Open Thread 129.75

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

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956 Responses to Open Thread 129.75

  1. helloo says:

    Nice and empty.

    So why did first post posts fall “out of favor”?
    I kind of doubt the idea that moderation was truly able to suppress it to the extent it rarely appears now.
    They’ve never really been acceptable and were always somewhat annoying and the people that did them probably never really cared or were aiming to be annoying.

    Did they simply lose novelty? Did “internet culture” evolve and would it be capable to learn how it was done to apply it to other habits?
    Perhaps they’ve always been part of a small demographic that grew up and that the newer generations who grew up with the internet simply never bothered with it? So sort of a generational change.

    • Erusian says:

      First.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Probably it’s kinda like pet rocks. They were always dumb, but some sort of weird collective insanity made them popular for a while. After that, they were just annoying and popular only among those who were innately annoying. Then even we they got bored.

    • deltafosb says:

      If I remember correctly, the (emotional?) goal was to be before everyone else – if there are less people to compete with, it stops being a game and isn’t anyhow appealing. Since the emotional investment is dependent on the the number of other players, any reduction has disproportionate results as compared to not-so-explicitely-collective memes.

    • Dack says:

      A lot of sites have switched to not displaying comments in chronological order.

      • Matt M says:

        Or to up/downvoting systems where there’s instant feedback (most of which will be negative) towards that type of behavior.

    • sorrento says:

      As I recall, “first posts” were actually happening on SSC not too long ago. Scott even made a comment like “and if you make a ‘first post’, I’m going to delete it, because come on.” (paraphrasing)

  2. theredsheep says:

    So, I’ve often encountered a claim by libertarians that, during the reign of the so-called Robber Barons in the Nineteenth Century, the wealth of the average person in the US actually rose substantially. Something I’ve always wondered but never had the know-how to check: does this factoid, however it was derived, account for the opening of the West? Because the US was still a fairly agrarian economy at that point, and when it’s possible to get many acres of extremely nice farmland–topsoil built up for centuries by fire and buffalo crap–for free, it’s hard for the net value of the average person not to rise somewhat, even if they have hardships with Indians, disasters, etc. I’m not saying this is something everyone overlooked (I’m no economist); it’s just something I’m curious about.

    • Erusian says:

      Yes, it does. Even if you limit your study to (for example), people living in Manhattan their incomes and wealth rose. And, presumably, Manhattanites were not discovering new soil to till. The only groups that did not see significant increases were Southern landowners and some Southern merchants, largely because of the after-effects of the Civil War. Even the incomes of poor Southern whites rose, though they remained poor compared to the rest of the country.

      Also, that’s the period when America really stopped being an agricultural economy. While agriculture produced more food than ever, the decline sped up. Less than half of Americans worked on farms after some point in the 1870s (historians disagree on when). And the majority of the wealth being in things other than land and farming capital almost certainly happened during the Civil War.

      PS: It’s objectively true that the wealth of the average person in the US rose substantially in the second half of the 19th century during the Gilded Age. It’s not a ‘factoid’, which implies it’s false. The argument is over whether libertarian economics caused the growth and aided or hindered it, not whether the economics were laissez faire or that the growth happened.

      • theredsheep says:

        I meant factoid in the sense of “interesting little tidbit,” no implied truth value intended. Thank you!

        • Erusian says:

          Apparently factoid has two definitions, and I only knew the first. TIL:

          1 : an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print
          2 : a briefly stated and usually trivial fact

          From Merriam-Webster.

          • dick says:

            For me, the connotation of factoid is that it’s not false exactly, but that it’s too stripped of detail and context to be completely true, either. As in, the difference between “A squid’s eyes are as big around as a bicycle tire” and “A giant squid’s eyes can be as big around as a child’s bicycle tire”. The second statement is I believe completely true, but the first one is not a lie so much as a truth with several important bits worn off by time and rough handling.

          • Lillian says:

            The first definition is the original, since the -oid ending means imperfect similarity, such that a cuboid is not quite a cube, and a planetoid is not quite a planet. Thus a factoid is like a fact but not an actual fact.

            However while the original meaning was intended to indicate a deficiency of truth, it’s easy to interpret it as as a deficiency in depth. A fact is clearly established, a factoid is merely mentioned in passing, and thus not quite a fact. So began the misunderstanding, and the way with words is that a widespread enough misunderstanding becomes its own understanding, thus the second meaning.

            By now the new meaning has largely supplanted the old one, so it’s interesting to find someone who only knew the original.

      • Anyone know where data can be found on American wages in the 19th century? All I could find was data on English wages and the obvious increase in GDP of the United States.

      • herbert herberson says:

        And, presumably, Manhattanites were not discovering new soil to till.

        yeah but as a center of manufacturing, trade, and finance they were presumably benefiting significantly from the fact that millions of their countrymen were being gifted tracts of freshly appropriated land (while, conversely, not being gifted manufacturing goods, railroads, or credit)

        • Nobody in Switzerland was being gifted tracts of freshly appropriated land and yet they also had sustained economic growth.

          • herbert herberson says:

            I’m not here to talk about the merits of laize fair capitalism, just to point out that if the only control accounting for the vast transfer of wealth from indigenous peoples to American settlers is that kind of geography, it’s obviously grossly insufficient

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Having to resist a “huge tracts of Native land” joke…

        • Erusian says:

          The original question, as I understand it, was how much of the wealth increase and increase in net worth was due to farmers acquiring land. So yes, limiting it to the people who didn’t acquire land and pointing out they had nominal and real wage gains due to changes in their immediate economic sectors is pertinent.

          It would be trickier to somehow exclude an entire sector of the economy altogether. We can definitely say growth occurred in other sectors but you’re right there are interaction effects. Though it’s a bit strange to propose a constant (the expanding frontier, which has existed since 1613 and actually ended during this period) explains a variable (the rapid increase in wealth even compared to earlier times).

          Still, what precisely do you propose as a control?

          • theredsheep says:

            The original question came to me after reading a bio of WT Sherman, which said that, post-Civil War, America underwent a major and determined effort to settle the West, with Sherman being in charge of the campaign to get rid of Indians and replace them with white settlers. Then came the Homestead Act, railroads, etc. It was supposed to be an entirely different and more organized endeavor than the ad hoc expansion that characterized previous settlement. Which interested me, because it would be ironic if any amount of growth in wealth were actually due to a massive government program. But, again, I don’t know; this is just wild and uninformed speculation on my part.

          • Erusian says:

            The Homestead Act was passed in 1862. There were more than ten thousand miles of the railroad before the Civil War started. Sherman had extremely limited campaigns against the Indians though he advocated for more extreme policies. While it’s true that the displacement of Native Americans, growth of railroads, and settlement of the west accelerated after the Civil War, these processes preceded the Civil War or the Gilded Age.

          • quanta413 says:

            Cherokee removal pre-Civil War seems like a pretty organized endeavor to me. But perhaps there is some finer grained distinction in how the land was parceled out after taking it if you compare before and after the Civil War.

            Which interested me, because it would be ironic if any amount of growth in wealth were actually due to a massive government program. But, again, I don’t know; this is just wild and uninformed speculation on my part.

            There’s the question of how much of the wealth growth would’ve been captured by the Native Americans if they hadn’t been displaced and over what sort of time period. And the question of how much wealth was lost in the wars themselves even aside from the massive seizure and transfer of land. Obviously, the Native Americans lost a lot more in a relative amount (to their total wealth), but it’s possible the U.S. government outspent them in an absolute sense.

  3. DragonMilk says:

    Has anyone tried the beer Dragon’s Milk?

    I’m totally going to order this for my wedding but given the alcohol content, am curious if serving it in a wineglass would be acceptable, given its 11% ABV and recommendation to be served in a stemless wineglass.

    Oh right…does it taste good or just…different and that’s why it’s so highly rated?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Have you tried Dragon’s Milk? Don’t order a beer you don’t like. Hell, the venue should give you a sample, or you can pick up from the grocery store.

      Dragon’s Milk is alright, as far as stouts go. There are better options, but I enjoy Dragon’s Milk and certainly wouldn’t turn up my nose at drinking it. It is heavily alcoholic, but it’s also a heavier beer so people don’t pound them as fast as they drink Budweiser. It’s not until you get to the Quads that you get something REALLY dangerous.

      • DragonMilk says:

        I bring my own alcohol to the venue and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to serve my namesake as an inside joke…

        My fiancee is aware of my scheming but would probably appreciate proper execution. I’m also asking for scale – if it’s not a good beer, I just won’t buy as much.

        Rest assured, guests will have their choice of wines, bud lights, pilsner, and liquors/cocktails. This is but an option!

        • Deiseach says:

          guests will have their choice of wines, bud lights, pilsner, and liquors/cocktails.

          Ah now, DragonMilk, if you hate certain guests that much it’s simpler to not invite them in the first place! 😉

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I have nothing to add but seconding so you try it.

    • Plumber says:

      @DragonMilk,
      If I ever tried that beer I don’t remember it.

      FWLIW, in most weather my alcoholic beverage preference is for NewCastle Brown Ale, and beer that tastes close to it which doesn’t include the now fashionable I.P.A.’s.

      On cold days mulled (heates with some spices including cinnamon) red wine or mead is good, and on hot days white wine is good.

