not even a right-wing rag like National Review, the frickin’ Atlantic! – published excerpts from The Bell Curve back when it was first published in the ’90s. So whatever you want to say about new perspectives that weren’t allowed in the mainstream back then, this ain’t it, chief.)

    If I seem like a confused wreck, it’s because I am. I have no idea what to do, or if anything can be done. All I know is: I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die.

    • Clutzy says:

      Diagnosis to me seem wrong. Youtube is right wing because left wing orthodoxy dominates the media, thus anything sufficiently right wing can be presented to a viewer as forbidden knowledge (because it sometimes is).

      This is compounded by a problem that I’ve noticed having to do with what I’d describe as secular anti-racists. This subset includes SJWs, and other activists, but also just your regular history teacher who is a moderate D/R. A huge majority of these people cannot state why racism is bad, they just know it is bad because they have been told so.

      So lets say a kid sees some video on youtube about why the white race is clearly superior. The vast majority of rebuttals will (as you point out) be sputtering, stammering, exclamations along the lines of [witches]. Secular anti-racists who successfully can engage on this topic are few and far between. Religious anti-racists tend to be more persuasive (which is probably why both the anti-slavery and civil rights communities emerged from the churches), but I find people to be very reluctant to argue those points of view.

      So I don’t think we need any sort of regulation or for tech companies to want to try to prevent Christchurch. Trying to do that is like trying to pin a wave upon the sand. Instead those that fear youtube radicalization need to merely get better. They have become soft.

    • brad says:

      I don’t buy the conspiracy version of it, because impersonal mechanisms like evolution and capitalism are infinitely more powerful than any conspiracy, but the culture war is an always will be a sideshow distraction from the real forces at play. The big content platforms are not going away because they are wildly profitable. They will only ever be moderated in such a way as to avoid killing the goose that continues to lay golden eggs. These are brute facts of the matter. It makes no more sense to have an opinion on whether YouTube (or something very much like it) should cease to exist than it does to have an opinion about whether we should stop having earthquakes.

      If you want to make a dent here start working on the problem of witch detection software.

    • From the article:

      And unlike film or TV, internet video is almost structurally designed to be viewed alone.

      So are books.

      Mass participatory politics can’t be fully expressed by one person talking to a camera in an empty room

      Left wing ideas got expressed quite effectively by people writing books, however.

      • paolomartinez says:

        So are books.

        From the end of the piece:

        The problem is that a lot of what I’ve said about internet video here also applies to writing. Literature is also solitary, composed in silence, read in silence; it’s a fundamentally pathetic and asocial activity.

        • gbdub says:

          Well yeah. That note is pretty weak though. Feels like a narrow distinction just because Sam Kriss’ outgroup chooses YouTube over blogging.

          • paolomartinez says:

            Yeah, it does feel a little like he’s noticed some uncomfortable implications from his argument and hastily tried to semi-acknowledge them at the end, but TBH the way things are with lefty CW stuff, it’s probably to his credit that he acknowledges them at all. (He does say literature rather than blogging though, and there’s an earlier reference to the uselessness of blogging against neoliberalism, so I’m not sure if it’s fully reducible to ingroup/outgroup dynamics. Who’s even in that guy’s ingroup these days?)

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Anticipating a counterargument is pretty much the same thing as refuting it, isn’t it?

    • gbdub says:

      Trying to read it charitably, but it takes a lot of trying. Without it, it sounds like “lonely people allowed to express themselves inevitably turn into Nazis”. I’m not sure why the author is confident in labeling any pathology coming out of YouTube “right wing” (have they never heard of tumblr? Different format, same outcome, mostly other wing) so it’s hard not to assume this is just a “boo outgroup” piece. Calling them the politics of “loneliness” a) feels awful damn rich coming from a blogger and b) feels like just another in a long line of insulting introverted nerds because it’s easy and feels good.

      I don’t see any solutions in there, and stoking the fires of “everyone who disagrees with me must be stopped and deplatformed now before their minor thoughtcrimes become Christchurch massacres, which of course they inevitably will” feels really scary and counterproductive.

      • paolomartinez says:

        Did you read the same piece I did? I thought it was very explicitly against deplatforming right-wing YouTube. Re: “Different format, same outcome, mostly other wing,” isn’t that exactly what he’s getting at here?

        The left that takes shape on YouTube and the various other social media platforms tends to be a gloss over something that remains fundamentally reactionary: bickering and resentment, cringiness and vituperation, a bitter identification with imagined national, cultural, racial, or political communities, a subject at war with the world around them and everything in it.

        It’s a kinda weird definition of “right-wing”, but I think it tracks – in SSC terms, he’s just trying to look at the ideology rather than the movement.

        • gbdub says:

          Maybe we didn’t read the same post – the one I read was all about the problems with “right wing YouTube” and how YouTube was “always going to be ruled by the right”.

          Kriss doesn’t seem to have any real issue with deplatforming right-wingers on YouTube except that he thinks it might be ineffective (the free speech argument is just a “squabble” and anyway the right wingers aren’t really engaging in speech, it’s just a “concentrated torrent of non-communication” to zero audience (again, quite rich coming from a guy blogging into his own personal void because more mainstream outlets dropped him for getting too aggressive with his girlfriend and then issuing a non-apology apology)). His problem with deplatforming, other than it not working, is that it catches up Antifascists. Left unexamined of course is whether the Internet black hole plays any part in the radicalization of Antifa. Kriss’ preferred solution?

          It can’t be drowned out and it can’t be switched off. The only way to shut down the fascist creep on YouTube is to shut down YouTube itself.

          As for the weird definition of right-wing, it sounds like he’s just taking shots at “the wrong sort of left-wing”. In SSC terms, he’s attacking his near-outgroup. You can’t defend that as an idiosyncratic definition of “right wing”. It’s a pure partisan attack. Leftism is “mass participation politics”. Rightism is “the politics of loneliness”. Again, it’s hard to separate Kriss’ argument from the usual “righties are gross lonely neckbeards in their parents’ basement”, just wrapped in better turns of phrase.

          Charitably I think he’s noticed a real issue about the “black hole” effect of something like YouTube, but he doesn’t really say anything profound about it after that. The rest of the piece is all about defending the idea that the badness of YouTube is fundamentally right wing and carefully avoiding talking about similar phenomena elsewhere online that don’t feed the partisan slant of his narrative.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Speaking of people doing things together, perhaps Kriss’ friends should do an intervention to get him to confront his metaphor habit before it gets completely out of hand.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      The Christchurch massacre killed 51 people. The Iraq War killed… well, we lost count, numbers vary wildly, the low bound seems to be around 110,000.

      You can’t just elide around the fact that the mainstream forces who would be carrying out any “deplatforming” have multiple orders of magnitude more blood on their hands than the people they’re trying to silence, and a history of silencing people opposed to their wars of aggression. That’s arguably the #1 problem with the idea in the first place.

      • Enkidum says:

        Wait, the Iraq War is the responsibility of the deplatformers of the world? Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are antifa, is that the idea?

        EDIt: That comes across as much snarkier than I intended, I’m not trying to start a fight here, I’m legitimately confused as to what you’re trying to say. There were hundreds of thousands of people on the streets protesting the Iraq War, and I think most of those who are responsible for deplatformings were either there, or would have been if they’d been old enough. So what you’re saying is extremely confusing to me.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      If there’s no longer a bright line separating the extremists from the far edge of the Overton window, if it’s so easy to slip from Weinstein to Peterson to Molyneux to Anglin, well, we just need to treat Weinstein like Anglin to prevent further slippage. And then people read Weinstein and see how totally reasonable he sounds, and conclude there’s nothing wrong with anyone else who’s been deplatformed either…

      I’m gonna be honest, to me this reads like an argument against deplatforming anyone.

    • 10240 says:

      I don’t like the notion of heavyhanded regulation and censorship, but I don’t think there’s any alternative to it. I used to believe “the answer to speech is more speech” but how would more speech have prevented the Christchurch massacre?

      It’s impossible to keep the incidence of any crime (including murder) at precisely zero. The standard way of preventing crime is deterrence; it mostly works, though not always. If we’ve tried enhancing the usual ways of fighting crime, and tried any other plausible ways that don’t involve suspending fundamental liberties, and the crime rate is still excessive (say, terrorist bombings killing dozens of people every day), it may be reasonable to contemplate suspending fundamental liberties if it can be expected to help the situation significantly.

      But, crucially, the threshold above which the rate of a crime is considered “excessive” enough to suspend fundamental liberties can’t be “anything above zero”. A standard that it’s OK to curtail fundamental liberties (such as speech) as long as they might indirectly lead to a slightly increased incidence of murder (or even terrorism) would lead to a system with no civil liberties at all — and it still wouldn’t achieve the goal of zero terrorism. Currently we have something like one ideologically motivated, non-Islamist murder a year throughout the Western world (there aren’t much more Islamist ones either), which is about the lowest possible rate above zero. In particular, IMO single events (such as a terrorist attack) are essentially never legitimate reasons for restricting basic rights.

      All of the above also applies to censorship by private companies. While IMO private companies should have the right censor their content, we should consider it undesirable for much of the same reasons we consider it illegitimate if done by the government; we should discourage rather than encourage it. That’s if the platform has no effective alternative, and thus its censorship would have a significant effect on public discourse. Censorship by private companies is not much of a problem if the platform has major alternatives and thus the censorship has little effect on public discourse — but in that case, it can’t achieve the desired effect either.

      In general, I tend to be very skeptical about using single events (such as a terrorist attack) as justification for policy change. Much of the time the policy change is only tangentially related to the event, and the “justification” is mostly to paint opponents of the policy change as insensitive, or not sufficiently opposed to the evil terrorists.

    • Plumber says:

      @BBA says:

      “Sam Kriss”

      A bit off topic, but should I feel ashamed that before this post I’ve never heard of this “Sam Kriss”?

      Is he worth learning more about and reading more of?

  3. Nancy Lebovitz says:

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

    I’m hoping I’m doing an honest job with these notes, but if you comment, could you mention whether you’ve listened to the podcast?

    This is part of a long series about Evergreen University– the school Bret Weinstein was driven out of.

    I’ve only listened to a few of them, but I was left curious about how things are at Evergreen these days, and behold, here’s a podcast.

    A few points: Evergreen has quite a strong STEM side. Good professors, good students, and a good ratio between them. Perhaps relatedly, Evergreen doesn’t pay professors very well, which means a good working environment is crucial.

    In the opinion of Belinda Bratsch (the interviewee) a lot of what’s wrong at Evergreen is the lack of a strong grievance process– students really didn’t (and don’t– nothing’s been fixed) have a good formal way to complain about professors, and that’s part of why things blew up.

    There’s some general discussion about scientists not knowing how to talk to or write for the general public and not not wanting to learn. This isn’t just a problem at Evergreen.

    Also, good professors, good students, good studios for the ceramics department. (Casual observation by the STEM student taking a shortcut.)

    Melinda Bratsch thinks things could blow up again, and worse. SJWish is still pretty strong there. However, it’s possible to speak against SJW and still be a student there. However, it’s a hostile environment for white cis male professors, and becoming more so.

    Bratsch says that the National Science Foundation says that 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% are repetitive. I can believe this from personal experience, but does anyone of research on the subject? Good research?

    Evergreen seems to select for students with initiative and a strong work ethic. [Me speaking: I guess you take your chances.]

  4. proyas says:

    Gonave Island secedes from Haiti and elects you to be its dictator for life. How would you go about making it into a rich, advanced, powerful country?

    Note: Rump Haiti is your mortal enemy, refuses to recognize your country or to trade with you, and forswears to someday reconquer your island.

    • Uribe says:

      I suppose the answer should be something along the lines of making it a very free place to do business and allowing automatic citizenship to anyone with skills. But I don’t really think it would work, because there’s already The Bahamas, The Cayman Islands and other nations in the region which have no corporate taxes and friendly banking rules, and the economy of those places is still dominated by tourism. What could make Gonave more appealing to businesses than those other places? The geography just seems bad, particularly if Haiti must be your enemy as well. Singapore wouldn’t be Singapore if it weren’t so well placed on the map.

      I suppose my answer is that I’d try to get Paul Romer on the phone and ask him what he would do.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Step 1. Be the Singapore of the Western Hemisphere.

      Step 2. See step 1, really.

      Step 3. Profit!

  5. Uribe says:

    Say I’ve got a manufacturing business with 1000 employees. I’ve made a ridiculous amount of money, and for some reason, maybe because I’m a little crazy, I’ve decided to found a new town somewhere in the USA where there’s currently nothing. I’ll move my factory and all my employees there. I hope that one day it will turn into a thriving city. Where should i found my town?

    Bonus: Same question, but say I want to do this in a different country. What country and where precisely?

    • Dissonant Cognizance says:

      1000 employees doesn’t sound like enough critical mass to create enough demand for all the things you’d want out of a city, so you would want to be less than a few hours’ drive from somewhere at least large enough to support a Wal-Mart. If you want to allow for long-term growth into a large, thriving city, then you’d want somewhere flat enough to allow easy expansion, ample fresh water, at least two forms of inexpensive transportation, and most importantly, a permissive regulatory environment.

      This basically rules out anywhere on the vertical coasts of the US, so you’re looking at inland rivers, the Great Lakes, or the Gulf Coast. The latter is perhaps less than ideal due to climate change, or at least the already-present risk of hurricanes. Flood insurance might make the whole thing a no-go outside of already established urban areas. The Great Lakes seem like they’d welcome the investment but there are reasons the Rust Belt is past its prime.

      I’m going to go with a region I’m at least somewhat familiar with, and say somewhere around Huntsville, Alabama. There’s plenty of empty, cheap land, the Tennessee River for a water supply and shipping, access to both I-65 and the Norfolk Southern railway, an “international” airport, and a local concentration of labor for both manufacturing and research from the local auto plants and the Marshall Space Flight Center. All this in a state that’s hurting for economic development and abhors regulation. The flip side is that if you’re building a company town from nothing, you might need to provide your employees with private schools to convince them to relocate – Alabama isn’t exactly known for its high-achieving public school system.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Any hint why? Business reasons, legal, just plain eccentric? You probably want to pay attention to legislation and politics. Once you build a town you also have a city council voted by your employees, with a lot of power over rules and regulations that impact your business. Depending on how aligned your employees are to your goal this could be good, or could be union on steroids.

      Also a random tidbit: in a statistic of communities started from scratch, the overwhelming majority of those that succeeded were religious.

      There was also a comment here about a month ago on how rust belt cities are dead for good because of …cars. Nobody wants to live in the small town the factory is located, when they can live in a much bigger town with a 40 minute commute.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t know how many employees/franchisees Domino’s Pizza had when Tom Monaghan sold out in 1998, but if you want to found your own town, this is how he did it 🙂

    • S_J says:

      In the Great Lakes region, especially along the lakeshores, there are lots of small towns with open land nearby.

      Most of the shoreline of the Lakes are already settled in some fashion, though the towns are typically small and have services to support transient populations of people who do summer vacations along the Lakes. Some of the towns have a used-to-be-more-important feel: depending on whether it used to be a location for shipping lumber/iron-ore/copper/corn/grain.

      If access to railroads or cargo docks are important, you’re going to be choosing a location near a current town/city that has such things.

      One recommendation is to pick a town with a few hundred people, within 50ish miles of the City of Marquette. Marquette is the largest city in the area, and has lots of resources that cities of ~20000 people, plus the support network and student body of Northern Michigan University. (If you want to locate nearer a tech-oriented school, it may be possible to find a similar location within 50 miles of the city of Houghton, on the Keweenaw peninsula…but Houghton has a population of ~7000 or so, plus the student body of Michigan Tech.)

      These are more along the lines of turn a sleepy town into a newer, thriving town, or introduce a new business into a town that used to be a thriving for other reasons than build a small town from nothing.

  6. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    The Green Man as a relatively modern invention. The sense of humor is a lot like Scott’s.

    • Deiseach says:

      Stuff like that is why it is so easy to give contemporary pagan/Wiccan traditions a good kicking, which is why I generally don’t – so long as they leave me alone, I leave them alone, and doing “coloured candles and ribbons magick” is mostly harmless and well-intentioned. In the wake of Gerald Gardner’s alleged rediscovery of hidden continuous magical tradition in the 40s, an awful lot of this kind of Golden Bough-lite ‘history’ of witchcraft got churned out (so you had a Romany granny who read the cards – from an ordinary deck not Tarot – over tea for her neighbours? Let us tell you all about the secret esoteric wisdom that really means!)

      I only get on my high horse and start swinging the sword when we get the “Ackshually, all so-called Christian festivals are ripped off from Real True Authentic Pagan Traditions” type of looking down the nose about how the newly-fledged Wiccan is so much more authentic and genuine and chronologically superior in their ceremonies, especially when the persons celebrating Samhain (a) couldn’t pronounce it in the authentic native pronunciation to save their lives (b) have no awareness of how authentic natives celebrated it and (c) completely confuse various traditions and have no idea of the history of the Church feast of All Saints and All Souls Days (so Americans tend to only think in terms of Día de los Muertes and assume that it was culturally appropriated from authentic natives, and have no idea of how the influence worked both ways and that the original celebration moved to the Christian feast day and was heavily incorporated into it, and heavily incorporated the Christian tradition into itself).

      Though to be fair to most pagans and Wiccans, mostly it’s idiot urban fantasy novelists who do the looking-down-the-nose thing: have their heroes roll their eyes over the notion that Christian practices or symbols could have any real power because c’mon all that stuff was only invented two thousand years ago, but uncriticially accept that somebody prancing around waving a sprig of oak can perform Real Magick because, y’know, the Green Man goes back to prehistory. Or it’s canny magic-supplies-and-books shop owners hitching their wagon to the latest controversy du jour to publicise themselves and their businesses (“Now you can buy my latest SJ spellbook on Amazon!”)

      According to Dakota Bracciale, the co-owner of a Brooklyn occult store responsible for organizing a recent public hexing against Brett Kavanaugh, using spells for political protection is nothing new. “[Witchcraft] was always practiced by the people who were the outliers, who were on the fringes,” Bracciale says. “Those people oftentimes had to also be the arbiter of their own justice.”

      Yeah, that one didn’t work out so good, did it, Dakota? 😀

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        For what it’s worth, the neo-pagans I know (a fair number of them) believe that their religion isn’t strongly connected to ancient traditions. “We go to the same source our ancestors did– our imaginations”.

        I have no idea what he proportion of those who believe they’re following ancient ways is.

        • theredsheep says:

          I’d imagine the core of fraud triumphalists is fairly small, their activities mostly online. I have an old college friend I wound up unfollowing on FB after he kept posting the same hooey and ignoring my cited corrections. He wasn’t averse to debate–the opposite, really–he just somehow failed to assimilate even rigorously documented citations that Constantine did not compile the New Testament and Ishtar has nothing to do with Easter.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Deiseach, I’m just noting that the article was about problems with earlier folklore studies, though it isn’t surprising that bad research filtered out into people developing modern paganism.

        Speaking vaguely of, I was a bit shocked to find that early pagans didn’t celebrate eight astronomically based holidays. (Soltices, equinoxes, and halfway between each pair.)

        On reflection, it’s plausible that early pagans didn’t necessarily have a modern sense of symmetry about dividing the year, and possibly couldn’t afford eight holidays.

        And while we’re sort of on the subject, I wish there were a modern paganism based on how we actually live rather than one built around primitive agriculturalism. The weather matters, but there should also be rituals built around the economy, a thing which behaves erratically and affects people’s quality of life a lot.

        On the other hand, I seem to be the only one bothered by this, and I don’t seem to have it in me to invent modern paganism, especially since I don’t seem to have met anyone else who wants it.

        On yet another hand, I’m impressed that neo-paganism has a ritual structure which is strong and flexible enough that a lot of people can improvise pretty good rituals to fit in it.

        • Deiseach says:

          Speaking vaguely of, I was a bit shocked to find that early pagans didn’t celebrate eight astronomically based holidays. (Soltices, equinoxes, and halfway between each pair.)

          Ah, you mean the famous Wheel of the Year? Pardon me a moment while I wipe the smirk off my face.

          Yeah, it’s got mostly Irish Celtic festivals but they had to lump in some Welsh and at least one Norse (Yule) to make it come out according to Western European calendrical usage. I’m no expert on ancient Irish calendars, but the way the calendar is set up as Gaeilge it doesn’t handily map onto things like Equinoxes and Solstices (despite the fact that our ancient monuments are engineered to mark these) – so the important days on the calendar are Imbolc/St Bridget’s Day, 1st February and the start of Spring in Irish tradition (not astronomical or meteorological spring); Bealtaine/May Day, 1st May; Lúnasa/Lughnasadh/Lammastide, 1st August; and Samhain/1st November. So, for example, the importance of May Day is shown by the poem attributed to Fionn Mac Cumhail about it (Fionn is a legendary hero alleged to have lived in the 3rd century AD; earliest references to Fionn and the Fianna date from about the 7th century AD).

          To get the “Wheel of the Year” you have to stick in Ostara (you will remember the controversy over this as a Real True Authentic Rotten Christians Stole It Off Us pagan festival from previous comments), Litha for Midsummer which is I don’t know what (apparently it’s another one of St Bede’s ‘what the Anglo-Saxons round here call the months’ list), Mabon which is Welsh, or at least derived from Welsh mythology, and Yule which is Germanic/Northern.

          So it’s a syncretic list created by modern Wiccan-types to give them a proper handily organised list of Sabbats and y’know, okay for that, good luck to them. But it’s about as “authentically prehistoric real true enduring tradition passed down in secret through the Burning Times to our modern workings” as my left shoe.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Nice try Granuiad, but reverse psychology doesn’t work on me.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      They seem to be mainly complaining that practicing mindfulness in it’s various flavors and incarnations is preventing people from becoming rock throwing antifa types, which is what correctly thinking people should be doing instead, with a side helping of complaining that turns out that people are willing to pay to be helped and thus so there are people willing to be paid to try to help.

      Ah the Guardian, it never surprises, it never disappoints.

  7. Uribe says:

    Downthread there is discussion about an asteroid that might hit Earth soon. The author at the link claimed it would have the energy of 50 Hiroshimas if it hit, although another commenter (who strikes me as more knowledgeable than the angry ranter behind the original link) claims it would likely not harm anyone even it directly “hit” a major city.

    I just want to make a geography game out of this scenario. Suppose you somehow had the unenviable power and responsibility of determining exactly where this rock struck the earth, but it has to be a city of at least 100k people. Assume everyone within a 50 mile radius is instantly destroyed.

    If you wanted to cause the least amount of damage to the economy (local and global), which city on the globe would you choose?

    I don’t know nearly enough about geography and economic networks to know a good answer. I’m just curious to see if others here know enough to hazard a guess.

    Then there is the Beginner’s Level question: The destruction of which city would cause the most economic damage? I’d guess New York or Tokyo on that one.

    I’m worried that perhaps it seems offensive to say “The destruction of X city in northern India would cause the least amount of damage to the global economy”… if so, you can blame me for asking the question.

    • acymetric says:

      although another commenter (who strikes me as more knowledgeable than the angry ranter behind the original link) claims it would likely not harm anyone even it directly “hit” a major city.

      Without jumping in on your question, I’ll suggest that this seems at least as improbable as the idea that it would have the energy of 50 Hiroshimas…is that commenter suggesting it would burn up in the atmosphere and not make impact?

      • hls2003 says:

        The 50 Hiroshima bombs isn’t too high. If anything it’s probably too low. Hiroshima was only about 15 kt. But yes, while I have absolutely no expert training in the area, it is very likely that the asteroid would explode as an airburst at an extremely high altitude, something like 50,000 – 100,000 feet. That is according to impact simulators and also in accordance with historical precedent like the Chelyabinsk meteor (close in size, high-altitude airburst) and the Tunguska event (no crater so very likely massive airburst, size of impactor estimated to be at least 2-3 times greater than the asteroid in question).

        A nuclear blast also emits radiation in a way that an impact explosion doesn’t, so while I wouldn’t say it’s “safe” by any means, if it happens way up high, there’s somewhat less danger from the fallout. You’d still get chunks of falling asteroid that would do damage, but you wouldn’t have people on the ground being immediately vaporized like in the “Daisy” commercial when the blast is happening 10-20 miles up in the atmosphere, nor a lingering radiation poisoning fate.

      • Uribe says:

        Yes. That commenter suggests there would only be heat and p-waves at ground level.

        But my hypothetical is to assume an object of a mass that would not burn up in the atmosphere.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Magadan, man. It’s 93k, but combined with Ola some 15 miles east should be exactly 100k. The world economy will never ever miss it. Most of the citizens too.

      As for the maximum damage, I’d suggest to pick the biggest nuclear waste dump and hit there, having its content spread all over the planet can cause more deaths and damage long-term then cleanly destroying even the most populous city.

    • hls2003 says:

      Probably either Dunedin, New Zealand or Reykjavik, Iceland. Both are around 120,000 people, and not within 50 miles of other population centers. Dunedin is isolated at the southern tip of New Zealand, over twelve hundred miles from Australia, and much, much farther to anywhere else that isn’t Antarctica. A blast of that size on the coast would produce a substantial tsunami, but it would have to travel over 5,000 miles before hitting South America or Asia. Reykjavik is on the west coast of Iceland, pointed at Greenland, so any resulting tsunami would be largely blocked from northern Europe by Iceland’s mass, and Greenland and sparsely-populated arctic Canada, 2,000 miles away, would absorb most of the tsunami. The blast itself wouldn’t likely have major effects that far out from either chosen city.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        Reykjavik is a nation’s capital and has a major airport nearby. Also, are you sure sub-megaton blust on land near a shore produces tsunami?

        • hls2003 says:

          If it’s “instantly destroying” everything within 50 miles, it’s got to be much larger than a sub-megaton blast, which also means it’s got to be a lot bigger than the 30 m asteroid previously under discussion. I input a model about 10-15 times larger than that one, which the online models suggested would have (very approximately) a 50-mile total destruction radius for thermal radiation and blast wave, per the hypothetical. If you get an impact of that size on a coast, just about half the blast is going to be in water, and half the crater. So yes, I think it would generate a tsunami.

          Reykjavik is, admittedly, probably a worse choice. They also have a lot of banking (or did, before the 2008 crash, and I assume are again).

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Right, my bad, I missed that “50 mile radius” part somehow, I thought just the city will be instantly destroyed. Then it’s sure much larger then the asteroid that was discussed, even if it’d detonated near the surface. My pick is still Magadan though, there’s nothing of any value hundreds of miles from there. There’s Japan thousand miles south, but they don’t seem to have any major cities on the coast facing north, and they deal with tsunami all the time anyway, so whatever.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Tsunamis are in a whole different category, energy-wise. From wikipedia’s TNT equivalent page:

          The energy released in the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami was over 200,000 times the surface energy and was calculated by the USGS at 3.9×1022 joules,[27] slightly less than the 2004 Indian Ocean quake. This is equivalent to 9,320 gigatons of TNT, or approximately 600 million times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb.

          • A local impact megatsunami might not need as much energy input to achieve a much greater flooding height, while not affecting anything near as far away as a conventional seafloor fault tsunami.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Would people know that I was in control, or would everyone think it was an act of God?

      I could take out Pyongyang, or some other hostile regime, without any retaliation. (Depending on a bunch of psychological factors that are hard to predict because I’m not a character in an Orson Scott Card novel . . . or am I?)

    • brad says:

      Baraka, Democratic Republic of the Congo

      It’s a poor town in the highest population extremely poor country. It has no paved roads, no running water, and no electricity. Baraka is utterly irrelevant to the global economy and fairly irrelevant to the national one.

  8. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Tabletop RPG thread!
    What is the social contract of these games, and how do the rules of different systems support or undermine that?

    Dungeons & Dragons has a history of mismatch between character survivability rules and player expectations. Gary Gygax was the original killer DM, and that was OK, because your next character could be ready in 5 minutes. Later player assumptions changed in the direction of expecting their first PC to survive to the end of the DM’s planned story. I had the bizarre experience of DMing 3.5 under these assumptions, which was surreal because the Rules As Written were much, much more lethal than B/X if you knew how to optimize. The DM’s job in the contract became to know the system well and never leverage it, instead graciously losing every fight scene in the story.
    This was then hard-coded into D&D 4E, which nonetheless was a relative failure. 5E reverted to 3rd in many ways, but got rid of most of the damage and Armor Class acceleration that optimizers had. It also completely changed what happens at 0 Hit Points, from “unconscious, bleeding, instant death at -10” to “unconscious, you have to fail 3 death saves and it’s physically impossible for an enemy to kill your unconscious body with one blow.”

    Thoughts on this in D&D or other tabletop RPGs?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I can only speak to the situation at my tables, but the disagreements I’ve seen aren’t over character death per se but about what the DM’s role is when playing monsters or other hostile NPCs.

      My view has always been that the DM needs to be a fair referee, which means not fudging the dice or NPC stats, and that the DM should play NPCs in character whether that means going all out with Save-or-Die abilities or running away in fear. As such, character death is always a possibility in a fight. It doesn’t happen often, because my players are skilled and D&D has become much less lethal over time, but it has happened and will happen in the future.

      I’ve had players who were horrified when they realized that the near-misses their characters had encountered were actually lucky rolls and not me injecting drama. The expectation there was more of a choose-your-own-adventure novel type story, where PC decisions shape the direction of the game’s plot but the big-ticket items like death only occur at pre-determined “dramatically appropriate” points in the story.

      I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with a “narrativist” view of the DM’s role, but honestly at that point I would rather just boot up a Bioware game. To me the thing that separates tabletop RPGs from computer games, and makes them superior, is that you can figure out what would “actually happen” if you did X instead of Y without the inherent limitations of a computer simulation. The result probably won’t follow a traditional narrative structure, but it doesn’t need to.

    • souleater says:

      I’ve been playing pathfinder with the same group of coworkers for about 5 years, and I’ve been DMing for about 18 months. Each DM in my group has had their own preferences on how kill happy they’re inclined to be. Personally I like a lot of character development in my games, so I avoid killing players unless they really force my hand. Even then I try to deter them.

      DM: “You find a suspicious black glowing liquid in the demon sanctuary”
      Player: “I immediately drink it!”
      DM: “…”
      DM: “Just to be clear… you found some millenia old, possibly probably evil, magical liquid, and you want to ingest it.. do you understand how that might end really badly for you?
      Player: “I’m pretty sure it will be fine”
      DM: “I’m pretty sure it won’t… I mean.. you can do it if you want to… but… I’m just telling you people who go around drinking random chemicals usually die.”

      I’m not trying to railroad their character.. but I can’t encourage my players to invest in their characters if I blindside them with character deaths.

      My policy is

      Death by DM fiat: bad DMing
      Death by random chance: still bad DMing
      Death by player stupidity: I’ll warn you, but I won’t protect you from yourself.
      Death by noble sacrifice: cool! go for it!

      when I’m a player its usually more like

      Death by DM fiat: bad DMing
      Death by random chance: sucks, but it happens
      Death by player stupidity: sucks, but it happens
      Death by noble sacrifice: cool! go for it!

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        DM: “I’m pretty sure it won’t… I mean.. you can do it if you want to… but… I’m just telling you people who go around drinking random chemicals usually die.”

        The D&D arcade game from 1995 [1] had a sequence where the players had the choice to enter a cave, and the game said “Are you sure? You will die.” and then really asked them if they wanted to die. Then they died.

        There was some special story that was gated behind making this decision so experienced players would choose it on purpose, having to feed in another quarter each.

        [1] maybe https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_%26_Dragons:_Shadow_over_Mystara

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I think the player-perspective version of your chart probably has to be the true one, or Gary Gygax was a bad DM.
        Now I would say that if you’re making your poor, innocent players spend a week filling out a character sheet for your system of choice, you’re a bad GM by breaking a very fundamental social contract of group leisure by putting them in a situation where random chance has any possibility of killing that character they had to study hard to make.
        It’s the same principle by which player elimination is obsolete in board games.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I’m going to use this to soapbox my hate for FATE.

      From the FATE SRD:

      Characters in a game of Fate are good at things. They aren’t bumbling fools who routinely look ridiculous when they’re trying to get things done—they’re highly skilled, talented, or trained individuals who are capable of making visible change in the world they inhabit. They are the right people for the job, and they get involved in a crisis because they have a good chance of being able to resolve it for the better.

      In practice, however, the FATE point economy undermines this pretty heavily. In terms of Jenna Moran’s (excellent and incomprehensible) Wisher, Theurgist, Fatalist, Aspects have weak truth, mechanical support, and valence unless an Aspect is Invoked. And that takes a FATE point. IME, this means that it’s very easy for players to spend most of their time buffeted around by their surroundings, taking meaningful actions only when they really care about something. And that stands in very, very strong tension with the position:

      Characters in a game of Fate should be proactive. They have a variety of abilities that lend themselves to active problem solving, and they aren’t timid about using them. They don’t sit around waiting for the solution to a crisis to come to them—they go out and apply their energies, taking risks and overcoming obstacles to achieve their goals.

      • mendax says:

        That’s been my thoughts about FATE as well (with regards to Aspects), but we didn’t find it to be too much of a problem in play. Characters still did stuff, and were more competent than not.