      I simply don’t know wine well enough to specify red = good when the weather is cold, and white = good when the weather is hot.

      Most of the time a good tasting beer tastes better to me than a good wine, but really cheap wine tastes better to me than really cheap beer.

      Gin is foul, whiskey is good after enough beers to already be a bit intoxicated, and all vodka tastes like gasoline to me (yeah right “premium tasting vodka”, pull the other one why don’t you!).

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        IPAs have got to be the most overrated drink of the last decade. Now it’s bourbon barrel aged everything, with Mezcal growing on the side. Bleh.

        My stance:
        -Beer is absolutely the most versatile drink
        -Marzens, Vienna Lagers, Stouts are the best among the beers. Though I’ll drink damn near anything (including IPAs).
        -Wines are better food pairings for plated entrees. I really prefer chardonnay with practically any fish, and something nice and dry with a stew.
        -Mulled wine is a New Year’s Eve requirement (and Christmas too, if I can get that tradition going).
        -Bailey’s and hot chocolate for the first snowfall of the year.
        -Whiskey: only if I pour. 2 fingers over 3 whiskey stones and a cap full of club soda. Most people overpour and don’t cut it.
        -Brandy. It’s the cooking liquor. One for the pan, and one for the cook.
        -Gin. I keep it on hand for the people who like Gin and Tonics, and whenever I feel like a martini. These days I rarely feel like a martini, especially since I have no freezer space to keep my martini glasses chilled anymore.
        -Rum: Mojitos! My Wife says I can’t keep 4 mint plants for mojitos anymore. So I am planning to plant mint in a rarely used, isolated garden. Then I will have all the mint I ever want.
        -Tequila. NEVER. AGAIN.

        • Etoile says:

          Have her put the mint in plain old chilled lemonade, and see if she changes her mind. 😛

          • acymetric says:

            First: I love mint but that sounds gross, no thanks

            Second: I’m assuming the reason isn’t that she doesn’t like mint, but that mint is fairly aggressive and maybe out competes the things it is growing with (hence growing it in a rarely used, isolated garden).

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            My wife has weird notions about utility and gardening. She thinks having 4 mint plants is simply too much mint. I have extra gardening pots, she just doesn’t like the idea of 4 mint plants.

          • acymetric says:

            I couldn’t help but mentally picture the debate over appropriate amounts of mint in the garden, and it gave me a good chuckle.

            Good luck with your secret mint garden, we promise not to tell 😉

          • Simulated Knave says:

            …Mint in lemonade is spectacular, and you really, really should try it. It sounds weird. It’s amazing and life-changing. It’s hard to describe, but it brings out the tartness and sweetness while giving it a freshening aftertaste.

            Also, try grapefruit soda, gin and lime or lemon juice in about a 2:1:1.5 proportion.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        FWLIW, in most weather my alcoholic beverage preference is for NewCastle Brown Ale, and beer that tastes close to it which doesn’t include the now fashionable I.P.A.’s.

        Don’t know whether the NBA you get Stateside is the same stuff that’s in the UK, but if so, you’d probably like my beer o’ choice (Królewskie). The main reason Newcastle Brown was my go-to beer in London was the similarity of taste, though Królewskie is a lager, I guess…

        Unfortunately, it seems to be mostly a local thing (the original brewery was not far from where I live now, but they’ve since torn it down and relocated production), but if you’re ever in Warsaw, drop me a line. 🙂

        • brad says:

          I’m in this crowd too. The malty taste should be predominant in beer, with the hoppy taste a condiment rather than the main event. And those sour or fruity tasting drinks are something, but not beer.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The malty taste should be predominant in beer, with the hoppy taste a condiment rather than the main event.

            Oh my gosh, yes. Triple-hopped IPA microbreweries like we have around here are so bass-awkwards.

            And those sour or fruity tasting drinks are something, but not beer.

            Fruit sour beers aren’t something bad at least, whatever you want to call them.

          • Plumber says:

            @brad

            “malty taste should be predominant in beer, with the hoppy taste a condiment rather than the main event”

            “More malty, less hoppy please”.

            Thank you @brad for giving me a vocabulary of what to ask for!

        • Plumber says:

          @Faza (TCM) says:

          “Królewskie”

          Thank you very much for the recommendation!

          I’ll try to see if Królewskie is exported to here.

    • dick says:

      Beer ratings are eclectic and IMO not trustworthy, it’s fairly common to find beers that are very highly rated by the sort of people who rate beer but not much liked by the sort of people who don’t.

      But that said, that’s more of an issue with weird varieties like goses and sours and such. For that beer, I think it’s fine, but maybe serve it with dessert rather than dinner? And maybe in relatively small glasses, like a cordial, since I’m guessing a lot of people may not care for it (judging by Bud Light being an option).

      • gbdub says:

        Dragons Milk is a great dessert beer. Or maybe for like charcuterie. It’s delicious but not great for pairing with a meal.

        Also lots of people are convinced they don’t like “dark beer” because they don’t like Guinness, which is nothing like Dragons Milk.

      • SamChevre says:

        I like both American lager (although I prefer the non-lite versions) and a lot of specialty beers as well. I don’t think there’s any connection between liking or disliking Spencer Trappist Quadrupel and liking or disliking Coors Light.

        • dick says:

          I don’t think there’s any connection between liking or disliking Spencer Trappist Quadrupel and liking or disliking Coors Light.

          That has very much not been my experience, maybe it’s where I live or who I drink with…

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, I would say there is a “connection” but that it’s an almost perfectly inverse correlation…

            Someone who frequently drinks fancy microbrews is far less likely to enjoy Coors Light than someone who rarely, if ever, drinks beer at all, in my experience…

            Or at least, their lack of enjoyment of Coors Light will be much louder and more obvious…

      • mitv150 says:

        You see the same thing in wine rating to a certain extent. People that rate beer are also people that drink beer quite a bit and are often trying new things. Beers definitely get a bonus for being different, unique, or stronger flavored.

        People tend to rate things highly when they differentiate themselves. If you’re drinking craft beer all the time, there is less room for differentiation and weirder things tend to get higher scores.

        Too, beers that have very strong flavors – barrel aged stouts, Imperial IPAs, etc., tend to draw high scores because they leave an impression against other beers with milder flavors.

        • Plumber says:

          @mitv150 says

          “You see the same thing in wine rating to a certain extent. People that rate beer are also people that drink beer quite a bit and are often trying new things. Beers definitely get a bonus for being different, unique, or stronger flavored.

          People tend to rate things highly when they differentiate themselves. If you’re drinking craft beer all the time, there is less room for differentiation and weirder things tend to get higher scores…”

          Not just beverages, I notice that professional and prolific reviewers just tend to have tastes far from what’s popular in architecture, art, books, films, and music.

          I think overexposure makes one “ouf of touch”.

          • Aapje says:

            The logical result of overexposure is that they crave more idiosyncratic things, since they grow tired of cliches in a way that occasional consumers don’t.

            Although it can actually go full circle. I remember a cooking show where the judges raved over mac and cheese. They seemingly got so many complicated meals that a simply, hearty meal was a breath of fresh air.

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s a stout. That’s definitely going to be an acquired taste for some, and what the heck is up with “stemless wineglasses”? Put it in a glass if you’re going to drink it but don’t want to handle pint glasses, stop pretending this is not beer (this is not addressed to you, Dragon Milk, it’s addressed to the chi-chi brewers who invented a legend about the “milk of the dragon” and perpetrated atrocities like “banana coconut flavoured stout”).

      Have you or any of your guests ever drunk Guinness/Beamish/Murphy’s? Did you like it? If no, then you/they are not likely to enjoy this either. Definitely try before you buy!

      • gbdub says:

        It’s very much not an Irish dry stout. It’s a barrel aged imperial stout at 11% ABV so the smaller serving size is appropriate. Usually I see it in those tulip glasses used for strong Belgian beers.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Oooooo doggie, yeah, Dragon’s Milk and Guinness are in different categories. I keep forgetting about Guinness because I hate dry stouts with a passion, even though I love other stouts (especially imperial stouts, especially Russian imperial stouts).

          Actually, I take that back, not really a fan of Oatmeal stouts either…

        • DragonMilk says:

          Yes, I figured if it’s got the ABV of a wine and is marketed as being in a stemless glass, glass shouldn’t be too weird?

      • C_B says:

        In my experience, people who like Guinness do not like high-ABV sweet stouts like Dragon Milk, and vice versa.

    • Dan L says:

      Dragon’s Milk is a barrel-aged imperial stout. It’s an increasingly common type to find these days in the US, but is notably different from a typical stout – if anything, it’s more aromatic than its ABV would suggest. I get the feeling New Holland is making it mostly because they can get away with charging >$3 a bottle for it, but if anything that’s on the low end for the category and as long as the execution holds up it’s hard to complain (and IME it’s been solid).

      You can drink it straight out of a bottle, but it definitely benefits from being in a glass with a narrowed rim. I’d recommend a snifter ideally and it looks like their website agrees. Stem or no doesn’t really matter too much; the last time I got it in a bar it was served in something between a chalice and a champagne coupe.

      I highly recommend trying it before ordering it in any serious quantity. It’s a very distinct style of beer, and while I certainly like it I can’t fault friends who disagree.

    • Well... says:

      I really like Dragon’s Milk but it’s one of those beers I’ll have just one of, once in a long while. If it was the only beer choice at a wedding then that’d kinda suck.

      • DragonMilk says:

        Bud light, treog’s, and yueling will be available too!

        In fact, I’m thinking of having the dragon’s milk associated with wine. I’m deciding whether to get 1 case of dragon’s milk or two (24 or 48 bottles).

        • Well... says:

          Depends on your number of guests, particularly your number of guests who are likely to go for Dragon’s Milk given the options you named.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Pennsylvania, I see? How big is your wedding? Because 48 beers is a LOT of Dragon Milk. It’s a heavy beer and even people who like it will probably only have one. If you like it and don’t mind bringing it home, though…

          My wedding venue still has my bottle of Żubrówka 🙁

          • DragonMilk says:

            Ok, I went with 1 case. 102 or so guests, not all of whom will actually drink, or at least very much. Full order (on beer and liquor side) is:

            Anheuser-Busch – Bud Light (24 pack bottles) 4
            Castillo – Gold Rum (1L) 1
            Castillo – Silver Rum (1L) 2
            Cockburn’s – Special Reserve 750ml 1
            Evan Williams – Single Barrel Bourbon (1L) 1
            Fleischmanns Vodka – 80 Proof Vodka (1L) 4
            Fonseca – Bin No. 27 Finest Reserve Porto 750ml 1
            Jose Cuervo – Tequila Silver (1L) 1
            Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout (4 pack 12oz bottles) 6
            Smirnoff 80 – 80 Proof Vodka (1L) 1
            Southern Host – American Whiskey (1L) 1
            Tanqueray – Rangpur Gin (1L) 1
            Troegs – Sunshine Pils (6 pack 12oz bottles) 3
            Yuengling – Golden Pils (12 pack 12oz bottles) 2

            Also 37 bottles of wine is separate from this order

          • Deiseach says:

            Cockburn’s – Special Reserve 750ml

            Do not invite me to your wedding, I’d drink that entire bottle myself over the course of the night! 😉

            (Yes I like port. Yes I’m Irish. Yes our national alcohol abuse problem isn’t funny. Yes Irish weddings are like that).

          • Well... says:

            No reposado tequila?! Pfft.

          • quanta413 says:

            By the time the average guest has consumed 1.5 shots of hard liquor, about two glasses of wine, and a beer they’ll probably be buzzed enough to not mind the lack of reposado. Although some will drink a lot less and some a lot more to reach that state, the average consumption ain’t low.

          • Deiseach says:

            By the time the average guest has consumed 1.5 shots of hard liquor, about two glasses of wine, and a beer they’ll probably be buzzed enough to not mind the lack of reposado.

            Another guy in charge of the catering for a wedding made the same point back in the day 😀

            When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

    • quanta413 says:

      I am not a beer connoisseur, but it tastes fine to me. Nothing particularly memorable; been a while since I drank it. It didn’t strike me as the sort of beer that would get strong reactions either. If you like stouts, you probably like Dragon’s Milk. If not, then not.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I have had it a few times, as a fan of high alcohol stouts and porters I would say its on the lower end of good. I prefer Old Rasputin or any of Founders’ high alcohol stouts. Beer Advocate seems to agree with me, with Dragon’s milk getting a 4.04 which is low for this style beer.

  4. Le Maistre Chat says:

    The Age of Myths (varies by country)

    In fantasy RPGs, I use ancient Earth as a sandbox where every culture’s mythology is true.
    Now there’s an issue with this: if you drop players into one culture’s Mythic Age, there’s a traditional time frame attached to it in primary sources. So Greek king lists start in the 1500s BC and the Trojan War around 1200 begins the historical age, when monsters are extinct, according to characters in the Iliad. Though Odysseus could still find Cyclopes, giant cannibals, sirens, Scylla & Charybdis if the distant untamed land of Italy/Sicily…
    In Norse mythology, the first mortal rulers and heroes are assigned to the 1st century BC. Up til the time of Julius Caesar, it seems Germania and Scandinavia were still ruled by Wotan or Freyr. Realistically speaking, it’s easy to see what’s going on: when an oral culture recites its past, anything before the oldest person in the community’s grandparents were born will be forgotten in the absence of advanced mnemonic “technology”.
    However, there are some fun examples where a culture that became literate relatively late gives itself a long Mythic Age, presumably trying to equal an older civilization. Take for instance The Book of the Taking of Ireland, where the Goidels or Gaels settle in Scythia at the same time the Israelites leave Egypt, then more than 440 years later conquer Iberia (apparently skipping the Hallstatt culture where scientists think proto-Celtic developed and the etymologically related Gaul) and subsequently expand to Ireland, taking it from the Tuatha de Danann (gods/Irish fairies).

    This stuff is like catnip to me, yet eventually I come to a place where there’s nothing to put on the map because there’s no surviving folklore. 🙁

    • S_J says:

      What are the places with no surviving folklore?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Well every area of the world has surviving folklore, but the pertinent question is “When are the earliest stories set?” If you have characters traveling around the Mediterranean, for example, I can’t find any supernatural hooks for France (except some poorly-documented Gaulish gods) until the famous Tarrasque that lived in the time of St. Martha, a younger contemporary of Christ.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Does the age of folklore / fairy tales figure into this conceptualization?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yes. Folktales/fairy tales actually tend to be set after the beginning of a culture’s written history. Myths are etiological in nature, filling in the otherwise unknown origins of things.
        Contrast fairy tales: in Christian cultures, they’re full of references to churches, godmothers, etc. Sometimes a character even has a gun.

    • Erusian says:

      You can always merge the timeframes together. But if that’s too problematic, early medieval histories are rich with people projecting backward in this manner. The writers were often familiar with classical history and sought to extend their tribal histories back to that time. For example, the Britons claimed they were the ones who sacked Rome and the Romans just mixed up the Gauls and the Britons (since the Britons had come over the Channel to assist the Gauls). They claimed a mythical British king ruled Rome for thirty years before an Italian revolt displaced him. The story includes fighting in and around Southern France/Northern Italy.

      If you’re interested more in local mythology, there were local stories in (for example) the area of Lyon that the Rhone River was named for the Romans. It was supposedly home to a town founded by Roman political exiles. They were (according to the story) later wiped out by the Romans in historical times but they left behind a strong mark on the local tribes who could thus claim some descent. And naturally, there’s all sorts of mythical elements to the story like people marrying nymphs.

      For whatever reason, these stories aren’t very popular today. But they’re there in the primary sources.

    • JPNunez says:

      What are the chances that Odysseus lied about encountering monsters after going on a bender of 20 years?

  5. Plumber says:

    A newsletter hipped me to some polling that had conclussions that interested me and was well fitted to my obsessions: About one in ten Democrats (around 4 percent of the total electorate) are Democrats who side more with Republicans on “economic issues”, and about one in five Republicans hold economic policy preferences closer to the average Democrat (around 7 percent of the total electorate). On “social issues (in contrast) nearly one in four Democrats agree more with Republicans, and judging by the charts at this link Republicans who on average agree more with Democrats on “social issues” are pretty rare, and from the same source:

    “…In both parties, the donor class is both more conservative on economic issues and more liberal on social issues, as compared to the rest of the party…”

    with lower income (under $40,000 a year) Republicans were more likely to lean “Left” than higher income Republicans, and

    “…The most sizeable voting shift came from economically left independents. About half (48 percent) of this group voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, but in the 2018 midterm elections, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) voted for the Democratic candidate in their congressional district. Since these voters make up 7 percent of the electorate, an increase from 48 percent to 64 percent (16 percentage points) represents a one percentage-point shift in the overall election results…”

    and the very highest income Democrats (over $200,000 a year) had some economic policy leanings that were on average a bit closer to Republicans compared to all Democrats, which doesn’t surprise me much, but what did surprise me is that Democrats who earn less than $40,000 per year also had economic policy opinions that tended to be a bit closer to Republicans than average Democrats over all, and especially compared to Democrats who earned more than $80,000 a year but less than $200,000, which (while still true of the overall electorate) breaks my mental model of poorer = “Lefter” on economic issues, and richer = “Righter” on economic issues when it comes to poor Democrats, and has both Democratic and Republican lower income voters agreeing with the other Party more on economic issues compared with the rest of their Party, and lower income Democrats agreeing with Republicans more on “social issues” more relative to Democrats over all.

    I could explain poorer Democrats having a bit more Republican-ish leanings as the poor just being less partisan overall, but since you see poorer Republicans leaning Democratic-ish only on economic but not social issues something else (???) is going on and I invite your ideas on what.

    • gettin_schwifty says:

      Lower income people usually get more free stuff under Democrats. Lower income people know this. I have no doubt that lower income Republicans have a variety of stances, but I think there could be enough people voting for money to give a push in the Democrat direction.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I, personally, think anyone talking about people “getting free stuff” should be laughed at, and possibly have their comments reported. It adds nothing to the conversation.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          It’s obviously not the most neutral turn of phrase, but is it an inaccurate description of e.g. food stamps or Section 8 housing?

          • methylethyl says:

            “Is it an accurate description of the truth?”