        Lately I came around to the idea that I’d been playing it wrong, and that Aspects are meant to have normal truth, but mechanical support and valence are weak until a point is spent. But perhaps this isn’t a correct interpretation either.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        I will join your hate for Fate. Aspects are… pretty bad. They’re directionally useful — they provide ways to quantize bonuses that have traditionally been very systems-heavy to quantize — but they’re a bad implementation of the idea.

        That said, relative competence is very, very hard to build into any game system that’s not a complete straightjacket. The GM can always up the power of opposition until the players fail a lot, or lower the power of opposition until the players succeed a lot. I think that the passages that you excerpted are meant to be prescriptive, not descriptive.

    • broblawsky says:

      Killing low-level PCs in D&D is something you should avoid unless you know the player in question won’t get too upset. Once Raise Dead becomes available, PC death is on the table again; if the party can’t get their casualties raised in time, that’s on them.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I think that something that Forged in the Dark games tend to do well is avoid a failure cascade. In D&D, it’s easy to fail a spot check, then get bitten by a a giant spider, then fail a CON check and get paralyzed and abducted by the spider, then your friends fail their listen checks, then you die. Exaggerated, but you get the idea.

      Forged in the Dark games almost work like fighting (video) games to some extent in that they encourage the DM to offer players a way to “reset to neutral” pretty regularly. Making narrative advantage state a mechanical aspect of the game avoids failure cascades by allowing players to react to things going badly; there can still be save-or-die moments, but only if things have already gone catastrophically wrong and players are aware of the stakes. I really, really like that. It succeeds in allowing danger and agency to coexist.

    • mendax says:

      The social contract is something that is worth discussing with each group. A “session 0” is rightly a popular concept.
      Some games do this well by having rules that encourage such a discussion. Others manage it well by having an explicit social contract and rules that support it. D&D has had problems by having an implicit social contract and/or not directing players to decide one.

      In a Superheroes game, it should be understood that the player characters ought to be powerful. Likewise, in a horror game players should not be surprised if their characters start dying… one by one.
      But D&D can and has encompassed a variety of styles and it’s hard to know what to expect without talking about it.

      I like DCC’s character funnel. Paranoia’s clone tallies are also fun. Death and Dismemberment tables (in the style of WHFRPG) are cool. Character creation in Traveller is an adventure in itself.

    • honoredb says:

      It makes sense in general that a DM shouldn’t “optimize” adversaries…it’s neither realistic nor good narrative to have every ogre you encounter be the deadliest possible ogre. Ogres have other things going on, they can’t spend all of their time prepping to murder humans. And for narrative purposes D&D has things like “Encounter Levels”, which it seems like it’d be the DM’s job to honor the spirit of rather than subvert through munchkinry.

      Back when I DMed, I generally had a target amount of failure and death depending on what kind of story I thought the players were expecting. If you were in danger of exceeding it by too much for whatever reason, there would be a deus ex machina, and if you fell too far below it I’d start making things harder next time.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        It makes sense in general that a DM shouldn’t “optimize” adversaries…it’s neither realistic nor good narrative to have every ogre you encounter be the deadliest possible ogre. Ogres have other things going on, they can’t spend all of their time prepping to murder humans.

        Me optimizing ogres was never an issue The PCs cut down more than a thousand unoptimized humans and monsters. The issue was when I wanted there to be an adversary with any depth, I’d think up their personality, have to take a long time to make a character sheet… and then they die in Round 1 unless I minmaxed their AC, so the players forget whatever snippets of personality I remembered to make them say in time.
        The most-remembered antagonists from that campaign were 2 optimized liches and a couple of Epic-level puzzle monsters they encountered without using the combat rules. That’s how hard it was to keep any antagonist alive after Round 1 of combat.

        And for narrative purposes D&D has things like “Encounter Levels”, which it seems like it’d be the DM’s job to honor the spirit of rather than subvert through munchkinry.

        Well, yeah. That worked out OK for mooks, since the assumptions underlying the CR system is “CR = average PC level is the level of enemies PCs can expect to murder to the last man by using 25% of their resources.” Having anyone who could survive a mild stink-eye from the PCs as an interesting ongoing character in the world was where it broke down.

    • Spookykou says:

      I might be repeating someone else as I haven’t read all the responses, but this is worth repeating, 3.5 is totally down to player skill, and good players are incredibly hard to stop RAW, assuming anything even vaguely like ‘fair play’ and of course if the DM doesn’t like to play fair, I think the last version of Punpun I read achieved godhood from a level 1 commoner with no character levels.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        If I remember correctly, the original Punpun had to be a kobold who took a special dragon-ish ability to be rules-legal. To which I mentally responded “Oh, so the Gamemaster is God and you’re Satan.”

    • Uribe says:

      I haven’t played D&D since I was 12, but when I did I was a ruthless DM. Most characters died fast and hard. As a DM, I was just trying to interpret the rules of the game as objectively as I could. This turned out to work well, because when the players did survive an adventure, they relished their lives and their gold. When, after months, characters achieved higher levels, there was great excitement. Their power was something new in the world. The players cherished it.

      I say be as ruthlessly objective as possible. The drama is in the dice.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Napoleon said that repetition is the only successful form of rhetoric*, so I’ll take the opportunity to bang the same drum I always do.

      D&D’s Original Sin was that Gygax wasn’t very good at explaining his idea of the game (not forgetting Dave Arneson, it’s just that he was overshadowed by Gary since day one).

      My approach to playing (old-school=TSR) D&D is as follows:

      If you so much as touch the dice, you’ve already lost. **

      The aim of the original game wasn’t “kill monsters, get treasure”. It was “get treasure”. Killing monsters was something to be avoided, if at all possible, because it could easily turn into “get killed by monsters”.

      Player skill, back in the day, manifested in coming up with creative ways to avoid rolling dice. Setting off a trap often resulted in save or die, so you really don’t want to set off a trap. Intelligent monsters can be reasoned with (I remember reading a story from Gary’s own table, where one of his players playing a demon – low-hit-die, of course – doused himself with oil and set himself on fire – to which he was naturally immune – in order to cow a bunch of goblins to obey him; Gary allegedly loved it). Unintelligent monsters can be distracted by dropping food and typically shouldn’t be a fight-to-the-death encounter anyway, etc., etc.

      Tomb of Horrors was written the way it was to show that you can’t simply rely on your character’s powers to succeed. Foolish player, meet Sphere of Annihilation.

      The role of the DM, as I see it, is to be the interface for the players‘ clever plans. When designing encounters, it’s a good idea to write in at least one way to avoid danger through smart choices (and a couple of clues to drop into the description). If the players insist on rolling the dice, go with it and let them fall as they may.

      It helped that characters were cheap back in the day.

      WOTC took the game and completely failed to understand the premise. The result was insanely expensive characters (in terms of creation time) and “system mastery” over clever thinking during play. We’re meant to be rolling dice all the -ing time (otherwise all that time deciding how to spend your points would’ve been a waste, wouldn’t it?), so you get goblin dice – rolls that don’t actually mean anything, but we pretend that they do.

      Make the die rolls actually meaningful and you’ve suddenly got a problem. Your player ain’t gonna be happy that the character they spent two hours preparing died five minutes into the game.

      My absolute favourite example of how old-school D&D should go is the Misadventures in Randomly Generated Dungeons/Fellowship of the Bling thread on RPG.net. It’s a long read, but well worth it. Only after I read it did I really understand what D&D was, even though I’d been playing it for decades.

      * He might not have, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

      ** On consideration, this might warrant a clarification. It doesn’t mean that rolling dice should result in death/failure. Simply that if you’re rolling the dice, you’ve missed an opportunity to take randomness out of the equation.

  9. Deiseach says:

    So I’ve just been pouring cold water on nice aspirations, or being Cranky Grumpy Old Biddy on the Internet once more.

    See, there was this nice vaguely motivational slogan on a Tumblr post. Very nice image as well, the kind of hip blackboard messaging (are blackboards hip? I’m always unsure what is and is not in fashion nowadays, particularly when it comes to “stuff in my childhood decades ago” – is that fusty old rubbish or so-old-it’s-back-in-style?).

    Anyhow, it was “You will never look into the eyes of someone God does not love. Always be kind.” So the general sort of affirming niceness, that is sometimes (not in this case I think, but sometimes in other usages) used to rebuke the conservatives/backwards/-phobes and -ists of various stripes.

    And y’know, that’s a nice soft gentle squishy message. It’s quite true as well, but here’s where the cold water pouring/grumpy old biddy bit comes in.

    It is true. But true on a level that I don’t think (though I may be doing them an injustice) the ‘put up a nice inspiring reminder to be nice’ nice people who do this sort of things have necessarily thought about.

    God does love everyone. That means God loves Hitler. God loves the BindTortureKill murderer. God loves Fascists and the Nazis you want to punch. God loves rapists, racists, murderers, paedophiles and the fat-cat big corporate climate-destroyers on the boards of multinationals that are ruining the world through short-sighted capitalism. God loves TERFs.

    The people that you want to feel good about despising, because they’re on the wrong side of history and besides they are horrible mean nasty people who are all -phobes and -ists? The people that you would write smug little thinkpieces about how they’d go Nazi? God loves them.

    Love is not nice, love is scary. Good Is Not Nice (to quote that time-sink site you all know and love). Lenny knew it, too: “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah”. Love is the burning furnace of charity, and if you’ve ever been anywhere near a blast furnace or even a glassblower’s furnace, you’ll know how not-cuddly that is.

    So yes, I’ve been crushing nice people’s nice little affirming messages on the Internet, what have you been doing today? 🙂

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I like this. True and literally charitable, though unbelievers would deny “necessary.”

    • The Nybbler says:

      So yes, I’ve been crushing nice people’s nice little affirming messages on the Internet, what have you been doing today?

      Working, mostly, but now I’m waiting for stuff to run so I can see why it doesn’t work. Crushing people’s affirmations is like stealing candy from babies; sure it’s easy and fun and the candy is quite tasty, but it makes the babies cry and then everyone else gets mad at you.

    • broblawsky says:

      I’ve been making a tri-tip roast for my cousins.

      I’ve never actually had a chance to ask someone who believes what you just described w/r to divine love: what, exactly, do you think that kind of love means? What kind of behavior would you expect to see motivated by that feeling? How can you reconcile the idea of that kind of unconditional love with the Catholic doctrine of eternal damnation? If you don’t want to answer, you don’t have to.

      • Deiseach says:

        How can you reconcile the idea of that kind of unconditional love with the Catholic doctrine of eternal damnation?

        God will love you every step of the way as you march yourself into damnation. God will forgive you at any step, and thinking “Oh I’m too big and terrible of a sinner, even God can’t forgive this” is making a fool of yourself, you’re not that important in the universe. No, not even if you’re Adolf H.

        But God is not “nice vaguely senile old Santa Claus gift-dispenser in the sky”. God is also just, and if you choose to the very end to say “Non serviam”, then you will go to Hell. For all eternity. And it will be terrible (whether we want to think of it in the old burning fire and torture sense, or the absence of God sense). Heine’s alleged deathbed aphorism “Of course God will forgive me, that’s His job” is a double-edged sword; there’s not necessarily any “of course” about it. You can’t slide right up to the very end not having a particle of contrition or intention to do anything but your own way every moment of your life, then expect “well God is supposed to forgive me, I don’t need to do anything about it”.

        There’s a lot of trendy forgiveness about, I’ve seen some examples of it online since this is Pride Month, about what Christianity ‘really’ is or what Jesus ‘really’ meant. It’s ironic because it’s “don’t be judgemental, and I’m judging you for being judging”, but never mind that. Love, forgiveness and Hell are hard sayings and hard doctrines. People have been trying to fudge around it for a long time – either by downplaying the love (sinners in the hands of an angry God) or doing away with Hell: either nobody goes there since everyone is saved (so you can go on torturing eight year olds to death until you drop dead yourself and you’ll still be forgiven and saved), there is no Hell (so ditto), or the souls of bad people just go ‘poof!’ when they die so good people like us will eternally exist in The Nice Place but there won’t be any bad people (so we can feel nice and superior about not having eternal suffering, but we don’t have to deal with the problem of evil either).

        God does love everyone – that’s the hard bit. Because for all the transgender lamb cartoons, God also loves the TERF flock and people doing the stone-throwing (that’s the bit that gets elided by the crowd going “Gee, I wish the conservative transphobic church congregations realised this is what true Christian compassion is and what Christ was really all about”, the compassion extends to the mean ole conventional cis people too). And Hell exists – that’s also the hard part; the parable of the lost sheep is that the sheep was lost and needed to be brought back; your transgender lamb will have to abide by the rules of the flock after all. And the non-straying flock can’t be any too sure that they won’t end up in Hell if they simply rely on the fact that ‘I’ve always kept the rules – well, the ones that were convenient and socially advantageous to keep’.

        People don’t like either of those messages. They want unconditional love and mercy (for me and those like me) and punishment (for the bad people who aren’t like me and those like me). God loves everyone (even the Nazis whom you want to punch). There are consequences of our behaviour (even if we thought punching was okay because we were punching bad people after all).

        • Viliam says:

          so you can go on torturing eight year olds to death until you drop dead yourself and you’ll still be forgiven and saved

          Just to check if I understand it correctly — the only problem with this behavior is if you keep doing it literally until you drop dead; not giving yourself at least five minutes to stop and repent.

          And the kids you tortured will probably go to hell, because they likely hated you intensely until literally the moment they dropped dead. (So they didn’t repent one of the capital sins.)

        • broblawsky says:

          But God is not “nice vaguely senile old Santa Claus gift-dispenser in the sky”. God is also just, and if you choose to the very end to say “Non serviam”, then you will go to Hell.

          The problem I have with this concept is that I don’t believe that there is anyone who, faced with direct empirical evidence of the existence of God, Heaven, and Hell, would choose to go to Hell. If God gives people this choice face-to-face, so to speak, then it’s not really a choice; I expect that even a super-hard-core atheist would kneel. If God insists that people make this decision before dying, without empirical evidence, then he’s basically playing a prank on humanity, and that decision is incompatible with any reasonable definition of love.

          I really that this isn’t original thinking on my part; theologians have been debating the Problem of Hell for millennia. I just haven’t ever seen an apologia I considered adequate.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I can see a couple of ways out, but they’re heterodox at best, heretical at worst.

            Possibly the least objectionable* observation is that God’s Word came down to us through people and is laden with those people’s misconceptions and misunderstandings of what they were being told. Layer these on top of one another and you’ll have generations of really smart people (theologians, rabbis, etc.) trying to come up with a coherent whole.

            Suffice to say that God, if He exists, has some kind of plan for what to do with sinners and that plan need not be anything intuitively obvious to us – or consistent with the orthodox message – because the limited human mind cannot comprehend the divine. Mysterious was, and all that.

            My favourite bit of not-serious-but-perhaps-more-serious-than-you’d-think theology comes from Tolkien (a devout Catholic, as we all know), via Eru to Melkor: “there is nothing that doesn’t have its roots in me, and anything you do will ultimately contribute to the glory of my creation”.**

            Seems an uplifting message to me.

            * Other than to biblical literalists, at least, but if I were any kind of Christian, I’d be a Roman Catholic, so there.

            ** My chief beef with Tolkien was that he awoke Lewis’s faith and Lewis wasn’t the kind of person you want to think about theology. Ugh.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The whole concept of divine love or charity is incredibly confusing because of the poor choice of names. It’s not anything like love as is normally understood, neither romantic nor platonic, and it’s certainly not like charity in the ordinary sense of the word.

      Maybe it was clearer in Latin or Greek but it seems hard to fault people for interpreting the language of Christianity by its straightforward English meanings instead of through the lens of dead languages. Given that even the Catholics conduct mass in the vernacular, would it kill them to be a little more clear on what they’re talking about?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Maybe it was clearer in Latin or Greek but it seems hard to fault people for interpreting the language of Christianity by its straightforward English meanings instead of through the lens of dead languages.

        I mean, I feel like Modern English has to share in the responsibility here. It’s not good that so much of the straightforward meaning of “love” became “I want to have sex in a respectful, socially-approved way.” 😛

      • Deiseach says:

        it seems hard to fault people for interpreting the language of Christianity by its straightforward English meanings

        The straightforward English meanings have been boiled down to “Love is what we celebrate on Valentine’s Day, and by celebrate we mean sell chocolates and flowers and hotel breaks for romantic weekends, because the only love that counts is sexual/romantic”.

        Personally, I blame the Romantics for this 🙂

    • HeelBearCub says:

      So yes, I’ve been crushing nice people’s nice little affirming messages on the Internet, what have you been doing today?

      Do you think you bring them closer to God by crushing them? Is this God’s work, or yours?

    • I’ve been converting a draft for kindle of my price theory text into a draft for print.

      Which should be easier than it is.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      God loves the fascists
      God loves the IRA
      God loves Herr Fritzl
      God loves King Leopold
      God loves the whole world
      It’s such a brilliant place

      Boom dee a dah, boom dee a dah, boom dee a dah, boom dee a dah…

  10. Uribe says:

    Why is it a thing that geographical names get translated into different languages? Why is Brasil Brazil in English? What is the point? Why is Praha Prague? Again, what is the point? Why can’t we all call things what the natives call them, at least to the extent we can easily pronounce them?

    Edit: A hypothesis I just came up with while noticing that getting the spelling mostly right doesn’t mean one gets the pronunciation right: Maybe, for some reason, it’s better and less offensive to intentionally call something different from what the natives call it, than to try to call it what the natives call it and fail.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Because language is spoken first and written second. People hear about places and they are later written down. Once it’s written down enough, you’re not going to change it because the natives spell it differently, particularly if their writing system doesn’t even have the same characters

      • acymetric says:

        But in at least some cases it isn’t just spelled differently, it is pronounced differently.

        • AlexanderTheGrand says:

          E.g. Deutschland — Germany

          • ana53294 says:

            In Spanish, it’s Alemania.

            Another one that changes are the Netherlands; in Spanish, it’s called either Paises Bajos (Lower Countries) or Holanda (I was told by a Dutch guy this is offensive to some people, kind of like calling Spain Castille, because Holland is just a province, not the whole country).

            Spain has a pretty consistent name AFAIK, derived from Hispania.

            But Chinese names to many countries don’t sound at all like the names we use (from when I was studying Chinese). It’s the same with Korean; they don’t use easily recognizable country names, even for countries where contact was made relatively recently (and thus no mutation happened).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Alemania was the part of what the Romans called Germania inhabited by the Alemanni tribe after breaking through the Roman borders in the Crisis of the Third Century. Since it included the banks of the Rhine and the upper Danube River basin as far as the confluence with the Lech River, it’s not surprising that the Spanish took the name of the proximate part for the whole.
            And Deutschland is the endonym, while some languages prefer the Latin exonym because it’s Latin.

      • Machine Interface says:

        Also place names are subject to phonetic evolution overtime just like other words. That’s why the city of “Florence” is called “Florence” in French and English, “Florencia” in Spanish, “Firenze” in Italian and “Fiorenza” in the local Tuscan dialect, all deriving more or less directly from the original Latin noun “Florentia”.

      • Uribe says:

        Seems like it would be the job of dictionary and atlas makers to be the authority on the correct names. In this case, the correct name should be determined from the top down.

        I’ll note that in a few cases it seems like we have changed the name in English to match what the natives prefer. For instance, Iran instead of Persia. Also, I assume it’s Mumbai instead of Bombay now because that’s closer to the native term, but I don’t really know the history of that particular change.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Also, I assume it’s Mumbai instead of Bombay now because that’s closer to the native term, but I don’t really know the history of that particular change.

          AIUI a lot of the natives actually dislike the name Mumbai, because it’s based on the name of a Hindu goddess and the Hindu nationalist party changed it as a sort of territory-marking exercise. As a rough analogy, imagine if a white nationalist party was voted into power in New York and renamed it Confederacytown.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            As a rough analogy, imagine … New York

            Almost as if a bunch of Brits showed up and sneeringly told the local “Janke”‘s that they now live in New ENGLAND instead of New HOLLAND, and renamed New AMSTERDAM to instead be New (Some Rando Town in Middle England Somewhere).

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Or sometimes the exact opposite of that. Anglophones clearly call Paris “Pear-iss” instead of “Pah-ree” because more people saw it written down than heard a francophone speak it, and pronounced it according to English phonetic rules. There are towns in the US called Versailles (pronounced “vuhr-sales”) and so forth, too.

        • BBA says:

          It doesn’t even need to cross languages. There’s a river in Connecticut called the Thames, named after the one in England but pronounced the way it looks.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            My favorite is Houston Street in New York, which is correctly pronounced as house-ton. Anyone who pronounces it like Houston, Texas is outing themselves as being from out of town.

          • Uribe says:

            My favorite is Houston Street in New York

            This raises a question I’ve long had. Is Houston Street in NYC named after Sam Houston or someone else? If someone else, how was that person’s name pronounced?

          • Theodoric says:

            This raises a question I’ve long had. Is Houston Street in NYC named after Sam Houston or someone else? If someone else, how was that person’s name pronounced?

            According to Wikipedia, it’s named after William Houstoun (with an alternate spelling). The street was apparently originally part of his father in law’s estate.

        • littskad says:

          because more people saw it written down than heard a francophone speak it

          Actually, in Old French, the “s” in “Paris” was pronounced. While in French, final “s” was later lost in pronunciation (but the spelling wasn’t updated to reflect the change), that phonological change never happened in English. So the “s” is pronounced in English because it’s always been pronounced in English.

          • Lillian says:

            Funny story, in Interwar America it seems to have been pronounced the French way, at least by some people. Presumably all the American boys sent over to fight in France adopted the French way of pronouncing Paris, and it stuck around for a while before going back to the standard English pronunciation.

        • SamChevre says:

          This is typical of English–I noticied it when studying French.

          In Polish, the capital of Poland is “Warsawa”– var-sah-vah
          In English, it’s Warsaw — war-saw
          In French, it’s Varsovie – var-so -vee

          And so on–English keeps the spelling close, French keeps the pronunciation close.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      The thing that blows me away is that we (ie, anglophones) call Firenze “Florence.” THERE’S NOT EVEN AN L IN THERE. And it’s not like this is some exotic far-away language with phonemes and alphabets we just can’t deal with.

      I wouldn’t be surprised with a Paris-style thing where the real name was given an anglicized pronunciation. Like if we called it “Fire-ence,” okay, sure. But how did “Feer” get turned into “Flo”?

      Also baffling: there is a city near me called Vallejo. It is universally pronounced “Val-ay-ho.” Why? Why not either “Vay-ay-ho” or “Val-eh-joe”?

      • Machine Interface says:

        Just adressed that one post above.

      • Spookykou says:

        I am pretty sure the J as H is more common knowledge than LL as Y for Americans trying to pronounce Spanish more authentically, these kinds of mistakes are pretty common where I am from, jajaja.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I wouldn’t be surprised with a Paris-style thing where the real name was given an anglicized pronunciation. Like if we called it “Fire-ence,” okay, sure. But how did “Feer” get turned into “Flo”?

        It didn’t. “Florence” is from the Latin name, “Florentia”; it’s the Italians who changed the “Fl-” to a “Fi-“. It’s not our fault that those guys can’t speak proper Latin.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      An example: In case of Prague, oldest written name of the city is Praga, in Latin. People started writing in Czech several hundred years after this city was founded. Praga was translated to French as Prague, and English uses French name instead of Czech one. I think broadly similar processess account for other discrepancies between native and English names of places.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        Worth mentioning is the fact that there was likely a consonant shift in the interim:

        The spirantisation of Slavic /g/ to /h/ is an areal feature shared by Ukrainian (and some southern Russian dialects), Belarusian, Slovak, Czech, Sorbian (but not Polish) and minority of Slovene dialects. This innovation appears to have travelled from east to west, and is sometimes attributed to contact with Scytho-Sarmatian. It is approximately dated to the 12th century in Slovak, the 12th to 13th century in Czech and the 14th century in Upper Sorbian.

        I wasn’t able to easily find out when the earliest record of Praga as a name is from, but I’m assuming it pre-dates the consonant shift. Given that most people in France or Britain wouldn’t have had any contact with spoken Czech for centuries, the people responsible for passing the name down would continue to do so completely oblivious of the change.

    • Spookykou says:

      I believe there are often many steps involved, Marco Polo first hears of ‘Japan’ from a Chinese person, not much hope of the eventual English version being very correct.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        It’s a little surprising that there aren’t more demonyms which translate as “Those bastards”.

        • Lillian says:

          A substantial number of Native American tribes in North America are known by the name their enemies or neighbours gave them. Comanche means enemies in Ute. Ute derives from the Apache word for mountain people. Apache is thought to derive from the Zuni word for Navajos, which in turn means enemies.

          The Zuni actually called themselves that, but Navajo is from the Tewa term for a large field. The Tewas call themselves that, but most people known them as the Pueblos, which literally just means “towns” in Spanish. Because unlike the other natives in the area, they lived in fortified towns.

          In South-East Asia the Palaung call the Jingpo “khang” which means something like “mudblood”. The Jingpo use the same term for the Chin, and “yeren” meaning “wild men” for the Lisu.

          The West Germanic word walhaz means “stranger” or “foreigner”, which is how we got Wallachia, Vlachs, Wallonia, Walloons, Cornwall, Wales, the towns of Wallasey and Welche, and Włochy the Polish name for Italy. In contrast the Slavic word for Germans is derived from a word that meant “mutes”, whereas Slav means “one who speaks”.

          So while there’s not a lot of terms that mean “those bastards”, there sure seem to be a lot of variants on “those people”.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            there sure seem to be a lot of variants on “those people”

            I would rather use “the others”, but that seems to be pretty much the long and short of it.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          The terms “barbarian” and “hottentot” are both of imitative origin, and close to what you’re probably going for.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            If we were going to rudely name them after how they talk, why wasn’t it Clikclik?

    • bullseye says:

      Another example: “Cologne” in French and English, “Köln” in Standard German, “Kölle” in the local dialect. All from the unreasonably long Latin name “Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium”.

      Based on these examples, it appears the usual explanation is that the locals change the name more than foreigners do.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Played with in Futurama.

        Worm in Fry’s gut: I am the Lord Mayor of Cologne!
        Fry: You mean Colon?
        Worm: … state your business.

      • The original Mr. X says:


        Based on these examples, it appears the usual explanation is that the locals change the name more than foreigners do.

        Wouldn’t surprise me, as frequently-used words seem to undergo change more than infrequently-used words. E.g., “to be” is irregular in most languages, AIUI.

        • Nick says:

          You have it backwards; “to be” is irregular because it’s undergone less change. Take Latin, where do, dare, dedi, datum‘s forms partly precede the conjugation family it’s grouped with—you can tell by the irregular second and third principal parts. Or sto, stare, steti, statum. You can see the resemblance to perfect reduplication in Greek and Sanskrit; these forms are relics of older conjugation. From Sihler:

          482. The irregular verbs of L[atin] grammars are so designated because in large or small ways they do not conform to any of the four conjugations (elastic as that classification is). The usual reason for this is the survival of the athematic forms of the root class, such as est ‘is’; or of the athem. opt. in -i- (in L terms, the pres. subj.).

          (emphasis mine)
          About “to be” specifically:

          491. … In PIE—unlike G[reek], L[atin], and most attested IE languages—there was very little out of the ordinary about the verb ‘be’. The odder traits of the verb in G and L are the result, paradoxically, of the extreme conservatism of these forms. For example the OL subj. siem 1sg., simus 1pl., sient 3pl., unique to this verb, is actually the sole survivor in L of what was once the normal way of forming the optative system to roots.

          (emphasis mine)

          If you want examples from English, the -en ending in perfect forms is older than -ed. But -ed has been steadily taking over, and even verbs whose perfect once ended -en are more often rendered with -ed now. Don’t be surprised if “beed” never catches on, though.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Here’s a fairly short explanation of the process:
      1. An adventurous egghead travels to a faraway land and records his experiences. He tries to render the local names as well as his written language allows.

      2. Subsequent generations of eggheads aren’t that adventurous, but that’s okay, ‘coz they’ve got Written Sources. Thus, they go back to the original work (or – more likely – to works that reference the original work, or even works that reference works that reference the original work and so forth) and faithfully copy the name as originally rendered. It’s all good, they know what they’re talking about.

      3. All the while, the eggheads’ language is undergoing gradual changes, as languages do, so the pronunciation of a particular spelling subtly changes as well (or maybe the spelling changes to reflect how the name is pronounced). It’s all good, everyone knows what they’re talking about.

      4. Meanwhile, the locals’ language is also undergoing gradual changes and with it, the commonly used names of places that are now pronounced a bit differently. It’s all good, everyone knows what they’re talking about.

      5. Centuries later a representative of the eggheads’ culture and a representative of the local culture meet, use the name of the place that they’ve been taught and wonder if they’re talking about the same thing.

      • 5. Centuries later a representative of the eggheads’ culture and a representative of the local culture meet, use the name of the place that they’ve been taught and wonder if they’re talking about the same thing.

        Not quite the same thing, but I was involved, with my sister, in a conversation in Japan c. 1963 with some Japanese students. The name of one of the world’s most prominent political figures came up, and they couldn’t tell who we were talking about.

        It turned out, as best I could tell, that the Japanese version of Mao Tse Tung was the pronunciation in Japanese of the Chinese symbols for his name. My understanding—someone who knows more about the language is welcome to correct it—is that an individual symbol in Kanji can represent either the sound of the Chinese word it represents or the Japanese word with the same meaning as the Chinese word it represents.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          That’s always been my understanding of how Kanji is used, yes.

          As I understand it, the reading is context dependent, so mere knowledge of the character does not ensure correct pronunciation. Furigana may provide disambiguation, but I presume it doesn’t appear in most cases where an educated reader is expected to know the correct reading.

  11. jgr314 says:

    UBS has come under attack for comments from its chief global economist regarding inflation in China (here’s a bloomberg article).

    Can anyone explain what was offensive about what he said? I would quote it here, but I’m so far from understanding the reaction that I have no idea what the unintended consequences could be.

    • Spookykou says:

      The insult formation [nationality]+[animal] seems very common and taken more seriously in Asia than my western sensibilities can fully grok.

      This seems like a misunderstanding/cultural confusion/translation error situation.

      • acymetric says:

        Even granted that…unless there is some missing context it sure looks like he was using “Chinese pig” to mean “pigs that are in China” and not some weird reference to actual Chinese people. I agree it seems like a misunderstanding…and a simple enough one that it is hard to believe it has blown up like this.

        Maybe I’m wrong though.

        • Spookykou says:

          I think innocuous things that look vaguely controversial blowing up on social media is par for the course.

          Granted, I am not actually on social media and only really interact with it through SSC comments.

      • Deiseach says:

        Rival brokerages in Hong Kong stepped in, urging the bank to fire all people involved in the incident.

        Yeah, I think there may have been some intentional fanning of the flames there, with rivals hoping to blacken UBS’ eye and gain market share at their expense and so making a big deal out of “Did you KNOW he called Chinese people PIGS???”.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I know no more than you, but a quick Google suggests to me that pigs are culturally important, high status animals in China and that 2019 is the Year of the Pig, so perhaps making light of a devastating porcine epidemic is more culturally insensitive than it would naturally seem?

      Or perhaps China just wants an excuse to knock UBS in order to promote home-grown rivals.

    • Matt M says:

      Rival brokerages in Hong Kong stepped in, urging the bank to fire all people involved in the incident.

  12. honoredb says:

    Half-baked thought prompted by this thread: the distinction between the state “giving people free stuff” vs. other kinds of state spending is one of those things that feels more real than it is, and policy proposals can end up introducing inefficiencies by trying to game how it feels.

    At one end of the spectrum, I’ve heard people sarcastically describe the existence of a state-funded Navy as “giving away free boats.” This of course doesn’t feel right at all, to anyone, because there’s no obvious free market interaction this is substituting for; nobody can buy a 1 in 300 million share in naval protection. At the other end of the spectrum is, say, Government Cheese, which anyone would have to describe as the state giving away free cheese (even though it also serves a secondary policy goal delightfully termed “quantitative cheesing”). But in the middle of the spectrum, you can change how much a policy feels like “giving away free stuff,” often by adding indirection or complexity. You can give people free subway rides, or you can allow tax-advantaged salary deductions for a special interesting-earning account that can only be used for transportation. If giving away free stuff is off-brand for you, you might be tempted to propose the latter even if it’s a less efficient way of accomplishing the same thing, because routing it through taxes and employers and economic transactions feels more markety and less free stuffy. Conversely, if “free stuff” is currently on-brand for you, “we’ll pay off your unpaid student loans with a one time tax credit” can be more appealing than “we’ll give a one time tax credit to everyone who’s had student loans regardless of whether they paid them off” because the former is more like getting something for free.

    • acymetric says:

      Wait, are there people in favor of student loan forgiveness that would oppose a tax credit that also went to people who had paid off their student loans, or was that just a hypothetical? Both of those score as “free stuff” in the sense you’re using, to me though.

      • Matt M says:

        Wait, are there people in favor of student loan forgiveness that would oppose a tax credit that also went to people who had paid off their student loans

        I’d be shocked if there weren’t.

        If the credit applies to say, every living person who ever went to college (note: a lot of people with significant college loan debt didn’t graduate), then the vast majority of people collecting the credit will already have paid off their loans. Additionally, these people will, on net, be much richer, as a group, than the people not receiving the credit.

        This would be a quite regressive tax, that could accurately (for once) be described as “tax cuts for the rich.”

        • acymetric says:

          Well I would think it would be limited to “every living person who took out a loan to go to college” based on the phrasing in the OP, which would exclude the rich people who paid for college out of pocket. It would seem like it would take a lot of mental gymnastics to frame it as regressive to credit back a 45 year old who had finally paid off their loans a couple years ago in addition to crediting the 25-35 year olds still paying them off.

          • John Schilling says:

            Well I would think it would be limited to “every living person who took out a loan to go to college” based on the phrasing in the OP, which would exclude the rich people who paid for college out of pocket.

            It would also exclude the people who worked part-time and summer jobs to pay for college even though that took up most of their partying time, and it would exclude the people who chose to go to state schools rather than elite private colleges so they could graduate debt-free. No, wait, it wouldn’t exclude those people. It would tax those people, to retroactively pay for the people who made the opposite life choices.

    • Matt M says:

      because there’s no obvious free market interaction this is substituting for

      I mean, there might be, if the state didn’t make it illegal to compete with it…

      • acymetric says:

        I’ll go a step further…can’t we be pretty sure there would be based on the state of things before large state-sponsored navies? Someone go find @bean.

        • bean says:

          You called?

          The problem is that the state of naval warfare has changed a bit since the rise of large state-sponsored navies, so any analogies are going to be imperfect.

          Well, that’s one problem. The other is that naval power is hard to generate and requires the sort of actions that governments are good at and corporations aren’t. A modern warship is incredibly complex and sophisticated, with a lot of people, both in and out of uniform, supporting it. This is required if you want to compete with someone else who is working on the same level, and I can’t see a corporate-funded navy reaching it. If every navy on the planet was scrapped as part of the grand AnCap collective treaty, we might be able to get away with it. But that world is a very long way from the one we have.

          • acymetric says:

            I was thinking more “alternate history where there is no rise of large, state-sponsored navies” and what that would look like than how we would get there from here. Certainly would seem to be an impossible bell to unring.

          • theredsheep says:

            If it comes to that, didn’t the Athenians have to soak the rich for “special public services” just to get triremes built?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            What a strange hypothetical. Traditionally sea trade was high-risk/high-reward, which meant big rewards for groups of people living together near the sea that developed risk-sharing social “technologies.” This could take the form of a state monopoly on sea trade, where the society is run like the royal family business, or it could take the form of private contracts enforced by the king’s code of laws.
            Then more sea trade -> more commerce raiding -> more reward for organizing a state navy. Hell, a big, enduring group of pirate ships basically becomes a small state, as St. Augustine reports the humble captain of one pirate ship telling Alexander the Great.

            @theredsheep: Indeed!

          • bean says:

            That seems unlikely. There were large state-sponsored navies in the Ancient World, and pretty much everywhere else that has reached that level of sophistication and used much water transport. There have been brief periods when converted merchantmen were good enough, particularly during times with weak states, but they didn’t last very long.

          • Deiseach says:

            Before you have large state-sponsored navies, you get merchant marine which can get quite large and organised.

            Then as you get big rich merchant vessels carrying valuable cargoes (and passengers), you get pirate fleets preying on them (and possibly having island bases because now it’s worth their while to co-operate rather than every captain with his own ship trying to supply and repair it and for mutual defence).

            Then it becomes enough of a problem that either the merchants have to find some way of getting ships that are not merchant vessels but warships designed and built and maintained, or they dump the problem into the lap of the state because “hey, you’re supposed to be the law and the defenders of the citizens round here”.

          • Nornagest says:

            For a long time the merchant marine basically was the navy. Until the development of line-of-battle ships in the mid-17th century, there were no significant design differences between military vessels and the largest civilian ones; they were similar in size and sail plan, and could be (and sometimes were) similarly armed. Building a naval force often consisted mostly of pressing civilian ships into service; only 28 out of 130 ships of the Spanish Armada, for example, were purpose-built warships.

          • bean says:

            @Nornagest

            But there were lots of dedicated warships before the invention of the ship of the line. They were just mostly galleys. I’m not as familiar with the 16th/17th centuries as I am with later eras, but I suspect that it was a combination of merchies being good enough and states too weak to afford large fleets.

    • Aapje says:

      @honoredb

      Government spending is largely paid for by taxes. So one way to look at things you get from the government, is that it is something you paid for, not much different from getting the good or service from a private company. You don’t call it ‘getting free stuff’ when getting a service or good you paid for, even for insurance, where the payout is need-based.

      However, this point of view is very hard to defend from the individual perspective, when the payments are purely need-based and there may not be any period when the person pays into the system. For example, welfare for a handicapped person who can’t and will never have a job.

      When the government spending benefits both people who a net tax payers and those who are not, it’s a more hybrid situation. Something similar is true when people tend to get much more from the government than they pay in tax at one stage of their life, but tend to pay more than they use at other stages.

      Of course, from a hyper-libertarian perspective, like David Friedman’s, people should always have the right to choose a provider of a service/good and to choose not to buy the service/good, so then all of it is coercive, making people pay for something that they don’t necessarily want or not from that provider, even if they do benefit.

    • quanta413 says:

      I think one distinction between some things that feel like “free stuff” and other stuff that doesn’t is whether or not the recipient of “free stuff” can turn that benefit into liquid assets relatively easy. It doesn’t distinguish perfectly, but distinguishes some things.

      You can’t sell your “share” in protection by the U.S. navy and turn it into cash. You can’t sell your right to drive on the highway either, your driver’s license is nontransferable. On the other end of the scale tax benefits and government checks are just money. In-between is something like food stamps, it’s possible to resell some forms of them even if it’s illegal. But even if you can’t do that, you can buy food with the food stamps and resell it below list price to get cash.

      Of course, you do gain wealth in the long run by being protected by the U.S. navy and having access to the highway, but it’s not fungible with cash.

  13. theredsheep says:

    Appeals for somewhat obscure expertise: any good, accessible books on the history of the family? I don’t mean of specific families, but of how family structure and perceptions of it changed over time–something in the vein of Gies’s Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages, but more general, or at least for other eras. I found one book on Amazon with a search (The Family: A World History by Maynes), but the few reviews seem to agree it’s mostly about criticizing misogyny and not about surveying structure. There’s also a book about ancient Greek families, but that has no reviews and is illustrated with the cover of a completely different book so I’m a little leery of trying it. This is a subject I’m really interested in, but haven’t read about in any systematic way.

    • dodrian says:

      I do have an even more obscure recommendation: The Child in Christian Thought, edited by Marcia J. Bunge. It a collection of essays that looks at how theological understanding of children has changed throughout the years – it starts with the New Testament, Augustine, Chrysostom, etc, continues through the middle ages and onto Barth, and modern feminist theology. Bunge also has a book The Child in the Bible which does the same for various books of the Bible (and touching on some contemporary family practices in the ancient world).

      The books are accessible in the sense that they’re collections of essays you can dip in and out of, but there’s no particular structure or intend to give a comprehensive overview of how the family changed over time. You also have to be interested in reading theology, not history.

      If those sorts of things interest you, I could dig into my old essays from my Family and Ministry studies and come up with some more recommendations. If that’s not your interest, I understand!

      • theredsheep says:

        Not exactly what I’m looking for. I’m asking because I’m unsure how many of our ideas about family life over the years are rubbish. For example, until fairly recently I believed that the nuclear family, in America at least, was this newfangled thing that postdated WWII. That was what my high school history textbook said. But Gies says nuclear was the norm in Catholic Europe, and my Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium says the same for the East. Heck, Little House on the Prairie shows a perfectly normal nuclear family in the nineteenth century. On the other hand, what little I’ve read of traditional China implies that extended was the norm, and ditto for early Islam. I mostly want a sharper picture of structure and norms.

  14. souleater says:

    Does anyone have much experience with language learning?

    I’ve been practicing Chinese on and off for about 5-6 years, and I feel like my vocabulary is very strong for my level (I know 800-1000 words) , but my ability to communicate still feels very limited. I have trouble following books or movies, and can’t really speak with people other than my girlfriend.

    I feel like I’m an A2 CEFRL normally, but at B2 with my girlfriend.

    Is anyone else in this position? Any tips for how to break out of it?

    • jgr314 says:

      Possible advice depends on what you are already doing.

      I’m not sure if this matches your A2/B2 split, but I have two reasons why I have experienced that type of discrepancy:
      (1) If I spend a lot of time with one person or small group, then both accommodations and internal references develop. For example, the native speaker might realize that I always mispronounce a particular word or incorrectly use a particular construction, but they have learned what I mean.
      (2) Sometimes, I’ve really focused in one subject area for a particular language and then become relatively strong when the conversation is about that thing, however, I might be totally lost when the conversation is something “easier” or more common. For example, I can (or could at one time) conduct business meetings regarding bank loans and credit risk in German and Thai, while not being able to talk about popular sports. I think hospitals/doctors observe a more widespread version of this when 2nd generation immigrants are asked to translate between the doctor and 1st generation patients. While the kids may even appear are functionally fluent in both languages, they may completely lack the necessary medical vocabulary in either/both languages.

      Reading general interest magazines or watching news can help with both of these issues. For some languages there are groups that produce this type of material that is simplified for language learners (vocab choices are more common variants, more background is given to understand context). Diving into material that was created for fluent speakers can be really frustrating if you aren’t already pretty strong.

    • AG says:

      In some respects, regular books/movies/tv aren’t good for learning language, because entertaining writing tends to have unrealistic dialogue. (And it being unrealistic is a feature, not a bug.)

      Either watch/read kid’s media (which is designed to teach people things), or watch non-narrative Chinese media, particularly their variety shows. They’ll beat a joke to death, which means tons of repetition to learn complete phrases rather than words, but also getting you more used to actual conversational banter. They also like to throw extra captions on everything for comedic effect, which helps with referencing words you don’t know.
      (The regular talk shows still have the issue of leaning towards more esoteric words, since they usually double as documentary/promotional bits.)

  15. caryatis says:

    Does anyone know of resources to get a basic understanding of electrical engineering? Thanks!

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Digital or analog?

      E: and is this an academic or functional interest? Because I’m not going waste our times linking a primer on impedance or digital logic if you really care about building a robotic hatrack.

  16. Hoopyfreud says:

    Tangentially related to the downthread question of whether work is getting too intellectually intensive for people to do – is there a reason not to expect metic knowledge to develop around the kind of high-technology work the future seems likely to increasingly hold?

    Arguments for:

    1- Farming is really hard, and the fact that your average agrarian bear was capable of it is incredibly impressive. Collective knowledge is obviously good enough that it can overcome a lack of reasoning. There’s a wide history of success here to draw on.

    2 – The benefits of individual epistemic (not like, epistemology, but in the sense of episteme) intelligence in occupations like engineering, programming, teaching, accounting, etc. seem limited. The sky may be the limit for the tippy top of the field, but there’s a lot of work in those fields you don’t need much reasoning for.

    Arguments against:

    1 – Metic knowledge works better when the landscape isn’t shifting under you. It’s possible that technological destruction is too fast for this sort of knowledge to develop.

    2 – The kind of technological work that’s being done isn’t conducive to the production of metic knowledge.

    3 – there’s too much atomization of society/the workforce for metis to condense

    The first two objections seem fake as hell to me. At least in my field, experienced techs have way more of a clue than even experienced engineers about some things, and one of our biggest challenges is institutionalizing the knowledge they have. A tooling engineer is only half of what we need to build tools half the time. This isn’t surmountable with more training either; nothing but “ask the person who uses the tool” seems to be a satisfactory way to answer to the question, “how should this tool work?” If the objection is that this wouldn’t apply to software, I’ll simply repeat mine and John Schilling’s statements from a few threads ago:

    most of the software I use professionally has cross-platform problems, usability problems, capability problems, and modifiability problems that have been there for roughly a decade but don’t get fixed. To the extent that the tech industry is making software more useful, we benefit minimally. Meanwhile, the SAAS model comes across as “we’re going to fire the PhDs who wrote this shit that you used to be able to talk to and replace them with phone banks full of people who don’t know what a mode shape is.” Features I don’t need are added, features I do aren’t. And the whole industry seems liable to be driven by design/tech fads that infect non-technical people who do not understand the underlying causal relationships we have to deal with

    whatever the internal culture is, the products they insist on saturating the market with have an order of magnitude too much “move fast and break things” and an order of magnitude too little “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” in the mix. Stuff that works tolerably well but still needs a lot of post-release fixing is abandoned because hey, it’s time to move fast and create the next generation with more shiny features. And more bugs that nobody will ever fix because see above.

    These failure modes aren’t something that can be reasoned out of. At least not easily. But I’m the sort of person who actually believes that “Big Data” is a dumb meme.

    The third worries me more. If we’re engineering the vectors for metis out of society, we might be fucked. I consider it by far the most serious problem.

    • beleester says:

      The obvious response to “The big corporation making a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t actually fit our size” is “develop it in-house.” My current consulting job is banging out tiny little programs that solve some specific problem in a particular factory’s workflow, sometimes connecting to a big one-size-fits-all program’s database to slurp up some particular data they need. AFAIK, this is a fairly common thing for consulting companies to do.

      The downside to writing a program that solves one specific problem really well, incorporating all the metis your end users have developed, is that obviously you can’t then copy it to a thousand other sites that have slightly different workflows and expect it to work equally well. So you’re giving up one of the key advantages of software if you do that – the ability to copy it – which is why big companies providing 80% solutions continue to exist and make more money than dinky little consultants.

      So I think that software has exactly the same issue that other fields do when it comes to building institutional knowledge and metis and improving on it. Which I guess puts me firmly in the camp of “metis will continue to exist.”

      There is one thing that might be unique to software: Open-source software has the potential to let someone take the code you’ve developed for one thing, and then tweak it to fix whatever specific problem they have. This lets you get some of the benefits of the one-size-fits-all software while maintaining your metis. Of course, this means you introduce all sorts of maintainability issues once you fork the codebase… which means now your developers effectively have metis of their own that they need to maintain.

      Really, when you think about it, software is just a giant pile of accumulated knowledge – every bugfix is someone saying “Actually, the obvious solution doesn’t work, because we didn’t know…”

      • brad says:

        The thing about in-house, and to a lesser extent any kind of niche software, is that it will be tailored very well to the problem it is addressing but everything else about it will be bad. The UI will be clunky, the performance won’t be great, it’ll be buggy and those bugs will be fixed slowly or not at all, it won’t be well documented, they’ll likely be serious security concerns, and so on and so forth.

        This is because it’s really hard to write AAA software (by analogy to AAA games). It takes a lot of people with many different skill sets and ongoing attention.

    • sorrento says:

      Software quality is like airplane seats. Everyone likes to complain about it, but nobody is willing to pay even a little bit more money to make it better.

      Programming is almost entirely reasoning and intelligence, *especially* at the bottom end of the field. At the top end of the field, you might actually need to have read some theory about compilers, operating systems, theorem proving or whatever. At the bottom end, you can just figure things out by trial and error without too much difficulty.

      • John Schilling says:

        I do, in fact, pay a little bit more money to make my airline seats better. The airline industry almost always makes that option available, and I pay for it. The software industry, not so much.

      • Often it’s not that people aren’t willing to pay, it’s that they aren’t really interested in quality improvements, they are interested in signalling to others that they care about quality improvements. Which means they end up paying for the wrong thing. A lot of time is spent building the airstrips, with profound disinterest in whether planes can actually land there.

    • Murphy says:

      I’m not sure that some things are about raw intelligence.

      There’s nothing like working with MD’s constantly to make it clear they’re normal humans who can be idiots sometimes.

      Guy with both an MD and Phd who uses excel every day of his working life: complains that he needs the data sorted…. according to a column in the spreadsheet in front of him. To his credit he was embarrassed when someone pointed to the “sort” button.

      A lot of things have a fairly small hurdle to understand them. A lot of very bright people never push themselves over such hurdles.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I’ve got a very strong case of “learned helplessness” for anything produced by Microsoft. They have a history of radical UI changes, requiring me to entirely relearn how to use whatever-it-is. Consequently, I never put in the effort needed to become an expert user of anything they produce, since it’ll all be thrown away in around 2 years.

        Apple is less bad – often, the things I learned still work after their UI “improvements”, even though they are no longer discoverable (not visible on menus etc.). I have a 2 page list of things I do to a new Mac, to make it behave the way I expect (in many cases, the way Macs did at the time I learnt some particular feature), but at least it’s possible. So I’m a bit more of a power user of OSX than of Windows.

        FWIW, I pay the premium to buy Apple because of the relative UI stability. Or I use Linux, but that has its own collection of problems, less relevant to this comment.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Consequently, I never put in the effort needed to become an expert user of anything they produce, since it’ll all be thrown away in around 2 years.

          You said Linux wasn’t relevant, but this sentence is exactly me and Linux. It’s probably worse in the open-source world, because at least with the proprietary OS’s you have the alternative proven-to-work reward-system called “getting a paycheck.” Linux keeps on reinventing things that worked acceptably well because the reward for inventing a new subsystem is so much greater than marginally improving an existing subsystem.

          OpenBSD seems okay, because its built for the people who write it so that they can use it, as opposed to being built for the kudos. (The fact that other people can use it is a lucky bonus.) When I come back to OpenBSD after a few years, I still recognize it, and my old tools typically work.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Most of my problems with linux are really problems with distros, which is why I didn’t want to go down that path. And those generally mess up the window manager, the packaging system, and (less commonly) the way processes are launched, while leaving almost everything else alone, at least at the level of a user.

            At the level of a programmer, linux (both distros and base) change a lot more than this, and I’m unhappy that many/most distros make it all but impossible to e.g. get debuggable core dumps, even of programs you built yourself.

            And to get really arcane, the arms race between kernel changes and the capability of the kernel core dump analyzer (crash) is insane – in any other environment, the 2 teams would coordinate.

            But meanwhile, gnucash hasn’t changed drastically in the past decade; mutt still reads local email; postfix still handles my spool file; emacs still edits files with substantially the same UI as always; shell scripts are backwards compatible with the ancient /bin/sh etc. etc.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, MS has a real love for radically changing the interface and breaking the workflow of all its users every couple years. I don’t know if this is somehow helpful to their business model, or if it’s just something they’re big enough to get away with, but it sure is annoying.

          My own response is to try to use open source tools as much as possible. In a pinch, I’ll settle for Apple tools, which seem less inclined to randomly change how they work in a way that requires a few weeks to get used to. I actively try to avoid using Word for anything substantial, though I often am forced into using it in collaborations with people who can’t or won’t use anything else.

    • Deiseach says:

      Features I don’t need are added, features I do aren’t.

      Having just received the latest Windows 10 update, very much this. Most of the faffing about (and that’s what they did, on a cursory look) is minor; some of it I’ll use, some of it I won’t. One particular feature is just about driving me up the frelling wall after only three days of it and I honestly think the only reason this was included is “well we have to seem like we’re doing something what with the subscription model we’re charging our customers”.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        In some ways the customers drive this.

        A colleague told the story of how he delivered a bunch of nice usability updates, and never heard anything about it.

        Then he put in a new color scheme — just a new color scheme, nothing else — and everyone raved about how fast the app was now.

        • acymetric says:

          I see that all the time. Some task that took 1.5 months of constant, grinding work with major updates for some new feature: “Oh, that’ll be nice”. Something that took someone 2 hours “That’s amazing! This is so great, thank you!”

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            “People get the software they deserve.”

          • acymetric says:

            The corollary to this (coming from people on the non-tech side):

            “That’ll just be like a few lines of code, right?”

          • DinoNerd says:

            Effort need not correlate with usefulness. The effort Apple put in 2 years ago to *remove* labels from icons in the “dock” on their iPhones and iPads contributed only to making the devices harder to use. It’s possible they could fix this intentionally-introduced deficiency by changing a single line of code (turn it back on); it’s equally possible they’d have to rewrite the code entirely to work with a radically changed underlying system. Either way, the usability improvement would be the same.

          • Chalid says:

            Something that took someone 2 hours “That’s amazing! This is so great, thank you!”

            It seems like a major failure of the organization if there are lots of two-hour changes that customers would really appreciate but that aren’t being made.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, yeah. I mean, we already knew the labor theory of value was false… didn’t we?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Wait, you expect appreciation from customers? I figure I’m doing good if the customers aren’t screaming and cursing my name. (But then again, I do infrastructure programming; if the customers are thinking of us, something is probably wrong)

          • acymetric says:

            It isn’t about expecting appreciation, it’s that what generates positive user feedback will drive to some extent what gets focused on, and users give positive feedback for dumb (and even wrong) reasons.

        • Deiseach says:

          Then he put in a new color scheme — just a new color scheme, nothing else — and everyone raved about how fast the app was now.

          Well I tell you this, my friend: if in the latest update they actually had put in a new colour scheme, I would be raving about it right now 🙂

          At the moment, for the Office Theme in Word, I can have “Colorful (don’t get excited, that’s ‘light grey’), Dark Grey, Black, or White”.

          If I use White, that’s retina-searing after a couple of hours with no contrast between the background and the onscreen page, so if I’m doing a full day’s work on the ol’ wordprocessing front, I pick Dark Grey.

          A couple updates back, they let us have light blue as a choice and that was great, but in one of the updates they gave us the new improved “you can have black, slightly less black, or white” as Colourful! New! Themes! Ain’t You Glad! choices.

          If they could manage to put in light blue, light green, etc. as backgrounds to save my poor aging eyes, I would be much, much, much happier than “No, I don’t actually need to be able to link straight to Wikipedia launched from my Word programme, thanks all the same”.

    • Nick says:

      I observed back in college that professors were really bad at using our learning management system, which when I started was Blackboard. They complained that they could never find x or y and that z and a and b were confusing. Their solution? Get a new learning management system, of course! So professors pushed to switch to Canvas, and the exact same complaints ensued. The problem wasn’t with the software—the problem was that they didn’t know how to use the software, like really use it, no metis. But their increment was too short to learn, or they’d developed a learned helplessness from knowing it would be too short. The result was that they were all shit at using our LMS and classes would have constant, and I mean constant, problems with files “missing”, tests not appearing, grades not being entered, turned in homework being “inaccessible”. Which could of course be exploited by students saying, Why yes I did turn it in, gosh I don’t know what happened, has this ever happened before….

      Now that I’m working I see this elsewhere too. There’s a related, or perhaps a more general, problem where folks think the solution to a problem is software, when it’s really (for lack of a better term) process. Consider a hypothetical: my boss wants us to use a task management program. But the program is useless so long as no manager is in the habit of entering and monitoring tasks and so long as no worker is in the habit of checking them off. And those habits don’t depend on the program, anyway—we could do this all with the whiteboard that’s in the room now.

      This is our second, by the way. He didn’t like the first. He doesn’t know the latest one any better. He won’t know the third one six months from now. That which has been is that which shall be, and that which is done is that which shall be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Slightly OT: could someone define metis? I have a vague idea from context but I’d like more. Google isn’t giving it to me, and I suspect this is a rational-sphere-ism I don’t know.

      • Deiseach says:

        The problem wasn’t with the software — the problem was that they didn’t know how to use the software, like really use it, no metis.

        While this is definitely a problem (shiny new software installed everywhere but no training in how to actually use it), in defence of ‘people interacting with shiny new systems’, I have to point out that sometimes the designers/coders don’t know the fine details of what the systems will be used for, so they unknowingly set up roadblocks in the way of the end users.

        For instance, the housing database I was using that didn’t allow you to enter apostrophes in surnames. This in a country with O’Briens, O’Byrnes, O’Boyles, O’Mahoneys and O’Mahonys, O’Gormans, O’Callaghans, O’Sheas, O’Donnells (distinct from the McDonnells or indeed McDonalds), O’Neills, O’Reillys, O’Sullivans and several more.

        Which meant there was no consistent system used for entering names, so everyone had their own way. And since the search function was case sensitive, this meant many happy hours trying variants on “Did the person who processed this application enter the name as O Brien, OBrien, 0Brien, O. Brien, Obrien or some other version?” before you could find the application in question, if you could find it.

        (They did fix it in a later iteration, after every town, city and county council in the country yelled at them about it. But you see what I mean? They were used to thinking of apostrophes in the context of programming, and never considered at all “entering surnames onto the database” because it never occurred to them, and it never occurred to the people asking for the shiny new software to mention this, presumably because they assumed ‘ah shure, they’ll know about that anyway without having to be told!’).

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          A failure to handle apostrophes probably means an SQL injection attack that has been hastily patched.

        • Nick says:

          Haha, that’s a fun case. With databases, apostrophes can get you into real trouble. The least your developers should have done is trim the apostrophes from input automatically instead of forcing users to remove them themselves; that way you at least consistently get name minus apostrophes as the result, instead of a bunch of 0Briens (who the hell does that?). But really those should have been parameterized, which escapes apostrophes for you, and is secure generally from injection. This isn’t 1965—a lot of work has been done so that developers don’t have to think about these things, and their code libraries handle edge cases like these gracefully. Of course, this isn’t the case everywhere; the software could be very old, the developers could be idiots, shared code can still have bugs, and the pretty abstractions you build on top of all the plumbing are just as susceptible to bugs, though at least they’re less insidious. Since I worked at IT, though, I had access to our learning management system as a student and a teacher, though, and I can tell you there weren’t serious, experience-ruining bugs. Actually, only one that I can recall: I’d typed some code in a comment on an assignment I uploaded to my professor, and the code was breaking the page my professor used to download assignments, because the idiot developer never html encoded my input. In retrospect, I should have used that for evil, but I just reported the bug instead.

          • Deiseach says:

            (who the hell does that?).

            Ha ha ha ha ha (that sound you hear is hollow laughter from the memories).

            People who tried inputting “O’Brien”, had the machine rear up and spit at them, and decided to try a different character to make sure it wouldn’t explode on them. If you’ve crashed the entire system just typing someone’s name in, and it’s going to take three days to fix (because the developers are all up in Dublin and all changes, requests, etc. have to be referred to them and they take their own sweet time answering), then you’re going to be very wary about anything that looks like it might make the system crash (thank whomever the patron saint of low-level clerical officers is that never happened to me, at least).

            As I said, there was no consistent “okay everybody, make sure you do it this way” method, most likely because everybody involved on the data entry level bitched about it amongst themselves but nobody thought of asking “So can we get a consistent rule about this?”

            The first time this happened to me, I went “Oh yeah, because apostrophes are used in programming” but then I went “Yeah, but nobody thought about that when designing a system that needs inputting names that have apostrophes in them, in a country that has lots of surnames with apostrophes in them? This does not seem like good design!”

            the software could be very old, … and the pretty abstractions you build on top of all the plumbing are just as susceptible to bugs

            To be fair, I think this was mostly the case. The original system was a pilot version done on a trial basis in limited areas, and when it seemed to work they decided to roll it out nationwide. But being government contract work, the time between “let’s pick a tender to build this”, the version that was delivered, and the version that went nationwide was a long(ish) time. So the original software was old, and then of course once the database started being used by everyone and not just the selected trial site, everyone wanted something different added, taken out, tweaked or solved, and that resulted in a creaky superstructure being tacked on top.

            Like all top-down decisions, if they’d asked the people on the ground who were dealing with applications what they needed and how they did the job, then designed around that, it would have saved a lot of trouble because we could have told them “This is the paper form we use, this is the information we need, this is how we enter it, we need to be able to put six different addresses in for people and variant names because our clients change their names and dwellings more often than they change their socks” and so on.

            But why ask the little people, when the top brass have had a Brilliant Idea and are full steam ahead on how this will be More Efficient and Less Costly? 🙂

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            With databases, apostrophes can get you into real trouble. The least your developers should have done is trim the apostrophes from input automatically instead of forcing users to remove them themselves

            No. No. No!

            But really those should have been parameterized, which escapes apostrophes for you, and is secure generally from injection.

            Yes. Yes. Yes!

          • Lambert says:

            Catherine of Alexandria, or Cassian of Imola, perhaps, in case you’re looking for an Icon to hang from your monitor.

            Also,
            https://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehoods-programmers-believe-about-names/

          • Nick says:

            No. No. No!

            Yes. Yes. Yes!

            I still see the first one occasionally in production code. It’s bad, yes, but not nearly as bad as whatever Deiseach was experiencing.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I still see the first one occasionally in production code.

            I don’t find it surprising, but then again – I read The Daily WTF.

            As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of those things that really deserve a work item whenever the current sprint touches that particular piece of code.

            The correct answer to “how do I sanitize my inputs?” is “you don’t”.

            Data is Data, and Code is Code, and never the twain shall meet

        • S_J says:

          I can see why apostrophes could be troublesome.

          But case-sensitive searches, and no easy toggle for “search case-insensitive” ?

          What were the developers thinking? Or were they thinking about the end-users at all?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            More likely a DB migration from a case insensitive configuration to a case sensitive one.

      • Elephant says:

        I don’t think your example really supports your points. I’m at a university that switched from Blackboard to Canvas. With Blackboard there were a lot of complaints and problems. (It was truly awful. Every task took so many clicks, and was so unintuitive.) With Canvas there are also complaints, and people who are incapable of getting what they want done. But the number of complaints is less, and the general unhappiness with the learning management system is less. (According to random people I talk to and the IT support people. So the problem is perhaps to some extent process, but it’s also, to a sizeable extent, software.

  17. James Miller says:

    There is a 1 in 7,300 chance that a 30 meter in diameter asteroid will hit the earth this September. Shouldn’t we have tried to reduce the odds of impact?

    • Uribe says:

      Sounds like it would only cause major damage if it hits a city. Given the odds of it hitting Earth are 1/7,300, what are the odds it hits a city?

      Edit: Appears to be about 1/219,000. Better odds than I would have guessed.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      My first thought on that “Goddamn is humanity that bad at reacting to small probabilities of huge risks”, but then I did calculations and in fact ignoring the asteroid is surprisingly rational thing to do. The chance of it hitting a city is 1 in 790 000 (per calculations in my answer to Uribe). It’s hard to guess how many casualties there will be if it does in fact hit a city, but I think it’s safe to say it’ll be well before 1mln. So making 100% certain the asteroid doesn’t hit the Earth is equivalent to certainly saving one person at most. Space launches come at tens of millions USD price range, and that doesn’t include a nuclear warhead, probe, R&D, premium for haste and so on. We don’t routinely spend anywhere near that much money to save a single person so we shouldn’t spend that amount to save proportionally more people from proportionally smaller risk.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        We might get some positive utility from attempting to reduce the odds, figuring out that something we think we can do we cannot, and then fixing the process so that we can do that quickly. Like, a dry run for the next asteroid that has a 1:20 chance.

        OTOH, we might get some negative utility from building a process for “get a nuke into space fast.”

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          That’s another matter, I agree we should try at some point on something, before it becomes critical. Don’t know though, maybe there’s more suitable candidates in the near future than this one.

          What do you mean by a process of getting nukes to space fast though? Regular nuclear warheads are more then capable to survive a space launch, because they are in fact launched in space, just not into orbit. Load one or more on a regular space rocket should be trivial. And in fact the technology to launch a warhead specifically into low earth orbit has also been developed and even deployed briefly by USSR, before being specifically banned.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I am speaking from a meta-level here, not relying upon the exact process for delivering a nuke.

            They are under some kind of guard and a hardened control process, and if someone (even the President) wants one put onto a rocket capable of leaving Earth orbit, it takes a certain amount of paperwork and safety to make sure we are still keeping careful track of them. Maybe creating the process for being able to get a nuke onto a rocket quickly creates more risk from loose nukes than it reduces risk from stopping impacts.

    • cmurdock says:

      Maybe we should try to increase them instead.

    • Deiseach says:

      Depends where it hits as to how much damage it will do (as of recent impacts, Russia and Australia seem to be the targets the Cosmic Gods are playing pitch and toss with). Also depends if you think “I can give you a selection of lotto numbers with a 1/7,300 chance they’re the winning numbers, wanna pay me $100?” is a bargain you would take. Yes, that may be much better odds than randomly picking numbers yourself, but would you really spend $100 on it?

    • hls2003 says:

      The Chelyabinsk meteor was of a comparable size. Slightly smaller, estimated around 20 m diameter. It was about a 400-500 kT airburst at 100,000 feet, with the heat and gas penetrating to about 85,000 feet. It did occur in or near a populated area, and the shockwave resulted in zero deaths and only minor injuries from broken glass etc. At 30 meters, 1.5 times bigger, you would expect approximately 3-3.5 times higher mass (1.5 cubed) and thus (approximately) yield 1.5 to 2 MT. I could be wrong, but eyeballing it and also running a few numbers through the impact simulator, I expect that even if it was directly above a city center, the airblast would be high enough up (impact simulator suggests no penetration other than airblast/shockwave past about 50,000 feet) that it would be expected to cause few if any fatalities, probably no major damage.

      So my opinion is that it is not of sufficient concern even in the worst case to call for an attempted course alteration.

  18. acymetric says:

    A little downthread, @achenx brought up the release of Commander Keen as a mobile game, and it got me thinking. What are some of your favorite DOS/pre-Windows 95 games either for the experience or just the nostalgia?