            Yes and no. We have had an on-again off-again need for medicaid to cover our family’s medical expenses, and I can report, unequivocally, that when you factor in the time, stress, mental energy, and sheer opportunity cost of same, nothing about Medicaid is “free”. You just don’t pay cash money for it directly. But boy, do you ever pay for it. The application process is like having your soul slowly and painfully sucked out through your nose.

            I can report that while we are fairly conservative people, we were glad it was there as a backstop, we wish the process of getting it was more rational and less voodoo, and we would never, ever refer to this as “getting free stuff.” I think I paid at least a year off my lifespan for it, this last time.

            This is not true of all “free” government services, I am happy to report. Our local library was a breeze to sign up for and a joy to use. And even the free immunizations at our local health department are fairly efficient. Those things might actually qualify for some definitions of “free stuff”– but they would never sway me to vote Democrat.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The hassle of signing up for these services, put onto the people often least able to hop through mental hoops, is one reason I like Universal Benefits. (I bitch plenty about UBI and will again, but I can’t deny this benefit.)

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          I am tempted to report HBC’s comment. SSC is about looking for the truth, even when society frowns on the discussion (at least in the non-visible threads, so Scott doesn’t get into trouble). HBC is threatening gettin for .. what? HBC disagrees to the point of him thinking it is silly? That seems hard to believe — I’m not sure why HBC thinks the comments are so bad. I think gettin is mostly right, so maybe I can’t conceive of someone who thinks it’s so dumb it should be laughed at? I very much dislike comments that want to shut down one side of the conversation.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It is neither necessary nor kind to use the phrase “get free stuff”. There is some sense of truth in it, perhaps. Plenty of other ways to express the core idea.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I don’t see how it is unkind. The comment didn’t ‘boo outgroup’ by claiming that only the Democrats want to give free stuff, but merely that they are more eager to do so.

            The further left people are, the more they seem to believe that wealth redistribution should happen and the less of a quid-pro-quo there should be.

            The main disagreements seem to be about things like:
            – the minimum quality of life that should be ensured
            – disqualifying factors for help, like laziness, lack of citizenship, etc
            – the amount of effort expected to become less dependent

            I don’t think that I’ve ever met anyone who disagrees that at least some wealth redistribution is desirable.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Formulating the Democrats as “the party of free stuff” is a boo light. Formulating Democratic voters as “people who just want to get free stuff” is employed as well.

            And you easily managed to find a different way to talk about the idea without implying that the recipients of government services are shiftless or that Democrats are buying their votes.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Shot:

            Formulating the Democrats as “the party of free stuff” is a boo light. Formulating Democratic voters as “people who just want to get free stuff” is employed as well.

            Chaser:

            The new Republican is like the uncle who doesn’t merely talk about how the handgun they have makes them safe, but brings it to the dinner table and points it at people they are arguing with.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Paul Zrimsek:
            You might want to actually include the context for that statement, as it was an anology, not a description of actual Republicans. Note the difference.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Would gettin have been all right if he had said, “The Democrat is more like the street thug who’s too cowardly to do the deed himself: he votes for the government to wave the gun in his victim’s face and provide him with free stuff instead.”

            Not saying Democrats are violent robbers, just saying they’re like violent robbers, by analogy. Not a description of any actual Democrat.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If you say it at the end of a argument where you draw the analogy? It’s fine.

            If I started arguments with “we know Republican voters are mostly drunk uncles”, I’d say that would be objectionable.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Look, I know it was a simile for “Republican moderates have been replaced by extremists, and pay no attention to that AOC behind the curtain.” I just have a little trouble believing that it embodied the sort of kindness you’re demanding of the OP. If it makes you happy, feel free to swap in “Everyone said that after W., The Republicans needed to stop being ‘the stupid party’ and that the Republican electorate was sick of that. Instead the voters basically doubled down on it and then doubled down again.”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’m just ribbing you, HBC, I’m not offended. But gettin’s comment could have been more fleshed out but didn’t break the rules.

          • Plumber says:

            I don’t think anyone disputes that in general the Democratic Party coalition is one that’s mostly pro-redistribution with a side order of cultural progressivism, and that the Republican Party coalition is mostly one of cultural conservatism with a side order of anti-redistribution (we may argue about how well the parties have delivered those goals for their voters), but I had a mental model of voters that lower income Americans were mostly cultural conservatives and also pro-redistribution, and that upper income Americans were mostly anti-redistribution and cultural progressives, and for the electorate as a whole that’s relatively true, but inside the parties my model didn’t hold, as while lower income Republicans are indeed (on average) less anti-redistribution than other Republicans, and very high income Republicans are (only a tiny bit) less cultural conservative on average compared to other Republicans, among Democrats my mental model of poor = pro-redistribution cultural conservatives, and rich = anti-redistribution cultural progressives just didn’t work, because $80,000 to $200,000 in annual income Democrats are more pro-redistribution than Democrats with less incomes less than that as well as more than that, which didn’t fit my model, so I find that interesting. 

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Paul Zrimsek:
            I didn’t coin that phrase. Democrats didn’t coin that phrase. Republican Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindall coined that phrase.

            When we are talking about how the outlook and temperament of the Republican caucus has shifted in the last decade, I think examining how Jindall’s rhetoric changed over that time frame is pretty fair game.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            @Aapje
            >The further left people are, the more they seem to believe that wealth redistribution should happen
            More or less correct.

            >and the less of a quid-pro-quo there should be.
            Wrong.

            The further left people are, the more they tend to believe companies and rich people are being granted unfair privileges. Tropes like describing redistribution as the poor “getting free stuff” (rather than being recompensed for living under a coercive regime and ceding their rights to Earth’s natural resources, humanity’s knowledge, etc.) are sophistry aimed squarely at concealing the existence of this line of argumentation.

          • and ceding their rights to Earth’s natural resources, humanity’s knowledge, etc.

            You might make a case on natural resources along Georgist lines. But the poor haven’t ceded their rights to humanity’s knowledge–one person using it doesn’t keep someone else from using it. Nowadays they not only have a right to it, getting at large parts of it is easy and inexpensive.

          • Aapje says:

            @Hoopdawg

            I see more people on the right pushing to make the unemployed do ‘volunteer’ work in exchange for welfare, while more people on the left push for things like subsidized jobs that pays more than welfare.

            I see more people on the right pushing to confiscate valuable things from refugees to pay for the government expenses to help them and more people on the left opposing this.

            Etc, etc.

            The further left people are, the more they tend to believe companies and rich people are being granted unfair privileges.

            It seems that you mainly take issue with my choice of words: quid-pro-quo, which you seem to interpret in a holistic sense, while I intended it specifically to welfare. Let’s rephrase this as: people further to the left tend to believe less in putting obligations on people who get welfare (and targeted government aid in general).

            As for you seeing welfare as recompense for oppression, this does logically make the phrase “get free stuff” offensive to you, in the same way that it is offensive if I harm you and I characterize my compensation as ‘giving you free stuff.’

            On the other hand, I think that characterizing welfare as merely being recompense for oppression is offensive to those who believe that at least part of misfortune is due to a lesser ability of people to contribute. I personally don’t consider it oppression for people with a low IQ not being able to do my job and thus not getting the benefits of having that job.

            PS. Note that one can believe in inequality of opportunity and not believe that welfare is or should be linked to this, as it doesn’t necessarily improve opportunity (above a certain level). Historically, many on the left have fought for other ways to improve opportunity for the poor, like more accessible education.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            @David Friedman
            Oh, I certainly haven’t ceded my right, and gladly use bittorrent, scilab and so on (*sniff*), but from the system’s point of view, I’m not using a right, I’m using a hole. The right that actually exists is the right of intellectual property holders to use the machine of the state to strike down on other, unauthorized users of said property.

            Anyways, while I don’t want to shy away from discussing whether the left’s argument is correct, my immediate point here is to first establish that this is the argument we are making. Not “gib free stuff”, which would constitute a concession that the stuff to be giben rightfully belongs to the capitalist class. There is none such, ever.

            [Edit:]
            @Aapje
            See above, for the most part.
            “Offensive” is a loaded word, and while it may be appropriate per the “whole city is center” reasoning, it would be clearer to describe my objection to the phrasing as “preventing the accurate representation of my ideas”, which is not the same kind of offensive as in your counterexample. If you say you personally believe welfare is giving people free stuff, we just disagree. If you say the argument is about giving people free stuff, you are misrepresenting the argument, and that’s bad for the quality of discussion.

            As for your examples, the argument over welfare is much deeper and broader in scope, with the whole spectrum of positions at least between UBI and all kinds of work requirements covered by people on both sides of the left-right divide. The thing about refugees is more of a disagreement between nationalism of the right versus internationalism of the left. Though the surface side of it on the left is often closer to the pure “we just need to help those people, ffs”, and this example kind of helps me understand why people mistake such calls for the whole argument. But again – as with redistribution – it’s not the whole argument.

          • Aapje says:

            @Hoopdawg

            Not “gib free stuff”, which would constitute a concession that the stuff to be giben rightfully belongs to the capitalist class.

            Most tax income comes from wages, not capital tax, so welfare is mostly paid for by workers, not the capitalist class.

            There is none such, ever.