    For me (mostly in order):

    Galactix (I absolutely adore this game…eat your heart out Space Invaders)
    Nibbles (Qbasic)
    Gorillas (Qbasic)
    Dark Forces (am currently replaying this one)
    Day of the Tentacle
    Sam & Max Hit the Road
    Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
    Commander Keen
    Duke Nukem

    I am definitely forgetting some important ones, but those are the ones that come to mind. Any other favorite classics out there?

    • sentientbeings says:

      Wolfenstein 3D
      DOOM

    • Civilis says:

      The three games I remember most fondly from this era are Command & Conquer (and Command & Conquer Red Alert), the Secret of Monkey Island and the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade adventure game (for which Fate of Atlantis was a sequel).

      Given that two of them are from the sadly defunct LucasArts (as are four games on acymetric’s list), obviously at one point the studio had something going for it. I can think of a handful of recent games that have almost the same level of humor I remember from LucasArts at its prime, I can think of none as consistent.

      For the Secret of Monkey Island, I remember the Insult Sword Fighting quips most of all; it seems unique in that it built the humor into the gameplay.

      For the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade adventure game, while some of the gags have lodged themselves firmly into my memory (“Hi, I’m selling these fine leather jackets…”), what stuck with me was the subversion of just about every other licensed game I can think of as the game rewarded you for thinking beyond the original story. For example, there’s a scene in the movie where Indiana Jones (in disguise as a German officer) sneaks into a Nazi book-burning rally to recover his father’s diary. On the way out, he runs into Hitler himself, who autographs the diary. In the game, you can play it straight, or if you’re a quick thinker you can hand him a copy of Mein Kampf (which you can then use to bribe your way past any guard) or the easily-missed Travel Authorization Form (which will then get you past EVERY guard).

      • acymetric says:

        LucasArts put out a ton of great games (including, obviously, a lot of Star Wars ones). I missed out on a bunch of them because I was young enough that I was reliant on my parents for game procurement.

        • Matt M says:

          Man, I was a huge LucasArts fanboy back in the day. I think three separate times I received collections of theirs as Christmas presents. I played almost every game they put out and really liked most of them.

          • acymetric says:

            That’s exactly how I ended up with Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones, and Sam & Max. There were six disks, I can’t remember for the life of me what the other 3 were. One was demos, I think.

            Ok, looked it up. One was a 3 level demo of Star Wars: Rebel Assault (and I played the crap out of those three levels), one was a “Screen Entertainment Utility” (I assume backgrounds and screensavers or something), and the last one was demos like I thought (although I do not remember playing all those demos, particularly Tie Fighter…maybe my system couldn’t support it).

            Vol. 1

          • LesHapablap says:

            Full Throttle was just awesome. Rebel Assault was great, and if I’d had the maturity to play Tie Fighter and X-wing vs. Tie Fighter properly I would have enjoyed those even more.

            Under a Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive were my favorites though. Only trouble was having to change CDs all the time.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I loved C&C and C&C: Red Alert, esp. the latter with its gonzo history.
        Other than that, turn-based strategy was my genre back then. I had Civilization 2 and Master of Orion 2 by early 1997… might have been birthday and Christmas ’96 respectively. Civilization went on to bigger and better things, but MoO2 is still the peak of that franchise. Oh, and its fantasy sister game Master of Magic was never improved on, AFAIK.
        There was also an obscure Space 4X that came out before MoO2, Ascendancy, which was leaps and bounds better aesthetically and as SF (they put a ton of thought into the species and technology, while MoO just copied tech from Star Trek/Wars and mostly used bipedal Earth animals as races). Unfortunately, the AI was skull-crushingly dumb, so it failed as an actual game.

        Did Age of Empires require you to DOS Boot out of Windows? That was a great folding of Real-Time Strategy with its resource harvesting into historical 4X.

        Dungeon Keeper! That also fits your definition, and DK1/2 were a wonderful way to experience a dungeon fantasy setting.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Descent (playing that over Kali back in ’95)
      Airborne Ranger
      Karateka

    • achenx says:

      The original Civilization is a big one. And Caesar II, and Simcity 2000.

      Also yeah all the Apogee (etc) platformers and shooters. Aside from Keen and Duke, I loved Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure (same designer as Duke), and the early efforts of Pharaoh’s Tomb and Arctic Adventure. Galactix is great, yes!

      ZZT. I read about Epic and Tim Sweeney earning billions of dollars from Fortnite or whatever, and I still think of them in terms of ZZT.

      Star Control II.

      • acymetric says:

        The thing about Galactix. When I was a kid, I could breeze through to the last stage easily, but no matter how many times I tried I could not beat that last big red ship. Fast forward to 5-10 years ago, I decided to find a copy of it so that I could play through it again. The big red ship was unbelievably easy. Mild disappointment, like going to the huge slide at your childhood playground and finding out it was only like 5 feet high.

        Also, whenever I played it as a kid I had to restart it like 20 times because it would always start up running at like 10x speed or something. No idea what caused it, sometimes 10x speed and sometimes normal.

        • Protagoras says:

          Some really ancient games measured time in CPU clock cycles instead of seconds, and so would run at different speeds depending on the CPU speed. Maybe Galactix also used CPU cycles, but had some buggy method of trying to figure out how fast the CPU was and compensate, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t.

          • acymetric says:

            That sounds plausible.

          • BBA says:

            I had a computer back in the day where you could press a button on the front to make the CPU run slower. Useful for those old 8086-era games that ran unplayably fast on a 486.

            The Kroz games were open-sourced a few years ago, and since the programmers didn’t know how to (or couldn’t?) use accurate timing, they just ran an empty while loop in between cycles. You could specify that you had a “faster” computer to make the loops longer.

          • acymetric says:

            Err…if it works!

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Acymetric, the DOSBox emulator has a function that allows you to adjust the CPU speed of your emulation on the fly. I found it very handy for some older games.

        • achenx says:

          I’m pretty sure getting Galactix to run was one of the first times I learned about the 640k memory barrier.

          Also I have a distinct memory in a late elementary school class, having a writing assignment where you could write about anything you wanted, and I described everything about Galactix in extreme detail to meet the length requirement. I should have apologized to my teacher later.

    • convie says:

      Dune
      Dune 2
      The Wing Commander series
      Warcraft 1 and 2
      Full Throttle
      The Kings Quest series
      Star Wars: Rebel Assault
      Leisure Suit Larry 2
      Myst
      Battle Chess
      Theme Park

    • Unsaintly says:

      Master of Magic is an absolute classic that is still unmatched despite many efforts to imitate it.
      Fantasy General was pretty much just Panzer General, but it had an amazing soundtrack.
      Fantasy Empires was… weird, but a lot of fun.
      And of course Dungeon Hack was one of the best D&D games

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Master of Magic is an absolute classic that is still unmatched despite many efforts to imitate it.

        What’s up with this? It seems like an indie developer could put out a multi-racial Civ game that cut & pastes MoM’s magic system and zooming in on blocks of troops when your units meet resistance that would at least match it, with HD graphics.

        • Unsaintly says:

          There have been several games that had parts of the MoM set. I can’t remember their names, since I tend to play for a few hours and just get disappointed in the bits that are missing. The things from MoM that I like to see:
          1) A ton of spells from distinct sets, that include a wide range of effects (enchantments over the entire map, buffs for units, buffs for cities, creation/summoning, battle spells)
          1a) While you can customize what your character is good at, nobody can get all of the spells
          2) Races that have unique playstyles (Draconians all getting flight, dark elves all generating magic for example)
          3) Cool and customizable heroes (I still love Warrax’s design, even if he looks kinda generic now)
          4) Armies clashing at once (a lot of games now have turned to the 1 unit per hex system, which isn’t nearly as fun)

          MoM also had a bunch of other features that were cool, but not vital to recreating it. The magic nodes lead to natural points to fight over outside of cities. The ruins/dungeons provided a fun early-mid game difficulty that encouraged you to never neglect your army, especially with how good the rewards could be. The two-world system with multiple points of transition between the two added some complexity to the strategic layer. And being able to design custom items for your heroes made them feel a lot more unique.

          • DragonMilk says:

            Have you tried Thea? The inventory system is super cumbersome, the random starts can be frustrating, but the storyline is worth completing once or twice

      • DragonMilk says:

        Unfortunately, I’m addicted to the broken trait system where you can create mana by creating and destroying items and therefore get your heroes super well equipped early on (I forget which combo of attributes it is, but basically they made a mistake of arithmetic rather than geometric discounting) and have a horde of blood hounds roaming the map while doing so.

        In any modern game this oversight would be immediately patched out.

      • Matt C says:

        I’ve heard people say Age Of Wonders: Shadow Magic is a respectable successor to MOM.

        I’ve never played MOM so I can’t verify for sure, but it ticks all of the boxes on your checklist below (edit: er, checklist above).

        AoW:SM is currently $1.99 on GOG right now. It won’t cost much in money if you’re willing to dare disappointment one more time.

    • lvlln says:

      I recall I got Duke Nukem when I was like 8 years old, when my father bought me one of those airplane-style joysticks for the PC, and it came bundled with 3 games including that one. I somehow managed to beat the entire 1st episode while playing with the joystick, which was an absolutely atrocious way to control a sidescrolling shooter compared to just the keyboard. It was the very first video game that I ever beat, so it has a spot in my heart.

      Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis also has a spot due to it being the 1st point-and-click adventure game I ever beat, and I played it with my best friend at the time in 9th grade, talking and brainstorming with each other to figure out solutions to the various puzzles. Also, the line “is that a broken ship mast in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” had us giggling like 9th grade boys and shocked that such a line could make it into a video game.

    • Jake Rowland says:

      The Incredible Machine. Every few years I’ll remember it, spend an hour trying to find a working version, then give up.

    • meh says:

      Tele-Arena
      Kings Bounty

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      In the early FPS genre, DOOM was the Alexander the Great to Wolfenstein’s Philip. Heady days, those were. Everyone was happily enjoying the Apogee Software “first episode is free” business modelwagon, and here comes id Software with all these promises that sound trivial today, but were a big deal back then: full 360-degree motion, 3D (well, 2.5D), high FPS on a dinky old VGA card, full sound and music, bullet holes stay on the wall, etc. And then it delivered on every single thing. Everyone thought John Carmack was Einstein-level genius. (They thought John Romero was a rockstar, too, until Daikatana…)

      Star Control 2 was great for the story. The gameplay (fly around, mine, upgrade, repeat) has been largely co-opted by later franchises (Mass Effect, Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed), with the exception of wacky ships with different abilities and playstyles. But the story was a great mash of epic and funny. Plus, the music was basically crowdsourced to a bunch of Finns from the demoscene. And they figured out how to play it out of a plain PC speaker.

      Lemmings has a modern-day successor in the Dibbles series, playable on Kongregate. Roughly the same morbid whimsy, and as mindbendingly hard.

      NetHack is still my favorite of the roguelikes – hack’n’slash on a randomized map where death is permanent. You find potions, scrolls, and wands, all unidentified, including the Identify scroll. You can try various experiments to figure out what’s what, though – you can dip your weapon in a potion, try writing on the floor with a wand, dropping a scroll on the floor and seeing if your pet will walk over it, and at last resort, try it and hope. Monsters leave corpses. You can eat them. Sometimes this can help you. Sometimes not. Eating a dead cockatrice, for example, is not recommended. However, you can wield it as a weapon. (Doing so without gloves is a bad idea.) This is very powerful (unless you’re fighting a xorn), but be careful; if you’re carrying too much and descend stairs, you might fall, and will likely fall on that corpse. This is a few of literally hundreds of interactions different objects have with you and each other. And “the devteam thought of everything”. And it runs on a VT100 terminal – you don’t even need a graphics card.

      Play the first Diablo and you’ll notice what it borrowed from the roguelikes, as well as what it threw away.

      Zork was among the first mass market text adventures. Great story, and freaking hard. Later came the Spellcasting series, which was easier, but featured Steve Meretsky’s spot-on humor.

      Civilization and MOO were both Microprose games at the time, which had a reputation for VGA-era games that were massively complex yet fun. Not just 4X, but similar sims in general. One I haven’t seen mentioned here was Darklands, an RPG with serious attention paid to the history and mythology of medieval Germany. The monsters weren’t stock D&D stuff. Kobolds, for instance, weren’t wimpy dogmen, but rather house spirits. Your heroes didn’t have classes, but could specialize in skills, and could pray to dozens of Christian saints for favor. It felt like you were learning about medieval German life as you played. Darklands was hinted as the first in a series of such games set in various parts of the world, but I guess it didn’t sell well enough.

      Dragonlance had a flying dragon combat simulator. That was pretty cool. Never got to play it all the way through though.

      Ultima had a lot of games, but I only ever played the Underworld series. 3D, but the screen was tiny, and you got this nice feel of claustrophobia and fear of what was waiting out there in the dark. Meanwhile, I remember going through every possible combination of my runestones to discover new magical spells. I played those games to death.

      King’s Quest was great. I only really played III and IV. I liked Space Quest even more, and I could go for a sequel today.

      Riven was my favorite of the Myst series. (I never played the first.) Great graphics for the time, but mostly I enjoyed being able to solve puzzles by imagining how a device would work if it were made to be used by the inhabitants there on a routine basis. You could logic your way through. The latest game I’ve played in this subgenre is Obduction, just a few years ago. It’s not bad.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        One I haven’t seen mentioned here was Darklands, an RPG with serious attention paid to the history and mythology of medieval Germany. The monsters weren’t stock D&D stuff. Kobolds, for instance, weren’t wimpy dogmen, but rather house spirits. Your heroes didn’t have classes, but could specialize in skills, and could pray to dozens of Christian saints for favor. It felt like you were learning about medieval German life as you played.

        Oooh, I’m glad someone finally informed me!

        Darklands was hinted as the first in a series of such games set in various parts of the world, but I guess it didn’t sell well enough.

        Aw, geez.

      • Nornagest says:

        I first played it long after Win95 came out, but Nethack is still the closest thing anyone’s written to an old-school D&D experience on PC, and it’s worth playing for that alone.

        But that “old-school” includes things like “brutally difficult to the unprepared” and “highly reliant on memorizing the documentation” and “entirely possible to die to a falling rock trap on your first move”, so caveat emptor.

    • cassander says:

      Star Wars Rebellion remains one of the best, and most underrated, strategy games of all time. My friends and I still play it, using multiple layers of emulation.

    • BBA says:

      I mostly played shareware games in the DOS era. I found PTROOPER.EXE (one of the very first PC games) memorable, though I could never take out those damn jets.

      At school we had a few computers from pre-DOS platforms. There was the Apple II series, of course, but also the TI-99/4A, which practically nobody remembers today. I was the one kid who didn’t put in a cartridge and wrote little programs in BASIC to amuse myself.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        At school we had a few computers from pre-DOS platforms. There was the Apple II series, of course,

        BBA has died of dysentery. What do you want on your tombstone?

    • Matt C says:

      some of these may precede DOS . . .

      Gold Box D & D games
      Ultimas
      Wasteland
      Maniac Mansion
      DOOM

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        Apologies for the unwarranted nerdiness, but the “precede DOS” bit triggered me. 🙂

        I knew that the only one that could possibly qualify was the original Ultima for the Apple II. Did it? Turns out that it very much hinges on what we mean by “precede” and “DOS”.

        A bit of quick research tells us that Ultima was released in June 1981, but also that CPC (the publisher) registered a copyright for it in September 1980.

        What about DOS?

        Wiki says that the initial MS-DOS release was in August 1981 (presumably as PC-DOS, the IBM-branded version for the IBM PC), but MS-DOS was itself a re-branding of SCP’s 86-DOS that was released somewhere in mid-1980.

        It would therefore seem that Ultima preceded DOS, if by “DOS” we mean the Microsoft/IBM-branded release for the IBM PC, but it may not have preceded DOS, if by “DOS” we mean QDOS/86-DOS prior to MS/IBM involvement (and the PC itself). “May not” because we should also specify whether we’re interested in the release date or the completion date for Ultima (if release date, then no; if completion, maybe).

        This concludes our home computing trivia segment for the day.

        • The Nybbler says:

          No Apple ][ disk game preceded “DOS” if you’re being pedantic, because the first Apple disk drives were released with Apple’s Disk Operating System (DOS 3.1, I believe; they started with 3.0 but I don’t think it was released). There were some Apple ][ games which preceded DOS, notably Wozniak’s Little Brick Out. I believe Scott Adams Adventureland may have preceded it also. Of course there were also pre-DOS arcade games — Pong, Spacewar/Galaxy Game, and Space Invaders for instance.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            You’re absolutely right, of course.

            In the context of the thread, I took “DOS” to mean “DOS on the PC”, meaning MS-DOS/PC-DOS and derivatives.

      • Matt M says:

        I may be alone on this, but I always thought Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders was much better than Maniac Mansion (which got a lot more attention)

        • Matt C says:

          I’ll check that out, thanks.

        • Vorkon says:

          I’ll gladly second that!

          I loved the hell out of that game. In part because it was the only point and click adventure game of that era which I actually owned myself, rather than playing bits and pieces of at somebody else’s house, but having played others now, I’ll still say that while it may not have been very well polished, it had a grander scope, sillier premise, and better sense of humor than its contemporaries, including Maniac Mansion.

          That game sparked my love for weird Weekly World News-style fake tabloids, which still persists to this day, and I’ll never look at a pair of Groucho glasses or a microwave the same way again. Plus, for some reason I always got the impressions that if he were a game designer rather than a musician, this would have been the game Weird Al Yankovic would have designed. I don’t know why, but the senses of humor always seemed remarkably similar.

    • beleester says:

      The Super Solvers games: Gizmos and Gadgets, Operation Neptune, Ancient Empires, Midnight Rescue, Treasure Mathstorm. Ancient Empires and Operation Neptune are the standouts here – complicated and challenging even before they try to teach you math or history.

      Also, Raptor: Call of the Shadows was the best shmup on DOS, while Duke Nukem and Cosmo are tied as my favorite DOS platformers. Really, anything by Apogee back in the day was a pretty good bet.

      Also, one game that I didn’t really like as a kid, but revisited as an adult and found amazingly unique: Sid Meier’s Covert Action. So many spy games have been made, but nobody else has made one that’s really about looking for clues rather than just stealthing or shooting your way through a mission that has a clue at the end. It gave you freedom to investigate anywhere and choose how you gathered information, which meant that you had to think about where you wanted to go and where you’d be likely to find clues.

      • acymetric says:

        Ooooh man I forgot about some of the educational titles. Treasure MathStorm, various MathBlasters were solid.

        My personal favorites: Troggle Trouble Math and Number Crunchers. Treasure MathStorm was right up there.

    • littskad says:

      Sid Meier’s Pirates — Man, this game was fun. Sailing, sword-fighting, sun-sighting, treasure digging,…
      Sid Meier’s Civilization — Just one more turn!
      Wizardry 6/7 — I loved making uber-characters in these. I still had my saved game from 7 to import when 8 finally came out!
      Might & Magic 4/5 (World of Xeen) — Still the best Might & Magic games.
      Ultima Underworld — I remember being absolutely amazed by the graphics and my character just being able to walk in any direction
      Quest for Glory (Hero’s Quest) — This whole series was great fun, and you could replay each game as the different character types, solving the puzzles in different ways each time.
      Heroes of Might & Magic — My brother and I played this game against each other for hours at a time, winning the same areas back and forth.
      Albion — One of the more original RPG worlds ever.
      Star Control 2 — This was just so much fun exploring the galaxy, meeting the different aliens, and finally beating those Ur-Quan.
      Wing Commander series — First person space combat and even good cut scenes.
      AD&D Gold Box Games — I always preferred the low level ones, but they were all pretty good. I even liked the Buck Rogers ones.
      Railroad Tycoon — Laying track and scheduling trains…
      Out Of This World (a.k.a Another World) — Accidentally transported to an alien world, you make and alien friend and escape danger.
      System Shock — So creepy. SHODAN scared the crap out of me.
      Jagged Alliance — Really fun combat, really interesting characters.
      A whole bunch of Infocom games — I still have my hand-drawn maps!
      Gabriel Knight — Man, I loved these games. They were so atmospheric.
      Frederick Pohl’s Gateway — I loved the book, and the game was good, too (with a completely different plot). Legend also made some other good games, like Eric the Unready.
      Populous — The second one was better, too.
      Betrayal at Krondor — Amazing game.
      Prince of Persia — The original. Like Karateka, but much better.
      Wasteland — Precursor to Fallout.

    • Nornagest says:

      I never actually owned a Microsoft PC from that era — my first was a Win95 machine. The Atari ST had a pretty good stable, though. Some of my favorites on it were Bitmap Brothers releases: GODS, Magic Pockets, Cadaver. Other titles that stick in my mind include Blood Money (Psygnosis), Oids (FTL), and Archipelagos (Astral Software). And Lemmings, which also saw a lot of releases on other platforms.

      The original Marathon (1994) just makes it in, which means that Pathways into Darkness also does. I played a lot of Warlords and its sequel on the early Macs, too.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I see I’m not the only one who’s mentioned Betrayal at Krondor. One of the few RPGs that made travelling all over the place actually feel like travelling: the need for food, travelling by night being a dumb idea, etc.

    • JPNunez says:

      I still fire up Master of Orion from time to time. A game in a small map takes two hours, and it can be very brutal, so if I am in the mood of trying to conquer the galaxy, I get to experience a full game in one sitting.

      It’s my favorite game of the genre, surpassing things like Civilization because Civ adds way too much useless busywork. MoM just has some sliders to build what you want, one planet per system (Master of Orion 2 adds more than one planet per system and a ton of busywork with it) and that’s all.

      I wish MoM 1 came to other platforms, untouched. The sequels, and the recent reboot just add stuff on top of it for no good reason.

    • herbert herberson says:

      As a small child, I was obsessed with The Ancient Art of War. It was arguably the first RTS; essentially the 5 1⁄4-inch floppy version of the Total War series. You had both a strategic map where you maneuvered squads over varied terrain and dealt with attrition, and tactical battles where user-made formations of units (with three types) had a linear, mostly automatic battle (although you did have control over retreats/advancements). Still kind of amazing to me that they were able to program something that sophisticated in 1985.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        That was a good game. Never got a chance to play the follow-ups (At Sea and In the Skies), but the original was one of my faves back in the day.

        Wiki says there’s a new version out, and Moby Games has some additional info, but it’s not available through my usual sources (Steam and GOG), so I’ll be giving it a pass, it seems. Looking through the screenshots on MG, I’m not really sold on the graphical style. I like that they’re trying to keep it simple, but I feel that it just goes to show that a good pixel artist is worth every penny.

        Turns out Archive.org has a playable version of the original. It might be time for the kingdom of Ch’u to put Wu back in its place again…

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Microprose made a game called The Ancient Art of War in the Skies.
        It’s set in the 20th century.
        Not sure what to make of this… 😛

    • Tarpitz says:

      Wing Commander
      C&C
      Duke
      Doom
      Great Naval Battles of the North Atlantic, 1939-43
      Silent Service 2
      Panzer General
      Ancient Battles
      Fields of Glory
      Worms

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      So I’ve seen Wing Commander mentioned repeatedly in this thread, and did some reading.
      So it’s a MilSF flight sim where your carrier fights space kitties? And the first games made extensive use of pixel art cut scenes, then switched to digital movie sequences in Wing Commander III. Wow, remember when digitized graphics of actors were a thing? I know I’ve compared games in the standard AAA game template of “walk around a 3D world, fight, and experience in-engine cut scenes” to Hollywood blockbusters here before, but whatever happened to that earlier attempt to make video games movie-like?

      • acymetric says:

        They used it all up on Xenosaga.

      • Nick says:

        whatever happened to that earlier attempt to make video games movie-like?

        It can be a thing again!

      • acymetric says:

        Somewhat more seriously and kind of related (although not pre-Win95), the cut scene that got me the most hyped was the intro for Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance. Kind of shockingly well done for live action acting in a video game (it was admittedly brief).

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Not only was Wing Commander III using live-action cutscenes, they featured Mark Hamill, Malcolm MacDowell, John Rhys Davies, Tom Wilson (Biff from the Back to the Future movies), and… Ginger Lynn Allen.

        There were even thumbnail displays during missions of your fellow squadmates, many of whom I recognized as college classmates. (WC3 was made by Origin Systems, based in Austin. I was attending UT at the time.)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Not only was Wing Commander III using live-action cutscenes, they featured Mark Hamill, Malcolm MacDowell, John Rhys Davies, Tom Wilson (Biff from the Back to the Future movies)

          Indeed. It would have been relevant to the point for me to mention that.
          The Command & Conquer series had the more central examples of live-action cutscenes with non-actors, and when Red Alert 3 came out with a cut-scene cast of Hollywood actors, they defended it in the press as charmingly retro.
          There were also games in that era that used in-engine 2D graphics of filmed stuntpeople. Think Mortal Kombat.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Wow, remember when digitized graphics of actors were a thing?

        Heh, I mean, depending on what you mean by “digitized”, I may have a few upcoming titles like Death Stranding and Cyberpunk 2077 [WARNING: Some Violence, Blood, and Adult Language] to draw your attention to.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      My personal “Golden Age” is probably more like 1995 through the early 00s due to games like Baldur’s Gate 1-2, Planescape: Torment, Fallout 1-2, and so on, but there are plenty of earlier games I quite like.

      My list won’t be exhaustive because Littleskad has already hit so many of them that if not for the addition of strategy and sim games I never cared for I’d think he was my evil (good?) twin. So you can +1 pretty much everything he listed, but I will go into a bit more detail on a few:

      Quest For Glory 1-4: You Got Your RPG in my Point-And-Click Adventure! No, you got your Point-And-Click Adventure in my RPG! This is admittedly sort of an acquired taste, but I thought that the traditional and amusingly mean-spirited Sierra Deaths meshed well with old school murderhoboing, and I actually liked the mix of silly jokes and puns with surprisingly interesting serious characters. Not to mention the basic conceit of a game that played very differently for different classes with unique content gave it a lot of replayability for the time. There are high-res remakes of some of the earlier titles, and even a new spiritual successor by the original creators in the form of Hero-U: Rogue To Redemption on Steam. Pro-Tip: If playing through the originals, import your QFG1 hero into the sequels and either go Paladin (which has its own, increasingly rich, set of story options as you play, and which the creators obviously favored), or multi-class into magic (which was sort of an unintended glitch) and as a fighter-mage or rogue-mage utterly BREAK the games over your knee in all sorts of amusing ways.

      Betrayal At Krondor: I’m adding my voice to Acymetric and Dndnrsn here, because it’s a massively underappreciated game. In addition to a surprisingly gripping story at times, a satisfying combat system, the feel of travel that has already been mentioned, I loved the way the text was designed to read as if you were reading through one of Raymond E. Feist’s novels.

      System Shock: The game that gave us the Audio Log, and arguably some of the best versions of it. This is the grandparent whose legacy gave birth to series like Bioshock and Deus Ex. Plus, if you’re a SSC poster, you’ll probably enjoy one of the great unfriendly AIs, up there with AM, Hal, and Durandal. Speaking of Durandal….

      Marathon Trilogy: These came to Mac first, but they’re the spiritual parent to the Halo games and already display Bungie’s love of certain SF tropes: Supersoldiers in norse-themed power armor, complex multi-species alien empires, deep time, and AIs as both mission control and major character.

      And now, one to add:

      Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed: A SF RPG from SSI using their Gold Box engine (The gold box games have been mentioned already, and I’ll second them as classics), managing to combine space combat, planetary exploration, and a surprisingly interesting setting for something based on Buck Rogers of all things. TSR’s Buck Rogers XXVc was a pretty solid tabletop RPG, and I always wanted to see more done with it.

      • littskad says:

        Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed was a sequel to the also excellent Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday (if I’m remembering the order correctly).

      • beleester says:

        System Shock was good, but crippled by the fact that nobody had invented mouselook yet. If you’re going to replay it you’ll definitely want the re-released version that adds it.

        System Shock 2 was really good, but also a bit too recent for this question.

      • Nornagest says:

        they’re the spiritual parent to the Halo games and already display Bungie’s love of certain SF tropes: Supersoldiers in norse-themed power armor, complex multi-species alien empires, deep time, and AIs as both mission control and major character.

        I’d say Marathon and sequels has in many ways the better story. Mostly because there’s more room for it: Halo, shipping on DVD, told its story through cutscenes and mission dialogue. Marathon originally shipped on floppies, later on CD-ROM, and couldn’t have fit that on disk, so it told its story through computer terminals scattered around the levels. They could go on for pages, and they ranged from straightforward to ominous to screamingly funny. You really got to know Leela and Tycho and especially Durandal, moreso than anyone in the later games’ cast.

      • Vorkon says:

        It helps that Feist actually worked on the game, himself.

        But yeah, even if you ignore the story and writing, Betrayal at Krondor was lightyears ahead of its time, (i.e. much like how lightyears measure distance and not time, what Betrayal at Krondor was doing and what other CRPGs of the time were doing couldn’t really be compared using the same unit of measurement :p ) and doesn’t get nearly the appreciation it deserves.

    • Vorkon says:

      Frankly, I’m amazed that nobody has mentioned X-Com yet! It may have come near the end of this era, but it was definitely pre-Windows 95!

      As much as I love the remakes (the Firaxis X-Com was the game that made me think, “damn, why has nobody made a 4th Edition D&D-based video game yet? It might suck as a tabletop RPG system, but as a turn-based strategy video game it would be amazing”) I still haven’t seen a game in the genre that manages to capture what the original X-Com did, from the complexity of both the strategic and tactical layers, and how they complimented each other, to the general atmosphere and feeling of terror you get over what might be lurking in the fog of war. It may have been broken in some ways, but it’s still one of the greatest games of all time, warts and all.

  19. Jacobeus says:

    I’m looking for an in-depth, thorough and rigorous defense of the idea of technological unemployment (that it is a credible risk we should be worried about), and most importantly, that it is not really an argument about AGI, superintelligence, artifical conscious beings that have rights, etc. In other words, restricted entirely to advanced technology without resorting to anything outside of the realm of “prosaic” tech.

    The reason I’m looking for this is mostly because 1) People like Eric Weinstein and Andrew Yang are convinced that it is or will be a problem very soon, and they are smart people, and 2) Classical economics basically concludes that, for many reasons, tech progress should not result in long term, chronically high unemployment within a free market society. 3) Also, because our discussions surrounding this issue as a rule involve arguments for or against certain policy initiatives, most of which, due to reasons in 2), would seem to be more harmful than helpful in the long term.

    • If you look at the data, it’s pretty clear that it’s not happening right now. It only appears that way because the effects of the recession took a really long time to recover from and more baby boomers are retiring.

    • Erusian says:

      The most steelmanned position I’ve seen is this: Long term technological unemployment is not really a thing. While some people disagree with this, they are mostly practicing incredibly heterodox economics and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

      However, short term technological unemployment is absolutely a thing and no serious person thinks otherwise. There is strong evidence this has a permanent, negative effect on the workers and communities it affects that they do not ever recover from. At best, their children do. At worst, it can lead to generational poverty because even as society returns to full employment the individual community or descendants of the individual experiencing feel ripple effects.

      On top of that, unrest is a thing too. Even where the wages of technological progress are obvious, people who are displaced will suffer. They will object to this suffering even if it is in the service of their narrow interests at the expense of society.

      This justifies policies that look like (but are not exactly equal to) technological unemployment remedies. Listen to Yang actually talk about the Freedom Dividend. He uses corporate language for a reason: by giving people a literal, dividend paying share in America he hopes people will have an interest in the overall performance of America. This is how he sells it to the rich and corporations: it will give a people an interest in general economic performance and reduce pressure for (in his opinion destructive) policies like a $15 an hour minimum wage. It will reduce things like Ludditism.

      There are reasons to critique that position but it’s not obviously wrong.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        To piggy back on this, long haul truckers currently number something like 3.5 million in the US. Autonomous self-driving trucks, even if they are only from and to the local “last mile post” hub, are going to really hurt that employment sector.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          even if they are only from and to the local “last mile post” hub

          This actually seems much less likely to me than the inverse. Loading docks are complicated, busy, and require responsive drivers.

          • acymetric says:

            It was hard enough to get an experienced driver backed up properly in our too-small, poorly configured dock area (let alone just getting them backed up to the right dock). An automated truck would have been a nightmare.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I think that’s what HBC said. We’ll get automated trucks going from a-mile-away-from-me to a-mile-away-from-you.

          • DragonMilk says:

            Agreed, if anything you’d have an “automated” truck driven by a real driver until it reaches a truck station where it will soon approach the freeway. The trucker would commute to the truck station each day where a bus takes the truckers to docks, etc.

            So basically like UPS drivers except one way

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’d have thought that driving in traffic would be more challenging for an automated truck than dealing with the loading dock.

          • Spookykou says:

            FWIW, as someone who worked at a major UPS hub, a substantial portion of the complications at our loading docks were very human in nature, including angry shifter drivers intentionally parking in obnoxious ways and then calling for a union rep if anyone but their direct report asked them to move their vehicle.

        • baconbits9 says:

          To piggy back on this, long haul truckers currently number something like 3.5 million in the US. Autonomous self-driving trucks, even if they are only from and to the local “last mile post” hub, are going to really hurt that employment sector.

          The question is WHEN do they hurt that employment sector, and the answer is AFTER some untold number of engineering hours have been invested, and after production and retrofitting of self driving trucks is instituted.