            That is a very radical claim. Don’t you believe that providing goods and services often requires a sacrifice?

            If so, isn’t there a claim by the provider on the good/service, at the very least to the extent to which she made a sacrifice? Or to put it differently: doesn’t the absence of incentives to make that sacrifice result in the need to force people to make sacrifices in order to keep production of goods high? Is forced labor not oppression?

          • Hoopdawg says:

            @Aapje:
            To clarify – “there is no such concession” is what I meant.

            That the provider should not receive compensation for his efforts would indeed be a radical claim, but I’m not making it and I don’t think anyone does. The whole argument is over what the adequate compensation is.

          • Aapje says:

            @Hoopdawg

            The whole argument is over what the adequate compensation is.

            Is any excess beyond that compensation then not correctly classified as “giving free stuff*” within such a belief system?

            * regardless of the question of whether welfare is currently high enough to produce such an excess.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Without saying that I agree with Hoopdawg’s interpretation, their interpretation is a very good reflection of the values of many on the left: “the system is rigged, and this is just me getting what should be mine.”

            And, without saying that I agree, “they just want free stuff” is the interpretation of many on the right, who don’t think the system is rigged (or may even be rigged against their own side).

            It’s easy to see why either side would object to the other’s characterization, because it is assuming as a given something they assume to be very false.

          • @Hoopdawg:

            I didn’t realize your point was specifically about IP. The vast majority of humanity’s knowledge is unprotected and legally accessible.

          • Bamboozle says:

            @hoopdawg

            I’m guessing you mean more accreditation than knowledge. in my experience what you know doesn’t matter nearly as much as who is confirming that you knew it once.

            @Aapje

            Reading your interaction with Hoopdawg it seems like your mental model for aligning with right vs left is how much you attribute your own success to your own efforts.

            Left leaning is more likely to say it is the circumstance of your birth and luck that influence success, with right leaning people more likely to credit their own efforts.

      • Plumber says:

        @gettin_schwifty,
        All Democrats are on average (compared to most Republicans) pro “free stuff” (support aid to the poor), and that lower income Republicans would also be more supportive of that, and that very high income Democrats are a bit less supportive seems intuitive and unsurprising to me, but what is surprising is that lower income Democrats are a bit less supportive of aid to the poor than are middle income and near rich Democrats.

        If lower income Republicans were less supportive of cultural conservatism than other Republicans than I’d have a mental model of “lower income folks of both parties are just more likely to choose a political party counter to their ideology on both axis”, but that’s not the case.

        Something else is going on.

        What?

        • SamChevre says:

          Lower income being less supportive of “free stuff” seems natural to me; I have never seen any group as hostile toward “lazy blah-blah-blah’s living off welfare” than my fellow banquet waiters, who were overwhelmingly poor and working banquets as a second job.

          I think the working poor are more likely to know people who are on welfare, and to have a clear sense of whether they could work if they wanted to, than wealthier people. And they are likely to do more unpleasant work, so to be more resentful of anything they perceive as making them worse off relative to people who don’t work.

          • Aapje says:

            They also are more likely to notice peers who game the system or benefit from certain features that allow them to get relatively high incomes without the sacrifices that low income workers make.

          • Walter says:

            Nod. I’ve always thought the answer to “What’s the matter with Kansas?” was “nothing, the fault is in your assumptions”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I mean, sure. Some combination of better knowledge and familiarity breeds contempt comes into play.

            But there is also the phenomena wherein people who receive help discount it as non-existent. The Craig T. Nelson “I was on welfare and know one ever helped me” formulation is real.

          • Matt M says:

            But there is also the phenomena wherein people who receive help discount it as non-existent. The Craig T. Nelson “I was on welfare and know one ever helped me” formulation is real.

            This is definitely a thing, but I’m not entirely certain it correlates with party affiliation.

            Is there any particular evidence that Democrats are likely to be “more appreciative” or more understanding of the sources and mechanisms of their welfare than Republicans are?

            My impression is that virtually everyone who receives a check from the government sees it as an entitlement, and will construct whatever mental justification is necessary in order to defend why they, individually, specifically, are totally justified in receiving such assistance. And that this exercise is conducted entirely independently from the one where they think through their position on whether other people should receive such assistance.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            One thing Matt Lewis recounted in his “The Fifth Risk” book (from multiple people) was about loans funded through the SBA or some other Federal organization through a local bank, in areas that are what we think of as conservative.

            He said that 1) the recipients were often unaware of the source, thinking they had simply applied to the bank and got it, and 2) the local government or organization that was serving as the proxy for the Federal funds would explicitly request that this information be left unsaid, which the rep from the Federal government would often go along with.

            I’m not fully trusting of Lewis, for the reasons I listed when I did my review a few OTs ago, but this all seems straightforward and agrees with my observations.

          • Walter says:

            The idea is very galaxy brain.

            “You are against handouts, and yet you accept them, checkmate!”

            Like, it feels that my buds on the left should maybe be more cognizant of the state of being of ‘vote for the game you want to play, but play the one underway’, given that it is essentially their lifestyle.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The version used against the left is “you want higher taxes, yet do not voluntarily pay them! Ha ha!” It’s the same pattern (even though some people will insist on drawing lines making them distinct).

            There are lots of things I think make stupid incentives and should stop. But I’m going to claim those incentives if they are sitting there.

            Yet, people should be aware of the benefits they are receiving. If I claim the mortgage-interest-deduction, despite thinking it is stupid, I should still know I’m doing it.

          • ana53294 says:

            Yet, people should be aware of the benefits they are receiving. If I claim the mortgage-interest-deduction, despite thinking it is stupid, I should still know I’m doing it.

            Exactly. When people say “Get your government hands out of Social Security and Medicare” they just sound stupid.

            And people are frequently absolutely oblivious to how many things they get. I think the IRS should give you every year an estimate of how much a person in your situation gets, and how much you paid in.

            There are many, many people who think they are net tax payers, when they can’t possibly be, considering their financial position.

            For stuff I think a person like me should not get, but if it’s there, I’ll claim it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” may be a weakman position. There was one guy holding that sign at a Tea Party rally, and one since then we’ve gotten second- and third-hand reports, some of which get repeated a lot. (This Slate article https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2009/08/help-slate-track-the-medicare-isn-t-government-meme.html wants to talk about how widespread it is by linking to 4 instances of it, but they all refer to the same second-hand source!)

            Also, some people think they’ve “earned” their SS and Medicare benefits. Whether they have or not is its own discussion, but it may also be a clumsy expression of “don’t alter the deal you had with me.”

          • acymetric says:

            The exact quote itself is, but I’m not as sure about the underlying sentiment.

          • JPNunez says:

            Normally the government will return you taxes if you overpay them anyway.

          • Matt M says:

            Normally the government will return you taxes if you overpay them anyway.

            Hell, the government once bothered to return me taxes I actually owed, because I made a mistake on my return and they didn’t think I owed it.

            Then when I sent them the money back, again, they said that it wasn’t enough, because I underpaid so I had to pay a penalty, plus late fees.

    • Plumber says:

      Somewhat related I found a PDF of “Partisanship in the Trump Era” by Larry M. Bartels, Department of Political Science Vanderbilt University – which measured voters on their support of “cultural conservatism”, and “limited government”, and basically it found that Republicans are overwhelmingly “culture conservatives”, but while more pro “limited government” not by the same margin as they were cultural conservatives, while Democrats were overwhelmingly anti-“limited government”, and while they were less likely to be cultural conservatives than Republicans, they’re still some cultural conservative Democrats. So while you’ll find some cultural conservative Democrats and some big government Republicans, “limited government” Democrats and “cultural progressive” Republicans are much harder to find.

      Basically Republicans are united by culture more than size of government ideology, and Democrats are the reverse.

      My definite sense is that Democrats and Republicans are divided more by what issues are important to them than what side of specific issues they are.

      Also (judging by the paper) Clinton (and now Biden) supporters, and Sanders supporters are ideologically almost the same, despite his saying that he wants “socialism”, Sanders supporters were actually very slightly more conservative than Clinton supporters, but their supporters were demographically different.

      Those with the demographics that were more likely to support Clinton are now more likely to support Biden, and they tend to be older, more educated, and less white than Sanders supporters, but the biggest difference is age, older Democrats leaned Clinton and now Biden, younger Democrats (who tend to be whiter as well, simply because they’re not many older white Democrats anymore) leaned towards Sanders.

      Another interesting (to me anyway) tidbit I recently read from a different source (which I won’t link to because it was just too full of out group booing) was that while college graduates are indeed now less likely to be cultural conservatives than non-college graduates,they didn’t get they way in college, they were like that in High School. My first thought is that girls are now more likely to be college bound and graduate than boys are, and men are a bit more likely to be culturally conservative than women are, so that’s all that’s about, but it would be interesting if there was something more. I did know a fairly “Red Tribe” carpenter who went to college for a while after leaving the military and he says he found college “too politically correct” and uncomfortable for that reason, but he was also clear that it was the girls more than the boys that made him feel that way (I’m sorry that I didn’t ask further details).