          Manufacturing as a sector stopped growing decades ago largely due to automation, but the total number of jobs was roughly as high in 2000 as it was in the late 60s. The large declines prior to 2000 are associated with recessions with employment picking back up (at least in total number of employed) and not associated with the introduction of masses of labor saving devices.

        • Urstoff says:

          I think we’re going to see some extreme regulatory capture in this area, such as a requirement that there be a human in the cab at all times that can take over driving if “needed”.

      • baconbits9 says:

        However, short term technological unemployment is absolutely a thing and no serious person thinks otherwise

        It depends on what you mean, typically people discussing long term technological UE are discussing net UE, some people discuss specific UE (ie coal miners losing work and remaining unemployed for long stretches).

        There is strong evidence this has a permanent, negative effect on the workers and communities it effects that they do not ever recover from.

        Kind of, but also kind of not.

        • Erusian says:

          It depends on what you mean, typically people discussing long term technological UE are discussing net UE, some people discuss specific UE (ie coal miners losing work and remaining unemployed for long stretches).

          To take HBC’s example, no one seriously denies that automated trucks will cause truck drivers to become unemployed or a net increase in unemployment for at least some time period. Even those who think that they will have a bunch of equally good jobs waiting for them (which I’ve never heard), there’d at least be frictional unemployment.

          Or perhaps someone does and I’m unaware of them. Do you know of anyone?

          Kind of, but also kind of not.

          Care to elaborate?

          • baconbits9 says:

            To take HBC’s example, no one seriously denies that automated trucks will cause truck drivers to become unemployed or a net increase in unemployment for at least some time period.

            Unemployment is not simply no longer working at a job, it is the loss of a job and the inability to find another. In the context of this discussion the receipt of unemployment benefits itself would not be a sufficient criteria as preferring UE benefits to a job that is available is not out of the question, however that is just a caveat I want in there from the get go.

            For a truck driver to become unemployed due to self driving trucks he will have to
            1. Lost his job due to self driving trucks
            and
            2. Be unable to find a new job.

            There is functionally no reason to believe that under market conditions these two things will be met for any substantial portion of the labor force either empirically or theoretically. Empirically there have been multiple transportation revolutions that greatly reduced the number of man hours necessary to transport goods. Trains are a great example (thanks to I think John Schilling who brought this up months ago in one of the open threads discussing driver-less cars) where a small number of operators could run a train that can carry enormous quantities of goods much further and faster than was previously possible. There is no real UE associated with the expansion of train lines because while expanding train lines cost some jobs it opened up an enormous number of others. What you might expect to be a transition period, which is the claim of temporary net increases in UE, is unlikely to occur for structural reasons. The basic logic goes as follows

            1. Trains replace horses and carts.
            2. Horses and carts do not stop working or being valuable until AFTER trains start running.
            3. Trains require large amounts of capital investment which includes labor.

            So to complete the circle you have to start out with HIGHER employment during the period in which people are working horse and buggy plus also designing, testing and building locomotives, train cars, signals, tracks etc, etc, etc. There is no particular reason to expect a discontinuity of work here, as every freight load requires up front labor while also opening up opportunities on both ends of the load.

            Even those who think that they will have a bunch of equally good jobs waiting for them (which I’ve never heard), there’d at least be frictional unemployment.

            There is always frictional UE, but technology typically reduces rather than increases frictions, and that reduction is applied across the entire economy.

            Care to elaborate?

            The full quote

            There is strong evidence this has a permanent, negative effect on the workers and communities it affects that they do not ever recover from. At best, their children do. At worst, it can lead to generational poverty because even as society returns to full employment the individual community or descendants of the individual experiencing feel ripple effects.

            The areas where these effects are observed are typically one factory towns/one industry cities. Industry* brings with it many competitive benefits, it produces lots of infrastructure, allows for dense living and opens up many other investment opportunities. Towns that boom from a single employer but fail to diversify do so because of some significant flaws, and these are the places that end up with the worst outcomes. Blaming the expansion of a new industry, or a trade agreement on these outcomes is like blaming them for the inequitable distribution of mineral wealth, or competence in governance, or luck. The shifts are real for the people experiencing them, but preventing the shift wouldn’t reduce the number of people who do experience them.

            *Some exceptions would be industries that produce a lot of on site pollution, but even these usually end up with net positive externalities (see stockyards in Chicago).

          • Erusian says:

            Unemployment is not simply no longer working at a job, it is the loss of a job and the inability to find another. In the context of this discussion the receipt of unemployment benefits itself would not be a sufficient criteria as preferring UE benefits to a job that is available is not out of the question, however that is just a caveat I want in there from the get go.

            We’re using two definitions of unemployment then. I mean something closer to the current federal definition. In order for you to prove my statement wrong, you would need to prove that automation will not lead to anyone getting fired and then spending some time not working while searching for a new job. No one, as far as I know, denies that will happen.

            The areas where these effects are observed are typically one factory towns/one industry cities.

            To the contrary, it’s not a limited phenomenon. Imagine, for example, someone who spends ten years working in a factory. They’ve invested a lot in factory worker skills. When they go into a new industry they have to (to some extent) start learning new skills and from the bottom of a career ladder. This depresses total lifetime earnings.

            I’ll decline to comment on the rest. Your points are valid and I’m steelmanning someone else’s position.

          • baconbits9 says:

            We’re using two definitions of unemployment then. I mean something closer to the current federal definition. In order for you to prove my statement wrong, you would need to prove that automation will not lead to anyone getting fired and then spending some time not working while searching for a new job. No one, as far as I know, denies that will happen.

            Those are two separate discussions, one is ‘what happens under our current system’ vs ‘what happens under hypothetical market capitalism’, but it was just a caveat I put in there so that I can refer to it later if I want to, none of my other points relied on it.

            you would need to prove that automation will not lead to anyone getting fired and then spending some time not working while searching for a new job

            No, because UE for truckers isn’t at zero. If there are 3.5 million truckers with 5% of them generally unemployed at any time then there are 175,000 unemployed truckers. The economic shift that creates driver less trucks could cause job shifts such that the total number of UE truckers was never more than 175,000 at any one time, which would refute the general claim even if some of those truckers on UE lost their jobs to driver-less trucks.

            To the contrary, it’s not a limited phenomenon. Imagine, for example, someone who spends ten years working in a factory. They’ve invested a lot in factory worker skills. When they go into a new industry they have to (to some extent) start learning new skills and from the bottom of a career ladder. This depresses total lifetime earnings.

            But you have ignored everything else. These shifts cause higher productivity and increased wealth, whatever caused their factory to close was related to the things that made cars better, air conditioning more accessible, better general working conditions, vaccines for their kids etc, etc, etc. If the only effect of technological growth was better sewing machines was to make T-shirts 1% cheaper and to cost you your job at the factory then yes, that hurt you on net, but that isn’t how it goes.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Long term technological unemployment is not really a thing. While some people disagree with this, they are mostly practicing incredibly heterodox economics and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

        Can you elaborate? Why is it impossible that eventually the average human will be unemployable in the same way that a chimp or a severely disabled human (e.g. mentally retarded with IQ < 70) is currently unemployable?

        • baconbits9 says:

          I would say that my experience is that low IQ people are unemployable due to behavioral issues and the minimum wage.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Even if we had no statutory minimum wage, there’s a minimum amount a person must make to keep themselves alive. So what’s to keep automation from bringing the value (to employers) of average humans below this point?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Automation makes things cheaper, the cheaper things get the less you need to earn to meet that minimum. Humans have been able to live above subsistence level with roughly zero modern technology helping them, it is astonishingly unlikely that this would happen with modern tech.

          • Chalid says:

            In any workplace, insufficiently competent humans are value-destroying not value-creating. (Surely you have encountered some of these.) If you automate away all the basic non-cognitive jobs it’s entirely possible that most people will be zero or negative marginal product in the remaining workplaces.

          • acymetric says:

            @baconbits9

            It seems like the decrease in costs is distributed across the whole population, while the decrease in jobs/pay is more isolated to the given industry, meaning that the cost decrease while a net positive for society does not compensate for the changes to the people in that industry. In other words, everyone’s purchasing power goes up because goods are cheaper, but the people in the industry see their purchasing power go down by more than it went up as a result of job loss/decreased pay.

            Additionally, doesn’t it depend a bit on what is getting cheaper? I realize in the case of transportation that would appear to be “everything that gets transported”. In a hypothetical, automation makes Luxury Good X cheaper, increasing the purchasing power of the people who were buying it, making it accessible to the people who previously couldn’t afford it, but making the people who used to make it worse off because they still can’t afford it and now they don’t have a job making it.

            On the other hand, making affordable clothes even cheaper, or food, would theoretically increase everyone’s purchasing power (we’ll briefly ignore that this likely comes at the expense of 12 year olds in China or whatever).

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t see any reason that automation couldn’t push average value of an average person as an employee below even the reduced cost of upkeep.

            It’s true that average humans used to survive with no automation. But a lot fewer of them. And most of them died relatively young.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It seems like the decrease in costs is distributed across the whole population, while the decrease in jobs/pay is more isolated to the given industry, meaning that the cost decrease while a net positive for society does not compensate for the changes to the people in that industry

            It does not seem this way at all to me, primarily because technological advancements are happening across the board and impacting all industries. If you isolate one advance like ‘driver-less trucks’ then you can create imaginary problems where truck drivers lose 100% of their pay while everyone else sees a 1% increase in theirs, but there is no specialized industry creating self driving trucks while not impacting every other facet of the economy. The advancements that allow us to do more than dream of driver less vehicles will effect every corner of the economy. There will be some unevenness in the distribution, but that distribution will be net positive and only an idiosyncratic minority will be on the negative end of things.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t see any reason that automation couldn’t push average value of an average person as an employee below even the reduced cost of upkeep.

            How could this possibly happen? What is the point of production?

          • baconbits9 says:

            In any workplace, insufficiently competent humans are value-destroying not value-creating. (Surely you have encountered some of these.)

            Competence is determined by level of responsibility. When I worked the lower end of legal US jobs, stuff like dish washing, night shift bakery work etc, the behavioral issues were value destroying. I worked with several mentally handicapped dishwashers and one was absolutely value destroying- the alcoholic one who harassed all the female servers. The others (I remember 2) had a positive level of production (ie >$0 an hour worth), generally showing up on time, washing dishes and not breaking stuff.

            For non handicapped people I have known who were value destroying they all did so through behavior- stealing, not working, lying, coming into work high/drunk/not coming into work.

            My wife reports competence issues of programmers she hires, and it is value destroying for her to sign a programmer who cannot (or will not) do the things nor learn to do the things they were hired to do. These people are being hired for jobs at $80,000+, not remotely near subsistence wages.

          • Chalid says:

            So you see how people can be value destroying (e.g. negative value), and yet are puzzled by the idea that the value of an employee could possibly be lower than the cost of upkeep?

            Imagine a world where anything that employs large numbers of people becomes a target for automation, for obvious reasons. No more dishwashing jobs or the movie-theater ticket people and the like. A lot of the rest of the jobs are going to be the sorts of things that don’t easily absorb unskilled labor. If any type of job *does* start to absorb lots of the surplus unskilled labor, then it suddenly becomes worth automating too, and those jobs go away again. Meanwhile, the jobs which are too difficult to automate are also the ones where unskilled labor has negative value.

            I don’t find this terribly implausible.

            (And of course in this scenario you can imagine that waterline for what counts as “skilled” labor will continue to rise, until we’re all unskilled workers contributing little or nothing to the work of the productive AIs.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            So you see how people can be value destroying (e.g. negative value), and yet are puzzled by the idea that the value of an employee could possibly be lower than the cost of upkeep?

            No, I am not puzzled that some people through a combination of traits/actions/behaviors could be value destroying, I am puzzled by the claims that people whose combination of behaviors/work ethic/intelligence are currently value creating could suddenly become value destroying (or zero value).

          • baconbits9 says:

            To be more specific, in my view there are three basic qualities a worker can have. Intelligence, industriousness, and good behavior, being a near zero in any one situation doesn’t disqualify you on its own. As two of the categories are at least partially in the control of most people I don’t see the difficulty of hiring 70 IQ people translating into the majority of people being unable to work.

          • Matt M says:

            As two of the categories are at least partially in the control of most people

            I think I agree with your overall thesis here, but a minor nitpick.

            I predict that science will eventually discover that no, you aren’t really “in control” of any of these things. Someone can no better “become a harder worker” than they can “become more intelligent.” Industriousness and/or agreeableness will eventually be discovered to be just as heritable as intelligence.

          • Chalid says:

            Machines beat any human in industriousness, and of course will not have bad behavior either. Meanwhile just about any job requiring intelligence is likely to have negative marginal product workers.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Machines beat any human in industriousness, and of course will not have bad behavior either.

            Comparative advantage makes these types of statements irrelevant. The fact that someone or some class of people are better than you at anything or even everything doesn’t render you useless.

            Meanwhile just about any job requiring intelligence is likely to have negative marginal product workers.

            Again irrelevant, stemming from the misconception that jobs exist outside of people. Jobs are created to utilize human labor, not the other way around.

          • Chalid says:

            The fact that someone or some class of people are better than you at anything or even everything doesn’t render you useless.

            Yes, absolutely disadvantage with comparative advantage means you’re not useless, *if* the thing you’re absolutely disadvantaged against can’t be cheaply reproduced. That assumption breaks down with automation. (Think it through – the marginal product gets driven down to zero for the absolute-advantaged producer so the absolutely-disadvantaged producer will have negative marginal product.)

            Again irrelevant, stemming from the misconception that jobs exist outside of people. Jobs are created to utilize human labor, not the other way around.

            Jobs are created to maximize value produced, not to utilize human labor. It’s a happy circumstance that maximizing value in almost all situations currently requires human brains, but if a superior alternative existed jobs will be organized around that instead.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Yes, absolutely disadvantage with comparative advantage means you’re not useless, *if* the thing you’re absolutely disadvantaged against can’t be cheaply reproduced. That assumption breaks down with automation. (Think it through – the supply of marginal product gets driven down to zero for the absolute-advantaged producer so the absolutely-disadvantaged producer will have negative marginal product.)

            No it doesn’t, as the ability to cheaply reproduce labor drives down the cost of living toward zero. If marginal product got literally driven down to zero by automation then ‘workers’ would need to earn zero to be able to afford literally anything. As long as the marginal product of automation is slightly above zero then comparative advantage still exists, and everything is still groovy, you are just driving up real wages by shoving down real prices, rather than by pushing up nominal wages faster than nominal prices.

          • Chalid says:

            No, the profit involved in selling to people with zero/negative marginal product is zero. If there are positive-profit opportunities elsewhere in the economy then resources will be redirected to those instead.

            Meanwhile, cost of living never reaches zero. Irreducibly you still need 2000 calories a day; implicitly you’re always renting a fair bit of farmland and energy. You also need various amenities like shelter and a reasonably temperature-maintained environment.

            Taking the far-future limit as hopefully illustrative – it’s really easy to imagine how a world dominated by Hansonian em-cities might be able to find much better uses for solar energy than growing a bunch of beans for you to eat, and thus to outbid you for it.

          • JPNunez says:

            Again irrelevant, stemming from the misconception that jobs exist outside of people. Jobs are created to utilize human labor, not the other way around.

            If we get AGI or something close -maybe not super intelligences, but just regular intelligence- a bunch of menial jobs could be automated in a short timeframe. Not sure the service economy can absorb all those humans.

            I mean, it cannot absorb all available humans right now.

            It may all be science fiction, or not happen in our children’s lifetimes tho.

            Then the question becomes: in a market full of hungry people with outdated skills/low IQs, all willing to work for not much money, why doesn’t someone find a way to employ all that very cheap labor to do something?

            Well, we have Uber and all those gig economy apps.

            But Uber’s endgame is using automated cars to get rid of their drivers, so they have built in the assumption that the whole gig economy is just a transitional state.

            Maybe there will be a gig/service economy for humans in non-creative jobs, but if the AIs are cheaper than humans, there may not be after all.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You have only gotten here by starting from the assumption that people are zero or negative marginal product. If you define everyone that way then you get your dystopia, but you don’t get it through standard economic analysis.

            At literally zero marginal cost to produce then producers are indifferent between producing something and giving it away, and not producing it at all. If you are not specifically at that point in the post scarcity world then comparative advantage still holds and there is no reason to believe that the population is filled with zero and negative marginal product workers.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Thesis 1. If some worker is positive-value today, they will be positive-value tomorrow.

            I think this is right. The positive value might be small, but if you know how to do a favor for someone without breaking a piece of equipment or attempting to rape a coworker, you will always be positive-value.

            Thesis 2. Given a positive-value worker, they will earn above minimum wage.

            I think this is not true. The solution is obvious.

            Thesis 3. Given a positive-value worker, they will earn above their subsistence level.

            This could be true, but I don’t think it necessarily follows. I think it’s true if you have a “correct” level of redistribution. In the normal American-Overton-window of foreseeable market forces, I could imagine that class A (which does not include the worker) captures all the value of increased automation, and it does not show up in a reduced costs to the worker paying for their subsistence.

            Or maybe it does follow and I’m just not putting the pieces together. I could be convinced here to agree with Thesis 3.

          • Chalid says:

            You have only gotten here by starting from the assumption that people are zero or negative marginal product. If you define everyone that way then you get your dystopia, but you don’t get it through standard economic analysis.

            I have not started from that assumption. I started from the assumption that things with absolute advantage over many humans could be produced fairly cheaply. Zero marginal product for those humans then follows.

            You don’t get it from standard economic analysis because standard economic analysis makes the for-now-reasonable assumption that large amounts of labor supply with absolute advantage cannot be cheaply created.

            If you can create large amounts of robots, then the cost of the goods that the robots/humans are producing will end up being set by the robots’ marginal cost of production, which is lower than the humans’ cost of production. Therefore, humans drop out of producing anything. If robots are just better at their jobs than humans, then this can be true even if humans’ wages are zero.

            At literally zero marginal cost to produce

            Food and other upkeep for humans is never going to be zero marginal cost to produce.

          • John Schilling says:

            No it doesn’t, as the ability to cheaply reproduce labor drives down the cost of living toward zero.

            The ability to cheaply reduce absolutely all labor might drive the cost of living toward zero, but the ability to cheaply reduce most labor drives the cost of living towards an asymptote defined by the non-automatable labor. If e.g. agriculture is 95% ditch-digging and 5% Ph.D. agronomists keeping one step ahead of the latest blights and pesticide-resistant bugs, then automation can drive the cost of food down by 95% while driving the market wages of ditch-diggers down by 100%.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I have not started from that assumption. I started from the assumption that things with absolute advantage over many humans could be produced fairly cheaply. Zero marginal product for those humans then follows.

            It does not follow because of comparative advantage. This is literally the textbook insight that comparative advantage demonstrates, if you are better at growing apples and oranges than I am it is still best for you to grow one and trade with my production of the other.

            As I have said before you ONLY get this outcome (from a logical perspective) if all human wants are being met, which requires all humans being able to afford to pay for those goods and services. You cannot push comparative advantage down to zero without violating the laws of conservation of mass/energy. As long as there is some cost to production then there is potential comparative advantage.

        • Erusian says:

          Can you elaborate? Why is it impossible that eventually the average human will be unemployable in the same way that a chimp or a severely disabled human (e.g. mentally retarded with IQ < 70) is currently unemployable?

          So your contention is that the necessary IQ to do work is going up? Do you have any evidence that it is? I’m not aware that’s ever happened. The effect I’ve seen people concerned about is that intelligent people make increasingly more money than the average minimum wage type. But that’s not the same as being unemployable.

          Anyway, the simple reason is that long term technological employment has never been observed and the trends today are not significantly different from the general trend of the last two centuries. The more complex reason is that so long as they are capable of producing some value with their labor, it makes sense for society to utilize that labor. And having worked with relatively low functioning individuals, behavioral problems are a much bigger problem than intelligence, especially for low paying jobs.

          • Procrastinating Prepper says:

            So your contention is that the necessary IQ to do work is going up? Do you have any evidence that it is?

            Necessary IQ might not be going up, but I think it’s very plausible that necessary education/experience/know-how could get high enough that people just can’t retrain in a reasonable amount of time without income assistance.

            Suppose that the difficulty of automating a job is correlated with the complexity of tasks in that job – and thus the difficulty of teaching a human to do it. The lowest-barrier jobs would be lost first (I know there are exceptions to this rule, such as engineering drafters or tax accountants). The jobs created by this economic shift would all be higher-skilled, possibly very high-skilled – the person who just lost his burger-flipping job isn’t in any position to retrain as a technician for the BurgerFlipperX29. Someone else will get the technician job, freeing up a space for someone level lower, who frees up another space, until the economic gains work all the way back to the former burger flipper. But that might just take too long, especially if automation happens in big fits and starts.

          • albatross11 says:

            Then the question becomes: in a market full of hungry people with outdated skills/low IQs, all willing to work for not much money, why doesn’t someone find a way to employ all that very cheap labor to do something?

          • Matt M says:

            Perhaps this reflects my own personal bias, but I’m actually less concerned for those with low intelligence than I am for those who are introverted and have low social skills.

            As the economy becomes more and more “service based” that means less jobs where you sit at a machine by yourself and press buttons and nobody bothers you, and more jobs where you have to interact with people. As you say, with prices low enough, all of us would consider hiring people to do something. Clean our house, watch our kids, cook our meals, etc. But those jobs require a bit of human interaction and the ability to sell yourself as a desirable person to have around.

            The programmer who’s kind of a jerk, but you keep him around because you need programming, is made completely obsolete by the invention of a low-cost programming bot. But to the extent that you enjoy talking to your cleaning lady, or having a human scan your items at the grocery store, or whatever, those people stay around.

            Consider that right now, there is an entire class of e-girls who are capable of making a decent living for themselves talking to lonely men online. Some of them take their clothes off, but not all of them do. Some of them have even gotten quite rich in the process. And a whole lot of the really successful ones don’t have what you might think of as like, supermodel good looks. While a certain minimum baseline of attractiveness is required, success in this field seems much more highly correlated with social skills than with raw appearance.

            So like, 20 years ago, if you said something like “In the future, nobody will leave their house. They’ll get their food delivered instead of going to Hooters. Strip clubs will be abandoned.” You might expect that would be a disaster for the employment of the “cute young female with decent social skills but low IQ” demographic. What will they possibly do once all of those jobs disappear? If you answered “They’ll sit at their computer and broadcast themselves talking to and doing silly things and wearing different outfits for a global audience of attention-starved men who will throw money at them for doing so” you would have been laughed out of the room. Nobody really saw that coming.

            And yet, here we are…

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Here is how i view this issue:

            1. Previous eras of automation involved small scale crafts being replaced by humans performing routine tasks with the aid of machines. Very often the labor being made obsolete was equal if not greater in complexity than the work that replaced it. Other times it involved one form of unskilled labor

            2. Modern automation involves the programming of tasks for computers by technicians, which mostly or fully replaces the most automated/routine aspects of labor.

            Having a higher IQ allows the person in question to work in fields where tasks are unsupervised, complex, and extremely difficult to automate. Lower IQ jobs tend to be routine and therefore the easiest to replace with some kind of computer program.

            Modern automation disproportionately shrinks the jobs available to low IQ persons and increases demand for high IQ labor to a degree that previous automation did not. [So i believe]

            Most defenders of the status quo don’t take this issue seriously because they believe that all job skills are a matter of training, some of them don’t even acknowledge that there exists such a thing as intelligence. New jobs will appear and people will simply retrain themselves to learn them, goods will be cheaper and so everyone will prosper.

            It is possible if not likely, especially in a highly regulated economy, that low IQ job opportunities won’t grow as fast as past low IQ jobs. The combination of stagnant low end wages and programs like disability and UE benefits may paper over the unemployment rate at the low end and give the false impression that the economy is reabsorbing the layoffs at a reasonable pace.

            The true unemployment aspect of this is perhaps over-emphasized. Functioning markets should be able to, given enough time, price labor such that anyone that you don’t get unemployability. But that speaks nothing to the emisseration that will attend the necessary wage stagnation.

          • Chalid says:

            all willing to work for not much money, why doesn’t someone find a way to employ all that very cheap labor to do something

            Any single thing that ends up employing a lot of people becomes a target for automation. Cheap labor can survive if it can do something difficult to automate, or if it can find a small enough niche for itself that no one finds it worth automating.

          • albatross11 says:

            One reason it might resist automation is that many people like having it done by a human.

          • Chalid says:

            One reason it might resist automation is that many people like having it done by a human.

            True, but that gets at Matt M’s point. There’s virtually nothing that people like having done by just any human. We like having stuff done for us by attractive, personable humans.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I think “attractive, personable” humans oversells it. I go to a Starbucks all the time. Most of the workers there aren’t “attractive” in anything other than the conventional sense that they aren’t burn victims or anything, and their personability is, like, average.

            I do agree that it might be hard for people who are particularly unattractive or particularly socially awkward.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Matt M That reminds me of the, silent Uber driver thing, maybe awkward introverts would hire awkward introverts to perform their services because they don’t want a house keeper who talks to them?

          • Matt M says:

            That reminds me of the, silent Uber driver thing, maybe awkward introverts would hire awkward introverts to perform their services because they don’t want a house keeper who talks to them?

            It’s certainly possible.

            Although when I say “people with good social skills”, you know, a huge part of having “good social skills” is being able to effectively read your audience.

            The socially adept uber driver is able to very quickly and painlessly read his passengers to determine whether they’d like to engage in lively conversation, or whether they’d like to sit quietly. The loudmouth who never shuts up, even with introverted passengers, might seem more sociable, but doesn’t really have any “better” social skills than the driver who never says a word.

          • Matt M says:

            I go to a Starbucks all the time. Most of the workers there aren’t “attractive” in anything other than the conventional sense that they aren’t burn victims or anything, and their personability is, like, average.

            Now imagine the people they don’t hire!

            In all seriousness though, in the current state of the economy, there are tons of jobs available, the vast majority of which are far more desirable than “Starbucks barista”, and good social skills are desired in almost all of them. There’s no reason to expect that today, Starbucks would attract the people with the best social skills. Those people are working in pharmaceutical sales or something like that. And honestly, I’m not sure there’s any scientific/mathematical task requiring conventional intelligence that would be harder to automate than “convince this doctor to start prescribing your company’s overpriced, unnecessary new drug.”

          • Chalid says:

            I think “attractive, personable” humans oversells it. I go to a Starbucks all the time. Most of the workers there aren’t “attractive” in anything other than the conventional sense that they aren’t burn victims or anything, and their personability is, like, average.

            Sure, but that job is definitely automatable in the not-too-distant future. Would you a pay much of a premium to order your coffee from an average-looking barista as opposed to punching a button on a kiosk? If not, you don’t really prefer the human for that service.

            Similarly, if self-driving cars were common, would you pay a premium for a human-driven Uber? Probably not.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            @Chalid

            Maybe I would, and maybe I wouldn’t (I probably would’ve back when I just had one kid and wanted to knock around Starbucks for a while to give my wife a break, I wouldn’t now). But my point here is not Starbucks in particular, but any place where you actively want some human contact — and the more that the rest of the world is automated, the greater interest there will be in some places that do have human contact. Is that place particularly a coffee shop? I dunno. But it’s something.

            My point is, human contact can be nice when the people are roughly median in terms of attractiveness/social skills, they don’t have to be top 20% or 10%. Now, bottom 20% or bottom 10% might be in trouble.

          • albatross11 says:

            The actual automation going on at Starbucks involves placing an order online. The coffeeshop is still there with humans, and you pick up your order from a human, but this probably significantly cuts back on the need for cashiers. OTOH, lots of people like sitting in the Starbucks, and for that, having some humans working there is important.

    • Chalid says:

      On your point #2, I don’t really think there’s a fundamental economic reason that tech progress should not ever result in chronically high long-term unemployment. Rather, it’s an empirical fact about the world that the vast majority of humans have historically been able to create significant value through their work, and so it’s reasonable to assume that they will continue to be able to do so.

      • vV_Vv says:

        But doesn’t short-term technological unemployment suggest that long-term technological unemployment is also possible and could be in fact undergoing?

        Is there any cognitive reason that makes it difficult to learn a new profession at age 50?

        I tried to google it but can’t find convincing studies on IQ and aging: some early studies found that IQ peaked at 20-30 but these studies were confounded by the Flynn effect, more recent longitudinal studies that follow the same cohort over the year find that IQ decline only become significant in ones 60s, but these studies might be confounded by self-selection and survivor bias.

        If IQ or at least fluid intelligence declines quickly then we can expect short-term and medium-term unemployment, but not necessarily long-term: the 50 years old truck driver who may never #LearnToCode, but his children might, if instead fluid intelligence stays nearly constant until retirement age then it means that his children and further descendants are also going to have a hard time at finding employment.

        • Chalid says:

          Sure, I agree that it’s possible. I don’t think there’s any real evidence that it’s ongoing right now, but I find it entirely plausible that it will happen within the next few decades. Real AI is the sort of seismic shift in the economy that could upend the historical pattern of humans being able to figure out ways to produce value.

        • But doesn’t short-term technological unemployment suggest that long-term technological unemployment is also possible and could be in fact undergoing?

          “Short term technological unemployment” is a little misleading. It’s certainly an economic shock that causes unemployment but you could see a similar effect from trade. Some people have a hard time adjusting and theoretically this could have long term ramifications that are hard to recover from but it’s a very different thing than what people usually mean when they talk about “technological unemployment”. Also, I think this is more controversial among economists than Erusian is letting on.

          • Erusian says:

            Also, I think this is more controversial among economists than Erusian is letting on.

            Could you name the economists? I can name a few but they are mostly heterodox. Socialists are particularly fond of the idea. But people who subscribe to more mainstream views, from Keynes to Austria, tend to not believe that long term trends lead that way. At least in my experience. Again, happy to read new sources.

          • I was talking about this claim being controversial:

            There is strong evidence this has a permanent, negative effect on the workers and communities it affects that they do not ever recover from.

            Isn’t that based on just one study?

            I wasn’t talking about the claim of technological unemployment in general. Honestly though, I think it’s very plausible that we get to a point where most jobs are so pointless, soul-sucking, degrading and low paying,(imagine getting paid to wipe someone’s ass) that it might as well be technological unemployment. In that situation, everyone would just rather live off welfare than do any of these jobs and it could easily break our system.

          • Erusian says:

            Isn’t that based on just one study?

            More than one. But I agree there are people who disagree with that. That’s why I said ‘strong evidence’ and not something like ‘it’s absolutely certain’. I just meant that a reasonable person might find the studies convincing.

            Honestly though, I think it’s very plausible that we get to a point where most jobs are so pointless, soul-sucking, degrading and low paying,(imagine getting paid to wipe someone’s ass) that it might as well be technological unemployment. In that situation, everyone would just rather live off welfare than do any of these jobs and it could easily break our system.

            Getting paid to wipe someone’s ass was a real job, actually. And that presumes not working is an option. But more to the point, I think the future is likely to actually be the opposite. The tasks we’re good at automating are precisely the ones that are soul-sucking, degrading, and repetitive. It’s precisely complicated, judgment call requiring jobs that are hard to automate.

          • It’s precisely complicated, judgment call requiring jobs that are hard to automate.

            Yes, but those are also much harder to train people for. Most people just don’t have the capacity to be high value computer programmers.

          • Plumber says:

            @Wrong Species >

            “…imagine getting paid to wipe someone’s…”

            Don’t have to, it was among the duties of my being an “Attendant for the handicapped” 1988 to 1992.

          • yodelyak says:

            @Plumber

            really?? do you have a link or a source I could follow for that? I’d be fascinated.

          • Plumber says:

            @yodelyak,

            “source”

            I’m pretty sure it’s still among the duties just like when I did the job, as it’s just not something paraplegics can do on their own, nor (as far as I know) have machines yet been made to do it, if you want to meet someone who still does the task try asking thr staff at a nursing home.or for referrals at the Center for Independent Living.

            The clients (typically) had to hire their own attendents from funds provided by the State of California In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Program which would be enough for minimum wage.

            The irony of how crippling the back pain felt from lifting people out of and back into wheelchairs was noted by me at the time.

          • Aapje says:

            @Plumber et al

            They have lifting systems for that.

            I recently visited a large* housing and care facility for the severely mentally handicapped, many of whom also have physical disabilities. They have a pretty neat setup in the central day care building, with a cuddle/sensory room, their own kitchen, different living rooms for different groups with permanently assigned staff (with the severely autistic having a room dedicated to their needs, the severely demented having a room, etc).

            They have an (expensive) ceiling-mounted lift system in some rooms, where people tend to be most handicapped; as well as a movable lift system for other rooms.

            There also is a swimming pool, a nice gym, etc.

            If I become mentally handicapped, it seems like a nice place to live.

            * Encompassing 100+ buildings

          • baconbits9 says:

            The tasks we’re good at automating are precisely the ones that are soul-sucking, degrading, and repetitive.

            Historically the tasks that we are good at automating have been things that we can brute force. The more nuance, even if its repetitive nuance, the harder it is to do so profitably.