      I strongly suspect that the “Blue Tribe”/”Red Tribe” divide isn’t just “Albion’s Seed” regional, but that “Blue Tribe” is more young collegiate and female, and “Red Tribe” is more old, non-collegiate, and male, and I think that maybe why our host has said that he really doesn’t much encounter “Red Tribe” people face-to-face is that he works in a hospital, and I don’t know about his workplace, but the Oakland, California hospital that I go to is mostly staffed by older women nurses, young women physicians, and a few remaining older men physicians who as they retire are mostly replaced with women.

      I’m wondering if our host’s “Blue Tribe” is just another way of saying “people who spend most of their time in places that are majority college educated women”, just like his “Grey Tribe” seems to be “guys who work in ‘Tech’ (as far as I can tell), and “Red Tribe” is just ‘everbody else in the U.S.A.’.

      I know for me “Red Tribe” looks mostly like “guys I knew growing up in the neighborhood and work with now”, and “Blue Tribe” looks like “My wife, her friends, and the girls I dated 30 years ago”.

      • Bamboozle says:

        Thanks for this comment Plumber. I’m a lot younger than you i think but your experience struck a chord with me and I wanted to thank you for writing it.

        I also appreciate how you don’t try to disguise your anecdotes as some kind of objective truth or insight as some others do here.

    • szav says:

      Peter Zeihan, who normally comments on geopolitics, thinks we’re in year 4 of a ~10 year party realignment. First past the post voting means two parties have lots of constituent factions that can and do change sides. See http://zeihan.com/american-evolutions-part-3-of-3-beyond-democrats-and-republicans/ for his take.

  6. proyas says:

    What if the U.S. (or any other country) tried to reduce plastic and glass waste by switching to reusable, stainless steel bottles? The U.S. would agree to standardize a single, 12 oz beverage bottle made of stainless steel, and all beverage companies would have to use it. Plastic and glass bottles would be banned, as would 12 oz aluminum cans. Bottling companies could put whatever paper labels they wanted to on the outsides of the bottles.

    The stainless steel bottles would not merely be recyclable, they would be reusable, and it would become common practice to send them back to bottling plants for sterilization and refill with new beverages. They would be robust enough to survive several cycles of reuse before getting so dented that they needed to be melted down for recycling.

    What could go wrong?

    • gbdub says:

      Weren’t glass bottles frequently reused in the past?

      I’d think the deposit on stainless steel would be quite high.

      • johan_larson says:

        Ontario has a mandatory bottle deposit fee for alcohol containers, and achieves a 90%+ return rate. This is for glass bottles and aluminum cans.

        One frustration with our system is that some places that sell booze (notably the Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores, which sell wine and spirits) charge the deposit fee, but don’t accept returns. We’re supposed to take the bottles to Beer Store outlets (the beer distributor system,) which will take the wine and spirit bottles and refund the deposit. I’ve never bothered, and just put the cans and bottles in recycling, unless a Beer Store happens to be particularly convenient.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Nobody would like it and it would cost a lot more. But it’s certainly technically feasible. You could make it somewhat less silly by having more sizes.

    • bullseye says:

      Lots of people would throw them in the trash anyway, wasting all that steel.

      Side note, if anyone does this, I guarantee the size of the bottle would be metric.

      • Matt M says:

        I mean, I guess we could do what many of us do now with aluminum cans, and throw them in the trash anyway, relying on the homeless to provide the necessary sorting and returning labor that results in them probably eventually still being recycled.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          On one hand, the roaming people do an excellent job retrieving those valuable materials.

          On the other hand, when I’ve lived in these areas, it’s a horrible mess because the people digging through trash tend not to care if they leave trash all over the lawn looking for the valuable goods.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            In Germany it’s considered polite to leave containers with a deposit next to, rather than in, public trash cans.

    • Enkidum says:

      This is how beer works in Canada, except with glass bottles. It works extremely well and the large majority of bottles get reused.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Everything above (especially The Nybbler’s comment), and also security checks – the ones which now do permit you to carry a water bottle, that is. Plus a lot of additional dead weight to carry – a bottle made of steel weights significantly more than a plastic one or aluminium can of the same size; it’s made worse by the fact that you’ve chosen a single, pretty small, size. Plus I have a strong feeling that wine/beer/whiskey/any other kind of liquor geeks are going to start a violent revolution against your regime as soon as you try to implement it.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        One thing I really like here is that it’s opt-in, so we don’t have as big a worry about people tossing the containers in the trash.

    • johan_larson says:

      How would imports be handled? Some sort of surcharge for non-conforming beverage containers? Is that even legal under WTO rules?

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      > 12 oz beverage bottle

      What is this? A beverage bottle for ants?

  7. 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.

        • theredsheep says:

          Yeah, it seems to be rather difficult to hurt yourself with albuterol. Not nearly as easy as it is to hurt yourself with, say, acetaminophen.

          • Garrett says:

            Albuterol is something we liberally dispense (when indicated) on the ambulance. Looking at WebMD’s list of interactions, there’s no reason to think that something like that couldn’t be dispensed by a pharmacist pending a medication interaction check.

            The main problem we see is people who keep using their inhaler far more than they otherwise should, not realizing that this is an indication that their condition is getting worse. So instead of having a doctor re-evaluate and change therapies, people just keep using their albuterol inhaler. Until one day it just doesn’t work and things are in *really* bad shape.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Interestingly, I’ve got an asthmatic friend who only has a rescue inhaler. The medication she’s been using successfully as the basic inhaler was replaced by steroid based meds, which gave her scurvy as a side effect; the older meds were discontinued.

            This is not a good situation, but it isn’t being helped by dragging her in to see the doctor every time her perscription needs renewing.

            It also isn’t helped by her having a medical plan staffed only by the kind of doctor who has his staff measure blood pressure every time she comes in, but didn’t notice hers was dangerously high over the course of several visits/years. (She can’t see the value of seeing this doctor, except for his prescription gatekeeping function.)

            For what it’s worth, this doctor is extremely invested in not letting her use her rescue inhaler too much – he allows her less of it than she would use given free choice, because he insists she use it as if she also had a regular inhaler, and claims there’s some danger to it. I don’t know if what she has is albuterol – but if is is, then one of you is wrong about its effects and risks; on past evidence, I’d be perfectly willing to believe the person in error might well be this doctor.

          • quanta413 says:

            I was prescribed albuterol as a daily inhaler for years as a child along with a second inhaled drug that I don’t recall the name of. Albuterol was also my rescue inhaler although it was rarely used for that. I’m surprised to learn that it’s supposed to drop in effectiveness due to heavy use.

          • albatross11 says:

            Garrett:

            Yeah, I definitely understand that pattern, and have been through it a few times when I was younger. (My asthma got a lot less serious as I got into my mid-20s, thank God.).

            I understand the desire to keep people who need medical supervision talking to their doctor, but I’m not really convinced that using the regs about prescription drugs is a great way to do this. And it’s also not done consistently–plenty of serious things are treated with OTC drugs in ways that don’t force anyone to interact with a doctor. (“Say, I had to stop running on that treadmill because of really bad indigestion that’s making me nauseated and break out in a cold sweat. Good thing I’ve got some Pepcid complete here!”).

    • 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.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I mean birth control also has common side effects that are nonetheless pretty significant. Weight gain, acne, libido changes, period changes (which would be extremely scary for a lot of women if they didn’t know about it). Most maintenance medications that have the potential to disrupt your normal bodily functions need a prescription (or are gray-market).

            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.

            Like I said upthread, I have literally no idea how to consult a doctor about OTC medicine side effects without incurring way more costs than their advice will be worth. Someone mentioned going through an NP or pharmacist – that’s probably a good idea. But it’s very nontrivial.

          • brad says:

            How is it any cheaper to get a follow up appointment with a doctor to talk about prescription drug side effects? Either way it isn’t an annual check up and you’ll need to pay the not-a-checkup co-pay.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            It’s not, and that’s a problem IMO. The consultation-for-serious-but-not-dangerous-side-effects-costs-an-assload model is not good and I’d like to see it replaced. The threshold for side-effect severity that you’d like to see expensive consultations done for in the (non-ideal) world we live in is up to you; I’m just making the point that this paradigm makes sense given the constraints people are operating under.

          • brad says:

            I’m sorry but I don’t see how. Nothing the doctor tells you about serious but not dangerous side effects before hand changes anything. If he says “you may experience weight gain, either keep taking them or don’t depending on how bad you feel that is” what does that do for you? Is the point that you don’t freak out because you knew this was a possibility?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            No, the point is that you make an informed decision about birth control.

            Look, I know one woman who, when informed of the relative hormone levels and side effects by a doctor, opted for an IUD instead of the pills she was there for. I know like 2 more who did the research on their own and opted for implants instead of pills for whom side effects were an important consideration, but neither of them felt they had a good understanding of the relative risks. And I’m sure there are TONS of women who are taking oral BC who would opt for an implant or IUD if the cost of a real consultation didn’t drive them to (what are effectively) pill mills where the tradeoffs and side effects aren’t actually discussed. Getting the information out there matters and would make people’s lives better. What we have right now does a shitty job of that, but it does more than nothing. Whether it does enough to be worth it is, again, up to you. To be clear, I don’t think it does. But I can understand why someone would, especially if they’re among the small groups of women for whom the hormone levels in oral birth control are way too high to handle.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            My personal experience is that people pay more attention to what doctors say than to the package insert, which just makes their eyes glaze over. [1]

            (Maybe it’s not worth the Freedom-Utils of just being able to get what you want, which is fair, and I probably agree, but that’s a value judgment.)