            Humans are very weird though, or very contextually dependent. The phrase ‘imagine wiping another person’s ass’ made me shudder a bit, but I am a stay at home parent with 3 small kids. I have literally been wiping another person’s ass as part of my job every day for 4.5 of the past 6 years.

          • albatross11 says:

            Okay, but now imagine getting paid $100K/year to wipe someone else’s ass 20 hours a week. This doesn’t sound nearly so soul crushing. Better pay and better conditions take a lot of the sting out of otherwise-unpleasant jobs. And as baconbits pointed out, every one of us who is a parent has spent a fair bit of time wiping other peoples’ asses (and getting peed on, and cleaning up their puke, and….). We didn’t even get paid a cash wage for doing it!

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            If you want a vision of the future, imagine a person wiping a human ass – forever.

          • Plumber says:

            @Hoopyfreud,
            When folks say: “Don’t worry, they’ll be plenty of health care/service jobs in the future”, that’s exactly what I imagine.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If you want a vision of the future, imagine a person wiping a human ass – forever.

            No, the post scarcity future where every physical good is automated means wiping a single ass sets you up for life.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Short-term technological unemployment is probably dependent on other forms of frictions, like location and reservation wages. If you are intelligent enough to, I don’t know, fix typewriters, you are smart enough to work at McDonald’s. You might have to take a pay cut, but that doesn’t mean machines made you redundant. You can still add value SOMEWHERE.

          Given the dramatic aging of our population, there will likely be additional jobs in health care for generations, particularly if we are so rich that we can simply eliminate every other low-skill job out there.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Imagine you’re a factory owner. Technology increases to the point where you can replace half your workforce with automated assembly lines (imported from Japan), for a 5% cost reduction. Now you enjoy the pleasure of 5% savings, but society at large still has to support the half of the workforce that you fired – unemployment, reconversion, welfare etc. Ergo, automation may be beneficial for individual businesses, but not for society (and in the end for businesses as well since they support society with taxes). The feedback is however too long to actually affect business owner behavior.

      Another scenario: economists like the concept of Competitive Advantage – no matter how behind you are technologically, you can still do something of value on the market. But what happens if you’re priced out of using your time by minimum wages? It’s a kind of competition between employers: make a profit by paying $8 per hour, or the government will cut in and replace you with welfare.

      • 10240 says:

        Technology increases to the point where you can replace half your workforce with automated assembly lines (imported from Japan), for a 5% cost reduction. Now you enjoy the pleasure of 5% savings, but society at large still has to support the half of the workforce that you fired

        If the automated assembly lines cost so much that the total savings will be just 5%, the affected workers can then offer to work for 10% less than before, so you don’t replace them. Or you may be able to demand all your workers to accept a 5% reduction, threatening to fire those who don’t accept it. Your workers may not accept it and quit instead, but (assuming a free market) only if they have a better job available.

        In practice, wages tend to be sticky (in nominal terms), mainly due to worker “protection” laws such as right to strike, collective bargaining requirements, restrictions on firing, or the minimum wage. However, the processes we are talking about are actually gradual. If automation is becoming available in a sector, then workers probably don’t have alternative opportunities that pay better, so a company can get away with not raising salaries which, in a few years’ time, translates into a real wage decrease due to price inflation.

        As in this example, automation might change the distribution of income, in this case from the factory workers to either the owners, or to those who make the assembly lines, or the consumers. However, the cost to the workers (or the society that will feed them) is as much or less than the benefit to whoever benefits; your comment makes it sound like the cost to the workers (or society) can be much bigger than the benefits.

        But what happens if you’re priced out of using your time by minimum wages?

        Sensible countries don’t raise the minimum wage to levels where it would cause a large amount of unemployment; an excessive minimum wage can be undone through inflation.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I generally disagree, wages are sticky for many reasons, one of which is that labor isn’t homogeneous. If an employer is going to replace half his workforce with robots he isn’t going to decide who to keep by random lottery and the workers themselves have a general idea of their relative value, so while some people will be guessing if they will be layed off many employees will be fairly sure one way or the other and that makes an across the board pay-cut difficult to impossible as the bottom end will have to absorb several times over the average pay cut in terms of a % of their salary.

          The second issue is that if there is automation available now that will cause your pay to be cut then in a few years you expect that it would have to be cut further to prevent the next generation from replacing you etc, etc. Given that choice workers with the most options will look for other work, and those workers are going to disproportionately be the best workers and the ones that the manager wants to keep around after the switch. A couple of attempts like this and you will have driven off your best employees effectively ruining all the gains you were going to get from automating.

          • Aapje says:

            in a few years you expect that it would have to be cut further

            Death Deteriorating quality of life by a thousand cuts.

            Given that choice workers with the most options will look for other work, and those workers are going to disproportionately be the best workers and the ones that the manager wants to keep around after the switch.

            I was present at an organization where employees had to do a solicitation procedure for their own (or changed/new) jobs at the company. They were not amused when some took the opportunity to solicit for a job elsewhere.

        • albatross11 says:

          The word “sensible” is doing a lot of work, there.

    • DinoNerd says:

      This isn’t in-depth or thorough, but the place I’d look first for long term technological unemployment would be for useful jobs all requiring abilities some large percent of otherwise healthy human beings don’t have and can’t learn.

      That leaves jobs where the thing actually being produced is prestige – servants doing things that are more effectively done by other means, so that the person they do them for can display their high status on the human totem pool.

      I’m not ‘normal’ enough to understand the demand for prestige markers of this kind. The only reason I don’t prefer to interact with ‘bots, signs, documents, ATMs etc. for all tasks is that they are too often incapable of doing what I want efficiently, or the cost to me of figuring out how to make them do what I want is higher than the cost of finding a human being to deal with the problem. (Well, I might enjoy the low grade social contact of saying “hi” to a doorman more than walking past the sensor to open the door, if I were, unusually, not in a state of human interaction overdose. But that’s not likely to happen as long as I’m employed in a world of open offices etc.)

  20. Conrad Honcho says:

    So video game aficionados of SSC, what did you like at E3?

    I thought Nintendo had the most things I was interested in.

    Obviously, Breath of the Wild 2 (which better be called “Death of the Wild”). Apparently it’s going to use the same Hyrule, so I’m wondering if we get like a Light World / Twilight World thing going on? My dream is playable Zelda, where Link is trapped in the Twilight World and you switch back and forth between Link and Zelda. Or maybe even co-op…

    We finally got to see Astral Chain gameplay and it looks really, really good. Very much looking forward to this.

    Also, Fire Emblem: Three Houses gameplay, and confirmation that there’s **spoilers** a time skip. I had been on the fence about this one because I wasn’t sold on the whole “Fire Emblem: Hogwarts” thing, but it turns out that’s basically the prologue, and then you get a real war.

    Not Nintendo exclusive, but the Trials of Mana remake looks promising.

    Ubisoft had absolutely nothing of interest besides Gods & Monsters, which looks like Ubisoft Breath of the Wild, maybe? And it’s from the same people who did Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which was my favorite game of 2018. Speaking of AC: Odyssey, they released a new community quest builder for it, so now fans can make whatever missions and stories and full game expansions or whatever they want. I imagine it will be mostly junk, but I’m sure somebody’s going to recreate the entire main quest line of Skyrim or something, so that could be very cool. If there’s a game award for “Best Post-Launch Support,” Ubisoft deserves it for AC: Odyssey. Every game post-launch should be like that, with the constant QoL improvements, new features, free missions, on-time paid DLC, and all the rest of this. Great job.

    Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077 and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, obviously, but kind of a let-down when MS’s big reveals are third party games. No Halo: Infinite footage. Nothing but multiplayer demos for Gears 5. The content-free “announcement” of a new Xbox.

    GhostWire: Tokyo was intriguing. Weird Japanese horror/mystery stuff. But it’s hard to get worked up over a cinematic trailer. It’s too easy to make an amazing cinematic trailer for some boring-as-hell microtransaction mobile game.

    What did you like?

    • Atlas says:

      Cyberpunk: 2077 and The Outer Worlds.

    • souleater says:

      I really enjoy the tactical gameplay in Ghost Recon: Wildlands and for a couple of years has been my go-to for screwing around when bored. I’m cautiously optimistic for the sequel, it looks like there are a lot of interesting new features. My one big concern is the change in setting. The change from spec ops in Bolivia fighting cartels to spec ops in fictional archipelago fighting drones takes a lot away from the atmosphere.

      I’m afraid its going to go from realistic-ish tactical-sim to sci-fi/fantasy.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Yeah, Call of Duty: Black Ops was great when it was about sneaking through the jungles of Vietnam and that kind of thing. And then it turned into future cyber soldiers with robot hands fighting…more robots by Black Ops III. Completely ruined the atmosphere that made the first game unique.

    • JPNunez says:

      Nintendo in general.

      Would probably pick Watch Dogs Legion if it was on Switch, where I do most of my gaming. May grab on steam for cheap later.

      Microsoft continues to tempt me with Forza. Would love if the Lego vehicles were buildable, but I doubt that’s the case.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I would love to play Forza again. I had a racing wheel for my 360 and played Forza 4 and Horizons. I’m building a new gaming PC soon and when I do my plan is to invest in a high-quality racing wheel for that so I don’t have to worry about replacing it every console generation and then dive into the back catalog.

        And yes, Watch Dogs 3 was interesting with that “play as anyone” bit with the murder grandma. That might be an interesting enough gimmick to make it worthwhile.

    • Matt M says:

      No comments on the FF7 reboot (which is incorrectly being marketed as a remake, even though it won’t be)?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I don’t know what to say about it. I got FF7 when it came out 20 years ago, and the Cloud t-shirt I got free with my preorder eventually disintegrated in the wash about 6 years ago. I’ve kind of played it, so…meh?

        • acymetric says:

          As Matt noted, it isn’t really a remake. Total reboot, looks to be several times longer (so presumably more depth to each part of the story).

          • Matt M says:

            looks to be several times longer (so presumably more depth to each part of the story).

            I actually doubt this. I predict they will greatly lengthen the Midgar specific sections, while greatly reducing everything else.

            It seems that they want to make this thing to be a cool looking marginally interactive modern action movie. That means the parts of the game where you race motorcycles through the city while fighting the corrupt evil corporation are highly desireable compared to the parts of the game where you wander through the countryside battling random imps for no real purpose other than getting stronger, and stay at a series of small town inns for the express purpose of having flashbacks.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            That means the parts of the game where you race motorcycles through the city while fighting the corrupt evil corporation are highly desireable compared to the parts of the game where you wander through the countryside battling random imps for no real purpose other than getting stronger, and stay at a series of small town inns for the express purpose of having flashbacks.

            “Saigon, I can’t believe I’m back in a Saigon bed and breakfast.”
            “Charlie was close. I could smell his breakfast.”

          • vV_Vv says:

            Total reboot, looks to be several times longer (so presumably more depth to each part of the story).

            What’s the point?

            I mean, I get what the actual point is: milking the nostalgia cow, but this is precisely how we got The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

          • @vV_Vv

            Well, that’s how we got The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi was more like leading the nostalgia cow behind the shed and shooting it. Not that I care about the remake, since I can play the original whenever I want (it’s $12 on Steam).

      • JPNunez says:

        People who have played FF7r came out very impressed with it.

        Also seems everyone is down on Square’s Avengers game.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Banjo in Smash is great news. Animal crossing delay and a lack of Metroid content made me sad. Astral Chain looks neat but I was really hoping for a mainline Atlus game – Persona or SMT on Switch would have been very cool. Not too excited about the Zelda content we’re getting, but BOTW was not too fun for me and I’m really not sold on the Link’s Awakening remake artstyle.

      Bethesda’s conference was breathtaking in its stupidity, but was salvaged by Arkane and id. A whopping TWO (and a half, for Wolfenstein) games to be excited about would win them E3 from me if it weren’t for the reanimated corpse of Todd Howard grinning madly at me from the stage. And their 3 mobile games.

      The lack of CroTeam projects at Devolver was disappointing but not unexpected. Cyberpunk was I think the literal only thing neat in the MS conference. I gave up on EA and Ubisoft years ago (sorry Conrad, but I’m bored to tears every time I see more than a minute of Ubisoft gameplay).

      The Final Fantasy remake and Death Stranding are making me seriously consider picking up a cheap PlayStation. But I have no faith subsequent FFVII “episodes” will maintain PS4 compatibility. I’ll wait until I know.

      Also Shenmue 3 on Epic Games Store is nominally disappointing, but Shenmue is a meme anyway.

      E: award for “most WTF” goes to The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics. Like, what?

      • achenx says:

        And their 3 mobile games.

        Including for some reason bringing back the Commander Keen franchise?

        The Venn diagram of “people who remember MS-DOS Commander Keen games” and “people who are interested in a F2P mobile game with derivative gameplay” is essentially two separate circles, right? Why bother calling it “Commander Keen” at that point?

        • acymetric says:

          Probably not as small as you think, mostly because “people who are interested in a F2P mobile game with derivative gameplay” is a much larger circle than you think. I might give it a look, although I probably won’t actually end up playing it.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The circle might also include people who remember Commander Keen, and have kids who they think ought to play Cmdr Keen-type games, and whose kids are interested in F2P mobile and are too young to tell derivative gameplay when they see it.

            That said, I suspect the real reasoning was some variation of “we have this derivative F2P gameplay app, and we have this old IP lying around, and we have an art department that isn’t doing anything at the moment other than drawing paychecks, so let’s have them reskin this app in Keen art and ship it”.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Eh, the only Ubisoft property I like is Assassin’s Creed. And Mario + Rabbids. I’ve never played a Far Cry or Watchdogs. I was kind of hoping they’d do a reveal of the setting of the next AC game. There’s a writer for kotaku that correctly leaked the last 5 AC games’ settings and he says its Vikings, but it would be neat to get the official reveal.

        And agreed, Bethesda was just embarrassing. “Hey, remember that game that last year I said ‘just worked?’ And it turned out to be a completely broken mess that destroyed our already terrible reputation? Totes fixing it now ha ha! Now on to a whole new presentation with sixteen times the lies!

        Also agreed about Dark Crystal. “Who wants this…?”

        • Matt M says:

          Watchdogs is just hipster GTA. (Change my mind)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I burst out laughing when they said Watch Dogs 3 takes place in “post-Brexit” London, which has turned into a police state. Right, right, it would be terrible if the delightful place with cameras on every street corner, where you can’t buy a butter knife without a license, where the police come visit you if you say something naughty about foreigners on the internet turned into a police state of all things!

          • Matt M says:

            Eh, I’m not even dealing with the political angle. I just mean that when I played the first Watch Dogs, it struck me as “This is what GTA would be like if it took itself super seriously.”

            Which is fine. Was an OK game. Didn’t hate it. But I’ll still take the cartoonish super-violence over an angsty protagonist with family drama and musings on the philosophical nature of modern surveillance programs.

            There are certain genres in which I think realism and introspection work very well. I’m just not sure “sandbox shooter” is one of them.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Why when you’re right?

          • souleater says:

            they said Watch Dogs 3 takes place in “post-Brexit” London, which has turned into a police state.

            Aaaaaaand I’ve lost all interest in that game. There are very few things that I find as irritating as media that is based in an alternate reality that “proves” their preferred policy is correct.

            It would be trivial to instead set it in a alternate reality EU that has turned into a police state and just as silly.

            I think somebody made a comment in an early thread about “editorials from the future” that paraphrasing “Its easy to win an argument when you get to decide all the facts.”

          • silver_swift says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            That was particularly hilarious considering Ubisoft continues to insist that their games aren’t making political statements.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Right, right, it would be terrible if the delightful place with cameras on every street corner, where you can’t buy a butter knife without a license, where the police come visit you if you say something naughty about foreigners on the internet turned into a police state of all things!

            Funnily enough, I’ve lived in Britain all my life, and neither I nor anybody I know has ever had to get a licence before buying a butter knife. Maybe you should try finding better sources for what life’s like in Britain.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Funnily enough, I’ve lived in Britain all my life, and neither I nor anybody I know has ever had to get a licence before buying a butter knife. Maybe you should try finding better sources for what life’s like in Britain.

            I’m pretty sure Honcho was referring to the infamous British knife ban from a few years ago, and exaggerating for humor. No licenses were ever mentioned; just a ban. I doubt it’s gone very far, and indeed, a lot of people were going squinty-eyed and muttering about parodies and Poe’s Law, but apparently it really is or was a thing.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m pretty sure Honcho was referring to the infamous British knife ban from a few years ago, and exaggerating for humor. No licenses were ever mentioned; just a ban. I doubt it’s gone very far, and indeed, a lot of people were going squinty-eyed and muttering about parodies and Poe’s Law, but apparently it really is or was a thing.

            The closest to a “knife ban” mentioned there is an article calling for some types of knives to be banned. You can find articles calling for all sorts of things, most of which end up being ignored; as indeed the call for a knife ban was ignored, by everyone except ignorant Americans.

          • Lambert says:

            British knife law is genuinely quite restrictive, compared to other countries.
            Only folding, non-locking knives under 3″ are legal EDC.
            For everything else, you need a good reason to have it in a public place.
            In practise, the only real inconvenience I find is worry that a non-locking knife will close on me.
            But it’s the principle of the fact that walking out of your front door with a butter knife ion your pocket for no reason is a criminal offence.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            For everything else, you need a good reason to have it in a public place.

            Yeah, but “good reason” is interpreted pretty broadly, AFAIK. Also, the police only ever do knife-searches in places that already have high rates of knife crime; at any rate, neither I nor anybody else I know has even been stopped and searched for illegal knife carrying.

            But it’s the principle of the fact that walking out of your front door with a butter knife ion your pocket for no reason is a criminal offence.

            I don’t deny that there are some silly consequences of the laws as written (although that particular one strikes me more as an accidental loophole than an attempt to assert the state’s dominance over citizens), but it’s not like Britain is alone in this: pretty much every modern country has a system of laws so enormous and labyrinthine that you have unnoticed absurdities slip in, or that it’s often impossible to be sure that you aren’t committing a crime (is it still the case that the average US citizen commits three felonies a day without knowing it?). I do not think that Britain’s chances of becoming a police state are noticeably different than those of any other western country.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The UK is fairly well known for arresting and convicting people who carry small knives with insufficient excuse. I remember one a few years ago about a guy caught with a boxcutter in his car. What’s he use it for? Opening boxes at work. So why can’t you leave it at work? Guilty, next case.

            This one ended in acquittal, but the process was still costly:

            https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/ex-officer-cleared-over-knife-in-bag-rl2p7wqtfv2

            Here’s the infamous butter knife case

            https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1487762/Butter-knife-an-offensive-weapon.html

            Here’s one about a Swiss Army Knife

            https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/7593039/Disabled-caravanner-given-criminal-record-for-penknife-in-car.html

            How about a potato peeler?

            https://www.dunfermlinepress.com/news/16197023.man-in-court-for-having-potato-peeler-in-public-place/#mntab2

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          “Bethesda teased fans by announcing a release date of April 2020 without any further clarification.”

          –The Onion

      • BBA says:

        I like Muppets. I like tactics RPGs. And this Dark Crystal thing is, um, wat.

        I certainly don’t blame the Henson Company for wanting to monetize their older properties, especially considering how lousy their new ideas are. Dark Crystal may not be as beloved as Fraggle Rock (let alone the main Muppets, who were sold off to Disney and Sesame Workshop a while ago) but it has its fans, and making a game tie-in to the upcoming Netflix prequel makes sense. It’s just, why a grid tactics game? Who decided that was a good fit?

        • Matt M says:

          Between this and the Commander Keen thing discussed elsewhere, I wonder if there’s some sort of marketplace (or app) where game developers can get matched up with aging, dead IPs…

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Also Shenmue 3 on Epic Games Store is nominally disappointing, but Shenmue is a meme anyway.

        I did not realize until just now that Shenmue 3 was a kickstarter project. So fans backed it for a Steam key, it blew up, attracted publishers, they took that Epic money and made it an EGS exclusive. And aren’t giving backers refunds. That is a dick move. Wow.

        • bean says:

          I’d assume that they’re giving backers Epic Games keys instead. Which is not quite the same thing, but it’s very different from “you’re going to have to pay for the game you backed”.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I didn’t say that. But if you keep your game library on Steam, and you enjoy participating with the Steam community, and that’s what you paid for when backing, that’s what you should get.

          • Matt M says:

            I mean, that’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a whole lot better than the incredibly common “take your money and run” kickstarter…

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          After it happened to Phoenix Point I stopped getting angrier about it. At the very least they’re mostly timed exclusives, which is significantly better than straight exclusives.

          Also, I really do hope EGS pushes Steam’s cut lower. If devs were releasing on EGS only simply because the cut there is better I’d be completely fine with it, but the pattern of broken promises and paid exclusives sucks tbh.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Also, Fire Emblem: Three Houses gameplay, and confirmation that there’s **spoilers** a time skip. I had been on the fence about this one because I wasn’t sold on the whole “Fire Emblem: Hogwarts” thing, but it turns out that’s basically the prologue, and then you get a real war.

      I’m loving the ability to run around outside of combat, and the 2D characters look great. But WTF, a time skip and then you can pursue a spouse? They should use the time skip to introduce children like in Geneaology of the Holy War!

      Oh, and I just found out that the developers hired one Cristina Vee to voice a character named “Edelgard”, and even she reads it as “Edgelord.”

      • JPNunez says:

        Not gonna lie, I am kind of bored of the children in Fire Emblem.

        They were ok in Awakening, but just became non sense in the Fates games, what with them being put in some parallel universe to grow. Now, a timeskip would do away with the non sense, but still seems like a crutch.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          They were ok in Awakening, but just became non sense in the Fates games, what with them being put in some parallel universe to grow. Now, a timeskip would do away with the non sense, but still seems like a crutch.

          Yes, the parallel universe dragon nurse in Fates was nonsense, but Awakening is where I discovered the series, so old school FE just feels like being railroaded through an RPG that has good tactical combat. Without the agency to choose different relationships for all my characters, I’d rather play the old Gold Box AD&D games so I have agency between combats.

          • JPNunez says:

            I started with the GBA games, and the first one is just all battles, all the time. And it is my favorite. There is putting units together in the map to raise their relationship, but no kids.

            The series can go back later to having kids, but it is nice to know they can disentangle from them.

      • Does “Subs > Dubs” apply to Fire Emblem? I’m contemplating playing with the Japanese audio.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I don’t know if it technically counts, but Death Stranding looks interesting based on the trailer.

      I love the blunt, heavy-handed way Kojima approaches metaphors and literary allusions. There’s just something incredibly charming about it: when I was playing Phantom Pain I was completely won over a few minutes in when a giant flaming ghost whale ate a helicopter to remind us that Hideo Kojima has read the cliff notes to Moby Dick. Death Stranding seems like exactly the same sort of thing, with goofily-named character ‘Die Hardman’ calling back to Peace Walker‘s hilarious CIA director ‘Hot Coldman.’ Plus you have a floating “bridge baby” in a jar that you can connect an aux cable to in order to see ghosts.

      It’s incredibly unclear what the gameplay will actually consist of, but the trailer showed off stealth which is a good sign. There’s a world-swtiching mechanic that happens when you die, which sounds interesting but also potentially very frustrating. There’s unfortunately some kind of multiplayer which always makes games less fun for me but hopefully it will be less obnoxious than FOBs were in MGSV.

    • I haven’t paid much attention to E3 in general, but someone bumped my nose on Panzer Dragoon and I ricochetted off the walls in excitement (even though the trailer itself is exceptionally underwhelming even for fans of the franchise, but neither graphics nor sounds are supposedly final, and the company’s at least going through the motions of listening to fan feedback in a Discord).

      Basically, I have this naive hope that the Panzer Dragoon remake might lead us into a future where Panzer Dragoon Saga is remade (which has a genuinely good story with various grey-scale factions and characters, and is just generally great at highlighting a setting I am seriously fond of).

      That’s all for the moment.

  21. JPNunez says:

    https://piie.com/blogs/trade-investment-policy-watch/trump-has-gotten-china-lower-its-tariffs-just-toward-everyone

    Followup on the trade discussion of a couple of open threads before.

    China has not increased tariffs on aircraft, oil products, autos, and parts, although it has increased them on chemicals, plastic, rubber products and potentially other inputs. While also lowering -a little- the tariffs to other exporters.

  22. Kestrellius says:

    A discussion of some warfare worldbuilding I’ve been thinking about, and some open-ended questions about feasibility for those who are less unfamiliar with physics and engineering than I:

    There’s this planet. It’s ruled by a species of sophonts called quetza. They’re smallish predatory reptiles rather similar to velociraptors, evolved for high speed, agility, and long jumps. A quetza’s mass is in the ten-to-fifteen-kilogram range, or perhaps less if that’s necessary — hollow bones aren’t out of the question.

    Now, the quetza aren’t spacefaring to any meaningful extent, but their tech is a fair bit better than ours in most respects. For example, they can mass-produce graphene with relative ease. Among other things, this means that a typical well-equipped quetza soldier wears a full-body suit of nearly(?) impenetrable graphene armor.

    This presents obvious challenges for anyone trying to kill such a soldier. The solution is to kill with force rather than penetration — to hit the target so hard that you shatter its spine. The standard approach is a projectile, fired from a mid-powered coilgun, which is equipped with a shaped explosive charge which detonates on impact, hurling the target with great force. This technique forms the basis for infantry combat among quetza armies.

    Now for the questions and analysis. I want to determine how much sense this all makes, and what I should alter to ensure that it all holds together.

    So here’s what I’m trying to accomplish with these ideas, so you can get an idea of the parameters I’m working with.

    The setting is intended for a military FPS. I think the setup I’ve outlined is desirable as a gameplay system for a few reasons. One: kinetic force as a damage model is a mildly unusual and interesting idea. Two: ragdolling the bad guys across the room when you shoot them is satisfying. Three: the appearance of an explosion when you shoot something is satisfying, and having a stationary reference point (like a cloud of smoke) to show just how far you’ve ragdolled the bad guys is even more satisfying.

    The coilguns are an integral element of the aesthetic, so I need to make sure that using magnetic accelerators makes more sense in-universe than chemical firearms — which might make the use of explosive rounds for generating force questionable. Obviously one could apply more kinetic energy by speeding up the projectile, but I don’t want the rounds moving too quickly. Faster than most bullets is okay, but so fast that there’s practically no travel time at medium range isn’t — we need our pretty flying tracers.

    So the question is, how much force does it take to send a fifteen-kilogram animal flying and break its bones? Can that much energy be packed into a cartridge-sized explosive projectile? If so, would it make more sense to just use that explosive to propel a metal bullet and do the same thing? What can I fiddle with to make that not the case?

    Another issue: how, if at all, can you penetrate graphene? I’d like there to be weapons (just ones heavier than small arms) capable of getting through the armor. Otherwise, vehicular warfare basically becomes a contest of who can field the heaviest objects — which, while potentially interesting, doesn’t really fit the setting.

    If I can’t make this work, I’ll drop the whole impenetrable-armor conceit and just use the standard penetration-kill model, but I’d rather not.

    So, any thoughts? Advice?

    • compeltechnic says:

      I betcha superplastic jets could penetrate graphene. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-explosive_anti-tank_warhead

      If ya wanna appeal to the nerdy toy du jour, a flying fleet of killer kamikaze drones could have charges mounted on the them. I think I wouldn’t like this so much as a reader though. I’d prefer big guns.

    • bean says:

      Unfortunately, I don’t think this will work on several levels. First, graphene might be strong, but it’s not going to be impenetrable. Sure, it’s good at dealing with relatively blunt impacts, but what happens when I shoot it with a sharp tungsten-carbide penetrator? And even assuming it’s 10x steel, you’re going to need like an inch of the stuff to keep out a 25mm HEAT jet. (And I really doubt it will be 10x steel against HEAT jets.)
      Second, throwing people across the room is hard because of conservation of momentum. The gun can’t provide most of the momentum or the user would get thrown, so it has to come from the explosive. And you’re going to need a lot of explosive for that. I can’t quantify it easily, but people who jump on grenades (I’d guess the same amount of explosives) aren’t usually sent flying.

      • Kestrellius says:

        Hmm. This is really useful information!

        Unfortunately, I don’t think this will work on several levels. First, graphene might be strong, but it’s not going to be impenetrable. Sure, it’s good at dealing with relatively blunt impacts, but what happens when I shoot it with a sharp tungsten-carbide penetrator? And even assuming it’s 10x steel, you’re going to need like an inch of the stuff to keep out a 25mm HEAT jet. (And I really doubt it will be 10x steel against HEAT jets.)

        I was basing the idea of graphene being nigh-impenetrable on claims I’d seen that it was on the order of hundreds of times as strong as steel. Further research is indicating that those claims might have been basically lies.

        So, like I said, I do want the armor to be penetrable, just not by most standard small arms. I actually had an idea for a late-game weapon that’s like a harpoon gun — big long sniper rifle firing an arrow that goes right through armor.

        So I guess the question is how thick graphene armor has to be before it can stop a sharp-tipped penetrator round fired from a rifle-scale quetza coilgun. Of course, I might be able to find an excuse to adjust the power of said coilguns downward, especially since…

        Second, throwing people across the room is hard because of conservation of momentum. The gun can’t provide most of the momentum or the user would get thrown, so it has to come from the explosive. And you’re going to need a lot of explosive for that. I can’t quantify it easily, but people who jump on grenades (I’d guess the same amount of explosives) aren’t usually sent flying.

        …recoil was an issue that completely slipped my mind. Given how light the quetza are, it might make sense for them to prefer lower-velocity magnetic accelerators with explosive rounds over chemical firearms. Obviously a coilgun still has an equal and opposite reaction, but it might be…more controllable? That makes intuitive sense to me, but it might be nonsense.

        And, yeah, I was hoping to get around the issue of the amount of force required by making the quetza really light. My numbers might still not be light enough, though. There’s a lower limit on size for an organism to be able to support a human-like brain, but I wonder if I could get away with having the quetza be especially light for their size, in some way. I mean I mentioned hollow bones, but that only does so much…

        • bean says:

          I was basing the idea of graphene being nigh-impenetrable on claims I’d seen that it was on the order of hundreds of times as strong as steel. Further research is indicating that those claims might have been basically lies.

          Material properties are really complicated, and building effective armor involves trying to produce the best combination of properties to defeat the types of attacks you expect. Steel is a good all-around material, and most alternatives to steel (or even different methods of using/treating steel) involve gains in one area but costs in another. Graphene is fairly brittle, so it will stop the first bullet, but might crack while doing so. AIUI, to penetrate brittle armor, you want mass and momentum, which is bad if your soldiers are small and need low-velocity weapons. And I suspect that graphene will be particularly vulnerable to HEAT rounds. The irregular structure of ceramics disrupts HEAT jets, but graphene is very regular.

          Edit:

          Given how light the quetza are, it might make sense for them to prefer lower-velocity magnetic accelerators with explosive rounds over chemical firearms.

          Maybe. You’re essentially arming them with grenade launchers, and the coilgun could give you some control over velocity. When you’re firing at long range and can brace the weapon, turn the velocity up. The problem is that chemical firearms fire really light bullets, which means that momentum is really low. An M16 has a recoil impulse of 3.84 kg*m/s, while the 40mm grenade of an M203 is more like 14.14 kg*m/s. The grenade launcher takes a lot longer to deliver its impulse, which makes the felt kick lower relative to a gun with the same impulse, but it’s probably still not a good tradeoff.

          • yodelyak says:

            What if you have the gun always fire in two directions at once, so that your “equal and opposite” is taken care of, and you get 2x the pretty tracers, and you also get the interesting tactical challenge of needing to not have friendlies in a straight line behind you? That might require a pretty long rail-gun, so maybe it telescopes a bit, or folds up at the center when not in use?

            Alternately, what if your gun fires a .25kg grenade at your target, and simultaneously also deposits most/all recoil force into a 5 kg brick at an adjustable angle (where most versus all depends on the angle). THen you can either brace against the ground (and thereby absorb most or even all the recoil while keeping your brick) or use while you are jumping and (abandoning your brick) effectively double the reach of your already-very-impressive jump? If you’ve got an optimised-for-jumping-animal you could easily imagine an animal jumping vertically 5-10x its height, and maybe significantly more than that in the forward direction if it’s jumping from a running start. (Kangaroo rat apparently can jump 25x it’s body length?) If said animal is holding the rail gun along the vector of it is jumping, it could “jump” off the recoil and effectively get a double-jump like the n64 Mario could do. If the rail gun is mounted on a wheeled surface, you might even be able to use it as a vehicle and “ride” its recoil along flat terrain as well.

            That’s all contingent on your critter being able to both move around while carrying the gun, and then jump “off” the gun’s kick.

            Anyway, I’m probably not helping, I’m just riffing. Sounds like you’ve been having fun with a neat project.

          • bean says:

            That’s basically what a recoilless rifle does. They usually don’t fire a bullet, because that creates obvious hazards that are harder to deal with than those from the gas they usually use. It has issues which I’ve discussed below.

      • Aapje says:

        Second, throwing people across the room is hard because of conservation of momentum. The gun can’t provide most of the momentum or the user would get thrown

        Not true, see recoilless rifles.

        • bean says:

          Those don’t work well as small arms, due to blast and ammo weight. Some of this can be mitigated, but you don’t really want to have to check behind you every time you fire the thing, which is true even if it’s one of the newer type that don’t just use gas to cancel out the recoil.

          • metacelsus says:

            What about gyrojets?

          • Jake says:

            Rocket powered weapons could make things interesting. It would minimize the recoil on the front end, while still allowing kinetic energy attacks at the target. As a game play mechanic, you could make it so the energy of the rocket increased relative to the distance you are from the target, so sniping someone long distance would cause a bigger kick-back effect and more damage.

          • bean says:

            Gyrojets are a theoretical possibility. I have questions about how much accuracy you could get, though, and damage at the muzzle is pretty low. It peaks when the motor burns out around 60′ out. The other big issue is that ammo is going to be expensive and heavy, no matter what you do. But for a video game? Yeah, that could work.

    • Incurian says:

      I don’t know a lot about graphene, but I wasn’t under the impression it was a particularly good armor. In any case, thermobaric explosives might be good when penetration is difficult.

      On the subject of projectile speed, run some tests in your engine with tracers at 1000m/s. That’s about how fast many rifle rounds start. You won’t have a good tracer effect until the round is quite some distance and the projectile has lost a lot of energy. I don’t think “hyper fast penetrators” can coexist with the desire for tracer effects at medium range (although maybe you could have an after-trace of ionized air left in the wake of the projectile – that makes more sense the faster they go). If you go with the thermobaric explosive route, you can eschew tracers and high velocity projectiles altogether and have the primary weapons be more like grenade launchers and such. Now you have a good excuse for slow projectiles and wild ragdolls.

      • Incurian says:

        As an aside, projectile speed in FPS games are a pet peeve of mine. In Apex Legends, for example, the bullets travel more like paintballs.

        • acymetric says:

          I think that is somewhat required

          a) So that the game is more fun/less “instantly dead because you didn’t see that guy”

          b) More or less instant impact would probably be problematic for online gaming

          • Incurian says:

            I see a) as a feature. It doesn’t necessarily make it less fun, it just makes it different. Other parts of the game would need to be tuned to compensate though (for example maybe revives would be much faster).

            I don’t think b) is actually that troublesome.

            If slow projectiles ARE necessary, I think it’s important that they make sense within the game setting. Hang some kind of lampshade on it, but don’t use what are apparently normal guns that shoot at 1/10 the speed. I think verisimilitude is actually pretty important to my enjoyment of games. I can accept basically anything you tell me about magic or science too advanced for me to understand, but I have expectations about what things from reality are like.

          • Lillian says:

            More or less instant impact would probably be problematic for online gaming

            The first big online first person shooter was probably Unreal Tournament in 1999. Games like Duke Nukem and Doom had multiplayer modes, but during those days it was mostly conducted over LAN. Now i never played it myself, but i believe the weapons in Unreal Tournament were hitscan weapons, with the exception of the rocket launcher. Hitscan means there’s no bullet travel time, if you point and click on a thing, that thing gets shot.

            Fast forward to 2004 and Halo 2 is probably the first big console online shooter. Most weapons there were hitscan, and gamers thought it was a great competitive game. Then 2007 Halo 3 switched to bullet travel times for everything (except the laser) and many gamers hated it, said it was total garbage, so 2010’s Halo: Reach in response went back to a mix of hit scan and ballistics. These days most shooters still use a mix of both, though hardcore simulations like ARMA will of course stick with accurate ballistics.

          • Matt M says:

            Oh man, I forgot about Arma. That definitely qualifies as a “military simulator”

          • Tarhalindur says:

            The first big online first person shooter was probably Unreal Tournament in 1999. Games like Duke Nukem and Doom had multiplayer modes, but during those days it was mostly conducted over LAN. Now i never played it myself, but i believe the weapons in Unreal Tournament were hitscan weapons, with the exception of the rocket launcher. Hitscan means there’s no bullet travel time, if you point and click on a thing, that thing gets shot.

            First big online FPS is probably one of the Quake games (I want to say 2 instead of 3?), though the original Unreal also merits a mention. (Quake 3 vs. UT99 was a big fandom rivalry back in the day.)

            Never played much Quake, but I did play quite a bit of UT back in the day, and I still remember the weapons loadout (note that one of the big UT series features is that weapons have two firing modes):
            – Impact Hammer (special: melee; alt-fire messed with projectiles IIRC. Hammer Wars was something of a thing back on the LAN games I played, filling the same semi-Timmy niche as Pokebombs did for the Melee players I knew. Also hammer jump was the usual UT equivalent of the rocket jump).
            – Enforcer (starting pistol, could be dual-wielded if you got another one) (hitscan both modes)
            – Bio Gun (not hitscan in either mode; primary fire lobbed little goo blobs and secondary fire charged up a bigger one. Notable because fully charged secondary fire could kill from ~maxed health and shields and because the blobs stuck around for a littlewhile and could be used as pseudomines)
            – Shock Rifle (primary fire hitscan, secondary not; hitting a secondary shot with a primary result resulted in the legendary shock combo)
            – Pulse Rifle (not entirely sure about the code; I suspect secondary was hitscan, not sure about primary)
            – Razorjack (or was the Razorjack original UT and the Ripjack in UT99?) (not hitscan in either mode AFAIK; primary fired bouncing razor blades that could headshot, secondary fired an exploding version that didn’t bounce)
            – Minigun (hitscan both modes, shared ammo with Enforcers)
            – Flak Cannon (not hitscan either mode; primary fired bouncing shards, secondary lobbed the infamous smiley flak shell)
            – Rocket Launcher (not hitscan, natch)
            – Sniper Rifle (hitscan both modes – secondary was sniper zoom)

            (Plus the two special weapons, the Redeemer and the Translocator; neither were hitscan. Telefrag Assassin was a distinct niche in UT99 on map types where the TL was enabled because of the size of the telefrag hitbox. The Redeemer, of course, was the UT99 BFG equivalent; it was a miniature nuclear missile [magazine size 2] that could be shot down in flight.)

            So no, the bulk of the UT99 loadout was not hitscan. Mind you, the hitscan Shock Rifle and Sniper Rifle always seemed to be the most popular weapons in the game (the latter had a HUGE headshot hitbox and was perfectly usable as a close-quarters weapon) so it’s an understandable mistake…

          • Lillian says:

            You’re right, Quake II in 1997 was the first big online multiplayer FPS. In fact when i said Unreal Tournament i meant Quake II, i just always get them confused because they were before my time, and it doesn’t help that gaming history is not a well researched subject. Quake II was followed shortly by Unreal in 1998, then Quake III and Unreal Tournament in 1999, and finally Counter-Strike in 2000. Those were the early big boys of the genre, the pioneers in shooting other people in the face without having to go to a LAN party. Frankly i should have used Counter-Strike as an example to begin with, because every weapon there is hitscan except the grenades (there’s no rocket launcher). Most other games tended to use a mix.

          • Lillian says:

            Weird, edit window died before the hour was up.

            Should probably add that Counter-Strike started out as a multiplayer mod for Half-Life, which came out in 1998. However Half-Life is mostly remembered for the single player experience, so i don’t think the multiplayer was as big as Unreal and Quake, but it probably wasn’t that far off. Again, videogame history is not very well researched, so i have to go off second and third hand accounts plus guesses based on sales numbers and the like. Counter-Strike really took off as its own thing though, and as a multiplayer game it was definitely bigger than Half-Life, so it’s definitely worth mentioning.

            Apparently the latest iteration of Counter-Strike, Global Offensive, still uses hitscan for everything, and there’s actual professional teams that get paid to play that in tournaments. Would have thought they’d put in simulated ballistics by now, but i guess since all the firefights CSGO happen at spitting range, realistic bullet travel is close enough to instant that they might as well stick to hitscan.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Lillian:

            Should probably add that Counter-Strike started out as a multiplayer mod for Half-Life, which came out in 1998. However Half-Life is mostly remembered for the single player experience,

            Well, and also for this.

          • lvlln says:

            I’d actually say Quake 1, not 2, was actually the first big online FPS. I don’t recall if 2 was bigger than 1, but 1 was absolutely huge for its time, with the development of QuakeWorld allowing people to seek out servers online to hop into. I think Doom might have developed something like that at some point too, but for the most part Doom’s multiplayer was done on LAN, i.e. between people connected to the same network.

            Quake was about 50/50 with hit scan weapons and projectile-modeled weapons. The shotgun, super shotgun, and lightning gun were hit scan, while the nailgun, the super nailgun, and the rocket launcher, were projectile-modeled. The rocket launcher was by far the best weapon to use in competitive multiplayer, due to the high total damage, the splash damage, and the fact that the projectile speed was still really high.

            Quake 2 had a few more projectile-modeled weapons, I think. The shotgun, machine gun, chain gun, and railgun were hit scan, while the default blaster, hyper blaster, rocket launcher, and BFG were projectile-modeled. Quake 2 was a lot more balanced in terms of weapons, with the rocket launcher nerfed a bit in damage and projectile speed, and other weapons like the shotgun and railgun having niches where they excelled greatly.

        • Kestrellius says:

          Ah, perhaps I should have been more clear. When I say “mid-range”, I mean mid-range for modern infantry combat, not mid-range for FPS gameplay. My corresponding pet peeve is the ludicrously close ranges at which everything takes place in most games. It’s not so bad when it’s just enforced by closed-in level design — although I still think it’s a missed opportunity, given how much more interesting long-ranged combat can be — but when you’ve got weapons with arbitrary range limits, or enemies who don’t notice you until you come within a hundred feet…

          But, yeah, 1000m/s, or higher, ought to be fine. To get the visual effect of the projectile traveling — as opposed to just a line appearing and disappearing, like a laser — you only really need maybe five, ten frames. Even just two will work in a pinch — you can look at things like the detention-block shootout in Star Wars to see that, although of course that’s got about half the framerate of a PC game.

          So in really close quarters you wouldn’t see much travel time, but that’s okay. As long as it shows up during longer-ranged engagements, I’m not too bothered.

          • Incurian says:

            I think most successful small arms engagements tend to be rather close range, IRL. Engagements that start at long range tend to finish much closer, or with indirect fire support.

        • Enkidum says:

          All FPSes that I’ve played are, as you say, basically paintball. But it’s hard to have an actual gunfight that is a sport, because instant shots that do massive damage make for very short rounds. And multiplayer competitive games are designed to be sports, not simulations.

          I feel your pain, but I think there’s a very limited market for actual gunfight simulations.

          • acymetric says:

            Compare this to flight simulators vs. games where you fly stuff. And I would guess the market for hyper-realistic gun fights is much less than the market for realistic flight simulators.

          • johan_larson says:

            How limited? Are there any games that try to accurately simulate gunfights?

          • Lillian says:

            There are enough that it qualifies as its own genre.

            The main thing they get wrong, and is very difficult to not get wrong, is the psychological factors, particularly in how they play out with respect to suppressive fire. Basically in real life people are mysteriously terrified of being shot, and so tend to do things like hug cover and show extreme reluctance to expose themselves in the face of incoming fire.

            In a videogame, people might prefer to not get shot so they can keep playing, but they are not exactly terrified of it, so it’s way easier to stay cool under fire and lay precise and accurate counterfire at the enemy. Consequently while suppressive fire is not ineffective, as people will still get down under cover to avoid being shot, it’s still much less effective than it is in real life, so it’s much more difficult to properly pin down a unit.

            This also means less bullets are expended per engagement than in real life. Since suppressive fire is less effective at preventing the enemy from shooting you, and troops are less afraid of being shot themselves, fire tends to be more focused on directly killing the enemy. That in turn makes engagements more lethal, also helped by the fact that both sides are usually willing to fight to the death.

    • ECD says:

      I have no useful thoughts on the science, but I will say, if you’re planning to have the quetza be fought by other quetza, or other aliens of approximately the same size, I think you’re fine. If you’re planning to have them fight humans, I think you’re going to have a real problem getting people into deliberately attacking a sapient (non-swarm, non-hive mind, non-animal (for the non-scientific value of animal)) creature which is consistently a LOT smaller than them. Especially for an FPS where you’re expected by the genre to be able to kill large numbers of enemies. For at least some of your audience, it’s going to feel mean and bullying, not tough and badass.

      I’m reminded of a quote from Bujold’s Falling Free, right before a small security force is about to attack an inhabited station, “…the odds aren’t what they appear…half of them are children under twelve, for God’s sake. Just go in, and stun anything that moves. how many five-year old girls do you figure you’re equal to Fors?”

      “I don’t know, sir.” Fors blinked. “I never pictured myself fighting five-year-old-girls.”

      • Kestrellius says:

        Oh, no, no humans. Well, okay, technically there’s one human character: the real-life human player, interacting with the quetza player-character via a fourth-wall-breaking dialogue interface. Yeah, it’s…a weird story.

        But no, the quetza don’t have any (non-meta) contact with humans. Just a couple of quetza factions fighting (and then some alien-built robots later on, for the Sci-Fi Space Marine Shooter Mid-Game Twist).

      • helloo says:

        Goblins?
        Halo Grunts?

        I mean those even have the mind of a child.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      My advice is to lean into goblin physics.

      Look, you’re making a game where graphene-armored velociraptors blow each other up. Don’t worry about the recoil realism. Alternatively, have the recoil happen only if the player is in the air. As for coilguns, who cares? Maybe it’s a sound thing and the Quetza have incredibly good hearing (which gives you an excuse for a minimap).

      Don’t confuse coherence for realism. As long as the mechanics of the world are *consistent* I recommend you do what feels good and nanomachine your way out of it later.

    • zzzzort says:

      Just a point that the amount of acceleration required to break bones is relatively large. With an impenetrable exoskeleton, I’d think the first thing to give would be brain injury from the brain bouncing off the inside of the skull, as in concussions. I’d guess that any impact causing someone to ragdoll could reasonably cause death given some vagaries about different physiology. Though hits to the limbs would be pretty harmless

      For human scale, if you want a 75 kg person to get to 10 m/s, you need an impulse of 750 kgm/s. Pushing force for humans is about 500 kgm/s^2, so if there were no explosives you’d need to spread the recoil over at least a couple seconds (and even that would be wildly hard to aim). Though if you don’t mind being blown backwards (as you’re also in an impenetrable exo skeleton), you just need the impulse to be spread out significantly longer than the collision with the enemy lasts. But from a game play perspective falling down every time you shoot might be a bit much.

      Also, for maximum effect would would want the projectiles to bounce off the armor really well, to get twice the kick.

    • Meta-advice: You may get some additional insightful answers on the Worldbuilding StackExchange.

  23. johan_larson says:

    You have been abducted by aliens, and are being taken to their home planet. The trip will take 20 years. The aliens can provide you with 1000 cubic feet of living space and virtually anything you might want in the way of gear for the voyage. How do you plan to spend the time, and what furniture and other gear do you want in your living space? (Don’t worry about food, water, air, or mundane supplies for living, like clothing.)

    • Fitzroy says:

      Honestly with a small gym, a good supply of tv shows, movies and books (maybe they could supply some kind of alien broadband connexion for Netflix and Kindle), and a decent gaming rig, I’m pretty sure I could while away 20 years.

      Throw in a high-fidelity Kristen Bell synth (you said virtually anything, right?) and I’m sure I’d positively enjoy it.

      • johan_larson says:

        Heck, they could probably get you the real Kristen Bell, though you might not want to tell her why she’s on the spaceship with you.

        • Fitzroy says:

          No, I’d have ethical issues with asking my alien captors to abduct the real Kristen Bell.

          Related, the film Passengers would have been vastly improved had Jim died and the movie spent the last half-hour exploring Aurora’s own descent into lonely madness. The final scene should have been a long lingering shot of her hand hovering over another hibernation pod, deciding whether or not to wake the inhabitant.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            No, I’d have ethical issues with asking my alien captors to abduct the real Kristen Bell.

            Problem with making different moral judgments for people and for philosophical zombies (aka synth) is that at some point we’ll understand enough about the brain to consider it a philosophical zombie.

        • RDNinja says:

          What, and break up the one Hollywood couple that’s worth a damn? You monster!

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Tell her she is in heaven, and gets to spend eternity with me.

          . . . What, she isn’t buying it?

    • johan_larson says:

      That should be 1000 cubic meters, not feet. Your captors are giving you the equivalent of a decent-sized house, not a jail cell.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Is Tsar Bomba and a usable trigger mechanism off the table?

      • acymetric says:

        …Your plan is to suicide bomb the aliens?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Solitary confinement tends to be extremely deleterious to the human condition, and random abduction seems to indicate a disregard for human value.

          People making assumptions that some how these guys are nice seem way too confident in the benevolent intentions of the aliens.

          • acymetric says:

            Who said it would be solitary? Your new alien buddies might be coming to kick it with you in your slick new crib now and then.

            Even if they aren’t “nice”, that they are providing you with whatever comforts you want suggest that they aren’t necessarily cruel, I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend 20 years on an alien spaceship against my will but I don’t think “kill myself and everyone else” would be among my first 100 or so reactions.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If we can just kick it with our alien buddies, then why are we limited to this space as opposed to having available to us all of activities and spaces these aliens have? What are they spending their time doing for the next 20 years?

            It’s not even clear these aliens can or will have meaningful interactions with us?

          • acymetric says:

            The prompt says they give you a living space, not that you are confined to it. I decide to build an add on to my house* to create a living space for my parents. Is your assumption that they will be locked in said living space**?

            You seem to be making a lot of assumptions (the aliens are bad, you are locked in your living space, communications with the aliens are impossible or if they are they refuse to communicate with you). All of those assumptions would have to be true before I considered going suicide bomb, and even then given my comfortable quarters I would be inclined to live, read, watch, play, and imbibe rather than die in a nuclear explosion.

            *I do not own a house, and my parents are definitely not moving in with me.

            **On second thought, locking them in would probably get tempting over time 😉

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To be clear, I wasn’t necessarily advocating it, I was trying to specify some things consistent with the original underspecified prompt that might indicate we shouldn’t think the aliens are well intentioned.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Absolutely. Non-humans coming to Earth to abduct humans seems like the start of the Trans-Milky-Way slave trade. Maybe if we blow up their slave ships from the inside they’ll lose interest.

          • acymetric says:

            Seems like it would only hold if they were abducting lots of people. If they’re just doing one at a time on a 20 year journey that isn’t a very efficient slave trade (nor is giving you a luxurious living space).

            Suicide is a big leap to take on a vaguely supported hunch.

          • Jaskologist says:

            But in exchange, your genes will be the basis for a new race of intergalactic humans, with access to amazing technology when finally free. It’ll be rough going at first, but I know of some who consider 400 years of slavery to be a worthwhile trade for descendants as numerous as the stars.

          • Matt M says:

            Seems like it would only hold if they were abducting lots of people.

            As a captive, you have no way of knowing how many others are being abducted. Aside from asking them and trusting their answer, I guess?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Suicide is a big leap to take on a vaguely supported hunch.

            There’s not really a hunch. The aliens are Bad People. They are abducting you. Emphasis on “abducting.” You are not going willingly. They will be taking you away from everyone and everything you love, for decades.

            I highly doubt that I am the only person that was abducted, and while their motivations are literally alien, I do know that they do Bad Things, I do know that MY life is effectively over, I know that they pose a pretty major threat, so I’ll take whatever option does maximum damage to the Bad People.

          • JPNunez says:

            I mean, they are nice enough to provide you with whatever you want for the trip.

            There’s also the part where you may piss off the aliens and they can retaliate against Earth.

          • acymetric says:

            @Matt M:

            Sure, but then we have to add “assume they’re abducting lots of people and not just me” to our already somewhat long list of unsupported assumptions we need to make before I would have any inclination that killing myself is the appropriate strategy.

            Also, the size of the dwelling space would probably pull me in the direction of “not very many people have been abducted, maybe just me”.

            Maybe the Earth is heading for some kind of cataclysm, and you are one of the chosen ones that they are saving. Seems just as probable.

            The fact that they make you as comfortable as possible for the trip suggests that their motives aren’t pure evil.

          • DragonMilk says:

            Have you by any chance played Stellaris yet?

          • Aapje says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            Technically, we also ‘abducted’ our pets from their natural habitat & relatives. Yet many seem quite content in their new habitat, serving their human overlords (or in the case of cats, the human overlords serving them). A decent case can be made that pets have a better quality of life than their peers who live in the wild.

            It seems non-obvious to me that the mere fact that aliens abduct one or multiple humans means that they will cause a huge decrease in quality of life. They may improve it.

            The aliens may have alien morality and/or an alien frame of reference, which can go either way. They may not be willing to make you happy, but may also be willing to go out of their way to make you happy, if you tell them what you want.

            As specified by Johan, the aliens might allow you to take people, in which case you might be able to bring your family.

            My personal strategy would be to first try to ascertain the alien’s goals, motives and general disposition.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Humans abduct animals because animals have no rights. Animals are spayed and neutered so we can control their numbers, their lives are generally controlled by humans, we put them down if they become violent, we declaw them to make them less dangerous, we breed them because some look prettier than others, etc.

            There are also draft animals that we treat relatively well, but they are draft animals, and the term we would use for sapient creatures is “slavery.”

            Yeah, the aliens aren’t wholly evil, but kidnapping sapient creatures is 100% in “Bad People” category.
            I also do not know how ANY rational person can hold both viewpoints:
            1. Wow, I don’t understand these aliens motivations and they are forcibly taking me on a 20 year trip to their homeworld. I don’t know what they want.
            2. Let’s bring my loved ones along.

          • JPNunez says:

            It’s possible the aliens are super sentient or some kind of huge intelligences and to them we are just pets.

            And they would probably notice what the Tsar Bomba is, and replace it with some confetti.

          • Aapje says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            The difference with animals is that they don’t have sufficient intelligence to communicate intelligently. There is no reason to a priori assume that aliens couldn’t give us a fairly sweet deal as pets.

            We are pets to our bosses too, in a way. We accept that deal because we like the stuff their money can buy more than the cost of working.

            Aliens might be able to give us a really nice life, in return for letting them rub our bellies now and then; or whatever the aliens want from us. They may give you a better deal than your employer…

            Animals are spayed and neutered so we can control their numbers, their lives are generally controlled by humans, we put them down if they become violent, we declaw them to make them less dangerous, we breed them because some look prettier than others

            We already use birth control. Our lives are for a substantial part controlled by others. We do put down and lock up violent humans.

            A major issue with pets is that they cannot communicate well with us, so we decide for them. There is no reason to assume that aliens will decide just as many things for us, if we can communicate with them.

            If cats could talk, don’t you think it would change how we would relate to them?

            I also do not know how ANY rational person can hold both viewpoints:
            1. Wow, I don’t understand these aliens motivations and they are forcibly taking me on a 20 year trip to their homeworld. I don’t know what they want.
            2. Let’s bring my loved ones along.

            The idea is to first figure out their motivations and only then decide whether or not to bring loved ones along.

            Why leave today rather than next month?

    • Incurian says:

      Should be fine with a little VR.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’ll need one wall for my library of alien philosophy & religion.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Well, that means it took 20 years to get to me, so I’d try to convince them that I’m not worth the the trouble and not all too interesting to abduct. Also, that humans are social creatures and an individual doesn’t do much for them come 20 years. So it comes down to whether people can join me, but if not:

      1. Piano complete with scores of all music written before 1900
      2. Kitchen and food supplies (I assume these are stored outside my living quarters) so I can continue my food experiments
      3. Board games they have to play with me daily to keep me from going crazy
      4. Computer hooked up both to a complete electronic library (with all works of fiction available as well as classic instructional works like Aristotle’s rhetoric) as well as all my favorite single player games
      5. A bible and record of famous sermons over time
      6. I lectern where they have to listen to me practice public speaking and engage in discussion on social issues and attempt to proselytize to aliens for kicks
      7. Garden with hand gardening tools
      8. Sketchbooks, journals, paper, colored pencils, and paints
      9. Ping pong table and balls/paddles I demand they play with me to maintain athletic activity
      10. A laboratory to take food experiments even further

      A 10x10x10 ft cube seems rather small, but I see you modified it to meters, which is over 35 times the space, so that’s good…I imagine I can’t control the dimensions as to get an acre of land a fifth of a meter high, for instance.

      • Lambert says:

        >an acre of land a fifth of a meter high

        Unless you’re an avid caver, that sounds really unpleasant.

        • DragonMilk says:

          Was for illustrative purposes only! If I could control the dimensions, I’d be connecting things by tunnel tubes like in kiddy playscapes to conserve cubic meters!

          • acymetric says:

            Probably out of bounds, but it gives me an idea. You could still have your house-sized living space designed that way, like one of those kids adventure places with different pits and climbing things and stuff between different rooms. This deal is getting better and better…thank you benevolent alien abductors!

          • Lambert says:

            Might be easier to put everything on wheel/rails to conserve space.

            Something like an indoor hydroponic rig, mounted in server racks, on archive-style mobile shelving

          • DragonMilk says:

            Galaxy’s largest hamster wheel? If I need roughly half a meter width, 2m of height, my living space could be comprised of a 1km diameter donut!

  24. Uribe says:

    Last Open Thread there was one about Tiananmen Square, and the majority seemed to be in favor of what Deng did. Now we have protests in Hong Kong. IMO, the crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong is a mighty tragedy, the protesters are right, and this example shows that Deng was wrong to crack down on the TS protesters, because Xi is now just following Deng’s lead, thinking he is on the right side of history.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t know about being right to crack down; certainly at the time of Tiananmen it was viewed in the US as an unjustified massacre. Claims otherwise now leave me torn between distrusting the media then and distrusting the possibility of Chinese-sponsored revisionism now. That the Chinese went through great lengths to censor any talk about it long after makes me suspect it is the original story that is correct.

      However, right or wrong, it’s quite possible Xi is on the right side of history. Sometimes evil wins.

    • quanta413 says:

      It’s hard for me to imagine any long run policy China could plausibly take towards Hong Kong besides fully absorbing it.

      Tthe answer of “just let Hong Kong be relatively free” rapidly heads down the path towards “The Chinese Communist party should hold free and fair elections and turn China into a liberal democracy” or something like that. Morally, that’s a better endpoint in theory. In practice… how the hell does that happen without something really bad happening?

      The communist party may do many evil things, but at least it hasn’t been too stupid for a couple decades. Well, at least it doesn’t seem like that yet. It may just be that the stupid is hard to notice when economic growth is so fast.

      • Incurian says:

        It may just be that the stupid is hard to notice when economic growth is so fast.

        That’s a good point. According to “How China Became Capitalist” most of their market reforms started as spontaneous activity by low level groups that became too successful/popular to continue trying to suppress (very much marginal revolutions, or cultural evolution vice any sort of plan).

    • Isn’t Xi being short sighted on the whole Hong Kong issue? China badly wants Taiwan to renter the fold but cracking down on democracy would seem to alienate them and make sure they never voluntarily chose to reunite with the mainland.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      How do you know Xi and Deng aren’t on the Right Side of History(tm)?
      This is why “Right Side of History” arguments are stupid.
      IMO, Deng is in the wrong, but Xi at the moment is asserting an utterly normal right to extradite prisoners from Hong Kong. AFAIK, there are no battle tanks in HK, and it’s nothing compared to what’s currently being done to the Uighurs.
      Either way, Xi and Deng are once-a-generation political geniuses, and I am some guy that posts on the internet.

  25. hash872 says:

    I continue to be confused by human pregnancy and infancy in light of evolutionary pressures. It just seems like the worst possible system- primates in general have a long gestation period, so I guess humans are not unusual there, but as potential food for predators now you’re not very mobile for a long period of time. Human infants, as far as I can tell, are exceptionally underdeveloped by animal standards- one source I found online says that humans would need to carry an infant 18-21 months to have a newborn with the cognitive & motor skills of a baby chimpanzee. Now you’re not particularly mobile for several years, with extremely vulnerable offspring. Fleeing a bad environmental or predator situation becomes much much tougher.

    Like yes, I read around and I understand some of the arguments about *how* humans evolved this way- head sizes and birth canals and the mother’s caloric needs, etc. I get that. But long pregnancies and children that take 16+ years to be productive, say, hunters or what have you just strikes me as evolutionarily really ineffective? How did humans survive for hundreds of thousands of years in the savanna with this system? I guess you could argue that it pushed the development of agriculture because the women & children weren’t particularly mobile so you might as well settle down, but like 99.99% of human history was pre-farming.

    Length of childhood and adolescence for humans, from what I could tell, seems way longer than for other primates. Now you have to care for this vulnerable person that for a decade plus can’t really contribute much to the tribe or group. That’s not even getting into how dangerous childbirth was pre-mid 20th century. Death of the infant, mother or both was a serious risk. Shouldn’t evolution optimize for a safer system….?

    I guess my overall point is not the specific mechanisms of how this evolved, but just to say- seems really tough to square with a hunter-gatherer, nomadic, on the move lifestyle, especially in an ecosystem where humans were not the top of the food chain and genuinely had to fear large predators

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I don’t have a great answer, but you made me curious and I ended up at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man-eater

      Besides man, there are animals that eat humans, but only polar bears will actively “hunt” man. Reading through the list, the attacks usually happen because the humans are the aggressors and the animals fight back. Lions will attack but they are easier to dispatch. In an interesting application of human culture, “leopards more commonly [developed a taste for humans] after scavenging on human corpses. In the area [] dead people are usually cremated completely.”

      I have this feeling that a group of ~10 adult humans armed even with primitive weapons can kill a single animal invading their camp pretty decisively (although there are lots of edge cases, like if everyone is sleeping). Maybe “grow a tribe big enough” was the key evolution in culture to allow useless babies the chance to show off their niche?

    • Enkidum says:

      I think something along these lines is true (apologies for lack of precision and order, it’s late):

      Humans are optimized for generality and adaptability.

      This goes all the way down to the visual system, where we are capable of making responses based on discriminations of virtually any aspect of the visual stimulus. You’ll hear people saying, not incorrectly, that an eagle has much better perception of motion of small objects at a great distance (aka mice) or that cats see better in the dark, or that animal X can see a broader range of spectra than we can, etc etc etc. But while old world African primates like us might not be able to beat expert animal X on vision test A, we’ll probably do reasonably well on it, and also well on test B, and C, and D, etc, and animal X sucks at those. There is simply nothing else out there that can see the range of things we can with the precision we can. (With the likely exception of, as I said, other old world African primates, whose visual systems are pretty damn close to ours.) We are the general-purpose seeing machines of the animal kingdom.

      One of the most obvious differences in neuroanatomy you’ll find between almost any two species who differ in terms of their smarts/adaptability/generalizing is the amount of cortex. E.g. Mammals have it, reptiles don’t, macaque monkeys have more than mice, chimps have more than macaques, humans have more than chimps. This is why smart animals tend to have wrinkled brains, because cortex is on the surface of the brain and the best way of maximizing surface area in a constrained space is to wrinkle the surface. (I realize that dolphins provide an interesting counterpoint to much of what I’m saying here, but fortunately I don’t know a damn thing about them, so I can ignore them.)

      The other way to maximize surface area of the brain, of course, is to grow a bigger head. The massive problems associated with human childbirth, so far as I’m aware, can almost all be boiled down to “we’ve got fucking huge heads”. No other species has the same kind of maternal mortality or injury rates we do.

      That’s the short answer to the childbirth part of your question.

      Then there’s the infancy/childhood part, which can be summarized as “why are kids so terrible at everything?”. Compare those videos we’ve all seen of newborn horses walking five minutes after birth or whatever, to your cousin proudly showing you a video of his kid smearing tomato sauce across his face after its shit itself.

      It comes down to adaptability again. Hard-coded systems are great at the things they’re hard-coded for, and useless at everything else. That horse baby will never learn to stand on one leg, never mind weave a basket or write a symphony. So a baby that is good at stuff, to a first approximation, isn’t great at learning other stuff. You see this even in humans, where adults are worse at learning than kids.

      So our species has pushed a lot of the development that normally occurs inside the womb outside it, in order to allow the regularities of our world to directly mold the fine structure of our brains, rather than only incredibly indirectly doing so through natural selection of particular neural phenotypes (though that is occurring as well). We aren’t just general-purpose seeing machines, we are general purpose learning machines, which makes us general-purpose doing machines, which let us take over the damn planet.

      This is clearly a very difficult set of traits to evolve, since after 5 billion years we appear to be the only species that has ever really done it. So there must be a very strong set of local minima around this clear local maxima, and I think you’ve identified several of them in your post. Babies, being worthless parasites until the age of 5, optimistically speaking, and not useful for much until 12 at least, are a huge drain on resources and a massive risk. Plus, as I mentioned above, deaths during childbirth, etc etc etc. And that’s barely even scratching the surface – being a general purpose learning machine means you can learn the wrong stuff, and likely means you are vulnerable to small mutations that can have massive effects on your learning hardware, etc.

      But equally clearly, there are a lot of benefits of being really, really smart and learning a lot. We can alter our environment, kill pretty much anything we want, store food, specialize, trade, whatever. And that, in a garbled nutshell, is why we can suffer the great costs associated with developing this intelligence.

      • hash872 says:

        But equally clearly, there are a lot of benefits of being really, really smart and learning a lot. We can alter our environment, kill pretty much anything we want, store food, specialize, trade, whatever.