            [1] I went looking for a study about doctor-recommended anti-smoking, but found this first: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1646823/ and while it isn’t about doctors, it does show that different ways of presenting identical information really do have different outcomes.

          • Matt M says:

            My personal experience is that people pay more attention to what doctors say than to the package insert, which just makes their eyes glaze over. [1]

            I mean, this is undoubtedly true.

            However, if it were framed in explicit cost that had to be paid by the individual, they might decide differently.

            If a doctor said to you, “I’d be happy to explain the potential side effects, however, it’s going to cost you $50 for a five minute explanation. Or, I could hand you this free pamphlet and you could read the exact explanation I’m about to provide yourself,” we might notice different behaviors…

          • albatross11 says:

            Part of the job of the doctor (and pharmacist) in that interaction is to give you a useful summary of what you need to know about the medicine, in a useful-to-you form.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            If a doctor said to you, “I’d be happy to explain the potential side effects, however, it’s going to cost you $50 for a five minute explanation. Or, I could hand you this free pamphlet and you could read the exact explanation I’m about to provide yourself,” we might notice different behaviors…

            That’s the system we already have, and as I explained above, people don’t get enough information in pamphlets to make what they feel is an optimal decision. Like, please read a birth control pamphlet at some point. They’re nearly useless, and I’m not sure they can be made useful. And then there’s the problem that doctors are better equipped to make recommendations to patients than the woman on the street given a giant dataset.

            Take a 100 lb black woman who’s not especially physically active, has never given childbirth, and has a pretty heavy period. Tell her to figure out for herself, from information that can fit in a pamphlet, what sort of tradeoffs she’s likely to be making when she chooses a birth control method. I’ll tell you for free that a copper IUD is probably unlikely to be recommended and that the pill is probably not completely unreasonable, but even after reading about as much about this as a diligent consumer could reasonably be expected to, I don’t feel competent to make a recommendation. A doctor who has frequent contact with women on birth control is much more likely to have enough experience to be able to articulate trends they’ve seen and explain how they play out. And it’s not like this is a minor point; most research I’ve seen says that the #1 reason for people discontinuing contraceptive usage is side effects. That means that careful consideration of side effects is a super important aspect of quality of care.

          • brad says:

            The very last thing anyone needs is advice from doctors that is based on trends they’ve seen. Any doctor giving that kind of advice is a doctor that is overdue for retirement as they’ve apparently missed the whole evidence based medicine thing.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Wait so the argument is that doctors shouldn’t do Bayesian inference when studies aren’t available?

            Birth control side effects are highly idiosyncratic. I’m suggesting that if you have severe hormonal acne, a doctor can tell you much better how much worse you can expect it to get with birth control than a not-doctor. Are you disagreeing?

            Also, even when you do have the right studies, people are really bad at realistically assessing their particular risk when the magnitude varies widely and smoothly over the whole population. This is, again, what doctors are for.

          • albatross11 says:

            Doctors are probably fine at catching *common* patterns from their observations, and that’s more-or-less what the intensive training as a low-paid resident is all about. They’re no better than anyone else at intuitively teasing out subtle effects, and they can fool themselves into thinking something works when it has no effect as well as the next guy, but if half their patients who get drug X complain about the side effects at their next visit, they’ll notice that perfectly well.

          • brad says:

            If it’s a common pattern you can put it in bold letters on the pamphlet and don’t need doctors’ gut feelings. In this context a doctor’s job is to read, understand, and pass along the literature. To the extent there is no special situation and their effectiveness comes entirely from reading a pamphlet while in a white coat and having an authoritative attitude we can hire out of work actors and save billions of dollars a year in wasted spending.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Related to this discussion- yesterday my wife went to the doctor and got a prescription, the doctor googled the prescribed medicine in front of her to make sure that it wasn’t contraindicated for breast feeding.

          • Spookykou says:

            Every time I get a new medication the pharmacist consults before I get the pills to tell me about side effects and what to eat/drink etc. Could something be OT(pharmacists)C without a prescription, you then get a consult from a person in a white coat about the side effects and what not of your BC without having to see a doctor(even if you saw a doctor the pharmacist would still probably do this?).

      • 10240 says:

        It seems to me that drugs for any disease that is normally diagnosed by a doctor, rather than self-diagnosed, tend to be prescription-only, even if they have no serious side-effects. Of course “wants to have sex, doesn’t want baby” isn’t a disease in this category.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        This basically maps to “the aliens must be able to do whatever I want using magic, right?” Otherwise it’s way underspecified.

    • 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The UK is fairly well known for arresting and convicting people who carry small knives with insufficient excuse.

            And America is fairly well-known for being full of fascist cops who gun down unarmed black children with no repercussions. What is well-known isn’t always accurate, and listing a few anecdotes is too vulnerable to the Chinese robber problem to tell you much of use.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If a group says “please give me this special power, I promise I won’t abuse it,” then every single instance of that abused power is relevant.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This isn’t “Chinese robbers” at all. No group besides police in the UK are arresting people for violation of the UK knife laws, of course; the analogy makes no sense.

        • 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.

  16. 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.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            As long as there is some cost to production then there is potential comparative advantage.

            …if transaction costs and such are 0.

        • 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.)

  17. 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.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          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.

          Thanks… I should still have the CD-ROM for the first Age of Wonders around somewhere. I wonder how much the series improved!

        • DinoNerd says:

          *sigh* I don’t currently have anything running any version of Windows. If it won’t play in Wine. or dosbox, or natively on Mac or linux, I don’t get to play it – and this won’t; I just checked.

    • 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.

    • Pdubbs says:

      Lemmings.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Hey, I had Lemmings for the ZX Spectrum. Monochrome, no mouse control (cursor was controlled with the arrow keys), and you had to load every level from tape separately, and re-load if you failed, but it was pretty impressive that they managed to squeeze the game onto that machine at all.

        (Also, the Dizzy games. Those were good fun and ate up probably an unreasonably large chunk of my childhood)

    • 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.

      • cassander says:

        to be fair, trying to get an old game working can feel an awful lot like playing incredible machine.

      • littskad says:

        The Incredible Machine Mega Pack (which includes the whole series, I think) is currently available on GOG for $2.50.

        • David W says:

          You can also play it here. Although I’ve never had GoG fail to work on a modern computer and it’s likely worth the $2.50 to be able to save your game.

      • beleester says:

        The Incredible Toon Machine for me. Basically the same concept, but with more anvils.

    • 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.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Incidental use-of-language note – I’ve only ever heard the expression ‘die to [x]’, as opposed to the more usual ‘die from [x]’ in the context of computer games, and it still sounds weird. Is it common these days? I guess prepositions are pretty arbitrary, but I’d have thought that ‘die from’ was well-enough established that it would crowd out any new forms even in computer game territory.

    • 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.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I played a ton of Rebellion (Supremacy here in the UK) and still occasionally do, but that was Windows 95, no?

    • 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?

        • BBA says:

          A very educational game, teaching the lesson that everyone who tried to go to Oregon ended up dying a horrible death. So don’t go to Oregon!

    • 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.

  18. 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.

      • 10240 says:

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

        Conditionally on that it hits Earth, I presume?

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        I wonder too how did you come up with this number? Resources I was able to find say about 2.5-3% of landmass is covered by cities, which gives a ~1% of total area (with oceans included), which gives ~1/730000 chances total, 1/100 conditional on hitting the Earth.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        In the rough direction that 2006 QV89 is coming from, what point is the center of Earth from its view at 7am (presumably UTC) on September 9th?

        Also, ESA (linked as a source for Wikipedia) says it is 40 meters, while Wikipedia says it is 30 meters.

    • 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.

    • Garrett says:

      Is there anything I can personally do to increase the odds?

  19. 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.

        • Aapje says:

          It depends very much on how much the company is willing to spend on it and how serious they take it. There is some very well-documented in-house software where bugs get fixed fast. See NASA, Boeing Airbus, etc.

          The finding of bugs tends to correlate with user base and intensity of use.

          The clunkiness of the interface tends to negatively correlate with freedom of use (much in house software has to be used as part of the job, so workers have no choice but to use it).

          Complexity of the interface tends to correlate with intensity of use and the capabilities of the users. Power users tend to prefer software with advanced capabilities and high learning curves over software with limited capabilities, but an easy to learn interface.

          Incentives of in-house software tend to be different than on-the-shelf software, but so are the incentives of open-source software (which also tend to be poorly documented and have more complex and less friendly interfaces).

          The main advantage of open sourcing in-house software is to expand the user base & to share development effort with others*. It doesn’t suddenly create AAA software incentives/outcomes.

          * Including features that are valuable to the company, but not valuable enough to implement themselves. If another company does want to spend the money, you get the feature for free.

    • 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.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          he software industry, not so much.

          Yes, we do.

          Use open source, and then actually pay developers to fix what you need. If there isn’t an open source solution to replace your inhouse software, then open source your inhouse software, and then pay developers to fix what you need. If you can’t open source your inhouse solution because it belongs to some vendor who has you by the balls, then pay more developers to develop an open source solution to replace the vendor solution.