        I guess my point was that we weren’t doing any of those things for 99.99999% of human history tho (honestly adding a few more 9’s wouldn’t be over the top). I do get the ‘large heads mean childbirth is really tough’ argument. I was just trying to say:

        1. How on Earth did this fairly weak group of smaller primates survive a million plus years on the savannah with all of these disadvantages. Thinking about it further, I might add-

        2. The payoff for our greater cognitive capacity was so way further down the road from when it originally evolved, it’s hard to understand why we did so

        Expanding on 1- we’re far weaker and have less weapons (teeth?) than any other primates. Chimpanzees, which I believe we share the most genetic code with, are much stronger pound-for-pound. Our whole evolutionary story is just quite…. odd. We lose strength/speed/athleticism/larger teeth for biting, get way longer gestation & child raising periods, somehow survive the savannah for a millionish years (probably dodging predators and looking over our shoulders half the time)- then get a massive massive technological payoff and run/ruin the world at the very end. Strange story

        • Enkidum says:

          we weren’t doing any of those things for 99.99999% of human history

          Short answer: yes we were. Hell, chimps do the first three things I mentioned: alter our environment, kill pretty much anything (with the notable exception of large predators, which humans CAN kill), and store food.

          Clearly, there was something rather unusual about the ancestral environment that allowed us to flourish until we got a foothold – but in any environment, there are immediate advantages to the kinds of skills adult humans (or human-ish animals) can develop.

          All apes have made similar tradeoffs in terms of relatively long infancies – we’re just the extreme end of a distribution. Why? Because childhood is good for learning stuff. If it’s good for a chimp, it’s good for us. And it turns out that learning stuff is so useful that it can be worth adding in ten years of utter uselessness and the deaths of possibly up to a quarter of mothers. And as soon as one species developed it, it outcompeted every other species of similar size on the planet.

          EDIT: Also, being strong isn’t always desirable. We appear to have adapted for a combination of opportunistic kills of small animals, foraging of plants and fruits, and persistence hunting of somewhat larger animals. The physical “advantages” chimps have over us are not advantages for any of those.

        • It’s not like humans were just useless until we invented agriculture. We know that when humans expanded in to new territory, they devastated the local wildlife. In the Americas, there were many more terrifying animals until we hunted them to extinction. That’s the kind of thing hunter gatherers are capable of.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          The obvious answer is Young Earth Creationism.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          One possibility is that we were extraordinarily good at throwing. I believe we’re the only species with the hip mobility to put a lot of force into a throw.

        • zzzzort says:

          I think you’re generally underestimating the cognitive advantage reaped by human hunter-gatherers. Humans migrated out of africa ~70k years ago, adapted to a broad range of environments, and were the apex predator everywhere they went. Behaviors like tool making, cooking, and general language are all things that humans have been using for a long time before agriculture, and probably require some amount of general intelligence.

    • Fitzroy says:

      I think modern experiences of birth, childhood and adolescence may be colouring your thinking.

      Firstly (while individual pregnancies can vary hugely of course), a fit, healthy, pregnant young woman can still easily be very active well into the third trimester. Mobility shouldn’t be hugely impacted by pregnancy.

      Likewise an infant in a sling or papoose doesn’t hugely impact mobility or capacity to contribute to tribal upkeep either.

      Secondly childhood and adolescence are way longer in the modern world than they ever would have been historically. Indeed there’s a good argument that ‘adolescence’ is a modern concept – for most of history the world consisted of children and adults, and the former became the latter at much younger ages than we do now. Most ancestral coming-of-age rituals seem to be in the 12-15 range (menarch or voice breaking is often a watershed) and I’d expect children younger than that would still contribute to the tribe; I’d imagine (based on my experiences with my own kids) that a 5 year old could reliably be expected to assist with basic tasks – cooking, gathering, etc. and a child of 8 or 9 might well assist with hunting.

      • Enkidum says:

        You’re right that @hash872 is overstating the issue, but I think you’re going a bit too far in the other direction. You’re right that a 5-year-old could assist with basic tasks (and lots of kids that age in the modern world do, mine did), but before that they’re almost completely useless, and after that they’re still an overall burden for a long time. Whether it’s 13 or 30 when they’re fully developed, it’s one of the longest childhoods in the animal kingdom (perhaps the longest? I’m not sure). And the risk of death to the mother in childbirth is something else, which is so far as I know completely unique to humans.

        I’m just noting that there are A LOT of tradeoffs, very real ones, for our intelligence.

        • Fitzroy says:

          Point taken, I might be going a little far the other way. I was rather focussed on disputing the notion that ‘children take 16+ years to be productive’.

          And the risk of death to the mother in childbirth is something else, which is so far as I know completely unique to humans.

          Not entirely. Domestic cattle often require veterinary intervention to assist with births (although how much of that is due to change we have bred into them I don’t know).

          And apparently 65-70% of firstborn Spotted Hyena young, and up to 18% of first-time Spotted Hyena mothers, die in childbirth. This is because the young are born quite mature, apparently, through the mother’s enlarged clitoris, which ruptures in the process. It is a process gruesome, fascinating and not recommended for lunch-time googling.

          • Enkidum says:

            It is a process gruesome, fascinating and not recommended for lunch-time googling.

            I’ll, uh, take your word for it. Thanks for the notes on cattle and hyenas, though.

            So yeah, I don’t think there’s any real disagreement between us, just wanted to push back at a naive interpretation of your first comment.

          • bullseye says:

            Spotted hyenas are (like us) a highly unusual species in this respect; for most animals, the baby just slides out.

    • Chalid says:

      We were absolutely using our brains in serious ways as hunter-gatherers. Go read Scott’s review of “Secret of Our Success” for all the things Inuit hunters had to do to catch seals. The adaptations to live on the savanna were no less complex.

      I’m basically quoting Secret of Our Success at you, but you get a self-reinforcing cycle here. Some ape-like proto-human invents something adaptive like fishing termites out of a termite mound with a stick; every other proto-human who figures out how to copy that succeeds, and so the brain structures necessary for copying are favored. Then proto-human #2 three generations later figures out that he can use that stick to spear rabbits, and every other proto-human with the brainpower to copy that behavior has more descendents. A generation later, an especially bright proto-human figures out how to figure out which rabbits are active by looking for their droppings; meanwhile some other proto-human has figured out how to use hollow reeds of grass as straws to drink from furrows in trees, and yet another one has figured out a better spear-making technique; and a couple generations later only the proto-humans with enough brainpower to copy all these innovations can succeed, and evolution sees bigger heads as an acceptable cost for being able to take advantage of this stuff. Those bigger heads then allow greater cultural complexity as the bigger-brained proto-humans can come up with more ideas, remember/understand a greater number of techniques, and become more effective at learning from each other; fully taking advantage of the greater cultural complexity requires still more brains; etc etc.

      The point here is that by the time humans actually evolved to have huge brains and helpless infants, they would have *already* had a vast array of tools and techniques that they were using to give them the edge over the other animals. Infant helplessness coevolves with human tool-making, so humans’ ability to take care of children increases as children need more care. Meanwhile tribes of humans are organized in such a way as to make sure the fit and able generally make sure that children or the heavily pregnant are taken care of by those who are fit (because those tribes that don’t do this die out).

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Humans have not been prey animals in any evolutionary relevant way since, approximately, we learned to throw stones. That is, before fire. Sure, the occasional person got eaten, but mostly because they were alone, sick, or alone and sick, which meant they were probably going to die regardless.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        As Enkidum said above, humans are generalists, and in terms of physical feats, there is some animal that beats out humans in every category — with two exceptions.

        1. Humans can run down any animal (with the possible exception of horses, depending on how the measurement is made, and allowing for the fact that we’ve then bred horses specifically to compete with us on this matter)

        2. The ability to throw things. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140225-human-vs-animal-who-throws-best No other primate can throw as accurately or with as much force as humans do. And here’s someone saying basically that it’s what allowed humans to evolve enough to not be prey: https://phys.org/news/2013-06-chimps-humans-baseball-pitcher.html

        • Enkidum says:

          To make explicit what I think you’re implying in your first paragraph (and reiterate what I said above about vision): there is some animal that beats out humans in every category, but we are usually somewhere well above the median, and taking a hypothetical average of scores across all possible tests of purely physical prowess, I’d guess that we are one of the single most generally physically-awesome land-bound species there is, even before accounting for our brains.

          Obviously there’s an enormous amount of handwavium in that sentence, but I think it’s more or less correct (insofar as something that vague can be correct). Hell, we are big and strong enough that there really aren’t that many species to which we don’t pose an immediate physical threat, even ignoring tool use, social coordination and so on.

          Now add in long-distance running for hunting, as you mention. Then add in social coordination during hunts just at the level of, say, African wild dogs, and holy shit we are scary. Then you add in the actual level of social coordination that ancestral humans must have had, and tools, and throwing as you also mentioned, and pretty much everything else is just cannon fodder.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            We have excellent hands for a wide range of manipulation. I’m not sure whether any animals have better manipulation.

        • Lambert says:

          Regarding 2, children will play with bouncy balls, paper planes, frisbees etc. for hours.
          So it seems like humans might be wired to instinctively teach themselves to throw things from a young age.
          You can’t do this in-utero, because it involves lots of feedback and calibration specific to the exact dimensions of the person’s arm, and possibly because there’s such a great diversity techniques to throw or launch objects (boomerang, atlatl, cricket bats, slings).

    • baconbits9 says:

      There are a lot of contributing factors, the first I would highlight is that while mortality in the past for humans was very high by our standards it is not high by animal standards. Imagine a grazing herd animal that is 50/50 male to female, it takes 2 years to reach sexual maturity, and roughly 80% of sexually mature females achieve a single live birth each year. To reach a stable population level you are talking annual mortality rates between 25 and 40% (depending on who is dying and when). You can shift the numbers dramatically but you still end up with mortality rates in the 5-20% range, and many animals give births to multiples as a matter of course.

      From this point of view a lot of what modern humans look at as difficult to disastrous in our reproductive cycle is relatively mild compared to what animals go through. For example while humans have a long gestational period their babies are actually modestly sized, on average less than 5% of the adult females body weight, (googling) baby wildebeest (8.5 month gestation) can weigh as much as 25% of the mother, and will wean in 8-9 months. Between gestation and weening you are talking about a mother creating 40-70% of her body weight for the young, compared to what is likely 15-20% for a human. So what you get (compared to some animals) is much lower caloric demand on the mother, so while a wildebeest can run with the herd a few hours after birth that sort of physical development comes at a large cost to the mother.

      A lower energy investment over a longer time frame might actually lead to lower predation rates as well. Lots of predators are specialists, and lots of predators go for the young of their prey. If you are getting 1/4 of the calories per kill of the young (relative to the parent’s body weight) and there are a lot fewer births per year then it might cross a threshold where there is a long period of time that specialization in eating humans was selected against. Sure you get occasional opportunistic killings but that isn’t the same as the persistent pressure as predator’s specifically seeking you out and being selected for killing your species.

  26. Tenacious D says:

    You are invited to the adversarial collaboration fantasy draft. Pick a pair of public figures and a topic for them to collaborate on. Historical and fictional figures are acceptable, but they should be from the same timeline so a collaboration would be feasible. The goal is not for the side you favour to give their opponent a Daily Show style “destroying”, but to pick people that could have a fruitful collaboration and produce a document that would be a fair presentation on what is agreed upon about the issue at hand.

    My entries are:
    – The J. Goldbergs (Jeffrey and Jonah), on Identity Politics
    – Kipling and Gandhi, on Empire

  27. HowardHolmes says:

    I’m trying to figure out how to make my thread reading experience better. Typically I will read through the open comments and then put it aside for a while. When I return let’s say there are 100 new comments. The only way I know to access them is it expand the link then click on the first, then close the link to be able to read the comment, then repeat for the next comment which might not be in that thread. There must be something I am missing.

    • liate says:

      Search in page for “~ new~” [Edit: remove the spaces in it] (CTRL+f on desktop browsers, look for “Find in page” in the menu of mobile browsers), that’ll find the beginning of all the new comments. It’ll be in order, because it will find them from top to bottom.

      Edit: Really should have thought to do that without being reminded…

      • HowardHolmes says:

        Thanks. That made my day.

      • Frog-like Sensations says:

        Now people that already use this method will have to cycle past your comment every time they check the thread. Please edit your description (e.g., by placing a space after the first tilde, with instructions to not use that space placed elsewhere) before the edit window closes.

        ETA: Thanks!

      • Liam Breathnach says:

        Can someone tell me how I do a text search on an iPad or iPhone please, so I can do this?

        • albatross11 says:

          On Safari, I think you just type the search string in the URL window and it lets you search in the page or on the web. On Brave, you have to hit the box with the arrow coming out of it to get to the menu that lets you search in the page.

        • liate says:

          Try this?

          tl;dr, it looks like it’s just go into the action menu (box with an arrow at the bottom of the screen), tap on the option with a magnifying glass that says “Find in page”, and search that way?

    • CatCube says:

      There is a thread autocollapser here:
      https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/04/09/ot73-i-lik-the-thred/#comment-486219

      It will automatically click the “Hide” button on threads that have no new comments (as defined by the “xx comments since” box), so reading new ones becomes a matter of just scrolling down.

      I find this comment section nearly unreadable without it.

  28. gbdub says:

    Thoughts on making birth control pills over the counter? AOC has come out in favor. Ted Cruz offered to co-sponsor a bill with her.

    Strange bedfellows, but this is an issue where the sides are weird already. Something like 2/3 of the public is in favor. Democrats and Planned Parenthood are opposed. Republicans are generally in favor.

    The R/D split seems to be cynical posturing on both sides that’s really about whether birth control should be covered in insurance that employers are legally required to provide.

    It’s hard not to assume the Planned Parenthood position is pure self interest (with birth control and related visits a large part of their revenue).

    To me it seems like a definitely good idea – at the very least, it’s a bit ridiculous for women to have to frequently refill and renew prescriptions, even if it’s a good idea to see your doc before starting / stopping / switching birth control.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      My impression is that the rationale for requiring a prescription was that a) the side effects of hormonal birth control can be fairly serious and b) your doctor needs to know for sure if you’re on hormonal birth control to avoid nasty drug interactions.

      I’d be interested to hear from a doctor or sufficiently-informed layman about this. If there’s no particularly strong medical justification, there’s no reason to require a prescription. There are reasonable arguments for reducing the availability of birth control but in that case a ban or a sin tax makes more sense than requiring a prescription.

      Beyond that though, I’m confused as to why this is a federal issue. This seems like it really ought to be the responsibility of the states to figure out.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Beyond that though, I’m confused as to why this is a federal issue.

        Because it is for all drugs thanks to the Pure Food and Drug Act et seq.

      • Randy M says:

        I think hormonal birth control is likely to have bigger effects on women than we (societal we, not SSC we) are encouraged to consider because doing so would come off as trying to control women’s sexuality–which is totally the worst thing, really–and wide spread use is probably ecologically damaging in a literally turns the frogs gay kind of way, but I’m perfectly willing to take a maximally libertarian approach on it legally if doing so calms down the culture war a notch–or even just on principle, because I don’t object to letting people choose to make these kinds of trade-offs themselves.

    • ana53294 says:

      My understanding is that the way doctors pick the right birth control pill is by giving you a prescription for one, and if there are side effects, discontinuing it and giving you another one.

      This doesn’t sound like something a patient cannot do; who knows my body better than me? So if I feel weird after taking a pill, I can discontinue it, go to the shop, and start with another one. I don’t see what the doctor does here.

      If doctors did something more than experimenting on their patients to pick the right pill, I would see the value; right now, I don’t.

      • Randy M says:

        If doctors were knowledgeable–and people consistent enough–to tell you ahead of time that medication A’s side effects of “occasional headaches” means you feel utterly awful while medication B’s side effects of nausea and vomiting were almost non-existent, that’s be a useful service.
        I’m not sure either of those conditions hold, though.

        Keep in mind that the scientific method is not obvious to everyone, too.

        • ana53294 says:

          If doctors were knowledgeable–and people consistent enough–to tell you ahead of time that medication A’s side effects of “occasional headaches” means you feel utterly awful while medication B’s side effects of nausea and vomiting were almost non-existent, that’s be a useful service.

          Never had a doctor that was able to tell me more than the drug’s prospectus.

          Sure, if I ever find one such doctor, I’m keeping them, and I would consult them for any issues I have. Currently, I prefer to trust myself and my feelings, and I always take what doctors tell me with a grain of salt.

          Doctors have value when you don’t know what you have and what you need, or they act as gatekeepers for an addictive substance. But birth control is the case in which you know exactly what you need (not getting pregnant) and birth control is not addictive, so doctors are not necessary as gatekeepers either.

      • Lambert says:

        Some side effects are immediately obvious.
        But the side effects of hormonal birth control include things like an increased risk of breast cancer.

        • albatross11 says:

          How does that increased risk compare to the risk of stuff we allow people to choose voluntarily? How does the risk compare to taking up rock climbing or MMA as hobbies? Or driving a motorcycle?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I think that if the model of access to care was “doctors are easily available for consultation” – something that seems to have fallen by the wayside – then it’d be an unequivocally good idea. See a doctor to talk about the side-effects and your health, then never talk to one about it again. Go back for a followup a bit later, or if something goes wrong.

      People need doctors to mediate their relationship with medicine, but doctors need to be able to write prescriptions in order to perform that mediation. Also, doctors are expensive enough that “I want to take X form of birth control” “OK, here’s a prescription” seems to be the order of the day. System seems a bit broken. On the balance, I think not requiring people to see a doctor about birth control is probably the better idea, but I don’t like this equilibrium.

    • 10240 says:

      Related: Why is insurance coverage determined by whether a drug requires prescription in America? I’d expect that prescription vs OTC would depend on whether the drug is dangerous without a doctor’s supervision, or otherwise inappropriate without a specific medical need determined by a doctor; whereas insurance coverage should depend on whether there is some definite medical need for the drug. The latter may have to be determined by a doctor too, but a definite need may exist for a drug that’s not dangerous even in unsupervised self-medication. In Hungary, as far as I understand, while you can buy an OTC drug without prescription, a doctor can write a prescription for it, and some of them are subsidized by the state insurance in that case.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        If a drug requires a prescription, the insurance company knows that it’ll only have to pay out when at least one licensed medical professional deems it necessary. If they were to cover e.g. OTC cold medicine, and I grab a box of sudafed every time my nose itches, that’s a lot more potential payouts for them.

      • Tenacious D says:

        I know in practice calling it insurance is a bit of a misnomer, but if it actually was functioning as insurance it would make perfect sense to draw the line there. OTC medications are usually for relatively routine symptoms, whereas insurance is best suited for low-probability, high-impact events. You don’t expect your car insurance to cover an oil change, for instance.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          One might consider what we call health insurance to be a service plan, warranty and health insurance all in one bundle, in a hypothetical world where you will never be able to buy a new car.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Certain classes of OTC drugs are required to be paid, but they still need to be filled with a prescription.
        In addition, some major companies will cover some OTC medications and products, including contraceptives, for patients. I regularly saw young female patients prescribed condoms back when I worked in pharmacy. Plan B in particular was frequently audited, because Medicare had silly rules that required a doctor ID for prescribing a drug that conflicted with laws that allowed a pharmacist to prescribe it (so they would use a dummy doctor ID like 0123456789).

        It seems absolutely stupid to dispense BC without a prescription, but perhaps Oregon’s method of allowing the pharmacist to write the prescription after a brief consultation is sufficient. I don’t know. Combination BC significantly increases your risk of blood clot (like 2x to 5x), but I have no idea if that’s sufficient to regulate it. Since so many people have high blood pressure and don’t know, allowing people to take BC OTC without doctor input strikes me as potentially fatal.

        I have zero confidence either Ted Cruz or AOC have thought through these issues.

      • ana53294 says:

        In Spain, if a doctor writes a prescription for aspirine, or ibuprofen, or other OTC drugs, you get the discounted price.

        • BBA says:

          Is Spain one of the countries where OTC drugs can only be sold at pharmacies? I know this is the case in some other European countries, which also require that pharmacies are independent businesses owned by licensed pharmacists (so no big chains like Walgreens-Boots are allowed). By contrast, in the US (and other English-speaking countries I think), any business can sell OTC medications.

          The European model is lousy for convenience, since you have to seek out a pharmacy and can’t just buy aspirin from a corner store like you can here, but it does seem much easier to integrate payments with the health insurance system.

          • ana53294 says:

            For anything other than ibuprofen or aspirin, you wouldn’t be able to buy it at a supermarket.

            In Spain, pharmacies are independent businesses owned by pharmacists, and they have local monopolies. They usually buy the monopoly from a retiring pharmacist (although in cases of population growth, the number of pharmacies can grow). In exchange, they have the obligation to open during holidays (not all of them; but a group of local pharmacies coordinate so at least one of them is open at all days, with a certified pharmacist present). There are also chains, but they also have to buy the monopolies, and they only do so in big cities.

            In small towns, that usually means the certified pharmacist, who is usually the owner, is the only worker. Since there has to be a certified pharmacist at all times, it doesn’t help that much hiring an assistant less qualified, and a certified pharmacist will demand high wages (especially to do the shift on Christmas day or other holiday).

            It is a way of ensuring that small towns will have a pharmacy available, and it works, except for the mostly abandoned places that don’t even have a priest or a doctor (sometimes the pharmacist plays the role of the doctor for small things in such villages). But villages with >1000 people living all year will have a certified pharmacist.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’ve had asthma my whole life, and the prescription requirement for rescue inhalers is a royal pain in the ass. For a lot of that time, I could buy epinephrine inhalers over the counter (I think they’re available again now), but I need a prescription for albuterol inhalers, even though they’re much safer to use.

        I see the point of wanting to have a doctor be involved in your care, but I’ve also had a couple times in my life when I was younger where I was in a genuine crisis because my inhaler was out and I had no refills, and my choices were tough it out till morning and try to get a refill called in, or go to the ER for something I could treat myself with medicine I’d been prescribed and had been taking for years. Those were stupid crises to have.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      I am in favor of making birth control over the counter and subsidized to the point of being free. Coming from a Libertarian viewpoint, I’m not thrilled at the idea of paying for other people’s healthcare, but this is cheaper than the prisons that would house the criminals these would-be children grow up to be. Similarly, I think it’s the financially prudent move to make abortion free at point of sale, because if the parents don’t want the kid or feel they’re not ready, they’re pretty likely to be terrible parents. While we’re at it, both parents should have abortion rights, even if the other parent disagrees. Having a kid should be like launching nukes from a submarine where you need two officers to turn the keys at the same time.

      • Theodoric says:

        While we’re at it, both parents should have abortion rights, even if the other parent disagrees. Having a kid should be like launching nukes from a submarine where you need two officers to turn the keys at the same time.

        So if Dad wants Mom to have an abortion, and Mom doesn’t want one, we strap her down to the table and do it anyway?

        • Matt M says:

          If she refuses, she should at least waive her right to any future child support.

          • 10240 says:

            That would be a reasonable point if the aim of the policy was to free unwilling people from having responsibility for a child, but chrisminor0008’s comment was in favor of only creating a child if it will have a good upbringing, which is more likely if both parents definitely want the child.

          • chrisminor0008 says:

            I’m not in favor of waiving paternal support. That would probably result in an even worse situation than what we have now, because kids still need to eat and focus on school, and taking away child support makes the kids’ lives worse, making for worse adults.

            I just don’t want to get stabbed, and I don’t want to pay for prisons and social programs.

          • JPNunez says:

            The right to child support is the child’s. The mother should not be able to waive it.

            Society normally allows the waiver to allow for stuff like sperm donation but that’s it.

          • John Schilling says:

            The right to child support is the child’s. The mother should not be able to waive it.

            If you make that argument, you then face the counter-argument that e.g. placental nutrition is a particularly vital form of child support.

          • JPNunez says:

            I dunno where are you going with this, but no child feeds themselves through the placenta.

          • 10240 says:

            The right to child support is the child’s. The mother should not be able to waive it.

            @JPNunez That’s the official justification why waiving child support is not allowed, but it doesn’t hold much water:
            • There is no control over how it’s spent. In this sense, it behaves like any other payment that goes to the mother.
            • It’s legal for a mother to make all sorts of poor financial decisions (other than waiving child support) that reduce the amount of money she has, unless her ability to provide for her child is reduced to a level where it would constitute child neglect.
            • It’s legal for a couple who make $2000 a month each to have children. Then there is no justification to not allow a woman who makes $4000 a month to have children and waive child support, as she can still provide for her children better than the poorer couple.
            • It’s legal for a woman to get artificially inseminated, or to have sex without knowing the man’s name and get knocked up. In either case, the child won’t have support from the father, yet we don’t consider them a violation of the child’s rights.
            • Child support depends on the father’s income, even though the minimum level at which parents generally have a legal obligation to support their children doesn’t.

          • JPNunez says:

            Almost all of those are good points but I don’t see how it follows that a man should have the right to force an abortion on a woman, or that the mother can waive child support for a man she knows is the father in the name of the kid.

            I am all for improving child support.

          • acymetric says:

            That may be the “official” justification (I’m taking your word for this and not looking) but I would think a major motivator for that policy is preventing the fathers from coercing/threatening the mother into waiving the child support.

          • 10240 says:

            @JPNunez The reason a few people support a right for men to renounce parental responsibilities (forcing the woman to either have an abortion or waive child support) is the unfairness that women can get out of parental responsibilities through abortion, but men can’t. I don’t support such a policy because I’d consider it wrong to force women to abort or raise the child without support; but I support a right of a man and a woman to sign such an arrangement before having sex.

            Usually if you have a right to a payment, you also have a payment, you also have the right to waive it; I don’t think there should be exceptions, though there are some. I think the argument that child support is a right of the child, rather than the woman (or custodial parent) is largely invalid, so I don’t support an exception in the case of child support either.

            Practical reasons a man and a woman might sign such an agreement include:
            (1) The woman knows she uses reliable contraception, and intends to abort if she does get pregnant, but the man doesn’t trust this promise.
            (2) The man is unwilling to have a child at the court-determined child support level. (But he may be willing to provide some support, so she is still better off than with artificial insemination. If the father is rich, she may even get more support than she would from another man.) This was the informal agreement between my parents; if my father hadn’t trusted my mother’s promise, I wouldn’t exist.

            @acymetric By that logic, we could forbid anyone from promising anything, or giving any gift, or consenting to anything, in the name of protecting you from being coerced into agreeing. Instead, the primary way we protect people from coercion is by prosecuting coercion; another tool is requiring a contract to be signed in front of a notary.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            On the flowchart of abortion positions, some people say that “abortion is not a way to get out of the responsibility of sex.” A typical response to this argument is that even if the woman chose to have sex [1], it is still too big a burden to place, and “you could have avoided this” is obviously unfair.

            Which, in isolation, is fine. But, some people along this particular chain of the abortion flow chart [2] simultaneously insist that if men want to not pay child support, that they just shouldn’t have sex[1]. Which is a conflict. And they refuse to recognize this conflict. [2, repeated]

            [1] Sometimes the argument is made “with birth control” and sometimes “without birth control,” which matters in the specific argument but not here — they both lead to the same place.

            [2] Obviously, there are other pro-choice positions that do not rely upon this argument at all.

          • ana53294 says:

            but I support a right of a man and a woman to sign such an arrangement before having sex.

            @10240

            The problem with a pre-sex signed agreement is that sex-starved young men are idiots not thinking clearly.

            I have seen long internet debates on the issue of consent, where even asking a woman for an explicit “yes” before a sex act is too burdensome/scary/intimidating.

            The only men I can imagine signing such an agreement are rich, famous men who have plenty of women willing to have sex with them. And men like that, who have so much to lose, would use condoms (if they don’t, they are also idiots).

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          Yes, that’s my opinion. It’s a better society when all children are wanted by two parents.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            The informed consent doctrine is relatively new, but widely regarded as a good advance over the sort of paternalist medical doctrine whose most famous example today is probably the (barbaric and horrifying) lobotomization of Rosemary Kennedy.

            You need a much more compelling argument to overcome people’s (understandably) extreme reaction to this kind of modest proposal.

      • JPNunez says:

        Abortion is not a retroactive contraceptive; it’s about the woman having control over her own body.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I’m not entirely sure that that’s how most women think about it. Something something something, artificial wombs but the child is still legally yours. Autonomy is a true, good, and sufficient argument for abortion rights, but it’s not the whole picture when it comes to the decision to have an abortion.

        • John Schilling says:

          Is contraception not about the woman having control over her own body?

        • 10240 says:

          Why does a woman want to exercise control over her own body in this particular way? For the same reasons she would otherwise use contraception.

          Many of us support abortion up to some point in the pregnancy, but not afterwards; this matches the law in most jurisdictions where abortion is legal. People with this position certainly don’t support an absolute right to control everything inside one’s body (otherwise it would follow that abortion must be legal up to birth). Instead, we recognize a trade-off between a woman’s preference to not have a child, and the fetus’ life. Contraception is not a guaranteed way to prevent pregnancy, thus the support for early-term abortions; there is less benefit and more harm to allowing late-term abortions.

          • March says:

            Um, also because pregnancy royally sucks? If pregnancy were no biggie, the world would be crawling in cute newborns up for adoption. Even if you have the world’s greatest pregnancy, it’s still hands-down a worse experience than not having a pregnancy at all.

            Still, it’s true that abortion also has the ‘don’t want to be a parent’ function. And the more medical science gets better at preserving the fetus’ life outside the mother’s body (either by simply inducing labor early and then giving the baby excellent preemie care or by gadgets like external wombs), the more there is going to be some friction as women go through some necessary adjustment and their rights line up more with men’s. Does it suck to be stuck supporting a kid you don’t want? Yup. But that also sucks for men. And we don’t think that’s a good enough reason for a man to be able to just walk away. So if a woman can satisfy her ‘I really don’t want to be pregnant’ desire by fetal relocation, the fact that she doesn’t want to be a parent shouldn’t be enough of a reason to destroy the fetus. And I say this as a firmly pro-choice woman.

            Of course, this situation is great in case the man wants the baby but the woman doesn’t. He’ll now get his baby and the support of the noncustodial parent. Also great for women who want the baby but not the pregnancy. Not sure if it’s still that great if adoption centers get overrun with babies – will they just start handing them out to anyone who wants them? Won’t just be women experencing some friction.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If pregnancy were no biggie, the world would be crawling in cute newborns up for adoption.

            This reminds me: Did that person who was doing the flow-chart about abortion positions ever do it?

          • 10240 says:

            Um, also because pregnancy royally sucks?

            That’s one of the reasons to use contraception too, so it doesn’t change the “abortion is retroactive contraception” equation. It does imply that women have more reason to want an abortion than men.

            I tried to look at surveys of reasons women have abortions. Surveys list the prevalence of various motives such as socio-economic reasons. Interestingly, the few studies I’ve looked at don’t list “don’t want to be pregnant”. My impression is that even though pregnancy sucks, women generally find it hard to bring themselves to have an abortion, which suggests that the usual reasons are long-term calculations, rather than an immediate preference to get out of the pregnancy; but this impression is based on very limited information, and no personal perspective (I’m a guy).

            And the more medical science gets better at preserving the fetus’ life outside the mother’s body (either by simply inducing labor early and then giving the baby excellent preemie care or by gadgets like external wombs), the more there is going to be some friction as women go through some necessary adjustment and their rights line up more with men’s.

            I (and I guess many people who support legal abortion) think that not wanting to have a child is a legitimate reason to have an abortion. The main reason women’s and men’s rights differ here is that most of us would consider it unacceptable to force a woman to have an abortion.

          • March says:

            Of course it’s usually the combination of pregnancy sucking and not wanting the end result in the first place. Pregnancy sucks just as much if you do want the kid but you tough it out because it’s worth it. That said, I know more than a handful of people who’d love a biological child but would have something-will-go-badly-wrong pregnancies. Also, in discussions about wanting an abortion because pregnancy sucks (usually hypothetical, among young women thinking about having a pregnancy scare) there is a LOT of shaming going on about how horrible a person you are if you can’t even tough out nine months of inconvenience only because you’re so vain you want to be able to wear a bikini to the beach because don’t you know your tits will sag anyway? With that in the background, I’d make up a more grown-up-sounding reason as well.

            I’d be fine with ‘Nobody wants the kid? Abort away’, but I wonder if that’d fly. I do think it should remain a choice (up to a certain limit); having an exernal gestation option would make signing parental rights away much easier and less painful.

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          That’s your opinion of what abortion is about, not a brute fact about the nature of the universe.

    • brad says:

      What’s the taxonomy of reasons drugs require a prescription?

      1) commons (e.g. antibiotics)

      2) addictive (e.g. vicodin)

      3) has weird/bad interactions that need to be warned about in person instead of on the side of the box (e.g. MAOI inhibitors)

      4) requires active monitoring of levels (e.g. coumadin)

      Am I missing any? Which one does BC fall under?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        3, I think.

        Didn’t read carefully, side effects aren’t covered under 3 as written. Whether you agree with the idea that BC side effects are sufficient to warrant medical attention is up to you, but they can be big enough to count as “disruptive” IME.

        • brad says:

          What exactly is a doctor supposed to do about rare, bad side effects? “If you start bleeding out of your eyes, stop taking these?” A) I’ve never had a doctor say that and B) isn’t it obvious?

          If the point is that you can ask the doctor about less rare, less bad side effects you can do that without needing a prescription before hand.