          If you complain about paying developers, you lost the argument.

          • John Schilling says:

            That sounds an awful lot like “If you don’t like economy-class airline seats, you should charter a private jet. If you complain about the cost of chartering private jets, you lose the argument”.

            The airline industry at least offers a range of services between lowest-common-denominator crap and bespoke, because no, hiring someone to produce a custom solution for just one customer isn’t a sufficient alternative.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            If you can’t open source your inhouse solution because it belongs to some vendor who has you by the balls, then pay more developers to develop an open source solution to replace the vendor solution.

            The problem isn’t so much paying developers as it is paying dynamics PhDs for ~5 years of work. Take a look at open source multiphysics stimulation or CAD software; it’s very, very bad.

          • Aapje says:

            @Mark Atwood

            If there isn’t an open source solution to replace your inhouse software, then open source your inhouse software, and then pay developers to fix what you need.

            Much in-house software is so tailored to the company that there isn’t actually a market for it, even at zero cost. Open-sourcing just makes it easier for hackers to attack the company, but provides none of the benefits of successful open sourcing: having a larger user base, sharing development with others, etc.

            Open sourcing things is not a panacea.

        • Aapje says:

          @John Schilling

          An important difference is that it actually saves the airline money to squish people into an economy seat by default, rather than give them a business class seat. It’s not (just) artificial scarcity.

          In software, it is often no (or only slightly) more costly to offer the full feature set. So differentiated pricing is then going to be purely to capture more of the consumer surplus.

          Also note that the differentiated pricing often depends on there being a dichotomy in the market. For example, it seems to me that business class is only viable due to business travelers (hence the name), who don’t pay for their own travel.

          I regularly see software try to capture more consumer surplus, when a dichotomy in the market exists. For example, Adobe has long tried to do this with Photoshop, trying to get lots of money from professionals and less from prosumers.

      • 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

          • Aapje says:

            @Faza (TCM)

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

            This makes no sense, at least in the context of how modern computers work.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @Aapje:

            This makes no sense, at least in the context of how modern computers work.

            There’s only so far I’m willing to go in defending a piece of levity, but please elaborate.

          • Aapje says:

            The most basic rebuttal is that code acts on data. Without code interacting with data, you have no computer.

            Modern computers use a Von Neumann architecture, where data and code are stored in the same memory and are transported over the same bus. So code and data meet in memory and meet on the bus.

            At a more high-level, most code written in programming languages is treated as data to produce actual CPU-level instructions. So code becomes data becomes code.

            To truly have separation between code and data, you need a hardware-program computer (like ENIAC, Enigma, etc), rather than a stored-program computer.

            PS. You probably mean that code and data should be delineated more clearly.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            You probably mean that code and data should be delineated more clearly.

            It’s simpler than that: I meant that unless you can guarantee you’ll be in complete control of all your inputs, “eval” is a four-letter word.

          • bean says:

            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,

            I work on the other side of this, trying to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen (to military software) and as a counterpoint, users are often terrible. For every time they talk to us and we come away with a clear idea of what they need, there’s another time when we end up more confused and end up having to make a bunch of changes because they didn’t communicate clearly, or one group tells us that what another group told us to do is idiotic. It sounds nice and simple to talk to the users, but different people use the system in different ways, so the system they build on your advice would probably be different than the one they build from the person who sits next to you.

            (This doesn’t excuse the apostrophe thing, and it’s probable that the devs in question are idiots, but “talk to the users” isn’t a panacea. They need someone like me to sort it all out.)

          • albatross11 says:

            There are architectures that mark some regions of memory as non-executable, or that design things so that the only code that can run is in ROM of some kind. This makes attacks harder, but not all *that* much harder. Google for “stack oriented programming.”

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @albatross11:
            Try as I might, I can’t make the connection between “mark some regions of memory as non-executable” and “stack oriented programming”. To me, stack-oriented is pretty much the epitome of mixing code and data in one bowl (the stack).

            May I ask you to unpack it a bit?

          • albatross11 says:

            Sorry, my brain is getting old. I was thinking of return-oriented programming.

        • 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.

        • brad says:

          Eh. I do think you need to sanitize, or maybe normalize is a better way to put it, a name field not because of sql injection–which should never be handled that way–but for data cleanliness reasons. If your users are at all likely to try O’brian, O’Brian, Obrian, obrian, etc. for the same person (which is a SME question) then you want them to be considered one and the same in your application.

      • 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.

        • Nick says:

          I didn’t notice a difference in number of complaints (and I did pay some attention to this), but it’s possible my experience is an outlier.

  20. 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.

      • caryatis says:

        Either, I guess.

        Edit: functional. My interest is in how electric power is generated and delivered to consumers, not so much robots or computers.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Sorry, see edit.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          OK, then this is analog EE almost exclusively.

          You’re going to want to look at basic circuits – circuit laws and passive components. Load balancing may be of use. Turbines are mostly thermo, not electrical, but if you want to understand the EE side of how they work a basic understanding of electric motors and rectifiers should do you good. Most EE courses will dive into semiconductor devices and amplifiers – I’m not sure if this will be interesting to you. Chances are that if circuit analysis makes you hungry for more they will.

          If you want to get into grid design, there’s going to be a LOT more involved, and I’m not the one to look to for it.

          I’d start with the first two courses here: https://www.khanacademy.org/science/electrical-engineering

          After that, come check back – I’ll try and track down some texts that have the other things in them.

        • RobJ says:

          Are you looking to start from the basics and really undertand electrical engineering, or do you just want a primer on power generation and delivery? If the latter, this seems like it might be a decent starting place (as far as I can tell… I haven’t actually read it): http://lnx01.ee.polyu.edu.hk/~eewlchan/EE1D01/ebook/Pages%20from%20Electric%20Power%20Basics.pdf

  21. 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.)

    • Winter Shaker says:

      As usual when this topic comes up, I will recommend LingQ as a good site for building your listening and reading comprehension (or a free equivalent like Learning With Texts, though I think that there you need to import your own content), and just booking a load of tutoring sessions over iTalki or some other language teacher marketplace (or free exchanges with Chinese speakers who want to practice their English, depending on whether time or money is more of a constraint for you).

  22. 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.

        • theredsheep says:

          (but thank you!)

        • Aapje says:

          @theredsheep

          In traditional society, women tend to live with their parents until marriage (not in the least because it is men’s job to earn enough for a house/farm (or inherit it), whereupon he becomes marriageable). It also is the children’s job to take care of the elderly, if they can’t provide for themselves anymore. This seems strongly based on the lack of alternatives: providing home care or elderly homes is quite expensive.

          The dynamic in these societies seems heavily dependent on the ability for men to earn or inherit enough money to become marriageable. The longer this takes, the longer men and women have to wait to start a family of their own & the longer that they tend to stay at home.

          Of course, only one of the progeny has to (and can) take in the parents. So with high birth rates, many of the children would not have to take in the parents.

          I think that the extended family narrative takes this dynamic and exaggerates it.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

          • Aapje says:

            Holland is actually two provinces now, although this wasn’t the case for much of Dutch history. From about 1101 to 1806, Holland was a single entity. During this period, the most intense interactions with Spain happened (including the Dutch War of Independence aka the Eighty Years’ War).

            Louis Napoléon Bonaparte separated Holland in two provinces and then named the entire country, the Kingdom of Holland. So at one point in time, Holland did refer to the entire nation. However, this only lasted 4 years, before older brother Napoléon Bonaparte got fed up with how decently his little brother tried to rule.

            People who live outside of North and South Holland tend to dislike it when the entire country is referred to as Holland, which is part of a more general feeling of being overlooked.

      • 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).

          • Aapje says:

            Yankee comes from Jan Kees, which were two extremely common Dutch names (and still very common, but not as dominant as they were). So it derives from non-Dutch people interacting with Dutch people and noticing how often they had one of these two names. This became a generic term in the same way that peculiar names that are common in a subculture are sometimes used to refer to that subculture.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Billy-bob Dumbass
            Drove t’ New York City
            In a rented Tesla
            Popped the collar of his shirt
            And called it Gucci Armani

            Billy-bob Dumbass
            You do you
            Billy-bob Dumbass
            Dressed up so pretty
            Bust a move at the club
            And maybe you’ll get lucky

          • albatross11 says:

            Aapje:

            Jan is presumably a variant of “John”, but is “Kees” related to any common English name?

          • Aapje says:

            The name itself is not directly linked to an English name, but it is a diminutive (hypocorism) of Cornelis, which is the Dutch version of Cornelius. Dutch (ethnic) protestants regularly adopt diminutives as the legal name. Dutch (ethnic) Catholics more commonly have a legal name that they never actually use, favoring a ‘calling name’, although having a separate legal and daily name is a fairly common practice in The Netherlands. For example, Anne Frank’s legal first name was actually Annelies.

            Quite a few birth announcements state both the legal name and the calling name, which sometimes is completely different from the legal name.

            Cornelius is a Roman name that is rarely used in English. Chevy Chase is actually called Cornelius Chase. Ex-senator Robert Byrd was born as Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr, but his name was changed after adoption. Cornelius Oswald Fudge is a character in Harry Potter.

      • 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